Sunday, July 26, 2009


The Kerward Derby award to the smartest person in the world has a strong contender in Kim Peek, a 58 year old Salt Lake City man with an IQ of 73, who was the inspiration for the 1988 Oscar winning movie Rain Man. If you haven't heard of the Kerward Derby, it comes from an episode of Rocky & Bullwinkle created by the late comedic genius, Jay Ward. (See KENSUSKINREPORT, January 20, 2008). Whoever places the Kerward Derby on his head becomes the smartest person in the world.

In the cartoon, Bullwinkle Moose places it on his head and says, "The square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the sides.", or something to that effect.

In any event, Dianne and I stayed up late Saturday night to watch the Discovery Channel portrayal of the real Rain Man, Mr. Peek. We had planned to go to sleep, but the first minute of the program hooked us, and we had to stay up in the wee hours to watch the whole thing.

Mr. Peek is a savant. His social skills are severely limited, but he has been able to speed read and virtually memorize approximately 12,000 books in about 14 areas of study including sports, history, geography, music, and biography. How about the Bible! The Space Program! Actors and Actresses! Shakespeare!

He can identify most classical music compositions, giving the dates they were written, not to mention the composer's birth date and place of birth and death. You want to know the day of the week for those dates? He can recite that too! After he finishes reading a book, he places it back on the shelf upside down so that he knows he read it.

He has memorized all the postal zipcodes and can retrieve them quicker than can the U.S. Postal Service computer. On the TV program, he met the local postmaster of a California city. The postmaster was a native of Swampscott, Massachusetts. Without hesitation, Mr. Peek said "01907", but it depended on whether he lived on the North or South side of town. Actually, I looked it up, and the town has only one zipcode--maybe he got the other zipcode from neighboring Lynn or Salem.

Attempting to trip him up, a smartass high school kid asked him, "Who was the winning pitcher in the third game of the 1926 World Series?" Actually, I was proud of myself when I amazed Dianne by correctly answering "Grover Cleveland Alexander" an instant before Mr. Peek did, although he mentioned the St. Louis Cardinals, and the final score. I suppose if they had asked him to recite the box score, he probably could have done that also. I'm not that smart--I recalled Mr. Alexander, portrayed by Ronald Reagan (with Doris Day as his wife) in the 1952 movie The Winning Team, which I saw in my youth.

For many years, the doctors thought Mr. Peek was mentally retarded. In fact, his father and caregiver, Fran Peek chaired a committee for the Association for Retarded Citizens. It was at the 1984 convention that Fran Peek met Hollywood screenwriter Barry Morrow who had previously written a TV movie, Bill, about a retarded person, played by Mickey Rooney.

Morrow met Kim Peek and was astounded by his encyclopedic knowledge of facts, much of it interesting, but basically, useless. For example, who cares whether Beethoven was born on a Tuesday or a Thursday? Because he has memorized the calendar, he can and will tell you the day of the week of any event and in the future, like the day you turn 65 and can retire.

The movie character in Rain Man, played by actor Dustin Hoffman, was a composite savant, drawn from several real life people. A consummate professional, Hoffman spent considerable time with Kim and other savants and their families to develop the movie role. Unlike Mr. Hoffman's movie character, Mr. Peek is not autistic and not retarded, at least not in the usual sense. Not all autistic people are savants, and not all savants are autistic.

Mr. Peek's brain, which has been studied extensively, lacks a corpus collosum--the connecting tissue between the left and right hemispheres. The effect is that his motor skills are poor and he cannot do many mundane tasks, like dressing himself. He also has great difficulty with abstract thoughts like metaphors and proverbs, although he has developed a mild sense of humor. His condition illustrates the limitations of standard IQ tests--his 73 IQ is far below average despite his clearly evident capacity for learning.

Kim developed the ability to memorize in infancy--from the age of 16-20 months. He learned to read on his own at age 3, reading the dictionary. He couldn't walk until age 4, and he is quite clumsy today. He has not developed normal social relationships. He is extremely dependent upon his father, Fran, who is now in his 80's, to protect him and help perform those daily tasks.

