Friday, July 18, 2008

ESPN discovers dynamic new writer

One of the great things about writing for Blue Ribbon is seeing my prose on every year. BR has a deal with the gang in Bristol to provide our stories to their "Insider" subscribers. We don't get bylines, but anybody can tell Donnelly writing when they read it. Am I right?

Here are the links to the four stories I wrote this year, posted Thursday on

And with that, I'm off to begin my cross-country trek to God's Country. I'll be checking in from the road, so as they say, don't touch that dial ...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

ASG Live Blog: The Whole Enchilada

Yes, WHIH fans, I stayed up for the whole thing -- even here on the West Coast it was a long haul -- so if you want to read the live blog in order, here are the links:

Enjoy, and make it a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

ASG Live Blog: Extra Innings

8:50 p.m. I'd love to see this thing go 15 or so innings and have Francona leave Rivera in there to pitch the whole thing. With the Yankees going to Fenway this weekend and the way the mooks in the Bronx treated Papelbon, even Earl Hickey would give Francona a karmic pass on that one.

8:53 p.m. Sweet DP turned by the Texas Rangers middle infielders, with the Big Canadian on the back end of a 4-6-3 to bail out Mariano. Maybe Kinsler and Young will get a cookie fastball from Mo the next time they face him. Otherwise, Mo's on the hook as the losing pitcher in the last All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.

8:57 p.m. OK, who did Dan Uggla piss off? Because that's just a sick way to get noticed on the national stage. Back-to-back errors in the 10th inning of an all-star game is not something you want to see on your baseball resume.

9:03 p.m. Uggla gets the monkey off his back a bit by getting the first out of the inning at the plate. Then Guzman makes a decent play at third, considering he's a shortstop. Now it's up to the Big Canadian ... and he can't get it done! We're going to the 11th! Uggla's career has been saved! And Bud Selig's ulcer just throbbed a little.

9:18 p.m. And once again, technology rears its ugly head as Kinsler is called out at second base on a steal attempt. Problem is, Tejada never tagged him, and the slow-mo made that painfully obvious. Even to the naked eye, you could see that Kinsler had made a great slide to the back side of the base and Tejada just swept his glove through the zone where the runner's foot is usually found. The ump relied on the old 'the ball beat him' rule and called him out ... and the band played on.

9:22 p.m. Unreal. Nate McLouth throws Dionner Navarro out at the plate. Aaron Cook has given up hit after hit after hit and yet he's still got two outs in the inning. And as it turns out, Navarro beat the tag as well -- his foot was on the plate while Russell Martin was tagging him in the crotch. But the throw beat him. And with another fine play by noted third baseman Cristian Guzman, Cook is out of another jam and we're on our way to the 12th inning.

9:31 p.m. A walk, a bunt hit, a sacrifice and an intentional walk have loaded the bases for Uggla, who really, really wishes this night would end quickly. Soria broke off one of the wickedest 12-to-6 curveballs you've ever seen to finish him off in three pitches. Here comes George Sherrill to try and get Adrian Gonzalez. The only thing I know about George Sherrill is that he told Sports Illustrated that if a movie were to be made about his life, he'd want Denzel Washington to play him. Oh, and he's white.

9:33 p.m. The worst part of extra innings? More airings of that Baby Ruth commercial. You know, the one with the giant bobblehead guy playing the ukulele and singing horribly? Yeah, that one. I'd love to hear about that ad pitch. "How can we sell more candy bars? I know -- an annoying guy with a ukulele!"

9:36 p.m. I now know this about George Sherrill -- he can strike out Gonzalez on three pitches to retire the side. I hope he's got about four more innings in him, the way this one is going.

9:40 p.m. Hey, Uggla made a play! Well, sorta. At least he got the out. The winning run is 90 feet away. Longoria just needs a fly ball. The Big Canadian is on deck. Do you get the sense that McCarver is impressed with Russell Martin? I know you were a catcher Timmy, but try to keep your gushing to a minimum. You're starting to sound like Paul McGuire describing a punter.

9:43 p.m. Longoria whiffs. Aaron Cook could wiggle out of this one again! They walk the Big Canadian to get to Kinsler. He's just the leading hitter in the American League. But he's not the Big Canadian! They didn't even try to throw out the Big Canadian at second! Defensive indifference, my ass -- they knew they had no chance! Yes, I'm getting a bit loopy by now.

