Friday, December 31, 2010

The New Year's Eve Movie - A Tradition Upheld

For the I-don't-know-the-number-year in a row, Marilyn and I hit the movie theater on New Year's Eve. This year, the selection was the Coen Brothers version of "True Grit." A bit different from our usual romantic comedy fare for this night, to say the least, but a very good movie.

A couple of points:
  • If you are a John Wayne fan and consider it a sacrilege to remake's the Duke's Oscar winning movie from 1968, get over it. It's OK to to remember Wayne's movie with fondness, but judge this version on its own merits.
  • This movie, from what I have read, is truer to the Charles Portis novel on which it is based, which makes it different from what was essentially a vehicle for Wayne back then. I haven't read the novel myself, so I am basing that only on some reviews that I have read.
  • Jeff Bridges is terrific as Rooster Cogburn. Not sure he'll get any award consideration, but this is a performance at least as good as his Oscar winning turn in "Crazy Heart" last year.
  • The real star of this movie is 14 year old Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross. She steals the show.
  • The other "stars" are, of course, the Coen Brothers. Their unique perspective on things that made moves like "Fargo", "Burn After Reading", "No Country for Old Men" and so many others so quirky and good are all here in "True Grit."
  • And there is a different kind of an ending to this version than I remember from the original "True Grit." A little more melancholy, but a more realistic one, I think.

Oh, and to those of you familiar with our little New Year's Eve tradition, rest assured that we did indeed hit the drive-thru at KFC, and enjoyed our meal of Original Recipe here at home.

Happy New Year. everybody!!


Best wishes to all Loyal Readers for a healthy and happy and prosperous 2011!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"The King's Speech"

If you have been reading the movie news and the early show biz award nominations, you know that "The King's Speech" is all the rage among critics, will be featured at or near the top of everybody's Top Ten List for 2010, and is heavily favored to make a big haul at the Academy Awards next year.

Today, Mrs. Grandstander and I ventured out to see what all the fuss was about, and we have to agree with all the hype: this is a terrific movie. Great acting by Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter, and a terrific and gripping story, made all the more so because it is a true story. I, of course, have absolutely no memory of King George VI, but it is fascinating to see the importance of a leader in a time of crises, as the King was at the outset of World War II. It is also neat to see a younger version of the King's wife, Queen Elizabeth, whom I knew only as the Queen Mother, or Queen Mum, as well as the little girls, Princesses Margaret and (future Queen) Elizabeth.

If you are looking for something other than a "popcorn movie" or bit of RomCom fluff this Holiday Season, then I strongly suggest that you make haste to see "The King's Speech."

As we were driving home, we were comparing this movie to the movie "The Queen" of a few years back. Marilyn had a great observation. She remarked about how kind and sympathetic Elizabeth, the wife of George VI, was in "The King's Speech" and what "a bitch" she was in "The Queen." An excellent point that you probably won't read in other reviews of this movie.

Thought I would close with an actual photo of the protagonists of "The King's Speech."

On Station Square, Pitt, and TV Announcers....

A post-Christmas cleaning of the Mental In-Box....
  • For whatever reason, Marilyn and I feel like we are "on vacation" this week. Not sure why that is, but we are enjoying the feeling.
  • Continued a tradition of ours by having our anniversary dinner last night at the Grand Concourse in Station Square. The crab cakes were top notch, but nothing beats a bowl of Charley's Chowder before the meal.
  • Took a stroll through the Shoppes at Station Square before dinner. That was semi-depressing, and to think that this was once the crown jewel of downtown revitalization.
  • And on a similar note, the Grand Concourse itself had a lot of empty tables at what should have been the prime dinner hour during the holiday week.
  • Plans for today include a trip to the Robinson Cinemark to take in the highly touted "The King's Speech." Will provide a review later this evening or tomorrow.
  • To those of you curious as to our New Year's Eve plans: an early showing of "True Grit" followed by a stop at the KFC take-out window. Nothing says New Year's Eve like a bucket of the Colonel's Original Recipe!
  • Work is set to begin on the Village Drive "Basement Project" next Monday. Periodic updates will follow.
  • To Absent Friends: a belated farewell to actor/comedian Steve Landesberg, who passed away last week. While Landesberg was not always my idea of a boffo stand-up comedian, he was great in the role of Detective Arthur Dietrich in one of TV's all-time great sitcoms, "Barney Miller." RIP.
  • That was quite a can of whoop ass that the Pitt Panthers opened up on the UConn Huskies last night. Regardless of the home court advantage afforded by The Pete, that was a most impressive victory.
  • Speaking of the Pitt game, the positioning of the Pitt broadcast table right next to the Pitt bench gave Billy Hillgrove's bourbon-nosed mug a lot of face time on the ESPN air last night.
  • I can see how can be irritating to some, if not many, listeners, but I like Bill Rafftery as an analyst on college hoops games.
  • Speaking of irritating announcers, on Christmas night, after the company was gone, and the house was "redd up," and before crawling into bed, I turned the TV on to the NFL Network's telecast of the final eight minutes or so of the Cowboys-Cardinals game (which, for a game between two crummy teams, had a very exciting finish). Can there possibly be a worse announcing crew than the Papa-Theismann-Millen Team? Papa may be an okay play-by-play guy, but he has no chance of being liked when teamed up with those other two jack-wagons. Positively the worst.
  • Congratulations to Jamie Dixon and Susie McConnell-Serio on being named Dapper Dan Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year by the Post-Gazette. Can't think of a more deserving winner than Dixon.
  • Watched a bit of the Saints-Falcons game after the Pitt game last night. At one point, Jon Gruden was waxing eloquently how about what a heads up and intelligent QB Drew Brees is. He just doesn't make mistakes, the Coach insisted. Two plays later, Brees made an ill-advised throw that was intercepted by a Falcon defensive tackle and returned for a touchdown. It was a stupid play that you might expect from a raw rookie QB playing in his first pro exhibition game. Hey, I'll agree that Brees is in the top echelon of NFL QB's, but the irony of such a bonehead play coming right after the MNF announcing team's canonization of him was absolutely delicious.
  • On the was home from Station Square last night, we took a ride through town and saw the "Horne's Tree" on the side of Penn Avenue Place. A beautiful site.
  • We also drove past Heinz Field to catch a view of the ice skaters on the temporary ice rink that has been put up outside of the stadium. Why couldn't that rink become a permanent fixture on the North Side during the winter months?
  • Here's hoping that the forecast of mild weather for New Year's Day does NOT come to pass so that the Winter Classic can be played in appropriate winter conditions.

Monday, December 27, 2010

More on the New Hawaii Five-0

Spent some great day-after-Christmas TV viewing time catching up on a couple of DVR'd back episodes of the new Hawaii Five-O. I have to say that the new version of this classic TV show is hooking me. Alex O'Laughlin's Steve McGarrett, like the Jack Lord incarnation of the original, is a no-nonsense Supreme Bad Ass, who is willing to get down-and-dirty with the bad guys like Lord's McGarrett never did. And unlike James MacAurthur's Danny Williams, who was the ultimate yes man to McGarrett, the Scott Caan version takes no guff and gives it right back to McGarrett. Their bickering by-play is becoming a pretty nice piece of comic schtick in the show.

The highlight of the two episodes that I watched last night was the return of super villain Wo Fat. How great is that? This Wo Fat does not look at all like the old Wo Fat, who was played by the late Khigh Dheigh (below left). For you old movie buffs, Dheigh played the evil villain in the original "Manchurian Candidate." When I saw the new Wo Fat, I said to Marilyn that he looks like the guy who introduces the secret ingredient on each episode of Iron Chef. After doing a little Googling this morning, I found that he is indeed "The Chairman" on Iron Chef. He is actually an actor named Mark Dacascos (below right).

It is going to be great to watch the return of one of television's all time greatest cops battling it out against his arch nemesis. That, my friends, is must see TV!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

What a Great Christmas It Was!

It was a wonderful Christmas Holiday for Marilyn and I as we spent some terrific time with both sides of the family on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It was especially meaningful to us this year as we were able to enjoy our first Christmas in our new home. I thought that I would share with you all the beautiful sight of the Stonebrook Village Christmas Eve Luminary (the photo doesn't do it justice), as well as some pictures of some of the people who made it such a special Holiday for us.

This really is what Christmas is all about.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Steelers 27 - Panthers 3

Steelers take care of business....Theismann and Millen are insufferable....just as I predicted.

Would be nice if the hated Browns can take it to the Hated Ravens on Sunday and thus render the final game meaningless. Probably won't happen, though.

