Saturday, August 31, 2013

Mental In-Box Time! A Little of This, A Little of That

Cleaning out the Mental In-Box on a Saturday morning.....

  • I finally caught up with the Tom Cruise movie, "Jack Reacher", on DVD this week.  It's an okay movie, not great, not awful, but of all the movies filmed in the City of Pittsburgh in recent years, this one showcases Pittsburgh like no other.  The opening sequence over the titles alone is spectacular.
  • Much ado was made over the selection of Cruise to play Reacher.  Too short, said the multitude of fans of the Lee Child novels.  I say, fuhgeddabout it!  Cruise may be a screwball in his personal life, but he is undeniably a good actor, so I thought he was fine in the role.
  • That said, I am not reader of Child's Reacher novels.  I think I read one of them.  Perhaps I'd react the same way if the "wrong" actor was selected to play Lucas Davenport or Alex Delaware.
  • Final note on Tom Cruise.  He is starting to look his age (he's 51).  Time to stop being the boyish charmer and look for more character roles.
  • Through the magic of Facebook, I was able this week to see and catch up with an old grade school and high school buddy, Bill Tarrant.  I had literally not seen Bill since we graduated from Central over forty years ago, and it was terrific experience catching up. As you can see below, Bill (that's him in the middle) joined Jim Scuilli and me for a mini-reunion of St. Phil's Class of '65 and Central Class of '69.  Later that night, Bill and I took in the Pirates game and then closed the bar at the Priory Hotel on the North Side.  It was pretty cool day.
  • Bill is a journalist for Reuters and has lived in Malaysia and Singapore for much of the past thirty or so years.  His is a fascinating story, but it is his story to tell and not mine, so I will leave it at that.  i will say though, that Bill is as up-to-date and current on the Pirates, Steelers, and all around Pittsburgh scene as anyone I know.
  • While running through the TV clicker before going to bed last night, I happened upon the last two plus minutes of a football game between Kansas State and North Dakota State and figured, what the hell, I'd watch until the end, in which North Dakota State pulled off the big upset.  More to the point is that these two plus minutes of game time took about twenty-five minutes of real time to play.  During times out, Fox Sports 1 would jam in three or four commercials.  That, my friends, is how college conferences are signing multi-billion dollar TV deals.
  • By all accounts, Robert Griffin III seems to be a decent guy, and he is undeniably charismatic.  That said, this little pissing contest he seems to be conducting with Coach Mike Shanahan is really getting tiresome.  One of the many life lessons taught to me by my Dad is that "everybody has a boss", and RG III hasn't seemed to grasp that. Unfortunately, in the world of sports, it is the "boss" that usually loses in these things.
  • Not that Mike Shananhan is an exceptionally sympathetic guy, you understand.
  • The fact the Tim Tebow might be on the verge of being cut by New England, after failing in New York, makes that Steelers playoff loss to Denver two years ago all the more galling, doesn't it?
  • The Pirates. Tied for first place with 28 games left to play.  This is what we have wanted for the last twenty years, right?  Win or lose, these games have been and will continue to be exciting, nerve wracking, heartbreaking, maddening, euphoric.  I wouldn't trade it for anything right about now.
  • I have gone on record of declaring a moratorium on the Neal Huntington Bashing for obvious reasons (not the least being the trade he pulled off this week for Marlon Byrd and John Buck), but I did hear him on his radio show last week, and he still can come off as being terribly condescending to the Pirates fan base, also know as his PAYING CUSTOMERS.  Somebody in the Bucco PR office should give him some coaching.
  • I took my own recent DVR Alert Advice and watched "The Wild Bunch" yesterday.  This 1969 western by director Sam Peckinpaugh was considered ground breaking when it was released, mainly because of it's amazingly realistic violence, and the stark and unromantic depiction of aging outlaws in the days when the "old west" were pretty much coming to a close.  It was all of that, to be sure, but to be honest, I wasn't all that crazy about the movie.  I wanted to see William Holden as one of the aging outlaw, and he didn't disappoint.  
  • Two other observations about actors who were in "The Wild Bunch".  No actor could play "evil" as well as Ernest Borgnine, and no actor could play "loony" quite like Strother Martin.
  • The $765 million settlement by the NFL upon the plaintiffs in the class action "concussion lawsuit" was, sadly, a tremendous victory for the NFL owners.  This comes out to little more than $150,000 per plaintiff, and it will be paid out over twenty years.  Pure chump change for the NFL, who will no doubt reward Czar Roger with a huge bonus and/or raise because of it.
  • Still, I believe that this suit will continue to have far reaching effects that will change the game of football as we know it.  It may not happen for twenty or thirty years, but I think one day the game will be a fundamentally changed one than the one we know today.
  • A lawyer friend of mine has postulated that sooner or later some lawyer is going to win some major lawsuit against a school district over a serious football injury, and when that happens, school districts will be dropping football left and right.
  • Still think it can't happen?  Consider that in the middle part of the 20th Century, pretty much in my lifetime, and certainly in my parents' lifetime, perhaps the biggest sport in America, after baseball, was boxing, which is pretty much a niche sport today.
  • OK, all that said, call me a hypocrite, but I am looking forward to the start of football, real football and not practice games, this weekend.  Some college games on the menu today, and I will be at Heinz Field on Monday for Pitt's Inaugural Game in the ACC.  Can't wait.
  • The NFL starts next week, and I will reveal The Grandstander's thoughts on what lies ahead for the Steelers by mid-week.
Enjoy the Long Weekend, everybody!!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Texas A&M Comes Down On Johnny Football

By now, I am sure you have heard, if you are at all interested in the topic, that Texas A&M, and by extension, I suppose, the NCAA, has come down hard on Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel for his alleged transgressions (he was accused of accepting payments, actual cash money, for selling his autograph on pictures, jerseys, helmets and such memorabilia).

