Thursday, 2 November 2017


We love McDonald’s hamburgers, right? OK, most or at least a good percentage of us do. It’s, of course, the fast-food restaurant chain that gave us the golden arches. It also gave us the Big Mac and its legendary slogan: “Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun.”

How did McDonald’s get started in the first place? Enter the expertise of remarkable entrepreneur Ray Kroc.

Ray Kroc, 1976 (US Public Domain)
Raymond Albert Kroc was born to poor Czech parents in Chicago, Illinois on October 5, 1902 and brought up in the suburb of Oak Park. Dropping out of school at 15, in the midst of World War I, he lied about his age and took training with the Red Cross as an ambulance driver with the hope of going overseas. A fellow trainee in the same course was Walt Disney. The two became fast friends during their schooling at Sound Beach, Connecticut. The war ended before either one saw overseas duty, however, with Disney arriving in Europe just as the armistice was signed.

For the next several years, Kroc took on various jobs: a pianist and DJ for a local Oak Park radio station, then later as a paper cup salesman. It was not until he began working for a company called Prime Castle selling milkshake mixers that something clicked, enough to change his life forever. This particular machine could mix five drinks at once, saving any restaurant owner a ton of time. When one of his buyers asked for eight machines in 1954, Kroc decided to pay the purchasers a visit. They were brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald who owned a string of restaurants called McDonald’s that specialized in hamburgers, fries, pies, milkshakes and soft drinks in the San Bernardino area of California, and had come a long way since opening their first store in 1940.

Kroc flew out to the Sunshine State and was immediately impressed by the McDonald brothers success and efficiency in making “assembly line” hamburgers--a restaurant version of Detroit’s auto mass-production system. Kroc wanted in on the business, offering to work as a franchising agent in return for a profit cut. Before Kroc, the brothers franchised only their idea, rather than their McDonald’s name. That would soon change. Kroc saw a “cash cow,” if there ever was one.

The following year, he became McDonald’s Corporation president and opened the first restaurant using the McDonald’s name outside California in Des Plains, Illinois. Furthermore, he quickly created a corporation that purchased suitable restaurant sites for future McDonald’s franchisees. By 1960, he was largely responsible for establishing 200 franchises nationwide. But Kroc was looking for more out of the business and nothing was going to stop him, despite the brothers’ attitude in staying small and not wishing to move forward or were simply too afraid to. Not so with Kroc. In 1961, he bought the business rights to the McDonald brothers operation for $2.7 million.

In the deal, the McDonald brothers were supposed to receive an annual royalty of 0.5%. However, this part of the deal was only a handshake. Due to disputes over how the process was handled and the real estate rights to the original McDonald’s restaurant in San Bernardino, which the McDonald brothers did not want to transfer to their partner, Kroc refused to honor the handshake royalty portion because it wasn’t in writing. The brothers kept the restaurant and called it “The Big M” because they no longer had the McDonald’s naming rights. Kroc got even. In response, he had a new McDonald’s restaurant built near the original one and with its much-larger sales left the McDonald brothers in the dust, forcing their original store out of business within six years.

In 1961, Kroc sent a letter off to his old friend Walt Disney. “I have recently taken over the national franchise of the McDonald’s system. I would like to inquire if there may be an opportunity for a McDonald’s in your Disney Development.” The deal fell through, however. One story is that Disney wanted to increase the price of fries from ten to fifteen cents and keep the five-cent profit for himself. To that, Kroc said no.

McDonalds 1990s logo (US Public Domain)
In full charge of the McDonald’s chain with the golden arches, Kroc tweaked the assembly line method further by standardizing the meals to the point that no matter where one bought their burgers and fries, they wouldn’t taste any different than another franchise even if it was across the country. Franchise owners went through a vigorous training course in “Hamburger University” at the head office in Elk Grove, Illinois, where they received certificates in “hamburgerology with a minor in French fries.” Most employees were teenagers looking for part-time jobs. All employees had to be prompt with their service, neat in appearance and courteous.

In early 1974, Kroc retired as McDonald’s CEO and bought the San Diego Padres at a steal for $12 million, once he heard they were planning a move to Washington, D.C. (after five disappointing years in the majors on the West Coast). Although they lost 102 games to only 60 wins in 1974, the Padres attracted a million fans for the first time in their franchise and increased their attendance for the next several years, peaking at 1.6 million twice and 1.5 million on three other occasions, without really being that good on the field. Their best season was 84-78 in 1978, the first time seeing 1.6 million fans.

