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The McClatchy vortex

After seeing who Chatham Asset Management, the soon-to-be new owner of the McClatchy newspaper chain was selecting as the firm’s new C.E.O., a certain Oldies song came to mind.

The key lines of the lyrics go like this…

I’m a joker
I’m a smoker
I’m a midnight toker

…You remember the song, of course, The Joker (1973), by the Steve Miller Band. Not a great song, but once you hear those three lines, you never forget them.

And why did I think of that song? Because Tony Hunter, McClatchy’s new chief executive, has been chairman of the board of a marijuana company the last 13 months.

Hunter

Hunter, 59, also is a motivational speaker, which should come in handy since he’s going to be overseeing a lot of dispirited newspaper employees.

On a slightly more hopeful note, before he transitioned to pushing weed and telling people how they can realize their full potential, he was C.E.O. and publisher of The Chicago Tribune for eight years.

I say slightly because Tribune, which also owns papers such as the Baltimore Sun, the Hartford Courant and the Orlando Sentinel, has been a mess the last 12 years, ever since it went from being publicly owned to privately owned. (It’s now back to being publicly owned.)

But questions about Hunter’s qualifications are not my biggest concern about the direction McClatchy, which owns 29 daily papers, including The Kansas City Star, takes from here.

No, my chief concern is that since July 12, when McClatchy announced that Chatham, a hedge fund, would be purchasing the chain out of bankruptcy, we have not heard one word from Chatham’s secretive C.E.O., 52-year-old Anthony Melchiorre.

Every release I have seen regarding the changeover has been attributed to either Chatham, the entity, or “a Chatham spokesman.”

Take Friday’s announcement about Hunter’s appointment, for example…

“Tony is an energetic, adaptive innovator with unparalleled expertise in the publishing industry. At this critical time for journalism, we are confident that his proven track record of implementing positive change and enhancing digital capabilities will serve McClatchy well,” Chatham said in a statement. “We look forward to furthering McClatchy’s legacy of informing readers and providing meaningful value to the clients and communities its publications serve.”

My theory is Melchiorre wants to keep this entire enterprise as impersonal as possible because he knows he’s going to be persona non grata after his intentions become clear.

Since he started Chatham in 2002, Melchiorre, a former junk bond trader, has been interested in just one thing: Making oodles of money. The sole goal of Chatham and other hedge funds is to maximize return on investment. They do not invest in businesses because they’re drawn to their missions or values; they invest because they see either a chance to get a good return or an opportunity to bleed cash out of failing ventures and reinvest elsewhere. (Guess which category newspapers fall into?)

So, it’s no accident that no name other than “Chatham” is attached to these news releases. Chatham and Melchiorre want to be as anonymous as possible for when the company starts laying off more people from already-paper-thin employee ranks at the company’s newspapers.

Hunter will be Melchiorre’s front man. I look for him to the hatchet man. His main job, I believe, will be to orchestrate significant cutbacks that Melchiorre will order.

**

It will be interesting to see how visible Hunter will be and if he will go around to the various McClatchy papers, introduce himself to employees and answer editorial employees’ questions.

But that’s just one unknown in this unfolding transition. Two other questions I have are where will the new McClatchy have its headquarters (currently in Sacramento), and will Hunter relocate there (from his home in Boca Raton, FL)?

I tried in vain Friday to get the answers to those two questions. My efforts were almost laughable.

First, I called a woman listed as a McClatchy spokesperson in the news release about Hunter. I left her a voice message, posing the questions about the headquarters and Hunter’s intentions regarding residency. About half an hour later, a woman who works for a consulting firm that works with McClatchy returned my call and left a message saying the p.r. woman was on vacation and that the residency issue would probably be worked out between “Chatham and Mr. Hunter.” She didn’t address the headquarters issue.

I then tried to reach Kevin G. Hall, a McClatchy Washington bureau reporter who has written extensively on the bankruptcy proceedings. No one outside of Chatham would know more about what might be coming down the road, I figured.

But when I called the bureau, I encountered the telephone system from hell. I expected a programmed system, but I had no idea how maddening it would be. First, I punched the number that was supposed to transfer me to the newsroom, but I ultimately got bounced back to “The Main Menu.”

Then I punched the number that took me to the “dial by name directory.” The directions were to enter “the first few letters of the person’s name,” only it didn’t indicate whether to start with the first name or the last name. After a couple of aborted attempts, I heard the words I wanted to hear: “Transferring you to Kevin Hall.”

But, alas, as soon as it rang, the call immediately bounced back to The Main Menu. I thought that must have been an aberration and tried again. Same result — back to “The Main Menu”!

At that point, I gave up. I felt like I was caught in a vortex — which, I’m afraid, is where all of McClatchy’s approximately 3,000 remaining employees are right now.

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For the first time I can ever recall, I had a clean sweep in Tuesday’s primary election.

Each of the five candidates I recommended in my election-guide post last Thursday prevailed, as did Constitutional Amendment No. 2, Medicaid expansion.

Of course, it probably will be a much different story in November, when three of those winning Democratic candidates — Nicole Galloway, Alissia Canady and Rich Finneran — go up against Mike Parson, Mike Kehoe and Eric Schmitt, the Republican nominees for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, respectively.

(My other successful local picks, Patty Lewis for state representative and Darryl Forte for sheriff, do not have opponents in November.)

