Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Farewell Hines Ward, the Greatest Steeler WR of 'em All

It comes as no surprise, but the Steelers made official what everyone has pretty much guessed would happen - Hines Ward will be released by the team.

It is a hard thing to watch when an elite professional athlete comes to the end of the line, as was certainly the case with Ward this past season. I will not be critical of Ward for wanting to keep trying to play, nor will I be critical if he signs with another team, even if it is with a traditional rival such as Baltimore, New England, Oakland, or Cleveland. If Hines wants to keep at it, who are we to say that he shouldn't be able to do so. Pro sports are a cruel industry: the game itself will let a player know when time is up. Maybe the Steelers are wrong and are giving up too early on Ward, but everyone will know very soon once training camps begin next summer.

I am old enough to have seen Lynn Swann and John Stallworth play their entire careers, and I will say this about Hines Ward - he is the greatest wide receiver in Steelers history.

Franco Harris ended his career with one shortened season as a Seattle Seahawk, but he is forever remembered as a Pittsburgh Steeler. The same will be the case with Hines Ward.

Good luck, Hines, and thanks for everything.

To Absent Friends - Davy Jones

Very saddened to hear for the death today of Davy Jones at the age of 66. The Monkees were a purely made for TV group that NBC created in hopes of cashing in on the tails of the Beatles and other British pop groups of the mid-sixties. It was a hunch that paid off big time. The Monkees, both the TV show and the group itself hit it big, and the band, which started out as four actors playing the role of a rock band, became a huge act during my high school years. The band even cashed in on the nostalgia craze in the late 80's by touring once again.

Jones became the heart throb of the group, but he also brought some serious acting and musical talent to the part as well. While starring as the Artful Dodger in the Broadway musical "Oliver" in 1964, he appeared with the cast of the show and performed a number from it on the Ed Sullivan Show on the very night that The Beatles made their American TV debut in February, 1964.

RIP Davy Jones.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Some Random Thoughts on a Tuesday Morning...

  • I am happy to say that I did not waste one single minute of my life by watching any of the NFL Scouting Combine.

  • This is the same combine that over the years led NFL teams to make Jeff George and JaMarcus Russell overall #1 draft picks, and made teams agonize over whether Ryan Leaf might be a better pick as overall #1 than Peyton Manning.

  • Unlike many, I have always been a fan of Bob Smizik, but his criticism of Frank Coonelly, even before the DUI citation, goes way beyond normal criticism and seems to border on the personal. It's one thing to stick a knife in a guy's back, but it's quite another to to twist the knife while throwing salt on the wound.

  • I know that Angelina Jolie is considered by many to be the most beautiful and sexiest woman in the movies today, but she does nothing for me.

  • The newest Jonathan Kellerman novel, "Victims", featuring Alex Delaware, was released today. Guess what I'm going to be doing when I sign off of here this morning?

  • I watched a movie last night called "A Face in the Crowd" from 1957, directed by Elia Kazan, and starring Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal. Good movie. All about the power of the media and it's cultural and political influence. Still very timely, and, from the viewpoint of 2012, this was one way ahead of its time. Griffith was really good in this dramatic role, but don't expect the folksy, friendly Andy of Mayberry if you watch this. Andy, playing a guy named Lonesome Rhodes, was not a very likable guy in this one. As Robert Osbourne observed on TCM, he never played another character like this again.

  • Speaking of movies, it is "Godfather 40th Anniversary Week" on American Movie Classics. As one always does, I got hooked watching for about a half hour last night (saw Jack Woltz wake up with the horse, saw Luca get sent to sleep with the fishes, and heard "leave the gun, take the canollis"), but then shut it off. Since AMC edits for language and throws in lots of commercial breaks, you are better off going to your DVD collection to watch these classics.

  • I am late to the party, I know, but I spent a good part of last week watching Season One of the HBO series Boardwalk Empire on DVD. Great series. I'm not yet ready to put it up with The Sopranos, but still a very good show. Can't wait for the DVD release of Season Two. At the risk of sounding like a real geek, I absolutely love the costumes and the period recreation of 1920 Atlantic City. Really good stuff.

  • Did you catch any of the Accenture Match Play over the past weekend? I was happy to see American Hunter Mahan win this one. Mahan now moves into the top echelon, if he wasn't already there, of young American pro golfers, and here's one thing to really like about him - he plays fast. When it's his turn to hit, he already has the club in his hand, he walks up to the ball, and he hits it! Very refreshing.

