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The Days Grow Short When You Reach September

Labor Day went well around here, with the Wichita Wingnuts heading into the double-A American Association playoffs with a 4-1 regular season finale win over the Salina Stockade that featured several defensive gems, a hospitable old hippie friend of ours charbroiling copious amounts of bratwurst and burgers and other red Kansas meat while handing out Pabsts and blaring old Doors records on the sound system, and the weather was nice and hot. Still, there was no shaking that melancholy feeling the holiday always brings.
Although the autumnal equinox is still a couple of weeks away and the warm weather is likely to linger past that, today nonetheless marks the end of the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. School is back in session, Congress is ending its recess, and by longstanding social agreement everybody else also gets down to serious business. The rigorously timed violence of football has already started to supplant the more leisurely paced and gentlemanly sport of baseball, the white shoes and straw hats are replaced by more somber apparel, school buses are once again slowing traffic, and conferences are being convened all over to assess the various messes the summer has left us in, and what might become of it in the fall.
The reconvened Congress finds itself with plenty of work to do. Summer’s end brought a thousand-year-flood that left America’s fourth-most-populous city under several feet of water, so they’ll have to find some way to pitch in on the calamitous cost of that, which wouldn’t be easy in the best of circumstances. In these circumstances they also face hard and fast end-of-the-month deadlines to pass a continuing spending resolution to keep the government fully open and a debt-ceiling increase to pay for it, which is always hard enough even without a thousand-year natural disaster to help pay for, and that’s not to mention the nutcase North Korean dictatorship that’s been making increasingly plausible threats to start a nuclear war that would make that thousand-year-flood look like a minor inconvenience.
There’s also the complicating factor of Trump, and everything he’s been up to over the summer. The Republican-controlled Congress was never technically in recess, for fear that Trump would make some crazy recess appointment to inoculate himself from the ongoing congressional probes into “Russia,” and nothing that has transpired during their unofficial vacation has likely been reassuring to them. Trump threatened to force a government shutdown unless all the spending resolutions and debt ceiling increases and whatnot included funding for his campaign promise of a border wall, which is a cause few other Republicans and absolutely no Democrats are willing to fight for, but that was before the thousand-year flood happened so there’s some hope Trump once again won’t make good on his threats. He’s also ramping up the anti-immigration rhetoric on other fronts, and although there are plausible arguments for some of them this probably isn’t the best month to be making them.
Throw in the nutcase North Korean dictatorship threatening a nuclear war and Trump’s intemperate responses, the leaks about “Russia” that are reaching thousand-year-flood levels, and the more open animosity between the Republicans in Congress and the relatively newly-fledged Republican in the White House, along with the ongoing fact that the Democrats are as always a complete disaster, and it looks to be an anxious September. The political consequences of not offering needed help to the flooded fourth-most populous city of the country or allowing the government to shut down its assistance would be dire, though, and the federal default that would shortly follow a failure to pass another damned debt-ceiling increase would be comparable to a nuclear war, so we’ll hold out hope that all the self-interested parties involved will reach some mutually beneficial agreement just ahead of the hard-and-fast deadlines.
In the meantime we have own bills our to pay, as we’re sure you do, and we’ll trust that most of the rest of us will somehow get down to such necessary business. There’s still some baseball left to provide solace, and not long after that ends basketball season starts up, with the Wichita State University Wheatshockers looking like a championship contender, and there will always be another summer, perhaps one more lazy yet not quite so hazy or crazy as the past one, and hope springs eternal.

— Bud Norman

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How to Spend a Late Summer’s Afternoon

The weather around here on Wednesday was unusually perfect, and despite a recent losing streak the local Wichita Wingnuts baseball club has secured a spot in the double-A American Association’s playoffs, a most delightful and unusually good-looking young married couple we’re friends with have recently given birth to a healthy baby boy, and pretty much everyone we’ve run into lately has been eager to have a friendly talk about pretty much anything other than the latest politics.
It’s been a nice diversion, we must admit, and has led to some interesting discussions about the Film Noir genre and the hidden subtexts of “The Man Who Liberty Valance” and the subtleties of the Book of Acts, and of course how unusually perfect the weather has been lately, along with other more local and personal topics. Still, there’s no avoiding all the rest of the more noisome news of more national and international interest, and we’re still doing our best too keep up with it.
None of it is at all conducive to the happy mood that has lately prevailed around here, though, regardless of what your political beliefs might be, so despite all we have to say about that we’ll skip all that until at least tomorrow. In the meantime some delightful and good-looking couple is having a healthy baby near you, the sun is shining at a perfectly warm temperature somewhere, whatever local sports team you root for probably did its best even if it failed to make the playoffs, and you really should watch those great Film Noir movies and re-watch “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” for all the hidden subtext about how great nations are created.
We’ve still got lots to say about all the rest of it, none of which any of our Republican or Democratic or many somewhere-in-between friends will want to hear, but we’ll take a day off from our usual screeds about all that. Thanks for dropping in, though, and we hope that you have good weather and good news and friendly conversations with all the people you run into. From our reading of the rest of the  news, America could use a whole lot more of that.

