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Getting Ready For A March of 31 Days: On Baseball-Basketball-TCM Tips (updated)

I can't resist the old joke.  "Why are people tired on April First?"  Answer - Because they have just been through a March of 31 days.  

 

OK, it's pretty bad but please give me some leeway. 

There will be no Columbia baseball for the second year in a row as the Ivy League has called off all spring sports - my Wisconsin Badgers basketball team is collapsing into the nether regions of the tough Big Ten - and although "President Biden" remains a lovely two-word phrase, the problems of governing this divided country remain imposing.

 

I try to find half-filled glasses.  

**The growing number of available vaccinations against Covid are a positive.  Now if people wear masks and keep practicing social distancing, there will be light at end of the tunnel. 

 

**The Orioles' Trey Mancini got a hit in his first Grapefruit League at-bat on Sunday after missing a season recovering from Grade 3 colon cancer.  Rooting for him will be the easiest job of the season.

 

The Orioles seem committed to his playing first base which is a good move. The highest paid, least productive Oriole, Chris Davis, might DH now and then, or just ride the pine as he collects two more years on his enormous contract. 

 

Let's hope the full MLB season is played.  The Triple-A season was supposed to start on April 6 and the Double-A season on May 4. Now because of covid concerns, Triple-A baseball won't start until early May.

 

One of the quirks of the new Double A schedule is that there will be a lot of six-game series with a Monday off.  It reminds of the 192-game schedule of the old Pacific Coast League before the Giants and Dodgers' relocation to SF and LA in 1958 prompted its restructuring.

 

On the basketball scene, there have been no Columbia losses to gripe about because there was no season.  We alums can and do BIRG - bask in reflective glory - about the play of our star point guard Mike Smith's great season as a graduate transfer at the University of Michigan. 

 

The Wolverines now stand as the number two team in the country after throttling contending Iowa last week.  They have lost only one game all season in the very tough Big Ten. 

 

Freshman seven-foot center Hunter Dickinson from DeMatha HS in Hyattsville MD (outside DC) has been a revelation and seems to be improving each game.

 

"March Madness" will be held in only one city this year, Indianapolis, and #1 Gonzaga and Michigan right now look like teams to beat.  Gonzaga has never won the title so it says here that the ghosts of past failures will be a significant hurdle for them to overcome. 

 

On the pro scene, the New York Knicks under new coach Tom Thibodeau are at .500 which is a huge improvement over recent seasons.  Thibodeau has finally got them playing defense and I enjoy his intensity.  

 

He reminds me in some ways of Rodney Dangerfield. I can almost envision him grumbling behind his mask, "We get no respect!" 

 

The Brooklyn Nets under rookie coach Steve Nash certainly have the firepower to contend for a NBA title.  I'm not crazy about the way James Harden manipulated his way to become part of the Big Three of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving but he certainly has played well in his new home.

Unlike the other two, so far he has been very durable.  

 

Meanwhile, as always, TCM movies keep me believing that a culture that produced such thoughtful and vivid movies last century can figure out a way to get us through the pandemic and reach some kind of social understanding.

 

For the baseball fan in March, the TCM films are for the early riser or you can tape them.   

 

Sa March 6 at 630A "Big Leaguer" - 1953, first film directed by Robert Aldrich. Shot at NY Giants minor league camp with Edward G. Robinson as manager trying to save job, Vera-Ellen as niece, Jeff Richards and Richard Jaeckel as competing players and cameo appearances by Giants farm director and Hall of Fame pitcher Carl Hubbell and Al Campanis as a Dodger farmhand manager. 

 

Sa Mar 13 630A  "The Stratton Story" - 1949, based on true story with Jimmy Stewart playing pitcher Monty Stratton trying to make a comeback from a hunting injury. With June Allyson and Jimmy Dykes playing himself. 

 

Tu Mar 16 630A  "The Winning Team" - 1952 with Ronald Reagan as Grover Cleveland Alexander and Doris Day as his wife (Mondays in March are Doris Day days and nights ) 

 

I should have mentioned it last month, but I hope some of you caught John Garfield Tuesdays in February.   I had never seen "Humoresque" and Garfield, playing a gifted violinist, is at the peak of his fame and talent (1946). Clifford Odets' hard-hitting script is gripping. 

 

Maybe Garfield's chemistry with femme fatale Joan Crawford wasn't great, but Oscar Levant was never better as his sidekick whose actual piano playing is heard on the sound track which is filled with top shelf classical music.  

 

Another TCM highlight last month was the restoration of "Native Son," starring author Richard Wright as protagonist Bigger Thomas.  It was shown on Eddie Muller's Noir Alley Feb 21/22.  

 

Wright in his 40s was too old to play a character 20 years younger, and he was not an actor, but he gave a credible performance.  The film was shot in Buenos Aires in the late 1940s but the American version shown in the early 1950s had 50 minutes cut out.  

 

Blessedly, a full 108-minute print was discovered in Buenos Aires not long ago. Kudos to the movie archivists who lovingly brought it back to life. And to the very informative discussion before and after the film by Muller and TCM's talented silent movie host Jacqueline Stewart.     

 

So here is Eddie Muller's Noir Alley schedule for March, Sat at midnight, repeated Su at 10A.

March 6/7 - "Killer's Kiss"  an early film directed by Stanley Kubrick - 1995

March 13/14 "The Night Brings Terror" - 1955

March 20/21  "The Third Man" 1949 a classic Cold War film with Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, and one hour in Orson Welles and haunting zither music. Can't wait to hear Muller's take on it

March 27/28 "Pepe Le Moko" a French Noir classic from 1937

 

Special mention should be made of two showings of "The Mask of Dimitrios" 1944 

Sat Mar 6 12N and Wed Mar 24 8p with post-"Casablanca" Peter Lorre & Sidney Greenstreet

W Mar 24 has three Lorre-Greenstreet films back-to-back.

945P "The Verdict" - 1946

1130P Three Strangers" with Geraldine Fitzgerald

 

Fri Mar 12 6p "East of Eden" 1955 - I saw it last month for first time and glad it is coming up ahead.  James Dean's debut and NYC-born Jo Van Fleet's Oscar.  Set before and during World War I in John Steinbeck's California.  He wasn't pleased with the selections chosen from his book of the same name, but director Elia Kazan created a memorable film.

 

Tu Mar 30 8:15A  Kazan's equally memorable "Splendor in the Grass" 1961 with Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood and Pat Hingle and screenplay by William Inge  

 

Before I close, I want to remember my neighbor Susan Feingold who lived for 60 years in my building on West 104th Street near Riverside Park. She left us in late September 2020 at the age of 95. 

 

Alex Vadukul contributed a moving obituary in the Feb 26 NY Times.  A Holocaust survivor, Susan became a prominent advocate for childhood education. Her work influenced the Head Start program and she was honored by President Obama.

 

Always remember:  "There is no wealth but life" - John Ruskin   

As well as Woody Guthrie's immortal:  "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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