A Quick & Dirty Prediction(s)

Prediction #1 - The Steelers to win easily over Carolina on Thursday Night Football tonight.

Prediction #2 - Shortly after kickoff, I will turn the TV sound down to a barely audible level so as not to hear the constant ruminations and bloviations of Joe Theismann and Matt Millen. Unfortunately, the radio broadcast by Billy, Tunch, and Wolf is hardly an acceptable alternative. Ah, for the glory days of Flemming & Cope....

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Fullfilling Another Christmas Tradition

Yes, tonight we watched the classic "A Christmas Story." The Old Man....Flick's tongue on the pole...a Major Award....Scut Farkus and his crummy little toady, Grover Gill...the Bumpus hounds...and, of course, you'll shoot your eye out...and many, many more.

Can't have Christmas without watching this one from start to finish one night prior to the Big Day (the day around which the entire kid year revolves). Always funny, always delightful.

And if you've never done so, get hold of Jean Shepard's book of comic essays, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. "A Christmas Story" is based upon several of these great stories, and reading them is actually funnier than the movie.

Letter to the Editor

For those of you who do not read the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, allow me to share a letter to the editor from today's addition (easier than just re-writing the whole thing!):

Mark Belko's story on the economic impact that the upcoming Winter Classic will have on the city was of interest ("City to Reap Cold Cash from Classic," Dec. 19). No doubt, similar stories will be written if the Steelers play one or two home playoff games next month.

However, while reading the story, my mind went back to four days this past summer when the Philadelphia Phillies came to town for a four-game series with the Pirates. If you attended any of those games, you were no doubt impressed by the large numbers of fans who were at PNC Park wearing Phillies gear and cheering for their team. Maybe some of them were transplanted Philadelphians, but most of them were people who traveled from the Philadelphia region to Pittsburgh to see the ball games at PNC Park.
There were thousands of these people and they had to stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, buy souvenirs and probably visited other Pittsburgh attractions (Heinz History Center, the Warhol, the zoo, the science center, etc.) while they were here. The economic impact of those visitors during that four-day period had to have been significant.

If you regularly attend Pirates games, you know that this is not unusual. This past season alone, I saw fans -- lots and lots of fans -- from Milwaukee, Chicago, Atlanta and New York who came to Pittsburgh to see their teams play the Pirates.

The Pirates draw a lot of criticism, not unjustly, because of how they have fared on the playing field over the last 18 years, but no one seems to realize or comment upon what a civic and economic asset they are to the region. One-shot deals like the Winter Classic, U.S. Open and All-Star Game are great, but, while I concede that I am no economist, I am betting that the Pirates, playing 81 games a season, year after year, are worth more to the city and the region over the long haul.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

89 in a Row

I just finished watching the UConn women's basketball team win their record setting 89th win in a row, and doing it in typical fashion: a 30+ point margin of victory over a ranked team, Florida State. Congratulations to the Lady Huskies for this remarkable achievement.

While out and about yesterday afternoon, I heard Joe Starkey and Josh Miller discussing this topic on The Fan, and Starkey took the position that an "average" boys high school team would beat the Connecticut women and beat them handily. Miller took issue with this and cited an instance of when he was playing football at the University of Arizona, a group of the Arizona football players, played a pick-up game with the Arizona women's team, a middle of the pack Pac-10 women's team. The football players, Miller noted, had their heads handed to them by the ladies.

Starkey still maintained his position, and used the following example: the Schenley High School championship team of a few years back that featured DeJuan Blair. I will give you that a good high school boys team that featured DeJuan Blair (or that team in Akron a few years back that featured LeBron James) no doubt would beat the Lady Huskies, but Starkey's original premise was that an average boys high school team (and he even gave it a yinzer spin by saying an average boys WPIAL team) would soundly beat the UConn women.

Well, I happen to like Joe Starkey, but on this issue, I think he's out to lunch. An average high school boys basketball team would have no shot against the current Lady Huskies. That's my take on it.

Agree or disagree?

Turning a Profit

Found some success at the Rivers Casino blackjack table this afternoon. Sat down with $100; left 90 minutes or so later with $145. Highlight was deviating from my usual $10 bet and putting $20 down, then splitting a pair of sixes and then seeing BOTH bets beat the dealer. I was holding my breath the entire time. It's fun game when you're winning!!

Counting my visit to The Rivers on July, I am now almost - but not quite - even for 2010.

Winter Classic News

If you are planning on attending the NHL's Winter Classic on January 1, you are in for an additional treat. part of the in-game entertainment will be a performance by the Mt. Lebanon High School Blue Devil Band's highly renown Drum Line and Percussion Group, starring Ashley Hansen!!!

The Grandstander salutes and sends congratulations to Ashley and the rest percussion group.

Christmas at the Casino

Looking forward to meeting Highmark buddies Roger and Frank today for a Christmas lunch - and a little blackjack - at the Rivers Casino.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Monday Thoughts....

  • While the Steelers are a good team, pardon me if I don't think they are a very good team. When they have played good teams they have lost to the Saints, Patriots, Jets, split with the Ravens, beaten the Falcons in OT in the first game of the season, and beaten the Dolphins thanks to an absolute gift from the zebras. With a 10-4 record and games remaining with the pathetic Panthers and the Browns, a 12-4 record and first round bye is not inconceivable, but I don't see more than one win, maybe, in the playoffs.
  • Of course, maybe someone upsets New England in second round, and the Steelers get a home game in the AFC Championship against someone like San Diego or the Jets.
  • Yes, despite what I said above, I think the Steelers would beat the Jets if they get another crack at them.
  • Do you really see anyone upsetting New England? I don't.
  • Welcome to Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh, Mike Haywood. I can't believe the overwhelming negativity and downright viciousness to which this coaching hire has been met, and that much of it is coming from the very people who were calling for Dave Wannstedt to be fired a mere three weeks ago.
  • Now, if you are among those who felt that Wannstedt should NOT have been fired, then your ire should be directed at Steve Pedersen and Mark Nordenberg. Don't blame Haywood for that. Give the guy a chance, will ya?
  • I also think that Pitt fans have an overinflated sense of what the "Pitt program" is. In my lifetime, Pitt has been an "elite" program from during what I will call the Tony Dorsett-Hugh Green-Dan Marino/Johnny Majors-Jackie Sherrill era, a period that lasted about six or seven seasons. Prior to that, I suppose you would have to go back to the days of Jock Sutherland to count Pitt as one of the elite teams in the nation.
  • If you want to argue that Pitt should be dominating and winning a mediocre Big East Conference, fine, but Pitt is not Florida, Texas, Southern California, Ohio State, Oklahoma or any team or program of that ilk. Don't kid yourselves into thinking otherwise.
  • Pitt is also suffering by comparison, according to many, to the move that West Virginia made with the Dana Holgorson Coach-in-Waiting hire. Not sure how effective a lame duck Bill Stewart will be with his successor standing next to him in practice and on the sidelines every day. I can't understand why WVU just didn't kick Stewart upstairs and put Holgorson in place right now.
  • Right after the Pirates finalize the deal that brings Kevin Correia to the team for two seasons, the Central Division, comparable size market Milwaukee Brewers swing a trade with the Royals for Zack Greinke. Need I comment any further?
  • Did anyone catch all or part of Larry King's farewell show on CNN the other night? What an exercise in psycophantery (not sure if that is a real word, but you get the drift). Donald Trump, Dr. Phil, Ryan Seacrest....yoi! No Paris Hilton or Lindsey Lohan??? And then he drags out his wife and kids. Isn't this the wife (#7) that was talking about divorcing him because he was having an affair with her sister? I saw about 12 minutes of the show, which was about 11 minutes too many.
  • I wonder if during any part of that farewell show Larry bemoaned the fact that Dodgers left Brooklyn. That was always a staple of his.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Made the Right Choice

Left the Steelers game early this evening to attend 5:30 Mass which was followed by the Children's Christmas program at St. John Neumann Church. Regardless of the outcome of the game, I made the right choice. Nothing like a kid's Christmas Pageant to really bring the season home to you.

Merry Christmas!!!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Viking Freshman Hoopsters

The Grandstander had a great time returning to the campus of Central Catholic to watch the Vikings freshman basketball team take on the no-longer-traditional rival North Catholic Trojans. What prompted this return to Central was the chance to see great-nephew Patrick Sproule start at guard for the Little Vikings and play a key role down the stretch.

North led for most of the game, but the Vikes rallied in the fourth quarter to tie the game and send it into overtime. The home squad prevailed and defeated the Trojans 63-58.

