Thurman lived a complicated life

600388.png

Thurman lived a complicated life

This is a story that began more than 30 years ago. It ended on June 27 when Homer Price Thurman died of probable arterial cardio-vascular disease in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was 72.

But filling in the dots in the volatile life of a multi-talented but troubled man that was characterized as sad and complicated by all who knew him will take more than a few paragraphs.

Thurman was a three-sport star at Bloom Township High School in Chicago Heights in the late 1950s. He once had a tryout with the Harlem Globetrotters. He was an All-Stater in football and basketball and a state champion in track and field. On Nov. 3, he will be inducted into the Illinois High School Basketball Hall of Fame and Museum in Pinckneyville.

How good was he? Those who saw him compete, including former teammate Jerry Colangelo, now director of USA Basketball, insists he should be mentioned in the same discussion with Lou Boudreau, Dike Eddleman, Otto Graham, Ted Kluszewski, Mike Conley, LaMarr Thomas, Quinn Buckner, Tai Streets and his teammate at Bloom, Leroy Jackson.

Until his death, however, Thurmans whereabouts were unknown to members of his family and friends. Alan Macey, a longtime sports reporter in Chicago Heights, spent more than 30 years trying to find Thurman without success. He even put an FBI agent on Thurmans trail but he kept running into one dead end after another. Close friend and classmate Homer Dillard said Thurman hadnt been seen since 1974.

The truth is Thurmans body wouldnt have been claimed except Ken Nelson, who befriended Thurman when he landed in Hawaii in the late 1970s, recalled that Thurman once mentioned he had played with the Harlem Globetrotters. It spurred an online search in which Nelson discovered stories about Thurmans Chicago background.

The Honolulu City and County medical examiner found information in Thurmans wallet and was able to contact a son, Tom Stone, a professional photographer in San Francisco, California. Stone said his father would be cremated.

Stone and his mother, Catherine Stone, who also lives in the San Francisco area, didnt have much of a relationship with Thurman. Catherine, a California girl who met Thurman at a restaurant in Sausalito that was owned by the Kingston Trio of folk music fame, said she was with Homer for only four years. A victim of physical abuse, she fled with her son, who was born in a Pullman compartment on a trail traveling between Mexico City and Oaxaca, Mexico.

I talked to my father a few months before he died, Tom Stone said. I didnt have much of a relationship with him. It never was good until the end. Last year, I was interacting with him, as good as it has ever been. We talked on the telephone now and again.

Part of our issue was he was very secretive. We dont know any of his family. We have pictures of him in his basketball days. We knew he was fairly successful in sports in his early days. But we didnt know he was one of the great all-around athletes in Illinois history.

Stone was only two years old when his parents broke up. He was home-schooled by his mother, who encouraged her son to reach his full potential in high school by studying such creative pursuits as art, painting and music. At Harvard, he majored in computer science and also took courses in creative writing and film.

Today, the 41-year-old Stone is an accomplished humanitarian photographer with a gallery in San Francisco. His work depicts the discrepancy between the American dream and the American reality. He is most widely known for his documentary photography of outsider, displaced and homeless people in California.

Even though they never married, Catherine Stone said she cried when she learned of Homers death. When you love someone, you always love them, she said.

It was a very difficult relationship. I always tried to keep in touch. When we visited him in Honolulu, he wouldnt see us. He was very close-mouthed about his past and his family. I wanted to meet his father so Tom would have a root. There was a desire to reach out but he didnt want to do that.

There were things in his life that he felt bad about. He always said he was Homer Thurman but he used the name Tony Washington, his cousins name, for legal reasons. I always understood he was in trouble with the law.

The fact that he was such a sterling athlete speaks to some level of self-control and discipline. But emotionally, he couldnt control himself. He had rage inside of him. I think that was his Achilles heel. It prevented him from going forward.

In the last few years, however, it sounds as if he had made peace with himself. He wasnt angry anymore. He wanted to remake himself in many ways. He was gentle and kind. He had great faith.

Added Tom: He had a robust voice, a soft rumbling laugh and liked nothing better than a good conversation. He spent a very long time wrestling with his past. But he really seemed to find a degree of peace and calm and contentment in the last few months.

