Thursday, May 31, 2012

On Neil Walker

In his Post-Gazette blog yesterday, Bob Smizik offered a post wherein he asked questions pertaining to the performance - the "declining performance" as he put it - of Pirate second baseman Neil Walker.  Smizik included the numbers to back up his assertion.  I found the article of interest because the very night before, while attending the Pirates - Reds game, Len Martin, Dan Bonk, and I had the very same conversation.  "Have we seen the best that Neil Walker has to offer?" was the way we framed the conversation.  I copied Smizik's post and posted it on the "Pirate Chat" Facebook page.

Well, that Facebook post created a mini-storm of comments, most of which fell in the "Smizik's-a-jaggoff-so-where-does-he-come-off-criticizing-Neil-Walker" school of thought.  However, here are the numbers for Walker thus far in 2012:

.254 BA
.648 OPS
2 HR
17 RBI
Only 10 extra base hits

On a team of under performing offensive players, Walker has certainly been one of them.

Now, I am not giving up on Walker.  I think that he can be a solid performer, but that means hitting in the .270 to .280 range, 12-15 home runs and 75 or so RBI's, and he is not performing at that level this year, and you could point out that this decline began in the latter half of the 2011 season.

Perhaps there is a reason that the Pirates have not sought to sign him to a long term deal, as they did with Andrew McCutchen.

Here's hoping that he can turn things around.  I like the kid.  He's hustles, has a great attitude, and he is playing a nice second base.  He would be a nice player to have on a good ball club.

Oh, and did I mention that he is from Pittsburgh.  Would the criticism of Walker be heightened (and the criticism of Smizik lessened) if Walker had been born and raised in, say, Peoria, Illinois instead of Gibsonia, PA? 

Just askin'.

WPIAL Baseball Championship: Seneca Valley 5 - Mt. Lebanon 3

I learned a few weeks ago, that Anthony Paladino, the son of old friend, Frank Paladino, is the starting third baseman for the Mt. Lebanon High School Blue Devils, and that last night, Mt. Lebo would be playing Seneca Valley for the WPIAL Quad-A championship.  Now, I did face a possible conflict since nephews Zach and Nate Stoner attend Seneca Valley, but since neither of them play on the baseball team, I cast my lot with the Blue Devils, and headed down to Consol Energy Field in Washington, PA last night, along with other old friends Roger Hansen and Jim Hinerman, to watch what promised to be an epic tilt.  I even wore a blue & gold shirt for the occasion.

It was an exciting atmosphere and it was a lot of fun to be there and watch these kids playing in this game last night.  Unfortunately for Mt. Lebo, Seneca Valley prevailed and won by a score of 5-3.  Senior SV pitcher Matt Smith was just too much for the Devils to overcome last night, as he struck out 10 batters in the seven inning complete game. Despite giving up seven hits and walking four, he was dominant, and made the difference in the game.

Of special excitement for us was a stellar defensive play that Anthony made in the first inning.  With a man on and two outs, Seneca Valley's best hitter, Austin Bream, son of former Pirate Sid Bream, hit a screaming line drive that had "run scoring double" written all over it, but young Mr. Paladino snared it in a fashion that had "Brooks Robinson" written all over it. That was one of several very nice defensive plays that Anthony made in the game. 

It was a great effort on the part of both teams, and a fun evening at the ballpark.  I'm glad that I was there.

By the byzantine workings of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, despite losing last night, Mt. Lebanon has still qualified for the State Championship tournament, so best wishes for success to the Blue Devils as they advance in the States.

Now, a couple of other Grandstander-type observations....

  • When you are used to watching baseball only at the major league level, you take for granted what a difficult game it is to play well.  Watching a high school baseball game, even a high level game as last night's one, you see that what would be routine plays in a major league game, do not get made in these games.  You may say that is not fair to compare high school players to major leaguers, and you would be right, and that is not my purpose here, but I have seen this same occurrence in minor league games in Altoona, Erie, and State College that I have attended over the years.  I suppose that my point is that when a guy gets to the major leagues, you can be sure that he is a very good baseball player.
  • The game last night used a Designated Hitter; pitchers did not come to bat.  Now I have nothing to back me up on this, but I would guess that in many, if not most cases, the pitcher on a high school team might be the best player on any given high school team and very likely the best hitter, so what is the point in not allowing him to hit in the game?
  • The coaches for each team last night wore full baseball uniforms.  Why?  For that matter, why do professional and major league managers wear full uniforms.  I guess the answer is "because they always have."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Happy Birthday, Annette Benning

Happy 54th Birthday today to Annette Benning.  I like Annette Benning. She is, of course, a serious actress, with several Oscar nominations to her credit, but she did a great comic turn early in her career playing Dan Ackroyd's wife in the John Candy classic, "The Great Outdoors".  Loved how she talked about the spin cycle on her washing machine!

