Tuesday Twaddle

I follow Dominic Chu of CNBC on Twitter (@TheDomino). He is knowledgeable without being arrogant and passionate without being partisan. Occasionally we engage in short dialogues via Direct Message on Twitter. Often those dialogues are the result of my sending Dom a link to a Disaffected Musings post. Yesterday, in the middle of one of those dialogues Dom wrote this wonderful comment, “Your posts are awesome.” Wow! I mean, Wow! Dom’s comment was not in response to my asking him what he thought about the blog or any specific post. He offered it unprompted by me.

As every regular reader knows I am very proud of this blog AND wish many more people were reading. However, it is always great to receive such positive feedback, especially from someone who is a professional journalist. Thanks again, Dom.

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C8 Convertible

 

From this autoblog.com piece comes a picture of a C8 Corvette convertible. The article is about Chevrolet’s announcement that the official reveal of the C8 convertible will occur on October 2, despite the fact that the car was already shown in official company photos when the C8 was revealed in July.

No doubt the C8 convertible will have a soft-top and, no doubt, the chassis will be beefed up in order to compensate for the loss in structural rigidity a fixed roof provides. I suspect the base price for the convertible will be $5,000-$6,000 more than the coupe. Are any potential buyers reading this?

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More evidence of the softening of the collector car market: the gross sales total from all of the auctions held during Monterey Car Week last month was down by about 31% from 2018. The average price per lot was down about 24% and the median price declined by 16 percent. Combine that with slightly fewer lots offered and a small reduction in the sell-through rate and, voila, -31%.

Total sales have actually declined in four of the past five years in Monterey with only 2018 being an increase compared to the previous year. Remember that even the very wealthy don’t have to buy expensive collector cars. In all honesty, though, data like this makes me a little nervous about the overall economy.

My wonderful wife ribs me from time to time about having too much cash in our holdings. The ribbing happens even though our family portfolio has significantly outperformed its expected risk-adjusted return over a period of more than a decade. If the economy falters then having a substantial cash position will be quite an asset, in my opinion. Also, if the collector car market continues to soften and if that softening trickles down to all segments then maybe I can buy that Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawk for even less than the modest amount one would cost today.

 

#DominicChu

#C8CorvetteConvertible

#SofteningOfCollectorCarMarket

#StudebakerGranTurismoHawk

#somanycarsjustonelife

#disaffectedmusings

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Today’s post title is nothing more than my penchant for self-deprecation and alliteration.

 

 

Monday Musings

Yesterday was the first NFL regular season Sunday without my having NFL Sunday Ticket in over 20 years. I have to say that I didn’t miss it.

I did watch a little football, some of the Colts-Chargers game that aired on the “local” CBS affiliate. Local is in quotes because I live in a state without any major network affiliates or without commercial aviation. Many of you should now know in which state I live.

I was curious about seeing the Colts without Andrew Luck. The game was exciting with the Chargers winning 30-24 in overtime.

My interest in NFL football is the least it’s been in decades. In general, I am tired of billionaire owners and millionaire players who are out of touch with the middle-class fans that support them. Let me quickly add that I am not a supporter of wealth re-distribution policies or socialism. I am just exercising my right as a consumer in a “free-market” economy to stop spending money on a product I no longer want to consume.

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A post-script to yesterday’s scribbling about Kaiser automobiles. By way of Richard Langworth’s excellent book about Studebaker are comments by Hickman Price, Jr., former export vice president of Kaiser-Frazer (and later, Assistant Secretary of Commerce during John Kennedy’s administration):

 

“I was young and I was brash and I had a whole lot of ideas. One of them was that in the automobile business—although this had not been proven at that stage at all—the big ones got bigger and the little ones went out of business…We may have a period of three or four years—I remember putting 1950 as the terminal date—in which we can sell everything we can make, and hopefully we can price things at a level where we can make a good profit. But that isn’t going to be enough because it isn’t enough volume and it isn’t enough business really, in this industry. That was Hudson’s experience ultimately and Studebaker’s; I was sure it would happen to us. Actually, it happened to us earlier than it did to Hudson and Studebaker and for different reasons.”

 

Concentration of market share in the hands of a few firms is common and can often be primarily the result of stochastic variation or “luck.” Once market share is obtained, however so, it can be difficult for those firms with less share to ever make significant inroads in that market.

