Andrus Center, Baseball

Pleasures of the Ear

JoeCastiglioneI’ve spent the World Series with Joe Castiglione. I hope he’s enjoyed it as much as I have.

For baseball fans who have been glued to the tube during this remarkably engaging World Series, I should mention that Castiglione is one member of the radio broadcast team for the Boston Red Sox. Along with the great Vince Scully and Jon Miller, he has one of the wonderful and distinct voices in the game. I’ve been without television for this Series and frankly haven’t missed a thing. Once again I’ve rediscovered the pleasures of the ear – listening in the dimming twilight to a baseball game on the radio. I highly recommend it.

I grew up in South Dakota listening to the Minnesota Twins’ flagship radio station WCCO in the days before baseball on television amounted to little more than “The Game of the Week” on CBS. Ray Scott, Herb Carneal and Halsey Hall – what a great baseball name – did the play-by-play and helped make me a life-long fan. WCCO was, and is, a monster station, 50,000 watts and “clear channel.” The signal was so strong that on a summer night in the Black Hills Herb Carneal could have been sitting in my bedroom. In fact, I think he might have been.

The New York Times had a great piece yesterday on another of the Midwest’s monster stations KMOX in St. Louis, the home of Cardinals baseball and the station that produced Jack and Joe Buck and, in an earlier day before too many Buds, a guy named Harry Caray. Reporter David Waldstein set out to see if he could literally drive out from under the KMOX signal in the length of time it took the Red Sox and Cards to play Game 4. He drove more than 300 miles during the game, ending up in Mississippi with a strong, clear signal on his car radio.

Waldstein reports near the end of his wonderful story “the reception is so clear, I probably could have driven straight into the Gulf of Mexico and still heard the sad postgame show. [The Cardinals lost.] Instead, I listen to the hissing report — the content of the show is hissing, not the signal reception — as I head toward Memphis and the Blues City Cafe for a well-deserved plate of ribs, full rack, and a last pit stop at a West Memphis gas station.”

FOX and Turner Broadcast have paid millions – billions? – for the television rights to baseball playoff games. I hope they’re getting their money’s worth. I’ve never shopped in a Shaw’s Market – a major sponsor of Joe Castiglione’s broadcasts – but I can tell you the specials this week. Joe keeps reminding me.

More than any other sport, baseball is a game every fan plays inside their head. You wonder if the pitcher is getting tired? Should someone be warming up? Is David Ortiz really going to get another hit next time? Shouldn’t the Cardinals pitch around the real Mr. October? I can even see Mike Napoli’s awful beard on the radio. That guy, by the way, needs an appointment with a pair of scissors. The great game is the most cerebral game and the most personal. Listening in on radio, bathed in the sound of Joe’s New England twang, God is in his heaven and God is a baseball fan and this year God may be a Red Sox fan.

On the radio I can see my dad crouching in the catcher’s position to catch a strike from my brother who only had a fast ball, never a curve. I can see Harmon Killebrew at the Old Met in Bloomington. And Junior at the awful KingDome. I can imagine Ruth at Fenway and Enos Slaughter’s mad dash from first to home.

I’ll be near a television tonight and I might watch Game 6, but I also might turn off the too much, too obvious commentary of Buck and McCarver and listen to a few Shaw’s grocery spots instead. Let’s get on with it. I can’t wait and I never want it to end.



Andrus, Andrus Center, Baseball, Civil Rights, FDR, Film, Television

Jim Crow’s Playmates

One of the best things about the new film about baseball great Jackie Robinson is actor Harrison Ford’s portrayal of baseball executive Branch Rickey, the man who found the guts in 1945 to sign Robinson to a minor league contract with the Montreal Royals and then in the 1947 season, against all odds, brought the first African-American player to the major leagues.

By all accounts Mr. Rickey, as everyone called him, wasn’t much of a ballplayer himself. He only played in the majors for four seasons, had a career batting average of .239 and hit only three home runs. Granted it was the “dead ball” era, but those numbers don’t get you to Cooperstown.

Rickey got to the Hall of Fame on the strength of his success as a baseball manager and executive. He had a hand in three great and enduring innovations – the establishment of the farm system to identify and nurture talent, breaking the color line with the signing of No. 42 and late in his life helping start the Continental League, a proposed third major league that failed to get off the grass, but nevertheless ushered in expansion of baseball to new markets.

The great sportswriter Jim Murray said Rickey “could recognize a great player from the window of a moving train” and the great man’s nickname, “The Mahatma,” was recognition of his pioneering ways and the deep Christian faith that he wore on his sleeve. One contemporary said when Rickey met you for the first time he wanted to know everything about you, then set out to change you.

In the wake of seeing the Robinson movie – it’s a must for any baseball or history buff – I read a splendid piece by another great sportswriter Red Smith. Writing in 1948, the year after Robinson broke the Jim Crow barriers around baseball, Smith was reporting – and not with any surprise – about how little support Rickey had received from the other leaders of the national past time.

