Friday, May 27, 2016

High School Baseball: Class A/AA championships, 5/26/16

I've said this before, and it bears repeating. When it comes to high school sports, baseball and softball take a backseat to football & basketball in terms of fan attendance. Part of the reason for this is the fact that most games begin around 4 pm or so, when most parents are still at work.

This was evident on Thursday for the first half of the Championship Week doubleheader at Joe Bruno Stadium. It was supposed to be the climax of three days of doubleheaders, but a rainout on Tuesday scotched those plans, bumping the Class B & BB games to Wednesday, and Class C & D were moved from Wednesday to Saturday. In effect, the lowest classes could stand a little extra support, especially with their teams on the area's biggest baseball stage.

The Class A title game pitted defending champion Queensbury against Scotia-Glenville. The Spartans jumped on Scotia starter Liam Rooney for 3 runs in the first, and Rooney's wildness was his ultimate undoing, as he was removed after 1 2/3 innings, suffering the loss. Queensbury's Aaron Cook was brilliant in contrast, limiting Scotia to just 2 hits while striking out 8 in 6 innings. In the 7th, Cook swapped places with shortstop Brett Rodriguez, who gave up a hit and a walk before getting Mike Borbee to pop out to second baseman Justin Troelstra to end the game, as the Spartans repeated, 6-0. Rodriguez, a kick returner and running back in football, was tackled by catcher Matt (Baked) Zita as the Spartans dogpiled on them in celebration.

But it was the Class AA game that everyone came out to see. The host Tri-City Valleycats decided to test their video board for the season, and, in front of the largest crowd to see a high school game in Section II this season, Shenendehowa ace Ian Anderson didn't disappoint.

Shen, which dropped the 2015 AA title game to Saratoga, sought redemption. Christian Brothers Academy, which beat Shen last month in Clifton Park, sought to spoil the party, and sent Elliott Raimo back out to the mound, five days after a complete game win vs. Guilderland. Raimo & Anderson matched zeroes for the first two innings, and it looked as thought we might be going to extra innings.

In the top of the 3rd, Anderson drilled Raimo in the knee with a fastball, the first of two hit batsmen on the night. Raimo shook it off and stayed in the game, but that might've been a costly decision, as in the home 3rd, Shen struck for 2 runs off Raimo, which was all Anderson would need. With big league scouts looking on, Anderson pitched a complete game, scattering 7 hits while striking out 5. Shen added an insurance run in the 6th to ice it, and claimed the AA title with a 3-0 win. Raimo struck out 7 for the 2nd straight start in the loss.

I still believe that both Raimo & Anderson will go in the MLB 1st Year Entry Draft in 2 weeks. Local fans would like to see Houston take one or both, praying they would be assigned to the Valleycats, whose season starts 8 days after the draft.

Shen will return to The Joe for a state quarterfinal game on June 4, and Anderson will likely be right back on the mound.
Softball takes center stage today, with title games at Luther Forest Park in Malta. Troy High will play Burnt Hills in the title game. The Flying Horses lost coach George Rafferty for the postseason after he had an incident with an umpire 2 weeks ago vs. Averill Park, but while it was reported in the Albany Times-Union 4 days after the incident, The Record didn't report it until mentioning it in passing in a game report after Troy upset top-seeded South Glens Falls on Tuesday. The hometown paper, hamstrung by financial and manpower limitations, has missed a fair number of stories in local sports in recent years, and it'll remain to be the case until a local concern steps up to the plate to buy the paper from its out-of-state parent, Digital First Media. It's not doing the paper any favors for its readers in print or online if they continue to miss out on stories of interest. As the late Walter Cronkite might put it, that's the way it is.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Musical Interlude: Paint it Black (1966)

To some, the Rolling Stones' 1966 hit, "Paint it Black", might be better known as one of the theme songs to the late 80's Vietnam war drama, Tour of Duty, and thus is one of the Stones' best known songs, hitting #1 in the summer of '66.

The following clip was taken from a DVD release of the British musical variety series, Ready! Steady! Go!.

On The Shelf: A different kind of Scooby-Doo, and other crazy things that could make your brain implode!

This ain't your parents' Scooby-Doo. Not by a long shot.

DC has added a 3rd series featuring the beloved Great Dane, but Scooby Apocalypse is very far removed from the other, kid-friendly Scooby-Doo series. How far? Consider:

Shaggy, Velma, Fred, & Daphne are all grown up, and all have jobs. The predictable couplings are well in place. Daphne hosts a cable show, with Fred as her videographer/sidekick, and she's copped quite the attitude. Unfortunately, said show has fallen on hard times, airing in the wee small ones where it's likely to be DVR'd instead of viewed live if enough people know when it's on. Meanwhile, Velma is now a research scientist, and Shaggy a dog trainer (the backup feature shows how he got the job), at a top secret government facility that isn't what it seems. Scooby? He was a test subject for some sort of secret operation, but deemed a failure.

