Sunday, August 31, 2014

Classic Movie Review - "How to Marry a Millionaire" (1953)

"How To Marry a Millionaire" played last night as part of The Essentials series on Turner Classic Movies, and, having never seen it, and spurred on in part by the recent death of Lauren Bacall and by an ever-abiding interest in Marilyn Monroe, we settled in for a Saturday Night at the Movies to watch this one.

The premise of this movie is probably one that could not get made in 2014:  three attractive, but poor, models, set themselves up in a swanky New York City apartment in the hopes of attracting, snagging, and marrying  rich men.  Essentials co-host Drew Barrymore admitted that she, as an actress and producer today, found the concept that "a woman needs a rich man to survive in the world" made her a bit squeamish, but that the dialog and the performances of the three stars, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, and Lauren Bacall overcame her misgivings over the premise.

(As an aside, I initially agreed with Barrymore on this point, and thought that this is a movie that would never get made in 2014, but then I thought - throw in some raunchy language and some occasional gratuitous nudity, and what you have here was the early 1950's version HBO's "Sex and the City", but I digress.)

Anyway, I am not sure I'd call this movie a "classic" but it was frothy and fun and the performances off the three leads were quite good.  In his introduction to the movie, Robert Osborne made some interesting points:

  • This was the first movie that Bacall, 29 at the time, made in color, and that while she was third billed, she was perhaps the catalyst of the trio, and delivered her comic lines perfectly.
  • The movie represented a passing of the torch of Hollywood glamor girls from Grable, 36, to Monroe, 27.  It has been said that during the filming Grable said to Monroe, "Honey, I've had mine, now you go get yours!"
  • The movie cemented Monroe's stature as a comic actress, and she was brilliant in it.
The movie also featured William Powell as one of the rich millionaires upon whom Bacall sets her sights.  Powell was 61 years old when this movie was made, and still terrific in a comic role as the wealthy sophisticate, a la Nick Charles of the "The Thin Man" franchise.  Powell would make only one more movie after this one, "Mister Roberts" in 1955, before retiring from the movies.

There were a couple of funny "inside" lines in this one.  In one scene, Grable listens to music on the radio and mentions that its a recording by that "dreamy Harry James" and Bacall, in talking about how she likes older men, mentions that she is even crazy about "that old  guy in The African Queen".  The historical timing wasn't quite right or I am sure that Monroe would have been given a Joe DiMaggio line to deliver as well.

I mentioned that the movie made Monroe's reputation as a comic actress, and I will point to one scene in particular to emphasize this.  One of the gimmicks in the movie is that Pola, Monroe's character, needs to wear glasses, is "blind as a bat" without them.

Of course, she never wears them because, as she puts it, "you now what they say about girls who wear glasses".  This leads to such goofy things as her holding a book upside down while pretending to read, but the best scene occurs while she is wearing this spectacular dress:

In this scene, the three girls meet and strategize in the Ladies Room of a posh night club. Monroe primps and checks her hair and make-up, and the lines of her dress in the mirror, removes her glasses, and then walks right into a wall when she tries to exit the ladies room. Simple, but very funny when done right, and Monroe did it right in this scene.

There are time lapses and plot holes in the movie that one could drive a truck through (for example, how does Grable get back with her ranger, after she and Fred Clarke are photographed on the George Washington Bridge?), but who cares?  As I said, it was frothy and fun, and it answers the question, When it comes to finding true love, is money really all that important?

This one will turn up again on my DVR Alerts.

Oh, in a specially taped introduction to The Essentials opening, Robert Osborne paid special tribute to Lauren Bacall, and mentioned that TCM will be devoting the entire day of September 15th to her with a twenty-four hour marathon of her movies.  Something to watch for.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Time to Award an H.A Citation

It has been some time now, but The Grandstander now sees the need to dust off a coveted award, The H.A. Citation, after reviewing the behavior if Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon.

A talented football player, Gordon led all NFL WR's in receiving yards last year, in spite of serving  a two game suspension for a violation of the NFL's collectively bargained substance abuse policy (emphasis mine).  However, Gordon has somewhat of a checkered personal life.

While at Baylor University, Gordon was suspended not once, but twice for substance abuse violations and was eventually kicked off of the football team.  He has had not one, not two, but three violations of the NFL's policy, and it was the third such violation that led to his being given a one year suspension from the NFL, a suspension that was upheld by the League in a decision handed down yesterday.

