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Another of the great characters and journalists from the heyday of newspapers in Kansas City has left the scene.

Leo “Ski” Wozniak, who retired from The Star — actually I should say The Kansas City Times because he retired the day The Times stopped publishing in 1990 — died Sunday at his Overland Park home. He was 92 and died in his sleep.

Ski was special to me because he was one of the first people I got to know in the newsroom when I arrived in Kansas City in September 1969, not knowing a soul and starting my first (and only) job at a big-time newspaper.

I was a reporter working the 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. shift for The Times, and Ski was the night wire editor, meaning he monitored the 24-hour-a-day machine that spat out stories from all wire services The Star and Times subscribed to, including the Associated Press, United Press International, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and others. The stories came rolling off the machine, clickety-clackety, on mealy, off-white copy paper that piled up behind the machine until an editor went over and ripped it off with the edge of a ruler.

Ski would then apprise the other editors what stories he had and how he thought they rated. From those discussions, decisions were made as to how to “play” the various stories “offered” for the next morning’s paper, that is, which one would be the lead story, which ones would go lower on the front page and which would go inside.

To some of us young reporters, the wire machine and the entire wire operation was an intimidating curiosity. I certainly didn’t know much about it and wasn’t particularly interested. I was focused on covering the speeches, car wrecks, crimes and other news stories that about a dozen of us nighttime, local reporters were responsible for. It did not escape me, however, that the constant clanking and jiggling of that wire machine contributed to the vibrancy and excitement of the wide-open newsroom. And Ski ruled the wire desk.

My fondest and most personal memories of Ski, however, came from our frequent golf games. Soon after arriving at the paper, I discovered that the afternoon city editor, a dapper little guy named Don T. Jones — not to be confused with the night city editor Don D. (Casey) Jones — had four passes to the city golf courses, courtesy of the Parks and Recreation Department. Free golf! That’s something I’d never experienced before.

So, Ski and I, sometimes joined by one or two other reporters or editors, would use the passes to play at Swope Memorial. We played so often that pretty soon Ski and I each had one of those passes in our wallets. (After Charlie Wheeler became mayor, I made the mistake of telling him we had golf-course passes, and soon after they were gone. Wheeler didn’t like The Star’s editorial page because the editors never endorsed him.)

Ski was very competitive, and, although I don’t recall us playing for money, it was always about who won. Generally, I hit the ball farther then he did, but he was much better around the greens. I really admired and envied his delicate touch, which I’ve never been able to develop despite having played the game for 60 years. In scoring, we were about even, although he probably beat me more times than I beat him.

Of course, you do a lot of talking on the golf course and learn a lot about the people you play with regularly. I remember once, months after we’d been playing, Ski telling me about the time when he and one of his brothers were kids and the brother ran out in front of a passing vehicle and was killed. “I’ll never forget it,” Ski said grimly…Just as I’ll never forget him telling me about it.

Ski had an acerbic wit. One day when we were playing at Swope, I stopped at the clubhouse between the 9th and 10th holes to get a cold beverage. Ski was sitting on a bench on the 10th tee when I caught up with him, and I was chomping away on the ice. He gave me a look of disgust and said, “You sound like a pig eating coal.” I’d never heard that before, and haven’t since, and from that day I cut back on my ice chewing.

Another time, a single player joined us, and when we introduced ourselves, Ski introduced himself by his formal name, Leo. After a couple of holes, “Leo” had slipped the guy’s mind and he began calling him “Lou.” Ski didn’t correct him, and every time the guy called him Lou, Ski and I would look at each other and smile. Thereafter, every once in a while I would call him “Lou,” just for fun.

As I said, Ski was extremely competitive. We also played handball — mostly outdoor handball — and one particular sports-marathon day we played handball, tennis and ping-pong. I think we came out about even, but it was very intense day.

In handball, if one player interferes with another as the opponent is going for a ball, the player who is going for the ball can call a “hinder,” and the point is stopped and played over. I didn’t remember this, but one day, apparently, in a particularly close game, Ski called a hinder on a critical point. Decades later — this would have been about 10 years ago — at one of Laura Hockaday’s KC Star reunion gatherings at the Kansas City Country Club, Ski recalled the incident.

“Do you remember when I called that hinder?” he said.

“No,” I said. “I have no recollection.”

“Well,” he said. “It wasn’t a hinder. You didn’t interfere with me.”

Now there’s a guy you can admire. Love ya, Ski…I hope to see you again someday.

Note: After I posted this column, Ski’s daughter Kate sent me this photo, which she took at the 2010 Laura Hockaday reunion. It might well have been the day of Ski’s “not-a-hinder” confession.

Last Tuesday, a good friend sent me and several other people a breathless text about a press conference the Kansas City Royals had announced for that afternoon.

And what, pray tell, was so urgent about this press conference? Could the Royals be announcing a new, extended contract with star catcher Salvador Perez? Could they be firing General Manager Dayton Moore? (Which, by the way, I would applaud. Time for fresh blood and new ideas.)

No, no. The text concerned a much more urgent matter…Rumor was the Royals were going to be talking about the possibility of a Downtown stadium. Let me say that again — A DOWNTOWN STADIUM!!!

