Sunday, September 29, 2013

And Now, The Wild Card Game

So the people who have been downplaying the Pirates all year - and you know who you are - are now finding themselves short of reasons to rip on them so now they are saying "Big deal. A one game wild card game.  It could all be over in one game."  Some people are even refusing to acknowledge that this game is a "real" playoff game.  To them, I say "Balderdash!!!"

Let me get this out there BEFORE the playoffs begin.  I like the whole concept of the One Game Wild Card Playoff Game (hereafter referred to as the OGWCPG), and I said so when it was first proposed, and if you don't believe me, read this:

Everything I said back in November of 2011 still applies today.  Would I feel bad if the Pirates were to lose on Tuesday night, which they won't? Damned right I would, but they knew the rules back on Opening Day, and they had their chances to win the division (as did Cincinnati, Cleveland, Texas, and Tampa Bay), but they didn't, so now they have to deal with it.  And let's face it, there should be some premium placed on winning your division outright, and like the NFL, MLB provides that to a greater, even though slight, extent than does the NHL and NBA, by making the wild cards play that OGWCPG.

Lots to rip Bud "Bud" Selig about, but I have to say that I really like this second wild card feature that was introduced in 2012.  Even if the Pirates lose on Tuesday - which they WON'T - you will not here me advocating for turning the WC round into a Best of Three series.

I can't wait until Tuesday night!

To Absent Friends: L.C. Greenwood

It is so very sad when you learn of the passing of one of the sporting heroes of your youth, and it is especially sad when that person is a mere five years older than you. Such is the case with Pittsburgh Steelers all-time great, L.C. Greenwood, who passed away today at the age of 67.

If you are a regular reader of The Grandstander, the chances are that you need no introduction from me as to who L.C. Greenwood was.  He was a terror of a defensive end for the 1970's era Super Bowl Steelers, a charter member of the famous Steel Curtain defensive line of those great teams.   You don't need me to tell you how great a player Greenwood was.  Just check out some highlight films of the Steelers' four Super Bowl wins in those years.

Sad to think that only Joe Greene survives as a member of that great Steel Curtain line.

RIP L.C. Greenwood.

Just How Much Fun Is the Giant Duck?

For sheer whimsical fun, nothing beat being on the Allegheny River shore by PNC Park when the Giant Rubber Duck arrived this past Friday evening.

I got a good shot of him in front of the "alma mater":

And I got another view from the vantage point of Heinz Field at the Pitt game on Saturday:

I know it's silly, but I gotta say it....I love the Duck!!

This Just In From Mongolia....

Back on September 4, I wrote of friend Matthew Algeo, author and lifelong Phillies-Fan-Turned Pirates-Fan (for this season, anyway) now living in Ulaanbaatar.Mongolia.  

Thanks to the initiative of friend David Cicotello, a Jolly Roger flag was dispatched to Matthew, and this past Friday, the Jolly Roger did indeed fly in Ulaanbaatar.

That is Matthew Raising the Colors in Sukhbaatar Square in front of Government House, where the Mongolian Parliament meets, which I guess would make this the equivalent of the Capitol Building in Washington DC.  The statue you see in the center of the building depicts Mongolia's greatest national hero, Genghis Kahn.

When Matthew posted these pictures on Facebook's Pirate Chat the other night, some followers said it was absolutely the coolest thing that they had ever seen on Pirate Chat.

Thank you, Matthew, and here's hoping the Buccos give you many more reasons to parade in Sukhbaatar Square in the weeks ahead!

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Great Player Hangs Up His Spikes (and It's Not Who You Think It Is)

Two weeks ago, the Colorado Rockies Todd Helton quietly announced that he would be retiring at the close of this 2013 season.  That was it.  No major press conference announcement, no Farewell Tour throughout the National League, no gifts from opposing teams.  Just "I'm retiring when the season ends in a couple of weeks".

Was Todd Helton a "great player"?  I think so, and can you disagree after looking at these numbers?

  • Seventeen seasons and 2,244 games (through last night), all with the same team
  • 2,518 hits
  • 369 home runs
  • 1,406 RBI's
  • a .954 career OPS
The other day I heard of one of those contrived statistical groupings that have become so popular in recent years, it was something like X number of home runs, plus Y number of doubles, and Z number of hits and a batting average of over .xyz, I can't remember exactly what it was, and in this statistical subset, Helton stands alone with only two other players in baseball history - Stan Musial and Willie Mays.  Yeah, it is a contrived category, but you are in the same company with only Musial and Mays, that makes you a pretty special ball player in my book.

