The church bell will ring one last time for Gordon Lightfoot, "the Canadian musical institution," as critic Bart Testa once termed him. That reference is of course to the last verse of the singer-guitarist-songwriter's signature song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," in which "in a musty old hall in Detroit" "the church bell chimed 'til it rang twenty-nine times for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald," an ore carrier that sank in Lake Superior during a heavy storm in November 1975.
That bell chimes now for Gordon, who died of natural causes at age 84 in Toronto, Ontario, on May 1. Lightfoot had to cancel a tour just three weeks prior to his death, citing health issues as the reason. A bell tolling for him is sadly fitting, for it was Lightfoot's song, a Number Two US hit in 1976, that demonstrated evocatively how folk music, which might have seemed quaint and out-of-date amidst the mid-Seventies disco, glam-rock, and arena-rock, with hints of burgeoning punk-rock beginning to scratch and claw forth, still had the essence to capture the moment.
Is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame still relevant? Was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ever relevant? Does anyone still care about the Rock Hall except as a punching bag because his or her favorite artist has yet to be inducted? And just what kind of honorific is it to be labeled as a "Hall of Fame artist," anyway? Does it make their music more legitimate? Less legitimate?
Make no mistake: The notion of memorializing the music of the "Rock and Roll Era," popular music dating primarily from the mid-1950s and made almost exclusively in Western, English-speaking countries, is a worthwhile and even noble one. There is no disputing the enormous impact popular music has made in the last several decades, not just on popular culture but on the society that bred it, and establishing an institution, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (located in Cleveland, Ohio), to showcase its legacy would seem both logical and inevitable.
Days from the January 24, 2023, announcement by the National Baseball Hall of Fame of candidates who may have been elected by the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA), the burning question is not who those candidates, if any, will be. Instead, the burning question is: What morality are BBWAA voters going to legislate for the Hall of Saints this year?
For more than a decade, the controversy over performance-enhancing drugs (PED) has consumed discussion about who should or should not be elected to the Hall, capped by the late Hall of Famer Joe Morgan's now-infamous 2017 missive to voters about keeping the PED Penitents out of Cooperstown. But although the PED predicament remains—among the returning candidates on the 2023 BBWAA ballot are Manny Ramirez and Álex Rodriguez—voters are now finding other performance flaws in candidates to deny them entrance to the Hallowed Hall.
By paring the number of candidates to be considered by the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee to a lean-and-mean eight, and if trends by recent iterations of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans Committee continue, the odds look very good for Fred McGriff to be making an induction speech in Cooperstown, New York, in July 2023 when the committee announces its results during the baseball winter meetings to be held on December 4, 2022.
Why should McGriff start preparing his induction speech? Because the Screening Committee that selected the eight players whose careers began after 1980 to be considered by the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee of the Hall of Saints—sorry, make that the Hall of Fame—have gamed the ballot to, in essence, eliminate half of its candidates right off the bat, leaving the slugging first baseman as the most viable candidate for consideration ahead of, in order of descending likelihood, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, and Albert Belle.
In December 2020, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that the Negro Leagues from the first half of the 20th century were now officially recognized as having Major League status, "correcting a long-time oversight in the game's history." Officially recognized were seven separate Negro Leagues that operated between 1920 and 1948.
Coinciding with measures taken by Cleveland's Major League franchise to wean itself from stereotypes derogatory to Native Americans, which resulted in the dumping of the "Chief Wahoo" logo in 2019 and, more significantly, the dumping of "Indians" as the team's nickname in favor of "Guardians" in 2022, the inclusion of the Negro Leagues into MLB would seem to be an enlightened step forward, wouldn't it?
Not so fast. Were it not for segregation, the Negro Leagues would not have existed, at least not as the top tier of professional baseball for African-American players, because those players would have been playing in the Majors in the first place. This discrimination based on race was part of the "separate but equal" doctrine, also known as "Jim Crow," that was explicitly enforced in the Deep South but also tacitly acknowledged in many other parts of the United States.
On a ballot packed with qualified candidates for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, is it possible that none of them will be elected this year?
If that happens, as it did last year, it would be the third time in the last decade that the qualified voters of the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) have thrown a shutout at the Hall of Fame. This is an odd paradox considering that after the Big Zilch of 2013, the BBWAA in subsequent years went on to elect 22 players across the next seven ballots, with the various guises of the veterans committee voting in another five players (and six non-players) during that seven-year span. (In 2013, the veterans committee did elect three candidates to the Hall.)
Last year, Curt Schilling, who had garnered 70 percent of the vote on the previous ballot, seemed to be a lock for election. Instead, he stalled with a negligible increase in support, then threw a social-media Trumper tantrum declaring that he wanted to be removed from this year's ballot. The Hall of Fame quickly responded that it would not do so.
Is this the year Curt Schilling makes it into the National Baseball Hall of Fame? Will Schilling be the only player elected to the Hall this year? After all the tumultuous voting activity of the 2010s, has voting for the Hall returned to "normal"?
Only a crystal ball, or the patience to wait until voting results for the 2021 Baseball Hall of Fame are announced on January 26, 2021, can give us the definitive answers, but of course that doesn't stop us from prognosticating before we learn the results.
For now, the short answers are:
In a tumultuous year that was not normal for anything and everything including baseball, one thing that might be back to normal is voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Granted, the 2021 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot has 14 returning candidates, with just about every one of them owning cases for induction that range from borderline to compelling.
What an absolutely insane year 2020 has been—and it's not even over yet. In particular, the United States has a general election upcoming in November, and not only has that already proved to be insane—it could go positively psychotic.
This is a pop-culture site, so don't worry, we'll not go into polemics that will raise your blood pressure faster than you can say "fake news." In fact, this "Voters' Guide to Presidential Movies" is meant to offer a respite from the frenzy while keeping to the topic of politics in general and presidential politics in particular. Below you'll find summaries of an array of movies from old to new that have thrown their hats into the ring of political discourse, with an emphasis on the US presidency although that is not exclusive.
Rogers Hornsby, the Hall of Fame second baseman second only to fellow Hall of Famer Ty Cobb in career batting average, once said, "People ask me what I do in the winter when there's no baseball. I tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." The right-handed slugger, who remains the only player to combine a .400 batting average with 40 or more home runs in the same season (1922, the year he won the first of his two Triple Crowns), also never went to the movies (or read books), claiming that it would harm his eyesight.
Two generations of Britmetal slammed out their wares at FivePoint Amphitheater in Irvine, California, on September 27 as Deep Purple headlined the show that Judas Priest opened, with two different kinds of metalheads banging in support of each.
And while both bands have been presenting said wares for more than four decades, each demonstrated that it still had a trick or two up its sleeve even as both reliably fired off the hallmarks that eventually landed one band in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame while the other is on the short list of the Rock Hall's biggest "snubs." So, did one band justify its inclusion? And did the other further its case for inclusion?
You've heard the saying, "Every man has his price"? For me, it's $20. At least that's what I was willing to fork over to see Poison and Cheap Trick at FivePoint Amphitheater in Irvine, California, on May 18. And for one of those bands, it was worth it.
Earlier this year, concert promoter Live Nation announced National Concert Week, an online promotion offering tickets for $20 (US) to a wide range of artists touring throughout the 2018 concert season. Ever-alert for bargains, my friend Kathie tipped me off to this limited-time offer, and soon we were deep into negotiations.