The most important statewide win in the interests of good government was, by far, Medicaid expansion. Let’s dig deeper into that monumental victory…

Despite the stoutest efforts of mean-spirited Republicans, led by Gov. Parson and Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, Amendment 2 passed by a total vote of 672,967 to 590,809, or 53 percent to 47 percent.

Once again, though, the result highlighted Missouri’s rural-urban divide, which is huge.

Amendment 2 was approved in just nine of the state’s voting jurisdictions: Platte, Clay and Jackson counties on the western side of the state; Greene County (Springfield) in the south; Boone County (Columbia) in the center; St. Charles County and St. Louis County in the east; and the cities of Kansas City and St. Louis.

As you might expect, the margin of victory was widest in the state’s two largest cities, with a stunning 88 percent of voters in both St. Louis and Kansas City voting “yes.” Those two jurisdictions alone delivered a nearly 99,000-vote majority, which put the measure over the top.

In each of the state’s other jurisdictions — all counties — Amendment 2 was voted down. The election-result map looked much like the U.S. map the night Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton: Lots of red.

This was a particularly hard-earned victory for two reasons. First, it took a statewide petition drive to get the measure on the ballot, and, second, Parson and Ashcroft conspired to try to kill it.

The petition drive

A statewide initiative petition is always a massive undertaking. It would be easy enough to concentrate signature collectors in St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia. But the Constitution requires procuring the signatures of 5 percent of registered votes in six of Missouri’s eight congressional districts. That means hiring, organizing and herding a small army of signature collectors.

Missourians have learned from experience, though, how to circumnavigate the hidebound Missouri Legislature and the Republican, statewide officeholders. In 2018, successful petition drives led to two statewide votes — one for a minimum-wage increase, the other to stop a right-to-work law pushed by former Gov. Eric Greitens. In both cases, voters sided with the grassroots petitioners and against the Republican monolith.

On Medicaid expansion, proponents formed a campaign committee, Healthcare for Missouri, in March 2019 and quickly went to work. They needed 172,000 valid signatures, and when they submitted the fruits of their work to Ashcoft’s office three months ago, they had nearly 350,000 signatures.

Ashcroft-Parson hijnks

The signature submissions set the stage for two of Missouri’s worst-ever public officials to attempt to derail the effort.

While proponents wanted the measure to go on the November ballot, which would have the largest turnout and thus would have afforded the best chance for passage, Ashcroft and Parson conspired to put the measure on the August ballot.

Aschcroft

Instead of having employees in his office check all the signatures, as is traditionally done, Ashcroft authorized a random sampling. In short order, he certified the drive as successful, and then Parson, his partner in crime, scheduled the election for August to avoid the large November turnout.

Ha! There must have been some serious back-slapping and high-fiving between the unmasked duo over that little gambit…

Unfortunately for them, a majority of voters had had enough of the stalling and excuse-making on Medicaid expansion.

As a result of Tuesday’s vote, an estimated 200,000 to 230,000 low-income residents will be eligible for Medicaid, and many rural hospitals that were facing the prospect of closure will be able to remain open and serve more people.

**

The onerous thumb of the Republican-dominated General Assembly and heartless officials like Parson and Ashcroft don’t give charitable Missourians much to cheer, but today is different. Today is a boost for improved healthcare statewide and a victory for everyone who wants to do right by the state’s neediest people.

How sweet it is!

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Two friends have asked me for voting recommendations on next Tuesday’s ballot in Missouri, and that suggests other people out there could use some guidance.

Sadly, The Star no longer does nearly as many pre-election political stories as it used to do — stories that simply introduce the candidates to readers and report the candidates’ positions on various issues.

In the absence of that, many more voters are going to the polls knowing little or nothing about many candidates and having no idea whom to vote for.

This being a liberal blog read mostly by Democrats (but many thanks to you Republicans who stick with me), following is a look at selected, competitive races on the Democratic ballot.

(To see the first three pages of the Democratic ballot in Kansas City, go to the bottom of this post…Also, you should know that when you go to the polls for a Missouri primary election, you are asked which party’s ballot you want.)

Governor

Competing for the Democratic nomination are Nicole Galloway, Jimmie Matthews, Antoin Johnson, Eric Morrison and Robin John Daniel Van Quaethem. (Robin John Daniel may have the longest name to ever appear on a Missouri ballot.)

I say “competing” loosely, because Galloway, the state auditor, is the only serious candidate. Between her political action committee and her personal campaign, she has raised about $3.1 million. However, Gov. Mike Parson, who will be the Republican nominee, has raised more than twice that much, and he will probably win in November by a wide margin.

In the Democratic primary, though, the choice is Galloway, who may well set herself up for another statewide run down the road.

Lieutenant Governor

The candidates are Gregory A. Upchurch of St. Charles and Alissia Canady of Kansas City. Canady is a former City Council member and a former assistant Jackson County prosecutor.

Upchurch has raised less than $1,000, so he’s not a serious candidate. Canady has raised $45,000, enough, probably, to beat Upchurch, but she would face incumbent Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe in the general election. Unless Missouri turns upside down in November, Canady, like Galloway, will finish far back in the general election.

Nevertheless, in this corner, it’s “Go Canady!”

Attorney General

The Democratic candidates are two men in their 30s, Elad Gross, a 32-year-old former assistant attorney general, and Rich Finneran, a 36-year-old former federal prosecutor.

Elad Gross

Both men live in the St. Louis area. Gross’ website says at one point, “Elad was born and raised in Missouri. His name is pronounced “El-ahd” and means “God is eternal.”

I agree with him on that…

Rich Finneran

I know very little about either man, but the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has endorsed Finneran, who sounds like a friend of the press. The P-D editorial says this about that: “Finneran vows to set new standards of transparency for the attorney general’s office, including publicly posting all responses to Sunshine Law information requests.”

That’s good enough for me, and I recommend a vote for Finneran.

Unfortunately, Finneran, if he wins next Tuesday, will face another powerful Republican in November, incumbent Eric Schmitt, who is decidedly NOT a friend of open government.

State representative, District 25

This is an interesting race. It pits Patty Lewis, a former nurse and former Cerner employee, against Drew Rogers, a lawyer. They are battling to succeed state Rep. Greg Razer, who is running unopposed for state senate in District 9.

Patty Lewis

There are no Republican candidates in District 25, so the Lewis-Rogers winner will be in Jeff City next January.

The district runs from I-435 on the south to slightly north of the Plaza, between State Line Road and Troost, for the most part.

Drew Rogers

Lewis got in the race early this year, before Rogers. She called me in February, asking what state issues were important to me and soliciting my support. (She didn’t call me, by the way because I’m a legendary blogger but because I’m on almost every local Democratic candidate’s fund-raising list.) I was sufficiently impressed that I sent her $100 that day.

Lewis has a lot of yard signs up in various parts of the district, while Rogers’ signs are concentrated in the Waldo area, where he lives.

Rogers strikes me as a good candidate, but I think Lewis’ quick jump out of the box is going to tell the story.

Jackson County Sheriff

Sheriff Darryl Forte, who succeeded Sheriff Mike Sharp after Sharp resigned in disgrace in 2018 is running against…former Sheriff Sharp.

I have to admit I was baffled when I saw Sharp-for-sheriff signs along Ward Parkway last month. I had forgotten, to tell you the truth, he had resigned after court documents revealed a pattern of favoritism to a department employee who was also his girlfriend.

From all appearances, Sharp has mounted a fairly strong campaign, but he is strictly bad news. His tendency to put titillation before duty dates all the way back to 2008, when he was a reserve KCPD officer. That year, a former KC Star colleague, Kevin Murphy, wrote a story about Sharp having been part of a group of about 35 KC officers and Jackson County Sheriff’s deputies who shared sexually explicit emails.

In spite of that damaging revelation, Sharp was elected sheriff for the first time that year. He was re-elected in 2012 and again in 2016 and then came the 2018 splashdown in the mud. But now he’s baaack…Agghhhh!

I’m not wild about Forte, who will long be remembered as the chief who retired on short notice and slid out the back door with a half-million-dollar windfall in accrued vacation, sick and comp time.

But Sharp? If he wins, I would be embarrassed to say I was from Jackson County.

**

…Finally, don’t forget about Medicaid expansion, Constitutional Amendment No. 2, at the bottom of the ballot.

Vote “yes” as many times as you can…

**

Now, here are the first three pages of the Democratic sample ballot…

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I guess I should have seen this coming: The movement toward significant police reform in Kansas City is becoming splintered and incoherent.

Why? Partly because there are now too many damn cooks in the kitchen.

When this movement got started after the May 25 murder of George Floyd, key civil and human rights groups in Kansas City quickly focused their sights on three goals: 1) Replacing go-along-get-along Police Chief Rick Smith; 2) Implementing a new, independent system for identifying and rooting inappropriate police actions; and 3) Igniting a strong push to wrest control of the police department from the state.

Each of those goals is realistic and attainable, assuming adequate willpower and focus. Three leading civil and human rights organizations — the Urban League, the NAACP and MORE2 — soon came out with a strong, unequivocal statement calling for local control and for Smith to step down. Later, the SCLC joined in.

The focus began to slip, however, when the White House announced that 100 or more federal agents would be coming to Kansas City without a clear mission. Mainly because of mixed signals from the Justice Department, Operation Legend has turned out to be a tremendous and unnecessary distraction, instead of what it could and should be — a well-organized effort to solve cold cases and get a lot of violent criminals off the streets.

But instead of first insisting on clarity and then welcoming the help, the Urban League, the NAACP and the SCLC (the “Big Three”) apparently let an alphabet soup of mostly unheard of organizations distract and divert them.

Perhaps sensing an opportunity to get some TV time, several fringe groups have now jumped into the fray. This week, those fringe groups joined the Big Three in sending to Mayor Quinton Lucas an “open letter” that unnecessarily broadened and otherwise diluted the police-reform movement.

I don’t know why the Big Three let this happen, but they did. The top demand of the letter was for Lucas to reject the help of federal agents, but it went on to open a Pandora’s box of other issues.

It called on Lucas to condemn the “overreach of the racist, violent Trump administration;” to “divest from KCPD” and cut the KCPD buget by half; and to redirect that funding to such things as housing, health care, education and infrastructure.

Other groups that signed the letter, besides the Big Three, were Black Rainbow, One Struggle KC, Sunrise Movement Kansas City, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURG)and KC Tenants.

The only one of those I’ve heard of is KC Tenants. Why they are involved, I don’t know, except, as I suggested, perhaps they sense an opportunity to heighten their profile.

In any event, these extraneous demands are not helpful. For one thing, it’s become abundantly clear that talk of “divesting” and “defunding” police departments is not realistic and turns off a large majority of citizens. The focus has to be on reform, which a majority of Kansas City residents almost certainly supports by now.

For another thing, the shotgun approach will put less pressure, not more, on Mayor Lucas because it gives him room to say, in effect, “All these demands are unrealistic; it’s too much.”

So far, Lucas has shown he doesn’t have the stomach to confront the Board of Police Commissisoners (of which he is a member) on the issue of replacing Smith or on significant departmental reforms. The pressure on him has to be pointed and unrelenting.

It is now time for the leaders of the mainline organizations — Gwen Grant at the Urban League, Vernon Howard at the SCLC, Rodney Williams at the NAACP and Lora McDonald at MORE2 — to refocus this fight and reassert their leadership.

They should not bow to the disparate demands of various fringe groups and let themselves be pulled into rabbit holes. The minor groups can have a place at the table, but they should be in a clearly supportive role. And they should be reminded time and time again to stay riveted on the main goals:

A new chief

Local control

An independent and transparent system of police accountability

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I began subscribing to The Star soon after arriving in Kansas City in September 1969. This morning, I canceled my print subscription.

I did so with determination and without regret. It was time.

I’ve been urging readers and friends who still take the print edition to drop it and just take the digital edition, which runs a reasonable $12.99 a month. And today I followed my own advice…I will continue receiving The New York Times print edition daily, except Saturday, of course, when The Star doesn’t publish a print edition.

Here are the three reasons I decided to cancel, after consulting with Patty.

1) The print product is not timely and not very good.

2) Ownership of The Star and the other McClatchy papers will soon transfer to a New Jersey-based hedge fund, and I don’t want to give a hedge fund any more money than absolutely necessary.

3) The customer service people at The Star, or maybe McClatchy, played a dirty trick on me: They raised my print subscription rate from $22.80 a month to $54.80 without notice.

A few more details on each factor…

Print product deterioration

For me, Sunday was the clincher. The Sunday paper — which has the widest readership and should get the most attention from editors — had three stories about the same incident, the Friday night police protests in Overland Park. The stories appeared on pages 6, 7 and 8. Instead of someone combining the three stories into one coherent one, somebody decided to back up the truck and dump all three in the paper and let the readers sort through the mess.

At the top of page 2 was a story about three people being killed and six injured “in overnight car crashes.” Overnight, however, referred to Friday night/Saturday morning — not Saturday night — meaning one of the crashes occurred a day and a half earlier. The Star has moved its print-edition deadline up so far it’s nearly impossible to get any late-afternoon/evening news in the next morning’s paper.

Along the same lines, Sam Mellinger’s column about the Royals’ Friday opening game was on the front page of the sports section. That was another 36-hour-old story.

(Coincidentally, reader and media relations professional Bob Hallinan sent me an email this morning about the lack of coverage of Saturday’s game, which ended early Saturday evening, in the Sunday paper. He wrote: “I was looking forward to reading all of the highlights and sidebar stories over my Sunday morning coffee. Imagine my surprise when there was no mention of the Saturday game…(I)f f they’re not going to make even a token effort to include anything from Saturday, usually a big sports day, in the Sunday print edition, what’s the point of getting the print edition?”)

Change of ownership

As many of you know, McClatchy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy early this year, and the company is about to go from being publicly traded to privately owned. The winning bidder for McClatchy was Chatham Asset Management, McClatchy’s largest shareholder and creditor. Chatham is so shadowy it doesn’t have a website, and I could not find a photo of its managing partner, Anthony Melchiorre, on the internet. Hedge funds have taken control of other newspaper chains too; the attraction is the still-relatively-high cash volume that newspaper companies bring in. For the most part, the hedge funds drain the cash and invest it elsewhere at a higher rate of return.

A tradition in the newspaper business is that whenever there’s a change of ownership, the president or C.E.O. of the takeover company goes around to each paper, meets with editorial staff members and announces what he/she has in mind for future operations. Star staffers will be waiting a long time, I bet, for Anthony Melchiorre to present himself in the newsroom at 1601 McGee.

Subscription rate

I’ve heard horror stories from friends and readers about subscription rates, and now I’ve got a story of my own.

Until last November, I had been getting a special Star retiree rate of $10.96 per month — in addition to the $12.99 a month for the digital subscription.

If the print rate had stayed at that — that is, if The Star had stood by its commitment to me as a retiree with 36 years of service — I would still be taking the print edition. In December, it went up to $22.80 a month. I don’t recall complaining; I think I just thought it was still a pretty good deal.

In May, I got an email from customer service saying my rate would be going up to $54.17 a month. I wrote back and noted I was a retiree and had been promised a much lower rate. A rep wrote back agreeing to continue the $22.80 rate, and I thanked him for the accommodation.

The $22.80 has been automatically charged to my credit card, and I hadn’t checked it recently…until Sunday, when Patty and I talked about dropping the print subscription.

Imagine my surprise — to quote Bob Hallinan — when I saw that in June I had been charged $54.80 for the print edition. I checked my Mastercard charges online for July and saw, sure enough, that the new charge had been assessed on July 12.

That solidified my decision.

When I called a customer service rep today, she offered — after much discussion and stroking of me as “a longtime, valued customer” — to return me to the $22.80 rate.

But my mind was made up. “You might as well stop talking,” I said, “because I’m canceling.”

So, starting Aug. 10, I will no longer be a print subscriber. The Star will just have to muddle along without my $22.80 (or $54.80) a month. Even if Anthony Melchiorre calls me personally, I’m washing my hands of the print edition.

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One of the things I like to do on this blog is bring you examples of really good newspaper writing.

Such an opportunity presented itself this morning, when I read a column in the Louisville Courier-Journal about the Cincinnati Reds opening-day game Friday in Cincinnati.

Tim Sullivan, CJ sports columnist, had to turn this story out in a hurry because it was a night game. The column didn’t make the print edition of today’s paper (just as the Royals’ game didn’t get make today’s KC Star), but it was posted online at 10:54 p.m. Also, Sullivan didn’t write long — the column is slightly more than 600 words — he just wrote well.

Tim Sullivan

Sullivan has been in journalism more than 35 years. He joined the CJ in 2012, the same year he was fired at the San Diego Union-Tribune apparently because management didn’t think he was positive enough when writing about the local sports teams.

The U-T’s stupid loss was the Courier-Journal’s gain. And Louisville is fortunate to still have his services: In 2017 he survived emergency surgery for a dissected aorta, a life-threatening condition.

This column will be of more than passing interest to some of you for two reasons: former Royals’ star Mike Moustakas now plays for the Reds, and, like the Royals, the Reds have seen 30 years pass since the team won the World Series. (Led by manager Lou Piniella, a former Royals’ player, the Reds beat the Oakland A’s in the 1990 World Series.)

Sullivan’s column ran under the headline, “New-look Cincinnati Reds give absent fans something worth seeing.”

Here’s the column:

**

CINCINNATI – The eternal verities remain intact. Three strikes and you’re out. Three outs to an inning. Spectators or not, the seventh inning stretch survives.

Professional baseball resumed in the place of its birth Friday evening, and while it was weird, it was weirdly comforting. Though the Reds piped in artificial crowd noise during their 7-1 Opening Day romp over the Detroit Tigers, the familiar sounds of a bat striking ball, of a pitch popping leather, of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” felt something like sanctuary after months of COVID-19 shutdown.

Despite the demands of social distancing, the game felt more intimate, more accessible and less of a platform for unrelenting advertising. It was so quiet at times that a press box observer could hear the dirt disrupted as players slid into second base.

It was bliss.

Pity so few people were admitted to Great American Ball Park for the muted festivities, for the virtual first pitch of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and the actual slugging of Joey Votto and Mike Moustakas. Pity that so few long-suffering Reds fans may be allowed to bear witness to the new-look lineup and enhanced starting rotation that makes the home team appear capable of playing meaningful games in September.

Sure, that distinction is diminished by a season delayed 17 weeks by a global pandemic. True, Opening Day starter Sonny Gray lacks the October resume of a Justin Verlander or a Stephen Strasburg. Yet in a city that last celebrated a World Series title 30 years ago, the opportunity to be optimistic is something to be savored.

A bedsheet banner above center field was as true after Friday’s game as before it:

“July 24, 2020

Cincinnati Reds

Undefeated”

“A lot of great things happened tonight,” Reds manager David Bell said.

There was not much in the way of drama, but it was a fine night for debuts. Free agent addition Nick Castellanos drove home the Reds’ first run by getting hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the first inning. Japanese import Shogo Akiyama delivered his first major-league hit in his first at-bat as a pinch hitter. Moustakas, another off-season acquisition, had three hits, drove in four runs, and closed the scoring with a seventh-inning shot into the right-field stands.

“It was definitely strange,” Moustakas said of competing in the absence of an audience. “What was cool was the grounds crew came out and they were cheering (after the home run). It was definitely a little bit different than we’re used to. But at the end of the day,  we’re playing major-league baseball and it’s awesome.”

After all of the tone-deaf bickering over the financial terms of baseball’s back-to-work agreement, after several stars had chosen to opt-out of the shortened season rather than assume additional health risks, here was the game stripped of manufactured glitz and extraneous sound.

And it was enough. Maybe some of us have missed baseball so much that a lopsided game played in front of empty seats gets credit it doesn’t deserve. Maybe we’re so starved for entertainment that the mundane feels magical.

And maybe baseball has returned just in time to keep us from climbing the walls.

“It’s one of those days we’ve been looking forward to for a while, as an organization and as a team,” Gray said. “Personally, as a player and as a competitor, we missed the fans. We very much so missed the fans. That is for sure. However, we are completely invested as a team in each other. We’ve got a good thing going here in Cincinnati and I think everyone got a little bit of a show of that tonight.”

Happily, there’s more to come.

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It’s still summer last time I checked, and that means one thing: It’s hard to get enough of the Oldies.

I’ve been carrying a pocket notebook with me lately while driving around and listening to The Fifties on Five and the Sixties on Six, and I’ve been jotting down the titles of songs that strike my fancy.

One of the songs I selected for today is “Born Too Late,” but when I Googled it on YouTube, I got a pleasant surprise: I found a version from a 1965 New American Bandstand show that segued into “Last Night” by The Mark-Keys.

Before I give you that twin spin, here’s a little background on those songs.

**

“Born Too Late” by The Poni-Tails

The website history-of-rock.com says the trio, consisting of Toni Cistone (lead vocals), LaVerne Novak (high harmony), and Karen Topinka (low harmony) were students at Brush High School in Lynhurst, Ohio, near Cleveland, when they started singing together in 1956. “They performed at school functions and benefits, and it was at one of these shows that they were spotted by an attorney, John Jewitt, who gave them an introduction to music publisher Tom Illius.”

