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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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"Sitting On A Bench On Broad-Way" (with apologies to Otis Redding): Thoughts On MLB Season So Far + Go see "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"

Spring has sprung in NYC in all its glory.  As I was marveling at the beautiful buds blooming all over my UWS neighborhood (Upper West Side) and sipping my morning coffee while sitting on a bench on an island on Broadway, I started to hum Otis Redding's classic tune, "Sitting On The Dock of the Bay". 

 

OK, my mind has odd synapses but you got a problem with that?!  You see, I was in Madison, Wisconsin on the foggy Sunday night of December 10, 1967 when word came that Otis Redding's plane crashed into Lake Monona three miles short of Four Lakes Airport. 

 

Otis was only 26, and seven of his bandmates perished with him. He had just recorded "Sitting On The Dock of the Bay" which according to many websites was the first posthumous #1 hit.  

It was a very sad day for American music and the best spirit of the 1960s.  RIP Otis - we will never forget you.

 

As for the baseball season so far, it's been pretty wonderfully wacky.  Unless you are fans of the Tigers and Orioles and Rockies and Diamondbacks and Marlins who are sinking fast as I predicted.

 

Believe me, I didn't want to be a prophet and don't want to be a prophet. But a new ownership in Baltimore can't come fast enough. Alas, until there is "cost certainty" on the business side of the franchise, all that's left is rooting for individuals.  

 

I hope southpaw John Means is morphing into an ace. He's already spawned a T-shirt, JOHN MEANS BUSINESS.  I like my idea of MEANS FINDS WAYS.  

 

I cross fingers that Trey Mancini doesn't think he needs the jump-start the offense all by himself.  Just great to see him recovered from colon cancer and ready to play every day.

 

I guess because the season is so long, there's always hope for a turnaround.  

The Oakland A's have proved that, starting 0-6 and 1-7 and then all of a sudden they have won 12 in a row.

 

With two more against the Orioles - and more next week in Oakland - they could be flying high by May. Don't think they are that good, but double-digit winning streaks cerrtainly mean something.  

 

Kudos to veteran manager Bob Melvin - to me somewhat of an Anthony Perkins-lookalike and always a calm presence  - who has steered the ship to far smoother waters. 

 

Returned Bosox manager Alex Cora also quickly turned around Boston.  After they lost three in a row at home to the Woerioles, they ran off nine in a row. Since then, it hasn't been so easy for them.  

 

Surprising Seattle has played everyone hard, including the Red Sox. Much too early to see any patterns in the season yet.  But nice to see Seattle and Kansas City playing so well.

 

One thing is clear - the Padres and the Dodgers are developing a fierce rivalry.  We'll see if the Padres can stay so intense against other teams.  In between their two series against the Dodgers they went home and got swept by the Brewers.    

 

The key point at this early time of season is staying near .500. And then get ready to surge in the warmer months.  Of course, easier said than done - like most things in life.

 

When the Yankees fell to five below .500, the angst in NYC was epidemic.  Suzyn Waldman, John Sterling's sidekick on Yankee radio broadcasts (and who hosts pre-game interviews),  has perceptively noted, "In NYC there are 162  one-game seasons." 

 

With the Yankees beating up on the Indians and soon the Woerioles, they could be at .500 by the time you read this.  (If you think I'm trying to jinx them, you're right.)

 

On the cultural scene, I went to see "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" in a real movie theatre last week, the venerable Paris Theatre just south of Central Park and the Plaza Hotel. "Venerable" meaning it was opened in late 1950s. 

 

The audience was sparse but to be expected on a weeknight with people wisely still cautious about going indoors to a theatre.  Free popcorn and soft drinks were available.

 

Chadwick Boseman's last performance is a don't-miss experience. His electricity opposite Viola Davis is mesmerizing.  Glynn Turman as the piano player in the band also shines as does the whole cast.  

 

Netflix now owns the Paris Theater and I hope it is streaming the movie all over the world.  The talkback at the end between the film's director George C. Wolfe and playwright Tony "Angels in America" Kushner is very stimulating. Not that I agree with everything they say.    

 

Do see the movie and discuss it and the talkback seriously.  If we can ever get beyond the cliche that "slavery is America's original sin," the works of the late August Wilson - who wrote the play on which the film is based - are an essential place to start.  

 

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

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