Thursday, April 30, 2015

Spare Us the Analysis, Please

Tonight begins one of the great non-events on the sports calendar - the NFL Draft, an event that could be done in about six to eight hours, but now lasts three days.  To be fair, it isn't really a non-event, it is important to the 32 NFL teams who will select between six and nine players each that will all play critical roles as these teams make their inevitable march to the Super Bowl.  Yeah.

What makes this a non-event is not only all of the overkill leading up to it, but the mountains of analysis that will follow.  What teams "won" on Draft Day(s), which teams blew it, which teams got the best value.  Please, spare us.  Come to us after, say, the 2018 season to tell us which teams had the best draft in 2015.

For example, in the year 2000, one NFL team made the following selections with their first four selections in that year's draft:

1. No selection
2. Adrian Klemm, OT, Hawaii
3. J. R. Redmond, RB, Arizona State
4. Greg Robinson-Randall, OT, Michigan State
5. Dave Stachski, TE, Boise State

Now, I am sure that the local press and national pundits probably discussed these four players in great detail in the days following to determine how well this team did in that draft. In all honesty, i can say that I have absolutely no familiarity with any of these guys.  Maybe they had decent NFL careers, but none of them are going to Canton.

So, bad draft for that team, right?

Well, not really, because in the sixth round that year, the New England Patriots selected Tom Brady, QB, Michigan.  I am betting that, while the drafting of a QB always generates interest, probably very little attention was paid to a sixth round QB when all of the post-draft analysis was being done in the Boston area back in 2000.

Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, knows who will be THE big star to come out of this 2015 draft.  It very well could be Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariotta, but it is every bit as likely that it will be some dude selected in the fifth or sixth round out of East Overshoe University, just like that Brady kid was in 2000.

This is why I will read very little about the draft in the days ahead.  Tell me who the Steelers picked, and then let's wait and see how they do once the real games begin.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

So, I Get This Phone Call From Florida......

I get home from working at the History Center on Monday, and there is a message on our answering machine from a woman named Marla (I am not going to use a last name here in deference to her, as I am not sure if she would want me to do so).  Anyway, she asks me if I might be the grandson of William Ambrose Madden who was born in Braddock, PA.  There was more to the message, and it was enough for me to return her call.

Turns out that Marla's grandfather and my grandfather were brothers, which would make she and I full second cousins.  It seems that she has spent a good deal of her time doing genealogical research into her family tree, which is how she came upon the Sproule Branch of this particular family tree.  "Stunned" is probably too strong a word to learn about the existence of a cousin that I never knew I had.  "Oh, you have more cousins out there than you realize" is now she put it.  She even told me about another cousin, Casey (again, I'm withholding the last name) who lives here in Pittsburgh.  Casey's grandmother is the sister of our (Marla's and me) grandfathers.

I know that some may be thinking "Internet scam" here, but I am convinced after talking with Marla and looking at both Casey's and her Facebook pages I that there is nothing of the sort going on here.  

Again, I am not sure exactly how to describe how I feel about this.  It seems like something that you would see in a movie or a TV show.  I find that it is kind of a cool experience to learn about family members that you didn't know that you had.  Not sure where this will lead, but I have to tell you, I'm happy about the whole thing.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Television Thoughts - No Spoilers

Some quick hit television thoughts.....

  • The season three finale of "The Americans", while not disappointing, it did not pack the punch of previous season-ending episodes.  This entire season seemed to be a bit of a miss-mash of too many plot lines that only confused the viewer (or at least the two viewers that reside at our house).  As friend Fred Shugars has stated, perhaps, one of he overlying themes to emerge from this season is that "you can't trust teenagers".
  • We are now halfway through the final season of "Mad Men" with only three episodes remaining.  We have invested six years into watching this series, and it is disappointing that in this last year, our overall sentiment is "Well, we have to watch, but we can't wait for it to be over".  All of the characters have devolved into people that are just plain unlikeable to the point where you just don't care what happens to them. (Possible exception: Peggy Olsen.)  
  • Perhaps the producers of "Mad Men" should have just ended it a season to two ago and gone out on top.  It's too bad that long running TV shows feel that they must end a show's run with some blockbuster tie-all-the-strings-together Grand Finale.  It rarely works out to anyone's satisfaction.  Exhibit A of this theory of mine is "Seinfeld".

