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Thoughts on Ohtani Scandal, Orioles Opening Day, Wait "Til Next Year for My College Basketball Passions & TCM Tips

Opening Day in baseball is not as special as it used to be but what is these days? If I had my way, Cincinnati would host the home opener as it often did last century because the Reds franchise is the oldest MLB team, its roots going back to the Cincinnati Red Stockings of 1869.


This year MLB actually opened in Seoul, Korea on Mar 20 & 22 with the Dodgers and Padres splitting games. During the Korean trip, the shocking news broke that over $5 million of the bank account of Shohei Ohtani, the Dodgers' new superstar hitter-pitcher, was used to pay off the gambling debts of Ippei Mizuhara, his American-born interpreter/roommate/best friend since Ohtani's arrival in the USA as a member of the Angels in 2018.    


After Mizuhara initially told ESPN in an exclusive interview that Ohtani had full knowledge of the payments but the interpreter insisted that he never bet on baseball, 24 hours later word came from Ohtani's camp that the prior interview was inoperative.  Ohtani's people didn't actually use the word "inoperative" in their statement, but it is one of my favorite words from the Nixon White House as the Watergate scandal metastasized over 50 years ago.   


The Dodgers quickly fired interpreter Mizuhara and word came out that his resume claiming that he previously had worked for other baseball teams turned out to be George Santos-like in its falsehoods. The team is charging Mizuhara with "theft" of the 5 million from Ohtani's account.


How big this scandal becomes is up to how thoroiugh media coverage will be as well as the depth of the MLB investigation which was somewhat belatedly promised. I am among the large group of skeptics who wonder whether such a probe will actually happen given the status of the popular Ohtani who signed in the off-season a $700 million Dodgers contract for 10 years with the money heavily backloaded. 


The wits and wags are already having a field day with this story. My favorite so far is: "If Pete Rose had an interpreter, he'd be in the Hall of Fame." (Thanks to Jay Goldberg, creator of the "Memory of America" project taping reminiscences of people's first baseball game, for sharing that beauty.)


This case broke in California because it is one of only 12 that doesn't allow legal bookmaking. In the Murphy v. NCAA case decided in May 2018,  a unanimous Supreme Court ruled that the long-standing NCAA edict against players betting on its games violated the constitutional rights of the 50 states.  


As a historian needing to stay aware of the decaying civic life of his country, I cannot ignore this story. Yet I remain more devoted to the game on the field and the sagas of those who play this difficult and beautiful game. 


So let me turn now to my Orioles' promising start which actually began with a 23-5 record in spring training games, however meaningless the results were. With brand-new onwer David Rubenstein in attendance, Baltimore won its home opener on Th afternoon Mar 28, 11-3, over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, not exactly a prime opponent. 


New ace Orioles starter Corbin Burnes, a 2021 Cy Young winner for the Brewers, gave up a solo home run to Mike Trout in first inning and nothing more in six sterling innings that included 11 strikeouts.  


They took a 2-1 lead on Jordan Westburg's timely two-out single in bottom of the first and never looked back. How I love driving in the run from third with two out!  If I have a tombstone, it will read: AT LEAST HE DIDN'T DIE ON THIRD. 


Long home runs by right fielder Anthony Santander, a free agent after this season as will Corbin Burnes, and centerfielder Cedric Mullins added rich icing to the tasty cake of starting the year 1-0. 


It is a heady feeling for an Oriole fan to root for a genuine contender.  I like it, I like it.  Last year I put aside my alter ego Masochist Mel as the Birds soared to 101 regular season wins.  They couldn't handle the eventual world champion Texas Rangers in the playoffs but no team could. 


One other aspect of Opening Day that was especially heartwarming was the first ball thrown out by 10-year-old Aubree Singletary, the daughter of a Baltimore city postal worker.  The look of awe and bliss on her face as she walked on the field and gazed at the 45,000 people in the stands and the billowing Oriole flags on the field were enough to make a prince of paranoia forget his doubts about the future of his team and our great game itself. 


Cal Ripken Jr., who will be a part of the new ownership group, caught Aubree's short toss from in front of the mound.  What made this moment especially endearing is that David Rubenstein is the only child of a Baltimore city postal worker. 


Back to some reflections on the game. Westburg, a native of New Braunfels, Texas and a product of Mississippi State's fine program, was starting at DH but he should also see action at 2B and 3B during the year.  The Orioles seem loaded at almost all positions with a lot of hot young prospects - infielders Jackson Holliday and Coby Mayo and outfielders Heston Kjerstad and Kyle Stowers, among them - starting the year in the minors. 


