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Troubled Musings on Baseball + Farewells to Carl Reiner & Johnny Mandel & More TCM Tips (updated)


I cannot say that I'm looking forward with any eagerness to the delayed opening of the MLB season on July 23 and 24. There are too many public health complications that could arise because of the still-uncontrolled coronavirus.  

 
Although travel will be mainly regional in the shortened 60-game regular season, teams will still be constantly on the road interacting with local populations that too often have disdained mask wearing and social distancing.   It may also be too much to expect the virile young players themselves to obey these rules and stick to their hotels while on the road.

 

There have already been some significant player defections. The biggest names so far who won't play at all in 2020 are Dodgers new southpaw David Price; Giants onetime All-Star catcher Buster Posey who doesn't want to put at risk his newly adopted infant twin daughters; and the Braves all-around outfielder Nick Markakis whose concern grew when he talked with his star teammate, first baseman Freddie Freeman who is already suffering with Covid-19.     

 
The quietly productive Markakis has 2355 career hits and will hurt his outside chance of reaching the magic number of 3000. Markakis was an Orioles mainstay for the first nine years of his career. But Baltimore blundered by not re-signing him after the 2014 season (sigh and double sigh. And still-active and productive Nelson Cruz too - more sighs.)   

 
Even before Freeman's affliction, Markakis was not thrilled at playing a season in empty stadiums. A gamer and a quiet leader, Nick liked playing in front of and for fans.  Perhaps he also remembered that game in 2013 when the Orioles played the White Sox in an empty Camden Yards after the riots sparked by Freddie Gray's death in police custody.  

 
As always, Houston's new manager Dusty Baker expressed some trenchant thoughts about baseball's situation during the pandemic. Interviewed during the Fourth of July weekend on WFAN's 33rd anniversary, he said he had used his time off clearing out a lot of unneeded stuff from closets and garages in his home.  

 
"We have too much," he noted.  The very charitable and socially conscious Baker, who at 71 is the oldest manager in MLB, said he donated a lot of material to garage sales and the homeless.  

 
Houston may have caught a break by the enforced idleness because the booing of the Astros in abbreviated spring training was intense.  Of course, the high tech-low comedy sign-stealing scandal occurred under previous manager A. J. Hinch and bench coach Alex Cora. 

 
Life must go on even in a pandemic.  "There is no wealth but life" remains my favorite adage courtesy of John Ruskin the British social theorist and art historian (who had no discovered connection to baseball, at least at press time).  


Here on the Upper West Side of New York City, we seem to be practicing social distancing and mask wearing very well.  The permanent closing of many restaurants and stores is very sad, but I was able this weekend to dine in the outdoors. Under Phase 3 recovery regulations,  surviving eateries are allowed to set up as many tables on sidewalks as space allows.

 
Before I close, I want to salute the memory of two nonagenarian creators who left us since I last posted: Composer-arranger Johnny Mandel, 94, and actor-comedian-writer Carl Reiner, 98.

 
I never met Carl Reiner but his role as a second banana to Sid Caesar on NBC Saturday  night's "Your Show of Shows" was a formative part of my first TV viewing in the early 1950s.  

 
Some of Reiner's bits with Caesar are etched forever in my brain.  Like his playing the title role in "The Dancing Doughboy" skit, a satire on World War I.  Poor Sid goes off to war while Carl is at home singing and dancing.  That's why you're fighting overseas, he tells Sid. So he can have fun at home.   


Or the Scrabble game where Reiner questions a strange word that Caesar has put down, and Sid challenges Carl's "MACHINE":  "What's this "MAC HINE?  That's not a word, it's a name." 

 
Reiner was truly American entertainment's Renaissance man.  He was Mel Brooks' interviewer on the hilarious "2000 Year Old Man" albums; director of TV's "Dick Van Dyke Show" and many movies; and of course father of actor-director Rob Reiner who first came to fame as Archie Bunker's son-in-law aka "Meathead". 

 
Dear reliable TCM will devote the evening and early morning hours on Th July 28 to a Reiner salute beginning with the semi-autobiographical "Enter Laughing" at 8p, followed by "All of Me" with Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin at 10p, "The Comic" at midnight, "Where's Poppa" at 2a, and "Oh God!" with George Burns at 330a.

