Tuesday October 03, 2023
Brooks Robinson (1937-2023)
Athletes get better with time. Training gets better, equipment gets better, diet gets better. Today, these guys are doing it 24/7 rather than in their spare time. At the turn of the 20th century, half of Major League Baseball seemed to be hinterland kids avoiding the coal mines who worked at grocery stores in the off-season. Back then, you needed spring training to actually get in shape. Now guys show up in better shape than the rest of the world. That's why amazing plays from the past don't seem so amazing today.
An exception is Brooks Robinson.
Most of his plays in the 1970 World Series are still amazing—particularly the Lee May play. And that play mattered. That often gets lost in the discussion. It was Game 1, Oct. 10, 1970, and while the 108-win Orioles were favorites over the 102-win Cincinnati Reds, the Orioles had been prohibitive favorites the year before against the New York Mets and still lost in five. And they were losing this one, 3-0. Lee May was 2-2, a single and a 2-run homerun—he was making an early argument for MVP—and with the game now tied 3-3 in the sixth (on homeruns by Boog Powell and Elrod Hendricks), he furthered that argument with a lead-off double down the left field line.
Except, oh wait, not a double. The Orioles third baseman, Brooks Robinson, ranged to his right, stabbed the ball, and, from deep in foul territory, heaved a throw over to first base that nabbed May by half a step. (Video here.)
Even today you're like: Holy crap.
Here's how important that play was: The next two guys got on (walk, single) but didn't score. May certainly would've scored ahead of them, and maybe one or both would've scored since there would've been one fewer out against the Reds. But they didn't. And the next inning, the Orioles went ahead on a solo homerun ... by Brooks Robinson. That made it 4-3, Orioles, and that's how the first game ended. The O's wound up winning the Series in five, Brooks Robinson batted .429 with a 1.238 OPS, and made so many great plays at third, robbing the Reds again and again, that afterwards Pete Rose famously said: “Brooks Robinson belongs in a higher league.” He, not Lee May, was named MVP.
And here's the crucial inning on Baseball Reference's play-by-play chart:
Announcer Jim McIntyre: “Great day in the morning, what a play!” The history books: “Groundout: 3B-1B.”
You know who didn't get Pete Rose's memo about Brooksie? Topps. I guess they didn't have much competition back then, and didn't pay much for photographers, so this was Brooks' card the following season, my first real year of collecting cards, along with his World Series card:
In one he's (I guess?) striking out, in the other ... just what is that? A catcher looking for a contact lens? Someone imitating a turtle? It's like a grainy Bigfoot photo. “We think it's a baseball player but we're not sure.” And it's mostly infield dirt! No one had a zoom back then?
Brooks was my first Brooks—for a time, I actually thought his name was “Brook”—and one of two great Robinsons on the great 1966-71 Orioles team. As a Twins fan, that seemed totally unfair. We'll give you one Hall of Fame Robinson, but two? The other, Frank, won the 1966 World Series MVP, won the 1966 Triple Crown, and hit 586 career homers. It was a time of civil rights, when race was on everybody's mind, and they were asked about it a lot. Hey, two ballplayers, black and white, with the same last name? Surely, you two can solve the implacable American problem. Brooks' go-to was a joke: They were the same height, same weight, but you could tell them apart: “We wear different numbers,” he said. They joked about it in a Miller Lite commercial as well.
Brooks died last week of cardiovascular disease at the age of 86. He was, by all accounts, a beautiful man, open, friendly, classy. I've got a half-dozen quotes about him from Joe Posnanski's obit alone but I'll stick with the best of them. Brooks retired at the end of the 1977 season and they honored him at a banquet. This was shortly after Reggie Jackson hit three homeruns in the final game of the 1977 World Series, and there was a lot of buzz about that. Jackson had said that if he played in New York they'd name a candy bar after him, and now they were going to. And at the banquet, sportswriter Gordon Beard teed that up. He said: “Brooks never asked anyone to name a candy bar after him. In Baltimore, people name their children after him.”
Tuesday October 03, 2023
A Million Ways to Die in the AL West
From Joe Posnanski's end-of-regular-season column, going over the events of the last day—beginning with ...
Astros win again (because of course they do)
I had this feeling a couple of days ago when Aroldis Chapman had his ninth-inning meltdown, that it would end up costing the Texas Rangers the division title. I didn’t know HOW it would happen — I actually thought the most likely scenario was that the Mariners would sweep the Rangers — but something about that loss and, specifically, the role of Aroldis Chapman in it suggested some bad juju and a crushing finish to what has been a glorious season for the Rangers.
Well, the Mariners did not sweep — the Mariners have their own bad juju to deal with. But they did take three out of four, including Sunday’s gut-punch 1-0 victory, and the Astros woke up just in time to sweep the Diamondbacks (allowing just two runs in the three games) and now the Rangers are stuck trying to win a best-of-three series in Tampa Bay while the Astros get to sip martinis and wait for whoever wins that Twins-Blue Jays series.
Those two are NOT the same thing.
One: It's very cute that Joe thought the Mariners would sweep. He just doesn't know what it's like to be us.
Two: Well, I guess he knows it a little: “the Mariners have their own bad juju to deal with.”
Three: I wrote about all this on Tim's and my Section 327 Substack. Basically: Yay, we kept the Rangers from winning the title! Crap, we let the Astros win the title again! There's no winning, even when we win.
Four: It is astonishing how much those two are not the same thing.
Monday October 02, 2023
Movie Review: Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021)
Is Zack Snyder the Leni Riefenstahl of the Trump era?