Now, I love my friend’s enthusiasm; it’s one of his most engaging qualities. But I was pretty sure there was not going to be a definitive announcement about a downtown stadium, and I thought if that was the subject, it would be pretty damned lame.

And that it proved to be.

When Royals’ principal John Sherman took to the microphone, his pitch for a downtown stadium was the equivalent of casting a nightcrawler into the middle of Truman Lake and hoping to catch a record-setting bass.

Here was his blockbuster announcement:

“We are conducting an internal process to help us evaluate our options for where we play, and one of those options is to play downtown baseball.”

That’s it. Nothing about who he might have talked to…because he probably hasn’t talked with any political leaders. Nothing about cost…because that’s the last thing he wants to talk about. And nothing about who would pay for it…because that’s waaaayy too sensitive.

This was strictly a fishing expedition aimed at getting sports talk radio hosts, Kansas city Star columnists and TV sports anchors to start talking about the issue in hopes of applying pressure on political leaders, like Mayor Quinton Lucas and Country Executive Frank White, to start considering a “public-private” partnership to build a downtown stadium for, oh, $1 billion or more.

What Sherman wants, of course, is a public-private partnership that tilts very heavily toward the public side. After all, Sherman put together a group that paid a staggering $1 billion in 2019 for a franchise that was purchased in the year 2000 by the late David Glass for $96 million. To all appearances, the Sherman group significantly overpaid, and the last thing the owners plan to do now is dig a lot deeper to pay the lion’s share of the cost of a downtown stadium.

(Another thing here while I’m putting the magnifying glass on Royals’ owners: If you were doing the math, you know the Glass family made a profit of $900 million on the sale to the Sherman group. And unlike original Royals’ owner Ewing Kauffman, whose family set up two huge foundations here, the Glass family took all the money back to Bentonville. It is outrageous and beyond appalling that they have zero interest in philanthropy in KC, where they made so much money.)

**

Now, as recently as last November, I also was caught up in the excitement of the prospect of a downtown baseball stadium. That was when The Star broke its lease on its printing plant, and the plant’s owner broached the possibility of selling the building to make way for a downtown stadium.

But after that initial blood rush, and after talking with people who are clear-eyed about business deals, I have come to my senses.

First, the Royals’ and Chiefs’ leases are not up for another 10 years. Second, it makes the most sense for both teams to renew leases at the Truman Sports Complex, where both stadiums got hundreds of millions of dollars in improvements (financed by Jackson County residents) slightly more than a decade ago.

Do you think people coming in from Iowa and Nebraska — not to mention Lee’s Summit, Leavenworth and even Johnson County — are going to want to drive into downtown (at night, oh god!) and make loop after loop in a huge parking garage or, in the alternative, scout around for an hour or so for street parking?

The answer is obvious…What they want is surface parking that allows easy-in, easy-out access and they’re on their way home, or to the hotel, minutes after the game ends.

But here’s the next, and even bigger, issue: If we are serious about a downtown stadium, Who’s going to pay for it?

And here, fellow Jackson Countians, is where we must put our foot down…The cost should not, cannot, be borne by Kansas Citians and Jackson Countians alone. That was okay back in 1967, when Jackson County voters, smelling the prospect of a new baseball team and eager to find a suitable home for the Chiefs, generously approved a $100 million bond issue to build the first twin stadiums, plus the access roads. (It was and always will be the best stadium deal ever.)

Royals’ Stadium under construction in about 1970

The only fair way to finance a downtown stadium now would be to do it like we did the renovation of Union Station back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. That is with a bistate tax, with at least Jackson and Johnson counties sharing the cost.

For the edification of readers under 30, and to refresh the memories of those who were around but don’t recall the details, here’s how that worked. (And thanks to the Mid-America Regional Council’s website for the primer.) The governing bodies in five area counties authorized placing the question of forming a bistate district on the ballot. In 1996, voters in Platte, Clay and Jackson counties in Missouri and Johnson County in Kansas approved the measure forming the district. (Wyandotte County voters turned it down.)

The proposal provided for a retail sales tax of 1/8 of a cent to be collected from within the district until $118 million had been received. The tax proceeds could only be used to renovate Union Station and build Science City in Union Station. From April 1, 1997, to March 31, 2002, $121,393,565 was collected. The tax expired in the first quarter of 2002.

A second bistate effort in 2002 — to benefit performing arts and cultural organizations and to renovate the sports complex — failed.

The good news is the bistate law remains on the books in Missouri, and a new bistate commission conceivably could be rolled out. Just as it was 25 years ago, however, a bistate arrangement could not go forward without voter approval in both Jackson and Johnson counties. Contiguous counties within 60 miles of Johnson and Jackson counties would be eligible to participate, but not one taxpayer dollar could be spent on a downtown stadium without Johnson County’s participation.

Fortunately, Mayor Lucas sees the light on this. In a recent LinkedIn post, he wrote: “If folks are thinking a KCMO-funded-alone model, that would be tough/imprudent. A bistate would be preferred, but would KS play ball?”

He’s absolutely right. And let’s get this straight right now: If our Kansas brethren want to see Major League baseball played downtown, they’d better be ready to pony up. The tailgating can go on, but the riding of coattails has gone on way too long.

