Saturday, December 31, 2011


Happy New Year, one an all...and please celebrate responsibly!

By the way, this happens to be The Grandstander's 600th posting. How appropriate! Thank you all for being here these past two years.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy Birthday, Sandy Koufax

76 years young today....

Movie Review: "The Great Escape"

My Christmas present this year came from our good friends Dave and Judy Jones was a DVD of the 1963 movie, "The Great Escape" that starred Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, and the proverbial cast of thousands, and directed by John Sturges. This movie has become a bit of a standing joke between the Joneses and us because they always quote their son Mike who once said of this movie: "The Great Escape. What was so great about it? Only three guys actually escaped."

So, we all got a laugh out of it when we exchanged gifts, but I was more than happy to receive it. I can recall seeing this movie in the theater when it came out in 1963. I would have been in seventh grade, and I no doubt probably didn't get much of the movie at the time. I do not believe that I had ever seen the movie again from start to finish in the 48 years that have passed, and I was anxious to watch it once more.

Well, I did watch this movie yesterday, and I enjoyed it very much. It has held up remarkably well over the past 48 years. So much so, that I have no doubt that an average teenager in what will soon be 2012 would enjoy it every bit as much as audiences did back in 1963.

The movie is based upon actual events that took place at a German POW camp in Poland during World War II. British and American POW's undertake an immense escape attempt that would involve over 250 prisoners escaping in one night. Well, as you can gather from Mike Jones' comment above, not all of them make it, but they do succeed in one very important goal - to disrupt and distract the German forces enough so that they have to track down these escapees, thus preventing the Nazis from actually concentrating on fighting the war. In that goal, they were most successful. (The accompanying documentary on the DVD talks about this aspect of the escape.)

Good performances by James Garner, Richard Attenborough, James Coburn, Charles Bronson and many others. As the years have gone by, this movie is probably most remembered for Steve McQueen bouncing a baseball against the wall of the "cooler" and escaping from half the German army on a motorcycle. McQueen is OK in the movie, I suppose, but I have come to the conclusion after seeing this movie and a couple of others over the past year or so, that McQueen, a huge star in the 60's and 70's and the absolute epitome of "cool" during that time, is way overrated in the memories of moviegoers. I watch him in some of these supposedly great roles of his, and all I can think of are about half a dozen actors, both contemporaries of his and current day actors, who were and are much, much better. In this very movie, James Garner is a perfect example of this hypothesis.

Be that as it may, if you've never seen "The Great Escape", or if it has been many years since you have seen it, give it a shot. I do not think that you will be disappointed.

And the New Year's Eve Movie Will Be......

Thanks to those Facebook Friends who gave suggestions for what movie we will see for our traditional New Year's Eve movie date. All were considered and we decided against these suggestions:

  • The Sherlock Holmes movie. While I am a fan of both Holmes and Robert Downey Jr., the movie that came out two years ago was so over the top, that I couldn't get through it, so I am not so keen on seeing this one. Perhaps when it hits the Redbox.

  • Mission Impossible. Liked the first Tom Cruise MI movie, but the sequel was so convoluted that I have no desire to see this one. No disrespect to the Otts and the Materas intended.

  • War Horse. This is one that we do want to see, but we were forewarned to bring tissues. Big Poppy advises that Mrs. Big Poppy was a "blubbery mess" watching this one. Mrs. Grandstander wants no parts of crying on New Year's Eve.

While we usually enjoy a nice romantic comedy on the night (although not always; one year we saw "Titanic", and watching 1,500 people die in a shipwreck is no RomCom!), the one that is out there now, "New Year's Eve", has been universally panned by everyone, so forget that. Likewise, I am thinking that "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" might be more intense than what we want to take in tomorrow.

So, we have decided that this year's New Year's Eve Date Movie will be.......

"We Bought a Zoo" starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson (what's not to like with those two, right?). Friends of ours gave this a thumbs up and while it looks like it will probably not be heard from come Academy Award night, it looks to be the light touch that we look for each New Year's Eve.

Of course, you will hear all about it come the Sunday.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

To Absent Friends - Cheetah?

So I see an item on Facebook yesterday giving the news of the death of Cheetah, the chimpanzee who was in the Tarzan movies with Johnny Wiesmuller back in the 1930's. Cheetah died while a resident at a primate rescue center in Florida. Cheetah was thought to be 80 years old. Who had any idea that chimps lived that long? I sure didn't. Bummer, I thought, that this news arrived two days after I did my Absent Friends recap for 2011.

Today's paper brings word that there is some question as the whether or not the chimp who died was actually the Cheetah of the silver screen. What a shame that this star's death has to be shrouded in confusion and controversy. Must there always be a murky end when a great star passes?

Anyway, we all wish Cheetah a happy afterlife in that great jungle in the sky.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Absent Friends of 2011

Often throughout the past year I have noted the passing of notable people. So often, in fact, that one Loyal Reader began calling this "The Obituary Blog." Be that as it may, I began calling these features "To Absent Friends", and I admit to shamelessly stealing this phrase from the late, great sportswriter, Red Smith.

As 2011 draws to a close, one final salute to all the Absent Friends noted during these last 12 months:

Anne Francis
Cookie Gilchrist
Doug Hoerth
Woodie Fryman
Chuck Tanner
Gino Cimoli
Len "Uncle Leo" Lesser
Duke Snider
Suze Rotolo
Elizabeth Taylor
Larry Shepard
Lynn Chadnois
Madame Nhu
Kenny, The Lemonade Guy
Harmon Killebrew
John Henry Johnson
Clarence Clemons
Peter Falk
Sherwood Schwartz
Alvin Rue
Jerry Leiber
Steve Jobs
Matty Alou
Andy Rooney
Joe Frazier
Harry Morgan

RIP, All.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Garbage Disposal Update - Good News

Some good news to report to you. After receiving a note on Facebook this morning about the plight of our busted garbage disposal, I decided to take one more shot at doing what the instruction manual advises. This involves using an Allen Wrench type gadget and hitting a reset button that is on the bottom of the unit. Trust me, this procedure was tried on two occasions last night to no avail. However, after giving it one more try this morning, lo and behold, the disposal began to grind away as normal. Hooray!!

There is an expression in baseball that sometimes the best trades are the ones you do not make. Similarly, sometimes the best money you receive is the money that you do not spend. So, the money that we did not spend at Lowe's this morning or on a plumber later in the week now remains in our coffers.


(With thanks to Bob Mill for providing the impetus to give it just one more try!)

Some Things That Didn't Go Right This Christmas

OK, I don't want anyone to deduce from the title of this post that Christmas 2011 was a bummer for us. It most definitely was not. As always, good times were had with family and friends, and I sincerely hope that all of you can say the same.

However, even the most idyllic of Norman Rockwell moments can have several Clark Griswold moments mixed among them, and here are four such moments of ours in order of occurrence.

  1. Christmas Eve morning. Went to take a photo of the Stonebrook folks setting up the luminaries only to discover that our camera had ceased to function. After determining that it was not the battery, I departed for a trip into the belly of the beast: Target at 12:30 in the afternoon on Christmas Eve. Purchased a new camera for a most reasonable price and felt lucky to get one since Target's camera stock had been seriously depleted by that point.

  2. Christmas morning. Marilyn discovers that her hairdryer, without any advance warning, is now, like Jacob Marley, as dead as a doornail. Fortunately, she did have a back-up in the spare bathroom. Good thing since Target was closed on Christmas Day!

  3. Christmas afternoon. The toilet in the guest bathroom will not flush. Yuck! So, literally as he was about to carve the turkey, Clark Griswold, played by Yours Truly, retrieves the plumber's helper from the garage, crosses his fingers as he applies plunger to commode and gets the toilet to flush successfully! Crises averted. After thoroughly washing hands, the turkey then gets carved. Barely skipped a beat, and some people in the house didn't even realize what had just happened.

  4. Christmas night. The guests have all departed, most of the clean-up had been done, and we discover that the garbage disposal no longer works. The good news is that it had worked all day long when it was most needed. Bad news, of course, is that a trip to Lowe's for a new garbage disposal, not to mention a visit from the plumber, is in our immediate future.

As Dean Martin put it, memories are made of this.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

2011 Books in Review

So far in 2011 I have read 48 books. Yes, I actually keep track of these things! Many of them I have written about in this blog over the past 12 months, but as people are wont to do at year end, I thought I would list my favorite ones for you in case you are looking for a last minute Christmas gift, or just want a good read in the down time between Christmas Day and New Year's Day. There are 15 titles in my Top Ten list. (I am currently in the middle of book #49, but it would not have made this list even if I had already finished it.)

In no special order of preference......


  • "Bloody Crimes, the Chase for Jefferson Davis and Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse" by James L. Swanson. The title kind of describes the book. Good stuff for history buffs.

  • "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand. The unbelievable story of the wartime ordeal of Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini and his unbelievable recovery. Any story about man's inhumanity to man makes for difficult reading, but this is so well written and such an amazing story, that it is well worth it.

