General

My visit to see “The Dean”

In October 2005, the White Sox were rolling through the Major League Baseball playoffs.

And I was, well, rolling my eyes at it all while working the late shift at the Tribune Tower.

Manning the phone for the paper’s Metro desk, my chief duty from 5 to midnight each night was to keep tabs on murder and mayhem in Chicago.

On one evening, however, as it became apparent that the Sox were almost certainly going to win the World Series, I did a bit of moonlighting for the Trib’s sports department.

And it left me with one of my more memorable Tribune experiences.

That evening, the sports staff was simultaneously covering the Series and putting together a commemorative book for the Sox’s impending championship, so things were hectic.

As a result, around 11 p.m., I was plucked from Metro, ordered to hustle down to the parking lot behind the Tower and take a company car up to Evanston.

My mission was to pick up and deliver back to Chicago the foreword for the commemorative White Sox book that was written by a retired sports reporter who wasn’t too keen on e-mail.

That reporter?

None other than Jerome Holtzman, the longtime Tribune and Sun-Times baseball writer, who passed away Monday at the age of 81.

Known as “The Dean” in baseball circles, Holtzman was a sportswriting titan who invented the “save” statistic, earned a spot in Cooperstown and was named by Bud Selig as Major League Baseball’s first official historian after retiring from the newspaper biz in 1998.

On Tuesday, Holtzman’s remarkable career — and his troubles with those pesky computers — were detailed in the Trib through a collection of his colleagues memories.

As a former sportswriter myself and lifelong admirer of Holtzman, whose stories I’d read at the breakfast table while growing up in Bourbonnais, I was thrilled with the little assignment.

And as I weaved my way along Sheridan Road in Evanston, looking for Holtzman’s home in the dark and the rain, I remember thinking how every time I had ever seen the man on TV or in a photograph he was always wearing suspenders.

Finally, once I found Holtzman’s darkened home and knocked quietly on the door, the Hall of Famer appeared, type-written foreword in hand and clad in a pair of dark slacks, a white T-shirt …

And suspenders.

I loved it.

Still do.

Rest in peace, Jerome.

And, you know, if you get a chance to bend God’s ear, ask if he could maybe cut the Cubs a break this year.

Lord knows, they need it.

General

Batman, Hockey and The Price of a Hot Dog

It got plenty Dark at Navy Pier IMAX last Knight.

And I enjoyed every minute of the new Batman flick.

All 150 of them.

Smacking his lips and screwing with the mind, Heath Ledger was creepy-funny-incredible as the Joker. Gotham District Attorney Harvey Dent was “Believable.” And the rest of the film’s cast — along with its deft script and deeper-than-you’d-think dialogue — was utterly captivating.

Not to mention, haunting.

“The Dark Knight” is one of those few movies that lingers, and leaves you still thinking about it the next day.

And, really, what more can you ask from any form of entertainment?

Gotham: My Kind of Town

As great as the actors were in the “The Dark Knight” — and they were great, indeed — no role in the film stood out more than the Windy City’s turn as Gotham City.

The majesty of Chicago — the city I consider to be the best in the world (yeah I’m biased, so what?) — was played up to the hilt throughout the movie, especially when viewed on the IMAX’s sprawling 58-foot-tall screen.

And making things even more enjoyable for me were the many shots of “Gotham” taken along the stretch of Wacker Drive in Chicago’s Loop where I work each day.

I look forward to “The Dark Knight” coming out on DVD just so I can hit pause on the Chicago city scenes and get an even fuller appreciation of its gorgeous streetscapes and skyline.

Chicago rocks.

As a result, Gotham does too.

Hockey’s New Year’s Daze

When I first heard the rumor months ago that the Chicago Blackhawks were hoping to play a regular-season hockey game outdoors at Wrigley Field, I thought it was a stroke of genius.

After all, for a city that often doesn’t seem to remember the Blackhawks even exist, what better way to jog the memory than to play a game at the ballpark no Chicagoan can ever forget?

(Don’t deny it, White Sox fans.)

The siren song of Wrigley is the ideal bait for the NHL to attract that casual fan (such as myself) it so desperately needs if pro hockey ever hopes to grow.

And get its games off the Versus network.

(Sheesh.)

Last week, the NHL officially announced that at noon on Jan. 1, 2009, the Blackhawks will indeed host the defending NHL champion Detroit Red Wings at the Friendly Confines. The news prompted sports columnists far and wide to gush about how wonderful the whole thing will be.

And, sure, it could have been. It should have been.

But, in my opinion, the Blackhawks and the NHL pucked this one up.

Big-time.

Because, why — really, why? — would you ever schedule a juicy hockey game such as this one for noon on New Year’s Day, a date on the calendar that’s eternally owned, lock, stock and barrel, by college football?

