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Archive for May, 2013

You’ve got to give the Kansas City Royals credit: Just when frustrated fans were gathering for an attack on the bastion at One Royal Way (Kauffman Stadium), the team made the boldest, most awe-inspiring move in its history by persuading George Brett to take up a place in the team’s dugout.

As soon as I heard the news on sports-talk radio yesterday, I excitedly pulled out my cell phone and called my wife Patty. Of course, being a working woman who is supporting me in retirement and blogging, she didn’t pick up. That dulled my excitement just a touch.

But the prospect of the greatest Royal of all time — ever loquacious and ever pumped up — putting down his golf clubs, grabbing his chewing tobacco and heading to the clubhouse was absolutely thrilling to me. I was there (at least I think I was) the August night in 1980 when Brett stood on second base, having just reached the .400 hitting plateau — arms raised, helmet in hand, basking in the standing ovation being extended by enthralled fans at Kauffman Stadium.

I was watching on TV when he came up to bat — the most memorable Royals at-bat of all time, in my opinion — against the Yankees’ flame-throwing reliever Goose Gossage in the 1980 American League playoffs and, unbelievably, smashed a home run to right field on a high, inside fastball that was traveling about 1,000 miles an hour.

So, when I heard that George was returning to the dugout, it was clear that this was something really special, something that could make all fans feel good again, even though the team had lost eight straight games and 19 of its last 23 going into last night’s game against the Cardinals in St. Louis.

…Allow me to digress her for just a moment. I hate the Cardinals and I don’t much like St. Louis because of the Cardinals. When I was growing up in Louisville, KY, they almost always beat my beloved (at the time) Cincinnati Reds, since moving to Kansas City in 1969, I’ve had to watch our cross-state rivals win pennants and world championships several times, while we wallowed in the post-1985 ineptitude and frustration of our Royals. I console myself by saying it’s easy to be a Cardinals fan, but it makes you tough being a Royals fan. We have true grit!

***

The lead-up to last night’s (and this morning’s) game was fascinating and fixating.

At a press conference, Brett explained why he decided to accept the challenge now of becoming the Royals interim hitting coach:

“This thing has been offered to me before, but my kids were young. I had three young boys. I retired from baseball. Right now, I have two kids in college, and one is a senior in high school. I’m not missing them growing up any more. It’s summer time, and it’s time for me to go to work.”

Summer and baseball called…and he answered. How can you resist a guy that thinks like that?

brett

Brett with Alex Gordon before thursday night’s game

Later in the afternoon, there he was standing beside Billy Butler outside the cage at batting practice; there he was joyfully and playfully embracing every Royal he happened across as the team went through warm-ups; and, finally, just before the game, there he was in the dugout, chewing that cud and wearing a look of steely determination.

He still looks every bit the part of a baseball player, just worn and weathered at age 60, but rugged and intent. Did I mention that look in the eyes? “Get outta my way,” it screams, “because I’m comin’ through you if you don’t!”

Fast forward to the top of the ninth inning…Royals down 2 to 1; Cardinals apparently pretty sure the Royals don’t have a win in them. So sure that they send out a relief pitcher with an earned run average of more than 10 runs per nine innings. But the Cardinals must have forgotten that George Brett was in the dugout and they must not have paid any attention to the fact that Brett had spent a lot of time during the game talking to right fielder Jeff Francoeur, a clubhouse leader but who has been keenly disappointing at the plate the last two years.

On the second pitch, Francoeur drilled a ball deep to left — gone! a few feet over the wall, enough to tie the game.

A camera homed in on Brett, who was standing at the top of the dugout, holding onto the protective netting. You could read his lips. “YES!” he screamed at the top of his lungs, neck muscles bulging and that protruding in his cheek.

As most everyone in KC now knows, the Royals went on to win the game 4-2 after a long rain delay. The game ended at 3:14 a.m.

They long wait didn’t bother the Royals at all. They were on Cloud 9.

“There’s not a person in here who cares that it’s 3:30 in the morning,” Francouer said in the locker room. “It feels like 10 o’clock for us.”

And as far as we fans were concerned, Brett was back, the Royals had won, and summer lay ahead in Kansas City.

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While we wait for the Royals to resume their “win-now” season, there’s a lot of news to distract us.

I’m talking about news that all of us need to know, but which we’re not getting from The Star because it has blinders on to just about anything that isn’t local and isn’t produced by its parent chain, McClatchy Newspapers.

With the gloom and rain this morning, I had plenty of time to read Monday’s New York Times, and I want to call your attention to several interesting stories, none of which you would know about if you were reading The Star.

:: Because Congress is so polarized the Affordable Care Act probably won’t be getting needed amendments. 

