Sunday, June 30, 2013

Praising Neal, Pedro, Mark/Jason, and Austin

Cleaning out the Mental In-Box, Pirates Edition....

  • I have come to the conclusion that it is time to declare a moratorium on the Neal Huntington Bashing.  Here's why:  A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, Jeff Locke, Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Justin Wilson, Bryan Morris, Mark Melancon, Jason Grilli, Jeanmar Gomez, Russell Martin, Garrett Jones, Gaby Sanchez, Jordy Mercer, Pedro Alvarez, Travis Snider, Mike McKenry.  Have I left anyone out? Oh, yeah, Clint Hurdle.   Each of those 18 players and one manager have played significant, if not huge, roles in putting the Pirates where they are today - the team with the best record in all of Major League Baseball at the halfway point of the season, and all of them are with the Pirates because of the maneuverings of GM Neal Huntington.  So maybe he knew what he was doing all along.
  • All this, and the Pirates minor league system seems to be just bristling with top-notch prospects.  (I say "seems to be" because, as we know, there is no such thing as a Sure Thing when it comes to minor league prospects.)  Still, a much brighter outlook down on the farm than there was five years ago.
  • Lots of grass still to be mown, but at this point, I'd say that NH is the leader at the half-way pole for Executive of the Year.
  • This is not to say that he won't STILL drive me nuts with the NHB, though.
  • So much energy and anger has been spent over something that has not yet happened - the Gerrit Cole return to Indianapolis - that I decided yesterday that I would no longer speak of it until it actually happened.  Plus, these things oft-times have a way of working themselves out organically, and the Wandy recovery setback seems to offer proof of that.
  • With the conclusion of this afternoon's game with the Brewers, the Pirates will, literally, be halfway through the season.  At worst, they will be 50-31 and tied for first in the NL Central.  With a win today, they will be 51-30 and still have at least a one game lead in the Division.  Is "unbelievable" too strong a word to describe this?
  • If on Memorial Day you said that Pedro Alvarez belonged on the All-Star team, you'd have been laughed out of town.  However, here is what he has done in 91 AB's in the month of June: .330 BA, 10 HR, 24 RBI, 15 R, and 1.127 OPS. Yeah, I'd say he should be on the All-Star team.  Of course, for the critics out there, he did strike out 33 times, and he still wears his hat funny.
  • Too bad you can't have a "tandem" All-Star, because if you did, Mark Melancon/Jason Grilli would be a sure fire pick.  The Pirates play seven inning games because of those guys.
  • As it is, I am sure that Grilli will be at Citi Field come July 17.
  • I went back in the Grandstander archives last night to check out my pre-season forecast for the Pirates.  I predicted 79 wins.  Lots of ball still to be played, but the Pirates are on pace to make me look really, really stupid, and I'm loving every minute of it!
  • Did you catch the in-game interview on Friday night with just signed first round pick Austin Meadows?  What a kick that was.  First of all, he's EIGHTEEN YEARS OLD.  I have neckties older than that.  But how refreshing he was (he appears to be the Anti-Bryce Harper).  Answered every question from Greg Brown and Bob Walk by saying "sir", and said his goal was to hit one in the river at PNC Park.  There is no way to know if this kid will deliver the goods someday for the Pirates, but after hearing him on Friday, I sure hope he turns out to be everything the Pirates hope he will be.
Let's all get ready for the second half of 2013.  It looks like it's going to be a fun ride down on the North Shore.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Big Break

I know that this may come off as sounding snobbish on my part, but I do not watch the competitive "reality shows" on TV.  I used to be a huge fan of "Survivor", but that show jumped the shark, in my mind, anyway, about five or six years ago, and I haven't watched it since.  And I have never seen a single episode to American Idol, America's Got Talent, Dancing With the Stars, The Voice or any of the dozens of such shows that liter the TV landscape.

I do have one exception to this rule, however, and that is Golf Channel's "The Big Break".  I love this one, and the current season, "Big Break Mexico" is living up to all Big Break expectations.  This season has a twist to it.  Twelve golfers, six men, six women, divided into three teams of four (2 men, 2 women).  No one was eliminated until the fifth show of the season, at which point, four golfers got the ax. From this point forward, one golfer will go in each show.

My absolute favorite element of this show, and it never changes, is the bravado all of these participants have.  When given the challenge facing them in a given show, the golfers will invariably state something along these lines: 

"I was thrilled that it was a bunker shot / flop shot / drive / chip-and-putt, because I'm great at bunker shots / flop shots / driving / chipping-and-putting.  That shot is my bread and butter. I really wanted that shot!"  

We are then treated to seeing these golfers totally screwing up the shot presented to them, and playing the shot like some hacker at the local muni.  In other words, playing the shot like I might play it.

Big Break Mexico's team concept also introduced a new element to the program with the players all talking about the all-for-one nature of team competition while at the same time back-biting and putting down their own team members when away from them. Then there are the tears when someone gets eliminated.  Fabulous!

Each show also has one player who talks tough, says he (or she) is out to win this thing, I know I'm better than everyone, and I don't care about any of these other people, because this is going to me MY Big Break.  This year it was a bearded blond guy with glasses named Rob who assumed the role.  You can guess what happened.  Rob was eliminated when he drove deep into woods, took three shots to hack his way out and snowmanned a par five. 

It's classic stuff and the breathless commentary of Brit Tom Abbot and Stephanie Sparks only add to all of the pseudo- drama.

