Monday, October 31, 2011

Some Baseball News

Well, we can all calm down after that big Steelers win yesterday, and it has been three whole days since the end of the World Series, so why not kick off the Hot Stove Season right now.

In some not so surprising news, the Pirates made it official today that they will not be picking up the club options for four players for 2012: pitcher Paul Maholm, catchers Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder, and shortstop Ronny Cedeno. The Maholm and Doumit moves are not surprising since they represent $25.25 million in salary obligations on the part of the team. The Snyder move is somewhat surprising because, while Snyder would have cost them $6.75 million in salary next year, they have to have somebody who can catch and at least have a reasonable chance at hitting the ball. The Cedeno move is a real surprise since his salary next year would have been a relative pittance, $3 million, and despite his mental lapses that tend to drive you absolutely crazy, it has been obvious that the Pirates have been unable to find - or pay - anyone who can do any better (see Wood, Brandon).

If you are keeping score at home, the Pirates have now pared off $35 million in salary obligations for 2012 and are in desperate need of a catcher, a shortstop, and at least one starting pitcher, and this is in addition to everything else a 90 loss team needs. What exactly will they do with that $35 million? Not nearly enough to sign Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins to play shortstop or CJ Wilson to pitch. Maybe they will sink that money into securing Andrew McCutchen or Neil Walker to long term deals. Or maybe it will go into "player development" and be used to help the long term plans of the team as the current team struggles to avoid 90 losses again next season.

As I read somewhere today, it's going to be an interesting off season watching GM Neal trying to plug these holes. Right now, I am having a very sinking feeling that the team we watch in 2012 could be a lot worse than what we saw in 2011.


Elsewhere in baseball, more surprising news arrived with the announcement of Tony LaRussa's retirement. Those who know me know that I am no big fan of LaRussa's. I thought him to be smug and self-important and someone who relished the "genius" tag that the George Wills and Buzz Bissingers of the world bestowed upon him. I also thought that he was allowed to skate on that DUI charge of a few years back. To my knowledge, he never received a reprimand from either MLB or the Cardinals on that.

Be all that as it may, you cannot take away from his accomplishments. Only Connie Mack and John McGraw won more games as a manager, and he had to have had something to do with that two month run that the Cardinals just pulled off. So his eventual plaque in the Baseball of Fame will be well deserved.

And he is certainly going out on a high note!


One other baseball note. Last week on Pardon the Interruption, Tony and Mike interviewed the newly appointed Cubs major domo Theo Epstein, late of the Boston Red Sox. When asked what it would take to turn the Cubs around, Theo spouted the usual baseball b.s. about player development, setting up a flow of talent that would turn the team into a contender year in and year out, and not just for a one shot deal and on and on and on. It was the same line that we have been hearing for Coonelly and Huntington since their arrival in 2007. I mean, word for word. I guess the big difference is that Theo had the unlimited checkbook of John Henry in Boston to make it work, and I suspect those same resources will be available to him in the Windy City.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Book Review: "Shock Wave"

I recently finished reading John Sandford's newest novel, "Shock Wave." Earlier in the year, I had read an reviewed Sandford's other book this year, "Buried Prey", which featured Sandford's signature character, Minnesota police detective chief Lucas Davenport. "Shock Wave" features Sandford's other series character, police detective Virgil Flowers.

Flowers was actually a minor character in the Davenport books who Sandford, I am happy to say, decided to spin off in his own series of novels. He still works for Davenport in the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), and Lucas appears "off-screen" in these novels, usually as a sort of sounding board for Virgil as he conducts his investigations.

In this novel, a huge big box retailer, PyeMart, is planning on opening a new store in the small Minnesota town of Butternut Falls. Having this store in the community would virtually destroy existing small businesses in the community and, essentially, ruin the lives of many, many people in the town. So someone intends to stop it by planting bombs at both PyeMart headquarters and at or near the proposed construction site. Several people have been killed by these bombs. Finding the bomber is Virgil's job.

It's a great story with terrifically drawn characters. (There is one scene where Virgil is interviewing a teen aged boy who is working as a desk clerk at the motel where he is staying about a woman who might be somehow involved with a possible suspect. It is a classic scene.) This is the I believe the fifth Virgil flowers novel that Sandford has written, and while they are not yet quite the equal of the Lucas Davenport "Prey" novels, they are rapidly closing in on them.

Check them out.

By the way, when I read stories with series characters like these, I always try to picture the actors who would portray them if they were made into movies. I always had a hard time coming up with an actor for Lucas Davenport. I have recently earned that USA Network has made a movie of the book "Certain Prey" and that it will star Mark Harmon as Lucas. It will air next Sunday, November 6. I'm thinking that Harmon might be a little too old for the part, but I am also thinking that he just may be able to pull it off. I'm looking forward to watching it.

Steelers 25 - Patriots 17

Well, I certainly didn't see THIS one coming.

The Steelers certainly dominated New England this afternoon in that 25-17 victory. The closeness of the score doesn't reflect the dominating nature of the win, and as one Loyal Reader mentioned to me, NE had to screw up an onside kick to assure the win. And I do question the wisdom of the two pass attempts at the end that resulted in sacks that led to the Steelers having to punt the ball and give NE yet one more chance, albeit a slim one, to score again. Still, that was the New England Patriots and Tom Brady that they were playing out there. It wasn't supposed to be easy.

