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Marvelously Unpredictable Pennant Races Developing + TCM Tips for the First Half of May

One of the more honest statements on the air came the other night from David Cone commenting on the YES cable network during one of the Yankee games at Baltimore.  "I'm not a journalist - I'm an ex-player." 

 

Very true, David, but sometimes ex-players can deliver whoppers. In praising the defensive work of Yankee catcher Kyle Higashioka (who has Yankee fans breathing easier now that he has basically replaced Gary Sanchez as number one catcher), Cone compared him to former Yankee catcher the recently retired Brian McCann.

 

He called McCann a "borderline Hall of Famer." Excuse me?  McCann was a solid major leaguer and universally liked on and off the field.  But a "borderline Hall of Famer"? Maybe his career batting average was the same as Hall of Famer Gary Carter - .262 BA - but B. McCann was a good player not an immortal.  

 

Although main Yankee telecaster Michael Kay is more into the entertainment part of the YES network (Yankee Entertainment and Sports network), he does provide interesting tidbits now and then. 

 

Eg.  Indians starting pitching Triston McKenzie grew up in Brooklyn, the son of an immigrant from the island of Jamaica.  Papa McKenzie fell in love with baseball listening to Phil Rizzuto and Bill White on WPIX Channel 11 broadcasts in the 1980s.

 

And transmitted his love to Triston who is in Cleveland's starting rotation . . . for the time being.  He has been shaky but if he lives up to his promise, he should help the Indians stay in the race.  

 

(BTW they are still called the Indians until next season. My vote for a new nickname is Blue Socks in homage to an early 20th century Cleveland team and also Louis Sockalexis the native American who inspired the famous now infamous nickname. Anything but the "Cleveland Baseball Team".)

 

I also absolutely agree with Michael Kay that the oven mitts allowed for baserunners is a travesty. Longer than one's fingers, it shortens the distance for baserunners hoping to circle the bases.  

 

The next thing you know is that they will shorten the base distance by softening and widening the bases.  Which is what they plan to do in the experimental Atlantic League this season. 

 

In the meantime, I'm trying to enjoy the game in spite of the meddling of the analytic geniuses and the speeding-up-the-game fanatics.   And really there is much to like so far in the 2021 season.

 

**Good hitters who don't use batting gloves:  The Orioles' Austin Hays and the Rays' Joey Wendle come immediately to mind.  

 

Hays also chokes up slightly on the bat.  So does the Astros' Alex Bregman and a few others. Perhaps the best, most legitimate part of Barry Bonds's arsenal has not been forgotten. 

 

The Orioles' Four M's are also bringing me pleasure in the early going.  Alphabetically, they are: 

**TREY MANCINI recovered from colon cancer and re-establishing himself as team leader and run-producer. 

His only flaw IMO:  He is too intense but better that than lackadaisical. 

 

**JOHN MEANS southpaw starter off to a great start and ready and eager to pitch deep into games.

 

**RYAN MOUNTCASTLE technically a rookie but he showed off his hitting skills late last season.  Miscast as a shortstop, he has adjusted acceptably to left field and first base and occasionally DH.

 

His name suggests British royalty but he is from suburban Orlando and I really like his poise at plate.

Off to a slow start, he has been heating up lately.

 

I know many scouts scoff at the term "The Good Face", to me Mountcastle possesses it.  Confident but not cocky, he looks like he expects to succeed.  

 

**Last but not least, ZACH MULLINS who might be young at 26 for comeback player of the year but has rescued his lackluster major league career by finally listening to advice that he stop switch-hitting.  

 

Now lefty all the way, he is among league leaders in hits and continues to play a superior center field.  

 

Mullins went to Campbell University, a private Christian institution in Buies Creek, North Carolina - the school's nickname is the wonderful Flying Camels.  Thanks again to Michael Kay for providing that factoid.

 

Glimpsing the .500 line in early May is more than Oriole fans expected.  We almost reached that plateau earlier today (Sunday May 2). 

 

But A's center fielder Ramon Laureano make a sensational catch in center field to end top of the eighth. He then homered in bottom of inning to keep the A's from being swept at home by surprising O's.  

 

Orioles made a valiant try in the top of the ninth but Mark Canha robbed Mancini with another great outfield catch.

It was a wonderful game of baseball that in the nature of the beast someone had to lose.

 

O's now go to surprising Seattle who are leading AL West.  Unheralded Kansas City leading AL Central. Only Tigers and probably Rockies and Marlins are in hugely deep holes.  Good for baseball to have modest hopes all over the map.

 

Yankees have reached .500 and now face Astros for three at Yankee Stadium that should see plenty of booing of miscreant sign-stealers from Houston.