  • Has anyone watched this new TBS sitcom "Your Family or Mine"?  I have tried watching it on two separate occasions, and I could not get through to the end of either episode.  Crude and awful.  And one of the stars is Richard Dreyfuss!  I suppose that at this stage of his career, and Oscar winner like Dreyfuss is entitled to an gig like this to guarantee himself an easy phone-it-in paycheck, but it's a shame to see a guy who starred in such things as American Graffiti, Jaws, Close Encounters, The Good-bye Girl, and Mr. Holland's Opus performing in something as dreadful as this.

Friday, April 24, 2015

"True Story" - Book and Movie

Until one week ago, I was completely unfamiliar with both Michael Finkel and Christian Michael Longo.  Until, that is, I read the movie review last Friday by the Post-Gazette's Barbara Vancheri of the movie "True Story".  The movie sounded interesting, but Ms. Vancheri recommended that one should familiarize oneself with the source material, Mr. Finkel's book, to really understand the movie.

So, I did.

Michael Finkel was a young feature writer who had written a number of excellent stories for the NewYork Times Sunday Magazine, until he fabricated a portion of one of those stories, was caught in this lie, and abruptly and publicly fired by the Times.  As he was preparing to spend his time in journalistic hell by being scorned by his ink stained brethren, he received a phone call from a newspaper reporter in Oregon asking for a comment on the case involving Christian Michael Longo.  Finkel had no idea who Longo was, but he learned quickly that he was a man accused of murdering his wife and three young children, then going on the lam in Mexico and claiming to be "Mike Finkel of the New York Times".

Thus began a strange symbiotic relationship between Finkel and Longo.  Longo spelled out all of the strange history of his life right up until the time of the murders.   Finkel saw Longo as "story" that might enable him to redeem himself professionally and restore his name in the journalistic fraternity.  As for what Longo saw in Finkel, well, I have read the book and seen the movie, and I am still not sure exactly what Longo was attempting to do.  As one of the police involved put it, Longo's long dance with Finkel was nothing but a dress rehearsal for how he would "perform" for a jury.

The book portrays Longo, a psychopathic killer, as the ultimate narcissist, but a trace of narcissism exists in Finkel, too, as the aim of this book seems to be as much a public confession by Finkel of his own journalistic "crime", and an effort to rehabilitate his reputation, as it is a portrait of a killer and his crimes.  The book is as much about the author as it is about his subject, and if there is a criticism that I have of the book that is it.

As for the movie, I waited until I had finished the book before going to see it, and I read a number of reviews of it on line, and if ever a movie can be described of having "mixed reviews", this is it.

Like the book, the movie is as much about Finkel, played by Jonah Hill, as it is about Longo, played by James Franco.  The movie spends much of it's time dwelling on the relationship between the two men as it does on the crime itself.  A pretty good movie could be made out of the life that Longo had led leading up to his crimes, but that is not the direction in which the film makers wanted to go.  The movie also does not dwell on the actual crime itself, with the actual murders having taken place before the start of the movie, and even in flashback scenes, the murders are done "off camera".  That's a good thing, as they were pretty ghastly crimes.

As for the performances, Hill has proven in movies like "Moneyball" and "Wolf of Wall Street" that he is more than just the slob character in R rated comedies where he made his bones, and while he is okay in this one, that's about as far as I'd go: he's okay.  Franco, on the other hand, is terrific as Chris Longo.  I always maintain the the very best actors on screen act with their faces, especially their eyes, and Franco's eyes really sell you on the fact that this is one cold-blooded psycho that you are seeing up there on the screen.

On a four star rating system, I'd give the book three stars, and the movie two-and-a-half stars.  Both worth your time, but nothing that will rank in any ten best lists.

Two side bar stories to my movie experience today.