From momentcar.com a picture of a 1955 Kaiser Manhattan, one of the few four-door cars whose styling appeals to me:

 

See the source image

 

1955 was the last model year Kaiser sold cars in the US. Only 226 of these four-door sedans were produced for the US market in 1955. These cars were powered by a supercharged version of the same inline 226 cubic-inch 6-cylinder engine that Kaiser used for all of its tenure as an automobile manufacturer. In supercharged form the motor could produce 140 HP/215 LB-FT of torque.

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This past Saturday my wonderful wife and I attended the “car show” hosted by a local Corvette club the first Saturday of every month from April to October. Once again, we are taken by the camaraderie among these automobile enthusiasts. Even though the show is sponsored by a Corvette club, many non-Corvettes are brought. Thanks to Brian for being so friendly and for bringing his wonderful 1987 Buick Grand National:

 

 

One would never know this car has 118,000 miles on it. Many also would not know that this variant of the Buick Regal and other similar models like the Turbo-T and, of course, the GNX were the pinnacle of American performance cars in the mid-1980s.

Yes, that is a DeLorean parked next to the Grand National. That car belongs to Brian’s friend, John, who also owns two Grand Nationals having been inspired to acquire those cars by Brian’s example. I have always been a fan of these Buicks, but it’s nice to have that fandom rekindled from time to time by seeing a good one in person.

 

#DidntMissSundayTicket

#1955KaiserManhattan

#1987BuickGrandNational

#CarCamaraderie

#somanycarsjustonelife

#disaffectedmusings

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Thank Goodness For Mecum/Sunday Kaiser: September, 2019

I am grateful for the quantity and quality of Mecum auction broadcasts. Last night another of my many physical “crises” kept me awake from midnight until about 4 AM. When the acute phase of the crisis passed I needed something to calm me down. I had two new Mecum broadcasts from the recently concluded auction in Dallas recorded so I watched the shorter one. Words are really inadequate to describe how much I enjoy watching those telecasts. Thanks to Mecum, to NBCSN and to both crews.

 

Mecum Auctions

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This article on allpar.com by Kelsey Wright is the best I’ve ever read on Kaiser automobiles. This passage was particularly interesting:

 

“Jack Mueller wrote, ‘The Kaiser body shell for the 1949-50 model run was, in four-door sedan form, the same basic shell as 1947-48; overall length changes reflect [the revised] design of front and rear bumpers and bumper guards to get a couple of inches here, a couple there, that sort of thing. The problem was that, in 1949, most other car companies either rolled out a new body platform for the model year (Big Three and Nash), or a good facelift of a recently released design. Additionally, Kaiser-Frazer had too many smaller dealers that could not or would not start selling the way the Big Three stores started doing that year. [Another] big problem is that Frazer turned in his resignation as president at the end of 1948. Frazer saw that the information from dealers showing 60,000 orders in hand, as of October 10, 1948, were made up of mostly bogus orders. That story is almost a chapter in itself.'”

 

The first car from the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation was for model year 1947. Henry Kaiser was so successful at building ships that many call him the father of modern American shipbuilding. Joseph Frazer was a long-time “operative” in the automobile business, beginning as a mechanic’s assistant in his brother’s Packard dealership and then working his way up the sales/management ladder at many companies until getting into business with Henry Kaiser. (That’s decades worth of story in two sentences. Indulge me.)

At first, Kaiser-Frazer was successful as the Big Three automakers used the postwar sellers market as a way to sell warmed-over pre-war cars. Kaiser-Frazer had a market share of more than four percent for model years 1947 and 1948. Ultimately, their inability and/or unwillingness to “get with the program” in terms of styling and engineering led to their demise in the US in 1955. Henry Kaiser is supposed to have remarked, “Slap a Buick nameplate on it and it would sell like hotcakes.”

 

See the source image

 

Speaking of Mecum here is a picture of a 1951 Kaiser Deluxe Sedan (yes, a 2-door sedan; I don’t want to open that can of worms) offered at their Kansas City auction in 2013. With input from noted car designer Howard “Dutch” Darrin these cars are appealing aesthetically, in my opinion. About 11,000 of these were built in model year 1951; total Kaiser production for that year was just shy of 140,000. All cars from Kaiser for 1951 (the Frazer part of the business ceased after model year 1951) were sold with the same engine: an L-head, inline six-cylinder motor of 226 cubic-inch displacement that produced 115 HP/190 LB-FT of torque.

