Thursday, December 29, 2016

To The Absent Friends of 2016

I am not the first person to note what a depressingly sad year 2016 has been in terms of the many famous and prominent people that the world has lost in these twelve months...and there are still three days left in it!

As readers know, I make it a regular feature of this blog to note whenever a prominent person in the world of politics, sports, show business, pop culture, or people who may not be well known or prominent but whose life accomplishments strike me as fascinating dies.  I call them "Absent Friends", and, as I do every year, I credit the late, great sports writer Red Smith, who always used the term Absent Friends when writing of someone no longer with us.

In 2016, I have noted thirty-nine such Absent Friends. There are a lot of famous people who left us this year that are not on my list, but The Grandstander's list is not intended to be all encompassing.  As I said, these are the people whose lives and deaths struck a particular chord to me.  If you care to do so, you can type the names in the search box in the upper left corner of the screen to see what I wrote about them at the time of their deaths.

Herewith, a final A Final Salute to the Absent Friends of 2016.

David Bowie
Glen Frey
Abe Vigoda
Bob Elliott
Edgar Mitchell
Wesley A. Clark
George Kennedy
Nancy Reagan
Al Wistert
George Martin
Joe Garagiola
Ken Howard
Earl Hamner Jr.
Patty Duke
Father Daniel Berrigan
William Schallert
Madeleine LeBeau
Muhammad Ali
Pat Summitt
Scotty Moore
John McMartin
Garry Marshall
Bill Cardille
Marni Nixon
B.E. Taylor
Arnold Palmer
Sally O'Leary
Robert "Keith" Manherz
Ralph Branca
Florence Henderson
Ann Rule
Ron Glass
Al Caiola
John Glenn
Alan Thicke
Craig Sager
Zsa Zsa Gabor
Carrie Fisher
Debbie Reynolds

RIP to All.

Two Absent Friends - Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

In an almost unbelievable turn of events, death claimed two show biz luminaries from the same family on two consecutive days this past week in the persons of Debbie Reynolds and her daughter, Carrie Fisher. 

Carrie Fisher

Over the weekend it was learned that Carrie Fisher had suffered a "cardiac incident" while on an airplane.  Upon landing, she was hospitalized and her condition was listed as "stable", which does not necessarily mean "good", and she died on Tuesday at the age of sixty.  To most of the general public, Miss Fisher will forever be remembered  as Princess Leia in the many Star Wars films in which she appeared.  To me, I will remember her many movies and episodic television shows in which she was usually cast as the "best friend".  Two of these that immediately spring to mind are "When Harry Met Sally" wherein she played the best friend to Meg Ryan, and "Hannah and Her Sisters" wherein she was the best friend of Dianne Wiest.  IMDB lists 90 acting credits for her, as well and credits as a writer and producer. 

Fisher was the child of a famous Hollywood marriage between Miss Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher.  Her life was not always easy.  She suffered from addiction issues and depression, but she seemed to emerge from those years in decent shape, enough so as to have had a solid show biz career of her own.  Her novel, "Postcards From the Edge", was a best seller that depicted the problems of growing up with prominent parents, and was loosely based on her own life.  It became a hit movie that starred Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine.  Fisher wrote the screenplay.

Debbie Reynolds

The day after Fisher's death, the news came that Fisher's mother, Debbie Reynolds, had suffered a severe stroke, and she died later that same day.  It is perhaps the oldest cliche in the book to say in such circumstance that someone died from a broken heart, but what else can one conclude in this instance?  Her son and Fisher's brother, Todd Fisher, was quoted as saying that "She said she wanted to be with Carrie, and she was gone."

Reynolds had a solid career as a leading lady in the movies, and she was an Academy Award nominee.  She also appeared on TV, Broadway, and a touring performer in night clubs and Las Vegas.  She pretty much worked up until the very end of her life.  IMDB lists 82 acting credits for her, which were actually fewer credits than her daughter had (and, yes, I'd have lost if you had bet me on that).  After few bit parts in one or two movies, she was plucked from obscurity when studio boss Louis B. Mayer cast her in the lead of the 1952 movie, "Singin' In The Rain".  She would be paired with two of the most seasoned and best dancers in all of show business, Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor, and she was only nineteen years old.  The movie is now considered the best movie musical ever made, and many critics and historians consider it among the Top Ten American movies of all time.

