Saturday, November 10, 2012

Politics, Money and Israel


I’ve hesitated writing this post because of certain sensitive areas. In the spirit of Fight Club, there are things you are encouraged not to talk about. They are not, however, illegal, immoral or any different from how thousands of other interest groups operate, so being it’s after the election, here goes.

The well-deserved trouncing of Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel by Senator Sherrod Brown provided an added dimension to an aspect of political fundraising. I met Mandel after his presentation before an American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) meeting in 2008. He seemed like an earnest young man, with much in common with my sister-in-law’s brother: Jewish, Republican, Marine Corps Reserve and state government. I thought it would be good connection for the two.

Mandel was elected Ohio state treasurer in 2010 at age 33, swept into office as part of the Tea Party revolution. During his campaign, I began receiving emails from Kasich for Governor in addition to those from Mandel. I didn’t pay any attention, figuring they had gotten my name from a contribution to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Silly me; I hadn’t noticed Kasich was a Republican. After sending an unsubscribe reply, I told Mandel’s people to not only unsubscribe me but to never give out my email address again.

Despite assurances he was going to serve at least one term as state treasurer, Mandel quickly announced he would run in the Senate primary in 2012. He soundly defeated four opponents, winning 63 percent of the vote. Last spring, I received an invitation letter signed by a prominent real-estate executive for a Mandel fundraiser. It related a litany of supposed anti-Israel positions and votes by Brown and the need to elect a staunch pro-Israel supporter like Josh Mandel. The fundraiser would bundle the contributions (minimum request: $500) and present them to Mandel in the interest of further strengthening U.S.-Israel relations. After sharing it with a friend – pointing out the overwrought tone and many fallacies – the letter went into the recycling bin. So here’s where the story starts.

This sounds familiar, some might say; doesn’t AIPAC do that? The answer is no. It’s a common misconception that AIPAC endorses candidates and contributes to their campaigns. First off, it can’t because it’s not a political-action committee. Second, it gains much of its strength from being bipartisan. Another fallacy about AIPAC is that it makes policy and then pushes it on Capitol Hill, including urging the U.S. to invade Iraq after 9/11. Again, not true. It takes its cue from the government of Israel (which by the way warned us about invading Iraq) and lobbies for issues important to Israel. Passing the foreign aid bill is always the top priority because contrary to public perception, aid to all countries is packaged in one bill, and the members of Congress vote up or down. One can’t vote Yes for Israel and No for Egypt.

AIPAC’s influence on electoral politics is more indirect and, I may add, even more effective. Persons active in AIPAC are encouraged to join a local group that raises money for Congressional – but not presidential – candidates. I was involved in one such group; it deliberately does not have a name, and if asked its name, the reply would be, “We’re just a group of pro-Israel supporters.” Because I’m still on its distribution list and respect its wish to stay out of the limelight, some of my details will remain sketchy.

Some years back, supporters of strong U.S.-Israel relations realized it was inefficient and ineffective for individuals to send money to a candidate and express support for these policies. Forming a group to bundle the contributions was a sensible solution. Members pledge to make a minimum contribution of a size I won’t disclose over a two-year election cycle. How much and to whom is your business; in fact, the group is strictly bi-partisan in that sense.

Members organize luncheons or home visits for Senators, Representatives or candidates they feel have done a good job supporting U.S.-Israel relations or filled out questionnaire to the group’s liking. Discussions are limited strictly to that subject. Most often it’s an incumbent, since his or her record is public knowledge. Rarely do you see a fundraiser for somebody running against an incumbent, unless that incumbent is somebody like Ron Paul. On that subject, I’ve only received three special solicitations that simply asked for contributions because of opposition to a particular candidate: Rand Paul, when he was running in the Republican primary in 2010; Charles Barron, a 2012 candidate for the Democratic nomination for Congress in Brooklyn who has a history of anti-Israel statements; and Tammy Baldwin, who was accused of being “anti-Israel” and “anti-Jewish” by opponent Tommy Thompson, despite that fact she was raised by her Jewish grandmother.

Thus, I was not surprised by a summer invitation to a Sherrod Brown fundraiser. He was an incumbent with a good record on U.S.-Israel relations, and several Democratic members of the group staged the event. The Mandel fundraiser I know garnered contributions from group members but the group did not organize one.

This gets me to another local organization involved in pro-Israel fundraising: To Protect Our Heritage. It is in fact a political-action committee that endorses and contributes money to candidates. Its members were (and maybe still are) invited to select group fundraisers, with mixed results. I say this because it’s made up mostly of right-wingers, some far enough on the fringe to write for the loathsome American Thinker. One of them audaciously asked Sen. Patty Murray whether because Rachael Corrie, who was killed by a bulldozer protesting the destruction of the house of a suicide bomber, grew up in Washington it reflected on the quality of education in the state. Sen. Murray (a great lady, I might add) after some hesitation deflected the question as being off the subject. Another lectured then-Cong. Shelly Berkley to go back to D.C. and tell her Democratic colleagues to not oppose expansion of West Bank settlements. She meekly replied that she would. The group’s endorsements for 2012, in addition to Mandel, included Tommie Thompson and Richard Murdock for senator and Michelle Bachmann, Steve King, Joe Walsh and Allen West for Congress. Need I say more?

There then, is the real strength of the so-called Israel Lobby and – surprise! – it’s money. The sums now pale next to the tsunami of Super PAC cash, which thankfully was mostly wasted on the Republican side. Candidates will still heed the calls from pro-Israel fundraising groups to help ensure continued support on Capitol Hill. As for Josh Mandel, the money from names like Pritzker, Crown and Zell and tens of millions from Super PACs only served to make the race closer than it should have been. I hope those who attended that Chicago fundraiser or sent in their checks because they thought Mandel should be a U.S. Senator solely on his pro-Israel position realize what a callow, pro-life-with-no-exceptions pisher he turned out to be.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Down to the Wire


The addition of a second wild-card team has brought increased complexity to Major League Baseball. With five teams playing in each three-division league, a team like the Milwaukee Brewers – who were playing .500 ball until just recently – is still in the hunt for a post-season spot.

