Friday, November 30, 2012

Welcome, Russell Martin

The Pittsburgh Pirates and GM Neal "Smartest Guy in the Room" Huntington have struck quickly in the free agent market and signed catcher Russell Martin to a reported two year, $17 million deal.

What do I think about that?  Well, right off the bat, let's stipulate that Martin is not Johnny Bench.  We can also agree that it stinks that the Pirates do not have anyone in their developmental pipeline who can step in and be a solid, everyday, reasonably productive catcher.  That 2009 Number One draft pick Tony Sanchez is not, and may never be ready, to fulfill that role is symptomatic of one of the big problems of the NHR (Neal Huntington Regime), but ranting about THAT problem does not resolve the problem it has created, namely, who's going to don the tools if ignorance for the Bucs in 2013?

The free agent catcher market was very shallow this year, and in Martin the Pirates may have gotten the best of the lot.  He can hit for power (21 HR last year), but his batting average is not great (,211 last year) and his OPS (.713) is mediocre.   On the plus side, he threw out 24% of base runners attempting to steal last year.  (Come to think of it, compared to what Pirates catchers did in this department last year, this DOES make him Johnny Bench!)   Also, he will be only 30 years old when the season opens next year (by comparison, Rod Barajas was 36 when signed by the team last winter).

So, at this point in time, at least, Martin does represent an improvement over what the Pirates had last year, and yeah, I know that that is a very low bar to clear, but it is an improvement, nonetheless.  As I said, you can argue that the Pirates should have someone in the pipeline who is both a cheaper and better alternative, but they don't, so they have to do something about it, and they did.  We shall see how it turns out.

After reading lots of comments in the last several hours about this deal, I am struck by two things.  One thread wondered if the team consulted A.J. Burnett on this.  I would hope not.  Personally, I thought the whole "A.J. likes pitching to Barajas" thing was overblown last year.  If you are a good pitcher, which Burnett certainly proved to be last year, you can pitch to any catcher.  The other thread criticized the Pirates for "spending too much money" to sign Martin.  You can't have it both ways, folks - you can't lambaste the Pirates for being cheap and not spending money on payroll, and then criticize them when they do.

Anyway, we will all know soon enough if this is a good or bad signing for the Pirates.

Finally, I must confess to having a certain liking for Russell Martin.  In 2007, he was a member of my fantasy team, The Big Train, and in that magical season, the Big Train stormed to the Championship of the prestigious North Park League.  So - Welcome Home, Russell Martin!!!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Johnny Evers

Yes, I am talking about that Johnny Evers of "Tinker to Evers to Chance" fame. 

I have always maintained that it is worth subscribing to Sports Illustrated because about a half dozen or so times a year, they will publish a terrific article, usually a long one that is the last story in the issue, that is so good that it is, as I said, worth the price of a subscription.  So it is with this week's issue (Andrew Luck on the cover) with author Tim Layden's story about the Cubs' Hall of Fame second baseman, immortalized in 1910 in newspaperman Franklin P.  Adams' famous bit of baseball doggerel, "Baseball's Sad Lexicon", Johnny Evers (pronounced "EE-vers", by the way, not EV-ers).  

The hook to this story, however, is that fact that Evers was author Laydon's great-uncle, the brother of his maternal grandfather.  Even though "Uncle Johnny" had died 9 years before Layden was born, he, Layden, always dropped the name of his uncle into conversations.  No one could ever top being related to a Hall of Famer who also happened to be the subject of baseball's second most famous poem.  About a year ago, one of his Sports Illustrated colleagues asked Layden if he ever thought about doing a story about Evers.  That started  Layden on a journey that led to this week's SI feature.  As Layden puts it in the article, "it was a journey that reminded me of what every reporter knows: Disturbing the dust of mythology almost always damages the myth."

A great story and a great piece of writing.  If you are a baseball fan, you need to read this.  Hell, this is worth reading even if you are not a baseball fan.

Tributes: Cary Grant and George Harrison

November 29 is an unlucky date, apparently, for the world lost two giants in their fields on this date. 

In 1986, Cary Grant passed away at the age of 86.  Readers know that I am a huge Cary Grant fan.  In my mind, no actor, before or since, has what Cary Grant had, but don't take my word for it.  Check out the TCM Tribute video narrated by Tony Curtis.

And on this date in 2001, George Harrison passed away at the age of 58.  While searching for this video last night, Marilyn made the comment that Harrison was one of those men who got better looking as he got older.  Here is one of my favorite Harrison songs.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House"

At the urging of my friend, Mark Matera, I DVR'd this 1948 movie a few weeks back, and I finally got around to watching it last night.  What a comic gem.

The movie stars the incomparable Cary Grant and Myrna Loy as a married couple with two daughters living in a tiny apartment in New York City.  The operative word here is "tiny".  They decide to buy a house in the suburbs and end up building a house in the suburbs.  The whole thing just snowballs from there, as anyone who has ever built a house, or even bought a new house, can readily relate.  What, you didn't realize that you had ordered a "Zuzz-Zuzz Water Softener" for an additional four hundred bucks when your house was being built?  (Just hearing Cary Grant say "Zuzz-Zuzz Water Softener" makes this worth watching.)

