Tuesday, March 29, 2016

To Absent Friends - Patty Duke

Patty Duke
1946 - 2016

Very sad news arrived this afternoon with the death of actress Patty Duke at the age of 69.  One of the most talented young actresses of her generation, Duke won an Academy Award at the age of 16 when she played the young Helen Keller in "The Miracle Worker" (1962), a role that she had originally played on Broadway.

She went on to star in a 1960's era TV show, "The Patty Duke Show" where she played cousins, identical cousins ("One pair of matching bookends, different as night and day").   And come on now, how many of you reading this who are of a certain age cannot sing the entire lyrics to that show's theme song?  Be honest now.

She also made news in the late sixties by attempting to smash her teen-age image and starred as a pill-popping alcoholic in 1967's awful "Valley of the Dolls".

She also served as President of the Screen Actors Guild from 1985 to 1988.

Duke continued to work as an actress up to the end, and IMDB lists 140 acting credits in both film and television.  

RIP Patty Duke.

Closing the Book On Nate Heller (or So I Thought)

While on vacation in Florida last month I finally got around to reading "Chicago Confidential" by Max Allan Collins.  This novel featured Collins' fictional private eye, Nate Heller.  I have written of Collins and Heller often in this blog (just type their names in the search box of this blog and see), and regular readers know how much I love these stories.  

I had "Chicago Confidential" downloaded on my Kindle for over a year and was reluctant to read it because, you see, once I did, I would have read all of the Heller novels that Collins had written, and I just didn't want to think that there were no more Heller adventures awaiting me.  However, a nice vacation was a good opportunity to surrender to the inevitable, and the book did not disappoint.

"Chicago Confidential" takes place in 1950 and it opens with Nate working out of the A-1 Detective Agency's west coast office in Los Angeles.  In the first chapter, Nate takes on as a client a beautiful young UCLA coed named Vera Jayne Palmer, who is seeking protection form an abusive boyfriend, who is actually he husband, Paul Mansfield.  Yes, Vera Palmer turns out to be Jayne Mansfield, and, yes, as readers might guess, Nate does end up working, shall we say, extremely close  with Miss Mansfield, long before she became a star, during the course of his investigation.

Jayne Mansfield is not the real star of the book, although she does end up playing a key role in the case as it unfolds.  Real historical figures such as Estes Kefauver, Joseph McCarthy, Drew Pearson, Frank Sinatra, a trio of Chicago mobsters named Fischetti, Sam Giancana, Jack Ruby, and assorted Chicago politicians and hoods also play a role in the tale.  It is another terrific yarn from Collins, and fans of Nate Heller - and I know that I have tipped a few of you out there to this series - will know what I mean and really like the book.

As I said, I was sad when I finished the book, because I knew that there were no more Nate Heller memoirs left for me to read, but lo and behold, while checking Mr. Collins' website in preparation for writing this post, I learned that there will be another Heller novel that will be released on May 3 of this year.  Talk about an early Christmas present!

The book is called "Better Dead" and it will center around the anti-Communist witch hunts of the early 1950's.  In this one, Heller will once again tangle with Senator Joe McCarthy, and will also become involved with such historical persons and Robert Kennedy, Roy Cohn, Dashiell Hammett, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.  I can't wait, and the only question is, will I read it right away, or will I wait for another vacation later in the year in order to savor the anticipation.

In case you are interested, I thought I would give you a list of all of the Heller cannon:

I cannot say enough, and God knows I've tried, about these books as far as terrific and entertaining stories.  While it isn't necessary to read this books in order, I would suggest that you read the first three - True Detective, True Crime, and The Million-Dollar Wound - sequentially, as these were Collins' so-called "Capone trilogy".  Likewise, Bye, Bye Baby, Target Lancer, and Ask Not comprise Collins' "JFK Trilogy" and should also be read in order.  As for the others, pick them up and read them any time in any order.  You won't be sorry.

Mr. Collins himself has recently undergone some serious surgery, but is recovering according to plan as he reports on his website, www.maxallancollins.com.  That is good news for him, his family and his fans.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

One Week Until Opening Day....

