Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Book Review: "Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure"

In June of 1953, a recently retired executive and his wife got in their brand new car, just the two of them, and embarked on a road trip that covered several states, 19 days, and over 2,500 miles. Just another retired couple taking a long vacation to sight see and visit friends and family, right?

Hardly, because the couple in question was the recently-left-office President of the United States, Harry Truman and his wife, Bess. Author Matthew Algeo has written a fascinating and entertaining book, "Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure" (2009), that chronicles the Trumans' road trip. Not only is it an interesting historical account (hey, this is Harry Truman , one of the great Presidents we're talking about here), but it is also an interesting travelogue, and a commentary on how America and the Presidency, or, rather, the Ex-Presidency, has changed over the last 60 years.

Imagine, if you will, if Bill and Hillary or George W. and Laura decided to pack up a car and ramble about the country for three weeks with no security detail, no entourage, all by their lonesomes. Unimaginable, right? Well, in 1953, Harry Truman left office with no job, no personal fortune (not even a small nest egg), and no presidential pension, only a $111/month Army pension (interestingly, Truman got a pension for serving as an enlisted man for a few years during WW I, but nothing for serving 7+ years as Commander-in-Chief), no government expense account to support an office staff. Pretty bleak. That, however, was pretty much the way it was with ex-Presidents back then, and that was pretty much OK with Harry Truman.

After a few months in retirement, Harry accepted an offer to deliver a speech in Philadelphia, and he and Bess decided to drive there from Independence, MO. During that trip they visited and sometimes stayed with friends, ate anonymously (sometimes) in roadside diners and family owned restaurants, and stayed in cheap motels, ans even got pulled over by a PA state trooper on the PA Turnpike! While they were sometimes able to remain incognito on the trip, they usually were recognized and were warmly greeted by the folks that they encountered. Algeo retraces the trip, and re-visits the places that Harry and Bess visited, and talks to the people that they encountered, and gives you a fascinating look at America before there were Holiday Inns, Wal-Marts, McDonald's, and big box retailers. You also get to encounter two young US Senators who had big things ahead of them, Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, and you get to learn some insights, through Harry's eyes, on people such as Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Herbert Hoover.

By 1958, Congress realized that former Presidents should not be near indigent, and passed the first law that granted a pension and expenses to ex-Presidents, and after the Kennedy assassination in 1963, Secret Service protection was continued for ex-Presidents and their wives as well. At that time, these were relatively modest sums of money, but we all know how that has worked out since then. When Bill Clinton was in office, there was a point when there were five Formers (as they apparently refer to themselves) still alive, and the cost of Secret Service protection alone amounted to over $20 million a year.

Truman never accepted high paying figurehead jobs or Board of Directors positions (and he was offered such opportunities). He felt that it commercialized the Presidency and was undignified. Again, we know how it works today. Algeo gives the credit, if that's the right word, to Gerald Ford for turning the Post-Presidency into a gold mine. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton received, and receive, millions for speaking engagements. Ironically, the one Former who was most like Harry in how he operated during his Ex-Presidency was Richard Nixon who was one of two politicians that Truman truly hated (the other was some local Missouri pol).

This is not a long and ponderous historical tome, but an entertaining and most readable book that chronicles a small portion of the life of one of the twentieth century's great figures, and shines an interesting light on an America that was and is no more.

By the way, regular readers may recognize the name of Matthew Algeo. He is also the author of the book "The President is a Sick Man" about a secret operation performed on President Grover Cleveland back in 1893. I wrote about that book in The Grandstander back in July. He comes up with some amazing chronicles about our Presidents. I can't wait to see what he might have up his sleeve for the future.

A New Tool, or Is It Toy?

This edition of The Grandstander is being sent for no other purpose than to compose a post via my early birthday present, an iPad2. It is an amazing instrument, as many of you no doubt already know. I am amazed, for example, at how easy it is to use the on screen keyboard. I thought it would be much more difficult, but I seem to make fewer mistakes here than on the laptop keyboard.


Not sure how much I will use the iPad for Grandstander posts. I might find it easier to load pictures on the laptop for copying into the blog, but we shall see.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Selected Short Subjects - Irene, Steelers, Pirates, John Grisham, Bob Pompeani, and Harry Truman

The big story of the weekend was, of course, Hurricane Irene and what it would do along the eastern seaboard of the USA. Having family members and friends along Irene's path certainly gave us cause for concern, and we never like to see our beloved Outer Banks getting ravaged. The good news is that family and friends survived with minimal damage so we are thankful for that.

Putting those concerns aside, you marvel at the performance of the national media during such crises. Seeing reporters in their colorful rain gear and studio talking heads practically salivating over the possibility of DISASTER and TRAGEDY occurring would be laughable if it wasn't in such poor taste. On Sunday morning, Anderson Cooper was on the scene for CNN somewhere in Manhattan, and he practically weeped when the studio weather babe said that Manhattan had already seen the worst of Irene. "You mean this is as bad as it's going to get?" he cried. His disappointment was palpable.

