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Appreciating Shohei Ohtani (with correction) and Pete Sampras, Remembering Jim "Mudcat" Grant, Updating Team Israel, & TCM Noir Tips


The hot streak of Shohei Ohtani, the Los Angeles Angels right-handed pitcher and DH, has been amazing to watch.  He is the first player in MLB history to be named to the AllStarGame roster as both pitcher and hitter.


The 27-year-old Japanese import already has 32 home runs, surpassing the record held by former Yankee Hideki Matsui. Hideki was very gracious praising Ohtani for breaking his record.


Thanks to our Japanese correspondent Jun Ogawa, I have learned that the former Red Sox hurler Daisuke Matsusaka recently announced his retirement effective at the end of the season.


Koji Uehara, former Oriole, Ranger, and Red Sox reliever, was effusive in his praise for Matsusaka who though a younger man was a role model when Koji came to America.  


When visiting the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI during my birthday weekend last week, I did find a good example of one American athlete's grace in retirement.  


Pete Sampras's 2007 induction speech into the tennis shrine was filled with humility and dignity.  Unlike Andy Roddick who was wearing a summer fedora with a Rolex brand on the brim, Sampras was dressed without adornment.


He admitted being nervous at the occasion and wished he were playing instead of talking. Fighting back tears throughout his brief speech, he concluded: "I'm a tennis player, nothing more, nothing less.  It's been more than enough for me."  


In an age where we ask far too much of our celebrity-athletes and too many cannot handle the exposure, Sampras's words should be remembered. 


The tennis Hall of Fame is housed in the Newport Casino. It was completed in the early 1880s, the first work of the famed architectural trio, McKim, Mead, and (Stanford) White.  It is definitely worth visiting. 


IN addition to videos of all the inductees, there are some memorable highlights from the careers of such forgotten greats as Maureen Connolly, "Little Mo," who won the Grand Slam of women's tennis while still a teenager.  


Also nicknamed "The Babe Ruthless," her career ended before she was 20 because of a horseback accident.  She became a good commentator and journalist, but so sadly died from ovarian cancer at the age of 35 in 1969. 


Speaking of athletes deserving remembrance, Jim "Mudcat" Grant died on June 12 at the age of 85. He was more than just an outstanding pitcher, 145-119, 3.63 career ERA. Except for Sandy Koufax's heroics, Grant was the most outstanding pitcher in the 1965 World Series won by the Dodgers in seven games over the Twins.  


Grant was also the author of a book on AfricanAmerican pitchers, "The Black Aces," an entertainer who performed nationally and internationally, and an effective spokesperson for racial equality.


I had a memorable encounter with him in December 2005. I had just finished taping an interview for the documentary about Larry Doby, "Pride Against Prejudice," based on Montclair State Professor Joseph Thomas Moore's book of the same name. 


I met Grant on his way into the studio.  I asked him who signed him for the Cleveland Indians back in the 1950s.  "You won't believe this," he told me. "Fred Merkle." 


Please check out the documentary, the last work produced by Bud Greenspan who became famous for his films about the Olympics.  Grant talks very movingly about how Doby was a mentor who led him before games to the bleachers to greet the Black fans who came to root for them.   


For those of a younger age, Fred Merkle was the young NY Giants first baseman who commited the famous "boner" late in the 1908 season - not touching second base from first on a supposed game-winning single to center field.  It led to the game being ruled a tie and the Cubs won a playoff and the World Series.


They wouldn't repeat that victory for the next 108 years. It was as much the curse of Fred Merkle as anything.  Because many games had been decided by a baserunner not touching second base to avoid hordes of fans invading the field. 


Here's hoping that no boners influence the rest of what looks like an exciting second half of the season.  Ohtani's Angels are now slightly over .500 and they've gotten hot with Mike Trout on the injury list.


He should be back after the AllStar game.  If the Angels get some consistent pitching and third baseman Anothony Rendon heals from his latest injury, they could at least make a run at the American League wild card. 


I am not the biggest fan of the Olympics, especially this year with covid rampant in Japan.  But I am a fan of Team israel, one of the six teams scheduled to play in late July as baseball and softball return as Olympic sports.


Second baseman Ian Kinsler is the biggest name on the scrappy Israeli team. They will be playing an exhibition at Maimonides Park (home of the Brooklyn Cyclones on Coney Island) on Sun July 11 at 4p.  Their opponent will be a team from the NY Fire Department. 


After playing against independent league teams in Rockland County, Hartford, Connecticut, and Aberdeen, Maryland, their last exhibition game will be on Tues July 20 at 630p against the NY Police Department team at the Long Island Ducks stadium in Central Islip, LI. 


Then on to Japan where they will face Team USA on July 29-30. The American team includes former Yankee reliever David Robertson, former Met third baseman Todd Frazier from the Jersey Shore, and the well-traveled pitcher Edwin Jackson.    


Before I close, here are some TCM tips for the upcoming weeks in July.


Every Friday in July is Neo-Noir night hosted by Eddie Muller and Ben Mankiewicz. Here are some of the highlights:


F July 9 8p "Get Carter" (1971) w/Michael Caine/Britt Eklund

10p "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" (1973) w. Mitchum/Peter Boyle


F July 16 630p "Baby Face" (1933) with Stanwyck using her looks to rise to the top - disappointed suitors include young John Wayne 

and Douglass Dumbrille who shortly will emerge as a wonderful bad guy in Marx Brothers and Frank Capra films.


