Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Trading in a Lincoln

So, Neal pulls the trigger and sends relief pitcher Brad Lincoln to the Blue Jays for 24 year old outfielder Travis Snider.

My first thought is, THIS is the deal for "a bat" to boost the team in the stretch run?  On first blush, this is the kind of deal the Pirates used to make, acquiring an unproven young guy with great "upside" (Jeff Clement, Brandon Moss etc).

My subsequent thoughts are...

  1. Trading a middle inning relief pitcher for a guy who can play every day and contribute is a good deal. 
  2. This assumes that Snider can play every day and contribute.
  3. The Pirates are no worse off with Snider in RF than they are with Alex Presley, Drew Sutton, or Jose Tabata.
  4. Snider could be another Jason Bay.
  5. Snider could also be another Andy LaRoche.
  6. Will another deal be swung between now and 4:00 this afternoon to bring a more experienced rental player to help down the stretch?
  7.  If this trade happened in the off-season, and not in the middle of a pennant race, everyone would be saying, "good deal" on the face of it for the Pirates.
And in an unrelated question, why was Kevin Correia (not that he's Cy Young or anything) the one sent to the bullpen and not Eric Bedard?  This may seem like classic Monday morning quarterbacking in light of Bedard's pasting last night by the Cubs, but I had this question in my mind even before last night's game.  Honest!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

To Absent Friends: Robert W. Creamer

Writer and author Robert Creamer passed away last week at the age of 90.  Creamer was an original staff writer at Sports Illustrated when the magazine came into existence in 1956.  He was also a distinguished author of several terrific baseball books, including biographies of Casey Stengel and Mickey Mantle.  

His best known book perhaps was his 1974 biography of Babe Ruth titled "Babe: the Legend Comes to Life".  It is considered by many as the best biography of Ruth ever written.  I recall that when I worked in Cleveland, I lent my copy of "Babe" to a woman with whom I worked.  She wasn't a baseball fan, particularly, but she loved the book, as it described so well one of the true larger than life figures of the 20th century.

I would also recommend another terrific book by Creamer called "Baseball and Other Memories in 1941" (1991).  Now, only a baseball fan would enjoy this one, I think, but it really is a terrific book, almost a memoir, about following Brooklyn and the Yankees, DiMaggio and the 56 game streak, Williams and .400, all in the year when America was on the brink of war.  Truly a great book.

Finally, you may also remember Bob Creamer as a contributing talking head on Ken Burns' "Baseball" documentary.

RIP Robert W. Creamer.

"What in the Wide, Wide World of Sports is Going On....?"

The title of this post is dedicated to my breakfast companions of yesterday morning.

Some sporting thoughts on a Sunday morning.....

  • It is frustrating to see the Pirates just eaking out wins over the Astros, a team that they should be hammering into submission, this weekend, but, hey, they ARE winning those games, right?  Just a sign, I suppose, about how far the Pirates have come this season.
  • Those Astros, by the way, are really a bad ball club.  As bad a team as I've seen since, oh, the 2010 Pirates.   I'm watching these games, and I am unfamiliar with just about every player on that team.  And is it a coincidence that Brad Mills makes you think of John Russell as he stands expressionless in the Houston dugout?
  • For the record, I liked the trade for Wandy Rodriguez.  Nolan Ryan, he ain't, but he will be an improvement over Kevin Correia, I think, in the long run, despite the fact that Correia has won his last six decisions.
  • It should also be noted that Rodriguez is under contract, and not an inexpensive one, for, I believe, two more seasons after this one, so kudos to Nutting/Coonelly/Huntington for pulling the trigger on this one.
  • If Colton Cain wins 20 games for the Astros in 2017, this will still have been a good deal, if the Pirates get to the post-season this year, or even if they stay in the hunt deep into September.
  • I also like that Starling Marte is now here in Pittsburgh, and how can you not after that spectacular debut?  True, he is hitless in his last two games, but I do believe he will be an improvement over what Pirates left fielders/lead off batters have given the team so far.
  • Now the big question:  Does GM Neal swing a deal to bring a hitter, or "a bat" as is now the lingo, to PNC Park for the stretch?  I will not pay attention to anything Neal might say on the subject between now and Tuesday - he will never say anything significant on such a subject - but I anxiously await that July deadline.
  • In case no one noticed, and it is definitely a secondary story line in Pittsburgh this summer - the Steelers opened training camp  this week.  The highlight for me was hearing my first Mike Tomlin soundbite of the season.  I LOVE hearing those, and I am not being sarcastic.
  • Mike Wallace learned a hard lesson this week: When you get into a contract hassle with the Steelers, you will lose.  Every time.  You think these guys would know that by now.
  • One thing that guys like Wallace and their agents absolutely, positively need to remember:  the Steelers released Franco Harris in a contract dispute back in 1983.  They do that to one of the pre-eminent figures in franchise history, then guys like Wallace will never have a chance.
  • It amazes me to hear that there are some folks in Pitt fandom who think that the Panthers should now forget about ever playing Penn State, even to the point of canceling the two games scheduled for '16 and '17.  "Who needs THEM now?", they sniff.  This makes those elements at Pitt guilty of the same arrogance and hubris that they have accused (and not without some justification, it should be noted) Penn State and Joe Paterno of having had ever since the series ended.
  • My friend Dan Bonk, a major Pitt fan and supporter, has taken the opposite tack:  AD Steve Pederson should be on the phone RIGHT NOW to whoever is in charge at Penn State these days negotiating a long term home-and-home deal with Penn State. 
  • Penn State has always been able to find a way to schedule teams like Ohio University.  Pitt has always found a way to schedule teams like the University of Buffalo.  They can find a way to make this happen, and don't forget, the one person who always prevented  this series from continuing, is no longer on the scene.
  • The NCAA and other college "spokesmen" have talked very loftily about how the College football culture needs to change after it was allowed to run amok at Penn State.  Yet there were reports this week, the ink on the consent decree not even dry, of rival schools' coaches on the PSU campus recruiting the Lions' current scholarship athletes.  Do you REALLY think that that culture is going to change?
  • In spite of all that has fallen upon Penn State, I find myself really rooting for Bill O'Brien and those kids who will choose to stay at Penn State this coming season.
  • I learned very quickly this week, that if you want to watch the Olympics and not know the results of a given event, stay off of Facebook, Twitter, or the entire Internet itself over the course of the next two weeks.