9:46 p.m. Kinsler grounds out to Guzman. We're going 13. Selig looks like he just swallowed Rod Carew's chaw.

10:00 p.m. Uggla apparently is trying to win the MVP for the American League. His third error -- on a bad hop, let's all admit it -- puts Drew on first base with one out. Carlos Marmol, who gave up five runs in one inning his last time out, has been trotted out to end this thing. Buck just said that Scott Kazmir -- the last pitcher in the AL bullpen -- has sat down again after previously getting stretched out. With Sherrill already having gone 1 1/3 innings, you have to think he's done.

10:02 p.m. Drew steals second as Michael Young strikes out. One more shot for the AL, Carlos Quentin. If he can't bring home the run, we'll see if we're going to get another inning, and if so, who will throw it. Bud Selig might be dead right now, for all we know.

10:05 p.m. Quentin strikes out. It's after 1 a.m. on the East Coast. A-Rod is watching the end of the game while spooning with Madge in her townhouse. Jeter's already on his third date of the evening. Joe Buck is wondering if he gets paid by the inning.

10:10 p.m. Sherrill tosses another frame. If the Orioles were in the race, this might be an issue. As it is, Francona will probably get a nasty letter from Wild Bill Hagy. From beyond the grave, of course. It looks like Kazmir is on for the 15th. And as Buck noted, "Once Kazmir takes the mound, the clock is ticking. Maybe we can have the Hall-of-Famers pitch!" Yeah, if you can wake them up.

10:18 p.m. Brandon Webb mows down the AL in order. The Big Canadian will be leading off the bottom of the 15th! Let's see if Kazmir can throw a scoreless frame and give the Big Canadian a chance at a walk-off home run, thus giving him the HR Derby title and the All-Star MVP award in one fell swoop! Yeah, I'm getting a little loopy again.

10:28 p.m. Well, here we go! Kazmir blanked the NL in the 15th, so here comes the Big Canadian against Brad Lidge. And he leads off with a single to center! Let's see the Big Canadian swipe a bag now...

10:36 p.m. YES! I KNEW IT! The Big Canadian's wheels win it for the American League! Morneau slides in ahead of Corey Hart's throw, scoring from third on Michael Young's sac fly to give the AL a 4-3 win in 15 innings.

And despite the occasional snark or sarcasm in this blog, it was genuinely cool to see the guys all celebrating after the game. Morneau and Quentin wrapped each other in a giant hug, Youkilis jumped into the pile for some celebratory man love, and Francona got a nicotine-soaked hug from Jim Leyland.

J.D. Drew gets the Chevy MVP award from a relieved Bud Selig. A few New Yawk mooks are still around booing. And all is right in the world as the AL wins another All-Star Game. Good-night, everybody!

ASG Live Blog: Innings 7-9

7:38 p.m. The man once dubbed "Twitchy McXanax" by the late, lamented BatGirl (she's not dead -- just her blog is) takes the hill for the AL. Man, I knew Nathan was awesome, but I didn't realize that among all pitchers with at least 200 saves, he has the second-best save percentage all-time. That's ridiculous. It also explains why I feel so different when he enters the game, compared to how I felt when Eddie Guardado's High-Wire Act or even Rick Aguilera's Beard were the Twins' closers.

7:41 p.m. Josh Groban just strolled onto the field to sing "God Bless America." It says something about my interest in popular music that I asked my wife, "Who's this?" She said, "Josh Groban," and I was momentarily stunned until I realized his name was on the screen at the time. That was a pretty prissy rendition of the song, by the way. I'd rather have Ronan Tynan and his massive ears -- we're at Yankee Stadium, for crying out loud.

7:48 p.m. OK, things are starting to heat up now. Morneau just scalded a double to right and McCarver told us it was off Edinson Volquez's changeup, which has become "the pitch of the islands." He didn't specify if he meant the Canary Islands, or the Bahamas or what. Now he tells us he got it from a Wall Street Journal article. Sometimes these blogs just write themselves.

7:53 p.m. J.D. Drew just did the only thing that could earn a Boston athlete cheers from a New York crowd -- he tied the game with a two-run homer. It was a line drive to right field that was flatter than the brim on Volquez's cap. And it's a whole new ballgame.

