Sunday, March 30, 2014

Fish Fry, Absent Friend, and Other Ramblings

A general hodge-podge of Sunday morning ramblings......

Our Fish Fry tour this past Friday took us to the American Serbian Club on Sarah Street on the South Side.  This Fish Fry benefits St. Suva Orthodox Church, home parish of our friends and neighbors, George and Barb Topich.  This is the fourth year in a row we have gone to this Fish Fry, and it is another good one.  One thing that separates this one from other Fish Fries?  There is a bar in the Serbian Club, so I was able to wash down my fish sammich with a cold Iron City Beer.  Hard to imagine being able to get an Iron City on the Sahsside, but there you are.


To Absent Friends.  Ralph Wilson, owner of the Buffalo Bills passed away this past week at the age of 95.  Wilson's death is noteworthy because he was the last remaining founding owner of the American Football League, which began operations in 1960.  In that sense, Wilson was the last of a pioneering bunch.

RIP Ralph Wilson.

Wilson's death comes in a week when the family of Bills Hall of Fame quarterback, Jim Kelly, is experiencing a relapse of cancer, and that the cancer is "aggressive and spreading".

A sad week for football fans in general and Bills fans in particular.


While I no longer participate in the North Park League of Fantasy Baseball, I do still attend and help out with the annual draft by league members.  It is a way to keep in touch with the guys and have a fun night out.   The Draft was held this past Friday Night, and just for fun, here is how the order in first round of selection went by the ten teams in the NPL:

Mike Trout
Miguel Cabrera
Andrew McCutchen
Clayton Kershaw
Paul Goldschmidt
Hanley Ramirez
Chris Davis
Robinson Cano
Adam Wainwright
Joey Votto

Opening Day 2014...Thoughts and Predictions

That grand and uniquely American celebration, Opening Day of the Baseball Season, takes place here in Pittsburgh tomorrow afternoon when the Pirates take on the Cubs at PNC Park. (By the way, I know that this "uniquely American" celebration actually occurred in Australia last week, but that's marketing in the 21st Century.)  Up until last week, I had no plans on attending the Opener, but thanks to buddy, David Cicotello, I will be there tomorrow.  Not sure how many home openers I have attended over the years, but there have been a few.  I can recall one in Forbes Field when my Dad wrote the absence note to the good Brothers at Central stating that I was sick.  My mother refused to lie and write it, but my Dad had no such qualms under the circumstances. I can also remember being at several openers at Three Rivers, one in particular when the 1979 World Series banner was raised.  I was also at the 2001 Opener, the first ever at PNC Park.  Anyway, all that aside, I look forward to being there tomorrow with Fred Shugars and David, where we will attempt to repeat the success we had when attending Game Three of last year's NLDS, a Bucco victory over the Cardinals.

I have opined extensively on Facebook about the Pirates rather curious decision to bring Barry Bonds back to Pittsburgh to, along with 1960 MVP Dick Groat, present Andrew McCutchen his MVP Award for 2013, so I am not going to go on and on about it here, other than to quote SABR friend Joe Guzzardi who stated to me, "That strikes me as a bad idea."  I'll just leave it at that.

Anyway, in attempt to do a pre-season prediction write-up a little differently, here are some things and people to watch in 2014:

Andrew McCutchen.  After a torrid spring training, and, yes, we know that spring training stats are meaningless, it is almost frightening to think that he might actually be better than he has been in the last two seasons. Not since the days of Barry Bonds, and perhaps even the days of Dave Parker, have the Pirates had a player who is in the legitimate discussion as to who is the best player in the game.

Travis Snider.  Yes, he has been the definition of mediocre since his arrival here, but if management is to be believed, injuries played a role in that underachieving performance, and he is now said to be healthy, and he did rip it up in Florida.  If that can continue, perhaps the Pirates don't have as big a problem in RF as is believed.

Russell Martin.  Other than McCutchen, this is the position player the Pirates can least afford to lose to injury.

A.J. Burnett, or rather the absence of A.J. Burnett.  He was at worst the number two starter on the staff, and he is being replaced by a combination of Edinson Volquez, the coming-off-of-injury Wandy Rodriguez, Jeff Locke, and Jameson Taillon, who is now nursing a tender elbow of his own. How this plays out could be the key to the Pirates season.

Gerrit Cole.  I just think that this guy to be the best pitcher to come up through the Pirates farm system since Bob Friend.  He's big, he's mean, and in the last month of 2013 he was easily the team's best pitcher.  I just can't wait to watch him pitch every fifth day.

