instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

Reflections on Stan Musial's 3000th Hit, "Woman of the Year" on TCM, and Pianist Igor Levit

I'm posting this blog on the night of May 13, 2020.  62 years ago in the daytime at Chicago's Wrigley Field - before lights came to desecrate that baseball pantheon - Stan "The Man" Musial stroked his 3000th hit, only the eighth to do so and the first since Paul Waner had done so for Dodgers in 1942.  

 
Somehow in the This Day in Sports History section of the NY Times today, Musial's milestone was omitted. Stan The Man, named in grudging genuine respect by Brooklyn Dodgers fan for how he wore them out in Brooklyn, just doesn't get respect. Maybe because he was basically Midwestern nice and didn't exhibit the rage of Ted Williams or the cool grace of Joe DiMaggio.

 

There is a wonderful saying:  "If consistency were a place, it would be lightly populated." Well, Musial would be a treasured resident in that hallowed hall.

3630 career hits, 1815 at home, 1815 on road, .331 lifetime BA, 1951 career RBI, 1949 runs scored.  At the time, 3630 was second to Ty Cobb in most career hits. 

 
Musial was more than his stats, though.  He could run and throw and his story should be a warmly remembered one.  He started out as a left-handed pitcher but his permanent shift to outfield early in the 1941 minor league season propelled him to the big leagues and a 22-year career.  

 
Biographers James Giglio and George Vecsey have done an admirable job in recent years bringing Musial back to our attention. Let's remember his achievement and not get hung up on big city East Coast West Coast delusions of grandeur.

 


NOW LET'S GO TO THE MOVIES!

As readers of this blog know, watching largely black-and-white old movies on the TCM cable channel has kept me somewhat sane during the pandemic.

 
So last night - May 12th - I caught "Woman of the Year" (1942), not realizing until later that it was the first Spencer Tracy-Katherine Hepburn movie pairing.  Eight more were to come as well as a long-lasting off-screen relationship (though devout Catholic Tracy never divorced).

 
The concept of a grizzled sportswriter falling in love with an internationally-acclaimed activist-reporter that looks down on sports was a good one.   The film, written by Ring Lardner Jr. and the brothers Kanin, Garson and Michael, was directed crisply by George Stevens who had worked with Hepburn earlier in her career.

 

In any memorable film, the supporting cast has a huge role in its success.  Minor Watson plays Hepburn's father.  He congratulates Tracy for having the courage and stamina to marry someone as independent and talented as his daughter. 

 

(In 1950 Minor Watson would offer a good portrait of Branch Rickey in "The Jackie Robinson Story". Not as good as Harrison Ford's in "42" (2013) but still believable.)  

 
William Bendix as the bartender-manager of Tracy's favorite watering hole is hilarious as an ex-boxer ready at a moment's notice to describe how he knocked out Braddock in the seventh round.  It feels nice to give a plug to Bendix after his unfortunate title role six years later in the "Babe Ruth Story".

 
Near the end of the flick, Tracy delivers one of my favorite lines after secretly watching Hepburn's farcical attempt at making breakfast:  "It's fourth down and time to kick."  

 

The ending of the film does wimp out with Hepburn literally on her knees promising to be a more domestic wife for old-fashioned Tracy.  Nobody working on the film was happy with the ending, but M-G-M under Louis B. Mayer was not going to take a chance on an ambiguous ending esp. as World War II loomed.  (It opened in early Febuary 1942 at NYC's Radio City Music Hall and no doubt was completed well before Pearl Harbor.)   

 
Stephanie Zacharek in her April 21, 2017 essay in criterion.com makes a couple of very penetrating observations.  She writes that the Tracy-Hepburn pairing showed that "the secret to happiness is finding joy in the corners." She adds if we're unhappy with the hokey ending, "It's an invocation to write our own better one - one that we can ourselves can live." 

 
Amen to all that!  Certainly watching Hepburn in "Woman of the Year" - a title she receives in the film for her international journalism - made up for the incongruity of seeing her earlier yesterday on TCM.  It was in a film three years later, "Undercurrent" (1945, directed by Vincente Minnelli.) 

 
After a horse kills her no-good husband Robert Taylor (who had almost killed her), she is pictured on a sofa listening rapturously to Taylor's kinder brother Robert Mitchum (!) playing Brahms on the piano.  There have been stranger scenes in Hollywood films but this one ranks in the top ten IMHO. 

