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Reflections on the Baseball Lockout + Why "La Boheme" Remains An Evergreen

Here we go again in baseball.  Labor-management relations at a standstill.  

Everything old is new again.  

 

"Defensive lockout," according to commissioner Rob Manfred, is necessary to make an agreement.  And war is peace.  And slavery is freedom.

 

It is a more complicated issue than billionaire owners versus millionaire players so I wish that short-hand description could be scrapped.   But it does come down to money

and plenty of it.  

 

Average salaries in baseball have been dropping in recent years and so have median salaries which is a more important figure.  Other pro sports have passed baseball in

the median quality - the midpoint between the richest and the least hightly-paid player.

 

It will be key for the players that two of their union leaders, the newly-enriched free agents Max Scherzer and Marcus Semien, keep their less financially-endowed brethren informed of developments.  They likely will but the prospects for a deal look far away right now.

 

I have a suspicion that those fans who bellow the loudest about greedy players would probably be the first people to jump in line to get the most money out of misguided owners.

Over time, they have never been able to stop themselves from putting that shiny free agent on the mantelpiece when huckstered by clever player representatives.

 

If you want more historical background on owners' inability to control themselves, check out my first book, THE IMPERFECT DIAMOND which was updated in a second and third edition.

 

In my intro, I noted the late satirist Mort Sahl's comment that Richard Nixon's memoir

"Six Crises" should have come out in a looseleaf edition so you could just add the crises.

So goes it with the baseball labor story except in 2021 total attendance is not up and it may

not return if there is any protracted shutdown.

 

I suggest that there better be some agreement before the Super Bowl - which is late this year, Feb. 13, because of the expanded 17-game NFL schedule.  Otherwise, spring training games and the regular season starting on March 31 will be impacted.

 

I was wondering why the Braves hadn't resigned Freddie Freeman, their leader and first baseman and lifelong Brave.  Then I discovered that his agent is Casey Close, a former

U of Michigan player and briefly a Yankee farmhand who became Derek Jeter's player agent and is now a big mover and shaker in the sports business firmament.  

 

It is not only Scott Boras trying to get top dollar from owners. In fact, in some ways Boras is admirable because as far as I know his Boras Corporation is not yet connected to a huge conglomerate as most agents like Casey Close are.

 

As for me, I will try to ignore the power plays, egos, and greed on both sides.  I applaud versatile Chris Taylor for re-signing just before the lockout with the Dodgers who realized they made a mistake in letting another grinder like Kike Hernandez get away last off-season to the Boston Red Sox.

 

I love grinders, players who know how to win and do the "little things" that don't appear in box scores.  In fact, as one wise person recently said, "There are no little things."

 

My cheering for the rest of the fall and winter will focus on Wisconsin Badgers men's

basketball who improved to 8-1 earlier today (Sat afternoon Dec 4) convincingly beating state rival Marquette 87-73.  Johnny Davis is an exciting player coming into his own and the rest of the team is playing good team basketball.

 

I'm also following closely, and in person when I can, my other alma mater, Columbia's women's basketball which has started 7-2 in the pre-Ivy League season. They are a versatile and speedy team and fun to watch under coach Megan Griffith who played for

non-contending Columbia teams and assisted at great Princeton winning teams.

 

Methinks she and all good coaches imbibe the great Christy Mathewson saying:

"I have learned little from winning. I have learned everything from losing."

 

Picked for 3rd in pre-season polls, the Lions will play their top rivals Princeton and Penn at home, respectively, on F Jan 7 at 7p and Sa Jan 8 at 5p.   They open league season at home Su Jan 2 at 1p against Yale.  Check out gocolumbialions.com for ticket info and other stories.  

 

In closing, I want to rave about the "La Boheme" I attended late last month at the

Metropolitan Opera.  It was my first foray to live opera since before the pandemic.

 

The orchestra and chorus under Korean woman conductor Eun Sun Kim making her NYC debut never sounded better.  The story of the irrepressible bohemians in 19th century France never fails to captivate.  

 

I wasn't familiar with any of the singers but they all performed with elan in the long-running Franco Zefferelli production. 

 

Conductor Eun Kim returns to the Met for four more "Boheme"'s on May 16, May 20,

May 24, and May 29 all at 8p.  There will be four other "Boheme"'s in January.

 

Sunday afternoon Jan 9 at 3p, a welcome innovation for opera.  Why should ballet and concerts have the audiences Sun afternoons to themselves?

