Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hail to the Red Sox and Other World Series Thoughts

After a particularly unmemorable World Series last year (wherein the Giants defeated the Tigers, and no one will blame you if you didn't remember that), the Red Sox and the Cardinals ratcheted up the Memorable Scale for us with the Fall Classic that ended last night with Red Sox 6-1 win in Game Six.  

Congratulations Red Sox!

This Series is made memorable due to the following factors:

  • The absolutely other-worldly hitting of MVP David Ortiz.
  • Pitching performances by Jon Lester, John Lackey, Koji Uehera, Michael Wacha (despite last night's loss), and Trevor Rosenthal.
  • The unbelievable and unprecedented finishes in Games 3 and 4.
  • Only the blow-out nature of the Game Six finale - which also meant that there would be no Game Seven - scaled back the Memorability Factor where this Series was concerned.
As a rule, I am a fan of the broadcast team of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver.  Indeed, there are times when I think that I am the only guy who likes McCarver, but I have to say that the incessant pointing out that the "Red Sox have not won a World Series clinching game in Fenway Park since 1918", followed by such facts as "Babe Ruth was a pitcher on that 1918 team" (really???) was enough to make me want to throw a shoe at the TV set.  Yes, it was an interesting factoid the first, second, and maybe even the third time we heard it, but it seemed like that as ALL THEY TALKED ABOUT for the final three innings of the game.  It was even incorporated into Buck's closing call when the final out was recorded.  

As final calls go, it was a 180 degrees removed from "I cannot believe what I have just seen." This one where as time goes on I will bet that Joe Buck wishes he had a Do Over.

Speaking of John Lackey, wasn't he one of the guys who was part of the Fried-Chicken-and-Beer Brigade that indirectly led to Terry Francona getting fired in Boston two years ago? Unless you're a real Sox fan, that made him a hard guy for me to root for last night, or any night for that matter.

And at the risk of sounding like a right-wing reactionary from the 1960's, I hope those guys will now shave those God-awful beards.  I gotta tell you, I did not like that look, and if they decide to keep them, we'll be stuck looking at the all the time when ESPN decides to televise every one of the Red Sox games in 2014.

Finally, and this is good news, I think, the last-place-to-World-Series season for the Red Sox will pretty much guarantee that Bobby Valentine will never manage in the major leagues again.

Oh, and for the record, The Grandstander had this one wrong, as I had called for the Cardinals in six.  Can't win 'em all!

Now, it is time to officially get into the Hot Stove League.  106 days, more or less, until Pirates pitchers and catchers report in Bradenton.  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

To Absent Friends: Lou Reed

A melancholy Happy Trails to rocker Lou Reed, who passed away this past weekend at the age of 71.  I have to admit that I was not a big fan, and am not all that familiar with his overall body of work, but "Take a Walk on the Wild Side" was a big song when I was in college, and I rather liked it.  As you can hear in the link below, it's still a pretty good one.

RIP Lou Reed.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Trap Game Today? Steelers at Oakland

Since the Steelers have won two straight, visions of Playoffs are dancing in the heads of Stiller Nation, especially with a game against the putrid Oakland Raiders this afternoon.  However, these same Steelers LOST to an equally bad Raiders team last season, and, as Gene Collier spells out in his column today, the records of these two teams are eerily similar.

Don't get me wrong. Like most of you, I will be cheering mightily for a Steelers win today against the Evil Raiders, but nothing is going to surprise me.

Game Three: Cardinals 5 - Red Sox 4

Well, I was tired as I sat down to watch the third game of the World Series last night, and there were times during the game that I was close to packing it in and going to bed, but am I glad I didn't!

If you care at all about this stuff, you already know how the game ended - the Cardinals winning in the bottom of the ninth with a Walk Off Obstruction call against Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks.  I don't know this for certain, but I am pretty sure that neither the Cardinals nor any of the other 29 teams in the majors spend a lot of time practicing this play in Spring Training.

Just a couple of thoughts:

  • As the play happened in real time, the thought ran through my head in a nano-second that "isn't that interference with the baserunner?"  Honest to God, I really did think that.  So did Mrs. Grandstander.
  • The replay showed clearly that third base umpire Jim Joyce immediately pointed to the tangle at third to signal the obstruction.  Home plate umpire Dana DeMuth merely confirmed that when he signaled back to Joyce after Allan Craig crossed the plate.
  • The call was definitely the correct one.  And as it was apparent from his body language when he went to argue the call, even John Farrell knew it.
  • Friend Stephanie Liscio mentioned on Facebook that while she didn't see the play, she was listening to the Boston announcers on the radio, and even they said it was a correct call.
  • Had this play happened in the third or fourth inning, it would have merely been an interesting footnote to the game.  Since it happened in the bottom of the ninth and ended the game, it immediately became an Immortal Play.  How about we christen it "The Immaculate Obstruction"?
  • And wouldn't it have been something if this had been the seventh game of the Series?
Speaking of Facebook, I have to say thank you to Mark Zuckerberg for giving baseball fans  the ability to instantaneously share such a ball game.  It was like I was at the ball park with Al Blumkin, Joe Risacher, Tim Baker, Madison McEntire, Stephanie Liscio, and dozens of others watching this game.  It was great!

