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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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White Sox and Giants Not Ready For Prime Time and Other Pre-Memorial Day Musings

Memorial Day this year comes on May 31. It's fine with me because the original Decoration Day was May 30 - to honor African-American dead in the Civil War - and by end of 19th century all Civil War dead.  Memorial Day didn't become a national holiday until 1971. 

 

How well I remember MLB's practice of doubleheaders on every May 30, July 4, and Labor Day.  Twin-bills are now ancient relics or at most seven-inning games under the new pandemic rules. 

 

The end of May remains a good first guidepost on how baseball's pennant races are developing.  The White Sox came into Yankee Stadium riding high in a weak AL Central division and got swept by the revived Yankees.

 

The first and last games were tight pitchers' battles but the Yankees prevailed, not even needing to go to the bastardized extra-inning format starting with the unearned runner on second base.  

 

This is an innovation I will never get used to.  Ditto the allowing of a baserunner to use an oven mitt to enhance his sliding into bases.  

 

The Yankees have been getting extraordinary starting pitching, solid defense, and just enough offense. As the last week in May begins, the Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, and Red Sox all have only 19 losses, the Yanks with one less win. 

 

At this juncture, they don't seem to miss Masahiro Tanaka who has returned to his former team the Rakuten Golden Eagles in the Japanese Pacific League.  

 

Thanks to info provided me by our Japanese correspondent Jun Ogawa, Tanaka is 2-3 in 6 starts with a 2.84 ERA.

He has an outstanding 5:31 walk:strikeout ratio, and has given up 4 HR and 32 H in 38 IN.  HIs team is only a 1/2 game behind the first place Nankai Hawks. 

 

The Yankees decision to gamble on the return to form of Corey Kluber, former Cy Young award-winner with Cleveland, is paying off.   He threw a no-hitter at Texas, one of seven so far in 2021.  

 

That's too many this early and a sad commentary on batters' inability to adjust to good pitching. If there is a blessing in disguise in all the no-hitters, it is that pitchers are at least going nine innings.  

 

I often think that pitchers today have been brainwashed into thinking that they can't go through a lineup three or God forbid four times. It becomes an unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

The Orioles' only reliable pitcher, John Means, said after his no-hitter that just getting into the eighth inning for the first time in his career was a big thrill.  Means' inability to hold on to a five-run lead against the streaking Rays - 10 in a row as I post - started the O's latest descent into oblivion, 6 losses in a row as I post. 

 

In the National League West, the surprising Giants were riding high until the Dodgers came to town. Three losses later, the Giants find themselves in third behind both Padres and LA.

 

The only possible bright spot for SF is that they have an immediate rematch with the Dodgers in LA starting on

Thursday.  The White Sox don't meet the Yankees again until Th August 12 when they play the Field of Dreams game in Dyersville, Iowa.  After a day off they finish the weekend in Chicago.

 

I still maintain that baseball and any sports and art event must be experienced in person.  Two weeks ago,  

I paid my first visit to CitiField since the 2019 season. 

 

I saw a fine pitcher's battle for six innings between the Mets' Marcus Stroman and John "No-Hit" Means.  

It was the game where Albert Almora of the Mets almost made a great catch at the left center field wall but a collision with the fence knocked the ball free.   

 

Almora is still on the IL as are unfortunately virtually half of the Mets.  They remain in first place in the mediocre NL East but have played fewer games than any of their rivals.  The division is still wide open for every team.

 

Outfielder Kevin Pillar was the unacknowledged hero of that Met game.  With the Mets trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth, Pillar led off with a screaming first-pitch liner close to the left field foul pole. 

 

It was called a home run by the third base umpire and he circled the bases only to find out that after an umpires' conference it was called foul.  I don't think I have ever seen a player trot the bases on a phantom home run.

 

Pillar showed me a lot by digging in for the rest of the at-bat against soft-tossing Oriole closer Cesar Valdez. He singled to start the eventual two-run game-winning rally. 

 

A few days later, Pillar was hit in the face by a fastball by young Braves reliever Jacob Webb.  He suffered multiple nasal fractures and won't be back for a while.

 

If anyone can beat the doctor's estimates, it wil be Pillar.  He was more than gracious to pitcher Webb who was

visibly distraught at his misplaced pitch.

 

I also saw the Liberty home opener at the Barclay's Center.  After going 2-20 last season, the Liberty are off to 4-1 start in 2021.  The return of the justly heralded Sabrina Ionescu has been a big factor. The entire roster remake is also paying off in the early going.   

 

ONE WORD TO THE WISE:  Make sure you carry proof of vaccination with you on the card and/or your cell phone. 

 

Here are two tips for Memorial Day weekend viewing on TCM:

Sat May 29 12M/repeated Su 10A:  "Act of Violence" 1949 with Robert Ryan out to avenge a POW betrayal by

Van Heflin; and Mon May 31 3:15p  "The Steel Helmet" 1951  Sam Fuller's searing view of early Korean War

 

Always remember:  Stay positive, test negative & take it easy but take it!

 

 

  

 

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