However, none of the above, believe it or not, has led to the awarding of The Grandstander's H.A. citation to Gordon.  No, it was Gordon's statement upon hearing the news yesterday that  - and I may not have the quote 100% accurate, but the gist of it is accurate - that he was shocked and "disappointed" that the NFL didn't express "better discretion and judgement" in the adjudication of his case.

So, it is for Josh Gordon's questioning the judgement and discretion of ANYONE ELSE in the entire world, let alone the NFL Lords of Discipline, that an H.A Citation is hereby award to Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns.

Josh, this one's for you!

(Photo courtesy of Dan Bonk Enterprises)

To Absent Friends - Sophie Masloff

Sophie Masloff, Mayor of Pittsburgh from 1988-94, died earlier this month at the age of 94.

With her beehive hairdo, extreme Pittsburgh accent, penchant for malapropisms, and perhaps shrewdly calculated "Jewish Grandmother" image, it was easy to make fun of Sophie, but it is now easy to look back from the vantage point of a twenty year old rear view mirror, and see that Pittsburgh got pretty lucky when Sophie, then President of City Council, ascended to the mayor's office upon the death of Mayor Richard Caliguiri back in 1988.  

In his column in the Post-Gazette today, Brian O'Neill states the case that Mayor Masloff's decision to cut the city wage tax at a time when unemployment in the City was in the stratosphere, and young people were leaving the City in droves, a decision that was advised against by many, including her own close advisors, at the time, has contributed mightily to reshaping the City of Pittsburgh into what it is today, one with a tech-oriented economy that is now bringing younger people INTO the City.  I suggest that you look up O'Neill's column from today, and one from last week as well, that states far better than I can the impact and the legacy of Sophie Masloff.

And being a baseball and a Pirates fan, it has to be noted that Mayor Masloff was among the first, and certainly the first political honcho, who stated back in the early 1990's that the City needed to provide a new baseball only ballpark for the Pirates in order for them to remain in Pittsburgh.  She even envisioned it on the North Shore.  People made fun of the notion and criticized Sophie for such an outlandish thought, but that thought eventually became PNC Park.  Pittsburghers have a penchant for going overboard in their desire for statues and monuments, but I don't think it would be asking too much of the Pirates to dedicate some sort of plaque or marker to Sophie Masloff somewhere in PNC Park to honor that crazy vision of hers way back when.

RIP Sophie Masloff.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Pirate Chat Night 2014

On Tuesday evening, August 26, the Pirate Chat group from Facebook celebrated it Second Annual Night at PNC Park.  As you can see from the above photo above, we had terrific upper deck seats behind home plate, and we saw Gerrit Cole pitch a fabulous game for the Bucs, a game that the Pirates won 5-2 over the Cardinals on a bottom of the eighth inning three run blast off the bat of Ike Davis.  

Fabulous ballgame, but even more importantly, a terrific night out with a great and fun group of people.  Thirty Pirate Chatters - up from twenty-one in 2013 - attended, and we recognize the following "newcomers" of 2014:

Tom Elling and friends, Steve Brightman and his fiancee, Rob Tuchman, John Sebastian, Bill Montrose, Stephanie Liscio, Michael Fleet, Keith Bittell, Karen Golik, Ryan Frankhauser, and Ron Rulli and his friend.

To Dave Glass, Craig Britcher, and Max Copper, we're sorry that life got in the way and that you were unable to attend last night.  As we all know, "stuff" happens in life, and we hope that you will be able to make it next year.

To Len Martin, thanks for the great job on the t-shirts, as modeled by Bill Montrose and myself.....

Those who didn't buy one, were sorry that they didn't (except maybe Joe Risacher and Fred Shugars, who stayed loyal to the 2013 "throwbacks").  All I can say, Len, is that you better get started on the design for the 2015 shirt.  Demand will probably be high.

David Cicotello, of Murfreesboro, Tennesse, again wins the "He Traveled the Farthest Award", but props also go out to folks who traveled in from Philadelphia (Bill Montrose), Lock Haven (Tom Elling), Cleveland (Stephanie Liscio), and Akron (Steve Brightman).

Here are some photos that will give you an idea of the good times at both the pre-game gathering at Dominic's on Federal Street (which included a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday To You to Donny Copper), and at the game itself.

And the symbolic High Five when Mark Melancon's strike out of Daniel Descalso allowed for the Raising of the Jolly Roger.

No question about it, there WILL be a Third Annual Pirate Chat Night come 2015.  A date will be selected shortly after the schedule is announced.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Great Experience While Golfing This Morning.....

No, the "great experience" while golfing at Clover Hill today wasn't so much the actual golf (a so-so 45), but, rather, my playing partner.