It also proved one of baseball's oldest cliches: Every time you go to a ball game, you might see something you have never seen before.  Or, as Al Blumkin put it, just when you think you've seen it all, baseball proves that you haven't.  

Check and double-check!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Some Farewells

As Tony and Mike say on Pardon the Interruption, we bid Happy Trails today to.....

Jim Leyland

As you no doubt know, Leyland announced yesterday that he would not be returning as manager of the Tigers in 2014.  Leyland, after eight years and four post-season appearances, including two AL pennants, has decided that age 69, he's had enough.   

When I first heard this news, I said to myself, can the slurp job column from Ron Cook be far behind?  Well, Cookie did not disappoint.  Hey, I get it that Cook thinks Leyland was a great manager and a good guy, but he really should be embarrassed with that column this morning.  No Hollywood press agent couldn't have written a bigger puff piece than that one.

More to the point, I will accept the fact that Leyland has been a good, though not necessarily great, manager throughout his career (although even his admirers admit that he didn't have his best series in the recently concluded ALCS), but to me, he is the guy who broke his contract with the Pirates for better and more lucrative deal in Miami, and flat out quit on the Rockies in Denver when things weren't to his liking.  His loyalists will defend those moves - as Cook does in his column this morning - but they are black marks on his resume and his character as far as I am concerned, but, again, that's just me.  And I find it interesting that Mrs. Grandstander, upon hearing the news, said, "Do you think he means it this time?"

Bum Phillips

The colorful former coach of the Houston Oilers passed away this weekend at the age of 90.  How can Steelers fans of a certain age ever forget Bum Phillips, strolling the sidelines in back-to-back AFC Championship games at Three Rivers Stadium?  I wonder if we would still find him lovable had the Oilers managed to win one or both of those games?  Sad to think that in the NFL of Roger Goodell, the Stetson hat, cowboy boots, and sheepskin jacket that Bum wore on the sidelines would not be considered "approved sideline apparel", and Bum would have been forced to don whatever Nike and Park Avenue told him to wear.

It was a bad weekend for Houston Oilers fans as death also claimed owner Bud Adams.  Adams was a Texas oil gazillionaire who, along with a few other risk takers, started the American Football League back in 1960.  Of course, Adams also grew to fit the profile of the modern sports owner when he moved the Oilers to Nashville when a better stadium deal, i.e., one that made him more money with no cost to him, came along.  Only 95 year old Ralph Wilson in Buffalo remains from that group that started the AFL back in 1960.

Enjoy that retirement, Jimmy Leyland, and smoke 'em if you got 'em, and RIP Absent Friends Bum Phillips and Bud Adams.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cardinals vs. Red Sox

It turns out  Major League Baseball could have just skipped three rounds of Playoffs and had the St. Louis and Boston, the teams with the best records in their Leagues go directly to the World Series this year.  This would have made the purists who long for the days of two eight team leagues happy, but it sure would have deprived fans in Pittsburgh of a lot of excitement this Fall.

This is the fourth time that these two teams meet in the Fall Classic, so expect to see a lot of the following:
  • Black & white highlights of Enos Slaughter's "mad dash" to home plate, and endless debates about whether or not Johnny Pesky held the ball too long.
  • Nostalgic hand wringing over Ted Williams' poor performance in that '46 Series and how Ol' Teddy Ballgame never got to another one.  
  • Ditto for Stan Musial.
  • Interviews with Bob Gibson and Carl Yastrzemski.
  • Personal reminiscences from everybody's favorite announcer, Tim McCarver, who batted .125 with 2 RBIs in the '67 Series.
  • A complete and total overdose of Neil Diamond and "Sweet Caroline".
I would also hope that MLB and Fox might work in some feature about '67 Cardinals star Curt Flood, and how his efforts sowed the seeds for the multi-million dollar salaries being earned by the players participating in this year's World Series, but I won't hold my breath waiting for that.

My call - the Cardinals in six games.  Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina to be the stars in the Cardinals' Series win.   