I almost screamed and applauded something that Phil Simms said in the broadcast. He referenced how people often say that the Steelers need to go back to "playing Steelers football", meaning a constant, pounding running game. While I can't quote Simms directly, what he said was that "Steelers football" in 2011 is NOT running the football. It is throwing the football. When you have an elite quarterback and a corps of receivers like the Steelers have, your are SUPPOSED TO RELY ON PASSING THE FOOTBALL. Thank you, Phil. I have been saying that for at least the last two seasons. However, I fully expect the talk show crowd, who don't realize that Woody Hayes and Jock Sutherland are dead, to be filling the airwaves starting tomorrow - if they aren't already - that "Ariens needsta be runnin' the ball more n'at."

The win today now assures that the Yinzers of Steelers Nation will be frothing at the mouth all week over the arrival of the Ravens at Heinz Field next Sunday night. It will be a big game for certain, and the hype will be waaayyyy over the top. Probably best to not turn on the radio much this week.

Quickie Thoughts on a Sunday Morning

Wow, it has been a busy time these last several days. Not a lot of time to post, but some quick thoughts:

  • What a World Series! I am planning a more detailed write-up on this later in the week, but it sure was a dandy.

  • Steelers vs Patriots this afternoon. I am not hopeful.

  • Central advances to the quarter-finals of the WPIAL Soccer tourney. Next game on Tuesday night.

  • With the World Series over, we finally caught up on all back-logged TV shows on DVR last night with a marathon three episode viewing of "Person of Interest." Lot of people died over that three hour period!

  • Now there are all those movies I DVR'd from TCM over the last few weeks.

  • The Pitt hoopsters opened with a 101-33 squeaker over D-II LaRoche college yesterday. Robert Morris opens with a similar cannon-fodder opponent tomorrow night, wheeling Jesuit.

  • Off to see nephew Brian and the North Pittsburgh Ironmen footballers this afternoon. good prelim for the Steelers game!

Enjoy the day, everyone!

SABR Meeting

Just for the heck of it, I am sending along to all Grandstander Loyal Readers a summary of yesterday's meeting of SABR's Pittsburgh Chapter (some of you may have already read this in another forum):

The Pittsburgh / Forbes Field Chapter of SABR held its Fall meeting yesterday, October 29, at the Senator John Heinz Western Pennsylvania History Center. Despite a surprise pre-Halloween snowstorm that delayed the arrival of many of the attendees, a total of 45 people attended the meeting.

Our guest speaker was Joe Jordano, Head Baseball Coach at the University of Pittsburgh. Coach Jordano has been at the helm of the Panthers for 15 seasons, and in 2012, he will become the winningest coach in Pitt baseball history. He informed the group that since he became coach in 1997, over 50 Panthers players have been drafted and signed by major league teams. Pitt will be one of the strongest teams in the Big East in 2012, and Coach Jordano looks forward to the challenges that Pitt will face when they move to Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014.

The Chapter plans on attending a Pitt baseball game as a group this spring at Pitt’s Peterson Athletic Complex on campus.

Thanks go out to member Marky Billson for arranging the Coach’s appearance.

The day also included the following member presentations:

Bob Sproule talked about attending the World Series Gala at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Bill Sproule presented “A Casual Fan Looks at Some Numbers” concerning the 2011 baseball season. Combining OPS and WHIP, Bill’s numbers had the eight teams that made the MLB Playoffs occupying eight of the first nine slots in his “final standings.”

Nina Schreiner talked about her summer as an intern at the Baseball of Fame. Great stories and pictures from her most interesting summer job were a part of her presentation.

Joe Guzzardi discussed the trend of more foreign born players entering the Major Leagues.

Jim Haller conducted the ballpark-themed trivia contest, won by Joe Elinich.

Len Martin discussed the possibility of SABR becoming involved in an attempt to preserve, by some means, a marking of the spot of home plate from old Exposition Park, site of the first World Series in 1903. Len and others from SABR had determined the spot of home plate back in 2003, and that land will soon be developed, probably as an office building, within the next year.

Sam Reich presented his ideas for leveling the playing field among all teams in MLB. It involves additional draft picks for some teams and world wide entry draft.

The raffle prize, a tee shirt from the Baseball Hall of Fame that featured the HOF plaque of Roberto Clemente, was won by member Alan Steinberg.

Future plans that were discussed for the Chapter for 2012 included attending a Pirates game as a group, the aforementioned University of Pittsburgh game, possible plans for SABR Day on January 28, attending the Cleveland chapter meeting on February 4, our winter Hot Stove gathering at SoHo Restaurant sometime following the Super Bowl, and another chapter outing to see a Pittsburgh Franklins Vintage Base Ball Game next summer.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Game Six

I am not sure that there is anything that I can say that will capture what a ball game last night's Game Six was. If you went to bed early, you missed an absolute classic. If you stayed 'til the end, the improbable end, you will not care in the least that you might be just a little sleepy as you go through your day today.