“Born Too Late” was the “B” side of a record released by ABC Records on June 23, 1958. ABC was promoting the “A” side, “Come On Joe, Dance With Me,” but several on-the-ball, Cleveland deejays began pushing “Born To Late,” and the record took off. It went to No. 5 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100.

**

“Last Night” by The Mar-Keys

This is a song with few words but a lot of power. Two of the things that stand out are the organ and the sax solo. According to Wiki, song producer Chips Moman wanted an organ in place of a guitar, and his instincts were on the mark.

The only words uttered in the song (the only words needed) are “Oh, last night” and “Ohhhhhhh yeah!”

You’re going to love these scenes from American Bandstand. The “swoony” looks on some of the kids’ faces are priceless. Some of the dancing is good, and some is curious, such as the kids continuing to dance through several brief stops on “Last Night.”

Anyway, here you go…six minutes of good, clean fun from an incredible era.

**

“I Count the Tears” by Ben E. King and The Drifters

We’ve all heard of The Drifters, right? I thought they were, like most groups, fairly stable, with just a handful of members.

Wrong! So I found from Wiki, which says…

According to Rolling Stone magazine, the Drifters were the least stable of the great vocal groups, as they were low-paid musicians hired by George Treadwell, who owned the Drifters’ name from 1955, after (Clyde) McPhatter left. There have been 60 vocalists in the history of the Treadwell Drifters line, including several splinter groups by former Drifters members.

Essentially, the Drifters was a banner that dozens of singers flew through and under from time to time. But, man, those various groups of Drifters had a lot of good songs. “I Count the Tears,” from 1962, was one of them…Interestingly, it seems it never made the Billboard Hot 100 but went to No. 28 on the UK Singles Chart.

A commenter on the YouTube page linked below had a good description of the song, saying: “This is one of the greatest Pop orchestrations I’ve ever heard. There is so much happening inside that mix, dueling male/female choirs, a Rock session band, orchestral string section…bells?”

It’s short, so listen fast!

**

“Soul Finger” by the Bar-Kays

Since we heard from the The Mar-Keys, it’s only fitting we hear from the Bar-Kays.

I love this song, partly because of its spontaneous sound. I like any good song that sounds like it was made on the fly, such as Gary U.S. Bonds’ “Quarter to Three,” which sounds like it was cut in a garage.

The hooting and shouting in “Soul Finger” has the same feel. Here’s what Wiki says about the song…

It features a chorus of neighborhood children who had been loitering outside the recording studio; they were instructed to shout “Soul Finger!” and were paid with Coca-Cola. The idea for the title and the shouts came from the Stax songwriters Isaac Hayes and David Porter.

Some priceless background sounds for the price of a Coke.

Another distinctive element of the song, besides the chattering and shouting, is that it opens with the melody of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” before cutting to the main riff, highlighted by a riveting staccato sequence from the trumpet.

Released in April 1967, “Soul Finger” peaked at No. 3 on on the Billboard R&B singles chart and No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100.

It’s hard to keep from jumping up and dancing with the doorknob on this song…So, go ahead, do it!

(The bonus song immediately after “Soul Finger” is Hugh Masekela’s “Grazing in the Grass.”)

 

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I hadn’t paid a lot of attention, until yesterday, to the story out of St. Louis about the wacky couple who emerged from their castle — that’s right, castle — and waved guns at a group of protesters who entered a private street while on their way to the St. Louis mayor’s home on June 28.

Let’s just start with this picture…

There they are, personal injury attorneys Patricia and Mark McCloskey, looking like a latter-day, better-dressed Bonnie and Clyde…except they aren’t into robbing banks; they just want to scare the crap out of people who come anywhere close to their property.

Now, the protesters were never on McCloskey property, and they were never threatening in any manner. They were passing by after entering a gate that gave them access to a private street leading to Mayor Lyda Krewson in St. Louis’ very upscale Central West End.

The McCloskeys’ harassment and implied threat lasted 13 minutes.

Video of the incident shows Clyde (Mark) under a massive portico on the east side of his mansion, yelling, “Hey! Private neighborhood! Get the hell out of my neighborhood!”

“Put that gun away,” someone is heard yelling back.

Waving a silver pistol, Bonnie (Patricia) yells, “Go! Go!” and tries to shoo the protesters away like they’re stray dogs.

On Monday, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner charged the McCloskeys with a felony count of unlawful use of a weapon/flousishing.

Conviction carries a sentence of up to four years in prison or a fine and no prison time. Gardner, however, is recommending the McCloskeys participate in a diversion program.

“It is illegal to wave weapons in a threatening manner at those participating in nonviolent protest,” Gardner said, “and while we are fortunate this situation did not escalate into deadly force, this type of conduct is unacceptable in St. Louis.”

Unacceptable? Euphemistic but, yes, accurate.

**

Here’s another photo that says something about this couple…

That’s the place the McCloskeys acquired in 1988, described by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as “a castle built for Adolphus Busch’s daughter and her husband during St. Louis’ brief run as a world-class city in the early 20th century.”

That’s Busch, as in Anheuser-Busch.

And what kind of people are the McCloskeys?

Well, a Post-Dispatch reporter named Jeremy Kohler wrote a recent profile that paints them as paranoid and litigious.

Kohler’s story started like this…

“When Black Lives Matter protesters marched up Kingshighway on June 28 and turned through an iron gate into the magnificent private street of Portland Place, they encountered a couple who have for years, nearly constantly, sued other people and ordered people off their property.”