I went to the first show of the day at the Cinemark, it started at 10:40 AM, and I was one of two people in the theater for "True Story".  I bought myself a small popcorn, and a small Coke.  The tab for that $10.05.  I figure that Cinemark's actual combined cost for these two items came in at less than one dollar.  The Pirates and Steelers aren't the only folks in the entertainment business who gouge you for food and refreshments.

Also, at the conclusion of "True Story", I went into another theater and watched about ten minutes of "Paul Blart, Mall Cop 2".  After seeing this brief part of the movie, I am convinced that it could be among the worst movies of 2015, if not the entire first 15 years of the 21st century.  By the way, there was no one, not a single warm body, in the theater for this dog of a movie.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Congratulations, Richy Werensky

Congratulations to Richy Werensky, the winner of Golf Channel's "Big Break, The Palm Beaches, Florida".

The 23 year old Georgia Tech grad secured his victory with a 2 and 1 defeat of runner-up Justin Martinson.  About halfway through the season, it became apparent that Werensky, Martinson, and third place finisher Robert Rohanna of Waynesburg, PA were the best golfers on the show.  This made Werensky's win a well deserved one.

For his Big Break, Werensky will get an exemption into the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship which will be played in Alabama on July 16-19.  This is an event which will run concurrent with the British Open Championship, so, obviously, all of the very best players on the PGA Tour will not be playing in the Barbasol event, which means that Richy could have the opportunity to fare well, certainly better than past Big Break winners have done in the events in which they have played.  The Grandstander shall be monitoring the event come July and will provide an update on how he fares.

Monday, April 20, 2015

"The Americans"

The season finale for one of our favorite TV shows, "The Americans" on the FX Network is this coming Wednesday, and we anxiously await it.

If you are unfamiliar with the show, it is set in Washington DC during the first term of the Reagan Administration, and it centers around the lives of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, played by Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell.  The Jennings at first blush are typical Washington suburbanites who have two teen aged kids and run their own small business, a travel agency.  In fact, however, they are KGB agents who have been planted in the American capital city to spy for the USSR.  They do this with an incredible number of disguises, an appalling amount of violence, and the need to use sexual wiles to obtain such vital information.  (Like many shows on these cable networks, "The Americans" features healthy dollops of gratuitous nudity, including almost weekly shots of Ms. Russell's bare bum.)

How they can do this without arousing the suspicion of their children (for the first two seasons, anyway), their employees at the travel agency, and their neighbor, who just happens to be an almost clueless FBI Agent, is one of those questions that you just shouldn't ask.  Just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Season three has been a bit bewildering as the producers have give the Jennings an incredible number of balls to try to juggle in the air.  There have been plot threads involving the Russians in Afghanistan, something to do with South Africa, the KGB's desire that the Jennings' daughter be recruited into the KGB, a female KGB agent, the incredibly hot Nina, who is now in a Soviet jail, Stan the FBI neighbor's divorce, and a disturbing and very icky plot element that has Philip being ordered to become "involved" with the 15 year old daughter of a CIA officer. 

Oh, and I haven't even mentioned the bug planted in the FBI office by FBI secretary Martha, who is also married to Philip.  If you watch the show, you know what I'm talking about.  If you don't know, it really sounds preposterous, doesn't it?

Anyway, it had gotten to the point many times this season to say things like "now, who is this guy again?" or "why are they talking to this kid here?"  and "who is that lady?" As I said, I think that they have tried to do too many things his season, and it appears that they don't know what to do with all these elements.   And the show seems to have lost contact with the single great tension point of the series: THAT THESE SOVIET SPIES LIVE RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET FROM THE FBI AGENT WHO IS TRYING TO TRACK THEM DOWN!!!!!

Anyway, about halfway through the season we came to grips with the idea that we not even try to connect all the dots that are out there, and to just let the show flow over us.  Also, in the previous two seasons of the show, the season finale has managed to tie loose ends together and deliver a wallop that will make you anxious for the next season to come around.  We suspect that that is what will happen this time as well.

Wednesday night at 10:00 on FX.  Please don't try to call us during that hour.  We won't be answering our phone.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

To Absent Friends - Dan Farrell

Dan Farrell died earlier this week at the age of 84.  Farrell was a news photographer for the New York Daily News, and in November, 1963 he took one of the most famous and poignant pictures ever taken:

Do I need to explain this picture?  I don't think so, such is the fame of it.

