Tuesday, December 31, 2013

To All Loyal Readers.....

Please celebrate responsibly.

See you all here in The Grandstand in 2014!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Gandy Dancer Saloon and Station Square

Marilyn and I celebrated our wedding anniversary on Friday by observing another tradition of ours - dinner at Station Square - but with a bit of a twist this year.  Instead of dining in the opulent Grand Concourse, we opted for the adjoining Gandy Dancer Saloon.  It is a more limited menu, but the food comes from the same kitchen and for a fraction of the cost.  Wise choice, and we had a great meal and a great time.

After our meal, we did take a stroll through the retail portion of Station Square, and found it to 

be a bit of a depressing experience.  What used to be a bustling retail complex, and a "must see" destination for visitors to Pittsburgh, now approximates a ghost town.  Sad to see.

Movie Review: "American Hustle"

We took in the flick "American Hustle" yesterday afternoon.  It is a flick that is popping up on lots of Best Ten lists and is getting lots of Oscar buzz.  It is loosely based ("Some of these events actually happened" is the on-screen prelude to the movie) on events surrounding the ABSCAM scandals of the late 1970's.    

Hard to classify this movie.  Part drama, part comedy, but entertaining.  Insofar as movies about con artists go, it's not "The Sting", and  it could have been about 15 minutes shorter, but we still liked it a lot.  The acting by all five principals - Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Jennifer Lawrence - was really good, and makes for a worthwhile movie going experience.

And you've got to love the '70's music, fashions, and, especially, hair styles.  Not everything was good about the good old days!  Although I've got to say, Amy Adams sure looked great!

In case you are wondering, the Traditional Sproule New Years Eve Movie Date will be to see "Saving Mr. Banks".

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Absent Friends 2013

As the year draws to a close, it is time to look back.

In 2013, The Grandstander noted the loss of 33 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.  

 I cannot do this without giving a shout out the great sportswriter, Red Smith, who always used the term "Absent Friends" when writing about those who had died.  

And now, a final salute to the Absent Friends of 2013:

Earl Weaver
Stan Musial
Patty Andrews
Ed Koch
Ruth Ann Steinhagen
Roger Ebert
Annette Funicello
Jonathan Winters
Pat Summerall
Frank Bank
Richie Havens
Jack Butler
Ken Venturi
Bill Austin
James Gandolfini
Simmie Hill
Terry Lee
Karen Black
Ted Post
David Frost
Dixie Evans
L.C. Greenwood
John Ferguson
Scott Carpenter
Bum Phillips
Bud Adams
Lou Reed
Evan Chambers
Nelson Mandela
Peter O'Toole
Joan Fontaine
Paul Blair
James Ecker

Rest in Peace.

Lucky Socks

In 2005, one of my Christmas gifts, a stocking stuffer, appropriately, was a pair of Timberland socks, very similar to the pair pictured here.

How, you may ask, can I remember the specific year that I received such a relatively small gift? Well, I remember putting them on for the first time the morning that the sixth seeded Pittsburgh Steelers played the Cincinnati Bengals in the opening round of the NFL Playoffs.  The Steelers won that game, so I wore those socks once again a week later when the Steelers took on and defeated the heavily favored Payton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts. You can guess the rest of the story.  I wore those same socks on game days right up to that Super Bowl win over Seattle that year.  They became known as my "lucky socks" and they got the team through another Super Bowl win two years later over Arizona.

The socks are now eight years old and still in great shape.  (Timberland stuff is expensive but you really do get what you pay for.)  I mention this because I pulled out those socks last week and wore them as the Steelers took on the Packers at Lambeau, and, well, you know what happened.  I shall be wearing them tomorrow as the Steelers take on the Browns, where I am pretty sure that they will work their magic once again.  I can only hope that these powerful socks can make the dominoes fall for the Steelers in those other three games that will impact the team's playoff hopes for 2013. 

Hey, as those commercials say, it's only weird if it doesn't work!  And I will cut off any smart alec comments by saying that the socks DO get laundered after each wear.

OK, in the interest of Full Disclosure, I confess that I also wore them in that Super Bowl loss against the Packers, but those socks still have a pretty good record.

Friday, December 27, 2013

To Absent Friends: Paul Blair, James Ecker

As 2013 heads into its final week, let us wish a Melancholy Happy trails to two more Absent Friends, Paul Blair and James Ecker.

Paul Blair enjoyed a seventeen year Major League career.  I was well aware that he played on four pennant winning teams with the Baltimore Orioles, two of which went on to win the World Series.  I had forgotten, and would have been unable to remember if pressed on the matter, that he also played on two World Series winners with the Yankees in 1977 and 1978.  I, of course, have a distinct memory that he played on the losing team in the 1971 World Series.  He was 69 years old.

Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney James Ecker died on Christmas morning at the age of 84.  If you were regular watcher of TV news in Pittsburgh over the years, you are familiar with the sight of Ecker and his distinctive white head of hair as he accompanied one notorious or heinous accused criminal during a perp walk following an arrest or during one highly publicized criminal trial or another.  I suppose it is easy to look down upon a guy who "always" seemed to defend such "obviously guilty" people, but if we value the Constitution and the rights that it bestows upon all of us, we really should value the role that people like Jim Ecker play in our society.  To that end, I would highly recommend that you read Tony Norman's column in this morning's Post-Gazette:

As an aside, I found it most interesting that in his spare time, Jim Ecker enjoyed reading John Grisham novels.

