Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Sports Notes - Various Topics

Cleaning out the Mental In-Box, Wide, Wide World of Sports Division.....

The Pittsburgh Pirates had a spectacular month of July, sporting a record of 17-9 that shot them back into playoff contention.  August has not been so kind.  With three games remaining, the August ledger shows them at 8-16.  Fourth place in the Central, 14 games out of first place.  Eight and one-half games out of the Wild Card spot with nine (9!!) teams ahead of them.  With thirty games remaining, they have to go 18-12 just to finish over .500.

And here is some more good news.  On his weekly radio show on Sunday, Neal Huntington led off with this quote:

"As we look at next year's club, the core of it is this year's club."

How would you like to be a ticket sales rep for that Pirates with THAT as your marketing slogan this off-season?

Le'Veon Bell has indicated that he will sign his franchise tag deal with the Steelers and report for practice on Monday, one week before the regular season opener.  All the Steelers players and coaches are saying the right things.  You know, "He's the's just business....we're glad he's back...we need him to get where we want to go"...and blah blah blah.

When this season ends, and Bell goes and collects his pot of free agency gold in 2019, these same players, the ones who have been banging their heads at training camp and in exhibition games will no doubt tell us what they REALLY thought of Bell's hold outs these last two seasons.  You know, like they all told us about what kind of a teammate James Harrison was in his final year with the team after the Steelers canned him.

Pitt opens its 2018 football season on Saturday against the mighty Great Danes of Albany University. I am looking forward to being at Heinz Field on Saturday to see Albany collect it's huge paycheck, and to spending another convivial season, my sixth, amongst the members of the ticket group I am in.  That's will always be fun.

As for how is Pitt going to fare this season, I can claim no insight or expertise to make a valid prediction.  However, I do know this: In the three seasons under Head Coach Pat Narduzzi (or HCPN, as he will be known for the remainder off this blogging season), Pitt has gone 8-5, 8-5, 5-7 (0-2 in bowl games; they failed to qualify for a bowl last year, and that's not easy to do in college football these days).  It's time for the Panthers to take that proverbial "next step" under Narduzzi.  Not sure what that means, but it would sure be nice to see Pitt in the race for a slot in the ACC Championship game in November.  HCPN has already predicted that they will be in that game. Can't say that he's shying away from putting himself on the spot.

Oh, and Pitt is relying heavily on sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett, who as started all of one game in his career.  Granted, that game was a spectacular upset win over a 10-0 (or were they 11-0 at the time?) Miami, and Pickett sure was great in that one.  Still, Pitt is putting  a lot of eggs in the inexperienced Pickett's basket.  I hope it works out.

On the national scene, you are all familiar with the sordid tale of Urban Meyer and the ridiculous slap on the wrist that Ohio State handed him last week.  This has been written about extensively by many, many talented national sportswriters and commentators,  so I won't restate the story here. Suffice to say, most people, at least most people outside of the state of Ohio, feel that Meyer should have been fired.  I especially like one columnist I read, and I regret that I can't remember who it was, who has renamed the Buckeyes coach "Urban Liar".

Well, at least we know who and what runs the show at THE Ohio State University, and considering their track record over the years with Woody Hayes and Jim Tressel, I guess we shouldn't really be surprised.

As for me, I have decided to effect any own form of protest.  I have decided that I will NOT watch any college football game this season involving Ohio State.  That could include several games of consequence, including games against Penn State and Michigan, and it could also include games in the College Football Playoffs in January.  Although  I would think - hope? - that that CFP Committee would bend over backwards to NOT include Ohio State in that four team set-up, no matter what their record.

Now, I know that little old me sitting in Pittsburgh, PA not watching a given football game or games on a given weekend or weekends will not amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, but it will make me feel better about myself.  So I have that going for me, which is nice.  (Two classic movie lines referenced in one paragraph!)

The other big announcement in recent days was confirmation that Tiger Woods will meet Phil Mickelson, head to head, in a $9 million televised golf match over Thanksgiving weekend.  Of course the Nine Large will be coming from someone else's pockets - yours!  Yep, this made for TV event will be available only on a Pay-Per-View basis, probably cost you twenty-five to thirty bucks to watch this event.  

