Thursday, June 28, 2012

Yet Another Entry on The Beatles

As regular readers know, I am a big fan of the world's greatest rock & roll band, The Beatles, so allow me to recommend yet another publication on the Fab Four.  It is a tabloid published by USA Today on The Beatles in celebration of "The 50th Anniversary of Rock's Greatest Band".  Now available at your local newsstand for $4.95.  It is done in typical USA Today fashion - short stories, lots of pictures, and lots of charts and lists.

The paper lists "The 20 Best" Beatles songs.  I'll list them with no comment, and let the debate begin:

  1. Ticket to Ride
  2. I Want to Hold Your Hand
  3. A Day in the Life
  4. Elanor Rigby
  5. Norwegian Wood
  6. Penny Lane
  7. Hey, Jude
  8. Strawberry Fields Forever
  9. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  10. The Fool on the Hill
  11. Abbey Road medley
  12. Girl
  13. I Saw Her Standing There
  14. Please Please Me
  15. Let It Be
  16. Here, There and Everywhere
  17. Drive My Car
  18. A Hard Day's Night
  19. Come Together
  20. Here Comes the Sun
OK, a few comments:
  • Hard to argue the greatness of any of these songs, but another list of 20 completely different songs would still be pretty good, I'll bet.
  • The only one that I would say doesn't belong here is Drive My Car.
  • Never saw Ticket to Ride rated so high on lists like this
  • Why does "Hello, Good-bye" never appear on any of these lists?  I have it in my own personal top ten.
  • Think I'll put together a playlist of these 20 songs.  Would make a damn fine CD for me to listen to as I drive my car.

The magazine also debates which is The Beatles greatest album.  In 2003 Rolling Stone rated the 500 Greatest Albums.  In that poll, Sgt. Pepper ranked #1 with Revolver at #3, Rubber Soul at #5, and the White Album at #10.  In a 2011 Rolling Stone readers' poll, Revolver had moved to #1, edging out Abbey Road by two votes, with The White Album third, and Sgt. Pepper fourth.  Other sources had always ranked Sgt. Pepper at the top, but more recent polls (since 2010) have Revolver moving into the top spot.  Nine different music critics and historians debate this issue.  Very interesting stuff.

Anyway, always a fun topic and, as I have said before, anything that prompts you to start playing this music again is worthwhile.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Obituary Blog is Back!

Note to Loyal Reader Dave Jones.  Just counted and have noted that five prominent deaths have been noted by The Grandstander in the month of June alone - and the month ain't over yet!


Ghosts from the Past

It has been a few days where some ghosts from the Pirates recent past have revisited the scene.

First, the Pirates recalled pitcher Bryan Morris from Indy to fill a bullpen spot just in case he was needed on Sunday.  He wasn't, and he was then promptly sent back to Indy. More to the point, Morris is the last remaining piece from Neal Huntington's first big trade - the three way deal that sent Jason Bay to Boston, Manny Ramirez to LA, and an assorted collection of trinkets and trash to the Pirates.  Yes, I know it was a trade that looked good at the time, and yes, I know that NH stole James McDonald from the Dodgers, and yes, I know that Bay's career has pretty much stalled due to injuries these past few years, and yes, I know Neal has made some stunning draft picks, even though Pedro Alvarez is the only one of those picks to make any meaningful contribution to the team so far.  However, facts are facts, and when Neal moved the biggest chip that he had in that first season he was here, it ended up as a miserable failure.

Secondly, the Pirates DFA'd Daniel Moskos yesterday, and his days in the Pirates organization are no doubt over.  No, this was not one of Neal's guys, but rather the Legacy (or Epitaph?)  of Dave Littlefield and the Penny-Pinching McClatchey regime.  I don't really have to go over the history of this painful episode, do I?

Finally, the Moskos move came about as a result of needing to clear space on the 40 man roster for catcher Eric Fryer, who is needed as an emergency backstop as Rod Barajas nurses a sore knee.  Why Fryer?  Well, Tony Sanchez, the catcher of the future, and one of Neal's #1 draft picks, is currently hitting .196 at Indianapolis.  If, four years into his professional career, Sanchez is deemed inferior to Eric Fryer as an emergency catcher, well, that tells you something, and it ain't good.

To Absent Friends: Nora Ephron

I was saddened to hear of the death yesterday of Nora Ephron at the age of 71.  She was a most talented essayist, writer, screenwriter, and director, with credits that include "When Harry Met Sally", "Sleepless in Seattle", :Heartburn", "You've Got Mail", and "Julie and Julia".  She was a true talent and will be missed.

RIP Nora Ephron.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Book Reviews: John Sandford, Robert Crais, and Robert J. Randisi

I had mentioned a few days back that I did a lot of reading on my vacation last week, and I know that you have all been anxiously awaiting what I have to say about what I read.  Here goes...

Let's start with John Sandford's newest Lucas Davenport novel, "Stolen Prey".  Regular readers know what a big fan I am of this series, and this latest entry doesn't disappoint.  It seems that soldiers from the Mexican Drug cartels have found their way to the Twin Cities, and are involved with the theft of vast sums of money via money laundering and leaving a path of horrible, violent death and destruction in their path.  It is up to Lucas and his BCA to work with both federal and Mexican law enforcement agencies to bring these people to justice, and, in the process, recover some $22 million in stolen, laundered money.