Unlike autistic people, Kim's social skills have improved over the years as he and Fran have made numerous personal appearances across the country. He has acquired self-esteem and is now comfortable in large groups of people where he enjoys sharing his knowledge. He has learned to look people in the eye and give compliments. He'll ask a stranger the name of his hometown and then tell the history of that town, name the radio and TV stations, the zipcode and the highways that run through it. That can be a great networking tool if you can harness it.

For many years, Mr. Peek has worked at a day workshop for adults with disabilities. But by going out in the world and making personal appearances, he has become a goodwill ambassador for the disabled by demonstrating that people with mental disabilities have the ability to learn and develop different skills. We learn that the human brain works in strange ways, and there is much the experts don't understand. As we can plainly see, Mr. Peek ably demonstrates that we use only a small amount of our brain capacity.



Saturday, July 25, 2009


While driving home last Thursday after Mark Buehrle's perfect game no-hitter, we got to talking about some of the near misses involving Chicago teams. For a brief moment in the Buehrle game, it appeared this would be one of them. DeWayne Wise saved the day, of course, with his sensational catch over the left field wall.

With the help of the Internet, I researched games in which no-hitters were broken up in the ninth inning and found that it's a lot more common than you'd think. Since 1961, when Major League Baseball expanded, there have been 123 no-hitters and another 129 broken up in the ninth inning. After the second out of the ninth inning, 80% of the pitchers were able to complete the no-hitter.

The Cubs have had a few interesting ones. On May 22, 1955, in Milwaukee's County Stadium, the Cubs' Warren Hacker took a no-hitter into the ninth inning. With one out, Braves' pinch hitter George Crowe hit a home run, but the Cubs won 2-1. Incredibly, Hacker didn't strike out anybody and only walked 1 batter. In fact, 16 of the Braves' 29 batters either lined out or flied out to the outfield. Hacker wasn't fooling many hitters, but sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

On September 2, 1972, the Cubs' Milt Pappas had a perfect game going against the San Diego Padres, retiring the first 26 batters. The 27th, pinch hitter Larry Stahl worked the count to 3 and 2 and walked on a marginal pitch. The umpire wasn't in a hurry to go home. Pappas retired the next batter for his no-hitter. To this day, Pappas is still bitter about the umpire's call in the 9th inning.

The NY Mets Hall of Fame right hander Tom Seaver had a no-hitter going at Wrigley Field on September 24, 1975. With 2 outs in the ninth inning, the Cubs' pinch hitter, "Tarzan" Joe Wallis somehow reached a low outside pitch and stroked an opposite field single. Unfortunately for "Tarzan", for the rest of his brief career, he hit more like Jane. Seaver had earlier pitched a near no-hitter against the Cubs on July 9, 1969 which was broken up by Jim Qualls with one out in the ninth inning.

The legendary Nolan Ryan, author of 7 no-hitters in his long career, had one into the ninth inning on August 7, 1974 at old Comiskey Park in Chicago. White Sox slugger Richie "Dick" Allen swung hard and trickled a slow roller down the third base line. The Angels' third baseman made a terrific play, but Allen beat the throw for an infield hit. The next hitter, Carlos May smacked a sharp grounder off the first baseman's glove for an error. Ryan became unglued at that point and served up base hits to Ken Henderson and Bill Sharp and lost the game 2-1. Over his career, Ryan had 4 other no-hitters broken up in the ninth inning, all with one out. In fact, on 24 occasions, including the above, the overpowering righthander carried no-hitters into the seventh inning.

On April 15, 1983, the Detroit Tigers righthander Milt Wilcox carried a perfect game for 26 hitters against the White Sox. Pinch hitter Jerry Hairston, who hadn't gotten a hit in 7 tries for the season, lined a clean single to center field to break up the perfect game.

