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Marvelously Unpredictable Pennant Races Developing + TCM Tips for the First Half of May

One of the more honest statements on the air came the other night from David Cone commenting on the YES cable network during one of the Yankee games at Baltimore.  "I'm not a journalist - I'm an ex-player." 

 

Very true, David, but sometimes ex-players can deliver whoppers. In praising the defensive work of Yankee catcher Kyle Higashioka (who has Yankee fans breathing easier now that he has basically replaced Gary Sanchez as number one catcher), Cone compared him to former Yankee catcher the recently retired Brian McCann.

 

He called McCann a "borderline Hall of Famer." Excuse me?  McCann was a solid major leaguer and universally liked on and off the field.  But a "borderline Hall of Famer"? Maybe his career batting average was the same as Hall of Famer Gary Carter - .262 BA - but B. McCann was a good player not an immortal.  

 

Although main Yankee telecaster Michael Kay is more into the entertainment part of the YES network (Yankee Entertainment and Sports network), he does provide interesting tidbits now and then. 

 

Eg.  Indians starting pitching Triston McKenzie grew up in Brooklyn, the son of an immigrant from the island of Jamaica.  Papa McKenzie fell in love with baseball listening to Phil Rizzuto and Bill White on WPIX Channel 11 broadcasts in the 1980s.

 

And transmitted his love to Triston who is in Cleveland's starting rotation . . . for the time being.  He has been shaky but if he lives up to his promise, he should help the Indians stay in the race.  

 

(BTW they are still called the Indians until next season. My vote for a new nickname is Blue Socks in homage to an early 20th century Cleveland team and also Louis Sockalexis the native American who inspired the famous now infamous nickname. Anything but the "Cleveland Baseball Team".)

 

I also absolutely agree with Michael Kay that the oven mitts allowed for baserunners is a travesty. Longer than one's fingers, it shortens the distance for baserunners hoping to circle the bases.  

 

The next thing you know is that they will shorten the base distance by softening and widening the bases.  Which is what they plan to do in the experimental Atlantic League this season. 

 

In the meantime, I'm trying to enjoy the game in spite of the meddling of the analytic geniuses and the speeding-up-the-game fanatics.   And really there is much to like so far in the 2021 season.

 

**Good hitters who don't use batting gloves:  The Orioles' Austin Hays and the Rays' Joey Wendle come immediately to mind.  

 

Hays also chokes up slightly on the bat.  So does the Astros' Alex Bregman and a few others. Perhaps the best, most legitimate part of Barry Bonds's arsenal has not been forgotten. 

 

The Orioles' Four M's are also bringing me pleasure in the early going.  Alphabetically, they are: 

**TREY MANCINI recovered from colon cancer and re-establishing himself as team leader and run-producer. 

His only flaw IMO:  He is too intense but better that than lackadaisical. 

 

**JOHN MEANS southpaw starter off to a great start and ready and eager to pitch deep into games.

 

**RYAN MOUNTCASTLE technically a rookie but he showed off his hitting skills late last season.  Miscast as a shortstop, he has adjusted acceptably to left field and first base and occasionally DH.

 

His name suggests British royalty but he is from suburban Orlando and I really like his poise at plate.

Off to a slow start, he has been heating up lately.

 

I know many scouts scoff at the term "The Good Face", to me Mountcastle possesses it.  Confident but not cocky, he looks like he expects to succeed.  

 

**Last but not least, ZACH MULLINS who might be young at 26 for comeback player of the year but has rescued his lackluster major league career by finally listening to advice that he stop switch-hitting.  

 

Now lefty all the way, he is among league leaders in hits and continues to play a superior center field.  

 

Mullins went to Campbell University, a private Christian institution in Buies Creek, North Carolina - the school's nickname is the wonderful Flying Camels.  Thanks again to Michael Kay for providing that factoid.

 

Glimpsing the .500 line in early May is more than Oriole fans expected.  We almost reached that plateau earlier today (Sunday May 2). 

 

But A's center fielder Ramon Laureano make a sensational catch in center field to end top of the eighth. He then homered in bottom of inning to keep the A's from being swept at home by surprising O's.  

