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Hey, Dr. Fauci, There Were Giant Fans in NYC Too! + More Thoughts on Baseball, Movies, and Music (revised to note that Sat May 9 is day for "Ace in the Hole" on TCM)

Dr. Anthony Fauci has deservedly become a voice of sanity and hope in these increasingly nervous times.  The former Upper East Side Regis Prep School point guard is also a great baseball fan who has switched to rooting for the world champion Washington Nationals after growing up as a Yankees fan.

 
Yet when he recently told James Wagner of the New York Times that in the 1950s "everybody in Brooklyn was either a Dodger or a Yankee fan," I reacted with horror: "Have you never heard of New York Giant fans, dear doctor?" 

 

As I post on Willie Mays' 89th birthday on May 6th, let me remind him that there was a third team in NYC with a history that predated either Yankee pinstripes and Dodger blue. And Willie Mays more than deserved to be in the same company as Mickey and the Duke. Alvin Dark could hold his own in all-around play with Pee Wee and Phil.  (But I'm not going to going to bat for Wes Westrum over Campy and Yogi.)

 

It's true there weren't as many of us New York Giant fans, but there were plenty scattered around the five boroughs of NYC and neighboring suburbs. Including future Hall of Famer Joe Torre raised close to Fauci in Bensonhurst deep in the heart of Brooklyn.

 

"Nobody's perfect," Dr. Fauci, and please continue doing your good work of trying to talk truth to power about the public health quandary we find ourselves in. 

 
"Nobody's perfect", of course, brings to mind Joe E. Brown's classic closing line in Billy

Wilder's hilarious farce "Some Like It Hot" (1959).This Sat May 9 at 8PM, there is a deserved prime time showing on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) of Wilder's rarely seen earlier film "Ace In The Hole". 

 
It was released in 1951 the year after his big success with "Sunset Boulevard" (1950). 

Kirk Douglas plays a newspaper reporter banished to New Mexico from NYC. A mine accident traps a worker underground, and Douglas seizes this opportunity to make a national story at the expense of the poor victim. 

 
Douglas reportedly urged Wilder to soften his character a little bit, but the director was unrelenting.  He wanted to make a mordant statement about mass culture and he sure did.  The film pretty much bombed at the box office in the U.S., but made more money in France released as "The Big Carnival" (1955). 

 
One more TCM tip in the coming days. In a rare back-to-back showing, on Monday May 11 at 8PM and 1045PM, George Nierenberg's joyous tap dance documentary, "No Maps On My Taps" (1979) will be shown. Tap masters Sandman Sims, Bunny Briggs, and Chuck Green get deserved acclaim. 

 
Some of the music in the doc. is provided by Lionel Hampton who once told me when he wasn't traveling, he often coached first base for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. 

 

Speaking of the Monarchs and the Negro leagues, an absorbing and intelligent read is Jeremy Beer's award-winning biography, OSCAR CHARLESTON (University of Nebraska Press). 

Glad to see too that Oscar was honored with a plaque in his home town of Indianapolis.

 

I have no crystal ball on when we might see live baseball in the States again. In their thirst for live sports, ESPN has made a deal with the Korean Baseball Organization for late night coverage Tu through Su plus playoffs..

 
On Monday night May 4th I stayed up late to watch an opening night game. And whatdya know?   There was a rain delay!   It was only a half-hour pause, and for the few innings I could stay awake I was treated to crisp defensive play and good pitching. Fan noises were piped into the empty stadium which may happen here if there are indeed games in the USA in 2020.

 

In the meantime, let's cherish our memories of games and heroes of the past. And keep hoping we'll have a future of fresh games to look forward to sometime soon.

 

As Dr, Fauci described it beautifuclly a few days ago, you're at a game and "just watch things go slowly and then all of a sudden explode with a couple of line drives off the wall."  And if home runs follow, your adrenaline goes up tenfold!  

 

Until that happy moment, now more than ever, Take it easy but take it!  

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On Mike Piazza, "Angels in the Outfield", Gabriel Faure, and Shirley Knight & The Solace of Baseball, Movies, and Music In A Time of Unease

The enforced isolation of sheltering in space has allowed me to taste many dishes these days from the worlds of baseball and music and movies. Here's a rundown of some highlights and recommendations for the next week or so.

 

On Fri aft Apr 24, MLBTV replayed the Mets' thrilling 3-2 victory over the Braves on Sep 21, 2001, the first game in NYC after the 9/11 bombings.  I attended the game and thrilled to the Seventh Inning Stretch rendition of "New York, New York" with Liza Minnelli singing and leading a kick line with various members of the police and fire departments and other uniformed personnel. 

 
I was way up in right field that night so could see the show much better on TV today. Liza was really hyped up to put on a great show despite problems with the PA system.