RIP Paul Blair and James Ecker.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Best wishes to all Loyal Readers for a Merry and Blessed Christmas.

Let's not forget the real reason for the season.....

....and let's also keep a whimsical spirit as well!

Monday, December 23, 2013

News from The Fan

 This is not "news" at this point, but following the recent firings at 93.7 The Fan (see http://www.grandstander.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-axe-falls-at-fan.html ), the station, KDKA-FM, has announced who will be replacing whom in the new program line-up effective January 6.

To me, the most interesting switch was the move of Andrew Fillliponi, aka, Andrew "Fullaboloney" from his early evening slot to the the mid-day slot, and teaming him with Ron Cook in the newly named "Cook and Poni Show".

As you can see from the picture, Filliponi is a young guy, only in his mid-twenties.  I do not hold his age against him.  God bless him for landing a job like this in a major league market at such a young age, but he can be a bit of a know-it-all wiseguy at times, and that can get old, but to his credit, he has had some interesting things to say in the times that I have listened to him.  It is the pairing of bitter, angry, miserable old guy Cook and hipster, millennial, wiseass Filliponi that shows promise of the oil-and-water fireworks that made the Vinnie and Cook Show Must Listen Radio.  Somehow, I just can't see Ron Cook getting along with this guy, either.

Despite killing in the radio ratings, The Fan managed to get rid of two, presumably, big pay guys on Paul Alexander and Vinnie Richichi and reshuffled its programming deck without hiring any new on air talent.  That's a tough business. 

Steelers Beat Packers; Still Alive!

In a wild game that was unbelievably entertaining, the Steelers beat the Packers yesterday, 38-31, and, amazingly, kept their playoff hopes alive as they head into the final weekend of the season next week.

This game had just about everything:

  • another very good game by Ben Roethlisberger, who may well be having the best season of his career,
  • a successful fake punt by the Steelers that resulted in a thirty yard gain,
  • a 100 yard rushing game by Le'Veon Bell; it had been 22 games since the Steelers had a 100 yard rusher,
  • an interception returned for a touchdown by Cortez Allen
  • a blocked field goal,
  • yet another fourth quarter lead that the Steelers defense could not hold, followed by...
  • a fourth quarter TD by Bell that regained the lead,
  • a Packer kick-off return and a Steelers penalty that almost allowed the Packers to tie the game,
  • an incomplete pass into the end zone on the final play that would have forced the game into overtime,
  • and, oh yeah, an apparently blown call by the officials following that blocked Packer FG attempt, that would have loomed REALLY large had the Steelers ended up losing that game.
Local media types have been trying to gin up a controversy over Mike Tomlin's decision not to eat up time on the clock by not having Roethlisberger kneel down for two plays and then kick a FG at the end of the game.  Instead, Bell scored the winning TD (and did the Packers let him score there?), and the Packers got the ball back with over a minute to play, and ended the game, thanks to that 70 yard kick return, inside the Steelers ten yard line with a chance to tie the game.

Sorry, but I'm with Tomlin on this one.  When you have a chance to score, you try to score on the very next play.  Plus, the idea of an Offense trying not to score, while the Defense tries to allow  you to score, just strikes me as wrong.  This happened in the Giants-Patriots Super Bowl two years ago, and it just didn't sit well with me.  Besides, how many times is a strategy like that going to work for you? One in ten times? A hundred times? A thousand times?  Yeah, it almost worked for Green Bay yesterday, but the key word there is almost.

Oh, and a word about Le'Veon Bell.  After a slow start, due to injuries, it is now apparent, Bell appears to be the real deal as an NFL running back.  Big, fast, strong and with an almost freakish ability to hurdle defenders.  One of the things I like most about him is his ability make what should be three or four yard losses into one or two yard gains.

As I have been saying for a few weeks now, whatever else the Steelers have been this year, their games, with one or two exceptions, have been tremendously entertaining, win or lose, and that game yesterday may have topped them all.

And you have to hand it to the NFL, they do know how to milk the playoff possibility game.  With a win next week and help from three other teams in three other games, the Steelers could find themselves with a seat at the table when the Playoffs begin the following week.  Probable? Not very, but still possible, and if it happens, I will remind you that all twelve playoff teams will start with a 0-0 record.  And to the Gloomy Guses who may root against this happening because it will "only spoil our draft position", get over it.


Two other NFL observations:

The Seattle Seahawks, who may very well be the best team in the NFL, lost yesterday to the Arizona Cardinals.  The Cardinals are now 10-5, very much alive in the NFC playoff hunt, and are coached by Bruce Ariens, who was shoved into "retirement" by Art Rooney II two years ago.  Make your own judgements there.

In Detroit, Coach Jim Schwartz, a singularly annoying individual, with time on the clock and times out in his pocket, elected to play for a field goal to tie the game with the Giants yesterday rather than try to score a touchdown.  The fans at Ford Field made the displeasure with this strategy known, and Schwartz was seen turning towards the stands and jawing with the fans about it.  The Giants won the game in OT, and Schwartz is said to be on the ropes in Detroit.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Classic Obituary

An obituary in the New York Times today notes the passing of New York pornographer Al Goldstein at the age of 77.  I mention this not because I was a fan or supporter of Mr. Goldstein - far from it.  In fact, you will note that I am not using my standard "Absent Friends" notation in referencing this death.  It would be appalling and wrong on a thousand levels to include the likes of Goldstein with people such as Stan Musial, Annette Funicello, James Gandolfini, David Frost, and Nelson Mandela, to name only a few names form 2013, that I just will not do it.  Call me judgemental,  but so be it.

