Monday, April 29, 2019

"Neon Prey" by John Sandford

I just finished reading "Neon Prey", the twenty-ninth novel by John Sandford featuring his creation, Lucas Davenport, now a U.S. Marshall.  If you are familiar with the Sandford/Davenport canon, this one gives you exactly what you have come to expect....heinous and loathsome villains, lots of snappy dialogue from Lucas and his colleagues, and lots of violent and often disturbing action.

In this one, Lucas is sent on the trail of a particularly nasty serial killer.  Along the way, he runs into a particularly nasty gang of home invasion criminals, and a "dumb blonde" moll of the gang who may not be as dumb as she seems.  The case takes him from the steamy bayous of Louisiana, to the wealthy enclaves of Los Angeles, the bright lights of Las Vegas, and the searing Nevada desert.

The story hits on a recurring theme of Sandford's - that even the most vile and terrible criminals are not especially bright, even if they can avoid the long arm of the law for over 300 pages of a 390 page book, and that there is no honor  - none! - among thieves.

A full Three Stars from The Grandstander.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Steelers and "The Draft"

Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, prompts more bullshit to be spread among sports writers, sports TV talking heads, and sports radio talk-jocks and callers than the build up to the annual NFL Draft.  And when said draft is over, more bullshit is spread in the analysis of "how teams did" in the draft, including instant letter grades assigned to teams' draft classes, which consist of anywhere from six to ten young men who, it needs to be noted, have yet to step on to an NFL field or play a single down in an NFL game.

Of course, the Draft is important to the teams themselves as they annually restock and infuse themselves with new young talent, but we really need to wait three to four seasons before we really know "how the Steelers/Browns/Patriots/Chiefs/et al did in the Draft".

As for the Steelers in 2019, great excitement has been generated by the fact that the team traded up ten spots in the draft and gave up three picks in order to select LB Devin Bush with the tenth selection in the first round.   No doubt Bush fills a serious need for the Steelers - and here are the key words here - if he can play at an NFL level, and no college game films, no stats from pro days and combines, will be able to tell us if he can play until young Mr. Bush gets to Latrobe in July and starts playing against other actual NFL football players.  The credentials are there (as they were with guys like Jarvis Jones) and there are reasons to be optimistic (as there were with guys like Huey Richardson), but until....well, you get the idea.

Anyway, without listing all the names, the "Devin Bush Draft", as it will come to be known, netted nine new hopefuls for Rooney U - 2 linebackers, 2 defensive linemen, and one each of the following: wide receiver, defensive back, running back, tight end, and offensive linemen.  

We all know what the needs are.  Let's hope that at least four or five these guys can fill them over the next several seasons.

Elsewhere on the Steelers front, big news was made earlier in the week that Ben Roethlisberger signed a contract extension for several gajillion dollars that will keep him in Black and Gold through the 2021 season, the season in which Ben will be 39 years old.  It will probably be Roethlisberger's final contract (although Tom Brady and Drew Brees have shown that you can still play at a top level at age 40 and beyond, so who knows?), and it really was a no brainer for the team.  You need a "franchise quarterback" to win in the NFL.  The Steelers have one, and they needed to keep him.  Case closed.  Unless Roethlisberger's talent level falls off the side of a cliff, and there is no reason to think that it  will, the Steelers now have a three year window in which to "go for it" in terms of Super Bowl contention.

One final comment upon all for the aforementioned b.s. that spews forth from draft experts, including the teams' themselves every year, let me offer the following, and I'll just confine this to the quarterback position:
  • In 2007, the Number One overall pick was JaMarcus Russell.
  • In 1999, the Number One overall pick was Tim Couch
  • In 1998, the Number Two overall pick was Ryan Leaf.
  • In 2000, the 199th overall pick was Tom Brady.
Somewhere in the archives I am sure that we can find footage of Mel Kiper's comments in each of those years, but I'll take a pass on listening to them.

Monday, April 22, 2019

To Absent Friends - Harding "Pete" Peterson

Harding Peterson
With Chuck Tanner at Three Rivers Stadium

The picture that I wanted to post of Pete Peterson, who died a few days ago at the age of 89, at the top of this entry is one that I could not find.  Google Images gives you old pictures of Peterson from his playing days as a Pittsburgh Pirate and plenty of photos of his Pirates teams, most notably the 1979 team, but the photo that I really wanted was one of Peterson holding that 1979 World Series Trophy in that post-Game 7 locker room in Baltimore, or holding that same trophy at the celebration a few days later in Market Square (I was there!!). That is the picture I wanted, because it would have depicted something that we Pirates fans may well never see again:  A Pirates General Manager who built a World Series Champion holding the tangible evidence of such a triumph.

