Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lee, Seven Days, Old Steelers, Pitt Announcers, Northside 777, and an Absent Friend

The Google Blog Dashboard tells me that this will be my 500th post on The Grandstander, so what better time to Clean Out the Mental In-Box, but before I do that.....

This was going to be a Pirates-free post today, but I have to comment on the trade Neal Huntington made last night to bring Derrek Lee to the Pirates. First, I will concede that Lee, like many Pirates acquisitions in the past 18 years, is a once very good, if not great, player who is now deep into the back nine of his career. The fact that his numbers in 2011 have been "trending up" (as you have no doubt heard/read already today) bodes well for the Bucs. Also, in giving up a Class A prospect who might - might - be in Pittsburgh in 2014, the team hasn't sacrificed much. And after watching Lyle Overbay this past week, and especially that pathetic pinch hitting effort last night, well, I am ready to throw a parade to welcome Derrek Lee to town.

This deal may or may not work out for the Pirates, but I give GM Neal credit for making it.

Now, if he can only find an outfielder by 4:00 PM today. How much more of Mike Diaz and Garrett Jones can we take?

OK, now we'll get to the Mental In-Box....

  • Watched the 1964 movie "Seven Days in May" this weekend. This is a political thriller about an attempted military coup to take over the US government, and it starred Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, and Frederic March. This is a very good movie. Lancaster, as always, was great in the role of the megalomaniac general who wants to overthrow the President. Douglas is his aide who tips the President to the plot and saves the day, and March is the President who faces down plotters. Also, neat performances by character actors Edmond O'Brien and Martin Balsam. The script, incidentally, was written by Rod Serling of "Twilight Zone" fame.

  • Lots of talk this week about the wooing of Plaxico Burress by the Steelers (which now appear to be moot, since it now appears that Plax will be teaming up with Santonio Holmes in RexRyanland). Were you surprised by this development? I didn't think the Steelers were interested in players with that kind of a background. Not the "Steelers Way."

  • Speaking of the Steelers, what do these guys have in common: Bret Keisel, Casey Hampton, Troy Polamalu, James Farrier, James Harrison, Aaron Smith, Larry Foote, and Ryan Clark?

  • Answer: They are all key members of the Steelers defense who are being relied upon to get the Steelers back to the Super Bowl this year, AND they are all over 30 years old, some of them well over 30. I hope I'm wrong, but that seems to me to be an ominous red flag waiving over Heinz Field.

  • In case you missed it, there has been news on the Pitt Football Broadcast Team front of late. A few weeks ago, it was announced that Bill "Mr. Monotone" Fralic was leaving the booth after many years. No loss there except for those who used his commentary as a cure for insomnia. He will be replaced by Pat Bostic, who I believe still may have eligibility as a player left. Also, Pitt and 93.7 The Fan announced that Jon Burton will replace John Siebel as the sideline reporter. Pitt, is was said, was very unhappy with what they deemed to be Siebel's too critical comments about the Pitt football program on his daily talk show. That shouldn't be a problem with Burton, who should be the cheerleader that Pitt wants on their broadcasts.

  • There was no mention of why a sideline reporter is needed on a radio broadcast in the first place.

  • And speaking of cheerleaders, Billy Hilgrove will return as play-by-play man for the 100th year in a row. This will make bartenders in all Big East cities happy.

  • Getting back to movies, I picked up an interesting DVD set at Target the other day. It was packaged as a 20th Century Fox "Studio Classics" set, and included four "noir classics." Two of the movies are "Black Widow" and "Dangerous Crossing" which I have never heard of. One was "Laura" which I have heard of and is a very good movie, and the other is "Call Northside 777" which stars James Stewart and Richard Conte and was considered a true classic in the Sproule household at Saline Street. The whole set cost $9.99. A steal!


Allow me to close on a somber note, please. This past Wednesday evening, one of my former co-workers and good friends at Highmark, Alvin Rue, passed away after a battle with illness. I met Alvin on my very first day of work at Blue Cross in 1988, and he remained a good friend, and a regular lunch partner, throughout my entire time there. He was a truly good and decent man, and he will be missed . He is, indeed, an Absent Friend.