 

 AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT:  TCM Tips for First Half of May!

Eddie Muller's incisive Noir Alley shows don't resume until Sa midnight/Su at 10A May 15/16 with Orson Welles's "Touch of Evil" 1958.  

 

Followed on May 22/23 by "The Brothers Rico" 1957 with Richard Conte.

 

May 29/30 Fred Zinneman's "Act of Violence" 1949 a real classic set in aftermath of WW II with war veteran Robert Ryan bearing a grudge against fellow veteran Van Heflin now married to Janet Leigh. 

 

Leigh, born Jeannette Morrison to ski resort workers in central coastal California, was really a wonderful actress who deserves to be remembered for far more than "Psycho".  She was reportedly grateful to Alfred Hitchcock for using warm water in the dozens of times that murder-in-the-shower scene was shot, but too bad that is all she is remembered for.  

 

Monday May 3 is a Satyajit Ray film festival from 12:15 midnight until 8p

Then 8p Alec Baldwin interviews the late Robert Osborne TCM's first and greatest host

 

945p "Crossfire" 1947 the hard-hitting film about anti-Semitism in US Army with Roberts Young and Ryan and many others 

 

1115p "Night of the Hunter" 1955 dir. by Charles Laughton, script by James Agee with

Robert Mitchum/Shelley Winters/Lillian Gish

 

Tues May 4 offers three interesting films.

845A  "A Kiss Before Dying" 1956  I saw originally on Noir Alley - Robert Wagner as a mild-mannered killer on a college campus. Also with pre-Jesus Jeffrey Hunter.

 

2p "This Time for Keeps" 1947 - have never seen it or heard of it.  But get this! Esther Williams is courted by an upper-crust fellow, son of opera star Lauritz Melchior. Also with Jimmy Durante and Xavier Cugat. Possibilities for camp seem endless! 

 

8p "Hairspray" 1988 John Waters' take on how rock 'n' roll helped desegregate Baltimore.

 

Wed May 5 - how about this trio back-to-back!

545p "Diabolique" 1955 with Simone Signoret plotting to off her husband.

 

8p "Twelve Angry Men" 1957 probably best jury film ever. With Henry Fonda, Jack Klugman, E. G. Marshall, Ed Begley Sr. and obviously at least eight more.   

 

10p "Anatomy of A Murder" 1959 dir. by Otto Preminger with music by Duke Ellington.

When Lee Remick, wife of accused murdered Ben Gazzara, says to defense lawyer Jimmy Stewart, "Call me Laura!", hard for Jimmy and any male to maintain composure.  (I wonder if her name Laura was inspired by Gene Tierney's Laura of 12 years earlier).  

 

Also with Eve Arden as Stewart's secy., Arthur McConnell as Stewart's colleague, George C. Scott as vicious prosecuting attorney, and Robert Welch, who in real life helped destroy Sen. Joe McCarthy, as a judge.  

 

Th May 6 415p "A Hard Day's Night" Richard Lester directs the Beatles in a really delightful film - the 1960s before the Vietnam War and anti-draft riots got really ugly. 

 

followed at 6p by "Elvis: That's The Way It Is 2001" from 1975

 

8p "West Side Story" 1961

 

11:15p "Mean Streets" early Martin Scorsese with early Robert DeNiro 1973

 

Fri May 7 10AM "The Whistle at Eaton Falls" 1951 - A film unknown to me but sounds very interesting.  Robert Siodmak, a great Noir director, in what is billed as documentary/drama. A factory in New Hampshire is sold to an outside owner who wants to make efficiency "improvements" and fires people.  The union rebels. 

With young Lloyd Bridges, Carleton Carpenter, Murray Hamilton and a really young Ernest Borgnine. 

 

Sa May 8 1145a one hour documentary on Mike Nichols and Elaine May (1996)

 

8p "They Won't Believe Me" a Noir Alley selection hitting prime time (1947).  With Robert Young (before he became America's dad in TV's "Father Knows Best") explains in flashback why he got involved with Susan Hayward and Jane Greer. We forgive you, Robert. 

 

Later in May highlights:  

M May 10 130p "Second Chorus" 1940  Fred Astaire and bandleader Artie Shaw vie for Paulette Goddard. 

 

Tu May 11 615p "Tab Hunter Confidential" 2015 - Robert Wagner, Clint Eastwood, Tab, and others talk about Hunter's closeted life that fortunately later became open. 

 

W May 12 Katherine Hepburn day including at 915a  a Hepburn documentary from 1993.

