Friday, May 26, 2017

The Beatles on XM


Subscribers to Sirius XM Radio have been bombarded in recent weeks with the news that they would be launching a Beatles Channel this month.  I, for one, was quite excited and welcomed it to my XM stable when it debuted last week.

The channel features not only the music of The Beatles, but also the music of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr as solo artists, as well as music of the Beatles as covered by other artists, so be prepared for Joe Cocker getting by with a little help from his friends.

All of this is fine, but it reinforces one self-evident axiom where The Beatles are concerned.  Each of the four band members were and are talented singers, songwriters, and musicians, and each has produced excellent work on their own as solo artists.  However, nothing - and I do mean NOTHING - that they ever did as individuals was better than the work that that did as one band, as The Beatles.

Listen to that new XM Channel and you'll agree with me.

Pens Win! And Other Quickies....


They say that there is nothing in sports like a Game Seven.  How about a Game Seven that goes into overtime?  How about a Game Seven that goes into double overtime?  That is what the Penguins and Ottawa Senators treated us to last night.  Did I say "treated"?  That game was more like emotional torture than a treat.  Excitement and tension were off the charts throughout the series, and especially in last night's finale. I can't recall being more exhausted and wrung out from watching a sporting event.  

So now it is on to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Nashville Predators starting Monday Night.  Bring it on and LET'S GO PENS!!!!

PREDICTION: Penguins in five games. #letsgoPens

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The NFL patted itself on the back and announced this week that, in the interest of player safety, they would be reducing sudden death overtime periods from 15 minutes to 10 minutes.  What a crock of b.s. that is!  If the NFL Poobahs were really interested in player safety, they would shit-can the idea of overtime entirely.  Of course, this would mean that more games would end in a tie, but so what?  As the late great Myron Cope once said, while ties can be frustrating, often times a tie is a just result in a given football game, and I agree.  It'll never happen though. 

Do you believe that the NFL also plays OT when an exhibition game ends in a tie?  That is really ludicrous and flies in the face of any claim of concern that the NFL has for player safety.

********

The National Basketball Association played an 82 game regular season, conducted fourteen perfunctory rounds of playoffs, and has produced for the third year in a row an NBA Finals match-up of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors.  Surprise!!  The two teams bring a combined Playoffs record of 24-1 into the Finals.  It is the series that everyone predicted and has wanted to see since the season began, and it is hoped that it will produce a series of games that, unlike those fourteen playoffs rounds that have proceeded it, some exciting, dramatic, and memorable basketball.

PREDICTION: LeBron James will be the best player on the court throughout the series, but the addition of Kevin Durant to the Warriors will make the difference.  Warriors in seven games.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Broadcast News - Sports Division, Pittsburgh Sub-division



It was announced this week that the contract of Pittsburgh Penguins long time television play-by-play guy Paul Steigerwald, 62, was not being renewed by Root Sports, and that he would be replaced next season by NHL Network broadcaster Steve Mears, 37.  While this is not seen as a Bob Prince-type firing by the Penguins (older readers will get the reference), the Pens clearly had no objection to the move.  Steigerwald himself wrote a gracious "thank you" column that appeared in the Post-Gazette, and Mario Lemieux has found some cushy landing spot for Steigy in the Pens' front office PR machine, so everyone is happy, and we all wish Mears well in his new gig, although we all know how tough the Pittsburgh audience can be on a new play-by-play guy, regardless of the sport.

I think that the Penguins and Root Sports should be given  credit for this move as it represents some forward thinking on their part, and this is especially true when you look at the other sports broadcasting spots in Pittsburgh.  The Penguins are one of the five major sports "franchises" on the Pittsburgh sports scene, the other four being the Pirates, Steelers, Pitt Football, and Pitt Basketball.  The main play-by-play guy for three of those franchises is Bill Hillgrove, who will turn 77 this coming November.  Hillgrove has been doing Steelers games since 1994, Pitt football since 1974, and Pitt basketball since 1969.  It is not my intention to make this particular post a hatchet job on any one individual, but let's face it, if you've listened to any of Hillgrove's broadcasts for any one of those three teams in the last ten years or so, it is obvious that he is, well, let's just say way past his prime, and leave it at that.

