Steven F. Shundich
Good morning, Mobsters. Live from Chicago, it’s Steven Frederick Shundich, an occasional replacement player for the irreplaceable Paul “Doc” Daugherty. I’m here to remind you just how lucky you are. Not to have (or have not) baseball, but to have him – one of the best sportswriters in the land.
I live in Wrigleyville, a subset of Lakeview, just steps away from Wrigley Field, where there presently are no plans to play professional baseball. Normally, at this time of year, I would be in Fountain Hills, Arizona, for Spring Training. But there’s no baseball there either.
Maybe you’ve given up baseball for Lent. That’s thru April 14, heathens. Maybe you’ve given up baseball forever. If you’re as disgusted by its present state as I am, then maybe you need a date with the past. A little baseball history to cleanse the palate. There’s nothing quite like it. And there’s just so much of it. Yeah, we’re close enough to Spring Break. Let’s hit the road.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
670 miles/10 hours from Cincinnati
Just an hour southwest of Little Rock, Hot Springs is recognized by some as the birthplace of Spring Training. In 1886, Chicago White Stockings (later the Cubs) owner Albert Spalding and his player-manager Cap Anson decide it would be beneficial to take their team south to “boil out all the alcoholic microbes which may have impregnated the systems of these men during the winter ... ,” as Spalding put it (The Sporting News, March 17, 1886).
The White Stockings win the National League championship that year, so other owners follow suit. By the early 1900s, nearly a dozen teams have made Hot Springs their pre-season home. The list even includes our Cincinnati Reds (1910-11).
The city’s rich baseball history is catalogued on the Historic Baseball Trail, which features 32 points of interest in and around town. You can stand on the very spot where Babe Ruth, a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox at the time, hit a ball into an alligator farm (still there). The 1918 shot traveled an estimated at 573 feet, as measured in 2011 by satellite (and some savvy Hot Springs marketers). This also is the moment when, according to legend, it’s decided that Ruth would no longer pitch – that his bat was more valuable – and he should play in the field.
Slightly less dramatic (but of interest to me, me, me) is a Reds tidbit I discover at the Garland County Historical Society archive. It wasn’t the November 1929 letter from Reds President Sidney Weil, informing SE Dillon of the Citizens Electric Company (address “Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas”) that the “Cincinnati Base Ball Club will again train in Orlando the coming spring.”
Instead, it’s a tiny newspaper clipping from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, dated February 16, 1934. That’s when Reds manager Bob O’Farrell, who was in town on the way to Florida, learned that his 42-year-old star, Eppa Rixey, had decided to retire. “There goes my starting pitcher,” O’Farrell said at the time. “Rixey was the only southpaw we had.” Sound familiar?
When you’re finally done with the baseball trail, hit the historic downtown, which is actually a US National Park. You can tour (or partake in) several bathhouses and then check in to the Al Capone Suite 443 at the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa. It’s near The Ohio Club (est. 1905), where Al and Bugsy and several other gangsters spent their time in front of an incredibly ornate back bar that came via riverboat from where? Why, Cincinnati, of course!
NOTE: Rixey, a Hall of Famer, for years lived in my home town of Terrace Park. He was married there in 1924 at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, owned a successful insurance business and is buried across the Little Miami River at Greenlawn Cemetery in Milford.
Saint Marys, Ontario, Canada
400 miles/6.5 hours
In the opposite direction, two hours from Toronto and Niagara Falls is Canada’s take on a quaint setting for a national baseball museum. Yes! Of course there are Ferguson Jenkins and Larry Walker exhibits. And a huge Joey Votto display. But what I didn’t expect to see was a plaque for former Reds manager Sparky Anderson. I had no idea that he played for the Montreal Royals, a Brooklyn Dodgers AAA affiliate, in 1956 and 1958. And then, after his one and only year in the bigs (Philadelphia Phillies, 1959), he added four more years in Canada with the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs, which was owned by Jack Kent Cooke. Cooke encouraged and then hired Anderson to manage the club in 1964. You know the rest of the story.
