Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year, Everyone!

May 2016 be health and prosperous for you all!

Please celebrate responsibly.

"Ocean's 11" vs. "Ocean's Eleven"

Three night's ago, in anticipation of New Year's Eve, we decided to watch the 1960 Frank Sinatra - Dean Martin - and the Rest of the Rat Pack movie, "Ocean's 11".  As you recall, the plot of this movie involved a caper to heist five Las Vegas casinos on New Year's Eve, so the timing was appropriate.  After watching that, we were prompted the following night to watch the 2001 remake, "Ocean's Eleven", that starred George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon.

So, he question, Which version was better?, prompts this Grandstander piece.

The Sinatra version, fifty-five years after it was released, seems a bit dated and simplistic.  I mean, honestly, even in 1960, is it reasonable to think that the entire electronic workings of a Las Vegas casino was controlled in an electrical box no larger that an average home medicine cabinet?  Or that access to such electrical boxes were guarded by a single Paul Blart-type guard?

Also, the dialogue was ridiculous at points, my favorite example being the scene where Richard Conte get some bad news from a doctor after an exam.  Conte looks at the Doc and utters this classic bit of movie cliche-speak:  "Give it to me straight, Doc.  Is it he big casino?"  And Akim Tamiroff?  Whoa, talk about over acting and chewing the scenery.

What this movie did have was star power.  Sinatra, Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, Angie Dickenson.  It didn't get much bigger than that, not in 1960 and not in 2016, either.  And in a bit part, we even get to see a very young Shirley MacLaine making her motion picture debut.  It is a known fact that while this movie was being filmed during the day on location in Vegas, Sinatra, Martin, Davis and the rest of the Rat Pack were performing in the various showrooms and lounges of Las Vegas, so much of this movie comes across as a bit of a vanity piece wherein the stars were kind of going through the motions.  A scene where Frank, Dean, Sammy,and Lawford were shooting pool was purely the four stars showing off by riffing with each other about nothing, and it advanced the plot not one bit.

(By the way, on a personal note, this movie gave me a whole new appreciation for Dean Martin as an actor.  His speech where he told the guys that they were crazy for even thinking of doing such a thing was great.  He was the best part of the movie, I think.)

All that aside, seeing the planning and pulling off of the caper made for a lot of fun.  And this movie has something that the 2001 version did not, and that was a punchline of an ending that was completely unseen and absolutely perfect.  

So, how about that remake?

Like the original, this one had star power galore.  In addition to Clooney, Pitt, and Damon, add to the mix Julia Roberts, Andy Garcia, Elliott Gould, and the great Carl Reiner, and you have the proverbial all-star cast.  This one also involved a caper plot to knock off three big Las Vegas casinos, but a look at the electronics and the security in place at the casinos presented a much more realistic view of what Danny Ocean's crew was up against.  Of course, actually pulling off such a caper is no doubt just as far fetched for Clooney's Ocean as it was for Sinatra's.

And speaking of far-fetched, in both movies, members of the crew were able to get jobs at the various casinos with no problem.  Hell, Dean Martin had a gig singing in one of the hotel lounges!  And in the 2001 version, some of the people had different jobs during the same shifts in the same casino.  It can't be that easy to get employment in Vegas, can it?

Okay, so forget all about the implausibility of it all.  As Alfred Hitchcock once said, "It's only a movie", so put aside all thoughts about what's realistic and enjoy both of these flicks just for the sheer fun of them, and make no mistake, both movies are fun, so by all means, watch and enjoy both of them.  However, if you forced me at gunpoint to say which was better, I'm going to say Clooney's 2001 "Ocean's Eleven".

I suspect that many will disagree, and ain't that a kick in the head?

The Absent Friends of 2015

Time to take a look back at all those Absent Friends that The Grandstander saluted in 2015.  These are people whose deaths were noteworthy to me because they were important people in sports, entertainment, history, pop culture, or people who I just found, for one reason or another, to be interesting.  As always, I salute the late, great sportswriter Red Smith, who always used the term "Absent Friends" when he wrote about the death of someone.