Neal Huntington.  I am certain that no one is more aware of the Pirates most glaring weakness, the hole at first base, than is the GM.  How NH goes about addressing that as the season wears on will be interesting to watch.  I've long been critical of Huntington, and his ability to spread the b.s. in some of his statements to the public continue to drive me nuts, but he bought himself, and his "Plan", a lot of credibility last year, and his maneuverings at the trade deadlines were textbook.  How he does around July 31 and August 31 this year if the team is in the same position will be, again, critical to the success of the team.

OK, so how will they do?  Last year they won 94 games, which is a lot of wins for even really good teams.  To think that they will do this again is asking a lot.  Winning less than that in 2014 is not necessarily a step backwards. So, I am going to predict that we will raise this guy....

....89 times in 2014.  Eighty-nine wins will not be enough to overtake the Cardinals in the NL Central, but it will be enough to be in the race for a Wild Card spot, so what the the hell, I'll predict that Pirates will once again nail down one of the two wild card spots in the National League.  Once you make the Playoffs, according to Billy Bean, it's a crap shoot, and I'll worry about those predictions come October.

Enjoy the season, and LET'S GO BUCS!!!!!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Northwestern Decision

The decision yesterday of an Illinois District of the National Labor Relations Board that "student-athletes" at Northwestern University can be considered "employees" of the University, and, thus, can organize, demand to be paid, receive benefits, etc, certainly has the potential to open a Pandora's Box that could lead to unimaginable results and significantly change college athletics as we know them.  Already, I have read a number of comments from people whose opinions I respect that range from "it's about time" to "this is a big mistake" to "be careful what you wish for".

As I understand it, this decision still needs to be affirmed by the NLRB, will be challenged in the courts, probably up to the US Supreme Court, and it could be years until we see what, if anything, will come of it.

Sometime back in the mid-1990's, I had the opportunity, courtesy of the Blue Cross Clue Shield Association, to spend a week at Purdue University in a BCBSA sponsored continuing education program.  This  was at the time when basketball player Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson was the star jock at Purdue.  Of course, I visited the Purdue campus bookstore to but the requisite souvenir Boilermaker tee shirt, and saw racks of Purdue basketball jerseys for sale with the name "ROBINSON" emblazoned on them.  Did I mention that these jerseys were for sale?  The University was making money by selling the Robinson jerseys, and the Big Dog himself, would not realize one penny from the sale for these items.

It was then that I realized that college athletes, particularly big time football and basketball players, were, and continue to be exploited by the Universities where that matriculate.  Yes, I know that they are getting scholarships, and that you can't really put a price on a good college education, and maybe some of Nick Saban's Alabama football players and John Calipari's Kentucky basketball players actually want to attend class and get their degrees, but we know how it REALLY works at big-time places like that, don't we?

I also know that the dough from football and basketball enables schools to offer athletic programs and scholarship aid to swimmers, track and field athletes, wrestlers, lacrosse players etc, and that those athletes, who have no NFL or NBA waiting for them, really do go to class and take advantage of the educational opportunities that they might otherwise not have received.

So, it is a very complex issue, but the incident of the Glenn Robinson jerseys is the one that made me realize that the big business of big time (i.e., football and basketball) college athletics is, at best, a murky one, and, at worst, a totally corrupt one, and I am not smart enough to have answers for it.  I also know that I will be watching the NCAA Basketball tournament this weekend and next with great interest, and will be a regular watcher, and a ticket buying customer of college football in the Fall, so I am a bit of a hypocrite and am, indeed, a contributing part of the problem.

As I said, it's a complex issue.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Lambo Leaps Backwards

Remember Pirates Spring Training last year, when Gerrit Cole was clearly one of the better pitchers on the Pirates staff, only to be sent down to the minors at the close of Camp?  Remember people bitching and moaning with words to the effect of "what kind of message is it that the team, in sending Cole to Indy, was clearly not starting the season with the best possible 25 man roster/12 man pitching staff?"

I remember because I was one of the people who was bitching and moaning about it.

Anyway, this comes to mind today with the news that the Bucs are sending Andrew Lambo to Indianapolis and, apparently, awarding the job as left-hand hitting first baseman to Travis Ishikawa.  In some comments I am seeing on Facebook, people are complaining about this, saying Ishikawa is not all that good, and is, at best, a step down from Garrett Jones.  I am guessing that many of the people complaining about this move also complained about the Cole demotion 12 months ago.


