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Reflections on Stan Musial's 3000th Hit, "Woman of the Year" on TCM, and Pianist Igor Levit

I'm posting this blog on the night of May 13, 2020.  62 years ago in the daytime at Chicago's Wrigley Field - before lights came to desecrate that baseball pantheon - Stan "The Man" Musial stroked his 3000th hit, only the eighth to do so and the first since Paul Waner had done so for Dodgers in 1942.  

 
Somehow in the This Day in Sports History section of the NY Times today, Musial's milestone was omitted. Stan The Man, named in grudging genuine respect by Brooklyn Dodgers fan for how he wore them out in Brooklyn, just doesn't get respect. Maybe because he was basically Midwestern nice and didn't exhibit the rage of Ted Williams or the cool grace of Joe DiMaggio.

 

There is a wonderful saying:  "If consistency were a place, it would be lightly populated." Well, Musial would be a treasured resident in that hallowed hall.

3630 career hits, 1815 at home, 1815 on road, .331 lifetime BA, 1951 career RBI, 1949 runs scored.  At the time, 3630 was second to Ty Cobb in most career hits. 

 
Musial was more than his stats, though.  He could run and throw and his story should be a warmly remembered one.  He started out as a left-handed pitcher but his permanent shift to outfield early in the 1941 minor league season propelled him to the big leagues and a 22-year career.  

 
Biographers James Giglio and George Vecsey have done an admirable job in recent years bringing Musial back to our attention. Let's remember his achievement and not get hung up on big city East Coast West Coast delusions of grandeur.

 


NOW LET'S GO TO THE MOVIES!

As readers of this blog know, watching largely black-and-white old movies on the TCM cable channel has kept me somewhat sane during the pandemic.

 
So last night - May 12th - I caught "Woman of the Year" (1942), not realizing until later that it was the first Spencer Tracy-Katherine Hepburn movie pairing.  Eight more were to come as well as a long-lasting off-screen relationship (though devout Catholic Tracy never divorced).

 
The concept of a grizzled sportswriter falling in love with an internationally-acclaimed activist-reporter that looks down on sports was a good one.   The film, written by Ring Lardner Jr. and the brothers Kanin, Garson and Michael, was directed crisply by George Stevens who had worked with Hepburn earlier in her career.

 

In any memorable film, the supporting cast has a huge role in its success.  Minor Watson plays Hepburn's father.  He congratulates Tracy for having the courage and stamina to marry someone as independent and talented as his daughter. 

 

(In 1950 Minor Watson would offer a good portrait of Branch Rickey in "The Jackie Robinson Story". Not as good as Harrison Ford's in "42" (2013) but still believable.)  

 
William Bendix as the bartender-manager of Tracy's favorite watering hole is hilarious as an ex-boxer ready at a moment's notice to describe how he knocked out Braddock in the seventh round.  It feels nice to give a plug to Bendix after his unfortunate title role six years later in the "Babe Ruth Story".

 
Near the end of the flick, Tracy delivers one of my favorite lines after secretly watching Hepburn's farcical attempt at making breakfast:  "It's fourth down and time to kick."  

 

The ending of the film does wimp out with Hepburn literally on her knees promising to be a more domestic wife for old-fashioned Tracy.  Nobody working on the film was happy with the ending, but M-G-M under Louis B. Mayer was not going to take a chance on an ambiguous ending esp. as World War II loomed.  (It opened in early Febuary 1942 at NYC's Radio City Music Hall and no doubt was completed well before Pearl Harbor.)   

 
Stephanie Zacharek in her April 21, 2017 essay in criterion.com makes a couple of very penetrating observations.  She writes that the Tracy-Hepburn pairing showed that "the secret to happiness is finding joy in the corners." She adds if we're unhappy with the hokey ending, "It's an invocation to write our own better one - one that we can ourselves can live." 

 
Amen to all that!  Certainly watching Hepburn in "Woman of the Year" - a title she receives in the film for her international journalism - made up for the incongruity of seeing her earlier yesterday on TCM.  It was in a film three years later, "Undercurrent" (1945, directed by Vincente Minnelli.) 

 
After a horse kills her no-good husband Robert Taylor (who had almost killed her), she is pictured on a sofa listening rapturously to Taylor's kinder brother Robert Mitchum (!) playing Brahms on the piano.  There have been stranger scenes in Hollywood films but this one ranks in the top ten IMHO. 