God help me, but I love it!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"Mad Men" Concludes Season 6 (SPOILERS)


Here is what happened to Don Draper in Season Six of "Mad Men":

  • He drank a lot.
  • He had a very dangerous affair with the downstairs neighbor, who was part of a couple with whom the Drapers socialized.
  • He got dumped by said neighbor/mistress, whereupon he became a spurned stalker of said neighbor/ex-mistress.
  • Completely on his own, he forged a merger with a rival agency of Sterling Cooper Draper Price.  (I mean, could something like that possibly happen in real life?)
  • He was the subject of scornful and cutting comments by co-workers - Pete, Peggy, Harry, Stan (the guy with he beard) - who used to fear him.
  • He drank a lot.
  • He hooked up for a one night stand with his ex-wife.
  • He resumed affair with his neighbor, only to be caught in flagrante delicto by his daughter.  Talk about icky!
  • Spent a night in a jail drunk tank.
  • He stopped drinking, only to be told to drink again before a big pitch meeting.
  • Completely blew the big pitch meeting.
  • Made Megan quit her job because they were going to move to California.
  • Changed his mind about moving to California, whereupon Megan walked out on him.
  • Got fired by Sterling Cooper & Partners.
I'm sure I've left out some other stuff, too.

I guess that Season Six could be subtitled "Don Draper's Descent Into Hell."

So, when does Season Seven start?

Thoughts on Gaby Sanchez

It has been my thought that first base for the Pirates should be a strict lefty/righty platoon of Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez.  While the Pirates seem to agree with me about Jones (only 12 of his 220 AB's have been against LHP this season), Sanchez seems to be playing a lot against righties, so I decided to do some checking, and here is what Gaby has done thus far in 2013:

Vs. LHP:  51 AB, .314 BA, 4 HR, 9 RBI, 1.044 OPS
Vs. RHP: 97 AB, .216 BA, 3 HR, 15 RBI, .696 OPS

I still think that Sanchez should be a platoon player, but it is not as cut-and-dried as I thought.  That's why Clint Hurdle, and not me, gets paid the big bucks!

17 Over

With last night's victory over Seattle, the Pirates are now 47-30, one game behind the Cardinals in the NL Central, a whopping eight and one-half games ahead in the wild card race, have the second best record in ALL OF MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL, and have now exceeded last season;s high water mark of sixteen over .500.  Lots to be happy about, although the doom spreaders are still out there (and not without reason given the Pirates recent history), but what the hell, let's ignore the doom spreaders for a moment, and speculate on what the record might be when the All-Star break arrives in two weeks.  Let's just say that 20 games over .500 would be a nice round number.  Can they do it?

Let's assume the worst and figure that the Bucs current five game winning streak will end today at the hands of King Felix in Seattle.  Not unreasonable, and perfectly forgivable.  That would put them at 16 over .500 with 15 games to play before the break.  Those 15 games come against teams - Brewers, Phillies, Cubs, Athletics, and Mets - with a combined record of 175-205 (.460).  Only one of those teams, the A's has a winning record.  To hit that +20 mark, the Bucs would have to go 10-5 in these 15 games.  Even against poor competition, that is asking a lot.  However, should they go 9-7 in that stretch, the exact pace on which they are playing for the season, that would put them at 56-37, or nineteen games over.  I'll take it.

Also, while 10-5 may be asking a lot, a break even of 8-7 is not asking too much and would make them 55-38, seventeen over and one over last season's high water mark.  I'll take that, too.

In any event, it is a fun little interim race-within-a-race that we can watch.


Since we're talking about the Pirates here, let me address a topic that has been raging since Sunday, when GM Neal floated the possibility on his weekly radio show that Gerrit Cole might be returned to Indianapolis when Wandy Rodriguez and/or A.J. Burnett return from the disabled list.  Yes, this is the Gerrit Cole who is 3-0 with a 3.44 ERA and an 8:1 K:BB ratio, and who looked like a right handed Steve Carlton in his start against the Angels last Friday.  Let's assume that Huntington has more baseball acumen than any of us and that Cole does indeed need to "work on a few things" in the minors.  That may rile me up, but I guess I can live with it.  Here's the real part of Huntington's comments that really fries my eggs.  He stated that such a demotion would have "nothing to do with" Cole's service time and attainment of Super 2 status, which would make him arbitration eligible a year earlier than the team would like.

Aside from this being yet another "business over baseball" decision by the Pirates, it is another example of NH insulting the intelligence of the Pirates fan base.  How dumb does he really think we are?  Strap on a pair and tell us the truth for once, Neal.  We might not agree with you, but we can take it.

Let's be honest, the Pirates are where they are today in large part because of acquisitions and signings of players that Neal brought here.  A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, Mark Melancon, Jeff Locke, Jason Grilli, Russell Martin, Jordy Mercer, Pedro Alvarez, Justin Wilson, and, yes, GERRIT COLE, and I've probably left out a few.  So just when you start getting some warm and fuzzy thoughts about Neal, he shovels another load of NHB on us about why Cole might be sent down. 

Drives you crazy.

Monday, June 24, 2013

What Have I Read Lately?

Well, if you really want to know.....

Yep, after seeing the movie, I decided to reread the book for the first time since high school.  Fitzgerald certainly had an elegant way of writing.  His lavish descriptions of Gatsby's parties and a list of all the people who attended them were fun reading, and the story of the guy that everyone loves, until he gets down on his luck, is an age old one.  Not sure either movie version I've seen - Robert Redford and Leo DiCaprio - does do the novel justice.  An interesting read if you've never read it, and I am glad that I have read it again after experiencing life for going on sixty-two years.  Not sure if I'll ever read it a third time, though.