Oh, and Todd Helton said good-bye to his Coors Field fans in Thursday night by hitting a home run in his final home game.  What a perfect finish.

Many will hold it against him that he played half of his games in the mile high altitude at Coors Field, and also that he played in the "steroid era", although to my knowledge, no PED suspicion has ever been attached to him.  However, I say, see you in Cooperstown, Todd.

Now I know that what I say next will cast me as a grouchy old crank in some eyes, but contrast Helton's quiet exit with the year long hoop-la that has surrounded Mariano Rivera.   Before you Yankees loyalists jump all over me, I concede that Rivera is the greatest Closer ever (and how one views the position of "closer" is the subject of a whole other debate), and I will take everyone's word that he is a prince of a fellow, but am I the only person out there who has had it up to here with the whole Retirement Tour?  

Back in April, when Rivera said this would be his last season, ESPN's Buster Olney was tweeting wondering about what gifts each AL team should give Rivera when he made his last appearance in their city.  There followed the deification at the All Star Game, the Sports Center clips on each of his gifts from every team, the "controversy" over whether or not the Red Sox paid him the proper "respect" on his final visit to Fenway last week, a visit which was accompanied by near-weeping tweets from Olney and Peter Gammons, as well as the ESPN Sunday night crew, the Sports Illustrated cover.  I mean, C'MON MAN!  If Rivera is half the classy guy that everyone tells us he is, I am guessing that the whole deal had to be embarrassing for him.

It was not Rivera's fault, I suppose, but I rather prefer the way that Helton chose to bid adieu to the Major Leagues.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


The lateness of he game and the post game celebrations on Monday, combined with some personal obligations on Tuesday, has delayed by about thirty-six hours the writing of a post that, as recently as Opening Day of this season,  I wasn't sure I would ever write, certainly not in 2013, if not in my lifetime.

You all know about the Marte Par-tay home run....

Which led to the incredible final out of the game.....

Which led to this, a sight we have not seen in twenty-one years....

What an incredible evening!  I was particularly struck by the interview with Andrew McCutchen, whose instinctual play in backing up Marlon Byrd in the ninth inning, which led to that Cutch to Morneau to Martin put out at the plate, was the kind of stuff that you don't always see; the Pirates have been criticized often and with some justification on being lacking in sound, fundamental baseball, but that play surely defines "sound, fundamental baseball", but to my point, Cutch was almost speechless in responding to the questions being asked. It was obvious to me that he alone grasped what that moment meant.  He knew, more than anyone else in that locker room, just how far the road traveled to that point was.  They don't call him the "Face of the Franchise" for nothing.

I also want to thank all of the folks on Facebook's "Pirate Chat" page.  This sounds incredibly cornball, but watching everything unfold on Monday night - and, in fact, throughout this entire season - while monitoring and contributing to Pirate Chat, well, it was sharing the moment with over 300 other like-minded folks.  Actually, not everyone on Pirate Chat can be described as "like-minded", but that contributes to the fun of the whole thing!

Still work for the Pirates to do.  Home field for that Wild Card Game is in their own hands and the Central Division title can still be won, but the Bucs will need help from the Cubs in St. Louis this weekend.  One good thing is that in last night's 8-2 win over the Cubs, they showed no hangover, emotional or otherwise, from the celebrations of the night before, and I expect that that will continue for these final four games and beyond.  In fact, I think that you can ABSOBUCCINGLUTELY count on it!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

I Wish I Didn't Care So Much.....

Like so many Pirates fans everywhere last night, I was sickened by how that 5-2 sure thing victory was snatched away from them by the Reds last night.  I turned the TV off as soon as the final out was recorded, and could not bring myself to post or even read other's posts on Facebook's Pirate Chat page, could barely settle myself to go to bed, and when I did fall asleep, I awoke at 2:15 and could not go back to sleep for the rest of the night/morning. Like I say, I wish I didn't care so much about a damned baseball team, but there you are.

I need to thank my breakfast buddies, Dan Bonk, Jim Haller, and Len Martin.  Our monthly breakfast, which took place this morning, served as therapy for this Pirate fan's tortured soul. Tony Soprano should have gotten such good help from Dr. Melfi!

