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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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"Trouble Ahead, Trouble Ahead!': Reflections on An Upcoming Diamond Anniversary, August 28, 1945 - corrected version

[The following blog was posted before the shocking death on Jackie Robinson Day, celebrated on August 28 in 2020,  of Chadwick Boesman, 43, who starred as Robinson in "42" the acclaimed 2013 film that made Boseman a star. He had suffered from colon cancer for four years, a disease that he kept private all this time. His memory will be indelible.

 

Brooklyn Dodger fans have called to my attention that I missed one pennant-winning team prior to Robinson's rookie season of 1947, the first pennant of 1916. So have made the change in the tex below. Otherwise it stands as originally posted.]

 

 

This Friday August 28 marks the 75th anniversary - the diamond jubilee if you will - of the first meeting of Jack Roosevelt Robinson with Wesley Branch Rickey.  It was held in Rickey's Brooklyn Dodgers office at 215 Montague Street not far from the Brooklyn Borough Hall. 

 
The encounter between these two Type-A personalities has been the subject of much historical writing as well as the impressive 2013 film "42" starring Harrison Ford as Rickey and Chadwick Boseman as Robinson.  

 
It is an evergreen story - how an unusual partnership was forged between the fiercely proud talented all-around Black athlete and the shrewd but genuinely religious and paternal White executive.  Together they vowed to break the poorly named "gentleman's agreement" that had blocked African-Americans from playing Major League Baseball since the late 19th century.

 
By 1947 Robinson was a Brooklyn Dodger star on his way to a Rookie of the Year title and the Dodgers were headed to the World Series for only the fourth time in their history. Though they lost a tough seven-game Series to the Yankees, Robinson rose to stardom not only in the baseball world but throughout American national culture.  He was voted the second most popular entertainer after Bing Crosby. 

 
It is not coincidental that a year later President Harry Truman issued an executive order desegregating the Armed Forces. And in 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court issued an unanimous decision, ruling that public school segregation was unconstitutional.  

 
It is good that Malor League Baseball recently commemorated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first prominent Negro league by the pioneer black baseball organizer Rube Foster.  But I think the courageous first move to integrate white baseball 25 years later needs remembrance as well. 

 
The road to Robinson's eventual success was not a smooth one.  But Rickey stood squarely behind "The Young Man from the West," as he was dubbed in secret front office code before the announcement of his signing was made public two months later.

 

In "My Own Story," Robinson's 1948 autobiography, he described what it was like to be analyzed and dissected by Branch Rickey. "His piercing eyes roared over me with such meticulous care, I almost felt naked." Once the battle for integration was joined, Robinson would describe Rickey as like "a piece of mobile armor," ready to defend him from any and all attacks.   

 
Rickey was both a spellbinding and folksy story-teller.  Robinson grew solace from one of Rickey's favorite tales about an old couple in rural Scioto County in southern Ohio where Rickey was born, regularly visited, and is buried..  

 
They were traveling for the first time on a railway car through the hills of their home county.   They looked out the window and as the train headed towards a steep curve, the husband cried, "Trouble ahead! Trouble ahead!"  

 
The couple thought the train would fall off the rails and crash.  But it didn't and life went on and the change to faster transportation was accepted. 

 

"Trouble ahead! Trouble ahead!" was a frequent mantra of Rickey's whenever a problem arose. The crisis was usually averted by good strategy and basic courage.

 
Rickey enjoyed Robinson in Brooklyn for only four seasons.  He lost a power struggle to co-owner Walter O'Malley after the 1950 season, and he started at the bottom with the young Pittsburgh Pirates.   

 
I think that part of the reason that Rickey is not remembered for his successful integration strategy is that the subsequent years of his baseball career were not marked by success. 

Also once the black power movmenet erupted in the 1960s, Rickey's motivation was too often seen as mainly economic.

 

Rickey's Pirates finished in or near the basement in during his five years at the helm in Pittsburgh  But it should be noted that Rickey signed the core of the future 1960 World Series champions, including Roberto Clemente, Elroy Face, Dick Groat, and Bill Mazeroski. 

 
In the late 1950s, Rickey's attempt at leading the Continental League, a third major league, to compete with the existing two leagues also failed.  It did lead to expansion of each existing league to ten teams, but it was not the outcome Rickey desired.  He was old enough to remember the ten-team National League of the 1890s that only increased the number of second division teams. 

 
I do like to think that in the great beyond Rickey is smiling at the Toronto Blue Jays for this short season playing in Buffalo.   It is the only one of the eight original CL franchises - Atlanta, Denver, Dallas, Houston, Minny-St.Paul, New York, and Toronto - never to get a team.  Unfortunately because of the huge role of TV markets in today's baseball, Buffalo is not likely to get a full season team.  

 

Although the Continental League folded in the summer of 1960, Rickey's comment to a reporter when he started the league a year earlier still resonates.  There he was at the age of 77 and plagued by a serious heart condition. Asked by a reporter to name his greatest thrill in baseball. he replied, "It hasn't happened yet." 

 
It's that kind of spirit of adventure and optimism about the future that drew Jackie Robinson and so many other players, friends, and family into his admiring orbit. It's the kind of spirit that we need desperately in all aspects of our society in the year 2020. 

 
So please think of the great adventure that Robinson and Rickey started upon 75 years ago this Friday August 28.  And as September nears and a fraught school year is upon us, it's especially wise to take it easy but take it!  

 

Next time more on the unfolding MLB baseball season and I hope I can write some praise of the Orioles' hitting prospect with the striking name of Ryan Mountcastle.  He made his MLB debut last weekend and held his own and looks like he could be an offensive presence of the future.   

 

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