Friday, March 30, 2012

Book Review: "American Triumvirate"

I just finished this new book last evening, and I would recommend it to golfers and to fans of golf history.  The "triumvirate" of the title are identified in the subtitle of the book, "Sam Snead. Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and the Modern Age of Golf."  The reason for this book now is that 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the births of these three giants of the game of golf, and American golf in particular.  Even more remarkable than the fact that these three guys were all born within six months of each other is the fact that Nelson and Hogan both came from Fort Worth, Texas and were caddies together at the same country club, Glen Garden in Fort Worth.

In the 1920's, American golf was emerging from the shadows of the domination of the game by the Scottish and British professionals who came to America in the late 19th century to grow the game in the US.  The game was dominated at that time by pros Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazin, and amateur Bob Jones.  Jones retired from the game in 1930 at the age of 28, and Hagen was, by that time winding down his career in the limelight.  A void was appearing in the game as the Depression was engulfing the nation when along came Nelson and Hogan from Texas and Snead from the hills of Virginia.  Jim Dodson weaves the stories of these three men's lives and careers in a most entertaining and readable way.

Like Jones, Nelson walked away from the game at a relatively young age to become a rancher in Texas.  Hogan, after suffering a near fatal car crash in 1949, dominated the game like no one, perhaps not even Nicklaus or Woods, has since (four US Open wins in a six year period, plus wins in the Masters, US Open, and British Open in 1953), then left the game and developed his own equipment company.  Snead never did quit.  He hold the PGA Tour record for 82 official tournament wins, played competitive tournament golf into the 1980's, and it was his his participation and promotion of the Senior Tour that allowed that circuit to become the success that it has been.

All three were interesting guys.  From reading the book, it is apparent that Byron Nelson was the favorite of author Dodson.  He makes him out to be a living saint, and maybe he was.  I've never really ever read anything negative about Nelson over the years, though  the guy that I found to be most interesting was Ben Hogan.  So much so, that I plan on doing a separate post on Hogan within the next couple of days.  I shall even draw some comparisons between Hogan and certain Mr. Eldrick Woods.

When we visited Southern Pines, NC last fall, I had the good fortune to meet Jim Dodson, and he was nice enough to sign a couple of his previous books of his that I had for me.  In talking about "American Triumvirate" he mentioned that this might be the last golf book that he has in him.  Too bad, because I have always enjoyed his writing.  If you are a golfer, I would strongly recommend both "Final Rounds" and "The Dewsweepers" if you have not already read them.  And you may not even have to be a golfer to enjoy "Final Rounds."  It is a wonderful father-son story that is quite moving.  I make it a point to re-read this one every couple of years.

Anyway, I recommend "American Triumvirate."  Golfers didn't always play for multi-million dollar purposes every week, and that fact that they do so today can in large part be traced to the efforts of Snead, Nelson, and Hogan.

DVR Alert for Friday

Good stuff on Turner Classic Movies tonight, all from director Billy Wilder:

8:00 PM - "The Seven Year Itch" starring Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell.  This comedy  is the one with Monroe in the white dress standing over the NYC subway grate, the iconic scene that thoroughly P.O.'d Joe DiMaggio.

10:00 PM  - "The Lost Weekend"  starring Ray Milland.  The story of an alcoholic won an Oscar for Milland and Oscars for Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay.

Midnight - An interview done in 1988 with Billy Wilder.  I am particularly looking forward to watching this.

All times Eastern.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


Good morning, Loyal Readers.  

Consider this a test posting.  It comes about because Google has indicated some sort of change in how they will be managing these blogs.  Not sure how it is going to work, but as for now, I'm having some issues with how the whole things present themselves when making a post.

So, this post is really about nothing, other than seeing if I can deal with the changes.

If you don't mind, please try posting a comment to see how that works as well.

Many thanks from The Grandstander.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

On Sean Peyton

So, one week after NFL Commish Roger Goodell suspends (and justifiably so, in my opinion) Saints Head Coach Sean Peyton for one year, this is what Payton has been up to:
  • He shows up at the NFL League meetings
  • He attempts to hand pick his interim successor
  • He considers appealing his suspension (which is his right, I'll give him that)
  • Signs a deal to work as an expert commentator on NFL games with Fox
I'll say this for him, he sure has a huge set of cujones and absolutley no sense of embarrassment.

I also cannot believe that the NFL establishment is very happy with one of its broadcast partners for hiring a guy who should be considered a pariah for the next 12 months.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Two Disparate Comments

Several years ago, sometime back in the late 1980's or early 1990's, a very young Jane Orie knocked at the door of our home in Franklin Park and asked for our vote in an upcoming election for State Representative. Impressed by her willingness to get that personal in her campaigning, I voted for her that year, and in every other election for which she stood since then. My other impression of Jane Orie came a few years ago when we were treating two of our nephews to a day at Wildwood Highlands. The by now State Senator Orie was there leading and treating a group of mentally handicapped adults to a day at the park. There were no newsmen or cameramen there to document this sincere act of kindness on her part.

