There’s nothing like a mid-January, low-near-zero-degrees day with snow underfoot and icicles overhead, to remind us that spring is just around the corner — if not the nearest corner, then a corner in Arizona or Florida, where Major League baseball will soon begin spring training.

Baseball, as you will recall, is that sport where spitters are both frowned upon and commonplace — frowned upon, as in a long-illegal pitch called the spitter (spitball), and commonplace, in that few are the players who don’t partake in the manly art of spitting:

One would think that in this day and age, with so much attention given to sanitary practices, ballparks would be required to have spittoons placed at various points on the ball field. For example, how about replacing the bases, home plate, and pitching rubber with spittoons sunk into the ground and covered with a grate? Wouldn’t that be great? Same idea in the outfield and coach’s boxes. Hey, if grates work great on storm sewers, they should be able to handle all the spit coming down at baseball fields. As for the dugouts, a few dozen buckets strategically placed within spitting distance of the bench should do the trick, along with maybe a sandbox for those who need a bigger target. All this spitting image improvement at no great expense — what’s not to like?

While we’re at it, why not cover all the bases by replacing some of the uncouth music played at major league parks, like The Chicken Dance, with spit tunes such as this:

Speaking of covering all the bases (and then some), Who better to do so than….

I’m out of here.





Turning from the funny pages (of recent Posts) to the birth notices and obituaries, let us check out the comings and goings on this day over the past two-plus centuries.

Notable people are born and die every day, but it strikes me that a greater-than-usual number of famous (or once-famous) Americans made their entrance — or their exit — on January 19th. Books could be — and in almost every case, have been — written about each of the individuals I’ve chosen to single out here; therefore, with one exception, I will go into slightly more detail with those whose star has faded with time, and mention the still-renowned only in passing (even if still-living).

Of the following, the first seven were born, and the last three died, on January 19th in the year preceding their names:

1807 – Robert E. Lee, famed Civil War General and Confederate Army leader.
1809 – Edgar Allan Poe, great poet and short-story writer (considered the father of the modern murder mystery), but made his living as a journalist and magazine editor. Regarded as the first great American literary critic, his reviews were at times merciless; upon his death in 1849, the Southern Literary Messenger said in an editorial, “Now that he is gone, the vast multitude of blockheads may breathe again.”
1906 – Lanny Ross, popular vocalist, recording and radio star of the 1930s and 1940s, also appeared in several movies, including STAGE DOOR CANTEEN (1943), in which he beautifully sang this beautiful wartime ballad:
1923 – Jean Stapleton, actress best known for role as Archie Bunker’s wife Edith in 1970s TV sitcom ALL IN THE FAMILY. Who can forget this theme song:
1930 – Tippi Hedren, actress best known for starring roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS and MARNIE, though she appeared in many other films. Also an animal rights activist.
1943 – Janis Joplin, singer known as the Queen of Psychedelic Soul. Died of heroin overdose at age 27.
1946 – Dolly Parton, singer, song writer and actress; one of country music’s top(-heavy) stars.

2000 – Hedy Lamarr, naturalized American citizen born in Austria, was considered one of the most beautiful women in the world as an actress in the 1930s & 40s. Was also an inventor.
2013 – Stan Musial, Hall of Fame baseball player with St. Louis Cardinals. Was one of the best hitters in Major League history.
2013 – Earl Weaver, Hall of Fame Major League manager with the Baltimore Orioles. Got along well with umpires, as evidenced here:


    The shrill loudness of the opening bell at Westside Middle School hurried Johnny’s steps all the more as he rushed into Mrs. Thompson’s 6th grade homeroom. Having made up a note from his mother excusing his absence yesterday was bad enough – he didn’t want to be reported tardy too.
    Reaching his desk just as Mrs. Thompson began the roll call, Johnny told himself to be cool. He had never been in trouble at school before, so there would be no reason to suspect that he….
    Before he could complete the thought, the classroom door opened and who should walk in but the principal, Mr. Matthews. Johnny slunk down in his seat as he watched Mr. Matthews beg Mrs. Thompson’s pardon for the interruption and say something to her in a low voice before leaving the room. Johnny did not have to wait long to learn what was said.
    ”As soon as I’ve finished calling the roll,” Mrs. Thompson announced, “Johnny Russell and Ronald Miller will report to Mr. Matthews out in the hall.”
    The next few minutes were a blur of wild thoughts as Johnny frantically tried to think what might have gone wrong. It wasn’t as if he had STOLEN Mr. Matthews’ ticket to yesterday’s Reds opening day game. So what if he knew whose ticket he’d found – Mr. Matthews could never love baseball as much as Johnny did. Johnny was going to be a baseball player when he grew up and play for the Cincinnati Reds and be a star – and besides, finders keepers.
    Now the roll call was over and Ronald Miller was already getting up from his desk and walking with his usual strut toward the door. Hesitantly, Johnny got up and followed. What had old man matthews been doing with a ticket to the game anyway? If the principal could get out of school to see the game, why couldn’t Johnny? It wasn’t fair that only important people get to do what they want.
    Mr. Matthews was waiting for them outside the door, somehow seeming much bigger up close than Johnny had realized. Johnny hoped that Mr. Matthews would deal with Ronald first – maybe Ronald had done something really bad, and what Johnny did would seem minor in comparison.
    Mr. Matthews came right to the point. “Friday, in Mrs. Pruitt’s last bell English class, I was sitting in the back of the room observing and taking notes. “I’d forgotten my notebook, so I was using the back of an envelope. In that envelope was a ticket to Monday’s opening game. After school, I realized that I’d left the envelope where I was sitting. I returned immediately to the room, but the envelope was gone and so was everyone but Mrs. Pruitt. She hadn’t noticed the envelope or who had found it, but she said no one else had entered the room after last bell, so it had to someone in that class.”
    Johnny tried to keep his expression from giving him away as Mr. Matthews paused to eye them before resuming. “One of you is wondering why you’re here; the other one knows why. It wasn’t hard to narrow it down to you two, because out of that whole class, only two students were absent yesterday – the day of the game.”
    Johnny froze as Mr. Matthews paused one last time before finishing: “”I’m going to give whichever one of you is guilty ONE MINUTE to think it over. Believe me, if whoever did it admits it, it will go a lot easier for you than if I have to find out myself.”
    His heart pounding and his mind racing, Johnny desperately tried to think of a way out. Then, just as he was about to give up, he glanced at Ronald Miller and it came to him.
    Suppose he told Mr. Matthews that he had seen Ronald find the ticket? Wasn’t Ronald one of the worst truants and troublemakers in sixth grade, while Johnny seemed like such a goody-goody that kids like Ronald made fun of him? It was obvious whom Mr. Matthews would believe. Not only would Johnny get away with it – he would also get back at Ronald for some of the dirty tricks Ronald had played on him.
    Mr. Matthews was about to indicate that time was up. Johnny knew it was now or never, but he hesitated….then, mustering up his last ounce of resolve, he did what he had to do.


    ”And that story by Johnny Russell is the winner, students, of my contest to write a plot which best illustrates the meaning of the word dilemma,” Mrs. Pruirtt announced proudly to her 6th grade English class, as if she herself might have written what she had just read to them. Johnny just sat at his desk, trying not to look embarrassed, but Mrs. Pruitt continued, “I hadn’t planned to give the winner a prize, but since this IS, after all, Reds opening day, Mr. Matthews and I decided to award a kind of ‘sur-prize’. Johnny, you are excused from class for the rest of the afternoon to watch the game on TV in the teachers lounge.”
    His classmates cheered and jeered as Johnny’s face reddened.
    ”Oh….one more thing, Johnny,” said Mrs. Pruitt. Mr. Matthews feels that it wouldn’t be much fun to watch the game by yourself, so you may pick one of your classmates – anyone you choose – to watch the game with you.”
    Johnny could feel the eyes fo the whole class on him as he stood up and looked out over the sea of expectant faces. Finally, he zeroed in on Ben, one of his best friends, and was about to name his choice when he caught sight of another face in the crowd – a scowling face with glaring eyes and ominous expression which made him think twice.
    It was the face of Ronald Miller.
    ”Mrs. Pruitt,” Johnny said, “I guess I don’t deserve a prize. I just realized I must have hurt Ronald’s feelings by making him the ‘bad guy’ in my story. But if I try to make it up to him by picking him to watch the game with me, he’ll think I’m afraid of him. So maybe the best thing to do is just say no – but thanks anyway for choosing me.”
    The room was suddenly very quiet as Johnny sat back down, while Ronald pretended to be indifferent, shifting in his seat and looking away.
    Mrs. Pruitt thought for a moment and then said, “Johnny, I know you mean well, but does that really solve the problem? You and Ronald need to put this behind you and, hopefully, learn something from it. So I want you to go ahead and enjoy the game and let ME choose who’ll watch it with you. And guess what – I choose Ronald Miller.”
    Johnny and Ronald looked from Mrs. Pruitt to each other and back to her again.
    ”Class,” Mrs. Pruitt proclaimed, “let’s give them both a big hand!”
    And with that, Johnny and Ronald got up and walked out of the room side by side as the sound of wild clapping and cheering followed them out the door. In fact, the clapping and cheering were so loud that no one heard the grunts and punches from the fighting that started as soon as they closed the door behind them.