8:03 p.m. Well, that lead lasted all of 10 minutes, as Miguel Tejada singled, stole second, moved to third on a throwing error and scored on a sac fly by Adrian Gonzalez. All of this against Jonathan Papelbon, who was just defended by the FOX broadcast crew who were truly offended by the New York Daily News story about Papelbon's comments regarding who should pitch the 9th inning tonight. Gee, you guys are surprised that a New York tabloid would manufacture a controversy involving a rival team? Fellas, the turnip truck you fell off is leaving soon ...

8:19 p.m. Evan (I'm already sick of the "Desperate Houswives" jokes) Longoria ties it back up with a ground-rule double off Billy Wagner, scoring Grady Sizemore shortly after he stole second base to get into scoring position. But the Big Canadian couldn't bloop a single to get the go-ahead run home, so we head to the 9th tied at 3.

8:35 p.m. Well, Dempster is in and this shouldn't take long. He's a good pitcher, but his home/road splits are shocking. And as we all know, tonight's game is not being played at Wrigley Field.

8:42 p.m. ... and Dempster strikes out the side to send us to extra innings. Go figure.

ASG Live Blog: Innings 4-6

6:40 p.m. Super-slow-mo just showed us that Pujols was actually safe at second, even though the throw beat him. Umpires have to hate that camera, because it exposes the old ways of calling a game. For years, if the throw beat you to the base, you were out, no matter how late the tag was. If a middle infielder was near second base on an attempted double play, the force was given. Pitchers who worked the outside corner consistently would get an extra three inches off the black, then four inches, then five inches, and so on. Technology is killing the umps and they're going to either have to embrace it to improve their performance or eventually be replaced altogether.

6:44 p.m. I can't overemphasize what a dork A-Rod looks like in those big, puffy white shoes. He looks like a high school kid who just stepped off the team bus in full uniform but wanted to put his spikes on in the dugout.

6:54 p.m. We have lift-off! Matt Holliday hammers a line drive to right for a home run off Ervin Santana. Amazingly, there are no puns on either player's name. I guess I've been watching Chris Berman for too long.

6:56 p.m. A-Rod gets taken out in the middle of an inning so the Yankees fans can applaud him. If any Yankees fans were actually at the game, that might have worked out well. Or if Yankees fans in attendance actually liked A-Rod. Or if anybody actually liked A-Rod.

7:03 p.m. Baby Jesus crushes an infield single and gets pulled for a pinch runner. It'll be interesting to see if Ian Kinsler stays in the game and they put the new catcher in Pedroia's spot, or if Francona is going to stick with his guys for nine innings. Because, you know, they're the Red Sox and they rule.

7:07 p.m. Wow, Haren just blew a fastball past Ichiro for strike three. Captain Cool is the AL's last chance this inning with two runners on and the AL trailing by a run. The "fans" just did some kind of chant for Jeter, but that lasted all of one pitch.

Buck just told us that over the last 20 games, the AL is 16-3-1. Yes, that one sticks out like A-Rod's white shoes.

And Jeter bounces back to the mound. Still 1-0. Fighting ... to ... stay ... awake.

7:15 p.m. They just showed the AL bullpen, where we were treated to a snapshot of what goes on in the bullpen in the sixth inning of a 1-0 game: Joakim Soria was picking his nose, and Mariano Rivera was yawning. We know how you feel, Mo.

7:17 p.m. I'm actually kind of surprised that we haven't seen more sponsored segments of this game. I started taking notes on the advertisers we've seen so far -- the Aquafina Make Your Body Happy Sweepstakes, the Baby Ruth Take Me Out to the Ballgame Contest, the Chevy Pregame Show, etc. -- but FOX has shown remarkable restraint during the game. Even the Foxbox isn't sponsored -- I thought for sure there would be a Vagisil or Flomax tag on there somewhere.

7:19 p.m. A Berkman sac fly puts the NL on top 2-0, and Jeter gets taken out of the game mid-inning. I sincerely hope this is just Francona pandering to the Yankee crowd in hopes of being able to get out of the stadium without being pelted with rotten fruit, and not the start of an All-Star trend where the home team's players are all given a chance to doff their lids in the middle of an inning. These things usually take long enough as it is. Even now, we're on a three-hour pace despite the lack of offense.

