Friday, November 29, 2013

Pitt, Football and Basketball

The Pitt Panthers closed their football season today the same way that they began it last Labor Day evening - by giving up 41 points to a school from Florida, and losing convincingly.  Tonight it was the Miami Hurricanes who laid the wood to the Panthers and coming away with a 41-31 win, and trust me, the game wasn't as close as the score indicated.  The Panthers finish their season with a 6-6 record and will be making a trip to some meaningless bowl game in late December.

After Florida State beat Pitt 41-13 to open the season I wrote, among other things,  the following:

You just have to hope for game by game improvement as the season progresses and maybe for an unexpected upset somewhere along the line.

Well, Pitt did get that big upset when they beat Notre Dame earlier in the month.  It was easily the high point of the season.  As to whether the game by game improvement occurred, not so much.  Every step forward seemed to be accompanied by a step-and-a-half backward, tonight's drubbing by Miami being a prime example.

On the other hand, as I was driving home from the game, the radio announcers said that 19 freshman had significant playing time for Pitt this season.  Here is hoping that that is a sign that a youth movement under Paul Chryst is taking place and that it will bear fruit in the seasons ahead.

On to basketball.  The Panther Hoopsters are 6-0 and coming off a most impressive two game performance at one of those pre-season tournaments, this one in Brooklyn, earlier in the week.  I will get to see them tomorrow afternoon when they take on Duquesne in the "City Game" at the Consol Energy Center.  I will have more on that match-up later in the weekend, but I am especially excited that this will be my first visit to the Consol Energy Center.  The building is now into its fourth year of hosting events, and I cannot believe that it has taken me this long to get down there.  Of course, I will be giving all of you my impressions of the Building.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Pirates Make Some Moves

The Pirates have been relatively quiet in this off-season, but that changed just a little bit yesterday, which gives me an excuse to write about them as the snow falls in McCandless, PA.

The biggest news, and it should come as no surprise, was the release of 1B/RF Garrett Jones.

The career year that Jones had in 2012 was followed by a mediocre one in 2013, and when you combine that with the fact that he is headed for arbitration for the second time this winter, well, as I said, no surprise.  In his five seasons with the Bucs, Jones produced 102 HR, 330 RBI, hit .254, and had a .774 OPS.  A left-handed hitter, he is the quintessential platoon player, and the Pirates will not pay over $5 million for that.  I have no doubt that he will catch on with some team and that he will probably do well, if he is used properly.

He was also quite popular, and appeared to be a Good Guy.  Thanks for you time here, Garrett, and all Pirates fans no doubt wish you well

The Pirates also made a trade of minor leaguers with the Padres yesterday, sending Alex Dickerson to San Diego in exchange for OF Jaff (pronounced "Jeff") Decker and P Miles Mikolas.  I know that some viewed Dickerson as a possible "first baseman of the future" and Decker has some good minor league numbers, and Mikolas seems ordinary at best.  Who knows?

On the A.J. Burnett front, nothing seems to be happening.  The Pirates have made it clear that they will not / cannot pay market value ($28 Million for two years) for the 36 year old A.J. Burnett, and Burnett hasn't changed from his Pirates-or-Retire stance, but you can be sure that his agent is trolling and no doubt some team is going to make him that market value offer. Then we'll see how sincere Burnett has been.  At the SABR meeting last week, Clint Hurdle made it clear that the Pirates need a decision from Burnett one way or another soon or they will need to move on. Stay tuned.

The Post-Gazette today listed those remaining Pirates who will be eligible for salary arbitration: Gaby Sanchez, Charlie Morton, Neil Walker, Mark Melancon, Vin Mazzaro, Travis Snider, Mike McKenry, and Pedro Alvarez.  Should be some interesting figures bandied about over these guys.  I am guessing that Alvarez will no doubt set a record for an arbitration award where the Pirates are concerned, and it will be interesting to see if the team will try to avoid arbitration with Walker by seeking to sign him to a multi-year deal.  If they do not, it will speak volumes, I believe.

The Pirates have the same questions hovering over them this off-season as they did last year, namely, first base, right field, and to a lesser extent, short stop, although I believe that Jordy Mercer has earned the job there for 2014.  Not everyone agrees.  It looks like they will seek a lefthanded hitting first baseman (who comes cheaper than Jones) to platoon with Sanchez, and that right field will still be up for grabs with Jose Tabata first among equals at this point. However, in his blog this morning, Bob Smizik raises an intriguing question about a free agent currently on the market - Carlos Beltran, and he makes a compelling argument.  Read on:

Some good stuff to toss into the Hot Stove as you prepare to stuff the Thanksgiving Turkey. Have a great holiday, everybody!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Morning Insomnia - Football Thoughts

Ever wake up at 3:15 AM and then CAN'T FALL BACK TO SLEEP??????

