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Watching "Laura" During Astros-Yankees Playoff & Other Thoughts on October Baseball

You learn something new from a classic noir film every time you see it - it's like finding a new harmony in a great piece of music. During Game Two of the long-awaited Houston Astros-New York Yankees American League championship series, I switched during the interminable commercial breaks to TCM's (Turner Classic Movies) showing of Otto Preminger's classic 1944 film noir "Laura". 

 
I had seen the film at least a few times, but the dialogue never seemed fresher. I had long remembered early on when detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) is fiddling with a hand-held ball-bearing puzzle game called "Baseball".

 
This time I picked up something else. When supercilious Hollywood gossip columnist Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb) gets annoyed at detective Andrews for doodling with that game, Webb snaps: "Where do you get that? Something you confiscated in a raid on a kindergarten?"

"It calms me down," Andrews coolly replies.

 
I must admit, unlike Dana Andrews' detective Mark McPherson, baseball rarely calms me down. It stimulates me greatly, especially when the Orioles are playing. But in a post-season where I only really care that the Yankees' 10-year World Series-drought continues, I have enjoyed a lot of the games.

 
I am drawn in by the evident tension on the faces of the players.  This is not a time of year when "tomorrow is your best friend," a phrase I first heard from Bobby Valentine.  Every pitch is important in the post-season, and the best managers plan every game as if it is the seventh game of the World Series.

 
Obviously Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts hasn't learned that lesson.  He will return in 2020 and probably beyond because his LAD have won the NLWest division seven years in a row. But the Nats knocked out his Dodgers in the first round in a memorable climactic game in Los Angeles. 

 
Back-to-back homers by free agent-to-be Anthony Rendon and 20-year-old sensation Juan Soto tied it in the top of 8th off Clayton Kershaw, a great pitcher who is not used to being a reliever and is becoming a poster boy for October failure. 

 
Then in the top of the 10th veteran Howie Kendrick sent fair weather Dodger fans scurrying for the exits with a grand slam home run to dead center to cement a 7-3 victory.  I know it was a long game and LA fans always scurry to their cars at the first opportunity. It still struck me that the mass exit was extremely bush and insulting to the home team. 


Perhaps because I'm not emotionally involved with the Mets, I am happy for the Nats.  They exorcised their playoff ghosts by winning their first post-season series ever by beating LA.

 As I file this post, the Nats are one game away from their first World Series ever. 

 

By leading the Cardinals 3-0 in games, they are avenging their crushing loss to St. Louis seven years ago - when they couldn't hold a four-run lead in the 9th inning of the deciding game.

 
I'm someone who likes good starting pitching and Washington is loaded with great arms:  Former Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer, former number one overall draft pick Stephen Strasburg, the newly-signed free agent southpaw Patrick Corbin (who grew up a Yankee fan but wasn't offered enough $$$$ by Yankees), and the crafty veteran Anibal Sanchez.

 
If the Houston Astros can beat the Yankees in the ALCS - currently tied at one game apiece -  they also have big ticket starters in Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole (another onetime Yankee fan who chose to play at UCLA and later sign as free agent with Houston), and Zack Greinke. (Greinke suffers from a social anxiety disorder and it is painful to watch him do the required TV interviews with the press - I wish there were a way that he could respond in writing to questions from the probing scribes.) 

 

I'd rather take my chances with strong starting pitching and a couple of good relievers than using several pitchers just waiting for someone to not to have their best stuff that day. I am not a fan of "The Opener," a reliever who pitches an inning or two at the beginning and the rest of the bullpen completes the rest of the game.

 

The Yankees may do that in at least one of the upcoming games. They have not recently invested mega-bucks in starting pitchers.  It will certainly be interesting to see which philosophy wins out - the aces prepared for the long haul versus the ever-revolving door for relievers. 

 

It could be that the veteran Masahiro Tanaka and the young Luis Severino provide the innings that the Yanks will need to make their first World Series since 2009. Whatever, the old canard will still apply:  "Anything can happen in a short series."

