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Marvelously Unpredictable Pennant Races Developing + TCM Tips for the First Half of May

One of the more honest statements on the air came the other night from David Cone commenting on the YES cable network during one of the Yankee games at Baltimore.  "I'm not a journalist - I'm an ex-player." 

 

Very true, David, but sometimes ex-players can deliver whoppers. In praising the defensive work of Yankee catcher Kyle Higashioka (who has Yankee fans breathing easier now that he has basically replaced Gary Sanchez as number one catcher), Cone compared him to former Yankee catcher the recently retired Brian McCann.

 

He called McCann a "borderline Hall of Famer." Excuse me?  McCann was a solid major leaguer and universally liked on and off the field.  But a "borderline Hall of Famer"? Maybe his career batting average was the same as Hall of Famer Gary Carter - .262 BA - but B. McCann was a good player not an immortal.  

 

Although main Yankee telecaster Michael Kay is more into the entertainment part of the YES network (Yankee Entertainment and Sports network), he does provide interesting tidbits now and then. 

 

Eg.  Indians starting pitching Triston McKenzie grew up in Brooklyn, the son of an immigrant from the island of Jamaica.  Papa McKenzie fell in love with baseball listening to Phil Rizzuto and Bill White on WPIX Channel 11 broadcasts in the 1980s.

 

And transmitted his love to Triston who is in Cleveland's starting rotation . . . for the time being.  He has been shaky but if he lives up to his promise, he should help the Indians stay in the race.  

 

(BTW they are still called the Indians until next season. My vote for a new nickname is Blue Socks in homage to an early 20th century Cleveland team and also Louis Sockalexis the native American who inspired the famous now infamous nickname. Anything but the "Cleveland Baseball Team".)

 

I also absolutely agree with Michael Kay that the oven mitts allowed for baserunners is a travesty. Longer than one's fingers, it shortens the distance for baserunners hoping to circle the bases.  

 

The next thing you know is that they will shorten the base distance by softening and widening the bases.  Which is what they plan to do in the experimental Atlantic League this season. 

 

In the meantime, I'm trying to enjoy the game in spite of the meddling of the analytic geniuses and the speeding-up-the-game fanatics.   And really there is much to like so far in the 2021 season.

 

**Good hitters who don't use batting gloves:  The Orioles' Austin Hays and the Rays' Joey Wendle come immediately to mind.  

 

Hays also chokes up slightly on the bat.  So does the Astros' Alex Bregman and a few others. Perhaps the best, most legitimate part of Barry Bonds's arsenal has not been forgotten. 

 

The Orioles' Four M's are also bringing me pleasure in the early going.  Alphabetically, they are: 

**TREY MANCINI recovered from colon cancer and re-establishing himself as team leader and run-producer. 

His only flaw IMO:  He is too intense but better that than lackadaisical. 

 

**JOHN MEANS southpaw starter off to a great start and ready and eager to pitch deep into games.

 

**RYAN MOUNTCASTLE technically a rookie but he showed off his hitting skills late last season.  Miscast as a shortstop, he has adjusted acceptably to left field and first base and occasionally DH.

 

His name suggests British royalty but he is from suburban Orlando and I really like his poise at plate.

Off to a slow start, he has been heating up lately.

 

I know many scouts scoff at the term "The Good Face", to me Mountcastle possesses it.  Confident but not cocky, he looks like he expects to succeed.  

 

**Last but not least, ZACH MULLINS who might be young at 26 for comeback player of the year but has rescued his lackluster major league career by finally listening to advice that he stop switch-hitting.  

 

Now lefty all the way, he is among league leaders in hits and continues to play a superior center field.  

 

Mullins went to Campbell University, a private Christian institution in Buies Creek, North Carolina - the school's nickname is the wonderful Flying Camels.  Thanks again to Michael Kay for providing that factoid.

 

Glimpsing the .500 line in early May is more than Oriole fans expected.  We almost reached that plateau earlier today (Sunday May 2). 

 

But A's center fielder Ramon Laureano make a sensational catch in center field to end top of the eighth. He then homered in bottom of inning to keep the A's from being swept at home by surprising O's.  