  • "56, Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports" by Kostya Kennedy. Even if you think there isn't anything more to learn about Joltin' Joe's 56 game hitting streak, this is well worth reading. Kennedy intersperses the book with the viewpoints of current day ballplayers, including Pete Rose, that put the enormity of The Streak into great perspective.

  • "Rawhide Down, The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan" by Del Quentin Wilber. This story of the attempt on the President's life in 1981 reads like a best selling fiction thriller.

  • "In The Garden of Beasts" by Erik Larson. The story of the man -and his family - whom FDR appointed as Ambassador to Germany in 1933 as Hitler and the Nazis were coming into power. Book proves that truth can be better than fiction.

  • "Nobody's Perfect - Billy Wilder, A Personal Biography" by Charlotte Chandler. This is an older book. You'll probably have to go to a library to find it, but if you are a movie fan, it's a must read about one of Hollywood's greatest screenwriters and directors.

  • "Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure" by Matthew Algeo. Shortly after he left the White House, Harry Truman and his wife drove from Missouri to New York and back - by themselves! No entourage, so security, just a couple of retirees on a solitary road trip. Fascinating look at an America that, for the most part, doesn't exist anymore, and a study into how the institution of the "Ex-Presidency" has evolved over the last 60 years.

  • "Hound Dog, the Leiber and Stoller Autobiography" by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Like the Wilder book, this is an older book by two of the absolute giants of American rock and roll songwriting.

  • "Stan Musial, An American Life" by George Vecsey. Great book that captures the life and times of perhaps the most overlooked great ballplayer of all time.

  • "Bottom of the 33rd" by Dan Barry. The story of the men who played in and surrounded the longest game in professional baseball history, a 33 inning contest between the Rochester Red Wings and Pawtuckett Red Sox in 1981. It is about so much more than baseball.


  • "Mystery" by Jonathan Kellerman. Any new entry in the Alex Delaware series will always make my list. And I understand that there will be another one coming in early 2012.

  • "The Confession" by John Grisham. An innocent man is about to be executed. The actual killer wants to prevent it. Will he be able to do it with the help of a young minister and the attorney of the convicted killer? A can't-put-it-down page turner in the best Grisham tradition.

  • "Buried Prey" and "Shock Wave" by John Sandford. Am including these latest Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers, respectively, novels as an entry. What a bonus to have Sandford put out two novels in one year.

  • "V is for Vengeance" by Sue Grafton. The latest in Grafton's "alphabet books" featuring PI Kinsey Millhone. Maybe not the best of the series, but a solid effort nonetheless, and when you've read A through U, you just have to put the newest one on the year end list.

There you go. The Grandstander will keep readin' and keep writin' about 'em in 2012!

Pitt Gets Its Man...Again

It has been announced by the University of Pittsburgh that their next head football coach will be University of Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. There will be a formal news conference this afternoon at 3:00 to introduce the new coach.

Chryst seems to have the background and the resume to make him more than qualified to earn the position, however, if we have learned anything from Pitt over the last 12 months, it is not to get too excited over a coaching hire. (In case you've lost track, Chryst will be Pitt's SIXTH head coach, counting interims, since last December.)

So, let us all wish the new coach good luck and much success with the Panthers. It is said that he is a low key guy and not a spell-binder when it comes to speaking. Chuck Noll was pretty dull, and Todd Graham was a veritable orator, and we know how both of those guys worked out.

I will also be very interested to see what kind of pre-season publicity campaign the Pitt Ministry of Sports Propaganda will pump out next spring and summer. I'm guessing that there will not be a special website as there was last year.

Pitt is to be commended for moving quickly after the Graham debacle, hiring Chryst eight days after Graham slithered off into the desert. At the same time Penn State is now in its sixth week of trying to find a successor to Joe Paterno. There could be reasons for that, including that Penn State has become so toxic that no one wants the job, but I was struck by a quote from someone on the PSU coaching search committee to the effect that they do things differently at Penn State, and that they aren't going to rush into hiring a guy quickly just because every other school does. It seems that hubris is still a quality very much present at Happy Valley.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Early Christmas Gift from San Diego

Well, as the title suggests, the Steelers get an absolute gift from San Diego last night as the Chargers open up a big old can of Whoopass on the Ravens. Now, the Steelers can win out and not only win the AFC North, but secure the #1 seed in the AFC. Who'd have believed it?

This now raises a huge question for Rooney U: to play or not play the hobbled Ben Roethlisberger tonight against the 49'ers? Here are the possibilities, as I see it:

  • Ben plays, avoids further injury, Steelers win. Best possible outcome.

  • Ben plays, avoids further injury, Steelers lose. Hey, it can happen, the 49'ers are a pretty good team.

  • Ben sits, Steelers win. Not likely.

  • Ben sits, Steelers lose. Right back where we were prior to the Ravens choke job of last night.

  • Ben plays, Steelers win OR lose, Ben aggravates injury and is lost for rest of the season. Worst possible outcome.

Making a decision like this is why Mike Tomlin makes the big bucks.

My own guess is that Ben plays tonight, and we all keep our fingers crossed.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Good-bye and Good Riddance

Obviously, the title of this post refers to the departed Pitt football coach Todd Graham, or, as he has been called in the cyber world these past 18 hours or so, Fraud Graham, or Toad Graham, or...well, you get the idea.

I will admit, before any of you might point it out to me, that I liked Graham at the start. I liked his hype and enthusiasm (while acknowledging that it could blow up in his face it the team played lousy, both of which occurred). I also knew that he was peddling a brand of snake oil that just about every college coach tries to sell, and I knew that based on his track record, he was never going to be at Pitt for the long haul. I figured a couple of winning seasons at Pitt and he was gone to whatever more prestigious SEC or Big 12 school that came calling. I also didn't like how poorly the team played, how he deflected criticism away from himself, and how he hung his players, Tino Sunseri in particular, out to dry.

All that said, the by now well documented manner and speed in which Graham has abandoned Pitt and his players has set new records for lowering the bar in an already sleazy world of college athletics. Graham is getting roasted in print, on the airwaves, in the blogosphere, in the Twitter-verse, and in other places with which I am no doubt unaware. All such roasting is well deserved.

The irony is that Steve Pederson - if he survives as Pitt AD, and a strong case can be made that he should not - is about to lead Pitt on a mission that will no doubt end up with some other coach under contract to some other university jumping his contract and abandoning his school and players, just as Graham did to Pitt.

And you know what will happen then? People will be hailing this as a "great hire" by Pitt.

And Sonny Bono will once again be hailed as a prophet because the beat will go on.

Oh, and to any Arizona State fans out there, good luck. When the 2012 season opens with Graham on your sideline, he will be coaching his fourth team in five seasons. He'll probably be gone by the time 2015 rolls around, and I'm being very generous with that guess.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Book Review: "Bottom of the 33rd"

Shortly after 8:00 PM on April 18, 1981, the night before Easter Sunday, in Pawtucket, RI, the Rochester Red Wings and Pawtucket Red Sox squared off in what everyone thought was just another insignificant early season Triple-A minor league baseball game. About 1,700 fans showed up on this cold and windy night in decrepit McCoy Stadium, little knowing what they were in for.

Over eight hours and 32 innings later, the 2-2 ball game was suspended (why it took so long to suspend the game, is a key part of the story), long after it has passed into history as professional baseball's longest game. Two months, one inning, and 18 minutes later, the game was completed. Dan Barry writes a compelling story about "Hope, Redemption, and Baseball's Longest Game." It is not a dry play-by-play summary of the game, and thank God for that, but it is the story of all of the people who were involved in that game - the players, managers, bat boys, front office officials, club house boys, umpires, players' wives, broadcasters and reporters, and the 28 shivering fans who remained in the stadium when the came was finally suspended. The reader becomes involved with these people and becomes drawn into the surreal atmosphere that surrounded this game.

What I liked about the book is how Barry told the story of these men by reviewing both their pasts and what the future held for them. For example, three teammates on that Pawtucket team were pitchers Bobby Ojeda, Bruce Hurst, and catcher Rich Gedman. Five years later, all three played in the 1986 World Series. Baseball fans all know of the crushing nature of the Red Sox loss to the Mets in that Series, and the scene where the Sox' Hurst and Gedman went to the Mets locker room to congratulate Ojeda, now a Met, painted a most poignant scene of the bond created, not only by the 33 inning game, but by minor league experience itself.

Two future Hall of Famers played in that game Cal Ripken, Jr. (2-for-13) for Rochester and Wade Boggs (4-for 12) for Pawtucket. Players like Hurst, Gedman, Ojeda, and Marty Barrett went on to have good major league careers. Some appeared in the majors for the proverbial cup of coffee, while others never got the coveted call to The Show. One player went 0-for-13 for Rochester and one went 0-for-11 for Pawtucket. One pitcher pitched 10 innings of scoreless ball in relief. And for all you Pirates fans out there, the father of current Bucs' reliever Jason Grilli, Steve Grilli, pitched in that game.

