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Jim Thielman

Breckenridge, Minn., native Jim Thielman has worked at newspapers in Minnesota and Florida. As a journalist, Thielman covered the Minnesota Twins from 1977 until 1993. He also reported from events such as the National Football Conference Championship, the British and U.S. Opens, Rose Bowl, Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game, postseason playoffs and World Series. The internationally published freelance writer's partial but eclectic list of topics includes halal, transfer pricing, window washers, Oberammergau, wood preservation, mycotoxins, civil war statues and bird flu. And Muhammad Ali. Thielman's post-journalism jobs have been communications positions with the Minnesota House of Representatives, University of Minnesota, Cargill Inc., General Mills Inc., a Fortune 500 technology company and a law firm. He is the author of the book “Cool of the Evening: The 1965 Minnesota Twins.”

JIM THIELMAN — Opening Day: It’s Greek To Me

Dunno why, but for the past half-century, Major League Baseball has missed the fun-filled opportunity to have Don Demeter throw out the first pitch of each season.

Don Demeter.
Don Demeter.

The lanky, giraffe-necked Oklahoman will be 83 this year and retired from baseball for 50 years. It’s not as if he couldn’t have been capably handling this chore.

If you’re not starting to see the high-brow angle to this already, read on.

Every kid who struggled through a Greek Lit class knows the it-happens-every-spring tale of Demeter, goddess of the harvest and agriculture.

Demeter was sort of like former Minnesota Twins’ outfielder Delmon Young. Delmon caught baseballs as if he had a shovel for a glove.

Harvest and Ag queen Demeter also had the bad hands, if you want to look at her story in baseball terms. Which we can. It’s not as if we’re dealing with facts here. It’s Greek Lit.

So the official scorer gave Demeter an E-8 (error, centerfielder) when she bobbled daughter Peresphone, sending her tumbling into the hands of underworld Greek god Hades. Hades then carried Persephone to the hoary netherworld, which I envision to be a place with an Embers on every block and no parking.

Demeter went chasing after Persephone, much in the manner in which Delmon once turned outs into doubles in the left-field corner of Target Field. While Demeter was chasing Persephone amidst a chorus of boos, crops were dying and winter arrived in Athens. Although snowfall was generally limited to the city’s northern suburbs.

Eventually, Demeter worked out what is essentially a player-to-be-named later deal with Hades, who turned agreeable largely because he was Demeter’s brother. He gave her halfsies on Persephone.

So spring is when Demeter gets custody of Persephone. That’s when stuff blossoms and people forget about things like “what could have been” for former Vikings’ quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Umpires yell, “Play ball!” A yelp that should come after Don Demeter tosses a baseball to christen the season.

Demeter retired from baseball at age 32 in 1967. Seven men have been commissioner of baseball since, yet the 6-foot-4 string bean doesn’t get a call to toss out the first pitch of the season?

What the hell.

Don Demeter, it’s only fair to mention, was a much better fielder than the Greek version.

From late 1962 to the middle of ’65, Don Demeter didn’t make an error. That’s 266 games. And when it ended, it was because of a dog.

Trained to run a fresh second base out to the grounds crew, the pup was mistakenly let loose after a ball was hit to Demeter. The dog arrived at Dick McAuliffe about the same time Demeter’s throw came in. The ball went between the shortstop’s legs for an error.

Really, you can look it up.

This whole Greek-baseball thing has numerous possibilities.

In Greek mythology, the spirits of heroes and season-ticket holders were sent to another plane of existence called Elysium, or Elysian Fields. Elysian Fields in Hoboken, N.J., is believed to be the site of the first organized baseball game in 1845.

This gives Hoboken a claim to something other than Frank Sinatra.

Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins in his catching days.
Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins in his catching days.

Which brings us to Jack Daniel’s. Sinatra’s favorite booze was Jack Daniel’s. Sinatra, in fact, put the brand on the map.

There is no better way to salute the opening of baseball season today than by pouring a Jack a la Frank: Over four ice cubes in an old-fashioned glass, splashed with a little water (Sinatra’s body guards would tell bartenders, “Don’t make it too strong. He don’t like it that way”).

Then raise that glass to Don Demeter, a man unjustly forgotten.