Seems to me, that based upon performance, Ishikawa clearly earned the job. Granted, the Pirates clearly wanted Lambo to win this job, and no one is thinking of Ishikawa as being the Second Coming of Lou Gehrig, or even Donn Clendennon, but if we want baseball to be a meritocracy, which we did last year in the case of Gerrit Cole, then we can't complain about the Ishikawa/Lambo moves.  Travis earned this spot on the big team, just as Lambo "earned" his spot in Triple-A.

The preferred scenario is that Lambo will relax and get untracked in Indy for a month or so, and be here in Pittsburgh by Mother's Day.  I would also not be surprised if the front office makes some kind of deal for another option at first base.  Or, maybe Ishikawa will continue what he has done this spring, and provide the kind of 1B platoon with Gaby Sanchez that will propel the Pirates to new heights.  (We can dream, can't we?)

One can argue that the team did not properly arm themselves in the off-season to fill the first base position, but what cannot be argued, in my mind at least, is that, given what they have and what has transpired in Bradenton, the Pirates made the right call today.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Has Any Team Ever Had Two Guys Named Travis On Their Team At the Same Time?

The questions that confronted the Pirates when Spring Training began are still raging among Buccos fans.

Who will play first base?

Lacking a dominant do-it-all first sacker, the Pirates are planning on a lefty/righty platoon at first this year, and that's fine.  RH hitter Gaby Sanchez, who raked against LHP last year would be one half of the platoon, and Andrew Lambo, he of the 32 minor league home runs in 2013, would be given every chance to be the LH half of the platoon.  He definitely earned the opportunity, and it would be his job to lose.  Trouble is, he appears to be losing it.  He has gone 4-for-42 (.095) at the plate, while non-roster invitee Travis Ishikawa has been lighting it up.  He is hitting .350 (7-for-20) with 3 HR and 6 RBI.

We have gone on and on all Spring by saying that Spring Training stats don't mean anything, but sometimes, they have to mean something, and this appears to be one of those times, when two guys are fighting for the same job.

Let's face it, in the much traveled Ishikawa, the Pirates won't exactly be trotting Lou Gehrig out there to play first, but perhaps both Lambo and the Pirates would be best served if he started the season in Indianapolis and got untracked at the plate for a month or so.

Who is going to play right field?

Everyone's answer, including Neal Huntington's, to that is "Gregory Polanco, starting in late June or early July".  Well, it may work out that way, and I hope it does, but until then, it looks like it's going to be the familiar platoon of Jose Tabata and Travis Snider (hence, the question posed as the title of this post).  Snider is doing pretty well so far: .333, 1 HR, 7 RBI, .851 OPS. Tabata, not so much: .121, 0 HR, 1 RBI, .273 OPS.  That's not just bad, that's downright awful.  Then, there is Jaff, pronounced "Jeff", Decker who is at .250/0/2/.669.  Looks like Snider will get the bulk of the AB to start the season, and I for one am looking forward to what a healthy Travis Snider will do.  Neal keeps telling us it was injuries that hindered Snider's performance last year.  We'll see.

In the meantime, let's hope and pray that Polanco lights it up in Indy for 200 or so at bats and arrives in mid-season ready to tear up big league pitching.

Who will replace A. J. Burnett in the starting rotation?

Like it or not, folks, it's going to be Edinson Volquez, who has already assumed the mantle of Chief Whipping Boy among the horde of Pirates followers.  One thing to remember - he will be the fifth guy in the rotation. Let's face it, the fifth starter on probably 27 or 28 of the 30 MLB teams is usually not all that great.  If he can be anywhere from a game under to a game over .500 in W-L, and an ERA around 4.00, and pitch into the sixth and seventh innings of his starts, I'll take it.  That is what is expected from fifth starters.

And of course, waiting in the wings in Indy, is former #1 draft pick Jameson Taillon (see comments about Polanco above).

Anyway, we will start finding out how it's going to play out one week from tomorrow when the 2014 season opens.  Raise the Jolly Roger!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The St. Bonaventure Fish Fry

Last night our Lenten adventures continued as we ventured to the "other side" of McKnight Road and visited the St. Bonaventure Parish Fish Fry in Shaler, PA.

The food was very good, and, on the plus side, clam chowder was on the menu!  The size of the fish on my sandwich was not as large as at some of the other places we've been, but it was more than adequate and was delicious.  Marilyn, as she often does, opted for the fried shrimp and gave them a thumbs up as well.

One thing that struck me last night, as it often does at these events, is that no two parishes conduct their fish fries in exactly the same way.  Each has a different system for placing the orders, seating you at your table, and serving you your dinner, but each different method works like clockwork, no matter where you are.