One thing that impressed me above all else is how HARD it is to make it into the Major Leagues. This is embodied in one of the key persons of the game, Pawtucket first baseman Dave Koza. Koza was a home run hitter with one fatal flaw - he could not hit a major league curve ball. How he dedicated his life to become a big league ball player, how that call never came, and what has happened to him in the thirty years since that 33 inning game is an almost Shakespearean tale. So, when you are watching a major league baseball game, and screaming that So-and-So out there on the field stinks, be very sure that the guy you are excoriating is a very good baseball player.

(As an aside, when I read about Dave Koza, I thought about Matt Hague, the first baseman at Indianapolis who hit a lot of home runs last year and for whom many Pirates fans have been clamoring. Hague didn't get the September call up by the Pirates last year, and he is barely mentioned by the team in the pre-season ruminations. Perhaps there is a good reason for that.)

I imagine that only baseball fans will read this book, and that's a shame, because it really is about a lot more than baseball. It is a great read for everybody.

Many thanks to two Loyal Readers, both named Bill, for recommending this book too me!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Short Subjects: NA Strings, Casey at the Bat, Baseball Thoughts, and James Harrison

Selected Short Subjects.....

We had ourselves a real treat this past Monday evening when we attended the North Allegheny Orchestra's Winter Concert. The concert featured the NA 9th grade, 10th grade, and Senior Orchestras and closed with a performance by the NA "Golden Strolling Strings." We have heard for years about the Strolling Strings, but last night was the first time that we had seen them. I said last night that their performance was breathtaking and that it left you speechless, so I will not even try to put into words how terrific it was. Amazing performances by a group of amazingly talented kids.

The North Allegheny School District is to be commended for its promotion and support of The Arts among its students. Too bad that these kids don't get the publicity that the football team gets.

Oh, and special kudos to niece and Goddaughter Monica Pike, ninth grade violinist extraordinaire!!


Yesterday afternoon we also took in the new Martin Scorsese movie, "Hugo." If you are a Scorsese fan, don't go expecting another Raging Bull, Goodfellas, or The Departed. Do expect to see a rather engaging family movie that tells a very cute story about fitting in and what your life's purpose might be. Do expect a loving tribute to the movies, particularly the very earliest days of the movie art. Do expect some amazing visual shots. (Such visuals would be enhanced by seeing the 3D version of this, which we did not, due to the fact that 3D was not available at the dumpy Rave Cinema on McKnight Road.)

This is another movie that had garnered some Oscar buzz and has already been named to many Top Ten lists. It will probably win lots of technical awards, and Scorsese's name might carry it far during the Awards season. Good movie , but I don't put it ahead of "The Descendants."

The Pirates are in the news with the announcement of the trade of the ulcer-inducing Jose Veras to Milwaukee for infielder/outfielder Casey McGehee. On the face of it, I like it. After all, who's going to miss Veras? McGehee has been a pretty good hitter over the years, but the red flag comes up when you see how his numbers have declined over each of the last three seasons, particularly in 2011. Still, he provides insurance, certainly better than anything currently available to them, at third base in the event that Pedro Alvarez' 2011 flame out continues into 2012.

Speaking of the Brewers, Ryan Braun gives us yet another reason to dislike him with the news of his positive test for PED's. It's gonna be a different Brew Crew without Prince Fielder and without Cryin' Ryan for 50 games next year. What a shame.

One more comment on Albert Pujols. If ever a perfect situation existed, it seemed that marriage of Pujols to the baseball-mad city of St. Louis seemed to be it. I naively never imagined that Pujols wold ever leave St. Louis. Another case where, as it always is, it was all about the money. It's the only way that these guys keep score. The ONLY way.

I am guessing that $210 million in St. Louis would have bought Albert a whole lot more than $250 million will buy him in Los Angeles/Anahiem, but, as I say, that's not how these guys keep score.

If Pujols manages to help the Angels win a World Series or two over the next five or six years, perhaps Arte Moreno won't mind paying a 40+ year old Pujols $25 million a season at the end of that contract.

If you had any hope at all of the Pirates keeping Andrew McCutchen or Neil Walker over the long haul, I am guessing that, like me, you have been disabused of that notion after (a) the terms of the recently agreed to CBA, and (b) this latest wave of free agent signings in baseball.

Looks like the NFL has handed down a one game suspension to James Harrison for his illegal hit on Colt McCoy last week. I am going to avoid the talk shows today, because I am sure that the Yinzers of SteelersNation will be up in arms. All I can say is that if James Harrison played for any other NFL team, particularly, Baltimore, Cleveland, or Cincinnati, he would be the most hated man in the city of Pittsburgh. He's a great football player, but he got what he deserved today.

Friday, December 9, 2011

DK on Pujols

Rather that try to paraphrase, I will just cut & paste from Dejan Kovacevic's blog in this morning's Trib on line. It summarizes my feelings exactly.

Take it away, DK.....

>> St. Louis and its Cardinals do everything right by baseball. The city and its fans fill the stadium night after night, the ownership pays for a way-above-market payroll in a metropolitan area the size of Pittsburgh. But the Cardinals can’t keep the best player in the game.

Albert Pujols is an Angel.

And really, if you want a good feel for how little this fazes the national baseball media, good luck finding one outrage-type piece anywhere outside St. Louis this morning. If you see one, please link it here. I haven’t seen any. All I saw were how great this was for the Angels, the balance of power in the AL West, and all that. Everything’s great. This is just how it is in baseball.

>> This isn’t just the Cardinals’ loss. Even if you didn’t like what Pujols did to the Pirates, any pure baseball fan surely enjoyed seeing him play on the North Shore nearly a dozen times every summer. No one ever will do to PNC Park what Pujols did, with a .376 average and 29 home runs in just 89 games.

>> Pujols is to blame, too. He had a chance for a one-of-a-kind legacy with one team, and he chose 10 years and $250 million over 10 years and $210 million. That’s greed of a scope that’s hard to comprehend.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Halftime at the Super Bowl

The National Football League announced this week that the halftime entertainment at the upcoming Super Bowl will be Madonna.

In making this announcement, the NFL has upheld one of their most sacred traditions in choosing the Halftime Show for their Showcase Event: A 50-something rocker who is at least 25 years past his, or in this case, her, prime. Really, didn't Madonna peak in the late 80's?

I will say this, though. The last female entertainer that I remember performing at the Super Bowl was Janet Jackson, and we all remember how THAT turned out, right? If anyone might be able to top Ms. Jackson's performance, it would be Madonna looking to be totally outrageous in trying to jump start her career.

Czar Roger might want to rethink this.

Your Very Active Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates continue to make news in this off season by being somewhat active at baseball's winter meetings this week.

The earlier, pre-meeting signings of catcher Rod Barajas and short stop Clint Barmes were supplemented yesterday by the signings of free agent outfielder Nate McLouth and pitcher Eric Bedard. (Still no word on the pursuit of free agent first basemen Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder. Kidding.)

No question that Barajas and Barmes represent a marginal improvement over what manned those positions last year, although Barajas' age, 36, is a concern.

In McLouth, the team brings back a fan favorite, whose trade to the Braves a few years back filled the fan base with outrage. It can be argued in retrospect, that this was an instance where the team knew what they were doing. McLouth never had a season in Atlanta like the one he had here in 2008 (26 HR, 94 RBI, and a Gold Glove), and the Pirates did obtain Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, and Gorkys Hernandez. Morton had a good year last year, although we still await Locke and Hernandez to do anything on the major league level. In his projected role of fourth outfielder and pinch hitter, he should be okay.

The Eric Bedard signing is one that I think I like. A lefthanded pitcher, Bedard sports a 56-50, 3.70 ERA lifetime record. More important to the Pirates, a cynic might point out, Bedard will come at half the salary Paul Maholm would have cost the team had they picked up his option. And there is a red flag attached to Bedard, and that is frequent trips to the disabled list over the years. He is, a cynic would again point out, a good #3 or #4 starter on a staff that is filled with #3 and #4 starters. Still, if he can stay healthy, and if the team can score runs for him, two pretty big "ifs", Bedard could be a very nice addition to the Pirates.

The four players listed above do make the Pirates a somewhat better team than they were in 2011. Unfortunately, the key word in that sentence is "somewhat." Marginal improvement won't make a sub-.500 team a contender, and may not even make them an above .500 team, but as we all know, a .500 record is not the goal for the Pirates. Championships are!

In other Pirates news....

  • Derrek Lee rejects arbitration and will test the free agent market. Looks like the Pirates option at 1B next year will be a platoon of Garrett Jones and an as yet to be determined right handed batting first basemen scrapped from the bottom of the free agent barrel or some suspect now toiling in the Pirates minor league system. Maybe they can bring back Bob Robertson. I hear that he tears it up at Fantasy Camp every year, and they can probably get him for the minimum salary.