7:28 p.m. Mr. 28 Home Runs leads off the sixth with a single. As Jeff Spicoli might say, "All right Hamilton!"

7:33 p.m. Despite a fourth stolen base, the AL squanders another runner in scoring position and trails 2-0 after six. Somewhere, Milwaukee Brewers fans are giddy at the prospect of home-field advantage.

ASG Live Blog: Innings 1-3

5:47 p.m. Buck said, "Hanley Ramirez, if you don't know, is one of the best young players in the game," or something along those lines. Well, Joe, of course most people don't know that. It's hard to know that when every national game of the week on FOX or ESPN is either Red Sox-Yankees, Mets-Cubs, Yankees-Mets, or a Red Sox intrasquad game.

5:51 p.m. Cliff Lee strikes out two in a perfect first inning. Satan just called him in the dugout to remind him of the terms of their deal.

5:56 p.m. OK, FOX -- we know this game is in Yankee Stadium. You don't have to give us the Yankees' franchise leaders in every statistical category. Unless it's 'Most Marriages Destroyed by Over-the-Hill Pop Stars.' Then, by all means, fire away.

6:16 p.m. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I love seeing the Twins' home white uniforms under the lights in a night game outdoors. Since 1982, the only times we get to see that are Spring Training and every other All-Star Game. 2010 can't come soon enough.

And Baby Jesus coaxes a walk. Nice to see an All-Star do what he does best. Maybe Pedroia will follow by grabbing his crotch in a shout-out to Julio Lugo.

6:33 p.m. It's been a painfully boring first three innings. McCarver just livened it up a little by saying that Ichiro is a guy who might merit Hall of Fame consideration. Gee, ya think, Tim? Your guys in the truck just posted a graphic telling us that Ichiro has had 200 hits, 100 runs, 30 stolen bases and a .300 average in each of his first SEVEN seasons in the majors.

ASG Live Blog: Pregame Intros

This was always my favorite part of the game as a kid -- because it was the one time I'd actually get to see the Twins' lone representative. For years, it was Rod Carew in the starting lineup. Then in the early 80s it got real ugly -- Doug Corbett, Dave Engle, Bombo Rivera (not really, but if fans could vote a million times over the internet like you can now, he would have made it).

Then Gary Gaetti ruined the whole thing for me. One year he writes "Hi Rex" on his batting gloves to greet Kent Hrbek back at home. The next year, he writes "Jesus Saves" on his gloves. And the world has not been the same since.

5:02 p.m. Nice to see Nate McLouth and Ryan Ludwick lined up next to each other. How do you think that conversation went? "Soak it all up, buddy -- we'll never be back here again."

5:05 p.m. Jim Leyland stopped smoking long enough to tip his cap on the baseline. I'm sure he deployed the emergency nicotine patch for the 10 minutes away from the dugout tunnel.

Joe Nathan rubbed his nose before waving to the camera. Either he was sending a signal to somebody at home, or he can't stop twitching even when he's standing still.

5:10 p.m. One local note -- just saw an ad for a contest that is sponsored by Las Vegas -- the winner gets a trip here. I find this interesting because the NFL wouldn't even allow advertisements for the NBC TV show "Vegas," let alone ads for or other entities. Never thought I'd see the day when MLB was more forward-thinking than the NFL.

5:13 p.m. Hall of Fame time! Man, Eckersley looks like he could still be playing. Gaylord Perry looks like he pitched to Ty Cobb. And right about now, Bert Blyleven kicked his dog.

If somebody had told you a year ago that Cliff Lee would be standing next to Steve Carlton on All-Star night, you would have thought Lee was washing his windshield.

Ooh, good. Harmon wore a Twins cap. I was afraid he might go with the Royals.

Gotta love Yankees fans -- they boo any Red Sox on cue, but after the big buildup to Whitey Ford, he got a few golf claps. I'm guessing most of these mooks have never even heard of Whitey Ford, but they could look him up on their Blackberries if they weren't so busy texting their financial advisors right now.

I get that MLB is trying to copy the NFL with their Hall-of-Fame blazers, but it's just not working. This thing looks like a Realtors convention.

A-Rod is wearing white shoes. Jeter is not. 'Nuff said.

Give Milton Bradley credit -- he didn't punch anybody on his way out to his spot on the field.