JIM THIELMAN — A Sharp Razor Might Take The Edge Off These Days

When winter was packing a punch, the man would be outside Thielman’s Barber Shop sitting in a car, motor idling. On summer mornings, he’d likely be in a suit standing by the door, probably smoking a heater.

The picture window was more for looking in than out in small-town barbershops. A barber’s best advertisement to the world was what was going on inside.
The picture window was more for looking in than out in small-town barbershops. A barber’s best advertisement to the world was what was going on inside.

Dad arrived, either in cold darkness or dewy early dawn, unlocked the door, flicked on the lights and knew what to do on those days. He reached through a bewilderment of scissors, electric hair clippers, talc and lotions and picked up the straight-edged razor.

Sometimes the man outside was a banker, up early, breaking a routine. Or it might be a farmer, braking a mammoth truck outside the shop’s picture window, stopping on his way to unloading grain. Maybe it was a retired guy who was treating himself to another day without a boss.

This was a rural town set in the rich farmland of the Red River Valley. It was the 1960s, when a man had the option of squinting into the bathroom mirror and dragging a safety razor over his phiz. He didn’t need to be too steady. Progress had removed the trauma of shaving yourself.

But often enough someone would appear, eager to be tilted back in a barber chair, soon to find only his nose popping out from the cocoon of a steaming, white towel.

After that shave — warm lather, massage — he’d stroll away clean featured with a feeling measured in troy ounces. Maybe he’d think about the days of speakeasies, gangsters, shoesshine stands and Al Capone, who plays a role in every barber’s favorite shave story.

Capone was getting a shave in a small town, Dad said. Capone warned the barber not to nick him with the razor. The barber was unaffected. He shaved Capone, flawlessly, massaged a little witch hazel into Al’s face and popped the barber chair upright.

“What would you have done had you nicked me?” Capone asked.

The barber said, “I would have finished the job.”

Dad finally lost the fight to keep the grin off his face, which would have telegraphed his doubt of the yarn.

Dad, whose birth anniversary is this Saturday, tolerated my shenanigans the way that Boo-Boo Bear put up with Yogi. He didn’t protest when I decided we should make a film called “Razor.” Super 8. It was the ’70s.

We had a golf film in the can: “You’re Away.”  It was ad-libs with one scripted line. Turned out, Dad had a rare talent for ad-libs. Not so much for scripted lines. We did about three takes on that one line before we decided it was never going to get much better.

In “Razor,” it was just Dad, explaining the dying art of sharpening the delicate blade of a barber’s classic straight edge razor. These were expensive, ivory-handled beauties. If you can find a barber shave today, I imagine those instruments are disposable. Everything reusable today gives you leprosy.

Al Thielman demonstrates honing a straight-edge razor in this still from the film “Razor.”
Al Thielman demonstrates honing a straight-edge razor in this still from the film “Razor.”

Dad showed how he sharpened the blade on the razor straps that now hang in our downstairs bathroom. He used a honing stone and displayed the complicated “back honing” task under his commentary.  He tested the blade on a hair when he finished.

Then he looked at the camera with an ad-lib that seemed to defeat the point of the film but instead underscored it. “I don’t even know why I’m doing this because I don’t shave anymore. Nobody gets shaves anymore. Everybody has electric razors and safety razors. And so, that’s it.”

Someone has said the best thing about the good old days is they’re not here anymore. I largely agree but dissented the other morning.

I swiped a blue plastic disposable razor over my face in the shower while listening to the world crumble on MPR and decided the planet might be a better place if — with an artful shave in a barber chair — every guy slowed the merry-go-round once in a while.

JIM THIELMAN: So You’ve Been Asked To Write A Eulogy — Now What?

It’s always summer. A few days until the Fourth of July in a small Minnesota town surrounded by lakes.

For nearly 50 years, that was the setting each time I thought of my cousin, Dave. So I had the beginning written when I was invited to do his eulogy.

Even though I never considered myself for this role, I didn’t hesitate to accept. That reaction was puzzling. First of all, I never owned a couch until I was 40. If you don’t want the responsibility of owning a couch, you probably shouldn’t have the responsibility of doing a eulogy. Then there was this: I never paid much attention to eulogies.