For all her on screen success, though, she was, as often happens, unlucky in love.  Eddie Fisher left her and their children to take up with and marry Elizabeth Taylor.  It was one of the great scandals of Hollywood back in the 1950's.  Two subsequent marriages ended when both of those husbands bilked Reynolds of all of her money.  She was forced to hit the road with her night club act in order to pay off creditors and debts rolled up by those two guys.

The Associated Press obituary for Reynolds makes some fascinating reading and it concludes with a delightful story about her and Elizabeth Taylor.  At some point in time long after the Fisher-Taylor scandal (Taylor herself had long since been divorced from Fisher), the two actress found out that they were coincidentally sailing together on the ship, Queen Elizabeth. The two actresses exchanged notes and agreed to meet for dinner on the ship.  As Reynolds then told it, "She was married to Richard Burton by then.  I had remarried at that point, and we just said 'Let's just call it a day', and we got smashed and had a great evening and stayed friends ever since."   In fact, both Reynolds and Taylor appeared together in a 2001 TV movie called "These Old Broads".  One of the co-writers of the script for that movie was....Carrie Fisher!

That's a great story!

I can think of no better way to end this post than by including this terrific clip from "Singin' in the Rain".  

RIP Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Steelers 31 - Ravens 27

I watched the Steelers' big Christmas Day match-up with Ravens amidst the bustle of a house filled with family following a superb Christmas dinner, so it was festive atmosphere in the household, and the two teams sure gave us a whale of a contest as a Christmas gift.

By now, you all know what happened.  A 31 point fourth quarter that was an inverse of the Dallas game of a few weeks.  This time, it was the Ravens who lost a late lead, only to gain it back in the closing minutes, only to cough it up again in the closing seconds of the game on the spectacular play at the goal line by Antonio Brown pictured above.  This was the culmination of a 75 yard drive led by Ben Roethlisberger that took fifty-nine seconds to complete.  

In a game wherein Big Ben threw two almost soul-crushing interceptions, he came back in the fourth quarter to lead the Steelers on not one, not two, but THREE fourth quarter touchdown drives to pull out this come-from-behind win that clinched the AFC North for the Steelers and the third seed in the AFC playoffs.  Let's pull out all the cliches for this one...when the chips are down, when you're back is to the wall, when the cold wind blows,  when hope is gone, and your team is down, and facing long, if now impossible odds, to pull out a victory, is there any quarterback you would rather have leading your team than Ben Roethlisberger?  As great as Terry Bradshaw was, and he WAS great, if he started a game poorly, or threw a couple of critical interceptions (as Ben did yesterday), chances were that that was the Bradshaw you would have seen for the rest of the game.  Not so with Roethlisberger. As long as he is manning the controls and the game is within reach, the Steelers will have a chance to win the game.  He has done it time and again over the course of his career.


So, here is what I had to say back on September 9 when the Steelers were about to begin the season:

In 2016, the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to win twelve games, win the AFC North Division and gain first round playoff bye, win the AFC Championship, and win the Super Bowl.  I'm not going to make a prediction as to who they will play in the Super Bowl, because, who cares?  The Steelers are going to take home that seventh Lombardi Trophy.  

If you count them up, there are five predictions in that paragraph:
  1. The Steelers will win twelve games.  Okay, so the best they can do is eleven wins.  I'll take it.
  2. The Steelers will win the AFC North Division.  I believe I had that.
  3. The Steelers will gain a first round playoff bye.  Didn't happen, but they will be at Heinz Field in the first round against the #6 seed. Again, I'll take it.
  4. The Steelers will win the AFC Championship.
  5. The Steelers will win the Super Bowl.
I am standing by Numbers 4 and 5.


Speaking of Terry Bradshaw, he was in the news again last week for his comments about Mike Tomlin who, according the Bradshaw, is just "not a very good head coach".  Is he kidding us?  Bradshaw has spent most of his post playing career making outrageous comments about Steelers coaches, and this is just the latest.  He is quite good in his role as a Fox studio analyst/talking head, but he has been at it for so long that he as become, as someone has noted, a caricature of himself, and this comment seems to support that theory.

My buddy Jim Haller has urged be to bestow one of these upon Old Number 12:

However, for all that Bradshaw has done for the Steelers as a player - there are those four Lombardi Trophies, after all - I just can't bring myself to bestow an official Grandstander  H.A. Citation upon him.  He deserves better than that, but he also deserves NOT to be taken seriously when he makes such ridiculous comments as the ones he made about Tomlin last week.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Lots going on that are begging for comments from The Grandstander....the Pirates sign a couple of pitchers and reports are that they STILL may be in the market to dump Andrew McCutchen's salary trade Andrew McCutchen.....huge game for the Steelers against the Ravens on Sunday....Pitt in the Pinstripe Bowl....Pitt loses an Athletic Director....lots of new movies opening....the Annual Summary of Absent Friends....the Annual Summary of Books football players skipping bowl games .....