Patty and her sister Vicky and I went to Starlight Theatre for the Doobie Brothers’ concert last night. Kansas City is one of many cities on the legendary band’s 50th Anniversary Tour.

We had not been to Starlight in a few years, and the moment we got in the place I was sorry it had been so long.

Starlight, in Swope Park, is one of Kansas City’s premier attractions. It’s one of those places that makes me feel good about being a Kansas Citian. It projects a big-time, yet relaxed atmosphere. To me, it beats Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums. Arrowhead hardly smacks of relaxation, while Kauffman has been way too relaxed since 2015.

Starlight, on the other hand, is always warm and inviting and seems to envelope one and create an atmosphere of contentment and security.

Moreover, it’s got landmarks. Consider its stage-flanking, oxidized copper towers. Where Churchill Downs has its Twin Spires — the most recognized landmark in Kentucky — Starlight has its own twin spires.

Soon after we arrived last night (about 45 minutes before the scheduled showtime of 7:30), I excitedly began taking photos with my phone. I didn’t realize until I reviewed them this morning that most weren’t very substantive. But that’s how just being there after a long absence got my blood rushing.

The most amazing and gratifying thing to me about Starlight is how its proprietor — the nonprofit Starlight Theatre Association, in partnership with the KC Parks and Recreation Department — has kept the theater abreast of changing times. Upgrades have been almost continuous since the 1980s.

Here’s what Starlight looked like in June 1950 when it opened with the musical The Desert Song.

The theater was an immediate success initially, but by the late 1960s, it was losing money, and by the mid-1980s it was at a critical point. Crowds for Broadway-type shows had diminished; revenue was way down; and the place simply was not very appealing.

At that point, the Park Board, led by the indomitable Anita Gorman, called on the late Chiefs’ president Jack Steadman, to lead a fund-raising effort, which was successful. In addition, executive producer Bob Rohlf, who had been hired in 1980 as marketing director, helped breathe new life into the operation after being elevated to executive producer.

The 1990s also brought big improvements. As the Starlight website says: “To stay competitive with theater companies around the country, Starlight’s outdoor stage would need to be able to host national touring productions. Recognizing this need, the capital campaign was expanded to include the construction of a new covered stage house.”

The campaign was successful, thanks partly to a gift of more than $1 million from Jeannette and Jerome Cohen.

The $10 million stage made its debut in the summer of 2000. The stage is 10 stories tall and covers 12,000 square feet. It is climate controlled and fully enclosed on the top and sides. While audience members occasionally have to endure bad weather, the performers do not. The show goes on “rain or shine,” with the exception of delays or cancellations because of extremely bad weather.

One of the biggest improvements in recent years was the 2018 addition, at a cost of $600,000, of four “mega-fans” in the seating bowl. The 35-foot-tall fans, which look like wind turbines pointing at the sky, create a breeze of about 4 mph throughout the seating bowl.

From the financial standpoint, here are the critical numbers regarding Starlight: The theater cost $1.75 million to build in the late 1940s; it now has an estimated value of about $80 million, according to the Starlight website.

**

Here’s a look at the Starlight bowl (with two of its mega fans) before last night’s show. And, yes, those are rain clouds moving in from the west, but fortunately it did not rain.

As I said, the Doobie Brothers were good. They played all their big hits and a bunch of others, and Michael McDonald, who was with the band from 1975 to 1981, was on stage, playing keyboards and singing during the entire concert. As you would expect from a 69-year-old singer, his voice doesn’t have the same range and vibrancy as it did in the 1970s and 1980s, but it was good enough.

One of the highlights of the night, from the concert standpoint, was watching Patty and Vicky — who grew up in the ’70s — bop to the song “China Grove.” Here they were before the show started.

Suffice it to say, the three of us were pretty close to heaven last night, mainly because Starlight is a heavenly place.

Just two and a half years after his book Summoned at Midnight, about the last military executions at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas City native and KC Star reporter Richard (Rick) Serrano is back with another outstanding book, this one about the skywalks collapse at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Crown Center.

The book, Buried Truths and the Hyatt Skywalks: The Legacy of America’s Epic Structural Failure, will be available for delivery Sept. 28. (Serrano had an advance copy sent to me.) Rainy Day Books in Fairway will have copies.

Rick Serrano

The July 17, 1981, tragedy was one of the seminal events in Kansas City history, and everyone 18 and older in the Kansas City area should read the book. Furthermore, school districts throughout the Kansas City area should order hundreds of copies and make it available to high-school students.

Although neither of those things is likely to happen, that’s how important the Hyatt catastrophe is in Kansas City history.

For we adults who were here then and are still alive now, it was, and will very likely remain, the most stunning and soul-rattling civic event of our lives.

The collapse of the second- and fourth-floor skywalks — a third-floor skywalk was not aligned with the other two — took the lives of 114 people and injured about 200 others. For some of the injured, like Sally Firestone, who was left paralyzed from the neck down, the event was was totally life changing. She went from an up-and-coming businesswoman to an advocate for people with disabilities.

Sally Firestone

Those who died included an off-duty Fire Department battalion chief, John Tvedten, whose son, also named John, was a firefighter who also died tragically after becoming trapped in heavy smoke while fighting a 1999 warehouse fire.