I know, I know, that’s such an unfair question. Riefenstahl was actually talented.
Kidding! No, it’s a totally unfair comparison … yet somehow I keep returning to it. It’s that grandiose superman posturing—this time with an actual Superman (Henry Cavill)—but full of disphittery, befitting Trump and his era. Remember the opening to “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central, and the way Colbert’s right-wing pundit landed in a three-point crouch and then rose majestically? It was so perfectly stupid I thought he killed that move for all time, but apparently it’s tough to kill stupid. Snyder must return to the move a dozen times in this film.
Both men, Zack and Trump, lost their battles and then sic’ed their minions on the power structure to overturn the results. Trump’s big play was the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. A TV game show host and gasbag real estate mogul attempted to violently overthrow American democracy … and very nearly succeeded. And still might.
Snyder did succeed. This movie is the result.
I have more sympathy for Snyder, of course, but it has limits. His rebellion involved artistic differences. He had a vision, the corporation took it away from him during a time of tragedy, he marshalled forces on social media (#ReleaseTheSnyderCut), and the suits relented. But it’s not like the people in charge disliked his vision; they disliked the returns on investment. They’d given him the most valuable superhero IP in the world and he returned with “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which grossed about half of what “The Avengers” did. Stupid may be tough to kill but dipshit only goes so far at the box office. All in all, Zack’s vision probably cost Warner Bros. more than a billion dollars. So if you’re a CEO or CFO, and even if you’re among the dipshits who put him in charge in the first place, you probably lose a little patience. You probably think, “Hey, what about that ‘Avengers’ guy? He still available?”
And that was the theatrically released “Justice League,” begun with Snyder’s heavy hand, finished with Joss Whedon’s light comedic touch, not “BvS”-awful but not good. Not a triumph.
And now, with his name not only above the title but possessing it, we get “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.” It took me about 10 tries to finally force it down. I could only handle scenes like this for so long:
Steppenwolf: DeSaad! I call to thee!
[DeSaad appears in the wall of rock]
DeSaad: Steppenwolf, have you begun the conquest? …You still owe the great one 50,000 more worlds. He will hear your plea when you pay your debt.
Steppenwolf: The Mother Boxes will be found and united. No protectors here. No Lanterns, no Kryptonian. This world will fall, like all the others.
DeSaad: For Darkseid. [Vanishes in the wall of rock]
Steppenwolf: For Darkseid.
It’s not just the “thee” and the bowing, and the appearing and disappearing in a wall of rock, it’s those names. I think of a kid in the back row of English class sketching the logos of heavy metal bands onto his notebook. DeSaad. Steppenwolf. Cool! And yes, those names came out of Jack Kirby’s “New Gods” comic books, the ones he made at DC in the early 1970s when he jumped to DC—and possibly jumped the shark—so it’s not completely Snyder’s fault. Question: Is the Whedon-Snyder dynamic not far off from the Lee-Kirby one? Stan Lee had a lighter, comedic touch, which meshed with Kirby’s monumental but often ponderous approach, and for a time they worked well together. Obviously there was no such Whedon-Snyder dynamic since they never worked together, let alone well, but the comic book industry does seem full of this split: the witty ones with a ready wink, and the ponderous ones that want to brood on rooftops in the rain.
Alright, what exactly is “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” about?
Well, there’s an enemy coming. They were actually here eons ago, during “The Age of Heroes.” Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) tells Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) about it at the end of Part 2 of this movie. The part called “The Age of Heroes”:
Diana: As Darkseid waged war on Earth, he found a secret there. A power hidden in the infinity of space. He called forth mystics who worshipped and controlled three objects: the Mother Boxes.
Bruce: Mother Boxes?
Diana: Indestructible living machines made from a science so advanced it looks like sorcery. To conquer, three Boxes have to join and synchronize into the Unity. The Unity cleanses a planet with fire, transforming it into a copy of the enemy’s world. All who live become servants of Darkseid, alive but drained of life: parademons.
I like imagining Affleck practicing his line. “‘MOTHER Boxes?’ ‘Mother BOXes ?’ Wait, maybe just ‘Mother…?’ and let it trail off? Right?”
Back in the day, the inhabitants of Earth—Atlanteans, Amazonians and humans—united and beat back Darkseid for the first time in any universe ever. Yay, us! The bad guys were in such retreat they left the Mother Boxes behind, so they’re still here, one with each group, asleep. But oops, now with Superman dead (thanks, Batman!), they’re waking up and calling to Steppenwolf, who shows up with his parademons, who, per above, are actually just victims, aren’t they? God, that’s sad. Meanwhile, Steppenwolf may seem like a superbaddie with a horned head and no dick, but he’s just a lieutenant to a lieutenant. The real enemy is Darkseid who barely gets screentime in this four-hour monstrosity.
For some reason, they have Batman recruit everybody—though I guess Diana is the one who asks Cyborg (Ray Fisher), the former college quarterback whose superscientist dad (Joe Morton) turns him into a half man-half machine to save his life after a car accident. Dad also gives him the power to control nuclear arsenals and financial markets. “The fate of the world will literally rest in your hands,” he tells him. Wow. And some dads don’t even trust their sons with the car.
Is Cyborg grateful for this power? Or to be alive? Of course not. He’s a teen; he’s bitter. Dad never attended his football games, see, and his beloved mother was killed in the car accident that maimed him, and he’s wondering if his existence is a gift at all—alive but not, dead but not—and I’m just kidding about this last part. At least he doesn’t annunciate any existential concerns. He just broods in the shadows, and when Diana asks him to help save the world, he says “Fuck the world.” Not exactly the words you want to hear from a kid who can control nuclear arsenals.