And, hey, wouldn't a Gibson-pitching-to-McCarver be a great First Pitch for one of the games in St. Louis?  We can only hope that the punjabs in the offices of Bud "Bud" Selig are working out the logistics that will  make that happen as we speak.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Pay TV

Back in the summer of 1968, I was working at my first paying job - a usher at the Forum Theater in Squirrel Hill.  At one point during that time, the theater owners were asking all patrons to sign a petition against the looming menace, then known only as "Pay Television".  Pay TV, the reasoning went, would enable people to purchase first run movies in their homes to watch on their televisions.  Such a development would surely put movie theaters, as we knew them back in 1968, out of business.  No one knew exactly how "pay TV" would work when and if it finally arrived.  I think most of us envisioned some type of meter that would be attached to out TV sets into which we would put money to watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

In time, that sort of Orwellian device did not come about, and the money-gobbling monster that the theater owners were describing in those petitions forty-five years ago never did quite come about, but eventually cable television emerged, and most of us do, in fact, have a device attached to out television sets, only we call them "cable boxes", and we are, whether we realize it or not, are purchasers of "Pay TV".   There are some people, and I can only think of one such person among my acquaintances, who enjoy truly "free" television - no cable and access to only the local network affiliates via over-the-air signals.

To be honest with you, I don't even think of it that way anymore.  The cable bill is just another utility bill, like the electric and gas bills, but if I ever decided that by god I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to pay what should be free anymore, think of what I'd be missing:

  • All those Pirates and Penguins games on Root Sports
  • The MLB Playoffs that have been shown on TBS and MLB
  • Anything on ESPN including all those great College Bowl games every New Year's Day
  • Wolf Blitzer
  • The Sopranos, The Americans, Boardwalk Empire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad and any number of arguably the best shows on television on cable networks like HBO, AMC, TBS, TNT, FX etc
  • Turner Classic Movies
  • Love It or List It
  • Giada De Laurentiis
  • I even saw that basketball's Final Four will be on TBS, and not CBS, this coming spring.
  • How far off is it until the World Series and Super Bowl will only be available cable outlets such as the MLB and NFL Networks?
Pay TV is here, folks, and if came upon us in a way that we probably didn't even realize it was happening.

And the technology is evolving beyond cable.  Just this week I heard that the NFL is considering offering one game a week via streaming on an Internet outlet such as Netflicks or Google, in which case who then needs a cable box?  And if the money is there, and it will be, don't think it won't happen.

Those theater owners weren't entirely wrong back in 1968, either.  Oh, there are still movie theaters, but terrific, classy, and intimate movie theaters like the Forum are all but gone now, replaced by big suburban multi-plexes, often attached to shopping malls.  My old Squirrel Hill neighborhood, once home to four such theaters, now has only one, The Manor, and even it has been converted to a four screen multi-plex.  I suppose that that is progress, of a sort.

We live in interesting times.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Some Golf, Some Baseball, Some Basketball, Some TV, Some Football, Even Some High School Soccer!!

Cleaning out the Mental In-Box.....

