Milo, you’re no Hall of Famer and I can prove it

Listening to a baseball game on the radio is a special treat, but I haven’t been able to tune in to my Houston Astros since the mid-1980s because I cannot abide the play-by-play announcer.  So I was quite pleased recently when Milo Hamilton announced he was retiring from the broadcast booth after the 2012 season.  Appreciation of one broadcaster or another is to some degree a matter of taste, I grant you; in this case, I’m finally getting the bad taste out of my mouth after more than 30 years!

In the days of my first experience with cable television in Austin, Texas in the late 1970s, when all you got was a dozen or so channels in total including the local stations, the special offerings including the independent “super stations” WTBS (originally WTCG) in Atlanta and WGN in Chicago which carried a ton of syndicated programming plus all the games of the Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs baseball teams.  To a fledgling broadcaster and long-time baseball fan it was pretty cool to see how stations in other cities put on their broadcasts, and since the Cubs played all their home games in the afternoon back then I saw them a lot.  In a very short time I decided that I did not care for the style of either of the Cubs play-by-play men, Harry Caray and Milo Hamilton.

By 1985 I was back in Houston, and was disgusted at the news that the Astros hired Hamilton to be the second play-by-play guy behind long-time local favorite Gene Elston.  By 1987 Elston was unceremoniously dumped and Hamilton had the top spot in the radio broadcast.  He has some ardent fans—most notably Astros management, that hasn’t fired him in all these years—but Hamilton is the subject of high derision and ridicule, and it’s not just me: check out the comments forum at Houston’s Leading Information Source, or even the Astros’ own website,  when the news broke that Hamilton was going to announce his retirement.

Among the things I’ve always loathed, right after his increasing inability over the years to stay focused on the game playing out right in front of his damn eyes, has been Hamilton’s pomposity, his exuberant affection for all things Milo and his assumption that you love all things Milo too.  This includes the unbecoming habit of reminding the listener that he’s a Hall of Fame broadcaster, referring to the fact that he won the Ford C. Frick Award from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 1992.  Well, during the big doings over the retirement announcement I saw a story in the Houston Press that gave me pause: John Royal asserted that Hamilton is not a member of the Hall of Fame, just the winner of an award the Hall gives.  I had to find out for myself:


There you have it boys and girls, the bar-bet-settling evidence straight from Cooperstown!  Milo Hamilton, no matter which halls of fame you claim, you are not a member of baseball’s hall.  Happy trails!  Oh, frabjous rapture!

But as joyous as the news is, as wonderful the feeling of smacking down a hated asshole can be, it’s raised an issue.  My friend Mark Sterling, a product of Detroit who shares my distaste for Hamilton’s on-air style, and who is a lover of the late long-time Tigers broadcaster who also won the Frick, had this response to the notice heralding my achievement:

A fine piece of investigative work, indeed; certainly adding proper perspective to Milo’s body of work.  However, in the case of fellow “award winner” Ernie Harwell, Red and I will stand like the house by the side of the road, and watch that one [Craig’s assessment] go by…

Oh crap, what I have I done?  (Milo, what have you done?  You’ve gone and screwed it up for everybody.)

And then it hit me: this is only a problem for creeps like Hamilton who’ve overreached and taken credit for something they’re not entitled to.  We’ve all heard other Frick Award winners referred to as Hall of Famers by others, but the mikemen don’t bear the responsibility for that error.  They’re all in the Hall, in the exhibit in the Museum, and we who appreciate their work aren’t wrong to think of them as being in the Hall.  (Donna Stell, another friend who read the Hall’s response to my question, wondered if that makes Hamilton an exhibitionist; yes, I believe it does.)

So, I was relatively proud of myself for coming up with information that like-minded baseball lovers can appreciate.  I shared it among a group of friends, and made the parenthetical aside that “this may be the most worthwhile thing I have done this week;” my friend Tom Adolph, no doubt voicing the sentiment shared by many others, replied “This may be the best thing you have ever done.”  If so, I can live with that.

Michael Berry was wrong before he was right, I was just wrong

One of the things I learned from the whole affair was that I can get as lazy as anyone about paying attention, and I need to watch that.  In this case, not only was I sucked in by the trick and missed the obvious transgression, I got schooled on the thing by the guy I was delighted to believe was going to suffer—not only for his own alleged unlawful behavior but from what I assumed is the bigotry of his fans.