Here is the final roll call:

Edward Herrmann
Donna Douglass
Mario Cuomo
Rod Taylor
Anita Eckberg
Tony Verna
Ernie Banks
Billy Casper
Dean Smith
Ed Sabol
Gary Glick
Lesley Gore
Chuck Bednarik
Cynthia Lennon
Ray Graves
Dan Farrell
Sid Tepper
B.B. King
Kathy Kerestes
Ken Stabler
Alex Rocco
Frank Gifford
Melody Patterson
Judy Carne
Moses Malone
Yogi Berra
Patty Nelson
Charles Herbert
Wendy King
Marjorie Lord
Elizabeth Wilson
Ray Matthews

Among the 32 names above you will see the name Patty Nelson.  Patty was a fellow volunteer with Marilyn and I at the Highmark Caring Place, who passed away suddenly and quickly this year.  The children with whom she worked at the Caring Place loved Patty, as did the Staff and her fellow volunteers.  Her death came so suddenly and unexpectedly, that it rocked all of us who worked with her.  For Marilyn and I, at least, Patty was very much on our minds as we celebrated this Christmas Holiday season, and her memory reminded us of how precious the time given to each of us is.  Even after her death, we were learning from Patty Nelson.  We miss her so much.

Rest in Peace to all of all of the Absent Friends in each of our lives.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Football Follies

Well, there is not much to be said about that steaming road apple that the Steelers left on the turf at Whatever the Name of the Stadium in Baltimore Is.  Wow, what a mess.  The Hated Ravens surely stink this year, but they can take great satisfaction, I'm sure, in the knowledge that their TWO wins over the Steelers surely knocked their arch-rival out of the NFL Playoff picture for 2015.  This game continued a disturbing trend of the Steelers over the last few seasons of losing to teams that, record-wise, at least, are clearly inferior to them.

And while the Yinzers of Steelers Nation are screaming for Mike Tomlin's head because of his decision to eschew a field goal attempt early in the first quarter, my ire is more towards the officials and the NFL Rule Book that decreed that Antonio Brown's second quarter touchdown catch was, somehow, NOT a catch.  Mike Carey and the NFL punjabs can blather all they want about "control' of a ball, but it is all so much boosh-wa.  Brown's feet came down in bounds and he CAUGHT THE BALL!!!

However, regardless of Tomlin's decision, and the officials' ruling on Brown's catch, I doubt that either would have made a difference what with the way the Steelers played on both sides of the ball yesterday.

The Steelers can still make the playoffs, but they can't do it alone.  They will need help form other teams to do so, and that have only themselves to blame.


On a brighter note, I look forward to watching Pitt take on Navy later this afternoon in the Military Bowl.  Navy is a ranked team, and a Pitt win victory today would put a nice cherry on top of what by almost any measure has been a successful first season for Head Coach Pat Narduzzi's Panthers.

Fingers crossed, and Let's Go Pitt!!!

The Greenfield Bridge Comes a Tumblin' Down

Growing up as I did in Squirrel Hill, just above Beechwood Boulevard and near the Squirrel Hill/Greenfield exit of the Parkway East, the Greenfield Bridge had always been a part of my life.  Not that I had any sentimental attachment to it, mind you, it's just that what with going to high school in Oakland and attending numerous baseball games at Forbes Field and football games at Pitt Stadium, well, the Greenfield Bridge was what you had to cross to get there.  It was always just THERE.  Although those ornate concrete portals at both ends of the bridge did make it stand out from all the other bridges in Pittsburgh.

This 93 year old structure has been crumbling for years, and the folks at PENNDOT had long ago decree it beyond repair and needed to be replaced, so today, after over five years of planning, the Bridge was imploded and work will soon begin on a new Greenfield Bridge that will open in 2017.

And there is a bit of Sproule Family Lore surrounding this bridge.  My Dad grew up in Greenfield and when he graduated from high school in 1931, he was given a ten dollar gold piece as a gift.  The fact his mother, my grandmother, managed to come up with a ten dollar gold piece during the height of the Depression makes this story all the more legendary.  Anyway, while loafing with his buddies one day at their usual hangout, the entrance portal to the Bridge, he was showing off his ten dollar gold piece by flipping it in the air, a la George Raft, when the inevitable happened - he missed catching it, the coin hit the ground, and rolled into a crack in the pavement, lost forever into the bowels of the Greenfield Bridge.

I can't count how many times that story was told to his five children over the years, but one aspect of the story was always hazy, at least to me, and that was how my grandmother reacted when he had to come home and own up to what happened.

