Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Let's Kick a Guy While He's Down!

Lord knows, I thought that I would never have to do another post on ex-Bucco Skipper John Russell again, but did you catch the tidbit buried in the back of the sports pages over the weekend?

It seems that Orioles Manager Buck Showalter changed some assignments on his coaching staff. Bench coach Willie Randolph moved in the third base coach's box, and JR went from the 3B assignment to become Showalter's bench coach. It seems that earlier that week, the Orioles had their pitcher on first base (interleague play, you know), and JR waived him home from first on a ball hit to the outfield, and it seems that the catcher was waiting at the plate with the ball by the time the baserunner was about halfway down the third base line.

Something tells me that this was NOT a promotion for John Russell!

And in an ironical footnote, the pitcher/baserunner in question was ex-Pirate Chris Jakaubaskus, who has to be wondering what he did to deserve being saddled with John Russell on two different teams.

Monday, June 27, 2011

To Absent Friends - Clarence Clemons and Peter Falk

In my post yesterday, I mentioned the recent passing of Clarence Clemons and Peter Falk. Thought I would take the occasion today to include pictures of these gents, and to share with you one of "The Big Man's" classic solos.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Catching Up: Vacation, Books, Music, Rory, Pitt-Penn State, Pirates, and Absent Friends

Cleaning out the Mental In-Box, Post-Vacation Edition....

  • We just returned from our 25th trip to North Carolina's Outer Banks. Is there a better place anywhere to relax and enjoy the beach? That certainly looks like a crew that was enjoying themselves, doesn't it?

  • A note on the Passage of Time: The first summer that we made this Griswold-style vacation, Jennifer turned 16 years old. Later this fall, her son, Zach, will turn 16 years old.

  • Weather in the OBX this year was perfect. We didn't miss one day at the beach due to rain. In fact, the only rain we saw came at about 8:00 one evening. It was quite hot. Temps were high 80's/low 90's.

  • Managed to read two books while down there. One was the current #1 best seller, "In the Garden of Beasts" by Eric Larson. This is the story of William Dodd, who was FDR's ambassador to Germany from 1933-37. The book specifically focuses on Dodd and his adult daughter, Martha. Considering all that was going on in Germany and Europe during this time, it is a most fascinating book. Truth can be more exciting than fiction.

  • The other book was 2004 thriller, "The Devil's Teardrop" by Jefferey Deaver. This one did not involve Deaver's trademark Lincoln Rhyme character, but it was thrill ride nonetheless. A perfect beach book.

  • I believe it was Paul Simon who I once heard say that the greatest music of all is the music that you listened to when you were in high school and college. That fact hit home one night on vacation when I had our iPod playing what I felt to be an exceptional rock & roll mix playlist. After about an hour or so, Zach asked if he could put his iPod in the dock so we could hear some music from "people who aren't dead yet."

  • For the record, my playlist was better.

  • Speaking of music, you can find some gems if you have a satellite radio. While driving home and listing to Elvis Radio on XM 19 ("We don't just remember Elvis. We never forgot him.") I heard a recording of Elvis singing the old Diamonds classic, "Little Darlin.'" Very cool to hear the King hitting that final "o-onlyyy you" note.

  • I wish I could tell you that I had predicted that Rory McIlroy was going to win the US Open. How about that wire-to-wire drubbing that he put on the field at Congressional CC last week?

  • On the subject of golf, it is now quite fashionable to trash Tiger Woods for things such as his relationship with the media, his non-answers to questions, his on course behaviour etc. Funny how none of the Johnny Millers and Jim Nantz's of the world were not quite so vocal about this when Woods was at the top of his game and before his messy personal life hit the tabloids.

  • Old News Dept.: Right before I left, news broke with much joy about Pitt and Penn State resuming a home-and-home football series in 2016 and 2017. I found the statements of the two AD's most interesting. Penn State's Steve Curly treated this as serendipitous coincidence that both schools needed to fill scheduling needs for those two seasons, while Steve Pederson was positively gushing at the possibility of a long term resumption of this rivalry. He reminded me of the "please-sir-may-I-have-another" frat pledge in Animal House.

  • I can't wait to see how the Pitt Athletic Department will turn a 2016 football game with the Nittany Lions into legalized extortion by forced season ticket sales over the next five years.

  • I also think that scheduling Pitt had to be done over the objection of Joe Paterno. I have nothing but the highest regard for JoePa, but even the most ardent Paterno advocates have to admit that he is a bitter and recalcitrant old fogey who has held a grudge against Pitt for all these years over Pitt shunning his Eastern All-Sports conference and opting for the Big East instead about a hundred years ago. I never thought I'd see those teams play each other as long as Joe was still drawing breath.