Yep, one week from today is opening day, er, excuse me, Opening Day.  I haven't been paying a whole lot of attention to what the Pirates have been doing in the Grapefruit League, except to note that they are losing more games than they are winning, but that is meaningless in Spring Training.  This morning, though, I did take a look at some of the individual Pirates statistics thus far to see how some of the players were doing. Again, you can put whatever stock you want to in Spring Training stats, but they do have to mean something when you are evaluating players, don't they?

Anyway, for what it is worth, here are some numbers to chew on, some good, some bad...


Starling Marte  .362 BA, 2 HR, 6 RBI, .962 OPS
Michael Morse  .345 / 0 / 6 / .907
Francisco Cervelli  .267 / 1 / 2 / .822
Andrew McCutchen .235 / 5 / 8 / .974
David Freese .235 / 1 / 1 / .964 (only 7 AB)


John Jaso .207 / 0 / 2 / .636
Gregory Polanco .214 / 1 / 2 /.583

It is interesting to see that Morse, the guy that no one wants, is producing, and that Jaso is not. And while he has had only seven at bats, the Freese signing is looking like a good one. Not shown above is Pedro Florimon, the hero of Pirate Chat Night 2015 and a guy in competition for the always controversial slot of Twenty-fifth Man on the team.  He is hitting .242 with a .697 OPS and in 33 At Bats, he leads the team with 12 RBI. I thought it to be impossible, but he just might make the team.

As for pitchers....


Mark Melancon 0.00 ERA / 6 IP / 5:0 K:BB Ratio
Neftali Feliz 1.29 / 7 / 4:0
Kyle Lobstein 1.64 / 11 / 4:0
Juan Nicasio 0:00 / 15 / 24:5  (That's TWENTY-FOUR strike outs in fifteen innings folks!)


Jon Neise 9.82 / 11 / 4:4
Jeff Locke 6.63 / 19 / 11:5
Ryan Vogelsong 6.08 / 13.1 / 8:3

I know that in the Spring, pitchers are "working on things", which may or may not be just an excuse for them being lousy, but I think that the above numbers show that Locke and Vogelsong are what we thought hey were, and that in deciding who the fourth and fifth starters should be, serious consideration had better be given to Lobstein and, especially, Nicasio.  Because Neise came here in the Neil Walker deal, he is gong to be the #3 guy, no matter what.

I have no great insights here, but, as I said, some food for thought one week they start playing them for real.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

To Absent Friends - Joe Garagiola, Ken Howard, and Earl Hamner Jr.

The Grim Reaper has been arriving faster than The Grandstander can keep up.  So let us note the following passings:

 Joe Garagiola
1926 - 2016

Former baseball player turned broadcaster turned all-round television personality, Joe Garagiola died this week at the age of 90.  Garagiola turned a mediocre-to-fair baseball career and a childhood  friendship with Yogi Berra into a career that went far beyond the baseball field and  included being a co-host of the Today Show and a sometimes substitute for Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show.  Perhaps, however, the best thing that Garagiola ever did was found the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT) that helped out destitute and down-on-their-luck former baseball players.  He ended up successful beyond what I am sure were his wildest dreams.  He didn't have to start up BAT, but he did, so good for him.

Ken Howard

Actor Ken Howard, who died this week at age 71, may best be known as the actor who starred in television's "The White Shadow", a show about a white basketball coach at an inner city high school, in the 1970's.  Turns out that Howard actually was a star high school basketball player in Long Island, and was the only white starter on his team.  He was nicknamed, you guessed it, The White Shadow.  He had a long and distinguished acting career, most notably as Thomas Jefferson in both the stage play and movie, "1776".  Since 2009, he served as President of the Screen Actors Guild.

Earl Hamner, Jr.

Earl Hamner, Jr, was best known as the author of the novel "Spencer's Mountain" which led to a 1963 movie of the same name, and more notably, the 1970's TV series, "The Waltons", which ran for nine years and over 200 episodes.  Of course, as is often the case, Hamner's obituary reveals that he did a lot more than that.  As a young man, he befriended Rod Serling and went on to write a number of episodes of Serling's classic, "The Twilight Zone".  His writing credits for both movies and television stretch back to 1953 (and include the creation of "Falcon Crest", another series that ran for nine years), and his obit reveals that he was still having short stories published in various books and magazines when he was age 90.  He was 92 when he died this past week.