And for what it is worth, no on site reporter could compare to Dan Rather's performance a few years back when he lashed himself to a telephone pole to make his on-the-scene report. No, none of these guys today could carry Dan's journalistic-equivalent-of-a-jockstrap!

Watched the entire Steelers game on Saturday night. It's old news now, but what a performance by Antonio Brown!!

Looks to me like the Steelers have what it takes to be an offensive juggernaut, and that they will score a lot of points. I worry about how they might fare defensively. Lots and lots of key players over age 30, and some of them considerably over age 30, on that side of the ball. We shall see.

Injuries became the key story of the game on Saturday with the key one being the broken arm of Byron Leftwich, which has put him in IR for the season, and this reemphasizes how vital it is that Ben Roethlisberger stay healthy for the Steelers. Charlie Batch and/or Dennis Dixon might get you through a game or two, but if #7 goes down for an extended period of time..... don't even want to think about it.

The other key injury was Markice Pouncy injuring the same ankle that kept him out of the Super Bowl last February. Reports are that he will be okay, but you hate to see that happening.

Those of you who are friends on Facebook saw my comments about the hero-worshipping play-by-play announcing of Bob Pompeani on Saturday night. You can hear his thoughts: "Wow! I'm really broadcasting a STEELERS game. Golly gee!"


Also, nauseating was his comment late in the game when yet another Steeler, back-up rookie tight end Miguel Chavez, was injured. After wailing and gnashing his teeth all night about the injuries to Keenan Lewis, Casey Hampton, Pouncy and Leftwich, his comment about Chavez was "well, he wasn't going to make the team anyway."

Very compassionate, don't you think?

Read the latest paperback release from John Grisham, "The Confession." Typical Grisham in that you start reading, immediately get hooked, and can't stop until you're done. In this one, an innocent man sits on death row in Texas, scheduled to be executed in four days. In Topeka, Kansas, a several time convicted sex offender now on parole walks into a minister's office and says that he is the real killer, and he wants someone to know so that the execution can be stopped. Now what happens?

Lots of great characters - the defense lawyer, the minister and his wife, the death row defendant, assorted cops, prosecutors, judges, news reporters, family members. Great stuff and a most compelling story. You gotta read it. Once you start, it'll only take you a day or two to finish.

Are you like me when you read a book and do you try to picture who would play whom if they made a movie out of the book. I have George Clooney as the lawyer, Ben Afflack or Matt Damon as the minister, maybe Will Smith as the convicted killer. What do you think?

The Pirates continue to slide. A week ago, when they were down to their final 40 games, I laid out some short range goals for them for the remainder of the season:

  • Go 20-20 in those games. They are 4-7 through the first 11 of those final 40, and it is a bad looking 4-7 at that. They need to go 16-13 in the last 29 games. They have 17 games against the Cubs, Astros, Marlins, and Dodgers. Maybe they can do it, but not likely, I'm afraid, not with how they have looked in the last week.

  • Finish ahead of the third place Reds. They are now five games behind the Reds. They do have three games left with Cincy, so this one could be achieved, but it won't be easy.

  • Go 4-3 in their remaining games with the Brewers. They went 2-2 in the four game series with Milwaukee last week. They need to go 2-1 in the last series of the season with them. Why it won't happen: Those three games are in the Pirates' Miller Park graveyard. Why it might happen: It's the final three games of the season and the Brewers will be concentrating on the upcoming playoffs.

One thing to note is that if the Bucs go a mere 10-19 from this point, they will finish at 72-90, a 15 game improvement over 2010. That's a significant accomplishment, but still disappointing after the heady days of July when the team sat in first place.


Just started reading a very interesting book last night about Harry Truman. This is not a heavy historical tome, but it makes some fascinating commentary on American life, culture, and the entire concept of Ex-Presidencies. That's just a teaser for you. I'll give you a full review when I finish, which should be sometime this week.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

On the Pirates and Brewers

I am sure it is not unprecedented in baseball history for one team to have such a mastery over another as the Brewers have had over the Pirates in recent years, but off-hand I am not recalling any such dominance at the moment. I was at the game last night, the 11-4 win by Milwaukee, and it was positively infuriating to watch the Pirates lay down and die when they take the field against this smug bunch.

Why not give up seven runs in one inning?
Why not have Ryan Doumit sail a routine throw to first base into right field?
Why not have Nyjer Morgan get four hits against you?
Why not have pinch hitters Pedro Ciriaco and Brandon Wood swing at the first pitch and weakly ground out (Wood for a double play)? I guess they wanted to get home, too. (That Ciriaco and Wood are your pinch-hitters speaks volumes about the Pirates.)
And, of course, let Ryan Braun beat you like a rug for two doubles and a couple of walks. Why not?

