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BCB After Dark: Should Miggy stay?

The late-night/early-morning spot for Cubs fans asks if Miguel Amaya should stay with the team long-term.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the swingin’ spot for night owls, early risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. So good for you to stop by for another week. It’s been a rough evening, but we can get through it together. And maybe have a few laughs along the way. There’s no cover charge this evening. There are still a few tables available. 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.

This Cubs team is going to be the death of me. They’re just good enough to give us hope but not good enough to actually win. That was the lesson I learned in tonight’s 3-1 loss to the Cardinals. The Cubs got good pitching but no hitting. And Nico Hoerner left the game with an injury. Willson Contreras came back to haunt the Cubs, as we all knew he would.

Last week, I asked you if Hayden Wesneski should stay in the Cubs starting rotation after Kyle Hendricks returns from injury. You seem to be sold on Wesneski as 66 percent of you thought he should stay. Another 23 percent thought he should go to Iowa where he can start and the rest thought Wesneski should go to the bullpen.

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

Tonight we have another NPR Tiny Desk concert from acclaimed vocalist Gregory Porter. I suppose there is a sports connection here as Porter played football for San Diego State before an injury ended his playing career.

This is from 2016. Porter is accompanied by pianist Chip Crawford.

Writer-director John Cassavetes’ 1976 film The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is a gritty neo-noir that isn’t particularly interested in any of the noir parts. Oh, there’s a club owner (Ben Gazzara) who gets in way over his head dealing with the mob. There are guns and shootouts and a Chinese bookie, of sorts, gets killed.* But what the film really wants to examine is the world of a seedy nightclub and the lies we tell ourselves to get through life.

Gazzara plays Cosmo Vitelli, the owner and impresario of a topless burlesque club on the Sunset Strip named Crazy Horse West. However, Cosmo has pretensions that this burlesque show is something a lot more than it is. While most of his customers are there to see the dancers’ breasts, Cosmo presents them as part of a show that is supposed to take you away to exotic locations like Paris—complete with cheap sets with props like cutouts of the Eiffel Tower that would be embarrassing in a high school production. The entire show is emceed by a fat man wearing a top hat and a painted on mustache who goes by the name “Mr. Sophistication” (Meade Roberts). There really isn’t even an illusion of sophistication here. Just a bunch of outcasts kidding themselves.

Cosmo explains his role in the club:

My name is Cosmo Vitelli. I’m the owner of this joint. I chose the numbers. I direct them. I arrange them. You have any complaints, you just come to me and I’ll throw you right out on your ass.

Despite the fact that there are half-naked girls dancing around, the club is far more sad than sexy.

For Cosmo, the club and the strippers that he manages are his whole world. He’s even dating one stripper, Rachel (Azizi Johari) and he treats Rachel’s mother Betty (Virginia Carrington) as he might his own mother. Cosmo definitely sees Betty as a surrogate mother.

Cosmo has a gambling problem and at the beginning of the picture, he’s just made the last payment to a loan shark who has been bleeding him dry for years. So to celebrate, Cosmo takes three of the girls out to a mob-owned casino where he immediately loses $23,000 in a poker game. Yeah, Cosmo’s got a fatal flaw. Gambling, sure. But also a lack of self-awareness.

Cosmo considered himself a good and honorable person and tells the gangsters that he’s good for the money, just like he’d paid off that other loan shark. But these guys are not as patient as the previous guy was. They want the money now and if he doesn’t pay up, there will be consequences. Cosmo is forced to sign control of the club over to the mobsters.

The mobsters, however, are not really interested in his low-rent burlesque show. They tell him that they’ll forgive the debt on the condition that he kills a rival Chinese bookie, whom they assure him is a small-time rival of the gang. (Yeah, right.) Cosmo refuses, explaining that he’s not a killer. But the gang boss quickly makes it clear that this isn’t a request. Either he kills the bookie, or they kill him.