RIP Joe Garagiola, Ken Howard, and Earl Hamner Jr.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Batman v. Superman

While I am not a person who is, as they say, part of the Comic Book Culture, I was kind of looking forward to seeing the tremendously hyped movie "Batman v. Superman".  I felt like this because (a) I thought it might be fun, (b) "Superheroes" is going to be the theme of our party night on our Outer Banks vacation this year, (c) I was finding myself succumbing to the hype, and (d) I like Ben Affleck.

Then I read Barbara Vancheri's review in yesterday's Post-Gazette.  Then I saw some comments on Facebook last night (that means you, Billy Hepfinger).  Then, most damning of all, I read this review by Leonard Maltin:


Based on Maltin's review, I have to ask why does the movie have to be so dark and grim?  It should be fun, shouldn't it?

If you don't want to read Maltin's entire review, here's the closing paragraph:

I feel sorry for kids and families who will be sucked into seeing this blockbuster. Parents will have a hard time explaining the grimly dark, confusing story to their children. Don’t kids deserve to cheer for a superhero in this kind of movie? Director Zack Snyder and company don’t seem to think so.

And I always did ask myself, why are Superman and Batman going against each other?  I always thought that they were on the same side, but then, as I said, I am not of the Comic Book Culture.

And, finally, why does it have to be two-and-a-half hours long?

So, all things considered, I think that I am now going to take a pass on it.

Monday, March 21, 2016

"Disgraced" at the Pittsburgh Public Theater

The fourth play of the season at the Pittsburgh Public Theater is Ayad Akthar's "Disgraced", the winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

This is not a "fun" play.  It is a pretty searing look at prejudices in American society in the post-9/11 world.  Terrifically staged by the PPT, and wonderfully acted by the small, five person cast.  This is a play that will make you uncomfortable, and it will make you think, and it might make you even squirm a little bit.  In other words, it will do exactly what great drama should do.

Another winner for the Pittsburgh Public Theater.

On Adam LaRoche

I somehow feel compelled to comment on the latest brouhaha in Major League Baseball, which is the reason for the retirement announcement by former Pirate, and most recently a White Sox (White Sock?), Adam LaRoche.

In case you missed it, LaRoche liked to have his young teen-aged son be in the Sox locker room with him...ALL THE TIME, like for every game of the season.  The kid had a uniform, his own locker, and I believe he even sat in the dugout during games.  White Sox GM Ken Williams told LaRoche that he had to dial back the kid's 24/7 presence with the team, LaRoche said he didn't want to, Williams (who, by the way, is LaRoche's boss) said he had to, so LaRoche said he quit and announced that he was retiring.

Since LaRoche hit .204 last year with 12 HR, 44 RBI, and a .634 OPS, and was due to make $13 million in 2016, I suspect that Williams said something like "Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out", but this whole issue is said to have split the Sox locker room in half, and the Players Association is said to be "looking into" this situation.  

This whole thing raises a lot of questions to me:

  1. What kind of parent wants his kid to be around a major league locker room, unless he wants him to learn how to spit and scratch himself in public, learn how to chase women, and have access to a myriad of quasi-illegal pharmaceuticals?
  2. What does the kid's mother think about all this?
  3. I suspect that if you polled all the White Sox players by secret ballot, 100% of them would say "Get that kid outta here."
  4. Following up on Question #1 above, what kind of parent in ANY profession would want his kid with him at work every day?
  5. LaRoche also said that he wished that he could also have brought his young daughter with him to the club house every day.  Are you kidding me?  
The White Sox can be criticized on two fronts here.  One, for allowing this to even happen in the first place, and two, having let it happen, for not addressing this in the off-season and waiting until the middle of Spring Training to do so, but they are not wrong for wanting the kid out of there.

I always found LaRoche to be an emotionless, odd duck during his days with the Pirates.  I'm just glad that this kid-in-the-clubhouse thing wasn't an issue when he was here (or maybe it was).  Can you imagine what the calls on The Fan would have been like?

