Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Conversation With Ryan Braun

In the pampered and rarefied atmosphere in which Ryan Braun lives, you have your lawyer carefully draft a “statement” for you, release it to the media, and then let your teammates, the coach, and the manager of the organization which employs you deal with the fallout.  In other words, you’re a coward.

Imagine in some alternative universe that Ryan Braun sat down with you face-to-face and said what’s in his “official statement”.  His words – well, his lawyer’s words – are in all caps.  They’re actual, exact quotes.  My responses, as if this were a conversation, follow.


Really, Ryan?  You’re not perfect?  You know, none of us are.  So let’s talk like the flawed humans we are.

You’ve just now realized that?  You didn’t realize it when you were needlessly and vehemently trashing Dino Laurenzie’s life? He was just a regular guy doing his job.  You know damn well that vial he was sending contained results of a test that showed you so far off the charts with synthetic testosterone that baseball had never seen a human being test that high. 


Hold on, pal – it’s not “the situation” that’s taken the toll, it’s what you did.  You created the situation. It’s your behavior that’s caused all this.  Are you at any point going to take responsibility for your behavior and the consequences that followed?


Oh, you really are delusional.  This matter is far from behind you.  It’s just beginning for you.  Yah, you’ll be going back to the game you love…and your hundred-million-dollar contract.  The one the Brewers gave you, after making the decision to let Prince Fielder go, and to make you the face of the franchise for the next decade.  What about that hundred grand you got for the MVP award which you won while taking PED’s – you gonna give that money back?

Are you going to ask your pal Aaron Rodgers to give up his pay this year?  After all, he believed you when you lied to him about your PED use, and he tweeted that he’d bet a year’s salary that everybody – baseball, ESPN, everybody – was wrong, and you were clean.  Is he still a friend?  If so, you’re lucky. You really made him look stupid with your lies.

You’ve proved that cheating is not only acceptable, but lucrative.  What’s the downside?  You juiced, you put up some fabulous numbers, you got the huge payday that comes with it, and all it cost you was 3% of your contract and everybody knows the team wasn’t going to the playoffs this year anyway. And you'll be at spring training before you know it, making the big bucks again.

Tell ya what.  If you ever get married, and you get caught cheating on your wife, try having your lawyer draft a statement for you – one in which you admit absolutely no responsibility and which paints you as a victim, just like your statement on PED’s – and see how long you stay married, and see how losing 50% of your marital assets compares to losing 3% of your contract pay.

You know what’s worse than a cheater, Ryan?  One who gets caught and then vehemently denies it and paints himself as a victim.

(The photo at the top of this post is Copyright Associated Press.)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Consent of the Governed

What if you lived in this neighborhood - Knickerbocker Street in Madison, looking southeast toward Monroe Street (photo by Michelle Stocker of The Capital Times) - and a real estate developer wanted - and got - a zoning variance to drop a huge 4-story 21-unit apartment building smack dab into the neighborhood? What would you do?

To me, this story is not all about knocking down a gas station and the house next to it to build a 29-thousand square foot apartment building.

It’s about government, in one form or another, not listening to the people.  Knowing better.  Throwing around terms like “urban infill” and “conditional zoning variance”, and quite literally bulldozing, without consent, the will of the people who live in the neighborhood.

If you’re not familiar with the ongoing battle between the neighbors on Knickerbocker Street and the city Plan Commission, you can read Paul Fanlund’s column about it in the Cap Times here, and Mike Ivey’s article on the vote here.  Taylor Harvey wrote a story about the battle for Isthmus, which you can read here.

Some have said the Knickerbocker Street neighbors are NIMBY’s.  But we’re talking about a private commercial development here, not some thing necessary for the good of the community at large, like a power substation, bus transfer point, fire station, or municipal services building.  We’re talking about a real estate developer who wants to build a structure that’s so out of character with the neighborhood, so exceeds the limits of the Monroe Street Commercial District Plan, that it needs a special exemption to the plan.

The developer has publicly admitted he can’t build the apartment building according to the established standard and make a profit.  So he wants to exceed the standard not by a little bit, but by 16%.  He says he can’t make money with a 25-thousand square foot building; it’s got to be 29 thousand square feet for him to make money.  Which means it has to exceed the established height and size standards.

So the developer can make money.

