From the monthly archives: "July 2012"

When a post card cost 3 cents.

July 29, 2012

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—-I never thought I would see her again.
In the early autumn of 2007 I  said so long and see ya’ later  to Ruby’s Bar & Grill. It was an amicable parting. She wanted to dress up and move into a higher plane. I wasn’t getting any younger and I still liked old stuff like hearing the Drifters sing “Up on the Roof” on her jukebox that skipped a beat in the thick summer air.

Ruby’s opened in 1934 and became the oldest bar on the Coney Island Boardwalk. She closed in November, 2010.

There was no fancy exit threshold. Ruby always opened up to the great possibilities of the Atlantic Ocean with the bar’s tough canopy of a garage door. Up and down. Hot and cold. Crazy love.

When she closed, she left behind booze drenched nuts, screwdrivers and mustered saws, all of which seemed to fix rusty hearts. My appreciation of Ruby along with some colorful history is archived Dec. 14, 2010 on this site.

Last Sunday  I returned to Coney Island to walk the boardwalk and take in a Brooklyn Cyclones minor league baseball game.

Hot damn in cold water.
Ruby’s was back.

She looked better. She sounded happier. The walls were freshly painted in sea blue and bright blue and pink cotton candy hung over the open air grill.

The bar was packed with new friends and the Coney Island Lager was ice cold. There were hipsters,  youngsters and on the ocean side of the bar you couldn’t miss bikers from The Sons of Anarchy and the Italians (New York City).

On a cloudless 85 degree day they had to be the only people on the boardwalk who wore black leather vests. I later saw the Italians bikers throw out a first pitch at Italian-American Heritage night at the Cyclones game.  I can’t imagine bikers of any ethnicity throwing out the first pitch at Wrigley Field.

The jukebox played some different songs, including Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and Bill Withers “Lovely Day.”

One couple walked into Ruby’s  and ordered a couple of beers and a couple of shots of tequila. I was only at the bar for 45 minutes, but before I left she asked, “Are we on a date?” He nodded his head yes and they embraced.

Hearts were beating under the boardwalk.
And  I still heard “Up on the Roof.”

With the end of every relationship, you are cast adrift for a period of reassessment. Where is your self?  Who are  you when you are alone? If your are lucky, you come around again like a carousel and find your center. This is what happened to Ruby. This is what happened to me.

Ruby’s was rescued in part by the New York Economic Development Corporation (EDC) which helped renovate Coney Island. While I was in New York I read a New York Times piece that said attendance at the Coney Island amusement parks increased to 640,000 in 2011, up from 400,000 in 2010 according to the EDC.

I’ve been to Coney Island a half dozen times since the 2001 Mermaid Parade, and last week the world around Ruby’s was as busy as I have ever seen it. I also saw more families at Coney Island than I had in the past. A beautiful woman can do that to you.

Ruby’s then and now.

I noticed cool offshoot activities like “Coney Island Flicks On The Beach,” a weekly summer series that concludes on Aug. 6 with free screenings of “Mission Impossible” and “Ghost Protocol.” Movies begin at 8:30, following 90 minutes of mirth from area DJs and the Coney Island Dancers.

I also chatted with folks from the must-visit  Coney Island History Project. That group’s 2nd Annual History Day takes place between 1-6 p.m. Aug. 11 at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. Live acts include Benjamin Ickies & the Coney Island Screamers and Lady Circus. Anyone who wears 1920s clothing snags a free ride on the Wonder Wheel.
All such good news. The past does not always have to be old.

New York City bought 6.9 acres of Coney Island and granted a 10-year-lease to Central Amusement  International , a division of Zamperia Amusements International, an Italian manufacturer of amusements that has done work for Disney.  The city invested $6.6 million and Central Amusements dropped $30 million.

So this is how Ruby came back. Her renovation was mandated in the new lease.
A new lease on life, a new lease on love.

July 20, 2012

I can hardly wait.
Soon I will have my favorite lady over to my house for a candlelight dinner.
I will make my spicy jambalaya, well, because, it is the only thing I know how to make well. I will put on some romantic Curtis Mayfield smooth grooves in the background. On vinyl that crackles like a warm fireplace.
And pour a glass of Super Fly Cabernet.

Yes , it is true. The man of the hour has an air of great power. The dudes have envied him for so long……
A line of three wines named after Mayfield hit songs will be out this fall.

