Thursday, July 30, 2015

Kraft, Belichick, Brady, and All That Hot Air

It so happens that I was fortunate (?) enough to turn on my TV yesterday morning just as Patriots owner Robert "I Like White Collars On My Blue Dress Shirts" Kraft addressed the assembled media in Boston, after which Coach Belichick took to the mic.  It was classic stuff, and I am not sure that I have witnessed anything quite like it since this guy was addressing the news media on a seemingly daily basis:

"Do you know who I am?"

Well, I am not going go into a lot of detail as to what was said.  If you are interested in the topic, you've read and heard it all already, but here is my take on Kraft's scorched earth blast against Roger Goodell and the NFL.  Here in Pittsburgh, if you are old enough, you have heard tree generations of Rooneys talk about how the overall interests of the National Football League are far more important than the interests of any one individual franchise.  It seems to have been a sound way to do business and it has certainly served to make the NFL the most powerful and successful sports league in America, if not the entire world.  Kraft sure thumbed his nose at that notion in his diatribe yesterday.  If the "League Comes First" attitude of the Rooneys and Maras still exists out there among the other 31 lodge brothers that comprise NFL ownership, it would seem that Robert Kraft may find himself all alone on an island, and he may be fighting a very lonely battle out there.  Roger Goodell's father was a US Senator, and I am sure that he taught young Roger that before you do anything big, be sure that you have the votes, and I am guessing that Roger Goodell "has the votes" from among his bosses.

A few months ago I might have thought that Goodell would lose his job over his handling of this (and other) issues(s).  Now, I wouldn't bet against him.

The other part of that press conference was Bill Belichick being Bill Belichick.  He answered questions for about ten minutes and this was the sum and substance of it:
  • "That issue has already been addressed."
  • "We're here to start training camp and get ready for the 2015 season."
  • "Everybody will get the same number of reps in training camp.  That's what training camp is for."
He never once mentioned the name of any player, including You-Know-Who.  

I know that we are not supposed to like Bill Belichick, and I know all the reasons for it, but I have to say that I came away from that performance of his yesterday with a grudging admiration for him.  He seems to be telling us (although who really knows what he thinks) that he is a football coach, plain and simple.  He doesn't give a shit about any of these outside distractions, he really doesn't give a shit about who his players are, he just wants to get to training camp and prepare for the next game.  There is something to be said for that.

As for Brady, I think we can all agree that his punishment does not fit his crime, and that this whole thing could have been reduced or even avoided entirely with a mere slap on the wrists to those involved if all parties had reacted just a bit differently.  However, Tom Brady has shown himself to be just another spoiled "Me-First" jock with a monstrous sense of entitlement.  By God, he wasn't going to give in because "I am Tom Brady", and he has cooked his own goose because of it.  I don't really care what happens to him.  As for the destruction of his cell phone, this has become the 2015 version of Rosemary Woods' missing seventeen minutes of audio tape.

The story isn't over, as injunctions and lawsuits are sure to follow, and a lot of lawyers will get rich.  As for me, I can't make any promises, but I am not so sure how much I am going to write about this in the weeks and months ahead.  I've had my say.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Movie Review - "Good Ol' Freda"

I first heard about the documentary movie, "Good Ol' Freda", a few months back and made a mental note to make sure I saw it, but thanks to a conversation last week with friend Nick Frankhart, I got off my duff and ordered the DVD from Amazon (less than ten bucks!).

It is the story of Freda Kelly, who was a teenager working in some corporate typing pool in Liverpool back in 1962.  One day on her lunch hour, she and some co-workers went to see a local band play at the Cavern Club.  The band was, of course, The Beatles, and Freda became an immediate fan.  Shortly thereafter, she joined a Beatles Fan Club in Liverpool, and soon after that, she was hired by Brian Epstein to be the secretary for the Official Beatles Fan Club.  At the age of seventeen (yes, she was just seventeen...) she was working closely with Epstein and "the lads", who were, essentially, just four guys from the same neighborhood as she.

She held that position for close to ten years, until the band broke up, and the Fan Club was dissolved, a decision that was largely hers.  Freda had never told her story, never wrote a book, never revealed the close confidences that she shared with The Beatles, never cashed in on her proximity to the most famous rock band in history.  A few years ago, some young film makers approached her, and she agreed to be a part of this project so that her grandchildren would know of her role in this remarkable story.