The 87th Precinct

Looking for something to read the other day, I went to the bookshelf and pulled out a copy of "Cop Hater" by Ed McBain. This book was written in 1956 by novelist Evan Hunter using the McBain nom de plume. This book would be the first in a series of over 50 87th Precinct novels that McBain wrote until his death in 2005. McBain and his 87th Precinct has been given credit as the genesis of what we now call the "police proceedural" genre of mystery fiction, and while Steven Bocchco will never admit it, the TV series "Hill Street Blues" owes an enormous debt to the characters, tone, and plotting of the 87th Precinct stories.

I believe that I have read all of these books over the years. They are terrific reading, and can be enjoyed in re-readings, as I proved this past weekend, again and again. Pick up a copy of any 87th Precinct novel. You will quickly get to know the Detectives Steve Carella, Bert Kling, Meyer Meyer and the others, and you will be hooked. Guaranteed!

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Oscars for 2011

Some thoughts on last night's Oscar Awards and the telecast....

  • I have written of my thoughts on "The Artist" many times, so I won't rehash them again. I can't say that it is an undeserving winner, but I do not think that, ten years from now, we will be looking back on it and saying "Man, that really is a GREAT movie."

  • As for Best Actor Jean Dujardin, while my preference was George Clooney of "The Descendants", I can't argue that Dujardin didn't deserve the Oscar.

  • On the other hand, I am betting that American movie audiences will see a passel of great performances by Clooney in the future before we ever see another one from Dujardin.

  • I have yet to see "The Iron Lady", but I am delighted that Meryl Streep finally picked up her third Oscar.

  • Speaking of three Acting Oscars, Katherine Hepburn holds the record with four, and Streep now joins three other actors with three. They are Jack Nicholson, Ingrid Bergman, and Walter Brennan. Walter Brennan????? As they said on Sesame Street, which one doesn't belong?

  • Leading up to the Academy Awards, Octavia Spencer won every award for her role in "The Help." Nobody, and I mean nobody, predicted anyone else as winner of the Best Supporting Actress honor. Yet, when her name is called, she is tearful and shocked to the point of being almost unable to speak. THAT, my friends, is acting.

  • Then there was Christopher Plummer's speech. Very classy.

  • I also liked that Director Michel Hazanavicius paid tribute to Billy Wilder in his acceptance speech.

  • Regular readers will also not be surprised to know that I am very happy that Woody Allen won for Best Original Screenplay for the wonderful "Midnight in Paris." True to form, The Woodman was not in attendance to accept his Oscar.

  • As for the telecast itself, I thought it was great. I thought that Billy Crystal was terrific as the host, and I thought the whole thing moved very quickly even though it lasted a shade over three hours, or about an hour shorter than you average Yankees-Red Sox game.

  • I would go so far to say that Crystal should host every year, but having a year with some stiff like James Franco hosting serves the purpose of making you appreciate Crystal as Host all the more.

  • Loved the film of the "Test Audience" for "The Wizard of Oz" as performed by the Christopher Guest repertory company. How can you not love Fred Willard? Makes me want to go rent "Best In Show" immediately.

  • Did you read Rob Owen's rather dyspeptic review of the telecast in this morning's Post-Gazette? Sounded like he is trying to edge out Ron Cook as the Grouchiest Guy at the PG. Maybe a career as a TV critic will do that to a person.

  • Best Gown of the Night? Jennifer Lopez, hands down!

  • I also loved the Cirque d'Soliel performance.

  • In terms of sheer numbers, the big winner was "Hugo" with five Oscars, all in technical categories. I have no problem with that, and to hear the winners in their acceptances, it is obvious that Martin Scorsese must be a true genius and a great guy for whom to work.

  • Speaking of technical achievement, why no nominations for "A Very Harold and Kumar 3-D Christmas"?

  • I most definitely did NOT miss the performances of all the nominated Original Songs.

  • Come to think of it, since there were only two such songs nominated, should this even be a relevant award anymore?

  • I thought that the commercials on the telecast were great, better, as a whole, than the Super Bowl. Ellen DeGeneris in those commercials for JC Penney was terrific.

  • The Grandstander went 7-for-8 in his Oscar predictions, missing only on Streep's Best Actress win. Not as good as BigPoppy at the Tonys, but not bad.

  • Of the nominated and winning movies, I still need to see "Iron Lady" and "War Horse", although I am thinking that the latter viewing will probably come when it is released on DVD.

  • And if you still haven't seen them, do make it a point to see "The Artist" and "The Descendants." Both really good, if not great, movies. And "The Ides of March." As stated in previous posts, that may have been a better movie that any of them, in my humble opinion.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

And the Oscar Goes to....