  • Whenever you play a round of golf in October, you run the risk of it being your last round of the year.  If that is to be the case, then I went down swinging with a two day trip to Oglebay Park in Wheeling, WV this week.  Along with fellow Highmark retirees Fred Shugars, John Coley, Steve Sutton, Mike Romano, and non-Highmark retiree Barry Trygar, we dodged the rain, but got in two rounds of golf at Oglebay's Spiedel Golf Complex, one on the Arnold Palmer Course and one on the Robert Trent Jones Course.   Fun golf - some of which was even skillfully played - good friends, good food, playoff baseball on TV, and a little nickel/dime poker.  What more could you ask for?
  • If you are going to Oglebay and only have time for one round of golf?  Play the Palmer Course.
  • I spent my high school and college years in the late 60's and early 70's.  While I wore my hair much longer then than I do now, I was no hippie, and by the standards of the day, it was not long at all.  My point is, long hair and facial hair on men doesn't faze me much.  All that said, I think that the Boston Red Sox look positively hideous as I watch them during these playoffs, and the mountain man beards they are sporting give me a reason, illogical as it may be, to be rooting against them.
  • My friend Jim Scuilli has taken to posting his own personal NFL "Bottom Ten" each week, and yes, the Steelers, now sitting at fourth worst, have been on the list since Week One.  I find it highly entertaining and look forward to seeing who has played their way on to and off of the list each week.  If you want to see it, join in to the "Western Pennsylvania Football Huddle" group page on Facebook.
  • A big shout out to my great-nephew who was featured as this week's recipient of KDKA's Extra Effort award presented weekly to a high school student-athlete by Bob Pompeani.  I still can't believe that he is a senior in high school.
  • Another shout out to another great-nephew, the younger brother of the guy above, who was named Male High School Athlete of the Week by the Tribune-Review this week.
  • These two great-nephews will be playing for Central Catholic and two of my great-nieces will be playing for North Allegheny in the WPIAL Soccer Play-offs that begin next week. Good luck to them and their teammates!
  • How great has the pitching been in these MLB playoffs?  Can't wait to see the Kershaw-Wacha match-up tonight.
  • Due to all the baseball, I have fallen behind in my TV watching, and the DVR is now at two-thirds capacity, which could mean I may never watch some of this stuff.   The only new TV show that interested me at all going in was NBC's "The Blacklist" starring James Spader.  I have seen two of the four episodes thus far, and I like it.  Spader, who played the smarmy and detestable rich kid in the 80's teen comedy "Pretty in Pink", grew into adulthood well as an actor.  He does chew the scenery in this one, but he's pretty good in it.
  • It's Steelers-Ravens week.  Not stirring the juices as it has in past years, is it?
  • In Atlantic Coast Conference pre-season basketball forecast, three of the projected top six teams are "refugees" from the Big East - Pitt, Notre Dame, and Syracuse.  That has to be driving old line ACC Hoops Diehards absolutely nuts.  And Rick Pittino and Louisville come to the ACC next year.  Billy Packer must be on suicide watch.
  • Players who will not be Pittsburgh Pirates in 2014:  Garrett Jones, Mike McKenry, Justin Morneau, and Clint Barmes, possibly Marlon Byrd, and I give it only a 10% chance that A.J. Burnett will be back. There will be others.
  • A Pitt football game Saturday night, a Steeler football game Sunday afternoon, and rain in the forecast all weekend.  Can't wait to see that Heinz Field playing surface come Sunday night.
  • Some thoughts have occurred to me while watching the baseball playoffs as to the media that have been delivering the games - and other programming - into our living rooms. Too long to go into here, but hope to have some thoughts on it over the weekend.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

2013 Pirates Predictions. How Did I Do?

Most prognosticators will only tell you about the predictions that they got right.  Not The Grandstander.  I will let you know when I screw up.  With that in mind, let us go back to the post of March 28, 2013 when I laid out my Pirates predictions for the 2013 season that was about to begin.  Passages from that post will be in blue ink below, with current comments in red ink.

I am optimistic about the everyday line-up.  I feel good about McCutchen, Alvarez, Walker, and the Jones/Sanchez platoon at first.  I am hopeful that Marte will blossom and be a good to very good player.  I am reasonably hopeful that Russell Martin will be enough of an improvement over last year to be considered a Plus for the team.  Barmes at short rates nothing more than a "Meh" from me.  He won't kill you in the field, but, man he needs to be more than the automatic out he was for much of last year.  Right field remains a question mark.  I hope that Travis Snider and/or Jose Tabata can emerge to be more than the mediocrity that manned that position last year.  I hope that their play will not force the Pirates to play Garrett Jones in RF.  That would upset the balance of the platoon situation at 1B, which I feel could be a strong point for the team.

Well, I feel like I got it right about McCutchen, Alvarez, Marte, and Martin, although it would have been nice for Marte to avoid injury and play 150 games or so.  The Jones/Sanchez platoon never worked out as hoped due to the disappointing year from Jones, who I now believe has seen his last days as a Pirate.  Walker was okay, but his inability to hit from the right side of the plate this year was a bit alarming.  I stand by what I wrote of Barmes, and am happy with the emergence of Jordy Mercer. Right field remained a question mark until Neal Huntington traded for Marlon Byrd at the August 31 deadline.

 OK, that brings us to the pitching staff..... In 2013, the Pirates pitching staff will include Jonathan Sanchez (1-9, 8.07 ERA in 2012) and Jeanmar Gomez (5-8, 5.96).  While Gomez may be nothing more than a long relief mop-up, garbage time last-guy-in-the-bullpen type, Sanchez is going to be one of the STARTING PITCHERS.  Does that tell you all you need to know about where the Pirates are headed this season?

Gomez did some spot starting and generally assumed the role described above, and he delivered more that anyone probably expected of him.  Sanchez bombed and was released early in the season.

Let's look at the starting rotation as of Opening Day:

A.J. Burnett - I feel good about him as the lead starter.  On the other hand, he is 36 years old.  Pretty much on target there.

Wandy Rodriguez - Another guy I feel good about.  I think that he and Burnett could provide a solid 1-2 punch in the rotation.  Injuries curtailed what looked like a promising season.

James McDonald - Need I say more about his Jekyll-and-Hyde 2012?  How much faith does that give you?  A question mark, at best.  The lack of faith was justified.  Injured, ineffective, and eventually DFA'd.