In his blog today in the Trib, Dejan Kovacevic states it perfectly:

Baseball is awesome.
It’s beautiful even if it’s ugly.
It moves at just the right pace even when it’s long.
There’s no clock, no hope truly dashed until the last pitch … once, then twice, then as many times as St. Louis can send up David Freese to illustrate it again and again.
If you didn’t stay up last night, suffice it to say you missed the best World Series game since the last time Bill Mazeroski faced Ralph Terry.

So, so much to talk about, but let's pick one strategic point:

Bottom of the tenth, two outs, Rangers lead 9-8, runner on second, Albert Pujols due up, Lance Berkman on deck. What do you do?

Well, on of the oldest adages in baseball is that "you never intentionally walk the winning run." But this is Albert Pujols coming to the plate. And, save for that inhuman Game 3 that Albert had, he has been impotent at the plate throughout the Series. And, Berkman has been the Cardinals best hitter in the Series, and has two hits already in this game. But, Pujols doubled in his last at bat. So, what do you do? Ron Washington elects to walk Pujols intentionally, Berkman then gets his third hit of the night, ties the game and sets the stage for David Freese's 11th inning heroics.

I said at the beginning that while I had no particular rooting interest in either team, what I really wanted was a Game Seven. Many folks on Facebook echoed those thoughts. Well, we are getting a Game Seven, and can it possibly top what we saw in Game Six? Hard to imagine, but I cannot wait to see it. Two schools of thought as to what might happen. (1) The Rangers will be so thoroughly demoralized for letting that one go in Game Six, that they cannot possibly win Game Seven. (2) Cardinals will be so emotionally spent after coming from behind in ninth and tenth innings, and winning in the eleventh, that they cannot possibly win Game Seven.

I am not going to even try to predict what might happen, but the way these two teams have played these first six game, I'm not sure either of those premises will hold. I'm guessing another gut-wrencher tonight. It will only be fitting for one of the best World Series in recent memory.

And I loved how Joe Buck called the home run in the eleventh, echoing his father's call in Game Six of the '91 Series: "We'll see you tomorrow night, folks."

I can't wait.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Names on a Brick

When Marilyn and I last visited Cooperstown, it was in October, 2006, shortly after the deaths of her mother and my dad. The trip was made as much to get away from town and clear our heads after a very emotional period of our lives as it was to see the Hall of Fame. It was a very nice, if bittersweet, trip.

While there, we picked up an informational brochure that described a fundraising campaign to help maintain and upgrade Doubleday Field. For Christmas that year, Marilyn had purchased a brick with an inscription that would be placed on the walkways outside of Doubleday Field. As the years went by, we kind of forgot all about it, and it wasn't even on our radar on our trip to Cooperstown this past weekend. It wasn't until we walked up to Doubleday Field and actually saw the inscribed paver stones that we even thought to look for it.

After some intense searching, we found the stone, and here it is:

I have to tell you that seeing that brick was a pretty emotional experience for both of us. It is really neat to know that it will sit in Cooperstown forever.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Cooperstown World Series Journey

In the last installment of The Grandstander, I had hinted that Marilyn and I would be watching Game 3 of the World Series from a most unique vantage point. From the title of this post and the picture above, you have by now figured it out (as did one astute Loyal Reader) just exactly where that was.

For the last 15 years, the Baseball Hall of Fame has held a Members event, a World Series Gala, on the Saturday night game of the World Series. Since I first read about it, this is something that I have always wanted to do, and this year, we did it! So cross of another item from the Baseball Bucket List.

For Marilyn and I, this was out fifth visit to Cooperstown, and we never get tired of it. (We always seem to forget how long a drive it is, though. For some reason, we had it in our minds that it was about a 5 and 1/2 to 6 hour trip. I wish. It's an easy drive, all but the last 25 miles are on interstate highways, but it's long and somewhat boring. Eight hours to get there on Friday, but only 7.5 hours to get home on Sunday!) We left bright and early on Friday and arrived in Cooperstown by 2:00.

We spent that first afternoon exploring the Hall of Fame itself, and, of course, dropping a bunch of cash in the gift shop. This was about a two-and-a-half hour visit exploring some of the new exhibits added since our last visit in 2006. There are two exceptional new permanent exhibits. One is called "Chasing the Dream" and is dedicated to the life and career of Hank Aaron. The other is called "One for the Books: Baseball Records & The Stories Behind Them." Great exhibits. The Records exhibit has all sorts of interactive stuff where you can look up both career and active records for just about any thing you can think of. You could spend hours in that exhibit alone.

Stopped after that at a local bar for a beer and some wings, before our one big indulgence of the trip - dinner at the Hawkeye Grill in the super ritzy Otesaga Hotel. This was the one big disappointment of the trip since the steak that I ordered had the consistency of the sole of a nice pair of Florshiems. What are you gonna do? It happens sometimes. On the bright side, Marilyn's shrimp dinner was perfect.

Saturday began with breakfast at the Doubleday Cafe and visit to a terrific local farmer's market held every Saturday morning outside of Doubleday Field. We then went our separate ways. Marilyn explored the various shops of downtown Cooperstown, while I spent close to four more hours in the HOF on my own. What can I say? It was four hours well spent. We then met up and had a dinner at a another local tavern, where the terrific bacon cheeseburgers more than compensated for the bummer steak of the night before.