RIP, Alvin.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Georgia On My Mind

That was quite a four game scrum just concluded between the Pirates and Braves in Atlanta. Some thoughts and comments....

  • Tim Neverett and Bob Walk concluded on the post-game last night that that series was as close to playoff baseball as you'll ever see in mid-season. A bit hyperbolic, perhaps, but looking back over the four games, I have to agree. If those were the first four games of the NLCS instead of a four game mid-week series in July, the sports world would be in a frenzy awaiting games five, six, and seven.

  • Walk also made the observation that with one or two plays here and there, either team could have swept this series.

  • While we in Pittsburgh bemoan the Pirates inability to score runs, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the Braves weren't scoring many either.

  • That said, there is not scoring runs because the other team's pitchers are better than you on a given day, and there is not scoring runs because your hitters are completely over matched by the other team's pitching. That seemed to be the problem with the Pirates in these four games. Garrett Jones, Pedro Alvarez, Lyle Overbay and others looked like they didn't have the faintest idea what to do in most of their AB's against the Braves (Jones' solo HR on Wednesday notwithstanding).

  • And when you saw what the Braves bullpen did to the Pirates hitters, you wonder how the Braves have managed to lose 45 games this season.

  • Again, that said, the bullpen efforts of the Pirates were, I am sure, equally frustrating to the Braves and their fans.

  • As for what will forever be known as the "Jerry Meals Game", don't count me among the multitudes demanding instant replay in baseball games. At the risk of sounding like an old coot, I have no desire to see red flags coming out of dugouts, and excessive time wasted and added on to games that are already too long while the umpires go under the hood.

  • Besides, it is a hoary cliche but true that breaks like that seem to even out over 162 games. While it is a shame to lose a game in that manner, the players seemed to recover from it reasonably well, certainly a lot easier than the announcers did.

  • Plus, all of the anguish could have been avoided it the Pirates could have, you know, scratched out one lousy run over the course of the final 17 innings of that game.

  • Speaking of Alvarez, while it has only been four games since his recall from Indy, he really is struggling. Totally over matched against the Braves pitchers in this series. That said, the Pirates simply have to stick with him, I believe. He's young, you know what he is capable of, and you've invested just about everything in him. You really have to HOPE that he somehow finds "it" and starts hitting like he did over the last six weeks of last season.

  • After watching the Braves for four straight games, I really came away impressed with the play of their first baseman, Freddie Freeman. That is one nice looking young ball player. Wish the Pirates could find someone like that in their farm system. It would sure be an upgrade over Lyle Overbay!

  • The team is now approaching the final segment of a 13 game stretch against the Reds, Cardinals, Braves, and Phillies. When the stretch began, the morning crew on The Fan posed the question, Would you be happy if they went 6-7 during that stretch? I think most callers felt that, yes, that would be pretty good. They now sit at 5-5 on this stretch. A mere one of three in Philly would give them the 6-7 mark. Halladay and Lee go in the first two games. We'll see, but wouldn't you positively kill for 2-of-3 against the Phils?

OK, this leads us to Today, and the question of Where Do The Pirates Go From Here? or What Will Neal Huntington Do Before The Trade Deadline? My own thought is that he simply HAS to make some kind of a deal to make an upgrade in the offense. It was one thing to take an attitude of "who cares?" when the team was on the way to 95+ and 100+ loss seasons. I mean did it really matter if they ditched Andy LaRoche or Lastings Millegde at that point? But when you are a mere 1.5 games out of first with a chance of winning the division, standing pat is not really an option. It's not fair to the players who have hung in so valiantly up to this point, to the Manager, and, not incidentally, to the paying customers who are coming out in a manner not seen in 18 years to pay to watch the team play.

Having said that, I don't want to see the farm system gutted of the talent we are told is there (Taillon, Marte, Heredia) to land a guy like Hunter Pence, as much as I'd love to see him play here. This will be a big test for GM Neal, a much bigger one than trading Xavier Nady, which turned out great, or Jason Bay, which was not so great.