Jonathan Sanchez - At the outset of Spring Training I said, "Sure, it doesn't hurt bringing warm bodies like Sanchez into camp.  It's if they end up making the team is when you might have a problem."  I may be proven wrong, but for now I'll stand by that statement.  Sanchez pitched well in spring and earned his shot in the rotation, but bombed when it counted and, to his credit, Huntington dumped him quickly.

Jeff Locke - Well, critics have been saying for years let's give the young guys a shot, so let's be open minded on young Mr. Locke, but in the Post-Gazette story this morning, Michael Sanserino wrote : "In a four-man battle for what eventually turned into two open spots in the rotation, Locke was never the most impressive player on the mound in terms of the quality of his pitches."  Talk about damning with faint praise.  Locke earned his stripes in his All-Star first half, and should be considered a part of the rotation when Spring training opens in 2014, but his JMac-like second half does raise questions.

Of course, the NHR tells you that waiting in the wings come late May or early June are Jeff Karstens, Francisco Liriano, and Charlie Morton.  All have shown signs at one point or another of being good pitchers, but they ain't Maddox, Glavine, and Smoltz either.  Liriano and Morton may not be Maddox and Glavine but they were pretty damn good once they recovered from injury and joined the rotation.  Liriano will probably be Comeback Player of the Year, and Morton looks like a solid starter for years to come.  As for Karstens, well, two out of three ain't bad, and we may not see him pitch in Pittsburgh again.

And of course, the biggest pitching elephant in the room is Gerrit Cole.  See the post I made a few days back (October 10)  on Gerrit Cole.  No need to elaborate further on his impact on the Pirates, in 2013 and beyond.

So what's the bottom line?  Given the competition in the Central Division (Reds, Cardinals, Brewers), I don't see a post season berth for the Bucs, so that begs the question, can 82 wins be achieved to end the WRLS?  When I look at the eight man line-up, I think, yes, it will end this year.  Then I look at all the question marks on the pitching staff, and I say, it's not gonna happen.  - OK, how smart was I?  It was the pitching and not necessarily the eight man line up that got it done for the Bucs this year. -  Beyond Burnett, Rodriguez, and MacDonald (and even he is a huge question mark), I don't see the guys beyond them - Sanchez, Locke, Liriano, Karstens, and Morton - getting it done.  Maybe Cole will be the savior, but will he arrive soon enough?  I was wrong on Locke, Liriano, and Morton, but I did get it right about Cole.

So, my call for 2013? Seventy-nine (79) wins, same as last year and the WRLS goes to 21.  I really, REALLY hope I'm wrong, but I'm just not feeling it.  I will be more than happy to celebrate the 82nd victory, and I'll even have a glass of Neal Kool-Aid should the team contend for the post-season deep into September, but, as I say, I'm just not feeling it.

Well, happily, I was wrong.  The Streak ended, they won 94 games, won the Wild Card Game, and extended the Cardinals to the full five games in the LDS.  Not only am I drinking the Neal Kool-Aid, I have stated here in this blog that the time to stop the Huntington Criticism has come to an end.  Oh, that doesn't mean that we will always agree with every particular move, but in 2013, it became obvious that "The Plan" that Nutting-Coonelly-Huntington began back in 2007, and stuck to despite enormous criticism, worked and, we hope, will continue to work in the years ahead.  In fact, Huntington will probably be maned the Executive of the Year in MLB for 2013, and it will be a well deserved honor.

Well, that's pretty much it for looking back on 2013.  It was a fantastic season.  Plenty of time in the future for Hot Stove ramblings on the Pirates in 2014.  

Sunday, October 13, 2013

To Absent Friends: Scott Carpenter

One of the original Mercury astronauts, Scott Carpenter (front row, far right), passed away this week at the age of 88.  

You have to be pretty much my age and older to remember the wonder and awe that was felt when the United States and the USSR first sent men into outer space.   Carpenter was the fourth American to go into space aboard his Mercury Aurora 7 capsule in 1962.  His flight was controversial, in that he landed 250 miles away from the intended splashdown location, and there were NASA officials critical of Carpenter for not properly following procedures and instructions, which resulted in the missed landing.  Whatever the reasons, Carpenter's Mercury flight was his only mission into outer space.

John Glenn, at age 92, remains the last surviving member of the Mercury astronaut corps.

You would be well served if news of Carpenter's death prompts you to read Tom Wolfe's terrific book, "The Right Stuff" about the Mercury program and its astronauts, or see the equally terrific movie that was made from it.

RIP Scott Carpenter.

The Steelers at the Quarter Pole

I have been meaning to write this post for the last two weeks, ever since the Steelers loss to the Vikings in week four of the NFL season, but other things, mainly the Pirates run into the MLB Post Season, got in the way.  The title of this post is now somewhat irrelevant since most NFL teams have played five games, but I like it, and I'm sticking with it.

