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Post-Thanksgiving Musings on Baseball and Other Sports + TCM Tips

The World Series was still undecided when I last posted.  Looking back on an interesting Fall Classic, there were too many strikeouts and not enough action-filled games to make it a real classic.

 

It remains very annoying that starting pitchers are not encouraged to go deep into games. Every game now seems to be determined by which bullpen arm screws up.  

 

The Houston-Philadelphia Series certainly had great moments, especially in the crucial Game 5 with the

Series even at 2 games apiece.   As the bottom of the 8th began with the Astros holding onto to a precarious 3-1 lead, I said to myself, "This is a very good game but it needs some great defense to make it truly great."

 

Voila! With the lead cut to 3-2, former Oriole Trey Mancini, an emergency replacement for injured first baseman Yuli Gurriel (whose aging knee gave out in a rundown between third and home), flashed a quick glove over the baseline and came up with Kyle Schwarber's hard grounder to squash a rally and kept Houston in the lead. 

 

Then in the bottom of the 9th with 1 out and Houston leading by only 1 run, Phillies impressive catcher JT Realmuto hit a long drive into the right center field alley that looked like a home run or at least extra bases.  

 

Out of the night came center fielder Chas McCormick sprinting 90 feet to leap at the wall to snare the ball. He landed spread-eagled on his back with the ball in his glove. 

 

Total silence enveloped the once-frenzied ballpark.  Only McCormick knew he made the out.  It was an

unforgettable moment for the unheralded center fielder, a 21st round draft pick who grew up a Phillies fan and attended the 2008 World Series that Philadelphia won over the Tampa Bay Rays.

 

I've said many times that you don't win pennants and World Series without grinders like McCormick.  Earlier in Game 5, Chas hesitated on a fly ball to right center that right fielder Kyle Tucker caught at the

last moment.  

 

After the game McCormick said that he vowed to be aggressive from then on and it sure paid dividends for the Astros.

 

After giving up a record-tying 5 home runs to the Phillies in Game 3 that gave the Phils their 2nd

1-run victory, the exceptional Astros pitchers shut them out. Led by Cristian Javier's six innings, Houston no-hit the Phillies in Game 4 and held them to 3 runs total in the last 3 games.

 

Rookie Jeremy Pena, son of former Cardinals infilelder Geromino Pena, was the MVP of the World Series

and won the same prize during Houston's 4-game sweep of the Yankees in the ALCS.  What a testimony to the scouting and player development departments of the Astros! 

 

They judged correctly that Chas McCormick provided more overalll ability than the traded Miles Straw,

an outstanding defender for Cleveland, and Jose Siri, who has since played for Seattle and Tampa Bay showing flashes of brilliance but not consistency.  

 

And three cheers for manager Dusty Baker who has cemented his place as a future Baseball Hall of Famer.  For some reason, the Hall of Fame refuses to allow player stats to count in a manager's resume.

Dusty amassed nearly 2000 hits in his 19-year MLB career in which he never was on the disabled list and won a World Series with the 1981 Dodgers. Just as important, he remains a vital and positive force in the baseball and larger world.

 

As for the upcoming season, one of my favorite lines about baseball (that probably applies to most sports) is "Every season is different."  As an Oriole fan, I was pleasantly surprised that we rose from the lower depths of the tough AL East to finish four games over .500 at 83-79.

 

However, obvious holes remain in the lineup offensively and the starting rotation has many spots to fill.  The farm system is improved but I hope that the front office doesn't forget - I repeat myself on purpose - that no team truly contends without veteran grinders who come to play hard every day.  

 

To me, that means Jorge Mateo at shortstop should be in the picture with the hope that his streaky

offense becomes less streaky. Maybe Ramon Urias finds a home as a utilty player - ironically he was named Gold Glove third baseman in 2022 but played less than 100 games there. The early analysis  suggests that the position is promising Gunnar Henderson's to lose.  

 

I wouldn't be opposed to a return of Roughned Odor who brought pizzazz to the team but I doubt he'd accept an utility role even smaller than Urias whose brother Luis incidentally plays mainly 3rd base for the Brewers. Spring training starting early February should certainly provide many clues.

 

I don't bet, but I would be very surprised if Aaron Judge did not return to the Yankees.  His eventual signing might be drawn out because he is a member of the Players Association executive board though

as of early 2022, one of only three members of the board not a client of Scott Boras.  

 

So maybe Judge won't ask for every dollar or every additional year.  As for the other free agent drama in

NYC pro baseball, I don't think Jacob DeGrom returns to the Mets.  He has been injured so much

in recent years that I think his long-term health raises serious questions.

 

Whatever happens in all these free agent signings, always remember another wise old adage:
LET THE BUYER BEWARE.

 

As for my teams playing winter sports, Wisconsin football limped to a 6-6 record, firing its coach Paul Chryst after a 2-3 start punctuated by a rout at home against Illinois coached by former coach Brett Bielema.  