With our vacation trip looming in the weeks ahead, a repeat viewing of "The Great Outdoors" (along with "National Lampoon's Vacation") is almost mandatory.

Anyway, wishes for a most happy birthday go out to Ms. Benning, the woman who tamed Warren Beatty.

Monday, May 28, 2012


If on Opening Day back on April 5, if someone told you that the Pirates would be 24-24 and three games out of first place on Memorial Day, (a) would you have told them that they were nuts, and (b) would you have signed up for it?

I am pretty sure that your answer would be "Yes" to both questions above.  Yet here we are, 24-24 and 3 games out of first after the Bucs have mounted a four game winning streak.

Hell, I'd have been ecstatic if you'd have told me that they would be 4 and 1/2 games ahead of the Brewers, which they are!

The kicker here is how that Pirates have managed this feat with an offensive output that is inept in historic proportions.  You have read my rants on this subject in recent weeks, and the topic has been well documented in the press and the airwaves.  It also drives you absolutely nuts when you think of where the team might be if they would have had anyone to go along with Andrew McCutchen as any sort of offensive threat.  Consider these numbers posted by Dejan Kovacevic on his blog tonight:

  • When they score 4 or more runs in a game, the Pirates are 16-2 (frankly, I'm shocked that they have scored four or more 18 times this year).
  • When scoring 3 or more runs, they are 20-6.
  • Even when they score a measly 2 or more runs, they are 23-10, a pace that would equal 112 wins in a season!

If the amazing pitching can hold up - and that, admittedly, is a big if - then the addition of any kind of offensive threat would seem to mean good things for this team.  Who will that threat be? A more consistent Pedro Alvarez?  Neil Walker coming up to the levels he produced last season?  Neal Huntington pulling the trigger on some sort of transaction that would bring in someone, anyone, who can provide some punch to the line up?  The W-L record when they do score runs would indicate that it might not take all that much to make this team a player in the NL Central over the remainder of the season.

We can dream, can't we?

Memorial Day Weekend 2012

Hope that you all enjoyed your unofficial beginning of Summer, 2012 - Memorial Day Weekend. I will say that I was happy to see that everywhere one looked, you were reminded of the true meaning and purpose of the Memorial Day holiday.  Nice to see.

We had a nice weekend.  Placing American flags throughout Stonebrook Village on Saturday morning.  Company with good friends Dave and Judy Jones on Saturday night.  A nice round of golf with friends Fred Shugars, Duane Lukitsh, and Steve Sutton today.

We also had some bad news as well with the passing of neighbor and fellow St. John Neumann parishioner, Nancy Frankhart.  Another added to the list of Absent Friends.  RIP Nancy.

As the summer season now begins in earnest, I hope that all enjoy the lazy, hazy days ahead.

Memorial Day 2012

Lest we forget.....

Thursday, May 24, 2012

May 23: Mets 3 - Pirates 1

Yes, we were in attendance yesterday to see the Mets defeat the Pirates, 3-1.  The game took 2 hours and 21 minutes to play, and this is the best thing that I can say about a game the Clint Hurdle and the team absolutely mailed in yesterday.

The starting line up included Josh Harrison in right field (he is hitting .274 so I guess you have to find somewhere for him to play) and the following so-called offensive players: Gorkys Hernandez, .000, Casey McGehee, .186, Rod Barajas, .212 (and he's been on a HOT streak of late), Yamico Navarro, .182, and Clint Barmes, .178.  And Pedro Alvarez and his .202, or whatever he's hitting right now, didn't play.

Really now, can that lineup be called anything other than a disgrace?

In fairness to Hernandez, yesterday was his first start, and while he didn't get a ball out of the infield, he did draw a walk, and only the grace of a poor throw from the pitcher prevented him from getting picked off first base after that.  If the throw was there, he was a dead duck, which would have been fitting for the performance that the Bucs put on yesterday.

Here's a serious hypothetical question for you.  If the 2012 Pirates were to play a seven game series with the 1962 Mets, who would win?  Honest-to-God, I think would put my money on the '62 Mets.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Popgun Pirates

OK, I know the Pirates overcame a four run deficit last night to defeat the Mets, 5-4, even had a two run home run in the process, but tonight the Corsairs pulled out the popguns once again and lost to the Mets, 3-2.  It is getting increasingly tiresome to watch these guys and their inability to hit and score runs, or even, for God's sake, make contact - there were 13 more strikeouts tonight.  Another great pitching effort from James McDonald wasted tonight, and the Bucco leather joined in the fun tonight with some shoddy defense in the eighth that allowed the Mets winning runs to score.

