Sunday, April 29, 2012

To Absent Friends: Bill "Moose" Skowron

Bill Skowron passed away this past Friday at the age of 81.  Skowron had a very good, solid major league career that covered 14 seasons, 1954-67. The first nine of those seasons were with the New York Yankees, and all but one of them were spent in the American League.

Growing up in a National League city in the pre-cable TV, pre-ESPN era, Skowron was just a player that you never saw except on baseball cards and in the World Series, and he did manage to play in seven of those with the New York Yankees, including 1960 against the Pirates, wherein he hit a home run in the seventh game (he had 2 HR's and 6 RBI's against the Bucs in that Series).

As I said, Skowron had a very solid career, and his best years were with the Yankees where he was no doubt overshadowed by more famous teammates such as Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Roger Maris, and Whitey Ford.

I remember reading a book, and I can't remember which book it was, this story about Skowron.  Following the 1962 season, the Yanks traded Skowron the the Los Angeles Dodgers.  It was to be his only season in the senior circuit, but he struck gold in that the Dodgers won the pennant that year and then defeated the Yankees in four games in the World Series.  Skowron had a nice Series against his former team, batting .385 with a home run and 3 RBI's.  However, the part of the story I remember is that Skowron loved being with the Yankees, never thought of himself as anything but a Yankee, and took no particular joy in winning that World Series over his former team.

By the way, in 39 games in eight World Series, Moose Skowron hit .293 with 8 HR's and 29 RBI's.  Pretty damn nice baseball legacy, I would say.

RIP Bill "Moose" Skowron.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Bryce Harper Arrives

Back in June, 2009, Sports Illustrated  ran this cover story on 16 year old high school baseball player Bryce Harper, proclaiming him baseball's "Chosen One", much as they did with LeBron James a few years before.  I can remember reading the article and thinking, "what an arrogant, insufferable little pr**k this kid is", and, of course, his parents were stereotypical baseball stage parents of the worst kind.  No wonder the kid was such a jagoff.

I also remember thinking, "you know, I don't want to hope that anyone fails at what they choose to do with their life (so long as it's legal), but in this case, I really hope this kid fails."  

Of course, a year later, after the kid, his parents, and Scott Boras somehow pulled an end-around getting through high school and college, he, Harper, became the #1 overall pick in the MLB Entry Draft.  Nothing I have since read about Harper has given me any reason to change my initial judgement of him.  

Yesterday, the Washington Nationals announced that they were bring Harper, age 19, up to the big leagues, and he makes his debut in Los Angeles tonight against the Dodgers.

Now if Harper were with the Pirates, I'm sure I'd feel differently, but I'm still hoping that the kid bombs out.

Pittsburgh SABR Chapter Meeting Summary

The Pittsburgh/Forbes Field Chapter held its Spring Meeting on Saturday, April 28 at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh.  Thirty-five members and guests attended the meeting and heard the following presentations.

Our Guest Speaker was Beaver County Times sports columnist John Mehno.  John talked about his early days as a 19 year old sports writer covering the early 1970’s Pirates of Danny Murtaugh and Joe L. Brown up through the current days of the Pirates 19-going-on-20 year losing streak.  It was a most well thought out, informative, and entertaining presentation.

We also had presentations from five members:

Bob Sproule gave a presentation called “The October Firsts” that took a look at the most memorable World Series that involved a franchise’s first World Series Championship (Pirates in ’09, Dodgers in ’55, Cardinals in ’26, and so on).

In “From the Diamond to the Kitchen Table”, Fred Shugars discussed the history of baseball board games, and gave some thoughts as to where such games will take us in the future.

Author Ron Waldo gave us a presentation on the Pittsburgh Pirates 1925 World Series winning season.  Ron has written books on that 1925 team, Pirates manager and Hall of Famer Fred Clarke, and will soon be releasing another book about another Bucco Hall of Famer, KiKI Cuyler.

Eric Thompson of the Cleveland/Jack Graney Chapter gave his presentation on the 1962 National League expansion draft, “Did the Colt .45’s and the Mets Have a Fair Chance?”

Another Clevelander, architect and artist Tom Woodman gave a fascinating presentation on the earliest concrete and steel baseball parks of the early 20th Century, and showed us how he “recreated” them, and showed us the results of his efforts.

Next on the Pittsburgh Chapter agenda will be a group night at the Pirates game of May 12.  Twenty-nine members and their guests will attend that night.  Our annual “Summer Hot Stove Night” will take place at some point in late July or early August, exact date still to be determined, and we also hope that several members will also take in a Pittsburgh Franklins Vintage Base Ball game later in the summer.

Until then, we will be seeing you all at the Ballpark!

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Draft

As has been breathlessly reported by just about everyone today.....


My, God, have you ever felt such excitement?  

On Facebook yesterday, I made the prediction that when the Steelers made their second round pick at some point, whenever ESPN allows the second round to begin, that the team would make an announcement to the effect of "We had him projected as a late first round pick.  We just couldn't believe that he was still available this late in the second round."  (And if the Steelers don't say this, I guarantee that some team will.)  Well, Kevin Colbert jumped the gun on this particular Draft Day cliche by saying that they thought DeCastro would be an early first round pick, and they could believe that he was still available with the 24th pick in the first round!

I don't know why the NFL will even bother with playing out the season, because it seems that the seventh Lombardi Trophy for the Steelers in all but in the bag right now.

