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All Is Not Chaos at Columbia! Baseball Lions Wins Regular Season Ivy League Title, Will Host Playoffs + Baltimore Press Box Named After Jim Henneman & "Angels in Outfield" on TCM!

I'm glad to report that all the news coming from my alma mater is not about the Pro-Palestine Anti-Israel demonstrations, police crackdowns, and inevitable recriminations that has created turmoil on the main college campus. Here's a shoutout instead for Columbia's baseball team, a perennial contender and six-time league champion since coach Brett Boretti arrived on Morningside Heights almost 20 years ago.


On the last weekend of April, the Lions clinched home field advantage in the upcoming 4-team post-season playoff by sweeping Cornell at Ithaca. There is still one regular season final home series left this coming weekend May 4-5 against second-place Princeton.  The Tigers lead the Big Red by a game with Penn's Quakers and Yale's Bulldogs another game back. 


One of those teams will not make the playoff that begins on Fri May 17 at picturesque Satow Stadium overlooking the Hudson a little northwest of Braodway and 218th Street.  Columbia will host the 3P game against the 4th place finisher with seeds 2 & 3 playing at 11A. We probably won't know the final four until after Harvard and Yale battle in New Haven the weekend of May 11-12.   


A big reason for Columbia's success has been that they always play a tough early season schedule. You learn very little from beating up on inferior competition. "To be the best you have to beat the best" is an adage that all contending teams must absorb.


(Megan Griffith, coach of Columbia's women's basketball regular season Ivy co-champions, has also scheduled tough early season foes. They performed so effectively this year in the early games and then soared to a 13-1 league record that the Lions earned the Ivy League's first-ever women's basketball at-large bid to March Madness.  There is also a lot of beaming at Columbia over the WNBA's Connecticut Sun drafting Abbey Hsu, Ivy League Player of the Year, and the New York LIberty's selecting former Lion Kaitlyn Davis.) 


After taking major lumps this season playing at the University of Florida Gators and at stops in southern California - where one of the losses was a 32-2 pasting by the UC-Irvine Anteaters - the baseball Lions enter the crucial month of May on a 9-game winning streak and a 15-3 Ivy League record. They also recently beat perennial Big East contender St. John's in a close game and routed another prominent local program, Seton Hall, 31-0. 


It is true that college baseball in the Northeast has never developed a huge fan base beyond parents, friends of the family, and confirmed baseball nuts like yours truly. The pinging sound of the metal bats turns off many purists and I myself do miss the resonant thwack of the wooden bat.


But once you make peace with this difference, I suggest you'll enjoy the quality of the game as played by these scrappy collegians. Columbia's pitching coach Tom Carty deserves kudos for turning his battered pre-season staff into an effective unit. 


Senior Derek Yoo from Los Angeles and junior co-captain southpaw Joe Sheets from Wilmington, Delaware, have become a reliable one-two punch as starters with sophomore Thomas Santana from Millburn, NJ locking in well recently into the third slot.  


The hitting has lately been overwhelming with an average of more than 8 runs a game.   A .300 hitter comes to the plate in virtually every spot in the batting order. Most have long ball power, led by senior first baseman Jack Cooper from Edwardsville, ILL, and sophomore shortstop Sam Miller from McMurray, PA (near Pittsburgh) who have each produced double-digit HR numbers. 


The lineup may have solidified when junior second baseman Griffin Palfrey from Vancouver, British Columbia, returned from injury.  Palfrey doubles as a relief pitcher, sometimes with closing responsibilities. 


There is another glow coming from the Baker Field complex with news that former Lion outfielder Hayden Schott is tearing it up in the middle of the order of the Texas A & M Aggies who have been ranked #1 in the country the last three weeks.  He is playing as a graduate student, something the Ivy League

still does not allow.  


It's a delight to tell these stories at a time when the university and our bedraggled body politic has been under fire.And let's be realistic, the crises will continue through USA Election Day Nov 5 and beyond.


I have no illusions that a winning sports team can make much societal difference.  Early in 1968 Columbia's great basketball team briefly united the campus but it blew apart by the spring at the height of the Vietnam war divisions. But I do know that winning as a team is as good a metaphor as any for what sports can teach us.



On Sat Apr 27 I was delighted to attend the press box naming ceremony for veteran Baltimore sportswriter Jim Henneman.  I've known Jim since

the mid-1970s when he was a speaker at Univ of Maryland Baltimore County in my class in Sports and American Culture, one of the first such ventures in academia. 