Neal Huntington keeps saying that "there are no trades to be made" for hitters.  Really?  In 2003, the much maligned Dave Littlefield managed to find Jason Bay blocked in the San Diego minor league system.  I am betting that there is another "Jason Bay" somewhere in somebody's minor league system who could be had without giving up Jameson Taillon of Gerritt Cole.  Why can't Huntington and his minions find him?

As my friend Al "The Legend" Cotton put it recently on Facebook, after four years at the helm, Huntington's drafts have produced one, count 'em, ONE player on the major league team, Pedro Alvarez.  That is almost intolerable.

It is a miracle, or a testimony to a weak division, that the Pirates found themselves two games under .500 and 2 and 1/2 games out of first place this morning.  Credit Neal for being able to find some pitching talent in his off season maneuverings, but watching a team that is hard pressed to score three runs a game is maddening.

Am off to PNC Park tomorrow to see if the Pirates can win this series with the Mets.  Hope Charlie Morton has a shutout in him.  That's about what it's going to take to pull it off.

Two notes on tonight's game:  (1) James McDonald's strike out of David Wright was really, really fun to watch. (2) Am I the only one who thought that Andrew McCutchen should have ended up on second base in the eighth inning when David Murphy dropped that popup?  He seemed to be nonchalanting it coming out of the batter's box on that one.

TO Absent Friends: Robin Gibb

Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees passed away this past weekend at the age of 63.  Recent pictures showed that his death was cruel one, so let's show a picture above of the Brothers Gibb in their prime.  Brothers Andy and Maurice preceded Robin in death, so only Barry remains.  Sad.

For a better memory, let the brothers get a message to you in the link below:

I would also recommend that you spend some time on YouTube checking out the Bee Gees performing over the years.  You gotta love YouTube!

RIP Robin Gibb.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Mt. Lebanon High School Percussion Concert

We traveled last night from the North Hills to far off Mt. Lebanon (had to cross two rivers, two bridges and go through a tunnel - huge undertaking for the average Pittsburgher) to attend the Percussion Concert given by the Mt. Lebanon High School Percussion Ensemble.  I first became aware of this organization a few years back when Ashley Hansen, daughter of my friend and co-worker Roger Hansen, entered Mt. Lebanon High School and became a member of the Percussion Ensemble.  Over the years, I had seen videos of Ashley and the Mt. Lebo Drumline performing at football games, and last night we saw the whole troop perform their signature school concert.

Having attended musicals and orchestra performances at North Allegheny over the years, I can tell you that there are few things that give me a better feeling about kids and life in general than watching such talented young kids perform in a musical setting.  The MLHS Percussion group certainly upheld that tradition last night by giving an absolutely fantastic performance.  The energy, the talent, the tremendous sound that was produced by these kids last night was both highly entertaining and inspiring for the two and one-half hours that they were on stage.

The highlights for me personally were the opening performance by the Famed Blue Devil Drumline and the "African Ensemble" that featured not only the music, but some really neat choreography by the musicians themselves.  Naturally, Ashley performed in both of these segments, so perhaps my opinion is not entirely objective.  The "Drum Set Ensemble" featuring five young men banging away on five separate drum kits was also really good.

And perhaps even more impressive that the performance itself was seeing the kids in the lobby after the show, congratulating them, and being greeted with such polite and enthusiastic responses.  A real credit to the School District, the kids themselves, and their families.

It is a wonderful thing to see a school district give such strong support to "The Arts" as Mt. Lebanon obviously does, as does our own school district, North Allegheny.  Yet the District's Percussion Director (who looks remarkably like the actor Harry "Col. Potter" Morgan) mentioned that only 25% of the Mt. Lebanon arts funding comes from the District.  The rest comes from fundraising efforts by the kids themselves, their families, and concerned members of the community.  That's kind of a sad statistic (just curious, but I wonder what the corresponding percentage is for the football team), and I wonder if that is the same for other school districts, such as our own North Allegheny.

It reminded me of the scene in the movie "Mr. Holland's Opus" when Richard Dreyfuss is being told he is being let go because the District is eliminating the music program.  When told by the administration that it was a choice between the arts and "reading and writing", Mr. Holland (Dreyfuss) replies "Keep cutting the Arts from the curriculum, and pretty soon the kids won't have anything to read and write about."

So, I will take this moment to urge you to support the kids in your own school districts, wherever you might be, who work so hard and with the dedication of the Mt. Lebanon kids we watched last night.