In researching Dan Farrell on the Internet, you can find a sampling of some of the other news hoots that he took for the Daily News over the course of a remarkable career.

RIP Dan Farrell.

The Future of Golf, or Post-Masters Reflections

Four days after the conclusion of an amazing Masters Tournament, it's time to reflect upon just what took place and what it might mean.

First off, the wire-to-wire win for 21 year old Jordan Spieth prompted this great cover and tag line to appear in the mail box today:

Clever take on the book about Michael Jordan, and a statement that the "Spieth Era Begins Now".

First the tournament itself.  Spieth's performance was nothing short of, sorry about this, Masterful.  Only the fifth wire-to-wire win in the history of the Masters, and a tie for the all-time low score.  On Saturday, he stood up to the challenges and charges of the biggest names in the sport (McIlroy, Mickelson, and Woods), and on Sunday, every time someone looked like he would challenge him, Spieth answered with a birdie, an amazing up-and-down, or a clutch par, all leading to this moment.

Does this mean that a "Jordan Spieth Era" is now upon us?  

Well, how do you define an "Era"?  Is Spieth the next Tiger Woods?  Sorry, but no, or at least no one should be ready to declare so at this point.  Does it mean that Spieth can be a dominant player on the PGA Tour for the next 10-15 years?  It is quite possible that Spieth could indeed be just that, although, I do not think that we shall ever see anyone dominate professional golf the way that Woods did in the period from 1997-2008.  The probability of such dominance is infinitesimal, if for no other reason than this guy:

Rory McIlroy is only 25 years old and already has four majors to his credit.  And if McIlroy will prevent Spieth from being the "next Tiger", then Spieth, in turn, could prevent McIlroy from being the "next Tiger" as well.

What does excite the imaginations of golf nerds everywhere is the possibility of Spieth-McIlroy duels over the next dozen years or so that will be reminiscent of earlier days when Arnold Palmer battled Jack Nicklaus, and Nicklaus battled guys like Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, and Greg Norman.  It is a measure of Woods' total dominance during his time that there never was a real challenger to him, not even Phil Mickelson.  The idea of Spieth and McIlroy going head to head on Sundays at Augusta, Oakmont, St. Andrews and other such places over the next decade to so is wonderful to think about.

Oh, and we should also keep one other thing in mind.  Spieth could end up being a one hit wonder like Trevor Immelman, Lucas Glover, Andy North, or one of the many other golfers who have managed to win one major, and little else.  It certainly doesn't appear likely that Spieth will fall into that category, as he has already won several times on Tour and performed well in a Ryder Cup competition, but you never know.  It will be interesting to look back at the ledger at the conclusion of this Tour and Majors season and re-evaluate the possibilities.

Of course, you can't make any evaluation of the State of Golf without talking about these guys:

Phil Mickelson had a terrific Masters.  His score of fourteen under par would have won the Masters 70 of the 78 times in its history.  It appears that he has something left in the tank, at least at Augusta, and it would have been interesting to see how Spieth would have held up had he been paired with Mickelson instead of Justin Rose on Sunday.  One of those intriguing "what ifs" that makes sports so much fun to follow.  However, Phil is now 44 years old.  It's hard to win anywhere on tour at that age, much less a Major, which makes his performance at Augusta all the more remarkable.

As for Tiger Woods, he is 39 and he managed to shoot eight under par over the second and third rounds of the Masters. He also was two over par over rounds one and four.  The fact that he scraped by in one over on Sunday, when he could never find a fairway off the tee, is amazing.  He could overcome such erratic driving at Augusta, but if he drives like that at a course set up for the US Open, he won't make the cut.

The key points in the above two paragraphs are the ages of the two golfers.  In all sports, and especially tournament golf, Father Time beats all comers.  I don't doubt that Mickelson and Woods all again win tournaments here and there on the PGA Tour.  Woods may even possibly still be able to dig down and win a Major one more time, but at this point it's a long shot.  This takes nothing away from what they have been, which is two of the greatest golfers of all time (and in Woods' case, he is in the argument for THE greatest golfer of all time).  It will still be fun to see them play and watch them on TV, but I am afraid that their Days of Dominance are over.