Signed by the Pirates out of Rutgers University in 1950, Peterson had an injury curtailed and lackluster career as a player (only 66 games and 185 plate appearances over four seasons).  He went on to become a scout and minor league manager for the Pirates, and worked has way up to being the Farm Director for the team.  In that role, he was responsible for the development of many of the players who formed the core of the Pirates 1971 World Series Champs (Willie Stargell, Al Oliver, Richie Hebner, Dave Cash, Steve Blass).  When Joe L. Brown retired as Pirates GM in 1976, Peterson became the GM.

An article in the Tribune-Review today by John Steigerwald noted that this might have been the last time in history when all teams competed on a level playing field.  Free Agency was just about to become a fact of life in MLB, but as GM,  Peterson was able to make deals, a trade with the A's for manager Chuck Tanner in 1976, and early season trades in 1979 for Tim Foli and Bill Madlock, that built teams that contended for division titles in 1977-78, and won a World Series in 1979.

Not long after that wonderful season, it became apparent that the Pirates were to become one of those teams on the wrong side of MLB's financial tracks.  Peterson, grasped at straws with some signings of aging over-the-hill veterans (Amos Otis, Gene Tenace, George Hendrick), signings that didn't work out (and that were to become hallmark of the franchise for the next twenty years or so).  When the Baseball Drug Trials bombshell landed in Pittsburgh in 1985, that spelled the end of the Peterson Era in Pirates history.

Peterson stayed in baseball, scouting for a couple of other teams, and even being GM of the Yankees for one season in 1990.  The pinnacle of his career, though, was that 1979 We Are Fam-a-lee World Series winning Pirates team.  Pete Peterson lived for forty more years and neither he nor the Pirates  and their fans ever saw another Pirates GM achieve what he did.  

RIP Harding Peterson.

Peterson as a player

Friday, April 19, 2019

"Girl Most Likely" by Max Allan Collins

Regular readers of The Grandstander know that I am a big fan of mystery/thriller author Max Allan Collins.  His series of private eye novels featuring Chicago based PI Nate Heller are among the very best of the genre.  So I was excited to see that Collins is launching a new series of thrillers that feature Galena, Illinois Chief of Police Krista Larson, "the youngest female Chief of Police in the United States."

As the first novel in the series, we are introduced to Krista and to to her father, Keith, a recently retired and widowed police detective.  After he experiences some depression over the death of his wife, Krista asks her Dad to move back into the family home, where Krista now resides and from which she recently kicked out her live-in boyfriend.

The story of this novel revolves around Krista's Ten Year High School Reunion (told you she was young!), where Astrid Lund, the Girls Most Likely to Succeed, returns as the star attraction of the reunion, because she is (a) extremely beautiful, and (b) she is now a highly successful television news reporter in Chicago.  She also had a habit in high school of stealing, it seems, every other girl's boyfriend, so not everyone is all that happy to see this little vixen return for the reunion.  Lots old old wounds get opened at the Galena High School Reunion.

As you might guess, Astrid ends up getting herself killed, and Krista now has a homicide to investigate in her sleepy little tourist town.  It also happens that another female member of the class was murdered in a similar fashion if Florida several months before the reunion.  Krista enlists the aide of her Dad on a pro bono basis to help determine if the two homicides were related (the reader knows that they were), and if anyone else in danger from this killer.

Although I didn't love this book as I love Collins' Heller and "Disaster Series" mysteries, I liked it and am glad that this will be a series (the second book is already written and in the editing stages).  I like the character of Krista, although I hope that she will come to rely less and less on her Dad as the series moves along.  "Girl Most Likely" had one plot element that involved Keith that seemed unnecessary (I'm not going to spell it out as I don't want to give  a quasi-spoiler).  However, a personal matter involving Keith seems to be left wide open for development in future books, so I'm guessing that this series will revolve around the father as much as it will the daughter.  