Maddening, isn't it?  So, how about some football thoughts several hours before NFL Kick-off time.....

  • First, though how about a look back at that 37-27 Steelers win over the Lions last week. The nature of that game - 14-0 Steelers in the first quarter, followed by a 27 point second quarter by the Lions, followed by total impotence by the Lions and/or total domination by the Steelers in the second half - was really kind of weird.  A fun game to watch, to be sure, and a win by the home town team is always nice, but odd game.
  • Makes you wonder how the game in Cleveland will got today.  Both teams are 4-6 (as are the Ravens, the team on deck for the Steelers), but as poor as the Steelers have shown themselves to be, the Browns certainly appear to be even worse.  On the other hand, when you have losses on your record against the Vikings (2-8) and the Raiders (4-6), nothing can be taken for granted.
  • Nevertheless, I call for a Steelers victory on the Lakefront this afternoon.
  • Broncos-Patriots, or Manning-Brady, on Sunday Night Football tonight.  That ought to pull in a nice ratings number.
  • Interesting story in Sports Illustrated this week about how the NFL played their scheduled games fifty years ago on the weekend of the Kennedy Assassination.   Revisionist history has always criticized the NFL for this decision, and Pete Rozelle himself has said it was the worst mistake of his career.  Now, I have no memory of what was said at the time of this decision back in 1963, but I was interested in seeing in the SI article that all of the stadiums for those games on November 24, 1963 were "packed".  A picture in the magazine of Franklin Field for the Washington-Philly game does indeed show a full house.
  • Before leaving the NFL, two remarkable stories this year, to me anyway, are the Houston Texans and the Atlanta Falcons.  The Texans, chic pick by many to be a Super Bowl finalist, are 2-8, and the Falcons, the team that had home field advantage in the NFC throughout the playoffs last year, are 2-9.  How disappointed must you be if you are a fan of either of those teams?  In the words of Fred Willard, "Wha' Hopppend?"
  • Pitt defeats Syracuse, 17-16 yesterday and becomes bowl eligible, and joy exists throughout Pantherland.  However, all this means is that Pitt is now 6-5 and could very well be headed to a Bowl with a 6-6 record. (BTW, thanks to Bob Smizik for pointing out that another definition of "bowl eligibility" could very be "Mediocrity".)  The important thing is, Pitt's coaching staff will now get those all-important extra fifteen practice sessions to jump start Spring Practice.
  • Can't wait to see what garden spot will be the Panthers destination.  Please, God, anything but another trip to the BBVA Compass Bowl!
  • Wish I could get as excited about high school football as so many people do, but it just doesn't happen for me.  Still, it was nice to see my alma mater, Central Catholic, win the WPIAL Quad-A title yesterday.  A very alert Central player - or more likely, a coach on the sideline screaming at him - produced a touchdown for Central after they had botched a punt.  Interesting play.
  • Listening to ex-Steeler Craig Wolfley as color analyst on the WPIAL games on Root Sports is enough to drive you nuts, but then you realize, these are high school games, so why get worked up about it?  
  • Hearing an announcer saying that an apparently injured player has a "hitch in his get-along" is enough to make you cringe.  Wolfley used that expression, not once, but TWICE in the Central-Woodland Hills game yesterday.
  • I am betting that for the eight teams that played yesterday, the Heinz Field playing surface was the worst surface that any of them had played on all season.
  • And let us leave on this note: Arizona State defeated UCLA last night and secured a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game, which means that Todd Graham, the Souless Rat Bastard and a Grandstander H.A. Citation winner, is now one win a way from a trip to the Rose Bowl.  Oh, the humanity!!!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

JFK - The Fiftieth Anniversary

As we all know, tomorrow, November 22, 2013, marks the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and if you were old enough then to carry a memory of the event with you to this day, it remains one of the seminal events of your lifetime.

My story is not much different or more extraordinary than any of yours.  I was in seventh grade at St. Philomena School.  The school secretary came into the classroom to tell us that the President had been shot and was not expected to live.  I also remember that our teacher, Sister Theodore, would not allow us to turn on the classroom TV set until the all-important weekly spelling test had been administered. Then the TV set was turned on, the class watched, and I believe, but am not absolutely certain, that school was dismissed early.

Then it was sitting in front of the TV set  at home for the next four days. The arrival of Air Force One from Dallas, the lying in state at the Capital Building, the Oswald shooting, and the funeral in Washington and the burial at Arlington.

I also remember that that weekend was the first time I ever saw my Dad cry.