 

Orioles made a valiant try in the top of the ninth but Mark Canha robbed Mancini with another great outfield catch.

It was a wonderful game of baseball that in the nature of the beast someone had to lose.

 

O's now go to surprising Seattle who are leading AL West.  Unheralded Kansas City leading AL Central. Only Tigers and probably Rockies and Marlins are in hugely deep holes.  Good for baseball to have modest hopes all over the map.

 

Yankees have reached .500 and now face Astros for three at Yankee Stadium that should see plenty of booing of miscreant sign-stealers from Houston.

 

 AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT:  TCM Tips for First Half of May!

Eddie Muller's incisive Noir Alley shows don't resume until Sa midnight/Su at 10A May 15/16 with Orson Welles's "Touch of Evil" 1958.  

 

Followed on May 22/23 by "The Brothers Rico" 1957 with Richard Conte.

 

May 29/30 Fred Zinneman's "Act of Violence" 1949 a real classic set in aftermath of WW II with war veteran Robert Ryan bearing a grudge against fellow veteran Van Heflin now married to Janet Leigh. 

 

Leigh, born Jeannette Morrison to ski resort workers in central coastal California, was really a wonderful actress who deserves to be remembered for far more than "Psycho".  She was reportedly grateful to Alfred Hitchcock for using warm water in the dozens of times that murder-in-the-shower scene was shot, but too bad that is all she is remembered for.  

 

Monday May 3 is a Satyajit Ray film festival from 12:15 midnight until 8p

Then 8p Alec Baldwin interviews the late Robert Osborne TCM's first and greatest host

 

945p "Crossfire" 1947 the hard-hitting film about anti-Semitism in US Army with Roberts Young and Ryan and many others 

 

1115p "Night of the Hunter" 1955 dir. by Charles Laughton, script by James Agee with

Robert Mitchum/Shelley Winters/Lillian Gish

 

Tues May 4 offers three interesting films.

845A  "A Kiss Before Dying" 1956  I saw originally on Noir Alley - Robert Wagner as a mild-mannered killer on a college campus. Also with pre-Jesus Jeffrey Hunter.

 

2p "This Time for Keeps" 1947 - have never seen it or heard of it.  But get this! Esther Williams is courted by an upper-crust fellow, son of opera star Lauritz Melchior. Also with Jimmy Durante and Xavier Cugat. Possibilities for camp seem endless! 

 

8p "Hairspray" 1988 John Waters' take on how rock 'n' roll helped desegregate Baltimore.

 

Wed May 5 - how about this trio back-to-back!

545p "Diabolique" 1955 with Simone Signoret plotting to off her husband.

 

8p "Twelve Angry Men" 1957 probably best jury film ever. With Henry Fonda, Jack Klugman, E. G. Marshall, Ed Begley Sr. and obviously at least eight more.   

 

10p "Anatomy of A Murder" 1959 dir. by Otto Preminger with music by Duke Ellington.

When Lee Remick, wife of accused murdered Ben Gazzara, says to defense lawyer Jimmy Stewart, "Call me Laura!", hard for Jimmy and any male to maintain composure.  (I wonder if her name Laura was inspired by Gene Tierney's Laura of 12 years earlier).  

 

Also with Eve Arden as Stewart's secy., Arthur McConnell as Stewart's colleague, George C. Scott as vicious prosecuting attorney, and Robert Welch, who in real life helped destroy Sen. Joe McCarthy, as a judge.  

 

Th May 6 415p "A Hard Day's Night" Richard Lester directs the Beatles in a really delightful film - the 1960s before the Vietnam War and anti-draft riots got really ugly. 

 

followed at 6p by "Elvis: That's The Way It Is 2001" from 1975

 

8p "West Side Story" 1961

 

11:15p "Mean Streets" early Martin Scorsese with early Robert DeNiro 1973

 

Fri May 7 10AM "The Whistle at Eaton Falls" 1951 - A film unknown to me but sounds very interesting.  Robert Siodmak, a great Noir director, in what is billed as documentary/drama. A factory in New Hampshire is sold to an outside owner who wants to make efficiency "improvements" and fires people.  The union rebels. 

With young Lloyd Bridges, Carleton Carpenter, Murray Hamilton and a really young Ernest Borgnine. 

