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"Stronger Than Hate": Julian Edelman's Message + Notes on Opera and Film As We Await Spring Training

A cousin of mine just sent me an inspiring story about Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman, a rare openly Jewish member of the NFL (though technically only his father is Jewish not his mother). After the slaughter of defenseless Jews at a Pittsburgh Squirrel Hill neighborhood synagogue this past fall, the Patriots wide receiver Edelman showed his solidarity with his co-religionists by inking on his football shoes, "Stronger Than Hate". 


It's a wonderful reminder that human compassion can win out over the forces of hate and bigotry that have been let loose in this country and implicitly encouraged from the top down.  I ran across tonight another inspirational quote from an emeritus archivist at Illinois Wesleyan University:  "The past is immutable, but history is up to us." 


I didn't know until researching a talk I'm giving at the NINE magazine baseball conference in Phoenix in early March that Illinois Wesleyan U. as well as Branch Rickey's beloved alma mater Ohio Wesleyan took a stand against racial segregation. In 1966 they refused to allow its baseball team play against still-segregated Mississippi universities. Instead they competed against other northern schools Illinois State, Xavier of Ohio, and Parsons of Iowa  at the Keesler Air Force base in Biloxi. 


Turning to baseball news, many sportswriters and fans are increasingly agitated that star free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are still unsigned. Now even Aaron Judge is getting into the act. He's been quoted that the Yankees could find room for Harper in right field and he'd be willing to move to center field.


Aaron, calm down please.  Last spring training you put in a pitch for Machado to join the Yankees.  You are a very likable fellow and a budding great player, even Yankee haters admire you.  But let Brian Cashman general manage and you just get ready for another stellar season.


It's bad enough when fans in too many cities have little hope to contend. 


With the Knicks and Rangers pretty hopeless winter teams in NYC and only the Brooklyn Nets giving glimmers of basketball hope, I've been enjoying the arts much more than winter pro sports. For those who love the work of Milos Forman - the Czech exile who came to the USA after the failed "socialism with a human face"1968 revolution in his home country - Forman's first American film, "Taking Off", is playing two more times at the Film Forum on Houston Street.  This Thursday Feb 7 at 220 and 620p. 


I saw it on Saturday and the 1971 film holds up well. It is a realistic farce about the panicked efforts of a suburban couple (Buck Henry and Lynn Carlin) to find their teenaged daughter who in the later years of the hippie craze has run away to the East Village. 


They discover that other parents are in the same boat so they join the SPFC - the Society for Parents of Fugitive Children.  The scenes where they are instructed in smoking dope and the aftermath are as hilarious as I remembered. 


For opera buffs, you still have a chance to see a rare double-bill at the Met Opera, Tchaikovsky's last opera "Iolanta" (1892) and Bartok's only opera "Bluebeard's Castle".  Both were inspired by Grimm and other fairy tales of the mid-19th century. 


The Met Opera orchestra remains one of the treasures of our town, and this time the inventive staging matched the music.   (You can hear "Iolanta" and "Bluebeard's Castle" live on the Met's long-running radio broadcast this Sat Feb 9 at 1230P EST.)


"Without music life would be a mistake," Friedrich Nietzsche said on one of his better days.  


That's all for now - in the meantime always remember:  "Take it easy but take it." 

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The Nearing of Spring Training Will Mean A Lot In A Time of Loss

The new year has not started well for me personally.  On the first Sunday in January, my ex-wife died after a courageous two-year bout with cancer. Willie Nelson's lyric about not getting "over" deep losses but getting "through" them is so true.


It's also true that grief comes in waves. Tears flowed again yesterday morning when reading Robert Semple's tribute on the Sunday NY Times editorial page to his former colleague the great columnist Russell Baker who died on January 21 at the age of 93. 


Baker loved to drive Buicks, a sensible middle-class car, Semple recounted. When he 

asked Baker's neighbor if he still drove a Buick, he was told yes - it was still in front of his house waiting for his return. Boy, was that ever a poignant description for the loss survivors feel. 


Baker's legacy is huge.  His memoir "Growing Up," about his transition from rural Virginia to Baltimore, is a classic. His occasional commentary on sports was always humorous and trenchant. 


One particular column I remember was his deft put-down of George Steinbrenner when the volatile Yankee owner apologized to the city of New York after the Yankees lost the 1981 World Series to the Dodgers.  Baker noted that he had lived in NYC for many years and no one had ever apologized to him for anything. 


I learned of another passing this weekend when Peter Magowan died at the age of 76, my age (gulp!)  The former owner of the SF Giants saved the team from transfer to another city in the early 1990s and supervised the building of the sparkling new ballpark on SF Bay.


I remember Magowan speaking some years ago at the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse in Greenwich Village. (The clubhouse, alas, closed last year.) Magowan was born in New York City and like yours truly was a New York Giants fan.


He posed a great trivia question:  Can you name the six future MLB managers who were in uniform as players for the momentous Bobby Thomson game on October 3, 1951? (The day incidentally lthat future Hall of Famer Dave Winfield was born.) 


Speaking of the Hall of Fame, I have no objection to any of the four newest members who will be inducted into the shrine at Cooperstown on Sunday afternoon July 21.  The late Roy Halladay got in on his first try as did Mariano Rivera who is the first unanimous entrant.  (Derek Jeter, the only likely slam-dunk electee in the upcoming 2020 class, should be the second.) 


Mike Mussina's 270 wins with only 153 losses and a great walk-strikeout ratio of 785:2813 earned him my hypothetical vote.  Like Catfish Hunter and Greg Maddux, Mussina will go in with a blank cap on his plaque.


He didn't want to choose between his first team the Orioles, where he toiled his first 10 years, or the Yankees where he spent his final 8 years, winning 20 games for the first and only time in his last season. 


Halladay will wear a Blue Jays cap though he threw a perfect game and a playoff no-hitter for his last team the Phillies.  His stats of 203-105 W-L, 3.38 ERA, and 592:2117 BB-K ratio jump off the page. 


His willingness to demote himself to the lowest minor leagues early in his MLB career to retool his mechanics is a testimony to his desire to excel. So sad and even maddening that his desire to compete led him to fly his private plane to an early death at the age of 40, leaving a wife and two small children behind. 


No need to explain why closer extraordinaire and no-nonsense compeitor Mariano Rivera got elected unanimously. 


Edgar Martinez, the one hitter going in on the writers ballot, was a rare career .300 hitter in this age of the what-me-worry? whiff. Lifetime BA .312, slugging AV: 515, 2247 hits, and also extremely rare these days:  a positive BB:K ratio of 1253:1202. 


He is the first primarily designated hitter going into the Hall but that shouldn't have been used against him.  He was a feared hitter whenever he played, and like Halladay he demonstrated an exceptional devotion to his craft. 


He used to do eye exercises for at least a half hour before every game.  Hand/eye coordination is not just a God-given gift, it must be practiced and honed. 


Glad I could end this blog on an up note.  Back to you again on the eve of spring training that opens the earliest on Feb 11 and Feb 12 for the A's and Mariners who will be opening the season in Tokyo the next-to-last week in March. 


Before I sign off, let me heartily recommend Robert Caro's mini-memoir in the Sept. 28, 2019 issue of the New Yorker magazine.  It is filled with wisdom about the practice of journalism and writing and the search for truth. 


As always, take it easy but take it!  And oh yes on the trivia question here's a hint:  There was one Dodger and five Giants in player uniform on 10/3/1951 that became MLB skippers.

Answer next time.



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