Saturday, December 26, 2020

My Mother-In-Law


We got a phone call Wednesday night that no one wants to get.  My mother-in-law Bobbie Carolyn Woods had passed away.  

My mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer in her leg this summer.  She had surgery on her leg.  Then, she was found to have lymphoma and had to start chemotherapy at Vanderbilt.  We had taken her to several sessions with hopes of it helping her.  About a month ago, she became very ill and had to be taken to the hospital.  She stayed there for a week or so and then came home for a few days.  Her oncologist at Vanderbilt has us bring her there for a week.  She never could regain her strength there, so she came home under hospice for a little over a week and then passed away at home.

She was a wonderful woman.  I never can accept the stereotype of a terrible mother-in-law like you see in shows such as “Everybody Loves Raymond”.  She was always wonderful to me.  She was like my second mom especially when my own mom passed away several years ago.  The first time we met is a funny story.  I had just started dating Donna and went to visit where her where she worked after my day at Martin Marietta ended.  When I came in, she said “My mom wants to meet you and she’ll be here pretty soon”.  I was in no way prepared for that so I hid under a desk.  The next thing I knew, I see a woman’s face looking up under the desk and saying “Hi”.  Fortunately for me, she didn’t tell her daughter that she needed to forget about a young man that was crazy.  In fact, Donna told me years later that she said “If she lets that one go, I give up on her”.   That “under the desk” story was going to be the one I told on Jeopardy if I ever made it to the show.  We got to spend a lot of time together over the past several months on multiple trips to Vanderbilt and I’m thankful for that.

My father-in-law (Jack but he’s Pappy to me) and her were a wonderful example of a loving married couple.  They did everything together.  You rarely saw one without the other.  They ran errands together.  They worked together on their farm raising tomatoes and pumpkins that they sold to local stores and to people that came to their home.  They were the true embodiment of the Biblical teaching of a married couple being as one.  She especially loved her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  I remember how happy she was when we brought Jonathan or Josh to visit her.  And oh how she loved our granddaughter Lucy.  And of course if she hadn’t been born, I wouldn’t have the four most precious people in my life. 

I’d ask that you keep my wife Donna and especially my father-in-law in your prayers.   They were married for almost sixty years.  It’s going to be really tough on him being without her.  And give everyone precious you have in your life an extra hug, because you never know when they won’t be there anymore.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Alex Trebek


As we left church Sunday, I got a text from Josh. It simply said “Alex Trebek :-(“ Another one of my all-time favorites was gone. Alex had been suffering from pancreatic cancer for about a year and half. Despite it’s poor prognosis, he continued to host Jeopardy. And now, he had finally succumbed to it.

I have watched Jeopardy in both its iterations. I grew up on the Art Fleming version from the mid-60s to mid-70s. This was the golden area of game shows. In the summer, I spent many a morning watching game shows all morning long. There were even a few that ran in the afternoon. Jeopardy and Concentration were my two favorites. I had home versions of both of the games.

In what seems almost ironic, Jeopardy came back to TV in 1984 right after Weird Al Yankovic released his parody of the Greg Kihn song Jeopardy. His song was called “I Lost on Jeopardy”. Art Fleming reprised his old role as host in the video for the song. A few months later, Jeopardy reappeared on TV with a host named Alex Trebek. I remembered him doing a few shows that didn’t last long (“The Wizard of Odds” and “High Rollers”). However, he seemed perfect for the show. I’ve watched the show almost continuously since then. When our local NBC affiliate could be heard on FM radio, I would listen to the show while I ran. I had multiple video game and computer versions of the game. Alex Trebek even hosted a resurrection of the old Concentration show I liked called Classic Concentration from 1987 to 1991.

The best times I’ve had watching it are over the past few years. Since I’ve retired, it’s become Donna and my afternoon habit to sit down and watch the show together. We often surprise ourselves with what we know. Donna is really good at the game. Her working of crossword puzzles gives her a bunch of knowledge. She’s especially good at categories concerning anatomy and medicine and anything to do with words and anagrams. I’m good at US History, US Presidents and Sports. We especially enjoy when there are Bible categories. I did well recently in a category I thought I knew nothing about. I got all of the Opera “questions” right strictly from watching Bugs Bunny cartoons. I’ll answer some obscure question and then Donna has to endure the story I tell how in the world I know the answer. For example, a few weeks ago there was a question about a British medical journal. I knew it was “The Lancet” from reading Sherlock Holmes. Dr. Watson regularly read “The Lancet”. It can make my day when I get Final Jeopardy especially when no one on the show gets it. I remember being in disbelief that no on knew the Final Jeopardy when it was "This American Folklore Legend came from Cayce Kentucky".

