Monday, December 31, 2012

"Silver Linings Playbook"

The New Year's Eve date movie is in the books.  Yeah, I know, it gets earlier and earlier each year, so hold the smart aleck comments, but at least we won't be out on the streets tonight on "amateur night."

The movie was "Silver Linings Playbook" and there is a reason it is making so many Ten Best  Lists for 2012.   Funny, sad, touching, and ultimately, uplifting.  Great performances by Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro.

All those people who told me on Facebook that we were making the right decision to see this one were absolutely correct!!

The Steelers Close It Out

Well, the Steelers win over the Browns certainly was fitting - a mediocre game between two mediocre teams.  It took them 15 games and three quarters to do it, but the Steelers defense finally was able to force turnovers and the offense was able to take advantage of them and turned a 10-10 slog into a 24-10 win, thus preventing Mike Tomlin's first losing season to finish with an 8-8 record.  Like I said, mediocre.

In summarizing the season, let's look back at what I wrote on September 9 in previewing the Steelers.

As for how they will do over the course of the season, I think that they are a good enough team to win more games than they will lose, but will they be good enough to make the playoffs from a division that sent two other teams, the Ravens and Bengals, to the playoffs last season? 

Okay, I almost got that one right.  They were 8-8, but both the Ravens and Bengals made the playoffs while the Steelers are going home.  Later in that same post, I did predict that the Steelers would not make the playoffs.

On the plus side, they have a great quarterback and a corps of very good, if not great, receivers. 

The corps of "Young Money" receivers came up way short this year.  Mike Wallace seemed to drop more passes than he caught and was caught loafing a couple of times when he needed to play defense after Roethlisberger interceptions.  He held out during training camp and demanded to be paid like Larry Fitzgerald, but he ended up playing more like Barry Fitzgerald.  He won't be back in 2013.  The absence of Hines Ward, even an over-the-hill Hines Ward, was surely felt this season.

As for Roethlisberger, he remains the teams' best player, and the guy around whom the offense must be structured, but he bears as much of the blame for the Steelers 8-8 season as anyone.  When the Steelers were at 6-3, Ben was in the conversation as a league MVP candidate.  Then the shoulder/rib injury in the Kansas City game and he was not the same QB when he came back three games later.  Critical interceptions against Cincy and Dallas when the team had the chance to win pretty much ended any hope the team had of making the post-season.  Not sure how much the injury played into that, but you certainly have to wonder.

I am also concerned with the running backs.  They are counting on Isaac Redman to replace an injured Rashard Mendenhall.  Redman has been okay as a short yardage guy and a fill in in the past, but it's still a question, in my mind anyway, if he can do it over the long haul. 

I forgot to mention Jonathan Dwyer in the season opening write-up, but no matter.  Save for three mid-season games when 100 yard games were turned in by Dwyer (2) and Redman (1), the Steelers had no running game.  The continuing insistence on stressing the run by the game planners made this all the more frustrating as the season concluded with that 2-5 record in the last seven weeks.  Finding a dependable running back has got to be a priority in this off-season.  Don't expect Mendenhall back next year, either.
On defense, younger guys need to step up to replace guys like James Farrior and Aaron Smith, while guys like James Harrison and Troy Polamalu  are another year older.

Polamalu missed nine games due to injury, and Harrison appeared to be a shadow of his former self when he returned after starting the season as inactive due to injury.  Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen appeared to make some nice strides as defensive backs, but where are the young guys needed to replace Farrior, Smith, and, maybe soon, Casey Hampton and Brett Kiesel?

People will also continue to cite losses to teams that "we should beat" - Oakland, Tennessee, San Diego, and Cleveland - and that's true, but to rehash the tired Bill Parcells line, "You are what your record says you are", and while one, maybe two bad losses like that can happen, when FOUR of them happen in a season, maybe you are in the same class as those crummy teams that beat you.

However, the NFL is structured so that no one stays on top forever, and the Steelers have certainly shown a track record of being able to bounce back from down years.  In the end, the 2012 Steelers were not a particularly bad team, but perhaps wins over teams like the Giants, Redskins, and Ravens were done on memory rather than ability.  They just were never a particularly good team.  That's okay.  Believe it or not, and annual trip to the Super Bowl is not the Steelers' - nor their fans' - birthright.

Then there was the coaching.  I will start right off by saying that I am not qualified to judge the "X's and O's" abilities of professional football coaches.  They are a lot smarter than me, but I do feel qualified to say that the Steelers offense did not get better after Art Rooney II inserted himself into the make up of the coaching staff and forced the "retirement" of OC Bruce Ariens and the team brought in Todd Hailey after the 2011 season.  Maybe it was injuries, maybe it was age, I don't know, but that was NOT an improved offense in 2012 over 2011.

As for Mike Tomlin, I love the guy.  People who call for him to be fired (listen to The Fan and you'll hear them) are beyond ridiculous.  If anyone has earned a mulligan or two or three, it's Mike Tomlin.

Happy New Year

Please celebrate responsibly!