In the movie, Freda tells how she got to know the Beatles and their families as well.  Remember, in 1962, each of the Beatles' parents (or the aunt who raised him in John Lennon's case) were still alive, and Starr and Harrison were still living with them.  Freda tells stories of meeting and sharing delightful times with the Starkeys and Harrisons.  I loved how she still always refers to Ringo Starr as "Richey".  (Similarly, Brian Epstein was always "Eppy" to her.)

After the band and the fan club dissolved, Freda continued to work as a secretary in various jobs over the years ("I had to make a living").  She raised two children and is now a grandmother.  She gave way most of her Beatles "stuff".  The remnants of her association with the group exists in three or four cardboard boxes in her attic.  She treasures her days with the lads to whom she was "good ol' Freda".  She was a part of their families, as one of them mentions at the closing of the film, and this movie is one that every Beatles fan should see.

Freda Then

Freda Now

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Pittsburgh Steelers "Franchise Four"

The recent promotion by Major League Baseball to name the "Franchise Four" for each team (and a word on that at the end of this post) prompted Joe Aro, a Facebook Friend of mine from the Washington DC area to name his "Franchise Four" for the Washington Redskins.  Fair enough, and it prompted me to try to list a Franchise Four for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

After putting much thought and analysis into it - maybe fifteen or twenty minutes of thinking about it - I came up with these four:

Joe Greene

I mean, really, do I have to justify this choice?  Simply put, the Greatest Steeler Ever.

Ernie Stautner

A Hall of Famer, he is here for the simple reason that people need to be aware that the Steelers existed and had great players before the 1972 season.

Jack Ham

Tough and smart, he may have been the best and most consistent defensive player of a team that was filled with Hall of Fame (and HOF caliber) defensive players.

The fourth guy has to be a quarterback, and I went back and forth between these two guys. Both were (and are) great.  One has greater stats than the other, but an argument can be made that the stats for each of them are a function of the era in which that played, but each of them, I contend, would have excelled and been great, no matter the era. In the end, only one stat separates the two - four Super Bowl rings vs. two Super Bowl rings, so here is the fourth guy.

Terry Bradshaw

It is a very narrow margin, and on any given day I could still be talked into including this guy:

Ben Roethlisberger

I ran this whole idea around at breakfast yesterday with Dan Bonk, Len Martin, Jim Haller, and Dave Finoli, and, of course, there was no unanimity.  The two names most mentioned who should be on the list were Franco Harris and Mel Blount, and I would have no argument if either of those guys, especially Harris, were in the Steelers' Franchise Four, so let's a salute them here:

Franco Harris

Mel Blount

Oh, and I mentioned that I would have a word on MLB's Franchise Four selections.  The name of Walter Johnson does not surface anywhere.  Not on the Minnesota Twins list, not on the Texas Rangers list, nor, even, and this is really stretching it, the Washington Nationals list.  That perhaps the greatest pitcher of all time cannot find his way on any of these lists calls the whole process into question, but I guess no one said that this would be anything more than a popularity contest decided by people raised in the era that says "if it wasn't on ESPN, it didn't happen."

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Trade

The unofficial second half of the season started disastrously.  A 1-5 road trip, an injury to SS Jordy Mercer, which, coupled with the earlier injury to Josh Harrison, had forced the Pirates to play bench guys like Sean Rodriguez on a regular basis, and plug Quad-A (at best) players like Brent Morel and Pedro Florimon into the starting line-up.  Pirates naysayers were heading to the Clemente Bridge to leap off because, surely, GM Neal Huntington was never going to be able to pull the trigger to make a deadline deal that would help this team.  And the first place Nationals, who swept the Pirates last month were coming to town.  Armageddon was certainly upon us.

Then, late yesterday afternoon, news came of the trade that Huntington pulled off with the Brewers to land Aramis Ramirez.  And what did he give up?   Prized prospects like Josh Bell, Alen Hanson, or Tyler Glasnow?  Nope.  Relief pitcher Yhonathan Barrios.  Now, Barrios may turn out to be a good pitcher for the Brewers someday, but in my mind, when you get an every day player, especially one with Ramirez' credentials, for a relief pitcher, and a minor league one at that, you have made a good deal.