It has surprised me that neither the Steelers nor Pitt have made any move to replace Hillgrove as The Voice of their franchises.  You would think that they would want to bring in a younger, fresher voice, someone who would not say things like "he's tackled by a guy in the Bengals backfield".  For his part, why would Hillgrove want to keep doing this at the age of 77?  In recent years, Pitt seems like they are grooming Larry Richert to succeed Hillgrove, and he, Richert, is 57 years old, and could be well into his sixties before Hillgrove's hands get pried off of the microphone. If Richert really wants that gig, he must feel like Prince Charles waiting for the Queen to die.

This goes on.  Dick Groat, Hillgrove's color analyst on Pitt basketball, will be 87 in November.  Pirates color analyst Steve Blass is 75, but at least he doesn't do road games any more.  Mike Lange, the Pens radio broadcaster, is 69 and has held that job since 1976.  Ray Goss has been doing Duquesne basketball on the radio longer than any of these guys and he is pushing 80 years of age.

These guys seem to have a stronger hold on their jobs that Supreme Court justices or the Pope.  It has to be very discouraging for a young guy trying to make it as a play-by-play guy in Pittsburgh. 

As I said at the outset, the Penguins are to be given credit for their forward thinking approach here, and I think that the Steelers, Pitt, and, to a lesser extent, the Pirates, need to be taking a similar view at their broadcasting talent.


Friday, May 19, 2017

Memorabilia in the News

Pirates Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell have been in the news of late, or, rather, their "stuff" has been in the news when their respective widows, and in Clemente's case, his children, announced that the late Pirates stars' memorabilia will be put up for action later this summer in two separate auctions.  Gold Gloves, MVP Awards, World Series and Hall of Fame Rings and lots and lots of other neat stuff will be available for folks to bid on and take home.

This might surprise some people that families would do such a thing.  On a recent Pirates telecast, Steve Blass seemed horrified at the thought of Clemente's World Series rings being sold.  Blass flashed his 1971 Series ring to the camera and said some to the effect that "this baby will NEVER leave my possession."  

I get Blass' sentiment, but I also get the Clemente and Stargell families' motivation.  This is all, after all, just "stuff" and what are they, the families, going to do with it as they get older?  Also, we have no idea as to the financial situations of the Clementes and Mrs. Stargell, so who are we to judge?

However, I do get a kick out of the disingenuous statements released by both families.  It went something to the effect of  "We know that Roberto/Willie have many thousands of devoted fans out there, and we thought that now was the time that these mementos and artifacts be shared among them."

So, I said to Mrs. Grandstander "You know, one of those Gold Gloves of Clemente's would look nice on a shelf in our office.  Maybe Vera and the boys will 'share' one of them with me, as I was and remain to this day a devoted fan of Roberto."  Well, I suppose that there are many definitions of the word "Share", and in this case, the relevant definition is "it's yours if you are the high bidder, preferably something in the high five figures."

I seem to remember that when Bill Mazeroski did something similar with all of his stuff a few years back, he pretty much came out and said that he'd like to have the money for himself in his later years and for his children and grandchildren after he's gone.  No b.s. about sharing with the fans from Maz, nosiree!

Like I said, I have no problem with what these two families are doing, and I hope that they get what they feel they need for whatever their reasons may be, but they can spare us the song and dance about sharing with the fans.

Monday, May 15, 2017

So, How 'Bout Them Buccos?


Assuming that there will be no postponed games this week, on Thursday the Pirates will have officially played 25% of the 2017 season.  Time to take a look at how things are going and answer the question posed in the headline above.

The good news is that the Pirates are right behind the defending World Series Champion Cubs in the standings.    You'd have settled for that on Opening Day, right? The bad news is that the Cubs are one game below .500 and in fourth place, which means that our Pittsburgh Pirates are in last place, six games below .500 (16-22), 3.5 games behind the aforementioned Cubs, and six games behind the first place Cardinals.

More good news - the Pirates are on a two game winning streak.  More bad news - this comes on the heels of a six game losing streak.

