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Tough Times for My Life As A Fan + Tribute to the Retired Nick Markakis & RIP Marvelous Marvin Hagler (updated)

The Ides of March 15th find me dealing with three aching disappointments in my life as a fan.

 

**Wisconsin's late-season collapse, early exit from Big Ten basketball tournament, and slippage to a #9 seed in "March Madness" tourney. 

 

**The second straight season with no Columbia or any Ivy League baseball because of the pandemic. 

 

**The plummeting of the Orioles into baseball's netherworld.

 

As the Badgers' slide became evident in the last few weeks, I thought often of a great quote by former coach Bo Ryan:  "We judge our players by what it takes to disappoint them."  Sadly, on a heavily-senior team, the Badgers' loss of confidence in themselves and each other was painful to watch.  

 

Supposedly coach Greg Gard, Ryan's former assistant who lobbied hard for him to get the job, has a good recruiting class coming. It will have to be because the Big Ten is the toughest league in college basketball. 

 

Anyone who saw Illinois win the post-season tourney yesterday in overtime over a very resilient Ohio State will attest to that. Kudos to Illini point guard Andre Kurbelo, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, who played high school ball in Bay Shore, Long Island.  So did the valuable Buckeye reserve Zed Key.  

 

Perhaps the most appropriate name for today's world is Buckeyes' talented forward 6' 7" Justice Sueing, a transfer from Cal-Berkeley who comes from Honolulu.  It prompted CBS sportscaster former coach Bill Raftery to bring up the name of Red Rocha, who starred for and later coached the University of Hawaii. I remember him playing in front court with Dolph Schayes on the Syracuse Nationals. 

 

Illinois is a number one seed in the Midwest regional that includes Rutgers, making its first NCAA appearance in 30 years, as a #10 seed against #7 Clemson. They will play games starting this Fri March 19.

 

Michigan will be #1 seed in East regional that includes #10 Maryland against #7 UConn. The likely loss of senior starter Isaiah Livers is a big blow to the Wolverines. Mike Smith, the talented Columbia graduate transfer/point guard, took on more of the offensive load in the tourney loss to Ohio State and it didn't work out. 

 

In the same regional as Michigan, #2 Alabama plays #15 Iona coached by Rick Pitino who after bellyaching about Covid delays all season did lead his team to the tourney.  These games start Sat March 20 and the round is concluded Su Mar 22.

 

A twist in this regional is that perennial powers Michigan State and UCLA will have a play-in game on Th Mar 18 with winner facing Brigham Young on Sat. This will be the first tourney without Duke and Kentucky and their ballyhooed coaches Mike Kryzewski and John Calipari - unless Covid causes another team in their leagues to drop out. Then they could be possible replacements.

 

Ohio State is a #2 seed in a South regional that starts F Mar 19.  #9 Wisconsin plays against #8 North Carolina

with the winner having the unenviable task of playing #1 seed Baylor on Su Mar 21. I presume that Baylor beats one of this year's Cinderella entrants, Hartford. #4 Purdue is in the same bracket playing Winthrop. 

 

The West bracket is headed by #1 overall seed Gonzaga, trying to be first undefeated team to go all the way since 1976.  They impressed me last week by quickly making up a 12-point halftime deficit against a good Brigham Young team, then winning going away.

 

#2 Iowa might possibly stand in Gonzaga's way though the Zags beat Hawkeyes in regular season. I think Gonzaga gets a break by having less in-person press coverage and fewer fans because of the pandemic.  They won't hear as much of the 24/7 litany, "You've never won the Big One."

 

The Big Ten teams may have somewhat of an advantage having played their tourney in the same huge arena where the concluding games will be played.  In a single elimination tourney, though, the unpredictable often happens so there is no sure bet this year.

 

Because there was no tournament in 2020, every senior can return for an extra year of eligibility. No word yet on how many veterans will take care of that opportunity. 

 

I don't think it's likely, but I'd like to see Micah Potter come back to the Badgers.  They desperately need big men who can tangle with the Big Ten behemoths, and Potter deserves another year because the NCAA kept him ineligible longer than most players who transferred - in Potter's case from Ohio State.

 

I think I've gotten so into college basketball this year because my baseball rooting interests have taken a big hit.

Ivy League baseball has been canceled for the second year in a row. I dearly miss going to root on always-competitive Columbia baseball.  PSAL high school baseball is slated to return to NYC in May and that hopefully will be pulled off.    

 

As for the Orioles, the pundits have already determined that they have zero chance of the post-season. So far the Birds' lack of offense and pitching woes in exhibition games are living down to these expectations.  

 

I've been around long enough not to treat early results too seriously. Former Oriole pitching coach (and later Brewers manager) Staten Island-bred George Bamberger once said that a 14-12 record in spring training was acceptable:  An above-.500 record and just enough losses to test one's ability to bounce back the next day. 

 

But the way Orioles look so far - 3-10 record averaging barely a run a game -  they will be lucky to enjoy a two-game winning streak this year.  So let's turn to the memories. Even here they are bittersweet.

 

Nick Markakis, 37, just retired after a 15-year-career marked by remarkable consistency. He played his first eight seasons with the Orioles, compiling a .288 BA, .358 on-base average, .435 slugging average.

In seven seasons with the Braves, the numbers were quite similar:  .288/.358/.403.  

 

A rare new-fangled statistic that caught my attention is that Markakis retired with 2388 career hits and only 1969 swings and misses.  His career BB-K ratio was 891-1230, quite good in the free-swinging age he played in. 

 

In Baltimore, he won three Gold Gloves as a right fielder. He was blessed with an impressive arm and knew how to use it - some scouts even envisioned him as a pitcher (two decades earlier, some scouts had similar thoughts about Cal Ripken Jr.) 

 

Markakis as an Oriole averaged almost 150 games a season. The number would have been higher if he hadn't been hit by an errant CC Sabathia pitch that broke his hand in September 2012 - he missed the Orioles' return to the playoffs after a 15-year absence.

 

In 2019 he finally made the All-Star game.  In 2020 he elected not to play during the shortened season. But when teammate Freddie Freeman came down with a serious Covid case, Markakis un-retired.  He contributed to the 2020 playoff team but looked overmatched in his ABs during the Braves' NLCS loss in seven games to the eventual World Series-winning Dodgers.

 

Markakis was one of those players who was far more than the numbers on his baseball card.    He was a complete player and a quiet team leader.  His professionalism will be missed.  

 

Owner Peter Angelos's decision not to re-sign Nick after the 2014 season certainly was a factor in the slide of the team to its current state of embarrassment. Angelos was hesitant to give him a fourth year because of a neck injury that was ultimately healed by surgery when he was a Brave. 

 

One final note - RIP - Marvelous Marvin Hagler, former middleweight champion of the world, died in New Hampshire on Saturday March 13 at the age of 66.  Born in Newark, NJ, he was raised in Brockton, Mass. when his mother decided to flee the urban riots in the 1960s.

  

I was at the theatre-TV showing of his classic 1985 bout with Detroit's Thomas Hearns.  It remains one of the most amazing bouts in history even if it ended in less than three rounds with a bleeding Hagler knocking Hearns out.

 

After losing a disputed decision to Sugar Ray Leonard for only his third loss in the ring, Hagler moved to Italy to make movies.  

 

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

 

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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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