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Reflections on the Baseball Lockout + Why "La Boheme" Remains An Evergreen

Here we go again in baseball.  Labor-management relations at a standstill.  

Everything old is new again.  

 

"Defensive lockout," according to commissioner Rob Manfred, is necessary to make an agreement.  And war is peace.  And slavery is freedom.

 

It is a more complicated issue than billionaire owners versus millionaire players so I wish that short-hand description could be scrapped.   But it does come down to money

and plenty of it.  

 

Average salaries in baseball have been dropping in recent years and so have median salaries which is a more important figure.  Other pro sports have passed baseball in

the median quality - the midpoint between the richest and the least hightly-paid player.

 

It will be key for the players that two of their union leaders, the newly-enriched free agents Max Scherzer and Marcus Semien, keep their less financially-endowed brethren informed of developments.  They likely will but the prospects for a deal look far away right now.

 

I have a suspicion that those fans who bellow the loudest about greedy players would probably be the first people to jump in line to get the most money out of misguided owners.

Over time, they have never been able to stop themselves from putting that shiny free agent on the mantelpiece when huckstered by clever player representatives.

 

If you want more historical background on owners' inability to control themselves, check out my first book, THE IMPERFECT DIAMOND which was updated in a second and third edition.

 

In my intro, I noted the late satirist Mort Sahl's comment that Richard Nixon's memoir

"Six Crises" should have come out in a looseleaf edition so you could just add the crises.

So goes it with the baseball labor story except in 2021 total attendance is not up and it may

not return if there is any protracted shutdown.

 

I suggest that there better be some agreement before the Super Bowl - which is late this year, Feb. 13, because of the expanded 17-game NFL schedule.  Otherwise, spring training games and the regular season starting on March 31 will be impacted.

 

I was wondering why the Braves hadn't resigned Freddie Freeman, their leader and first baseman and lifelong Brave.  Then I discovered that his agent is Casey Close, a former

U of Michigan player and briefly a Yankee farmhand who became Derek Jeter's player agent and is now a big mover and shaker in the sports business firmament.  

 

It is not only Scott Boras trying to get top dollar from owners. In fact, in some ways Boras is admirable because as far as I know his Boras Corporation is not yet connected to a huge conglomerate as most agents like Casey Close are.

 

As for me, I will try to ignore the power plays, egos, and greed on both sides.  I applaud versatile Chris Taylor for re-signing just before the lockout with the Dodgers who realized they made a mistake in letting another grinder like Kike Hernandez get away last off-season to the Boston Red Sox.

 

I love grinders, players who know how to win and do the "little things" that don't appear in box scores.  In fact, as one wise person recently said, "There are no little things."

 

My cheering for the rest of the fall and winter will focus on Wisconsin Badgers men's

basketball who improved to 8-1 earlier today (Sat afternoon Dec 4) convincingly beating state rival Marquette 87-73.  Johnny Davis is an exciting player coming into his own and the rest of the team is playing good team basketball.

 

I'm also following closely, and in person when I can, my other alma mater, Columbia's women's basketball which has started 7-2 in the pre-Ivy League season. They are a versatile and speedy team and fun to watch under coach Megan Griffith who played for

non-contending Columbia teams and assisted at great Princeton winning teams.

 

Methinks she and all good coaches imbibe the great Christy Mathewson saying:

"I have learned little from winning. I have learned everything from losing."

 

Picked for 3rd in pre-season polls, the Lions will play their top rivals Princeton and Penn at home, respectively, on F Jan 7 at 7p and Sa Jan 8 at 5p.   They open league season at home Su Jan 2 at 1p against Yale.  Check out gocolumbialions.com for ticket info and other stories.  

 

In closing, I want to rave about the "La Boheme" I attended late last month at the

Metropolitan Opera.  It was my first foray to live opera since before the pandemic.

 

The orchestra and chorus under Korean woman conductor Eun Sun Kim making her NYC debut never sounded better.  The story of the irrepressible bohemians in 19th century France never fails to captivate.  

