My coworker’s car got stolen. His 10-year-old found it.

“I started my car this morning to let it warm up,” my coworker, Jon, told me on Tuesday. “And when I went back out to my car two minutes later, it was gone.”

It took a few seconds for that to register. “Stolen?” I asked, finally.

“Stolen.”

That’s not a story you hear every day. Not even in the crazy world he and I live in. Read more

The legacy lamp

About 35, or maybe even 40 years ago, my dad went through a phase. Or perhaps I should say a craze–he made lamps out of anything that didn’t move. And I’m sure if anyone had pointed that out to him, he would have made a lamp out of something that did, just to prove them wrong. Then, at some point, he stopped. I don’t know why and I never asked him. He kept one on his bedside table, and a couple in the room in the basement where he watched football. But it’s funny. I associate his lamps with him more than probably anything else, but I can’t recall ever watching him make one.

A number of years ago, I asked Mom if any of Dad’s old lamps were still around, and she gave me two of them. They both happened to be made of pieces of wood that he probably found somewhere. Read more

R.I.P.: Bob Feller, American hero

Bob Feller died last night.

On December 7, 1941, Bob Feller, the ace of the Cleveland Indians and the winningest pitcher in the American League, was driving to meet with his general manager to sign a contract for the 1942 season.

That changed the minute he heard on his car radio that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Feller showed up for his meeting, where he announced his intention to enlist in the United States Navy. Which he did, on December 9. Although many players, including eventual Hall of Famers, enlisted in the military, Feller was the first.

Baseball players often are described as heroes. In Game 4 of the 2010 World Series, when Roy Oswalt came in to pitch the 9th inning, I was imagining the headlines if the Phillies managed to win. Oswalt had started the game a couple of days before, and was scheduled to start another game in another couple of days. Winning Game 4 wasn’t his job, but he wanted to win a World Series, if pitching in relief in between starts was what it would take, he was willing to do it.

That’s modern baseball’s idea of a hero. A guy who risks injury by pitching on his day off, and still taking the ball on his scheduled day.

That’s certainly commendable, but really, what Oswalt did was being a good teammate.

Bob Feller put his very life at risk.

For a little background. Feller was a superstar 23-year-old pitcher who’d already won 107 games in the majors. Wins are a crude measure of a pitcher’s quality, but a pitcher who wins 107 games by age 30 is considered very good, and is going to be a very wealthy man.

Feller’s fastball was already the stuff of legends. In 1941, Feller’s fastball won a race with a motorcycle traveling at 100 miles per hour. One game, opposing pitcher Lefty Gomez stepped up to bat against Feller. Feller started his windup, and Gomez lit a match and held it up. “What’s the matter,” asked the umpire. “Can’t you see Feller? Do you think that will help you see his fastball?”

Gomez replied, “I can see Feller just fine. I want to make sure he can see me.”

Calling the Bob Feller of 1941 a superstar was an understatement. In 1941, if any man alive stood a chance of breaking Cy Young’s record of 511 wins (still unbroken) and/or Walter Johnson’s record of 3509 strikeouts (which stood until 1983), it was Feller.

Feller gave that up to pull a Pat Tillman.

Initially, the Navy utilized him as a physical training instructor. But that wasn’t what he wanted, and he volunteered to go to gunners’ school. Soon the fireballing pitcher was firing real bullets out of 40mm antiaircraft guns aboard the USS Alabama. He received five campaign ribbons and eight Battle Stars and achieved the rank of Chief Petty Officer before his honorable discharge in 1945.

He returned to baseball and pitched 9 games at the end of the 1945 season. He returned to immortal form for the next two seasons, sustained an injury at age 29 that reduced his abilities to that of merely a typical Hall of Famer, and he retired after the 1956 season, aged 37 years, with a total of 266 wins and 2,581 strikeouts. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1961, on the first ballot. Nobody knows what would have been if he hadn’t given three prime years to the war effort, but he wasn’t bitter. When asked which of his victories was the greatest–he won 266 games and threw three no-hitters, including the only no-hitter ever thrown on opening day–he never hesitated. “World War II,” he always said.

He was healthy enough at age 90 to pitch in an exhibition game in June 2009, but his health deteriorated rapidly this year. It was a strange development, as it seemed he would be around forever.

A lot of baseball players get the title of “hero” for doing little more than what they’re paid to do. Not Bob Feller. He earned it.

Eric Show and the wrong side of history

ESPN has a moving article about Eric Show today. Eric Show was one of several tragic figures from the mid-1980s San Diego Padres who stood in the shadow of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, one of the greatest hitters ever.

Show’s family would prefer that people remember him as the millionaire pitcher who was fond of inviting the homeless people he passed on the street to dinner.

But generally speaking, people remember him for a hit he allowed in 1985. A hit to a much lesser man. And nine short years later, Eric Show was dead at age 37.

