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BCB After Dark: Closing in on the East?

The late-night/early-morning spot for Cubs fans asks if the team should add NPB closer Yuki Matsui to the bullpen.

Japan All-Star Series: Japan v. MLB All-Stars
Yuki Matsui

It’s Wednesday night here at BCB After Dark: the coolest club for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. It’s been an interesting week and we’re glad you are here to close it out with us. Come on in out of the fall air. There’s no cover charge and the dress code is casual. 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.

No more baseball until Friday. That’s not quite true. There were Arizona Fall League games today but our beloved Mesa Solar Sox were off.

Last night I asked you for your thoughts on the World Series. As far as who you thought would win, 74 percent of you picked the Texas Rangers. The vote for whom you wanted to win was much closer, with 52 percent of you pulling for Texas and 48 for Arizona. So I hope that leads to some good (but polite) rivalries around here.

Here’s the part about the music and movies. Feel free to skip ahead to the end if you’d like. You won’t hurt my feelings.

Tonight’s music comes from the English group The Puppini Sisters, who are not sisters and only one of them have the last name of Puppini. But they’re going for an Andrews Sisters vibe, thus the name of the group.

Jeez, next you’re going to tell us the Ramones aren’t related and their last names aren’t Ramone.

Anyway, here’s a music video of them performing the Classics V hit “Spooky.”

I’m going to do something a little different here tonight with a few quick hits on films and a look ahead to the Winter Western Classic.

This Old Dark House is a 1932 pre-code “horror” film directed by James Whale, of Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein. The film stars Boris Karloff—one year after his star turn as The Monster—and a whole bunch of young actors near the start of their careers who would become famous later. Melvyn Douglas, Raymond Massie, Charles Laughton and Gloria Stuart (of The Invisible Man and Titanic fame) are also in what is really more of an ensemble cast. Lillian Bond is also in the film as Douglas’ love interest and she had a fairly long career as well without ever really getting any lead roles.

But I put the words “horror” in quotes because in many ways, this is a camp comedy. While there are only a few out and out jokes, there is this gay camp sensibility throughout the entire film. Ernest Thesiger is also in the cast, and if your familiar with his role of Doctor Pretorius in The Bride of Frankenstein, then you’re aware of what I’m talking about. It a lot of over-the-top craziness.

The film is about a creepy old mansion in Wales where two separate groups of travelers get stuck for the night during a monster rainstorm that has washed out all the roads. The inhabitants of the house, of course, have a secret in the attic that they don’t want their guests to know about. And Karloff is running around as this creepy, subhuman-looking butler.

But Whale was an openly-gay director at a time when being gay was still illegal in a lot of places, including his native UK. Whale gives a gay sensibility to the entire thing. Laughton’s character, Sir William Porterhouse, clearly codes as “homosexual” under the conventions of the time. But what really blew me away was when his traveling companion Gladys (Bond), talks about her relationship to him. (And really, is there a more camp name than “Sir William Porterhouse”?)

Roger (Douglas) is a single man traveling with a married couple and immediately becomes smitten with Gladys. The two of them go out to the cars to talk and Roger asks about William. Gladys explains that William doesn’t love her, but he gives her things and doesn’t expect anything in return “if you know what I mean.” But what she said next made my jaw drop.

“He likes people to think he’s ever so gay.”

WHAAAT? Is someone in 1932 using “gay” to mean “homosexual” in a movie? Or is that just a coincidence? I did some research and the earliest recorded examples of “gay” in that context dates back to the 1920s, but it was really, really rare. It doesn’t really come into the vernacular until the early-1960s.

On the other hand, if anyone would know about that use of “gay,” it would probably be someone like Whale. Was he trying to sneak one past the censors? There’s no enforcement of the Hays Code yet, but certainly the studios had their own censors and they’d likely block a blatant homosexual reference.

Making me think the line was intentional was Douglas’ response to that which was “He’s probably still mourning his late wife” or something like that. It was the kind of thing they’d say to give the line before it plausible deniability if someone called him on it.