On a serious note, no one can doubt that an All-Pro caliber offensive lineman will fill a great need for the Steelers, but before we cast DeCastro's bust for Canton, let's see if can actually, you know, play NFL caliber football come the Fall.

And let's save all the evaluations that will be forthcoming on Monday in evaluating "how they did" in the draft.  The time to evaluate this draft class will come in January, 2013, and in the seasons to come.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In Sports Illustrated This Week...

Two articles of interest in this week's SI (the one with RG III on the cover)....

  • A brief essay by Joe Posnanski advocating that the Save should be eliminated as a baseball statistic. It will make for better pitching staffs and more effective bullpens.  Trust me, it is something to think about.
  • A lengthy excerpt from a new book "Over Time, My Life As a Sportswriter" a memoir by Frank DeFord.  The excerpt was about DeFord covering the NBA in the early '60s when it was a nine team league and far from the "major" league it is today.  The DeFord book releases next month and will no doubt be an excellent one.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Blog Comments

I have been receiving word that commenting on the Blog Posts has become a bit easier in light of some changes that Google has made behind the scenes in managing these blogs.  I do post my Grandstander entries on Facebook, and get a number of comments there, but it would be a lot more fun to get comments directly on the blog post itself.

So, if you've had trouble in the past posting, try it again, and let's see what happens.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Quick Thoughts on Last Night's Pirates Game

  • Could the Bucco debut of A.J Burnett been any better?
  • Two more hits and two runs scored by Andrew McCutchen, who does not seem to be allowing that huge contract he signed affect him negatively.
  • Will the two singles by Pedro Alvarez, one of them an infield hit, be the impetus he needs to get going?
  • How about those K's in the eighth by Tony Watson and Jason Grilli?
  • Here's hoping that Joel Hanrahan can make it just a little less dramatic in future appearances. 

To Absent Friends: Charles Colson

Remember the years 1972 to 1974?  Remember the Ervin Hearings?  The Rodino Justice Committee hearings?  

If you do, then a distant bell was rung in your mind when you saw the obit for Charles Colson in the news today.  Where you sat politically back in those days and how great a capacity for forgiveness you have will effect your opinion as to how much of a "friend" you might consider Chuck Colson. He was certainly not a "good guy" among all the President's men during those times, and his sudden born again Christianity seemed just a tad convenient as he was about to be sent to the slammer, but by all accounts, he did seem to change after his time was served, and he did devote his life to his prison ministry, so the sincerity of his conversion can't be doubted at this point.

As Watergate is now 40 years in history's rear view mirror , you usually only hear about these guys when, as with Colson, one of them dies, and when they do, I always think of one of Johnny Carson's great lines at the time:  "The frightening thing is that one day, these will be the 'good old days.' "

Movie Review: "The Three Stooges"

Yes, I did it.  I went to see the new movie, "The Three Stooges".  Marilyn was meeting a friend for lunch, I was by myself, and needed something to do to keep me out of trouble.  What better than becoming a nine year old boy again and going to see "The Three Stooges"?  

Written and directed by the Farelly Brothers ("Dumb and Dumber" among others), this is not a movie about the Three Stooges.  It is an actual, honest-to-goodness Three Stooges movie.  Moe, Larry, and Curly (not Shemp!) are there and look enough like the originals to be almost scary. And it's all there...hammers on the head, finger pokes to the eyes, nyuk, nyuk, nyuks, whoo-whoo-whoos, Curly shuffles, and in one that was always a favorite of mine, Moe runs a chain saw over Curly's head only to see all of the teeth of the saw are now damaged!  (Only a scene in a baby nursery was a bit out of place and a concession to 21st century movie humor.  I could have done without it, but judge for yourself.) Oh, and I was a little disappointed that there wasn't a pie fight.  And the movie is followed, naturally, with a "Kids, please don't do this at home" disclaimer by the Farellys themselves!

Plus, Sofia Vergara is in it!!!!

Is there a plot to this masterpiece?  Well, there is, but does there really need to be?  Soitainly not, nyuk nyuk nyuk.

On a rainy Saturday afternoon, a 1:00 show was pretty crowded and included lots of parents, mostly Dads, of course, who brought their kids, mostly boys, of course.  I was wondering which of these really wanted to see this one the most, the fathers or the sons?  And what was my excuse for being there?  

I can tell you was funny, moronic and sophomoric, maybe, but still funny, as in laughing out loud funny.  Go see it.  If you don't like it, then get over here and pick two fingers! And if the lines are too long at the box office, just tell everybody to spread out.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Playing Catch

At the risk of sounding way too corny, I thoroughly enjoyed playing a game of catch this morning with SABR/Facebook buddies Dan Bonk, Len Martin, and Jim Haller this morning.  I cannot remember the last time that I have "had a catch", and I freely admit to feeling like a young kid again while doing it today.  The pain in my shoulder that I will no doubt feel tomorrow will have been well worth it.

For those who may not know, that is the Hall 0f Fame double play combo of Bob, Jim and Len.  Photo by Dan Bonk.  Too bad Dan isn't in the picture, because I can tell you that he can still bring the heat.  Then again, he IS the youngest of the quartet.

Friday, April 20, 2012

To Absent Friends: Dick Clark, Levon Helm

By now, everyone knows of the death of Dick Clark earlier this week at the age of 82, and, no doubt, you have perused the news obits that talked of Clark's career...DJ in Philadelphia, American Bandstand, game show developer and host, producer, and (sadly, THIS is how many people below, say, age 40, will remember him), MC in Times Square on New Year's Eve.