I was only one of a legion of sportswriters, friends and family who paid homage to a man whose wise counsel kept many of us from jumping off ledges when the Orioles seemed particularly hopeless.  Jim was brought to tears, reflecting on the honor bestowed upon a native son.


He was a batboy for the minor league Orioles and in high school pitched against another local boy Al Kaline.  The future Hall of Famer, who played his entire career with the Detroit Tigers, and the future sportswriter always engaged in friendly banter about how many times Henneman walked him. 

A longtime official scorer, Henneman gave up that duty last season. He quipped, "I can now wear Oriole orange," which indeed he did on this special day. 


To make the afternoon complete, the Orioles shut out the improved Oakland A's behind Cole Irvin's 7 shutout innings and back-to-back HRs by Gunnar Henderson and Adley Rutschman. The rest of the weekend wasn't so fortunate for the Birds as the A's rallied in the 9th inning on Fri night and Sun afternoon, treating roughly Oriole closer Craig Kimbrel who has upper back issues but may not need a trip to the injured list.   


Starter Grayson Rodriguez has not been so fortunate.  After pitching nearly 6 shutout innings against the Yankees this past Monday, he has been IL-ed for at least 15 days.  It looks like the Yankees and Orioles will battle for the AL East title all season with the Red Sox possibly getting into the mix with their improved pitching but they know they have to improve their defense.   


The problem with all these early commentaries is that there is SO MUCH of the season still to play.  And there are TOO MANY teams that qualify for the playoffs.  So it goes (sigh).  


I close with one special TCM movie tip.

Sa May 4 at 145P EDT the original "Angels in the Outfield" (1951) airs.  I find it a neglected gem in the baseball movie category. Starring Paul

Douglas as the crusty Pirates manager who gets humanized by Janet Leigh as a Household Tips writer for a Pittsburgh newspaper. 


The wonderful supporting cast includes Bruce Bennett as aging pitcher Saul Hellman, Keenan Wynn as the vitriolic broadcaster who engages in verbal and physical blows with Douglas (watch for uncredited Barbara Billingsley as a cigarette girl) and Spring Byington and Ellen Corby as the nuns who bring the orphaned girls to ballgames, most importantly, Donna Corcoran the 8-year-old who actually sees the angels in the outfield. The photography of Pittsburgh in the early 1950s is worth watching even if you are not entranced by the story.  


That's all for now.  Always remember: Take it easy but take it, and stay positive, test negative. 










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"Every Season Is Different": The Prince of Paranoia Opines On Orioles & Columbia Women's and Wisconsin Men's Basketball (expanded edition)

My last post introduced a new nickname for yours truly, The Prince of Paranoia, courtesy of eminent Baltimore sportswriter Jim Henneman whose name will be affixed permanently upon the Oriole Park at Camden Yards press box. 


When word came last Thursday on the first day of pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training that two key Oriole pitchers, Kyle Bradish and John Means, will start the season on the injured list, my gulp could be heard most of the way to Sarasota. 


Bradish had a breakout 2023 and would likely be the number two starter behind newly-acquired Corbin Burnes. Kyle has now been diagnosed with an UCL sprain (ulnar collateral ligament) that often leads to Tommy John surgery.  Means has still not recovered fully from his TJ surgery two years ago.


There is also news of the stress fracture in throwing elbow of Samuel Basallo, the Dominican catcher-first baseman who is not yet 20 years old. He is not expected to make the team this year, but he won't be playing in the field until later in the season.  Throw in a fourth, supposedly minor injury, the aching oblique of Gunnar Henderson the 2023 AL Rookie of the Year, and all those "experts" picking the Orioles for the World Series should be taking a step back.


It helps me to recall a great adage, "Every season is different". Last year's record means next to nothing in a new season. Nothing really counts for the Birds until March 28 when their regular season begins against the Ohtani-less LA Angels.  The Padres and Dodgers start 8 days earlier in Korea as part of the international "grow the game" philosophy that the owners and Players Association seemingly agree is a good idea.   


I still pledge that the Prince of Paranoia won't really get rolling until the games actually count.  And now I'm introducing a more benign nickname,

Captain Culture. This was bestowed upon me decades ago by a colleague at UMBC (University of Maryland Baltimore County), the late philosophy professor and world educator Thomas Luther "Tom" Benson.  


There is nothing like the arts opportunities in my overpopulated but very stimulating home town. About a week ago, Captain Culture was enthralled by a delightful NY City Ballet rehearsal of Jerome Robbins 1956 satirical ballet, "The Concert."   