“A curious sort of hullabaloo has been aroused by Branch Rickey’s disclosure that when he went into the ring against Jim Crow, he found fifteen major league club owners working in Jim’s corner,” Smith wrote. “It is strange that the news should stir excitement, for surely it couldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone.” Those other owners – Red Smith called them “Jim Crow’s playmates” – were worried about alienating fans, suffering public abuse or hurting their investments. Most likely all three. Questions of morality often get snagged on the sharp edges of commerce. Morality wins, as it did in 1947, when a big man – make that two big men – act with a sense of righteousness and with history on their side.

It’s hard, I think, perhaps even impossible, for anyone born after the awful era of Jim Crow to grasp the degree to which economic, political and cultural forces were aligned to keep black Americans from jobs, health care, public services, the ballot box and the sense of decency that goes with simply being respected. It was a shameful, nasty and profoundly disturbing period of American history. One reason for young people to see the Robinson film, in addition to the well-told heroic story, is to get a taste of the appalling racism that Robinson and so many other Americans of color deal with every hour of every day.

A spectacular new book by Columbia University historian Ira Katznelson expands on the political implications of the Jim Crow era, and yes the implications still echo today, by exploring in detail the Faustian bargain Franklin Roosevelt entered into in order to push his New Deal agenda through a southern dominated Democratic Congress in the 1930’s. The Robinson story fits squarely in the history lesson Katznelson tells so well.

As Kevin Boyle wrote in reviewing Fear Itself in the New York Times, “[FDR’s] calculation was simple enough. Thanks to the disfranchisement of blacks and the reign of terror that accompanied it, the South had become solidly Democratic by the beginning of the 20th century, the Deep South exclusively so. One-party rule translated into outsize power on Capitol Hill: when Roosevelt took office, Southerners held almost half the Democrats’ Congressional seats and many of the key committee chairmanships. So whatever Roosevelt wanted to put into law had to have Southern approval. And he wouldn’t get it if he dared to challenge the region’s racial order.”

Franklin Roosevelt, Katznelson argues, made a “rotten compromise” with the southern politicians of his own party who dominated Congress in exchange for being able to govern effectively in a time of depression, war and deep and persistent fear. While FDR didn’t challenge a segregated culture, ironically the New Deal served to both prolong Jim Crow and made its demise inevitable. FDR’s “rotten compromise” fails as a profile in courage, but the Hudson River valley aristocrat who fancied himself a Georgia farmer eventually made so many changes in the way we use and view government that his New Deal made Harry Truman and eventually Lyndon Johnson possible.

In the same way that Branch Rickey, The Mahatma of baseball, saw a wrong and tried to right it, first Truman and later Johnson, fully understanding the political consequences, abandoned the old Democratic Party of Jim Crow and ushered in the civil rights era; an era of unending struggles, that still dominates politics and culture today.

Every time I read or hear about another effort to make voting more difficult for minorities in America or hear a politician suggest that “American exceptionalism” makes it clear we don’t have to worry about race and class in this “post-racial” time in our history, I’ll remember Jackie Robinson’s one-time Brooklyn Dodger teammate from Alabama Dixie Walker. Walker, a fine ballplayer and a career .306 hitter who lead the league in hitting in 1944, also led the push back against Robinson playing with the Dodgers. Walker demanded to be traded and drew up an anti-Robinson petition that he and other Dodger players were determined to present to club president Branch Rickey.

Dixie Walker’s career dried up after 1947. Rickey traded him to the lowly Pirates and he retired in 1948, but would come back to coach in the majors often working  without issue with black ballplayers. In his 2002 book The Era, the great writer Roger Kahn quoted Walker as saying: “I organized that petition in 1947, not because I had anything against Robinson personally or against Negroes generally. I had a wholesale business in Birmingham and people told me I’d lose my business if I played ball with a black man.”

Fear is a great motivator. History has a tendency to reward people who push back against it. Rickey and Robinson are in the Hall of Fame. Truman’s stock at a great president continues to rise. Johnson’s place as the president who sacrificed his party’s once invincible regional base in the south in exchange for civil rights legislation is secure. Dixie Walker told Roger Kahn the anti-Robinson petition was the “stupidest thing he had ever done,” and he regretted it for the rest of his days.

Dixie Walker was by all accounts a devoted family man who, as Harvey Araton wrote in 2010, was “without much formal education, [but] he was curious and informed. Representing N.L. players, he helped devise the major leagues’ first pension plan, suggesting its revenue be generated from All-Star Game proceeds.” None of that has helped erase the stigma of what Dixie Walker did when driven by his own fear during the season of 1947.

Time may heal wounds, but reputations are much harder to repair. The playwright said it:  “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.” Fear itself stands in the way of so much.