On June 27, 1958, the White Sox great lefthander Billy Pierce retired the first 26 Washington Senators one warm evening. The Nats sent up reserve catcher Ed FitzGerald to pinch hit, and on a checked swing, he lined an opposite field double over the first base bag, just inside fair territory. Pierce struck out the next man for the victory.

Some other interesting near misses include hard luck Toronto pitcher Dave Stieb who lost a no-no against the Chicago White Sox on August 24, 1985 when Rudy Law got a hit leading off the ninth inning. Several years later, Stieb lost two no-hitters in one week, on September 24th and 30th, 1988, both with 2 outs in the ninth. Cleveland's Julio Franco broke up one, and Baltimore's Jim Traher got a bad hop single in the other.

On August 21, 1973, Chisox workhorse pitcher Stan Bahnsen lost his no-hitter against Cleveland when Walter "No-Neck" Williams bounced a hit over third baseman Bill Melton's head with two outs in the ninth.

Older folks like me might remember "Toothpick" Sam Jones of the Chicago Cubs who pitched a dramatic no-hitter against Pittsburgh in his rookie season on May 12,1955. He used to chew on toothpicks when he was pitching. He was called "Toothpick" to distinguish him from "Sad" Sam Jones, a pitcher from an earlier era (who pitched a no-hitter in 1923--with zero strikeouts) , and Celtics basketball star Sam Jones. Toothpick was the first Black pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the major leagues. I watched the ninth inning of that game on TV after school. The reason I called it "dramatic" was that Jones walked the first three hitters in the ninth inning and then struck out the the heart of the Pirates batting order, Dick Groat, Roberto Clemente and Frank Thomas.

I don't know how many pitches Jones threw in that inning, but it was a lot. Jones walked 7 in that game. In those days, pitchers were expected to work out of their own jams, rather than the manager calling in a string of relief pitchers. Jones led the National League in stikeouts, walks and hit batsmen in 1955. In 241 innings, he walked 185 (an NL record) and hit 14 batsmen, while striking out 198. He was "sad" also because he lost 20 games that season. He may have been wild, but he had the best curveball in the league, according to Hall of Famer Stan Musial.

Some of the guys who spoiled no-hitters are noteworthy. The Toronto Bluejays' Nelson Liriano broke up 2 ninth inning no-hitters in one week in April, 1989. The NY Yankees' Horace Clarke broke up 3 no-hitters in the ninth inning within a month in 1970.

The early 1970's was sarcastically called the "Horace Clarke Era" in Yankees' history, named after the leadoff man who was the symbol of their ineptitude until they returned to championship form in the late 1970's. Clarke was a good player, but wasn't Mickey Mantle or Joe DiMaggio. The most significant trade the Yankees of that era made was their two best pitchers swapped wives, kids and even their dogs. That's newsworthy, even in New York. Not long after that both pitchers were traded away.

The bottom line is, as Yogi Berra said, "It ain't over 'til it's over."



Thursday, July 23, 2009


Until today, I hadn't been to a baseball game this whole season. Today, I was an eye-witness to history, or at least, baseball history. Jennifer M., my sales representative for Ticor Title Insurance Co. invited me to go see the Chicago White Sox-Tampa Bay Rays game at U.S. Cellular Field. We went to the game with Marcelino, an attorney, and Carmelo, a mortgage banker. We drove slowly down the construction clogged Chicago expressway system, arriving at the game during the National Anthem. We quickly located our seats in the 33rd row down the left field line.

Because it was a day game following a night game, the White Sox, although battling for first place, were resting several of their regular players. Slugger Jim Thome was on the bench, as was first baseman Paul Konerko who played designated hitter. The weaker fielding strikeout prone Josh Fields played first base in his stead. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski sat on the pines, replaced by the weak hitting Ramon Castro. Scott Podsednik was inserted in center field, not his best position. The second team is somewhat weaker defensively.