Some random thoughts:

  • Some Cincinnati Reds batter had better take a fast ball in the ribs tonight from a Pirates pitcher, and early.
  • What was Dusty Baker arguing about with the umpire after McCutchen got plunked?
  • How can Baker insult our intelligence by saying that there was "no intent" to hit McCutchen?
  • The Jordy Mercer error was devastating, to be sure, but that only made the score 5-3, and there were two outs.  It was up to Mark Melancon to get that third out.  He didn't.
  • Liriano should have pitched the ninth, Barmes should have gone in as a defensive replacement...could haves, should haves.  Try to forget them.  It only makes it worse.
  • Before last night, I was not worried about the Washington Nationals.  Now, I am.
  • We find out tonight what kind of character the Pirates have.
  • As my buddy Mr. Haller put it, "tough loss, gotta shake it off and win one tonight."
By the way, when I returned from breakfast this morning, I finally did check out all the chatter on Pirate Chat from last night and this morning, and that itself served as therapy of a sort, twelve hours removed from end of the game.  I felt awful, I was upset, and I couldn't sleep, but I never felt suicidal.  Let's get a grip, fellas.

Friday, September 20, 2013

On The Road Again at Peak'n Peek Resort, and We Still Love Lucy!

Mrs. Grandstander and I embarked on another "Retiree Adventure" this week with a three night stay at the Peek'n Peak Resort just outside of Findley Lake, NY.  If you are not familiar with it, "The Peak" is a ski resort about 15-20 miles east of Erie, PA, about a two and quarter hour drive from our North Hills home.  It had been about a dozen years or so since our last visit, so we decided to head back, and it was a great sojourn.

The resort has two golf courses.  I chose to play the more High Handicap-friendly Lower Course.

I was successful in bringing the course to its knees as I carded a blistering 97 on the round. You can define "blistering" any way you choose.  I define it as "anything under 100"!

After golf, we went poolside, where I rode down this bad boy:

The good news - it was a really fun.  The bad news - well, let's just say that you should always check your bathing suit pocket to make sure your cell phone isn't in there BEFORE you go into a swimming pool.  Oooops!

Walking back from dinner that night, I got this pretty neat picture of the moon over the Lower Course:

Now, you are probably wondering about that picture that appears at the right on the top of this post, so let me 'splain it to you.  On Thursday, we drove into nearby Jamestown, NY to visit a museum dedicated to perhaps Jamestown's most famous native and her husband. Perhaps you've heard of them.

Jamestown established a Museum to honor Lucille Ball soon after her death in 1989.  I believe that it was originally a "Lucille Ball Museum", but it is now, and has been since the mid-nineties, the "Lucy - Desi Museum" and honors Desi Arnez as well Lucy.  As near as I can determine, but could not really confirm, this was done at the insistence of their children, Lucie Arnez and Desi Arnez, Jr.  And why not?  While Lucille Ball was clearly the star of "I Love Lucy", and later sitcoms as well, it was the innovative ideas regarding television production and the business acumen of Desi Arnez that helped make "I Love Lucy" the landmark television show that it was, and remains to this day. According to the Museum, "I Love Lucy" is still on television somewhere in the world every single day of the year.

Each summer, the Museum hosts the Lucy-Desi Festival for Comedy.  Big time comedians come in to perform, there is a film festival, and it is a very big deal in the town of Jamestown. It looks like it is something that would be fun to attend some time.  In 2011, the Festival produced an event that landed in the Guinness Book of World Records when over 900 people gathered in one place while dressed as Lucy Ricardo.  How fun would that have been to see?

Finally, Jamestown also honors Lucy with huge murals on the sides of buildings throughout the town.  Jamestown loves Lucy.  Who doesn't?  The Museum is certainly worth a visit if you are in the area.

On the trip back to The Peak from Jamestown we made several stops in the areas surrounding the beautiful Lake Chautauqua, including a Mayberry-like village called Bemus Point... well as a stop and drive through the famous Chautauqua Institute.  We pumped up the economy at several little shops pleasing to Mrs. Grandstander and had a great lunch a restaurant called Webb's Captain's Table, where I partook of a western New York specialty, a "Beef on a Weck".  Delicious.  We left Peek'n Peak at nine that morning and didn't get back until almost five o'clock.  It was like a work day, only fun!

It was great trip, probably our last overnight excursion in 2013, so we made the most of it.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Halfway Through a Sports Weekend

The weekend in Pittsburgh sports started badly when the Pirates let one get away on Friday night against the Cubs, however, they talked us off the ledge last night with another fantastic pitching performance by Gerrit Cole.  They are now poised to take three of four from the Cubs today behind Francisco Liriano.  That would give them a record of 6-1 since that disastrous weekend in St. Louis last week should they take care of business this afternoon.
Tied for first place in the NL Central, and a magic number of 7 to clinch a playoff spot.

Also, we will be in attendance on Monday night when AJ Burnett takes the mound against the Padres. This will probably be our last game of the season, although I do have a tentative date with a friend to take in the Bucs first home game in the Division Series should that come to pass.