Manziel, of course, has denied the allegations, but that cut no ice with the A&M administration, who has suspended their QB for the first half of the first game of the year. Yep, you read that right, the first half of the first game, which happens to be against cupcake Rice University this Saturday.  What would have been the penalty had the Aggies been opening against, say, Alabama or Georgia?  I'm thinking he would have had to stay in the locker room while the National Anthem was being played.

The best part of University's reasoning was that Manziel was being punished for "trading in on his name and fame".  This is from the University that is no doubt selling plenty of "Manziel" replica jerseys in the campus book stores.  

As for the NCAA, they are so upset about this, I am sure that they are looking for some poor schmuck who plays for Eastern Kentucky or Praireview A&M who allowed a stranger to buy him a Big Mac so they can put that school on probation.  Reminds me of the line that has been attributed to Jerry Tarkanian - "The NCAA was so mad at UCLA for their rules violations that they gave Cleveland State two additional years probation."

A few weeks back I mentioned that Johnny Manziel himself was on my "watch list" to receive a Grandstander H.A. Citation.  Now, Texas A&M and the entire NCAA are on that same watch list.

Talk about something reeking of hypocrisy.

The Voice of the Pirates

Let's talk about Pittsburgh Pirates play-by-play announcers.  Most long time - and by that I mean "old" - Bucco fans are near unanimous as to who is their all-time favorite Pirate broadcaster.

He's a guy who is an unabashed Pirates fan.  He makes no pretense about being objective in his broadcasts.  He wears his heart on his sleeve where the Pirates are concerned, and if you turn on the radio in the middle of a game, you know within 15 seconds as to whether or not the Pirates are winning or losing without being told the score.  He also has a million and one little catchphrases that he sprinkles in throughout his broadcasts, and many of those phrases become part of the everyday vernacular of Pirates fans everywhere.

I'm talking about Bob Prince, right?

Well, no, I am NOT talking about the legendary Gunner, although what I said above certainly can and does apply to him.  Actually, I am talking about the current Voice of the Pirates, Greg Brown.

Think about it.  You may criticize Brown for being a cheerleader in the booth, but is he any more so than was Prince?  And is "trip-trip-triple" that much different from "bloop-and-a-blast"? How about "Clear the deck, cannonball coming" from "kiss it good-bye"? And best of all, "Raise the Jolly Roger" from "we had 'em all the way"?  I don't think so. Near as I see it, the only difference is that Brown doesn't wear garish sport coats.

It mystifies me that people who wax poetic over the glory days of Bob Prince, who has been dead for thirty years now, God rest his soul, can be critical of Greg Brown.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Pirate Chat Night at PNC Park

Readers may recall me mentioning that I belong to a Chat Group on Facebook called Pirate Chat.  Started by friend Jim Haller in the Spring of 2012 with modest expectations, Pirate Chat has grown to over 300 members and many consider it one of the best forums to discuss our favorite team - pros and cons - for twelve months of the year.  Last night, Pirate Chat took another step in its growth and twenty members ventured out from behind the computer screens and mobile devices to PNC Park for what we hope was the First Annual Pirate Chat Night.  Len Martin contributed to the fun of the event by coming up with the idea for t-shirts to celebrate the event as well.  

It was a fun night, and one of the neatest comments came from Pat Connell who said that given the convivial nature of the group, last night would have even been a perfect night for a rain delay!

Here are some scenes of our night out, including the pre-game gathering at Dominic's.....

Okay, to those Pirate Chat members reading this, a few questions.  Call it preliminary market research for Pirate Chat Night 2014.
  1. Do we want to do this again in 2014?
  2. Should we do this earlier in the season next year, say, prior to the All-Star Break, or should we stick to a mid to late August date?
  3. Would you prefer a week end game, or do we keep it on a week night, or does it not matter?  Keep in mind that it is much more difficult to arrange to secure a block of group tickets for Friday and Saturday dates, and I suspect that it may be even more difficult to do so next season.
  4. If you were unable to attend this season for whatever reason, would you plan on attending such a group night event in 2014? (Understand that this is not a firm commitment. The ability to attend such a game on any given night is, of course, subject to any number of variables in our own personal schedules.)
We sold 21 tickets for this event last night.  Wouldn't it be great to at least double that number for next season?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

To Absent Friends: Ted Post

OK, before I read the paper this morning, the name Ted Post meant nothing to me, either, but, as I have often said, the news obits can be the most interesting part of the newspaper. Turns out that Mr. Post, who passed away recently at the age of 95, was a movie director of some minor note, having directed about a dozen or so feature films, the most noteworthy being Clint Eastwood's "Hang 'em High" and "Magnum Force", but it turns out that he really made his bones in show biz by directing hundreds - yes, I said HUNDREDS - of episodes of series television including such shows as Gunsmoke, Rawhide, Peyton Place, Twilight Zone and many, many more.

So chances are at some point in each of our lives, we had been exposed to the work of Ted Post and were never aware of it.

Don't know about you, but stuff like that fascinates me.

RIP Ted Post.

"The Company You Keep"

I hit the Redbox at Giant Eagle yesterday and rented a pretty damn good movie, "The Company You Keep", that I don't remember getting a whole lot of play when it was released in theaters earlier this year.  

The movie was directed by and stars Robert Redford who plays a single father with a private law practice in Albany, NY.  Turns out, however that he is really  former member of the 1960's radical Weathermen group who has been wanted for bank robbery and murder by the FBI for over thirty years.  A reporter for the Albany paper, played by Shia LeBeouf (and just how did he come up with that name) uncovers Redford's secret past and the manhunt begins.