 

Sa May 8 1145a one hour documentary on Mike Nichols and Elaine May (1996)

 

8p "They Won't Believe Me" a Noir Alley selection hitting prime time (1947).  With Robert Young (before he became America's dad in TV's "Father Knows Best") explains in flashback why he got involved with Susan Hayward and Jane Greer. We forgive you, Robert. 

 

Later in May highlights:  

M May 10 130p "Second Chorus" 1940  Fred Astaire and bandleader Artie Shaw vie for Paulette Goddard. 

 

Tu May 11 615p "Tab Hunter Confidential" 2015 - Robert Wagner, Clint Eastwood, Tab, and others talk about Hunter's closeted life that fortunately later became open. 

 

W May 12 Katherine Hepburn day including at 915a  a Hepburn documentary from 1993.

I know she liked the chocolates from Mondel's in my neighborhood near Columbia but I'm interested in learning more about her. 

 

10:45a "Woman of the Year" 1942 the first one paired with Tracy who plays a sportswriter. Opening scene in baseball press box drew me in, of course.

 

12:45p "Pat and Mike" 1952 set on the golf circuit. With cameo by Babe Didrickson and early Chuck Connors in small but key role near the end.

 

2:30p "Keeper of the Flame" 1943  again with Tracy

 

Wed May 12 10p "Perfect Strangers" 1950 Ginger Rogers falls in love with divorced jury member Dennis Morgan.  Have never seen this one but can imagine how Thelma Ritter livens the procedure. 

 

F May 14 8p  "Taking of Pelham 1-2-3" 1974 one of the great subway films, set in NYC.

With Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam. 

 

Sat May 15 12 Noon "The Set-Up" 1949 one of the great boxing and noir films.  With Robert Ryan, George Tobias, Audrey Totter.  Dir. by the amazingly versatile Robert Wise.

 

8p "The Big Heat" 1953 Fritz Lang's classic noir with Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin, Jocelyn Brando (Marlon's sister), Carolyn Jones.

 

945p "Gilda" 1946 one of the all-time classic noirs with Rita Hayworth/Glenn Ford/George Macready

And as noted earlier Noir Alley returns at Midnight May15/16 with "Touch of Evil".   

 

That's all for now.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it. 

 

 

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Salutes to Laurent Durvernay-Tardif, Fred Willard, Trey Mancini + Watching 1980s Games & Upcoming TCM Highlights

In a normal baseball season, June swoons are a fate teams want to avoid.  Let's hope that we as a nation don't swoon into the worst kind of cultural and maybe actual civil war.

 

I like to accentuate the positive so here's a huge shout-out to Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.  The only doctor in the NFL and fresh from a Super Bowl triumph, Laurent is currently on duty serving COVID-19 patients at a hospital outside Montreal.  

 

I learned many fascinating things about Duvernay-Tardif during an incisive report by Andrea Kremer in the current installment of HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel". He is the only McGill of Montreal university graduate ever to play in the NFL. His parents once took him and his sister out of grade school for a year to sail the world. 

 
Here's another inspiring story. Comic actor Fred Willard passed away last week at the age of 86.  I first loved him playing an Ed McMahon-style sidekick to Martin Mull's Barth Gimble on "Fernwood 2-Night," the successor to "Mary Hartman Mary Hartman" on early 1970s TV. 

 
Willard later won great acclaim for his roles in SUCH hilarious satirical films as "A Mighty Wind" and "Best in Show" where he played a memorable Joe Garagiola-style dog show announcer.  He and Martin Mull later played a gay couple on"Rosanne" and at the end of his life Williard had a recurring role as a grandfather on "American Family".

 
But according to Richard Sandomir in the New York Times obit, Fred Willard said that his "greatest achievement" was "teaching his daughter how to catch a fly ball."  Willard himself played baseball at VMI and also on military teams in Florida.  

 
I want to wish continuing speedy recovery to the Orioles Trey Mancini who is recovering from colon cancer surgery and will miss the entire 2020 season (whether or not it is played). 

It turns out that Trey's father is a surgeon who had the same operation when he was 58.

 
Trey, the only consistent offensive threat on a depleted Baltimore roster, is not yet 28. 

