Thursday, June 23, 2011
Saturday, June 25, 2011
In the June 19 L.A. Times sports section, David Wharton put together an item about whether or not baseball needs a makeover. Wharton called on a panel of experts that included documentarian Ken Burns, actor James Denton, writer/director Ron Shelton among others.
If Wharton had waited three weeks, he could have called upon the collected wisdom of SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, which will be holding its 41st annual convention at the Long Beach Hilton from July 6-10. The baseball research group, whose name inspired Bill James to dub a new method of study baseball statistics as "sabermetrics" will be meeting in Southern California for the first time since 1993 (San Diego.) The last L.A. metro area convention was in 1980.
Because of the connection with sabermetrics (coming soon to a theater near you!), the general view of SABR is that it is mostly a group of number crunching geeks who have sucked the joy out of baseball. This would be the BIll Plaschke or Joe Morgan view of the organization.
However, the truth is that it is a group of people who have passion for the game of baseball in many different ways. Some members enjoy the statistical aspects of the game. Others spend countless hours trying to track down biographical information of men who played perhaps one game back in the 1870s. Others are interested in umpires, spring training sites, or the business end of baseball. (People in Los Angeles have become keenly interested in that recently.)
A typical SABR convention consists of a set of research presentations, trips to ballgames at both major and minor league stadiums in the area (the timing of this convention allows trips to both Dodger Stadium and Angels Stadium as well as a trip to Lake Elsinore), a trivia contest that is not for the faint of heart, as well as other activities unique to the area.
This year, there will be a room at the hotel devoted to a series of baseball films, both fictional and documentary. There will also be a bus tour of sites of old baseball stadiums in Los Angeles. One of the stops on that tour will be the Coliseum, where this particular blogger has been entrusted with giving a talk about the site. I hope to write about the trip after its completion. (I also get to be in charge of a bus and get to use the microphone for the PA system, fulfilling a lifelong dream. The first part of the tour will go from Long Beach to Vernon. That is Southern California in all of its scenic beauty!)
Some big names in baseball are going to speak at the convention also. Agent Scott Boras will be giving the keynote speech. Dennis Gilbert, who has been discussed as a possible new owner for the Dodgers, will be speaking at the awards luncheon. Gilbert will be talking mostly about scouts and their importance to the game, one of his favorite causes. There will be a panel of general managers featuring former Dodger GMs Fred Claire and Dan Evans as well as current Padres GM Jed Hoyer. (In case you were wondering, former Dodger GM Paul DePodesta is not a SABR member. Neither is Billy Beane.)
And going back to Wharton's piece on whether or not baseball needs a makeover, what would the members of SABR say? Judging from my experience, you would get about as many different answers as there are members. Then they would point out the mistakes in Ken Burns' "Baseball." And then ask if they can go some place to watch a baseball game. Ultimately, it's the game itself that unites all the members of SABR.
"Isn't there some millionaire out there who can save all this?" The question hung in the air as hundreds of ordinary people, film buffs with their kids, designers and lookie-loos lined up to ogle the astounding array of costumes and props collected over the years by Debbie Reynolds and now, sadly, being put up for auction.
The collection is on display for preview before Saturday's auction at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills. A visit is a jaw-dropping experience. So many costumes from so many landmark films, it simply boggles the mind that no one has stepped forward to save the collection before it's dispersed in a diaspora of Ben Hur-ish proportions.
As I worked my way through the crowd, I overheard again and again that same lament: "Why couldn't this be saved?" Apparently not for lack of trying, as Reynolds has found out. She has finally given up her dream of creating a museum in Los Angeles to house her vast collection of some 5,000 costumes and sets after a failed attempt to open one in Las Vegas in the 80's. Now she is ready to move on.
Walking through the rooms of pristine costumes, each accompanied by a loop of the scene from its movie, I was awestruck at the tenacity of Reynolds, who attempted to save all this history. Where did she keep it all? And how did she keep them in such good condition? Every gown looked pristine.
"They all came folded in plastic tubs," said a Paley Center employee, "We were shocked at how perfect everything was." Everything from Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor's vaudeville suits from "Singin' in the Rain" to Marlon Brando's uniforms in "Mutiny on the Bounty," Audrey Hepburn's gown from "My Fair Lady," Katherine Hepburn's from "Mary Queen of Scots," and Marilyn Monroe's iconic white dress from "The Seven Year Itch," displayed next to the photograph that froze it in our memory as she famously stepped over a subway grate and tried to maintain some modesty. There is Grace Kelley's pink appliquéd dress and Cary Grant's sports coat, come to life as they picnicked on fried chicken in "To Catch a Thief." Even one of Austin Powers' 60's suits made the cut. All the greats are there: Hepburn (Kate and Audrey), Kelly (Gene and Grace), Donald O'Connor, Barbra Streisand, Bette Davis, Greta Garbo, Rudolph Valentino, la Liz, Brando.
Joanne Paull let her daughter Elizabeth miss a day of school ("They were cleaning out their desks, so I decided it was okay") to come and view the collection with her mom Holly Margulies in tow. It was as worthy an experience as any museum had to offer.
Erica Enders, who works with Profiles in History, the auction house Reynolds chose to sell the collection, says she has met the actress several times. "She's got a sad face," she said. "This is hard for her." No doubt. My condolences to Debbie.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Library devotees honor Walter Mosley at the upcoming Los Angeles Public Library Awards Dinner, scheduled for Sunday, June 12, at the
Richard J. Riordan Central Library in Downtown Los Angeles.
Headlines on my travels last week--from L.A. to St. Louis to Chicago and back to L.A.--to visit Mom and go to my cousin's wedding.