Pat tallied six points in the game, but three of those came in the overtime period and sealed the deal for Central in the waning seconds of the game. He also made a couple of key defensive plays in overtime that contributed to the win.

Great fun!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Woody Allen

The Grandstander is going to depart the world of sports today to talk about one of his favorite movie makers, Allan Stewart Konigsberg, better know to the world as Woody Allen.

Two events are prompting this. The first was hearing mention earlier this month that Allen turned 75 years of age on December 1. The second occurred this past Sunday when I watched the classic "Annie Hall" on Turner Classic Movies. More on that later.

Allen has been around for a long time. He got his show biz start as a writer. He was one of the stable of writers for Sid Caesar's TV show that included Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, and Neil Simon, among others. In the early 1960's he became a stand-up comic of some renown. His routine about a guy taking a moose to a costume party is a classic!

In the late '60s, Allen began writing, directing and acting in movies, and this is where he became, in my mind, a landmark figure in American popular culture. IMDB lists Allen as a director for 46 movies since 1969. Not all are gems, but Allen hits more often than he misses, and even in his later years, he can still bang out some solid hits.

Herewith, I present, in no particular order (well, OK, alphabetical order) some of my favorite Allen movies. This is not, by all means, and all-inclusive list.

Annie Hall (1977) - This might be considered Allen's classic. The movie won Oscars for Best Picture, Director (Allen), and Actress (Diane Keaton), and Allen was nominated for Best Actor. After watching it just five days ago, I can assure you that it still holds up quite well despite being 33 years old. Keaton was great in it as Annie. Long time co-star Tony Roberts also great as Woody's actor buddy who tries to convince Alvy Singer (Allen) to leave New York and come to LA (great line: "I did do Shakespeare in the park. I got mugged.") The scene where Alvy sneezes into the small box containing another guy's $2,000-an-ounce cocaine still makes me laugh, even when I know it's coming. The movie has a very sweet ending as well.

Broadway Danny Rose (1984) Woody as a small time Broadway talent agent who gets mixed up with a no talent singer with ties to the mob. My favorite part of this one is the set up: it's told in flashbacks by a bunch of New York City night club comics sitting around a deli table late at night telling stories.

Bullets Over Broadway (1994) Woody doesn't act in this one. John Cusack plays the "Allen character" as a struggling playwright whose play is being bankrolled by a mob leader who wants his girlfriend to star in it. During rehearsals, the play ends up being re-written by the mob goon, Chaz Palmentieri, who is there as the dame's bodyguard. Diane Wiest, as the diva actress who stars in the play, won an Oscar for this role. Classic line: "Don't speak."

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) This is a dual story: one involves Martin Landeau, who goes to drastic ends to resolve marital difficulties, and the other involves Allen as the schlep film maker who's ex-wife (Mia Farrow) convinces her current husband (Alan Alda) to allow Woody to make a documentary about him. Watch Woody and Alda as they screen the initial rushes of the film Allen has made. Funny stuff. How the two stories tie together is what makes this a good movie.

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) This a favorite of Mrs. Grandstander. Mia Farrow is the Hannah of the title and Barbara Hershey and Diane Wiest are the sisters. Woody is Farrow's ex-husband and Michael Caine is Hannah's current husband. Lots of family drama unfolds involving the relationships of the three sisters and the men in their lives. Wiest and Caine won Oscars for their roles. Another movie with a sweet ending.

Mighty Aphrodite (1995) Mira Sorvino won an Oscar for her hilarious portrayal of a hooker with whom Allen becomes involves, sort of. Woody is battling marital difficulties in this one (a recurring these in his movies). For those who don't like Woody's "serious" movies, this is a funny one. Again, another happy ending with a bit of a twist to it. Sorvino is great in this one.

Play It Again, Sam (1972) Allen starred in this one and wrote the screenplay, based upon his play, but he did not direct it. Herbert Ross did. Another funny one. Keaton made this one either right before, or right after she made The Godfather, and this one shows her just as she was about to become a big star. Tony Roberts is great as the guy who always have to leave phone numbers where he can be reached.

Radio Days (1987) This one might be my favorite Allen movie of all. Allen narrates, but does not appear in this clearly autobiographical movie. Half of the movie focuses on the Brooklyn family living and growing up during WWII, and half on the world of the radio stars that they listened to. Diane Wiest, Julie Kavner, Michael Tucker, and Seth Green (the Allen surrogate) are the main characters in the family, and Mia Farrow is Sally White, the cigarette girl turned radio star. Diane Keaton does a small turn as a band singer. A wonderful, wonderful movie. Wiest is particularly good in this one.

Scoop (2006) A more recent Allen movie that may not have received great notices, but that I felt was quite funny. Scarlett Johannson co-stars in this one.

Small Time Crooks (2000) Allen leads a band of incompetent crooks trying to pull of a jewel heist. His wife, Frenchy (Tracy Ullman), acts as a cover by running a cookie shop that becomes, a huge success. Again, this is a pure comedy with lots of laughs throughout.

Zelig (1983) A send up of a documentary about a chameleon-like guy, Zelig (Allen), who had the ability to appear everywhere during the great events of history. An interesting piece of movie making.

As I said, this is a brief list, and it certainly isn't all-inclusive. There are lots of other Allen movies that I like. If you haven't seen any of them, or haven't seen them in a long while, check them out.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bob Feller

There is nothing that I can add to all that will be written and said about Bob Feller over the next few days. His record as both a Hall of Fame pitcher and as a war hero cannot be disputed, and may he rest in peace.

I am not of an age to have any memory of Feller as an active ballplayer, but my memory of him may be somewhat different than many you will hear about over the next few days. Life circumstances found me moving to and living in Cleveland from 1974-78. I had been traded to the American League for God's sake! Anyway, as I began following the Indians during my stay in that city, naturally, I became aware of Bob Feller. He was, and rightly so, revered in Cleveland, much like Pie Traynor was and Bill Mazeroski is here in Pittsburgh. But every time Feller spoke, I found him to come across as a bitter guy, always putting down the current day players, and always resentful of the money that guys were making "these days." I can even recall a quote from him wherein he stated how Marvin Miller had "ruined" the game. Rightly or wrongly, that is my memory of Bob Feller.

On the other side of the coin, I recall reading a lengthy feature article in Sports Illustrated a few years back that I found to be rather delightful. At the time, it was discovered that Feller had lived longer after his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame that any other member ever. In the story, he recounted his days as a player and in his post playing baseball life. As I said, the story was a delight. Maybe he mellowed a bit in his later years.

RIP Rapid Robert.

Hot Stove Ruminations - Catching Up with and Active Week

Well, I take two days off from posting, and there is so much to catch up on....
  • The Pirates sign Lyle Overbay. The best line on this signing comes from Bloggin' Bob Smizik: "The Pirates have decided to replace Garrett Jones with....Garrett Jones."
  • Signing of Overbay seems to signal the end of the Ryan Doumit era. Both guys will make $5+ million, and Doumit's batting numbers are better than Overbay's against right handed pitchers (if you want to make Doumit a platoon player). So, why not just keep Doumit? Perhaps, the Pirates a) really think that Overbay is a better player, and b) don't want to put up with Doumit's annual trips to the DL, or c) maybe Doumit has contracted the Jason Kendall "Welcome to Hell" Disease and he just has to be cleansed from the Pirates clubhouse.
  • Can't wait to see what kind of deal GM Neal will swing for Doumit.
  • I had my annual lunch with Pirates Prez Frank Coonelly yesterday (see, SABR membership does have its perks) and stated that if I were a Washington Nationals fan I would be very excited over the Jason Werth signing and that, as a Pirates fan, I'm not so thrilled with the Matt Diaz signing (didn't know about the Overbay signing at the time of our conversation). FC goes on to say that this will prove to be a disastrous signing for the Nats, and will turn out to be one of the worst free agent signings of the decade. Maybe, but I'm STILL excited today of I'm a Nats fan.
  • OK, I then says to FC, then how about doing what the Reds did over the weekend with Jay Bruce and sign someone like Andrew McCutchen up long term for reasonable dollars. That, he says, is exactly what they are seeking to do. We'll see.
  • At that point, I cooled my jets. After all, Coonelly was picking up the tab for lunch!
  • Some other info: expect to see Rudy Owens pitching in Pittsburgh this season with the possibility of even opening the season with the big club; Jameson Taillon will start the season in Class A West Virginia.
  • Baseball people outside of the Pirates organization are already ranking Taillon as one of baseball's Top 15 prospects, before he's even thrown a professional pitch.
  • In other baseball news, two big shockers over the last few days - Carl Crawford signing with Boston and Cliff Lee signing with the Phillies. Never even heard those two teams mentioned in the feeding frenzy leading up to the signings.
  • Lee left a lot of money on the table, apparently, with both the Yankees and the Rangers. Perhaps he is the rare athlete who says "it's not about the money" and really mean it.
  • Of course, no matter how much money left on the table, a hundred mill buys you an awful lot of principle.
  • If the treatment of Lee's wife by the Yankees fans at the Stadium this season really was a factor in his decision, what happens when the Phillies visit the Mets this season? I'm guess that Mrs. Lee will stay in Philly for those series.
  • I have not bothered looking at the NY papers, but I am wondering how much revisionist talk of "Lee's not that good anyway" is taking place. Can our Loyal Reader in Atlantic Highlands fill us in on that?
  • Still, it is interesting that the two big guys that the Yankees wanted (reportedly), Crawford and Lee, went elsewhere in this season's free agent sweepstakes. Gotta be a lot of gnashing of teeth in Pinstripe Nation right about now.
  • Saw the "world premier" of the MLB Studio 42 show of the 1960 Game 7 on Monday night at the Waterfront in Homestead. The show airs tonight and any baseball fan will enjoy it. Hope you are all watching.
  • Oh, and speaking of the 1960 Pirates, Coonelly told me yesterday that with the wrapping up of the taping of that Game 7 show, he is finally turning the page and closing the books on the 1960 Pirates. Can't say that I blame him.
  • On the other hand, he does have to start preparing for all those 40th anniversary celebrations for the 1971 team this coming season.
  • We are also in the mid-point season of 20th Anniversary celebrations of the 1990-92 Eastern Division championships. Bring on the bobbleheads for Doug Drabek, Bobby Bonilla, Jose Lind (without pants, of course), and it all culminating with the unveiling of a Barry Bonds statue on the PNC Park Riverwalk on Barry Bonds Night!