The Hyatt disaster left its imprint on all of us and all around us. It’s hard to believe, but for more than a decade now the hotel has been the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center. To that, I say it might be a Sheraton to out-of-towners who stay there, but for us, it will always be the Hyatt. Hyatt skipped town without even contributing to the Skywalk Memorial, which was dedicated in 2015.

At that dedication, which I attended, survivor Frank Freeman called July 17, 1981, the day “that wrenched innocent loved ones from our arms.”

“Mothers, fathers, children, grandparents, sisters, brothers, friends, spouses and lovers — all were gone in an instant,” Freeman said. “Gone. Just gone. How could that be?”

Yet it was…And to his credit, Serrano brings more clarity to the event than anything that has previously been written.

If you ask most people familiar with the collapse what caused it, they will tell you it was a mid-construction decision change: Instead of using six sets of long steel rods that were to start at the ceiling and extend straight down the sides of both skywalks, a structural engineer approved a change to 12 sets of shorter rods, with six sets supporting the upper skywalk and six others offset and bolted to the upper skywalk to support the lower bridge.

Tom Tryon, a drywall installer whom Serrano interviewed, said of the skywalks: “They felt solid…But I just didn’t like the idea of those rods. They weren’t heavy enough.”

In this Kansas City Star file photo, you can see the fallen skywalks, as well as part of the third-floor skywalk (top).

There is no doubt that the design change compromised the suspension system, but Serrano’s investigation makes it clear that the design change was part of a much larger problem: a rushed and disorganized construction process spearheaded by a failing general contraction firm, Eldridge & Son, which had done other jobs for hotel owner Hallmark Cards. (Eldridge was fired three months before the project was completed.)

It didn’t help that city building inspectors were essentially AWOL during construction. Serrano wrote: “City records reveal they spent an average of just eight and a half minutes a week supposedly checking the vast foundation, structure, steel, and concrete at the Hyatt job.”

Here are some of the other truths that Serrano “unburies”…

  • The “fast-track” construction method, in its early days at the time, led to something close to construction chaos at times, with the workers waiting on designers to give them their marching orders, i.e., the construction plans.
  • Live load tests (with significant weight being placed on the skywalks) were never conducted to gauge how much the skywalks would comfortably hold.
  • Before the hotel opened a year before the tragedy, some workers and others noticed cracks in the concrete skywalks, and others saw the ends of the skywalks pulling away from their moorings on the walls.
  • There were other clear signs before the collapse that the project was fraught with problems. First, Pauly Nold, an 18-year-old apprentice ironworker from the St. Joseph area, was killed in October 1979 after an 80-pound wooden beam fell from near the top of the building and struck him while he was standing just outside the construction area. Second, a large section of the roof crashed to the floor on an October Sunday morning when, fortunately, no workers were there. Hallmark p.r. man William Johnson then lied about the extent of the problem, saying a single 16-foot beam had snapped loose.
  • After Nold’s death and the roof cave-in, Donald Hall Sr., then president and CEO of Hallmark Cards, which owned and commissioned the hotel, called for the installation of access panel doors near the points where the hanger rods connected to metal box beams holding the walkways together. The panels were installed, but after that no one ever opened the doors to see how the connections were holding up. Serrano wrote: “Had they checked, they likely would have spotted a truth buried inside: The platforms were weakening.”
  • Don Hall (now 93 and living in Mission Hills) spoke frequently about the importance of safety during construction, but, at the same time, he and executives of Hallmark’s development arm, Crown Center Redevelopment Corp., pushed hard to keep the project on budget and open by the target date of July 1, 1980. James Lucas, the final construction project manager, told Serrano: “Don Hall is a nice guy and wanted everybody to be safe and happy. But that was an illusion. A fatal illusion.”

There was another eye-opening “truth” that Serrano unearthed: A federal investigation determined, among other things, that the third-floor skywalk support system had also weakened and that it, too, seemed “very near” to failing.

Every Labor Day weekend, SiriusXM produces some version of a show in which they play the top 100 songs of the 1960s, “as chosen by our listeners.”

I don’t know exactly how listeners vote on this — and I never have — but it’s always fun, and I try to catch part of it…I wonder, as an aside, if anyone ever plants themselves in their car or residence and listens to all 100.

I don’t have a top 100 or even a top 10, but, as you know, I like to weigh in occasionally with songs I’ve heard recently that I really like. When I happen to have pen and paper with me when I’m driving, I’ll sometimes make note of songs I like and want to pass on to you readers.

This Labor Day weekend I’m going to write about just one song, a song that’s been haunting me for weeks — “You Were on My Mind” by We Five.

I’ve always liked the song, at the same time, never thought much about it or considered it anything special. After I heard it several weeks ago, however, I started gaining a better appreciation of it and seeing its brilliance.

Two things in particular have struck me about this song. First, it’s universally human. Haven’t we all woken up at some time — many times — with someone on our minds? In the song’s context, it’s obviously a boyfriend or girlfriend and most likely (“I’ve got wounds to bind”) an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend. And don’t we all know about that!?

The second thing is how the song starts off gently but increases in intensity and then ends in a veritable crescendo, with the final, echoing guitar chord.