Now I love Tiger and Phil, and they are arguably the two greatest and most important golfers (and in the case of Woods, one of the most important athletes) in this century, but this is pure money grab, worthy only of fading boxers, MMA fighters, and Vince McMahon.  Also, between them, Woods and Mickelson have won exactly one tournament in the last five years.  I don't begrudge anyone making a buck, but guys of their stature should really be above this.  

Now, if they were going to play a skins game for $1,000 a hole OF THEIR OWN MONEY....that I might be willing to watch.

An Absent Friends Follow Up: Barbara Russell

As a follow up to the "Absent Friends" post I made two days ago to Pittsburgh entertainer Barbara Russell, I couldn't resist adding this photo I took of the death notice that appears  for her in today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

That, my friends, is evidence of a life well lived.

Again, RIP Barbara Russell.

Monday, August 27, 2018

To A Pair of Absent Friends

The past several days have seen the loss of two of Pittsburgh's show biz icons, Chuck Brinkman and Barbara Russell.

Chuck Brinkman

Chuck Brinkman was one of those guys that just doesn't exist anymore - a radio disc jockey of consequence in the marketplace.  In the 1960's and into the 1970's, Brinkman was the lead DJ on Pittsburgh's preeminent Top 40 Rock & Roll station, KQV.  He was one of the Groovy QV's "Fun Loving Five", and he was the guy who took to the stage at the Civic Arena in 1964 to introduce The Beatles in their only appearance in Pittsburgh.

He left KQV in the early seventies, spent some time at WTAE, then moved on to other markets, living in Texas since 1983.  He was 83 years old.

Porky Chadwick, Clark Race, Chuck Brinkman, Terry Lee.  All major players as DJ's in the Pittsburgh market place.  All of them gone now.  

Barbara Russell

Barbara Russell was indeed a local show biz legend.  A comedienne and improvisational performer, she was part of the famed local comedy team of Brockett and Barbara when she teamed with the late Don Brockett.  

I can recall seeing Brockett and Barbara perform at shows at St. Philomena School years ago (and how did that ever happen?).  She was also a regular on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and she was still performing locally in dinner theater into her eighties.

I suppose that every large city has local legends like Chuck Brinkman and Barbara Russell.  Something of the fabric of the City is lost when they leave us.

RIP Barbara Russell and Chuck Brinkman.

Welcome To The Neighborhood, Morningsider!

I am happy to report that my buddy, Dan Bonk, has now made his presence known in the Blogosphere.  Dan debuted his blog, THE MORNINGSIDER, yesterday, and it can be found at:

Those of us who know Dan know that he can spin a yarn with the best of them, so this promises to be a welcome addition to the interwebs.  I mean, who among us just can't wait for the first installment of his keen insights that he calls "Three Thoughts From A Clogged Mind"?

Welcome aboard, Morningsider!!!

Sunday, August 26, 2018

To Absent Friends - Neil Simon

Neil Simon
1927 - 2018

A true American cultural treasure (he was even born on the 4th of July), Neil Simon, died today at the age of 91.  Just two days ago in writing about the movie, "The Sunshine Boys", on this blog, I wrote the following...."Let's face it, trying to name your favorite Neil Simon play/movie is like trying to name your favorite Sinatra or Beatles song.  There is just too much rich material from which to choose to come up with a definitive favorite."

Simon was a comedy writer for one of the earliest television classics, Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows", where he worked with such great writers as Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, and Larry Gelbart.  He went on to become one of the greatest playwrights in American history.  Thirty-three of his players were produced on Broadway, and they include undeniable classics such as "The Odd Couple", "Barefoot in the Park", "Sweet Charity", "Plaza Suite", and the aforementioned "The Sunshine Boys".  At two different points in time, the late 1960's and the mid 1990's, there were four Simon plays running simultaneously on Broadway.

He is also credited with 28 different movie screenplays.  

He has won two Tony Awards, an Emmy, and a Pulitzer Prize.  He is a Kennedy Center Honoree and the winner of the Mark Twain Prize for American humor.

I have seen three shows on Broadway in my life, and I am thrilled that first one that I saw was a Neil Simon play, "Plaza Suite", in 1969 when my Dad took me to New York with him on a business trip as a high school graduation celebration.

