Tuesday, December 11, 2018

“Harold, Harold” – Baines will force many to reassess their baseball thoughts

Long-time Chicago White Sox outfielder-turned-designated hitter-turned coach and now team ambassador Harold Baines is now a Hall of Fame member, and that fact is confounding the way many people view the game of baseball.
Which, more than anything, is the reason why so many seem to be so miffed that Baines will get the national pastime’s version of immortality – a bronze plaque at the Hall of Fame museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. that will proclaim him to be a significant figure within baseball history.

WHILE TOO MANY more likely didn’t pay much mind to Baines back in the 1980s – when he was a star outfielder with the White Sox. One who managed to keep playing all the way through 2001 as he bounced around the American League as a designated hitter with the Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics, Cleveland Indians and two returns to the White Sox, along with three stints with the Baltimore Orioles.

Where his performance was significant enough that the Orioles themselves inducted Baines into their team's personal Hall of Fame back in 2009.

When combined with the fact that Baines had his uniform number “3” retired by the White Sox back in 1989, it seems that Harold played a significant part of baseball history – and that too many of us, for whatever reason, missed it.

But rather than admit that we might have missed out on something special, we’d rather claim it really didn’t mean a thing.
I’LL BE HONEST. I was surprised Sunday night to learn that Baines actually was chosen to be a Hall of Fame member. I knew his name was up for consideration, but I figured the baseball-types who made the decision would overlook him.

I can even comprehend why he was regarded as a long-shot for induction. His most significant statistic was 2,866 – as in the number of base hits he got during his athletic career.

It’s not far from 3,000 – which usually is regarded as an exalted figure whose achievement makes one Hall of Fame-worthy. But it still falls short, so I’m sure there are those who figure Harold Baines came close, but just wasn’t good enough.
Although back in 2014 when manager Tony LaRussa became a Hall of Famer, he actually gave Baines a plug for Cooperstown-induction by saying Harold suffered from extensive knee injuries which were the reason he had quit playing the outfield full-time.

“IF HE HAD kept his knees together, he’d have had his 3,000 hits,” said LaRussa – who apparently meant what he said because he was amongst the people who had a vote on Sunday and not only used it for Baines, he also lobbied his colleagues on Harold’s behalf.

Of course, the news reports from Sunday also indicated Chicago White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf also had a vote – causing some to claim this is merely more Chicago-style politicking and perhaps as outrageous as that 1919 White Sox team that saw eight team members indicted for criminal conspiracy to throw the World Series.
Perhaps it’s because some paid too much attention to those years where he bounced around the American League – rather than the ‘80s when he got Most Valuable Player votes every season from 1982-85 and was a top hitter for the 1983 White Sox team that was the first Chicago ballclub to ever make it to a postseason playoff spot.

Either that, or they were paying way too much attention to the Chicago Cubs – and maybe they’re miffed that Cubs star relief pitcher Lee Smith from that same era will have to share his “big day” of Hall of Fame induction with Baines.

ONE THING WILL be interesting – how much of an induction speech will Baines deliver? Since as a ballplayer, he was so low-key and quiet that part of the reason he isn’t better remembered by fans is that his ego was way under control to the point where he was easily ignored.

Although it should be noted that on Sunday when interviewed, Baines actually became choked up emotionally and had to fight back tears.
There is one thing that baseball fans will have to change – one of the stories commonly told to mock the White Sox of the Bill Veeck era was how back in 1977, they did not use their first pick in the nation for amateur ballplayers to pick a future superstar like Paul Molitor – who went on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Milwaukee Brewers – but instead picked a player whom Veeck had seen play as a local Little League star, which turned out to be Baines himself.

Now, people are going to have to say the White Sox used their rare opportunity to pick a franchise icon and Hall of Famer himself. Which also will explain how come July 21, the streets of Cooperstown will echo with the “Harold, Harold” chant so reminiscent of the old Comiskey Park itself.


Monday, December 10, 2018

Will Blagojevich be one of President Trump’s holiday season clemencies?

The name “Rod Blagojevich” has been all over the place this weekend – what with the fact that Sunday was the 10th anniversary of the day that FBI agents showed up at the governor’s Ravenswood Manor neighborhood home to arrest him.
40892-424: From days when he was gov

Thereby beginning the saga that resulted with the governor’s impeachment and removal from office, followed with his incarceration at a federal correctional center in Colorado – where he remains to this day.