New Stamp Honoring Ronald Reagan

The post office unveiled a new stamp that will be released in February in honor of President Reagan's 100th birthday.

It is a nice looking stamp and a great likeness and a nice honor for Ol' Dutch.

This also brings to mind when the Postal Service issued the stamp for Richard Nixon back sometime in the mid-90's. I recall my Dad sending me something in the mail using the Nixon stamp. Right next to the stamp Frank had added a word balloon with the words "I am not a crook."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Steelers 23 - Bengals 7

For the second week in a row, Troy Polamalu plays a key role in leading the Steelers to an AFC North win, this time over the Cincy Bungles.

Through much of the first half, I feared that my earlier thoughts of a trap game would come to pass, but Troy's interception return for a TD (I will not use the term "pick-six"; I hate that term) turned things around, and things went Rooney U's way pretty much for the rest of the day.

I am concerned about the Steelers' offense recent inability to score touchdowns. That will have to change if a long playoff run is to be sustained. I suppose it is all Bruce Ariens' fault. He ought to be fired, and if you don't believe that, just wait 'til all the callers to The Fan get fired up!!

Perhaps it is all the injuries that have resulted in a patchwork offensive line for the Steelers - I don't claim to be an authority on offensive line play - but there is something about this Steelers team, which is very good, but doesn't strike me as very, VERY good team that can sustain a long run through the playoffs. However, I'll put those thoughts aside and just enjoy the ride the team takes us on, no matter how long or short it might be.

Steelers vs. Bengals

Let's see now. Steelers win a tough, hard fought game against bitter rival Baltimore last week to go to 9-3 and take control of the AFC North and, possibly, the AFC itself. Next week, they face the New York Jets and the detestable Rex Ryan. Today, they have a home game with the horrid Cincy Bengals.

This has all the makings of a classic "trap game." Here's hoping that Coach Mike has them up and ready for THIS game, and not looking a week ahead.

I'll call for a Steelers win today and by a comfortable margin.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Catching Up....Sid and the Pens, Wanny and Pitt, and Pirates Signings

It has been called to my attention by a Loyal Reader - and he knows who he is - that the Grandstander, while giving scads of ink to our Beloved Buccos, has been giving short shrift to a winning sports team here in town, The Boys of Winter, your Pittsburgh Penguins, and to that I plead guilty. As many of you who know me know, I am just not a true "hockey guy" (unlike Loyal Reader "The Legend" who has made the word "Hockey" a part of his signature), although I have been know to jump on the bandwagon when playoff time rolls around. Still, this is no excuse for not mentioning the red hot Penguins, who currently sit atop the National Hockey League, and are riding an 11 game winning streak.

And as for Sidney Crosby... wow! He will soon threaten Joe DiMaggio's 56 game streak as he makes a mockery of NHL blueliners and goalies.

I also want the readers to know that I plan on spending New Year's Day watching the Pens - and listening to play-by-play announcer supreme, Doc Emmrick - in the Winter Classic from Heinz Field as they take on the Hated Capitals and their commie superstar, Alex Ovechkin.

Let's Go Pens!!!

The other major sports news in town this week concerns the "resignation" of Dave Wannstedt as Pitt football coach. As I have said before in this space, I really like Wannstedt and feel very bad that he was not more successful at Pitt and that it has come to this. He obviously loves Pitt and it would have been great to see him take Pitt to Big East and BCS glory in his tenure. But let's be clear about one thing: college football in the circles in which Pitt seeks to compete is not about traditional autumn Saturday afternoons, pomp and pageantry, and turning out excellent "student-athletes." It is about winning, oft times at any cost, playing in "big" bowl games, and, perhaps most importantly, putting fannies in the seats, none of which was accomplished on Dave's watch.

So, farewell, Wanny. It is stated that he will remain at Pitt in some role. I hope that it is a meaningful one for him and that he is happy in it, and good luck to the next coach, whoever he may be.

As an aside, I didn't listen to any talk radio yesterday, but I am willing to bet that somebody called in and seriously said that Pitt should go after Urban Meyer as the next coach. Can anyone confirm that for me?

And finally, what would a Grandstander post be without a comment on the Pirates and the moves that they made this week at the winter meetings? While the lowly Washington Nationals were showing their fans a commitment to winning on the major league level in 2011 by signing Jason Werth, the Bucs come home with Kevin Correiea, Scott Olsen, and Matt Diaz. What can you say, I mean, really, WHAT CAN YOU SAY????? On a good team, Correiea and Olsen would make a good innings-eater fifth starter. With the Bucs, they will be competing for, and probably handed, the number 1 or 2 slot in the rotation. More likely, if they pitch well, they will be dangled to the contenders come the last week in July for "prospects with great long-term upside."

I really hate how cynical the Pirates have turned me.

And I loved GM Neal's comment when the Pirates lost pitcher Nate Adcock in the Rule 5 draft: "Hey, I can't protect them all." Not that I'm making a case for Nate Adcock here, but Neal doesn't exactly have a track record with personnel moves to make such smug comments.

More baseball...
  • Yanks re-sign Derek Jeter. No real surprise there. While nothing should surprise you anymore, this one really couldn't have turned out any other way, could it?
  • Red Sox trade for Adrian Gonzalez and then sign Carl Crawford. That free agent signing rates a capital-W Wow!!
  • With these two moves by the Sawx, I can't see ANY chance that the Yankees will NOT now sign Cliff Lee. Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan can't offer any amount of money that the Yankees won't top at this point. Of course, Lee might be a guy who will say that "it's not about the money" and actually mean it, but he would be the first.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Venting....Miller, the Hall of Fame, Jason Werth, the Pirates, and Pitt and the BBVA

I find myself in a state of high dudgeon this morning, so I will vent a bit (isn't that what I always do?) in today's posting.

ITEM #1, as you may have gathered from the picture to the left is the news that something called the "Expansion Era Committee" announced yesterday that they had elected baseball executive Pat Gillick to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Congratulations to Gillick, but the bigger story here is that once again, Marvin Miller was NOT elected to the HOF. Miller is arguably the most, or certainly in the top two or three, significant executives in baseball history. His absence in the Hall of Fame lessens the Hall as an institution (especially so when you consider that Bowie Kuhn, someone who Miller routinely made a fool of, IS in the Hall).

The Committee consisted of sixteen members, and 12 votes were needed to gain entry into the HOF. Miller received 11 votes. I am intrigued by who the five voters were that denied Miller. The committee consisted of 4 executives, or "front office" people (Bill Giles, Phillies, David Glass, Royals, Andy McPhail, Orioles, and Jerry Reinsdorf, White Sox), four journalists (Bob Elliott, Tim Kurkjian, Ross Newhan, Tom Verducci), and seven HOF players (Johnny Bench, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Frank Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, and Ozzie Smith, and HOF manager Whitey Herzog.