Then, of course, came the event that brought us to Cooperstown this time around. Here we are on our way into the Hall and seated in The Grandstander Theater:

The theater holds a little over 200 people and it was packed. The Fox telecast of the game was projected onto the big movie screen. In the course of the evening, we learned that there were people in attendance from 15 states, Canada, and one person from Cambodia! The Hall provided free hot dogs, soft drinks, and chips (courtesy of Price Chopper Supermarkets!), and between each commercial break, they would call people from the audience to answer various trivia questions. The questions were easy enough, and with help from the audience, no one ever lost when they were called to the stage.

This led to a really big thrill for me, as my number was selected to come on down to answer the questions. When I said where I was from and that I was a Pirates fan, the emcee asked if I thought the Pirates would ever get to the big screen behind us. My response was "I hope in my lifetime" whereupon some guy in the audience yelled "and just how old ARE you?" Gives you an idea of what kind of a fun night it was. For answering my questions correctly and because I was a Pirates fan, my prize was a beautiful matted photograph of Roberto Clemente, which will be framed and find a place of honor in our house!

Unfortunately, the lighting in the Grandstand Theater was such that it didn't lend itself to picture taking, but the one below did come out pretty well, and will give you and idea of what it was like.

The game itself was the one that will forever be known as the "Albert Pujols Game", and the fact that it was such a blowout took some of the excitement out of the evening. Since the game ran so late, a lot of people left early, which also took some of the edge off the night. Too bad it wasn't one of those edge-of-the-seat pitching duels that the other three games have been.

I can't say enough about the great job that Hall of Fame did in putting this event together. It was just a completely and totally FUN event from start to finish. I think that the only way that I would enjoy a World Series game more would be to watch one in person at PNC Park.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cardinals 3 - Rangers 2...Game One Reactions

Well, that was a dandy of a game last night to open the World Series. None of those high scoring extravaganzas that closed out both LCS's, but some great pitching by both teams and very timely hitting on the part of the victorious Cardinals.

I was watching the game on TV, of course, but in the company of many friends out there in the Facebook and Twitter worlds. I don't want to go all geeky on you, but it's kind of a neat experience, I have to say. Much of the talk centered on the Fox broadcasters and how much everyone seems to hate them. Tim McCarver seems to be a bigger lightning rod for anger and hatred that Barack Obama and John Boehner combined. I remain in the distinct minority of those in the audience who actually like McCarver on the broadcasts. Am I the only one??

I will also take the two man tandem of Joe Buck and McCarver over the three-in-a-booth circus that TBS inflicted on us in the playoffs and that ESPN went with all season long. I also recall watching the the rebroadcast of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series last year and having solo announcers, Bob Prince and Mel Allen, split the announcing duties. One guy doing the telecast in the booth. Can you imagine such a concept. I am betting that if some network tried it today, it would be a huge hit. Of course, they would first have to find someone as good as Mel Allen, which might prove more difficult that the Pirates finding a decent catcher for 2012.

Of course, the big talk was about the Adrian Beltre did-the-ball-hit-his-foot-or-not call in the ninth inning. I did not listen to Mike & Mike today, but I am guessing that Mike Greenberg was probably weeping over the need to install instant replay in baseball RIGHT NOW. I say NO to this idea, and here's why. IF you had replay challenges, and IF you applied the same football logic to the baseball system, the replays last night did not provide "indisputable video proof" to allow the call on the field to be overturned. Not to my eye anyway. I am not sure if the umpire consulted with his colleagues - I think he did - to confer and get the call right, as they say, but that should be as far as it goes. Now, did the ball hit Beltre in the foot? It probably did, because it doesn't seem likely that Beltre could have come up with a fake act as quickly as he did, but, hey, to apply a golf metaphor here, that's just the rub of the green. Plays like this happen all the time in baseball. If this happens in a Royals-Mariners game in September, or, say, in the 19th inning of a Pirates-Braves game in July, no one notices. Well, they did notice that Pirates-Braves snafu, but you get my point. Too bad for the Rangers that this happened in Game One of the World Series, but that, as they say, is baseball, and they have as many as six games left to even things out.

And, hey, wouldn't it have been great if Jerry Meals was the home plate ump last night?

TEASER: The Grandstander and Mrs. Grandstander have a special viewing experience lined up for viewing Game Three of the Series. No, we will not be in Arlington sitting with Nolan Ryan and George Bush, but it might be something even better. I will provide a full report for you later in the weekend.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

To Those Who Follow on Facebook.....

If you are not on Facebook, feel free to skip this installment of The Grandstander.

I have noticed lately that some post that I put out on Facebook go directly to my Wall, and do not appear among the "news feeds" on my Facebook page. This is especially true of when I link a Grandstander page to Facebook. This is something new since all of the recent changes made to Facebook.

So, I just want to know if everyone is seeing these links when they go up on my Wall.

If you are reading this via Facebook, please just give me a quick comment that you are reading this. A simple "I got it" or even a quickie "Like" will do.

Thank you.

Happy Birthday, Chuck Berry

He is, arguably, the Father of American Rock & Roll. Happy Birthday #85 today to Chuck Berry.