That was the man than Ken Nelson knew. Everyone knew him as Jah. He had a strong intellectual curiosity with an emphasis on science, particularly physics and the brain. He even had a theory of human behavior that he tenaciously pursued through reading. People who interacted with him said: The guy is very bright. He inevitably left you wondering: What screwed up this guy that his obvious intelligence veered so off-course?

There were other issues. Thurman delivered newspapers. He didnt have any health insurance. He was evicted from his YMCA room, his last known residence. His phone number always responded with the same message: The subscribers mailbox is full. He was bothered by injuries sustained in a hit-and-run accident. Never a braggart, he never told anyone about his athletic accomplishments as a teenager.

He never complained, bemoaned his lot in life or asked anyone for anything for free, Nelson said. He would quickly pay back any small loan and would himself, despite meager earnings, assist people he met who were even worse off. But despite our sometimes heating, sometimes informative, always interesting and challenging but frequently frustrating discussions, he remained reclusive, private and unknown. I knew nothing about his background before I met him. His sports background never was a feature of our conversations.

Born in Ittabena, Mississippi, on Nov. 18, 1939, Thurman moved to Chicago Heights with his family. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder was an All-State end on Blooms unbeaten 1957 football team. In basketball, he scored 1,619 points in four years, averaged 17.6 points per game and was a two-time All-Stater. In track and field, he won the state high jump and participated on two winning relays.

Colangelo, who teamed with Thurman on Blooms highly rated 22-2 team in 1957 that lost to Elgin 53-52 in the supersectional, recalled organizing a summer tournament in Chicago Heights.

I had the best players in the Midwest playing in the event, Colangelo said. I was looking for Homer Thurman. I found him in jail. He looked scruffy and hadnt touched a basketball in a long time.

Well, he ate a hamburger and some French fries and stepped on the court like he never missed a beat. He was the MVP of the tournament. He was an amazing story. He disappeared right after that. He is a tragic story, a great talent who went to waste.

By all accounts, Thurmans outlook on life changed in 1959, when his mother died. His father, a preacher, left the family. She scrubbed floors. According to Catherine Stone, she was violent with Homer. According to Homer Dillard, he was a high-strung, temperamental individual who was never able to relax.

When his mother died, something died inside him, Dillard said. So many people expected him to do so much. They said he would be the next Oscar Robertson. But he didnt want to work as hard.

The sad part is he was imprinted at an early age in a way that he could never get past, Catherine Stone said.

Thurman was recruited by Iowa but left after a semester and landed at Midland Lutheran College in Fremont, Nebraska. He was a black star in a white community. In 1962, he married Janet Bartling, the daughter of a local newspaper publisher. They were married in Chicago, had two children, Tony and Tammi, then were divorced in 1965. Bartling returned to Fremont, where she resides today.

In the early 1970s, after Catherine Stone, fearing for her safety, broke off her relationship with Thurman and fled with her son, sleeping in bushes in wealthy Los Angeles neighborhoods for a time, she eventually found solace after joining Source Family, a spiritual commune in the Hollywood Hills that was founded by Father Yod. He also was the lead singer of the communes psychedelic rock band Ya Ho Wa 13. Curiously, Thurman played guitar in the band and was pictured on the cover of one of the groups albums.

When I joined the spiritual family, I realized (Yod) was a truth seeker and love never dies. I found truth in the family and learned how to live my life in a positive way. It gave me what I needed to bring up my son, Catherine Stone said.

She called Homer and invited him to join them in Hawaii. He agreed. It is a saga of effort and desire to change. He wanted to remake himself in many ways. The sad part is he seemed to be imprinted at an early age. He stayed with us for only a brief time, she said.

Two weeks ago, Catherine Stone contacted Janet Bartling in Fremont, Nebraska. They talked for a long while. Both of Bartlings children have graduated from college, are married and have children of their own.

We agreed it was tragic that so much talent and potential was lost and that Homer did not know any of his children, Catherine said.

Is Javier Baez the next Ben Zobrist for Cubs?

zorilla_05-05_640x360_680474179793.jpg

Is Javier Baez the next Ben Zobrist for Cubs?