A new Lincoln Rhyme novel is always one to which to look forward, and this newest one is no exception.  Deaver has a way to come up with plot twists and cliffhangers (at least three in this one alone) unlike almost any other best selling author.  However, the almost super human powers of Rhyme and his partner/lover Amelia Sachs is becoming pretty formulaic in these stories.  Not enough to make me swear off of them and not read the next one, which is probably at least two more years away, though.  If you haven't read the Deaver/Rhyme novels, you should, but don't start with this one.  The very first one was "The Bone Collector".  Start with that one or some of the other earlier ones.  

I will say, though, that "Kill Room" deals with some issues very much in the news today.  Things like personal privacy, abuses of personal liberties under the mantle of "patriotism", and the use of drones in warfare.  Deaver does not come down on one side or the other, but how he lays it all out is thought provoking to say the least.

I finally got around to reading this Steve Blass autobiography that was published last year.  If you are Blass fan and a Pirate fan, you will like it.  If you don't like Steve Blass, then don't bother reading it.  Blass deals very candidly with the control issues  that ended his career, as well as with some issues in his personal life and marriage that could not have been easy to put out there for all the world to read about.  (You should know that one very salacious rumor that has been circulating for years about the Blass marriage is NOT true.)  The most interesting parts of such sports biographies, to me at least, are the parts that talk about the player in the years after the playing days are over, and this one was no exception.

One thing Blass says, and he says it a couple of times in the book, I found very good.  In discussing all of his control problems, he mentioned that whenever someone offered a suggestion on how to fix it, he would try it because "I don't want to be sitting on my porch when I'm 85 years old and think 'maybe THAT would have worked if I only tried it.' " And he offered that same bit of advice to other players over the years. It's not a bad way to look at life, if you ask me.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Meeting Sally O'Leary

If you grew up listening to Bob Prince broadcasting Pirates games, you will remember him often referring to his "Gal Friday, Sally O'Leary".  Over the years, in my involvement with the local SABR Chapter, I had occasion to correspond with Sally, and yesterday, I had the pleasure and honor of meeting Sally in person when she was the very Special Guest our monthly Breakfast Group.  Thanks to Dan and Len, long time acquaintances of Sally, for arranging this.

Sally began working for the Pirates in 1964 as an assistant to PR Director Jack Berger, and also served as the Baseball Secretary for Bob Prince.  She formally retired from the Pirates 14 years ago, but continues to serve the organization as the liaison for the Pirates Alumni Association.  We must have spent close to four hours with Sally yesterday, asking her questions, and hearing her stories about such folks as Bob Prince, Danny Murtaugh, Bill Mazersoki, Bing Crosby, Eddie Basinski, Vin Scully, Joe L. Brown, Fritz Ostermeuller, Leo Durocher,  Joe Torre, Curt Gowdy, Willie Stargell, Harry Walker, Kevin McClatchey, Wally Westlake, Dan Galbreath, Roberto Clemente, Frank Gustine, Dock Ellis, Harding Peterson, Ralph Kiner, Steve Blass, Bob Walk, Jim Woods, and on and on.  Are you getting the idea of what this must have been like for a bunch of life-long Pirates fans? 

To call Sally O'Leary a Treasure when it comes to the Pirates and the history of the team would not be overstating the case, and her love for and loyalty to the Pirates - even a Pirates Organization that is very, very different from the one she worked for - shone through.  

It was just a wonderful morning.  Thank you, Sally!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

To Absent Friends: James Gandolfini

"Shocking" would not be too strong a word in describing the reaction to the news last night of the death of actor James Gandolfini at the way-too-young age of 51.

It is impossible to name the "best show in television history", but I don't think that anyone would argue that HBO's "The Sopranos" would not be in the discussion for best dramatic show ever, and James Gandolfini, playing Mob Boss and New Jersey family man Tony Soprano was the heart and soul of the series' 86 episodes, which ran from 1999 to 2007.  The Associated Press obituary that ran in this morning's Post-Gazette quoted "Sopranos" creator David Chase as saying that "a great deal of that genius (Gandolfini's) resided in those sad eyes."  How appropriate, because in watching "The Sopranos" I always said that Gandolfini-as-Tony could say more with his eyes than other actors could with several pages of dialog.

Actors who play such iconic characters as Tony Soprano run the risk of forever being known for one part and being typed as one particular kind of character.  Gandolfini seemed to combat that trap by returning to the Broadway stage, to much acclaim, and by taking smaller, character roles in movies.  The last time I saw him was in the role of CIA Director Leon Panetta in last year's terrific "Zero Dark Thirty".  Once you realized who the actor was, you forgot Tony Soprano, because that was  Leon Panetta up there on the screen.  How sad that we will not see him again.

I can think of no greater way to pay homage than what I will do this afternoon:  Go to my DVD collection and randomly select any disk from any season of "The Sopranos" and watch a few episodes.  You might want to do that yourself, as well.

RIP James Gandolfini.

By the way, I would not remiss if I did not share with you a message I received late last night from Friend and Loyal Reader Mark Matera.  Knowing that I would no doubt be doing an Absent Friend write-up on Gandolfini, he suggested I tie it in with another notable death from yesterday, that of singer Slim Whitman.  He suggested that the headline read "Death Takes a Pair of Sopranos".