I walked up to the first tee and there was young man on the tee who said, "Do you mind if I join you?"  We introduced ourselves and I learned that I would be playing with a young man named Jake who tomorrow will begin his senior year at North Hills High School.  He plays in the NH marching band, and is a member of the golf team.  He has already been accepted to attend IUP next fall, and he just couldn't have been a nicer kid.

When we departed today, I told him that I wish that I could meet his parents so I could tell them what a nice son they have raised.

One thing about playing golf is that you will often have experiences like this, meeting up with total strangers and spending a couple of delightful hours with them, and when it comes in the unexpected form of a teen aged kid, it is a real bonus.

So, thanks for the company today, Jake, and have a terrific senior year.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Football Quick Kicks....

At a function we attended yesterday, I wore a golf shirt with a Steelers logo on it.  A friend said to me "Glad to see you're not giving up on the Steelers after that game on Thursday", to which my response was that I never get excited over what happens in exhibition games, on way or another, and I am not going to change that stance now.

That said, what little I have seen of the Steelers in these three practice games - and I admit that I have yet to watch any of them in their entirety - isn't real encouraging.  

With that in mind, some football thoughts and questions:

  • I heard on the telecast from Bob "The Cheerleader" Pompeani that the Eagles have 25 assistant coaches.  TWENTY-FIVE!!!!!  How far away are we from the day that there will be an assistant coach for each player on the team?
  • There were over thirty penalties in that Steelers game on Thursday.  I only watched the first half, and I would have guessed that there were thirty in the first half alone.  If the zebras are going to strictly enforces the contact rules regarding DBs and WRs, the coaches and players had better adjust how they play, and soon.  They obviously haven't made the adjustment as yet, rendering that game almost unwatchable.
  • Ryan Shazier looked well worth that first round pick against the Bills two weeks ago.  Against the Eagles, he looked like just another guy.
  • Speaking of first rounders, still waiting for Jarvis Jones to do something.
  • If the NFL is going to crack down on taunting (a good idea, imo) then why can't it include the exaggerated signaling of a first down by a player who just squeezed out a yard and a half on a third and one play?  The Steeler could be among the league leaders in this particular piece of hot-dogging.
  • A friend tells me that the Vegas over/under line on Steelers wins this year is 8.5.  Despite what we've sent he last two years and so far in the practice games, I would be inclined to bet the Over.
  • On the college front, I see that new Penn State Coach James Franklin is looking upon PSU's upcoming game in Ireland as strictly a "business trip" for his players.  Not going to allow too many distractions for his players as they visit a foreign land.  No reason that they should have fun or be open to new experiences when there is a game to be played.  We have already read this summer that Franklin is one of those coaches who sleeps in his office.  Looks like Franklin is going to be one of those fun guys in the Nick Saban/Urban Meyer mold.  Of course, that will be long as he wins.
  • Six days away from the Pitt opener against the Delaware Blue Hens.  Looking forward to being there!
  • I still can't get over the fact that the Eagles have 25 assistant coaches.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Incomparable Wilt

Were he still with us on this earth, Wilt Chamberlain would be celebrating his 78th birthday today.  To generations of basketball fans who know only what ESPN tells them, Wilt Chamberlain is an ancient relic in the dusty old history books of basketball, when the game  was played with peach baskets.

Too bad, because simply stated, Wilt Chamberlain was the greatest most dominant single basketball player ever.  Ever.  Sorry to all you fans of Jordan, Magic, Bird, Kobe, and LeBron, but if you could have them all magically reappear in their primes for a round robin of one-on-one games, my money would be on Wilt every time.

Most people know that Wilt once scored 100 points in a game.  Fewer my know that in one season, 1961-62, Wilt averaged 50.4 points per game.  Think about that for a minute.  He averaged 50 PPG over the course of a season.  In fact, Wilt owns the top three highest scoring average seasons in the history of the NBA, and five of the top ten.  Oh, and just to prove he wasn't a one trick pony, late in his career, Wilt led the league in assists.

And here is another fact about Wilt to try on for size.  You may recall that in a game this past season, LeBron James scored over 60 points in a game.  While this is a rare accomplishment, it has been done somewhat frequently over the course of NBA history.  In fact, it has been done 62 times.  Wilt Chamberlain did it 36 of those 62 times.

He was a phenomenal athlete.  Excelling in track and field at Overbrook High School in Philadelphia and at the University of Kansas, and after his basketball career ended, he played volleyball and may well have been the best volleyball player in the country.