It’s a small, relatively young museum, but well-managed and growing. If you’re lucky, you may still be able to buy a Sparky Anderson-signed baseball at their next auction. This year’s inductees includes Justin Morneau, John Olerud, Duane Ward and announcer Jacques Doucet from 2020 and Jeff Francis for 2022. The ceremony takes place Saturday, June 18.
If you’ve made it this far, go another 11 miles to Stratford, home to North America’s largest classical repertory theatre company and the world renowned Stratford Festival. The season runs from April 6 through October 31.
Kansas City, Missouri
589 miles/9 hours
In the same space as the American Jazz Museum, this is where you can scour the exhibits for info related to the Cincinnati Tigers, who played ball at Crosley Field while in the Negro Southern League (1934-36) and the Negro American League (1937). More significant were the Indianapolis Clowns, who also played as the Cincinnati Clowns from 1943-45. The Clowns were the last of the Negro League teams to disband (in 1962). Hank Aaron was paid $200 a month to play shortstop there in 1952 before he signed with the Boston Braves for $10,000. Here’s a list of HOFers who played in the Negro Leagues.
Cooperstown, New York
664 miles/10 hours
Will there be a Hall of Fame induction in 2022? Find out July 24, when Baseball Writers' Association of America selection David Ortiz joins the Golden Days Era Committee’s Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Miñoso and Tony Oliva and the Early Baseball Era Committee’s Bud Fowler and Buck O'Neil.
295 miles/5 hours
This is a one-of-a-kind Chicago thing, like no catsup on your hot dog. Or is it ketchup?
I’ve watched UC basketball since Lloyd Batts and Derek Dickey played H-O-R-S-E at the old Armory Fieldhouse. Wes Miller is my eighth coach. I don’t think it’s fair to judge him in this Year of the Transfer Portal, but I will say this. Great coaches: 1) Adjust to the talent (or lack thereof) on hand, to put them in the best position to win with what they’ve got; and, 2) Have teams that are consistent and improve with each and every game played. It’s this second notion where I see the epic fail.
I’m not going to pile on the players, but I do long to see guys removed from games for making the same mistakes over and over and over again. Remember Huggie? With him it was one and done. One mistake and you’re back on the bench. And the players learn fast – that is, if they want minutes.
I think it’s great that this team seems to love one another, with high fives all around after every play. It’s been a tough couple of years. But, as John Madden used to say, “The only thing you learn from losing is how to lose.”
On a positive note, this UC team is the best that I have ever seen at inbounding the ball – usually after a dunk or layup – which they do at lightning speed. Just watch. Sometimes it looks as if they aren’t even trying to defend, just to be able to quickly take the ball out of bounds again.
Help on the way?
John Brannen vs the University of Cincinnati
For those of you interested in learning how the legal system works in civil cases, check out former coach Brannen’s lawsuit in the Ohio Court of Claims. When the Russians are finished hacking the page, go to “Online Services” at the bottom and select “Case Search.” Enter “Brannen” and voila! You get to see all the tedious back and forth. For what it’s worth, a court date has been set for May 8-12, 2023 (!). Up to 10 current and former UC players are being called to testify. At UC’s request, player names have been redacted from all filings, and they are given the choice whether or not to be publicly identified. It’s a stretch, but this kind of makes me wonder if what’s going on in this particular court is impacting team play on the other.
DESPERATE TIMES ...
My struggles with Cincinnati college basketball this season have driven me to do something I haven’t done since Michael Jordan won his sixth ring: Adopt an NBA team. My team is (drum roll), the New Orleans Pelicans. Why? It’s where Gary Clark plays. He’s the only UC player in the NBA. And the Pelicans also have Naji Marshall from X. He just had 17 points in 16 minutes on March 2. It’s an NBA team with something for everyone!
AND WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS ...
Luke Fickell and UC football’s annual Spring Game comes to Nippert Stadium on Saturday, April 9. And, dare I say it? The NFL Draft runs from April 28-30. Until there, there still may be some wet paint to watch from my bathroom renovation.
