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ArchiveSEPTEMBER 2022


SEPTEMBER 29, 2012 flashback    SILENT BATS

As my 31st season telecasting Major League Baseball draws to a close, last night for the first time I finally worked a no-hit game!  The Pittsburgh Pirates were held without a hit by Homer Bailey of the Cincinnati Reds.  This doesn’t happen often; the last time the Pirates were victims of a no-hitter was in 1971, with Bob Gibson on the mound.

However, it isn’t unusual recently for the Pirates to be held without a run.  They’ve been shut out 14 times this year.  The local team is now 76-81, last night’s loss having clinched their 20th consecutive season of losing at least as many games as they won.  That extends the record of futility the Pirates already held:  in the history of the four major North American professional sports, 20 years is the longest streak ever without a winning season.

When you passively watch a no-hitter unfold on TV, in the late innings every out is a moment of high drama.  Surprisingly, that wasn’t my experience in the TV truck.  We were too busy to think about it.  We started to build a panel listing the Reds’ no-hitters (the most recent was a perfect game by Tom Browning against the 1988 Dodgers), had to deal with a technical problem, finished the panel, prepared the other graphics we’d need after the last out, watched the final couple of fly balls, and the game was over.

Rachel Carson grew up in a farmhouse near Springdale, Pennsylvania, just five miles from where I’m living now.  Fifty years ago this week, she published Silent Spring, a book that that helped start the environmental movement by exposing the detrimental effects of pesticides like DDT.

As a teenager in Ohio, I had read glowing articles in Reader’s Digest and elsewhere reporting the wonderful benefits of pesticides.  These chemicals were wiping out insect-borne diseases in Africa and increasing crop yields on farms everywhere.  They were building a better world as part of the “Green Revolution.”

I resented the accusation that DDT was somehow evil.  It seemed to me that Rachel Carson and her friends wanted to ignore the advances of science.  She wanted to turn back the clock to a preindustrial age, when disease and starvation were rampant.

Since then, of course, I’ve moved on to a more nuanced view of such matters.  New inventions and discoveries have both advantages and disadvantages, and we have to weigh the good against the bad.



Do they still make these “menu boards”?  They had horizontal grooves covered with black fabric forced into the slits, sort of like corduroy but deeper.  Interchangeable white plastic letters had prongs on the back so they could be pressed into the grooves.

Menu boards were often used in restaurants and cafeterias to list the daily specials.

Also, believe it or not, they were also used in the early days of live network television.

For example, let's flash back to the CBS Television Network on the night of November 20, 1955.  Each guest on What's My Line did not reveal his occupation at first.  The celebrity panel was challenged to guess it.

A stagehand had spelled out the secret on a menu board hidden in the wings.  (In this case, his line spacing was inconsistent.)  One camera aimed at the board and another at the guest. 

To reveal the occupation to the audience, the two camera shots were mixed together in a crude video effect called a “half-dissolve.”  Actually, in order for the letters to be read, it was more like a three-quarters dissolve:  75% menu board, 25% guest.

After my family purchased our first TV set one year later, the sophistication of TV graphics began to improve.


SEPTEMBER 24, 2022

When the local high school game is over, the attendees head for home and their vehicles fill the roadway.

It used to be that way when the local worship service was over.  Every Sunday around noon, churches in each town would “let out” and traffic was heavy. 

Several years ago, as I approached the
northern Ohio intersection above, I had to
wait out more than one change of the light.

Let's go further back, to 1972, when I was still living at home.  Of every 20 Americans then, 18 called themselves Christians, one was something else, and only one admitted to having no religion.  (That's 90%, 5%, and 5% on this graph adapted from Pew Research.)

A new trend began around 1984.  Nowadays there are nearly half as many “nones” as Christians.

Conservatives will continue to describe America as a Christian nation.  But according to Pew's “rising disaffiliation” scenario, the “nones” are projected to be in the majority before 2070.

It was around noon last Sunday that I drove down this church-lined street and encountered no traffic delays.



When Russian President Vladimir Putin talks with foreigners or even his own officials in the Kremlin, as in the February meeting below, he likes to keep them far away.

Putin wouldn't touch German Chancellor Olaf Scholz with a 10-foot pole.  Instead, he isolated him at the far end of a 20-foot table.  Was this for health reasons?  From New York, Olga Khvostunova didn't think so; she surmised it's “a power play” to make his rivals “uncomfortable.”

On the other hand, to project sincerity — “This is not a bluff” — during a canceled, then rescheduled address to the Russian people yesterday, Putin moved the camera lens almost within touching distance.  It must have been hovering over his desk.

Those of us who've worked in TV notice these things.



To keep basketball games moving, the NBA has a 24-second shot clock.

