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Troubled Musings on Baseball + Farewells to Carl Reiner & Johnny Mandel & More TCM Tips (updated)


I cannot say that I'm looking forward with any eagerness to the delayed opening of the MLB season on July 23 and 24. There are too many public health complications that could arise because of the still-uncontrolled coronavirus.  

 
Although travel will be mainly regional in the shortened 60-game regular season, teams will still be constantly on the road interacting with local populations that too often have disdained mask wearing and social distancing.   It may also be too much to expect the virile young players themselves to obey these rules and stick to their hotels while on the road.

 

There have already been some significant player defections. The biggest names so far who won't play at all in 2020 are Dodgers new southpaw David Price; Giants onetime All-Star catcher Buster Posey who doesn't want to put at risk his newly adopted infant twin daughters; and the Braves all-around outfielder Nick Markakis whose concern grew when he talked with his star teammate, first baseman Freddie Freeman who is already suffering with Covid-19.     

 
The quietly productive Markakis has 2355 career hits and will hurt his outside chance of reaching the magic number of 3000. Markakis was an Orioles mainstay for the first nine years of his career. But Baltimore blundered by not re-signing him after the 2014 season (sigh and double sigh. And still-active and productive Nelson Cruz too - more sighs.)   

 
Even before Freeman's affliction, Markakis was not thrilled at playing a season in empty stadiums. A gamer and a quiet leader, Nick liked playing in front of and for fans.  Perhaps he also remembered that game in 2013 when the Orioles played the White Sox in an empty Camden Yards after the riots sparked by Freddie Gray's death in police custody.  

 
As always, Houston's new manager Dusty Baker expressed some trenchant thoughts about baseball's situation during the pandemic. Interviewed during the Fourth of July weekend on WFAN's 33rd anniversary, he said he had used his time off clearing out a lot of unneeded stuff from closets and garages in his home.  

 
"We have too much," he noted.  The very charitable and socially conscious Baker, who at 71 is the oldest manager in MLB, said he donated a lot of material to garage sales and the homeless.  

 
Houston may have caught a break by the enforced idleness because the booing of the Astros in abbreviated spring training was intense.  Of course, the high tech-low comedy sign-stealing scandal occurred under previous manager A. J. Hinch and bench coach Alex Cora. 

 
Life must go on even in a pandemic.  "There is no wealth but life" remains my favorite adage courtesy of John Ruskin the British social theorist and art historian (who had no discovered connection to baseball, at least at press time).  


Here on the Upper West Side of New York City, we seem to be practicing social distancing and mask wearing very well.  The permanent closing of many restaurants and stores is very sad, but I was able this weekend to dine in the outdoors. Under Phase 3 recovery regulations,  surviving eateries are allowed to set up as many tables on sidewalks as space allows.

 
Before I close, I want to salute the memory of two nonagenarian creators who left us since I last posted: Composer-arranger Johnny Mandel, 94, and actor-comedian-writer Carl Reiner, 98.

 
I never met Carl Reiner but his role as a second banana to Sid Caesar on NBC Saturday  night's "Your Show of Shows" was a formative part of my first TV viewing in the early 1950s.  

 
Some of Reiner's bits with Caesar are etched forever in my brain.  Like his playing the title role in "The Dancing Doughboy" skit, a satire on World War I.  Poor Sid goes off to war while Carl is at home singing and dancing.  That's why you're fighting overseas, he tells Sid. So he can have fun at home.   


Or the Scrabble game where Reiner questions a strange word that Caesar has put down, and Sid challenges Carl's "MACHINE":  "What's this "MAC HINE?  That's not a word, it's a name." 

 
Reiner was truly American entertainment's Renaissance man.  He was Mel Brooks' interviewer on the hilarious "2000 Year Old Man" albums; director of TV's "Dick Van Dyke Show" and many movies; and of course father of actor-director Rob Reiner who first came to fame as Archie Bunker's son-in-law aka "Meathead". 

 
Dear reliable TCM will devote the evening and early morning hours on Th July 28 to a Reiner salute beginning with the semi-autobiographical "Enter Laughing" at 8p, followed by "All of Me" with Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin at 10p, "The Comic" at midnight, "Where's Poppa" at 2a, and "Oh God!" with George Burns at 330a.

 
While I'm plugging TCM's great programming, set your dials this coming Saturday night July 18 for "Bogie in 1941".  Coming at us back-to-back: "Maltese Falcon" at 8p, followed by "High Sierra" at 10p.  Earlier at 2p from 1944, Dick Powell breaks permanently free from his goody-two-shoes persona in "Murder, My Sweet". 

