Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Bouquets, Brickbats, and Other Observations

Cleaning out the Mental In-Box.....

Saw the current Pittsburgh Public Theater's production of "Daddy Long Legs" on Sunday evening.  It might have been one of the very best shows we have ever seen at the PPT, and we have been attending productions there since the 1980's.

The show starred Danielle Bowen and Allan Snyder, both of whom were making their first appearance at the PPT.  One can only hope that they will be appearing there in many future productions.


Speaking of the PPT, it was announced a few weeks back that Managing Director Ted Pappas would be leaving that position at the end of the 2018 season.  Apparently, it was Pappas' decision to move on, and one can only wish him the best.  In his eighteen years in that position, he has made the PPT one of the true gems in the Pittsburgh cultural scene.  Good luck to the person that the PPT brings in to replace him.  He or she will have some HUGE shoes to fill.


"Feud: Bette and Jane" continues to be one of the most entertaining series on TV.  The scene on last Sunday's show wherein Joan Crawford, played by Jessica Lange, fires her William Morris Agency agents in one of the great scenes with one of the best lines ever delivered on series television, was an absolute classic.  

If you missed it, go to FX Network On Demand and click on Episode 4 of the series.  The scene I am talking about takes place in the first five minutes of the show - you'll know it when you hear it, believe me - so you won't have to invest a lot of time into it if you are not so inclined.

And while we are talking about TV series on FX, we are now three episodes into Season Four of "The Americans".  So far, I'm disappointed, and I fear that unless things pick up quickly, we could be talking shark-jumping for what has been a really good series for the first three seasons.

What was becoming a major embarrassment came to end last night when Duquesne University announced that Kevin Dambrot, late of Akron University, had accepted the position of Head Basketball Coach for the Dukes.  Apparently, Dambrot had originally turned down the job, and then so did everyone else the University approached about the job.  So, they went back to Dambrot and upped the ante considerably (seven years / $7 million), and he said yes.

For those of us who came of age when Duquesne was THE college basketball team in the city, and those of us who did are now all in our sixties and older now, we can only hope that, finally, things may turn around on The Bluff, and that Dukes basketball can be relevant once again.

So, the NFL lodge brothers approve the relocation of the Raiders from Oakland to Las Vegas by a note of 31-1. The Raiders then say that the actual move won't take place until 2019 or 2020, and that, by the way, the lame duck team will be raising ticket prices for the chumps in Oakland to attend their games.

(Oakland and the State of California would not cough up any public funds for a new stadium for the Raiders.  Vegas and Nevada is forking over $750 million of their residents' tax payments.  Just the way the NFL and other pro leagues like it.)

Mike Wilbon is right: the arrogance and greed of the NFL owners knows no bounds, and the sad part is that those suckers in Oakland will no doubt continue to pony up for tickets when it would serve the Raiders right to play in front of empty houses for their remaining years in the Bay area.

Has anything been more annoying than the  prominent role being sought out and granted to Lavar Ball, the father of UCLA basketball player Alonzo Ball, and two other hoops' prodigies.  The fact that the Bruins went down to Kentucky in the regional semis last week may have ruined a lot of peoples' bracket pools, but it spared the nation - for now, anyway - any further exposure to Lavar Ball.  By the way, Ball may well be the #1 pick in the NBA draft this summer, but in that game against Kentucky, he wasn't even the second best guard on the floor. Both of those kids from Kentucky were better, for that night at least.

I missed the Kentucky - North Carolina game on Sunday, but was somewhat surprised at the outcome.  I thought that Kentucky was the best team that I had seen play throughout the tournament up to that point.  Not completely surprised, though, because, after all, North Carolina IS North Carolina.

For what it's worth, I'm calling North Carolina to beat Gonzaga for the Championship come Monday night.  As always, watch but don't bet.  And for the record, the bracket pool that I submitted at the outset of the tournament had UCLA over Arizona in that game.  

Shows you what I know.


As for the movie scene, last week I pulled to favorites out of the DVD basket here at home, both from director and screenwriter Lawrence Kasden.  From 1981...

and from 1983...

I hadn't watched either one in several years, and both hold up well after all these years and are still terrific movies to watch.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Fifth Starter

As is the case with any major league baseball team, the biggest question entering into any baseball season is "How is the pitching going to be?" because, as any cliche loving baseball fan knows, and say it with me now...

PITCHING IS (pick any number between 75% and 90%) OF THE GAME!!!!!

This is no less true of Your Pittsburgh Pirates.  Entering into the season, the first three slots in the rotation were ceded to these guys:

Ivan Nova - Gerritt Cole - Jameson Taillon

Performance thus far in Spring Training has borne this out.    The fourth spot, based largely on performance in 2016 belongs to Chad Kuhl, so one of the main discussion points of the Spring has centered upon who will grab that fifth spot in the rotation.