Yesterday, I read a book called "The Torch Is Passed".  This was a special commemorative book published by the Associated Press and released shortly after the Assassination.  I can recall this book being offered for sale by the Post-Gazette via mail order and sending in my very own money - $3.00 - for a copy.  It was filled with pictures of the four days, and written by staff writers of the AP.  Over the years, the book got lost or thrown out, but I found a copy of it a few years ago at a used book sale, and I pulled it out again this week to re-read it.

With perspective of fifty years of history, it is interesting to read an account of the event that was written at the time it occurred.  A couple of things struck me.

Foremost among them was the way that Jacqueline Kennedy acted in the face of losing her husband in such a sudden, violent, and very public way.  She truly was extraordinary during those four days. 

And she was only 34 years old.

It also was interesting reading something that was written before the Warren Commission Report.  Before Conspiracy Theories that claim to state What Really Happened became a cottage industry that continues to this day, and will no doubt continue forever.  The AP did do a great job in capturing Lee Harvey Oswald. For example:

"Lee Oswald's fourth grade teacher says 'He wasn't for anything. He wasn't against anything. He just wasn't anything.' "

The mystery of WHY Oswald did what he did will never be solved, and anyone with a keyboard and a modicum of imagination can spin out a semi-plausible conspiracy theory.  They have been doing it for fifty years now, but it must be noted that none of these theories, not a single one of them, has ever been proven to be true.  Of course, Conspiracy Theorists would no doubt respond to that statement by saying, "well, that's just what THEY (whoever they are) want you to think!"

Tomorrow, Turner Classic Movies are showing a number of movies about JFK's campaigns, his Presidency, and his death.  One that I will be watching will be the 1964 documentary called "Four Days in November" which, as the name says, documents those four stunning days.

And if you want to read more on those four days, I suggest the following by Dallas reporter Hugh Aynesworth:

I read this book myself earlier this month and it is excellent.  It describes the reporting done by Mr. Aynesworth at the time,  and it also puts to rest all of the conspiracy theories. 

As for Jack Kennedy, history has proven that he was not the saint that many thought he was at the time of his death, and his legacy is still being debated and discussed by historians.  I am no historian, but my own thought is that whatever else his Administration did or did not accomplish, or did not have the time to accomplish, Kennedy earned his stripes and his place in history for stewarding this country during the thirteen day Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962.

RIP President Kennedy, and Mrs. Kennedy.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Big Break Mexico Follow-Up

Back in August, I wrote about the victory of 23 year old Taylor Collins on Golf Channel's "Big Break Mexico":

Among the cash and prizes that Ms. Collins received was an exemption into the LPGA's Lorena Ochoa Invitational.  Well, that tournament took place this past weekend, and here is how Taylor's Big Break turned out for her.

In a field of 36 golfers, Taylor Collins, sadly, finished in 35th and last place (one golfer withdrew after the second round).  Over the four rounds, she shot 74-77-76-73 - 300, which was twelve shots over par, seven shots behind the golfers just ahead off her, and twenty-eight shots behind winner Lexi Thompson.  For her efforts, Collins cashed a check for $7,250.

This is not to make light of Taylor Collins' performance, but, rather, to point out the world of difference between those golfers who regularly compete on the PGA and LPGA Tours and those golfers who scuff around on the fringes of professional tournament golf and compete on "The Big Break".

Taylor Collins is a terrific golfer by almost anybody's standards, and she seemed like a pleasant young woman when you watched her on the show.  I wish her well in pursuit of her dream, but it looks like she has a steep mountain to climb.

The current iteration of the show, Big Break NFL, will grant exemptions into professional tournaments in 2014 to both a male and female golfer, and The Grandstander will follow up on those performances as well.

By the way, to my knowledge, only one Big Break winner, Tommy Gainey, has managed to make a go of it in golf's big leagues.  He won once on the PGA Tour in 2012, and in 2013 he played in 28 events, made 14 cuts, had one top ten finish, and earned $520,000.  He's making a living, but he's hardly a household name.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Steelers - Lions Pre-Game Thoughts

With what many consider a lost season for the 3-6 Steelers, what does one contemplate prior to today's contest with Detroit, and for the rest of the schedule, for that matter?

One way to look at it is the way Pirates fans have viewed individual baseball games for much of the last 20 seasons, prior to 2013.  That is, as individual contests that can be interesting and entertaining in and of themselves, and ones that could be very satisfying for you should your team win it.  The fact that there may be little or no hope for post-season gold shouldn't diminish your enjoyment or the entertainment value of that particular game.

Of course, it doesn't seem to be working that way here in Pittsburgh, where Steelers fans have gotten so spoiled with success over the years that the idea of an ordinary-to-lousy season is unacceptable.  I am still astounded that an actual WIN, as occurred last week over the Bills, generated so little, in fact, absolutley ZERO buzz and conversation among the Steelers so-called faithful (see ).  

