Friday, October 31, 2014

The World Series and Madison Bumgarner

I cannot let any more time pass by without a salute to the Giants historic, or at least quasi-historic, World Series victory, their third such title in the last five seasons (see The Grandstander of October 11, 2014).  It is a remarkable feat in this era of wild cards and multiple tiers post-season playoffs.  A dynasty?  Yeah, I would say so.

I will also point out this quote from The Grandstander's World Series preview from October 21:

Okay, you want a prediction.  I'll give you the Giants to win in six games.  The biggest reason for that will be the ace pitcher of the Giants, Madison Bumgarner.  He has been completely dominant in the post-season, and I believe that he will be the difference between the two teams.

Well, it took seven games, not six, but otherwise, as the saying goes, I believe I had that.

And how about that Game Seven?  Really, it was everything you would have wanted in a seventh game, and when you tie in the performance of Series MVP Madison Bumgarner, pitching five innings of near flawless relief on only two days rest, you have, as Sam Spade might put it, the stuff that dreams are made of.

Much was made off the World Series performance of Bumgarner, not only in his other worldly 2014 Series, but of his total World Series performances when his 2010 and 2012 records are included.  That got me to thinking, so I decided to do a little comparison shopping to see just exactly how Bumgarner compares to some of the greatest pitching performances in the history of the Fall Classic.

I make no claim that this list is all-inclusive.  I just picked some of what I knew, without giving it too much deep thinking, to be among the greatest pitching performances in World Series history. I am sure that there are many that I have left out, but I think this is a pretty good list.  In some instances, I included just one World Series (a couple of the pitchers were only in one Series), and in some cases, I included both a single season, and a pitcher's complete World Series record.  I also confined this ONLY to the World Series and did not include Divisional and LCS records.

Here you go:

Madison Bumgarner

Career (3 WS)
Christy Mathewson

Career (4 WS)
Babe Adams
Mickey Lolich
Bob Gibson

Career (3 WS)
Sandy Koufax

Career (4 WS)
Lew Burdette
Randy Johnson
Whitey Ford

Career (11 WS)
Mariano Rivera
Career (7 WS)
Babe Ruth
Career (2 WS)

You can draw your own conclusions form this, but here are some of mine:
  • For a WS career, that 0.25 ERA of Bumgarner's is the best.  Ever.
  • For one single WS, I don't think anyone is ever going to top Matty's performance in 1905.
  • But if you're an "analytics guy", it needs to be noted that Bumgarner's WHIP in 2014 is better than Matty's of 1905.  In fact, it is the best such number on this particular list.
  • It was hard to choose which single Series of Koufax' to select here.  He was the MVP in both the '63 and '65 Series.
  • As a Pirate fan, I am glad that Whitey Ford didn't get a third start in 1960.
  • That Babe Ruth guy was some ball player.  I heard that he could even hit a little.
So as to the original premise, I think that we can presume that if Madison Bumgarner never throws another pitch, or if his career fizzles out beginning in 2015, it is safe to say that he most definitely now belongs in the pantheon of All-Time World Series Greats.

All that said, if you were a manager, and had to pick ONE pitcher to start ONE game with everything on the line, who would it be?  

I'm still picking this guy:

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Movie Review: "St. Vincent"

I will concede that the basic plot line of the new movie, "St. Vincent", written and directed by Theodore Melfi, is not exactly a new one.  

Take one cranky old curmudgeon of a neighbor, mix in a put upon single mother with a cute kid.  Could be the "Bad News Bears", could be "Paper Moon", could be a half dozen others if I decided to think any longer about it, but, please, don't let that keep you away from seeing "St. Vincent".

What makes this one special is the performance of Bill Murray as the title character, Vincent.  Vin smokes too much, drinks too much, has a regular "date" with a pregnant stripper/hooker (Naomi Watts), and has no use for his new neighbors, a single mother and her nine year old son, played my Melissa McCarthy and Jaeden Lieberher.   However, through a series of circumstances that can happen only in the movies, I suppose, Vin ends up being Oliver's (Lieberher) babysitter.