I’ve always loved trivia. I was an avid player of Trivial Pursuit in the 1980s. Both Jonathan and Josh played on Quick Recall teams when they were in school. I even became an official and got to read questions and judge those events. I’ve recently (well until coronavirus) gotten more involved in playing on trivia teams in trivia matches. One of the things I’ve always wanted to do is be on Jeopardy. I’ve taken the online quiz more times than I can count. I’ve usually done well on it. My understanding is that even if you get enough questions right, it is still random process to advance to the next round. I actually met a young man at my nephew Tim Lanier’s wedding a few years ago who was a four time Jeopardy champion. His name was Kyle Becker. I finally worked up the nerve to talk to him. He was very personable and nice. He said it was a wonderful experience. He told me he had taken the test multiple times as well and encouraged me to keep trying.

I’ve read that there are enough pre-recorded shows with Alex Trebek to last til Christmas. I have no idea who could possibly take Alex’s place. He was like a good friend that came by every afternoon to just visit and relax. I still can’t watch “The Price is Right” with Drew Carey even though he’s been the host since 2007. “The Price is Right” will always be Bob Barker to me. I don’t know what will happen with Jeopardy. There will be an enormous amount of pressure on whoever takes his place.

Thanks for the memories and good times Alex.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Bob Gibson


I had just finished listening to the Cardinals lose to the Padres to eliminate them from the playoffs when I got an alert on my phone.  Bob Gibson had passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age of 84.   The greatest pitcher in Cardinal history was gone.

When I started rooting for the Cardinals in 1974, Bob Gibson was approaching the end of his career. He had very up and down season I remember with a few really good games and some really bad ones.  I remember him pitching well in September as the Cardinals were battling the Pittsburgh Pirates for the NL East crown.  He managed to get his record to 11-12.  Alas, he lost the next to last game of the season 3-2 when he gave up a two out homerun to Mike Jorgensen of the Expos.  I remember listening to the game on the radio. The Pirates won their next two games to win the division.  He began 1975 in the starting rotation but was moved to the bullpen because he didn’t pitch well.  He did OK there but he realized he needed to retire after a game against the Cubs.  He came in relief and gave up a grand slam to a guy named Pete LaCock.  Pete’s claim to fame was he’s the son of Peter Marshall – the longtime host of the gameshow Hollywood Squares.  He didn’t pitch another game after that.

My first real memory of him was in 1974.  My mom took all of us to see a couple of Cardinal games.  The first game we saw, Bob Gibson was pitching.  He was going for his 3000th career strikeout something only one pitcher (Walter Johnson) had done up to that time.   I remember him getting that by striking out a guy named Cesar Geronimo of the Cincinnati Reds.  Bob left the game with the lead but unfortunately the bullpen coughed up the lead.  The Cardinals ultimately lost in extra innings. 

I’ve read a lot and seen a lot of film clips of Bob Gibson.  He pitched for seventeen years for the Cardinals.  He won two Cy Young Awards.  He was a clutch pitcher in the World Series winning seven games in three Series (two of which the Cardinals won).  He struck out 17 Tigers in the first game of the 1968 World Series.  He set the modern record for the lowest ERA in a season in 1968 – 1.12.    He was a first ballot Hall of Famer. 

My best memory of him though was actually getting to meet him.  A few years ago the Cardinals had an event where you could meet Bob Gibson and Tim McCarver before they did a meal and then an interview with them.  Donna and I went.  I actually got to shake his hand.   I told him I was there at the game where he got his 3000th strikeout.  He asked me “Do you remember who that was?”.   I told him “Cesar Geronimo”.  He smiled and said “You have a good memory”.   I stood by him for an hour listening to him tell stories of his career.  Donna said I looked like a happy child.   We got our picture with them as well.  I hated to leave and go the meal.  He did a great interview afterwards as well. 

