Broke Bat Mountain

Tony La Russa loves So Taguchi; Kevin McGowan hates Twain. And as for Unreal? Well, we're pretty darn fond of Budweiser slogans and a rather imaginative local blogger.

You might say it came out of left field.

It's common knowledge that St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa harbors two non-baseball passions: rock music and animal rights. (To see La Russa's rock blog, point your browser to cardcarryingrocker.com.) But reporter Matthew Leach, who covers the Redbirds for Major League Baseball's official Web site, mlb.com, recently uncovered a third La Russa fixation.

A late-February Leach dispatch from Jupiter, Florida, contained this love letter from the Cards skipper to backup outfielder So Taguchi, who's vying for the starting spot vacated by Reggie Sanders:

Dan Zettwoch

"If I was the opposite gender, I'd be chasing him. I'd be dating him. But I'm not, so I don't. But I'm making the point. This guy's got a ton of personality. He's really a neat guy. The players have enjoyed him from Day 1. He's smart and he's funny. I really appreciate everything about him."

Killer App
Hot-button topics — stem-cell research, port security, gunslinging vice presidents and the like — don't register so much as a blip on Unreal's radar screen.

That said, we're unequivocally anti-murder. Especially in our hometown. Those annual studies that rank cities by murder rate? Every time one comes out, we shed a tear (on the inside).

Which is why we were so stizzoked to learn about recent results from an ongoing study called the Improving Crime Data Project, put together by researchers at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Turns out things here aren't as bad as they seem!

Specifically, when you factor in our poverty, unemployment and preponderance of single-mom households, St. Louisans should be murdering much more than we do.

"If you only take raw information — the number of homicides and the size of the population — you have the appearance that you can compare cities to each other," explains Robert Friedmann, a criminal-justice professor at Georgia State and coauthor of the study. "But you expect that a city with given sociodemographic characteristics will produce a certain-level crime. What we have done is see if the city had more or less [murders] than its expected level."

Specifically, there were 113 slayings in St. Louis in 2004 — bad enough to rank our town fifth among cities with 250,000 or more residents. But after adjusting for Friedmann's factors, St. Louis drops to 19th on the list. Take that, Lexington, Kentucky (which shot from 39th up to 11th)! Take that, San Francisco (which went from 30th to numero uno)!

"What I would say is that the number of people murdered in St. Louis is lower than expected," Friedmann says. "I wouldn't phrase it that more people should be murdered."

OK, Unreal's a little politically incorrect. But so's the Improving Crime Data Project, whose "sociodemographic characteristics" include a city's percentage of African-American residents. In other words, the more blacks in your town, the more crime-ridden it's "expected" to be.

"The fact that you're talking about blacks doesn't mean that it's racist," counters Friedmann. "Partly because a lot of crimes are black on black."

Does he think the new figures might boost tourism?

"It definitely won't damage it," Friedmann hedges. "You have to look at the particulars: If 100 percent of these homicides were against tourists, then tourists should be worried. But that's not the case. So I don't think they should be worried."

Bud Off!
St. Louisans have always been an inventive bunch. We've also been a thirsty, pest-plagued bunch. So it was that while Unreal was applying to trademark the title of our upcoming roman à clef, Party Like There's No Mañana, we were miffed to discover that the evil geniuses at Anheuser-Busch's marketing department had already called dibs on the phrase.

But that got us to thinking, what else is off limits?

Below you'll find ten trademarked phrases. Five belong to Anheuser-Busch. The other five are trademarked by United Industries Corporation, a St. Louis-based insecticide manufacturer. Can you tell the difference?

1) Recycle for the Next Generation
2) Know How Know Who
3) Squeeze 'n' Pour
4) Right On at Any Range
5) Dead On Every Time
6) Triplestrike
7) Cobra
8) Freedom to Grow
9) Frank the Lizard
10) Bugzilla

Answers: Anheuser-Busch: 1,4,7,8,9;

United Industries: 2,3,5,6,10

Urine Trouble
Unlike Unreal, Kevin McGowan is not fond of Richard Serra's Twain.

"It's nothing but a homeless urinal," the downtown developer (and resident) says of the 160-ton sculpture, which sits rusting on prime real estate in the middle of the Gateway Mall, the sward that extends from Broadway to Union Station between Market and Chestnut Streets. "You walk through there, and it smells like a bathroom."

As a cofounder of Urban Roots, a nonprofit cadre of movers/shakers who aim to beautify downtown, McGowan intends to do something about St. Louis' most controversial piece of public art. Urban Roots is lobbying the city to hand over partial control of the Gateway Mall. A tentative blueprint calls for the removal of Kiener Plaza and the adjacent amphitheater, the installation of a wading pool/skating rink and the Market Street Gardens, a lush meadow punctuated by a jogging path.

A nationwide planning competition is set for this fall, with public forums to follow, according to McGowan. And if he has anything to say about it, the city will have to find a new home for Twain.

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