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BCB After Dark: Checking in on the pen

The hip spot for night owls, early-risers and Cubs fans abroad asks you to grade the Cubs bullpen.

Dillon Maples has been one of the few pleasant surprises this season
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

It’s another week of BCB After Dark: the dive bar for night-owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. So glad you’re here. I’ll even waive the cover charge. There’s a two-drink minimum, but it’s bring your own beverage, so you’re on the honor system for that.

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.

There was no Cubs game tonight for me to comment on, and maybe that’s for the best. If you want to comment on a game that didn’t happen, you’re encouraged to do so here.

Last time I asked you how worried you were about Kyle Hendricks’ rough start and man, you are all pretty worried. On a scale of 1 to 5, 70% of you said that your level of worry was at a 4 or a 5, with 31% going all the way to five.

I didn’t even vote on that one. I didn’t want to think about it.

Here’s where I talk about jazz and movies. I do want to say that I’ve been very busy over the past few days getting ready for the return of minor league baseball. Starting tomorrow night, we’re going to have six nights a week of the Minor League Wrap, for the first time since September of 2019.

What this means is that I don’t know how much I’m going to be able to keep up with my writing about film and music. I’m going to try, but I know there are going to be nights that I’m far too occupied by baseball to really write anything here about non-baseball stuff. And after all, this is a baseball site, so that comes first. Of course, some of you are saying “Good, I never read that stuff about jazz or old movies anyway,” and that’s fine. I’m sure I’ll be able to find a quick jazz video on YouTube to share, but I may not be able to write much of anything about it most nights. We’ll see as we go forward.

You’re free to skip ahead to the baseball stuff now, but I warn you: the jazz stuff tonight is also baseball stuff.

I’m going to admit that I’m not really a fan of the “smooth jazz” stuff that all the kids today are listening to. And by “kids,” I mean middle-aged women sipping cocktails at a weekend spa getaway. But I’m going to make an exception to my aversion to smooth jazz because tonight’s cut is from all-star outfielder Bernie Williams.

If they ever get that “Hall of the Very Good” built, you’d think the former Yankee would be one of the first inductees. If it’s possible to be an “unsung hero” on those dominating Yankees teams of the late-90s. Williams would be one. He never got the attention that Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera or even Paul O’Neill got, but Williams was an on-base machine and a heck of a leadoff hitter, even if Joe Torre more often batted him in the middle of the lineup.

But Williams is also a classically-trained guitarist and he’s released two well-received jazz albums. His style does trend towards the smooth jazz that I poo-poo’d earlier, but he does incorporate a lot of Afro-Caribbean elements that shake things up a bit. And Williams is a pretty good guitarist, no matter what style he’s working in. And I don’t mean “pretty good for a ballplayer,” I mean pretty good for a professional guitarist.

So here’s Bernie Williams playing “African Blues” [VIDEO] from his 2010 album Moving Forward. Even a cynic like me can like this one.

The movie I watched over the weekend was 1947’s Crossfire, which in many ways is a pretty standard film noir. It’s well-shot with lots of shadows and dark rooms, It stars Robert Mitchum and Robert Young (later of Father Knows Best). Young is a detective investigating a murder in DC and Mitchum is a soldier who is convinced a former army buddy of his is innocent and wants to help prove it.

Robert Ryan and Gloria Grahame got Best Supporting Actor and Actress nominations for this picture. Ryan is playing the bigoted villain of the piece, and his Oscar nomination is more understandable. Grahame, on the other hand, is barely in the film. Grahame, who was Violet Bick, the “bad girl” in It’s a Wonderful Life if you don’t know who that was, played a melodramatic part as a prostitute who may or may not provide an alibi for the main suspect. (Except actually making her a prostitute would be a bit too much for 1947 Hollywood, so it’s only strongly implied that she’s a prostitute.)

The film is considered to be the first “B-picture” to ever get a Best Picture nomination for the Academy Awards.

But the role it played in the history of Hollywood and America makes it a lot more interesting than it otherwise would be. One the surface, the film is about all the soldiers coming home from World War II and the issues that they are having re-adjusting to civilian life. There were lots of films about that subject coming out of Hollywood in the years immediately after the war ended.

But the other thing that makes this film interesting is that it is the first film, along with Gentlemen’s Agreement that came out the same year, to squarely address the issue of antisemitism. The murder victim was Jewish and he was killed by a bigoted soldier because he was Jewish. Young makes a big, over-the-top speech about how un-American bigotry and prejudice is, although he conveniently fails to mention “the negro” in his list of people who are hated for simply existing. (He also failed to mention “the homosexual,” which is telling because in the story the film was based on, the victim was murdered for being gay, not for being Jewish.)

Still, Crossfire (along with Gentleman’s Agreement) was a big step forward in the American motion picture industry addressing hate. Before 1947, just talking about racial or religious prejudice in a Hollywood picture was pretty much forbidden, and talking about antisemitism was particularly off-limits.

The reason that Hollywood could never mention antisemitism previously was simple. It was an undeniable fact that Hollywood and the American motion picture industry was created by Jewish men of incredible ambition and talent. Every one of the major studio heads, Adolph Zucker, Louis B. Mayer, Harry Cohn. Carl Laemmle, the Warner Brothers and others, were all first- or second-generation Jews from Central or Eastern Europe. All of them came from modest background and several of them spent their childhood in terrible poverty. All of them wanted a slice of “the American Dream,” but the antisemitism of the late-19th and early 20th Centuries meant that many of the traditional professions that ambitious young men sought out were banned for them. Instead, they all got involved in the penny arcade business, a disreputable form of cheap entertainment for the masses of poor immigrants (like themselves) streaming into America at that time.

