Monday, August 30, 2010

A Great Week for Chasing Greats

Last week was HUGE for my pursuit of interviewing the oldest living baseball players for my upcoming book, Chasing Greats (June 2011, McFarland Publishing). My goal is to interview the players who can still be interviewed, and cross off my list of the ones who can't be interviewed for whatever reason.
So, here's what happened last week:
First, I contacted Ray Hathaway (#21 on the list) and interviewed him on the phone.

On Sunday, I drove 12 hours to and from Oxnard to interview the oldest living player, Tony Malinosky.

Later that day, I traveled to Ventura to locate Don Lang (#9). I was able to contact Don's wife and she explained that he cannot speak or recognize anyone. So, unfortunately, no interview there.

And finally, I had to take Eddie Joost (#16) off my list. He told me in very simple terms that he doesn't want to be bothered by any writers. Oh well.
So, four off my list--I'm making good progress!
Top: Eddie Joost
Next from top: Don Lang
Next: Tony Malinosky
Bottom: Ray Hathaway

Friday, August 27, 2010

Gift Cards: Rip-Off Report

We got married last year and many of our friends gave us bank gift cards. What a scam! During this recession, banks are looking for new streams of revenue, including higher credit card fees, higher interest rates and late fees up the yahoo and now I’ve discovered that gift cards are another way to stick it to the consumer.
If you want to give someone a gift card, why not opt for cash? It spends easier and you won’t get saddled with silly fees. The #1 set of fees devised by the bank geniuses are the non-usage ones. There is a time limit with each card—some offer one year or even less—and if you don’t use the cards right away, you’ll be charged at every turn. One of them charges you $2.50 each month over the standard period. If you don’t use it for quite some time, you’ll try to buy something with it and suddenly notice that the card’s balance is way down or completely worthless if you’ve waited too long.
Plus, many of these gift cards have an “activation fee”. One of them charged us $5.95 to use the card the first time. Why does the recipient have to pay this? In some states, they’ve passed laws that let the buyer of the gift card pay that fee. Hard cash doesn’t have this type of activation tax. What a joke!
Also, the gift card companies (major names in our case like Visa and American Express) don’t want to share your balance information on the cards very easily. To find out the balances, you have to go online and input the unending series of numbers to discover how much money is left. They can’t tell you your balance at the stores where you use the cards. So it’s a guessing game and the banks thrive on things like this.
The reason for this is very simple, actually. Most people won’t spend time researching the balances, so in the end the banks know all too well that people will leave a small amount of money on each card. When it gets down to $3.00, for instance, what can you buy with that? Maybe a candy bar or a DVD rental? (not anymore). Banks love the fact that people leave money on their cards. And if they don’t use it promptly, the bank will suck up that balance quicker than you can yell, “Scam!”
And the cards won’t let you buy things that cost more than the balance on the card. Another con job. The merchant will tell you the card doesn’t have enough money in it, so you can’t use it. It won’t use up the balance so that you can supplement it with another card, a credit card or cash. Most people won’t know their balances, so they won’t even know what they can buy with this ridiculous piece of plastic.
So, stay away from gift cards. Buy real gifts, or give silver or actual cash. Your friends will appreciate the gift anyway and all of the money you gift them will go in their pockets, as opposed to the deep ones the banks will swipe away at every opportunity. Whatever happened when banks actually helped people? Now they operate primarily as money vultures, waiting for you to screw up so they can bend you over right at the teller’s window.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Should Gil Hodges Be in the Hall of Fame?