By the way, the prices points really date this movie.  In 1948, $25,000 for a house in the Connecticut suburbs was considered outrageously expensive.  The themes expressed in the movie, however, are as relevant today as they were in 1948.  What is also timeless is the sheer comic brilliance of Cary Grant and the charm of Myrna Loy.  Her describing what colors she wants the paint and wallpaper in her new house to be is classic.

An old movie worth seeing, and one that will no doubt be included in future DVR Alerts.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

To Absent Friends: Marvin Miller

Marvin Miller, the first Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Union, died today at the age of 95.  Few men, and certainly no executive, cast a bigger shadow upon Major League Baseball than did Marvin Miller.  That he is not a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame is a supreme injustice, and proof that even decades after his retirement, he continues to rankle the baseball establishment.

I will not recount the historic contributions of Marvin Miller.  If you are a baseball fan, you already know them, and you know his place in history.  As an obit I just read on Yahoo! Sports just put it, if you were to draw up a list of the most influential people in baseball history, and if after five names your list does NOT include Marvin Miller, then you need to start your list over again.

At the SABR Convention I attended in Cincinnati a few years back, Miller was the Keynote Speaker, and it was fascinating to hear him.  Well in his eighties and long retired at the time, Miller still retained all of the passion that he brought to the job when he first took it in 1966.  Every player in MLB should wear some sort of patch on their uniforms in 2013 in tribute to Miller, but I doubt that the Lords of the Realm will allow it to happen.

RIP Marvin Miller.

The College Conference Landscape

The collegiate sports landscape underwent yet another huge change with the announcement last week that the University of Maryland and Rutgers University would be leaving the ACC and Big East, respectively, to join the Big Ten.  Reports are surfacing that other schools in the Big East are being coveted by the ACC, while schools in the ACC are being coveted by the Big Ten.  

Where is this leading?  Well, I believe, and I am far from original in this thinking, that where we are eventually heading, probably before the end of this decade, is to a set up of four sixteen team "Super Conferences".  These conferences will be the descendants of what we now know as the Big Ten, Big Twelve, PAC 12, and SEC.  Sixty-four schools known primarily for football, and make no mistake, this is a football driven initiative because that, as Willie Sutton might put it, is where the money is.

Some questions:

What happens to the Big East and ACC?   As I postulated the other day, the Big East is done.  It needs to return to it's roots as a haven for non-football and primarily Catholic basketball playing colleges.  As for the ACC, haven't you always thought of the ACC as a basketball, and not a football conference?  I know that I have.  I fear that a school like Duke, which hasn't been relevant in big time football in my lifetime, is going to be left in the dust.

What happens to Pitt?   Pitt is committed to the ACC starting next year, but I fear that they, and schools like Syracuse, UConn, and, yes, even a kingpin like Duke, are going to be forced to settle for something else once the 64 super teams are settled upon.  What that "something else" will be is anybody's guess.  Conferences like the ACC and whatever might be left of the Big East will be second tier conferences.

Is it possible that the four Super Conferences thumb their noses at the NCAA, secede, and set up their own self-governing body?  Some in-the-know media people say that this is not beyond the realm of possibility.

What will Notre Dame do? A most interesting question.  Notre Dame has fiercely coveted its independent status where football is concerned, and one of the primary reasons, although not the only reason, for that is their unique football TV contract with NBC.  However, that contract reportedly pays ND $15 million a year.  That's a lot of money to me, but in a world where Maryland shrugs off a $50 million exit fee from the ACC, $15 million is relative peanuts.  AD Jack Swarbuck is already expressing concerns about the future of the ACC.  In the new world order of the Super Conferences, Notre Dame would be a perfect fit for the Big Ten (even though geography is becoming less and less of a factor), and their share of the loot from the Big Ten Network should easily eclipse what they are pulling in from NBC.  It may seem unimaginable to many for Notre Dame to be anything but an independent, but, as a great man once said, the times they are a-changin'.

Does it make sense for minor sports teams, like swimming, lacrosse, and golf, for example, to schedule meets, games or matches that involve such disparate locations as, say, Lincoln, Nebraska and Piscataway, New Jersey?   No, it doesn't, unless there is just so much money from football that the expenses involved in such scheduling just won't matter.  Perhaps a new paradigm involving such sports needs to be developed in this new world order, and just what that is, I don't know.

What becomes of basketball's March Madness?  Good question.  Will the sixty-four super conference schools set up their own hoops tournament at season's end, relegating schools such as Pitt, Syracuse, Duke, Connecticut (theoretically speaking) to play in a beefed up NIT-type event?  Don't forget, the NCAA hoops tourney is a major cash cow itself, but it seems that even this is dwarfed by whatever money the new football set-up will generate.  If the Super Sixty-Four do secede from the NCAA, will the NCAA swallow hard and say, "hey, it's OK if you guys want to still be with us for basketball"?  And will a basketball tournament involving only the four Super Conferences still have the cachet among the bracket-pool playing public as the current tournament set-up has?

While many of these thoughts and opinions are my own, I am also indebted for the input of opinions expressed by guests - such as Bob Ryan, Michael Wilbon, and Pat Forde -  on the Tony Kornheiser Radio show podcasts, as well as the opinions of friends such as Dan Bonk and Fred Shugars.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Happy Birthday, Tom Seaver

Hall of Fame Pitcher Tom Seaver turns 68 years old today.

This picture is how I always think of Tom Seaver.  A fantastic competitor and perhaps the best pitcher of his generation.