All in all though, I found "Girl Most Likely" to be enjoyable and eminently readable, and I look forward to future stories about Chief Krista Larson.  It gets Two and One-Half Stars from The Grandstander, and I see the potential of these books getting better as the series moves on and the character of Krista continues to develop.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Notre Dame in Paris

It was heartbreaking watching scenes of the fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris burning yesterday.  Having been there on our vacation with Dan and Susan Bonk last year and visiting this magnificent edifice, it felt like we were watching a part of us going up in flames.  We were all heartened to see today that much of the internal structure of the Cathedral is still structurally sound, and that the Cathedral can be saved.  Miraculous.

This tragedy prompts me to post some of the pictures that we took when we visited Notre Dame last May.  Some of these are photos that I took, and some are photos that Dan took.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Tiger Wins The Masters!!

Hello, friends.

If it is a truth that nothing can match The Masters for sheer self-reverential malarkey, it is also a truth that few sporting events, year after year, can match The Masters for drama and excitement.  The 2019 edition of this event may have been the most dramatic of them all, and the old canard that "The Masters never really begins until the back nine Second Nine on Sunday" was never more true than it was today.

The victory of Tiger Woods at the age of 43 - his fifteenth Major, his fifth Masters win, his first Major win since 2008, and his first Masters win since 2005 - was simply amazing.  The dramatic ebbs and flows of all of the other contenders on that final nine, which saw names such as Xander Shauffle and Patrick Cantley atop the leader board, albeit briefly, the strange and awful things that can happen to golfers on Augusta National's shortest hole, the Par 3 twelfth, were all on display, and through it all the resolute determination and sheer will of Tiger Woods, not to mention his still remarkable golf skills, shone through like a beacon.  It was an amazing thing to watch, and performances and events such is this is why people who follow sports, well, follow sports.

Two comments made by Nick Faldo on the telecast stood out to me.  As it became apparent that Woods was likely to win this event, Faldo commented about the generations of younger golfers now on Tour who came of age watching Woods play.  Whereas at the height of his powers, Woods would have to fight off the occasional Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, or Davis Love, today, Faldo remarked, Woods was fighting off - and would eventually - overcome an entire field of young guns.  Faldo also told the story of how two years ago at the Masters Champions dinner, Woods told him that he doubted that he would ever be able to play golf competitively again, much less win on the sport's biggest stages.

It was a comeback of monumental proportions, and it is doubtful that any sports story that might develop and occur over the course of 2019 will be able to top the story of Tiger Woods' win at this years Masters.

Before writing this post, I went to the Blog search box and typed in "Tiger Woods", and I found sixteen posts that I had written over the years that featured Tiger Woods.  Some of them concerned the topic of who might become the "next Tiger".  In every one of those, I came to the conclusion that we are never, at least not in my lifetime, ever going to see another Tiger Woods.  This weekend's accomplishment confirms that opinion.

Like I said, what we saw today is why we follow sports.

Michael Phelps, the Tiger Woods of Swimming, 
follows the ball on Woods' near ace on #16.

Green Jacket #5
"It still fits."

Saturday, April 13, 2019


It had seemed like forever since we took ourselves out to a movie theater, so yesterday we decided to see the only movie currently in the local multiplex that had even the slightest appeal for us, Disney's "Dumbo".  This is a live action version of the 1941 Disney animated classic.  It is directed by Tim Burton, and this one delivers exactly what one might expect from Burton.  It is dark and somewhat frightening.  It is definitely NOT something to take the little kiddies to see.

Like the cartoon, this one is about the baby elephant with the freakishly big ears who is separated from his mother, and the movie is all about reuniting Dumbo with his mother.  In this one, Dumbo is born while being a part of a run down circus just after the end of World War I.  Danny DeVito owns the circus, and his star trick rider, played by Colin Farrell, is returning from the war a disabled man who now has to raise his two children on his own, as their mother died from influenza while Farrell was off in France.  When the two kids discover that Dumbo can fly, in walks Micheal Keaton, in an incredibly hammy performance, as the evil impresario who wants to wring every buck he can out of the flying elephant.  He does this at a park of his called Dreamworld,  a  bizzaro world version of Disneyland and Disney World, right down to the peddling of stuffed animal Dumbos to all of the customers.  It was an interesting satirical take on the Disney parks, and I was surprised to see it in a Disney film. 

