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Columbia Women/Wisconsin Men Cagers Keep On Winning + TCM To Feature Joe E. Brown Films Weds. in March

The turning of the calendar to March is always a great sign that winter is edging into spring. This coming early Sunday morning March 8 at 2A also marks the return of Daylight Saving Time.   


Our winter in NYC has been virtually snow-free and I don't believe we will escape Old Man Winter entirely.  I'm sorry for the people in the ski and winter sports industry who are having hard times economically, but as someone in his upper 70s I don't miss one bit the hazards of slipping on ice. 

I'm happy to report that my favorite basketball teams, the Columbia women and the Wisconsin men, continued their winning ways this past weekend and start March each with six game winning streaks. The Lions have made for the first time the four-team Ivy League Tournament that will be play at Harvard Fri and Sat March 13-14.

Columbia will have to deal with the absence of star sophomore Sienna Durr who broke her foot in action at Harvard on Friday.  But winning is a fever that is not easily abated. Congrats again to coach Megan Griffith and her staff and players that have been a delight to watch in 2019-20.

Wisconsin was picked for no better than sixth in pre-season polls and has never been nationally ranked at all this year. They now have a chance to win the regular season Big Ten title.  They are still vulnerable to quicker teams but their will to win has been wonderful to watch. 


Here's a shout-out to one of my favorite cable stations, Turner Classic Movies (TCM), for saluting the great comedian-actor-baseball lover Joe E. Brown with an array of his films every Wednesday in March.   All times below are Eastern.

The series starts on WED MAR 4 with a 8p showing of "Circus Clown" (1934), a semi-autobiographical film because Brown started his career as a circus acrobat before he was even a teenager. Part of a family that worked hard without earning much money, he liked to say he's the only person who ever ran away from home to join the circus with his parents' permission.

For night owls later that night, check out one of his first Hollywood films, "On With The Show" (1929 at 130A) followed by "Sally" (1930) at 330A. Originally a Broadway musical, "Sally" features one of Jerome Kern's great ballads, "Look For The Silver Lining". 

In many ways that song summed up Joe E Brown's outlook on life.  As did the title of his autobiography, "Laughter Is A Wonderful Thing" (1956 as told to Ralph Hancock).  


"Laughter" was published by the then-prominent sports publisher A. S. Barnes in NYC.  It's not surprising that Brown chose Barnes as his publisher because he was an excellent all-around athlete who performed all his movie stunts and was a huge fan of all sports. 


He genuinely believed that the rise of his son Joe L. Brown to the general managership of the Pittsburgh Pirates - replacing Branch Rickey after the 1955 season -  to be the greatest achievement of anyone in his family. 

Joe E. accumulated one of the most comprehensive collections of sports memorabilia. He called it "His Room of Love" in his LA mansion, but unfortunately much of it was lost in two southern California forest fires. 

TCM's tribute to Joe E. Brown on WED MAR 11 will be of special interest to baseball fans.  Starting at 8PM, Brown's baseball trilogy will be shown back-to-back-to-back. 

It begins with "Fireman Save My Child" (1932), inspired in part by one of Brown's favorite players the eccentric brilliant southpaw Edward "Rube" Waddell.  (Brown always wanted to devote a whole film to Waddell's story but never could get the funding.) 

At 915, Joe E's favorite of all his films, "Elmer the Great" (1933), will air.  Warner Brothers execs doubted Ring Lardner's story could work on the screen, but when Brown made such a success of it in Los Angeles-area dinner theatre, the film was made. 


At 945, "Alibi Ike" based loosely on another Lardner story will air.  It features 19-year-old Olivia DeHavilland as Joe E.'s girl friend in one of her debut performances that year.  Fans of "I Love Lucy" will recognize William Frawley as Brown's manager.


If you want to binge on March 11 into early Thursday morning March 12, there is at 130, "Six-Day Bike Ride" (1934) with Brown's frequent second/third banana Frank McHugh. 

The swimming film "You Said A Mouthful" (1932) follows at 245. Ginger Rogers has a prominent role before she rocketed to fame in the "Gold Diggers" movies of Busby Berkeley and then as Fred Astaire's dancing partner. 

And if you want to stay up all night - or get up early - at 515A there is "Eleven Men and A Girl" (1930), a football movie that to me is a lineal descendant of the Marx Brothers' "Horse Feathers" of a couple of years later. 