While this is a fictional story, it does have some basis in truth since you often hear of such folks being discovered or turning themselves in after living 30 and 40 years past the date of their crimes, and those stories always fascinate me, and this movie does as well.

A terrific cast that includes Susan Sarandon, Julie Christie, Sam Elliott, Nick Nolte, and Stanley Tucci make this a movie worth seeing.

Robert Redford, by the way is now 77 years old - and how he happens to have an eleven year old daughter is explained in the movie - and I salute him for not undergoing the ravages of horrifying plastic surgery to which so many of his show biz peers have succumbed, although I do suspect that he does dye his hair.  He can best be described as "craggy", and for that he is to be applauded.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Movie Review: "Blue Jasmine"

In a movie summer filled with post-apocalyptic tales of planet earth, sieges upon the White House, and comic book super heroes, it has been a pleasure to view in recent days two movies for adults (as opposed the "adult movies", which are completely different things).  Last week it was "Lee Daniels' The Butler", which I noted in the paper this morning led all movies in box office receipts for the second week in a row, and this past weekend was the new Woody Allen movie, "Blue Jasmine".

"Blue Jasmine" revolves around the life of Jasmine, a woman who has recently fallen from the top of the financial and social world because her husband, has been sent to jail for shady financial dealings (think Bernie Madoff).  Stripped of her wealth and social standing, Jasmine moves across the country to San Francisco to live with her sister, Ginger.  Ginger is divorced with two children who lives a day to day, paycheck to paycheck existence, thanks in large part to the shady dealings of Jasmine's husband.  How Jasmine "adapts" to her new life is what the movie is all about.

This is a drama from Woody Allen, not a comedy, although there are some laughs in it.  I predict a surefire Best Actress nomination for Cate Blanchett as Jasmine, and she really is terrific in the role.  Sally Hawkins, who plays Ginger, should also receive consideration for Best Supporting Actress as well. Alec Baldwin plays Jasmine's husband and is quite good.  And remember Andrew Dice Clay, the foul mouthed comedian who had fifteen or twenty minutes of fame in the early nineties?  Well, he is in this movie as well, playing Ginger's ex-husband and is surprisingly - to me, anyway - good in the role.  He is particularly effective in a scene he has with Jasmine towards the end of the movie.  

As is often the case in his more recent movies, Allen does not appear in "Blue Jasmine" nor is there a "Woody Allen character" in this one, but as a screenwriter and a director, the 77 year old Woodman has lost nothing off of his fastball.  I hope that Oscar consideration is given him for this movie, even though everyone knows he will not show up on Awards night.

The Post-Gazette gave this four stars in it's review, and I do not disagree.  Very good movie.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Visit to the Lorain County Fair

Today, August 22, 2013, I did something that I had never done in my close to sixty-two years on this earth - I went to a County Fair!  Specifically, the Lorain County Fair in Ohio.  I should say that this is old stuff for Marilyn, who, in her youth, spent several summer vacations at a relatives' farm in Seymor, Indiana, and those summer trips included visits to county fairs in the state of Indiana.

Before I get to our adventure today, a little back story.  

Not long after I first went on Facebook in 2009, I received a request one day from a woman named Charisse Nikel asking if I was the Bob Sproule who once worked at Metropolitan Life in Cleveland, Ohio in the 1970's.  Of course, I was that guy and back then, she was Charisse Hudec, and she was my secretary.  I had not seen or talked to Charisse since I left Met in 1978.  After renewing acquaintances, I learned that Charisse is the Secretary for the Lorain County Fair Association.  In fact she is the only full-time employee of the Fair, and much of the work in getting the Fair up and running every year falls upon her shoulders.  Following her on Facebook led us to say every year that we should think about driving over to the Fair, and this year, we finally did.

When we arrived, we headed to the Fair's office on the grounds, and met up with Charisse. As you can guess, she was up to her hips in alligators, so we couldn't spend too much time with her, but it was nice to see her and talk to her after thirty-five years!

As for the Fair itself, it was a revelation to me, and you can see from the picture above that The Grandstander was, literally, a "grandstander" today!

Much of the grounds and exhibit space was devoted to food, and in that sense, it was like almost any several events staged in Pittsburgh every year (Regatta, Three Rivers Arts Festival, and the like) except for much more space devoted to the food vendors.


Unfortunately, not all food choices were healthy ones:

Being a city slicker by birth and upbringing, I wanted to see some livestock.  We saw lots of horses, chickens, sheep, rabbits, and Marilyn hit it off particularly well with a goat:

There were also all of the things you might expect at a county fair - award winning fruits, vegetables, flowers, and home made honey, for example.

To my surprise, there were also a lot of exhibitors and vendors that I did not expect to see.  Home improvement providers, home health care vendors, service organizations (Rotary, Lions Club etc), Veterans' groups, political organizations (Lorain County appears to be a hotbed of right wing politics, for what it's worth) and so on.  

The big show of the day in the grandstand area was horse/cart pulling competitions.  Here are some photos from the competitions:

One big takeaway from this Fair for me was being exposed to a way of life with which I am not familiar.  You can see the folks who are exhibiting their animals and their produce, and you hear them talk, and you realize what an enormous job they do for our country.  They literally feed us.  I never felt that I ever shortchanged any of my employers in the job that I did for them over thirty-five years, but after seeing what I saw today, I also doubt that I ever worked as hard on any given day during that time as these folks work every single day of their lives.

It was a different and a very fun experience today.  

