Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Baseball Necrology, 2011

By Tom Hawthorn
The Emerald Guide to Baseball, 2012
Society for American Baseball Research

Reno Bertoia
Pierino (Reno) Bertoia [1953-1963] died on April 15 at Windsor, Ontario, Canada. He was 76. He was born in San Vito al Tagliamento, Italy, on Jan. 8, 1935, sharing a birthdate with Elvis Presley. He moved to Canada with his family as an infant. At age 18, he signed an $11,000 bonus, joining the Detroit Tigers without playing a single game in the minors. A smooth infielder, he hit .244 over 10 major-league seasons with the Tigers, Washington Senators, Minnesota Twins, and Kansas City Athletics. While with the Tigers, he began studies at Assumption College in his Windsor hometown. After baseball practice in Detroit, he would walk across the Ambassador Bridge to attend classes. He became a teacher after leaving baseball. Bertoia was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988.

Wes Covington
John Wesley (Wes) Covington [1952-1966] died of cancer on July 4 at Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He was 79. A football prospect in high school in his native North Carolina, a knee injury led him instead to sign a minor-league contract with the Boston Braves. The 20-year-old prospect was assigned to a farm team at Eau Claire, Wis., where he was joined by a teenaged shortstop from Alabama. Hank Aaron, the future home-run king, hit nine homers for the Class-C team in 1952; Covington swatted 24. After two years of army service, the outfielder led the South Atlantic League with a .326 average in 1955. He joined the parent club, which had since moved to Milwaukee, the following season. The knock on Covington was that he was all bat, no glove, but spectacular catches in Games 2 and 5 of the 1957 World Series helped the Braves prevail against the New York Yankees. The lefty batter stayed with the Braves until 1961, when he was selected off waivers by the Chicago White Sox. He also played for the Kansas City Athletics, the Chicago Cubs, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Philadelphia Phillies, including during their infamous slump to close out the 1964 season.

Billy Harris
William Thomas (Billy) Harris [1951-1965] died on May 28 at Kennewick, Washington. He was 79. Born in the hamlet of Duguayville, New Brunswick, Canada, the right-handed Harris caught the attention of scouts by pitching his junior and senior teams to consecutive Canadian Maritime championship. At age 20, he went 25-6 with the Class-B Miami Sun Sox, recording a sterling ERA of 0.83 in 294 innings pitched. He’d appear in just two major-league games, losing his 1957 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, giving up three runs in seven innings. He pitched in relief for the Los Angeles Dodgers in one game in 1959. Over 15 seasons in the minors, including several fine campaigns with the Montreal Royals, Harris went 174-134. In retirement, he operated Billy’s Bullpen Tavern in Kennewick. He was named to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.

Ron Piché
Ronald Jacques (Ron) Piché [1955-2004] died on Feb. 3 at Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He was 75. Piché (pronounced pee-SHAY) made his major-league debut with the Milwaukee Braves in 1960. The right-hander started only 11 of the 134 major-league games in which he appeared. He compiled a 10-16 record with a 4.19 earned-run average over six seasons with the Braves, California Angels and St. Louis Cardinals. (He had a lone single in 42 at-bats in the majors, but did manage two runs batted-in.) The reliever spent 16 seasons in the minors including stints in four Canadian cities (Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg, Quebec) though not in his hometown of Montreal. He retired as a player in 1972. Piché served as director of Canadian scouting for the Montreal Expos from 1977-1985. He later did promotional work as a roving ambassador for the club, earning the nickname Monsieur Baseball (Mr. Baseball) in his native Quebec. Piché was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988.