 

Orioles made a valiant try in the top of the ninth but Mark Canha robbed Mancini with another great outfield catch.

It was a wonderful game of baseball that in the nature of the beast someone had to lose.

 

O's now go to surprising Seattle who are leading AL West.  Unheralded Kansas City leading AL Central. Only Tigers and probably Rockies and Marlins are in hugely deep holes.  Good for baseball to have modest hopes all over the map.

 

Yankees have reached .500 and now face Astros for three at Yankee Stadium that should see plenty of booing of miscreant sign-stealers from Houston.

 

 AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT:  TCM Tips for First Half of May!

Eddie Muller's incisive Noir Alley shows don't resume until Sa midnight/Su at 10A May 15/16 with Orson Welles's "Touch of Evil" 1958.  

 

Followed on May 22/23 by "The Brothers Rico" 1957 with Richard Conte.

 

May 29/30 Fred Zinneman's "Act of Violence" 1949 a real classic set in aftermath of WW II with war veteran Robert Ryan bearing a grudge against fellow veteran Van Heflin now married to Janet Leigh. 

 

Leigh, born Jeannette Morrison to ski resort workers in central coastal California, was really a wonderful actress who deserves to be remembered for far more than "Psycho".  She was reportedly grateful to Alfred Hitchcock for using warm water in the dozens of times that murder-in-the-shower scene was shot, but too bad that is all she is remembered for.  

 

Monday May 3 is a Satyajit Ray film festival from 12:15 midnight until 8p

Then 8p Alec Baldwin interviews the late Robert Osborne TCM's first and greatest host

 

945p "Crossfire" 1947 the hard-hitting film about anti-Semitism in US Army with Roberts Young and Ryan and many others 

 

1115p "Night of the Hunter" 1955 dir. by Charles Laughton, script by James Agee with

Robert Mitchum/Shelley Winters/Lillian Gish

 

Tues May 4 offers three interesting films.

845A  "A Kiss Before Dying" 1956  I saw originally on Noir Alley - Robert Wagner as a mild-mannered killer on a college campus. Also with pre-Jesus Jeffrey Hunter.

 

2p "This Time for Keeps" 1947 - have never seen it or heard of it.  But get this! Esther Williams is courted by an upper-crust fellow, son of opera star Lauritz Melchior. Also with Jimmy Durante and Xavier Cugat. Possibilities for camp seem endless! 

 

8p "Hairspray" 1988 John Waters' take on how rock 'n' roll helped desegregate Baltimore.

 

Wed May 5 - how about this trio back-to-back!

545p "Diabolique" 1955 with Simone Signoret plotting to off her husband.

 

8p "Twelve Angry Men" 1957 probably best jury film ever. With Henry Fonda, Jack Klugman, E. G. Marshall, Ed Begley Sr. and obviously at least eight more.   

 

10p "Anatomy of A Murder" 1959 dir. by Otto Preminger with music by Duke Ellington.

When Lee Remick, wife of accused murdered Ben Gazzara, says to defense lawyer Jimmy Stewart, "Call me Laura!", hard for Jimmy and any male to maintain composure.  (I wonder if her name Laura was inspired by Gene Tierney's Laura of 12 years earlier).  

 

Also with Eve Arden as Stewart's secy., Arthur McConnell as Stewart's colleague, George C. Scott as vicious prosecuting attorney, and Robert Welch, who in real life helped destroy Sen. Joe McCarthy, as a judge.  

 

Th May 6 415p "A Hard Day's Night" Richard Lester directs the Beatles in a really delightful film - the 1960s before the Vietnam War and anti-draft riots got really ugly. 

 

followed at 6p by "Elvis: That's The Way It Is 2001" from 1975

 

8p "West Side Story" 1961

 

11:15p "Mean Streets" early Martin Scorsese with early Robert DeNiro 1973

 

Fri May 7 10AM "The Whistle at Eaton Falls" 1951 - A film unknown to me but sounds very interesting.  Robert Siodmak, a great Noir director, in what is billed as documentary/drama. A factory in New Hampshire is sold to an outside owner who wants to make efficiency "improvements" and fires people.  The union rebels. 