— Bud Norman

Reality Intrudes on a Otherwise Nice Weekend

The weather around here was atypically perfect over the Memorial Day weekend, with none of the vicious thunderstorms and potential tornadoes that usually drive all the campers away from the nearby lakes at some point in the holiday, and the news cycle was as slow as one can hope for these days. Still, there was no shaking a certain sense that real life and all its discontents would start up again today.
We did our best to put it aside for a weekend of gratitude to fallen heroes and other uplifting thoughts, attending church and doing some pressing chores and pursuing plenty of procrastinating, while sticking mostly to the sports news. On Monday we slept late and eventually got together with some gray-haired hippie friends who meet every year on the date at a charmingly dilapidated house in a charmingly dilapidated neighborhood, and we had some barbecue and drank some beer and talked mostly about music.
They were playing the Allman Brothers Band on an old stereo sound system, apparently in memoriam of Gregg Allman, one of the eponymous co-founders of the band and its longtime vocalist and organist and songwriter, whose obituary we had noticed in the news over the weekend, and we have to say it sounded great. As natural born rockabillies our tastes in rock ‘n’ roll tend to the pre-hippie generation, and in our relative youth we embraced the punk sensibility that rebelled against those aged hippies, but we could never resist that Allman outfit doing “Crossroads” or “Whipping Post” or especially that enticingly melodic “Jessica,” which we played over and over on our old stereo until it drove our mom crazy, so we shared with our hippie friends a sincere toast to an undeniably crazy old hippie who was also an undeniably great and quintessentially American musician.
There was plenty of grousing about President Donald Trump, too, of course, but our natural born rockabilly punk and old school Republican sensibilities weren’t much stirred to offer any defense. We left early and dropped in an another old friend, a woman who is a bit younger and far punkier than ourselves, and still quite attractive in an exotic and ripened sort of way, and after she she showed us some cell phone video of her cute grandsons she also started grousing about Trump. After such a long friendship she usually avoids political topics with us, but we invited her to vent her spleen without any fear of recriminations. This lead to an eerily civil discussion about our bedrock conservative principles, however weird they might seem at the moment, and even some lengthy discourse some about the authoritarianism on her side of the political divide, and it ended in a hug.
After that we still managed to make the last inning of the Wichita Wingnuts’ home-opening victory over the Salina Stockade at the old Lawrence-Dumont Stadium on a glorious early summer night next to the Arkansas River, and although our New York Yankees lost to the Baltimore Orioles the Boston Red Sox also so lost so the Yankees were still comfortably in first place in the American League East. In our perusal of the sports pages we also noticed that Frank DeFord had died and Tiger Woods had been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, so it wasn’t a great day in sports. DeFord was until his final day the best sportswriter of his generation, and at one point around 2008 Woods seemed poised to claim the title of greatest golfer and most heroic sports hero ever, and both of those stories came to a sad end over the weekend.
We dropped in on the last Wingnuts inning with a couple of our cigar-chomping friends in the smoking section of Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, one of whom is a graying hippie professor at the local university and the other a gray-pony-tailed hippie who still musters a full-throated defense of Trump, and they briefly filled us in on what they’d been arguing about during the home team’s victory. At that point we tried to talk about the home team’s victory, and if we’d arrived early enough to purchase a beer we’d have raised a conversation-changing toast.
We can’t help a late night glance at the news, though, so naturally Trump came up in that. They don’t observe Memorial Day in Germany, so Chancellor Angela Merkel went ahead with a speech that didn’t mention Trump by name but made clear that in “my experience of the last few days” she spent with Trump she had concluded that Europe could no longer count on the support of “outside sources,” and her opponent in the upcoming election more explicitly agreed with her more subtle denunciation of Trump. Our liberal Facebook friends were meanwhile exulting in Trump’s admittedly unusual demeanor during the national anthem at Arlington Memorial Cemetery, and although we don’t think it necessarily damning we have to admit it is unusual. There’s the carry-over from the previous work week’s stories about Trump’s son-in-law and all-purpose appointee, too, and we had to warn our Trump-apologist friend that the upcoming testimony of the fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director will likely require some difficult apologetics.
He seemed to take our warning to heed, and inquired about the well-being of our folks, whom he has also lately befriended. We appreciated the sincere inquiry, and assured him they seemed to be doing fine, and felt a hopeful thought that all this politics and sports and whatnot doesn’t really matter.
We also took a moment or two to remember Jerry Clark, who grew up in the Depression at an Atchison orphanage and got his toes blown off at the Battle of Manila in World War II and somehow wound up in the darkroom of the newspaper where we worked as young punks,  where he became one of our very best friends ever. For all the difficulties of his life he was one of the funniest fellows we’ve ever known, and as we face the coming week we’d love to hear what he would say about this particular moment in time.