In the series wrap up this afternoon, minor league recall Aaron Thompson will get the start for the Bucs. Maybe that's what it will take. Some kid who hasn't been here for all of the bitch-slapping that Milwaukee has been laying on the Pirates for the last three seasons. Maybe he won't know any better to lay down and die, and maybe he'll keep the Pirates in the game.

And one more thing, about which I seem to be a lone voice in the wilderness. In the second game on Monday night, Josh Harrison hits a screaming line drive to left, that Braun has to run far to his right, layout and dive for it, and makes the catch (of course he does!), robbing Harrison of a triple and possibly an inside the park home run. Great play by Braun, no question. Harrison then proceeds to TIP HIS CAP TO RYAN BRAUN out there in left field.

Now if I'm Clint Hurdle, I'd have yanked Harrison from the game then and there. At the very least, he gets his ass chewed out on the spot. On the telecast, Steve Blass was circumspect in talking about the incident, but you could tell that he was furious about it. However, I read nothing about this in the papers or in any other source.

Is this what baseball (or at least, the Pirates) has come to? That you tip your hat to the guys who have continually kicked your asses for three years???? Did Harrison go to the locker room after the game and ask for Ryan Braun's autograph?

Oh, and I noticed last night that when Harrison hit his first major league home run, none of the Brewers tipped THEIR caps to HIM.

Finally, a word about the Brewers. They are a good team. A very good team, and Ryan Braun may be one of the top five players in all of baseball. That doesn't mean that they are not annoying in the extreme, however.

To Absent Friends - Jerry Leiber

The Post-Gazette obit page reports today of the recent death of Jerry Leiber at the age of 78. The name of Jerry Leiber may not ring any bell with you, but how about if I refer to the team of "Leiber-Stoller"? Still drawing a blank? How about the following titles:

Hound Dog, Jailhouse Rock, Treat Me Nice, On Broadway, Charlie Brown, and Yakety Yak?

You know those songs, all (dare I say it) iconic songs for the early years of Rock & Roll, all written by the songwriting team of Jerry Leiber (lyrics) and Mike Stoller (music). And there are hundreds of other titles in their catalog. I once heard an NPR radio interview with Leiber & Stoller and it was amazing how they came up with stuff. Once, when their families were dining together at one of their homes, and it was time to clean up after dinner, one for them said to the other, "take out the papers and the trash." The other then quickly responded "or you don't get no spending cash."

That's how classic songs get born. That's a true story.

RIP Jerry Leiber.

Oh, and here's a bonus video for you of a Leiber-Stoller classic:

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Base Ball As It Was in the 1860's

This afternoon, five members of the Pittsburgh SABR Chapter, Alan Steinberg, Fred and Susan Shugars, and Bob and Marilyn Sproule, attended Vintage Base Ball matches featuring the Pittsburgh Franklins. A round robin tournament was hosted by the Franklins and featured vintage teams from Somerset and Altoona, PA.

We were treated to base ball (not baseball) as it was played when Abe Lincoln was occupying the White House. We were not sure quite what to expect from a game where no gloves were worn, where the ballists (players) acted as their own arbiters (umpires), where the striker (batter) was out if a ball was caught on one bounce, and where the hurlers (pitchers) delivered the pitches underhanded. To be honest, I expected to see something akin to a beer-league softball game with scores of 22-18. Instead, we saw a very entertaining game, certainly a different game from baseball as we know it in 2011, played by very skillful ballists. Scores of the two matches that we watched were 3-2 and 4-0, both victories for the host Franklins.

If you are a baseball fan have not seen or are completely unfamiliar with Vintage Base Ball, I would urge you to go to to see if there is a vintage team in your area and check it out. The men – and women – who play vintage base ball are doing so for the sheer love of the game, and are keeping alive a part of sports history that is worth saving. They deserve your support and attention. You can also learn more about the Franklins at

The matches that we saw today were held at the Murrysville Community Park as a part of Murrysville Community Days. As you know, Pittsburghers are a provincial lot who like to stay close to home, so to travel from the North Hills all the way out to Murrysville, well, that is a HUGE step, but all of the events at the celebration and the participation of the Murrysville community, made for an absolutely delightful day.

I am hoping that the Pittsburgh Chapter of SABR will continue to support the efforts of the Franklins. There were five of us at the match today. Next year, I am planning to make this a formal Chapter Event with expanded attendance from the Forbes Field Chapter. I am also hoping that non-SABR readers of The Grandstander will consider taking in a vintage match as well. You will be kept well informed via this forum.

Huzzah to the Franklins and the other teams that participated!!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Lots of Thoughts Today....

Alone in the house, it's raining outside, the Beatles playing on the iPod. Sounds like it's time to clean out the Mental In-Box.....

  • Since a lousy performance in an exhibition game (Steelers v. Redskins last week), can be brushed off with the line "it's just a meaningless exhibition game", should the same standard apply to a great performance (Steelers v. Eagles last night)? I'm just askin'.