"Sunset Boulevard", the Musical

You always worry when one of your favorite books/movies/plays is transferred to another art form:  book to movie, play to movie, or, in this case, Classic Movie to Andrew Lloyd Webber Musical Extravaganza.  

The 1950 Billy Wilder movie, "Sunset Boulevard", is by almost any source you care to sight, considered one of the Top Ten movies ever made in America.  It is the story of an aging silent screen movie star, Norma Desmond, who has been pushed to the Hollywood scrap heap with the advent of talking motion pictures, who meets up with down-on-his-luck cynical screenwriter Joe Gillis.  How the two meet, interact, and use each other makes for one of the most compelling movies you'll ever see.  The movie starred Gloria Swanson and the incomparable William Holden, and the thought of someone tampering with such a classic could seem almost sacrilegious.

However, Andrew Lloyd Webber provided the music and brought his story to the London and Broadway stages back in the early 1990's.  The musical was highly acclaimed and even Billy Wilder was pleased with it ("I think it would make a pretty good movie", he said), so seeing it has long been on my bucket list.

Anyway, the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera brought "Sunset Boulevard" to town this week at the Benedum, and we took it in yesterday.  We both liked it.  The show starred a Broadway actress named Liz Callaway as Norma, and  Matthew Scott (who looks a lot like Pirate Neil Walker) as Joe.  Joe is the character who holds the play together, he is in almost every scene, but it is Norma who draws all the attention, and the numerous dazzling costume changes almost every time she is on stage is just the least of the attraction.  Norma also has the two show stopping musical numbers, "As If We Never Said Good-bye" and "With One Look".

The show is true to the movie, and while there is very little spoken dialog, what there is taken almost directly from the movie, including it's two most famous lines:

  • "I am big.  It's the pictures that got small."
  • "are you ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille?"
Very good show, well staged by the CLO, and all of the actors.  It made for a great day at the theater.

However, one should never forget the source material, the great 1950 movie by the great Billy Wilder.  If you've never seen it, and you love movies, then make it a point to see it very soon.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Stonewall Resort

Marilyn and I took a mid-week break this past week and visited the Stonewall Resort in Roanoke, West Virginia.  What a find, and what an absolute gem of a place.  Only a 2 and 1/2 hour drive down I-79 from Pittsburgh, the resort offers a beautiful setting (picture above is the view from our room), lots of cool recreational activities, hiking trails, great food, and a gorgeous, yet player friendly Arnold Palmer designed golf course (well, the 17th hole may not be all that friendly, but I digress).

One activity involves feeding of fish from dockside:

There is a very nice pool area:

And did I mention the great food?

About 12 miles south of Clarksburg, the Stonewall Resort is located on Stonewall Jackson Lake inside of Stonewall Jackson State Park.  Want to take a guess at who is the most famous person born in that part of West Virgina is (although it was still Virginia when he was born)?

The resort also offers lots of both boating and fishing opportunities,neither of which are our particular cup of tea, but if that's what you are into, you can avail yourself of those activities.

It's a great place to spend a few days and recharge your batteries, it's not over-the-top expensive, and it's an easy drive to get there.

I'm sure that we will be back.

The Olympics Begin!

Not sure about all of you, but I plan to be in front of the TV tonight watching the Opening Ceremonies of the London Olympics tonight.  No doubt they will be overblown, very self-congratulatory, and will last too long, but they will also be colorful, fun, and in some ways inspirational.  Plus, the commercials will probably be pretty good, although we will no doubt tire of them by the time the torch is extinguished in two weeks time.

