Saturday, January 24, 2015

EXTRA: Muerte, baseball-style?

Chicago Cubdom will be in mourning mode for some time now, after it became known publicly late Friday that long-time star player Ernie Banks died.

Banks, a two-time Most Valuable Player for some of the worst Chicago Cubs teams ever back in the 1950s, will be forever remembered for his ability to play ball with cheer and fun even if the end result was a collection of losses.

HE REMAINS THE image of “Mr. Cub” forevermore, particularly since the other Cubs stars who might usurp that label – 19th Century star Cap Anson whose racial hang-ups were the reason baseball went for so long as a segregated sport and Sammy Sosa whose alleged steroid experimentation taints all those home runs – are people that many Cubs fans would rather forget.

Banks was just a week shy of turning 84, and didn’t seem to have regrets about his life – which essentially amounted to living off his reputation as a ballplayer that ended some 44 years ago. Although it was intriguing to see back in 2013 when President Barack Obama presented Banks with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

How many times have we seen rain-delay video of grainy footage of Banks’ 500th home run back in 1971? How many more times will we see it recycled in coming days?

For the record, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was the first politician to try to gain himself favorable attention by issuing a statement praising Banks’ memory. Although I expect many more statements to come flowing from the egos of political people in coming hours.

WITH REGARDS TO death, I couldn’t also help but notice Chicago White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who used the team’s fan convention this weekend to say on Friday that he wishes the Cubs a World Series success, “after I die.”

The Chicago Sun-Times speculated it might have been a pot shot at the Cubs on account of Cubs owner Tom Ricketts using his team’s fan convention last weekend to wisecrack about White Sox attendance.

But it has me wondering how many Cubs fans will now be wishing for the passing of Reinsdorf – who is 78. Or maybe it's a sign that Reinsdorf will live on and on to the point where even White Sox fans will be eager to see him move on?

Meanwhile, the concept of the sunniest disposition former ballplayer in Chicago now passes to “Mr. White Sox” himself, Minnie Minoso – who at age 89 is probably still up in his mind for an at-bat or two! Too bad he won’t be able to contemplate Hall of Fame induction come July.


When beisbol becomes baseball, all our snow melts away and joy returns to Chicago (We certainly hope and pray!)

Saturday is special in my mind for one reason – it means it is merely one month until the beginning of spring training for the Chicago White Sox, and roughly one month for other professional baseball teams.

Just 30 more days and we’ll be at the unofficial point where we can start thinking springtime, and not about the dreariness of winter cold and slush laced with filth from passing pedestrians and motorists.

I’LL ADMIT THAT I’m among the people getting a baseball fix these days from the activity in the various professional leagues of Latin America – which will culminate in a couple of weeks with the Caribbean Series.

I’m anxious to see whether the Jalisco Charros (my maternal grandfather was from the Mexican state of Jalisco) can beat the Culican Tomateros this weekend to win the Mexico Pacific League championship, then go on to challenge the champions of the leagues in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela for the Latin American bragging rights by winning the Caribbean Series!

But as interesting as the sport is in those leagues, it pales to the coming of springtime when the American and National leagues resume their activity with late-February and March training camps, coupled with the beginning of seasons in early April.

I really don’t doubt that there will be many Chicagoans who will be more interested on April 7 (the possible date for a run-off election) in their favorite baseball teams, rather than which clown becomes mayor for the next four years.

ACTUALLY, THE BEGINNING of spring training on Feb. 24 may cause more joy for Chicagoans than the municipal elections scheduled for three days later. Rahm Emanuel himself may be the only one who doesn’t feel that joy!

So what should we really expect for 2015?

I know the one-time “Bible of Baseball” (the Sporting News) has predicted a Chicago Cubs victory in the World Series. Which reminds me of the year that Sports Illustrated made that same prediction a decade ago, only to see the Cubs fail again as usual.

I was more intrigued by the prediction that the White Sox will also qualify for the playoffs – and survive into the second round before getting knocked out of the running!

SO THE SPORTING News is buying into the notion that both Chicago ball clubs are significantly improved and capable of being in the running for a league championship and World Series title.