Aquaman (Jason Momoa) also wants no part of any defense of Earth. He saves Icelandic sailors, knocks back whiskey, then returns to the sea in jeans—which has to be uncomfortable. He has douchebag dialogue with Batman. It’s from “Part 1: Don’t Count On It, Batman”:
Aquaman: Don’t count on it, Batman.
Batman: Why not?
Aquaman: Because I don’t like you coming here, digging into my business, getting into my life. I want to be left alone.
Batman: They won’t leave you alone.
Sorry, that last line is mine. That’s the obvious rejoinder but Bruce doesn’t go there, he just says something stupid. And when Aquaman says “Strong man is strongest alone,” Bruce doesn’t say the obvious, “They are stronger,” he brings up how Superman and he fought side by side, and Superman died, which proves Aquaman’s exact point. Jesus, Bruce are you really this dumb?
The only one who agrees to join the Justice League right away is the Flash (Ezra Miller), who says, “I need … friends.” (Hold onto that thought, Ezra.)
Wait, so white people immediately agree to help humanity while the people of color don’t? And Zack Snyder and his minions accused Joss Whedon of racism?
Anyway, after Steppenwolf gets the first two Mother Boxes, he only needs the third to destroy the world, but it’s the Justice League who has it. By now, the BIPOC community has joined, so there’s five, but is that enough? We get a discussion about how Mother Boxes are “change machines,” and, as fire can change a house into smoke, these things can change smoke back into a house. Flash: “Who’s gonna say it?” Which is when Cyborg creates a holographic image of Superman brought back to life.
That was good bit. I liked that. I also liked them in the Batcave, with Flash being us going “Cool! Batcave!” I liked the Marc McClure cameo. That made me happy. So there are some things in Zack’s movie I liked.
When they bring Supes back to life, he doesn’t remember them, or his credo, or his personality, but he does remember how to fly and use heat vision and all that, and he’s this close to killing Batman, just incinerating him, when, oh, there’s Lois Lane (Amy Adams), who’s been brooding with cups of coffee throughout the first half of the film. Good thing she happened by. And love returns. And Supes joins the Justice League.
Well, not yet. First, he has to return to Smallville with Lois, visit his own grave (Clark’s), and hear how the family farm was foreclosed on by the bank. And somehow Mom (Diane Lane) just happens to drive by at this exact moment? I thought she was in Metropolis? How far is Smallville from Metropolis anyway? How many of these coincidences are you doing, Zack?
The cheer-worthiest moment in the history of ever
I do think Zack’s final battle is better than Joss’. In the Whedon version, the parademons fed on fear, and when Supes and WW destroy Steppenwolf’s sword he becomes fearful and so they fed on him. Burn. There’s also overlong stuff about a staunch Russian family, and a final idiot Batman vs. Flash footrace that recalled the 1960s comics but didn’t fit the whole “world nearly ending” vibe.
Here, Batman and Aquaman fight back the parademons, Cyborg tries to enter the Unity to turn it off (or something) but needs a nudge from a supercharged Flash. But oh no! One of the parademons has wounded Flash! And the Unity has started! Except wounded, and with his father’s words ringing in his ears (“Make your own future, make your own past, it’s all … right … now”), the Flash turns back time! He enters the speed force! You remember that, don’t you? It was voted the No. 1 “Cheer Moment” at the 2022 Academy Awards ceremony. By the Academy? No, by dipshits online. For 2021 movies? No, for all time. No moment in any movie ever made us cheer more than that one. If you’re wondering what a definition of a cult is, that's it: voting for “The Flash enters the speed force” as the cheer-worthiest moment in the history of cinema.
Well, at least Zack got to tell the “Justice League” he always wanted to tell. Done and—
Oh, not over yet?
No. Zack has to tee up the sequel that will never be made, about how Darkseid is going to attack Earth “using the old ways.” Then Cyborg has to listen to the tape his father made for him. And the bank doesn’t foreclose on the Kent farm because Bruce buys the bank. Haw! Couldn’t Bruce have just bought the Kent farm? No, because that wouldn’t be douchebag cool. It has to make you go “Haw!”
And there’s Supes back in Metropolis again, pretending to have a secret identity. “Hey, didn’t Clark die around the same time as Superman?” “Yeah.” “And wasn’t he reborn around the same time as Superman?” “Yeah. Your point?” “Oh, nothing. Kinda funny is all.”
Anyway, finally over.
Sorry, this is Zack. We also get Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) breaking free from Arkham Asylum (or, more accurately, not being there), and hanging on a yacht and telling a one-eyed guy that Batman is really … Bruce Wayne! Then we’re in a post-apocalyptic world? And Batman is being taunted by the Joker (Jared Leto)? And Aquaman and Lois Lane are dead? But of course it’s all a dream. Bruce wakes up, he’s introduced to the Martian Manhunter, who tells him his mom and dad would be proud, and how the Earth wouldn’t have been united without him. Me: The Earth??? It was six people. Did anyone else factor in? We don’t even get a “There are always men like you” moment.
Seriously, I wonder about Zack. I wonder what he thinks of us mere mortals. He’s not only teeing up sequels that will never be made, he tees up his Ayn Rand project with a headline about an architect.
But he did it. He triumphantly willed this movie into existence. He smited his enemies, landed in a three-point crouch and rose majestically. Like a dipshit.