But anyway, if you want to watch a goofy horror picture that might or might not be an important part of the history of Hollywood’s “Celluloid Closet,” you could do worse than This Old Dark House. And see if you agree with me on that line.

I also watched Karloff play a generic version of Frankenstein’s monster in The Walking Dead (1936), directed by Michael Curtiz when the legendary director of Casablanca, Mildred Pierce and Yankee Doodle Dandy was still in his early horror phase.

Because this is a Warner Brothers picture and not a Universal Picture, Karloff can’t actually play Frankenstein’s Monster. Instead, he plays a sad sack concert pianist who had just gotten out of prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Meanwhile, some gangsters are angry with a judge who sentenced a corrupt politician who was on their take to ten years in prison.

The gangsters kill the judge and frame Karloff’s character for the murder. Karloff’s character is convicted and sentenced to die in the electric chair. A young engaged couple, who just happen to be employed by a doctor whose field of study is reanimating dead tissue, are his only alibi and they come forward only minutes before Karloff’s character’s execution. But the bumbling guards at the prison don’t answer the phone call from the governor to stop the execution in time. So the doctor asks for the body and manages to bring Karloff’s character back to life with his “science.” So, he’s Frankenstein’s monster without as much makeup.

At first, John (that’s Karloff’s character’s name) doesn’t remember anything from his life. But the gangsters are worried he’ll remember so they try to kill him a second time before he can link them to the murder of the judge. Later, John decides to take revenge against the men who sent him to the electric chair.

If Universal became famous for monster movies in this period, Warner Brothers was known for their gangster flicks. And that’s what this is—a gangster flick with a zombie twist. The film is only 65 minutes long and the first 25 minutes are just about the gangsters, the murder, the trial and the execution. The last 40 minutes is a standard revenge plot except instead of the guy getting out of prison to seek vengeance, he’s back from the dead.

Karloff is really terrific in this film. He plays the ex-con musician at the beginning of the film with just the right amount of pathos. The rest of the film is him as the tortured monster he was in Frankenstein, but without as much makeup so he can use his face better.

And of course, Curtiz was a master director who isn’t nearly as well-remembered as he should be. Partly that’s because he was a bit of a chameleon. While a lot of directors have a vision of what a film should be and then seek out the script and the people to make that vision a reality, I always get the impression that Curtiz took the materials already in front of him and asked “What’s the best movie I can make out of this stuff?” Certainly the material handed Curtiz for The Walking Dead wasn’t of the same quality as the films he would direct later, but he manages to keep this film breezing along and make it visually interesting as well. The Walking Dead is no masterpiece, but it’s a pleasant enough way to kill an hour.

Finally, I wanted to reveal the first four seed for the Winter Wester Classic. This tournament will start sometime in November and I’ll have more information on it next week. But I thought I’d give you something to whet your appetite tonight.

The first four seed are (unless I change my mind):

  1. The Searchers
  2. High Noon
  3. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
  4. Red River

I didn’t want to have two John Wayne films in the top four and I do with The Searchers and Red River. But what I do have is four different directors: John Ford, Fred Zinnemann, Sergio Leone and Howard Hawks. I have considered substituting Winchester ‘73 (starring James Stewart and directed by Anthony Mann) to the number four position. I’ve also considered putting Shane as number four (starring Alan Ladd and directed by George Stevens).

Right now, Red River is hanging on to the number-four seed, primarily because I really love that movie, except for the ending. (The novel it is based on got the ending right.) I know Shane is also really highly-regarded, but while I like that film, I just don’t love it. It’s not one of my top four Westerns, although this tournament is for you and not for me. If you all want to talk me into Shane as the number four seed, I’m listening.

I also really love Winchester ‘73, but I don’t think it is as universally well-regarded as Red River or Shane. I’m trying to balance my personal opinions here with what critics have said about these Westerns over the years.

If you want to say anything about these top four seeds, I’d love to hear it.

Welcome back to everyone who skips the music and movies.

I know that there are two Japanese pitchers that every Cubs fan would like to see pitching in blue pinstripes at Wrigley this summer. Well, one is Shohei Ohtani, so that would have to be summer after next because of elbow surgery, but most of you would definitely take him anyway as a DH this upcoming summer.

The other one is Yoshinubo Yamamoto, who has been the best pitcher in NPB the last few years and is considered to be a potential #1 or #2 pitcher in MLB.

But tonight we’re going to examine a third Japanese pitcher who expects to play in MLB in 2023—left-hander Yuki Matsui. Even though Matsui only turns 28 next week, he has ten years under his belt in NPB and is a full free agent with no necessary posting fees. Unlike those other two pitchers, Matsui is a reliever. He’s pitched in 501 games and has an ERA of 2.43 and 236 saves. (His W-L record is 25-46, for those who care about that for relievers. You shouldn’t)

In 659 23 innings in NPB, Matsui has 860 strikeouts and 295 walks. That’s 11.7 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9. But most of those walks were from early in his career. Last season, Matsui only walked 13 batters in 57.1 innings and two of those walks were intentional.

According to the reports I’ve read in Baseball America and elsewhere, Matsui has a 92-93 mph fastball that can touch 95-96 mph at times. But he compliments that with a sharp breaking slider and a devastating splitter that is in the 86-88 mph range. He’s also got a curveball that he breaks out occasionally.

That sounds like a starter’s arsenal, but there’s one small reason that Matsui is relegated to bullpen duty—he’s only 5’8” tall. There is very little track record of pitchers that short succeeding in MLB in recent years. Yeah, Bobby Shantz was 5’6”, but he retired in 1964. Tim Collins had a few good years with the Royals and pitched briefly for the Cubs at the end of his career. He’s probably the best recent example as he was listed at 5’7”, but Collins wasn’t exactly a dominating reliever and Matsui is likely to get paid like a dominating reliever.

Unfortunately, while Matsui was on Samurai Japan in the 2023 World Baseball Classic and was the youngest member of that team in 2017, he didn’t pitch much in either tournament. He only pitched one inning in 2023 and 2.2 in 2017. (I can’t tell you against who at the moment.) I suppose the good news is he’s never allowed a run or a hit in the WBC and he’s struck out six and walked just one between the two tournaments. Those are good numbers, but it’s a really small sample size. And you have to wonder why Matsui didn’t pitch more in the 2023 Classic.

Make no mistake about it, the Cubs are interested in Matsui. They were reported to be one of the teams that were scouting him in Japan and Bruce Levine has confirmed the Cubs’ interest. But the Cubs’ aren’t the only team interested in Matsui (the Cardinals are!) and Levine estimates that he will sign for “multiple years” at $10 to $12 million a year. That’s a lot of money for someone who isn’t a dominating closer.

On the other hand, if you think Matsui can be a dominating closer, then that’s exactly the type of player the Cubs should pursue. if you want a closer on the free agent market this winter, there is pretty much just Josh Hader. Sure, there are other relievers the Cubs could try to turn into a closer, but at that point they’d probably be better off leaving Adbert Alzolay as the closer. If the Cubs were to sign Matsui (or Hader), then Alzolay could become a top setup man who might be able to go multiple innings.

So assuming that it’s going to take at least $30 to $40 million dollars over the next 3 to 4 years, should the Cubs sign Yuki Matsui?


Should the Cubs sign free agent reliever Yuki Matsui?

This poll is closed

  • 47%
    (70 votes)
  • 52%
    (78 votes)
148 votes total Vote Now

Thank you to everyone who stopped by this week. It’s been a great week for baseball and let’s hope we get a great seven-game World Series next week. Personally, I hope you spend the week with us. Drive home safely. Recycle any cans and bottles. Tip the waitstaff. And join us again next week for more BCB After Dark.