OK, so now I'm going to write about the Steelers, the 0-4 Steelers, and where do I begin?

We all know by now that this is the first time since 1968 that the Steelers have been 0-4, and we all have some cultural or personal touchstone to relate to that fact.  You know, things like Lyndon Johnson was President, Barack Obama was only seven years old, I myself was a senior in high school, gasoline was thirty-four cents a gallon, and you could mail a first class letter for six cents, but I like this one, courtesy of Gene Collier: The last time the Steelers were 0-4, the Beatles were not only still together, they had yet to release the White Album!  Ob-la-di-la-da!

It seems to me that there have been a couple of predominant themes when discussing the 2013 Steelers:

  1. Injuries to key players (which happen to every team, by the way).  
  2. There appears to be a schism on the team between the older veterans, defined as "guys who played on the '08 Super Bowl champs", and the younger players, defined as "everybody else".
  3. Locker room turmoil over who gets to use the ping pong, pool, and shuffleboard tables
  4. The Steelers can't run the ball
  5. The defense has yet to force a turnover (that is mind-boggling in and of itself)
  6. The offensive line stinks and will eventually get Ben Roethlisberger killed.
  7. And in perhaps the best development of all, defensive captain Ryan Clark points the finger and blames offensive captain Ben Roethlisberger for the teams woes. (Remember, Clark is the captain of a defense that has produced no, as in zero, turnovers in four games.)
  8. Todd Haley gets in the news for all the wrong reasons and needs to go.
Seriously, this is the kind of stuff that read and hear about when you are discussing bad football teams.  In years past aren't these the kinds of things you expected to read about the Bengals or the Dolphins or the Jets?  Face it, folks, what we have here is a bad football team.  

Why are they bad?  Simple answer, poor drafting and not enough good players, and how is that for insightful, cutting edge commentary?

How do you fix it?  Again, I'm being simplistic, but you need better players, and that won't happen overnight.  There was an interesting story in the Post-Gazette this morning about how when Chuck Noll came to the Steelers after that historic 1968 season, he basically said "you guys just aren't good enough, and I'm going to have to get rid of most of you."  I sure hope that these Steelers aren't that bad,  but maybe they are.

One of the things you don't do is get rid of Mike Tomlin, who has taken this team to the Super Bowl twice in his tenure.  I will say this, though.  After the Steelers went 1-13 in Noll's first season, I recall players saying, upon reflection, that Noll "never lost the locker room" despite all the losing.  How Tomlin handles what appears to be cracked, if not fractured, locker room over the remainder of the season will be a big test for him.

As for today, the Steelers take on the 3-2 New York Jets.  Who could have imagined when the schedule came out that the Steelers would be 2 and 1/2 games worse than the Jets when they played this one.  And I am not overly confident that they can win this game unless the defense, are you listening, Ryan Clark?, can take a hand in forcing the outcome.  This is what it has come to - wishing and hoping for a win against a crummy team like the Jets.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Movie Reviews, New and Old

We took in the latest romantic comedy, "Enough Said", today, and we both enjoyed it very much.  It starred James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss.  Like most RomComs, you can pretty much see where it is headed, but so what?  It was funny, touching, sad in parts, and it showed that two people don't have to be young and beautiful to be in love.  Not that Ms. Louis-Dreyfuss isn't pretty, mind you, but she is no longer the young comic actress from Saturday Night Live days or the flighty Elaine Benes of Seinfeld.   She is now 52 years old, but she wears her years well and has not succumbed to plastic surgeon's knife as so many actresses of a certain age in Hollywood have.  Good for her.

The kicker of this movie is seeing James Gandolfini in one of his final roles.  That was not Tony Soprano up there on the screen.  A really good actor who left us far too young.  If you stay for the credits, you will see a simple "For Jim" dedication.

Good movie.

As for the old movie, I thank Turner Classic Movies that enabled me to finally see this one:

I cannot believe that I had never seen this 1984 classic comedy take off on rock documentaries. Directed by Rob Reiner, the movie was written by and stars many of the actors who have appeared in the classic Christopher Guest comedies that were to follow such as Best in Show, A Might Wind, Waiting for Guffman, and others.  These include Guest himself, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and Fred Willard.

A really, really funny movie, that leaves you with one question:  "Are we going to do Stonehenge tomorrow?"

An Absent Friend

Regular readers know of my penchant for writing these posts "To Absent Friends" whenever some person notable in history, show biz, sports, or popular culture passes away.  Rarely do I note the deaths of personal friends and acquaintances because such folks are not generally known by everyone and because they are, well, personal.  However, I do feel compelled to note the sudden passing this week of friend John Ferguson at the age of 76.