There is also a smaller, secondary crime under investigation and Lucas enlists his man Virgil Flowers to resolve it.  While this is a personal matter to Lucas, he is too busy with Mexican drug case, so from time to time, we hear, via Lucas' and Virgil's phone conversations, how this case is being investigated and eventually resolved.

If I have one beef with this book, it is that Sandford spends an inordinate amount of time discussing the mechanics of money laundering.  I know what money laundering is, but, even though I consider myself a reasonably intelligent fellow, I get lost when someone tries to explain how  money laundering gets done.  Just tell me "these people are laundering money" and spare me the pages and pages of how-to details.

The next book was Robert Crais' "The First Rule". Crais writes about a Los Angeles private eye named Elvis Cole and Cole's sidekick, Joe Pike.  Some of the books have Cole as the  featured character, while others have Pike.  As you can see from the cover, this was a "Joe Pike Novel" with Cole being the secondary character.  While it was an eminently readable story - i finished it in two days - I can't say that I'm crazy about the characters.  Cole seems reasonable enough, but Pike is so unbelievably smart, tough, indestructible, and unbeatable, that he is also unbelievable.  He is Steve McGarrett on steroids, and, in fact, he makes McGarrett look like a world class wuss.  So, if I try Crais again, it may be one of his novels wherein Cole, and not Pike, is the star of the show.

However, the most interesting book that I read last week may have been this one:


This is an old book, published in 1999 that I found in the second hand book store when I was looking for beach reading before we left for the Outer Banks.  The story itself was nothing special - a serial killer is on the loose in New York City and one determined NYPD detective is determined to track him down and bring him to justice.  It was entertaining and quick reading, another that I read in just two days, and it did have a surprise twist at the very end that was a bit of a "wow", but the real intriguing part of this book is the author himself.  Something made me Google Robert J. Randisi when I finished the book, and what I found was a revelation.

Randisi is 61 years old, has been writing since he was in high school and was first published when he was 23.  Since that time he has written, and written, and written some more.  He has had over 500 novels published in his life, and short stories too numerous to even count.  There have been years when he has had as many as 27 novels published.  He founded a professional organization called the Private Eye Writers of America, but he also has written over 300 westerns.  He has written a series of a half-dozen or so books called "Rat Pack Mysteries" where, yes, Frank, Dean, and Sammy, solve crimes.  There was even a period back in the '70's where he wrote a series of short stories for an adult publication called "Beaver Magazine".  Yes, he created a Porn Private Eye!  As he put it, they enabled him to make the mortgage payments for those months back then.

He has been called the "last of the great pulp writers", and he has been called a hack.  However you want to label him, I am in awe of someone with the ability to churn out, if not great literature, then at least entertaining fiction, at such an astounding rate.  Amazing!

Monday, June 25, 2012

To Absent Friends: Leroy Neiman, Victor Spinetti

While on vacation last week, we learned of the passing of two pop culture figures, artist Leroy Neiman and British actor Victor Spinetti.

Neiman is most known, I suppose, for his paintings of sports figures, an example of which is included at the top of this post.  However, a Google Images search under Neiman's names reveals lots of other cool works that he did over the years, including artwork for Playboy magazine back in the '60's and '70's, and one very cool portrait of Marilyn Monroe.  He was 91.

Spinetti died at the age of 83, and IMDB shows a long list of credits for him, as well as the fact that he won a Tony Award in 1965.  He may be best known, however, for his role as the frenetic TV director in The Beatles' 1964 classic, "A Hard Day's Night."  Spinetti also appeared in both "Help" and "Magical Mystery Tour" and, thus, he is the only actor, other than The Beatles themselves, to appear in all of their movies.  He was 82.

RIP Leroy Neiman and Victor Spinetti.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Post-Vacation Ramblings

The world doesn't stop just because I go on vacation, so let's clean out the Mental In-Box, Post-Vacation Edition....