There will be lesser Brown films on Wed March 18 but I'm curious to see "The Daring Young Man" (1942) where Brown is a Nazi hunter.  It will be on sometime after 11PM. "Earthworm Tractors" (1936), one of Brown's last popular hits, is listed at 930, but the current TCM listing has two films listed at 8PM and that can't be right.  I hope the website at makes a correction soon.


Wed March 25 will be the final night of the Brown extravaganza, opening with the never-grows-old "Some Like It Hot" (1959) at 8PM.  


At 1015, the rarely seen "Midsummer Night's Dream" (1935), directed by Max Reinhardt with the assistance of William Dieterle, will be shown.  It features Olivia DeHavilland in her second of her two films in her debut year. 


Brown as Flute the bellows worker basically steals the film from such stars as James Cagney and young Mickey Rooney, even ad-libbing on Shakespeare at one point. (Wes Gehring's Joe E. Brown book has been an invaluable source for me.)  

While I'm giving TCM listings, might as well tell you that on March 29 at 1015PM the classic "Pride of the Yankees" (1942) will air with Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth as himself, and the wonderful Teresa Wright as Eleanor Twitchell Gehrig.


Wright was not a baseball fan until late in her life when she befriended Gehrig's splendid biographer Ray Robinson and she was became a regular visitor to the Yankees during their last dynasty starting in the late 90s.

On Tues March 31 TCM will devote its daytime hours entirely to baseball films.  One is so rare that I've never heard of it: "They Learned About Women" (1930) airs at 9A.  It's about baseball vaudevillians who are doing very well "until love gets in the way," according to the TCM guide.


More familar films follow including at 1030A "The Stratton Story" (1949) with Jimmy Stewart as the big league pitcher who injures his leg in a hunting accident.


Then at 1230 "The Winning Team" (1952) with Ronald Reagan as Grover Cleveland Alexander with Doris Day as his wife - not as bad as you might think.


At 230 "The Babe Ruth Story" (1948) with William Bendix miscast as the Babe and so bad that it is memorable. Charles Bickford as Brother Matthias, Babe's mentor at the reformatory, never changes costume though 40 years have elapsed.


At 445p Jackie Robinson plays himself in "The Jackie Robinson Story" (1950)

And the tribune to the Grand Old Game ends with "Take Me Out To the Ball Game"

(1949) a Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra romp.


Which reminds me that Richard Greenberg's "Take Me Out" is being revived this month off Broadway.  The story of a gay baseball player is uneven and too melodramatic,  but it has some beautiful writing.  One character's speech on how baseball is better than democracy is exceptionally pertinent. 


Well, that's all for now.  I'm off to the NINE baseball magazine conference in Phoenix this week.  Will be back soon with word of that enjoyable and usually penetrating delving into the culture of my favorite sport (still favorite despite the current mismanagement). 


Always remember:  Take it easy but take it!

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NINE Magazine Baseball Conference Scores A Ten In Phoenix

The 25th annual conference of NINE Baseball Magazine was a rousing success in Phoenix last week. I find it hard to believe that it has been ten years since I delivered the keynote address, “Whatever Happened To The Marvelous Importance of the Unimportant?”

I still like the title and the idea - that baseball should be entertaining and fun, not a matter of life and death, not a vehicle for obtaining and showing off great wealth and celebrity. I’m a realist, though. In an increasingly violent and insecure world, baseball and almost all sports remain a high-growth industry.

One of the charms of the NINE conference has been there are no simultaneous panels, everyone can hear each other’s presentations without missing any one paper. Too many highlights to mention them all but here are a few:

**The opening night talk by Felipe Alou, the first Dominican star in major league baseball history. He talked about his new book from U of Nebraska Press, “Alou: A Baseball Journey,” with an introduction by Pedro Martinez. Collaborator/sportswriter Peter Kerasotis has captured well the rags-to-riches story of a man who is known to speak in parables.

**California Whittier College professor Charles S. Adams’s wry look filled with gallows humor at Seattle Mariners’ history and their lack of “an adequate myth”.

**Larry Baldassaro’s probing and good-natured look at Italian-American baseball players since the 1930s.

**Ed Edmonds and Frank Houdek's take on the California state law that actress Olivia deHavilland utilized to get out of her long-term movie studio contract and how it might apply to baseball players, perhaps especially Mike Trout of the Angels.
(Still feisty at 101, DeHavilland - who made her screen debut at age 19 opposite Joe E Brown in "Alibi Ike" (1935) - recently sued to prevent unauthorized use of her personage in a current movie.)