  • That said, I set the odds at 50/50 that Joe will be on the sidelines at Heinz Field for the game in 2016. Hey, he'll only be 89 at the time!

  • OK, you knew I was getting to it: How about those Pirates!! It was hard keeping up-to-date with the team while in the OBX, but I was well aware of the four game skid they went into last weekend. I couldn't believe they got swept by the Indians, but hey they sure bounced back! After the long drive yesterday, I was totally exhausted last night, but I simply had to stay up until the end to watch them take their second straight against the Red Sox.

  • I am also glad to hear that talk isn't so much about being two games over .500 as it is about being in third place and only three games out of first place.

  • In any event, I am looking forward to kicking back this afternoon and watching them go for a sweep against the Big Boys from New England.


To Absent Friends: Melancholy and Belated Happy Trails go out today in the memories of Clarence Clemens and Peter Falk.

Saw the news on Monday of the death of Clarence "The Big Man" Clemens of the E Street Band last weekend. Fans of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band certainly feel the loss of the great sax player from the band. Just listen to "Jungleland" to get the real flavor of the Big Man.

As for Peter Falk, well, was there ever an actor more perfectly suited to a role than Falk was to Lt. Columbo? Maybe Falk didn't like being so identified with one role. That does happen, but I never recall hearing Falk complain about it. I am happy to own a couple of box DVD sets of Lt. Columbo movies, including "Prescription Murder," the NBC TV movie that introduced the character.

RIP Clarence Clemens and Peter Falk.

Monday, June 13, 2011

BigPoppy Gives His Regards to Broadway

It seems that David Ortiz isn't the only Big Papi belting them out of the park these days. You will recall that last week I posted the Tony Award predictions of Loyal Reader BigPoppy (, and it turns out that this guy knows of which he speaks.

A check of the Tony Award Box Score shows that BigPoppy clicked on six of his seven predictions. Wow, I hope he had some action down on that!! He missed only in the category of Actress in a Featured Role. And "Book of Mormon" swept the Tonys last night, just as BP called it.

The Grandstander gives a firm Lock/Clasp to BigPoppy and welcomes him back any time in the role of, too use his very own words to me, "Truly Arrogant Guest Prognosticator."

I will also reinforce something I wrote in the post with BP's picks last week after seeing that "Anything Goes" won the Tony for Best Musical Revival. For a guy who wrote his last song in 1958 and died in 1964, Cole Porter is still gettin' it done! (And one can see Porter portrayed once again in Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris.")

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Movie Review: "Midnight in Paris"

We took a spin to The Waterfront today to catch the new Woody Allen flick, "Midnight in Paris."

First off, I have never been in Paris, so I speak with no first hand knowledge, but Paris looks absolutely gorgeous in this movie. The City of Lights now gets the treatment that Allen always gave New York City in his movies, and it makes you want to call your travel agent.

In this movie, Owen Wilson plays the "Woody Allen character" right down the cadence of his speech. He's quite good in the role. Rachel McAdams plays his fiance, and she's not very sympathetic. Also, she's no Diane Keaton or Mia Farrow. Anyway, Wilson plays a hack screenwriter in Paris for a pre-wedding trip with McAdams and her parents. (They also meet up with a couple of old friends, and the guy takes the word "pedantic" to new levels. Very funny, especially Wilson's reactions to him. Think Tony Roberts playing this guy in the old Allen movies. Also, think of the know-it-all film buff standing behind Allen and Keaton in the movie line in "Annie Hall.") Wilson longs for the Paris of the 1920's that was populated with artists and writers, and a magical cab ride one night as the clock strikes midnight takes him to the days of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stein, Picasso and others.

As with most Allen films, there is an interesting moral to the story, lots of laughs along the way, and a happy ending.

I'll give this on a solid "B" in the grading of The Woodman's movies.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Night at the Ballpark

OK, the adventure that ended late last night with Andrew McCutchen's dramatic 12th inning walk-off game winning home run against the Diamondbacks actually began the night before, shortly after the Bucs dramatic 8th inning rally sparked a come from behind win over those same D'Backs. Shortly after that game ended, the phone rang - who calls anyone after 10:00 at night? - and it was SABR/Facebook friend Dan Bonk, who practically screamed into the phone "c'mon, a bunch of us are gonna go down to the game tomorrow (Weds.), you wanna come?"