All this is to say that I feel very badly over Jane Orie's conviction for various offenses in court yesterday that will no doubt end her career and possibly cause her to do some serious prison time. I do not doubt that members of her staff under her direction did what was charged: performed political functions while on the state taxpayers' dime. I also know that if every office holder was punished for the same offenses, we would need to be building a few more prisons to house the offenders. Also, it seemed that the District Attorney's office went after Jane Orie with a zeal that seemed somewhat out of proportion to the crime.

And, yes, I know that just because "everyone else does it", that doesn't make it OK for Jane Orie to have done it as well. Doesn't mean I still can't feel bad for her.

My other comment concerns a documentary that appeared on PBS last night (and which, thanks to the DVR, I just finished watching) about Fenway Park, which, in case you've been sleeping all spring, is celebrating it's 100th Anniversary this season.

Narrated in reverential tones by Matt Damon, part of the show talked about the elaborate preparation that goes on for a ball game at Fenway. What the show didn't mention is that these same levels of preparation take place at 29 other ball parks in the major leagues on game days as well. The rest of the show highlighted how Special, and Awesome, and Sacrosact, and Holy this ancient structure is. Wow, after it was over, I felt guilty that I wasn't weeping uncontrollably while watching this show. People criticize CBS for the way they gush about the "Tradition Like No Other" that surrounds Augusta National and The Masters, but that is nothing compared to the sycophantic ramblings that people use whenever they describe Fenway Park.

Two stories about Fenway:

  1. My wife NEVER ceases to remind me that she has seen a game at Fenway Park, and I have not, and

  2. In 2003, when the Red Sox visited Pittsburgh, I sat next to a couple of visiting Sawx fans in from Boston. When I asked how they were enjoying their visit, their response was that they were having a great time, loved our new ball pahk, and wished that they "had a ball pahk like this in Bahston."

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Tigers and 'Cats and Jayhawks (?)...Oh, My

Not sure how you apportioned your TV viewing time this afternoon, but most of my attention was on NBC watching Tiger Woods win his first PGA Tour event in 934 days. Did the guys at NBC bring up that 934 day number enough for you? Since the revelation of Woods' now well-publicized feet of clay, it is quite fashionable to knock him and have people tell you what a scuzzball he is and blame him for everything from poor on-course behaviour, spitting too much, global warming, $4 per gallon gasoline, and inverse fluctuations in the stock market. I, however, have always been rooting for him to find the magic once again on the golf course and start winning. Golf is a lot more interesting when Tiger is in the hunt and winning.

Well, he did that in most convincing fashion today - a five shot margin over second place finisher Graeme McDowell. One most interesting stat from today, and I think I heard this correctly from the boys in the booth, was that of the final 14 golfers, Woods was the only one to shoot under par in today's fourth round. That's impressive.

That was Tiger's 72nd official PGA Tour win. The record for Tour wins is 82, held by Sam Snead. Here's a question to ponder: at age 36, which record is Tiger most likely to break, Snead's 82 career wins, or Jack Nicklaus' 18 majors (Tiger has 14)? I was beginning to think that both records were becoming out of reach for Woods, but after today, I think Snead's record is well within his grasp, and probably more likely to fall than Jack's 18 Majors. However, if Woods wins one this year, and right now he's got to be the favorite at Augusta in two weeks, Jack's record comes into play once more.

I began the afternoon by watching Kentucky wallop Baylor (the Bears, Oh my!). That one was so out of reach so early, that staying with the golf at Bay Hill was easy to do. The Wildcats sure do look impressive. Make that Very Impressive.

I was also glad to see Kansas advance. Not that it helps me all that much in my FGE Bracket Pool, but Kentucky and Kansas are my two Universities in the MOASP, and if they both happen to meet in the Championship Game, I will have a big leg up on securing the coveted Lamp of Knowledge Trophy for 2012.

It will be interesting to see the TV ratings for this afternoon. A Kentucky blowout and a golf tournament with Tiger Woods in the lead surely ate into what CBS thought they would score for this afternoon.

Oh, and by the way and for what it's worth, I didn't see Woods spit once on the golf course today.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Hello, Good-bye

Lots of Good-Byes, and some Hellos, in the news these last few days.

Of course, the most newsworthy one in Pittsburgh was Hines Ward saying Good-bye and announcing his retirement. I had already commented on that one, but I had to include it here once again, just to go along with the theme.

A day or so later, Duquesne's best basketball player, T.J. McConnell, announced that he was leaving The Bluff in order to be able to compete at a "higher level." Not good, and just to stir the pot even further, two other Dukes players said that they would also be transferring. Today, the University one-upped the players by saying Good-bye, and by that I mean firing, coach Ron Everhart. Everhart is the first Duquesne coach with a winning record in a couple of generations.