Last night, for example, St. Bonnie had people approach you while you were standing in line, they would take your order for you right then on a two part slip, which you would then give one part to the cashier and pay, and the other part to someone who would note your table on the slip and deliver the order to the kitchen.  Made it very fast moving.  St. Bonnie's also made excellent use of a prime source of their labor force: the kids from their school. We were especially impressed by two young ladies, probably 2nd or 3rd graders, very fancily dressed, who delivered the desserts.

No games of chance, although they were selling St. Bonnie Bobcats collapsible lawn chairs.  We passed on that.

About the only negative we could come up with was the parking.  Can't imagine what it must be like on Sunday mornings there.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A "Hall of Fame" Pet Peeve

The obituaries of former Post-Gazette baseball writer Charley Feeney make various references to Feeney being a "Hall of Famer", to being a "Hall of Fame baseball writer", and to being "enshrined" in the "writer's wing" of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

This is a misconception that always occurs when a sportswriter is given the Spink Award or a broadcaster is given the Frick Award by the Baseball Hall of Fame.  These are "honors" that are bestowed by the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown upon worthy writers and broadcasters for distinguished service to their professions, but let's be clear about a couple of things:

  • Spink and Frick honorees are not "in" the Baseball Hall of Fame.  There are no plaques for them like there are for Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Roberto Clemente, et al.
  • Nor is there a "writers wing" or "broadcasters wing" of the Hall of Fame. If you visit the HOF and Museum, you will find a not-all-that prominent display that lists all Spink and Frick honorees.
Now I realize that this falls in the category of "It Doesn't Matter All That Much, but It Still Bugs Me", but it is wrong to introduce a guy like Vin Scully or Bob Prince or Charley Feeney or Roger Angell or Peter Gammons, great as they are/were, as "Hall of Famers".   If the concept of Halls of Fame mean anything to you at all, then it does a disservice to those guys who are actually IN the Hall of Fame by calling, say, Bob Uecker, who was a very deserving Frick honoree, a Hall of Famer.

Sadly, this misconception is often perpetrated by the Spink and Frick winners themselves.  I have read of one such honoree, and I can't remember which one, who always include the notation "HOF" whenever he signs an autograph.

OK, I got that off my chest.

To Absent Friends - Charley Feeney

Former Pirates beat writer from the Post-Gazette Charley Feeney passed away yesterday at the age of 89.  Feeney came to the Post-Gazette in 1966 from a career in New York newspapers and covered the Pirates beat until he retired in 1986.  In my mind, Feeney was an old fashioned newspaper guy, wearing a battered fedora and pounding a typewriter, like you see in old movies from the 1940's, straight from "The Front Page", and the tributes from his old colleagues in the obits today seem to reflect that impression of him.

There was a great story about him in Ed Bouchette's obituary of him in today's PG, which I will repeat here in case you missed it.  

It seems that Feeney had trouble remembering names, so he called everyone "Pally". This led to Feeney himself assuming the nickname of Pally. Once when on deadline, Feeney called the Post-Gazette desk and said to the rewrite guy who answered, "Hey, Pally, this is Pally.  Get me Pally." 


He was definitely from a different era of news coverage and reporting.

RIP Pally.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Mixed Sunday Morning Bag

Selected Short Subjects for a Sunday morning....

To Absent Friends - David Brenner

Add me to the list of those offering condolences over the death yesterday of comedian David Brenner.

The last time I remember seeing Brenner was when he played himself on an episode of "Modern Family" a few seasons back.  Prior to that, I can't remember when I had seen him last, but he certainly was a ubiquitous presence on TV back in his prime.

I was surprised when I saw that he was 78 years old.  That shocked me, but then I remember that I would watch him on TV when I was in college and THAT was forty or so years ago, so if he was in his thirties then, well, time does have a way of passing by, doesn't it?

RIP David Brenner.

"Boardwalk Empire" Binge Watching

Marilyn and I are spending the weekend binge-watching Season Three of the great HBO series "Boardwalk Empire".  We are halfway through it as I type this.  Yes, I know that Season Four has already come and gone on HBO, so we are way behind the curve here.  It really is a terrific series - great writing, great acting, great production values.  Incredibly violent, but compelling nonetheless.

Season Three of Boardwalk takes place in 1923, which is the exact year in which the recently completed Season Four of "Downton Abbey" took place.  The juxtaposition of what was occurring at the exact same time on both sides of the Atlantic - the fading days of British aristocracy, and the battles of the Atlantic City, New York, and Chicago underworld during Prohibition in America - fascinates me.  It will never happen, but wouldn't it be great to see these two worlds collide in some great crossover show?  Personally, I'd love to see Nucky Thompson give Thomas Barrow just exactly what he deserves!  And I think that there would be a place for Mr. Bates in Nucky's Boardwalk Empire.