8p "Pulp" (1972) w M. Caine as pulp writer trying to overcome that job - w. Mickey Rooney and Lionel Stander (back from blacklist)


945p "Body Heat" (1981) remake of "Double Indemnity" (1944) the film that many say started the original noir movement - w. Kathleen Turner/William Hurt


Sa July 23 

8p "Blood Simple" (1984) first Coen Brothers film

10p "Night Moves" (1975) Arthur Penn directs Gene Hackman/Susan Clark

12M "To Live and Die In LA" - Wm. Friedkin directs Willem Defoe/John Turturro


Here's the Noir Alley schedule.  N.B. Sat night screening now starts at 1230A not midnight, and often, not always repeated Su at 10AM 


Su July 11 "The Bribe" (1949) with Charles Laughton/Ava Gardner/Vincent Price/Robert Taylor


Su July 18 "Los Tallos Amargos" (1956) so rare that nothing about it on tcm.com/schedule  Never hurts though to re-check it


Su July 25 "Cause for Alarm" (1949)


Su August 1 "Hollow Triumph" (1948)  Paul Henried as a crook turned psychiatrist.  This one not repeated at 10AM


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



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Hot Stove League Off to Eventful Pre-Thanksgiving Start + Farewell to Michael Weiner

Say what you want about free agency in pro sports, it certainly keeps the game in headlines all year round. The confetti from the Red Sox victory parade had barely been swept up when the Detroit Tigers announced a blockbuster trade of first baseman Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for second baseman Ian Kinsler.

Kinsler's trade was not a surprise because the power-hitting speedy second baseman was deemed expendable with homegrown super-prospect Jurickson Profar needing a place in the Rangers' everyday lineup. With Elvis Andrus signed for eight years at shortstop Profar likely will play second for Texas in 2014 though he did put in some time at left field in his rookie season.

Fielder's departure from Detroit after just two years of his nine-year contract shocked most of baseball. Yet one thing the trade of Fielder proves and that of Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett by the Red Sox in the summer of 2012: If a player doesn't have a no-trade clause in his contract, no long-term deal provides security.

Fielder's failures to hit in the post-season two years in a row doomed him in Detroit. He evidently let a divorce affect his play this year. No speedster or defensive whiz - Prince Fielder was no prince of a fielder! - his regular seasonal offensive numbers were decent but when the chips were down in the post-season his productivity disappeared.

On the free agent front, the biggest news so far is that the Yankees have signed the Braves' Brian McCann to a whopping contract that could amount to $100 million over 6 years.
I am wary of citing as absolute fact the raw figures casually thrown about in the press, but certainly the signing indicates that the Yankees are prepared once again to thrown their vast economic weight into the free agent marketplace.

It will be very interesting to see how high they are willing to go to keep second baseman Robinson Cano. He has a novice agent in rap singer-entrepreneur Jay-Z and his people.
Right now sides are far apart but we'll see what happens in the last weeks of 2013 and maybe beyond.

The saddest news on the baseball scene was the passing of Major League Baseball Players Association leader Michael Weiner, 51, after a 15-month battle with brain cancer. He earned the praise of everyone in the industry for his staunch representation of the players and his ability to achieve working agreements with ownership and management.

It is no accident that labor peace came to baseball and has been sustained with Weiner at the helm and Rob Manfred as his counterpart on management's side. There is a chance that Manfred will succeed Bud Selig as commissioner when Selig steps down at the end of 2014.
IF Selig really retires this time and the drug charges against Alex Rodriguez are upheld for the most part by baseball's impartial arbitrator.

My most vivid memory of Weiner came at a forum hosted by the NYU Sports Management program during the 2011 season, the year Albert Pujols was heading for free agency.
Former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, who was ousted by the owners in the lead-up to the 1994 strike, was the major speaker with the NY Times' onetime leading baseball labor expert Murray Chass, ESPN's Mike Greenberg, and Weiner on a panel.

Vincent, a former movie executive, suggested that the Cardinals take a page from the film business and offer Pujols a slice of the team. But owners cannot be trusted, Chass commented and Vincent agreed.

The last word of the evening went to Weiner who quipped: "Let it be put on the record that the head of the players union was the only panelist tonight who didn't call the owners crooks."

The eloquent Tony Clark, the former Tigers first baseman who also played for the Yankees and the Mets, has huge shoes to fill as Weiner's replacement. But with baseball awash in television lucre and both sides now understanding that shutting down the industry or threatening to shut down the industry every few years is not wise business policy,
baseball's labor peace might continue indefinitely. Maybe.

Happy Thanksgiving! And back to you next time with appraisals of three new books to warm your hot stove league fires: Jamie Moyer and Larry Pratt's "Just Tell Me I Can't"; Ken Korach's homage to his late Oakland broadcast partner "Holy Toledo: Lessons from Bill King, Renaissance Man of the Mic," and the reissue and expanded edition of Kevin Kerrane's classic book on scouting, "Dollar Sign on the Muscle".  Read More 
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