22  Jan
Great Debates…

For generations, sports enthusiasts have waged war concerning who may lay claim as the greatest athlete of all-time in their respective activity. Whether discussing Baseball, Basketball or Boxing, armchair athletes and barstool prophets alike all seem to have an affinity for a certain historical figure, male or female. Perhaps it is the countless years of doubtful debates in which I have partaken, and overheard both public and in private that have given rise to my own attempt to settle the score once and for all, using examples from my two favourite sports. Bear in mind that although these are indeed erudite opinions, they are nonetheless only opinions. 

Baseball
Barring irrational bias, the greatest all-around Baseball player to date remains the man they called The Georgia Peach – Tyrus Raymond Cobb. Ty Cobb played professional Baseball during the so-called “Dead-Ball Era” from 1905 until 1928 for the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Athletics. Known for his notoriously ferocious nature both on and off the field, Cobb still holds many records, including a lifetime batting average of .367 – the highest in Major League Baseball history, a staggering 54 steals of home and a dozen batting championships. Consider Cobb’s incredible 4,191 base hits – a record which stood for fifty-seven years until it was surpassed by the equally infamous Pete Rose, and one can clearly see that Ty Cobb was a competitor absolutely incomparable to contemporary heroes. Interestingly enough, one may also consider that Pete Rose, who retired with a record 4,256 base hits, accomplished this by taking 2,624 more at-bats than Cobb, and that despite his alleged alcoholism, racism and womanizing, Ty Cobb accomplished his legendary feats in an age completely untainted by performance-enhancing substances. In a word, Cobb couldn’t have used steroids if he wanted to, as they did not exist. 

However, what Baseball fans have seemingly loved the most for generations is the very thing that brings them to the ballparks in droves: The homerun. So, who is the greatest long-ball hitter of all-time? Many agree that he is possibly Baseball’s greatest pitcher of all-time as well. He was born in Baltimore, Maryland more than a century ago, and his name was George Herman Ruth – Better known as “The Babe”. Babe Ruth was born unto hard times and worse domestic circumstances in 1895. His parents owned brothels and saloons, and with little time for young George, at the age of seven, he was committed to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, a Catholic reformatory and orphanage in Baltimore. In spite of his obviously difficult childhood, Babe Ruth became an icon of Americana and sport on a global scale. Prior to becoming the undisputed colossus of clout, he spent the first five years of his professional career pitching for the Boston Red Sox, amassing an impressive record of 94 wins, 46 losses and a miniscule 2.28 earned run average. Although he very rarely got to bat during the first quarter of his career due to his pitching duties, Ruth retired having amassed a stunning 714 homeruns from 8,398 at-bats. Already, many readers must be saying to themselves: “But what about Hank Aaron, who hit 755 round-trippers in his illustrious and lengthy career?” Also, Barry Bonds is Baseball’s reigning “Homerun King” with 762 and counting. Well, let us ponder the following… 

Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron played professional Baseball from 1954 until 1976, first with the Milwaukee Braves who later relocated to Atlanta, before ending his career where he started, this time for the newly-formed Milwaukee Brewers. During this time, Aaron had many successful seasons both offensively and defensively, and subsequently earned a deserving place in the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York. However, despite his obvious talents, Hank Aaron, a power hitter not entirely unlike Ruth, certainly should have amassed many more homeruns, as he went to bat on an incredible 3,966 more occasions. That’s right – Hank Aaron had nearly four thousand more opportunities to hit than Ruth did, and yet he hit only 41 more homeruns. This means that Aaron hit a homerun barely one percent of the time (0.0103% to be exact) during those additional at-bats…Hardly an impressive statistic. Let us also consider the farce that has become Barry Bonds, again, Baseball’s current “Homerun King”. Barry Bonds has been cited several times for his blatant disregard for the customs and rules of Major League Baseball, having been caught via scientific analysis more than once for utilizing performance enhancing substances such as human growth hormone and anabolic steroids. As I have often stated: If we place an asterisk beside the name of Roger Maris for hitting 61 homeruns during the 1961 Baseball season, eclipsing Babe Ruth’s then-record of 60 as Maris played eight more games that year, shouldn’t we do the same for Barry Bonds and all other players caught cheating? Perhaps their asterisk could bear the notation “Steroid Enhanced Achievement.” In addition to this, Bonds has also had many more at-bats to date than Ruth and played in countless more games – All serving as further evidence of Babe Ruth’s supremacy as the greatest homerun hitter of the 20th Century, and perhaps the greatest we will ever see. 

Hockey
The winter season in Canada is indeed very much the converse of our summer. It brings us sports possessed of skills such as coordination, toughness and speed but rather dissimilar to that of Baseball – Sports such as the great Canadian game: Ice Hockey. Professional Hockey has been played in Canada and indeed globally since the late 19th Century, with Stanley Cup competition beginning in 1893 when the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association first laid claim to the former Governor General’s prized silver bowl. 

In the decades since that first championship team, heroes have risen and fallen like the setting sun. Early stars such as Joe Malone, Howie Morenz and Eddie Shore thrilled fans and brought millions more to arenas and taverns around the world to hear of their adventures, and learn of these early goal scoring phenoms. But, who is the greatest goal scorer of all-time? Much like Baseball’s offensive talents, Hockey has had its share of great players at each position, each worthy of close examination. However, the accomplishments of an individual player or their record perhaps best serve as a testament to their talents. Consider Wayne Gretzky’s remarkable 50 Goals in 39 Games during the National Hockey Leagues’ 1981-82 season. Entering the 38th game of that year, Gretzky had scored 41 times. Little did people know that he would go on to score nine goals in the next two games to reach the fifty goal mark by the end of his thirty-ninth game! Previously, only Maurice “Rocket” Richard and Mike Bossy had reached the 50 Goal mark in 50 Games, with both men taking the full fifty games to do so. As this effort had been the standard for decades now, to score as many goals in fewer games was nearly unthinkable. However, Gretzky, still in the early days of his Hall of Fame career once again proved the validity of his nickname “The Great One”, scoring four goals in the 38th game of that year, and then a staggering five goals against the Philadelphia Flyers two nights later. Several other players, each of whom have enjoyed Hall of Fame careers in the NHL have reached the 50-in-50 milestone to date, including Brett Hull, Mario Lemieux and Cam Neely. Of the six players in the entire history of the National Hockey League to accomplish this awesome feat; none have done so in the same fashion as Gretzky. When a record can be set in less time, where there is no question of falsification or an unfair advantage attained by a player, this may indeed be considered a new milestone. A youthful Wayne Gretzky of Brantford, Ontario amassed a remarkable 92 Goals that season, a record which may indeed stand for all-time. 