And while he money aspects of trades don't interest me - these teams have the money - the Brewers are still going to pay half of the $6 million salary that is due Ramirez for the remainder of the season.  How did Huntington, who was in a desperate buyer's mode, manage to get the Brewers to agree to that?

Yes, Ramirez is now 37 years old, and has indicated that he will retire after this, his 18th season in the majors.  He is not the dangerous slugger he once was, but even today, after a horrid first month of the season, he has 11 HR, 42 RBI, and a .725 OPS.  Put him in the batting order behind Andrew McCutchen, and he is an improvement over every other guy who has been in this slot this season.  He will fill the gap at third to allow Jung Ho Kang to play short and cover for the injured Harrison and Mercer.  He is exactly the kind of pick up the team needed at this point in the season.  And he has now been taken from a team going nowhere and put on a team in the middle of a pennant race.  You would think, you would hope, that this will rejuvenate him and motivate him to make this final half season of his career a stellar one.  We shall see.

Finally, there is the delicious karma of Ramirez coming BACK to the Pirates in the midst of a pennant race.  No need to recount the painful circumstances of the horrendous salary dump deal in 2003 when Kevin McClatchey forced Dave Littlefield to get rid of perhaps the team's best player and brightest young star in years for a collection of used jock straps and batting practice baseballs.  (Someday, I hope Dave Littlefield will write a book and explain HIS side of that awful transaction.)  If A-Ram can manage 8-10 home runs and 30 or so RBI's over what time he has here, it will be one terrific story.

Seven days remain before the trade deadline, and reports are that the Pirates are in the hunt for another pitcher.  I have full confidence that GM Neal is working the phones diligently to pull of something that will help this team down the stretch.  He proved yesterday that he can make things like that happen.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Meanwhile, in Alabama Last Weekend.....

While the eyes of the golf world were on the Old Course in St. Andrew's and the British Open last weekend, the PGA Tour was chugging along in Opelika, Alabama last weekend staging the Barbasol Championship.

I had an interest in this event because competing in it was Richy Werenski, the winner of 

Golf Channel's  "Big Break Palm Beaches" show from last spring.

Part of Werenski's prize for winning The Big Break was an exemption into this PGA Tour event.  I always like to track how Big Break winners fare in the Tour events into which they are awarded an exemption.  It is usually not a pretty result, but Werenski did better than most.

First of all, he made the cut, and he did shoot even par over the course of the four rounds.  That's the good news.

The bad news is that his score of 284 was nineteen (19) shots behind the winning score posted by Scott Piercy, and it tied Richy for third from the bottom (T-72) of all the seventy-seven golfers who made the cut.  Werenski cashed a check for $6,825 for his efforts.

Werenski is only 23, and he appeared to me to be one of the better golfers that have paraded through the Big Break over the years, so perhaps he can build on this and carve out a living as a touring pro.  I hope so, because he appeared to be an awfully nice kid.  On the other hand, at age 23, he is two years older than Jordan Spieth, so he does have a long road ahead of him.

Also of interest in this tournament was the fortunes of Sam Saunders, 27, who happens to be the grandson of Arnold Palmer.  Saunders competes on the minor league Tour in hopes of making it to the PGA Tour.  He actually led the tournament after the first round, but ended up tied for 32nd place, eleven shots behind Piercy, and earned $21,219.

Golf Channel was no doubt able to get an exemption of it's winner into this event because they knew that all of the really great golfers would be competing in the British Open last week, and that was certainly the case.  Still, it is interesting to go down the scoreboard at the Barbasol Championship and see who actually was competing in that event.  Lots of names you never heard of, but also some really familiar ones: Boo Weekley, Aaron Baddeley, Johnson Wagner, Jason Gore, David Toms (a PGA Champion), Duffy Waldorf, Trevor Immelman (a Masters Champion), Charles Howell III, Chad Campbell, Shaun Micheel (another PGA Champion).  Some of these guys, in addition to being former Majors winners, have won on the PGA Tour and have, at one time or another, been considered Young Guns and Up and Comers in the world of professional golf, yet none of them are currently good enough to have qualified for The British Open. It just goes to show you how hard it is to compete at the highest level in this sport (or any sport, for that matter), and that for every Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson who win big, hang around at the top for twenty or so years, and earn tens and hundreds of millions of dollars, there are scores other guys who have to compete in a backwater like Opelika, Alabama just to make expenses and try to keep their Tour Cards.  