  • That said, Rooney U's first teamers looked pretty strong last night.

  • How 'bout that "Dream Team" that the Eagles have put together? Of course, it was just a meaningless exhibition game.

  • Page 1 of the Post-Gazette sports section headlined with the latest in the Terrelle Pryor saga. Page 7 of that same sports section highlighted the latest "Blue Chip Profile" of a local high school football player. This kind of pandering, build up, and ass-kissing of high school athletes is what creates people like Terrelle Pryor.

  • Who can forget "Terrelle Pryor's Recruiting Diary" that the PG ran during Pryor's senior year at Jeannette?

  • Oh, the sports section also gave us the news that two WPIAL football games will be televised on ESPN this season. Four more opportunities for high school football coaches to talk about their "programs."

  • The Pirates now sit at 58-64, fourth place, 13.5 games behind the first place Brewers, and 1 game behind the third place Reds. Forty games remain. How about the following goals to motivate the team - and its fans - over these final forty? I propose the following:

  • Number 1: Go 20-20. That would mean a 78-84 record. Still below .500, but a 21 game improvement over last year, and that would be nothing short of remarkable.

  • Number 2: Finish ahead of the Reds. They can start with the three game series that begins tonight.

  • Number 3: Go 4-3, or better, in the seven games that remain with the Brewers, and win at least one game in Miller Park in the last series of the season.

  • Is all that too much to ask?

  • Again, I called for 70 wins at the outset of the season. They can achieve that by going 12-26. I think that will happen. To finish over .500, they need to go 24-16. Possible, but not probable.

  • Since 2001, I have been keeping a record of every time I play golf - date, course, score. During a round with my actuary buddy and stats freak Fred Shugars last night, I was prompted to see how many holes I had played in that time. In case you are wondering, including the nine at North Park last night, I have played 2,992 holes of golf since 2001.

  • Wish I had the records from the late '80s and '90s when I was in the Blue Cross Men's Golf League, not to mention all the work related golf outings during that time period. I'd no doubt be well over 5,000 holes if I had those figures.

  • Anyway you cut it, I am NOT playing enough!!

  • In case you missed it, "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence" was on TCM last Saturday night. Great movie with one of the all-time great lines: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

  • In discussing that movie, the performances of John Wayne, James Stewart, and Lee Marvin are always praised, and rightly so, but how about Strother Martin as Marvin's sadistic henchman? Pure psycho evil.

  • Just when you think it couldn't get worse in big time college sports, along come the University of Miami to raise (lower?) the bar.

  • Speaking of old movies, in light of my goal to revisit the Billy Wilder catalog, I dug out the DVD and watched "Some Like It Hot" last week. Hard to say who was better in that movie, Tony Curtis or Jack Lemon. Great, great movie.

  • As I mentioned at the beginning, I am listening the The Beatles play list as I type this. Everyone knows on my regard for The Beatles, but some of the George Harrison sitar stuff could be done without.

  • That said, I think Harrison's work as a solo artist is way underrated.

  • Had the good fortune to be at the Pirates-Cardinals game on Monday and sit in the Lexus Club. Row C of Section 19. In effect, we were watching the game from the Pirates on deck circle. Fantastic. These seats also gave you a great view of the pitcher. How great it would have been to have those very same seats and watch Sandy Koufax or Bob Gibson pitch.

  • Will be in Murrysville tomorrow to watch the Pittsburgh Franklins play a Vintage Base Ball game. Yes, the two words Base Ball are (is?) correct here, as the Franklins will be playing according to mid-19th century rules and wearing appropriate uniforms as well. You can learn more by going to

Best wishes for a great weekend to all Loyal Readers out there.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Great Stuff in Atlanta; Not So Great in Milwaukee

If you weren't watching the PGA Championship this afternoon, you really missed some great stuff as 25 year old rookie Keegan Bradley won the Championship in a three hole aggregate playoff over Jason Duffner.

In case you missed it...

Bradley was two shots behind Jason Duffner when he bogied the 15th hole par 3. Duffner stood on the 15th tee with a four shot lead and a five shot lead over Bradley. At that point, Duffner was the only player in the entire field who had played 15-16-17-18 without a bogey throughout the tournament. Well, Duffner proceeded to bogey 15-16-17 while Bradley birdied 16 and 17 to force the three hole playoff. The shots that both players made during the playoff were tremendous and really made for some great theater, but a three putt bogey on the second hole doomed Dufner, and Bradley is the Champ.

Really, really great stuff!!

By the way, in my prediction on Thursday, I did call for an American to win the Championship, so I got that going for me, which is nice. The players that I mentioned, Watney, Fowler, Watson, and Mahan finished far down the track. The guy I predicted to win, Dustin Johnson, failed to make the cut. Hey, I did say "watch, but don't bet."


