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On Mike Piazza, "Angels in the Outfield", Gabriel Faure, and Shirley Knight & The Solace of Baseball, Movies, and Music In A Time of Unease

The enforced isolation of sheltering in space has allowed me to taste many dishes these days from the worlds of baseball and music and movies. Here's a rundown of some highlights and recommendations for the next week or so.

 

On Fri aft Apr 24, MLBTV replayed the Mets' thrilling 3-2 victory over the Braves on Sep 21, 2001, the first game in NYC after the 9/11 bombings.  I attended the game and thrilled to the Seventh Inning Stretch rendition of "New York, New York" with Liza Minnelli singing and leading a kick line with various members of the police and fire departments and other uniformed personnel. 

 
I was way up in right field that night so could see the show much better on TV today. Liza was really hyped up to put on a great show despite problems with the PA system.

 

She always reminded people that the song was written for her, not Frank Sinatra though his version is almost always played.  In fact, for many years the Yankees only played Liza's version of "New York, New York" when the team lost.  They have stopped that indignity but now don't ever play her rendition.

 

When you watch the "All Time Games" on MLBTV, you realize how every game has turning points and chances for redemption. Earlier in the game, Mike Piazza had been unable to catch a throw at home plate from right field, allowing hustling Chipper Jones to score the first run of the game from first base.  

 

In mid-game Piazza also stranded a runner at third with two out by grounding out to third.  But he rose to the occasion in the bottom of the 8th with a game-changing two-run home run off New York-born Steve Karsay.

 

There was no over-the-top celebration of the homer by either Piazza or his teammates.  They were happy, of course, but I sensed a feeling that it was a statement of affirmation after such a jarring blow to the city delivered by the suicide bombers.

 

Hearing "New York, New York" again and watching the happy ending, I was yet swept by the bittersweet feeling that it will be a long time before we can experience the joy of watching in capacity crowds.  Not forever - we can't think that way - but it will be a long time. And wisely so until the scientists and sensible public health officials get a better grip on the problem.


So let's take some solace in watching some old baseball movies. Mark down this Tuesday April 28 at 1p when TCM shows the original "Angels in the Outfield" from 1951. It is directed crisply by Clarence Brown (1890-1987), who holds the unenviable record of the most Oscar nominations without a win at six.  

 
"Angels" stars Paul Douglas as the crusty beleaguered manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Janet Leigh plays a newspaper reporter specializing in society stories who tries to civilize him.  Keenan Wynn, 13 years before his memorable turn as Bat Guano in "Dr. Strangelove," plays a cynical sportswriter. 

  

The title comes from a little girl who roots so hard for the Pirates that she imagines angels in the outfield helping them. And whatdya know? They are real. The ever-cheery and bubbling Spring Byington plays a nun who helps facilitate the miracle. 

 
I can envision many hard-boiled sophisticated baseball fans running away from the TV before the film is even shown.  I say give it a try.  In my first seeing, I found it not as sentimental as it sounds.  

 

Even if not buying into the movie, fans can enjoy the baseball sequences filmed at Pittsburgh's Forbes Field. Look for cameo appearances by Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Ralph Kiner wearing #4, and Bing Crosby, who owned a share of the Pirates at the time.  

Sam Narron plays a rival Philadelphia coach - Narron was one of eight Narrons from a baseball family in North Carolina that played professional baseball. 

 

Paul Douglas is one of my favorite actors.  He delivers athletic portrayals naturally because he briefly played pro football in the pre-NFL days and was a sports announcer for many years.  He had also been convincing as Ray Milland's catcher in the charming "It Happens Every Spring" released in 1949 ( that film was written by Valentine Davies who the year before had created "Miracle on 34th Street" with Edmund Gwenn as Santa Claus and young Natalie Wood). 

 

On the musical front, if you tune into wqxr.org on line or 105.9 FM, this Sunday night Apr 26 at 10p, the piano music of Gabriel Faure (1845-1921) will be highlighted in David Dubal's absorbing "Reflections from the Piano" series. It is a repeat of the Wed at 10p show.

 

Faure's melodies always are inviting and many of his harmonies are haunting. Oddly, some of his gently dissonant notes somehow reminded me of the much later jazz great Thelonious Monk (1917-1982).  There will be a second Faure show on W Apr 29 at 10p, repeated on Su.

 

Remember, too, that during the daytime Th Apr 30 will be Eve Arden Day on TCM. Unfortunately, they are not showing "Anatomy of A Murder" in which she plays James Stewart's secretary.  It would have been timely since on April 29 Duke Ellington, who wrote the music for the film, would be 121.

 

They are showing films I've never seen - "Unfaithful" at 10a, "Comrade X" from the critical period of 1939-40 at 2p, and the classic "Mildred Pierce" at 345p. The last one at 6p is the so-so filming of her classic radio-TV "Our Miss Brooks". It does have the novelty feature of

direction by "Grandpa" Al Lewis of Munster fame. 

