Sunday, July 28, 2013

Outer Banks Vacation Thoughts

You may have noticed the absence of Grandstander posts in recent days, and this was due to the fact that we took our annual vacation to Corolla, NC and the wonderful beaches of Currituck County on North Carolina's Outer Banks.

What can I say?  It was another outstanding week.  Good weather - we made it to the beach every single day.  Very hot on most days, and the ocean was very swimmable on all days but one, when high winds made it pretty choppy to venture into.  In fact, the only glitch we encountered was our trip in on Saturday from Williamsburg, VA to Corolla.  Normally, this is about a two and one-half hour ride, but for some ungodly reason, it took us SIX HOURS to make the trip this time around.  Maddening, but by that first Sunday afternoon at the beach, or maybe it was after that first beer at lunch when finally did get to Corolla, all was forgotten, and we settled in for another great week at the OBX. 

I read a great book down there, "Bad Monkey", the latest from Carl Hiaasen.  You just cannot go wrong reading a Hiaasen novel!  Also started to read a book by Max Allen Collins called "Bye, Bye Baby".  More on that one when i finish it.

This was the vacation of connectivity.  When you added it all up, there were five iPads and two laptops in the house that had a WiFi connection.  Not sure how I feel about this, but we were able to keep up with email, Facebook, and, thanks to the terrific MLB at Bat app, the Pirates!  A good thing about all these gadgets is that the television was hardly on at all the entire time we were there.

And speaking of Facebook, I left the mark of perhaps THE best group page on all of Facebook:

And if you are wondering what the "theme" was the night that Marilyn and I hosted dinner, wonder no more....

Yes, we saluted Hollywood and the movies, with a red carpet and everything.  As you can see, Marilyn arrived by limousine:

And while we (or at least me) always think of bikini-clad babes when we think "beach", I thought I'd do a little something for the ladies out there, by presenting a little beefcake for your pleasure:

Yep, we really love the Outer Banks. There is just nothing like a beach vacation.

On Ryan Braun

Even though The Grandstander went on a brief hiatus last week, the news doesn't stop, and perhaps the biggest news in baseball in thew past seven days was the acceptance of a 65 game suspension by Milwaukee's Ryan Braun.  While on vacation last week, I must have read close to a dozen different columns and stories surrounding this loathsome character, and the lame-ass "apology" he made, which did not, by the way, include any apology to the poor guy whose reputation and life that he, Braun, pretty much shattered last year by accusing him of tampering with his tainted urine sample.  Yeah, nothing like a hubris-filled, multi-millionaire ball player dumping on some poor guy whose job it is to collect your piss in a bottle!

One of my favorite stories was on some Jewish Cultural website that demanded that Braun be forever stripped of his nickname, The Hebrew Hammer!

Yep, in a field that includes the likes of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, it may well turn out that Braun may end up being the most contemptable PED Cheat of them all. 

For this, The Grandstander bestows an H.A. Citation upon Lyin' Ryan Braun.  Here's to you!

(Photo courtesy of Dan Bonk Enterprises)

Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Day

Yes, today is "Induction Day" at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.  There will be three Inductees:

Jacob Rupert - Owner of the New York Yankees from 1915-1939.  Rupert died in 1939.

Hank O'Day - Umpire in early 20th Century.  Umpired his last game in 1927.  Died in 1935. 

James "Deacon" White - 19th century player.  Played his last game in 1889, and died in 1939.

Really gets the blood flowing, doesn't it?  I wonder if any of these guys have any grandchildren still alive who can accept the plaques on their behalf?

Having visited Cooperstown many times over the years, I know how much this weekend means to the small businesses and other organizations in the community, and I know that they cannot be real happy about such a lackluster Induction Class.  I mean, I don't think that there are hordes of fans of the Cleveland Forest Citys, Buffalo Bisons, and Detroit Wolverines flocking Cooperstown this weekend to spend money and cheer for the induction of Deacon White.

I don't want to start up a Should They / Shouldn't They Debate over the Steroid Era players, and this is not to say that Rupert, O'Day, and White are undeserving, but, from a purely business standpoint, the HOF cannot be pleased to only be inducting guys who have been dead for three quarters of a century. I mean...

