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Missing "The Crowd at the ballpark" and Other Thoughts on This Strange MLB Season

I ran across last night a 1923 poem by William Carlos Williams, the physician-poet from nearby Paterson, New Jersey.  The title is from the first line. The first three couplets go: 

 

"The crowd at the ballgame

is moved continuously

 
by a spirit of uselessness

which delights them—

 
all the exciting detail 

of the chase"

 
It's nice to have games to watch again on TV, but it's the genuine crowd reaction that I miss the most. I think most of the players, managers, and coaches agree - canned cheering doens't cut it.  

 

I realize that in a time of pandemic, there was no other route to choose but fan-less games.

Still, the cardboard cutouts substituting for fans at most ballparks doesn't do it for me.

 

I also miss the attendance figures at the bottom of every box score.  I would love to miss ballplayers' cheat sheets on positioning and pitch sequences that they are sticking in their caps or pockets.  Can they just play the game on what used to be called muscle memory?! 

 

There have been humorous responses to this strange season. A clever fellow wrote Phil Mushnick of the NY Post yesterday that the cutouts at Dodger Stadium are actually real because they leave the game in the 7th inning. 

 

I also liked the humor of the person that selects the music at the White Sox's Guaranteed Rate Field. On the Sunday night game against the Indians, the Beatles' "Let It Be" came over the loudspeaker as the umps were going to replay to perhaps change a call that aided the home team. 

 

Voila! The music must have worked - Cleveland baserunner Delino DeShields Jr. remained out at second on a close call.  The White Sox have invested heavily in Cuban ballplayers, batting four of them the other day in the first four spots in the batting order.  

 

Only DH/first baseman Jose Abreu is a proven player but hopes are high for Eloy Jimenez, Juan Moncada, and rookie Luis Robert. If they come through with improved pitching, maybe hard-bitten Chisox fans will stop calling the home park Guaranteed Second-Rate Field.

 
As for me, I am happy that the Orioles are surprising people by reaching .500 after 14 games.  Corner infielders Rio Ruiz and Renato Nunez are showing that they learned something playing for last year's horrible Oriole team.  

 

Ditto for second baseman Hanser Alberto and well-traveled Cuban-born shortstop Jose Iglesias.  Their pop and run-production have been fun to watch. 

 
Maybe "experience is your best teacher" is not so old-fashioned an adage even if you can't put an "advanced metric" on it.  Somehow Oriole pitching, with three lefty starters, retreads Wade Leblanc and Tom Milone and last year's breakout winner John Means, has been OK.  

 

So has the bullpen with young veteran Miguel Castro and the castoff Cole Sulser showing the way.  I'm not reserving playoff tickets yet, esp. since there won't be live attendance most likely until next season at the earliest. 

  
How long the MLB baseball season can continue remains in doubt.  I feel for St. Louis players and fans because the Cardinals have only played five games. Positive Covid-19 tests of several players including All-Star catcher Yadier Molina and shortstop Paul DeJong (and several non-playing personnel) mean that St. Louis won't play again until this weekend. 

 
There is no way that St. Louis will be able to play a full schedule in this truncated 60-game season. Even with seven-inning doubleheaders to lessen the wear-and-tear on pitchers.  

 
Interestingly, MLB broadcaster Jim Kaat (and winner of 283 MLB games) thinks that all games should be seven innings. He may be talking tongue-in-cheek but he has a valid point. 

 
If the length of games is the huge issue that commissioner Rob Manfred claims it is (and the TV networks too), why not shorten every game to 7 innings?  Most starters including great ones like the Mets' Jacob DeGrom rarely go more than six innings anyway. 

 

If good faith bargaining ever happens in baseball. a frank exchange of views and real leadership would address this issue and many others.  In the meantime, let me end with the last couplets of WC Williams' "The Crowd at the ballgame":

 

"It is summer, it is the solstice

the crowd is

 
cheering, the crowd is laughing

in detail

 
permanently, seriously 

without thought."

 

Here's to "laughing in detail . . . permanently, seriously without thought."

 

And always remember:  Take it easy but take it.

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Reflections on the Return of MLB + The Enduring Importance of Movies of the 1940s

Major League Baseball has returned, narrowly beating out the NBA and the NHL in the race to grab the attention of scores-starved sports fans. After the first weekend of the season, every one of the 30 MLB teams can claim a victory. 

 
No team has started 3-0 for the first time since 1954.  And my supposedly doomed doormat Orioles took two out of three at Fenway against the admittedly weakened Bosox whose pitching looks as questionable as Baltimore's.

 
The Birds already have two feel-good stories. Starter Alex Cobb picked up his first victory since 2018, and reliever Cole Sulser earned his first MLB save, a two-inning job that brought back warm memories of the days of Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Sparky Lyle, and Bruce Sutter. 

 
'Twas quite a weekend for the Big Green of Hanover, NH. Sulser is a Dartmouth alum. So is Kyle Hendricks who pitched the Cubs' first complete game opening day shutout since 1974. With no walks, only three hits, and almost 10 K's, his Opening Day line was evidently the best since 1888.  

 

The glow from this good news faded when it was learned that over the weekend in Philadelphia, more than ten of the Miami Marlins had tested positive or shown symptoms of coronavirus.  

