Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Event speaks volumes for talent of area youths

The admonition “Judge not, lest ye be judged” rolls off me like water off Esther Williams’ back, because I enjoy judging and I don’t mind being judged in return.

The kind of judging I do does not require a law degree and there’s no six-year term such as real judges enjoy.

My judging is done on a volunteer basis and involves such community events as Mardi Gras parades in Fairport Harbor, beauty contests, pie-baking contests, chili cook-offs, dessert competition and other area events of note, some breath-taking and some not.

My favorite assignment, and the most difficult, involves 12 to 15 speakers at the junior high level, held each year around this time at Ss. Robert and William Catholic School in Euclid.

So it was not without expectation that I received a letter not so long ago from Patrice Garuckas, who teaches language arts (my favorite subject) at the school. She said the students and she were looking forward to seeing me at the annual Modern Woodmen of America speech competition at the school on April 18 — a significant date if you think in terms of Paul Revere’s Ride and the birthday of our puppy, Maggie.

I look forward to it because it is fun. The kids are great, they really have honed their speaking skills, and they are almost as nervous as I am as the moment approaches.

It is also difficult, because all the kids do such a good job — on a gymnasium stage facing hundreds of other students — and it is not easy choosing three winners out of, this year, 15 contestants when their presentations are separated by only the smallest of margins.

This year’s topic was “A Time When Volunteers Have Made a Difference.” Speeches must be between three and five minutes, with penalties assessed if they are too short or too long.

I have been judging these contests for longer than I can remember. Patrice, who lives in Kirtland, would probably know. Her second letter revealed who the other two judges would be. I couldn’t wait to find out.

One was Bill Cervenik, whom I know as an outstanding mayor of the City of Euclid and someone I don’t see nearly as often as I would like. He is also a graduate of Lakeland Community College, which makes me feel good.

The other, Patrice said, would be Richard Osborne, president of Villa Angela-St.Joseph High School. That puzzled me. I know a lot of Richard Osbornes.

As well as I know Rick and Rick Jr., the father-son team of Mentor businessmen, I wasn’t aware they had anything to do with that school.

Would it be the Rich Osborne I have known for many years who was an editor at The Lorain Journal, now The Morning Journal, then an editor at Cleveland Magazine, and whose column I always enjoyed when he was the editor of Ohio Magazine, a subsidiary of Cleveland Magazine?

Turns out he was the one, neatly trimmed white beard and all. So I was among friends. We raised our sharpened pencils and waited for the 15 contestants to take their turns at the lectern and display their speaking skills.

All of them were excellent. It was as difficult to choose among them as it was to pick the best 6-year-old majorettes at the Mardi Gras Parade.

But the three of us did our work diligently. And it was amazing how close we were in our final assessments. Using point totals that added up to 100 – and we didn’t look at each other’s papers – we found agreement on the top three. They were:

1. John Henry Posey, who spoke on the leadership qualities of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

2. Briana Caronchi, who told of the construction of seven homes for tornado victims in Joplin, Mo., on “Extreme Makeover Home Edition.”

3. Kiyla Cooper, who spoke about the trainers of service dogs.

Those were excellent topics, but matter of fact, all 15 topics were very good.

John Henry and Briana will travel May 26 to Ottawa-Glandorf High School to compete in the state championship.

Students in the local competition came from St. Helen, St. Anselm, St. Francis of Assisi, Our Lady of the Lake and Ss. Robert and William Catholic School.

As it turned out, the three top winners were all from Ss. Robert and William. The judges had no idea who the kids were or where they were from until the competition had ended. But the folks at the school, including Patrice Garuckas, were sure proud of them.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Might be 42 reasons to dislike Tribe uniforms

If you are a baseball fan, I spose you watched last Sunday’s Indians game.

So did I — amid much agony and consternation.

But first, let us get one matter out of the way. Last week, I also wrote about baseball. I would like to go on record as saying this is the first time I have ever written about baseball two weeks in a row. I usually write about more important things, such as ... well, I can’t think of any right now, but I want you to know that I am not a sportswriter-in-training or — worst of all — becoming typecast.

I don’t want to be another Chester Morris, who made so many Boston Blackie movies that he had trouble finding other roles.

I have seen all of those Class B flicks, and they are hilarious because they are so bad. They are in black and white, shown on Turner Classic Movies, most of them made in the early 1940s.

I saw one a week ago where they hung a bad guy upside down out of the 14th story window of a building to get him to confess. Then they let him drop and he fell only one story, to the landing below.

