Norman Lloyd, 1914-2021

At my not-terribly-advanced-but-hardly-a-spring-chicken age, I’m starting to see more and more of my contemporaries dying. Where “58” seemed like a fairly ripe old age when I was in my twenties, it now seems more like “died way too young.” I realize that, using standards of American male life expectancy as my yardstick, I’m definitely in the last foot or so.

But then there’s Norman Lloyd.

Mr. Lloyd died yesterday at the age of 106. He was an actor, director, and producer, on stage, on radio, on film, and on television for eight decades. He worked closely with Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock. He may be best known to television viewers of my generation as the wise Dr. Auschlander in NBC’s St. Elsewhere from 1982 to 1988 (where his co-stars included Denzel Washington, Howie Mandel, Ed Begley, Jr., and John Adams himself, William Daniels).

According to his friend Dean Hargrove, who confirmed Lloyd’s death to Variety, Lloyd claimed his longevity was due to “avoiding disagreeable people.”

Now there’s some good advice. Thanks, Norman Lloyd, for an amazing life.

COVID-19 and the flu, revisited

COVID-19 isn’t the same as influenza. But the way we end up dealing with it long term may be.

As I’ve noted previously, the Rt number, representing the the average number of people who will become infected by a person infected at time “t”, is falling nearly everywhere in the U.S., due to our nation’s superior access to vaccines. (This is not happening in other parts of the world, though, which will allow the coronavirus to potentially continue to evolve into new variants over time.) Not all Americans are willing to get vaccinated, unfortunately, and it now appears that it’s unlikely we will reach the “herd immunity” numbers (whatever level that might be, since it’s inconsistent from one expert to another) if only vaccinated people are counted. (Since those who’ve already had COVID at least once also have some immunity – though it’s not clear yet how effective that is or how long it lasts compared to a vaccine – some calculations of “herd immunity” include those people, which brings us a lot closer to the typical 70 to 75 percent number.)

But as long as Rt continues to fall and remain low, many of our restrictions should be able to be relaxed or lifted. The risk will remain, especially for those who refuse to get vaccinated, but our social lives could return to something close to normal this summer.

The risk of not reaching “herd immunity,” though, is that there will still be a large number of people who potentially could contract COVID, and particularly an existing or yet-to-emerge variant that is more contagious and possibly more resistant to the existing vaccines. Our therapies for COVID patients have improved, so if there isn’t a huge spike down the road that overwhelms our healthcare system again, COVID could become endemic in a similar way to many viruses that haven’t been eradicated but are largely controlled thanks, in large part, to vaccines. This includes measles, chickenpox, and (in most years) influenza. An annual COVID shot seems likely.

The other similarity between COVID and flu, even now, is the reluctance of people to get a vaccine that promises to protect us from illnesses that, while often mild and annoying, can become serious or even deadly. Historically, only about half of Americans who could get a flu shot each year do so. Nobody likes getting the flu, which can last from hours to days or even weeks. Yet we don’t take the time to get even the partial protection offered by the seasonal flu vaccine. I’m guilty of this myself; for years, I never bothered to get the shot, not because I didn’t believe in the science, but because I didn’t think I really needed it. I was (relatively) young, healthy, and figured I’d just ride out a case of the flu if I got it. There’s a word for that: arrogant. And an even better one: stupid.

Are we absolutely sure that the various vaccines are safe in the long run? That there are no side-effects? Well, no. But I think it’s adorable how many people are suggesting that the vaccines aren’t safe who are still smoking, or overeating, or over-drinking… while also taking other over-the-counter drugs or eating packaged foods without knowing exactly what the ingredients are or how they were manufactured. We have a lot of faith in the production of our food and pharmaceuticals otherwise, and justifiably so. What’s so different about the COVID vaccines? They’re tied up, unfortunately yet inextricably, with our current political civil war.

Update on COVID statistics

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post that included a lot of maps showing the infections per 100,000 persons throughout the United States. A month ago, on April 1, Michigan was glowing white as the worst state in America for COVID infections:

COVID-19 infections per 100K persons as of April 1, 2021

Here’s where we are a month later, on May 4 (maps from covidestim.org):

COVID-19 infections per 100K persons as of May 4, 2021

The Rt number in Michigan is up slightly from April 26, from 0.68 to 0.71, while the Rt number in St. Clair County has fallen to 0.46 from an adjusted 0.54 on April 26. The estimate of those who’ve already had COVID in the county is up to 45 percent, compared to our neighboring counties of Macomb (50%), Sanilac (49%), and Lapeer (38%).

Repost: 7 Tips for New (or Returning) Cyclists

I rolled over 1,000 miles for 2021 this week (combined indoor mileage on the trainer and outdoors), and there are starting to be more people out on the local shared trails. You can tell the folks who use the trails regularly, because they tend to be more aware of other people approaching. But there are still plenty of people walking (or riding) side-by-side or entire families out for a stroll or a ride who tend to forget that they’re not the only people using the trail.

I’m not complaining. I love seeing our trails get used. But there are some etiquette tips for using the trails that can make it safer for everyone. I posted this originally last September, but here are my seven tips for new or returning cyclists:

bike helmet
Bontrager Starvos road bike helmet. This is the one I bought after my old one gave up its life for me.
  1. Wear a helmet. I know, why do I need a helmet? I’m not racing/I only ride in my neighborhood/I look stupid in a helmet (this is mostly guys and I’m pretty sure the same reason guys don’t want to wear masks). This is why: you only get one head and one brain and if you fall off your bike for any reason there’s a good chance you’ll land on your noggin, which may cause damage you won’t be happy about. Take it from me. I absent-mindedly tried to stop using only my front brakes a few years ago and went ass-over-handlebars onto the asphalt, landing on my forehead. Fortunately, I was wearing a helmet which did exactly what it was supposed to: absorbed the shock, crushing the plastic and the foam padding. I ended up with a few scrapes on my hands and one leg (and bent handlebars) but was able to ride home without even a concussion. There are lots of potential hazards that might dump you to the ground – cars backing out of driveways, children on bikes coming the other direction who aren’t great at steering, and the ever-present squirrels and rabbits, who love to change directions and try to run under your wheels. If you prefer your head to be undamaged, wear a helmet.
  2. Learn to use your brakes correctly and make sure they’re set up right. You’ll need them. As the previous story illustrates, don’t use your front brakes until after you’ve applied the rear ones. Rear, then front. Rear, then front. If your front brakes lock up by themselves you’re going to try to fly and I’m pretty sure you won’t be any better at it than I was. Also, wear a helmet.
  3. Don’t wear headphones or earbuds. You’re going to want to hear the road or trail noise, both the tranquil sounds of nature and the guy coming up on you from behind yelling, “Passing on your left! Passing on your left!” Frankly, nothing is more irritating on a trail than someone walking their dog with AirPods in who can’t hear me coming. More than once I’ve had to come to a complete stop because their dog is all over the trail and they couldn’t hear my plea to pass them. Even worse is when they hear me at the last second (I have slowed down to a crawl already), get startled, and then are angry at me for “surprising” them. Good thing I have a helmet on.
  4. Always, but always, announce that you’re going to pass someone on a trail. Walkers, runners, and fellow cyclists. Always. There are several ways to do that, including bells or horns, but I prefer a shouted “I’m on YOUR LEFT!” If they know which hand is which (not guaranteed, I admit) they have a chance to move to the opposite side. Most people are appreciative of this – some even tell me “thank you for telling me!” which makes me think not everyone does this. You can even do this with the strap of your helmet under your chin!
  5. Consider using an app to help you track your mileage. It’s a great motivator and you can often connect with other riders in your area (and worldwide) who will help support and motivate you. I have a couple of dozen cyclists in Michigan’s Thumb area who I follow on Strava and they’ve followed me back, and we give each other thumbs up on our rides. I’ve only ever met a couple of them face-to-face (though I’m pretty sure I’ve had seen a few heading the other direction on our area’s more popular trails), but it’s a great community and can be inspirational. Some of the cyclists log thousands of miles each year and it’s fun to watch their miles add up. Also, all of them wear helmets.
  6. Hydrate! One of the mistakes I made when I started cycling about ten years ago was to not drink much – if any – water when I was on a longer ride. I figured I’d lose weight by sweating off water, right? Wrong. At some point your body will start trying to protect itself if you get dehydrated and the whole fat/calorie burning process slows down. So be sure to add water to your engine when you ride. You can fill your water bottle at the same time as you’re grabbing your helmet!
  7. In case I’ve forgotten to mention it, wear a helmet.

Now’s the time to get out and ride. Start with a couple of miles and, if you’re so inclined, add a half mile each time out to push yourself. A 10- to 12-mile ride at about 10-12 mph takes, by the miracle of math, about an hour, which is a great workout. But anything shorter (or longer!) is great, too! The point is to stay active.

And wear a helmet, of course. Have fun!

Cardboard Tigers: Trucks, Veryzer, L. Walker

Sixteenth in an occasional series. Collect ’em all! I’m working through a stack of Tigers baseball cards from the late 1960s and early 1970s, with occasional newer cards.

Virgil Trucks
Virgil Trucks – 1994 Upper Deck #39

This is a special historical card produced by Upper Deck during the 1994 season, which was major league baseball’s 125th anniversary. My son was briefly interested in baseball cards around 2001 or so and traded with a friend for this one because it was a Detroit player. His interest soon faded and I ended up with his small collection, so here ya go.

Virgil Trucks was a very good pitcher for the Tigers from 1941 to 1952, and then again in 1956. He won 114 and lost 96 for Detroit, had a 3.50 ERA, and struck out 1046 batters over 1800 2/3 innings of work. He was an American League All-Star in 1949 and finished in the top 30 for MVP voting twice.

He was known, for obvious reasons, as “Fire,” and at the time this card was printed in 1994, was one of only four pitchers to throw two no-hitters in the same season. His came in 1952, no-hitting the Washington Senators on May 15 and then the Yankees on August 25. He came close to a third, one-hitting the Senators on July 22. Interestingly, Trucks only won five games total that season, finishing 5-19 on a Tigers squad that went 50-104.

The other pitchers who had two no-hitters in the same season are Johnny Vander Meer of the Reds in 1938 (and his were in consecutive games), Allie Reynolds of the Yankees in 1951, and Nolan Ryan of the Angels in 1973 (his second one came at the expense of the Tigers on July 15). In 2010, Roy Halladay of the Phillies threw a perfect game against the Marlins on May 29, then he no-hit the Reds in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. So technically, he threw two no-hitters in the same year, but not in the same regular season, but that’s quibbling. You go throw a no-hitter, then you can split hairs over records.

Halladay died in 2017 at the age of 40 after a plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico, and was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019. His lifetime stats certainly were worthy of the Hall: 203-105 record, 3.38 ERA, 2117 strikeouts. But here are Virgil Trucks’ career stats: 177-135, 3.39 ERA, 1534 strikeouts. Somewhat comparable, but Trucks only got two percent of the votes in his only appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1964. His “Hall Rating” on hallofstats.com is 82, which is short of the benchmark of 100 the site uses to determine whether someone is Hall-worthy. Halladay’s Hall Rating is 138, so his election was obviously more than just sentimentality after his untimely death.

Trucks was traded to the St. Louis Browns before the 1953 season, and then the Brownies traded him to the White Sox that June. After the 1955 season, they traded him back to the Tigers along with some guys for some other guys. From there, Detroit traded him to the Kansas City A’s before the 1957 season, and the A’s dealt him to the Yankees in June 1958. The Yankees released him during spring training the following year.

He missed the entire 1944 season and only appeared in one game in 1945 due to military service in World War II. He did, however, get to pitch in the 1945 World Series as the Tigers beat the Cubs, four game to three, to win their second championship.

Trucks’ nephew, Butch Trucks, was a drummer and a founding member of The Allman Brothers Band. Two great-nephews are also musicians: Duane Trucks, drummer for Widespread Panic; and Derek Trucks, who performs with his wife Susan Tedeschi as the Tedeschi-Trucks Band.

Virgil Trucks died in March 2013 in Calera, Alabama, at the age of 95.

Tom Veryzer
Tom Veryzer – 1976 Topps #432

Tom Veryzer was a slick-fielding, light-hitting shortstop with Detroit from 1973 to 1977. Billy Martin, who was the manager of the Tigers in 1973, called him “the best looking young shortstop I’ve ever seen.” Others compared him to Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner and predicted he would be one of the five best shortstops in major league history.

And at least in the field, they came close to being right. His career Range Factor at shortstop of 4.84 is 25th best ever. Unfortunately, his batting prowess never matched his skill with the glove. When he was called up in 1973, he mostly rode the bench behind starting shortstop Ed Brinkman. In 1974, he again spent most of the year in the minors, only appearing in 22 games with the big club. The Tigers traded Brinkman before the 1975 season and the job was Veryzer’s. He had a solid season at the plate, hitting .252 with five home runs and 48 RBI in 404 at-bats. Injuries limited him to only 97 games in 1976, then a terrible start to the 1977 season, in which he his .197 overall, found him splitting playing time with Mark Wagner and Chuck Scrivener. And when you’re losing playing time to Mark Wagner and Chuck Scrivener, the writing is on the wall.

Detroit traded him to Cleveland during the off-season, which opened the shortstop spot to a youngster named Alan Trammell. In Cleveland, Veryzer had his two best seasons, in 1978 and 1980, hitting .271 both years and playing outstanding shortstop. He finished his career with the Mets in 1982 and the Cubs in 1983-84; if the Cubs had beaten the Padres in the NLCS that year, he might have played against his old team in the World Series.

For his career, Veryzer hit .241 with 14 homers and 231 RBI. He died in July 2014 in Islip, New York, at the age of 61 after suffering a stroke.

Luke Walker
Luke Walker TRADED – 1974 Topps #612T

Luke Walker pitched for eight seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1965 to 1974, mostly as a reliever with occasional spot starts. His best season was 1970, when he went 15-6 with a 3.04 ERA and finished tenth in the NL Cy Young Award voting. In 1971, he took a no-hitter deep into a game against the Dodgers, but Joe Ferguson hit a home run (the first of his career) leading off the ninth. The Pirates won the World Series that year, and Walker started Game 4, which was the first World Series game played at night. It didn’t go well for him, as he gave up three hits, walked two (one intentionally), and was charged with three earned runs in only two-thirds of an inning, giving him a career ERA in the World Series of 40.50.

Walker was a solid pitcher, but was terrible at the plate. He had only eleven hits in 188 at-bats in his career for an impressive .059 batting average. One day at Three Rivers Stadium, Walker actually got a hit and the home crowd cheered. Hank Aaron, who was near the end of his career in the National League, thought the cheering might be for him and he tipped his cap to the crowd. Walker said, “Put your hat back on, Hank, they’re cheering for me.”

Despite the “TRADED” label on this card (not to mention the snappy airbrushing on his cap and neck piping), the Pirates actually sold Walker’s contract to Detroit before the 1974 season. He went 5-5 with a 4.99 ERA in 28 appearances, nine of them starts. The Tigers released him at the end of spring training in 1975.

Do you ever listen to yourself talk? Let’s try a real-life aircheck.

When I worked in radio a long time ago, I had to pop a cassette tape into a recorder at the start of every shift. It would turn on every time I switched the microphone on, so I could review my show, either on my own (if I’d been diligent, which I was not) or with my program director (which was supposed to be weekly, but since he wasn’t any more diligent than I was, tended to be every month or so). When I did take the time to listen to my “aircheck,” though, I usually discovered speech tendencies that I wasn’t aware of, so I could try to stop doing them.

Since I eventually left radio after seven years, with the largest market I worked in being Mount Pleasant, Michigan, you can see how that turned out.

I thought about airchecks the other day when I caught myself expounding at some length on some topic of great importance (to me, anyway). There are times when such a detailed discussion is appropriate, but I’m pretty sure this wasn’t one of them. I’m also pretty sure I was talking in circles and probably repeating things the person I was talking to had already heard from me before. In other words, I was likely overbearing, and worse, boring.

Do you ever listen to yourself talk? Maybe we need airchecks in our everyday lives.