That Clark was the ultimate arbiter of rock & roll music and acts for a number of years has been testified to this week by many - Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon to name a few of the earlier ones.  I do know that the one group that Clark didn't score for his show back in the day was The Beatles.  I wonder if that bothered him?

Two memories for me.  One, there was no bigger fan of American Bandstand back when it was a Monday through Friday afternoon show from Philadelphia than my mother.  I can still remember coming home from school and seeing my mother watching Bandstand because she liked seeing "all those kids" dance.  The other memory is a negative one.  The artists who appeared on Bandstand never sang live.  All the songs were lip-synced.  I never liked that.  It seemed like cheating.

We also note the passing of Levon Helm at the age of 71.  Helm was the drummer and oft-time lead singer for the 60's and 70's rock group The Band.  The Band is famously known as being Bob Dylan's first electric back-up band, but they carved out a niche of their own as well.  Never super-duper stars, The Band's influence has filtered down to generations of southern rock/country bands in the intervening years since their heyday.

Enjoy one of their hits now:

RIP Dick Clark and Levon Helm

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Steelers Throwbacks

The Steelers throwback uniforms that the team will wear twice in 2012, to celebrate the team's 80th season, were introduced yesterday, and the reaction so far seems to be unanimous in its scorn, derision, and utter contempt for the new look.

John Mehno has compared them to unis worn by the Three Stooges in an old movie of theirs.  (It's true, too.  You could look it up!)

Fred Shugars has decreed that with these uniforms, the NFL has jumped the shark.

Even Dan Bonk, who has always defended the introduction of alternate jerseys and uniforms as a fun bit of marketing has labeled these unis as "ugly."

It will be interesting to see how these new-old jerseys sell for that is what it is really all about - marketing.

Two other Steelers comments.  The team has declared this 80th season to be "The Year of the Fan" with all sorts of events and activities paying tribute to the loyal Steelers fans.  They announced this shortly after that had also announced the fifth ticket price increase over the last eight years.  Thanks to John Mehno for pointing this factoid out.  It always amazes me how there is never any hue and cry whenever the Rooneys increase their ticket prices, and how there is never any accompanying publicity in the press when these increases take place.

With the release of the NFL schedule yesterday, I planted my tongue firmly in my cheek and went on Facebook and said that after intensely studying the Steelers schedule, I figured that they would go 16-0 this season.  At worst, they would go 15-1 and that was only because Mike Tomlin would be resting his regulars in the16th game to get them rested up for the Playoffs.  I thought that such a comment might be good for a cheap laugh, but I think that the few people who commented actually took me seriously.  Yikes!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

DVR Alerts for the Coming Week

This week on Turner Classic Movies (TCM).  All times Eastern.

Monday at Midnight (or technically, Tuesday morning) an Elvis Triple feature:

  • 12:00 "Girl Happy".  Great title tune, and a scene with Elvis in drag!  Best line: "keep your motor running."  Trust me, in context, it's a classic! 
  • 2:00 AM "Blue Hawaii"
  • 4:00 AM "Clambake"
Baseball movies on Wednesday:
  • 10:00 AM "Pride of the Yankees".  Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig.  MGM sold this as a love story more than a baseball flick, but if you can watch this without tearing up, I don't think I want to know you.  Plus, Babe Ruth plays himself in this movie, and that alone makes this one worth watching.
  • 5:30 PM "Angels in the Outfield" (1951).  Cutie movie, but for older Pittsburghers and Pirates fans, you know that the real star of this flick is Forbes Field.
TCM is also showing "The Babe Ruth Story" (1951) starring William Bendix as Ruth.  I don't recommend this because it is unwatchable.  Really awful.  How Holly wood has never been able to make a good movie about one of America's most fascinating men is a real mystery.