Dick Williams
Richard Hirschfeld (Dick) Williams [1947-2002] died of a ruptured aortic aneurism on July 7 at Las Vegas, Nevada. He was 82. Williams was one of the most dynamic managers of his era. A hard-nosed stickler for fundamentals, he was an abrasive and volatile firebrand who battled with players, general managers and owners. The pitcher Vida Blue once said Williams made “drill sergeants look like Boy Scouts.” His autobiography was titled, No More Mr. Nice Guy, a witticism not lost on the baseball world. Williams had a knack for squeezing victories from teams that seemed to have little business as contenders. A utility journeyman as a player, he spent enough time on the bench to absorb the nuances of the game. He kicked around the majors for 13 seasons on five teams for a .260 average, playing all three outfield positions as well as every base. After guiding the Toronto Maple Leafs to consecutive International League championships in 1965 and 1966, he was promoted to handle the Boston Red Sox, a moribund team that had finished ninth in both those seasons. The turnaround was dramatic, the club winning 20 more games than the previous season. The Red Sox claimed the American League pennant by winning the 162nd game in a campaign forever to be remembered as the Impossible Dream. Williams did well to push his squad to a seventh game in the World Series before losing, for a third time, to Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals. Williams lasted two more seasons in New England before being fired. In 1971, he was hired by the mercurial Charlie O. Finley, a tyrant whose own disdain for society’s niceties matched those of his new manager. Under Williams, the Oakland A’s won three consecutive American League West division titles, as well as World Series championships in 1972 and ’73. Tired of the owner’s meddling, Williams quit. He handled the California Angels for three seasons before building the Montreal Expos into a contender, though he was fired late in the 1981 season, the only campaign in which the franchise qualified for the playoffs. Williams moved on to the San Diego Padres, another franchise enduring a decade of mediocrity. After two .500 seasons, Williams guided the Padres to the National League pennant in 1984, though they lost the World Series to the Detroit Tigers in five games. Williams ended his managerial career after three seasons in Seattle. He had been only the second manager, along with Bill McKechnie, to lead three different clubs to the World Series. Williams was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 2008.

The Emerald Guide can be downloaded for free by clicking here.

The black-and-white world of photographer Bev Davies

Joan Jett sneers while in performance at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver in 1981. All photographs copyright by Bev Davies.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
March 7, 2012

For decades, you’ve been able to find Bev Davies squeezed against the stage of even the most raucous concerts.

Dressed in dark clothes, armed with a trusty Canon, she is still and contemplative even while all around her is frenzy.

She has photographed the famous (Bono, James Brown), the infamous (Iggy Pop, John Lydon) and the obscure, capturing in an instant a revelatory image from even the most familiar figures.

She’s been doing it for so long that young concertgoers now approach to ask if she has a son in the band.

“They’ve been kind enough not to ask if my grandson is in the band,” she said.

Her black-and-white photographs have graced posters, album covers, and the slapdash pages of fanzines. They have been in the pages of the Georgia Straight and on the walls of art galleries. Her image of the high-flying, scissor-legged bassist Randy Rampage of D.O.A. has even been imprinted on a limited-edition skateboard.
James Brown

Some of her work is ephemeral, some of it timeless, and some of it only lasts as long as there are days in a month.

Ms. Davies has produced her sixth calendar of rock photographs, this one distributed free with each copy of the Busy Doing Nothing! compilation album put together by the Vancouver deejay Nardwuar the Human Serviette.

The photographer’s legion of fans prefer to think of her latest calendar coming with a free vinyl LP.

The calendar runs from May, 2012, until December, 2014, merrily ignoring the pending Mayan apocalypse.

It includes 17 photographs, including a striking cover shot of a teenager doing a jackknife dive off the stage into a crowd at a 1981 punk show in Pasadena, Calif.

Other notable images include a fully-clothed Iggy Pop casting a mesmerizing stare; Viv Albertine of the Slits in a babydoll dress a full decade before Courtney Love ever hit the stage; a sweaty and straining James Brown (“a bit too much girdle,” notes the photographer); an exhausted and shirtless Lux Interior of the Cramps on a leopard-patterned couch backstage at the Commodore Ballroom; and, Bono being grabbed by stagehands before tipping into the crowd at an outdoor festival in California.

One of her favorite images depicts John Lydon of Public Image Ltd. wearing a pajama-style shirt on stage at War Memorial Gymnasium in Vancouver.

“I like the shape of it,” Ms. Davies said. “So many of the shots are close-ups of people singing and playing guitar. He’s listening to the audience. He’s got his hand cupped to his ear.”

She began photographing the nascent local punk-rock scene in the late 1970s, suffering a black eye on her first shoot when she brought her camera to her eye while in the midst of the mosh pit. She quickly learned to keep elbows high while staking a spot stage left or right.

It was an exciting time when unknown do-it-yourself musicians filled out nightly lineups in dingy halls and decaying clubs. Ms. Davies offered a calm presence in a turbulent time. Her images were warmly received by the bands.

They were unknowns, but she thought they’d someday be famous.

She had seen it happen before.

Ms. Davies, the daughter of a auto mechanic and a potter from Belleville, Ont., left home to study art in Toronto. The Yorkville folk scene was “breaking out," she said, "and turning on and and tuning in and dropping out.” For a time, she helped operate the Cellar Club, a jazz and chess venue at 169 Avenue Rd., where musicians would drop by to jam and hang out after playing gigs. Among them was Neil Young, whom she befriended. He announced one day that he was leaving for California in a ’53 Pontiac hearse. Bev was invited to join him, though he wanted her to chip in for the cost of gas to the coast. She was penniless.

