Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Leon Randall

Back in the day - as baby boomers like to say - the golf writing around here was in the hands of Charlie Tiano, Steve Kane and Rick Remsnyder. Even after I was promoted to sports editor in 1976, I knew enough to leave golf coverage to those who had a better understanding of the game. But as sports editor, I would have been derelict in my responsibilities had I not parachuted in on occasion, particularly during the annual Herdegen tournament to crown Ulster County's best player.

Unlike in recent years, when the tournament format and rules (not necessarily the golfers themselves) gradually have been watered down, the-then 72-hole Herdegen was a true test of golf. It had the toughest standards (on and off the course) and the lowest handicappers in the county.

Which makes the accomplishments of Leon Randall all the more remarkable. You see, Randall, who died Tuesday at his retirement home in South Carolina, won the Herdegen 16 times. That's 16 times.

We gave the Herdegen a significant amount of prominence in the paper each year. It was a event unlike any other around here - regardless of the sport - and we treated it accordingly. Leon Randall,in today's vernacular, warrented rock-star status. Everybody thought so. Everybody except Leon Randall, that is.

Leon Randall was as soft-spoken and modest a man as he was an exceptional golfer.

"I never met anyone who had a perfect temperament like Leon," Jay Bertha, his longtime friend, told our Don Treat in a wonderful story in today's Freeman. "He was mild mannered and always a gentleman."

"In my life I used Leon as a role model. I wanted to emulate him," said Harvey Bostic, also a longtime friend, as well as a great golfer (and four-time Herdegen champ) in his own right.

"Leon was our Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus," said Dave Blakely, another veteran area golf standout (and perhaps the best player never to have won the Herdegen).

The list of tributes like that is endless.

Which brings me back to one of my infrequent stints as golf writer and the first time I met Leon Randall.

It was a Saturday afternoon after a Hergeden round at the Twaalfskill Club. I was looking for a column to run as a sidebar in our Sunday paper. Among other things, that meant finding something interesting and someone talkative, and getting what I needed quickly enough to write it on deadline (and still have time to put together the rest of the Sunday sports section).

I can't recall the details, but I vividly remember introducing myself to Leon Randall at the 19th hole to have him discuss what was a typically terrific round. Leon was reluctant to talk much about himself, but he patiently described his game and answered my questions, all the while trying to deflect the spotlight away from himself. That's the way he was each time we subsequently talked.

In a microcosm, he was exactly what people were saying about him Tuesday: considerate, genial, self-effacing, one-of-a-kind. I hadn't interviewed anyone quite like him up to that time in my relatively short career and I sure haven't since.

"He was more than just a great golfer," said Bryan Smith, a four-time Herdegen champ, whose late father was a contemporary and friend of Leon Randall. "He was generous, friendly and someone everyone should have met."

I'm glad I did.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Family matters

I've been touting "Ben and Kate", a new Fox sit-com and promising to tell you why.

If you haven't guessed by now, yes, I do have a rooting interest: My younger son, Matt, is a co-producer on the show, which debuts at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Matt and his writing partner Alex Cuthbertson worked on "American Dad" on Fox (one more of their scripts is being produced for this season) and "Community" on NBC before hooking up with "Ben and Kate". So, naturally, I became a "Ben and Kate" fan before most people were aware of it.

Now, with the first show set to air, I'm happy to report that "Ben and Kate" is getting first-rate reviews. And, having already seen the initial episode, I can attest to the show's promise and the likability of its main characters.

(That's Dakota Johnson - daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith - and Nat Faxon, who play the leads, in the accompanying photo.)

"Ben and Kate": try it, you'll like it.

(And please make sure the younger adults in your family are still watching "Shake It Up" and "Austin and Ally", the Disney shows for which Matt's wife, Jessica Replansky, is costume designer.

That's what's happening on the West Coast. Back East, my older son, David, successfully ran in his first half-marathon Sunday in Torrington, Conn. He has a couple of more planned this fall.

Considering that I tire just driving the distance that David ran, I'm beginning to wonder if the hospital nurse handed us the right child to bring home those many years ago.

I hope so: We've gotten quite attached to David, his wife, Jennifer, and their daughter, Elizabeth.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Talking (and screaming) heads

Here's something that won't come as a scoop: This country is seriously polarized.

Political rhetoric is at a fever pitch, perhaps more so than ever in our history. The public discourse has coarsened, which in turn has impacted the ability of elected federal officials to get things done, so fearful are they of alienating their political bases by coming to compromises.

There are plenty of reasons for why we've come to this state. A big one is what passes for commentary on cable TV and talk radio.

Veteran broadcast journalist Ted Koppel tackled the topic last night on NBC's Rock Center. Watch the clips here and here.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Lighter fare

On the notepad:

- I've been touting Fox TV's new sitcom "Ben and Kate", promising to explain at a later date. (I have suggested it's a family thing.) Two new reasons to make it must-see viewing (8:30 p.m. Tuesday starting Sept. 25): I've seen the pilot and it's truly funny, with likable, quirky characters; and Entertainment Weekly this week is calling it one of the fall season's "five best new shows."