If you want to have some fun, go out to YouTube and type in "Chuck Berry" and just allow yourself to be entertained.

Here's a sample for you. Enjoy!

Monday, October 17, 2011

World Series Thoughts, and the Football Weekend

Cleaning out the Mental In-Box While Trying to Avoid a Jim Harbaugh Handshake.....

  • I realize that I am hopelessly behind times, but I still consider the World Series a Big Deal. A very Big Deal. Now we know the combatants in this year's Fall Classic, and it shapes up to be a Series with lots of runs and home runs, and perhaps, as Buster Olney suggested, perhaps the worst pitched world Series in memory.

  • The Texas Rangers have certainly proved that their 2010 pennant was not the work of a One Hit Wonder. That top-to-bottom line up sure is a marvel to behold.

  • The Cardinals trip from being 10 and 1/2 games out of the wild card spot on August 25 to the World Series is quite the story. While I am not fan of the self-important Tony LaRussa, you have to hand it to him. His teams win and they never quit on him. Never.

  • I had decided mid-way through the LCS that I was rooting for the Cardinals to go the distance. I made that decision based on two players: Albert Pujols and Stan Musial.

  • Rooting interests aside, I am going to pick the Rangers to win the Series. I just think that last year's loss to the Giants will have them extremely motivated this time around.

  • That said, I will point out that I picked the Tigers and Brewers to win their respective LCS.

  • As thrilling as the three Games Five were in the division series were, the two games six in the LCS were sure at the other end of the spectrum.

  • That was a weird win for the Steelers yesterday. After a first half that gave all indications of being a blowout, they came out at halftime and did nothing offensively, and were barely able to hang on to win 17-13. A more experienced Jacksonville QB would probably have won the game for them. Very hard to explain that performance.

  • How about that post game dust-up between Coaches Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz? If a couple of high school coaches behaved like that, I would suspect that their respective school boards would severely discipline them, or perhaps even relieve them of their duties. When coaches at football's highest level act like that, how do you think every Lombardi-Wannabe coaching a peewee football team is going to act?

  • Peter King had a good line on this today: He liked it better when coaches wore business suits.

  • And how about yet another awful performance by the Pitt Panthers. The highly touted Todd Graham Offense (and let's hope the Pitt publicity machine starts to cool it with the gasoline metaphors) throws up (good choice of words there) a goose egg on Saturday, abandons Ray Graham, and barely generates 100 yards in total offense.

  • First year coaches like Graham usually get a honeymoon, but he ain't getting one and he can blame himself for all his off season hyperbole. I do like his enthusiasm, but he's paying the price for it now.

  • Maybe in a year or two when Graham recruits the players to fit his "system", Pitt will be steamrolling their opponents, but right now maybe Graham and his coaches should be dialing back the system to fit the players he has. Of course, coaching egos would never allow that to happen.

  • I will close by paraphrasing Dejan Kovacevic by saying that if anyone can explain the Pirates' decision to not pick up Paul Maholm's option for 2012 as anything other than the team being cheap, I'm willing to listen, but it's going to take some convincing.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Stop the Presses!!!!

Well, to the surprise of practically no one, it has become clear that the Pirates, without actually coming out and saying the words (and if you are familiar with Neal Huntington's way of talking to the public, does that surprise you?), will not be exercising the $9.75 million team option on pitcher Paul Maholm for 2012. This means that Maholm, the longest tenured pitcher on the team, will no longer be pitching for the home team next season.

(By now I am sure you realize that the "Stop the Presses" banner over the Pirates NOT spending $9.75 million was written with tongue planted firmly in cheek.)

Of course, a very good baseball case could be made for not picking up the option, but the overriding sentiment will be that this is yet another case of the Pirates deciding to go cheap and not pay a player once he gets too expensive for them. And, of course, for a variety of circumstances, Maholm will leave and the team will get nothing in return.

Paul Maholm will never be confused with Steve Carlton, to be sure, but he was a good guy who took the ball every five days, pitched a lot of innings, and did it in front of a generally lousy baseball team. Here's hoping that he lands with a team where he will be what everyone says he should be - a productive fourth or fifth starter - and have a successful rest of his career.

Now, the interesting thing will be to see what exactly the Pirates will do with that $9.75 million that they won't be spending on Maholm (as well as the multi-millions that they won't be spending on Ryan Doumit when that shoe drops). If they end up spending nine million bucks on a guy like Jorge De La Rosa, as they were purportedly ready to do last year, then they haven't really improved themselves over what Maholm would have given them. Or, will they take the Maholm and Doumit money and apply it to a long term deal for Andrew McCutchen? Or, will they use it to sign another washed up stiff like Lyle Overbay? Or, will the money just be quietly designated for "player development", which has been the handy catch-all for Pirates profits over the last few years.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Book Review: "Stan Musial, An American Life"

Twice in the last 12 months I have written posts on this blog about Stan Musial, so it was with interest that I read this new biography of Stan the Man by New York sportswriter George Vecsey. The book starts with the premise that Musial is really the forgotten superstar in baseball history. Heck, a person would have to be pretty much over 50 years old to have any memory of having seen him play ball.