The Nutting/Coonelly/Huntington troika have insisted for four years now that they would step up to the plate, spend money, add payroll when it made sense for the team and when the time was right. That time appears to be 2011 in the NL Central. Now, we will see if they really meant it.

We can revisit this topic come Sunday evening.

Monday, July 25, 2011

State College Visit

I did talk about this on Facebook, but I have not yet commented in this space about our visit last week to State College wherein we visited George and Ann at their lovely home in Centre Hall and got to see their visiting grandchildren - and our great-nieces - Mara and Sophie Lowry, ages 13 and 9.

One of the highlights of the visit was me teaching Mara and Sophie to play blackjack. No doubt their parents will really appreciate this.

We also went to see the State College Spikes, the short season affiliate of the Pirates play the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. That is Pirates big-money draftee from last year Stetson Allie, #48, seventh from left, lined up for the national anthem. We didn't get to see Allie pitch that night. I also can tell you that in the Spikes 17-4 loss to the Scrappers, we didn't get to see anyone who looks to be of immediate help to the Bucs, either.

Finally, the heat that has been dogging us all in recent days was also smothering Centre County as well, so the mandatory visit to the Penn State Creamery (now called the Berkey Creamery after some fat-cat donor) was especially welcome this time around. Man, is the ice cream there good! They will pack it for you in dry ice so that it can survive a long road trip out of Penn State. Our only mistake was buying only one half-gallon of ice cream to bring home with us.

I recalled the story of the year that the Blue Cross Men's Golf League Outing was held at Toftrees Resort in State College. While most guys took an afternoon to hit the bars along College Avenue, I took a trip to The Creamery for ice cream! A wise choice indeed.

The NFL Is Back, but Did It Ever Really Go Away?

Well, the federal government is on the brink of shutting down, but all is right with the world because the NFL Owners and Players have come to an agreement and the lockout is now over. Joy exists throughout the land! Are you ready for some football?????

When this whole nonsense began, I vowed to pay no attention to it, not read about it, not write about, and I am happy to say that I pretty much stuck to that vow. I also said, although I am not sure if I wrote it here, and I am not sufficiently motivated to look it up, that not a single regular season game would be lost as a result of this labor nonsense.

So, not only has this been settled with no regular season games being lost, no exhibition games (at regular season prices) will be lost either. Wow, what a surprise! (Yes, I know that the Hall of Fame game in Canton has been canceled, but this is not a "home" game for either of the two teams involved. The only people who get hurt by the loss of that game are the people and businesses of Canton, Ohio, and I am sure that the 32 lodge brothers who comprise the NFL will not shed any tears for them.)

So, what we missed out on were mini-camps and "voluntary" OTA's, or, as Michael Wilbon put it, "things that didn't exist 20 years ago."

I did read Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback this morning, and I was struck by another predictable outcome of the new agreement: whining of the coaches over the fact that mini-camps, OTA's, training camps, two-a-days, padded practices, etc. will be reduced and/or eliminated under the new agreement. The game as we know it will cease to exist because the coaches won't be able to work these guys out 52 weeks a year. Or, so they say. My guess is that the good coaches will not miss a beat, nor will the viewers who devour the games every Sunday afternoon...and night...and Monday night...and Thursday nights.

OK, now that this is over, who do you think will be the Stillers long-snapper this coming season??????

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Reality Bites

It sure was fun with that steady diet of the Cubs and Astros before and after the All-Star break, but the Reds and the Cardinals have now doused the Pirates with a huge bucket of cold water reality over the last five games, and that hasn't been nearly as much fun. That the Pirates managed to win two of those games with the Reds is a tribute to what has been a remarkable pitching staff, but even those pitchers have been over matched against the Cardinals line-up, and the Cardinals' Pujols-Holliday-Berkman-Molina (Yadier Molina????) Murderers Row has only shown the stark contrast of the anemic Pirates offense. Seriously, do you any confidence in any Pirates hitter other that Presley, Walker, and McCutchen at this point? It's tough going when you send up six almost-automatic outs to the plate every game.