For most of my life, funerals have been, well, funereal. Today, there seems to be a little more New Orleans jazz funeral celebration to these goodbyes.

So that was the guide: Write a eulogy that Dave wouldn’t have walked out on. He was a fun guy. And a dignified guy.

Hitting both marks seemed way too easy. That should have been a red flag.

Figuring it can’t be that easy, I considered Google. I decided against it.

If there was a prescription for this kind of thing, I envisioned a lot of protocol and stern advice. Those can’t be good for anyone.

The key, I concluded, was to have conversations with people. I’d been a journalist. Wasn’t this mere reporting?

I had written a couple of drafts before I spoke with one of Dave’s former students. The eulogy was OK at that point. OK wasn’t going to be good enough for a guy who would be standing in a packed church and had never given a speech.

She gave me the money part of the eulogy. I knew I was set. But it still needed a few wisps.

Long ago, I learned to keep people talking when they say, “I’m not sure I have anything to add.”

A cousin conceded he had nothing to offer, then recalled a Great Dane. It was a small bit, but it contrasted with something Dave’s wife had said. I’d use the Great Dane line.

Dave was a music man. Yet another cousin said they spent an entire summer together as youths. Neither he nor Dave had any interest in music. He recalled a piano that was never played.

Loved that image of the dusty piano. And the little mystery. When did musical notes start clicking in Dave’s head? None of us would ever know.

After the funeral, I did an internet search of eulogies. There’s plenty of advice out there. Glad I didn’t read any of it.

Some of the advice focused on what a big responsibility this is. Geez. Who needs that kind of pressure? No article said anything about the table scraps of a Great Dane story having value.

If you must give a eulogy, don’t Google how to do it. It’s pointillism. A lot of little dots on a canvas. After a few drafts, you step back and have Seurat’s Sunday on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Or so it seems.

What the audience wants is some comfort and honesty. Laughter is good. They’re not setting the bar high.

I wasn’t prepared for the beginning or the end. I learned the service opened with my eulogy about 10 minutes before it began.

“I’m the warm-up act?”

Shortly after I began, they laughed in a spot I wrote as slightly amusing character development.

Fortunately, I’d read that Jack Benny was admired as a comedian as much for this timing as material. He knew not to walk on that audience.

I waited for them to quit laughing as I thought, “I’m really going to have to wait after I get to this one part.” I knew it was hilarious. It got no reaction. So I pushed on.

When I met the priest, he noticed the first page of my laser-printed eulogy had pen edits. Told him I couldn’t help myself when it came to rewriting.

He said he gave three sermons a day, noted what didn’t work in the first one and rewrote for the second. Again for the third.

“So the early service is off-Broadway?” I asked?

What I didn’t consider was the end. Silence. I didn’t expect applause. Didn’t know if the priest was supposed to walk to the lectern and take over the joint.

Oops.

So I methodically gathered my 10 pages and exited stage left. Was it the right thing to do? Too late. I was doing it. Told myself, “I’m sure this is fine. I doubt anyone else here has given much thought to eulogies, either.”

* * *

 

JIM THIELMAN: Happiest Cat Ever Born Dies

On a peaceful, moonlit, October night in 1999, Bob the Remarkable Cat coiled around a gravely ill feral kitten. Bob was in little better shape. His long tail was a mysterious stub and a gash decorated his left side. Threads of gangrene had begun weaving through him.

A dust of stars scattered when dawn broke on the outskirts of Detroit Lakes, Minn. Bob, 4 months, uncurled. The kitten was dead, and fate was thinking about slipping a Mickey to Bob.

Exhausted from a timely surgery and in the clasp of a strange new life, Bob slept in a sedan’s back seat during the entire 200-mile drive to his new home in Long Lake, Minn.

Bob shrugged off the twist and tear of his early days to spend the next 18 years as “the most laid-back cat I’ve ever seen,” a neighbor observed as Bob calmly watched fireworks flash overhead on one of Bob’s July 4 birthdays.

A solidly muscled orange and white tabby with dashing good looks, Bob delighted in beachcombing through wildlife-tumbled lakeshore brush or chewing kale that had floated to the kitchen floor.

Bob’s body died Monday,

Intestinal cancer was the cause, according to Harper Mingus, his friend of seven years.

