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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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"Collecting Lottery Tickets" - What Oriole Baseball Has Come To - Plus A Shout-Out to "Toni Stone"

 

I guess the trade this past weekend of the Orioles' most reliable pitcher Andrew Cashner to division rival Red Sox was not surprising. He will be a free agent at the end of the season, and conventional wisdom says that the Orioles couldn't expect much in value for him.

 
Baltimore got two 17-year-old Venezuelans playing in the Dominican summer leagues, outfielder Elio Prado and infielder Noelwarth Romero. Both are undoubtedly years away from making The Show if they ever come close to the majors.   

 

According to Dan Connolly, the diligent Oriole correspondent for "The Athletic" online subscription website, the Orioles are "collecting lottery tickets" as they go through the complete "rebuild" of their largely unproductive organization. 

 
My response to that explanation is:  Who is going to pitch for the rest of this season?

The once-heralded Dylan Bundy went on the injured list after he gave up seven runs in the first inning of his first post-All Star Game start.  His knee was hurting during his warmup, but he didn't tell anybody until after he got shelled. 

 
Rookie southpaw John Means, the Orioles' lone All-Star this season, got rocked by Tampa Bay in his first post-ASG start.  He can't be expected to carry a full load.

 
Couldn't the Orioles have gotten more for Cashner, 32, who is having a career year - 9-3 for a team that has only 28 wins?  I would hate to think that the hasty trade was made because they feared that he - like Bundy - could get injured before the July 31 trade deadline.

 
What pains me about the Cashner trade is that he wanted to stay in Baltimore. He was committed to the rebuild. The Orioles were his fifth major league organization and he was looking for a home, especially now with his wife expecting. 

 

He was a Cubs first round draft pick in 2008, signed out of TCU, the same program that produced former Oriole hurler now with Phllies Jake Arrieta and Cardinals corner infielder Matt Carpenter.  Ultimately Cashner was traded to the Padres in the Anthony Rizzo deal and later spent time with the Marlins and Rangers. 

 
Signed to a two-year contract before the 2018 season, Cashner became a leader of the Orioles, not just the pitchers. I think I'm a pretty good judge watching on TV of who is faking intensity and who isn't.  You could see that the bearded 6' 6" hurler cared about competing and winning. 

 
His passion reminded me a little of Pete Vuckovich, the Brewers right-hander who I vividly remember once competed so hard during a playoff game against the Yankees in the 1981 strike-marred season that he refused to leave the mound despite throwing up, evidently battling some kind of ailment.

 
There was another admirable aspect in Cashner's background.  Understanding his son's passion for baseball, Andrew's father built a diamond in the back yard of the family home in Texas for Andrew to practice on. 

 
Oriole manager Brandon Hyde was effusive in his praise of Cashner, wishing him well in Boston except when he pitched against the Orioles.  I enthusiastically second that sentiment as he makes his debut tonight (Tues July 16) at Fenway against the Blue Jays, another "rebuilding" team.

 
Oriole fans are now fearful that first baseman/right fielder Trey Mancini may be the next to go.  He is currently in the worst slump of his career, but he continues to play hard and welcomes the role of young veteran leader on an unproven team. The converted infielder Mychal Givens will probably be dealt to teams looking for bullpen help.

 
We lived through a wave of trades last year at this time: Manny Machado to the Dodgers (now doing fine with the Padres on his $300 million plus contract); Jonathan Schoop to the Brewers (now a regular contributor on the AL Central first-place Twins); Kevin Gausman and Brad Brach to the Braves (where Gausman has been injured and ineffective and Brach, now with the Cubs, is also struggling).   

 
There are glimmers of hope in improved Oriole minor league play at the Double A Bowie level and the lower minors at Delmarva (Low Class A) and Aberdeen (Short Season). But it will be maddening if the Orioles unload Mancini and Givens and other players and get so little in return as what they received for Cashner. 

 
The new regime can't be thinking that Hawaiian shirt and straw hat fedora giveaways will substitute for a real plan for the future, can they?  Don't want to answer that question!

 
At least, for fans of other teams, there is plenty of excitement and weeks of hope, however illusory, ahead.  By its very nature, baseball always surprises.  

 

For example, nothing was more astonishing than former Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud's three-homer game against the Yankees last night Monday July 15. His third dinger, a 9th inning blast off Aroldis Chapman, led the spunky Tampa Bay Rays to a 5-4 victory. It kept alive the Rays' flickering hopes of catching the Yankees in the AL East divisional race.

 

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING DIFFERENT! 
Before I close this latest post, I want to urge you in the New York City area to see "Toni Stone," playing through Sunday August 11 at the Laura Pels Theatre (115 W 46th Street just west of Fifth Avenue). The comfy Pels is one of the theaters that is part of the Roundabout Theater group.

  

Rarely does a solid piece of historical research, Martha Ackmann's "Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone" (Lawrence Hill Books/Chicago Review Press, 2010), get transformed into exciting theatre. Thanks to Lydia R. Diamond's adaptation, "Toni Stone" succeeds in viscerally bringing to life the remarkable story of the first woman to play in the Negro Leagues. 

 
There is a bravura performance by longtime Off-Broadway luminary April Matthis in the title role. She is aided by a supporting cast of eight talented male actors playing a variety of roles. Kudos must also be given to the crisp direction of Pam McKinnon and the brilliant choreography by Camille A. Brown.

 
I was enthralled from the opening of the first act when Toni Stone delivers a monologue in praise of the wonder and drama of baseball. (The writing reminded me of Roger Angell's elegiac essay, "On The Ball," from a 1976 New Yorker magazine, anthologized in "Five Seasons"). 

 
As a black tomboy in segregated America, Toni Stone had a hard time gaining acceptance.  "People weren't ready for me," she told Martha Ackmann when belatedly - she died in 1996 - she was rediscovered in the last years of her life, living for decades as a nurse in the SF Bay area.  "I wasn't classified. I was a menace to society."

 
But what an exciting achieving life she led - good enough to replace Hank Aaron as second baseman on the Indianapolis Clowns in 1952 when he went into the Braves organization. A versatile woman athlete better than the legendary Babe Didrikson.  Good enough to play semi-pro baseball into her 60s in the Bay area. (Many thanks to Minnesota's great baseball historian Stew Thornley for his help in providing some additional details.)

 
It is a credit to Lydia Diamond's script that she has streamlined a lot of the stories in Toni Stone's life. She establishes a good dramatic flow without overburdening us with facts that could overwhelm the non-sports fan. Blessedly, the script rarely gets preachy.

 
My only quibble is in the misleading treatment of Gabby Street, the former major league catcher and World Series-winning manager, who befriended teenaged Toni when she enrolled in 1935 in his St. Paul, Minnesota baseball school.

 
A baseball traditionalist from the Deep South, best known as a member of the Washington Senators who once caught a baseball thrown from the Washington Monument, Street at first wanted nothing to do with Toni's desire for baseball instruction. 

 
She wouldn't accept no for an answer and ultimately Street realized that Toni's passion and talent were genuine.  For her 15th birthday he even gave her a pair of baseball spikes, a gift she always treasured.  So I felt it was a rare cheap shot for Toni in the play to say that Street was a member of the Klan. 


Despite this one jarring note, I still heartily recommend seeing "Toni Stone" at the Laura Pels Theatre through Aug. 11. The play moves to the Arena Theatre in DC in the fall and early next year in San Francisco.

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

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