In the other sports story of the weekend, the Pirates were swept by the Brewers in Miller Park. I know, I know, dog-bites-man stuff if ever I heard it. Circumstances caused me to not see either of the first two games, but I did see much of today's 2-1 ten inning loss, and it was painful to watch.

Only the Pirates can lose in Milwaukee where a dropped third strike became a critical play in the game.

Only the Pirates can snuff out their bases loaded "rally" on a "ground ball" that traveled about 18 inches.

Clint Hurdle can say that Miller Park "ain't haunted" all he wants, but that place in the heads of those guys, and I don't know what's to be done about it. Maybe they hire a witch doctor for their next trip to Brewtown.


SABR, Facebook, and Heinz History Center buddy, Jim Haller, and I began to draw up a list of guys we do NOT want to see on the Pirates in 2012. These guys MUST go before next season:

Joe Bieml

Steve Pearce

Ronny Cedeno

Matt Diaz

And I am this close to adding the name of Derrek Lee to the list. Apart from those two homers in his first game, have you ever even heard him speak since he's been here? The fact that he couldn't travel for Baltimore to Philadelphia to be with the team the day after he was acquired tells me he doesn't want to be here, and now, he's on the DL after playing in what, four or five games? I know it wasn't his fault, but what a bad sign. If the Pirates resign him, he would be the next in a long line of washed up guys that include Derek Bell, Jeromy Burnitz, Sean Casey, Lyle Overbay, and, well, need I go on?


The good play of the Pirates -up until the last two weeks at least - has obscured the fact that top two draft picks Gerrit Cole and Josh Bell remained unsigned by the Pirates, and the deadline is midnight tomorrow night. Everyone knew that Bell not signing was a distinct possibility, but if the team fails to sign Cole, thus squandering the overall #1 pick in the draft, what had been a season of good feelings and happy outlooks will be circling the drain at an alarming pace.


Word has been leaked that the Pirates will be raising ticket prices in 2012. Personally, I understand this, and have no problem with it. What business do you know hasn't raised its prices in ten years? Pirates prices are way low when compared to other MLB teams, and they are certainly a lot cheaper than going to a Steelers or Pens game. That said, the team had better do its part with the increased revenue and put it to use in the major league product. The ticket buying public has more than done its part in 2011, so let's see something on the field at PNC Park next year that resembles a quality major league product.

Don't tell me the money is being used to sign a teenager from Mexico. Don't sign up and under-achieving free agents like Diaz, Overbay, and Scott Olsen. Don't trade for high priced bums like Aki Iwamura. Pay for somebody who can STILL play the game at a high level. Pay the money to lock up Andrew McCutchen to a long term deal that secures him through a couple of his free agency years.

This is what Nutting-Coonelly-Huntington have said is "the plan" and this is what they said they would do. We will know by Christmas time if they really meant it.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Man, I Really Dislike the Brewers

Not much more I can add to the headline on this post.

A full day at the GRO II caused me to miss this game. Got home, saw the score was 6-2, turned off the TV. Glad that I did not see Prince and the despicable Cryin' Ryan go deep.

Is anything ever going to really change for the Pirates until they can beat this outfit?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Gane Room Olympics II -So, How Did I Do?

How did I fare in GRO II relative to the goals I set forth to myself this morning:

  • To have fun. This is a guarantee. - Absolutely!! A great time.

  • To win a trophy in the golf chipping contest. - No trophy, but I did score points in the event, so it wasn't a total failure.

  • To have chips remaining when the 60 minute Hold 'em table is shut down. - This didn't happen :-(

  • A top 8 finish in slot cars. -Made it. finished in 8th place overall.

  • A top 8 finish in darts. - Made it. Finished fifth overall. This was an exciting event. I won three matches, including a win over the eventual overall winner in this double elimination event.

  • To win one match in pool. - Didn't happen. Lost my only match and still had three balls on the table when my opponent dropped the 8-ball.

  • To score one goal in table hockey. I have no illusions about actually winning a match. Last year, I went 0-2 in this double elimination event, and was shut out in both matches by huge margins. - Made it. Although I lost my only match, I did score a goal!! Final score was 4-1.
Overall, not too bad a performance, so it was another successful and fun event.

My buddy John Frissora and his wife, Dana, go above and beyond the all of duty in putting this event togetrher ands hosting it. A thousand thanks to them!!

Game Room Olympics II

Today is the second annual Game Room Olympics hosted by my friend John Frissora. Last year's inaugural event was a smashing success, so another good time is assured.

Last year's event had 16 participants in five events: pool, darts, slot car racing, table hockey, and Texas Hold 'em Poker. To my surprise, I managed third place finishes in poker and slot car racing. (The top four finishers in each event wins a coveted GRO Trophy, or "hardware" as John puts it.) However, like the motto of the real Olympics, the honor was in competing, not winning.