The song was written by Sylvia Fricker in 1961. According to Wiki, Fricker wrote the song while sitting in a bathtub in a suite at a hotel in Greenwich Village — sitting in the tub not taking a bath but trying to avoid the roaches everywhere else in the room.

She and her future husband, Ian Tyson, recorded it in 1963 under the names Ian & Sylvia. Their version, which I would call low-key country, bears no resemblance to the We Five version. The Ian & Sylvia original starts off with a guitar lead-in that is very similar to the lead-in to the Rooftop Singers’ 1962 song “Walk Right in,” which is catchy but, to me, irritating and cheesy. And, I’ve got to say, the Ian & Sylvia original version of “You Were on My Mind” also strikes me as irritating and cheesy. Almost worse, it’s flat. Instead of increasing in intensity, it drones along and ends with the anti-climax of a tied soccer game.

In 1965, Michael Stewart, the founding member of We Five, which came out of California’s Bay Area, saw the song’s potential. He slightly changed the lyrics and melody and came up with an arrangement that transformed the song from blah to combustible.

Michael Stewart

Where the Ian & Sylvia original went nowhere, the We Five cover reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in September 1965. Not only that, but Billboard later ranked the record as the No. 4 song of 1965, behind “Wooly Bully” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, “I Can’t Help Myself” by the Four Tops and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones.

The other key member of We Five was lead singer Beverly Bivens. Although her voice blends in with the voices of the four males, the song would be nothing without her energy and captivating presence.

Unfortunately for We Five, she left the group in 1966, and that was essentially the end of We Five.

Bivens did not sing publicly again until the opening of an exhibition revolving around the rock scene in the Bay area in the mid-1960s to the early 1970s. She is now 74 or 75, presumably still living in California.

Stewart, the brother of John Stewart of The Kingston Trio, went on to become a record producer and a developer of music software. He died on November 13, 2002 at age 57.

One of the joys of researching this song was coming across a live, 1965 performance on the TV show Live on Hollywood Palace. If you’re like me, you’ll be jumping out of your chair by the one minute, 20 second mark. It’s sensational. Attesting to that is that it’s had almost 3.5 million views.

Here you go, then, “You Were on My Mind” by We Five.

Many of you probably aren’t PGA tour followers, but an interesting interpersonal and social dynamic is unfolding in the case of long-drive hitter Bryson DeChambeau.

Partly, at least, through his obsessive-compulsive need to be the best and to be a fan favorite, the 28-year-old DeChambeau has become a lightning rod in the golf world, dividing fans into pro- and anti- camps.

I started following DeChambeau when he was an amateur, back in 2015 and 2016. He was fun to watch because he was so good. In June 2015, he won the NCAA individual championship and two months later won the U.S. Amateur title. He was only the fifth person to win both the NCAA and U.S. Amateur titles in the same year, joining such stars as Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.

His first professional win was the John Deere Classic, in the Quad Cities, in 2017, and he now has a total of eight wins, including the 2020 U.S. Open. The U.S. Open is one of golf’s four major tournaments, along with The Masters, the PGA Championship and the British Open.

DeChambeau has always stood out from other pros for at least two reasons: He sport Ben Hogan-style caps instead of the traditional baseball-type hats, and he appears to want to subject the game to his will.

In his quest to become No. 1, he has taken some unconventional steps. For example, early on he went to irons that were all the same length, dumping the traditional models that get progressively shorter as they get higher in order (that is, 7, 8, 9) and have greater loft angles. A physics major when he was at SMU, DeChambeau started exploring the single-length concept because, in the interest of eliminating as many variables as possible, he was concerned about having a slightly different stance when standing over his iron shots.

The most dramatic change he made, however, occurred in 2019 and 2020, when he added 40 pounds to his 6-1 frame with the intention of driving the ball farther. It worked. He’s now the longest driver on the PGA tour, often hitting the ball 330 yards or more. (For reference, I’ve been playing golf all my life, and I’ve never hit a drive more than 250 yards, even with the wind behind me and the ground hard.)

DeChambeau’s intensity and will to prevail have gotten him into big trouble this year, however. He has earned the wrath of some fellow pros for his slow play, prickliness, obsessiveness and, sometimes, lack of manners.

Another top player, Brooks Koepka, who is as bland as DeChambeau is compelling, several months ago took to needling DeChambeau on social media and on the course for his slow play and penchant for asking for relief, that is, seeking permission to move the ball because of an impediment or a perceived impediment. In July 2020, for example, he sought relief because of a red ant near his ball. A rules official denied the request. The next day, Koepka, after lining up over his ball in a similar location, stepped away and said to his caddy, “There’s an ant.”

Some fans have now started turning on DeChambeau, and at last weekend’s tournament, some were nastily yelling at him, calling him “Brooksie.” Oddly, DeChambeau has responded to the deepening melodrama by refusing to talk to the media. I say that’s odd because media interviews are the best forum tour players have to show their personalities and present themselves as fierce competitors and yet men of dignity and graciousness.

Now, the golf world is torn over whether DeChambeau is an earnest practitioner who has unfairly been singled out for criticism or whether he is a blowhard who is solely responsible for the tumult swirling around him.