Too good not to share.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Rock & Roll Mt. Rushmore, Part II

My post of last week proposing a Mt. Rushmore of American Rock & Roll didn't exactly caused the fiber optics lines to burn up, but it did bring a few interesting responses.  Most agreed with my automatic choices of Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, and by "most" I mean everyone except my friend Ray Queen, whose opinion I highly respect, by the way, who questioned Berry's inclusion for two reasons: (1) a questionable moral character, and (2) "My Ding-a-Ling".  I say that "Johnny B. Good" trumps any damage caused by "My Ding-a-Ling",  but will agree that it's hard to look the other way on a Mann Act conviction.  Still, he stays on my mountain, if for no other reason than no less that The Beatles and The Rolling Stones cite Berry as a major influence on their development as singers, song writers, and performers.

As I said, the response was not overwhelming, but here are the clear-cut candidates  from those who did respond:

  • Brian Wilson
  • Bob Dylan
  • Buddy Holly
  • Bruce Springsteen
You may recall that I did not include Springsteen among my original list of candidates, and this was no disrespect on my part, as I am a big fan of The Boss.  I did not include him only because he came on to the scene in the early to mid-seventies long after Rock & Roll was an established and accepted art form, or, in other words, after it was "here to stay".   I felt that a Mt. Rushmore would be more a tribute to the pioneers of the genre.  However, perhaps I need to rethink that.

One of the more interesting responses came from Loyal Reader Nick Frankart in Long Beach, CA.  After weighing in on his candidates (Holly and Springsteen), he proposed another fun exercise at the other end of the spectrum, and he called it the Rock & Roll Molehill.  I think the name is self-explanatory, but he kicks it off with the following suggested nominees....Mac Davis, Christopher Cross, Peter Cetera, The Captain (without Tenille), Norman Greenbaum, and Gilbert O'Sullivan.

That's a pretty good list to start, and with a little help from our friends, I am sure it can be expanded exponentially.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Weekend at PNC Park

Spent Saturday and Sunday at PNC Park with 75,000 or so of our closest friends watching the Pirates and Dodgers have at it.  Extra innings and a four hour plus game on Saturday, and a 90 minute rain delay prior to Sunday's game, and I want to be the first  to nominate Marilyn for Wife of the Year for sticking through it all (plus handling my scorecard while I had to leave the seat for nature calls).

The Pirates split the two games, Gerrit Cole got his second win since his recall, and Pedro Alvarez hit an absolute monster of a home run (has he ever hit a cheap one?), so it was good weekend, overall, and the Bucs head to Cincy for four games against the Reds.  They are 1/2 game behind the Reds, and three games behind the Cardinals, so this shapes up as a big series for them.

However, I am choosing not to comment on the baseball so much, but rather what we witnessed at Saturday's game. 

Saturday was one of the Pirates "Fan Jam" nights, with the band, Blues Traveler performing post game.  We had no plans for staying for the concert, but there were plenty of people who were obviously at the game solely for the concert, including a group of ten people sitting next to us in Section 127, not cheap seats, I might add).  These folks were in their late 20's or early 30's.  Three guys from the group were there at the beginning of the game, and drinking beers from the get go.  The rest of the group came in at about the sixth inning or so and were already totally trashed.  They continued to buy beers, two and three at a time, through the end of the game (and it went two extra innings, remember).  This meant that we constantly had to get up and down as they went back to the stands for more beer and to the rest rooms to discharge what they had already drunk.

It was annoying and obnoxious to say the least.  It was like being at a Steelers game, for God's sake!  And it raises some questions:

  1. Beer vendors stop selling beer in the seventh inning. Why don't the concession stands stop selling as well?
  2. Who has this kind of money?  Our estimate, assuming a $7 per beer price, which is probably low, was that this group spent close to $500 on beer alone that night, on top of $36 for each ticket.  And that estimate is on the low side.
  3. Were they able to enjoy the concert?
  4. How in the hell did they get home afterwards?
In any event, we were hoping that each of them were sick as dogs all day Sunday.

In contrast was the crowd at the game yesterday, Father's Day.  So many families with young, and I mean really young, babes in arms young, kids.  It was nice to see, but again, who has that kind of money?  Pirates tickets are not cheap, and spending it on a baby or toddler who would have no idea what was going on, and then buying them food and souvenirs?  Well, I guess it is a wholesome family day out, so long as it's not a Fan Jam Night.  I know that I went to my first Pirate game at age 7 when I "would know what was going on down there", and that was when youth bleachers seats at Forbes Field went for eighty cents. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

New Restaurant - Off the Hook

One thing that we residents of the North Hills do not have is an abundance of nice, upscale restaurants.  Oh, all the chains are out here, but you are hard-pressed to find an independent restaurant.

That changed this past week when Off the Hook opened in Warrendale.  Tonight, Marilyn and I, and our friend Libby LLoyd took a ride out and had a great experience.  Off the Hook's specialty, as the name implies, is seafood.  The decor is very nice, the service was excellent, and the food was outstanding.   Food is ordered and served at a leisurely and relaxing pace. The place was crowded tonight, which you might expect of a new place in it's first week of operation.  The only drawback might - MIGHT - be that it could be fairly noisy when there is a full house, but I can't say that that was our experience this evening.

They also have a separate bar area, and I can see ourselves stopping out there in the future for drinks and appetizers.

The place is not inexpensive, entrees are in the $30-$35 range, but if you want a nice dining experience, I would highly recommend Off the Hook.