The superstars who were his contemporaries, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, are certainly far more famous and celebrated. He played in St. Louis, not New York and Boston (although Vecsey, somewhat defensively, I think, is quick to point out how New York writers loved him). He didn't marry Marilyn Monroe, but rather his hometown sweetheart, a marriage that has lasted over 70 years, and he never had the "signature season" of a .400 average or a 56 game hitting streak, but for sustained excellence over a 22 year career, a case can be made that Musial was the equal, if not better, than either Joe D. or Teddy Ballgame. No scandals, no ugly off field events ever tarnished Musial's image. I will not recite all of Musial's records or accomplishments, but would recommend that you just look at Musial's career stats on any online reference site. They are mind boggling.

The book is not a detailed biography in the traditional sense. Vecsey doesn't bog you down with a lot of detailed runs-hits-errors stuff, but he does paint a great picture of Musial the man and the ballplayer. And there are some great stories to be told in the book:

  • To Cardinals major domo Branch Rickey, Musial was little more than just another one of hundreds of minor league ballplayers under the Cardinals controled back in the late 1930's. Until, that is, it became apparent what kind of a player Musial was to become, at which point Rickey never missed the opportunity to tell anyone who was listening the key role that he, Rickey, played in Musial's discovery and development. Musial never publicly disagreed with Rickey, but he never gave him credit either.

  • When Musial was discharged from the Navy in 1946, he hitchhiked back to St. Louis.

  • When attending a reunion of old Cardinals, Musial stopped at a bank and took out a bunch of $100 bills, which he surreptitiously handed out to old teammates who were down on their luck. An observer guessed that he gave out over $10,000 that night.

  • When some Cardinals fans began to call Albert Pujols "El Hombre", Pujols graciously asked that they not do so stating that there was and could only be one "Man" in St. Louis.

In awarding Musial the Presidential Medal of Freedom earlier this year, Barack Obama summarized Musial well: "Stan remains, to this day, an icon, untarnished; a beloved pillar of the community; a gentleman you'd want your kids to emulate."

Musial will turn 91 in November and through much of the past decade he has been suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. Not a nice way for anyone, much less an elite athlete, to end their days. It is nice that Vecsey has written this book to remind everyone of the career and life of a guy who was and remains a true class act.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Autumn Leaves

The Grandstander is about to channel his Inner Gilbert Love for you (now there is a reference that really skewes old), and make a comment about autumn leaves.

While driving to Shanksville this weekend, we noticed how the leaves in the Pennsylvania hills were putting on their annual autumnal show, and the Sunday PG listed a number of places to go to view the colorful leaves, but the pictures below show that sometimes all you really have to do is look into your own back yard. Yes, these pictures were taken this morning while standing on our back deck. Sorry that we weren't able to get any of the local wild life into the picture.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Rock in a Field

The picture above is just a big rock in an open field, right? Hardly.

Yesterday we decided to take advantage of the beautiful autumn weather and we took a drive to see the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, PA. The open field is the actual crash sight of Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, and the rock indicates the exact spot where the plane hit the earth. Only family members of those who died in that crash are permitted out onto the field, which is truly hallowed ground for those who died and their survivors. If you look closely, you can see small American flags that have been placed by that rock.

The Memorial currently consists of a walkway in front of the field that you see above, and a wall of white marble with names of the 40 heroes of Flight 93. A complete visitors' center is planned and scheduled to be completed by 2014. The whole Memorial is under the supervision of the National Parks Service, so you can be assured that the Memorial is and will be completed and run in top notch fashion.

While the completed visitors' center will be great, don't wait until its completion to visit the Memorial if you are so inclined. It is a most sobering feeling to walk the ground and try to imagine the events of that day.

It was quite crowded yesterday, which given the weather and the fact that it was Saturday is probably not surprising. What was surprising, to me at least, were the number of bikers -as in motorcyclists - who were there. We literally saw hundreds of bikers both at the site and headed toward it as we left and headed for home. I have no comment to make on that. Just thought it interesting.

Anyway, I would recommend that everyone, particularly those who live in western PA, make an effort to visit this site. It is a most emotional experience.

Sunday Morning Thoughts

Cleaning out the Mental In-Box while awaiting the Steelers kick-off....

  • After soundly thrashing South Florida last week, Pitt fans were giddy in the seeming arrival, finally, of Todd Graham's high octane offense last week. So what happened at Rutgers, which Bill Hillgrove continually tells is is in Piscataway, New Jersey, sure came as as a shock yesterday. What a stinker of a performance that was.

  • Graham was quick to place the blame squarely on himself and his staff. Guess he learned his lesson after he blamed the players and took no blame after the Iowa and Notre Dame losses. As someone suggested, while Graham may be the highest paid employee at Pitt, he still has a boss, and that that boss obviously told Graham to knock it off with the it's-not-my-fault stuff.

  • Which makes me wonder about Dana Holgerson's bosses at WVU. Holgerson's reaming of the WVU fans for not showing up at game against Bowling Green two weeks ago had to have Oliver Luck wondering about this guy, who has been a loose cannon of sorts ever since he arrived at Morgantown.