The one thing that critics always come up with is "if he was so great, why did his teams always lose to Bill Russell's Celtics in the playoffs?"  Fair point, but the simple answer is that Russell's Celtics were always a much better TEAM than the teams on which Wilt played.  In 1966-67, the Philadelphia 79'ers were, finally, a great team, some still say (although probably no one at ESPN will say it) they were the best single season team in NBA history.  Led by Wilt, they stormed through the regular season and defeated Russell and the Celtics in five games in the semi-finals and the Warriors in six in the finals..

Late in life, Wilt wrote a book that talked about, among other things, how many women he had slept with in his life.  Too bad, because that became the entire focus of the book when it was discussed, and it turned Wilt into a national punchline.  I'll bet he wished that he had never written that part of the book.

Back in the 1960's, the 76'ers sometimes played games at the Civic Arena here in Pittsburgh.  Because of that, I can honestly and happily say that I saw Wilt Chamberlain play, live and in person.

Wilt died in 1999. He was only 63 years old.  Happy birthday, Dipper.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Are We Back to Hoping for .500?

Nine days ago, I wrote the following in this space:

The Pirates now face ten games against three really good teams - the Tigers, Nationals, and Braves.  These ten games, I think, are going to tell us a lot about just how meaningful the following five weeks of the season will be for the Buccos.

Well, nine of those ten games have been played and the Pirates have a record of 2-7 to show for it.  At best (assuming that they will beat the Braves tonight), they will be only three games over .500 at the conclusion of this ten game stretch, and they could well be only one game over break even. They will then have only 35 games remaining in the season, and 21 of those games will be against the Brewers, Cardinals, and Reds, against whom the Bucs have complied a 13-26 record so far in 2014.

I am thinking that at this point, merely playing .500 for the season will be a severe challenge for this team.  There are a lot of reasons WHY this team is where they are right now.   If you have any interest in this subject at all, you're familiar with them and you've heard them a million times already, so I'll spare you.

Just saying that perhaps it's time we adjust our expectations for the '14 Buccos.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Catching Up with Some 2013 Movies

We finally got to see the last of the 2013 movies that we wanted to see this past weekend.

The first was Disney's "Frozen".

A typical Disney Pixar-style animated fairly tale.  Cute, funny on both a kid and adult level, and a happily-ever-after ending.  Yeah, I know that people with young kids have already been subjected to this movie about 400 times already, but it was new to us, and we liked it.

The second was "Inside Llewyn Davis".

This one was written and directed by the Coen Brothers, which makes it a movie that I would want to see, and it was a favorite of many hoity-toity movie critics who moaned a lot about it being snubbed when the Academy Award Nominations came out.  My opinion?  It had it's moments, but the Academy didn't make a mistake by not inviting it to it's Awards party.  

If you want to see a movie about the folk music scene in the early 1960's, see Christopher Guest's "A Mighty Wind" instead of this one.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Tiger and Rory - A Look Back and a Look Ahead

At the conclusion of last week's PGA Championship, my friend Joe Risacher made an observation on Facebook, and I am not quoting exactly, to the effect of "Is it time to start comparing Rory McIlroy to Tiger Woods and the race to catch Jack Nicklaus?"

Well, thanks to that seed planted by Joe, I decided to do a little research, and away we go....

Rory McIlroy is playing the 2014 season at the age of 25 (hereafter referred to as the "25 Year Old Season").  So far, McIlroy has accumulated 9 PGA Tour victories, and 4 Major Championships.  He also has six other professional victories world wide, for a total of 15 professional victories.  No one would dispute that this is very impressive, and he still has a chance to add to those totals in his 25 Year Old Season.

Tiger Woods 25 Year Old Season was 2001.  When that season was over, Woods had 29 PGA Tour victories, and 6 Majors.  His career totals in these categories are 79 and 14, respectively.  Woods has also added an additional 27 other wins world wide, for a total of 106 in all (I do not know how many of those twenty-seven wins were by the age of 25).

So, doing the simple arithmetic, to catch Woods over the next 13 years (Tiger is now in his 38 Year Old season), McIlroy will have to rack up another 70 PGA Tour wins and 10 Majors wins.  Because he plays much of his schedule between both the American and European Tours, and this could change, he is simply not going to win 70 more times.  As for ten more Majors in that time, well, that could happen, but would you bet on it?

And what about Nicklaus, the guy they are both chasing?  

By the end of his 25 Year Old Season, 1965, Jack had 17 Tour wins and 4 Majors.  He would go on to win 73 total tour wins and, we all know, 18 majors.  He won his last Major, the 1986 Masters, at age 46.  This was also his last Tour victory as well.