Of course, Vin takes the kid to the race track, to a neighborhood bar, teaches him how to fight, introduces him to Watts, who he tells Oliver is a lady of the night, which he explains is "the most honest way there is to make a living".  Oliver also gets to see another side to Vin, a side which no one else knows about, and which shows us that there may just be another side to Vincent.  Not that he will ever admit it.

The cast is great...Watts, McCarthy, and the little boy played by Lieberher, but Murray is absolutely terrific.

The role of Vincent is the kind of role that Hollywood will give to an actor who has been around for a long time, and will often times reward that actor with an Academy Award for it.  We are just getting into the season when the really Big and Important Movies, are being released, so who knows if Murray's performance will end up being Oscar-worthy, but it would sure be nice to see him get a Best Actor Oscar nomination at least.

Consider Bill Murray.  It has been close to forty years since he came on the national scene as an original cast member of Saturday Night Live.  His first big, and still most famous movie role was that of Carl Spackler in "Caddyshack" and it will probably remain the role for which he will most remembered.  However, IMDB lists seventy-five acting credits for Bill Murray, which includes "Lost in Translation" (2003) for which he received an Oscar nomination, and "Hyde Park on Hudson" (2012) where he played President Franklin Roosevelt, and for which he probably should have received another Oscar nomination.  

Would you have ever envisioned that back in the 1975 when you watching Murray as Todd de la Bounta or the sleazy lounge singer on SNL?

And if you do want to see a glimpse of Murray's comic genius, be sure to watch the closing credits of "St. Vincent", wherein Murray wrestles with a garden hose while singing "Shelter from the Storm" along with Bob Dylan on his Walkman.  I am guessing that that piece of shtick was completely improvised by Murray, and it was brilliant.

So, see "St. Vincent".  You'll laugh a lot at it, but you'll also need a handkerchief, because it will also bring you to tears.  It had both Marilyn and I opening up the waterworks.

Terrific movie.

Golf Season Coming to a Close - Maybe

Our usual Tuesday Group of Retiree Golfers, mostly from Highmark, but some are FOH (Friends of Highmarkers), gathered today at The Club at  Shadow Lakes (formerly the Beaver Lakes CC) for what many conceded, looking at both the calendar and the long range weather forecast for next week, may be the last big gathering of the golf season.  

For the occasion, Fred Shugars decided to take a group photo, which you can see above.  Alas, what with Fred being the photographer, he does not appear in the photo, which is too bad, since Fred can be considered the engine that makes the golf group run.  He makes the tee times, sends out the emails, and stuff like that. So THANKS to Fred for making all that happen, and thanks to all the members of the group for the terrific company and camaraderie as we beat golf balls all across Western Pennsylvania this past spring, summer, and fall.  It is a great group in which to be a part.

And if today was the last outing of the season, I am happy with how the play went.  I played with John Lisak and Fred today, and shot a 101 (52-49).  Not great, but okay for me.  And the highlight was the very last hole, #18, a par five.  After my third shot, I was in rough 142 yards (according to John's range finder) from the center of the green, and I struck one of my better shots in recent memory.  It went straight and true, landed just short of the green, and rolled on to within about two feet of the pin.  Given the way I was putting today, that was not a sure thing, but this time, I DID make the putt for my par.  YESSSSSS!

As I said, a great way to end (possibly) the 2014 golf season!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Steelers 51 - Colts 34; Ben Breaks All the Records

I know, I know.  In my post this morning I said that I did not feel optimistic about the Steelers chances against the Colts today and even used the word "thrashing" as a possible result in today's contest.

This guy had other ideas.

  • 522 passing yards, a new Steelers records
  • 6 TD passes, a new Steelers record
  • No interceptions
  • His second career 500+ yards passing game, a new NFL record
  • His 100th win in 150 starts, the fourth QB to ever do that
Remember two years ago when rookie QB Robert Griffin III was the talk of the NFL, and Washington came into Heinz Field and Ben and the Steelers thoroughly whipped both Griffin and his team?  I said at the time that it seemed that Ben Roethlisberger had decided before that game to remind everyone just exactly who the best QB on the field really was that day.  I think that the same thing happened today.