So it was that Len Martin, Jim Haller, Dan, and I met up at the Honus Wagner statue (a tradition, I might add, that dates back to the days when this statue sat in Schenley Park outside of Forbes Field), bought tickets for section 318, and headed into PNC Park. First of all, I can't remember the last time I was part of such a spur-of-the-moment decision to go to a Pirates game, which made the whole deal all the more fun.

By now, those who are interested know the outcome of the game. It was a great ball game that the Pirates won 3-2 in twelve innings. There were heroes galore: Paul Maholm throwing six shutout, one hit innings, reliever Tony Watson making his MLB debut by coming in with one out and two men on base and striking out Arizona's #3 and #4 batters, Neil Walker getting a clutch two out single in the 10th to tie the game after Arizona took the lead, the nifty 3-6-3 double play the Bucs turned in the 11th, and, of course, Cutch's walk-off dinger to lead off the 12th that put the Pirates at .500. The excitement in the ballpark and among the crowds as you walked out of the park after the game was unlike anything I've seen at a Pirates game in years and years. The game also officially marked the Jumping on the Pirates Bandwagon of Dan Bonk.

And, as someone observed, how much fun baseball talk are you going to get when four SABR geeks get together at a ball game (and five when you include Marky Billson who happened to be sitting two rows behind us)? I mean when else are you going to have conversations that involve names like Carl Sawatski, Choo-Choo Coleman, and Greg Goosen, facts like Wilber Wood being the last pitcher to both win and lose 20 games in a season, and Bob Buhl once going 0-for-71 at the plate in a season, and debating whether Willie Stargell or Barry Bonds belongs in left field on the all-time Pirates team over the last fifty years?

But the quote of the night came when we were all marveling at the fact that it seems like every single pitcher in the majors can now throw pitches in excess of 92 MPH. At that point Jim Haller eloquently stated, "There are no Eddie Lopats anymore."

What a great night!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Book Review: "Buried Prey"

"Buried Prey" is the latest installment in John Sandford's series about Minnesota police detective Lucas Davenport. If you like thrillers and have never read any of these books (all the Davenport novels have the word "Prey" in the title), then I am happy to introduce you to this series.

Great stories, great characters, terrific dialog. The crimes that are written about are usually brutal so be forewarned. As with all series novels, it might be good to start with the first one and read them chronologically, but it is not absolutely necessary. They all stand on their own, including this one, and references to earlier stories do not serve as spoilers if you read one of them later. (There are two novels that feature the same villain and should be read in order, but damned if I can remember which ones they were. Sorry.)

In this latest episode, the story opens with the discovery of two bodies from a long ago crime. The story then flashes back to when Lucas was a young uniformed cop who investigated the crime. Familiar readers are treated to a young Lucas Davenport in his formative cop years. The last two-thirds of the book are in the present day as Lucas reopens the case, with some tragic consequences.

I'll say no more, but I would highly recommend this book, and all of the Sandford "Prey" novels. Sandford also has a series that features a crossover character from the Prey Series, Virgil Flowers. These are good stories as well.

Have fun reading them.

Morning Quickies....

To Absent Friends: A melancholy happy trails to ex-Pirate Jose Pagan, dead at age 76. Who remembers that Pagan drove in the winning run in Game 7 of the 1971 World Series? RIP


Listening to the know-it-all gasbags, both hosts and callers, authoritatively saying how the Pirates "blew it" with the selection of Gerrit Cole is yet another reminder as to why I listen to sports talk radio with less and less frequency these days,


What mess that whole football situation is down at West Virginia University. Another proof that the whole concept of naming a "coach-in-waiting" is a ridiculous idea. As my WVU correspondent Jim Hinerman reports, who would ever have thought that Bob Huggins would be the least of the WVU athletic department's problems!


Sorry to see that Dejan Kovacevic is leaving the PG for the Trib.


How about that come-from-behind win over the Diamondbacks last night? Doubt that that would have ever happened in 2010.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Special Guest Blogger: BigPoppy on the Tonys

The 2011 Tony Awards will be given this coming Sunday evening, and to mark the occasion, The Grandstander turns over this space to its Man on the Great White Way, the Sage of Landview Street, Loyal Reader BigPoppy!

Take it away BP......