  • 311-205 career W-L record
  • 2.86 career ERA
  • Five time twenty game winner
  • 231 complete games
  • 61 shut outs
  • 3,640 strike outs
  • Five time league leader in strike outs
He played for the Mets at a time when they were among the Pirates' most bitter rivals, so I never much rooted for Tom Seaver, but in looking back, I'm honored to say that I saw him pitch.

Happy Birthday!

Well Played, Notre Dame...and Other Sunday Morning Thoughts

Big College Football day yesterday.....

  • Congratulations to the University of Notre Dame on their 22-13 win over USC last night.  The win secures an undefeated regular season and a berth in the BCS title game in January.  They thoroughly earned that victory last night, especially with those goal line stands.  Very impressive.  If I am a Notre Dame fan, however, I would be concerned that the Irish had to settle for field goals on multiple occasions when touchdowns were within easy reach, but that is a concern for another day.
  • One of the many ridiculous aspects of the BCS System (which has one more year to live) is that ND now must wait 45 days to play in the game that will decide the Championship.  With a conference title game ahead of them, their presumptive opponent,  Alabama or Georgia, will have "only" 38 days of idleness before taking on the Irish.
  • As I said, I salute Notre Dame for their terrific season, but, and with apologies to my friends who are ND loyalists, I find Brian Kelly to be a very hard guy to like.  This, of course, does not make him unique among college football coaches.
  • With apologies to SABR Buddy, Facebook Friend, Razorback Alum, and SEC Loyalist Madison McEntire, I have to say that I am delighted to note that there will NOT be an all-SEC BCS title game this year.  
  • Does Pitt's shellacking of Big East leader Rutgers yesterday say more about Pitt, Rutgers, or the overall quality of Big East football in 2012?
  • And does Pitt's near victory over title game-bound Notre Dame a few weeks back say more about Pitt or Notre Dame?
  • I think that the Big East as a football conference is done.  Dead as a doornail, as Scrooge said of Marley.  I think that the Big East needs to reinvent itself back into what it was originally intended to be - a basketball only conference for non-football playing and predominantly Catholic colleges and universities.
  • Penn State closes with a win over Wisconsin and an 8-4 record.  If you are reading this, you know all about the obstacles that faced the team and new head Coach Bill O'Brien coming into this season, so I won't recount them again.  Suffice to say that what O'Brien and his players did was one of the best stories in college football this year.
  • Special props to the Penn State players who stayed when they had a chance to leave, but the real test for O'Brien and the team will begin now.  Will players who are now sophomores and juniors decide to leave if the opportunity presents itself? And what will be the quality and the number of players that O'Brien will recruit when those players know that they will have no chance of playing for a conference championship or in a Bowl game over the course of their four years?
  • And what about Bill O'Brien himself?   Stories of him being on NFL teams' wish lists persist and he is coyly making no effort to scuttle those stories.  From a pure football point of view, should he decide to leave Happy Valley, that night be a blow almost as difficult from which to recover as any other that has faced PSU in the past year.
  • I would like to think that O'Brien will stay the course and remain at Penn State, but if you rely on the sense of loyalty of college coaches, you are bound to be disappointed.
  • On the subject of those players who stayed, it was a great gesture for all the Penn State players to wear the number 42, the number of injured senior Mike Mauti, on their helmets yesterday.  More than any other player, Mauti really symbolized Penn State this year.
  • Oh, and speaking of coaches who are difficult to like, as I was earlier, did you see where Ohio State honored their 2002 National Championship team at yesterday's game?  This included honoring Coach Jim Tressel and having those '02 players carrying Tressel into the stadium on their shoulders.  
  • No doubt the Buckeyes Nation roared their approval of this.  I guess they forgot that Tressel is the prime reasons why this year's 12-0 team is on probation and ineligible to compete for the BCS Title. 
Moving onto the pros, the Steelers take on the Hated Browns today on the lakefront.   I have to be honest and say that the rash of injuries that have confronted the team, especially at quarterback, have diminished my expectations, which weren't all that high to begin with, for the team for the remainder of the season.  Don't get me wrong, I'll be planted in front of the tube come 1:00 and rooting like always, but the emotional investment that comes with high expectations just aren't there.  Of course, all of that could change with a win today in Cleveland and in Baltimore next week, followed by an earlier than expected return by Ben Roethlisberger, but at this point, that's not the smart way to bet.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

To absent Friends: Cleve Duncan

Regular readers know that I like to check out the obituaries to find the passing of perhaps obscure, but nonetheless significant, persons from our Popular Culture.  So it is today that I note the passing of Cleve Duncan at the age of either 77 or 78, depending on what source you check.

Cleve Duncan was the lead singer of a 1950's R&B one-hit-wonder group called the Penguins.  Still wondering who he is?  Well, there is no doubt that if you are of a certain age, you no doubt danced to the Penguins only big hit in some sweaty high school gym, and you have no doubt heard it in countless movies, as the tune is often used in soundtracks to evoke a certain era.   The song is "Earth Angel".  Released in 1955, Rolling Stone Magazine rates it as one of the 500 greatest rock & roll songs of all time.

No one may know the name of Cleve Duncan, and I don't know what kind of a life he had, but it must be pretty cool to know that you sang a song that people will be listening to forever.

