Thursday, June 24, 2004

Flipping the Bird And Other Fun Stuff

I’ve always felt that baseball was at or near the bottom of the barrel when it came to professional sports I’d want one of my sons or grandsons to play.

I mean, what does it tell you about a sport when the players spend half the time scratching their crotches and the other half either throwing the ball at somebody else’s head or sliding into the other team’s second baseman feet-first so you can plant your spikes into his body?

For some reason, that line of thinking leads me to Steve Kline.

Kline is a scumbag who pitches for the St. Louis Cardinals. He got everybody’s attention late last season when he said he hoped Chicago Cubs pitcher Mark Prior “takes a line drive to the forehead and we never have to see him again.”

That was during or right after the time the Cardinals and Cubs took turns insulting one another in the heat of the National League Central race. The Cubs won the division title, and naturally the Cardinals didn’t like it.

Kline apologized for his comment about Prior, but not until the teams played their first game this season. And I think he had to be asked about the comment again before he said he was sorry. Whatever, he wasn’t very convincing.

Now Kline is in the news again in his usual unassuming way.

If you were watching the Cubs lose to the Cardinals, 10-9, last night on TV, you saw relief pitcher Kline make what was loosely referred to as an “obscene gesture” to Tony LaRussa, his manager.

In other words, he “flipped the bird” or “gave the finger” to LaRussa. The TV cameras showed it to everyone.

Real cool thing to do, right? Just what you’d want your grandson who plays Little League baseball to see, right?

It would be like Tim Couch, the Green Bay Packers’ second-string quarterback, flipping off Coach Mike Sherman in the fourth quarter, or Detroit Pistons backup center Mehmet Okur of Yalova, Turkey, giving the finger to Coach Larry Brown with 5 minutes left in an NBA game.

Ironically, Kline was the winning pitcher in last night’s game. At first, LaRussa didn’t even know Kline had flipped him off.

“He did that?” LaRussa asked reporters.

Bernie Miklasz, a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, wrote this morning of how the pathetic Kline behaved.

Miklasz said Kline was “outraged that he wasn’t called into the game after warming up in the sixth. He slammed his glove to the bullpen ground and directed an obscene gesture toward his boss.

“When informed of Kline’s tantrum after the game, LaRussa’s legendary temper flared.
“’Give me two minutes,” LaRussa said. “And I’ll be standing on top of his chest kicking the (bleep) out of him.’”

Miklasz said LaRussa “roamed the clubhouse looking for Kline, and found him in the team’s shower room. No shouting could be detected. No St. Louis police officers, or medical examiners, were called in. LaRussa quietly re-emerged by himself…..”

LaRussa said Kline “told me thought he was coming into the game. I told him it was bull and he apologized.”

When reporters found Kline, he offered no apologies about flipping off his manager. “No big deal,” he told them.

Kline told Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch that LaRussa “yelled at me like he normally does. Hopefully, he gets over it in three more weeks and we move on.”

Kline, of course, isn’t the first baseball player to “flip the bird.”

Indeed, Urban Legends reports that the first documented instance of a public figure flipping the bird was in 1886 when famed ballplayer Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn covertly extended his middle finger while posing for a team photo with the Boston Beaneaters.

“It’s been a downhill slide for American manners ever since, according to an article by George Basler in the Binghampton Press & Sun Bulletin,” Urban Legends says.
“Social critics complain that the increasing prevalence of casual bird-flipping in public—arguably a trend of cosmic proportions these days—signals a disturbing vulgarization of the culture.”

I know of at least two major-college basketball coaches in this state who knew all about bird-flipping.

Johnny Orr, who then was coaching Iowa State, had his picture taken by a photographer when he was flipping someone off—probably one of the officials—during a game against Iowa. I asked him about it the next day, but Johnny went into denial. He was certain he didn’t direct his middle finger toward anyone.

In a separate incident, George Raveling, a former Hawkeye coach, also was photographed flipping the bird at no one in particular. Neither the photo of Orr nor the one of Raveling was published, as far as I know.

It could be that there are other well-known coaches from our state who may have wanted to flip someone off. They either had second thoughts or managed to avoid all photographers.