The US Open will be played in Oregon this June, which means prime time telecasts here in the east.  You know that Fox, which is televising the Open this year, has to be licking its chops in hopes of young guns like McIlroy and Spieth going at it at Chambers Bay.  Bring it on!!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Remember, The Masters Doesn't Really Begin Until the Back Nine on Sunday

As I see it, four people have a shot at taking the green jacket tomorrow: Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson, and Charlie Hoffman. Those are the four with a legitimate shot at winning, and, really, I believe that it will come down to the final grouping of Spieth and Rose. 

I don't think that 44 year old Phil can hang in again, and I can't see Hoffman holding up either. Rose has won a Major - the US Open a few years back -  and knows what it takes to do so, and Spieth should have learned how to withstand final round pressure from last year. After Hoffman, the next five golfers are ten shots out of the lead. If any of them comes from that far behind to win it will be almost miraculous. 

I am going to predict a win for Spieth, mainly because I have him as one of my golfers in the MOASP Fantasy Pool, but it will be a close win over Rose. It's not going to be the runaway that many thought it might become after the second round. It should be, dare I say it, a Barn Burner! 

You heard it here first, and remember, as always, watch, but don't bet.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

To Absent Friends - Ray Graves

Yesterday came news of the death of Ray Graves at the age of 96.

Graves is best remembered as the head football coach at the University of Florida from 1960-69.  Under Graves, the Gators won 70 games, played in their first ever major bowl game, and finished in the Top 20 four times.  Graves also recruited and coached Steve Spurrier at Florida, and helped to develop the sports drink Gatorade.

Quite a resume.

Graves also played in the NFL and was a member of the 1943 merged team that is officially known in NFL annals as "Philadelphia-Pittsburgh" or "Phil-Pitt" but has come to be known unofficially as the "Steagles".  The story of wartime professional football and the merged Phil-Pitt Steagles has been told in a most entertaining book, "Last Team Standing" by Matthew Algeo.

(Amazingly enough, with their penchant for copyrighting and trademarking everything that they touch, the NFL has never officially acknowledged, copyrighted, or licensed the name "Steagles".  Think of all the hoodies that they could sell at seventy bucks a pop.)

With the death of Graves, only one Steagle remains alive, ninety-four year old Al Wistert.

Thanks to Matthew Algeo for tipping me off about Coach Graves' passing.

RIP Ray Graves.

Friday, April 10, 2015

"Abe & Fido" by Matthew Algeo

One of my favorite authors is Matthew Algeo, and while not all of his books are about little known facets of the history of American Presidents, his best books cover that subject.  Previous books about Grover Cleveland ("The President Is A Very Sick Man") and Harry Truman ("Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure") have been top-notch, and with "Abe & Fido", Algeo adds to his list of Presidential Historical extra-base hits.

Has any President, has any person, for that matter, been written about more that Abraham Lincoln?  What more could possibly be told about the life of our 16th President?

Well, did you know that he had a pet dog named Fido?  Did you know that he had a life long love of animals, and that he may well have been a pioneer in the field that we know today as Animal Rights? I didn't either, but Matthew Algeo has done the research and has written this most enjoyable little book that not only gives you Fido's story, but gives you additional insight into Lincoln's character, insight that probably should not be too surprising given what we already know about Abe.  You will also learn a lot about the idea of pets throughout the course of history, particularly during the mid-nineteenth century.

If you love Abe Lincoln - and who doesn't? - if you like dogs - and who doesn't? - and if you have ever owned a pet, you really should read this book.  You will really enjoy it.

Matthew Algeo sums it up best when he states in the book that "much about Abraham Lincoln's life is shrouded in myth, mystery, and controversy - even his pet dog.  I merely want to tell the story of an ordinary dog and his extraordinary master, living through turbulent times.  Abraham Lincoln once loved a yellow mutt named Fido very much, and that mutt returned his master's affection in kind."