Things were far simpler 45 years ago to the day, when each league had 10 teams (up from 8 in the early 1960s) and no divisions. Two teams saw October, while the other 18 went home. In 1967, the American League in late September was looking at a 30,315,229 to 1 chance for a four-way tie for the pennant. It truly was Down to the Wire, the title of a 1992 book by former Dallas Morning News sportswriter Jeff Miller that chronicles the race between the Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins.

 Jeff Miller's definitive book on the 1967 AL pennant race

The 1967 White Sox were the reincarnation of The Hitless Wonders. The team, managed by Eddie Stanky, ended the season with a batting average of .225 (ironically, not the league’s lowest) and 89 homers, almost half as many as the league-leading Tigers. Don Buford and Ken Berry shared the team leadership with a .241 batting average, while Pete Ward led with 62 RBI, followed by Tommie Agee with 52 and Ron Hansen with 51. Since they were just an average fielding team, the Sox were carried by a pitching staff with an astounding ERA of 2.45; no team was lower than 3.14. The leading starting pitchers were Gary Peters (.2.28), Joel Horlen (2.06) and Tommy John (2.47). Bobby Locker (20 saves, 2.09) and Hoyt Wilhelm (12 saves, 1.31) anchored the bullpen. Desperate for hitting, the Sox traded for 36-year-old Ken Boyer from the Mets and 33-year-old Rocky Colavito from the Indians in July. Smoky Burgess, now age 40, was in his last season as what amounted to a designated pinch-hitter.

 Pete Ward and Don Buford

The surprising White Sox held first place from June 11 to August 12, regaining it for one day, September 6. Before the next night’s game, the American League sent former umpire Charlie Berry to inspect the condition of the infield, following complaints by Angels manager Bill Rigney. Head groundskeeper Gene Bossard, father of current head man Roger “The Sodfather” Bossard, was well known for keeping the home-plate area slightly less arid than a swamp and, under the league’s direction, Bossard’s crew steered a one-ton roller over the area. It was later confirmed that the Sox indeed put baseballs in a freezer before the games, thus helping negate opponents’ power. The Sox lost the next two games to the Tigers and would bounce between third and fourth place but still very much in the running.

Two surprises characterized the season. The 1966 World Champion Baltimore Orioles, who swept the Los Angeles Dodgers 4 to 0 in the Fall Classic, fell 21 games to finish 76-85 in 1967. The Boston Red Sox, 72-90 and only two games ahead of the last-place New York Yankees in 1966, were in fifth place as late as August 13 before storming into the pennant race, thanks in part to Carl Yaztremski’s Triple Crown season and the mid-season addition of present White Sox announcer Ken “Hawk” Harrelson. The Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers, second and third in 1966 with a one-game difference, had solid line-ups. Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva led the Twins in hitting, and Dean Chance joined Jim Kaat, a 25-game winner in 1966, on the mound. The Tigers were led by Al Kaline, Willie Horton Norm Cash and Bill Freehan, with star pitchers Denny McLain, Mickey Lolich and Earl Wilson.

 Ken "Hawk" Harrelson

The White Sox seemly had no business being in such company but with only five games remaining, they stood only 1 game out. The schedule was in their favor, with a double-header vs. the last place Kansas City A's on the road and eighth-place Washington Senators for a weekend series at home. The Twins were in first place, the Red Sox in second, one game back and percentage points ahead of the White Sox, and the Tigers were 1.5 games back in fourth. Because of a rainout, the Tigers would have to play back-to-back doubleheaders with the Angels in Detroit, while the Twins and Red Sox eventually squared off for the final two games in Boston.

A’s manager and Hall of Famer Luke Appling, a career White Sox player, would have liked to see the Sox win the pennant but sent two of his best pitchers, Chuck Dobson and Catfish Hunter, to face Peters and Horlen. The first game was a disaster for the Sox, scoring 2 runs (in the 9th inning) on 4 hits while committing two errors, a wild pitch and passed ball on the way to a 5-2 loss. The second game was worse, blanked 4-0 on three hits by Hunter. Some 5,325 fans witnessed the meltdown, the last A’s games in Kansas City. They moved to Oakland the following season. (My blog post on the A's is http://brulelaker.blogspot.com/2012/05/kansas-city-athletics.html)
 
Chuck Dobson and Catfish Hunter

The Sox limped back to Chicago, now 1.5 games back in fourth place. A win on Friday night was a must. Only 12,665 showed up to watch the Sox stay in the race. Anticipating a possible World Series appearance, the Sox built a fenced-in area for photographers on the far side of the 1st-base dugout. The Senators put runners on first and second vs. John in the 1st inning, thanks to two errors. Fred Valentine then lofted a pop foul behind 1st base that Tommy McCraw would have caught if the photographers’ area hadn’t been built. Valentine then singled to drive in a run, which held up thanks to 4-hit pitching by Phil Ortega, and the Sox’s 1-0 loss eliminated them from the pennant race. They then lost the final two games, 4-0 and 4-3, the Saturday game witnessed by 4,020 die-hard fans.

 Fred Valentine

So down to the wire it was, as the Tigers split their first doubleheader and the Red Sox beat the Twins on Saturday. The winner of Sunday’s Red Sox-Twins game was assured at least a tie for first place, while the Tigers needed a sweep to force a one-game playoff. The Red Sox defeated the Twins, 5-3, setting of a wild celebration resulting in the shutdown of the Kenmore T station for fear the mob would spill on to the third rail.

In the meantime, the Tigers won game 1 of the doubleheader, and somehow I found myself on the second floor of the D wing of Dravo Hall at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where I was a freshman, at about 7:30 EDT. Somebody had tuned in Ernie Harwell’s call of game 2 from WJR in Detroit. I arrived just in time to hear Dick McAuliffe ground into a Knoop-to-Fregosi-to-Mincher double play, thus ending the Tigers’ hopes with an 8-5 defeat.

 Ernie Harwell

It took the White Sox five years to recover from the disappointing ending. Attendance for the season was only 985,634, as the mid-summer shooting of a motorcycle policeman fueled increased fears of safety in the Comiskey Park neighborhood. The team and attendance got progressively worse, bottoming out in 1970, finishing 56-106, 42 games behind the division-winning Twins, before a total of 495,355 fans. I was not one of them, for the only season since my first game in 1953 or 1954, although my streak of seeing the Sox every year is intact by attending a game in Boston.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Dr. Donald C. Liu

May 6, 2008, was notable for two reasons: I almost saw my second no-hitter and met Dr. Donald C. Liu of the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital.