Ray Kroc died of a heart attack in San Diego on January 14, 1984 at the age of 81. At that time, he had a personal wealth of $500 million. Not bad for someone who had never finished basic school. Instead, he established his own success by attending the school of hard knocks. “I guess to be an entrepreneur you have to have a large ego, enormous pride,” he once said, “and an ability to inspire others to follow your lead.”

Upon his death, McDonald’s had 8,000 restaurants in the United States and 33 other countries. Global sales were $8 billion in 1983. Kroc passed away a year too soon because the Padres had their best year in 1984: They won 92 games, attracted 1.9 million hometown fans, took the National League pennant, and fought their way to the World Series, only to lose in five games to the American League Detroit Tigers.

I remember when McDonald’s came to my hometown of Regina, Saskatchewan in the early 1970s. Their radio and TV ads got right to point: Get this, you could buy their basic burger, fries, and a drink and still get change back from your dollar. Tell that to kids nowadays and hear their reaction.

Today, 30,000 fast-food McDonald’s outlets are in more than 100 countries, with about 15 percent company owned. Most make an average yearly profit of between half-a-million to a million dollars.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017


The LA Dodgers—led by dual aces Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale—moved into their new 56,000-seat stadium in 1962. Despite a strong season, the Dodgers hit hard luck leading into the postseason, blowing a lead to the San Francisco Giants and facing them in a three-game playoff for the NL pennant.

Read this article on [ The National Pastime Museum ]

Monday, 2 October 2017


The best characters have come from the sport of baseball. We’ve seen some classic nicknames in the game, such as The Babe, The Duke, Yogi, Hack, Casey, Dizzy, Daffy, and Satchell, to name only a few. So why not some quotes and funny phrases associated with the many characters--nicknamed or not--who have brought the sport so alive over the decades? 

1952 Bowman Gum card of Casey Stengel
(US Public Domain)
Let’s start with Casey Stengel, nicknamed “The Ol’ Professor.” Before managing the Yankees for 12 years from 1949-1960, Casey had managed nine uneventful years in the majors--with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves--without taking either team past fifth place. Lo and behold, with the Yankees he won 10 American League pennants and seven World Series and was a newspaperman’s delight at home and on the roadStarting in 1949, he couldn’t believe the talent handed to him on a silver platter, compliments of his shrewd GM George Weiss. “The Yankees don’t pay me to win every game, just two out of three, he liked to say. 

On one occasion, Stengel slid alongside a player and said, “I don’t know if you know this or not, but one of us has been traded to Kansas City.” Stengel also said of infielder Bobby Richardson early in the youngster’s  career: “This guy doesn’t drink, smoke or chew, and he still can’t hit .250.” 

Upon being fired by the Yankees after losing the seventh game of the World Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Stengel was told by upper management that he was too old at 70 to stay on as the team’s manager. At a crowded press conference, following his dismissal, Stengel said: “I’ll never make the mistake of being 70 again.” 

For a dozen or so years after breaking the color line in 1947, Dodger Jackie Robinson would 
often voice his opinion on the Yankees avoiding integration, although they had won five championships in a row from 1949-1953 without any blacks. Following the 1952 World Series in which the Yankees beat the Dodgers in seven games, Robinson had trouble at the plate against the Yankees’ powerful ace Allie Reynolds, a pitcher of part-Cherokee heritage. Stengel’s response: “Before Mr. Robinson complains about racism, he should learn how to hit an Indian.” 

During the 1920s and early 1930s, slugger Babe Ruth was the biggest star in baseball and he wanted to be paid accordingly for his talents and drawing power around the majors. In 1932, the third year of the Great Depression, he was a holdout during contract negotiations with the Yankees
, something he always made a habit of on previous occasions. He finally settled on $80,000 for the season. A New York reporter was shocked: “Why, that’s more than Hoover gets for being the President of the United States!” But Ruth had the perfect answer: “What the hell has Hoover got to do with this? Anyway, I had a better year.” 

