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Three Cheers for Dusty Baker & Patrick Mahomes + Farewell Phil Rizzo & A Don't Miss "La Traviata" (with corrections)

At a tumultuous time in American history, when such phrases as "the rule of law" seem so antiquated to men in power, it is nice to see that every now and then in the world of sports, good things happen to good people.  Dusty Baker's return to the managerial fold as Houston Astros manager and QB Patrick Mahomes's MVP performance in Kansas City's Super Bowl victory qualify for me as unquestionable good news items.

 
It will be most interesting to see how Baker leads the Astros after their off-season of disgrace. Both Houston GM Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch were suspended by commissioner Rob Manfred for a year for their roles in tolerating the sign-stealing scandal that evidently was concocted by players, led by Carlos Beltran and bench coach Alex Cora (both of whom lost their 2020 managerial jobs - Beltran with Mets, Cora with the Red Sox).

 
Astros owner Jim Crane felt that suspension was not severe enough punishment so he promptly fired both Luhnow and Hinch.  In hiring Baker as Hinch's successor, he has chosen a man who is old school in the best sense. In his 19-year MLB career as a hard-hitting solid left fielder - .278 BA, .432 .SA, 1981 H, 242 HR, 1013 RBI, and for the modern age an impressive BB-K ratio of 762-926 - Baker was never on the disabled list.

 
After establishing himself in 1972 as a four-year regular with the Atlanta Braves, Baker was traded to the Dodgers where he became a key contributor on the Dodgers 1977-78 NL champions and 1981 World Series winners.

 
Dusty has belied the old saw that good-to-great players don't make good managers.  His previous teams - Giants, Cubs, Reds, Nats - all made the playoffs, and he now  gets a chance to earn that elusive first World Series ring.  (His 2002 Giants lost in seven games to the Angels.)

 
At 70, Baker will be the oldest manager in the big leagues, but he certainly is young at heart. Houston's new GM, James Click, was just plucked from the Tampa Bay Rays front office where he had worked not long after his graduation from Yale in 2006.

 
The Click hiring shows that the craze for "analytic" information will not diminish in Houston. Tampa Bay has been in the forefront of the movement to bring so-called "better ball" information into baseball operations. 

 

Except for adding his longtime aide former major league infielder Chris Speier, Dusty will be keeping Hinch's coaching staff including bench coach Joe Espada, who was on Joe Girardi's Yankees staff, and veteran pitching coach Brent Strom who at 71 is a year older than Dusty. 

 
Mets fans may remember that Strom broke in with them in 1972, but he never won a game for them. He was 9-15 for other MLB teams before he started on his long trek to become one of the most respected pitching coaches in the game.  

 
I don't like making predictions, but it says here that Baker will keep the Astros in contention during what should be a spirited AL West race among the refurbished California Angels under Joe Maddon - himself a very lively 66 - and the perennial bridesmaid Oakland Athletics.

 

 

As for Patrick Mahomes leading the Kansas City Chiefs to a stirring come-from-behind Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco Forty-Niners, I was delighted that this son of former major league pitcher Pat Mahomes has reached the pinnacle of the gridiron sport.  

 

Who couldn't smile at the picture of 5-year-old Patrick shagging flies with his father before the Mets' home World Series games in 2000?  Papa Pat was actually ineligible for the Series, but he had been a big part of the 1999 Mets playoff team.

 

So from an early age, young Pat knew what it was like to be around pressure-filled games. He understood early on that "pressure is a privilege" (to quote the title of one of tennis great Billie Jean King's books - BTW, Billie Jean Moffitt King's older brother Randy was a standout relief pitcher primarily for the Giants.) 

 
Throughout his high school years young Mahomes used to call himself "a baseball player playing football."  Things changed when he excelled at Texas Tech and now he is atop the football world.  Here's hoping he has a good chance at repeating in 2021.

 
But N. B. (Note Well)! In this age of free agency and unremitting celebrity, it is harder than ever to repeat as champion.

 
Before I close, I want to salute the memory of the hard-working baseball scout Phil Rizzo, who passed away late last month at the age of 90.  A Korean War veteran, Phil never made the majors as a player, but he devoted himself afterwards to finding talent for many professional teams. 

 
He was working for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001 where Mike Rizzo was scouting director when the Dbacks won the World Series over the Yankees. In what I think was as a blessing from the baseball gods, Phil Rizzo lived to see his son Mike Rizzo, GM of the Washington Nationals, win the World Series last October.

 

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT:
The current Metropolitan Opera production of Guiseppe Verdi's "La Traviata" is a memorable experience.  I saw the production, directed by stage veteran Michael Mayer, on Monday night Feb. 3 with an emergency Alfredo sung by Korean tenor Won Whi Choi. 

 
After an understandably tentative first act, he grew into the role in the final two acts. The rest of the cast was superb - soprano Aleksandra Kurzak from Poland and bassist Quinn Kelsey from Hawaii. The Met Orchestra, this night led by Londoner Karel Mark Chichon, and its chorus comprise one of the great ensembles in the world.   

 
I never appreciated until last night's performance the profundity of the gripping second act. The confrontation between Alfredo's father Germont who insists that courtesan Violetta give up Alfredo to save the Germont family name brought me to tears.

 
There are six more chances to see "La Traviata" ("The Fallen Woman"):

Wed Feb 26, Sat Feb 29, Th Mar 5, W Mar 9, F Mar 13, and Th Mar 19, all at 730p except for Sat Feb 29 at 830p.   

