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"You Always See Something New At A Baseball Game," Reflections on Upcoming Chautauqua Class on Baseball Fandom & TCM Tips

Going to baseball day games at Yankee Stadium is not exactly becoming a habit, but on the Fourth of July I journeyed via swift air-conditioned NYC

Transit Authority buses to see the Yankees lose for the second time in three Thursdays. (I took my June 27 birthday off to enjoy a fine meal at Amor

Cubano, a fine restaurant in Spanish Harlem.) 

 

What I had never seen before was that after the first pitch of the July 4th game, a routine 6-3 grounder to short, Cincinnati manager David Bell protested that Yankee shortstop Anthony Volpe had started the play on the first base side of second base (a no-no since the infield shift was banned a few years ago). The protest was turned down and the Reds lost their right to challenge calls for the rest of the game. 

 

As it turned out. they didn't need it as they led all the way in an 8-4 victory and a 3-game sweep of the slumping Yankess who for the time being are in second place behind my Orioles - lots of baseball to play, I remind myself.

 

I saw another rare occurrence later in the game.  With a 5-2 lead in the bottom of the 5th, Manager Bell brought the infield in with a Yankee on

third base and one out.  "The baseball book" - which the late Earl Weaver scorned and most of today's analytics people do, too - says you don't bring the infield in with a lead so early in the game. It can lead to a big inning if infielders are moved much closer to home plate.

 

Maybe if you have on your side sensational shortstop (and promising switch-hitter) Elly de la Cruz, you can tempt fate. Because he threw out a Yankee runner at home plate on a hot grounder and the Reds never were threatened again. 

 

Cincinnati is one of those teams that though under .500 still has playoff aspirations in the 12-team tournament coming up in October. They have a positive run-differential (meaning they have scored more runs than they have given up.) Pitching and defense will tell the story and they are youthful and athletic. 

 

If you haven't noticed, the Astros, Cardinals, and Red Sox already have soared over .500 after bad starts.  It will make the trading deadline of July 30 very interesting (and nerve-wracking for fans and unsettling for players who will have to change employers and residences with little say in the matter).

 

Here's a word of caution on that deadline. It will be a big media story throughout July, but rarely does a trade make a huge difference in the outcome of a pennant race.  I still believe knowing your own farm system and rewarding those who can help the parent club is the best way to build a winner.

Let's call it IBP - Improvement By Promotion, OK? 

 

Yet like everything in baseball, there are no guarantees.  The Orioles thought that Jackson Holliday could make the jump to MLB as a 20-year-old,

but they had to send him back to the minors.  He's doing OK but not sensationally. He is learning a new position, second base, because it seems that Gunnar Henderson will monopolize shortstop for the foreseeable future.

 

Fortunately, the tandem of veteran Jorge Mateo and rising young star Jordan Westburg has handled second base very well for the Orioles with another veteran Ramon Urias now and then filling in. It is hard for even the Prince of Paranoia to criticize the decisions of GM Mike Elias (so far). 

 

He surprised a lot of people by bringing back both Mateo and Urias in 2024 and they have both contributed, especially speedy and savvy Mateo who alas will never be a consistent hitter but he can turn a game around with his legs.  I am also enjoying whal it seems will be the last Oriole season of Anthony Santander, who like Mateo was signed as a teenager - Anthony out of Venezuela by Cleveland and Mateo out of the Dominican Republic by the Yankees.   

 

I love it when players persevere to become key contributors. And I recently read that Anthony and Jorge, who incidentally the Padres also gave up on, have become chess-playing buddies in the clubhouse!  

 

Baltimore obviously needs a more consistent relief corps and another reliable starter, but so do most contenders. Meanwhile, Oriole rookie southpaw Cade Povich - a native of Omaha, Nebraska and not related to Shirley or Maury Povich - has been a godsend.  I repeat again - it is so easy to root for someone you've developed from day one after the draft . . . and rescued from the waiver wire and other areas of the baseball scrap heap. 

 

For example, 34-year-old Venezuelan starter Albert Suarez who has stepped up to become a fairly reliable member of the rotation after several years playing in Korea and Japan.  I love that manager Brandon Hyde is challenging his starters  to work deep into games because - this is not original but it is so accurate - THE BEST BULLPEN IS A STARTER THAT GOES 7 INNINGS.   

 

This will probably be my last post until after I return from teaching my almost-annual class in Baseball and American Culture at the Chautauqua Institution in the southwestern corner of New York State near Jamestown NY which is now the home with the National Comedy Center.

 

My theme this year is "Baseball Fandom" and I've been delving into a bevy of different sources.  New Oriole owner David Rubenstein is certainly

making his mark as the Delirious Fan Owner - DFO another acronym I've just coined. 

 

Rubenstein has splashed with Dr. Splash in the outfield bleachers at Camden Yards - Splash is a fanatic fan bringing back memories of Wild Bill Hagy in Section 34 of Memorial Stadium, the last time Orioles had a genuine contender over 40 years ago.  Rubenstein has also danced on the dugout with the Bird mascot during the 7th Inning Stretch.  (I just hope in the off-season he will ante up the shekels for both Santander and staff ace Corbin Burnes, but the Prince of Paranoia will wait until after the season to deal with that anxiety.) 