Yep, lots to wrIte and comment upon, but the next few days are shaping up to be very busy ones in this section of the Grandstand, so it may be awhile until I get to these hot topics.  In the meantime, however, The Grandstander has one very important message to deliver:



Monday, December 19, 2016

To Absent Friends - Zsa Zsa Gabor

Zsa Zsa Gabor

The headline that streamed across the Internet announcing the death of 99 year old Zsa Zsa Gabor yesterday said it all:

"Zsa Zsa Gabor, Famously Famous, Dies at 99."

Yes, sixty years before the Kardashian sisters turned Being Famous for Being Famous into a multi-million dollar industry, Zsa Zsa Gabor beat them to it.  Of course, being a C-list actress with an exotic first name and an intriguing Hungarian accent in the 1950's and -60's didn't earn you millions in an era before there were Social Media and TV Reality shows, so Zsa Zsa made her bones by getting mentioned in Earl Wilson columns, appearing endlessly on the Merv Griffin Show, and marrying and divorcing with astonishing frequency.

Whenever I think of Zsa Zsa Gabor, which I admit isn't often, I recall a television commercial from the late Sixties or early Seventies (and I regret to say that I could not find it on YouTube, dammit!) for Midas Muffler, wherein Zsa Zsa gets a new muffler on her car, looks into the camera and lasciviously says "If you need and new muffler, dahling, go to Midas and tell them Zsa Zsa sends you."

Get it?

RIP Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Steelers 24 - Bengals 20

Like I have said on this site before, there are three things in life on which you can rely: Death, Taxes, and the Cincinnati Bungles.

Four consecutive defensive penalties on a drive that allowed the Steelers to score the go-ahead (and winning) touchdown.  That was just so deliciously Bengals-like.

Bengals fans head for home on the Escaloser.
(Thank you, Tim Baker!)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Iced In On A Saturday Morning....

Icy driveways, streets, and road conditions have us housebound this Saturday morning, so I made us a couple of omelets, turned on the Christmas music, and now I share some football thoughts with you all.....

The Steelers sit at 8-5, one game ahead of Baltimore, and their remaining three games are against AFC North opponents.  They control their own destiny.  Win them all, and they win the division and could possibly, depending one what Oakland and Kansas City do, gain  a first round bye in the playoffs.  Who thought this was possible after that last minute loss to Dallas dropped them to 4-5?

One thing that I see as a very positive sign for the Steelers in 2016 is that their top three draft picks of last spring, Artie Burns, Sean Davis, and Javon Hargrave, are all starting for the team on defense, and are playing very well.  Time will tell just how good these players will be, but this is a positive development, and when you consider the contributions of players like Bud Dupree, Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, and Cam Hayward, you realize that in the space of a season and half, the defense has gotten a whole lot younger.  That is a very good sign for the rest of this season and for, perhaps, the rest of this decade.


The Pitt Panthers will be taking on Northwestern on December 28 in the Pinstripe Bowl in New York.  I didn't want to let the season end without saying a few words about senior quarterback Nate Peterman.

Peterman came to Pitt as a transfer from Tennessee one or two head coaches/offensive coordinators ago, and became the full time starter early in 2015.  In those two seasons, Peterman's performance has often been overshadowed by guys like James Conner, Tyler Boyd, and Quadree Henderson, but it needs to be noted that he has been a solid and good to very good performer at the most important position on the field for Pitt.  In 2016, he passed for 2,602 yards, for 26 TDs and only 6 INTs while completing 59.7% of his passes.  He also rushed for 291 yards, a 4.2 yard average, and scored two TDs.

Peterman was certainly no Dan Marino or Matt Cavanaugh, and maybe not even Alex Van Pelt, but he was, as a I said a very good QB for Pitt in his time here.  I have no idea as to whether or not he has the goods to make it in the NFL, but I do know that the Panthers have some very big shoes to fill at quarterback when spring practice rolls around.

Here's hoping for a big game for Nate Peterman in his final game at Yankee Stadium in two weeks, and for a great future for him in any endeavor he chooses.