The animatronic and digitally created animals are wonderful, and Dumbo is sure a cute little bugger, and it is amazing to see him fly, but I can't say that I loved or even seriously liked the movie.   I also wonder how many parents will take their very young children to see this and come out saying "What the Hell?  Was THAT supposed to the a kids' movie?"  No, it isn't.  However, this version does include homages to the song "Baby Mine", the Pink Elephants on Parade sequence, and the train, Casey Jr.  So there is that.

Two Stars from The Grandstander.

Thought I'd close out with this sequence from the original...

Thursday, April 11, 2019

To Absent Friends - Charles Van Doren

Charles Van Doren

Back in my junior year in high school, my American History teacher told me to read a book, I believe it was called "The Crucial Decade", for an extra credit project.  The book was a history America in the 1950's, and a large portion of the book was devoted to what is commonly called the "quiz show scandals" of that era.  To me, it was a fascinating story, and it was where I first became aware of Charles Van Doren, who died earlier this week at the age of 92.

In that era of television, quiz shows were boffo ratings winners, and a show called "Twenty-One" was one of the biggest.  Van Doren was a handsome and telegenic young Columbia University college professor from a distinguished literary family (his father was a Pulitzer Prize winning poet and and a senior Professor of English at Columbia) who was recruited to go on "Twenty-One" and take on reigning champion Herbert Stempl, who was everything that Van Doren was not.  Where Van Doren was handsome, sophisticated, and self-assured, Stempl, a public school kid, college drop out, army vet, and postal worker, was uncomfortable on camera, perspired profusely, and, to be diplomatic, was not a handsome fellow.

Van Doren defeated Stempl, went on to a long run as champion on the show, earned $129,000 in winnings, became a national celebrity (see Time Magazine cover above), and signed a contract with NBC to appear as a contributor on the Today Show.  There was only one problem.    Not only were the show's producers giving Van Doren (and other contestants, including Stempl) the questions in advance, they were also giving them the answers.  The shows were rigged, and, eventually, it all came tumbling down around all of them.  Grand juries were convened and Congressional hearings were held.  Van Doren ended up pleading guilty to perjury and received a suspended sentence.  He also lost his jobs at Columbia and NBC.

The story of the quiz show scandals is fascinating, and it was told brilliantly in Robert Redford's 1994 film, "Quiz Show", which starred Ralph Fiennes as Van Doren and John Turturro as Stempl.  If you've never seen the movie, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Van Doren took a job with Encyclopedia Britannica,  eventually becoming the chief of the Editorial Department, and went on to author essays and scholarly books.  He always refused to discuss the scandals and his role in them until 2008, when he wrote an article in the New Yorker about them.  He declined to take part in a 1992 PBS documentary on the subject, and reported turned down an offer of $100,000 to be a consultant on Redford's 1994 film.

Herb Stempl, by the way, is still with us, and will turn 93 in December.

RIP Charles Van Doren.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

"Come From Away"

Last night we took in the latest show in the Broadway in Pittsburgh series, "Come From Away".  If you are in the Pittsburgh area and love musical theater, I hope that you have tickets for this one.  Simply stated, it was fabulous.

"Come From Away" is the story of the small Canadian town of Gander, Newfoundland.  On September 11, 2001, when American airspace was closed in the wake of the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, and rural Pennsylvania, thirty-eight airplanes were diverted and forced to land at the airport in Gander.  This tiny town on the edge of North America ("somewhere in the middle of nowhere"), population 6,000, was forced to accommodate over 7,000 visitors for over five days.  The story is told with humor and emotion, and it left you both teary-eyed and uplifted.  Great music and dancing and wonderfully staged with about a dozen actors portraying several different parts, both the visitors and the native Newfoundlanders.

Oh, and the musical finale, "Screech Out", that is played after the actors make their curtain call is absolutely fantastic!  Don't miss it.

A great show that gets the full Four Stars from The Grandstander.

"Come From Away" was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Musical in 2016.  It lost out on that award that year to "Dear Evan Hansen", which will be the next and final show of the 2018-19 Broadway in Pittsburgh series.  What a great season it has been!

Monday, April 8, 2019

The Sports Weekend That Was

A quick whirl around the wide, wide world of sports from this past weekend....