THERE ARE THOSE who would prefer to forget that Rod ever existed, and would probably hope there is some way his incarceration can be extended beyond his prison term that currently has a 2024 scheduled release date.

But I couldn’t help but notice a Chicago Sun-Times story, quoting one-time Illinois first lady Patti saying she’s holding out hope that her husband will be free and back home with the family for this year’s Christmas holiday.

Which ties into that freakish statement made back by Trump earlier this year where he hinted that he’s inclined to grant some form of presidential clemency on Blagojevich’s behalf.

Remember how much of a stink that stirred up? It was seen as more evidence of how unfit Trump was to be president that he would think Blagojevich was worthy of any form of early release from prison.

ADMITTEDLY, WHEN TRUMP made the statement, he had just done a few other clemencies and pardons – and the feeling then was that Blagojevich could be released from prison any day now.

That part didn’t come true. Blagojevich remains in the suburbs of Denver incarcerated. No one has said or done anything to indicate that activity on Blagojevich’s part is imminent.

At least not publicly. Patti Blagojevich claims she’s heard some things privately. But those could be vague tidbits that her wishful thinking is exaggerating into word of his imminent release.
TRUMP: Is he preparing a pardon?

My gut feeling? Back then, it was that Trump was making outlandish statements related to Blagojevich because he sensed it would “tick off” the Chicago political establishment that dumped all over the former governor and was glad to see him pushed out of the way.


It may well be that Trump is waiting for a moment when he needs to distract attention from himself and his own activities – something so bad that he needs everybody to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” and think about someone else, instead.

Someone such as Blagojevich, whose actions are going to forevermore be pondered by our political establishment as to just how venal they truly were.

Did he really try to solicit bribes in exchange for political appointments? Was it all just the realities of politicking – extended to a higher level? Or was it just the usual petty political poop; performed by a man who had managed to alienate those who should have been his political allies.

WHICH IS WHY they were more than willing to see him carted off to prison!

All of that is now a decade in our past, although some of us are determined to want to see eternal punishment. I’m not kidding when I say there will be those who will get all upset some six years from now when Blagojevich’s prison term expires. They’ll want to see it extended for whatever excuse possible. Some people are just overly bitter.
BLAGOJEVICH: Wants her husband for Christmas

Patti Blagojevich may well be the only person who cares personally about her husband’s fate. If she led a larger group capable of offering support to Trump to guide him through all the upcoming calamities he’s going to endure, he probably would rush to grant clemency.

But she’s only one. The idea of messing with the minds of Chicago by granting clemency may turn out to be not worth the hassle Trump would get from taking such actions.


Sunday, December 9, 2018

Celebrating Chicago baseball, '80s-style

The Baseball Hall of Fame will take in at least two new members come 2019 -- and it seems the inaugural day in Cooperstown, N.Y., will wind up as a tribute to the baseball played at Comiskey Park and Wrigley Field back in the 1980s.

Harold Baines, the outfielder-turned-designated hitter, and the relief pitcher, Lee Smith, are now amongst the baseball "immortals" whose memories will be preserved in bronze.

BAINES LIKELY WILL have a plaque depicting him as a Chicago White Sox player, for whom he played three stints between 1980 and 2001 while Smith says he wants to be depicted as a Chicago Cub -- for whom he began his career that lasted 18 seasons and saw him pitch for eight different teams.

We'll be able to remember the 1983 White Sox, for whom Baines was a star hitter and right fielder, and the 1984 Cubs, for whom Smith established that he was a top-level relief pitcher.

Those two teams both won division titles and made it to the playoffs. Although the names Jerry Dybzinski and Leon Durham will remind the hard-core of Chicago baseball fandom of why those two teams didn't make World Series appearances -- and why we had to wait until 2005 and 2016 for World Series victories.

I can already hear the complaints of some crackpots who will claim neither Baines nor Smith are worthy of Hall of Fame recognition. But I suspect those people would have been peeved no matter who got chosen. Just think how p-o'ed they'd be if the announcement had been long-time New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner (who also once had a stint as a Chicago Bulls minority owner) been inducted into Cooperstown.