My cousin, Dr. Jim Nachman, was out of town for the Tuesday night Sox game versus the Twins, so Marisa and I would be sitting with his guests. A man in a scrub shirt and his young son settled in next to us just before the first pitch. “You must work with my cousin Jim,” I said, introducing myself. He was Dr. Donald Liu, who told me he did most of the surgeries on Jim’s young patients. His son, Asher, was 6 and just getting into playing and watching baseball. 

Although Gavin Floyd took a no-hitter into the 9th inning, I was rather blasé about it, having seen Mark Buehrle’s no-hitter the season before. Young Asher and Dr. Liu had left by then. After retiring Brendan Harris for the first out, Joe Mauer stepped to the plate. “Walk him!” somebody yelled a few rows behind us, as the eventual 2008 batting champion entered the batter’s box. Good advice: Mauer’s double broke up the no-hitter, and Floyd and reliever Bobby Jenks had to settle for a one-hitter. Upon his returning home, Jim called me and said, “What are you trying to do? Collect no-hitters on me?” He had missed Buehrle’s no-hitter too. 

Jim Nachman was one of the world’s foremost pediatric oncologists, directly and indirectly saving the lives of thousands of children. I quickly realized that Dr. Liu’s work was key to their high success rate. Each had personalities exceptionally suited for working with this sensitive group, and I imagined what it was like to see them together, trying their best to allay the fears of the young children. Each spoke glowingly about the other.

Dr. Donald Liu tragically drowned in Lake Michigan on August 5 while helping save the lives of two children who were in the water. He was with his family visiting friends in Lakeside, Michigan, to celebrate his 50th birthday. Dr. Liu joined the University of Chicago Hospitals as a pediatric surgeon in 2001 and was named section chief of pediatric surgery and surgeon-in-chief at Comer Children’s Hospital in 2007. Like Jim, he was preeminent in his field, and tributes are many. He is survived by his wife and three children.

The hospital has lost two great physicians in the last 14 months. Jim died of a heart attack in the Grand Canyon in June 2011 at age 62 while on his yearly rafting trip with older teens he mentored. Dr. Liu spoke eloquently at the university’s memorial service for Jim last July, and I talked with him at the luncheon after the service. We exchanged anecdotes about Jim, and he remembered my daughter was with us that evening three years before.

I will sum up both their lives simply with how Jim introduced one of his guests at a Sox game last year: “He was one of my patients. He graduated college last week.” I’ll think about that each time I feel the overwhelming sadness for this very unfair turn of events.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Dade Behring and Mitt Romney: Part II


Last August I wrote about my experiences with Dade Behring, Inc. (http://brulelaker.blogspot.com/2011/08/dade-behring-and-mitt-romney-complex.html), which at the time was a Bain Capital portfolio company. My conclusion: the ultimate success of the company, through a debt-for-equity swap and IPO that brought investors handsome returns and a stronger company, made it a poor example of Bain’s buy-and-loot strategy. In subsequent months, as other details about the company were disclosed while Mitt Romney continues his farcical claim that he’s a businessman who knows how to create jobs, I’ve concluded the Dade Behring story is a perfect example of one of Romney’s greatest traits: hypocrisy. It’s a tale of too much borrowing and government subsidies, which supposedly are an anathema to the sudden conservative Mr. Romney.

As noted in the earlier post, Dade Behring repurchased approximately $400 million of its privately owned stock from Bain Capital and Goldman Sachs in 1999, resulting in a four-fold return on investment in five years. The company’s debt rose to $902 million from $373 million in one year. In addition, the transaction was just small enough to avoid triggering a dividend payment to the other shareholders, a fact I verified with management after an inquiry from Barron’s. One report states the company turned down an almost $2 billion offer from Kohlberg Kravis Roberts as insufficient before initiating the stock buyback. They were able to do this because, despite reducing their ownership to 32 percent as part of the stock buyback, Bain/Goldman still retained voting control of Dade Behring.

There were some interesting executive dynamics at the company during this period. In a news release in November 1997, Dade Behring announced that CEO Scott Garrett (disclosure: I represented Garrett in a subsequent business venture) “elected to resign” his position. Garrett has been quoted that Romney was more involved in the day-to-day business of the portfolio companies than has been stated publicly. My assignment with Dade Behring came through the late Phil Smith, who worked with Garrett and other Dade Behring executives at American Hospital Supply before its purchase by Baxter. I asked Phil if he knew why Garrett “left” the company and if he did, would he tell me. Phil said he didn’t know and doubted anybody outside Dade Behring knew either.

Bain’s fingerprints are all over the stock-buyback transaction. Steve Barnes, Garrett’s replacement as CEO, had been an executive vice president at Bain Capital before joining Dade Behring as chief operating officer in 1996. He is now a top Bain Capital executive. Barnes has been quoted that transaction was done for sound business reasons. As I wrote earlier, my question-and-answer document prepared in advance of announcing the buyback asked the same such question and received the same answer. Let’s just say I hardly find Barnes to have been an unbiased observer. Conversely, I’m not sure why the company needed this transaction because it had an extremely strong team of up-and-coming executives, including Jim Reid-Anderson, who as CEO of the public company after Bain’s exit led its return to profitability and successful sale, and Marc Casper (disclosure: Kendro Laboratory Products was a client while Casper was CEO), now CEO of Thermo Fisher Scientific, Inc., a $12 billion medical instruments company.

I am therefore surer of my earlier conclusion that this was not simply a miscalculation by the numbers crunchers back at Bain Capital. This was wealth creation, pure and simple. Bain and Goldman couldn’t sell Dade Behring for what it thought was an acceptable return or take it public, so it simply loaded it up with debt (about one times annual sales), pocketed a huge ROI and let the chips fall. Romney’s “I know how to run a business” mantra doesn’t include making somebody else pay for his piece of tomorrow, you can bet on that.

