Wednesday, July 14, 2010

George Steinbrenner and the Newfoundland Yankees

I'm filling in for Bill Rowe as host of VOCM's afternoon radio call-in show, Backtalk, for the month of July, followed by a week standing in for Randy Simms as host of Open Line. Each day I'll post the show's monologue, which I prepare in advance.


Good afternoon Newfoundland and Labrador and all the ships at sea.

Let’s begin today in the United States and the late George Steinbrenner.

The owner of the fabled New York Yankees died this week in Florida of a heart attack.

Most people are probably familiar with The Boss, as Steinbrenner was known, from the long-running comedy Seinfeld.

Steinbrenner was featured in a number of hysterical plotlines on the sitcom, although the character was never seen from the front — and wasn't played by Steinbrenner himself.

Why do I bring up George Steinbrenner, God rest his baseball soul?

What connection could he possibly have with Newfoundland and Labrador?

Well, this world is a small place.

I’ve got a New York Yankees ball cap signed by Steinbrenner, and an interesting story on how I came to get it.

My parents and brothers went on a Florida vacation around 1990, and they stayed at a hotel in Tampa.

The hotel happened to be owned by George Steinbrenner.

My brothers, who were just kids at the time, were walking around the hotel lobby with Blue Jays caps on.

Steinbrenner saw my brothers and told one of his employees to get the Blue Jays hats off those boys.

So a man ran and got two Yankee caps and Steinbrenner signed the bibs..

But the story doesn’t end there.

My mother only remembered LATER that I loved the Yankees, their ball caps anyway.

She spotted Steinbrenner in the hotel restaurant later with two women and she sent my youngest brother to approach him about a hat for me.

My brother interrupted Steinbrenner’s dinner with a request for another autographed cap.

My brother’s always been brazen.

Steinbrenner didn’t look too happy, but one of the women who was with him asked where he was from.

My brother said Newfoundland, and the woman said her brother was on the Truxton.

Of course, the Truxton and the Pollux were two American navy ships that went down near St. Lawrence in February 1942, killing 203 American soldiers.

George got another hat from his private collection and signed it for me.

And that’s how I came to own a Yankees hate signed by George Steinbrenner.

Like I said, small world — and we’re all connected.

If you have a Steinbrenner story to tell, and it’s more than possible, call into the show.


Of course, Newfoundland and Labrador has another connection to New York City.

Hydro from Labrador’s upper Churchill project powers half of the northeastern seaboard — including, most likely, Yankee Stadium.

The Danny Williams administration has been trying to get the lower Churchill project off the ground for years.

There’s still no word on how the power will get to market, or which way the power will get there.

Either directly through Quebec, or the so-called Anglo Saxon Route, backtracking Labrador hydro across the Strait of Belle Isle to Newfoundland, and then down the island and across the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

We don’t have any power markets lined up just yet either, as far as I know.

But that hasn’t stopped the Danny Williams administration from releasing a benefits strategy today for the lower Churchill construction project.

The opportunities are supposedly enormous.

We’re talking 21.5 million person hours of construction employment on the two hydro developments that make up the lower Churchill project — Gull Island and Muskrat Falls.

And the transmission link from Labrador to Newfoundland.

Plus another 6.5 million in engineering and project management work.

It’s one massive project, one that the Williams administration describes as “the most attractive, undeveloped hydro project in North America.”

But Newfoundland and Labrador governments have been trying to get the lower Churchill project off the ground for decades.

Do you think we’re any closer to getting the project off the ground today?

I’d love to see it, but Quebec isn’t doing us any favours.

Neither is the Government of Canada in terms of implementing a national energy grid.

Your thoughts are welcome.


Let’s stick with politics for a moment.

There’s a story out of Ottawa today about how dozens of sitting MPs are collecting pensions on top of their political salaries.

According to the Canadian Press, 48 of Canada’s 308 Members of Parliament take home pensions, in addition to their political salaries of almost $158,000 a year.

In 31 of those cases, the pensions are coming from governments — including two from the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Newfoundland and Labrador pays pensions to two MPs and former MHAs — Liberal Judy Foote and New Democrat Jack Harris.

VOCM has an interesting question of the day on its website: Should Members of Parliament be allowed to top up their salaries with pensions?

Last I looked more than 80 per cent of respondents said no — MPs should not be allowed to top up their $158,000-a-year salaries with other government pensions.

What do you think?

You could argue that MPs like Judy Foote and Jack Harris earned their provincial MHA pensions.

Why shouldn’t they collect what they’ve earned?


I see that the City of St. John’s has released its tourism figures for 2009.

Last year the capital city played host to 922,000 visitors, more than 60 per cent of whom were from out of province.

Those 922,000 visitors brought nearly $327 million into the city.

Yet so many people are against the spending of $19 million to make George Street a night and day destination.

I have no problem with it — I’ve seen what’s been done to places like Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

What do you think?


I was watching the CBC supper hour TV news last night and I took note of the top 2 stories.

The first story was about the court appearance of a central Newfoundland man who had reported being shot, but, in fact, had made up the story.

The second story off the top of the news was about garbage being dumped at Bowring Park in St. John’s.

Broken picnic tables and beer bottles thrown in the swimming pool.

As serious crime goes, Newfoundland and Labrador isn’t exactly riddled with it.

I went for a walk last evening in Bowring Park, and it was lovely.

The Fighting Newfoundlander is my favourite statue.

I dropped by the amphitheatre as well, nothing unusual, except for the three young men smoking weed.

If you have any suggestion on how to clean up places like Bowring Park.

Clean up in terms of crime, please call.


Still with tourists.

It’s summer and, as usual, car-rental companies are having trouble keeping pace with the demand.

Car rental companies have supposedly expanded their fleets, and are still selling out for the peak of the season.

One of the keys is to book ahead, and to shop around.

If you want to talk about car rentals, you know where to call.

Just don’t call from your car.


Tourists often visit Newfoundland and Labrador to see the icebergs, but there haven’t been made this year.

Loads of whales. Loads and loads of whales.

But not many icebergs.

Did you know that 90 per cent of Newfoundland icebergs originate from Western Greenland?

I got that little tidbit from Steven Bruneau’s book, Icebergs of Newfoundland and Labrador.

There’s a story today in the national news about the Greenland glacier that’s believed to have given birth to the iceberg that sank the Titanic.

The same iceberg has calved another massive chuck of ice that’s expected to eventually drift our way.

The chuck is about seven-square-kilometres.

So keep an eye out — especially if you happen to be sailing on a Titanic-sized vessel.

Are there many icebergs off Twillingate this year?

Any at all?


Still with the sea.

The front-page story in today’s Telegram is about the crab fishery.

About how much of the crab fishery is closed today, but 15 per cent of the quota remains uncaught, remains in the water.

Depending on whom you ask, the problem was either that fishermen didn't start fishing until a month after the season opened, because of a price dispute, or maybe it's simply because there weren't enough crab in the water.

It’s feared some fishermen could go bankrupt.

Keep in mind that crab is the backbone of the fishing industry.

Is crab yet another declining resource?

Because that’s the fear.

I remember when the cod fisheries closed in the early 1990s.

There was fear then about the transfer of effort.

That the fishing effort that had been directed at cod would shift to other species, and there would essentially be a domino effect with one species falling after another.

Is that the case with crab?


There’s an interesting letter to the editor in today’s paper about caplin.

David Boyd of Twillingate writes about how the fishery needs true competition.

How fishermen should be allowed to sell their catches to outside buyers.

Fish buyers from outside Newfoundland and Labrador.

David Boyd points out how this year’s caplin fishery has a negotiated top price of 8 cents a pound.

Although he hears some fishermen are being paid 3 and 4 cents a pound.

Twenty years ago, David Boyd said he was paid 85 cents a pound for caplin.

But back then there was still some competition among fish merchants.

He says competition needs to be brought back into the fishery now.

David Boyd also says we need the harvesting licenses taken away from processors.

Without free enterprise and meaningful competition, fisherman David Boyd says the fishery will cease to exist within 20 years — becoming the exclusive property of a half-dozen fish merchants.

Do you agree with that statement?


As for what the fishery of the future will look like.

More specifically, the restructuring process.

Fisheries Minister Clyde Jackman says an update on the MOU between processors, the fish union, and the province will be coming later this week.

He will then meet with federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea in PEI on Friday.

Jackman says Ottawa won’t be kicking in hundreds of millions of dollars towards fishery restructuring.

And neither can the province.

The one consistent complaint I’m hearing about the MOU process is how ordinary Newfoundlanders and Labradorians — and the communities themselves — aren’t involved in the process.

Shouldn’t everyone in the outports have a say about their future?

Do you think you’re having a say?

From my perspective, I think the Fogo Island Co-op would be a good economic model for the fishery of the future.

With communities and the people in them controlling the quotas and harvesting and processing.

Controlling their own destiny.

I don’t hear any talk of that, though.


I want to end off my opening with an e-mail that was sent to me.

There’s been a lot of talk on this show this week about homelessness.

About how there’s a shortage of low-income housing, an 18th-month wait to get into a Newfoundland and Labrador Housing unit.

Some women are staying at the Corner Brook shelter, for example, because they have no where else to go.

They say government should do more to help them.

This lady sent me an e-mail. She asked that her name not be used.

“I am a women who divorced many years ago, and I then had to live on $80.00 month after apartment and bills were paid.”

The lady goes on to say she got a job and scrimped and saved until she had a down payment for a house.

She lost her job and went back to school. She made many sacrifices, and didn’t ask government for anything.

This is a direct quote:

“I had to learn to stand on my own two feet. I will say it has made me a stronger and better person.”

Is that good advice for all of us?

Maybe we should take a page from our ancestors and do more for ourselves.

The Backtalk lines are open.

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