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Three Cheers for Giannis + A Modest Suggestion for A Baseball Rule Change

I'm not the greatest fan of the NBA.  The old adage, "You only have to watch the last few minutes of a game" to find out a result still holds true IMO. 


Yet the recent championship run of the Milwaukee Bucks led by the remarkable Mr. Everything Giannis Antetokounmnpo deserves plaudits. His is really a Horatio Alger story about a Greek-Nigeria immigrant who came to this country with his family and rose through hard work and talent to the pinnacle of a major sport. 


He wasn't a widely regarded "can't miss" recruit but the Bucks took a chance on him and he rewarded the team and its fans with only their second NBA title and the first since 1971.  It was nice to see stars of that earlier team, Oscar Robertson and Kareem-Abdul Jabbar (still known in 1971 as Lew Alcindor), seated together during Game 4 as the Bucks evened the series against the Phoenix Suns. 


As a free agent, Giannis turned down bigger offers from more glamorous teams.  He chose being comfortable in his surroundings and with his teammates and ignored the popular notion that "the gra$$ is always greener on the other $ide of the track$."  


Another touch of class Giannis displayed was after the final Game 6 victory over the Suns in Game 6, he invited Phoenix coach Monty Williams into the Bucks' locker room to pay homage to his worthy opponent. 


That was a remarkable moment and speaks volumes about what kind of real sportsman as well as competitor Giannis Antetokoumnpo really is.  Once you break it down, his name is not too hard to pronounce.  It sure is classier and more respectful than calling him "The Greek Freak".    


Knick fans should remember Monty Williams who drafted him and let him go too soon. It is so hard to repeat in any sport or league these days, pro or college, but it would be nice to see a repeat of these two teams from smaller markets.


An ironic sidebar to the thrilling Game 6 was the fine play of Suns backup center Frank Kaminsky, the former Wisconsin Badger great who was once the national Player of the Year.


One final note of praise for the Bucks - they drafted on July 29 Mike Smith, formerly of Columbia and the University of Michigan.  He is a undersized point guard to be sure, but he showed during Michigan's thrilling 2021 ride to the Elite Eight that he possesses a lot of skills as ball-handler and leader. 



I fear that the gap between the rich and the poor in baseball will now be wider than ever.  There is no relegation principle in American sports as there is in European soccer.  If you are consistently bad in European soccer, you get demoted to a lower league.  Not so in America.


So it looks like the underclass of teams without a prayer of competing for a title will grow.  Recent members have included my Woerioles (with one of the weakest starting pitching staffs in baseball history), Pirates, Rangers, Diamondbacks. Marlins, Rockies, Tigers (though they have had a good season even if still under .500), Royals, and quite possible the Angels despite the presence of Shohei Ohtani and now oft-injured Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon. 


After the stripping of many of their core players, it looks like the Cubs, Nationals, Twins, and the soon-to-be-renamed Cleveland Guardians will join the also-rans.  As always, there is nothing that fans and loyalists can do about this unfortunate situation.


The current Basic Agreement expires in December.  It will be very interesting to see if there is an any consideration of the current lack of "competitive balance" throughout baseball. I'm not holding my breath. Especially since financial aid to the poorer teams was eliminated in the last Basic Agreement.


Here is one minor change in the rules that Jim Henneman, Baltimore's astute sportswriter, has suggested.

Why not eliminate the bunt rule where a bunt with two strikes is an automatic out?  Let every bunt be considered just another foul ball. 


The reasoning is that such a new rule would keep the third baseman near his normal position and not playing right field on two-strike counts as so often happens under the new "analytic" schemes. Padres third baseman Manny Machado has made some spectacular throws from the right field corner, but I can give them up for a return to relatively normal positioning.


If commissioner Manfred could institute by fiat this season the three-batter-minimum rule for relief pitchers, maybe he can bring up the bunt change up and get bipartisan agreement.  Not predicting anything positive happening but as someone who believes in "least worst" solutions, changing the bunt rule might be a good place to start. 


It may not be as ludicrous as it sounds because so many players are coming from college programs where the bunt is still a big part of the game. It might be easier to implement than one might think.  


That's all for now.  Next time I'll report on my experience at Chautauqua teaching Baseball and American Culture again with the focus on the period from the Black Sox Scandal through westward expansion of MLB in 1950s.


Until then, remember to stay positive, test negative, and take it easy but take it!  

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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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