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A Moving Farewell to Hank Aaron + No New Inductees In Cooperstown (updated on Feb 2)

For those who missed it, I am glad that mlb.com has put up a link to the very moving Hank Aaron memorial MLBTV broadcast live from Atlanta on Tuesday Jan 26.  So many heartfelt emotions were expressed.  Here's a partial list.

 

"I wanted to be like him, to dream like him," remembered former outfielder Marquis Grissom.

 

"Chipper, I fear no man when I have a bat in my hand," was Aaron's answer to a question posed by Hall of Famer Chipper Jones about tough pitchers he faced. 

 

Dusty Baker told how Hank promised his mother that he would take care of him when he turned down a college athletic scholarship to play for the Braves. Hank followed through, sometimes providing tough love.

 

Fighting back tears, current Braves manager Brian Snitker thanked Aaron for giving him his first managing job in 1982 when Hank was farm director.  He always cared about everyone on the roster, Snitzer said, especially the grinders who didn't have the big bonuses. 

 

John Smoltz told a story that epitomized the competiveness at the heart of the Hall of Famer. In Cooperstown not long ago, Aaron, Joe Morgan, and Frank Robinson were using walkers to get to a function.  Someone playfully shouted, "Down the stretch they come!"

 

With a look in his eye that Smoltz never forgot, Aaron roared from behind to win that race.

 

RIP to those three gallant men and all of the 10 Hall of Famers lost in last 10 months.

Long live Willie Mays who will be 90 on May 6 and is the oldest living Hall of Famer.

 

As expected the Hall of Fame announced on January 26 that the baseball writers have not elected any new members.  Curt Schilling again came closest falling 16 votes short.

 

As a post-season performer, he was excellent, playing big roles in the 2001 Diamondback and 2004 Red Sox world titles.  He also is the only pitcher in history to have over 3000 strikeouts with fewer than 750 walks.  

 

But if the "character" clause means anything - I understand many feel it doesn't belong - Schilling's incendiary right-wing comments have undoubtedly cost him votes. He supported the January 6th insurrection of the Capitol and is known to possess quite a collection of Nazi memorabilia. 

 

He now wants to have his name removed from the next ballot, the last year he and Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will be eligible.  He says he is "mentally done" and will entrust his immortality to the veterans committees.

 

Interestingly, Marvin Miller, who was elected posthumously last year, also asked numerous times to have his name removed from the ballot.  Jane Forbes Clark, chairperson of the Hall of Fame, refused those requests, but has indicated she may be open to Schilling's wish.

 

Certainly no one in the establishment wants to sit through a possibly explosive tirade from the right by the volatile righthander.  Fear of what Marvin Miller might have said from the left was a definite factor in why he wasn't voted in during his lifetime.

 

I probably won't live to see the day when a functioning majority of those in power realize that a baseball diamond is a wonderful model for good governance. But I hope youngsters take heed:  You can hit an occasional homer down the foul lines but up the middle and into the gaps is the best route to success.    

 

The Hall of Fame's induction ceremony will be held on Sunday July 25th, dependent on sufficient recovery from the pandemic.  Last year's winners will be honored:

Derek Jeter and Larry Walker and the veteran committee selections Marvin Miller and Ted Simmons.

 

The broadcasters enshrined will be last year's winner Ken "Hawk" Harrelson - proving you can go a long way with schtick - and Al Michaels. The writers will be last year's winner the late Nick Cafardo and the estimable Dick Kaegel. This ceremony will likely be held on Saturday Jan 24.  

 

Looking forward to new players on the 2021 ballot, Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz are the huge names on the ballot.  Though neither failed any tests for PEDs, rumors circulate widely around them, especially A-Rod.

 

RHP Tim Hudson seems like a possible "clean" candidate.  Had great years with contending Braves and Athletics teams and the W-L record really grabs me: 222-133, 3.49 ERA in a PED time, good BB-K ratio 917/2080.  Only 1-4 in 7 post-seasons but a decent 3.69 ERA and steady 22-53 walk-strikeout ratio.

 

Torii Hunter with 2478 hits, great defense, and definite leadership qualifications will deserve some attention. The .277 BA and .331 on-base percentage will be used against him.

 

Let the arguments begin. But morphing Monty Python, Argument is fine, Abuse is in another room and not in my house. 

 

Looking ahead to February, I still believe that the greatest sentence in the English language is:  "The pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training."  But with the pandemic still sweeping through Arizona, local authorities have urged MLB to push back the opening of the camps until late February.

 

No word yet on whether MLB will respond to this plea.  And no signs that the warring camps of MLB management and an angry MLBPA not interested in any curtailed season and cut pay are any closer to basic rules for 2021 - eg. whether the NL will use the DH - let alone a new Basic Agreement that expires the end of 2021. 

 

Always remember: Take it easy but take it, and always stay positive, test negative!  Got my first vaccine shot relatively easily on Jan 23 with second one slated for Lincoln's birthday (my mothers' 119th) Feb 12.  

 

 

 

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On Mike Piazza, "Angels in the Outfield", Gabriel Faure, and Shirley Knight & The Solace of Baseball, Movies, and Music In A Time of Unease

The enforced isolation of sheltering in space has allowed me to taste many dishes these days from the worlds of baseball and music and movies. Here's a rundown of some highlights and recommendations for the next week or so.