— Bud Norman

The State of the Mid-Season Race

The New York Yankees have traded away their three best players and pretty much the rest of the season in exchange for better prospects in the hopefully near future, The Wichita Wingnuts are holding a comfortable 6.5 game lead in the double-A American Association’s southern division, and with help from an adorable rifle-toting teenaged girl America has already staked a lead in the Olympics medal count. As the stock markets are closed over the weekend our next check of the standings is the Real Clear Politics average of presidential polls, which currently shows the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton edging up to a 7 point lead over Republican nominee Donald J. Trump.
This strikes us as a fair assessment of the race at the moment, given how widely reviled both candidates are and how Trump had an even worse past week than Clinton did, which took some doing. There are a couple of polls showing Trump behind but within the margin of error, but a couple of others showing Clinton with a landslide lead, and even most Trump’s loyal analysts agree that it all averages out to a substantial if not insurmountable lead for Clinton of 7 or 8 or even 9 points or so. When you throw in the third and fourth options of Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Jill Stein, both of whom are polling conspicuously far better in their crazy election than their parties ever have done, the Clinton lead is narrowed to 6 or 7 or 8 points or so. A savvy sports fan’s closer look at the all-important electoral map will reveal that he’s behind but still in contention in some key swing states, clinging to a slight lead in a couple of others, losing ground in several more, and suddenly having to worry about a few states that more traditional Republicans long took for granted.
There’s a whole lot of baseball and presidential politics left to be played between now and the cool of November, and we’ve been following both sports long enough to expect surprise endings, but at this point in a season the teams that come from behind are usually making adjustments. Nothing in the political press suggests that Trump is making any personnel changes, or adopting new tactics, or even bothering to master the fundamentals of the game. Trump is being outspent on the widely-watched Olympic broadcasts and the rest of the airwaves to make the case that he’s a puppet of Vladimir Putin, a President of the United States who somehow has an over-50-percent approval rating and is therefore the most admired man in American politics is making the poll-tested argument that he lacks necessary temperament to be commander in chief, and Trump is responding with the schoolyard taunt that his opponent is “Unstable” Hillary “Rotten” Clinton, which will no doubt delight his so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters but do little to convince that pesky 60 percent or so of the rest of the country that he’s particularly presidential.
Clinton is indeed rotten, as we’ve been publicly complaining since long before Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and telling everyone what a great President she would be, and it appalls us that the current rotten president is so unaccountably popular, but we’d much prefer a Republican nominee who could make that case in more compelling terms than a schoolyard taunt. That seems to be where the race stands, though, and from now on we’ll try to pay more attention to baseball.

— Bud Norman

The Ballpark and the Rest of the World

The Wichita Wingnuts looked promising in a 5-1 victory over the Kansas City T-Bones on Tuesday, continuing a recent hot streak and putting them a full game over .500 and into a statistical tie with the Laredo Lemurs in the double-A American Baseball Association’s southern division, but even on such a pleasantly hot late spring evening of the national pastime on the Great Plains there was no avoiding all that other dreary news about the state of the world. We always watch the home stand games at the nearby historic old ballpark with a group of cigar-chomping friends in the smoking section along the first base line where the evening sun will burn the retinas right out of yours eyes during the early innings, so it’s an eclectic bunch we root with, and the between-innings opinions about everything else going on in the world were predictably diverse.
Our cheapskate tickets are always provided by an old polymath and underemployed friend with a gray pony-tail who keeps coming up with the most ingenious rationalizations of the presumptive Republican nominee’s most recent blathers, and he’s always accompanied by a similarly seasoned and equally charming and erudite fellow who’s on the faculty of the local university and can predictably concoct similarly construed apologetics for whatever the he presumptive Democratic nominee is lately spewing. We were joined by a couple of young and appealing  women who were happy to join in on the cigar-chomping but reluctant to talk about that politics stuff, even if they were obviously unimpressed with the presumptive Democratic nominee’s ceiling-breaking candidacy and clearly averse to something about that presumptive Republican nominee’s proudly sexist public persona. The cigar-chomping good old boy barber and former minor league umpire who will almost surely wind up voting for Trump didn’t show up, but we learned from our gray pony-tailed friend that his beloved homosexual son who lives in Orlando and frequents the nightclub where the mass murders occurred over the weekend was safe and sound because he’d decided not to show up on on the club’s “Latino Night.”
There was also some talk about music, with that fellow from the local university offering some sound opinions, which did not surprise us as he once gave us a well-chosen collection of favorite tracks by Porter Wagoner and his Wagoneers, and we found out that our young and appealing and cigar-chomping young female friends had never heard of Carmen Miranda and her fruit-laden hair-dos, although one of them looked her up on her cel phone and admitted she was stunned by such Latin and fruit-laden beauty, and the end of the world seemed all the more looming. In the end the home team won, though, and we went home with some faint hope.