“The invite was pulled away,” she said. “Neil said I couldn’t go because I didn’t have any money.” Her reaction? “At that time, Neil didn’t handle women crying very well.”

Two of her roommates joined him on the transcontinental trek. Soon after arriving in Los Angeles, Mr. Young formed a group called Buffalo Springfield and within days opened for the Byrds. It happened for him just that quickly.

(A later meeting between the photographer and the rocker, with Nardwuar in tow, is told in hilarious detail by the Vancouver novelist Kevin Chong in his nonfiction work, Neil Young Nation.)

Later, after she settled in Vancouver, Ms. Davies befriended the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. They first talked when she called an open-line radio show on which he was appearing. Intrigued, he later asked the host for her contact information. They went for dinner — an odd experience for Ms. Davies, still broke, who associated such extravagance with visits by her parents — and established a platonic friendship.

He later wrote her a warm letter in which he described his latest relationship woes — he would be married five times before his death in 1982 — with candour.

“Bev, you were nicer to me than anyone else I met in Canada, and I’ll always remember that,” he wrote. “You made me feel like a person.”

In recent years, acolytes and those studying Mr. Dick have approached the photographer for her insights on the writer.

“He was nice,” she said. “He wasn’t crazy. I know crazy.”

She continues to attend shows, her dedication creating an important documentation of the music scene in Vancouver over the decades. Incredibly, her work has yet to be gathered in a book. Publishers, start your bidding.

Stagehands grab Bono as he teeters toward the crowd at the US Festival in San Bernardino, Calif., in 1983. Photograph ©Bev Davies.

The 100-year plan to restore Bowker Creek

Jody Watson of the Bowker Creek Initiative cleans up trash while checking out a culvert. Chad Hipolito photographs for the Globe and Mail.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
March 5, 2012


The creek running behind Oak Bay High emerges from a culvert and streams along concrete channels before continuing to the sea.

Over a century, Bowker Creek’s natural path has been piped and paved, boxed and walled with concrete.

Once in a while, students climb down into the channel to fish out rusty cans, plastic pop bottles, discarded shopping carts and other detritus of urban life.

The high school’s campus is pleasant enough — a creek runs through it — but the waterway is far from being in a natural state. It has no fish. The creek banks are bereft of a native riparian habitat — choked by invasive yellow willow and Himalayan blackberry.

That’s about to change.

On Friday, the federal government announced it will provide $738,000 for a project to restore the section of the creek running south of the school.

The news was greeted warmly by those who have been working on a long-term plan to rehabilitate the 8-kilometre-long creek.

“Our hope is much of it will be returned to a much more natural state,” said Jody Watson, chair of the Bowker Creek Initiative. “We’re never going to get it back to what it used to be. There’s a city here and that’s not going to change.”

The headwaters of the creek can be found on what is now the University of Victoria campus, where storm runoff joins spring water. The stream runs through three municipalities, as well as near the grounds of Hillside Mall and Royal Jubilee Hospital.

The creek originally followed a sinuous path to Oak Bay, a downhill journey now mostly hidden in culverts and storm drains. Less than one quarter of the creek is in an open channel.

“A lot of people don’t realize it’s all one creek,” Ms. Watson said. “It comes up and goes into a pipe, comes up and goes into a pipe.”

The creek once provided drinking water for the Coast Salish peoples, who also fished coho salmon and cutthroat trout. Archaeological digs have uncovered shell middens (refuse heap) near Willows Beach and what is now Fireman’s Park. These are at least 2,500 years old.

After the founding of Fort Victoria, settlers began farming in the areas near the creek. The stream first appears on a Hudson’s Bay Company map in 1855, when it was labelled Tod’s Creek after John Tod, whose original farmhouse still stands at 2564 Heron St. It later carried the grand name Thames River before becoming known as Bowker Creek after John Sylvester Bowker, a farmer who married one of Mr. Tod’s daughters.

Over the years, the creek’s tendency to flood led to calls to control its outpour. Even the creek bed is covered by concrete and asphalt along some stretches. Of course the fish disappeared.

Some 30,000 people now live in the watershed, about half of which is covered by such impervious materials as roofs, streets and parking lots.

At the high school, the creek will be returned to a more natural state with a meandering channel. The invasive plants now growing along the banks will be replaced with native species. Out goes yellow willow, in comes Pacific willow.

While the design has yet to be completed, it is expected viewing terraces will be incorporated into the rehabilitation of the north bank on the high school grounds. Not only will passersby be able to enjoy the creek’s bucolic splendors, but it is hoped that future classes of students will monitor water flow and study the creek as part of classwork in freshwater biology. Students will be creek stewards.