Pitt Football was in the news this week when offensive coordinator Matt Canada accepted the same position at Louisiana State.  This is the second year in a row that Pitt has lost its OC to one of the "big boys" in the SEC.  Joe Starkey of the Post-Gazette wrote a great column on this topic earlier in the week, and it highlighted the good news/bad news nature off this development.  On the "Good" side, Pitt is obviously doing well enough that it's coaches are being coveted by the elite unlimited budgeted programs in the SEC like Georgia and LSU.   On the "Bad" side is the stark reality that Pitt either can't or won't be able to compete with these football factories when they come to Oakland to strip the cupboard bare, and one wonders when, should Pitt's football successes continue, will one of these monsters come dangling a mega-contract under the nose of Pat Narduzzi?  Narduzzi continues to say all the right things about how he's a "Pitt guy" and how he ain't going anywhere, but if Pitt keeps piling up eight or nine or ten win seasons, we all know what's going to happen, don't we?

Friday, December 16, 2016

To Absent Friends - Alan Thicke and Craig Sager

Sad news this week....

Alan Thicke

Actor and entertainer Alan Thicke died from heart failure this week at the age of 69 while playing ice hockey with his young son.

Thicke was a Canadian performer who first came to the attention of American audiences when in the early 1980's he fronted a late night talk show to challenge Johnny Carson and the Tonight Show.  Like everyone else who tried to do that, Thicke failed, or, more accurately, his show failed, but he went on to star as Jason Seaver, the father in the mid-eighties family sitcom, "Growing Pains".  The show was a hit that lasted several seasons, and Thicke went on to a comfortable career as a performer, songwriter, and commercial pitchman for some outfit that had something to do with avoiding trouble with the IRS.

I last heard Alan Thicke on a radio interview on ESPN Radio while I was driving home from our Cooperstown vacation in June.  The Stanley Cup Playoffs were being contested at the time and Thicke was on with Dan Lebatard and talking about the fact that he was, indeed, the composer and lyricist of the Tampa Bay Lightning fight song.  He was self-deprecating and delightful in the interview.

Craig Sager

Sportscaster Craig Sager succumbed yesterday after a three year battle with leukemia.  He was 65 years old. His story is fairly well known to sports fans in general and basketball fans in particular.  Sager was the regular sideline reporter  on Turner Broadcasting's NBA coverage.  He was known for his outlandish and outrageous sport coats, but also for his love of the game, his insight, and his ability to interview both coaches and players at times when they didn't always want to be interviewed.

I last remember seeing Sager during TBS' coverage of the NCAA Championship Game between Villanova and North Carolina.  The stands that night were thick with former UNC and Villanova players, and Sager interviewed many of them, including Michael Jordan.  At the end of that interview, I can remember Jordan looking  at Sager and with all sincerity saying "It's good to see you here.  You doing alright?"  It said a lot about the regard in which Sager was held.

RIP Alan Thicke and Craig Sager.

Two For One - Movies and Music

Mixing two Pop Culture Experiences in one post today.  

First, the movie....

This movie written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan has been getting all kinds of critical acclaim.  "Manchester By The Sea" is sure to be a Best Picture Oscar front runner, and many are already conceding the Best Actor Oscar to Casey Affleck.  This is the kind of movie that critics absolutely love....lots of very artsy shots of boats in the harbor, snow falling on traffic as seen from the point of view of the driver of the car, and, of course, it covers lots of SERIOUS and DRAMATIC topics.  I will grant you that it is beautifully photographed and the acting is quite good.  Affleck is very good in his role, as is Michelle Williams as his ex-wife, and so, especially, is young Lucas Hedges as the nephew to whom Affleck suddenly becomes legal guardian.

For all the acclaim, however, I have also heard several people say that the movie is so unremittingly depressing and sad, that you want to pluck out your eyeballs while watching.  So I went to this prepared to squirm throughout while Mrs. Grandstander went through boxes of Kleenex.  Yes, Mrs. G. did go through the tissues, but I must admit that I liked the movie more than I expected.  As I said, it was pretty to look at and the acting was very good, but don't go expecting a barrel of laughs or a rollicking good time, although it does end with a hopeful note, sort of.  Then again, life itself isn't always a barrel of laughs and/or a rollicking good time, so "Manchester By The Sea" does a great job of depicting this particular slice of life.

Two and one-half stars from The Grandstander.

And now, the music....

