Hot Stove #160 – Memories of Walter Mondale, Fred Arbanas, Vartan Gregorian and Good Karma

From 1985 to 1997, a group of fans gathered in Kansas City to participate in a draft for a “Home Run Derby.” Steve Roling won the trophy three times, so the trophy was named “The Rolling Cup” (Steve’s name being misspelled). Then the Derby went dormant for 23 years. Roling kept the trophy and sent this recent photo.

Tim Sear lobbied for a renewal of the competition in 2021. Ten players joined in, and we went through eight rounds of selections. Steve Roling agreed to take on the obligations of Commissioner (counting the home runs). As of Monday, April 19, David Matson led with 27 homers (Acuna has been good for him, but now is injured). Joel Poole is in last place with 8, and I would be down there with Joel if I had not picked Salvy Perez (5 homers) in the fourth round. The other participants: Bob White, Jim Heeter, Tom/Del Grimaldi, Eric Trelz and Jeb Bayer.

The competition is fun, but I’m in it primarily for the banter in the exchange of emails. This has the dual purpose of being (i) true (these are very witty people) and (ii) an excuse for my poor draft selections. When Commissioner Roling sent out the standings this past Monday, part of the exchange became happy talk about the Royals. At that time, the Royals had the best record in the American League. It was also going to snow Monday night. Bob White summed it up like this:

“Yep, we’re in 1st place and hell is freezing over.”

To witness this phenomenon in person, Rita and I went to the game that night. From left: Our hosts Pat Titterington and Cheryl Dillard, Lonnie (fogged glasses with the Royals mask) and Rita.

Alas, at 37 degrees (28 wind chill), we were closer to freezing in hell than seeing the Royals maintain their lofty perch atop the AL. Tampa Bay beat the Royals, dropping KC behind Boston and Seattle.

The next two games with Tampa Bay were also played in cold weather at the K. The Royals avoided a sweep when Salvy came through with yet another walk-off hit. As of this writing, the Royals are holding on to first place in the AL Central.

Go Royals!

 Walter Mondale (1928-2021): As I was checking my weather app at the Royals game, I noticed I had some new emails. Richard Martin. Diana Brewer. Jan Marcason. Steve Roling.  All carrying the same sad news. Walter Mondale had died. Other friends sent notes the next morning. They knew how much Walter Mondale meant to me.

Most of you know the career and accomplishments of this good and honorable man. The accolades are everywhere, and for good reason. “Fritz” Mondale was one of the nation’s finest public servants. I’ve had the good fortune to cross paths with him, and I’d like to share some of that history.

I first met Mondale in 1974 when I was Chairman of the Jackson County Democratic Committee. He was in his tenth year as a U.S. Senator from Minnesota and was considering a run for the presidency in 1976. With the help of Missouri Senator Tom Eagleton, the Committee brought Senator Mondale in for a general election rally at Crown Center. The next morning, we hosted a local politico breakfast for Mondale (below, with Rita and Lonnie).

Mondale later dropped out of the 1976 race (he said he was running behind “None of the Above” in the polls). But fortune smiled when Jimmy Carter tapped Mondale as his running mate.

This turned out to be a very unexpected new chapter in my life. An Eagleton staffer recommended me to the Mondale campaign, and for the next two-plus months, I became part of the volunteer advance staff. We worked in teams, arriving two or three days ahead of the candidate. There was an endless checklist of details to get ready for a stop. Once the campaign plane arrived, it was our job to fully coordinate the movements of the candidate, staff and press as long as they were in town.

I still had my day job at the Popham law firm, so I would go out for a campaign stop and then return for a few days to catch up with my practice. Then back on the road. It was a blast.

I thought it would be over after Carter/Mondale won the election. But the VP office kept only a skeletal crew in-house, so they still wanted experienced hands to work on an occasional basis. I happily volunteered. Rita helped me on a Topeka trip and caught the eye of the Mondale staff. She was recruited and also became part of the volunteer advance team.

