Wednesday, October 28, 2015


It was certainly an amazing evening that we experienced at Heinz Hall last night to see Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band perform for two hours of fantastic rock and roll music.  

The former Beatle has been touring with his All-Starr Band in one incarnation or another since 1989, and the current six man crew has been with Starr for the last three years. The band includes such standard '70's and '80's era rockers as Todd Rundgren, Gregg Rolie of Santana, Steve Lukather of Toto, and Richard Page of Mr. Mister.  Each of these gents had their turns performing well known songs of theirs, and you got the feel that this was not just a concert for the public, but just a bunch of terrific musicians getting together to have a kick-ass jam session.  These guys love what they do, they're good at it, and it really shows.

But the guy that everyone came to see was Starr, and he did not disappoint.  You really are seeing Rock & Roll Royalty when you see Ringo Starr perform in person.   As Scott Mervis put it in his Post-Gazette review today, about the time that Starr led the band, and the audience in a rousing version of a certain song, it is the time when you in the audience start thinking, "Wow, that's Ringo Starr doing 'Yellow Submarine' right there."

As most people know, Starr was the oldest of the four Beatles.  He is 75 years old now and you would never know it by watching him perform.  He looks fit and trim, moves like a guy at least twenty years younger, and obviously loves his work.  Only four people ever knew what it was truly like to be a part of the greatest rock and roll phenomenon ever, and only two are still with us, but Ringo comes across as a really regular guy.  He's just a musician and singer who loves to perform, knows what his audience wants, and he gives it to them along with his constant message of "Peace and Love".

While all of he band members were terrific, I have to comment on Todd Rundgren.  To be honest with you, I couldn't tell you the last time I had a conscious thought about Todd Rundgren, but when he sang "I Saw the Light" it brought back a lot of nice memories.  It was a hit in 1972, the time when Marilyn and I started dating.  Need I say more?  Rundgren is now 67 years old, has put on some weight, and wore some ridiculous psychedelic outfit (that's him, second from the right in photo below), but he never stopped moving on stage.  He was terrific.

Ringo closed the show, not surprisingly, by doing "With a Little Help from My Friends".  He took his final bow with his Band and left the stage, leaving only his six mates to take the final bow.  I found that to be a remarkably humble and thoughtful gesture.

On a personal note, we had dinner before the show with friends Dan and Susan Bonk and John and Donna Sebastian, and sat with Dan and Susan during the show.

It was wonderful evening, and as we were saying goodnight, Susan commented that we should all consider this night as the perfect start to our Holiday Season.  I couldn't have said it better.

(By the way, all the photos in this post are courtesy of Dan, who obviously has a better  camera than I.  My photos of the night didn't turn out nearly as well, nor did I think to take a selfie.  Thank you, Dan,)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

World Series Prediction, Short and Sweet

I am calling for a World Series victory for the these guys....

The reason is simple, and not very original....pitching.  The Royals probably have a better eight man lineup than the Mets, but I think that the combined talents of deGrom, Harvey, Syndegaard, Matz and the bullpen will prevail.  But really, how great would it be if this goes to seventh game, the Mets starter needs to come out early, and all 42 years and 300 pounds of Bartolo Colon comes out of the bullpen in long relief and heroically pitches the Mets to a Game Seven victory?  Right out of Hollywood, right?  Not that I am predicting that, but it would be fun.

So, here it is: Mets in six games.  And just for an added proposition bet - Lucas Duda for Series MVP.

As always, watch, but don't bet.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Pitt 23 - Syracuse 20

So, there I was, watching the Pitt game and grumbling to myself throughout the second half of the conservative play calling by the Pitt coaches when, lo and behold, Pat Narduzzi pulls a fake punt play out of the playbook and turns the tide of the game. And Pitt goes to 6-1.

Two lessons to be learned here, folks:

  1. There is a reason I spent my life in the health insurance industry and was not a football coach.
  2. The coaches now the talents, and the limitations, of the their players  far better than do those of us watching at home.
A really big game this Thursday night at Pitt, 4-0 in ACC play, takes on North Carolina, 3-0 in ACC play. 

Closing out with this photo of the day from yesterday's game, and the team awaits Chris Blewitt's successful FG attempt that won the game.