With that in mind, I will join the chorus of sportswriters, bloggers, and commentators asking why Pedro Alvarez is not up here in Pittsburgh. He is the only big power threat in the entire organization, and, the awful start in 2011 aside, he has shown that he can hit home runs in the major leagues. If Neal Huntington and the Marine drill instructors that run the Pirates minor leagues are trying to make a point about Alvarez' conditioning and/or work ethic, that would be fine if the Pirates were bobbing along near .500 way back in the middle of the standings, but the fact is, thanks to an apparently mediocre NL Central, the team is, for now, in the mix for winning the division. Alvarez can come up here now, and he could very possibly hit 15-20 home runs between now and the end of the season. We also know that any combination of Steve Pearce/Brandon Wood/Chase d'Arnaud will not come close to that kind of production. Of course, if they wait too much longer, the Pirates will be that team bobbing along near .500 way back in the middle of the standings.

After the Cardinals leave town today, the Pirates embark on a seven game stretch against the Phillies and Braves. The Cardinals? Well, now it's their turn to feast on the Cubs and Astros.

Having said all of this, let me put on my rose colored glasses and take a sip of Bucco Kool-Aid and remind all that this team won only 57 games last year. The most optimistic among us said that they might - MIGHT - win 70 games in 2011. Flirting with a pennant in July but failing to win it should not give a false negative on what still could turn out to be a remarkable turnaround from that awful team we all watched last year.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On Buccos and Bookstores

Was at PNC Park today to see the Pirates fail to sweep the Reds. Hey, that's OK, you can't win 'em all, and as someone (I think it might have been Beano Cook) once said, "the other guys get paid, too," and it was still a series sweep, and you'll take those every time, right?

Still, this three game series with the Reds showcased the best and the worst of the 2011 Pirates. On the plus side, the pitching staff gives up one earned run in 27 innings. On the minus side, the Pirates offense manages to score four runs in three games. Not easy to win 2 of 3 when that's all your bats are doing.

Without looking at the MLB standings as I write this, were the Pirates in any other division, we would be talking about their 51-46 record as a sort of gee-isn't-it-nice-that-they-are-over-.500. However, in the NL Central, they are in first place and have a real shot at winning this division. So, GM Neal has some decisions to make between now and July 31.

My own thoughts:

  • Pedro Alvarez is hitting the cover off the ball in Indy. Get him up here and put him at third. He was the guy you drafted to be "the man" so let him have at it.

  • The pending return of Steve Pearce does not excite me. Pearce has proven to be the proverbial "Quad-A" player over the years. He might be a better bat off the bench than Brandon Wood or Mike Diaz, but he is not the guy who will carry the team down the stretch.

  • Ditto Ryan Doumit.

  • Bloggin' Bob Smizik made a strong case today for acquiring Carlos Pena to play first base.

  • The bullpen needs someone other than Jose "walk the first batter" Veras to get to Joel Hanrahan. Maybe Jason Grilli is that guy, but maybe that guy is Daniel McCutchen or Chris Resop.

  • All the talk about Hunter Pence strikes me as nuts. Would I like to have Pence in the Pirates picket line? Damn right I would, but the cost would be way too steep, and I can't see Houston parting with him. He's the guy Houston needs to rebuild their team around. Of course, we Pirates fans said the same about Nate McLouth.

  • Speaking of Daniel McCutchen, do you think the Yankees would like a do-over on that Xavier Nady trade?


On the subject of bookstores, I note with sadness that Borders Bookstores will be going out of business within the next 60-90 days. That means that I will now have to leave the North Hills and drive to either Cranberry, Homestead, or Robinson the shop in a major bookstore, Barnes and Noble, and independently owned bookstores are rarer than hen's teeth.