And thank you for continuing to visit The Grandstand in 2012.  Will be seeing you in 2013!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Free-Falling Mountaineers

In a Tri-State Area sports year that saw major second half collapses from both the Pirates and the Steelers, did any local team fall quite as far as the West Virginia Football Mountaineers?  From an offensive juggernaut that looked unstoppable, led by a sure-fire Heisman Finalist to a 6-6 team that gets pasted by 24 points in a Who Cares? Bowl by a middle of the pack Big East team.

Lots of work ahead for Dana Holgersen and his staff, I'd say.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Winter Wonderland

Check out this view from our bedroom window this morning.  Awesome (as the kids today say)!

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Books of 2012

The final tally is in.  I read 56 books in 2012.  Some old, some new, some may be out of print and only be available at your local library.  In looking back, here are the highlights and the ones that I would highly recommend.


"Destiny of the Republic" by Candice Miller - The story of the assassination and death of President James Garfield in 1881.  You will learn that it was not so much the bullet that killed the President, but the medical treatment he received in trying to save him.  You will also learn how the phrase "Ignorance is bliss" came about.

"On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery" by Robert M. Poole - Great story about how the federal government appropriated the property of the Robert E. Lee family and turned it into the country's most hallowed ground.  Fascinating stories about how the Lee family sued the government to have their property returned (and won!), the rush job to arrange for the burial of President Kennedy, and the selections of the Unknowns from the nation's wars.

"American Triumvirate: Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and the Modern Age of Golf" by James Dodson - The title says it all.  It's great reading, but pretty much for golf fans only.

"The Best Pittsburgh Sports Arguments" by John Mehno - 100 questions raised and answered by sportswriter Mehno.  Examples: "Was the Super Bowl XXX loss really Neil O'Donnell's fault?" and "Was Barry Bonds really that bad a guy?" (Answers: No and Maybe)  Lots of fun stuff in here for the Pittsburgh sports fan.

"Over Time, My Life As A Sportswriter" by Frank Deford - A memoir covering covering the fifty year career of one of the great sportswriters of all time.

"One Shot At Forever"  by Chris Ballard - The story of a small time high school baseball team - and their unusual coach - that made it all the way to the Illinois high school championship game in the early 1970's.  A real life "Hoosiers", and a story of the impact a coach or a teacher can have on  young persons throughout their lives.

"Hellhound on His Trail" by Hampton Sides - The Story of James Earl Ray and how he stalked and killed Martin Luther King in 1968, and the FBI search to capture him.

"The Devil in the White City" by Eric Larson - The story of the World's Colombian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago and the concurrent story of a serial killer that preyed upon the city of Chicago during that Fair.

"The Johnstown Flood" by David McCullough - All about the calamity of the great Johnstown Flood.  Great "you are there" kind of reporting on an event that happened in the 19th century.

"Close-Up on Sunset Boulevard" by Sam Stiles - Terrific account of he making and the history of the classic 1950 Billy Wilder movie, "Sunset Boulevard".  Great book for movie fans and almost a must for fans of this movie in particular.


"Cop Hater" by Ed McBain - This book was published in 1956 and is worth reading, or re-reading, because it was the first in McBain's 87th Precinct series of police procedural novels. This series was not only among the first, but perhaps the best of the genre.

"Victims" by Jonathan Kellerman - Any new entry in Kellerman's Alex Delaware series will always make my list.

"Stolen Prey" and "Mad River" by John Sandford - New entries in the Lucas Davenport and Virgil series, respectively.  Great detective/thriller/mystery yarns.

"This Is Where I Leave You" by Jonathan Tropper - The story about a thirty-something guy whose marriage is falling apart at the time of his father's death.  The Jewish family begins the seven day shiva after the death and all sorts of family secrets, problems, and peculiarities arise.  Not the sort of book I usually read, but I really enjoyed this one.

"The Racketeer" by John Grisham - This new thriller from Grisham is not up to his usual standards, but still a worthwhile read for a long plane ride or a day at the beach.

There you have it.  Right now, I am currently reading a book that I received for Christmas that I suspect will be on this same list in 2013.  It's about the Eisenhower Presidency.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

It's Official: The Hammer is Gone

The news reports from the weekend are now official:  the Pirates have traded Joel Hanrahan, All-Star closer, who is the victim - in the Pirates point of view - of his own success.  He performed so well that he became too expensive for the Pirates to keep.

Hanrahan and infield prospect Brock Holt are off to the Red Sox and the Pirates receive these four players in return: pitchers Mark Melancon and Stolmy Pimentel, infielder Ivan DeJesus, Jr., and 1B/OF Jerry Sands.  Here are some of my thoughts on this deal.