Hail to Pitt!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Movie Review: "Bridge of Spies"

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's film critic Barbara Vancheri began her review of "Bridge of Spies" with this simple sentence:

"No one does decency like Tom Hanks."

That, in a nutshell, is why this movie from director Steven Spielberg works so well and is so good.  Tom Hanks.

Of course, there is more to it than that.  There is a terrific story.  In the height go the Cold War, insurance lawyer Jim Donovan (Hanks) is selected to defend a man accused of being a Soviet spy.  Everyone, including the judge in the case, wants a perfunctory trial, a quick conviction, and, it is hoped, and even quicker execution.  Donovan, of course, thinks that a trial should be just that - a fair and impartial hearing in accordance with the U.S. Constitution.   As a result of his stand, Donovan becomes a pariah of sorts to his colleagues, his government (great line from a CIA agent: "Don't go boy scout on me, Counselor."), the people with whom he takes the morning train, and even his own family.

But everything changes when an American, U2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers, is shot down over Soviet airspace, paraded before the world, and tried and convicted as a spy and sentenced to ten years of USSR-style imprisonment.  Just as Donovan predicted, a plan is hatched to exchange Rudolf Abel, the spy that Donovan defended, for Powers, and to whom does the CIA turn but lawyer and negotiator Jim Donovan to make the deal.  The whole process of the Powers-Abel exchange is complicated when Donovan learns that an American student who was in the wrong place at the wrong time has been arrested in East Berlin and charged with espionage by the East German government.  Donovan thinks that this kid should be a part of the deal, too, and I will say no more.

For all you youngsters out there, this is a true story based on actual events.  I am old enough to remember the "U2 incident", as it came to be known, and the Cold War paranoia of those times.  No one can create a mood and paint a picture of an era better than Spielberg, and his images of a cold and snowy East Berlin in 1961, still devastated by the damages of World War II bombings, really bring home the bleakness and fear of that era.  

And as for Hanks, well, he delivers again.  He is a Cold War version of Attticus Finch in this one, doing what he knows to be right while all the while realizing the horrors of the situation that circumstances have thrust upon him.  Plus, he has this damn cold and all he really wants is to get home and sleep in his own bed.  Who can't relate to that?

We are in that time of the year when Hollywood releases what it deems to be its best pictures, the ones that will rack up all the Oscar nominations and awards.  Not sure how many nominations, if any, "Bridge of Spies" will receive, but I can tell you that both Hanks and Spielberg, multiple Oscar winners and nominees in the past, remain at the top of their games in this one.

Four stars from The Grandstander on this one.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Happy Birthday, Whitey Ford

Birthday greetings go out today the New York Yankees great and Baseball Hall of Famer Whitey Ford, who turns 87 on this date.

In doing some research earlier this year for a SABR presentation, I came across some remarkable information on Whitey Ford.  Nothing that was new or previously unknown, but the passage of time, and the proliferation "Post-Season" baseball stats that now inundate us from the Fox and TBS broadcast booths, has caused some of the records of Whitey Ford to recede in memory, but they are nonetheless remarkable still.

By any measure, Whitey Ford had a remarkable career.  Sixteen seasons, all with the Yankees, a 236-106 record with a career ERA of 2.75.  Ford totaled 156 complete games, 45 shut outs, and had eleven seasons where he pitched at least 200 innings.  Ford pitched on eleven Yankees teams that won American League pennants, and six of those teams won the World Series, and it is Ford's remarkable performance in those eleven Series that I want to note today.

It has now been fifty-one years since Ford pitched on the Fall Classic, and it should be noted that Whitey Ford STILL holds the World Series records for....

Games Started - 22
Innings Pitched - 146
Wins - 10
Losses - 8
Strike Outs - 94
Walks - 34

He also pitched three shut outs in the World Series, which ties him for second place in that all-time category.

When a great athlete lives a long time, he may sometimes be forgotten as the people who saw them play get older and older and fewer and fewer.  New stars come along, and the mists of history obscure past heroes.  However, as we get ready to watch the World Series that will begin next week, let's not forget the stars of the past, and Whitey Ford, was surely one of the biggest of those stars.

Happy birthday!

