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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

gocolumbialions.com.   

 

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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"The Prince of Paranoia" Offers Some Thoughts on Orioles' Big Recent News + "Antonia" Screening on Wed Feb 7 8PM Highlights My TCM Tips (corrected version)

Three recent feel-good stories have come out of Baltimore since we last met, dear readers, with the first one being a lovely surprise.  Veteran sportswriter Jim Henneman, 88, a life-long Baltimorean, was honored with the naming of the Camden Yards press box after him. 

 

I've known Jim for almost 50 years. He was a guest speaker in one of my classes in Sports in American Culture at UMBC (University of Maryland Baltimore County). As the Orioles went through their World Series drought in the last 40 years, Jim provided wise and realistic counsel as I despaired that the Birds would ever truly contend for a world title.

 

Jim recently dubbed me "The Prince of Paranoia" as I often expressed doubt that the current regime even with a 101-win 2023 regular season under their belt could pull the trigger on a trade to get us over the hump towards another World Series.  I admit to being paranoid not just about baseball but about politics and society in general. 

 

I was honored that at least he dubbed me a prince and not a false pretender, a knave, or worse.And lo and behold, in the second recent big news from Charm City, the regime of Mike Elias just made a trade that will bring onetime Cy Young award-winning righthander Corbin Burnes, 29, from Milwaukee.  Burnes hails from Bakersfield, CA and was signed in 4th round of 2016 draft out of St. Mary's College in Moraga in northern California.

 

Burnes can be a free agent after the 2024 season and his agent Scott Boras likes to get top dollar for his clients.  But the addition of Burnes certainly is a

major addition to the rotation.  And loving name play, I sure hope we get a Corbin-Corbin matchup in a game against the Washington Nats:  Corbin

Burnes versus LHP Patrick Corbin. 

 

Going to the Brewers will be LHP DL Hall, a 2017 #1 draft pick under the previous Dan Duquette regime.  At the age of 25, Hall is on the cusp of becoming an outstanding pitcher. He supposedly wants to be a starter, but I think Hall could be the kind of solid closer that can make Brewers fans forget Josh Hader, a former Orioles draft pick who recently signed a multi-year deal with the Houston Astros.   

 

Hall was signed after high school in Valdosta, Georgia, the home town of the late great scout Ellis Clary. The colorful Clary once told me that the area was so football crazy that "they wouldn't know a baseball player from a crate of pineapples."

 

It says here that Dayton Lane (DL) Hall has a chance to put Valdosta on the baseball map and I wish him the best in his new home.  He is only 25 and after recovering from injuries early in his minor league career, he contributed stellar work in the latter part of the 2023 season. He also was very effective in the Birds' disappointing sweep by the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs. 

 

In addition to a first round compensation pick in the 2024 draft, the Brewers will receive Joey Ortiz, 25, a brilliant defensive shortstop who can play several infield positions and whose bat has picked up lately.  From Garden Grove CA, Ortiz was a 2019 fourth-round draft choice from New Mexico State U., the same school as Orioles pitcher Kyle Bradish who likely slots to number 2 in the 2024 starting rotation behind Burnes.

 

The third major news from Orioleland is the proposed sale of the team to David Rubenstein, 74, a key member of the private equity firm the Carlyle Group. He is a lifelong Baltimorean who has always yearned to own his local team. He also had been rumored to be interested in buying the nearby Washington Nationals which are still for sale. 

 

To my knowledge, no owner has ever had more cultural credentials than Rubenstein who has been chairman of the board at the Kennedy Center in DC and has a David Rubenstein Atrium named for him near Lincoln Center in NYC.  It regularly hosts forums and concerts.   He also is the host of interview shows for PBS and Bloomberg News.

 

Members of his ownership group include another financial equity financier Michael Arougheti from Ares Capital; Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York City; Kurt Schmoke, former Mayor of Baltimore and Rubenstein's City College high school classmate; and Oriole legend Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. MLB owners will be meeting this week - the first full week of February - but it is doubtful that immediate approval will come. It is likely sometime later this season.

 

The general mood in Baltimore for the imminent departure of the Peter Angelos family from majority ownership is relief, to put it mildly.  My only hesitation is to remember when the Angeloses bought the team in 1993 from prior owner Eli Jacobs, a New York financier who had gone bankrupt, local feeling was euphoric.