Some things were different at the VP level. When Mondale arrived at a stop, the plane was now called “Air Force Two.” When we greeted him, it was now “Mr. Vice President.” It was still a blast. Just with higher stakes.

After a few trips in 1977 and into 1978, I got a surprise that changed my life. I was asked to be on the advance team for a diplomatic trip to Bangkok. I was 36 years old. Had never flown across an ocean. Did not have a passport. So I got the passport, flew across the Pacific to Hong Kong for a couple of days, and then to Bangkok where the advance team spent 10 days organizing the events for Vice President and Mrs. Mondale. Below, with Joan Mondale at the Grand Palace.

After Bangkok, I took some personal time to circle the globe, stopping in Katmandu, Agra (Taj Mahal), Israel, Cairo and Athens. I sent a post card to Rita from Tel Aviv, saying that I had found a new passion – international travel – and I was looking forward to someday taking her around the world.

For the rest of Mondale’s time as Vice President, I continued with occasional advance work, including to two more continents (Lagos, Nigeria, and Helsinki, Finland). When I did Helsinki in 1979, Rita did the Copenhagen stop. The two of us then met up in Paris. It was April. My advance trips are chronicled in Lonnie’s Jukebox (click here).

On June 6, 1981, Rita and I were married (yes, #40 coming up). In 1983, as I had promised in my post card, Rita and I circled the globe. She cried when she saw the Taj Mahal. We have now traveled to more than a hundred countries. Thank you so much Walter Mondale.

Volunteers were not part of Mondale’s official staff, but I took to heart the farewell letter sent to the staff upon his death. The fourth sentence sounds like he is talking to the advance teams.

Dear Team,

Well my time has come. I am eager to rejoin Joan and Eleanor. Before I Go I wanted to let you know how much you mean to me. Never has a public servant had a better group of people working at their side!

Together we have accomplished so much and I know you will keep up the good fight.

Joe in the White House certainly helps.

I always knew it would be okay if I arrived some place and was greeted by one of you!

My best to all of you!


Walter Mondale sits on a pier with his dog overlooking a lake in this picture

RIP Mr. Vice President.

Walter Mondale Advance – A Baseball Story: In October of 1978, I was in Las Vegas to advance an event hosted by the Clark County Democratic Committee. My local contact was Dan Chandler who I soon found out was the son of former Kentucky governor Happy Chandler. As most baseball fans know, Happy Chandler became famous as the baseball commissioner who was instrumental in Jackie Robinson breaking the color line. Dan and I hit it off.

Dan’s regular job was being a “host” for big gamblers at Caesars Palace. He showed me around town, and as we worked our way down the Strip, he was clearly well known. We were joined by Doug Flynn who I was told was a second baseman for the Mets. Doug had just finished the season for the Mets and was taking in some Vegas R&R with his friend Dan Chandler. Both grew up in Kentucky politics, Dan as the son of a governor and Doug as the son of a state senator.

Caesars Palace Hotel Logo, HD Png Download - vhv

After the trip, I followed Flynn for a while in the box scores and knew that he later won a Gold Glove. But he then dropped off my radar until a few days ago when I saw a tweet from a baseball site wishing him a happy 70th birthday. So I took a quick look at his history. He was a utility infielder who played 11 years in the majors (1975-1985) and accumulated a career WAR of negative 6.9.

Flynn is a reminder that no matter the stats or time in the game, being a major leaguer is a wonderful thing. Just look at some to the trivia he enjoys.

His first two years in the majors were in 1975 and 1976 with the Cincinnati Reds. That would be the Big Red Machine that won the World Series both years. No way to break in as a starter in that lineup, but Flynn has two rings.

He was also on the fringe of big news in 1977. The Mets traded all-star Tom Seaver to Cincinnati. When Flynn was told he was being traded away for Seaver, Flynn joked “was it straight up.” It was not. A total of four Reds went to the Mets for Seaver.