The wonderful thing about people like Neil Simon is that even when they die, they continue to live on.  Neil Simon's plays will continue to be staged professionally, in local theaters, and in high schools for as long as the English language will continue to exist, and they will always - ALWAYS - be funny.  

Is there a better gift for anyone to give the public?

RIP Neil Simon.

To Absent Friends - John McCain

John McCain
1936 - 2018

United States Navy (Ret.)
1958 - 1981

United States House of Representatives

United States Senate
1987 - 2018

Republican Nominee for President

As my friend Tim Baker put it this morning, John McCain was on the opposite side of the aisle from me, but has anyone set a better example of just what a "public servant" should be than did John McCain over the course of his life?  

RIP John McCain.

Friday, August 24, 2018

A New Look at Three Old Movies

I love going back and watching older movies, movies that I enjoyed in the past, and watching them once again from the perspective of the passing of time and advanced years (my own!).  Thanks to TCM and my DVR, I recently watched three such movies, all comedies: PILLOW TALK (1959), WHAT'S UP, DOC? (1972), and THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1975).

Let's take this in the order in which I watched them.

Let's face it, trying to name your favorite Neil Simon play/movie is like trying to name your favorite Sinatra or Beatles song.  There is just too much rich material from which to choose to come up with a definitive favorite.  THE SUNSHINE BOYS often gets overlooked when discussing the Simon canon, but it is one of my favorites.  It started as a play in 1972, received multiple Tony nominations, and ran on Broadway for over 500 performances.  In 1975,  it was released as a movie that starred George Burns and Walter Matthau as Al Lewis and Willie Clark, "The Sunshine Boys", a famous vaudeville act that had a run of success for over forty years, but there was one small problem: they hated each other.  It seems that Clark never forgave Lewis for, among other things, retiring and ending the act.  However, they have been asked to reunite for one last time to perform on a "History of Comedy" television special.

Burns won an Oscar for his performance, Matthau is his usual brilliant self as the cantankerous Willie  (Matthau was 24 years younger that Burns, but you'd never know it), and in an supporting role, Richard Benjamin as Willie's nephew and agent is fabulous.  So many great bits in this one:  Matthau/Willie trying to open his apartment door, Benjamin's continued frustration in dealing with both Lewis and Clark ("Oh, I'm getting chest pains"), and both Lewis and Clark reminiscing about old show biz acts and disagreeing about who was whom when reading the obituaries in Variety.

Great line:
Benjamin - "Mr. Lewis, aren't you excited about doing the old act again?"
Burns - "I've done this sketch 11,000 times.  11,001 doesn't excite me."

THE SUNSHINE BOYS is touching, poignant, and, above all, funny.  I couldn't recommend it highly enough.

In 1972, thirty-three year old director Peter Bogdanovich, fresh off a big hit, "The Last Picture Show", decided to revive the genre of "screwball comedy" of the 1930's and '40's with WHAT'S UP, DOC?.  The plot, such as it is, involves a mix-up of four identical plaid travel bags, an absent minded music professor, Ryan O'Neal, his nagging fiance, Madeline Kahn (her movie debut), and, of course, the flighty, madcap heroine, Barbra Streisand, who falls in love with the clueless O'Neal.

I recall seeing this movie back in 1972 on at least two occasions in crowded movie theaters and laughing hysterically at the slapstick elements - cars crash into each other as Streisand blithely crosses a street, a guy follows another guy through the streets of San Francisco while lugging a set of golf clubs,  a hotel room catching on fire while Streisand is out on the ledge of the building wrapped only in a towel, a pie fight, and, in the piece de resistance a four car (plus a bicycle pushcart) chase scene throughout San Francisco that involves, among other elements, a guy on a very high stepladder trying to hang a sign in the middle of the street, while two guys try to cross the street while carrying a huge pane of  glass.  