"Man of Steel"

So I took myself to the movies this afternoon to see the highly touted, much anticipated new Superman movie, "Man of Steel".  I have a couple of thoughts:

  1. Why so serious?  Superman originated as a comic book, right?  Comic books are supposed to be fun, right?  The Superman movies of the Eighties with Christopher Reeve were fun, right?  Well, this one was so overwrought with symbolism, and IMPORTANT STATEMENTS, that I was expecting to see a screenplay credit by Arthur Miller or Eugene O'Neill.  And the stained glass window of Jesus behind Clark Kent's shoulder when he was in a church?  I mean, C'mon man!
  2. It was a pure self-indulgence vehicle for producer Christopher  Nolan (the guy who did the last three overwrought Batman movies) and director Zach Snyder.  You can almost visualize the planning meetings.  "Hmmm, let's see how much money we can spend and how we can show off how clever we are by overdoing the CGI and the Special Effects."  As a result, instead of a tight, 1 hour and 45 minute movie, they have a 2 hour and 20 minute movie that goes way, way, way over the top and lasts way, way too long.
  3. It was incredibly violent.  Really, if I was a parent I wouldn't want my kids seeing this unless they were at least 16 years old.
  4. And getting back to point #1, it wasn't fun.
  5. I guess I'm just not a super-hero kind of guy.
The cast included some heavy hitters - Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, and Amy Adams.    General Zod, the wacko villain in this one, was played by Michael Shannon, the guy who plays the wacko FBI agent in Boardwalk Empire.  Clark Kent/Superman was played by some British hunk of beefcake named Henry Cavill.  Since there will no doubt be a "Man of Steel 2", we will see Cavill at least one more time.  Not sure if we'll ever see him outside of this franchise again.  William Holden, he ain't.

The next such movie that I plan to see this summer is "The Lone Ranger", which opens on July 5.  I fully expect that to be an awful movie, but I'm dying to see how Johnny Depp will channel Jack Sparrow into the role of Tonto.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

All Hail Don "Mr. 10,000" Lancaster

With their 39th win of the season, and the 10,000th win in "Pittsburgh's" (more on that later) major league history, the 10,000 win contest came to a close last night, not, in the words of poet T.S. Eliott, with a bang but a whimper, and the winner was Don Lancaster.  The contest wasn't even close.

Of the 21 entries in the contest, Don's was the most optimistic.  He said that win number 30 would come in game number 65, and last night's game was number 65 for the Pirates this season.  Don hit it right on the nose!  Don's performance was like a Jason Grilli eight pitch save - quick, efficient, and deadly to the opposition.

Don's prize "of small monetary value" went out to him in today's mail.  Nothing great, but something that might come in handy along Rt. 22 as Don commutes to and from PNC Park. He also receives the mythical "Jim Haller Trophy", named in honor of the guy who first pointed out that win number 10,000 would come sometime in 2013.

Don won this contest in the manner of Secretariat at the 1973 Belmont Stakes.  The next closest entrant was Mike Jones who called for this win in game number 76.  Most people, twelve of the twenty-one entrants, predicted that the win would come in the 80th to 83rd game range.  As Pirates fans, I guess we should all be happy that Don was correct in his prediction.

We never even got to the tie-breakers, but just for kicks and giggles, let's see how they would have played out based on last night's game:

First TB: Winning Pitcher was Francisco Liriano.  Only one entrant, Dave Jones, had Liriano. Don's pick was Jared Hughes.

Second TB: Starling Marte got the first Pirate hit of the game.  Ten entrants, including Don, had Marte on this one.

Third TB: Alex Presley got the first Pirate home run of the game.  No one had Alex on this one.  Don's choice was Russell Martin.

Fourth TB:  There were 18 total Pirates hits in the game.  The closest to this figure was eleven (11) hits, which was predicted by five entrants, including Don. 

There was an interesting article in the Post-Gazette over the weekend as to why the Pirates themselves are not recognizing this as the 10,000th win in their history.  It seems that these 10,000 wins include 236 wins accumulated between 1882 and 1886 when the Pittsburgh Alleghenies were members of the American Association.   Major League Baseball and most baseball historians recognize the American Association as a "major league", hence their inclusion in the totals for "Pittsburgh" as shown on and MLB stats.

The Pirates themselves do not include the stats and totals from Pittsburgh's five years in the AA.  They only consider the records from 1887, the year the Alleghenies, soon to be the Pirates, entered the National League.  No big deal, and I can see the Pirates viewpoint in this regard.  

What it means, I suppose, is that we will have to conduct yet another 10,000th Win Contest for when the Pirates accumulate their 236th win starting from today.   I am figuring this should come sometime late in the 2015 or early in the 2016 season.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A New Mt. Rushmore

I am going to throw out a bit of challenge to readers of The Grandstander.

I have been commissioned to sculpt a new Mt. Rushmore, one dedicated not to American Presidents, but to American Rock & Roll.  We need four faces on this new Mt. Rushmore.  Two are indisputable:

Yes, Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley go on the mountain, but who are the other two?

Keep in mind, this is for American Rock & Roll, so this leaves out The Beatles (who deserve their own separate mountain), Mick Jagger, Elton John and the like.

So, send me your nominations for the other two faces for the Mt. Rushmore of American Rock & Roll.

I will make some nominations myself:

  • Buddy Holly
  • Brian Wilson
  • The Everly Brothers (as an entry)
  • Paul Simon
  • Barry Gordy
  • Smokey Robinson
  • Michael Jackson
  • Marvin Gaye
  • Diana Ross
  • Ricky Nelson
  • Bob Dylan
  • Stevie Wonder
  • Jerry Garcia
I am open to other suggestions.

