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All Is Not Chaos at Columbia! Baseball Lions Wins Regular Season Ivy League Title, Will Host Playoffs + Baltimore Press Box Named After Jim Henneman & "Angels in Outfield" on TCM!

I'm glad to report that all the news coming from my alma mater is not about the Pro-Palestine Anti-Israel demonstrations, police crackdowns, and inevitable recriminations that has created turmoil on the main college campus. Here's a shoutout instead for Columbia's baseball team, a perennial contender and six-time league champion since coach Brett Boretti arrived on Morningside Heights almost 20 years ago.

 

On the last weekend of April, the Lions clinched home field advantage in the upcoming 4-team post-season playoff by sweeping Cornell at Ithaca. There is still one regular season final home series left this coming weekend May 4-5 against second-place Princeton.  The Tigers lead the Big Red by a game with Penn's Quakers and Yale's Bulldogs another game back. 

 

One of those teams will not make the playoff that begins on Fri May 17 at picturesque Satow Stadium overlooking the Hudson a little northwest of Braodway and 218th Street.  Columbia will host the 3P game against the 4th place finisher with seeds 2 & 3 playing at 11A. We probably won't know the final four until after Harvard and Yale battle in New Haven the weekend of May 11-12.   

 

A big reason for Columbia's success has been that they always play a tough early season schedule. You learn very little from beating up on inferior competition. "To be the best you have to beat the best" is an adage that all contending teams must absorb.

 

(Megan Griffith, coach of Columbia's women's basketball regular season Ivy co-champions, has also scheduled tough early season foes. They performed so effectively this year in the early games and then soared to a 13-1 league record that the Lions earned the Ivy League's first-ever women's basketball at-large bid to March Madness.  There is also a lot of beaming at Columbia over the WNBA's Connecticut Sun drafting Abbey Hsu, Ivy League Player of the Year, and the New York LIberty's selecting former Lion Kaitlyn Davis.) 

 

After taking major lumps this season playing at the University of Florida Gators and at stops in southern California - where one of the losses was a 32-2 pasting by the UC-Irvine Anteaters - the baseball Lions enter the crucial month of May on a 9-game winning streak and a 15-3 Ivy League record. They also recently beat perennial Big East contender St. John's in a close game and routed another prominent local program, Seton Hall, 31-0. 

 

It is true that college baseball in the Northeast has never developed a huge fan base beyond parents, friends of the family, and confirmed baseball nuts like yours truly. The pinging sound of the metal bats turns off many purists and I myself do miss the resonant thwack of the wooden bat.

 

But once you make peace with this difference, I suggest you'll enjoy the quality of the game as played by these scrappy collegians. Columbia's pitching coach Tom Carty deserves kudos for turning his battered pre-season staff into an effective unit. 

 

Senior Derek Yoo from Los Angeles and junior co-captain southpaw Joe Sheets from Wilmington, Delaware, have become a reliable one-two punch as starters with sophomore Thomas Santana from Millburn, NJ locking in well recently into the third slot.  

 

The hitting has lately been overwhelming with an average of more than 8 runs a game.   A .300 hitter comes to the plate in virtually every spot in the batting order. Most have long ball power, led by senior first baseman Jack Cooper from Edwardsville, ILL, and sophomore shortstop Sam Miller from McMurray, PA (near Pittsburgh) who have each produced double-digit HR numbers. 

 

The lineup may have solidified when junior second baseman Griffin Palfrey from Vancouver, British Columbia, returned from injury.  Palfrey doubles as a relief pitcher, sometimes with closing responsibilities. 

 

There is another glow coming from the Baker Field complex with news that former Lion outfielder Hayden Schott is tearing it up in the middle of the order of the Texas A & M Aggies who have been ranked #1 in the country the last three weeks.  He is playing as a graduate student, something the Ivy League

still does not allow.  

 

It's a delight to tell these stories at a time when the university and our bedraggled body politic has been under fire.And let's be realistic, the crises will continue through USA Election Day Nov 5 and beyond.