It ain't easy.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Champion Golfer of the Year

Well played, Zach Johnson!

To Absent Friends - Alex Rocco

Alex Rocco

Actor Alex Rocco died yesterday at the age of 79.  IMDB lists 103 acting credits for television for Rocco, which included his first acting role a villain's henchman in Batman in 1966, recurring roles in such shows as The Facts of Life and The Simpsons, and an Emmy winning role in 1989 in The Fabulous Teddy Z.

Rocco also had 60 acting roles in movies, mostly playing small time hoods and gangsters.  However, Rocco is best known and will be forever remembered for playing Las Vegas casino owner and gangster Moe Greene in 1972's The Godfather.  I mean really, can we ever forget such lines as...

"Draw chips for everyone in the room so they can play on the house", or...

"The Corleones don't have that kind of muscle anymore", or...

"I buy you out, you don't buy me out", or...

"He was banging cocktail waitresses two at a time", or....

"DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?  I'm Moe Greene! I mae my bones when you were going out with cheerleaders."

And of course, how could anyone ever forget Moe's death scene on a Las Vegas massage table?

RIP Alex Rocco, and here is that most famous sit-down between Moe Greene and Michael Corleone.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Throwback Thursday - Three Rivers Stadium

Today, July 16, marks the 45th Anniversary of the first ball game played in Three Rivers Stadium.  The Pirates lost that game to the Cincinnati Reds. The picture above is a ticket stub from that game.  No, it wasn't my stub, it's my Dad's.  He was at that game.  I was not.  

My first visit to Three Rivers came three days later, on Sunday, July 19, which happened to be the first DAY game played at Three Rivers.  That day, my Dad and I were among 32,294 in attendance to see the Pirates defeat the Reds 7-3. In that game, Dave Cash hit a home run, Manny Sanguillen had a triple, Roberto Clemente went 0-for-2 with three walks, and Willie Stargell went 2-for-3 with an RBI.  Luke Walker pitched eight innings to get the win and boost his record to 7-3.  Joe Gibbon pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning and was, according to the box score on Retrosheet, credited with a save.  The Save Rule must have been different then.  Under today's rules, Gibbon, who entered the game with a four run lead, would not be credited with a Save.  Oh, well.

That was the first of many, many visits that Stadium for me over the course of the next 31 years, and with that in mind, I reprint for you know (whether you want to see it or not), a list that I complied back in 2001, shortly before the implosion of Three Rivers Stadium.  These are events for which I was actually in attendance.

Top Ten Three Rivers Stadium Memories

  1. 1972 – Franco Harris and the Immaculate Reception beats the Oakland Raiders in the Steelers first ever playoff game.  How could anything else be Number One?
  2. 1979 – Pirates defeat Cincinnati Reds in Game Three to sweep the National League Championship Series and win Pennant.
  3. 1971 – Attended Game 3 of World Series, my first World Series game.  Pirates win and go onto win World Series.
  4. 1975 – Steelers defeat Oakland on an icy field in AFC Championship game.
  5. 1978 and 1979 – Steelers defeat Houston Oilers two years in a row in AFC Championship game.
  6. Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente – just watching these two Hall of Famers over the years.
  7. 1979 – Attend Game Three of World Series. It’s a night game, it’s cold, there are snow flurries, and Pirates lose.  They win the World Series anyway.
  8. 1994 – Steelers lose AFC Championship to Chargers when last minute fourth down pass at goal line falls incomplete.  I’ve never heard 60,000 people get so quiet.
  9. 1995 – Steelers beat Indianapolis in AFC Championship game to go to Super Bowl.
  10. 2000 – I catch foul ball hit by Jason Kendall, my first such souvenir in over 40 years of attending ball games.
  11. 1985 – Bruce Springsteen “Born in the USA” concert.  Over 65,000 people, largest crowd ever at Three Rivers for any event.  Still the single best concert I’ve ever seen.
  12. 1970 – Three Rivers Stadium opens.  It is old and outdated now, but it sure was dazzling when it first opened.

OK, I know that’s twelve.  So sue me! 

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Open Championship

I don't know about all of you, but I find myself really fired up for the Open Championship okay, the British Open, that begins this Thursday.