So how has ST gone for the Bucco Moundsmen?  (Stats are through March 24):

Gerritt Cole
Jameson Taillon
Ivan Nova
Chad Kuhl
Fifth starter:

Drew Hutchison
Tyler Glasnow
Trevor Williams
Steven Brault

As I mentioned above, Cole, Taillon, and Nova have been solid, and Kuhl looks pretty good as well.  Then there is that four-way battle for the fifth spot.  In the paper this morning, Clint Hurdle was quoted to the effect that each of the four have been given the chance to separate himself from the others, and none of them has.  I think that the team would have liked to have seen Hutchison earn the spot, if for no other reason than to justify that salary dump deal with Toronto that brought him here last summer.  Glasnow is the golden boy prospect, and 23 K's in 14.1 IP sure is eye-popping, but the ERA's for both guys seem to have earned them a ticket to Indianapolis to start the season.

That leaves Williams and Brault.  Brault is left handed, and would become the only lefty in the rotation, and that may give him an edge over Williams, who has the slightly better ERA and WHIP.  Flip a coin.

As always, keep in mind the following:
  • Spring Training stats mean almost nothing.  They may or may not be an indicator of regular season performance.
  • A fifth starter is just that - the fifth best guy you have.  More than one guy will no doubt fill that role throughout 2017.  If that guy, or the combination of that guy, can pitch past the sixth inning with regularity and be within two games of .500, plus or minus, I am guessing that the Pirates will sign on for it right now.
  • And what the fifth guy does will mean squadoosh unless (a) We get the the 2015 version of Cole, and not the 2016 version, (b) The two months performance we saw from Ivan Nova was NOT an aberration (his career ERA is over 4.00), and (c) Taillon and Kuhl continue to build upon progress from their pretty good rookie seasons.
I'll take a look at the everyday line-up and the bench later in the week.

Friday, March 24, 2017

World Baseball Classic, Part II

I stayed up on Wednesday night to watch the USA's 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico in the WBC championship game.  I found it and the previous night's semi-final game to be enjoyable and compelling to watch, and I was especially impressed by the joy of the USA players, and in fact of all players in the WBC, throughout the games.  

It seems that we have become accustomed to watching ballplayers treating a major league game with the same degree of ennui as a guy putting in eight hours at, say, an accounting firm, a bank, or a Highmark sales office.  Yes, it is their livelihood, but it is also a game.  It's supposed to  be fun.  The international players all showed how fun it can be, and it seemed that that sense of joy infected the USA players.  Did you hear Christian Yelich say in the post game interview that this tournament was "the most fun he ever had playing baseball"?

One exception of course was a grumpy statement from Ian Kinsler saying how those international players "don't know how the game should be played".   So, along with his WBC gold medal, give Kinsler a sour lemon to suck on in the clubhouse while he reads the Book of Unwritten Rules.  Too bad he couldn't have demonstrated the same sense of joy that Yelich, Adam Jones, Marcus Stroman and others appeared to have throughout the tournament.  

And then, of course, there were these two guys who rejoined their team in Bradenton today.  They look pretty happy don't they?

Jay-Hey and Cutch

Now that the USA has broken through and won one of these in their fourth try, I suspect that the quadrennial World Baseball Classic is here to stay.  I also suspect that guys like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper and others may be less inclined to disdain the WBC when 2021 rolls around.

Bette, Joan, and Baby Jane

I have been watching and greatly enjoying the FX series "Feud: Bette and Joan" these last several weeks.

The series centers around the long standing rivalry (to use a polite word) between actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford during the filming of the 1962 movie "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?"  The TV series stars Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange as Davis and Crawford, respectively. We are now three weeks into this eight week series, and it has been a real hoot to watch Sarandon and Lange chew the scenery while portraying two legendary divas chewing scenery.

Anyway, by an amazing bit of serendipity, earlier this week Turner Classic Movies showed the movie that is the subject of the TV series.

I think  that I saw this movie back in the 1960's when it finally appeared on television, but I had little memory of it, so I was anxious to see it, and it was interesting to watch, and see  Crawford and Davis, especially Davis, have at it in this movie, which has become a Camp Classic.

One of the real values of the Internet is that you can delve into it and find any number of articles and commentaries on just about any subject, and this movie and its stars are no exceptions.  It's as no secret in Hollywood that Davis and Crawford loathed each other.  It was also no secret that by 1962, neither had had a hit movie in years and were considered washed up by both the movie studios and the movie audiences.

It was director Robert Aldrich's idea to offer the roles of sisters Blanch and "Baby" Jane Hudson to Crawford and Davis.  The studios balked, but both actresses expressed interest and Aldrich figured that it would work because both actresses would work harder than hell to assure that the other  actress wouldn't steal the show from her.

From a 2008 essay ion the movie from critic Roger Ebert:

...it's possible that each agreed to do the picture only because she was jealous of the other's starring role. In the event, it was Davis who emerged on top, winning an Oscar nomination as the former child star who was now a shrill gargoyle with makeup pancaked all over her face. Davis was nothing if not courageous, as she abandoned all shreds of vanity and overacted her heart out. Crawford plays the quieter, kinder, more reasonable sister -- and, it must be said, the less interesting.