Saturday, December 8, 2018

EXTRA: It's Christmas? in Chicago

Just a few notes about a Saturday sojourn into the heart of Chicago to try to capture a bit of the Christmas holiday flavor -- as it still exists in the 21st Century.
At least this window had a Chicago theme. Photos by Gregory Tejeda
I couldn't help but feel saddened by one teenage girl whom I happened to overhear as she and her friends were checking out the holiday windows of the one-time Marshall Field's department stores.

AS SHE WALKED along State Street, disappointment was what she felt. "There's no story here," she exclaimed, in a loud-enough voice that I'm sure much of the crowd gathered along the one-time Great Street could hear.
Digital technology on display at Macy's, if little originality
For sure enough, some of the windows were decorated in individual scenes. But there was no continued theme connecting all the windows together. There was no holiday story being told. The overall theme couldn't help but come across as holiday lame for those of us old enough to remember the Marshall Field's holiday windows of old.
Bring back Field's!!!

Not that she was alone. I also couldn't help but notice the guy along State Street in front of Macy's with his picket signs demanding the return of Field's, whose memory continues to live on in the form of the old brass signs and the clock on the corner.

Those details are considered part of the building's historic character, and Macy's couldn't dump them no matter how much they'd want to.

I'M STILL TRYING to figure out what the best bit of street life I saw on Saturday was.
A literal street 'artist'

The group of "drummers" (actually playing overturned buckets) gathered along State Street? Or was it the guy near the one-time Carson, Pirie, Scott (now Target) who was literally creating street art -- as in he was drawing pictures for hire, while sitting on the street corner.
Rhythm? Or clamor?
One could watch him create his so-called masterpieces-to-order.
Vote for Willie!

I also couldn't escape politics. For one wreath-covered lamp-post also managed to slip in a little Election Day related message. Vote for Willie Wilson! As opposed to any of the 20 other political geeks who have dreams of filling the seat once held by Richard J. Daley. Will this be the biggest, most prominent, Wilson campaign display we'll see between now and Feb. 26? Or will this campaign season fit in perfectly with the Macy's generic version of Christmas?
The modern Macy's in Chicago
What's left of Field's


How fancy is too fancy for a hot dog?

I couldn’t help but be amused to learn of a new study that proclaims Portillo’s, the Chicago-area-based joint specializing in hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches, to be the nation’s favorite restaurant.
Would this 'stand' have been worthy of honor?

As in TripAdviser, a website catering to tourists who wouldn’t have a clue where to go outside of their home communities, said the chain of Portillo’s restaurants are the best in the country when it comes to Fast Casual – as in food nice enough to be more than fast food, but not so elite you have to get all dressed up in order to eat there.

IT SEEMS SOMEBODY is trying to push the idea that Portillo’s is the ultimate experience in hot dogs, and that one has to have their take on a sausage dragged through the garden before they can truly know what the Chicago hot dog experience is.

This amuses me because I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to find that just about everybody with any experience in consuming a “Chicago-style” hot dog could rattle off a whole slew of places that they would prefer, rather than making the trip to whatever Portillo’s franchise happens to be closest to their particular neighborhood or suburb.

While there’s nothing wrong with Portillo’s, I just think there are many other places that are better.

Particularly when one considers the cost of a Portillo’s dog ($2.65 each, fries and drink extra). It ain’t cheap. In fact, I definitely feel like we’re being asked to pay premium prices for the Portillo’s décor – which is meant to display various memorabilia with a Chicago atmosphere.

IT’S ALMOST LIKE we’re visiting a Chicago-inspired theme park. Whereas I’d argue that a true Chicago experience would include a visit to an actual neighborhood hot dog stand – which likely would be so tiny that these tourism-based websites would never find it.

Not that it would be a bad thing. If anything, it’s the obscure neighborhood joints that offer up the best experiences, and the larger places somehow manage to lose something in the process of business growth.

It makes me wonder if Portillo’s itself, which originated in suburban Villa Park and displays a photograph of the original “dog house” motif hot dog stand in every one of their stores, may have actually deserved the accolades way back when.
Proclaims Portillo's the best 'fast casual' restaurant

Now, it’s just a generic chain restaurant. And a highly-priced one, at that.

