Posted in Baseball, Brain Bits, Cats, Opera, Television

Brain Bits for an Endless Winter

As I write this the New York metropolitan area is gearing up for yet another wave of snow, sleet and freezing rain. How much of the above we’re going to be socked with this time is still up in the air (no pun intended). We only know that the weather forecasters have been predicting doom for the last five days. Well, my refrigerator is stocked, my car’s gas tank is full and my boots and snow shovel are once more at the ready. I saw a robin on my front lawn yesterday afternoon, and while I refrained from asking “You lost, buddy?,” I still took heart. SpringĀ will arrive—sometime.


No gown was ever better wrecked
No gown was ever better wrecked

“Downton Abbey” just completed its fourth season here. My opinion? Kind of meh.

I’m not saying the show was without its charms: I’ll be interested in Lady Mary’s doings until the cows (or perhaps I should say, the pigs) come home. I’ve always liked the character, even at her bitchiest, and she’s got the type of self-awareness that’s enormously refreshing—she cuts to the heart of things, no matter whose feelings may be hurt. Tom Branson is still fun to watch, as are Carson and Mrs. Hughes, and I’d like Paul Giamatti to make a return visit as Harold Levenson, Cora’s brother. But the show now seems stuffy and predictable, especially if you’re a fan of “Last Tango in Halifax,” whose characters in no way have consistency in their lexicon. At this point you’re assured of the following in every “Downton Abbey” episode: a cutting quip and a snark at Isobel Crawley by the Dowager Countess, a Lady Edith misfortune, a block-headed remark by the Earl, a blackmail attempt by Barrow and an ambiguously sinister shot of Bates. The pattern has yet to change.

Despite all this, I’ll continue to watch “Downton Abbey” until its end. I just wish it had a little more zest in its storytelling and a little more oxygen in its atmosphere.


MetThat sound you hear is the rattling of sabres as management and labor gear up for contract talks at the Metropolitan Opera. Words are already being exchanged, what with General Manger Peter Gelb leading negotiations for the first time and Tino Gagliardi, head of the musicians’ union, vowing to seek oversight of the Met’s spending in order to prevent salary cuts and other givebacks.

There’s been a distressing pattern of musicians’ unions blinding themselves to significant changes in both the prevailing culture and the economy. This is no longer 1960, when arts programming was a regular feature on the handful of television channels in existence, Leonard Bernstein won Emmys for his “Young People’s Concerts” and most importantly, visual and musical arts were mandatory courses in public schools. Is it any wonder that audiences for classical music and opera have dwindled over the years, to the extent that box office receipts make up only one third of the Met’s income? Outreach programs are great, but nothing creates a lifelong interest in the arts like a thorough education such as my boomer generation received. Sadly, those times are gone.

I know very few people who weren’t impacted by the financial collapse of 2008 and its lingering aftermath. There’s a trickle-down effect on the arts after such disasters: over time contributions are curtailed if not eliminated, and patrons find themselves with less disposable income for ticket purchases. To put it bluntly, we’ve all had to suck it up during the last several years, and performers are not exempt from the new reality. If, as the Met claims, two-thirds of its expenses are labor costs, that’s the pool from which reductions should come first.

I would hate to see a strike or a lock-out at the Met. But the unions would better serve both their membership and the ticket-buying public by dealing in the real world.


Gary Carter, N.Y. Mets
Gary Carter, N.Y. Mets

Once upon a time there was a future Hall of Fame catcher named Gary Carter. For five delirious years he was a New York Met, and a mainstay of that 1986 championship team. As a lifelong, diehard Mets fan, I loved watching him play.

Flash forward to a few days ago. I’ve been wanting to adopt another cat for several months, ever since poor Roger departed to the great litter box in the sky. I needed a mellow boy past kitten stage who could get along with Miss Teddi, a somewhat crotchety 16 year-old, and Gregory, a laid back 7 year-old built like a pro football linebacker.

Gary Carter, Cat
Gary Carter, Cat

Is there a better name for a polydactyl cat whose front paws resemble catcher’s mitts? I can’t claim credit for his name: it said “Gary Carter” on his cat cubby at the shelter. Under the circumstances I couldn’t not take him, so now Mr. Carter is comfortably ensconced in his new surroundings. This young man blended in immediately with the other feline residents, and is simply one terrific cat.

Now if I could just get him to wear a baseball cap……

Posted in Baseball

On Hope Springing Eternal

It’s that time of year again: pitchers and catchers have already reported for spring training, and the rest of the squads will be in Florida or Arizona come tomorrow. Normally this is cause for me to rejoice, but as a Mets fan, I’m kind of dreading it. It’s not that I have lowered expectations—quite frankly, I’m expecting disaster, and it has nothing to do with their probable last place finish.

What I think will happen is this:

If David Wright gets off to a good start and the team tanks, he’ll be traded. It won’t be the first time the face of the franchise leaves town, he carries the most value for potential suitors and the Mets really need to replenish their farm system with prospects. Even with the drop-off in his batting average, Wright is still a solid player, though as Fred Wilpon correctly, if indiscreetly, stated a year ago, he’s not a superstar.

The team holds onto Mike Pelfrey who has proven time and again that he’s not up to pitching in New York. Yes, he had that wonderful first half a couple of seasons ago, but how many times have the Mets spread the word in spring training that “This is Pelfrey’s breakout year!” and nothing but nothing happens? When is the team going to face the fact that this guy is utterly mediocre and his true value lies in being trade bait for several young pitchers?

Johann Santana not only doesn’t revert to the Johann of Old, he still has major problems. While I don’t expect Santana to be that unhittable pitcher he was for Minnesota, I’m concerned about how much life he’s still got in his elbow, arm or shoulder (take your pick). This is not the first time he’ll be coming back from major reconstruction, and while he’s certainly savvy enough to compensate for what he’s lost, is he up to a full season, let alone a successful one?

Jason Bay will continue to prove that he should have stayed in Boston where he had a happy home as one of several players who could get the job done at any time. The Mets, on the other hand, have so many holes in their makeup that Bay’s inability to produce makes it impossible to look away. There’s no place to hide for Bay, and if he has a bad first half, the Mets should really consider paying his way out of town.

When I look at the rest of the roster I just shake my head. This is what Bernie Madoff hath wrought: zero resources for free agent signings. Yes, a healthy Ike Davis will be back, along with Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner and Ruben Tejada, all of whom I love to watch, but there’s no there there, is there? And let’s not get started on the rest of the rotation, with the possible exception of Jonathon Niese, nor the bullpen (shudder).

To me this adds up to discounted seats and warm beer at Citifield. I hope I’m wrong.

On another Met-related subject, I want to say a few words about Gary Carter. He wasn’t my favorite Met from the 1986 champion team (Keith Hernandez was), but there’s no way they could have won without him that year, or come so close to a division title the year before. He was superb in handling the pitching staff—Doc Gooden, Ron Darling, Bobby Ojeda, Sid Fernandez and Rick Aguilera—in addition to being a powerful clean-up hitter. While I know the curtain calls drove the rest of the world crazy, we Met fans just loved to see Kid belt one, round the bases and pop out of the dugout to acknowledge us. The passing of a summer hero, particularly at a young age, reminds us of our own mortality, but thankfully it also gives us a moment to remember and savor the good times once again. Thanks, Kid, and rest in peace.