  • The team releases pitcher Ross Ohlendorf. Given what Ross did to the team in arbitration last year and his lousy performance in both 2010 and 2011, this might be the least surprising personnel move in recent Bucco history.

  • The team is making inquiries for a veteran third baseman just in case Pedro Alvarez' struggles of 2011 continue into 2012. Just as Alvarez' horrible season was the biggest story for the team, in my opinion, last season, the specter of what Alvarez might or might not do in 2012 remains the most important factor that will determine the success or failure of the team in 2012.

To Absent Friends - Harry Morgan

Harry Morgan passed away yesterday at the age of 96. A long-time veteran character actor, Morgan is probably best known for playing Col. Sherman Potter on the classic TV series "M*A*S*H", and who wouldn't want a starring role on that series as their epitaph?

However, if you a somewhat older, you remember him as Detective Sgt. Bill Gannon, Joe Friday's sidekick on the 1960's revival of "Dragnet." If you are older than that, you remember him on the early 60's sitcom, "Pete and Gladys", and if you are even older than that, you remember him as a character on the 1950's sitcom, "December Bride." And if you are either a fan of Turner Classic Movies or are just really, really old, you know Morgan as an actor who appeared in over 100 movies in his career. Watch old movies on TCM often enough and you will probably see Morgan at least once a week. He played a key role in the all-time classic western, "High Noon." He also appeared as a regular in several other TV series, some of which I never heard of, after MASH finished it's run in 1983.

The point is, Morgan was a lot more than just the one role for which he will be forever remembered. You've seen him a million times, and it seemed that he was always good in anything that he did.

RIP Harry Morgan.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Book Review: "V is for Vengeance"

One of my favorite series of fictional detective stories is Sue Grafton's "alphabet series" of novels featuring private investigator Kinsey Millhone. The series began back in the early 1980's with "A is for Alibi" and has proceeded along alphabetically up to the just released "V is for Vengeance."

One of the neat things about this series is that the characters have aged in real time. The series began in the early '80s (1983, I believe), when Kinsey was in her early thirties. This current story takes place in 1988 and Kinsey celebrates (sort of) her 38th birthday in this one. Because these stories are still in the 1980's, there are no cell phones, office computers are rare, there is no Internet. This differs from many series where characters that might have sprung to life in the 1950's and 60's remain forever young while still operating in the 2000's.

I have read all of these stories, A through V, and like any series, some are better than others. Recent stories - "T is for Trespass" and "U is for Undertow" - have been among the very best of the series, however, so Grafton seems to get better with age. The stories are all written in the first person with Kinsey narrating the tale. However, in some of the later books, Grafton has interspersed chapters written in the third person and told from other characters' points of view. This device has served to make the stories better, I believe, and is used once again in "V", and one of the chapters is told in the third person while the character is interacting with Kinsey, which I believe is a first for the series. It is the first time that I can recall another character describing Kinsey.

This story begins innocently enough with Kinsey inadvertently witnessing a shoplifter while she herself is shopping. This leads to murder, interaction with organized crime, a crooked cop, and a rather unusual romantic tale. You also learn a lot about shoplifting and just how big a business it is.

While "V for Vengeance" may not rank as highly as some of the other entries in the series, I grade it a solid B.

Grafton has announced that she will continue the series through the letter Z. That means four more books, with "Z is for Zero" arriving sometime in the late 2010's with Kinsey at age 40. I look forward to each of them.

Ron Santo

The Baseball Hall of Fame announced earlier this week that Ron Santo had been elected into the Hall of Fame by whatever incarnation of the Veteran's Committee is currently in place. I have no beef with Santo's enshrinement. I remember him as a player with the Cubs, a very good player, good enough to be a nine time All-Star.

It is too bad that the Vet's committee could not have come to this conclusion one year earlier so that Santo could have lived to experience it.

Santo also achieved a degree of post-playing days fame because of his heart-on-his-sleeve approach as an announcer on the Cubs radio broadcasts. Soundbites of samples of his broadcasts are priceless. No wonder he was so beloved in Chicago.


Gil Hodges once again fell short of enshrinement in this latest vote, and comparison will no doubt be made (and will continue to be made) of Hodges' numbers to Santo's and other contemporaries. My post of a few days back about Hodges caused a flurry of comments when I posted it on Facebook. To be clear, my biggest gripe with the "Gil-Should-Be-In" crowd is not with Hodges per se, but rather with the fact the Hodges would be receiving no where near hype had he played anywhere else but Brooklyn.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

On Pitt, High Schools, Rematches, and Herman

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

  • Herman Cain bows out of the GOP Presidential race after several revelations of marital infidelity come to light. OK, seeya later, Herm. Newt Gingrich, whose own checkered past regarding how sacred he has held his marital vows is well documented, soars to the top of the polls among GOP voters. What am I missing here?

  • Congrats to local high schools Montour and North Allegheny for winning their quarter-final games in the PIAA Football Championship tournament. If they win their semi-final game next week, they will advance to the State Championship games in Hershey in two weeks. This means that these HIGH SCHOOLS will have then played 16, count 'em, 16 games during their season, the equivalent of one full NFL regular season, and will finish playing football one week before Christmas. Does anyone besides me find that to be totally absurd?

  • So the BCS Championship game, which will take place 36 days from now, will be a rematch between LSU and Alabama. You all recall, even though you have probably been trying to forget, that scintillating offensive yawn-a-thon that these two teams played last month, a 9-6 overtime win by LSU. Really, has America been clamoring for a rematch of a game where neither team scored a touchdown? Will anyone outside of Baton Rouge and Tuscaloosa even care about this game five weeks from now, and after 34 other meaningless bowl games have been played?

  • And now, a word about Pitt Football....

Todd Graham became head coach at Pitt last winter, and spent the entire off-season talking about winning championships, scoring boatloads of points, and pretty much setting the world on fire. I liked the enthusiasm in contrast to the usual gloom and doom that is part and parcel of pre-season coachspeak. However, I stated in this forum before the season began that all of that hype could come back to bite Graham in the you-know-where if Pitt bombed out. Well, Pitt did bomb out, finishing their season yesterday at 6-6, and Graham has been hearing the critics loud and long over the team's pedestrian performance this season.

This is not to say that Graham will never work out for Pitt. Everyone has said that Graham needs to get "his players" in at Pitt that will be capable of running "his system" effectively, so give the guy a full recruiting class or two to make that happen. Who knows it it will ever happen, but the guy does deserve a chance. Again, I kind of like the bombast and self-confidence. However, those characteristics can and sometimes did cross over into arrogance and it-wasn't-the-coaches'-fault finger pointing, which I didn't like.

It should also be noted, that many of the people who are now screaming about Graham and saying he'll never win and should be fired (after ONE year) were last year at this time calling for Dave Wannstadt's head on a platter, which Pitt delivered to them. It should be noted that Graham was coaching a team this year that was almost wholly comprised of Wannstadt recruited players.

The season will end sometime later this month, or early in January, when Pitt plays in some completely irrelevant bowl game with some ridiculous corporate name attached to it. The god-awful bowl system in college football is a topic that is belabored ad nauseum, so I won't add to it here, other than to say that 6-6 Pitt playing in such a game is eloquent testimony to the system's god-awfulness.

Our Christmas Tree for 2012

To your left you see a picture of the Sproule Christmas Tree for 2012. It has been standing since Thursday evening, and it has already secured it's place in our family lure as one of the more memorable Tannenbaums of our 37 years of wedded bliss, and not for the right reasons.

We have had disasters with the lights, have had difficulty getting it to stand straight, have had repair intercessions from both neighbors and visiting friends...all in all, it has been a pretty frustrating experience with this particular tree. Clark Griswold had an easier time with his tree.

However, as I type these words at 11:07 on Sunday morning, our tree is standing tall and straight, smells terrific, and looks absolutely beautiful. Keep you fingers crossed that the troubles are behind us.

It often seems that the most long held and cherished memories from Christmases (and vacations) past are the memories of when things DIDN'T go right, so perhaps we will look back fondly and laugh about the events surrounding the erection, decoration, and exhibiting of our 2012 Christmas Tree.

That's what we are telling ourselves, anyway.

Friday, December 2, 2011

News Item from Columbus, Ohio

The news came out of Columbus this week that, after denying (lying?) that he was talking to the University or was even interested in returning to coaching, Urban Meyer has accepted the position as Head Football Coach at Ohio State at a salary of $4 MILLION per year over a five year contract.

Good to see that so many lessons were learned at THE Ohio State University in the wake of the Jim Tressel fiasco.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Very Tired Hall of Fame Debate

The old Put-Gil-Hodges-in-the-Hall-of-Fame Debate has been raging in recent days on the SABR-L listserv. This is a debate that should be packed away with all of the batting practice baseballs and never be discussed again. It rekindles ONLY because of the New York-centric influence among many baseball writers, and ONLY because Hodges played on one of baseball's iconic teams, the Boys of Summer Era Brooklyn Dodgers. Oh, and Hodges also managed the New York Mets when they won their improbable World Series championship in 1969. I grant you that that was no small feat, but there are a lot of managers who have won one World Series, so that in and of itself does not make you Hall of Fame worthy.