Game Six, 1960, Forbes Field

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Old Movie Review - "Born Yesterday" (1950)

As the ad pictured above states, "Born Yesterday" was a hit Broadway play by Garson Kanin, that was made into a George Cukor directed movie in 1950.  I watched this movie for the first time just last night.  I had seen clips of this movie from time to time over the years, and three years ago, I saw a production of the original play staged by the Pittsburgh Public Theater.  I confess that I was most familiar with this movie, not so much for the fact that Judy Holliday won the Best Actress Oscar for this role, but for whom she beat out to win that Oscar, but more on that later.

The plot of the movie is a variation on the Pygmallion theme.  Holliday plays Billie Dawn, the quintessential Dumb Blonde, who is the mistress of Harry Brock, a rough and tumble, crude and crooked business man, played by Broderick Crawford.  Brock comes to Washington DC in an effort to bribe a Congressman or two as a way of making his businesses even more profitable.  So as not to be embarrassed by his not-so-bright mistress, he engages a Washington journalist, Paul Verrall, played by William Holden, to tutor her and "smarten her up".

The predictable happens.  Holliday turns out to be a lot smarter than anyone thought, she comes to realize just how crooked and awful a person Crawford is, and, of course, she and Holden fall in love.  Holliday originated the role of Billie Dawn on Broadway to much acclaim, but, as is often the case in Hollywood, she was not the first choice to play the role in the movie, Jean Arthur was, but through some series of machinations, Holliday eventually got the part anyway, and good for the movie viewing public that she did.

It is a nice little comedy with a nice message.  The cast is terrific.  Holliday was quite a  comedic talent - the scene of her and Crawford playing gin is a classic - Crawford is excellent as the contemptible Harry, and as for Holden, well, let's just say that "Born Yesterday" keeps in tact a string for me of having never seen Holden be less than absolutely terrific in anything that I have ever see him do.

The movie was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay, but its only win was Holliday's Best Actress Oscar, and let's talk about that one. That Oscar victory has to be one of the greatest of all time because of whom she beat out for the prize.  Also, nominated that year were what many consider two of the greatest roles for an actress in the history of movies:  Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Blvd." and Bette Davis in "All About Eve".  I had always thought that this was a case of two clear cut front runners splitting the vote and allowing for an upset win by Miss Holliday.  In doing some Internet research on this, I learned that the vote was indeed split, but not so much between Swanson and Davis, but between Davis and Anne Baxter, who also received a Best Actress nomination for "All About Eve".  Regardless, Holliday was terrific as Billie Dawn, and her Oscar was well earned.

Now, here's a real trivia question for you, after an all-star ballot of Holliday, Swanson, Davis, and Baxter for "Born Yesterday", "Sunset Blvd.", and "All About Eve", who was the fifth actress nominated for the prize that year? Give up? it was Eleanor Parker for a movie called "Caged".

Oh, and here is a brief portion of that gin game that I alluded to earlier.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Romancing the Jones

Quite a big football weekend here in Pittsburgh, but let's start out with what might have been the biggest surprise of the season thus far.


That the Steelers defeated the Cardinals yesterday was surprise enough.  That they did it behind the quarterbacking of Landry Jones was downright amazing.  You know the story by now: an ineffective Mike Vick was injured in the third quarter, replaced by Jones, playing in his very first regular season action after three years as the third team QB, who then proceeded to lead the Steelers on two field goal and two touchdown drives, and a 25-13 win over the favored Arizona Cardinals.  To say that this was shocking is an understatement, but the Ben-less Steelers now sit at 4-2.  Amazing.