Perhaps this Class of 2013 will prove to be an anomaly.  One can only hope.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

To Absent Friends: Simmie Hill

If you are my age, and can remember what might be called a Golden Age of High School basketball in Western Pennsylvania, then you probably remember the undefeated (28-0) Midland High School Leopards of 1965, the WPIAL and Pennsylvania state champions.  A fabulous team whose point guard, Norm Van Lier, went on to a distinguished NBA career with the Chicago Bulls, but the real star of that team was leading scorer and center Simmie Hill.  He was force to be reckoned with on the high school level.  He played at several different colleges, and had a journeyman career in the old ABA.  It is sad to learn of his passing earlier this week at the age of 66.

Ironically, I was at a function earlier in the week where I met a lady from Midland who was a cousin of Van Lier's, and she told me of Sim Hill's passing.  I was going to write it up the other night, but waited until it was actually reported in the newspapers.

RIP Simmie Hill.

A Not So Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Lunch Yesterday

So, I arrange to have lunch with friend and former co-worker Roger Hansen yesterday.  In order to avoid walking in this God-awful heat, we agree to meet at the Wheelhouse at the Rivers Casino.  After all, the parking is FREE, right?  I run an errand in the morning and arrive at the casino an hour early.  No problem, because I figure I can easily kill sixty minutes with sixty dollars at a five dollar black jack table.  Piece of cake.

Well, after about five minutes and seven or eight hands were dealt, I was down to only three five dollar chips.  Only on one hand did I beat the dealer. I felt like a high school quarterback after he just  faced Joe Greene and the Steel Curtain in their prime.  It was amazing.  I staggered away from the table with my three chips, and found myself looking at a roulette wheel.  What the hell, I think, so I put a chip on red.  You guessed it.  Black.  Did that two more times.  Five bucks on red.  Three straight times the ball lands on black.

Sixty bucks down the toilet in less than ten minutes.  Some days, it just ain't your day.

So now I had about fifty minutes to kill, and I spent it people watching, and let me tell you, you see all sorts of slices of life at a gambling casino, and I'll just leave it at that.

Anyway, had a great visit with Roger, and a great pastrami sandwich at the Wheelhouse, which, in the end, only cost me about seventy bucks, but, hey, the parking was free!

I love you, Roger, but next time, let's go back to SoHo for lunch!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

All-Star Game: "It's Gotta Be The Shoes"

By all objective reckoning, last night's 3-0 win by the American League in the 2013 All-Star Game can at best be described as a rather desultory affair.  Although I was in awe of how Fox Sports and MLB in general handled Christ coming down from the Cross to play in the game.  Oh, wait, that was just Mariano Rivera's entrance from the bullpen and retiring the side in the eighth inning.  I guess I just got confused from all of the worshipful words bandied about.

Also, by the clock on my cable box, the eighth inning break took NINE MINUTES, thanks to the appearance of Neil Diamond (Was that really necessary? There are better ways to honor the victims in Boston.) and the milking of the Rivera Grand Entrance.  NINE MINUTES! I mean, C'mon Man!

And I would also be remiss if I didn't mention the impressive stint of Jason Grilli in his half inning of pitching.  Very nice.

However, the one thing that stood out to me last night above everything else was the shoes worn by the players.  It seemed that every player had flashy colorful shoes to match his respective team's colors.  Red shoes, blue shoes, orange shoes, neon yellow shoes (as worn by Andrew McCutchen).  It was a rainbow of footwear out there.  Now regular readers know that I am somewhat of an old school purist when it comes to baseball uniforms, but I have to tell you, I loved the colorful shoes.  LOVED them!  I  wish every team adopted them as part of their regular, every day uniforms.  

Somewhere up there, Charley Finley was smiling.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Home Run Derby Thoughts

So here was my night last night.  

I get home about 8:30.  Had Pedro Alvarez not been participating in the Home Run Derby, I would not have turned the TV on, but I did, just as Yeonis Cespedes was finishing his 17 homer stint, and just as Pedro was stepping into the batter's box.  Yes, I did watch his performance.  I'm glad he put on a show of sorts.  Some of his six HR's were real dingers, but I was glad to see that he did not appear to be over extending himself and swinging from his heals on every pitch.  I was also glad that he got passed up and did not go into the second round.