  • The Sandusky Verdict.  I know that last fall I said that I was not going to write any further on the topic of Jerry Sandusky, but the recently concluded trial brought the stench of this guy and his crimes back in the spotlight.  No, I was not in the courtroom, and no, I did not hear every piece of evidence presented, and, yes, I strongly believe in the concept of "beyond a reasonable doubt".  That said, there is no doubt in my mind that the Centre County jury delivered a just verdict late Friday night, and I am quite comfortable in the knowledge that Jerry Sandusky will never see light outside of prison walls again.
  • Also, on trial, of course, is the culture of Big Time Sports at Penn State, a culture that allowed Jerry Sandusky to remain on campus, even after he was no longer employed there, and a culture that has turned Mike McQueery, the one guy who we seem to know did what he was supposed to do in the course of events, into a pariah in the local community, and who is probably pretty much unemployable in his chosen profession. 
  • Before you point it out to me, I am under no illusions that this same culture exist at just about every other University that competes in Big Time College Athletics. 
  • Those whose biggest priority is the preservation of the Legacy of Joe Paterno, should probably be thankful that the old coach has left this mortal coil.  The mess is only now beginning at PSU as civil suits and other allegations will begin to surface.  There is no way that Paterno (a decent man who in one of his last statements said that he "should have done more") would have survived the rot that will be revealed in the months ahead and kept his skirts clean.  Should 1,000 good acts be wiped away by a single bad act?  Not for me to judge, but, like it or not, Joe's "I-turned-it-over-to-my-boss" actions will be as much a part of his legacy as the Library, the undefeated seasons, and the 400+ wins.
  • And this probably really will be the last thing I write on this topic.
On to more pleasant things....
  • Is it too soon to start beating the MVP drums for Andrew McCutchen?
  • Very exciting US Open last week with Webb Simpson emerging as champion.  Loved that it was on the west coast which enabled us to see it all in prime time while at the beach.
  • Speaking of the Open, I enjoyed the telecast, but a word about NBC's sacred cow announcer Johnny Miller.  No one ever criticizes Miller because he "tells it like it is" and calls out golfers who "choke" down there on the course, but on Saturday, he said one of the most asinine things I've ever heard on any sports telecast.  After a Tiger Woods shot from the rough went astray, Miller said that he "could hear from the sound of the club striking the ball that Tiger hit that shot a groove off" on the club face.  Everybody loves to dump on Tim McCarver as a broadcaster, but on his worst days, Timmy never said something as ridiculous as that.
  • Speaking of sports, the All-England Tennis Championship begins at Wimbledon in London this week.  After a lot of studying and reviewing hours of video, I am going to go out on a limb and say that Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokavic will meet in the Men's Singles Final at the conclusion of the Fortnight.
  • Also, there will be no American Men left after the round of sixteen, if not sooner.
  • The Miami Heat win the NBA title, just as I predicted, although in a shorter period of time than I thought. Any doubt who the best basketball player alive is right now?
  • It was suggested by Colin Dunlap in The Fan a few weeks ago that the Pirates may have been at a crossroads in their season on the night that Justin Verlander punched them in the mouth with that near no-hitter in Detroit on May 18.  They could have folded it all in then, but instead they have now won seven of the nine series they have played since that one in Detroit, including the one that ends today with none other than Justin Verlander as their mound opponent.
  • They are now a season high six games over .500, one game out of first place, and sitting in the second wild card spot (albeit by percentage points).
  • I was going to wait until August 1 to start looking at the Wild Card standings, but what the hell!
I've probably left out some more things, but I don't think I've yet recovered from my middle of the night drive home form North Carolina.  There will be more to come in the days ahead, I'm sure.

Gee, but It's Great To Be Back Home....

So, have you all noticed the absence of The Grandstander in recent days? Oh, you haven't.  

Well, anyway, we were away last week on our annual sojourn to the beautiful beaches of Currituck County on North Carolina's Outer Banks.  It was yet another great week down there, but a bit different for all of us due to the fact that circumstances prevented Jill, Ryan, Gavin, and Cale from joining us this year.  That was a definite bummer for us all, but for the eight of us who were there, we made the most of it and had a great week.

High winds, cooler weather, and red flagged beaches got the week off to less than rousing start, but on Tuesday morning, the red flags came down and the hot weather rolled in.  We didn't miss a day on the beach, and it was great to cool off in the pool at the house after the hot trudge home from the beach in late afternoon.

It was great to spend a week with Zach and Nate, in spite of the realization that not only are they no longer babies, nor even little kids any more, but young adults.  The skim board that Zach struggled with last year he now rides like a pro.  And one of Marilyn's and my big memories from this trip will be the rousing games of  Sequence that we played with the boys one night.

I did a lot of reading down there this year:
  • Stolen Prey by John Sandford
  • The Sixth Phase by Robert J. Randisi
  • The First Rule by Robert Crais
  • After Friday Night Lights by Buzz Bissinger
  • Lifeboat No. 8, An Untold Tale of Love, Loss and Surviving the Titanic by Elizabeth Kaye
I will write about the first three more fully in separate posts, but I will point out that the last two on the lists are Kindle Singles.  If you own a Kindle and haven't checked out the Singles, you really need to do so.  They are short (anywhere from 40 to 100 printed pages), cheap ($.99 to $2.99), and feature some very well known writers.  Perfect for reading on the beach or poolside, or just before going to bed.

We also took our iPad with us and were fortunate in that the house did have a wireless set-up.  Thus, were were able to keep up with the news here at home which included the terrific week experienced by the Pirates after they were swept by the Orioles right before we left.  As you can see from the photo accompanying this post, we did our best to spread Pirates fever along the OBX.

As has been the pattern in recent years, we left the beach house at 2:15 AM on Saturday and pulled into our driveway at home at 11:45, a mere nine and one-half hours later.  Of course, we were totally exhausted last night, but that early morning effort is well worth it.  You avoid all the heavy home bound traffic until you hit the PA Turnpike in Breezewood, and, by the way, that stretch on the PA Pike is still the worst part of the trip, coming and going.

I once had a boss at Highmark who said with great wisdom, I thought, that "some vacations are better than others, but there is no such thing as a bad one".  I concur whole heartedly, but I also concur with the words of the great Paul Simon that headline this particular post.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

US Open is Underway

So, I am sure that many of you are clamoring for a Grandstander prediction for the US Open now underway at Olympic Country Club in San Francisco.  After his win two weeks ago at The Memorial, Tiger Woods is the betting favorite and the trendy pick, and I suppose he has as good a shot as anyone.