Not to take anything away from Andrew Luck. He had over 400 years in passing today as well, but he also threw two critical interceptions, and committed a really stupid grounding penalty that resulted in a safety for the Steelers in the fourth quarter when the game was, conceivably, still up for grabs.

Also, those receivers other than Antonio Brown who looked so bad for the first six weeks, seemed to have caught on to the NFL game in the last two weeks.  Also, Mike Tomlin, who everyone wanted fired a few weeks ago, seems to have gotten pretty good in the last two weeks.  Same for Todd Haley, and although I am still not a fan of his, that fourth down and inches call of the roll out pass from Ben to Heath Miller from the Colts ten yard line for a TD was brilliant!

And lo and behold, the Steelers are back in the hunt in the AFC Central, with games against the Ravens next week and two with the Bengals late in the season.  I guess we really need to see how an entire sixteen game schedule plays out, and I include myself in that because I sure as hell didn't see coming what I saw this afternoon.

Here we go.....

Georgia Tech 56 - Pitt 28; More of the Same Later Today?

I think that by now everyone knows of the ugliness that took place on the lush turf of Heinz Field yesterday afternoon, but if you need a reminder, this is how the game started out for the Pitt Panthers:

Five possessions in the first five minutes of the game, five fumbles by Pitt that resulted in four touchdowns by Georgia Tech.  With nine minutes and change remaining in the FIRST  QUARTER, Tech led 28-0.

If you were sitting in Heinz Field witnessing this (and thus being unable to change the channel) words like "unbelievable" and "surreal" don't even begin to describe it.

But, hey, the "Script Pitt" logo for which many alums have been clamoring over the years was back on the Panthers helmets.  

Pitt did manage to get to with 28-14 by halftime, but when Tech scored on the opening possession of the second half, everyone knew that no miracle comeback was going to happen.

Enough of that.

Of equal or greater concern, football-wise, is the thought that another thrashing could be dealt to the local girders this afternoon when Andrew Luck leads the Indy Colts against the Steelers.  I don't expect a debacle on the scale that was seen yesterday, but I am not feeling real optimistic that the Steelers will pull of a win today either. 

Anyway, we could be looking at another weekend similar to the one a few weeks back when Akron and the Tampa Bay Bucs dealt back to back losses to the local footballers.  We can debate tomorrow as to which weekend was worse.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Pitchers at the Plate

Prior to the 2014 season, I vowed to cease getting into debates and arguments over the Designated Hitter.  Such arguments have become boring and tiring, everyone already knew where everybody else stood on the matter, and no one was going to change their minds on the subject, so why bother?

Still, people continue to go down the path.  I am convinced that many people are talking about it just to bait people, so why give them the satisfaction?  

Last night, yet another lengthy debate ensued on Facebook while Game Two of the World Series was unfolding.  Zzzzzzzzz (the debate, not the game itself)......

Anyway, it did prompt me to check out some stats.  I present them to the Court for its consideration.  I present only the facts, and offer no opinion.  You all can draw your own conclusions.

In the 2014 season, Pittsburgh Pirates pitchers accumulated 297 At Bats.  Those AB's produced 29 hits, two of them for extra bases, for a batting average of .098.  Pirate pitchers hit one (1) home run and drove in 6 runs.  The OPS for the Bucco pitchers was .244.

(To put that OPS figure in perspective, Pirates players Brent Morel, Michael Martinez, and Jayson Nix had an OPS of .450, .363, and .269, respectively.)

The Pirates pitchers ranked 13th in the National League in both BA and OPS.  The team whose pitchers lead the NL in these categories was the Los Angeles Dodgers.  In 312 AB's, the Dodgers hurlers had 51 hits (14 for extra bases) for a .163 BA, hit one (1) home run and drove in 16 runs.  Their OPS was .425.  Better that Michael Martinez and Jayson Nix, to be sure, but not as good as Brent Morel.

As I said, I'll let each individual decide how they feel about that.

And I'll salute that well known Pirates slugger, Gerrit Cole, who went 8-for-46 this year, .174, 1 HR, 2 RBI, and a .447 OPS.