 

On Fri aft Apr 24, MLBTV replayed the Mets' thrilling 3-2 victory over the Braves on Sep 21, 2001, the first game in NYC after the 9/11 bombings.  I attended the game and thrilled to the Seventh Inning Stretch rendition of "New York, New York" with Liza Minnelli singing and leading a kick line with various members of the police and fire departments and other uniformed personnel. 

 
I was way up in right field that night so could see the show much better on TV today. Liza was really hyped up to put on a great show despite problems with the PA system.

 

She always reminded people that the song was written for her, not Frank Sinatra though his version is almost always played.  In fact, for many years the Yankees only played Liza's version of "New York, New York" when the team lost.  They have stopped that indignity but now don't ever play her rendition.

 

When you watch the "All Time Games" on MLBTV, you realize how every game has turning points and chances for redemption. Earlier in the game, Mike Piazza had been unable to catch a throw at home plate from right field, allowing hustling Chipper Jones to score the first run of the game from first base.  

 

In mid-game Piazza also stranded a runner at third with two out by grounding out to third.  But he rose to the occasion in the bottom of the 8th with a game-changing two-run home run off New York-born Steve Karsay.

 

There was no over-the-top celebration of the homer by either Piazza or his teammates.  They were happy, of course, but I sensed a feeling that it was a statement of affirmation after such a jarring blow to the city delivered by the suicide bombers.

 

Hearing "New York, New York" again and watching the happy ending, I was yet swept by the bittersweet feeling that it will be a long time before we can experience the joy of watching in capacity crowds.  Not forever - we can't think that way - but it will be a long time. And wisely so until the scientists and sensible public health officials get a better grip on the problem.


So let's take some solace in watching some old baseball movies. Mark down this Tuesday April 28 at 1p when TCM shows the original "Angels in the Outfield" from 1951. It is directed crisply by Clarence Brown (1890-1987), who holds the unenviable record of the most Oscar nominations without a win at six.  

 
"Angels" stars Paul Douglas as the crusty beleaguered manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Janet Leigh plays a newspaper reporter specializing in society stories who tries to civilize him.  Keenan Wynn, 13 years before his memorable turn as Bat Guano in "Dr. Strangelove," plays a cynical sportswriter. 

  

The title comes from a little girl who roots so hard for the Pirates that she imagines angels in the outfield helping them. And whatdya know? They are real. The ever-cheery and bubbling Spring Byington plays a nun who helps facilitate the miracle. 

 
I can envision many hard-boiled sophisticated baseball fans running away from the TV before the film is even shown.  I say give it a try.  In my first seeing, I found it not as sentimental as it sounds.  

 

Even if not buying into the movie, fans can enjoy the baseball sequences filmed at Pittsburgh's Forbes Field. Look for cameo appearances by Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, Ralph Kiner wearing #4, and Bing Crosby, who owned a share of the Pirates at the time.  

Sam Narron plays a rival Philadelphia coach - Narron was one of eight Narrons from a baseball family in North Carolina that played professional baseball. 

 

Paul Douglas is one of my favorite actors.  He delivers athletic portrayals naturally because he briefly played pro football in the pre-NFL days and was a sports announcer for many years.  He had also been convincing as Ray Milland's catcher in the charming "It Happens Every Spring" released in 1949 ( that film was written by Valentine Davies who the year before had created "Miracle on 34th Street" with Edmund Gwenn as Santa Claus and young Natalie Wood). 

 

On the musical front, if you tune into wqxr.org on line or 105.9 FM, this Sunday night Apr 26 at 10p, the piano music of Gabriel Faure (1845-1921) will be highlighted in David Dubal's absorbing "Reflections from the Piano" series. It is a repeat of the Wed at 10p show.

 

Faure's melodies always are inviting and many of his harmonies are haunting. Oddly, some of his gently dissonant notes somehow reminded me of the much later jazz great Thelonious Monk (1917-1982).  There will be a second Faure show on W Apr 29 at 10p, repeated on Su.

 

Remember, too, that during the daytime Th Apr 30 will be Eve Arden Day on TCM. Unfortunately, they are not showing "Anatomy of A Murder" in which she plays James Stewart's secretary.  It would have been timely since on April 29 Duke Ellington, who wrote the music for the film, would be 121.

 

They are showing films I've never seen - "Unfaithful" at 10a, "Comrade X" from the critical period of 1939-40 at 2p, and the classic "Mildred Pierce" at 345p. The last one at 6p is the so-so filming of her classic radio-TV "Our Miss Brooks". It does have the novelty feature of

direction by "Grandpa" Al Lewis of Munster fame. 

 

Sorry to end on a somber note but it was an eerie coincidence that actress Shirley Knight passed away last week on April 21nd on the same night that TCM was showing "The Group," based on Mary McCarthy's incisive novel about Vassar's Class of 1933 and their first years in the real world.

 

Knight gave an outstanding performance as she always did.  I had forgotten that she had created the role on both Broadway and Hollywood of Reenie in William Inge's achingly beautiful play, "The Dark At The Top of the Stairs."  

 

She always provided a seemingly placid but deeply emotional coloration to all her roles. In some ways she  reminded me of Sissy Spacek before Sissy Spacek came on the scene.  Shirley Knight was 83 and she died at the home of her daughter Caitlin Hopkins who chairs the theatre program at Texas State U in San Marcos.  

 

That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it (even if you have to wear a mask a lot of the time.) 

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