Category:Not wine related

Ernie Banks, 1931-2015

ernie banksNot that long ago, I was talking to a baseball fan who didn’t understand why New York Yankees fans were so cranky. “Their best player can make an error in the first inning, and they’ll start booing and won’t let up,” he said. “They take all of the fun out of the game.”

“That’s because Yankees fans are used to players like Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle and Derek Jeter,” I told him. “When you’ve watched them, it’s hard to give anyone else the benefit of the doubt.”

I mention this on the death of perhaps the greatest Chicago Cubs player ever, Ernie Banks. The Cubs, for most of my lifetime, have not had players like Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle, and Jeter. They have had Joe Wallis and Carmen Fanzone and Dick Nen. But as long as the Cubs had Ernie, that always seemed to be enough.

Banks’ death is about more than baseball and being a Cubs’ fan, and it’s about more than the part he played for those of us who came of age with the Cubs in the 1960s. It’s about what baseball says about our lives; as George Carlin wrote: “Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life. Football begins in the fall, when everything’s dying.”

Banks was a Hall of Fame ballplayer, one of the greatest shortstops in the history of the game. But what he will be remembered for, and what his New York Times obituary did not fail to mention, was the record he holds for most games played without ever making the playoffs, 2,528. It’s a most Cubs-like record, befitting the franchise’s reputation for futility.

But it reminds us that life is not about winning. We can’t all be the Yankees. Life is about getting up every morning and doing the best you can, because otherwise, what’s the point? It’s about understanding that you’re lucky enough to do something that you love, and that doing anything other than the best you can would be wrong. You can’t hit a home run every day, but you can try. And that’s enough.

Todd Hollandsworth, who played a couple of seasons for the Cubs at the beginning of the last decade (and yet another of those players who weren’t Babe Ruth) told the Chicago Sun-Times that Banks “taught me to let the game go and start over the next day. Each day was unto itself. `You can ?t change yesterday, ? he told me. I don ?t think I could fully understand what he was teaching me at the time. Still haven ?t.”

There is no better epitaph than that.

Memorial Day 2014

The blog is mostly off today for the Memorial Day holiday, but will be back tomorrow with our usual features. Until then, John Fogerty in a 2005 live performance of “Lodi” (courtesy of Mi NaNi at YouTube) — maybe the best song ever written about rock ‘n roll as a job: “If I only had a dollar, for every song I’ve sung/And every time I’ve had to play/While people sat there drunk.” Takes a lot of the shine off the sex and drugs bit, doesn’t it?

And who knew Lodi would one day come to mean wine country?

Happy Holidays 2013

Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is a holiday tradition on the blog, and it never fails to amaze me how many terrific versions are available. This video, courtesy of s1buy at YouTube, is a little grainy, but features The Boss, Clarence Clemons, and the E Street Band in its best Santy Claus form. Enjoy the holiday with people you care about and your favorite wine.

The Wine Curmudgeon will return tomorrow with New Year’s sparkling wine suggestions, and more wine for the New Year on Monday. The 2014 $10 Hall of Fame will be announced on Jan. 6.

A few words about that ice storm

If the the blog seems to be missing a little something this week, it’s because of the ice storm that hit Dallas last Thursday and has caused widespread power outages. Mine isn’t back on yet, and may not be until tomorrow. I’ve spent the weekend trying to charge my laptop and phone, find a warm place to sleep, and locate an Internet connection so I can post to the web site. I have to admit — even my patience is wearing thin, and I’m generally pretty good about these things. First world problems, and all that.

Also, I haven’t been able to send any of the prizes from birthday week, which were going out end of last week. But they should be dispatched this week after power has returned. That’s also the case for anyone who ordered cheap wine books; they’ll go out as soon as I can get in the office and turn things on.

Louie Canelakes, 1955-2013

Louie Canelakes, 1955-2013I’ve met bankers and ballplayers, business and political types, and even a few reasonably well-known actors and musicians over the course of my writing career. But none of them were larger than life the way Louie Canelakes was larger than life.

Louie died over the weekend, news that was as unexpected as it was unbelievable. Institutions don’t die; they last forever, and they give the rest of us the strength and the wherewithal to get through the day. Once, when I was enduring about as rough a patch as someone like me can go through, one of the things that kept me going each week was that if I made it to Friday, I could drink beer at Louie’s. Most of the time, that worked.

Louie ran a bar in Dallas (called Louie’s, of course), which doesn’t sound like much. But in this town, most of which was dry in one form or another until a couple of years ago, that speaks volumes. And that he did it for almost 30 years is even more telling, given that Dallas churns out bars, restaurants, and clubs the way teenage girls get band crushes.

Louie had one rule — if you had the money to drink at his bar, you could drink at his bar. Otherwise, he didn’t care who you were. It was a neighborhood place, but the neighborhood was all encompassing. The rich drank there (the mother of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who came in her limo, was at the bar next to me one night), as did assorted newspapermen and TV reporters, and even the powerful and famous, including former Dallas mayor Laura Miller.

One of Louie’s customers was one of the most despicable human beings I’ve ever known, the kind of guy who gets into trouble with people who hurt other people for a living. One day, a couple of leg breakers showed up looking for the guy, and Louie sent them away. I asked him about it, knowing that Louie didn’t much like the guy, either. “Siegel,” he said, because he called everyone by their last name in that Midwestern high school way he had, “he’s my customer. You tell me what I’m supposed to do.”

Louie and I didn’t meet until we got to Dallas, but the joke was that we had grown up together. He was from Waukegan, north of Chicago, and I’m from nearby Deerfield. We were in high school at about the same time, and my mom worked for the Waukegan school district and ate at his father’s Waukegan restaurant. That meant we shared an affliction for the Chicago Cubs and saw politics as a spectator sport, which gave us plenty of giggles in Dallas.

Louie is the only person I’ve ever lost a cheap wine argument to, which should tell you everything you need to know about how much he loved to argue and how he ran the business. Louie’s, for all its strengths — some of the best food in Dallas, bar or no, and easily the best-made drinks in town — serves crappy wine. Once, when I was feeling adventurous or stupid or both, because Louie was famous for ignoring customer advice, I offered to help re-do the list so he could serve better — but still cheap — wine. “Siegel,” he said, and I can hear him growling at me as I write this, “why would I want to to do that? What I’m doing is working. Why should I change?”

I am not a sentimental man, and rarely nostalgic. But I can’t imagine Dallas without Louie, and I don’t want to. So I’ll play this, and see if I can find an Old Style or two, and remember. Because people still live on earth in the acts of goodness they performed, and Louie performed enough to put the rest of us to shame.