As a wise friend of mine tweeted earlier this evening, Duquesne basketball is in "disarray." I am 60 years old, and you have to be pretty much my age to remember when Duquesne basketball was the #1 program here in Pittsburgh and relevant on the national stage. With parents and an older brother who are Duquesne alums, I grew up in a Duquesne family, and rooted for the Dukes, with my own memories stretching back to the days of the Willie Somerset era. There are people who have lived in Pittsburgh for 30 years and can't imagine that the Dukes were once the Kings of Hoops in Pittsburgh, while basketball was almost an afterthought at Pitt. Hell, you can make the case today that even Robert Morris, although they play in an inferior conference to the Atlantic 10, is a stronger program than Duquesne. Chick Davies and Red Manning, not to mention Frank Miniotas(!), are rolling over in their graves.

It's kind of sad, really, and you can't have a whole lot of hope that whomever Duquesne brings in to succeed Everhart will have much of a chance to bring the program back to glory. Hope I'm wrong on that.

A possible Good-bye, for the short term, for Pedro Alvarez? News reports surfaced today that Pedro now has a "balky" left knee. The cynical among us see this as a chance to put Pedro on the DL to start the season, which would then be the conduit to send him to Indianapolis to start the season under the guise of a "rehab assignment."

Hello to Eric Bedard as the Pirates Opening Day starting pitcher. With A.J. Burnett on the shelf, I suppose that there was some sentiment for Jeff Karstens, based upon his season in 2011, to get the nod, but what the heck. I'm too lazy to look it up, but when was the last time that the Pirates had a pitcher get the Opening Day assignment two years in a row?

A possible Hello to 49 year old Jamie Moyer in Denver. I have to tell you that I, for one, am pulling for him to make the Rockies squad. He is 49 years old, coming off of Tommy John Surgery, and in recent years appeared to have trouble throwing a baseball through a wet paper bag, but he was still an effective pitcher. I would love to see him pitching again in 2012.

Finally, Good-bye to Chipper Jones who announced that he will be retiring after this upcoming season at age 40 and with 21 seasons in the big leagues, all with the Braves. It is sometimes easy to develop a dislike for players on the "other team", particularly when that team beats your team, but I never felt that way about Jones (nor, for that matter, the Braves in general in the Bobby Cox era, notwithstanding the 1991 and 1992 NLCS). He always seemed to be a classy guy and good guy. And what a ballplayer! Through 2011, he sports a .304 BA with over 2,600 hits, 454 HR, 1,561 RBIs and an OPS of .935. I hope he goes out in 2012 with a nice year and maintains those lifetime .300 and .900 numbers. Next stop: Cooperstown, NY.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Great First Day of Spring!

How could the first day of Spring be any better than this?

Threw my clubs in the trunk and headed to Clover Hill for my first round of golf of the season. I haven't swung a club since October 7. Haven't been to the range. Nothing. Had very low expectations. Ended up making four pars and shooting a 40. Only two shots short of my personal best at Clover Hill. What a feeling!

It can only go downhill from here, right?

Then I come home, open the mail, and my Pirates tickets for my ten game plan are in the mailbox. Now, THAT is a great sign of spring.

Monday, March 19, 2012

DVR Alerts for the Week Ahead

Looking at the week ahead on Turner Classic Movies, I would suggest you program your DVR accordingly (all time Eastern)....

Friday, March 23 @12:45 PM: "North by Northwest" (1959). A true Alfred Hitchcock Classic. Think Cary Grant, a deserted cornfield, and a crop duster. Think Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, and Martin Landau on Mt. Rushmore. Think Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in the Pullman car!

Saturday, March 24 @8:00 PM: "The Goodbye Girl" (1977). Richard Dreyfuss won and Oscar for this Neil Simon comedy. Terrific movie.

Sunday, March 25 @6:15 PM: "Niagara" (1952) starring Marilyn Monroe. I read one critic who said that this is the best "Hitchcock movie" that Hitchcock didn't actually direct. Pretty good potboiler, but worth seeing for Monroe's performance alone. In this one, she redefines the word "sultry."

Monday, March 26 @5:45 PM: "Dr. Strangelove" (1964). Classic 1960's Cold War comedy/satire. Peter Sellers plays three different parts. Classic line: "You can't fight in here. This is the War Room."

The TCM program guide for April shows a ton of goodies scheduled for that month. I'll be keeping you posted.

To Absent Friends - Furman Bisher

Furman Bisher passed away yesterday at the age of 93.

Bisher was a highly regarded and respected sportswriter in Atlanta. I am familiar with him from a column that he used to write every week in The Sporting News back in the day when it was considered the "Baseball Bible." I enjoyed his columns, but the years have gone by, and I have come to read works by other writers who credit and acknowledge what a true giant Bisher was in the field.

RIP Furman Bisher.

March TV Madness

Some TV screen reflections on March Madness Weekend.....

