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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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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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