 

Jim Leonhard, the home-grown defensive coordinator and former NFL standout, finished the year 4-3, but in a Sunday afternoon Nov 27 shocker, Luke Fickell, former Ohio State and current University of Cincinnati coach, was named the full-time head coach.  

 

Badger basketball took a big hit when breakout guard Johnny Davis turned pro after last year's

emergence.  I said at the time that he wasn't ready for the pros, and the Washington Wizards'  10th

overall draft pick has not started his pro career very well.  

 

He even was briefly sent down to the developmental league. But I guess the money these days is too good for athletes to turn down.  Even if they could use more seasoning at the collegiate level.  

 

Greg Gard's Badger cagers have started 2022-2023 with some gritty play in pre-league contests. They

took defending national champion Kansas to overtime before falling when they couldn't corral a vital

defensive rebound in the final second.

 

The lack of scoring and grit in the frontcourt remains an issue except for senior Tyler Wahl who it has been a pleasure to see emerge as an all-around player, an especially adept passer and driver to the hoop.  

 

First-year guard Connor Essegian from Fort Wayne, indiana looks like a comer. His lineage stands out: grandson of Chuck Essegian, former LA Dodger 1959 world champion and 1952 Stanford Rose Bowl player. And on his mother's side, Connor is related to Hall of Famer Robin Yount. Most importantly, he

exudes a scrappy confidence indicating a desire to make his own name. 

 

As for the Columbia Lions, the football team finished a respectable 6-4, winning its last three games after being routed earlier by Penn and eventual co-league champions Princeton and Yale.

 

Unfortunately men's basketball has now picked up the unfortunate mantle of chronic loser.  Happily, the Columbia women's team is becoming a regular contender.  They are playing a tough pre-league schedule

and then hope to slay the formidable Princeton dragon in league competition.  

 

And now before I sign off, here are some TCM tips for the coming weeks:

Tu Nov 29 8p EDT - Charlie Chaplin's "Monsieur Verdoux" (1947) - his last American film before the

  Cold War Red scare precipitated his return to England. Have only seen it once and want to see

  again how Martha Raye hilariously avoids his murderous advances. 

 

Thursdays in December except for Dec 22 Ava Gardner is Star of Night, starting usually at 8p EDT

Highlights include Th Dec 1 "The Killers" an early noir with Burt Lancaster based on Hemingway story

Th Dec 8 "Barefoot Contessa" with Bogart

F Dec 9 at 6:15A - "Showboat" (1951) with Ava as "mulatto" Julie and Joe E. Brown as Capn Andy

 

Th Dec 15 "Angel Wore Red" followed by Tennessee Williams' "Night of the Iguana"

 

Th Dec 29 Gregory Peck with Ava including "The Great Sinner" (1949), 

"On The Beach" (1959) Nevil Shute's dystopia after nuclear war

"Snows of Kilimanjaro" (1952) based on another Hemingway story

 

Sa Dec 10 primetime salute to Ray Liotta with two TCM debuts from the 1980s

   "Dominic and Eugene" and "Something Wild"

 

Tu Dec 13 features five classic noirs in primetime starting with: 

"Murder, My Sweet" (1944) - Dick Powell definitively leaves his bobby-soxer past in the dust

"The Big Sleep" (1946) and "Lady in the Lake" (1947) followed by two later films:

 "Farewell My Lovely" (1975) and "Marlowe" (1969)

 

 That's all for now.  Stay positive, test negative and take it easy but take it!

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Three Cheers for Christian Yelich, RIP Bobby Winkles, & More

I hope everyone who reads this post is coping somehow with the coronavirus crisis that likely will not subside any time soon. 

 

I ache for those of you who have lost loved ones and have not been able to mourn and grieve adequately because of the failure of our public health system. That problem starts at the very top of our government where there is no leadership and no sense of responsibility.

 
Let me begin the baseball part of this post with a shoutout to the caring gesture of Christian Yelich, the star Milwaukee Brewers' right fielder.  Earlier this month he wrote an empathetic letter to the seniors at his alma mater, Harvard-Westlake High School in Thousand Oaks, California outside of Los Angeles - the same area where Kobe Bryant perished with his daughter and others in the helicopter crash.

 
"This is just a small chapter of your life that's just beginning," Yelich wrote.  
There will be better days ahead, Yelich assured them, once games resume and the best of them move on to higher competition. "Most importantly," he advised, "play for all your teammates that no longer get to do so, and never forget to realize how lucky you are!" 

 

(Three top pitchers in MLB today graduated from Harvard-Westlake - the Cardinals' Jack Flaherty, the White Sox's Lucas Giolito, and the Braves' Max Fried.) 

