Sunday, November 30, 2014

Pitt 35 - Miami 23....What Lies Beyond?

A few weeks ago, after watching Pitt get outscored by North Carolina, and watching Miami come this close  to beating Florida State, I would not have given Pitt a chance in Hell of defeating Miami, but - drum roll, please - THAT'S WHY YOU PLAY THE GAMES!!!!  Getting in the car after the James Taylor concert last night, I was, well, not exactly stunned, but pleasantly surprised to hear of Pitt's defeat of the 'Canes down there in Coral Gables.  I had the foresight to record the game and have already watched the first half.  

All in all, a great end to what in all honesty has been a disappointing regular season, but the possibility of what could happen in the over-abundant Bowl Season has a lot of people in this corner of the college football world frothing at the mouth in excited anticipation.

The Pinstripe Bowl in Yankee Stadium scheduled for December 27 has ties to down the track finishers in both the ACC and the Big Ten.  Both Pitt and Penn State finished their seasons with 6-6 records, the very definition of "down the track", so what could be more natural than matching up these long time traditional rivals in the fabled Pinstripe Bowl?  I know for certain that Pitt fans would love to see this, and I can reasonably assume that Penn State loyalists will want to see it played as well.

Two long time eastern rivals, playing in New York City after Christmas.  You'd have to believe that alumni of both schools would travel to NYC to attend. The TV ratings would probably be pretty good, too. It would add some real meaning to what would be yet another meaningless bowl game amongst the glut of meaningless bowl games.

In fact, it makes SO much sense to pair these two teams together that I have full confidence that the Bowl officials, the ACC, the Big Ten, and ESPN will somehow manage to screw things up and NOT arrange for this match-up.  The wild card here is the fact that the Pinstripe Bowl, like so many others, also has a tie-in to Notre Dame.  What are the odds that some suit at ESPN or the NYC based Pinstripe Bowl will jump at the chance to take a 7-5 Notre Dame team over Pitt and thus prevent what would be a dream game for the fans of Pitt and Penn State?  Let's face it, ND moves the needle in a way that Pitt and a post-Paterno PSU does not.

We'll see how this played out.

James Taylor Still Sweet

My memory can sometimes be a failing thing, so last night was either the fourth or the fifth time that Marilyn and I saw the great James Taylor in concert.  

The venue last night was the Consol Energy Center, and what can you say?  Taylor and his terrific All-Star Band delivered everything that a fan would want and could possibly expect.  "Fire and Rain", "Up on the Roof", "You've Got a Friend" as well as over a dozen other Taylor standards?  Yep, they were all in there, along with a couple of new songs (a great country blues love song called "Today, Today, Today", for example), some lesser known tracks from old albums, and an old (hundreds of years old, according to JT) Scottish ballad called "Wild Mountain Thyme" to close the night two hours and forty minutes after it began.

We loved the way Taylor talked to the audience throughout the show.  Self-deprecating and humorous, these riffs made the Consol seem like an intimate place.  He told a great story about how back in 1968 he auditioned for some executives for a new record company in London.  The record company was Apple, and the "executives" were Paul McCartney and George Harrison, who immediately signed the twenty year old Taylor to their new label.  He told about how he hung around the Abbey Road Studios that summer recording, while "the lads" were recording what came to be know as the White Album.  "I wish I could remember everything that happened, but I'm sure we all had a great time", he said.

Taylor is now 66 year old.  He has aged very well, and his voice sounds exactly the way it did when you first heard it back in your college days - or my college days, anyway - in the early Seventies.  And what a professional.  How many times do you suppose James Taylor has sung "Fire and Rain" or "You've Got a Friend"?  Thousands? Tens of thousands?  Do you suppose that there might ever be an occasion when he might just go through the motions on stage and phone it in sometime?  Well, he sure didn't last night.

We first saw James Taylor live at the Blossom Music Center in Ohio back in 1976 or -77 when we were living in Cleveland.  I know that we also saw him at Star Lake Amphitheater back in the early '00's, and sometime I believe a performance at Heinz Hall or the Benedum was sandwiched in there, so as I said, last night was either the fourth or fifth time we've seen him, and I can pretty much guarantee that we will see him again whenever the "Country Road" leads him back the Western Pennsylvania again.

A word on the Consol Energy Center.

This was only my second visit to this "new" arena, and it was Marilyn's first.  It really is a nice place.  It was the first time we saw a concert there and the sound, the acoustics, and the sight lines were wonderful.  The blackout curtains were drawn over the upper bowl of the Arena, so the place seemed quite intimate for a huge sports arena.  Very impressive as a concert venue.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


The Grandstander is thankful for, among many other things, all those Loyal Readers out there.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday, one and all!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"The Thin Man Comes to Pittsburgh"

I had mentioned earlier today that Marilyn and I were headed down to the William Penn Hotel for Sunday Brunch and to be  apart of the studio audience for the performance of a radio play of Dashiell Hammett's "The Thin Man".