Andrus Center, Baseball, Civil Rights, Film

Baseball on Film

I hope the new biopic about the great Jackie Robinson is as good as the hype, but even if it’s not I’m looking forward to seeing the film about No. 42 for a variety of reasons. It’s a great story and certainly Robinson deserves to be widely remembered and praised for his role in tearing down the awful barrier that existed prior to the 1947 season that prevented black players from reaching the major leagues. I’m also looking forward to the Harrison Ford portrayal of another hero in the story Branch Rickey. For at least a couple of hours this die-hard Giants fan can root for the Dodgers.

Another reason I hope 42 is worthy of becoming a classic is that there are relatively few really good movies about baseball. I think I’ve seen all of them. From the loopy Major League, best remembered for Bob Uecker stealing the show – “just a little outside” – and Renee Russo looking like, well Renee Russo, to the pretty awful Babe Ruth Story starring a classic actor, William Bendix, miscast as the great Yankee. As one description of that film put it Bendix “resembles Ruth slightly in looks and not at all in baseball ability.” That pretty much sums up the movie.

I remember watching The Stratton Story with my baseball loving dad. Jimmy Stewart played Monty Stratton, a successful real life Chicago White Sox pitcher who loses a leg in a hunting accident and makes a determined comeback in the minors. The movie wasn’t bad, but the trailer with narration from the adorable June Allyson, who plays Stratton’s wife, is a 1949 Hollywood classic. You can watch it here.

The laconic Gary Cooper looks a little better in pinstripes than William Bendix and does a passably good job of playing the great Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig in The Pride of the Yankees. The moving story of Gehrig’s career and tragic death has to be on any must-see list of baseball films. The real Babe Ruth along with Yankee greats Bob Meusel, a lifetime .311 hitter who probably belongs in the Hall of Fame, and catcher Bill Dickey, who is in the Hall and deserves to be, make appearances in the film looking very much like the aging stars they were when the movie was released in 1942.

But none of those films make my top five. The best of the best baseball stories on film are not about real players, but often about the game, its rituals and the fact that baseball more than any other sport has a mystery and rhythm to it that has been, at least a few times, translated very well on the big screen. Here in descending order are my five best baseball movies:

5) Field of Dreams is a classic for the sentiment and its myriad connections to literature, history and baseball lore. I was lucky to play catch with my dad and debate Shoeless Joe Jackson’s guilt or innocence. What baseball fan hasn’t? And, of course, “If you build it, he will come,” is a line that has passed into movie lore and found its way into everyday usage. To me the line and the film are really references to a fanciful dream that comes true and wonderful dreams are good, even if they sometimes don’t pan out. Who wouldn’t like to see the 1919 Black Sox playing on your own diamond out by the corn field? Enough said.

4) Bull Durham is a classic baseball movie (and, yes, a little raunchy, too) that is also about life, love and second chances. OK, maybe I like it a little because Susan Sarandon stars as the groupie who haunts the Durham Bulls Class A team. Kevin Costner plays aging catcher Crash Davis who once made it to “the show,” but now observes baseball’s curious rules in the low minor leagues. His “I believe in…” speech delivered to Sarandon and the dense, wild but fast pitcher played by Tim Robbins is great. “I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone,” he says, “I believe there ought to be a Constitutional amendment outlawing AstroTurf and the designated hitter rule…” Need to see it again.

3) A League of Their Own makes my top five list for Tom Hanks’ outrageously good performance as the manager of a woman’s professional baseball team in the 1940’s. Also for Genna Davis’ sweet acting job as the team’s talented catcher and for some seriously funny and memorable lines. “There’s no crying in baseball” has entered the ballpark vocabulary and will stay there forever. Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell are both believable as players and are wonderful as teammates. Hanks explaining to one of his players the importance of hitting the cutoff man is a priceless scene.

2) The Natural is, well, a natural. Robert Redford plays “the natural,” outfielder and big stick Roy Hobbs, who mysteriously shows up in the major leagues after, as he says, waiting “16 years to get here.” The screen adaptation is of the fine novel by Bernard Malamud and is very generally based on a real life incident involving Philadelphia Phillies player Eddie Waitkus. As with all these films a woman – or several in this film – play as big a role as the baseball does.

1) For my money the single best baseball-themed movie is the hauntingly beautiful screen adaptation of Mark Harris’ novel Bang the Drum Slowly. A young Robert DeNiro turns in a superb performance as a less-than-bright catcher, Bruce Pearson, who is dying of a terminal illness. Michael Moriarty is his pitcher friend, Henry Wiggins, and the film’s narrator. The fine character actor Vincent Gardenia is very good as the crusty manager. (Isn’t every baseball movie manager crusty?) The film is set around baseball, but it’s really about friendship, respect, teammates and ultimately living and dying. I love the film and particularly Wiggins’ last line – “from now on, I rag on no one” – which he delivers after telling us that none of Pearson’s teammates had bothered to show up for his funeral.