I could watch those old B&W films all day, or at least until the lady of the house gets home from Dillard’s, Macy’s, Bed Bath and Beyond, Key Bank — you get the idea. She has a lot of errands to run. But I digress.

I slowly went nuts during the Indians game because of the uniforms both teams were wearing. Not just the Indians. Also the Kansas City Royals.

None of them had names on the back, and they all wore No. 42.

Let’s see if I have this right – the reason uniforms have numbers on the back is so people watching can tell who is doing what. The numbers help tell one player from another.

So MLB Baseball (that stands for Major League Baseball Baseball, striking a unique blow for redundancy) on the one hand seems to like names and numbers to tell players apart, and on the other hand eliminates the names and gives them all the same number to make it impossible to tell them apart.

Yes, that is correct. There were 50 players in the Indians-Royals game wearing No. 42.

Now, I know why they did this. I am not simple.

They did it to honor Jackie Robinson, the great second baseman who, as the sportswriters like to say, broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

He was the first black player to play in the majors — only a couple of months before Larry Doby first played for the Indians.

I respect Robinson’s contributions to baseball. He was outstanding in every aspect of the game, and I mean every aspect. But can’t they find a better way to show respect to him than making everyone wear No. 42? That just creates confusion.

I never saw Robinson play in person, but I saw him play on televised games many times. There weren’t many base runners as talented as he was.

He was truly a five-tool player. And if you don’t know what the five tools are, you haven’t been paying attention.

I only wish the Dodgers had brought him up a couple of months later so Doby could have been the first black man to play in the majors. That is only hometown wishful thinking, I guess, but wouldn’t that have been great for Cleveland?

Paul Brown already had a lot of super-talented black players on the Browns (Marion Motley, Horace Gillom) without giving race a second thought. With Brown, it wasn’t about race, it was about ability to play the game.

When Doby first came up he was pretty raw, a work in progress. But he became a great player.

But as good as Robinson was, giving everyone his number only created confusion. As for the Indians, I have been jawing at them for years about those stupid home uniforms with no names on the back. Ask Bobby DiBiasio, the team vice president for public relations. Every time he gives a talk and asks for questions afterward and my hand shoots up, he knows what the question is going to be: When are you going to get rid of those stupid uniforms with no names on the back?

But here’s an idea: If MLB really wants to make it confusing when honoring a player, take it one step further.

During the game, stop showing those little boxes that have a player’s name with his batting average. And make the announcers quit using names when broadcasting the name.

They could refer to players by position, but no names.

I mean, if the baseball moguls don’t want us to know who the players are, wouldn’t that help?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Acta’s obsession pitches Tribe right into trouble

Yankees legend Yogi Berra gets credit for 93 percent of all the wisecracks, smart remarks and witticisms uttered in organized sports. If you don’t believe that, Google the Department of the Interior, baseball stats, and ask for Wilma. She will confirm it.

Among the other 7 percent is one of my favorite comments, spoken by the greatest football coach of all time, Paul Brown, as his team was being driven on a bus to a game somewhere up North (Green Bay, Minnesota, wherever) and the bus driver got lost. The Browns were late arriving at the stadium.

“I don’t blame you, son,” Brown told the driver, “I blame the guy who hired you.”

Which brings us to Opening Day at The Jake, now known as Progressive Field, in downtown Cleveland.

The Indians were playing Toronto, and our pitcher, Justin Masterson, was pitching a gem, a masterpiece or hurling a stellar performance. That is what baseball scribes call a well-pitched game.

(In the industry, baseball writers are known as “scribes.” They are never just writers. They are scribes. Don’t ask me why. But I digress.)

Be that as it may, after eight innings of his gem, or masterpiece, the Indians were leading 4-1, Masterson had given up two hits and struck out 10 batters. He had thrown 99 pitches.

At the beginning of the ninth inning (known as the “top” of the ninth in baseball circles), Cleveland manager Manny Acta removed his starting pitcher and brought in his closer.

(Starters do not finish games. Closers do. Sometimes there is a set-up man in between.)

So closer Chris Perez trotted to the mound. Our quartet behind first base (me, Gary Robinson, Joe Cocozzo and Steve Byron) looked at one another. We knew he had thrown 99 pitches because it was on the scoreboard. We weren’t certain the move was a good one except that pitchers nowadays are seldom allowed to throw more than 100 pitches because they might hurt themselves.

The way I looked at it, Masterson had one more pitch coming. But you don’t let your starter come in at the beginning of an inning and let him throw one pitch. So my thought was to let him pitch to one batter. If he got him out, let him pitch to one more batter.