With considerable swagger, talkative Bob was known to pad his white paws toward strangers and chat them up, often during his evening walks on the Luce Line Trail behind his home.

One afternoon, he visited a carpenter who was banging a hammer on a neighbor’s deck. Swathed in sunlight, Bob high-stepped toward the detonations.

“I’ve never seen a cat come up to a stranger with a hammer in his hand,” the man said.

Another time, Bob sent currents of communication through a cat-averse insurance salesman who said, “Bob gives cats a good name.”

Not that you want to win over too many insurance salesmen.

Bob’s stubby tail was a topic for all.

“Bob insisted that he had a short tail because when they were handing out tails he left the line to go back for another helping of personality,” Harper said.

“Bob told me that his endless thirst for people was because that short tail couldn’t hold much love, so he had to keep searching for more.”

“I suppose he really just didn’t want to talk about the tail.”

Bob alone knew what had happened.

Mistreatment seemed unlikely. Fearlessness of people had saved his life.

That was when Bob approached a stranger who was standing near a truck at a Detroit Lakes gas station. Bob verbalized his imperiled situation as, “Can you help me?” Young Bob didn’t hesitate when he heard, “Hop in.”

Bob soon arrived in Long Lake, where he cherished sisters, Alvy, Wilma and Croucher, each of whom preceded him in death, along with everyone else who has ever died.

Unlike his sisters, later to include Harper and Rikki, Bob resisted outdoor supervision.

“I caught a couple of birds. Mice. Pounced on one on a fall night when it was pitch black, and chased a rabbit toward a busy county road,” Bob said when interviewed for this obituary in 2013.

“The rabbit stopped in thick brush under a tall pine tree rather than cross the road, or I probably wouldn’t be here to tell you about it.”

As he tore deeper into his nine lives, it was decided that spring-loaded Bob needed a leash. Bob took subsequent walks in a harness. Soon, other neighborhood cats were seen on leashes.

“People would approach me and say, ‘Is that a dog?'” Bob said.

“Were they blind? But I guess I am loyal as any dog. That slowwitted guy with the leash and I are the best pals in the history of the universe.”

One evening, Bob taught the slow-witted guy that he was just humoring him about the harness.

Tied to a tree, a fuse was struck when Harley the neighboring Rhodesian ridgeback/pit bull mix galloped toward Bob with questionable intent.

Bob Houdinied out of his harness and flashed his snowy white paws up his deck steps and plastered his claws into the front-door screen 6 feet above the welcome mat.

Bob was chaser, chasee and savior. He not only had comforted that dying kitten in Detroit Lakes, Bob’s fidelity was on display when the independent, ailing Croucher Mingus was preparing to fly through the universe. He kept vigil at the foot of her bed during her last nights on earth.

The peaceable little fellow also stood over a motherless, baby squirrel struggling for life in the shade of a pine tree one bright Sunday afternoon until someone with opposable thumbs arrived to drive it to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.

Weeks later, Bob received a letter informing him the squirrel was outside doing squirrel things.

Asked to reflect on his life, Bob said, “Every day was great. Soon as the stars faded into day I’d wedge my nose between the shades and window and hope to see the sun bouncing off the green of the grass. I ate that grass most every day in the summer.”

“Puked it up more often than not.”

“I’ve lived in two different centuries spanning three decades. By a lake. For a while with some white lab mice and a sugar glider. Most people don’t even know what a sugar glider is.

“You might think that I was a throwaway kitty who loved life because I got a second chance. But I was always a high-fiving ball of optimism. Surviving those early days just let more people see that I was the happiest cat ever born.”

JIM THIELMAN: What I Didn’t Know About Uncle Hugo

Dad looked at the clock one night and said, “It was Hugo’s birthday today. I should have called him.”

He was closest to Hugo, his oldest brother. (Hugo, left, and Dad, pictured above).

“I feel a little bad about that.”

It was only about 9 o’clock, but that was it. Truly, it was that thought that counted.

Eldo, Waldo, Otto, Hugo (from left) and Leo (front).
Eldo, Waldo, Otto, Hugo (from left) and Leo (front).