Three of these all-time greats were made in the 1980’s. Bang the Drum was released in 1973 and A League of Their Own in 1992. Here’s hoping the acclaimed Robinson film ushers in a new golden age of the baseball movies. I’m headed to the movies.


Andrus Center, Baseball

Savor the Spring

“Spring training means flowers, people coming outdoors, sunshine, optimism and baseball. Spring training is a time to think about being young again.” – Ernie Banks

The fellow with the unique hat – it was a Cubs game so there were more than a few crazy hats – was selling suds and peanuts last Saturday in the sunshine in the desert. The Cubs won, but that was hardly the point. God was in her heaven, again, and baseball is back. It’s time to think about being young again.

They’ll play the last of the pre-season games this week in Arizona and Florida, the last quiet days of a long, long season that will likely feature drama in the Bronx and at Fenway and perhaps something approaching jubilation in Washington, D.C. where baseball success has been as historically hard to come by as bi-partisan agreement. The loaded up Angels of Los Angeles by way of Anaheim have had a dismal spring, but expect them to be there in the fall. The Royals and Orioles have blistered their respective leagues and are fun to watch, but spring training does not a season make. My beloved Giants could be contenders again, but it’s hard in this game to win year-after-year, just ask Brian Cashman.

In the screwy economics of baseball you now pay $32 for a Cubs spring training game in Mesa to watch a bunch of guys even die hard fans have never heard of. Beware the “split squad” – SS on the schedule – where the boys destined for Salt Lake City and Iowa show up wearing number 69. The ballplayers may be minor league, but the fans are the real deal and so are the beer vendors. Next year the Cubs will have a spanking new spring training complex a couple of miles from cozy Hohokam Field. When the Cubs ownership cleared their throws a while back and mumbled “Florida” the City of Mesa decided to pay any price to keep spring training and the Northsiders in town where they have trained in the spring for 35 years.

Meanwhile, the Oakland A’s will abandon quaint and small Phoenix Municipal Stadium in 2015 to relocate to the ballpark the Cubs are leaving after this year. The City of Mesa – these folks love baseball and long-term economic development – will finance up to $17.5 million in upgrades to Hohokam Field. If you don’t think baseball, even at this level, is good for a community just ask Tucson which lost all of its spring training tenants a while back. Where once 10,000 baseball fans filled a Tucson stadium the city has tried to make up for its hardball drought with soccer. I love soccer, but it’s not quite the same.

Spring training has gone from a nice, rather low key annual ritual to very big business. The Phoenix area now markets the Cactus League as among its very biggest attractions. A two-year old study of the economics of Cactus League baseball pegged the impact at least $350 million annually. That Saturday game in Mesa drew an announced crowd of more than 13,000 and considering how hard that beer guy was working most of them had at least one Old Style. It was a warm day.

The Milwaukee Brewers train in these parts, as well, and the Brew Crew just parted with $33 million over three years for a 34-year-old pitcher with a career record of 118-109 with a 4.45 ERA in a dozen seasons with four clubs. Nice work if you can get it.

As Yogi allegedly once said, “Baseball is the champ of them all. Like somebody said, the pay is good and the hours are short.” And this time of year you really can think of being young again. The “real” season will begin soon enough. For the next few days we can work on our tan – with sunscreen, of course – and wonder who the heck that guy is wearing #74. Savor the spring.

“The way to make coaches think you’re in shape in the spring is to get a tan.” – Whitey Ford 

American Presidents, Andrus, Andrus Center, Biden, Coolidge, Eisenhower, FDR, Garfield, Grand Canyon, Idaho Statehouse, Lincoln, Public Relations, Stimulus, Super Bowl

The Presidents

Every president, well almost every president, eventually gets his reappraisal. It seems to be the season for Calvin Coolidge to get his revisionist treatment. The 30th president, well known for his clipped Yankee voice and a penchant for never using two words when one would do, does deserve some chops for agreeing to be photographed – the only president to do so, I believe – wearing a Sioux headdress.

Ol’ Silent Cal came to the Black Hills of South Dakota to vacation in the summer of 1927 and the magnanimous native people who considered the Hills sacred ground made the Great White Father an honorary Chief. The president fished in what later became Grace Coolidge Creek in South Dakota’s Custer State Park – the Sioux were not as gracious to the park’s namesake – and a fire lookout is still in use at the top of 6,000 foot Mt. Coolidge in the park. The Coolidge summer White House issued the president’s famous “I do not chose to run in 1928” statement to the assembled press corps a few miles up the road from the state park in Rapid City.

But all that is just presidential trivia as now comes conservative writer and historian Amity Shlaes to attempt to rehabilitate the diminished reputation of Silent Cal. Shaels’ earlier work The Forgotten Man is a conservative favorite for its re-telling of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal; policies that in Shlaes’ revisionist hands helped prolong the Depression and made villains of the captains of Wall Street who, she contends, deserved better treatment at the bar of history.