Highmark's Ad, Pirates Thoughts, and a Super Bowl Halftime Suggestion

Cleaning out the Mental In-Box on a Sunday morning....
  • I was both heartened and saddened to see the full page Highmark ad in the Post-Gazette this morning (presumably, it was also in the Trib) that carried a statement by new CEO Bob Baum.  Heartened to see that Highmark, in light if recent events, is re-emphasizing its mission in the community and will be highlighting many of it's employees in future ads for the work that they do and for their integrity.  Saddened that such and ad, also in light of recent events, was necessary.  A sarcastic "thanks a lot" go out to the former CEO for, as Yogi Berra once said, making this necessary.
  • Someone in the Pirates PR Department got the good idea this week to put an article on the team's website that raved about the home run that Pedro Alvarez hit in batting practice -yes, BATTING PRACTICE - at Dodger Stadium this week. I hope that this genius didn't actually lose his or her job over this, but I also hope that either Frank Coonelly or Neal Huntington called this same genius on the carpet and reamed him or her a new one.
  • I don't want to dwell a whole lot on this miserable road trip that the Pirates are experiencing right now, after all, what more can you say?  BUT, when they showed the starting lineup and their batting averages on the TV screen before the game, there were three players who were hitting BELOW .100, and at least two more that were between .100 and .200.  I can't ever remember seeing anything like that on a major league team.
  • I keep telling myself that Bob Prince always said that it wasn't worth even talking about averages until everyone had accumulated at least 100 at bats.  Yes, that is what I keep telling myself.
  • Saw an ad in the paper the other day for a September concert at Stage AE (aka, The House That Art Rooney II Built with State Funds) that would feature 1970's/1980's semi-stars Hall & Oates.  All I could think of was that THIS could be the answer for the Super Bowl Halftime show next year.
  • At some point, probably some day this week, I will be giving in to my inner nine year old and going to see the new Three Stooges movie, which is, by the way, getting some surprisingly good reviews.
  • Speaking of movies, we saw "The Iron Lady" yesterday on DVD.  No doubt Meryl Streep deserved her Oscar, but this was only  a so-so movie.
  • The Pirates are lucky in that this god-awful road trip out west is being partially obscured by the fact that the games are being played late at night and by the Penguins melt-down against the Flyers.
  • As I have long stated, I can't feel too authoritative in being critical of the Pens since I don't follow them or the NHL all that closely. Still, you don't have to be all that knowledgeable to know that blowing leads, as the Penguins have done in both games, is about as bad as it can get.  
  • Also, in watching both games this week, it was apparent to this untrained eye who the better team was on the ice both nights, at least in these two given games, and it wasn't the Penguins.
  • On Monday of this week, that's tomorrow, I will be spending all day, and I do mean all day, as in 8:00 AM until 9:00 PM, attending Continuing Education classes in order to maintain my Pennsylvania Insurance Agent's License "just in case" I need it between now and Social Security eligibility.  This is going to be one loooonnnngggggg day.  As the good School Sisters of Notre Dame would have told me, I will offer it up for the "souls in Purgatory."
  • When the Pirates began this west coast swing, I would have killed for a 4-5 record on the trip.  They can still achieve that.  All they have to do is go 4-0 the rest of the way.  Whaddaya think?
  • Because it follows the Masters every year, the Heritage Classic doesn't always have the strongest fields, but I always love watching it to see the Harbortown Golf Links in Hilton Head Island, one of my favorite places! 
  • In case you Pirates fans are 35 AB's at Indianapolis, Starling Marte is hitting .286 with 1 HR, 4 RBI, 4 SB and a .799 OPS.
  • First baseman Jeff Clement, who flopped so spectacularly with the Bucs a few years  back, in 30 AB's is hitting .400 with no HR, 2 RBI, 6 doubles, and a 1.086 OPS.  Wonder when the clamor will begin to bring him up?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Last Night at Consol....

Again, I am no hockey guy, but wasn't what happened to the Penguins last night one gigantic choke job?  I mean, losing a playoff game in OT after you had a 3-0 lead is a HUGE choke, right?  It would be like the Pirates having a one run lead in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the LCS and losing, right?  Or like the Steelers having a playoff game against a team with the worst QB in the NFL and getting undressed by that same QB and losing, right?

Hmmm....never mind. 

Ben Hogan

I had talked a few days back about Jim Dodson's new book "American Triumvirate" about the golf careers of Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, and Ben Hogan.  While reading this book, I had found that the most interesting of the these three giants of American golf was Ben Hogan.  If you are not a golfer, you don't know about Hogan and could probably care less, which is too bad because his was a most interesting life.  If you are a golfer, you have probably heard of Hogan, and even then, if you are under 60 years old, you may not know a lot about him, and you have never watched golf when Hogan was a relevant player on the PGA Tour.  His last victory on the PGA Tour was in 1959, and his last relevant appearance contending for a Championship was in the 1960 US Open (more on that event later).

Here are the cold statistics about Hogan: 64 career PGA Tour wins, 9 major championships, that include 4 US Opens, 2 Masters, 2 PGA Championships, and 1 British Open (in the only year he entered), and two years where he won at least ten times.

Hogan was born in 1912 in Texas and lived a hard scrabble life growing up.  When he was 9 years old, he witnessed his father commit suicide, an event that understandably scarred him and affected him the rest of his life.  He learned to play golf while working as a caddy at the Glen Garden Country Club in Fort Worth (where Byron Nelson, also born in 1912, worked in the same caddy yard).  In 1930, Hogan declared himself a professional and thus commenced a period of eight years without winning, almost running out of money several times and being forced to give it all up.  In 1938, he won his first tournament, didn't win again until 1940, a year in which he won four times, after which he was off and running.  Now, I left out a lot of details here, but, trust me, the details that describe this period are fascinating.  

From 1940 through 1942, he won 15 times on tour, before service in WW II called him away from the professional tour.  He picked up where he left off in 1945 with five wins, followed by 13 wins, including the PGA Championship, in 1946. Seven more wins in 1947, and ten wins in 1948, including the PGA and his first US Open.

But then the story really gets interesting. While driving home to Texas from a tournament in Arizona in February 1949, Hogan's car (no private jets on the Tour in those days) collided with a Greyhound bus and he was nearly killed.  For sure, it was thought, he would never play golf at a high level, if at all, again.  But come back he did, winning twice in 1949, and in 1950, fourteen months after the accident, he won the US Open at Merion in Philadelphia (during which the famous picture at the top of this post was taken).  

At this point in his career, Hogan could not, due to the injuries suffered in the accident, play a full season on the Tour, so he was restricted in the number of events he entered.  After that '51 Open win, he would win 11 more times including two more Opens, two Masters, and the British Open.  In 1953 he had, arguably the greatest season a pro golfer has ever had. He entered six tournaments, and won five of them, including the Masters, US Open, and British Open.

