Friday, May 27, 2016

Pens Win!!

(Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Way back in April, when the Stanley Cup Playoffs began, I made a prediction on Facebook that the Penguins would win the Stanley Cup by completing four consecutive four game sweeps of their Playoffs series.  As a part of this prediction, I made no secret of the fact that I only really become interested in the NHL when the Playoffs begin, and only as long as the Penguins are still competing in them, and attached the hashtag of #bandwagonjumper.

Obviously, my prediction of four straight sweeps was tongue-in-cheek, and my prediction of a Cup win was at best a semi-informed one, but, hey, it's looking pretty good right now, isn't it?

I have been watching these Pens' playoff series, and I am once again impressed with what an unbelievably grueling grind it is to win the Stanley Cup.  Any team that does it, regardless of whatever their regular season record may have been, truly DESERVES that Championship.

A couple of observations from a #bandwagonjumper who has been watching now for a couple of weeks....
  • Doc Emerick is simply the best play-by-play announcer alive right now....any sport, any network.
  • Hockey can be a wonderful game to watch, but, frankly, the goonery that pervades the NHL turns me off of it.  Several times during these Playoffs - particularly in the Pens-Caps series - I have heard coaches (including Mike Sullivan) and announcers (Barry Melrose) say, when referring to dirty hits and cheap shots, words to the effect "these are the kinds of plays that we don't want in hockey".  Sorry, but I am not buying it. If the NHL really wanted to get rid of that kind of play in hockey, they could and they would, but they don't, so goonery and thuggery continues to rule the day in the NHL.  It's too bad, because you see how free flowing and skillful the game can be every four years in the Olympics
Okay, I will leave the discussion of the X's and O's of the game to the truly knowledgeable fans out there.  As for this #bandwagonjumper, I shall be watching a cheering for a return of the Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh.

And the H.A. Citation Goes To.....

It has been awhile since The Grandstander has awarded an H.A. Citation, so it is time to dust off this coveted award.

For his recent act of busting into the Pirates broadcast booth to confront Bucco announcer Greg Brown over a perceived slight, this H.A. Citation goes to Arizona Diamondbacks Baseball Operations Punjab Tony LaRussa. That was sure a class act for a Baseball Hall of Famer to perform.

So, Tony, please hang this important award on your wall, right next to your HOF Plaque.

(Photo Courtesy of Dan Bonk Enterprises)

Actually, when you come to think of LaRussa over the years - his unbelievable pompousness, his strategic contributions that have contributed strongly to the elimination of games lasting less than three hours, the DUI incident on which both the Cardinals and MLB allowed him to skate, and many other reasons, including always wearing sunglasses at night, this H.A. Citation could be considered a Lifetime Achievement Award for old Tony.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Pirates Short Stops

At the monthly breakfast of the Gang of Four yesterday, the following questions came up:

Who is the best Pirates short stop in our lifetimes, and does Jordy Mercer belong in the discussion?

We all know that any discussion of Pirates short stops starts and stops with Honus Wagner, hence the "in our lifetime" imitation.  Since the personal knowledge of the Pirates among our group goes back to the late 1950's, we narrowed down which guys played the most at the Number 6 position, so it was time to open up a spreadsheet:

Seasons with Pirates BA Hits Runs Home Runs Runs Batted In OPS
Dick Groat
Gene Alley
Jay Bell
Frank Taveras
Jack Wilson
Jordy Mercer

Per Season:








< 1





Mercer’s stats are through May 21, 2016

A couple of limitations to my research:
  • This takes into account only offensive numbers.  I don't have the smarts to ranks modern day defensive metrics for these guys.
  • The "average per season" figures could tend to short change guys.  For example, Mercer played only 42 games in his first season, 2012, and has played only 41 games so far this season.  There are similar patterns for some of the other guys.
  • Only the players' seasons with the Pirates are considered.
  • Overall career numbers may flatten out a guy's performance.  I am thinking mainly of Gene Alley, injuries curtailed what could have been a bright career, but from 1966-68, he was arguable the best SS in the game.
  • I never would have guessed that Frank Taveras was with the Pirates for eight seasons!
Okay, all that said, here is what jumps out at me:
  1. I was surprised at Groat's run production.  His 707 RBI (79 per season) is far above anyone else on the list.
  2. Similarly, I didn't recall what a run producer Jay Bell was, and his OPS was significantly higher that any of the others.
  3. Jack Wilson was a much better player that we may have given him credit. Would you have guessed that until two nights ago, he held he record for most hits in PNC Park?  I wouldn't have.  Nor would I have guessed that he hit 60 HRs as a Pirate. The fact that Wilson played almost exclusively for lousy Pirates teams no doubt diminishes him in our memories. 
  4. And while this is completely subjective, it seems to me that every time I went to a Pirate game when Wilson was playing, he always seemed to make a play in the field that made you where you said "I can't believe he made that play."
So, my Top three Pirates Short Stops In My Lifetime are:

#3 - Jack Wilson
#2 - Jay Bell
#1 - Dick Groat

(NOTE: On any given day, I could reverse the positions of Bell and Wilson on my list.)