Now, I think we can assume that the four front office types went thumbs down on Miller, and I can't believe that the four journalists would have denied Miller, so that leaves one of the eight Hall of Famers to have nixed Miller. The seven guys on the committee, with the possible exception of Robinson, all played in an era that would have benefited from Miller's efforts. That leaves Herzog, who is in the Hall as a manager, and may be a guy who has front office leanings.

I am sure that the who-voted-for-whom will eventually come out (if it hasn't already), and I can't wait to see it. If it was a former player who voted against Miller, I am dying to hear his reasoning.

ITEM # 2: The Washington Nationals sign free agent outfielder Jason Werth to a seven year, $126 million contract.

Already, this deal is being soundly criticized as being an overinflated contract to a player who doesn't deserve it, but I say "Good for the Nats." They have shown that they are making a commitment to getting better by bringing in a proven major league ballplayer, even if they have to overpay, which teams in this strata of MLB must do to sign players of this caliber.

In contrast, you have our Beloved Buccos, whose needs include a rightfielder and a right handed power hitter, which describes Jason Werth to a "T," yet the Pirates never even sniffed around Werth. Instead we hear rumors about Derrick Lee, Jack Cust, Scott Olsen and others of that ilk, guys who might produce decently enough to be traded in July for "prospects" who maybe will be available to contribute to the Pirates three or four seasons down the road.

Signing a player like Werth may or may not be a good deal for the Nats or other teams like them, but deals like that seem to be the cost of doing business in the majors if you really, REALLY are serious about putting a winning team on the field. This signing said a lot about the Nationals...and the Pirates.

ITEM #3: The Pitt Football Panthers accept a bid to play in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

Yes, the 7-5 Panthers will play the 6-6 Kentucky Wildcats in this wildly anticipated match-up. The game will be played on January 8 in Birmingham, Alabama. Yes, you are reading that right, JANUARY 8TH. This whole situation encapsulates just about everything that is wrong about college football today. In a Pitt season that can best be described as "extremely disappointing," why play this game? I can't imagine that the players want to play in this game. The Pitt team appeared to be totally unprepared for their most important game of the season in the Backyard Brawl two weeks ago, so how can the coaches possibly get them up for the BBVA Compass (btw, what is a BBVA Compass?) Bowl that is being played a week after New Year's Day? January 8th will be the Saturday of the first weekend of the NFL playoffs, so how big a TV audience do you think this game will attract? Do you think that anyone besides the players' families will be watching? And it's not like it will be a financial bonanza for the University as it has been reported that both schools will lose money by traveling to play in the contest. Finally, do you even think that the good people of Birmingham will care enough about this game to show up at Legion field to watch?

Again I ask, why play this game?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Steelers 13 - Ravens 10

  • OK, so my pre-game prediction was wrong, and this time I am glad to say so.
  • I take back - for now - what I said at halftime about Isaac Redman.
  • I don't take back what I said about Bryant McFadden.
  • Troy Polamalu - The Play of the Game!
  • Ben Roethlisberger - never was an incomplete pass so impressive, or so important.
  • The non-call on the Roethlisberger broken nose play and, especially, on the Heath Miller concussion play. The conspiracy theorist wing nuts will be in a lather over these two non-calls, but James Harrison said it correctly in the post game interview.
  • Interesting that Dan Rooney was in from Ireland for this game. Think all the talk this week about officiating had anything to do with that?
  • Had the Steelers lost this one tonight, I was ready to write them off as a serious threat to go deep into the post-season. Now, I may have to rethink that position.
  • Chris Collinsworth had a great line near the end of the game: "These two teams could line up against each other 16 times a season, and I'd watch every one of them."

Thoughts at Halftime

  • Steelers not looking very good. Can't believe that it is only a 7-0 Baltimore lead.
  • Remember the New England game a few weeks back when NE led only 10-3 at the half? That was misleading, too.
  • Ben not looking sharp tonight (and I just don't mean that mashed up schnoz).
  • When Hines Ward drops one right in his breadbasket, it could mean that this is just not your night.
  • Tell me again why the Steelers brought back Bryant McFadden.
  • Is it just me, or is anyone else extremely unimpressed with Isaac Redman and Mwelde Moore?
  • Let's see what happens next....

Steelers-Ravens Prediction

The Grandstander does not have a good feeling about tonight's game as kick-off approaches. I fear a Ravens victory tonight.

Hope I'm wrong.

O, Christmas Tree....

Today we put up our first Christmas tree in our new home. The twenty-five cent construction paper angel from our first married Christmas (1975) stays!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

One More from The Beatles....

Their last "live" perfromance. Love watching the reactions of the police and the people on the street during this.

"Let It Be" by The Beatles

This will make up for the version on the last post. Nothing can top the original!

"Let It Be" - but NOT by The Beatles!

Check out this video which a friend had posted on Facebook. "Surreal" is the word I would use to describe it. Watch it. Some of the people you will see have not, shall we say, aged very well.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Frank DeFord on Marvin Miller

Nothing can be added to the sentiments of the great Frank DeFord in this column on Marvin Miller and why he should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. (Especially the part about Bowie Kuhn being in there while Miller is not. Ridiculous!)

Posting #300 - More Pirates Farewells

What better way to commemorate the 300th Posting of The Grandstander than to comment on more movement within the Pirates organ-eye-zation.

The big name among the news this morning is the non-tendering, tantamount to "release," of outfielder Lastings Milledge. The former "five tool" #1 draft pick of the New York Mets with the reputation of a clubhouse troublemaker, Milledge was, apparently, never anything but a good citizen when with the Pirates. Unfortunately, he was never close to being a five tool player, either. Still, he was a colorful guy with the flashy shoes and the dreadlocks. I'm sorry that it didn't work out.

And you have to love GM Neal, don't you? He announced the move on Milledge in language that could only be described as Classic Nealspeil:

"We spent a lot of time analyzing Lastings Milledge as compared with the potential alternatives for the expected role and determined it was worth further exploration of the alternatives."

Also released were former Rule 5 pitcher Donnie Veal (guess he just couldn't throw a strawberry through a locomotive like Bob Veale could), and Argenis Diaz, the short stop who came to the Bucs in one of the Bucs' salary dump deals of a few years back (I think it was the John Grabow to the Cubs deal, but I could be wrong about that). I guess he wasn't the guy to replace Jack Wilson after all. Oh, well.

There are now four spots open on the 40 man roster. That leaves space for the expected free agent signings of Cliff Lee and Jayson Werth next week at the winter meetings.

Monday, November 29, 2010

To Absent Friends - Leslie Neilsen

Actor Leslie Neilsen died yesterday at the age of 84.

His obituary in today's paper indicated that he had well over 150 roles in live television dramas in the 1950's, and he did do some romantic "leading man" type stuff in Hollywood, but he will probably forever be know for he comic roles as the doctor in "Airplane" and for the role of Lt. Frank Drebin in the Naked Gun police movies. (Surely I can't be serious about that, right?)

I'm guessing that he is meeting up with Lloyd Bridges right about now to plan a series of heavenly sequels.

Rest in Peace, Leslie Neilsen.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Steelers 19 - Bills 16....and Some Thanksgiving Leftovers

The Steelers were lucky to escape Buffalo today with a 19-16 overtime victory. As I watched this game unfold, there was something unsettling about seeing how the Steelers thoroughly dominated the Bills yet only held a 13-0 lead at halftime. As the second half unfolded, and the team was unable to go anywhere offensively, thanks in large part to numerous penalties, it was hard to get a good feeling about the team, not only in today's game, but in where they might be going as the season unfolds. I hope I'm wrong, but I just don't have a good feeling that this team will be able to make a deep run in the Playoffs with the way they are currently playing and how they are currently constituted.

And they do need to do something about all the penalties. It was easy to laugh off 160+ yards in penalties when thrashing the Raiders last week, but another 100+ yards today in a game that was a dropped Buffalo pass in the end zone away from a defeat is another matter. That will never fly against Baltimore next week.