 

I have no illusions that a winning sports team can make much societal difference.  Early in 1968 Columbia's great basketball team briefly united the campus but it blew apart by the spring at the height of the Vietnam war divisions. But I do know that winning as a team is as good a metaphor as any for what sports can teach us.

 

AND NOW TURNING TO MLB NEWS . . .

On Sat Apr 27 I was delighted to attend the press box naming ceremony for veteran Baltimore sportswriter Jim Henneman.  I've known Jim since

the mid-1970s when he was a speaker at Univ of Maryland Baltimore County in my class in Sports and American Culture, one of the first such ventures in academia. 

 

I was only one of a legion of sportswriters, friends and family who paid homage to a man whose wise counsel kept many of us from jumping off ledges when the Orioles seemed particularly hopeless.  Jim was brought to tears, reflecting on the honor bestowed upon a native son.

 

He was a batboy for the minor league Orioles and in high school pitched against another local boy Al Kaline.  The future Hall of Famer, who played his entire career with the Detroit Tigers, and the future sportswriter always engaged in friendly banter about how many times Henneman walked him. 

A longtime official scorer, Henneman gave up that duty last season. He quipped, "I can now wear Oriole orange," which indeed he did on this special day. 

 

To make the afternoon complete, the Orioles shut out the improved Oakland A's behind Cole Irvin's 7 shutout innings and back-to-back HRs by Gunnar Henderson and Adley Rutschman. The rest of the weekend wasn't so fortunate for the Birds as the A's rallied in the 9th inning on Fri night and Sun afternoon, treating roughly Oriole closer Craig Kimbrel who has upper back issues but may not need a trip to the injured list.   

 

Starter Grayson Rodriguez has not been so fortunate.  After pitching nearly 6 shutout innings against the Yankees this past Monday, he has been IL-ed for at least 15 days.  It looks like the Yankees and Orioles will battle for the AL East title all season with the Red Sox possibly getting into the mix with their improved pitching but they know they have to improve their defense.   

 

The problem with all these early commentaries is that there is SO MUCH of the season still to play.  And there are TOO MANY teams that qualify for the playoffs.  So it goes (sigh).  

 

I close with one special TCM movie tip.

Sa May 4 at 145P EDT the original "Angels in the Outfield" (1951) airs.  I find it a neglected gem in the baseball movie category. Starring Paul

Douglas as the crusty Pirates manager who gets humanized by Janet Leigh as a Household Tips writer for a Pittsburgh newspaper. 

 

The wonderful supporting cast includes Bruce Bennett as aging pitcher Saul Hellman, Keenan Wynn as the vitriolic broadcaster who engages in verbal and physical blows with Douglas (watch for uncredited Barbara Billingsley as a cigarette girl) and Spring Byington and Ellen Corby as the nuns who bring the orphaned girls to ballgames, most importantly, Donna Corcoran the 8-year-old who actually sees the angels in the outfield. The photography of Pittsburgh in the early 1950s is worth watching even if you are not entranced by the story.  

 

That's all for now.  Always remember: Take it easy but take it, and stay positive, test negative. 

 

  

 

 

  

 

    

 

 

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Remembering Carl Erskine

Carl Erskine was one of those people who are unforgettable in every encounter.  I first met him in the mid-1980s on a balmy June afternoon at a "Welcome Back to Brooklyn" event organized by the late Marty Adler, a junior high school principal at a school near where Ebbets Field used to stand. 

 

I was in the early years of hosting WBAI Pacifica's rare regular sports show, "Seventh Inning Stretch", and Marty Adler was my kind of guy. He loved baseball to the fullest and on his own dime he founded a Brooklyn Dodger Hall of Fame. The shrine was open to opponents of the Dodgers too so as an oldtime New York Giant fan I felt very welcome in his company.

 

Erskine was being honored that day and the lifelong resident of Anderson, Indiana located about 40 miles northeast of Indianapolis, told the crowd that he and his wife Betty still called for advice the Brooklyn pediatrician who cared for his children in Brooklyn. 