Ben Zobrist’s hot streak has earned the veteran newcomer to the North Side a lot of attention of late.

The Cubs’ everyday second baseman is hitting .325/.431/.600 with three home runs and 16 RBIs in his last 11 games. But he’s also showed off some of that much-advertised versatility in recent games, too, playing both second base and right field in two of the last four contests. It’s the first move off second base this season for the guy who signed with a utility-player pedigree, moving all around during his time playing for Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay.

That versatility can be found all over this Cubs roster, but perhaps no player has gained more attention for it than Javier Baez, who has taken on a utility role for Maddon.

And because the youth of this Cubs team always has fans and media members looking down the road a few years, the question was posed ahead of Friday’s game against the Nationals: Is Baez the next Zobrist?

In terms of starring as a career utility player — Zobrist made his first All-Star Game in a season where he appeared at seven different positions — Maddon doesn't think so.

“He’s probably going to settle in one spot on the infield. Probably,” Maddon said. “His defense, it’s really different in a good way. Zo was a shortstop, and we took him off shortstop. And he went to the outfield/second base … which really, his abilities are conducive to that. I’m not saying that Javy can’t be that. Of course he can be. But I think you might eventually want him to just nail down a spot, I think, probably in the middle of the field somewhere because he could contribute more there normally. But for right now, I love where he is at regarding this super-utility kind of an attitude.

“Is he going to be Zobrist? I don’t think so, but it’s possible.”

Baez has wowed early this season with both his glove and his bat — he’s reached base in 16 of his 43 plate appearances this season — and he’s certainly been versatile, playing at five different positions already in just 15 games.

The versatility of Baez is perfect for Maddon, who loves putting players in every possible spot on the field and in the lineup. He’s done it with Kris Bryant, swapping the All Star between third base and the outfield, and Kyle Schwarber, who was set to play outfield and catch on a fairly regular basis prior to his season-ending injury on the season-opening road trip.

And in addition to being a puzzle piece that fits in numerous spots, Baez and his prowess with both his glove and his bat make it so Maddon can give some rest to another young infielder in Addison Russell without much of a drop in production.

“That’s a beautiful thing, and I think we’ve been able to do that all over the field with different guys when we give guys rest,” Maddon said. “Our guys that are in waiting are really good. So I feel good about that. It’s wonderful to be able to keep Addison strong mentally and physically during the course of the year, like you’re not losing anything by putting the other guy at shortstop. All this stuff … this is something that Theo (Epstein) and Jed (Hoyer) had set up before I’d gotten here.”

The most glowing praise Maddon gave Baez on Friday had to do with his maturity and how the 23-year-old has changed in just his third season in the big leagues.

“He just really has accelerated maturity-wise,” Maddon said. “The maturation of his game and his outlook on the day is really staggeringly different than it was last year, and I’m not putting him down, he’s just really grown up quickly. To his credit. We’ve done a lot of talking with him, done a lot of explaining with him. He smiles easily right now, and he gets his role on a daily basis and how important it is to us. Give him all the credit in the world.”

Ben Zobrist, Daniel Murphy and a new Mr. October for Cubs?

maddon_on_win_05-05_640x360_680475203518.jpg

Ben Zobrist, Daniel Murphy and a new Mr. October for Cubs?

Ben Zobrist never made it to the sit-down his camp had scheduled with the Washington Nationals at the winter meetings, which took place at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee, not far from his offseason home. 

The Cubs were quietly hitting their multiple bank shot, trading Starlin Castro to the New York Yankees for Adam Warren and getting Zobrist to Chicago for the physical to finalize a four-year, $56 million contract.   

The Nationals found their Plan B for second base by Christmas Eve, agreeing to a three-year, $37.5 million deal with Daniel Murphy, the new Mr. October who crushed the Cubs during the National League Championship Series.

Murphy and Zobrist intersected again on Thursday night at Wrigley Field, the Cubs winning Round 1 of this four-game series between National League heavyweights by a 5-2 score. 

The fans booed Murphy for last year’s NLCS MVP performance with the New York Mets, while Zobrist drew first blood with a two-run single in the fourth inning and a going-for-the-jugular two-run homer in the eighth. At 21-6, the Cubs are dominating every phase of the game after winning the offseason.   