For GRO II, the field has been expanded to 18 competitors, and a sixth event, golf chipping, has been added.

Here are my goals for this year's event:

  • To have fun. This is a guarantee.

  • To win a trophy in the golf chipping contest.

  • To have chips remaining when the 60 minute Hold 'em table is shut down.

  • A top 8 finish in slot cars.

  • A top 8 finish in darts.

  • To win one match in pool.

  • To score one goal in table hockey. I have no illusions about actually winning a match. Last year, I went 0-2 in this double elimination event, and was shut out in both matches by huge margins.

I shall let you know how I fared over the weekend.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

"Citizen Kane"

Earlier in the week, I DVR'd Orson Welles 1941 classic, "Citizen Kane" from TCM and tonight I watched it. While I, and everyone else, have seen parts of this movie a bunch of times, this was only the second time, I believe, that I ever watched it from start to finish.

Good story, well acted, entertaining, and very good, if not great movie. However, when such lists are complied, "Citizen Kane" is always listed at the top of the list, Number 1, the Greatest Movie of All-Time. My question, and I pose it seriously, is why? Why is this movie considered the greatest movie of 'em all?

I don't want to sound like an ignoramus, but I wonder why THIS movie is the #1 among all the critics and film scholars. I suppose that much of this stems from the cinematic techniques that were used in making the movie, many of which were quite innovative back in 1941, and these were all the more remarkable due to the fact that Welles was only 25 when he made the movie.

I would welcome the input of someone more knowledgeable than I on such matters. What makes "Citizen Kane" the best movie ever made?

A Golf Prediction

The PGA Championship, or "Glory's Last Shot" as the boys at CBS like to call it, tees off in Atlanta today, and The Grandstander is going to get back into the prediction game.

I believe that the "young gun" American golfers are going to stop the streak, now at six, of international winners at major championships. It is time for guys like Nick Watney, Ricky Fowler (and his ridiculous hat), Bubba Watson, and Hunter Mahan to grab the reins and win a big one this week. Any of these guys can certainly win the Wannamaker Trophy, but I am going to predict that the winner this week, after numerous close calls in majors over the last few years, will be....


You heard it here first. As always, watch, but don't bet.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Couple of Football Thoughts - and One Golf Thought

You have got to hand it to the National Football League's PR machinery. They are killing us with this "the NFL is back" slogan, and it looks like people are buying into it. Need I remind you that IT NEVER ACTUALLY WENT AWAY. The lockout forced by the greedmongers who run the NFL has not forced us to mass any actual, you know, football games.

Oh, one game was missed, and that was the Hall of Fame Game in Canton. Peter King suggested in his MMQB column yesterday that it would be a nice gesture for the NFL to kick in $1,000,000 to the Canton, Ohio Chamber of Commerce to make up for the loss of that game. It was the businesses of Canton that really took the hit for the cancellation of this game. Would be shocked if the NFL bigdomes parted with any of their dough for the poor suckers in Canton, though.

College football has kicked off here in western PA with the opening of training camps for Pitt and Penn State.

Pitt is all charged up over the introduction of Todd Graham's "high octane football." Pitt has even opened a website. Now, I hope that this comes to fruition, and that the Panthers can steamroll through the Big East. However, should this not come to pass, the phrase "high octane football" has the potential to backfire and be thrown into Pitt's face much like the Pirates' incomprehensible "We Will" slogan of a few seasons back.

Joe Starkey hit the nail on the head the other day in a column that gave kudos to Graham and to new WVU coach Dana Holgorsen for both saying that they fully intended to win the Big East in 2011, and I agree with Starkey on this. Compared to Dave Wannstadt always playing down the expectations going into every season, this stance of both new coaches is refreshing. Of course, when you say you're going to win your conference, you leave yourself wide open to criticism if you don't win. Still, good for Graham and Holgorsen on this front.

In the central part of the state, the big news is Joe Paterno getting leveled by a player during a practice session, and sustaining "minor" fractures in the arm and pelvis. However, when you are 84 years old, is there really such a thing as a "minor fracture"? This could be a fascinating story to watch play out.


OK, I said one golf thought. What did you think of caddy Steve Williams pronouncing that carrying the bag for winner Adam Scott this past weekend was the "best week of my life" and the "best win of my 145 wins" on the PGA Tour? Many took this to be, as Williams no doubt meant it to be, a huge "F-You" to Tiger Woods. To this I will say the following:

  • Of those 145 wins, how many shots did Williams actually take? I believe that the answer to that is zero.

  • When was the last time you ever saw a caddy being interviewed?

  • I wonder what Scott thought about Williams taking such credit for his, Scott's, victory.

  • In the years that Williams caddied for Woods, he earned, it is estimated, over $9 million and scored that Valvoline endorsement he wears on his shirtsleeve, for carrying Woods clubs and saying things like "I think an 8-iron is the shot here, Tiger." If he now feels the need to extend the middle finger to Woods right now, then perhaps Tiger was right in firing him a few weeks ago.