Here Come the Blue Bloods.....

Victories by schools like Middle Tennessee State, Stephen F. Austin, Hawaii (or is it Hawai'i; can someone explain that apostrophe to me?), and Arkansas-Little Rock sure are thrilling and fun on Days One and Two of the NCAA Tournament, but when all is said and done after Round Two, it is surely the Big Boys of college basketball who head to the Sweet 16.  After yesterday's games were over, we are left with all four #1 seeds, two each of Seeds #2, #3, #4, and #5, plus a #6, a #7, and a #10, and an #11, and that ten and eleven happen to be Syracuse and Gonzaga, two programs that can hardly be classified as Cinderellas.

This tournament is one of the most fun events on the sports calendar, but the fun ends after Round One, because when the dust settles, when things get down to business, you're most likely always going to see Duke, North Carolina, Kansas or other schools of that ilk playing for all the marbles.

Friday, March 18, 2016

On Bracketology and Other Tourney Thoughts...

Random Hoops Thoughts.....

  • I used to think that nothing released more useless hot air into the atmosphere than endless discussions of the NFL Draft, but I am starting to think that that boring topic has been surpassed by discussions centering around "Bracketology", a term invented, I believe, by ESPN, to describe filling the field for the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.  The discussion usually starts around Thanksgiving with endless discussions about strength of schedules, RPI, Last Four In, First Four Out, and who is or is not on The Bubble.  These conversations go on endlessly and peak on Selection Sunday when the pundits then go into a feeding frenzy ripping "the committee" for  having the temerity to include East Overshoe University in the field of 68, while at the same time having the stupidity to exclude dear old Siwash State, who had a much better RPI.  And don't even get them started on the seedings!

  • It's all very tiresome, but it mercifully comes to an end on Thursday of the first round when sixteen games are played, followed by sixteen games on Friday.  Lots of action, some exciting upsets, and lots of beer drunk in lots of sports bars all across the land. Then it's actual basketball for the next three weekends, culminating with the Championship game on Monday night, April 4.
  • But it will all start again on or about April 5 when Joe Lunardi or Doug Gottlieb or some other gasbag will issue the first projections for the Field of 68 for 2017.
  • Okay, few things are more snooze inducing than listening to someone else talk about THEIR bracket picks, so I will be brief.  My own Final Four consists of Michigan State, Kentucky, Maryland, and Baylor with Michigan State defeating Maryland in the Final.
  • Yeah, I know, Baylor lost in the first round yesterday, which probably screws up any chance I could possibly have of winning, but how could you not have been rooting for Yale in that game yesterday?
  • Of primary interest today are these games: Pitt (Only a #10 seed! Are you kidding me???) vs. Wisconsin (Will Paul Chryst be in attendance?) and West Virginia (A #3 seed! What was that Committee thinking???) vs. Stephan F. Austin. If both teams win and advance through this weekend, they will meet in a Sweet Sixteen game in the East Regional.  WVU is actually favored by many to go far in the tournament, so  wouldn't a Pitt win over WVU in that game really put a cherry on the top of what has been a rather uneven season for the Panthers?  Lots of grass to mow for both teams to get to that point, though, but we can dream can't we?
  • On the women's side of the NCAA Hoops extravaganza, congratulations to the ladies of both Duquesne University and Robert Morris University for making it to the Championship tournament this year.  That's the good news.  The bad news is that RMU will have to face the University of Connecticut in the opening round. And the game in being played in Storrs, CT. Oh, well.  Should UCONN sneak by the Lady Colonials, their next opponent will be the Duquesne, should the Lady Dukes win their first round game. Again, oh well.
  • As an RMU alum, I really wish these ladies well, but I'm a realist.  I suspect and hope that the experience of playing in the tournament against the great UCONN Dynasty will be something that will serve these young women well as they go through life, and will be an absolutely wonderful memory for them.  Same goes for the Lady Dukes.  Play well, ladies.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Excuse Me While I Wipe The Egg Off of My Face

Yesterday in they space, you read a piece that I did after doing extensive research (i.e., it took me more than ten minutes to look stuff up), that spoke at length about the Pirates' projected first base platoon of Michael Morse and John Jaso.  Within hours of that piece being posted, the Pirates shocked everyone with the announcement that they had signed free agent infielder David Freese, last with the Angels, but more prominently known as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, where he was both the LDS and World Series Most Valuable Player in 2011.