  • Which leads me to another prediction: If Holgerson achieves any type of success at WVU, and if WVU finds itself an odd man out as colleges keep playing the conference reshuffling game, he will leave Morgantown as soon as some BCS school comes calling with a job offer. I say he's gone from WVU by 2014.

  • To anyone who says that baseball games are slow, boring, and take too long to play, I will point out that the Pitt-Rutgers football game yesterday took 3 hours and 40 minutes in real time to play. Even Hillgrove and Pat Bostick on the radio broadcast were saying how excruciating it was. The first half, in which 9 total points were scored, took and hour and forty-five minutes to play.

  • The 17-10 score of last week's Steelers loss to Houston is not indicative, if you ask me, of how badly they were beaten in that game. Today the 2-2 Steelers take on the 3-1 Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field. Is it an overstatement to say that how this game goes could well determine the direction of the rest of the season for the Steelers?

  • A friend of mine made the statement this week that if nothing else, Steelers losses make the sports radio talk shows a whole lot more entertaining.

  • And that phenomenon is not unique to Pittsburgh. The Atlantic Highlands, NJ correspondent to The Grandstander reports that callers to New York stations are demanding that the Yankees ditch Curtis Granderson (the presumptive MVP in the American League) because "he strikes out too much." Good thing there wasn't sports talk radio back when Babe Ruth was striking out a lot for the Yankees back in the 1920's and '30.

  • Watch but Don't Bet Department: The Steelers win over the Titans at home today, but it won't be easy.

  • Those MLB Division Series sure were great theater, weren't they? Hope the two LCS can live up to them.

  • To Absent Friends: Al Davis, who WAS the Oakland Raiders died yesterday. While he was certainly not a likable guy to the teams that opposed him, his place in football history cannot be disputed. The NFL-AFL merger was going to happen eventually, but it happened a lot sooner when Davis became commissioner of the AFL, and established NFL bigdomes realized that they had no stomach for a street fight led by Davis. And has football in Pittsburgh ever been so intense as it was when the Steelers and Raiders met so often and with so much on the line in the 1970's? Davis was as big a part of that as anyone involved. You wonder what will happen to the Raiders now that Davis will no longer be there.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

LCS Predictions

After some scintillating Division Series, wherein the each of the three game fives (games five?) was better that the one which preceded it, I am ready to make my predictions for the League Championship Series. For those who don't remember, and who probably don't much care anyway, I went 2-2 in the four LDS, hitting on the Brewers and Rangers, and missing on the Yankees and Phillies.


Not sure why I am not sold on the Rangers. After all, they ARE the defending AL champs. Maybe it is just the fact that as an AL team who plays most of their games well past my bed time, I am just not that familiar with them. Also, I look at the Tigers and see a team that seemed to get better as the season went along, and then beat the team with baseball's best record in the Division Series. So I'll go with the Tigers to take down the AL gonfalon.

And speaking of the Tigers, I love seeing Lloyd McClendon in their dugout. Yeah, the Pirates weren't any good while he managed them, but I liked the guy, liked the passion he brought to the job. Plus, he made regular use of the word "flummoxed." How can you not like him?


Logic tells you to go with the hot hand, and that is the Cardinals, who stormed through September to win the wild card spot, and who then beat the Phillies in the LDS by beating Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Roy Halladay. Logic also makes you see that the Brewers were the team that outdistanced those same Cardinals over 162 games in the NL Central. Prince Fielder will no doubt be leaving Milwaukee after this season, so this may be the Brewers last shot at taking it all. That degree of urgency will get them past the Cardinals and into the Fall Classic.

As always, watch, but don't bet.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Book Review: "Sex On the Moon"

OK, the book is not as salacious as the title would suggest, and the subtitle fills you in: "The Amazing Story of the Most Audacious Heist in History." It's author is Ben Mezrich who has written "Bringing down the House" which was a terrific book about a group of MIT students who formed a black jack team to "bring down the house" at various casinos, but ran into some nasty trouble in Las Vegas. It ws made into a good movie called "21" that starred Kevin Spacey. His more recent book was "The Accidental Billionaires" about Mark Zuckerberg and the founding of Facebook, which was made into the really good movie, "The Social Network."

"Sex On the Moon" is about a brilliant young student (you sensing a theme here among Mezrich's topics?) named Thad Roberts who secures a three year internship with NASA at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. He wants to be an astronaut, and he just might have done so, but.... There's always a "but" in stories like this, right? Somewhere along the way, Roberts gets the idea of stealing actual moon rocks from NASA's labs. Moon rocks may well be the most valuable substance on earth considering that there only about 800 pounds of them brought back by the Apollo astronauts, and it's not likely that any more will be arriving on earth in the foreseeable future, if ever.

Why does Roberts do this? Well, a lot of it involves his own insecurities, and, as you might expect, a woman was involved. He literally wanted to "give her the moon."

It's a pretty interesting tale, but I did not find it as compelling a read as "Bringing Down the House", and I confess that I did not read "Accidental Billionaires." I actually found myself feeling sorry for Roberts, a brilliant kid, but a social nerd, and not at all smart enough to see how stupid he was in considering, executing, and (trying to) complete his audacious caper.

Actually, if you just Google "Thad Roberts Moon Rocks" it will give you all you really need to know about the story. Then, you can wait until the movie comes out.