As it turned out, none of this was a problem for Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle who fields his position flawlessly. The ace lefthander breezed through the Rays' lineup the first 3 innings like it was child's play. He went to a 3 and 0 count on 9th place hitter Jason Bartlett before retiring him on a popup. Meanwhile, the White Sox loaded the bases in the second inning on a single by Konerko, a walk to Carlos Quentin, then 2 strikeouts and a single by Castro in which the slow footed Konerko had to stop at third base. The ninth place hitter, Fields, worked the count to 3 and 1 and crashed a 400 foot homer deep into the left field stands. At that point, with the score 4-0, the game was effectively over for the Rays. Fans who wanted to leave early and beat the rush hour traffic could do so. Not many did.

The second time through the Rays' lineup, Buehrle was on cruise control. Aside from a hard hit foul ball now and then, they hit weak pop-ups and bouncing balls to the shortstop.

After the fifth inning, there was a buzz among the 28,000 fans present. People stopped going to the refreshment stands and restrooms while the Rays were batting. They took their seats to watch the Rays flail away against Buehrle's offerings. The lefthander worked quickly, pitching from the stretch without winding up. He wasted no time out there.

In the seventh inning, Buehrle had to face the top of the Rays' lineup--their best hitters--for the third time. He got the dangerous Carl Crawford on a weak tap back to the mound and star third baseman Evan Longoria on a gentle grounder to third base.

By the eighth inning, the fans were on their feet. The Rays' Pat Burrell hit a rocket past third base that landed foul by inches. Both the third base umpire and our group had a perfect view and the call was correct. We were screaming in delight when Burrell then hit a soft liner to third baseman Gordon Beckham to end the inning.

The White Sox had to bat in the bottom of the eighth, but nobody paid attention. Let's get these guys outta here so we can watch Buehrle pitch the ninth inning!

Buehrle came out of the dugout to the mound to start the ninth inning, and the fans gave him a standing ovation. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. Manager Ozzie Guillen made a defensive move, removing the sore footed Carlos Quentin from left field and moving Scott Podsednik there from center field. He inserted Dwayne Wise, a little taller with a little more range, in center field. The move turned out to be brilliant.

The first batter in the ninth inning, Gabe Kapler, worked the count full and hit a tremendous drive to left center field that appeared to be a home run. The collective silence of the crowd was deafening as eveyone's heart dropped. Center fielder Wise was Superman for one brief moment as he streaked toward the left field wall. At the last possible moment, he leaped up on the wall, with his glove extended over the top, and he brought the ball back in play. For Sox fans, it was a miracle as Wise juggled the ball on his way down, holding the ball high as he rolled over on the ground. Tears of joy filled our eyes. Almost a religious experience! Buehrle might actually do this!

The next hitter was the catcher Michel Hernandez, who struck out swinging, the sixth strikeout of the day for Buehrle. 26 batters up and 26 down! The fans were chanting "Buehrle!, Buehrle!" as the 27th batter for the Rays stepped into the batter's box. Although he was batting ninth, the talented shortstop, Jason Bartlett, a .342 hitter, was not someone you'd want to face with the game on the line. With the count 2 and 1, Bartlett hit a bouncing ball directly at shortstop Alexei Ramirez who threw to first for the final out. A perfect no-hit game!

As you can imagine, the fans were in partying mood. The White Sox players swarmed the field, mobbing Buehrle. Even his wife was on the field. The fans milled around for a long time, savoring the event. During the post game interview, Buehrle was interrupted by a phone call from President Obama, a Sox fan himself, from the South Side of Chicago. Apparently, the phone number is on the President's speed dial. He was coincidently in Chicago today for a fund raiser, but he regretfully didn't make it to the game.

The Sox victory propelled them into a tie for first place with Detroit. In the long run of a pennant race, it's just one game, and they'll have to win many more. But for just one magical moment of perfection we'll worry about the rest of the season tomorrow.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Last week was my birthday, July 10th, the mid point in the baseball season. My grandson, Thomas, shares a birthday with me. Like many people, I wondered about what famous people or major events share a birthday with me.