Thanks to my quick finger on the remote clicker, I was able to see Yankee newcomer Juan Soto's great throw from right field that prevented the Astros from tying their home opener in bottom of 9th innning. One out later, the Yankees could enjoy an impressive 5-4 come-from-behind victory.  If Soto's performance in the field picks up to match his offensive productivity, the Yankees may be a worthy adversary for the Orioles throughout 2024.


Of course, it is far too early to make any accurate predictions but the rest of the AL East could be very competitive making for a great race.  Unfortunately, the so-called "balanced" schedule has cut intra-divisional games from 19 to 13 so there will be fewer dramatic August-September matchups. 



Now on to some brief basketball post-mortems for my favorite college teams:  The Wisconsin men and the Columbia women will have to wait until next year.   The Badgers landed with a thud on Friday Mar 21 when the upstart James Madison Dukes from Harrisonburg, Virgina rushed out to a 18-5 lead and never looked back.  But on the following Sunday, the blue blood Duke Blue Devils gave JMU a thrashing of their own to make the Sweet Sixteen against powerhouse Houston on Fri Mar 28. 


Wisconsin was led in scoring this year by St. John's transfer AJ Storr but he thinks he is NBA ready and will not return next season.  Thanks to an Ian Eagle comment on a CBS broadcast, I learned that Storr previously had attended FOUR high schools before choosing St. John's and then Wisconsin.


Whenever I throw up my hands at the transfer portal and the NIL opportunities for the players (Name, Image, Likeness), I remind myself that the coaches have always had the opportunity for free agency.  The latest example is Mark Byington, who led James Madison, will now coach at Vanderbilt.,  


It seems to me that Purdue and Connecticut are heading for a final matchup in the men's March Madness (spilling of course into April) but we'll see.  As Red Barber wisely advised us, "That's why they play the games." 


On the women's side, I was saddened to see Abbey Hsu's brilliant Columbia career end on a minor note as the larger and defensive-minded Vanderbilt Commodores held her to 13 points on 3-14 shooting in Columbia's debut in the NCAA tourney. The final score was 72-68 but the Lions never recovered from a big hole in the second period that led to a Dores' 10-point halftime lead.   


It was still thrilling to be part of a crowd of over a thousand that watched the game from the Virginia Tech home court on the big scoreboard screen in Columbia's Levien gym.


Vanderbilt was spanked by Baylor three days later and now the NCAA and the ESPN-ABC TV combine are hoping that Caitlin Clark's sparkling game can carry the Hawkeyes into the women's Final Four. 


Clark wasn't that impressive in Iowa's narrow win over West Virginia's plucky team that knocked out Princeton, the perennial Ivy representative.  It says here that Dawn Staley's undefeated South Carolina Gamecocks will be hard to dethrone but once again we'll see what happens. 


On the college baseball side, Columbia won two of three from Harvard last weekend and now faces defending Ivy champion Penn in a Sat doubleheader on Mar 29 and a single Easter Sunday game at noon, all games at Satow Stadium just north of Columbia's football field overlooking the Hudson.  In a short 20-game league season, these early matchups are especially crucial because only two teams qualify for the best-of-three playoff at the home of the first place team.   


Rutgers won a series over UConn last weekend and are on the road at Michigan State the weekend of Mar 28.  They return home to Bainton Field for local matchups against Hofstra Tu Apr 2 at 3p, Marist W Apr 3 at 6p, a weekend series against Purdue April 5-6-7 at 6p, 3p, 1p.

They travel to Seton Hall in South Orange on Tu Apr 9 at 4p and host Nebraska F-Su Apr 12-14 at 6p 3p, 12N. 

More on these programs and the perennial area powers St John's and Seton Hall and NYU's Division III team in the next post.


And now some TCM Turner Classc Movie tips into early April. The starred ones have some baseball and/or sports content.

*M Apr 1 1PM  Buster Keaton in "The Cameraman" (1928).  His baseball pantomime filmed at an empty Yankee Stadium is a special 4-minute masterpiece.


Tu Apr 2 Ann Dvorak day in the daylight hours. 

115P "Dr. Socrates" (1935) dir. William Dieterle and co-starring Paul Muni.

*645P "Racing Lady" (1937) Ann is hired by a well-to-do millionaire (a film so obscure it isn't even Leonard Maltin's indispensable guide!)