It was fun experience.

Right off the bat, I have to tell you that attending an event at the William Penn Hotel is really a cool experience.  For those readers outside of Pittsburgh, the William Penn Hotel was built in 1915, and it really epitomizes old style class and luxury in a way that just isn't done any more.

For example, do they build hotel lobbies like this these days?

I don't think so.

Sunday brunch in the hotel's Terrace Room - very nice.  By the way, I am convinced that opulent brunch buffets in fancy hotels is one of the reasons why the rest of the world hates America, but I digress.

We had some time to kill after brunch, so we enjoyed the stylings of a piano player in the lobby while we sat there and enjoyed the atmosphere.

We then proceeded to the Three Rivers Room where the radio "studio" was set for the performance.

Pre-show entertainment was provided.

And then the radio play version of "The Thin Man" was presented.  

The script for this play was adapted from the Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich screenplay for the 1934 film version of "The Thin Man".  The trick here was that this radio script was adapted for a Pittsburgh setting.  For example, Nick and Nora were in Pittsburgh in 1934, not New York, and were staying at the William Penn Hotel.  Professor Wynant did his scientific research for the Mellon Institute. Gilbert Wynant was a student at Duquesne University. The story was interrupted a few times for "commercials" featuring products that played upon Pittsburgh stereotypes (Yinzer Beer, for example).  You get the idea.  The actors played multiple parts, and changed or added small articles of clothing - a scarf or a hat - when they changed characters.  One of the actresses even played Asta!  However, unlike the true old time radio days, all sound effects (ringing phones, doors slamming etc) were provided by the stage announcers lap top!

If you're familiar with the William Powell-Myrna Loy movie version, then you could follow the story.  Like the movie, it was not as gritty as Hammett's original novel, but it was a fun,  breezy, and entertaining show.  A new and different experience for us.

I was able to get this picture of Nick and Nora, as played by husband and wife Chuck and Jeannine Lanigan.

Special kudos go out to Chuck Lanigan as well as he both wrote and directed this play for live radio.

A great start to the Holiday Season!!!

Sunday Plans

Marilyn and I officially kick off our Holiday Season today when we head on down to Pittsburgh's tres chic William Penn Hotel 

for Sunday Brunch,  which will then be followed by being in the audience a performance of a radio play version of Dashiell Hammett's "The Thin Man".  

The "performance" of the radio play will also take place at the William Penn.

I am thinking that this experience will be kind of like stepping back in time to "cafe society" days when Radio was King.

Should be a fun experience.

A Follow Up on Mike Nichols

I just want to make an addendum to my "Absent Friends" post of three days ago about the death of Mike Nichols.

First, a correction.  Nichols won nine Tony Awards, not six. Wow.

As for the addendum, four of those Tony Awards were for directing the following plays:

  • Barefoot in the Park
  • The Odd Couple
  • Plaza Suite
  • Prisoner of Second Avenue
What do those played have in common? They were all write by the incomparable Neil Simon.

This raises the question: Could  there ever have been greater convergence of talent in the American theater than the collaborations of Neil Simon and Mike Nichols?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

To Absent Friends - Mike Nichols

 Mike Nichols

One of the great show biz talents of the last fifty or so years left us yesterday with the passing of Mike Nichols.

His greatest legacy will be that of the twenty-two movies that he directed, some of them truly landmark films such as "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf", "Catch-22", and, of course, his Oscar winning "The Graduate" (one of my own all-time personal favorites).  The last movie he directed was the very fine 2007 "Charlie Wilson's War" with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.

Nichols was much more than that, of course.  He is one of a very select few who have won an Emmy, Tony, Oscar, and Grammy Award.  He was the founder of the legendary Second City Comedy Troop of Chicago.  He has won six Tony Awards, five of them for Directing.  He began as a comedian, and his teaming with Elaine May produced one of the great comedy teams of all time.  Many people have posted YouTube clips on Facebook today of some classic Nichols and May comedy routines.  You could do worse things with your time today than searching some of those out for yourself today.

RIP Mike Nichols.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Steelers 27 - Titans 24

Lesson learned from last night's Steelers game:

Football games are sixty minutes long.

Yeah, it was not a great performance, and yeah, they came very close to losing to another NFL bottom feeder, but, in fact, they WON THE GAME.