One more golf thought, going into the final round on Sunday, two names sitting in the back of the pack at +1, thirteen shots off the lead, were Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Yikes!!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Wow, Has It Gotten Ugly!

I am referring, of course, to the precipitous decline of the Pittsburgh Pirates over the last two weeks. Just think, at that point they were 51-44 and in first place. Today, they are riding an horrendous 10 game losing streak, are 54-59 and are in fourth place, ten games out of first.

As Fred Williard once said. "Wha' happened???"

I will refer you to three pieces today, Gene Collier's column in the PG, Dejan Kovacevic's column in the Trib, and Bob Smizik's blog post at Each of these sum up the situation very well, and Dejan, particularly, advises as to what our expectations should be, and, perhaps more importantly, should have been all along.

My own thoughts are that it is now obvious that this team, which, lest we forget, lost 105 games last year, significantly over-achieved during the first two-thirds of the season. The pitching staff in particular were over-achievers during that stretch. The offensive attack never was very good, and now that the pitching has come to earth, that is becoming more and more apparent.

And some questions:

  • Was it all about Alex Presley? The team's ascent began when he arrived, and it's descent began when he went on the DL. He may end up being this year's version of Chris Duffy, but it sure will be nice when he gets back.

  • Where's Joel Hanrahan? Clint Hurdle's curious non-use of Hanrahan during this losing stretch has been well documented. One of the curses of current day baseball is that "closers" are used ONLY in save situations. As DK points out today, it's about wins, not saves.

  • Pedro Alvarez. I tell you, I have NO IDEA what should be done with this guy. Last year, it looked like we had a possible new version Willie Stargell on hand. This's just a mess.

Now that the division title appears to be out of reach, perhaps we should get back to some more realistic goals for a team coming off a 105 loss season. I said at the beginning of the year that 70 wins should earn Hurdle Manager of the Year honors, as it would represent a 13 game improvement over 2010. They can do that by going 16-33 the rest of the way. This is doable, and I would bet on it happening, but it would be disappointing in light of how the first 2/3 of the season played out.

So why not shoot for ending the 18 year losing stretch (again, read Dejon's column)? 82-80 would be a 25 game improvement. THAT would be a remarkable accomplishment. They can do that by going 28-21. That will not be easy in light of all the games they have remaining against the Cardinals and Brewers, but it is possible, and it can be done by not laying down and dying every time they play Milwaukee, as they have for the last five years or so.

I will offer one other prediction here. If this losing trend does continue, I would foresee an August 31 waiver/trade involving Paul Maholm. He stayed here past the July 31 deadline only because the Pirates were flirting with first place. With that goal no longer in sight, I can't see Paul and his $9+ million salary option for next season being picked up. Trading him for some warm body (which is about all you would get in an august 31 deal) would be better than releasing him (remember Matt Capps?) in the winter, although any way you dress it up, it will have "Salary Dump" written all over it.

Also, the Pirates will have to consider trading some of this "wealth" of pitching talent for a legitimate major league hitter in the off-season, especially if Alvarez continues to flame out. If that means giving up Stetson Allie or someone of that ilk, so be it. Oh, and by "legitimate," I don't mean another version of Adam LaRoche or Lyle Overbay.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

On Billy Wilder

While on holiday (as our host, Maurice, phrased it) this week, I finished reading a book called "Nobody's Perfect" by Charlotte Chandler. Written in 2002, it is a biography of the great film director and screenwriter, Billy Wilder. A really good book if you are a movie lover. Lots of good behind-the-scenes stuff about the movies that Wilder made. And consider some of those movies. Here are just six of them:

Double Indemnity
The Lost Weekend
Sunset Boulevard
Stalag 17
Some Like It Hot
The Apartment

If those six movies were ball players, they would be first ballot Hall of Famers. If Wilder had never made another movie, those six would have assured him of Hollywood greatness. So to those six, add the following:

The Seven Year Itch
Witness for the Prosecution
Irma la Duce
The Fortune Cookie

There are others, but I think you get the idea. To be sure, when you make a lot of movies, they can't all be great, and Wilder had his clinkers, but as I said, the movies above make Wilder an All-Time Great.

Wilder had a most interesting life. Born in Vienna in 1906, lived in Berlin, where he got started in the movie business, between the wars, and fled Europe just before Hitler took power in Germany (his mother and grandmother died in Nazi concentration camps), he arrived in America with next to nothing. In addition to making movies, he began to buy and collect art, and his collection became one of the finest private collections in the world. He was the classic American Dream Success Story.

He directed his last movie, "Buddy, Buddy", one of the clinkers, in 1981, and lived to be 96, dying in 2002. He didn't want to end his career with a bad movie, and he kept coming up with script ideas until the very end, but, as Wilder might have he put it, they can forgive just about anything in Hollywood, except growing old.