Credit for this, obviously goes to Jordan Spieth and the fact that he has won both the Masters and US Open this year and now has a chance to do something that has never been done - winning the modern Grand Slam in the same calendar year.  The fact that he played in the low level John Deere Classic this weekend, and won it, only intensifies the hype.  Also, I heard today that he will be paired with none other than Dustin Johnson in the first two rounds of the Open.  Those Brits know how to stage drama, don't they?

Also, the Open will be played on the Old Course at St. Andrews, the birth place of golf.  I love watching the Open when it is played there.  I hope it will be cold, windy, and overcast.

Spieth will be the favorite this week, especially since the injured Rory McIlroy will not be there, and you have to root for him.  However, one of the hardest single things to do in pro sports has to be winning any given golf tournament.  And one of the hardest things to predict is the winner of any given golf tournament, so I am going to wait until after the first round is played before offering my pick.  Yeah, it's kind of a chicken-scratch way to do it, but My Blog, My Rules!

Two other story lines to follow beside Spieth's quest for the Slam.

One is Dustin Johnson.  He has it in him to win one of these Majors, but how will that 72nd hole meltdown at the US Open effect him?

The other is Tiger Woods.  Yes, I know that Woods' days as the pre-eminent  golfer of all time are over, but an appearance by Woods in any tournament will always be a story, just as appearances by a washed up Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus were always stories whenever they played.  Call me crazy, but I still think that Tiger Woods will win again on the PGA Tour, and maybe even win another Major.  He knows St. Andrews.  He has won at St. Andrews, so give him a puncher's chance to be in contention for the lead on the weekend, and if he is in contention, you never know what might happen.  It's probably more likely that he will miss the cut, but I would never count him out.

Play well, gentlemen.

The Was The Weekend That Was

Some closing thoughts on what was an astonishing weekend of Pirates baseball.....

  • As hard as it might be to believe, the ten inning 6-5 win on Sunday may have been even more improbable than the 14 inning 6-5 win on Saturday.
  • Two weeks ago this morning, the Pirates were nine games behind the Cardinals.  today they are two and one-half games behind.  Making up 6.5 games in fourteen days is almost unbelievable.  If something  like this happened in, say, the last two weeks of September, it would be deemed to be historic. Of course, the Cardinals are STILL in first place, so this is a long way from over.
  • Ace Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal gave up more runs this weekend - four - than he had in the entire season leading up to this weekend - three.
  • After listening to a polished national Fox broadcast by Matt Vasgersian and John Smoltz, last night we were treated to the folly of the three man booth used by ESPN.  Play-by-play man Dan Schulman is okay, but you also have to deal with John Kruk in his role as the Fat Guy Buffoon and the endless bloviations of Curt Schilling, a man deeply in love with the sound of his own voice.
  • For all that, Schilling did say two things of note in the tenth inning last night.  As the Pirates were mounting their rally, he noted that, and I am paraphrasing here, "if these guys come back and win again tonight, it might be the springboard for something really special this season".  And when the game ended, he said, that no matter what the score might be in any game for the rest of the season, the Pirates will never again feel like they are out of the game.
  • Remember the cries in the not so distant past that Gregory Polanco should be returned to the minors?  In the last seven days, in 26 at bats, he is hitting .308 with 4 RBIs, 3 Runs Scored, 7 walks (against only 3 K's), and sports an OPS of .878.  And three of his hits were game winners.
  • Remember the cries at the end of Spring Training that Jung Ho Kang should start the season in Indy and that someone like, say, Steve Lombardozzi (who did out hit Kang in the Grapefruit League) should come north with the team.  How might that have worked out?
  • The Pirates return form the All-Star break with series in Milwaukee and Kansas City, and then a home series against the Nationals.  As a friend of mine might put, that's a lot of grass to mow.
  • As great as the recent 8-2 home stand was, it should not be forgotten that Josh Harrison is out for the foreseeable future.  That loss is going to be felt eventually, and I am sure that it will factor into whatever trade deadline machination Neal Huntington will try to pull off.
  • Have you watched the highlights of the last two games synced with the radio play-by-play of Greg Brown?  It is classic, but I truly fear for the man's health if this keeps up.  Hope an EMS guys is standing by with the paddles for the rest of the way.
As far as what to expect once the second half begins on Friday, I can only offer the following advice:

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Saluting the All-Stars

Well done, Guys.  Have fun in Cincy and then come home and kick ass in the second half!