OK, I was going to simply cut-and-paste Big Poppy's incisive comments, but he is using a different version of Microsoft than I have on my PC and I am unable to do it. So, instead of his own Walter Winchell-like prose, I will merely offer his predictions for six categories:

Best Musical - "The Book of Mormon" (Big Poppy says that this is an "absolute lock")
Best Revival of a Musical - "Anything Goes" (Cole Porter still getting it done!)
Best Performance of a Lead Actress in a Musical - Sutton Foster, "Anything Goes"
Best Performance of a Lead Actor in a Musical - Norbert Leo Butz, "Catch Me If You Can"
Best Performance of Actress in a Featured (Supporting) Role - Laura Benanti, "Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown"
Best Performanc of an Actor in a Featured Role - John Laroquette, "How to Succeed in Business Without really Trying" (The Grandstander remembers Laroquette as the very funny Dan Fielding in the classic 80's sitcom, "Night Court")

BigPoppy also offers a special "Bonus Pick" in the category of Best Play: "War Horse"

There you have it. BP says that he will be "devastated" (his word) if he is not correct on at least five of these seven picks. He also offers that the musical "Sister Act" could be a dark horse winner in some categories, but he again states that "Book of Mormon" "could sweep the field."

As always, watch, but don't bet.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Pirates Thoughts After a Big Weekend

  • It looks like the Pirates will use that overall #1 selection to take RHP Gerrit Cole of UCLA. He appears to be a "can't miss" top-of-the-rotation guy, and as a college guy, he's that much closer to the Big Leagues, so what's not to like? Me, I would take a "can't miss" middle-of-the-order slugger like Anthony Rendon, but there seems to be enough concerns over Rendon's health, so I'll yield to the baseball guys in the Front Office here. God knows there will plenty of time to second guess this one in the years ahead.

  • And as has been mentioned many times in this space, baseball scouting remains an inexact science, so who really knows who the "can't-miss" guys are?

  • Thanks to the kindness of Highmark, Facebook, and SABR friend John Carney, I will be at PNC Park tonight for a Draft Party that the Pirates are hosting for their season ticket holders. Should be fun to be a part of ushering in the Gerrit Cole Era.

  • Sure was a great weekend for the Pirates. They rebound from that terrible loss to the Mets last Thursday by taking two of three from arguably the best team in the NL.

  • That 2-1 twelve inning win on Friday was more than just another win. That was real test of character for this team. Put that game in a World Series, and people would be talking about it for years to come.

  • The Pirates sit at 28-30, and there will be some spoilsports who will tell you that they had the same record at this point in such-and-such season and they went on to lose 98 games. True, but something just feels different about this squad.

  • You can feel that difference in the air. When I went down to the ballpark on Friday afternoon to buy tickets for Sunday's game, there were lines to buy tickets, and you can tell that people are excited about this bunch.

  • And isn't it great to feel excitement over the Pirates after all these years?

  • Makes me want to take in one of these Diamondbacks games this week, and the return of Zach Duke on Wednesday night could be the one to see.

  • If you ask me, Daniel Moskos should never have to play another game in the minor leagues again. He's earned his spot with the Pirates at this point.

  • Jose Ascanio is another story.

  • The Matt Diaz/Garrett Jones RF platoon struggles while Alex Presley continues to tear it up in Indy. How long until a change gets made?

  • So far I love Clint Hurdle, but his having guys at the top of the order bunting drives me crazy. I get having the pitcher or Ronny Cedeno sacrificing, but I wonder about having Jose Tabata or Andrew McCutchen doing so.

  • I have not mentioned the new Root Sports Network so far this season. It looks they are shit-canning that "Yinzer Guy" voice over announcer, so give them credit for that. They get criticized for too many crowd shots, but that doesn't bother me. What does bother me are the incessant references to the "Range Resources Strike Zone" and the "AGH Cam."

  • And what really drove me up the wall on Saturday's game was the constant shilling among Greg Brown, Steve Blass, and Dan Potash to have people text their vote for the "most impressive Pirates pitcher" so far this season. The cloying debate among them for their candidate while a great ballgame was going on was enough to make you mute the sound.

  • While they will never say so, I am guessing that Brown, Blass, and Potash hated it almost as much as the viewers did.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


Tomorrow, June 6, marks the 67th anniversary of D-Day. On this day, I always go back and re-read a section from Andy Rooney's 1995 book, "My War."

There have been only a handful of days since the beginning of time on which the direction the world was taking has been changed for the better in only one twenty-four hour period by an act of man. June 6, 1944, was on of them.

What the Americans, the British, and the Canadians were trying to do was get back an entire continent that had been taken from its rightful owners and whose citizens had been taken captive by Adolf Hitler's German army. It was one of the most monumentally unselfish things one group of people ever did for another.

Take moment or two on Monday to remember what happened on the beaches of Normandy 67 years ago.