For your listening pleasure:

RIP Cleve Duncan

To All Loyal Readers.....

Happy Thanksgiving 2012!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Birthday, Goldie Hawn

For those of us old enough to remember Laugh-In, we send Happy 67th Birthday greetings to  Goldie Hawn, who certainly qualifies to high standings in the Aging Babe Division.  I'd say that she's aging gracefully, wouldn't you?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Conspiracy Theory

Two news items from last several days:
  1. The Steelers announce that they may sue the Sports and Exhibition Authority over who should pay for the new seats that they, the Steelers, want installed at Heinz Field.  The Steelers feel that they, who will be enriched the most by these 3,000 new seats, should be paid for by someone other than them.
  2. Art Rooney II hosts a $1,000 a plate fundraising dinner for the reelection campaign of Boy Mayor Like Ravenstahl. 
Coincidence?  Maybe, but I'll bet I can guess whose side the Boy Mayor will come down on in this tussle, especially if Art II lets Luke hang around the locker room after games and get autographs and stuff.

"The Racketeer" by John Grisham

I have just finished reading the current #1 on the Fiction Best-Seller list, John Grisham's "The Racketeer".

A prisoner in a federal prison camp in Maryland claims to know who shot and killed a Federal judge and his mistress, and he will tell all, if he gets released from prison, has all charges against him dropped, and is allowed to enter the Federal Witness Protection Program.  As with all Grisham novels, we see all sorts of maneuverings by lawyers, prosecutors, FBI guys, underworld bad guys, and other assorted low lifes, and you are not always sure as to who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.

This wasn't the best of the Grisham books that I've read, far from it in fact, and it appeared that the author might have been phoning it in as he was writing it.  Still, after I got about half-way through it, I found myself compelled to keep reading until I finished if for no other reason than to see how he was going to tie everything together.

Load this one on your Kindle or eReader at a reduced price, or wait until the paperback hits, and read this one if you have a long plane trip ahead of you or a trip to the beach.  Other than that, I wouldn't make this one a priority.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

To Absent Friends: Booth Lusteg

Thanks to a comment made by John Mehno on Facebook earlier this morning, I learned that former Steelers (and Bills, Dolphins, and Packers) placekicker Booth Lusteg passed away in Florida this past July, a victim of cancer at the age of 73.

For those who think Steelers history began with Franco's Immaculate Reception in 1972, Lusteg spent a couple of seasons in the late 1960's with the Steelers, a refugee from the "inferior" AFL with an odd name, Lusteg sort of symbolized the futility that defined the Steelers for most of their history before the arrival of Chuck Noll.

Reading the Florida obituary that John posted, you learn that Lusteg was pretty interesting guy.  In his post football life, he became a nationally ranked seniors tennis player, an ordained minister, an author, a motivational speaker, and above all, a beloved family man.  All in all, a life well lived, as you can read below:

RIP Booth Lusteg.

Topsy-Turvy BCS

Two weeks ago, four undefeated teams sat atop the BCS standings: Alabama, Kansas State, Oregon, and Notre Dame.  Maybe, possibly, one of these teams would lose a game, but surely there would be at least one undefeated team left out in the cold when the BCS Title match-up was determined. 

While football purists would argue about what would be the best match-up against Alabama (because surely they  weren't going to lose; why they were so good, they could beat a bad NFL team, right?), there was clearly no doubt who ESPN wanted in that title game: Notre Dame vs. Anybody.  Guaranteed TV ratings gold. But how could the Irish possibly jump two spots in the standings - especially after almost losing to Pitt! - to get that spot?

You all know what happened: Alabama loses last week to drop to 4th, and last night, in an unbelievable parlay, BOTH Kansas State and Oregon lose, and ND will jump to Number One when the BCS releases its standings later today.  Not only that, but should Alabama beat Auburn next week, which they should, and should they win the SEC title game, which they should, then no doubt they will be the team that will face the Irish in the title game.  Also, we will get to hear during the endless period between the end of the season and the BCS title game the persistent bleatings of the SEC Loyalists telling us how great the SEC is.  And you thought the attack ads leading up to the election were bad.

The one team that could throw a monkey wrench into the wonderful little scenario is the University of Southern California who take on Notre Dame in Los Angeles next week.  Ranked number one in many pre-season forecasts, the Trojans have defined the term "underachieving" this season.  They have lost four times this season, and continue to be surrounded by the shadowy doings (changing uniform numbers, under-inflated footballs) of their shady coach, Lane Kiffen.  While underachievers they may be, they are still a talented team, certainly more talented than the Pitt Panthers that ND struggled to beat in triple overtime, and Notre Dame had better be on top of its game in LA next week.  Can't imagine the BCS turmoil that would be created should USC win that game.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Movie Review: "Lincoln"

A week ago I wrote that after all the hype, and considering the high powered talent involved in making this movie, if it was anything less that terrific, it would have to be considered a disappointment.  I am now here to tell you that  no, it is most definitely not a disappointment, and yes, it is terrific.

The movie centers on a relatively brief, but tremendously important and historic time during President Lincoln's administration - the time following his reelection in 1864 and prior to his inauguration in March, 1865, when he sought to get the 13th amendment to the Constitution passed by the House of Representatives.  Yeah, this is a movie about a piece of legislation.  How boring can you get, right?  Considering all that was involved: abolishing slavery, ending the Civil War, a President dealing with a bunch of recalcitrant Congressmen, and even some recalcitrant cabinet members, this becomes a real political thriller.  The movie is two and one-half hours long, but is so totally compelling and mesmerizing, that it goes by in the proverbial blink of an eye.