Doug Flynn autographed baseball card (New York Mets) 1979 Topps #229 at  Amazon's Sports Collectibles Store

His first homer as a Met was off of future Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry.

In 1980, he won a Gold Glove at 2B and also tied a major league record for triples in a game (3, shared with many, but still the record).

My favorite: When Flynn was set up for his first date with his wife Olga (a former Philadelphia Eagles cheerleader), the matchmaker was Pete Rose.

[Pete Rose Trivia: Check out this interactive 2-minute graphic of hit leaders through the decades. The rise of Ty Cobb, Stan Musial and of course Pete. Click here.]

Where are they now? Pete Rose is in Vegas. Dan Chandler died in 2004 at age 70. The obits were effusive, and he is remembered in gaming circles as a “Damon Runyon character with a Southern heritage.” Flynn returned to Kentucky where he has been a country music singer, baseball broadcaster, bank officer and educational TV host.

Fred Arbanas (1939-2021): Fred Arbanas died on April 16 at the age of 82. He played for Lamar Hunt’s team in Dallas and Kansas City and is considered one of the best tight-ends in AFL history. In Super Bowl IV, he made the key block that sprung Mike Garrett’s touchdown run on the famous 65-Toss-Power-Trap play in the win over the Vikings. Fred retired after the 1970 season.

Chiefs tight end and local politician Fred Arbanas dead at 82 - Arrowhead  Pride

I did not know Fred in his football days. But in 1972, he entered politics. It was a big election year in Jackson County because a new charter had established a 15-member county legislature. That was a lot of seats to fill for the first time and a wave of candidates were jockeying for support. My friend Ray Webb wanted to run for an at-large seat, and I tried to help him line up endorsements.

There were many Democratic clubs and factions – The CCP, Freedom, Westport Landing, Democracy Inc., etc. I wrote about this last August in a tribute to Ray’s life, and here is an excerpt:

 “In those days, several factions in the North End were influential in Democratic primaries. The man to see for those endorsements was Alex Presta who was linked to the Civella crime family. Ray and I went to Presta’s house in south Kansas City, and it was a cordial meeting, but Presta gave us an early tipoff of what we were up against. He said he thought most of the factions would be supporting the “football player.” Presta was referring to Fred Arbanas, the popular tight-end who had retired from the Chiefs in 1970. We found that to be the common refrain, and Ray dropped out of the race…Arbanas held the seat for 34 years.”

When I wrote Ray’s tribute, I sent a copy to Fred. He sent back a nice note and subtly corrected me. He said he was honored to have served 42 years on the legislature. I don’t know how I messed up the math, but Fred was of course right. The mistake was corrected in the online version on the Lonnie’s Jukebox website (click here).

After Fred easily won that first election in 1972, he considered running for County Executive in 1974. But he decided he was content in the legislature. Must have been. He stayed 42 years.  


RIP Mr. Legislator.

[Super Bowl IV Trivia: When Fred made that block for Mike Garrett in Super Bowl IV, I was watching the game on TV with my friend Ray Webb, the guy who almost ran against Fred two years later. Two other fans watching the game were Senators Tom Eagleton (the Chiefs from Missouri) and Walter Mondale (the Vikings from Minnesota). They had bet a dinner on the game, and this photo shows Mondale’s payoff.]

Vartan Gregorian (1934-2021): To sports fans in Kansas City, the name Gregorian means “Vahe,” the award-winning Kansas City Star columnist. Hot Stove readers are also familiar with Vahe for his 53 daily tweets of songs during the initial Covid lockdown in Kansas City. Each week, his tweets were chronicled and annotated in Hot Stove as “Gregorian Chants” (all collected at this link).

Vahe’s father Vartan Gregorian died last week at the age of 87. He lived quite a life (obits in the NYT and Carnegie). I’m going to talk about two parts of that life.