Show’s tragedy, sadly, wasn’t unique among his teammates. Left-handed pitcher Dave Dravecky lost his arm to cancer. Second baseman Alan Wiggins became the first baseball player to die of AIDS. Tony Gwynn, of course, died much too young as well.

Supposedly the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs are cursed, but their 1980s teams have nothing on that.

But I’m way ahead of myself.

In some ways, Eric Show was a Greg Maddux-like pitcher. He didn’t have overpowering stuff, but he threw a lot of pitches well, and was much smarter than most of his opponents. Show never matched Maddux’s best numbers, but spent most of his career just short of the brink of Maddux-like superstardom. Scarred by a poor relationship with an abusive father, Show’s difficulties bouncing back when little things went wrong turned him into an all-or-nothing pitcher, and those occasional games where he had nothing were the difference between him and guys like Maddux.

Show put together a perfectly respectable career, even if he never lived up to his full potential. During his career, the Padres went from last place to the World Series, and he played a key role in that transformation. Even ignoring what he did off the field, people should remember him as a very good pitcher for a very good team.

Instead, he’s the guy who gave up a record-setting hit. He’s also the guy who hit Andre Dawson with a beanball in 1987. That is, when someone remembers him at all.

But there was a lot going on with him behind the scenes. Show was a gifted musician. Routinely he asked homeless people to join him for dinner. He handed out $50 bills like candy to people less fortunate than him. He was a committed Christian. Finally, he was a deep thinker and only two of his teammates understood him.

Show started falling apart in 1987, when the Padres traded those two friends–Mark Thurmond and fellow tragic figure Dave Dravecky. That was the same year he hit Andre Dawson. I’m familiar with the other side of that story. I was a Cubs fan in 1987, and I’m related to ex-Cubs pitcher Rick Sutcliffe. Sutcliffe had lobbied hard for the Cubs to sign Dawson. When he saw his man go down, Sutcliffe went after Show. The commissioner fined and suspended him 8 games for his role in the brawl.

What I didn’t know was that Eric Show hand-wrote an apology and tried to give it to Dawson.

Abandoned and injured, Show did something completely out of character. The man who talked junkies on the street into going into rehab turned to drugs himself. First it was greenies, which propelled him to his last great season in 1988. But that soon led to crystal meth, cocaine, and heroin. After two barely mediocre seasons, the Padres let him go, and at age 35, he signed with Tony LaRussa’s Oakland Athletics. The ESPN article calls the move naive, but I disagree. Show was exactly the kind of reclamation product that LaRussa’s longtime pitching coach, Dave Duncan, specialized in.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, it didn’t work out. Show didn’t turn into one of Duncan’s success stories.

In 1992, Show was out of baseball and in rehab when he went to see his former teammate, Dave Dravecky, give a lecture. Dravecky wrote two books about his battle with cancer and embarked on a long career as a speaker and author. Dravecky recognized him and asked him to call, but Show lost his number.

ESPN has the rest of the story.

But I agree with his family that Eric Show’s legacy ought to be as a man who took homeless people out to dinner and who forgave and repeatedly tried to reconcile with his abusive father.

I’ve been following baseball for as long as I could read. I’m sure Eric Show isn’t the only baseball player who ever took a homeless person to dinner. But I never heard of any other.

The American Dream vs. the American Greed

Last week at church, our newly-installed vicar preached about greed vs. generosity, and he ripped a little on the American Dream, which he defined as each generation having better stuff and living more comfortably than their parents did.

I think he’s right, letting that consume you definitely leads to problems. But I was taught that the American Dream was more about opportunity than it was about materialism. And maybe that’s where we’ve gone wrong.

I’m probably 10 years older than the vicar is, and I attended schools that didn’t exactly value new history books. So what I was taught probably dates back two generations, not just one.

And when I was in school, for the most part they taught us that the American Dream was about opportunity, and about parents giving their kids better opportunities than they had.

Today, I hear marketers on the radio saying, "That’s the American Dream, isn’t it? Owning a home?" Or tying the American Dream to any other materialistic thing.

Note the shift. It shifted from the kids to self.

I don’t know exactly why my direct ancestor, Adam Farquhar, came to the Americas in the 1700s (perhaps 1729). Presumably it was because he couldn’t get land in Scotland. But you see the American Dream working from generation to generation. Adam’s son Benajah owned land. Benajah’s son Edward became a doctor. At least five of Edward’s sons, including my ancestor Isaac, became doctors. Isaac’s son Ralph didn’t become a doctor, but he became a successful businessman who hobnobbed with some very powerful people. Ralph Jr. revived the family tradition of being doctors, and he was wealthy enough to give my dad every opportunity in the world.