The other area of hypocrisy is federal tax incentives. In 1996, according to the Tampa Bay Times, Dade Behring received two tax breaks totaling $7.1 million for job creation at its Puerto Rico facility. Some workers relocated from Miami as part of the deal. Dade Behring proceeded to close the facility just one year later, throwing 850 people out of work. Romney rails against the stimulus and other federal job-creation programs, while supporting state grants for business. Not only did he lie about Obama donors benefiting from the subsidies to Solyndra, but Bain Capital used – and abused – subsidies for Dade Behring. Romney turned a job-creating program into a job-destroying one.

We can expect to see more examples of Romney’s policy hypocrisy in the coming months. The Obama campaign is already hammering away at his job creation record, both at Bain and as governor of Massachusetts. It should also take a look at his aversion to adding to the deficit. He did a great job of doing that for Dade Behring.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Kansas City Athletics

Excluding the Seattle Pilots, who entered the American League in 1969 and left for Milwaukee one year later, the Kansas City Athletics had the shortest tenure in one city during the modern baseball era. An odd amalgam of names and an autographed baseball piqued my interest in this mostly forgotten team.

The Athletics – known colloquially as the A’s – were an original American League franchise in 1901. Owner Connie Mack would manage the team through 1950, dressed in a suit, tie and hat, for a record that certainly will never be broken. The A’s moved into Shibe Park, the first concrete-and-steel ballpark, in 1909. They shared the park with the Phillies beginning in 1938. The ballpark was renamed Connie Mack Stadium in 1953.

Connie Mack (center)

After the A’s loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1931 World Series, the team would never come close to contending for an American League pennant. In fact, quite often both Philadelphia teams finished in last place. The Phillies played in one World Series between 1915 and 1980. The A’s woeful record translated into dwindling attendance; from a record high of 954,076 in 1948, only 309,805 fans made it out to the ballpark on Lehigh Avenue two years later. Less than 400,000 showed up during the team’s last two years in Philadelphia.

Shibe Park, circa 1920

With baseball looking west – most particularly Los Angeles – Chicago investor and hotel magnate Arnold Johnson stepped up to purchase the A’s in late 1953. Disagreements within the Mack family (Connie would pass away in 1956) and high debt forced the sale to Johnson the following year. Johnson, who at the time owned Yankee Stadium and Blues Stadium, the home park for the Yankees’ Triple A Kansas City franchise, was a good friend of Yankee owners Del Webb and Dan Topping. After getting the Macks’ approval, he acquired the team and announced its move to Kansas City (after selling Yankee Stadium). Some thought Kansas City would be a brief stop until the team moved to Los Angeles, but the Dodgers’ relocation from Brooklyn after the 1957 season ended that.

Arnold Johnson and President Harry Truman

The 1955 Kansas City A’s had nowhere to go but up. The 1954 Philadelphia A’s finished 51–103, in last place under manager Eddie Joost. No pitcher won more than 10 games and the staff ERA of 5.18 was a full run higher than the next worst team. The hitters fared just as poorly, with a league-worst batting average of .236, 10 points lower than the 7th place team. The home-run and RBI leaders had 15 and 62, respectively.

 1954 Philadelphia Athletics

Lou Boudreau, a University of Illinois contemporary of my father and player-manager for the World Series-winning Cleveland Indians in 1948, took over the reins at the newly minted Kansas City A’s for the 1955 season. His roster included these unique names, colorful nicknames and other notables.

Pitchers
  • Art Ceccarelli
  • Arnold Portocarrero
  • Ozzie Van Brabart (0-2 in 11 games over 2 seasons)
  • Gus Keriazakos (5 career games)
  • Bob Trice (A’s first black player, September 1953)
  • Marion Fricano (previous year almost killed White Sox infielder Cass Michaels with beanball)
  • Ewell “The Whip” Blackwell (two outs away from pitching two consecutive no-hitters in 1947)
  • Art Ditmar (pitched the last game at Shibe Park and would become one of many in the Yankees-K.C. exchange)

Arnold Portocarrero and Bob Trice 

Batters
  • Forrest “Spook” Jacobs (a nickname we will never see again)
  • Joe DeMaestri
  • Jerry Schypinski (22 career games, .217 batting average)
  • Harry “Suitcase” Simpson (nickname was not from being traded frequently)
  • Enos Slaughter (at the tail-end of his career, going from the Yankees to the A’s and back to the Yankees in a span of 15 months)
  • Elmer Valo (the greatest player born in Czechoslovakia)
  • Gus “Ozark Ike” Zernial (the team leader in ’55 with 30 home runs and 84 RBI)
  • Vic Power (second in the American League in ’55 with a .319 batting average)

 Forrest "Spook" Jacobs and Elmer Valo

Zernial and Power both became known for incidents involving the Yankees.

During spring training in California, Zernial, then with the White Sox, was asked by Twentieth Century Fox to take part in a publicity photo shoot with Marilyn Monroe. Recently retired Joe DiMaggio saw the photo and, considering Zernial a bush league player who had played in only one full season, the Yankee Clipper eventually got a date with Monroe and later married her. DiMaggio held a grudge against Zernial until the day he died for allegedly taking credit for arranging the date, which Zernial adamantly denied.

Gus Zernial (catching), Marilyn Monroe and Joe Dobson

Vic Power was the second black Puerto Rican in Major League Baseball (after pitcher Ruben Gomez) and was slated to be the first black player for the Yankees. He played in the Yankees’ farm system, including with the Kansas City Blues, from 1951 to 1953, registering impressive numbers along the way. The team, however, found Power too flamboyant for the very staid ownership and shipped him to the A’s in an 11-player deal before the 1954 season. Elston Howard broke the Yankees’ color line in 1955.

Vic Power

During the six years of Arnold Johnson’s ownership (he died suddenly in March 1960), the A’s and Yankees made 15 trades, some of them involving large numbers of players. The cozy relationship between ownerships is credited for this pipeline. In fact, the A’s were seen as an ersatz Yankees farm team, providing them with such players as Roger Maris, Art Ditmar, Clete Boyer and Ralph Terry. Also notable was the Yankees trading Billy Martin to the A’s in June 1957 after the infamous Copacabana incident. Martin has written on the heartbreak of the experience, which further cemented his desire to first and foremost be a Yankee.