Like me, John was a long time employee of Highmark.  In fact, a lot longer than me.  John worked for the Blues for 42 years, but John and I did not know each other when our work careers overlapped.  I first met John via the Society for American Baseball Research. John was a long time member of SABR, and I can never recall John missing a meeting or a Hot Stove session.  Then, when I retired from Highmark in 2010 and joined the Out of the Blue Retiree Club, I encountered John once again, and no one was a bigger supporter of the OOTB Club than John. I cannot remember John missing a meeting, Holiday Party, Picnic, or our group days at Pirates games.  More importantly, he never missed a Board meeting, which are not always "fun", but they were necessary in making sure that the OOTB runs smoothly. 

John loved the Pittsburgh Pirates.  I last saw John last Wednesday, the day after the Pirates defeated the Reds in the Wild Card Playoff Game.  "Wasn't that wonderful?" was what he said to me about that game.

John was very active in his community - he was the Treasurer of the Borough Mt. Lebanon for 28 years - and in his Church.  A terrific husband, father, and grandfather.  He always had a good word to say about everybody, and I can't think of a better thing to say about anybody.  

RIP John Ferguson.  You truly were one of the Good Guys.

League Championship Series Predictions

Short and sweet before the first pitch is thrown:

  • Cardinals over Dodgers
  • Red Sox over Tigers
Hope I'm wrong on the AL prediction.  I would absolutely LOVE to see a couple of World Series pitching match-ups of Justin Verlander vs. Adam Wainwright.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

On the Pirates and On Gerrit Cole

So, last night as the Cardinals were popping champagne and getting ready to leave for LA, and the Pirates were showering to head back home, I made the following post on Facebook and on Pirate Chat:

Tonight, no complaining, no second guessing, no finger pointing, no recriminations. Just a heartfelt THANK YOU to the 2013 Pirates. You gave us a season to always remember.

Not much more to add to that, and there will be plenty of time for Hot Stove analysis, but this morning I want to comment on just one development from this magical season for the Pirates, and it just may be the one development that will cast the longest shadow into the Pirates future.  

I am speaking, of course of the arrival of Gerrit Cole.

When the decision was made at the end of Spring training to send Cole to Indianapolis after he was, arguably, the team's best pitcher in Spring Training, no single topic, before or since, stirred such controversy or generated more comments in Facebook's Pirate Chat forum.  "Is Huntington nuts/cheap, demented" went one school of thought.  "He needs more time in the minors to develop" went the other.  I was in the camp of the former, thinking that the team's decision was solely a financial one, at the expense of what was best for the team on the field.  I have since come around to the NHR's way of thinking on this one.

It was only series of injuries - James McDonald, Wandy Rodriguez - and the slower than expected return of Charlie Morton, that forced Huntington's hand, and on June 11, Cole made a stunning debut by defeating the defending World Series champs, the San Francisco Giants at PNC Park.  It prompted me to gush the following in The Grandstander:  "I have seen the Pirates future, and he wears number 45."

A bit of hyperbole, perhaps, but maybe not.

Here is how Cole's season then went, month-by-month:

June 4 0 3.7 24.1 11 4 1.23
July 1 4 3.45 31.1 26 8 1.05
August 1 3 4.25 29.2 24 6 1.35
September 4 0 1.69 32 39 10 1.06
Total 10 7 3.22 117.1 100 28 1.17
LDS 1 1 2.45 11 10 2 0.64
During the bumpy 2-7 stretch in July and August, I can recall Len Martin, Dan Bonk, Jim Haller and I having the conversation that went something like "yeah, it is obvious that he has talent, but it is also obvious that he hasn't quite harnessed it yet, and maybe the Pirates were right for not wanting to rush him to the big leagues until (as the old cliche goes) he learns how to pitch."  Well, sometime around Labor Day, it became obvious that a light bulb went off somewhere, and Cole did indeed "learn how to pitch".

And think of some of those games that he did pitch.  A 1-0 win over Yu Darvish and the Rangers in September that stopped a four game losing streak when the season appeared to have a chance to slip away from the team, and then Game 2 of the LDS against the Cardinals when the Pirates absolutely HAD to win that game and even the series.  And while Cole and the Pirates fell short in Game 5 last night, the fact that Cole was given the ball in a winner-take-all game spoke volumes as to just how far Cole has come in 2013 and where he sits on the Pirates pecking order.  And I didn't read a single opinion anywhere stating that Clint Hurdle should NOT have chosen Cole to pitch that deciding game.