 
One last cultural tip -  check out the May 18, 2020 New Yorker magazine for Alex Ross's probing profile of gifted young pianist Igor Levit.  He is portrayed as someone who not only delivers the goods as a musician - with wide open ears willing to embrace all kinds of popular music. But he insists on being a social activist for all the good causes. 

 

Levit even tells the story of being overwhelmed by the goodness and intelligence of Monica Lewinsky when she came backstage after a rare Levit NYC performance.  As a big coalition man myself, I'll take workable coalitions wherever they may appear. 

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

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Hey, Dr. Fauci, There Were Giant Fans in NYC Too! + More Thoughts on Baseball, Movies, and Music (revised to note that Sat May 9 is day for "Ace in the Hole" on TCM)

Dr. Anthony Fauci has deservedly become a voice of sanity and hope in these increasingly nervous times.  The former Upper East Side Regis Prep School point guard is also a great baseball fan who has switched to rooting for the world champion Washington Nationals after growing up as a Yankees fan.

 
Yet when he recently told James Wagner of the New York Times that in the 1950s "everybody in Brooklyn was either a Dodger or a Yankee fan," I reacted with horror: "Have you never heard of New York Giant fans, dear doctor?" 

 

As I post on Willie Mays' 89th birthday on May 6th, let me remind him that there was a third team in NYC with a history that predated either Yankee pinstripes and Dodger blue. And Willie Mays more than deserved to be in the same company as Mickey and the Duke. Alvin Dark could hold his own in all-around play with Pee Wee and Phil.  (But I'm not going to going to bat for Wes Westrum over Campy and Yogi.)

 

It's true there weren't as many of us New York Giant fans, but there were plenty scattered around the five boroughs of NYC and neighboring suburbs. Including future Hall of Famer Joe Torre raised close to Fauci in Bensonhurst deep in the heart of Brooklyn.

 

"Nobody's perfect," Dr. Fauci, and please continue doing your good work of trying to talk truth to power about the public health quandary we find ourselves in. 

 
"Nobody's perfect", of course, brings to mind Joe E. Brown's classic closing line in Billy

Wilder's hilarious farce "Some Like It Hot" (1959).This Sat May 9 at 8PM, there is a deserved prime time showing on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) of Wilder's rarely seen earlier film "Ace In The Hole". 

 
It was released in 1951 the year after his big success with "Sunset Boulevard" (1950). 

Kirk Douglas plays a newspaper reporter banished to New Mexico from NYC. A mine accident traps a worker underground, and Douglas seizes this opportunity to make a national story at the expense of the poor victim. 

 
Douglas reportedly urged Wilder to soften his character a little bit, but the director was unrelenting.  He wanted to make a mordant statement about mass culture and he sure did.  The film pretty much bombed at the box office in the U.S., but made more money in France released as "The Big Carnival" (1955). 

 
One more TCM tip in the coming days. In a rare back-to-back showing, on Monday May 11 at 8PM and 1045PM, George Nierenberg's joyous tap dance documentary, "No Maps On My Taps" (1979) will be shown. Tap masters Sandman Sims, Bunny Briggs, and Chuck Green get deserved acclaim. 

 
Some of the music in the doc. is provided by Lionel Hampton who once told me when he wasn't traveling, he often coached first base for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. 

 

Speaking of the Monarchs and the Negro leagues, an absorbing and intelligent read is Jeremy Beer's award-winning biography, OSCAR CHARLESTON (University of Nebraska Press). 

Glad to see too that Oscar was honored with a plaque in his home town of Indianapolis.

 

I have no crystal ball on when we might see live baseball in the States again. In their thirst for live sports, ESPN has made a deal with the Korean Baseball Organization for late night coverage Tu through Su plus playoffs..

 
On Monday night May 4th I stayed up late to watch an opening night game. And whatdya know?   There was a rain delay!   It was only a half-hour pause, and for the few innings I could stay awake I was treated to crisp defensive play and good pitching. Fan noises were piped into the empty stadium which may happen here if there are indeed games in the USA in 2020.

 

In the meantime, let's cherish our memories of games and heroes of the past. And keep hoping we'll have a future of fresh games to look forward to sometime soon.

 

As Dr, Fauci described it beautifuclly a few days ago, you're at a game and "just watch things go slowly and then all of a sudden explode with a couple of line drives off the wall."  And if home runs follow, your adrenaline goes up tenfold!  

 

Until that happy moment, now more than ever, Take it easy but take it!  

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