Another lesson learned: 

Don't make withering posts on Facebook about the performance of any given team until the given game is over.

And three cheers and a Game Ball for this guy:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Selected Sports Subjects

A Whirl Around the Wide, Wide World of Sports on a Sunday Morning.....

The Pirates were much in the news this week with the trade with the Yankees that brought Francisco Cervelli  

to the Bucs, and which I commented upon earlier in the week.  Somewhat more surprising, was the signing, or should I say re-signing, of free agent pitcher A.J. Burnett.  

It is surprising that Burnett, who spoke so longingly of retirement two years ago, would forgo a Player's Option with the Phillies that would pay him $12 million and re-sign with the Pirates for "only" $8.5 million.  Maybe he is the rare athlete who means it when he says, "it's not about the money".

The real question is, can he help the Pirates in 2015?  No question of the value that Burnett brought to the Pirates in his two year stint here in 2012-13, but he is now 38 years old and coming off a year in which he lost 18 games, albeit with a lousy team, and posted am ERA in excess of 4.50.  I suppose that there is no great risk in signing him, especially if you feel that Francisco and Liriano and Edinson Volquez will not be back with the team.


I heard Neal Huntington in a radio interview earlier in the week, and found him to be quite forthright and not spilling the usual line of obfuscating b.s. that is his wont.  Most interesting thing I heard was his flat out statement that among three first baseman, Pedro Alvarez, Ike Davis, and Gaby Sanchez (yes, he included Alvarez as a first baseman), only two would be with the team next year.  

Been nice known' you, Ike.


So what else is knew?  Pitt scores a ton of points against North Carolina yesterday, and loses.  Pitt has now scored 111 points in their last three games, and have lost all three of them.  

We keep hearing how Pitt is a young team, that they start lots and lots of freshman and sophomores.  Okay, I'll give you that Paul Chryst had an uphill battle when he arrived here three years ago, and that he has to get the building blocks in place, but this is Year Three, and that line of reasoning (or is it excuse making?) is wearing thin, and it will not be the least bit tolerable in 2015.


As hard as it can sometimes be watching the Panthers play football, the play of James Conner

and Tyler Boyd

make it worth your while to tune in.


I watched the entire Florida State-Miami game last night.  The inevitability of an FSU victory became apparent when Miami began the second half playing to protect their lead rather than trying to build it further.  They completely stopped playing in the manner that gave them that big lead in the first place.  Why do coaches do that?


Best line on Facebook yesterday came courtesy of friend Fred Egler.  In commenting upon Wisconsin laying a 35 point beatdown on Nebraska in snowy Madison, WI yesterday, Fred said that "Bo Pellini looked like a German general at the Battle of Stalingrad."



Speaking of unwatchable performances, I went to the Sewall Center on Friday night to see Robert Morris tip off their Hoops Season, and suffer an 77-50 thrashing at the hands of Lafayette University, and trust me, the game was nowhere near as close as that 27 point spread indicates.  Be that as it may, I trust that Andy Toole will work with his team and coach 'em up to the point where they will be a contender for the Northeast Conference title once again.

What I did find interesting at the game was that fact that a video board has been installed in front of the Media Table that sits court side at the Sewall Center, and that RMU has been able to sell advertising on said board that scrolls throughout the game.  Sponsors ranging from a Moon Township ice cream parlor to PNC Bank to the Allegheny Heath Network are now are getting their messages across to patrons attending the basketball games.  

RMU has indeed entered the Big Time!


The Steelers take on the awful 2-6 Tennessee Titans tomorrow night.  Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Silent Movies

One of my all time favorite movies is Billy Wilder's 1950 classic, "Sunset Boulevard".  In one scene, faded movie queen Norma Desmond bemoans the loss of silent movies.  "I AM big.  It's the PICTURES that got small", she states in one of the most famous lines of movie dialog of all time.  In another passage, Norma states that it was better then because "We had FACES then, and now they've filled the theaters with words, words, WORDS!!!"

This month, Turner Classic Movies is paying tribute to the great Silent Films, and last week I gave two of them a try.  Each starred two of the great leading ladies of the Silent Era.

The first movie was "It" from 1927, and it's star was Clara Bow.

"It" was a romantic comedy that involved the quality of IT.  IT was that certain, indefinable quality in a person that made them special, sexy, desirable.  Clara Bow was certainly attractive in her role in this movie, and it gave her an indelible nickname in the culture, "The IT Girl".  No doubt about it, when you watched "It" you did so for one reason - Clara Bow's performance and charm.

The second movie was "Sadie Thompson" (1928) and its star was none other than Norma Desmond herself, Gloria Swanson, and this is how she appeared in the title role.