Th Apr 4 - two classics back-to-back

8P "Annie Hall" (1977) - Woody Allen and Diane Keaton and Christopher Walken as Keaton's weirdo Wisconsin brother 

10P "Diner" (1982) one of Barry Levinson's bouncy Baltimore-based films


F Apr 5

*1015A "Woman of the Year" (1942) the first Tracy-Hepburn film with Spencer as sportswriter and Katherine as international political influencer 

     Later in the evening come back-to-back Billy Wilder classics

8P "Double Indemnity" (1944) Stanwyck and MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson

10P "The Major and the Minor" (1942) Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland and a Robert Benchley moment early in film always worth re-seeing 


Sa Apr 6 more back-to-back classics

545P "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948) dir. John Huston with Bogart/Walter Huston/Bruce Bennett/Tim Holt

8P "Blood on the Moon" (1948) dir. Robert Wise with Robert Mitchum/Barbara BelGeddes/Robert Preston (pre "Music Man"!)


Su Apr 7 12M "Violence" (1947) Noir Alley brings you Michael O'Shea/Sheldon Leonard/Nancy Coleman

   later that evening two music-themed movies of interest

8p "Young Man With A Horn" (1950) dir. Curtiz. Kirk Douglas/Lauren Bacall/the great Juano Hernandez

10p "New Orleans" (1947) a bit too talky but good performances by Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday


That''s all for now.  Stay positive, test negative, and always remember:  Take it easy but take it!










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In Praise Of March Madness & Some News of Baseball, College and MLB

I must admit that I've come down with a real case of March Madness.  I don't bet, I don't intend to bet, and I don't make up brackets for either the men's or the women's tournaments. 


But there is something intoxicating about the winner-take-all atmosphere that will dominate the sports scene into the first days of April. I'm especially thrilled that my two favorite teams, Columbia women and Wisconsin men, are still alive and dreaming of advancing. 


I attended the Ivy League tournament this past weekend, held for the first time at my alma mater's Levien Gym that was pretty much filled to the rafters with almost 3000 people.  There was disappointment on Saturday afternoon when perennial Ivy League women's champion Princeton proved too much for Columbia, who shared the regular season title with the Tigers. On this afternoon Princeton dominated in a 75-58 whipping.


The crowd did its best, shouting "De-fense! De-fense!" in the first minute and reviving it even in the second half when the outcome was clear. The gloom over the next 24 hours turned to elation when Columbia was selected to play against Vanderbilt in a play-in game.


It will be on Wed Mar 20 at 9p on ESPNU (channel 370 on Spectrum in Manhattan).  It marks the first NCAA tournament appearance ever for the Lions who have come a long way under Megan Griffith, a passionate and talented coach now in her 8th year. She was a 1000 point scorer during her Columbia playing career and after playing as a pro overseas she served as a Princeton assistant coach. 


The Vanderbilt game gives the nation another chance at seeing Columbia's all-around senior guard Abbey Hsu. A four-year starter who has improved each season, she is a quiet leader who leads by example.  She has the kind of shot and follow-through that, as Griffith says, you will see it today and then three months later, it will look exactly the same.  


The earlier game this Wed at 7p on ESPNU will feature the Presbyterian Blue Hose from Clinton, SC, v the Sacred Heart Pioneers from Fairfield, CT.  The winner of Columbia-Vanderbilt will play Baylor on Fri at 6p on ESPNU. The Sacred Heart-Presbyterian winner will face overall number 1 seed the undefeated South Carolina Gamecocks on Fri at 2p on ESPN. 


On Sat Mar 23 at 530p on ESPN2, Princeton will meet West Virginia at Iowa City. 

Earlier on Sat, Caitlin Clark's Iowa Hawkeyes will meet a play-in winner at 3p on ABC. 


In the second round a possible matchup looms between Iowa and Princeton.  The Ivy League champ has beaten top teams in prior tournaments so

Princeton will not be an easy game for any opponent. First things first in March Madness, win the game today!


On Sat at 130p on ESPN, the undefeated Fairfield Stags from Fairfield, CT  take on Indiana in Bloomington

30 minutes earlier, perennial contender/often champion UConn Huskies take on Jackson State in Storrs. 1p on ABC.


On the Division III side, the NYU Violets completed their 31-game undefeated season by bringing home the title to Greenwich Village with two impressive wins. They handled defending champion the Transylvania U. Pioneers, 57-42, in the semi-final, thereby breaking the Kentucky school's 64-game winning streak. The following night Sat Mar 16, NYU held off the Smith College Pioneers, 51-41, to win their first national title since 1997 and 2nd overall in the school's history.   


There is plenty of news on the men's side of March Madness. In the men's final of the Ivy tournament at Columbia, the Yale Bulldogs won the title in dramatic fashion by beating the upset-minded Brown Bears, 62-61. Conquerors of top-seeded Princeton, Brown could not hold a 6-point lead in the last minute. A deadly elixir of missed foul shots, two timely Yale three-pointers, and a lay-in as time ran out led to a very painful loss for the men from Providence RI.