The company, either as Kaiser-Frazer, just Kaiser or Kaiser-Willys (Kaiser purchased Willys-Overland in 1954) never offered hardtop coupes or sedans (cars without a visible B-pillar, a style introduced by GM in the late 1940s that proved to quite popular), convertibles, station wagons or a V-8 engine. All of these types of cars became very popular in the early 1950s, but Kaiser did not have money for development and marketing.

Maybe Henry Kaiser’s lament about branding was partly true, but in a rapidly changing market his company’s inability to change with the times was their biggest problem. For the nth plus nth time I will opine that fewer companies making cars means fewer sources of innovation for styling and for engineering. The automobile as we have known it is not dead, yet.

 

#MecumAutoAuctions

#KaiserFrazer

#1951KaiserDeluxe

#somanycarsjustonelife

#disaffectedmusings

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300 Cars

Any idea what the post title means? Here’s a clue:

 

 

This is a picture of a 1953 Corvette parked in front of the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky. First, think about the impact of this car that it has an entire museum dedicated to it. It is certainly the only museum in the US devoted to one and only one car model.

OK, most Corvette aficionados know that the first year of production was 1953 and only 300 were made, hence the post title. All of the cars were Polo White over Red with a 2-speed Powerglide automatic transmission and an inline 6-cylinder engine of 235 cubic-inch displacement with three carburetors that produced 150 HP/223 LB-FT of torque.

From this modest beginning—300 cars—came an automobile that has its own museum and is now not that far from having its two-millionth produced. The Corvette has come close to extinction more than once during its existence including 1955 when only 700 were built. In two of its first three model years Corvette production was fewer than 1,000. Think about that.

While in all honesty I am not a huge fan of the C1 Corvette I do very much appreciate its significance.

 

#300Cars

#1953ChevroletCorvette

#somanycarsjustonelife

#disaffectedmusings

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Frugal Friday Returns: C6 Edition

In this article on classiccars.com the main point is that RM Auction’s fall sale at Auburn, Indiana saw a 23.5% decrease in gross sales compared to last year’s auction. That was true even though 90 percent of the lots offered this year were sold. Gord Duff, global head of auctions for RM Sotheby’s Group said, “…we’ve witnessed a softening in the collector car market in 2019…”

Is the general softening of “high-end” markets a signal of anything? No one really knows. It could, of course, mean that we might be about to enter a good period to buy collector cars if one has the means to do so.

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Comments by 56packardman, David Banner and others inspired the topic for the return of Frugal Friday. 56packardman wrote, “To underscore your point about the basic value a Corvette represents vs. an ‘exotic’ like a Ferrari, at the Bring-a-Trailer website, I routinely see Ferraris listed for sale there that have among their records maintenance receipts for $30,xxx of engine work, etc., often on very low-mileage cars.” (By the way, please read the comments as they add much to this blog.)

Instead of looking for Corvettes available for less than $30,000—the amount mentioned in regards to the cost of Ferrari engine work—I decided to be more specific and look for 2008-2010 Corvettes (C6 generation) that had fewer than 30,000 miles AND were listed for less than $27,000, 90% of the “Ferrari repair” cost. Hey, I’m an idiosyncratic guy. What can I say?

From autotrader.com comes this car:

 

Used 2009 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe FULTON, NY 13069 - 524541593 - 1

 

This 2009 Corvette is in Yellow over Black and is listed for $24,800. It has about 23,000 miles. The price might be a little misleading because the ad copy contained this disclaimer, “**Must qualify for all rebates to receive final pricing.**” The ad also contained this humorous bit, “Load your family into the 2009 Chevrolet Corvette!” Uh, a Corvette only has two seats…

A base 2009 Corvette was powered by a 6.2 liter/376 cubic-inch V-8 that produced 430 HP/425 LB-FT of torque. That’s a lot of oomph (an automotive technical term) for less than $25,000.

