Archive for October, 2014

While waiting for Game 3 of the American League Division Series, here’s a quick warm-up story.

My wife Patty was at the Brookside Market around 5:30 p.m. yesterday, checking out the offerings in the wine aisle, which is quite substantial, if you’re familiar with the market.

She sees a man wearing a zipped-up jacket and a baseball cap, but not a Royals cap. She immediately recognizes the man, to her great surprise, as none other than Royals manager Ned Yost.

Still carrying some of the joyous energy from Friday night’s thrilling victory over the Angels, Patty greeted him with an enthusiastic, almost-gushing, “Hi!” Ned, she said, responded with a smile and an almost equally enthusiastic hello.

Here’s how the brief conversation went from there:

Patty: “How are you?”

Ned: “Kind of tired.”

Patty: “We all are.”

Ned: “It’s a lot of fun, isn’t it?”

Patty: “It’s incredible.”

They then said goodbye, each resuming their perusal of the wine possibilities.

I’ve been in Colorado with a couple of friends the last few days, and Patty called me last night to relate the story. I put her on the speaker phone, and the three of us on our end were almost as thrilled at Patty’s telling of the story as she was at actually having met and talked to Ned.

…I’ve never seen Ned in the Brookside area, but it sounds like he might live in the area during the season. If that’s the case, I’m convinced, more than ever, that he’s the smartest man in baseball. (Of course, if you’d have asked me what I thought about him a few days after the All-Star break, when the Royals were tanking, you would have gotten a different opinion.)

But that’s baseball. Go Royals!

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It is hard to believe that the already-shocking revelations about the priest/bishop sexual-abuse scandal in Kansas City could get worse, but…

Reading Kansas City Star reporter Judy Thomas’ account of Wednesday’s testimony in a Jackson County civil trial, the breadth and depth of the cover-up is becoming even more horrifying and jaw dropping.



Yesterday was the third day of the trial involving Jon David Couzens, who alleges that the late Monsignor Thomas O’Brien — a now-notorious molester — abused him 30 years ago, when he was an altar boy. Related testimony about two other O’Brien victims indicated that not one but two former Kansas City bishops — the late Charles Helmsing and the late John Sullivan — both were apprised of sexual-assault allegations and did nothing.

Of course, the current bishop, Robert Finn, has been convicted on a criminal charge of failing to report child sexual abuse — meaning that three of the last four bishops averted their eyes to the burgeoning problem.




As far as I know, the only bishop about whom there have been no allegations — among bishops dating back to the 1960s — is the late Bishop Raymond Boland.  Boland, who died earlier this year, served from 1993 to 2005.

Kansas city marketing and p.r. person Pat O’Neill said in an e-mail this morning that as far as he knew, Boland consistently forwarded priest sexual-abuse complaints to the Independent Review Board, which he established early in his tenure.

Like many current and former Catholics, I would like to think that at least one of the four bishops who has held office during the last half century acted appropriately and in good conscience.


The most riveting testimony yesterday came from a Catholic nun whose brother O’Brien allegedly abused in 1963. (That’s right, 51 years ago!)

The nun, Marilyn Barry, told jurors that after she learned about the abuse, sometime between 1989 and 1991, she picked up the phone and called O’Brien.

Here’s how Judy Thomas recounted Barry’s testimony:

“I said, “Hello, monsignor…You abused my little brother.” He said, ‘Which one was he?’  My final words were, ‘You dirty son of a bitch.’ And I hung up the phone.”

Whoa! I was a Catholic for about 60 years, and I don’t think I ever heard a nun even say, “Damn.” And in my long experience as a journalist, the “dirty son of a bitch” quote ranks up there with the best I’ve ever heard or seen.

Earlier, I mentioned that I’d heard from Pat O’Neill, who is a lifelong Catholic.



O’Neill testified yesterday that O’Brien suddenly groped him while standing next to him at a Halloween party in 1973. O’Neill, who was then 20, testified that he wrote to Helmsing in 1975, telling him about the incident, but that he did not get a response. O’Neill said he again contacted the diocese in 1979, both calling and sending a letter to auxiliary Bishop George Fitzsimmons. Again, no action was taken.


Last night, having read Thomas’ trial story online, I sent O’Neill an email, telling him how revolting I thought the testimony was.

We exchanged a few messages, one of which included this thoughtful and eloquent reflection:

“Evidence of conspiratorial silence just seems to get more and more damning. Hard to believe, isn’t it, that supposedly good men could lead such double lives…and get away with it? I was old enough and big enough to push the “good” Monsignor away. It is absolutely heartbreaking to meet and look into the eyes of  guys like Jon David (Couzens), who couldn’t.

“You can’t help but wonder how many other sets of once-young eyes around us have that same damaged-puppy look and tortured souls because of the “ministrations” of O’Brien and (others)…There were fewer priests in the diocese then than there were guys in my high school class.  Bishops Helmsing and Sullivan, and every priest in the diocese at that time, HAD to know these terrible thing were going on. Every one of them. The cock crowed three times, over and over again, and none of them spoke out publicly or went to the police.

“I hate the fact that none of us among the laity who knew or heard about these things had the guts, or enough faith in what’s right to storm the chancery and put a stop to it years ago.”