Some observations:
  • It was thought by many, including Yours Truly, that the defense of the Steelers would be its undoing in 2015, but, amazingly, the defense has played surprisingly well.  True, they did surrender about a zillion yards to Carson Palmer and the Cardinals offense, but all that the Cards could do with those zillion yards was score one TD and two FG's.
  • And it needs to be noted that coming into this game, the Cardinal's 38 ppg scoring average was the highest in the NFL.
  • Forcing four turnovers can have that effect on a team.
  • Speaking of turnovers, the Steelers have forced eleven of them in six games thus far.  In all of 2014, they only produced 21 of them.
  • Antonio Brown needs to shut up, stop hectoring his QB on the sidelines, and be more concerned with how his team can win a ballgame, as opposed to how he can pad his stats.
  • The Steelers threw only seven passes in the first half with Vick at quarterback.  Have Vick's skills as a QB eroded to such a degree that the Steelers cannot trust him to open it up and pass freely?  If so, why did they sign him as a back-up QB in the first place?
  • I didn't listen to any of the post-game call-in shows, but tell me, how long did it take for some Yinzer to call in and suggest that the Steelers now trade Ben Roethlisberger, while his value is high, and install Jones as the #1 QB?  I'll bet it didn't take more than thirty minutes.
  • Kuddos to Facebook friend Dave Glass for being the first to observe that we might have seen the "Wally Pipp-ing" of Michael Vick yesterday by Landry Jones.
  • While legions of Steelers loyalists probably hated it, I kind of got a kick out of Troy Aikman verbally slipping and referring to the Steelers QB as "Tom Landry".  Perfectly understandable mistake.
  • Speaking of Aikman, that Miller Lite commercial of him buying beer at the convenience store is quite good.
But let's not allow that Steelers win to overshadow this one...


In the excitement of an unexpected Steelers win, let's not lose sight of what I feel to be a really, really nice win for the Pitt Panthers on the road against Georgia Tech on Saturday.  It was wildly entertaining game, that was eventually decided by Chris Blewitt's 56 yard field goal, the longest field goal in Pitt history (that that, Freddy Cox!).  Memories of the beatdown that Tech put on Pitt at Heinz field last year (and really, the beat down that Pitt put on itself in that game with those six fumbles), made this one especially sweet.

What I liked best about this game was this.  With the score 21-21 at the half, and Tech scoring on and making big plays against Pitt, Pat Narduzzi gave the usual coach-speak blather to the on field reporter about how "we need to make some adjustments on defense", and guess what?  Pitt really DID make those adjustments, and held Tech to only seven points in the second half.  Seeing something like that really happening before your eyes is really encouraging if you are  a PItt fan.

So, Pitt now sits at 5-1 and has cracked the Top 25 for the first time since 2010.  The schedule is going to start to get tougher with Syracuse on the road, and then North Carolina and Notre Dame at Heinz Field in the next there weeks, but it is hard not to start getting excited about we are seeing out of Pat Narduzzi and his Panthers this season.

As I said, a nice weekend for Pittsburgh football fans, although the Penn State and West Virginia fans in the tri-state area can't be real pleased about how their favorite teams fared this weekend.  I'll just let it go at that.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

This, That, and The Other.....

Some selected short subjects.....

The disappointment of the Pirates loss to the Cubs in the NL Wild Card game last week temporarily dampened my enthusiasm of the MLB post-season, and I have only caught bits and pieces of the four Division Series games.  However, I expect the enthusiasm will pick up soon, beginning with tonight's Game Five between the Mets and the Dodgers.  I'm calling for a Dodger win. As always, watch, but don't bet.


Now I did happen to see the tumultuous and never-ending seventh inning between the Rangers and Blue Jays yesterday.  The major discussion point following that game appears to be this moment:

Ah, yes, the moment when Jose Bautista either (a) had a deep emotional moment and flipped his bat after hitting a three run home run that would lead to the Jays winning the game and the Series, or  (b) had a moment where he defied baseball's hallowed unwritten code and disrespected his opponents by flipping his bat after hitting a three run home run that would lead to the Jays winning the game and the Series.

I am not sure where I come down on the subject of bat-flipping and baseball's unwritten code.  I can come down on either side, I suppose, depending on the circumstances and the players involved, but I do know this:  If any team deserved being "disrespected" at that moment, it was the Rangers, who had just put on an exhibit of infield defense that would have been an embarrassment to a team of six-year old kids playing tee ball.  After the Rangers effectively gave the Jays six outs in that inning, if Cole Hamels didn't go ballistic and belt somebody in the club house after the game, he surely thought about it.


Did you see that the University of Southern California fired their football coach, Steve Sarkisian, this week, five games into the season?  Two years ago, USC fired HC Lane Kiffen five games into that season.  USC, one of the more vaunted programs in all of the history of college football is now on its fourth head coach in three seasons.  Pretty soon, they'll be calling them the "Pitt of the West" !