It just makes no sense. None at all.

The simple fact is, all the people who the NHL wants to convince that hockey is just as cool as football will, you know, already be watching football that day.

Or actually off at a football game in Florida or California.

Sure, the hockey game at Wrigley will sell out (most likely with a vast majority of die-hard hockey fans who don’t need to be sold on the sport). And, I don’t doubt that the atmosphere at the ballpark will be electric (how could it not be?).

But by foolishly attempting to compete with New Year’s Day bowl games (a fight that hockey couldn’t win with an army of goons), the Blackhawks and the NHL really dropped the puck on this one.

What should have been a wonderfully unique opportunity to promote hockey to all of America will instead end up being relegated to a diversion most people flip on for a few minutes during a football game’s halftime and TV timeouts.

Honestly, what was wrong with scheduling Wrigley on Ice for Saturday, Jan. 3 — a date that’s bowl game-free?

Suggested 2009 New Year’s Resolution for the NHL:

Don’t schedule marquee games on New Year’s Day.

The Price of a Hot Dog

Last week, I posted a blog entry about a humorous sign I saw a homeless man holding in as he sat with a cardboard box containing a handful of pennies. It read:

“Senator Obama is campaigning for change … So am I.”

Several Wisch List readers contacted me about the amusing placard, which got me thinking about the many encounters that I’ve had with Chicago panhandlers over the years.

As you can probably imagine, working in the Loop, I’m asked for money more times each day than a loan shark.

When I go to lunch, four guys ask me for change. When I come back from lunch, the same four guys ask me for change.

Most of the requests are mundane, but occasionally they’re clever. And my general rule of thumb is that if a panhandler can make me smile or laugh, I’ll pony up a little bit.

To me, a chuckle is worth something.

It certainly was about 9 years ago when my buddy Ryan and I were out in Wrigleyville late one night when Ryan was approached by a charismatic homeless gent with an intriguing proposition.

“I’ll bet you the price of a hot dog,” the man said to Ryan as he sidled up alongside us, “that I can tell you how many kids your daddy had.”

“Okay,” Ryan said, his curiosity piqued. “You’re on.”

The man proceeded to look Ryan up, look him down and then shout out:

“None! Your momma had all the kids!”

Ryan paid up.

General

Spellbound

Forwarded by my mother (a retired English teacher) to me (a “semi-retired” journalist) …

Spell Chequer

Eye halve a spelling chequer,
It came with my pea sea,
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite
Its rarely ever wrong.

Eye have run this po em threw it
I’m shore your pleased two no
Its letter perfect in it’s weigh,
My chequer tolled me sew.

General

Campaigning for change … literally

Sign seen today on the Michigan Avenue Bridge (held by a homeless man in front of a box of scattered pennies):

“Senator Obama is campaigning for change … So am I.”

I gave the guy a buck.

I respect clever panhandling.

General

A new California angel

Longtime Wisch List readers dating back to my days in Ottawa – or those of you who own my book – likely will recall the columns I wrote in 2003 about my irrepressible pal Mark Wiebe, a wheelchair-bound high school student who weighed just 40 pounds but carried more weight than an army of men in the hearts of those who knew him.

Five years ago this June, Mark — who collected marbles, ran his own Web site (tagline: Wiebe Jammin’) and sang in the school chorus — died at the age of 17 after battling the paralyzing disorder Spinal Muscular Atrophy his entire life.

But despite his limitations, Mark’s spirit, intelligence and quick wit enabled him to become larger than life in the eyes of so many, including myself.

Such was the case with James Melroy, a newspaper sports editor in Long Beach, Calif., who passed away in his sleep last Friday at the age of 36. 

Born with arthrogryposis, a rare congenital disorder that left him in need of a wheelchair to get around, James didn’t let his disease keep him from pursuing his passions to the fullest.

And leaving a legacy on the southern California prep sports scene.

To read a touching tribute to James – who I didn’t know, but wish I had – in the Long Beach Press-Telegram, click here.

Trust me, it’ll be worth your while.

And, James, say hey to Mark for me.

General

I’ve been busy …

I’ve been busy.

Busy working, yes.

But also busy with Happy Hour (hello, Durkin’s). And busy with Cubs games (goodbye, White Sox).

Busy with concerts (on Southport). And busy with movies (at Village North, a quaint little place in Rogers Park).

Soon enough, it’s likely I’ll be busy with street fests, North Avenue Beach and who knows what the heck else.

At least, that’s the plan.

Pretty much, I guess, I’ve been busy with, well … with life in Chicago.

You know, as in actually having one.

Because, honestly, that’s a pretty novel concept for me.

After all, when you do things like, oh, spend 20 consecutive months working on Saturday nights from 5 p.m. to midnight at the Tribune Tower (yes, you read all of that right), it’s kinda hard to have much of one.