Now I realize that as the owner of a Kindle, I am part of the problem that has contributed to the demise of Borders, but have you noted the irony that it was the jumbo chains such as Borders that killed the smaller independents? Hoisted on their own petard, as The Bard would have put it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

For Those of Us Who Never Left.....

As people run over each other jumping on the Bucco Bandwagon these days, Dejan Kovacevic has something for those of us who never left. As DK says, we know who we are.

Read on:

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Kids from James Madison University

Did an interesting tour today at the Heinz History Center.

A bus from James Madison University in Virginia arrived with a group of 40 high school age kids. The purpose was to get kids who might not be considering college to change their minds about pursuing a higher education. They were in Cleveland yesterday and Pittsburgh today - they were headed for Kennywood after they left the HHC - before heading back to Virginia tomorrow.

All of the kids were African-American, so that was the emphasis of the tour (Pittsburgh Courier, jazz in the Hill District, Negro Leagues etc). When looking over some of the baseball stuff in the sports museum, one of the kids asked me if we had any stuff from Andrew McCutchen. When another kid asked who that was, the first kid replied "that good dude from the Pirates with the dreads."

I also found it interesting that these kids from Virginia knew more about Franco Harris and the Immaculate Reception than I find many similar aged kids from Pittsburgh know. More than a few of them were also familiar with Roberto Clemente and his story. (On the other hand, very few of them knew the story of Jesse Owens. Can't win 'em all, I suppose.)

I really enjoy doing a tour with people who are NOT from Pittsburgh. You get a whole different perspective. And of course, a middle aged white guy like me really got a different perspective from this group of kids today. It was good experience.

First Place Pirates

It is only by mere percentage points, but, nevertheless, THE PIRATES ARE IN FIRST PLACE in the NL Central this morning. I could not let this moment pass without noting in this space.

First off, the game that Jeff Karstens pitched last night can only be called "masterful." Only 83 pitches and he didn't even seem, as John Wehner noted, to break a sweat. And the two RBI trip-trip-triple for Andrew McCutchen was another thing of beauty in that game last night.

There is so much stuff on Facebook today and in the blogs (please check out Bob Smizik in the PG and DK in the Trib), that there is not much that I can add here. Dejan noted a t-shirt he saw a young kid wearing in town yesterday that said: "I was a Pirates fan before it was cool." I want one of those!!

Who knows where this will lead or how long it will last, but it sure is an amazing feeling on the morning of July 16!

Friday, July 15, 2011

"And Then There Were None" by Agatha Christie

Last night I finished reading the Agatha Christie 1939 classic, "And Then There Were None." I first read this book when I was in high school, and I have probably read it at least a half dozen times in all of these intervening years. It is a book that made me an immediate and lifelong fan of both Agatha Christie and mystery, detective, and thriller novels. It is a "hobby" that I treasure to this day.

You probably know the story: ten people are invited to spend a weekend on a remote island off of the English coast. Upon arrival, each is accused of a crime from their past. Then, one by one, each is killed in accordance with the Ten Little Indians nursery rhyme. But who is doing it, how are they doing it, and why are they doing it? This may well be the most perfect mystery story ever written.

Earlier this year, I gave a copy of this novel to my 13 year old nephew, Nathan, and he loved it. I like to think that I have converted yet another generation to the genius of Agatha Christie.

By the way, if your only knowledge of this story is one of the many film adaptations of the novel, let me advise you that the book has an entirely different, and much more satisfying, ending.

Read the book if you haven't done so, and if it has been many years since you have read it, read it again. You won't be sorry.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Selected Short Subjects: Harrison, Ward, Schwartz, and Some "Enough Alreadys"

Back on October 18, 2010 (you could look it up), I posted the following comment in this space:

If James Harrison played for another team, he'd be the most hated man in Pittsburgh. That hit on Joshua Cribbs SHOULD have been flagged, and while I can't honestly say that I saw the second hit on the Browns WR, it sounded like it was even worse from reading the paper today.

Following the latest brouhaha over Harrison resulting from his Men's Journal interview, I stand by this comment more that ever. Enough Already with James Harrison.