  1. You can probably defend and make a case in defense of this deal, based upon the potential of the four players  coming here, and Neal Huntington will no doubt be spewing the Nealspiel from now until Opening Day doing just that, however...
  2. ....this is yet another deal where the NHR (Neal Huntington Regime) seems to be looking towards the ever expanding and undefined "future" while not necessarily latching on to the chance to win NOW, in 2013.
  3. Jerry Sands seems to be the same player as Clint Robinson and Travis Snider.  First baseman/outfielders.  Is Neal going for the throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach?
  4. I am sorry to see Hanrahan go.  I liked him, but at the same time, he can and will be replaced.  Finding a closer is not all that difficult, even for a team like the Pirates. (maybe).
  5. Even putting the best light on this, this deal still reeks of being a salary dump, pure and simple.
  6. Even if you can make a case, baseball-wise, for this deal, given the NHR track record in such deals, how confident are you that it's going to work out for the Pirates?
  7. And  I say the odds are less than 50/50 that Garrett Jones will in a Pirate uniform come Opening Day.
As always, big Pirates news are always accompanied by some great quotes from Huntington, the wacky Nealspeil we have come to know and love.  Here's one of them:

"I'm not saying that Mark's (Melancon) going to become Joel, but sometimes we get caught up in what we've done today and not necessarily take a look in how we've gotten there."

That is a quote directly from the Post-Gazette this morning.  Can anyone tell me what exactly he was trying to say there?

For the next bit of Nealspeil, I turn the stage over to my friend Fred Shugars and a comment he made on Facebook Pirate Chat this morning.  Take it away, Fred:

NH on adding Holt to the deal: "He was somebody Boston came after, and we reluctantly put him in the deal". That does make Neil sound like the bully just took his lunch money.

Thank you, Fred.  Couldn't have said it better.

If you are reading no great sense of outrage on my part, what can I say?  The Pirates have succeeded in numbing me on such matters over the course of the NHR.

But, hey, we're baseball fans, right?  Everything looks good over the Hot Stove, right?  Maybe this one will too.

Watch, but don't bet.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Absent Friends of 2012

Christmas is behind us, New Year's Day is just ahead.  A time to look back.

In 2012, The Grandstander noted the loss of 43 Absent Friends, those who left us in this year whose mark on history, society, popular culture or just on me personally was such that I felt it noteworthy to comment upon their passing.  

Here is a final look back on all of them.  Oh, and I cannot do this without saluting the great sportswriter, Red Smith, who always used the term "Absent Friends" when writing about those who had died.  In addition to those below, I want to note two others who were not public people, so I will not use their full names, but I also feel the loss of the passing of Betty S., the mother of my oldest boyhood friend, and Denise H., the wife of a friend and co-worker.

That said, a final salute to the Absent Friends of 2012:

Joe Paterno
Robert Heyges
Whitney Houston
Gary Carter
Sharon Ilkin
Davy Jones
Furman Bisher
Jerry Lynch
Dick Clark
Levon Helm
Charles Colson
Bill "Moose" Skowron
Junior Seau
Donna Summer
Robin Gibb
Jack Twyman
Teofilo Stevenson
Leroy Neiman
Victor Spinetti
Nora Ephron
Andy Griffith
Ernest Borgnine
Ted "Captain Showbiz" Atkins
Tom Davis
Sally Ride
Robert W. Creamer
Maeve Binchy
Marvin Hamlisch
Ron Palillo
Neil Armstrong
Art Heyman
Hal David
Barbara Cloud
Steve Sabol
Andy Williams
Beano Cook
George McGovern
Booth Lustig
Cleve Duncan
Marvin Miller
Earl "Speedo" Carroll
Jack Klugman
Charles Durning

Rest In Peace.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

To Absent Friends: Jack Klugman, Charles Durning

The sad news arrived on Christmas Eve and on Christmas morning of the passing of two "old pro" actors, Jack Klugman, 90, and Charles Durning, 89.

Klugman is best remembered for his TV roles as Oscar Madison in "The Odd Couple" and as Quincy in "Quincy M.E.", hit shows that ran in the 1970's and -80's.  His acting credits trace back to the Broadway stage and the early days of television drama.  He also appeared as one of the jurors in Sidney Lumet's great movie from 1957, "Twelve Angry Me," which starred Henry Fonda.  Klugman was the last surviving "juror" from that movie, and he was party of a terrific cast that also included Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden, Ed Begley, and Martin Balsam.  Terrific movie.

Durning is one of those guys whose face you instantly recognize as he has appeared in a million movies and TV shows.  He received an Oscar nomination for his brief role in "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas", and he was in the Best Picture Oscar winner, "The Sting."  He even once played Pope John XXIII in a TV movie!  Personally, I can remember seeing him on stage here in Pittsburgh in a touring production of "The Gin Game."

RIP Jack Klugman and Charles Durning

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Season Ends for the Steelers

This is what The Grandstander had to say back on September 9 in concluding my thoughts about the Steelers and their upcoming season:

Maybe this is a season where the team just takes a step backwards while retooling for another sustained stretch of Super Bowl caliber seasons down the road.  With a QB like Ben you can never count them out, and the Bengals can always be counted on to be, well, the Bengals, so you never know, but let's call it a 9-7 season with the team missing the Playoffs.  Hope I'm wrong.

Today the Steelers season came to a practical end, if not an official one, with a loss to those same Cincinnati Bengals that I so sneering referred to in that write up.  So I was wrong about the Bengals, to be sure.  And with a record that now stands at 7-8, the very best the Steelers can do is 8-8, so I was wrong about that, too.  But on the Big Issue, I was correct:  no playoffs for Rooney U. this year.