The facts are MBerrythese: late last month a Chevy Tahoe registered to local radio talk show host and former Houston City Council member Michael Berry was implicated in an traffic accident in which witnesses saw the vehicle strike an unoccupied parked car and then leave the scene.  The vehicle was later witnessed driving around the block back to the scene a second and a third time without stopping, and on those subsequent passes the driver was ID’ed as Berry; Berry was also visible in surveillance footage shot inside a nearby business just before the accident happened.  Police investigated, filed no charges; Berry subsequently acknowledged being inside the nearby business at the time in question, but has not admitted or denied being behind the wheel when the accident occurred.  Well, that’s all very, well, (yawn)…

But that wasn’t the story when I heard it.  The Big Story that was broken by a local television station last week (which I didn’t see) and was then followed up by Houston’s Leading Information Source (which I did) was that a local conservative talk show host was implicated in a hit-and-run outside a gay bar.  The “conservative” (like there’s any other kind on a political show these days?) and the “gay bar” are also factually accurate, but entirely beside the point if you were to assume that any actual news here is “prominent Houstonian investigated for hit-and-run” and not “conservative loudmouth attends drag show at gay bar (and sideswipes a parked car without leaving his information).”

I admit: when I read the story in the paper my first thought was to assume that Berry was going to get roasted by his hard-core conservative radio audience for patronizing a gay bar, and I smiled a little smile of satisfaction…and, yes, my second thought was that it was wrong of him to back into a parked car and then leave, although to me the “illegal leaving” made sense if he was trying to keep from being caught up in the “gay bar” part of the situation.  It was just funny that someone who was trying to keep from being caught would drive by the scene again—twice!—and if he was going to be that dumb then he deserved what he was going to get.

Berry said nothing publicly about the matter until he opened up his radio show yesterday, and then he spent an entire hour on it.  It took him 34:42 into the hour before he got to the hit and run allegation at the center of the case and then he said he couldn’t talk about it because it’s a pending legal matter; he reminded listeners that he hasn’t been charged with anything, and stated that he has cooperated with the police fully.  That all makes good sense legally but it’s jarring to the sensibilities: if you’re talking about the incident at all, how can you refuse to address the central issue?

What he did talk about, though, was the attack on him by the TV station, and he was right about that, to a point.  KPRC-TV led its newscast—led the newscast, mind you; ostensibly the most important event of the day—with a story about a two-week-old, injury-less, hit-and-run accident in which a former city council member and prominent local media member was implicated, but had it all dressed up with screams of “gay bar” and “drag show.”  That’s got to be in someone’s textbook as an example of how to unfairly and misleadingly characterize a simple set of facts.  The station’s report included proof that a traffic accident occurred and that Berry’s vehicle was involved, but otherwise served only to raise the titillation quotient and crank up the rumor-mongering machinery.  KPRC-TV should be ashamed of itself, but probably is not; it lost its soul when the local owners sold it to Post-Newsweek in 1994.

So for me, if Berry had left it there he’d be declared the hands-down winner in this little bit of business.  But no.  The man to whom I once wrote a nice letter about his expressed hope that any mosque built near Ground Zero would be bombed couldn’t let it rest.

I listened to Berry’s on-air response posted on the station’s website.  He claimed he was being smeared with reports from “unnamed sources” that he intimated may not actually exist..and then he threatened to respond with reports from his own “unnamed sources” and their (wink, wink) “allegations” about KPRC people.  Berry asserted that the “gay bar” story was “shopped around” to local reporters by political insiders (whom he did not name) and enemies he’s made over the years.

He said he went to the bar in question, where gay patrons were present, because he wanted a beer, thought he wouldn’t be recognized there, and didn’t want to be bothered.  Fine.  He also refuted the assumption that all conservatives hate gay people, and pointed out that he himself has taken on gay-bashers in the past, Pat Robertson in particular.  But I thought he showed an inability to control his own temper: anger at being wrongly accused may be understandable, but Berry’s display of flashes of that anger, and his childish name-calling, showed a lack of self-control.

So anyways, thanks Michael Berry, for reminding me that if I am ever being tortured by being made to watch the news on KPRC-TV that I make damn sure to have the BS filter cleaned and installed ahead of time.  And thanks to you, too, Patti Kilday Hart, for invoking the memory of the late, great Bob Bullock to teach a lesson to people like me:

The recovering alcoholic, chain-smoking, serial husband would remind us that life’s darkest moments offer opportunity for profound change.  He’d tell Berry to listen to his lawyer and shut up.