 

If that's not enough, at midnight Eddie Muller's Noir Alley features "Three Strangers" 1946 with that memorable duo of Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet plus Geraldine Fitzgerald all tied together by one winning lottery ticket. 

 

TCM program note:  After July 25-26 "The Breaking Point," John Garfield's last film, Noir Alley will be on hiatus in August, but happily will return the second weekend in September.

 
Another great loss to our culture recently was Johnny Mandel, 94, in southern California. The New York-born composer-arranger - his early schooling was at PS 6 on Upper East Side - gifted the world with many great movie melodies.

 

A partial list includes "The Shadow of Your Smile" (from "The Sandpiper" with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton); "Emily" (from the "Americanization of Emily" with James Garner and Julie Andrews); "Suicide Is Painless" (the theme from "M*A*S*H); and a particular favorite of mine, the chromatically lush "Close Enough For Love" (from "Agatha").  

 

"I Want to Live" was his early breakthrough score in the 1950s, based on the real story of the jazz-loving unfairly-convicted murderer Barbara Graham (Susan Hayward). 

 
In one of my last interviews for WBAI-Pacifica in 1991, I visited Mandel when he was staying at a hotel in New York.  For all the great acclaim he received for his writing for movies, he considered playing horns in the Count Basie band in the 1950s his greatest musical thrill.  

 
We lost another great nonagenarian movie composer last week when Ennio Morricone died at 91.

 

And finally, here's a hoist of a glass to film-maker Kevin Rafferty, who left us much too early at age 73.  His doc. about the nuclear industry, "The Atomic Cafe," is a renowned classic.  

 
I discovered his work through his enjoyable and informative documentary "Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29," about the 1968 classic football encounter between two undefeated Ivy League powerhouses.  Viewing this film might take the sting away from the recent announcement that there will be no Ivy League football in the fall of 2020. 

 

Let's hope these great creators are never forgotten.  And those younger amongst us can find inspiration for such memorable fulfillment in our work. 

 
Always remember:  Take it easy but take it!  

 

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Baseball and TCM Movie Musings On The Eve of Birthday 78

I celebrate my 78th birthday tomorrow Saturday June 27th. I think I was born around 530p in the afternoon because my mother told me her water broke when she was listening to "Information Please" on the radio and she had to miss the end of the show. (No head sets or new media back in 1942).  

 

(Last blog I raved about "Woman of the Year" that came out in 1942 and opens with an "Information Please" show being broadcast.  Could I have remembered that from the womb?

Cue "Twilight Zone" music, please.)

 

I'm not big on numbers except for computing batting averages in my head. To think that all year I've been talking about riding on 77 Sunset Strip when actually I completed 77 years on this planet a year ago. 

 

(For younger readers, "77 Sunset Strip" was a hit ABC TV show of the 1950s, starring Efrem Zimbalist Jr,. son of the world-famed classical violinist, plaiying a detective, of course.  His assistant was Edd Byrnes playing richly-coiffed Kookie and teeny boppers screamed at him, "Kookie, Kookie, lend me your comb!")

 
So this year I was actually spinning my records at 78 revolutions per minute, hoping that of course I stayed on the spindle and didn't careen sideways. I got through year 78 OK although I do continue to have some issues about losing my balance when walking and had some minor plumbing repair done in September.

 

I'm ready for whatever the "new normal" this year brings. I hope to be comfortably residing  at 79 Wistful Vista, home address of radio's legendary Fibber McGee and Molly, known in real life as Jim and Marian Jordan from Peoria, Illinois.  

 

As you probably know by now, there will be some semblance of a baseball season starting on either July 23 or 24. It will consist of 60 games with all of them in both leagues played regionally to minimize travel in a still-raging time of Covid-19.

 

So the Mets and Yankees will play their four division rivals 10 times each and their five cross-division rivals four times each. Details of the post-season are still being ironed out.  

 

To call the final matchup a "World Series" annoys me. But that is a minor criticism compared to the health risks to the players and the continuing distrust between owners and players. 

 

I hope there will be no serious injuries to rusty players who might over-exert themselves at the beginning of a short season.  I think I will watch some of the TV games more as a clinician than a fan.  

 

I still don't see leadership on either side of a sport that has declined in attendance the last few years and has a fan base whose average age is 57. It remains the most beautiful of sports, but the length of games and a now-boring routine of strikeouts-home runs-walks are serious problems.    