Did they forget the catchers? You have to think Joe Buck screwed that up. First he announced the managers, then the catchers, then the Hall of Fame catchers. Buck must have been distracted by a quarter somebody dropped on the press box floor.

Where's Johnny Bench? Didn't he make the Hall of Fame just on his "Baseball Bunch" career alone?

5:37 p.m. Egads! George Steinbrenner is still alive! I can't believe they're letting him out in public. I don't want to say he's slipped a bit, but I think he just tried to fire Billy Martin again.

Nice ceremonial first pitch(es), but no pregame tribute to Yankee Stadium would be complete without the ceremonial first D-cell battery toss from the upper deck in right field.

Buck just threw it to commercial with, "When we come back, we will set up this All-Star Game, the 2008 version, here in the Bronx." What the hell have we been doing for the last hour and 37 minutes?!

5:47 p.m. Oh, right. They have to have a special segment just to introduce Tim McCarver into the mix. He just compared your body's core to the core of the NL lineup in an analogy that was about as tortured as a prisoner at Gitmo. OK, there's another tortured analogy for you, but what the hell? McCarver got me into the tortured analogy spirit.

ASG Live Blog: Red Carpet Show

Hello again everybody, we're blogging live from WHIH HQ here in beautiful Henderson, Nev., where we're going to chronicle the events of the 2008 All-Star Game!

4:07 p.m. Nice to see FOX isn't going to overdramatize this event. They've just compared the "parade of heroes" to the tickertape parades that have honored V-J Day, JFK's nomination in 1960 and Queen Elizabeth's visit.

Also, I think Mark Grace is going to spend more crying than Dick Vermeil tonight.

And we have our first A-Rod sighting, as the purple-lipped one has been cornered on the red carpet by Charissa Thompson. Not sure that was the best choice by FOX -- you might not want to put him too close to random blondes these days.

Hey, there's Ryne Sandberg! Is he riding with Rafael Palmiero's wife? He who laughs last, Raffy ...

4:10 p.m. Thompson apparently has never heard of the Popemobile, as Jonathan Papelbon's surprisingly worldly reference just flew over her head like a Chuck Knoblauch throw to first.

4:30 p.m. Oh good, we have the Baby Ruth Take Me Out to the Ballgame contest winner! I was afraid FOX would have a hard time rounding up sponsors for this event.

4:35 p.m. Chipper Jones, take the dip out of your mouth when you're interviewed on national TV. Oh, and Mike Schmidt? Unless you change your last name to Ditka, spit out the chewing gum.

4:38 p.m. Breathless pimping of "The year's most anticipated series, 'Fringe'!" was followed by a snippet of Terry Francona's pregame speech. Basically, he said, "Don't get mad at me if I don't get you into the game. We can't have another embarrassing tie game, so Dionner Navarro, you might as well hang out in the clubhouse unless we play 10 innings."

4:39 p.m. I've gotta admit -- Ernie Banks holding Fukudome's kid was pretty cool. It might even help me forget Grace's attempt to speak Japanese.

4:43 p.m. Maybe it was just the lighting, but Rudy Giuliani looked like he was speaking from Dick Cheney's undisclosed bunker. Which reminds me -- I just watched Bill Maher's 'The Decider' special on HBO last week. It was taped about a year ago in Boston, and at the time, it looked like Giuliani was the odds-on pick to win the Republican nomination. A perfect example of why political humor has the shelf life of of a sushi platter.

4:55 p.m. Wait a minute -- where is this game being played? Boston? Seattle? Tampa-St. Pete? Oh yeah ... New York. Good thing they had that song to remind me.

Thin-skinned Twins fans

The whole WHIH family had a good time last night watching favorite son Justin Morneau win the MLB Home Run Derby on ESPN. But my happiness faded when I read through the comments on the StarTribune's recap of the event.

Minnesota fans, sadly, are famous for their thin skin. Ever since the days of Howard Cosell "intentionally" leaving the Vikings out of his Monday Night Football halftime highlights package and the infamous Drew Pearson push-off in the 1975 NFC Championship game, Minnesota fans have been convinced that the media (excuse me, the "biased East-Coast media") and all referees and umpires have been conspiring to disrespect and foil the championship hopes of our beloved teams.