Now, what better way to end the Thanksgiving weekend than looking at all the leftovers in the Mental In-Box.....
  • Congratulations to the North Allegheny Tigers for their win over Woodland Hills last night and claiming the WPIAL Quad-A Championship. It was actually a pretty entertaining game. Nice to see that my tax dollars have brought home the WPIAL hardware to the University of North Allegheny!
  • I am no expert on high school football, but I am willing to bet that the playing surface at Heinz Field last night was the worst field that either NA or WH played on all season.
  • An interesting drama is being played out in the Bronx right now involving the contract negotiations between the Yankees and their free agent short stop, Derek Jeter. Who knows how accurate they are, but reports are that Jeter is asking for a five or six year deal for between $22 - $24 million dollars a year. The Yankees, these same reports say, are offering three years at $15 million a year, and Hal Steinbrenner has already issued statements about how "we've already made these guys rich." The Little Stein's bluster aside, you can see the Yankees point of view here: Jeter will turn 37 in June, and would be 41 at the end of a five year deal, coupled with the fact that Jeter showed signs of slipping this past season, well, would you want to sink that much dough in somebody who may be well into the back nine of a great career? On the other hand, he's DEREK JETER. The Face of the Franchise and the key player on the team that has won five World Series titles over the last decade-and-a-half. How could he possibly wear another team's uniform?
  • My guess is that if push really comes to shove, the Yankees would let Jeter walk. You can talk about player greed all you want, but nobody - nobody! - is greedier than a team owner. They would take a PR hit for it, no doubt, but they would weather the storm, pay a gazillion bucks for Cliff Lee or Carl Crawford, and keep on winning, and ten years from now, Jeter will be invited back to Yankee Stadium to have his number retired and his monument unveiled in a tearful all-is-forgiven ceremony.
  • Having said that, I really think the two side will work it out. They both need each other. Still, it is a fascinating play to watch.
  • Hey, here's a wild thought: How about Bob Nutting opening the purse strings and making an all out pitch to land Derek Jeter? Yeah, pay him his $20 million or whatever and have him be the steadying hand that will mold the Pirates Youth Corps into a champion. It's not like the Pirates can't afford it, and it's not like he wouldn't be a huge improvement over Ronny Cedeno. Can you just imagine the splash THAT would make. Plus, it would drive everyone in New York absolutely NUTS!!!
  • I wonder how Tiger Woods celebrated Thanksgiving this year?
  • I came home on Thanksgiving Night and switched on the Jets-Bengals game for about 20 minutes or so. They have gone to a three man booth on the NFL Network this year. The two color men are, get this, Matt Millen and Joe Theisman. Not sure who the play-by-play guy is, he seems decent enough, but God help him for having to work with these two guys. Millen, who was arguably the worst NFL front office guy in history after his disastrous run with the Lions should have no, zero, none, nada credibility with the audience. How did he get hired for that gig? And have you ever read a media critic, or even had one of your buddies say to you, "You know, I just love Joe Theisman doing commentary on a football game." As I said, I watched for about 20 minutes on Thursday and was exhausted just listening to those two clowns.
  • I spent this morning as part of the crew hanging Christmas wreaths on twenty light poles in Stonebrook Village. The crew consisted of four guys, of whom I was the youngest by about 15 years, the wife and daughter of one of the guys, a pick-up truck, a step-ladder, and long pole used to lift the wreaths to the proper height on the poles. Don't worry, the McCandless EMS crew did not need to be summoned. It actually was a pretty fun morning!
  • There's no way of ever knowing, but I wonder if the 2010 version of Jeff Reed would have gone 4-for-4 today up in Buffalo.
  • Nice to see Dejon Kovacevic back on the Pirates beat on the Sunday Post-Gazette this morning, and his note that it is only 77 days 'til pitchers and catchers report.

Friday, November 26, 2010

WVU 35 - Pitt 10

Wow, not much you can say about the colossal El Foldo that the Pitt Panthers showed the world this afternoon. THIS is what you do in a game that means everything in a tremendously disappointing season, and against a traditional rival? I have always liked Dave Wannstadt since he took the head coach job at Pitt, but it gets harder and harder to defend him in light of what has transpired this season. I feel bad for the guy.

I don't like to be overly critical of college athletes, especially one with roots at St. Phil's and Central Catholic, but Tino Sunseri does not appear to have the goods to be an elite, or even a very good college QB. Yes, I know he's only a sophomore, but has there been any significant improvement in his play from the Utah game in September until this afternoon?

Now it will be interesting to see how this coaching staff gets this team to respond against Cincinnati next week after what has to be this thoroughly disappointing loss against West Virginia, not to mention in whatever third tier bowl game they end up playing.

Finally, a word on the uniforms that the teams wore today. This was yet another example of the athletic departments of our universities whoring themselves out to Nike. I thought those uniforms - on both teams - were pretty bad, although I did kind of like Pitt's helmets. I hope that nobody spends a dime to buy one of these gimmicky game jerseys.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Stan Musial

Stan Musial turns 90 this coming Sunday. Read this great column about a great ballplayer who isn't often remembered these days.

Magazine Cover

Earlier in the summer, I succumbed to a mail offer to subscribe to ESPN The Magazine. It was one of those deals where they practically gave it to you for free. Anyway, I can't say that I'm a big fan of the magazine, and probably won't renew, but I have to give them props for the current "Movie Spectacular" issue. One of the features is a ten page photo spread using current athletes posing as well known movie characters, and they put the best of the lot on the cover.

That is Olympic Gold Medalist alpine skier Lindsey Vonn posing as Sharon Stone from "Basic Instinct" and that, my friends, is a great magazine cover!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Remembering a Date

Monday is November 22, and to those readers of a certain age the date will always be seared into our consciousness.

Just wanted to pause and remember.

Steelers 35 - Raiders 3

Hey, it's ALWAYS a pleasure to put a beat-down on the Hated Raiders, and the Steelers certainly did that this afternoon at Heinz Field.

The most amazing thing to me about this game was the fact that the Steelers rolled up 163 yards in penalties and still managed to eek out a 32 point win. If nothing else, this game exposes the Raiders, who were becoming trendy again, as a pretender to NFL royalty. The fact they the AFC West is a somewhat weak division is the only thing that might keep them in contention over the final six weeks of the season.

And on the subject of penalties, I was as critical as anybody of James Harrison earlier in the season, but I think that the officials have gone a bit overboard in targeting Harrison and the Steelers in some of those penalties that were called today. Even the CBS announcers were critical of the zebras in their zealousness this afternoon.

I was surprised to see the Steelers still throwing at the end of the game. The screen that resulted in the final touchdown appeared to this untrained eye to be merely an effort to get a first down and maintain possession. I am wondering if coach Mike would have sent out instructions to "take a knee" if that was the only result of the play. But as Dan Fouts said on the telecast, if you were rookie back Isaac Redman and you caught that pass with nothing in front of you, what else could you do but run it in for the TD.

I also have to comment on the TV broadcast which made the obligatory reference to the Immaculate Reception game of 1972. Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts wanted to know if "the ball hit the ground" before Franco Harris caught it. As anyone with an ounce of memory and a sense of history know, the ball not hitting the ground was NEVER the question in that play. The question was, did the ball hit Jack Tatum or Frenchy Fuqua before Harris caught it. That was the rules issue in 1972.

The Greatest Rock & Roll Song Ever?

Many critics say that the greatest Rock & Roll song ever was written and recorded by the great Bob Dylan.

Do you agree? See for yourself:

Big Football Sunday

Looking forward to over-indulging in some football today.

Steelers and Raiders at 1:00, of course, and this has all the trappings of a "must" game for the Steelers. Win, and they get back on track after the ass-kicking they received from New England last week. Lose, and the season could, not will but could, begin to spin out of control and playoff-less for Rooney U. The Raiders have won three straight and have the NFL's leading rusher to go against a Steelers defense that has been anything but inspiring over the last 3-4 weeks.

I'll call for a Steelers win, but I don't think it will be easy.

The 4:15 game pairs the Colts and the Patriots. Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. This one will compel me to devote significant viewing time to a non-Steelers game for the first time this season.

Isn't it funny that even thought the Pats and the Colts play in different divisions, the two teams always seem to play each other every season. You don't think that the TV bigdomes could have the fix in with the NFL schedule makers, do you?

Finally, the Eagles play in the Sunday night NBC game, and while I think I will be pretty much footballed out by the time that one comes on, the performance thus far of Mike Vick would pretty much demand that I watch at least a little bit of this one.

On a final note, please cheer for both the Titans (-7.5) and the Bengals (-5.5) to cover today. It would be worth eighty bucks for The Grandstander should that happen.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Pitt 17 - South Florida 10

Pitt wins one on the road at South Florida and takes control of the Big East, BUT do you get the same feeling that I do when I watch them that they just aren't that good a football team? They still have a lot of grass to mow in having to face WVU and Cincy over the next two weeks, and if they win out, they get the BCS bowl game as Big East Champion. Then they get to face maybe the number two team in the Big 12 or SEC, or maybe even Boise State or TCU. I don't think that THAT result will be very pretty.