But back to Gil Hodges the player. Here are his stats over 18 seasons and 2,071 games:

HR 370
RBI 1,274
BA .273
OPS .846

Now, consider these stats of a player who played in relatively the same era as Hodges, only fewer season, 14, and games, 1,841:

HR 364
RBI 1,159
BA .266
OPS .848

The player in question? Rocky Colovito. How many people are on the bandwagon pushing for HIM to get into the Hall of Fame?

By the way, I take no credit for coming up with the Colovito comparison. One of the posters on SABR-L did that. There are as many people debating against Hodges for the Hall as there are for him. My point is, why even argue it at all?

When a Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words...

Thanks to to the Post-Gazette's Rob Rodgers.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Movie Review: "The Descendants"

Yesterday we decided to take advantage of our retired status and headed out to The Waterfront to take in a weekday matinee. The movie we selected was the newly released, highly touted George Clooney movie, "The Descendants." The movie is getting a lot of Oscar buzz, and I can do nothing but add to the praise. This is a really, really good movie.

The movie takes place in Hawaii, where Clooney plays an attorney who controls 25,000 acres of pristine Hawaiian land that the family is planning on selling to developers. At the same time, he is facing a very serious family crisis. His wife lies in a coma following a boating accident, and he is now faced with the responsibility of dealing more directly with his two daughters, age 17 and 10, than he ever has in the past. He admits that he was always the "secondary parent." As he faces the wrenching decision of how to deal with his wife's condition, his older daughter reveals to him a secret about her mother, his wife, that only adds to the turmoil.

This is a movie that is at times both funny and heartbreaking. It points up the fact that no one's life is ever perfect, and how everyone has to deal with the curve balls that life throws at us.

As I mentioned, this movie is getting four star reviews left and right, and the kudos are well deserved. Clooney is getting talked up big for the Best Actor Academy Award. Having recently seen another actor getting similar buzz, Leonardo DiCaprio in "J. Edgar", I will give my vote to Clooney. A young actress named Shailene Woodcock, who plays the older daughter, is excellent, and I would expect her to get a Supporting Actress nomination. Other small but excellently portrayed roles are Robert Forster as Clooney's father-in-law, Beau Bridges as one of his many cousins, and Judy Greer, who's peripheral involvement with Clooney's family is a critical part of the movie.

Another thing that recommended this movie to me was the involvement of Alexander Payne, who directed this movie and wrote the screenplay. Payne had similar duties for one of my favorite movies in recent years, "Sideways" (he won the Oscar for Best Screenplay on that movie). "Sideways" is a movie that I can watch again and again, and I think that "The Descendants" could fall into that category as well.

December is the time when lots and lots of good movies get released, but try to make time on your movie going calendar to see this one. Excellent movie.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Here's hoping that all readers out there had a terrific, fun, and safe Thanksgiving holiday and weekend. Ours was a great one and doings over the long weekend kept me away from the keyboard for several days, so let's serve up a helping or two of leftovers from the long weekend.

Leftover Turkey

"Turkey" sure is an appropriate term to describe the much ballyhooed Backyard Brawl between Pitt and West Virginia. I heard a great line from Ron Cook on The Fan this morning. He was saying how when you see a great game between two good teams the thought occurs to you that "it's a shame one of these teams has to lose." In watching Pitt-WVU on Friday, his thought was that it was shame that one of these teams had to win. My own thought was that when WVU muffed two punts giving Pitt the ball deep in WV territory, and all that Pitt came away with was two field goals, well, you just had a feeling that that was going to come back to haunt them, and did it ever.

As you all know by now, if you care about this, is that the brunt of all things wrong with Pitt lies with QB Tino Sunseri. I prefer to hold college players to a different standard than their professional counterparts, and I don't like to go overboard in criticizing college athletes. That said, Sunseri did not play well at all in that game on Friday, and this has been pretty much the case all season. In two years as the starting QB, it does not seem that he has improved in his play, and you could probably make a case that he has regressed. Is that his fault? His coaches? I don't know, but it is pretty clear that Pitt is going to need improved play at quarterback in 2012 to improve upon what has been a very disappointing season.

Still, I hate hearing people dump on a college kid, who is, nominally, at least, an amateur, the same way they would, to use examples from recent history, Kordell Stewart or Neil O'Donnell, pros who were paid big bucks to perform, just kind of goes against the grain with me.

As for first year coach Todd Graham, I have plenty of thoughts on him, but I'll save those until after the regular season ends this weekend against Syracuse.

Leftover Stuffing

Let's stick with football for the moment and talk about that Steelers game in KC last night. They won't be showcasing that one in the film rooms at Canton, will they? The Chiefs did everything in their power to give that game to the Steelers, and they still had a chance to win it in the end. Any kind of performance other than what Tyler Palko gave the Chiefs last night and that win would have probably been a loss for the Steelers.

Well, no one says that wins have to be pretty, and a win is a win, and you are what your record says you are and blah blah blah. A tough one with the Bengals next week. I'm figuring that the Steelers are going to almost have to win all of their remaining five games to hold on to the Wild Card spot in which they currently sit.

Also, will people please stop saying that the Steelers need to run the ball more. Were you watching last night? They CAN'T run the ball. The game has changed and neither Franco Harris nor John Henry Johnson is suiting up for them any time soon. They are a PASSING team, and when the receivers have a lackluster game like they did last night, combined with the non-running game, you get the near-unthinkable almost-loss you saw last night.

Final note on last night's game. A law should be passed that requires that Chris Collinsworth be the analyst on EVERY telecast of a football game. He's the best guy out there.

Leftover Pumpkin Pie

I did not see any of the Pittsburgh Thanksgiving Day parade on Saturday, but I did note that the big celebrity (not sure if he was called "Grand Marshall" or not) was Mitch Ryder. Mitch Ryder! The Detroit Wheels, sad to say, were not with him. I am guessing that 80% of the people who were watching the parade had absolutely no idea who he was. I mean, I don't even think the Pirates would line up Mitch Ryder to do a post-game SkyBlast concert. Is that the best that Macy's could come up with for the City's parade? Not even Luke Cravenstahl would show up for a photo op with Mitch Ryder! Who are they getting next year? How about Danny Bonaduce?

And on the other side of the coin, how do you think Mitch felt when his agent called and said that he had a great gig for him - riding in a Thanksgiving parade in Pittsburgh.

The Dishes Are Done

The Thanksgiving and Fall decorations have been packed away, and the Christmas decorations, with the exception of the Christmas Tree, are in place in our house. We look forward to a busy few weeks between now and Christmas Day with family and friends. We started the season off today by taking in the new, highly touted George Clooney movie, "The Descendants." I will write more on that in a separate posting later in the week, but will tell you now that it is a very good movie.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Week That Was

Looking back on the week this Sunday morning.....

High(?)light of the week for me involved the return of an old nemesis - kidney stones. The unmistakable pain in my right side came on Thursday morning. There then followed a call to the doctor, a CT scan, a visit to the doctor, lots of water drinking, and the continued use of a strainer. I have not been in any pain since Thursday morning, but the offending little bugger currently lodged in my internal plumbing has yet to pass, so the story isn't over yet.

I posted about this event on Facebook on Thursday, and few posts that I have ever made on Facebook have drawn the number of comments from Friends as this one did. Everyone's concern was and is most appreciated.

I worked the WPIAL Sportsmanship Summit at the Heinz History Center this past Monday morning. A great event with over 600 high school athletes in attendance. I really enjoyed seeing the energy of all of these kids. Made you realize that the high school athletes with the sense of entitlement of, say, Terelle Pryor, are the exception, thankfully.

Last year's featured speaker was Pitt Womens Basketball coach Agnes Beranatto, and she was terrific. This year the speaker was Lavar Arrington. Let's just say that it is safe to assume that Arrington never took a public speaking course while matriculating at North Hills High School or Penn State.

News Item: Franco Harris steps down as chairman of the Pittsburgh Promise under political pressure from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl because of his expressed support of Joe Paterno.

You can question Franco's judgement in this matter while at the same time admiring his loyalty to his old coach. What cannot be questioned is the naked political opportunism of Boy Mayor Cravenstahl in his attack on Harris in the news media. The Mayor, who has made a habit during his administration of being invisible during moments of crisis, never misses an opportunity to grandstand in the very worst sense of the word. But, hey, he did get that cameo spot in the new Batman movie, and Davey Lawrence never did anything that cool, did he?