If it were to happen, it would be only the third time that both teams had successful seasons in the same year. We all remember 2008 when both made it to the playoffs, then got knocked out in the first round.

While White Sox fans are forever bringing up 1906 – the one year of an all-Chicago World Series where the allegedly greatest team ever (they won 116 games that season) lost to the Sox four games to two.

It would be nice if there could be a city series out of Chicago some time in our lifetimes – although I suspect that for Cubs fans such a World Series would be the ultimate nightmare. It would mean their team FINALLY wins a championship (for their league), yet STILL falls short to the one team where defeat would be personal.

HONESTLY, I DON’T think 2015 is that year. I’m not sure any year in the next few seasons is going to be that year.

Because while I think both ball clubs have improved, I think they are merely in the running. Neither Chicago ball club ought to have fans thinking that they are dominant.

The Cubs may have picked up a “big name” pitcher in Jon Lester to go with the minor league prospects who may turn into solid ball players in coming seasons.

But none of those has produced at the major league level as much as someone like Jose Abreu, who is now the undisputed big bat of the White Sox and is on a ball club that picked up its own share of veterans to improve starting and relief pitching.

I THINK IT would be hilarious if Jeff Samardzija, the pitcher from Valparaiso, Ind., and Notre Dame University who was supposed to be the key to future Cubs championships wound up being the piece the ultimately led the White Sox to a title!

Although what I think is most likely to happen in 2015 in Chicago is a pair of third-place ball clubs; which is certainly better than two years ago when both teams flirted with losing 100 games that season.

I don’t care what the gamblers (with their 12-1 odds for the Cubs, compared to 20-1 for the White Sox) think – they’ve probably spent too much time watching the “Back to the Future” sequel (with the Cubs beating Miami in the World Series) while also waiting for the release of the film “Jaws 19.”


Friday, January 23, 2015

EXTRA: O’Hare to Atlanta Hartsfield – We beat you!!! (For now, at least)

Chicago Aviation Department officials seem to be enjoying themselves these days – statistics released this week show that O’Hare International Airport had more flights during 2014 than any other airport in the world.

Including Hartsfield/Jackson airport in Atlanta – which for the past decade has acted as though having the “world’s busiest airport” title somehow makes their city more significant than it truly is.

OF COURSE, I’M old enough to remember when it was just a standing statement that O’Hare was the “world’s busiest” by whatever standard was used for measuring such things.

There are those Chicagoans who think the loss of that title to Atlanta hurts just as much as New York City being able to claim the “nation’s tallest building” title away from the one-time Sears Tower.

For the record, the Federal Aviation Administration reported that there were just over 881,000 flights to and from O’Hare last year, compared to 868,000 to and from Atlanta’s airport.

If one prefers to use the standard of the number of passengers who pass through the airport, then Hartsfield remains atop O’Hare.

PERSONALLY, I THINK it is important to keep in mind that this “busiest airport” standard really shouldn’t reflect upon the cities themselves.

Keep in mind that Chicago has so many flights in and out of O’Hare because this is a big nation and people needing to get from coast to coast have to transfer from one plane to another in order to make that trip.

Chicago had the busiest airport for so many years for the same reason that Chicago is the nation’s railroad hub and a center for transportation in general – our centralized location.

Which could have just as easily wound up in St. Louis – if our municipal neighbors to the south had had enough ambition to develop a sizable airport for themselves.

THERE ARE MANY generations of people who traveled by flight whose only “sight” of Chicago was the terminals of O’Hare in between flights.

Just as I’m sure there also are many people who now only pass through Atlanta – I still remember my nephew taking a flight last year from Midway Airport to Washington, D.C., that had a connection in Atlanta.

Which still strikes me as a ridiculous route to take – but I’m sure (at least I hope) some money was saved in the process.

So for now, Chicago gets to claim “Number One” status in airports. Although it won’t shock me to learn that numbers released next year for 2015 show the two airports flip-flopping back again.

I'M SURE THERE are some people who will use whichever title fits their needs at the moment -- such as one newsroom quarrel from over a decade ago back when I was with United Press International.