As I said, this announcement came out of nowhere and took everyone by surprise.  It indicated, first and foremost, that Jung Ho Kang would not be ready to play come Opening Day, and the Freese would be slotted to play third base until such time that Kang will be able to return, now projected to be late April or early May.  What happens after that is what brings yesterday's Grandstander to your attention.  The Post-Gazette reported this morning that Freese would then become part of a platoon at first base with Jaso, and that Morse would become a spare outfielder and right handed pinch hitter.   This bears out that those who have proclaimed (Dan Bonk, Joe Risacher among others) that  Morse is a not-so-hot  jabroney are closer to being correct than I was when I hoped for a return of the effectively hitting Michael Morse who played for the Nats in 2009-12, and that is what smeared the egg on my face mentioned in the headline to this post.

Oh well, you can't get them right all the time, and the most important thing is that the signing of Freese makes the Pirates a better team today than they were yesterday.  Freese signed a one year deal with the Bucs, and while he may well be a one-and-done player for the Pirates, this could well prove to be a very significant signing for the team.

Bottom line - Welcome to Pittsburgh, David Freese!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Let's Talk a Little Baseball....

The Pittsburgh Pirates are three weeks into Spring Training, and I have yet to write a word about the 2016 Bucs, so it's time to throw out the metaphorical first pitch of the season and talk about our favorite baseball team.  In fact, I look forward to, after finishing writing this little monograph and posting it, turning on my TV and watching the Pirates in a little Grapefruit League action this afternoon.  

To summarize, let me restate that the Pirates won 98 games last year, but lost in the Wild Card round of the National League post-season. With the exception of that final shut out loss to the Cubs, I can honestly state that the ride that the '15 Pirates took me on was one of the most enjoyable ones that I had in 56 seasons of following the team.  So the question becomes - Can the team sustain and build upon a three year run of making the post-season?  

Coming back from that 98 win team are....Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco (arguably one of the top outfields in all of MLB), Jung Ho Kang (who, at the time of his injury, was probably the team's second best player), Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, Francisco Cervelli, Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Tony Watson, Jerrod Hughes, and Mark Melancon.  Good news!

Then, of course, there are the important players from last year who are no longer here: A.J. Burnett, J.A. Happ, Neil Walker, and Pedro Alvarez.  In fact, Alvarez, who was unemployed until just two days ago when he signed with the Orioles, is still probably being talked about more on various Pirates social media sites than any current Pirate.  It appears that Pedro will continue to cast a  shadow over the Pirates for at least the next season.

So, in an effort to keep things Pedro-centric, let's talk about how the Pirates will manage to fill the twenty-six home run hole that Pedro's release created in their line up.  All indications are that the Pirates will open the season with a platoon of first base consisting of righthand batter Michael Morse and lefthand batter John Jaso.  Personally, I think that a platoon situation can work for the Pirates at first base this season, but will it?  

Many people, and people whose opinions I highly respect, are already writing off Morse, who will be 34 years old as of Opening Day,  as a stiff and a bum.  Based on his 2015 season, split between Miami and Pittsburgh, the prospects are not encouraging.  In 256 plate appearances, Morse hit .231 with 5 HR and 19 RBI, and a .649 OPS.  However, over a four year period of 2009-12 with the Nationals, Morse complied a .294 BA  and .857 OPS with 67 HR and 208 RBI in 1,353 plate appearances.  As recently as 2014 with the World Series winning Giants, Morse hit .279 with 16 HR, 61 RBI and .871 OPS.  The 2015 season was definitely a downturn for him, but was that season an aberration or a true indication of a career in decline? 