I recently wrote about Lefty O’Doul, a San Francisco baseball legend who deserves be in the Hall of Fame, I believe. Another player/manager who should be in the HOF is the late Gil Hodges. His statistics and contributions to the game as a manager and as a role model make him more than merely a candidate. The Marina has a connection to Hodges, because Gil Hodges III, Gil’s grandson, is well-known in the neighborhood as a co-owner of Liverpool Lil’s. Gilbert Hodges played first base primarily for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers. He was the major leagues' outstanding first baseman in the 1950s, with teammate Duke Snider being the only player to have more home runs or runs batted in during the decade. For a time, his 370 career home runs were a National League (NL) record for right-handed hitters, and briefly ranked tenth in major league history; he held the NL record for career grand slams from 1957 to 1974. Hodges anchored the Dodgers’ infield on six pennant winners, and remains one of the most beloved and admired players in team history. As a sterling defensive player, he won the first three Gold Glove Awards ever awarded and led the NL in double plays four times and in putouts, assists and fielding percentage three times each. He ranked second in NL history with 1,281 assists and 1,614 double plays when his career ended, and was also among the league's career leaders in games (6th, 1,908) and total chances (10th, 16,751) at first base. He managed the New York Mets to the 1969 World Series title, one of the greatest upsets in Series history, before his untimely death in 1972. If you compare Hodges to Tony Perez, the Cincinnati Reds’ 1B who is in the HOF, you can plainly see that Hodges deserved to be there. It’s a complete disgrace that this incredible man and player and manager isn’t in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
Random Thoughts
I went to NYC in August on vacation and I got to see both of the new baseball stadiums. I was talking to several fans and they all said the same thing: “The seats in these new ballparks are way too expensive.” Now NY Giants football fans are bailing on their season tickets, because the prices at the new Meadowlands are out-of-control, even at Big Apple levels. Are these new fancy stadiums pricing the common man right out of the running for seats? It sounds like it and it’s a shame. Pretty soon, corporations will be the only ones who can afford season tickets, $10 beers and $9 hot dogs! The Bay Area can now claim that we have the most successful horse racing jockey in the world right here. If you don’t know him, his name is Russell Baze, who recently celebrated his 11,000th race at the Sonoma County Fair this summer. When I played the horses many years ago, I made a lot of money betting on horses with Baze atop. When he was riding Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer’s horses for many years primarily at Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields, Baze was as close to being a sure thing as any jockey in the sport.
Will the Lions Roar Again in 2011?
Galileo Academy’s Head Football Coach Mark Huynh is excited about his team this year after the Lions surprised the rest of the Academic League by capturing the title last season (9-3 overall and 6-1 in league). After a talented group of seniors who graduated in June, this team is a very young, but enthusiastic unit, led by Sr. RB Quincy Nelson (“He’s smart, pretty quick and sneaky fast,” Huynh said.); Sr. QB Jonathan Lu (“He got a lot of snaps last year, so we’re excited to see how he’ll do as out #1 guy.”); Sr. Cornerback Waynelle Buckner (“He should make some big plays this year.”); Jr. Center Michael Brzozek, Sr. Cornerback William Kay (“Strong, quick and a hard worker.”); Sr. Middle Linebacker Max Malloy (“He’s a hard hitter and a tough kid.”) and Jr. Nose Tackle Marc Pineda (“He can clog up the middle, which is key to our defense.) Coach Huynh will be running a triple option offense, featuring one fullback and two slot backs, he explained. What teams will be the ones to beat in the Academic League this season? “Washington will be talented and deep and Lowell should be very competitive,” Huynh said. “We don’t know much about Lincoln this year, but I’ve heard they’re a very young, athletic group, so it should be an interesting league this season.” Galileo’s first home game will be against Moreau Catholic on September 18th. Let’s get out there and support the Marina’s only high school football program.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Old Comics Never Die!

This year marks the 30th annual presentation of the world’s first outdoor comedy concert. That’s right, Comedy Day is turning 30, but you can trust that it will continue to bring five hours of funny to Sharon Meadow in Golden Gate Park from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, September 19. The free event features 40 comedians on one stage in a non-stop relay of jokes.
This year’s lineup, a combination of up-and-coming talent, national and Bay Area favorites, and a cadre of comedians who first performed during Comedy Day’s early ‘80s infancy, includes: Carlos Alazraqui, Tom Ammiano, Diane Amos, Ngaio Bealum, Dick Bright, Eddie Brill, A. Whitney Brown, Bruce “Baby Man” Baum, Larry “Bubbles” Brown, Andy Bumatai, Candy Churilla, Brian Copeland, Debi Durst, Will Durst, David Feldman, Marga Gomez, Caitlin Gill, Maximilian Gstettenbauer, Linda Hill, Jeremy Kramer, Grant Lyon, Don McMillan, Dr. Gonzo, The Meehan Brothers, Rick Overton, Steven Pearl, Mark Pitta, Michael Pritchard, Dan St. Paul, Bob Rubin, Bob Sarlatte, Carrie Snow, Barry Sobel, Tony Sparks, Johnny Steele, Howard Stone, Barry Weintraub, J. Raoul Brody And The STUPEDS, And Very Special Surprise Guests!