Municipal Stadium

After Johnson’s death, Charles O. Finley, another Chicagoan, purchased the A’s and set forth to turn baseball upside down by its ears. Team attendance never exceeded 1 million after the second season in Kansas City, so it made sense to move the A’s to Oakland after the 1967 season. By then, the A’s had built a solid nucleus with Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, Bert Campaneris, Joe Rudi, Catfish Hunter and Blue Moon Odom, and the former also-rans eventually won three consecutive World Series in the early 1970s.

Kansas City A's 1964 uniforms

My father’s cousin Rosalie traveled from New York to Chicago for a family function some time in the early 1960s. She was bringing an autographed baseball for my brother and me. Great anticipation and excitement awaited her visit, only to be disappointed as the red, white and blue Reach box contained a ball from the 1960 Kansas City Athletics. Much later I figured out that it had come from Johnson, who had been in a complex transaction with her husband and Arnold Kirkeby for the Warwick Hotel in New York. The now barely legible signatures for the last-place 58–95 A’s include Don Larsen, “Marvelous Marv” Throneberry, Hank Bauer and Dick Williams. It sits in a drawer next to a baseball personally autographed by Ernie Banks and four others retrieved before, during and after leaving a game (fouled off into the parking lot of Comiskey Park).

1960 Kansas City A's autographed baseball

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Movie Theaters of Lubliner & Trinz

The chain most synonymous with the great Chicago movie palaces, Balaban & Katz, expanded its holdings with the 1929 acquisition of another theater group, Lubliner & Trinz. Robert Lubliner and Bruce Trinz, Phi Epsilon Pi fraternity brothers of my father at the University of Illinois, would later enter the theater business, owning such notables as the Edens Theatres in Northbrook and the Clark Theater in downtown Chicago. Both passed away in their 90s in recent years.

Phi Epsilon Pi, 1938
Trinz and Lubliner are 2nd and 3rd from left, 3rd row
My father is 1st from left, 1st row

Lubliner & Trinz began as a florist business at the end of the 19th century. At the beginning of the 20th century, various members of the two families began operating vaudeville and stage venues and later movies. The principals were Harry Lubliner and brothers Joseph (who bought the Franks family home in Kenwood shortly after Bobby Franks was murdered by Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb) and Samuel Trinz. The company eventually had almost thirty locations in Chicago and Milwaukee before selling out to Balaban & Katz in 1929. Balaban & Katz, which in turn had been sold to Famous Players-Lasky Corp. in 1925, was founded in 1916.

Only two theaters are now showing films, and two others are concert/stage venues. Most of the others – most notably those on the formerly Jewish West Side – have long since been demolished, while a few have found adaptive reuses. Here’s a review of its notable theaters.

Ironically, there’s very little information on Lubliner & Trinz’ ownership of its most famous location, the Biograph Theater. What is known is the architect for the 1914 theater at 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. was Samuel N. Crowen, Birth of a Nation was shown there, and it once featured a Wurlitzer organ. The Biograph, now the home of the Victory Gardens Theater, was owned by Essaness Theatres when John Dillinger was killed outside by FBI men in 1934.

Biograph Theater

 Its most opulent current location is the Congress Theater at 2117 N. Milwaukee Avenue. The movie and vaudeville theater when it opened in 1926 was built by Fridstein and Company (the Fridsteins lived on the bottom floor of the two-flat my grandparents owned on S. Bennett Avenue in South Shore). It seated almost 2,900 people. The Congress was part of the Balaban & Katz acquisition and later became the Teatro Azteca in the 1970s. The venue featured Spanish-language films, boxing matches and films. It was threatened with demolition in 2000 but since has been renovated into a 3,500-seat concert hall.


Congress Theater

The Davis Theater in Lincoln Square opened as the Pershing Theater in 1918. During the 1930s, the Davis began screening German-language films, which continued at the 4614 N. Lincoln location into the 1970s. It was divided into four screens at that time and still shows a combination of art and first-run films.

Davis Theater

The other current movie house, the Logan Theatre, reopened in March 2012 after an extensive renovation. The former Paramount Theater, designed by Walter W. Ahlschlager, is located in Logan Square at 2646 N. Milwaukee Avenue. Seating has been reduced from 975 to 595.

Logan Theatre

Former Lubliner & Trinz theaters that avoided the wrecking ball have various new uses.

The Lakeside Theatre was acquired from Ascher Brothers in 1917, two years after its opening. The theater at 4730 N. Sheridan Road in Uptown closed in late 1966 or early 1967 and was occupied by the Dance Center of Columbia College from 1970 to 2000. It now houses Alternatives, a child and family services center.

Former Lakeside Theatre
 
Only the façade remains from the Belmont Theater, which formerly seated 3,265 for stage shows and films. Also designed by Walter W. Ahlschlager, the Belmont opened in 1925 at 1635 W. Belmont Avenue. It was converted into a bowling alley in the mid-1960s, which closed about 20 years later. The Belmont is now the Cinema Lofts, a retail/condominium complex constructed in 1996.

 

Former Belmont Theatre

 
The Belpark Theatre on Chicago’s Northwest Side opened in 1927. Its capacity was about 2,000. Its movie-theater days ended in the mid-1950s, becoming a warehouse and banquet hall. The Golden Tiara, a bingo hall, is the present occupant at 3261 N. Cicero Ave.

 

Former Belpark Theatre


Robert Lubliner and Bruce Trinz were both 12 years old when the namesake theater chain was sold to Balaban & Katz. After graduating from the University of Illinois and serving in the armed forces during World War II, each made their marks on the local cinema scene.

Bob Lubliner owned a number of area movie theaters, including the McClurg Court, Edens I and II (Trinz was a co-owner) and the Willow Creek. The original Edens Theatre in Northbrook was an architectural and aesthetic masterpiece. Built for $500,000 with top-of-the-line finishes and designed by Perkins & Will, the Edens featured the world’s largest “hyperbolic paraboloid” structure in the world when it opened in 1963. Because of its unique design, expansion was not possible, and the Edens II was constructed in 1967. Although my father had left his public-accounting firm to enter private industry at the time, he still served as the Edens’ auditor (a number of Phi Eps were investors in the theater), for which we received a free family pass.