Shlaes’ new book, predictably perhaps, is winning praise from The Wall Street Journal – “The Coolidge years represent the country’s most distilled experiment in supply-side economics—and the doctrine’s most conspicuous success” – and near scorn from others like Jacob Heilbrunn who writes in the New York Times – “Conservatives may be intent on excavating a hero, but Coolidge is no model for the present. He is a bleak omen from the past.”

As long as we debate fiscal and economic policy we’ll have Coolidge to praise or kick around. The best, most even handed assessment of Coolidge is contained in the slim volume by David Greenberg in the great American Presidents Series. Greenberg assesses Coolidge as a president caught in the transition from the Victorian Age to the modern. “Coolidge deployed twentieth-century methods to promote nineteenth-century values – and used nineteenth-century values to sooth the apprehension caused by twentieth-century dislocations. Straddling the two eras, he spoke for a nation in flux.”

Two facts are important to putting Coolidge in context: he took office (following the death of the popular Warren Harding in 1923) in the wake of the American experience in World War I, which left many citizens deeply distrustful of government as well as the country’s role in the world.  Coolidge left office on the eve of the Great Depression. A nation in flux, indeed.

To celebrate President’s Day we also have new books, of course, on Lincoln, as well as the weirdly fascinating political and personal relationship between Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. There is also a fascinating new book on the relationship among former presidents – The Presidents Club. David Frum writing at The Daily Beast wades in today with a piece on three presidents who make have been great had they had more time – Zachery Taylor, James Garfield and Gerald Ford. Three good choices in my view.

Even William Howard Taft generally remembered for only two things – being the chubbiest president and being the only former president to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme court is getting his new day in the sun. The sun will be along the base paths at the Washington National’s park where the new Will Taft mascot will join Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt for between inning races. Talk about revisionism. At 300 pounds Taft never ran for anything but an office.

One enduring truth is that every president is shaped by his times. (One day, I hope, we can say “their” times.) And over time we assess and reassess the response to the times. Reappraisal is good and necessary. A robust discussion of whether Calvin Coolidge’s economic policies were a triumph of capitalism or a disaster that helped usher in the Great Depression is not only valuable as a history lesson, but essential to understanding our own times and the members of what truly is the most exclusive club in the world – The American Presidency.

By the way, The Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University will convene a major conference on “The State of the Presidency” on February 28, 2013 in Boise. The day-long event is open to the public, but you must register and can do so online. Hope to see you there.


Andrus Center, Baseball, Uncategorized

Grace and Grit

You have to admit there is a certain rich irony in the sad fact that two of baseball’s all-time greats – Stan Musial and Earl Weaver – died the same weekend that the sports and popular culture world is still trying to process the misdeeds, misdirection and misfires of Lance Armstrong and Manti T’eo.

Stan the Man, maybe the most talented nice guy to ever lace up a pair of spikes, and The Duke of Earl, one of the most competitive and successful managers in the history of the game, could not have been more different from one another or less like those who will forever be remembered for Oprah’s confessional and the bizarre cloak of hoax that a great university has thrown around it’s star linebacker. The two old Hall of Famers go out like the pros they were, individual, real guys remembered by fans and opponents for their accomplishments not their embellishments. 

Musial, the quiet, funny competitor who labored his entire career largely out of the media glare in St. Louis, has never gotten his due as among a handful of the game’s greats. Stan died as he lived, respected, even revered, as a good and decent fellow. Weaver, the profane, pint-sized dirt kicker who once said he hoped to be remembered as “a sore loser” will be remembered for more than that and not because he was perfect. He wasn’t, but he was the real deal.

“Despite his salty, inventively profane diatribes,” the Washington Post wrote in a swell tribute, “Mr. Weaver considered himself a practicing Christian. Nonetheless, Pat Kelly, on Orioles outfielder who later became an evangelist, once asked Mr. Weaver why he didn’t join players at chapel meetings.

“Don’t you want to walk with the Lord?”Kelly reportedly asked.

“I’d rather walk with the bases loaded,” Mr. Weaver replied.

Weaver will be remembered for his umpire baiting – he was thrown out of two games before the first pitch was thrown – and his priceless one-liners. If you can stand the language, check out a classic Earl tirade on YouTube. He tells the umpire who tosses him, “You’re here for only one reason – to ___ us!”

The Earl of Baltimore once said when one of the Oriole’s truly fine pitchers Mike Cuellar lost his stuff, “I gave Cuellar more chances than my first wife.” Like Musial, Weaver was a winner in the old fashioned way with hard work, commitment and fierce determination.

Musial’s statistics speak for themselves. In 22 years in the majors, Musial failed to hit .300 just four times. In 1949, he came within one home run of leading the National League in hits, doubles, triples – and homers. Next to his accomplishments on the field what comes through in George Vecsey’s fine 2011 unauthorized biography of Musial is what a completely decent guy he was.