The Grandstander's Broadway Correspondent asked recently if I was planning on posting my own Oscar predictions. Well, such predictions would be, at best, uninformed since I have not seen all of the nominated movies. However, after seeing a few of them, and reading informed opinions of knowledgeable critics, and seeing the tea leaves that have settled after the Golden Globes and SAG awards, I will offer the following:

Best Picture - "The Artist." My personal vote would go to "The Descendants" of those pictures that have been nominated, but I would also add another editorial comment that "Ides of March" was a better movie than either of them.

Best Actor - Jean Desjardin, The Artist. Again, I'd vote for George Clooney, but I'm guessing that the Academy will go for the foreign actor over a popular and commercial American actor. It will make them feel like they are putting "art" over mere commercial success (remember Roberto Begnini a few years ago?).

Best Actress - Viola Davis, The Help. Meryl Streep, and also ran, again.

Best Supporting Actor - Christopher Plummer

Best Supporting Actress - Octavia Spencer, The Help

Best Director - Michael Hazenavicous, The Artist

Best Original Screenplay - Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris. I'm really pulling for this one!

Best Adapted Screenplay - The guys who wrote The Descendants.

There you go. Eight predictions. No chance that I will be as perspicacious as our Man who predicts the Tonys for us each year, but what the hell.

Enjoy the show on Sunday night!

"Oh, Baby, I Love It"

If you have attended meetings of the Pittsburgh SABR Chapter, you may be aware that it has become kind of a standing joke that a book that ALWAYS seems to be on the book exchange table is "Oh, Baby, I Love It" by that renowned lightning rod for criticism, Tim McCarver. Greg Crouse of the Cleveland Chapter and I have exchanged this book at least three different times over the years.

Well, after picking this book up, again, at the Cleveland meeting last month, I decided that I would actually read the thing. The book was written in 1987 while McCarver was a broadcaster with the Mets (and the Mets were coming off a World Series win), so it is now, 25 years later, an historical period piece, but it isn't all that bad. If nothing else, you can read great stories about Bob Gibson, one of my own all-time favorites, and Steve Carlton. He also raves about Dwight Gooden, at that point a three year major leaguer, and mentions how it appeared that Doc was headed towards being one of the all-time greats. Tim obviously had no crystal ball regarding the road that Gooden was destined to head down.

The last 55 pages of the book are devoted to the Mets championship season of 1986, and I admit that I pretty much skimmed over that section, but I found it interesting that he devoted slightly less than one full page to the well remembered Game Six, and the famous Mookie Wilson to Bill Buckner ground ball gets two sentences. Now, of course, the legions of McCarver Haters out there will no doubt rake him over the coals for not giving this play pages and pages of flowery George Will-type prose, but keep in mind that this was written in the months just after that game was played. I find it interesting how the prism of history may have elevated the memory of this game to a level that a contemporary account did not foresee.

I also found it interesting, as I always do in such books, when McCarver talks about how a player reacts and feels when his career is over. Tim had prepared himself for a post-playing career, but so many players do not. Kind of sad, really.

As baseball books go, this one will never make you forget "Eight Men Out", "The Glory of Their Times", or "Ball Four", but you could do worse in the baseball literary field. "Oh, Baby, I Love It" will be on the Book Exchange Table at our SABR meeting on April 28. Drop by and it's yours for the taking!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Frank Coonelly

By now, I am all sure that you are aware of the news of Frank Coonelly and his DUI citation from December that broke yesterday.

I come at this from an admittedly biased viewpoint, because I consider Frank a personal friend. that said, I make no excuses, none, for what he did. Driving while impaired is absolutely one of the worst things that a person can do, and it is most fortunate that no one was injured or worse when this event occurred. Frank certainly owned up to what he did, apologized, and I am sure that he will bear whatever punishment the justice system metes out to him.

I just want to say that I consider myself fortunate to know Frank, and I know that he is a good and decent person. One bad decision and a single aberration doesn't change who a person is, not in my mind, anyway.

I find it interesting that the news broke on the same day that, buried deep on page 5 or 6 of the sports pages, was the news of Hines Ward's plea deal on his DUI, which Pittsburgh seemed to conveniently "forget" all football season, of last summer. I am bothered by the fact that in the last 24 hours I have read and heard more righteous indignation from people over Coonelly's transgression that was heard for the last six months over Ward's.

Not that there is a double standard where the Steelers are concerned, of course.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Luck Be A Lady Tonight (or This Afternoon, Anyway)

After a nine month absence, Marilyn and I enjoyed a moderately successful day at the Rivers Casino this afternoon.