Some Pirates Farewells

The Pirates are in the news this morning with the announcement that they have "designated for assignment" Delwyn Young, Andy LaRoche, and Zach Duke. Effectively, this will end their careers as Pirates.

As he was coming off two very poor years, and was eligible for arbitration this off-season, the news about Duke was not a surprise, but it comes as sad news for fans who can remember the electricity that Duke generated when he came to the Pirates in mid-season 2005 and went 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA. The future seemed limitless for Duke. Then, of course Jim Tracy and Jim Colburn felt the need to tinker with Duke's delivery, and things were never quite the same since. He leaves with a career record of 45-70 and a 4.54 ERA. (To be fair to Tracy and Colburn, however, the Zach Duke Story could also be a story of major league hitters figuring out a guy after he goes through the league a time or two. Baseball history is littered with such stories.)

He has also been a solid citizen in the community, representing the Pirates in a number of charitable events. Here's hoping that he lands on his feet somewhere and can find some semblance of that 2005 season.

Andy LaRoche was the perceived linchpin of Neal Huntington's biggest trade, the three-way deal that sent Jason Bay to Boston in 2008. LaRoche never seemed to get any traction with the Pirates and was benched for good when Pedro Alvarez was brought up this season. LaRoche was another good guy, the Pirates' Clemente Award nominee in 2010, who did wonderful things in the community, but he never did live up to his "can't miss" scouting reports in the minors. (Related side note: GM Neal has GOT to be praying that Bryan Morris turns into a good, and not just a passable, major league pitcher, or else the trade involving the Pirates best player over the last half-decade will go down as a complete and total bust, and could be a major factor in costing NH his job.)

As for Delwyn Young, many will argue that he more than earned his chance to be an everyday player when he played second base for much of the '09 season, but the Pirates brain trust never seemed to see him as a long term everyday player. He did develop into a pinch hitter extraordinaire this past season, but I guess the Pirates feel that they can find guys like that anywhere (and I am guessing that money entered into this decision as well). We'll see.

Friday, November 19, 2010

King (of the Geeks) Felix

Congratulations to the Mariners Felix Hernandez for being awarded the Cy Young Award in the American League fro 2010. As far as I know, he didn't actively campaign for the award, so I can't blame him for what I think is a travesty of justice.

Yes, I know he's a good pitcher.

Yes, I know he played for a lousy team that gave him abysmal run support.

And, yes, I know he lead the league in ERA.

I also know that CC Sabathia won 21 games for the Yankees and David Price won 19 games for the Rays, and last time I looked, the ultimate payoff for teams, i.e., Playoffs and World Series, is based on how many games you win.

While I am a proud member of SABR, I believe that this award is a triumph of SABRmetrics run amok, wherein a bunch of geeks can haughtily state that "wins are really the worst way to measure a pitcher's performance" (really? if that was the case, then I think Ross Ohlendorf should have pulled down a few votes), and then come up with all of their esoteric alphabet soup of stats, to proclaim who we are all too stupid to see is REALLY the best pitcher in baseball.

And, by the way, playing for a lousy team doesn't preclude a pitcher from accumulating Cy Young Award-worthy numbers. I refer you to Steve Carlton and the 1972 Phillies. Look it up.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Marilyn Monroe at The Warhol

Marilyn and I went to the Andy Warhol Museum today to see the special exhibit now on display on Marilyn Monroe. There are over 300 vintage photos of MM on display, and of all the pictures - the glamour shots, the pin-ups, the nudes, the cheesecake - this one, titled "Marilyn Monroe Peasant Series," was probably our favorite.

It is an exhibit worth checking out.

And an advantage to being older - "Senior" prices begin at age 55 at The Warhol! We saved six bucks apiece on the admission charge!!

More on Last Saturday at the Byham....

The Post-Gazette's Brian O'Neill had an great take on last Saturday's 1960 Festivities at the Byham Theater....

Remember to Wear Blue Tomorrow

Tomorrow, November 18, is Children's Grief Awareness Day. Please wear blue tomorrow to commemorate this day, and tell people why you are doing so.

More information can be found at

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Mickey Mantle Book

I just finished reading Jane Leavy's new book "The Last Boy, Mickey Mantle the End of America's Childhood." Despite the ponderous title, I strongly recommend that any baseball fan read this book. Few ballplayers of the post-war era have been written about more than Mantle, so you would wonder why would someone tackle yet another bio of him and what could possibly be written that hasn't been written before.

Leavy's book is so thoroughly researched - it took her six years to complete the project - and so well written that it makes it worth the effort and worth reading. There may be little about the Mantle the ballplayer new in this book, but the most fascinating part of the book, as is often the case with such biographies, is that part that tells about Mantle's life after his playing days were over.

Unlike players today who can earn millions of dollars during their careers, Mantle needed to make a living and earn money when he retired, and what does someone who has spent his entire life playing baseball, and who is relatively uneducated, do to earn a living at that point in life? And then there are all of the other demons that were in Mantle's life: alcohol, the inability to relate to his wife and his sons, the fear of life ending diseases, the constant womanizing, and being always surrounded by people who enabled this lifestyle made this, to me, a very sad story. There is a episode in the book about Mantle going to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown - as a paying customer - with his mistress and another couple on a weekend in 1988, 14 years after his induction, that is almost heartbreaking.

If you read Leavy's book on Sandy Koufax from a few years back, you will recall that she structured that book around the nine innings of Koufax' perfect game in 1966. She uses a similar device here as she goes back and forth describing her encounter with Mantle when she was a young sportswriter who interviewed - or attempted to interview - him when he was shilling for a casino in Atlantic City in 1983. (After making a crude pass at her, Mantle drunkenly passed out and fell into her lap.) As it did in the Koufax book, this method works as Leavy tells the story of The Mick.

As I read this book, and read about how Mantle played his entire career in such great pain, I remembered my one time of seeing Mickey Mantle play. It was in an old-timers game at Three Rivers Stadium shortly after the Stadium opened. That would have been 1970, and the Pirates were celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the 1960 World Series win over the Yankees. (Can you imagine the Pirates doing something like that today?) Anyway, I was sitting in the first row of the centerfield seats at Three Rivers with my Dad and my brother Bill (not sure if Jim was there or not). Anyway, playing centerfield for the Yankees was none other than Mickey Mantle. I can remember someone hitting a ball to centerfield that got through the gap or over Mantle's head, and he had to run back to the wall to chase it down, and I can remember the very painful look on his face as he did so. It made all those Mickey-playing-in-pain stories that we had read about over the years come to life right in front of us.

Another terrific baseball biography written by Jane Leavy. Put it on your must read list.

Skippy, We Hardly Knew Ye

The benevolent, paternalistic Steelers (aka, "The Rooneys") cut Jeff Reed today. As I have been saying at several points this season, this makes them NO DIFFERENT than any other team in the NFL, not Al's Raiders, not Jerry's Cowboys, nor Danny's Redskins.

Reed has been on the downside in 2010, no doubt about it, but he has been a good performer, if not always a solid citizen off the field, in his time here, which included two Super Bowl champion teams. One can only hope that whoever they sign performs better, and there is no guarantee of that.

Monday, November 15, 2010

On the Steelers, Clint Hurdle, and Agnus Berenato

Well, that was one Grade A, Extra Large egg laid by the Steelers at Heinz Field last night on national TV, wouldn't you say? As the first half ended with the Patriots up 10-3, my thought was that there was no way the Steelers should be within one score of New England, and in the second half, the Pats and Tom Brady stopped fooling around and just thoroughly dominated in winning this one.

While Brady seemed to have been able to sit in a rocking chair and pilot the Pats, Ben Roethlisberger never, not once, seemed to have any kind of time at all to make any plays, and receivers who couldn't seem to hold on to the hog bladder until fourth quarter garbage time weren't helping. As for the Steelers defense, where were they? Brady made it seem as if he were playing against the Little Sisters of the Poor last night. I know what the statistics say about the Steelers defense, but in these last several weeks, even in games that they have won (Browns, Dolphins, Bengals), they have not looked good. For some reason, no one ever will get on the case of Dick LeBeau, but if you didn't have cause for concern before last night's game, you surely must be concerned now.

Elsewhere on the Pittsburgh sports scene, the Buccos made it official by naming Clint Hurdle as their new manager today. I heard a couple of interviews with him on the radio today, and he certainly seemed to make a good impression. Seems excited and passionate about the job at hand (and not to beat a dead horse, but were the words "excited" and "passionate" EVER used to describe John Russell?), which is certainly a good thing. He also knows what lies ahead. If he can coax 70 wins from this team, I would make him an early candidate for Manager if the Year in the National League for next year.