In the opener, the four discover that Velma's superiors aren't as benevolent as she thought they were. To sum it up, instead of saving the world, the owners of The Complex instead intend to, well, unleash hell, for lack of a better description.

What writers J. Marc DeMatteis and Keith Giffen have concocted is a very non-formulaic science fiction adventure that will be a welcome change from the 45-plus years of the same tired old mysteries. Add artist Howard Porter, who hasn't had anything relevant to do since his run on JLA 20 years ago, and you have a surprisingly entertaining story. I had my reservations at first, but now, I'm all in. I'm hooked.

Rating: A.

Scooby Apocalypse was the 2nd of the 4 Hanna-Barbera books being put out by DC. Future Quest preceded it by a week, and it was, as expected, a scorching hot thrill ride.

DC's resident pop culture geek, Jeff Parker (Batman '66 and its miniseries), has brought together Jonny Quest, Birdman, & Space Ghost, just in the first issue alone, but the final panel, which marks the return of the Phantom of the Spaceways to DC after 13 years, will blow your mind. For the first time, readers will see Birdman out of costume as archeologist-turned-government agent Ray Randall, as we never saw Birdman as Randall in the 1967 series or any comic book adaptations thereof. Artist Evan Shaner was assisted by the incomparable Steve Rude, who drew almost a dozen pages to get the book out on time, it would seem. The late Darwyn Cooke, who passed away days before the first issue hit stores, provided the character designs, keeping with the original concepts by Doug Wildey (Jonny Quest) and Alex Toth (Birdman, Space Ghost, etc.), and it's a shame that Cooke was unable to help with any interior artwork before his passing. He would, however, be very proud of what Parker, Shaner, Rude, et al have accomplished.

Rating: A+.

Meanwhile, DC's latest attempt at cleaning up its universe brings with it some unexpected shocks.

DC Universe Rebirth is an 80 page 1-shot, but for only $3, and worth every penny. Geoff Johns tells the story through the eyes of Wally West, aka Kid Flash. The original version, not the African-American reboot that was introduced in the New 52 and is part of the Flash TV show. Wally's been trapped in the Speed Force since the end of his last book, and his absence from the just concluded Titans Hunt miniseries only resulted in that book's writer, Dan Abnett, having to improvise finding someone to take his place. Digressing. As you're probably aware, the New 52 incarnation of Superman has been laid to rest, replaced by the pre-Flashpoint (1986-2010) version, which means Supes and Lois Lane are husband and wife again, but if you read the Lois & Clark miniseries, you knew that already.

Again, it is the closing pages of this issue that will get people talking. What Johns is also doing is integrating Alan Moore's Watchmen into the DCU proper, and I'm interested in seeing where that goes, for good or bad. Of course, if sales tank, DC will hit the reset button about 2-3 years.

Rating: A.

In answer to Rebirth, knowing they were going to be ripped to shreds online as a result, Marvel decided to play fast and loose with Captain America's history. Again.

By now, you've already read about the shocking final panel of Steve Rogers: Captain America 1. Editor Tom Brevoort is claiming this isn't a gimmick, and that Rogers had been a sleeper agent ever since he was a young boy.

Say what? Bollocks & balderdash!

Brevoort is in a no-win situation here, and so is writer Nick Spencer, who is trying to posit Rogers as a double agent, but for however long this story arc lasts, perhaps no more than 6 months, by my best guess, all Brevoort has done is throw shade on "Captain America: Civil War", which opened three weeks ago to rave reviews, by signing off on this lame grab for attention. It's clear what Marvel wanted to do. They wanted to deflect attention from DC and get cheap publicity.

Do I think that Rogers actually killed Jack Flag? No. You know the old adage. If you don't see a dead body....! This is not the first time Marvel has exploited Cap for cheap publicity, and probably won't be the last, but the timing was just pathetically bad.

As for the story itself, I can see this being a case of false memories being implanted somewhere to throw the enemy off course, and you know the payoff will be about 3-5 issues away. Unless they're really stupid and think this can work in the long haul. It won't. The last time they made a grab for publicity at Cap's expense was when they killed him off pro tempore, and we all know what happened after that. As long as the movies are in the public consciousness, there is no reason---at all---to do a stunt like this, because you're undermining your own company. Considering that there is a sequel to Civil War due soon, well, if brains were made of sandpaper, Marvel's editors would've wasted theirs by now.