"The Hamilton Mixtape", as the name and cover art implies, contains 23 songs from the musical "Hamilton" performed by various artists.  Many of these artists are rap and hip-hop performers with whom I am admittedly not familiar, but it also includes others like Kelly Clarkson, Alicia Keyes, and Jimmy Fallon.  All of them put their own spin on numbers like My Shot, Satisfied, Helpless, You'll Be Back, and Who Tells Your Story, so don't always expect an exact duplication of the song from the stage show.  It also includes two songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda himself that are labeled as "Demos".  One is called "Valley Forge" which should be self-explanatory, and another is called "Cabinet Battle 3" which is Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson, and Madison discussing how to abolish slavery from the new nation, and it is brilliant.  So, in addition to writing 46 musical numbers that comprise the show "Hamilton", Miranda, apparently, dashed of at least two other terrific pieces that just couldn't quite make the cut to appear in the show.  Amazing.

If you are a fan of the music of "Hamilton", you need to include this one in your music library as well.

Three and one-half stars from The Grandstander.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Catching Up On Various Things....

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

  • One of the great and hallowed cliches (and you know how I love cliches) of baseball is that "the best trades are the ones that you don't make".  Let us hope that that holds true after all the  strum und drag  that surrounded the Pirates and Andrew McCutchen these last several weeks.  I remind you that the Pirates don't have to trade this guy.  He can stay here for two more seasons, and if they are typical Cutch-like seasons, and he leaves as a free agent after 2018, as a Pirate fan, I'll take that.
  • Having said that, what have the Pirates done so far in the off season to get you excited about 2017?  Taking Tyler Webb in the Rule 5 Draft just isn't doing it for me.
  • The Cubs lost Aroldis Chapman but traded for Wade Davis.  And the Cardinals signed Dexter Fowler.  The Pirates have lost Sean Rodriguez and Matt Joyce and added, I remind you, Ty Webb (who measures himself against other ballplayers by height).
  • In close to sixty years of following sports in Pittsburgh, I can't remember any new coach/manager of any team being greeted with such hostility among its fan base as the business that Pitt basketball HC Kevin Stallings is getting.  I honestly think that Pitt fans are PO'd when Pitt wins (they are 8-2 thus far, although the ACC schedule has yet to begin), because it tempers down the "bitch-and-moan factor" amongst the Loyalists.
  • James Conner has announced that he will be entering the NFL Draft, and that Pitt's Pinstripe Bowl appearance on December 28 will be his final game as a Panther.  What a great career and a great story that Conner has been.  I hope that he has a successful career as a pro.  

  • James Conner should win Pittsburgh's Dapper Dan Man of the Year Award for 2016.
  • Looking for a good baseball book, maybe as a possible Christmas gift for someone?  Try this one:
  • As the title suggests it talks about the preponderance of arm injuries, particularly the preponderance of Tommy John surgeries performed, not only in the major leagues, but throughout amateur baseball, down to the high school level.  Among other aspects of the book, Passan follows two pitchers, Todd Coffey and Daniel Hudson, over three years as they struggle to recover from a second Tommy John surgery.  The book also offers a searing indictment on the machinery youth baseball and showcase events for high school and even pre-teenaged players.  The book sometimes bogs down in medical jargon and technicalities at times, but, overall, it is well worth any baseball fan's time to read.
  • Are you watching this CBS sitcom, now in its second season?
  • If you are not, you should be.  Might be one of the funniest shows on network television right now.
  • Steelers in Buffalo and the Ravens play the Patriots today.  Could be a pivotal day in the AFC North.

To Absent Friends - God Speed, John Glenn

John Glenn

Back in February, 1962, I was in sixth grade when all school activity stopped as all classrooms at St. Philomena School were tuned in to massive black and white television sets to watch the launch and follow the flight of Friendship 7 piloted by astronaut John Glenn.  Glenn would become the third American to fly into outer space and the first American to orbit the earth, which he did three times that day during his five flight before successfully returning to earth.  Few people today under the age of fifty can comprehend what an enormous feat that was at the time, and it all came back to our collective consciousness's this week when John Glenn died at the age of 95.

At the height of the Cold War - the Cuban Missile Crisis was still in the future - when the USA had lost ground to the USSR in the all-important "Space Race", the successful flight (space travel is still not a sure thing in the 21st century, and it most certainly wasn't in 1962) Friendship 7 was a HUGE story in America, and it made John Glenn a hero the likes of which America had not seen in a long time, if ever.  Glenn was so big, that President Kennedy silently ordered that there would be no more space flights for him, since the country could not afford to lose a hero of such magnitude in the event of a space fatality.  This disappointed Glenn, but he made up for it in 1998, when at the age of 77, he became the oldest American to fly in space as a crew member of the space shuttle, Discovery.  