A Washington-based reporter wrote a story saying that Atlanta's airport was busiest. When Chicago-based correspondents challenged the accuracy, the D.C.-type said his story's premise was based on Atlanta having the title, and he didn't want to be bothered with any outside facts.

That doesn't make Atlanta superior to Chicago by any means.

Heck, even though one-time pitcher Greg Maddux ditched the Cubs for the Atlanta Braves for the bulk of his all-star baseball career, he couldn’t bring himself to pick the Southern City over the Second City when it came time for his cap "logo" for the Baseball Hall of Fame induction last year!


Will Illinois Legislature have nerve to do away with red light cameras?

We have the chance to see a classic political battle this spring in the Illinois General Assembly; will the state Legislature have the nerve to irritate all those communities that are rushing to erect the cameras on their traffic signals to boost their enforcement efforts.

I’m talking about those cameras that can take pictures of offenses as they occur, with the pictures being used as evidence against the motorists who can receive a ticket in the mail shortly thereafter.

I SUPPOSE I should confess that I once received such a ticket – while driving through the suburb of Riverdale a few years ago, I supposedly stopped at a traffic sign and made a right turn without waiting for a long-enough time period before making the turn.

Because I was able to make the charge go away with an appearance in traffic safety school (a four-hour session to remind me of the Rules of the Road), I pleaded “guilty” even though I still think I came to enough of a “stop” before making the turn.

It was irritating, and I know I’m not alone. Way too many people scream out a stream of obscenities when they check their mail and find one of these tickets in their box.

It does come across as an attempt by the local government to extort another fee in the form of a fine to the municipality.

THAT IS WHAT inspired state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, to sponsor a bill this spring session that would forbid any municipality from having such cameras installed in their community.

He cited a Chicago Tribune report about how such tickets were overbearingly issued within Chicago as evidence of how they shouldn’t be permitted anywhere in Illinois.

Yet I have heard way too many municipal officials across the state talk about these cameras as a financial savior not only because of the fines they attract, but also because they allow their local police departments to reduce the amount of officers on details for traffic enforcement.

I also know at least one former suburban police chief who thinks people have no right to complain about tickets that result from the cameras, on the grounds that signs are installed informing motorists exactly where the cameras are.

MEANING PEOPLE OUGHT to read those signs and use extra caution in the way they drive, unless they’re absolutely determined to get themselves a fine!

Still, I’m sure McSweeney will get himself his share of favorable press – the legislator who’s willing to do away with those cameras that they feel trap people into paying fines for questionable offenses.

Although will that press make up for the many municipal officials who will now deem him, and anyone else who publicly supports this measure, as the enemy who’s threatening their financial bottom lines?

Those fines, after all, do wind up totaling fairly significant sums. I know of some municipalities that really do rely on those fines in order to cover their essential government expenses.

THIS MEASURE COMES at a time when the City Council is considering restrictions on traffic enforcement camera use within Chicago. I’m sure there will be those who argue those restrictions are a sufficient change in public policy.

While others will argue this is one of those “local” issues that a higher form of government ought to “butt out” of – although it usually is state officials whining about the federal government who make that line of logic in their political arguments.

But if the public were to have its way, this probably would be a slam-dunk issue that would demand a 118-0 vote in the Illinois House and a 59-0 vote in the state Senate.

We’d wind up with the masses making a mad rush to their traffic signals to tear down those cameras with the same vehemence that Iraqis once used to rip down statues of Saddam Hussein following his downfall!


Thursday, January 22, 2015

My ‘isolation’ is over; it's great to be back in touch again w/ the masses even if much of their talk is trash

You don’t know how grateful I feel to be able to post this commentary and reconnect with the few of you who have nothing better to do than check out this weblog.

If you were reading it, you’d notice there were no updates for Tuesday or Wednesday. It’s not that I couldn’t have come up with issues to rant and rage about.

IT’S THAT I experienced a level of technical difficulties that made it complicated to try to comment to the point where I figured it wasn’t worth the while. So I’m back, and now more fully appreciate how just much we as a society have become tied in to our communications technology.

I’m trying to figure out whether that is a plus or a minus.

What happened was that my cellphone developed technical difficulties with its connections. For the past couple of days, it was just a piece of junk that couldn’t do anything other than tell me what time it was.