While offensive efforts may be the more exciting aspect of the game, it is said that defensive teams win championships. This has been evidenced by the many great goaltenders who have anchored dynastic teams of the past. Gerry Cheevers won two Stanley Cups in three years with Boston, Bernie Parent won back-to-back championships with Philadelphia, Ken Dryden backstopped the Montreal Canadiens to four consecutive Stanley Cup titles from 1976 to 1979, and Billy Smith did the same for the New York Islanders immediately after, ending their legendary run in 1983. The same could be said for the duo of Andy Moog and Grant Fuhr of the Edmonton Oilers, had it not been for Steve Smith’s infamous own-goal against Calgary in 1986, which ended the Oilers’ run of what would have been four or perhaps five successive Stanley Cup Championships. In short, great goaltending and defensive efforts win championships. To that end, it is relatively safe to say that Martin Brodeur may indeed be the greatest goaltender in National Hockey League history, as he is poised to surpass the two most hallowed records for any goaltender this season: Most career wins (551) and most career shutouts (103). 

Although currently completing rehabilitation for his ailing left arm, Brodeur is still well on course to establish new career marks for wins and shutouts, in fewer games than the current record holders, Hockey Hall of Fame inductees Patrick Roy and Terry Sawchuk. If Brodeur can maintain his pace, he will undoubtedly surpass these records and continue on to establish new benchmarks for all future goalies, evidence of his place in professional sporting folklore.  It is the legitimate efforts of the few, great athletes in each generation that give rise to thoughts such as those you have just read. Again, these are merely my opinions, learned and researched as they may be. These matters will likely remain open to debate for generations more to come, much as they have thus far. Perhaps it is dwindling remnants of childhood naivety that leave me listless and longing for genuine heroes, and not over-promoted, over-zealous, over-credited athletes whose trials and tribulations make more headlines than their triumphs.

August Says:  As predicted, months after the above piece was written, and following his triumphant return to action from major arm surgery, Martin Brodeur has eclipsed Patrick Roy to become the winningest goaltender in National Hockey League history, despite having played significantly fewer games. How fitting it is that Brodeur tied Roy’s hallowed record of 551 career wins with the latter in attendance at Montreal, Brodeur’s birthplace and hometown. In his next game, Brodeur set a new standard with 552 wins and counting on home ice at New Jersey, on St. Patrick’s Day. Funny…The fall of “St. Patrick” as Montreal fans have called him for decades could not have happened on a better day.

What can I say? August Donnelly knows Hockey!

Posted by August Donnelly, filed under . Date: January 22, 2009, 7:30 pm | 3 Comments »

The last thing I wish is for my intervallic narrative The Grind to be remembered as a sports-oriented, digital rant. However, given the markedly unpleasant winter weather of late, and my stereotypically Canadian affinity for Ice Hockey, I offer the following: With the New Year upon us, the National Hockey League’s 2008-09 schedule has reached its midway point. Many teams have played the role of giant killer thus far, but this year, one group in particular has stood head and shoulders above the rest. As a team with whom I have emblematically lived and died since childhood, the Boston Bruins have realized their best start in decades, perhaps boasting a stronger roster than the Boston teams of 1988 and 1990, who reached the Stanley Cup Finals only to lose to the legendary Edmonton Oilers of that era.  Following seemingly effortless victories of late, Boston has further affirmed their legitimacy as a contemporary contender. The team has improved their performance of late to an incredible ten consecutive wins, a feat which very few teams accomplish during the course of any season. Boston has not only scored more goals than any other team to date, but also allowed fewer than all of their rivals. Although Hockey experts and fans alike may disagree, I suggest the following as my reason for the Bruins’ great success this season, which currently places them atop the entire league of thirty teams with a remarkable 29-5-4 standing – Exceptional goaltending combined with the fervor of youth. 

The 2008-09 season has blessed Boston with what has undoubtedly become their best goaltending tandem since the stellar performances of Andy Moog and Reggie Lemelin two decades ago. The current duo of Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez has thus far produced spectacular results, with records of 16-3-3 and 13-2-1 respectively. In addition to this, not only are the Boston goaltenders winning three quarters of their outings, they aren’t allowing the opposition much of an opportunity to score. Both Thomas and Fernandez boast impressive statistics in relation to their ability to put themselves between the puck and the goal line at present. Tim Thomas has shown that he is most certainly the league’s premier net-minder going into the New Year, boasting a miniscule 1.83 goals-against average, combined with a nearly flawless save percentage of 95.2%. Observing the rapid reflexes of Number 30, the stocky frame of Tim Thomas provides a sense of prowess and perhaps nostalgia, reminiscent of a young Gerry Cheevers. Lest we forget that Manny Fernandez is certainly no slouch as Boston’s backup, with a goals-against average of 2.02 and a save percentage of 93.6%.   As mentioned, in addition to superlative goaltending, the Boston Bruins have been endowed with the splendor of youth. Players such as Patrice Bergeron, Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic, Chuck Kobasew, David Krejci and Michael Ryder are all scoring at a rate of approximately one point per game this year, and all have yet to reach their thirtieth birthday. Such is the sort of production necessary for any successful franchise, and how intimidating it is for the opposition when they consider that these players have yet to enter their prime!  Although it is impossible to foretell the future, it certainly does look bright for the youthful Bruins. As a lifelong supporter of this squad, I have to say with sincerity that this is the most exciting team Boston has assembled in many years, in this, their 84th season in the National Hockey League. I imagine I will remain confident as per usual throughout the regular season, until the first place Boston Bruins are once again forced to face their nemesis, the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This is a bitter reality for Boston; a match-up which has occurred thirty-one times to date, of which Boston has lost twenty-four.