Like I said, it was big laughs in a crowded theater forty-five years ago, and that is perhaps how this movie should be seen.  In a crowd with a lot of other people.  Then the laughter would be infectious   It was still funny with just Marilyn and I watching it in our living room, but it wasn't quite the same.  Also, Bogdanovich and screenwriter Buck Henry made one big mistake.  The last line of dialog between Streisand and O'Neal at the end of the movie is a riff on the "Love means never having to say you're sorry" line from O'Neal's hit movie, "Love Story".  It was pretty funny line back in 1972, but audiences seeing it today would have no clue as to what the joke was supposed to be.  The rest of the comedy in WHAT'S UP, DOC? is pretty much timeless, though.

Interestingly enough, this was the first movie that Streisand made that was not a movie remake of a big Broadway musical.  For the first time in a movie, Streisand was not required to sing in this one (although she did sing over the credits and had one small musical bit in the movie).   She was required to be a comedic actress in this one, and she pulled it off quite well.

Also, whatever happened to Peter Bogdanovich's directing career?  After "The Last Picture Show" and this one, he had one other big hit, "Paper Moon" (1973) and after that, pretty much nothing of note.  In fact, IMDB lists more acting credits (53) for him than director credits (34).  He is probably most remembered as Dr. Elliot Kupferberg on "The Sopranos".

Of the three films, this is the one that I thought that I would like the least, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this one.  In her opening comments, TCM hostess Alicia Malone noted that by the end of the 1950's, the musical films in which Day had starred were becoming passe, and that she needed something to boost her career when she was approached to make this "sex comedy" (more about THAT term later on).  She was reluctant at first, but did it anyway, and, presto-chango, Day's career was revived - she was nominated for an Oscar for PILLOW TALK -  and a great screen team, Doris Day and Rock Hudson (and Tony Randall) was born.  The three of them would take two more movies together after this one.

In PILLOW TALK, Day plays a single career woman, an interior decorator, who is forced to share a party line with Hudson, a philandering song writer.  Now today, no one watching this movie under the age of fifty would know what a "party line" was, but you get the idea pretty quickly.  Unknown to each other, they are connected by Randall, a three times divorced rich guy who is in love with Day and who is employing Hudson to write songs for  show he is backing.

As it can only happen in the movies, Hudson realizes that his hated party line partner is not some wizened old crone, but rather the beautiful Doris Day, introduces himself by using another identity (again, only in the movies), Day, of course, falls madly in love with him, and hijinks, as they say, ensue.

One very funny scene involved Randall talking to Hudson and telling him point-by-point why he needed to give up his woman-chasing, philandering ways, find a nice girl, settle down and get married.  To each point that Randall made, Hudson calmly asked "Why?"  A frustrated Randall finally says "well, if you want to be difficult I suppose you could find an argument for anything!"

The movie also co-stars Thelma Ritter playing Day's wisecracking (what else?) maid with a drinking problem.  Essentially, she plays Thelma Ritter, and she's very funny.

I came away from watching PILLOW TALK with a heightened respect for Doris Day.  She was quite beautiful (as emphasized with a gorgeous wardrobe), and very funny.  She  also had the ability to roll her eyes and make faces to terrific comic effect.  The scene where she realizes that Hudson's "Rex Stetson" is really her party line nemesis Brad Allen by playing a bit of music on a piano is a brilliant bit of comic acting.

I mentioned that this was considered a "sex comedy" when it was released.  Sexual mores have sure changed since then.  In 1959, the sex comedy PILLOW TALK featured a New York City single career woman fighting off leering men in an effort to preserve her virtue.  In the early 2000's, the sex comedy "Sex and the City" featured New York City single career women like Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Catrall shedding their clothes and boffing good looking guys at the drop of a hat.  Times have certainly changed.  Whether for the better or not is, I suppose, in the eye of the beholder.

For better or for worse  Doris Day became typecast as the virtuous not-until-you-marry-me type soon after PILLOW TALK.  This probably worked against her in the mid-1960's when director Mike Nichols strongly considered Day for the role of Mrs. Robinson in "The Graduate", or so the story goes.  Of course that role went to Anne Bancroft, but one wonders "What if Doris Day became the predatory Mrs. Robinson?"  We'll never know, but it's fun to speculate. 

Anyway, there are three comic movies from the Wayback Machine.  All of the still worth watching in 2018.

Doris Day is still with us.  She turned 96 last April. 