Last night's Home Run Derby apparently was no exception. The Strib's readers were irate about a number of perceived slights that Morneau received last night. Here's a quick recap:

Joe Morgan pointing out that there were eight white guys and no minorities in the contest, and that Morneau didn't deserve to go because he was the last one selected. Problem is, Morgan didn't say it -- Rick Reilly did. I'm guessing most of the fans who got it wrong heard the comment, figured it must have been a black guy who said it, and since Joe Morgan is the only black guy in the booth, he was the guilty party. Also, Reilly meant it as a joke -- a lame joke, but a joke. That's what he's supposed to provide the telecast. He's the court jester. Yeah, he wasn't very funny, but if you've watched ESPN or FOX lately, that's par for the course.

Too much attention to Josh Hamilton's record 28-home run binge in the first round, and not enough attention on Morneau winning the finals 5-3. Yes, Morneau won the finals, but Hamilton made history. I mean, what are you going to remember 10 years from now, Morneau pounding line drives into the right field seats, or Hamilton hitting 13 straight bombs, many of them 500+ feet to places where hitters have never reached in the most famous stadium of them all?

Think back to when the 1999 game was at Fenway. Who won the Home Run Derby? I don't remember either. But I remember Mark McGwire pumping ball after ball over the Monster. I don't remember who won in Milwaukee in 2002, but I do remember Sammy Sosa crushing a ball over Bernie Brewer's slide and off the glass wall behind the outfield concourse.

Morneau won the competition, yes. But the competition is meaningless. The Home Run Derby is an exhibition. Winning it is about as meaningful as winning a preseason NFL game. Personally, I'd have been more offended if ESPN had made a big deal over Morneau winning the final round 5-3, because then they'd be trying to sell me on the idea that the end result of the Home Run Derby means something. The derby is only notable for its entertainment value -- nothing more. They have to make a "competition" out of it so people will watch, but nothing is actually at stake. It's just another chance for ESPN and MLB to sell some ad time and milk another round of ticket fees out of the fans.

David Ortiz was "classless" for walking through the batter's box and disappearing into the dugout during Hamilton's record round. Ortiz is one of the classiest people in the game. The derby is a chance for these guys to have some fun, to mug for the camera and be entertainers for one night. Ortiz was basically saying, "That's it -- I've seen everything" after Hamilton pounded ball after ball into the outer reaches of the stadium. He wasn't trying to show up Hamilton or hog the spotlight -- he was trying to be funny, as well as pay a compliment to Hamilton.

The State Farm guy called Morneau "Jason" as he presented the award for winning the finals. Yeah, a corporate suit who doesn't pay attention to sports and who's only there because his company paid a king's ransom to sponsor the event flubbed the name of somebody he'd never heard of. Big shock. If Hamilton had won the finals, the State Farm suit surely would have called him "John."

Maybe it took moving 1600 miles away for me to really grasp how paranoid and small-minded some (many) Minnesota sports fans can be. Or maybe it took the explosion of the Internet and the ubiquity of message boards for me to witness the unvarnished thoughts of those who follow my favorite teams. Either way, scrolling through those comments last night made me throw up in my mouth just a little.

And for those of you still reading, if you think that last reference was a shout-out to the Sports Guy, you're right. Since he's taking the rest of the summer off, I thought I'd fill the void for my seven loyal readers and provide a live blog of the All-Star Game tonight, just like he would have done had he not been finishing his book or mourning the breakup of his friends Jimmy and Sarah.

So tune in tonight or check back tomorrow for a real hot time on the old info tubes!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

We stand where he stood ...

... and we should damn proud of it. One of the documentaries I mentioned earlier this week that I saw at CineVegas was "Where I Stand," the story of Hank Greenspun, the founder and longtime publisher of the Las Vegas Sun. (Full disclosure: He's also the founder of Greenspun Media Group, the company that puts a roof over my head, food on my table and clothes on my back, but I'll try to be as impartial as I can.)

I love documentaries in general, because the truth is usually stranger than fiction, but this one really stood out for me because while I knew Hank was a pretty amazing guy, I had no idea just how much he influenced not only Las Vegas history but U.S. and international events as well. Now, of course in a documentary you're only hearing one side of the story, so some of this has to be taken with a grain of salt, but from what the director said, the family had no involvement in the project beyond providing interviews and the like, so I really have no reason to believe the lily was gilded too much in this film.