Friday, March 4: College baseball, Northwestern University at UC, 1 pm and 4 pm (DH) (ESPN+)
Saturday, March 5: College baseball, Northwestern University at UC, 1 pm and 4 pm (DH) (ESPN+)
Saturday, March 5: Major League Soccer, DC United at FC Cincinnati at TQL Stadium, 6 pm (Star-64)
Saturday, March 5: College basketball, Georgetown University at Xavier University, 7 pm (FS1)
Sunday, March 6: English Premier League soccer, Manchester Derby, Manchester City (1st place) hosts Manchester United (4th) from Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England, 11:30 am (USA and Telemundo)
Monday, March 7: College basketball, NKU vs Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne in a Horizon League semifinal, 9:30 pm (ESPN2)
STICK TO SPORTS: UKRAINE ... DID YOU KNOW?
According to a 2019 US Census, there are 42,908 Ukrainians in Ohio, including 1,981 in Cleveland; 1,953 in Columbus; and, 431 in Cincinnati. Parma, with 4,127, has the largest population in the state and since 2013 has had a sister-city relationship with Lviv, Ukraine.
Over the centuries, Ukraine has more than 200,000 software developers, the second most software developers in Easterians or people with Ukrainian roots are responsible for some amazing things. Here’s a random Top 5:
1. Born in Kyiv, inventor Igor Sikorsky designed dozens of aircraft, including the R-4, the first mass-produced helicopter and, in 1942, the first to be used by the US armed forces.
2. Also from Kyiv is software engineer Max Levchin, who with Peter Thiel and Luke Nosek established the electronic payment system PayPal in 1999. FYI Elon Musk entered the picture soon after through a merger.
3. IBM Fellow Lubomyr Romankiw of Zhovkva, Ukraine, is listed on more than 65 US Patents, including (with co-inventor and non-NC State hoops legend David Thompson) magnetic thin-film storage heads – revolutionary technology for reading and recording information on computer hard drives.
4. Actors Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil, The Fifth Element), Mila Kunis (That ‘70s Show) and Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace, Hitman) are all from Ukraine. So are the parents of Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek).
5. Athletes Sergey Bubka, track and field (1988 Seoul Olympic Summer Games gold medal winner in the pole vault; broke the world record 35 (!) times); Andriy Shevchenko, soccer (prolific goal scorer for the Ukraine national team, Dynamo Kyiv and AC Milan; FIFA’s Ballon d’Or winner in 2004); Oksana Baiul, figure skating (1994 Lillehammer Olympic Winter Games gold medal); and, in-my-prayers Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, boxer (1999 WBO world heavyweight champion).
Sadly, it looks as if Ukraine may have lost one of its most iconic creations: the six-engine Antonov AN-225. Dubbed Mriya (“Dream,” in Ukrainian), it’s the world’s largest cargo plane. There is only one, and it may have been damaged or destroyed in a battle at an airport outside Kyiv.
(PROTEST) TUNE(S) O’ THE DAY
WAR! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. All we are saying is, like, give peace a chance. You know, everybody wants to rule the world.
Mobsters of a certain age may recognize those words from songs by Edwin Starr (“War,” 1970), John Lennon (with the Plastic Ono Band, “Give Peace a Chance,” 1969) and Tears for Fears (“Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” 1985). But did you know War originally came from The Temptations? Motown did not want to spoil the band’s image with a counterculture song, so it was re-recorded and released as a single with Starr.
There are so many protest songs. But, as a child of the ‘80s, I’ll go with the Tears for Fears tune. Their song, which The Economist critic hailed as a Cold War anthem, was a last-minute, final-track afterthought to the Songs from the Big Chair album. According to band members, the chorus originally was written as “Everybody wants to go to war.”
BATTLEFIELD TIP: If you want to repel any invader, turn up the volume on the Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band debut album from 1970. Just make sure your side has plenty of ear plugs.
Former Terrace Park resident and Mariemont High School grad Steven Frederick Shundich (All Southwest Ohio Soccer, Second Team, 1980) is a Chicago-based travel writer and humorist. Check out his blog and free newsletter at www.wheresthefunny.blog.