The book has inspired me to re-watch some of these classic movies. Watched "The Apartment' last week, and "Some Like It Hot" tonight. Will probably pull out "Double Indemnity", "Sunset Boulevard", and "Sabrina" in the weeks ahead.

His movies always show up on TCM. Watch for them.

Oh, Canada!!!

In the event you may have been wondering where The Grandstander has been these past few days, wonder no more. Marilyn and I just spent a delightful three days and nights in Ontario Province in Canada, visiting the picturesque town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. No, we are not on the sailboat above. Rather, we are standing at the mouth of the Niagara River as it flows into Lake Ontario. Fort Niagara is seen in the distance on the American side of the river. This gives you an idea of how gorgeous the scenery is up there.

We took a departure from our normal traveling routine and stayed in a Bed & Breakfast called 627 on King. We enjoy the amenities of large hotels and resorts, so we weren't sure what to expect at a B&B, but I have to say that we found the place to be absolutely delightful, and our hosts, Maurice Tarlo and Ann Green were the best! Our room, which turned out to be the smallest of the three in the house, was clean and comfortable, the food was delicious, and the hospitality provided by Maurice and Ann was the BEST. I really can't say enough about them, but let me offer an example.

On Friday morning, I had an early tee time to play golf, so I told Maurice the night before that we would be skipping breakfast on Friday. When I left my room that morning to head for the golf course, there on the table in the hallway was a brown bag breakfast that Maurice had prepared for me with a couple of bacon sandwiches for me. He just couldn't, he told me, allow me to leave without something. This is, after all, a bed AND BREAKFAST establishment, he said. Now, I don't think that they would do that for you at a Hilton or a Holiday Inn, would they?

So, our B&B experience was a most positive one. We would stay at 627 on King again, and would recommend it to you as well if you plan a trip to NOTL. (

If you have never been to Niagara-on-the-Lake, there are a lot - a LOT - of wineries, and agriculture seems to be big up there, but tourism is the economic engine that drives the area, spurred in large part by the Shaw Festival that runs from April through October. We saw two plays while there, "The Admirable Crichton" and "A Drama at Innish." Both were comedies and both very well done, although we enjoyed "Crichton" much better than "Drama at Innish." There about eight plays performed through the summer at the Shaw Festival and all of the actors appear in more than one play during the season.

One thing, it is not inexpensive to see a play at the Shaw, which brings up a long held pet peeve of mine, and that is the cost of "the Arts." Our host, Maurice, said that he thought that the Shaw Festival is hurting themselves in the long run by not having reduced ticket prices for students, and reduced prices for "day-of-the-show" performances, and I agree. Both plays that we saw, one in the evening and one a matinee, were not sold out, and Marilyn and I, ages 58 and 59, were among the younger members of the audiences. Sports teams get crucified in the court of public opinion (it will happen to the Pirates this coming off-season, no doubt) when they raise ticket prices, but try getting a ticket to the CLO, the Public Theater, the Symphony, or even a traveling rock concert for less that sixty or seventy bucks. Not being able to take a kid to see "West Side Story" or "My Fair Lady" because it is cost prohibitive is in my mind, just as big a tragedy as not being able to afford to go to a Steelers or Penguins game.

As I alluded to earlier, I got to play golf at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club. This Club was established in 1875, and purports to be the oldest golf club in North America. How cool is that? It is a terrific nine hole layout and the setting, on the shores of Lake Ontario, is perhaps the prettiest setting for any golf course that I have ever played. I absolutely loved it, and as often happens when you are a single playing golf, I was paired up with three delightful playing partners. As the British golf writer Henry Longhurst once said, "golf takes us to beautiful places." The Niagara-on-the-Lake GC is certainly one of them.

Before we actually arrived at NOTL, we did stop in Niagara Falls. Now this is not the first time that we have seen Niagara Falls (every time I say that, I also want to say "slowly I turned...."; old fans of the Three Stooges will know what I mean here), but it is certainly worth seeing again and again.

And when you go to Niagara Falls, you must, I mean you absolutely MUST ride on the Maid of the Mist boat ride. That is Marilyn on the right as our Maid of the Mist boat prepares to ride right into Niagara Falls. Off in the distance, you

can see one of the other boats returning from its trip into the Falls. The entire trip takes about 20 minutes, you get absolutely soaked (you really need those blue disposable rain ponchos that give you), it costs $16.50 to ride it, but it is better than anything that you will ever ride in Disney World or any other modern theme park. It is fantastic!

(By the way, each Maid of the Mist boat holds 582 passengers. At $16.50 each, that comes to $9,600 per 20 minute trip. Allowing for a reduced fare for kids under 12, let's call it $8,000 per trip. Two boats making three trips per hour... Pretty nice.)

It was a nice trip, and Niagara Falls is only four hours from Pittsburgh. A great time!!