 

That mood changed sour in a hurry when patriarch Peter Angelos hired Davey Johnson as manager and Pat Gillick as general manager. Both had deep roots in the Orioles glory years from 1960 through 1983 but Angelos ran them off when they didn't bring immediate championships. 

 

He also ran off popular broadcaster Jon Miller after the 1996 Jeffrey Maier playoff when Angelos claimed that Miller wasn't sufficiently indignant on air when the 12-year-old Yankee fan seated in Yankee Stadium's right field stands interfered with Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco's attempt catch of Derek Jeter's fly ball that was ruled a home run by right field ump Rich Garcia who was too close in the play IMO.

(It's an ongoing pet peeve of mine those extra umps in post-season games - if we must have them, they should be positioned as in Japan, under the foul poles to judge fair or foul home runs.)

 

Peter Angelos' sons, John and Louis, grew to have more power and less success. The most recent embarrassment was with Peter incapicated for over 10 years, a suit was brought by younger son Louis against both John and his mother Georgia claiming that he had been illegally cut out of decisions by the ownership group.  It was finally settled out of court and now new ownership blood is heading to Charm City. 

 

My only caveat - being of course the Prince of Paranoia - is the old saying, "An owner comes into baseball and says he knows nothing about the business of baseball.  In six months he announces he knows everything."  I do have the cautious hope that David Rubenstein will act with more discretion and calmness than Steve Cohen, a fellow private equity mogul who has turned the Mets into another soap opera in their long history of dysfunction. 

 

And now here are some TCM tips for the next couple of weeks: 

Wed Feb 7 8p  EST "Antonia: A Portrait of The Woman" (1974)   It is a re-release of a 58 minute documentary that I saw when it first opened.  The film was the brainstorm of Judy Collins who took piano lessons from Antonia Brico in her home town of Denver.  She discovered the remarkable story of a woman conductor who trained in Holland and Germany and had a regrettably brief but remarkable career as a rare woman conductor in the all-male

sanctuary of classical music. 

 

I was blessed to see "Antonia" again this past Sat night Feb 3 at Museum of Modern Art with both Judy Collins and director Jill Godmilow in attendance.

Also on the bill was the equally poignant 28 minute new documentary "The Only Woman in the Orchestra" - the story of Erin O'Brien, the double bassist in the New York Philharmonic who retired recently after joining the NY Phil in 1966. 

 

The film was the idea of Molly O'Brien, Orin's niece and a documentary film producer.  She knew that the story of an self-effacing only child of early Hollywood screen stars Marguerite Churchill and George O'Brien was worth telling.  Orin spoke briefly before the showing, making a heartfelt plea for those of us who love classical music to keep it alive. 

 

 

Here are just a few TCM highlights with sports themes: 

Tu Feb 6 11:30A  "The Jackie Robinson Story" (1950) with Jack playing himself and Ruby Dee as Rachel

 

Tu Feb 13 11:15A "Woman of the Year" (1942) the first Tracy-Hepburn film with Spencer as sportswriter and Kate as social justice activist

 

F Feb 16 for the night owls 

130A "The Stratton Story" (1949) Jimmy Stewart as the injured pitcher trying to make a comeback and June Allyson as his wife

 

Later on Feb 16 for early risers:

745A "Crazylegs" (1953) with U of Wisconsin football star Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch playing himself & Lloyd Nolan as his coach

 

10:15p "Pride of the Yankees" (1942) the Gehrig classic with Gary Cooper and Teresa Wright 

 

Happy to report that Columbia women's basketball keeps rolling in Ivy League play since losing their only league game

at perennial power Princeton last month.  The rematch is Sa Feb 24 at 2p at Columbia but they know they cannot look too far ahead.

 

Wisconsin blew a big lead at Nebraska for second year in a row last Thursday and Sunday Feb 4 lost a home game to Purdue despite great

effort by the lively home crowd.  Purdue looks like a possible Final Four team but Badgers have a chance to rebound this week at subpar

Michigan on Wed and Sat noon at Rutgers. 

 

I plan to attend the game at Rutgers despite being 0-5 in seeing the Badgers live in recent years.  More about that experience in next blog.

 

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

 

   

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

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