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TCM Jazz and Other Films Keep Me Grounded As Baseball Blows A Big Chance

I've always loved the adage, "Jazz, baseball and the Constitution are the greatest  achievements of American culture."  I first heard it from the gifted cultural historian/American Studies professor Gerald Early. 

 

No matter its origins, the important thing is the essential truth. All three institutions have endured attacks, most seriously the Constitution these days under our out-of-control President.

 

Let's make sure we are registered to vote in November and use our precious voting franchise. 

 

Meanwhile, the 30 franchises of Major League Baseball have missed a golden opportunity to return to the field by the Fourth of July.  It could have provided some semblance of normality in a country that is wracked by the virus epidemic, soaring unemployment, and police killings of unarmed black citizens.    

 

Instead, the owners under their commissioner Rob Manfred and the leaders of the Major League Baseball Players Association have trotted out their decades-old worn playbook of labor rhetoric. They cannot decide on payment to the players for what will obviously be a shortened season.

 

Manfred, who has been in baseball since the collusion cases against free agents in the 1980s, insists that he has the right to force a season upon the players.  It looks like he may invoke that draconian measure of barely fifty games and then expanded playoffs to satsify TV.   

 

I really wonder whether MLB will ever recover its once-hallowed place in our country. Attendance was sinking before the three enormous social crises erupted.

 

Even before the crises, Manfred had tried to impose the reduction of more than a quarter of minor league baseball's 160 franchises. Under his deputy with the eerily appropriate name of Morgan Sword, it looks like MLB will get its way by default because there will be no minor league season in 2020.

 

Like so much of America these days, it is a sad situation in baseball, made sadder by the wounds being self-inflcted. 

 

So I'm finding solace these days in Turner Classic Movies (TCM), especially its salute to Jazz in Film every Monday and Thursday night in June. 

 

I was pleasantly surprised this past Monday night to see Eddie Muller, the host of the indispensable "Noir Alley" series on TCM (Sat night at 12M and repeated Sun 10A), as guest host. To comment on the films "A Man Called Adam" (1966) starring Sammy Davis Jr. with Cicely Tyson, and Kirk Douglas in "Young Man with a Horn" (1950), Muller invited the talented and accessible pianist Monty Alexander to join.   

 

There were worthy and memorable moments in both films. As Hollywood creations they couldn't be totally convincing, of course.  But the Jamaican-born Alexander, who still occasionally comes into the New York jazz club Birdland, had much to say and talked about "glad-i-tude" for making music.   

 

 I am posting this too late for most of you to catch tonight Th June 11 two classic bio-pics, "The Glenn Miller Story" at 8p (with Jimmy Stewart) and "The Gene Krupa Story" at 10p (with Sal Mineo).  

 

And for you night owls at midnight, there will be al rare Benny Goodman film "Sweet and Low Down" (1943), not to be confused with the Woody Allen film with Sean Penn with the same name. 

 

Mark down Mon June 15 on your calendars. At 8p one of the great noir films with a score by John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet, "Odds Against Tomorrow" (1959).  

 

"Odds" is a very timely film because it is about a bank robbery where two of the gang, Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan, don't like each other for racial reasons.  (Off-camera they became great friends and were active in the civil rights movement of the time.) 

 

At 10p on June 15, "Farewell My Lovely" (1975) with Robert Mitchum and Charlotte Rampling.

And at midnight Ida Lupino stars as a singer in "The Man I Love" (1946). 

 

I haven't abandoned sports. On Su Jun 14 TCM presents two outstanding movies that use track and field to make profound points about society:  8p Oscar-winning "Chariots of Fire" followed at 10p by "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner."

 

I can't say enough about the value of repeated watching of good movies. Here's a sample of what I've seen lately on TCM. 

 

**"Woman in the Window" 1944 film directed by German exile Fritz Lang. Edward G. Robinson plays a psychology professor at "Gotham" U. who begins the film lecturing his students on murder, unjustified and justified.

 

As he heads to a faculty lounge he passes by an alluring painting of a woman in the window of a storefront. The fellows in his club, including Raymond Massey as a big shot lawyer, talk about how they'd love to meet that woman.  

 

When he leaves the club, Edward G. again walks by the painting and voila! who's there in the shadows but Joan Bennett "the woman in the window".  Since Edward G's wife has taken the kids to the country, he goes out for a drink with Joan and you can kinda guess the rest.

The murder is justified but it is a murder and there are complications. 

 
**John Garfield in "Pride of the Marines" (1945) and the evergreen "Best Years of Our Lives" (1946).  They were both shown on Memorial Day and they brought to life the sacrifices that World War II soldiers endured - Garfield's blindness and the loss of Harold Russell's hands.  Russell, not an actor but who performed memorably, remains the only person ever to win two Oscars for the same movie. 

 

His girl friend Wilma was played in her debut by Cathy O'Donnell who later would shine in the 1948 "They Drive By Night" with Farley Granger (later remade as "Thieves Like Us" by Robert Altman).  O'Donnell wound up marrying director William Wyler's older brother, who was 24 years older than Cathy.  The marriage lasted though they died within months of each other in the late 1960s.  

 

I hope you get a chance to see some of these films one day and also the jazz films this month.

 

That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Oh For The Days When Spring Training Wasn't Filled With Anger + Thoughts on Columbia Women's & Wisconsin Men's Basketball

I'm trying to keep an even keel about all the anger from MLB players directed against the Houston Astros for their now-revealed high-technology methods and Keystone Kop execution that probably aided their World Series triumph of 2017. 

