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BCB After Dark: Long-term thinking about shortstop

The cool spot for night owls, early-risers and Cubs fans abroad asks you if Nico Hoerner is the Cubs’ long-term answer at shortstop.

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Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the safe place for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Come on in, we’re all going to forget our problems tonight. We’ve got a full show this evening. A few good tables remain. Bring your own beverage. Call your friends and tell them to stop by.

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.

The Cubs dropped a doubleheader to the Brewers tonight, 7-6 and 3-1. That really hurt because it felt like the Cubs really could have won both games and really should have won at least one game. But that’s baseball.

Last week I asked you which Cubs prospect that you were most excited about and 45 percent of you said outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong. PCA, as he’s known, has certainly been impressive in his first real professional action. (He played six games in the Mets system last year before getting injured and traded to the Cubs.) The good news is that Crow-Armstrong has finally been promoted to High-A South Bend, so those of you within driving distance of Four Winds Field now have a chance to check him out in person.

In second place was right-handed pitcher Caleb Kilian with 39 percent of the vote. Neither Matt Swarmer nor Anderson Espinoza were choices on the poll, but I hope you got a little excited about their performances in the doubleheader tonight. Nelson Velazquez was listed, but he only got 1 percent of the vote.

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


I was trying to find a jazz tune tonight that fit the mood. I wanted something sad because we’re all bummed out about how the Cubs are doing. But I didn’t want anything that makes people feel any worse, so it needed to be a bit more upbeat as it goes along. You can tell me how I did in the comments.

I’ve featured pianist Bill Evans as a sideman and a member of the Miles Davis Sextet. But I think this may be the first time I’ve spotlighted him as the featured player.

In addition, this song is “You Must Believe in Spring,” which is from Les Demoiselles de Rochefort. Of all the films that I’ve watched for the first time this year, that’s my favorite. I wrote about it in this space in February. And also, the title is appropriate for baseball fans, for we must all believe in spring.

This recording is from 1977, but it wasn’t released until after Evans’ death in 1980. He’d recorded an earlier version with Tony Bennett on vocals. There are no vocals on this version. This session also features Eddie Gómez on bass and Eliot Zigmund on drums.


Merrily We Go to Hell, the 1932 pre-code melodrama directed by Dorothy Arzner, certainly has one of the greatest titles for a movie in Hollywood history. It’s certainly a better title than the book it was based on, Cleo Lucas’s I, Jerry, Take Thee, Joan. But despite a strong cast headlined by Sylvia Sidney and Fredric March and featuring a pre-famous Cary Grant in a small supporting role, the the film itself is kind of “meh.” It’s a product of its time, fitting in the sweet spot of Prohibition and pre-code Hollywood. Still, it’s an interesting film because it breaks so many rules of what we expect a classic Hollywood film to be.

Sidney plays Joan, a rich heiress who runs into Jerry (March) a Chicago journalist at a drunken party, although she makes it clear she’s not drinking. The two hit it off immediately as Joan is a fan of Jerry’s newspaper column and Jerry claims to be a fan of Joan’s father’s canned goods company. That may have been a moment of drunken sarcasm. But he’s certainly a fan of the beautiful and rich Joan.

Joan is smitten with Jerry and invites him to her party the next day. He agrees to come, but Joan is crushed when he doesn’t come. Except he does arrive after the party ends, very late and very drunk. Joan forgives Jerry and is just so excited he came at all.

As should be clear by now, Jerry is a hopeless alcoholic. We find out that he was driven to drink by his actress ex-girlfriend, Claire (Adrianne Allen). But he finds the innocent Joan to be “swell” and Jerry is eager to marry her. Joan’s father (George Irving) is understandably completely against his daughter marrying a working-class drunk, but there’s nothing he can do to stop his daughter from doing what she wants.

March was a terrific actor and he’s one of only two actors (Helen Hayes being the other) to have won two acting Academy Awards and two acting Tony Awards. But he spends most of this film drunk, which doesn’t give him much chance to show his range. March would have better parts as an alcoholic later on in the original A Star is Born and The Best Years of Our Lives. But in Merrily We Go To Hell, March is passed out more often than not. The title is actually a toast that Jerry delivers before taking a drink. I guess you had to be living in Prohibition for that one to really make sense. No one in the film seems to take note that all of this drinking was illegal. (Yes, I know drinking alcohol was never illegal, only the production or sale of alcohol. But Jerry and his friends are not the type of people to have saved up 12 years worth of alcohol in 1920 to keep the party going.) March was a regular in Arzner-directed films and he always said that Arzner was just “one of the boys” and no different than a male director.