Then he’d give the rest of us a dark scowl and suggest what we should give up for Lent: Schadenfreude, the personal enjoyment of another’s suffering.  Bullock knew something about personal foibles.  We all have them.

Crazy conservatives shoot themselves in the foot, then reload

The radical right of the Republican Party keeps drifting farther and farther away from the reality where most of us exist.  The good part is they’re getting less and less likely to remain a national political force, since as they get more and more extreme in their views they’re pushing more and more moderates away while their own supporters, angry old white people, are dying off.  The overreaction to every imagined slight against The Way Things Should Be and The Way Things Used To Be has become comical, and an easy target for Jon Stewart and others.

The Daily Show took note of last week’s hissy fit in a hatbox over mandating health insurance coverage for contraception services and the requirement that employers offer such coverage, even some religion-affiliated employers, and was delighted to report that the conservative message machine didn’t miss a chance—again—to bulldoze blithely over that line that separates rational argument from hysterical exaggeration.  Click the pic, and enjoy.


This one guy says the evil super PACs are SAVING democracy, others are less charitable

I’m not sure if he’s right or not, but he makes an interesting argument.  Dave Weigel is an excellent political reporter who’s spent a lot of time chronicling the conservative movement.  Today at Slate he makes the provocative argument—it was to me, anyway—that the political action committees fostered by the U. S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decisionare a good thing, that they have been a force to strengthen democracy and have made this year’s Republican presidential contest fairer.

Huh?  No, no, no, wait a minute: Citizens United is an evil thing, a twisted interpretation of dictionary English by the conservative members of the court so that now the godless, faceless corporations are considered “persons” for the purposes of political participation, and they can secretly donate as much of their giant piles of money as they like to PACs and buy elections and marginalize the little guy like me (I was going to say you and me, but I really shouldn’t presume to speak for you, should I?)…it’s already happened starting in Iowa this year, right?  I mean, that’s what we’ve all been told, right?

But Weigel argues that the super PACs have had a leveling effect: the big money from super PACs is all that’s kept Mitt Romney from outspending his opponents into submission, and essentially buying the GOP nomination.  And despite the concerns about the secretive nature of the super PACs, he notes that we seem to know more about the biggest of the big donors to super PACs than we do about the people making direct donations to the individual candidates’ campaigns. He writes, “The big fear about campaign money is that it corrupts the candidates who have to beg for it.”

But that worry applies better to the shadowy bundler than it does to the megabucks super PAC donor. Corruption can’t grow in the sunlight. The people giving big to super PACs are famous. I didn’t fully understand how famous until I tagged along with [Newt] Gingrich at a speech to Aloma Baptist Church in Florida, when a parishioner asked him to explain why he was taking dirty money from the gambling industry. Gingrich explained that he and [Sheldon] Adelson had a simpatico, guns-a-blazin’ view on Israel. Is it corruption if the candidate tells you what he’ll do for the donor?


We know more about those guys than we know about the bundlers, who’ve been passing money under the table for years. So which of those systems is worse for our democracy?

I know what’s good for our democracy: satire and ridicule, and in the case of Citizens United it’s been coming most effectively from Stephen Colbert.  The Comedy Central comedian started his own super PAC and has been using it to expose the ridiculous reality resulting from the court’s ruling.

The line between entertainment and the court blurred even further late last month when Colbert had former Justice John Paul Stevens on his show to discuss his dissent in Citizens United. When a 91-year-old former justice is patiently explaining to a comedian that corporations are not people, it’s clear that everything about the majority opinion has been reduced to a punch line.

The court fights aren’t over, and perhaps the coolest one is in Montana where the state supreme court has told the one in Washington to pound sand.  The court voted 5-2 to uphold the constitutionality of Montana’s ban on corporate campaign contributions, finding justification for the ban that Citizens United does not consider.  Beyond that, Justice James Nelson unloaded: “Corporations are not persons.  Human beings are persons, and it is an affront to the inviolable dignity of our species that courts have created a legal fiction which forces people—human beings—to share fundamental, natural rights with soulless creatures of government.”   And that from one of the two dissenters in the ruling!