Rating: B-.

In August, we know DC's going to promote anything and everything related to Suicide Squad and/or Harley Quinn to the moon and back. One of these cases is Harley's bi-monthly Little Black Book series, which will not only have Harley meet up with Superman, but it will be drawn by the one and only Neal Adams. The plot? How about marking the 40th anniversary of a Limited Collector's Edition 1-shot that paired the Man of Steel with the Greatest boxer of all time, Muhammad Ali, except that this time, Harley's lacing up the gloves for an intergender boxing match with Superman. Why the original story isn't being reprinted to coincide with this issue, I don't know, but this might actually be worth the price of admission.

What Might've Been: The Judy Garland Show (1963)

At the end of her career, Judy Garland, much like some of her contemporaries, including Mickey Rooney & Ray Bolger, landed her own television show. A self-titled variety series that lasted just one season (1963-4) on CBS. I swear, CBS would give Heckle & Jeckle a variety show if they thought they could pull it off. It seems that just about anyone could front a variety show in the 60's and 70's.

Digressing. Sony-owned Get TV has unearthed The Judy Garland Show, running Monday nights at 8 & 11 pm (ET), and introducing a new generation of viewers to a talented singer-actress who most folks would still associate only with "The Wizard of Oz" or "Easter Parade" or "Meet Me In St. Louis". As noted, it lasted just the one season, largely because it was a cookie-cutter variety show of the time. Get TV's ginormous library should make it a prime stop for purveyors of classic television.

I was but an infant when the series first aired, and I don't know if my folks ever watched it. I've seen portions of episodes, but not complete ones yet. Not enough to merit a rating. We'll leave you with this clip, which features one of the first American television appearances of one of Canada's best known exports, impressionist Rich Little......

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Weasel of the Week: Jeff Loria

Loria is the owner of the Miami Marlins, who currently sit in 4th place in the National League East, and while they've shown some progress on the field, it's what's going on off it that nets Loria a set of Weasel ears this week.

Let's just say that as an owner, Loria is more thin-skinned than most of his brethren, to the point of insanity. To date, the Marlins are engaged in litigation with a number of season ticket holders and vendors for various, petty issues. Craig Calcaterra of offers some insight.....
Earlier this month we reported that the Miami Marlins had sued a season ticket holder, Mickey Axelband, alleging that he reneged on the second year of a two-year season ticket agreement. Axelband, who had been a season ticket holder with the Marlins since their inaugural season in 1993, claimed that the Marlins reneged first, eliminating amenities which they promised upon the move to Marlins Park and failing to deliver on others.

 In that post we observed that it is uncommon for teams to sue ticket holders. It’s bad form to begin with as season ticket holders are a club’s most valuable and dedicated customers. But it’s also dumb in that there are virtually limitless options available to a club to resolve disputes with ticket holders short of litigation. Why would the Marlins sue in this situation? Maybe there was more to it than we knew? Maybe this was just an extreme outlier of a case?

 Nope. The Miami New Times reports today that this seems to be pretty par for the course for Jeff Loria’s Marlins. The Marlins, in fact, have sued at least nine season ticket holders and luxury suite owners since 2013. They are also locked in litigation with two stadium vendors. The concessionaires claim that the Marlins induced them to pay big rights fees in order to set up business inside Marlins Park by promising big, big crowds, only to fail to deliver on those promises and to see the vendors go out of business or be unable or unwilling to pay what the Marlins demanded.

 The story goes deep on Axelband’s dispute with Miami and that of a pizza vendor. Overall it paints a portrait of a Marlins club which doesn’t seem to give a crap about fans or its business partners, only the bottom line. Unless, of course, it’s trying to pose as a civic institution so it can get tax dollars to pay for its big stadium and rights fees from potential vendors. Now that they have the stadium, however, and now that the ink is dry on those deals, they’re portraying themselves like any other company, entitled to enforce their business deals in any way necessary. And, legally speaking, they are. But they’re certainly approaching things differently than most ball clubs do. And in a way that puts lie to the notion that sports teams should be given any extra leeway when it comes to giving them all of the things they ask for.
What this says is that Loria is the NL's most clueless owner. Not even the Steinbrenner brothers, who run the Yankees, are this crazy. Do yourself a favor, Loria. Lower your ticket prices, and make the game experience a little more worth the fans' while. Otherwise, they'll be screaming for you to sell the team, just like they chased Wayne Huizenga out of town before you. You've been warned.