As for today, the Lions come in at 6-3 and in first place in their division, and they bring to Heinz Field perhaps the very best wide receiver in football today, Calvin Johnson.

I, for one, am looking forward to this game, to watching Johnson play, to see how the Steelers might contain (or try to contain) him, and to see if they can, temporarily at least, throw a monkey wrench into the Lions march to the play-offs.  And wouldn't it be nice to hang a loss on Lions coach Jim Schwartz, who seems to be a semi-berserk, unlikable kind of guy?

If I was betting, I wouldn't go with the Steelers, but that doesn't mean I won't be rooting for them today just as much as if they were undefeated and on the way to the Playoffs.

The Skipper Comes to SABR

The highlight of the Fall Meeting of the Pittsburgh SABR Chapter Meeting held yesterday at the Heinz History Center was the appearance of 2013 National League Manager of the Year Clint Hurdle.   In his one hour talk and Q&A session, Hurdle was frank, honest, open and entertaining.  

He was impressive in many ways, but perhaps most of all in the way he has become a part of the Pittsburgh community.  He constantly made reference to the fact that he lives here and hears about the Pirates at parent-teacher conferences, when he gets his hair cut, and when he's at the Giant Eagle!  He got a big laugh with the line, and I am paraphrasing, "when someone at the Giant Eagle says 'what's with Marte swinging at a pitch two feet out side and in the dirt for strike three?' think I didn't see that, too????"

He was also frank in discussing the team's collapses in 2011 ("we just weren't good enough") and 2012 ("we ran out of gas"), but he felt that he just KNEW that they were ready to bust loose in 2013, hence his call for 95 wins back in Spring Training.  He also said that the team's biggest concern is an inconsistent offense going into 2014, and that "we'll find out" if A.J. Burnett either want to retire or pitch in Pittsburgh, but that he, Burnett, needs to make his decision soon so that the Pirates can make their plans accordingly.  He also has high confidence in both Jeff Locke and Wandy Rodriguez to be key contributors next season.  He also told a great story about a visit from one of his old managers and mentors, Whitey Herzog, in St. Louis prior to Game Two of the NLDS.

On a personal note, I can take some satisfaction when Clint told me that I was "crazy" for not being able to sleep on the night of the extra inning loss to the Reds in September, the "Jordy Mercer Game".  The funny part of that discussion was how Hurdle said that it was interesting to him after that game how everyone was saying that the guy who no one liked all season, who everyone wanted too get rid of, Clint Barmes, should have been in there playing instead of Mercer!!!!  Which proves, I guess, that Hurdle really does hear what Pirates fans are saying when he's in the Giant Eagle!

I was fortunate in that this was the second time in four days that I heard Hurdle speak at the Heinz History Center.  On Wednesday, he was the featured co-speaker (Charlie Batch being the other) at the WPIAL Sportsmanship Summit.  At that time, he addressed over 600 high school athletes on topics such as sportsmanship, teamwork, leadership, and trust.

They were two very different types of presentations delivered to two very different audiences, but I would say that Clint Hurdle hit it out of the park on both occasions.

Getting back to the SABR meeting, new Chapter Chair George Skornickel put together an interesting program.  In addition to Hurdle, Dan Fox, the Pirates "Sabrmetrics Guy" (not his official title) gave a great presentation on how the team uses all of the advanced metrics and data available to them as they plot the course of the team, both day-by-day in season and into the future.  Could have listened to him all day.  There were also several other fascinating presentations on topics such as a new Willie Stargell biography, a history of Pirates exhibition games played in Reading, PA, and baseball stats keeping going back to the earliest days of the game, like pre-Civil War baseball.

Good stuff!!!

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Grandstander Salute To Andrew McCutchen

No words today, just some scenes saluting the 2013 National League Most Valuable Player, ANDREW McCUTCHEN.

Thank you for the great season in 2013, Cutch.  Here's to many more!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

On Cutch, The Big Break, Scorsese, and Christie

Random Comments.....

The Page 1 story in the Post-Gazette this morning about the possible enhancement of Andrew McCutchen's "brand" should he be named the National League's Most Valuable Player today had the following interesting fact about the endorsement income of a couple of contemporary athletes.  The NBA's LeBron James earns between $40 and $50 million a year in endorsements.  Peyton Manning is the NFL's biggest endorsement earner with $15+ million per year.  Baseball's highest such earner is the Yankees' Derek Jeter who pulls in about $9 million a year.  I would not have guessed that baseball's highest such earner would be pulling in so much less than his hoops and gridiron colleagues.  The story didn't mention who the NHL's biggest earner is.