At Heinz Field yesterday, the Pitt Panthers opened up a big can of whoopass on the New Mexico Lobos, 49-27, and , trust me, the game wasn't all that close.  Not sure what this means, as NM appears to be to Bad Teams what Florida State was and is to Good Teams. Perhaps we will shall get a better indication as to where the Panthers sit on the Bad-To-Good Scale next week when they visit Duke in Durham.

One takeaway from yesterday's game of which we can be pretty sure - Freshman Tyler Boyd is one tremendous looking football player.  The Real Deal for sure.

(Elsewhere in college football, I regret that personal circumstances prevented me from seeing any of the 49-42 Alabama win over Texas A&M.  Sounds like that game was one for the ages. Tell me, did Nick Saban smile or show any sign of joy at all over his team's big victory?)

(Elsewhere in college football, part 2.  I kept switching to the Penn State game between innings of the Pirates last night.  In other days, this would have been considered a big upset and a bad loss for Penn State, but is it really?  I ask that sincerely since I am not well informed on the fortunes of UCF, but under the leadership of George "Mr. Resume" O'Leary, perhaps they are making strides on the national scene.)

Part Three of the Weekend Trifecta takes place tomorrow night in Cincinnati when the Steelers play the Bengals.  Not a lot of hope after the mess the Steelers showed us last week, but there is always hope because (a) Ben Roethlisberger is better than Andy Dalton, if it comes down to a battle between the quarterbacks, and (b) there is always hope that the Bengals will continue to be, well, the Bengals, which they were last week when a stupid personal foul penalty ended up costing them the game.

Speaking of which, are you getting tired of the "Hey, Marvin Lewis is a Western PA Guy" stories whenever these two teams play?  In case you missed it, the Post-Gazette pulled out that old chestnut today.

Let's Go Bucs!!! 

Here We Go, Steelers!!!!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

DVR Alerts with Emphasis on Hitchcock

Some DVR Alerts for this upcoming weekend on Turner Classic Movies.  All times Eastern.

Saturday, September 14:

8:00 PM:  "Lifeboat" (1944) Alfred Hitchcock's story of survivors on a lifeboat after their ship was torpedoed by  a German U-Boat.  Wait 'til you see how Hitch works his cameo into this one.

12:00 AM (technically, Sunday morning): "Titanic" (1953)  No, not the James Cameron, Leo DiCaprio blockbuster of a few years ago, but a black & white soap opera-ish story that stars Clifton Webb, Barbara Stanwyck (an actress whom I have really come to appreciate thanks to TCM), and a very, very young Robert Wagner.  (By the way, I think that Clifton Webb played the same character in every movie he ever made; only the names were different.)  The special effects in this one are pretty good, actually.  Spoiler Alert: The boat does sink in the end.

Sunday, September 15:

8:00 AM: "King Kong" (1933)  You all know the story.  If you've never seen the original, you simply have to do so.  And if it's been awhile since you've seen it, or even if you've seen it recently, watch it again.  All kidding aside, Fay Wray really was beautiful, and this movie has one of the greatest final lines in the HISTORY of movies.

There then follows a whole gaggle of Hitchcock movies on Sunday:

11:15 AM "The Trouble With Harry" (1955)  A dark comedy about rather inconvenient dead body.  This was Shirley MacLaine's first movie, and it also starred a very young Jerry Mathers.

1:15 PM: "Family Plot" (1976) This was Hitchcock's last movie.  To be honest, I saw it when it was released, have never seen it since, and can't recall if it's very good or not, but it's worth seeing because it's Hitchcock's Last Movie, for god's sake!

3:30 PM: "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1956)  James Stewart, Doris Day, the Royal Albert Hall, a sea of umbrellas, and "Que Sera, Sera".   Not one of my all-time favorites, but worth seeing at least once.

5:45 PM: "Vertigo" (1958) James Stewart and Kin Novak.  Many consider this the Best Movie Ever Made.

8:00 PM "Rear Window" (1954)  James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Wendell Corey, and Raymond Burr.  Wheelchair bound Stewart witnesses a crime while observing his neighbors through his rear window.  Or does he?  Personally, this is my favorite Hitchcock movie.  I've seen it dozens of times and watch it at least once a year.  Has there ever been an actress as beautiful as Grace Kelly?

10:00 PM:  "To Catch a Thief" (1955)  Cary Grant and Grace Kelly on the French Riviera.  Grant plays a famous "retired" cat burglar who must get back in the game in order to save his reputation.  Don't ask, just watch.  It's fun and how can you resist the charms of Grant and Kelly.  In this one, they make fireworks - literally!