Naturally, Bonnie and Clyde wouldn’t talk to Kohler (nor would their attorney), but the reporter was able to learn a lot about them from public records, including a large number of lawsuits the perpetually aggrieved couple has filed over the years.

Those records, Kohler wrote, reveal that the McCloskeys “are almost always in conflict with others, typically over control of private property, what people can do on that property, and whose job it is to make sure they do it.”

Among other things, the McCloskeys have sued people who live near property they own in Franklin County for making changes to a gravel road.

But here’s the kicker…”Mark McCloskey sued a former employer for wrongful termination and his sister, father and his father’s caretaker for defamation.”

Now, when you see a father suing a son, or vice versa, the first word that comes to mind is dysfunction.

**

The address of the McCloskey castle is 1 Portland Place.

Tom Stites, a former editor at The Star, wrote on the Kansas City Star Bylines Facebook page that the equivalent of 1 Portland Place in Kansas City would be the Robb mansion (some say Kansas City’s only true mansion) on the southwest corner of 55th and Ward Parkway.

Coincidentally, the owners, Gary and Anita Robb, are personal injury lawyers. (To show you the kind of cases the Robbs get involved in, Gary Robb is one of the attorneys representing Vanessa Bryant in a wrongful death lawsuit stemming from the death of her husband, former NBA star Kobe Bryant, in a helicopter crash in January.)

Gary and Anita Robb

One of the differences between the Robbs and the McCloskeys is that the Robbs’ home is completely surrounded by a six-foot-tall, wrought-iron fence. Another is that, to the best of my knowledge, Gary Robb has never sued his father or any other family members.

Somehow, as I try to transfer the bizarre St. Louis scene to 55th and Ward Parkway, I have a hard time envisioning Gary and Anita emerging from their mansion, toting guns and threatening protesters parading along Ward Parkway.

I’ll take the Kansas City Robbs over the St. Louis McCloskeys any day.

 

The Robb mansion

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A year from now, this day — July 20, 2020 — could be viewed retrospectively as a defining moment in setting Kansas City on a path toward a fresh and more enlightened law enforcement system in Kansas City, Missouri.

That’s because today the community’s most enduring voice for the public good came out powerfully and unequivocally in favor of replacing Police Chief Rick Smith and getting rid of a police oversight system that has prevented Kansas City from having a responsive and forward-looking police force for decades.

I’m speaking about the lead editorial in today’s Kansas City Star.

After inching its way, week by week, toward a definitive position, The Star’s editorial board today spoke forcefully and unequivocally:

“(Rick) Smith is…out of last chances. For the good of the city, he must step down. His successor must come from outside the department, or his replacement will too likely offer more of the same.

“Local control is a must, too. Boss Pendergast has been dead for 75 years, and the state oversight that his town’s corruption necessitated in another century is no reason for Kansas City to remain the only major city in the country without any real say in how its police department is run.”

Those are unequivocal words this rattled and shaken community — like many other communities — has needed to hear from its almost 140-year-old newspaper, which remains, despite the newspaper industry’s constriction, an institution dedicated to serving this community and providing clear guidance to its residents.

I’m not going to detail all the excellent points contained in this 1,000-plus-word editorial, written by Melinda Henneberger, because I want to look ahead. But I urge you to read it. If you don’t have a subscription, go out and buy the paper; the editorial alone is worth your time and money.

Just know this is a pivotal point in the long-running controversy over the state of policing in Kansas City.

I believe this is the tipping point for Rick Smith. I think he’ll be gone by year’s end, and maybe much sooner.

He is an “old-school” chief, who has always been stained by the conviction that the police are always right and the people the police are stopping, arresting and sometimes shooting and killing are always in the wrong.

That is not the kind of chief these troubled times call for.

Gwen Grant of the Urban League

I had a long conversation this morning with Gwen Grant, longtime president of the Urban League of Kansas City, one of the first civil rights organizations to call for Smith’s ouster. (Other significant organizations that have done so are the Kansas City branch of the NAACP, MORE2 and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.)

I wanted to hear her views about what she thought Kansas City needs in the next chief of police, and here’s what she said…

“We need to conduct a nationwide search to find a chief that is open to and experienced in progressive policing practices…based in accountability and transparency and respect for the communities they serve. (We need) a chief that is a change agent, who has some experience in leading change and who will be able to come in here and build relationships in the community as well as among the rank and file; someone who knows how to change a culture that right now certainly reflects the outdated command-and-control, militaristic policing style of Chief Smith.

“The next chief has to stand up against the F.O.P. — we know the F.O.P. is a barrier — and it’s going to take a strong chief and a strong community to stand down that F.O.P.

“The next chief has to be a leader that is committed, that knows how to build collaborative relationships. The next chief must respect the humanity of black people. That’s what’s important.”

Those are strong, inspiring and challenging words. They lay out a tall order for what Kansas City should aim for in its next chief.

But will Kansas City be able to recruit a candidate capable of meeting such lofty criteria? A chief capable of changing the existing hidebound, we-can-do-no-wrong culture?

Grant believes it’s possible. “There’s somebody out there,” she said.

**

The next step in getting a new chief will be the most difficult: convincing three of the five members of the Board of Police Commissioners to admit it’s time for Smith to go.

It will be very difficult primarily because we are stuck with an irrational system of police governance.

To frame the irrationality succinctly: We have a Republican-dominated police board, with four commissioners appointed by two terrible Republican governors (Eric Greitens and Mike Parson) in charge of a massive law enforcement organization in a predominantly Democratic city with a substantial Black population.