While volunteering at the Heinz History Center today for a "Sportsmanship Summit" sponsored by the WPIAL for over 600 local high school athletes, I was able to meet and chat a bit with Pitt women's basketball coach Agnus Berenato, who was there as the special guest speaker. What an impressive woman! Very nice to talk with one-on-one, and terrific in her address to the kids in attendance. I am now a big fan of Coach Agnus! Here's hoping for a big season from the Lady Panthers!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Looks Like It's Gonna Be Clint Hurdle

In yet another prediction that The Grandstander got wrong (see post of November 5), it is being reported that tomorrow the Pirates will announce that their new manager will NOT be Jeff Banister, but former Rockies skipper and current Rangers hitting coach, Clint Hurdle.

First, with apologies to Jeff Banister, who I am sure is a nice church-going man who loves his family, I am glad that he was not hired by the Pirates. If after 18 losing seasons, the team had gone within the organization to hire the new manager, well, how do you think that would have been perceived and received by the ticket buyers? We'd have been in for another off-season of Nutting-bashing, Coonelly and Huntington bashing, and they-only-care-about-fireworks-and bobbleheads letters to the editor, talk show calls, and blog posts. So, at least we won't have that going for us, which is nice.

As to Hurdle as Manager, we know the following:
  • He was fired by the Rockies and replaced by Jim Tracy, who was fired by the Pirates. (hey, it has always been thus in baseball!).
  • He will be getting a team with four good young position players around whom a winning team can be built, a capital-L Lousy pitching staff, and an ownership/management group with a track record of spending nothing to improve the team now.
  • He has been heavily involved as a manager and as a hitting coach on teams that have played in two of the last four World Series. This puts him miles ahead of every Pirates manager since Chuck Tanner.
  • As far as we know, when he will speak with the media and the public we will know that he is alive and breathing, which puts him miles ahead of John Russell.

We all knew that Russell had to go, and we all know that no manager is going to make these Pirates look like a contender in 2011, but going outside of the organization and hiring someone who has had some experience as a winning manager is a positive move, and I hope that everyone will give him a chance.

And speaking of Public Relations, how about the Pirates making this announcement on the day after the Steelers play the New England Patriots. The Pirates could be announcing the resurrection and hiring of John McGraw, and it would be a lesser story than Trai Essex straining a groin muscle in the game against the Pats. Welcome to Steelers Nation, Clint Hurdle!

1960 Game 7 at the Byham Theater

It was an unforgettable evening at the Byham Theater last night for Marilyn and I, as we were lucky enough to be invited to attend the taping of the MLB Network's screening of the recently discovered kinescope of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series. (Many thanks to Pirates Prez Frank Coonelly for extending the invitation!)

The show was hosted by Bob Costas, and joining him on stage were '60 Bucs Bill Virdon and Dick Groat and the Series MVP that year, Yankee Bobby Richardson. Costas opened by giving the background of the discovery of the film of the game in the Bing Crosby wine cellar, and introducing Bing's son, Nathanial, from the audience, along with actor Michael Keaton, who had done an intro video, recalling his memory of the '60 Series as a 9 year old living in Robinson Township. Also introduced were other members of the team in attendance: Joe Christopher, Roy Face, Bob Friend, Vernon Law, Bob Oldis, Hal Smith, and Vera Clemente. In a poor twist of fate, the star of the night, Bill Mazeroski, was not there. He had recently had a bout with kidney stones and was in the hospital. However, Costas assured everyone that MLB would be visiting with Maz so that he will appear on the MLB telecast on December 15.

The format was that three innings of the game would be shown, then they would break for comments from the panel, then show another three innings, etc. At certain points in the game, the sound was lowered on the telecast, and Costas would ask questions of the players seated in the theater while the game was being shown. For example, he asked Law about how he wanted to pitch to Maris and Mantle during the Series. They also broke the format by stopping the game and talking to the panel after the Pirates' five run bottom of the eighth, after the Yankees tied it in the top of the ninth to lead into the dramatic bottom of the ninth.

Some bullet point highlights of the evening:

  • Bob Prince broadcast the first four and half innings and Mel Allen did the last four and a half innings. I was struck by what a really good broadcaster Mel Allen was. Really good.
  • Your enjoyment of the broadcast did not suffer, not one bit, by only having one man in the broadcast booth. There is a lesson to be learned there, I think.
  • While NBC broadcast the game in color, the kinescope was taken from a black and white TV set, so what you will see will be a B&W telecast. No replays, no color commentators. We have become spoiled by constant instant replays, but as you got caught up in watching the game, you almost - almost - didn't miss not having them.
  • From the audience, we could see that Virdon, Groat, and Richardson were as engrossed in watching the game as we in the audience were. It was like they were still playing the game.
  • Many batters would walk to the plate swinging two bats to loosen up and then hand one to the batboy just before they stepped into the batter's box. I immediately remembered batters doing that, but I can't think of any ballplayer who does that today.
  • Nobody wore batting gloves, so no batter stepped out of the box after each pitch to adjust his gloves. This could explain why a game with 19 runs and seven mid-inning pitching changes took only 2 hours and 36 minutes to play.
  • No player wore pants down to their shoe tops. It looked a LOT better than current day unis. I couldn't resist adding that.
  • The crowd at the Byham would react and cheer every time, and I mean every time, Roberto Clemente would appear on screen. Bob Costas commented on this during one of the breaks and asked Vera Clemente to talk about this. A very moving part of the program.
  • Allen blew the call on Berra's three run HR that put the Yanks ahead 5-4. He called it foul, but immediately corrected himself.
  • Perhaps one of the most touching parts of the night involved Hal Smith's three run HR that put the Bucs ahead 9-7 in the eighth. The crowd in the Byham all stood and applauded, and when they stopped the telecast after the inning, Costas recognized Hal Smith in the audience and another standing ovation was given. Smith was pretty overcome. I hope this is included in the December 15 broadcast.
  • After Smith's homer, Allen kept referring to it as "perhaps the most dramatic home run in World Series history" and as a "home run that will be remembered forever." Knowing what was to come, these comments were pretty funny and one guy in the crowd yelled out "not for long" after Allen said it.
  • The play in that inning where Jim Coates failed to cover first on Clemente's grounder to first was interesting. When talking about it, you could see that Richardson is still upset over it. "You practice covering first from the first day of spring training" he said. Interestingly enough, he also said that in watching it again, and this may have been the first time Richardson was seeing the play in 50 years, too, he said that (a) it looked like Coates biggest mistake was trying to make a play on the ball initially, which prevented him from running directly to first base, and (b) had Skowron not fielded the ball, had he let Richardson make the play, he thinks that he would have thrown Clemente out.
  • Then there was Mantle's base running play in the top of the ninth that allowed the Yankees to tie the game at 9-9. Mantle has long been praised for his instinct in diving back to first base, and while his slide to avoid Nelson's tag was a great athletic play, the better move would have been to proceed to second base, get in a rundown and allow MacDougald to score the run before he could have been tagged out. Virdon said that in watching the play from centerfield, he thought that Nelson had caught the ball on a line before it hit the ground and that was why Mantle dove back.
  • Either way, it was interesting to watch Virdon, Groat, and Richardson analyzing what went on fifty years after the fact. Once a ballplayer, always a ballplayer.
  • Getting back the Mel Allen, I was again impressed as to how he was able to describe and decipher that Mantle play instantly, without benefit of replay or a color analyst. As I said, Allen was good.
  • And speaking of good, I can't say enough for how good Bob Costas was in managing the show. A real pro.
  • And, of course, what more can be said about the bottom of the ninth? We all know what happened, and watching it again as it was televised, and not in the official highlight film that we've all seen a million times, was wonderful.
  • It was interesting to see that in the mob of Pirates players and fans that were on the field, you could see the Yankees players walking in the crowd trying to get to the clubhouse through the Pirates dugout.
  • And for high comedy, wait 'til you see Bob Prince interviewing players in the locker room after the game. Get 'em on, ask a question, and get 'em off - that was the way he did it.
  • And if you think Bud Selig is a stiff, wait until you get a load of Ford Frick being interviewed.

We have all been overdosed on the 1960 Pirates throughout this 50th Anniversary season, and, frankly, it will be good to give it a rest once we turn the calendar, but the event at the Byham last night was really and truly a fun and unforgettable experience. We are glad that we were fortunate enough to be there.

Beat 'em Bucs!!