Fans of Phil Mickelson, and I am one, wonder if Lefty will ever be able to capture a US Open, after he has finished second five times in this Championship in his career.  At the age of 41, time might be running out for Lefty, but I see one thing that might spur him on this week.  If there is anything that gets Mickelson's juices flowing it's major championships and the chance to put a beat down on Tiger Woods, and the two of them, along with Masters winner Bubba Watson will be paired together in the opening two rounds this week.  That can work against you, too, since you can get caught up playing the golfer in your group rather than the course, but I think Mickelson is smarter than that.  So is Woods, for that matter.

In fact, I will ooffer one prediction: Woods will finish ahead of Mickelson this week.

I have  not been able to muster up any kind of feeling to register a learned prediction other than this: an American will win the US Open this week.  Sorry about that Rory, Luke, Lee, Ian, and all you other Internationals. 

 And if you want to go with karma for a pick, how about this?  Earlier in the week, as a promotional gig before a Giants game at AT&T Park, Dustin Johnson and Giants pitcher Matt Cain were hitting drivers from home plate over the right field seats and into McCovey Cove.  We now know that Cain responded by pitching a perfect game last night.  Will some of that same karma rub off on Johnson?  Johnson has contended in majors before and he's coming off a nice win in Memphis last week.  Hey, it's as good a reason to pick him as anyone else.

Enjoy the Open.  With it being played in California, we will be seeing it in Prime Time here in the east.  I like that.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

To Absent Friends: Teofilo Stevenson

I heard the news today that Cuban boxer Teofilo Stevenson died yesterday at the age of 60.

Boxing is pretty much a niche sport today, if not an outright joke, but it wasn't always that way, and if you can remember the Olympics of 1972, 1976, and 1980, you will remember that Teofilo Stevenson of Cuba won the gold medal in the heavyweight division in each of those three Olympiads.  He not only won those golds, but he won them in the most convincing and devastating manner imaginable.

The politics of Castro's Cuba kept Stevenson an "amateur" and well within the Iron Curtain walls of Cuba, so Stevenson never got the chance to fight against the leading heavyweight professionals of the day, Ali, Frazier, and Foreman. 

On PTI tonight, Mike Wilbon mentioned meeting Stevenson on a trip to Cuba in the 1990's.  He remained one of the biggest sports heroes in his country up until the day of his death.

RIP Teofilo Stevenson.

The "Mad Men" Season Finale

Please be warned that if you have not yet seen all episodes of the recently concluded Season Five on "Mad Men", the article below may contain some spoilers.  Read, then, at your own risk!


We didn't realize it as we watched it, but this past Sunday night's episode was the season finale of "Mad Men".  That 12 weeks sure went fast.

Anyway, while this finale lacked the thrills, chills, mayhem, and craziness of "Hawaii Five-0", I'm not quite sure what to make of it.  It was a rather dark and brooding episode. In fact, the entire season was somewhat dark and brooding, but one thing is certain, the ending of Season Five makes you look forward to Season Six to see just what in the hell is going to happen next.  And it wasn't totally ridiculous as some other series finales (again, see "Hawaii Five-0").

Here some questions, comments, and thoughts on Season Five.....

  • Don seemed to find a degree of happiness and contentment with Megan that he never had with Betty, but, in giving Megan something she wanted, will it jeopardize that new found contentment?
  • Looks like the partners will be getting new office space next year.
  • Loved the scene of Lane's widow telling Don and the rest of Sterling Cooper to pretty much stick it where the sun don't shine.
  • Pete Campbell is still the ultimate sleazy character, and it looks like he now realizes that his behaviour has cost him any shot at a happy life.  Will he change with that realization?
  • Roger Sterling still gets the best lines of any character on the show.
  • Joan Harris may always have been the smartest person in the entire Agency, so I'm glad she made partner, but I STILL can't believe what she did to get there.
  • Similarly, I always liked Peggy, so I don't want to see her role lessened.  The finale showed that she will still be a part of Don's life.
  • Betty Draper was and still remains a first class bitch.  Frankly, I wouldn't be sorry if she and Henry did something like move to California to work for Governor Reagan and were never heard from again.
Okay, I an guessing that Season Six will pick up some time in 1968 with Viet Nam, the King and  RFK assassinations, Chicago Convention, and Dick Nixon playing in the background.

Looking forward to it.

NBA Finals Preview: Heat vs. Thunder

Admittedly, while my knowledge of the NBA is pretty much confined to what I hear Tony and Wilbon discuss on Pardon the Interruption, plus watching the fourth quarter of Game 7 between the Heat and the Celtics the other night, I have to admit that I am somewhat looking forward to avidly watching (OK, avidly may be too strong a word for it) this series between Miami and Oklahoma City.

By all accounts, OKC is an up and coming power in the NBA led by youthful stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and everyone knows that Miami is led by their own Big Three, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and the Other Guy.  (I know, I's Chris Bosh, but I couldn't resist the cheap joke.)   The Thunder went through a tougher road here get to the Finals beating Dallas, the LA Lakers, and San Antonio.  On the other hand, the Heat seemed to defeat some old demons with that seven game triumph over Boston, and in LeBron James, the Heat has unquestionably the best basketball player on the face of the earth. (I base this assertion on info gleaned from PTI and David Aldridge on the Tony Kornheiser podcast.)  Plus, I have actually watched the Heat play on TV, and I have yet to see the Thunder play.