Sidney was a fine actress as well, but her character just isn’t given enough reasons here for her to stick with a man who keeps disappointing and embarrassing her for as long as she does. Maybe if they had established that Joan was someone with a fetish for lost causes or that there was a history of alcoholism in her family that she blamed herself for, her character would make more sense. But in this picture, she just falls head-over-heels for Jerry at first sight and waits far too long to see the truth about him, although she does eventually. Even then, she forgives him in the end.

Sidney was a pretty big actress in the early-thirties. Her biggest role may have been the lead in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1936 film, Sabotage. But Sidney is probably best-remembered today for her amazingly-long career as a character actress in movies and on television after her star faded in the late-thirties. Her first film was the 1927 silent picture Broadway Nights and her final picture was Tim Burton’s 1996 film, Mars Attacks! Sidney’s final on-screen role was in the 1998 revival of Fantasy Island. Her only Academy Award nomination came in 1973 for Best Supporting Actress in Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams. She was Mother Carlson in the pilot for WKRP in Cincinnati, although she was replaced in the series by Carol Bruce. It was really an incredible 70-year career.

Director Dorothy Arzner had an even more remarkable career. Although there were some women directors in the early years of Hollywood, by the late-1920s, Arzner was the only female film director in the entire country. As a young girl, she wanted to be a physician, but World War I got in the way and Arzner signed up to be an ambulance driver. She never made it to France, which was probably fortunate for her, because her commander in Los Angeles had connections with the film industry and recommended her for a studio job. The studios were desperate enough for talent at the time that they were taking on almost anyone, and Arzner got a job typing up scripts, even though she could barely type. That lead to a position as a script girl, then a film editor and finally an assistant director at Paramount. But her dream was to direct. So on the side, she started writing scripts for Columbia (then a poverty-row studio) with the promise that if she wrote four scripts, she could direct the fourth one herself.

So after the fourth script was done, Arzner quit Paramount and tried to tell everyone goodbye. She saw Walter Wanger, then the head of the New York studios for Paramount, who told her she wasn’t quitting. After an argument, Wanger called in B.P. Schulberg, who was the head of production at Paramount. Furious that one of his best film editors was quitting for another studio, he tried to talk her out of it, but she insisted that she wanted to direct and another studio (and she made sure not to mention which one for fear that Schulberg would call them up and quash her deal) was giving her that chance. So Schulberg stormed off and returned with the script for Fashions for Women and threw it at her as he shouted “There! You can direct that!’

Fashions for Women (1927) was a success, so Arzner got to continue directing for Paramount, mostly on films that we’d today call “chick flicks,” or films aimed at women audiences. She didn’t really have an identifiable “style” and she didn’t play around with odd camera angles or shadows or anything like that. She was, however, a meticulous perfectionist with an eye for small details. Arzner also had an editor’s eye for cutting any scene as soon as it was no longer perfect. She was especially insistent on getting the sets and costuming exactly right.

Arzner had a health scare during the filming of the 1943 war picture First Comes Courage and decided to retire after that. She took a job as a film studies professor at UCLA where she taught many future directors, none bigger than Francis Ford Coppola. Arzner was not just a teacher to Coppola, she was a mentor and early champion of his work.

Back to Merrily We Go to Hell, the film is a melodrama about demon rum and one of those pre-code films that were as salacious as they could reasonably get away with in order to bring in the crowds. Merrily We Go to Hell was among the films most often cited by the crusaders who thought Hollywood was corrupting the morals of America. That would lead to the strict enforcement of the Production Code (Hays Code) by mid-1934.

Spoilers for a 90-year old film:

Joan agrees to marry Jerry, who is still drinking heavily. He passed out and missed their engagement party. He shows up to the wedding reasonably sober, but he somehow lost the wedding ring in his debauchery from the night before. Jerry gets sober enough to write a play, but he starts drinking again when he gets rejection notice after rejection notice. But finally, he gets an acceptance letter, after which he sobers up and starts being a responsible husband to Joan.

Unfortunately, the New York producers of his play decide to cast his old girlfriend Claire as the lead. Being back with Claire causes Jerry to first start drinking again and then start an affair with her. The play is a hit, but Jerry is a wreck.

This humiliation is too much for Joan to take, especially when Jerry and Claire openly kiss in front of her at a party. She announces that they’re going to have a “modern marriage” from now on. The former teetotaler Joan starts drinking and takes up with a pre-famous Cary Grant, playing an empty playboy. She does this to make Jerry jealous, but it doesn’t really work. Jerry tells her “I’ve told you before, you’ve got the words but not the tune.” Jerry thinks Joan is too much of a good girl to keep this up, and he’s right. What he didn’t figure on is Joan leaving him and going back to her father. This snaps Jerry out of his funk and caused him to break off whatever he had going with Claire. The drinking only gets mildly better, however. For months Jerry tries to contact Joan, begging her to take him back, but all of his letters are returned unopened and his phone calls unreturned.

