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.