Ebert went on to make another interesting observation:

The impact of "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" was considerable in 1962. Today's audiences, perhaps not familiar with the stars, don't fully realize how thoroughly Crawford, and especially Davis, trashed their screen images with the coaching of Aldrich. Imagine two contemporary great beauties -- Julia Roberts and Cate Blanchett, say -- as aged crones. The personal dislike between Crawford and Davis no doubt deepened the power of their onscreen relationship; the critic Richard Scheib observes: "The irony that only came out in later years is that the roles were uncommonly close to the truth upon the parts of both actresses -- Crawford and Davis were both utterly vain, particularly when it came to their own celebrity, both abused their own family members and both had daughters who wrote books about the cruelty of their parents."

In his review of the movie at the time, Bosley Crowther of the New York Times wasn't enthusiastic, and while he did praise both Davis and Crawford, he also used the term "scenery chewing" not once, but twice, in his review.

I enjoyed watching this movie very much in light of watching the "Feud" TV series.  

Lange and Sarandon
Crawford and Davis

 Crawford and Davis
The "Originals"
The movie, by the way, was in
glorious black & white

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The World Baseball Classic

Like most Americans, I assume, I have been paying very little attention to the World Baseball Classic.  Up until last night, I had probably not seen more than a half dozen or so innings of the game, but I was aware of a few things.

One of those things was the intensity of the crowds, particularly the fans of the teams from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, and the intensity that had stadiums filled and rocking with cheering unlike what we are used to seeing at MLB games here.  Also, from what little I did see, I was taken with the fervor with which the teams are playing, including the highly paid and supposedly entitled MLB players on Team USA.

So it was that I settled in to watch last night's semi-final game between the USA and Japan.  What I saw was a highly skilled and entertaining ballgame, won by the USA, 2-1, a win that puts the USA, for the first time in the brief history of the WBC, into the championship game tonight.

Yeah, I know about the big name Americans who are NOT playing (Kershaw, Trout, Harper among others), but the American team is just stacked with good players....Andrew McCutchen, Adam Jones, Buster Posey, Eric Hosmer, and many others.  When you watch these guys playing, and hear them being interviewed during and after the games, these players are really into it and really loving the experience.  It's pretty cool, actually.

Tonight, it will be the USA vs. Puerto Rico for the WBC Championship.  I will be at the set watching.  If you are a baseball fan, you should be, too.  It promises to be a pretty good and exciting game.

I will leave you with what has no doubt been the signature play of this WBC - Adam Jones robbing his Orioles teammate, Manny Machado, of a home run in the pivotal win-or-go-home game against the Dominican Republic on Saturday.  

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Want To Help A Great Cause?

Regular readers and other friends of mine have often seen and heard me reference our good friend, Patti Nelson.  Marilyn and I got to know Patti as a fellow volunteer at the Highmark Caring Place in Warrendale.  Patti succumbed to cancer in 2015, and those of us who knew her, worked with her, and loved her miss her very much.

Shortly after her death, her family organized the Patti J. Nelson Foundation as a means to ensure that Patti's never ending "contributions to the community will continue in her honor".  To that end, the Foundation is sponsoring the 2nd Annual Patti Nelson 5K Fun Run/Walk on April 22, 2017 in Evans City, PA.  Proceeds of this event will benefit the Evans City Library, where Patti also served as volunteer.  Did I tell you that Patti always described herself as a "professional volunteer"?

If you are a runner - or even if you are not - looking to support a great cause and honor a terrific person, please consider taking part in this event.  Details can be found at the Foundation's website:

Many thanks.

Monday, March 20, 2017

To Absent Friends - Jimmy Breslin

Jimmy Breslin
1928 - 2017

Legendary, and I suppose it is acceptable to use that term, New York City newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin died yesterday at the age of 88.  I suppose that it is also acceptable to say that Breslin, a hard drinking (although he was sober for the last thirty years of his life), hard hitting, shoot from the hip newspaper guy was among the last types of newspapermen of his kind, right out of "The Front Page".  

I first became aware of Breslin when I was barely a teenager and read his book about the hapless 1962 New York Mets, "Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?".  Over the years, I read a couple of other of Breslin's books, including his comic Mob novel, "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight", and, a few years ago, his biography of Branch Rickey titled, simply enough, "Branch Rickey".  As I say in the post cited below,  it should be read "if for no other reason, the book is worth reading just to appreciate the way Jimmy Breslin writes."

Breslin was best known for his stories about New York City and the people who lived there.  The column cited in most of the obituaries today, however, is one that I never read, but is somewhat famous, known mainly as "the Gravedigger column".  Here it is, and I highly recommend that you read it.  From the New York Herald Tribune in November, 1963:

RIP Jimmy Breslin.