 

I wasn't familiar with any of the singers but they all performed with elan in the long-running Franco Zefferelli production. 

 

Conductor Eun Kim returns to the Met for four more "Boheme"'s on May 16, May 20,

May 24, and May 29 all at 8p.  There will be four other "Boheme"'s in January.

 

Sunday afternoon Jan 9 at 3p, a welcome innovation for opera.  Why should ballet and concerts have the audiences Sun afternoons to themselves?

 

There will be the national radio broadcast on Sa Jan 22 at 1p, and two weeknight performances at 8p, Jan 13 and Jan 18.

 

For Bohemeatologists, if I can coin a word, the 1926 silent movie "Boheme"

directed by the notable King Vidor, airs on TCM early Mon Dec 6 at 1:15a. 

 

Speaking of TCM, its Star of the Month is Ingrid Bergman, aired mainly on Weds.  

I caught her the other night in "Gaslight" 1944, directed by George Cukor, and her performance opposite convincing bad guy Charles Boyer, was so riveting that I passed up the first half of Wisconsin-Georgia Tech game.

 

"Gaslight" marked the debut of 18-year-old Angela Lansbury as a sassy maid in the

Victorian household.  The next year she had a haunting role in Albert Lewin's "Picture of

Dorian Gray" opposite Hurd Hatfield and with George Sanders. 

 

Her haunting rendition of the little yellow bird song remains constantly with me. "Dorian Gray" might be found on TCM On Demand.

 

Mentioning Lansbury makes me think of the recent death of Stephen Sondheim, 91.

More on him and his impact on so many people, including the New Yorkers who burst out in song when they learned of his death, next time. 

 

As well as reflections on the incomparable David Frishberg, 88, who mastered jazz piano and vocals and lyrics and composition. And through "Van Lingle Mungo" and "Matty" made a lasting contribution to baseball.  

 

That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it.  And now more than

ever, stay positive and test negative. 

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About Time for Kim Ng, My Proposed Baseball Changes, More TCM Tips

As we approach the year-end holidays, let's cross fingers that those who didn't practice social distancing and mask-wearing over the Thanksgiving holiday don't pay an awful price and infect others.

 
As for my Thanksgiving, I made my first trip to the North Fork of Long Island staying in Greenport, a scant 80 miles from the Big Apple. The onetime seaport town is on the upgrade with many tasty restaurants and stores while maintaining its cozy maritime flavor.

 
A first-ever trip to nearby historic Shelter Island was also memorable. After a short car ferry ride, with Maria smoothly at the wheel, we found ourselves riding on the undulating roads of that precious slice of land. Even passed a Shelter Island Country Club and golf course "open to the public".   

 

Meanwhile, the best news out of baseball came a week before Thanksgiving when Kim Ng was named the general manager of the Miami Marlins. 

 
Ng (pronounced Ang) will be the first woman to reach that exalted level in major league baseball, and she is probably the most qualified person ever to reach the top. 

 
After starring as a softball shortstop at Ridgewood High in New Jersey and the University of Chicago, she entered baseball as a White Sox intern and has risen rapidly in the ranks. She was a top assistant to Yankee GM Brian Cashman during their most recent dynasty in the late 1990s through 2001.  

 
Since early this century Ng has worked in top level MLB's executive positions while always being on the short list of GM candidates. She didn't let her failure to win other openings get her down. 

 

The oldest of five Ng girls, she brings a universally respected love of baseball in all its nuances. Kudos to Derek Jeter, Marlins president and part-owner who witnessed Ng's abilities first-hand while playing for the Yankees, for encouraging Bruce Sherman, the Marlins principal owner, to break the glass ceiling. 

 
In this time of great uncertainty, no one knows for sure when the Marlins and the 29 other MLB teams will start the 2021 season.  It seems unlikely that a full 162

game can be played which is fine by me. 

 
The season is far too long anyway.  So to steal from columnist Jimmy Cannon, here's my "Nobody Asked Me, But" list of changes I'd like to see in baseball's future.