Jerry has wasted all the money he made from his play and is back writing at the newspaper. A colleague points him to the birth announcements, saying that Joan had given birth to his baby. He didn’t even know she had been pregnant. He rushes to the hospital to see her, only to be told that the baby died shortly after birth and that Joan might not survive either. Joan’s father tells Jerry that she doesn’t want to see him, despite Joan specifically asking for him repeatedly. Jerry busts in her hospital room anyway and the two are joyfully reunited, but their future is uncertain.

So it’s neither a happy ending, nor are they really punished for their sin, beyond the loss of their child.

End spoilers

So yeah, this one’s got a lot that would drive the Catholic Church and other 1930s defenders of morality up the wall. Not just the drinking and the open extra-marital affairs, but no one denounces either character’s behavior as sinful and immoral. The closest we get to that is Joan’s father, but his objections are not really religious or moral as much as they are “Jerry can’t provide for you and an alcoholic will do nothing but let you down.” (He was right on that point.) On top of that, the characters get together back in the end, even if their behavior is punished in a manner of speaking.

Merrily We Go to Hell suffers from a weak script that is designed to be more scandalous than to make any sense. While Frederic March showed in other films that he could play charming people with problems (He had just won an Oscar for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for example), but he spends most of this film either passed out or just behaving like an ass for us to really believe that Joan would fall for him. And the ending is all too sudden and doesn’t really work. Still, if you’re really interested in pre-code movies or the early-1930s, it’s probably worth a look. If you’re a fan of March or you’ve seen Sylvia Sidney is one of her roles from the eighties or nineties and are curious what she was like when she young, you might check it out. Some have praised its feminist message that marriage is a trap for women, but I think that’s a bit of a stretch. It doesn’t have a neat Hollywood ending, that’s for sure. But even if you don’t watch it, it’s still a good film to be aware of for its stars, directors and the way it represents pre-code melodrama.

Here’s the trailer for a French DVD release of the film. The trailer, like the film, is in English, but there are French subtitles.


Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and movies. Although I’m not sure why on a night like this you want to talk baseball, we’re going to do it anyways.

Tonight we’re going to examine a question that Patrick Mooney asked in The Athletic last week: Is Nico Hoerner the Cubs long-term solution at shortstop? (subscription required, naturally)

I’ve asked you several times about all the other elite shortstops who have either been on the free agent market or will be on the free agent or trade market and whether you think they’d be a good fit for the Cubs. All of them would require a long-term commitment and a lot of money. The Cubs would hope that that person would be the Cubs shortstop on the next World Series team.

But what if the Cubs already have that shortstop on the team? After today, Hoerner is hitting .296/.319/.426 with three home runs. I also admit that I was wrong about how well he’d play shortstop. While I knew he was a terrific defensive second baseman, I thought he wouldn’t be any more than an average defensive shortstop. I didn’t think he had the arm for the position. Again, I seem to have been wrong and I couldn’t be happier about it.

On the other hand, Hoerner hasn’t exactly been the most consistent player throughout his short career. He’s also battled injuries a lot and has already made one trip to the injured list this season. And while that batting line for a 25-year-old shortstop says “good player,” it doesn’t exactly scream “superstar.”

So tonight’s question is “Will Nico Hoerner be the starting shortstop on the next Cubs pennant contenders?” I’m not going to ask if he’s going to be on the next World Series champion because there is so much luck and fate involved in that. But I am asking if he’ll be the starting shortstop for a team that has a realistic chance of winning it all. Maybe that’s 2024 or 2025 or beyond. Hopefully not beyond.

I’m giving you three choices here against my better judgement. The first choice is “Yes.” The second choice is “No.” That should be enough, but I’m throwing in “He’ll be a regular, but at a position other than shortstop.” So if you think Hoerner is going to move back to second base or left field or be a super-sub like Ben Zobrist was on the 2016 team, vote for that. (I’m writing “regular” and not “starter” to distinguish a true bench player from someone in the Zobrist role.)

So is Nico Hoerner the Cubs’ shortstop on their next contending team?

Poll

Is Nico Hoerner the starting SS on the next Cubs contender?

This poll is closed

  • 42%
    Yes
    (146 votes)
  • 18%
    No
    (65 votes)
  • 38%
    He’ll be a regular at a different position
    (134 votes)
345 votes total Vote Now

We’re so glad you could stop by. If you checked anything, let us get it for you now. Make sure you didn’t leave anything at your table. If you need us to call you a ride, let us know. Tip the waitstaff. And join us again tomorrow night for a shorter version of BCB After Dark.