So, on that very shaky and uninformed basis, I am going to go with the Heat to take the Larry O'Brien Trophy home with them to South Beach after a hard fought seven game series.

There you have it: Incisive and Cutting Edge NBA analysis from The Grandstander.  As always, watch, but don't bet!

One final LeBron James comment.  I think it's time to bury the hatchet with LeBron in regards to the now infamous hoopla and hype surrounding "The Decision" of a few years back.  Yes, it was self-serving and narcissistic to the nth degree, and yes, he should have let the Cavaliers know about his choice to leave in advance, but almost everyone around him, including James himself, acknowledge that the whole Decision-hype nonsense was a mistake, so it's time for everyone else to let it go.  I say that knowing that folks and fans in Cleveland, some of whom read this blog, will never be able to forgive and forget, and I totally get that, but it should be remembered that James was within his rights to leave Cleveland as a free agent.  He fulfilled the contract he had with them, took the Cavs to the Playoffs several times, and filled the coffers of Dan Gilbert in the years he was there.  He owed them nothing beyond that, except maybe the courtesy of letting them know ahead of time that he was leaving for Miami.  

It should also be noted that since "The Decision" we haven't heard much from Jim Gray, so maybe we should all be grateful to James for that!

As for me, I am looking forward to watching James and Durant go head-to-head over the next ten days or so.

Monday, June 11, 2012

"The Wizard of Oz" and Me

Turner Classic Movies aired the 1939 all-time great movie, "The Wizard of Oz", last night.  I was not among those watching (or even DVR'ing).  By almost every critic's and film historian's account, "The Wizard of Oz" is in the Top Ten, if not Top Five, of greatest American movies ever made.  You won't find me giving it those kinds of kudos.

Why is that?  Well, once upon a time, before cable TV and Ted Turner, "The Wizard of Oz" was shown on television once, and only once, each year, and the network that aired it made a big deal over it.  Well, when I was in second grade, our teacher, Rose Plutnicki, gave us our one and only homework assignment for that particular weekend, and that was to watch "The Wizard of Oz".  Well, I watched it alright, and it scared the bejeezus out of me...those flying monkeys, that god-awful witch, Dorothy tied up with the sands of the hour glass running out on her, those creepy munchkins....I tell you, I hated it, and I could never bring myself to watch it again.

After I was married and well into my twenties, I figured that I should get over my childhood nightmares, and make myself watch what everyone says is one of the greatest movies of all time.  So I did.  And I wasn't all that impressed.  Oh, it is cool how the movie goes from black and white to color and then back to black and white, and "Over the Rainbow" may well be the best song in a movie EVER, but other than that, I don't care if I ever see this movie again, and I have Rose Plutnicki to thank for those feelings!

Oh, and those munchkins are still really creepy.

I know that others, MANY others, will disagree with me on this for "The Wizard of Oz" has a loyal following that is almost cult-like.  I remember working with a lady at Highmark who was a full-fledged Oz-aholic.  She had a Wizard of Oz calendar in her cube every year, various pictures and figurines on display, and every couple of years, she would travel to somewhere in Indiana or Kansas or someplace like that to some annual Wizard of Oz Convention.  I found it odd, but, then again, I'm a member of SABR, so I guess I shouldn't be casting any stones!

Big Poppy's Tony Scorecard

It had to be a disappointing night in Hatboro, PA last night when they opened the envelopes at the Tony Awards.  The Grandstander's Broadway Correspondent, Big Poppy, aka, the Truly Arrogant Guest Prognosticator, fell short of his hoped for eight correct predictions out of ten.  By my reckoning, Big Poppy went 5-5 in his predictions for Broadway's Tony Awards.

Oh, well, Big Poppy, even Stengal's Yankees didn't win the pennant every year, so keep on giving our regards to Broadway, and we'll look forward to a huge comeback come 2013!

The Seneca Valley Film Festival...and Other High School Thoughts

Last night Marilyn and I ventured north to the Strand Theater in the heart of beautiful downtown Zelionople, PA to take in the first Seneca Valley Film Festival.  For over two hours we watched about two dozen short films and videos that were written, directed, produced, and starred students from Seneca Valley High School. We had a horse in this race as our nephew, sophomore Zach Stoner, had a hand in several of these offerings, both in front of and behind the camera. 

I suppose that at this point we shouldn't be surprised by such things, but we were once again blown away by the talent displayed by these young kids.  That was some absolutely amazing stuff that was on display last night.  Congratulations to all of these kids for putting their wonderful abilities, and congratulations to the Seneca Valley School District for making it possible for these kids to have the opportunity to develop and  fulfill the talent within them.

And, of course, special congratulations to Zach!

