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BCB After Dark: Should Ian make the switch?

The swinging night spot for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad asks if Ian Happ should give up switch hitting.

Minnesota Twins v Chicago Cubs Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Welcome back to another week of BCB After Dark: the cool late-night club for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. So happy to see you again this week. I hope you had a pleasant weekend. No cover charge. We’ve still got a prime table for you in the second row. 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 week, I asked you how many teams should make the playoffs. The vote was pretty clear as 51% of you thought that the current ten teams was the ideal amount. Another 28 percent wanted to go back to only eight teams in the postseason. It can’t make MLB happy that only 21 percent of you picked one of the three options to expand the playoffs to 12, 14 or 16 teams.

Here’s the part where I talk about jazz and movies. Feel free to skip ahead to the baseball question at the end. You won’t hurt my feelings.

It’s been a while since I featured any Dave Brubeck, which is a shame because I don’t think any jazz artist better represents the “late-night cool” vibe that I’m going for with this virtual late-1950’s night club that I’ve created better than Brubeck. Some might consider that characterization of his music as a criticism of Brubeck, so I guess your mileage may vary.

But here’s a performance of “Unisphere” by Brubeck. The “Unisphere” is that big giant globe that was built for the 1964 World’s Fair that still stands near Citi Field in Flushing, Queens.

So with Brubeck on piano, Paul Desmond on sax, Eugene Wright on bass and Joe Morello on drums, here’s Brubeck’s tribute to the Unisphere and the spirit it represents. This is a performance from 1964 in Helsinki, Finland.

This week’s film discussion is about Roberto Rossellini’s neorealist trilogy (also called the “war trilogy”), Rome, Open City (1945), Paisan (1946) and Germany, Year Zero (1947). These are three of the most influential films in history. Tonight, the focus is on the first one in the series. I hope to say more about the three as a whole either later in the week or next week.

The most amazing thing about Rome, Open City is how it was even made in the first place. The script and preparations for the film started while Rome was still occupied by German forces and actual filming started in January of 1945, while the war was still going on. In fact, the front lines were just about a two-hour drive to the north. As you might expect, you can’t make a film under those conditions in the same way you would during peacetime. Rossellini had no access to film stock and was forced to use whatever film he could find on the black market or whatever he could beg, borrow or pilfer from the advancing American troops. That meant that that the film has an incredibly uneven look to it, since different scenes were shot with different types of film. Rossellini actually turns this into an advantage as it increases the “war documentary” look of the overall picture.

What makes these three films different than other war films that you might see is that for the most part, these three films aren’t about the soldiers and Rome, Open City barely mentions the fighting at all. Instead, Rossellini turns his focus to the “common people” and how the war has changed them. Rome, Open City is also a pretty strong statement about Italian nationalism and a call for Italians to realize that they have more in common with each other than they have differences.

Rossellini came into Rome, Open City with dirty hands. He had been a director under Fascist Italy and was a close friend of Vittorio Mussolini, the son of fascist leader Benito Mussolini, who saw himself as a kind of movie mogul and got himself put in charge of the Italian film industry. Rossellini made several films under Mussolini, including three that came out during the war that can only be described as fascist propaganda. It’s always been a big debate whether Rome, Open City was a way for Rossellini to atone for his earlier sins or whether he just saw Italian anti-fascists (and the Americans) as a new patron to please. In any case, Rome, Open City is about as damning a portrait of fascism and Nazism as one could make under the circumstances.

The title Rome, Open City refers to the period from August of 1943 to June of 1944 when the German authorities occupying Rome had declared Rome an “open city,” meaning that they would not defend the city if it were attacked in an attempt to spare the people and landmarks of the city from further harm. But Rome was still under the control of the Italian fascist puppet government until the Americans arrived, which meant that Nazi Germany was actually in charge of things. Rome, Open City tells the tale of the Italian resistance to the German occupation. It’s certainly a heroic portrait of the common Italian people and it ignores that many Italians at the time still supported Mussolini and fascism. Even the collaborators are driven to betraying their country by their weaknesses and unfortunate circumstances.

The Italian neorealist movement is generally described as a postwar movement that tried to recreate the actual lives of real “common” people as much as possible. The films were shot on location and not on sets. They generally eschewed the use of actors in favor of just finding non-professional people and having them act out scenes similar to their own lives. Most of the scenes were improvisational, as there either was just a loose outline of a script or no script at all.

While all of those conditions were true of Paisan and Germany, Year Zero, Rossellini had not yet full embraced all of those traits in Rome, Open City. While much of Rome, Open City was shot on city streets, Rossellini did construct some sets in basements of abandoned buildings for some scenes. Instead of improving, there was a script written by Rossellini, Federico Fellini, Sergio Amidei and Alberto Consiglio. The story was one of those “based on true events” tales like you’d see on a modern episode of Law & Order. In particular, it was a fictionalized version two well-known incidents during the German occupation of Rome—of which I won’t spoil here.

And unlike in Paisan and Germany, Year Zero, Rossellini uses real actors here. In particular, Aldo Fabrizi, who plays the the priest Don Pietro, and the magnificent Anna Magnani, who plays the pregnant widow Pina, who is engaged to be married. Other professional actors populate some other major roles and minor roles are filled in by non-actors “in the business” like cameramen or producers, or sometimes by their friends and relatives.

Fabrizi and Magnani turn in the top performances, however. Magnani, also known as La Lupa, or “She-Wolf” of Italian cinema, was renown for her representation of fiery Italian womanhood on the screen (Apparently, it wasn’t much of a stretch from her actual personality.) She would go on to become the first person to win an acting Academy Award for a part that was entirely in a language other than English when she won the Oscar for Best Actress for The Rose Tattoo in 1955.