More good stuff on TCM later in the month, but this should keep you occupied for awhile!


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

It's Over!

Yeah, you know what I'm talking about - the streak, or, rather, The Streak, the twenty year Longest-Losing-Streak-in-the-History-of-Professional-Sports-in-North-America, is now, finally, officially over. With the Pirates' 1-0 victory over the Texas Rangers last night, The Streak has now been relegated to ignominious history.
And how about that game. The pitching match-up between Texas' Yu Darvish and the Bucs' Gerrit Cole was one for the ages (or it would be if this game had taken place in, say, the World Series, or a Sunday Night ESPN Yankees-Red Sox game).  Darvish was almost unhittable, allowing only one hit in the first six innings, but Cole matched him....

....and gave Pirates fans a glimpse as to why he was selected #1 overall in the 2011 Draft. He was magnificent in his start last night, and what you saw makes you almost giddy with excitement as to what he might have in store for the Pirates and their fans in the years ahead.

And how about that other #1 pick, Pedro Alvarez going to the opposite field for a double that drove in the Pirates only run and won the game against Darvish and the Rangers.

More importantly, the win ended a four game losing streak and brought the Pirates within one game of the first place Cardinals, and put them a game ahead of the third place Reds.

In the post game interview on TV, Andrew McCutchen said all the right things about understanding what the 82nd win means to the fans, but that there are bigger goals to be reached, and on and on, but look at his face and the faces of his fellow outfielders at the top if this post.  You can't tell me that this game was just another win for the team.

Now, let's win 12 or 13 (or even 10 or 11) of the nineteen games left and have a deep run into October!

We need not refer to The Streak ever again, except as we might talk about some ne'er-do-well member of the family tree who is now deceased.  And with that in mind, a word about Sid Bream and Barry Bonds....

It is one of those unimportant things in life that has bothered me, like a stone in your shoe, that people, especially this summer as it became fairly clear that the team would have a winning season, to refer to "The Curse of Sid Bream" or "The Curse of Barry Bonds" because of Game Seven of the 1992 NLCS.  Can we please stop with that?  Sid Bream was a solid if unspectacular ball player, whose career included six fairly solid seasons with the Pirates, I might add, who was just doing his job that night.  Bonds was the Pirates best player and the NL MVP in 1992, whose throw to the plate was not quite perfect.  It happens.

There are lots of reasons not to like Barry Bonds, but that throw to the plate that didn't quite get Bream isn't one of them.  And there are lots of reason to like Bream, who has chosen to live in the Pittsburgh area long after his playing career has ended.  Neither Bream nor Bonds "caused" the twenty year losing streak.  Twenty years of lousy players, and lousier management decisions, caused The Streak.  Non-existent "curses" did not.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Super Bowl Halftime - The Pendulum Swings

In recent years, the NFL took a beating for bringing in geezer rockers - the Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, The Who, Madonna - for the half time extravaganza at the Super Bowl.  While I didn't mind seeing the Stones, and I loved Bruce Springsteen at the Steelers game against the Cardinals, I had to admit that The Who and Madonna were pretty bad, and that the NFL need to unstuff their shirts and skew a bit younger in this area.  They took that step last year with Beyonce, and this year the pendulum has swung completely the opposite way with the selection of Bruno Mars as the halftime performer.

I say this because I, a soon to be 62 year old geezer himself, have absolutely no idea as to who Bruno Mars is and what type of performer he is.  Please understand that I am not passing judgement on Mr. Mars.  He may be the best entertainer since Sammy Davis, Jr. for all I know, and I hope it is a dynamite show in the Meadowlands come Super Bowl Sunday. One thing for sure, there will more 18-35 year olds tuned into the half time show and fewer geezers, and that is what Pepsi, who is sponsoring the Halftime Show, wants.

As for me, I would rather see either the Grambling University Marching Band or a dog and a frisbee.

The Lost Weekend

If you are a fan of classic old movies, you will know that the above is a picture of Ray Milland in his Oscar winning role in 1945's "The Lost Weekend".  I felt that there was no better metaphor than this for what Pittsburgh sports fans experienced this weekend.  As a matter of fact, I mixed myself a high ball after the final whistle blew at Heinz Field this afternoon.

First, the Pirates.

A sweep completed by the Cardinals today extends the team's losing streak to four, and they face the unpleasant task of having to beat Yu Darvish in Texas tomorrow night.  To make it even worse, the Cardinals laid waste to the Bucs' three best pitchers this weekend, Francisco Liriano, AJ Burnett, and Charlie Morton.  It also seemed that every time you looked, the Cardinals were doing the little things - going with the pitch and hitting to the opposite field or getting the opportunistic sacrifice fly - that the Pirates have been unable to do all season.  