From cargurus.com comes this car:

 

 

This is a 2008 Corvette in Red over Black that has fewer than 12,000 miles and is listed for $25,995. CarGurus rates this as a “Good Deal.”

Life is short; enjoy yourself, within “reason.”

 

#DeclineOfCollectorCarMarket

#C6Corvette

#somanycarsjustonelife

#disaffectedmusings

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Throwback Thursday, Space Edition

On this day in 1977 Voyager 1 was launched by NASA. It was actually launched about two weeks after its “twin,” Voyager 2.

Voyager 1’s main mission objectives were flybys of Jupiter, Saturn and Saturn’s intriguing moon, Titan. From this NASA/JPL page:

 

“The twin spacecraft Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were launched by NASA in separate months in the summer of 1977 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. As originally designed, the Voyagers were to conduct closeup studies of Jupiter and Saturn, Saturn’s rings, and the larger moons of the two planets.”

“To accomplish their two-planet mission, the spacecraft were built to last five years. But as the mission went on, and with the successful achievement of all its objectives, the additional flybys of the two outermost giant planets, Uranus and Neptune, proved possible — and irresistible to mission scientists and engineers at the Voyagers’ home at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.”

“As the spacecraft flew across the solar system, remote-control reprogramming was used to endow the Voyagers with greater capabilities than they possessed when they left the Earth. Their two-planet mission became four. Their five-year lifetimes stretched to 12 and is now near thirty-seven years.” [My note: this article must have been written a few years ago and, apparently, hasn’t been updated.]

“Eventually, between them, Voyager 1 and 2 would explore all the giant outer planets of our solar system, 48 of their moons, and the unique systems of rings and magnetic fields those planets possess.”

“Had the Voyager mission ended after the Jupiter and Saturn flybys alone, it still would have provided the material to rewrite astronomy textbooks. But having doubled their already ambitious itineraries, the Voyagers returned to Earth information over the years that has revolutionized the science of planetary astronomy, helping to resolve key questions while raising intriguing new ones about the origin and evolution of the planets in our solar system.”

 

Voyager 1 is now the man-made object that is the farthest from Earth. It left the solar system and entered interstellar space on August 25, 2012. At present it is nearly 14 billion miles from Earth, but is still sending back data. Transmissions from Voyager 1, even though they are traveling at the speed of light, take more than 20 hours to reach Earth. In another amazing fact about this amazing probe, the Voyager team completed a successful test of the spacecraft’s trajectory correction maneuver (TCM) thrusters in late 2017 (the first time these thrusters were fired since 1980), a project enabling the mission to be extended by two to three years.

From voyager.jpl.nasa.gov an image of Saturn and some of its moons:

 

See the source image

 

I hope human civilization never loses its curiosity about the universe. People should spend a significant portion of their time gazing outward, not at their navels. I believe that at the individual level, curiosity is correlated with intelligence. Let’s aspire to resist society’s atavistic march towards the lowest common denominator.

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From Richard Langworth’s excellent book, Studebaker 1946-1966, The Classic Postwar Years:

 

“Once again, the bankers and investors shook their heads and pronounced Studebaker-Packard a candidate for the automotive graveyard. But Harold Churchill had other notions. In the fall of 1958 [emphasis mine], he introduced his game plan for Studebaker’s survival—a car he had ordered designed after the spurt in sales caused by the economy Scotsman. The new car was an instant hit and Church was a South Bend hero. By mid-1959, he was promising great things for the future. Time magazine’s profile caught a little of his spirit, calling Churchill a ‘Man on a Lark.'”

 

As we now know, Studebaker’s reprieve was temporary. However, it seemed real at the time. According to History of the American Auto by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide®, Studebaker model-year production grew from just 44,759 in recession-addled 1958 to 126,156 in 1959, almost all of which was attributable to the success of the Lark.

 

See the source image

 

From barnfinds.com a picture of a 1959 Studebaker Lark VIII Regal. The “VIII” designation means this car was powered by Studebaker’s only available V-8 engine at that time, a 259 cubic-inch mill that produced 180 HP/260 LB-FT of torque in base spec or 195 HP (torque unavailable) in the Power-Pack option with a four-barrel carburetor and dual exhaust.

