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"Stronger Than Hate": Julian Edelman's Message + Notes on Opera and Film As We Await Spring Training

A cousin of mine just sent me an inspiring story about Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman, a rare openly Jewish member of the NFL (though technically only his father is Jewish not his mother). After the slaughter of defenseless Jews at a Pittsburgh Squirrel Hill neighborhood synagogue this past fall, the Patriots wide receiver Edelman showed his solidarity with his co-religionists by inking on his football shoes, "Stronger Than Hate". 


It's a wonderful reminder that human compassion can win out over the forces of hate and bigotry that have been let loose in this country and implicitly encouraged from the top down.  I ran across tonight another inspirational quote from an emeritus archivist at Illinois Wesleyan University:  "The past is immutable, but history is up to us." 


I didn't know until researching a talk I'm giving at the NINE magazine baseball conference in Phoenix in early March that Illinois Wesleyan U. as well as Branch Rickey's beloved alma mater Ohio Wesleyan took a stand against racial segregation. In 1966 they refused to allow its baseball team play against still-segregated Mississippi universities. Instead they competed against other northern schools Illinois State, Xavier of Ohio, and Parsons of Iowa  at the Keesler Air Force base in Biloxi. 


Turning to baseball news, many sportswriters and fans are increasingly agitated that star free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are still unsigned. Now even Aaron Judge is getting into the act. He's been quoted that the Yankees could find room for Harper in right field and he'd be willing to move to center field.


Aaron, calm down please.  Last spring training you put in a pitch for Machado to join the Yankees.  You are a very likable fellow and a budding great player, even Yankee haters admire you.  But let Brian Cashman general manage and you just get ready for another stellar season.


It's bad enough when fans in too many cities have little hope to contend. 


With the Knicks and Rangers pretty hopeless winter teams in NYC and only the Brooklyn Nets giving glimmers of basketball hope, I've been enjoying the arts much more than winter pro sports. For those who love the work of Milos Forman - the Czech exile who came to the USA after the failed "socialism with a human face"1968 revolution in his home country - Forman's first American film, "Taking Off", is playing two more times at the Film Forum on Houston Street.  This Thursday Feb 7 at 220 and 620p. 


I saw it on Saturday and the 1971 film holds up well. It is a realistic farce about the panicked efforts of a suburban couple (Buck Henry and Lynn Carlin) to find their teenaged daughter who in the later years of the hippie craze has run away to the East Village. 


They discover that other parents are in the same boat so they join the SPFC - the Society for Parents of Fugitive Children.  The scenes where they are instructed in smoking dope and the aftermath are as hilarious as I remembered. 


For opera buffs, you still have a chance to see a rare double-bill at the Met Opera, Tchaikovsky's last opera "Iolanta" (1892) and Bartok's only opera "Bluebeard's Castle".  Both were inspired by Grimm and other fairy tales of the mid-19th century. 


The Met Opera orchestra remains one of the treasures of our town, and this time the inventive staging matched the music.   (You can hear "Iolanta" and "Bluebeard's Castle" live on the Met's long-running radio broadcast this Sat Feb 9 at 1230P EST.)


"Without music life would be a mistake," Friedrich Nietzsche said on one of his better days.  


That's all for now - in the meantime always remember:  "Take it easy but take it." 

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NL Wild Card Drama + One Oriole Fan's Farewell to Buck Showalter

The end of the regular baseball season is always a bittersweet time. There are playoffs ahead but October baseball is national not local (except for radio if your team is in the hunt.). I already miss the daily flow of games from all over the country and the amassing of steady incremental statistics.

The National League Wild Card game was historic in that two divisions ended in dead heats. That meant two one-game playoffs this past Monday Oct 1 to determine the division winner and automatic entry into the playoffs.

The Dodgers won at home over the Colorado Rockies and the Milwaukee Brewers won at Chicago to assure their places in the tournament. That meant the Wild Card game would pit Colorado at the Cubs’ Wrigley Field on Tuesday night Oct 2.

In a 2-1 13-inning thriller, the Rockies eliminated the Cubs. (I’m a New Yorker and have never called them the Cubbies and never will.) It was a wonderful ending for those of us who like to see the unheralded player - almost the last man on the 25-man roster - become the unlikely hero.

Around the bewitching bell of midnight CDT, it was third-string catcher Tony Wolters who drove in the winning run with a single up the middle. It was a tough experience for Chicago to lose two post-season games in a row at home but I think they’ll be back in future post-seasons.

A fully healthy Kris Bryant should help a lot. Maybe they’ll be able to get some wins and innings from the very expensive free agent bust Yu Darvish. Most of all, the team cohesion will have to return.

When the Cubs were in command of the division for most of the second half of the season, team leader Anthony Rizzo was quoted as saying that the team was made up of number one draft choices who don’t act like them. That grinding quality needs to return.

The American League Wild Card game the following night - Bobby Thomson Day October 3 - provided no such excitement. A now-healthy Aaron Judge slugged a two-run homer in the first inning and the Yankees were rarely threatened on their way to a 7-2 romp over the Oakland A’s.