I sat at a $10 black jack table and purchased $60 worth of chips. Within 15 minutes, I had $200 in chips, which I then cashed out. I put the two $100 chips in my pocket and bought $40 more of chips (a hundred bucks being my usual stake when we go to a casino). It only took about a half dozen deals or so before all of those chips were gone, so I walked away. I then preceded to lose about $15 playing slot machines. Have I ever mentioned how I really dislike slot machines?

Another way of looking at my day is that I more than made up for the three bucks I lost at my home poker game last week!

Marilyn came close to breaking even while playing slots, which means she probably lost less than ten bucks overall.

Pretty good way to celebrate Mardi Gras, we figured.

Monday, February 20, 2012

"Singin' in the Rain" vs. "The Artist"

This coming Sunday, the Motion Picture Academy Awards for 2011 will be presented, and among the nominated films expected to make a big haul, if not THE big haul (Picture, Actor, Director) is "The Artist." Now, regular readers know that I saw "The Artist" a few weeks back, and that I liked it. I do not think it is the Best Picture of the year. I do think that while it is a good movie, it is being overpraised due to the fact that it is so different (silent, black & white, and foreign). In many ways it is someone saying "Look, how clever we are. We made a silent movie in 2011", and Hollywood, in a bit of self-indulgence, is breaking its arm patting itself on the back over the whole thing.

By a curious bit of coincidence, on Sunday afternoon, viewers of Turner Classic Movies will have the chance to watch an undisputed classic, Stanley Donen's and Gene Kelly's 1952 "Singin' in the Rain." This is a movie that always ranks in the Top Ten or Top Twenty of all-time great movies whenever such lists are complied. If you don't know the movie, it stars Gene Kelly, Donald O'Conner, a 20 year old Debbie Reynolds, and, in an hilarious supporting role, Jean Hagen, and the story is very much the same story as "The Artist" tells.

Kelly and Hagen are two silent movie stars of the highest rank, famous for their starring opposite each other as movie lovers in countless films. Trouble is, talking pictures are about to make their debut, and while Kelly should do OK in talkies, Hagen has a voice that makes fingernails on a blackboard seem soothing. How do they get around this? Where and how does Reynolds fit in? Will Kelly get the girl in the end? (Silly question.) And some all-time classic musical numbers: Kelly, O'Conner, and Reynolds singing "Good Morning", O'Conner singing "Make 'em Laugh", and, of course, Kelly's absolute classic version of "Singin' in the Rain", which Pirates fans get to see and hear on the scoreboard at PNC Park whenever there is a rain delay.

By all means, go and see "The Artist." It's a good movie, but also take time on Sunday afternoon (or program the DVR) and watch "Singin' in the Rain", where a very similar story was told, and told much better sixty years ago. No matter what happens come Sunday night at the Oscars, I believe that "The Artist" will in a very few years time be viewed as a novelty item that struck a lot of peoples' fancy in 2011, and will be relatively forgotten, while people will still be watching and enjoying "Singin' in the Rain" for at least another sixty years.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Haas Wins in LA

Well, did you watch the LA Open today?

The Mickelson-Bradley back and forth written about this morning did take place, along with Bill Haas jumping in and out of the lead, and a lot of other guys, most notably Dustin Johnson, squandering shots and opportunities to get into the mix and take control of the tournament. After an afternoon of watching these guys ham-and-egg it all over Riviera, it appeared that Haas was the winner until both Mickelson and Bradley made two incredible birdies on 18 to force a playoff. Haas won on the second sudden death hole, a short - 314 yard - par 4 in an amazing display of golfing strategy. If you play golf, watching them play that 10th hole was completely fascinating. If you don't play golf, you probably have a quit reading before you got this far in the post anyway, so I won't go into it here. You can read about it in the paper tomorrow.

As I said, three and a half hours of ham and egging was all made worthwhile watching Mickelson and Bradley on 18 and watching them and Haas in the two sudden death holes. Great stuff.

And a couple of final comments on Keegan Bradley, who at age 25 certainly seems to have the chops to be a big factor on the PGA Tour for years to come.

  • I wish he didn't use a belly putter (Haas does, too, by the way). Just doesn't seem right.

  • He takes FOREVER to hit his shots. Recreational golf will take even longer to play if the weekend hackers start to imitate him.

  • He spits a lot. A LOT. It has become fashionable to beat up on Tiger Woods for his habit of constant spitting on the course. I hope those same critics will come down on Bradley for this dubious habit. Unless, of course, there is a double standard among the golfing elite where someone who looks like Woods is concerned. Not that that could be possible in this day and age, of course. (It can be noted that Gary McCord did say that he would have to talk with young Keegan about the spitting.)