Rather, I note it because the obit in the Times is just so well written by reporter Andy Newman that it begs to be read.  It starts with the headline, "Al Goldstein, Who Made Porn Dirtier, Dies at 77" and just gets better from there.  

It also includes these great quotes from noted civil liberties lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who at times defended Goldstein in court:

“He clearly coarsened American sensibilities,” Alan M. Dershowitz, the civil liberties advocate and Mr. Goldstein’s sometime lawyer, said in 2004.
“Hefner did it with taste,” Mr. Dershowitz added, referring to Hugh Hefner, the founder and publisher of Playboy, which predated Screw by 15 years. “Goldstein’s contribution is to be utterly tasteless.”
Is that not great stuff?  Here is a link to the entire obit.  As I said, it is masterful writing, but it does describe Goldstein's dubious "career", so if you're squeamish about such stuff, I get it if you want to take a pass.
I will close with another quote about Goldstein that I saw someone make on Facebook today:
He is one of those rare people of whom it may be said without hesitation or doubt that the world would have been better had he never lived.
What an epitaph!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Big Break NFL Concludes

SPOILER ALERT: If you recorded the concluding episode of Gold Channel's "Big Break NFL" and are planning on seeing it later, you may wish to delay reading this entry, as I will divulge who won.  If you are so inclined, please come back and read when you have seen the show.

Golf Channel's latest rendition of its Big Break series concluded last night when Team Dolman, the only team that did not suffer a loss in the series, came up against Team Rice in the "four quarters" of match play.  Kind of hokey, but Golf Channel had to stick with its football theme.  I found myself rooting for Jerry Rice and his squad because (a) Rice was a likable sort throughout the series, and (b) Chris Dolman was not.  I felt bad for the two golfers who were paired with Dolman throughout, but they were in the final show, so maybe his methods worked somehow.

Of the two football players, Rice was clearly better than Dolman, as evidenced by a scrambling par 5 that Rice made after driving in grass that was as high as his shoulders on one hole, and by a topped drive on one hole by Dolman that didn't clear the ladies tees.

In any event, the winning team was........


Big Breakers Emily Talley and Isaac Sanchez won exemptions into primo tournaments on the big circuits.  Talley will play in the LPGA Shoprite Classic that will be held from May 30-June 1, and Sanchez will play on the PGA Tour's FedEx St. Jude Classic on June 5-8.   As I did with the winner of Big Break Mexico's Taylor Collins, I will follow up and report on how Emily and Isaac do when they get their Big Breaks come June.

Another entertaining entry in this Golf Channel Series.  Can't wait for the next one! 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Axe Falls at The Fan

News arrives this morning that some major players at 93.7 The Fan have been given their walking papers, effective immediately.  Merry Freakin' Christmas, as morning co-host Paul Alexander would say.  Oh, and speaking of Paul Alexander, he is one of the two on air personalities to be let go!  The other is mid-day co-host Vinnie Richichi.

I will never (with rare exceptions) take delight in a person losing his or her job.  It has happened to me in my life, and it is not a pleasant experience.  That said, I can say that I will most definitely not miss Paul Alexander.  There was so much about this guy, including his incessant use of the juvenile adjective referenced in the prior paragraph, that irritated me to the point where I could not listen to The Fan Morning Show for more than about 10 or 15 minutes at a time.  I am assuming that Paul will still have his Root Sports Pirates and Penguins gigs as well as his hair replacement commercials, so he's got that going for him.

On the other hand, I am going to miss Vinnie.  I suspect that I will be in the minority on that score since Vinnie had two major handicaps going against him that the provincial Pittsburgh audience almost never forgive: he spoke with a pronounced New York accent, and HE AIN'T FROM PITTSBURGH!!!!  I mean, how can this guy tell us abaht the Pirates and Stillers n'at if ain't from here, right?  Another handicap facing Vinnie was that he had to work with the miserable and bitter Ron Cook.  The dislike, which Bob Smizik assures us was real and not a gimmick, between Vinnie and Cook often time made for an entertaining, train-wreck style show, but, just as often, made you squirm when listening.  Still, I liked Vinnie and his somewhat bumbling style.  He was kind of like an Everyman given the chance to host his own radio show.

Not sure where Vinnie will go from here.  Like a lot of guys in the radio business, Vinnie has been all over the map, and I suppose an almost four year gig at The Fan (like Alexander, Vinnie was an original cast member from when The Fan went on the air back in February, 2010) represents as close to permanence as one can get in that business.  I suspect that he will turn up somewhere on the radio dial, and if it means leaving Pittsburgh, so be it.  Before he does leave, I hope that he gets to do a "tell all" interview, either on air or in print, on what a total jerk Ron Cook was in their almost four years together.

Oh, and just for fun, I will close by reprinting an excerpt from the very early archives of The Grandstander:

Monday, February 15, 2010

"The Fan" - Later in the Day

Caught some of the mid-day show on The Fan. The 10:00 to 2:00 show is called "Vinny and Cook" and features PG columnist Ron Cook and, some guy named Vinny.