As to the second part of the question, "Does Jordy Mercer belong in the discussion?", I would say that no, he does not, but only because it is too soon to say. He seems to be getting better each season, so perhaps the question should be revisited in a couple of years.  Of course, in recent years, the Pirates have invested Number One draft picks in short stops Cole Tucker and Kevin Newman, so who knows how long Mercer's tenure will be with the Pirates.

Agree, disagree, or any other thoughts?

Thursday, May 19, 2016


Thought I post about two eyesores that populate the North Hills of Pittsburgh.

The first sits off to the side of the highway on north bound I-279 right before the Bellevue/West View exit.   Large slabs of busted up concrete stacked up like poker chips sit in the tall grass alongside the road. Where did they come from, why are they sitting there, for what are these slabs intended, and when, if ever, will they be removed?  It is ugly and the very definition of the word "eyesore".

Perhaps it is not fair to call what is obviously a thriving small business an eyesore, but this one truly is a mystery to me.  I am referring to the Adultmart store which sits on the right side of  McKnight Road when yo are traveling north.  It is between the Chili's / Ross Park Mall traffic light and the McDonald's.  What amazes me is not the fact that this store exists, but that you can never, and I mean never, drive on McKnight past that store and not see at least six - and usually more -  cars parked there.  Early in the morning on the way to work, out on you lunch hour, driving home from work, or late at night after a Pirate game or a show in the Cultural District, that parking lot will be full.  Who are these people that seem to populate that store ALL THE TIME?

As I said, it's a mystery to me.

Even more amazing, sharing the parking lot with the Adultmart, is a video rental store.  Who actually goes to a bricks-and-mortar video rental store any more?  

As my old Highmark friend of mine, and he knows who he is, might put it, I wonder about these things.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Pirates 12 - Braves 9

What a microcosm of the 2016 Pirates season that 12-9 win over the Braves was last night.

After two innings, the Bucs had fashioned a 9-0 lead over arguably the worst team in the Majors.  What a gift for the pitching staff, right?  Let you starter settle into a rocking chair, throw strikes, and maybe - maybe - turn it over to some middle reliever to finish the last two or maybe three innings while coasting to an easy victory. Instead, you know what happened:

  • Starter Juan Nicasio gave back five runs and struggled to finish five innings so he could be the pitcher of record for such an "easy" win.
  • Given a six run lead, Ryan Vogelsong gave back three runs, had to face a batter representing the tying run, and couldn't get trough two innings.
  • Arquemides Caminero, in relief of Vogelsong, promptly gave up a home run before getting the one out needed to close out the inning.
  • The Pirates had to turn over what should have been a laugher to their One-Two bullpen punch of Tony Watson and Mark Melancon to close out this win, something that I am sure that Clint Hurdle was not envisioning with a 9-0 lead in the second inning.
Well, it was only one game, you might say, but I think that this game was an example, perhaps an extreme one, but still an example of what the Pirates biggest problem has been: middling starting pitching and poor to awful relief pitching.  If the Pirates are to go anywhere in the pennant race this season, the situation with the pitching staff, particularly the bull pen, must be addressed.  If dummies like me can see this, I am certainly confident that Neal Huntington and Clint Hurdle are seeing it, too, and are working diligently to address the problem.  They had better be.


Last night's game aside, the biggest news of the day for the Pirates yesterday was the announcement of the signing Francisco Cervelli to a three year, $31 million contract extension (through 2019), and by the way, didn't Cervelli look classy and terrific by showing up at the press conference announcing the signing in a suit and tie?  

Interestingly enough, I heard about this while listening to 93.7 The Fan while driving home from the golf course.  Joe Starkey and Chris Muller were expressing surprise that no one was calling to (a) talk about the news, and (b) complimenting the Pirates for making this move.  Imagine, said Starkey, how the phone lines would have been on fire with people boiling tar and plucking feathers had Cervelli been allowed to go to free agency at the end of the year and then signed a $31 contract with some other team?