Oh, and I did do a little shopping for my next vehicle when time comes to trade in the Toyota Corolla:

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Talk Show Etiquette

While out driving this morning, I had 93.7 The Fan tuned in and was listening to Ron Cook. Vinnie Rechichi  is vacationing this week, so Ron was flying solo, which put him in a good mood - for him.  So  a guy calls up and makes the suggestion that perhaps Clint Hurdle should consider platooning Pedro Alvarez and play Josh Harrison against left handed pitchers.  Ridiculous, I know, but that's not the point today.  The point is how Cook responded to the call.

Now, Cook might have said, "You know, Caller, perhaps there might be some situations where it might not be a bad idea to give Pedro a rest, but Hurdle really can't consider platooning the NL home run leader on a full time basis."

Yeah, that's something he could have said.   

What he did say, however, was "That is the most asinine, stupid, and ridiculous suggestion I have ever heard.  Next call, please."

It reminded me of something I once heard Myron Cope say when he was asked about how he conducted his talk show (and, really, has there ever been an equal to Myron in his heyday when hosting sports talk shows are concerned?).  His philosophy was, he said, that "if you treat your callers like idiots, then pretty soon only idiots will call you."


Monday, August 19, 2013

DVR Alert - William Holden Day on TCM!

This Wednesday is William Holden Day on Turner Classic Movies. One of my favorite actors, I can never recall seeing Bill Holden in a movie where he wasn't terrific. Set your DVR's for the following (ET):

3:30 "Picnic" (1955). Parts may seem corny by today's standards, but Holden and Kim Novak dancing to Moonglow? Now that's hot stuff.

8:00 "Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957) Multiple Oscar winner and Holden is terrific. Alec Guiness was Best Actor and movie was Best Picture. It's a long movie, close to three hours, but once you start watching, you won't be able to stop. Great line: "My God. What have I done?"

11:00 "Born Yesterday" (1950) A classic comedy. Judy Holliday won Best Actress Oscar.

1:00 AM (Thurs morning) "The Wild Bunch" (1969) A classic western about outlaws who are seeing the 20th century encroaching on their way of life. Very violent.

Unfortunately, TCM's lineup does not include three of my favorite Holden movies, all directed by Billy Wilder: "Sunset Boulevard", "Stalag 17", and "Sabrina", but you won't be shortchanged by any of these four!

Book Review: "The Cuckoo's Calling"

Just finished this best-selling private detective novel by Robert Galbreath.  

As detective stories go, this one was standard fare.  A British super-model, Lula Landry, falls to her death from her third floor London flat.  It is investigated and quickly ruled a suicide.  But was it? 

Three months after the fact, Lula's adoptive brother, convinced that her death was murder, hires down on his luck private eye Cormorant Strike to investigate the matter.  Strike encounters all sorts of London "beautiful people" - fashion designers, rock stars, actors, other models - and in the true spirit of the private eye genre, he butts heads with the police.

Helping him out is his "temporary" secretary'sidekick, Robin.

The big news concerning this book is the author.  Turns out that "Robert Galbreath" is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling, the best selling fiction author of the last half-century, thanks to the Harry Potter novels. Interestingly enough, "The Cuckoo's Calling" received good reviews when first published, and was enjoying middling sales.  However, when the author's true identity was revealed, sales took off like a rocket and the book has enjoyed best-seller status ever since.

I did enjoy the book. It is well written, and I will no doubt check in on future Strike novels (as there surely will be), although it is pretty much standard fare for the Private Eye niche market, but to me, that's a good thing.  I also have to say that I am glad I read this on my Kindle, because I never remember using the dictionary feature on a book more than I did this one. Not sure what that says about Galbreath/Rowling or me, but I did increase my vocabulary a bit after reading this one.

What's On TV Tonight?

After a ten day stretch wherein the Pirates went 2-7, and lost three extra innings games in what can only be termed excruciating fashion, I am going to turn my attention tonight, for really the first time this summer, to the Pittsburgh Steelers and their exhibition (I refuse to use the NFL-mandated term for these games) game against the Redskins tonight.  I did catch bits and pieces of the game against the Giants last week, but plan on paying a bit more attention to this evening's game.

I am particularly interested in seeing the heralded rookie running back Le'Veon Bell, if, that is, he is deemed healthy enough to play.  This was a position in which the Steelers were deficient last season, so I am anxious to see how he performs.

I am also anxious to watch first round draft pick Jarvis Jones of the University of Georgia.  No less an authority than a kid working in a t-shirt shop in Hilton Head, SC told me last April that the Steelers got "a hell of a player" when they drafted him.

As for the Buccos, I am determined not to lose faith, but I am also glad that these next several games will be on the west coast, which means I will probably be in bed as they are being played, and I will miss most parts of them.  My nervous system needs a break after this last stretch.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Movie Review: "Lee Daniels' The Butler"

Went to the movies today to take in the rare summer movie release that does not involve (a) comic book super heroes, (b) a post-apocalyptic planet earth, (c) vampires, or (d) overly hormonal teenagers.

Instead, we took in a movie made for adults, "Lee Daniels' The Butler".  The movie is loosely based upon a real person, an African American man who served as a butler in the White House under seven Presidents, Eisenhower through Reagan.  I say "loosely based" because some liberties are taken with the timing of events so as to make Cecil Gaines, the butler, present at many of the momentous events experienced by the Presidents during Gaines' time of service.  

The movie also shows the history of the Civil Rights Movement, as experienced by Gaines' son, on a parallel track with the events taking place at the White House.  Many of these scenes - the shooting of a field hand, lynchings, treatment of blacks in the Jim Crow South, lunch counter sit-ins, fire hoses and police dogs in Birmingham - are upsetting to watch, but they are a real part of our history, and you just can't make such events pretty or easy to watch. 