August Says:  Exactly as predicted at this time of this article, the Boston Bruins, following their best season in more than twenty years have finished in first place, surpassing the 100-point plateau for the 18th time in franchise history. Lamentably, Boston is now set to face the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs starting April 16, 2009 Their 32nd post-season meeting.

This charade has become the bane of my existence.     

 

Posted by August Donnelly, filed under . Date: January 1, 2009, 9:45 pm | 1 Comment »

Perhaps the prolonged time away from my computer, enjoying the pleasant months of summer is to blame for my delay in writing another edition of The Grind for my beloved readers. For this I must apologize. As you must know by now, I enjoy filling my space on the World Wide Web with thoughts and tirades as much as some of you enjoy reading them. Again, it is the summer that makes me think of one of my favorite pastimes – Baseball. Although the exact origin of this sport will likely never be discovered, one thing is certain: It is more than merely a game. Variations of the game began appearing all over Southern Canada and the Northern United States in the period around 1840. Whether we believe the most plausible tale that history lends us, and cite Beachville, Ontario as being the birthplace of Baseball on June 4, 1838, or we concede that perhaps it really is the great American pastime, first played the following year at Cooperstown, New York in 1839, one thing is undeniable: It is indeed a diversion unlike any other. After all, many readers may question why it is that I have neglected to mention Abner Doubleday, or the site of Hoboken, New Jersey, or the year 1846. Well, one must do their homework, so to speak. Abner Doubleday himself admitted more than once, that he was at West Point Military Academy in 1839 and had not been to Cooperstown since the year before. Therefore he could not have been present for any game in Elihu Phinney’s cow pasture that summer. Such is the nature of history. Given enough time, fact and fiction often become one and the same.

Traditionally, the modern game of Baseball is said to have its roots in various stick and ball games such as Cricket and Rounders, but still, we cannot be certain. After all, Rounders is said to have first been played under formal regulations in 1884, many years after Baseball had become a recognized, professional sport. Cricket however, with origins dating back to 16th Century England and other such games are far more likely candidates as the predecessors of Baseball, especially when one considers the overwhelming percentage of American and Canadian persons of British ancestry.  Regardless, the heritage sign at Beachville proclaiming the site as host to the first recorded game of Baseball is not without merit. The game played there in June of 1838 was a popular one at the time. Known as “Town-Ball”, despite using five bases, rather than the usual four, the rules were nearly identical to that of the early games of “Base”, which historians know for certain is the forerunner to the modern day game. Shrouded in mystery and folklore since its inception, it is the only game played at an organized, professional level where the defensive players maintain control of the ball, and its greatest heroes fail to hit safely seventy percent of the time.

My home of London, Ontario can even lay documented claim to a significant portion of this storied history. The London Tecumsehs were a professional Baseball team founded in 1868, who played their home games on the grounds that comprise Victoria Park today. After several years of local businesses lamenting their broken windows and the noise associated with the sport, in 1877 the Tecumsehs found a new home at 25 Wilson Avenue. We now know this address as Labatt Park – The oldest Baseball Stadium in continual use, anywhere in the world. Even the Guinness Record folks think so. That same year, the London Tecumsehs defeated the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, now known as the Pittsburgh Pirates, to win the International Association Baseball Pennant. In doing so, they became the first professional championship team in Canadian history. That same title contest would become known as the World Series in 1903, and the next Canadian team to lay claim to it would not appear until 1992, known as the Toronto Blue Jays. So, with such nostalgia associated with the mere nascence of this sport, it is small wonder that now, nearly two hundred years hence, we are still captivated by even the subtlest nuance. Albeit a somewhat extreme example, I give the following to whoever may read this:

For well over a century now, sports memorabilia has been a very popular commodity to say the least. Whether one likes trading cards, autographed pictures, or game-worn equipment there truly is something available to suit the preference of even the most ardent fan. To illustrate this point, one must consider that the more scarce an item is, and the more popular the athlete associated with that item is, of course, the more valuable it becomes. Such is the law of supply and demand. One of the most storied and sought-after objects in sporting history may lie in an old box or dusty closet as you read this, unbeknownst to its owner…Baseball cards have been collected, traded and enjoyed for many, many years. This is likely not a revelation, even to those persons completely disinterested in sport. However, one Baseball card has been set apart from all others for a very long time. From 1909 to 1911 the American Tobacco Company, in an effort to improve sales among their competition began inserting small Baseball cards into their cigarette packages. These cards, measuring approximately 1 ½ inches wide and 2 ½ inches tall, became the legendary 1909-11 T206 set, comprised of 524 players. Each of these cards is invariably precious today, if not for their centurial age, but also their marked dearth. Of all of the legendary players featured in this set, Ty Cobb, Napoleon Lajoie, Tris Speaker and others, one man in particular did not want his card to be issued. The great Honus Wagner insisted that his card not be distributed, as he did not want children to have to purchase cigarettes in order to obtain his likeness…Or so the story goes. It is said that Wagner was many years ahead of his time, as he was indeed a non-smoker and advocate for smoking-related illness – All of this during a time when it was thought unusual for a man not to smoke. After all, it was the height of fashion!