Anyway, Cervelli now joins other key Pirates Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Josh Harrison, and Gregory Polanco under long term deals with the team.  Significant, I'd say.

Looking forward to three plus more years of this....

Sunday, May 15, 2016

To Absent Friends - Madeleine LeBeau

Madeleine LeBeau
1923 - 2016

Little known French actress Madeleine LeBeau died earlier this month at the age of 92.  This is notable because Miss LeBeau was the last surviving credited cast member of the all-time great movie, "Casablanca" (1942).  Miss LeBeau played Yvonne, the jilted lover (perhaps one of many) of cynical cafe owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart).  What she meant to Blaine is best explained in this memorable bit of dialogue:

Yvonne: Where were you last night?

Rick: That was so long ago, I don't remember.

Yvonne: Will I see you tonight?

Rick: I never make plans that far ahead.

Yvonne is also featured in one of "Casablanca's" most memorable scenes: Singing the Marseillaise with tears in her eyes (see above) when Victor Laszlo leads the cafe orchestra to drown out the Nazi soldiers singing German patriotic songs.

The story of LeBeau and her husband fleeing Europe in the wake of Nazi invaders is a tale right out of "Casablanca" itself.  She eventually made it to Hollywood, had a few minor roles but never became a major player.  She did some movies in Europe, most notably in Fellini's "8 and 1/2" in 1960, and was pretty much done as an actress by the late 1960's.  However, her one small role as Yvonne in what is considered one of the greatest movies ever made has assured her a piece of movie immortality, and as the last survivor of the movie, she will forever be an answer to a movie trivia question.

RIP Madeleine LeBeau.

Sunday Morning Kwick Komments.....

Kwickies for your konsideration.....

  • The 2016 Pittsburgh Pirates are a good team, certainly one that could be capable of competing for a post-season spot.  That said, they look like the Sad Sack team of Sad Sack manager John Russell of 2010 when they play the Cubs.
  • It was hopeful when the Bucs took a 2-0 lead against the invincible Jake Arietta in the top of the fourth inning yesterday, but then thoroughly demoralized to watch Jeff Locke spit the bit in the bottom of the fourth  y giving up an infield single, a walk, and a soul-crushing three run home run to the first three batters he faced after having been given a lead.
  • Pirates now 0-5 against the Cubs this season.  Combined scores of those games: 37-11.  It is at a time like this that a true Ace needs to take control of a game and pick his team up and turn things around.  We shall see what Gerrit Cole does with just such an opportunity this afternoon.
  • I take nothing away from the Cubs.  That is a very good team put together by Theo Epstein, who may well be the best baseball executive since Branch Rickey.  Their arrogant manner, a tone set by manager Joe Maddon, and the media's unbelievable slurping up to Maddon and the team that will ensue all summer long will make them one of the most disliked teams, on a national basis, in recent memory by the time the post-season rolls around.
  • I am at the point where I am mightily tempted to skip watching games that Jeff Locke is scheduled to pitch.
  • Did you see that the Pittsburgh Riverhounds lost their game against the Cincinnati Whatevers last night?  This was the game where Vontaze Burfict, Pacman Jones and other assorted Bengals Thugs served as honorary captains for the Cincinnati team.  That victory in a minor league soccer game must have been sweet revenge for those Bengals, whose thuggish and downright dirty play snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and gift-wrapped an NFL playoff win for the Steelers a few months back.  Maybe it made this lady smile again:
  • Earlier in the week, Marilyn and I watched the 1967 movie "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" on TCM.  I was surprised how well this movie has held up over all the years. Despite the fact that we don't use terms like "colored" or "Negro" anymore, the message sent by this movie is still absolutely spot on.  This was an absolutely fabulous cast in they movie headed by Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, and Sidney Poitier.  And I was surprised to see that spicy housemaid in this movie was played by Isobel Sanford, aka, Weezie Jefferson.
  • And speaking of terrific movies, we once again watched last year's Best Picture Oscar winner, "Spotlight", last night.  The movie was even better the second time around.  Also, one of the extras on the Blueray disc featured a discussion of the actual Boston Globe reporters portrayed in the movie, and it was uncanny how perfectly the actors in the movie "got" the real life persons that they were playing.  If you still haven't seen it, you should.  Great movie.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Movie Review - "Money Monster"

It had been awhile since we went to the movies - the comic book movies and formulaic romcoms of late have not appealed to us - so we were glad to get to the theater and see the new move, the trailers for which have been playing for months, it seems, "Money Monster", directed by Jodie Foster and starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts.