How can anyone who reads a newspaper not become furious about our gun laws?--and about the 12,000 deaths each year? Twelve Thousand. Neighborhood by neighborhood and family by family.
And anyone who thinks it can't happen in their neighborhood or to their family, well... I hope you get lucky.
I agree it's hard to get passionate about any of the proposed measures to control who can acquire a gun--none of which promises to make a significant difference. So let's get passionate about the only measure that will--which is to not have 263 million guns flying around.
Toddler slain, uncle wounded in South L.A. attack
Son charged in father's gun death
Shooting suspect nabbed through parking ticket
Suspect may have been shot
Man, woman shot in drive-by
Loughner rulled unfit for trial
Campus lockdown [at San Pedro HS after shots fired]
Two found dead in Huntington Beach
Four dead in Affton after domestic argument
Plea deal breaks down in Indiana school shooting
Man who murdered two in NJ church get life terms
Honolulu freeway shooting leaves 1 dead, 2 injured
Man pleads guilty to battery in shooting death
Teen accused in NJ cop's death charged with murder
Cab driver shot, killed in Mount Vernon
One gunshot victim dead, two hospitalized
Boy, 16, charged with murder in police shooting
Gunshots ring out after Des Moines street brawl
NW Indiana coroner: deaths look to be murder-suicide
Chicago man sentenced in nephew's shooting death
Jailed man charged in 2010 slayings of 3 men on Southwest Side
Kalamazoo officer's killer was drinking
Back to Los Angeles:
53 guns found in home where 2-year-old fatally shot 6-year-old
Four dead in possible murder-suicide in Chula Vista
73-year-old Arizona gunman kills 5, then self
(Homicide Report blog reports 10 deaths this past week that didn't make headlines)
NY Times (since I was reading it daily)
Bronx woman fatally shot, still clutching 2-year-old son
14-year-old boy fatally shot in Brooklyn [by 18-year-old]
Shooting in a Sheepshead Bay courtyard [2 dead]
Friday, June 3, 2011
Sunday, June 5, 2011
They say famous people die in threes. I hope whomever "they" are say the same thing about famous people leaving their jobs.
May was the season of retirement for people prominent in broadcast media, and Hallmark has yet to capture the sentiment of the too-long goodbye. Last month, Katie Couric left the CBS News anchor chair, the Oprah Winfrey TV studio went dark and Liane Hansen gave up the NPR microphone on Sunday mornings. None of them simply thanked the academy and graciously exited stage right, leaving us wanting more. Couric, who's supposed to report the news, not be the news, went on a guess-my-fate talk show walkabout. But her extended exit interview was mostly a product of media obsession as they pontificated about the state of television network news--Nixon's victory pose by the helicopter didn't get as much coverage. Winfrey's 18-month farewell tour was a disharmonic convergence of audience adoration, media perseveration and all-about-me-ness--Woodstock didn't display this much communal love. Hansen's final broadcast Sunday was classy and pitch-perfect, but she announced the date of her departure a year in advance, and over that period listener adulation was a regular feature of the program, her peers repeatedly intoning that the end was nigh--Walter Cronkite is turning over in his grave that this is the way it was.
These people are all smart and accomplished professionals who will be missed; they are good listeners and genuinely compassionate folks. In their positions, they should be. Although Couric's public chin-stroking was performed primarily by external forces, neither Hansen nor, more famously, Winfrey, seems to have her finger on the switch between the professional and the personal, and what to them seems contemplative retrospection to others seems a reluctant surrender of attention. The day after her last show, Winfrey tweeted: "Staying in pj's all day. Getting hair braided for summer vaca. Reading all ur emails. Watched Gayle K. Show with Stedman. On at 4-6 on OWN."
My discomfort with these protracted public retirement parties is partly about the narcissism, partly about loss of boundaries and partly about the harsh comparison of circumstances.
Of course the market for personal show and tell is huge, or "The Biggest Loser" wouldn't draw such hefty ratings, and Dr. Laura wouldn't even have landed on a satellite orbiting Pandora after her terrestrial meltdown with the N word. People who believe that this sort of dish should be reserved for spouses, bffs or shrinks may decline to listen, but this month it has been all but impossible not to be forced to eavesdrop on the retirement navel-gazing, and much of it rings disingenuous. We don't want to hear someone crediting her bazillion-dollar empire to empowering the little people, we don't want to hear a culture-shaper who said that she always knew she "was born for greatness in my life" pretending to be just like us. That's just too Linda Tripp. Some people don't want to hear even the most likable radio personality musing yet again about finally getting to live at the shore after spending 20-plus years doing what seems like the greatest gig in the world.
Amid our epidemic of social media, in a time when techie gurus exhort us to "get over it--there is no privacy," some of us still embrace the quaint notion that everybody can have some, and should protect it. Interactive communications have infested every aspect of social intercourse, promoting the infantile sensibility that anything that happens to you, any thought that crosses your mind, should be widely shared. Posting family news on Facebook is routine and appropriate, but isn't polling your friends via smartphone in order to snag store coupons as you contemplate a lipstick purchase at the cosmetics counter just crass and intrusive? There's sharing, and there's inflicting. You can choose not to join the Twittering masses pondering their chalupa orders at Taco Bell, but to escape media "analysts" speculating about the size of a retiring anchor's next contract requires relocating to another hemisphere.
Only a fool would resent the notable careers of these deserving communicators. But even their fans can be offended if someone whose success has enabled her to enjoy retirement at her beach house can't stop talking about it when they can't stop worrying about finding a job, paying the rent, educating the kids. Retirement for a lot of fans is a pipe dream whose elusiveness is made more painful by incessant sessions of contrast and compare. If your retirement party lasts longer than your first love, it's just good manners to require an RSVP.