Nicklaus also went on the play a bit on the Senior Tour, but not  as  full time Geezer Golfer.  He won a total of ten senior tournaments, and eight of those were Senior Major Championships.  Jack pretty much saw that he could dominate the Seniors when and if he chose to do so, and then hung up his clubs as a serious competitive golfer.

Arbitrarily, let's say that Rory will win five more Majors over the next three seasons, not unreasonable given how he has played this summer, but no sure thing, either.  That will give him nine Majors by age 28, and at that time we can start the -can-he-catch-Jack discussions seriously.  Even then, the odds against him will be long (Exhibit One to support this statement: Tiger Woods, himself!)

And what about the all-time "standings" of Majors winners?  Take a look:

Jack Nicklaus 18
Tiger Woods 14
Walter Hagen 11
Ben Hogan, Gary Player 9
Tom Watson 8
Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Harry Vardon 7

(By the way, the one name on that list that all but serious golf history nerds have forgotten is Walter Hagen, and he may well have been the most interesting and most colorful guy of anyone else on the list.   Look it up if you don't believe me.)

So, even if you give McIlroy his five additional Majors as speculated above, he would be tied for fourth all time, and in some VERY exclusive company, even if he doesn't match Nicklaus and Woods.

My conclusions:

  • No one is going to catch and surpass Nicklaus' 18 Majors records.
  • Woods will catch and surpass the record of 82 PGA Tour wins, held by Snead, which isn't the record he wants, but will be a gold standard in and of itself.  And one of those wins might even be another Major Championship, but he is running out of time to win five more of those.
  • The greatest professional golfers of all time are Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.  I could be talked into supporting either one of them for the honor, depending on what argument you make.
  • Rory McIlroy may well be in the discussion one day, but let's wait anther 3-5 years before we begin making that argument.
One final word about the guy who may well be everybody's favorite golfer, Arnold Palmer.  I don't believe that anyone would argue that Arnie was the greatest golfer of all time, but a case can be made that he was and is the most important golfer of all time (I'll bet even Jack Nicklaus would agree on that one.)  That, however, is a subject for another post.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Some Pirates Thoughts

Before settling in to watch the Pirates-Nats game tonight (currently 3-0 Nats in the third inning), some thoughts and observations.

Observation #1

I do not usually go crazy over criticizing and savaging the Pirates front office over every little move they make, but I have to say that I got a little P.O.'d when listening to the game on, I believe, Wednesday night, and hearing Greg Brown and John Wehner  launch into a dialog about how it is going to be pretty much impossible for the team to re-sign Russell Martin for 2015 any beyond, because, gosh, you know Russell has indicated that he might want to test the market to see what his value might be, and, you just know that one of those crazy big market, cash-rich teams is going to make some crazy offer that the Pirates just will never be able to match, and it would be good business for them to do so anyway.   

I almost couldn't believe what I was hearing.  The whole thing just smacked of being orders from on high (Nutting and/or Coonelly and/or Huntington) telling the broadcasters to start spreading the word that "we ain't going to sign Martin and it's not our fault - it's Martin's fault and the fault of the Angels/Yankees/Red Sox/take-your-pick".  Hey, the announcers are paid by the Pirates, and who among us hasn't done things at our employers' behest that we didn't necessarily like, but that was really insulting to the audience's intelligence, and I can't believe that Brown and Wehner kept a straight face while doing it.  As one Pirate Chatter put it on Facebook, it was a line of b.s. akin to parents preparing their six year old for the fact that the family dog was about to be put to sleep.

Observation #2

Michael Martinez has been playing second base in place of an injured Neil Walker.  Martinez is hitting .135.  You read that right One-Three-Five.  He also made an error in the Tigers game that may  - and I emphasize may - have cost the Pirates a chance to go into extra innings in that game.  A Pirate Chatter made a statistical case that Martinez may be among the dozen or so worst players in all of baseball history!! All. Of. Baseball. History.

Now I realize that when you lose an all-star caliber player, which Walker has been this season, to injury, you are not going to replace him with a player of equal talent.  But really, in all of organized baseball, couldn't the Pirates have found somebody, anybody, better than Michael Martinez?  I mean...

Observation #3

The Pirates make a waiver deal and acquire relief pitcher John Axford.  Axford was once an All-Star (at least, I think he was), but like many older relief pitchers, he's not what he used to be.  At best, he is an improvement over guys like Pimental and Gomez, and he may take some of the strain off of Hughes and Watson and Wilson.  It's a deal that could be of marginal help to the team.  It's not worth celebrating with champagne and dancing in the streets, but it's not one that is cause for boiling up tar and feathers for the Front Office, either.