On DVD: The Road Warriors: The Life & Death of the Most Dominant Tag-Team in Professional Wrestling (2005)

Professional wrestling, as we know it, began to change with the expansion of cable television in the early 80's. Accustomed as viewers in upstate New York were to the then-World Wrestling Federation, and the all-too-brief International Wrestling Association (IWA), fronted by then-Chicago White Sox owner Eddie Einhorn, the addition of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) on Ted Turner's Superstation WTBS (now simply TBS) on weekends exposed fans to future Hall of Famers such as Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, the Fabulous Freebirds, the Four Horsemen, and the Road Warriors.

Two real-life childhood buds from Chicago, Joseph Laurinatis and Michael Hegstrand reunited in Minneapolis in Eddie Sharkey's wrestling camp, and developed the fearsome personas of Animal & Hawk, the Road Warriors. Originally presented as a pair of leather-clad bikers, the Road Warriors swapped out the leather for face paint, spiked shoulder pads, and traditional tights after winning the first of 5 NWA National Tag Team titles. Their typical television matches were short, brutal, and to the point. They jumped their jobber opponents and disposed of them in about two or three minutes. Soon after, they adopted Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" as their theme song, and the legend would grow.

Manager Paul Ellering, a retired wrestler and bodybuilder, handled the team's affairs outside the ring, too. There was a reason why Ellering carried a copy of the Wall Street Journal, rolled up, to ringside with him for matches. He wanted to make sure his charges were financially secure after their careers were over. And they called Bobby Heenan, "The Brain". What a misnomer. Ellering was the real "Brain" in wrestling. The Warriors moved on to the American Wrestling Association (AWA), and won their tag titles, and the accolades kept piling up. A brutal attack on Dusty Rhodes on TBS in 1988 led to Rhodes' ouster as booker for what would become World Championship Wrestling (WCW), as Rhodes would migrate to the World Wrestling Federation. The Warriors captured the NWA tag titles from the Midnight Express (Stan Lane & Bobby Eaton), who were working as babyfaces (fan favorites) at the time, but the Warriors would eventually turn back face, only to lose the titles to the Varsity Club (Rick Steiner & Mike Rotundo) under dubious circumstances, in 1989.

Eventually, the Warriors moved to the World Wrestling Federation, but now were known by their sub-heading, the Legion of Doom, the stable name that Ellering created for the Warriors, King Kong Bundy, Jake Roberts, and others in Georgia, taken from Challenge of the Super Friends. Oh, sure, Ellering could make Lex Luthor look like a piker, and you could imagine Hawk & Animal subbing for Bizarro & Grodd. I digress. The LOD captured two WWF tag titles (1991, 1997), and would be enshrined in the WWE Hall of Fame in 2011, eight years after Hawk (Hegstrand) passed away.

The Road Warriors: The Life & Death of the Most Dominant Tag Team in Professional Wrestling, a DVD issued by WWE in 2005, ignores the team's brief stints with the American Wrestling Federation (AWF) and Total Non-stop Action (TNA) Wrestling, and focuses on the glory days of the 80's & 90's. Then again, WWE CEO/Chairman Vince McMahon refuses to acknowledge publicly the existence of TNA, but we won't go into that again here. There are plenty of matches on the 2-disc set, including some of their title victories. Seeing them in their original gear will shock a lot of folks. On some matches, Animal is on color commentary with fellow Hall of Famer Jim Ross, as the original audio was either lost or non-existent.

Here's a trailer:

Rating: B.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

What Might've Been: Munroe (1963)

Think of Four Star Productions, and what comes to mind? Westerns, such as The Rifleman or Wanted: Dead or Alive. Crime dramas, such as Burke's Law or The Detectives. Sitcoms? Not so much.

Oh, sure, Four Star had their own stable of comedies, but not a lot of hits. We previously looked at their Smothers Brothers Show, which was a 1 year wonder. In 1963, having already tried a service comedy with Ensign O'Toole, which was Four Star's answer to McHale's Navy, the studio tried an Army comedy with Munroe.

It was meant to be a star vehicle for Guy Marks, a veteran character actor who'd been in a supporting role on The Joey Bishop Show the previous year. However, while Marks was the headline star, he was actually a second banana again. Why? The title character, you see, was a dog.

Munroe was a rebellious service dog who got his masters (Marks & Jan Stine) into all kinds of stereotypical sitcom trouble spots. Unfortunately, the pilot went unsold, but is accessible online, so here it is.

Marks went back to being a supporting player, and his last series of note had him playing a Native American opposite Tim Conway on Rango (1967), and we all know Conway's poor track record as a headliner. Marks could sympathize with him.

Rating: B.