From that penny arcade business, they discovered nickelodeons and the ability to show short moving pictures to people for five cents a piece. Eventually they realized that they could make more money by making the moving pictures themselves rather than buying them, usually from Europe. Circumstances caused them to pack up and move to California, where they created the most powerful cultural force in the modern world—the American motion picture industry.

But like rock and roll in the 1950s or video games in the 1990s, there were powerful counter-forces who opposed all of this. They felt that these films were corrupting good American values—good “Christian” values. And the fact that the people making these movies were Jewish was simply proof to reactionary forces that the entire motion picture industry was a grave threat to the very moral center of America.

This was an incredibly awful time in American history. It was the height of the era of Klu Klux Klan (ironically spurred on by Birth of a Nation and the movie industry) and Jim Crow. Congress passed laws to stop immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe, to maintain the “Anglo-Saxon” character of America.

The reaction of these movie moguls was to do everything they could to not call attention to the fact that they were all Jewish. Most of them weren’t religious and it was rare to see any outward display of Jewishness from any of them. They worked through the Sabbath. When asked what they were, every last one of them said “American!” as loudly as they could. (Sometimes in thick European accents.) Louis B. Mayer at MGM was unsure of his actual birthday, so he declared that he was born on the Fourth of July, just to emphasize how American he was.

In order to keep up this story and to reassure the white, Christian American public that they were no different, these executives made damn sure that none of their studios made any movie that had an explicitly Jewish point of view, at least after the Hayes Code went into effect. A certain fiction of a homogenous America had to be maintained.

The rise of Hitler and Nazism in Europe made that position of sticking their heads in the sand difficult. At first Hollywood ignored Hitler in their films and they sent executives to meet with Nazi leaders to see if they could somehow work out an agreement to keep their movies playing in Germany. (They eventually concluded that wasn’t possible,) But after the war started, that prohibition on addressing bigotry began to soften. By the time the full extent of the Holocaust was revealed, the studio heads realized that they had to deal with the issue of racism on some level.

So it was in that vein that Gentleman’s Agreement and Crossfire got made. Both were nominated for Best Picture and Gentleman’s Agreement took home the Oscar.

If you think that the film industry inspired a new birth of tolerance in America in 1947, you’d be wrong. A lot of people didn’t like the message in those two films and didn’t let it pass unopposed. Now no one could openly call for discrimination against American Jews in the aftermath of the Holocaust, but there was a new enemy that they could take aim at: Communists. For the Nazis, Jews were Communists and Communists were Jews. It doesn’t really make sense, but many Americans agreed with Hitler on this point. Both groups, Jews and Communists, were seen as “foreign” and corrupting of “Christian” values by this reactionary element of America.

It is in this light that the Red Scare took place in 1947 and in particular, the way that Congress went after the Motion Picture industry. Many, many of the alleged Communists in Hollywood brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee were Jewish. And the studio heads reacted to this new threat to their industry the same way they had before—by stressing that they were all loyal Americans who wanted nothing to do with Communism. (This is true—they were all conservative Republicans. But before the Red Scare, they didn’t care how their actors, writers, producers or directors voted as long as they made pictures that made money.) So while it’s not a direct line, Crossfire is partially responsible for starting the chain of events that led to the Hollywood blacklist.

If you don’t think the studio was worried about taking a stand against antisemitism, here’s studio head Dore Schary talking about what an important film Crossfire is and how much ordinary Americans appreciate its message.

And here’s a clip of Robert Young and Robert Mitchum from the film.

OK, welcome back to all the baseball fans who skip over the music and jazz lesson and I want to offer a big thank you to everyone who read through my entire piece on Hollywood history. I think its message is still pretty timely today.

A month into the season, I thought I’d ask you to give the Cubs a grade. Not the entire team—I mean, sheesh, I don’t want to read your comments on what kind of a grade you’d give the entire Cubs team for 2021 so far. I also don’t want to read your comments on the offense, although that’s probably a little more palatable than what you would have written last week.

No, I’m going to ask you to grade the bullpen. I asked you last time on Kyle Hendricks and I don’t think the disappointing starting rotation would get much debate from you. So I’m going to ask you to grade the bullpen, which is maybe the one bright spot on the team at the moment.

The Cubs have a team ERA at the moment of 5.01, which is pretty bad, especially considering how much offense has been down this year. But the bullpen has an ERA of 3.92. They’ve struck out 145 batters in 117 innings. Despite getting the loss on Sunday, closer Craig Kimbrel has yet to allow an earned run this year. Andrew Chafin and Dan Winkler have gotten the job done as setup men. Dillon Maples is starting to live up to his potential.

On the other hand, the bullpen is walking a lot of batters. Sixty-six in those 117 innings. Add in 17 hit-by-pitches, and that’s a lot of free baserunners.

So what is it? What kind of a grade would you give the collective Cubs bullpen?


After one month, what grade would you give the Cubs bullpen?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    (1 vote)
  • 36%
    (29 votes)
  • 42%
    (34 votes)
  • 18%
    (15 votes)
  • 1%
    (1 vote)
80 votes total Vote Now

I’ll see you again tomorrow night with a much shorter After Dark. Also, there will be the first Minor League Wrap in almost 20 months, so be sure to check that out as well.