Now Ron Cook is Ron Cook so we should all know what we're getting with him. Vinny is a newcomer to town, and he appears to have a New York accent, and both of these facts will no doubt cause the provincial Pittsburgh audience to not like him. However, in the 20-30 minutes that I heard while driving this afternoon, I have a good first impression of the guy. He describes himself as a huge baseball fan and can't wait to start going down to PNC Park on a regular basis, and he does not appear to be coming in with an I-hate-the-Nuttings-and-bobbleheads-and-fireworks attitude that the entrenched media (and first caller to the show that I heard) has.
Farewell, Vinnie.  At least one listener is going to miss you.

Monday, December 16, 2013

To Absent Friends: Peter O'Toole, Joan Fontaine

One of the great actors of his generation, Peter O'Toole died yesterday at the age of 81.  

O'Toole, who will be best remembered for his role in "Lawrence of Arabia", was nominated for acting Oscars a record eight times, but never won the award, although he was given a special Lifetime Achievement Oscar.  A great dramatic actor, my personal favorite O'Toole performance came in the 1982 comedy, "My Favorite Year".

In that movie, set in the 1950's, O'Toole played a washed up swashbuckling movie star who was in New York City for one week to guest star on a Sid Caesar-type comedy variety TV show.  O'Toole didn't often do comedy, but he was positively brilliant in this one, and it earned him one of those Best Actor Oscar nominations.  

One line in the movie had O'Toole's character quoting another famous English actor who was purported to have said on his death bed, "Dying is easy.  Comedy is hard."  Perhaps so, but Peter O'Toole made it look easy.

He had another great line in that movie when he said, "I'm not an actor, I'm a movie star!"  Trust me, in the context of the movie, the line was hilarious.

Another Hollywood passing this weekend was the death of Oscar winner Joan Fontaine at age 94.  I'm not going to pretend to know a lot about Miss Fontaine or her overall body of work, but I was aware of the fact that she was the younger sister of actress Olivia de Havilland, and that the two of them had a feud that was legendary, even by Hollywood standards.  They had not spoken to each other and barely acknowledged each other's existence since the 1930's.  Read the obits about it.  It's kind of fascinating.

Miss de Havilland, by the way, is still living and is 97 years old.  Wonder if she is taking any satisfaction in knowing that she outlived her rival sister?

RIP Peter O'Toole and Joan Fontaine.

Steelers 30 - Bengals 20

OK, be honest now, who saw THAT coming before last night's game?

At the Stonebrook Village Christmas dinner party last night I said, and this is the God's honest truth, that while I didn't expect a Steelers win last night, I did hold some hope that the first place Cincinnati Bengals would still be eminently capable of playing like the Cincy Bungles that we have come to know and love for a couple of generations now.  Damned if that isn't exactly what happened.  When we got home from the Party, the score was already 7-0 and in the blink of an eye, it was 21-0, still in the first quarter, and the game was essentially over.

Chris Collinsworth, who for my money is the best analyst currently working on network television, had a couple of great lines.  One was, you couldn't tell which team was 9-4 and which was 5-8 coming into this one, and then he said that the Steelers were playing like the old time Steelers and that the Bengals were playing like the old time Bengals.

As I stated a couple of weeks ago, despite the fact the the Steelers are going nowhere, playoff-wise, that doesn't mean that you can't enjoy each game on it's own merits, one that can be fun to watch and entertaining, and especially satisfying if your team happens to win it.  Such was the case last night.  And while the Steelers have many problems, and they are great (as Chas Noll would put it), you have to say that, with one or two exceptions, their games have been extremely entertaining this season.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Tepid Hot Stove

I have not said a lot about the Pirates off season maneuverings, but now that MLB's Winter Meetings have ended, it's time to take a look at things.

What has happened to the Pirates since the Cardinals closed them out in the NL Division Series?

  • A.J. Burnett sits as a free agent who said he would take a "week or two" to consider retirement.
  • Garrett Jones and Michael McKenry have been DFA'd.
  • The Pirates acquired light - very light - hitting catcher Chris Stewart to serve as Russell Martin's back-up.
  • Free agent short stop Clint Barmes has been re-signed to serve as Jordy Mercer's back-up.
  • Free agent Pitcher Edinson Volquez has been signed to a one year $5 million contract.
  • Charlie Morton has been given a three year contract extension.
  • And in news just reported this morning, the Pirates have DFA'd minor league outfielder Jerry Sands.
Had some or all of these events taken place in the last two or three seasons, I would be railing mightily against the inaction of the NHR and their pitiful, but inexpensive, efforts to improve the club.  However, the incredible season experienced by the team in 2013, brought about in large part by the moves (free agency, trades, and internal development) of the NHR has, in my mind, anyway, earned Neal Huntington and his Minions the benefit of the doubt.  So, I am willing to keep an open mind, BUT there are some concerns:

Burnett.  The team has made a one year, $10 million offer to Burnett (trust me on that), and AJ continues to stand in the kitchen while not cooking.  His talk last season of it's-the-Pirates-or-retirement is looking more and more like so much boosh-wa. Burnett's strategy seems to be either get at least as much money in '14 from the Pirates as he got from the Pirates/Yankees last season, or sign with some team that will give him that much.  I am skeptical, and have always been skeptical, of the retirement talk.  By delaying, he has forced the Pirates' hand to look elsewhere (Volquez).  I am betting that he will eventually sign elsewhere, and he and his agent will paint the Pirates as the bad guys for not showing him "proper respect".  I hope that Pirates fans won't buy into that too heavily.