 
This is February, the slowest month of the sports year now that the Super Bowl is over. The build-up to college basketball's March Madness has not shifted into high gear. And the NBA basketball and NHL hockey playoffs are still a ways off.

 

So reporters are desperately looking for stories. Angry players are providing plenty of copy from Florida and Arizona.

 

It says here the protests won't amount to much because it will be impossible to prove exactly how much the signals affected game outcomes. The anger has almost made lament the pre-free agency days of baseball.

 

In the years when the reserve clause ruled baseball (through the 1976 season), spring training stories were usually about holdouts of players not satisfied with contract offers. 

 

In the vast majority of cases, they were one-year contract offers. Usually the pot was sweetened a little bit by management, and on went the regular season without interruption. 

 

The old system was obviously unfair to the players economically but it provided stability for the owners and for the fans could deeply identify with their favorite players. 

 

It was interesting if somewhat bizarre to watch Red Sox co-owner John Henry's press conference the other day trying to explain why Boston had traded star outfielder and recent AL MVP Mookie Betts to the Dodgers.

 

He spent a good deal of time reminiscing about Stan Musial, his favorite player growing up in St. Louis.  He waxed rhapsodic about how Red Sox fans felt the same attachment towards Ted Williams.

 

Both stayed with their original team forever. John Henry even noted that Musial turned down in 1946 a huge salary increase by spurning an offer from the short-lived Mexican League. 

 

Henry professed his approval of Betts' wanting to get "market value" for his services.  Yet neither finance mogul Henry nor his partner TV mogul Tom Werner (a former San Diego Padres owner who I remember most as the man who hired Roseanne Barr to sing a disastrous National Anthem) addressed in any great detail the real reason why Betts was traded. 

 

They didn't want to pay any more "luxury tax" into MLB coffers that a long-term contract to Betts would have required. They insisted that they didn't think a draft pick at the end of this season would be sufficient.

 

Yet the return for Betts seems questionable.  Two minor leaguers and a young outfielder Alex Verdugo may have a high ceiling but who will start season on the disabled list. 

 

To add to Red Sox questionable decisions, they selected as Cora's replacement Ron Roenicke (brother of former Oriole left fielder Gary Roenicke). Ron enjoyed only moderate success in prior MLB managerial jobs with the Brewers and Angels.

 

The Red Sox will face more bad news when beleaguered commissioner Rob Manfred announces the results of his investigation into Red Sox malfeasance during Alex Cora's reign as manager, especially their 2018 championship season. 

 

With too many stories in baseball resembling the troubling wider political world these days, you can see, dear reader, why I try to find solace in the college basketball seasons of my alma maters. 

 

The Wisconsin Badgersmen and Columbia Lions women have given me considerable pleasure. Picked for sixth in the 14-team "Big Ten", the Badgers have a chance at a top three finish and another trip to March Madness. 

 

They are maddeningly inconsistent to be sure. One center with the combined talents of Nate Reuvers' sweet touch and Micah Potter's toughness might be an All-American.  But last I looked cloning players has not been approved yet by the NCAA.  

 

With just eight players getting regular playing time, the Badgers have overcome great adversity to keep hope alive. First, there was the pre-season loss of  assistant coach Howard Moore whose wife and daughter were killed in a horrific auto crash - Moore himself is recovering slowly from his serious injuries and a subsequent heart attack.

 

Then last month, the streaky but talented swing man Kobe King abruptly left the team. The Lacrosse, Wisconsin native's reasons were sketchy at best.  Not being appreciated beyond a basketball player was one of them.  

 

Under coach Greg Gard's firm and steady hand, the Badgers have regrouped and are on their first three-game Big Ten winning streak of the season.  That's a modest number of course, but the flashes of offensive production from the likes of juniors Brad Davison and Aleem Ford and consistently tough defense have me pulling my chair up close to the TV these days.

 

I thought the Columbia women would be worth watching in 2019-20 and I have not been disappointed.  Under youthful coach Megan Griffith, Columbia class of 2007 grad and former assistant at league powerhouse Princeton, the Lions last weekend swept two Ivy League opponents for the first time since 2011, Dartmouth and Harvard.

 

There is now a four-team tournament in the Ivy League and Columbia has a chance to make it if they continue to grow and play hard and smart and well. 

 

Last year's rookie of the year, forward Sienna Durr from Grinnell, Iowa has stepped up her all-around game. 

 

Guard Abby Hsu from Parkland, Florida is a strong candidate for this year's rookie award.  The only senior on the squad, feisty guard Janniya Clemmons from Accoceek, Maryland outside DC, is another solid presence.

 

Both point guards sophomore Mikayla Markham from Manasquan on the Jersey shore and first-year Carly Rivera from Arlington, Virginia are getting plenty of playing time. They are sparkplugs for a frequently-employed full-court defense.

 

Tigers on the boards and adding a lot of energy to the team are first-year Caitlyn Davis from Norwalk, Ct. and sophomores Lilian Kennedy from Buford, Ga. and Hannah Pratt from Boca Raton, Fla. 

 

Unfortunately, the Columbia men have fallen into the Ivy League basement. It's a familiar story - close losses and no conistent scoring except from senior guard Mike Smith who hasn't had a lot of help and winds up taking too many shots.

 

After a good start to the season, the Wisconsin women have fallen near the bottom of a tough Big Ten conference. Hopefully, both teams end the season with good efforts and confidence-building results to give hope for better days ahead for both teams. 

 

That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it. 

 

 

 

 

 

 


  

 

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