My ability to make phone calls on it conked out during the weekend, and my ability to receive and send e-mail messages (along with access anything on the Internet) died when I woke up Monday morning.

IT WASN’T UNTIL Wednesday morning that I was able to work out the kinks of the system and get my device fully restored to all the little services it provides that I apparently have become attached to.

Now there was one plus to my situation; I never lost access to the land line telephone at home. But for the past couple of days, that was my sole connection to the outside world.

Suddenly, I had to recall exactly what my home telephone number was, and I have to admit it took me a minute or so to do that. I’ve become too accustomed to thinking in terms of my smart phone number when I give out a contact for myself.

The inability to get on the Internet from home made it impossible for me to easily post new commentary here. Although I suppose I could have written it, stored the copy on the hard drive of this computer I’m now using, then send it all out when full service was restored.

ALTHOUGH I DOUBT anybody would care about my pre-State of the Union thoughts in this post-State time period. So I’ll spare you.

Or I could have traveled to my local public library and used one of their computers to file copy. Although that would have been a hassle, and I must admit to feeling a little more compassion for those individuals who are in situations where they have to rely on public computers in order to take care of any personal business.

I must admit that Tuesday was a particularly nerve-wracking period because the paranoid portion of my personality was starting to wonder if this lack of contact was going to stretch out indefinitely. I was wondering if I’d ever get restored, or if I was going to have to seriously adapt my daily routine.

As it turned out, I was at a restaurant Wednesday morning with my brother having breakfast when the quirks got worked out. It was something of a relief to “refresh” my cellphone and see a flood of e-mail messages come in – some 95 on my personal e-mail account and 46 on the g-mail account whose address is published on this weblog.

ALTHOUGH I MUST confess to realizing how little I had actually missed – I’d say I deleted about 90 percent of the messages unread because they were just too obsolete.

So all those political operatives who sent me their statements reacting to the State of the Union Address Tuesday night will have to learn that their attempt to influence my thoughts were unsuccessful.

I am not the least bit dizzy from their political spin, although I’m sure they will continue to try to influence me on future issues with their rhetorical junk.


Monday, January 19, 2015

What does it take to achieve literal sainthood – do Serra, Clemente qualify?

What does it take to become an officially-recognized saint of the Catholic church? It seems the criteria are ever evolving to the point where future saints aren’t going to be universally recognized.

With our current society being in a mode of wanting to turn every possible issue into a politically partisan brawl, how long will it be until our choice of saints becomes an issue to pick a fight over?

WHAT MOTIVATED ME to think about this was a pair of stories I stumbled across last week – one about the fact that Father Junipero Serra will be canonized as a saint. The other about the fact that certain people want to make a saint of one-time Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Roberto Clemente.

For those who are scratching their heads at the mention of Serra, he’s a character most of us encountered briefly in elementary school history classes. He was a Catholic friar who helped create the settlements that have evolved into California’s major cities.

Which means he helped create the first European settlements in what is now the United States. Although my own memories recall being in a fifth grade class in which none of my classmates could even fathom how to pronounce Serra’s name.

Serra helped to bring the Catholic church and European ways to the indigenous peoples who previously had called the west coast their home. We certainly wouldn’t have our modern-day society if not for his efforts.

OF COURSE, THE Los Angeles Times reported that is what ticks some people off to the point where they’re going to resent the fact that Pope Francis has given the 18th century friar the highest recognition the church can bestow upon his memory.

Because the Catholic church, in its desire to spread its influence and “save the savages” from eternal damnation, imposed such pressure to assimilate that the tribal influences were devastated – along with many of the individuals to whom foreign diseases brought by the church’s individuals wound up being deadly.

Serra – the saint who created our society, or some sort of Catholic killer?!? I’m sure there are those who can come up with even more over-the-top rhetoric when expressing their contempt for the lack of a native presence in California.

Then again, there are those who are all too eager to believe that California – and just about everything west of St. Louis – was a vast land of emptiness until the white settlers came along in the 19th century.

I’M SURE THEY’LL be the ones who will aggressively push Serra’s sainthood because it fits their notion of what the world ought to be.