 

Sorry to end on a somber note but it was an eerie coincidence that actress Shirley Knight passed away last week on April 21nd on the same night that TCM was showing "The Group," based on Mary McCarthy's incisive novel about Vassar's Class of 1933 and their first years in the real world.

 

Knight gave an outstanding performance as she always did.  I had forgotten that she had created the role on both Broadway and Hollywood of Reenie in William Inge's achingly beautiful play, "The Dark At The Top of the Stairs."  

 

She always provided a seemingly placid but deeply emotional coloration to all her roles. In some ways she  reminded me of Sissy Spacek before Sissy Spacek came on the scene.  Shirley Knight was 83 and she died at the home of her daughter Caitlin Hopkins who chairs the theatre program at Texas State U in San Marcos.  

 

That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it (even if you have to wear a mask a lot of the time.) 

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New York Scouts Dinner and A Memorable Basketball Saturday

The annual Hot Stove League dinner sponsored by the New York-area baseball scouts has always provided many memorable moments. Last Friday's 52nd annual gathering at Leonard's of Great Neck maintained the fine tradition.

Several ovations were deservedly bestowed upon dinner organizer Billy Blitzer whose 35 consecutive years with the Cubs were finally rewarded in November. But emcee Ed Randall, who joined Billy in donning a Cubs World Series shirt, couldn't resist telling some jokes that no longer apply.

My favorite: "What would Jesus tell the Chicago Cubs?" Answer: "Don't do anything until I come back."

Guest speaker Art Shamsky called his experience on the 1969 Mets the highlight of his career. He said the team's success permanently inscribed his name in the book of New York heroes. He added that he didn't mind having a dog named for him in the "Everybody Loves Raymond" TV show.

Shamsky shared some tales of earlier Mets teams. After beginning their first two seasons losing 9 and then 8 games in a row, the Mets were rained out the following year in their first series in Cincinnati. Before their home opener, announcer Ralph Kiner quipped, "The Mets are off to the best start in their history."

Cincinnati scout John Ceprini, the winner of the group's prestigious Turk Karam award as Scout of the Year, was moved by Shamsky's appreciation of his career. Ceprini paid homage to the mentors who had encouraged him on his path towards scouting.

San Francisco Giants scouting honcho John Barr, who was awarded the Jim Quigley award for service to baseball, concluded the evening with some indelible insights into the scouting profession.

"Listen to the sound off the bat," George Digby, who signed Wade Boggs, told him.

"Who can help us win?" asked Joe McIlvaine, who was with the Mets when Barr started in his career in the 1980s. (Barr went on to work with the Orioles where he signed number one draft picks in Ben McDonald and Mike Mussina.)

"Sit on a guy . . . See him when he fails . . . See him in another sport where he is not so dominant. . . . How comfortable does he look?"

No need to attribute these quotations to anybody. They are eternal truths - if only the number-crunchers and "advanced metrics" people would understand.

I do take solace in the great saying - "It's amazing what you can accomplish if you don't care about who gets the credit."

Before I close, I must kvell a bit about my dream basketball Saturday. All three teams that I follow closely won games and I saw two of them in person.

My girl friend's alma mater Davidson, avenging a loss at home earlier in January, walloped Fordham at the marvelous oldest-in-country Rose Hill gym in the Bronx.

My alma mater Columbia held on to beat Harvard on Morningside Heights and improve to 3-1 tied with Yale and Harvard and 1/2 game behind Princeton.

And my graduate alma mater Wisconsin rallied to beat Rutgers in overtime at Madison Square Garden. The Badgers are living on the edge in recent games but they sure know how to win.

Redshirt sophomore center Ethan Happ, first cousin of Blue Jays LHP J. Happ, scored 32 of Wisconsin's 61 points. He only went 8-16 on the foul line and that shortcoming remains a major problem. Yet all other aspects of his game - footwork, quickness, willingness to learn, and will to win - Happ inspires hope!

To make Saturday January 28 a day to live long in Wisconsin annals, the hockey team also won an overtime game at the Garden over Ohio State in the evening.

And here's one more overtime story - the Columbia women's basketball team, picked for last in the Ivy League, beat Dartmouth in FOUR overtimes on Friday night. They lost by only 2 at Harvard the following night. As an unrepentant puller for underdogs, these developments are most promising. (I attended Columbia's other 4-overtime win about a quarter century ago.)

I wish the Knicks well but I cannot lose sleep over THEIR four-overtime loss on Sunday to the Atlanta Hawks. Until there are changes in ownership at the Garden,
I fear the Knicks will be spinning their wheels.

Well, that's all for now. Pitchers and catchers report in two weeks, tournament time nears in basketball, and the days are getting longer. A really exciting time of year in spite of all the political uncertainties.

So always remember: Take it easy but take it!  Read More 
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