While being stalled in Monday morning rush hour traffic this week (it was raining, after all), I tried to relieve the boredom by punching the radio buttons, and I was astonished to be reminded that Jack Bogut is STILL on the air in morning drive time on WJAS, the Music of Your Life station (aka, the Geezer Station). Yes, Bogut is still doing all of the same old boring stuff he did at KDKA back in the Jurassic Age. I am not quite sure what this says about the Pittsburgh market.

It made me wonder about just how old this guy is, so I googled him when I got home. I find out he even has his own website! Interestingly enough, his bio on his website does not include his year of birth. It does say, however, that he came to Pittsburgh in 1968. Forty-three (43) years ago!!! He has to be well into his seventies.

Maybe fresh air is good for your teeth.

It is being reported that the Pirates are close to signing a two year deal with free agent short stop Clint Barmes, age 32. The deal is reported to be worth $5 million. On Twitter last night, Dejan Kovacevic stated that the "Pirates have no peers when it comes to lateral, inexpensive offseason moves. Looks like that will be 2 for 2. Actual upgrades, anyone?"

Can you describe this move and the Rod Barajas signing any better?

Will either of these signings significantly improve the Pirates in any way?

My SABR and Facebook friend Dan Bonk described the Barajas move as a completely irrelevant free agent signing, and the Barmes signing will prove, no doubt, to be the same.

My brother Bill summed it up very well - "The Pirates: Where ballplayers in their thirties go to die."

Amazingly, Tim Tebow is turning out to be one of the biggest stories of the year in the NFL. I tuned into the Thursday night NFL game at the end, just in time to see him engineer that 95 yard game winning drive against the Jets. (What happened to Rex Ryan's vaunted defensive schemes?) He may win ugly, and his style may not be sustainable in the NFL, but right now, Tebow is 4-1 as a Broncos starting QB, and how can you ignore that?

What surprises me is how much of a lightning rod Tebow is for criticism. Why? Some have speculated that this is because of his public profession of his Christianity. While I am somewhat suspicious of people who wear their religion on the sleeves, I don't think Tebow is any more or less overt in this than any one of dozens of athletes you could name, and they don't get dumped on by the public as Tebow seems to be.

Maybe the criticism stems from the fact that Tebow is not the ideal of an NFL quarterback or, even worse, not a good "Fantasy Guy." Hey, if he doesn't have the goods, the other teams in the league will catch up to him soon enough. Until then, though, give the guy credit for winning games right now.

Speaking of the NFL Network, they seem to be working on another set of announcers for their Thursday night telecasts. This time it's Brad Nessler and Mike Mayock. Nessler is a more than capable play-by-play guy. Mayock is okay, I suppose, but he suffers the same disease as all color guys in that he has to comment and expound on EVERY SINGLE PLAY.

The good news is that (a) it is a two man booth and (b) Matt Millan and Joe Thiesman are not there any more.

A Sunday with no Steelers game. How are you planning on spending this day?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Before MLB Signs That New CBA.....

As I knew would happen, the naysayers are weighing in on the new playoff structure (additional wild card team and a One Game Wild Card Playoff game - hereafter to be known as the OGWCP game), so before Bud and whoever the guy who replaced Don Fehr is sign off on that new Bargaining Agreement, they should consider the following Modest Proposal to make everything right with the purists.

  1. Get rid of 14 franchises. Contract them, dissolve them, just make them go away.

  2. Make sure one of those 14 teams is the New York Mets. They've only been around for 50 years, so nobody really cares about them anyway.

  3. Move the Dodgers and Giants back to Brooklyn and New York.

  4. There will now be 16 teams remaining divided into two 8 team leagues.

  5. No teams west of the Mississippi. Their scores never make the morning papers in the east, so they're pretty much irrelevant as it is.

  6. Play a 154 game schedule that would include double headers for every team for every Sunday.

  7. No night games.

  8. One pennant winner per league, even if the pennant winner opens up a 20 game lead in mid-August, thus effectively killing any interest in that league's games for the remainder of the regular season.

  9. Limit the amount of televised games to one per week. Teams contract with local TV stations to televise about 20-25 games per year. All telecasts to be in black & white.

What do you think?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Movie Review: "J. Edgar"

The new Clint Eastwood directed and Leonardo DiCaprio starring movie, "J. Edgar", was heavily advertised during the baseball playoffs, and those ubiquitous commercials had me convinced that this was a movie to see. It had so much going for it....a great director in Eastwood, perhaps the best actor of his generation in DiCaprio, and a subject, J. Edgar Hoover, that was ripe for controversy and, perhaps, some rousing action.

Sorry to say, the whole was not as good as the sum of its parts.

While Hoover certainly deserves credit for building the FBI into the elite crime fighting organization it is today, a case could also be made that Hoover was also one of the more evil figures in our history. Personally, I was interested to see how Eastwood, whose personal politics are somewhat right of center, might portray Hoover. Would he emphasize the crime-busting anti-Communist passion of Hoover? Would he gloss over the Hoover who wiretapped seemingly everybody and use those findings to blackmail several Presidents and Attorneys General into keeping him at his post as FBI director until the day he died?

Well, the movie does show Hoover, warts and all, and it also plays up Hoover's long term relationship with his #2 man at the Bureau, Clyde Tolson. Unfortunately, the movie, which is told in flashbacks as Hoover dictates his memoirs to a present day Agent, is somewhat disjointed, which makes it somewhat hard to follow. The colors in the movie also are washed out through much of the movie. Sometimes that works well, but I don't think it did here. As a fellow viewer said to me as we exited the theater, "I expected more."

One thing that did not disappoint was DiCaprio's performance. He is really a great actor. I haven't seen everything he's done, but I've never seen him be anything less than excellent in anything that I have seen him in. I also like Armie Hammer, despite some ridiculous make-up, as Tolson. Very good performance there.

One of the historical figures portrayed in this movie was Robert Kennedy, and this leads me to a pet peeve. Whenever the Kennedys are portrayed in movies or on TV, why must the actors speak with such obviously phony New England accents? Is it really necessary to use accents when portraying historical figures? Would it make the movie any less valid if Jack or Bobby Kennedy just, you know, spoke their lines without making you think you are watching a bad version of Rich Little on the screen? Don't know who the actor was who played RFK in this movie, but the "pahk-the-cah" affectations were distracting in the extreme. Maybe they should have had him wearing a Red Sox hat, too.

BIG Changes in Major League Baseball

Major League Baseball has announced some MAJOR changes to it's structure that include the following:

  1. The Astros to move to the American League in 2013, thus creating two 15 team leagues, which means that interleague play will now occur throughout the 26 week season. Purists and old school seamheads are already bemoaning this fact, but this particular genie left the bottle in 1997 when interleague play began, and there is no turning back. Why is this only important to baseball people? Nobody cared when the the NFL and AFL merged in 1970 and inter-conference play became a fact of life. No one even thinks of this when the NFL schedule comes out.

  2. Expansion of the playoffs to include two wild card teams in each league with the wild cards meeting in a one game playoff to start the post season. While you can argue that this dilutes the playoff pool, I think I like this. When wild cards were introduced, people said that the idea of down-to-the-wire-pennant-races had been killed, and we see that that hasn't happened. The final week of the 2011 season is ample proof of that. I also think that having a one game playoff between the wild cards will provide real incentive to finish first in your division. Now it will really MEAN something for the Yankees to finish ahead of the Red Sox, and vice versa.

  3. And how pressure packed will that one game playoff be? Off the charts. If you say that it isn't fair to play 162 games and risk being eliminated in one game, then I say just play better, finish in first place, and avoid that one game shoot out.

  4. Word is being leaked that teams and the players are close to coming to an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement. Well, nice to know that there will be no NBA-like work stoppage, but I am guessing that the Yankees will still be the Yankees, and the Pirates will still be the Pirates under the new CBA. I know, I know...the Yankees are only playing by the rules that are in place, and the Pirates are cheapskates who make lousy decisions anyway. The beat will continue to go on.

  5. The Florida Marlins are now the Miami Marlins with some very cool new logos and colors. They are making a splash with their new stadium by making, by all accounts, serious contract offers to free agents Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes, and Mark Buerhle. As one Loyal Reader has pointed out to me, when the Pirates got a new stadium, they made a splash by signing Jason Kendall to a $60 million long term contract. That was 10 years, two principal owners, and three GM's ago, but you could say that the shadow of that contract still hangs over the Pirates to this very day.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Welcome, Rod Barajas

Lost amidst the noise and the news coming from State College this past week was the signing by the Pirates of free agent catcher Rod Barajas. By all accounts, the Pirates were front and center in the courting of Barajas, and Barajas himself said all the right things about coming to the Pirates.

So, the team now has a catcher to replace Ryan Doumit. Barajas himself has admitted that he is neither a high average or high on base percentage guy, but that he can hit the ball out of the park (16 HR in 2011 and 125 over a thirteen year career). By contrast, Ryan Doumit has hit 67 HR over a seven year career, and sports a .271 career BA and .777 OPS, as opposed to .238 and .698 for Barajas. Of course, Doumit's biggest problems have been his many many trips to the DL and a salary commitment of $15 million over the next two seasons. Barajas will make $4 million next year (highest on the team as of today).