The funding announcement comes soon after the municipalities of Saanich, Victoria and Oak Bay accepted a proposal called the “Bowker Creek Blueprint,” which outlines a 100-year plan to restore the watershed. That’s right. One hundred years. It took a century to cover the creek and it will take another century to restore it.

This is Year One. You might call it a watershed moment.
Bowker Creek has been boxed and diverted into pipes and culverts over the past century. It will take another 100 years to return it to a more natural state.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A tip o’ the tam o’ shanter to Nardwuar the Human Serviette

Nardwuar is Canada's greatest celebrity interviewer. Darryl Dyck photograph for the Globe and Mail.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
March 1, 2012

Brian Linehan is dead and Ben Mulroney is slicker than Zamboni ice, so that means our nation’s greatest celebrity interviewer is a squeaky-voiced interlocutor from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

He goes by the oddball name Nardwuar the Human Serviette, the origins of which are the least interesting thing about the guy.

Nardwuar is a radio deejay, music promoter, and frontman of The Evaporators, a surf punk band. His wardrobe features garish, thrift-shop fashions and a tartan tam o’ shanter.

A creature of habit, Nardwuar always spells rock as rawk; always places himself in “Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada;” always posts his interviews in wrestling poster fashion as Nardwuar vs. Whomever. He ends every interview with the salutation “Keep on rawkin’ in the free world,” followed by a sing-song call-and-response exchange in which he says, “Doot doola doot do...” and the interviewee is supposed to reply with, “Doot doo!”

His manic interviews involve a fast-paced battery of questions, showing deep research on his part and an obsession with connections, no matter how obscure. (Leave it to Nardwuar to draw a Pied Piper link between Montreal’s Arcade Fire playing music while leading audiences out of a venue to Toronto’s Shuffle Demons having done the same two decades earlier.) Nardwuar often brings along a rare LP or other prop to incite a response.

The sessions are not so much confrontational as performance pieces in which he succeeds (usually) in getting artists out of their message-track groove.

A Nardwuar interview is a Rorschach test. When it goes well, hilarity ensues. When not, mayhem ensues — to wit, Sonic Youth assaulting Nardwuar and shattering the seven-inch record he’d brought them as a gift.

He also does politicians, provoking Prime Minister Jean Chretien to respond to the pepper-spraying of students by saying, “For me, pepper, I put it on my plate.” Nardwuar also once asked Mikhail Gorbachev which world leader wore the biggest pants, but got the bum’s rush before the formerly second-most-powerful man in the world could answer.

Nardwuar remains a radio (CiTR), television (MuchMusic), and Internet ( sensation.

On Saturday, the indefatigable character will be performing at a free, all-ages gig with the Evaporators at 2 p.m. at Neptoon Records on Main Street in Vancouver to mark the release of his latest effort, “Busy Doing Nothing!” The compilation record — yes, it is a vinyl LP, like the old days — includes new releases from the American singer-songwriter Andrew W.K., as well as such popular English performers as The Cribs and Kate Nash, and Scotland’s Franz Ferdinand. Each covers a song by a local punk band.

“How did (these) people get turned on to the sugary pop of Vancouver rawk ’n’ roll? I knew once we’d get them the songs they’d love ’em,” Nardwuar said. “They were totally down with it.”

The LP also comes with a three-year calendar featuring the brilliant black-and-white concert photography of Bev Davies (about whom more in a future column).

Nardwuar inherited his writing and performance chops from his mother, the former Olga Bruchovsky, who died two years ago. She had been a court reporter in Toronto before moving to the West Coast, where she worked as a teacher. When Nardwuar was a boy, she hosted a television show on a cable-access channel called, Our Pioneers and Neighbours.

“I’d come home school and I’d see my mom on TV and I’d go, ‘Oh, god, my mom’s on Cable 10!’ because I knew when I went to the school the next day people would tease me. It was embarrassing. Now I think it was cool.”

His mother also co-wrote the first biography of pioneer Gastown saloon-keeper Gassy Jack Deighton, inspiring Nardwuar to write a song about Gassy Jack.

(Fun Nardwuar Fact: His mother’s co-author was Raymond Hull, who also co-wrote The Peter Principle with Dr. Laurence J. Peter, positing that in a hierarchy every person will eventually rise to a level of incompetence. Happily, Nardwuar does not work in a hierarchy.)

(Second Fun Nardwuar Fact: Since they were recording at a studio owned by Bryan Adams, Nardwuar took the three brothers of The Cribs and Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand for Skookum Chief burgers at the Tomahawk Restaurant in North Vancouver, where Mr. Adams once laboured as a dishwasher.)