So Cosmo gets instructions in how to kill the Chinese bookie, but his mind is still always on the club. While on his way to carry out the hit, he stops at a payphone to call the club to see how the show is going. He hilariously berates his bartender for not knowing the names of the songs in the show so he can know if they’re doing it right—as if that’s what he should be concentrating on in the moments before he carries out a murder.

That is the constant contrast in this film, between what Cosmo thinks he is and what he actually is. He wears a ruffled tuxedo shirt. He puts on shows that he thinks takes the audience to exotic locations, hosted by a fat clown who goes by “Mr. Sophistication.” He thinks of himself as an honorable man who pays his debts. But the reality is that he’s a sucker in debt to mob and he has been forced to buy a dozen hamburgers to distract the watchdogs as he sneaks into a house to kill someone.

In the end, Cosmo’s world understandably falls apart around him. Rachel leaves him and Betty kicks him out. And Cosmo’s life has become a liability to two rival organized crime factions. But Cosmo just goes on, because the club goes on. He sits down with the performers who are still loyal to him and explains his philosophy of life, which is you are what you believe yourself to be, for as long as you can keep believing it. And that the show must go on. But it doesn’t really sound like Cosmo believes it much.

Cassavetes knew the noir genre well as he had acted in several of them. Cassavetes is an interesting figure in Hollywood history—both a part of it and apart from it. He got his start as an actor and he kept right on acting, but only because acting was the only real way he could finance his movies as a director. I’d say that The Killing of a Chinese Bookie was a prime example of “New Hollywood,” except that as a director, Cassavetes wasn’t really a part of Hollywood at all. Even by the standards of the experimental seventies, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is distinctly non-commercial. The film bombed at the box office in 1976 and was pulled from distribution after just six days. It was re-released two years later with its running time cut from 135 minutes to 108 minutes. Cassavetes also re-arranged the order of some of the scenes. No matter, the film was still a commercial failure. (I watched the edited version.) But since then, the film has gained a cult following.

The film is shot in a documentary-type cinéma vérité style. Although that’s certainly a budget-related decision, it actually works well here and may have been Cassavetes’ choice even if he had more money. The film does ramble quite a bit and the pace is pretty slow, even with the cut-down 108-minute run time. From what I understand, most of what was cut were even more numbers and backstage drama from the stage show, which would just emphasize that the club was the real focus of the show and not the noir plot.

Gazzara is the standout performance here. He reportedly was unhappy with the character, finding him unappealing, but he managed to work that into his performance. Gazzara’s Cosmo always looks like he’s miserable and is faking his way through the hand life has dealt him. That’s exactly what Cassavetes was going for. Long-time movie tough-guy Timothy Carey also stands out as one of the mobsters that Cosmo gets indebted to.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie isn’t a “fun” watch and to be honest, I found parts of it a little off-putting as I was watching it. But I stuck with it and I’m pretty glad I did. For one, I can’t stop thinking about it, which is always a good sign for a film. Cassavetes also left the ending a wee bit ambiguous, which is in keeping with the film’s overall theme. Writer-director John Cassavetes’ 1976 film The Killing of a Chinese Bookie is a gritty neo-noir that isn’t particularly interested in any of the noir parts. Oh, there’s a club owner (Ben Gazzara) who gets in way over his head dealing with an organized crime gang. There are guns and shootouts and a Chinese bookie, of sorts, gets killed. (C’mon. That’s not a spoiler. It’s in the freaking title. It would be a poor choice for the film to have a disclaimer “There were no Chinese bookies killed in the making of this film.) What the film really wants to examine in the world of the seedy club and the lies we tell ourselves to get through life.

Here’s a scene where Cosmo gives his girls and Ted/”Mr. Sophistication” a pep talk. It’s also the scene where he sort of gets at his philosophy of life. As Cosmo says here “Because what’s your truth is my falsehood. What’s my falsehood is your truth and visa-versa.” Cosmo is going fake it until he makes it. But he’s really not making it.

*C’mon. That’s not a spoiler. It’s in the freaking title. It would be a poor choice for the film to have a disclaimer “There were no Chinese bookies harmed in the making of this film.”