Of course, one bad thing about this movie is that it may take away all sense of drama and suspense come Academy Awards night.  Expect nominations for the Best Picture, director Steven Spielberg, screenwriter Tony Kushner, and, of course, actors Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, and Sally Field, and probably a few others who might deserve nods, but might be crowded out like David Strathairn and James Spader, not to mention all of the technical awards nominations it will no doubt receive.  I wish I could take credit for this line, but I will quote Post-Gazette critic Barry Paris who said that Day-Lewis looks like he stepped right off of a five dollar bill to play Abe Lincoln.  An absolutely amazing and terrific performance.  Of course, there is no film footage of Abe Lincoln, but I imagine that this representation is exactly what he was like.

Great movie.  Do not miss it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Meeting a Legend

One of my favorite events to work as a volunteer at the Heinz History Center is the annual Sportsmanship Summit sponsored by the WPIAL.  Over 600 high school athletes from the WPIAL attend this event.  The main speakers at today's Summit were former Penn State coach Tom Bradley and basketball star Swin Cash, she of McKeesport High School, University of Connecticut, WNBA, and US Olympic fame.

One of my duties today, along with fellow docent Marti Donovan, was to meet Ms. Cash when she arrived and escort her to the room where the event was taking place.  We did that, and I have to say that she was a most gracious lady, very pleasant to talk with and quite charming.  She certainly didn't "big time" us, or the kids that she was there to address.  Her message to the student-athletes in attendance was a very good one.  

Very cool to meet and chat with a truly elite athlete and first class person.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bring Back the Tie

With the 49ers and Rams playing to a tie on Sunday, the first tie game in the NFL since 2008, I wondered if perhaps we might not be better off if regular season games were allowed to end in a tie.  I can recall Myron Cope once talking on this subject and he said that often times, not always, perhaps, but more often than not, a tie is a just result in a football game.  Frustrating perhaps, but just.

I didn't watch that 49ers game, so I can't comment on it, but let's look at last night's Steelers game.  Had it ended in 13-13 tie, as it would have prior to the institution of regular season overtime, could you argue that it would not have been, as Myron put it, a "just result"?  Certainly, an argument could be made that the Steelers didn't deserve to win that game.  The same argument could be made for the Chiefs, for that matter. 

With the concern for player safety, why make the players slog through a possible additional 15 minutes of play?  They even play OT in exhibition games, which is really ridiculous.  Anyway, what's wrong with factoring in ties in determining the standings?

I don't expect that many will agree with me on this, but isn't it worth considering? 

Winning Ugly

Some thoughts on last night's Steelers win over the horrid Chiefs.....

  • Late in the telecast Jon Gruden said that even great teams have to win some ugly games over the course of a season, and that one last night was about as ugly as it gets.
  • Still, it IS a win, and at season's end, no one will remember how it was accomplished.
  • What will be remembered most, however, may well be this play:

  • As I type this, I have not heard what the final results or the extent of the Roethlisberger shoulder injury.  Suffice to say, if he's out for any extended period, say good-bye to any playoff aspirations for Rooney U.
  • If there was any doubt as to who the MVP is on this team, they should have been erased when you saw how the Steelers played in the second half without Ben Roethlisberber.
  • That Chiefs team may have been as bad a pro football team as I have seen in recent memory.  For a team that had not led in a game all season to get hit with an excessive celebration penalty tells you all you need to know about them.  
  • I know that the weather was awful, and that no doubt played into the Steelers performance last night, but having the Chiefs take you to overtime is disturbing.
  • At the beginning of the season, I thought that this might be a year for the Steelers to take a step back, go maybe 8-8 or 9-7 and miss the playoffs.  Going to overtime against the Chiefs only reinforces that opinion.  Even more so with the Ben injury.
  • Should we halt production on the busts of Jonathon Dwyer and Isaac Redman in Canton for the time being?
  • I may well have missed it, but I can't recall James Harrison's name being called once last night.  Or much in any recent game for that matter.
  • I turned ESPN on at around 8:20 last night, only to see that the pre-game blather was still going on.  The insufferable Chris Berman and Stuart Scott led a team of six, count 'em, six ex-NFL jocks and coaches.  EIGHT GUYS FOR 90 MINUTES FOR A GAME INVOLVING THE CHIEFS!  Is that really necessary?  Talk about killing flies with elephant guns.
  • On the other hand, I have to say that I enjoyed Jon Gruden in his role as analyst on the telecast of the game itself.  Very knowledgeable, not overly intrusive.  I don't always watch the Monday Night game, so I was pleasantly surprised.
  • The Ravens twice in the next three weeks.  Will #7 be available?  That's what this season has now come down to.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

This, That, and The Other On a Sunday Morning....

Sunday morning.  Time to clean out the Mental In-Box....