Along about the seventh inning last night, Mrs. Grandstander looks at a shot of Adam Wainwright on the TV screen and made this comment that summarized the game and the series: "That guy is  just a beast, isn't he?"  Indeed, he, Wainwright, is, but in Gerrit Cole, the Pirates have a guy, I believe, who can be just as big a "beast" for the Pirates for years to come.  (And try this on for size, Bucco fans.  A highly placed Pirate front office guy indicated to me earlier in the season that the feeling among the Bucco Brass is that Jameson Taillon will probably be an even better pitcher than Cole.  Think about THAT!) 

For now, though, the Pirates Future does indeed wear #45.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sue Grafton and "W is for Wasted" (No Spoilers)

Since the publication of "A is for Alibi" in 1982, Sue Grafton has been one of my favorite authors and her "Alphabet Series" of mystery novels featuring private investigator Kinsey Millhone have been on my "can't miss" list of reading pleasures.

Last night, Sue Grafton was the guest speaker at the Drue Heinz Lecture Series at the Carnegie Music Hall, and it was a real treat to be able to hear her speak.  She was very candid about her life story, which has some parallels with Kinsey's, as it happens.  She gave her lecture by using 3x5 inch index cards for her notes, and she confessed to owning an all-purpose black dress (readers will know what I mean!).   She was humorous and self-deprecating, and very entertaining.  It was not a let down to finally "meet" someone that I have followed and enjoyed for over thirty years.

With the recent publication of "W is for Wasted", there are now only three Kinsey Millhone novels to be written, and Grafton promises that the final one, "Z is for Zero" is on track for publication in 2019.

Now, as for "W is for Wasted", I just finished reading it last week, and here is how the story begins:

"Two dead men changed the course of my life that fall. One of them I knew and the other I'd never laid eyes on until I saw him in the morgue."

Kind of grabs you right there, doesn't it?

In this one, Kinsey does experience a life changing event, meets up once again with some members of her family, and gets involved with another PI's case.  As you often do in a Grafton/Millhone novel, you will learn a lot about a subject that is central to the storyline, in the case of "W", that topic is the Homeless.

As she has done in recent stories in the series, Grafton moves away form Kinsey's first person telling of the story, and writes part of it in the third person from another character's viewpoint, a device that I nave really come to enjoy in the Kinsey Millhone series.

Another good one, and it makes me both sad and excited to think that this terrific series will be coming to an end in the not-so-distant future.

My Week With the Pirates

What a week it has been following our Pittsburgh Pirates.  

It began last Monday when we took in the Pirate Pep Rally in Market Square.

Just WHO is that in the #22 jersey????

There then followed the euphoric victory over the Reds at PNC Park in the Wild Card Game on Tuesday, and split of Games 1 and 2 in St. Louis, which we took in via the magic of television.

Then, thanks to the foresight and generosity of friend David Cicotello, I was able to attend both Games 3 and 4 of the Division Series at PNC Park, a very spirited, boisterous, and LOUD PNC Park, I might add.

Here are some scenes from Game 3 on Sunday...

Fred Shugars, Susan and Dan Bonk, David Cicotello, and Len Martin on Federal Street, pre-game.

With David and Fred during the game.

The "blacked out" crowd.

Some Grilled Cheese to close out the Cardinals, and, below, the record crowd departing via the left field rotunda.

Game Four on Monday, did not, as we know, have the desired outcome, but that didn't mean it wasn't a thrill just to be there.  I am sorry that I was unable to import and post some photos taken with Friend Tim Baker at Game 4 for this post.

It was kind of a somber and subdued crowd exiting PNC Park yesterday afternoon, but rumor has it that there is STILL a Game Five to be played in St. Louis tomorrow night, and I am figuring that the Pirates will show up to play in it.  Adam Wainwright in Busch Stadium in a win-or-go-home game is no easy task, but I am not counting the Bucs out until that 27th out is recorded.

Let's Go Bucs!!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Division Series

That sure was a magical scene at PNC Park on Tuesday night, wasn't it?  It was, and still is, actually hard to come up with the words to describe the feelings that the scene, the crowd, the ball park, the city, and, most importantly, the TEAM gave us all throughout that 6-2 win over the Reds.

But now, on to bigger things.  I am guessing that most people outside of Pittsburgh will be picking the Cardinals to defeat the Pirates, and based upon recent history, why not? However, if you go by really recent history, the 2013 season, I say it's a coin flip.  The Pirates won the season series 10-9, and the Cardinals outscored the Pirates (although this isn't all that relevant a statistic when you come down to it in my opinion) 87-85.  Pretty close.

What the hell?  I say the Bucs get a split in St. Louis and win the series in four games.  

One thing for sure is that I will be there on Sunday afternoon or evening, time still TBD, and I absolutely cannot wait.