We'll start with Julius Caesar, the guy whom they named the month after. It wasn't his birthday, but he barely avoided a catastrophic defeat against his archenemy Pompey at the Battle of Dyrrhachium in Macedonia on July 10, 48 B.C. Pompey had Caesar's troops in disarray but halted his advance, suspecting (falsely) a trap. Historians knew the year because they found a calendar dated "48 B.C." Actually, I'm making that part up.

July 10th usually falls during the hottest time of the year. On July 10, 1913, the mercury climbed to 134 degrees F. in Death Valley, California, setting a record for North America. That reading was in the shade, 4 feet off the ground. The temperature at ground level would have been over 200 degrees. One could literally fry eggs on the sidewalk. The German tourists who frequent Death Valley in the summer were in hog heaven. They wouldn't have used air conditioning even if it was available at that time. Despite alleged global warming in recent years, that record hasn't been broken.

On July 10, 1997, scientists reported the findings of a DNA analysis of a Neanderthal skeleton from Africa which supports the "out of Africa theory" of human evolution placing the "African Eve" at 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. They haven't found Adam's skeleton yet.

Among well known people sharing my birthday, we find:

Jack "Legs" Diamond, American bootlegger (1897). His real name was Jack Moran. He became a legend when he survived several attempts on his life by fellow gangsters in the 1920's. His nemesis, Dutch Schultz reportedly said, "Ain't there nobody that can shoot this guy so he don't bounce back?" His demise finally came in 1931. The best guess of his unsolved murder was that he was killed by the Albany, NY, police on orders from political boss Dan O'Connell who didn't want other gangsters interfering with his rackets. Ironically, Legs had just been convicted at trial and was headed for the Federal Pen. Legs got his name because of either his fine dancing or his ability to run fast to escape his many enemies. Hollywood made a movie about his life.

Joe Shuster, cartoonist. (1914). He created "Superman" with his neighborhood buddy Jerry Siegel in Cleveland. The first Superman comic was published in 1938, several years after he created the character. It took awhile to sell it to a publisher. The hero was modeled after Douglas Fairbanks Sr. while his alter-ego Clark Kent was modeled after Harold Lloyd. Lois Lane was modeled after Jerry Siegel's girl friend and future wife, Joanne Carter.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver (1921) The Governator's Mother in Law, and younger sister of President John F. Kennedy.

Fred Gwynne, actor (1926) You may remember him as the Southern judge in that wonderful Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei movie My Cousin Vinny.

Bernard Buffet, French painter (1928). Not believed to be related to Warren or Jimmy, he was an important painter, creating over 8,000 works, mostly still lifes and portraits. Japan built a Bernard Buffet Museum, honoring him and displaying many of his works.

Arthur Ashe American tennis champion (1943). The only African-American (although not the only Black) Men's Wimbledon champion (1975), he won 3 Grand Slam titles. He was also a champion of social justice during the Civil Rights Era.

Sue Lyon, actress (1946) Starred in Nabakov's Lolita at age 16, playing the 14 year old temptress. According to Wikipedia, "She was chosen for the role because her curvy figure suggested an older adolescent." She won a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer. She went on to star in many other movies with Frank Sinatra, Richard Burton and Peter Sellers.

Andre Dawson, baseball player and maybe future Cubs' Hall of Famer (1954). I recall watching the major league All-Star Game played on the date of his birth. That was my 10th birthday. A wild, high scoring game, the American League won 11-9, its only win in the 1950's. Incredibly, the winning pitcher in that game, Dean Stone, didn't throw a pitch or retire a batter. He threw out a runner attempting to steal.

Jessica Simpson, singer and actress, and by far the most famous of this group (1980). She starred in Dukes of Hazzard, which except for her, was a forgettable movie. It was bad, but I saw it several times. just to be sure. Ms. Simpson is one of the few show business personalities to admit to supporting former President Bush (a fellow Texan) in his 2004 campaign. Aside from country music, you don't find many Republicans in show business.

There are others, like the anti-Bush protester, Cindy Sheehan (1957); musician Bela Fleck (1958) of the Flecktones; monster truck driver Tom Meents (1967); college football coach, Urban Meyer (1964); and wrestler Orlando Jordan (1980).