  • If the State of Florida can't figure out how to run an election and count votes, I am glad that the election was decided on, you know, Election Day, rather than four or five days later when Florida finally figured it out.   Glad that nation will not be held hostage to Florida while they figure out how to count.
  • I divided my Election Night viewing among three networks - NBC, CBS, and CNN.  I loved all of the high tech touch screens as manned by Chuck Todd and John King.  Very impressive, but I found myself missing Tim Russert and his hand-held white board and marking pens.
  • I also noted that CNN seemed to lag behind the other networks when calling a state for one candidate or another.
  • Late in the evening, after the President made his speech, NBC interviewed some guy, and I regret that I cannot remember his name, but he was identified as a "Republican Strategist".  It was a fascinating interview as this gent explained exactly why Mitt Romney lost the election.  Seems to me that the GOP should pay heed to this guy if they ever want to win an election that is open to ALL people in ALL fifty states.
  • You can't really judge a football coach in his first season, especially a college coach who has to be given at least two or three recruiting classes, so I don't want to be too harsh on Pitt's Paul Chryst.  However, much of Pitt's loss to a lousy Connecticut team on Friday night has to fall on the coaches, I think.  It sure did not seem that the players were ready or even taking that game seriously as UConn got out to that 24-0 first half lead.
  • Marilyn Sproule, aka, Mrs. Grandstander, had a great line as the scored rolled to 24-0: "Wonder what that kicker has to say about Tino Sunseri about now?"
  • No Steelers game today.  How are you planning on spending your Sunday afternoon?
  • I hope that Mike Tomlin and the Steelers were watching Pitt sleep walk through the UConn game as they prepare to play the crummy KC Chiefs on Monday Night.  
  • On the other hand, this game with the Chiefs will be an automatic "W" on the Steelers schedule, right?  Just like those two for sure wins with the Raiders and the Titans were.
  • Has any movie received the pre-release hype that "Lincoln" has over these last several months?  Steven Speilberg, Daniel Day-Lewis, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and ABRAHAM LINCOLN, for crying out loud!!!  If this movie is anything less than great, it is going to be a big disappointment.  I plan on being at the Robinson Cinemark on Friday afternoon to find out which way it's gonna be.
  • Attended a terrific "Wine Dinner" at St' John Neumann Church last night.  This annual event is a big fundraiser for the Parish's Appalachia Work Camp Project.  Great night, AND it should be noted that The Grandstander won one of the primo gift baskets in the Gift Baskets Raffle.
  • In a sleazy profession, Lane Kiffen is certainly in the Top Ten, if not top Five, of sleazy football coaches.  Maybe you've heard about the deflated footballs incident from last weekend. If not, then check this story from Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde:
  • On a day when the nation was busy with the minor task of electing a President, Pirates owner Bob Nutting, aka Captain Nuts, decided to hold a press conference to announce that he was making no changes to The Best Management Team In Baseball, If Not All Sports.  However, as John Mehno writes today, it wasn't all "no news" from Capt. Nuts: 
  • Alabama falls to Texas A&M yesterday.  Wonder if there are still people who think the Tide could beat the Kansas City Chiefs.
  • With the idea of a 'Bama-Notre Dame BCS title game now scotched, who do you think ESPN wants for it's BCS match-up?  ND-Oregon or ND-Kansas State?
  • Has any team fallen so far so quickly as has the WVU Mountaineers in the past month or so?
  • If the fact that the Director of the CIA couldn't keep his extra-marital affair a secret doesn't put the fear of God into anyone considering such a dalliance, then they deserve whatever bad comes to them.
I will close with reiterating a couple of thoughts from earlier in the week:
  1. Thanks today - and every day - to all Veterans!!
  2. This coming Thursday is Children's Grief Awareness Day.  Please wear blue on that day to support Grieving Children and to let them know that you care.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Movie Review: "Skyfall" (Contains No Spoilers)

2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the James Bond movie franchise, "Skyfall" is the 23rd movie in the series, and Daniel Craig is on board for the third time as 007, and this movie is really a wild ride.

The "MacGuffin" in this movie is a computer hard drive that contains the names of over fifty MI6 agents who are embedded in the field.  The bad guys threatens to keep releasing the names of these agents, which would not only put their lives in danger, but would severely compromise British national security world wide.  Who to turn to?  Well, "Bond, James Bond" is the obvious answer, but too many people in high places are questioning whether Bond's and MI6's old ways of doing things are outdated.  As one young MI6 whippersnapper puts it, "I can do more damage at a laptop in my pajamas before my morning tea than you can with your way of doing things".  However, later in the movie, one character says "Sometimes, the old ways are still the best", and that is exactly what Bond and his boss, M, set out to prove.

Along the way, we see a spectacular chase scene to open the movie, Bond engaging the bad guys in skyscraper, in an Asian casino, a London subway tunnel, a Parliamentary hearing room, and on the Scottish moors.   All of these scenes are wildly implausible, of course, but they make for great fun and terrific movie viewing.  This movie is a great improvement over the last one, "Quantum of Solace".  Craig makes a very good James Bond, and I have to mention that the villain in this one is played by Javier Bardem with the same maniacal intensity as he showed in his Oscar winning role in "No Country For Old Men" a few years back. Evil incarnate.   And as is typical of this series, when the movie ends, the credits begin with the message - "James Bond Will Return."  Good news for all of us.

In a completely silly train of thought, about halfway through the movie I began thinking of Bond as a "double-naught spy".   Daniel Craig may be no Sean Connery (as Mrs. Grandstander always points out), but he does have it all over Max Baer, Jr.

Next week: "Lincoln".