I STILL RECALL the last time I went to a Portillo’s. I had the barbecue ribs meal – and paid close to $25 for it. Not exactly eating on a budget.

As for a hot dog, I don’t feel compelled to seek out my local Portillo’s joint whenever I feel the need for one. Because for me, the whole concept of a hot dog and fries is that it’s supposed to be a cheap meal.

A couple of “dogs,” fries and a coke for about $5 sounds about right (I'm sure people of my parents' generation could remember a time when the cost would have been closer to $1) – with the understanding that eating too many meals like that isn’t doing my overall health any benefits.

Anyway, my own personal favorite of hog dog stands is actually the Boz’ Hot Dogs scattered throughout the southern end of Chicago metro. I particularly like the way they use cucumber slices, rather than pickle spears – a personal quirk that some may not enjoy as much as I do.

I’M ALSO ONE whose memory still salivates at the notion of Gold Coast Dogs. I’d probably eat hot dogs more often if I could still get a char dog or two with everything (and everything does NOT include ketchup, which they had enough sense to realize).
Would Boz ever make the list?

So the idea of Portillo’s as the best Fast Casual restaurant in the country? I doubt it. Because any place serving a hot dog of any quality whatsoever would probably never be deemed worthy of any type of “best” list.

Now if you really want to talk off-beat foodstuffs, consider the “chocolate cake shake” that Portillo’s offers up.

At 850 calories in their small-sized shake, it most definitely is not something to eat if one wants to be in good standing with “Weight Watchers,” but is something unique-enough to make the occasional trip to Portillo’s worth one’s while.


Friday, December 7, 2018

We all got to accompany the Bush funeral train, whether desired or not

I happened to be spending the afternoon Thursday watching a grandparent and taking in one of her favorite television programs (It’s “Jeopardy,” by the way), so I got to see just how peeved she became when the popular game show was interrupted for special programming.
George Bush (the elder) being removed from funeral train. Photos by Gregory Tejeda
As in the live broadcast by ABC network news of the funeral train taking the casket containing the remains of former President George Bush (the elder) to College Station, Texas.

WHERE THE PRESIDENTIAL libraries for both Presidents Bush are located, and where George H.W. will have his casket laid to rest. People who are political geeks and fanatics of the Bush presidencies will forevermore be able to pay their respects with a visit to the Texas A&M University.

Similar, I suppose, to all those Elvis fanatics who stop by his gravesite whenever they visit Graceland.

Now I point out the grandmother disdain for Thursday’s interruption, because I wonder how many others felt similar thoughts.
Bush family on hand for the burial.
Seeing the broadcasts earlier in the week of the formal funeral service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., was one thing. There may well have been people intrigued by the site of onetime Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole standing from his wheelchair to salute the presidential casket, although I was amused by how President Donald Trump’s very presence made so many feel uncomfortable.

BUT SEEING CONTINUED live broadcasting of the Bush death-related events just seemed like overkill.

Personally, I thought the sight of the funeral train working its way through Texas was weak, and its’ arrival in College Station was way too much.
The flag-draped presidential casket on board the funeral train.
It’s a good thing the Bush family did the actual burial in private, or else I’ve got to wonder if we literally would have been given the chance to see the casket lowered into the ground and sextons dumping dirt atop it for the burial.

There are some things I just question the value of, and perhaps it is the reason I still rely on newspapers (and their affiliated websites) for much of the reporting I read.

I DO HAVE to admit to getting something of a chuckle when I saw the ABC coverage of the funeral train proceedings anchored by George Stephanopoulos – the one-time political operative who, when working for Bill Clinton back in 1992, was a big part of the team that undid the George Bush presidency.

Would he ever back then have envisioned himself in such a public role watching over the Bush funeral? I suppose it’s the ultimate evidence that life isn’t pre-ordained in any role, and any outcome is possible.

But wouldn’t we have been equally, and adequately, informed if Thursday’s activities had been summarized into a minute-long report that was merely included in the network evening newscasts?

Seriously, I don’t remember as much hoopla over the deaths of Ronald Reagan in 2004 or Richard Nixon a decade earlier as we’ve seen this week for George H.W. Bush.