I will admit that I then watched Chris Davis and Bryce Harper take their cuts.  I'll tell you what, from the time I first became aware of Bryce Harper in that Sports lllustrated cover story when he was 16 years old, he has been a very hard person to like.  I guess he is this generation's version of Pete Rose - you like him if he plays for YOUR team, but can't stand him if he plays for the Other Guys.  (And admit it, Steelers fans, Hines Ward and James Harrison were those kinds of guys, too.)

Anyway, once I realized that Pedro was not going to advance to the next round, I switched to "The Big Break" (Spoiler Alert:  Was glad to see Chad get eliminated.  He was one obnoxious dude), and to my DVR'd "Pardon the Interuption".

When those shows were done, I went back to the HRD in time for the final Harper-Cespedes showdown.  Harper really looked like he was working hard.  Cespedes made it look really easy.

And Chris Berman was everything I expected him to be during the telecast.  Take that any way you wish.

Pirates All-Stars

Just had to share this great picture from this morning's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette....

Happy Birthday, Three Rivers Stadium

When Three Rivers Stadium was about to be imploded back in 2001, I put together a list of my own personal "Top Ten Three Rivers Stadium Memories".  Not many people cared all that much about my own personal memories, but what the heck, right?  Anyway, today being the 43rd anniversary of the opening of Three Rivers Stadium, allow me to share those memories with you once again. Perhaps they will stir up some memories of your own.

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! 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Book Review: "The Greatest Game Ever Pitched" by Jim Kaplan

Fifty years ago this month, on July 2, 1963 to be exact, the Milwaukee Braves  played the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park.  Pitching that night was 25 year old Juan Marichal (12-3) for the Giants and 42 year old Warren Spahn (11-3) for the Braves.  Marichal, who would one day be the first Dominican to be elected to the Hall of Fame, was a young All-Star pitcher for the Giants, and Spahn, a sure fire future Hall of Famer  was, in spite of that nice record, surely approaching the end of the line.  Still, it promised to be an interesting pitching match-up.

Well, was it ever!  After nine innings, the game was tied 0-0. Same after 10, 12, 14, and 15 innings, and through it all, both Marichal and, amazingly, Spahn kept at it.  At several points in extra innings, Giants manager Alvin Dark wanted to relieve Marichal, but Juan refused to come out as long as his 42 year old opponent stayed out there.  With one out in the bottom of the 16th, Spahn finally blinked and hung a curve ball to Willie Mays, who hit it out of the park for a 1-0 Giants win.  How appropriate that someone the caliber of Mays hit the deciding home run.

In all, over 400 pitches were thrown by the two pitchers, who both took their next turn, although Spahn did take an extra day of rest.  Three Hall of Famers played for the Braves that night, Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews, and Spahn, and four played for the Giants, Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, and Marichal, and another Hall of Famer, Gaylord Perry, was in the Giants dugout.

While Kaplan details the game itself, the book really serves as dual biography of sorts of both Spahn and Marichal, and this is important because it serves to make several generations of baseball fans aware of the greatness of Warren Spahn, who is surely the most unappreciated pitching superstar in history.  To wit:

If you are under, say, 50 years old, maybe you know that Spahn is the winningest left handed pitcher of all time with 363 wins, but did you know that he also won more games than any other pitcher in the post-World War II era with those 363 wins?  (Greg Maddux come closest with 355 wins.)  And did you know that his 363 wins ranks sixth all time, and that four the five guys ahead of all played all or most of their careers in the dead ball era?

Did you also know that Spahn served in WW II, was a decorated honest-to-God war hero and lost over three years of his baseball career due to military service.  He would be 25 years old before he won his first big league game.  Interestingly enough, Spahn always brushed aside the "what if" musings of people who said that he may have lost 30 to 40 wins in his career due to his service in WW II.  By contrast, Bob Feller, when discussing his wartime service always noted that "I'd have won more games than Warren Spahn" if not for the time lost due to the war.

