Tagged: observations

I’ve Forgiven Pete Rose 30 Years After Our Tiff…So Should Baseball

petePete Rose has again asked to be reinstated into the good graces of Major League Baseball and I think he should. You see, me and Pete…well, we go way back…back to the time he was tossed out of baseball for betting on his own team and other infractions that don’t include taking performance enhancing drugs or stealing signs.

So what’s this about me and Pete? Don’t ask him. He’ll have zero memory of me. I was just another reporter covering the whole saga of the investigation that led to his ban, but we did have some one-on-one time together that resulted in a good anecdote and an idiotic decision by a CNN producer in Atlanta.

Here’s how it went down. We were granted an exclusive with the man on the first night of his radio show on a Cincinnati station. We captured him taking calls on the air, and afterwards I would interview him. Cool. Right? Now, I couldn’t care less about his radio show. I had some questions about reports of alleged tax issues and other fun stuff like that.

So we set up in a separate studio where I would conduct the interview with both of us standing up near one of the walls. Remember that wall. I figured I’d soften him up with some fluff questions about his radio show and flattery that he sounded relaxed.  “I’m always relaxed talkin’ about baseball,” he replied with a big smile.

That’s nice. I knew his smile would soon disappear. After a couple of those softballs I got to the point and asked him about a report in the Dayton newspaper about alleged tax irregularities. Smile now a frown. “I ain’t seen it,” he snapped. Me being the helpful reporter gave him a quick summary of the story while his PR person panicked and attempted to get our cameraman to stop rolling. He ignored her. I persisted but Pete was looking at me the way he eyed poor Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse when he barreled into him to score the winning run in the 1970 All Star Game. In 2015 Fosse told the Denver Post he still felt the effects of that collision. petefosse

At that point Pete had had it with me and my line of questioning so he took his big, beefy right arm, placed it across my chest and slammed me into the wall..remember that wall? Then he walked out grumbling he had to record promos. His PR person was shaking and insisted I shouldn’t have asked those questions. Meanwhile, my cameraman also was upset because he thought the chances of getting an autographed photo of Pete for his son were out the window. But somehow, a few days later, a signed glossy arrived in the mail.

I really didn’t get much of an answer from Pete but I thought it was good video, which we fed into Atlanta. A young producer didn’t quite see it that way and the video never saw the light of day. Today, a clip like that would probably go viral since there’s an insatiable appetite among many Trump supporters for video of reporter abuse.

I ended up covering the whole damn saga. Here are original courtroom watercolors of Pete from one hearing in downtown Cincy.

rose2Funny story. The artist was placed in the jury box since there was no jury. It was still pretty tight quarters and in the middle of the hearing the poor guy kicked over the container holding the water he used with his paints. The judge was not amused and paper towels were summarily summoned. Despite that unfortunate interruption, I thought the images of Pete came out very well. Afterwards we politely suggested he consider colored pencils.rose1

I think Pete’s paid a fair price for his infractions. I’m not making excuses. He screwed up, but he’s paid a much higher price than others who cheated, affecting the outcome of games and were only fined and/or suspended. Pete made some bad decisions. Did his time, suffered the consequences. He never lost his love for the game and even on the outside looking in, he’s continued to be an ardent ambassador for the game of baseball.

Look, I don’t hold it against him for slamming me into the wall. That was a long time ago. Things happen…then you move on. So should baseball.

MLK Day-From Covering the First One to An Unexpected Day Off

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I’ve got boxes of press badges, but this one is one of my most cherished. Hard to believe it’s been 34 years since I covered that very first Martin Luther King Jr. birthday observance, what we’ve shortened to MLK Day.  More on my coverage in a moment, but I wanted to re-tell a story I’ve told before, about a personal episode regarding the holiday and how it’s indicative of how it’s sometimes perceived.

One Monday in January, 2002 I showed up for work at the Associated Press at my regular time, not completely sure why I was able to find a better parking space than usual but grateful. Before I could reach my desk the shift supervisor intercepted me and with amusement in her eyes asked what I was doing in the office.

“Uh…Monday,” was all I could muster.

“Uh, MLK Day,” she replied. “You get a choice of off days. MLK Day or your birthday. So who’s birthday you going to celebrate?”

No one likes Mondays so I scooted out of the bureau hightailed back to my car, giving up my awesome parking space.

During the 30 minute drive home, I was a bit ashamed that MLK Day just wasn’t on my radar…that it was an optional holiday per the union agreement. His birthday or yours. Didn’t matter. You get a day off.  Never crossed my mind. It should have. Not only because I grew up in the 60’s, was 100 percent aware of, and in awe of, his courage and accomplishments, recall with great clarity hearing the bulletin announcing his assassination, but because 16 years earlier, I was assigned to cover the very first MLK Day in his hometown of Atlanta for CNN.