Oh, What A Night....Pirates 6 - Cardinals 5 in 14!

With all due respect for the win in the 2013 Wild Card Game against the Reds, the Pirates 14 inning win over the Cardinals last night surely must rank as perhaps the most strange, weird, exciting, and (perhaps, time will tell) important Pirate win in the fifteen year history of PNC Park.  I am pleased to say that I put an ass-groove in my sofa by staying with all fourteen innings and all five hours and four minutes of it.

If you care enough about this sort of thing, you already know what happened, so I'll give no play-by-play recap here, but I will say that this is the kind of game that makes baseball the best sport there is.  Consider.....

  • Horrendous umpiring
  • Second inning ejections of Francisco Cervelli and Clint Hurdle
  • Some innings where the Pirates looked totally impotent at the plate with some god-awful at bats
  • Key hits when it counted from unlikely sources (AJ Burnett and Chris Stewart)
  • Great pitching from seven Pirates pitchers (same with the Cardinals)
  • A triple and continued great defense from Jung Ho Kang
  • Stewart picking Yadier Molina off of first base
  • A key hit from Pedro Alvarez against a left hander
  • The possibility of Gerrit Cole being used as a pinch hitter
  • A key hit by Neil Walker to lead of the bottom of the fourteenth
  • And, of course, that walk-off home run by McCutchen
What a game, and it gives the Bucs a chance to take three of four against the Cardinals with a win tonight.

Let me take detour from the game itself to talk about the Fox Network telecast of the game last night.  If you were watching this game with an eye on The Faceboook, it is apparent that most people take the knee-jerk reaction to dislike the national announcers before a pitch is even thrown.  However, I really enjoyed the Fox broadcast team of Matt Vasgersian and John Smoltz.  Vasgersian did a smooth job of play-by-play and Smoltz is really smart and offers great insight into the game.  He has taken all the smarts that led to a terrific career and a spot in Cooperstown right into the booth with him.

No, paranoid Pirates fans, I do NOT think that they favored the Cardinals, and, yes, I felt they were equal in their praise of the Pirates and their players.  (There's a reason that broadcasters "slobber" over Yadier Molina, folks - he really IS that good.)  I loved how the fact that Vasgersian has to be in Cincinnati this afternoon to broadcast the Futures Game became a comic thread of the broadcast as the game went on and on and on.  This is entertainment, folks, it ain't hearts and livers, as we used to say at Highmark.

I also liked how Vasgersian and Smoltz spoke of another subtext of the game, Andrew McCutchen's 17 game hitting streak.  Despite an 0-for-3 start followed by three bases on balls, how Cutch was STILL getting chances to continue the streak, which he ended up doing in a most spectacular fashion.  It should also be noted that as soon as Walker led off the fourteenth with that single, Smoltz immediately noted that you could "not underestimate the importance of that hit.  Now the Cardinals have to pitch to McCutchen."  That's pretty keen analysis, and, of course, McCutchen made him look like a prophet.

So, I say, I'll listen to a telecast from Vasgersian and Smoltz anytime!

One cool thing about the Internet is that this morning you were able to watch the replay of Cutch's home run in three different versions: Vasgersian's call on the Fox telecast, Greg Brown's and Steve Blass' call on the Pirate radio network, and the Cardinals call on their radio broadcast.  Fabulous stuff.

As the headline says, Oh, What A Night!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Book Review - "The Grind, Inside Baseball's Endless Season"

Were I not a regular listener of the podcast of the Tony Kornheiser Radio Show, I would not be aware of Washington Post baseball writer Barry Svrluga, a regular guest on the show, nor would I be aware of his new book, "The Grind", released earlier this week and that would be too bad, because it is a book well worth  reading for every baseball fan.  I read it in two days.

Svrluga follows the Washington Nationals throughout "the grind" of the 2014 baseball season, by covering certain members of the Nationals and certain people within and around the organization who are all involved in what goes into and around a baseball season: The Veteran, The Wife, The Scout,
The Starter, The Twenty-sixth Man, The Glue (this is two people: the traveling secretary and the clubhouse manager), The Reliever, and The General Manager.  And if you are thinking, "I don't want to read a book about the Washington Nationals" consider this passage from Svrluga's introduction:

"This book, it would seem, is about the Washington Nationals. But the characters in it and those around them will invariably agree: It could be about any of the thirty major league teams.  In baseball, these themes are universal."