The scene in Rome, Open City where Magnani’s Pina chases after the truck her fiancé is being taken away in is one of the most iconic in the history of cinema.

Magnani is playing Pina, a working-class widow with communist sympathies, who is pregnant and engaged to a resistance leader in Rome whom the German authorities are looking for. Fabrizi’s Don Pietro is a Catholic priest who represents the conservative and monarchist right in Italy. Normally, Pina and Don Pietro would be enemies in Italian society, but the occupation has brought them together. Don Pietro is willing to officiate Pina’s wedding despite her pregnancy. Pina, despite not being religious, wants Don Pietro to perform the ceremony because “at least he’s on our side” (meaning against the Nazis) rather than the fascist bureaucrats at City Hall.

Fabrizi also provides much of the humor in the movie, which gives his character a great deal of range. On the one hand, he gets caught up in soccer game that his parish’s boys are playing at one point, forgetting his mission for the Italian underground until he gets hit in the head with a soccer ball. Don Pietro also has a scene where he has to go into a shop to get a package that he has to deliver to the underground. While he waits for his contact to return, he notices two statues of a naked goddess Venus and St. Francis of Assisi facing each other. He sheepishly turns the two statues away from each other.

But this humor is contrasted against the real evil that Don Pietro is forced to confront when he is brought in by the Nazis for questioning. As a priest, Don Pietro is trained to believe that all people are good and capable of salvation. But as an Italian, those beliefs are sorely tested by the Nazi occupation, and Fabrizi is always cognizant of that dichotomy in Don Pietro’s character.

I’ll have more to say about Rome, Open City later in the week, but I think tonight’s edition has gone on long enough. I also hope that I’ll have a chance to say something about Paisan and Germany, Year Zero as well. But Rome, Open City often ends up on those lists of the 100 Greatest Films of All-Time and its influence on the world of cinema would probably put it in the Top Ten. It’s definitely a film that every film buff and movie fan should watch at least once.

Here’s a trailer for the film connected to a recently-restored version.

Today’s question is inspired by Orioles outfielder Cedric Mullins and this article by Jake Mailhot of Fangraphs. To be blunt, it’s been hard to be an Orioles fan in recent years, but last season the performance of Mullins was a rare joy.

Mullins had never been a top prospect in the Orioles system. He was a 13th-round draft pick in 2015 and slowly worked his way up Baltimore’s system, but he was never seen as more than a possible fourth outfielder. In fact, that how Baseball America categorized Mullins when they ranked him as their 9th-best O’s prospect in 2018. That’s as high as he ever got in the rankings.

After mediocre-to-poor cups of coffee with the Orioles in 2018 and 2019, Mullins spent all of the abbreviated 2020 in the majors (well, there were no minors) and hit .271/.315/.407 with three home runs in 48 games. That seemed like a major victory, but those are also the numbers of a fourth or fifth outfielder for any team better than the Orioles were.

But Mullins exploded in 2021. He played 159 games and hit .291/.360/.518 with 30 home runs and 30 steals. He made his first All-Star Game and he deserved to be there. Mullins won a Silver Slugger Award and finished 9th in American League Most Valuable Player Award voting.

What did Mullins do differently in 2021? He gave up switch-hitting. Mullins hit far better as a left-hander in 2020 (against right-handers) than he did batting right-handed. It was a huge platoon differential as his split OPS+ against right-handers was 115 and against left-handers, it was 36. When Mullins decided to hit left-handed against left-handed pitching, that OPS+ split in 2021 went all the way up to 115.

Now Mullins also increased his OPS+ split against right-handed pitching up to 154, so it’s not like all of the improvement in his game came from batting left-handed only. But I can certainly see how not having to worry about his right-handed swing could improve his ability to hit right-handed pitching from the left-handed side of the box, so I don’t think you can discount that it played a bigger role than those splits might indicate.

In Mailhot’s article linked above, he tries to find the next Cedric Mullins, or a switch-hitter who might benefit from hitting from one side of the plate only. The first name he comes up with is Ian Happ.

To be clear, Happ’s splits are not anywhere near as extreme as Mullins’ were. Happ’s career line as a left-handed batter is .244/.346/.496 with a OPS+ of 109. His line as a right-handed hitter is .233/.312/.382 (OPS+ 74). That’s a pretty big drop-off in power, but a more normal platoon split for the batting average and on-base percentage. His OPS+ splits for 2021 were right in line with that with a 116 OPS+ from the left side and a 79 OPS+ from the right.

Now changing the way that you’ve batted your entire career is a big deal. It’s not something that’s easy to do. But were Happ to concentrate on just hitting from the left side, he’d only have one swing to worry about going forward. So that might be a help.

So what do you think? If the Cubs are going to do anything in 2022, it’s clear to me that Ian Happ is going to have to be a big part of that. And that means hitting better and for more power than he has in his career. Happ is the same age as Cedric Mullins, so it’s not like he’s too old to make a change. He could go back to switch-hitting if it didn’t work, but it might mean a lost season. It’s still a big gamble.


Should Ian Happ give up switch hitting?

This poll is closed

  • 73%
    (122 votes)
  • 26%
    (43 votes)
165 votes total Vote Now

Thank you so much for stopping by this evening. Please let us get your hat and coat for you. We hope you’ve been able to get warm and relax for a little while this evening. Please tip your waitstaff generously. Drive home safely. And join us again tomorrow night for another edition of BCB After Dark.