But as I reported in the story attached here, MLK Day faced a volume of struggles in direct proportion to the challenges Dr. King faced in life. Bigotry, small-mindedness, ignorance. Indeed, there seems to be a take it or leave it attitude. Your birthday or his…which day do you want off? Doesn’t matter. Pick one.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many wonderful events commemorating Dr. King’s birthday including the annual “United We Walk” march in my community in suburban Detroit, and many, many others across the country.

I remember covering those first MLK Day activities from Dr. King’s church, on the street where the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change sits, where Dr. King is buried. On a map it’s called Auburn Avenue. In the hearts of those who respect Dr. King’s work, it’s called Sweet Auburn.

I interviewed all sorts of people including Rev. Joseph Lowery, head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Dr. King’s widow, Coretta. She exuded peacefulness, forgiveness and strength. Side note: Mrs. King kept her eyes closed during the entire interview. Maybe she was in deep reflection. After we were done, she opened her eyes and thanked us. Her assistant explained her eyes were closed because the TV lights were so bright.

Jesse Jackson and Rev. Robert Schuller were there. Perhaps caught up in the moment I breathlessly reported to the CNN assignment desk “the civil rights movement has been revived! I can’t wait to turn this package!”

All the air out of my balloon was expelled when the editor told me to just do a VO/SOT. That’s TV language for some video for the anchor to voice over and a soundbite. Don’t even write a full-length piece.  Being in the Deep South, I took what’s known down there as a hissy fit. The editor thought I was just a reporter having a tantrum. I was beyond frustrated, but had no recourse but to carry out my assignment.

So there it was. From the first MLK Day to today, 34 years later, the annual remembrance of the birth of this giant of the civil rights movement, who risked his life, and lost it, fighting for common human decency and fairness, still seems to be an afterthought. A welcome three-day weekend. Three at last.

Your birthday or his. Pick one. Do yourself a favor. Choose both. Your life is better because he was born.

Support For Harry and Meghan’s Sussex-it

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I’ll lay my quid on the table forthwith. I’m on team Sussex. For one, you can’t go wrong rooting for a ginger man. Case in point, the late, great, irascible Cream drummer Ginger Baker. Wild, impatient and foul-mouthed, but a brilliant talent. He pissed off almost everyone with whom he came in contact, but you couldn’t dispute his skills.

Now, Harry is neither brilliant nor skilled, but apparently irascible in that he managed to piss off his granny, who just happens to be the Queen of England. That takes a pair of brass kippers.

suits.jpgThen there’s Meghan. She went from “Suits” to fruits–meaning being sucked into family so inbred its genome has only one step. If you sent their DNA to “23andMe” the result would be “23ofYou.” Her dissatisfaction with the royal life was a no-brainer since most of the family is a no-brainer. Young, beautiful and talented, the Duchess of Sussex was destined to ditch the dreariness of royal duties that mostly involve a lot of shaking, hugging, bowing and birthing.

And now the Sussex’s have decided to make their Sussex-it, high-tailing it to North America, presumably, Canada, where Meghan lived while shooting “Suits,” and trademarking their own Sussex Royal brand.

I can see it now where Duchess Meghan appears on Home Shopping Network hawking Sussex Royal brand pacifiers, tea sets, jewelry and crop tops.  Perhaps Harry would join her to promote his own “special collection” of polo mallets, jodhpurs and Ginger Prince Ale.

Personally, I’d be in for a couple of Sussex Royal bobbleheads. You see, they’d be special. In the spirit of defying the Queen’s express order not to make their escape announcement, the bobbleheads would only shake their heads “no.”

I also envision a Sussex Royal production company. Duchess Meghan could resume her showbiz career producing, perhaps, royal-themed programming such as “Paparazzi Death Wish,” “A  Curtsy Too Low,” and a twist on the the groundbreaking musical,  “Corgi and Bess.”

princecopter.jpgAs a former helicopter pilot, Harry would take on the important role of remaining in the sky and out of the way, occasionally making airborne Starbucks and pho runs for the cast and crew.

So it seems obvious, this was a well thought-out decision and I wish them the best of luck. Indeed, if they are, they may actually re-write the rules of royalty. I believe it will be titled the “Meghan Carta.” I want those bobbleheads autographed.