Clooney played Lee Gates, an over-the-top host of a money management / investment advice TV show on a financial news cable network.  Roberts is the director of the show who tries to keep the out of control egotistic Clooney in line.  One morning, while the live broadcast of the show is taking place, a delivery man, played by Jack O'Connell, walks on to the set with a gun and a bomb and takes Clooney, and by extension, everyone else, including the TV viewers, hostage.  Seems the guy lost his entire life savings by following Gates'/Clooney's advice and now HE WANTS SOME ANSWERS!!!!!

I will say no more so as to avoid spoilers, but what follows is a taut and suspenseful thriller that was enjoyable and very entertaining.  Clooney plays his character broadly, maybe too broadly, in the beginning, but, once he is taken hostage, he tones it down, and becomes  more believable and sympathetic.  In other words, he does his usual great job. Roberts is terrific as the director who keeps her head on straight and manages the crisis, and O'Connell is also good as the pathetic loser with the gun and the bomb.

Parts that I really like about this movie, and, again, no spoilers coming here, were two somewhat cliched situations that were put in place to diffuse the tense situation on the set.  However, unlike cliched movies, neither of them work, and the characters are then faced with  "okay-well-now-what-do-we-do?" situations.  Loved it.

"Money Monster" is a well acted and directed suspense drama from Jodie Foster and a great cast.  Good movie.  A solid three and one-half stars from The Grandstander.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Punks and Jerks

Just when I was about to put aside my feelings about Bryce Harper and accept him as perhaps the best player in baseball, which he may very well be, and look upon him as the new Face Of The Game, he pulls a stunt like he did this weekend by barking at an umpire and earning himself a well-deserved one game suspension.

Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with him bitching over a strike call and getting tossed from a game.  Happens to everyone.  I do have a problem with him coming on to the field at the end of the game to celebrate a walk-off win and then seeking out and barking out an obscenity to the umpire.

Harper is the kind of player (Pete Rose, Tom Brady, Hines Ward) that you love if he plays for your team and intensely dislike if he plays for the Other Guys.  If he played for the Pirates, I would probably be defending him, but he doesn't, so to me, he's nothing but a spoiled brat punk, and if MLB wants HIM to become the Face Of The Game, they better think again.

The Players Championship tees off today in Ponte Vedre, always a fun event to watch.  It is doubly in the news because this will be the first event in which Jordan Spieth will compete since his fourth round back nine meltdown at Augusta.  It has been well reported that Spieth spent a portion of his time after the Masters "recovering" while on a golf vacation in the Bahamas with fellow pros Rickie Fowler, Smylie Kaufman, and Justin Thomas.

It was reported that this foursome played at times while shirtless and not wearing shoes, and while it was not reported, I am willing to bet that large quantities of beer were involved.  Now, it you were on vacation and playing top dollar greens fees at a high end golf resort and encountered a group of twenty-somethings on the course acting out like this, you would no doubt report them to the marshals or pro shop and really really hope that they would be thrown off of the course.

Now, I am not ready to equate Jordan Spieth and his pals with Bryce Harper, but I wonder what people like Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus would have to say about this, and Tiger Woods has been pilloried for far less egregious on course behavior (and, yeah, I know Woods cheated on his wife; this isn't about that.).  Yes, Spieth and his buddies are still just kids, and are as entitled to let their hair down as much as anyone, but  they are also kids making multi-millions of dollars playing tournament golf.  They should be held to a higher standard than the guys from Animal House.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

To Absent Friends - William Schallert

William Schallert
1922 - 2016

Actor William Schallert died this past Sunday at the age of 93.  The headline in his New York time obituary described him perfectly: "Prolific actor was father on 'The Patty Duke Show'."

"Prolific" aptly describes the career of William Schallert, as he appeared in literally hundreds of roles in both television and movies.  IMDB lists an incredible 375 acting credits for Schallert dating back to 1947.  It includes schlocky horror movies from the fifties, TV series such as Wagon Train, Twilight Zone, Leave It To Beaver, innumerable westerns,  Star Trek, cartoon voice over work, the Oscar winning movie "In The Heat of the Night", and an appearance as recently as 2014, when he was 92 years old, on Two Broke Girls.  He was and is the voice of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, IL.  He had a long running role as Professor Pomfritt on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, yet whenever you saw him in whatever movie or show it was, the chances are you probably thought "hey, that's Patty Duke's father."  Like his television daughter, Miss Duke, Schallert also served a term as President of the Screen Actors Guild.

