Monday, August 12, 2013

Rocky turns 80; I turn retrospective

At some point in 1959 Look magazine published a full-page color photo of my hero, Rocky Colavito.
Colavito was posing in his Cleveland Indians uniform in Municipal Stadium, leaning on his bat.

“INDIAN IDOL” read the overlayed headline.

“When Rocky Colavito comes to bat in Cleveland the crowd roars its acclaim, a fitting salute to this great young slugger,” said the caption.

“In that roar is a unique overtone: delighted bobby-soxer squeals that are an equally fitting tribute to Rocky’s dark good looks and appealing, youthful magnetism.”

Well, I didn’t care much about the bobby-soxer thing, but I tore the picture out of the magazine. He was, after all, the greatest baseball player in my world. I was 8.

At about the same time the Look magazine photo was published, my father, God love him, ran into Colavito at one of the downtown Cleveland restaurants and secured an autograph on an envelope-sized white piece of paper.

“To Dick, Best Wishes. Rocky Colavito.”

My dad handed me the note that evening.

I was ecstatic.

My mother, God love her, fashioned a cardboard frame and married the autograph to the Look photo, covering them with a clear plastic film. The “framed” tribute took up residence in my bedroom and later my wife, who understands the importance of childhood treasures, had my mother’s arts and crafts project professionally framed. Since then, my Rocky tribute has moved from house to house, spending time recently in a basement storage room.

I searched for it after learning this month that Colavito had turned 80.

That’s right – 80.

OK, I now officially feel old.

It doesn’t bother me that lots of famous people from their heydays in the ’50s and ’60s are well into their elderly years. But Rocky Colavito turning 80? How can that be?

I wore Rocky’s number (6) on my pee wee baseball jersey, played for a team called the “Rocky Colavitos” and more or less devoted my life to securing his signature on my baseball glove.

I think a lot of folks my age who grew up rooting for one of the most frustrating sports franchises in history wonder the same thing. Rocky’s 80? How can that be?

Well, we haven’t had a lot to cheer about over the years. The Indians have never won a World Series in my lifetime and have gotten close only a couple of times.

Rocky was a bright spot. Coming off the 1959 season, during which Colavito hit four consecutive home runs in a single game and hit a league-leading 42 homers, the slugger thought he was worth more than $28,000 a year.

No kidding. Mickey Mantle was making $70,000. Darn Yankees.

Indians general manager Frank Lane finally and reluctantly agreed to a raise Colavito’s salary to $35,000. But the contentious salary negotiations doomed the relationship. “Trader” Lane sent Colavito to the Detroit Tigers for singles hitter Harvey Kuenn during spring training 1960.

Sports writer Terry Pluto in a book many years later deemed the trade began “The Curse of Rocky Colavito.” It was the beginning of decades-long frustration for Indians fans.

In a news conference on the occasion of his 80th birthday party in Cleveland, Colavito discussed his career in what called “the best 16 minutes of your day.” The video is available online.

I watched it several times, fascinated that Rocky remembers his playing days like they were yesterday. They weren’t, of course. They were a half-century ago. Man, I feel old.

And then I dug that old treasure out of the storage room.

Have to hang it up again…

Dick Farrell writes weekly for the Bargain Hunter.

I offer a mea culpa (but we still need to save public education)

A couple of commentaries ago, I violated one of my own long-held rules of writing.

Don’t generalize.

As soon as a writer offers one or more generalizations – like I did in the piece on the state senator who wants to exempt homeschooling parents from paying school property taxes – at least one reader will rip said writer to shreds – as Jenifer Boros of Holmes County did to me.

Allow me to refresh.

I wrote that Delaware County Republican state Sen. Kris Jordan wants to give a tax break to parents who home school their children. I pretty much panned that proposal, noting that it should die a quick death. That might be an understatement. I called Jordan’s proposal “dumb.”

During my discussion of that proposal, I also took some shots at homeschooling.

I generalized that there were “a lot of parents who think they know better than the professionals.”
Jenifer killed me with exclamation points.

“Contrary to what you may think, many homeschool parents are quite educated!” she wrote. “We have degrees in nursing, engineering, elementary education, graphic arts, occupational therapy, Turf grass management and in many other fields. We are quite qualified to teach many high school courses, and for those we may need help with there are numerous resources out there! We are not afraid to learn ourselves! Many homeschooled children are motivated, independent workers who love learning and thrive even if their parents aren't experts in everything! We personally know students enrolled at the College of Wooster (our daughter), St. Vincent College (our son), OSU, Malone College, Walsh, Tri-C, and numerous others.”