 
While I'm plugging TCM's great programming, set your dials this coming Saturday night July 18 for "Bogie in 1941".  Coming at us back-to-back: "Maltese Falcon" at 8p, followed by "High Sierra" at 10p.  Earlier at 2p from 1944, Dick Powell breaks permanently free from his goody-two-shoes persona in "Murder, My Sweet". 

 

If that's not enough, at midnight Eddie Muller's Noir Alley features "Three Strangers" 1946 with that memorable duo of Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet plus Geraldine Fitzgerald all tied together by one winning lottery ticket. 

 

TCM program note:  After July 25-26 "The Breaking Point," John Garfield's last film, Noir Alley will be on hiatus in August, but happily will return the second weekend in September.

 
Another great loss to our culture recently was Johnny Mandel, 94, in southern California. The New York-born composer-arranger - his early schooling was at PS 6 on Upper East Side - gifted the world with many great movie melodies.

 

A partial list includes "The Shadow of Your Smile" (from "The Sandpiper" with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton); "Emily" (from the "Americanization of Emily" with James Garner and Julie Andrews); "Suicide Is Painless" (the theme from "M*A*S*H); and a particular favorite of mine, the chromatically lush "Close Enough For Love" (from "Agatha").  

 

"I Want to Live" was his early breakthrough score in the 1950s, based on the real story of the jazz-loving unfairly-convicted murderer Barbara Graham (Susan Hayward). 

 
In one of my last interviews for WBAI-Pacifica in 1991, I visited Mandel when he was staying at a hotel in New York.  For all the great acclaim he received for his writing for movies, he considered playing horns in the Count Basie band in the 1950s his greatest musical thrill.  

 
We lost another great nonagenarian movie composer last week when Ennio Morricone died at 91.

 

And finally, here's a hoist of a glass to film-maker Kevin Rafferty, who left us much too early at age 73.  His doc. about the nuclear industry, "The Atomic Cafe," is a renowned classic.  

 
I discovered his work through his enjoyable and informative documentary "Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29," about the 1968 classic football encounter between two undefeated Ivy League powerhouses.  Viewing this film might take the sting away from the recent announcement that there will be no Ivy League football in the fall of 2020. 

 

Let's hope these great creators are never forgotten.  And those younger amongst us can find inspiration for such memorable fulfillment in our work. 

 
Always remember:  Take it easy but take it!  

 

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The Cape Cod Baseball League Should Be On Every Fan's Bucket List

In early August I spent five wonderful days watching playoff action in the Cape Cod Baseball League. Probably the oldest summer league in the country, dating back to 1885, the Cape is also the most prestigious. As many as 1 in 7 of current major leaguers played at least a summer on one of the ten teams in the CCBL.

The Giants’ Buster Posey (Florida State), Astro stalwarts Dallas Keuchel (Arkansas) and George Springer (Connecticut) and the Yankees' Mark Teixeira and the Orioles' Matt Wieters (both Georgia Tech) honed their skills in the CCBL. So did onetime catchers and current MLB managers Joe Girardi of the Yankees (Northwestern) and Mike Matheny of the Cardinals (Michigan).

One of the many charms of the CCBL is the players’ college is always announced as well as their names. There is never an admission charge during the regular season that stretches from early June to late July. Only in Hyannis for the playoffs, where the Harbor Hawks lost the final series to repeat champion Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox, did I see a suggested donation sign of $5.

The secret to CCBL success has been that it is a wholly volunteer operation. Players stay with host families all summer and many are provided with day jobs. All athletes are expected to participate in youth clinics. There are no ground crews so it’s players you see watering and raking the field before and after games.

During games, one of the players – usually a pitcher not slated to hurl that day – joins an team intern and they pass around a basket collecting money for raffle tickets. It adds to the pleasant informal feeling that permeates every ballpark in the CCBL.

I didn’t get to visit every stadium, but I attended games in Orleans, Yarmouth-Dennis, and Hyannis. There are very few stands at Eldredge Park in Orleans, but families come out early and bring lawn and beach chairs to stake out places behind the foul lines.

