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Troubled Musings on Baseball + Farewells to Carl Reiner & Johnny Mandel & More TCM Tips (updated)


I cannot say that I'm looking forward with any eagerness to the delayed opening of the MLB season on July 23 and 24. There are too many public health complications that could arise because of the still-uncontrolled coronavirus.  

 
Although travel will be mainly regional in the shortened 60-game regular season, teams will still be constantly on the road interacting with local populations that too often have disdained mask wearing and social distancing.   It may also be too much to expect the virile young players themselves to obey these rules and stick to their hotels while on the road.

 

There have already been some significant player defections. The biggest names so far who won't play at all in 2020 are Dodgers new southpaw David Price; Giants onetime All-Star catcher Buster Posey who doesn't want to put at risk his newly adopted infant twin daughters; and the Braves all-around outfielder Nick Markakis whose concern grew when he talked with his star teammate, first baseman Freddie Freeman who is already suffering with Covid-19.     

 
The quietly productive Markakis has 2355 career hits and will hurt his outside chance of reaching the magic number of 3000. Markakis was an Orioles mainstay for the first nine years of his career. But Baltimore blundered by not re-signing him after the 2014 season (sigh and double sigh. And still-active and productive Nelson Cruz too - more sighs.)   

 
Even before Freeman's affliction, Markakis was not thrilled at playing a season in empty stadiums. A gamer and a quiet leader, Nick liked playing in front of and for fans.  Perhaps he also remembered that game in 2013 when the Orioles played the White Sox in an empty Camden Yards after the riots sparked by Freddie Gray's death in police custody.  

 
As always, Houston's new manager Dusty Baker expressed some trenchant thoughts about baseball's situation during the pandemic. Interviewed during the Fourth of July weekend on WFAN's 33rd anniversary, he said he had used his time off clearing out a lot of unneeded stuff from closets and garages in his home.  

 
"We have too much," he noted.  The very charitable and socially conscious Baker, who at 71 is the oldest manager in MLB, said he donated a lot of material to garage sales and the homeless.  

 
Houston may have caught a break by the enforced idleness because the booing of the Astros in abbreviated spring training was intense.  Of course, the high tech-low comedy sign-stealing scandal occurred under previous manager A. J. Hinch and bench coach Alex Cora. 

 
Life must go on even in a pandemic.  "There is no wealth but life" remains my favorite adage courtesy of John Ruskin the British social theorist and art historian (who had no discovered connection to baseball, at least at press time).  


Here on the Upper West Side of New York City, we seem to be practicing social distancing and mask wearing very well.  The permanent closing of many restaurants and stores is very sad, but I was able this weekend to dine in the outdoors. Under Phase 3 recovery regulations,  surviving eateries are allowed to set up as many tables on sidewalks as space allows.

 
Before I close, I want to salute the memory of two nonagenarian creators who left us since I last posted: Composer-arranger Johnny Mandel, 94, and actor-comedian-writer Carl Reiner, 98.

 
I never met Carl Reiner but his role as a second banana to Sid Caesar on NBC Saturday  night's "Your Show of Shows" was a formative part of my first TV viewing in the early 1950s.  

 
Some of Reiner's bits with Caesar are etched forever in my brain.  Like his playing the title role in "The Dancing Doughboy" skit, a satire on World War I.  Poor Sid goes off to war while Carl is at home singing and dancing.  That's why you're fighting overseas, he tells Sid. So he can have fun at home.   


Or the Scrabble game where Reiner questions a strange word that Caesar has put down, and Sid challenges Carl's "MACHINE":  "What's this "MAC HINE?  That's not a word, it's a name." 

 
Reiner was truly American entertainment's Renaissance man.  He was Mel Brooks' interviewer on the hilarious "2000 Year Old Man" albums; director of TV's "Dick Van Dyke Show" and many movies; and of course father of actor-director Rob Reiner who first came to fame as Archie Bunker's son-in-law aka "Meathead". 

 
Dear reliable TCM will devote the evening and early morning hours on Th July 28 to a Reiner salute beginning with the semi-autobiographical "Enter Laughing" at 8p, followed by "All of Me" with Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin at 10p, "The Comic" at midnight, "Where's Poppa" at 2a, and "Oh God!" with George Burns at 330a.

