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Posts Tagged ‘Sam Mellinger’

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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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Like the locker room of the World Series champions or the Super Bowl winners, the second-floor mezzanine of The Kansas City Star probably was the scene last night of champagne corks flying and reporters and editors spraying each other with the traditional celebratory beverage.

If it wasn’t, it should have been: The Sports Department learned yesterday that it was one of three papers to win sports journalism’s biggest award for its work in 2012.

The Associated Press Sports Editors voted The Star as a winner of its “Grand Slam” competition. That is, The Star was named one of the top 10, large-circulation newspapers in each of four main categories: daily sports section, Sunday section, special sections and website content and presentation.

It is a tremendous triumph for the paper, especially considering that the only other two papers to gain Grand Slam status last year were the Washington Post and The New York Times. The air is mighty thin at the top, and that’s where The Star’s Sports Department has stood for the last 15-plus years.

In a sports-section story today, sports editor Jeff Rosen said, “We’re not in this business to win awards, but it’s a tremendous honor to score The Star’s first Grand Slam.”

The quality of the sports section is something that, I’m sure, a lot of readers take for granted. The sports section’s rise to the top has been gradual, for the most part, and it’s worth taking a look at the modern history of the sports section and how it climbed into the top ranks nationally.

In most cases, the stature of a paper’s sports section coincides with the caliber of its columnists. For the most part, that is the case with The Star.

When I was hired as a general assignment reporter at The Star in 1969, Joe McGuff was sports editor and sports columnist, and his name was uttered with reverence. He was a clear-headed thinker and straightforward writer whose honesty and dedication to Kansas City and its betterment were unquestioned.

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Joe McGuff

His greatest hour came in 1968-69 when he played a huge role in convincing the executives at Major League Baseball to locate an expansion team in Kansas City. That, of course, came on the heels of the late Charles O. Finley owner of the Kansas City Athletics, moving the team to Oakland.

Not since then, and probably not before, has a sports writer or columnist stepped so far beyond the customary trappings of his job. As far as Kansas City was concerned, McGuff might as well have been “St. Joe” after that.

Another great Star sports columnist in the 1960s and 70s was Dick Mackey. Another not afraid to leave the comfort zone of sports, Mackey set sports aside the day after Martin Luther King’s assassination (April 4, 1968) and wrote about King and the nation’s shock.

Metaphorically, Mackey later drove himself into the ground: In a state of exhaustion and with an ulcerated stomach, he collapsed in the back of a cab in Memphis and died. That was in the late 70s.

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Jon Rand

In the 1980s and 1990s, the featured columnist was Jon Rand, another straight shooter, who came to The Star from the Miami Herald. He wasn’t a flashy writer, but readers could rely on him to give them informed opinions. The most memorable line that I recall of Rand’s was a year or so before The Chiefs hired Carl Peterson as general manager and Marty Schottenheimer as coach. The front office was led by Lamar Hunt’s old buddy, Jack Steadman, who was never popular with the fans.

“This fish stinks from the head down,” Rand wrote one day, capturing the sentiment of the entire city.

Gib Twyman was another outstanding columnist. A born-again christian, he was genuinely empathetic with people who were experiencing difficulties, and he frequently digressed from the sports scene. He wrote several extremely touching columns, I recall, about the Thompson family after a Thompson daughter, Amy Thompson, was shot in the neck and paralyzed in a botched robbery on Halloween night 1986. Some friends organized the first Amy Thompson Run in 1988, and over the years it has raised more than $1.5 million to help people with brain injuries.

On Christmas night, 1989, Amy died of complications from her injuries.

Twyman, unfortunately, had a big problem making deadlines, and that resulted in him getting fired for plagiarism in 1994. He later redeemed himself as a reporter and columnist at a paper in Salt Lake City, before dying of a heart attack in 2001.

In the long run, though, it was not a columnist but an editor who took the sports section to new and spectacular heights.

In 1996, then editor Art Brisbane and managing editor Mark Zieman brought in a guy named Dinn Mann, who, at 31 years old, already had some notches on his journalistic belt. He came to The Star from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where he was associate sports editor. Before that he had been sports editor at the Houston Post before it folded in 1995.

Mann also had a high-propane personality and some estimable blood lines: His grandfather was Judge Roy Hofheinz, a former Houston mayor, who built the Astrodome.

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Dinn Mann (right) with Louisville, KY, sports commission director Karl Schmitt

Mann only stayed at The Star for five years, but he brought the sports section into the 21st Century before the 21st Century arrived. It was he who introduced the snappy, funny headlines on the lead sports story of the day. It was he who pushed for award-winning special sections, and he who introduced many features that are still cornerstones of today’s sports section, such as the Five-Game Planner and expanded “On the Air” listings of sports on TV.

In addition, Mann hired columnist Joe Posnanski, who became the counterbalance for Jason Whitlock, whom Mann’s predecessor, Dale Bye, had hired in about 1994. It was at The Star that Whitlock and Posnanski found their voices and established their launching pads to bigger jobs. At The Star, Whitlock wielded the hammer, while Posnanski supplied the poetry.