To date, professional authentication and grading companies have sought to obtain the highest quality memorabilia for their clients. Companies such as Beckett Grading Services of Dallas, Texas and Professional Sports Authenticator of Newport Beach, California have spent many years evaluating the quality and validity of autographs, sports cards and other such items submitted by collectors. As Honus Wagner insisted that his card be removed from the 1909-11 T206 set, very few were ever produced. Of course, fewer still were issued, and even fewer still exist now, a century later. In fact, it is thought that only fifty or so authentic 1909-11 Honus Wagner T206 cards still exist. After all, the most sought-after collectibles are always the quickest to be counterfeited. The most famous example of this card belonged for some time to Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall of the Los Angeles Kings organization. This remains the best Wagner specimen, evaluated by Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) as being in near-mint condition, or an 8 on the traditional grading scale of 1 to 10. The vast majority of professional companies utilize a ten point scale, with a grade of 1 being poor, and 10 being mint or pristine. The Honus Wagner card, which once belonged to Gretzky and McNall, sold for a staggering $2,800,000 at auction in September 2007 to an anonymous collector in California. Very few cards are ever evaluated as a perfect 10, even contemporary issues, fresh out of their packages, let alone those left to the wear and tear of decades passed. It is we the sports fans who, although perhaps not nearly insane enough to spend a fortune to own such a scarce piece of history, still appreciate its appeal. So, if you don’t have nearly three million dollars to spend on a single Baseball card, you could always attempt to purchase one of the forty-nine or so remaining Honus Wagner cards at auction, as they become available. The most recent sale occurred in May 2008, when a 1909-11 T206 Honus Wagner evaluated by Beckett, undoubtedly the leading authority in the industry was sold to another anonymous collector. After careful inspection, the card was indeed found to be authentic, lithographed in 1910 to advertize Sweet Caporal Tobacco. This card received the worst possible grade: Poor. But, it is the genuine article, and once encapsulated and appropriately documented, all was set for auction.

The price – A mere $317,250…After all, it’s only money.

1909-11 T206 Honus Wagner Sweet Caporal Tobacco

  

Posted by August Donnelly, filed under . Date: August 22, 2008, 3:05 pm | 4 Comments »

09  Jun
The Years A.D.

Despite the overwhelming rate of success concerning modern surgical procedures, on the eve of another, and hopefully final major renal operation, I find myself once again in a somewhat reflective state. It seems that times of adversity readily provide an outlet for such nostalgia. I have learned that although they may seem trivial in their nature, our hopes and aspirations really cannot be evaluated by others as to their worth or validity. I remember many times in the past how I wondered why individuals hold certain memories so dear, but it is not so much the memory itself, but the period in time of which that memory or event reminds us that warms our soul. In stating this, an example of this phenomenon readily comes to mind. I recall with vivid clarity exactly where I was seven years ago tonight. On June 9, 2001 I was seated in the first apartment I occupied after moving away from home, with two close friends, doing what many Canadians were doing that Saturday night – Watching Hockey Night in Canada on the CBC. But this was no regular broadcast. On that night, Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Raymond Bourque finally had his dream come true. After an illustrious career spanning twenty-two years in the National Hockey League, more than twenty of which he spent with the Boston Bruins, his new team, the Colorado Avalanche prevailed as Stanley Cup champions by defeating the New Jersey Devils in the seventh and deciding game of the final series. At the time, Ray was considered by many to be the greatest hockey player in history to have never won a championship, despite leading Boston to the Stanley Cup finals in both 1988 and 1990, to face the dynastic Edmonton Oilers. He now had a storybook ending to his storybook career. The highest scoring defenseman in professional hockey history finally had his name on the Stanley Cup – and with that, his career was over. History now lends the enduring image of Ray Bourque carrying the Stanley Cup around the ice to the thunderous applause of twenty thousand fans at Denver, and millions more watching via television. As a lifelong Boston fan, I will readily admit that I had tears of joy in my eyes, to finally see the man who waited so long, who played so well, and who received so little finally capture that elusive moment. It may seem silly to some that I recall that evening so well, but we often live out our days until well into adulthood before we realize the influence of a childhood dream. People may remark how fitting it is or indeed prosaic, that as a Canadian, one of my fondest memories involves hockey.

With luck, this critical operation to remove my failing left kidney will give me a chance to continue the pursuit of my own aspirations. I have been fortunate enough to accomplish much, but there is still so much left to do. The longer we live, the more cognizant we are of this. One could live a century and still die with so many things left undone. As the late Dr. Richard Carlson stated: “Your inbox will never be empty.” We merely need to find peace with accomplishing all we can and realizing that we never will do it all, so to speak. This is the nature of our finite existence in a world of infinite possibilities.

I was born on a Tuesday, in the month of August. Tomorrow is also a Tuesday. Perhaps this is a good omen in favor of a renewed life of further adventure and exploit. If I should die before I wake, let it be said of me that I was a passionate being possessed of limited talent, and infinite potential. The majority of us fall short in our endeavors, be they grand or small, as once again, this is endemic of our imperfect existence, as imperfect beings. However, I know that if and when I awaken from my chemically induced slumber, I may be short a pound of flesh literally, but not figuratively. I will know that this is merely another, indefinite period chance has granted me, during which I may fail in my efforts as an artist, entertainer and student of life, but I will certainly die trying. Regardless of what the future may hold, I know one thing for certain. Thus far, I have enjoyed what are now affectionately referred to as The Years A.D. A tremendously shrewd entrepreneur and perhaps the greatest Baseball player who ever lived explicated this concept well:

“The desire for greatness is not a sin.”  - Ty Cobb (1886 – 1961)  

August Says: How fitting that I would stumble upon this passage from The Serpent and the Rainbow - A book by renowned Harvard scholar Dr. Wade Davis earlier that same day…  

“Take surgery,” he said. “Someone is about to have an operation. What do they want to be sure of?” Before I could reply, he said, “Their surgeon? They want to know that the surgeon is qualified, but the truth is that most surgery is absolutely routine. The real liability, the hidden danger that kills hundreds of patients every year, no one even thinks about.”  