Bob Gibson was a very well-spoken articulate man.  He did some broadcasting and was the pitching coach for the Atlanta Braves for a few years.    He was a wonderful athlete and even played for the Harlem Globetrotters until the Cardinals increased his salary to make him stop.  He roomed with the most famous of Globetrotters, Meadowlark Lemon.  He was a regular at Cardinal events and a great ambassador for the Cardinals. 

Jonathan asked me the day after why it made me so sad for Lou Brock and Bob Gibson to die.  Part of it is it’s another part of your childhood being gone.  Another part is you really start to realize your mortality when things like that happen.  I told him he’ll understand when his favorite sports figures of his youth (Derek Jeter and Eli Manning) age and finally pass away.  I’ve seen two of mine die in the past month.  I was honored and happy to have seen them play and watch their lives afterwards.

Monday, September 7, 2020


As church was ending Sunday night, Jonathan let me know that he had gotten an alert that Lou Brock had died at the age of 81. He had been in bad health, but this was still a shocker to me.

The first year I really got into baseball was 1974 when I was 12. I rooted for the St Louis Cardinals of course. Lou Brock was the left fielder for that team. He began to steal bases that season at an astounding rate. The record for stolen bases in a season was 104 by Maury Wills. Lou Brock was stealing bases at a rate that would beat that record. The Cardinals were in a tight division race all year with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Lou Brock’s great year helped keep them in the race. I remember listening on the radio when Lou Brock broke the record. He would ultimately steal 118 bases. The Cardinals ultimately lost the division in a large part to the Cubs blowing a game to Pittsburgh (on a dropped third strike in the bottom of the 9th that allowed the Pirates to tie and ultimately win the division clinching game). Lou Brock finished second in the MVP race to Steve Garvey of the Dodgers. I felt the only reason that happened was Garvey’s team won the pennant that year (and were easily beaten by the A’s in the World Series that year). 

Lou Brock was my first favorite baseball player. His base stealing that year captivated me. We even tried to incorporate stolen bases that year in our pick up baseball games. We didn’t have catchers so we had to make our own rules as to what a stolen base was. The pitcher had to throw over to a base you were leading off from in order for you to try and steal a base. If you took an extra base on a hit (say going first to third on a single) that counted. I remember Joe Ford and I both stole 59 bases that year. We didn’t keep up with stolen bases again in any future year.

I read with interest of the infamous trade (Brock for Broglio) that brought Lou Brock to the Cardinals in 1964 and spurred them to a pennant and finally a World Series win over the Yankees. Lou Brock was at his best in the World Series. He hit .391 in three Series (a record for anyone playing over 20 games). His 14 stolen bases in the World Series is a record. I remember him breaking TY Cobb’s career stolen base record (with 893) in 1977. I was working at the Paducah Drive In in 1979 when I heard Lou Brock (on the radio) literally knock Dennis Lamp of the Cubs out of the game by lining his 3000th hit off of the pitcher’s hand. Brock won the National League Comeback Player of the Year that year as well rebounding from hitting .221 the year before to hit .304. He retired after that year.

Lou Brock revolutionized base stealing. He bought a movie camera and would take films of pitchers to pick up particular movements that made on the mound to give him a better idea of their pickoff moves and when they were going to pitch so he could get a better jump. He revolutionized the pop-up slide. Using that slide, he could immediately be in a position to advance should a throw be bad. He led the National League in steals every year but one from 1966 to 1974. He was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1985. Base stealing has fallen off severely in the last decade or so. The MLB leader in steals last year stole only 46. 

Lou Brock was a successful man outside of baseball as well. He was also a very articulate man. Donna and I went to see him and Red Schoendienst a few years ago at Busch Stadium. He told many wonderful stories of his days in baseball with the Cardinals. I still have my autographed baseball that has both his and Red’s signatures on it. He came back to Busch Stadium often and was always greeted with an enthusiastic “Lou-u-u-u-u!” from the crowd.
It made me sad to hear someone who was a big part of my life pass away. It also makes my realize my own mortality when my favorite players of my youth pass away. Thanks for the memories Lou…