Doris Day
Today and Yesterday

"Crazy Rich Asians"

"Nobody likes free stuff more than rich people."
           - One of the better lines from this movie.

One of the big non-comic book movie hits of this Summer season is the romantic comedy "Crazy Rich Asians", which we took in yesterday afternoon.

As RomComs go, this has all the elements going for it.  New Yorkers Rachel, an accomplished economics professor at NYU, and Nick, a successful young businessman, are in love, and are about to fly off to Singapore (the location scenes in Singapore are fantastic) to attend the wedding of Nick's cousin.  This will be the first time that Rachel will meet Nick's family so she's a bit nervous.  Nick assures her that all will be well, and that everyone will love her just as much as he does.  The thing is, though, Nick's family is rich, indescribably rich, wealthy beyond all imagination, so you just know that trouble lies ahead for the young couple.  And does it ever....Nick's ex-girlfriends see Rachel as an opportunistic gold digger, Nick's mother and grandmother don't think that the "American immigrant" Rachel is good enough for Nick and the family, and conflict arises between Nick and Rachel as a result.  Will they be able to resolve everything and live happily ever after?  Rachel also has a wacky girlfriend - a RomCom staple -  from college living in Singapore to provide comic relief and lend a dose of reality to the whole situation.

Like I said, all the elements of a terrific RomCom are in place here. Change the names and the setting, and this could be a perfect Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, and Carrie Fisher vehicle.  The twist to this movie, though, is that the entire cast, led by Constance Wu and Henry Golding as Rachel and Nick, and as suggested by the title, is composed of Asian actors, and so what?  They are attractive and talented, and who cares so long as the story being told is a good one, and it is.

Will this movie be an Oscar contender and go down as an all time great?  No, it won't, so on the "Comparison To All Kinds of Movies" scale, this one would get Two and 1/2 Stars from The Grandstander.  However, judging it strictly on the "RomCom Movies" scale, The Grandstander gives it a full Three Stars.  A perfect Summer Date Movie.

From a business perspective, it needs be noted that one of the largest, maybe THE largest market for American movies is China, so it is no coincidence that this movie has been made.  Many other movies produced by Hollywood these days are also being financed and/or co-produced by Chinese interests.  I learned this interesting factoid from listening to the always entertaining movie themed Podcast "At The Movies with Arch and Ann".  If you enjoy movies, you should listen to this one as well.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Pirates Circling the Drain

On Wednesday morning of this week, I made the following post on Facebook:

Since the unbelievable run that the Pirates had in July, which included an eleven game winning streak, and since the Archer and Kela acquisitions on July 31, they have gone 1-1 against the Cubs, 1-2 against the Cardinals, 2-1 against the Rockies, 2-2 against the Giants, and 0-1 against the Twins, a total of 6-7. Not good enough to feed the bulldog or overcome five teams for the last WC slot. I think that the performance over the last 13 games is a kind of self-correction and that this is a case of water seeking its own level, or "regression to the mean" to use the overused SABRmetric term. In truth, the team was never very good, playoff-contender-wise, and would struggle just to play .500 in 2018. I said at the outset of the season that if they finished over .500, Hurdle should be manager of the year. The fact that they are over the .500 mark today is remarkable to me. Maybe they can sustain this for the 41 games they have remaining, but I'm not sure that that's the way to bet at this point.

Since that post, the Pirates lost another game to the Twins, and have lost back-to-back 1-0 games to the Cubs.  They are now one game under .500 at 61-62.  They are 6-10 since July 31 and are currently riding a five game losing streak.  They are 6.5 games out of the second wild card spot, and, more damning, thay would need to overcome five other teams to get to that slot.  They are in fourth place in the NL Central, eleven games behind the Cubs.

At the point, the Pirates will be simply playing out the string in 2018.  The big challenge will be: Can they finish the season over .500?   They will need to go 21-18 the rest of the way to win 82 games.  They have shown that they can play at such a level, but, as I said in the Facebook post above, at this point, it's not the smart way to bet.