And I will close with one final CONGRATULATIONS to all of the Mt. Lebo percussionists, especially to Ashley Hansen!

Friday, May 18, 2012

More On Season Finales

I do not watch "Grey's Anatomy",  but Marilyn deemed it to be "ridiculous', even more ridiculous than the one for "Hawaii Five-0" and threatens not to resume watching come September.

"Person of Interest"  had a typically frenetic finale with a big cliffhanger - What will happen to Mr. Finch????? - but, if you accept the basic premise of the show, and don't ask too many questions, it was well within what you would expect of this show.  I will look forward to watching this series resume in the Fall.

By the way, it was confirmed in yesterday's paper that "Unforgettable" has been cancelled by CBS, so we never will know who killed Kerri's sister, but at least it looks like Kerri and Al are going to be relighting the fires of their past, ahem, relationship.  Can't wait to see what Kerri's is-he-or-isn't-he-a gangster boyfriend will make of that.  Oh, wait, the shows been canceled, so we'll never know, will we? 

In any event, I am glad that all of the season finales of the shows we watch have aired.  We're pretty much exhausted from the meat grinder that they have out us through this week.

Book Review: "Over Time, My Life As A Sportswriter" by Frank Deford

If you are a long time reader of Sports Illustrated, you know the work of Frank Deford.  If you watch HBO, you know the work of Frank Deford.  If you are a regular listener to National Public Radio, you know the work of Frank Deford.  Hey, you'll even know Frank Deford if you can remember the old Miller Lite "tastes great, less filling" commercials.  Long one of America's most outstanding sportswriters, Deford has now written a memoir covering his 50 years as a writer covering America's sporting scene, and, as you might expect, it is extremely well written and highly entertaining.  I would highly recommend it.

I'll try not to spoil it for you by telling all the good stuff, but here are some highlights.

  • He talks about how his name is constantly misspelled as either DeFord or De Ford.  OK, he got used to it, but when a friend named a race horse "Frank Deford" in his honor, Frank Deford, the writer, tended to get a little dismayed over the fact that Frank Deford, the horse, when written about in the racing press and in the Daily Racing Form,  never had his  name misspelled.  Ever.  Unfortunately, the horse wasn't near as good a thoroughbred as Deford was a sportswriter, and eventually had to be gelded!
  • If you don't want to buy the book, then go to a bookstore - if you can find one - and, if nothing else, read Chapter 26, "Hobey and Danny and Bill".  It is about three Princeton athletes, Hobey Baker, Danny Sachs, and Bill Bradley, and it is a marvelous story in and of itself.
  • Some great stories about covering the NBA in the early 1960's when it consisted of eight teams and we pretty much a bush league.  These chapters often had me laughing out loud at some of the anecdotes.
  • Equally great stories about the early days of Sports Illustrated that sounded very much like episodes of Mad Men.
  • You'll read great stories about people like Pete Rose, Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Ted Williams, Wilt Chamberlin, Bill Russell, Arthur Ashe, and many, many more.
  • He also talks about sports writing and how it has evolved, and continues to evolve over the years, with anecdotes about folks such as Grantland Rice, Red Smith, Dan Jenkins, Dick Young, and, of course, Howard Cosell, who wasn't actually a sports writer,  but has to be included anyway.
And can Deford turn a phrase! Here a couple of my favorites:
  • "I don't believe that any people except elderly athletes are any longer referred to as 'old-timers'.  Everybody else is a senior citizen.  Personally, I would prefer being called an 'old-timer' any day of the week."
  • "The Harlem Globetrotters still thrive out there. It's the one goofy thing television hasn't been able to kill."
  • Deford once worked a story wherein he profiled the four current Commissioners of the major sports.  He ended each interview with a goofy question about what each wore when they slept.  Pete Rozelle, Walter Kennedy, and Clarence Campbell played along with the silliness, but "Bowie Kuhn was beside himself with indignation that I had dared make such a raw personal inquiry.  He refused to answer the question and took me to task for prying. I assumed he must've slept in a stuffed shirt."
He also even refers to SABR, although the book calls the organization "Sabre" (where was the editor?).  Anyway, he refers to Sabre (sic) people as "the statistics nuts", but then concludes that "Sabreites (sic) may be in love with numbers, but they are, foremost, unabashed devotees of the game that, after all, provides them with their inert numbers."

I loved this book and highly recommend it to fans of both sports and terrific writing.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

To Absent Friends: Donna Summer

OK, while Disco was King while I was in my twenties, I must admit that I was no denizen of the discos, never went to one, nor, although I did own the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever, was I a big fan of disco music.  However, the death of Donna Summer today at the way too young age of 63 must be noted by The Grandstander.