Very enjoyable book.

Farewell, Troy Polamalu, and THANKS!!!!

The announcement of Troy Polamalu's retirement from the Steelers and Pro Football comes as no surprise, but that does not lessen the regret that Steelers fans have to feel that one of the team's all-time Greats with a capital G is hanging up his cleats.

No need to list all of Polamalu's accomplishments here.  You can find those elsewhere.  The memories of watching Polamalu play football, and making plays, will forever be a part of the memories of football fans, and Steelers fans in particular.

And speaking of all the great plays that Polamalu has made over the years, the one that stands out for most in my mind, and I am sure in the minds of many others, is the interception and 40 yard return for a touchdown in the 2008 AFC Championship Game that sealed the victory over the Ravens and sent the Steelers to the Super Bowl, a game that the Steelers would win over Arizona for their sixth Super Bowl Championship.

Let's re-live that moment in pictures right now:

Thanks for the memories, Troy Polamalu!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Josh Strikes It Rich!

Last year at this time, there were many, many Pirates fans (and if you believe some media reports, some Bucco front office folks) who didn't think that Josh Harrison belonged on the Pirates twenty-five man roster.  At best, he was the 25th guy on the roster, so who really cared?

We all know what happened last year, and today the team announced that Harrison has agreed to a four year contract extension that guarantees him $28 million and could be  worth as much as $50 million dollars over the life of the deal.  To that, I say, good for Josh Harrison.  I hope that he earns every cent of it.

If you want to really read between the lines here, I am thinking that this spells the end of the Neil Walker Era here.  Not now, but whenever the team's control over Walker comes to an end.  Doesn't look like a long term deal is in the cards for the Pittsburgh Kid.

What Would You Do If You Were Geno?

To the surprise of absolutely no one, the University of Connecticut women's basketball team won the NCAA National Championship last night.  It was the third year in a row that the UConn women have won this tournament, and it was the tenth national championship for the Lady Huskies under Coach Geno Auriemma.  Even though UConn trailed at the half in one of the regional games, they were never seriously threatened in this tournament.

This record led to an interesting discussion on the Tony Kornheiser radio show this morning and that was, if your Geno Auriemma, where do you go from here?  What is left for him to accomplish at UConn?

  • Are you content to stay at Connecticut and keep steamrollering all comers?  He's 61 years old, so maybe he is.
  • Would you like to take on another challenge, like, say, coaching a men's college team?
  • You've already coached a women's Olympic Gold Medal winner, so what mountain is left to climb in the women's game? 
  • Would going to the WNBA be an option?  I have to think that any coaching position in the WNBA would be a step down from the UConn job.
And on the other side of the coin, if you are a University in need of a men's basketball coach, would you consider offering Auriemma the position?  If not, why not?


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

"Throw Like A Woman" by Susan Petrone

Brenda Haversham is a forty year old, divorced mother of two adolescent boys.  She lives in an old house that has seen better days in a neighborhood in Cleveland, has a lout of an ex-husband, and she is scraping along paycheck-to-paycheck in a dead end job at a local insurance company.  One day, while chaperoning a group of kids at a Cleveland Indians game, on a whim, she picks up a baseball at a "How Fast Can You Throw" concession at Progressive Field and, to her surprise, she hits 72 MPH on the radar gun.  Somebody posts a cellphone video of Brenda's pitch on YouTube, and Brenda, to both her surprise and annoyance, becomes an overnight Internet sensation.

Thus begins an incredible summer for Brenda Haversham that will take her to a recreational wooden bat baseball league, and, eventually, to her being the first woman to play in the Major Leagues as she finds herself pitching for the Indians in the heat of a pennant race.

In reviewing this book, I must add the following in the interests of Full Disclosure.  I first got to know Susan Petrone when she served as am executive with the Society of American Baseball Research when that organization was based in Cleveland, I met her personally a few years back when I attended a SABR Chapter meeting in Cleveland, I friended her on Facebook, have read her blogs, and some of her short fiction, and I consider her a friend, so I was inclined to like this book from the outset.  Having said all that, I have to say that I truly did enjoy reading this book, and following Brenda's adventures as she becomes a somewhat reluctant pioneer breaking baseball's glass ceiling.