Besides “Super Fly,” named after his 1972 number one hit, look for “Gypsy Woman Chardonnay” (pegged after the 1961 crossover hit by the Impressions) and “Move On Up Merlot,” titled after the 1970 hit from Mayfield’s debut solo album. The wines are being produced by out of Norwalk, Ct.

Best of all, a portion of proceeds will benefit the Curtis Mayfield Foundation, which was inspired by the July 20 “Here But I’m Gone” Curtis Mayfield Tribute Concert featuring Sinead O’Connor, the Impressions, Mavis Staples, Dr. Lonnie Smith, musical director Binky Griptite of the Dap-Kings and others as part of the Lincoln Center Festival in New York.

“I tried to start this foundation right after Curtis died (in December, 1999), but it got difficult and I put it on hiatus,” said Altheida Mayfield, who was with Curtis for 28 years. “When I got the call from the Lincoln Center it gave me the opportunity to open it back up . We have a performing arts school here in Atlanta called Tri-Cities (High School).   One of my kids went there. (As did Outkast)”

Tri-Cities graduate  Cheaa P. Mayfield did the label artwork.

His mother said, “Each year I’m going to try to send one of their children that is in the music field off to a college of their choice through a scholarship from the foundation.”

Jake Lambertson is Senior Wine Advisor at “I struck up a relationship with the family,” Lambertson said over the phone from Norwalk. “I used to be a musician myself. We started talking about the Lincoln Center event. We came up with the private label idea. We’re a company that is more palate driven, we have collectively between 10 and 25 years wine experience. We’ve seen other celebrity labels (former NFL star Keyshawn Johnson just announced his own wine line) , a lot of times what is in the bottle falls short. We’re not a gimmick.

“We want to find a wine that is rich. I’m not a hundred per cent sure on the price point, maybe between $35 to $40 a bottle. We’re doing single (California) vineyards for these wines.”

The Impressions, a vintage taste of soul.

And there could be more.
Mayfield scored the soundtrack of the 1976 film “Sparkle” that was updated with Whitney Houston in her final role.
Do you catch my drift?

“Its something Curtis wanted to do,” Mayfield said. “ This just continues on his work. We would do a show at Justin Park in Atlanta and take the proceeds and pay for other artists to come in over the summer. This was to keep the kids off the streets, especially when we had all those kids killed in Atlanta (when 29 children were killed between 1979-81 in the Wayne Williams child murder spree).” The Mayfields moved to Atlanta from Chicago in 1980.

“He was always reaching out to help somebody from the inner city,” she said.


July 20, 2012-

NEW  YORK, N.Y.—Went vinyl digging in the rain at Bleecker Street Records and other ports of call before tonight’s Curtis Mayfield Tribute Concert at the Lincoln Center Festival.

Can’t wait to wrap the turntable around the double LP “Super Funk 2” with tracks like “Jelly Roll” by the Granby Street Development and “Monkey In a Sack” by Lil’ Buck & the Top Cats. While scouring the Bleecker basement (with a fat grey cat working the floor), the warm sound of Mayfield’s guitar—one that so perfectly complemented his falsetto—-washed over the room. I bought The Impressions “Check Out Your Mind!” for a new friend.

In a 1993 interview in his home outside of Atlanta, Ga., Mayfield told me he never took guitar lessons. “One of my cousins was drafted into the Army, and his guitar was off in the corner where nobody touched it,”  he recalled. “I was around 10 when I finally picked up the guitar. When I strummed across it, it sounded out of tune because it was tuned to Spanish tuning. I subconsciously returned it to the key of F sharp—which was all the black keys on the piano.

“I didn’t know what I had done for years, until I got to the Apollo Theater (here in New York) and found that my (guitar) tuning actually matched the piano. No one has been able to play liked I did. Except for one guy who used to come visit me at Cabrini (housing projects in Chicago). That was Billy Butler (brother of former Impression Jerry Butler).

July 19, 2012—

HANNIBAL, Mo.—-The sleepy but spunky Hannibal, Missouri was built on escapism. Situated on the west bank of the Mississippi River along majestic limestone bluffs and caves, the town’s endless gateways caught the imagination of a young Samuel Clemens. Freight trains still run by the Mississippi River and Bear Creek and they, too have always been on their way to someplace bigger.

Like Dubuque.

On this humid Sunday evening in mid-July, Danville Dans assistant coach Trevor Hall would rather be anywhere than the historic Clemens Stadium on the south edge of downtown Hannibal (pop. 17,880).