Here are the things that I look forward to during this Olympiad:

  • The men's basketball tournament.
  • The Phelps-Lochte duels in the pool.
  • Usain Bolt.
  • Both men's and women's track events.
  • Finding out what event and what athlete(s), heretofore completely off of my personal radar screen, will capture my imagination and captivate me during the Games.
Humorous Burning Question:  Now that they are permitted to wear more "modest" uniforms, will Women's Beach Volleyball be a less interesting sport, to both viewers and the NBC TV cameras?

Serious Observation:  Very disappointing that the IOC cannot find it in their hearts (assuming that IOC Members actually have hearts) to allow for a moment of silence to commemorate the slain Israeli athletes during this the 40th Anniversary Year of the massacre in Munich.  In point of fact, the IOC has NEVER had any such official commemoration of this event on the center stage of their ceremony, so I suppose that their continuing to spurn the requests of Israel shouldn't come as too big a surprise.  Keep this hypocrisy in mind while Jacques Rogge makes his speeches about the Olympic Ideal tonight.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Pirates, Jeter, Olympics, and Absent Friends

The Grandstander is going to be off the grid for a couple of days, so let's clean out the Mental In-Box (Penn State free!)......

  • How about those Pirates?  The nice thing about where they are now is that we are concerned, not with being 14 games over .500, but, rather, with being 1/2 game out of first, or two games up in the Wild Card race.  Thank you, Fred Shugars, for making this observation.
  • Trade deadline looms and the name that intrigues me the most is Shane Victorino.  He would be a two month rental, which means he wouldn't, or shouldn't, cost the Pirates a boatload in a trade, and tell me he wouldn't be a huge step up in that lead-off spot in the line up?
  • Ichiro to the Yankees.  Interesting.
  • Speaking of the Yankees, Derek Jeter celebrated his 38th birthday a few weeks ago, and one of the interesting, if not amazing, facts I heard was that Jeter had more career hits as of his 38th birthday than Pete Rose had on his 38th birthday.
  • I got into an exchange with ESPN's Buster Olney a few weeks back on Twitter.  Now Buster has to have thousands of followers on Twitter, so I was very surprised that he actually responded to my Tweet, so good for Buster.
  • That said, for a major media guy, @Buster_espn appears to have remarkably thin skin.
  • Heard on PTI tonight that Andrew McCutchen is hitting .484 in the month of July.  .484!!!!  I have trouble wrapping my mind around a number like that.
  • If you read John Mehno's column in Sunday's www.timesonline.com you may come to understand why the Pirates are not rushing to promote Starling Marte - yet.  Good stuff.
  • Also, in that same column, John reports that Lacee Collins might be resurfacing at The Fan soon.  C'mon back, Lacee!!!
  • The Olympics begin on Friday.  I am looking forward to taking in much of the 300,000 or so hours of coverage that NBC will be offering on it's various media platforms, and I will no doubt be commenting on it over the course of the Games.  What are you most looking forward to watching?  The elfin, robotic female gymnasts? The men's basketball?  Watching how fast Usain Bolt can, er, bolt from the starting blocks? Seeing how many weightlifters and wrestlers get banished for doping?  The bikini-clad beach volleyballers?
  • Me?  I can't wait for the curling! Oh, wait, that's in two years in the Winter Olympics.  Damn!
  • I confess to missing much of the British Open, excuse me, The Open Championship, this weekend.  Blame it on the time difference, and having other things to do in the mornings.  From what I can tell, it would have been painful to watch Adam Scott's El Foldo over the last four holes, so in a way I'm glad I missed it.
  • If you are old enough, you can no doubt remember the dire warnings of 40 or so years ago over the creeping specter of Pay Television.  It would end our entertainment options and the American Way of Life as we knew it.  This thought came back to me when I realized that all live coverage of The Open Championship was on ESPN, and no one, apparently, thinks any thing about that.  ESPN, in case you don't realize it, is, in fact, Pay TV.  Much of the Olympics will also be on Pay TV platforms. That battle has been lost, and was lost, long ago.
Let us end with noting the recent passing of some Absent Friends:
  • Pittsburgh radio man, Ted Atkins, aka "Cap'n Showbiz", as he was christened by O"Brian and Garry.  He was the GM of radio station WTAE who came to town, listened to the station and made the first note on his To Do List to "fire Myron Cope".  Atkins soon realized who Cope was, what he knew, and what he meant to Pittsburgh, so he changed his mind and installed Cope with his five nights a week talk show.  The rest is Pittsburgh radio history.  
  • Tom Davis.  Those of us who can remember the first seasons of Saturday Night Live can remember that they sometimes featured on air performances by two of the writers, "Franken and Davis".  Al Franken is now a US Senator, and Davis went on to an itinerant career as a comedy writer and performer until he succumbed to cancer last week at the age of 57.  His obit noted that he was responsible for the classic skit where Dan Ackroyd played Julia Child.  Yes, "save the liver" came from the fertile comic mind of Tom Davis.
  • And just in today, Sally Ride, America's first female astronaut, died today at age 61, a victim of pancreatic cancer. An inspirational figure.
RIP to all.

On a More Pleasant Penn State Note....