It is a very good movie, and although movies released during the summer months are often forgotten come Academy Awards time, I am calling for Best Actor and Best Actress nominations for Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey.   As Barb Vancheri noted in her Post-Gazette review today, it might be hard to get over the fact that that is OPRAH WINFREY you are watching, but once you do, you realize that you are seeing a pretty amazing performance on screen.  Remember, Oprah was an actress before she became a talk show queen and a business conglomerate.

Some oddball casting here.  Clarence Williams III of Mod Squad fame - yeah, Linc Hayes is still around! - appears as one of Gaines' early mentors, Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, and in a bit of casting that will drive Reaganites absolutely crazy, Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan.  Actually, the Presidents in this movie are actually minor characters, and none of them are on screen for all that long.  And the movie's portrayal of Jack Kennedy spotlights a long held pet peeve of mine.  When playing a Kennedy, actors, in this case a guy named James Marsden, always have to use an exaggerated New England "pahk the cah" accent.  It's like they all have to turn into Vaughn Meader when taking on the role.  I wonder if that's how Daniel Day Lewis would do it?

And a word about the title of the movie.  When I first saw that it was not "The Butler", but "Lee Daniels' The Butler", I thought that this was the case of some ego maniacal director saying "look at me" by including his name in the official title of the movie.  Turns out that the movie is titled as it is due to dispute between rival movie studios over a similarly titled project.  So, my apologies to Mr. Daniels.

It's a good movie that I hope will find an audience among the lightweight movies of the summer months.  Speaking of which, I look forward to taking in Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine", another movie for thinking adults, which is scheduled to open in Pittsburgh next week.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Some Pirates Talk....

Some Pirates thoughts while awaiting the rubber match of the Cardinals series to begin.....

  • Tuesday night's 4-3 fourteen inning loss was gut-wrenching, agonizing, aggravating, pressure packed, and ulcer-inducing.  Myself, I could not settle myself down to fall asleep for at least an hour after it was over.  But isn't this exactly what we have all been hoping for for the last twenty seasons?
  • Lost amid the tumult and shouting over the Tuesday loss was the fact that Charlie Morton turned in a pretty nice pitching performance for the Pirates.  That is a good sign for the stretch run.
  • If you are among those who accused Starling Marte of "hot dogging" and "showboating" when he dropped that fly ball on Tuesday because he didn't use both hands, will you also agree that every other outfielder in MLB hot dogs and showboats on every routine fly ball hit to them these days?  If you won't do that, then you haven't been watching very closely.
  • That said, it sometimes drives me crazy to see guys making one handed catches.  I was taught to use both hands to catch a ball and that is how I played the game.  On the other hand, the highest level of organized ball I ever reached was intramural softball in high school.  I think that these guys are just a tad better than that.
  • I learned long ago from a pretty good teacher - my Dad - that you can't fault a guy for making a physical error.  It happens.  The mental error made by Andrew McCutchen by staying on third base on that grounder in extra innings was a far more grievous sin that Marte's dropped fly ball.
  • I also said on Facebook yesterday that we would learn a lot about the Pirates' make up by how they responded to that Tuesday loss.  Well, it was only one game, but Pedro Alvarez, Garrett Jones, and, especially, Starling Marte and Francisco Liriano sure responded in a positive fashion last night, didn't they?
  • The Pirates could lose today's game, but they will still leave St. Louis with a two game lead, and a win would put them four ahead of the Cards.  Not too bad for August 15, I'd say.
  • Bloggin' Bob Smizik points out today that the Pirates have strong, if not leading, candidates for MVP, Cy Young, Manager of the Year, and Executive of the Year Awards for 2013.  
  • Let's give the Other Side a shout here, particularly, Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright. On Tuesday night, he gave up three runs on 50 pitches in the first two innings, started the third inning by walking McCutchen and going to a 2-0 count on Alvarez.  HE was as on the ropes as any pitcher could have been.  He then induced Alvarez to hit into that 1-6-3 DP, and it was like a switch got turned.  After that he proceeded to pitch seven innings, throw over 120 pitches, put a lot of men on base, but gave up NO RUNS after that, and kept his team in the game.  For those of you who long for Old School, Big Time pitching performances, that was one right there.
And now, let's take a look at some random Pirates Prospects to date....
  • Stetson Allie of the West Virginia Power:  244 AB / .324 BA / 42 R / 17 HR / 61 RBI / 1.021 OPS
  • Stetson Allie of the Bradenton Marauders: 177 AB / .226 BA / 23 R / 3 HR / 18 RBI / .702 OPS
  • Big difference in pitching when you go from Low Class A to High Class A, it seems.
  • Josh Bell at West Virginia: 407 AB / .290 BA / 71 R / 11 HR / 72 RBI / .826 OPS
  • Pitcher Tyler Glasnow, West Virginia: 8-3, 2.50 ERA, 140 K, 51 BB, 97.1 IP
  • Pitcher Luis Heredia, West Virginia: 4-3, 3.18 ERA, 34 K, 22 BB, 45.1 IP
And how about the Pirates two first round draft picks of 2013, now playing for the Gulf Coast League Pirates?

Reese McGuire: 129 AB / .326 BA / 22 R / 0 HR / 17 RBI / .781 OPS
Austin Meadows: 121 AB / .314 BA / 21 R / 3 HR / 14 RBI / .923 OPS

Now, the Gulf Coast League is a long, long, long way from the Major Leagues, but it looks like McGuire and Meadows are off to a nice start in their professional careers.