Under longtime coach James Jones, Yale has won games in March Madness and they have enough balance to cause trouble for any team.

On Fri Mar 22 they play the Auburn Tigers, alma mater of Charles Barkley and football/baseball legend Bo Jackson, at 415p on TNT.


A special shout-out to Wagner College of Staten Island whose men will also compete in a play-in game:

Tues Mar 19 245p on CBS against Howard of Washington DC (a school named after Oliver O. Howard who was the first director of the Freedmen's Bureau formed after the Civil War - a little dose of history in this vital year of 2024 always seems necessary). 

The winner goes against formidable 4th national seed North Carolina on Th Mar 21 245p CBS.


Here's a kudo to the Wagner band that performed very capably during the Princeton-Columbia game.  It is a band for hire, I learned, and they completed a reamrkable week of playing in four other tournaments!  


The Wisconsin men Badgers have recovered from a ghastly 3-8 finish to the regular season to garner a 5 seed and will play the James Madison Dukes from Harrisonburg, Virginia on Friday night Mar 22 at 940p on CBS.  I had a chance to see them in person at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn but the upper deck at that dimly-lit home of the Brooklyn Nets is much too steep for my unsteady gait and balance to deal with.


I hope 7-foot Steven Crowl will want to shoot the basketball and grab the defensive rebound with two hands which he didn't do at two crucial points in the loss to formidable Illinois in the Big Ten tourney final on St. Patrick's Day. Normally a fairly reliable rebounder, Crowl on two crucial plays slapped at the ball, tipping it to where alert Illini players regained possession and converted key baskets in a hard-fought 93-87 victory that allowed Illinois to cut down the nets in celebration.


Ah the rituals of sports that we have lost touch with in this age of analytics where legions of young men and women are looking at computer screens and other new-fangled devices and losing sight of the powerful drama and the tactile pleasures of rituals.


On the positive side for Wisconsin, the return of an aggressive Chucky Hepburn has been a wonderful development.  He is a remarkable point guard, a junior from Omaha Nebraska who has had to deal with a personal tragedy - his best friend was killed during Hepburn's freshman season.  When he is looking to score as well as to pass and play his devilish "hand-is-quicker-than-eye" defense, he adds so much to the Badger cause.



Time now for some college baseball talk.  Kudos to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights who returned from their pre-Big Ten season southern trip with a 13-6 record and a 3-game winning streak.  Shortstop Josh Kuroda-Grauer was named Big Ten player of the week for his stellar play.


Rutgers plays 6 games at home at Bainton Field this week, starting with:

Tu Mar 19 at 3p vs. Rider Broncs of Trenton NJ

W Mar 20 3p vs. Lafayette Leopards from Easton PA

F thru Su Mar 22, 23, 24 against Connecticut Huskies

     F at 4p, Sa at 2p, Su at 1p.

Tu Mar 26 3p NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology)


After a winless road trip to California and East Carolina (not uncommon in the career of highly successful Lions coach Brett Boretti who stresses playing a tough non-league schedule), Columbia hosts contenders Harvard and defending champion Penn the last two weekends in March.

Sat Mar 23 1130a and approximately 3p - twinbill against harvard,  Sun noon Mar 24 single game.  Sat weather looks rainy so checking with

gocolumbialions.com a good idea before you make the trek to Satow Stadium, just north of the Baker Field complex.


Sat Mar 30 1130 & approx. 3p Penn twinbill - Sun Mar 31 noon single game. 


More on the other college teams in NYC area including St. John's, Seton Hall, and Manhattan in the next posts.


As far as pro baseball in NY, the long 162-game season starts with Mets at home first against the Milwaukee Brewers

Th Mar 28 110p  After an off-day, they finish with the Brew Crew Sat Sun and then Detroit Tigers come in Apr 1-3.


The Yankees start on the road in Houston and Arizona and then open at home against Toronto. 

Opening Day Apr 5 at 110 and then no day off but a rare Sa night Apr 6 at 710 followed by Sun at 110. 

Marlins come in Apr 8-10 and Yankees are away until Rays come in Apr 19-21. 


With so many - too many, I say - teams eligible for post-season play now, our old great game aint what it used to be.

The Dodgers and Padres will be playing games that count in Seoul, Korea as early as Mar 20 and Mar 22.  They call it "growing the game"

and both owners and players are in agreement on this (although the players cannot like the huge amount of travel so early in season). 


I would love to see baseball return to its 154-game schedule or preferably less.  But no one is even talking about it and there is a limit to how

many windmills I can tilt against.  So let me conclude as I have done since the pandemic by urging "Stay positive, test negative," and

as always, there remains nothing as good as the advice:  "Take it easy but take it."    







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