Sunday October 01, 2023
2023 Mariners Done
Yesterday, the Seattle Mariners were eliminated on the second-to-last game of the season, and I watched most of it because it was on network TV. I'd watched nothing of the two previous very exciting games (a walk-off two-run double from J.P. Crawford and an 8-0 win capped by a grand slam from J.P. Crawford) since they were on cable, and who has cable in 2023? One of these days I'll set up a VPN yadda yadda so I can watch the baseball games Major League Baseball won't let me watch—won't let me pay to watch—unless, of course, I pay an exorbitant sum like $90 a month. To recap: The entire MLB package is about $30 a month but of course the Mariners are blacked out in Seattle, so I'd need a special streaming service which costs like $90 per month to see those games. I refuse. But if I just VPNed it with a different zip code I'd be good. Next year. Wait till next year.
Anyway, it was interesting seeing the Mariners on big-screen TV—“Oh, so that's what Sam Haggerty looks like”—but mostly it was just depressing. Luis Castillo's slider kept sliding out of the strike zone, tempting no one, and in the 3rd, the second time through the order, he gave up a leadoff walk to Marcus Semien, then got Seager to fly out and Grossman to strike out ... and that was his last out of the 2023 season. After that, nickel and diming. An infield roller to third that Eugenio Suarez made a nice one-handed play on but safe. Single up the middle to plate a run, a walk to reload the bases, a single to right, a single to right, then another walk to reload the bases, and that was it for Luis. We brought in Matt Brash to face Semien again, and, as they say, Brash got his man: a line shot to right that Dylan Moore made a beautiful Superman catch on, which mercifully ended the inning.
We had a chance in the 5th. Single, fly out, single, and then it was J.P. again, down 5-0, but he blooped one into center right and slammed his bat in frustration. Except it was perfectly placed: second base, right field and center field all converged and missed, and Siemen kind of hurt himself in the tumble, and it reminded me of J.P.'s hit last October in our incredible victory against the Blue Jays. Could it happen again? It couldn't. Julio, who's been lax in September, hit a 1-0 can-of-corn to left, then Gino grounded out and there went the season. We got two more hits: A two-out Kelenic single in the 6th and a Gino solo shot in the 8th, but mostly we went without a struggle, 6-1. I missed the very end, opting to see the 1977 movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” at SIFF Egyptian.
Joe Posnanski, who, in March, threw caution to the wind and predicted a Mariners pennant, summed it up thus:
And the Mariners' roller coaster season, which looked so blah (they had a losing record on July 15) and then looked so promising (they were in first place for 11 lovely days in late August and early September) will now end. If they were in the American League Central, they would have clinched the division title days ago. If they were in the National League, they would be the No. 2 wild card. But they are neither of those things, and if my dog could talk, I'd be a TV star.
I think Joe means if the Mariners were in the AL Central without the Twins, since the two teams have identical records, but otherwise yes. Once again we have the best record for any team not going to the postseason—and a better record than a few going:
Cold comfort. In a way, it's amazing we did as well as we did. Not much of a fan of the manager, Scott Servais, and while I like our young core lineup (Julio, Cal, J.P.), overall the Mariners strike out too much, are a bit streaky, and the role players don't play enough of a role. We have too many role players and need better ones. Next year. Wait till next year.
Saturday September 23, 2023
The 40-40 Guys
The ESPN.com headline:
I went through the list in my mind: Canseco, Bonds, A-Rod and ... who was the other? Right. Alfonso Soriano in 2006. Or did I even know that?
Then it hit me: Will Acuna also be the first since the first to win the MVP? Here's how they fared:
- Canseco, 1988, 42 HRs and 40 SBs (16 CS), first in AL MVP in a landslide, with 28 (of 28) first-place votes
- Bonds, 1996, 42 HRs and 40 SBs (7 CS), fifth in NL MVP voting, despite the league's highest bWAR (which obviously didn't exist yet)
- A-Rod, 1998, 42 HRs and 46 SBs (13 CS), ninth in AL MVP voting, despite the league's highest b WAR
- Soriano, 2006, 46 HRs and 41 SBs (17 CS), sixth in NL MVP voting
Interesting that with the exception of Bonds their SB% weren't great. Interesting, too, that with the exception of A-Rod everyone had more homers than SBs.
And now Acuna (thus far):
- Acuna, 2023, 40 HRs and 68 SBs (13 CS)
He's also leading the league in half of all offensive categories but apparently his defense is a little suspect? His bWar is currently 8.0, so he won't approach Bonds' 9.7 bWAR but he has a good shot at A-Rod's 8.5. He's already passed Soriano (6.1) and Canseco (7.3).
Wednesday September 20, 2023
The Boston ... Yankees?
Over on the Substack Section 327 that I do with friend and worldwide webslinger Tim H., I wondered about the MLB teams that have never gone through a name change—either by moving to a different city/state, changing the name of their city/state, or changing their nickname. Like neither Flordia team counts since both made tweaks: Florida Marlins became Miami Marlins (alliterative!) while the Tampa Devil Rays simply became the Rays (meh). I narrowed it down to 11 teams who, soup to nuts, have just been one thing:
- Chicago White Sox
- Detroit Tigers
- Philadelphia Phillies
- Pittsburgh Pirates
- New York Mets
- Kansas City Royals
- San Diego Padres
- Seattle Mariners
- Toronto Blue Jays
- Arizona Diamondbacks
- Colorado Rockies
Tim wondered about some of those original 16 teams, though. Like I discounted the Red Sox because, per Baseball Reference, they'd once been called the Americans: “As I understand it,” Tim wrote, “there's some question whether the Red Sox were ever really the Boston Americans or if they were simply referred to in the papers as such as a shorthand for 'the Boston team of the American League'...”