 
While I'm plugging TCM's great programming, set your dials this coming Saturday night July 18 for "Bogie in 1941".  Coming at us back-to-back: "Maltese Falcon" at 8p, followed by "High Sierra" at 10p.  Earlier at 2p from 1944, Dick Powell breaks permanently free from his goody-two-shoes persona in "Murder, My Sweet". 

 

If that's not enough, at midnight Eddie Muller's Noir Alley features "Three Strangers" 1946 with that memorable duo of Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet plus Geraldine Fitzgerald all tied together by one winning lottery ticket. 

 

TCM program note:  After July 25-26 "The Breaking Point," John Garfield's last film, Noir Alley will be on hiatus in August, but happily will return the second weekend in September.

 
Another great loss to our culture recently was Johnny Mandel, 94, in southern California. The New York-born composer-arranger - his early schooling was at PS 6 on Upper East Side - gifted the world with many great movie melodies.

 

A partial list includes "The Shadow of Your Smile" (from "The Sandpiper" with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton); "Emily" (from the "Americanization of Emily" with James Garner and Julie Andrews); "Suicide Is Painless" (the theme from "M*A*S*H); and a particular favorite of mine, the chromatically lush "Close Enough For Love" (from "Agatha").  

 

"I Want to Live" was his early breakthrough score in the 1950s, based on the real story of the jazz-loving unfairly-convicted murderer Barbara Graham (Susan Hayward). 

 
In one of my last interviews for WBAI-Pacifica in 1991, I visited Mandel when he was staying at a hotel in New York.  For all the great acclaim he received for his writing for movies, he considered playing horns in the Count Basie band in the 1950s his greatest musical thrill.  

 
We lost another great nonagenarian movie composer last week when Ennio Morricone died at 91.

 

And finally, here's a hoist of a glass to film-maker Kevin Rafferty, who left us much too early at age 73.  His doc. about the nuclear industry, "The Atomic Cafe," is a renowned classic.  

 
I discovered his work through his enjoyable and informative documentary "Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29," about the 1968 classic football encounter between two undefeated Ivy League powerhouses.  Viewing this film might take the sting away from the recent announcement that there will be no Ivy League football in the fall of 2020. 

 

Let's hope these great creators are never forgotten.  And those younger amongst us can find inspiration for such memorable fulfillment in our work. 

 
Always remember:  Take it easy but take it!  

 

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The Joys of "Meaningful Games in September": Cyclones Win, Mets Come Up A Little Short, and A Final Farewell to Al Jackson

I can't recall a late summer in NYC that has been so warm and beautiful. With chances to see live baseball in this area fading like the summer light, I've been blessed to catch some great games in supremely lovely conditions.

 

Under a nearly full moon on Tuesday September 10, I saw the Brooklyn Cyclones win their first outright Short Season Class A New York-Penn League title. (They shared a league title in 2001 but because of the 9/11 attacks there was no conclusive game.)

 

With the Coney Island boardwalk and the Atlantic Ocean visible beyond the outfield, over 3,000 fans at MCU Park cheered the home team as they won a thrilling 4-3 come-from-behind victory over the Lowell Spinners, the Red Sox farm club.  It brought a title to Cyclones manager Edgardo Alfonzo, the outstanding and truly beloved former Mets third and second baseman.

 

The winning 7th inning rally was fueled by hits by former SEC rivals, outfielders Jake Mangum (Miss. State) who led off with a single and raced home on a triple by Antoine Duplessis (LSU). Third baseman Yoel Romero, a 21-year-old from Venezuela in his fifth minor league season, then singled home the tie-breaking run. 32nd round draft pick lefty Andrew Edwards notched a two-inning save. 

 

Although it is only the low minor leagues, Brooklyn can now claim its pro baseball title since Johnny Podres shut out the Yankees in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series. Cyclones starter Nate Jones, Matt Allan (the Mets 2019 number one draft pick), and eventual winner Mitch Ragan who preceded Edwards all pitched effectively.