In 1952 and 1956 Musial had supported the Republican moderate Dwight Eisenhower for president, but in 1960 he went all in for John F. Kennedy. The two elegant guys met on a street corner in Milwaukee in the fall of 1959. Kennedy reportedly said, “They tell me you’re too old to play ball and I’m too young to be president, but maybe we can fool them.” They did. JFK went to the White House, Stan the Man to the Hall of Fame. You might say they both won on the first ballot.

Musial went on a week-long, eight state barnstorming tour for Kennedy at the very end of the very tight 1960 campaign. It must have been as good a campaign swing as there ever was. Actress Angie Dickinson, novelist James Michener, future Supreme Court Justice Byron (Whizzer) White and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. joined Ethel and Joan Kennedy and the Cardinal slugger on the trip to rally support for JFK in generally tough country for Democrats – Nebraska, Colorado, Utah and Idaho included.

Dickinson remembered getting booed and having things thrown at her in the red states of 1960, but also that Musial was “always funny…the life of the party…such a dear guy.”

In Vescey’s book, Michener remembers the group’s stop at a Boise country club – it must have been Hillcrest – “where the well-turned-out ‘bridge-playing’ women would not even acknowledge the Democratic celebrities.”

Writing in the New York Times, Vescey reminds us that during the era of the late DiMaggio and Williams, the early Mays and Aaron, Stan Musial was voted by LIFE magazine as the greatest player of the post-war period.

“Lukasz Musial, a Polish immigrant who worked in the zinc mills, was never comfortable in this new land,” Vescey said, “but his son, sweet and athletic, found mentors, men who taught him how to dress and shake hands and look people in the eye. He wanted to have a good life. In later years, he wore suits and ties and read The Wall Street Journal in his office at Stan & Biggie’s Restaurant. Musial wanted to be a businessman, not a figurehead.

“He knew the cuts of meat the way he knew the repertory of Robin Roberts (10 homers) [Don] Newcombe (11) and Warren Spahn (17, the most.) Those pitchers loved him, by the way.”

The Duke of Earl and Stan the Man. Just when you think it’s no longer possible to look up to anyone in sports, when the current crop disappoints and frustrates time and again, you have to pause and say – they weren’t all that way. Even the pitchers will miss Stan and the umps will tip their caps to Earl.


Andrus Center, Civil War, Grand Canyon, Hatfield

The Defining Event

The author and historian Shelby Foote, his narrative history of the Civil War  – all 1.5 million words of it – remains one of the masterpieces of American letters, once told the documentary filmmaker Ken Burns: “Any understanding of this nation has to be based, and I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War. I believe that firmly. It defined us. The Revolution did what it did. Our involvement in European wars, beginning with the First World War, did what it did. But the Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. And it is very necessary, if you are going to understand the American character in the twentieth century, to learn about this enormous catastrophe of the mid-nineteenth century. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.”

The crossroads of American history? Indeed.

Do we really need to understand the Civil War to understand the current debates over the role of the Supreme Court or whether the president has the authority to legally detain a person thought to present a threat to the nation? The short answer is a resounding – yes. Issues of race, the roles and responsibilities of the states in relation to the federal government, whether a state can “nullify” a federal act, our very notions of freedom and equality all have roots in the Civil War. Later this month The Andrus Center at Boise State University will welcome a distinguished group of American scholars and historians to a conference to commemorate the 150th anniversary of our defining event. We’re calling it “Why the Civil War Still Matters.”

One of those historians is Dr. Joan Waugh who teaches history at UCLA and has authored a fascinating and important book about one of the central characters of the Civil War; a dated and dusty figure who most of us only vaguely know – U.S. Grant. Waugh sat out with her book – U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth – to understand the importance of Grant, the general and the president, to his times. I hope most high school students know that Grant was the fighting general who Abraham Lincoln ultimately turned to to win the Civil War and perhaps we have some hazy notion that he eventually became a mediocre president whose administration was dogged by scandal.

But in his time, Grant was much, much more; a figure considered by his fellow Americans as worthy of mention in the same breath as Washington and Lincoln.

“From April 9, 1865,” Waugh writes, “Grant emerged as the top military victor, but importantly as a magnanimous warrior of mythic status to whom the people of the re-United States turned for leadership time and again in the years after Lincoln’s assassination.” Think for a moment of the importance of Grant the military victor who brought defeat to the rebel southern states and then helps advance the long cause of reunification by virtue of him magnanimous attitude toward the very people who had tried to kill him and the country.

As difficult as our national challenges of race, equality and sectional division remain today, it is not at all difficult to imagine that without Grant, the magnanimous warrior, our national reconciliation may never have happened. This is the kind of story that Shelby Foote knew defined American character down to the present day. Today politicians from across the political spectrum toss around illusions to the Constitution like so many focus group tested sound bites, but the Civil War was all about the Constitution and the enduring meaning of the words to create “a more perfect Union.” For that reason and so many more our generation must confront again and again this national history and its meaning today.

