Monday, July 30, 2007

BRIEF THOUGHTS ON THE RECENTLY DEPARTED

We lost two folks yesterday, one really famous, the other not so much: Swedish film making legend, Ingmar Bergman, and former major league ballplayer & hitting coach, Bill Robinson. I won't pretend to be a huge fan of either, but since I'm reasonably well-acquainted with each of their oevres, I can still claim to feel a little sense of loss.

I'll start with Bergman, since he's the more "significant" of the two. We'll hear plenty about his 50+ year career over the next few days, and from what I know, he deserves it. I've probably seen somewhere between 5 and 10 of his films, which represent a mere fraction of his total work. But based on that handful, I can say two things for certain: he was an incredible artist, and I don't really want to watch his movies very badly. His near-obsession with death and the human capability to feel loss make for powerfully-realized examinations of characters' lives, but also leaves me feeling like shit when the movie's over. But I'm not here to slag on the guy, far from it.

In fact, when I saw Seventh Seal for the first time, about 10 years ago, it really affected me. The way Bergman dealt with his philosophical & historical subjects in the context of a well-developed narrative, complete with humor and relationships and family, is fascinating and impressive. And some of the scenes are shockingly powerful, as when the villagers burn "the witch," or the final scene when the travelers confront the fate they've been struggling to evade. Real goose bump stuff, let me tell you.

And Wild Strawberries, released in the same year as Seventh Seal, is equally notable. It essentially deals with the same themes -- death & loss -- but presents them in a different manner. It's a hard film to describe, but if you've seen it, you know that certain scenes really stick in your mind. The final scene does it for me, as well as some of the "flashbacks."

Tough to segue from one of the greatest artists of the 20th century to a journeyman ballplayer, but I didn't write today's script. And in his own way, Bill Robinson meant as much to me as Bergman did: not much, but enough to feel the loss. Not necessarily because he was a key supporting member of the "We Are Family" 1979 World Champion Pirates, nor because he was one of dozens of quietly effective hitters whose batting prowess was hidden by the overall suppression of offensive numbers during the sixties and much of the seventies.

Nice stuff, but I know those things mostly through the prism of after-the-fact analysis and research. Nah, what I remember is Bill Robinson standing in the first base coach's box at Shea, giving that little two-fingered hand-slap to the multitude of Met hitters who reached base during the glory years of the mid-80's. Not sure what that was ("Gimme two"?), but I never saw another first base coach do it.

And finally, Bill Robinson started one of the '86 Mets' four bench-clearing brawls that summer. As a former teammate of Rick Rhoden, he had his suspicions that the Pirate pitcher was doctoring the ball during a game. And he told him so, growling "stop cheating" as they passed each other between innings. Rhoden took exception, Robinson stood his ground, and before you knew it, Knight & Mitchell & Stawberry, and the rest of the boys found an excuse for one of their favorite summer past-time: fisticuffs.

Just as there are many, many Bergman movies that others think are significant, I'm sure there are literally scores of other more significant memories for Bill Robinson. But these are mine. These are the ones that stay in my head, and make me miss the guy who's gone, even if I haven't really thought about him in years.

Either way, farewell fellas. Thanks for what you left.

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7 Comments:

Blogger George said...

When you get a chance, watch Smiles of a Summer Night. Finally watched it again for the first time in years and it will change your opinion of the dour Swede forever. I'll try to blog about it.

Then go watch the marriage is hell films from the 70s--Scenes from a Marriage and Cries and Whispers which is marriage and family. Powerful, powerful, turn from the screen and still feel it even not being able to read the subtitles heart-rending.

11:28 PM  
Blogger Dwilkers said...

Erm...why weren't the Mets more active?

MLB.com has you guys under "swung and missed": "New York Mets: Luis Castillo is a nice player and a great fielding second baseman, but the Mets could have used more pitching."

12:32 PM  
Blogger Ed in Westchester said...

dwilkers - all yr people have been saying the Mets need more pitching. Yet the starters are #2 in ERA ( IIRC) and the pen is darn close to the top as well.

Hitting is the main problem. Too many ducks left on the pond.

3:42 PM  
Blogger Dwilkers said...

Well maybe you guys can pull it off. I don't get to watch the Mets much so I don't have a good idea how strong the team is.

The Braves are tough. I don't know how good their pitching is overall but their lineup is brutal. I'm reading a lot of talk about a RedSox-Braves WS, my preference would be something more along the lines of Mets-Detroit.

The Astros are just terrible. The Jennings deal I was howling about all winter has unfortunately panned out even worse than I feared. He has frickin 2 wins, he gave up 11 runs (all earned) in 2/3 of the first inning in his last start. He pitched an inning of relief last night and gave up 2 walks and one earned run, then he's quoted in this morning's paper talking about how good his fastball was last night.

We got no frickin pitching. We have Oswalt but that's about it. Woody has sucked, Jennings is awful. Our 4-5 combo of Sampson and Wandy would be fine under normal circumstance but we got no 2-3 so their failures are magnified. We rarely get in a save situation so its hard to know how our mid innings -> setup -> close situation would work as far as the bullpen is concerned.

We have close to $80 million annually tied up in the few good players we have. Being a mid-market team that means we're not going to run out this fall and sign a couple of high dollar impact players to "retool".

Our GM has been taken to the cleaners so badly in the deals he's made the last few years that I think he (rightly) fears pulling the trigger on any deal that could be the beginning of "rebuilding" (like trading Berkman or Oswalt or Lee for a package of prospects). His incompetence in the years since he took over - in "impact" trades for players like Aubrey Huff and Jason Jennings - has reduced our farm system to zero.

In other words:

We got no stinkin pitching.

We got no stinkin money.

We got no stinkin farm prospects.

Hell even our defense sucks this year, and notice I'm not even going into our pathetic offense.

The Astros org is in serious decline and it may be years before we contend again because it appears that nobody in the FO even realizes what's going on, and even if they did recovery would require a savvy GM.

And we aint got no stinkin savvy GM either.

7:37 AM  
Blogger Dwilkers said...

Watched the Mets v Cubs yesterday.

Despite Maine's 3rd inning meltdown I think he looks better than I've ever seen him pitch. He seemed to have some control problems that inning as well as a bit of tough luck but for the most part I saw a guy with nice zip and good sharp late movement on his breaking pitches.

I sure hope you guys can get past the Braves - I detest, abhor, loathe and even (I freely admit it) hate everything about that team, the owner, their coach, their stadium, their fans, their uniforms, the phones in the dugouts, the "tomahawk chop", the in game music, their TV station, the announcers...everything.

1:02 PM  
Blogger Dwilkers said...

Oh I did mean to say about Maine, he seemed to be too easily distracted by runners on base.

I see that a lot in young pitchers and think it must not be coached very well. Guys get all shook up and throw 5 times to first to hold a guy on while walking the batter on 4 pitches. I think Maine did that yesterday in the third.

Far better for them to be coached to focus on the next batter. Screw the guy on fist, even if he steals sabermetrics says he isn't much more likely to score. Toss a couple over there but concentrate on the guy at the plate.

Pet peeve of mine with young pitchers. You won't see guys like Glavine or Oswalt making that mistake. They go after the batter.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Maine still lets himself get frazzled by "weird" innings from time-to-time.

7:15 PM  

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