On Monday, BBC Radio Scotland host Vic Galloway opened his eponymous nightly show with an overseas tune.

“That is brilliant. Franz Ferdinand’s Real Thing,” he announced as the song played out. “It's a cover of a Vancouver punk band called Pointed Sticks.”

Uncle Vic, as the deejay styles himself, urged his listeners check out the compilation record and its curator.

“If you don’t know who Nardwuar is you need to search online and find out all about him.”

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to BBC Radio Scotland. Nardwuar is the real thing, a national treasure.

The Cribs and Alex Kapranos (far right) from Franz Ferdinand join Nardwuar for Skookum Chief burgers at the Tomahawk Restaurant in North Vancouver.

A local journalist is a terrible thing to waste

By Tom Hawthorn
Boulevard Magazine
March, 2012

The newspaper’s title is displayed in Old English letters cast from metal set above the entranceway on Douglas Street. Between the venerable names Times and Colonist can be found the impressive crest that appears daily in newsprint, featuring a lion and unicorn, the royal crown, and the words, “Dieu et mon droit,” the monarch’s motto since the 15th-century. A similar crest appears on the nameplate (or, as the industry knows it, the flag) of The Times of London, a distinguished publication. The crest’s presence states that here in Victoria can be found a most serious journal, one that traces its lineage back to the colonial days of 1858.

Dressed in a suit and tie, I was in Victoria for the day for a job interview. On the way up Douglas Street from the bus terminal, I’d been stopped by a panhandler. He got $5 for his troubles. I figured I could use a dash of karma to go with my resumé. Parading smartly beneath the impressive entrance, bounding up the stairs, I strode confidently to the front counter, asking in a clear voice, “On what floor would I find editorial?”

This query earned a bemused smile. Big-city newspapers house reporters and editors on different floors than, say, the brash lot who sell advertising. The Times Colonist was a modest operation where all departments fit on a single floor.

The interview went swell, the job was mine, and, at the end of the school year, the rest of the family moved across the strait from Vancouver. The first parent-teacher meeting at the children’s school was instructive. The teacher, a no-nonsense figure of decided opinions, asked my partner where she worked. Oh, CBC Radio! How the teacher loved it, citing hosts by name as though they were old friends, recalling ancient broadcasts and forgotten personalities. And, you, she said, at last turning her attention to me, where do you work? Why, the Times Colonist was a lousy, no-good tabloid supermarket rag filled with typos and non-sequiturs. I should have lied and said I sold tobacco to children. I would have had a better response.

The city’s antipathy to the paper surprised me then, as it does now. Right-wingers refer to the TC as the Times Communist. Left-wingers complain about a bias, too, yet in my almost four years on staff, I’d found the reporters to be diligent and dedicated. The paper’s problems — yes, there were too many typos and some stories were not reported as fully as they might have been — stemmed not from incompetence on the part of editors and reporters, but from the negligence of the owners. The size of the staff shrank steadily over the years. I began work in a 10-person sports department; it is half that size now. The paper has remained profitable, but that money has funded other projects. (Hello, National Post.) Decades of bloodletting has left the paper looking anemic.

Last fall, Glacier Media Group bought the TC from PostMedia. The paper had been owned previously by Canwest Global, Southam, Thomson, and FP Publications. The sale marks the first time a Victoria daily has been owned by British Columbia interests since 1950.

Previous ownership changes resulted in a whittling of staff to save on costs. As of the new year, the change in ownership has not altered what is delivered on the doorstep. So far, so good.

The TC does much admirable work and it does so with a small staff. Last year, it exposed disgraceful cutbacks, waiting lists and service problems at the government agency responsible for caring for the disabled. Those stories improved the lives of vulnerable people. It is the kind of enterprise reporting the TC has done countless times.

These are tough times for newspapers. Morale is down, as is circulation. No one is even certain whether a daily print product will be produced a decade from now. Three paid newspapers are delivered to my door — the TC, the Globe and Mail, and the Sunday edition of the New York Times. I know I’m an exception. On recycling day, the blue boxes hold fewer newspapers than they once did. I’m hoping the neighbours are at least getting their news online.

However we access news, whether from blipping pixels on a computer screen or from old-fashioned ink on dead trees, we need it. We need people with the skills to ferret information from reluctant authorities and from government agencies. Just ask the families of the disabled how much better there lives are today thanks to the newspaper’s intervention. That’s why I support a local media outlet like the Times Colonist. I’m on the 100-mile news diet.