The State of the Bucco Union is bleak these days.  Let us count the ways....
  • Power hitting third baseman Jung Ho Kang remains in Korea appealing his third DUI conviction and trying to get a visa to enter the USA.  My betting money says that Kang never plays another game for the Pirates, and if by some remote chance he does, it won't be in 2017.
  • Starling Marte, perhaps the team's best all around player in 2016 is currently sitting out an 80 game PED suspension.
  • The much ballyhooed new outfield alignment of Polanco-Marte-McCutchen has been blown up largely due to Marte's idiocy and now consists of WhoeverTheyCanGetToPlayLeftfield - McCutchen - Polanco.
  • Tyler Glasnow: 1-3, 7.98 ERA, 21 BB, 2.08 WHIP, 29.1 IP.  Do I have to say any more?
  • Andrew McCutchen, the former MVP and the guy who has been the face of the franchise for the last ten years, leads the team in RBI with (only) 17 and does have 6 home runs, but he is hitting only .242 and has an OPS of only .689.  His below average season of 2016 appears to be continuing.  It is a surprisingly early erosion of skills as Cutch is only 31 years old.  More to the point, his body language and the look on his face seems to be screaming "get me out of here".  I am guessing that he will get that wish when July 31 rolls around.  It will be a sad end to the wonderful story that was Cutch's time as a Pirate.
  • How about free agent acquisition Daniel Hudson, who figured to be a solid eighth inning set-up guy? 0-2, 7.80 ERA, 22 H, 15 BB in 15 IP.  That is beyond awful.
  • Trips to the DL for Adam Frazier and David Freese, the guys who had been their best hitters early in the season.
  • I won't even talk about the bench.  It ain't worth mentioning.
And, of course, there is the news that pitcher Jameson Taillon had to leave the team and have surgery for testicular cancer.  That, of course, goes beyond baseball and is a truly sad and terrible human story for a young man only 25 years old.  It is hoped that he recovers fully from this (the outlook in such cases caught early enough is good), but it speaks to what appears to be shaping up as a star-crossed season for the Pirates.

I know what you're asking...say something good about the Pirates for crissakes, willya!  So, I will.

Felipe Rivero.


Acquired from the Nationals for Mark Melancon last year at the deadline, Rivera has put up the following line so far this year:

1-1, 0.87 ERA, 20.2 IP, 22 K, 4 BB, 0.82 WHIP, .176 BA Against

Plus, he seems to hit 99 or 100 MPH with every pitch.  He has been perhaps the most effective player on the team.

I will close out by mentioning a subject that it has been much discussed in a couple of Facebook groups that I am in, and that is Clint Hurdle's future as Pirate manager.  I will start out by saying that I like Hurdle as a manager.  He has done a terrific job resurrecting the dead that was the Pirate team he inherited from the moribund John Russell in 2011.  Yes, I can bitch and moan about this line-up card or that strategical maneuver, but you can do that about any manager, but overall, I consider him a Good to Very Good manager.  

That said, I think that this will be Clint's final year as Pirate skipper.  The fact that the front office has not extended him through 2018, making him a quasi-lame duck, says a lot.  I also think that Hurdle himself may just see how that same front office failed to capitalize on that 98 win 2015 season, and say to himself, "screw it, I've had enough of this".  As it is with McCutchen, Hurdle's body language seems to be saying that this is his swan song.  Whether he will be fired or allowed to "retire" makes little difference in the end, I suppose.  Current bench coach Tom Prince seems to be the heir apparent.  Frankly, that excites me not one bit, but he will come cheap, and we all know that that excites Bob Nutting a great deal.

So, the remaining 75% of the Bucco season doesn't appear to hold a lot of promise insofar as competing for a post-season berth is concerned.  The real question may be Can they finish with a winning record?  To do that, they will need to turn the ship around pretty soon, or a full scale fire sale is sure to take place when that July 31 trade deadline comes around.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Life Lessons From The Twilight Zone

Mark Dawidziak is the television critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer,  and is a serious scholar on Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, and Rod Serling, and, as such, he is an unabashed devotee of Serling's landmark television series, The Twilight Zone.

He has converted that knowledge into this interesting book of life lessons, as delivered from that place between shadow and substance, the fifth dimensional land whose boundaries are the limits of the imagination - The Twilight Zone.

Here are just some of the fifty life lessons that Dawidziak tells us about:

  • Follow your passion
  • Nobody said life was fair
  • Don't live in the past
  • When nobody else believes in you, keep believing in yourself
  • You're only truly old when you decide you're old
  • Make the most of the time you've got
  • Remember the people who got you where you are
  • The grass is always greener...or so you think
  • The universe does not revolve around you
  • Angels are all around you
I could go on, but you get the idea.  Dawidziak then uses classic episodes from The Twilight Zone to illustrate each of these fifty life lessons.  Many episodes illustrate more than just one of these lessons.