It should also be noted that at a few weeks back, the Steelers were 6-3 and in firm control of their playoff destiny.  Since then, they have gone 1-5, and, as noted, no post season for them.  Sounds a lot like another team that toiled on the North Shore this year.

Next week's season finale against the Browns shapes up as something that the Steelers haven't had in recent memory, a totally and completely meaningless game, but is it really?   A win can mean an 8-8 season, a non-losing season, something that that other North Side team knows nothing about.  And is a game against the Cleveland Browns ever really meaningless?  And the Steelers could see this as getting a pound of flesh against a crummy team that beat them during this second half decline.  Will the Steelers show some pride and professionalism and do something that they failed to do two weeks ago against San Diego, like show up and be ready to play?  Seeing how they answer that question will make next week's final game interesting to watch.

More post-season analysis and recriminations will be coming once the regular season is, officially, over.


A Merry Christmas and a Most Blessed 2013 to you all!  Thank you for visiting the Grandstand.

A Day in Oakmont - Books, a Movie, and Dinner

With no holiday obligations before us yesterday, Marilyn and I took a drive out to the little town of Oakmont yesterday afternoon, and had ourselves a delightful little Christmas Season adventure.

The first stop was the Mystery Lovers Bookshop.

This is a nationally known independent bookstore specializing in mystery titles that has been in business for over twenty years in Oakmont.  It has recently come under new ownership when founders Richard and Mary Alice Gorman opted to retire and sold the store to Laurie Stephens.  I had a chat with Ms. Stephens and some of her staff and they are enthused and promise to continue, and even improve upon, the store and the service that the Gormans had delivered for so long.

In talking with them, I was made aware of an interesting pattern that is developing in their business.  Years ago, it was the introduction of big-box chain bookstores like Waldens, Borders, and Barnes and Noble that began to put small independent book stores out of business.  Within the last five to ten years, on-line booksellers, Amazon being the biggest, has begun to put the big chains out of business, and, ironically, it is the vanishing of the Borders' of the world that is allowing the independents, such as Mystery Lovers, to make a modest comeback of sorts.

You can check them out at 

After Marilyn also visited some other specialty ships in Oakmont, we headed down the street to the Oaks Theater to see the new movie, "Hitchcock".

The movie, which starred Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock and Helen Mirren and his wife, Alma, was pretty good.  It centers on the period of Hitch's life when he made "Psycho", and tells a pretty good story, and, as you might expect, both Hopkins and Mirren are terrific.  However, it was really neat to attend a movie at the Oaks (it was our first time there).  The Oaks is an old, independent neighborhood theater with a large auditorium and a single, giant screen.  It has resisted the trend to break itself up into a multi-screen theater.  I can't remember the last time I saw a movie in such a place.  It was very cool experience.

After the movie, we watched a bride and groom and their wedding party being photographed on the streets (they had to be FREEZING), had a great dinner at the Chelsea Grille, and concluded by visiting the famous Oakmont Bakery.

A nice little community with a thriving business district with (Luke Ravenstahl take note) free, yes, FREE, on street parking.

Think about a visit to Oakmont some time.  It's more than just the Country Club!

Neal Does It Again

Events have kept me away from the keyboard these last few days, but my plan was to blog this Sunday morning on the Pirates signing of free agent pitcher Francisco Liriano.  Then I come home last night to find that the Buccos madcap GM Neal Huntington had worked his magic once again and engineered a deal that will send All-Star relief pitcher Joel Hanrahan to Boston for, yep, you guessed it, prospects.  So far, a pitcher and an "outfielder/first baseman" (I can't remember their names, don't feel like looking them up, and does it really matter anyway?) will be coming to the Bucs.  Also, it is reported that one other Pirate and two other "prospects" from the Red Sox will be involved once physicals are taken and the deal is finalized sometime after Christmas.

Exchanges on Facebook's Pirate Chat page have been voluminous and lively.   The consensus is that this is yet another Pirates Salary Dump (Hanrahan is arbitration eligible and would have probably been awarded a salary in the $7 million range) in which Huntington deals away an All-Star player for some batting practice balls and a couple fungo bats.  The Huntington supporters, and there are some, believe it or not, claim that this could be a good if not great deal for the Pirates, since Hanrahan's value is high, you can always find someone to close for you, and you can "get something" for him.

My thoughts are, yes, a team should be able to find a closer, and yes, why should a cash-strapped (purportedly) team like the Pirates shell out seven mill for such a commodity, so, in some sense, it DOES make sense to shop and even trade a guy like Hanrahan.  My beef is that this trade reeks of almost every other trade made by the Neal Huntington Regime (NHR).  When the dust settles, and the highly played and proven player leaves Pittsburgh, the Pirates are left with "prospects", guys with "high upsides" over whom the Pirates will have multiple "years of control".  What this really means is - CHEAP.  And how have these trades worked out for the Pirates so far?  How come guys like Andy LaRoche, Brandon Moss, Tim Alderson, Gorkys Hernandez, Craig Hansen, Jeff Locke, Jeff Clement and others of their ilk have yet to lead the Pirates to multiple pennants?  Hey, maybe I've left out someone that Neal HAS traded for that has been a big contributor, and I've failed to mention him, and if so, I apologize.  Wait, he did trade Nyjer Morgan to the Nationals and received Joel Hanrahan in return.  That was great deal for the Pirates, right up until the time Hanrahan got too expensive.

