It’s 6 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 15, and I’m about to start my last day at The Kansas City Star.
April 1, 1981 was my first day at The Star, and back then my boss was editorial page editor Jim Scott. Not long after I arrived in Kansas City, Jim taught me a valuable lesson.
One day I drew a cartoon that upset some people and Jim was getting phone calls of complaint. I dropped by his office to apologize; he was having a rough day because of something I’d done. Jim said I shouldn’t worry; he’d fought in WWII, and once you had someone try to shoot you with a machine gun, nothing else seemed that bad.
As anyone paying attention already knows, The Star is going through changes, and my departure is one of those changes. You can curse the changes or adjust and move on ... and I plan to adjust and move on.
In the meantime, I’ll do my best to appreciate what I’ve had: 37 years of employment and once-in-a-lifetime experiences at The Kansas City Star.
From Roy Rogers to Eric Hosmer
Over the years, The Star has paid for my house, sent my kids to school and allowed me to travel the country on their dime. Back when there were enough political cartoonists to have a yearly convention, The Star sent me to those conventions and allowed me to spend a week hanging out with my friends and colleagues.
Because I worked at The Star, I’ve been invited to lecture at dozens of schools and universities. One year, I was invited to lecture at the John F. Kennedy School of Politics at Harvard University and spent a week roaming Cambridge — and one night sleeping in JFK’s old dorm room.
Harvard has kept Kennedy’s dorm room just like it was when he was a student, and if you get invited to spend the night there, you sign a register for posterity. I looked through the celebrities who had bunked down in JFK’s room and was most impressed that I was sharing the space that had once housed my childhood hero: the King of the Cowboys, Roy Rogers.
No word on where his horse Trigger spent the night.
Because I worked at The Star, I won an award given out by Columbia College in Chicago and was seated at a table along with newspaper legend Mike Royko. After the awards were over, Mike took us to hear jazz pianist Art Hodes and bought me one of Art’s albums.
On another trip to Chicago — once again, financed by The Star — I shared a cab with Jim Belushi. We hit it off and he invited me and a friend to visit his bar and hang out with the guys from Second City.
The only reason I had those experiences was because I worked at The Kansas City Star.
In 2010, The Star gave me the opportunity to cover the Kansas City Royals and start a new chapter in my professional career.
After I stood in front of a 92 mph pitch and let it hit me in the vicinity of my left kidney, Royals catcher Jason Kendall decided I was cool enough to hang out with, and we eventually wrote a book together.
Not long after that hit-by-pitch video came out, Eric Hosmer made it to the big leagues and the first thing he ever said to me was: “Are you the dude?” When I confirmed I was the dude who got hit by a pitch, Hosmer said: “If you’re going to do any more crazy (bleep), I want in.”
Four years later, I was in the visiting clubhouse at Citi Field in Queens after the Royals won the World Series and Hosmer poured champagne over my head. Later, Hosmer took me to his barber to get my look freshened up, and I’ve kept the haircut. For seven years we really did do some crazy (bleep) together.
So what’s next?
I will continue covering baseball, and if you enjoyed Judging the Royals you can now find it at https://leejudgekc.wordpress.com
If you want to get in touch, my new email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
If you want to follow me on Twitter, you can do that at @leejudge8.
I’ve updated a few past articles to get things started on the site, but I will soon be posting totally new material. People have asked what they can do to support me, and visiting Judging the Royals at the new site would be one way to do that. Between now and opening day, I hope to hook up with another news organization that has a website and covers the Royals. I’ll let you know how that goes.
Support your local paper
Change is upsetting and, like every other newspaper in the country, The Kansas City Star has been changing. But whatever you think of those changes, The Star still needs your support.
Even if you never agreed with a single cartoon I ever published, you still need a healthy newspaper acting as a watchdog on your behalf. You want someone keeping an eye on the people in power. And as more and more news outlets cater to a particular crowd, you want a newspaper that at least tries to report both sides of the story. What happens to me next is fairly unimportant; what happens to newspapers next will change the world for better or worse.
And frankly, I’ll be OK. As Jim Scott taught me all those years ago, it’s really not that bad: nobody is trying to shoot me with a machine gun.
Thanks for your support and interest over the years and I’ll be talking to you soon.