Another Paradigm Shifts

Lost amid all the tumult and shouting over Apple's introduction of the latest versions of the iPhone, was the fact that Apple would no longer be making and marketing the iPod Classic.

It was in 2008 or 2009, after getting a lesson in the workings of iPods from our nephews during our Outer Banks vacation, Marilyn and I made the decision to purchase an iPod.  The model we chose was the one you see to the right here, a black iPod Classic.  It was a bit more expensive than other models, but it offered 160 GB of storage.  I still don't know exactly what gigs, GB's, or G's exactly are, but we were told that we could store as many as 20,000 songs on this baby, so we made the plunge, and our iPod Classic has served and continues to serve us well.

Not only have we transferred most of our CD's onto it over the years, but we now purchase music via iTunes, (I can probably use one hand to count the number of actual CD's that we have bought since we got our iPod), and we have been introduced to the wonderful world of Podcasts that are available for our listening pleasure.  A Sony speaker with an iPod dock has all but replaced our stereo system, and our Chevy Equinox had a USB port in it that allows us to listen to our iPod in our car.   As for storage capacity, we have about 3,500 songs loaded onto our Classic, so we have barely even scratched the surface of its capacity.

Right after that Outer Banks vacation I referenced above, I was sitting in a staff meeting at work and listened to my Boss at the time going on and on about "change" that was coming to Highmark and our department, about how we must be willing to embrace "change", adapt to it, and flourish under it going forward.  My response was, "Hey, I just bought an iPod, and moved all of our music onto it, so the idea of 'Change' doesn't really bother me!"

As I said, our iPod Classic still functions grandly and serves us well, but it is now destined to become a museum piece.  I can't see our ever replacing it, but I also thought that all those cassette tapes we had back in the eighties were the ultimate in listening pleasure.  Change, as they say, is constant, and the paradigms are constantly shifting.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

To Absent Friends - Ben Bradlee

Benjamin Bradlee, former Executive Editor of the Washington Post, died yesterday at the age of 93.

To most people outside of Washington, DC, Bradlee will be best remembered as the guy in charge of the Post during the Watergate era, when Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein began investigating a "third rate burglary" and that investigation led to a near Constitutional crisis and the resignation of the President of the United States.  All Bradlee told his reporters was the be sure to "get it right".

Bradlee was award the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, earlier this year.

I am a regular listener to the podcast of the Tony Kornheiser radio show, and I love it when Tony speaks of his days at the Post and the absolute reverence in which he held Ben Bradlee.  Kornheiser always says that the movie based on the Woodward and Bernstein book, "All the President's Men" is perhaps the best movie about the newspaper business ever made, and that in portraying Ben Bradlee, actor Jason Robards absolutely nailed him.

Might be worth pulling "All the President's Men" out of your DVD library, and watching it in tribute to one of America's great newspapermen.

RIP Ben Bradlee.

Hall of Famers? (continued)

Yesterday's post about the worthiness, or lack of same, for Hall of Fame enshrinement for two unidentified ballplayers, elicited over 70 responses when I posted it on my Facebook page and the Pirate Chat page.  Interestingly enough, most people, looking at the statistics, said that, given the facts in front of them, they would choose NOT to include either player in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Now, just who were those players?

Player A is Rocky Colavito.

As was obvious from the numbers, Colavito had a good to very good major league career, but he never went beyond single digit percentages when his name came before the Hall of Fame voters, and there is, as near as I can tell, absolutely no grass roots support to get old Rock into Cooperstown.

Player B, as many of you have already guessed, is Gil Hodges.

I have often written and talked about the passion that is ignited among many when the phrases "Gil Hodges" and "Hall of Fame" come up in the same sentence.  There are thousands of people out there who will launch into impassioned arguments stating why Gil belongs in the Hall of Fame.  I have no doubt that when this post hits the cyber-waves, many such arguments will be put forth.  In his years of eligibility, Hodges support among the baseball writers who vote on Hall of Fame membership ranged anywhere from 24% to 63%.