Speaking of Enough Already, let add the following:

Enough Already with the debate on what to do with the Civic Arena. Does anyone really, truly believe that if the Arena is preserved, it is going to be anything but a big empty building in dahntahn Pittsburgh.

And Enough Already with letters to the editor about no more jazz music on WDUQ-FM

A speaking of the Steelers, the Hines Ward DUI arrest can only be described as something that is hugely disappointing. Ward has certainly been a good ambassador for the Steelers and within the community over the years (he has done great work for the Highmark Caring Place, e.g.), so an offense like DUI is, as I say very disappointing. Lucky for everyone that all he hit in his car was a curbstone, and that a police officer was there to prevent possible tragedies.

Ward's agent should shut up about how he wasn't impaired, and Ward should humbly accept his punishment and agree to serve as an example of what not to do, which I suspect he will.

And Enough Already with sports agents weaseling about their client's boorish behaviour, as both Ward's and Harrison's have been doing of late.

To Absent Friends. Did you see in the paper news of the death of Sherwood Schwartz? He was the creator of legendary TV sitcoms "Gilligan's Island" and "The Brady Bunch", and he also was the writer of those shows' equally legendary theme songs. No one will ever confuse Schwartz with George Bernard Shaw, but I'll bet there are more of you out there than are willing to admit that can sing every line of those theme songs!

RIP Sherwood Schwartz.

Maybe the Steelers need to institute a rule that prohibits their players from going to Georgia in the off season.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Book Review: "The President Is A Sick Man"

OK, until I read this book, this is what I knew about Grover Cleveland:

He was the only man to serve two non-consecutive terms as President.

He was married in the White House to a MUCH younger woman.

He was rumored to have fathered an illegitimate child prior to becoming President.

That's it; that's the list.

However, on July 1, 1893, four months into his second administration, he boarded a private yacht in Long Island Sound, and, effectively "disappeared" for five days. While on that yacht, a 19th century "dream team" of surgeons performed an operation and removed a cancerous tumor from the mouth of the President of the United States. Two months later a Philadelphia newspaper reporter named E.J. Edwards came up with the scoop of the century and reported that this surgery took place. The administration denied that this was so, and Edwards was pretty much vilified by the rest of the press. And these events occurred while the nation was in an economic depression while Cleveland was battling Congress to abandon the Silver Standard and return to the Gold Standard (remember that from your US History classes?).

Author Matthew Algeo writes a fascinating tale about this entire episode. In a day of 24 Hour News, where every Presidential move is reported upon endlessly and in never ending detail, it is hard to imagine that such an event could take place in such secrecy.

If you are a Presidency and/or a history buff, or just like a good story, you will find this book most interesting.

Oh, and as for the young wife....Frances Folsom was 21 years old when she married 49 year old President Grover Cleveland. She remains to this day the youngest First Lady in history, and the only First Lady to give birth while in the White House, which she did three times. She was also the first Presidential widow to remarry, and was the only one to do so until Jacqueline Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis.

Fun facts for today!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

At This Time Last Year.....

The Pirates arrived at the All-Star Break this afternoon with a 47-43 record and, at worst, will be one game out of first place in the NL Central at the end of the day. This is what I wrote in this blog at a comparable point last season:

As for the Pirates, wow, what a road trip to lead into the All-Star Break. They now sit at 30-58, and only one game ahead of the Orioles for the worst record in baseball and the chance for the #1 pick in next year's entry draft. They are on pace to finish at 55-107. No one expected this crew to be a .500 team, but, be honest now, did you ever think that they would be THIS bad?For the remaining 78 games, they need to go....-- 51-23 to finish at .500 (OK, stop laughing now!)-- 33-41 to avoid 100 losses-- 21-53 to avoid the 112 loss season of the awful 1952 team.

As for the "second season" of 84 games that began on July 1 (see my earlier post on this), the team now stands at 3-7, thanks to that abomination of a road trip to Houston and Milwaukee.