Oh, and do not dispute Berry and Presley.  As I said, those are indisputable.  Carved in stone, so to speak.

The Future Is Here

I have seen the Pirates future, and he wears Number 45!

In his highly anticipated debut with the Pirates last night, Gerrit Cole did NOT....(a) pitch a no-hitter (b) pitch a shut out (c) go nine innings or (d) strike out umpteen batters.  Still, could you have imagined anything better than what he DID do?  Go six and 1/3, give up two runs, strike out the first batter he faced on three pitches, including a 99 MPH fast ball, retire thirteen in a row at one point, get a win, and, oh yeah, hit a two RBI single in his first major league AB, and have his catcher Russell Martin, who has been around the block a time or two, say that his fastball was the best he'd ever seen.

I think that the only word for this performance is "spectacular".

One thing that I did today was drive down to PNC Park and buy two tickets to Sunday's game which will be a match-up between Cole and Clayton Kershaw.  I missed the debut last night, but I'm not going to miss the next outing.

Late yesterday afternoon, Greg Brown was being interviewed on Starkey, Miller, and Mueller on 93.7 The Fan, and he had me screaming at the radio.  Brown was hoping that Cole would "do just okay" in this outing.  He feared that if Cole had an outstanding game (think Steven Strasburg against the Pirates in 2010), it would "set the bar too high" for Cole going forward, and make the expectations way too much for him.  I was waiting for Brown to say that he hoped the Giants scored seven runs and knocked him out in the first inning.  Call me Oliver Stone, but I smelled Neal Huntington's fingerprints (how's that for a mixed metaphor?) all over this statement.  In fact, the one guy associated with the Pirates that has NOT been heard from today has been the GM, who in all of his statements prior to last night made it clear that he did not want to have Cole up with the team at this time.  Too soon, according to the NH timetable.  I have even read some things today that says the Cole's staying with the club is still not a sure thing.  Not sure how credible some of those sources are, so I won't go completely nuts over it, but if one thing was proven last night, it was the Gerrit Cole should never have to ride another bus in the bushes again.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Neal Still Has a Way With Words

The Pirates are playing well, are 11 games over .500, and only four games out of first place, AND they are there due in large part to contributions of guys acquired, by one means or another, by GM Neal Huntington.  The tendency is to now go a little easy on Neal, or at least easier than many of critics usually do.

However, with Gerrit Cole now in Pittsburgh and set to make his debut tomorrow night, Neal still proves that he has a way with the wacky quotes.  This, from this morning's Post-Gazette:

"There's certainly discomfort because in an ideal world, it is probably a little early," Huntington said. "There are still some things he needs to work on. The worst reason you can bring a prospect to the major leagues is because of a need, and we've been able to avoid that until now."

That's right, Neal, why bring up a prospect just because the major league team might need him, especially when in an "ideal world", you can keep those guys in the minor leagues for another three or four years.  (As an aside,  what is the over/under on when Austin Meadows and/or Reese McGuire, assuming that they can actually play, will arrive in Pittsburgh?  I'm saying 2018.)  

In an ever-changing world, when things seem to finally be breaking his way, it is somewhat comforting to see that Neal can still spread the NHB.

The Jimmy Stewart Museum

What do you do on a rainy Monday morning when you have absolutely nothing on your calendar for the day?  Marilyn and I decided to take a drive to Indiana, PA and visit The Jimmy Stewart Museum.  As most probably know, Stewart is a native of Indiana, and in 1995, the town opened a museum dedicated to Stewart and his remarkable career.  Hey, who doesn't love Jimmy Stewart?

The museum is housed on the second floor of the Indiana Public Library, and it has all sorts of Stewart memorabilia, including posters and summaries of all of his movies.  There is a small theater within the Museum that does show Stewart movies on weekends.  The theater also has a 45 minute documentary on Stewart and, since we were the only visitors this afternoon, we were able to see it "on demand".  The movie is worth seeing if you visit the Museum, and if you are a Stewart fan, you really should visit this place.

Unfortunately, you cannot take pictures inside the Museum, so I don't have a lot of good photos of the day, but you are able to get your picture taken with one of Stewart's favorite co-stars, and I took advantage of the opportunity:

We did sign the guest book, and it was interesting paging through it.  There have been visitors to the Museum in little old Indiana, PA from all over the country, and I even saw signatures from Brazil and the United Kingdom.  

As I said earlier, who doesn't love Stewart?  On my list of Movies I Would Take With Me If I Was Stranded On A Desert Island, there are two of Jimmy's movies: "Rear Window" and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence".  

Which ones would you pick?

Big Poppy Scores!

Big Poppy, the Official Broadway Correspondent for The Grandstander, was forced to watch last night's Tony Awards while vacationing in Hawaii.  How great for him?  Two weeks ago I posted his predictions for this year's Tonys, and you are no doubt wondering...How did he do?

Well, BP made predictions in eight categories, and he was correct on five of those predictions, correctly picking Best Revival of a Musical, Featured Actress in a Musical, Best Score, Leading Actress in a Musical, and Best Musical.  So while a 5-3 record doesn't qualify as hitting one out of the park, let's give BP credit for a solid extra base hit into the left centerfield gap.  And consider this: in two of the categories that he lost, Big Poppy called that the eventual winner "could be" Danny Kelly, and that another winner "should be" Billy Porter.  Both Kelly and Porter won in their respective categories, so BP was this close to a 7-1 record, which would have qualified as home run deep into the upper deck.