Herewith a video of Ms Summer performing, somewhat appropriately, "The Last Dance".

RIP Donna Summer.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The "Hawaii Five-0" Season Finale (No Spoilers)

So we decided to watch the season finale of "Hawaii Five-0" in real time last night.  Didn't want to DVR it and wait a day to see it.

What did we get?  Some spectacular explosions, some typical tough guy theatrics from Steve McGarrett, some amazing computer technology from the Five-0 gang (does that facial recognition technology that they use actually exist in real life?), the near death of one of the ancillary characters, some angst with Danno involving his ex-wife, and, only forty-five minutes into the show, the resolution of the crime of the week. 

The last fifteen minutes was a bunch of tacked on b.s. aimed to produce a cliffhanger ending that now seems to be a requirement of every series on television.  I swear that the writers must have sat in the writer's room and said something like "what kind of wild-ass stuff can we come up with for each of our four main characters that will reel people in to watch next September? And don't worry, the more far out and ridiculous the situation we come up with, the better.   Oh, and it doesn't matter if it seems thrown together at the last minute."

I'm not saying that the new "Hawaii Five-0" jumped the shark last night, but I'm starting to hear the theme from "Jaws" playing in the background.

On other Season Finale news, it looked like "Unforgettable" resolved it's ongoing story line, only to have the writers say, "whoops, only kidding; Kerri still has that Dead Sister MacGuffin to chase after."  And Mrs. Grandstander has reported that while she will tune into the season opener of "Grey's Anatomy" in the fall (I do not watch this one), she has warned that she is fully prepared to ditch this show, since it, too, is showing every sign of jumping the shark.

The "Person of Interest" finale is on tap for Thursday.  I will put the over/under on the body count for that one at six.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Neal Huntington is a Marvel

I have got to hand it to Neal Huntington in one regard - the man can talk!

While driving home from the Zoo this afternoon, we listened to "The Neal Huntington Show" on The Fan.  Now, I had no expectation that Neal would reveal any great wisdom or secrets on this weekly radio gig, nor should he, quite frankly, but he managed to talk....and talk....and talk for 15 solid minutes and not say anything.  Talk about a bullshit artist, and I say this not to be critical.  I'm absolutely serious when I say it was a marvel to behold.  GM Neal takes a back seat to no one, including any politico in Washington, DC or Harrisburg, PA in this particular ability.

Now, if he can only get a short stop or a catcher that can hit.....

Hold That Tiger....

More from the Zoo this afternoon....

The tigers were exceptionally active today, as you can see from the pictures below.  For a minute there, we thought we were going to see two of them get married, if you know what I mean.

Majestic creatures, aren't they?

Someone Told Me It's All Happenin' at the Zoo...

Today Marilyn and I partook in what has become something of a Mother's Day tradition for us, a visit to the Pittsburgh Zoo.  Today was really a perfect day to visit the Zoo, it was cool and overcast, and it even drizzled slightly, conditions that combined to make the animals more lively and active that you might see them if visiting on a hot and sunny summer afternoon.

We also found it most interesting to see, as the pictures below will attest, that human beings were not the only species celebrating Mother's Day today.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

DVR Alerts for This Weekend

Set your DVR for the following upcoming presentations this weekend on Turner Classic Movies (all times Eastern):

Friday, Noon:  "It Happened One Night" (1934)  This was the first movie that swept the four major Academy Awards, Best Picture, Actor, Actress, and Director.  (Two other movies have done it since.  Can you name them?)  I watched this movie for the first time about five years ago and found it to be absolutely delightful.  Allowing for updates for time and historical references, if this same movie were made today, it would still be terrific.  This is also the movie that gave rise to the perhaps apocryphal statement: "When Gable took off his shirt, underwear sales dropped 50%."

Friday, 8:00 PM: "American Graffiti" (1973) Great movie from director George Lucas about teenagers in 1962 getting ready to leave high school and begin young adulthood.  An unbelievable cast of actors who were mostly unknown at the time: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Suzanne Sommers, and Harrison Ford, among others and an absolutely fabulous sound track.

Saturday, 6:15 PM: "Knute Rockne, All American" (1940) Pat O'Brien in his most famous role as Notre Dame's legendary football coach.  This movie is a must for all fans of the Fighting Irish.  And if you like seeing our 40th President on screen, this may also be Ronald Reagan's most famous role as well.  As George Gipp, Reagan was on screen for less that 10 minutes in this flick, but he milked his role as "the Gipper" all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Sunday, 11:30 AM: "The Seven Year Itch" (1955)  This Billy Wilder movie is an ordinary comedy at best, except, and it is a pretty big exception, when Marilyn Monroe is on screen.  She is a delight as the mysterious and alluring "girl upstairs." 