My point - and my frustration -  is that this is yet another deal where the Pirates are looking to "the future" and are not looking to win now, today, in 2013.  The Washington Nationals got ripped two years ago when they signed Jayson Worth to a mega-contract, but that signing proved to Nats' fans that the team was going to win right away, and not build for some undefined "future" that, in the Pirates case, anyway, always is being redefined and pushed further and further out into the distance.  

My friend Al Cotton predicted that the next guy to go will be Garrett Jones.  He, too, will be arbitration eligible and will be getting a huge raise after his 27 HR season last year.  Couple this with the Huntington's stockpiling of "outfielder/first baseman" and I'd say that Jones is as good as gone.  Again, the NH Supporters were out saying that Jones' is nothing but a platoon player (true, but one that hit 27 HR, 86 RBI, and an .823 OPS), whose value "will never be higher" (which could very well be true) so why not deal him?  Well, here's two reasons why not.  One, the Pirates might certainly be a better team with him than without him in 2013, and two, based on his track record, do you have any confidence at all that Huntington will get equal, much less better, value in return?  I don't.

Oh, and about that Liriano signing?  My initial thoughts were, hey, this guy was one of the very brightest young pitchers in baseball a few years back when he came up with the Twins, so what the hell, this might be a good signing.  At the very least, he would be the equal of Kevin Correia, and better than Eric Bedard.  On the other hand, to use a phrase that Neal himself likes to use, Liriano's performance has been "trending down" in recent seasons, but still he is only 29 years old, so, again, what the hell?  But once again on the other hand, this is the Pirates that are making this signing, so how good can it really be?  This is how the NHR has rotted my perspective, and taken away my ability to be positive about the team that I have followed and loved for 54 seasons.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

King Art II Goes to Court

It was reported in the business section of the Post-Gazette this morning that the Steelers are going to court to sue someone (the Sports and Exhibition Authority? the City? Eric Holder?  who really cares?) over precisely who should be paying for the addition of the 3,000 seats that are to be added to the now somewhat inadequate 12 year old Heinz Field.  One thing for sure, Art II wants to make certain that the lion's share of the cost of these seats will be born by anyone BUT the Steelers, who will most directly benefit from the addition of the seats.  Oh, and rest assured of one other thing, that portion of the cost that the Steelers will say that they are paying will really be paid for by the ticket buyers in the form of higher ticket prices and parking fees.

The part of this story that is also dispiriting is the implication that Heinz Field, which is, as noted above, only twelve years old, is now somehow unable to properly support the Steelers with statements along the lines of it being 25th out of 32 NFL stadiums in revenue generation.  Should this lawsuit drag on and Art II doesn't get what he wants, I can't wait for the trial balloon to be floated of a new stadium in Washington or Westmoreland County that would provide a home for the Steelers that would enable them to compete forever with the Big Boys in New York and Dallas and blah blah blah.  You know, kind of like Mario Lemieux did with Kansas City a few years ago.  And like Lemieux, someone will blink and Art II will get what he wants.

Art Rooney Sr. might never have done something like this, and maybe Dan Rooney would hesitate, but Art II ain't his grandfather.  He is a cold-blooded, bean counting businessman, so don't be surprised if this happens.

You read it here first.

Happy Birthday, Keith Richards

Happy 69th Birthday today to Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.

Think about it, in 2012 alone, Whitney Houston, Davy Jones, Donna Summer, Robin Gibb, Marvin Hamlisch, and the guys who played Epstein and Horschak have died, and Keith is still rolling along. (And we could play this game all day long with names like George Harrison, Elvis Presley, and Michael Jackson!)

I mean, really, who could have possibly seen this coming!

Happy Birthday, Keith!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Roberto Clemente vs. Barry Bonds

Here is a very brief excerpt from the ESPN the Magazine article alluded to in my previous post.  Author Kevin Guilfoile. who interned in the Pirates PR Department in the early days of Barry Bonds' career, made the following observation in the article.  I hope that you take the time to read the entire article, but this part is too good not to highlight on it's own:
When you're as talented and famous as Barry Bonds or Roberto Clemente, too much is going to be expected of you. The demands on you will never end. And you can react to those demands in a number of different ways. Barry Bonds decided that he would just never give anybody anything, because he knew if he gave them one thing today, they would ask for three things tomorrow. And he was probably right about that, as wrong as it must have been for his soul.
Roberto decided to do the opposite. If you asked him for one thing, he gave you four. He worked hard to become one of the best who ever played the game, then he gave away the trophies that proved it.
He gave as much as he could. He gave more than he could.
On the day of one of his biggest triumphs, he might have told three different friends he was giving them the same historic baseball bat.
He never stopped giving.
He gave right up until the day that giving literally killed him.