The other half of that 1B platoon is 32 year old John Jaso, who is hitting quite well thus far in the Grapefruit League for whatever that is worth.  Over a seven year career spent with Tampa Bay, Seattle, and Oakland, Jaso's "162 game average" season would produce a .263 BA, 11 HR, 60 RBI, and a .767 OPS.

Here are some more questions for you:
  • Will Morse/Jaso equal or better  Pedro's .243 BA of 2015?  I think that they can.
  • Will Morse/Jaso equal or better Pedro's 27 HR of 2015?  Probably not, but they could combine for 18-20 dingers.
  • Will Morse/Jaso equal or better Pedro's 77 RBIs of 2015?  I think that they can.
  • Will Morse/Jaso equal or exceed Pedro's 177 K's of 2015.  It is almost certain that they will not, which is good.
  • Of course, my suppositions in these four points rest on the fact that 2015 was the aberrant year for Morse.  If, in fact, 2015 was the beginning of a career downslide, all bets are off.
What I did not mention, and what I have no way of knowing or proving, is how will an improved defense at first base will prevent other teams from scoring against the Pirates.  Even the staunchest of Pedro backers will concede that he was atrocious in the field, and all the advanced analytics folks will tell you that he was the worst defensive first baseman in all of baseball last year, and the next worse guy wasn't even close.

A solid, effective platoon at a given position can work and produce good results (See Bill Robinson/John Milner, 1979 Pirates).  I am not sold that it will happen at first base for the Pirates this year, but it is certainly possible that it can happen for them.  Remember, we were all hoping a few seasons back that a 1B platoon of Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez would do the trick, but it didn't quite work out that way.  However, as far as the 2016 Pirates go, it is vitally important that the Morse/Jaso Combo Platter clicks because the heir apparent at first base, Josh Bell, is by all accounts at least a year away from being ready for the big leagues.  

Lots more to follow on the Pirates as we wend our way towards Opening Day.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

To Absent Friends - George Martin

George Martin

A Melancholy Happy Trails to Sir George Martin, who died yesterday at the age of 90. It was Martin, a record producer in London specializing in both classical music and comedy recordings at EMI Parlophone Records, who in 1962 to take a chance and signed a Liverpool rock and roll band, a band that had been turned down by two other record labels, to a recording contract.  That band was, of course, The Beatles, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.  

Martin served as producer on all but one of The Beatles albums, and continued to serve on other Beatles-related projects (the "Anthology" TV documentaries and album, the Cirque du Soleil show "Love" in Las Vegas, for example) for the rest of his life.  In a statement released today to note Martin's passing, Paul McCartney stated that "if anyone deserves the title of 'fifth Beatle', it's George Martin."

This paragraph from Britain's The Guardian newspaper closed its obituary to Martin this way:

And sometimes it seemed like George Martin really didn’t want to escape the Beatles’ shadow. Certainly he seemed to come to terms with the Beatles’ legacy far quicker than the Beatles themselves did, to realise that what had happened in the studios at Abbey Road between 1962 and 1969 was a once-in-a-lifetime deal, something that was never going to be repeated, or eclipsed or even equaled by anything that happened subsequently. While Paul McCartney was refusing to perform Beatles songs live, and John Lennon was lashing out in interviews, constantly trying to deflate the band’s myth, Martin was pragmatically noting that neither of them were going to make solo records as good as the records they’d made together. He worked intermittently with McCartney – most famously arranging the high-drama orchestral break of 1973’s Live and Let Die – produced the soundtrack to the disastrous 1978 film adaptation of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and British classical composer John Rutter’s 1979 Beatles Concerto. He oversaw the post-production of the music on the mid-90s Beatles’ Anthology compilations, but curiously pleaded failing hearing when it came to producing two “new” Beatles using old Lennon demos. He remained unfailingly modest about his role in the band’s success: “I can’t imagine anyone who’s been luckier than I have,” he said towards the end of his life, perhaps safe in the knowledge that he wasn’t the only one blessed by immense good fortune the day the Beatles walked into his studio.