Before all of that, Glenn was an American hero. He flew over 150 missions as fighter pilot in WW II and the Korean War, and he would also go on to serve the country as a four term United States Senator from Ohio.  If anyone ever personified the "right stuff", it was John Glenn.

Glenn was the last surviving member of the original seven Mercury astronauts.  I, and I am sure many of my generation, can still rattle off the names (Shepard, Grissom, Glenn, Carpenter, Cooper, Schirra, and Slayton), even though I am guessing that their names are never even mentioned in history classes in schools today.  Author Tom Wolfe wrote a terrific book about the space program and the Mercury program called "The Right Stuff", and an equally terrific movie of the same name was made based upon it.  As a tribute to John Glenn and his brother space pioneers, do yourself a favor and read the book or see the movie, or both.  It will be time well spent.

RIP, and God speed, John Glenn.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Baseball Hall of Fame News....

In baseball news, Bud "Bud" Selig gets voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by some committee.  Here is how I summarize the Selig Administration:
  1. He presided over the sport when he and his bosses, the owners, looked the other way when steroid and PED usage ran amok among all of major and minor league baseball.
  2. He then took credit for ending the "scourge of steroids and PED usage" only when the United States Congress began holding hearings on the matter and threatened to "look into" MLB's anti-trust exemption.
  3. Completely over-reacted when an All-Star Game ended in a tie and decreed that, henceforth, home field advantage in the World Series would be given to the team whose league won the All-Star Game. (Honestly, did it really bother anyone when that game ended in a tie?)  Curiously, on the same weekend that Bud's election to the HOF was announced, this particular legacy of his was scuttled by MLB.
  4. He presided over a labor stoppage that covered two seasons and led to the cancellation of the World Series in 1994.
  5. Presided over an era that saw gross revenues for MLB increase to $9.5 billion (that's with a "B", folks).
In the end, point number five, trumps the preceding four points, so Bud gets a plaque.  And as far as points one and two are concerned, with Bud now in the Hall, there is no way that guys like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and other stars of the "PED Era" should be kept out.

To be fair, he also saw MLB expand to thirty teams, and introduced wild cards into the equation of baseball's pennant races.  Some purists will no doubt bemoan this forever, but it has made baseball more exciting theater, and that has also played a big part in producing those billions and billions of dollars for the Lodge Brothers who own those thirty teams.

Hey, I love the Baseball Hall of Fame.  It's one of may favorite places to visit, but Bowie Kuhn and now Bug Selig have plaques in the place, and Marvin Miller does not, and that tarnishes the place a good bit in my mind.

One final comment.   As I usually do when posting The Grandstander, I looked for a picture of Bud to post, and when you go to Google Images, you get an amazing array of pictures of Bud Selig.  I chose the one that you see at the top, but it was a difficult choice from among these other shots of the Commish Emeritus:

I hope that they choose a similar image for the bronze plaque that will hang on the wall in Cooperstown.

Penn State and the CFP

While the Pitt-Syracuse game of two weeks ago may have been the most entertaining football game of the year to watch, the BEST game of he year my well have been the Big Ten Championship game between Penn State and Wisconsin.  Anyone who says they saw a Big Ten Championship after their 2-2 start, which included an 39 point loss to Michigan, is a liar.  Not even the most optimistic bleeds-blue-and-white Penn State fan would have said that.  They were too busy at the time trying to figure out who would replace James Franklin, who would surely be fired at the end of the season.

You know, James Franklin, right?  He's the guy who was just named the Big Ten Coach of the Year.

So the four teams for the College Football Playoff have been set, and has ANY subject been talked to death more that this one was in the days leading up to the announcement?  I'm not going to add to it other than to say this.  All the conversation centered Washington, Penn State, and Michigan as to who would be the fourth team in the CFP.  I have two thoughts: (1) When Michigan lost two of its final three games, they should no longer have been in the discussion.  You simply can't lose two games in November.  (2) Why was the inclusion of Ohio State a fait accompli  all along?  They did not win their conference championship, and their one loss was to the team that DID win the conference championship.

Going forward, please spare us the eyewash about how important it is to win your conference championship because, clearly, it is not.

In spite of all that, however, a trip to the Rose Bowl is a pretty nice consolation prize for Penn State.  The alternative, as U-Dub will soon find out, was the opportunity to get drubbed by Alabama.