Cutch's Dash for Home

In his blog this morning, Bob Smizik accused Andrew McCutchen last night of getting away with some bad base running only because of some equally bad defense on the part of Nats' shortstop Ian Desmond.

Maybe so, but watching McCutchen scoring from second base on an infield ground ball, never slowing down as he rounded third, in fact, only turning on the jets at that point, may have been worth what I paid for my entire ten game ticket plan for 2012.


If you are a fan of Alfred Hitchcock and his movies, chances are you are aware of the term "MacGuffin."  Hitchcock was very fond of the concept of a MacGuffin, talked about it often, and used them in many of his films.  If you are not familiar with the term, here is how it is defined in Wikipedia:

In fiction, a MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin or maguffin) is a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist (and sometimes the antagonist) is willing to do and sacrifice almost anything to pursue, often with little or no narrative explanation as to why it is considered so desirable. A MacGuffin, therefore, functions merely as "a plot element that catches the viewers' attention or drives the plot of a work of fiction".[1] In fact, the specific nature of the MacGuffin may be ambiguous, undefined, generic, left open to interpretation or otherwise completely unimportant to the plot. Common examples are money, victory, glory, survival, a source of power, a potential threat, a mysterious but highly desired item or object, or simply something that is entirely unexplained.

Examples of MacGuffins in well known films is the meaning of "rosebud" in "Citizen Kane", the statue of the bird in "The Maltese Falcon", and whatever was hidden in the statue that James Mason had in "North by Northwest".

I bring this up because the current TV season is winding down, and nowhere has the concept of a MacGuffin been used, or overused, than in three TV series that we watch regularly. To summarize....

"Hawaii Five-0".  Who killed Steve McGarrett's father has been the MacGuffin for two seasons now, and the search has become so confusing and convoluted, that we can't keep track of who is whom, even if we had a scorecard.  The overarching character here is, of course, Wo Fat.  But this storyline has now involved.... 

  • a female CIA agent on loan to Five-O who seemed to side with Wo Fat, but really didn't because Wo Fat had threatened to kill her fiance, but she ended up being killed when Steve led that ridiculous raid into North Korea (this actress, by the way, can now be seen as Ken's wife in "Mad Men")
  • members of the Japanese Yakuza, including the son of the head of the Yakuza, who is going legit (or is he?), and is now having a hot & heavy affair with Kono
  • the bald guy who was Steve's commander in the Navy SEALs (I think), and who says he knows who killed his father, but can't tell Steve "for his own good", and who may in fact be a villain.  In any event, he seems to have disappeared for a few episodes, but I'm sure he'll turn up somewhere again
  • some guy named Shellburn; who the hell is this guy?
Anyway, I've given up trying to keep up with all this, because as the Five-0 team tries to sort all this out, they continue to solve crimes in the most spectacular fashion, even with Alex O'Laughlin drying out in rehab for a few episodes, so at this point, who really cares who killed Steve's father?  O'Laughlin returned this past Monday night and captured Wo Fat and sent him to prison for life (or did he?).  Seeing Steve fight off seven machine gun toting Yakuza members while being handcuffed to Wo Fat only confirmed that Steve McGarrett is THE singular biggest BADASS in television today.

"Person of Interest".  The second biggest badass on TV is "Mr. Reese" as played by the incredibly good looking, according to Mrs. Grandstander, Jim Caviezel.  The MacGuffin in this show is the all knowing "machine" developed by the mysterious Mr. Finch that knows and sees all and can determine when someone is about to become either the perpetrator or victim of some awful crime.   The other MacGuffin is the pasts of both Reese and Finch, which is told in flashbacks and involve a tragic love affair for Reese, crooked skulduggery as perpetrated by the CIA, FBI and God knows what other government agencies, as well as crooked NYC cops, and some super criminal named Elias.  Sometimes these flashbacks take place weeks apart in the various episodes, so who can remember who's who, who's a good guy or lady, who's a bad guy or lady, who was killed in those flashbacks and who is still alive, hell, can we even be sure if Mr. Reese is a good guy or bad guy?  

Anyway, like the action in Five-0, the action in "Person of Interest" is at times spectacular, but also much grittier than in Five-0.  And it is spectacularly violent.  There has to be more violent deaths on this show than any other on network television.  I believe that tonight's show will be the season finale for POI, and there will no doubt be some maddening cliffhanger that will hook us into tuning in next September.