Are you watching the current edition of Golf Channel's "The Big Break"?  This season is called the "Big Break - NFL" and it features six three person teams consisting of a male and female golfer and captained by a retired NFL star (Jerry Rice, Al Del Greco, Chris Doleman, Mark Bulger, Tim Brown, and Mark Rypian).  One team each week earns a loss, and when you accumulate two losses, the entire three person team is eliminated.  Anyway, it took until the seventh week of the season before one team finally got two losses and were sent packing.  I won't spoil anything by saying which NFL star was the first to go.  I will say that the biggest jagoff  among the NFL'ers is turning out to be Chris Doleman.  Sorry about that, Pitt Panther fans, but there you are.  Interestingly enough, Doleman's team remains undefeated.

Took a look at the holiday movies that were featured in the Post-Gazette this morning.  Nothing jumping out at me as something I ABSOLUTELY HAVE to see.  One interesting one is Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" starring Leonardo DiCaprio.  Saw a trailer for it awhile back, and it looks interesting.  

I do not plan on seeing anything about hobbits, bows and arrows, or super heroes.

I read an oldie this week - "Hercule Poirot's Christmas" by Agatha Christie, written in 1938. This one was vintage Christie: a miserly, wealthy old curmudgeon summons his four sons, three daughters-in-law, and a granddaughter to his English country manor house for Christmas. Throw in another unexpected visitor, and a couple of suspicious servants.  On Christmas Eve, the old man is murdered quite violently and his body is found in a room that is, you guessed it, locked from the inside.  And it just so happens that Hercule Poirot is spending the Holiday with his old friend, the local police superintendent.

Most Christie scholars will tell you that she produced her greatest works in the 1930's, when she produced 17 novels and numerous short stories.  They will also tell you that THIS particular novel does not fall within the scope of those great works, and I would happen to agree with them.  Although, it is still a lot if fun to read.  And almost "Downton Abbey"-like in it's depiction of life in the Manor House.

One Week From Today.....

...Thursday, November 21, is Children's Grief Awareness Day.  If nothing else, please wear blue that day in support of Grieving Children everywhere, and tell people why you are doing it.

Now I know that I no doubt talk a lot about the work that is done by the Highmark Caring Place, and perhaps you all get bored hearing me go on about it, but today let someone else talk about it, and to do that, I will refer you to this article that appeared in the "North" section of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  I will let the young lady highlighted in the story tell you what REALLY happens at the Highmark Caring Place.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Hey, Steelers Fans, How Deep Is Your Love?

We all know that this is shaping to be a bad year for our favorite football team, and I have to say, to quote Claude Rains as Captain Louis Renault, I am shocked - SHOCKED - to see how quickly Steelers fans have turned from disappointment, to anger, to downright apathy.

Some background:  I belong to a Chat Page in Facebook called Western Pennsylvania Football Huddle, founded by friend Dan Bonk, and the purpose of this page is as titled - to discuss all things football in our area - Pitt, Penn State, WVU, local high school football, and, primarily, our Beloved Steelers.  There are currently 123 members on this Chat Page.  Late last night, I was checking to see what anyone was saying, and I discovered what I thought to be an amazing fact, and this is what I posted:

It is 11:00 PM on Monday night. I have just scrolled down the feed on this Chat page going back to Friday. There has not been a single comment posted in the Western PA Football Huddle chat page about the Steelers win over the Bills, which concluded approximately 31 hours ago. I don't know about you, but, quite frankly, I find that amazing and I am not sure what to make of that.

When I checked in this morning, only two people had commented on THAT post.

While the "Western PA Football Huddle" may not be a scientifically accurate sample, I can only draw this conclusion:  That the famous fervid loyalty and passion of "Steelers Nation", which both the local media and the team itself trumpets incessantly, may indeed be wide spread, but it appears to be only an inch or so deep.

I mean....

Have we become so spoiled following the Steelers that a bad season - and need I remind you that the NFL is deliberately set up so that teams do have built in down cycles -  that we completely turn our backs on the team when a bad year comes along?  Believe it or not, folks, it is not the birthright of Steelers fans that our favorite team goes to the Super Bowl every year.  Don't get me wrong, I am not advocating blind loyalty and there is a lot for which to be critical of the Steelers current state, and that should not be ignored, but this complete ennui that appears to be enveloping Steelers fans really does surprise me.

By contrast, Facebook's "Pirate Chat" page, founded by friend Jim Haller in 2012, has over 500 members and pretty much runs full steam 24/7/365 with Pirates talk.  During the 2012-13 off-season, after the Pirates historic collapse in that '12 season, Pirates Chatters continued to go at it hammer-and-tongs all winter long, when there was certainly no guarantee of the successful season that took place in 2013.  My point being that when things were bleak for the Buccos, the fans never stopped talking about them, while it appears that Steelers fans have abandoned them when the team's fortunes have taken a turn for the worse.