Talk about what a difference a year makes? When he was hired, I said that if Clint Hurdle could coax 70 wins out of this team, he should be Manager of the Year, and here we stand with the Pirates in contention for the Division title.

A very long, very hard 72 games lie ahead, but I'll say right now that this season sure has been a blast so far.

Let's Go Bucs!!!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bombs Bursting In Air

With apologies to Francis Scott Key, but how appropriate to use his words after the dramatic home run struck by Mike "Fort" McKenry last night? I have sat through a lot of dreadful and meaningless games over the past 18 years at Three Rivers Stadium and PNC Park, and I have often stated that I'd absolutely love to see the Pirates play a meaningful game at PNC in September some year.

Well, it's not September yet, but they played a VERY meaningful game in July last night and what a treat. The Pirates trailed, were tied, led, and then trailed again, only to win it with a three run blast in the bottom of the eighth from the most unlikely of offensive heroes. That was great, great stuff that made a game that lasted 3 hours and 45 minutes seem to pass in the blink of an eye.

And is there anything cooler in Pittsburgh sports right now that watching Joel Hanrahan come in from the bullpen to put the hammer down for the Bucs in the ninth? He is amazing, and for those of you have not been at PNC Park to see this phenomenon, here is what plays on the scoreboard as Hanrahan enters the game:

Being in the crowd walking over the Clemente Bridge after that game was fabulous. A real playoff atmosphere. I'm not sure how the rest of this Pirates season will progress, but so far, it has been an absolute blast!!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

On the Radio.....

The Grandstander went Old School tonight and chose to bypass the HD flatscreen and listen to the Pirates game while sitting on the back deck with a cold brew and a transistor radio. It was rather pleasant to do so, and it brought back a lot of memories of simpler times while sitting on the front porch at 4224 Saline Street. If I closed my eyes, I could almost hear the bell ringing on Artie's Ice Cream truck.

OK, so now, in addition to going Old School, I have also gone Rick "Things That Aren't there Anymore" Sebak on you.

As for the game itself, Steve Blass made the comment that it is amazing how quickly a ball game can change. Charlie Morton cruises through five innings with a 1-0 lead, and in the sixth inning, in the space of about three minutes and a dozen pitches, it all unraveled. Oh, well, that's baseball.

The good news is that the Cardinals are also getting drubbed as I type this, and the Bucs should still be 1 and 1/2 games out of first place by the end of the night (albeit in third and not second place, as the Hated Brewers won this afternoon).

Three with the Cubs coming up, and another series win is certainly obtainable.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Happy Fourth of July!!!

Commenting on the Blogs

I am not sure what caused it, but it seems that folks were unable to post comments on the blog posts in recent weeks. I am also not sure what happened to resolve it, but it now appears that the problem has resolved itself.

That being the case, please fire away with your comments.

The Grandstander looks forward to having people, in the words of Myron Cope, back in the store!!

Who's Being Stupid Here?

Let me get this straight, free agent Jaromir Jagr spurns the Penguins' contract offer in favor of an offer that pays him MORE MONEY, and the team is "shocked" and "livid" over Jagr's decision. The Penguins had faith that Jagr would accept their offer because of his loyalty and admiration for Mario Lemieux, his wanting to make things right with the fans of Pittsburgh, and the desire to see his #68 jersey (er, sorry, "sweater") raised to the Consol Energy Center's rafters.


This is a pro athlete, guys. It's all about the money. It is always about the money. That the Pens brain trust is surprised over this tells me that perhaps they are not as sharp and astute as everyone always credits them. What is even more surprising is that Mario Lemieux, who knows a thing or two about collecting all of his money, is playing the victim here.

I'll leave it to the hockey experts to decide whether or not signing a 40 year old maybe-not-over-the-hill-but-clearly-on-the-downside-of-his-career player was the right move, but please don't act hurt over Jagr's spurning of Saint Mario, or being surprised that he would sign with - gasp! - the Flyers just because they offered him more money.