Volquez.  One could certainly rail against this signing by saying pretty much everything that everyone said about the Francisco Liriano signing last year.  That one certainly worked out well, and maybe this one will, too.  Still, it's hard to catch lightning in a bottle two years in a row.  Let's hope that Ray Searage really can work magic on projects like Volquez.

First base.  The first base platoon of Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez never worked out as hoped last season, thus, Jones' release came as no surprise.  The team made no secret that getting a first baseman to either platoon with Sanchez or take over full time was a goal for them, but nothing has happened in that area while guys that they had targeted were traded to or signed with other teams.  The official word now is that Andrew Lambo will be given first shot in spring training at earning the spot.  Oh, and in another trade not noted above,  Neal did secure another outfielder/first baseman, Jaff "Jeff" Decker, who will be competing for that first base slot.   People are saying much about Decker as was said about Jerry Sands last winter. 

(Some folks have raised the possibility that the team could have taken the $10 million that they have offered Burnett, and the $5 million they gave to Volquez, and use that $15 to go after a first baseman of consequence.  This is a fair criticism.)

Chris Stewart.  On the face of it, swinging a minor deal for a back-up catcher who is strong defensively but can't hit an elephant in the ass with a handful of rice (this was a classic expression used by my late grandfather, Bill Madden), is no big deal.  Hey, every team needs a guy like that.  However, what does this say about the prospects and the future of Tony Sanchez, a former #1 draft pick who is now, what, 26 or 27 years old?   It says to me that the team doesn't think a whole lot of his future.
Barmes.  If the Pirates are bringing back Barmes to be a back-up and late inning defensive replacement, that's OK by me.  However, it does suggest that the team is not 100% confident in Jordy Mercer as a full time short stop, which might be troubling.  It also means that the Pirates bench, as of today, includes Barmes, Chris Stewart, and Josh Harrison.  How does that make you feel when you need a big pinch hitter in the ninth inning against Aroldis Chapman or Trevor Rosenthal?

Charlie Morton.  Amid the crepe hanging resulting form the Pirates inaction during the Winter Meetings, this was big news.  Morton has proved to be a solid pitcher following his 2012 surgery, and the Pirates have shown a willingness to pony up the money to a guy that they feel will be a part of their future. 

Jerry Sands.  Sands has been DFA'd after a fairly awful season in the Pirates minor league system in 2013.  Sands, and outfielder/first baseman with power potential, was said to be the key guy obtained from the Red Sox in the Joel Hanrahan trade last winter.  Good thing that Mark Melancon worked out as well as he did in that deal, or this move with Sands might be causing people to storm Federal Street with pitchforks and torches today.

Rightfield.  It appears that the team will stand pat in RF, with Jose Tabata, Andrew Lambo, Jaff Decker, and Travis Snider competing for the job.  What surprised me most, however, was the effusive praise coming form the mouths of Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle for Gregory Polonco.  As we all know, Neal has been slow to praise and even slower to bring to Pittsburgh his prized minor league prospects, and Polonco has virtually no time put in at the Triple-A level. The fact that Neal has been fairly gushing over this kid this off-season has caused me to scratch my head a bit.

Are the Pirates a better team today, December 14, 2014, than the team that finished the season in 2013?  Probably not, but I don't see them as an appreciably worse team either, but a team can't stand still, and a lot of things went right for the Pirates last year that they may not be able to count on next year.  Spring training doesn't begin for another two months, and the season not for another three and a half months, so there is still time for things to happen.  As I said, the NHR bought themselves some credibility with me last year, so I am willing to see how this will all play out between now and Opening Day.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Some Football Thoughts......

Some pigskin thoughts....

  • The Steelers season came to a practical end with that loss to the Dolphins on Sunday, although the NFL PR machine will still churn out the fact that they are still mathematically in the hunt.  
  • The Steelers of 2013 are most certainly not a very good team, but you can't say that their games have not been entertaining.  You've got to give them credit for that.
  • In trying to find some positives, I will say that Le'Veon Bell looks like he will be a good to quite good NFL running back, that Cameron Heyward is starting to look like he was worth that first round pick, and that Ben Roethlisberger remains an elite NFL quarterback.
  • In the comments made by readers to Bob Smizik's blog post following Sunday's game, a reader stated that he "will never forgive" Antonio Brown for stepping out of bounds on that final wacky play of the game.  I feel sorry for a person like that.  He must have a pretty empty life.
  • In the beginning of the season, I said that the Steelers would be somewhere in the range of a 7-9 to 9-7 team.  At 5-8 with three to play against the Bengals, Packers and Browns, I'm thinking 7-9 would be an achievement at this point.
  • End zone dances and celebrations after touchdowns by players don't usually bother me, but I can do without the histrionics after a routine first down.
  • Pitt is going to the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl in Detroit on December 26 against Bowling Green.  It's easy to make fun of this, but what the hell?  As friend John Kraemer noted recently on the Facebook W. PA Football Huddle page, since the only "meaningful" bowl game will be the BCS Title game between Auburn and Florida State, then every other bowl game played, even the biggies on New Year's Day, are every bit as "meaningless" as is Pitt's contest with BG.  So enjoy the game if you are so inclined.  No one is forcing anyone to watch a single one of these contests.
  • However, spare me the rhetoric of the importance of the extra fifteen practice sessions that schools gain by playing in a Bowl Game.  This will be the sixth year in a row that Pitt has had these fifteen extra practices and they have enabled them to put together two back-to-back 6-6 seasons.
  • When I was a high school student, the Catholic High Schools did not belong to the WPIAL or PIAA.  They competed in a Catholic League.  Well, the number of Catholic Schools have diminished, and schools such as one time fierce rivals Central Catholic and North Catholic compete on different levels in the WPIAL and do not play each other any more.  I think that that is a shame, but I know that I am in the minority on that.  In any event, both Central and North will be playing for State Championship football titles this weekend in Hershey, so good luck to them both.  It allows some of us old-timers to reflect upon the old days of the Catholic League.