It takes great talent to deliberately make mistakes in any art and this piece spoofs the inability of certain dancers to make the correct hand gestures and leg kicks. Adding to the hilarity is a dancing role for the pianist who plays wonderful Chopin throughout the piece but is hardly agile chasing with a net the dancers costumed as butterflies in the last scene.


There are two more chances to see "The Concert," aka "The Perils of Everybody," as part of the ballet program at the Koch Theatre in Lincoln Center:

Th Feb 22 at 730p

Th Feb 29 at 730p     Info on tickets at nycb.com  


I've always felt great athletes are like dancers in their grace, stamina, and technical prowess.  Yesterday Su Feb 18, I saw on ESPNU one of the most intense basketball games I ever saw.  The Columbia women's basketball team improved to 9-1 in the Ivy League with a grueling 71-63 victory at third-place Harvard (7-3). 


I had never seen a game where no team led by more than 4 points until midway in the fourth quarter when Columbia finally got some breathing room.  Outstanding team defense and balanced scoring were the keys to the victory with junior Cecelia Collins leading the Lions with 20 points, including six vital free throws in the last minutes.  (Collins, a Scranton PA native, is one of the best advertisements for a wise use of the transfer portal - she previously played two seasons at Bucknell in Lewisburg PA.)  


Columbia hosts the much-anticipated rematch with Princeton (10-0 in league, #25 in the nation) on Sat Feb 24 at 2p.  It's the last regular season home game for the Lions but the Ivy League four-team post-season tournament will be held in the same Levien Gym from Mar 15-17.  If you haven't seen Abbey Hsu, the senior sharpshooting guard who is in the running for Naismith Player of the year, don't miss these last chances.  Ticket info at



Establishing a "winning culture" - the phrase du jour throughout all sports these days -  is not easy, but Megan Griffith the youthful Columbia coach now in her 7th year, and her staff have done it. Everyone associated with the team contributes to a winning culture. 


One of the nice touches this year was earlier this month when Noah Dayon, one of the team managers, sang an excellent no-frills acapella National Anthem before one of the games. 


I was a manager of men's basketball for three years and never was asked to sing. Mercifully.  But I did hit a 30-foot jump shot in coaches-managers game in the old University Gymasium and 30 years later a jump shot in a media game at Madison Square Garden.   


One last word on Columbia sports - Brett Boretti's Columbia Lions open the home season very early this year because of unexpected cancellations.

Marist from Poughkeepsie NY visits for a four game series over the weekend of Mar 1 - with single games Mar 1 & 3 at 3P and twinbill Mar 2 at Noon.

Big Ivy League matchups come early this year - SaSu Mar 23 with Harvard and SaSu Mar 30 defending league champion Penn.  


The news is not as good for my other favorite team the Wisconsin men's Badgers.  They have lost 5 of their last 6 games and their seeding in both the post-season Big Ten tournament and the national tournament is plummeting.


It is hard to put a finger on one particular reason for the slide.  I always think back to former coach Bo Ryan, who is on the ballot again for enshrinement in the Springfield (MA) Basketball Hall of Fame, who once said, "We judge our players by what it takes to discourage them."   


It seems too many of the current Badgers can't put together consistent games. It will be up to current coach Greg Gard, Ryan's longtime assistant, to find the key to re-ignite a talented squad that looked so good and so deep in the first half of the season.


Although Gard's contract reportedly runs for three more years, Ohio State fired once-heralded coach Chris Holtmann after a loss last week to the Badgers in Madison.  The Buckeyes responded with a win at home yesterday over national title contender Purdue. 


I still am wary of quick fixes. But in this age of NIL funds for top talent at one end and the wide-open transfer portal for all players, it will take wise

leadership from administrators to navigate these new currents that were overdue but seem to border now on the chaotic.   


In closing sad notes - RIP basketball coach Lefty Driesell, 92, died Feb 17. Brought top-notch basketball to the University of Maryland and earlier Davidson and later James Madison and Georgia State. His Basketball Hall of Fame acceptance speech was a classic.   


RIP Don Gullett, 73, died Feb 14, outstanding southpaw with 109-50 career record.  Only pitcher in MLB history to win four World Series in a row, two with one team (Reds 1975-76, Yankees 77-78).  Injuries and illnesses curtailed career at age 31. Remained lifelong friend of Gene Bennett, the scout who signed him and projected his greatness from 7th grade on. I tell story of their heartwarming relationship in the Bennett chapter in my recent book BASEBALL'S ENDANGERED SPECIES (University of Nebraska Press).   


That's all for now.  Take it easy but take it, and stay positive, test negative.

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