His last big appearance on the pro golf stage was in the 1960 US Open at Cherry Hills in Denver.  Arnold Palmer won that Open, but Hogan led the tournament after 70 holes when a shot to the green spun back off the green and into a water hazard.  It was the last time that Hogan would be a factor in a major championship.  Paired with Hogan in that final round was the reigning US Amateur champ, Jack Nicklaus, who also held the lead at one point during that final round.  It has been said that the 1960 Open was a pivotal one in golf history, because it showcased golf's past (Hogan), present (Palmer), and future (Nicklaus) on golf's biggest stage.  For his own part, Hogan never forgot his too-perfect shot at 17 that spun off the green and ended his chance to win a record fifth Open, but he had this to say about his partner that day, "I played 36 holes today with a kid who should have won this thing by ten strokes."  

Hogan would go on to found the Ben Hogan Golf Company, and even when he stopped competing, he never stopped practicing.  Almost to the very end, Hogan would spend a couple of hours on the practice range at Shady Oaks CC in Fort Worth, still trying to find golf perfection by "digging in the dirt." He died on 1997 at the age of 84.

Some great quotes by and about Hogan from Jim Dodson's "American Triumvirate".

  • "For Ben Hogan, golf wasn't merely a source of livelihood and fame; it was his sole source of survival. Fun never entered the equation".
  • " are different. They're a different breed of cat.....they have a an inner drive and are willing to give of themselves whatever it takes to win.  It's a discipline that a lot of people are not willing to impose on themselves".  (This was Nelson speaking about the mentality among Snead, Hogan and himself.)
  • Herbert Warren Wind on Hogan: "I often think, to this day, Ben Hogan's real secret was the difficulty of his long life.... He thought through every detail every second he was out there.  His mind never drifted. That was his real secret. Life made him, in time, fearless, and almost invincible, and down the road, though he never saw it coming, a golf immortal".
  • Sam Snead talking here:  "It takes a lot out of a fella to reach the top of the heap the way Ben and Byron and I did.  Nobody gets to stay there long. But as Ben and I both proved, it's a helluva lot harder to climb back up there once you've tumbled off because you know what it takes out of you to get back".  (Words to ponder as we watch the ongoing drama of Tiger Woods?)
  • Hogan on his equipment company:  "When a curious reporter asked how his company tested clubs, he answered, 'We have a testing machine here - me.'"
I know I've rambled on a long time here, but as I said, I find Ben Hogan to be a fascinating guy.  Both Curt Sampson and Jim Dodson have written excellent biographies of him, and, of course, there is Dodson's new book, "American Triumvirate".  For more on that 1960 US Open, I would also recommend Sampson's 1992 book, "The Eternal Summer".  All of them are good reads.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Jumping On The Bandwagon

Those of you who know me well know that I am not a "hockey guy".  Oh, I know what icing the puck is, and I understand the off sides rule, but to follow the game day in and day out, well, that's just not me.  Which doesn't mean that I don't enjoy a game when I choose to watch one, and it certainly doesn't mean that I can't jump on the Penguins Bandwagon now that the Stanley Cup Playoffs are upon us, and especially with the Hated Flyers being the opponent in the first round.  Criticize me for this if you will, but I do recognize that I now will have no right to criticize the Johnny-come-latlies who will flock to PNC Park when (not IF) the Pirates begin to contend for post-season play.


All that said, and, again, I freely admit to not being immersed in the hockey culture, the performance and behaviour last Sunday of the Pens and Fliers, coaches, players, and especially the neanderthal comments of NBC's Mike Milbury is a reason why hockey, as practiced by the National Hockey League, is and will remain a distant fourth among the four major sports in North America.  And, you don't have to remind me that the Penguins have surpassed the Pirates and are the #2 franchise here in Pittsburgh.  I get that. I am speaking of hockey on the national stage, not just in selected markets such as Pittsburgh or Detroit.

Again, LET'S GO PENS!!!!

Sunday, April 8, 2012


Congratulations to Bubba Watson on winning his first major championship today at the Masters.   I hope you all had a chance to see that remarkable, absolutely amazing shot from out of the woods onto the green on the second sudden death hole.  Absolutely no words to describe that one.  After pulling that rabbit out of his hat, he deserved to win.  Of course, you could say the same thing about runner-up Louis Oosthuizen after that double eagle on the second hole that put him in the lead right up to the 74th hole.

Anyway you look at it, an amazing Masters.  Very few of them are unmemorable.

As for my predictions, a decidedly mixed bag.  I was right in that an American won the event.  My entry of Woods-Mickelson-Bradley-Simpson-Mahan did not come through, and I will be settling family business with Big Poppy and "John Bocabella" very soon.  Hey, next time I offer you "the field", you should probably take the bet.

This morning I did predict a Mickelson victory, so I was wrong there, but I didn't I tell you to watch out for Bubba Watson?  So, I will take some credit for that prognostication.  If you don't believe me, just scroll down and check out the previous entry on this blog.

I will tell you one thing, watching the emotions being experienced by Watson both on the final green and in the Butler Cabin was really a joy.  Glad that he won!

Before Round 4 Begins....

Some brief comment on the Masters before the final round begins today.

My prediction that an American would win the Masters is not quite rock solid what with guys like Peter Hanson and Louis Oosthuizen crowding the top of the leaderboard.  However, Phil Mickelson sits one shot out of the lead, and I like him to close the deal and bring home his fourth Green Jacket this afternoon.

However, if you want to hedge your bet, one guy to watch would be Bubba Watson. He is three shots back, he has been close in majors before, and maybe this is his time.  And wouldn't that bastion of the Old South, Augusta National, just love awarding its coveted Green Jacket to a guy named Bubba?