Does Bob Smizik Read "The Grandstander"?

This is a Cut-n-Paste from Bob Smizik's blog on post-gazette.com this morning:

For the longest time, the Pitt-Duquesne basketball game was No. 1 on my Pittsburgh regular-season sports calendar -- ahead of anything the Steelers, Pirates or Penguins could offer. I cherish the memories of that bitter rivalry. But the game has lost almost everything -- except, most notably, a media buzz it doesn’t deserve. They can dress it up with a title -- The City Game, which was stolen from the New York City hoops culture -- but it’s almost always bad, boring, one-sided basketball. This year’s game had a spark of competitiveness but to suggest there is anything special about this contest -- or that there is anything special about this rivalry -- is pretty much a lie.

Obviously, Smiz has been reading The Grandstander.  Page back and see my entries of 12/8/12 and 12/3/13 if you don't believe me.

I take this as a compliment!

Monday, December 9, 2013

1930's Crime Comes to Television

The cable television airwaves is experiencing a flood of mini-series about crime from the 1930's.

The first such "limited series" is TNT's "Mob City".

Commercials for this flooded the TBS air during the baseball playoffs and created interest, for me at least, in watching.  This story takes place in depression-era Los Angeles and features such real people as LA police legend William Parker, and mobsters Mickey Cohen and Bugsy Siegel.  I caught the first two hour installment last week and am no doubt on the hook for the subsequent episodes over the next two Wednesday evenings.  The show is stylishly done with great costuming and period details, but I get the feeling as I watch that this is a story we have already seen before.  And as Bugsy Siegel goes, Ed Burns is no Warren Beatty.

The second such show is a four hour, two night remake of "Bonnie and Clyde" showing on three different cable networks.  Part One was on last night and it will conclude tonight.  This one stars in the title roles to unknowns (to me) named Holliday Grainger and Emile Hirsch.

They are attractive enough and seem to do okay in the roles, but it's hard not to keep picturing these two as you watch:

(Hey, Warren Beatty again!  What's next? A remake of "Shampoo"?)

This also brings to mind a question often raised, "Why remake a classic?"  I suppose the easiest answer is "to make a buck", but it can raise emotions, admittedly irrational at times, in  fans of certain movies when someone dares to remake one of their favorite movies. Sometimes it works ("True Grit"), sometimes it bombs ("Psycho"), and most times it produces stuff that is pretty much unmemorable.  I suspect that the 2013 "Bonnie and Clyde" will be pretty much forgotten before too much time passes while  future generations will continue to watch and enjoy the 1967 Beatty-Dunaway movie.  Hey, if this TV version does nothing but drive younger viewers to seek out and watch that '67 movie, then it will have served a good purpose.

The producers of the current B&C have thrown a bone to us, ahem, older viewers by casting Holly Hunter and William Hurt in this one.  Hunter plays Bonnie's mother, and Hurt plays the Texas Rangers who eventually hunts down Bonnie and Clyde.  He was introduced last night, but will have a much larger role in tonight's finale, I suspect.

Three New Hall of Famers

It was announced today that the "Expansion Era Committee" of Baseball Hall of Fame electors has elected Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre, and Bobby Cox to the Hall of Fame.  All enter as managers, although you could make a semi-reasonable argument that Torre belongs there as a player as well.   

LaRussa endorsed a statement released by writers George Will and Buzz Bissinger that the "Hall of Fame" is now worthy of it's name now that he, LaRussa, has been formally enshrined.

I made that last part up, but expect the "LaRussa-Is-A-Genius" columns to spew forth from columnists across the land in the days ahead.

Actually, I have no problem with any of these three going into the hallowed Hall in Cooperstown, and I am sure that the Hall itself is tickled to death to have at least three guys who are still alive at the induction ceremony next summer, considering what happened there this past summer ( http://grandstander.blogspot.com/2013/07/baseball-hall-of-fame-induction-day.html ).  The BBWA result, where it is expected that Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and possibly Frank Thomas, will be announced next month, so it should make for a great Induction Weekend in Cooperstown in July.

Of course, perhaps the bigger story is that Marvin Miller has once again been denied entry to the HOF.  You needed 12 of 16 votes to gain entry, and I believe that at least four of the electors are "management" representatives, so I am guessing that at least one or more players on the committee voted against Miller's entry as well.  Dumbfounding, positively dumbfounding.

And, of course, for a most zealous segment of baseball fandom, anger and anguish still prevails over the fact that Gil Hodges is not in the Hall of Fame!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

December 7

At some point today pause and think of what took place on this date seventy-two years ago at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

To Absent Friends - Nelson Mandela

Far be it from me to try to come up with the words to describe the life of one of the 20th and 21st centuries great men.  I will only use the quote posted on Facebook yesterday by the Highmark Caring Place on its Children's Grief Awareness Day page:

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela 
Today we pause to remember the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela.