Police Board Chairman Don Wagner

The board consists of two white males (multimillionaire chairman Don Wagner and highway-patrol-officer-turned-lawyer Nathan Garrett); a white woman (lawyer Cathy Dean); a Black minister (Mark Tolbert); and Mayor Quinton Lucas, the only board member not appointed by the governor.

I said it would be difficult to get three of five votes to either push Smith out or force him to resign. But not impossible.

The key will be Lucas, who, for the excellent leadership he demonstrated on the streets during the George-Floyd-related protests, has been AWOL on the obvious need to replace Smith and weak-kneed on local control.

Regarding local control, Lucas once told demonstrators he was with them, but he has refused to follow up and assume the mantle of leadership. Instead, he has taken the very incremental step of calling for a local, preferential election to gauge public sentiment.

Regarding Chief Smith, Lucas has been even more spineless, owing primarily to the fact he’s deeply indebted to the Lodge 99 of the F.O.P., which supported him in last year’s election and helped him defeat then-Councilwoman Jolie Justus, who went into the race a big favorite.

…Gwen Grant told me today Lucas has privately told her and others Smith needs to be replaced and that he (Lucas) and Tolbert would vote to remove Smith but the other three commissioners are standing in the way.

But publicly, Grant noted, “we hear him (Lucas) singing the praises of the chief, and so we have no idea where he really stands.”

Last week, in a virtual meeting Lucas held with Grant and other civil rights leaders leaders on the issue of local control, Grant said at one point she turned the discussion toward Smith and challenged Lucas to force the police board to confront the matter head on.

“Frankly,” she said, “I think the mayor should make the motion and let the votes fall where they may. That will demonstrate where he really stands.”

Ball is in your court, Mayor, where it’s always been.

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I led into my last post about Oldies from the late 1950s with a reference to people driving faster these days and scaring the wits out of me.

That had been my impression driving various places lately, but last night I saw three prime examples of ridiculous driving. What I saw convinced me what is going on is a definite trend and extremely dangerous.

Not that Kansas City area streets were not dangerous before the Covid-19 virus took hold. They definitely were, but now it’s worse.

I think part of it is that while traffic has picked up the last month or so, the streets, boulevards and highways are carrying less traffic than they did during the old normal. As a result, some people have chosen to regard the streets and highways as their personal raceways.

But back to last night…

Patty and I met a friend, who also lives in Brookside, at Brown & Loe’s, adjacent to the City Market. We had a nice dinner in the restaurant courtyard, from where we could watch people coming and going and moving about. Quite a few young people were in the area, many of them zipping along on rented scooters, others on foot. The first time we noticed a streetcar stopping — signaled by its distinctive bell — we saw that not one person was on the car as it headed east on Third Street. Later, a handful of people boarded at the same stop. In pre-Covid days, the streetcars routinely were at least half full and often near capacity.

About 8:30 we got ready to leave, and our friend suggested we go back to his house. He lives off Holmes, south of Meyer Boulevard, so, driving separately, we decided to take Bruce R. Watkins Drive, i.e., U.S. 71.

I have often taken Watkins Drive when heading south out of downtown or from North Kansas City partly to avoid merging onto southbound I-35 and then having to work over to the far inside lane to get off at either Broadway or Southwest Trafficway.

Bruce R. Watkins Drive

For the most part, I have not had any problems on Watkins or seen much outrageous driving. Last night was different. The first incident that got my attention was two cars speeding by me on the right. I was in the middle lane, going 50 to 55. After they passed, I said to Patty, “I’m moving over so the boys (any others behind) can come on by.”

I was really glad I did that because about a minute later I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw a car approaching at what looked like warp speed. I gripped the wheel tightly and in an instant, whoosh!, the newer-model, dark car flew by, two lanes out. It must have been going 90. Patty and I gasped. It shook me to the core. We watched as the car disappeared from view but saw that there was some traffic up ahead.

“I wonder if he was able to slow down in time,” I said.

“I’m sure he did,” Patty said, hopefully.

Unnerved, we decided to get off at the next exit, Emanuel Cleaver II Boulevard and Swope Parkway. The next bit of excitement wasn’t long in coming. After turning right and heading west on Swope, we approached The Paseo. As I entered the intersection with a green light, crossing the northbound lanes, an older, brown car with one hub missing came careening through the intersection heading south. It blew through the light at about 45 miles an hour.

It was not a close call for us because the intersection is very wide and we saw the car in plenty of time.

But still…If we’d arrived a couple of seconds earlier, it could have been dicey.

Finally, as we were heading south on Oak, we approached a four-way stop at, I believe, 57th Street. From the west, a car came along and drove straight through the intersection without slowing. Again, it wasn’t a close call, but it left Patty and me shaking our heads.

We were glad to arrive safely at our friend’s house. I told him about our somewhat harrowing drive and asked him if he had taken 71 highway.

“I came up Oak,” he said.

Wise choice. And I can tell you this: From downtown or the City Market area, I will be avoiding Watkins Drive/U.S. 71 for a long time to come.

**

I’ve always told Brooks and Charlie, now in their early 30s, to always look both ways before going through any intersection where they have the green light or the right of way, even if cars approaching from the other direction have a red light or stop sign. Never assume, I’ve told them, other drivers are going to yield just because they’re supposed to.

Readers, I urge you to do the same. These are crazy days in many ways, and we’ve got to take every possible precaution to protect ourselves.

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