I always am amazed at actors like Schallert, never a big star, but a guy who always found work, and was instantly recognizable.  As I have often said, you couldn't make movies or TV shows without actors like William Schallert.  A quote of his from 2009 was in the Times obituary:  “I’ve never been single-minded in my pursuit of acting as a career,” he said. “Whatever it was that got me hired and kept me working probably was just me.”

Here is that obit:

RIP William Schallert.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Pirates at the 1/5 Pole

For all you mathematical sticklers out there, I will stipulate that the Pirates, having played 31 games are only at the 19.1% mark of the season, are not exactly at the 1/5 Pole, so please save your comments on that facet of this post at least.

Okay, the Pirates are at 17-14, a pace that would earn them 89 wins (the exact number predicted by The Grandstander, btw), not great, but not bad, and a mark that would certainly have them in contention for at least a Wild Card spot in the post season.  That's the good news.

The bad news is that the Chicago Cubs have a record of 24-6 (which includes a 3-0 series pasting of the Pirates at PNC Park last week), and are seven and one-half games ahead of the second place Pirates.  The pace that the Cubs are currently on (.800) would have them winning 130 games this season.  Certainly, they are not going to remain on that pace over 162 games, and certainly Jake Arietta, 24-1 over his last twenty-five regular season starts, will not maintain that pace either (he really can't, can he?), and 7.5 games can certainly be made up over the next 131 games, but.....

Yep, there's a but, and it revolves around the Pirates starting pitching, which has been, somewhat mediocre this season, and the bullpen, which has been lousy.  A perfect example would be yesterday's performance of Ryan Vogelsong.  With the Pirates having a five run lead over the Cardinals, Vogelsong was brought in to pitch the ninth inning.  He got one out and loaded the bases and had to be relieved.  When you can't get out of an inning with a five run lead, well, that ain't good, folks.

Also, and in the true tradition of Pirates fans, let's dwell on the past for a bit, by comparing departed Buccos to the current guys who have replaced them.

How about new first baseman John Jaso and his predecessor, Pedro Alvarez.

John Jaso
Pedro Alvarez

Of course, Pedro does not have a comparable number of at bats with the Orioles, but when you look at the BA and the OPS, you'd have to say that Jaso is doing more than an adequate job in replacing Alvarez.  I know what you're going to say, "Let's see if Jaso hits those 27 homers that Pedro did."  Fair point, and Jaso will probably not hit half that number of dingers, but if that average and OPS stay on track, I'll take it.  And while I do not have the defensive metrics at hand, the eye test tells me that Jaso in the field has more than lapped Pedro in that department.

And then there is the loss of the Pittsburgh Kid, Neil Walker.  Josh Harrison has replaced him at second base.

Josh Harrison
Neil Walker
Hard to make the call on this one.  Harrison is outhitting Walker by sixty points, and has only one fewer run scored and two fewer RBIs despite the fact that Walker has out homered him 9-1.  Walker's OPS is forty-five points higher, they both strike out a lot and don't walk enough.  Using the same eye test that I used above with Jaso and Alvarez, I would say that Walker is better with the leather than Harrison, but not by all that much.  I call this a toss up.

Of course, the real judgment on the Neil Walker trade is the performance of the guy who came here in exchange for him.  Pitcher Jon Niese is currently 3-1 with a 5.94 ERA, 1.68 WHIP, and a BA Against of .309. Right now, that trade is heavily skewed in favor of the Mets.

Some more good news: the Pirates are now 10-8 against NL Central Division teams.  Better than last year, but that record also includes an 0-3 mark against the Cubs.

Oh, and one other statistical anomaly concerning the Cubs.  As of this morning, their 7.5 game lead over the second place Pirates, is greater than the lead of the first place team over the fifth place team in three of the other five divisions.  And take away the terrible Braves and Twins in their divisions, and the fourth place teams in those divisions are closer to first place than the Pirates are to the Cubs.  So much for all the hype over the superiority of the NL Central, competitiveness-wise.

Conclusions?  None to be made at this point.  The pitching has to get better, and Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow are banging on the door with sledge hammers down there in Indy.  Also, someone has to start slowing down the Cubs.  The Washington Nationals, nominally the second best team in the NL had the chance to do so this weekend and went 0-4.  (The Nats, by the way, are now nominally the third best team in the NL as a result.) Is it too much to ask the Pirates to begin that process this coming weekend with that three game series in Wrigley?  It will be right in front of them.

I'm not ready to give up, nor am I ready to concede the World Series to the Cubs at this point, but better pitching from the Pirates and the slowing down of the Cubs need to start soon.