In a nutshell, Greenspun was a Jewish kid from New York City who moved to Las Vegas to find his fortune in 1943. After spending a short time as Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel's PR man at the Flamingo, he founded the Sun, wrote an influential front-page column called "Where I Stand," and became a multimillionaire through smart investments in real estate. His son Brian now publishes the Sun, while his son Danny runs GMG, and his daughters are involved in the business world and philanthropy. And his wife Barbara is still with us as well, the matriarch of a great family.

I won't go into too many details, because you really should see this movie for yourself (and negotiations for a distribution deal are ongoing, so it may come to a theater near you, no matter where you are). But to pique your interest, here's a brief rundown of Hank's accomplishments and intersections with history.

  • He helped supply arms for the Israeli army to help the country survive after it was granted independence in 1947. Not funding for the arms -- the arms themselves. There's a great anecdote about him sneaking guns and ammo out of a munitions dump in post-WWII Hawaii that illustrates how dirty his hands got. He was convicted of a felony and fined $10,000 for violating the Neutrality Act, but JFK later pardoned him.
  • He was one of the first public figures to stand up to Sen. Joe McCarthy during the Red Scare of the 1950s. McCarthy called him a commie (presumably because he was in the newspaper business and had warred with Nevada Sen. Patrick McCarran, a crony of McCarthy) in a speech in Las Vegas, but Greenspun was actually in the audience and grabbed the mike after McCarthy left the podium. He shouted at McCarthy as he left the arena, turned the crowd in his favor, then used his column to rail against McCarthy and all he stood for. And you all know how that turned out.
  • He helped integrate the businesses on the Strip. For years, blacks were allowed to perform on the Strip, but not stay in the hotels or eat in the restaurants. When the threat of a strike by the many minority Strip workers led to the fear of a riot, Greenspun used his influence with the casino owners to gather them and hammer out a compromise that effectively integrated the Strip in the early 1960s.
  • He helped kick the mafia out of Las Vegas. The mob mostly ran the show until the late 1960s when a guy named Howard Hughes moved to town. Hughes needed a place to stay, and he holed up in the penthouse suite at the Desert Inn. When the DI's owners wanted him to move on because he was taking up space they could rent to people who would actually gamble in their casino, he ended up buying the property. With Greenspun's help as a liaison between the mob's money men and Hughes, the reclusive billionaire bought up a handful of casinos and the mafia's influence dried up in the desert.
  • He was knee-deep in the Watergate scandal. Nixon heard a rumor that Greenspun had compromising information about his longtime confidant Bebe Rebozo, who also was a friend of Hughes. The infamous Plumbers were plotting to break into Greenspun's office at the Sun and steal or break into his safe when the whole Democratic Party office thing blew up. At one point on the Watergate tapes, Greenspun's name comes up, and when one of his lackeys said he didn't know who Hank was, Nixon sharply retorted, "Jesus Christ, everyone knows who Hank Greenspun is. He's the publisher of the Las Vegas Sun!"
Let's see ... Israeli independence, McCarthy, civil rights, the mafia, Howard Hughes, Watergate ... have I missed anything? Probably -- he was a crusader against the IRS, he tried to help broker a Middle East peace pact, he owned TV and radio stations here in Las Vegas, and he basically bought up all the land between the Strip and a sleepy little burg called Henderson, the area now known as Green Valley and my back yard.

After seeing the film, I couldn't help but think that Hank Greenspun in a way was a real-life Forrest Gump, except he wasn't a passive observer at so many key points in American history. He actually affected it. It's hard to say how this world would be different if Hank Greenspun hadn't made that long drive from New York to Las Vegas, but one thing I know for sure -- I wouldn't be sitting here typing this if he hadn't.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Hold Steady -- Stay Positive

Careful readers will have noted that the "Reading/Listening" link at left indicates the latest soundtrack of my life has been provided by The Hold Steady, specifically their latest album, "Stay Positive." Avid fans of The Hold Steady know that their fourth album isn't due to drop until July 15. But rabid fans of The Hold Steady downloaded it from iTunes last month.

My early review isn't as glowing as I'd have hoped, but I do think it'll grow on me, because just today I noticed I was starting to get sucked in by some of the hooks in the second half of the album. The first three songs rival the greatest work they've done ... I think it's just a matter of time before I warm to the rest of it.