 

There will be the national radio broadcast on Sa Jan 22 at 1p, and two weeknight performances at 8p, Jan 13 and Jan 18.

 

For Bohemeatologists, if I can coin a word, the 1926 silent movie "Boheme"

directed by the notable King Vidor, airs on TCM early Mon Dec 6 at 1:15a. 

 

Speaking of TCM, its Star of the Month is Ingrid Bergman, aired mainly on Weds.  

I caught her the other night in "Gaslight" 1944, directed by George Cukor, and her performance opposite convincing bad guy Charles Boyer, was so riveting that I passed up the first half of Wisconsin-Georgia Tech game.

 

"Gaslight" marked the debut of 18-year-old Angela Lansbury as a sassy maid in the

Victorian household.  The next year she had a haunting role in Albert Lewin's "Picture of

Dorian Gray" opposite Hurd Hatfield and with George Sanders. 

 

Her haunting rendition of the little yellow bird song remains constantly with me. "Dorian Gray" might be found on TCM On Demand.

 

Mentioning Lansbury makes me think of the recent death of Stephen Sondheim, 91.

More on him and his impact on so many people, including the New Yorkers who burst out in song when they learned of his death, next time. 

 

As well as reflections on the incomparable David Frishberg, 88, who mastered jazz piano and vocals and lyrics and composition. And through "Van Lingle Mungo" and "Matty" made a lasting contribution to baseball.  

 

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

ever, stay positive and test negative. 

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One Man's Guide to Coping With A World Temporarily Without Sports

The sun was shining yesterday, Tuesday afternoon March 24 2020. I went outside cautiously to pick up prescription nasal sprays and shop for some more groceries.  

I kept a six-foot distance waiting on line to get in, which was impossible to maintain once you did make it to the shelves in a narrow-aisled store.  

 
The sunny day and the promise of increasing light brought me back to my younger days in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Listening on the radio to the sound of baseballs crackling on bats, and being entranced by the background sound of humming crowds as the teams played their last games in warm weather and worked their way up by train to opening day in the big cities around April 15th.  

 
I thought back to my interview with Robin Roberts during my first visit to spring training in 1979, the year I got serious about writing about baseball. The next spring my first book "The Imperfect Diamond: The Story of Baseball's Reserve and The Men Who Fought to Change It" came out, a collaboration with Tony Lupien, the former Red Sox first baseman and Dartmouth College coach.

 

Roberts, the future Hall of Fame pitcher with the Philadelphia Phillies, was in his last years of coaching at the University of South Florida in Tampa.  Along with future Hall of Fame pitcher and future U.S. Senator Jim Bunning, Roberts had been instrumental in bringing Marvin Miller into baseball to revitalize the Players Association.   

 
On this day about 41 years ago, Roberts remembered wistfully how each team used to play their regulars for five innings in smaller cities as they moved North. He sensed that already, the intimate connections of players to fans was disappearing, but it was still a poignant memory. 

 
Now we are bereft of baseball until late spring, at the earliest, because of the novel coronavirus that, as I post, could erupt even more in New York City and its environs.  Nobody knows when it will be safe to go out in groups and congregate again at ballparks and in arenas. My guess is late June at the earliest but it's just a hope. 

 
It's not that there isn't baseball news. The Mets learned yesterday that pitcher Noah Syndergaard needs Tommy John surgery and likely will be out until the middle of next season. 


I don't consider myself a pundit or a baseball seer and I'm not a doctor or athletic trainer. But I just KNEW that it was inevitable that Noah would break down.  He bragged about wanting to throw 100 mph and more almost every pitch.  

 
I also just KNEW that the ballyhooed Dylan Bundy would break down early in his Orioles career. Because he too crowed about his vigorous weight program.  Bundy has a chance to show he has become a pitcher with his new team, the Angels.  One wonders if Noah will learn anything during his enforced idleness.

 

Here's a shout-out to the documentary and great game-rebroadcast programming on MLBTV.  Check out "Joy in Wrigleyville," narrated by actor John Cusack who played Buck Weaver, the man with guilty knowledge of the fix who didn't participate in it, in John Sayles's memorable film "Eight Men Out,".  

 
It's a heartwarming film focused primarily on many lifelong Cubs fans who found joy at last when the Cubs won the 2016 World Series over the Cleveland Indians, breaking their 108-year-long drought. 

 

Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins rock band is one of the frequent talking heads. Most memorable for me were a husband-wife firefighter couple from North Carolina that drove fo Game 7 at Cleveland's Progressive Field.