  • The finalists in the NCAA Men's basketball tournament have been determined with Virginia defeating Auburn and Texas Tech defeating Michigan State in two wildly amazing games.  What an improbable finish to that Virginia game with the kid sinking three straight free throws with .6 seconds left to eek out a 63-62 win.
  • So as to avoid jinxing the situation, I will just say that we in this household are vigorously rooting for Virginia tonight.  Should the desired outcome be achieved, I will spell out the details at some point later in the week.
  • After suffering two bad losses to the Cardinals last week,  the Pirates then proceeded to complete a four game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds and now stand at 5-3.  
  • Yesterday's game featured a benches clearing hissy fit which caused numerous post game comments about baseball's hallowed "unwritten rules" and hand wringing about how certain players need to "respect the game."  What a bunch of horseshit that is.
  • Chief hand wringer among the Pirates was relief pitcher Keone Kela (who was ejected from the game for his actions in the brouhaha).  Kela apparently broke his spring training "not gonna talk to the media" dictum to make his overwrought pronouncements.  Two of the Pirates three losses, by the way, came in large part because Kela twice surrendered home runs that erased leads that he was brought in to protect.  Maybe Kela should work on that little kink before declaring himself the Arbiter Of All Things Proper On A Baseball Diamond.
  • It is becoming apparent that we are in the beginning of a season long journey wherein all broadcasts and telecasts will be a tribute to Steve Blass as he serves out his final season as a broadcaster.  I'm not a Blass Hater, by any means, but this is already getting tiring.  By what date in the season's calendar will Greg Brown begin to openly and unabashedly weep over Steve's pending departure? I say it happens after the All-Star Break, but before the July 31 trade deadline.
  • The University of Pittsburgh unveiled it's new look, or new "branding" for its athletic teams.  The blue-and yellow color scheme of the Majors-Dorsett-Sherrill-Marino-Risacher Era of Pitt athletics will now be official.  As will the "Script Pitt" logo, which, in fact, came back about two years ago.  Also, a new Panther Head will also become the "secondary" logo for Pitt's teams.
  • Much of Pitt's fan base, which has been kvetching for the return of the Script logo ever since the Evil Steve Peterson did away with them in 1997, acted predictably all across social media last night and today:  They hate the new look.  Oh the script is good, and the colors are okay, but the font of the numbers is awful and what's with that stupid new panther, they ask.  Some people are only happy, apparently, when they are unhappy.
  • Me, I like the "new" Panther, but I'd like everything a whole lot more if HCPN could manage a ten or more win season in 2019.
  • If you didn't watch the NCAA Women's basketball championship game last night, won 82-81 by Baylor over Notre Dame, shame on you.  For two and a half quarters, Baylor led ND by anywhere from ten to thirteen points. Then Baylor's best player, Lauren Cox, left the game with a bad injury, and Notre Dame proceeded to stage a valiant comeback that saw them take the lead late in the game, only to have Baylor play equally valiantly in fighting off the comeback and eventually winning the game and the championship.  Terrific game.
  • The Penguins qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs which begin on Wednesday.  Time for me to hop on the bandwagon and start watching the Pens.  My prediction:  The Penguins to win it all, no series lasting longer than five games.  The only thing not certain at this point is the exact date for the victory parade. 
  • And in football, Antonio Brown tweeted out that the person responsible for the Steelers not making the Playoffs last year was.....Juju Smith-Shuster.  Juju, you will recall, was voted team MVP by his teammates last year, and AB, apparently, has never recovered from this blatant act of disrespect.
So, what will this new week bring us?  This is why we follow sports.

Friday, April 5, 2019

An Elvis Movie: "Tickle Me"

Like many people, I have a number of "guilty pleasures", and I am willing to own up to many of them.  One of those guilty pleasures are cheesy Elvis Presley movies, and last night, thanks to TCM and my DVR, I was able to watch one of my favorites from the Elvis oeuvre, "Tickle Me", released in 1965.

In this one, Elvis plays out of work rodeo rider Lonnie Beal.  To make ends meet while waiting for the rodeo season to begin, Lonnie takes a job singing (what else) in a saloon in some out of the way desert town somewhere out west.  The job lasts one night because a drunken patron's girlfriend swoons over Lonnie (of course she does) and gets into a fist fight (of course he does) with him and pretty much wrecks the joint.  By the way, this was the first of, I believe five fist fights (I honestly lost count) that Lonnie gets into over the course of the movie.  That's high even by Elvis Movie standards.