Although I wonder what they’ll think of the notion of slugger Sammy Sosa’s idol also being recognized as a Catholic saint? It hasn’t happened yet – and may never happen. These kinds of things take time.

But the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported how the producer of a documentary film about Clemente’s life now wants to document the “miracles” he performed so that he can get official Catholic recognition.

Clemente was a ball player from 1955 until 1972 and is likely the best ball player the Pittsburgh Pirates ever had – whose career, and life, came to a sudden end when the airplane he was riding while filled with goods for victims of a Nicaragua earthquake crashed into the ocean near San Juan.

CLEMENTE’S BODY WAS never recovered. Although his memory became all-the-more elevated. Baseball gave Roberto its highest honor when it eliminated the five-year waiting period and immediately inducted him into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Apparently, that isn’t good enough for some.

Richard Rossi, who made the documentary and is trying to build actual support for sainthood, cites evidence of Clemente’s knowledge of pressure points and how they could be used to help ease pain. Does that amount to the ability to heal the sick? By that definition, just about every chiropractor qualifies for sainthood!

But how many chiropractors could win the World Series MVP (in 1971, against the Baltimore Orioles) while also inspiring the Latin American community? Or create a culture along the West Coast?


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Bruce Rauner: A 'bad man,' or a 'protector' of Illinois interests?

We’re going to be able to quarrel for months to come over how badly Gov. Bruce Rauner hurt his public perception with his actions Friday afternoon.

What he did was rescinded eight executive orders that now-former Gov. Pat Quinn approved in his final hours in office Monday morning. It shouldn’t be a shock; Rauner has publicly said he’d like to rescind everything Quinn did in the final two months he was in office.

BUT THOSE ACTIONS by Quinn were described at the time of their approval as potential landmines for the new governor – if he were to refuse to let them remain in place, he’d be exposing himself to be a politically partisan hack in his own right.

Some believed Rauner might feel compelled to just let the acts remain in place to avoid public criticism. Then again, those are probably the same people who believe that every season is “the” season for the Chicago Cubs to succeed.

Which is to say that Rauner is refusing to go along. But how will he take the criticism that inevitably will fall upon him.

For the record, the actions that got rescinded included a provision that anyone working on a project that was a state contract would have to be paid a $10 per hour minimum wage – the rate that Quinn had hoped all workers in Illinois would receive as part of his final act in office.

ALSO, QUINN WANTED all governors to be required to disclose their income levels and other financial interests by publicly revealing their income tax refunds each year while in office.

It shouldn’t be a secret that Rauner would hate either idea.

He is the guy who during his gubernatorial campaign initially opposed any minimum wage increase, then said he might be willing to support something that increased the current $8.25 level IF there also were changes in the law meant to benefit business interests.

Which makes it seem that he’s more interested in measures that organized labor will hate than in trying to do anything to bolster the income level among people who work in this state.

AND AS FOR the tax disclosures, Rauner went through his whole campaign refusing to reveal such information about himself. He wasn’t about to have a turnaround now just because Quinn wanted to make Rauner look bad/foolish/corrupt in the future!

So Rauner showed us just how weak the power of an executive order truly is – it has no permanent standing and can be eliminated at the whim of a future governor.

Which is what all those people praising President Barack Obama’s use of executive orders to impose immigration reform measures ought to keep in mind – nothing is permanent, and ideologues can have their way in the future when (and it will happen eventually) they get their own elected to prominent government posts.

I’m sure Rauner is going to claim now and in the future when he continues to use his authority to repeal acts that have their origins in the Quinn years that he’s protecting the people of Illinois from irresponsible actions taken in the past.

I ALSO EXPECT there are those who are ideologically inclined to want to believe Rauner will be all too eager to claim that he’s just in his actions.

But I wonder how many more people will wind up seeing these repeals as the act of someone eager to use his newly-acquired political power to dominate the public will?

Rauner standing in the way of refusing to bolster the pay of even a few working people? Refusing to reveal his income (because it would show just exactly how out of touch his life is compared to the average working stiff)?

Rauner may wind up wondering if there’s enough Tylenol in all of Illinois to cope with the future headaches he may have provoked for himself.