  • That hour or so of viewing on Friday night when the Ohio U., Norfolk State, and Lehigh upset wins were hurtling to their final buzzers was about as good as sports TV watching could possibly get. Thank goodness for that "Alt Ch" button on the TV remote!

  • The four network coverage of the first weekend, particularly on Thursday and Friday, is fantastic. While out driving on Saturday afternoon, host Jory Rand on The Fan was saying he liked it better when only ONE network covered all the games and they had to cut away to the other games. Is he insane? Or, could his opinion just possibly be colored by the fact that he also works for Channel 2 (the CBS affiliate here for you out-of-town readers)?

  • High Definition TV does not do any favors for Marv Albert. Not sure if it was intentional or not, but every time there was a shot of Marv on camera, the camera was pointing down and to the right, Marv's left. Never a full facial shot of Marv. Was that intentional or just a fact of TV logistics? One thing you could see was that there had to be more pancake make-up covering Marv's mug than on any other four female sideline reporters.

  • Marv, btw, will turn 71 in June of this year. I looked it up, and is he still an outstanding play-by-play guy? Yessssssss, he is.

  • For the most part, though, all those announcers and analysts over all those games in all those locations seemed to run together for me

  • Speaking of appearances, I hope that Leslie Visser is suing the bejesus out of her plastic surgeon. If Visser was never a knockout like Jillian Barbery or Erin Andrews, she was always an above average attractive woman. When you look at her now, all you can say is "My, God, why did she do that to herself?"

  • Now, the commercials....

  • Loved the Chevy commercial with the three passengers singing Spandau Ballet

  • Loved the Enterprise Rent-a-Car one that talked about how they hire more new college grads than any other company and featuring former NCAA athletes

  • Love the NCAA PSA that states "there are thousands of NCAA athletes, and most of them will be going pro in something other than sports"

  • Top to bottom, the Bud Light commercials are always good

  • Liked the McDonald's commercial of the suspicious wife who "loves" the mint shamrock shake her husband bought her

  • The Buffalo Wild Wings commercial with the guy popping a champagne cork in the direction of the guy with the eye patch made me squeamish

  • Hate the State Farm commercial with Bob Knight. Hate seeing this guy cash in on the fact that he was a horse's ass for his entire career. This commercial won't make me cancel my State Farm auto and homeowners, but if I was not already a policyholder, it would certainly NOT attract me to the company.

  • On the other hand, I did like the State Farm commercial of the two guys dancing on the Jumbotron Fan Cam

  • Again on the other hand, the Knight commercial makes State Farm's Aaron Rodgers Discount Double Check commercials look good by comparison

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Yesterday (Friday, that is)

It was quite a day yesterday.

I went down to McFadden's Sports Bar on the North Shore (yes, I surrender; I will now call anything in the PNC Park/Heinz Field/Rivers Casino area the "North Shore") and spent the afternoon watching NCAA basketball games with Highmark friends Fred Shugars, Karen Ashby, Duane Lukitch, John Carney, and Gale Suwalski. It was really a fun afternoon watching the game and reconnecting with some old friends.

I parked in the Heinz Field parking lot right by the painted home plate marker from Exposition Park. My car, actually, was on the third base line. Yes, I did stand at home plate and imagined myself digging in against Cy Young in the 1903 World Series. A tip of the ol' ball cap to Dan Bonk, Len Martin, and other SABR members who put in the time and effort to research and locate these positions back in 1990's. As North Shore development continues, I hope that these historic sites are not lost.

Then there were the games themselves last night. All those upsets - Norfolk State, Ohio U., Lehigh. Talk about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. That was the very essence of it.

However, the absolute highlight of the day took place while Marilyn and I were enjoying fine dining at a local McDonald's. While sitting there we were spotted and greeted by a young lady who was in the teen group at one of our recent Caring Place sessions. She told us what she's been up to, how she will be starting college in the fall, how she involved herself in Children's Grief Awareness Day at her school last fall, how she wants to involve her college campus with the Caring Place next fall, and, mainly, how much her sessions at the Caring Place meant to her and her family. That encounter made our day.

Some Thoughts on Pedro Alvarez

As the calendar creeps closer and closer to Opening Day of the 2012 baseball season, it has become clear to any Pirates fan who listens to sports talk radio, reads the sports pages and blogs, or, perhaps most importantly, participates on Jim Haller's Pirates Fan chat group on Facebook, that the key to any success that the Buccos might achieve this coming season rests on the shoulders of third baseman Pedro Alvarez.

We all know the back story: highly touted first round (fourth pick overall) draft choice, $4+ million signing bonus, promising (16 HR) rookie season in 2010, and dud of a season (4 HR, 19 RBI, .191 BA, plus two trips to the DL and the minor leagues) in 2011. On a team that has little power, Alvarez is the main, if not only, hope that the Pirates have to provide power and be the catalyst for offensive production. As Spring Training has progressed, Alvarez is perhaps the most closely watched Pirate, and he has become a lightning rod for criticism among many, and not, I believe, for entirely valid reasons.