This book is not an episode-by-episode compendium of all of the series' episodes. There are the books like that out there if that is what you want.  However, you will be reminded on many, many classic TZ episodes such as Walking Distance, Time Enough to Last, The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street, Eye of the Beholder, The After Hours, Terror at 20,000 Feet and over one hundred of the 154 total episodes that were produced.

So maybe these life lessons are not necessarily new or especially profound, but it never hurts to be reminded of them, and this book, submitted for your approval, illustrates them in a new and different way.  Reading the book may remind you that perhaps you have forgotten some of these lessons in your journey through life, and you will welcome the refresher course.  It may also cause you to go to that DVD Box Set of The Twilight Zone you own and rewatch some of these great stories - never a bad thing - and view them in a new and different way.

Four stars from The Grandstander for this book.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Steelers' Draft Class of 2017

I can't believe that I am going to write a post about the Steelers Draft of 2017.  It seems to fly in the face of all my rantings about the over-hyping that the NFL Draft always receives, but what the hell, here I go (or should I say, "Here we go.."?).  This will not be one of those "How did they do in the Draft?" pieces with letter grades and all that garbage.  I am not qualified to evaluate players in such a manner, but  these are just some quick impressions of my own, and I add the disclaimer that it needs to be pointed out that none of the players drafted by the Steelers  (or any other team for that matter) over the last three days, have played a down in the NFL, and until they do, nothing that they have done up until now means diddly.  If you don't believe me, does the name Limas Sweed ring a bell for you?

Okay, here goes.


The Steelers story that overshadowed all others over the last three days was the selection of RB James Conner of Pitt in the third round.  I do not believe that sentiment played any part in this selection by the Steelers, and that they believe that he can give them what they truly need: quality depth at the position behind LeVeon Bell.   That said, this has to be one of the greatest "Feel-Good" stories in the recent history of Pittsburgh sports, and I can't remember any Steelers draft  pick ever that I want to see make it big with the team than James Conner.

For more on Conner, as if regular readers need such background, check this out from The Grandstander archives:





If familial DNA means anything, you have to love the selection of OLB T.J. Watt of Wisconsin as the team's #1 pick.  If he is as good as older brother J.J., then the Steelers have struck gold, and even if he possesses just a large fraction of J.J.'s talent, it will be a good pick.  What with the flameout that was Jarvis Jones, and with James Harrison approaching Social Security age, the need at the position is certainly there.  Let's hope it works out.


The Steelers selected a quarterback in the fourth round, Josh Dobbs of Tennessee.  It's always fun when they pick a QB.  Can't wait for the "they gotta put Dobbs in there" calls to The Fan when Ben has his first two interception game.  The kid has a degree in aerospace engineering from UT - he actually IS a rocket scientist! - so grasping Todd Hailey's playbook shouldn't be an issue.



The wonderfully named JuJu Smith-Schuster, a WR from USC, was the second round pick.  His selection set off a wonderful peeing contest on Twitter between current wideouts Sammie Coates and Martavis Bryant.  When last seen, Coates was dropping a pass on the first offensive series of the AFC Championship game against the Patriots that could have gone for a TD, and at the very least would have been a long gain for the Steelers.  It may not have changed the eventual outcome of the game, but it sort of set the tone for what was to follow that day.  When Bryant was last seen, well, it's hard to remember that far back, since Bryant spent the 2016 season on what the paper today called his "annual suspension" for the use of banned substances.

In other words, Coates and Bryant should keep their mouths shut, don't you think?

By contrast, Ben Roethlisberger sent a warm welcoming Tweet to Dobbs.  Of course, Dobbs is unlikely to supplant Ben at his position, whereas JuJu has a job for the taking if he can produce as is hoped.

They also drafted two corner backs, another linebacker, and, in a move sure to generate lots of pre-season buzz, a long snapper!

Let's hope all of these guys make it big for the Steelers.  After all, we've all been waiting too long for that seventh Lombardi Trophy to arrive at Heinz Field. 

#herewegoSteelersherewego