 

She always reminded people that the song was written for her, not Frank Sinatra though his version is almost always played.  In fact, for many years the Yankees only played Liza's version of "New York, New York" when the team lost.  They have stopped that indignity but now don't ever play her rendition.

 

When you watch the "All Time Games" on MLBTV, you realize how every game has turning points and chances for redemption. Earlier in the game, Mike Piazza had been unable to catch a throw at home plate from right field, allowing hustling Chipper Jones to score the first run of the game from first base.  

 

In mid-game Piazza also stranded a runner at third with two out by grounding out to third.  But he rose to the occasion in the bottom of the 8th with a game-changing two-run home run off New York-born Steve Karsay.

 

There was no over-the-top celebration of the homer by either Piazza or his teammates.  They were happy, of course, but I sensed a feeling that it was a statement of affirmation after such a jarring blow to the city delivered by the suicide bombers.

 

Hearing "New York, New York" again and watching the happy ending, I was yet swept by the bittersweet feeling that it will be a long time before we can experience the joy of watching in capacity crowds.  Not forever - we can't think that way - but it will be a long time. And wisely so until the scientists and sensible public health officials get a better grip on the problem.


So let's take some solace in watching some old baseball movies. Mark down this Tuesday April 28 at 1p when TCM shows the original "Angels in the Outfield" from 1951. It is directed crisply by Clarence Brown (1890-1987), who holds the unenviable record of the most Oscar nominations without a win at six.  

 
"Angels" stars Paul Douglas as the crusty beleaguered manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Janet Leigh plays a newspaper reporter specializing in society stories who tries to civilize him.  Keenan Wynn, 13 years before his memorable turn as Bat Guano in "Dr. Strangelove," plays a cynical sportswriter. 

  

The title comes from a little girl who roots so hard for the Pirates that she imagines angels in the outfield helping them. And whatdya know? They are real. The ever-cheery and bubbling Spring Byington plays a nun who helps facilitate the miracle. 

 
I can envision many hard-boiled sophisticated baseball fans running away from the TV before the film is even shown.  I say give it a try.  In my first seeing, I found it not as sentimental as it sounds.  

 

Even if not buying into the movie, fans can enjoy the baseball sequences filmed at Pittsburgh's Forbes Field. Look for cameo appearances by Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Ralph Kiner wearing #4, and Bing Crosby, who owned a share of the Pirates at the time.  

Sam Narron plays a rival Philadelphia coach - Narron was one of eight Narrons from a baseball family in North Carolina that played professional baseball. 

 

Paul Douglas is one of my favorite actors.  He delivers athletic portrayals naturally because he briefly played pro football in the pre-NFL days and was a sports announcer for many years.  He had also been convincing as Ray Milland's catcher in the charming "It Happens Every Spring" released in 1949 ( that film was written by Valentine Davies who the year before had created "Miracle on 34th Street" with Edmund Gwenn as Santa Claus and young Natalie Wood). 

 

On the musical front, if you tune into wqxr.org on line or 105.9 FM, this Sunday night Apr 26 at 10p, the piano music of Gabriel Faure (1845-1921) will be highlighted in David Dubal's absorbing "Reflections from the Piano" series. It is a repeat of the Wed at 10p show.

 

Faure's melodies always are inviting and many of his harmonies are haunting. Oddly, some of his gently dissonant notes somehow reminded me of the much later jazz great Thelonious Monk (1917-1982).  There will be a second Faure show on W Apr 29 at 10p, repeated on Su.

 

Remember, too, that during the daytime Th Apr 30 will be Eve Arden Day on TCM. Unfortunately, they are not showing "Anatomy of A Murder" in which she plays James Stewart's secretary.  It would have been timely since on April 29 Duke Ellington, who wrote the music for the film, would be 121.

 

They are showing films I've never seen - "Unfaithful" at 10a, "Comrade X" from the critical period of 1939-40 at 2p, and the classic "Mildred Pierce" at 345p. The last one at 6p is the so-so filming of her classic radio-TV "Our Miss Brooks". It does have the novelty feature of

direction by "Grandpa" Al Lewis of Munster fame. 

 

Sorry to end on a somber note but it was an eerie coincidence that actress Shirley Knight passed away last week on April 21nd on the same night that TCM was showing "The Group," based on Mary McCarthy's incisive novel about Vassar's Class of 1933 and their first years in the real world.

 

Knight gave an outstanding performance as she always did.  I had forgotten that she had created the role on both Broadway and Hollywood of Reenie in William Inge's achingly beautiful play, "The Dark At The Top of the Stairs."  

 

She always provided a seemingly placid but deeply emotional coloration to all her roles. In some ways she  reminded me of Sissy Spacek before Sissy Spacek came on the scene.  Shirley Knight was 83 and she died at the home of her daughter Caitlin Hopkins who chairs the theatre program at Texas State U in San Marcos.  

 

That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it (even if you have to wear a mask a lot of the time.) 

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