RIP Nelson Mandela.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Love to Read? Try BookBub.com

If you own a Kindle, iPad, Nook or some other electronic reading device, you might want to check into signing on with something called Book Bub.  No, not this Bub....

...the curmudgeonly grandfather in "My Three Sons" played by William "Fred Mertz" Frawley, but, rather the website www.bookbub.com.

You go to the site, register with your email address and indicate what your reading preferences are (mystery, thrillers, romance, biography, history etc).  You will then receive an email everyday with six or seven books from which to choose that are either free or priced at $.99, $1.99, and, rarely, $2.99.  That's it.  I thought there had to be a catch, but some friends assured me that there was not, and indeed, there isn't. Unless, of course, you count Amazon getting access to your reading and buying habits, but, face it, that ship sailed a long time ago.

Anyway, I have made five purchases via Book Bub, and I think that three of them have been freebies and the others $.99.  Now, I don't think you will see John Grisham, David McCullough or other big time authors on Book Bub, and oft times you will get what you pay for when going this route, but what the hell?  For example, of the five books I've bought thus far, two were clunkers that I started and will not finish, and one was not great, but was an entertaining read that held my interest from beginning to end.  The other two are still on the eBookshelf waiting to be read.

I think I am going to adopt a rule of thumb to stick with the free selections for the most part, and hope to come up with an occasional good book from this marketplace.  Or maybe I'll go for a ninty-nine center once in awhile.  OK, maybe splurge for a buck ninty-nine if the book really looks good.

Anyway, if you love to read, check it out.  Consider this my public service announcement for today.  You're welcome.

By the way, the one book referenced above that I read and liked was called "Time Fall" by Timothy Ashby.

This is a story that involves the well worn, but always entertaining plot device of time travel.  

In the closing days of World War II, a group of six American Army Rangers parachute into the German province of Bavaria in an effort to create confusion and generally raise a little hell as the Third Reich teeters on the edge of extinction.  They jump from the plane on an April night in 1945, but when they hit the ground, it is April 2011.  They begin carrying out their assigned objectives by sabotaging various Nazi installations, unaware that these places have now been redesigned and serve other purposes in the Germany of 2011.  They are mistaken for Al Queda type terrorists, and the big honcho in German law enforcement who has to round them up is an ex-Hitler Youth who was, in the closing days of WW II, was awarded an Iron Cross by Hitler himself, and this guy still thinks in terms of the good old days and ways when the Fuhrer was still in power.  Oh, and American Intelligence gets involved, too.

Melodramatic, cliched, and a bit ham-handed at times to be sure, but, as I said, a quick and entertaining read, and the Epilogue that ends the book has a pretty neat scene that you would expect in such stories.  And I am a sucker for time travel stories.  I checked this morning, and it can be had at Amazon for your Kindle for a mere $2.99. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Tomlin Affair

Nothing seems to have dominated the sports news as much as Mike Tomlin's inadvertent (I believe) interference on Jacoby Jones' kick return in the game with the Ravens on Thanksgiving night.

Tomlin has apologized - and it was not the typical jock apology written by some PR hack - profusely and sincerely and has said he will accept without protest or appeal any discipline that the NFL metes out.  So, let it happen and let it be done.  Unfortunately, this is something that will follow Tomlin forever.  That may not be fair, but that is the world in which we live these days.

My own opinion is that I simply do not believe that this was done intentionally by Tomlin.  As Michael Wilbon pointed out on PTI on Monday, there is nothing in Tomlin's history to suggest any pattern of behaviour that would lead one to think he would intentionally interfere with the game in progress.   As to the actual interference, in continued viewings of the play, nothing suggests to me that Tomlin's actions caused Jones to NOT go all the way with that return.  It appears to me that Jones would have been tackled, regardless of where Tomlin was on the sideline.  Still, Tomlin was wrong and deserves some punishment, which he has acknowledged.

Also, in one perspective, it's a good thing that Baltimore actually won this game, for had they not, the actions of Tomlin would have no doubt led to his being drawn and quartered by the NFL. suits on Park Avenue.

What is more disturbing to me is the extremely negative reaction to Tomlin by Steelers fans themselves.  If you read some of the online comments being made by these purported fans, well, one can only draw one conclusion as to why there is so much negativity towards Tomlin.  I would also refer you to Ron Cook today, who makes an excellent case for Mike Tomlin.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

To Absent Friends: Evan Chambers

How sad is it to hear of the death of Pirates minor league player and prospect Even Chambers, who passed away in his sleep on Sunday night/Monday morning at the age of 24.

I can remember attending a State College Spikes game in 2009 and seeing Chambers play, shortly after he was drafted by the Pirates in the third round in that years Entry Draft.  I remember that he was a big kid, and surely he would be a big star in PNC Park in the not so distant future, right?  He scuffed around the minors and was injured most of this past season, and who knows if he'd have ever made it,  but in the end, who cares about all that?  He was only twenty-four years old and now he's gone.  How incredibly sad.

It was amazing to read all of the tweets last night by folks such as Andrew McCutchen, Tony Sanchez, Austin Meadows and others throughout the Pirates organization attesting to what a great teammate and great person Chambers was.  How sad.

RIP Evan Chambers.

Thoughts on the City Game

As you know from a previous post, I attended the Pitt-Duquesne basketball game this past weekend, aka, The City Game, and I found it to be a bit of a lackluster event in spite of the best efforts of the schools' respective pep bands, cheerleaders, dance teams, and, oh yeah, the basketball teams.