Back in the commentary, I continued to dig myself a literary grave:

"Because public education benefits all of us – even home-school families and even if they won't admit it …” I wrote.

 “Who won't admit it?” she demanded.

“Of course there are thousands of young people doing great things in today's world. I cannot even fathom where you get the idea that homeschoolers won't admit it – maybe because it's simply that we haven't chosen the public school system (your system!). 

“It's unfair to conclude that since we have made a different choice that we are unable to appreciate your choice!  Many homeschoolers have friends and relatives in the public school system – we manage to get along and be friendly! The ball may be in your court – can you in turn appreciate and acknowledge that the young, homeschooled students of today benefit and enrich our society?”

I still wasn’t done. Neither was she.

“Heaven help the future generations because I can’t imagine a population that relies on Mom and Pop to teach subjects that are better left to specialists,” I theorized.

Oh boy.

“Mom and Pop can be pretty darn good teachers, and sometimes ‘specialists’ aren’t what they appear!” responded Jenifer.

“Isn’t it true that some ‘specialists’ may have only earned C’s in their college courses? Looks can be deceiving. In any case, if homeschooling is a growing trend there must be reasons that intelligent, educated people choose it! Get used to it, as my daughter says. She knows a number of classmates at the College of Wooster who were homeschooled at some point in their lives. It is not that weird anymore! The motivation to homeschool can take many forms and it might be worth the effort to ask why so many parents choose it.”
For the record, Jenifer and her husband, John, have five children. Jenifer, who says she has mixed feelings about Sen. Jordan’s bill, has a degree in elementary education, while John holds degrees in business and nursing.

If I’m doing the math right, the couple have been homeschooling their children the last 15 or so years. They began homeschooling because the local Catholic school would not admit their daughter to kindergarten because her birthday fell past the deadline and as an alternative to having their children ride a school bus for a couple of hours each day.

As for me, I still believe Jordan’s proposal is dumb; that the state is wrongly siphoning money out of public education to for-profit charter schools; and that the country’s future depends on a viable public school system for which all of us ought to pay.

As for homeschooling, I offer a mea culpa for my generalizations. But I still think those who choose homeschooling for their children pass up the opportunity for them to learn from many terrific teachers who guide and educate young minds every day in our public (and traditional private and parochial) schools.
That’s not a generalization. That’s my opinion.

Read more from Dick Farrell at

Monday, August 5, 2013

Attention, parents: Give your kids a book

(Originally published in the Bargain Hunter on August 2, 2013)

An old classmate of mine posted on Facebook the eulogy he and his brothers and sisters wrote for their mother’s funeral.

It was a great piece of writing, delivered I believe by the oldest of the 10 siblings – yes, that’s right, 10 – and it contained some wonderful insight on good parenting, which is something that seems to be lacking in this upside down day and age we live in.

By no means am I any kind of expert on parenting. I made my mistakes certainly, but then so has every other parent. I take solace in that. Show me a perfect parent and I’ll show you a liar.

Here’s part of the eulogy for my classmate’s mom, whose name was Ruth:

“She was a reader. Libraries were her Windsor Castle, her Taj Mahal. 

As a girl, she and her three sisters and brother wore out their library cards. They strolled down the street with their books open before them, and one time Ruth bumped into a telephone pole.

She taught her children to do the same. Not bumping into things, but going to the library. She loved libraries so much she worked in them for decades.

She read books to all of us as young children and made readers of all of us. And at the end, when her eyesight failed, we read to her.

“She was a writer. She had always wanted to get published. She subscribed to magazines aimed at freelance writers and had some pieces make it into print. Her real gift, though, showed itself in the hundreds, the thousands of letters she wrote to us while we were away in the Army or in college, or in the Peace Corps.

“Or the ones she sent to her siblings and friends.

These letters were filled with wisdom and meditations on living a meaningful life. They displayed her strong religious faith…”

Reading. It’s important.

Get it?

My parents, too, were voracious readers. My first task at the breakfast table was to read a story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer that my father found to be important. But it was my mother who nurtured the process.