Dad and his four brothers were mainly the same guy. With almost the same name: Eldo, Waldo, Hugo, Leo and Otto. They were farm boys of equivalent lithe statures and quick smiles. Never a guffaw.

Hugo owned the first garage door opener I saw. Demonstrating it one summer Sunday, he mentioned he had just installed one for a neighbor in his small North Dakota town.

Could Hugo’s remote open that garage door? Dad asked.

Hugo looked at his opener. Shrugged. Grinned. “Get in the car.”

The guy was in a lawn-mowing trance as Hugo’s convertible slid by.

Hugo clicked.

The door opened.

The guy stopped pushing as his mind worked. He looked down, saw us from the corner of his eye and laughed.

Small-town entertainment in the 1960s, before anyone considered the implication of a single radio frequency.

As is typical with uncles, it was mostly fun. You left and their lives stopped until the next 50-mile trip. Or so it seemed.

Decades after the garage door adventure, I settled into a folding chair at the last available set of white plastic forks and knives at uncle Otto’s 75th wedding anniversary. A retired bank president and his wife were on my right on a golden autumn day with no wind and plenty of sun outside the town hall in a tiny North Dakota burg.

A person must sprint well past 80 to achieve a 75th wedding anniversary. Otto and Aunt Ann were each 95. Hugo and Dad had shed their mortal coils.

Hugo and Otto had owned a hardware/electronics store in this town of 1,000.

Me, on the boat Hugo built. Made of wood. A cousin of mine and I wish we still had that boat.
Me, on the boat Hugo built. Made of wood. A cousin of mine and I wish we still had that boat.

Repairmen drove to your house to fix your set in those cowboy-and-Indian TV days. Hugo was the man who appeared to make your furniture talk again. He had learned the trade through a correspondence course. Hugo was an electronics maestro.

He had constructed his own home stereo system in the days of cathode ray tubes. The rambler’s astonishingly long basement featured a shuffleboard court and archery corridor. He placed audio speakers throughout the ceiling. The sound sparkled.

I walked into the town’s high school gym to shoot baskets one Sunday as hotdish and Jell-O with grapes in it flowed at a family reunion outside. Dust swirled in streams of daylight that filtered in from high, narrow windows. Between the streaks of light stood Hugo, scanning the ceiling and his memories. He eventually revealed he had fashioned the entire sound system.

It was Hugo at age 77 who pulled me through when I struggled to install a poorly labeled car stereo system. You can do a lot with a little knowledge and a 9-volt battery.

They had little formal education.

So I reminisced with the retired bank president as we ate our meals at Otto and Ann’s 75th anniversary on a beautiful day in Lidgerwood, N.D. The banker was dressed a tad better than some of the locals and had maybe seen a little more of the world. But he was still a small-town guy who shopped at JCPenneys.

He reflected on how it was rough starting out in the ’60s, just making ends meet with a wife, a kid on the way.

Color TV had arrived, and their old black and white was on the express to electronics hell. Hugo appeared to announce a verdict.

Thielman’s Hardware had received some color TVs. Hugo told the banker that these color sets were the thing. The future bank president said he couldn’t afford something like that. “I was just hoping to keep my job.”

“I’ll bring one by and you try it while I look at your set,” Hugo said.

“No,” said the banker. “I know if you bring that thing here I’ll never want to give it back. But I can’t afford it.”

The retired banker looked at me. He was a gray-haired man with his wife by his side and a condo in Florida.

He confessed to the allure of Technicolor.

“Hugo came over the next day to take my set to the shop, and he had a new color TV in the back of his truck. He said he’d look at my set, but it wasn’t in very good shape, and I could use this one while he looked at mine.

“I told him again I couldn’t pay for it.

“Your uncle,” the banker nudged my arm lightly with the back of his hand, “told me that was OK, that I’d really like this set. And if I wanted it I could pay him what I could, when I could.

“Gosh, once we got that TV, my wife and I couldn’t give it up. Your uncle didn’t care what I paid him each week, but I paid him $5 a week until I had paid it off. Some weeks that $5 was a little hard to scrape up.”

He dug into a fork full of potato salad. Swallowed. Looked over at the table where my aunt and uncle sat.

“I wouldn’t miss Otto’s anniversary.

“Those Thielman boys, they were something special.”

JIM THIELMAN: What’s The ‘Rush,’ Paul Ryan?

Do we have video?

“Rushed.” By ambulance? Usually “rushed” in a headline suggests dire health issues. Which, I guess, dovetails with the topic of health care.

Or do you see him in more of a sprint? Capitol to White House. That’s like a 2-mile run. I think the world record for the now-defunct 2-mile run is about 8 minutes. And I’m betting that guy was a Kenyan. Who would no longer be allowed in the U.S., unless I miss my guess.

Paul Ryan is a 40-something guy from Janesville, Wis. I don’t see Paul Ryan getting to the White House in under 12 minutes.

First of all, that’s going to ruin a good suit.

Second of all, in today’s information age, 12 minutes isn’t really a rush. It’s a news cycle.

I’d like to have seen him on a Zamboni. That would be great. Rushing from Congress to the White House on a Zamboni.

We need a Congressional Zamboni in this nation.

JIM THIELMAN: Did Whack To Hand Cost Cubs ’45 Series?

Hitler was barely dead when the Chicago Cubs lost the 1945 Series to Detroit in seven games. The analog clock has stood still for the Cubs since.

Until now.

So with the Cubs headed to the World Series, you’ll hear some names. Like Phil Cavarretta. He was the National League Most Valuable Player in 1945 and the original “Mr. Cub,” long before Ernie Banks.

As with the other Cubs from the 1945 World Series, Cavarretta is gone. Light-hitting shortstop Lenny Merullo was the last to go, in 2014 at age 97. Cavarretta, a very good baseball player, died in 2010. He’d be 100 this year.

He’s got something to say.

Naw, he didn’t speak to me from “the other side.” Which is where you really want the departed speaking from. If they are going to.

He was 68 when the Cubs were threatening to enter the 1984 World Series. Before Chicago came up short that year, I made a landline call to his Florida retirement home. Which was just fine. I was a sportswriter: License to intrude.

I wanted to know if indeed that 1945 World Series was bad as history says. It’s said by some to be the worst.

That opinion is punctuated by the famous story of of Chicago sportswriter Warren Brown. Asked if the Tigers or Cubs would win the first Series game, Brown said, “I don’t think either of them can win.”

Phil — normally you use a last name here, but from one conversation 32 years ago he still seems like a pal — said he thought writers were trying to “be on the smart side” when they ripped the play in the ’45 Series.

“I get very upset with those statements,” said the man who played 22 years in the majors, 20 of them with the Cubs.

He was in the Major Leagues soon after he graduated from the high school he attended near Wrigley Field.  He debuted with the Cubs at age 18. That year, 1935, he played in the first of three — count ‘em, Cubs’ fans, three — World Series.

Phil listed his ’45 Series opponents in his attempts to defend the quality of play that October. The Tigers had future Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg and Hal Newhouser, along with Virgil Trucks and Dizzy Trout.

“For someone to say something like that about the ’45 Series, he might have had to be upset about his room reservations or something. You know, during the war, travel wasn’t too good. I guess he figured, ‘well, we might as well take it out on those guys.’ ”

“The war was bad, and we knew that,” Phil said. “It wasn’t easy, let me put it that way. Transportation was the main thing after the war because trains were being used for service people, who were No. 1. Hotel reservations were kind of hard to come by. And we kind of had a minor food problem. Which I presume is to be expected during a war.”

If the first postwar Series featured bad teams, attendance didn’t reflect that. The seven games drew 333,457. A record $1.5 million gate. Each Cub got a little less than four grand. In 1945, you could pay cash for a new house with about four grand.

Aside from the payday, it was a good World Series for Phil. He hit .423. That led everyone.

It was not so good for Cubs fans. They could have left the Series finale early. Chicago trailed 5-0 after a half inning at Wrigley Field.

Phil said there is an untold story there. It involves another name that is likely to surface next week. That would be Game 7 starting pitcher Hank Borowy. He was the last Cub pitcher to lose a World Series game. And win one. And lose one. That’s right. Borowy had the last three World Series decisions for the Cubs.

Followers of baseball know the recurring story. Midseason, the New York Yankees pick up a veteran or two for the second half. In ’45, the Cubs were the buyers. They picked up 29-year-old Borowy, the Yankees’ best pitcher, for future considerations. Yankee fans thought that might end up being Phil Cavarretta. Instead, it was $100,000 cash.

Borowy won the ‘45 Series opener, going nine innings. He lost Game 5. He was the winner in four innings of relief in Game 6. He started the finale and made it through only three batters.

That’s a lot of work for a man. Even back when pitchers completed 18 games a season, as Borowy did in ‘45.

Borowy had pitched in Games 5 and 6 before a day off. Why did he start Game 7 rather than Claude Passeau? Passeau was a 17-game winner who, at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, was bigger and had pitched less than the frail-looking 6-foot, 170-pound Borowy.

“That’s a story that’s very seldom been printed,” Phil said.

Passeau started the 12-inning Cubs’ Game 6 win. “He got hit with a line drive to his pitching hand, and therefore was unable to come back and start Game 7. It was unfortunate,” Phil said.

“But you figure maybe Hank can give you four or five good innings and then go to your bullpen. He was just tired. I believe if Passeau was able to pitch, we’d a won.”

In ’84, The Cubs won 96 games. The playoffs — the Cubs blew a 3-0 lead in the final game of the National League Championship Series — hadn’t started when I called Phil. I tried to reach Borowy, too. But even the Cubs couldn’t get him to call back.

“I guess he’s just a crusty old-timer who doesn’t want to be bothered,” a Cubs public relations guy told me.

So before I said goodbye, I wondered if Phil was unhappy about his loss of privacy.  I couldn’t be the only one calling.

“Like you say, there’s been a lot of ’em lately,” he said. “But boy, it’s nice to be remembered.”

You’re remembered again, Phil. And your Cubs are knockin’ on heaven’s door.

JIM THIELMAN: In This Election, It’s Not Him, It’s Me

To this day, I have no idea about Dad’s political leanings. When you run a business in a small town, you don’t want to give people a reason to find another place to do business, he said.

Dad’s response to political comments was, “Oh? Is that so?” A well-chosen phrase that suggests both surprise and agreement to someone immersed in their own viewpoint.

It was a diplomacy that belied Dad’s eighth-grade education. A civility lacking in this presidential campaign.

One year, I asked for whom he planned to vote.

Undecided.

Sound strategy. He didn’t want me telling friends. And maybe the kid will just let it go.

When I didn’t let it go and asked him who he had voted for, he told me that voting was a private affair. Like how much money you had. There were some things a man kept to himself.

Dad had a bit of homespun Andy Taylor of Mayberry in him. Teach a lesson subtly.

He’d tell me some World War II stories. Always the fun ones. Like how he was friends with the cooks and would sneak down to the mess now and then after dark for a little extra food, maybe a shot of whiskey that he had hidden in a Coke bottle, and poker.

A natural diplomat.

Dad had a sound fiscal policy. He sent his paycheck to his mother to invest. What little money he needed on board a ship in the Pacific he made playing poker.

When once again a younger shipmate’s pay didn’t last past the first poker game, Dad laid it out. “You’re no good at this game. Why don’t you save your money?”

Who cares about money? I might never make it out of here, the kid said.

“Why don’t you send your pay back to your mother?” Dad advised. “If you do make it out of here, you’ll have something to get started when you get home. If you don’t make it, your mother will have a little something from you.” The story was meant to tell me to have a plan, I later realized.

I was getting to be about 10 when I asked him for another war story.

“Jimmy, I’ve told you all the war stories I’m going to tell you.”

Smacked me like a baseball bat. Didn’t expect that. I got the message.

It’s the people who have been in war who don’t want another.

Dad was 33 when he enlisted. A little old for a World War II volunteer. He chose the Navy. Said he wanted to have a clean place to sleep.

Like his four brothers, he was big on being scrubbed up and dressed well, even though they were farm boys.

He didn’t marry until he was 43. Who would want a lifelong bachelor at that age?

But around the house, he did some of the 1960s “women’s” chores, except cooking, and all of the men’s work. Mom would have done the Monday laundry from the barber shop. But he did that.

When one of Mom’s widowed friends married a widower, the man confided in Dad that, “Now I’ve got someone to cook for me.”

Dad told me the story and added, “Don’t tell your mother that. It will bother her.”

But why tell me?

Another Andy of Mayberry moment. I was in my 20s and involved. His way of saying, “Don’t expect women to do stuff for you.”

He could make a sandwich. In his last years as a barber, he had no employees. He ate at work. He’d “make a lunch” before bedtime and put the paper bag in the fridge. Mom would have done it, but he didn’t ask her.

It’s no mystery why women liked him.

Dad died 26 years ago this month. He was cool but never knew it. Which made him so cool that he made Sinatra look like Wally Cox.

A year after Dad left the Navy — where he contracted malaria between being shot at in air, on land and on sea — Donald Trump was born.

My Dad didn’t act like Trump in the 1960s. So I can’t identify Trump’s approach to people in 2016.

The golf clubhouse Dad changed in had some metal lockers, community showers and Clubman aftershave. They talked about cars, sports and weather. I can’t even identify with Donald Trump’s locker room. Let alone the locker room talk. If it existed.

In the 18 years I lived at home, Dad took two weeks of vacation. So I can’t identify with Donald Trump’s preternatural sense of entitlement.

Donald Trump could never identify with my Dad. Or me.

I can’t identify with him.

JIM THIELMAN: Muhammad Ali Called Me An Idiot, And It Was Great

I had just turned 26 when Muhammad Ali came to WFMC. World Famous Mayo Clinic. It was a deadline press conference held in a bland, beige conference room at the Kahler Hotel in Rochester, Minn.

At any major press conference today, there is sponsorship signage in the background and lecterns adorned with expensively researched brand logos. “Tell the agency to make the dot on the ‘i’ a little less red.”

In 1980 Rochester, this press conference was held in a room with chairs. A room in which Ali would call me an idiot.

The assignment was no big deal. I started working at The Forum in Fargo, N.D., when I was in college. Covered the Minnesota Vikings’ path to their last Super Bowl at 22. In a blink, I had gone from a high school kid idolizing athletes to knowing they were just people. Sometimes unpleasant people.

I expected nothing of Ali. Then the door to my left opened.

It could just as well been the ceremonial opening of the Ark in the climactic scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” with shards of light bouncing around the room.

He wasn’t four steps into a room of high windows and 75 murmuring people when I said, quietly, “Whoa.”

For years, the bio on my web site has read:

[Jim counts] interviewing Muhammad Ali at the top of his list of famous folks he has met.

“The minute he walked into the room there was an aura that skittered over the rooftop, clattered down the drainpipe and jiggled around your shoes like Jell-O, if you’ll pardon the cliché.

“Walter Payton? Sandy Koufax? John Wooden? Payne Stewart? I never met anyone else who projected whatever it was Ali had.”

Ali was making a comeback in 1980 after a brief retirement. He was trumpeting his trip to Mayo Clinic to assure the world that rumblings of his health having sprung a leak were just rumors.

That 1980 story about Ali read, in part:

“Ali appeared relaxed, almost docile when he opened the press conference. … But when a reporter asked why he should take a chance on getting hurt, he came to life, radiating confidence and arousing the crowd.

“Me, get hurt? Me, get hurt? …

“What are you, the local Howard Cosell? Howard Cosell gets paid to be an idiot. What’s your excuse?”

I had stood to ask my questions. I did not sit back down.

When he burst to life, I didn’t turn my head to look at the crowd. I looked at him. Some of the assembled did click into my peripheral vision. They were in collective recoil, as if inching away after someone had stuck a bottle of unappealing perfume under their noses.

I started to grin and could not stop. It was all a show. I had no idea that terrific show would play in my head a couple of times a year for decades.

When Ali finished, I asked him if he really needed the millions of dollars that he would make from this little rumble with Larry Holmes.

Instead of getting defensive, Ali did what he’d be doing for years: Answered unconventionally.

“Yeah, I need the money. What’s wrong with needing money? Everyone needs money. Washington, D.C., needs money. The Pentagon needs money.”

He then segued into touting his health, explaining that Mayo doctors “had me on the table for hours. Like Frankenstein. With wires sticking in me.”

When it was over, he posed for photos. I headed back to write my story. At age 26, I figured someone with such a double-barreled luminous aura would come along again.

I’m still waiting.