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Veteran's Day

To honor and thank all of our nation's Veterans this year, let me invite you to watch this video by Bob Dvorchak. It's from Veteran's Day 2011, but the message is timeless.

By the way, Bob has done another Veteran's Day salute for this year, but it is not up on YouTube as yet.  You can find it at

Special thanks go out to my two brothers and two of my brothers-in-law for their service.

Please Take 39 Seconds.....

....and watch this video.  Thanks!!!

Children's Grief Awareness Day - November 15

One week from today, Thursday, November 15, is Children's Grief Awareness Day.  

The simplest way to observe this day is to wear blue and to let people know that you are wearing blue to show your support for grieving children.

I would also urge you to visit the Caring Place's Children's Grief Awareness Day website to learn more about how you can observe this day.

Also, if you are on Facebook, visit the page for Children's Grief Awareness Day and join in the discussion about observing this day:

Highmark Caring Place locations are planning special events on November 15.  You can learn about those events by contacting the Caring Place location nearest you.  Also, many schools are also having events to commemorate the day.  Perhaps, your school is one of them.

Allow me to share a  passage from the website:

Children's Grief Awareness Day is an opportunity for all of us to raise awareness of the painful impact that the death of a loved one has in the life of a child. An opportunity for all of us to recognize and support the millions of grieving children across the nation — the thousands of grieving children right in our own communities — the grieving children we know and see in our daily lives.

Children's Grief Awareness Day is an opportunity to make sure that grieving children receive the support they need.

Even though my heart was broken when my brother died, the butterfly means that it won't always hurt so bad. - 8-year-old

What's with Florida?

For the second time in the last four Presidential elections, the State of Florida still cannot certify the results of the election as voted by its citizens.  Fortunately, the final determination of this year's election does not hang in the balance of Florida's 29 electoral votes, so the nation is spared the near-constitutional crisis that we had in 2000.  It seems to me that in the second decade of the 21st century, what with these new-fangled computers and electronic voting machines and all, that this type of circus should not be taking place.  I read an online article today that quoted Florida officials and citizens who were freely calling this situation an "embarrassment".  One official was quoted to the effect that they will look at what went wrong, what went right, and use this as a learning experience to make sure this doesn't happen again.  

Seems to me that they should have done THAT after the 2000 election.

The Big Announcement from Captain Nuts

It's hard to come up with words for Bob Nutting's (aka, Captain Nuts, Commander of the Ship of Fools) big announcement this week, which, in true Pirates fashion, was made on the same day that America was going about electing a President, no doubt hoping that it would be lost in the shuffle.  Dejan Kovacevic, Bob Simizik, and others have written some great stuff on this, but the best analysis I've seen came in Gene Collier's column this morning, and I recommend it highly:

Read the whole column, by all means, but I cannot resist printing one paragraph here.  What a terrific metaphor:

Huntington took the car keys from Nutting near the end of 2007, drove a junky 68-win team down into a 57-105 ditch three years later and has now steered teams cruising toward the postseason hard into the guard rails in consecutive summers.

I wish I could write like that.

Monday, November 5, 2012

On Tino

I have not been a Tino Sunseri basher, nor do I like to bash on college football players in general.  Despite the corruption in college sports, they still are, after all, college kids, and 99% of them will never play football again after they leave college.  That said, I have to agree with the comment that Peter King made in today's Monday Morning Quarterback:

Not a fan of Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri saying after his kicker, Kevin Harper, missed a 33-yard field goal in overtime, "We missed a field goal. That's why we lost the game." What a teammate Sunseri is. Pitt blew a 20-6 lead in the fourth quarter, and Harper made four of five field goals in the 29-26 loss. But he missed the one field goal that would have won it in the second overtime. Everyone who watched the game, and everyone in the Pitt locker room, understands a makeable field goal would have won the game. But to put the spotlight on one guy -- that's not what the quarterback on a team should do.

While Sunseri has never been great, he has, at times, been a serviceable college quarterback in his years at Pitt, and the frequent coaching changes sure haven't helped him, but this is the kind of stuff for which he will be remembered.  

The Johnstown Flood Museum

Regular readers may recall me posting a few months back about reading David McCullough's 1968 book, "The Johnstown Flood" (

Well, reading that book prompted me to want to visit the Johnstown Flood Museum in Johnstown.  We planned the trip for last Monday, October 29.  Kind of ironic that we made this visit on the same day that Hurricane Sandy was bearing down on the East Coast, bringing with it the type of devastation that was delivered to Johnstown back in 1889.  The Museum was a most interesting one.  The highlight was a documentary film that was made in 1990, and which won an Academy Award, by the way, and a diorama of the flood path from the dam at the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club, through the valley, and onto Johnstown itself.

In the intervening week since our visit and the touchdown of Sandy, a couple of thoughts occurred to me.  Residents along the east coast last week knew that Sandy was on its way, knew to prepare for it and knew, in extreme cases, to evacuate the area.  This level of preparedness, which we take for granted in the 21st century, no doubt saved hundreds of lives.  The people of Johnstown had no such warnings in 1889.  Also, Sandy was natural disaster, and while it was torrential rains in 1889 that led to the breaching of the South Fork Dam, the disaster could have, maybe, been prevented but for the arrogance of those members of the South Fork Club.

