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Baseball and TCM Movie Musings On The Eve of Birthday 78

I celebrate my 78th birthday tomorrow Saturday June 27th. I think I was born around 530p in the afternoon because my mother told me her water broke when she was listening to "Information Please" on the radio and she had to miss the end of the show. (No head sets or new media back in 1942).  

 

(Last blog I raved about "Woman of the Year" that came out in 1942 and opens with an "Information Please" show being broadcast.  Could I have remembered that from the womb?

Cue "Twilight Zone" music, please.)

 

I'm not big on numbers except for computing batting averages in my head. To think that all year I've been talking about riding on 77 Sunset Strip when actually I completed 77 years on this planet a year ago. 

 

(For younger readers, "77 Sunset Strip" was a hit ABC TV show of the 1950s, starring Efrem Zimbalist Jr,. son of the world-famed classical violinist, plaiying a detective, of course.  His assistant was Edd Byrnes playing richly-coiffed Kookie and teeny boppers screamed at him, "Kookie, Kookie, lend me your comb!")

 
So this year I was actually spinning my records at 78 revolutions per minute, hoping that of course I stayed on the spindle and didn't careen sideways. I got through year 78 OK although I do continue to have some issues about losing my balance when walking and had some minor plumbing repair done in September.

 

I'm ready for whatever the "new normal" this year brings. I hope to be comfortably residing  at 79 Wistful Vista, home address of radio's legendary Fibber McGee and Molly, known in real life as Jim and Marian Jordan from Peoria, Illinois.  

 

As you probably know by now, there will be some semblance of a baseball season starting on either July 23 or 24. It will consist of 60 games with all of them in both leagues played regionally to minimize travel in a still-raging time of Covid-19.

 

So the Mets and Yankees will play their four division rivals 10 times each and their five cross-division rivals four times each. Details of the post-season are still being ironed out.  

 

To call the final matchup a "World Series" annoys me. But that is a minor criticism compared to the health risks to the players and the continuing distrust between owners and players. 

 

I hope there will be no serious injuries to rusty players who might over-exert themselves at the beginning of a short season.  I think I will watch some of the TV games more as a clinician than a fan.  

 

I still don't see leadership on either side of a sport that has declined in attendance the last few years and has a fan base whose average age is 57. It remains the most beautiful of sports, but the length of games and a now-boring routine of strikeouts-home runs-walks are serious problems.    

 

John Sherman is one owner who deserves great credit for agreeing to pay all his minor leaguers for 2020 even though there will likely be no minor league season.  Interestingly, Sherman is the newest owner on the block.

 

He was wise enough to listen to his general manager Dayton Moore who won a World Series in 2015 and knows the importance of minor league development. Unfortunately, MLB still wants to terminate a quarter of the minor league teams and the first of what I'm sure will be several lawsuits was filed last week to protest the short-sighted policy.

 

According to thorough reviews of all 30 owners in an Andrew Baggerly piece in the "Athletic" and a two-part Axios Sports study, Sherman is one of the least rich owners. Worth "only" a little over a billion dollars, made primarily in the hydrocarbon business.

 

John Sherman should not be confused with another less financially endowed owner, Bruce Sherman of the Marlins. This Sherman made a lot of his money buying newspapers and ultimately dissolving their companies. Derek Jeter has a slice of the team but not that much.  

  

I like Baggarly's trenchant phrase to describe most of the 30 men who own MLB franchises:  "Inheritance plus the magic of compound interest." It may be hard to believe, but guess which team's ownership group enjoys the most longevity in today's game? The Yankees. George Steinbrenner bought the team in 1973 and his younger son Hal, 51, is the managing partner. 

 

Another interesting tidbit in Baggerly's chronicle is that Phillies owner John Middleton traces the origins of his wealth to a cigar store that his ancestors founded in Philadelphia before the Civil War. A century and a half later, Middleton was the owner who before the 2019 season openly admitted to spending recklessly to sign free agents Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto.

 

Enough about the owners.  Nobody ever paid to see them, did they?  

 

With no games to watch or listen to on radio, and already getting out of the habit of searching scores on my radio on the quarter-hour, my great companion has remained TCM.  And the Monday and Thursday evening "Jazz on Film" series throughout June didn't disappoint.

 

I misspelled director/photographer Gjon Mili's name in the last blog.  As host Eddie Muller says, Mili's 10-minute "Jammin' The Blues" (1944) is the best short introduction to jazz.  The effortless flip of drum sticks from Sid Catlett to Jo Jones in the middle of a blues number remains one of the most compelling moments in both jazz and film.

 

Papa Jo Jones had one of the great smiles in jazz and it was an elegant touch for "The End" to appear over his smiling face. 

 

While on the subject of my boo-boos, I was mistaken that Hoagy Carmichael's lovely song 'New Orleans" appeared in the movie of the same name that aired last night (June 25).  

"Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans" was one of the featured tunes.

 

Although playing a maid in her only real full film role, Billie Holiday acted convincingly and sang of course with great conviction. Louis Armstrong was a strong presence in the film playing himself.  (He was called "Satchmo" in the film and it was a popular nickname but he much preferred to be called "Pops".) 

 

One of the enduring pleasures of TCM is that you can stumble into a film with no knowledge and be totally enraptured.  I knew nothing about Howard Hawks's  "I Was A Male War Bride" 1949.  If you can believe Cary Grant as a French army captain in post-WW II Germany, you will enjoy the belly laughs in this film.  Its satire of military bureaucracy is also quite telling. 

 

It was part of Ann Sheridan Tuesday nights in June, and it may be the best role ever for that spunky, alluring, and talented Texas who fought the Warner Studios for better roles, even once being suspended for a year.  She and Grant worked well with each other; he was a real trouper as the victim of most of the pranks.

 

The last Ann Sheridan night in June will be Monday June 30 at 8p  "City of Conquest" 1940, also starring James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart as a prize fighter willing to risk blindness to help his brother pay for his education.  Elia Kazan makes a rare appearance as actor.

 

Here are some tips for the first 10 days of July with Mondays being Tony Curtis Night.

On M July 6 at 1145p "The Vikings" is on in which I believe the man born Bernie Schwartz in Brooklyn says, "Yonder is the castle of my father."  Please correct me if I'm wrong.

 

The weekend of July 10-11 has some juicy double bills.

F July 10 8p John Ford's rare comedy, "The Whole Town's Talking" 1935 with Edward G. Robinson playing a mousy bank employee AND a gangster;  followed at 10p "Arrowsmith" 1931 adaptation of Sinclair Lewis' powerful novel.

 

Sa July 11 8p "Dr. Strangelove" 1964 followed at 10p by the earlier more light-hearted but still pertinent satire, "The Mouse That Roared".

 

That's all for now--please keep your cool both physically and politically and always  remember:  "Take it easy it but take it!"  

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

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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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