— Bud Norman

Over at the Other League

Every now and then we avert our eyes from the desultory Republican primaries and check in on what the Democrats are up to, just as we’ll occasionally glance at the National League standings now that major league baseball is at least underway, but what we find over on the senior circuit of politics is no more heartening.
The putative front-runner in the two-person race, former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and long-presumed First Woman President Hillary Clinton, is on a six-game losing streak that includes some embarrassing blow-outs, and all the kids seem to dig her pesky rival, the self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders from the hippie retirement village of Vermont. That’s before the Federal Bureau of Investigation concludes its criminal investigation of Clinton’s well-worthy-of-investigating e-mailing and charity fund-raising activities, which cannot end well not matter what, but it looks as if the fix is in just like one of those phony-baloney professional wrestling matches that the putative Republican front-runner used to perform. None of this is at all heartening when you suddenly recall that this isn’t mere sports, or “sports entertainment,” as the lawyers of professional wrestling like to call their “sport,” and that one of these awful people will likely enter the general election with a realistic chance of becoming president.
The game is played differently over on the Democratic side, too, and in ways that are even more egregious than forcing pitchers to be humiliated at the plate instead of letting a more competent designated hitter take the plate. There’s an unsettling preoccupation with racial and other political identity grievances, for one thing, and it’s lately been the big story. Both campaigns have been hectored by the “Black Lives Matter” movement that is the latest rage among the outsized portion of the Democratic primary electorate that is black, but Clinton’s husband, who was once the first First Black President, and has thus far endowed his frequently betrayed wife with all the political good will of that achievement. The self-described socialists’ promises of perfect economic justice and lots of free stuff is starting to resonate in the “Black Lives Matter” movement, though, and the first First Black President’s welfare reform and tough-on-crime measures are no longer fashionable, and it does make for an interesting situation. Clinton’s husband, who still somehow looms larger than his frequently betrayed yet putatively front-running wife, decided to make a full-troated defense of his past policies, albeit with less throat than his former McDonald’s-fueled from once had, and he threw in some factual stuff about how black folks generally had fared better during his administration than during the first seven-and-a-half years of the First Black President’s administration.
Oddly enough, we found ourselves rooting for the fellow, even if the sorry old son-of-a-bitch is still everything we loathe about the senior circuit. That welfare reform bill he signed really did reduce poverty by forcing people into gainful employment, the tough-on-crime stuff really did save a lot of black lives, which truly do matter, and even though he was forced on both policies by his equally sleazy advisor Dick Morris and the almost as sleazy Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich and a whole of Republican voters we hope aren’t so sleazy, we see no reason he should apologize for any of these less famous matters. Then again, we’re not rooting for his awful wife, who until recently had been running against her frequently betraying husband to keep those “Black Lives Matter” people on her side.
Still, we can believe that the fix is in and none of this matters, and that it will come down to whether our league can put up a worthy challenger.