Storming the chancery would have been appropriate. But, then, those were the days when Mother Church, along with priests and bishops, reigned supreme and were above reproach. It took a long time for it to come out that many of those clerics were not only “human” but sub-human.

…Don’t beat yourself up, Pat, you did everything you reasonably could, without taking the law into your own hands.



— O’Brien died last year, and met his Maker, at age 87.

— Couzens, now 44, filed his lawsuit in 2011. The trial is taking place in Independence. Couzens is seeking millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages. The diocese contends that it had only one report of O’Brien sexually abusing a minor — in 1983 — and that Bishop Sullivan dealt with it immediately.

— There is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. The Vatican is actively investigation Bishop Finn, and I thoroughly expect Pope Francis to oust him by Advent…If not Advent, at least by Lent.

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What to write about today? Hmmm. Not much going on. Kinda dead around these parts.

But, hey, wait a minute…Wasn’t there a Wild Card playoff game at The K last night???

Writer’s block be gone! I’m back in business…


Between innings, I was checking e-mails and The Star’s Twitter updates (confused my family members, who know I know nothing about Twitter), and an e-mail showed up from my old buddy Mike Waller, former KC Star editor, now retired and living in Hilton Head, South Carolina. (Ah, yes, some people do make big money in the newspaper business.)

Here’s what Mike wrote:

“Hi Fitz,

“Yost has made a lot of bonehead decisions this year but the Royals got to the playoffs despite him.  His decision tonight to bring in Ace Ventura, a young kid who has been a reliever only once in his life and who gives up a 3-run homer to Moss, is Yost’s biggest bonehead decision of the year.  How the hell does this guy keep his job?  I think you need a post on this stupid decision.”

Gotta love it…Weren’t we all feeling the same way after Royals’ Manager Ned Yost jerked Big Game James Shields after only 88 pitches, the last of which yielded a broken-bat single and a walk on a borderline, 3-2 pitch?

My 26-year-old daughter Brooks, who has become a very knowledgeable baseball fan this summer, said later that she thought Yost panicked. Bingo.

…Of course, the never-say-die Royals came back and took Yost off the hook. (Speaking of hooks, Yost probably won’t give Shields an early one ever again partly out of fear that Shields might wring his damn neck when he arrives at the mound.)


Regarding The Star’s coverage of the game, I haven’t read it all, but it is obviously exhaustive, and the centerpieces were large, above-the-fold photos on both the front page and the sports section.

The front-page photo shows Salvy Perez, who knocked in the game-winning run, with his arms upraised, mouth open and looking joyfully into the stands. The headline at the bottom of the picture says it all: SALVATION.

The lead sports-page photo shows Perez a few minutes earlier, when he was headed to first base, knowing he had just delivered the game-winning hit. His face is contorted in a joyous scream, his hands are extended in a triumphant reach, and his bat is falling to the ground, perfectly horizontal. The headline above the photo is: HELLO, HALOS.

Wow. Great stuff. The Star can be proud of that visual presentation.

…But now the caveat. The front page-story, under the SALVATION photo, is a mess. It’s a prime example of how some newspapers are still having a lot of trouble shedding their scales and shifting nimbly with changing events.

The Star’s editors decided well before the game to do a feature story about the decibel level at stadium at various times during the evening, starting with the parking lot at 4:55 p.m. and continuing to 11:43 p.m., when Perez stroked the winning hit past the A’s third baseman. (112 decibels, if you’re interested.)

Well, that story might have been a good idea at 10 a.m. yesterday, when the editors gathered around the cherry, rectangular table in the newsroom conference room and planned last night’s coverage. But by 11 p.m., when the game was carrying all of Kansas City on a lurching roller-coaster ride, that story was stinking like a turd on a hot day.

Even though four reporters had put in many hours of work on that story, the editors should have relegated it to an inside page of the sports section.

But, no, they stuck with their stale plan and spread the story across six columns of golden, front-page real estate, on a day when the paper is probably selling more copies than it has in years.

The headline wasn’t bad — “Perez hit gives Royals win in 12th inning at a raucous K,” — but the reader could tell after a few paragraphs that the story had little to do with the game itself.  It was a newspaper shell game.



Had I been calling the shots, I would have put beat writer Andy McCullough’s game story on the front page. As it was, McCullough’s story — under a big headline “Worth the wait” — ran on page 5 of the sports section. The story began like this:

“They new. they all knew, even before it was official. They had waited long enough. They would start their celebration early.

Christian Colon pumped his fist before he even touched third base. The Royals leaped over the dugout railing before Salvador Perez even touched first. The sound of 40,502 screaming souls echoed through Kauffman Stadium in the final seconds of a 9-8 victory over Oakland on Tuesday, the exorcism of 29 years of suffering across 12 innings of delirium.”

Now that’s a game story; it captures the climactic conclusion, the noise and the fans’ collective relief. That’s what you want in your front-page, biggest-game-since-1985 story.

It was a badly missed opportunity for The Star.

And, unfortunately, Andy McCullough, first-season Royals’ beat reporter and who has put his heart and soul into his writing all season, might be the only disappointed person in Kansas City today.

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