And so forth, until you get to three. If you get to three, the game is over and everyone can go home.
So we watched Perez begin to close. But he didn’t close anything except the Indians’ three-run lead.

He quickly got it down to nothing. It was awful to behold. It was as much fun as going to the state pen and watching an execution.

Perez is a very good pitcher. But he had a bad day. We all have bad days. But not in front of 43,000 people.

When he was finally removed from the game, it was too late. The game was tied. It went into extra innings. After 12 innings it was getting cold and we went home. After 16 innings the Indians lost.

When Perez walked to the dugout after being removed (scribes often say “yanked”) the boos that cascaded down upon him were deafening and merciless. Everybody in the place hated him. He was Public Enemy No. 1.

But I didn’t blame him. He was like the bus driver. I didn’t blame Perez, I blamed the guy who took Masterson out of the game. That would be Manny Acta.

Acta isn’t necessarily a bad manager. But he has this 100-pitch obsession that is so prevalent.

And I thought about Bob Feller, one of the greatest pitches who ever lived. He thought the 100-pitch obsession was a joke. I heard him say so, many times. And for good reason. When Feller reached the 100-pitch level in a game it was about the fifth inning. Maybe the fourth.

In 1941, his last season before he joined the Navy and went off to war, Feller started 40 games and completed 28 of them. In 1946, his first full year back after the war, Feller started 42 games and completed 36.

Do you know how many complete games he would have pitched those two seasons if he had been limited to 100 pitches per game? Zero. That is correct. Zero. I say again, zero.

Of course, Feller was a big strong guy. But Masterson isn’t a midget. I think he stands about 6-6.

But managers like Acta are making sissies out of their pitchers. And losing games in the process.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Helpful readers lead way to Mentor goldmine

This column appeared in The News-Herald on April 1, 2012. 

Writing a weekly essay such as this wouldn’t be nearly as much fun were it not for the warm, wonderful, thoughtful and sharing people who take the time to compose their thoughts on whatever topics arise as they grip the paper in their coffee-stained hands on Sunday morning.

Or stare at their computers, as the case may be, while they attempt to figure out my message and then fashion responses.

Let us go back in time. I recently covered the subject of no-lick postage stamps and then promised to follow up today with a further report on the status of an interview Frank Krupa wants me to do at the Wildwood Center on the subject of Mentor’s 50th anniversary as a city.

The status is, the interview will probably take place in April or May of 2013, which is more than a year away. But it is never too early to begin planning.

I mentioned a lot of people who were there at the beginning — the consolidation of tiny Mentor Village with the immense Mentor Township, creating overnight the largest city in Lake County.

Naturally, Frank and I would like to interview people who have first-hand knowledge of what they speak. But there aren’t too many of them around any longer. However, I did receive a number of emails and phone calls from readers who want to help, and who have suggested folks who might enjoy sitting around a round table for a gabfest.

Or a table of any configuration, for that matter. This is not Panmunjon, you know. (That is a historical reference to the end of the “police action” in Korea. If you were not there at the time, don’t bother looking it up. Let us proceed apace.)

One of the people I mentioned who was there at the beginning was Bill Boyd, but I didn’t know if he was still extant. I found out in a hurry.

Jill Nesnadny wrote: “I assure you he is alive and well and spends most of his time in Florida. But he still has his home in Thompson. I am friends with one of his daughters.”

Evelyn Kiffmeyer, a long-time Mentor Council member, also checked in: “I can help you out with locating Bill Boyd, and I can assure you’ll enjoy all the history he can provide about Mentor’s anniversary.”

Evelyn provided me with two phone numbers for Bill, one in Florida and the other his cellphone.
How’s that for being helpful?

“He should be on his way back from Florida soon, but I’m not sure just when. Let me know if you need any more help locating Bill.”

I will do it, Evelyn. But remember, the interview will be a year from now.

She also mentioned someone else who was very much a part of Mentor’s history at the time.

“A wonderful gentleman, Robert Brewer, wasn’t mentioned, and he should be included. He was very much a part of that history during the merger.

“I really enjoyed the history of Mentor during the time I was on council and was able to be very much a part of Mentor’s 200th anniversary. This is truly a story of historical pride.”

That 200th, of course, was a different anniversary. That was the founding of Mentor, not becoming a city.

Two emails from Councilman Ray Kirchner were succinct, as his messages always are. “George Maier is quite familiar with the merger and the players. Perhaps he could help you.” Ray was kind enough to include George’s phone number.

A second message said: “I spoke with Cliff Shandle today, and he said he has a wealth of Mentor info for you. He also suggested you contact Jim Pegararo.”