My dad never did become as wealthy or as successful as his dad was. But by Dad’s own admission, he was a slacker. It wasn’t for lack of opportunity. Look at things strictly in material terms, and Dad set the Farquhar line back a couple of generations.

But Dad gave me opportunities. Wherever we lived, he got me into a good school. When circumstances found us living in a town that didn’t have a good high school, Dad moved us out before I turned 14, so that my sister and I could go to good high schools. And Dad saw to it that we would be able to go to college.

My sons aren’t old enough to go to school yet, but they live in a good school district. And I did what I had to do in order to ensure they would have a choice between several good preschools, to get them a good foundation. I don’t know if either of them will be reading at age 3 like I was, but I’m going to make sure they have that chance.

I may have to make some personal sacrifices in order for them to have what they need. But for what Dad spent getting me a good high school education, he could have been driving Lincolns instead of those Dodge pickup trucks he drove. (And this was before pickup trucks became status symbols. Dad didn’t want his patients thinking they were paying for him to have an extravagant lifestyle.)

So I don’t have any problem brown-bagging my lunch, driving an older car, or using an older computer so my sons can go to good preschools. And given the choice between a smaller house in a great school district and a bigger house in a bad district, I’ll keep what I already have, so they can go to good schools.

What they make of it is up to them. But never let it be said that I didn’t get them the opportunity.

Ten Years of Life

Sometimes it seems like life’s problems are about to swallow us whole and we wonder if we’ll survive. Then we meet someone who has real problems.
I met Mark in the summer of 1983. He was 21 then, and seemed ancient to me at the time. But he was one of the nicest guys I had ever met.

He was also one of the most unlucky. Read more

Dealing with the loss of a father

When does the pain of a father’s death ever end? Especially when that father dies at a especially cruel young age?
A St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist wrestled with that question the day after Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile was found dead at 33, leaving behind a wife and three kids. It’s a problem I’m all too familiar with. Read more

A good reason to take care of yourself

Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
They’re all my friends, and they died. –Jim Carroll

I thought I was too young and lived too tame of a life for so many people I knew to be in the ground. I guess I was wrong.

One of my professors, whom I fully expected to outlive me, as well as all of my classmates (even if I did meet my crazy goal of living to age 126), died this year. His name was Walter Johnson. He was the most unforgettable professor of my career.
Read more

The disaster of not knowing who to call

I had a lot in common with Jason.
I met Jason in early 1998. He and I both grew up in church, so it was appropriate that we met in church. We were both pretty burned out on it too. I can’t speak for Jason, but I can say I didn’t really have much problem with God, but I’d just about had it with his people. We were the same age, and we both liked music, and as I recall, at the time, we both had interest in making our own music.

We went our seperate ways. I lived in Columbia, Mo., while Jason lived north of Columbia.

I knew Jason’s dad a whole lot better. Clyde’s a good man. Around me, he always talked straight and had a lot of wisdom to offer, and was always smiling. Eventually I found myself in an accountability group with him and one of his friends. I learned a lot from them. I was going through a really rough time of my life at the time–it’s called my early 20s–and they helped me sort a lot of issues out.

One of those issues was where I was going to live and what I was going to do with my life. And Columbia, Mo. is the place for a lot of people, but it definitely wasn’t–and isn’t–the place for me. So I said goodbye to Clyde and Dwight and a whole bunch of other people and headed east.

The last time I saw Jason was at a friend’s wedding, just a month or so before I moved. I was in the groom’s party, and one of the bridesmaids seemed really nice. I was thinking I’d go talk to her, when Jason swept in. Next thing I knew, they were making plans for later in the week. Call it a date, call it what you will. What I know was once Jason was in the picture, she stopped returning my glances.

I took a job in St. Louis. Jason went into the military. My job didn’t work out. Jason’s military experience didn’t work out. I looked around a lot and didn’t find anything perfect. Jason looked around a lot and didn’t find anything perfect. I dated a girl. Jason married a girl. I wrote a book. Jason had two kids.

Jason struggled to pay his bills but he had everything I ever wanted. I sometimes struggled to remember to pay my bills but money wasn’t the issue. I’m sure that if our paths had crossed again this year, Jason would have considered me successful. I know I would have considered him successful. Each of us had what the other wanted.

Jason hanged himself last month. He left a wife and two kids and two parents and countless others asking questions.

I don’t know what it would have taken for my situation and Jason’s to be reversed. An outsider looking at both of us in 1998, knowing where we’d both be in 2002 and having to pick which of us would go where, might have guessed I’d be the one in the ground now.

But now, I wouldn’t do what Jason did in a million years. And maybe I do know the difference. I have people to call. Sometimes when you’re struggling with something, you need to talk to someone. And, I know this isn’t the popular thing to say these days, but there are some things you just don’t want to talk to your parents about, at least not first. And I don’t know who Jason had besides his parents.

It’s really awful not knowing who to call.