Anyway, that thought was very much in my mind as I watched the implosion of the Greenfield Bridge on television this morning.  Somewhere in heaven, I know my dad was wondering, and probably cursing the fact that some dude on the PENNDOT clean-up crew may tumble upon that long lost ten dollar gold piece.

Just click on the link below to see what it looked like this morning when the Greenfield Bridge came down.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

To Absent Friends - Ray Matthews

The busyness of the Christmas Holiday caused a delay in me commenting on the death of former Pittsburgh Steeler Ray Matthews this past week at the age of 86.

Ray Matthews

The name of Ray Matthews goes back to my earliest days of awareness of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Matthews played for the Steelers from 1951 to 1959, and finished his playing career after spending the 1960 season with the expansion Dallas Cowboys.  In his ten year career, Matthews scored a total of 45 touchdowns as a wide receiver, and can no doubt be considered one of the best of the Pre-Merger Era Steelers.

What I didn't know was that Matthews was a local guy.  He went to McKeesport High School before going on to star at Clemson University (he is a member of Clemson's Sports Hall of Fame).  After his playing days, he went on to coach in Canada and the NFL, and also had a stint as head coach in the WPIAL at Braddock High School for several years.

The death of a guy like Ray Matthews makes you realize that in the days before Chuck Noll came on board, the Steelers, even if they seldom fielded very good teams, had a lot of pretty good players.

RIP Ray Matthews.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

"The Big Sneeze"

When I started The Grandstander I never envisioned that I would be writing about children's books, but here I am, for the second time this month, telling you about another delightful little children's book.  This one is "The Big Sneeze" by Linda Lamneck Medwig, with illustrations by her mother, Caroline Vlahakis Wissinger.  It is a delightful little story about friendship, how sometimes obstacles can get in the way of friendship, but that such obstacles can often be easily overcome.

What is our connection to this book?  Well, when the author was known as Linda Wissinger, she was a North Allegheny High School classmate of my wife's.  "The Big Sneeze" began as a college project for Linda, and her mother, Caroline, provided the illustrations.  How and why it took lo these many years for this book to be published is explained by Linda in her preface to the story.

It is a cute little story for kids, and part of the proceeds from sales of the book will go to benefit the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, so buying "The Big Sneeze" is truly a win-win situation.  "The Big Sneeze" is currently available on, and Linda will soon have a website up and running, and I will post details on that when it happens.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Serena Williams / Sports Illustrated Follow-Up

Yesterday, I made a post about the recent Sports Illustrated cover featuring Serena Williams as its Sports Person of the Year.  Here it is if you don't feel like just scrolling down the page to see it:

I posted this entry to both my Facebook news feed and a sports related Facebook group page in which I participate, and while there were not a lot of comments, certainly not enough to draw any statistically significant conclusions, the results were interesting, nonetheless.

First off, I am not doubting the worthiness of Ms. Williams winning this award, nor am I saying that this is anything but a striking and attractive picture of a striking and attractive woman.  My gripe was that in the context of the story, such a pose was out of place and hypocritical of SI, but not unexpected, given their annual Swimsuit Edition.

Anyway, back to the responses.  Most of the men who responded tended to agree with me, while most of the women, thought it was okay.  This surprised me, and I wonder what women would think if Ms. Williams decided to strike the exact same pose on the cover of something like Maxim?

One young (late twenties) woman with whom I volunteer told me last night that she did agree with my reasoning, and wondered if SI would have asked a male athlete to strike a similar pose, and, if so, would those athletes have agreed to do so?

I also found it interesting that one of my Facebook posts was "Liked", but without comment, by another mid-twenties young woman who was a varsity athlete for four years in the Big Ten.  Would love to hear her further thoughts on that subject as she would be coming at as both a young woman and an athlete.

In the end, however, Serena Williams agreed to pose for this picture, so what I and others of my ilk see as exploitative and sexist, she obviously sees as something else.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Sports, er, Person (?) of the Year

Last week Sports Illustrated announced it's annual Sportsman of the Year Award, and it was tennis player Serena Williams.  Now, let me state right off the bat that I have no problem with Ms. Williams winning this award.  Her accomplishments in 2015 and over the course of her career make her a worthwhile recipient of the honor, so congratulations, Serena Williams.

My gripe is with Sports illustrated itself and how they chose to present this award in their magazine.