This past Friday, Marilyn and I traveled to Centre County to visit her brother George and Ann.  Both of their kids, George and Bonny, their spouses and kids were in Centre Hall last week.  With George III living in New Mexico and Bonny living in Durham, NC, it is a rare time when all members of that clan are together, so we were delighted to drive up and visit with them.  The picture above shows us with great-nieces and -nephew (L to R) Lizzie, Mara, Sophie, and Andrew.  In fact, this was actually the first time we ever met young Andrew who is now four years old, and I think that I am safe in saying that he is the youngest Andrew McCutchen fan currently residing in the state of New Mexico.  He is adept at giving the Zoltan sign to prove just exactly where his loyalties lie (or is it "lay"; I could never get that one straight).

It was a great visit and a wonderful day.

The NCAA Drops the Hammer

Because this is such an emotional issue, and because I have many friends, as well as family members, closely associated with Penn State, I have tried not to get into the fray too deeply over the Penn State/Freeh/Sandusky affair, but with the announcement of the sanctions by the NCAA and Big Ten today, well, I do have to say something.  I won't rehash everything - you all know what went down today - but will make a couple of random comments.
  • I do not think that the sanctions were too severe.  Neither, apparently, does the Penn State President and Board of Trustees.  I think the NCAA got it right this time.
  • The vacating of the 111 victories since 1998 was the real shot to the gut, and was obviously intended as a means to purge Joe Paterno from the record books.  It also addressed the issue of the "cult of personality" predominant in so many major college football and basketball programs.
  • Sadly, I doubt that this will end such things on our university campuses (quick: who do you think of when you think of Duke University?).
  • The fact that a staggering figure like $60 million represents only one year's revenue of the PSU football program boggles the mind.  It is a big reason why this whole cover-up took place.
  • The NCAA is coming off today as the simon pure guardian of collegiate athletics.  Please.  They will soon be negotiating a television contract for the College Football Championship playoffs that will begin in two years that will involve amounts of money that are unimaginable.
  • ESPN learned it's lesson, apparently.  They did not use Matt Millen as a commentator on their coverage of the NCAA announcement today.
  • They did have Les Miles of LSU (of the SEC) on commenting on the evils of the culture of big money in college football.  That was so ludicrous that I couldn't even think of a snarky comment to make about it.
  • I heard someone on the radio saying that if you are a fan of a college and are wondering which Penn State scholarship players you could get to come play for your school, you are a part of the problem.
  • In the end, I do feel bad for Bill O'Brien and the current players.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Mary Chapin Carpenter

It was a spur of the moment thing.  We see a story yesterday morning in the Post-Gazette about Mary Chapin Carpenter's appearance at the Homestead Carnegie Library Music Hall last night.  I go on-line to see if tickets are still available.  They are, and I buy two, and we have a nice date last night to see one of our favorite singers!

Carpenter is currently on the road promoting her new CD, "Ashes and Roses" (which I also purchased via iTunes yesterday) and the stop in Homestead was the first stop on this tour that will run through October.  She performed for an hour and forty-five minutes, and while she did most of the songs from the new CD, there was still lots of the old stuff - Shut Up and Kiss Me, Saturday Night at the Twist and Shout, Stones in the Road, Passionate Kisses, and many, many others.  It was a terrific show from a wonderful and talented performer.  A really fun night for us.  By the way, this was not the first time we had seen Carpenter in concert.  We saw her a few years back at the Palumbo Center when "Stones in the Road"  was released.  It wasn't until we got home and checked the release date for "Stones..." and saw that it was 1995 that we realized that "a few years back" was actually SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO!!!  Wow.

A word about the venue.  My grandparents lived on Ninth Avenue in Munhall, and the Homestead Library was almost - but not quite - literally in their back yard.  I had ridden past that Library building countless times as I grew up, and was well schooled in the family lore of how my mother, Ruthie Madden, learned to swim in the pool in the Library building alongside with two future US Olympians, Lenore Kite and Eleanor Holm.  For all of that, I had never been inside that building myself until last night, so I somehow felt that I was closing a circle in my life.  Kind of a neat feeling.

The building was dedicated in 1895 by Andrew Carnegie himself.  The music hall is on the smaller side, it does have a balcony, but it gives a very intimate feel to the performance and the acoustics are excellent.  They have an interesting line up of acts scheduled to appear in the months ahead, including a Beatles tribute band in December.  Parking is on the street surrounding the library and is free.  Kind of an under publicized gem in terms of a performing arts venue in the city.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Happy Birthday, Three Rivers Stadium

On July 16, 1970, forty-two years ago tonight, Three Rivers Stadium opened.  Given the two venues that replaced it, no one much misses it any more, but it was the centerpiece location for Pittsburgh sports for 31 years.  As it was about to be imploded, I compiled a list of my Top Ten Memories of the place.    

No one asked me to do it, and it was greeted with great ennui at the time, but, what the hell, I thought I'd reprint them here on this anniversary date.  All of these are events that I actually attended at Three Rivers Stadium.