I know she liked the chocolates from Mondel's in my neighborhood near Columbia but I'm interested in learning more about her. 

 

10:45a "Woman of the Year" 1942 the first one paired with Tracy who plays a sportswriter. Opening scene in baseball press box drew me in, of course.

 

12:45p "Pat and Mike" 1952 set on the golf circuit. With cameo by Babe Didrickson and early Chuck Connors in small but key role near the end.

 

2:30p "Keeper of the Flame" 1943  again with Tracy

 

Wed May 12 10p "Perfect Strangers" 1950 Ginger Rogers falls in love with divorced jury member Dennis Morgan.  Have never seen this one but can imagine how Thelma Ritter livens the procedure. 

 

F May 14 8p  "Taking of Pelham 1-2-3" 1974 one of the great subway films, set in NYC.

With Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam. 

 

Sat May 15 12 Noon "The Set-Up" 1949 one of the great boxing and noir films.  With Robert Ryan, George Tobias, Audrey Totter.  Dir. by the amazingly versatile Robert Wise.

 

8p "The Big Heat" 1953 Fritz Lang's classic noir with Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin, Jocelyn Brando (Marlon's sister), Carolyn Jones.

 

945p "Gilda" 1946 one of the all-time classic noirs with Rita Hayworth/Glenn Ford/George Macready

And as noted earlier Noir Alley returns at Midnight May15/16 with "Touch of Evil".   

 

That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it. 

 

 

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Behold, It Is The Springtide of the Year! Thoughts on Baseball's Opening Day & Basketball's Sweet Sixteen

I've always loved the song in the Reform Jewish Haggadah that begins:  "Behold it is the springtide of the year/Over and past is winter's gloomy reign."  Well, it could snow in April as Andy Pettitte found out pitching through snowflakes on Yankee Stadium Opening Day over twenty years ago - I think it was 1999.

 

This still remains an amazingly hopeful time of year. Birds are chirping, buds are blooming, and Passover starts on Sat night March 27 along with the NCAA Division I men's basketball Sweet Sixteen earlier that day.  Then Opening Day for MLB on April's Fool Day.  

 

It's a fitting way to start a season for teams without a prayer of competing for a pennant. Let's start with my Orioles whose lack of veteran pitching, a left-side infield defense "anchored" by retreads Maikel Franco and Freddy Galvis, inconsistent offense, and no closer don't exactly inspire confidence.  

 

I will certainly root for individuals like Trey Mancini, back at his best position first base after a year missed to colon cancer; RHP Dean Kremer MLB's first dual Israeli-American citizen; outfielder Austin Hays who had a great spring training but alas always seems to get hurt; and switch-hitting outfielder Anthony Santander (accent on the last syllable please - "san-tan-DERE!").

 

Since Orioles need feel-good stories, young Venezuelan Santander has found a fan club in the United Kingdom. 

Joe Trezza posted a lovely piece Mar 24 on mlb.com about how a few thousand United Kingdom youths on a trip to the States two years ago adopted Santander while sitting in Camden Yards left field seats. 

 

I just hope the rumors that he could be traded at the late July deadline are false. No one is safe from the analytic-drenched Oriole brain trust.

 

There is hardly pennant hope in Anaheim (Angels), Cincinnati, Denver (Rockies), Detroit, Dallas (Texas Rangers), Kansas City, Phoenix (Diamondbacks), Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Toronto.  With the inability to pay Francisco Lindor, now a Met, Cleveland might also become a non-contender.  

 

The Cubs could also be slipping. I see the Brewers and Cardinals as co-favorites in NL Central.

 

On paper, the White Sox look like the stronger Chicago team. They still have to do it on the field with Tony LaRussa as the first manager ever enshrined in the Hall of Fame to return to the field.

 

LaRussa's rehiring occurred just after he was hit with a DUI charge for the second time in recent years. There is little doubt that his return is owner Jerry Reinsdorf making amends for dismissing him 35 years earlier.

 

Mel Brooks had it right - "it's good to be the King."

 

The Twins could challenge the White Sox in AL Central and Kansas City could stick around.

Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield is one of the unheralded players in the game.

 

The Royals may be developing some good pitching to throw to All-Star catcher Salvador Perez, who the other day signed up for another four years in Kansas City.  

 

In AL West, Houston lost free agent outfielder George Springer to Toronto and ace Justin Verlander is recovering from Tommy John surgery and may not be back until late in the season. But I think with Dusty Baker managing, the Astros will find a way to contend. 

 

Oakland under manager Bob Melvin might be a slight favorite in AL West because the Angels need pitching and Mike Trout to have an even better year than usual. Shohei Ohtani, the Japanese pitcher-first baseman, is healthy and will certainly be fun to watch on both the mound and at bat.