I think this situation is unfortunate and bad for the game. It is totally wrong for Koepka and fans to bait DeChambeau and try to get under his skin and thrown him off his game.

Reluctantly, however, I’m in the camp that thinks DeChambeau’s actions have brought him to his current predicament…I used the word “graciousness” three paragraphs ago. That has long been the chief measuring stick of whether a pro golfer is a good sport or a sore loser. The way it should be is you compete like hell, but if and when you lose, you smile, look the victor in the eye, extend your hand and congratulate him.

Well, that’s not the DeChambeau style. Three times, I’ve seen him brush off competitors after being beaten. The first time was more than a year ago. I don’t remember the tournament or the specific situation. All I remember is that DeChambeau either didn’t shake hands or did so ever so fleetingly. I do remember he was asked about it later and gave a denial and apology at the same time.

Then came last weekend, when he and Patrick Cantlay, a picture of composure and icy determination, finished regulation play tied, setting up a sudden-death playoff at the BMW Championship in Bethesda MD.

I was watching closely and wondered how DeChambeau would react when it came time, on the 18th green, to congratulate Cantlay before they headed out to for the first playoff hole. As they approached each other, Cantlay looked directly at DeChambeau and extended his hand. DeChambeau, walking quickly, extended his hand and glanced fleetingly at Cantlay but diverted his eyes even before their hands touched. It was bush, and anybody who was watching closely could tell. None of the TV announcers made note of it, although I think it would have been appropriate, given all the hoopla surrounding DeChambeau and questions about his sportsmanship.

DeChambeau and Cantlay then engaged in an exciting six-hole playoff, which Cantlay finally won by holing an 18-foot birdie putt. Again, I watched closely to see if DeChambeu could muster any graciousness.

The answer was a decided “no.” Once again, he gave the victor a momentary glance and a lightning-quick handshake before while rushing off the green. I found this telling photo by Getty Images photographer Rob Carr.

DeChambeau looks good in those Ben Hogan caps, but as long as he’s going to be a jerk, he might as well outfit himself in black from head to toe because, whether he realizes it or not, he’s on the verge of becoming the Oakland Raiders of golf.

I hope he sees the light before that happens. He could become a good sport. It wouldn’t be hard. It’s just a question of whether he will wise up or whether he will continue blindly, bullheadedly, along the course he has chosen for himself so far. I hope he comes to his senses and finds humility and sportsmanship. It would be good for golf. To take it a step farther, it would be something of a salve for our terribly divided country.

Random reflections

It’s been pretty serious around her the last couple of days, what with me slamming The Star’s baseball reporting one day and then reporting Steve Vockrodt’s switch from The Star to NPR the next. So, today, I’m going to lighten up and go with some random stuff that I know you’ll be interested in. (How do I know? I just do.)

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Have you noticed — leading question here — how difficult it is to get through to many businesses and organizations on the phone these days?

Two examples. Today, I got the name of a guy at Bank of America that I need to talk with about a City of Fountains Foundation matter. The person who gave me the guy’s name didn’t have his number, but I thought, “How hard could it be to reach a guy at one of the most prominent banks in town?”

Doing a Google search, I discovered that the downtown office of Bank of America had closed. So, I started calling branches of the bank, thinking, surely, whoever answered would be able to direct me to the guy I wanted to reach.

I called three branches, and at each number the phone rang several times before flipping to a voice message that started out, “Everyone is currently assisting customers…”

Oh, yeah, assisting customers. You know what they were doing…Most were either texting or surfing the web. And why should they bother to pick up that telephone that was ringing or buzzing nearby?

With some more Googling, I came across a document the guy had written, and at the bottom was his phone number and email address. I promptly called the number. You know what it went to…

He sounded kind of tired and beat down in his message, like he’d been assisting a lot of customers. I’ve been waiting by my phone all day, but nothing yet.

**

Another blogger in town, Tony Botello, yesterday wrote a lead-in to a linked story about Main Street congestion, and his headline was “Kansas City Hates Poorly Planned Main Street Traffic Cone Maze.”

Now, I’ve heard a lot of comments about the Main Street work but very few complaints. That’s because the vast majority of KC residents understand this is short-term pain before we get a major civic and commercial improvement — the new streetcar line that will extend from Union Station to the western edge of the UMKC campus at 52nd and Brookside.

The current line, from Union Station to the River Market, has been phenomenally successful, and there’s no reason to think the extension will be any different. Will people want to ride from the River Market to the Plaza or even farther south? Well, hell yes! This is going to spur businesses along the extension and make Midtown streets safer, partly because many people will drink and ride instead of drink and drive.

Tony needs to get out of his mother’s basement, which last I heard was blog HQ, and look down the horizon.

**

A few weeks ago, I did a photo post on the section of State Line Road between 75th Street and about 39th Street. The part between 75th and 71st has been particularly troublesome the last several years. It’s been humpty-bumpy, pot-holey and closed for maintenance quite frequently. It’s the main road I take to and from home because I try to avoid Ward Speedway.

Yesterday, it was closed again at 75th Street northbound, and I could see that the pavement had been stripped. Today it was open and the pavement had been stripped all the way to 71st. That means one thing: Repaving is going to be happening soon…Damn, life is good!