Anyway, that's my call - Mickelson to win and a dark horse vote for Watson.

Enjoy an early Easter dinner and then settle in to watch the last round of the Masters.  Don't worry if you miss some of the early action because, as we all know, The Masters never really begins until the Second Nine on Sunday!

Happy Easter to All Loyal Readers

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Who's Going to Win The Masters? A Prediction Like No Other

In my humble estimation, one of the hardest feats in all of professional sports is being one guy beating out a field of 100 or so peers over four days and winning a professional golf tournament.  Any tournament.  Equally difficult, is predicting who that one guy will be in any given tournament.  So I am going to go a slightly different route in making the call for the the 2012 Masters (A Tradition Like No Other).
  • A European will not win The Masters, and that includes Rory McIlroy.
  • An American will win The Masters.
  • The winner will come from the following group: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, or Hunter Mahan.
If a prediction like that seems like a cop-out, so be it, and let me propose the following wager:  I will bet $5 on this five man entry, and give you the rest of the field to win the coveted Green Jacket. 

I will make this bet with only the first four people who respond by 11:00 PM Thursday (yes, you get to see how the first round plays out). Again, I will make this bet with only four people. I'm not a complete idiot, after all.

What I would really like to see is a battle between Woods, Mickelson, and McIlroy duking it out going into the Second Nine (not the "back nine"; not at Augusta) on Sunday.  Now THAT would be drama.

Enjoy The Masters, A Tradition Like No Other.  Remember, no running and no unseemly shouting, yelling, or other unsportsmanlike behaviour on the grounds of The Augusta National Golf Club.

Whither the Pirates in 2012?

So I know that you are all waiting with bated breath to hear what The Grandstander thinks will happen to the Pirates in 2012.  Oh, you haven't been? Well, I'm gonna tell you anyway.

Let's go position by position.

Catcher  The team is pinning it's hopes on 36 year old free agent signee Rod Barajas.  Barajas has shown that he can hit for power, and not for average, over the course of his career, which would be OK but for the fact that his OBP and slugging percentage have never been all that great.  Reports are that he is very good in handling a pitching staff.  Overall, he should  be an improvement over 2011 when seven different players donned the tools of ignorance for the Bucs. The one thing that I fear above everything in this regard is the fact that he is 36 years old, which is very old for such a demanding position.  His back up is Mike McKenry, one of the Not-So-Magnificent Seven from last season.

First Base  The Bucs are going with a platoon of Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee.  This combo could work out well for the team.  Nothing on the level of Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols, or even Freddie Freeman, but it could, possibly, work well for this team.

Second Base  Neil Walker, the Pittsburgh Kid (with apologies to Billy Conn).  Lots and lots to like about Walker, but his decline in power over the last half of last season has been well documented. Also, he wasn't exactly hitting lights out in the Grapefruit League this Spring.  Many have asked why the team hasn't stepped forward to extend Walker's contract as that did for Andrew McCutchen, but I think that the Pirates are, justifiably, waiting to see how Neil performs this year.  Walker also will start the season batting clean-up, a role that he should not be in, but that speaks volumes about some of the other problems facing the team, more than it does about Walker.

Short Stop  Clint Barmes takes over from Ronny Cedeno so there is really nowhere to go but  up for the Bucs at short.

Third Base  Pedro Alvarez.  Probably the most talked about player in camp this spring and for all the wrong reasons.  Do I have to go into them yet again?  No doubt he will continue to be the most watched and talked about player as the season begins.  I do think the Pirates made the right choice in having him in Pittsburgh and playing everyday.  No doubt this is the fish-or-cut-bait season for Pedro. If he gets untracked and begins to hit like he showed he could do in his 2010 rookie campaign, great.  If he doesn't, then it is going to be excruciating to watch as he marches toward becoming  a $6 million bust.  It's a lot of pressure to put on a 25 year old kid, but that's the way it is.  All Pirates fans are keeping their fingers crossed.

Outfield  The strong point of the team.  Andrew McCutchen could be poised to really bust out and become a breakout star in the National League.  Jose Tabata needs to stay healthy, and Alex Presley needs to show that he is not a Chris Duffy-like one hit wonder.  These three at the top of the order will get on base and will provide plenty of speed on both the base paths and in the outfield.  The question is will the batters that follow them get them home?  Nate McLouth returns to the Bucs and should fill the role of fourth outfielder very well.  And if a long term injury occurs, we all know that Starling Marte is getting his experience in Indianapolis.

Pitching  It always comes down to this, doesn't it?  Lots of questions.  Can A.J. Burnett return from his eye injury quickly and return to his pre-Yankee form?  Can Eric Bedard stay of off the DL?  Can Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton, and James McDonald continue to improve as they did in 2011, or will they flatten out?  Can Kevin Correia avoid disappearing as he did after the All-Star break last year?  In the bullpen, can Joel Hanrahan dominate as he did last year, and if he does, will the team be playing well enough at mid-season so that the front office doesn't elect to move him to dump salary come July 31?