Seriously, AD Pat Haden ought to think about returning to the broadcast booth real soon.


Earlier this week, I had to undergo a medical procedure (nothing serious folks, thank you for asking), and the medical professional who administered the test was a dead ringer for Jerry Garcia. He told me not to worry and that "I will survive" .

Monday, October 12, 2015

Movie Review: "The Martian"

Everybody has been raving about the latest movie from Ridley Scott, "The Martian", so let me add my voice to those raves.

You probably know the basics of the story.  A manned NASA mission to Mars is in place, when some sort of catastrophe occurs.  In this case, it is a severe storm on Mars.   The six person crew struggles to get aboard their craft and leave Mars, cutting short their planned mission.  During the storm, astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, gets separated from the crew and is killed.  The crew barely boards their spacecraft, but they are able to take off and is head for home.  However, surprise!, Watney isn't dead.  He has survived the catastrophe, but he is now alone on Mars, no one knows he's alive, and even if they did, there is no way to get to him and save him.

So, what does Watney do once he realizes his predicament?  How can he possibly survive, and what do the scientists (and bureaucrats at NASA) do once they realize that their fallen hero is alive?  Well, I'm not going to tell you.  The details of what follows make for a terrific story and a great movie.

You may think that this is purely a science fiction movie, but it's not.  It is an old fashioned, edge of your seat "rescue movie", if there is such a genre.  I couldn't even begin to understand the science in the movie, and I doubt that half of the audience wouldn't either, but it's not important to understand how Watney produces water or if the thrusters are being operated properly.  Just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Matt Damon is positively terrific in this movie.  Probably 95% of the time he is on screen, and he is on screen for most of the movie, he is all by himself.  That can't be an easy thing for an actor to do.  An Oscar nomination for Damon as Watney would surely not be an injustice, but we'll see how that plays out once the big "important", Oscar-worthy movies are rolled out towards the end of the year.  Others of note in the movie are Jeff Daniels as the NASA Director, Chiwetel Ejiofor and the Mission Director on the ground, Jessica Chastain and the Mission Commander, and Kristin Wiig and the NASA PR Director.  All are great, but I might quibble with the way Daniels plays his role as the uptight NASA Director.

This movie has been compared with both "Gravity" and "Apollo 13" and not without merit.  In my mind, it is much, much better than "Gravity" and certainly on par with "Apollo 13".  In my own mind, I might rate "Apollo 13" a bit ahead of "The Martian" because the story of Apollo 13 was, you know, true.

Visually, "The Martian" is stunning.  Scenes on the Martian landscape make you really feel the vastness and desolation.  Amazing stuff.  I saw the movie in 3D, which is cool, but I am not so sure that the movie would have been any less spectacular had I seen it is two dimension, so maybe you can save yourself a couple of bucks there.  Also, it is long, maybe a little too long at two hours and twenty minutes.  So you might not want to buy a large soda before entering the theater, if you know what I mean.  

Four stars all the way on this one.  Don't miss it.

Pitt 26 - Virginia 19

A very busy Sunday yesterday kept me away from the keyboard, so I realize that I am at least 24 hours late with this post, but I did not want to let time pass without mentioning my impressions of Pitt's 26-19 victory over Virginia at Heinz field on Saturday afternoon.

Five games into Head Coach Pat Narduzzi's (or HCPN as the hip social media posters put it) reign, the Panthers sit at 4-1.  How good that record actually is will not be determined until the end of the season when we see (a) how Pitt finishes over its next seven games, and (b) it is determined just how good, or not so good, Iowa, Virginia Tech, and Virginia prove to be.  Still, the Panthers sit at 2-0 in ACC play and one fact is undeniable:  the defensive performance put on by Pitt over these first five games of the season is light years ahead of what we had seen over the last few seasons at Pitt, and it appears to be for real.  In this regard, the new staff under Narduzzi seems to have already made a real difference for Pitt.

One thing that is missing, and Narduzzi seemed to be saying this in his post-game presser, is that Pitt has not yet acquired the ability to definitively put teams away when they have them down.  Pitt controlled the games and was the better team against both VT and UVA in the last two weeks, but in both instances, they could not deliver a decisive knockout punch, and, as a result, both opponents had the chance to beat Pitt long past the time when each game should have been, for all intents and purposes, over.  The good news is that Pitt, in fact, did win those games.  In past years, they would have lost them.  (See Pitt vs. Houston in Whatever Crummy Bowl it was they played in last season.)