In the third inning of the Prospect League matchup against the Hannibal Cavemen, the Dans loaded the bases with no outs and failed to score. Players sat on beige lawn chairs in open air dugouts. After Zane Dillon popped to first to end the inning Hall chucked a couple of lawn chairs to no one in particular.

In the bottom of the eight Dillon was up again.

Hannibal was winning 5-3, but the Dans were mounting a threat. The Dans had runners on first and third with one out. A squeeze was on.  Dillon’s bunt was popped up and caught by Cavemens third baseman Ryan Light who beat the Dans runner back to third for an unassisted double play. The stereo groans of Hall and his manager Jamie Sailors (good name for a river town) could be heard in the grandstands.

But then the paid attendance was announced at 1,026.

I believe the crowd was less than that, and of course Samuel Clemens was known to embellish the truth.

Clemens Field was built in 1937 as a WPA (Works Progress Administration) project. The ballpark was constructed on a former lumber yard, next to the Norfolk & Southern train tracks. Freight trains still roll by two or three times during a game and kids shag foul balls by the train tracks during the game. I have been to hundreds of baseball stadiums and have never seen train tracks so close to the field.

“In 1944 the stadium was a POW camp,” said historian Ken Marks, who operates the Hannibal History Museum (and Haunted House Tours) with his wife Lisa. “It was a camp for less than two months, but Germans were always kept in the middle of the U.S. A couple hundred prisoners were here. The idea was to provide free labor for the International Shoe Company which was here. We were making army issue boots and the Germans were our testers.”

There may not be a better place (well maybe Clinton, Iowa) within driving distance of Chicago to absorb the dreams of baseball, in this case a college summer league.

Young players run between country ghosts.

Mark Twain wrote of his beloved Mississippi River, “Sometimes on the water you can see a spark or two.”

And this is very true of potential stars at Clemens Stadium, even though the Dans lost 6-3 on a parched red clay field made worse by 87 degree temperatures during the night game.

Don’t waste any time. The Cavemen’s home season ends Aug. 6 against the Quincy Gems. Hannibal is just a four and a half drive from Chicago, I-55 (or Route 66) to Springfield, then cut west on I-72 to the Mississippi River. Just beautiful.

Twain was a baseball fan. After leaving Hannibal he began following the Hartford (Ct.) Dark Blues in 1874. In March, 2010 the New York Times printed a photo of a primitive 1907 scorecard on a notebook that Twain kept while watching the Dark Blues play the Boston Red Stockings.

Mark Twain, the ol’ 6-4-3 in 1909.

And in 1889’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” Twain wrote, “My peerless short stop! I’ve seen him catch a daisy-cutter in his teeth!”

Today’s editors would send you to rehab for writing like that. 

Hannibal spent 1952-56 in the Mississippi-Ohio Valley League, the precursor to the Midwest League. The franchise was transferred to Michigan City, Ind. before the 1956 season. In 1953-54 they were known as the Hannibal Cardinals due to their affiliation with St. Louis. In 1954 future Cleveland Indians slugger Leon “Daddy Wags” Wagner led the league in hits with 160 for Danville while Hannibal’s player-manager J.C. Dunn hit 26 home runs to lead the circuit.

But nothing beats the team name the Hannibal Cannibals, who existed around 1910, the year Twain flew away on Halley’s Comet.

1909 Hannibal Cannibals, courtesy of Ken Marks

The 1911 Cannibals finished 45-81 in last place in the 8-team Class D Central Association that also included the Burlington Cow Boys and Muscatine Camels. The 1911 Cannibals were managed by Jake “Eagle Eye”  Beckley, Hannibal’s most prominent sports export and a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Hannibal’s present day mascot is “Shoeless Joe from Hannibal Mo.,” and his big black bushy eyebrows and muscular shoulders made me think he probably was a caveman. Or he could be a cannibal.

 One manly man, one geeky fan.

Fans cluster under one large steel and wood grandstand behind home plate. There is no press box and certainly no sky boxes. The official scorer and any press sit next to the Cavemen’s dugout down the third base line. I bogarted a lawn chair in the evening sun adjacent to the Dans dugout.

After a 2009 multimillion dollar renovation, baseball returned to Hannibal. That same year Clemens Field was designated a Federal and State Historic Landmark. The team is owned by Bob Hemond, the son of Bill Vecck buddy and Arizona Diamondbacks executive Roland Hemond. Bob Hemond is also Executive Vice-President and minority owner of Class AAA Sacramento River Cats. He lives in California.