Welcome back to everyone who skips the music and movies.

One of the most exciting parts of being the minor league guy at a baseball site is seeing the guys you’ve been following for years finally making the major leagues. And that’s been especially true with Miguel Amaya, whom I’ve been saying is the Cubs catcher of the future since he was in South Bend in 2018. The trip to the majors took a lot longer than I thought it would, but he made it. And seeing Amaya sing “Go Cubs Go” after a win has been one of the highlights of the season so far. That, and his parents all dressed up in Cubs gear and waving a Panamanian flag.

Amaya has gotten rave reviews in the short time he’s been in Chicago. Yes, he’s only 2 for 9 with two hit-by-pitches at the plate, but he’s been hitting the ball hard and giving the team good at-bats, although tonight’s strike out against Jordan Hicks is a notable exception.

But more important than what Amaya has done at the plate is what Amaya has done behind the plate. Cubs pitchers have loved throwing to Amaya. He knows the game plan and he sets up well behind the plate. Here’s what Hayden Wesneski said about pitching to Amaya.

Justin Steele and David Ross have said similar things about how impressed they have been with a rookie who can handle a pitching staff like a veteran. None of this surprises me. I’ve been hearing things like this about Amaya since he was in South Bend. I guess it does surprise me a little about how quickly the major leaguers have come to the same conclusion.

Of course, this is the very reason that the Cardinals announced they were moving Willson Contreras off of catcher. Pitchers didn’t like throwing to Contreras. That they just weren’t on the same page. But that’s a different conversation, and one we had earlier today.

Of course, the only reason that Amaya is in the majors right now is that Yan Gomes in on the injured list He’s going to come off soon, although how soon I don’t think any of us know. But with a concussion, it could be any day.

So over at Bleacher Nation, Brett Taylor wrote this piece where he considers keeping Amaya around after Gomes comes off the IL. If the Cubs did that, they’d either have to release Tucker Barnhart or send someone else down (Christopher Morel?) and carry three catchers.

The argument for keeping Amaya is simply that he gives the Cubs a better chance to win ball games than Barnhart does. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but I certainly know that there’s a good chance that it’s true. A second argument is that if Amaya is the Cubs catcher of the future (and I believe he is), his development will probably be helped more by being in the majors than in the minor leagues.

The argument against keeping Amaya is that if the team keeps three catchers, that’s going to limit the Cubs’ bench. And while Amaya has been giving the team good at-bats, I don’t think he’s anyone’s first choice as a pinch-hitter right now. At least not yet. And Tucker Barnhart certainly isn’t a good choice for pinch hitting either.

Releasing Barnhart and keeping Amaya would likely give the Cubs a better 26-man roster in the short term. But the issue there is what do the Cubs do if a catcher gets hurt? And let’s be honest: they’re catchers. They’re going to get hurt. If the Cubs release Barnhart, beyond having to eat his salary for this year and next (which honestly, isn’t that much), and then either Gomes or Amaya goes on the IL, who is going to be the Cubs’ second catcher? Dom Nuñez has some major league experience, but he has a career .653 OPS in 111 games—all with the Rockies. You can imagine what it would be at a normal elevation. Iowa’s Jake Washer has some power, but he also has a career OBP of .288 in the minor leagues. I don’t think either of them would outproduce even Tucker Barnhart’s anemic numbers.

So what do you think? Do you want to keep Miguel Amaya around after Gomes returns? There’s little doubt that the kid deserves to stick around a while. But is it the right decision for the Cubs?


Should Miguel Amaya stay with the Cubs after Yan Gomes returns?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    Yes, carry three catchers
    (31 votes)
  • 27%
    Yes, release Tucker Barnhart
    (64 votes)
  • 58%
    No. Send Amaya to Iowa and call him back when he’s needed.
    (136 votes)
231 votes total Vote Now

Thank you so very much for stopping by this evening. I hope you enjoyed yourself this night and forgot the score of the game. Please get home safely. Tip your waitstaff. And join us again tomorrow for more BCB After Dark.