The lead story in today’s NYT,  written Jonathan Weisman and Robert Pear, said that virtually no law “as sprawling and consequential” as the Affordable Care Act has passed without changes known as “technical corrections,” aimed at making sweeping laws more manageable. Not so with the Affordable Care Act, Weisman and Pear said.

“Republicans simply want to see the entire law go away and will not take part in adjusting it,” the reporters wrote. “Democrats are petrified of reopening a politically charged law that threatens to derail careers as the Republicans once again seize on it before an election year.

“As a result a landmark law that almost everyone agrees has flaws is likely to take effect unchanged.”

:: An aide who has totally gained President Obama’s ear during just the last three years is White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, 42.

Among other things, Obama relies on her for advice on judicial nominations, and she coordinated his response to the Boston Marathon bombings.

kathryn2

Ruemmler

An inside-the-A-section story by Jackie Calmes said that Ruemmler helped shape the major speech that Obama gave last Thursday, announcing new limits on the use of armed drones and asserting again that he wanted to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

When Obama went to Boston after the bombings in mid-April, Ruemmler went along at Obama’s request. “She came with us because there was information coming in, and he wanted one filter,” an Obama deputy chief of staff was quoted as saying. “He wanted Kathy.”

:: A dangerously wide gap has formed between the American people and their armed forces.

An Op-Ed piece by Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired Army lieutenant general, and David M. Kennedy, a retired history professor, said that the gap began forming after the government’s decision 40 years ago to drop the draft and go to a professional, all-volunteer force.

“For nearly two generations,” Eikenberry and Kennedy said, “No American has been obligated to join up, and few do. Less than .5 percent of the population serves in the armed forces, compared with more than 12 percent during World War II.”

The two men contend that “somehow, soldier and citizen must once again be brought to stand side by side.”

They suggest reinstating a draft lottery: “Americans neither need nor want a vast conscript force, but a lottery that populated part of the ranks with draftees would reintroduce the notion of service as civic obligation.”

:: Houston officials are considering razing the Astrodome, nicknamed the Eighth Wonder of the World after it opened in 1965.

The reason? To provide 1,600 parking spaces for the 2017 Super Bowl, to which Houston recently won the rights.

Jere Longman, a native of southern Louisiana, wrote a first-person story about the Astrodome and its lasting importance to Houston. Demolishing the Astrodome, he wrote, would be a desecration.

“Demolition would be a failure of civic imagination, a betrayal of Houston’s greatness as a city of swaggering ambition, of dreamers who dispensed with zoning laws and any restraint on possibility.”

Longman said that despite the signs of neglect (it was closed in 2008), the Astrodome “continues to summon a city’s innovative past and futuristic promise.”

“By contrast,” Longman said, “Reliant Stadium next door is a dull football arena, designed with all the imagination of a hangar to park a blimp.”

:: This last one might not qualify as “need-to-know” news, but it sure caught my attention.

Staff member Sam Roberts reported that officials with New York hospitals are expecting an upswing in births in late July and early August — nine months after residents stranded in their homes without electricity. You get the picture, don’t you: People had a lot of time on their hands, and a lot couples reached out, literally, to each other.

One couple that is expecting is 34-year-old Rachel DeGregorio, who has a doctoral degree in neuroscience, and her 33-year-old husband Scott, a radiologist. A baby boy, whom they plan to name Jack, is due July 24.

“I have documented the day Jack was conceived,” Rachel was quoted as saying. “We had sex three times.”

All I can say to that is that for just one day I’d like to be 33 again and have a horny girlfriend during a power outage.

***

P.S. At this writing, shortly after 11 pm. Monday, I see on kansascity.com that Star sports columnist Sam Mellinger has awakened from his long spring nap.

After virtually ignoring the Royals’ three-week-long, downward spiral, Mellinger tonight posted a column (which will be in the morning’s printed edition), saying, “Someone’s got to go.”

He says, among other things:

“The personalities best equipped for leadership may be (Jeff) Francoeur and (Mike) Moustakas, but each have been bad enough that they’re part of the discussion about what needs to change. Along with those two, hitting coaches Jack Maloof and Andre David, (Manager Ned) Yost and Chris Getz could all be sacrifices in an effort to refocus a group that shouldn’t be nearly this bad. If things don’t improve, it won’t be long before owner David Glass looks at (General Manager Dayton) Moore.”

Sam’s in there with too little too late, but at least he — unlike a lot of the sports radio talk-show hosts — has called for heads to roll.

Best analogy I can think of is that when a machine stops working properly, you change out some of the parts to try to get it running pretty well again. You don’t let it continue to go clunk, clunk, clunk.

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One of the most interesting and talented public officials I covered during my years at The Star was William L. Kimsey, who was Jackson County revenue director for several years in the mid-1970s.