A few weeks back, someone asked me who I thought would would ultimately win the NL Central, and my answer was the Cardinals.  They certainly were a better team, and a much better team at that, than the Pirates this weekend.  I still feel that the Pirates will make the play-offs, and that will mean that this season will have been an unqualified success, but unless they turn things around beginning in Arlington tomorrow night, it will begin with that one game crap shoot of a wild card playoff.

On the home front, however, the Steelers did all in their power to take the attention away from the Pirates' woes by putting forth one of the worst efforts of a Steeler team in recent memory.  In a word, they stunk today, and I'd hate to think what it would have been like if they were playing a really good team like Denver or San Francisco instead of the Tennessee Titans.

I won't recite play-by-rancid-play, but I have to say a word about the running backs.  Two seasons ago, King Art II decreed that the team was going to return to "Steeler football" and emphasize a strong ground game, and they fired Bruce Ariens and brought in Todd Haley to put such a ground game in place.  The results last year were awful, and this year, it is shaping up to be more of the same.  Why is Isaac Redmon the feature back in this offense? He has never shown anything to merit this, and today, with the Steelers driving for a first quarter TD, he fumbles into the end zone and costs the team the chance to go ahead 9-0. Who knows how the course of the game might have been affected had the team scored at that point?  We can only hope that Le'Veon Bell's foot injury heals and he can get on the field for the Steelers soon.  He's got to be better than what they are running out there now.

Oh, and to make it really bad, Maurkice Pouncy gets hurt four minutes into the game with what appears to be a season ending injury. 

It is shaping up to be a very long season at Heinz Field in 2013.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

It's Steelers Time!

The National Football League kicks off tonight with the Ravens teeing it up against the Broncos, and the Steelers start for real on Sunday against the Titans, so it's time for The Grandstander's all-encompassing Steelers / NFL Preview.  Because of the season that the Pirates have been enjoying this summer, the Steelers have been pretty much relegated to my personal back burner.  Here then is only a semi-informed opinion on how I see the 2013 season going.

Yes, I know that the team went 0-4 in the practice games, but who cares?  Games are completely meaningless in terms of the who wins or loses.  I seem to recall that in Bill Cowher's first year as coach, the team won only one practice game and then proceeded to rip through the regular season with the best record in the AFC  (never mind what the Bills then did to them in the first round of the playoffs).  Alas, I fear that such good fortune will not follow Rooney U this year.

One thing that I like about the team is that they have gotten significantly younger this year.  As recently as two years ago, I saw that a significant number of key players were over thirty, some considerably so, and it concerned me.  The team managed a good record and playoff appearance in 2011, but it all caught up to them last year and 8-8 was the result.  So, guys like James Harrison and Max Starks are gone, and younger guys like Jarvis Jones and David DeCastro and Mike Adams are there to fill the gaps.  The BIG question now is, can these newer, younger guys play, and play at a high level, and there is really no way to know until they actually play the games.  Also, two key guys on defense, Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor are not getting any younger, either.

I also have a grave concern at running back where Isaac Redman is set to open the season as the starter at RB. To me, Redman is the Josh Harrison of the Steelers - a nice guy to have on the team to fill in on occasion and in special situations, but you're in trouble if he's your #1 guy at the position.  Rookie Le'Veon Bell was drafted to rectify that, and he seemed to be the real deal in training camp, but, so far anyway, he has proven to be too fragile to get on and stay on the field when it counts.  

One big plus that the Steelers have going for them is Ben Roethlisberger. To quote Ron Cook, you can never count out the Steelers with Roethlisberger at QB for them.  He alone has the ability to win games for them that they should otherwise lose.   Now, you can come back at me and say, "what about those key interceptions he threw late in the season last year that cost them games and a trip to the playoffs?"  Well, you would be correct there, but I am willing to give Ben the benefit of the doubt and chalk that up to his injuries that occurred in mid-season.  You will recall that before those injuries, the Steelers were 7-2 and Roethlisberger was on his way to perhaps the best season of his career.  So, if Big Ben can stay healthy, an 8-8 also-ran season could turn into a 10-6 playoff season.

The Steelers will never admit to being in a "rebuilding phase", and that is to their credit, I believe, but nevertheless, that is where I think they are right now.  The hope is that the young guys today jell, that they can continue to add on other such players next year, and that they will be ready to be serious Super Bowl contender while Roethlisberger is still in his prime in, say, the 2014 to 2016 window.