No question, Swanson was dynamic in this movie, and beautiful.  Even watching a deteriorating, eight-six year old black and white film, Swanson was utterly captivating.  I was particularly captivated by her eyes.  They were startlingly clear and bright in this old film to the point that I could have sworn that they were bright blue or green, even though I was watching a black and white movie.  The picture I have posted above captures that to some extent.

As for the movies themselves, you can certainly follow the story despite the absence of dialog (or words, words, words!!!), but what "dialog" there was, in the form of title cards, was really corny by today's standards.  I'm with Joe Gillis, silent movies used to be big,and sorry, Norma, the pictures have not gotten small.

Clara Bow had a sad life.  Her mother suffered from insanity and once nearly killed her, and Bow herself was institutionalized for depression at intervals of her life.  She died in 1965 at the age of 60.

Gloria Swanson was a woman way ahead of her time.  She organized her own production company so that she could control what movies she made and have some control over her own career.  She served as the Producer on "Sadie Thompson" when she was only 29 years old.  On the TCM intro, host Ben Mankiewicz mentioned that Swanson's career went into a bit of decline after "Sadie Thompson", and she made few movies until she returned in "Sunset Boulevard" the role for which she will be most remembered.  After that she did a lot of TV work. She made her last movie in 1974, "Airport 1975".  She died in 1983 at the age of 84.

Welcome, Francisco Cervelli

Almost two years ago to the day, November 30, 2012 to be exact, I wrote a blog post entitled "Welcome, Russell Martin", and now, we have a strangely similar circumstance, as the Pirates bring a new catcher to the team from the New York Yankees.  In this case, Francisco Cervelli arrives via a trade as Russell Martin prepares to hit the Free Agent Jackpot, probably with the Chicago Cubs.

All Pirate fans feel bad that Martin will be departing the team, and I am not going to go down that well travelled road again.  It should be noted that back in November of 2012, most fans greeted the signing of Martin with an attitude of, at best, "let's wait and see what happens".  Well, we know now that the Martin signing could hardly have worked out better for the Pirates and, it will turn out, for Martin.  So, let's be grateful to Martin for what he did here, wish him well with whomever he signs, and look to the future.

In Cervelli, the Pirates get a young, age 28, player who has shown flashes of great promise, but has been injury plagued throughout his career, playing in only 250 games over seven seasons.  Projected to a 162 game season, Cervelli's career shows a .278 BA, 6 HR, 60 RBI, and .729 OPS.  Over a very small sample size of 2013-14 (56 games, 198 AB), his OPS is over .800, so that is something to grasp on to, is it not?

The Pirates gave up left handed reliever Justin Wilson to get Cervelli, and it would be a rare occasion where I would NOT be happy to get an everyday player in exchange for bridge-the-gap-to-the-closer relief pitcher.  Wilson has a fast ball in the high 90's, and he had a great season in 2013, but he regressed a bit in 2014, so viewing this trade in a vacuum, I say this is a good deal for the Pirates.  Not to sound too much like Neal Huntington, I think that Cervelli brings a lot of upside to the team, but he will need to stay healthy.  That is the Big Question that Cervelli brings with him to PNC Park.  It also tells us that the Pirates have no faith in former Number One pick Tony Sanchez as an everyday catcher, and they also feel that Elias Diaz is not yet ready for Prime Time.

Notice that I didn't mention money.  Such transactions are always about the money where the Pirates are concerned, but you know what? I don't care.  Yeah, I wish that they would spend more money, I wish that they could have kept Martin, and I think that the Pirates may, MAY, be overly concerned with the almighty bottom line, but there is nothing that I can do about that, so I try very hard not to expend too much personal angst over such matters.

That said, MY bottom line is that I think GM Neal made a fairly good deal here.  It may not work out, but, as my friend Dan Bonk, channelling his inner Johnny Rivers, said on Facebook this morning, that's life on the poor side of town.

One final comment. Included on Cervell's resume is a fifty game suspension in 2012 for PED use.  It brings up a conundrum for us Bucco fans.  You know, us fans who vociferously boo each Ryan Braun at bat at PNC Park, and who curse Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, and others of their ilk, as we cheer on Francisco Cervelli as he wears the black and gold tools of ignorance.  What do we make of that?  

Sometimes being a fan can be complicated.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Hall of Fame Factoid

I heard an interesting tidbit in a radio interview with Richard Justice this morning.  The subject was the upcoming convening of the "Golden Era Committee" that will deliberate and vote upon Hall of Fame membership from a ballot of ten people, including, yes, Gil Hodges.