It took about two hours to tour the Museum, and I would recommend it.  The weather was lousy when we were there, so we were unable to get to the site of the dam.  Maybe another time.

We were planning to stay overnight in Johnstown and, on our way home, visit the Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana, PA.  We did stay overnight, but we found out by checking on line that the Stewart Museum would be closed the next day due to the weather conditions.  Guess that a day trip to Indiana will be in the cards for us at some point in the future.

I will close with one more picture.  I found this bit of Label Copy at the Museum to be interesting considering what prompted us to make this trip in the first place:

Happy Birthday, Elke Sommer

Today is the 72nd birthday of German actress Elke Sommer.

Back in around 1980, give or take a year or two, and via circumstances I won't bother to recount, I had the opportunity to come face to face with Ms. Sommer at Heinz Hall.  All I can say is that she was the most stunningly beautiful woman I had ever seen up to that point, and no one has come close since.

Of course, I am not including my wife in this accounting.

Anyway, Happy Birthday, Ms. Sommer.

Friday, November 2, 2012

"Judgement at Nuremberg"

Again, taking my own advice, I went to the DVR yesterday and watched this absolutely terrific 1961 movie, Stanley Kramer's "Judgement at Nuremberg".  What a great movie.  Abby Mann won the Oscar in 1961 for his screenplay on this movie and what a piece of writing.  He gave to almost each of his principal actors some fabulous set pieces of dialog to deliver, and every one of them delivered.

The actors you see in the picture above are Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Maximilian Schell, Judy Garland, and Montgomery Clift.  At one point or another in the movie, each of these actors had the opportunity to deliver scenes and dialog that fairly screamed "Academy Award", and they all delivered.  Tracy and Schell had several such scenes, and each were nominated for Best Actor that year, with Schell winning the Oscar.  Both Clift and Garland received supporting actor nominations, and both gave performances that were almost painful to watch - and I mean that in a complimentary way, of course.  And then there was Lancaster as one of the accused war criminals.  He didn't have a lot of dialog, only one lengthy piece near the end when he testified, but, man, what he could say with his eyes and his facial expressions.  The acting alone makes this movie a real treat to watch.  Kramer was also nominated for Best Director.

The story may be a familiar one - 1948 Nazi war crimes trials, the Holocaust, who knew what, who is to blame, should the entire country be held accountable for the crimes of a few monsters, and the political pressures and realities that were arising as the political realities of a post-WW II world was emerging are all spotlighted in this long, but riveting movie.  

It is a movie that should be mandatory viewing in all high school history classes, I believe.  In fact, it might not be a bad thing if it were mandatory viewing for everyone once, say, every five years or so.

Great, great movie.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Final Baseball Thoughts for 2012

Some final 2012 baseball thoughts while applying some neetsfoot oil to the glove before putting it away for the winter.....

  • Can you think of a World Series that will be less memorable as time goes on than the Giants just completed sweep of the Tigers?  Unless you are a Giants fan, I'll bet there will be a lot of people who won't even be able to name who played in it once the opening of Spring Training rolls around.
  • This is to take nothing - NOTHING - away from the Giants for their victory.  It was thoroughly convincing and well earned.  Considering that during the course of the post-season, they faced SIX elimination games and won every one of them, it was pretty remarkable.
  • The irony is that three Tigers' pitchers, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, and Max Sherzer all pitched games that would have probably earned them victories, say, eight out of ten times, and that it was their rock, Justin Verlander, arguably the best pitcher in baseball, who let them down and got rocked in Game One.  That, and the anemic Tiger bats, pretty much set the tone for what was to follow.
  • My lasting memories of this post-season will be (1) the game Barry Zito pitched in Game 5 of the NLCS, (2) watching the Washington Nationals snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by blowing a 6-0 lead and giving up four runs in the ninth in Game Five with the Cardinals to lose the NLDS, (3) the ALCS game where the Yankees tied the Tigers in the bottom of the ninth, lost Derek Jeter to a broken ankle, then saw the Tigers win in the twelfth, and (4) that ridiculous interpretation of the infield fly rule in the NL Wild Card game..
  • Too bad that the excitement of the Division and League Championship seasons couldn't have carried forward into the World Series.  Bud Selig and the other MLB Bigdomes had to be disappointed in that.
  • I think the Orioles beat the Phillies in four games in the 1983 Series.  That was pretty unmemorable.
  • I have been on this soapbox before, but allow me once again to say that I think it would be wonderful if Major League Baseball would adopt "uniform police" much like the NFL does.  I hate the pants-down-to-the-shoetops look, but what might be even be worse is seeing players on teams with old fashioned knickers and high socks while other players go with the long pants.  Even then, players screw it up.  Hunter Pence and Barry Zito wear the high solid black socks, while teammate Sergio wears the high black socks with three horizontal stripes on them.  Shouldn't uniforms be uniform?  And why doesn't someone tell Hunter Pence to button the top three buttons on his shirt?  And why are helmets allowed to be defaced with pine tar?  And are there two sloppier looking ballplayers in any sport than Pablo Sandoval and Prince Fielder?
  • Wow, I think I need to take an aspirin now.
  • And speaking of irony, how about that on the day the Pirates decline the option on Rod Barajas, while still considering resigning him as a free agent for 2013, it is also announced that Matt Weiters wins a Gold Glove?
  • As I put the neetsfoot oil away, I ask - what exactly is a "neet"?