Debbie Weinkamer wrote: “ My suggestion for a Mentor history buff to be added to Frank Krupa’s panel is Joan Kapsch. She is a former executive director of the Lake County Historical Society and currently works at Lawnfield as a ranger with the National Park Service. She has a wealth of stories about Mentor.”

And finally, I head from Joe Dietrick: “I believe my grandfather, Raymond Brunner, who started Brunner Funeral Home (now Brunner Sanden Dietrick Funeral Home and Cremation Service) in 1949 would be a great person to contact. He was around and very involved with the city. I can get you in touch with him.”

That’s a great thought, Joe. I will never forget Ray’s comment when he was honored by the Chamber of Commerce as a distinguished citizen: “I will be the last one ever to let you down.”

I also heard Ray tell people on occasion: “Why don’t you drop over sometime?”

Never underestimate the power of a good punch line.

There’s always room for more jazz memories

I yield to no man in my fondness for the humor of the late W.C. Fields.

Well, one man, perhaps. Joe Cocozzo, my former boss at The N-H, not only had a great admiration for Fields, but his memory is so acute that during a round of golf he can recite dialog, with proper voice inflection, from almost any Fields film you could name — starting with “The Bank Dick.”

Joe’s impression of W.C. Fields was far better than my impression of Arnold Palmer on the fairways.

One of Fields’ great charms was that he never used a simple word if a more complicated one could be put into play.

With that in mind, I offer the following introduction to this week’s commentary:

The propinquity of Half-Price Books in Mentor to the tonsorial parlor of my choice is becoming my bete noire.

Translation: The store in so close to Cicero’s on the Avenue, where I get my hair cut, that it is my downfall because whenever I am early for an appointment and have a few minutes to spare, I stop in and rummage through the jazz CDs — some new and some used.

Last haircut I had far too much time to spare. I bought seven CDs.

I do not regret buying any of them. But how many CDs do I really need? The answer: Enough is never enough.

Two that I picked up were by Frank Sinatra. One, “Classic Sinatra,” was 24 tunes I already had by him in some form or other. The second, “Where Are You?” had a lot of songs I had never heard him sing before. Good acquisition.

The third CD was “Buddy Rich — The All-Star Small Groups.” I am a huge fan of Buddy’s and have a ton of his recordings. This one is OK, but not his greatest.

No. 4 was “The Comprehensive Charlie Parker.” Do I really need another recording by the Yardbird? This was called “Live Performances Volume 1.” And it did have some new stuff.

No. 5 was Stan Kenton, “Reed Rapture,” the complete MacGregor Transcriptions Vol. 3, 1941-1943. I thought I had every recording Kenton ever made, but this had some transcriptions of radio broadcasts I had never heard, so to me it had real value.

The sixth CD, “Clifford Brown Live at the Bee Hive,” was a treat because inside I found not one but two CDs. They were songs I had heard the legendary trumpeter play many times, but most of these arrangements were 20 minutes long. Outstanding!

The best I saved for last – for a personal reason. It is “Marian McPartland’s Hickory House Trio,” recorded in 1998.

Let me take you back many, many years before that to when Bud Brichford was mayor of Willoughby. He owned a Shell Station, and one night asked me to go with him to a Shell dealers’ convention in Cleveland.

We went, the meeting got boring, so he said, “Let’s go over to the Theatrical.” It was a hot spot on Short Vincent off East 9th Street.

Marian McPartland, a great jazz pianist, was playing there, and during a break she sat down with us. We introduced ourselves and she said, “Is there anything you’d like to hear?”

She probably thought we’d ask for some dopey standard. I surprised her. “Do you know ‘Tune for Tex?’” I asked. It is an upbeat little jazz riff. “Sure,” she said. And she played it.

A few years later we were in New York City on one of our regular Broadway trips when we took in about six shows in four days, including matinees, and late one night we stopped at the Hickory House.

Guess who was playing?

Marian McPartland.

She came over and sat with us. “You’re Jim and you’re Bud,” she said. I could not believe it! And she looked at me and said, “When I saw you in Cleveland, you asked me to play ‘Tune for Tex.’”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. But as surely as God made little green apples, that is exactly what happened.

And during her next set she played “Tune for Tex.”

It is not a particularly memorable song.

I have only one recording of it, and I can’t for the life of me remember whom it is by.

I don’t even know why I asked her to play it in the first place. Just a spur of the moment thing, I guess.

But good grief, what a memory this talented pianist displayed.

I wonder why she never went on Jeopardy?