At all.

But now that I’ve shaken off the shackles of the newspaper biz and its wacky hours, I’m intent on finally fully enjoying a Windy City summer.

For the first time since I moved here in 2005.

So, as I ease back into the swing of this writing thing, I plan to blog here and blog there during the next couple of months –depending on how often my muse taps me on the shoulder – but I have no set schedule or expectations.

Which is a nice change of pace.

I spent five hectic years writing a column and then a blog “about life – and the people who live it,” but the irony of it was that often that group didn’t include me.

These days, though, I’m happy to say, it does.

But, all right, enough with all that sappy stuff.

Let’s get on with the show …

Obama-McCain do Lincoln-Douglas?

From the “Best Idea I’ve Heard All Month Department” comes a letter to the editor that was published June 6 in The (Ottawa, Ill.) Times by reader Larry Thomas …

“With an announcement that John McCain and Barack Obama are looking to debate each other several times in the Lincoln-Douglas style, I felt Ottawa should jump at the chance to be the host for the first one,” wrote Thomas, a resident of Ottawa, where on Aug. 21, 1858, the first of the famous senatorial debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas was held.

“Surely the mayor, or local Republican or Democratic parties, or Chamber of Commerce could make speedy contact to offer our city to the process,” Thomas continued, “This would be an outstanding forum to display and market Ottawa on a world stage.

“With proper security, it could even be conducted in Washington Square at the exact location of the first Lincoln-Douglas Debate.”

Seeing that 2008 marks the 150th anniversary of the Lincoln-Douglas debates and that the national political spotlight is currently shining on the Land of Lincoln due to Obama’s candidacy, I can’t think of a more ideal place for this year’s presidential hopefuls to meet.

Somebody in Ottawa seriously needs to get the ball rolling on this one.

After all, Abe and Steve are waiting.

Heck, so am I.

Seven Dirty Words, One Disappointment

When I was a senior at the University of Illinois, one afternoon in my Communications Law class we listened to comedian George Carlin’s famous stand-up bit “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” as part of an assignment.

While poking jabs at society’s language taboos during the bit, Carlin was both clever (which I admire) and crass (which I don’t mind — as long as it’s clever).

Two years earlier, however, when Carlin gave a free performance at Assembly Hall during an event to kick off my sophomore year, he was all crass.

And no clever.

So much so that me, my friends and hundreds of our fellow students proceeded to simply walk out on Carlin midway through his routine.

He was that offensive.

In today’s Chicago Tribune, reader Oren M. Spiegler of Upper St. Clair, Pa., opined this about Carlin, who passed away Sunday at 71:

“I will remember George Carlin as one of the funniest comedians of my lifetime. I regret that he was so intent on offending civilization as to render his material unsuitable for general audiences.”

On at least one occasion, his material was unsuitable for college kids, too.

And that’s saying something.

My Cousin Vinny

Is it just me, or didn’t new Chicago Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro always look more like an auto mechanic than an NBA player when he was with the San Antonio Spurs?

I’ll give him credit, the guy has cleaned up his look and looked quite dapper during his introductory press conference earlier this month.

And, while I don’t have the slightest idea if Del Negro can fix the Bulls, I’m hoping that maybe there is at least one thing he can at least fix.

Joakim Noah’s fashion sense.

Planet of the Grapes

While visiting my parents on Father’s Day, my mom told me that she had signed up for a wine club through the National Rifle Association.

(My mom doesn’t own a gun, mind you. She just likes owning an NRA card.)

I told her that it sounded like a good deal and, with a smirk, proceeded to ask if Charlton Heston’s likeness was on the bottles.

And if they had a flavor called “Damn Dirty Grapes.”

The 100-year Itch

When it comes to the Cubs, I can be a little over the top when it comes to my devotion

Anyone who knows me, knows that.

But, this season, I’m blowing even myself away.

Because, when I take my seat at tonight’s game at Wrigley against the Baltimore Orioles, it will already be my 19th Cubs game of the season.

I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think that’s already a career high.

At least it is until tomorrow night.

When I attend Game No. 20.

I told you I’ve been busy.

Parting shot

From reader Craig Burzych in today’s Tribune …

“The White Sox were right: Something really stunk at Clark and Addison this past weekend, but it wasn’t the Cubs and it wasn’t Wrigley Field.”

Man, I love baseball in Chicago.

General

APB? No, BRB

The Wisch List hasn’t gone on vacation.

Or retired.

It’s just been busy.

(Got this dang thing called a job.)

New posts coming very soon, though.

Promise.

General

Rim shot, please

So, my good buddy “Dish” of PropCulture.com sends me an e-mail with the subject head: “My new favorite website.” This is it.

And now it’s my favorite, too. (You know, for today, at least.)