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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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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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