So congrats to the Sage of Landview Street for another solid performance, and we look forward to his predictions, and his frequent B'Way updates, in the months ahead.

And on the subject of Broadway, I failed to mention that Mrs. Grandstander and I took in the CLO production of "42nd Street" last week.  Talk about a high energy show!  Very enjoyable night at the Benedum.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

"The Black Box" by Michael Connelly (No Spoilers)

There are few better police / detective novelists out there than Michael Connelly.  His novels featuring LA police detective Harry Bosch are among the best of the genre.   I just finished reading the latest, "The Black Box", and it is par for the course.

Harry, now working Open and Unsolved cases, stumbles upon one that is personal for him.  A foreign journalist, was killed in 1992 during the riots in Los Angeles following the Rodney King verdicts.   Harry was the homicide detective who was called to the scene at the time, but the case was never solved.   Now, the cold case file has fallen on Harry's desk and he won't stop until it's solved.

It's a good story, to be sure, but I do have one beef with the Bosch series.  When you read one or two of these books, they stand well on their own, but when you read a lot of them, and I've probably read a dozen or so of them over the years, you start to get tired of the way Harry is constantly butting heads with his superiors.  They always seem to have something in for Harry, and he never, and I mean never, follows procedures and orders.  He always has to do things his way, and he always seems to be under investigation by Internal Affairs, and he always to be just this close to being suspended, fired, or even arrested.  

I get tired of that. 

Gerrit Cole Arrives, and Other Pirates Thoughts

Gerrit Cole, the young man who was the subject of so much sturm und drang  on Facebook's Pirate Chat and other social media when he was sent to the minors at the close of Spring Training, will make his debut as a Pirates this coming Tuesday when he starts against the San Francisco Giants.   This start will come just a little over two years after Cole was selected by the Pirates with the overall Number One selection in the major league entry draft.  Despite all the criticism - much of it coming from this particular Grandstand, I admit - of the Pirates and the NHR for keeping guys in the minor leagues too long, Cole's ascension to a starting pitching assignment, against the defending World Series Champs, no less, has been remarkably swift.  In the grand scheme of things, Cole's "long-awaited" debut, will not have taken all that long after all.

I had promised myself that when Cole did make his first start, I would be at PNC Park to see it.  Turns out that Tuesdays happen to be our Caring Place night, so, alas and alack,  I will not be there to usher in the Gerrit Cole Era.  Perhaps this is a good thing, because I recall being at Three Rivers Stadium for the debuts of both Doug Frobel and Chad Hermansen, so Cole doesn't need that particular mojo going for him.  The DVR will be cranked up and I will rush home to see what I hope will be the first of Cole's 200 wins, give or take a few, that he will register for the Pirates over the course of his career.

It was a tough week for the Bucs who after taking 3 of 4 from the Tigers, were swept by the Braves and lost 2 of 3 to the Reds.  At the beginning of that stretch, I had wished for a 5-5 record, but I'll take 4-6.  They will have to do better against the Reds in future match-ups, but the important thing is that there WILL be more games against the Reds this season, and remember, the Pirates are 4-3 against them so far in '13.  And, of course, there are still a lot of games to be played against the Cardinals, who don't seem to ever lose a game. 

It also looked like the best cure for such a stretch was a three game series against the Cubs, as the Pirates go for a sweep today.


Speaking of the Major League Entry draft,  the Pirates selected 41 players this week, many of whom will be selling insurance or coaching high school baseball five or so years from now (as will most guys drafted by the other 29 MLB teams), but it will be fun to see which guy drafted after the 30th round will catch fire and become the Next Big Thing in the Pirates system and, we hope, at PNC Park someday.  Wasn't Dave Parker drafted after the 30th round?  And, of course, all eyes will be on the two first round choices, OF Austin Meadows and C Reese McGuire.  As high schoolers, they are a long way from Pittsburgh and PNC Park, but the potential of big things lie ahead for both of them, and, as I said, it will be fun following them along the way.


I am ready for the following headline when young Mr. Meadows becomes a Pirate and has his first multi-home run game:


Of course, by the time Meadows finally does arrive in Pittsburgh, the pop cultural reference to "Austin Powers" will be completely lost to everyone reading the newspaper, if, indeed, there still are newspapers then.


Sticking with the theme of Pirates draft choices,  one of the more intriguing story lines over the past two seasons has been that of Stetson Allie.  You all know the story, a high school pitcher who could throw at close to 100 mph, Allie was drafted in the second round in 2010, right behind Jameson Taillon, given first round bonus money ($2 Million) to sign, but then bombed as a pitcher to the point where the Pirates decided to make him  a first baseman.  In 2012, Allie didn't do much of anything, and he was starting to look like another very expensive bust of a draft pick, but in 2013 playing in Low Class A West Virginia, Allie has become Babe Ruth:

AB - 224
BA - .326
HR - 16
RBI - 55
OPS - 1.016

But here is the curious thing.  If you go to the Pirates website, you can link into the the Pirates "Top 20" minor league prospects to follow how they are doing, and Allie does not appear in the Top Twenty.  I am not sure what this means.  It could be that he is #21 on the list and will crack it once Cole get promoted, or it could mean that he is the next Brad Eldred. Whichever it is, it will be fun to watch the Stetson Allie Story play out over the next couple of seasons.

One of Allie's teammates in West Virgina, OF Josh Bell, is on that Top 20 list, and is ranked at Number Six.  His numbers in 231 AB's are as follows...BA of .277 with 8 HR, 45 RBI, and an .815 OPS.  Good, but not as good at the numbers Allie has posted.  Again, I don't know what it all means.