Ever wonder about the life of a baseball wife with two young children and a third one on the way goes through?  Chelsey Desmond, wife of infielder Ian Desmond will let you know.

When does "the season" start for a ball player?  For Ryan Zimmerman, it starts before the Christmas holidays.

Ever wonder what a starting pitcher does between starts?  For Doug Fister, preparation for the next start actually begins before he leaves the clubhouse after his current start.

How about traveling and moving equipment on road trips? in 2014, the Nats' travel schedule included 33 flights, 2 train trips, and 5 bus charters.  From the book: "The last of the Nationals' 12 road trips (in 2014) would go through 3 cities and involve 1 train ride, 3 flights, 46 bus rides, 78 passengers, 25 equipment trunks, 6 sets of golf clubs, 70 equipment bags, 1 massage table, 125 pieces of luggage, including 2 guitars. What could go wrong?"  As Ryan Zimmerman said of the clubhouse/travel staff: "He's got to deal with twenty-five prima donnas that get paid a lot of money that want everything that they want, and he's got to make them all happy. That can't be easy."

And when does "next season" become "this season" for the General Manager?  For Nats' GM Mike Rizzo, it began on the plane ride back to Washington after the Nats were eliminated from the playoffs by the Giants.

No, I am not going to feel sorry for ball players making millions of dollars while putting up with "the grind", but I do have a new level of respect for them - and for every one within an organization - after reading this book.

And if you are still thinking that this book is only about the Nationals, consider this post-season quote from Zimmerman when he contemplates the future:

"After this year, the landscape can change. If a couple of guys are gone, the goal would be the same again, but the situation would be different. It's almost a lot more emotional for the fans than for us. If it was up to me, I'd keep everyone and pay everyone and have the same team for ten years, but we understand that that's just not how it works.  You can't keep everyone."

As a Pirates fan this season when the long term futures of fixtures like Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez have been topics of discussion, that quote hits home.

Really good book.

To Absent Friends - Ken Stabler

December 30, 1972 is remembered as one of the greatest days in all of Pittsburgh sports history - The Steelers defeated the Oakland Raiders, 13-7, in an opening round NFL Playoff Game by means of the Bradshaw to Fuqua/Tatum to Harris Immaculate Reception, but that game could have been so much different.  With 1:17 left in the game and the Steelers clinging to a 6-0 lead, Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler ran a broken play bootleg around left end for 30 yards and scored the first touchdown of the game, and gave the Raiders a 7-6 lead and surely put the nail in the coffin for that Steelers season.

Well, we all know how the game ended, but the play that led to the Raiders lead, and the player who made it, will always remain in my mind, and it all came back to me yesterday with the news that Kenny "The Snake" Stabler died at the age of 69, a victim of colon cancer.

Ken Stabler
1945 - 2015

As a member of perhaps the Steelers most bitter rival of the 1970's, Stabler epitomized the Raiders, and he remains very vivid in my mind.  Transport your mind back to those days and think of the Raiders being involved in a close game, perhaps trailing by a score, a cold day, crummy weather, and two minutes to play.  Was there ever a doubt in your mind that Stabler would lead the Raiders up field to win the game?  I may not have liked the Raiders (still don't), but I have nothing but great admiration for Stabler, and it is always a sad feeling when someone like that leaves us.

One quote I read today from his old coach, John Madden, says it all:  "When you think about the Raiders, you think about Ken Stabler."  Indeed.

RIP Kenny Stabler.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Congratulations, Ladies!!!!

Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words......

I have to say that I really enjoyed following this team throughout the World Cup event over this last month.  It was exhilarating, and it was sure fun to watch that 5-2 victory last night.

Well played, Ladies.

Movie Review - "Inside Out"

The folks at Disney and Pixar have produced another gem in he current summer hit, "Inside Out".

The movie tells the story of a young girl, Riley, whose family has been transferred from their home in Minnesota to San Francisco, and it tells her story through the emotions in her brain - Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. These emotions exist in the minds if everyone, as the movie points out from time to time, but the story is centered on Riley and the emotions within her as she and her family undergo a significant life change.

Like all Pixar movies, it can be basic so that even the youngest of children can get a kick out of it, but it tells a much larger story that hits home with anyone, adults included.  It's sweet, it's sad, it's emotional, it's's a wonderful movie.