Friday, December 2, 2016

"Blue & Lonesome"

A review of this new album popped up my Facebook feed this afternoon, and after just visiting Memphis, Beale Street, and the Sun Records recording studio, I just couldn't resist going to the iTunes store and purchasing this one.

The album is a collection of blues cover tunes by this young up and coming blues cover band from England.  Maybe you've heard of them.

The Rolling Stones

Even casual rock & roll fans probably know that the Rolling Stones, back in their formative days, were heavily influenced by American blues musicians and their music.  This album pays tribute to those roots, and, while it may not be what you're used to hearing from the Stones, it is a listening treat.

I think the promotional blurb that appears on iTunes says it better than I can:

"American blues has long been a part of the Stones' DNA, and Blue & Lonesome  is a greasy, grimy tribute to their blues heroes. Deep cuts by the likes of Jimmy Reed, Howlin' Wolf, Magic Sam and Little Walter are delivered with soulful reverence, showing that even rock n' roll legends are still just music fans at heart."

Couldn't have said it better.  

Four stars from The Grandstander.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Bluebird Cafe

I promise that this will be the last post that I will write about our recent trip to Tennessee.  I know that most people only want to hear so much about other people's vacations.  However, if you really want to know and hear more, feel free to stop over and we will gladly regale you with more stories and subject you to offer to show you some of the 300 or so pictures that we took.  They all sit on our computer.

Anyway, when we knew that we would be going to Nashville, we contacted our friend David Cicotello, a Nashville area resident, and made arrangements to visit, and he said that he would take us to see some "authentic Nashville", The Bluebird Cafe.

The Bluebird has been featured  in the TV series, "Nashville", which I have never seen, but it has given the place a bit of cachet.  It is not on Nashville's Broadway, amidst the honky-tonk bars, the Ryman Auditorium, and the center of the tourist area.  Rather, it sits unobtrusively, in a tiny strip shopping area, right between a dry cleaner and an hair salon.

The place is tiny, seating no more than a hundred people, and if you aren't lucky enough to snag one of the reservations (we were not), you need to get in line early to be among the twenty or so people who will get in to see the show from the bar seats.  So, we arrived for the 7:00 show at about 3:30 and stood in line.  Not a problem since the weather was nice, and it afforded us ample time to chat and visit with David.  We did get in, and, believe it or not, we were lucky enough, thanks to a last minute cancellation,  to be able to get table seats right next to the stage.

The show consisted of four musicians/singer/songwriters: Madeleine Slate, Dennis Matkosky, Chris Galbuda, and Marc Beeson.  No, I had never heard of any of them, although some of them are responsible for songs that you have heard and know.  They did about five "rounds" consisting of each taking turns singing while the others accompanied them.  Their were also two occasions when one of them spotted someone they knew in thew audience and asked them to come on stage and perform.  Hey, this is Nashville - there are performers everywhere!

I also cannot say enough about how friendly and nice the staff of the Bluebird was.  When a facility is in such high demand, and there is no shortage of customers chomping at the bit to get into the place, it would not have been unexpected if they had copped a "hey, you're lucky to be here" attitude, but they did not.  They could not have been nicer or more accommodating.

It was terrific night of smooth and mellow entertainment, and mucho thanks to David for suggesting it and setting it up.  Like I said, it is not a part of the area of downtown Nashville where all the tourists go, but it was terrific night.  Our trip schedule allowed us to have only one free night in Nashville, and we couldn't have been happier that that night was spent at The Bluebird Cafe.

To Absent Friends - Ron Glass, Al Caiola

A Melancholy Happy Trails to two notables.....

Ron Glass

Actor Ron Glass died of respiratory failure last week.  Glass had a steady career as an actor in television (76 acting credits according to IMDB), but he is most remembered for the role of Detective Ron Harris on one of the great situation comedies ever, "Barney Miller" which ran from 1975 to 1982.  The show depicted the daily doings of the detective squad in the NYPD's 12th Precinct.

It was a show that never jumped the shark. As good in its last season as it was in the first.  At the time when we lived in Cleveland, we had an acquaintance who was detective in the Cleveland PD, and he said that no show depicted the life of a detective squad better than did "Barney Miller."  

Glass continued to work as a guest on a million TV shows, and even had a couple of series after, "Barney Miller", but that is the show that will live forever (you can still see it on those classic TV cable networks), so actors like Ron Glass will always be visible.  Nice.