The set kicks off with the anthemic "Constructive Summer," an ode to the glory of accomplishment amid the distractions of ... ah, hell, it's just a great song about drinking and talking and playing rock music really loud and having fun. It also includes one of my favorite lyrical couplets of all time:

Raise a toast to Saint Joe Strummer
I think he might have been our only decent teacher

The second song, "Sequestered in Memphis," is a catchy, piano-driven tune that centers on a mysterious encounter in a bathroom and, I assume, the disappearance of the young woman who was on the business end of said encounter. It'll make for a great sing-along live.

The masterpiece of the album, in my mind, is the third track, "One For the Cutters." I'm still not sure how the name of the song fits with the story, which is a beautiful dissertation on a young college student conflicted by her affinity for the townies in her midst. So many great lyrical twists ("Sophomore accomplice in a turtleneck sweater" springs to mind) illustrate the story as it spills forth in classic Craig Finn fashion.

Highlights from the rest of the album include the title track, "Lord I'm Discouraged" and "Yeah Sapphire," and the rest are all decent as well. But I think the reason I've been slow to embrace the album is that it's completely devoid of references to the characters that populated the first three albums. I wasn't expecting another full-on concept album cataloging the travails of Holly, Charlemagne, Gideon and the rest of the crew, but even "Boys and Girls in America" had "First Night."

Nothing at all about our favorite clever kids and hoodrats on the new album. Still a few Minnesota references, which are always cool, but thematically, this one doesn't have the same hook that the first three albums did. Still, you won't catch me complaining about new Hold Steady music, like this right here.

The Sabathia deal

Before you get up-in-arms about the Brewers "fleecing" Cleveland for hefty lefty and reigning Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia, let's take a trip in the way-way back machine and revisit the headlines of June 27, 2002.

MONTREAL -- The Expos took a big step toward the N.L. East pennant today by obtaining ace pitcher Bartolo Colon from the Cleveland Indians.

The Expos, who undoubtedly sealed their long-term future as the premier sporting franchise in Canada with the move, only had to part with journeyman first baseman Lee Stevens and a package of unknown minor-league "prospects," none of whom will ever likely amount to a hill of beans.

Those minor leaguers include second baseman Brandon Phillips, pitcher Cliff Lee, and outfielder Grady Sizemore.

Fast-forward six years, and you'll note that Phillips is an all-star-caliber infielder for the Reds who hit 30 home runs last year; Lee is 11-2 with a 2.43 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP and is the likely choice to start the All-Star Game for the American League this year; and Sizemore is heralded as one of the top five-tool players in the game and currently leads the AL with 22 home runs.

But that Lee Stevens sure was a stiff.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Wake up, dead man

I wish I had as good a reason for my hiatus as my friend at Bye Bye Shadowlands, but all I can say is that I've been doing other things. Work-wise, I wrote a couple articles for the Vikings' yearbook and continued to fine-tune the book project. Travel included a Daddy-daughter trip to San Diego to watch the red-hot Minnesota Twins take a pair from the Padres at Petco Park. We also had a family trip to Disneyland -- one day, in and out, ten hours at the park and then four hours home.

Oh, and I never did finish my thoughts on CineVegas. I saw a couple more movies that second week -- two documentaries that I loved, and one feature film that was brilliant. I'll break down the documentaries later this week, but here's my brief review of The Wackness.

Sir Ben Kingsley headlines a dynamite cast that includes two rising stars -- Josh Peck (from the Nickelodeon show "Drake and Josh") and Olivia Thirlby (a.k.a. Juno's best friend). Peck's character is a recent high school graduate spending his final summer at home in Manhattan in 1994. He makes ends meet by selling pot out of a snack cart, and even uses the dope to pay off his therapist, Kingsley, a hapless self-involved goofball who's losing his wife and stepdaughter (Thirlby) day by painful day.

Peck shows he has the chops to move beyond the child-actor stage and Thirlby clearly is more than second-banana material. The two have a summer romance that includes a few twists, but predictably ends poorly. Still, this is a sweet look back at both the 90s (lots of references to Cobain and that new mayor, some Giuliani guy) and the coming-of-age summer that we all had or at least think we did. The verdict: 4 stars.