More information on The Andrus Center conference on the Civil War – Why the Civil War Still Matters – can be found at The Center’s website:

 The conference will take place on October 25, 2012 and is open to the public. It promises to be a day of enlightenment, entertain and relevance.



Andrus Center, Civil War, Grand Canyon, Hatfield

The Defining Moment

It has always fascinated, even confounded me that hundreds of thousands of young men from farms and factories, Irishmen and Germans, rich and poor put on the Northern blue and fought a devastating Civil War for four years for the idea – the concept – of “Union.”

Of course the great and terrible American Civil War – across the country we are commemorating its 150th anniversary – eventually became a war to end slavery, but it certainly didn’t begin that way. The war that it is now believed claimed the lives of 750,000 Americans, North and South, was, as University of Virginia historian Gary Gallagher has argued, a war to preserve the very idea that a still new nation could survive – in one piece.

Gallagher’s latest book on the war – he’s written seven himself and co-authored or edited twice again as many – is called The Union War. Gallagher makes the case that as vital – and morally correct – as ending slavery was, preserving the idea of the still young nation was pretty important, too and that idea of Union is worth considering anew.

Gallagher quotes Abraham Lincoln early in the war as saying: “For my own part, I consider the central idea pervading this struggle is the necessity that is upon us, of proving that popular government is not an absurdity. We must settle this question now, whether in a free government the minority have the right to break up the government whenever they choose. If we fail it will go far to prove the incapability of the people to govern themselves.”

I’m delighted that Professor Gallagher and half a dozen other distinguished historians of the Civil War will be in Boise on October 25th for what proves to be an interesting, provocative and enlightening conference on the war organized by The Andrus Center at Boise State University.

Gallagher will keynote the conference with a talk entitled: “The Civil War at the Sesquicentennial: How Well Do Americans Understand Their Great National Crisis?”

Gallagher’s recent book has sparked some controversy because he has sifted the evidence in search of the real motivation for the fighting on both sides and re-interpreted much of what we have long taken for granted about the war. Such is the nature of the great conflict. It has been said that we have never stopped fighting – or debating – the war.

For example, slavery ended with the war, but racism hasn’t ended. We have the first black president in the White House, but his presidency has been haunted by age-old demands for greater “state’s rights” on many things and our country is now as politically divided as at any time since, well, the Civil War. Arguments persist about displaying the “Stars and Bars,” the Confederate battle flag, over southern state capitols and there is plenty of room to debate Lincoln’s arguably unconstitutional crack down on the partisan press and suspension of habeas corpus.

I would argue that the Civil War is the defining event in our national story. It was fought from 1861 to 1865, but in some respects the personalities, the impact, the controversy, the relevance are with us still. I’ll offer more thoughts on the great American trial this week and hope loyal readers might consider devoting a day in October to thinking anew about the Civil War at a conference we’re calling – Why The Civil War Still Matters.


Andrus Center, Baseball

Steroid Era

Not Guilty as Sin

So the Rocket walks and baseball’s long twilight struggle with performance enhancing drugs slips slowly, slowly away, while the real guilty parties are still very much at large.

As Mike Barnicle, one of the few people who will actually admit to liking Roger Clemens suggested this morning that the government failed to convict the big right-hander of lying to Congress because the line-up for those guilty of that offense is just too long.

Of course most everyone thinks Clemens did use the stuff, but 12 jurors obviously thought lying about it was the sports equivalent of “I didn’t have sexual relations with that woman.” And besides, why nail the Rocket when everyone else it seems was juiced, too? There is even a website devoted to the steroid era. You can look up your favorite abuser.

It’s time, in the view of this baseball fan, to call a halt to more federal government efforts to prosecute these cheaters. They deserve – Clemens, Bonds, McGuire, Palmeiro and all the rest – the judgment of history more than the judgment of courtroom and I say that as one who believes the cornerstone of our justice system is the simple act of telling the truth.

So now the discussion turns to whether Clemens, Bonds and others will get the hallowed pass to Cooperstown. I’m of two minds on the Hall of Fame question. On the one hand, these guys cheated and sullied their own and the reputation of the greatest game. On the other hand, if Roger Clemens was pitching with an unfair advantage then guys were hitting against him with the same unfair advantage and perhaps we should leave it at that. Call it the baseball law of all things even out.

And there is this: like most revered American institutions, baseball hasn’t exactly displayed a historic level of purity that would compare the locker room or the area between the lines to a convent. The game has been dirty in one way or another since African-Americans couldn’t play it at the ultimate level, since the Black Sox threw a World Series and before Curt Flood broke the no-free-agency strangle hold of the owners.