When I thought about it last night, I realized that attending this film festival put the cap on a school year where we saw an awful lot of positive efforts by a lot of kids:

  • Varsity soccer games at Central Catholic
  • Freshman and JV basketball games at Central
  • Orchestra and Strolling Strings performances at North Allegheny
  • The North Allegheny Spring Musical
  • The Percussion concert at Mt. Lebanon High School
  • The Mt. Lebanon High School baseball team
  • The young film makers at Seneca Valley
Congratulations to all of these terrific kids.  It was a joy watching all of it!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Great Road Trip

Who could have asked for more on this just completed Pirates road trip?  Two series wins over the Hated Brewers and the first place Reds.  The team now sits two games over .500 and two games out of first place.

The series with the Reds was a classic.  In the first two games, teams with seemingly insurmountable leads were pushed to the brink and forced to use their closer to win the game while the go-ahead run was either at the plate or on deck.  As for last night's rubber game, Joel Hanrahan suffers a rare blown save only to have the here-to-for invincible Aroldis Chapman give up his first earned run of the season at the hands of, no, not Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker, but Clint Barmes and Mike McHenry.  Then to watch Chris Resop nail it down after giving up a lead-off double to Joey Votto, and have Clint Hurdle go against the oldest precept in "the book" by intentionally walking the winning run, and nailing the final out by having Pirate killer Ryan Ludwick look at a called third strike to end the game.  Wow.

If that series was played in October with a division series at stake, it would have been one for the books.

I don't want to get too out of control, and these Pirate are still a long, long way from being the '27 Yankees, but they do seem to be hitting the ball a little better and managing to score some runs over these past dozen games or so.

Marilyn and I have tickets for tonight's game with the Royals.  With the success of the series in Cincy, and beautiful weather today, it will be disappointing if there is not a huge walk-up crowd at tonight's game. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Vinnie and Cook, The Sunshine Boys

Remember the great Neil Simon play and movie, "The Sunshine Boys"? The story concerned a great vaudeville comedy team of Lewis and Clark (played by George Burns and Walter Matthau in the movie). They were funny, and everybody loved them, but there was problem:  they hated each other.  Like most of Simon's stuff, it was hilarious, and if you've never seen it, make it a point to do so.

Anyway, we in Pittsburgh have our own version of The Sunshine Boys on the radio five days a week on 93.7 The Fan, "The Vinnie and Cook Show" that airs from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM Monday through Friday.  The show stars Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook and Vinnie Richicci.  I'm not sure of Vinnie's background.  He has a New York accent, and his last radio gig was in Seattle before he came to Pittsburgh when The Fan went on the air in January, 2010.

Cook brings his grumpy and sour personality that PG readers have known for years, and Vinnie is the typical garrulous New Yorker.  It is obvious that the two can't stand each other and the palpable tension between the two of them is so obvious that it makes for riveting theater of the train wreck variety.  The air is so frosty between the two of them, that even on the hottest of days, you don't need the air conditioning on in your car when listening.  Just as an example, Vinnie always refers to Cook as "Cookie", it is obvious that Cook hates this.  The fact that callers now call him "Cookie" has to really grind his gears.

It is a four hour snarl-a-thon, but it is not a bad show.  When you get past Cook's sour demeanor, you have to admit that he does know the Pittsburgh sports scene, and his opinions are valid ones.  I happen to like Vinnie, but I fear that he will never be loved by the yinzers in Pittsburgh because he is not from here.  He's an aht o' tahner, and he has that New York accent.  I like him because he is first and foremost a baseball guy, and he does know his sports.  My only gripe with him is an annoying speech habit of constantly beginning sentences with the word "again", but why nitpick?

Hey, they ain't Burns and Matthau, but they'll do until a road show version of the real "Sunshine Boys" comes through town.

"The Horn Blows at Midnight"

If you are a fan of the late Jack Benny, and I realize that everyone reading this under the age of, oh, 55 or so, has now stopped reading, you may recall that a recurring joke on his radio and television shows was a reference to a movie that Benny made in 1945 called "The Horn Blows at Midnight".   The movie was supposedly a bomb and so awful that people on the show would make reference to it in order to exasperate Benny, and it would invariably lead to Jack's classic line, "Now cut that out!!!"

Anyway, tomorrow, Friday morning at 11:30, Turner Classic Movies will be showing "The Horn Blows at Midnight".  I have never seen it, but I have the DVR set to record it.  I want to see if it was as truly awful as Benny and his cast of characters led us to believe.

If it IS that bad, I will head down to Penn Station and board the first train headed for Anahiem, Aszuzsa, and Cucamonga (pronounced "Koooooook-a-monga").


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

From "Our Man on Broadway"....

I have eagerly awaited, and have finally received, the Tony Award predictions from Loyal Reader and The Grandstander's Broadway Correspondent, Big Poppy, aka The Sage of Landview Street, or, as he calls himself, TAGR, the Truly Arrogant Guest Prognosticator.  No need for me to do anything but cut-n-paste his email prognostications to me.  I have seen none of these plays/performances, of course, but I'll whole-heartedly endorse any prediction calling for an award to Phillip Seymour Hoffman!

Take it away, Big Poppy......

(I will apologize in advance that the formatting is a bit screwed up here in the cutting and pasting, but I do not have the technical proficiency to make the corrections.  I especially apologize to TAGR for this.)