“We knew that we were going to be good,” Zobrist said, “but sometimes you start slow. We got off well the first week and we kept it going. There’s something to be said for getting the ball rolling in the right direction early. And that makes a huge difference.”   

The Cubs wanted Zobrist’s steady presence on defense, his leadership in the clubhouse and a different dimension for their lineup. Zobrist earned his championship ring with the Kansas City Royals, handling New York’s power pitching in the World Series.  

Murphy cooled off by that point after a ridiculous four-homer power surge during the NLCS sweep, which included his memorable momentum-shifting swing against Jake Arrieta in Game 2. Murphy reached so far down for that Arrieta curveball that his left knee almost scraped the dirt, lifting it out toward Citi Field’s right-field seats for a two-run homer and a 3-0 first-inning lead.   

“There’s not enough adjectives to explain how good Jake has been over the last year-and-a-half,” Murphy said. “I think he just put together – I was reading – (something) like the best 25-game stretch of anybody ever. So I was able to get a pitch that he probably felt like he executed pretty well. 

“I didn’t hit it great. I just happened to wrap it around the pole. With Curtis Granderson and David (Wright) in front of me, they had really good at-bats, and our pitching was throwing the ball really well. Fortunately, that kind of ended up being enough for us.”

Something clicked for Murphy, who after an 0-for-4 night is still hitting .382 with four homers and 17 RBI for a first-place Washington team (19-9) the Cubs might face in the playoffs. 

But the Cubs now believe they might have their own Mr. October, who didn’t go that far down the road negotiating with the Nationals. Zobrist turned down four-year, $60 million offers from the Mets and San Francisco Giants for the chance to make history in Chicago. 

“There’s a great mix of the way guys are playing,” Zobrist said, “the way they’re feeling, the way they’re having conversations with each other. It’s the way that they’re just out there having a good time. We celebrate well together. We battle well together.

“That’s great on May 5th to get that feeling already. Sometimes you won’t get that feeling of a good team until later in the season. We’re going to have to weather some storms. We know that. But right now, we’re just trying to play great baseball.”

Cubs' Dexter Fowler still steaming after first-ever ejection

dexter_and_maddon_on_ejection_05-05_640x360_680481347621.jpg

Cubs' Dexter Fowler still steaming after first-ever ejection

Three hours after being ejected, Dexter Fowler was still fuming.

Fowler - who leads Major League Baseball in on-base percentage - only got two at-bats Thursday night against the Washington Nationals before he was directed to hit the showers by home plate umpire Vic Carapazza.

Fowler struck out looking in his first two times to the plate and expressed his frustration with Carapazza on the field after his third-inning at-bat.

It didn't take long for Carapazza to give Fowler the boot.

Here's the rundown of the conversation, according to the Cubs's leadoff hitter:

Fowler: Was that pitch at the top of the zone?
Carapazza: Yes.
Fowler: Are you going to call them away, too, and down? What are we doing? I wanna know the strike zone.
Carapazza: That's enough.
Fowler: Enough of what? I'm asking you a question.

"And he threw me out," Fowler said. "I was surprised he didn't answer the question. He just walked away and said, 'That's enough.' I said, 'You're not gonna answer my question?' And he threw me out.

"I figure I got two more at-bats; I wanted to know the strike zone. Are you gonna call them up? Are you gonna call them away? Whatever. Just let me know. That's all."

Fowler said he has never been ejected from a game in his life at any level.

He admits he's said more than that before and hasn't gotten tossed. And he's also occasionally asked umpires where their strike zone is.

"People have answered my questions and I walked off," Fowler said. "That's all you want is an answer. ... Everybody knows I'm respectful. I wasn't being disrespectful at all. I just asked a question. It sucks I got thrown out of the game."

Fowler has been the Cubs' most productive offensive player this season, but his teammates still found a way to earn a 5-2 victory over the Nationals in his absence.

Joe Maddon was on his way out to argue when Fowler was tossed, but the Cubs manager wasn't as interested in getting into the whole ordeal after the game like his centerfielder was.

"I was arguing that we are a team that does not expand our strike zone," Maddon said. "That was my argument."