 
Before I close, here's a tip of the cap to the Israeli Olympic baseball team that made the Tokyo 2020 competition by winning the European-African elimination tournament last month.  They beat out such amateur powers as Italy and the Netherlands.  

 

Danny Valencia, the former infielder with Twins-A's-Orioles, was perhaps the most recognizable member on the scrappy Israeli team.  I am proud to add that outfielder/DH Robb Paller, a mainstay on my alma mater Columbia Lions three-peat Ivy League champions of 2013-15, was also a key contributor to the victory. 

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

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"Troubling Off-Season Trend Continues As Cubs Snag Yu Darvish At Reduced Rate"

I’m not the first person to note that in America 2018 the line between real headlines and satirical “Onion” headlines is very small. The headline in today’s post actually appeared this past weekend on Sports Illustrated’s si.com website.

Yu Darvish, the talented righthander from Japan who is partly of Iranian descent, has reportedly signed a 6-year $126 million contract with the Cubs. SI considers this amount a “reduced rate” for a pitcher with a history of injury who bombed out not once but twice in the World Series that the Dodgers lost last season to the Astros.

There are reports that three other big-name free agents - outfielder J.D.Martinez, pitcher Jake Arrieta, and first baseman Eric Hosmer all represented by super-agent Scott Boras - are thinking of sitting out some of the regular season - unless they get the years and the dollars they want, especially the years.

Hosmer, the defensively-solid line-drive hitting first sacker, is the youngest of the three at 28. San Diego reportedly wants him very badly, and reigning first baseman Will Myers is willing to move to left field to accommodate him. But Hosmer reportedly wants eight years instead of seven and a total amount of more than $160 million.

Boras, an avowed admirer of Marvin Miller (ignoring that Miller loathed agents that stressed the individual over the union), thinks there will always be an owner who will break down and want that "moose on the wall" and pay anything for it. He might yet be right.

How much is too much remains a good question. It is clear that the MLB Players Association has been outwitted by management in the five-year collective bargaining pact that still has three more years to run.

But it is just silly and petulant for some agents and players to threaten to boycott spring training. Maybe the eloquent but inexperienced Tony Clark needs more legal help at the MLBPA offices. But bad deals happen all the time in business and you live with it, fellas. Even at the "reduced rate" of tens of millions.

The key to building consistent contending teams remains a good organization that is constantly replenishing the system with high ceiling talent under control for at least a few years. A lot easier said, I know, than done.

BEFORE I LEAVE TODAY HERE’S A REPORT FROM THE THEATER:
Michael A. Jones’s play “The Black Babe Ruth” about Negro league legendary slugger Josh Gibson (played by Dave Roberts) is well worth a trip to the Theater for the New City in east Greenwich Village - 1st Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets.

Gibson's relationship with Satchel Paige (Daniel Danielson) is well conveyed. Kudos to the guitar and vocal work of Perci Prince that provides the glue connecting the scenes.

You have eight more chances to see this well-acted and crafted play through Sun Feb 25. Th-Sa at 8p, Su at 3p.

I was thrilled to be part of a panel after the Sun Feb 11 matinee that discussed the Negro leagues and baseball integration. With fellow SABR members Ralph Carhart and Phil Ross and playwright Jones, we covered a wide range of topics about baseball in segregated times.

I was glad to give homage to the pre-Jackie Robinson pioneers, among them Moses Fleetwood Walker, who briefly broke the color line in 1887, and Rube Foster organizer of first Negro league after World War I. Thanks to good work by moderator Janelle Lester, the producer of "The Black Babe Ruth," we got great contributions from the audience.

On the big topic of why there are fewer AfAms playing baseball today, the consensus was football and basketball, esp. the rise of Michael Jordan, has eclipsed baseball among the young people. Actress Daphne Danielle lamented that in her home state of Alabama there are many well-maintained baseball fields that are barely used.

I cross fingers that the increasing awareness of football’s physical dangers might provide an inroad for baseball. But it needs the kind of leadership that baseball scout John Tumminia has shown with his "Baseball Miracles" project bringing clinics to the underprivileged at home and overseas.

Check out baseballmiracles.org More on that remarkable development next time.

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