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BCB After Dark: No more Morel?

The late-night/early-morning spot for Cubs fans asks if Christopher Morel will make the Opening Day roster.

Philadelphia Phillies v Chicago Cubs Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the hippest hole-in-the-wall for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Welcome back to another week around here. We’re so glad that you stopped by on this early Spring evening. Baseball is just around the corner. There are still some good tables available. Come on in and relax for a while. 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 for your prediction as to who will win the World Baseball Classic. Your prediction of 29 percent for the USA looks a little worse after they got knocked around by Mexico last evening. The Dominican Republic was in second place with 27 percent and Japan was third with 25 percent.

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

Tonight we have the great vocalist Carmen McRae doing a version of Bob Lind’s “Elusive Butterfly.” This is from her 1968 album Portrait of Carmen and it made it to 35 on the Adult Contemporary charts that year. It’s a real “swingin’ sixties” arrangement. Sometimes I love that—usually when it’s part of a film soundtrack. But this holds up on its own.

I’m still pretty busy with the WBC this week, but I promised you some movies and I’m going to deliver. So let me say a few words about a movie that most of you have probably already seen, although maybe not recently. It’s 1977’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Richard Dreyfuss, Melinda Dillon and François Truffaut. This was Spielberg’s follow-up to Jaws, when he was the hottest young director in Hollywood but he wasn’t yet an adjective. In that sense, it’s a film that indicates that Spielberg’s career could have gone in a very different direction, for better or for worse.

Close Encounters was what we today call a summer blockbuster, although its release was delayed until November because of production delays. The film was a part of the whole UFO/Bermuda Triangle/unexplained phenomena craze of the 1970s and Spielberg, who wrote the screenplay, leaned heavily into the pop culture zeitgeist in this movie. Even the title comes from “ufologist” J. Allen Hynek’s classification system for alien encounters.

But despite Close Encounters being a big budget movie that made a ton of money and earned Spielberg his first Oscar nomination for Best Director, it really comes off today as a kind of weird indie film that somehow got a huge budget. It’s cerebral rather than action-oriented. It’s philosophical without being too wordy. And my god, Spielberg cast French New Wave icon Truffaut as Claude Lacombe, the French scientist who is in charge of figuring out how to make contact between humans and aliens. It’s the only film that Truffaut ever acted in that he didn’t also direct, and it’s the only primarily English language film that he was ever a part of, although most of his lines are in French and translated by Bob Balaban.

There are many Spielbergian elements of Close Encounters. The bombastic John Williams soundtrack is the most obvious, but Williams even tempers that with the famous, simple five-note motif used to communicate between humans and aliens. There are the famous Spielberg reaction shots, something Hitchcock did a lot but Spielberg kind-of perfected. It’s the way that the camera follows the faces of the people reacting to what they see long before the camera reveals (or doesn’t reveal) it to the audience.

There is an action sequence where Dreyfuss’ and DIllon’s characters break into the quarantine zone and are chased by the military. Although truth be told, that part of the film is more than a bit pointless and was probably added to give the film some sense of danger and action. There’s also Spielberg’s embrace of the unknown and the idea that the aliens could be friendly and not dangerous. That’s an idea he’d work out better later in E.T., but it still works here.

And of course, the special effects. Spielberg really wants the illusion of the movies to cast a spell on you. And the scenes of the final exchange, while perhaps a bit slow, are certainly awe-inspiring. You can understand why Dreyfuss is mesmerized by the whole thing.

But in many ways, Close Encounters is an odd film in the Spielberg canon. Most of the first half of the film deals with Dreyfuss’s Roy Neary becoming obsessed and tearing his family apart after encountering a formation of UFOs. Families being torn apart is not something you’d call “Spielbergian.” Dillon’s character Jillian becomes similarly fixated, but she at least has the excuse that her toddler son had been abducted by the UFOs. Dreyfuss just went off the deep end. Even if Roy was proven right about everything in the end, he was still more than a bit nuts in this movie.

The rest of the first part of the film is Truffaut’s character traveling around the world and trying to puzzle together what is going on, but without explaining any of it to anyone or to us, the audience. Hardly the stuff of summer blockbusters.

I don’t generally think of Spielberg as a director of the “New Hollywood” era of 1967 to 1980, even though he came of age in that period. More often, I think of him and his friend George Lucas as the two directors who ended the “New Hollywood” period and brought on the era of the eighties blockbuster. Generally I think of the “New Hollywood” directors as . . .I don’t know, edgier than Spielberg? Maybe what I’m really thinking of is cooler. But watching Close Encounters, I realize that Spielberg was completely a part of the “New Hollywood.” He had just made a studio a fortune with Jaws and was given a bucketful of money and told to make whatever he wanted without much interference. He made a deeply personal film and cast one of his heroes in a prominent role. He added just enough “gee whiz” and “wowie” moments that the studio was confident that people would pay to see the film.

Spielberg’s auteur vision was no less a part of the “New Hollywood” era because his personal focus was on aliens (or sharks or old action serials) and not organized crime, the Vietnam War, paranoia and creeping authoritarianism or crazed loners on the outskirts of society like much of the rest of the decades films. We can certainly argue about many of the choices that Spielberg has made over the course of his career, but Close Encounters shows that he could have been weird if he had wanted to.

Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and movies.

I’m going to give you WBC-haters (or agnostics) a break today and ask you about an Opening Day roster spot. Specifically, I’m asking you whether you think Cubs utility player Christopher Morel goes north with the team and makes the Opening Day roster.

Morel was a breath of fresh air when he made his major-league debut last May. His infectious smile and enthusiasm made him a fan favorite. The way he greeted and thanked the umpires gave him some national attention.

But more than that, Morel was pretty darn good the first two months. In 55 games in the first half, Morel hit .270/.338/.477 with nine home runs. And while the metrics on his defense weren’t great, the very fact that he played three positions gave him some value on defense.

But the second-half for Morel was not as successful. The league adjusted to him, as they say, and Morel didn’t adjust back. And over the second-half of 2022, Morel hit a poor .194/.269/.376 with seven homers over 58 games.

Fast-forward to Spring Training and Morel hasn’t been any better. He has the most at-bats of any Cub in Mesa this year, but he’s 6 for 28 with a double and two home runs. That’s a .214 batting average. Morel has walked three times and has struck out 14 times, or in exactly half of his at-bats. Not half of his plate appearances, but with just three walks, it’s close.

It looked like Morel was assured of a spot on the Opening Day roster when Spring Training started, but now it doesn’t look so sure. I’m not one to put much, if any, stock in Spring Training numbers, but it’s different for a player who has not really established themselves as a major leaguer like Morel. Dansby Swanson’s poor Spring Training concerns me not at all. Morel’s kind of does.

On top of that, there are players like David Bote, Mike Tauchman and even Nick Madrigal who are fighting for a spot in the Opening Day roster and are having a good Spring Training. Throw in Miles Mastrobuoni, who is away with Team Italy but he is having a solid World Baseball Classic as well. They aren’t all competing for one spot, but there are only so many spots in the lineup.

So does Christopher Morel still make the roster? Or does he start the year back in Iowa? (Yes, even though Morel was promoted from Double-A to the majors last year, he has played in Iowa. He got a late-season promotion to Triple-A in 2021.)


Does Christopher Morel make the Opening Day roster?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    (137 votes)
  • 81%
    (605 votes)
742 votes total Vote Now

Thank you for stopping in tonight. We hope you’ve enjoyed being here as much as we’ve enjoyed having you. Please clean up around your table. Recycle any cans and bottles. Tip your waitstaff. Get home safely. And join us again tomorrow for more BCB After Dark.