Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The Kid in the Baseball Uniform

This would have been about 43 years ago.

I was 25 and in my early years as a sports copy editor at the local paper. It was a Saturday night in the summer, and a marvelous writer named Bill Bryson had just come into the office after covering a game at the baseball park that wasn’t yet named Sec Taylor Stadium.

Accompanying Bill to the ballpark and later to the paper’s newsroom that night was one of his sons—also named Bill. We called him Billy back then, and on this particular night he was wearing a full baseball uniform. Youth-sized, of course, because he probably was only about 10.

This was the young Billy who would grow up to be world-famous author Bill Bryson.

Go into any Barnes & Noble, any Borders, any Waldenbooks, any bookstore anywhere and you’ll see Bill Bryson all over the place.

A few of us might be lucky enough to have one book published and available at some stores. Bryson has “The Lost Continent,” “Mother Tongue,” “Made In America,” “Notes From a Small Island,” “Down Under” and many, many others sitting on the shelves.

And not just in this country.

When I was in Belfast, Northern Ireland, a few years ago, one of Bryson’s books was in a library I visited. My friend, John Ritchie of Portstewart, Northern Ireland, said it was the oldest public library in Belfast.

Bryson gets rave reviews. Always. And he gets awards. Financial awards.

His latest award came yesterday. He won the prestigious 2004 Aventis Prize for popular science books.

BBC News reports that Bryson was presented with a check for 10,000 British pounds “during a gala dinner at the Royal Society in London on Monday.” He said the money would go to charity.

Ten-thousand pounds is a nice piece of change. At today’s rate of exchange, it would be $18,400 in U.S. money.

BBC News said Bryson won the award for writing the book, “A Short History of Nearly Everything,” “an exploration of science for someone who found school lessons ‘boring and mystifying.’

“The judging panel said the writer had communicated science ‘in an intelligent and highly accessible way.’”

Jonathan Amos of BBC said Bryson “is known for his quirky, engaging style.”

Bryson told BBC that the book had in some ways been just another travelogue.

“What I learned was not all the big stuff like Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein—it was that science is about tens of thousands of people that do tiny, tiny things that all accrete into a larger body of knowledge,” he explained. “What I tried to do in the book was celebrate some of these people.”

Bryson, 53, was born in Des Moines, and lives in England now. His late father was a longtime sportswriter in Des Moines. He was a wordsmith. That means the guy could really write. Young Bill’s mother was a feature writer and a brother, Mike, wrote for newspapers and a wire service in Des Moines.

Yes, the kid has come a long way since tagging along with his dad in that baseball uniform.

Some would say he has hit a home run.

But I’d say, “Home run, hell. He’s hit a grand slam.

Just Nail Down the Chairs, Please

Question: How long would it take Bobby Knight to accept the coaching job at Ohio State?

Answer: How long does it take to say, “How soon do we play Indiana?”

It’s a no-brainer, folks. If Knight is offered the Ohio State job, he’ll take it.

I’m sure he’s frothing at the mouth, thinking how good it would feel working for his alma mater and needing 48 victories to sail past North Carolina’s Dean Smith as the winningest Division I basketball coach.

Smith had 879 victories. Knight, who was fired by Indiana and is heading into his fourth season at Texas Tech, has 832 victories.
Ohio State is looking for a new coach after the recent firing of Jim O’Brien. Basketball people insist Knight would listen if Ohio State called.
Whether Ohio State calls is another matter.

He’d be a load for Andy Geiger, the school’s athletic director, to handle. He’s been a load wherever he’s been. He’s embarrassed himself and his employers far too many times to make many athletic directors comfortable.

But he’s not the biggest problem in college basketball, just one of the problems.

Problem or not, I’m sure he’ll be answering all phone calls from Columbus, Ohio, this week. Especially if they’re from the athletic director’s office.

<strong>Harmon’s Disastrous Rose Bowl Game

A reader named Carol sent me a couple of e-mails regarding the 2002 Real Sports show on HBO that featured former Iowa football player Ronnie Harmon.

On the show, a thug named Michael Franzese said that evidence pointed to the belief that Harmon threw the Hawkeyes’ 1986 Rose Bowl game against UCLA.

Harmon, who had lost only one fumble during Iowa’s 10-1 regular season, coughed up the ball four times in the first half against the Bruins, who won the game, 45-28.

On the show, videotape of the game was shown as Franzese was interviewed by correspondent Bernard Goldberg.

Goldberg said Harmon, who admitted he took $50,000 from sports agent Norby Walters and Franzese, denied he threw the Rose Bowl game.

“I can’t honestly say because I was away in prison at the time,” Franzese said. “It doesn’t look good, that’s for sure. And I would certainly have my suspicions.”

“Which are?” Goldberg asked.

“He threw the game,” Franzese answered.

However, Harmon has always denied he threw the game.

When I was at the Chicago Bears’ preseason training camp in 1998, I interviewed Harmon and asked him about the Rose Bowl game. He told me he didn’t fumble intentionally.

Hayden Fry, who was Harmon’s coach, supports him.

In his book, “Hayden Fry—A High-Porch Picnic,” Fry wrote this of the Rose Bowl game:

“Harmon took a lot of heat because he lost four fumbles, all in the first half. That was uncharacteristic of him. I think he fumbled once during the regular season.

“The game film reveals that every fumble he lost was caused by a UCLA defender making a hard hit. They just knocked the ball loose.

“They did a great job of tackling. UCLA made bad things happen to Iowa. Iowa didn’t self-destruct. Ronnie Harmon had a tremendous football career with the Hawkeyes, and I hated to see it end that way. He enjoyed a long, successful career in the NFL, and I always enjoy seeing him when he comes by for a visit.”

[So I told Carol, the e-mailer, what I knew. In a return e-mail, she wrote, “I guess I still have a belief in human nature. I was hoping you would give me something concrete that Ronnie was innocent.”]

Tough Questions to Answer

My friend Gary Snell of Urbandale sent me this interesting e-mail:


“Just wondering if covering women’s wrestling requires one to hang out at the Lumber Yard?

“What’s the believability quotient of this: ‘Honey, I’ll be home a little late tonight. I’m going with Maly to cover a wrestling match.’”

[NOTE: Snell’s message was in reference to me saying in last week’s column that I’d rather attend a women’s wrestling meet than a men’s game in something called the International Basketball League].

‘A Journalist With Ethics?’

The Matier & Ross column in the San Francisco Chronicle had an interesting note. The only strange thing about it was that Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross used it as the very last item in their column. Here it is:

“Unluck of the draw: It was just another day on the job when Debra Saunders, The Chronicle’s conservative columnist, went to the British Embassy’s fancy trade and biotech showcase last week at the Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco.

“Like all the guests, she put her card in a big bowl at the sign-in.

“The prize: $20,000 worth of first-class Virgin Airways tickets, complete with beds, massages and open bar.

“And wouldn’t you know it, when the British consul general took to the podium before several hundred guests and pulled the winner from the bowl—it was Saunders.

“’I can’t accept it,” Saunders told the consul general. ‘It’s not ethical.’”

“The British bigwig practically fainted, telling the crowd, ‘A journalist with ethics?’


“The crowd burst into applause, while Saunders—who has never won so much as a Subway sandwich—tried not to burst into tears.”

[NOTE: Someone wondered what Diane Graham would say about that. “I’ll find out whenever she wakes up,” a guy said].

Vol. 4, No. 238
June 16, 2004