Al Caiola
1920 - 2016

Guitarist Al Caiola also passed away last month at the age of 96.  Caiola released a number of instrumental recordings in the 1960's that became hits, the themes from "Bonanza" and "The Magnificent Seven" being the most well known.  However, when you read the obituary for Caiola, it is positively jaw-dropping when you see the number of people with whom Caiola recorded.  How does this lineup grab you?  Buddy Holly, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Johnny Mathis, Simon & Garfunkel, Sarah Vaughn, Glen Campbell, and Rosemary Clooney. He also played in orchestras led by Percy Faith, Morton Gould, and Andre Kostelanetz, and was featured on the radio and television shows of Jackie Gleason, Ed Sullivan, Arthur Godfrey, and Steve Allen. That is some resume!

It was said that he could play whatever was required - classical, jazz, R&B, rock & roll.  He was the classic well rounded musician.

For those of us in Pittsburgh, we heard the sounds of Al Caiola every Saturday night when his recording of Henry Mancini's "Experiment in Terror"  (from the movie of the same name) was used as the theme music for Channel 11's "Chiller Theater".

RIP Ron Glass and Al Caiola.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Two weeks ago in this space I wrote of our trip earlier this month to Tennessee, and I mentioned that some aspects of that trip deserved their own write-up, one of them being our visit to Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley, in Memphis, TN.

When we knew last year that we would be traveling to a wedding in Nashville this November, then tacking on a few extra days to drive to Memphis and see this site was a no-brainer.  This was something that had long been on our Bucket List, and once we got there and toured the place, we can honestly say that it completely exceeded all of our expectations.

When you arrive at Graceland, what you actually arrive at  is the Graceland Visitors Center, which is across the street, the aptly named Elvis Presley Boulevard, from the house itself.  (More on the Visitors Center later.)  It is there that you pick up your tickets (we had purchased ours in advance on line), and board a tour van that drives you across the street and on to the grounds.  One does not just walk through the famous gates and up to the door of Graceland.  You are given an iPad with headphones, and that becomes your "tour guide" to the house and grounds.  Actor John Stamos narrates the video on the iPad that you are seeing which guides you throughout the place.  It is very well done.

While Graceland is a very nice home, the house is actually smaller than you might think.  The decorations that were in place in 1977 are maintained, and let's just say that Elvis' ideas of home decor may not quite agree with yours or mine.

Nice wall and ceiling coverings in the Billiard Room!

The famous Jungle Room.

And some nice portraits on display:

The second floor of the house is closed off to the public, so the Tour takes you only through the first floor.  You then go outside of the house to various additions and out buildings, and these have been turned into a true museum to Elvis.  You also see a child's swing set, circa 1970 or so, that was Lisa Marie's.  It was kind of a touching thing to see, really.

Elvis also had a racquetball court built at Graceland that included this living/seating area:

It was in this room, you are told, that Elvis, on August 16, 1977,after a morning out with friends, came into this room sat at the piano, sang a couple go songs, including "Unchained Melody", and then retired to his room to rest, and it was there that he died.  It was rather moving.

Of course, it is no longer a racquetball court, as the space is now devoted to more of a display of Elvis artifacts and memorabilia.  

The Tour concludes in the Meditation Gardens, where Elvis is buried along with his parents and grandmother.

Again, it may appear to be a bit over the top, but in context, it is a touching and respectful area.

Going into the place, Marilyn and I were expecting a very high degree of Tackiness at Graceland, and I must say that, Elvis' interior decorations aside, we did not see that.  However, when you went through  the Visitor's Center upon your return from Graceland itself, that Tacky Factor manifests itself.  No less than fourteen separate gift shops where you can buy just about anything with the image of Elvis Presley upon it.  Capitalism at work, not to mention the laws of supply and demand, and, yes, in case you are wondering, we dropped a few bucks throughout the place.

Not all of the Visitors Center was tacky, though.  One place was called the Elvis Archives, and it was showcase of the efforts of museum professionals to catalogue, archive, preserve, and display all of the "stuff" accumulated over the life and career of Elvis Presley.  That was fascinating to see.   And everyplace you go throughout the Visitor's Center is playing Elvis Presley music, and this is certainly not a bad thing.

The Visitors Center also has Elvis' two airplanes on display, which were pretty cool to walk through.

There were a lot of people at Graceland on this Thursday morning in November,  but we can't say that it was crowded, which was good for us, because it afforded us a more leisurely tour of the place.  We cannot imagine what it must be like in the Summer at the height of the vacation and tourism season.   Obviously, Graceland is one of the largest tourist attractions in the State of Tennessee and the United States, and we, Marilyn and I, cannot recommend it highly enough.