Monday, July 31, 2006

If I Were in Walt Jockety's Shoes

(Update--10am Tuesday--8/1)
Hmmmm.... I like the Ronnie Belliard pick-up for Hector Luna. The Jorge Sosa acquisition is nothing to get excited about. I'm guessing Walt will keep an eye on the waiver wire again to see if he can do another Woody Williams/Larry Walker type deal. If not, I guess what you see, is what you get. Not bad...but not likely to challenge for a World Series title.
(Posted- 1pm...2 hours before the MLB, no-waivers trade deadline)

  • I'd do my best to make a dramatic roster change.
  • I'd forget that my team is in first place, and look at the upgrades being made by Cincinnati and other NL foes.
  • I'd consider just about any deal as long as it doesn't break the budget.
  • I'd consider Pujols, Rolen, and Molina as the only position players who are untouchable. (Yes I'd trade David Eckstein if I could get Miguel Tejada)
  • I'd take my team's performance in inter-league play, and games against the arch-rival Cubs, as an indicator of how this group would do in the post-season....NOT good.
  • I'd look at what we did to fill the second base job since letting Mark Grudzielanek walk as an example of what NOT to do in the future.
  • I'd consider Jim Edmonds, because of his contract, a trading chip too.
  • I'd bear in mind that Carpenter, Wainwright and Reyes are the only projected starters for next year under contract.
  • I'd remember that there have been essentially no unsold seats at Busch Stadium this year. And that should pretty much be the case for the forseeable future, as long as I don't get complacent with the roster.
  • I'd be careful about expecting to make a deal by clearing someone through waivers, a la Larry Walker.
  • I'd be careful about using the old "We're in a small market and don't have the resources of others" line this time around.
  • I'd remember the goal is to win the World Series...not the division.
  • I'd remember that Cardinal Nation is used to winning the division.
  • I'd have a speech ready to convince the bosses to loosen up the purse strings for the right deal.
  • I'd be busy on the phone, and not be concerned with what people like me think.

Good luck Walt, you'll need it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Bring Back Conscription

The Israelis have at least one thing right. They require their Jewish young people, of both sexes, to spend time in the military service. You might be surprised at how many other countries require military service of their youth. I was. Click on the link for a list.

Why should America consider mandatory conscription? Because as we get further and further away from the abandonment of the draft...(The military draft ceased in this country a few months after I was drafted in November of 1972)...we also get further and further away from the time when people were forced to learn about the value of personal responsiblity. When one takes responsibilty for also becomes more valuable in one's own mind, and to the rest of society. Basic training is tough. But, it generally makes you a better person in many ways...not the least of which is understanding that you are ultimately responsible for yourself. I say this as a 55-year-old man who is observing things daily that I can't find a way to swallow.

Examples? You see and read it every day in the news. The inability, or unwillingness, of individuals to take responsibility for their own actions. i.e.--
  • Men who make children and then leave them.
  • Women who expect someone else to solve all their problems for them.
  • All types of people who expect the government to solve all their problems.
  • Executives who are unwilling to provide for their employees.
  • Employees who complain easily and are quick to blame their problems on management, lack of opportunity, or bad luck (something outside of themselves).
  • Folks hire lawyers in order to blame someone else for, and profit from, their own misfortune.
  • Children who refuse to accept blame for lack of performance, or misbehavior, in school. (Mostly because they hear parents blaming teachers or administrators.)
  • Instead of accepting constructive criticism with a thank you, people tend to offer excuses or foist blame.
  • Just about all criminal behavior.

There are hundreds of other examples. But, you get the idea.

Why would mandatory military service help fix these problems? It is the one experience I have had in life where I was put in a situation in which I was forced to be my own best friend. It is made clear at the outset that noone is going to take care of you, but yourself. Much is demanded physically and mentally. You are pushed to your limit, and most times you find that you are capable of much more than you imagined. You are strong, you are smart, you are worthy of honor and praise. You are just as good, if not better, than the next guy and you can take care of yourself.... Hallelujah...YOU CAN TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF!!! Once you get this basic lesson of life through your head, your expectations of yourself are greater, and of others around you less. You are more valuable in every possible aspect of living.

Being a proud person also gives one the ability to understand and celebrate excellence...appreciate freedom and do something with it. Unless a person understands what it takes to personally excel, mediocrity becmes that person's excellence. Unsatisfactory becomes acceptable. Being a burden for others becomes a way of life. Fewer and fewer of us look in the mirror to find the answer to our problems because we don't understand that we are capable of excellence and therefore demand more and better of ourselves.

Maybe forcing all young people to serve two years in the military is expecting a little much. But, a good dose of good old-fashioned basic training for a couple of months...followed by four months or so of some kind of public service... would tend to straighten out a lot of our social problems in America. I'll bet there are a number of my ex-military friends who understand where I'm coming from. I wouldn't expect anyone who hasn't stood in front of a drill sergeant at 5 a.m. to get it. And that's the problem.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Line

-If you cross it. You're fired.

But there's no clear-cut boundary line for broadcasters anymore. Just gray area.

Apparently Bryan Burwell, although I didn't hear it, crossed it during a tirade on KFNS last week. Some fellow African-American who called in to his show had the idea that Burwell was an "Uncle Tom" because of his on-going position condemning Barry Bonds. The listener felt that Burwell was less critical of the ultra-white, erstwhile St. Louis hero Mark McGwire, and should be called on the carpet for not being more supportive of someone of his own race in baseball's Great Steroids Debate.

The foolishness of the caller's expectations can be argued another day. But, Burwell's profanity-laced response was enough to get him suspended by KFNS management for something like 12 hours. I don't know exactly what he said. I don't know the specific terms of the suspension. But, since he's back on the air this week, it seems more like an after-school detention than a suspension. Friends tell me what was said should be...or at least at one time would have been... grounds for immediate termination. (Some say Dave Lenihan was canned for a less blatant offense at KTRS.)

Because stations could be heavily fined and their licenses threatened for such boo-boos, part of an education in broadcasting "back in the day" included instruction, in no uncertain terms, as to where the line was that you dare not cross. Part of my Radio Production 201 class at SIU in the early 70's included a listing of the words that were unacceptable, and the degrees of seriousness that each of them carried. We were told that once you set foot in an area that may have a live microphone, you did not utter such words for any reason. Then you put that policy into practice each time you were asked to do anything that came close to air work. Even if it was in a production...or recorded...setting. You studied. You practiced. You became a broadcaster with a "trained mind" that included a sub-consciousness of what was, and wasn't, acceptable when the on-the-air light was on.

Nowadays, having a third class radio-operator's license (which used to be the FCC's minimum requirement for anyone who would actually put hands on the equipment..and formerly a minimum requirement for being hired at a radio station) as a prerequisite for on-air work is essentially a thing of the past. So is actually being trained in the hard-and-fast rules of the broadcasting business. Managers seem ready to sacrifice quality of background and training now for the name value of the potential speaker, or the opportunity to hire someone part-time and "on-the-cheap". So, many writers, such as Mr. Burwell, then are able to go on the air for a few hours a day and consider themselves broadcasters. Uh-uh! Not in my opinion. Show me your Mass-Comm diploma with a concentration in Radio-TV, or show me your diploma from Broadcast Center or a similar trade school, or show me your third-class ticket, and maybe I'll sign off on that idea. I don't care how many Super Bowls you've been to.

Now folks who talk into a microphone, and get paid something for it, have the notion that that's all that's needed to be considered a broadcaster. Mr. Burwell, or any of the very protective legion of scribes who pound the keyboard at newspapers, wouldn't consider me a print journalist just because I can string some words together on a blog. We have some pretty good butchers at the local market too...but I wouldn't want one to take out my appendix.

Am I a trained and qualified newspaper writer or columnist who should be paid for my thoughts? I guess so, if someone would pay to read my stuff...right? I don't have a journalism degree. Don't know the inner-workings, or unwritten rules of the newspaper business. The only newspaper experience I have is in the mailroom at the Belleville News-Democrat when I was in college. But, maybe I'll consider myself a writer anyway. Doesn't mean I'm right though...does it?

Mr. Burwell has attempted to take responsiblity publicly by apologizing for his on-air faux pas. I've heard and read enough from him to know that he is an intelligent and educated man. But, does that mean we should excuse him with a meaningless reprimand when he crosses the line in such a blatant way? Should anyone who breaks the rules, or laws, of any endeavor...such as Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire in forgiven so easily? When these incidents just go by without serious consequences, we create more gray area, and more opportunity for young people to believe that mediocrity is close enough to excellence, dignity isn't necessary, and honor doesn't really matter. When Burwell lowered himself to the words he chose to use, he stooped to a level perfect for the executioner's ax. But none was put into motion.

We have to understand that there is a line....then enforce and respect it.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Defining St. Louis

-Just what is, and where is, St. Louis? Is it defined by the boundaries of the city proper? I don't think anyone really believes Mayor Francis Slay's domain is all there is to St. Louis. Is it everything contained in Charlie Dooley's St. Louis county? Is it the twelve or so counties that make up the St. Louis ADI on both sides of the Mississippi? Is it everything within, say, 30 miles of the Arch? I suppose there really isn't a correct answer. But I contend that, even in this age of modern transit and instant communication, beliefs about who lives in St. Louis seem to be very personal and parochial. And, as we media types say, perception is reality. So what is your perception?

Why do I ask? I was listening to an interview on KFNS yesterday when some of my old irritations about the role of the Metro-East as it relates to the entire market were brought to the surface. The host was John Marecek. He was talking to Jeff Cooper of the Alton law firm Simmons-Cooper about the effort being mounted by Cooper and some associates to bring an MLS (pro soccer) team to St. Louis. One of the options the group is considering is to operate in a Metro-East venue. They say they could operate on either side of the river, depending on where they can get public or private financing to build a stadium.

Marecek made a statement while asking a question of Cooper when he said..."I would think you'd have to locate on the Missouri side of the river to be successful, right?" His statement was loud and clear...and unfortunately is part of the problem that has existed for as long as I can remember...because a river runs through our metropolitan area. Marecek might as well have said..."The Missouri part of the market is more important in every way than the Illinois you wouldn't want to handicap yourself by aligining your team with a place where Missouri people don't want to go, do you?" I'm not saying Marecek was being mean-spirited. He just apparently holds the same unchallenged attitude many who have lived and worked in Missouri all their lives seem to have.

By the way, Cooper answered by saying that his group had done numerous marketing studies that indicate the public would support the team in a successful manner no matter which side of the river is called home base. So they believe some of these old-line perceptions may be finally changing. It's just a bridge. We in Illinois cross them all the time. No big deal.

There can be no argument that, at this point in time, the Missouri portion of our metro area has more of everything...people, business, entertainment opportunities, restaurants, shopping areas, sports venues, etc. But, does that mean that anything in the Illinois portion should be thought of as inferior, or of lesser quality? Does it mean that a business venture such as a sports franchise couldn't possibly survive in Illinois? (My Gateway Grizzlies are leading the Frontier league in attendance with a good percentage of regular customers coming from South County.)Remember, the Cardinals toyed with the idea of building New Busch in Illinois for a while. Or was that just part of the bargaining game? Anyway, I can't tell you, as a life-long resident of the Metro-East, how irritated I get with the condescending attitude that many Missouri people casually display toward anything east of the river. " live in Illinois? Why would you do that? That's just slums and topless bars..right?"

I've had discussions with some of my co-workers and friends in radio over the years about the use of the phrase..."over there" or "on the other side of the river" or "over in Illinois". Why are they necessary? Can't we somehow understand that we're all part of the same metro area? What makes Illinois..."over there" and not Missouri? What makes Illinois..."the other side" and not Missouri? When I go to the other side of the river from where I live it's to Missouri. If I had my way, I'd take several Metro-East counties and annex them to Missouri. Or we'd certainly welcome some Missouri counties into Illinois. We'd surely get more done that way. (Look at the current squabble over building a new bridge for example.)

Over the next ten years, some of these perceptions of the Metro-East will undoubtedly have to change. There are cities that are exploding with new development and population...Edwardsville, Belleville, O'Fallon, Columbia, Waterloo, Glen Carbon and Fairview Heights to name a few. Why? The Missouri part of the market has expanded about as far as it logically can. Will people want to live farther out than O'Fallon, Wildwood, Eureka, etc. and still want to come downtown to do business, or go to a ballgame? Most places in the Metro-East are just a few minutes from the arch. O'Fallon, Missouri is a good hour. Yes, we have to cross a bridge to get to Missouri. But, as I said, it's just a road over some water. No big deal. So, the developers, and entrepreneurs are looking at Illinois.

And, that's to say nothing of the impending commercial and industrial explosion of development planned for the I-255 North/South corridor. My friends Rich Sauget, Congressman Jerry Costello, and State Representative Tom Holbrook could tell you about how I-255 is going to become a commercial/industrial monster over the next ten years. Several enormous developments are already in the works with infrastructure to handle it already being planned.

I contend that we are all living in St. long as it is loosely defined. While in the Army, I always told others that I was from St. Louis. On my recent vacation, when people asked, I said the same thing. It's easier. And it's how I feel. I have always thought of my home as St. Louis even though I live in one of the many suburbs that happens to be in Illinois. I would bet that 95% of those who live in the Illinois portion of the metro area would tell you the same thing. Are we any less St. Louisans than someone who lives in Kirkwood, Fenton, Florissant, or Chesterfield? If you live in one of those burbs, do you think Illinois residents are St. Louisans?

The river, being in different states, the bridges, but mostly slow-to-change and misguided attitudes continue to define and divide us. All of us who go to Cardinals, Rams, and Blues games support the same team. Why can't we all be St. Louisans? The phrase "over in...." should be used when referring to France.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Belief in the Product

-I've heard a lot of people in a lot of places blasting the Blues for announcing an increase in the price of some of the tickets for the upcoming season. Certainly following such a dismal season with an increase in ticket prices makes one question the PR strategy makers. But, at the risk of sounding like an apologist, I don't think the move should be receiving the amount of ridicule that it has.

Yes, the on-ice Blues did have a terrible season. No, they don't figure to be challenging for a Stanley Cup next season. But they have upgraded the team and the overall experience at the building considerably already. They're investing tons of money in new scoreboards, ribbon boards, and other amenities at Savvis. They've put a pretty good chunk of change into some intriguing free-agent acquisitions. Guerin, McKee, Hinote, Weight.

We have to also remember that there was some optimism for the young guns that we put on the ice last season until injuries knocked Tkachuk, Brewer, Sanford, Drake...and a bunch of other guys out of the lineup for a good part of the season. The team had a good stretch of success after the first of the year...until the trading deadline when the wheels fell off. Bottom line... I don't think the team is as terrible as the record might indicate. With any kind of luck, and with the ability to stay healthy, The Note will at least challenge for a playoff spot in the coming season.

No, I'm not drinking any funny cool-aid. Look at the goaltending situation. There were stretches last season when Curtis Sanford and /or Jason Bacashihua were practically unbeatable. If the team could have scored a goal in front of them, they would have had many more victories than the final tally. Both of these guys figure to be back this year and more confident than before. Sanford is playing now for a big money contract...and wants to prove he's worth it. Bacashihua is coming off an outstanding showing as one of the goalies for Team USA in the IIHF Men's World Championships. If the team adds Manny Legace, or another veteran goaltender as either a number one guy or backup, they should be, at the very least, solid in goal.

The team should be more capable of putting the biscuit in the basket, if only because of the experience gained by some of the young guys. If Guerin rebounds from a bad year. If Tkachuk can stay healthy. If Weight can bring some of his Carolina "Cup" experience into play. If, if, if ...I know there are quite a few of them. But, you have to admit there has been an upgrade to the roster. At least we're not counting on as many obvious minor-leaguers as last year.

I'm willing to... and I'm always preaching this...wait until the end of December before saying the ticket price increase was unjustified or that going to a game is a waste of entertainment money. I always wait until then to assess the quality of the team as far as playoff contention goes. You just might see the Savvis Center...or whatever it will be called when the new naming partner is signed...become the place to be in the coming season. Then a lot of people, or businesses, will wish they had either kept their season tickets...or invested a little more to keep them.

What if the Blues happen to become a hot ticket? What if everything falls into place this season on the ice? What if the game night experience improves to the point that Blues games become "the thing to do" this Fall and Winter in St. Louis. If the Blues had waited until that happened to announce a price increase on tickets, they would be blasted for profiteering then too. They might as well get it over with now, and take their lumps with pricing so it looks like they're confident in what they're doing. They probably figured that you're rarely going to raise prices and have the media hail it as a wise thing to do no matter when it's done. Even after the price bump, the tickets here are cheaper than in two-thirds of the other cities in the NHL. And make no mistake, the NHL in cities other than St. Louis, was setting attendance records last season. And that's right out of the gate after missing a whole season. The Blues people probably figured that with an upgrade to the roster there will be higher demand for tickets here too.

One other thing. The Checketts administration isn't coming in here with blinders on. They have run sports operations in the biggest market in the world. They aren't stupid. Let's give them a chance to prove what they know, what they can do, and that they mean what they say when they say "we're in this to win". Big time sports isn't a cheap night out. We already knew that. Now it's up to the on-ice guys to make the ticket worth its face value.

Monday, July 17, 2006

My Summer Vacation

-The bad thing about great vacations is...they're usually expensive. The one I just had was fairly expensive...but not painfully so. The best thing about this one had nothing to do with the money. It was that our family was reunited in a beautiful place for a few days.

Since our oldest son Ian moved away from home last November, the four of us (me, Barb, Ian, and younger son Stewart) hadn't had the chance to all be in the same place at the same time. We set up this vacation to fix that. And having the boys together again in the beautiful Vail valley in Colorado was a great and satisfying thing. We took a lot of pictures..(a few of which are shared at the right)...we hiked, went sight-seeing, ate and drank very well, and generally did what ever came to mind in a spectacular setting. (I dislike vacations that are too structured...hard to really relax).

We spent a few minutes standing at the highest spot on earth that I've ever encountered...the continental divide at Independence Pass between Aspen and Leadville (elevation 12,095 feet). We saw the hoity-toity shops and the beautiful homes and mountain scenery in Aspen. We hiked up the side of a mountain to a beautiful natural lake formed by the cascade of the melting snow. It's called Hanging Lake, and many who visit Colorado take the same hike. It's just off I-70 in the Glenwood Springs area. While in Glenwood Springs, we all bellied up to the bar at Doc Holliday's Saloon. Dr. John Holiday(right), of Wyatt Earp and OK Corral fame, spent time there thinking the area's hot sulphur springs would help cure his tuberculosis. Too bad it actually had a negative effect and he died in the Glenwood Hotel in 1887 at the age of 36.

There are many more short stories I could tell about the trip...but your eyes would glaze over like at a slide show. Other people's vacations are never as interesting as they think they are, right? With the exception of a few airline delays, the trip was a great one. And, most importantly, our little family got to re-connect.

Now I'm back to reality here in the St. Louis area where, at least, the air contains more oxygen. More traditional blog posts are forthcoming.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Mid-Year Thoughts

-I will be vacationing until Thursday 7/13...New material will appear after that.
-So far, the "New Blues" have decided to go with key players from last year's management and on-ice team. Pleau, Kitchen, Weight, Drake etc. New additions Jay McKee and Dan Hinote won't create much excitement. Brendan Shanahan might. Could John Davidson coax Brett Hull out of retirement until they retire his jersey? Not likely. But, it's a thought.

-What will the Cardinals do to stablize their listing ship? Could they win the Torii Hunter sweepstakes? If there is a Torii Hunter sweepstakes. The Twins might not let him loose now that they're playing better. Would they deal for a John Smoltz? How about bringing back fan favorite Reggie Sanders and admitting that not signing him after last season was a mistake.

-A man was killed by a bunch of gang thugs in East St. Louis last week because he was wearing his cap in a manner judged to be disrespectful to the Crips. Shouldn't that be considered a hate crime even though all involved were of the same race?

-So they've scrubbed launching the Space Shuttle for two days because of the weather costing NASA a couple of million dollars in overtime pay. Remind me. Weren't we supposed to be able to fly into space with souped-up airplanes by now? Seems like the shuttle thing has worn out its welcome.

-Name me three players who played on the U.S. World Cup team.

-Have you had one of the Krispy-Kreme cheeseburgers...officially known as Baseball's Best a Grizzlies game yet? Only two more months in the season.