Top Ten Three Rivers Stadium Memories

1.      1972 – Franco Harris and the Immaculate Reception beats the Oakland Raiders in the Steelers first ever playoff game.  How could anything else be Number One?
2.      1979 – Pirates defeat Cincinnati Reds in Game Three to sweep the National League Championship Series and win Pennant.
3.      1971 – Attended Game 3 of World Series, my first World Series game.  Pirates win and go onto win World Series.
4.      1975 – Steelers defeat Oakland on an icy field in AFC Championship game.
5.      1978 and 1979 – Steelers defeat Houston Oilers two years in a row in AFC Championship game.
6.      Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente – just watching these two Hall of Famers over the years.
7.      1979 – Attend Game Three of World Series. It’s a night game, it’s cold, there are snow flurries, and Pirates lose.  They win the World Series anyway.
8.      1994 – Steelers lose AFC Championship to Chargers when last minute fourth down pass at goal line falls incomplete.  I’ve never heard 60,000 people get so quiet.
9.      1995 – Steelers beat Indianapolis in AFC Championship game to go to Super Bowl.
10. 2000 – I catch foul ball hit by Jason Kendall, my first such souvenir in over 40 years of attending ball games.
11. 1985 – Bruce Springsteen “Born in the USA” concert.  Over 65,000 people, largest crowd ever at Three Rivers for any event.  Still the single best concert I’ve ever seen.
12. 1970 – Three Rivers Stadium opens.  It is old and outdated now, but it sure was dazzling when it first opened.

OK, I know that’s twelve.  So sue me! 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Whither Penn State Football?

The debate rages as to whether or not Penn State University football should receive the "death penalty" from the NCAA. I am of two minds on the subject and can see both sides of the argument. However, I am fairly certain of one thing that would most certainly not be right and proper following all that has happened and been revealed about the last 13 years, at least, at Happy Valley, and that would be 110,000 people at Beaver Stadium in full white out regalia on the first Saturday in September screaming "We are....PENN STATE" as the Lions take the field against whatever cupcake Paterno had scheduled for the 2012 season opener. Whatever steps can be taken by either the PSU administration or the NCAA to avoid that particular scene should be taken immediately.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

To Absent Friends: Ernest Borgnine

A belated and melancholy happy trails to Academy Award winning actor Ernest Borgnine, who passed away earlier this week at the age of 94.  Those who remember Borgnine as the scheming but lovable Lt. Commander Quentin McHale of the 1960's sitcom "McHale's Navy" would be in for a shock if they tune into two of Ernie's better known movie roles in "From Here to Eternity" and "Bad Day at Black Rock".  Lovable - no; despicable - yes; well acted - absolutely!  Borgnine also won a Best Actor Academy Award in 1955 for playing against type in "Marty".

Turner Classic Movies will be doing a 24 hour Borgnine Tribute Marathon on July 26.

RIP "Skipper" Ernest Borgnine.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Appel Doesn't Fall From the Tree

In about 45 minutes the Pirates will kick of the figurative - not literal - second half of what has thus far been an amazing season as they take on the Hated Brewers in that nemesis ball yard, Miller Park.  Let's Go Bucs.

However, the expected non-signing of number one draft pick Mark Appel became official at 5:00 this afternoon.  The fact that the Pirates have played so well in 2012 - need I remind everyone that they are in first place?- coupled with the fact that Garrett Cole and Jameson Taillon are progressing well in the minors, takes a bit of the heat off of the team for this non-signing.  We can all remember the furor that took place a few years back when the Pedro Alvarez signing almost fell through, right?

One of the big reasons that this signing did not happen was because MLB and the Players Association sought to limit the run amok free-spending of the Pirates in the amateur draft, the one area where teams like the Pirates could compete with teams like the Yankees, Angels, and Red Sox.  Let us see what the ramifications of this new spending cap accomplished.

  • It caused as many as seven teams to pass on Appel, thought by many to be the #1 player in the draft, to fall to the Pirates in the number eight spot in the draft.  This no doubt cost Appel  several potential millions of dollars in possible signing bonuses.  So, MLB and the MLBPA did the kid a big favor there, right?
  • The Pirates could only spend "X" amount of dollars on all of their first ten selections, which limited what they could offer Appel, which caused Appel to decide not to sign, and the Pirates have lost a potential - emphasize potential -  future Cy Young winner.
  • It forces Appel back into next year's draft, and any number of things could go wrong for the kid at this point: he could get hurt, he could fall lower in the draft because of the abilities of the other players available in the 2013 draft, he could be exposed in his senior year at Stanford as just another Bryan Bullington, and any one of those factors could and probably would end up costing him millions of dollars.  
So, in conclusion, the new spending restrictions on the entry draft have ended up screwing the kid and screwing the Pirates, but the Yanks and Sawx are no doubt happy about it, which means everything is OK.