Mann himself went on to an extremely big job in 2001 — founding editor-in-chief of MLB.com, baseball’s official website. Mann is still with MLB.com, which has grown to more than 100 employees.

When Mann left, his top assistant, Mike Fannin, became editor and kept the momentum going. After Fannin was named editor of The Star in 2008, the sports section went through a bumpy period. Fannin’s top assistant in the department, Holly Lawton, took the reins, but she left two years later, after allegations surfaced that she and Fannin had had an affair. About the same time, Whitlock left the paper after a blow-up with Fannin and perhaps Lawton.

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Jeff Rosen

The ship got righted late in 2010, however, after The Star hired Rosen as sports editor. For six years, Rosen had been deputy sports editor at the Houston Chronicle.

For the last couple of years, the public face of the sports section has been columnist Sam Mellinger, who combines Whitlock’s hammer with Posnanski’s poetry.

Already, Mellinger has established himself as a “destination columnist,” that is, someone who draws readers to the paper just for what he brings to the paper.

Headed by the team of Rosen and Mellinger, and buttressed by fine reporters like Blair Kerkhoff, Adam Teicher and Bob Dutton, The Star’s sports section should be solid for the near future.

Don’t be surprised if you hear about more “Grand Slams” down at 18th and Grand.

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It’s on days like this that only The Kansas City Star can put everything in context.

I’m talking, of course, about the Chiefs incredible win over the Packers yesterday in Romeo Crennel’s debut as head coach of the Chiefs.

I was yelling and screaming at the TV like I haven’t done in a long time. Like everyone else in town, I really wanted the Chiefs to win that game and for Crennel to have a great start after three years of suffering through that screwball Todd Haley, who most of the time looks like he stepped out from under a bridge with a cardboard sign.

But once the victory was in hand, there was nowhere to turn, immediately, for the reinforcement and analysis that would make the win complete.

Len Dawson and Mitch Holthus, as good as they are on the game broadcasts, can’t deliver the type of overview and analysis that a game like yesterday’s calls for. When Mitch asked Len for his reaction to the game, Len said, “I’m surprised; I really am.”

Uh, that’s not quite what we were looking for, Len…

The 101 The Fox post game show absolutely sucks. For one thing, you have to sit in torment through about 20 minutes of post-game advertisements just to get to “The Turning Point Play of the Game,” which, of course, was Jackie Battle’s fourth-quarter touchdown.

Then there’s another 10 to 15 minutes of ads, and along comes the inimitable Art Hains — he of the sonorous voice but vacant mind.

If you tuned in to Metro Sports, Channel 30 on Time Warner Cable, you got some fairly decent commentary from former Chiefs players Danan Hughes and Rich Baldinger. While it beats the heck out of 101 The Fox, Metro Sports still doesn’t give you any truly satisfying insight into the big questions, like, “Does this seal the deal for Crennel?” and “Is Orton now the long-term quarterback?

So, what to do? If you’re like me, you turn off the radio, turn off the TV, enjoy the glow of victory and wait for Monday’s Star.

And when the paper hits the pavement, there it is, just what you’ve been waiting for — Sam Mellinger’s column, down the left side of the paper, above the fold, under a headline that reads, “In Big Win, KC Finds a Leader.”

He recounts the Gatorade bath, which prompted the first smile from the serious-minded Crennel, and then he tells me something I didn’t know — that Crennel wiped tears from his eyes as he walked off the field. (With that fatherly and comforting countenance, Crennel is already irresistible, but to know that he shed a tear or two makes you want to call Scott Pioli and demand that he immediately name Crennel as permanent head coach.)

Then, in his “nut graph,” Mellinger sums up what yesterday’s win meant to the organization.

“Three critical developments, in ascending order of importance, emerged from Sunday’s improbable upset: The Chiefs maintained a sliver of playoff hope, reminded a city that football can be fun and almost certainly found their new head coach.”

From Mellinger’s column, you go to the Sports Daily, where you find five full-length stories about the game and dozens of sidelights, including the “Do Tell the Truth” feature, which says of Crennel: “He is experienced, calm and popular. More than that, he showed Sunday that he’s an outstanding football coach.”

The “report card,” a popular fixture in reports of Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State and Chiefs games, gives the Chiefs an “A” in the coaching category.

“Romeo Crennel may have shown more true leadership in six days than Todd Haley did in three years,”  the report says.

The two stories on the section front go right to the heart of the two big questions posed above. The headline on the top story is “Romeo wins players’ hearts,” and the second story, about Orton, carries this sub-head: “Who will be quarterback next year? Picture just got more complicated.”

In the story about Crennel, The Star wisely picked up the coach’s opening line from the post-game news conference:

“The Chiefs played a very good game today. They played the way I would like to see the Chiefs play all the time. They followed the game plan, they had energy, they had effort, and they played their hearts out.”

It struck me immediately, when I first heard him say it, that he didn’t say “we.” It was “they,” giving full credit to the players.

Sunday was a great day for the Chiefs, for Romeo Crennel and for Kyle Orton…And Monday was a great day for The Kansas City Star.

Congratulations, hometown paper! You made this former employee proud.

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