The interesting things to see from this point forward all be....
  • Will the players continue to battle it out, or just go through the motions?
  • Will Neal Huntington have a version of the fire sale he so wanted to have on July 31 at the August 31 waiver deal deadline instead? (I would think that there would be a spot for David Freese on some contending team's roster.)
  • Will the team start giving significant playing time to future players like Kevin Newman?  At this juncture, what would be the point in NOT playing a guy like this?

I will stand by my pre-season prediction of 73 wins.

Watch the games and enjoy them as individual contests, and think of the money you're going to save by NOT having to purchase Pirates Post-Season 2018 gear.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

To Absent Friends - Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin, the "Queen of Soul", died today at the age of 76, a victim of pancreatic cancer.

Who among us doesn't have a couple of Aretha's songs embedded in the soundtrack of our lives?

"Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade—our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. May the Queen of Soul rest in eternal peace."
- Barack Obama

I can think of no better tribute Miss Franklin than to just turn it over to the Natural Woman herself. From the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors ceremony....

RIP Aretha Franklin

A Milestone Reached

"The Grandstander" was born on January 8, 2010.  Doing a Blog was going to be a lark, something to pass the time as I entered into retirement. Would anyone read it? Would anyone care? How long would I be interested in doing it?

Eight and a half years later, it is still a lark to me, I still enjoy doing it, and enough of you out there are reading it to make me want to keep at it, and with this entry The Grandstander has now made 2,000 posts on this blog.

When I saw that this post was coming up, I had an idea to just post a list of people to whom we, Marilyn and I, are especially thankful.  However, in mentally compiling said list, it was getting lengthier and lengthier, and, as you know, whenever you compile such a list, you will invariably leave someone out.  So I will just thank all of you out there for being with us, especially over the last year and a half.  If you are one of those very special persons in our lives, you know who you are, and you know why I am saying this.

If you don't know what I am referencing, and you just enjoy reading my thoughts, insights (?), travelogues, Absent Friends obituaries, movie and book reviews, and rants, raves and brickbats about the Pirates, Steelers, Pitt and other sporting entities, thank you for reading.  I'm going to keep at it.  Don't know if there are another 2,000 entries in this brain and these fingers of mine, but, hey, it's a goal to shoot for!

Movie Time...."Three Identical Strangers"

In 1980, two young men meet at a community college in upstate New York.  They are identical.  They immediately learn that they were born on the same date and were adopted by separate families through the same New York City adoption agency.  When the story hits the newspapers, they soon discover that there is yet another of them out there.  They were identical triplets, separated at birth and adopted by three NYC area families.  The grew up within a 100 mile radius of each other.  Their story is told in this totally compelling documentary.

When David, Eddie, and Bobby found each other, it was a completely "feel good" story.  It was a story that went viral before the the phrase "going viral" existed.  People Magazine, Phil Donahue, women's magazines, the works.  The Triplets become celebrities in New York, even opening a restaurant called, not surprisingly, "Triplets".

But lurking in the background is a darker story.  Exactly why were three identical twin boys allowed to be separated at birth?  That question takes up the second half of the film, and it is both a fascinating and highly disturbing topic to explore.  I'll say no more, other than to highly recommend that you see this movie.

Three stars from The Grandstander.

As Dickerson Goes, So Go The Pirates?

Following up on my July 20 post about Pirate left fielder Corey Dickerson....

....let's take another snapshot of Dickerson's month-by-month performance, through the games of August 15.

Corey Dickerson - 2018ABHitsBARunsHRRBIOPS

Rank on team

This is what we know:
  • The Pirates were incredibly hot from Opening Day up until mid-May or so.  So was Dickerson.
  • Dickerson cooled off considerably from that point through the end of June.  So did the Pirates.
  • Dickerson had an absolutely torrid month of July, hitting .400.  The Pirates also had a torrid month of July that featured an eleven game winning streak and put the team back into playoff contention.
  • Everyone knew that neither the pace set by Dickerson nor the pace set by the team in July was sustainable.  It wasn't.  Halfway through the month of August, Dickerson has been, well, awful at the plate, and the team as a whole hasn't been much better (5-7 in the month).
So I once again ask the question posed in the headline, as Corey Dickerson goes, so go the Pirates?

Is Dickerson the cause of the Pirates playing well or lousy, or vice versa?