First, they chose to call it the "Sports Person of the Year", presumably because, what with Ms. Williams being female and all, they couldn't call it Sportsman of the Year.  Now, I don't get as hung up on political correctness as much as many of my generation does, but sometimes these gender neutral pronouns drive me up the wall.  What would have been wrong with naming Serena Williams the Sportswoman of the Year?   Had the award been bestowed upon Tom Brady, Steph Curry, or Bryce Harper would they have been designated the Sports Person of the Year?  And if Brady, Curry, or Harper, or any other male athlete wins it next year, will they be called the Sports Person of the Year?

My second gripe is the cover shot that SI chose to showcase Ms. Williams.  Did they show Serena in her tennis togs in a triumphant moment on the courts of Wimbledon of Roland Garros?  No, they chose this shot:

Sports Illustrated will often take editorial stands and pat themselves on the back on behalf of equality for women athletes everywhere, will say that the female athletes work just as hard, and achieve accomplishments every bit as great as their male counterparts, and how these women athletes should not be denigrated or pushed aside by the sports loving public.  Then they publish this photo on their cover, a photo that would probably work quite well on the "new look" Playboy magazine that will debut this spring.

But, of course, Sports Illustrated is the magazine that brings you the annual Swimsuit Edition, which is, of course, all about sports fashion, right?

And what was Serena Williams thinking in agreeing to this?

Am I the only person who thinks this?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Football, Baseball, and Movies

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

  • The Steelers fell behind the Denver Broncos 27-10 in the first half today, and it looked like you could kiss all playoff hopes good-by.  They then proceeded to reel off 24 straight points, 21 of them in the second half, and defeated the Broncos 34-27.  It was an amazing victory, considering that a Steelers defense that resembled well-aged Swiss cheese in the first half, then came out like Vintage Steel Curtain Steelers and completely shut down the Bronco Yonkos.  Simply an amazing performance.
  • And despite an inexplicable brain cramp late in the fourth quarter after the Steelers finally took the lead, all credit goes to this guy:
  • Ben Roethlisberger put on yet another incredible performance teaming up with the triumvirate of Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Marcus Wheaton.  
  • Two years ago I called Hines Ward the greatest Steelers wide receiver ever, but Antonio Brown is really pushing him for that title.
  • It will soon be time for the Pittsbugh Post-Gazette to select the annual Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year Award.  I see four viable candidates for the award this year: Gerrit Cole, Pat Narduzzi, Antonio Brown, and Ben Roethlisberger.  My vote, if I had one, goes to Big Ben.  
  • Quote from my friend Dan Bonk from earlier in the week: "To this point I don't think the Pirates could have designed an off season to produce less excitement if they tried. Talk about an anti buzz."
  • That about sums up an off season where the Pirates released their leading home run hitter, traded one of there most popular players, who also happens to be a good to very good player, brought in a couple of guys named Joe, still haven't found a lefty first baseman to platoon with Michael Morse, and, in a flourishing move to close out the pre-Christmas merriment, signed free agent pitcher Ryan Vogelsong.  Yep, you read that right. After a nine year sojourn, Ryan Vogelsong is back in a Pirates uniform.
  • Still seeking left-handed help in the bullpen, can the returns of Zach Duke and/or Oliver Perez far behind?
  • And while all this was going on, the division rival Cubs were signing John Lackey, David Price, and Jason Heyward.
  • I keep telling myself that the Pirates don't have to play any games that matter until April, but the more I say it, the more it sounds like whistling while walking past a graveyard.
  • Speaking of baseball, Commissioner Rob Manfred was in the news this week when he announced that he would not be lifting the lifetime ban that has been in effect since 1989 on, well, You Know Who.  I'm not going to type his name.  Good for Manfred, and if there is any doubt that the Hit King was completely clueless about his situation, it was dispelled quickly in his pathetic press conference the next day.
  • Went to the movies this afternoon.  No, not to see "The Force Awakens", but rather to see this terrific little movie:

  • The movie tells the wonderful story about a young Irish girl who emigrates to America, to Brooklyn, NY, in 1952.  How she adapts, finds a job, falls in love, and has to return to Ireland for family reasons is the story of this movie.  No spectacular visual effects, no violence, no Storm Troopers, no comic book heroes in this one.  Just a sweet and beautifully told story.  Mrs. Grandstander and I highly recommend it.
  • It was funny walking through the lobby of the multi-plex amid the frenzied mobs of Star Wars fans.
  • Christmas movies that we have watched over the last few days: "A Christmas Story", "The Family Stone", "The Gathering", and "Love Actually".  Traditions.
  • On the subject of old movies, yesterday afternoon I watched Stanley Kramer's 1963 comedy "It's  Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World".  A crazy, silly slapstick farce with a cast of thousands and several laugh out loud moments.  The scene where Jonathon Winters destroys a gas station run by Marvin Kaplan and Arnold Stang was totally ridiculous and totally hilarious.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

B.E. Taylor and Christmas in the City

This past Tuesday, Marilyn and I were served up a heaping helping of Christmas Spirit when we attended the annual Christmas concert given by longtime local Pittsburgh favorite B.E. Taylor and his Band.  

But more on that later.

The evening began when we headed into town early and took in some seasonal sights.  First off was the Christmas Village set up in the wonderfully decorated Market Square. 

We then headed over to the ice rink at PPG Plaza...

No, we didn't strap on a pair of skates, but just enjoyed watching those who were skating.

We then went to the Wintergarden area of PPG Place to see their tremendous display of "Santas from Around the World" and hundreds of gingerbread houses made by schools from all across Western PA.

We then joined friends Dan and Susan Bonk (and thanks to Dan for providing two of the photos that appear on this posting) and Rick and Sue O'Mahoney for dinner at Sal's City Deli before heading to Heinz Hall for the concert.

As always, Heinz Hall was beautifully decorated.  Don't know who that guy is in the first picture, but I hope that his family got as nice a picture of him as I did!

As for the Taylor Show itself, what can I say?  It was fabulous.  The B.E.Taylor Christmas Show is a holiday staple here in Pittsburgh, but this is the first time that we had seen it.  Two-and-a-quarter hours of Christmas music, most of it spiritual, traditional, religious Christmas Carols, but done with a most untraditional, yet still respectful, rock-and-roll twist.  Absolutely tremendous show, really unlike anything we had ever seen.  We both said that we couldn't think of anything that could have done more to put us in the Christmas Spirit.

What a great night!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"Fargo": Season 2 Concludes (Warning: Contains Spoilers)

This post contains spoilers about the second season of the FX series, "Fargo".  You have been warned.

I have been avidly following the ten week season of the FX Network series "Fargo" and have been enjoying immensely. Like the 1996 movie and the first season of the TV series that preceded it, Season Two was delightfully quirky, quite violent, stylishly done, and extremely well written and well acted.  As the show went on the only debatable point was this:  Was Season Two actually better than the outstanding Season One?

For me, I wavered back and forth on this question, but the question was answered for me in the penultimate episode of the series.  Episode One made it clear that the storyline of this series would be the events leading up to the infamous 1979 "Massacre at Souix Falls", and event that was alluded to in Season One.  Well, that is exactly what happened as story lines involving Lou Solverson and Hank Larsson, the murderous Gerhardt crime family and their killer enforcer Hanzee Dent, the Kansas City mob guys, and, of course, the amazing Ed and Peggy Bloomquist.  It was amazing, compelling, and must-see television, and it built to a crescendo to Episode Nine when all elements converged at a cheap motel in Souix Falls, SD for the historic Massacre.

And it was at this most significant moment that the key plot element was revealed, a moment that turned the tide and tipped the scales in favor of the good guys over the bad guys.  And what was that moment, you ask?  It was the appearance of a flying saucer.  Yes, you read that right.  A FLYING SAUCER!!!  Are you kidding me?  I mean....

It made me think 1990 when I watched a TV mini-series based on the Stephen King novel, "It", and a saw that the root of all the evil doings that took place was laid at the feet of a GIANT SPIDER.  Man, was I pissed for wasting four hours of my life only to lead up to the appearance of a giant spider.  Well, that was almost the same for me when the key plot point of a ten episode series was a freaking flying saucer.   

Well, I will not equate "Fargo" with some Stephen King potboiler, but after eight and three-quarters fantastic episodes, the flying saucer produced a big letdown for me.  The series finale last night wrapped things up with some poignant (Lou's return home to his wife and daughter) and ironic (Mike Milligan's "reward" at the Kansas City Mob headquarters) moments, and how can you not love Ed and Peggy, but for me Season Two ended with a whimper and not a bang.

So the answer to the question, Which Season Was Better?, is an easy one for me.  It was the stories of Molly Solverson, Lester Nygaard, and the wonderfully malevolent Lorne Malvo, as played by Billy Bob Thornton, in Season One.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

To Absent Friends - Elizabeth Wilson

When I viewed Turner Classic Movies year end tribute film about those movie luminaries who died in 2015 yesterday, I became aware of the death of actress Elizabeth Wilson this past May.  She was 94 years old, and I completely missed it when she passed away.

Elizabeth Wilson was a character actress who appeared in over 70 movies and TV shows, and won a Tony Award in 1972.  To me, however, she will be best remembered for this role:

Dustin Hoffman and Elizabeth Wilson (1921-2015)
"The Graduate" (1967)

Yes, Elizabeth played the mother of Benjamin Braddock in one of the great movies of all time, Mike Nichols' "The Graduate".

She also had character roles in such great movies as "Notorious", "Picnic", "The Birds", "Catch-22", and "Quiz Show".  Her last film role was playing Sarah Delano Roosevelt, FDR's mother, in the 2012 movie, "Hyde Park on Hudson" when she would have been 91 years old.

She may never have been a big star, but they can't make movies without actors like her.

RIP Elizabeth Wilson.

To Absent Friends - Wendy King, Marjorie Lord

Catching up.....

For as far back as I can remember as a little kid, I spent my nights in bed waiting to fall asleep listening to a radio show called "Party Line" on KDKA Radio.  The show ran from 1951 to 1971 and was hosted by a married couple named Ed and Wendy King.  Wendy King died earlier this week at the age of 92.

Ed and Wendy King

It is hard, if not impossible, to describe Party Line to someone who never heard it, or to someone who, when they hear the term "talk radio", know it only as it exists today. Party Line was, indeed, a talk show in that it took calls from listeners in the evening hours of 10:00 PM to Midnight, but you could not hear the callers.  You only heard Ed and Wendy repeat back what the caller was asking and attempting to answer.  If they didn't know the answer, then subsequent callers might phone in and answer the previous caller's inquiry.  And the types of questions!  No, there were no political rants about the buffoons in Washington, Harrisburg, or Grant Street, no calls for the heads of the Pirates general manager or the Steelers offensive coordinator.  You might get calls that wanted to know, say, the length of Squirrel Hill tunnels, or a good recipe for blueberry pie.

Sounds quaint and almost idiotic, but I can tell you this - I learned a lot of stuff listening to Party Line, some of it silly, but a lot of it interesting, and some of it important.  If you define "Americana" as "that which was and is no more", then Party Line was and remains a true piece of Pittsburgh-cana, if not Americana.  It is a show that has no place in world where Google exists, but I am certainly glad that I grew up listening to it.

The show went off the air in 1971 when Ed King, who was former radio newsman and an undeniably brilliant guy, died from cancer, and Wendy did not want to continue without him.  She went on to a career as a tour guide for West Penn Triple-A, and I can remember being impressed when in their retirement years, my parents took a trip to Italy with Wendy King as their tour guide.

RIP Wendy King, and sweet dreams.


It was announced earlier in the week that actress Marjorie Lord died in November at the age of 97.

Marjorie Lord

Marjorie Lord is best known for playing the wife of Danny Thomas on the sitcom "Make Room for Daddy", later named "The Danny Thomas Show", from 1957 to 1964.  IMDB lists 75 movie and television acting credits for her, the first being a movie in 1937, and the last a TV movie in 1988.  After the Thomas show left the air, her acting was sparse and confined to shows like The Love Boat and Fantasy Island, and she was I suppose, pretty much forgotten by the general public.

However, in reading her obit, I found, as one often does, a couple of interesting items.  One, is that she was the mother of actress Anne Archer (best known, perhaps, as the cuckolded wife of  Michael Douglas in "Fatal Attraction"), and, two, that while she may have been forgotten by the folks in the hinterlands, she spent much of her post-Thomas Show life as a philanthropist, she and her husband contributing generously to the Arts scene in Los Angeles and to the University of Southern California.  Good for her!

RIP Marjorie Lord.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Gibson, Flood...and Those Who Followed

I just finished reading this book by one of my baseball heroes, Bob Gibson.  The book is, as the title indicates, a pitch-by-pitch account of Gibson's performance in Game One of the 1968 World Series against the Detroit Tigers, a game in which Gibson shut out the Tigers 4-0 and set a still standing record of 17 strike outs in a World Series game.

As great as Gibson was, and as great as that game was, a pitch-by-pitch account of any game can become somewhat stultifying after a couple of innings worth of description ("with a 1-2 count on Freehan, I thought that a back door slider would be just the thing" get the idea).  Still, the book is worthwhile because it is, after all BOB GIBSON telling the story, and his comments about his teammates on the Cardinals, his Tigers opponents (like Denny McLain), and his contemporary players  (Koufax, Aaron, Stargell etc) are interesting and worth reading.

Gibson facing Norm Cash in Game One

I was particularly interested in Gibson's narrative about his teammate and roommate, Curt Flood.  He tells the story of Flood's refusal to accept a trade of him by the Cardinals to the Phillies after the 1969 season, the lawsuit that followed, the trip to the Supreme Court, Flood's checkered life that followed his baseball life, which included alcoholism, and death at age 59 from throat cancer (Jesse Jackson gave his eulogy).  

Let me let Gibson tell the story:

"Curt's story was tragic, in the personal sense, but it was also essential on a level that makes him both historic and heroic. It set the narrative for the punishing process that had to occur in the interest of progress. Somebody had to take the brunt of it.  Somebody, in effect, had to martyr himself, and Curt was the guy.  He fully understood the ramifications of what he was doing.

"The greater tragedy, to me, is that so many of the modern players who have benefited from Curt's sacrifice have no idea what he went through or even who he was.  The fact is, while Curt lost his case and his career and the life in which he'd flourished, the players who came after him won and won big."

I just wonder if the guys who struck it big in MLB this past week, guys like David Price, Zach Grienke, and, yes, even Neil Walker, will pause for a moment and give thanks to the memory of Curt Flood.

The Walker Deal

If you follow these things closely, the news of the trade by the Pirates of Neil Walker came as no surprise, but it was nevertheless jarring because of Walker's popularity with the fans, his overall skill level, and, of course, the fact that he was "The Pittsburgh Kid".  The deal, however, once again brought home the fact that baseball is, as are all professional sports, a business - on both sides of the negotiating table.

Bob Nutting and his fellow fraternity members in MLB are business owners who have every right to turn a profit and set and live within a budget.  We may not like it, but there you are.

Neil Walker and his fellow players are Hessians who have every right to seek the top dollar from whomever employs them.  The people who are now berating the Pirates for getting rid of Walker need to be aware that while the Pirates were working long term deals with Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Charlie Morton, they were also making offers to to do the same with Walker, and Walker said no, not once, but twice over the years.  That is his right, and he will now have the chance to seek a deal more to his liking from the Mets this year, or any other team in 2017 if he opts for free agency.  And I hope that he gets it.

Also, let's abandon the idea that the Pirates have somehow "betrayed" the fans by trading the local guy.  Neil Walker is going to a good team, the defending NL champion, and I doubt that he will feel bad in the least that he is not playing in his home town when he gets his money from the Mets.  Plus, outside of the Walker Family, I doubt that the Pirates sold a single extra ticket over these years because a kid from Pine-Richland was playing for them.

Okay, how about this deal from a baseball standpoint?  Well, there is no doubt that the Pirates need starting pitching to replace A.J. Burnett and J.A. Happ, and maybe, possibly (hopefully?) Jeff Locke.  Who knows at this point if Jonathon Niese fit the bill?  If he duplicates what Burnett did (9-7, 3.18) last year, will that be enough to make up for losing Walker?  On such things will Neal Huntington and the Pirates be judged come October 2016.

It can also be stated that with the loss of both Walker and Pedro Alvarez, the Pirates are a severely diminished team from the one that won 98 games last year.  With those players' departure, the Bucs are losing 43 home runs, 148 RBI, and 129 runs scored.  That ain't going to be easy to replace.  The good news, though, is that the Pirates don't have to play a single game until April, so there is time for Huntington to assemble new pieces to the Pirates puzzle.  Three years ago, I would have been railing at Huntington and the Pirates, over these moves, but the last three years have shown that NH can assemble good teams given the resources his bosses have given him, so I'll draw no conclusions until the final 25 guys head north from Bradenton at the end of March.