Friday, July 1, 2011

First Half Thoughts and a "Name to Remember"

The Pirates are now one game short of the actual half-way mark of the season, and with their 41st win last night, they are assured of finishing the first 81 games of the season with a +.500 mark. Raise your hand if you predicted that back on Opening Day. I sure didn't.

Some thoughts, questions, and comments on the first half of the '11 campaign.

  • Obvioulsy, the pitching on this team has been beyond anyone's expectations. Kevin Correia has already given the team something it lacked all of last season - a pitcher with double digit wins.

  • The bullpen has also been lights out, and there are not enough superlatives to describe Joel Hanarahan.

  • Looking at the performances of the eight man, everyday line-up and you ask yourself "how is this team over .500 at this point?" The performance and output at catcher, first base, third base, and right field has can be described as anywhere from "underachieving" to "downright lousy."

  • Notice I left short stop off of the list above? Ronny Cedeno is no all-star, to be sure, but as of this morning he is hitting .252 and has been playing solid, if unspectacular, defense. Who saw that coming?

  • When you consider the offensive holes in this line-up, plus the injuries (seven catchers used so far!), let's give Clint Hurdle huge props for the smoke and mirrors act that has this team where it is today.

  • You hear talk that the Pirates should approach the trade deadline as "buyers" to get "a bat" to help them out "down the stretch." Paul Maholm's name has often been mentioned as the guy to trade. I have some problems with that:

  • First off, do you REALLY think the Pirates can be a championship contender to the point that you trade a guy who has, won-loss record aside, pitched so well for you?

  • Second, unless you would get a player or players, quality players, who can help the Pirates, now, in 2011, trading Maholm will be viewed as another penny-pinching salary dump and would be yet another PR disaster for the team.

  • Third, the "bat" that so many are clamoring to obtain could very well be Pedro Alvarez, currently rehabbing in Bradenton. Yes, we know that Alvarez was lousy in the first month and a half of the season, but he is still the guy that the Pirates MUST have be the power hitter that he showed he could be last season.

  • Fourth, Ryan Doumit is another "bat" that will return before the month of July is done. True, Doumit is no Johnny Bench, but he is damn sight better than Mike McKenry.

The Pirates Coonelly/Huntington Brain Trust has said for years that ".500 is not the goal; winning championships is the goal" and now that the team has played half a season of .500 ball, I have to agree with them. Yes, getting the losing seasons streak monkey off their back is important, certainly to the fans, but I sit this morning a lot more excited that they are only two games out of first place in the NL Central. Do I really think that they can make the playoffs? For some of the reasons listed above, no I do not, but I have to say that I see progress for the first time since I can remember. I expect that they will flirt with the .500 mark for the balance of the season, and maybe, given the injuries to the Cardinals, they might be in the hunt for the Division, stranger things have happened. First, though, they have to start beating the Hated Brewers in Miller Park. When THAT happens, then I will say that anything is possible.

Let me veer into different Bucco area to close out. I am going to go "Joe L. Brown Show" on you and give you a "Name to Remember." Two summers ago, I attended a State College Spikes game, and saw pitcher name Phillip Irwin pitch for the Spikes. Irwin had just been drafted in the 21st round by the Pirates a few weeks before, and this could well have been his first ever professional game. I remember that the Spikes won that game, and while I don't have his numbers from that game, I can recall that Irwin looked very good in that game. Since that time, this has been Irwin's career path.

  • He finished that '09 Spikes season with a 1-2 record, a 2.12 ERA with 32K and 6BB in 29.2 IP. He made the New York-Penn League All-Star team.

  • In 2010, he pitched a full season in West Virginia and went 6-3, 3.35, 111K, 20BB in 113 IP.

  • He started 2011 in Bradenton and went 5-0, 2.03, 40K, 12BB in 53.1 IP.

  • He was promoted to Altoona where after two starts he is 1-1, 2.45, 8K, 1BB in 11 IP

Pretty impressive numbers, yet in all the talk about all of the "young arms" in the Pirates system, you never hear Irwin's name mentioned. Well, if and when this guy comes to the Bucs and becomes a star, remember that you heard it here first.