It was reported that the Pirates offer to Appel was in the neighborhood of $3.8 million.  It will be interesting to track both what Appel signs for next season and how his career progresses over the next ten or so years.  Time will tell how much this non-deal really hurts the Pirates.  I don't know the numbers, but I want to know the final count on how many draft picks the Pirates did sign this year.  As I have said many times, this is a most inexact science and you never know where the true gems are.  I believe that Dave Parker was selected after the 30th round when he was drafted, and in the year that Kris Benson was the number one overall selection, the Astros selected Roy Oswalt in the 28th round.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Book: "Hellhound On HIs Trail"

The old saying about truth being more remarkable than fiction is proven once again in this 2010 book by Hampton Sides that follows James Earl Ray as he stalked and killed Martin Luther King in 1968, and then went on the lam for over 50 days before he was finally captured in London, England.

I remember the assassination of Martin Luther King, but I had forgotten the trauma that was unleashed upon the nation in the aftermath of the killing, and I had no recollection of the merry chase that Ray led the forces of the FBI and other international law enforcement agencies until he was brought to justice.  Author Sides paints the picture of life in 1968 America, and his paralleling the movements of both King and Ray leading up to the fateful night at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968 is true edge-of-your-seat stuff that very few fictional books, movies, or TV shows can match.

Other "characters" that come alive once again include President Lyndon Johnson, George Wallace, Robert Kennedy, a much younger Jesse Jackson, Attorney General Ramsey Clark, and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.  Speaking of Hoover, we are reminded once again that for all he did in establishing the FBI as the top notch organization it is, Hoover truly was one of the more loathsome and evil guys in our history.

As with most crimes of this nature, conspiracy theories abounded at the time of King's death, and still do, but I was struck by this quote from Ramsey Clark in an interview with the author:

"Some Americans don't want to believe that one miserable person can bring such tragedy on our country and impact so powerfully on the destiny of us all."

My thanks go out to my neighbor Tom Frankart for introducing me to and lending me this terrific book.

When One Picture Is Indeed Worth a Thousand Words

Happy 40th Birthday, Sofia Vergara!

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Bucs at the Break

I know that I have been a bit quiet of late about the Pirates - somebody actually told me that they don't always read The Grandstander because they don't want to read about the Pirates all the time; can you imagine such a thing? - so a few opinions at the All-Star Break.

  • Eleven games over .500 and in first place at the Break.  Did you in your wildest dreams imagine such a thing on Opening Day?  Be honest now, because I sure didn't?
  • What can you say about Andrew McCutchen?  18 home runs, 60 RBI's and a .362 average.  Haven't seen a season like this since Barry Bonds was winning MVP Awards at Three Rivers Stadium.
  • In his blog today, Bob Smizik stated today that you Cutch will probably not maintain this severe assault on NL pitching, but, the scary thing is, he just might!
  • Pedro Alvarez also seems to be coming around.  Perhaps we may have to endure some more of those fallow periods he has had, but when he does hit, wow!  As it is, he has 16 HR and 50 RBI's.  Project those numbers out for the rest of the year and I'll take 'em, even with the strikeouts and the sub-.250 BA.
  • Pedro's two two-run RBI singles he had in back-to-back games last week might have been more impressive than any of his home runs this season.
  • That 8-7 walk-off (Drew Sutton!!!!) win over Houston on Tuesday had to be the highlight of the season so far.  When was the last time you saw such pure, unadulterated joy on a professional playing field in any sport?
  • And since Bob Smizik - and The Grandstander - wrote of cause for concern over the declining numbers for Neil Walker around Memorial Day, Pine Richland's Neil Walker has responded, capped by that 5-for-5 day yesterday that boosted his average to .291.
  • One of the more encouraging signs from the past two weeks as we look ahead to the second half were the two strong performances by Jeff Karstens.
  • I can't say for sure if the Pirates will make the playoffs, but I would be shocked - SHOCKED - to see any kind of implosion similar to what befell last year's team.  Having anchors like James McDonald and A.J. Burnett, and now maybe Karstens, will prevent any long losing streaks.
  • What does GM Neal do at the trading deadline.  Another pitcher? A strong hitter for the corner outfield? Or does someone come up from Indy (Starling Marte, Rudy Owens?) to fill those needs?  Lots of speculation in the next three weeks.  My own guess is that Neal will look for a pitcher first with "a bat" second.
  • McCutchen's participation in the Home Run Derby tonight is a mixed blessing.  I will be compelled to watch and root strongly for him, but will also have to endure the old, tired, and worn out act of Chris Berman.
  • Finally, the Zoltan signal that has become the team's rallying point is silly, immature, and goofy, and I love it!  the fact that it sprung up internally from within the clubhouse, and not manufactured by some front office PR flack, is what makes this fun and meaningful for the team.  It serves the purpose of past seasons' Green Weenies, Stargell Stars, and "We Are Family" anthems.  If the team goes deep into the post season this year, Zoltan will surely be commercialized and over-done next year, but for now, let's enjoy it!!  Right, Andrew?


Which Player Would You Take?

Here's a fun little game I like to play from time to time.  Here are the stats of two ballplayers.  Looking at these two guys, which one would you select for your team?