20 Years After Y2K…Adventures in Covering ….Nothing

y2k2

Welcome to 2020! It was just 20 years ago the world woke up with a big “WTF” on their minds and lips because the Earth was still spinning, Armageddon didn’t occur, and, most importantly, the clocks our computers told the correct time thereby avoiding a cataclysmic crash that would irrevocably destroy our lives, or at least the programming of our DVRs.

Yes..it was the cute little thing called Y2K, meaning year 2000, when, we were warned in the most dire terms, computers would not be able to handle the change from years that began in “19” to those in “20” and life as we know it would end.

As a CNN reporter back then, I was compelled to come up with stories bolstering this global paranoia leading up to the time when time was supposed to end. I was also given one assignment, which I refused, because it was idiotic.

y2k1.jpgFirst, the lead-up stories. The owner of a large produce market in a Detroit suburb contacted our CNN Detroit bureau desk and suggested we come out there to see how Y2K was already paralyzing his operation, weeks before the new year. The angle was, if they ran a person’s credit card that expired in the year 2000 or beyond, their entire point of sale system would shut down.

“Come out, we’ll demonstrate it. Great TV!” he told our assignment manager. So we schlepped out there, set up our gear, rolled the camera and told him to show us this horrible manifestation of Y2K. Smiling for the camera he dramatically swiped a credit card with a year 2001 expiration date. Nothing happened. Now, not smiling as much, he did it again. Same result. We’re silently calling bullshit, but OK, we’ll be patient. The guy insists this really happened, so he gets an employee to cough up his card with a post 20th century expiration date. Swipes it. Nope. It IS bullshit!

I tell him, “sorry” but his imagined Y2K nightmare was just that. A dream. Desperate for some CNN screen time, he begged us to come back tomorrow when he was sure he could get his new computerized cash registers to crash..just for us!

Urged to find still more Y2K angles, just to keep the hype up, and to provide the network with stuff to tease, we found a guy in Michigan who claimed he actually DISCOVERED the Y2K glitch and wanted proper credit for it. So, sure, we do the interview, and he’s pretty convincing,has all sorts of documentation and we feed the story. Gets pretty good play and we get happy words from the poobahs in Atlanta. Of course, the year 2000 happens, but Y2K disaster doesn’t. We contact the guy to do a follow-up. Suddenly he’s unreachable. Maybe he was the only one to vaporize…based on his convincing research, or course.

Finally, I get a call from our national desk asking me to take on a “super special, really important” assignment for the New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day period. Here’s the deal. The network chartered a plane that would sit, ready, at Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport. I was to sit, ready, at a hotel near DFW. If some horrible Y2K event occurred anywhere in the country, I was to run over to that plane, hop aboard and have it take me to that place and I was to file an instant story. It was a stupid idea and I begged off, in the most diplomatic way, saying I’m sorry, but I don’t speak Texan. I already had a long reputation of being a wiseass and so they sent a business news reporter based in NYC to babysit a baby that would never be born.

But here we are, 20 years later and I have to admit, I think about that time and how the world got sucked into such silliness.  I guess if we were living in today’s social media world we might have seen a meme of derision…like “Y2K, Doomer!”

Happy New Year all. Check your computer clock. It’s probably on time.

A Few Words About Don Imus Including “Thanks”

imusvarietyI was back home in Queens on a break from college in the early 1970’s. My father arrives home from work and he’s got a wicked smile as he informs us, “you won’t believe this new morning guy on WNBC. We were listening to him on the way to work. He’s says the most inappropriate things and he’s hysterical.”  That was my introduction to Don Imus, the pioneering and controversial radio personality who died earlier this week.

I took a special interest in anyone on the radio who was breaking new ground because I  was a radio and TV major at SUNY Oswego, what would turn out to be a breeding ground for broadcasters. Little known fact, I was the program director at campus station WOCR when a natural behind the mic arrived as a freshman and took an air shift. His name is Al Roker.

It just so happened we received a free, promotional copy of “1,200 Hamburgers to Go,” an LP with highlights of Imus’s on-air hijinks. The title cut was his famous bit where he posed as an Air National Guard officer on the phone who called a McDonalds ordering 1,200 burgers to go…each one dressed differently, which, to say the least, stressed out the poor kid taking the order.” I still have that record. See pic.

1200hamburgersFor us up and coming DJ’s Imus was a bit of an idol. He was the first guy we knew who identified as a “shock jock,” saying and doing things on the air no one else, until Howard Stern, could get away with. So, we all tried, miserably, copying his style and failed quite decisively.