On. Aug. 15, Kansas City Star editor and president Mike Fannin announced that the paper would be “hiring nearly a dozen new journalists” and nearly doubling its investigative team to nine reporters and three editors.

Today, however, one of the leading members of that investigative team, reporter Steve Vockrodt, confirmed in a phone call that his last day at The Star was Friday and that he would be joining NPR’s new “Midwest Newsroom,” a consortium of four stations, including Kansas City affiliate KCUR, on Wednesday.

Vockrodt

“I feel good about it,” he said. “It’s a chance to try something new, try something different, and hopefully grow what I can do professionally.”

He added that he felt sad about leaving The Star. “They’ve been good to me,” he said.

Vockrodt, 39, has been The Star’s most productive investigative reporter since the paper hired him away from The Pitch five years ago. Where most members of the paper’s investigative team toil for months or even years on the same story, Vockrodt is more of a quick-strike researcher, turning around news-related investigations in a matter of days or a couple of weeks.

Vockrodt’s new title is investigative editor for the Midwest Newsroom, which consists of KCUR, St. Louis Public Radio, Iowa Public Radio out of Des Moines and Nebraska Public Media out of Lincoln. Technically, his employer will be St. Louis Public Radio, although he will be working primarily out of KCUR.

Holly Edgell, managing editor of the Midwest Newsroom, said she was eager to see Vockrodt “apply his reporting chops to the role as well as coach, lead and mentor other reporters.”

She added: “Steve’s journalistic and emotional intelligence are apparent to anyone who’s read his work and followed his career over the years. We are very excited that he’ll bring his ideas, investigative skills and integrity to amplifying important stories across the region.”

Vockrodt will be part of a five-member team headed by Edgell.

From the personnel standpoint, this is a big “scoop” for NPR and KCUR. Over the last 15 years, The Star has declined sharply under McClatchy ownership. KCUR, on the other hand, has steadily expanded over the last five to seven years and now is a stout challenger to The Star for the title of leading news source in the KC area.

KCUR has a staff of about 75 full- and part-time employees. Its annual budget is about $9 million, and it serves about 160,000 listeners in the area.

Vockrodt is just the latest of several big-name Star journalists to make the jump, at one point of their careers or another, to KCUR. Others have included Donna Vestal, a former Star business editor; Scott Canon, a former national reporter and editor; Dan Margolies, a business reporter; and, of course, political reporter Steve Kraske, who hosts KCUR’s popular Up-to-Date show.

A KCUR story last year said the four stations comprising the Midwestern hub would “coordinate and expand their local and regional reporting, providing stories to national news programs as well as the 25 public radio stations serving the four-state region.”

Vockrodt is a native of the Denver area. After graduating from the University of Kansas, he worked for a group of Northland papers before joining the Olathe Daily News. From there, he went to the Lawrence Journal-World, then it was back to Kansas City to the Business Journal, before going to The Pitch and then The Star.

The most recent story bearing Vockrodt’s byline led today’s KC Star website. It was titled “Kansas City awarding massive airport contract for restaurants, bars and shops in secret.”

Vockrodt resides in Fairway.

I went to bed early last night and, unfortunately, missed Salvador Perez’ historic, second-game-in-a-row grand slam against the Seattle Mariners.

I read about it — and the Royals’ 12th inning victory — on kansascity.com when I got up this morning, but I’ve got to tell you it was an extremely disappointing read.

For years, The Star had a history of hiring great baseball writers, like Bob Nightengale (now a baseball columnist for USA Today) and Bob Dutton (now retired), but since 2018 it’s been a different story.

Just like the quality of the writing in the rest of the paper, the quality of Royals’ reports has gone south.

Perez became the first Royals’ player to hit home runs in consecutive games, and those two smashes were electrifying to Royals’ fans. Somehow, though, Royals’ beat writer Lynn Worthy managed to make it sound perfunctory.

Here’s how Worthy, who’s been on the beat the last three seasons, started his story about Perez’ heroics:

While in the midst of a career season and a year likely to make history for a player at the game’s most grueling position, Kansas City Royals All-Star catcher Salvador Perez has continued to attain new levels of amazement.

He has more home runs (three) than strikeouts (two) in his past three games dating back to Wednesday. In his last two games, he has four hits, eight RBIs, two grand slams and just one strikeout.

Perez became the 24th player in the history of the American and National leagues to hit grand slam home runs in back-to-back games when he hit one for the second consecutive night to help the Royals to an 8-7 extra-inning win on Friday night in Seattle.

Even more appalling was the caption on a photo accompanying Worthy’s story. The caption — which Worthy was not responsible for — read:

Kansas City Royals’ Salvador Perez points skyward as he heads home on his grand slam against the Seattle Mariners in the fourth inning of a baseball game Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, in Seattle.

Patty laughed out loud when she read that. She came into the house from the patio, screeching “…in the fourth inning of a baseball game?!”

Point being it was pretty obvious from the photo, with Perez rounding the bases with a grin on his face and his right index finger raised high, that this, indeed, was a baseball game.

Patty was equally disgusted with Worthy’s soporific account of the game, and I told her that just for fun I’d try to come up with a version that did justice to Perez’ feat.