One reason we love this game is that baseball is a window into the larger American experience. Our history is full of scoundrels, cheats and nasty, greedy owners. Ty Cobb, just to name one scoundrel, is in the Hall and my mother wouldn’t have let him in the house. And maybe the steroid era is just the unavoidable late 20th Century response to the larger society’s fixation with the notion that a pill – or an injection – is available that will fix everything from your erectile dysfunction to your depression.

Want to hit a few more home runs? While there may be a few nasty side effects, the fences are reachable. You half expect to see the commercials during the network evening news. “I’m Roger Clemens and when I need a little something extra…”

Sport has imitated life.

The real villains of the steroid era, of course, really aren’t the Rocket or Bonds or McGuire, but the owners and traffic cops of baseball who looked the other way or elected to bury their heads. Remember the juice-stoked McGuire-Sosa home run competition in 1998? Most of us ate it up. So did Bud Selig.

“I think what Mark McGwire has accomplished is so remarkable, and he has handled it all so beautifully, we want to do everything we can to enjoy a great moment in baseball history,” said the Mr. Tough-on-Drugs Commissioner.

The fans – yours truly included – loved those big bashers. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in our lust for strikeouts and the long ball. We all share some responsibility for celebrating accomplishments that we can now so clearly see really were too good to be true.

I don’t vote for the Hall of Fame, but if I did I’d mark a ballot for Clemens and the arrogant Bonds, too. They were dirty, but so was so much of the game. Here’s hoping the owners and their lackey commissioner really have taken the steps necessary to clean the game. But as for wiping the slate clean in the steroid era, well that’s for the fans of baseball to reckon with.

Twenty-five or 50 years from now when we look at the record book we won’t need an asterisk to tell us that for a few juiced up years the game was played by players with skills enhanced beyond all reason and unfairly so. Such a realization is now a part of the game that we still love.

Baseball is bigger than Roger the Rocket or Barry the Jerk. Always has been. A bunch of pumped up, big ego players and greedy owners can’t kill it even though they have tried over and over again. Baseball is like the country. With all its faults, it carries on and on.


Andrus Center, Baseball

The Greatest

My All-time Team

I never saw Rogers Hornsby play baseball – he quit playing in 1937 – but I’m still pretty sure he was among the best right-handed hitters of all time. On my own personal greatest team Hornsby would play second base. His lifetime average was .358 – over 23 years! Three different times he hit over .400 for a season and a half dozen other times came close to that magic mark. The Rajah could hit. I think he was the best ever at second.

Selecting all-time greats in anything is highly subjective, but still great fun and since one of the enduring things about baseball is the history of the great game. comparing and contrasting players from different eras can fodder for endless discussion and speculation. So, bring on the debate. He’s the rest of Johnson’s Dream Team.

My catcher is Mickey Cochrane. I could make an argument for Bill Dickey, Johnny Bench or Yogi Berra, but I like Cochrane. Great defense player, twice American League MVP and a .320 lifetime batting average. Black Mike could play for me in any era.

The great Mike Schmidt is my third baseman. In 18 years in the Majors, Schmidt hit 30 or more home runs 13 times. He had 548 dingers in his career. He also won 10 Gold Gloves, nine in a row. There has never been a better all-around third baseman. I love Brooks Robinson, too, but Schmidt is my guy.

Shortstop is tough and I admit to being a late adopter of the fact that the Yankees’ Derek Jeter is a superb baseball player. He is a marvelous all-around player, a leader and he can lead off for my all-time team. Jeter will end his career with a lifetime .300 average, more than 500 doubles and way more than 250 homers. I hate the Yankees, but Jeter is a player for the ages.

Who could possible be the pick at first except the great Lou Gehrig? Seventeenth all-time in batting average with .340, fifth in RBI’s, twice American League MVP and just shy of 500 homers. The sorrow of Gehrig’s personal story notwithstanding, the Iron Horse was an all-time great. Few other first basemen even come close.

Now, talk about difficult, the outfield. Was Ruth better than Aaron? How does DiMaggio compare with Cobb? Was Bonds just a steroid-era freak? How about Clemente and Splendid Teddy Ballgame? And don’t forget Mays, Mantle and The Duke? I’ve always been partial to Al Simmons and Tony Gywnn. I could go on.

In a way there are no wrong choices. So, just to balance my line-up, I’ll put Williams in left, Mays in center – maybe the best all-around player ever – and the great Clemente in right. I want all those other guys, Ruth, Aaron, etc., on the bench. Might need to give someone a day off.

As for the mound. I’ll pick two guys I’d like in my rotation every year – Walter Johnson, a right hander, and the great Sandy Koufax, a southpaw. Those two guys just might be able to shutdown the rest of my dream team. Johnson won 417 games in his career. The Left Arm of God, as Koufax was called, won the Cy Young three times and remarkably twice lead the National League with 27 complete games.

What time is the first pitch?