Justice told the listeners that there are currently 306 members currently enshrined, with one of those cool plaques on the wall, in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Of that number, only 115 of those members were voted in there by the Baseball Writers Association of America.  A mere 37.5%, which means that an overwhelming majority of HOF members are in there because of the work of these smaller, select committees.

Now it needs to be noted that these various committees are responsible for selecting managers, executives, Negro Leaguers and such people, and no one will deny the need to include such people in the HOF.  Also, such committees can serve as a sort of corrective mechanism for players who, for one reason or another, never were voted in by the BBWA during the period of their eligibility.  However, it doesn't take much delving into history to know that there are several members of the HOF, who are in their because of cronyism among the guys who served on the Veterans Committee in years past.

Does this cheapen the Hall of Fame?  Perhaps, and Justice did point out that there are guys serving on these committees today, such as Pat Gillick, who take this duty very seriously and go to great lengths and pains to "get it right".  As for me, I have stated that whether This Guy is in the Hall while That Guy is not, is not a matter that causes me to lose sleep at night, so whenever someone gets in, whether I agree or not, I usually just will say "good for him".  

On the other hand, I have to wonder about Committees who voted Bowie Kuhn into the Hall of Fame, and continually fail to elect Marvin Miller.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Book Review: "FDR's Funeral Train" by Robert Klara

I just finished reading this really fascinating book that is about, as the title suggests, the train trip from Warm Springs, GA to Washington, DC to Hyde Park, NY and back to Washington following the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Warm Springs on April 12, 1945. 

Having come of age in an era when Presidents can be anywhere in the United States, or the world for that matter, in a matter of hours, it fascinated me to read about an event such as the death of a President and its aftermath taking place on a train ride, and a very lengthy ride at that while, oh yeah, a war was going on.  Consider this time table.

The President died at around 3:30 on a Thursday afternoon.  His body was prepared by an Atlanta funeral director, and the train left Warm Springs for Washington on mid-morning Friday.  (Mrs. Roosevelt was flown from Washington to Warm Springs on a special military transport plane and arrived late on Thursday night.)  It took 22 hours for the train to arrive in Washington on Saturday morning.  

After a brief state funeral service in the White House, it was back on the train late at night for the trip to Hyde Park.  The train arrived there at around 10:00 on Sunday morning.  There was a brief burial service at the Roosevelt Estate, whereupon the train, after about a three hour stop, headed back to Washington and arrived late Sunday night.

On board the train from Washington to Hyde Park was the new President, Harry Truman, and much of the trip was spent with Truman being briefed about his new job.  He brought with him, to he chagrin of the Roosevelt loyalists, who slowly began to realize that their days of power would soon be drawing to a close, some of the men who would become HIS key advisers in a new Administration.  Even in the first hours of his Presidency, Harry Truman, much looked down upon by many, proved to be a pretty shrewd guy.

It is also amazing to read of the logistics that had to take place to plan a state funeral at the White House, a burial in Hyde Park, and figure out who would attend and who would ride on the train from Washington to Hyde Park.  In fact, two trains made that trip, the second one being filled with mostly Congressional dignitaries. 

I read a book like this and realize how much I wish my Dad was still with us.  I would have loved to have talked to him about the events described and picked his brains about it.  I know that he would have remembered, if not all the details, but a lot about the personalties of the key players in this real life drama.

Very interesting book about a momentous time in our history and an era that will never return.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The "Big Break" Is Back

Combine one of my favorite activities - golf - with something I don't care for at all - reality TV shows - and what you get is Golf Channel's "The Big Break", the one and only reality TV show that I never miss.  

The newest version of this series, "Big Break Myrtle Beach", premiered last month, and we are now four episodes into it.   This version consists of twelve participants, six men, six women, competing head to head.  As is usually the case, it takes a few weeks - and a few eliminations - to sort out who's who on this show.  However, on essential element made itself very clear by Week Two, and that was who the Villain of this season will be.  It is Anthony Quezada from Phoenix, AZ.  At 19, Anthony is the youngest ever male participant on Big Break, and it seems that the producers must have instructed Anthony to take every known precept regarding golf etiquette and sportsmanship and completely disregard them.  He makes the "miss it, Noonan" caddies at Bushwood seem like the epitome of decorum by comparison.  Honestly, I am rooting for one or more of his fellow competitors to just coldcock him on a green during one of the challenges.

All that aside, though, Anthony can play some golf.  He has already survived two elimination challenges.

Episode Five is tonight, and from the previews it appears that it will feature another Big Break staple - Speed Golf.

All this and the breathless commentary of Tom Abbot.  It's Must See TV for golf fans.