Clemente's 3,000th Hit Bat: Am Incredible Story

My friend Nina Schreiner sent me this article from ESPN the Magazine, and Bob Smizik has a link to it on his blog today, and I feel compelled to do the same here:

It is a story written for the Magazine by Kevin Guilfiole, son of former Pirates PR Director Bill Guilfoile.  It a story as compelling as any movie you will see or mystery novel you might read. It is about the bat that Roberto Clemente used - or did he? - to record his 3,000th, and final, major league hit.

I won't try to summarize it.  Just read it!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Channel 4 News

I don't usually get my news via the WTAE Channel 4 Action News team, but laziness kept me from grabbing the remote and changing channels at 11:00 last night, so I watched the team of Wendy Bell and Andrew Stockey anchor the news.  Two observations.

One, Wendy Bell has to be the most SERIOUS and ANIMATED news anchor that I have seen in recent memory.  Wow!

Two, both Bell and Stockey had a laptop computer and a tablet computer propped up on the anchor desk before them.  What is that all about?  Are they, like everyone else these days, getting their news from the Internet?  Or are they there for just LATE BREAKING NEWS? Are these PC's there in place of teleprompters?  And why does each of them have TWO computers in front them?  I can see maybe one computer, but two? 

Anyone know the answers?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Royals and the Pirates

Much like our Pittsburgh Pirates, the Kansas City Royals have become pretty much of an irrelevant franchise on the MLB landscape.  Aside from one outlier season a few years back when Tony Pena skippered them to a plus .500 season, thay have been pretty much the Pirates of the American League, but they were in the news this week when they traded super prospect and Minor League Player of the Year Will Myers and three other prospects to Tampa Bay for pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis.

I will refer you to this very lengthy article from write Rany Jazayerli on

As I say it is a lengthy article, well written and researched, but if you read it you will find some interesting parallels to the Pirates.

  1. The Royals have been long time losers, but in recent years they have drafted wisely, and, unlike the Pirates, a number of those highly touted draftees have reached the majors and are making contributions on the major league level.
  2. The Royals GM Dayton Moore has long espoused the concept of building a strong minor league infrastructure that would continually stock the Royals with talented players and assure long term success.
  3. The Royals are doing this because their owner, David Glass, is seen as, shall we say, thrifty, and doesn't believe in large payrolls.
  4. Despite all that, the fan base is getting tired of the Royals being continual bottom feeders in the American League.
  5. Dayton Moore might be feeling the pressure and realize he is in danger of losing his job. 
Now, here is where Moore and the Royals have departed paths with the Pirates.  Moore has said, in action if not words, to hell with the long term future, we need to win now, in 2013, and he has traded not only HIS top prospect, but one of the top prospects in all of baseball in Myers.  And in Shields and Davis, he has taken on an additional $20+ million in payroll over the next two seasons in Shields alone, While sacrificing Myers, in whom the Rays now have the "years of control" that Neal Huntington and the Pirates covet so dearly.

Jazayerli in his article rips the Royals for making pretty much one of the worst trades in recent baseball memory.

How does this relate to the Pirates?

Well, Moore has done something that Huntington has steadfastly refused to do: he has traded "the future" for something that will help the team NOW, today, in 2013.  But, if you read the article, you will see that Shields' potential contributions to the Royals (if you buy the SABRmetric stuff) may be marginal at best, and certainly not the equal of what Myers might have contributed in KC over the next six to eight years.  And even if this trade lifts the Royals to something like 85 wins in 2013, will it be worth it if they never rise above that level in the 6-8 years following?

Something to think about for those of us who might have wanted the Pirates to trade, say, Starling Marte for Shane Victorino last July 31.

The other point that is made in the article is that Moore, who has been the Royals GM for six years, may be feeling the heat and be in danger of losing his job, and with this trade he is going all in in a last ditch effort to save his job. (Think Dave Littlefield dealing for Matt Morris in 2007)  If so, maybe it will work for a year or two, but if it doesn't, he'll be gone anyway, and some other young gun GM  will be left to pick up the pieces in KC, much like Huntington was asked to do in Pittsburgh in '07.

None of this is meant to be a defense of Huntington's Grand Plan (and as far as I know, the Royals have not been engaging in any paramilitary drills in their developmental system), which we all know hasn't quite worked out just yet, but it does give you food for thought.  IF any of those much bragged about, over-slotted draftees are the real deal - and so far, only one of them, Pedro Alvarez, has proven to be such - then perhaps Neal's course is the correct one.  And IF it is correct, and the Pirates WILL see the benefits at PNC Park some day, some time, will Neal feel the heat NOW and make a similar effort to save his job by unloading someone like Gerritt Cole for another version of Matt Morris?

As I said, food for thought.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Musical Christmas Carol

Yesterday, we took in the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera's production of "A Musical Christmas Carol" at the Byham Theater.  You all know the story, so I won't recount it here, but I will say that it was a great show.  Pittsburgh's own Tom Atkins as Scrooge was terrific, and it was an added bonus for us to see Billy Hepfinger in one of the key supporting roles.  Billy, a veteran of many North Allegheny productions, is the son of an old co-worker of mine, and we have known him, literally, since he was a baby.  It was special for us to see him in such a big CLO production.