Movie Review - "Magic In The Moonlight"

As it has for the last several years, the late summer brings us the release of the latest movie from Woody Allen.  This year it is "Magic in the Moonlight" starring Colin Firth and Emma Stone and written and directed by Allen.

As has been the case with all of Allen's movies in recent years, the filming does not take place in New York City and instead is filmed in a European location, this time in the south of France.  The movie takes place in 1928, and Firth plays a magician, the very best magician of his time who plays to sophisticated audiences all across Europe.  He is also totally full of himself to the point of obnoxiousness, an agnostic with little or no belief in God, faith, or the idea of an afterlife.  He is called upon by a fellow magician to travel incognito to the south of France to try a debunk a young woman, played by Stone, who is a spiritualist who is claiming to be able to contact the dead husband of a wealthy American woman. Firth accepts the challenge to prove that the woman is a fraud.

I won't give away any key plot points, but you can guess what happens.  The stodgy Firth falls for Stone, who isn't sure whether or not to reciprocate.  Firth is very good in his role, and Stone falls into the long line of Allen female co-stars (Louise Lasser, Diane Keaton, Mia Farrow, Scarlett Johansson), and she is quite good, although she has a long way to go to achieve the cachet of Keaton or Farrow.  (That could happen, though, as IMDB reports that Stone will also be a part of the movie that Allen will release in 2015.) Perhaps the best character is Firth's Aunt Vanessa, played by Eileen Atkins.

Although there are no big belly laughs in this one, there is still a lot of funny Allen dialog, terrific period costumes and music, and the cinematography of southern France, as well as how Allen uses he sunlight to backdrop several scenes, is almost breathtaking.  And has been the case in many of Allen's films, this one has a rather sweet and positive ending.

Do I think this is one of Allen's better movies? No, probably not, but even a middle-of-the-road picture from the Woodman is better than almost anything else that graces the movie screens, particularly during this summer season.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

To Absent Friends - Lauren Bacall

Sad news continues to arrive from Hollywood this week with the news of the death of actress Lauren Bacall at the age of 89.

I was surprised to see that IMDB showed only 49 movie acting credits and 20 TV acting credits for Miss Bacall.  I would have guessed that she had been in many more roles, but what roles she did have.   

Perhaps she is most famous for her roles with husband Humphrey Bogart in "To Have and Have Not", "Key Largo", and "The Big Sleep".  She also appeared in such other notable movies as "How to Marry a Millionaire", "Murder on the Orient Express", and she was terrific in John Wayne's last movie, "The Shootist".

Fans of "The Sopranos" will also a remember a memorable role for her in that great series.  She played herself and was mugged and robbed of a awards show gift basket by Christopher.  She then proceeded to fight back and shout out a string of profanity that was classic.

As I said, her roles with Bogart will probably be her most remembered, and here is a sample of some great dialog from "To Have and Have Not":

RIP Lauren Bacall.

To Absent Friends - Robin Williams

 Robin Williams

The news of the death by suicide of Robin Williams, comedian and Academy Award winning actor, that arrived yesterday is both sad and shocking.  By now, this news has been well documented by both social and conventional media, and there is not much that I can add to summarize the life of one of this generation's funniest men.

How sad that depression appears to be the cause of what drove Williams to this last and seemingly inexplicable act.

The following picture was sent out by the Motion Picture Academy as a tribute to Williams, and, as I said, what more can I add?

"Genie, you're free."
- Aladdin (1992)

RIP Robin Williams.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Pirates at the Crossroads

How do you explain the rather curious hex that the San Diego Padres, hardly one of baseball's elite, have had on the Pirates at PNC Park over the last fourteen seasons?  Oh, it was easy to explain when the Pirates mostly stunk for most of that time, but now, the Pirates are pretty good, and they still can't beat that outfit.  This past weekend's 1-2 showing against the Padres was just a continuation of a depressing trend.