When you read and listen to the chatter, the criticism seems to come down to three main areas.

#1. He wears his baseball cap down over his ears. Really, this has upset a lot of people. Personally, I don't get the style, but it doesn't really bother me either. Apparently, this fashion statement reflects hip-hop culture among younger folks, and I guess this really grinds some people's gears. If someone else on the team, say Alex Presley or Neil Walker, wore their cap this way, I wonder if the outrage level would be quite so high. I also think that if Alvarez has 14 or 15 home runs by the All-Star break, caps over the ears will be quite the rage at PNC Park.

#2. His lousy season in 2011. A valid criticism and concern. However, we all should keep in mind that Pedro is still a young player who was humbled mightily by major league pitching in his first full season in the big leagues last year. To the gent on the aforementioned Facebook group who was grumbling when Alvarez grounded out with a runner in scoring position in his first at bat in a spring training game this year, I would cite the case of a certain National League rookie in 1973 who, while hitting 18 HR in 443 AB's that year, had only 52 RBI, a .196 BA, a .373 slugging percentage, and a .697 OPS and struck out 136 times. There were probably a lot of people who weren't thinking too highly of Mike Schmidt that season, but, fortunately for the Phillies, members of team management were not among them. At the very least, Alvarez is owed another shot at a full season with the Pirates.

#3. He declined to play winter ball this past off season. This has been viewed as anything from an act of insubordination to an indication that Alvarez just doesn't give a damn. A writer that I respect, Dejan Kovacevic of the Trib, continually takes shots at Alvarez for this decision. I am inclined to agree with a column that Gene Collier did last fall on the subject that stated it would be best if Alvarez did NOT play winter ball this off season. After what had to be an incredibly frustrating season, what purpose would have been served to jump right down to Venezuala or Mexico, spend hours every day in a batting cage, and maybe continue where he left off the season, by NOT hitting and striking out too often. Instead, Alvarez devoted his off season to improving his conditioning (long a sore spot with team management) and losing weight, and these efforts appear to have been successful. We shall see if that decision bears fruit in 2012.

We have long hoped that Pedro Alvarez would be the next Willie Stargell or Dave Parker for the Pirates. We hope that that is the case, but if he instead, as often happens to high draft picks and
"Can't Miss" prospects for every team in baseball, he turns out to be the next Chad Hermanson or Brad Eldred, it will not be because he didn't play winter ball or how he wears his baseball cap.

Happy Birthday, Kurt Russell

To help celebrate actor Kurt Russell's 61st birthday today, The Grandstander presents a clip of Russell in his definitive role - as Elvis Presley in a 1979 TV movie.

It should be noted that Russell did not do the actual singing in this movie, Ronnie McDowell did, but in all other aspects, no one has ever played Elvis better.


Friday, March 16, 2012

"Peter Pan" at North Allegheny

Last night we saw the North Allegheny High School spring musical, "Peter Pan." What an amazing experience. When you see and hear the talent among the actors, orchestra, and crew, you cannot believe that you are watching 14, 15, 16, and 17 year old kids. Just an amazing experience.

I have always said that if you ever feel cynical and worried about the future of the world, go see a high school musical. You'll feel a lot better about the upcoming generations.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Some Off Season Football Thoughts

Wow, the cost of doing business in the NFL wide receivers sure went up yesterday, didn't it? $132 million over eight years for Calvin Johnson??? OK, so only $60 is guaranteed, but still. Plus the mega-contracts handed out to Vincent Jackson, Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Marques Colston, and even an ancient Randy Moss? It all spells out one thing for all us Steelers fans: Mike Wallace may play here in 2012 thanks to the arcane NFL salary/free agent/tender machinations, but don't expect to see him here beyond that. Same goes for Antonio Brown two seasons down the pike. In my wildest imagination, I can never see Rooney U. dishing out that kind of dough for a wide receiver.

Did you catch the TV commercials for Pitt Football that began airing this past weekend? It features Pitt players talking about "my school, my city" in promoting the 2012 football season. No extravagant promises and claims from a blowhard head coach. A hard Lesson Learned in the Pitt Sports Information office, I'd say.

Still, Pitt is going to need a lot more than nice commercials to get people out to a home schedule that has to be one of the least attractive in anyone's recent or even not-so-recent memory.

I never read stories about hotshot, can't-miss high school recruits, but a glance at recent headlines seem to indicate that Bill O'Brien is hooking some attractive prospects for Penn State, particularly quarterbacks. Penn State has an awful lot to overcome, including a late start by O'Brien, but I hope that he, O'Brien, is able to overcome all that and get the Lions into the elite soon. I also hope that the fanatics in Happy Valley give him a fair chance.

Anybody got any extra tickets for the Power's home opener? Anybody know when it is? Do the Power have any players, or have they all been fired again?