At last year’s Mecum auction in Denver a 1961 Studebaker Lark VIII Regal convertible in Flamingo Pink hammered for $20,500 or $21,000. (I don’t remember the exact number.)

 

Hey, where else can you read about Voyager 1 and the Studebaker Lark in the same post?!

 

#Voyager1

#StudebakerLark

#somanycarsjustonelife

#disaffectedmusings

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Wednesday Wackadoodle, Part Two

I must acknowledge that I am an idiosyncratic person. I am also sure that status is far more by nature than by nurture.

I have little respect for people who are not true to themselves. From Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “This above all: to thine own self be true.” I have little respect for people who try to be something they’re not. Of course, I think people should strive to improve while acknowledging that perfection is impossible. However, a person’s basic nature should be heeded.

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These are two pictures I took in the Exhibit Hall at the National Corvette Museum of the One Millionth Corvette produced. (How’s that for a run-on sentence?!) This was one of eight cars that fell into the sinkhole that opened up under the floor of the Skydome part of the museum on February 12, 2014.

Five of the cars were not restored and are on display in the Skydome above where the sinkhole opened up. Two of the three restored cars are also part of that exhibit. I think the 1,000,000th Corvette is usually on display there as well, but for the 25th Anniversary bash it was moved to the Exhibit Hall. I have to admit that I choked up a bit upon seeing the damaged cars.

Despite the claim of the Guinness Book of World Records the Corvette is the best-selling two-seat sports car in history with about 1.7 million sold. Despite the claim of Mercedes-Benz the Corvette is the longest-running car model in history having been produced in every calendar year since 1953.

I will editorialize now: dollar for dollar, the modern Corvette is easily the best performance car in the world. Let’s look at a Ferrari 488, a step above the “entry-level” Portofino, and compare it to a C7 Z06, a step above a base Stingray. The 488 is supposed to be able to accelerate from 0-60 MPH in 2.85-2.9 seconds, a hair faster than the Z06 time of 2.95 seconds. In the quarter-mile “test” the 488 is supposed to run low 11s, say 11.2 seconds. A Z06 can break 11 seconds. In a skidpad test the 488 can pull 1.02-1.05g, a great performance. The Z06 can pull 1.2g, an otherworldly number.

A Ferrari 488 will cost about $275,000; a new C7 Z06 will cost about $100,000 equipped with the Z07 performance package. Both cars are comfortable, but which one do you think will cost less to service and to maintain? That’s a rhetorical question because the answer is obvious.

A lot of car snobs refuse to accept that the Corvette is a world-class performance car. That refusal is one of the reasons, I believe, that Chevrolet/GM made the decision to move to a mid-engine platform with the C8. Remember this Abraham Lincoln story by way of Thomas Sowell:

 

“Abraham Lincoln once asked an audience how many legs a dog has if you count the tail as a leg. When they answered ‘five,’ Lincoln told them that the answer was four. The fact that you called the tail a leg did not make it a leg.”

 

As Aldous Huxley once wrote, “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” Unless one wants to spend many multiples of the price of a Corvette, one cannot buy a car with better performance.

 

#AcknowledgeYourself

#WilliamShakespeare

#OneMillionthCorvette

#AbrahamLincoln

#ThomasSowell

#AldousHuxley

#somanycarsjustonelife

#disaffectedmusings

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What Would Abe Think?

The National Corvette Museum and the plant where the Corvette is built are in Bowling Green right off Interstate 65 in south-central Kentucky. Much or all of that section of the interstate is known as the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Expressway. I couldn’t help wondering what Lincoln would think of modern America, of car culture and Corvette Caravans, and of modern inventions. By the way, Lincoln was born in Kentucky and lived there until his family moved to Indiana when the future President was seven.

I also couldn’t help wondering what Lincoln would think of today’s political landscape. In my opinion, and I am not an expert historian, the US is more divided politically (and socially) than at any other time since before the Civil War. I do not think that massive armies will engage in battle to determine the future of the nation. I do think, however, that it is likely that at some point the people of say, North Dakota, will decide they no longer want to be in the same country as say, California, or vice versa.

Countries, like everything else, are subject to entropy. Does Czechoslovakia still exist? What about the Roman Empire? Nothing guarantees that the United States will remain in its current configuration forever. While I won’t live to see it, I think the US will not exist in its current form 50 or 100 years from now.