I know that I am not alone in scratching my head over the Pirates rather curious decision not to put Andrew McCutchen and/or Neil Walker on the DL and play, essentially, with a 23 man roster for the past week, while sending such stiffs as Jason Nix, Michael Martinez, and Brent Morel (since shipped out) to face actual Major League competition.  It prompts the following thoughts and conjectures:

  1. McCutchen and Walker aren't really hurt that bad.  However, nothing over the weekend gave any indication that this is the case.
  2. The Pirates thought they could blow throughout the Marlins and Padres while playing shorthanded and without competent major league players in the lineup.  Guess what? The other teams get paid, too.
  3. With the recall of Gregory Polanco earlier in the season, the Pirates have no one in the minor leagues who can play in the outfield or serve as a fourth or fifth outfielder in place of McCutchen.  That apparently includes Jose Tabata, who I am guessing will never wear a Pirate uniform again.
  4. It might also include Andrew Lambo, who is tearing up the International League since he returned from injury.
  5. After he sat out several games, why burn Walker as a pinch hitter on Saturday night? His 15 day DL clock states all over again now should the team decide he needs to go on the list.
  6. Again, Jason Nix and Michael Martinez.  Really?  I didn't think it was possible to have anyone make me long for the return of Clint Barmes, but these guys have pulled it off.
The Pirates now face ten games against three really good teams - the Tigers, Nationals, and Braves.  These ten games, I think, are going to tell us a lot about just how meaningful the following five weeks of the season will be for the Buccos.

Rory McIlroy Wins the PGA

I got very caught up in watching the final round of the PGA Championship yesterday as it evolved into a four horse race among Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, and Henrik Stenson, which McIlroy, as you know by now, eventually won by one shot over Mickelson.

This one had everything going for it, drama-wise:

  • Would McIlroy continue the dominant streak that he has been on, having won the Open Championship and the WGC Bridgestone event in his last two starts?
  • Would the crafty, but aging star, Mickelson, be able to pull off what would be his seventh Major victory?
  • Would the emerging young star, Fowler, finally break through?
  • Would the tall Swede, Stenson, who just happens to be the #4 ranked player in the world, steal the show from all of them?
As the back nine began with a birdie for Fowler, I thought that my Saturday morning pre-third round prediction that called for him to win the Championship was looking good.  However, shortly thereafter, McIlroy, who was then three shots back, pulled off a shot from the tenth fairway from over 230 yards out to within seven feet of the cup, which he then drained for an eagle that got him to within one of Fowler and Mickelson.  In retrospect, that was when this tournament was decided.

No doubt about it that Rory McIlroy, winner of three straight tournaments, the last two Majors, and four Majors by the age of 25 is now the best player currently trodding the world's fairways.  The inevitable talk of "can he catch Jack" will now start up.  Please, great as he is, let's hold off on that talk until he wins, let's say, four more Majors over the next three years.

As for Tiger Woods, who missed the cut, it is starting to look like he - and he will turn 39 this December - is becoming just another guy out there on Tour.  Except for one thing.  He had major surgery on his back just three and a half months ago. I have had that same surgery on my back, twice, and I can tell you that there is no way he should have been even playing in these recent tournaments, much less contending in them, much less winning them.  He should not even try to play again until next year.  My own thought is that Woods will win tournaments again, he may even win another Major, but he will not break Nicklaus' record of 18 Majors.  That ship has sailed.

Just for the fun of it, I found myself "live Facebooking" the PGA Championship as events unfolded, and my posts were greeted with massive silences from the universe of my Facebook friends.  I guess I should have sent out pictures of my neighbor's cat if I wanted to generate traffic.  Apparently, golf tournaments just don't move the needle in the social media world.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Catching Up.....

After a week's vacation in the Outer Banks, followed by a week at home catching up with daily life, it's time to clean out the Mental In-Box....

  • The Pirates continue to hold their own (nine games over .500, 1.5 games out of first in the NL Central, and in the first wild card spot as of this morning) despite injuries that are depriving them of Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker, the head-scratching performance of Pedro Alvarez, and playing guys like Jayson Nix, Michael Martinez, Brent Morel, and whoever they use at first base on any given day.
  • SABRmetric devotees who place great store in WAR, say that an extended loss of McCutchen won't mean all that much in the grand scheme of things.  sorry, but I'm not buying into that one.
  • Among the interesting items that you will be able to put in my obituary, add the following:  I was at PNC Park the night Ernesto Frieri recorded his only win as a Pirate.
  • As I type this, it is 10:45 AM and prior to the start if the third round of the PGA Championship.  I am calling that Ricky Fowler will be the winner when the final putt drops and all scorecards are signed tomorrow evening.
  • While we were in the Outer Banks, the Steelers announced that they were retiring Joe Greene's number 75.  The Steelers have retired only one number in their history (Ernie Stautner's number 70, and that was way back in the early 1960's), and they then made a decision that it was not something that they would do because, As Dan Rooney said, "where would you stop?"  However, I am glad that they decided to make an exception in the case of Joe Greene.  He is THE greatest Steeler of them all, truly the cornerstone and the symbol of the great Steelers teams of the 1970's.
  • In point of fact, no Steeler has worn the numbers 12, 32, 58, 59, and 75 since those players have retired (and I don't really have to tell you who those guys are, do I?), but the symbolism in making Greene's number "officially" retired is perfect.
  • Speaking of the Steelers, the play their first exhibition game tonight, and I am actually looking forward to watching it, at least for the first half, anyway.  
  • The current issue of Sports Illustrated commemorates the magazines 60th Anniversary.  I cannot recommend to you highly enough an article in that issue called "There and Back" by Steve Rushin which discusses how both the sports and the societal landscape has changed in the last sixty years.  Terrific, terrific article.
  • Also in that SI issue is an article called "Regrets..." in which the magazine takes a good natured poke  at itself over some things that they have written about over the last sixty years.  Among them is an apology to "Womankind" for such things as gratuitous photos in 1955 of upward-blowing tennis skirts, a buttocks focused story from 1958 called "Miss Cheesecake Joins the Dodgers", a 1975 headline "There is Nothing Like a Dame", and a 1964 story on a women's track team which put way too much focus on what a good looking bunch of "gals" these were.  
  • It certainly is a good thing that Sports Illustrated no longer depicts and focuses on women as sex objects anymore, isn't it?
  • Let me close with this....