I ALSO EXPECT that when the time comes for Jimmy Carter (he turned 94 back in October), his eventual funeral ritual in Plains, Ga., will also be something simpler and more laid back.
One memory of 2005 World Series was seeing the Bushes in front-row seats watching the ballgames the White Sox played in Houston
Although I suspect things could have been more drawn out. Considering that George Bush was the first former president whose funeral rituals included a train ride since Dwight Eisenhower in 1969, it also made me think of the first president to get such treatment.

As in Abraham Lincoln, whose death in 1865 resulted in a two-week trip to take the body back from Washington to Springfield, Ill. – where he remains interred at Oak Ridge Cemetery to this day.

Modern technology reduced the train trip to a single day. Just envision if it had been a weeks-long event with multiple stops along the way (as was done for Lincoln, who once served as an attorney for the Illinois Central railroad). We’d probably have all the people who didn’t vote for Bush for president back in 1988 and in 1992 rising up in great anger at the very sight.


Thursday, December 6, 2018

EXTRA: Did Joyce just have most-significant electoral accomplishment?

Jerry Joyce is the mayoral candidate whose most significant personal fact about himself is that he is from a family that has long been associated politically with the Daley family.
JOYCE: Number One (for a day)

Joyce’s father, Jeremiah, in fact was one of those behind-the-scenes guys who served as a significant adviser to Mayors Daley – both the elder and the younger.

THERE ISN’T MUCH else to say about him – other than the fact that he’s going to have his name atop the list of mayoral candidates on the ballot for the Feb. 26 election.

Joyce won the lottery, which gives him the ballot spot in the prime place. There are those who say some people are clueless enough they merely vote for the first name they see – and could get some 1 or 1 percent of the votes for that reason alone.

In a campaign where even after candidates get kicked off the ballot for insufficient support, there are still doing to be at least a dozen or so candidates in the running. Any advantage in gaining votes could mean something.

Except that it might turn out that Joyce is just too obscure politically to be able to take full advantage of this political perk.

LEARNING THIS WEEK of Joyce getting the top ballot spot actually reminded me of a past election cycle – as in the Democratic primary for governor in 1994.

That election cycle saw state Attorney General Roland Burris, Comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch and Cook County Board President Richard Phelan challenge each other for governor – yet the top ballot spot went by lottery to Jim Gierach – a suburban Palos Park attorney who has spent much of his public life campaigning for less-draconian laws related to drugs.

I remember being a reporter-type person speaking with Gierach that day; knowing there was a good chance it would be the last time I’d give his campaign for governor any significant attention. Is that the same for Joyce for mayor this week?
GIERACH: Won 'No. 1' slot in '94

Then again, I also remember the Netsch campaign’s response, which gained the Second ballot spot from the lottery. They contended that voters would ignore the little-known “Gierach” name on top and look to the second slot.

IT’S LIKE THEY really won the ballot lottery. Or at least that’s the political “spin” they put on the issue.

Would that make one-time Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas the big winner; since he is the one who gained the second ballot slot out of the list of 21 candidates who currently are in the running for mayor?

Putting him ahead of Number three Willie Wilson and Number four Toni Preckwinkle? Or is this all a batch of political hooey intended to try to get us to think something significant is happening – when in reality we’re still just over two months away from Election Day.

And some four months from the likely run-off election April 2 that will actually decide who will be taking the oath of office as Chicago’s new mayor come the city’s Inauguration Day in May.

THERE IS ONE part of the Joyce campaign, however, that continues to intrigue me. For it seems that the alleged Daley family ally is actually the guy who filed the legal challenge to the mayoral nominating petitions of William Daley.
DALEY: Tense times with Joyce?

Could Joyce think that, if only, he could get a Daley name off the ballot, he might actually have a chance of achieving political victory? For many of the challenges that have been filed have been done with the “logic” of kicking off the candidate who most closely resembles one’s own (such as Preckwinkle allies being behind the effort to remove Susana Mendoza from the mayoral running).

“Mayor Joyce?” I don’t know how much of a ring it has to it. Would the type of Chicagoans who think the “Daley” name is synonymous with City Hall be willing to accept it? Will the Christmas holiday greetings between the two political families be particularly tense this season?

Or could all of this merely be evidence of how inane our political procedures are capable of being?