— Bud Norman

On the Day After Opening Day

For such avid fans of the blood sport of American politics as ourselves, the quadrennial Iowa presidential caucuses are like the opening day of a once-every-four-years baseball season. Some youthful enthusiasm left within us wants to extrapolate the rest of the reason from the season from the first day’s statistically insignificant scores, some more sober sensibility acquired over the years reminds us that are plenty of games left to be played in what is always an up-and-down season, and we always wind up indulging in the obligatory speculation.
Over on the Democrats’ senior-in-more-ways-than-one circuit we note that former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and long-presumed Next President of the United States Hillary Clinton is still going into extra innings as we write this against self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, which bolsters our pre-season suspicion that it’s going to be a long and hard-fought contest. In a far more crowded field the upstart Republicans’ winner was controversial right-fielder Texas Sen. Cruz, who had a plurality of 28 percent, with real-estate-and-gambling-and-reality-show-and-professional-wrestling mogul Donald J. Trump coming in from way out in the metaphorical left field to take an unaccustomed second place with 24 percent, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, now cast as the party’s steady center-fielder, just behind with an intriguing 23 percent, which at least provides hope for another long and hard-fought race.
Of course, one needs to keep in mind the peculiar ground rules that govern Iowa’s opening games. The Democrats require caucus-goers to spend all night standing with their fellow rooters in the corners of various frigid high school gymnasiums and senior centers spread across the state, staring one another down to attract the rooters from the candidates disqualified in the first rounds, which should have given her opponent’s more youthful and fired-up supporters an edge, so even a slight win will still count as a win even by pliable rules of politics. The next game will be played according to more traditional primary rules in New Hampshire, but that’s right next door to Vermont and Sanders has held a comfortable lead in the polls there for some time, so a win in Iowa means at least Clinton won’t get off to that 0-for-2 start so many formerly front-running candidates have never recovered from. Still, those bettors who put their chips on Clinton a full four years ago are likely in for a nervous season. Veteran political sports fans will recall that a similarly spirited far-left candidacy by Sen. Eugene McCarthy knocked sitting President Lyndon Johnson out of the race with a win in New Hampshire way back in the memorable ’68 season, and although those with more reliable memories will more accurately recall that Johnson eked out a victory it was close enough it was still enough to convince Johnson that he wouldn’t make it to the general election finish line, which makes it a potentially worthwhile analogy.
Cruz only won eight delegates to Trump’s and Rubio’s seven, and long-shot retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson got three, with even longer shots libertarian Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and erstwhile starting center fielder Jeb! Bush of the erstwhile Bush dynasty getting one apiece for finishing fifth and sixth, respectively, so with 1,114 delegates needed to clinch the pennant there’s still plenty of race of left. It’s still a crucial tally in the win column for Cruz, however, and although he’s starting from behind in New Hampshire the Iowa winner has traditionally picked up a few points in other contests. Veteran political sports fans will also recall how little-known Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter got a sudden amount of name-recognition-generating publicity from an upset win in Iowa and rode it to the Democratic nomination back in that sub-.300 year of ’76, and although those with more reliable memories will recall that Carter actually finished second to “undecided,” which ultimately proved poetically appropriate enough, the point still obtains. For someone running against a reality-star with almost unlimited free publicity and near-universal name recognition, it’s an especially important point.
In an ordinary season an ordinary candidate could claim more than seven delegates from a second-place finish in Iowa, but Trump is no ordinary candidate. The most likely explanation for the front-running Trump’s second-place finish is that Iowa’s Republican caucus is largely dominated by evangelical Christians who prefer a Baptist minister’s son such as Cruz to a thrice-married gambling mogul who publicly boasts of the billions he made by buying off politicians and all the married babes he’s bagged along the way, but we don’t think even Trump will attempt that spin and we don’t think New Hampshire voters would buy it even if they are next door to Vermont. Much of Trump’s appeal is based on his argument that he always wins, and that Americans might even get bored with all the winning he’s going to do for America, making it hard for him to spin an actual vote where he not only came in second but a full 76 percent of the voters went for someone else. He wisely declared himself “honored” by a second-place finish, noting only obliquely how many observers had thought Iowa an unfriendly field, and he’s still got the lead in New Hampshire before getting back on evangelical turf in South Carolina, but to mix the sports analogies somewhat at least he won’t be getting that early-round knock-out.
Rubio’s close third-place finish, on the other hand, should be worth more than just seven delegates over the coming weeks. It represents a significant bump in his previous poll standings, will merit enough mention to up his name recognition a few notches, and will likely even knock out some of the other players vying for the centerfield position. When the fourth-place Carson sooner or later bows out we suspect most of his support will flow to Cruz, so Rubio will need all the meager votes scattered about the rest of the soon-to-drop-out candidates, and when Bush makes his inevitable exit Rubio will at least be spared the millions of dollars of negative advertising that have been aimed him, so in this game opening day does matter more than in baseball.
Both leagues might wind up battering themselves into a sorry state for the eventual general election World Series, but that’s way too far away to speculate about now.

