Steve: What was your first ballgame and what do you remember about it? Also, what was the first election you voted in? How do you think both baseball and politics have changed since?
Ken: Although I was born and raised in Cleveland, the first game I recall attending took place in Milwaukee when I was 6 and the Braves still called that city their home. (Yes, I’m that old!) Our family was on vacation and we had an uncle who was a priest there. The game was against Cincinnati and I might have seen one of Hank Aaron’s 755 homers that evening. As for the first election I voted in, it was the Carter/Ford 1976 election. I was a freshman at Kent State at the time and probably voted via an absentee ballot.
The question about how both baseball and politics have changed boils down to one thing: money. Look at what salaries and ticket prices were back then compared to now. And maybe I was just blissfully ignorant of “dark money” at the age of 18 but unquestionably it’s more pervasive in the current political climate.
Steve: We went to watch the Guardians last night and I’m sure you’re fed up with talking about it, but as a long-time Indians fan what are your thoughts on the name change?
Ken: Not a problem. It’s a subject I don’t mind talking about as long as people are coming from coherent and well thought-out points of view. The emotional attachment to a nickname that has been around for more than 100 years, even if the team had won the World Series just twice over that time, is understandable. I share those same feelings. But ever since Chief Wahoo began being phased out, the writing was on the wall. While change is seldom painless, I’ve been in favor of the choice of Guardians, mainly because it’s original in the world of major team sports. Truth be told, I had way more of an issue with Jacobs Field being renamed for an insurance company with terrible commercials, but that’s another story for another time.
Steve: You’re a former sports writer, and you’re also a big stats guy – what do you think of the new proliferation of stats in baseball (due largely to the explosion of fantasy sports) and the other changes being rolled out to make the game “quicker”? How about robot umps?
Ken: Baseball stats were my entryway into math as a kid. I took delight in computing batting averages and earned run averages. But while not saying there’s no need for the current glut of statistical information, much of it leaves me cold and unimpressed. Launch angles, exit velocities – that’s not what fathers and sons and friends chat about while watching a game. At least I think not. And good luck finding anybody who likes the ghost runner at second base to begin extra innings. (Steve: I recently heard the runner described as the “Manfred Man” but that seems unfair to a band with their popularity…) Then again, I thought in 1973 that the designated hitter wouldn’t be around for long, so consider the source. Robot umps? Heck, I’m for anything that gets Angel Hernandez out of the game!
Steve: You covered another sport for years; now can you finally relax and enjoy a game without feeling like you have to work it?
Ken: Every now and then I find myself lapsing into the mindset of what my story angle or opening paragraph to a game would be. But enough time has passed and the way of writing to get something on a newspaper’s website ASAP has made what I once did seem outdated. A confession: Probably about once a week, I get this dream about being on a deadline at a sporting event and not knowing the way to the locker room, the press room, or both. It’s the equivalent of dreaming you’ve never been to a class and it’s finals week.
Steve: You just moved back to Cleveland after many years living and working in Florida – what are you most impressed with about the city and what do you think is the most urgent thing that needs fixing?
Ken: I’m most impressed with the way certain parts of the city have been renovated and refurbished and the justifiable pride residents have in that. Downtown Cleveland was not a happening place during my high school years and early 20s. But crime remains a problem, especially in neighborhoods which haven’t sprung back to life. And as the pandemic illustrated, you can’t always count on tourism. You need sustainable businesses and industries that will want to make people move here or stay here, and that’s been a sore spot ever since the demise of the steel industry.
Steve: And how would you compare the standard of political representation in Ohio and in Florida?
Ken: No one state is monolithic when it comes to politics. But let’s just say the current high-visibility elected officials in Florida make me glad I’m in Ohio.
Steve: What do you think are going to be the big issues that will dominate the public debate between now and the midterms?
Ken: I’m no pundit, but at the risk of regurgitating a talking point we’ve heard a lot, our democracy is at stake. Here in Ohio, we have a candidate for Senate with zero qualifications other than being famous. The same in Pennsylvania and Georgia. How people can campaign and vote for these people boggles my imagination.
Steve: And how good a job – or otherwise – do you think the local media does here in Ohio at covering important issues? Since you left your paper, how do you think newspapers have managed the challenges that they’re all experiencing? How do you see the future of the news business unfolding?
Ken: I wish nothing but the best for those who are still in the news business. My business acumen can pretty much fit on the head of a pin, so I’m not going to sit here and second-guess moves that have been made in an attempt to remain viable and relevant. It’s easy to criticize the worst of the excesses. We can only give thanks for what once was and move ahead with dignity and decency.
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