Movie Review: "A Bronx Tale"

Loyal Reader BigPoppy has long been recommending that I see the 1993 Robert DeNiro directed movie, "A Bronx Tale." Finally, it has come to pass that I have now seen this gem (thanks solely to the BigPoppy's loan of his personal DVD of the movie), and what a great movie!

The movie stars DeNiro as Lorenzo, a New York City bus driver, and Chaz Palminteri as Sonny, the neighborhood wiseguy who holds court over this one little neighborhood in the Bronx. It is told from the point of view of Lorenzo's son, Calogero, or "C". In 1960, nine year old Calogero witnesses a murder, doesn't properly identify the shooter, and is then taken under the wing of Sonny. What happens then is not what you might think. C does not fall into Sonny's way of life (as happened to Henry in "Goodfellas"), although he is surely tempted. The honest working guy Lorenzo battles to keep his son on the straight an narrow as he grows into a teenager (the movie jumps ahead in time to Calogero at age 17 in 1968).

It's a mob movie, it's a movie about family values, it's a coming of age movie, it's funny, and it's deadly serious. And it is based in fact: Palminteri wrote the screenplay for the movie based upon his own one act play, which was based on his own life growing up in the Bronx. Turns our that Chaz is a nickname for Calogero.

I don't honestly even remember this movie when it came out, and it is difficult to find today. I could not get it from the library, and I am told that you can't even get it on Netflix, so many thanks to BigPoppy for the loan of his DVD. It is worth keeping your eye out for this one if you've never seen it. It is well worth watching.

Oh and for fans of The Sopranos, the role of Lorenzo's wife is played by Kathleen Narducci who played Charmaine Bucco, and the 17 year old Calogero was played by Lillo Brancato (who, btw, looks enough like Robert DeNiro to actually be his son) who played Matthew Bevilaqua, who met an untimely end at the hands of Tony Soprano himself while sipping a diet soda, "the last thing you're ever going to taste." And it could have had an even stronger Sopranos connection. According to IMDB, there was to be a scene where Sonny's mob boss was to pay him a visit, and that don was to be played by Frank Vincent, aka Phil Leotardo, aka Billy Bats from "Goodfellas." It was eventually decided to leave that scene out of the movie.

Big Thumbs Up from The Grandstander for this one.

To Absent Friends - Steve Jobs

As I type up this blog on my home, laptop computer, listing to music on my iPod, music that I may have purchased from the iTunes store, after having already perused several out of town newspapers on my iPad2, let me be among the many to note the passing of Apple founder Steve Jobs. Actually, the previous sentence could make me come across as an insufferable bore (please hold your comments on this point), but it was really written to make the point of the impact that Mr. Jobs has had on the world and on almost everybody's everyday lives. Perhaps it isn't often that we recognize true genius in our midst, but that was certainly not the case with Steve Jobs.

He and his company, Apple, truly did change the world, and it was perhaps best summarized in the statement released by President Obama: "His ultimate tribute is the fact that most people may have learned of his passing on a device that he invented."

RIP Steve Jobs.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Quickie Premonition and Quickie Thoughts on Yesterday

Anxiously awaiting the Steelers-Texans kick off. Somehow, I do not have real good feeling for this one. Unless Rooney U. Plays a lot better that they did last week, I fear that the Texans will win this one.

Hope I'm wrong.

Hey, did anyone watch the Wisconsin and Nebraska game last night? Now THAT was what you would call High Octane Football.

And I happened to stumble upon the Navy and Air Force game and saw the last few minutes of regulation and the overtime. What a finish! No one much cares about a game between Navy and Air Force, but, trust me, if that one was between a couple of SEC biggies, it would be dubbed an Instant Classic, and the ESPN boys would be slobbering all over each other raving about it.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

And On The High School Front...

First, a disclaimer. I don't follow high school sports with the exception of Central basketball and soccer, and North Allegheny girls' soccer for familial reasons. Oh, I'll check the scores to see how Central or NA is doing in football and hoops, but that's about it, so I claim no knowledge, expertise, and a very limited emotional attachment.

That said, I note today that Gateway High School defeated Norwin High School in football last night by a score of 85-0. That's right...EIGHTY-FIVE to ZERO.

Again, this is just a score in the newspaper. I don't know when, or even if, the Gateway coach cleared his bench and put the water boys in against Norwin, don't know if they were calling times out in the fourth quarter, don't know if they were still passing after they got up by, say, forty or so points, and I am sure that the Gateway coach will thoroughly justify this performance and tell everyone what a great win it was for his "program", and he will no doubt say something like "what was I supposed to tell my fifth string kids? Lie down out there?" But I'm sorry, there is no reason on this earth that a high school team should beat another high school team by a score of 85-0.

These are not the paid professionals of the NFL, nor the scholarship athletes of the NCAA, but high school kids. Many of them aren't old enough to drive a car yet. It's one thing to tell the Steelers to man up and play better when they get beat up by the Ravens in the season opener, but should those 14-15-16 year old kids from Norwin be held to the same standard? I hardly think so.

I guess this just makes me a bleeding heart, but I wonder how those coaches and kids from Norwin are feeling this morning.