 

Also very moving were two fans who came to the Series with their children. 

One of them said that every parent wants their child to fulfill its dreams.

And it is just as wonderful to watch their parents' dream fulfilled.  Even if most didn't live to see the glorious triumph that eliminated the 108 years of frustration. 

 
Another fine MLB documentary focused on pitcher Mark "The Bird" Fidrych who rocketed on the scene in 1976 to become the darling of Detroit Tiger fans and most baseball fans all over the country. Interviews with Mark's widow and daughter and teammates Rusty Staub and Mark's personal catcher Bruce Kimm added immeasurably to the production.

 

It was followed by a rebroadcast of the ABC Monday Night Baseball game in which Fidrych threw a complete game victory over the Yankees before a packed Tiger Stadium crowd.  Was nice to hear the sounds of a broadcast team that wasn't together very long on national TV - Bob Prince, Al Michaels, and Warner Wolf.

 
Don't forget TCM shows "Pride of the Yankees" after 1015p on Sunday night March 29 and airs some classic baseball films from dawn to dusk on Tuesday March 31.

 

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT!

I heard last night a tremendously informative interview with Max Brooks on Terry Gross's long-running NPR interview show "Fresh Air."  He is an incredibly knowledgeable young family man of 47, the author of both non-fiction books about civil defense and zombie fiction books including the best-selling "World War Z" from 2006. 

 

Brooks said, "Fear can be conquered but anxiety must be endured."  He advised that we all practice "fact hygiene," i.e. don't fall for conspiracy theories or pass along dubious information. 

 

Without getting snarky about it, he suggested that the President must be fact checked after all his statements.  Max Brooks is a fully credentialed defense analyst who is part of research teams at both West Point and Naval Academy institutes. 

 
Check out a 43-second PSA (Public Servic Announcer) Max put out on the internet about the importance of social distance in these nervous times.  He created the clip with his father Mel Brooks, now 93, in the background.  How Max's mother the late Anne Bancroft would be proud of her son.

 
Here are a couple more cultural notes.  I watched on Amazon Prime Mariette Heller's "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," a drama about Pittsburgh's beloved the late Mr. (Fred) Rogers, the children's TV star. 

 

Heller and her staff, including her brother Nate who wrote much of the music, had the full cooperation of the Rogers Foundation including access to his closet and his famous sweater and sneakers.  I haven't seen the 2018 Rogers documentary, but "Neighborhood" is a truly deep dive into a man who truly believed that "everything mentionable is manageable." 

 
The cast is superb with Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers (Hanks sadly is now in quarantine with his wife Rita Wilson in Australia, who also carries the coronavirus) and Maryann Plunkett as Mrs. Rogers.  

 

In a key role Matthew Rhys plays the journalist who is interviewing Rogers for a magazine story; Susan Watson as Rhys's wife; Chris Cooper as the overbearing father of Rhys' character (based on the Esquire magainze writer Tom Junod), and the glamorous Christine Lahti in a brief but important role as Rhys's demanding editor. 

 
Mariette Heller is only 41 and I loved her prior film, "Will You Ever Forgive Me?" about the literary forger Lee Israel starring Melissa McCarthy who got a deserved Oscar nomination for making a not very pleasant woman very human and relatable. (We all owe a debt to Melissa for her hilarious takedown of press secretary Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live early in the Trump years.)

 
I love so-called classical music and there is a marvelous moment in "Neighborhood" where Mr. and Mrs. Rogers are playing a duo-piano version of a gorgeous piece by Robert Schumann, "Pictures From The East," op. 66.  

 
Talking about special moments, I was listening yesterday to WQXR, NYC's only classical music station, and I heard a stunning vocal piece, "In My Father's Garden," by Alma Mahler. It was written before Alma Schindler at age 22 married the great German composer Gustav Mahler who was 41.

 

In a terrible commentary on the age of patriarchy, he forbade her from writing any more music while married to him. What marvelous new tones and sounds she would have created if he had been more tolerant. 

 

She did live a half century after Gustav died in 1911 but none of her later music had the deep creative vein of her earlier work.  (She did become the subject of Tom Lehrer's classic ditty about her marriages to other German notables, writer Franz Werfel and architect Walter Gropius.)

 
Well, that's all for now.  Back to you next month hoping we see some light at the end of the tunnel of the enforced and necessary hiatus on sports.  In the meantime, now more than ever, always remember: Take it easy but take it.   

 

 

 

 

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