There is enough runs-hits-and-errors baseball stuff in here to satisfy baseball fans, but this is more of a story about a woman approaching middle age who is just doing what she can to support and keep her family together.  While Brenda loved baseball and playing baseball as a little girl, she never dreamed that she could actually ever make a living at it, and when the opportunity presents itself, it isn't necessarily what she thought it would be.  She meets resistance from teammates and fans, she faces loneliness on the road and in her own locker room, and her new found and instant fame brings about a whole new set of problems in her family relationships.  At one point, Brenda asked her agent (yes, she had to get an agent), "Why am I doing this?"  To which her agent replies, "You're doing this for the same reason as everybody else in this business - to make a buck."  

Yes, sports fans, baseball is a business, and that fact hits Brenda fairly hard, but she adapts to it well.  This came home to her shortly after her recall to the Indians, when Brenda receives a not so warm welcome from her new teammates when she thinks "It only then occurred to me that for me to get this job, somebody else had to lose his."

It is not all bad for Brenda, though, but I won't say anymore (although late in the book, there is a scene where she goes out to dinner with three of her teammates while on a road trip that is one of the highlights of the book to me), other than to recommend this book to anyone, and you don't really need to be a hardcore baseball fan to enjoy it.

Friday, April 3, 2015

How I See the 2015 Pirates

Well, the time has come to forecast how our favorite baseball team will do in 2015.  I can honestly state that I am as excited for and as optimistic about the Pirates chances for success in 2015 as I have been since the halcyon days of Bonds, Bonilla, Van Slyke, Drabek and the Leyland teams of the early 1990's.  However, before I come down with a prediction for the season, I thought I would structure this post a little differently than I have in past seasons.  Instead of painting-by-the-numbers in a position by position analysis, I thought I would list the things about the Pirates that I DO NOT WORRY about and the things about which I WORRY.  That way, I can always say that these are only my opinions so no one can point out how wrong I was at the end of the season.

That said, here we go....