Lehman was restless, anxious to finish Kline’s thought, but Kline went on. “Anesthesia. Every time someone goes under, it is an experiment in applied pharmacology. The anesthesiologist has his formulae and his preferred chemicals, but he combines them on the spot, depending on the type of operation and the condition of the patient. Each case is unique and experimental.”  “And hazardous,” Lehman added. Kline held his empty brandy glass to the light.  

“We cloak all uncomfortable truths in euphemism,” Kline said, moving back to the table toward me. “General anesthesia is essential, often unavoidable, and always dangerous. That makes everyone, especially the physicians, uncomfortable. Hence we joke about getting knocked out, as if it were a straightforward procedure. Well, I suppose it is. Bringing someone back undamaged, however, is not.”

To that end, I once again find myself alive and well. My gratitude goes to the family and friends who visited me while in hospital, and also to those who sent along cards, email, letters and well-wishes. As a good Irishman, and in keeping with the true spirit of Murphy’s Law, I offer the following of my medical mystery tour:  Despite all going well for the most part, there were certainly some issues along the way to give cause for reasonable doubt – including a rather frightening, hallucinogenic experience with Percocet. How addicts pop those pills like Pez is beyond me. In appropriate fashion, at the end of my odyssey, I was discharged from medical supervision to enjoy a lovely June day – Friday the 13th to be exact…                     

  

Posted by August Donnelly, filed under . Date: June 9, 2008, 1:00 am | No Comments »

30  May
Alma Mater…

Gone Baby, Gone.

As the rest of the edifice became engulfed by a raging inferno, the iconic steeple of Alma College at St. Thomas, Ontario fell during the noon hour on May 28, 2008 – Marking the end of an era for the renowned site, and the conclusion of a decade long effort to save the structure, which was deemed by the federal government to be one of the ten most historically significant buildings at risk in all of Canada, as recently as 2005.

Soon after, the remainder of the impressive construction, built in the Victorian High Gothic style, was reduced to smoldering rubble. What an ironically ephemeral end for the historic landmark, which stood watch over the city it called home for a period spanning three centuries. I had the distinct privilege of being one of the last people to photograph this architectural wonder extensively, inside and out, only a few months ago. A sample of those photographs is available on The Graphs through this site. As an historian, it was following  this venture, which occupied several hours of searching through the many rooms and subterranean catacombs of Alma College, that I finally realized why this building meant so much to so many. Was Alma College haunted as so many claimed over the years? That is a question I cannot answer with any degree of certainty, but I can say that despite my analytical and often skeptical mind, there was most certainly an overwhelming magnetism which Alma College held over those who walked within its walls. This is information I have verified with others who shared similar experiences.

Closed following a faculty strike in 1988, a lack of funding found the all girls school out of business soon after. The building stood vacant for the past twenty years, despite numerous attempts to convert it into everything from a retirement home to posh condominiums. Sadly, Alma College could have easily accommodated any of the proposed plans due to its impressive size and architectural fortitude. As persons involved with Alma Heritage and the Ontario government remained largely inactive, complacency has now produced irreparable circumstances. Following my study of Alma College, I attempted to use my influence late last year, when I contacted Walt Disney Television, a division of Disney Corporation in regard to funding to save the building. Disney filmed much of their 1998 movie Mr. Headmistress at Alma College, which starred Canadian comedian Harland Williams and Katey Sagal of Married with Children. Unfortunately, I felt a bit like Michael Moore the longer I got the runaround and nothing came of my efforts, aside from Disney knowing there is a pissed-off Irishman in London and now he must be really miffed.

The longer Alma College sat vacant, more vandalism occurred, and the more expensive the restoration bill became for this marvel of masonry and woodwork, built over a three year period starting in 1878. Upon its completion, and for many years after, Alma College was irrefutably one of the most beautiful and prestigious schools in Canada, if not the world. From its inception with the inaugural class in October of 1881, the objective was clear. Alma College was to “Offer matriculation for university entrance and to provide liberal instruction to young ladies to make their lives useful and happy, and their tastes elevated and refined.” Aside from the powerful elocution of this mission statement, it may also be deemed as truly revolutionary, when one considers that young ladies being groomed for life as an academic decades before they could cast an election ballot is truly significant.

So what now for Alma College and her legacy? Two boys aged fifteen and sixteen have been arrested and arraigned for arson, however their names cannot be publicized due to terms of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. How lovely for them. Being minors, blessed to be prosecuted under Canada’s Mickey Mouse judicial system, we may never know the names and faces of these young men. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is that even if prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, that ruling could not possibly match the loss the people of St. Thomas, Ontario and Canada have endured with this terrible transgression.

Perhaps if the people of this world gave greater cause to consideration, things like this wouldn’t happen…at least not as often. Alas, maybe I truly am just an old soul who longs for more young people to have “…their lives made useful and happy, and their tastes elevated and refined.”

 

Alma College – St. Thomas, Ontario

 

 

Posted by August Donnelly, filed under . Date: May 30, 2008, 5:25 am | 7 Comments »

01  May
Video Voodoo…

In the words of George Santayana: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. The Associated Press and MSN Music staff have recently reported that Vivid Entertainment, an established manufacturer of pornography, has announced that they will be releasing a forty-year-old sex tape depicting legendary guitarist and musician Jimi Hendrix engaging in various sex acts with two women. Being a lifelong Hendrix aficionado, I have to say that I find the prospect of watching an historical figure of supreme significance, long in his grave, in the throws of passion absolutely appalling. This is especially so when one considers his tremendous contributions to the artistic world, and the tragic manner by which the youthful Jimi Hendrix died. As an advocate for freedom of publication and speech, I realize it may seem somewhat ironic to some, that I deem this material to be in rather poor taste. After all, I am sure many people consider pornography on the whole to be rather boorish.

Allow me however, the opportunity to enlighten those of you who read this.