The Baseball Reliquary

During the past Christmas holiday season, I made the acquaintance of a gent named Nick Frankart, the son and brother of friends of ours from Church. Nick lives in California and was home visiting his family for the holiday season. Nick made me aware of a California based organization to which he belongs called The Baseball Reliquary. I had heard of this organization through SABR, but didn't know much about it, so I looked into it.

According to it's mission statement, "The Baseball Reliquary is a nonprofit, educational organization dedicated to fostering an appreciation of American art and culture through the context of baseball history and to exploring the national pastime's unparalleled possibilities."

OK, that all sounded pretty good to me. What also interested me was an initiative of the Reliquary called the "Shrine of the Eternals." Again, to quote directly from The Baseball Reliquary....

"The Shrine of the Eternals is similar in concept to the annual elections held at the Baseball Hall of Fame, but differs philosophically in that statistical accomplishment is not a criterion for election. Rather, the Shrine's annual ballot is comprised of individuals - from obscure to the well-known - who altered the baseball world in ways that supersede statistics."

How fun is that? The first class of inductees in 1999 consisted of Bill Veeck, Curt Flood, and Dock Ellis. How can any Pirates fan not love an organization that would honor Dock Ellis? Dock even showed up in person to accept this unique honor. Here is a terrific story from the Reliquary's website about that enshrinement:

The ballot for the 2012 Shrine of the Eternals election is out and consists of 50 candidates and includes names such as Eliot Asinof, Steve Blass, Charlie Finley, Fred Merkle, and Don Zimmer.

So, I went in for twenty-five bucks for a year's membership, and I figure to have some fun with it. Further information can be found on its website, If your membership is in and paid up by March 31, you will receive a ballot and be able to vote on the 2012 class of the Shrine of the Eternals.

Check it out, especially all you readers who are baseball fans and SABR members.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Bizarre Story, NCAA Picks, and a DVR Alert: "On the Waterfront"

That was a very bizarre story generated by the Arena Football League's Pittsburgh Power ("generated by the...Power"- get it?) this past weekend. In case you missed it, and considering the coverage the Power gets, it would have been easy to do so, here it is in a nutshell.

It seems that the AFL Players went on strike last week (somehow this story did not generate the news coverage that the NFL non-strike did last summer). At that point, the owner of the Power, some guy named Shaner, released every player on the roster a few hours before the team was to open it's season in Orlando on Friday night. Shaner then said he would resign any player who agreed NOT to go on strike. Those players who did not agree to do so, then had their airplane tickets taken from them, and were told that they were on their own in getting back to Pittsburgh. All the while, even as the game on Friday was being played, somehow, Shaner and his staff were trying to sign more scab players.

Thus, the Arena Football League now becomes the very epitome of a Bush League.

Two good lines have emerged from this. The first came from buddy Dan Bonk on Facebook last night when he proclaimed this to be "the biggest local non-story of the year."

The second came from Dejan Kovacevic who said that Lynn Swann (a Power team owner) doesn't deserve to have his name associated with something like this, unless, of course, he agreed to it with his partner, Shaner.

For anyone who cares, I have completed my NCAA Tournament Bracket - for amusement purposes only - and have Ohio State, Kansas, Kentucky, and Michigan State reaching the Final Four with the Wildcats defeating the Jayhawks for the title. Such a scenario would do wonders for me in the year long MOASP competition.

I did need to amend my original selections with the news today of Fab Melo's DQ from Syracuse. Tough break for the Orange. I had Syracuse in my original Final Four.

On a more wistful note, the fact that Opening Round sub-regionals are being held in Pittsburgh this year makes me think of attending those games back in 1997 at the Civic Arena. Seeing those three double-headers in one weekend with a bunch of my work buddies is one of my fondest sporting memories.

Finally, a DVR Alert for tomorrow night, Wednesday, at 10:15 PM on Turner Classic Movies, one of the All-Time GREAT movies, from 1954, "On the Waterfront." This movie won eight Academy Awards that year, including Best Picture, Marlon Brando for Best Actor, Eva Marie Saint for Best Supporting Actress, Elia Kazan for Best Director, and Budd Schulberg for Best Screenplay. In addition, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, and Rod Steiger were all nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

This is a young Marlon Brando, and if you only know Brando as Vito Corleone of "The Godfather" in 1972, you really need to see him in this movie. He is absolutely fabulous in this.

The picture below is from the "I coulda been a contender" scene between Brando and Steiger. It is the scene that is always shown when this movie is discussed, and even if you've never seen the movie, you have probably seen this clip, but watch the movie, see this scene within the context of the entire movie, and it is really, really powerful.

Don't miss it!

Monday, March 12, 2012

They Say It's Your Birthday....

In addition to sending Happy Birthday wishes out to his younger sister, Patty, today, The Grandstander also wishes a Happy 64th Birthday to singer-songwriter James Taylor, ol' Sweet Baby James himself.

Taylor came on the scene back in my college days, around 1971 or so. I loved him then, and still do today. I have seen Taylor perform on three different occasions over the years, and his act never gets old. Talk about a guy who has aged well.