The Neighborhood Garage Sale

Yesterday, Marilyn and I experienced a first in our almost-37 years of marriage. We took part in a neighborhood garage sale, and it was, I must say, a very positive experience.

Despite all of the purging that we did when we moved from Field Club Drive last year, we still found ourselves holding a lot of "stuff" that we just didn't need. Some of it was stuff that we learned just didn't work in our new house. Things like pictures, decorative items, and, the big ticket item, six patio chairs with cushions. They worked great on our covered back porch at Field Club, but not so good on our deck at Stonebrook.

So, when the Stonebrook Social Committee decided to have a garage sale, we were all in. The morning was a big success on several levels:

  1. We did, indeed, get rid of a lot of stuff. The patio chairs went within the first half hour.

  2. We made money on the deal. Oh, we won't be buying a new car with the dough, but we should be able to have couple of nice dinners at some nice restaurants with the proceeds.

  3. It was fun. All the neighbors were out and about throughout the morning. Even those who didn't participate by selling stuff were out visiting. It was like a block party.

  4. It was also fun observing the people who came shopping. There were the "professional" garage sale shoppers, the ones you know do this kind of stuff every Saturday. Some look for specific items like the lady who was only shopping for cookbooks. Some drive by, look out their car windows and move on, never leaving their car, some barely even slowing down. There were kids looking for stuff to furnish dorm rooms and first apartments. Some people who would want to haggle with you over some widget for which you were only asking a dollar. Some wanted to know if you'd provide a battery for whatever gadget that were looking at. It was a great lab experiment in human behaviour.

  5. People came by who didn't even know our little community existed, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of them don't someday end up buying in Stonebrook.

There were some things that we thought were sure to go - electric switch plates, a 100 foot extension cord, table cloths - didn't, and things that we thought would never sell - a busted ladder, a can opener - were snapped right up.

We had vowed that when it was all over, anything that was left over would go right in the back of the Jeep and be taken to Goodwill, and that is exactly what we did, although the stuff that didn't sell could be fit into two small shopping bags.

As I said, it was fun day.

To Absent Friends - John Henry Johnson

If you are a football fan and are under the age of 45 or so, the Pittsburgh Steelers have always been a good team. They make the playoffs almost every year; get to the Super Bowl, and usually win it, with a degree of regularity that is the envy of other NFL teams and their fans. But, if you are a bit older, you can remember the days when the Steelers were anything but the model franchise that they are today. For the first forty years of their existence, the Steelers rarely had good teams, but they very often had good, if not great players, and the memory of that hit home last night when the news of the death of John Henry Johnson, 81, hit the Internet.

A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Johnson played for the Steelers for six seasons in the early 1960's. In 1962, he became the Steelers first 1,000 yard rusher (he did it again in '64), and he still ranks fourth on the Steelers All-Time Rushing list. (Side comment: Franco Harris is first, Jerome Bettis is second. Without looking it up, name who ranks third. I was surprised at the answer.) When he retired, he ranked fourth on the NFL's All-Time Rushing list, trailing only Jim Brown, Jim Taylor, and Joe Perry. As a young tyke, I have a very specific memory of a Steelers victory on a Saturday night in Cleveland over the very superior Jim Brown-led Browns when Johnson rushed for 200 yards in the game. Saw that game in glorious black-and-white in the living room at Saline Street.

It was sad and somewhat annoying to see that Johnson's death was noted by a very small paragraph in today's PG's sports section, although he did get a full news obit, albeit a wire service one, in the main body of the paper. I would hope that this is because Johnson's death came late at night and on a weekend. I would be very disappointed of John Henry doesn't get better treatment in the local sports sections in the days ahead.

People really need to be aware that there really were "sports" before ESPN was invented, and that the Steelers really did exist before the Immaculate Reception.

RIP John Henry Johnson.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Grandstander First: Tennis

Novak Djokovic's string of consecutive winning matches was ended at 43 yesterday by Roger Federer in the semis at the French Open Tennis Championship.

Just goes to show that DiMaggio's 56 game streak may well be sport's most untouchable record!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Happy Birthday, MM

Today marks what would have been the 85th birthday of Norma Jean Baker, known to the world as Marilyn Monroe.

I once read a column, can't remember who the author was, that postulated that in some cases it might be a good thing that our icons and heros sometimes die young. Would we really want to be seeing a Today Show interview today with an 85 year old Marilyn Monroe, or is it best that we remember her as the pre-eminent sex symbol of the 20th century?

You tell me.