Thankfully I have that superhandy newspapers.com account which gives you a bit of a glimpse into our past. And I was able to determine that from 1901 to 1906 there were zero references to “Boston Red Sox” (quotes included) in American newspapers, but there were thousands of references to “Boston Americans.”
All that began to change at the tail end of 1907:
The best part was a few grafs down:
“Pres Taylor has suggested red stockings to be a part of the uniforms and thought the Boston 'Red Sox' might sound better to the baseball enthusiasts than the names now used by many, such as 'The Pilgrims,' 'The Yankees,' etc.”
The Boston Yankees???? Wow. It's tough to make two cities simultaneously nauseous but I think that sentence would do it.
Monday September 18, 2023
Poz Wonders Why KC Fans Boo Altuve Over HR Against Yankees
I'm with Joe on this. Mr. Posnanski was at the the Royals-Astros game Saturday and fans were still booing José Altuve, and he was kind of scratching his head:
I mean, on one level, sure, I get it: Many people think Altuve was wearing some sort of sign-stealing buzzer when he hit the pennant-winning home run off an Aroldis Chapman breaking ball in 2019.
What I don't fully get is why people in KANSAS CITY are holding on to that all these years later. ... Whatever he may or may not have done, the Royals are not really involved.
It struck me as odd because everything else about Jose Altuve is so utterly likable. He's tiny — the shortest player in baseball since Kansas City's beloved Freddie Patek — and he plays such a wonderfully joyous game. I mean, he's a lifetime .307 hitter. He already has more than 2,000 hits. He's 5-foot-6, 166 pounds, and he has 209 regular-season home runs and 23 more in the playoffs — that's absurd. Only Joe Morgan, among players around Altuve's size, hit 200 big-league home runs. This guy's a little miracle. ... I just find it kind of weird that Royals fans are still mad at Altuve over a home run that beat the Yankees four years ago.
Amen amen amen. I was shaking my head last July when Seattle fans were booing Astros players during the All-Star game, but added: “I know, the booing won't stop. Mob rule. Once booing becomes a thing, you can't put it back in the bottle.” Even so, I'm with Joe on this, and particularly when it comes to Altuve, whom I, as a charter member of the Short Man's Room, totally cheer for.
Sunday September 17, 2023
Dodgers Clobber Mariners with One Hand Tied Behind Their Backs
A friend offered us three free tickets to the Mariners game today, and we got rooked.
We sat in the sun in the left-field bleachers, row 2, good seats, but I've never been much of a bleacher bum and age 60 is the wrong time to start. I squinted a lot and didn't always pick up the ball. Neither did the Mariners. It was the third game of a three-game series with the Dodgers and we were trying to avoid the sweep. Their lineup suggested they were, too. It was their B squad, the getaway game group. No Mookie, Freddie Freeman, Max Muncy or Will Smith. It was LA saying, “We'll take ya with one hands tied behind our backs!”
And they did.
We had our third-best pitcher on the mound, Logan Gilbert, and they went the opener route: Shelby Miller pitched an inning, then Ryan Yarbrough for 4.2, then a kid named Gavin Stone for the rest. Logan gave up a first-inning solo shot to Jason Heyward and Jarred Kelenic dropped a ball, Charlie Brown style, in the left-field corner, but at least it didn't do any damage. Plus J.P. Crawford led off our half with a double. HERE WE COME! And there we go: pop out, strikeout, line out. In the top of the second, they scored three more. Bottom two, with one out, Gino walked, Mike Ford singled and Ty France singled. Speed on the basepaths! Ah, but Rojas struck out. But wait! Single from J.P. to plate a run! And we had Julio up with the bases juiced!
And he grounded out to the pitcher.
That was pretty much it. That was our shot. The final was 6-1, Dodgers.
Again, the Dodgers didn't start their four best hitters and put second-hand goods on the mound, and they still clobbered us. Gavin Stone has pitched seven games this year and in terms of earned runs has given up: 4, 5, 7, 1, 4, 7. Against us, on this day, he pitched 3.1, gave up one hit and zero runs. Zero. He had an ERA over 10 when he showed up and now I think it's south of that. He got his first save. Way to go, kid.
On the way home, I complimented my wife on how gungho she was during the game.
“I don't feel gungho now. I feel dispirited.”
“You know that makes you?”
“A Mariners' fan. Welcome to the party, pal.”
Saturday September 16, 2023
Movie Review: Dillinger (1945)
The 1945 movie “Dillinger” may have more in common with the 1949 James Cagney movie “White Heat” than it does with John Dillinger.
In this way.
In the beginning of the third act, an attempted train robbery goes awry, gang leader John Dillinger (Lawrence Tiereney) is wounded, and the gang holes up in a mountain cabin, where the protagonist's blonde dame (Anne Jeffreys) gets too chummy with one of the gang members. Sound familiar? You could segue that right into the beginning of “White Heat,” where an attempted train robbery goes awry, a gang member is wounded, and the gang holes up in a mountain cabin where the protagonist's blonde dame (Virgina Mayo) gets too chummy with one of the gang members. Basically “White Heat” begins near where “Dillinger” ends.
Jeffreys and Mayo even look alike:
“White Heat” is the better movie, of course, and it has Cagney. The amazing thing about Cagney is that even when he played an awful person you still liked him. You felt for him. Not true for Tierney. He plays Dillinger as a flaming asshole and you get the feeling it’s not just Dillinger.