 
Rush seats at affordable prices are sometimes available on day of performances.   The casts may change but this is an evening not to be missed. Check out metopera.org

 

That's all for now as pitchers and catchers are poised to report before Valentine's Day.

Always remember:  Take it easy but take it. 

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"Pain and Glory" Sums Up Nats' Miraculous Season; It's Also A Great New Pedro Almodovar Film

"'Pain and Glory' might be a good title for a film on the MLB season that will likely end with Houston's come-from-behind triumph over the Washington Nationals in the World Series.  Momentum "waves" in baseball are amazing creations but they can vanish as quickly as they arise." 

 
That, dear readers, was the opening paragraph for an end-of-season summation I started after the Houston Astros limped into Washington for the middle three games of the World Series. They had lost the first two games at home to the red-hot Nats, winners of eight post-season games in a row and the outlook looked dim. 

 

Yet in baseball's marvelously unpredictable ways, it turned out that the Astros were alive and well.  And the Nats maybe tried too hard to bring the first World Series victory to Washington in nearly a century.  They scored only 3 runs total as the Astros swept three convincingly. 

 
Yet the staunch arms of Stephen Strasburg and ailing Max Scherzer carried the Nats to victory before stunned full houses in Houston expecting the Astros' second World Series win in three years. 

 

For the first time ever in the 115-year history of the World Series, the visiting team won every game.  Since the Series went a full seven, it is a record that will never be broken, only tied. 

 

The Nats are very deserving champions, coming from behind in each of the five elimination games they played - one against the Brewers in the Wild Card game, two against the Dodgers in the divisional series, and these last two in Houston.

 
I thought Will Harris, who gave up the lead-changing Game 7 home run to Howie "Grand Slam" Kendrick (Kendrick had knocked out the Dodgers with a grand slam in the divisional series), gave a very sportsmanlike quote after the game:  "I think I made a pretty good pitch.  He just made a championship play for a championship team." (Quoted by Ken Davidoff in the New York Post, October 31st.)

 
I jotted some other wonderful quotes during the intense month of October for those teams lucky to play that deeply into autumn.  Here are a couple more:

 
"The lights shine brighter, but you can't get blinded by them."  Tampa Bay Rays catcher Travis D'Arnaud on the atmosphere of October.  Travis never could quite put it together for the Mets but contributed significantly to the Rays' run that took the Astros to the final game of a five-game series.

 
"Those who can, evaluate; those who can't, measure." Nats gm Mike Rizzo defending his use of advance scouting by his staff of older veteran scouts and special assistants.  Quoted by Bob Nightengale in USA Today, October 24, 2019.

 

The high-tech-drenched front office of the Astros has done away with advanced scouting by human beings.  They think video and the latest developments in "advanced metrics" are an adequate substitute. Maybe they shouldn't be so sure of themselves. 

 

BTW according to the New York Post, the founder of sabrmetrics Bill James recently resigned from the Red Sox as they are refiguring their front office. He reportedly said he should have left two years ago.  

 

AND NOW THE TIME OF REGROUPING AND WAITING FOR SPRING HAS BEGUN:
It is always a sad day when baseball leaves us and we must face winter alone.  But there's plenty of off-season news to keep us occupied.   If the 2019 season was a very rare one when no manager was fired, the axes have come down with a vengeance in October.

 
There will be at least eight new managers in 2020 with the Mets opening still very much in doubt. The former Met infielder Tim Bogar may be one of the finalists and from the little bit I have heard from people I respect, he would be my favorite.  He was the Nats' first base coach in this championship year and has worked for other organizations. 

 

But the former agent/turned Mets gm Brodie von Wagenen might be looking for a bigger name.   He let a so-called "big name" Joe Girardi slip away to the Phillies, but it says here that he won't regret it.  Girardi won his only championship with the 2009 Yankees, and his switch from number 27 to number 28 - for the next championship - never materialized. 

 
It is hard to believe that there won't be a changeover in Seattle.  With the NL pennant for the Nats, born the Montreal Expos in 1969, the Mariners are now the only one of the 30 MLB franchises that has never been in a World Series.

 

But there have been no rumors of a change in Seattle.  How long can a team peddle the memories of now-retired Ichiro Suzuki and quickly-fading "King Felix" Hernandez to its fans?

 
Before I conclude this Halloween evening post, I corrected one of my many cultural shortcomings by seeing my first Pedro Almodovar movie last week.  His cinematic reverie "Pain and Glory" about the creative block of a film director/writer played by the marvelous Antonio Banderas is highly recommended.

 
Madrid and its environs comes alive in this film as Mexico City did in last year's Oscar-winning film "Roma".   Both begin with opening water scenes that immediately draw one into the artist's malleable world.  An original music score by Alberto Iglesias provides an alluring background touches to the film.


In addition to Banderas's absorbing performance, the gorgeous and talented Penelope Cruz shines in flashbacks as Banderas's mother. Julieta Serrano, who frequently is cast in Almodovar's films, adds a somber quality as his mother as an older woman; Asier Flores is charming as Banderas's precocious character as a boy, and Asier Exteandria adds proper melodramatic flair to his role as an actor who has long feuded with Banderas but loves the chance to play in roles created by his friend/adversary. 

 
This film is not "in wide release," as they say, but is certainly worth a jaunt down to the Angelika Film Center on Houston and Mercer Streets on the Soho-Greenwich Village border.

 
That's all for now.  Without baseball life will be less rewarding but I'll be around trying to take in as much of the sporting, musical, and movie culutre of my "home town".  In the meantime, always remember:  Take it easy but take it!    

 

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