Player A

AB - 283
H - 65
BA - .230
HR - 14
RBI - 36
OPS - .730

Player B

AB - 283
H - 70
BA - .247
HR - 12
RBI - 44
OPS - .758

Not a whole lot of difference on the surface, but if pushed, you would probably take Player B, and say, "what the hell, he's better, but not by all that much."

OK, I'm not going to wait until tomorrow to identify these guys.  Player A is the combined statistics of Rod Barajas and Mike McKenry.  Player B is Matt Weiters.  (If you have to ask why I am making such a comparison, then you probably shouldn't be reading this blog!)  I do realize that no defensive abilities are included in this comparison.

Not making any judgements here, just having a little fun with numbers, while recognizing the famous quote of Benjamin Disraeli, "There are three kinds of lies:  Lies, damned lies, and statistics".

I also thank Dan Bonk whose recent Facebook post inspired this little but of game playing.

Movie Review: "To Rome With Love"

Marilyn and I wasted no time this weekend taking in the newest movie by Woody Allen, "To Rome With Love".  This one follows Woody's recent trend of filming on location in different European cities (London, Barcelona, and Paris), and, as with those other locations, this movie wants to make you immediately board a plane and visit Rome.  Really, having Woody Allen make a movie in your city has to be the greatest thing that could happen to a Chamber of Commerce.  Rome looks positively beautiful in this movie.

Anyway, this one involves four separate stories taking place concurrently in the Eternal City:

  • Woody (actually appearing in one of his movies for the first time in several years) and his wife (Judy Davis, a vet of several Allen movies) traveling to Rome to meet their daughter's fiance and his family.
  • An ordinary Italian citizen (Roberto Benigni) suddenly, inexplicably finds that he is a huge celebrity, famous for being famous.
  • An older, famous architect (Alec Baldwin) becomes a Greek Chorus of sorts to a young architect (Jesse Eisenberg) who is experiencing some romantic entanglements with his girlfriend and her visiting friend (Greta Gerwig and Ellen Page).
  • A young Italian couple in Rome on their honeymoon become separated and become involved with a sexy Italian male movie star and a high priced call girl (Penelope Cruz).  Don't ask how this all comes about.
The four stories are not interrelated, but each tells a separate tale in typical Woody fashion.  Nice to see Allen, now an old man, back on screen playing the "Woody Allen" persona with which fans are familiar.  And we even get a bonus in that area, since Eisenberg also plays the "Woody Allen-part" in this movie.  All the characters are great, but I especially liked the roles played by Allen, Davis, Baldwin, and Cruz, and they are great in them.

In his later years, Allen seems to be taking a more positive tone in the stories he tells, and each of the four stories told here end on an upbeat and positive note.  There a lot of laughs in this one, and we liked it a lot.

One word of warning: about half of this movie is spoken in Italian with English sub-titles, so be prepared for that.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Album Review: "That's Why God Made The Radio"

The Beach Boys are back!

I have to admit that when I heard that The Beach Boys were releasing their first studio album in like a million years, I had my doubts.  I had the thought that The Beach Boys recording a new album FIFTY YEARS after their first one, and forty-six years after their epic, "Pet Sounds", well, I had visions that this would be the musical equivalent of Willie Mays playing center field for the Mets.  However, Brian Wilson was back and fully involved in the writing, singing and recording of the album, "That's Why God Made the Radio", and I did read some fairly good reviews of the album, so I went to the record store (my desk, laptop, and iTunes) and made the purchase.

And I gotta tell you...The Beach Boys are back!  Oh, there may be no classic tunes like Good Vibrations, Wouldn't It Be Nice, or Warmth of the Sun, and this album may not be an equal to "Pet Sounds", but it is a far, far cry from Willie Mays as a Met.

The Beach Boys do not try to be twenty-something kids on this one.  You know that these are older - if not just plan "old" - men singing songs of love and good times, and, yes, we also get songs about  summer, the ocean and beaches, but with a wistful tone, a tone that says we're not kids any more.  The opening track is called "Think About the Days" and it sort of sets the tone for what is to follow.  Some of the great tunes on the album are "Spring Vacation", "Daybreak Over the Ocean", "Beaches in Mind", and "Summer's Gone".  It is this wistful nature of these songs that really appealed to me, and make this a really good album.  That, and that unmistakable "sound" of Brian Wilson and the rest of the Beach Boys.

I am sure that the only people who are going to buy this album are people like me, people on the far side of age 50,  which means this album will probably not be a huge commercial success for the Beach Boys, and I suspect that they knew that going into the venture.  I am glad that the Boys put all of their familial and artistic and business squabbles aside for this effort to make this album.  It makes a statement of sorts that I will enjoy listening to time and again.

There's Something Happenin' Here....

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

To Absent Friends: Andy Griffith

I recently became involved in a discussion on Facebook about the overuse of the word "iconic" in our everyday language.  One Loyal Reader in particular constantly bristles when the term is used, and I don't disagree, but, really, is there any other word that can be used in describing Andy Griffith, who passed away today at the age of 86?