In an episode we watched last night, Eli Thompson approached his brother and said, "Nucky, I'd like a word, please."    Maybe the two shows are more closely related than we think.

The Volquez Situation

One of the matters that has Pirates fans knickers in a knot this Spring Training is the performance of $5 million free agent pitcher Edinson Volquez.  He had an outing in a game yesterday wherein he gave up five runs in three innings and that actually brought his spring training ERA down  to 11.00.  And this is the guy who will take A.J. Burnett's spot in the rotation?

Well, it is worrisome, to be sure.  Fans can hope that Ray Searage can work the same magic on Volquez that he did on Francisco Liriano last season, but no signs of that yet.  Like it or not, I think that the season is going to start with Volquez in the rotation, but for how long if his ineffectiveness continues?  In 2013, the Pirates wasted little time in canning Jonathan Sanchez from the rotation and the team when it became obvious that he wasn't going to work, but the team hadn't invested Five Large in Sanchez as they have with Volquez.  Will the team be willing to eat that much money?  

Someone on Pirate Chat suggested that perhaps the team will figure out a way to put Volquez on the DL and give Searage a little more time to tinker with him, much the way it happened with Liriano last year.

I sure don't have the answer, but I am sure that the Pirates Brain Trust is asking the same questions.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

To Absent Friends - Glenn Edward McDuffie

Glenn Edward McDuffie died this past week in a Dallas, Texas nursing home at the age of 86.

Never heard of Glenn McDuffie?  Well, neither had I, but odds are that you have seen him, for he is the subject of one of the most famous photographs ever taken.

Yep, McDuffie was the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square on VJ Day in August, 1945 when news of Japan's surrender to the Allied forces ended World War II.  The picture appeared in Life Magazine, and, as I said, is surely one of the most famous ever taken.

Over the years, many people claimed to have been the sailor in the picture, but in 2005 a forensic artist for the Houston Police Department studied the picture and was able to positively identify McDuffie as the guy.  He spent much of his time traveling to air shows, gun shows (?), and parties of any kind, and charging ten bucks to women to pose with him kissing them as he did that day in Time Square.  Not a bad deal for a guy in his eighties!

RIP Glenn McDuffie.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Big Win for Pitt

Hey, anyway you slice it, a win over UNC in North Carolina is a BIG win.

Way to go, Pitt Panthers for putting that 80-75 win on the board against the North Carolina Tar Heels this afternoon in the quarter-finals of the ACC tournament.  After what can charitably be described as a sluggish second half of their ACC schedule, the Panthers performance in this tourney, regardless of what transpires from here on in, should serve to keep the "let's-get-rid-of-Jamie-Dixon" crowd quiet for awhile.  

Which brings me to a pet peeve of mine.  I heard the ESPN announcers, and saw it on the Pitt Basketball Chat Facebook page this afternoon, refer to the "Howland-Dixon" era of Pitt basketball.  I believe that Jamie Dixon has earned the right to no longer have his named coupled with Ben "I'm Staying at Pitt" Howland when discussing Pitt basketball.  True, Westwood Ben brought Dixon here as an assistant, and that can probably be seen as his biggest contribution to Pitt basketball, prior to him taking his dream job at UCLA.  In my mind, Jamie has surpassed Howland in accomplishments at Pitt and can stand alone whenever such things as "eras" are discussed.

The St. Killian's Fish Fry

Tonight's adventure in piscatorial parochial dining pleasure took us to St. Killian Parish in Mars/Adams/Cranberry.

The highlight of course was being greeted and seated by our good friend and fellow Caring Place volunteer, Patti Nelson.  How can you top that?

St. Killian's also offered us a first in our tour of Fish Fries: computerized ordering.  Yep, you gave your order and the guy punched it into a computer and gave you your order slip, which you then gave to a server after you were seated.  That's bringing 21st century efficiency to fish fries, is it not?  The food was standard fare - big piece of fried fish on a bun for your sandwich, two sides, plus a cup if tomato Florentine soup which was quit good.  Plus, drinks and dessert.  All for ten bucks.

St. Killian's school kids bussed your tables as you were finished, and that always adds a nice touch to such affairs.  

And there was a 50/50 raffle.  I am sure that we will be called shortly after 8:00 tonight to let us know that they drew one of our tickets.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Pete Rose Just Won't Go Away

Like cockroaches after a nuclear blast, Pete Rose will not go away.