If you need something to really, REALLY put you into the true spirit of Christmas, please try to see this CLO production.  It runs for the next two weekends at the Byham.

God bless us, everyone!

Bad Day at Heinz Field

Because I attended the CLO's production of "A Musical Christmas Carol" yesterday afternoon,  I knew I was not going to see the Steelers game "live".  I set the DVR for the game knowing that there would be two options for me later in the day.  One, I could fast forward through the game and enjoy the Steelers victory in about 45 minutes, or, two, in the unlikely event that they would lose to the crummy Chargers, I could immediately delete the entire thing from my DVR and avoid any aggravation such a game would cause.  Of course, by now you know which course I followed.

As we exited the Byham Theater around four o'clock, hundreds of Steelers fans were already streaming up Sixth Street, and I could tell by their demeanor and the looks on their faces that things must not have gone well for the local gridders.  It was when we got in the car and turned on the radio that the grim news was confirmed by Bourbon-Nosed Billy Hillgrove and Tunch.

(As an aside, I did hear the Steelers final touchdown, and the call was completely, totally blown by Hillgrove.  It was hilarious!)

Anyway, this loss to the Chargers, combined with earlier losses to bottom-feeders like the Raiders, Titans, and Browns confirm my pre-season thoughts: the Steelers are not a bad team, but they are not an especially good team either.  That's okay.  That's how the NFL is set-up.  The key to a successful franchise, which the Steelers have been, is how long you stay in the valleys before you get back to the peaks.

About the best summary of what went wrong with the Steelers yesterday was stated by Bloggin' Bob Smizik this morning.  Rather than restate everything, I recommend it to you here:

The Couch Slouch

One of my favorite reads each Monday morning in the Post-Gazette is Norman Chad's "Couch Slouch" column.  In today's column he lists "23 facts, tried and true, about the widening world of sports television".  I won't list them all, but here are a couple of my favorites.....

  • Just saw previously unseen home video in which Skip Bayless, at age 8, is berating a school crosswalk guard for "choking."
  • "Mike Mayock: Conversations with Myself" debuts on the NFL Network on January 2.
  • True story: Stephen A. Smith once was kicked out of Sunday church services for sermonizing during the preachers' sermon.
  • I have no doubt that Mike Mayock knows what he's talking about.  The problem is the rest of us don't.
  • Curious fact: Thomas Jefferson was both pro-slavery and anti-replay.
Check out the rest of the 23 facts on page D-12 of today's PG.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The City Game, the Steel Bowl, and a Special Anniversary

Earlier this week, Pitt easily defeated Duquesne in this annual "City Game".  My friend, Fred Shugars, was in attendance and offered the following observation on Facebook:

If you've never been to The City Game, you can't call yourself a Pittsburgh sports fan. Best spectacle around--both student sections, both bands, both sets of cheerleader and dancers, and a mascot dance-off!

Well, who am I to disagree, and I am sorry to say that I have not yet been to a "City Game" as it exists in its current iteration, but I will say to Fred, and to anyone else who (a) may not be a long time resident of Pittsburgh, and (b) may be under the age of, say, 60, and as such has no memory of when Duquesne was a significant player in the world of college basketball, and was, in fact, far superior to Pitt in the sport, both nationally and locally, that the Pitt-Duquesne  Rivalry has changed quite a bit over the years.  

The rivalry between the schools used to  manifest itself in the annual Steel Bowl Basketball Tournament.  For those who don't remember, two schools would be invited to play in the Steel Bowl, which was, if memory serves, held in December.  Pitt would play one opponent, Duquesne the other.  The hope would be that both teams would win their opening round game, and then face each other in the Championship.  It didn't always work out that way, but it usually did.  While I can't say this for certain, I am guessing that my first trip to a college basketball game was probably to a Steel Bowl event, where I, the son of two Duquesne grads, would furiously cheer for the Red & Blue.

Over the years, I know that I saw the University of Miami's Rick Barry play in the Steel Bowl, and I also saw the UCLA Bruins play in the event.  Unfortunately, I caught the Bruins after Lew Alcindor and before Bill Walton.  Yes, I was witness to a game during the glorious Steve Patterson Era.  Although after the game, I did go down on the floor and shake hands with John Wooden.  True story.

Pitt and Duquesne used to compete and recruit the same players, usually local kids like Bill Knight, Bill Zopf, Mickey Davis, and the Nelson Twins.  At some point in the mid- to late 70's, thew rivalry may have hit its peak when Tim Grgurich coached at Pitt and Mike Rice coached the Dukes.  Both were alums of their schools, and the rivalry was most intense.  Then Pitt joined the Big East, the basketball program took off and they never looked back, while the fortunes of the Dukes have been in a decline that with few exceptions, has been going on for well over thirty years.  I seriously doubt that either the players or the coaches, if they were honest with themselves, care a whole lot about this "rivalry" game.

I will say that I plan on taking up Fred's call next year, and be there at the 2013 City Game, but at the risk of sounding like a hey-you-kids-get-off-of-my-lawn old timer, I will hold fast to my belief that games between Pitt and Duquesne just ain't what they used to be.