-So just about all of the guys who were serious competition for Lance Armstrong in bicycle racing were kicked out of this year's Tour de France for blood doping. Was Lance the only one who wasn't cheating? If so, it makes his accomplishments all the more impressive.

-An asteroid big enough to change life on our planet zoomed by the Earth today in what astronomers called a "near miss". Did you feel the breeze? One astronomer said that had it made impact it could have wiped out a small country. He also said..."At least we knew about this one. We should be more worried about the ones we don't know about." Very encouraging.

-Legendary sports columnist Frank Deford has started campaigning to limit the number of times the national anthem is played. His contention is that it becomes a meaningless, and sometimes disrespectful presentation, when it's played and sung before practically every sporting event. He says presenting the anthem should be reserved for Independence Day..Memorial Day...Flag Day...Veterans Day...etc. Having heard many botched-up and totally amateurish anthems in my day... I tend to agree with Deford. We would probably get more out of the anthem...if it were presented on special occasions for which we could plan professionally-presented, and therefore special presentations.

-You haven't seen me write anything for several weeks about my American Idol favorite Chris Daughtry. In fact, you haven't seen anybody write anything about him. I'm hoping he's got his publicity machine ready to operate after the American Idols Summer Tour. Otherwise, he might fall off the radar like so many other AI runners-up. You couldn't picture him doing those Ford commercials and all of the other stuff Taylor Hicks is doing right now...could you?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Away We Go!

I attended the press conference at the Missouri Athletic Club Friday at which Dave Checketts formally announced his purchase of the Blues. I should say Mr. Checkets, his associates, and investment companies...purchased the team. A lot of high finance here.

I know first impressions can sometimes be deceiving, but after having spoken with Checketts, Ken Munoz and Mike McCarthy, I could not be more impressed. All of these men appear to be not only smart, but very down-to-earth and caring individuals. It is easy to see why John Davidson was so impressed with their leadership that he would quit his very lucrative and sexy broadcasting career to become president of the team. These people appear to be...and from all accounts I've heard, read, and seen... are genuinely first-class sports business operators.

I spoke with Munoz for at least ten minutes after the press conference...he was genuinely engaging and interested in my history with the team. He also told stories of his hanging out at hockey games as a kid. He's really excited to be a part of an NHL ownership group. McCarthy and Checketts did their best to be personable and did a great job, considering they hadn't slept for a few days trying to get the deal done. Davidson also came across to me to be a man who enjoys other people, and will take the time to get to know someone even if it's of no particular benefit to him. I look forward to helping all of them in any way I can.

One thing that is interesting right off the bat is the controversial decision to maintain a relationship with Larry Pleau as general manager. From my viewpoint Pleau appeared to have a strong gameplan of developing the team from the minor leagues on up during his tenure with the Laurie regime until the owner and his management lackeys interfered. Some of the people that Bill Laurie trusted to make business decisions on his behalf took Pleau and his hockey operations people for a long and miserable ride. The Paige Sports (Laurie's parent company) people wanted to win, and win now, and the resulting moves to acquire Keith Tkachuk, Doug Weight and a few other high-priced veterans took the team to the brink of success...but also stripped it of the talent in the minors that it needed to fill the roster with quality further down the road.

Now that the team is basically starting over with young people with an eye to winning in a few...or several...years, Pleau and his chief talent evaluator Jarmo Keikalainen can hopefully build a team with talented youngsters that St. Louis hockey fans will be able to enjoy for years to come. First overall draft pick Erik Johnson...and some of the other draftees...appear to be a good start down that road. The bottom line for me...Pleau's major failing in St. Louis has been the inability to hire a top-notch goaltender. John Davidson is a former NHL goalie... and should be able to help Pleau and Jarmo fix that. There are already several good...if not potentially great...goalies in the organization. Curtis Sanford, Jason Bacashihua, Chris Beckford-Tseu, Marek Schwarz, Ben Bishop et al.

We all can only hope that the new owners and their understanding of business, sports and the world will bring us back to championship caliber hockey in St. Louis sooner than later. There is no doubt an enormous task ahead. It seems like a pipe dream to many St. Louis hockey fans because of our long-standing frustration, but I truly believe the Stanley Cup is now within sight. The Checketts group appears to me to be up to it.