Edens Theatre

Bob Lubliner sold his interests in the theaters and moved into a houseboat in Florida until passing away at age 91 in 2009. The Edens’ last owner, Cineplex Odeon, let the theaters deteriorate and, unable to be retrofitted for multi-screens, the complex was sold and razed in 1994, ironically by Speedway Wrecking, my father’s former client that also demolished Comiskey Park. A strip mall took their place.

Bruce Trinz is best known for his ownership of the legendary Clark Theater at 11 N. Clark Street. Opened as the Columbia Theater in 1911 and renamed the Adelphi Theater in 1923, it did not begin showing films until 1931, when it was renamed the Clark. Under the ownership of Bruce Trinz, Samuel’s son, the Clark became one of the first repertory movie theaters in the United States, showing double features 22 hours daily. During the late 1960s, he opened a balcony as the “Little Gal-lery for Gals Only,” helping ensure women felt safe there. The theater was immortalized by Warren Zevon in his song, “Excitable Boy”:

“He took in the four a.m. show at the Clark,
Excitable boy, they all said.
And he bit the usherette's leg in the dark,
Excitable boy, they all said.”

 Clark Theater

The Clark Theater closed in 1969. The 57-story 3 First National Plaza was constructed on the site. Trinz later went into the film-distribution business on the east coast before his death at age 93 in 2011. His Chicago Sun-Times obituary was written by Roger Ebert, whose friendship with Trinz spanned several decades.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Moving the Batters Boxes: A Photo Essay

Baseball’s modern era dates back to 1901, but one never knows when something new and unprecedented will occur. On August 17, 2006, for example, I attended a White Sox-Royals game with my 94-year-old uncle Adolph. The leadoff men for each team homered in the 1st and 2nd innings, the first time this happened (and hasn’t since) in Major League Baseball history. The irony wasn’t lost on being with a fan who attended his first Sox game in 1921.

I don’t know the last time umpires ordered the batters boxes to be obliterated and re-chalked during a game but it happened on the White Sox’s Opening Day on April 13, 2012. Here’s the sequence of events.

After Jake Peavy struck out the first two batters to start the game, Tigers 3rd baseman Miguel Cabrera strode to the plate and immediately began pointing to the batters box for right-handed hitters. Tigers manager Jim Leyland came out to confer with home-plate umpire Adrian Johnson and crew chief Gary Cederstrom. Fans could only guess what was going on, although many speculated Cabrera was trying to screw with Peavy’s rhythm.

Cabera points to home plate

The umpires then summoned head groundskeeper Roger “The Sodfather” Bossard to home plate and, after some discussion, Bossard walked over to a storage room beyond the first-base dugout. Bossard and a member of his crew would reenter with a broom and a rake.

Bossard head to the storeroom

In the meantime, Sox manager Robin Ventura, two outs into his MLB managing debut, came out to find out what was going on. In true Chicago fashion, he joined the two umpires staring at the home-plate area while waiting for Bossard to return.

Ventura makes the scene

Bossard with a rake and his aide with a broom proceeded to obliterate both batters boxes while Ventura and A.J. Pierzynski kibitzed the umps.

Out go the boxes

While all this was going on, Cabrera and the on-deck hitter, the newly signed Prince Fielder ($44 million/year in combined salaries), watched from the dugout railing. Delmon Young (in sunglasses) would be arrested later that month in New York for among other things allegedly making anti-Semitic remarks to a panhandler.

$44 million sitting on a fence

The game was further delayed because the wooden frame holding the chalk for the batters boxes is stored under the center-field stands. Another crewmember was dispatched to bring it to home plate.

Call to the pen, so to speak

Bossard supervised placing the new batters boxes a few inches farther from the pitcher’s mound. Cabrera, it turned out, was correct.

New boxes go down

Finally, after a 10-minute delay, the six-time All-Star stepped up again to the plate, He flied out to right field on the first pitch. He went 0-3 with a walk. 

One pitch, one out

The Sox would go on to win, 5-2.

Another Opening Day victory

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Top 10 List: Notable White Sox Games

As I enter my 59th (or 60th) season of attending White Sox games and my 9th Opening Day (my entry on this being a third New Year’s Day is http://brulelaker.blogspot.com/2011/04/third-new-years-day.html), it’s time to look back on my Top 10 most notable games. Ranked in order, they are:


  1. Mark Buehrle’s perfect game. Having been jaded enough by seeing Buehrle’s 2007 no-hitter (see #4) and Gavin Floyd’s near no-hitter in 2008, I couldn’t possibly believe the July 23, 2009, game vs. Tampa Bay would end in a perfect game. I’d thought of attending the afternoon game when my cousin Cathy called with an invitation to join brother Jim in his seats five rows behind the first-base dugout. This game has to rank first because at the time there had been only 18 in MLB history (two more since). I was also lucky enough to take my camera; photos before during and after the game are on my Flickr set, http://www.flickr.com/photos/brulelaker/sets/72157621799747826/.
 

 After the final out, Mark Buehrle's Perfect Game

  1. Game 1, 2005 World Series. Sox fans waited 46 years for another World Series appearance and 88 years for a World Championship. Although I had attended both games of the American League Division Series (ALDS) vs. Boston and the first game (and only post-season loss) of the American League Championship Series (ALCS) vs. Los Angeles, I didn’t get a ticket to the first game of the World Series from Jim until the night before. My brother was coming into town from Denver to be here for the excitement, and we thought we’d be watching the game on television. I woke up early the next morning and, working the phones and the Internet, found a ticket in Section 508. Arriving in Chicago that day, I told him, “I have good news and bad news. The bad news is you’re sitting in the upper deck and I’m sitting downstairs behind the plate; the good news is we’re both going tonight.” I can still remember hearing “Don’t Stop Believing” blasting from the PA system after the final out of the 5-3 victory.
Jim and I before Game 1 of the 2005 World Series

  1. Game 1, 1959 World Series. The Sox had not been to the World Series since the Black Sox scandal of 1919, clinching the pennant and setting off the air-raid sirens (thanks to Fire Commissioner Robert Quinn) during the last week of the season. My uncle Adolph, a season-ticket holder, arranged for tickets for my father, brother and me in the right-field lower deck. We took Canal Street to the ballpark, and Bridgeport residents had strung clotheslines festooned with white socks along the route. The Sox won, 11-0, but lost four of the next five games. Only 10 at the time, years later I realized that as happy as we were, our father – age 42 – must have been far more excited.
 