As for 2013, I see the team being anywhere from 7-9 to 9-7 and not making the Playoffs this year.  I see Baltimore winning the AFC North with the Bengals - I can't believe I'm saying this - finishing ahead of the Steelers, who will still be better than the Browns.  However, one of the charms of the NFL is that a lousy team one season can be playing in the Conference Championship or the Super Bowl the next one.  For that reason alone, and for the fact that you can probably count on the Bengals always being the Bengals, the possibility exists that, with a few good bounces, the Steelers could be in the post-season, but I'm not going to bet on it.

As for the Super Bowl, how about the Broncos to defeat the 49'ers in a New Jersey blizzard on February 2. (By the way, I am really hoping that Arctic conditions exist in New Jersey when the Super Bowl is played. I'm guessing that Roger Goodell will borrow from the Bowie Kuhn playbook and will be standing on the sidelines throughout the game in a sport coat.)

As always, watch, but don't bet.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Jolly Roger Flies in Ulaanbaatar!!

I had a very cool experience while watching the Pirates secure their 81st win of the season last night in Milwaukee.

As I watched the game, I was making comments on the "Pirate Chat" Facebook page.  At one point, along about the seventh inning with the score tied 2-2, the following comment popped up under one of my posts:

Matthew Algeo For some dumb reason AFN is carrying the Tigers-Red Sox game instead of the Pirates-Brewers game. I'm keeping track of the Pirates through your updates, Bob!

For those who don't know, Matthew Algeo is an author that I have read for a couple of years. He is from Philadelphia, and he currently is living in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.  That's it up there atop this post.  His wife is an American diplomat who is currently serving at the American Embassy in Mongolia.  At that point, I began posting a play-by-play of the game.  From my sofa to Mongolia.  What a world in which we live!

After the game, Matthew hoisted a shot of Mongolian vodka and the Jolly Roger as the Pirates assured themselves of their first non-losing season since 1992.  He also went on Facebook to proclaim that he, a life long Phillies fan, is now frantically rooting for the Pirates to make it to the World Series. (Actually, I think it was a theoretical shot of vodka, since it was 11:00 in the morning in Ulaanbaatar.)

Now, he did not ask me to do this, but in return for that loyalty, I will also take the time to recommend that you read any or each of his three very excellent books:

"Last Team Standing" - about the wartime combine of the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers, or "Steagles".

"Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure" - about a cross country drive that the former President and his wife took, alone, shortly after he left the White House.

"The President Is A Sick Man" - about a secret operation to remove a cancerous tumor from the mouth of President Grover Cleveland.

All very interesting and entertaining books.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Florida State 41 - Pitt 13

For the first time since my college days, I am a Pitt football season ticket holder (Man, those were the days - the Dave Hart and Carl DePasqua eras when 1-9 seasons were not uncommon, nor was it uncommon to see the clock run continuously in the fourth quarter when Pitt was getting thumped 62-7 to the Notre Dame and Penn State teams of that era), and I was anxious to see Pitt's ACC Inaugural game against Florida State, and to spend time with friends Dan Bonk, Len Martin, and their season ticket group.  

I make no claim to being an expert on Pitt's personnel, but those folks who are have told me that if Pitt manages a 7-5 or 6-6 season in 2013, they would consider it a success.  I do know that Florida State is always a force with which to be reckoned, so I had no great hopes for a Pitt upset last night.  Then, the Panthers took that opening kickoff and managed a very neat touchdown drive and led 7-0, and, well, the Seminoles are starting a freshman quarterback, so, hey, you never know, right?

Well, then that freshman QB, Jamies Winston took the field and the party was pretty much over.  He was simply remarkable.  At one point in the third quarter I said that I wish they would put his stats on the scoreboard, because, I said, "he has to have completed at least 75% of his passes."  Guess I wasn't playing as close attention as I thought, because Winston ended up going 25 for 27 (93%) for over 350 yards and four TD's.  Three of those TD's, by the way, were to  kid named Nick O'Leary, who happens to be the grandson of some guy named Jack Nicklaus.  Pretty cool.  Winston will be a most interesting player to follow throughout the season and his career.  He will certainly come up against far better defenses than what Pitt threw at him last night, but he sure looks like quite a talent.