 
Pretty heady stuff from Yelich, the 28-year-old former NL MVP whose injury late last season likely cost the Brewers a chance to advance to the World Series for only the second time in franchise history and the first since 1982.   

 
Speaking of that 1982 World Series, I caught Game 7 on MLBTV last week. If the Cardinals hadn't scored insurance runs in the bottom of the 8th, I think that game would be considered an all-time classic. 

 
It was fascinating to see future MLB pitching coaches Pete Vuckovich and Bob McClure hurling for the Brew Crew.  Vuckovich was a gamer to end gamers and got out of many jams to pitch Milwaukee into the bottom of the 6th with a two-run lead.


Showing championship mettle, the Cardinals answered immediately with four runs, two charged to Vuckovich and the others to McClure. Keith Hernandez delivered the two-run tying single off his former high school teammate in the SF Bay area.  

 

St. Louis left fielder Lonnie Smith, who nine years later would be the base-running goat in the 1-0 10 inning Braves loss to the Twins, was a big part of the Cardinals' rally in this game.  It was nice to see Smith in one of his better games - we shouldn't forget he was also a big part of the 1980 Phillies championship season.

 

Future Tampa Rays batting coach George Hendrick made a key throw in this game nabbing future Hall of Famer Robin Yount aggressively trying to go from first to third in the fourth inning on a two-out single to right field by another future Hall of Famer Paul Molitor. 

 

Hendrick is widely considered to be the first player to wear his uniform pants low, starting a trend that remains the fashion in today's baseball. (Not to me but that's another story for another time.)

 

Hendrick was never comfortable talking to the press and so became controversial.

But as Joe Garagiola sagely noted on the broadcast, all Hendrick wanted is to be judged by what he did on the field.

 

I hadn't heard Garagiola and partner Tony Kubek announce a game in a long while and they were good.  So was Tom Seaver, commenting from downstairs near the field.  

 

Garagiola certainly had a gift for colorful description. When Ted Simmons clearly would have been out at home on a grounder to third base, Joe quipped, "He would have needed a subpoena" to get there. Fortunately for Ted, the ball rolled foul. Oh, those little things that make up every baseball game and maybe that's what we miss most of all right now.  

 

An interesting sidelight to this game was that future Hall of Famer Simmons was catching for Milwaukee, and the former Brewer Darrell Porter was catching for St. Louis.  

 

(Note:  Simmons' induction into Cooperstown on the last Sunday in July is still scheduled, but a final decision from the Hall of Fame on whether the ceremonies wil go on as planned is still awaited.)  

 

I haven't watched many of the All-Time Game broadcasts on MLBTV but they are nice to have to pass time until the real thing returns.  Certainly we cannot expect live baseball in a normal setting until next season at the earliest.

 

I did watch ESPN's broadcast of Ali-Frazier I on Saturday night April 18.  What a brutal battle that was, with Frazier the deserved winner.

 

I didn't realize that Burt Lancaster had done the TV color commentary with light-heavyweight champion Archie Moore and venerable Don Dunphy doing blow-by-blow.  

 

Lancaster was very enthusiastic but not particularly insightful.  He was one of our more athletic actors, a star in track and field and I think gymastics too at the Bronx's DeWitt Clinton High School.

 

On a concluding sad note, here's a farewell to Bobby Winkles who passed away at

the age of 90 earlier this week.  Winkles put Arizona State University on the map as a baseball power.  He amassed a record of 524-173 from 1958-1971, and won three College World Series, 1965-1967-1969.

 

He coached such future MLB stars as Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, Rick Monday (the first pick in baseball's first amateur free agent draft in 1965), Gary Gentry a key part of the 1969 Mets, and Sal Bando, the glue on the Oakland A's 1972-74 champions.

 

He had an under .500 record managing in the majors for the Angels and A's but he was a memorable baseball lifer who later worked in player development with the White Sox and Expos and also broadcast games for Expos from 1989-93.

 

Winkles hailed from Swifton, Arkansas where he grew up with future Hall of Famer George Kell.  His home town was so small, Winkles liked to say, the city limits sign was placed on the same telephone pole.

 

After starring at Illinois Wesleyan U. in Bloomington, Illinois, he signed with the White Sox.  Alas, the middle infielder was stuck behind future Hall of Famers Luis Aparicio and Nelson Fox and never reached the majors.

 

He found his calling in coaching, and in 2006 he was elected in the first class of inductees into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame.  Somewhere in the great beyond, one of the best Walter Brennan imitators is rehearsing for his first celestial gig.

 

(For younger readers, Walter Brennan was one of the great Hollywood character actors.  I remember him warmly as Gary Cooper's sidekick in "Meet John Doe" and Lou Gehrig's sportswriter-confidant in "Pride of the Yankees".) 

 

Well, that's all for now, and more than ever in these uncertain times, always rememeber:  Take it easy but take it!

 

 

 

 

 

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