Part of this is no doubt due to the fact that on Thanksgiving Weekend, neither school was in session so the student sections on both sides were virtually empty, and that the Consol Energy Center was only half filled.  Mainly, however, I think that this stems from the one sided nature of what this "rivalry" has become.  Pitt has now won this game thirteen years in a row, and 31 of the past 35 times it has been played.

This year, Pitt was tired, I believe, from two tough games earlier in the week in Brooklyn, and allowed the Dukes to make a game of it for awhile...

...but in the end, overall talent prevailed, and a 17 point Pitt victory was the result.

I have opined on this subject in the past ( http://www.grandstander.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-city-game-steel-bowl-and-special.html ), but this game just does not have the significance that it once held in this town.  Pitt upped its ante as a basketball school decades ago when it joined the Big East, and now the ACC, and somewhere along the way, Duquesne made the choice that they were not going to make the "All In" commitment needed to compete in the elite circles of college basketball, or even in the top echelon of the Atlantic 10.  Duquesne shouldn't be criticized if this is the direction they wish to take, and, in fact, perhaps they are placing athletics in the priority that people often SAY that they should be (except, of course, when your school loses all the time), so perhaps they should also consider stepping down, perhaps to the Northeast Conference, and compete with schools, such as Robert Morris and St. Francis, to name two local institutions, who seem to place athletics in a similar perspective.

Jamie Dixon and Jim Ferry can say all they want about how much this "rivalry game" means, but if they were REALLY honest, I am guessing the neither school would be too upset of this game was no longer scheduled.

As far as the Event went this past Saturday, my vote for most outstanding performance goes to this guy:

Yep.  The kid who played the bass drum in the Pitt Pep Band was more enthusiastic than any player on the court.  He would actually leave his feet and jump into the air as he beat hell out of that drum when the band played, and his spiked Mohawk hair style only added to his panache. Loved him!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

I Finally Get to The Consol

I attended the first games - exhibition and regular season - at both PNC Park and Heinz Field.  I did not make the Three Rivers Stadium opener, but I know I saw my first game there on the first weekend after it opened.  I even have a vague recollection of being at the Civic Arena at some sort of public open house before it officially opened.  All this is background to the somewhat shocking fact that it wasn't until yesterday, in the fourth season of its operation, that I attended my first event at this venue.

Yes, four seasons until I set foot in this place.  I know that my father, who made me the sports fan that I am, is no doubt looking down upon me with great disappointment over this fact.

Anyway, the City Game, the annual basketball game between Pitt and Duquesne, is the event that finally righted this wrong, as my buddy Len Martin and I took in the big game.

The game itself, a 17 point win by Pitt was rather unremarkable,  but aspects of it are worth commenting upon and will be addressed in a separate post within the next day or two.

Anyway, my impressions of the Consol are favorable.  Very favorable.  A beautiful place.  Wide concourses in which to maneuver, terrific selection of food and drink, comfortable seats, great sight lines, easy to get into and out of.  Just a great place to see an event.  Now I will say that for the game yesterday, the place was just a little over half full, so I am guessing that the openness and easy maneuverability might not be what I experienced at a sold out hockey game or concert.

A great experience and a great place.  Of the four major sports venues opened in Pittsburgh in this century, I would rank this just behind PNC Park and just ahead of the Peterson Athletic Center.  (If you are keeping score, yes, Heinz Field ranks fourth.)

Looking forward to getting back there.

By the way, I snapped the picture below from one of the concourse areas on the top level of the Consol.  It is where the Civic Arena used to be.  We still await, four years after the fact, all that new development that the Penguins promised us when we built them their new play pen so that they would not move to Kansas City.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Pitt, Football and Basketball

The Pitt Panthers closed their football season today the same way that they began it last Labor Day evening - by giving up 41 points to a school from Florida, and losing convincingly.  Tonight it was the Miami Hurricanes who laid the wood to the Panthers and coming away with a 41-31 win, and trust me, the game wasn't as close as the score indicated.  The Panthers finish their season with a 6-6 record and will be making a trip to some meaningless bowl game in late December.

After Florida State beat Pitt 41-13 to open the season I wrote, among other things,  the following:

You just have to hope for game by game improvement as the season progresses and maybe for an unexpected upset somewhere along the line.

Well, Pitt did get that big upset when they beat Notre Dame earlier in the month.  It was easily the high point of the season.  As to whether the game by game improvement occurred, not so much.  Every step forward seemed to be accompanied by a step-and-a-half backward, tonight's drubbing by Miami being a prime example.

On the other hand, as I was driving home from the game, the radio announcers said that 19 freshman had significant playing time for Pitt this season.  Here is hoping that that is a sign that a youth movement under Paul Chryst is taking place and that it will bear fruit in the seasons ahead.

On to basketball.  The Panther Hoopsters are 6-0 and coming off a most impressive two game performance at one of those pre-season tournaments, this one in Brooklyn, earlier in the week.  I will get to see them tomorrow afternoon when they take on Duquesne in the "City Game" at the Consol Energy Center.  I will have more on that match-up later in the weekend, but I am especially excited that this will be my first visit to the Consol Energy Center.  The building is now into its fourth year of hosting events, and I cannot believe that it has taken me this long to get down there.  Of course, I will be giving all of you my impressions of the Building.