Oswego is about 30 miles from Syracuse and in that town there was an Imus knock-off morning guy on WHEN radio who went by “Sweet Dick in the Morning.” Pretty risque’, huh? We used to catch his show, while he lasted…which wasn’t very long.

Once I graduated and began my professional radio career, the whole shock jock thing that Imus started was spreading so of course, I gave it a shot on my morning show on WMBO in Auburn, N.Y. One day my fastidious and conservative boss, named Floyd, came into the studio, looked at me and said, “you do a dirty show.” Just trying to keep up. I didn’t. I discovered what Imus and his ilk were doing successfully was much more difficult than it looked.

After moving out to Tucson, Ariz. and winning the morning slot on KCEE while going to grad school, I toned it down a bit, honed my act and doubled their morning show ratings in six months. Too bad. Jealous program director bumped me back to afternoon drive and replaced me with…himself. That was my last radio job. Spun my last record, Eric Clapton’s “Promises,” in September, 1979 and moved to TV news.

By then I had lost track of Don Imus, concentrating on my new broadcast journalism career but then caught up with him many years later when I was transferred by CNN to take over its bureau in Detroit. One of the stations simulcasted  his show and I started listening again. Unfortunately, Imus didn’t age well. Still a sharp interviewer, at times, but, no long entertaining, even embarrassing.

Still, I listened while his show was available in our market. I liked what he was doing with the Imus Ranch for kids with cancer and he introduced me to two of my favorite CD’s–The I-10 Chronicles and The I-10 Chronicles 2.They’re a rich compilation of music representing the varied cultures along that long, east-west interstate that runs from Santa Monica, Calif, to Jacksonville, Fla. On those discs I discovered the marvelous Texas duo of Bill and Bonnie Hearne, then went out and bought all of their music I could find. There’s Adam Duritz of the Counting Crows moaning Warren Zevon’s “Carmelita” and Willie Nelson’s untouchable interpretation of “Everybody’s Talkin’.” Ever heard of Garrison Starr or Cherokee Rose? They’re both incredible and on there too. Also Steve Forbert, Bobby Bare Jr., Raul Malo, Joe Ely and others.

i10.jpgNo, I never became a successful shock jock but I had my chances. It’s OK. I’ll remember Don Imus as an early inspiration for pursuing what did end up to be a very successful career in broadcasting…and every time I pop in either volume of I-10 Chronicles, listen to Bill and Bonnie Hearne serenade me with “New Mexico Rain,” or John Hammond’s blistering “Fish in the Jailhouse,” I’ll thank Imus for that tip. Somewhere up in radio heaven, he might be shocked.

A Hemingway-Inspired Christmas Story

If Ernest Hemingway wrote down his Christmas thoughts:

hemingway-e1568254410986I write this at first light. Christmas morning. Damn Christmas. Oh, it’s not the festivity or ceaseless singing. It’s good. It’s fine.

Presents. Gifts. I’m compelled to shop but I prefer the term hunt. My prey is challenging. Staring at me. Mocking me. Daring me to exchange cash for whatever supposed joy it may impart the recipient. Damn joy. I release my debit card. The prey is captured. Later wrapped and lain in repose beneath the fir awaiting reception. Others have hunted too and expect appreciation from me, I suppose. Damn appreciation.

papaxmascardTime comes to release the captive items. Expected joy is expressed. I reciprocate sparking a smile. Maybe two. It doesn’t matter. I have participated. It’s good. It’s fine. One can’t complain when endowed with a new sweater’s warmth, or sustenance of a cheese log. Thanks is expressed and accepted. It’s a process and I submit. One may term it celebration. Some do. I submit, and drink. No, not that nasty nog. A zesty mojito or scotch and soda will do just fine. Several. Then, I celebrate.

hemingwaymojitoThere are children. Many. I observe their youthful mania while manipulating machines with batteries. It is not long before the batteries expire. I wish for children operating under the same power. Peace. Another mojito. More peace.

I am informed. In the days following the exchange of hunted items there are further expectations. Notes. Damn notes to express gratitude for procured items. I have already expressed such gratitude orally! It’s all overkill but I submit to allay matrimonial harangue. I sit and write. What is there to it? There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. If one could now find a typewriter I would gladly bleed rather than manipulate intangible characters that might disappear without warning.

Someone in my family. Perhaps a distant relative with little knowledge of my comportment reports the beginnings of a smile. I demur. It can’t be. Damn, I’m slipping. As if losing traction on Mt. Kilimanjaro, or being becalmed off the Cuban coast.

I retreat to examine the commodities bestowed on me and they were good. They were fine. I’m good. I’m fine. Very fine. Perhaps you are too. Damn season’s joy. Another mojito seals it. A new year awaits. The hunt renews.