RIP George Martin.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

This and That

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

  • I will give no spoilers here, but I will say that the Final Episode of "Downton Abbey" that aired this past Sunday was just about perfect.  Loose ends tied up, happy endings, and just a hint of good things to happen for the various characters.  And did you notice that the final line of spoken dialog belonged to Maggie Smith, the Dowager Countess?  As it was with most of her lines over six seasons, it was perfect.
  • Of course, now the inevitable talk of a "Downton Abbey" reunion movie begins.  I suppose that the money will be irresistible to all concerned, and I would be in the theater the first week such a movie opens, but a part of me thinks that it would be best to resist the cash grab. Isn't it an old show biz saying that it's always best to leave the audience wanting more.
  • We are three weeks into Spring Training, and Pedro Alvarez had FINALLY signed on with a team, the Orioles.  I really wish him nothing but the best, but we know what the Orioles are getting...a .230 or so hitter, who can't field, can't hit left-handers, and who strikes out a lot, but he CAN hit the most incredible and prodigious home runs that you will ever see.  

  • Speaking of the Pirates, they are now playing practice games, and we have even been able to see them on TV for a few of those.  Nice watching some baseball again, even though after about six innings you become Butch Cassidy when watching and saying "Who are those guys?"
  • And farewell to Peyton Manning.  Very classy retirement speech yesterday.  I don't really need to sum up his accomplishments, do I?  He goes out with his final game being a victory in the Super Bowl. Perfect. Perhaps the producers of "Downton Abbey" should take note.

Monday, March 7, 2016

To Absent Friends - Al Wistert

Al Wistert

Former Philadelphia Eagles lineman Al Wistert died yesterday at the age of 95.  I am sure that older Eagles fans throughout the eastern half of Pennsylvania are mourning the loss of this gentleman, but his passing is being noted in The Grandstander due to the fact that Wistert was the last surviving member of the NFL's 1943 wartime combination/merged team of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles.  Known in the Official NFL record books as simply "Phil-Pitt", they were more commonly known then and are remembered now - if they are remembered at all - as the "Steagles".  Amazingly, for all its avariciousness, the National Football League has never trademarked or licensed the name "Steagles", so this historical footnote of an NFL franchise is not officially recognized by the name for which it is known.

For more on this team, I refer you to a terrific book by Matthew Algeo called "Last Team Standing".  I wrote about it in depth when I first read it back in 2011:

The New York Times obituary for Wistert told a great story about what happened following the 1949 NFL Championship game:

When the Eagles defeated the Rams in the 1949 N.F.L. championship game, the team’s management threw a victory banquet at the Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles. But the players’ rewards did not include championship rings.
As Wistert told it in Gordon Forbes’s “Tales From the Eagles Sidelines” (2002): “They gave us these Zippo cigarette lighters. They didn’t even have our names on them or anything else about the championship. I left mine at the table.”

RIP Al Wistert, the Last of the Steagles.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

To Absent Friends - Nancy Reagan

Nancy Davis Reagan
First Lady of the United States

RIP Nancy Davis Reagan.

A New "And Then There Were None" Movie

Several years ago, I we rote in this space about me rereading the classic Agatha Christie mystery novel, "And Then There Were None". In case you forgot, here it is:


Well, the news is that this past week, I have just re-read this book AGAIN.  Why did I do this?  In part, I did so because it is just a terrific and fun book to read, but more to the point, I read it in anticipation of the upcoming presentation of yet another movie version of this classic story.

This production was done as a TV mini-series in Great Britain last December, and it will air on American television in two parts on March 13-14 on the Lifetime Network.  This version features a lot of British actors, the only one with whom I am familiar is Sam Neill.

There have been at least four feature film versions of this story, the best being director Rene Clair's 1945 version that starred Barry Fitzgerald and Walter Huston.  A mid-sixties version that starred Hugh O'Brien and Shirley Eaton was pretty good.  Two other versions produced after that were so critically savaged, that they are almost impossible to find and watch.  I've never seen them. 

So I am very anxious to watch this new production.  Without giving things away to those who have either read the book, watched a movie version, or both, knows that the ending of the movies (there is also a stage play version) differs from the end of the book.  I am hoping that this version does what the book does.

Plus, with the ending of "Downton Abbey" tonight, we need to see another highly polished (we hope) British television production.