New York Public Library: In 1981, after a distinguished career in academia, Gregorian took on the task of reviving the crumbing library system in New York. His hard work and charm convinced the city and the business and philanthropic communities to give a higher priority to the library system. He had superb fund-raising skills. His work was a smashing success. The most visible result was the restoration of the landmark central library in Midtown Manhattan, including the cleanup and enhancement of the adjacent Bryant Park.

The Bountiful Life of Vartan Gregorian | Time

To get a local perspective on Gregorian, I checked in with Crosby Kemper who was the executive director of the Kansas City Public Library for 15 years. Early last year, Crosby accepted a presidential appointment to head the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Crosby lauded Gregorian’s work in turning around the NYPL (“making it the social-intellectual center of NYC”) and describing Gregorian as a “great man and a good man…a great hero of the liberal arts, a devoted Armenian-American, and a patriot.”

Gregorian came to Kansas City in 2002 to give the keynote address to launch the campaign to relocate KC’s downtown central library. The collection was to be moved to the stately First National Bank building. A quote from that address:

“In our democratic society, the library stands for hope, for learning, for progress, for literacy, for self-improvement and for civic engagement. The library is a symbol of opportunity, citizenship, equality, freedom of speech and freedom of thought, and hence, is a symbol for democracy itself.”

Gregorian returned to Kansas City in 2019 to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the move to the new location. He and Crosby Kemper engaged in a public conversation on the continuing impact of libraries and the importance of the liberal arts.

Toward the end of the program, Gregorian was joined by his son Vahe (photo below). Vahe reminisced about playing football at Penn while his father was provost of the campus. Vahe’s Walter Mitty wish at the time was to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated with his father, the caption being “The Provost and the Pass Receiver.” Vahe admitted his dream did not match his skill set. The 2002 speech and the 2019 conversation are both on the KCPL website (click here).

The Immigrant: Vartan Gregorian was born in 1934 to Armenian parents in Tabriz, Persia (Iran), and he got his early education in Beirut. He was multi-lingual when he emigrated to the United States in 1956, but English was not among his languages. He learned quickly, earned a PhD at Stanford and went on to his remarkable career. As I learned more about him, I kept thinking about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s line in Hamilton:

“Immigrants, we get the job done.”

This resonates with me. My personal heroes are my four immigrant grandparents. They came from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s with no money and no command of the language. The lucky beneficiaries of their hope and hard work has now extended through five generations born in America.

Thank goodness for the courage of immigrants.

Crosby Kemper on Vartan Gregorian: “An exemplar of what immigrants do for our country.”

RIP Dr. Immigrant.

Salvy on the Pond: Rita and I were recently circling the Loose Park pond and saw an “odd duck” among the regulars. On a closer look, the duck was wearing a Royals hat and a jersey that said “Perez” and had his number “13” (hard to see in the photo). A fitting tribute to the season Salvy is having – winning one game with a pickoff throw and at least three others with walk-off hits.

Lonnie’s Jukebox – Good Karma Edition: BIG NEWS! A new act has been announced for the Lyric Opera’s Baseball: A Musical Love Letter. Long-time Kansas City favorite Danny Cox will make a special appearance to sing his song about Buck O’Neil. As reported in a prior Hot Stove, the narrative of the musical includes quotes from Negro League greats and the music ranges from jazz and opera to musical theater and pop. Tickets here (May 7, 8, 13, 14 and 15).

In the 1960s, Cincinnati native Danny Cox was one of the many musicians traveling the coffee house circuit around the country. In 1967, he was part of the music scene in Los Angeles and San Francisco (the “Summer of Love”). Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley had also arrived in California after being on the coffee house circuit. Although Brewer and Shipley had previously crossed paths, they did not become a duo until they were in L.A. The three singers became friends and made a decision to return to a more central location closer to their Midwestern roots. Danny described the move to KC in a 2017 interview with the Kansas City Star (click here; 3:29).