Oh No…Another New Culture in ChryslerLand

IMAGE CP CT MMI originally posted this on Forbes.com when news broke last month that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Group PSA were working towards a merger agreement. Now that they have announced such an agreement, I thought it might be worth re-posting here.

psafcalogoNow that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is proposing to merge with French automaker Groupe PSA, Chrysler employees may be faced with their fourth culture, and probable name, change since 1998. That was the year the all-American Chrysler Corp. merged, was usurped, gobbled up, by Daimler Benz AG of Germany, creating DaimlerChrysler.

Since then the Germans off-loaded the American side of the company as the “merger of equals” ended in divorce in 2007. Chrysler quickly found a new sugar daddy in Cerberus Capital Management, which had zero experience in the auto business and it all fell apart less than two years later amid the recession and the company’s bankruptcy.

In June, 2009, the late Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne swept in to save the company, marrying it to the Italian automaker, eventually creating what it is today, and for the time-being, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

I joined DaimlerChrysler in 2005 to establish and run its digital communications team after more than 30 years as a broadcast and print journalist. It didn’t take long to lock onto the corporate culture, heavily influenced by the Germans, who were basically the senior partner. Business attire was the norm, saying “ja” to directives from Stuttgart was expected and the free coffee available in the headquarters was your basic grocery store stuff. Some employees tried their best to learn German, especially those who were summoned to Deutschland for any period of time.

Flexibility wasn’t really in the German vocabulary. When we collaborated on ideas, say, for a new website, our thoughts were considered suggestions. Those from our German counterparts were orders.

During one of my visits to Stuttgart one of my American colleagues who was on a six-month exchange stint there asked the leader of a meeting if they could conduct it in English for my benefit. The answer was a swift and angry “nein!” I didn’t bother sitting in. I took four years of German in high school and college but I wasn’t taking that discourtesy.

When we heard, through a news report, our side of the company was in play we rejoiced, hoping to regain a totally American management, culture and name. Well … Cerberus was the devil we didn’t know. We got the name Chrysler Group LLC and the American management but they had no clue as to how to run an auto company.

The culture was one of constant fear because they had these guys with clipboards walking up and down the aisles in our office suites taking note of how many workers there were and ostensibly making decisions on who should stay and who should receive a cardboard box and told to take a hike. A strange man with long, white hair took over one of our offices. He equipped it with “the best white board possible” and wrote a bunch of stuff on it. Again, we figured he was plotting the demise for many of us. We were right.

Indeed, during the Cerberus corporate slumlord era little was accomplished as thousands of employees, many who had been at the company for decades, were handed those cardboard boxes for the purpose of filling them with the stuff from their desks and walked out the door for good.

Then, on one magnificent day, it all changed. On June 10, 2009, employees were invited to gather in the main well of the massive Chrysler Technical Center in Auburn Hills, Michigan. With the deal done, there was no sign of anyone from Cerberus in the crowd. Our new leader, Sergio Marchionne rode in on an electric cart. He was wearing a dark golf shirt, hair a little askew and as thousand of workers hung in rapt attention from the four tiers of the open space called Tech Plaza, all the misery of the past two years was swept away with the modest, but reassuring words from Marchionne. We would be a team, working together. He had respect for our work and our talents and had no doubt we would be ultimately successful, despite the horrible times we had just endured. He even tossed in a few words in Swahili.

The culture had instantly changed again to one of optimism, strength and confidence. Suits and ties were left hanging in our closets as Marchionne’s preference for golf shirts and black sweaters set the tone for a more relaxed dress code. That didn’t mean a relaxation in work ethic or expectations. In fact, Marchionne held us to the highest standards, we were just a lot more comfortable pursuing them.

Ah…and then the coffee. I always arrived early to the office. On the first day of the Fiat regime my Italian boss came by and asked where he could find some coffee. I had to tell him he had two choices…the free Folgers in the pot in the hallway, or we could go down to the little sundry shop where he could purchase Starbucks. He thought for a quick moment, sighed, and asked me to take him to the Starbucks. He filled his cup, sniffed it, made an unhappy face, and softly, but firmly informed me, “this will not continue.” By the end of the next day we had an espresso/cappuccino machine in the office, as did many of the other offices in the building.

With the French soon in the mix, I imagine employees may find fresh, flaky croissants to go with their morning espressos. If so, they’ll need to savor that treat, before the culture changes again.

Authors note: I worked at the various iterations of Chrysler from August, 2005 until July, 2016 in the company’s corporate communications department.

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