With young Lloyd Bridges, Carleton Carpenter, Murray Hamilton and a really young Ernest Borgnine. 

 

Sa May 8 1145a one hour documentary on Mike Nichols and Elaine May (1996)

 

8p "They Won't Believe Me" a Noir Alley selection hitting prime time (1947).  With Robert Young (before he became America's dad in TV's "Father Knows Best") explains in flashback why he got involved with Susan Hayward and Jane Greer. We forgive you, Robert. 

 

Later in May highlights:  

M May 10 130p "Second Chorus" 1940  Fred Astaire and bandleader Artie Shaw vie for Paulette Goddard. 

 

Tu May 11 615p "Tab Hunter Confidential" 2015 - Robert Wagner, Clint Eastwood, Tab, and others talk about Hunter's closeted life that fortunately later became open. 

 

W May 12 Katherine Hepburn day including at 915a  a Hepburn documentary from 1993.

I know she liked the chocolates from Mondel's in my neighborhood near Columbia but I'm interested in learning more about her. 

 

10:45a "Woman of the Year" 1942 the first one paired with Tracy who plays a sportswriter. Opening scene in baseball press box drew me in, of course.

 

12:45p "Pat and Mike" 1952 set on the golf circuit. With cameo by Babe Didrickson and early Chuck Connors in small but key role near the end.

 

2:30p "Keeper of the Flame" 1943  again with Tracy

 

Wed May 12 10p "Perfect Strangers" 1950 Ginger Rogers falls in love with divorced jury member Dennis Morgan.  Have never seen this one but can imagine how Thelma Ritter livens the procedure. 

 

F May 14 8p  "Taking of Pelham 1-2-3" 1974 one of the great subway films, set in NYC.

With Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam. 

 

Sat May 15 12 Noon "The Set-Up" 1949 one of the great boxing and noir films.  With Robert Ryan, George Tobias, Audrey Totter.  Dir. by the amazingly versatile Robert Wise.

 

8p "The Big Heat" 1953 Fritz Lang's classic noir with Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin, Jocelyn Brando (Marlon's sister), Carolyn Jones.

 

945p "Gilda" 1946 one of the all-time classic noirs with Rita Hayworth/Glenn Ford/George Macready

And as noted earlier Noir Alley returns at Midnight May15/16 with "Touch of Evil".   

 

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

 

 

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Good Things Happen To Those Who Wait: Ted Simmons Makes The Hall of Fame + David Lamb's "Stolen Season" Sheds Light on Importance of Minor League Baseball

I never get deeply involved in arguments about the Hall of Fame because the voting always comes down to a popularity contest.  Ted Simmons even admitted as much when he spoke publicly on Monday Dec 9 after his somewhat surprising election to baseball's Cooperstown shrine.

 
"I knew everybody on the [14-man veterans] committee and they knew me so I thought

I had a chance," he said on MLB TV.  It is actually more surprising that Simmons got less than 5% when he was first eligible on the regular ballot in the 1990s.  Because his vote total was so low, he was removed from the ballot until some veterans committees gave him extra chances.

 
Certainly Simmons's numbers are impressive:  21 seasons, 13 with Cardinals, 5 with Brewers (where he made his only World Series appearance in 1982), and 3 with Braves.

Lifetime stats:  248 HR, 483 doubles (indicating that he had significant power in the gaps), 1,389 RBI.

 

And for someone at times maligned for his defense, he threw out 34% of runners attempting to steal. On ESPN.com's list of best catchers in MLB history, he is tied for 10th place with Hall of Famer Gary Carter.  And everyone above them is enshrined in Cooperstown except for still-active Buster Posey of the Giants.

 
Ted Simmons will be one of the most original and intelligent members of the Hall of Fame. I had some memorable encounters with him in the 1980s.   


He liked my first book, co-authored with former major leaguer Tony Lupien,  "The Imperfect Diamond: The Story of Baseball's Reserve System and The Men Who Fought To Change It."  I was flattered when I learned that Simmons had told his Brewers teammate Paul Molitor to read it.