For Our Sunday Afternoon Viewing Pleasure...

Earlier this week I wrote about Phil Mickelson's victory at Pebble Beach last week and made the following observation: "At age 41, who knows how many victories like this Mickelson has left in him..."

Shows how much I know. This afternoon, Lefty will tee off in the final group of the LA Open (or whatever corporate name it goes by these days) at Riveria CC in Los Angeles tied for the lead with his playing partner, reigning PGA Champ Keegan Bradley. In many ways this pairing may be even more interesting that Phil's pairing last week with Tiger Woods. Bradley, a major champion at the age of 25, represents one of the new wave of Young Guns on the PGA Tour, and Mickelson is, well, Phil Mickelson. Aging Great vs. Young Lion. Crafty Vet vs. Promising Youngster. Old Guard vs. New Wave. Pick whatever cliche you like, but this has the makings of a very fun afternoon in front of the flatscreen.

If only Bradley didn't use one of those belly putters. I every golfer using one of those should have two strokes, minimum, added to his score over 72 holes.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Welcome, A.J. Burnett

Pending a physical and Bud Selig's approval, the Pirates and Yankees have finalized the deal that will bring pitcher A.J. Burnett to the Buccos. Now we all now that Burnett has been generally pretty bad in his years with the Yanks, but I like the deal.

It has been cynically pointed out that facing the NL Central on a daily basis as opposed to the AL East will probably serve to improve Burnett's performance. Well, so be it. Burnett will also most likely immediately jump to at least the role of #2 man in the Pirates pitching staff. He strikes out a lot of batters, and pitches a lot of innings, something lacking in the Pirates starters last year. Also, as Bob Smizik pointed out earlier in the week, acquiring Burnett, and the pursuit of Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt that preceded this trade, if nothing else, shows to the Pirates players that the team really is interested in improving and winning, and not just an inflated bottom line, and that is not an unimportant thing.

What will be interesting to see is what kind of attitude Burnett lugs with him into Bradenton and PNC Park. He has been known to have been a sometime knucklehead while in the Bronx, so let's hope he doesn't become another in the long line of ageing ballplayers with bad attidudes brought in by the team in the last several years.

And while on the subject of Pirates pitching, Frank Coonelly spoke to the Highmark Retiree Club a few weeks back, and one very interesting tidbit that he dropped that day was the it was "quite possible" that Gerritt Cole would be pitching in Pittsburgh in 2012. As I said, interesting.

Birthday Girls

A couple of nifty birthdays to celebrate today.

First, we say happy 44th birthday to ex-BratPacker Molly Ringwald. I believe that Ms. Ringwald has been doing the theater tour circuit in recent years, but if she never does another thing in show biz, she will be forever known for her role as Samantha Baker in the Classic-with-a-capital-C 1980's teen angst comedy, "Sixteen Candles", a movie which is still funny after all these years.

Next, Happy Birthday to one of my own teen heart throbs, Cybill Shepherd. Today, the stunning Ms. Shepherd is still gettin' it done even thought she is now, at age 62, eligible to begin collecting Social Security.

Happy Birthday, ladies!

Friday, February 17, 2012

To Absent Friends - Gary Carter

It is always sad to mark the passing of a Hall of Fame ballplayer. Sadder still when that player was contemporary, a guy that you had actually seen play, and saddest of all when that player is younger than you are. So, a Melancholy Happy Trails to Gary Carter, gone far too young at age 57.

I noted that the wire story in today's paper highlighted the one scene from Carter's career that I remember most - the two out single that started the Mets' improbable 10th inning rally that ended with the Mookie Wilson to Bill Buckner ground ball in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

RIP Gary Carter.

And on the subject of Absent Friends, the spouses of public figures deserve their privacy, so I made no mention of the recent death of Sharon Ilkin, wife of former Steelers player and current broadcaster, Tunch Ilkin. That said, I highly recommend the column of Ron Cook in today's Post-Gazette (linked below). Wonderful story.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Good Vibrations?

I see on Facebook this afternoon that the Post-Gazette has announced that The Beach Boys, including Brian Wilson, will be touring this year and will be playing at the Benedum in Pittsburgh in May. It will be the first time that Wilson has toured with the group in over twenty years.

I say to myself, The Beach Boys are one of the seminal groups in American rock & roll history, Brian Wilson is one of the all-time great singer-songwriter-musician in rock & roll history, and I have never seen them live. This could be my last chance to make that happen.

Then I recall seeing them perform at the Grammy Awards on TV just this past Sunday night.

Then I think of watching Willie Mays play centerfield for the Mets.