OK, let's all cheer on a win for the team in St' Louis this afternoon and set the goal of winning individual series from here on in.

Let's Go Bucs!                                           

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Wrapping Up the Gil Hodges HOF Thread

Last Friday I posted an entry on The Grandstander asking people to justify why Gil Hodges is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Trust me, there is an army of folks out there who believe he should be in the HOF, and will back up their claims with voluminous documentation.  I wanted to hear from the Other Side of the Argument.  I posted my blog entry on the SABR Listserv board and on several Facebook Chat pages in which I participate.

And I did hear from people.  Lots of them.  I won't go into all of what was submitted to me, some of it, frankly, was a lot of SABRmetric gobblety-gook, but, basically, it all came down to "Gil was a good to very good ball player, but he was and is, at best, a borderline Hall of Famer, like a lot of other players for whom no one is beating the drums for HOF entry".  I also got a lot of arguments along the lines of "two thirds of the guys IN the Hall shouldn't be there, so why compound this error by including yet another borderline guy".

Both sides are correct, I conclude.  Hall of Fame immortality is a subjective topic at best.  One local BBWA guy in Pittsburgh applies what he calls the "think test" when he fills out his HOF ballot.  In other words. "if I have to think about whether this guy belongs in the Hall of Fame, he probably doesn't belong", and I can't argue with that logic.  Looking at HOF players I have seen in my lifetime as a fan (1959 to present)...Johnny Bench, Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Mike Schmidt?  Absolutely!  Gary Carter, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro, Jim Rice? Well, those guys I gotta think about, but that's just me, but if someone else, writers or a Vet's Committee, says they are Hall of Famers, I salute them as such.

I recognize the passion of certain fan bases for promoting their favorite sons, and the Brooklyn Dodgers Boys of Summer Cult no doubt plays a large role in the support for Hodges.   As a Pirates fan, I am tickled to death that Bill Mazeroski went in in 1999, but I know that there would be a lot of people leading the charge to take him OUT of the Hall of that was ever done.  I hope Hodges makes it some day, but if he doesn't, well, that doesn't mean that the other side is wrong.

A Visit to Stonewall Resort, and a Golf Story

Marilyn and I took a brief little two night getaway to the Stonewall Resort in Roanoke, WV this past Sunday and Monday.  Beautiful place and only a little over two hours away from Pittsburgh.  Nice swimming pool, great weather and scenery, terrific food.  Marilyn has a spa treatment while I played golf on the resort's "Arnold Palmer Signature Course" and enjoyed perhaps my best round of the year.

Now before I tell you about it, take a look at this thirty second video, which you may have seen on commercials during last week's PGA Championship:

The PGA of America has been running this "Tee It Forward" campaign for a few years now to encourage golfers to play from the tee markers that best suit their games.  Hey, I figured if it's good enough for Jack Nicklaus, I should be heeding the advice, so I elected to play from the course's "Senior Tees", and played from tees that shortened the course by about 400 yards. As a result, I was reaching fairways and having better shots into the greens all day.  My score was 49-52-101, which may not be great, but when you've been shooting in the area of 108 all summer, it was HUGE improvement.  My biggest problem was six three putt greens.  Shorter tees do not, apparently, have any effect on your putting. 

Anyway, I wish more golfers would accept the PGA's and Nicklaus' advice and pay from the proper tees.  They are there for a reason.  However, I have known too many golfers over the years whose egos would never let them "play from the golds".  Too bad.  They'd enjoy it more, and play faster to boot.

Speaking of golf, while we were at Stonewall, the boys and girls golf teams from a Pittsburgh area high school were staying at the lodge and conducting their golf team tryouts while we were there.  Tough life, huh?  Anyway, I will not embarrass this school by naming it, but I will say that it is a private school, calls itself an "academy", and is located in Sewickley.  On two occasions we were in the resort restaurants with the teams and on both occasions,  the members of the boys' team sat in the dining area, ate their meals, and left their hats on.  And, yes, the coaches were in the room at the time and did not tell them to remove their hats.  Even worse, in the lobby on Monday morning, Marilyn witnessed several members of the girl's team appear to shun one of their teammates who also happened to be a minority.

So, tuition of $24,000 a year (we looked it up) appears to get you nice golf clothes and equipment, an opportunity to tryout for the team at a fancy resort, and lots of connections later in life resulting from wearing the Old School Tie, but it apparently it doesn't teach you some basic life skills such as good table manners and how to treat your fellow man with decency.

Very disappointing.

Friday, August 9, 2013

To Absent Friends: Karen Black

Actress Karen Black passed away yesterday, a victim of cancer at the age of 74.  

I remember her as an actress who starred in several big movies in the 1970's, most notably "Five Easy Pieces" (she was sitting in the booth with Jack Nicholson when he tried to order a sandwich at the diner), "Nashville", and Alfred Hitchcock's last movie, "Family Plot".  I remember finding her oddly sexy in a kind of kooky way (see picture below).  I also recall that she was very hot at one time, but if you'd have asked me six months ago, I couldn't have told you anything that she did in recent memory.

As is often the case, however, her obituary in this morning's paper made for interesting reading. Yes, she was very hot back in the 1970's, and her work garnered her a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award Nomination.  However, she also starred in a movie called "Day of the Locust" in 1975 that bombed, and she blamed the failure of that movie for pretty much ruining her career as a capital M, capital S Movie Star.

However, and this is what fascinates me, while she may no longer have been an above-the-title-actress/star, she never stopped working.  The obit stated that she appeared in over 100 movies and many, many other TV shows.  The Internet Movie Data Base gives her "actress credits" for 194 roles in films and TV shows, including three movies made in 2013. Granted, many of these movies are ones that you have never heard of, and could probably be classified as pure schlock, but she always had a part to play, right up to the very end, and isn't that all that any actor wants?