Founder Jose Simon’s dream of a free, open-air comedy celebration became a reality in 1981, and since that time, more than 600 of the world’s funniest comedians have performed gratis for more than a half-million people. Comedy Day has hosted many of the biggest names in stand-up, among them Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Garry Shandling, Ellen DeGeneres, Eddie Izzard, Dana Carvey, Bobcat Goldthwait, Paula Poundstone, Brian Copeland, Rob Schneider, George Lopez, Greg Proops, Dave Chappelle, Margaret Cho, Greg Behrendt, Dana Gould, Tom Kenney, Dave Attell, Arj Barker, Brian Regan, Jake Johannsen, Patton Oswalt, Janeane Garofalo, and Father Guido Sarducci.

“We all need a good laugh…especially now,” says Debi Durst, Board President of Comedy Day. “Our goal is to give the audience a break from the trials of daily life. Sure, there’ll be jokes about the state of the economy, dubious politicians, upcoming midterm elections, the big oil spill and other scandals, but finding something funny about these distressing times helps people release all their pent-up energy.”

I had an opportunity recently to talk with Dr. Gonzo, a legendary name among comedians from during the 1980’s, a period that people now call The Golden Era of San Francisco Comedy. Dr. Gonzo (John Means) retired from performing more than a decade ago, and returned to his hometown, Mason City, Illinois, to teach community college English for a while and open two restaurants. In his heyday, Dr. Gonzo was most known for his song parodies and opened at concerts for big musical acts, like Huey Lewis and the News, Greg Kihn, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Journey and Carlos Santana, just to name a few.

Q: You haven’t performed in 12 years, but you’ll be back on the big stage at Comedy Day?
A: It’s a weird thing to jump back in again. I was on the road for 20 years and I was getting burnt out on the lifestyle. I had given up all of my vices—all the things that were going to kill me—so I wanted to do something different with my life, so I went back to school and got a degree in English. Then my dad died and I got divorced, so it was tough for a while. So, my life changed drastically in a very short time and I remarried a woman I knew from high school. We’ve fixed up seven buildings here in my hometown. We own two restaurants that are pretty cool. We live above the restaurants, which is great, because I don’t have a lawn to mow and my commute is excellent.

Q: You’re going to see a lot of your fellow comics from the heyday at this year’s Comedy Day. Will it be a fun reunion?
A: It’s going to be a blast! Wow, it’s hard to believe it’s been 30 years. I was there for so many Comedy Days, so this will be cool. It’s a great experience, because you get to see so many of your friends all in one place. It will be an exciting experience, performing in front of 10,000 people after not being on a stage for 12 years. I’m not getting back into it for a living, but this is more of a kick.

Q: What was it like doing your last gig back in 1998?
A: My desire was gone by then, so it was anti-climatic more than anything else. Things had changed, because the audience got younger and I got older. I thought my last show would be an emotional deal, but it wasn’t. At that point, I was deep into going to school and I thought that performing for that supposed last time would be emotional, but it was more like a monkey getting pulled off my back, actually.

Q: People look back at the‘80’s comedy scene in San Francisco and say it was an incredibly talent-laden time. Did you know that it was that way back then?
A: I think we knew it. There was something special in the city by the way comedy just boomed during that time. I came to SF as a musician and the music scene back then took a dump just when comedy was starting to peak. It was easy for any club with a light and a small stage to do comedy, and there were so many comics out there that shows were everywhere. I don’t think many of us got into standup back then to make money—we just thought it was a lot of fun. We were screwing around and it just happened. Steven Pearl, Doug Ferrari, Will Durst, Bobby Slayton, (the late) Jane Dornacker, Billy Jaye, Michael Pritchard, Linda Hill—they were all here and it was amazing.