A Chase Utley story

I got into journalism because I desperately wanted to be a sportswriter. I wanted to cover a Major League Baseball team. To tell the fans what happened and who the players were and how the game changed.

I never fulfilled that dream of being a best writer. I did however, get to cover a handful of games and I cherish those memories.

In 2004, Towanda’s Nate Bump was pitching for the Florida Marlins while I worked for his hometown paper. Our sports editor went down to do a profile on him. I went with him on my off day and wrote a profile of former Red Barons manager Marc Bombard. I was able to interview pitching coach Rich Dubee, All Star shortstop Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, in the midst of his first full season.

Rollins was ebullient talking about his former manager, sharing stories. Chase Utley wasn’t like Rollins. He already had the image of a stoic. He was far from as press-friendly as Rollins, Jack McKeon or Dontrelle Willis had been. But he was far more professional than the likes of Josh Beckett.

Rollins was at his locker when we were talking and I asked him if there was anyone else I should talk to. He said Chase was close to Bombard. Another media member pointed out that Utley was in an off-limits area.

Rollins looked over to Utley and asked him if I could talk to him about Bombard. Utley nodded and pointed to a chair.

Utley never asked me who I was writing for or what my goal was, simply “What do you need to know?”

I asked the normal questions a cub reporter would ask in a profile and Utley was courteous. He offered normal comments. They would work in a story, but weren’t incredibly insightful. He wasn’t going to share intimate details with a stranger. When I was done, he shook my hand and I went on to the next source.

Later on, I was on the field, watching batting practice, the stadium fill up and feeling like a big league writer. Utley was walking by when he stopped. He asked me if I was the guy writing about Bombard. I was, I said. Write about his uniform, Utley said. I was puzzled. “What?” It gets dirty. Coaches uniforms don’t get dirty, he said. But Bombard’s uniform would get dirty.

Utley respected that. The grit.

Utley will announce his retirement today, having won a World Series ring, been a six-time All Star and likely become one of the most beloved players in Phillies history.

His uniform was often dirty.

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A Chase Utley story

The most fascinating Supreme Court Justice you’ve never heard of

In 1945 Robert Jackson shocked his colleagues and walked away from the Supreme Court. It wasn’t a permanent leave; he was on sabbatical.

The former solicitor general, who also happened to be one of Franklin Roosevelt’s favorite poker buddies, was leaving the court to prosecute Nazis at Nuremberg. It wasn’t a popular decision with his colleagues.

In one of his myriad memoirs, associate justice and irascible non vivant William O. Douglas wrote:

I thought at the time he accepted the job that it was a gross violation of separation of powers to put a Justice in charge of an executive function. I thought, and I think Stone and Black agreed, that If Bob did that, he should resign. Moreover, some of us – particularly Stone, Black, Murphy and I – thought that Nuremberg trials were unconstitutional by American standards.

Truth be told, Jackson and Douglas were rivals. Though they were both democrats nominated by Roosevelt, they both fancied themselves at times of being of presidential timbre.

No matter what he thought of Jackson, Douglas admits Jackson handled himself well at Nuremberg.

Jackson didn’t just hold Nazis accountable, though.

When Korematsu came before the court, Jackson was a shining light. A brief recap of Korematsu: During World War II, President Roosevelt signed executive order 1066, which interred Japanese Americans. It’s a vile chapter in our country’s history. It was morally repugnant and based in rank political cowardice. Eventually, a case made its way to the court, where the court sided with the government.

Jackson was one of three justices to dissent, offering some memorable passages, including:

…(h)is crime would result, not from anything he did, said, or thought, different than they, but only in that he was born of different racial stock. Now, if any fundamental assumption underlies our system, it is that guilt is personal and not inheritable. Even if all of one’s antecedents had been convicted of treason, the Constitution forbids its penalties to be visited upon him. But here is an attempt to make an otherwise innocent act a crime merely because this prisoner is the son of parents as to whom he had no choice, and belongs to a race from which there is no way to resign. If Congress in peace-time legislation should enact such a criminal law, I should suppose this Court would refuse to enforce it.

The principled Jackson’s foray to Nuremberg came at great political cost, however. It tore at his family and it also possibly cost him a chance at being Chief Justice.

Roosevelt had long promised to elevate him to the role and he expected Roosevelt’s successor, Harry Truman, to nominate him.

We now know that other factors also weighed on Truman’s mind. Justice Black threatened to resign if his colleague was given the spot.

Black’s contempt for Jackson might only have been equaled by Douglas’. No doubt that hurt Jackson’s chances. And he wasn’t in the country to defend himself.

How influential was Jackson? One of his law clerks was William H. Rehnquist, who ended up becoming an Associate and Chief Justice.

Rehnquist’s nominations give us a final fascinating look at Jackson.

Rehnquist was Jackson’s clerk during Brown, probably the court’s most important decision of the 20th century. It ended up being a unanimous decision destroying Plessy V. Ferguson. Brown desegregated schools and is heralded as a high mark in the history of not just the civil rights movement, but of the court itself. During the deliberations on whether or not to approve President Nixon’s nomination of Rehnquist, a memo was found. Signed by Rehnquist, it said Plessy shouldn’t be overturned.

Rehnquist claimed that was Jackson’s opinion. However, considering Jackson’s previous writings on equality, his vote in the case and Rehnquist’s initials, that’s hard to believe. But Jackson was long dead and couldn’t defend himself.