Jimi Hendrix was born November 27, 1942 in Seattle, Washington – part African-American, part Cherokee Indian. As if his biracial heredity were not enough of a hindrance during this era, Jimi was raised solely by his father, Al Hendrix who passed away in 2002. The younger Hendrix experienced financial strife throughout his youth, which is often cited as being a great source of his shy and reclusive demeanor. He could not afford nice clothing or the other things popular in post Second World War America. In fact, his own country scoffed at the thought of Jimi becoming a household name someday, and advised him that his thoughts of becoming a musician should quickly be abandoned. However, not to be denied, Jimi found himself in London, England by 1966 and became an almost immediate success. Pete Townshend of The Who has confirmed on countless occasions, that upon seeing Jimi Hendrix perform for the first time, Eric Clapton told Townshend that he had “…seen the future of Rock & Roll, and he’s going to put us all out of business.” Jimi returned to America approximately one year later in 1967, to give a concert at the renowned Monterey Pop Festival. Jimi’s performance at Monterey is still regarded by artists and musicians around the world as one of the most influential acts in recorded history. The United States now hailed their son Jimi as a hero, despite flagrantly ostracizing him as recently as twelve months earlier.

Despite a wealth of fame and accolades, his recording career was to be brief, spanning only four years until his untimely death in London, England in September 1970. Many say that despite having just ended a European tour, Jimi ventured to his adopted home to die, perhaps of a broken heart. He had attained the admiration of millions, and it was quite often those same people who exploited him. One confirmed; posthumous report cited that by the year of his death, his management and lawyers had Jimi living on an allowance of approximately $100 per week, despite earning exponentially larger sums. The simple solution was to provide Jimi with all of the alcohol and drugs he desired, in an effort to keep him inebriated, and therefore numb to the reality of what was arguably the greatest Rock & Roll swindle.

On the morning of September 18, 1970 paramedics were dispatched to 22 Lansdowne Crescent, to the hotel room of Jimi’s girlfriend, Monika Dannemann – the last person to see Hendrix alive. Sadly, Jimi had been dead for some time. British police later determined that Hendrix had been dead for as long as several hours, from an apparent, fortuitous overdose of prescription barbiturates and red wine. Jimi had literally drowned in his own vomit, unable to awaken himself to clear his airway due to the noxious sleeping pills. Found beside the bed where Jimi lay, was what police originally thought to be a suicide note. It was soon after determined that these were in fact partial lyrics for a new song, which would have been recorded that autumn. Prophetic in their candor, these were the last recorded words of James Marshall Hendrix, written mere hours before his death:

“The story of life is quicker than the wink of an eye.
The story of love is hello and good-bye.
Until we meet again…”

Jimi Hendrix, although exalted as a God by many, was indeed a living, breathing human being, much as you or I. He indulged in sin and vice as the vast majority of us do too. However he left behind his image as an enlightened crusader for peace, having served in the U.S. Army. He advocated education and acceptance for all, above all else. He did all of this, despite the fact that he knew all too well, the significance of the Bob Dylan lyrics that he himself made famous:

“How does it feel, to be on your own, with no direction home, a complete unknown?
 Like a Rolling Stone?”

Nearly four decades after his untimely death, I think the very least we can do for a man that gave so much, and received so little, is to allow his legacy to remain one of inspiration, and not one of exploit.

 

James Marshall Hendrix (1942 – 1970)

 

Posted by August Donnelly, filed under . Date: May 1, 2008, 4:15 pm | 5 Comments »

Despite the many personal triumphs we experience in life, unfortunately, as we look back, they often seem merely an amalgam of nostalgic recollections. However, many of us are able to recall, with remarkable accuracy the poignant moments of folly in our past which have shaped who we have become at present.

I certainly hold many fond memories of my former self; however you really cannot turn back the clock. This helps me realize on a daily basis what precious little time we have. As best as I can recall, August Donnelly was born in a seedy night club during the summer of 1998. Although who I am today did not come to fruition until just a few years ago, the final years of the last century certainly provided the foundation for the man you know now. During the afore-mentioned year, a great deal of events left indelible marks on my youthful psyche. The death of my Grandfather for whom I cared deeply, the deceit and infidelity of my first serious, long-term girlfriend with whom I was very much in love, the treachery of a life-long friend with whom she sought validation, the beginnings of a lengthy battle with addiction, several chronic medical conditions and the deaths of several other loved ones certainly took their toll during the past ten years. However, now an era removed, I can say with certainty that I have courageously, although tempestuously overcome these terrible afflictions. It has taken many years to finally let go of the ghosts who haunted me, and I have no doubt in my mind that the future will hold more impediments. By no means was I required to find God, put down the bottle or join a twelve step program. I merely had to realize that when travelling at full speed, one reaches the finish line far before they would like to. I merely had to slow the fuck down. There is an old quip which states: “Live fast, die young and leave behind a handsome corpse.” I have already buried too many friends before the age of thirty to know that although this sort of reckless abandon will always carry a mysterious magnetism in modern culture; it simply isn’t conducive to a legacy of any great significance. I would rather be forever immortalized as a family man and good friend who lived well into old age, forever philosophizing concerning the evidently contrasting banality and beauty of our existence.

For those of you who know the real me, although you are few and far between, you know in your heart that I have spent years past as somewhat resentful regarding many aspects of the human condition. However I must now look back at these times with a smile, knowing that my ambition has far exceeded my talent. Rearing in an unstable environment often creates a greater appreciation for good fortune when it should happen to smile upon us. In the end, I really must thank those friends who have stayed with me through it all, the good times and the bad. In a peculiar way, I must also offer backhanded praise to those who may have attempted to hinder my progress along the way. You have merely created a more fervent fighter. Now in 2008, I no longer hold any hatred in my heart. I may never forget, but I am willing to forgive. By no means have I achieved enlightenment, but I finally understand which paths to take on such a journey. For that I have certain people to thank and I am confident that they know who they are. I have certainly made my share of mistakes, and I am likely to make more. After all, we are imperfect beings occupying an imperfect existence. Please know that my actions, past and present, good or bad have been born out of love and my sincerely passionate being. This sort of conviction often causes us to think irrationally and do foolish, often self-deprecating things. That being said, I wouldn’t change any time during the last decade for all the Tea in China.