 

John Sherman is one owner who deserves great credit for agreeing to pay all his minor leaguers for 2020 even though there will likely be no minor league season.  Interestingly, Sherman is the newest owner on the block.

 

He was wise enough to listen to his general manager Dayton Moore who won a World Series in 2015 and knows the importance of minor league development. Unfortunately, MLB still wants to terminate a quarter of the minor league teams and the first of what I'm sure will be several lawsuits was filed last week to protest the short-sighted policy.

 

According to thorough reviews of all 30 owners in an Andrew Baggerly piece in the "Athletic" and a two-part Axios Sports study, Sherman is one of the least rich owners. Worth "only" a little over a billion dollars, made primarily in the hydrocarbon business.

 

John Sherman should not be confused with another less financially endowed owner, Bruce Sherman of the Marlins. This Sherman made a lot of his money buying newspapers and ultimately dissolving their companies. Derek Jeter has a slice of the team but not that much.  

  

I like Baggarly's trenchant phrase to describe most of the 30 men who own MLB franchises:  "Inheritance plus the magic of compound interest." It may be hard to believe, but guess which team's ownership group enjoys the most longevity in today's game? The Yankees. George Steinbrenner bought the team in 1973 and his younger son Hal, 51, is the managing partner. 

 

Another interesting tidbit in Baggerly's chronicle is that Phillies owner John Middleton traces the origins of his wealth to a cigar store that his ancestors founded in Philadelphia before the Civil War. A century and a half later, Middleton was the owner who before the 2019 season openly admitted to spending recklessly to sign free agents Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto.

 

Enough about the owners.  Nobody ever paid to see them, did they?  

 

With no games to watch or listen to on radio, and already getting out of the habit of searching scores on my radio on the quarter-hour, my great companion has remained TCM.  And the Monday and Thursday evening "Jazz on Film" series throughout June didn't disappoint.

 

I misspelled director/photographer Gjon Mili's name in the last blog.  As host Eddie Muller says, Mili's 10-minute "Jammin' The Blues" (1944) is the best short introduction to jazz.  The effortless flip of drum sticks from Sid Catlett to Jo Jones in the middle of a blues number remains one of the most compelling moments in both jazz and film.

 

Papa Jo Jones had one of the great smiles in jazz and it was an elegant touch for "The End" to appear over his smiling face. 

 

While on the subject of my boo-boos, I was mistaken that Hoagy Carmichael's lovely song 'New Orleans" appeared in the movie of the same name that aired last night (June 25).  

"Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans" was one of the featured tunes.

 

Although playing a maid in her only real full film role, Billie Holiday acted convincingly and sang of course with great conviction. Louis Armstrong was a strong presence in the film playing himself.  (He was called "Satchmo" in the film and it was a popular nickname but he much preferred to be called "Pops".) 

 

One of the enduring pleasures of TCM is that you can stumble into a film with no knowledge and be totally enraptured.  I knew nothing about Howard Hawks's  "I Was A Male War Bride" 1949.  If you can believe Cary Grant as a French army captain in post-WW II Germany, you will enjoy the belly laughs in this film.  Its satire of military bureaucracy is also quite telling. 

 

It was part of Ann Sheridan Tuesday nights in June, and it may be the best role ever for that spunky, alluring, and talented Texas who fought the Warner Studios for better roles, even once being suspended for a year.  She and Grant worked well with each other; he was a real trouper as the victim of most of the pranks.

 

The last Ann Sheridan night in June will be Monday June 30 at 8p  "City of Conquest" 1940, also starring James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart as a prize fighter willing to risk blindness to help his brother pay for his education.  Elia Kazan makes a rare appearance as actor.

 

Here are some tips for the first 10 days of July with Mondays being Tony Curtis Night.

On M July 6 at 1145p "The Vikings" is on in which I believe the man born Bernie Schwartz in Brooklyn says, "Yonder is the castle of my father."  Please correct me if I'm wrong.

 

The weekend of July 10-11 has some juicy double bills.

F July 10 8p John Ford's rare comedy, "The Whole Town's Talking" 1935 with Edward G. Robinson playing a mousy bank employee AND a gangster;  followed at 10p "Arrowsmith" 1931 adaptation of Sinclair Lewis' powerful novel.

 

Sa July 11 8p "Dr. Strangelove" 1964 followed at 10p by the earlier more light-hearted but still pertinent satire, "The Mouse That Roared".

 

That's all for now--please keep your cool both physically and politically and always  remember:  "Take it easy it but take it!"  

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

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