 

The Mariners as always talk a good game at the cutting edge of analytics. So far it hasn't translated into wins.

In their new billion dollar stadium, Rangers will still look upward.  Dallas is also planning on a capacity crowd for Opening Day which might lead to Covid nightmares.   

 

In AL East, Tampa Bay always manages to compete against the behemoth Yankees and the enigmatic Red Sox whose co-owner John Henry seems more involved in his international soccer interests than the Bosox.

 

Toronto has already lost closer Kirby Yates but I like their core for the future: Two sons of Hall of Famers, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Craig Biggio; infielder Bo Bichette; free agent pickup infielder Marcus Semien; and the wonderfully named first baseman Rowdy Tellez.  But who will pitch?!

 

The NL East could be very interesting.  The Braves, who fell one game short of the 2020 World Series, have to be favored.  They've added reliable starter Charlie Morton and have returning MVP Freddie Freeman. 

 

I'm not impressed by the Mets pitching after Jacob DeGrom or their defense.  Lindor must be signed for a good chunk of the future and Pete Alonso must bounce back from a miserable sophomore season.

 

I do hope that a full season is played. Unlike the powers that be who crave the TV-watching eyeballs in LA and NY,

I don't want to see a Dodgers-Yankees World Series. But since October is such a long way off, I'll try to enjoy the daily drama.

 

There is always a surprise in any season because MLB is such a marathon and the nature of the game is capricious.  So is life. And that is my biggest gripe with the analytics crowd. They are hell-bent at forcing certainty on a game that blessedly has defied simple categorization in its long and fascinating history. 

 

On the local scene, Manhattan College has resumed its home schedule at its new field at Van Cortlandt Park.  

They host Rider College from Trenton NJ for two doubleheaders before Easter Sunday - FSa Apr 2-3 starting at noon.  Only the famllies of players are invited to attend, but the games are free and in a public park so no stopping anyone from looking on.

 

The Jaspers play another twinbill against Iona on W Apr 7, first game 12N   Iona returns on Wed Apr 14.

The field is located not far from the northern terminus of the #1 train at 242 St and Broadway.

 

PSAL high school baseball is slated to resume on May 1 for a 10-game season with no playoffs. It will be only intra-borough competition and end in mid-June.  

 

To use a term from the days of Watergate, NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio's pronouncement that all high school sports will be played through August is now "inoperative."  

 

Now on to hoops, Loyola of Chicago has become perhaps the sentimental favorite after dismantling #1 seed Illinois to everyone's surprise including me.

  

One pithy phrase summed up Loyola's convincing win: NUN-AND-DONE - it paid homage to Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, 101, who has been rooting the Ramblers on and really knows the game. She is the team's long-serving chaplain.

 

The Sweet Sixteens this Sat and Mon & Sun and Tues should be exciting. The three #1 seeds left will be favored -  Michigan v. Gonzaga for one semi-final on Apr 3 and Baylor v perhaps #2 Houston for second semi.

 

I wouldn't count out anyone yet.  Michigan must beat Florida State (Su at 5p CBS) and then the winner of a matchup between explosive Alabama and red-hot UCLA (Su 715p TBS). 

 

After years of disappointment, Gonzaga may finally get its title but must beat Creighton (Sun 240p CBS) and then the winner of USC-Oregon (Su 945p TBS).  

 

Baylor, who dispatched my Wisconsin Badgers fairly easily, has to go through Villanova (Sa 515p CBS) and the winner of Arkansas-Oral Roberts (Sa 725p TBS).  ORU is the #15 seed that knocked out Ohio State and Florida.

 

Houston will have to beat Syracuse (Sa 955p TBS) before it can face the winner of Loyola-Oregon State (Sa 240p CBS) 

 

Columbia alums continue to BIRG (Bask In Reflected Glory) about Mike Smith whose point guard play for Michigan has been outstanding.  The Wolverines are the only Big Ten team left in the tourney.  

 

Nine got in but Iowa was blown out by Oregon; Ohio State, Purdue and Rutgers lost winnable games; Michigan State lost an overtime play-in game to UCLA (now in the Sweet Sixteen); Maryland couldn't match Alabama's offensive fire power. 

 

The Big Ten was probably overrated because lack of intersectional play in regular season masked their weaknesses in dealing with quicker teams. The intensity and defensive prowess in the Big Ten this year was still wonderful to watch.   

 

That's all for now.  In this age of the not-yet-conquered pandemic, please stay positve and test negative.  And always remember:  Take it easy but take it!    

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