Could it possible that people love and are more loyal to the Pirates than they are to the Steelers?

As I said, I am SHOCKED!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Pitt 28 - Notre Dame 21

As Len Martin and I were walking into Heinz Field last night, we had a conversation that boiled down into two main points.  One, that we hoped for a competitive game, and two, neither of us could remember that last time Pitt football posted a meaningful win, or a "signature" win.  There certainly had not been such a win in Paul Chryst's brief tenure as Pitt Head Coach, and wouldn't be something if such a win could possibly happen against Notre Dame?

Well, Pitt fans got both of those wishes last night with that 28-21 win over Notre Dame, and it was a well earned, well executed (for the most part) win over a team that no doubt has superior talent.  I am happy for Pitt, but I will take no more pleasure over this win than I would over any win over a strong, nationally ranked team.  One of the best young men I know is a Notre Dame graduate, and I'm sorry for him and his family, so there will be no hatin' on the Irish from this corner, as I enjoy the aftermath of Pitt's win.

I also have to say that the atmosphere at Heinz Field was really good last night.  It was a chilly but beautiful night. The stadium was sold out (although there were a number empty seats) and as you would expect, a large portion of the crowd was rooting for Notre Dame, but I saw no ugly incidents among the fans, unlike what people who may be dressed in Buffalo Bills garb may experience today at Heinz Field.  Do you think that that might possibly be because no beer is sold during the Pitt games?  Lots of tailgating pre-game with both Panthers and Fighting Irish fans pleasantly co-mingling.  The Pitt band was in great form, and the Pitt student body wass spirited and pretty much remained in the Stadium until the final gun.  And I have to say that Pitt really does a nice job in "presenting" the college football experience at Heinz Field.

So congratulations to coach Chryst and his Panthers.  In a season that has been mostly "meh", they delivered a big win last night against a quality opponent.  Panthers fans can only hope that this will be a nice stepping stone into the future.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

DVR Alert - Starring Burt Lancaster

The Star of the Month for November on Turner Classic Movies is the great Burt Lancaster, and each Wednesday night in the month TCM will be featuring Lancaster movies.  

This past Wednesday night included such classics and maybe-not-so-classic-but-still-pretty-good movies as "From Here to Eternity", "Jim Thorpe - All American", "The Swimmer", and Lancaster's very first movie, one that I had never seen, a nifty little noir flick called "The Killers" (1946).  I watched it and was a really terrific movie.

So, I didn't notify you about those, but get that DVR programmed for the following (all times Eastern):

November 13

8:00 PM  - Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957) co-starring Kirk Douglas
10:15 PM - Sweet Smell of Success (1957) co-starring Tony Curtis
12:00 AM - Elmer Gantry (1960) Lancaster won his only Oscar for this one.  Shirley Jones also and Oscar winner for her role in the movie.
2:30 AM - Seven Days in May (1964) co-starring Kirk Douglas and Fredric March, directed by John Frankenheimer.  A terrific cold war thriller.  All three stars are absolutely outstanding in this one.  A Must See.

November 20

9:45 PM - Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) I wrote about this movie in depth about a year ago (  I won't restate it everything else again, except to say that if you ignore every other movie mentioned in this piece, don't ignore this one.  A great, great movie that should be mandatory viewing for all high school history students.  One great acting performance after another in this one.
1:00 AM Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) Okay, so maybe the movie glorifies a career criminal who was pretty much a scumbag, but that doesn't detract from yet another great Lancaster performance.

November 27

8:00 PM Field of Dreams (1989)  This is one of everybody's, including me, favorite baseball movies, and Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones are the stars, but Lancaster, in a mere five or so minutes of screen time, as the older Moonlight Graham, steals the movie, in my opinion.  It was his last movie.  "Suppose I'd have never become a doctor?  Now that would have been a tragedy."

There are many other Lancaster movies being shown in November, perhaps some of your own favorites, but these are the ones I shall be recording and watching.

I love Turner Classic Movies, if for no other reason than it has given me an appreciation for stars like Burt Lancaster, people who may have been prominent slightly before my time.  Another such star is Barbara Stanwyck and that leads me to another recommendation for November.  "Ball of Fire" (1941) Midnight, Friday, November 22.  A screwball comedy directed by Howard Hawks and co-starring Gary Cooper. A really funny movie and Stanwyck is terrific.

For a movie fan, TCM is giving us a lot for which to be thankful this November!!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

An Invitation

National Children's Grief Awareness Day will be observed on Thursday, November 21.  To observe this day, the Highmark Caring Place in Warrendale, PA, where both Marilyn and I volunteer, will be having an Open House at its facility.  All details of the Open House are in the invitation above.