It seems to be through emotional and psychological duress that we attain greater penitence. As I embark upon what could potentially be the single most pivotal evening of my life, I thank all of my true friends and supporters. Through reading these words, you may find that paradise lies in the understanding and appreciation of what love may do, to a gentle man born.

Posted by August Donnelly, filed under . Date: February 29, 2008, 5:28 am | 6 Comments »

Following a long overdue surgical procedure, I find myself reminded now perhaps more than ever of the vital significance of medical research and progression in our society. Allow me to enlighten those of you, whom have not as of yet heard of my enduring plight. 

Since January 2006, I have lamented an intermittent flank pain on my left side, just below my ribs. Despite addressing this concern with my family physician on several occasions, the problem was complacently dismissed as a mechanical imperfection, likely pertaining to the muscular-skeletal architecture of my body. I knew as the problem persisted however, that this was unlikely the case. Eventually, I made the association that this sporadic aching almost always followed the consumption of fluids of any kind in relatively large volume. Regardless of whether I was consuming beverages which were alcoholic, non-alcoholic or just plain water, the pain seemed to manifest shortly thereafter. This of course led me to realize that my renal function was likely compromised, which prompted me to demand to see a Nephrologist or Urologist – someone qualified to diagnose and treat afflictions of the kidney. Now, after more than two years of extensive discomfort and inconvenience, my nemesis has a name. Ureteropelvic Junction Obstruction is typically a congenital deficiency whereby the ureter, which drains fluid from away from the kidney, becomes enlarged and inflamed due to a blockage which does not permit the kidney to exhaust properly. This causes steady fluid retention, producing pain in the afflicted individual, as their swollen kidney pushes against the surrounding tissue. 

Thankfully, the staff of St. Joseph’s Healthcare London and the London Health Sciences Centre promptly addressed this issue and a surgical procedure conducted on Friday, January 11, 2008 has allowed my defective kidney to begin its long road to recovery. However, this ordeal does not come without consequence. Due to misdiagnosis and the extended duration of time during which my left kidney was under duress, there is a significant degree of irreparable, permanent damage. Only after the surgical stent I now carry internally has finished its task and the kidney has decreased in size to match its twin organ will a specialist be able to determine, with accuracy the extent of this blight. It is certain that my left kidney will never operate to maximum efficiency again, as the damaged portion may be grafted out, or alternatively, removed entirely if the loss has reached or surpassed a scope of 85% of its functionality. 

With vigor and youth on my side I may also find luck in the same. Although the prognosis is potentially grim, I find comfort in the fact that this brush with destruction will not be my undoing. It merely serves as an even greater reminder that while many of us find cause in supporting our various charities whether religious, sporting or otherwise; we should all consider supporting the one universal cause that impacts the lives of every race, creed and color. Medical intervention fortifies what was, is and always will be our one true salvation: Life as we know it.  

Amen. 

 

Posted by August Donnelly, filed under . Date: January 21, 2008, 2:45 am | 1 Comment »

06  Dec
Yule Enjoy This…

With another winter at hand, I feel the wage to express matters relevant to the forthcoming holiday season. For those readers who may deem themselves to be hypersensitive or perhaps detrimentally zealous – please do not continue reading this article. It is likely to be inflammatory and lost in its intention. With that being said, it irritates me to no end that it is now considered by many to be a social indiscretion, to refer to the time on and around December 25 as Christmas or the Christmas Holiday.

I will readily concede that I am indeed fortunate to live in a nation such as Canada and that multiculturalism is an integral facet of our national identity. After all, we were founded in a state of multiculturalism. However, despite the existence of cultural difference from moment one, we are a nation built on the backs of predominantly Christian Europeans – the English, French, German, Irish, Italian and Scottish to name the large majority. Why is it now acceptable to renounce the fundamental beliefs and ideals on which the foundation for this great nation was laid? We no longer attend Christmas parties facilitated by our employers, but rather we venture to corporate “Holiday Parties”. We now wish people “Happy Holidays” rather than the gross miscue of a “Merry Christmas”. After all, we wouldn’t want to wish a “Merry Christmas”, despite the fact that the entire reason for celebration is the supposed birth date of Jesus of Nazareth. Some of you will know this historical figure by a similar moniker: Jesus Christ. Well shit the bed! I guess that would make it Christ’s Mass now wouldn’t it? Let it be known that I also refuse to decorate a Holiday tree this year. Rather, I will gladly decorate my Christmas tree – much as my ancestors before me. You see, for me, it is not so much a matter of faith or religion, but much more a matter of principle. To that end, I would kindly invite any born-again, Christian altruist to set up shop in Egypt and observe what percentage of the Sunni Muslim populous welcomes their Holiday tree and bullshit universal sentiments. I surmise that the idea might go over about as well as a Christmas tree.

