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Columbia Women/Wisconsin Men Cagers Keep On Winning + TCM To Feature Joe E. Brown Films Weds. in March

The turning of the calendar to March is always a great sign that winter is edging into spring. This coming early Sunday morning March 8 at 2A also marks the return of Daylight Saving Time.   

 

Our winter in NYC has been virtually snow-free and I don't believe we will escape Old Man Winter entirely.  I'm sorry for the people in the ski and winter sports industry who are having hard times economically, but as someone in his upper 70s I don't miss one bit the hazards of slipping on ice. 

 
I'm happy to report that my favorite basketball teams, the Columbia women and the Wisconsin men, continued their winning ways this past weekend and start March each with six game winning streaks. The Lions have made for the first time the four-team Ivy League Tournament that will be play at Harvard Fri and Sat March 13-14.

 
Columbia will have to deal with the absence of star sophomore Sienna Durr who broke her foot in action at Harvard on Friday.  But winning is a fever that is not easily abated. Congrats again to coach Megan Griffith and her staff and players that have been a delight to watch in 2019-20.

 
Wisconsin was picked for no better than sixth in pre-season polls and has never been nationally ranked at all this year. They now have a chance to win the regular season Big Ten title.  They are still vulnerable to quicker teams but their will to win has been wonderful to watch. 

 

KUDOS TO TCM!
Here's a shout-out to one of my favorite cable stations, Turner Classic Movies (TCM), for saluting the great comedian-actor-baseball lover Joe E. Brown with an array of his films every Wednesday in March.   All times below are Eastern.

 
The series starts on WED MAR 4 with a 8p showing of "Circus Clown" (1934), a semi-autobiographical film because Brown started his career as a circus acrobat before he was even a teenager. Part of a family that worked hard without earning much money, he liked to say he's the only person who ever ran away from home to join the circus with his parents' permission.

 
For night owls later that night, check out one of his first Hollywood films, "On With The Show" (1929 at 130A) followed by "Sally" (1930) at 330A. Originally a Broadway musical, "Sally" features one of Jerome Kern's great ballads, "Look For The Silver Lining". 

 
In many ways that song summed up Joe E Brown's outlook on life.  As did the title of his autobiography, "Laughter Is A Wonderful Thing" (1956 as told to Ralph Hancock).  

 

"Laughter" was published by the then-prominent sports publisher A. S. Barnes in NYC.  It's not surprising that Brown chose Barnes as his publisher because he was an excellent all-around athlete who performed all his movie stunts and was a huge fan of all sports. 

 

He genuinely believed that the rise of his son Joe L. Brown to the general managership of the Pittsburgh Pirates - replacing Branch Rickey after the 1955 season -  to be the greatest achievement of anyone in his family. 

 
Joe E. accumulated one of the most comprehensive collections of sports memorabilia. He called it "His Room of Love" in his LA mansion, but unfortunately much of it was lost in two southern California forest fires. 

 
TCM's tribute to Joe E. Brown on WED MAR 11 will be of special interest to baseball fans.  Starting at 8PM, Brown's baseball trilogy will be shown back-to-back-to-back. 

 
It begins with "Fireman Save My Child" (1932), inspired in part by one of Brown's favorite players the eccentric brilliant southpaw Edward "Rube" Waddell.  (Brown always wanted to devote a whole film to Waddell's story but never could get the funding.) 

 
At 915, Joe E's favorite of all his films, "Elmer the Great" (1933), will air.  Warner Brothers execs doubted Ring Lardner's story could work on the screen, but when Brown made such a success of it in Los Angeles-area dinner theatre, the film was made. 

 

At 945, "Alibi Ike" based loosely on another Lardner story will air.  It features 19-year-old Olivia DeHavilland as Joe E.'s girl friend in one of her debut performances that year.  Fans of "I Love Lucy" will recognize William Frawley as Brown's manager.

 

If you want to binge on March 11 into early Thursday morning March 12, there is at 130, "Six-Day Bike Ride" (1934) with Brown's frequent second/third banana Frank McHugh. 

 
The swimming film "You Said A Mouthful" (1932) follows at 245. Ginger Rogers has a prominent role before she rocketed to fame in the "Gold Diggers" movies of Busby Berkeley and then as Fred Astaire's dancing partner. 

 
And if you want to stay up all night - or get up early - at 515A there is "Eleven Men and A Girl" (1930), a football movie that to me is a lineal descendant of the Marx Brothers' "Horse Feathers" of a couple of years later. 

 
There will be lesser Brown films on Wed March 18 but I'm curious to see "The Daring Young Man" (1942) where Brown is a Nazi hunter.  It will be on sometime after 11PM. "Earthworm Tractors" (1936), one of Brown's last popular hits, is listed at 930, but the current TCM listing has two films listed at 8PM and that can't be right.  I hope the website at tcm.com makes a correction soon.

 

Wed March 25 will be the final night of the Brown extravaganza, opening with the never-grows-old "Some Like It Hot" (1959) at 8PM.  

 

At 1015, the rarely seen "Midsummer Night's Dream" (1935), directed by Max Reinhardt with the assistance of William Dieterle, will be shown.  It features Olivia DeHavilland in her second of her two films in her debut year. 

 

Brown as Flute the bellows worker basically steals the film from such stars as James Cagney and young Mickey Rooney, even ad-libbing on Shakespeare at one point. (Wes Gehring's Joe E. Brown book has been an invaluable source for me.)  

 
While I'm giving TCM listings, might as well tell you that on March 29 at 1015PM the classic "Pride of the Yankees" (1942) will air with Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth as himself, and the wonderful Teresa Wright as Eleanor Twitchell Gehrig.

 

Wright was not a baseball fan until late in her life when she befriended Gehrig's splendid biographer Ray Robinson and she was became a regular visitor to the Yankees during their last dynasty starting in the late 90s.

 
On Tues March 31 TCM will devote its daytime hours entirely to baseball films.  One is so rare that I've never heard of it: "They Learned About Women" (1930) airs at 9A.  It's about baseball vaudevillians who are doing very well "until love gets in the way," according to the TCM guide.

 

More familar films follow including at 1030A "The Stratton Story" (1949) with Jimmy Stewart as the big league pitcher who injures his leg in a hunting accident.

 

Then at 1230 "The Winning Team" (1952) with Ronald Reagan as Grover Cleveland Alexander with Doris Day as his wife - not as bad as you might think.

 

At 230 "The Babe Ruth Story" (1948) with William Bendix miscast as the Babe and so bad that it is memorable. Charles Bickford as Brother Matthias, Babe's mentor at the reformatory, never changes costume though 40 years have elapsed.

 

At 445p Jackie Robinson plays himself in "The Jackie Robinson Story" (1950)

And the tribune to the Grand Old Game ends with "Take Me Out To the Ball Game"

(1949) a Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra romp.

 

Which reminds me that Richard Greenberg's "Take Me Out" is being revived this month off Broadway.  The story of a gay baseball player is uneven and too melodramatic,  but it has some beautiful writing.  One character's speech on how baseball is better than democracy is exceptionally pertinent. 

   

Well, that's all for now.  I'm off to the NINE baseball magazine conference in Phoenix this week.  Will be back soon with word of that enjoyable and usually penetrating delving into the culture of my favorite sport (still favorite despite the current mismanagement). 

 


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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