In 1999, the Oklahoma (where Spahn lived) Sports Museum established a Warren Spahn Award to be given to the best left handed pitcher in baseball each year.  One year, when presenting the award to Randy Johnson, Spahn asked him what kind of year he had. Johnson replied that he threw 270 innings and had 12 complete games. "That's a nice year, Randy," Spahn replied "but I did that every year".  Indeed he did, averaging 269 innings and 20 complete games over his full 19 seasons.

And, of course, Marichal should not be forgotten by today's generations of fans either, and Kaplan gives him his due as well, and even spends time on the ugly incident in 1965 when Marichal attacked Dodger catcher John Roseboro with a bat in an on field brawl, but it turned out to be a great story of redemption and forgiveness and the Marichal and Roseboro and their families became close friends right up until Roseboro's death.

There may be too much whining about pitch counts and they-don't-make-'em-like-that-anymore ramblings in the book, but don't let that stop you from reading it.

Interestingly enough, since the Spahn-Marichal 1963 Classic, only one pitcher has thrown a 16 inning complete game, Gaylord Perry in 1967, and the longest game in which two pitchers went the distance was a 13 inning affair in 1976 involving Catfish Hunter of the Yankees and Frank Tanana of the Angels.

I think it's safe to say that there will never be another game like that one again, and if you want to see something really cool, here is the box score of that July 2,1963 game.  It really was one for the ages.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Steelers News (Non-Football Related)

Did you see the news item in the paper today that the Steelers, in the person of Heinz Field Operations chief Jimmy Sacco, have gotten into a pi$$ing contest with Pittsburgh parking impresario Merrill Stabile over comments that Stabile made about the mess (to be kind) that the attendees of the recent Kenny Chesney Concert made in the parking lots at Heinz Field last month.  

It was well documented that those fans did, indeed, make a mess of those parking lots (between 50,000 and 60,000 pounds of trash, including human excrement, and, yes, you read that correctly), but that didn't stop Sacco from firing off a letter to the Stadium Authority stating that Stabile "chose to publicly slander the fans at Heinz Field" (Legal quesion:  Is it "slander" if the people actually did leave 30,000 tons of trash in their wake?).  Sacco's letter also said that "Mr. Stabile's main complaint was that the Chesney fans left behind too much garbage..."  Apparently, Sacco and, by extension, the Steelers, don't think that 50,000 pounds is "too much."  I wonder how many tons of trash, empty beer cans, and human feces would be "too much" in their viewpoint?

All of his stems from the pre-existing pi$$ing contest among the Steelers, Stabile, and the Stadium Authority over who should pay for the construction of additional seats at Heinz Field (anybody BUT them, according to the Steelers and King Art II), and, of course, the Rooneys will come off lily-white in this latest contretemps, because they are, well, the Steelers, right?

Derby Disaster Averted

Has there ever been anything more overblown and and overwrought than the angst generated by David Wright's failing to select Pedro Alvarez to compete in the Home Run Derby at this year's All-star Game festivities?  Let's forget for a moment whether or not you like or dislike the HRD, or whether or not it serves any purpose other than filling up ESPN airspace and serving to further inflate Chris Berman's Hindenberg-sized ego, or whether or not it is a good idea to have a player subjectively choose who participates.  Those are separate questions and debates.  Rather, let's look at the reaction to Pedro's non-selection.

I was driving home from State College on Monday evening and listening to the Pirate game on the radio when the news was announced and to hear Tim Neverette's and Bob Walk's reactions and outrage, well, you would have thought that Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor once again.  Walk even suggested and encouraged fans to come out the the Mets series this weekend to boo Wright and "to let him have it".   That is so wrong on so many levels, I'm not sure where to begin.  And the next night, the announcers didn't let up.  Greg Brown celebrated Pedro's home run that game by saying "Take that, David Wright!"

All this over the Home Run Derby?  Really?  Has everyone lost their minds?

Interestingly enough, the one person I DIDN'T hear complain was Pedro Alvarez!

Well, the crisis has been averted, and Carlos Gonzalez has dropped out and Pedro has been selected to replace him.  All is right with the world, except for this.  There has been enough empirical evidence that players' performance drops off in the second half of a season after they have participated in the HRD.  Seems crazy, but check our Bobby Abreu.  I just hope that nothing like that happens to Pedro Alvarez over the rest of the season, but if it does, I hope all the people who whined about Pedro NOT being selected remember how they were bitching this past week.

