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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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"Every Rep Every Drill Every Day": Reflections on Women's Basketball's Breakthrough Season

The sports world is abuzz with the soaring popularity of women's basketball. Iowa's remarkable Caitlin Clark has developed a national following. She led the Hawkeyes this past weekend to victory in the Big Ten's post-season tourney at Minneapolis in front of a sold-out arena. By contrast, there are still plenty of seats left for the men's tourney in the same venue starting Wed Mar 13. 


Another example of the growing interest in the women's game came when Steph Curry eagerly engaged in a three-point shot competition with Sabrina Ionescu during the NBA AllStar Game festivities last month.  The WNBA's New York Liberty star held her own against the Golden State Warriors superstar who needed a bevy of late shots to narrowly win the contest.    


Women's college basketball in the New York metro area is also having a banner season. With identical Ivy League records of 13-1, Columbia and Princeton seem destined for a Sat aft Mar 16 5P rubber match for the right to earn the qualifying bid to the NCAA tourney.  (The Ivy League as a whole hasn't yet earned the respect of the tourney selection committee to get a second bid in addition to the league champion.)


The Ivy League tourney this year will take place at Columbia's cozy Levien Gym on 120th Street just east of Broadway.  On Fri Mar 15 at 430P Princeton will have to dispatch 4th place Penn and then Columbia will try to beat Harvard for the third time this season at 730P.  These games will be televised on ESPN+ with the Sat Mar 16 5P final being broadcast on ESPNNEWS.


Based on past record, Harvard is a more formidable opponent than Penn, but if the dream final matchup happens, it will mark the final appearance of Abbey Hsu in her home gym. The great thing about following women's basketball is that you can see the growth of a player from "the kid" - what coach Megan Griffith affectionately called Abbey early in her career - to the polished all-around veteran and candidate for national awards. 


Hsu gets plenty of help from the Henderson sisters from Australia, junior Kitty and first-year Fliss; the versatile junior transfer from Bucknell Cece Collins; and the emerging sophomore front court threats of sophomores Perri Page and Susie Rafiu. Heralded first-year Riley Weiss is also showing signs of becoming an important contributor off the bench. 


Perennial champion Princeton, coached by former UConn star Carla Berube, is led by the formidable powerful rebounder and passer Ellie Mitchell and sharp-shooting guard Kaitlyn Chen. Both, from the standpoint of this Columbia partisan, are fortunately seniors.  Madison St. Rose is another dangerous guard and she is only a sophomore.  


(ESPN2 is televising all the Ivy League men's games from Levien.  Sa Mar 16 at 11A, top-seeded defending champion Princeton plays the refreshing new blood from Brown, and at 2P Yale and Cornell tangle. The final will be on Su Mar 17 at noon.)   


Division III basketball, neither men's nor women's, gets very little press or TV coverage, but coming up this Thursday Mar 14 at 730p is a titanic matchup of undefeated teams, the NYU Violets (29-0) versus the defending D-III champion Transylvania Pioneers (31-0) from Lexington, Kentucky. The Pioneers are carrying a 64-game winning streak into a game that will streamed on NCAA.com/game/6285164.  (Smith from Northampton MA and Wartburg from

Waverly, Iowa, meet in the 5P semi-final but it seems likely that the true championship game will pit the Violets against the Pioneers.)  


The last time NYU lost a game was to Transylvania in last year's Elite Eight, 73-69. It is a testimony to NYU's perseverance that they have remained a constant title contender even though they were without a home gym near campus for almost eight years - the new Paulson Center on Bleecker and Mercer Streets was finally opened for this season on the site of the demolished Coles Field House.


I had the pleasure last weekend of seeing the Violets ease into the Final Four with convincing victories over the Hardin-Simmons Cowgirls from Abilene, Texas and the University of Scranton Lady Royals. Before the first game of the Friday doubleheader, a Brass Quintet from the NYU music school gave a no-frills but stirring rendition of the National Anthem.  They went two better before the Saturday final by delivering a septet version of the Anthem.  


If you are wondering where I got the title for this blog, it came from the saying on Scranton's warm-up T-shirts:  "Every Rep Every Drill Every Time". 

The slogan worked well on Friday when they eliminated the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays from Baltimore.


The Royals needed more than a slogan on Saturday when they tangled with NYU.  After a tight first period, NYU pulled away to a 14-point half-time lead and eased their way to a 73-55 victory.


Confident coach Meg Barber, a 2002 NYU graduate now in her 6th at the helm, is proud of her squad's versatility on offense and defense.  Don't blame her when she can send out such potent front court players as shot-blocking whiz senior Natalie Bruns; graduate transfers point guard Megan Bauman and forward Morgan Morrison; and sharpshooting junior guard from Mendham NJ Belle Pellecchia.  


Once again you can stream the game Th Mar 14 at 730P on ncaa.com/game/6285164.  And here's one more shout-out to NY metro area teams having great seasons:  The Fairfield Stags (yes, a women's team named Stags!) went 20-0 in MAAC conference play as they head to their conference tourney and beyond. The Sacred Heart Pioneers, winners of the Northeast Conference, are also heading to playoffs with dreams of more March Madness and beyond. 


And here's an idea to broaden women's basketball interest.  How about all you teams with Pioneers nicknames start a contest to come up with more original and livelier names.  Say you heard the idea here. 


More on baseball and movies and music next time.  But I wanted to give women's hoops deserved love.  Here's to good health for every team and some great competition ahead.   And as always, stay positive, test negative, and take it easy but take it.





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