How does all of this tie in with that "Special Anniversary" mentioned in the title?  Well, you see it was forty years ago today - December 8, 1972 - that Marilyn and I went out on our first date.  And where was that first date, you may ask?  Well, it was at the Civic Arena for the, you guessed it, Steel Bowl opening round doubleheader.  I  can't recall who the two opponents were, I do remember that Billy Knight played for Pitt, and I'm pretty sure that both Pitt and the Dukes won their games.  You can forgive me, I hope, if I'm fuzzy on the details, but I had more important thoughts on my mind that night than the results of a couple of hoops games!

Happy Anniversary, Marilyn!!!! 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Steelers, Pitt, the SEC, RMU, and More Conference Madness

As you can see from the title, a mixed bag from The Grandstander this morning.....

Not much to add to what you have no doubt already read about yesterday's unexpected, but now euphoric, victory over the Ravens.  How can you not be happy for Charlie Batch about engineering this victory?  The picture below may well end up summarizing the Steelers season, and seeing it on TV as this moment was taking place even brought tears to the eyes of Mrs. Grandstander:

So now the Steelers sit at 7-5, in a playoff position, and with four games, three of them at Heinz Field, remaining, all games that they should be favored to win (San Diego, Dallas, Cincy, and Cleveland), provided Ben Roethlisberger returns to the helm.  who would have thought it after those losses to the Raiders and Titans?


Pitt closed it's season on Saturday night with a win over South Florida, giving them a 6-6 record, and securing for themselves a third straight trip to the BBVA Compass Bowl, also known as the "Granddaddy of all Garbage Bowls".   This is disappointing in that many were anticipating that Pitt would play West Virginia in the tradition-rich Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.  Surely a renewal of sorts of the Backyard Brawl would make everybody happy, right?  Well, call me Oliver Stone, but I have a theory as to why this match-up did not occur.  I believe that all of these third tier bowls have tie-ins to various conferences, and both the Compass and Pinstripe are tied to the Big East.  I believe that the Big East decreed that Pitt got sentenced to Birmingham for the third straight year rather than take on WVU, and that this was done as one final big Middle Finger from the Big East to BOTH schools for their desertion of the Conference.

I wonder how Pitt will handle playing in a bowl game this year while NOT under the direction of an interim coach?


The wailing and gnashing of teeth of the SEC Loyalists on Facebook this weekend have been hilarious.  Georgia, they are saying, was this close to playing in the BCS title game, but now they are relegated to playing in the god-awful Outback Bowl (a New Years's Day game, btw) against Nebraska, a team that couldn't even win the god-awful Big Ten, while an undeserving, god-awful independent like Notre Dame gets the chance to be horsewhipped by Alabama in the title game.

My answer to this is, hey, that is the BCS system in place, but I guess that that is only a good system when two SEC teams get into the title game.

Makes me want to call my nephew Kevin and borrow as much ND gear as possible to wear while watching that game on January 7.


I skipped both the SEC title game and the Pitt-USF game and toddled out to the Sewall Center to take in my first basketball game of the season, and was rewarded with a nice Colonials victory over undefeated Ohio University.  It was a nice wire-to-wire win for RMU and they withstood a big push from the Bobcats in the second half, but never did give up the lead.  I was impressed with both the enthusiasm of the RMU students throughout the game, and, more importantly, with the play of the Colonials.  They look like they could be a pretty strong team in the Northeast Conference this season. 


Reports now say that both Duke and North Carolina may be looking at joining the Southeast Conference, or maybe the SEC is looking at them.  Whatever, the case, the ACC could end up going down that same path that the moribund Big East is now traveling.  Four sixteen team super-conferences are just around the corner, and I fear that Pitt may end up on the outside looking in when it all the dust settles.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

To Absent Friends: Earl "Speedo" Carroll

For the second time in a week, the obituary page told of the death of a rock & roll / doo wop legend, Earl "Speedo" Carroll of the group, The Cadillacs.  He was 75 years old.

This was a really interesting obit.  In 1955, one of the members of the group referred to Carroll as "Speedo", and he testily replied "my name is Earl".  Within a few hours, while the group was driving in a car to a gig, the following Lyrics were born:

"Oh, well, they often call me Speedo,
"But my real name is Mr. Earl"

You've all heard the song, and it seems like Martin Scorsese uses it in the soundtrack to almost all of his movies.

Interesting, the Cadillacs have been credited as being the first group to incorporate dance movements and choreography into their act, and such groups as The Temptations, The Miracles, and The Four Tops merely followed their lead.

To me, though, one of the most interesting parts of the obituary was the fact that in 1982, long after the Cadillacs performing days were over, Earl Carroll took a job as a maintenance man in the New York City Public Schools, and held the job until he retired in 2005.  He loved his job, enjoyed being around young kids, and would often sing in the hallways of the school. The kids never believed him when he told him his history until The Cadillacs made a come back of sorts in various Rock & Roll and Doo Wop revival shows, such as those seen on PBS Fundraisers.

Interesting back story.  

RIP "Speedo".

By the way, check out some of the "comments" from those school kids posted on this YouTube clip.