— Bud Norman

Baseball, Politics, and Prognastication

Watching the opinion polls at this point in a presidential race is as pointless as checking the baseball standings in the first few weeks of the season, but we’re the obsessive sort of fans who do both. It’s never too early to start cheering your favorites, in politics or baseball, those early season wins and losses count, and there’s a certain fascination in watching it all play out over time.
At an analogous point in the recently concluded baseball season we were confidently predicting The New York Yankees would outlast The Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles to win the American League East, that The Detroit Tigers would be a in nip-and-tuck race with the Kansas City Royals down to the wire in the Central, and that all that talent on The Los Angeles Angels would eventually prevail in the West. We did slightly better predicting the outcome of the National League races, partly because they’re more predictable and partly because we paid less attention, although we would have never guessed the Chicago Cubs being in the playoffs. Any analysis of the political races is therefore offered with due humility, but we can’t resist a few too-early observations.
There’s a new poll from Iowa indicating that formerly inevitable Hillary Clinton is deep trouble in that first-to-vote and therefore inordinately influential state, and we think it’s predictive of future problems. Although she’s still leading the current field in the primary race, she has less than a majority and her lead over self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has shrunk to 11 points, and when you add the now seemingly inevitable entrance of Vice President Joe Biden into the race it shrinks further to five points. Among all of the state’s registered voters, Clinton is currently enduring a blow-out. Her unfavorable rating is at 59 percent, and after a quarter century in the public eye it’s hard to see how she can turn that around, and she’s losing badly to all of the possible Republican contenders in hypothetical match-ups. She fares worst, interestingly enough, against the former high-tech executive and failed senatorial candidate and equally female Carly Fiorina, who is currently beating her by a 52-38 margin.
A lawyer friend of ours who’s a Democrat by profession and a Kansas City Royals fan by vocation always bets on the money and brand name, and is convinced that whatever candidate has the biggest campaign chest and most recognizable name will always prevail, and that his beloved small-market ball club will always be denied its due by some evil free-agent-laden franchise from the bigger, badder cities and their capitalist ways. This is the way to bet, as Ring Lardner would have put it, so there’s no denying our friend right is more often than wrong, but his gal Clinton is looking a lot like one of the exceptions to the rule. We’ve rooted for The New York Yankees long enough to know that money and brand name don’t always translate into performance on the field, and Clinton’s game thus far has not been up to a self-described socialist and Vermont senator or an as-yet-undeclared Vice President Joe Biden, or even a trio of Republican political neophytes or a smattering of Republicans who have actually held public office but might be sufficiently anti-establishment to satisfy the party’s ravenous base. Throw in the fact that Sanders is reportedly raising even more money than Clinton, and with a far broader base of admittedly less well-heeled donors, and is drawing crowds that exceed the big rock star tour that candidate Barack Obama headlined back in ’08, and Sanders is looking like one of those small-market contenders that occasionally win the title.
Another prediction offered with due humility is that Biden will get into the race, and with the implicit or explicit endorsement of President Barack Obama, thus garnering all the dwindling yet still significant-voters within-the-Democratic-Party that entails, as well as the significant organizational and fund-raising benefits that go along with it, and that he’ll mostly draw his support from Clinton. We’ve seen exactly one Clinton bumper sticker, which was somehow sitting outside the local grocery store, but at all the culture-vulture and hipster events we attend there are far more Sanders ’16 buttons. The Sanders constituency seems to genuinely like the guy, the Clinton supporters seem to be betting on money and name recognition, and even this early on it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is one of those exceptions to the rules.
The rules seem to be enforced with the now usual disregard on the Republican side, as well, where the buffoonish billionaire and political neophyte Donald Trump is still leading what was once thought a strong field. That’s still true in that same Iowa poll that showed Clinton in trouble, although his lead has been whittled down by retired neurosurgeon and fellow political neophyte Ben Carson, with that pesky female Fiorina in third place and within striking distance. We can’t help noticing a newer poll that shows the soft-spoken and humble Carson ahead of the brusque and self-aggrandizing Trump, through, and we take that as a hopeful trend. Trump seems to have already hit that part of the season where that .600 average inevitably starts to run up against gravitational forces, and the same faith we place in both the Republican Party and the American League gives us hope he won’t make the finals. We’ll take Carson over Trump any day, and we’re liking Fiorina better all the time, even if she has to run against some old white guy, but we’re still holding out hope for someone who has actually held office, and it looks to be an interesting race.
Baseball’s post-season should prove interesting, as well. Our New York Yankees, for all their money and brand name and free-agent-laden roster, are down to one game against a Houston Astros squad we never expected. They’ve got the home field advantage, at least, which would have meant an automatic slot in the quarterfinals before this newfangled socialistic system, and in any case we expect it to come down to the small market Royals and Toronto Blue Jays, and despite a one-game deficit over the regular season the Blue Jays suddenly seem the team to beat, and we won’t wager any actual money on how it turns out. Over on the National League side The St. Louis Cardinals seem the way to bet, but that doesn’t always work out. At this point, out best advice for politics and baseball is to stay tuned.