There is more seating at Yarmouth-Dennis’s Red Wilson Field located behind the regional high school. Here, too, portable chairs line the area behind the foul lines. Y.D’s public address announcer morphs the late Sherm Feller of Fenway Park in his opening greeting: “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls.”

Another nice touch at Y-D is before the game the Johnny Carson Show theme is played. Just another a retro charm of Red Wilson Field.

Hyannis’s McKeon Field is the biggest park I visited. It is located behind a Catholic high school not far from Main Street and the JFK Memorial museum. To my delight I discovered a Cape Cod League Museum in the basement of the JFK building.

The room is not yet air-conditioned but it is a considerable collection of memorabilia and an explanatory film about CCBL history. I am sure it will reward more visits in the future.

The sense of intense quietude at the Cape Cod ballparks is remarkable, especially to a New Yorker who goes to a lot of major and minor league games where there is no escape from blaring sound systems.

There is some canned music at CCBL games but in moderation and never during an inning. So there is time to savor the interval between pitches without being bombarded with the puerile “Everybody clap yo’ hands!” and other maddening noise.

As for the games, most memorable was the semi-final series between the favored Orleans Firebirds, possessor of the best regular season record, and the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox.
All games were the kind of tight pitchers' battles I adore.

After losing the opener at Orleans, 4-0, the Y-D Red Sox stayed alive by winning a classic 13-inning 2-1 game that was decided on a two-out bases-loaded wild pitch on an 0-2 count. Orleans had tied the game in the 7th inning on a home run by outfielder Ronnie Dawson (Ohio State).

Adding drama to the Y-D elimination game was the absence of lights at Red Wilson Field.
The game could have been called by darkness and would have been resumed at noon the next day.

Unfortunately for the Firebirds, Dawson and fellow Buckeye, pitcher Taylor Tully, couldn’t stay for the rubber match because they had to fly back to Columbus for the funeral of a teammate who died of leukemia.

In the deciding third game, Y-D held off Orleans, 2-1, behind a great performance by Cory Macolm (Arkansas, Little Rock) and a first inning home run by Gio Brusa (U. of Pacific). The jury is out on whether Brusa has the bat speed to advance high in the pros, but Brusa is certainly a great name for a slugger.

Red Sox shortstop Donnie Walton (Oklahoma State), undersized in this day and age at 5’ 10”, saved the game with a remarkable diving stop up the middle in the bottom of the 8th inning with the tying run on third base. Somehow from his rear end Walton managed to throw the ball to second to force an Orleans runner preserving the 2-1 lead.

Gio Brusa also came up big at the plate in the final best-of-three games against Hyannis. The series proved almost anti-climactic because none of the games were close.

The Red Sox again lost the first game on the road, a one-sided affair that did feature two of the most remarkable diving infield catches I have ever seen: one by Hyannis shortstop Tristan Hildebrandt (Cal State-Fullerton) and the other by Y-D second baseman Jose Vidales (U. of Houston).

The Y-D Red Sox came back to win the final two games convincingly thereby copping their second straight CCBL flag. Kudos to coach Chad Gassman and his remarkable volunteer coach Ron Polk, one of the all-time winningest coaches in college baseball history at Georgia and Mississippi State and now a volunteer coach at U of Alabama-Birmingham.

It was a year of loss in the CCBL. Legendary Red Sox scouts Bill Enos and Buzz Bowers and Bill Kearns, a longtime Mariners talent hunter, all passed away.
A moment of silence was held at Red Wilson Field in memory of Florence Wilson, Red’s widow, who also recently died.

At the end of the playoffs league president Judy Scarafile announced her retirement after 24 years on the job. More than anyone Scarafile epitomizes the volunteer spirit of the CCBL. Though these losses are signficiant, I predict the CCBL will continue to thrive in one of the most picturesque settings imaginable, forty miles out to sea from the Massachusetts mainland.

Next year I am vowing to see more Cape Cod baseball, starting with that special Elizabeth Lowell Park in Cotuit with its renovated wooden grandstand and a convenient ramp that will make access easier for your creaky correspondent.

Next time – commentary on the exciting major league pennant races that should all go down to the wire.
For now - Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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