Program cover, 1959 World Series

  1. Buehrle’s no-hitter. Despite a forecast of sub-40 degree weather, I chose to take two (but not four) of Jim’s tickets to the April 18, 2007, game vs. Texas. After five friends declined to go, all either being out-of-town or having previous engagements, Dave My Computer Guy accepted the invitation. Donning six layers of clothing and a woolen scarf, I sat down in front of a young man who proceeded to yell loudly nonstop. “I don’t know if I can keep this up all game,” he said in the first inning, but by the end of the game, everybody was screaming. Buehrle had walked Sammy Sosa, only to turn around and pick him off 1st base, bringing him to the 27th and final batter. The crowd went nuts after the third out, as did my five friends who missed out on seeing a no-hitter. 
Ticket to Buehrle's no-hitter 

  1. Last game at Comiskey Park. This was another game where I didn’t get a ticket until the last minute. Luckily, my friends convinced the third ticket holder that I would be a more deserving recipient than his not-really-serious girlfriend. Waiting for them to arrive, I took numerous photographs around the ballpark, then roamed around the stands for interior shots. Our seats were in the upper deck below the old football press box; I had seen the Chicago Cardinals play in their final season at Comiskey Park. Knowing my only chance to catch the final out was to zone-focus on 1st base, I was able to catch Harold Reynolds ground out, 2nd to 1st, and bring the curtain down on the 80-year-old ballpark. My life basically flashed before me and I would have let out a good cry if I’d known so many others did so.
The final out at the old Comiskey Park  

  1. 2008 Blackout tiebreaker. After the Sox and Twins ended the regular season tied for first place in the Central Division, a one-game tiebreaker on September 30 would determine Tampa Bay’s opponent in the ALDS. The White Sox requested everyone to wear black for the game, presenting an eerie look at the 3 p.m. start. Ordinarily the season-ticket holders – Jim split the season with them – would have had the coveted seats but it was the second night of Rosh Hashanah; since they are Conservative and we are Reform, my three cousins and I got the tickets. Returning from the men’s room at the beginning of the 7th inning of the 0-0 game, I settled in just has Jim Thome hit a towering, no-doubt home run so high and far that I looked at the Sox dugout to watch the reaction. Only later did I find it traveled 461 feet, landing in the camera area behind the center-field backdrop. The Sox won, 1-0, and there were a number of guys in that men’s room that missed the biggest highlight of the game. 
Ticket to the tie-breaker

  1. First game at new Comiskey Park. Because I split a ticket plan, we were entitled to tickets to Opening Day at the new Comiskey Park on April 18, 1991, vs. the Tigers. The day was disconcerting for many reasons. Fans walking to the new ballpark passed the old Comiskey Park in its beginning stages of demolition, with a gaping hole in the right-field corner. Aside from being a new venue for a team you’ve watched play across the street for almost 40 seasons, our seats were far higher than any before, some three rows from the back of Section 535. Those seats are now gone, thanks to a renovation prior to the 2005 season. Lastly, the game: the Tigers scored 10 runs in the 4th inning – fans were actually rooting to see what a doubledigit inning would look like on the new scoreboard – to make it 16-0, the eventual final score. Eighteen years later I would witness the Sox’s worst home loss, a 20-1 shellacking by the Twins. 
 First pitch, new Comiskey Park

  1. Last two games at Yankee Stadium. I’m bunching two games here, the fourth- and fifth-to-last games played at The House that Ruth Built in 2008. Having been to the pre-renovated stadium twice – the first for Denny McLain’s second win of his 31-win season in 1968 – and the renovated one once, I had to see the Sox final games there. It turned out tickets for the final two games of the four-game series worked best. Ironically, while in New York from September 17-19, the world financial markets were teetering on collapse, although you couldn’t tell it on the streets of Manhattan. I attended the first game with the Friedmans, who lived next door to us in Chicago and behind us in Glencoe. For the last game I was joined by John Harris and his 11-year-old son Emerson, for whom I had a ball tossed to me by Sox shortstop Orlando Cabrera. The Sox lost both games, 5-1 and 9-2, but it was a thrill being at The Stadium before the wreckers’ ball hit.
My seat for the final Sox game at Yankee Stadium

     
  1. Joe Stanka’s only Major League victory. For those too young to remember, teams once played twi-night doubleheaders. The first game started a 6 p.m. and because of the quicker pace of bygone days, you could actually get home before the sunrise. We attend a twi-nighter vs. the Tigers on September 2, 1959. The Sox won game 1, 7-2, in a snappy 2 hours and 16 minutes. Barry Latman started game 2 and was pulled in the 4th inning after falling behind 4-0. The Sox brought in reliever Joe Stanka for his Major League debut; they went on to score 11 runs in the 5th inning on the way to an 11-4 victory. He would pitch in his only other game three days later, then went on to star in Japan, where he went 26-7 for the Nankai Hawks in 1964.
Ticket to the twi-nighter 

  1.  My father’s last game. It’s a fascinating story of how without tickets the day before Bat Day in 1972 I ended up sitting in the first row behind the Yankees dugout and my parents one row behind me next to the president of the Yankees. This was all thanks to The Major, Yankees manager Ralph Houk (http://brulelaker.blogspot.com/2010/11/major-gives-us-day-to-remember.html). Sadly, it was also my father’s last Sox game, as he passed away suddenly at age 55 shortly before the beginning of the next season.
Other noteworthy games were Gavin Floyd’s near no hitter, broken up by the Twins Joe Mauer with two out in the 9th inning; game 2 of the 1993 ALCS vs. Toronto, my first post-season game since the 1959 World Series; games 1 and 2 of the 2005 ALCS, both victories vs. the Red Sox; the only game in MLB history where the leadoff men for both teams homered in the 1st and 2nd innings, seen with my 94-year-old uncle in 2006; my second game at Yankee Stadium in 1972, where I relieved myself next to a White Sox reliever (http://brulelaker.blogspot.com/2010/10/sound-of-metal-spikes-on-concrete.html); Whitey Ford's last Chicago appearence (and second-to-last MLB victory), for which I ditched school in 1967; and Twins Night, a Bill Veeck promotion for the Minnesota Twins first Chicago appearance in 1961 (a detailed report is contained in http://brulelaker.blogspot.com/2010/10/twins-life.html).