One might think that the Plan Commission, upon taking up the issue, would regard the neighborhood association’s 11-2 vote against the building as a clear sign that the vast majority of people who live there are opposed to the project – not a 7-6 vote, or even 9-4, but 11-2 – and the Commission would tell the developer to look elsewhere.  But last week Monday, the commission ignored the formally expressed will of the neighbors and voted 7-1 to approve the project.

So the developer can make money.

Don’t be misled by arguments that the neighborhood needs such a huge apartment building, or that its design will not further impact the traffic problems that already exist on Monroe Street, or that this project will enhance the community in some way.  It won’t create jobs.  It's not a municipal necessity. It's not the grand design of some famous architect. It’s a damn apartment building, nothing more.  And a big one, at that, and one the neighbors – and the city plan for the neighborhood – clearly say shouldn’t be built there.

I have no problem at all with a real estate developer making money on an apartment building.  But go make your money where your project meets existing rules, and where the neighbors are not completely opposed to it. I do have a problem understanding why the Plan Commission doesn't get this.

A bit of perspective: there was a time, not too long ago, that Madison had a reputation as a place where nothing new got built. Brick and mortar projects went to Madison to die.  Madison couldn’t build a convention center, and nitpicked John Q. Hammons' plan to death, so he built his convention center in Middleton, right along the border with Madison, to thumb his nose at the bureaucrats.  Rather than fight the battles with Madison, Judy Faulkner built her Epic Systems empire in Verona.

Now, the pendulum seems to have swung the other way.  Zoning codes were softened a few years ago, and the role of the neighborhood’s input was diminished, with an eye toward sending the message that Madison has changed and is not confrontational to real estate developers.

But again, this is not a Frank Lloyd Wright design; it’s not a project that will create hundreds of new, good-paying jobs; it’s not a structure vital to community infrastructure: it’s an apartment building. The neighbors’ last resort is to appeal the Plan Commission’s decision to the entire City Council.

Look at it this way, if you will: suppose you live in an established neighborhood of largely single-family homes, a mature tree-lined neighborhood where people actually walk to work, where children play in yards, where you know your neighbor’s names and their kids’ names.  Now, drop a huge 21-unit apartment building into the neighborhood, and ask yourself in how many ways its presence would change the quality of life in that neighborhood.

In this case, one of the neighbors most directly affected, since the project will be literally next door to his Madison home, is Pulitzer Prize winning author David Maraniss.  He and his neighbors have appealed  the decision to the full City Council.  I spoke with him Saturday morning about his concerns, and after our conversation he sent me a copy of his letter to the Plan Commission.  This is his concluding paragraph:

“The largest question of all is how developments like this change Madison. I go back again to the delicate balance. If done at the appropriate scale, with solid neighborhood participation, they will help Madison grow and prosper. If done with no regard to neighborhoods, just in the name of development and growth, exceeding building standards out of economic necessity, then they very well could provoke a series of unintended consequences, slowly denigrating, bit by bit, the very neighborhoods that provide the most to the city’s tax base and keep the schools alive and bubbling with curious and wondrous children.”

I cannot write nearly as eloquently as David Maraniss, but I can completely understand why he’s fighting for his neighborhood. To me, his neighborhood battle against an unwanted real estate development also illustrates another quintessentially American quality: we have expressed a belief, since we formally declared it in the summer of 1776, that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.

I’m expecting the City Council, which is tentatively scheduled to hear the appeal on August 6th, to LISTEN to Maraniss and his neighbors, as they speak their truth to power.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Memories of The Dutchman and Go-Go

The triumvirate above, captured in a 1976 photo taken at a football game at Titan Stadium in Oshkosh, are about to inflict a live sports broadcast on an unsuspecting Fox Valley radio audience. That’s yours truly on the left, wearing a Vikings football jacket (don’t ask; I’m a lifelong Packers fan; the jacket was a gift and I still have it); in the middle is Dave Hoopman, my sax-playing compadre from the John Check band, who provided stats and analysis on the broadcasts; and on the right, in the Sox jacket, is Oshkosh-born former major league pitcher Bill Gogolewski, who made the color comments on the game.

And a colorful character he was.

Gogolewski pronounces his name the traditional Polish way, not the Americanized version. He’d say “see that ‘w’ in my name? It’s there, but it’s not pronounced”.  Actually, as I learned, he just didn’t want people to say go-go-LOU-skee, preferring go-go-LES-kee; but when he introduced himself to people, if you listened carefully, you could hear just the slightest “v” sound…go-go-lev-skee.  The story of how we came to be a broadcast team in ’75 and ’76 starts with another Oshkosh native, former National League umpire Lawrence “Dutch” Rennert.