  1. I DO NOT WORRY about the outfield.  The trio of Marte-McCutchen-Polonco will be one of the best in MLB this season.  McCutchen and Marte will be All-Stars. Polonco will be by 2016.
  2. I DO NOT WORRY about Pedro Alvarez.  I believe that he will adapt well to his new position at first base, and I believe that he will hit between 28 and 36 HR's this year, and if he can somehow manage to hit in the neighborhood of .255 to .260, he will drive in 110 runs, give or take a half dozen.
  3. I WORRY about injuries.  The loss of players like McCutchen, Cole, Walker, Cervelli, or Liriano for any significant length of time could render all predictions moot.
  4. I have heard enough good things about Francisco Cervelli that I DO NOT WORRY about the catching position, however, all such reports contain the caveat "if he can stay healthy", something that he has not been able to do throughout his career.
  5. I WORRY about the catching position if Cervelli reverts (see #3 above) to form and cannot  catch 135 - 140 games for the team.
  6. I DO NOT WORRY about the top of the rotation.  I think that Gerrit Cole is poised to become an elite pitcher in the National League.  I think that Francisco Liriano will be just fine.  I think that Charlie Morton could be okay, but will concede that he remains, in large part, an unproven front line starter over the course of a 162 game schedule.
  7. I WORRY about which A.J. Burnett will pitch this year.  The one who, it can be argued, played such a large role in turning this team around in 2013-14, or the one who may have been the worst starting pitcher in the NL in 2014.  He is 38 years old.  How much is left in the tank?
  8. I DO NOT WORRY about Neil Walker.  Period.  (However, see #3 above.)
  9. I DO NOT WORRY about Jung Ho Kang.  As of now, he is a utility infielder and pinch hitter.  I trust the Pirates scouting and judgement on this one.  Does that mean he's a sure thing?  Of course not, but I think when it's all said and done, it's going to work out for the Pirates.
  10. I WORRY that Josh Harrison's 2014 season may turn out to have been a one hit wonder.  His performance in the spring suggests otherwise, if you want to put any stock in Spring Training stats.  Harrison has earned his starting position at third base going into the season.  Let's hope for more of the same in 2015.
  11. I DO NOT WORRY about Neal Huntington.  Yeah, I know that there are Grandstander posts from 2010 through 2013 that ripped Neal pretty good, but he has proven to me that his "plan" was the right way to go, and that his judgement has proven, for the most part, to be accurate.  Does that mean I'll agree with everything he has done and will do?  Not at all (for example, I'd feel much better if it was Travis Snider and not Andrew Lambo as the fourth outfielder), and his ability to talk for hours and say nothing will still drive me nuts, but, all things considered, he's earned his stripes.
  12. Ditto for Clint Hurdle.  I DO NOT WORRY about him, either.
  13. I DO NOT WORRY about the bullpen.  Tony Watson and Mark Melancon are solid at the back end.  As for the other guys, Huntington has always managed to put together a good bullpen ever since he came here, and I'm confident that he will do it again for 2015, even should Menalcon falter (as closers have been known to do).
  14. I DO NOT WORRY about the front office not pulling the trigger if certain guys do not work out.  In what has been a bland spring training, people are looking  for things to complain about and they are finding it with role players like Corey Hart, Chris Stewart, Stolmey Pimentel, and Jung Ho Kang.  If these guys aren't contributing and the Bucs are in a pennant race, which I believe they will be, I have confidence that Nutting-Coonelly-Huntington will make the moves that need to be made.
  15. I DO NOT WORRY about the bench.  I think that Hart, Sean Rodriguez, and Kang will be solid contributors given the roles they have been assigned.  It wasn't so long ago that the team was signing guys like Hart and Rodriguez to be starters (do I have to list the names for you?).  If that were the case this year, then I would WORRY.
  16. I DO NOT WORRY about who the fifth starter is.  If Locke falters, Worley will replace him, and vice versa.  There is a reason these guys were competing for the fifth starting position in the rotation.  And there is depth in Indianapolis.
  17. As alluded to in #6 above, I WORRY, a bit, about Charlie Morton being consistent and effective for 25-30 starts a year.
So, how does that all stack up, grade-wise:

Outfield - Excellent
Infield - Good to Very Good
Catching - Uneven, but with a chance to be Okay to Good
Starting Pitching - Good, with a chance to be Very Good
Bullpen - Very Good
Bench - Good
Depth in the Minors - Good, especially at Pitching

The Pirates will have to play better within the Central Division this season.  In 2014, the Pirates went a combined 22-35 against the Cardinals, Brewers, and Reds, and even with a 14-5 record against the Cubs, they were below .500 (36-40) in the Central.  They have to improve on that, and I am thinking, hoping, that this year they will take the next steps to improve that intra-divisional performance.

I say that this all adds up to seeing this guy fly 91 times this season, and, what the hell, an NL Central Division Championship, edging out the always strong St. Louis Cardinals.

And speaking of the Central Division, I do see it as a battle between the Pirates and Cardinals this year.  By all accounts, the Brewers and Reds have stepped back this year, and it is the Cubs who are the chic and trendy pick to surprise major league baseball this season.  I heard Tim Kurkjian on the radio recently say that, yes, with all of the young talent that seems destined to arrive in Chicago this season, the Cubs could win 95 games this year.  However, because the team is so young, they could also win 75 games.  I will believe in the Cubs when they actually do something, so I will guess that the win total at Wrigley this year will be closer to 75 than to 90.

Okay, these guys are ready....

....this guy is ready....

....and I'm ready for some games that count.  Oil up the old Rawlings, rub up the baseballs, file the spikes, and let's play ball!

See you soon at PNC Park, and Let's go Bucs!!!!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

To Absent Friends - Cynthia Lennon

Cynthia Lennon, the first wife of Beatle John Lennon, died today at age 75, a victim of cancer.  She and Lennon were married from 1962 to 1968.  She was a part of the history of the Beatles at that time.  As such, her passing is worth noting.

Her son, Julian Lennon, was with her throughout her last days, and he released this tribute to his mother upon her passing.

RIP Cynthia Lennon.