- ESPN's Skip Bayless, a former sports columnist of note in Dallas, recently wondered on air if Derek Jeter was using a banned substance, given the Yankee captain's amazing season at age 38. "I am not saying he uses a thing," Bayless said. "I have no idea. But within the confines of his sport, it is fair for all of us, in fact you are remiss, if you don't at least think about this." Bayless took a lot of heat for his remarks, as he as for others. After all, ESPN pays him to be provocative. But I'm hard-pressed to believe that I'm the only other person in the country who's been wondering the same thing. Jeter's probably perfectly clean. But in steroid era of Major League Baseball and its aftermath, even good guys can unfairly become suspects, particularly when they're accomplishing remarkable things at an age when performances historically go downhill.

- Speaking of the Yankees, about a month ago, when they still had a sizable lead in the American League East, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine suggested they might not even make the playoffs. At the time, it was shrugged off as Bobby being Bobby. Doesn't seem so far-fetched anymore, does it?

- WFAN's Mike Francesa insists he didn't briefly fall asleep during an on-air interview the other day. Videos suggest otherwise, but OK, we'll take him at his word. That said, many listeners, me included, have long felt like nodding off when Francesa asks one of his exceedingly long questions, offers one of his repetitive opinions, or seemingly starts every other sentence with the words, "I mean ..."

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The JRC bankruptcy

If your idea of a fun vacation is completing a series of annual doctor's appointments, culminating in a colonoscopy (and all that entails, if you know what I mean), then you would have enjoyed time off with me last week.

But at least I was prepared.

What caught me off-guard at midweek was the email from Journal Register Company, the Freeman's owner, announcing it was entering Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the second time in three years.

Some vacation.

Last time JRC went Chapter 11, publishers were given a crash course in advance of the filing. It enabled us to get our arms around bankruptcy, a word that most layman mistakenly associate with always meaning "going out of business."

"No, we're not closing the doors," the JRC publishers were correctly assured. "This is a reorganization to help the parent company get out from under some of its considerable debt obligations (primarily from a couple of extravagant purchases of other newspaper companies -- including the Goodson Newspaper Group, which once owned the Freeman)."

We were told, also correctly, that the company would be in and out of bankruptcy in a relatively short time (several months) and that there'd be little if any impact on the day-to-day operations of the individual newspaper properties in the interim.

The Journal Register Company that emerged from bankruptcy had new, invigorated and innovative corporate leadership. Within months, it was turning around JRC's reputation and direction. Indeed, with its new, heralded focus on digital media, Journal Register Company became the talk of the industry ... for all the right reasons.

Staring at declines in print advertising and circulation that have engulfed newspaper companies, large and small, Journal Register Company went all-in on its newspapers' digital future. The favorable results are there to be seen on our websites, along with our mobile, iPhone and iPad (the Freeman's to be available very soon) applications. They're also evident on a variety of social media platforms. Readership of our newspapers, in print and on-line, has never been higher. And digital advertising revenue has been growing steadily. Meanwhile, long-overdue internal investments were (and are) being made to replace ancient, often inefficient computers and systems. Moreover, some of the most talented people in the media world have joined our organization.

Yet, now, here we are again, with Journal Register Company once more filing for Chapter 11. How could that happen and what does it mean to the Freeman?

I'm not in a position to speak for Journal Register Company. But that crash course to which I referred earlier provided me with enough insight offer a little in return. It corresponds both with what the company has announced to the public, and what several of us personally heard yesterday from JRC President Jeff Bairstow, and what we will hear from CEO John Paton when he, too, soon visits Kingston. (Some of his comments are reported here.)

In short -- my words, not the company's -- the last Chapter 11 filing did not succeed in shedding as much of the debt as it should have. This Chapter 11 is necessary to finish the job.

I hope it does for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that just as many people associate the word "bankruptcy" with "going out of business," like the last time, many in our community hear "bankruptcy" and "Freeman parent company," and conclude it's the Freeman that's entered Chapter 11 and will soon close. (Many in our community also incorrectly said the Freeman was going out of business when we moved our press and mailroom operations from Kingston to our sister company in Troy. But that's another story.)

The misperception of us being a newspaper on death row is as distracting as it is wrong. The Freeman has been and continues to be a successful company. The Freeman did not file Chapter 11, its parent company did. There's a difference.

That is not to say we're immune from the industry wide fiscal declines I mentioned above (and have cited any number of other times here, on radio and at local appearances). But the growth of our digital business under post-Chapter 11 Journal Register Company has renewed my confidence that the Freeman is part of a newspaper company with a smart plan for a successful future.

For the short term, we'll again have to carry the Chapter 11 stigma on our collective backs. But while the corporate experts do their thing to steer us out of that fiscal condition, we in Kingston will stick to the business at hand, which is to be the area's finest digital information source for readers and advertisers, our daily efforts culminating in a vital, complete print newspaper.