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Salutes to Laurent Durvernay-Tardif, Fred Willard, Trey Mancini + Watching 1980s Games & Upcoming TCM Highlights

In a normal baseball season, June swoons are a fate teams want to avoid.  Let's hope that we as a nation don't swoon into the worst kind of cultural and maybe actual civil war.

 

I like to accentuate the positive so here's a huge shout-out to Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.  The only doctor in the NFL and fresh from a Super Bowl triumph, Laurent is currently on duty serving COVID-19 patients at a hospital outside Montreal.  

 

I learned many fascinating things about Duvernay-Tardif during an incisive report by Andrea Kremer in the current installment of HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel". He is the only McGill of Montreal university graduate ever to play in the NFL. His parents once took him and his sister out of grade school for a year to sail the world. 

 
Here's another inspiring story. Comic actor Fred Willard passed away last week at the age of 86.  I first loved him playing an Ed McMahon-style sidekick to Martin Mull's Barth Gimble on "Fernwood 2-Night," the successor to "Mary Hartman Mary Hartman" on early 1970s TV. 

 
Willard later won great acclaim for his roles in SUCH hilarious satirical films as "A Mighty Wind" and "Best in Show" where he played a memorable Joe Garagiola-style dog show announcer.  He and Martin Mull later played a gay couple on"Rosanne" and at the end of his life Williard had a recurring role as a grandfather on "American Family".

 
But according to Richard Sandomir in the New York Times obit, Fred Willard said that his "greatest achievement" was "teaching his daughter how to catch a fly ball."  Willard himself played baseball at VMI and also on military teams in Florida.  

 
I want to wish continuing speedy recovery to the Orioles Trey Mancini who is recovering from colon cancer surgery and will miss the entire 2020 season (whether or not it is played). 

It turns out that Trey's father is a surgeon who had the same operation when he was 58.

 
Trey, the only consistent offensive threat on a depleted Baltimore roster, is not yet 28. 

He has already become a team leader on the Orioles and a fan favorite.  

 
In a heartfelt piece he wrote for the Players Tribune,  Mancini thanked the scout Kirk Fredriksson who had become a passionate supporter of him when he was playing for Holyoke  in a New England collegiate summer league.  

 

Thanks to Fredriksson's advocacy, the Orioles made Mancini their 8th round pick in the 2013 amateur draft. Rare is the player of any generation who has publicly praised the scout who signed him. Just another reason to wish Trey Mancini the speediest of recoveries.

 
As of this posting at the beginning of June, I don't know if major league baseball will return this year. It doesn't look like deal-makers exist on either side of the owner-player divide.

I don't think it has helped that all the meetings have been held on Zoom.

 
Though I miss the daily flow of games and news of games, I have found some enjoyment watching old games on MLBTV.  Like most of the pine tar game between the Yankees and Royals at Yankee Stadium on the cloudy Sunday afternoon of July 24, 1983. 

 
I had forgotten how wonderfully wacky was Phil Rizzuto's on-air presence.  There he was, plugging a friend's restaurant and another friend's birthday while bantering with sidekick Frank Messer. 

 
When Messer used the word "perpendicular" to describe how one hitter had dived across the plate to protect a base runner on a hit-and-run play, Rizzuto acted impressed.  "Very good, Messer, . . . not that I know what it means."

 
Was also revealing to hear both Phil and Frank berate Steve Balboni for lack of production.  He was a rookie on the 1983 Yankees but he never could relax in NYC. 

 

He was traded to Kansas City the following year and had a good career with the Royals. On their 1985 world champions, he played first base all season and belted 36 HRs with 88 RBI and went 8-for-25 in the World Series.

 

This game is most remembered for George Brett's epic rant when his three-run home run in the top of the 9th was voided by rookie plate umpire Tim McClelland.  Billy Martin convinced the ump that Brett had used too much pine tar on his bat.

 

The Yankees' win was voided soon thereafter by American League president Lee MacPhail who argued that the rule was being interpreted too legalistically. Watching the whole game made me remember that Royals starter Bud Black pitched very well - Black is now the Colorado Rockies manager.

 
I also remembered important details when watching the famous Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. The smooth delivery and intelligence of Vince Scully was a joy to experience again.  The game is of course known as the Bill Buckner Game, but in any dramatic close game there are a raft of earlier plays that are just as important.    

 
It was an elimination game for the Mets who fell behind early to the Red Sox 2-0. Southpaw starter Bob Ojeda had come up with Boston and he was highly motivated to beat his old team. He kept the Mets in the game. 

 

Boston's Roger Clemens was in a good form and no hit the Mets for four innings but he used a lot of pitches.  In 1986, pitch counts were not yet in vogue. Though Clemens gave up the lead in the 5th, he stayed in through the 7th, throwing about 135 pitches and getting out of jams in both the 6th and 7th innings.

 
Another lesson learned from Game 6 was how vital a role Mookie Wilson played.  Not known for his arm, he still threw out Jim Rice at home plate to keep the Red Sox lead at one run in the 8th inning.  

 
We all remember Bill Buckner's error on Mookie Wilson's grounder that gave the Mets the win, but let's not forget the previous 9 pitches that Mookie battled against reliever Bob Stanley.  


The mastery of Vin Scully was evident throughout the broadcast, not least at the very end when the camera showed a shell-shocked Red Sox team leaving the field. Scully said, "If a picture is worth a thousand words, this one is worth a million."  

