About Paul Lanning

Education and non-profit organization leader and advisor. SF Giants fan. Wine lover. Genealogy nut. UCSD, UMass, and U. of the Pacific alumnus.

Saying goodbye to Midge

Midge's three children gathered with family to celebrate her life.

Midge’s three children gathered with family to celebrate her life.

It was a brilliant fall day in Palo Alto, the type of fall day you see in California and not too many other places. Sun shining, birds chirping, slight breeze.

Fourteen of us gathered for a private service at the cemetery to pay our respects and say a final goodbye to my grandmother, Marjorie Winter Johnson. Many of us hadn’t seen each other in years, in some cases decades, and I don’t know when or even if some of us will see each other again.

However, on this day we gathered, listened to some thoughtful words from a minister that were perfect for this occasion, and individually and collectively we remembered Midge. From my great aunt Florence, herself in her 90s but spry and witty as I remember from my youth; to my mother and her two brothers, Midge’s three children; to my daughter Sarah, not yet 20; four generations and untold numbers of memories were represented. Continue reading

Remembering Grandma Midge

Marjorie Elizabeth Winter Johnson, 1917-2014

Marjorie Elizabeth Winter Johnson, 1917-2014

I write this in memory of my grandmother, Marjorie Elizabeth Winter Johnson, who passed away early today at the age of 97. Hers was a life well-lived, full of grace and dignity. She was the only grandparent I ever really knew, and she had a huge influence on me that has continued to this day, and one that lives on in my daughter.

Marjorie, or “Midge” as she was known, was the daughter of a man who worked his way from teenage office boy to Chairman of the Board of Atlantic Mutual Insurance Co., and she knew the value of education, determination, and preparation. Continue reading

Goodbye, NFL

NFLI’m a lifelong sports fan. I have a master’s degree in sport management. I worked and consulted in professional and college athletics for many years. And I’ve been a fantasy sports geek for decades. I’ve invested untold amounts of time and money in sports. But in the case of pro football, enough is enough. I’m done with the National Football League. Continue reading

Baseball’s biggest tease

Tim Lincecum

Tim Lincecum: a one-time ace who still teases greatness.

Giants fans got teased again last week. In the midst of a dreadful, team-wide June Swoon, Tim Lincecum took the hill against San Diego and fired a no-hitter – his second in as many seasons.

This isn’t the fireballing Lincecum of five years ago, however. Watching him today, it’s increasingly difficult to recall “The Freak” that burst upon baseball in 2007 and went on to back-to-back Cy Young Awards in his first two full seasons in the big leagues in 2008-09. That flame-thrower led the National League in strikeouts three straight years, posted remarkable WARs (Wins Above Replacement) of 7.9 and 7.5 in 2008-09, and was widely regarded as the game’s most dominant pitcher and a future Hall of Famer. Continue reading

Not your father’s 49ers

49ersMaybe I’m naïve, but today’s San Francisco 49ers bear so little resemblance to the dynasty I grew up watching that it’s hard to imagine they wear the same red and gold. Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, Dwight Clark, Ronnie Lott, Jerry Rice, Steve Young…these aren’t just names in 49ers history – they’re symbols of a team that won with class, with integrity, and with character.

Surely there were legal issues and other misdeeds among the 49ers of yesteryear, and ultimately owner Eddie DeBartolo’s legal problems in an unrelated business venture cost him the franchise, but I don’t recall anything like what we’re seeing from today’s players. Continue reading

Larger than life

Ultimate Warrior

Jim Hellwig, aka the Ultimate Warrior, in his prime as WWF World Heavyweight Champion

I was very sad to learn of the passing of Jim Hellwig, known to millions as pro wrestling’s “Ultimate Warrior” from the late 1980s through the mid-1990s. He was one of the true legends of pro wrestling, with an outsized personality to match his cartoon-like physique. But he was always something more, too. He was an articulate, intelligent guy who never quite fit the medium intellectually. He spoke with great conviction about big ideas, spiritual thoughts, and grand visions; things pro wrestlers don’t tend to trade in.

He left the big stage of the then-WWF in 1996 and largely disappeared from public view after that. I interacted with him at length via phone calls and emails around 2000-01, when I was running a network of websites and e-commerce operations for a number of Hellwig’s contemporaries from the pro wrestling world, and I was struck by how different he was. Continue reading

The curious case of Paul America

Paul America

An image from Paul America’s screen test, circa 1965.

I’ve done a lot of research on distant cousins up and down my family tree over the years, uncovering some fascinating stories and learning a lot about ancestors dating back centuries. I’ve written about a few of those stories here on this blog (see links at end of this post), and I’m sure there are many more to find. However, it was pretty striking to learn about a much more recent story, involving a much closer connection.

The story of my late cousin Paul Johnson, aka “Paul America,” is straight out of the movies, both figuratively and literally, and involves none other than ‘60s icon Andy Warhol and other characters from the wild decade in which I was born. I had only heard bits and pieces over the years, tales of a wayward teen with matinee-idol looks who spiraled downward in a haze of drug addiction and, ultimately, an untimely death at too young an age. Continue reading

The last of the great Albuquerque Dukes teams

Dukes logoThe arrival of the 2014 baseball season means 20 years have passed since the old Albuquerque Dukes won the last of their eight Pacific Coast League championships. The franchise joined the Triple A PCL in 1972 with a dominant team managed by Tommy Lasorda and featuring future big leaguers like Ron Cey, Davey Lopes, Burt Hooton, Charlie Hough, Larry Hisle, and more. The Dodgers’ minor league system was well-stocked during the years the O’Malley family owned the Dodgers, and Albuqerque, often the final stop for players on their way to the majors, reaped the benefits time and time again. Continue reading

2014 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot: Who gets your vote?

Greg Maddux

Greg Maddux: 355 wins, four Cy Young Awards. First ballot Hall of Famer?

The 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot was announced today, and as I wrote a couple years ago, there are few clear answers in Hall of Fame voting these days. This year presents an even tougher field to choose from than last year…all thanks to the “Steroid Era” and baseball writers’ reactions to it.

If you had a vote to cast, which players would you choose? Do you vote for suspected steroid users, or just those who appear clean? Do you vote for clear-cut Hall of Famers whose careers may have been tainted, or do you vote for marginal Hall of Famers whose performances were (as far as we know) never in question? Continue reading

The name on the front of the jersey

Jeter Rivera

Future Hall of Famers Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, Yankees throughout their careers…quite a rarity these days.

Gehrig. Feller. Williams. Musial. Banks. Stargell. Yastrzemski. Bench. Yount. Ripken. The list goes on and on. Many of baseball’s all-time greats never changed uniforms in their lengthy big league careers. Of course that’s a rarity now, which makes present-day Yankees greats Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter all the more unusual.

I grew up in an era when baseball was changing dramatically. In the 1970s, as the DH rule and free agency hit baseball, longtime stars suddenly started moving from team to team. I remember thinking how strange it was to see Catfish Hunter become a Yankee, but superstars changing uniforms quickly became the norm. Continue reading