See for yourself:

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Two Initial Very Quick March Madness Thoughts

  • Amazing that CBS can spend 60 minutes (as opposed to "60 Minutes", which follows) to the NCAA Selection Sunday show. This is a task that could have easily been accomplished in about three minutes of air time. Such is the state of the power of gambling, i.e., the Bracket Pools that will tie up corporate America for much of the next business week.

  • Don't you really miss Billy Packer on this show? I can hear him now bitching about the fact that the Big East has 9 teams in the field while the ACC has a mere 5 teams.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Some Thoughts on Journalism

A couple of random comments on journalism in the year 2012.

I have been reading Sports Illustrated for at least the last 40 years or so, and have been a subscriber, off and on, for that long as well. I am starting to wonder if the magazine is still relevant in this Internet age. Always a news magazine, SI has fallen into a situation where it needs to reinvent itself because, as anyone with a home computer and an Internet connection knows, the "news" arrives instantaneously these days. This week's cover story offers the perfect case in point. It is Peter King's story on the New Orleans Saints and their payment of bounties for hits that injured and took out opposing players. The story broke last Friday, March 2. King himself summarized his own story on in his Monday Morning Quarterback column. It had been discussed endlessly on all of the sports TV shows. By the time the magazine arrived in the mail on Thursday, March 8, it was old news. Why bother reading it?

I always said that it was worth subscribing to SI for the the half dozen times or so each year when the lengthy feature story that they always feature at the end of the magazine would just be so good, it would almost knock you out. The need for a "wow factor" I these stories becomes even more important to SI in an age when news reaches the audience so quickly.

On another journalistic front, I spent close to two hours watching Channel 2's coverage of the Western Psych shootings yesterday afternoon, and it was not something that would make Edward R. Murrow proud. The loathsome Marty Griffith was the worst offender. He seemed to be most upset that there were "only" two people killed and "only" five others injured in the shootings. It seemed liked Marty (whose career highlight was a story that was teased so sensationally by KDKA that it caused a local minister to commit suicide a few years back) was disappointed that the shooting spree at Western Psych didn't surpass the death toll of the Virginia Tech shootings a few years back. Then of course we had other KDKA reporters badgering people who might have been witnesses and trying to put words into their mouths when they were clearly upset and did not want to talk about what they had seen inside the building. Finally there was Susan Koeppen, recovering from open heart surgery three days before, calling in on her cell phone from her hospital room at Presby. "Always a reporter, that Susan," said Stacey Smith and Kim Gabriel at the anchor desk.

I don't expect any Pulitzers to be handed down to KDKA after this performance.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

DVR Alert for Thursday: "The Big Sleep"

Fire up your DVR's (or take a day off work) for this coming Thursday, March 8 at 11:00 AM (Eastern). Turner Classic Movies will be showing "The Big Sleep" (1946) directed by Howard Hawks and starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. This is based on the Raymond Chandler novel with Bogey playing private eye Phillip Marlowe.

Don't wrack your brain trying to figure out who did what to whom in this one. When Hawks and the screenwriters consulted with Chandler as they were making this movie, even he, Chandler, couldn't unravel all twists in the storyline. The real fun is in the journey here with the colorful characters and rich dialog as this one plays out.

A classic and a really fun movie to watch.

On the DH, Braun, Burnett, and a Legend's Birthday

Some baseball thoughts, two weeks into Spring Training....

  • An article appeared in Sports Illustrated a few weeks back that I meant to comment upon, but didn't at the time. The gist of the article was that it was time - long past time, actually - for baseball on the Major League level to standardize its rules and put the Designated Hitter rule in place in the National League. Oh, I can hear all the purists wailing and gnashing their teeth out there, but consider the ludicrousness of having two sets of rules in place, that puts teams at serious disadvantages, not only during interleague play (which will be come more pervasive come 2013), but during the game's most important event, the World Series. It is beyond ridiculous.

  • Also, consider the the two prime free agents this past winter, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, were lost the the NL, and it was not insignificant that their new AL teams knew that they would be able to employ these players as DH's during the back end years of their contracts.

  • Not to mention that 2012 will be the FORTIETH season since the DH was adopted by the American League. Like it or not, this is no longer a fly-by-night experiment. It ain't going away, so standardize the rules for crying out loud.

  • Ryan Braun. The guy got off on a technicality (he himself never once said the the test that showed the amazingly high volume of testosterone in his sample was wrong), and that is far different from being "innocent" or even "not guilty", and he then proceeds to trash the reputation of the guy who conducted the test and handled his samples. Another reason to not like Ryan Braun.

  • As might be expected, Braun is starting to hear the taunts from the opposing fans. Ironically, they came in a game against the Giants from those same fans who cheered and supported Barry Bonds for all those years.