— Bud Norman

Yogi Berra, RIP

Although we rarely comment about sports, even on those all-too-frequent occasions when it spills over into the political news, we do try to take note of matters of importance to the broader American culture. The death of New York Yankee legend Yogi Berra, therefore, demands respectful mention.
Berra was, by consensus of expert opinion, one of the very best to ever play America’s pastime, and by objective measure he was he one of the most successful athletes in the entire history of American professional team sports. By all accounts he was also a man of high moral character, who bravely served his country in war and was devoted to his wife from their courtship until her death and played the game by the strictest standards of sportsmanship and spent 70 years in the public eye without a hint of any scandal. Somehow, though, he is best remembered as a funny-looking guy who said things funny. Add it all up, and he was one of those all-too-infrequent characters who enriched the American scene by pure American individualism.
You wouldn’t have known it by looking at his short, squat, graceless body, but a glance at Berra’s numbers makes clear that he could play some serious ball. You can look it up, as they like to say in baseball. He was a three-time Most Valuable Player, finished in the top four in MVP voting four other times, was an 18-time All-Star,  smacked 358 homers and batted in 1,430 runs, and as a catcher he earned a reputation as the best friend a pitcher ever had, among many other notable individual accomplishments. What his teams accomplished with him behind the plate was even more impressive, as The New York Yankees played in 14 World Series, won ten of them, and were almost always in contention. Those teams were loaded with such all-time talents as Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford, to be sure, but there were seven seasons when Berra led the team in RBI and never a time when even his more heralded teammates didn’t acknowledge that he was the most essential Yankee. All those World Series appearances allowed Berra to set seemingly unbreakable “Fall Classic” records for games played and at-bats and hits and RBI and doubles, not to mention the perfect game he caught from journeyman pitcher Don Larsen, and he trails only Mantle and Babe Ruth for most home runs hit in October. In American professional sports history, the ten championships he won are surpassed only by the 11 that Bill Russell won with the Boston Celtics in the National Basketball Association and Henri Richard won with the Montreal Canadiens in the National Hockey League, and both of those guys also played on teams laden with all-time talent.
The New York Yankees’ many years of dominance, which had begun even before Berra arrived, with his mentor Bill Dickey manning the plate, made the team so hated everywhere outside the five boroughs that they became better known as The Damn Yankees. Berra, though, was such a appealing fellow that even a Boston Red Sox fan found it hard to work up a mild dislike for him. It helped that he wasn’t a handsome hunk who was always being photographed at a  swank nightclub with a couple of hotties hanging on his arms, like DiMaggio or Mantle, but was instead going home to his beloved and equally plain wife in a simple place in New Jersey that he described as “nothing but rooms.” He didn’t like to talk about his years in the Navy, which included hazardous duty just a hundred yards off Omaha Beach on D-Day, but the stories got out and enhanced the good guy reputation he so earnestly earned on the field. Teammates and opponents alike vouched for the quality of the man, and so far as we know no one ever disputed it over the many decades he spent in baseball as a coach, manager, and goodwill ambassador of the game.
Despite all that, the first thing people think of when Berra’s name is invoked are all the “Yogi-isms,” and the inadvertently comic character they created. A “Yogi-ism” is something that Berra would blurt out which makes no sense at all if parsed according to the rules of the English language, but makes perfect and often profound sense if you hear them the way he meant to say it. The brilliantly redundant “It ain’t over ’til it’s over” and “It’s deja vu all over again” are now part of the popular lexicon, and his observations that “baseball is 90 percent mental, the other half is physical” and “in baseball you don’t know nothing” are probably the most oft-cited explanations of the seemingly complicated game. Another record that Berra holds is the most citations in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations of any athlete, and we note that he also has more than any living president. Some of Berra’s gems are less well-known, but prove to us that Berra truly was a sort of Yogi. His advice that “You should always go to other people’s funerals, or they won’t go to yours,” and that “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up someplace else,” and “If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be,” and “You can observe a lot by watching,” or that line about “When you reach a fork in the road, take it,” which is by now a staple of college commencement speeches, all strike us as more eloquently deep than anything Shakespeare could think of for Polonius to tell Laertes. Berra always insisted such philosophical malapropisms simply fell out of his funny-looking face, and he titled his autobiography “I Really Didn’t Say Everything I Said,” but they’ll probably be what ensures his place in American mythology next to Mike Fink and Huck Finn and Mr. Dooley and all those other quotable fictional characters.
Berra became such a myth that one must take care to sadly note the passing of the man, and of the better era of baseball and America from whence he came. A more careful observer of the current sporting scene notes that the San Francisco Giants’ Buster Posey is widely regarded as the best catcher of this day, and that he needs to triple his numbers to approach Berra’s achievements. Nor do we note anyone in professional sports who can boast of Berra’s military record or exemplary personal life or stellar reputation as one of the good guys, and if there were someone who could he probably would boast of it, which Berra never did. Baseball still offers such stellar wits as Bob Uecker and John Kruk, and something about the way the game forces even its greatest players to constantly confront failure ensures that it will always have the best sense of humor, but it just doesn’t seem to fall right out of their funny-looking faces with the same profundity.
Yogi Berra was the kind of guy who went to other people’s funerals, so we’re sure that they’ll all go to his, and he lived 90 years in a world that wouldn’t have been more perfect even if it had been perfect, and he won ten World Series, and in this imperfect world he got to lose four of them, and he was always in contention, and he spent the rest of his life in the game he loved and most of it with the woman he loved, and he wasn’t the sort to complain, so we’ll take comfort in that. When his wife once asked if he’d like to be buried in St Louis, where he grew up in an Italian slum, or New York City, where he became a legend, or New Jersey, where he quietly lived most of his life in that house full of nothing but rooms, Berra reportedly told her, “Surprise me.” Wherever that short, squat, graceless, and yet three-times most valuable body ends up, we hope and pray that his spirit is at long last safe at home. And we hold out faint hope that we’ll see the likes of him again.