The one number on Barajas that scares me the most is his age: 36. Fairly old for a ballplayer, and really old for a catcher. Why am I filled with images of Pirates free agent signings of years past of guys who are in their mid-thirties who turn out to be washed up when they arrive in Bradenton? I really hate to be such a pessimist on this, but the Pirates track record on such matters makes you leery to say the least.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thank You to All Veterans Today!!

On Penn State

Throughout the last several days, there has been some terrific writing and reporting from all across the country on this subject. I will not add to it except to say this.

If you have grown up, lived, and worked in Allegheny Country, western Pennsylvania, and the state of Pennsylvania, chances are very good that, if you are not one yourself, you know someone who is a Penn State alumnus and a dyed-in-the-wool Penn State fan. A family member, a co-worker, a neighbor, someone from church, you know these people, and this week I feel truly bad for these people. They are certainly not "victims" in this case, but they are indeed part of the collateral damage that has resulted from this mess.

It is easy to tweak and kid the caricature of the "bleeds-blue-and-white" Penn State fan. I've done it myself, but let's face it, part of that teasing stems from jealousy. I am envious of people that have spent a portion of their life at a place and institution that has engendered a passion and devotion that has lasted their entire lives. I wish I felt that way about any institution with which I have been associated over the years. These folks have not been well served by the stewards of their University.

As I mentioned, there has been some absolutely terrific writing from writers and reporters all over the country on this topic. Locally, I can point to Gene Collier, Dejan Kovacevic, Joe Starkey, and Bob Smizik. Smizik has also posted on his blog links to writers from papers all over the country to make it easier to find these stories.

No writing that I have read, however, was as eloquent than an email that I received from my nephew George, now age 41. George is the son of two Penn State alums, was born and raised in Centre County, and is a Penn State grad and a proud member of the Blue Band. As his thoughts came to me via a personal email, I will not share it here, but I can assure you that his thoughts summarize the sadness and disappointment that has been felt by these loyal alums and fans over this matter. I am sure that he speaks for thousands of Penn Staters across the land. I will take the liberty to share one sentence from his note to me:

It is "exquisitely ironic that a culture (Penn State football) that was in the business of creating upstanding and heroic men, didn't create a sufficient hero in this case."

This will probably be the last thing I wrote on this topic. It hardly falls within the fun-and-games part of life that I usually opine on, and I doubt that there is much of anything that I could add to what will be written in the weeks, months, and years ahead as this story continues to evolve.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Reviews - A Baseball Icon and a Football Time Capsule

I have just concluded reading a couple of old books with a sporting theme that I would like to mention to you now.

The first is Richard Ben Cramer's biography of Joe DiMaggio, "Joe DiMaggio, The Hero's Life." Cramer spent five years researching and writing this book which was published in 2000, one year after Joltin' Joe's death. If you are a baseball fan and have even a rudimentary knowledge of baseball history, you already know a lot of the "baseball stuff" about DiMaggio - the sterling quality of his play, the 10 pennants and 9 World Series championships, and, of course, the epic 56 game hitting streak in 1941. However, as is often the case with such biographies, it is the off the field stuff, the post-playing days life, that make for the most interesting reading. For example, you will learn a lot about Marilyn Monroe in this book.

You will also learn that this most beloved of baseball heroes was not the most lovable of men. He was demanding of those around him, but would turn his back on you and cut you off completely if he thought that you were disloyal to him, or, even worse, using your relationship to him to your advantage. He was cheap and never paid for anything.

This is a pretty long (over 500 pages) book, thoroughly detailed, and sometimes slow moving, but worth reading for those who appreciate baseball history.

The second book is even older, "...And Everyday You Take Another Bite" by sportswriter (now boxing commentator on HBO or Showtime) Larry Merchant. This book was written in 1971 and was Merchant's somewhat iconoclastic view of the National Football League in 1971. I had read this book when I was in college, and I stumbled across it in a used bookstore in Cooperstown last month.

Yes, I said 1971, forty years ago. Think about it. When this book was published, the Steelers had never even made the playoffs, ESPN did not exist, Monday Night Football had been on the air only one year, and that relatively new event on the sporting landscape, the Super Bowl, had only just started using Roman numerals. Bob Sproule had not yet met Marilyn Moellenbrock! I had enjoyed the book when I read way back then, and I thought it might be interesting to see what had changed, and what had not changed, since Merchant wrote this book. It was like opening a football time capsule.

The book opens with Merchant's write-up of the previous season's Super Bowl. It was number V, and it was won 16-13 by the Baltimore Colts on a last second field goal that defeated the Dallas Cowboys. If you recall, the game was an error filled contest - fumbles, interceptions, wacky plays, and inept quarterbacking by Johnny Unitas, Earl Morrall, and, especially, Craig Morton. The sloppy play by both teams was made all the more apparent when set against the hype and bombast that NFL used to stage this showcase event. And this was during a time BEFORE 6:30 kick-offs, four hour pre-game shows, and $3 million per minute commercials.

In any event, Merchant's first chapter that summarizes the game is a classic.

The book details the pervasive influence that television was exercising over the game. Again, this was before the birth of ESPN, the NFL Network, and Thursday Night Football. So Merchant's warning bells were quite prophetic.

Some of the book is terribly dated. Remember Dave Meggesey? Didn't think so.

However, there is just all sorts of fun memories that can be dredged up reading this book. Such as....

  • The 1968 "Orange Juice Bowl" when the lousy Steelers beat the lousy Eagles 6-3 in a game where both teams were "as futile as the law allows." At the time, it was felt that the loser of that game would win the right to draft O.J. Simpson. Ironically, the Eagles won two of their final games and lost the right for the #1 pick. Merchant says that Eagles coach Joe Kuharich thus "refined the art of losing to its finite limit - losing while winning."

  • And isn't any book that tells Joe Kuharich stories worth reading?

  • Lots of stuff on Joe Namath, which, in retrospect, seem a bit overblown looking back on it.

  • Stories about Joe Don Looney. Again, any book with stories about that dude is worth reading.

  • Vince Lombardi had only died within the prior year, so Merchant spends some time on him, and how he was officially canonized by the NFL.

Some good stuff. It might be hard to find this book anywhere now, so if you care to read it. I'll be happy to lend it to you.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Andy Rooney on D-Day

In my post earlier today, I made reference to an Andy Rooney essay on D-Day. It was run this morning on CBS' Sunday Morning show.

Watch and listen.;contentBody

A Trip to the Movies, Football Fun & Games, and Other Topics

Cleaning out the Mental In-Box....

  • As I usually try to confine this blog to light-hearted topics, saving outrage for baffling moves on the part of the Pirates, I will not expound on the truly awful news coming from Penn State this weekend. Better writers than I are opining on that, and I refer you to Gene Collier in today's PG, Joe Starkey in today's Trib, and Bob Smizik's blog on, for more analysis. All I can ask is this: why did no one - no one -at the University call the police when the 2002 assault in the shower room was witnessed and reported to various University officials?

Okay, I will now return to the Fun & Games Department.....

  • For the first time in months, we took ourselves out to the movie theater yesterday and saw "Tower Heist" starring Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy. Now some readers who know me will be shocked - SHOCKED - to hear that I went to see Ben Stiller in anything. However, he did not play the usual put-upon character he usually plays (see those awful Focker movies), so I'm glad I kept an open mind. This is a movie that will never win any awards, but it was fun and entertaining, and a nice way to spend two hours. Also, it has been awhile since I've seen an Eddie Murphy movie, and I had almost forgotten how really FUNNY he is.

  • I watched the Alabama -LSU game last night that LSU won 9-6 on OT. Two great defensive teams, to be sure, but if you purport to be the Number One team in the nation, shouldn't you be able to play at least SOME offense?

  • On the other hand, any game where you can see Nick Saban lose has its merits.

  • You can get into all sorts of debates over the validity of overtime in regular season games, but I can recall Myron Cope once commenting that sometimes a tie can be a just result in a game. I think that game last night was an example of that premise.

  • The SEC Loyalists out there are already tub-thumping for a rematch of LSU-Alabama in the BCS Championship Game. Please, God, save us from that.

  • Got into an interesting, if short, exchange with a Facebook buddy last night. He was saying how awful the Oklahome State - Kansas State 52-45 game was because it was circus with no defense at all. I was saying how the 6-6 Alabama game was far from the "game of the century" the flacksters were promoting because of the complete lack of offense. I would say that we were probably both right.

  • Pitt once against snatches defeat from the jaws of victory, blowing a 10 point third quarter lead against Cincinnati last night. I was switching back and forth between that game and the Alabama game, but I saw enough to state that the Pitt offense in that fourth quarter was thoroughly awful. Almost unwatchable.

  • Then again, West Virginia loses to Lousiville yesterday. Big East football really is terrible, isn't it?