Maybe I'll skip the appearance at the Benedum and just crank up "Pet Sounds" on the iPod.

Wouldn't THAT be nice?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Hines, Hailey, Phil, A.J., Jack Butler, and Other Topics

Having been hit with some kind of bug over the past few days, The Grandstander decides to clean out the Mental In-Box prior to leaving for a doctor's appointment....

  • The Hines Ward Drama is playing out on the sports pages and talk shows - and on Facebook - in the last few days. I agree with Ron Cook to a point. True, Ward has been paid handsomely by the Steelers over the last 14 years, and football is first an foremost a business, so in that respect, the Steelers owe Ward nothing if they feel it is time to cut the cord and move on. However, having someone in the Steelers hierarchy leak the word to Jason LaCanfora of NFL Network (and how else would LaCanfora get such info?) was NOT something that the Steelers should have done to a player of Ward's stature in team history. That was a move that Steelers Nation Loyalists would scorn if Jerry Jones or Dan Snyder did it to a similar player.

  • I have a feeling the dance that is now taking place involving Art Rooney II, Mike Tomlin, Todd Hailey, and Ben Roethlisberger is not going to end well, and it could get a lot uglier than, say, the possibility of Hines Ward wearing some other team's uniform in 2012. Hope I'm wrong.

  • No one remembers Franco Harris as a Seattle Seahawk. He will always be a Steeler. Same thing will apply to Hines Ward, no matter where he might play in 2012.

  • If Roethlisberger had been a boy scout during his past off seasons, would the Steelers - and their fans - be so fired up about Ben needing a hard ass coach like Hailey to reign him in and "tweak" his game? Understand that I am not defending Roethlisberger's past antics. Merely posing a hypothetical question.

  • Did anyone watch the final round of the AT&T National at Pebble Beach on Sunday? Playing in the next to last group on Sunday with Tiger Woods, and two shots behind Woods and five shots out of the lead, Phil Mickelson put a beat down on the field and on Woods, in particular, to win the tournament by three shots. Golfers can talk all they want about how they play the course and not against each other, but there is no way that Phil wasn't relishing that 11 shot pasting he dealt Tiger.

  • To his credit Mickelson downplayed the whole thing, pointing out the greater body of work over time, while allowing others to site the stats (Woods -71 PGA Tour victories to Phil's 40; 14 Woods' majors to Phil's 4). Still, when paired head to head, Mickelson has beaten Woods the last five times this has occurred.

  • At the age of 41, you have to wonder how many more of these victories Mickelson might have left in him. As for Woods, who ever could have envisioned the kind of meltdown that we saw on Sunday?

  • The Pirates are in the news with their pursuit of pitcher A.J. Burnett from the Yankees, who are willing to do almost anything to get rid of him. Hey, the addition of Burnett certainly can't hurt the Pirates, but it doesn't envision a free ride into the post-season, either. Bob Smizik points out that if nothing else, the pursuit of Burnett (and Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt before that) will prove to the players on the team that management is trying to do more than just turn a profit.

  • Bob Smizik also linked to a blog by some guy named Jim Krug. I don't know Krug's background, but he offers a look at the Pirates management's performance that is hard to refute. Check it out here

  • On a much more positive Steelers note, belated CONGRATULATIONS go out to formers players Dermonti Dawson and Jack Butler for their recent election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I am happy for Dawson, and I am sure that he is deserving, but, be honest now, who among us is equipped to judge the merits of an offensive lineman for HOF worthiness? If the selectors deem it to be, then I'm sure OK with it. As for Butler, his election at the age of 82 is long overdue if only to prove to too many of generations of Steelers fandom, that the Steelers did indeed exist before Franco's Immaculate Reception. Butler's stats and accomplishments were well documented in the media at the time of his selection, so I will not restate them here. I will, however, recommend that you go to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website and search out Bob Dvorchak's "Sports 'n'at" video about Jack Butler. It pays tribute to Butler far better than any words that I can write here.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

To Absent Friends - Whitney Houston

As you all no doubt know by now, Whitney Houston died yesterday at the age of 48, far too young. A huge pop star in the late 80's and into the 90's, Houston's is an all-too-familiar show biz tale - a victim of success, excess, and too many bad life decisions. Very sad.

RIP Whitney Houston.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Todd Hailey, the New OC

It looks like the Steelers are about to make official and name Todd Hailey (does he kind of look like Jerry Seinfeld, or is that just my imagination?) as their new offensive coordinator. Let me be the first to say that he's a bum, has no imagination, calls too many pass plays, and should be fired!