  • The A.J. Burnett Affair. One of the points that the Pirates trumpeted upon acquiring Burnett was that fact that he was durable, was never hurt, would take the ball every fifth day, and would give the team 200+ innings. Then the guy fractures his eye socket on the first day of training in a bunting drill. You said what I said, right? This stuff can ONLY happen to the Pirates.

  • To their credit, the Pirates themselves, whatever they might be thinking privately, are not taking the woe-is-us attitude over Burnett's injury, which is good. The line is that he will be back come late May/early June, and that they will go with the guys they have until then. The worst thing the Pirates could have done was say "we're really screwed" because of the Burnett injury. What kind of message would that have sent?

  • And to expand upon what I said at the beginning of this post, if the National League used a DH, like every other league in professional and amateur baseball, would Burnett have even been in the position to have received such an injury?

  • One close friend is predicting that Starling Marte will be the sleeper of this year's Pirate training camp. I see that he did go 3-for-3 in last night's Grapefruit game.

  • Nice to see MLB Network televising so many spring training games. Not that you want to glue yourself to the tube to watch the Mariners and Brewers B-squaders battle it out, but it is nice to catch a couple of innings of a ballgame while the temps are in the teens and there is snow on your front lawn here in Pittsburgh.

  • Finally, today we observe what would have been the 71st birthday of one of the Pirates All-Time Greats, Willie Stargell. Happy Birthday, Cap'n Willie!!

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Great Day for the Pirates...and Their Fans!

Great news from Bradenton this morning with the news that the Pirates and Andrew McCutchen have agreed to a big money ($51.5 million), long term (through 2018) contract. After years of hearing the Nutting/Coonelly/Huntington Troika talk about building and waiting and committing, only to see good players get dealt while we wait for high draft picks to come through the system, today we see, finally, the team commit to one of those guys, McCutchen, who can be the centerpiece of a winning team. After seeing other teams sign deals with young guys like Justin Upton, Jay Bruce, and Ryan Zimmerman, it is a great feeling to see the Pirates sign a similar deal with one of THEIR young stars.

It has been said since he came to the team that Cutch could be the "Face of the Franchise" but who among the fan base, conditioned after so many years of losing and ineptitude, were willing to make the emotional commitment to McCutchen because the thought was always in your mind that the day would come when the Bucs dumped McCutchen some future July 31 for "prospects."

It has also been pointed out that one other thing that this signing will do is that it will send a message to other teams, players, and free agents that the Pirates are serious about winning.

Finally, a great bit of positive news from the Pirates.

OK, now let's see what they can get done with Neil Walker!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Movie Review: "My Week With Marilyn"

If you are looking for a good movie to see, try "My Week With Marilyn" starring Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branaugh. Of course, you will have to look hard because this movie, for which Williams received an Academy Award Best Actress nomination, is playing on exactly ONE screen here in Pittsburgh, the Galleria in the Great State of Mt. Lebanon.

In looking for something to do on Leap Day, Marilyn and I made that long, long trek out to Mt. Lebo - had to cross two rivers to do it! - and went to see this flick with only mild expectations. We found it to be really good movie. My wife proclaimed that she "loved it." Terrific performances by Williams as Marilyn Monroe and Branaugh as Laurence Olivier, and a very fascinating true story of one brief interlude in the life of one of Hollywood's most famous movie stars.

There was a great line in there when one character was comparing Monroe to Olivier. "He's a great actor who wants to be a movie star, and you are a movie star who wants to be a great actress."

No great revelation to anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of Monroe's life, but hers is a very sad story.

Anyway, put this on on your "to watch" list.

Ben Howland in the News

I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of this week's Sports Illustrated so I can read all about the mess that Ben Howland has found himself in out there in Westwood. Seems that Coach Ben has been turning a blind eye to bad behaviour amongst his Bruins hoopsters, and that a renegade program is now running amok at UCLA. Or, at least, that is what the news reports would have you believe. As I said, I will wait to read the SI story before forming a final opinion.

The news, however, prompted me to recall my final memory of Ben during his days at Pitt. During that final season, the rumors were circulating that UCLA was wooing Ben and that he would be leaving Pitt, despite having recently signed a long term extension with the Panthers. I recall that he was interviewed on Mike & Mike in the Morning and being asked about these reports. Ben then stated that he wasn't thinking about UCLA, that he had every intention of fulfilling his commitment with Pitt. I recall a friend at work commenting to me that, if he "ends up going to UCLA after what he said to Mike & Mike this morning, then he's nothing more than a lying s.o.b.", or words to that effect.

And we all know what happened. Soon thereafter, Ben was being introduced at Pauley Pavillion as the new UCLA coach, and the name of John Wooden was being tearfully invoked. This doesn't make him exactly the same as Todd Graham, but it doesn't make him all that much different, either.

It seems to me that Howland is remembered in the pantheon of Pittsburgh sports coaches with a higher degree of reverence than what his actual accomplishments merit. I know that others may disagree, but, as I said, just my opinion. Perhaps Ben's greatest accomplishment was bringing Jamie Dixon to Pitt.