 
Simmons is part of my book because in 1972 he almost became Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally three years before impartial arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled they were free agents because they had not signed their contracts in 1975 and thus the reserve or renewal clause was no longer valid.   

 
Simmons did sign a rare two-year contract in the middle of the 1972 season, becoming probably the first player in MLB history to start a season without signing a contract. 

The dispute was about money, not a principle, Simmons refreshingly told future Hall of Fame sportswriter Bob Broeg in an incisive June 1973 "Baseball Digest" article.


The piece was called "Losing Drives Me Crazy" and Ted declared, "Everyone strives to win, but it's 10,000 times easier to lose."  He also cited the wisdom of one of the great Cardinal minor league instructors George Kissell: "When things go wrong, check your own closet first."

 
Congrats again to Ted Simmons, the onetime University of Michigan speech major who never played for the Wolverines because he started his MLB career as a teenager. Not surprisingly, Simmons said that he is honored to go into Cooperstown with players union leader Marvin Miller who he served vigorously and effectively as a player rep.

 
A CLOSING NOTE ON THE MLB-MILB IMPASSE

As of this post goes up at the winter solstice of Dec. 21, the dispute continues between MLB and the officials of Minor League Baseball.  The majors are proposing the elimination of 42 minor league teams including some entire rookie leagues.

 

If the snafu is not straightened out, there will likely be law suits from some of the municipalities who have invested millions in improved facilities. As J. J. Cooper suggested in the Dec. 14 "Baseball America" post on line, MLB's master plan may well be that by the 2021 season, a whole new landscape will be in place with MLB controlling the teams in almost every lower league. 

 
Compromise has never been MLB's strong suit, but as someone who loves baseball on the lower levels, I sure hope some reconcilation happens early in the new year. For a body that endlessly intones the phrase "growing the game," cutting forty-plus teams seems very odd.

 

Coincidentally, I recently re-read a wonderful 1991 book, David Lamb, "STOLEN SEASON: A Journey Through America and Baseball's Minor Leagues." It is a lovely paean to the importance of a special American institution.  The book may be technically out of print, but I think an internet search can find a copy or I sure hope public libraries have it.


The late David Lamb was a foreign correspondent for the "LA Times" who needed a break from covering the wars in the Middle East.  The opening sentence of the book drew me in immediately:  "This baseball journey was born in the rubble of Beirut while some maniacs were blowing away my hotel with tanks, chunk by chunk."

 
So at the age of 49 Lamb decided to re-connect with his baseball-loving youth when he was such an ardent Boston and Milwaukee Braves fan that he wrote for their fan publications.  The Wisconsin team liked his work so much that he was invited to spend a week covering the team as a fully-credentialed teenager. 

 
Lamb's wife endorsed his mid-life crisis trip as long as he didn't come home chewing tobacco.  Hilarious and prescient insights like this one fill the book. He captures the joy of seeing baseball in small towns and meeting the local characters that make the game so unique.

 
Names of future major leaguers dot the pages of the book such as infielder Ron Washington who wound up managing the Texas Rangers to a World Series and told Lamb that every AB is an opportunity. We discover that the double play combination in Stockton California was Charlie Montoyo (now Blue Jays manager) and Pat Listach, who made The Show with the Brewers.

 
Lamb's visits to the Milwaukee heroes of his youth are revealing - among them: frank Eddie Mathews, thoughtful Warren Spahn, analytical Del Crandall, utility man Chuck Tanner who found far greater success as a MLB manager, and Bob "Hurricane" Hazle, the unheralded minor leaguer who rallied the Braves to their 1957 pennant but only received a 2/3 World Series-winners' share.  Now just "a backwoods whiskey salesman," he's more philosophical than embittered about life. 

 

I wish the prestigious Random House publisher had included an index and that Bill Bruton's and minor league flame-thrower Steve Dalkowski's name had been spelled correctly. But STOLEN SEASON is a most worthy read.  

 
Keep the faith, dear readers, in both baseball and the USA though both are certainly going through difficult times these days.  And always remember:  Take it easy but take it.

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