To keep football games moving, the NFL has a 40-second play clock.

But four years ago, I documented a baseball game that generated a play on the field (a hit, an out, or an error) only once every 244 seconds.  That was twice as long as in the thrilling Bill Mazeroski classic.

Two years ago, according to Sports Illustrated, the sixth game of the 2020 World Series lasted 3:28.  Strikeouts ended 42% of all plate appearances, and there were only 32 balls put into play — one every 6½ minutes.  Over the final half-hour, that “action” slowed to half speed, with two balls in play during 26 minutes.

Just last Sunday, the Pittsburgh Pirates required 3:29 to lose to the Mets, striking out 20 times.  Twelve of those thrilling K's were contributed by the DH and the outfielders, who went a combined 0 for 14.

Major League Baseball knows it has a problem with its spectators getting bored.  It would be nice if football-accustomed fans could see a fielder chasing a fair ball every 40 seconds, but that can't be legislated without getting rid of balls and strikes.

Therefore, next season MLB will institute not a play clock but a pitch clock.  Pitchers will have 15 seconds to throw a pitch, or a ball will be called.  (An extra five seconds will be allowed if there's a runner on base.)  Statcast says the slowest pitcher this season averages 26.1 seconds.

Jason Stark quotes Double-A manager Morgan Ensberg:  “This thing is going to knock at least 20 minutes, I believe, off the time of a game in the big leagues.”

Hitters will need to be in the batter's box with 8 seconds left on the clock, or a strike will be called.  Stark imagines this “fun moment”:  “Bases loaded, Shohei Ohtani at the plate, two outs and a 3-2 count.  Ohtani isn't quite set and focused on the pitcher as the timer count hits 7, and some letter-of-the-law umpire screams: ‘Timer violation!  Strike three ... you're out!’”

But do the players actually take longer between pitches nowadays than they did back in the old days, say 1956?  In this month's 100 Moons article, I run the numbers.



When my retired neighbor visits his elderly mother, he often hears her relate the same old stories.  However, most of us are loath to repeat ourselves, even once, lest others think us senile.

For example, I was watching a clip of Johnny Carson from his 22nd year as host of the Tonight show.  He started to describe his first encounter with Red Skelton, but he prefaced it with a semi-apology:   “I may have told this on this show before, but....”

Really, Johnny?  Do you suppose that everyone watching remembers everything you've said since 1962?

I also listen to Omnibus, which has been producing two podcast episodes a week since 2017.  Each is more than an hour long, and their 500th episode is due this Thursday.  Occasionally Ken Jennings will say, “I don't know whether we've mentioned this before on the podcast, but....”

Really, Ken?  Are you afraid of repeating something you may have said hundreds of hours previously?

Let us not fear to revisit our greatest hits.



The year was 1988, and I was traveling with the KDKA-TV broadcast crew for Pittsburgh Pirates games.  Most of our telecasts were on the road.

Also that year, a supergroup calling themselves the Traveling Wilburys debuted.  One of the more obscure cuts on their album was called “Margarita.”

I considered making a suggestion to our producer before our scheduled telecast from New York's Shea Stadium.  With appropriate footage, the first four vocal lines of this tune (beginning about 70 seconds in) could open the show ... if there had recently been a brawl in the late innings of a home game back in Pittsburgh.  Bob Dylan would sing:

  It was in Pittsburgh late one night.
          I lost my hat, got into a fight.
                       I rolled and tumbled till I saw the light,
                              Went to the Big Apple, took a bite.

Unfortunately that particular set of circumstances never arose.


SEPTEMBER 14, 2022    I'VE GOT IT!

On this very date 200 years ago, the French schoolteacher Jean-François Champollion exclaimed “Je tiens l'affaire!”  He'd broken an ancient code.

The story goes all the way back to 204 BC, when a palace fire killed Ptolemy IV of Egypt.  His only son, not yet six years old, was declared king.  As Ptolemy V was growing up, he put down a revolt.

On March 26, 196 BC, grateful priests from all over Egypt gathered in Memphis to see the rebels executed and to see the teenaged Ptolemy V officially crowned as Pharaoh by the High Priest of Ptah.

The next day, the priests composed a decree praising the Pharaoh for the benefits he had conferred on them and the people.

The text was to be publicly displayed in temples across Egypt, using three languages (right):  the old sacred hieroglyphics, the “language of documents” called Demotic, and the government's Greek.

In at least one case, the decree was engraved in three bands on a one-ton block of granodiorite measuring about 45 by 30 inches and 10 inches thick.  It's now known as the Rosetta Stone.