I hope that you will consider attending this event and seeing the remarkable job that the Caring Place does for grieving children and their families.

Thanks for considering this and I hope to see some of you there.

Welcome Back, Lloyd McClendon

The Seattle Mariners made news yesterday with the announcement that Lloyd McClendon will be their new manager come 2014.

Count me among those who are happy to see Legendary Lloyd getting another shot at skippering in the Big Leagues.  I always liked Lloyd when stood atop the top step in the Pirates dugout during his tenure here.  He was sort of doomed to fail as Pirates manager due to the penny-pinching ways of the McClatchey Administration, which led to some very poor decisions on the part of GM Dave Littlefield, which led to crummy teams.  Poor Lloyd never really had a shot, given those lousy teams he was given to manage.  Sadly, from bits and pieces I have been reading, it seems like he may be going into a very similar situation with the Mariners.

Anyway, I always liked McClendon because he almost single-handedly reintroduced use of the word "flummoxed" back into the everyday lexicon of the Pittsburgh sports scene.  You gotta love a guy with an eclectic vocabulary.

And, of course, how could a story on Lloyd McClendon's days as Bucco Skipper not include this scene, one that I am sure McClendon now wishes never took place:

In any event, welcome back, Lloyd, and good luck in Seattle.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

An H.A. Citation Is Bestowed

Today, it is time to dust off the not-so-coveted Grandstander "H.A. Citation", and award it to Arizona State University head football coach Todd Graham.  Now I know what you are saying.   Things like "Hasn't Graham already won this award multiple times?"  In fact, he has not, but only because I only began making this award earlier this year, long after Graham, who, incidentally, has no soul, more than earned the honor due to his performance at and  the manner of his departure from the University of Pittsburgh back in 2011.

So, why now, you may ask?

Did you see the story in the paper today about the airplane ride that was carrying Graham and his son, and ASU assistant coach, back to Tempe on a recruiting trip to Texas?  Seems something went wrong with the plane that caused it to free fall 25,000 feet before the pilots were able to stabilize the aircraft and make an emergency landing in New Mexico.  No one was injured.

However, while the plane was plummeting, and while the pilots were struggling mightily to right the craft and save every one's life, Coach Todd wandered into the cockpit to ask what was going on.  The pilots told him to get back to his seat.  I can imagine, and I can only hope, that they were not polite about it when they did so.

So, for taking his typical It's-All-About-Me-and-I'm-in-Charge-Attitude, and implying that trained, professional airplane pilots didn't know what they were doing, The Grandstander bestows an H.A. Citation upon Coach Todd Graham.  

This one's for you, Coach!

(Photo courtesy of Dan Bonk Enterprises)

Monday, November 4, 2013

When the Devil Came to Stonebrook Village....

So, last September, it was the day after Labor Day, I recall, Satan, Old Nick Himself, stopped by my house as I was relaxing on my deck, recovering from the pasting that Florida State put on Pitt the night before, and we had the following conversation:

Devil:  You're a Steelers fan, right?
Me: Sure am.
Devil: Season starts this coming Sunday, doesn't it?
Me: It does, but I'm afraid it's gonna be a down year for the Black & Gold.
Devil:  Well, maybe I can help them out, let them have a good  season, but you will need to do something for me.

There then ensued a negotiation between the Cloven Hoofed One and myself.  I asked for a Super Bowl win, but he wanted my soul for all eternity.  Hey, I wasn't willing to go THAT far.  It went back and forth, and it came down to this:

Devil: OK, OK.  Those twelve years of Catholic education you have are too much for me, so how about this?  You agree to five years in Purgatory, and I will guarantee that at the halfway point in the season, the Steelers will be only one game behind the Baltimore Ravens, the defending Super Bowl Champions, in the standings.  They will then be on their own after that.  If they then end up with a winning season, your soul will be saved.
Me: DEAL!!!!

Moral of the Story - Always read the fine print in any deal you sign.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Recent Books and Movies

Time to catch up on some recently read books and recently viewed movies.

First in the store will be Gillian Flynn's first novel, "Sharp Objects".  Ms. Flynn is the author of the amazingly successful best seller, "Gone Girl", which was her third novel and which I liked but found the characters to be remarkably unlikable.  I thought I would try "Sharp Objects", and guess what?  All the characters in this one were pretty much unlikable, too.  The story is about a young female reporter who returns to her small hometown in Missouri to report on a couple of murders of young girls in the town.  It is a good mystery, well written but, as I said, you can't really root for anybody in this one.  This won't stop me from reading Flynn's second novel, "Dark Places", but I'm going to wait a while before I do.  I mean, reading about the people about whom she writes kind of takes a lot out of you.

