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Troubled Musings on Baseball + Farewells to Carl Reiner & Johnny Mandel & More TCM Tips (updated)


I cannot say that I'm looking forward with any eagerness to the delayed opening of the MLB season on July 23 and 24. There are too many public health complications that could arise because of the still-uncontrolled coronavirus.  

 
Although travel will be mainly regional in the shortened 60-game regular season, teams will still be constantly on the road interacting with local populations that too often have disdained mask wearing and social distancing.   It may also be too much to expect the virile young players themselves to obey these rules and stick to their hotels while on the road.

 

There have already been some significant player defections. The biggest names so far who won't play at all in 2020 are Dodgers new southpaw David Price; Giants onetime All-Star catcher Buster Posey who doesn't want to put at risk his newly adopted infant twin daughters; and the Braves all-around outfielder Nick Markakis whose concern grew when he talked with his star teammate, first baseman Freddie Freeman who is already suffering with Covid-19.     

 
The quietly productive Markakis has 2355 career hits and will hurt his outside chance of reaching the magic number of 3000. Markakis was an Orioles mainstay for the first nine years of his career. But Baltimore blundered by not re-signing him after the 2014 season (sigh and double sigh. And still-active and productive Nelson Cruz too - more sighs.)   

 
Even before Freeman's affliction, Markakis was not thrilled at playing a season in empty stadiums. A gamer and a quiet leader, Nick liked playing in front of and for fans.  Perhaps he also remembered that game in 2013 when the Orioles played the White Sox in an empty Camden Yards after the riots sparked by Freddie Gray's death in police custody.  

 
As always, Houston's new manager Dusty Baker expressed some trenchant thoughts about baseball's situation during the pandemic. Interviewed during the Fourth of July weekend on WFAN's 33rd anniversary, he said he had used his time off clearing out a lot of unneeded stuff from closets and garages in his home.  

 
"We have too much," he noted.  The very charitable and socially conscious Baker, who at 71 is the oldest manager in MLB, said he donated a lot of material to garage sales and the homeless.  

 
Houston may have caught a break by the enforced idleness because the booing of the Astros in abbreviated spring training was intense.  Of course, the high tech-low comedy sign-stealing scandal occurred under previous manager A. J. Hinch and bench coach Alex Cora. 

 
Life must go on even in a pandemic.  "There is no wealth but life" remains my favorite adage courtesy of John Ruskin the British social theorist and art historian (who had no discovered connection to baseball, at least at press time).  


Here on the Upper West Side of New York City, we seem to be practicing social distancing and mask wearing very well.  The permanent closing of many restaurants and stores is very sad, but I was able this weekend to dine in the outdoors. Under Phase 3 recovery regulations,  surviving eateries are allowed to set up as many tables on sidewalks as space allows.

 
Before I close, I want to salute the memory of two nonagenarian creators who left us since I last posted: Composer-arranger Johnny Mandel, 94, and actor-comedian-writer Carl Reiner, 98.

 
I never met Carl Reiner but his role as a second banana to Sid Caesar on NBC Saturday  night's "Your Show of Shows" was a formative part of my first TV viewing in the early 1950s.  

 
Some of Reiner's bits with Caesar are etched forever in my brain.  Like his playing the title role in "The Dancing Doughboy" skit, a satire on World War I.  Poor Sid goes off to war while Carl is at home singing and dancing.  That's why you're fighting overseas, he tells Sid. So he can have fun at home.   


Or the Scrabble game where Reiner questions a strange word that Caesar has put down, and Sid challenges Carl's "MACHINE":  "What's this "MAC HINE?  That's not a word, it's a name." 

 
Reiner was truly American entertainment's Renaissance man.  He was Mel Brooks' interviewer on the hilarious "2000 Year Old Man" albums; director of TV's "Dick Van Dyke Show" and many movies; and of course father of actor-director Rob Reiner who first came to fame as Archie Bunker's son-in-law aka "Meathead". 

 
Dear reliable TCM will devote the evening and early morning hours on Th July 28 to a Reiner salute beginning with the semi-autobiographical "Enter Laughing" at 8p, followed by "All of Me" with Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin at 10p, "The Comic" at midnight, "Where's Poppa" at 2a, and "Oh God!" with George Burns at 330a.

 
While I'm plugging TCM's great programming, set your dials this coming Saturday night July 18 for "Bogie in 1941".  Coming at us back-to-back: "Maltese Falcon" at 8p, followed by "High Sierra" at 10p.  Earlier at 2p from 1944, Dick Powell breaks permanently free from his goody-two-shoes persona in "Murder, My Sweet". 

 

If that's not enough, at midnight Eddie Muller's Noir Alley features "Three Strangers" 1946 with that memorable duo of Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet plus Geraldine Fitzgerald all tied together by one winning lottery ticket. 

 

TCM program note:  After July 25-26 "The Breaking Point," John Garfield's last film, Noir Alley will be on hiatus in August, but happily will return the second weekend in September.

 
Another great loss to our culture recently was Johnny Mandel, 94, in southern California. The New York-born composer-arranger - his early schooling was at PS 6 on Upper East Side - gifted the world with many great movie melodies.

 

A partial list includes "The Shadow of Your Smile" (from "The Sandpiper" with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton); "Emily" (from the "Americanization of Emily" with James Garner and Julie Andrews); "Suicide Is Painless" (the theme from "M*A*S*H); and a particular favorite of mine, the chromatically lush "Close Enough For Love" (from "Agatha").  

 

"I Want to Live" was his early breakthrough score in the 1950s, based on the real story of the jazz-loving unfairly-convicted murderer Barbara Graham (Susan Hayward). 

 
In one of my last interviews for WBAI-Pacifica in 1991, I visited Mandel when he was staying at a hotel in New York.  For all the great acclaim he received for his writing for movies, he considered playing horns in the Count Basie band in the 1950s his greatest musical thrill.  

 
We lost another great nonagenarian movie composer last week when Ennio Morricone died at 91.

 

And finally, here's a hoist of a glass to film-maker Kevin Rafferty, who left us much too early at age 73.  His doc. about the nuclear industry, "The Atomic Cafe," is a renowned classic.  

 
I discovered his work through his enjoyable and informative documentary "Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29," about the 1968 classic football encounter between two undefeated Ivy League powerhouses.  Viewing this film might take the sting away from the recent announcement that there will be no Ivy League football in the fall of 2020. 

 

Let's hope these great creators are never forgotten.  And those younger amongst us can find inspiration for such memorable fulfillment in our work. 

 
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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