More fundamentally, the majority and one dissenter seem to understand perfectly how much the American people resent being lied to about the burning need for courts to step in to protect the oppressed voices of powerless corporate interests. As Judge Nelson wrote in dissent, “the notion that corporations are disadvantaged in the political realm is unbelievable. Indeed, it has astounded most Americans. The truth is that corporations wield enormous power in Congress and in state legislatures. It is hard to tell where government ends and corporate America begins: the transition is seamless and overlapping.”

America moves one step closer to gay marriage rights, and the silence from opponents speaks volumes

Today a panel of a federal appeals court in California ruled that state’s Proposition 8, an amendment to the state constitution approved by voters in 2008 to outlaw gay marriage, is an unconstitutional violation of the right to equal protection under the law.  The appeals panel agreed with the federal district court decision which found marriage to be a fundamental right protected by the U.S. Constitution, and that there has to be a good reason to limit the exercise of that right to only certain people—in this case, one-man-and-one-woman couples.

Although the Constitution permits communities to enact most laws they believe to be desirable, it requires that there be at least a legitimate reason for the passage of a law that treats different classes of people differently. There was no such reason that Proposition 8 could have been enacted.


All that Proposition 8 accomplished was to take away from same-sex couples the right to be granted marriage licenses and thus legally to use the designation of “marriage,” which symbolizes state legitimization and societal recognition of their committed relationships.  Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California…

The ruling was limited in scope and does not address whether “same-sex couples may ever be denied the right to marry.”  The court found that since “California had already extended to committed same-sex couples both the incidents of marriage and the official designation of ‘marriage,’ and Proposition 8’s only effect was to take away that important and legally significant designation, while leaving in place all of its incidents,” the court was able to rule on Proposition 8’s constitutionality without need to address the larger issue.  But that is the grounds where the ultimate appeal will be argued.  Supporters of this discriminatory and downright uncharitable proposition have the choice of appealing the case to either the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit or the United States Supreme Court; since that’s where we know the case is going to have to go eventually, I say let’s get on with it.

I’ll continue to argue that there is no good reason for gay people to be treated differently than straight people under the law when it comes to the exercise of the fundamental right to marry, or in fact the exercise of any fundamental civil right.  Various religions may restrict their rites and sacraments among their members according to their beliefs, but civil law protects the rights of all Americans and there’s no room for exceptions that serve only to salve the theological objections of one religion or another.  That’s what the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is all about: no restrictions on an individual’s religious practice, but no religion’s law takes precedence in civil life.

Many of the voices opposed to gay marriage claim to believe they are protecting “family values” or “conservative values.”  Fine; I take them at their word.  What I’m arguing in favor of are American values: equality; liberty; fairness; tolerance; justice.  The argument was made most persuasively by the plaintiffs’ attorneys in this case, Republican Ted Olson and Democrat David Boies.  In August 2010, when the federal district court overturned Proposition 8, Olson made the case so clearly in a discussion with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday.  Click here to look at the clip and read the transcript.

We do not put the Bill of Rights to a vote….We ask judges to make sure that when we vote for something we’re not depriving minorities of their constitutional rights.


…we have a 14th Amendment that guarantees equal rights to all citizens. It’s not judicial activism when judges do what the Constitution requires them to do, and they follow the precedent of previous decisions of the Supreme Court.


If 7 million Californians were to decide that we should have separate but equal schools, or that we would send some of our citizens to separate drinking fountains, or have them be in the back of the bus, that would be unconstitutional.


…we believe that a conservative value is stable relationships and a stable community and loving individuals coming together and forming a basis that is a building block of our society, which includes marriage…We also believe that it’s an important conservative value to sustain the rights of liberty of our citizens and to eliminate discrimination on invidious bases, whether it’s race, or sex or sexual orientation. It should be a liberal and a conservative value. It is a fundamental American value.

As I’ve argued before, the tide has turned.  Homosexuals serve openly in the armed forces; more states have legalized marriage between two people of the same sex, and are giving up efforts to stop gay people from adopting children; and now, when One Million Moms (hardly…it’s the American Family Association) calls on J.C. Penney to drop Ellen DeGeneres as its spokeswoman because she is openly gay, even Bill O’Reilly thinks it’s a McCarthy-esque “witch hunt”!  Surely, the times they are a-changing.