Kimsey was a young, up-and-coming accountant, and I was a young and up-and-coming (well, young, anyway) reporter, assigned to the courthouse from 1971 to 1978.

Kimsey had a lot more ambition and brains than I did. He went on to become chief operating officer at the world-wide accounting firm, Ernst & Young. Meanwhile, I went on to ascend, after 26 years of reporting, to the dizzying position of assignment editor and KCK bureau chief.

Anyway, Kimsey, who well understood the warp and woof of politics and its requisite demands of people whose jobs depended on impressing the voters, had a stock saying whenever bad news broke at the courthouse.

With a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his lips, he would declare, “I’m shocked and appalled.”

You couldnt’ go wrong, he knew, with “shocked and appalled.” It captured the appropriate reaction when things were falling apart.

With that long lead-in, readers, I’ve got to tell you that I’m absolutely, devastatingly shocked and appalled at two things:

:: The way The Star is (not) handling the spiral of the Kansas City Royals and the imploding presidency of Barack Obama.

***

First, the Royals. They’ve lost five of their last six games and are a game below .500 and four games out of first-place. Only two players in the lineup are significant threats to opposing pitchers — Alex Gordon and Billy Butler.

It looks like the same old story for the Royals: Sliding backward into Memorial Day and headed for oblivion by July 4. And yet, at The Star, only Royals’ beat writer Bob Dutton seems to realize how dire the situation is.

In his Tuesday morning report on Monday’s game, Dutton wrote: “The Royals, right now, are flat-lining after Monday’s depressing 6-5 loss to the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. This makes four straight one-run losses; 10 losses overall in the last 14 games…”

But the beat writer can’t swing the cudgel by himself…He needs the heavy lifters — the columnists — to bring proper urgency and impact to bear.

That’s where The Star’s only current sports columnist comes in. Except that Sam Mellinger, who early on showed signs of carrying a sharp knife, is looking like a very dull blade.

Today’s column, for instance, was a treatise explaining how Kauffman Stadium actually is a hitter’s park instead of a pitcher’s park. His column before that, on Monday, was a feature about a T-Bones bullpen catcher who survived cancer. Nice piece, but it came the day after the Oakland A’s completed a three-game sweep of the Royals.

Couldn’t the T-Bones feature have held a few days? And shouldn’t Mellinger have had his eye on the balls that Royals hitters were swinging at but not hitting?

Maybe sports editor Jeff Rosen has told Mellinger he wants him to be more feature oriented and that the much-heralded, new-columnist hire from St. Louis — Vahe Gregorian — will take up the role of “hard hitter” after he goes to work (can’t be soon enough). If that’s the case, a big audience of frustrated Royals’ fans awaits, and Vaghe, with his vast sportswriting experience at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, could easily leapfrog Mellinger.

If Gregorian comes in timid, however, the Royals could well go slipping down that old familiar tube with little more than a protesting whimper from 18th and Grand.

***

I doubt that this has ever happened before: liberal columnist Maureen Dowd and conservative columnist George Will writing about the same subject and taking the same line of attack, on the same day.

That’s the case, though, on the Op-Ed page of today’s Star.

The headline on Will’s column is “Obama’s Incredibly Shrinking Presidency.”

The headline on Dowd’s is “From One-Time Messiah to Sad Sack.”

georgewill

Will

Will wrote about Obama’s “trifecta” of scandals — Benghazi, the IRS and the seizure of Associated Press phone records. Another situation threatening to join the scandal ranks, he suggested, is “Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius soliciting, from corporations in industries HHS regulates, funds…to educate Americans about…Obamacare.”

(It takes a lot of ellipses to quote Will because he writes kind of like a buzzard — circling, circling, before arriving at his destination.)

As usual, though, Will compromises his credibility by baring one of his wacky ideas. Today, it’s the mirage, in his opinion, of global warming. Will contends that global-warming believers have no way of accounting for an “inexplicable 16-year pause” in its effects. What a scientist, that guy…

Dowd takes a different tack. She says that as a candidate, Obama “was romanticized as the pristine relief from Clinton scandals.” But as president, she adds, Obama’s “pure personal life did not exempt him from running a government awash in old-school screw-ups.”

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Dowd

She contrasts Obama’s dilemma with past scandals that enveloped Bill and Hillary Clinton.

“The Clintons have emerged stronger on the back end of their scandals,” Dowd wrote. “…Americans have already priced in the imperfections of the Clintons.”

“Who knows?” she said. “If Washington keeps imploding, Hillary may run in 2016 on restoring honor to the White House.”

A wicked line, wouldn’t you agree, from the woman whom President George Bush II dubbed “The Cobra”?

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Back on the slippery slope of newspaper circulation…

Alan D. Mutter, a former editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, said in his blog, Reflections of a Newsosaur, that weekday print circulation (just print, please note) at the top 25* U.S. newspapers has decreased by 41.6 percent since 2005.‬

Mutter, a former editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, called the drop a “troubling plunge.”