Hieroglypics and Demotic remained in use for only six more centuries.  Christianity, with its strict monotheism, got rid of the traditional “pagan” religion, and the art of reading the old scripts was lost.  Later visitors to Egypt saw mystical symbols on the walls of temples and tombs but had no idea what they meant.

Fortunately, Napoleon's soldiers found the Stone in the summer of 1799.

A couple of decades later, Champollion began working on deciphering the symbols.  He already knew ancient Greek, and he eventually recognized the hieroglypic cartouche for the royal name Ramesses.

Champollion went on to crack the rest of the code and compose an Egyptian grammar.  The ability to read the ancient civilization's language led to a new scholarly discipline, Egyptology.


SEPTEMBER 12, 2012 flashback    JOHN, CHAPTER 1, VERSES 1-14

An anonymous blog poster asserts that “science came into this world to save us from the original sin of believing in gods.”

However, inspired by the fourth Gospel (in the left column below), I'd like to point out (in the right column) that scientific laws existed even before there were scientists to discover them.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

In the beginning were the laws of physics.  Science was with God, and science was God.

The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

The physical laws were there from the beginning.  Everything formed in accordance with these laws, and without them was not anything made that was made.  That includes life, and life's natural evolution has led to human beings.

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

The light of knowledge shines in the darkness of superstition, though the darkness does not understand it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.

There are men of understanding, whose names have included Galileo and Darwin and Einstein.  They come as witnesses, to reveal the universe to us, that all of us through them might free ourselves from our superstition.

He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.  That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

They have not themselves attained perfection; they make mistakes; but they bear witness to the light.  Complete understanding, which gives light to everyone, is still coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.  He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

Science was in the world; but the world, though it owed its being to it, did not recognize it.  Though the truth was proclaimed to all, the flat-earthers refused to believe it.

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.  And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory.

But as many who did accept it, to them science gave the power to become true children of knowledge.  The truth made its home among us, and we began to understand the glory of the universe.



Mike White, who covers scholastic and local sports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, last week wrote over 3,000 words about “an old problem with modern challenges.”  Here's a condensation in under 700 words, with Mike's text excerpted in green.

Hazing incidents are being investigated at three high schools in Pennsylvania.  Another team, Middletown High near Hershey, canceled its season because of sexual hazing incidents.

Mike talked with Donnie Militzer, the first-year high school football coach at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Coraopolis, PA. 

"When I first started this year," said Militzer, "one of the first things I did was talk to the kids about things like hazing.  I tried to explain the responsibility they have to the whole school community.  Think about those schools where games were canceled because of hazing.  That affects the cheerleaders, the band, the community.  It would be crazy not to talk about this.

"One of the first questions a kid asked was, 'Coach, what is hazing?'"

Yes, what is it?  Of the 3,000 words Mike wrote, 50 were "hazing.”  But he never really answered the kid's question.  What are we talking about?

Let's see, thinks the kid, haze is like fog, air with tiny suspended particles or droplets that prevent things being seen clearly.

So “hazing” must mean covering someone in haze, perhaps misting them in the face with a spray bottle as one might scold a naughty pet.

The word's origins do lie in getting wet.  In 1840, Richard H. Dana described in Two Years before the Mast how a ship's captain would assert his authority by forcing his crew to do pointless work in bad weather. “All hands were called to ‘come up and see it rain,’ and kept on deck hour after hour in a drenching rain ... picking old rope to pieces.  ...This is what is called ‘hazing’ a crew, and “working their old iron up.’”

“Hazing” nowadays generally refers to an initiation ritual forced on newcomers by older members of the group.  The perpetrators are demonstrating their dominance by humiliating, degrading, abusing, or even endangering the newbies.  This has been going on for centuries, as attested by Leipzig University's 1495 “Statute Forbidding Any One to Annoy or Unduly Injure the Freshmen.”

Mike probably was hesitant to encourage the practice by suggesting how to do it, but later on he did mention some examples over the years:  shaving the heads of freshmen, making them carry the equipment in after practice, taping them to a pole in the locker room.  Then during preseason practices last month,

According to Middletown's superintendent Chelton Hunter, players used their cellphones to video "a group restraining two of their teammates and using a muscle therapy gun and another piece of athletic equipment" to poke their buttocks.

Then more video surfaced of another incident.  Hunter canceled the season.

Can't the coaching staff prevent this?  Mike White himself coaches junior high basketball, and he knows he can't be everywhere at all times — for example, in the shower room.

There is no part of me that believes I should sit in the locker room while players get dressed.  That's creepy.  All it takes is for one of those players or their parents to go to the school administrators and say, "Coach watches me when I undress and I don't like it."

It all comes down to the fact that when adults aren't watching, adolescents enjoy horseplay and playing pranks.  And those sometimes get out of hand.