The three artists settled on Kansas City where they had played at the Vanguard Coffee House owned by Stan Plesser. With their move to KC, Stan started booking them as regulars at the Vanguard (below, a line awaits the opening of a Danny Cox night). The venue was in the same building that now houses Ragazza’s at 43rd and Main.


Vanguard owner Stan Plesser took on another role with the singers. Stan and Paul Peterson formed Good Karma Productions, an artist management company. Two of the first acts in the Good Karma stable were Danny Cox and Brewer & Shipley. Good Karma’s office was in an old 3-story house at 4218 Main, just up the street from the Vanguard. It was also home to the singers. Brewer and the offices were on the first floor, Shipley on the second and Danny on the third. Below, Stan and Paul.

Stan and Paul also hosted a larger concert venue in the early 1970s, the Cowtown Ballroom. Some of the acts that played at Cowtown: Van Morrison, B.B. King, the Byrds, Fleetwood Mac, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Linda Ronstadt (her opening act was Danny Cox). Comedian Steve Martin had played the Vanguard and followed up with multiple shows at Cowtown. Brewer & Shipley and Danny had several gigs at Cowtown, as did the Ozark Mountain Daredevils who had signed on with Good Karma for artist management.

Good Karma’s long-time legal counsel was Wayne Tenenbaum, a friend of mine from our law school days at UMKC. In 1975, Wayne was leaving his practice to become Jackson County assessor. He asked that I take over the Good Karma account. He did not have to twist my arm. I often found myself in the Good Karma house on Main. Interesting people in a creative business.

In May of 1981, I was part owner of the Harris House in Westport. Stan worked with me to organize a “Vanguard Month” at the restaurant. Brewer & Shipley played two nights and Danny played three. We opened a deck on top of the restaurant, and Danny put together a house band that played the summer of 1981. He drew big crowds.

Stan Plesser died in 2011, leaving behind quite a legacy in Kansas City. Paul Peterson moved to Los Angeles and remains active in the music industry. He is writing a book about his life in rock ‘n’ roll.

Good Karma’s management included the record deals, and each act produced several albums. This is where I turn to the music for this edition of Lonnie’s Jukebox.

Danny Cox

“Keep Your Hands Off It“ by Danny Cox (1968). This song was on Danny’s first album (Sunny). The single was released on the Cowtown label and has the distinction of being the first and only record on that label.

 “Dear Prudence“ by Danny Cox (1969). A cover of the Lennon and McCartney song released by the Beatles in 1968.

One Toke Over the Line - Brewer & Shipley.jpg

“One Toke Over the Line” by Brewer & Shipley (1971). Paul Peterson tells me this song was created in the back room of the Vanguard. The record was on the charts for 14 weeks and peaked at #10. It likely got a boost in sales when the song was attacked by Vice President Spiro Agnew. The VP was unhappy with a song about toking marijuana. He labeled Brewer & Shipley as subversives and asked the FCC to pull the song from the airwaves. The duo reportedly made Nixon’s infamous “Enemies List.” It was terrific publicity.

Not everyone understood the song the same way as Agnew. The refrain “One toke over the line, sweet Jesus” was misinterpreted by, for example, Lawrence Welk who said at the close of the song, “And there you heard a modern spiritual by Gail and Dave.” The video is a hoot.

“One Toke Over the Line” by Gail and Dave on the Lawrence Welk show.

“Tarkio Road” by Brewer & Shipley (1971). Peaked at #55.

 Jackie Blue (song) - Wikipedia

 “If You Want to Get to Heaven” by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils (1974). “If you want to get to heaven, you got to raise a little hell.” Peaked at #25.

“Jackie Blue” by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils (1975). The link is to a live version. Peaked at #3 and was on the charts for 21 weeks.

One last note on Danny. Yet another gig. On July 15, the 77-year-old singer will be performing in the “Live! from the Lounge” series at the Folly.

Good Karma indeed.