Bench  The flavor of the month is currently first baseman Matt Hague, who due to his Roy Hobbs impersonation in spring training has certainly earned the right to travel north with the big club, and I am hoping he does well.  I am not, however, pinning high hopes on Hague being the guy to lead the team to the promised land. When guys who are still in the minors at age 26, and do not even get a September call up despite gaudy Triple-A numbers, well, there are usually reasons for that.  Don't get me wrong, I'm pulling for the guy, and hope he becomes a valuable pinch hitter and fiil-in-on-day-games-after-night-games for the regulars.  However, if the guys like Alvarez, Jones, and McGehee under perform to the point where Hague needs to be an every day player, then we shall be raising red flags more than jolly rogers at PNC Park this season.

So, where does this leave us?  Despite the gloom and doom above, I would like to think that this team will be better than last year's squad for the following reasons: 1) the starting pitching will improve and not implode as it did last year in August and September, 2) McCutchen will break out big time in leading a strong outfield unit, 3) Alvarez will somehow, some way find his hitting stroke and give the offense a needed lift over last year's punchless line-up, and 4) Clint Hurdle is definitely the right guy in the dugout to lead this team out of the desert of 19-and-counting losing seasons.

Will they better last year's 72 win team?  Sure, why not.  Will the 19 year losing streak end?  I really, really hope I'm wrong, but I'm afraid not.  A slight improvement, and 77 wins in 2012.

Even so, my affection for the Pirates continues.  I am looking forward to attending the Opener tomorrow, and following the Beloved Buccos for other 161 games that will follow.  See you at the ball park!

Beat 'em Bucs!

The Baylor Women Hoopsters

So, I watched the Women's NCAA Final game last night.  Congratulations to the Baylor Lady Bears on their championship and their 40-0 season.  It was a most impressive victory over the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.

A couple of observations....
  • Brittney Griner certainly represents the evolution of women basketball players.  What a force she is.  She dominated that game last night more than Anthony Davis dominated the men's final game the night before.  How long until more and more players like her populate the women's game?
  • On the other hand, here's how the women's college game, as a whole, has not evolved.  The Elite Eight of this tournament featured the four number one seeds against the four number two seeds, and all four number one seeds won.
  • The court itself, with the depiction of the Rocky Mountains on it, may have been artistic, but I found it rather distracting while watching.
  • ND Coach Muffet McGraw paced the sidelines in front of the bench wearing three inch spike high heels.  That really had to be uncomfortable.
  • I also applaud Coach McGraw for recognizing the inevitable at about twelve minutes into the second half, and allowing the game to play out without ordering her players to foul and having the game extend itself with endless trips to the foul line.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Kentucky Scores for Yours Truly

It was an exciting night at the Village Drive watching Kentucky defeat Kansas for the 2012 NCAA Basketball Championship.  Yes, Moon Township's own John Calipari finally got his national championship.  Yes, it was exciting to see Anthony Davis play.  That kid is really, really good.  An honest-to-God GREAT college basketball player.  And, yes, it's nice that this is finally all over and we won't have to hear Clark Kellogg call a basketball "the pumpkin" anymore.  But the real news coming out of last night is this....

I won the NCAA March Madness bracket pool that I was in!!!!!!

Yes, after entering these things for I don't know how many years, and never even coming close, to actually win one of these things is a real thrill.  An unbelievable thrill.  The pride in finishing first among 57 entrants is almost worth more than the prize money, although I DO plan on accepting the winner's share.  I am figuring that this money should finance my greens fees deep into the summer this golf season.

Many thanks to good buddy John Frissora who has run this March Madness pool for over 20 years.  It is an honor to win an FGE event.

Also, thanks go out to John's Moon Township boyhood pal, who helped to make this possible...

DVR Alert: "The Winning Team"

Wednesday night at 11:45 (Eastern) on Turner Classic Movies - "The Winning Team" (1952) starring Doris Day and Ronald Reagan.   It is the story of Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, and, typical of sports movies of that era, it's not what you would call very hard hitting or even true to Alexander's actual life.  Hey, the fact that Doris Day gets top billing over the guy who plays Alexander should tell you all you need to know about the verisimilitude of the movie, but I recommend it for two reasons.

One, it's always kind of a hoot to see Reagan playing in a cheesy movie knowing what the future held for him, and...

Two, for you baseball history buffs out there, it does give a pretty fair dramatization of Game 7 of the 1926 World Series when the aging, hungover Alex, came in in relief with the bases loaded and Tony Lazzeri at bat, and, well, if you're a baseball history buff, you know what happened, and if you are not, watch the movie and find out.  (Although I think the movie kind of whitewashes the "hungover" part.)

Also, you get to see some honest-to-God ballplayers in bit parts as well.  Guys such as Gene Mauch, Peanuts Lowry,  Bob Lemon, and Catfish Metkovitch.

It ain't high art, but it's fun nonetheless.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Fish Fries

With the conclusion of the Lenten season fast upon us, I have realized that I have been remiss in reporting on the practice that Marilyn and I have of visiting various Fish Fries during the season.

We did continue this practice this year and enjoyed it immensely, and it appears that we are not the only ones since everyone that we attend is always packed.  Here was the line-up this year.

Serbian Club, South Side.  While not a Catholic Church, we attend this Fish Fry due to the fact that one of our neighbors help put this one together, and the proceeds do benefit both the Club and their Serbian Orthodox Church.  It's a good one.  Good fresh fish, shrimp dinners are also available, and Marilyn says this club has the best cole slaw anywhere.  There is also a bar in the Club, so you can get a beer to go with your sammitch if you are so inclined.

St. Alphonse's Church and School, Wexford.  This was our third year in a row for this one for, among other reasons, it supports the school where nephew and niece Brian and Samantha attend.  One bonus feature at St. Al's is the availability of clam chowder.  The school kids help in the serving of the food and the busing of the tables.