Just kidding, of course. I don't expect that there will be any such talk about the new OC until at least after the Steelers lose for the first time in 2012 (even if it is an exhibition game). Actually, when you read some of the stories about Hailey's supposed paranoia during his final days in Kansas City, it is kind of surprising that the Steelers would make this hire. Not the "Steelers Way", and all that. As recently as yesterday in his MMQB column, Peter King was speculating that Hailey would never get this job. Hailey did mastermind that Cardinals offense that almost beat the Steelers in the Super Bowl a few years back, so he does bring some credentials with him. The fact that he washed out as a head coach in KC only means that maybe he shouldn't be a head coach. Others say that his tough guy approach with players is just what Ben Roethlisberger needs, although, personally, I think that Ben needs offensive linemen who can contain a pass rush a whole lot more than he needs a hard ass coach, but that's just me.

Far more interesting to me is how this whole firing/hiring of the OC has seemed to smack of Art Rooney circumventing his head coach, and that could have some long term effects that may not end up being to everyone's liking. And does that fact that Hailey is the son of old-time Steeler and, presumably, a Rooney family favorite, Dick Hailey play into this at all?

One thing I do know is that Hailey, a professional football coach, is a whole lot more smarter than me when it comes to football, so who am I to judge, and I hope he's a huge success with Rooney U next season. Would you take it if he masterminded an offense that produced, say, 12 wins in 2012? I sure would, and I'm betting that you would, too. Twelve wins, by the way, being the same number of wins that the Steelers produced this past season with Bruce Arians as OC.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Big Win for Big Blue

The Giants win Super Bowl XLVI by a score of 21-17 with - deja vu all over again - Eli Manning leading a last minute touchdown drive to beat the Patriots.

Going into the game, I had no great emotional investment. I neither liked nor disliked either team enough to have a strong rooting interest. I just wanted a good, if not great, ballgame. On the surface, this game had all the elements of such a game. Two masterful Tom Brady-led drives at the end of the first half and beginning of the second half that gave the Pats a 17-9 lead, a terrific end of game 88 yard Manning-led drive that led to the winning TD with :57 left to play, and even a Brady hail mary heave that had you on the edge as the game ended.

Despite all of that, when it was all over, and perhaps it was that lack of emotional investment alluded to earlier, I was left with a sort of well-it's-over-now-bring-on-Spring-Training-baseball kind of feeling.

Also, when the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl is one that the defense let happen and the offense did not want to score, well it lends a kind of surreal feeling to the whole thing. The strategy on both sides for this bizarre happenstance can be defended - Bill Bellichick is a genius, after all - but something about it just doesn't sit right.

As for the other Super Bowl sideshows...

Madonna at halftime. Another aging rocker struts her stuff at the Super Bowl. Haven't we seen this before? Did you notice how she almost fell trying to mount one of those steps? Do we really need all this ridiculous spectacle and fireworks? If we really need a singer, how about bringing him/her/them out with a back-up band and a microphone and have him/her/them sing a few songs? Or, how about a dog and a frisbee?

Commercials. Twelve hours after the fact, I can remember the following: the cat killing dog for Doritos, the baby in the slingshot for Doritos again, the eTrade baby, "Wego" the dog for Bud Light, the Budweiser prohibition-is-over spots, the bulldog outracing the greyhounds for some kind of sneaker, the lady head-butting her husband over some kind of yogurt, the dog that worked out to lose weight for some kind of car, chimps in suits for CareerBuilder, and the Fiat commercial with some incredibly hot woman drinking some kind of foamy coffee drink. That's it. That's the list.

Oh, and one more note on commercials. Danica Patrick wants it both ways. She wants to be taken seriously as a major competitive athlete/driver and not be put down because she is a woman in a man's world, yet she continues to do commercials that tease us with the idea that if you go to the website, you just might get to see her naked. Which is it going to be, Danica?

Oh, and The Grandstander got his prediction wrong (see post of last Friday) and closes the NFL post-season with a 7-4 record. Not bad. However, in my pre-season write-up, where I listed about a dozen or so teams, one of whom would win the Super Bowl, the New York Giants were not included on that list. Not good.

Twelve days until pitchers & catchers report in Bradenton.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Cleveland SABR Meeting

Marilyn and I had a most enjoyable day attending the Cleveland/Jack Graney SABR Chapter meeting yesterday that was held in the Media Center at Progressive Field. Got to park in the Player's parking lot to boot! I'm betting that you don't see a lot of Jeep Compasses parked there during the season, but I digress.