Dutch spent his summers umpiring in the Pacific Coast League from 1965 to 1972, and in ’73 was called up to the majors where he had a great 20-year run.  In the dead of winter, when baseball wasn’t being played anywhere, Dutch would come back to Oshkosh and work as a referee for high school basketball games, which is where I first met him.  Before each game I broadcast, I’d always get the names of the officials if I didn’t know them. The first time I met Dutch he was officiating a game with the great Otto Puls, who said to me “you ought to know this guy, he’s from Oshkosh”. We often ran into each other in various sports circumstances (including the 1975 Major League All-Star game, at County Stadium in Milwaukee) and always had polite conversations.  We’d often talk about my high school baseball coach at Hortonville, Russ Tiedemann, who moved on to UW-Oshkosh and sent a bunch of guys (Jim Gantner to name one) off to careers in pro baseball.

The Dutchman, as everybody called him, had quite a career as a National League ump, including umping in three World Series and at two All-Star games. A 1983 New York Times poll named Dutch Rennert  the best umpire in the NL.  He essentially invented the colorful and animated “steee-rike” call – there are plenty of examples on YouTube you can easily find – and was the ump who, in August of 1990, ejected Reds manager “Sweet” Lou Piniella after arguing balls and strikes with him. It made Sweet Lou’s quick temper flare in perhaps the best (or worst) example in Major League history, when on his way to the showers Sweet Lou pulled first base off its mount and tossed it into the outfield.

Dutch, who spends most of his time in Florida now, lost vision in his left eye after the ’92 season, and that ended his career.

In the fall of ’75, Dutch called me at the radio station, and said “you know, Bill Gogolewski just retired from pro ball; he’s kicking around Oshkosh somewhere – you ought to give him a call and see if he wants to do some games with you”.  Long story short, Go-go (as everyone called him) was eager to get a chance to learn something about sports broadcasting, and also became a fine advertising salesman for the station.

Bill was born in Oshkosh on October 26th of 1947, played for Oshkosh High (back when there was only one high school in town), and was drafted in the 18th round in 1965 by the Washington Senators. He did his time in the minors, and was called up to the big leagues by the Senators in 1970.  That's a picture of Gogo as a rookie, above. At that time, he was paid the kingly sum of one thousand dollars a month ($12,000 annual total). I believe the major league minimum salary is now $480,000 a year.  Gogo was a relief pitcher for the Senators in ’70 and ’71; he wore uniform number 13.

In 1972, six unsuperstitious players in the big leagues wore #13; Go-go used to joke “two of the best pitchers in the majors in ’72 wore #13; I’m one, who’s the other”? The answer is John “Blue Moon” Odom. (In ’72 four other major leaguers wore #13….Dave Concepcion of the Reds, Doyle Alexander of the Orioles, Joe Ferguson of the Dodgers, and Dick Woodson of the Twins.)

Here’s a great baseball trivia photograph (above): Gogo’s 1974 baseball card, showing him in a Rangers uniform.  He was traded to the Rangers in ’72 and pitched for them for two seasons, but his baseball card photo for ’74 was taken just prior to the start of the season, and he was traded to the Indians when the season started, so he never actually appeared for the Rangers in ’74.

Gogo spent his last year in baseball in ’75 as a reliever with the White Sox.  He told me he was eternally grateful to his Sox pitching coach, the late great Johnny Sain, for getting him through the entire season. Gogo said his back and arm hurt so much he could hardly stand it, but Johnny Sain helped him make it to the end of the season, when he retired.

He never complained about his pain, but I knew it was there.  One time, when he thought he was alone in the radio station’s sales office and was getting ready to visit a client, I came in to talk to him about an upcoming sports broadcast.  He didn’t see me in the doorway, had his back to me, and bent down to pick up his briefcase – which weighed maybe 10 pounds.  He got it a few inches off the floor with his right arm, but quickly dropped it, let out a soft groan, and grabbed his arm.  I didn’t want him to know I saw it, so I quickly left.

Gogo was a fast learner; he caught on to sports broadcasting quickly, and I encouraged him to tell some of his great baseball stories during breaks in the game.  He had so many great stories; I can’t remember a single one, though.  After the broadcasts, we’d often end up at Repp’s Bar on the river in Oshkosh, where Gogo would tell some of the many “not suitable for broadcast” stories about his time in the big leagues.  He was a natural on the American Legion league baseball broadcasts we did in the summer of ’76; and he made great contributions to the many football and basketball games we did in those seasons.