This week's Sports Illustrated features Rose on the cover and an excerpt from a new book on Rose by Kostya Kennedy.  Kennedy, by the way, wrote a book on Joe DiMaggio's fifty-six game hitting streak a few years back that was an excellent read.  He took a topic that had been written about endlessly and came up with something fresh and interesting. Perhaps, he will do the same with the subject of Pete Rose, but I'm not interested in reading it, although I did read the SI excerpt.

Those who know me know my feelings towards Pete Rose, but let me summarize them once again.

There is no question that Rose was great ball-player.  There is also no question that he was not a nice guy and is a money-grubbing hustler in the most pejorative sense of the word. If you disagree on that, read that part of the SI excerpt about how Rose almost didn't show up at the Great American Ball Park in 2010 on the night that the Reds, after getting permission from the Commissioner's office, were going to honor him on the 25th anniversary of his record-breaking 4,192nd hit.

He also, indisputably, undeniably broke baseball's most sacrosanct rule by betting in baseball games.  His punishment is fully deserved and should never be rescinded.

And for the Rose fans who say that he deserves recognition by the Hall of Fame, I suggest that you visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown.  Rose's presence is well documented in the Museum portion of the that institution.  All-time hits leader?  Yeah, it's Pete Rose.  Great teams in history? The Big Red Machine and Pete are there for you to see.  Lists of MVP's?  Yep, there's Pete Rose's name listed right there before you.  He does not, nor should he, have a plaque in the Hall of Fame portion of that institution in Cooperstown, but he is hardly a non-person.

The latest defense that the Rose-ophiles now throw at you is "Well, what about all those steroids guys? Why are that allowed in the Hall of Fame?"  It is an interesting point, but I can also remind you that none of those guys have been voted into the HOF as yet, either.  (Oh, and by the way, the accomplishments and records of guys like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Roger Clemens are also fully recognized in the Museum as well.)

As I said, I probably will not read Kennedy's book, because I am pretty much tired of Pete Rose. I would like to say that this will be the last time I ever comment upon him, but I am pretty sure it won't be, because, as I said in the beginning, some things just never go away.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Good Samaritan Fish Fry

Our Lent 2014 Fish Fry tour got off to a rousing start when we traveled into Beaver County to sample the Fish Fry at Good Samaritan Church in Ambridge. We decided to go there after talking a few months back with parish member and former co-worker of Marilyn's at Mellon Bank, Carole Kon.  (When we realized last night just how far back that Mellon association was, well, needless to say, I'll just pass on putting the raw numbers down here.)  Turns out Carole is one of the major domos in putting this whole shebang together at Good Samaritan, so we figured it would be a good thing to turn up and sample this one.

It was a wise decision.

Ten bucks got be the Fish Sandwich Meal, which is a sandwich with two HUGE pieces of fried fish, two sides, drinks, and dessert.  Marilyn went with the "Francine Special" - a piece of fish, two shrimp, crab cake, two sides, drinks, and dessert, also for ten bucks.  ("Delicious", says Mrs Grandstander!) Service was impeccable (your drinks and desserts are delivered to your table), and quick.  

They even had polka music playing - softly, I might add - in the background if that floats your boat.  I'd have preferred the "60's on 6" being piped in from Sirius XM, but that's just me.

As long time readers know, I am a strong proponent of Games of Chance at Fish Fry Dinners.  Good Samaritan is running a "Chinese auction" raffle throughout Lent, so you buy tickets for that, but the drawings won't take place until Good Friday, so there is no instant gratification with this one. Where are the Instant Bingo strip tickets, and, even more so, where is the 50/50 Raffle? The absence of a 50/50 is the only thing that kept this Fish Fry from being a perfect 10.  Call it a 9.9!

If you have easy access to Ohio River Boulevard, the trip to Ambridge is a quick and easy one.  Well worth it on one of these upcoming Lenten Fridays.

P.S. - Carole also gave us the Big Sell on Good Samaritan's Parish Festival, which runs over Labor Day Weekend.  Parish Festivals - this could become a whole new field for Grandstander write-ups!

Friday, March 7, 2014

To Absent Friends - Dr. Frank Jobe

Tommy John and Dr. Frank Jobe

Orthopedic surgeon Dr, Frank Jobe passed away yesterday at the age of 88.  As a distinguished surgeon, Dr. Jobe did many things, of course, but he will forever be remembered by baseball fans and players as the first surgeon to perform a tendon transplant to replace a torn ligament in the elbow of Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tommy John.  This happened in 1974, and the procedure became forever known as "Tommy John surgery", and it has rescued the careers of countless major league baseball players, particularly pitchers.