RIP Karen Black.

So Tell Me, Why ISN'T Gil Hodges in the Hall of Fame?

Since I have been involved with SABR and become part of several baseball discussion groups on various social media, I can tell you that there is no topic - none! - that stirs the fires and passions of a certain segment of the baseball community than the fact that Gil Hodges is not an enshrined member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Ask the question or making a comment either for or against Hodges being in the Hall on certain Facebook pages, and you are absolutely certain to be starting a thread that will generate thirty, forty, fifty or more comments.

Myself, I had no particular bias one way or the other.  If a guy makes the Hall of Fame, I'm happy for him, but if a certain player doesn't, I don't lose sleep over it either, and I always found the debates amusing, especially when it veers into the area of "O'Malley's-a-bastard-for-taking-the-Dodgers-out-of-Brooklyn".  However, this is what being a baseball fan is all about, and some folks have embraced this cause with an amazing passion.  Facebook friend and Pirate Chatter Scott Russell has compiled some documentation that has absolutely convinced me that Hodges should be in the Hall of Fame.

All of this brings me to the question stated in the title of this post: Why ISN'T Hodges in the Hall?  What is the case against him?  He was passed over by the BBWA in regular Hall voting for all fifteen years of his eligibility.  He has been passed over (or "snubbed" as the Hodgesophiles would put it) by the various iterations of the Veteran's Committee ever since (although there is anecdotal evidence that Hodges was voted in by the Vet's Committee one year, only to have his entrance sabotaged by Ted Williams on a procedural technicality).  

Again, why?

Everyone makes the case FOR Hodges, but I am asking for someone now to make the case AGAINST him.  Can somebody please state the case as to why Hodges has never reached the Promised Land in Cooperstown?  I'd be interested in hearing the other side of this. Please state the case, and please be civil.

Oh, and a couple of points of my own.  When making their arguments, the Hodges Backers always include as reasons (a) that Gil was a nice guy, the salt of the earth, and (b) that he managed the 1969 Mets to a World Series win.  To me, these are NOT reasons to put him in the HOF.  We all know that "nice" doesn't get you in the Hall, witness Ty Cobb and Steve Carlton, to name only two, and if "nice" was a criterion, then Mike McKenry would be a first ballot entrant..  As for managing the '69 Mets, that would make a nice footnote on his HOF plaque, but there are a lots and lots of managers who have won one World Series.

As I always do, I will be copying this post on several Facebook pages, and I am looking forward to the responses.  

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Big Break Mexico Champion

I suppose that this can be considered a spoiler, but if you don't know who won Golf Channel's The Big Break Mexico by now, then you probably didn't care in the first place.  Anyway, 23 year old Taylor Collins won this edition of the Big Break when her finals match with Matthew Galloway went to the 18th hole.  Ms. Collins won 1 Up.

It was a well played match, and Taylor is a deserving champion.  In addition to a bunch of cash and other prizes, Taylor's "big break" will be an exemption into the LPGA's Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico in November.  The tournament will run from November 14-17.

The Grandstander will be monitoring that tournament to see how Ms. Collins takes advantage of her big break.  I'm rooting for her.

I love "The Big Break".

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Narcissism, Thy Names are A-Rod and Johnny Football

I would highly recommend that you read this week's edition of Sports Illustrated for two stories.

The first is the cover story on the soon to be banished Alex Rodriguez.  If there is any doubt in your mind as to why MLB is going after A-Rod with such fervor, then read this story.  Talk about a guy who had it all, threw it away, got a second chance, threw it away again, and STILL doesn't get it.  As the writer S.L. Price puts it, how can a guy with such superior talent and baseball smarts be so...dumb. 

The second story concerns Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, aka "Johnny Football".  In the space of a few short months, Manziel has evolved from being an exciting football player, and a refreshing story to a near train wreck.  You know the stories...speeding tickets, underage drinking, getting thrown out of the Mannings' Quarterback camp, being seen at the NBA Finals, and so on and on.  He has come this close to being awarded an H.A. Citation by The Grandstander, but one feature of this story is making me hesitant to do so, and that is the details of how Texas A&M is reaping a financial bonanza by selling all sorts of Manziel jerseys and t-shirts, caps, photos etc.  Manziel, of course, gets not a penny of this loot, so NCAA hypocrisy allows me to give Johnny Football a break in not awarding him an H.A Citation.  He is, however, on the "H.A. Watch List".

Oh, and one more thing.  In none of these stories, not the SI story this week nor in all of the others that have surrounded Manziel this off season, is any mention at all made of him actually, you know, attending classes at A&M.  I know this brands me as being hopelessly naive, but can't they at least pretend that he is a student-athlete?  At least until he declares for the NFL at the end of the season? I mean...

Book Reviews: "Bye Bye, Baby" and Bad Monkey"

Back in May, I wrote about a book, "The Titanic Murders" and its author, Max Allan Collins:

I mentioned in that post how Collins wrote a series of mystery novels that surrounded actual historical events.  Collins is an incredibly prolific writer, and he has another series that features a Chicago based private investigator named Nathan Heller.  I finally got around to reading one of these novels as well. and it's fascinating.

Heller, it seems, always involves himself in cases that involve, you guessed it, actual historical people and events, and the stories are told as first person "memoirs" by Heller himself. The plot of "Bye Bye, Baby" (2011) concerns the events surrounding the death in 1962 of Marilyn Monroe.  Heller, of course, is a fictional character, but this book is populated with real people. In addition to Miss Monroe, you will encounter people like Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Hoffa, Peter Lawford. Hugh Hefner, J. Edgar Hoover, Joe DiMaggio, and, oh yeah, Jack and Bobby Kennedy.