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A picture I took while my wonderful wife was driving through West Virginia on the way back from Bowling Green. Both of us were taken by the physical beauty of the state. It is sad to me that West Virginia has had so many economic struggles. In both chained and current dollars the state ranks 48th in the nation in per capita GDP.

I can’t help think that tourism could be a way to boost the West Virginia economy. We stayed at a beautiful resort in Roanoke, West Virginia on the way to Bowling Green for three days, a property complete with restaurants, magnificent views and a top-notch golf course, apparently. (I am not a golfer.)

Oh, I want the anti-performance car crowd to choke on this: on the 300+ mile drive from Bowling Green to Charleston, West Virginia, my wonderful wife’s 2018 Corvette made 29 MPG at an average speed of 66 MPH. (Most of the interstates in this area have a 70 MPH speed limit.) So, a car that will accelerate from 0 to 60 MPH in less than four seconds, that can reach a top speed of 190 MPH and that can pull more than 1G on a skidpad made almost 30 MPG on the highway.

Someone with a “lighter” foot may have made 30+ MPG. In fact, one of the many items that the Corvette’s driver display can show is a summary of gas mileage for the last 50 miles. During one of those stretches the best mileage recorded was almost 34 MPG although I admit I do not know over how long a stretch because the display also showed an average mileage in the 20s in the same 50 miles.

 

 

A picture of the aforementioned 2018 Corvette convertible.

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OK, so how were the Corvette Museum and the Corvette Caravan? First, I want to thank the members of the local Caravan who were so welcoming to us. We are not members of the local Corvette Club, but we were treated very warmly.

The biggest thing that stuck with me is that if the throngs surrounding the new C8 Corvettes are any indication, the car will sell like crazy. Here is one picture I managed to take without crowds:

 

 

In person I think the C8 is stunning. Chevrolet is going to have two shifts producing the car, a sign the company expects it to sell well, but C8 production will not start before December.

One of the top Chevrolet salesmen in the US spoke to our caravan at a dinner. He said he believes the car will sell very well based on the number of deposits he has already received. He also said that Chevrolet is gearing up for a minimum 2020 run of 40,000 cars. The last Corvette year with sales that high was 2016; that was also based on a normal length model year production run beginning in August/September of 2015. The 2020 model year may be short for the Corvette even if it starts in December and not in January.

After the dinner I approached this salesman (thank you, Mike) and asked if the new Global B electrical architecture was a 48-volt system. He confirmed that it was. The Corvette will be the first General Motors car to have the new system, but all GM cars will have it by model year 2023.

OK, I’ve run on quite long. If anyone has any specific questions about Bowling Green or anything else, please feel free to ask. I am probably not finished with the Caravan and Museum as a topic for blog posts.

 

#AbrahamLincoln

#WestVirginia

#2018ChevroletCorvetteConvertible

#C8Corvette

#2019CorvetteCaravan

#somanycarsjustonelife

#disaffectedmusings

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Remembering Frank Robinson

Today would have been Frank Robinson’s 84th birthday. He is the only player to have been named Most Valuable Player in both leagues. (National League – 1961; American League – 1966) Frank was the first black manager in major league history. He was named to the All-Star team 14 times.

For me, his legacy is that he was my favorite baseball player growing up in Baltimore and incredibly, improbably I later worked with him while with the Orioles. He and I became friends and he grew to respect my baseball knowledge and acumen. I wrote about this story on his birthday last year, but it bears repeating. One day I was walking past his office and stuck my head in to say hello. I noticed a baseball cap on his desk I had never seen before with the letters “CR” on it. I asked Frank, “Cedar Rapids?” He said, “No, Colorado Rockies.” I asked, “Are you going somewhere?” Frank replied, “No, but if I do I’m taking you with me.” You have no idea how amazing I felt after he said that.

It is still difficult for me to think that Frank Robinson is no longer alive. (He died in February of this year.) An old hospice joke goes, “Life goes on. Sometimes it doesn’t.”

I just wanted to write about Frank today. Very often, words are really inadequate, but they are often the best we can muster.

 

See the source image

 

From camdenchat.com a picture of Frank Robinson.

 

#FrankRobinson

#disaffectedmusings