Pittsburgh Pirates fans today can be grateful for the work begun by Dr. Jobe in the person of pitcher Charlie Morton, who had the surgery in 2012, and is being counted on heavily by the Pirates in 2014 and beyond.  In fact, one can find a website devoted to all the MLB players who have had this surgery performed over the years.

It is a sad irony that Tommy John himself is better known today for the surgery that bears his name than for his career as a pitcher.  Too bad, considering that his career spanned 26 seasons and totaled a record of 288-231 with a 3.34 ERA.  He pitched in three World Series. Fourteen of those seasons and 164 of those wins came after he had Jobe's surgical procedure performed.  He retired in 1988 at the age of 46.

Frank Jobe was honored by the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 2013 for his "contributions" to the game of baseball.  

RIP Dr. Frank Jobe.

Fish Fry Fridays Are Back!

It's Friday. It's Lent.  You know what that means, right? Time to explore the wonderful world of Fish Fries, as presented by the various churches throughout the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

First on the menu, if you will, for us will be the Fish Fry at Good Samaritan Church in Ambridge.  We learned a few months back that an old work colleague of Marilyn's is a member of Good Samaritan and regularly works this Fish Fry, so we are happy to add it to the rotation for Lent 2014.

Key questions to answer: Do they serve clam chowder, and do that have a 50/50 raffle?

We look forward to trying a couple of new spots this year, as well as revisiting some past favorites.

The Grandstander will let you all know how it turns out.

Two Schools of Thought

There are two schools of thought in regard to Spring Training Statistics.

For those who think that these stats are meaningful, I am happy to let you know that one week into the Grapefruit League, here are some Bucco batting averages for you:

Andrew McCutchen .625
Gaby Sanchez .500
Travis Snider .444
Pedro Alvarez .333
Gregory Polanco .333

Not only that, each of these guys have an OPS over 1.000 and have combined for 3 HR and 12 RBI.

Also, the following pitchers have ERA's of 0.00: Jeff Locke, Vin Mazzaro, Mark Melancon, Wandy Rodriguez, Jameson Taillon, and Tony Watson.

How great is that?  Order your World Series tickets today!

Now, for those who think Spring Training stats don't mean squat, I offer the following:

Starling Marte .143 BA, .343 OPS
Jose Tabata .154 BA, .308 OPS

As for pitchers, Francisco Liriano 6.00 ERA, Gerrit Cole 9.00, Tony Watson 27.00.

Man, how awful is that?  These guys really stink!

Moral of the Story: Be realistic.  Place no faith in Spring Training statistics.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Big Break Florida

A new season of Big Break debuted on Golf Channel last week, and I was finally able to catch up with the first  two episodes this morning.  As you can see from the picture above, this show takes place in Florida (Amelia Island), and features 12 women contestants vying for their "big break".

Brit Tom Abbot is back as the breathless host, and his co-host this time around is Melanie Collins of Yahoo Sports.  The show still features all sorts of golf skills challenges including the Big Break signature event, chipping golf balls through panes of glass.  It never gets old!  In the first show there was a new twist to the Elimination Challenge.  Only one contestant was involved. They had her tee it up on a par five.  If she scored par or better, she was saved and would go on to the next show.  If she bogeyed the hole, she was eliminated.  Sounds simple, but it was pretty good theater.

In prior iterations of this show, it takes a couple of weeks and a couple of contestants being eliminated before you really get a handle on who's who and develop a rooting interest for one or more of the players, and that will be the case here.  There is, however, one exception to that in Big Break Florida.  As with all such shows, a "villain" is required, and this role has fallen to 24 year old Mary Narzisi.  She is clearly, and I'm sorry, but I don't know how else to say this, the least attractive of the 12 ladies on the show, she is constantly being bleeped because of her cursing, she continually says how the other players "piss her off", and she behaves in an unsportsmanlike manner with her opponents that defies all known golf course etiquette.  I will be cheering mightily each week for her elimination.

Only two episodes have been shown thus far, but if you look hard enough, Golf Channel is always rerunning past episodes, and even if you don't find them, it is early enough in the series for you to still be able to get caught up in it.  New episodes air Monday nights at 9:00 PM Eastern on Golf Channel.


Monday, March 3, 2014

Post Oscar Thoughts

The 86th Academy Awards are now history.  My thoughts and comments.....