 
The first home games of the Marlins have now been postponed and so has at least the first game of the Yankees' visit to Philadelphia.  The clubhouse that the Marlins occupied all weekend has to be thoroughly disinfected. 

 
Who knows if this tenuous 60-game MLB season will be completed, let alone the expanded playoffs in which 16 of the 30 teams will qualify. 

 

The public health of the nation should override considerations of commercialized sports.  

 Sadly, I fear that decades ago we lost in this country any concept of what "public" and "health" really mean.


I just found a poem by Carl Sandburg written in 1918, around the time that World War One was ending and the flu epidemic was raging, that speaks so vitally to our current situation.  

 
It's called "I Am The People, the Mob" and one line goes: 

"Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red drops for history to remember. 

Then - I forget."    

 
I think the search for a time when sacrifice meant something attracts me to movies of the 1940s, several of which I've seen recently on TCM.  Until the virus hit, I was supposed to teach at Chautauqua next week a class on baseball and American culture in the 1940s.

Please allow me a little historical reflection.

 

The 1940s are such an important decade in our history because even the most liberal historians admit that FDR's New Deal didn't get us out of the Great Depression but arming for World War II was the main reason. 

 
During the war, sacrifice was understood by almost the entire country.   Future Hall of Famers Bob Feller and Ted Williams willingly gave us their baseball careers to serve their country in World War II. 

 
Just as importantly, tens of millions of ordinary citizens, white and Black, risked and lost their lives in combat. And those at home, men and women and boys and girls, planted victory gardens and donated basic supplies to the war effort. 

 
Though wartime MLB was a diluted product, love of baseball remained a national glue. The opening scene from the early noir classic, "Laura" (1944), has Dana Andrews toying with a hand-held ball-bearing game called "Baseball" as he begns to tackle a mysterious murder case. That gesture has always symbolized for me the spell of the game on this country when it truly was the only national sport of any significance. 

 
But once the war ended after the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, the national mood changed.  The best movies really caught that change. 

 

In William Wyler's "Best Years of Their Lives" (1946), being a war hero means nothing to Lieutenant Dana Andrews when he returns looking for something better than a soda jerker's job in his Midwestern town. 

 
The subtleties abound in Robert E. Sherwood's script based on Mackinlay Kantor's novel.  Frederic March's sergeant - a lower rank in war than Andrews but a bank officer in civilian life - brings back a captured Japanese sword for his son who tells him his professor at school opposed the dropping of the A-bombs.

 
Two John Garfield films seen on TCM in past weeks have also really stayed with me.

"Pride of the Marines" (1945) was made when the war was not yet over. Salt-of-the-earth soldier Garfield can't come to grips with being blinded in battle, but nurse Rosemary DeCamp leads him towards acceptance.

(To modern ears, the use of the derogatory term "Jap" may jar in both movies, but given that the war was still going on, the language is understandable.) 

 
In Garfield's last Warner Brothers film, "The Breaking Point" (1950, directed by Michael Curtiz)), his character Harry Morgan has become a small boat captain because the post-war period hasn't been good to him.  "Every time since I took off my uniform, I'm not so great," he tells his wife (Phyllis Thaxter). He plunges almost inexorably into crime. 


Based on Hemingway's "To Have and Have Not," the film is more gritty and superior to the Howard Hawks' 1944 version with Bogart and 19-year-old Lauren Bacall.  "Breaking Point" was written by Ranald McDougall who got the main writing credit for "Mildred Pierce" (1945) and went on to create for Harry Belafonte that haunting vision of a post-nuclear war world, "The World, The Flesh, and The Devil" (1959). 

 
"The Breaking Point" was the last Eddie Muller Noir Alley TCM selection until after Labor Day and will give me plenty to think about over the summer. Writer McDougall created the memorable character of a son for Garfield's fellow sea worker Juano Hernan

dez, an excellent vastly underappreciated actor.  Patricia Neal as a femme fatale is rather unforgetable. too.

 

Two tips for TCM for end of July:  

Thurs July 30 11:15A - "Easy Living" (1949) directed by Jacques Tourneur based on a story by Irwin Shaw.  A football player with a bad heart (Victor Mature) is warned about his life-threatening illness by a cardiologist (Jim Backus in pre "Mr. Magoo" days.)

 

Victor's wife wants him to keep playing (Lisabeth Scott).  Owner of the team is played by Lloyn Nolan.  Sonny Tufts plays a teammate of Mature as does Kenny Washington who was the Jackie Robinson of the NFL in 1946 (and also played with JR at UCLA).  

 

Other Rams are in the film including Tom Fears, Fred Gehrke, and Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch..  Memorable touch guys Paul Stewart and Richard Erdman appear, Lucille Ball plays the team secretary and I kid you not - Jack Paar is the team PR man.

 

Then Fri July 31 at Noon -  a TV "Director's Cut" from 1955 - "Rookie of the Year". A sportswriter recognizes a baseball player as the son of a banned player from an earlier time.  

 

Well, that's all for now.  Be well and stay well and obey social distancing and mask wearing rules.  But still always remember:  Take it easy but take it!  

 

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