So, I sat down at the computer and in about 15 minutes came up with this:

With the Royals trailing 5-1 against the Seattle Mariners last night and the bases loaded, Salvador Perez had the chance to become the first Royal ever to hit grand slams in back-to-back games.

On the third pitch from Logan Gilbert, Perez swung hard at a ball low and over the outside part of the plate. He connected, and the ball sailed deep toward centerfield. Mariners’ outfielder Jarred Kelenic ran back and climbed the wall but sank back in futility as the ball fell into the extended hands of fans a few rows up.

With one swing, Perez had not only set a Royals’ record but had tied the game and positioned the Royals to go on and win the game 8-6 in 12 innings.

We’re watching an MVP-style season with what’s going on here with this guy,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said after the game.

**

Now, I’m not going to run out and apply to become Royals’ beat writer for The Star — I’m sure most of the staff regards me as a pain in the ass anyway — but I ask you: Doesn’t that go a long way toward capturing the thrill of that event? And wouldn’t it make you want to go on reading?

That’s what the first sentence, or the first few sentences of a story are supposed to do — draw the readers in and “hook ’em” from the get-go.

Poor Lynn Worthy and poor KC Star…For the most part, they’ve lost one of the most important dimensions of reporting: vibrant writing.

**

You can see Perez’ home run here.

After a week in Cape Cod, it could have been time to head home, but, no, it was on to Chicago to meet up with friends from Louisville and visit our son Charlie, who’s been living there a couple of years and working at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

On Thursday, we caught a late flight from Logan to O’Hare, and by the time we got to our hotel and into the bed it was past midnight.

We had to fire up quickly Friday, however, because our friends from Louisville, Bill and Denise, had lined up tickets to the Royals-Cubs game at Wrigley Field.

This was only the second time I was at Wrigley. The first was many years ago, before the stadium had been improved and all home games were played in the daytime.

Let’s get to the photos…

Here we are outside the stadium. From left are Bill, Denise, Charlie, Patty, Charlie’s girlfriend Sabrina and me.
I mean to tell you, it is really exciting to attend a game at Wrigley. The fans pour in, and the air is electric. The atmosphere probably had a lot to do with it, but this was the most exciting Royals game I’ve seen since 2015. The game was tied 2-2 going into the top of the 6th, when Salvador Perez hit a scorching line-drive into the left field seats to put the Royals ahead. One out later, Andrew Benintendi followed with a scorcher to right, putting the Royals up by two. There was no doubt about either, and from contact to landing I was yelling my fool head off.
The Cubs couldn’t come back, and pretty soon it was victory formation. The Cubs fans began clearing out at the bottom of the seventh, and that electricity had faded everywhere except with the small pockets of Royals fans on hand.
On Saturday morning, Charlie had a volleyball game on the Lake Michigan beach. He’s played since he was 12 or 13, and he’s very good. The fact that he’s 6-7 helps. That’s him in the red shorts, waiting for a shot to descend. My job — taken on voluntarily — was to run down the errant balls. That was enough to wear me out.
What would a trip to Chicago be without some skyscraper shots? Here’s the Tribune Tower, near the Chicago River. The Chicago Tribune moved out a few years ago, but it remains a stunning structure.
Put the Wrigley Building, across the street, in the same category. Fabulous.
A building that I have emotional ties to is the Aon Center, formerly the Standard Oil Building, fondly known back then as “Big Stan.” A good friend worked there for a year or two back in the early 1980s, and he took me up to his office one day — way up toward the top. My friend was unhappy in Chicago and came back to Kansas City. He was unhappy here, too — more than that, terribly depressed — and committed suicide on Aug. 3, 1984. Every time I’m in Chicago, “Big Stan” brings back the horror of that day and the ensuing days.
Charlie has an apartment in the Pilsen Historic District, a lively neighborhood on the Lower West Side, not far from downtown. In the late 19th century, Pilsen was inhabited by Czech immigrants, who named the district after Pilsen, the fourth largest city in Czechia, that is, the Czech Republic.
This is one of many restaurants along 18th Street in Pilsen.

Here’s one of my favorite spots in Pilsen, Mikee’s hotdog and hamburger stand, also on 18th Street. While Charlie and I were eating our hotdogs at a table on the sidewalk, this guy came along with two containers of bleach and handed them to the lady running the window. When he sat down at the table next to us, we noticed his cap bore the word Mikee. Charlie surmised it was the owner, and, naturally, I asked. Mikee then posed for this photo. He gave Charlie a primer on how he selects and cooks hotdogs. I couldn’t hear over the traffic, but I can attest that the hotdogs are great, and the hand-cut fries (free with a hotdog or hamburger) are incredible.
After Pilsen and a quick trip to the Jewel-Osco grocery, it was on to Union Station to catch the 2:50 p.m. train to KC. The train always sounds romantic, but it does mean tolerating the vagaries of human nature. Patty asked a couple of passengers to put on their masks — it’s required by Amtrak — and they kindly did. One of them, a guy who had gotten drunk in the observation car, came back to the coach car and talked loudly the last hour of the trip. Oh, well, you can’t expect perfection. Great trip…Can’t wait to go back to Chicago.