Flipping people off, of course, isn’t reserved for athletes and coaches. There’s a story going around about some bird-flipping done by John Kerry, the senator who will be the Democrats’ presidential nominee.

The word is that Kerry flipped off a Vietnam veteran at the Vietnam Memorial Wall on Memorial Day. reported that Ted Sampley, a former Green Beret who served two tours in Vietnam, walked up to Kerry and said, “Senator, I am Ted Sampley, the head of Vietnam Veterans Against John Kerry, and I am here to escort you away from the wall because you do not belong here.”

Sampley was wearing a “HANOI JOHN” t-shirt. When Kerry was talking to some school kids, Sampley said, “Kerry does not belong at the wall because he betrayed the brave soldiers who fought in Vietnam.”

Then Kerry, in front of the kids, other visitors and Secret Service agents, flashed the bird at Sampley and yelled, “Sampley is a felon!”


Marc Lillibridge, a good guy who played on some bad football teams at Iowa State, has been promoted to assistant director of pro personnel with the Green Bay Packers.

Lillibridge, 31, who played high school football at Linn-Mar of Marion, lettered at Iowa State as a linebacker in 1992, 1993 and 1994. Those were Jim Walden’s last three seasons as coach, and the Cyclones’ records were 4-7, 3-8 and 0-10-1.

It was after a 31-31 tie with Oklahoma State at Stillwater, Okla., in 1994 that the Cyclones sang the school song. They always did that only after victories, but it was pretty obvious there would be no victories that season.

It was after so many games in that horrible season that I noticed the emotional Lillibridge sitting on a bench, simply staring at the floor while trying to figure out what had gone wrong with his team.

Unfortunately, the answers never came, and Walden was told before the season ended that he’d be fired.

Lillibridge is entering his fourth season in the Packers’ personnel department. His pro playing career consisted of playing with six teams in three leagues in five years. He originally signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1995. A back injury ended his career in 1999.


These past few days have been sad ones for me.

Saki, my 13 ½-year-old walking partner, died unexpectedly at 3 a.m. early in the week, and I’m having a tough time recovering.

Saki was an 11-pound, grey-and-white shih tzu. She came into the world thinking she was everyone’s friend, and she proved it right down to the end.

She especially loved kids. She always waited patiently until Megan, our 5-year-old granddaughter, finished petting her. Another of her favorites was Shelby, our 8-year-old granddaughter.

For a shih tzu, Saki had long legs. Because of that, she could run fast and jump high. Even in her advanced age, she still had a lot of jumping ability. And she loved to take those walks with me, from home to the Presbyterian church on the corner and back.

At 13 ½, that was a pretty good hike. But Saki handled it, in any kind of weather.

And she was never sick. Not one day in her life.

Consequently, I thought she’d maybe live forever.

She had gotten a little slower in the last few months. But on the final walk we took at about 6 p.m. Monday, she moved right along. But she stopped to bark at the blind cocker spaniel through the chain-link fence on the corner of 28th and Woodland Place.

Then she moved on. There was another small dog out for a walk across the street, and Saki gave him an approving glance.

Shih tzus have a way of strutting proudly when they walk. Sushi and Saki both did that. Sushi, who was Saki’s older sister, died a couple of years ago. Saki strutted the whole distance on that final walk Monday.

When we got home, Megan, her brother Nathan and her dad Kevin, shared a couple of pizzas with us. Saki wasn’t eating as much in the last year or so, but she always liked an occasional bite of pizza. She had what turned out to be a final bite Monday.

At about 1 a.m. Tuesday, she wanted to go out for some air. When she came in, she wanted her treat. The treat was a cookie. She jumped onto the couch and ate half of the cookie.

She began having some problems a short time after that. For some reason, she tumbled down some stairs. I think that was the first time she’d ever fallen. Maybe she had a heart attack, Robert the veterinarian said.

Saki rested on the couch. She hung on for the better part of an hour We watched her, talked to her, petted her. Then she said goodbye.

She was a good little girl, and she was loved by everyone.

I miss her a lot.

Vol. 4, No. 239
VolJune 24. 2004