 

**CHANGE 1:  A regular season of a maximum 154 games or even 144, 140, or fewer.  Baseball did very nicely with 154 games from 1903 to 1960 and every team playing every other in its league 22 times, 11 at home and 11 on road. 

 

Of course, with expansion from the 1960s through the late 1990s, we now have

30 teams and 6 divisions and additional wild cards. Commissioner Rob Manfred reportedly wants 14 teams to make the playoffs in the future.

 

If we continue to devalue the regular season, I say at least let's shorten it.  

 
**CHANGE 2 - I'm not a knee jerk advocate of "cancel culture," but I can see the value in adding a more deserving name to the MVP trophy than baseball's first commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.  Landis didn't create baseball segregation but he sure tacitly enforced it.   

 
Why not honor the late Frank Robinson who is still the only man to win the MVP in both leagues?  First with the Cincinnati Reds in 1961 and then the Baltimore Orioles in 1966.

 

He played the game hard and passionately. The first Black manager in MLB with the Cleveland Indians, he was a very creditable manager for other teams. 

 
As an Oriole fan, I still think F. Robby's Game 6 tagging up and scoring from third base on a very short fly ball to Vic Davalillo in center field to extend the 1971 World Series to a seventh game is one of the greatest hustle plays I've ever seen. 

 

**CHANGE 3  Instead of starting an extra-inning game with a runner on second base and no one out, the gimmick currently used, why not allow for ties in the standings?  Hockey has lived with it for generations.  Even pro football allows for it.  There are enough games in a baseball regular season that a tie won't seem

like a devastating loss.  

 
**CHANGE 4  Modify the DH rule so a National League pinch-hitter can be used for a pitcher one time in a game without the pitcher being forced out of the lineup. Sadly, I guess the designated hitter in the AL is with us for the indefinite future.  

 
I have never thought that the disparity in the rule between the leagues was a detriment.  Except that American League pitchers were at a great disadvantage when they had to hit and AL teams lost a presumably big DH bat when the rule was not in effect in World Series road games. 

 

These changes won't guarantee any immediate uptick in spectatorship and participation.  But the more the drama of the game of running and throwing and

outguessing hitters instead of overpowering them is emphasized, I think the better the chance there will be of a resurgence of interest. 

 

And now before I bid adieu, here's some December tips for films on Turner Classic Movie. You never know what gems pop up on TCM.

 

On Sun night Nov 29, I stumbled into "Running On Empty" (1988 dir. by Sidney Lumet) with the marvelous cast of Judd Hirsch, Christine Lahti, River Phoenix, and Martha Plimpton. The fictionalized film based on the actual travails of radical activists living life on the run after violent anti-imperialist activities in the late 1960s/early 1970s holds up very well.

 

So here's my recommendations for early December on TCM:  

 

Th Dec 3 8p "Baby Face" (1933) Barbara Stanywick rises to the top using her

feminine wiles and encouraged by a mentor who quotes Nietzsche! Left in the dust in small roles are John Wayne and Douglas Dumbrille. 

 

Sat Dec 5 starting at 330p if you are into marathon watching or recording, 

Billy Wilder's "The Apartment" with Lemmon, MacLaine, MacMurray;  "It Happened on Fifth Ave," a progressive fantasy from 1947 set during the housing storage; "The Maltese Falcon" this week's "Essential"; followed by the first "Thin Man" and Eddie Muller's Noir Alley choice, "Tomorrow Is Another Day" with Ruth Roman and Steve Cochran. 

 

Sun Dec 6 is a mini-marathon starting at 6p with "Christmas in Connecticut" with Stanwyck and Sidney Greenstreet, and then two films with Marilyn Monroe, "The Seven Year Itch" with Tom Ewell and "Gentleman Prefer Blondes" with Jane Russell.

 

Fri Dec 11 8p is a 2015 documentary "Marsha Hunt's Sweet Adversity" about the blacklisted actress who used her later career to foster good causes.  She has drawn effusive praise from Eddie Muller which is as good a recommendation one can get. 

 

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

 

 

 

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