I will forgo waxing on about the significance of White Sox baseball and this particular Opening Day to me, other than I will take time while riding the CTA Red Line to Sox Park to think about my father and uncle hopping the Wentworth Avenue streetcar some 85 years for the old ballpark across the street. The more things change, the more they stay the same.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Uncle Adolph Turns 100

Last year, on the occasion of his 99th birthday, I wrote a blog entry about my uncle Adolph. He turned 100 today, so I’ve excerpted much of that here and updated for the recent and not-so-recent past.

Adolph giving a blessing at my parents' wedding (with Grandma Helen),
Sept. 3, 1946

Adolph and my father were the sons of Isadore, a Romanian immigrant who arrived in Chicago around 1900, and Helen, whose parents came to the U.S. from Germany in the 1880s. They lived in the Van Dorn Apartments at 6054 S. Michigan Avenue until moving to 7430 S. Bennett Avenue in the early 1920s. Adolph attended Carter Elementary School at 5740 S. Michigan and Hebrew school at South Side Hebrew Congregation at S. Michigan and E. 59th Street. The temple burned down during the 1920s but the Hebrew school on 59th Street still stands. He graduated from Bryn Mawr School (the alma mater of Michelle Obama) and Hyde Park High School. Adolph enrolled in the University of Michigan and transferred after one year – he admits to have been homesick – to the University of Chicago (Class of 1930), where he also earned his medical degree. 

The Former South Side Hebrew Congregation school and Bryn Mawr School

As youngsters on the South Side, the boys became White Sox fans. Adolph attended his first Sox game in 1921 (the year after the eight members of the Black Sox were banned from baseball) and remembers that Red Faber pitched against Eddie Rommel and the Philadelphia Athletics, a 10-inning win on August 23. The Sox had four future Hall of Famers on the field that day: Faber, Eddie Collins, Harry Hooper and Ray Schalk. Adolph also saw the second-to-last time a pitcher started and won both games of a doubleheader, Urban Shocker of the St. Louis Browns, who defeated the Sox 6-2 in both games on September 6, 1924. Because the family didn’t have a car, they took the Wentworth Avenue streetcar from Bennett Avenue to the ballpark. He would wait 38 years to see a World Series on the South Side (thanks again for getting us tickets for Game 1), then another 46 to see his second.

7430 S. Bennett Ave.

Adolph received his physician’s license on July 31, 1936, which he retained for 53 years, and began practicing as a pediatrician affiliated with Michael Reese Hospital. He enlisted in the Army Medical Corps during World War II and served in the South Pacific. While there, Adolph played an instrumental role in the rebuilding of the Jewish temple in Manila after the end of the war. Returning to the South Side, he resumed his medical practice at the corner of E. 71st Street and South Shore Drive, across the street from the entrance to South Shore Country Club (now the South Shore Cultural Center). He married Rosalind Munk in 1947, and they had three children – Jim, Bob and Cathy – and lived at 7411 S. Oglesby Avenue. After most of his patients’ families moved out of the neighborhood, the family pulled up stakes for the North Shore in 1963. He joined a group practice in Highland Park and worked at a clinic in Waukegan well into his eighties.

7411 S. Oglesby Ave.

I will always associate Uncle Adolph with the physician’s black bag, for his were the days of house calls. One such call was for me, when as a high-school freshman I was expecting the mumps after the gestation period from my brother was over. “This boy doesn’t have the mumps,” he said after a bedside examination. “He has the German measles.”  After three days, the German measles were gone and the mumps arrived, resulting in two weeks of missed school. The children of White Sox, including the sons of shortstop Luis Aparicio (see the personally autographed picture below), were patients on the South Side. My cousin Jim also became a pediatrician and, at his father’s urging took up a specialty; he became one of the world’s foremost pediatric oncologists and directly and indirectly saved the lives of thousands of children.

Luis Aparicio autographed picture

Except for his years in the Medical Corps, Adolph saw the Sox play every year until 2007. It was thus fitting that we were at the August 17, 2006, game vs. Kansas City, when the leadoff men for both teams hit home runs in the first and second innings. The scoreboard later posted this was a first in Major League Baseball history (and it hasn’t happened since). I turned to my uncle and said, “See, all these years you’ve been coming to the ballpark and you still see something new.”

In fact, learning new things is an important part of Adolph’s life. He reads extensively, uses the computer to surf the Internet and sponsors adult education programs at his synagogue. During the previous decade, after Rosalind passed away, he traveled extensively, including river cruises of the Amazon and Danube (a trip to the ancestral city of Iasi, Romania, turned out to be logistically impossible). When asked whether he dined at the same group table nightly on the Amazon trip, Adolph replied, “No, those are for the old people.” He still plays an excellent game of bridge and had a regular game, as well as a poker game, until a few years ago.

The past year has been a trying one for Adolph and the family. On June 10, Jim died suddenly while on his annual rafting trip to the Grand Canyon. Although he was a few months short of 63, he seemed so much younger to all of us. His funeral at North Shore Congregation Israel was virtually standing-room-only, and the University of Chicago held a memorial service a month later that featured the first and last time “Sholom Aleichem,” "Rockin’ Robin” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” – fitting tributes to Jim – were played on the Rockefeller Chapel organ. (For my take on Jim, please read http://brulelaker.blogspot.com/2011/06/requiem-for-doc-nach.html.)

With Jim and Adolph, 1988

Adolph has been always quite a Stoic, and he’s weathered this past year about as well as can be imagined. The downside of a long life is remembering those departed: father (1942), mother (1955), brother (1973), wife (1991) and son (2011). He still keeps his sense of humor: I called him after he attended a Sox game last season – almost 90 years to the day of his first game – to ask what he thought of the evening, a 10-2 Sox loss. “It wasn’t a bad game,” he said. “It was a terrible game.” He said he doesn’t think he’ll go to a game this season but perhaps we can arrange at least one visit and a tribute to a most loyal fan.

At Sox Park, July 30, 2011

So it's January 4, 2012, and best wishes to Uncle Adolph on #100. We're happy to be able to celebrate with you.