So, good times appear to be ahead in the long range future for Pitt under HCPN.  In the short range, tough games lie ahead in coming weeks, including home games with North Carolina, Notre Dame, Louisville, and Miami. It's not going to get any easier, but I, for one, am feeling much more optimistic today than I did at any point last season in the third year of the Chryst Era.

A road trip to Georgia Tech awaits next Saturday.  Tech does not have a good record, but a road trip to the heart of ACC country should be a big test, regardless of the opponent.

Friday, October 9, 2015

A Movie and A Book from 1999

In recent days I have aught up with an old book and an old movie, both of which hit the marketplace, coincidentally, in 1999.

The first was the following movie...

My long aversion to prison movies long outweighed my liking of Tom Hanks, so I had never seen this Academy Award nominated movie (it didn't win).  However, at the urging of my friend Bill Montrose - he loaned me his DVD of the flick - I finally watched this, and, yes, I liked it.  It was long and leisurely (three hours), and well acted.  Like "The Shawshank Redemption" (another prison movie that I finally got around to watching thanks to Mr. Montrose), it was directed by Frank Darabont and based on a story by Stephen King.

I thought Shawshank was a better movie.  Green Mile leaned a bit too heavily on mystical or supernatural elements for my tastes, but that's Stephen King for you, and I've never been a fan of his.

Still, the movie featured Tom Hanks and that can never be a bad thing.

After one has seen an older movie like this one, it is interesting to go on line and read reviews off the movie that came out when the movie did.  "The Green Mile" was far from a unanimous hit with the critics back in 1999.  It has, however, stood the test of time fairly well, thanks in large part, I believe, to the performance of Tom Hanks.


The book that I read was "Majic Man" by Max Allan Collins. This was another in his series featuring private eye Nate Heller, and if you read this Blog, you know I love these stories.  

This one takes place in 1949, and finds Nate working for real life Secretary of Defense James Forrestal.  Along the way, Nate also gets involved with muck-raking Washington DC columnist Drew Pearson, the supposed UFO landing at Roswell, NM in 1947, has dinner with Harry Truman, gets beat up and kidnapped by the Air Force, almost gets killed, has sex with a beautiful woman (of course, he does!), meets up with several other real life historical figures, and offers an alternative theory to Mr. Forrestal's suicide in 1949, and a theory of what REALLY happened in Roswell.  Like all of the other Heller novels, it's a really fun and terrific read.

Max Allan Collins has written fifteen Nate Heller novels, and, I am sad to say, that only one, "Chicago Confidential" (2002), remains for me to read.  I think I will put of reading that one for awhile, because I know that there will be no more Heller stories left once that one is done.  

A Very Special Absent Friend

I am in the habit of posting these "Absent Friends" write-ups whenever someone well known, or famous, or even semi-famous, passes away.  However, this week, we lost a good friend and wonderful person.  Because this lady was not a public figure in the accepted sense of the term, I wasn't sure whether or not to mention it in this blog, but then decided that I would, but not mention her name.  I am not sure that it is my place to do so.

The friend that we lost was a fellow volunteer with Marilyn and I at the Highmark Caring Place.  We have known her and worked with her for six years, and she was truly a wonderful and special person.  The kids and families  she worked with at the Caring Place loved her, and all of her fellow volunteers REALLY loved her.

In July, we leaned that she had developed cancer.  Her battle with the disease was a brief one, and it ended this past Monday evening.  She was 57 years old.

She described herself as a "professional volunteer", and in addition to the Caring Place, she will be missed by her parish, her local library, and many other organizations where she gave so much of herself.

She was a very special person, and I wish that all of you out here could have known her.

Rest in Peace, PLN.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

And So It Ends....

As it did in 2014, the Pirates 2015 season ended with a Wild Card loss.  This time, it was 4-0 to Jake Arietta and the Chicago Cubs.