CLO Show: "The Little Mermaid"

Last night was a delightful evening at the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera production of Disney's "The Little Mermaid".

I am going to assume that most of you either are familiar with the Hans Christian Andersen  fairy tale, or have seen the 1989 animated Disney movie, so I won't go over details of the story itself, but rather the production now playing at the Benedum.

How do you simulate an underwater world on stage?

That was the big question and this production pulled it off to the extent that these scenes were every bit as believable as the scenes that took place on dry land.  many of the actors, most notably Ariel, Triton, and Scuttle the Seagull used wires (think Peter Pan) to fly, or in this case, swim while under the sea.  And other actors continually moved their shoulders and bodies, even when standing still, to make themselves look like sea creatures swimming in the water.  Amazing.

As was the case with the movie, the big show-stopping number was "Under the Sea" led by Sebastian the Crab.  Fabulous.

Movies are great, but there is nothing quite like a well done stage production, and this one was eye-popping.  Leave it to Disney to always pull it off.  And the voices of the actors, all of them, were simply amazing.

A great production and well worth seeing.

And with that, I will steal a scene from the Disney movie to make you remember that show-stopper I mentioned earlier.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Saluting the Pirates All-Stars

Should be no complaints about Pirate All-Star representation this year.  Congratulating and saluting these four well deserving Buccos.....

Pedro Alvarez....

Jason Grilli....

Jeff Locke....

And, for the third year in a row, Andrew McCutchen....

Play well in New York, guys!!!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Movie Review: "The Lone Ranger"

I went to see "The Lone Ranger" today with low expectations.  I knew if was two-and-a-half hours long, way too long for almost any movie, and after experiencing the over the top yet underwhelming and almost depressing "Man of Steel" a few weeks back, I was expecting another big-budget summer popcorn movie that would be pretty much a piece of junk.  Why did I go then, you may ask?  Well, I wanted to see Johnny Depp playing Tonto.  From the trailers I'd seen, I figured he would make the movie worth seeing.

Well, maybe it's good to have low expectations because it turns out that I really liked the movie.  Depp was quite good, as expected, and the action sequences were amazing.  The story, with which most of you may already be familiar, was a rousing one.  A good western can still be pretty stirring.  Armie Hammer (what kind of name is that, anyway?) played the Lone Ranger.  He wasn't bad in the role, but he's no Johnny Depp, and the movie ended up being as much about Tonto as the Lone Ranger.  Chalk that up to political correctness in the 21st century and the star power of Depp.

The movie was directed by a guy named Gore Verbinsky who also directed several of Depp's
Pirates of the Carribean franchise movies.  Much of the movie had a tongue-in-cheek quality to it, which prompted one of the guys I was in the ticket line to call it "The Lone Ranger of the Carribean."  That was not a bad thing, and it made this movie something that all movies should be - a fun experience, something that "Man of Steel" definitely was not.

This movie probably won't score any Oscar nominations except maybe for Special Effects or Cinematography (scenes filmed in Utah's Monument Valley - think classic John Ford westerns - were absolutely gorgeous), but it was entertaining and, as I said, fun to watch.  So put it on your summer "To See" list, but be aware that it is worthy of its PG-13 rating.  Quite violent at times, so send the little kiddos to see "Despicable Me 2" while you watch this one.

Oh, and by the way, Silver, the horse, was great in this one!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

News From the Golf World Today....

It was noted on the sports pages this morning that the PGA Tour became the last major governing body in the world of golf to agree to ban the "belly putter", or more accurately the "anchored putting stroke", as a part of the formal Rules of Golf.  The ban will take effect on January 1, 2016.

While the PGA Tour was not as enthusiastic about this rule change as was the USGA and the Royal and Ancient, they agreed to go along because, and this is from Doug Ferguson of the Associated Press, "the common ground by all sides was the importance of golf being played under one fundamental set of rules, as has been the case for hundreds of years."

Hey, National (Baseball) League, are you listening out there?????  The importance of the game being played under one fundamental set of rules.  Take note, please.