 

Before I forget, TCM throughout June will be featuring "Jazz in Film" every Monday and Thursday night. Late on Th June 4 (actually early Fri June 5) "High Society" with Louis Armstrong in a prominent role will be shown.

 

And I'm really looking forward to Monday night June 8 at 8p Sammy Davis Jr. stars in the rarely seen "A Man Called Adam" (1966).  Davis Jr was one of the greatest entertainers in American history and I'm eager to see how he plays a jazz trumpeter (with music provided by Nat Adderley, Cannonball's brother).  

 

That's all for now.  Always remember, now more than ever, "Take it easy but take it!" 

 

    

 

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Yankee-Red Sox London Slugfests Bring Back Memories of Phillies-Cubs 23-22 1979 Classic Re-Told In Kevin Cook's "Ten Innings At Wrigley"

I have my doubts that the two end-of-June slugfests the Yankees and Red Sox engaged in at London's Olympic Stadium will "grow the game" in Europe as both players and owners claim.  It was somewhat entertaining if you like lots of run-scoring and bizarre plays. 

 
My favorite moment was the amazing catch of a foul pop-up by Red Sox rookie first baseman Michael Chavis in the final game of the two-game series. He's not really a first baseman but injuries to regular Mitch Moreland and his capable sub Steve Pearce forced Chavis into an unfamiliar position.  

 
In a stadium built for track and field, now used for soccer and never for baseball, foul territory is huge. Far larger than either Oakland's cavernous Coliseum or Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  After not making a play on a similar foul on Saturday, Michael Chavis calculated the distance better on his second chance.  

 
Starting from between first and second, he raced into foul territory like a sprinter, slid, and made the catch with room to spare before he hit the wall. Yet I sure hope before the next series in 2020 between the Cubs and Cardinals, they somehow reduce the foul territory.  

 
Red Sox manager Alex Cora was very honest after the Yankees swept the games, 17-13 and 12-8.  "They are better than us right now," he said.  The Sox did show spunk by making games of each tussle, but their bullpen is in disarray. 

 
There is now talk of putting oft-injured starter Nathan Eovaldi in the closer's role when he returns. Yet I wouldn't count out the defending world champions from making a run, at least at the first wild card.  They still have the Four Killer B's in the heart of their lineup - Benintendi, Betts, Bogaerts, and Bradley Jr., all home-grown by the way. And I haven't even mentioned the big bopping Trump-supporting J. D. Martinez.

 

The six-run first-inning haymakers delivered by both teams in the 17-13 must have shocked the British locals used to seeing low-scoring soccer. In blessed baseball, nothing is new under the sun.  

 

To my mind the game brought back memories of the 23-22 10 inning game in May 1979 in which the Phillies scored 7 in the first only to see the Cubs respond with 6 of their own. Later in that game, Philly couldn't hold 15-6 and 21-9 leads and needed a Mike Schmidt 10th inning homer off future Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter to give them the victory.   

 

Kevin Cook has brought that game back to life in "Ten Innings at Wrigley:  The Wildest Ballgame Ever, With Baseball At The Brink" (Henry Holt).  Cook, who recently authored the absorbing "Electric Baseball" about key characters in the 1947 Dodgers-Yankees World Series, is blessed with an almost pitch-perfect ear for pithy character revelations.  

 

Here is sportswriter John Schulian remembering  Cubs manager Herman Franks seated in his office "with his feet on his desk, eating chocolate donuts and smoking a cigar, ignoring questions."  There is Phillies manager Danny Ozark, the master of malapropisms, saying that an opening day ovation sent "a twinkle up my spine."

 

But when starting to feel the heat for failing to make the World Series with three straight playoff teams, Ozark branded Phillie fans as "the boo-birds of unhappiness."  To a player demanding more time on the field, Ozark scoffs, "His limitations are limitless."  


"Ten Innings" is a lively summer read, but what separates it from the usual light baseball reading are the sensitive stories of the players and their later lives.  Bill Buckner, who died just after the book came out, is remembered as a gritty ballplayer who played hard through nearly-crippling injuries. In a reflective moment before the start of the 1986 World Series, he even mentions a nightmare of missing a ball on defense.  

 
Dave Kingman, the other offensive power on the 1979 Cubs, is recalled as focused almost entirely on his home run output to the detriment of other aspects of his game.  He did draw many fans to Wrigley, prompting Cubs fan turned official team historian Ed Hartig to tell Cook, "He was bad in interesting ways."  Kingman's contempt for the press is well-described but he is now evidently living his life happily as a family man in Lake Tahoe. 

 

The most tragic story in "Ten Innings" centers on relief pitcher Donnie Moore who entered the game after starter Dennis Lamp was knocked out in the first inning.  (In one of the vivid details that permeate this fine read, Lamp's wife arrived late for the game and no one was eager to tell her what had happened.)  

 

Cook was able to interview Moore's daughter who provides many insights on the life of her talented tormented father who committed suicide in 1989 after failing to kill his wife. Observations from Moore's teammate and fellow moundsman Ray Burris are very moving, memories of happier times in Chicago 1979.    

 
That's all for now.  Next time I want to say a lot about the play "Toni Stone".  For now I just want to mention it is running through Aug. 11 at the Pels Theatre at 111 W 46th Street just west of Sixth Ave. in NYC.   The story of the first woman to play baseball in the Negro Leagues is extremely well-told, acted, and choreographed.  

 
Always remember:  Take it easy but take it! 

 

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