  • I have written in the past about how I enjoy listening to the "60's on 6" radio station on the Sirius XM satellite radio. Great music from the 1960's. However, when you listen for an extended period of time, as we did on our recent drive to Cooperstown, you learn that not everything from that era was great, and some of it was downright bad. As evidence I give you "Honey" by Bobby Goldsboro, and anything by Bobby Vinton.

  • I was saddened to read in the paper a few weeks back that Highland Country Club has closed. I was never a member there, but for a period of time in the 1990's my boss was, and, thus, I was able to play there quite a bit when entertaining customers. Highland was never ranked as one of the truly great country club courses here in western PA, but I always found it a fun and enjoyable course to play. Too bad.

  • Also saddened to hear that Joe Frazier, 67, has been stricken with liver cancer and is now in hospice care.

  • And of course, I was also saddened to hear of the death of Andy Rooney. This morning's "CBS Sunday Morning" show was devoted to Rooney, and it included his essay on D-Day, which is something everybody should see.

  • Finally, I hear tell that a football game of some note will be played at Heinz Field this evening. The Ravens have been struggling of late, and the Steelers are coming off that huge win against the Patriots. What the hell, the Steelers to win tonight!!

Friday, November 4, 2011

"Million Dollar Quartet"

On a December day in 1956, musical legends Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis really did meet in the Sam Phillips' Sun Records studio in Memphis, and really did have a jam session. That session has been fleshed out dramatically for the purposes of creating the musical "Million Dollar Quartet" that Marilyn and I took in at the Benedum Theater last evening.

While the show does tell a story, it is really all about the music, and the four actors who play the leads really do it up right. These guys are not "impersonators" as we have come to know them, but actors playing a part, and they all do it really well. The idea of an "Elvis impersonator" has become a show biz cliche. What this role in MDQ requires is someone playing Elvis (and Cash, Perkins, and Lewis), and the actors in last night's production hit just the right notes. The actor who played Elvis got the hip-shaking moves down right, and while the voice isn't exactly like Elvis, you know that you are seeing the 1956 version of Elvis on stage.

The show confirms that the pre-Army Elvis Presley was and is the "real" Elvis, the Elvis who really was The King. People whose only impression or knowledge of Elvis Presley consists of cheesy movies and a fat guy in a white jump suit on a Vegas stage, really need to learn more about Elvis prior to his 1960 induction.

(Which brings to mind John Lennon's quote when he learned that Presley had died in 1977: "The real Elvis died the day he went into the Army.")

Back to the show, the actor who played Jerry Lee Lewis really stole the show. Pure energy and he played the piano just like the Killer.

The encore to the show was great with each actor performing a signature song of each artist:

Hound Dog by Elvis, Ghostriders in the Sky by Cash, See You Later, Alligator by Perkins, and a rousing finale of Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On by Lewis. And, of course, when it was over, the announcement was made that "Elvis has just left the building."

Great show!!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

To Absent Friends - Matty Alou

News arrives today that Matty Alou passed away today in his native Dominican Republic at the age of 72. Alou is, of course, famous for being one of the three Alou brothers who played in the major leagues in the 1960's and -70's.

Pirates fans will remember him coming to the Pirates after in 1966 in one of Joe L. Brown's great trades (Joe Gibbon and Ozzie Virgil went to the Giants). All Alou did in his five seasons with the Bucs was put together seasons where he produced batting averages of .342, .338, .332, .331, and .297, winning the NL batting championship in 1966. Over 15 big league seasons, he compiled a .307 lifetime batting average.

I will remember Alou as being a part of some of my favorite Pirates teams of all time in the late 60's when the Pirates often challenged for a pennant, but never quite made it, but, man could those teams hit...Clemente, Stargell, Clendennon, Alou, Mota, Pagliaroni....Some cherished memories there.

It might also be noted, that even when Alou left the Pirates, he served them well. He was traded after the 1970 season to the Cardinals for Nelson Briles and Vic Davillio, two key guys on the 1971 World Series Champions.

RIP Matty Alou.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Clemente Picture

Below you will see a picture of the picture of Roberto Clemente that I won at the World Series Gala at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown last week. We bought the frame and decided to hang it in a place of honor in our den at home.

Appropriate that it hangs below a painting of Forbes Field, don't you think?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Some Baseball News

Well, we can all calm down after that big Steelers win yesterday, and it has been three whole days since the end of the World Series, so why not kick off the Hot Stove Season right now.

In some not so surprising news, the Pirates made it official today that they will not be picking up the club options for four players for 2012: pitcher Paul Maholm, catchers Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder, and shortstop Ronny Cedeno. The Maholm and Doumit moves are not surprising since they represent $25.25 million in salary obligations on the part of the team. The Snyder move is somewhat surprising because, while Snyder would have cost them $6.75 million in salary next year, they have to have somebody who can catch and at least have a reasonable chance at hitting the ball. The Cedeno move is a real surprise since his salary next year would have been a relative pittance, $3 million, and despite his mental lapses that tend to drive you absolutely crazy, it has been obvious that the Pirates have been unable to find - or pay - anyone who can do any better (see Wood, Brandon).

If you are keeping score at home, the Pirates have now pared off $35 million in salary obligations for 2012 and are in desperate need of a catcher, a shortstop, and at least one starting pitcher, and this is in addition to everything else a 90 loss team needs. What exactly will they do with that $35 million? Not nearly enough to sign Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins to play shortstop or CJ Wilson to pitch. Maybe they will sink that money into securing Andrew McCutchen or Neil Walker to long term deals. Or maybe it will go into "player development" and be used to help the long term plans of the team as the current team struggles to avoid 90 losses again next season.

As I read somewhere today, it's going to be an interesting off season watching GM Neal trying to plug these holes. Right now, I am having a very sinking feeling that the team we watch in 2012 could be a lot worse than what we saw in 2011.


Elsewhere in baseball, more surprising news arrived with the announcement of Tony LaRussa's retirement. Those who know me know that I am no big fan of LaRussa's. I thought him to be smug and self-important and someone who relished the "genius" tag that the George Wills and Buzz Bissingers of the world bestowed upon him. I also thought that he was allowed to skate on that DUI charge of a few years back. To my knowledge, he never received a reprimand from either MLB or the Cardinals on that.

Be all that as it may, you cannot take away from his accomplishments. Only Connie Mack and John McGraw won more games as a manager, and he had to have had something to do with that two month run that the Cardinals just pulled off. So his eventual plaque in the Baseball of Fame will be well deserved.

And he is certainly going out on a high note!


One other baseball note. Last week on Pardon the Interruption, Tony and Mike interviewed the newly appointed Cubs major domo Theo Epstein, late of the Boston Red Sox. When asked what it would take to turn the Cubs around, Theo spouted the usual baseball b.s. about player development, setting up a flow of talent that would turn the team into a contender year in and year out, and not just for a one shot deal and on and on and on. It was the same line that we have been hearing for Coonelly and Huntington since their arrival in 2007. I mean, word for word. I guess the big difference is that Theo had the unlimited checkbook of John Henry in Boston to make it work, and I suspect those same resources will be available to him in the Windy City.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Book Review: "Shock Wave"

I recently finished reading John Sandford's newest novel, "Shock Wave." Earlier in the year, I had read an reviewed Sandford's other book this year, "Buried Prey", which featured Sandford's signature character, Minnesota police detective chief Lucas Davenport. "Shock Wave" features Sandford's other series character, police detective Virgil Flowers.

Flowers was actually a minor character in the Davenport books who Sandford, I am happy to say, decided to spin off in his own series of novels. He still works for Davenport in the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), and Lucas appears "off-screen" in these novels, usually as a sort of sounding board for Virgil as he conducts his investigations.

In this novel, a huge big box retailer, PyeMart, is planning on opening a new store in the small Minnesota town of Butternut Falls. Having this store in the community would virtually destroy existing small businesses in the community and, essentially, ruin the lives of many, many people in the town. So someone intends to stop it by planting bombs at both PyeMart headquarters and at or near the proposed construction site. Several people have been killed by these bombs. Finding the bomber is Virgil's job.

It's a great story with terrifically drawn characters. (There is one scene where Virgil is interviewing a teen aged boy who is working as a desk clerk at the motel where he is staying about a woman who might be somehow involved with a possible suspect. It is a classic scene.) This is the I believe the fifth Virgil flowers novel that Sandford has written, and while they are not yet quite the equal of the Lucas Davenport "Prey" novels, they are rapidly closing in on them.

Check them out.

By the way, when I read stories with series characters like these, I always try to picture the actors who would portray them if they were made into movies. I always had a hard time coming up with an actor for Lucas Davenport. I have recently earned that USA Network has made a movie of the book "Certain Prey" and that it will star Mark Harmon as Lucas. It will air next Sunday, November 6. I'm thinking that Harmon might be a little too old for the part, but I am also thinking that he just may be able to pull it off. I'm looking forward to watching it.