The Hodges supporters will give you reams upon reams of data as to why Gil belongs.  However, many of the arguments always seem to come down to this:

  1. He played most of his career in the greater New York City area, as a beloved member of the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers "Boys of Summer" teams.
  2. He was a really, really nice guy.
  3. He managed the New York Mets to the 1969 World Series title. 
As to Point 1, perhaps Hodges suffers from the same syndrome as does the Steelers L.C. Greenwood - too many guys from the same team already in the HOF.

As to Point 2, doesn't and shouldn't have anything to do with HOF worthiness.

As to Point 3, sorry, but there are a lot of managers who have won one World Series.  This isn't what should get Gil into Cooperstown, if he ever does get there.

My question always has been, would the passion to get Hodges into Cooperstown be the same had he played his entire career in, say, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, or Milwaukee, rather than in New York City/Brooklyn?  We'll never know the answer to that particular question.

I mentioned in my post yesterday that I have no emotional connection here, one way or the other.  If Hodges ever gets voted in by whatever they are calling the Veteran's Committee these days, more power to him.  I would be happy for his family and all those many, many people who love him.  And if he never gets in, I am okay with that, too, because if that happens, what about Colavito and all those other "similar" players (Greg Luzinski, Willie Horton, Jack Clark, Frank Howard et al) that I mentioned in yesterday's post?  That, I realize, opens up an entirely new and different HOF can of worms.  

Anyway, this is just the kind of fun stuff that we baseball fans love to debate, isn't it?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The World Series Is Here!!!!

The 2014 World Series begins tonight!!  Magic words, indeed.

Once upon a time, the World Series was THE biggest event on the sports calendar.  In the minds of many, it still is the biggest event in sports, but even the most die hard baseball fans have to concede that that is no longer the case.  The reasons for that are, as Chuck Noll might have put it, many and they are great, but that is the subject for another time.  For now, however, let's talk about this upcoming addition of the Fall Classic.

I cannot remember a time when the playoffs leading up to the Series have been as dramatic and exciting as the two wild card games and four series that have produced the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants as opponents for the Championship.  (OK, I concede that one of those Wild Card games wasn't all that dramatic.  Traumatic, maybe, but not dramatic.) I can only hope that the World Series will continue serving the drama that we have seen thus far, and I am truly hoping that this one goes the distance and produces what to me is the greatest event in sports: a Seventh Game of the World Series.

I usually develop a rooting interest in one team or another over the course of a post season.  Oft times, that rooting interest is produced by a fervent dislike for one of the teams.  Not so in 2014.  In my mind, there a lot of reasons to root FOR either team, and not any compelling reason to root AGAINST either of them.  All things being equal, I will usually choose the National League team to root for, and the Giants give an additional reason, for me anyway, in that they are seeking to win their third World Series title within a five year period.  As I detailed on this Blog in post a few days ago, such a feat has been done before, but it is, apart from the New York Yankees, still a somewhat rare feat.  The last time it was done by a non-Yankee team was when the Oakland A's won three consecutive Series from 1972-74. So, the historical excellence of such a feat intrigues me.

The Royals, on the other hand, are a great story. A small market team that has been in baseball's wasteland for 29 seasons gets a wild card spot, and precedes to compile an 8-0 record in the Playoffs to make the Series.  I mean, who can't root for an underdog like that?

So let's just go to the Cliche Closet and just "root for a great Series".

Okay, you want a prediction.  I'll give you the Giants to win in six games.  The biggest reason for that will be the ace pitcher of the Giants, Madison Bumgarner.  He has been completely dominant in the post-season, and I believe that he will be the difference between the two teams.  I also believe that this simply amazing run of the Royals cannot sustain itself to produce another four wins, and there is the chance that KC manager Ned Yost will do something to screw things up.

One more thing.  There has been much gnashing of teeth among the baseball purists over the fact that, because the both LCS ended early, there has been a four and five day layoff for the teams, and that this will somehow cause the players to get stale and rusty leading up to the World Series.  Are you kidding me?  Both the Giants and Royals have played over 170 games since April to lead to this point, and in four off days, they have all gotten, fat, lazy, and unprepared?  Please, give me a break on that one, or should I just say...