"The Andy Griffith Show" (1960-68) stands as one of televisions all-time classic sitcoms.  That alone confers, sorry, iconic status on Griffith. That series produced one of THE all-time great characters in TV history, Don Knotts' Barney Fife (full disclosure: I pretty much stopped watching this show once Knotts left the cast), and other classic characters like Gomer Pyle, Floyd the Barber, Otis Campbell the town drunk, and many others, and it also introduced the talent of Ron Howard to the world.  Pretty good blood lines, I'd say.

Griffith went on to star in another popular series, "Matlock" which ran from 1986-95.  

Before series television, Griffith made a name for himself as a story-telling comedian, and many of those routines can be found on YouTube and are surfacing on Facebook today.  He also made a most impressive debut in Hollywood in 1957 in a movie called "A Face in the Crowd", which I saw for the first time a few months back.  This is what I had to say about it back in February:

I watched a movie last night called "A Face in the Crowd" from 1957, directed by Elia Kazan, and starring Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal. Good movie. All about the power of the media and it's cultural and political influence. Still very timely, and, from the viewpoint of 2012, this was one way ahead of its time. Griffith was really good in this dramatic role, but don't expect the folksy, friendly Andy of Mayberry if you watch this. Andy, playing a guy named Lonesome Rhodes, was not a very likable guy in this one. As Robert Osbourne observed on TCM, he never played another character like this again.

A native of North Carolina, Andy died in his home on Roanoke Island, a house that was pointed out to us many years ago on a boat tour of Manteo Sound in the Outer Banks many years ago.

RIP "Ange".

Monday, July 2, 2012

Johnny Mathis: Wonderful, Wonderful (which he didn't sing!)

My fears, expressed on Facebook yesterday, that going to see Johnny Mathis last night and worrying that he may have lost his touch at age 76-soon-to-be-77 proved, happily, to be unfounded.  He looked great, sounded great, and in a one hour and fifteen minute set, backed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, sang everything that the audience wanted to hear.  No new material for Johnny Mathis, just all his classic standards (with the exception, as noted above, of "Wonderful, Wonderful"), which is exactly what his audience wanted to hear.

My only gripe with the show, and it is a small one, is that at times the music from the Orchestra drowned out Mathis' vocals.  Was this poor acoustics (not likely at Heinz, Hall). or a sign that maybe Johnny can't his all the notes that he used to?  Who knows, and who cares.  It was a fabulous show.

Did I mention that he looks great?  He had on this absolutely beautiful suit on that was gray with shoes that matched the color of the suit exactly and a white open necked dress shirt.  The suit, I am sure, cost more than any ten suits that I ever bought in my life.  Man, did it look great!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The NFL, MLB, and Bob Walk

No one will argue that the National Football League stands head-and-shoulders above all other North American sports institutions in terms of popularity, marketing, the ability to read the pulse of its fan base, and in a myriad of other ways.  There are many reasons for this, and allow me to offer just one.

NFL followers do not obsess and whine incessantly whenever a team with roots in the original NFL, say the Pittsburgh Steelers, play a regular season game against a team from the original AFL, say, the Oakland Raiders.  They look at it as a part of the schedule and, in many such instances, they embrace and look forward to such contests.

NFL fans do not feel that the climactic event of its season, the Super Bowl, is tainted just because the two teams in it might have previously played each other in the regular season.  In fact, such games hold the possibility of becoming historic in the sport.  The Super Bowl between the Giants and Patriots that followed the 2007 season springs immediately to mind.

The NFL makes rules changes every year, some of them quite significant - there is talk of eliminating kick-offs, although this has not been adopted - and the fans accept these changes as part of the natural evolution of the game and do not rend there garments because the NFL punjabs are tampering with the very heart and soul of the game.

What causes me to mention this are the diatribes that Pirates announcer Bob Walk has been delivering of late against Inter-league play (been with us since 1997) and the designated hitter (been with us since 1973; that FORTY SEASONS now). Now I happen to like Bob Walk a lot.  Loved him when he pitched so nobly for the Bucs back in the day, and think he is a very good and insightful announcer, but he really needs to get off of this particular 

bandwagon and shut up!  I don't think he realizes that with the move of the Astros to the American League next year, two 15 team leagues means that there will be inter-league play every day next year (remember when three NFL teams moved to the "American Conference," which was the old AFL, in 1970 when the leagues merged? Worked out OK for football, I think).

As for the designated hitter, 2012 represents the FORTIETH season that it has been with us. What the American League adopted as an experiment in 1973 is now in use in every professional and amateur baseball league in every country on the globe where the game is played, except, as we all know, in the National League.  Sorry, but when it comes to the DH, it is the National League and it's adherents who look  like the goofballs by refusing to adopt it, and the completely ludicrous concept of MLB playing it's Championship Event each season under two sets of rules is so completely wrong that I can't even begin to find the words to address it.

Hey, those who know me know I love baseball - and the National League - first among all sports, and I love the "old school" nature of it (for example, I saw nothing wrong in Cole Hamels "welcoming" Bryce Harper to the big leagues with a fastball to the ribs!), but baseball shoots itself in the foot so often by clinging to the past, it sometimes drives me crazy.