These hazing incidents also show what trouble cell phones cause in high schools.  Many coaches, teenagers and administrators have told me over the past few years that cell phones are the biggest problem in schools these days.  Kids just don't get it sometimes.  Some think nothing of putting out harmful videos on social media.

Scott Seltzer, the new executive director of the WPIAL, said, "Studies have shown young male brains aren't fully developed until maybe 25 or 26 years old.  They can't foresee consequences.  You sometimes ask a kid why they did something and they don't know why."

"As my wife's mother used to always say, you can't put an old head on a young kid," said Mapletown coach George Messich. 

So, Mike, is the situation getting worse?  Or better?

I believe the number of hazing incidents in high school sports has gone way down in the past 25 years or so because sports organizations, school administrators and coaches have made a conscious effort to address it and educate athletes on what hazing is.

Having a legislative statute concerning hazing also helps.  The act can be, depending on the circumstances, considered a felony.

But as evidenced by the cases in Pennsylvania recently, it's disheartening to say hazing will still rear its ugly head again here and there.  Because of the kids.



Today is Labor Day.  Because it's a national holiday, we'll fly the flag.  And as on every national holiday, we'll parade with guns and banners to salute all the branches of the armed forces.  At the old ball game, the National Anthem and “God Bless America” will be sung by uniformed warriors.  Praising “the troops” makes us seem more patriotic. 

Wait.  Isn't Labor Day supposed to honor Americans who work — not Americans who fight?

Is our nation obsessed with getting our way by force?  Jim Wright, a retired US Navy Chief Warrant Officer, has written about our mindset under his nom de tweet of “Stonekettle.”  A few excerpts:

In a democracy, the military exists not so that we must fight endless wars.  It exists so that we don't have to.

There was a time, before the swaggering chickenhawks with their shallow patriotism and lust for parades of military hardware took over, when we as a nation believed in the olive branch of peace.

Military spending accounts for half the total US discretionary budget.  We've got the largest, most powerful, most well-equipped, well-trained military in human history.

War has become our lifestyle.  We love war.  War is the solution to every problem.

Look around; how many Americans do you see dressed in camo?  With those beards they think Special Forces all wear, flashlights, tacticool sunglasses?  In their minds, violence is strength.

We should respect the warrior, if he be worthy, but we must never worship him.  For there is no glory in war.

We think we're Spartans in a society of perpetual warriors, dressed up in military cosplay, brandishing assault weapons, and obsessed with the appearance of manly vigor and the ever-present threat of violence.

But these are not the traits of a civilized nation.

I'm still boggled by the percentage of the population who have become addicted to drama. It's like their adrenal gland is jammed in the RAGERAGERAGE! position all the time.

As a nation, we have lost our capacity for harmless enjoyment.

Yes, this NFL football game in Florida a couple of weeks ago — a preseason game which should have been harmless enjoyment — is an example of how too many of our citizens seem to think violence is the answer to every difference of opinion.



I’ve visited every state except Alaska.  I’ve also visited five Canadian provinces, the United Kingdom, South Korea, and Japan.

I’ve worked on televised sports events in 47 of those 57 places (all except Arkansas, Idaho, Montana, New Brunswick, New Mexico, North and South Dakota, Nova Scotia, Vermont, and Wyoming, where I was merely a tourist).

A dozen years ago, a typical September would find me in an airport as many as five days a week, flying to various cities for baseball and football telecasts on Fox Sports Net and Fox Family Network and FX.

Air travel was easier then.  Security restrictions were less onerous; and, more importantly, US Airways still had a hub here in Pittsburgh, so most of my trips were direct flights.  Nowadays travelers from Pittsburgh usually have to fly first to some other hub (like Chicago or Atlanta or Washington) to make a connection.

Around the turn of the century, however, all those Fox national cablecasting contracts went to other networks, and I was free to work closer to home.

I’ve been very fortunate.  I’ve become the crewers’ first choice when they need a local Duet operator for several professional teams:  the Pittsburgh Pirates, Penguins, Steelers (preseason only), and Power (arena football).  And when there are separate telecasts for the home team and the visitors, I get to work on the home telecast with familiar faces.  I’m also the crewers’ first choice for high school football games and for college games at Pitt, Duquesne, Robert Morris, Saint Francis of Pennsylvania, and California of Pennsylvania.

I also occasionally get calls for events outside the Pittsburgh area, but with enough work here at home, I generally turn those down unless they’re within driving distance.  For practical purposes that means between Cleveland and Harrisburg, although for past assignments I’ve driven as far as Chicago in one direction and Long Island in the other.

The last time I was on an airplane was five years ago today!  And as I have attained the age of 65½, it’s possible I might never have to visit an airport again.