 
One last cultural tip -  check out the May 18, 2020 New Yorker magazine for Alex Ross's probing profile of gifted young pianist Igor Levit.  He is portrayed as someone who not only delivers the goods as a musician - with wide open ears willing to embrace all kinds of popular music. But he insists on being a social activist for all the good causes. 

 

Levit even tells the story of being overwhelmed by the goodness and intelligence of Monica Lewinsky when she came backstage after a rare Levit NYC performance.  As a big coalition man myself, I'll take workable coalitions wherever they may appear. 

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

3 Comments
Post a comment

Orioles Honor 1966 Champs + Musings at All-Star Game Break

On Friday July 8th the 1966 World Series champion Baltimore Orioles were honored at a luncheon sponsored by the Oriole Advocates, a longtime charitable organization in Charm City. There was also an evening pre-game ceremony at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. More than a dozen players and coaches from Baltimore’s first World Series champion gathered for the events.

Of course, Hall of Famers Jim Palmer and Brooks Robinson attended - both have established roots in Baltimore since their playing days, Palmer as an excellent TV analyst and Robinson as a truly beloved year-round resident.

No surprise that slugging first baseman Boog Powell was also on hand – his barbecue stand is a popular feature at Camden Yards.

Unfortunately, Frank Robinson did not come, citing a previous commitment.
His arrival in a pre-1966 season trade from the Cincinnati Reds was the catalyst that put the Orioles over the top in 1966. He went on to win the Triple Crown and American League MVP, the only season incidentally that he ever led the league in batting average, home runs, and RBI.

Though not there to hear the plaudits, Frank Robinson’s role on the 1966 team was universally praised. His intense desire to win was infectious. Some teammates even thought that the moment he hit a home run in his first batting practice was the moment the whole team knew they would win it all.

The most amusing speaker was knuckleballing relief pitcher Eddie Fisher (no relation to the pop singer who married Debbie Reynolds and then Elizabeth Taylor).
A retired golf director for the Oklahoma tourism department, Fisher said he developed the knuckle ball because "my spitter was so slow that it dried up before it reached home plate."

After the late Moe Drabowsky pitched over six innings in relief and won the first game of the 1966 Series over the favored Los Angeles Dodgers, the bullpen was not needed. Fisher said that he warmed up a couple of times just to get on television. He added that he thought about applying for unemployment because he hadn’t worked at all in the Birds' stunning four-game sweep.

Sadly, Friday's day of celebration ended on a sour note when Ubaldo Jimenez imploded again in a starting role for the 2016 Orioles. Baltimore fans are generally not savage – they are more likely to cheer sacrifice bunts and the animated ketchup-mustard-relish race on the ballpark scoreboard than boo the home team.

But after being knocked again in the second inning, Jimenez heard the catcalls. He is
still owed $27 million through 2017 so an outright release is not likely yet. But there is much speculation that his place in a very suspect starting rotation may have been irretrievably lost.

The happier news is that the Orioles bounced back to win two close games on Saturday and Sunday. The also-ran Los Angeles Angels were in a giving mood and the Orioles were gracious hosts and accepted the breaks.

On Saturday former Mets reliever Joe Smith dropped the ball before he started to pitch. A balk was called, allowing the O’s to tie the score at 2-2. Emerging star second baseman Jonathan Schoop gave the O’s the lead with a RBI single in the 8th inning.

On Sunday shortstop Andrelton Simmons, like Schoop a native of the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao, let an easy popup fall in short left field. It set up a big insurance run in an eventual 4-2 Orioles win.

The O’s enter the All-Star Game break with a two game lead over Boston with Toronto right behind. The Yankees pulled to .500 with a 3-1 series win at Cleveland.
They are only 8 back of the Birds in the lost column. The Birds make their first trip to NYC July 17-20 and they will be crucial for both teams, especially the Yankees.

Lots of baseball still to be played. Even teams totally out of the playoff races like the Braves in the NL and the Twins in the AL are playing better.

As always the team that wins will not necessarily be the best team but the team that plays best down the stretch. After their sizzling start, the Cubs have looked mortal and what was once a 14 game lead over the Pirates has been cut in half. The Cardinals are even a little closer than Pittsburgh.

So as always in baseball as in life the advice is the same: Take it easy but take it!
 Read More 
Be the first to comment