 

In addition to discussing in my class the writings of Rogers Angell and Kahn, Wilfred Sheed, and sharing the lyrical excerpts from Richard Greenberg's play "Take Me Out", I want to show the wild taxicab ride that Harold Lloyd takes Babe Ruth to Yankee Stadium in the 1928 classic "Speedy". 

(For more info on my class, running July 15-19 from 330-5P in the heart of the campus in 201B Hultquist - google Chautauqua Institution Special Studies Week 4 Classes.) 

 

And now we've come full circle because here's the info about the bus ride I took to the Stadium:  M4 or M5 bus to Broadway/157th St.  Cross street to west side and walk a curved half-block to Morgan Place stop of Bx6.  It takes you past the old Polo Grounds site, across the bridge over the Harlem River into the Bronx and the famous address of River Ave and E 161 Street.  Bus runs about every 12-15 minutes and is nicely air-conditioned too.

 

Here are some TCM Tips for much of the rest of July:

M Jul 8 230P - "Sapphire" (1959) rarely shown.  Basil Dearden directs a searing murder mystery about a British woman who had been "passing" as white.  

M July 8  8P "Scarface" (1932) Howard Hawks directs Paul Muni/Ann Dvorak in a pioneering gangster movie - too mannered for me but classic.

M July 8  1030P "The Roaring Twenties" (1939) Raoul Walsh directs Jimmy Cagney, Bogart in supporting role, classic last line by Gladys George

         

And now the sports-related films:

F July 12 1015P  "Slap Shot" (1977)  George Roy Hill - "Butch Cassidy", "The Sting"  - directs Paul Newman as minor league hockey coach

 

Sa July 13 8P  "Elmer the Great" (1933) Mervyn Leroy directs Joe E Brown in Brown's favorite baseball movie - opening scene draws you in.

Sa July 13 8p "Eight Men Out" (1988)  John Sayles directs an earnest, well-acted though not very accurate Black Sox Scandal movie

 

Su July 14 two classic noirs back to back:

 8P "The Killers" (1946) based on Hemingway story - Robert Siodmak directs young Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner among others 

10P "Criss Cross" (1949) R. Siodmak directs Lancaster and Yvonne DeCarlo among others

 

Th July 18 8P  "36 Hours" (1964)  George Seaton directs James Garner as WW 2 POW with amnesia who Germans are brainwashing

1015P "Grand Prix" (1966) John Frankenheimer auto racing movie with James Garner and Eva Marie Saint who plays brainwasher in "36 Hrs"                    

Su July 21 8P "Chariots of Fire" (1981) deserved Oscar-winning film about British Olympic runners of early 20th century

1015P "Jim Thorpe-All American" (1951) Michael Curtiz directs Burt Lancaster in one of his better roles

 

M July 22 945P "Boys Town" (1938)  Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan saving Mickey Rooney from delinquency

 

Tu July 23 8P "Slippery When Wet" (1958)  documentary on surfers in Oahu

 

Th July 25 8P "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming" (1966)  Norman Jewison directs a hilarious satire from a more irreverent time

    of our history with Carl Reiner, Alan Arkin, and Eva Marie Saint (TCM's Star of Month, Thursday in July)

 

That's all for now.  And here's a different closing line.  THE ELECTION OUTCOME IS NOT FOREORDAINED.  MAKE SURE YOU ARE REGISTERED

TO VOTE AND DON'T LET MASS MEDIA LEAD YOU TO TOTAL NEGATIVISM AND COMPLETE CYNICISM.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Report from Agent 161 031 221 + In Memory of Willie Mays and Donald Sutherland (corrected version with fewer losses for Cleveland)

Blame me, Oriole fans. The Prince of Paranoia went out of character and conceived a new alter ego, Agent 161 031 221, in the wake of the Orioles' 17-5 rout of the Yankees on Thursday afternoon June 20.  That was the line score on a day the Birds scored in every inning but the 4th. 

 

It was my first jaunt to Yankee Stadium this season and I never expected a laugher, but once Juan Soto didn't react to Gunnar Henderson's first-pitch liner to right and it became a double, the die seemingly was cast on this very steamy afternoon.

 

It was a rare off-day for the Yankees' surprise ace so far, Luis Gil, who came in with a 9-1 record and a low ERA.  He was knocked out during a six-run Oriole second inning and Yankee relievers didn't fare much better.

 

I didn't really expect future games would be so easy.  I knew that the Astros are improving and are loaded with talent with championship pedigree and a good farm system. But I didn't expect a sweep this past weekend at Minute Maid Park, especially with our two best starters working the first two games, Grayson Rodriguez and Corbin Burnes. 

 

A sweep is what happened because the baseball gods are very capricious and are wary of overconfidence. Rodriguez seemed in control on Friday night with a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the 5th, but with two out and two on - both well-stroked singles on fastballs - he hung an off-speed pitch to center fielder Jake Meyers and in a twinkling it was 5-3 Astros.