He has already become a team leader on the Orioles and a fan favorite.  

 
In a heartfelt piece he wrote for the Players Tribune,  Mancini thanked the scout Kirk Fredriksson who had become a passionate supporter of him when he was playing for Holyoke  in a New England collegiate summer league.  

 

Thanks to Fredriksson's advocacy, the Orioles made Mancini their 8th round pick in the 2013 amateur draft. Rare is the player of any generation who has publicly praised the scout who signed him. Just another reason to wish Trey Mancini the speediest of recoveries.

 
As of this posting at the beginning of June, I don't know if major league baseball will return this year. It doesn't look like deal-makers exist on either side of the owner-player divide.

I don't think it has helped that all the meetings have been held on Zoom.

 
Though I miss the daily flow of games and news of games, I have found some enjoyment watching old games on MLBTV.  Like most of the pine tar game between the Yankees and Royals at Yankee Stadium on the cloudy Sunday afternoon of July 24, 1983. 

 
I had forgotten how wonderfully wacky was Phil Rizzuto's on-air presence.  There he was, plugging a friend's restaurant and another friend's birthday while bantering with sidekick Frank Messer. 

 
When Messer used the word "perpendicular" to describe how one hitter had dived across the plate to protect a base runner on a hit-and-run play, Rizzuto acted impressed.  "Very good, Messer, . . . not that I know what it means."

 
Was also revealing to hear both Phil and Frank berate Steve Balboni for lack of production.  He was a rookie on the 1983 Yankees but he never could relax in NYC. 

 

He was traded to Kansas City the following year and had a good career with the Royals. On their 1985 world champions, he played first base all season and belted 36 HRs with 88 RBI and went 8-for-25 in the World Series.

 

This game is most remembered for George Brett's epic rant when his three-run home run in the top of the 9th was voided by rookie plate umpire Tim McClelland.  Billy Martin convinced the ump that Brett had used too much pine tar on his bat.

 

The Yankees' win was voided soon thereafter by American League president Lee MacPhail who argued that the rule was being interpreted too legalistically. Watching the whole game made me remember that Royals starter Bud Black pitched very well - Black is now the Colorado Rockies manager.

 
I also remembered important details when watching the famous Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. The smooth delivery and intelligence of Vince Scully was a joy to experience again.  The game is of course known as the Bill Buckner Game, but in any dramatic close game there are a raft of earlier plays that are just as important.    

 
It was an elimination game for the Mets who fell behind early to the Red Sox 2-0. Southpaw starter Bob Ojeda had come up with Boston and he was highly motivated to beat his old team. He kept the Mets in the game. 

 

Boston's Roger Clemens was in a good form and no hit the Mets for four innings but he used a lot of pitches.  In 1986, pitch counts were not yet in vogue. Though Clemens gave up the lead in the 5th, he stayed in through the 7th, throwing about 135 pitches and getting out of jams in both the 6th and 7th innings.

 
Another lesson learned from Game 6 was how vital a role Mookie Wilson played.  Not known for his arm, he still threw out Jim Rice at home plate to keep the Red Sox lead at one run in the 8th inning.  

 
We all remember Bill Buckner's error on Mookie Wilson's grounder that gave the Mets the win, but let's not forget the previous 9 pitches that Mookie battled against reliever Bob Stanley.  


The mastery of Vin Scully was evident throughout the broadcast, not least at the very end when the camera showed a shell-shocked Red Sox team leaving the field. Scully said, "If a picture is worth a thousand words, this one is worth a million."  

 

Before I forget, TCM throughout June will be featuring "Jazz in Film" every Monday and Thursday night. Late on Th June 4 (actually early Fri June 5) "High Society" with Louis Armstrong in a prominent role will be shown.

 

And I'm really looking forward to Monday night June 8 at 8p Sammy Davis Jr. stars in the rarely seen "A Man Called Adam" (1966).  Davis Jr was one of the greatest entertainers in American history and I'm eager to see how he plays a jazz trumpeter (with music provided by Nat Adderley, Cannonball's brother).  

 

That's all for now.  Always remember, now more than ever, "Take it easy but take it!" 

 

    

 

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