Links from outside the den

Robert H Jackson Law Center

What if you found out in school that your dad was a major figure in an important civil rights case

In the den

More Writing about the court

The most fascinating Supreme Court Justice you’ve never heard of

The people I worked with

I love Mike, but there were times he drove me up a wall. I’d sit, staring at my computer trying not to walk over to his cubicle and scream at him and toss my drink in his face. You know the image of the dog with a bone, it’s shaking its head and not letting the bone go. Not now. Not for hours. That was Mike. But you know what, if I ever started a newsroom, he’d be one of the first people three people I called. And I’d put him high up in the newsroom. Because Mike will not hold back. If he’s reporting, he’ll get the information you need. If you’re stuck trying to figure out the ethics of something, he might have a different take then you, and you’re better off listening to him. Even if you don’t end up agreeing with him.

There are few people I respect more. Continue reading “The people I worked with”

The people I worked with

King’s letter is just as relevant today

Today’s suggested reading is one of the most well read letters in American History: Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

King’s record of nonviolence is one of the most commendable parts of American history. However, it is often conflated with conformity, nonaggression and civility.

No doubt, the protestors who followed in his footsteps felt they were being civil. But if you ask those at that time who opposed them, they were anything but.

When we think of great American writers or thinkers, King should be among the first to come to mind. Like Franklin, he offered wit and Wisdom. Like Twain, he offered honesty and vivid descriptions. Like Poe, Dickenson and Angelou, his words kept off the page with a graceful cadence. And like Madison, Hamilton or Lincoln, his ideas were well constructed and thoroughly advocated. And he had the earthiness of Lee and Faulkner.
We’ll start three paragraphs in:

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.
Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

He sets the reader up with his moral gravitas there.
There’s no escaping it. He’s not just telling you why he’s in the struggle, but why you must be as well. Then he nails you eith the rhetorical right hook.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

Oh, he will take no prisoners. Makes you think about today’s reactions to the Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ experience at the Red Hen restaurant.

After talking about the process of nonviolence, he brings up the issues African Americans faced in Birmingham, including unsolved church bombings. He takes the reader through all the steps that havd been taken.
That brings you to the gut punch.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.

The letter continues on after that. It is full of wisdom that is much needed today. Please give it a read.

King’s letter is just as relevant today

The cream rises to the top of the division

We’re in the thick of the Major League Baseball season. A month ago, fans and sportswriters were speculating that the National League’s super teams would miss the playoffs. This was, of course, absurd.

These teams are so good they can live through a slump. So where are we now?

CHC-2018The Cubs With 42 wins, the Cubs have the best record in the senior circuit. They’ve gone 19-11 in their last 30 games.  They are first in the National League in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS and are third in runs. From the mound, they lead the league in ERA and They’re going to win the division. It’s not going to be close, either. Sorry Brewers fans.

The Dodgers Since falling to 16-26 on May 16, the Los Angeles Dodgers are 22-9. They now sit at 38-35, just two games back of the Arizona Diamondbacks. They are third in OPS, first in FIP and fourth in WHIP. It’s hard to imagine them not making the playoffs at this point. My bet is they win 95 or more games and take the division.

WSN-2018The Nationals The Nationals are tied for third place in the National League East with the Phillies. They are 3.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves. Both the Braves and Phillies are riding early season successes, but are relying on young bats. With 16 games left against the Phillies and nine against the Braves, the Nats can make up ground very quickly.

As for the wildcard, it’s a mess. The senior circuit has nine teams – the Braves, Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Giants, Nationals, and Phillies – with 43-37 wins. This likely won’t sort itself out until September at the earliest.

The American League Powerhouses

Well the Cleveland Indians are the closest thing to scuffling – and they’re in first place with a five game lead over the surprising Detroit Tigers. In the West the Houston Astros have raced out to 50 wins. In the American League East, the Yankees and Red Sox are duking it out. The Yankees currently have a 2-game lead.

While we expected the Twins to be the second wild-card team, the Seattle Mariners currently hold that spot. They have baseball’s longest postseason drought. They’re seven games up on the Tigers, so they could sew this up soon.

The cream rises to the top of the division

The right thing

It’s easy today to justifiably condemn a lot of things in American history.

We read, see and hear about evil people separating kids from their families. So we’re reminded of interning the Japanese, hundreds of years of slavery, restricting the right to vote from women and minorities, the treatment of indigenous peoples, a Constitution written with a 3/5ths clause.

We should be outraged. And we are because at our core, Americans are a good people.

When Haiti was destroyed by an earthquake, Americans pulled $61 million out of their own pockets to send to the country. That doesn’t include corporate gifts or any federal aid. Five years earlier, Americans opened their wallets when a Tsunami struck the Indian Ocean.

Winston Churchill supposedly said that Americans can be trusted to do the right thing once they’ve exhausted all other possibilities. I’m doubtful he actually said this, but it can be said about the people of almost any nation.

I remain hopeful Americans will do the right thing in November.

The right thing

Writer’s block

I promised myself I’d blog more this week. But Monday passed without anything inspiring me. I can’t even bring myself to write about the children who have been taken by the government while we pay for their kidnapping.

I’ve also been a bit busy after last week’s storm. You can check out my write up about what happened last Wednesday. I really don’t feel like rehashing everything again.

I’ll get back into blogging in a bit.

Writer’s block