When I was six, Mom gave me the best book ever – “The Cat in the Hat,”  which was written, I would learn later, as an alternative to the boring “Dick and Jane” books that were creating – get this – a reading crisis among American schoolchildren.

“The Cat in the Hat,” authored by Theodor Geisel (writing as Dr. Seuss), was different from other books in that it showed a couple of latchkey kids under the influence of a playful, chaotic visitor.

“What would you tell your mother?” the book asks at the end.

The book, released in 1957, has sold 12 million copies worldwide and still is among the top books recommended for children.

I loved “The Cat in the Hat” and read it so many times that the cover finally came loose and had to be taped back on.

According to Wikipedia (phooey on those who say you shouldn’t use the website as a credible source), “The Cat in the Hat” is “1,629 words in length and uses a vocabulary of only 236 distinct words, of which 54 occur once and 33 twice. Only a single word – another – has three syllables, while 14 have two and the remaining 221 are monosyllabic. The longest words are something and playthings.”

It was an easy read.

Fast forward to 2013 and the back-to-school season, and you’ll find many parents focused on making sure their kids have the latest in fashion and technology.

For goodness’ sake, don’t forget to encourage them to read. Buy the young ones books and more books. Read to the tots. Explain the importance of reading to teenagers, many of whom readily admit they’d rather play video games than read.

If you can’t read, you can’t write. And if you can do neither, you are doomed to failure. Trust me on this, Mom and Dad. Teach your kids to read.

Ruth would understand.

Read more from Dick Farrell at

Dumb and dumber

(Originally published in the Bargain Hunter on July 22, 2013)

One of the intellects in Columbus has come up with yet another brilliant idea.

Delaware County Republican state Sen. Kris Jordan wants to give a tax break to parents who home school their children.

According to Jordan’s official Ohio Senate website, he is sponsoring Senate Bill 127. Let’s hope it dies quickly.

The website provides this quotation from Jordan:

“Home schooling requires an immense amount of parental involvement, which has many positive benefits for children, but it also involves a great deal of sacrifice.

“Families that elect to home school their children often pay directly out of pocket for many of the materials and other items needed, and my proposal could help significantly in defraying some of these costs. This could free up resources that could be used for other needs or to further enhance a child’s education.”

Jordan’s website claims there are more than 20,000 home-schooled children in Ohio, which in my mind is an alarming number. That’s a lot of parents who think they know better than the professionals.

Under Jordan’s proposal, families who home school would be eligible for a property tax reduction after submitting an application to the county auditor.


I think I’m correct in noting that the idea of our forefathers was to make public education a right granted to each citizen. In return, we’d all be responsible for paying for public education because an educated population benefits all of us.

Get it? Let me repeat: It benefits all of us.

All those kids we educate, well, eventually a lot of them do great things, such as engineering cars that park themselves, or using satellites to help navigate our vast system of highways and byways, or cure cancer.

If we start excepting segments of our population from paying for public education because they choose a different educational path for their children, well, we’re in trouble. If we give home-schoolers a tax break, shouldn’t we give a tax break to people who send their children to private and parochial schools?

And if we do that, why don’t we just charge the families who use public education? So that means childless couples shouldn’t have to pay school taxes. Or senior citizens. Or Chinese businessmen who buy property in our state as an investment.

Why should anyone other than families who use the public school system have to pay school taxes?
Because public education benefits all of us – even home-school families and even if they won’t admit it.
Don’t they get that down there in Columbus?

I’ll answer that.

No. They don’t get it.

I’ve always believed – at least in Ohio – that public schools do a pretty good job with the resources they have. The six urban districts – Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo, Akron and Youngstown ­– are exceptions. We need to retool and resize those districts so that they can better serve their respective populations.

Rather than do that, the ultra-conservative forces in this state are bent on encouraging the creation of charter schools, which has resulted in another layer of educational bureaucracy that taxpayers are funding (yes, you are) that encourages among other things private-sector greed and shoddy curriculum. 

And now we have a state senator who wants to further the cause of public education mediocrity in Ohio by cutting even more resources.

If there are indeed 20,000 home-schooled children in this state and if that number keeps growing, heaven help the future generations because I can’t imagine a population that relies on Mom and Pop to teach subjects that are better left to specialists.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Read more from Dick Farrell at