Game Room Olympics 2014

Yesterday was the occasion of the playing of the Fifth Annual Game Room Olympics.  The GRO is the brainchild of my good friend John Frissora, who conceived the idea of the GRO five years ago, organizes and manages all of the events, and, most importantly, hosts the Games at his beautiful home in Wexford.

The GRO V featured a new event this year, Pinewood Derby Racing.  Now, back in the days of my youth, I was never one for models or putting things together.  I had no affinity for it, and still don't.  Nevertheless, I got into the spirit of the event and produced, the Badger Car:

Many years ago, when we worked two offices apart from each other at Highmark, John hung the nickname "Badger" on me, as then Penguins coach "Badger Bob" Johnson was much in the news those days.  So, the following was emblazoned upon the right side of the car:

My car did have a sponsor - this blog!

Here is a glimpse of the competition....

and a glimpse of the Badger Car as it revved up for it's first race...

upon the GRO Pinewood Track....

Unfortunately for me, competition-wise, this was as good as it got for the Badger Car.  Some serious design flaws relative to the weight placement on the car doomed it to finish well up the track.  I take pride, though, in knowing that the Badger Car was among the best, if not the best, LOOKING car in the competition.

I need to note that for the landing area at the end of the track, John used the blanket that his dog, Max, uses to relax upon, and at one point during the competition, Max just decided that enough was enough!

All thanks go out to John for another great day of fun and friendly competition at the Game Room Olympics.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

To Absent Friends - Jim Brady

Very sad to read of the passing at age 73 of President Reagan's White House Press Secretary Jim Brady.

As you may know, Brady was wounded in an assassination attempt on Reagan in 1981, suffered permanent brain damage, and he and his wife spent the rest of their lives campaigning for sensible gun laws in this country to little avail, sadly.

Anyway, I would strongly recommend a book called "Rawhide Down" by Del Quentin Wilber which tells the story of that attempt on the President's life, and which profoundly changed the life of Jim Brady and his family.  It really is fascinating story, and I wrote about it here back in 2011:

RIP Jim Brady.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Outer Banks Vacation 2014

So, we are back from our annual Outer Banks vacation.  As always, it was great trip and a great time.  

I won't bore you with a lot of details and pictures, but here are a few highlights....

Our a annual "Theme Night", which Marilyn and I do (and who am I kidding, you all know that Marilyn does most of the work on this) was a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles arrival in America.  The room was appropriately decorated:

Niece Cale Richards got into the spirit of the night:

And the cousins did their part by recreating an iconic Beatles image:

For the meal, we made fajitas, but I can assure you that they were British fajitas:

We celebrated the upcoming beginning of Zach's college career:

I received an ocean-themed pedicure from Cale:

I made a new friend at the beach...

...and we enjoyed typical beach fun:

And, of course, Marilyn and I dined at our favorite Corolla dining spot:

On a more serious note, we witnessed something we had never seen in our almost thirty years of visiting the OBX -  a lifeguard swimming our right in front of us to pull in two people who had gotten caught in a riptide and drifted just a bit too far out.  Now, THAT was an impressive, and a sobering, sight to see.

So we put another excellent trip to the Outer Banks beaches in the books, and I'll close with this sunset scene from the porch on the first night of our visit:

Spectacular, isn't it?