This is the movie debut of Tierney, who would become famous in my day as the gruff, bald bossman in “Reservoir Dogs.” Here, he’s young and slim with slicked-back hair. He’s got a B-grade Kirk Douglas thing going. In the opening credits, he’s “And introducing…”
This was Hollywood’s introduction to Dillinger, too. He was gunned down outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago in July 1934, but that was about the time the Production Code grew teeth. Since Catholic orgs were already up in arms (so to speak) about fictional gangsters like Tom Powers and Tony Camonte, one assumes the studios decided to steer clear of the real deal. Elements of Dillinger’s story may have been used in 1935’s “Public Hero No. 1” starring Chester Morris, but that character was named Jeff Crane. Here it’s finally John Dillinger.
Of course, how much of it is John Dillinger? Iffy.
The movie begins where Dillinger’s life ended: at a movie theater. After a quick “News of the World”-type documentary on the bank robber, Dillinger’s dad comes onstage, hat literally in hand, to talk about his son. He says young John was like the other boys until he wasn’t. “It was best to give him his head,” Dad says.
Then we cut to Dillinger as a grown man about to commit his first crime. This is part of the film that feels iffy. He’s at a bar/diner with a blonde, the waiter won’t take his check, so he goes into the night and knocks off a little grocer. Gets $7.20. Then he runs straight into a cop and straight into prison. There he talks big but is surrounded by guys who actually knocked off banks—primarily his cellmate Specs (Edmund Lowe), who leads a gang of three: Marco (Eduardo Ciannelli), Doc (Marc Lawerence), and Kirk (Elisha Cook Jr.). Kirk has a grape-eating habit that I assumed would come into play but doesn’t.
The other gang members don’t think much of the loudmouthed kid but Specs figures he’ll be useful. And he is: paroled first, he springs the others with a scheme involving firearms smuggled into cement-mix barrels. Afterwards, they’re knocking off bank after bank, with Specs leading the way and Dillinger marginalized and seething on the sidelines. Then he comes up with a great scheme and suddenly the gang is his. It’s a quick turnabout.
As they cut a swath west, the movie suggests Dillinger is captured at a dentist in Tucscon, Ariz., because Specs squeals to the cops. Then we get part of the legend I remember: Dillinger, in prison, carving a gun out of a piece of wood, painting it with shoe polish, and escaping. (I flashed on the Woody Allen twist in “Take the Money and Run” and laughed.) Back at the hideout, Dillinger kills Specs for squawking and takes over the gang for good. His next scheme is the aforementioned train robbery, which will sic the feds on them, and get Kirk killed and Dillinger wounded. Their mountain hideaway belongs to Kirk’s surrogate parents, so there’s tension, but I like how economical the movie is about it. Nobody says anything. The elders just seeing the gang tromping in without Kirk and get it. After an attempted late-night call to the cops, Dillinger kills them.
Again, this section is very “White Heat.” Dillinger’s dame, Helen Rogers, a movie theater cashier he robbed, winds up spending time with Tony (Ralph Lewis), the newest, youngest and cutest member of the outfit, and Dillinger doesn’t like it. It’s not just paranoia, either—they have something going. So Tony gets an off-screen axe in the back, the last of the gang surrenders to the feds, and Dillinger and Helen flee to Chicago, where Dillinger holes up in a two-bit hotel, while Helen keeps eyeing the $15K reward for his capture. It’s December, and, trapped, he listens to a street-corner Santa (in creepy mask) and kids singing Christmas carols. For a moment, I worried they were going to off him in December rather than July.
Nope. We cut ahead seven months, when Dillinger, now sporting a bad moustache and small sunglasses—like in life—takes Helen to the Biograph for “Manhattan Melodrama,” a gangster flick starring Clark Gable, as the feds close in. Helen dresses in red. She’s both Billie Frechette (his lover) and Anna Sage (the woman in red who betrayed him).
Is Dillinger most famous for how he left us? I still wonder why him. How did he become as big a story as he became. If you do a newspapers.com search on “John Dillinger,” he was nothing until 1934, when he was everything; then he was nothing again.
Number of mentions of “John Dillinger” in U.S. newspapers:
- 1932: 58
- 1933: 3,527
- 1934: 81,994
- 1940: 1,044
- 1944: 792
Yet the name lives on. We didn’t get another cinematic Dillinger until Leo Gordon played him in Don Siegel’s “Baby Face Nelson” in 1957, and not another attempted biopic until 1965’s “Young Dillinger,” starring Nick Adams. Post-“Bonnie and Clyde,” everyone tried: the Italians (“Dillinger is Dead,” 1969), John Milius (“Dillinger,” 1973, starring Warren Oates), Roger Corman (“The Lady in Red,” 1979, written by John Sayles, focusing on Frechette). Eventually we got around to Michael Mann and his mania for detail in 2009.
1945’s “Dilllinger” was directed by Max Nosseck, a German-Jewish director who fled Nazi Germany in 1933 and wound up directing nothing big. This one, at 6.5, is his fourth-ranked on IMDb. I’d be interested in seeing his top-ranked, “Singing in the Dark” at 7.4. It’s from 1956, about a Holocaust survivor. Tierney has a small part.
The shock for Hollywood in 1945 was less that “Dillinger” was made than it garnered an Academy Award nomination for Philip Yordan for best original screenplay—but that shouldn’t have been a shock. In the early days, gangster flicks often got screenplay and story noms. In one ceremony alone, three of the five story nominations were gangsters: “Doorway to Hell,” “Smart Money” and “The Public Enemy.” The previous go-round, Ben Hecht’s “Underworld” won, and a few years later, Arthur Caesar’s “Manhattan Melodrama”—the movie that killed Dillinger—won. It was a theme.