Friday, July 3, 2009


This is the substance of a speech I gave this week to a local organization. It has a lesson for everybody.

To many people, the lives of the saints is something you learn in Catholic School. I'm not Catholic, but I was inspired by this story, which has a local angle to it.

Here in Libertyville, Illinois, driving down Highway 176 past St. Mary's of the Lake Seminary, one passes by Marytown. Most people pass it without a second thought, unaware of what may be found inside. About two years ago, I was privileged to take a tour when Marytown sponsored a Chamber of Commerce event. I was pleasantly surprised.

Marytown is operated by the Conventual Franciscan Friars and is devoted to the martyrdom of St. Maximilian Kolbe. To many of us, we think of martyrdom as something that ended in the Middle Ages.

St. Maximilian Kolbe was born Raymond Kolbe in Poland in 1894. As a teen, he entered the Franciscan Order and became a priest in 1918.

He was an organizer, and he set up an evangelization center near Warsaw called Niepokalanow--City of Immaculate. Kolbe's goal was to set one up on every continent. Today, Marytown, established in 1948, is America's City of the Immaculate. Others are in Poland, Brazil, India, Italy, Japan and the Philippines.

Father Kolbe proved to be charismatic and successful, and by 1939, Warsaw's City of Immaculate had 900 Franciscan friars, the largest Catholic religious house in the world.

He was the consummate mass media guy. He operated a daily newspaper with 230,000 circulation and a monthly magazine with over 1 million circulation. He even operated a radio station.

Unfortunately, his operation was greatly curtailed when the German Nazis invaded Poland in September, 1939, the start of World War II. A humanitarian, Father Kolbe gave shelter to 3,000 Polish refugees. Soon after the invasion, Father Kolbe and a number of other friars were arrested for their evangelization activities. While they were gone, the Nazis stripped Niepokalanow of everything of value. Eventually Kolbe and the others were released but ordered not to publish. He convinced them to allow a final printing of the magazine in 1940.

Apparently. that was the last straw for the Nazis, and they arrested Father Kolbe again in early 1941 and sent him to Auschwitz. Several months later a prisoner escaped from the barracks. The Nazis had a policy that if someone escaped, they would execute 10 prisoners. They randomly selected 10 condemned men and lined them up with the intention of starving them to death in isolation. One of the 10, Polish Sergeant Francis Gajowniczek cried out in agony over the fate of his children without a father.

To everyone's surprise, Father Kolbe stepped forward to confront the Nazi commandant. He pointed at Sgt. Gajowniczek and said "I'm a Catholic priest. I would like to take his place because he has a wife and children." The astonished commandant hesitated a moment and they allowed Sgt. Gajowniczek to return to the other men, and Father Kolbe took his place.

Father Kolbe and the other 9 men were sent to a starvation chamber where they remained for 14 days, as the good priest led them in prayer and hymns. After 14 days, only four men, including Father Kolbe, were still alive. The impatient captors summarily executed them on August 14th--now St. Maximilian's Feast Day.

Sgt. Gajowniczek survived the war and devoted his life to the Church, traveling the world, speaking of the good deeds of the man who saved his life. Those deeds were brought to the attention of the Vatican, and in 1982, Pope John Paul II canonized Father Kolbe, describing his as a "Martyr of Charity" and "Patron Saint of our Difficult Century." Attending the ceremony was the tearful 90 year old Francis Gajowniczek.

Those events are brought to life at the museum honoring St. Maximilian Kolbe at Marytown in Libertyville. It is open to the public.

Given that there are still people amongst us who cynically deny that the Holocaust took place, although it is one of the most well documented events in history, visiting this museum should be a high priority for families and schools. We see dictators and religious fanatics in the news everyday who would perpetuate those evils, and are held in check by the military and moral might of the U.S. and the other democracies. If we don't constantly educate ourselves and our children about the evils in the world, we may be doomed to repeat them.