— Bud Norman

‘Round the Clock Baseball

With a little bit of luck and a fortuitous lack of those annoying robo-sales calls we’ll be sleeping late today, because they’ll be playing games down at the local baseball park until the wee hours of the next morning and we’d hate to a missing an inning of it. One of the cultural advantages of living here in Wichita, Kansas, along with the Cassatt and the three Hoppers and the Eakins and the other masterpieces over at the Wichita Art Museum, and the odd strain of punk and country that infuses the music in the local dives, and the surprising amount of talent in the various local theatrical groups, and the relatively cheap rents that foster a fertile bohemian subculture that defies the town’s rather staid and conservative reputation, and Koch Industries and ‘Shocker basketball and the the rest of the right-wing conspiracies that bolster our crazy reputation, is the “around the clock baseball” tradition at the annual National Baseball Congress.
The National Baseball Congress is more or less the world championship of semi-professional baseball, and has been ever since the darkest days of the Great Depression when a wily sporting goods salesman named Ray “Hap” Dumont started it up in the old Island Stadium that once flourished in the middle of the Arkansas River. To help draw the business of the impoverished locals he offered the grand sum of one thousand dollars to to the great Negro Leagues pitcher Satchel Paige, who was at the time the best hurler of any color in the business, and who gratefully accept the offer and temporarily abandoned his Negro League team and mowed down the semi-professional competition with such ease that his pitching records still stand in the NBC books to this day, and the gimmick worked well enough to lead to another tournament and now an 84th one. Since then the old Island Stadium, which was somehow exempt from the local blue laws and able to sell beer even on the Sunday games, has burned down, according to local legend because of some smoker’s carelessly tossed cigarette, but to this very day the games still go on at the elegant and now aged Lawrence-Dumont Stadium just across the river from downtown, named in honor of some bearded Civil War-era town founder and “Hap” Dumont, and one of its enduring gimmicks is to play baseball once a year until the sun rises.
Whatever benighted city you happen to live in probably doesn’t afford the privilege of watching red-blooded young American men from unknown small towns playing the great game of baseball long after the bars have closed, but be assured that you’re missing out on quite a spectacle. This year’s NBC has already provided some Hollywood-scripted baseball, with the Wellington, Kansas, Heat notching a 1-0 victory over the Colorado Cyclones with a walk-off single in the bottom in the bottom of the ninth inning after a ferocious pitchers’ duel, and Kansas’ Liberal Beejays, which despite your unseeingly assumptions was not named in honor of the of the Clinton administration, scoring a “run rule” win over Rush Limbaugh’s hometown Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Capahas by a “run rule” 23-2 after five innings. The now-familiar “run rule” was invented by the National Baseball Congress, by the way, and is sometimes known as the “Wichita rule,” so the entertaining but anti-climactic result had a certain appeal to baseball traditionalists. We expect more great baseball early tomorrow morning, along with all the usual color.
Some years ago we we were witness to a game involving one of the usual Alaska entries, whose bullpen admitted to us during a casual conversation along the first base line that they were disturbed by the 4 a.m. heat, and when a foul ball popped out of the glove of a 12-year-old fan there were hearty boos by the remaining and pajama-clad fans. There’s nothing in baseball quite so gratifying as hearing a couple hundred die-hard fans booing a 12-year-old at four in the morning, and our occasional treks to the major league parks have never topped that. One of the local convenience store chains is offering one-dollar tickets to it all, too, and despite the inflated beer prices it’s even a better entertainment bargain than Netflix. That will be hard to top, but we’ll seated in the smoking section with a couple of wizened cigar-chomping buddies of ours, and we’ll be wearing our trademark straw fedora, and every picture we’ve ever seen of “Hap” Dumont shows him with a hat atop his head and cigar in his mouth, and despite the recent prominence of Ultimate Fighting and NASCAR and the National Football League this is still the national pastime, and we expect something great will happen here in Wichita in the wee hours of Saturday morning.

— Bud Norman