Hi Bob .... Again, in 2012, The Grandstander was nice enough to allow this loyal reader to become
the "TAGR" .... "Truly Arrogant Guest Prognosticator" for the TONY Awards.  Last year, Big Poppy was 6 for 7.  Not bad, so this year I'm making 10 predictions. 
The TONY's are NOT "just another awards show"! Oh no ... it's really "just-another-awards-show that
most Grandstander readers don't give a S#%* about!"  But despite verrrrry few comments on my successful predictions, Big Poppy is undaunted and shall eschew this underwhelming response. Just the G-Man's invitation is all I need to try and match your Oscar pick success of this year.
So here goes; no runaways this year ... no cherries to pick ........ like Book of Mormon last year.
Featured Actress (Musical) .................. Judy Kaye - Nice Work if you Can Get It
Featured Actor (Musical) ..................... Michael McGrath - Nice Work if you Can Get It
Musical Score ....................................... Newsies - Composers Menken and Feldman (WILL win)
                                                                                 Bonnie and Clyde (SHOULD win)
Actress (Musical)................................... Audra McDonald - Porgy and Bess
Actor (Musical) ..................................... Danny Burstein - Follies
Actor (Play) ........................................... Phillip Seymour Hoffman - Death of a Salesman
Play (New) ............................................. Other Desert Cities
Play (Revival) ........................................ Death of a Salesman 
Musical (Revival) .................................. Follies                                                                                    
Musical (New) ........................................ONCE                                                                                                                                                         & nbsp;                                                    
Okay, there's 10!  Yes, I'm cocky about my predictions and am looking for at least 8 of 10.
But who knows?  I remain - your truly arrogant guest prognosticator - Big Poppy.
Off the record, I'm pulling for Bonnie and Clyde since I have met and spoken with the composer,
Frank Wildhorn, (the "critics' punching bag").  Death of a Salesman  "should" win every award
that it's nominated for; a spectacular production of the "iconic" American tragedy. Follies WILL
win since it's associated with Stephen (let's all genuflect) Sondheim.  ONCE is like a trendy,
"Indie" type musical, not big and splashy, and a good bet to win.    OK, enough!!!!!


Every year on this day, I always go back and re-read a section from Andy Rooney's 1995 book, "My War."

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

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

Things I Am Not going To Waste My Time On

Last week on Facebook I mentioned that I was not going to waste another minute of my life reading or listening to anything related to Mike Wallace and his contract situation with the Steelers.   Life is too short, I figured, and many people on Facebook agreed.

To that list, I will add another:  I will not read, nor listen to, long convoluted analyses on the signability of Pirates first round draft pick Mark Appel.  This also includes any explanations of the new salary bonus structure that restricts how much money teams can pay out to their first ten picks in the entry draft.  Just let me know when the kid signs for multi-millions of dollars and let's see how he can pitch in State College or the Gulf Coast or wherever the Pirates choose to send him.

All that said, congratulations to the powers that be in MLB for putting this "salary cap" of sorts on the major league entry draft.  Those out-of-control, free-spending Pittsburgh Pirates were making it impossible for teams like the Red Sox and Yankees to compete for these kids coming out of high school.  Well, the Red Sox whined enough about how the Pirates drafted and were able to sign Josh Bell last year, so that financial recklessness on the Evil Empire at PNC Park was squashed in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.  

Take that, Bob Nutting!

Monday, June 4, 2012

My. Lebo Advances, A Pitcher for the Pirates, and Other Thoughts....

Cleaning out the Mental In-Box....

  • I moseyed up I-79 today to the campus of Slippery Rock University to take in a first round game of the PIAA Quad-A Baseball Championship Tournament.  The Mt. Lebanon Blue Devils, sparked by a two hit, two run performance by third sacker Anthony Paladino, defeated Erie Bishop McDowell, 7-4.  The Blue Devils await the results of another opening round game in Butler this evening, but it just could be that they will get another crack at the Seneca Valley Raiders.
  • I may go all season long watching the Pirates and the rest of MLB in 2012 and not see a single runner picked off of second base by the pitcher.  Today, I saw that play not once, but twice.  Both the McDowell and the Mt. Lebanon starting pitchers turned that trick this afternoon.
  • Many readers may not be aware of the fact that I spent my first year in college at Slippery Rock State College, as it was then known.  All I can say is that that campus has changed amazingly since that 1969-70 academic year.  Beautiful place these days.
  • I just finished watching the first hour or so of the MLB Entry Draft to see whom the Pirates would select.  Hey, they took a pitcher with their first pick!  What a surprise.  Welcome to the Buccos, Mark Appel.
  • If - and I emphasize the word IF - it all pans out, how long until a rotation of Jameson Taillon, Gerritt Cole, and Marl Appel toe the rubber in a three game series at PNC Park?  In their first full season of Class A ball, Taillon and Cole, seem to be progressing nicely.
  • Not to be a spoilsport, but the fragility of "can't miss" prospects came to light today with the announcement that they were proceeding with plans to make pitcher Stetson Allie (selected in the second round after Taillon in 2010) into a position player.  Call it a "Reverse John VanBenschotten". 
  • Man, isn't Bud Selig a real stiff up there at the podium announcing those draft selections?
  • And who was the bald headed dude with Harold Reynolds and John Hart at the anchor desk?
  • Got around last night to watching what has long been considered a classic western movie, Howard Hawks' "Red River" (1948), starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift.  Pretty good yarn about an epic cattle drive from Texas to Kansas.  Wayne was the definite star of the movie, but he was no simon-pure hero in it either, which I thought was interesting.  This was Clift's first movie, and he held his own sharing the screen with The Duke.  Clift is one of those much admired young actors from the 1950's who died young.  I haven't seen a lot of his movies over the years, but you can see how good he was in his role in "Red River".
  • Regular readers will recall a post from last month about Marilyn and my trip to the Zoo. ( you can see, the post featured a picture of a baby gorilla with its mother.  The sad news came across today that that little baby ape died this past Saturday.  
  • Getting back to the Pirates, how about that series win in Milwaukee?  Yeah, I know Prince Fielder is gone and that the Brewers had guys hurt, including Cryin' Ryan, but that takes none of the pleasure out of taking two of three at Miller Park.  Sunday's 6-5 win was especially satisfying with the Bucs hitting four home runs and holding off late rallies by the Brewers.
  • Should be a fun series to watch with the Reds that starts tomorrow.  A three game sweep would put the Pirates in a tie for first place, but I'll happily settle for another 2-out-of-3.
  • For a real inspirational story, check out this PG article from this morning about Robert Morris University assistant football coach, and former Colonials quarterback, Camdin Crouse:

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Book Review: "One Shot at Forever"

The subtitle of Chris Ballard's great new book says it all: "A Small town, An Unlikely Coach, and A Magical Baseball Season."

In 1971, the baseball team from Macon High School (enrollment 250) of Macon, Illinois (population 1,200) had that  magical baseball season by not only making the state high school championship tournament, but making it all the way to the championship game.  To make this saga all the more remarkable, this was at a time when there were no scholastic classification based on enrollment (as there is today), so the kids from Macon were going up against schools with much larger enrollments from all over the state, including athletic powerhouse Lane Tech of Chicago (enrollment 5,200, where over 400 kids would try out for the freshman baseball team).  

The key figure in this story is the unlikely coach, Lynn Sweet.  A young English teacher with some, shall we say, progressive ideas about teaching, Sweet was different in the small town of Macon in 1971:  he wore his hair long (down to his collar!), he had a fu manchu mustache, he drove a motorcycle.  Not what you saw during that time, especially among Lombardi wannabe High school athletic coaches.  His students took to him from the start and loved him.  In 1970, he took on the job of baseball coach for two reasons - he would make an extra $130 by doing so, and nobody else wanted it.

Sweet took his different teaching style with him to the baseball team, and they responded immediately.  School administrators, some parents, and most definitely other coaches were not as enamored of Sweet and his methods, but in his second year as coach - after the school tried to fire him - the Macon Ironmen had that magic ride to the State Championship game.

In the last section of the book, Ballard returns to Macon 39 years after the fact and visits with some of those kids, now middle-aged men, from that team and talks about how their lives have been affected, particularly Macon's star player, Steve Schartzer.  Even now, Coach Sweet remains an important figure in their lives.  The book shows the far reaching effect that a coach (or teacher, or any authority figure) can have on a young person's life.

I found this to be especially compelling due to the fact that in recent years I have begun to pay attention to high school sports due to the participation of my nephews, Patrick and Ryan at Central, and it also resonates after having attended the WPIAL Championship game just this past week.

This is a really good book.  I would hope that not only baseball fans would read this book, but I would also hope that coaches and high school athletes themselves read this book. 

As Sweet himself says in the book, it was a great story "because it can never happen again."

Friday, June 1, 2012

To Absent Friends: Jack Twyman

Jack Twyman died on Wednesday of this week at the age of 78.  In an era of ESPN, 24 hour sports coverage, and endless highlight shows, guys like Jack Twyman are all but forgotten, and you have to be pretty much over 60 years old to have any memory of seeing Twyman play in a Hall of Fame NBA career that ran from 1955 through 1966, but his is a career - and a life - worth remembering.

A native of Pittsburgh, Twyman went to Central Catholic High School, and he is easily the greatest basketball player to come from Central.  An All-American at the University of Cincinnati, Twyman played with the Rochester / Cincinnati Royals in the NBA, and when he retired in 1966, he had scored over 15,800 points in his career.  In the 1959-60 season, not one, but two players averaged over 30 points per game for the first time in NBA history.  One of them was Wilt Chamberlain.  The other was Jack Twyman.

He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983.

However, for all of his many accomplishments on the court, Twyman should be most remembered as a humanitarian.  In the 1958 season, his Royals teammate, and fellow Pittsburgher, Maurice Stokes was seriously injured in a game, an injury that caused him permanent paralysis and lifelong brain damage.  Twyman had himself declared Stokes' legal guardian, and, as such, saw to his care until Stokes passed away in 1970.  After that, Twyman devoted much of his efforts to raising money for down-on-their-luck former NBA players.

I conducted a tour today at the Heinz History Center for a group of fifth grade boys from Butler County.  Large pictures of both Twyman and Stokes hang on the wall in the basketball portion of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum at the History Center.  I gathered the kids around and told them the story of Jack Twyman and Maurice Stokes.  I'm not sure how well the story resonated with nine 11 and 12 year old boys, but one of the adult chaperons with the group said, "That was doing God's work".  Indeed.

RIP Jack Twyman.