I stayed the night at the Best Western, the only motel in Hannibal. I ran into the beleaguered Dans in the hallway after the game. The next morning I visited the one year-old Hannibal History Museum, 217 N. Main St., where the passionate Marks gave me directions to the Beckley burial spot high atop the bluff of Riverside Cemetery, not far from Clemens Stadium.

Do not miss visiting the museum, located in a beautiful brick and pressed tin exterior building. The 1897 building once was a cigar factory on the first floor and sewing machine factory on the second floor. A small portion of the museum is devoted to Beckley.


Beckley was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971. He began his pro career in 1891 with the Pittsburgh Alleghenys/Pirates and retired after the 1907 season with the St. Louis Cardinals.  The first baseman had 2,930 hits at the time of his retirement, second only to Cap Anson at the time. A lifetime .308 hitter, Beckley held the career record for games played at first base until 1994 when he was passed by Eddie Murray.

Beckley had one slightly crossed eye. He also was apparently influenced by the poetic air of Hannibal. According to a David Fieitz’s essay for SABR, Beckley liked to yell “CHICKAZOOLA!” to rattle opposing pitchers.

After retirement, Ol’ Eagle Eye was an umpire in the Federal League.

Beckley died of heart disease in 1918 at the age of 50.

I picked up the double CD “Mark Twain Words & Music” for my drive back to Chicago. The project benefits the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal. The CD features Clint Eastwood as Twain, Jimmy Buffett as Huck Finn and Garrison Keillor is narrator. Music by Sheryl Crow (a killer version of “Beautiful Dreamer”), Emmylou Harris and others are edited within the spoken words.

Many passages caught my ear, but I smiled aloud when Eastwood as Twain read: “High and fine literature is wine, and mine is only water; but everybody likes water.”

And  that’s why I liked Hannibal.

July 10, 2012—

FORT WAYNE. Ind..—-A road trip down the historic Lincoln Highway always takes you back in time.

America’s first coast-to-coast highway connected Times Square in New York City with the Pacific Ocean at San Francisco’s Lincoln Park. The Lincoln Highway (Route 30) rolls through downtown Fort Wayne and will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2013.

While cruising in the way-back machine I ran into former Chicago Cub-Minnesota Twins Jacques Jones in Fort Wayne.  This was the same player who befuddled Cubs fans in 2006 and 2007 but I miss him from today’s Cub standards.

Jones, 37, is in his first year as hitting coach for the Fort Wayne TinCaps.

He retired in the winter of 2010 after signing a minor league contract with the Twins, the team that chose him in the second round of the 1996 amateur draft.

But Jones was still Jonesin’ for the game.

He’s starting near the bottom rung of the minor league ladder with aspirations to become a manager. Jones chose to partner up with TinCaps parent San Diego Padres because San Diego is his home town.

“It’s the team I grew up watching,” he said in a mid-June interview before the TinCaps took on the Lansing Lugnuts at Parkview Field, where Bob Dylan will be playing his old Lincoln Highwayesque blues rock songs on Aug. 24.. “It’s been a good experience. I’m learning how to communicate and deal with different personalities.”

With a simple twist of fate, Jones will make it.

In my 2009 field guide “Cougars and Snappers and Loons (Oh My!)” I correctly predicted a managing career for former Cougar Mike Redmond when I interviewed him in the twilight of his career with the Twins. I feel the same vibe about Jones. He is honest, he has absorbed a wealth of information and is steadfast in his beliefs.

Jones has already managed two TinCaps games after manager Jose’ Valentin (former White Sox-Brewer) returned to Puerto Rico when his infielder son Jesumel was drafted in the first round by the Dodgers. “Even when Jose’ is here I play along with the game, ‘What would I do here?,’” Jones said during a scouting break on his laptop computer. “In the end I’d like to have a shot at managing.”

I saw Jones the day after the Cubs fired their storied hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. Many said the Cubs wanted to achieve a higher OBP (On Base Percentage).

“OBP isn’t really important to me,” he said. “Getting a walk is fine. Hit by pitch is fine. But you’re not going to get runs in. What do you do in clutch situations? Are you knocking that run in or are you walking? Do you want your number four hitter to have a high on base percentage but no damage? Do you know what I mean?

“I want somebody who is going to do some damage. I’m a firm believer you are going to have a guy that walks 100 times in the lineup and a guy that strikes out 100 times and you mix and match.”

BTW, on the way home from Fort Wayne. tonight’s all-star game starter  Matt Cain pitched a perfect game for the Giants. He struck out 14 batters, meaning that major league hitters are striking out at a record pace of 19.6 per cent of all plate appearances.