"Unforgettable".  The hook on this story is Detective Kerri Welles, as played by good looking babe, Poppy Montgomery, who has the ability to remember everything she has ever seen or heard.  There is one thing, however, that she cannot remember - who killed her sister when they were little girls growing up in Syracuse.  The death of Kerri's sister is the MacGuffin here.  Kerri will to do anything that she can, even going outside the pesky NYC police departmental regulations and procedures, to help jog her memory about WHO KILLED HER SISTER!!!!! Last week, she even became the #1 suspect in a murder (of a guy who claimed he knew WHO KILLED HER SISTER) just to find out WHO KILLED HER SISTER!!!!  

The gimmick of the detective who remembers everything makes this a pretty good cop show, but the MacGuffin of the dead sister is annoying.  It's almost as bad as McGarrett's father.  I mean, at this point, who cares? The season finale was this past Tuesday night, and it now sits on our DVR, waiting to be viewed.  I am not sure if this show is being renewed by CBS for next season, I read that it was iffy, so we are anxious to see if their will be a resolution, or another cliffhanger.

That's the MacGuffin Report for today.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Sporting Thoughts for a Monday Morning

  • Last Thursday, the Pirates beat the Cardinals and Pirates pitchers struck out 17 Cardinal batters.  It was hailed as a pitching masterpiece.  
  • On Sunday, the Reds beat the Pirates and Reds pitchers struck out 17 Pirates batters.  It has been hailed as yet another example of the ineptitude of the Pirates lineup.
  • So, which of the above statements is more accurate? Feel free to discuss.
  • I was keeping a scorecard at the game on Friday night, and there it was in stark black and white:  a batting order that had a bottom third of Barmes, Barajas (both hitting below .200), and the pitcher.  It's one thing to hide a weak bat in the midst of a strong line-up, but with this batting order, the Pirates are giving up at least three entire innings in every game they play.  That is no way to win ball games.
  • Ben Roethlisberger will never be a beloved figure on a national level, thanks in large part to his own actions, and even Steelers fanatics will lose their love for him if he stops winning football games, but he deserves a lot of credit for spending this off season completing four college courses at Miami (O) University and getting his four year degree at the Miami commencement ceremonies yesterday.
  • While PGA Tour young guns Ricky Fowler, Rory McIlroy, and D.A. Points went to sudden death at the Wells Fargo Tournament in Charlotte yesterday, Tiger Woods sat home in Florida having missed the cut.  Hard to believe, but I think that Tiger Woods is now just another guy on the PGA Tour.
  • If I were to set the over/under at 1.5 for future major championship wins and 9.5 for total tour wins for Woods in the future, which way would you bet?
  • I think that I would go with the "under" on both bets.
  • After 112 at bats, Albert Pujols has 1 home run, 7 RBI's, a .196 BA and a .532 OPS.  "Unbelievable" doesn't even begin to describe those numbers.
  • Friend Jim Haller came up with a pretty good trivia question this morning.  Without looking anything up, name the top five Pirates pitchers for Wins in the 1960's (1960-69).  The top three are pretty obvious.  Numbers four and five might surprise you, especially #4.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Kent State, 42 Years Later

Forty-two years ago today, four students at Kent State University were killed at the hands of the Ohio National Guard.  Everyday, I get an email that lists birthdays for the date as well as an "on this date in history" recap.  Unbelievably, the events at Kent State were not noted on today's email.  What a shame.

My most vivid memory of that date was seeing how upset my Dad was when he came home from work that day.  I regret that I never spoke to him about his feelings that day, not in 1970, nor in any of the years following.  I suspect, however, that having two of his children being of college age at the time no doubt caused him to feel the way he did that day.  

There are some dates that just should not be forgotten.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

To Absent Friends: Junior Seau

The news that Junior Seau took his own life today was shocking, to say the least.

Seau is linked to one of my top memories (certainly not one of my best memories) of Three Rivers Stadium.  I am speaking, of course, of the Chargers upset victory over the Steelers in the AFC Championship game following the 1994 season.  Seau was a monster that day.  Sixteen tackles.  I never was in a crowd that got so quiet, so fast as that one did when Neil O'Donnell's fourth down pass at the goal line was batted down and fell incomplete.  Walking out of the Stadium that day was surreal.

Who knows what demons Seau was fighting that caused him to commit this awful act.  I hope that he is at peace now.

RIP Junior Seau.

The Pirates, One Month In

The calendar has turned in to the month of May.  The Pirates have played 23 games.  No one has yet accumulated those 100 At Bats that Bob Prince always used as a benchmark, but let's take a look at the Pirates, one month into the 2012 season.