Much of the pre-game strum und drag  centered around Clint Hurdle's decision to start Sean Rodriguez and first base and sit Pedro Alvarez.  In what was thought would be a tight pitchers' duel, Hurdle and the Pirates' advanced metrics boys went with defense over offense.  Of course, the Cubs jumped to a 3-0 lead, and all of a sudden the Pirates had to play for offense, and Alvarez pinch hit for Rodriguez on his first turn in the order.  Alvarez responded by going 0-for-3 with three strike outs.  Of course, no one else in the line-up hit either, as the Pirates recorded only four hits, and Arietta continued his almost unprecedented streak of pitching excellence.

The game was also sparked by a benches clearing brawl in the seventh inning when Tony Watson hit Arietta in the butt with a pitched ball.  The back story here is that Arietta had previously plunked two Pirates, one of whom, Francisco Cervelli, had to quickly fall backwards as the ball was headed right for his face.  Anyway, Watson responded by hitting Arietta in his left ass cheek, about the least vulnerable spot to hit a batter.  Instead of taking first base, Arietta had to start jawing at Watson, and that led to the benches clearing.

I found it interesting that announcer Ron Darling, a pretty good pitcher in his day and a smart guy (he has a degree from Yale) to boot, said, and I am paraphrasing here, if you hit two of the other teams batters, you have a nice lead, and then you get plunked in the butt by the other team's pitcher, smile and jog down to first base.  If Arietta had done that instead of jawing with Watson, there would have been no incident.

Right now I am betting that Tony Watson is the most popular guy in the clubhouse amongst his teammates.

Back to Alvarez.  What we all saw last night was surely Pedro's last appearance in a Pirate  uniform.  How he was used by the Pirates this season made it apparent that the team had  lost their patience with such a one dimensional player, and the decision to not start him yesterday surly reinforced that notion.  I have always been a Pedro backer.  Many times over these last six seasons, and as recently as just this past Sunday afternoon, I have been in awe of how far he can hit a baseball.  Last night, however,  truly encapsulated the Conundrum that is Pedro Alvarez:  Over the course of 162 games, he will hit a lot of home runs, but when it comes down to any one specific game, he is far more likely to do what he did last night - strike out three times - than he is to launch one on the river walk.

I am sure that I will be writing a lot more about Pedro over the course of the off-season that started at about 11:00 last night.

It was certainly a disappointing end last night, but I am going to try, really try, not to let that sour finish mar what was a pretty terrific season for the Pirates.

How many days 'til pitchers and catchers report?

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Pirates Regular Season Ends

Back on April 3, I wrote a post on The Grandstander called "How I See the 2015 Pirates".  It consisted of 17 points concerning things I DO WORRY and I DO NOT WORRY about the Pirates as the season began.  You can go look it up if you care to do so, but on balance I think I did pretty well.  For example, I stated that I DO NOT WORRY about the top of the rotation, and "that Gerrit Cole is poised to become an elite pitcher in the National League."  

I believe I had that one.

I also said that 

"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."

Oh, well, you can't win 'em all.

As to the bottom line, I had this to say:

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

Wrong on both counts.  The Pirates did not edge out the Cardinals, which was not good, but they did win 98, not 91, games, which was fantastic.

Changes lie ahead for the Pirates following the post-season, and there will be plenty of time to ruminate on that when the time comes.  What is important to remember now, I think, is what an absolutely terrific season the Pirates gave us in 2015.  I said to my companions, Dan Bonk and Len Martin at the season finale yesterday, that I honestly believe that this 2015 team was one of the very best and most exciting Pirates teams that I have seen in my now fifty-seven seasons of following the team, and that includes three World Series winning years.  I truly mean that.

Regardless of whether the post season lasts one game or twenty games for the Bucs, this one was an absolute blast!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Lost Weekend

Yes, this was to be the weekend of a "Guys Trip" to Blacksburg, VA to see Pitt take on Virginia Tech.  However, the dire news of torrential rains, high winds, flash flooding, road closures, Hurricane Joaquin, and the Governor of Virginia declaring a state of emergency across the state, well, come Thursday afternoon, a unanimous decision was reached among the six of us to cancel the trip.  But, hey, we all have that unused ticket as a souvenir of What Might Have Been.