Chapter President Stephanie Liscio out together a very interesting and entertaining program. Special guests included Plain Dealer sportswriter Terry Pluto and Indians' Senior VP of Public Affairs Bob DiBiasio. Naturally, much of the talk centered around the Indians, what happened in 2011 and what to expect/hope for in 2012.

One item that got a lot of discussion concerned the recent news about Indians' pitcher Fausto Carmona, who has recently been discovered to actually be someone named Roberto Hernandez Heredia and to be three years older than he has represented himself to be over the years. The story was kind of buried on the sports pages here in Pittsburgh and may even be being played for laughs in many places, but it is a very big concern and issue in Cleveland, and is kind of a sad one. Carmona/Heredia is currently under a sort of house arrest in the Dominican Republic, and no one, not even the powers that be at the Indians are quite sure how this will play out in the months ahead. One note that Pluto added to this whole affair is that there are probably dozens of similar cases of these false identities on rosters throughout the major and minor leagues.

We also heard much of what we hear in Pittsburgh - about why the Indians can't pursue and sign people like Prince Fielder, how they have to use resources to develop their own players internally, how they have to rely on the draft, and so on and so on. Change the word "Indians" to "Pirates" and it could have been Frank or Neal up there talking. Of course, the Indians DO have a couple of pennants and additional playoffs appearances over the last 19 season, so success CAN be found under that model of operation.

Other interesting presentations were given on the 1962 National League expansion draft and one the construction of the first concrete and steel ballparks in the early part of the 20th Century. I won't go into great detail here because it is my hope to have these gentlemen give their presentations at our SABR meeting in Pittsburgh on April 28. So, no spoilers for you today!
I was also privileged to give my own World Series-themed presentation at the meeting, and I thank Stephanie and the Chapter for giving me that opportunity. I will be giving that presentation at our April 28 meeting as well.

As a side note, and without giving anything away, the 1960 World Series did not qualify for consideration given the topic and parameters of my presentation. When I finished, a gent in the audience said he was "shocked" that I did not include the '60 Series, especially since I was from Pittsburgh. He went on to say that his wife was from Mt. Lebanon and that she would be "appalled" that the 1960 Series was not in my presentation. When I explained why it was not (and, again, no spoilers here; you'll have to come to the April 28 meeting in Pittsburgh to know why), he still didn't get it.

Moral of the Story: If you are a SABR member from Pittsburgh, you can never, ever escape the 1960 World Series, not even in Cleveland!

On a more serious note, it was a real hoot to meet and talk with SABR folks from another Chapter. I did talk up the Forbes Field Chapter and got the word out about our April 28 meeting, so I am hoping that many of those folks will make the trip east at that time.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Super Bowl Prediction

So, I have been pondering the question as to who will win the Super Bowl for almost two weeks, and, more than any Super Bowl in recent memory, a case can be made for either team as the eventual winner.

Giants - Pros:

  • A strong defense that got hot at the perfect time in the season

  • Eli Manning has looked terrific in the playoffs, and proved in 49'er game that he can withstand even the fiercest of NFL defenses

  • They have demonstrated a knack to beat the Patriots in recent years, most notably in the Super Bowl four years ago

Giants - Cons

  • They seem a bit mouthy and over-confident

  • They were only a 9-7 team during the year

  • They lost twice, convincingly, to the God-awful Washington Redskins

Patriots - Pros

  • They have Tom Brady

  • They have, like it or not, Bill Belichick as head coach, and he's pretty good

  • They have Rob Gronkowski

  • Brady looked like he was from another world in the playoff game against the Broncos

Patriots - Cons

  • They have, at best, a very ordinary defense

  • Until they beat the Ravens two weeks ago, they had not beaten a team with a winning record all season

  • Rob Gronkowski is injured and his effectiveness for Sunday is unknown at this time

  • Brady looked very ordinary in the game against the Ravens

So, considering all of these factors, I had been leaning towards picking the Giants to win. However, something last night just clicked in my head and has told me that Brady is going tom take charge and that the Patriots are going to avenge the loss of four years ago and take care of business in Indy on Sunday. There you have it...the PATRIOTS to win on Sunday.

Should this happen, there will, of course, be some major angst among the Yinzers of Steelers Nation as this will mean that Belichick will now join Chuck Noll as the only head coach to have won four Super Bowls, and Brady will join Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana (who played in the WPIAL, which is almost as good as being a Steeler) as the only QB to have played on four Super Bowl winning teams. Should the Patriots win, I predict that the first call to The Fan stating that Belichick's four wins "shouldn't count" because he "cheated by video tapin' n'at" will come in before midnight on Sunday.

Let's hope it's a great game, with lots of great commercials, and an entertaining performance by Madonna at halftime.