Don't miss it.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

On the Fourth, Smart Phones, Collins, the Pirates, St. Vincent College, and Go USA!!

Cleaning out the Mental In-Box.....

Happy Fourth of July, everyone (one day late).  Hope you all had a safe and happy day with family and friends.  Our day ran late yesterday, so we were sorry to have missed out on seeing a Holiday Tradition - watching A Capitol Fourth from Washington DC on PBS.  I saw today that the featured performer was Barry Manilow.  Didn't feel quite so bad then.  Actually, I wouldn't have minded listening to Manilow perform.  He's just hard to watch these days after all that bad plastic surgery.

There was another Fourth Tradition that we did not miss - the Hot Dog Eating Contest from Coney Island.  In case you missed it, eight time defending champion Joey Chestnut was upset by young Matthew Stonie, 62 dogs to 60.  The King is dead; long live the King.

I saw in the paper that both Chestnut and Stonie are from San Jose, CA.  What, if anything, to made of that?


After years of resistance, Marilyn and I finally succumbed to inevitable progress and purchased smart phones last month.  I swore up and down that I would never become one of "those" people, but since getting the gadget, I confess to having done the following:
  • Taken selfies on the golf course
  • Taken a picture of a pizza I was eating for lunch and posting it on Facebook
  • Having my cute ringtone ("My Girl" by the Temptations) go off during a meeting I was having with some executives at Highmark
  • "Checked In" while eating at a restaurant
  • Texting.  Lots of texting. Including pictures.
  • Probably several other things that I said I would never do, but can't think of at the moment.
I will admit, however, that while I could live without it, it is a nice thing to have.


I have often written about one of my favorite authors, Max Allan Collins.  The last time I did, I gave a less than favorable review of the last book of his that had read.  Well, in checking out Collins' website ( a few weeks ago, he mentioned and hyperlinked my Grandstander post of the review.  I was stunned!  I responded to him on his site, and we had an interesting and thoughtful exchange.  He mentioned that he pays close attention to less than favorable reviews (unless they are just all out, hate filled hatchet jobs).  It was a very interesting experience.

The lesson here is that authors, DO pay attention to what is written.  Also, they very much value reviews that readers post on sites such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble,  Goodreads, and other such sites.


As I am typing this, the Pirates are playing their 81st game (the literal halfway point of the season), and are leading the Indians 5-3 in the bottom of the seventh inning.  Should the score hold, they will have a record of 47-34, and be either 5 or 6 games behind the first place Cardinals.  Seven games will remain before the All-Star Break, including a four game series with the Cardinals next weekend.

There is not  a lot to complain about (although plenty of people ARE finding such things).  The team has the second best record in the NL and the fourth best in all of MLB.  Unfortunately, the team with the best record, the Cardinals, are in the same division.  All the more reason that series next weekend looms large.

The pitching has been outstanding.  The hitting could be better, and it will be interesting to see what Neal Huntington will do as the July 31 trade deadline approaches.  In the past, it has often been pitching that the team has sought, but it seems to me that the acquisition of a hitter, or "a bat' as the current lingo goes, would be the priority.

I will probably reflect more on the first half performance over the Break.

Marilyn and I did something a little different this past Wednesday night.  We drove to Latrobe, specifically St. Vincent College, to take in a play at their Summer Theater program. The play was "Tuesdays with Morrie", Mitch Albom's one act play based upon his best selling book of the same title.  If you are not familiar with the book, it is about the weekly visits that Albom made to Morrie Schwartz, his college sociology professor who was dying form ALS.  Like the book, the play was a very profound and moving experience.


This was my first visit to St. Vincent College since, I am going to say, 1980 or -81, when I visited a Steelers training camp.  The campus has changed A LOT in those thirty-plus years, and it is one of the most beautiful ones that you will find anywhere.  

A visit to Steelers Training Camp used to be a regular summer trip for my Dad and I, but since those days, it has become a real extravaganza, and I have really never had the desire to fight the crowds and do it again.  I did, however, pay proper homage to the Hallowed Ground before entering the St. Vincent Theater:

Memory can be selective, but I can definitely say these practice fields were NOT this nice back in the early 1980's.

Those photos, by the way, were taken with my new smart phone.


I am looking forward to watching the Championship Game tonight of the Women's World Cup.

Go USA!!!!