Friday, June 7, 2013

On Mark Appel....

Last July 13, after it became official that first round draft pick Mark Appel would not sign with the Pirates, I wrote the following in this blog about the possible ramifications of Appel's non-signing...

It forces Appel back into next year's draft, and any number of things could go wrong for the kid at this point: he could get hurt, he could fall lower in the draft because of the abilities of the other players available in the 2013 draft, he could be exposed in his senior year at Stanford as just another Bryan Bullington, and any one of those factors could and probably would end up costing him millions of dollars.  

So, in conclusion, the new spending restrictions on the entry draft have ended up screwing the kid and screwing the Pirates, but the Yanks and Sawx are no doubt happy about it, which means everything is OK.

It was reported that the Pirates offer to Appel was in the neighborhood of $3.8 million.  It will be interesting to track both what Appel signs for next season and how his career progresses over the next ten or so years.  Time will tell how much this non-deal really hurts the Pirates.  

Well, goes to show you what I know.  Appel excelled in his senior year at Stanford, and last night he became the #1 overall draft choice in MLB, taken by the Houston Astros.  He will no doubt get more than the $3.8 million the Bucs were offering last year.  The kid rolled the dice, and came up a winner.  Of course, how he actually pitches in the majors is still TBD.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Tonight's MLB Draft

I made this post on Facebook earlier today, and thought I'd put it out here as well:

The year the Pirates drafted Kris Benson #1 (and, don't forget, he was THE undisputed choice of everyone to go #1 that year), the guy who eventually became the best player of that entire draft class was Roy Oswalt, and he was drafted in the TWENTY-EIGHTH round. It is the most inexact science in all of sports. So, barring some obvious screw-up like Bullington-at-#1 or Moskos-Instead-of-Weiters, I'm going to try not to get too excited, one way or the other, over who the Pirates select tonight, and just hope that of the 50 guys they draft over the next few days, four or five will turn out to be good major league ballplayers, and maybe one or two will be all-stars. 

That would make it a very good draft class, I believe.

An H.A. Citation

Everyone knows that I normally eschew politics on this Blog, but Brian O'Neill's column in today's Post-Gazette is too good to pass up:

For those of you who haven't read it, it is about Pennsylvania State Representative Jesse White from Washington County (to be honest, I do not even know whether Mr. White is a Democrat or a Republican, and I have not looked it up in order to remain apolitical and bi-partisan on this one).  Anyway, it seems that Rep. White has taken to Facebook and Twitter to attack his opposition, which is OK in an of itself, I suppose, except that Mr. White is doing so while using phony identities, usually as young women.  As I say, read the O'Neill column.

For twisting the Social Media for his own ends in a sleazy and, frankly, creepy manor, The Grandstander awards an H.A. Citation for PA State Representative Jesse White.  Here you go, Jess!

(Photo Courtesy of Dan Bonk Enterprises)

D-Day, 69 Years Later

I posted the following one year ago today, and will no doubt post it on June 6 next year as well......

Every year on this day, I always go back and re-read a section from Andy Rooney's 1995 book, "My War."

There have been only a handful of days since the beginning of time on which the direction the world was taking has been changed for the better in only one twenty-four hour period by an act of man. June 6, 1944, was one of them.

What the Americans, the British, and the Canadians were trying to do was get back an entire continent that had been taken from its rightful owners and whose citizens had been taken captive by Adolf Hitler's German army. It was one of the most monumentally unselfish things one group of people ever did for another.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Biennial Garage Sale

The Biennial Stonebrook Village Garage sale took place.  It must have been the phases of the moon, but it seemed like every other neighborhood along Rochester Road had their garage sales yesterday, too.  Opinions were mixed as to whether or not this was a good or a bad thing.  Did the preponderance of such sales increase traffic, and, hence, sales, or did the preponderance of such sales mean that everyone spent all their money before they got to our neighborhood?  I'll leave that one to the boys in Market Research to sort out.

Loyal Readers may recall me writing on this topic two years ago after our first Garage Sale (, and many of the things mentioned then held true once again yesterday - the things we thought would sell didn't, the things we didn't think would sell (an old harmonica, e.g.) did, and the glimpse of human nature you get as people try to get you to come down from two dollars to one dollar on some piece-of-crap widget that you are trying to unload ("it's two lousy dollars, you jerk!").  Anyway, we did manage to get rid of a lot of "stuff", which was the main point of the exercise, and we cleared fifty-eight bucks in the process, so what the hell?

I will close with one anecdote from the day.  One of our big ticket items that I was sure would sell was a TV stand.  It was a pretty nice one, was only two years old, and cost us around a hundred and thirty bucks when we originally bought it. We had it marked at $25, and were hoping we'd get twenty for it.  Turns out, no one was in the market for it.  In the last hour of the sale, we were at the "make us an offer" point.  Some guy comes up with his wife, checks out the stand and asks what do I want for it.  I say "we were asking $25".  He says "how about $5?".  I say "How about $10?"  And at this point, our neighbor says from her driveway "you don't even have to put it together".  The jackwagon then says "Five."  And, as much as I wanted to get rid of the TV stand, I say "No".  Something inside of me just would not let me give in to this tightwad.

I won't print here what I REALLY wanted to say to this cheapskate.

So, if any  of you readers out there need a TV stand, get in touch with me.  It's back down in our lower level.  Just don't offer me five bucks for it!