Virginia Kellogg got nom’ed for story for “White Heat,” too, but I am curious if she saw this. Her story was supposedly based on Ma Barker and his boys, then it evolved into Ma and one boy, while Cagney suggested getting psychopathic and psychological with it.
In the end, for all the problems regal Hollywood had with a two-bit outfit like Monogram Pictures glorifying an infamous bank robber like John Dillinger, “Dillinger” winds up being that rare biopic where you don’t care much for the main subject. He starts out a jerk, he ends a jerk. After he’s shot down outside the Biograph, the cops go through his pockets and find $7.20—the same as after his initial robbery. That’s what crime will get you, kids: nothing. Remember that.
Thursday September 14, 2023
Astaire, Rogers Not Known for Astaire-Rogers Movies, Says IMDb
Our sister-in-law Jayne stayed with us last week and we all watched “Shall We Dance,” the 1937 Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie where he plays ballet dancer Peter P. Peters, aka “Petrov,” and she plays tap dancer Linda Keene, and the songs include such Gershwin numbers as “They All Laughed” and “Let's Call the Whole Thing Off,” and we get that insane roller skate dance in Central Park. And for some reason, in the middle of it, I looked up Fred Astaire on IMDb. I forget what I was checking. Because I got distracted by this:
Right. Not an Astaire-Rogers movie in the mix.
One Astaire-Rogers, their final RKO picture together, which was a bit of an anomaly. Per Wikipedia:
... there is none of the usual “screwball comedy” relief provided by such actors as Edward Everett Horton, Victor Moore, or Helen Broderick, it is the only Astaire-Rogers musical biography, the only one on which Oscar Hammerstein II worked, the only one of their musicals with a tragic ending, and the only one in which Astaire's character dies.
And not exactly the first Astaire-Rogers movie I think of. That would be “Top Hat,” or “Swing Time,” or “Shall We Dance.” Apparently I'm not alone. If you sort Astaire's feature films by user rating, it goes exactly that way, with “The Band Wagon” fourth. I love “The Band Wagon,” by the way, it's his other “Known For”s that are the head scratchers—particularly when you consider that billing supposedly matters in the Known For algorithm. Astaire-Rogers movies, he's usually top-billed. For “Towering Inferno”? He was fifth-billed (Newman, McQueen, Holden, Dunaway, and everyone else alphabetically), and third-billed for “On the Beach.” He did get Oscar nom'ed for “Inferno,” so that probably pushed it up. But to No. 1? (Good trivia question: Who won the Oscar the one time Fred Astaire was nominated for an Oscar? Answer: Robert De Niro for “The Godfather Part II.” Worlds colliding.)
Her No. 1, “Kitty Foyle,” was also an Oscar turn, for which she won. Her only nom.
So our biggest movie website says the most famous dance team in movie history isn't known for dancing with each other. I expected nothing less from IMDb.
Sunday September 10, 2023
Joe Posnanski's Mea Culpa
Got my copy of “Why We Love Baseball: A History in 50 Moments,” by Joe Posnanski, via Rainy Day Books in Kansas, last week. And true to his word, he signed it with the mea culpa I asked for:
Posnanski did write up bios of “10 Who Missed” the Baseball 100, including Killebrew, but I'm glad he finally came clean.
Friday September 08, 2023
Movie Review: Blood Money (1933)
Dee with Dietrich lighting; Dalton Trumbo called her character “a thrill-seeking little bitch.”
This came onto my radar because of a good chapter on writer-director Rowland Brown in Philippe Garnier’s book “Scoundrels & Spitballers: Writers and Hollywood in the 1930s.” Except I can’t remember if the movie sounded interesting or Brown did. Stuff like this keeps happening to me. My streaming queues, for example, are filled with films that were part of some important late-night research, but now I look at them and go, “Um … OK?” Whatever rationale I had for watching them is gone.
“Blood Money” isn’t great but it deserves a wider audience and a better print. (I watched it via an avi file on my computer—not ideal.) The film gets into class issues, and gender issues, and it has wit and a cynical sense of the world. People want what’s bad for them and run toward ruin with open arms. Sadly, we get a happy ending.
A thrill-seeking little bitch
We keep hearing about our main character before seeing him. (Cf., Rick in “Casablanca.”) A wife betrays her husband to the cops, he belts her, then tells her to get Bill Bailey on the line. A judge is awakened in the middle of the night with a bond request. “That Bill Bailey has a lot of nerve!” the wife says. Then it’s onto the working class. A butcher, weighing sausages, says Bill Bailey ordered 150 turkeys for Thanksgiving. For charity? “Sure,” he responds. “For our poor judges, our poor lawyers, and our poor police officers.”
When we finally see the man (George Bancroft), he’s ringside at a prizefight, sponsoring a boxer with the just-sitting-there slogan “Bailey for Bail.” When someone says he hasn’t picked a winner all night, he smiles and says, “I make all my money off losers.”
So there he is: a Tammany Hall-type grifter with the world wrapped around his finger. What brings him low? A woman, of course.
She’s a new client who needs $1.5k bail and uses a $6k ring for collateral. That sends his antennae up. She says her name is “Jane Smith” (up again), and, eavesdropping, he discovers she’s from money: Elaine Talbert (Frances Dee), the daughter of the president of a Hawaiian pineapple company. She’s also wild—someone who steals for the thrill of it. Example: While he’s helping her post bail, she lifts his cigarette lighter. Later, when they’re going for burgers and onions, and she lights her cigarette, he takes it, sees it’s his—inscribed to him from Jack Dempsey—and gives her a look. Suddenly she’s in her element. She leans back with a saucy smile and “So … what?”