Jones hit .285 in each of his seasons with the Cubs. In 2006 He hit 27 HR and 81 RBI striking out 116 times in 578 AB with the Cubs. In 2007 those numbers dropped to 5-66, striking out 70 times in 453 AB.

As Jones embarks on his coaching-managing career he said he takes bits and pieces of things he learned from Kirby Puckett, Paul Molitor, Torri Hunter, David Ortiz, Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee. “Pitchers like Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins also taught me how to be a big leaguer,” he said.

Jones finished his career with a pretty nice .277 average with 165 HR and 630 RBI in 1,302 major league games.

“I learned how to deal with each and every at bat,” he explained. “You have to flush the bad and maintain the good. Don’t get too low when things aren’t going well. Don’t get too high when things are going good. Your teammates watch you. The media watches you. The fans watch you. You don’t want people to know when you’re going good or when you’re going bad. The mental part of the game is more strenuous than the physical part. You have to keep grinding.”

Is hitting more psychological or mechanical?

“Psychological by far,” Jones answered. “These kids dominated somewhere along the line or they wouldn’t be here. Most kids haven’t struggled. For a lot of them this is the first time they have had to make adjustments. That’s  difficult for them. I’m here to let them know that I went through it, Torri went through it, it is a game of adjustments. They are attacking your weakness. Then you have to try and fix your weakness. Find another weakness, you gotta fix that one.”

Jones keeps in constant contact with his former Cubs manager Dusty Baker. He had just talked to him a week before our visit.

“He was an awesome manager, as even keel as you could be,” Jones said. “The time I was in Chicago I had never seen a man get as beat up as much as he got beat up in the press. Everything that happened was Dusty’s fault. Not the fact our payroll was nothing (2006 payroll: $94.4 million, Kerry Wood received $12 million to pitch in four games), we went through 30 something starting pitchers (including Springfield Illinois’ immortal Ryan O’Malley in 2006). It was terrible the way he was treated. But he kept his head up even when we lost 90 (96 in 2006). He had to have security walk him to his car. I learned so much from him and he carried himself in a manner which I very much respected.

“Chicago was tough.”

Every year around Jackie Robinson Day much is written about the dwindling numbers of African-Americans playing baseball. Then the subject drifts away for another year. “Of course,” Jones said. “At some point during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s it was 20 per cent African-Americans. Now it is around five and six per cent.”

According to MLB stats, the peak of of 27 per cent African Americans in the big leagues occurred in 1975 when Hall of Famers Joe Morgan, Hank Aaron, Reggie Jackson, Lou Brock, Frank Robinson, and Willie Stargell were household names.

“The game isn’t in the neighborhoods any more,” Jones said. “Kids play video games, basketball, football, but that stuff was around back then. I don’t understand it. I want to get as many African-Americans to get involved with baseball as I can. Now that I’m a coach I can go home (to San Diego) and try to get it back the way it was. ”

Jones grew up in the inner city of southeast San Diego.

His mother Linda worked in office management, his father Hardy worked for the City of San Diego. Hardy Jones died in 2004 at the age of 52.

Jones followed a baseball path out of his neighborhood from Little League to Pony League to high school to college at the University of Southern California. He was a member of the 1996 U.S. Olympic Baseball team. 

“When I was in the big leagues I used to tell people it didn’t matter as much to me what organizations and fans said to me as much as when I went home,” Jones said. “My friends were able to tell me whether I had a good season or not. They know sports. When you come back to the neighborhood they let you know.”

I told you he is steadfast.

Jones doesn’t mind the often mindless, steadfast bus trips of the Midwest League.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “I’ve always been humble. I didn’t grow up in the lap of luxury. I always had to scuffle and work for whatever I got. The bus trips are three, four, maybe five hours. So what? Read a book. Go on the computer and do game reports. Read the newspaper.” This season Jones has already made his way through a Donnie Brasco book and “The Big Miss: My Years Coaching Tiger Woods” by the golfer’s former coach Hank Haney. When Jones peers out a bus window he still sees humility.

“I try to remember when I was a kid, what was asked of me, what was expected of me,” he said. “The main thing about me is that I don’t forget how hard the game was.”

After our thoughtful chat Lansing went out and beat Fort Wayne 7-0 before 4,650 fans at beautiful Parkview Field in downtown Fort Wayne.

It was the first time the Tin Caps had been shut out all season.

For archived baseball stories on Joe Garagiola, Lefty O’Doul, Buck O’Neil and more, visit the SPORTS section at