Gogo still lives in Oshkosh, where he is the head of the City Parks Commission.  Great guy; great storyteller; I’m honored to have worked with him.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Can't Nobody Speak Good English No More?

I guess it was when I heard NBC News reporter Dennis Murphy say “one-year anniversary” on a report Saturday night.  This man – nearly my age – went to an exclusive prep school (Georgetown Prep  in Maryland) and is a graduate of Williams College. So he is at least partially educated.  I think it was hearing an experienced network reporter like Murphy say something as stupid as “one-year anniversary” that set me off on this, my latest rant about the decline of appropriate grammar, usage, and structure of the English spoken (and written) by news broadcasters.

Please have mercy for my wife, who must listen to me rant about this stuff just about every day.  And don’t get me wrong –I know the difference between conversational and formal English and am a huge advocate of the conversational form, even in news reports.

Let’s face it: nobody says “fled on foot”.  Everybody says “ran off” or “ran away”.  Yet you hear that usage just about every day on broadcast news, where the writer simply transposed the phrase from the police report.  Somewhere in my dusty old consultant report files, I have a piece of broadcast news copy which contains the phrase “fled on foot in an unknown direction with an undetermined amount of United States Currency”.  In English, that’s usually said “ran off with a bunch of money”, yet the young person who wrote the story (or, more appropriately, plagiarized the police report) was capable of speaking perfectly acceptable conversational English – while NOT on the air or writing news copy.

That’s an example of what I used to call the “process-product” fault – getting so wrapped up in the process of writing news copy that you forget the goal is to produce copy which will be easily understood by the “end-user”.

A report on a Green Bay TV station a few days ago told of “a child who was injured by a firework”.  I’m not sure how that tortured usage came to be.

Here’s something that comes up several times every summer in Madison.  It’s a constant source of belly-laughs to hear the local newsies deal with “Concerts on the Square”.  There are six of them, every Wednesday night from mid-June to the end of July.  It’s as though the plural noun can never be changed or altered: “The Concerts on the Square are postponed tonight due to (and, of course, it should be “because of”) bad weather”.  Wouldn’t it be simpler to say “Tonight’s Concert on the Square is postponed because of bad weather”? 

These are the kind of folks who would never say “physics are the hardest subject I ever took in High School” but can’t deal with deconstructing a simple plural noun.  And let’s not even open the can of worms about those who say things like “I’m going to the Brewer game tonight”.

If Journalism were truly a profession, rather than an occupation, you’d have to pass some sort of test before being allowed to inflict news on the general public.  I’ve often said if someone were serious about Journalism, they’d take a lot of courses in English composition to learn the craft of properly using our language. 

Imagine what general medicine would be like if doctors didn’t have to take and pass many courses in anatomy.  Or what general aviation would be like if pilots didn’t have to understand the physics of powered flight.  Or if you went to a service garage where the mechanics knew a lot about engines, but nothing about transmissions.  Or a public school band director who knew a great deal about playing brass instruments, but nothing about reeds or strings.

What I’m getting at is that so many people who are presumed to be professional communicators seem to know so little about the fundamentals of English.  They couldn’t diagram a sentence if you asked.  They have no understanding about subtleties like active versus (or, as the young folks say, “verse”) passive voice.  They’ve never heard of terms like misplaced modifier or dangling participle. They wouldn’t know a relative pronoun from a reflexive pronoun.

I realize this battle was lost a long time ago, and the pushback I would get during my consulting days usually consisted of some form of “you don’t need to be an auto mechanic to be a good driver; I don’t need to know what makes it tick, I just need to know how to operate it”; or “ya, well, the Beatles couldn’t read music, but they sure created a lot of damn good songs”.  Depending on my level of frustration I would occasionally reply with something like “if you could write news as well as John Lenon and Paul McCartney could write songs, your boss wouldn’t have paid me to come here and try to teach you this stuff”.

People who say things like “it’s my parents’ 35-year anniversary tomorrow” would never say “my mom is celebrating her 56-year birthday tomorrow”.  But a veteran professional communicator like Dennis Murphy who says something as stupid as “one-year anniversary” needs retraining.  That kind of crap is for the young folks.