Dee is dynamite—both senses. She has a lovely neck, and can play both good girl and bad. The good is a front. The bad is, too, in its own way. She wants to be bad but she also wants to be punished. “I want a man who’s my master, who isn't afraid of anybody in the world, who’d shoot the first man that looked at me,” she tells Bailey at a Hawaiian luau on her father’s estate.” If only a man would give her a thrashing, she adds, “I’d follow him around like a dog on a leash.” In his review in The Spectator, Dalton Trumbo called her “a thrill-seeking little bitch.”
Bailey’s response to all this? He falls for her like a sap. He turns into the opposite of what she wants.
When does he fall? That’s a good question. Earlier we see him hanging with Ruby Darling, a laconic female gangster/nightclub owner played by Judith Anderson in her film debut. (Yes, Mrs. Danvers from “Rebecca” is the initial love interest.) “Aw, Ruby,” he tells her, “I could never get stuck on any girl but you.” But then Elaine shows up. What tips him? When she wants her burger smothered in onions, and he says he always wanted to meet a girl who really liked onions? When she steals his lighter? The longer they’re together, the less interesting he becomes. It’s called love.
At the dog-race track, Bailey buys a dog for her and she’s beside herself with joy; when the dog finishes last, she mutters, “Where’d you get that mutt?” In a sense, the dog is Bailey. As soon as he introduces her to a sleeker model, Ruby’s brother Drury (Chick Chandler), a bank robber known as the “Lone Bandit,” her eyes get like saucers, and Bailey becomes the mutt. There’s a nice scene later at a golf course when Bailey and Drury make calls in adjacent phone booths—both to her. Another nice scene occurs after Elaine kisses Drury goodnight on the cheek and he returns to his apartment building—to find Bailey standing in the shadows. Does Bailey know? Is he angry? Neither. He’s solicitous. While dabbing the lipstick off his cheek with a handkerchief, he warns that the cops are closing in and Drury should jump bail and leave the country.
Drury: I think I’ll go to Russia.
Bailey (chuckles): They’ll put you to work there…
Instead Drury lams it with Elaine, but beforehand tells her to take the $50k to pay Bailey for the bond he’s jumping, then destroy the $300k in worthless registered bonds he stole. Except she gives him the bad bonds, and that’s the bonehead move that sets up the rest of the film. Thinking himself betrayed, Bailey works with the cops to bring Drury back. So Ruby calls a meeting to call out her protégé/lover, and the gangsters gang up on Bailey. They tell everyone to jump bail so it’ll sink Bailey’s business; then his safe is blown up and the stolen bonds are found. Now he’s looking at jail time himself.
But—final reel—Drury find outs how Elaine betrayed Bailey, sends word to sis, and she rushes to save Bailey before an eight ball laden with explosives (yes) blows up in his face. “You’ll always be getting behind an eight ball, darling,” she says, as they kiss and make up, “and I’ll always be pulling you out.”
That’s the dull part. The part that sticks is our final scenes with the thrill-seeking little bitch. Elaine shows up at Bailey’s, too, just in time to see the kiss, and when she leaves she bumps into a woman who’s distraught because a man placed an ad for a modeling gig then pawed her. “My arms are black and blue!” she cries. Which is when Elaine’s eyes light up, she grabs the ad, and off she goes—toward what she’d always wanted.
“Blood Money” is from 20th Century Studio, pre-Fox, and produced by Darryl Zanuck, post-Warners. In its trivia section on the film, IMDb lists several of the film’s debuts and finales:
- Adalyn Doyle's debut
- Frances Dunn's debut
- Final film of Sandra Shaw
- Final film of Blossom Seeley
- Theatrical movie debut of Dame Judith Anderson
Beyond Anderson, most of these are bit players—save Blossom Seeley, who was a big star as a San Francisco jazz singer in the 1910s. In Ruby’s nightclub, she belts out “San Francisco Bay” and “Melancholy Baby.”
At the luau, we also get a sexy hula dance from an actress named Grace Poggi, who was only 19 at the time, and only made 15 films, usually as a dancer. She pops.
The big problem with the movie may be the lead. I loved Bancroft in Sternberg’s “Underworld” but he’s hardly a leading-man type. He’s good with bluster and brutism but not affairs of the heart. This movie doesn’t play to his strengths.
The previous films Brown directed were “Quick Millions” with Spencer Tracy and “Hell’s Highway” with Richard Dix. Would love to see both. He also wrote for two Cagney films, “The Doorway to Hell” and “Angels with Dirty Faces,” and is given credit, by Pat O’Brien at least, for much of what was good with the latter. “Brown wrote it, no doubt about this,” O’Brien said in 1975. “He was sort of a genius, that guy. … He talked to you like a stevedore would, in plain old everyday American.” Brown is also one of the two screenwriters (among eight writing credits altogether) on the Constance Bennett movie “What Price Hollywood?” which is basically ur-“A Star is Born.”
Brown had gangster connections, or didn’t, drank too much, or not at all, and once sparred with Jack Dempsey and maybe knocked him down. Even Garnier has a tough time getting a handle on him. Either way, “Blood Money” is the last time Brown got credited as director. He was either fired a week into “The Devil is a Sissy,” or filmed the whole thing but was told by Eddie Mannix that MGM’s go-to director W.S. Van Dyke would get credit because his name would sell better. So Brown hit Mannix—either with a phone book or the script—and there went directing. And now he was on the downhill side. That price, Hollywood.
All previous entries