It's easy, I suppose, to come down hard on Pitt, but both the good and bad news of last night was that eleven freshman received significant playing time in that game.  Pretty obvious that the there was not a lot there when Paul Chryst took over the Panthers in 2012.  If you are a Pitt fan, you can only hope that these kids turn out to be good players, and that Chryst and his staff can coach 'em up and get the best out of them.  Also, and I claim no expertise here, I am not sure that the ACC, with the exception of Notre Dame, is going to throw any stronger opposition against them than what Florida State did last night.  You just have to hope for game by game improvement as the season progresses and maybe for an unexpected upset somewhere along the line.

Two other things I'd like to comment upon concerning last night's game.

First, Pitt issued a special over-sized commemorative ticket for last night's ACC Opening Game.  I know that lots of folks collect such things.  The Heinz Field ticket takers then proceeded to fold the tickets and tear them in half.  And to make the cheese more binding, there was no perforation in the ticket so what you got back was a jagged, ripped ticket,  You could have gotten a cleaner tear if you bit your ticket in half with your teeth.  The tickets did have a bar code on them, but word was that the scanning equipment wasn't working last night.  So, so much for that nice souvenir ticket.  And you thought only the Pirates were capable of such screw ups!

Secondly, you may have heard reports on the radio today that the Pitt student section pretty much abandoned Heinz Field after the singing of "Sweet Caroline" at the end of the third quarter.   Wrong.  I would say that more than half of the Pitt students - and they had reported 11,000 student tickets sold - abandoned Heinz Field at halftime.  Those that were left then departed after "Sweet Caroline".  I am not sure how such a mass exodus can be prevented, but it doesn''t look good when your students exit in droves like that.  And I am not buying the reasoning of some hard line Pitt folks that this is all because that "damn Steve Pederson moved football off campus".

On the bright side, I had great time with the folks in the ticket group.  Male bonding at its finest!

Bring on them New Mexico Lobos!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

To Absent Friends: David Frost, Dixie Evans

Word arrives on Facebook this morning of the death of British entertainer David Frost, or Sir David Frost to give him his due.  Frost was introduced to America as host of the satirical "That Was The Week That Was" in the 1960's and later had a long run as successful talk show host here in the States.  

Frost came back into American consciousness in recent years with the play and movie, "Frost/Nixon" about how he landed the first exclusive interview with Richard Nixon after his resignation from the Presidency.  After I saw that movie, I remember encountering an older gent in the lobby of the theater who asked me what movie I had just seen.  When I told him "Frost/Nixon" he said "Don't think I'll see that one. Too many bad memories."  I don't think he was referring to David Frost.

RIP David Frost.

OK, indulge me on this one, but it involves another one of those odd but fascinating, to me anyway, news obituaries that appeared in the Post-Gazette this morning. 

Dixie Evans died early last month at the age of 86.  After working as an airplane mechanic during WW II, she started dancing as chorus girl in touring musicals, but later drifted into the world of burlesque.  Because of an uncanny resemblance to a certain movie star, enhanced mightily by burlesque impresario Harold Minsky, she hit the burly-que jackpot by being billed as the "Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque".  Of course, when Monroe died, Dixie Evans career as a headliner pretty much died with her.

In the late eighties, she moved in to help care for her friend and fellow burly dancer Jennie Lee, who was terminally ill.  She and Miss Lee started a sort of informal Burlesque Museum, and Evans kept it up and expanded it to include a Burlesque Hall of Fame following Lee's death in 1990,   In 2006, Dixie Evans moved the Burlesque Hall of Fame to Las Vegas where she continued to maintain it and live until her death.

As I say, these kinds of stories fascinate me.

RIP Dixie Evans.

Justin Morneau Is a Pirate

Here is what yesterday's Pirate trade for Justin Morneau - and the trade earlier in the week for Marlon Byrd and John Buck - means.  

It means....

  • ...that the Front Office has lived up on it's promise to do what needs to be done once all of the building blocks were put in place in the franchise infrastructure
  • ...that Bob Nutting opened up his wallet and spent money, significant money in the case of Morneau, to put the pieces in place for a serious post-season run
  • ...that maybe, just maybe, Neal Huntington has been right all along in his "plan" to make the Pirates a contender (and regular readers know that The Grandstander has been a huge NHR critic in the past)
  • ... that in terms of the 2013 season, Nutting, Coonelly, and Huntington have done their jobs
  • ...that the Front Office has given Clint Hurdle, to the largest extent possible, the tools he needs to succeed
  • ...that it is now up to the players on the field to finish the job
So, I would suggest that everyone quit bitching about the timing of these trades ("should have done it on July 31") and just enjoy these last 28 games of the season.  Wait until the World Series is over to fire up the Hot Stove and put Nutting, Coonelly, Huntington, and Hurdle on the griddle.

Right now, there is a pennant race to enjoy.