1936 World Wide Gum card of Dizzy Dean
(US Public Domain)

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Dizzy Dean was another character. During the fourth game of 1934 World Series against the Detroit TigersDean was dinged in the head by a throw while he was running into second to break up a double play, and was not knocked out cold. Taken to the hospital for treatment, the St. Louis headlines next day read: “X-rays of Dean’s head reveals nothing.” Dean admitted later that his head was too hard to be hurt by any mere baseball. Another time, when facing a particular rookie batter, Dean yelled from the mound, “Son, what kind of pitch would you like to miss?” He also said, “They’ll never be another me.” 

Yankees’ not-so-handsome catcher Yogi Berra was in a class by himself, on and off the field. Some of his monumental quotes were: 

--“You can observe a lot by watching.” 
--“Ninety percent of hitting is physical. The other half is mental.” 
--At a banquet: “I’d like to thank all those who made this night necessary.” 
--When introduced to famous writer Ernest Hemingway, Berra asked what newspaper he worked for. 
--“So I’m ugly. So what? I never saw anyone hit with his face.” 

A favorite Berra quote of mine is the time that Berra flunked a high school exam that left the dismayed teacher asking Yogi: “Mr. Berra, don’t you know anything?” To which the shrugging Berra replied, “I don’t even suspect anything.” 

Another personal favorite relates to Florida spring training one year when Berra arrived at a team banquet wearing a fashionable light-tan-colored Panama suit complete with a wide-brimmed fedora. The Miami mayor’s wife took notice enough to praise the catcher by saying, “You look really cool, Mr. Berra.” Berra answered, “You don’t look so hot yourself.”  

Yogi’s son, Dale, a major leaguer himself, got into the act with his own tongue-in-cheek comment: “Our similarities are different.” 

Exhibit Card of Yogi Berra,
Exhibit Supply Co of Chicago
(US Public Domain)
One of Yogi Berra’s pitchers, southpaw White Ford, especially enjoyed spring training, but for a different reason. And it had to do with physical activity. “The way to make coaches think you’re in shape in the spring,” Ford used to say, “is to get a good tan.” 

The knuckleball is one of those pitches hard to hit, as well as hard to catch. Two mediocre catchers from the past knew the pitch well. Charlie Lau said, “There are two theories on hitting the knuckleball. Unfortunately, neither of them works.” Bob Uecker, in particularhad a tough time hanging on to the knuckleball once it was thrown his way. “The best way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until the ball stops rolling, then pick it up, was his advice. 

As a Cleveland Indian, ageless pitching great Satchell Paige said, “I never threw an illegal pitch. The trouble is, once in a while I tossed one that ain’t never been seen in this generation.” His teammate, pitcher Bob Lemon, probably spoke for many a major leaguer by uttering, “I never took the game home with me. I always left it in some bar.” 

Dizzy Dean’s opinion of Satchell in the 1930s, while Dean was a Cardinal and Paige was pitching in the Negro Leagues: “If Satch and I were pitching on the same team, we’d cinch the pennant by July 4 and go fishing until the World Series.” 

powerful slugger Hack Wilson could not have found a better place to his liking than to play in Chicago during the Roaring Twenties when Prohibition was at its height. The team paid him well, and Wilson loved beer and whiskey. A lot. And he seemed to prefer Al Capone’s speakeasies. Asked by a reporter one day if he was ever drunk before a game, he replied, “I never played drunk. Hungover, yes. Drunk, no.” But, he was still known to hit well even with a head-banging hangover. “When I see three balls,” he said, “I just swing at the middle one.” 

Jim Brosnan wrote two great first-person 
baseball books, both in diary form as the season went along. One was Pennant Racehis day-to-day evaluation of his Cincinnati Reds in 1961 as they won the National League pennant raceWhile other players enjoyed drinking beer and running around, he enjoyed the money. His classic line was: “Cashing checks makes me delirious with joy.” 

As for 
another manager comment, Sparky Anderson may have spoken for all dugout skippers when he said, “A baseball manager is a necessary evil.” 

I’ll end with Detroit Tiger great Charlie Gehringer and how h
e evaluated the great game of baseball. “Us ballplayers do things backward. First we play, then we retire and go to work.” 

Despite baseball being big business, it’s still
 a game: and oftentimes a funny one.