As he did in "The Titanic Murders", Collins spins a yarn that comes up with a somewhat plausible explanation of the circumstances that led to Monroe's death.  The research that Collins had to do to write this book is incredible.  Do I accept it as historical fact?  No, I don't, but it is entertaining, compelling, and maybe, just maybe, events could have happened the way they did in this book.

There are other Heller novels that involve our hero with Al Capone, Elliot Ness, and Amelia Earhardt, and in 2012, Collins published a Heller novel called "Target Lancer" about the JFK assassination.

I plan on reading more of them, and so should you.

I also recently read the newest novel by Carl Hiaasen, "Bad Monkey".

The book opens when a honeymooning couple on a fishing excursion off of Key West hooks, not a game fish, but a human arm.  A Key West detective who is on suspension for assaulting his mistress' husband is told by the sheriff to pawn the arm off on the Miami PD.  Of course, that doesn't happen.....

Sounds crazy, doesn't it?  Not if you are familiar with and a fan of Hiaasen's fiction.  This is no exception.  Strange and goofy characters, hilarious dialog, environmental statements, voodoo curses, a hurricane, a movie star monkey, and lots of oddball romance add up to another winner.  

Read it!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Bucs, A Burger, and Buddy

It has been a busy week since our return from vacation, and in many respects, we still haven't recovered from that middle-of-the-night drive from Corolla to Pittsburgh last Saturday, so let's cover some selected short subjects, all beginning with the letter B....


It was a wild week for the Pirates, who jumped into first place with an amazing four game winning streak against the Cardinals, and the fact that they have now lost two in a row, one to the Cards and one to the Rockies, in no way  diminishes that accomplishment.  As this is being written, the Pirates have a 1/2 game lead over the Cardinals in the NL Central, and are 21 games over .500.  A long, hard road lies ahead, but the goal now is to win the division.  Finishing with a winning record is all but assured and the odds of securing a wild card spot are almost overwhelmingly in the Pirates' favor, but winning the division, well, that will be a long hard slog right through the end of the season if it is to happen.

I was fortunate enough to be in attendance at the Wednesday night 5-4 win over St. Louis, and it was an amazing atmosphere at PNC Park that night.  I am hoping for many more such evenings between now and September 29.

As for the trade deadline that passed without the team making any moves, I am OK with it.  I would not have wanted to see major pieces of "the future" traded away for marginal players (Alex Rios, Bud Norris) or short term rentals (Raul Ibanez), and, as I mentioned in a post a few weeks back, I believe that Neal Huntington has earned a benefit of the doubt for the time being.  Also, what has been credited as one of NH's best deals over the years was acquiring Derek Lee in 2011, and I believe that that move was made at the August 31 waiver deadline, so I am guessing that some move will be made between now and then to shore up what is a glaring weak spot in the batting order at the 1B and/or RF position.


It has been a while since I have written of my Quest to find the best hamburgers in Pittsburgh, but this week, I found an outstanding burger in a surprising place:

Yep, the hamburger at Manny's BBQ in PNC Park has moved into the Top Five among Pittsburgh Burgers.  First off, the burgers is cooked on a charcoal grill right before your eyes, you can choose your toppings, and it is relatively inexpensive for PNC Park concessions: $8.50, and for an extra buck, you can get a side of cole slaw and baked beans.  Of course, you  have to pay for a ticket to actually get into the ball park, so that does add to the cost.  Still, if you are planning on eating at the game anyway, go for the burger at Manny's.

Current Top Five Burgers in Pittsburgh (listed alphabetically because it is becoming too hard to list them numerically!):

  • Manny's BBQ (PNC Park)
  • McFadden's (North Shore)
  • Rochester Inn (Ross)
  • Tessaro's (Bloomfield)
  • Union Grill (Oakland)

We took in our final CLO show if the season on Thursday at the Benedum, "Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story".  Based on the life of Buddy Holly, this was as much a rock & roll concert as a musical play, and it was really a fun show.  Great energy and musical performances by the actors, particularly by the actor portraying Buddy Holly.

This is actually the second time that we have seen this show, and it is one that I would not hesitate to see a third time as well.  The way the show starkly ends at the Clear Lake concert on "the day the music died" is shocking and most effective, and the encore performance that serves as a curtain call is absolutely fabulous.

In the course of this two and on-half hour show you can really see how Holly's music and Holly himself evolved over the course of his very, very brief career.  It makes you realize that the "what ifs..." and the "could have beens..." that surround the death of Buddy Holly are very real and very sad.

A great, great show. 

To Absent Friends: Terry Lee

Saddened to hear of the death at age 70 of former Pittsburgh superstar disc jockey Terry Lee.  If you are of a certain age (mine) you remember listening to McKeesport radio station WIXZ to the distinctive "TL Sound", and you especially remember being with your girlfriend (or boyfriend) while listening to TL's "Music for Young Lovers".  Actually, if you were like me, you remember listening to TL's "Music for Young Lovers" and wishing that you actually had a girlfriend!

Reading Lee's obituary the other day, coupled watching the Buddy Holly musical at the CLO on Thursday night, made me remember the time when the deejays themselves were the stars who played such key roles in the shaping of musical tastes and making stars of the performers whose records they played.  In Pittsburgh, those deejays were people like Lee, Porky Chedwick, Clark Race, and Chuck Brinkman.  With the way radio and the music industry have evolved over the years, do deejays like that even exist anymore?

RIP Terry Lee.