 

So it brought great sadness when I learned that Erskine, the last of the Brooklyn Dodger "Boys of Summer" immortalized by Roger Kahn in the book of the same name, died on Tuesday April 16 at the age of 97.  He won 122 games in his career and pitched two no-hitters at Ebbets Field. In the 1953 World Series, he won an 11-inning complete game against the Yankees, setting a WS record at the time of 14 strikeouts.

 

During the 1959 season, the Dodgers' second year in LA, Erskine retired at the age of 32 because of a nagging shoulder injury that the cursory baseball medical treatment of the day couldn't address.  When I was working on my Branch Rickey biography, I learned from Carl that Rickey tried to enlist him for the Continental League, Rickey's abortive attempt at a third league (which in retrospect would have been a great idea if it had succeeded).  

 

Erskine turned down the offer, eager to return to his home town. But he remained a lifelong admirer of the man who explained the connections between baseball and religion like no other.  When he was in a jam on the mound, Erskine remembered Rickey telling him that the stitches on the baseball are like your belief in God that runs through your life.

 

Back in Anderson, Erskine made his mark in both the insurance and banking businesses while also for a time coaching baseball at Anderson College, now Anderson University.  When one of his children Jimmy was born with Down syndrome, Carl, his wife Betty, and their other children welcomed him as their own.  They became leaders in the movement to support all children born with handicaps.  Their efforts turned Indiana from one of the worst states in aiding the afflicted to one of the most progressive ones. 

 

Jimmy Erskine became a functioning member of society, holding a job at Applebee's and competing in many events in the Special Olympics.  Last fall, he died at the age of 63.  Betty and the rest of the family survive.  

 

My last encounter with Carl Erskine was in 2011 when I was on a panel in Indianapolis discussing a production of "Jackie and Me," based on Dan Gutman's realistic fantasy about a youngster who gets to play with one of his heroes.  I will never forget seeing Erskine's genuine tears when watching a scene where Jackie Robinson gets to play as an equal on the same field as Babe Ruth. 

 

I am glad that Carl Erskine got to enjoy the acclaim last year when he was given the Buck O'Neil award from the Baseball Hall of Fame for service to baseball. I'm also happy that Carl got to share some of the acclaim brought to Ted Green's marvelous documentary, "The Best We've Got: The Carl Erskine Story," which is now widely available on DVD.   

 

There is a consoling thought I often turn to in times of sorrow:  "No voice is ever fully lost."  Just a couple of hours after I learned the sad news about Carl's passing, I ran into a neighbor of mine while we were both walking in Riverside Park near where I live. 

 

My friend is not a baseball fan but a retired classical cellist.  He is 93 and needs a walker but mentally he remains very sharp.  He told me he was

the child of two missionaries from the Church of God and traveled to Kenya at an early age and then when spent high school in Whittier CA (Richard Nixon's home town). I asked him where he was born.  He replied, "Anderson, Indiana." Cue "Twilight Zone" music.

 

These last few days have seen many notable baseball passings.  Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog, 92, passed away on Apr 15 iin St. Louis where he won the 1982 World Series as Cardinals manager. I remember watching on TV in the latle 1950s when Herzog, chasing a hard-hit liner, ran into the low right field wall at the original Yankee Stadium. 

 

The injury hastened the end to his playing career but he found his niche as scout and player developer for the Mets and then as successful pennant-winning manager for the Royals and the Cardinals.

 

RHP Jim McAndrew, a contributor to the 1969 Miracle Mets, died on Mar 14 at the age of 80 in Scottsdale, AZ.

RHP Pat Zachry, who became a Met in the infamous Tom Seaver trade of 1977, died on Apr 4 at the age of 71 in Austin, TX. 

Jerry Grote, the great defensive catcher on the 1969 Mets who also played on three World Series LA Dodger teams, died on Apr 7 at the age of 81 in Austin TX.

 

I close with John Ruskin's immortal comment:  "There is no wealth but life." As always, I remind you:   "Take it easy but take it!" and "Stay positive, test negative." 

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