  • If you go by the numbers, "Gravity", with seven Oscars, was the big winner, but those were all in technical categories but for one, Alphonso Cuaron for Best Director.  The BIG winner, any way you slice it, was "12 Years a Slave" which won for Best Picture, Supporting Actress, and Adapted Screenplay.
  • I have not seen "12 Years a Slave", and I am not sure that I have the fortitude to sit through what I know is a very intense and disturbing story.  I suppose that I will make the effort to see this on DVD at some point, but seeing man's inhumanity to man is not my cup of tea.
  • I do look forward to seeing "Dallas Buyers Club" to catch the Oscar winning performances of Matthew McConaughey and Jarred Leto.
  • One of the big stories of the night was the complete shutout tossed at "American Hustle".  That was a "wow", in my opinion.
  • For the most part, the acceptance speeches were short and gracious. One big exception - the performance by the husband-and-wife songwriters who won for Best Original Song.  Talk about an ego driven hey-look-at-us moment.
  • I loved Ellen DeGeneres as hostess of the show.  She was funny and transitioned between presenters well.  I even liked her shtick - taking selfies and having pizza delivered - although that no doubt rankled people who take these things way too seriously.
  • I thought the show itself moved quickly enough and was entertaining. 
  • Enjoyed all four performances of the Best Song nominees.
  • I am no fan of the movie "Wizard of Oz", but the song from it, Over the Rainbow, is simply the best song from a movie ever, and Pink's rendition during the Wizard Tribute was great.
  • Always enjoy, if that's the right word for it, the "In Memoriam" feature that they do.  I had it wrong.  I figured the last person to be featured, and thus get the long lingering shot, would be Shirley Temple.  Instead, it was Philip Seymour Hoffman, and I have no problem with that.
  • Anybody else note how many of The Grandstander's Absent Friends were included on that tribute?
  • Loved the shout out that Bill Murray snuck in for Harold Ramis when he was presenting.  Well deserved, but he'll probably get his wrist slapped by the Academy for going off script and doing it.
  • The there was an interesting Oscar-contest-within-the-contest-award for Most Horrifying Plastic Surgery.  Despite strong efforts from Goldie Hawn and John Travolta, the Award went easily to 81 year old Kim Novak, and it wasn't even a fair fight.
  • It's always neat to see so many big movie stars in one place, but I was also struck by who was NOT there last night.  Perennial stars and attendees - and past Oscar winners - Jack Nicholson, Kevin Costner, Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, and Michael Douglas weren't there, but the two biggest absences were George Clooney and Tom Hanks.  What do you think the deal was with that?  
  • In the case of Hanks, I can hazard a guess as to why he decided not to be there.
  • Non-winners Martin Scorsese and Sandra Bullock seemed to take their losses the hardest judging by the looks on their faces.
As for my predictions, I had a not-good-not-bad record of 6-4.  I got all four acting awards and the Best Director right, but I missed on the song, both screenplay awards, and Best Picture.  When you miss on the Best Picture, you can't say you had a good night.

I will frame this whole thing by saying that in warming up for the Oscar show, I spent yesterday afternoon watching "Bridge on the River Kwai" on Turner Classic Movies".  This movie won seven Oscars in 1957 including Oscars for Picture, Actor, Director, and Screenplay.  I don't know how many times I have watched this movie over the years, and yesterday afternoon, I found it to be as compelling, suspenseful, and entertaining, if not more so, than it was the very first time I saw it.  I wonder if, fifty-seven years from now, movie watchers will be able to say the same thing about "12 Years a Slave", "Gravity", or any of the other seven movies nominated for Best Picture last night.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

To Absent Friends - Porky Chedwick

Sitting at the laptop on a Sunday morning, as is my wont, when I see the news that legendary, no, make that Legendary-with-a-capitol-L Pittsburgh disc jockey Porky Chedwick passed away today at the age of 96.

The Bossman, the Daddio of the Raddio, the Platter Pushin' Pappa, the guy who introduced "race records" to the Pittsburgh airwaves has now gone to that great studio in the sky.  Ironically, while having lunch at the Heinz History Center yesterday with several fellow volunteers, Jim Haller was talking about seeing Porky just last week at the final Roots of Rock and Roll show at the Benedum. It was almost like Porky held on just to make that last appearance.

He was in the news recently when a newly established Pittsburgh Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honored its first inductee.  Incredibly, that person was NOT Porky Chedwick.  No offense to the guy who was inducted, but, C'MON MAN, how could it not have been Porky?

Chedwick's legacy on radio and rock and roll extended far beyond Pittsburgh, and obituaries in the coming days will no doubt be filled with testimonials from scores of singers, groups, and songwriters whose careers were helped, if not made, by the endorsement of Pork the Torque. Radio, and certainly Pittsburgh radio, will surely never see the likes of Porky Chedwick again.

Do deejays like Porky Chedwick even exist in today's entertainment world?

RIP Porky Chedwick.