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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!  

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Oh For The Days When Spring Training Wasn't Filled With Anger + Thoughts on Columbia Women's & Wisconsin Men's Basketball

I'm trying to keep an even keel about all the anger from MLB players directed against the Houston Astros for their now-revealed high-technology methods and Keystone Kop execution that probably aided their World Series triumph of 2017. 

 
This is February, the slowest month of the sports year now that the Super Bowl is over. The build-up to college basketball's March Madness has not shifted into high gear. And the NBA basketball and NHL hockey playoffs are still a ways off.

 

So reporters are desperately looking for stories. Angry players are providing plenty of copy from Florida and Arizona.

 

It says here the protests won't amount to much because it will be impossible to prove exactly how much the signals affected game outcomes. The anger has almost made lament the pre-free agency days of baseball.

 

In the years when the reserve clause ruled baseball (through the 1976 season), spring training stories were usually about holdouts of players not satisfied with contract offers. 

 

In the vast majority of cases, they were one-year contract offers. Usually the pot was sweetened a little bit by management, and on went the regular season without interruption. 

 

The old system was obviously unfair to the players economically but it provided stability for the owners and for the fans could deeply identify with their favorite players. 

 

It was interesting if somewhat bizarre to watch Red Sox co-owner John Henry's press conference the other day trying to explain why Boston had traded star outfielder and recent AL MVP Mookie Betts to the Dodgers.

 

He spent a good deal of time reminiscing about Stan Musial, his favorite player growing up in St. Louis.  He waxed rhapsodic about how Red Sox fans felt the same attachment towards Ted Williams.

 

Both stayed with their original team forever. John Henry even noted that Musial turned down in 1946 a huge salary increase by spurning an offer from the short-lived Mexican League. 

 

Henry professed his approval of Betts' wanting to get "market value" for his services.  Yet neither finance mogul Henry nor his partner TV mogul Tom Werner (a former San Diego Padres owner who I remember most as the man who hired Roseanne Barr to sing a disastrous National Anthem) addressed in any great detail the real reason why Betts was traded. 

 

They didn't want to pay any more "luxury tax" into MLB coffers that a long-term contract to Betts would have required. They insisted that they didn't think a draft pick at the end of this season would be sufficient.

 

Yet the return for Betts seems questionable.  Two minor leaguers and a young outfielder Alex Verdugo may have a high ceiling but who will start season on the disabled list. 

 

To add to Red Sox questionable decisions, they selected as Cora's replacement Ron Roenicke (brother of former Oriole left fielder Gary Roenicke). Ron enjoyed only moderate success in prior MLB managerial jobs with the Brewers and Angels.

 

The Red Sox will face more bad news when beleaguered commissioner Rob Manfred announces the results of his investigation into Red Sox malfeasance during Alex Cora's reign as manager, especially their 2018 championship season. 

 

With too many stories in baseball resembling the troubling wider political world these days, you can see, dear reader, why I try to find solace in the college basketball seasons of my alma maters. 

 

The Wisconsin Badgersmen and Columbia Lions women have given me considerable pleasure. Picked for sixth in the 14-team "Big Ten", the Badgers have a chance at a top three finish and another trip to March Madness. 

 

They are maddeningly inconsistent to be sure. One center with the combined talents of Nate Reuvers' sweet touch and Micah Potter's toughness might be an All-American.  But last I looked cloning players has not been approved yet by the NCAA.  

 

With just eight players getting regular playing time, the Badgers have overcome great adversity to keep hope alive. First, there was the pre-season loss of  assistant coach Howard Moore whose wife and daughter were killed in a horrific auto crash - Moore himself is recovering slowly from his serious injuries and a subsequent heart attack.

 

Then last month, the streaky but talented swing man Kobe King abruptly left the team. The Lacrosse, Wisconsin native's reasons were sketchy at best.  Not being appreciated beyond a basketball player was one of them.  

 

Under coach Greg Gard's firm and steady hand, the Badgers have regrouped and are on their first three-game Big Ten winning streak of the season.  That's a modest number of course, but the flashes of offensive production from the likes of juniors Brad Davison and Aleem Ford and consistently tough defense have me pulling my chair up close to the TV these days.

 

I thought the Columbia women would be worth watching in 2019-20 and I have not been disappointed.  Under youthful coach Megan Griffith, Columbia class of 2007 grad and former assistant at league powerhouse Princeton, the Lions last weekend swept two Ivy League opponents for the first time since 2011, Dartmouth and Harvard.

 

There is now a four-team tournament in the Ivy League and Columbia has a chance to make it if they continue to grow and play hard and smart and well. 

 

Last year's rookie of the year, forward Sienna Durr from Grinnell, Iowa has stepped up her all-around game. 

 

Guard Abby Hsu from Parkland, Florida is a strong candidate for this year's rookie award.  The only senior on the squad, feisty guard Janniya Clemmons from Accoceek, Maryland outside DC, is another solid presence.

 

Both point guards sophomore Mikayla Markham from Manasquan on the Jersey shore and first-year Carly Rivera from Arlington, Virginia are getting plenty of playing time. They are sparkplugs for a frequently-employed full-court defense.

 

Tigers on the boards and adding a lot of energy to the team are first-year Caitlyn Davis from Norwalk, Ct. and sophomores Lilian Kennedy from Buford, Ga. and Hannah Pratt from Boca Raton, Fla. 

 

Unfortunately, the Columbia men have fallen into the Ivy League basement. It's a familiar story - close losses and no conistent scoring except from senior guard Mike Smith who hasn't had a lot of help and winds up taking too many shots.

 

After a good start to the season, the Wisconsin women have fallen near the bottom of a tough Big Ten conference. Hopefully, both teams end the season with good efforts and confidence-building results to give hope for better days ahead for both teams. 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 


  

 

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