Predictably, Billy Beane, the widely-hailed genius of the A’s, said that a playoff never tests the true value of a team, and usually effective manager Bob Melvin agreed. But like the Twins last year the A’s did not seem ready to play in such a high-pressured situation. A low payroll is no excuse for uninspired play though the Yankees are certainly formidable and peaking at the right time.

I grew up watching too many Yankees-Dodgers World Series in the 1940s and 1950s but we may be heading in that direction again. We’ll find out more in the next couple of weeks as the Yankees-Red Sox and Houston-Cleveland meet in the ALDS and the Dodgers-Atlanta Braves and Colorado-Milwaukee go head-to-head in the NLDS.

I'd like to see a rematch of the 1948 and 1995 with the Indians and Braves - Ryan Braun's arrogant unrepentant PED-abusing past makes it impossible for me to root hard for the Brewers though I have Wisconsin roots from the 1960s.

I'd like to see Indians win in seven though they too have a poster boy for PED abuse, Melky Cabrera. (Maybe he won't make the post-season roster.) But I know very well you can't always get what you want.

Meanwhile the baseball managerial firing season is in full flower. Cubs honcho Theo Epstein has assured the world that Joe Maddon will return in 2019 but not with an extension to the contract so he could well be considered a lame duck. Not likely given his innovative approach to life and managing.

Some people were surprised that Paul Molitor was fired in Minnesota but not me. I could see a look of near-resignation on his face in the latter stages of the season. In a very weak AL Central, the Twins finished second at 78-84 but only because they won a lot of relatively meaningless games at the end of the year.

The decision to not renew Buck Showalter’s contract in Baltimore was no surprise to anybody. A 47-115 season doesn’t look good on anyone’s resume.

It may mean the end of his managerial career though at 62 he still looks good on the surface. He certainly should be saluted for his many great achievements at turning around moribund teams - starting out with the New York Yankees in 1992 who had just come through their worst non-championship period after the 1981 World Series.

Buck left the Yankees after they lost a thrilling ALCS to the Seattle Mariners in 1995. He then became the first manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, starting with the team and setting the tone of the organization two years before they played their first game in 1998.

Just as in New York though, where Joe Torre took over essentially Buck’s team plus Derek Jeter and won the 1996 World Series, the Diamondbacks only went all the way in 2001 after Buck yielded the reins to former catcher (and now announcer) Bob Brenly. The addition of aces Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling didn’t hurt.

After managing the Texas Rangers for a few years earlier this century, he came to the Orioles late in the 2010 season. He turned the team around quickly and by 2012 the Orioles were back in the playoffs for the first time since 1997.

They won the AL East in 2014 and I’ll never forget the last great euphoric moment at Camden Yards. After beating the Tigers two in a row - a bases-clearing double by Delmon Young the deciding hit - a joyous Orioles fan carried a sign into the happy milling crowd: KATE UPTON IS HOT, VERLANDER IS NOT. (Justin of course now has the last laugh appearing again in the playoffs for the second year in a row.)

Buck’s last playoff game with the Orioles can be marked in 20-20 hindsight as the beginning of the end - when he chose not to use ace closer Zach Britton in the Wild Card game at Toronto in 2016. In fairness to Buck, every other bullpen choice in that game had worked like a charm.

But to channel George Costanza to George Steinbrenner in a classic Seinfeld episode, “How could you trade Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps?” I asked in wonderment sitting at the bar at Foley’s that night: “How could you choose Ubaldo Jimenez over Zach Britton in a double-play situation in a tied game on the road?!”

Buck’s last two seasons were not good in Baltimore and 2018 defied belief in its horror. He is moving back to Texas, this native of the Florida Panhandle who went and played at Mississippi State but owes a lot of his inspiration to meeting his father’s friend Bear Bryant at Alabama.

From his earliest moments in Baltimore - when he finished 34-23 in 2010 winning more games than the team had won before he arrived - he made all of us Oriole addicts proud and created lasting memories.

It is almost fitting though equally sad that Adam Jones has probably also played his last game in Baltimore. This effervescent modern player and the old school manager formed a unique bond during the Orioles’s good years.

Jones’s free spirit but obvious desire to win allowed Buck to loosen up some of his old-school rules. So on hot days Buck allowed the Orioles to take batting practice in shorts. It was Jones who insisted that Buck take a bow out of the dugout when he won his 1000th game as a manager.

It’s sad that this year from hell lowered Showalter’s lifetime record to under .500 with the Orioles. The road up will be a hard one and the Orioles are also looking for a new general manager with the decision to not rehire Dan Duquette.

Ownership remains in flux with the Angelos sons in charge now with patriarch Peter ailing. It can’t be worse than 47-115, can it?

So let me close with a big thank you to Nathaniel “Buck” Showalter for the pride and joy he brought to the Orioles and their fans for many years.

That’s all for now - always remember: take it easy but take it!
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