Not to worry, though, because another customer, Vera Radford (Julie Adams) takes a shine to Lonnie (of course she does), and hires him to work with the horses on her ranch.  

Julie Adams and Elvis

The ranch turns out to be a spa/dude ranch for rich women to lose weight and stay in shape for their rich husbands.  You can see what happens, right?  All the women fall for the handsome Lonnie and his penchant to break out in song (nine songs over the course of the ninety minute movie) at the drop of a cowboy hat.  Complications ensue.

Of course, only one woman catches Lonnie's eye, and that is Pam Merritt (Jocelyn Lane), the ranch's exercise instructor, and she 

Jocelyn Lane

has no use (of course she doesn't) for a "saddle tramp" like Lonnie Beal.  This is how we first meet Pam as she leads her exercise class.  No wonder she catches Lonnie's eye!

Lonnie meets Pam
Love at first sight, and who can blame him!

Anyway, there is a sub-plot to this movie that involves Pam's looking for a treasure in gold which her grandfather left hidden in some desert ghost town, and a bunch of bad guys who are after her because they want to steal the Old Man's gold.  The plot doesn't really matter as it just serves as a flimsy excuse for Elvis to sing a bunch of songs, be chased by a bunch of bikini clad women, and get into fist fights as he pursues, and eventually - spoiler alert! - wins over the beautiful Pam.

The movie was directed by Norman Taurog, who directed a whole bunch of Elvis movies and Jerry Lewis movies, and written by two guys who devoted much of their careers to writing for the Three Stooges, and that pretty much tells you all you need to know about what this one is all about.

By regular movie standards, this gets maybe One Star from The Grandstander, but by Elvis Movie Standards, it gets Two and One-half Stars.

As I often do after seeing one of these epics, I did some research on Elvis' leading lady in this one, Jocelyn Lane.  She was born in Austria in 1937 (she will turn 82 next month!), went to school in New York City, but her family moved to England when she was fourteen.  She became a model and a cover girl before she was recruited to act in movies.  Undeniably beautiful, she was dubbed the "British Bardot", and you can find lots of photos of her like this on your Google Machine.

You can also find one that she did for Playboy back in the '60's, but, as is my policy, I am keeping The Grandstander family friendly.

She has 42 acting credits listed in IMDB, and her acting career pretty much dried up after 1970.  She married a Spanish prince, had a daughter, got divorced, and has never remarried.  Like I said, she turns 82 next month. I hope that she is living comfortably and in good health.

These kinds of things just tickle me (so to speak).

Thursday, April 4, 2019

This 'n That....

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

News arrived earlier this week that the Alliance of American Football, the AAF, or, as some refer to it, The Aaaaaafffffff, was folding its tent and ceasing operations after seven weeks of its inaugural season.

This league seemed to have a lot going for it....Smart football people were involved (Bill Pollian) in running it, there was TV backing for it (CBS, NFL Network), and it had a reasonable sense of itself (it would work in concert with the NFL as a developmental league, rather than as a competitor).  Plus, there seemed to be a constant demand for football in the United States, right?

Well, apparently not.  

I did watch a game in the first weekend, but none since.  The quality of play was spotty, but I liked that they were using the games to test out new rules and ideas (no kickoffs, a variation of the onside kick, etc), and the games did move incredibly quickly in real time, so the NFL could definitely learn from that.  

However, it didn't even last full season.  I don't want to make light of it, since a lot of people - players, coaches, game officials, and office staffs - are now out of work.  That's never a good thing.  Also, if you are considering investing in the revival of Vince McMahon's XFL, scheduled to start in 2020, you might want to reconsider.  The demise of the AAF would pretty much doom the XFL, it seems to me.

I generally avoid any analysis of a baseball team's season until they play thirty games, or around 20% of a season, but based on only four games thus far, your Pittsburgh Pirates appear to be a team that will cause it's fans to gobble up antacid pills like ballpark peanuts as the season unfolds.  They sit at 1-3. In all four games, they led after six innings (they could be 4-0) before the bullpen, considered a strength going into the season, proceeded to blow those leads, and blow them in somewhat spectacular fashion.