Too bad, because we missed what was an impressive win by Pitt.  The 17-13 score makes the game seem closer than it actually was, as Pitt put on a thoroughly dominating defensive performance in stifling the Hokies.  Pitt now stands at 3-1, and yesterday's win was the most impressive of the season thus far because (a) it was against an ACC opponent, and (b) let's face it, Pitt SHOULD win against schools like Youngstown State and Akron (something they were NOT able to do in the not so recent past).

One thought that I had in watching this game was that the offensive play-calling by Pitt seemed to be really conservative.  My question is, is this a function of

a) The weather conditions in Blacksburg yesterday,
b) The abilities of the offensive personnel, or
c) Coaching philosophy 

If the answer is (a), okay, I get it.  

If the answer is (b), then you have to trust that the new coaching staff will recruit better players.

If the answer is (c), then I guess we better get used to seeing a lot of runs into the line, punts inside of the opponents forty, screen passes on third-and-eight that gain six yards, and not-so-high scoring games.  This will be okay so long as the defense can continue to play like they did yesterday, and, oh, yeah, Pitt wins.

Now, bring on those UVA Cavaliers next week!

Friday, October 2, 2015

"The Diary of Anne Frank"

 Earlier this week, we attended a performance of the Pittsburgh Public Theater's initial presentation of its 2015-16 season, "The Diary of Anne Frank".  Like so many of you, I read this book in high school (no doubt before I could fully appreciate it) and had seen the movie many years ago, but this was the first time that I had ever seen a stage production of this play (a Tony Award winner for Best Play in 1955).

When telling someone about this the other night, I used the phrase "hope in the midst of horror" in describing this play.  The story of Anne Frank and her famous diary is well known, and it is still a story that is hard to grasp.  It is a story that cannot be told often enough.  There is a reason, I suppose, why "The Diary of Anne Frank" remains required reading in high schools today (or, at least, I hope it remains required reading).

We have been attending plays at the PPT, a jewel in the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's crown, since the 1980's, and I cannot recall having seen a better production than this one, nor one that captivated and moved the audience as did this one.  This is a production that should be seen by as many people as possible.

Here is a picture of Remy Zaken, the lovely twenty-six year old actress who plays Anne Frank on stage at the O'Reilly Theater.  She is wonderful in it, as is the rest of the cast.

Ravens 23 - Steelers 20; The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Well, if you care at all about it, you already know what happened at Heinz Field last night, so let's just break it down as follows:

The Good

  • The Steelers defense was going to be the downfall of the team this year, everybody said, but since being torched by Brady and the Pats in Week 1, that unit has turned in three very respectful performances.   Granted, the 49'ers, Rams, and Ravens may turn out to be bad teams, but you can only play the teams the schedule puts out in front of you.
  • Le'Veon Bell is back and appears to be as good or better than ever.
  • At least it didn't rain and turn the Heinz Field turf into a quagmire that would have been an embarrassment on national television.
The Bad
  • The offensive playbook seemed to have been dumbed-down for new QB Mike Vick, but why?  It seemed like the Steelers were afraid to let Vick even try to throw down field.  As a result, we got a lot of screen passes that gained six yards in third-and-eight-type situations.  Is it because....
  • ...Vick just isn't any good anymore?  Time was, Vick was an all-pro QB who could run, and, just as importantly, sling the ball all over the place.  Vick is only two years older than Ben Roethlisberger, and three years younger than Tom Brady, so I am guessing that there ability is still in there, so the Steelers offensive game planners may need to let him loosen up a bit.  
  • Or, perhaps I'm wrong on that, and Vick really is over the hill, in which case, that Big Ben injury really is going to take down this whole season for the Steelers.
The Ugly
  • Do I really have to say it?  All I'm thinking is that Kevin Colbert has been on the phone all day looking up out of work place kickers.
  • Because of Josh Scobee's performance, I will NOT criticize Mike Tomlin for going for first down in the overtime.  I wouldn't have either.  
  • If I will be critical of Tomlin, it will be for attempting a FG on fourth and four near the end of regulation after Scobee missed a FG attempt earlier.  (A) The Steelers might have made the first down, which would have clinched the game, (B) even if they didn't make it, it would have bled some time off the clock, and (C) it would have caused Baltimore to start seven yards deeper than they did after the missed FG; those yards could have made a big difference.
I will close it out with this meme seen on Facebook this morning, which I thought was pretty funny: