Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Smizik on Russell

If you are a regular reader of Bob Smizik's excellent blog on the Post-Gazette website, you have no doubt already read this. I couldn't have said it better myself. In fact, I think I did say it last week after JR sent Sean Gallagher to bat against the Mets!


Monday, August 30, 2010

The Latest frrom GM Neal

One of the things I look forward to when reading the Monday morning Post-Gazette is Dejon Kovacevic's summary of Neal Huntington's comments from his Sunday radio show. Today's tidbits included two more classic pieces of Nealspiel:

First, the "next noteworthy wave of starting pitchers" in the Pirates organization (Morris, Owens, Locke, and Wilson) are not expected to make the team out of spring training next year. I guess Neal doesn't want to instill any sense of optimism in these kids. It could also mean that none of these pitchers are expected to be better that the current staff. Wow, that really would be bad news considering that the current staff has five, count 'em five, ten game losers, a distinction not seen by a Pirates team since 1954. On the other hand, it is nice for the fans of the Indianapolis Indians to know that they might have a really good staff in 2011.

The second gem was the quote that while the Pirates will pursue free agents in the off-season, they are "not going to just throw money at free agents to appease the fans and a few members of the media." That the Pirates aren't going to throw money around comes as no surprise, but it was the second part of Neal's statement that blows me away. His constant dismissal of what "the fans" might think tells me that this guy hasn't connected one bit with "the fans" (also known as the "paying customers") in his three years here in Pittsburgh. Isn't it part of his job to "appease" the fan base so that the will continue to be paying customers and perhaps even become a larger fan base? Or maybe even make eight, ten and twelve year old kids excited about the Pirates again (we all know about the "lost generation" of Pirates fans, which will have expanded to two generations by the time Jameson Taillon reaches Pittsburgh).

When I read this quote aloud this morning, Marilyn used the word "arrogant" to describe Huntington, and that sure fits. In an email exchange I had with Huntington last winter after Matt Capps was let go for nothing, Huntington said that he didn't understand what "the big deal" was over the whole thing. I thought then and continue to think that either he just doesn't relate AT ALL to the customers, or he doesn't care what the customers think. Frankly, I'm not sure which is worse.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ignominy Avoided

With the Pirates 43rd win of the season last night, the Pirates have assured themselves that they will not match or exceed the 1962 Mets' record of 120 losses.

What a relief.

Still in sights, however, is the 112 losses of the 1952 Pirates (who managed the feat in a 154 game schedule, it must be noted). To avoid that, this bunch must go a mere 8-27 (.229) over their last 35 games. Others may disagree with me, but I think that they will avoid the dreaded 112 losses. Watch, but don't bet.

By the way,how about the way Neil Walker has been playing, not only in the last two games (6 RBI's), but ever since his recall? This is the guy, remember, that Huntington and Russell had ticketed to be a utility guy in spring training.

An Amazing Fact

I don't know if this is true or not, but I heard on the radio today that this current month, August 2010, contains three Sundays, three Mondays, and three Tuesdays, and this is an occurrence that happens once every 832 years.

As I said, I don't know if this is true, and I have no inclination to research it, but that is pretty cool if true.

On Jefferson, Monroe, Charlottesville...and Shugars

Marilyn and I just returned from a brief - three night - trip to Charlottesville, VA. The highlight of the trip was a visit to Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. The trip was an easy one, 325 miles, 5 and 1/2 hours, most if which goes through the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

Now when you talk about the Founding Fathers, I will concede that George Washington is far and away the overall Number One draft pick, but it seems to me that Thomas Jefferson has got to be the #2 overall pick. What a visionary and what an intellect. When President Kennedy hosted a gathering of Nobel Prize winners at the White House, he commented that the gathering no doubt represented the single largest gathering if human intellect in the history of the White House "with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."

Some thoughts, comments, and observations about our recent trip...

  • Monticello is a beautiful building, but surprisingly, to us at least, small when you actually see it.

  • Amazing the innovations that Jefferson designed into the building - a clock that told day, hour, minute, and second that worked on a system of counterweights (and that still functions today), pneumatic-like doors that also still function today, and indoor privies.

  • The gardens that Jefferson laid out atop his mountain are still being planted and producing to this day.

  • You can see the Jefferson grave site on the property. It is an awesome feeling to be standing at the grave of Thomas Jefferson. The cemetery is privately owned and is still being used to bury Jefferson's descendants.

  • Jefferson was widowed after only ten years of marriage, and was a widower throughout much of his public life, including his presidency.

  • We know know that Jefferson did not lack for female companionship, including his relationship with slave Sally Hemmings.

  • Tours of Monticello do not gloss over the Jefferson-Hemmings relationship, nor do they gloss over the fact that the man who stated that "all men are created equal" was a slaveholder. It is truly a conundrum when you consider Jefferson's life and body of work to realize that he owned slaves. It is clear, though, that Jefferson recognized the moral quandary that this presented, and it is also clear that he struggled with the quandary up until his death.

  • Amazingly, as we were walking the grounds of Monticello, who do we run into but our nephew Bill Sproule, who was in town for a business meeting. Talk about a shock! This was one trip where we couldn't say "we never run into anyone we know."

  • Our current political leaders, who feel the necessity of placing a fundamentalist Christian litmus test up to all other candidates and officeholders, would do well to go back and read up on some of Jefferson's thoughts regarding religious freedoms and state-sanctioned religions.

  • About two miles down the road from Monticello sits Ash Lawn Highland, the home of James Monroe, Fifth President of the United States. We also toured Ash Lawn Highland as well. Now, this estate is no Monticello, not by a long shot, but it was an interesting tour nonetheless.

  • James Monroe gets kind of lost in the shuffle of history, but he has a story to tell as well. Did you know that he was the Secretary of State under Jefferson who negotiated the Louisiana Purchase with Napoleon of France? I didn't. He also was a fairly wealthy guy for the times.

  • President's back in those days were paid a salary of $25,000 a year. Seems to me like that is a whole lot more, comparatively, to what Presidents make today (which I think is $400,000). Presidents then, however, had to operate the White House out of their own salary. There was no government budget for operation of the Executive Mansion.

  • There is a massive oak tree at Ash Lawn Highland that is estimated to be over 400 years old, which means it was already over 200 years old when Monroe lived there. For some reason, that little fact fascinates me.

  • Like Jefferson, Monroe was a slaveholder. Unlike Jefferson, he had no moral struggle with the issue.

  • If you ever make a similar trip, and I strongly recommend that you do, do not, under any circumstances, eat lunch at a place called Michie's Tavern. It advertises itself as an "authentic, Jefferson-era tavern," but what it really is is an tourist trap and a rip-off joint. The fact that we got sucked into it represents the only bad part of our trip.

  • About 20 miles from Monticello is an estate called Montepellier, which is the home of President James Madison. We didn't make the trip there, but think of Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe all living within 20 miles of each other. Some neighborhood!

  • We enjoyed the town of Charlottesville. It is a college town, but it is not like Pitt in Oakland which is within a large city, nor is it like Penn State which is the only thing in State College. Something in between, and it was quite pleasant. The central part of the downtown district is a closed off pedestrian only mall that runs about five blocks and consists of a nice variety of restaurants, theaters, retail businesses, and four, count 'em, four independent bookstores. We really liked it.

Oh, I hinted that there was a connection between Thomas Jefferson and our own friend Fred Shugars. Residing at Monticello was Jefferson's daughter and her 11 children. How to entertain kids? You play games, of course. It seems that Jefferson enjoyed the mental stimulation of playing games. He was in inveterate chess player, and one of the parlors at Monticello was devoted to games playing. A very popular one was something called the "Royal Game of Goose" and a board of this game is on display in the Monticello parlor. It appears to be some sort of Parcheesi-like roll the dice and chase along a trail game. One of the folks on the tour with us said that she, in fact, had this game and played it regularly with her grandchildren. Of course, I figured that the Royal Game of Goose would be on sale in the Monticello gift shop and I planned on purchasing it as a gift to present to Fred for use at GamesFest 2011, but would you believe that they do NOT sell this. I was quite disappointed.

So we can add one more distinction to the long list that is Jefferson's legacy: A Founding Father of GamesFest!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Mets 7 - Pirates 2

Last night's Pirates loss was not just another loss, was not just the loss that clinched the 18th consecutive losing season...it might (I say "might" because I always keep coming back for some insane reason) have been the loss that pushed me completely over the edge.

After a Chinese torture of a top of the first inning that took 22 minutes and over 35 pitches for Jeff Karstens to complete, wherein the Mets scored three runs on four bleeding banjo hits, the score worked its way to 7-2 Mets when in the bottom of the fourth, the Pirates managed to put men on second and third with two outs with middle reliever Sean Gallagher due to bat. What would you do? Of course, you would pinch hit with Garrett Jones or Delwyn Young since you now had a chance to get back into the ballgame. What did John Russell do? He waved an enormous white flag and sent Gallagher up to bat. Inning over. Ballgame over. To paraphrase the late, great Jack Buck, I did not believe what I just saw. Russell's "defense" of this strategy ran six sentences long in this morning's game story in the Post-Gazette. This surprised me only in that I never knew that John Russell could string six sentences together.

Seriously now, if the Pirates even consider bringing Russell (who will own over 300 losses as the Bucs skipper once this dreadful season runs it course) back as manager for next season, what would make the fan base and the ticket buyers think that team management cares even a little bit about putting out a winning team. All the teen-aged multi-million dollar bonus pitchers in the world won't make up for seeing John Russell back in a Pirates dugout in 2011. And, yes, I know that John McGraw and Casey Stengel combined couldn't win with this team, but when you got a guy with Russell's record and dreadful personality in charge, you really HAVE to make a change, if only to show the customers that you care.

My Dad and my brothers ingrained in me that you never leave a game early and that has been my philosophy for over 50 years of attending sports events, but last night we left after the sixth inning. Not that I'm anything special, but when fans like me start bailing out like that, the Pirates really have a problem.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bobby Thomson

News arrived this afternoon that Bobby Thomson has passed away at the age of 86. Thomson, most of you know, hit the most famous home run in baseball history, "The Shot Heard 'round the World," that won the National League for the New York Giants over the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1951 NL Playoff series.

(Aside: Pittsburghers and Pirates fans will argue that Bill Mazeroski's Game 7 HR in the 1960 World Series was more famous. More famous to Pirates fans, certainly, and perhaps more important since it decided a World Series, but most famous of all time? Afraid not. The fact that Thomson's homer came in New York for the Giants against arch rival Brooklyn, makes this more famous. Certainly, if the '51 playoff involved, say, the Braves and Cardinals, Maz' HR would have superseded Thomson's. But it didn't, and that is why Thomson's homer always leads the pack when lists of famous moments or home runs are tabulated. Perhaps that isn't fair, but there you are.)

A great conversational ice-breaker among groups of strangers is to ask everyone to tell the group "Who is the most famous person you ever met?" When I am asked this question, my answer is Bobby Thomson. It happened in the mid-1980's when my employer at the time, Equitable Life, was sponsoring a series of Old-Timers Games across major league baseball. When the game came to Pittsburgh, there was a banquet the night before when all of the Old-Timers were introduced and honored. During the cocktail hour, I introduced myself to Thomson and had about a 20 minute conversation with him. By this point in his life, how many times had he been approached by people like me to ask about his most famous moment? Nonetheless, he was a complete gentleman and a very nice guy, and he treated me as if I were the first person who ever asked him to talk about his historical moment in 1951.

He certainly wore his fame well and humbly. A real gentleman.

RIP Bobby Thomson.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Joe L. Brown

Longtime Pirates fans of a certain age certainly must feel bad with news of the passing of Joe L. Brown on Sunday at the age of 91. If you know your Bucco history, you know that Brown was the GM of two World Series Champion Pirates teams, 1960 and 1971. A true "old school" baseball guy, you wonder how Brown must have viewed how the business of baseball has evolved in the years since his retirement.

Certainly, in the days since Brown left the front office, only two GM's have met with much success, Harding Peterson (a Brown disciple) and , briefly, Syd Thrift. Neal Huntington certainly doesn't appear to be the guy who will make us forget Joe Brown.

And do you remember "The Joe L. Brown Show" every Sunday afternoon on KDKA Radio at 12:15 (30 minutes in season and 15 minutes in the off-season)? Brown would field questions that listeners had sent in the mail that would be read to him by Tom "Ace" Bender. This was in the pre-phone-in era of radio, and it also assured that Bender would only be lobbing softballs for the GM to belt over the fence. Still, for the avid Pirates fan, it was a show you never missed. And the writers of all letters read on the air received "two reserved seat tickets for a future Pirate home game of their choice."

RIP Joe L. Brown.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

That Was The Weekend That Was

Clearing out the Mental In-Box on a Sunday evening....
  • Who out there remembers the political satire show from the '60's, "That Was The Week That Was"?
  • Extra points if you can name the blonde singer who sang the theme song each week. (I'm counting on Jim Haller to get this one!)
  • Weekend began with the First (we hope) Annual Game Room Olympics, hosted by John Frissora. Sixteen players competing in Pool, Darts, Table Hockey, Texas Hold 'em, and Slot Car Racing. It was terrific day. Lots of fun throughout, and I even managed to take home some hardware - trophies for finishing third in Texas Hold 'em and Slot Car Racing. Am looking forward to the second Friday in August, 2011 to do it all again.
  • Kudos and a million THANK YOUS to John for dreaming up and hosting this event.
  • Enjoyed seeing a lot of old Highmark friends and co-workers at the GRO.
  • The Steelers kicked off the exhibition (yawn) season last night. I never usually make it to the second half of this game each year, and that rain delay assured that I saw even less of the game this year.
  • Heard many breathless callers to The Fan this morning clamoring for Dennis Dixon to be the QB this season. So it begins.
  • I did hear enough of the game to become convinced that no bigger homer exists in local sports broadcasting than Bob Pompeani. Guys in the Steelers PR Department couldn't be more gung-ho than this guy. He makes Bob Prince's Pirates broadcasts appear to be the epitome of objective broadcasting.
  • The Pirates drop three to the Astros this weekend. That concludes an 0-6 road trip. The Saturday game featured 17 Bucs going down on strikes. Just when you think that have bottomed out, it gets worse.
  • Reports are that the Pirates are "close" to signing their #1 and #2 draft picks, high school pitchers Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie, by tomorrow's midnight deadline. Let's hope that this is the case. Failure to sign these two will cause any credibility that this team might still have to completely disappear.
  • You all know that the odds of high school pitchers making it big are long, but I sure hope that Stetson Allie makes it BIG. That is one terrific name, don't you think?
  • Big news on the home front on Saturday was the delivery of our new sofa. After three weeks in the new abode, we can finally watch TV comfortably in our Living Room.
  • While watching the PGA Championship on CBS this weekend, saw several commercials for CBS "new" series this fall, the revival of "Hawaii Five-O." Can't wait to renew acquaintances with 21st century versions of Steve McGarrett, Danny Williams, Chin-Ho Kelly, Kono, and Che Fong. Here's hoping the famous catch phrases of "Book 'em, Danno," "What have you got for me, Che?", and "Be here. Aloha," will still be a part of the show.
  • Will Wo Fat also be reprised?
  • Now a confession: in recent months, I have been watching a DVD box set of Season One of the original "Hawaii Five-O." I loved this show back in the late 60's/early 70's, but I've got to tell you, these DVD's are great as an example of high camp and bad over-acting. We laugh our way through every episode of Jack Lord chewing the scenery!
  • Golfed this morning with some old Highmark buddies - Fred Shugars, John Coley, and Duane Lukitch. A fun morning.
  • Tomorrow, August 16, marks the 62nd anniversary of the death of Babe Ruth and the 33rd anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. Observe these occasions by going out and grabbing yourself a-hunk, a-hunk of burning love.

Hope everyone has a great week!!

Friday, August 13, 2010

The First Annual Game Room Olympics

I will soon be leaving for the home of John Frissora (aka "John Bocabella") to participate in the first annual Game Room Olympics. Sixteen invited guests will participate in Pool, Table Hockey, Darts, Slot Car Racing, and Texas Hold 'em Poker over six hours this afternoon. I have adopted the creed of the actual Olympics: The honor is not in winning, but in competing.

I look forward to a fun afternoon of intense competition, and will report in later in the weekend.

The Pirates and the Race to Avoid 112 Losses

I was going to wait until the weekend series with the Astros was finished to write this up, but I find myself with time on my hands this morning, so what the heck.

Through the games of August 12, the Pirates now stand at 39-75 (,342). They are on pace to finish with an incredible 107 losses. The "second season" that began on July 1 and that I naively had such hopes for back in my July 5 post is even worse: the team is 12-24 (.333) since July 1.

With 48 games remaining, the team will have to play at a .500 pace, 24-24, to merely avoid 100 losses. Bristol and Levi will become the Ozzie and Harriett of Alaska before that happens.

No, the only race of any import for this crummy team now becomes the race against their 1952 counterparts, the team that lost 112 games. To avoid that ignominy, they will have to go 12-36 over the final 48 games of the season. Can they do it? I think they can, but it's a going to be a close call. Here's how it can be done:

The team has played (relatively) well at home, 26-30. If they play at that same pace over their remaining 25 home games, that's 11 wins. This means that they will have to eek out just one win of their remaining 23 road games. Surely they can do that, right?

Surely someone in Vegas is setting odds on this.

Oh, one other race of note. It has been documented that the Buck Showalter led surge of the Orioles has dropped the Bucs into last place in all of MLB. As of this morning, they are 1/2 game behind the 29th place O's. This race bears watching as well. I'm thinking that the jump start Showalter gave the Orioles will level off soon, and that this one could go right down to the wire.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

On Jim Gray

The sports talk world's current 24 hour news cycle is all abuzz over the Jim Gray-Corey Pavin Brouhaha. Two questions: who cares, and why take Jim Gray seriously?

Until now, when I think of Jim Gray, I think of two things.

One, his antagonistic interview with Pete Rose a few years back that did the seemingly impossible: it made Pete Rose a sympathetic figure.

Two, his pimping "interview" of LeBron James last month on that ESPN "news" show wherein James announced his move to Miami. After that shameless exhibition, the words "journalist" and "Jim Gray" should never be mentioned in the same sentence again.

Now, he gets into it and threatens to take down and 50-something year old golfer? I guess we next see him with Vince McMahon on some WWE Extravaganza.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The SABR Convention

Fellow SABR member and Facebook Friend Stephanie Liscio posted this column about the recent SABR Convention in Atlanta. Gives you a real flavor for what the conventions are like. Have got to get to another one one of these years.


Monday, August 9, 2010

Especially for the Out-of-Towners....

The video and the radio call of Greg Brown and Steve Blass for Pedro Alvaraz' game winning HR last Saturday night. Destined to be a classic.


Who Should Be Rookie of the Year?

Well, if you have had the chance to review the comparative stats that I posted last night, perhaps you may have guessed as to the identities of the four rookies listed.

Player A is Neil Walker, or Pine Richland's Neil Walker as he is often referred to in the local media. The one thing these numbers do not show is how well he is playing second base, a position where he had virtually no experience prior to coming to the big leagues. Walker seems to be showing he was worth that #1 draft slot, despite the fact that the current Bucco Brain Trust were projecting him as utility guy in spring training.

Player B is Jose Tabata. His low HR and RBI totals reflect that he has been batting lead off most of his time with the Pirates. He has also shown to be a pretty good glove guy in left field. He is making the Xavier Nady trade look pretty good.

Player C is Pedro Alvarez. The batting average is poor, but getting better, and is actually following a pattern of his previous stops up the ladder of the organization. He does strike out a lot, and perhaps that is something that we will have to just accept (like we did with Willie Stargell), but can he launch the ball! I have been on hand at PNC Park for three of his HR's and they are rockets. This is another guy who, based on very early returns, appears to be well worth the #1 draft choice.

Player D is the Braves' Jason Heyward, the "Jay-Hey Kid" and the subject of posts in The Grandstander earlier in the season. Heyward has been the presumptive NL Rookie-of-the-Year since spring training. Hey, if the talking heads at ESPN decree it, it must be so, right? Anyway, Heyward will probably win the award, and he is not undeserving, but I suggest to you that perhaps he should not be the runaway winner that he probably will be. If you project Walker's numbers out over a similar number of at bats, Heyward's numbers aren't all that much better. I will also bet anyone who is interested a dinner at McDonald's that Alvarez will finish with more home runs than Heyward when the season is over. And it should be noted that Heyward also will strike out well over 100 times this season, so Alvarez is not the only rookie slugger prone to the dreaded K.

Makes you wonder what kind of props Walker, Tabata, and Alvaraz would be getting if they (a) played for a good team, and (b) played anywhere else but Pittsburgh.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Shake Up at 93.7, The Fan

Did you see that sports talk station 93.7, The Fan, is shaking up its line-up, effective tomorrow?

In case you missed it, early evening host Greg Gionotti is being shifted to the 6:00 AM - 10:00 AM slot with Paul Alexander and Jim Colony, and Jon Burton is being demoted to the evening news reporter. Yes, JB will no longer man a talk show, no longer laugh uproariously at everything that everyone, especially he himself, says, will no longer do his patented shtick of speaking in an exaggerated Pittsburgh Yinzer accent.

What little I have heard of Gionotti, I like, although he faces a couple of obstacles. One, he is young, less than 30, I believe, and two, he is not from Pittsburgh. This will not sit well with the Yinzer crowd, because "what can some punk kid aht-a-tahner tell me about the Stillers n'at."

I say, however, that this is a good move on the part of 93.7. Burton just didn't cut it, and while were at it, I'm not all that crazy about Paul Alexander, who is a lifelong Pittsburgher, by the way. It will be interesting to see who becomes the dominant buck on this show, Alexander or Gionotti.

Comparative Rookie Stats

Here are some statistics through the games of Saturday, August 7.

Which player should be Rookie of the Year?

Player A:
58 games
230 AB
.300 BA
5 HR
31 RBI
29 R
.789 OPS

Player B:
50 games
204 AB
.304 BA
2 HR
16 RBI
29 R
.754 OPS

Player C:
45 games
163 AB
.239 BA
10 HR
29 RBI
20 R
.779 OPS

Player D:
93 games
341 AB
.261 BA
11 HR
50 RBI
54 R
.818 OPS

I will tell you who these players are tomorrow, but would like to hear some of your thoughts before I do.

Interesting Column

James Dodson has written some of the best golf books out there ("Final Rounds" and "The Dewsweepers" are must reads for golf fans, and on second thought, you don't even have to like golf to read "Final Rounds", a terrific father-son story) and he writes a Sunday column in the Southern Pines Pilot that I try not to miss.

Can't say I buy into his viewpoint 100% this morning, but thought-provoking nontheless.


Avarez' Walk-Off; Bye-Bye to the Coaches

The Pirates may stink, but they do manage to make news in the most peculiar way. Some thoughts from the Mental In-Box....
  • The game last night was an amazing piece of work. The newly reconstituted bullpen blows a three run lead in the ninth, gives up two in the top of the tenth, but the team wins in the bottom of the 10th in most dramatic fashion: A three-run dinger by Pedro Alvarez. Talk about emotional swings. It was fantastic watching that one.
  • We should all know by now NOT to get too excited about anything the Pirates do, but you have to wonder if someday will we look back on THAT game last night, that 8-7 win over the Rockies, and say that that was the ground floor of something good? (Probably not.)
  • Now for the peculiar news. The team announces on Sunday morning that pitching coach Joe Kerrigan and bench coach Gary Varsho are fired. Strange timing. The announcement says that this was John Russell's call, and that there were questions of "loyalty" involved in the firings.
  • Judging from the performances of Pirates starting pitchers, you can say that Kerrigan lost his job on merit. As for Varsho, well, what exactly does a bench coach do anyway? Could he have been undermining JR among the players? Is this where the loyalty question comes into play?
  • Speaking of coaches, in the 8th inning of the game on Friday night, with Pirates down by one run, Jose Tabata was frozen off of first base when a pitched ball got away from the catcher. You could almost read his mind: should I go to second, or get back to first? He froze for a fraction a second too long, and Chris Ianetta picked him off of first base. My question: Was first base coach Carlos Garcia yelling at him what to do, and, if not, why not?
  • Also on the subject of pitching coaches, I remember reading - I think it was in Jim Bouton's "Ball Four" - that on a ten man pitching staff, a pitching coach will help two guys, hurt two guys, and make not a bit of difference to the other six.
  • In Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Neil Walker, and Padro Alvarez, the Pirates sure appear to have four guys around who you can build a nice everyday line-up. Now, if they could only come up with one or two or three pitchers who are their equivalents.
  • Pedro Alvarez does not hit cheap home runs. To use the catch phrase of Lanny Frattare, when Pedro gets hold of one, there is nooooooo doubt about it.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Evans City Middle School Band

A Loyal Reader has inquired about the identity of "Nate Stoner," mentioned in my earlier post about James McDonald. For those that don't know, Nate is our soon to be 13-year old great nephew, and a proud member of the Evans City Middle School Band. In the picture above, he is on the right side, first row of trombonists, fourth in from the right.

Sorry I didn't have a better camera with a super zoom lens.

James McDonald

We were in attendance at PNC Park last night to usher in the James McDonald Era of Pirates History. It was most impressive debut, too, as the newly acquired hurler put up 8 K's in six innings as the Pirates beat the Rockies, 5-1.

I am wondering this morning what the odds will be that McDonald will still be on the Pirates team one year from today. Yes, I am getting cynical about the Pirates.

Of more import, before the game the National Anthem was performed by the Evans City Middle School Band and it featured a virtuoso trombone performance by one Nate Stoner!!


Monday, August 2, 2010

Pie Traynor

If you are of a certain age, say over 50 year old, and a baseball fan, you most likely grew up with the knowledge that Pie Traynor was the greatest third baseman of all time. If you are of that same age range and grew up in Pittsburgh, you also knew Pie Traynor as the guy who gave sports reports on KQV radio and as the ubiquitous pitchman for the American Heating Company ("Who can? Amer-i-can!"). You also knew Traynor to be one of the most recognizable figures in the city of Pittsburgh, thanks to his habit of walking everywhere and talking to anyone who took the time to say hi to him.

That is about all you knew of Pie Traynor because, until now, he was probably the most prominent member of Baseball's Hall of Fame to never be the subject of a full length biography. That void has been fill by James Forr and David Proctor who have recently published "Pie Traynor, A Baseball Biography" (McFarland Publishing). Both authors spoke at the SABR Forbes Field Chapter's meeting in April, and I have just finished reading the book. I found it to be a very enjoyable read.

Much time is spent, of course, covering Pie's career as both a player and manager of the Pirates. I especially enjoyed reading about the Pirates' Championship seasons of 1925 and 1927, and could really feel the pain that must have been experienced when the Cubs overtook the Traynor-managed Bucs for the NL pennant in 1938.

All the stuff about Traynor between the lines is in the book, but what I really enjoyed was the final quarter of the book that covered Traynor's life after he was relieved as manager in 1939. When he left baseball, he was leaving something that had been his life for over 20 years, he was uneducated (he never went to high school), and he and his wife were not persons of means. After a few years, he did hook up with the Pirates again as a scout, spring training coach, and general goodwill ambassador, roles he served until his death in 1972. He also went into broadcasting at KQV, one of the very early ex-jocks to go behind a microphone. He was not smooth, his stiff delivery, penchant for mispronunciation and malapropisms, and association with Studio Wrestling, became the subject of jokes among listeners and fellow broadcasters, but he held that position for over 25 years. He was a pioneer in Pittsburgh broadcasting circles.

Also interesting were how other players viewed him. Roberto Clemente and Brooks Robinson admired him, Richie Hebner revered him, but Dick Groat didn't care for him, or perhaps more to the point Traynor didn't care for Groat. Pie also had high regard for Lloyd Waner, but had no use for Paul Waner. Whatever the reasons, Pie never went public with them; that was the kind of guy he was.

The authors concluded the book with an examination of Traynor's place in history. Sometime in the late 70's and early 80's, Traynor's position as the "greatest third baseman of all-time" began to fade, and with the emergence of guys like Mike Schmidt, George Brett, and Wade Boggs, Pie's name is never mentioned when the talk turns to great third basemen. In "The New Bill James Historical Abstract" (2001), James ranks Traynor as the 15th best third basemen of all time. Interestingly enough, only one of the 14 third sackers listed ahead of Pie predates him in the historical timeline, Frank "Home Run" Baker. The guy who was conceded to be the greatest prior to Traynor, Jimmy Collins, sits at #17 on James' rankings.

What is the conclusion? Well, I suppose that you could say that Traynor was certainly the best third baseman of his era, and perhaps the best of all time up until, say, 1975 or so. At that time, the idea of what a third baseman is changed. Today thirdbase is considered a power position (Alex Rodriguez, Evan Longoria) and not necessarily a guy who hits for high average, and while defense is important, it isn't paramount if the guy is a big bopper who will give you 30+ round trippers a season. Traynor was not a homerun hitter (12 in 1923 was his high water mark and only 58 for his sixteen year career) so he gets lost when his numbers are compared to guys like Schmidt or Eddie Matthews.

By the way, if you are curious, Bill James' top 15 thirdbasemen are as follows:

Mike Schmidt
George Brett
Eddie Matthews
Wade Boggs
Home Run Baker
Ron Santo
Brooks Robinson
Paul Molitor
Stan Hack
Darrell Evans
Sal Bando
Ken Boyer
Graig Nettles
Al Rosen
Pie Traynor

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Pirates Talk

Yes, I know I declared a moratorium on Bucco talk a few weeks back, but with the turning of the calendar and the flurry of deadline deals yesterday, what the heck?

As for the trades....
  • Seems to me that for the second year in a row, injuries have prevented the Pirates from dumping Ryan Doumit. The Chris Snyder acquisition, the comments surrounding it, and the fact that Doumit is due to make $5+ million in 2011 make it clear that there isn't a future for Doumit in Pittsburgh.
  • The rest of the deals fall in the "Ho-Hum" category. Who knows if these guys will amount to anything, and with the possible exception of Octavio Dotel, what did the Pirates really give up?
  • That said, wouldn't it have been nice to get a starting pitcher who could help the team now?
  • After reading the Nealspeil in the PG yesterday morning, I am stunned that Paul Maholm is still on the team. When you cut through the GM's comments, it seemed that what he was saying was, "We really want to get Maholm's salary off the books for 2011."

More Pirates. Remember my "Numbers Crunching" post of July 5, wherein I proposed that we track a "Second Season" for the Bucs, beginning July 1? Well, the results aren't so promising.

  • On June 30, the team was 27-51 (.346), on pace for 106 losses.
  • In the Second Season, the team is 9-16 (.360), a rate that would produce 104 losses over a 162 game season.
  • Aside from that homestand with the Astros and Brewers last week, not much of an improvement.

The good news is that the 1952 Pirates 112 loss season is not in danger of being surpassed. To lose 112 games, the current squad would have to go 14-45 the rest of the way. I think - I hope - that this bunch can play at better than a .267 clip for 59 games, but you can never underestimate what the loss of Ryan Church and Bobby Crosby will mean.