Print matters, Mutter went on to say, because it produces as much as 75 percent of revenue at a typical paper. In previous posts, Mutter has reported that between 2005 and 2012, advertising revenue dropped by more than half, from $49.4 billion to $22.3 billion.

By the way, 2005 was the all-time high for newspaper-advertising revenue.

Mutter

Mutter

For his circulation comparison, Mutter relied on statistics compiled by the Alliance for Audited Media, an industry-funded trade group formerly known as the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

(A Wikipedia article says the ABC changed its name last year “to reflect the new media environment and its members’ evolving business models.” Its “members” are the newspapers themselves.)

As newspaper “business models” have evolved, so have the rules by which the AAM counts circulation, making it more difficult to track trends.

As Mutter noted: “In addition to paid print newspapers, publishers today can count digital subscriptions and even free products that deliver preprint advertising to the homes of consumers who don’t happen to buy the newspaper.”

In other words, publishers are now jumping on every manner of distribution at their disposal to pump up circulation figures.

For example, the AAM circulation report released this week shows The Star with total average Sunday circulation, including on-line subscriptions, of 280,790. Its print circulation, however, is 242,395. The difference, 38,395, represents about 14 percent of total circulation.

What is going on at newspapers, then, is a high wire act that could go either way. As Mutter said:

“The foremost question facing publishers is whether the traditional print business will remain robust long enough to support a successful pivot to the digital delivery of news, information, advertising and other commercial services.”

A lot of people, especially the critics of “dead-tree media,” are betting that the print business will not remain robust long enough for papers to make the shift. They might well be right. I hope they’re wrong, but either way I’ll muddle along, and I’ll be happy as long as my New York Times hits the driveway every morning.

And I think that’s going to be happening for many years to come.

* The top 25 newspapers, as listed by Mutter in descending order, are: the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, New York Post, Arizona Republic, Newsday, Tampa Bay Times, Houston Chronicle, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Denver Post, Boston Globe, Dallas Morning News, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Sun-Times, Newark Star-Ledger, Orange County Register, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Las Vegas Review-Journal, San Diego Union-Tribune and Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

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Ooops!

It’s a big mess here at JimmyCsays this morning.

At midnight, I launched a grandiose post proclaiming a big jump in circulation for The Kansas City Star in a new circulation report.

Problem is I was looking at the wrong set of numbers. In the erroneous post, I said The Star’s circulation was back above 300,000 on Sunday and that average daily circulation was just shy of 200,000.

That would have been a monstrous increase from the 275,784 Sunday circulation and 183,307 daily circulation reported last fall.

As I say, though, I misread the report. The correct numbers for the period that ended March 31 are 280,790 for Sunday and 189,283 daily.

holeThe slight upswing is mildly good news for The Star and its readers but nothing to merit the headline I gave it (KC Star circulation rebounds…Break out the hats and hooters).

I want to extend a big Thank You! to Alex Parker, who operates the MediaKC blog. He wrote about the circulation increase yesterday, and he called the error to my attention a few minutes after midnight. I immediately took it down. That’s why the link in the e-mail message that JimmyC subscribers received early today did not link to a new post.

I sincerely apologize for the error and confusion.

***

Having dragged you through the muddy tracks that I left earlier, I’m not going to leave you without some news. And, to me, this is very good news…

The specter of a sale of North Kansas City Hospital appears to have gone away, thanks to a new mayor, some new City Council members and aggressive action by state Rep. Jay Swearingen and state Sen. Ryan Silvey.

The Star reported yesterday that the new mayor, Don Stielow, and four newly elected City Council members — all opposed to a sale — had sent a letter to Gov. Jay Nixon saying they support a recently passed bill that would make a sale very difficult.

The bill — which Swearingen and Silvey introduced and which is now awaiting Gov. Jay Nixon’s signature — would allow a sale only if the City Council and the hospital’s board of trustees agreed. And even then, it would take a vote of North Kansas City residents.

On a related issue, The Star’s story, written by business reporter Steve Everly, said Mayor Stielow is also interested in a possible sale of the sprawling, 96,000-square-foot North Kansas City Community Center, which was built with casino revenue but now runs at an annual deficit of about $1 million a year.

(By way of comparison regarding size and scale, the 10-story Argyle Building at 12th and McGee in downtown Kansas City consists of 117,000 square feet.)

Given the city’s compromised financial situation, it seems like selling the community center is the way to go. It’s a great facility, from what I hear, but too big for a city with an annual budget of about $43 million.

Luckily, it appears that the city will keep its crown jewel and eventually sell its bauble.

***

Thanks for your patronage, readers…And Go (Keep Going) Royals!

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