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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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Reflections on Baseball's Upcoming Winter Meetings + A Few TCM Tips

I have never sought a job in MLB or MiLB but have been to a few winter meetings, which are slightly mislabeled because they always occur before the

official start of winter on Dec. 21. I was in San Diego in 1984 not long after Calvin Griffith sold the Minnesota Twins to banker Carl Pohlad.


No longer was the franchise in his family that had owned the original Washington Senators since 1919 (patriarch Clark Griffith after managing the New York Highlanders before they became the Yankees, actually arrived in DC as manager in 1912.). In 1984, Calvin, his adopted nephew, looked very relaxed, not worrying about losing his star players to free agency - that had started 8 years earlier - or worrying about extending them and finding their productivity decline.


I commended Griffith on the good work of his franchise's scouts over the years, finding future Hall of Famers like Walter Johnson and Harmon Killebrew and developing other less heralded but genuine major leaguers. He explained one of his secrets of scouting: "We always look in a boy's mouth. If he doesn't take care of his teeth, how will he take care of his arm?" 


In 1992, I was in Louisville when former Pirates president Carl Barger was preparing to take on a similar role in the expansion Florida (now Miami) Marlins. Speaking at an executive session of owners, Barger, who helped keep his home town team in Pittsburgh after the death of longtime owner John K. Galbreath in 1985, warned his colleagues about the rising salaries in baseball.


As reported later, Barger pleaded with them to stop their reckless spending and to consider the needs of the smaller markets. Taking a break from the session, Barger stepped out into a hallway and collapsed from an aneurysm and was dead before he arrived in a hospital.  He was only 58. 

The plight of the smaller markets and also the presence of many owners who do not want to spend money for proven players remains obviously a big issue in baseball. 


Until the end of the twentieth century, the winter meetings were actually organized by the National Association, the minor leagues' ruling body. There was a far more collegial spirit then - the annual award of King of Baseball honored such revered figures as Roland Hemond and Paul Snyder, the lifelong Braves player, developer and scout who passed away on November 30 at the age of 88.    


The Covid pandemic hastened the end of the National Association and now all control is located in MLB commissioner Rob Manfred's office.  There is still lip service given to the importance of player development in every organization, but the win-now pressure from the 24/7/365 media and newbie owners and their analytic-drenched staffs is very hard to resist.


Which brings me to the future of my Orioles. I'm all for building good farm systems and growing the core of your team from within.  Yet I'm holding my breath that the Orioles don't really think that their amorphous title of "Best Minor League System in MLB" leads them to ditch more vital veterans.


It was no surprise that Kyle Gibson, who turned 36 on October 23, will be wearing the uniform of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2024. Though his numbers did not impress the analytic crowd, his ability to change speeds led to his throwing 25 double play grounders, one of the highest rates in the majors. As I wrote here this summer, his understanding of the art of pitching was as good as it gets. 


I repeat it again via my paraphrase.  You have to know when (a) you don't have anything working and find a way to get through a game; or (b) when you have to choose correctly between the pitches that are working on a day when only a couple of them are going well; and perhaps most interestingly, is the almost zen-like or gallows humor-like, (c) you have to know not to blow it when all your pitches are working on that rare day. 


Now there is talk that Baltimore brass are thinking of trading Anthony Santander, their valuable switch-hitting DH and competent right fielder, because he might get as much $13 million through arbitration and will be a free agent at the end of 2024 season. Sure, there are talented Oriole prospects on the doorstep of the majors, including Heston Kjerstad and Colton Cowser - both of them who got a taste of MLB in 2023. There is also Kyle Stowers who showed some promise in 2022 but 2023 was consumed by injuries. 


I am not the only one in Oriole fandom who would rue the day that "Midnight Tony" (a nicknamed bestowed early in his career as a Rule 5 pickup from Cleveland because he wore sunglasses night and day) is no longer an Oriole. I would buy out at least one of his free agent years coming up after his coming last year of arbitration.  He turned 29 on October 18 so he should be entering his prime years. 


Maybe I'm being too pessimistic (there remains a Masochist Mel alter ego lurking in my marrow!).  Am crossing fingers that general manager Mike Elias makes the right decisions because it seems likely that owner John Angelos doesn't want to invest in his stars. 


I think it is far too early to think about longterm signings of blossoming young stars Gunnar Henderson and Adley Rutschman.  But something more than a one-year commitment to Santander makes a lot of sense to me. 


Be patient, dear readers.  Days will start getting longer around Dec 21 and by Valentine's Day the trucks with baseball equipmentds will have arrived in Florida and Arizona.


Before I close, here are a few TCM movie tips for the first half of December.


The only baseball film of note the first half of this month is Su DEC 10 1130A "Pride of the Yankees" (1942) - preceded oddly by Noir Alley's

    "I Wouldn't Be In Your Shoes" (1948) with Regis Toomey/Elyse Knox


**Every Friday in December will be Cary Grant Night. 

DEC 8  features 4p "Once Upon Hollywood" (1942) Directed by Leo McCarey with Ginger Rogers, Walter Slezak 

  6p "Dream Wife" (1953  dir. Sidney Sheldon - before he became a best-selling novelist - with Deborah Kerr/Walter Pidgeon

  10p "Holiday" (1938) based on Phillip Barry's Broadway play, with Katherine Hepburn


DEC 15-actually early morning Sa Dec 16 two Hitchcock classics 

  2a "Suspicion" (1941) with Joan Fontaine

  4a "North By Northwest" (1959) with Eva Marie Saint/James Masons

 (unfortunately no "Notorious" with Ingrid Bergman all month) 


W DEC 6 is the first of two gifted writer Paddy Chayevsky Nights

  8p the classic "Marty" (1955) with Betsy Blair/Ernest Borgnine

  2a "Middle of the Night" (1959) with Fredric March/Kim Novak


W DEC 13 how about this back-to-back-to-back trio of Chayevsky!

  8p "Network" (1976) with Faye Dunaway/Peter Finch/William Holden

  1015p "The Hospital" (1971) Chayevsky's Oscar with George C. Scott/Diana Rigg/many others

  1215a "Americanization of Emily" (1964) with Julie Andrews/James Coburn/James Garner/Melvyn Douglas

  Set before D-Day, with the wonderful Johnny Mandel song "Emily" - sadly, itt didn't qualify for a Best Song Oscar because

  it was never completely performed in film, but an immortal song and a wonderful if biting movie. 


That's all for now - take it easy but take it! 













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