Starting pitching has been good to very good, defense has been shaky, base running questionable, and the bullpen, as previously noted, awful.  Still, it's only four games, so no need to panic yet.  Let's check in again after that thirty game mark.

The Pirates home opener loss to the Cardinals, the 4-0 and 5-4 leads blown by the Bucs aside, was a perfect microcosm of all that is wrong about baseball at this point in the 21st century.  It took five hours to play, and while there were two extra innings involved, it took four hours to play nine innings. Managers Clint Hurdle and Mike Schildt (and if you'd have pointed a gun to my head before Monday and told me to name the Cardinals manager, I'd have failed miserably), did all that they could to slow this game down and turn it into an interminable slog.  

Consider this one sequence in the game.  Hurdle makes his slow walk out to the mound and calls in Francisco Liriano from the pen to face a left-handed batter.  Liriano makes his way in from the bullpen, takes his eight warm up pitches (after he'd already been throwing in the bullpen), and the proceeds to walk the batter he faces.  Hurdle then walks out to the mound, calls in another pitcher, who walks in from the pen, takes his eight warm up pitches....well, you get the idea.  Probably 12 to 15 minutes of real time elapsed and the only thing that actually happened was a base on balls.

Baseball as it is being played today is becoming almost unwatchable.  The old time baseball "purists" who rail and shout at the clouds about anything being done to "change the game" should be more worried about the game withering and dying from lack of interest due to the pure ennui that the game has become.  Rob Manfred's desire to make changes that will pick up the pace of play should be encouraged and embraced, not scorned by the people who long for the days of wool uniforms and teams traveling by trains.

The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament has gone pretty much according to chalk and have lacked the early round upsets hat everyone loves, and that was probably a good thing, since it produced some spectacular games in the Rounds of Sixteen and Eight.  We have become big fans of the University of Virginia Cavaliers as the Final Four approaches.  Should UVA  advance to the final game and win it on Monday night, Marilyn will be the winner of a prestigious Bracket Pool run by our pal John Frissora.  Even if the Hoos lose in the final, she will finish in second place, but to get there, they need to beat Auburn and its loathsome coach Bruce Pearl on Saturday.  So let's go UVA.  Make Mr. Jefferson proud.

And in a non-sports related item, I note that yesterday was the 97th birthday of actress Doris Day.  I made mention of this on The Facebook yesterday, both on my regular feed and on a couple of movie groups to which I belong.  All posts brought up numerous comments and "likes" from people expressing their regard for Miss Day.  As I said, who doesn't like Doris Day and what's not to like?  I hope that she spent her birthday, and is spending all of her days, in good health and comfort.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

To Absent Friends - David White

Danny and the Juniors
David White, second from left

Okay, another obituary hits the news that may only be of interest to me, but it is enough to merit an Absent Friends citation.  Before I read the obituary in the paper, or rather in the e-paper, this morning, I had no idea who David White was, but I sure had heard him enough over the years.

Turns out that as a teenager, White and three of his buddies, Danny Rapp, Frank Maffei, and Joe Terranova, started singing doo-wop style on the street corners of their Philadelphia neighborhood.  They called themselves the Juvenaires.  Another teen aged Philly singer, Frank Madera, heard them through his bedroom window, collaborated with White to write a song called "Do The Bop", made a demo recording of it and took it to a powerful Philly disc jockey named Dick Clark.  Clark suggested that they rework the lyrics and change the title to "At The Hop", and make Rapp the lead singer.  The group then changed its name to Danny and the Juniors.  Clark then put them on a little TV show of his called American Bandstand in 1957.  "At The Hop" then rocketed to Number One on the Billboard charts and stayed there for nine weeks.

White and Madera then wrote a follow up called "Rock and Roll Is Here To Stay", another hit, although it never reached the heights of "At The Hop".  Both songs have become near anthems of their era, and often appear on soundtracks of movies depicting those times, such as George Lukas' "American Graffiti".

Like many groups of those days, Danny and the Juniors eventually broke up and fizzled out.  White continued to write songs, some of them hits, like Lesley Gore's "You Don't Own Me" and Len Barry's  "1-2-3", but from the tone of the news obit, it seemed to have been a fairly hard scrabble life for Mr. White, living largely on royalties from his two greatest hits.  An attempt to revive Danny and the Juniors in the early 1980's ended when Rapp died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1983.

Let us say RIP to David White by listening to his greatest hit.