Safe to say that there have been three big stories thus far:

  1. How good the pitching has been.
  2. How lousy the hitting has been.
  3. Pedro Alvarez.
First, the pitching, and it has been remarkable.  Staff ERA is 2.94, the fourth best in MLB.  Four starting pitchers have ERA's of less than 3.00, with A.J. Burnett, albeit in only two starts, clocking in a 1.38.

Then there is the hitting, or lack of same.  The Pirates rank 26th in MLB in batting average, 27th in OPS, and 30th, dead last, in runs scored, and not all that close to the next lowest run scoring team (Marlins and Nats tied for 28th). If you consider OPS as the best indicator of a player's offensive performance, and many do, then the numbers on the Pirates tell a sad tale.  I am not sure what the magic number should be in OPS (the equivalent number of a .300 BA), but in taking a quick glance at the MLB numbers from 2011, let's just say, for the sake of argument, that an OPS of .800 makes you a good player, and .900 or better makes you an All-Star caliber player.  For example, the top four guys last year were Jose Bautista 1.056, Miguel Cabrera 1.033, Ryan Braun .994 and Matt Kemp .986.  Guys like Joey Votto, Curtis Granderson, and Troy Tulowitzki all were above .900 and there were others.

With that as a benchmark here are what those 2012 Pirates with significant numbers of ABs are showing: Garrett Jones .763, Andrew McCutchen .750, Casey McGehee .710, Neil Walker .681, Alex Presley .648, and Jose Tabata .597.  Then there are the "Killer B's", free agent signees Clint Barmes and Rod Barajas who sport OPS of .467 and .432 respectively.  They've been killers, alright, but not in the way that the Pirates hoped, to be sure.  These numbers are not good, no matter how you slice it.  Some good signs in that Tabata has hit well in recent games, but McCutchen, who is batting over .300, has yet to hit a home run, and only two of Walker's 22 hits have gone for extra bases.  Barmes and Barajas have been complete busts at the plate with only 2 home runs and 2 RBI's between them, both from Barmes, and goose eggs from Barajas.  Neither is hitting over .151.  And neither one is distinguishing themselves with the leather either, although much lip service is being paid to Barajas' ability to "handle" the pitchers.

It has been said that the pitching cannot remain as good as it has been, and the hitting cannot remain as bad as it has.  We will see.  The pitching, particularly the starting pitching, continues to be top shelf, and the hitting has shown some sign of a pulse in the last couple of games.  However, the uptick in hitting has come, as Neal Huntington likes to say, in a very limited sample.

This leads us to Pedro Alvarez, and you may have noticed that I left him out of the names in the previous paragraphs for I think he needs to be treated separately.  For the first two and one-half weeks of the season, the question was "how can they keep playing this guy? he's a bust", or, as Ralph Kramden would say, he's a BUMMMM.  For the last week and one-half, the question has been "why aren't they batting this guy clean-up?"

Alvarez had a miserable start.  For the longest time, he had only two hits (both HR's) and was batting below .100.  In the last seven games, he has been on fire.  He now has 6 HR, 12 RBI's, both tops on the team, his BA has risen to .222 and the OPS is now up to .829.  He still strikes out a lot, and I'm not sure that will ever change (it never did for Willie Stargell), but Pirates fans are breathing a bit easier over Alvarez and his future prospects as a Buc.

And I will say this, of Pedro's 26 career home runs, none of them have been cheap ones.  When he hits it, he hits it a mile.  Very fun to watch.

The team now stands at 10-13.  A knowledgeable friend of mine said at the beginning of the season that if the Pirates won 15 games of their first 40 games, he would be "floored."  Which means that they would need to win only five of their next 17 games to reach that particular dubious benchmark.  Nothing is a certainty, but I like their chances.  Still, a 10-13 record projects out to a 70-92 record, which would be a step back from 2011 and disappointing.  However, way too early to start making those kinds of projections.

In conclusion, here's what I like so far: A.J.Burnett, Eric Bedard, James McDonald, McCutchen's batting average, Walker edging up on .300, and Alvarez' surge in the last week or so.

Here's what I don't like: Clint Barmes and Rod Barajas.  In my mind, there is nothing good that you can say about them so far.  Nothing.  It will be interesting to see how long the team will stick with these guys.  How can you stick with two sub-.200 hitters who can't field, either?

Would be nice if they could take these last two games in the Cardinals series, but I'd settle for one win.  And I'm looking forward to being at PNC Park on Friday night when the Reds come to town, and not just for the free t-shirt!