Next up is John Sandford's latest Virgil Flowers story, "Storm Front".

This one involves the theft of an archaeological relic from a dig in Israel.  The stone, and the guy who stole it, winds up in Minnesota, and Virgil has to recover the item and return it to the Israeli curator who has traveled to Minnesota to get it.  There is less violence in this one than usual in a Sandford story, and this one, in my opinion does not live up to the usual standards of a Virgil Flowers case.  Virgil is still a great character, and the dialog, as usual, is terrific, so if you are a fan, you need to read it.  However, if you are just going to dive in and "meet" Virgil Flowers and John Sandford, you need to start with earlier stories in the series.

A chance run through the TV remote last weekend landed me on C-SPAN's Book TV where I discovered a panel discussion about the JFK assassination, which led me to get this book:

Aynesworth is a Dallas newspaper reported/columnist who found himself in Dealey Plaza that November 22 morning fifty years ago.  He did some of the very first reporting on those events, and he has found himself pretty much wrapped up in this story ever since.  This book tells about the reporting that he did covering the shooting of the President, the shooting of police officer J.D. Tippett, the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby, his meetings with people like Ruby, Margueritte Oswald, Marina Oswald, and various cops, FBI agents, and others who were a part of that story.  Aynesworth also, for better or worse, has found himself tracking down every oddball conspiracy story that has emerged over these past fifty years.  (It started, believe it or not, when some nut showed up at Aynesworth's home on the very evening of 11/22/63 claiming he had evidence of a conspiracy to kill the President.)

If you are a conspiracy buff, this book will disappoint you, as Aynesworth tells you that he has never found anything that purports to show anything other than what the Warren Commission reported - that lone gunman / total loser Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he shot and killed President Kennedy.  And he pretty much lays waste to New Orleans District Attorney  Jim Garrison and his theories, which were made more famous by Oliver Stone's "JFK" movie.  

I'm in Aynesworth's camp on this one.

As to movies, we took in two this past week, "Last Vegas" and "Gravity".  The silly one first.

Lifelong boyhood pals Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline, known as the "Flatbush Four" get together for a weekend in Las Vegas to celebrate the upcoming wedding of Douglas, who just got engaged to a woman half his age.  Old friendships never die, despite some resentments, is the theme of this one.  While the four stars can claim six Oscars among them, this is no Oscar winner, but it's always fun to watch four great actors do their thing, and the movie was funny and enjoyable to watch.  A good time!

We also took in box office and critical smash, "Gravity". 

I will start by saying that this movie is visually beautiful, almost stunning, with its views of Earth from outer space.  It will probably win a boatload of awards for design and cinematography.  It was also tension filled and gripping as you watched to see just what was going to happen. When it was all over, though, we both found ourselves saying, "wasn't much of a story".  I suspect that we will be outliers with this point of view, but before you push back at me, let me offer this juxtaposition.

In the car on the way home, I said that as really gripping space stories go, Ron Howard's 1995 movie "Apollo 13" was better than this one, and I made a mental note to pull out the DVD and watch it again soon.  Then, as fate would have it, the performance of the Pitt Panthers at Georgia Tech last night caused me to reach for the TV remote, and guess what was on one of HBO's sub-channels?  You guessed it:

Don't get me wrong, "Gravity" is worth seeing, if only for the technical wizardry that produced it, so go see it.  But "Apollo 13" will give you a better ride.

One man's opinion.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Great Halloween Story

Thanks to Facebook and, more specifically, Pirate Chat on Facebook, I have made the acquaintance of a gent named Tim Baker and his wife, Maryellen Kelly (aka "Mrs Season Ticket Holder")  in the past year.  Tim is a season ticket holder for both the Pirates and the Penguins.  His seats at PNC Park are primo - first row at the end of he Pirates dugout.  No less a Pirates personage than Frank Coonelly himself refers to Tim as the "Mayor of Section 20", so that gives you an idea of Tim's bona fides as a Pirate fan.

Because their seat location is right by where the Pirate ball boy sits, Tim and Maryellen have developed a knack for snaring baseballs as they come out of play, which they then give to young kids who are sitting near them.  However, over the years, they have accumulated a bit of excess inventory of baseballs at home, and that leads me to my Halloween story.

If you were a kid in the Baker neighborhood last night and you came to their door, you were confronted with a large wicker basket and given your choice of the following treats: Reese's peanut butter cups, Kit Kat bars, or a game used major league baseball.  Pick one.  

How cool is that?  Tim reports that kids were running down their driveway exclaiming to their parents, "they're giving away baseballs!" and that the parents were ooo-ing and awe-ing even more that the kids were.

A class move by Tim and Maryellen!  Wish they had lived on my street when I was little!