St. Alexis Church and School, Wexford.  Another repeat visit.  We like this one because the food is first rate and you are waited upon by the kids from the Youth Group of the parish.  Also, you can buy 50/50 raffle tickets at this one.  Alas, this year we did not repeat the win in this one from 2010.

St. Sebastian Church and School, Ross.  This was our first visit to this one.  Very well organized.  Very good food.  The kids form the school bus your tables when you're finished.

It is interesting to see how each Church operates their Fish Fry.  They are all well organized, and no two operate in exactly the same way, but each and every one of them works. Like clockwork.

Unfortunately, there were a couple of Fridays where other commitments kept us from visiting other churches this season.  Well, as they say down at PNC Park, wait 'til next year.

To Absent Friends - Jerry Lynch

The news yesterday delivered word of the death of Jerry Lynch at the age of 81.

Jerry Lynch had a solid, if unspectacular, career in major league baseball spent with the Pirates and the Reds.  He had a lifetime BA of .277, OPS of .792 with 115 home runs and 470 RBI's.  He actually had a split career as a Pirate from 1954-56 and again from 1963-66 with his years in Cincinnati sandwiched in between.  He was also an extraordinary pinch hitter.  At the time of his retirement, his 18 pinch hit home runs was a ML record.  Even today, almost 50 years later, he ranks third all-time in that category, and he is 10th on the all-time list with 116 pinch hits.  I remember that when Lynch was in his second stint with the Bucs and closing in on the pinch hit HR record, Bob Prince would always say that Lynch didn't necessarily want to set this record because he thought people would then come to think of him as strictly a bench player, and he wanted to be an everyday player.

Lynch is also known for his partnership with teammate Dick Groat in building, owning, and operating the very excellent Champion Lakes Golf Course in Ligoner, PA.  If you ever played Champion Lakes, you know that as public golf courses go, they didn't come much better.

RIP Jerry Lynch.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Kentucky, Kansas, and Other Thoughts

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

  • Two terrific basketball games in the NCAA semis last night, made more so by the fact that a Kentucky win over Kansas tomorrow night would allow me to win the bracket pool in which I am entered.  Even a Kansas win would cause the Pool to be settled by the tie-breaker, so I am guaranteed second place, at least.  I have never done this well in one of these pools, so it is quite exciting.
  • Not that the Jayhawks didn't give me some anxious moments.  Seems like they were doing everything they could to not win that game last night.
  • To all who have been proclaiming Kentucky's Anthony Davis as the Player of the Year, all I can say is "wow, are you right!"  Watching him makes me think of watching Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton at UCLA back in the day.
  • The fact that the Pool in which I am entered is run by one of the most prestigious gaming organizations in all of Pennsylvania (and beyond) makes this all the more exciting!
  • Of course, said Pool is operated for amusement purposes only.
  • I followed my own DVR Alert message and watched "The Seven Year Itch" on Saturday night.  It had probably been well over 25 years since I had seen it.  All I can say is that it is at best an ordinary - very ordinary - comedy EXCEPT when Marilyn Monroe was on the screen.  Forget how she looked (as if you can forget how she looked!), but her performance was really great in that movie.  She elevated the material.  She really was extraordinary.
  • A friend has advised me that one sports book in Las Vegas has set the over/under for Pirates wins at 72.5 and Pedro Alvarez' home runs at 17.5.  I will take the Over, barely, on Pirate wins and, sadly, the Under on Pedro dingers.
  • How do you like Frank McCort?  Eight years ago, he buys one of the Crown Jewels of all of American sports, the L.A. Dodgers, for $400 million, proceeds to run them into the ground, then sells them this week for $2 billion.   Yes, that is billion with a "B".  Only in America.
  • The PG today is filled with stories about the 1992 National League Championship Series.  I presume because 2012 is the 20th Anniversary season of that ignominious, from a Pirates point of view, Series.  I can't say for sure, because I can never bring myself to read, watch or listen to anything about that Game Seven.  Seeing it as it happened in my living room that October night in 1992 was more than enough. WAY more than enough.
  • It's an interesting Leaderboard going into the final round of the Shell Houston Open this afternoon with Americans Hunter Mahan, Phil Mickelson, and Keegan Bradley within reach of the top spot in the final tune-up before next week's Masters (A Tradition Like No Other).  If not "must see TV", at least interesting TV viewing.
  • Speaking of The Masters (A Tradition Like No Other), at least one Loyal Reader out there will be glad to know that I plan on pasting the beautiful Augusta National logo front and center at least once in the coming week on both this blog and on Facebook.
  • For obvious reasons, I do not want to dwell upon that most embarrassing news story that came to light in Pittsburgh this past week, but I would recommend that you read Brian O'Neill's column in today's Post-Gazette.  As he usually does, O'Neill nails it! 
  • For all the sturm und drang  over the lousy Spring Training that Pedro Alvarez has been having, have you noticed that Neil Walker hasn't been setting the world on fire in Florida either?  Keep repeating after me "spring training stats are meaningless, spring training stats are meaningless....."
  • Looking for a great little local spot for breakfast or lunch?  Try Ye Allegheny Sandwich Shoppe on the North Side.
  • Coming within the next few days Pirates Opening Day commentary, a Masters (A Tradition Like No Other) prediction, some thoughts on Ben Hogan, and a DVR Alert with a baseball theme.