There was no keynote at NINE this year because Jane Leavy begged out for a variety of reasons. It turned out that the closing panel “Baseball and the West” sufficed very nicely as an alternative.

It featured three winners of the SABR Seymour medal for the best book of the given year - latest winner Jerald Podair for “City of Light” about the building of Dodger Stadium, Andy McCue for his monumental bio of Walter O’Malley “Mover and Shaker” and yours truly for my “Branch Rickey: Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman”.

The fourth member of the panel was Rob Garratt, emeritus professor of Irish-American literature at the University of Puget Sound outside Seattle, whose history of the SF Giants “Home Team” was runner-up to Podair. Rob made the good point that Horace Stoneham doesn’t get enough credit for actually making up his mind to leave NY long before O’Malley did.

If I had grown up in Brooklyn, I doubt I could have had the dispassion to be part of this panel. When Branch Rickey was forced out of Brooklyn by Walter O'Malley after the 1950 season, the road was clear for an ultimate relocation. Banished to Pittsburgh, Rickey said many times until his death in 1965 he never would have moved the team.

I was a New York Giants fan but their players didn’t live in Harlem where the Polo Grounds was located. So the loss of the Jints of Willie Mays and company wasn’t felt as acutely as the departure from Flatbush of the Dodgers, many of whom made their homes in Brooklyn.

I was pleased that the evening was filled with reason and passion on all sides including very informed questions from the audience of around 80 people.
Baseball certainly needed to open up to the west coast by the 1950s. I still feel it was tragic that the cost of progress was the loss to New York of the Giants-Dodgers rivalry.

So I’m glad I was able to recite the lyrics from folk singer/social activist Dan Bern’s 2002 classic, “If The Dodgers Had Stayed In Brooklyn.” It opens:
“If the Dodgers had stayed in Brooklyn maybe things would be different today/
Maybe John F. Kennedy would have been president til 1968 . . .”

Another verse begins:
"If the Dodgers had stayed in Brooklyn maybe Watergate would be some obscure hotel/Tienamen [sic] square would be a square & Vietnam a vacation spot that travel agencies would try to sell . . . " (Of course those agencies are selling trips to Vietnam these days but that as they say is another story.)

Before I leave, I must mention that one of the long-time benefits of NINE attendance is “field research” as conference founder Bill Kirwin used to call going to spring training games. The must-see spot in Arizona spring training is the Talking Stick Salt River Fields complex not far from Scottsdale.

We saw the Milwaukee Brewers visit the Colorado Rockies (Colorado shares the complex with the Arizona Diamondbacks). Former Oriole farmhand Zach Davies looked sharp for the Brew Crew in his two innings though he did give up a solo home run. (Don’t get me started on how my team has been foolhardy in trading promising arms with little in return.)

What separates Salt River from other Arizona facilities is the quality of the concessions and the wide open spaces. They even provide free sun screen behind the center field scoreboard. Didn’t need much because it was somewhat chilly during my stay.

At a sparsely attended game at Mesa's HoHoKam field, where the A's now play, Willie Calhoun caught my eye when he roped a home run over the right field fence. He reminds me of a left-handed Toy Cannon, Jimmy Wynn former Astros star. Where the key player in the Yu Darvish trade plays is still a question. That's what spring training is for.

The only bummer of my trip was being unable to see the Arizona State Sun Devils play the opening game of their three-game series against Oklahoma State. The Friday Night Game is the big event in college baseball and ten NINE attendees looked forward to the evening.

However, we ran afoul of the rules at Phoenix Municipal Stadium where ASU now plays off-campus. Some of the bags and purses of a few members of our group were ruled too large. It became a perfect storm of frustration.
**We came by hotel van so no cars were available to store the offending items.
**There were no lockers available.
**We were told that clear bags were possible but we weren't season ticket holders.
Adding insult to injury, we paid for tickets but they were not refunded.

Written complaints have been filed but so far no response has been received.
I hope I have some news in the next blog. The ASU Ten of NINE will not be denied!

That's all for now as the regular season nears. So, as always, remember: Take it easy but take it!  Read More 
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