 

This is Grayson's first full year in the majors so he remains a young pitcher, but with three Baltimore starters out for the year and longer - Kyle Bradish, John Means and Tyler Wells - Rodriguez needs to step up.  He didn't get an out in the bottom of the 6th and the rout was on. 

 

The Orioles did make Friday's game interesting with a barrage of 7th and 8th inning homers but that only cut the deficit to 14-11. To coin a phrase (LOL), "Close only counts in horseshoes and grenades." 

 

In the Sa/Su day games, Houston starters Ronel Franco, who pitched a no-hitter earlier in season, and veteran southpaw Framber Valdez simply outpitched Baltimore's ace Corbin Burnes and reclamation project Albert Suarez. 

 

The Astros are now only two games under .500 and just five games in lost column behind the first-place AL West Mariners. Houston has lost their share of pitchers for the season, too, notably Jose Urquiddy and Cristian Javier and are also temporarily missing powerful right fielder Kyle Tucker, but they still have a potent lineup from top to bottom. 

 

Next up for the Orioles at home are the Cleveland Guardians who have lost two less games than the Orioles at 49-26 and are leading the AL Central 

by 7 games in the loss column over Minnesota.  The Texas Rangers come into Baltimore the last weekend of June and they are now only 3 games

below .500 and Max Scherzer was excellent in his first start of the season on Sun Jun 23. 

  

There is no word but EPIDEMIC to describe what is happening to pitchers this season.  There is no easy explanation except that the reward system for amateur signings and big contracts is heavily weighted towards Velocity and Spin Rate.  Until organizations stress Pitchability and Durability, the casualty rate will go on and on.  

 

AND NOW THE TRIBUTES TO MAYS AND SUTHERLAND:

The timing of the passing of Willie Mays was eerily appropriate.  Mays died on Tues June 19 at the age of 93 as MLB was preparing to celebrate the Negro leagues at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama. MLBTV was covering a minor league game at Rickwood when the TV coverage was interrupted with the news of Mays' death.  Rickwood later hosted an exciting MLB game between the surging Cardinals and the sagging Giants. 

 

A tip of the cap to Richard Goldstein whose NY Times obituary of Mays contained a fact I didn't know.  Condoleeza Rice's mother taught Willie at Fairfield Ala. Industrial HS.  She was tolerant of some of his absences because of his baseball responsibilities.  (I knew that Condi's father was one of the recipients of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from A Birmingham Jail" - the senior Rice did not believe that educated Blacks should take part in demonstrations.) 

 

Another kudo to Anthony Castrovince of mlb.com for his June 12 piece, "How Hollywood Saved Rickwood Field." In a twist of remarkable irony, it turns out that when Ron Shelton was looking for a site to film his bio-pic "Cobb" in the early 1990s, he chose Rickwood Field because it dates back to 1910 during the heyday of Cobb's career. 

 

"Cobb" is not a great movie, marred by Shelton's reliance on sportswriter Al Stump's questionable recounting of interviews in the last year of Cobb's life.  Yet this connection made me think of something Branch Rickey said in his only book, THE AMERICAN DIAMOND:  The only player he ever saw that had a greater will to win than Jackie Robinson was Ty Cobb. 

 

Rickey also once uttered a potent description of Willie Mays:  "The secret to his success is the frivolity in his bloodstream."  I don't have many memories of games that Mays played as a New York Giant, but I do remember going with my father to the Polo Grounds to see pre-game fielding and batting practice at the Polo Grounds.  During every pre-game fielding drill, Mays showed off his cannon of an arm in throws to home, third, and second.

  

Here's one other Mays story to share.  Sometime before the pandemic, I won a raffle at a NYC Baseball Writers Association dinner.  The prize was a painting of me and my favorite NY ballplayer. I sent a photo of yours truly to artist John Pennisi and I have the result framed in my living room with a caption added by the artist.

 

Lee:  "Say Hey Willie, Leo says if Thomson gets on, I'm pinch-hittin' for you."

Willie: "Lee, how did you get on the field?" 

 

Here's also a fond farewell to actor Donald Sutherland, 88, who passed away two days after Mays on Jun 20.  He too deservedly received of a front page obit in NY Times (though understandably not nearly as large). 

 

I never met Sutherland but I loved his work on film including "M*A*S*H,"  "Klute," and the remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". How could a sports fan like me ever forget Sutherland's character who gets so infested with the alien pods that he loses interest in the NBA finals.  (That was in early 1980s when the entertainment aspect of NBA hadn't take over, but that's another story.) 

 

Sutherland was a genuine baseball fan and as a native of Canada, he especially adored the Expos who entered MLB in 1969. I love the story of Sutherland on a film assignment in Europe in October 1981, spending a few hundred dollars on a phone call to North America so he could follow a radio broadcast of the Expos-Dodgers NLCS playoff.  He was a true fan and never used his celebrity to draw attention. 

 

That's all for now.  Next time I post i'll be an 83-year-old.  Just remembered that 1983 was the last world championship year of the Orioles.  The Prince of Paranoia doesn't really believe in omens or jinxes but I just may retire Agent 161 031 221. 

 

Stay positive test negative, and take it easy but take it over.

 

 

 

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