Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the warm spot on a cold night for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Our door is always open for you and there’s no cover charge. Please make yourself at home. There’s plenty of good tables available. Bring your own beverage.
BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.
Last night, I asked you about the proposals to create an artificial “dead period” in the winter in order to encourage earlier free agent signings. But 58 percent of you thought that was a bad idea and only 22 percent liked it.
We’re still in a lockout. It’s only been a week and I’m already going batty. And it’s not like an off-season lockout adds incentive to end it because the teams don’t make any money until March at the earliest and the players don’t get paid until April anyway.
Here’s the part where I talk about jazz and movies. You’re free to skip ahead to the baseball question at the end if you want. You won’t hurt my feelings. Besides, no one has gotten enough Marcus Stroman content yet.
No Christmas jazz music tonight. I have to keep the grinches happy as well.
Iphigenia, the new opera written by Wayne Shorter and Esperanza Spalding, will premiere this Friday night at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. If you’ve been following the jazz around here this year, you are already familiar with those two giants from two different eras of jazz.
Obviously I don’t have anything from the new opera to share with you, it hasn’t premiered yet. But here’s a version of Shorter’s song “Footprints” being played by Shorter and Spalding in 2014.
I’ve been avoiding the “big” movies when I’m doing these essays, such as Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Gone With the Wind, The Maltese Falcon, Spartacus, and the rest. (I’m more than willing to discuss them in the comments.) There has been so much written about them that I don’t think I could add much and I also feel that close to everyone reading this has either seen those pictures or they’ve made a conscious decision that they are going to skip them.
But my wife did want to re-watch Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 classic North by Northwest over the weekend. Starring Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason, the film is one of those films that everyone is familiar with even if they haven’t seen it. The image of Cary Grant running through an Indiana (actually California) cornfield while a crop duster with a machine gun tries to kill him is one of the most famous in the history of cinema.
I’m going to offer a few words on North by Northwest tonight to get the discussion started and then step aside. If you haven’t seen it, I’m not going to summarize the plot except to say that Grant stars as advertising executive Roger Thornhill and that he’s mistaken for a spy by the name of George Kaplan. A criminal smuggling ring then kidnaps Thornhill in a case of mistaken identity and then the fun begins.
Screenwriter Ernest Lehman, who had written Somebody Up There Likes Me and The King and I, as well as co-written the script for Sabrina, teamed up with director Alfred Hitchcock to make what they called the ultimate Hitchcock movie. They succeeded wildly. North by Northwest is a film that manages to balance humor, romance and suspense with an expert hand. The plot goes from New York to Chicago to Indiana and then South Dakota, all stopping at impressive-looking landmarks along the way. (The United Nations Building, Grand Central Station, Mount Rushmore and that cornfield.)
North by Northwest also manages a very neat trick: It manages to both be a great Hitchcock film and a great parody of a Hitchcock film at the same time. As a Hitchcock film, Grant plays the regular everyman who gets swept up in a plot far beyond his understanding. He also stops to find romance with a beautiful blonde in Eva Marie Saint. The plot unfolds like a puzzle box, revealing a piece at a time until the entire picture becomes clear. The film is also shot in some glorious Technicolor and looks great from the first frame to the last.
But also, this film is ridiculous, and I mean it in a good way. Grant’s character is placed in increasingly silly situations. I mean, don’t all international espionage rings use Mt. Rushmore as a base of operations? The MacGuffin, Hitchock’s term for something that has no real significance but manages to drive the plot anyway, is especially silly in this film. Grant’s character decides to act like an idiot in one scene so that he’ll get escorted out by the police so the assassins can’t get him first. Even the title is utterly meaningless. North by Northwest takes many of the cinematic devices that Hitchcock used in other films and turned them up to 11.
I’ve often wondered whether High Anxiety, Mel Brooks’ 1977 send-up of Hitchcock movies, doesn’t work as well as his earlier film parodies because Hitchcock had already satirized himself so expertly in North by Northwest.
There are a lot of candidates for the best Hitchcock movie. Vertigo has even topped Citizen Kane recently in some polls of the greatest film ever made. But for me, Hitchcock never made a better film than North by Northwest.
Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and movies.
It’s going to be a long winter to keep coming up with poll questions. I’m open to suggestions.
Tonight’s question comes from an article that The Athletic’s Keith Law wrote at the start of the free agent signing period in early November. (The Athletic sub. req., of course) It’s one of those “Top 50 Free Agents” articles that every national baseball publication publishes around that time. Law has Carlos Correa as the best available free agent and Corey Seager (since signed by the Rangers) as the second-best. No surprises there.
But what’s interesting to me is the ranking of the top four pitchers. The top free agent pitcher, according to Law, isn’t Max Scherzer or Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray. No, all other things being equal, Law thinks that Marcus Stroman was the best pitcher available and the fifth-best player overall.
Now this isn’t a “best value for the money” ranking or anything like that. Law is saying that if you gifted his team any pitcher, he’d take Stroman. Law’s reasons are that not only does he have a high upside, Stroman has a high floor as well. Law thinks Stroman is likely to age well and stay healthy, for one. He’s a consistent pitcher whom teams can count on for a predictably good performance most every start. But Stroman is not just an innings-eater. While he may not strike out as many batters as some of the other free agent pitchers, Law is impressed with Stroman’s ability to keep the ball on the ground and inside the ballpark.
Law ranks Ray as the second-best available free agent pitcher, Kevin Gausman as third and Max Scherzer as the fourth-best. All of those pitchers signed before the lockout with the Mariners, Blue Jays and Mets respectively.
If you’re wondering why Law ranks Scherzer so low, it’s not because he doesn’t believe in his stuff, even though he writes that Mad Max may be slipping a bit. He’s mostly concerned about Scherzer’s age and health.
But what do you think? If money wasn’t a factor, which of those starting pitchers would you take? Law thinks the Cubs made the best deal in getting Stroman, naturally, but is that what you would have done? If any one of those other three pitchers would have signed with the Cubs for the exact same money, would you have still taken Stroman? Or would you have preferred one of the other three?
If money and contract were not a factor, which free agent pitcher would you want pitching for the Cubs?
This poll is closed
We’re so glad you decided to spend this week with us. The place is just so much better when you show up. We’ll get your hat and coat for you. Please tip your waitstaff and join us again next week when we have another edition of BCB After Dark.