 
Lowell used two top Boston prospects from New Jersey that were both drafted out of high school.  Recovering from Tommy John surgery, starter and top draft pick Jay Groome (Barnegat) worked only 2 2/3 innings but showed good mound presence and struck out three despite giving up two runs.  He left to a warm reception from his home town supporters.

 
Right fielder Nick Decker (Seneca HS, Tabernacle NJ) walked a couple of times and was pitched very carefully.  In his last AB, he was hit by a pitch which left him more than a little peeved. He was removed from the game as a precaution against injury and perhaps to cool him down a little.  To me he showed the spunk that makes him someone to watch.

 
Who knows what the future will hold for any of these players?  It is one of the charms of watching baseball on the lower levels.  Pat O'Conner, the head of the minor league ruling body the National Association, likes to say that he guarantees you'll see at least one future major leaguer at every MiLB game. The challenge, of course, is to identify who that will be.

 
Here's a special tip of the cap to Jada Bennett, a member of the Cyclones dance squad who sang the National Anthem beautifully both at the final game and before the semi-final victory over the Hudson Valley Renegades.  She brought the song home in tune in not much over one minute and thirty seconds without unnecessary flourishes that far too often make the performance about the singer and not the song. 

 
The parent Mets were not as fortunate as the Cyclones in their Sunday September 15 rubber game against the Dodgers. It was unfortunate that ESPN forced the Mets to move the Sunday Family Day to a 7p start.  So there were far fewer fans in attendance than the announced 31,000+

 

On a warm low-humidity evening, I saw a very well-played game dominated by the starting pitchers, the Mets Zack Wheeler and the Dodgers Walker Buehler who went only five innings but five relievers held the Mets to three hits, only one after the second inning.

 

(Buehler is another product of the Vanderbilt University pitching factory that has also produced David Price and Sonny Gray who has flourished in Cincinnati with his college pitching coach and away from the bright lights and 24/7/365 intensity of NYC). 

 
As all good teams do, the Dodgers rallied in the late innings once Wheeler left the game after seven strong innings.  He had only thrown 97 pitches but had worked out of jams in the sixth and seventh innings, getting his last five outs by strikeout. 

 
I hope I live to see the day when starting pitchers are encouraged to throw more than 100 pitches.   Maybe baseball life would have been different if 120 had become the magic number not 100.  But generations of pitchers have grown up feeling that seven innings is the outer limit for their efforts. 

 
Kudos to Wheeler and his starting mates Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz who have done their job, along with a revived offense, in fueling the Mets' surprise comeback from 11 games under .500  in July. 

 

Losing a series to the Dodgers, a World Series favorite, is no embarrassment.   Too bad they dug such an early season hole. I sure hope the tearful young fan wearing a Pete Alonso jersey who I saw crying in the elevator after the game realizes it hasn't been a lost season for the Mets.  I just hope the Mets keep that core of pitchers together in the off-season.

 
In closing this entry, I want to say a few more words about the loss of Al Jackson, their longtime organizational pitching coach who died in late August at the age of 83.

(There is a tape of a WFAN interview I did about Al on the home page of this website.)

 
Despite coming up the hard way in the years of segregation and partial integration, Jackson was such a positive presence.  You couldn't help learn valuable baseball and life lessons by being about "the little lefty from Waco". 

 

Among my favorite of his aphorisms:  "Shower away the day" - leave the last game in the shower whether you've won or lost. When you are toweling off, think of the next game.

 

"Know the difference between hitter's strikes and pitcher's strikes." 

 

"Don't get beat with your third or fourth best pitch."  

 

The youngest of thirteen children and the last survivor, Al Jackson was buried in his home town on September 7.  As Mets former PR chief and current team historian put it so well, he was "our national treasure" and should never be forgotten.

 
That's all for now.  Next time some more thoughts from my pal Teny Ymota who loved the Linda Ronstadt documentary and will be hearing Kelli O'Hara sing this Wednesday Sept 18 with the New York Philharmonic one of the most beautiful pieces I've ever heard, Samuel Barber's "Knoxville, Summer 1915" inspired by the prologue to James Agee's memoir, "A Death in The Family".

 
Always remember:  Take it easy but take it.

 

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