There is an ancient maxim which dictates: “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” I am blessed to have many friends of many creeds, colors, and differing religious and spiritual affiliations. Why is it that these enlightened individuals have no problem in wishing me a Merry Christmas just as I have no issue with their celebration of Hanukkah or Ramadan? Why do so many Jews, Muslims and others embrace my culture just as I acknowledge theirs while so many more arrive in Canada only to take exception to centuries of ideals and tradition? Our Royal Canadian Mounted Police have had the alternative of wearing a turban in place of the traditional Stetson hat for some years now. However I have yet to see a uniformed Sikh sporting a broad-brimmed hat. How foolish I have been to think that a uniform, a term derived from the Latin Uni meaning the same – could be accepted as such. While bombarded with gender equality and universal freedoms ad absurdum, future generations are in grave danger of fearing the Boogeyperson under their bed. Apparently the Boogeyman is no longer Kosher, as another gender wishes this macabre effigy for their own. I have an Islamic friend who actually decorates a Christmas tree in her home each year and wishes everyone she meets this time of year a Merry Christmas. Perhaps this is because she gives the average individual too much credit. She foolishly presumes that people might actually be intelligent enough to appreciate a kind sentiment, regardless of whether or not they observe that particular event. Rather, they might choose to see her gesture as an attack on their spiritual liberty. It will never cease to amaze me how a myriad of races and religions can live as neighbors for a lifetime in complete tranquility in affluent areas, while those less fortunate do nothing but perpetuate the stereotypes set before them by fostering hostilities in ghettoes the world over. Perhaps educated Muslims have better things to do than wage petty wars with their Jewish neighbors, despite how they might actually feel about their peers’ religious beliefs.

So, I invite you to light your Menorah, to fast during the ninth month of the Muslim Calendar and do whatever else you wish as it may pertain to your cultural being, whatever that may be. I take no exception to persons expressing themselves and I expect that they will take no exception to me and my ethnicity conducting ourselves in the same. This is my country, my culture and I will certainly be wishing a Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night, else we end up like poor Mr. Oakes. Read on…
 

”Ho-ho” is a no-no for store’s Santa Claus - Because it is “Offensive to Women”
 

A shop has sacked its Santa Claus for saying Ho-ho-ho. John Oakes, 70, got his marching orders after the store decreed that women might be offended because ‘ho’ is American slang for a whore. Instead, he was supposed to say Ha-ha-ha. “They’re trying to kill the spirit of Christmas.” said Mr. Oakes, who has been a Santa for ten years. He was also found guilty of singing Jingle Bells at the Myer department store in Cairns, Northern Australia. He said: “The manager told me my services were no longer required. When I asked her why, she replied, you said Ho-ho-ho and that’s not appropriate.” “Not appropriate? How long has Santa been calling Ho-ho-ho, for goodness sake?” “She also said I wasn’t supposed to sing.” A spokesman for the store insisted the elderly Santa was dismissed because of “his attitude” and not for his Ho-ho-hoing. “Our Santas are not banned from using the term”, he insisted. Mr. Oakes, who is looking for a new job as Santa, says he is prepared to sing, shout, Ho or Ha! But he draws the line at clambering down chimneys.

Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/
 

August Says: While I recognize that this event did not occur in Canada, countries like Australia and England are deemed to be the most culturally similar to our own and are nearly identical in many regards. This article serves as further elucidation of my struggle to understand the compulsion of some to ruin the tradition of many on the merit of absurdity.

Posted by August Donnelly, filed under . Date: December 6, 2007, 3:34 am | 5 Comments »

I never thought I would see the day that one of the automobiles I have cherished most over the years would depart from my collection. However, it is consolation that my pristine 1995 Ford Taurus SHO has found a good home with a well-to-do stock broker from Los Angeles, California. After many months of diligent work with my own hands and professional restoration where I was incapable, this very rare car has left Canada via Detroit, Michigan bound for the Hollywood Hills. 

The gentleman who bought my car sought me out as a car aficionado which I must admit was quite flattering as I was unaware that my radio celebrity had carried my name and persona as far as North Hollywood! After inquiring as to what was in my diminutive yet distinctive ownership, he learned of the very limited production Ford Taurus SHO model I possessed and he was determined to make me an offer. After extensive correspondence and negotiation, the gentleman in question flew aboard Southwest Airlines to Detroit from Los Angeles via Phoenix. We met, discussed the stock market and the automobile trade, and sealed a deal. I must say that he was ecstatic upon receipt of his new vehicle and I was satisfied with the evenhanded sum tendered. I believe this editorial serves as superlative proof of just how strong the cult following is for the car that so many lay drivers have regarded as nothing more than a family sedan that some fool fashioned with a body kit. Such is far from the case. 

Numbering only a few thousand relative to the more than seven million Ford Taurus cars created between 1986 and 2007, the SHO model represents less than one percent of total Taurus production. In the mid 1980s, Ford worked with the Yamaha Motor Corporation of Japan to develop a compact 60° Dual Overhead Camshaft V6 engine for transverse application. This engine was intended to power a mid-engine sports car, but that project (Known internally as GN34) was cancelled. Instead, Ford decided to place the aluminum Yamaha engine, dubbed the Super High Output or SHO into a select few Ford Taurus sedans. Interestingly enough, the word SHO means victory in Japanese. These cars came with a plethora of aesthetic and performance-related luxuries not available on other Taurus models such as full leather interior, power moon roof, premium sound, aluminum alloy wheels sitting on lowered sports suspension and dual exhaust – just to name a few. This celebrated automobile ran production for exactly one decade from 1989 to 1999. Originally equipped with a 3.0L, 24 Valve V6 which produced at least 220 horsepower, by the time my 1995 model rolled off the assembly line in Atlanta, Georgia the engine had been slightly enhanced, boasting a 3.2L V6 and 225 or more horsepower – completely stock and normally aspirated! That’s right; none of these cars were turbocharged or supercharged during assembly. 

When all was said and done, my car, which I dubbed The Green Machine (as it was both a head-turner and a money pit) put out 300 horsepower and 315 pound-feet of torque. For those of you whom are car enthusiasts like myself, you are likely aware that those statistics are very formidable for a front wheel drive family sedan! At least that’s the mistaken identity which gave the Taurus SHO its reputation as a consummate sleeper. Despite deeper pockets, I will forever be left with the image of a happy, eccentric businessman cruising along Route 66 on his way home to California, while passing cars wonder what exactly he had done to his run-of-the-mill family sedan.

1995 Ford Taurus SHO

 

 

Posted by August Donnelly, filed under . Date: November 30, 2007, 9:15 pm | 1 Comment »

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