However, a final word on those resources that Huntington is given.  One has to wonder if the Pirates will EVER make the one big move that will put them over the top and make them truly elite.  Last year, the Nationals GM Mike Rizzo had to go to his ownership to see if they would swallow hard and make the move to sign Max Scherzer.  They did, and Scherzer performed up to expectations, even though the Nats did not.  This winter, the Diamondbacks did the same thing in signing Zach Grienke, and who knows how that will work out for them.  Will the Pirates EVER do something like that?

Sadly, I'm afraid that we all know the answer to that question.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

College Football Thoughts

Some thoughts on the college football scene.....

  • So it has come down to Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State, and Oklahoma.  After all the strum und drag that greeted the rankings each week, it seems to me that the Condoleezza Rice Committee got it right.  The titans of the Big Ten played each other to determine one entry, Alabama won the SEC, and Clemson remained undefeated.  the only question might be Oklahoma, whose conference has no championship play-in game, but they survived the cannibalism of the Big 12.  No problems with any of these.
  • The only real drama that would have occurred would have been had North Carolina defeated Clemson in the ACC title game.  What would the Condoleezza Committee have then done with a 11-1 UNC team that had defeated an undefeated and number one ranked team?  We'll never know.
  • I spent much of last night with the clicker switching among Clemson-UNC, Iowa-Michigan State, and Stanford-USC.   These are my thoughts on those games:
    1. I have developed a big dislike for Dabo Swinney.  Yes, his punter made a dumb mistake, but Swinney's over the top and completely immature reaction to it put him squarely in the College Coaches Who are Easy to Dislike Club.  It is a very large Club, but he way.  All I can say now is, Go Oklahoma!
    2. The final drive by Michigan State to win that game in the Big Ten was heroic, as was the goal line stand that Iowa put up that almost, but not quite, stopped the Spartans.  Fabulous finish.
    3. The Pac-12 Championship game between USC and Stanford had no impact on the Playoff considerations, but it allowed me to watch a very good Stanford team for the second week in a row. While each of the four teams in the playoffs will be facing worthy opponents, I am sure there is a thought somewhere in the minds of those four coaches that says, "well, at least we don't have to play Stanford."
    4. I am not sure what kind of pro potential Stanford's Kevin Hogan or Christian McCaffrey have, but, man, they are really terrific college players.  
  • Both semi-final match-ups on New Years Eve look like they will be good games to watch, although it will be hard to top the theater that those Semi's were last year.
  • As I sit here now, I am putting my rooting interests in the green and white of Michigan State.  I mean, who wants to root for Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney?  
  • However, if I were to place a bet on it, I'd say that it will be those two surly guys on the sidelines in the Championship game, but I will save my official predictions for later.
  • We also now await to see what Pitt's bowl fate will be.  As there was last year, some people are speculating as to the possibility of a Pinstripe Bowl match-up between Pitt and Penn State.  That would be fun, and it might make a lot of sense to make such a match-up, which is probably why it will never happen.
  • Final question.  Should Clemson manage to win the whole ball of wax, will there be an entire generation of young men in South Carolina coming of age twenty or so years from now named "Dabo"?  One shudders at the thought.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Farewell to Pedro Alvarez

Last night the Pirates made official what close followers of the Bucs have long suspected so it should have come as no surprise when they "non-tendered" Pedro Alvarez, effectively ending his career as a Pittsburgh Pirate.  I knew that this day was coming, and I know that The Grandstander would be writing a farewell post, but where do you begin and what do you say?

I started by typing "pedro alvarez" into the search box of this blog, and I was stunned to see how many posts I had written on Pedro Alvarez.  I'm not about to count words, but there can't be many other people in any field that have had more written about him on this blog over the past six years than Pedro Alvarez.  I have been following the Pittsburgh sports scene since 1959, and I cannot recall any sports figure who has been more of a lightning rod, pro and con, than has Pedro Alvarez.  (The only ones who I can think of who come remotely close might be Dave Parker after he signed that million dollar contract and Kordell Stewart.) Part of this is no doubt attributable to the Social Media Age in which we live, when any one with access to a keyboard - ahem - can voice an opinion.

So, what do I say about Pedro now that the final spiked shoe has dropped?  How about I just rehash some of those thousands of words that I have already written.

How about this from May 11, 2015:

And then there is Pedro Alvarez.  He seems to be handling the move to first base reasonably well, defensively. (Oops, I don't have that one right, did I?) His offensive numbers, however, sit at .217 with 5 HR, 14 RBI, and a.753 OPS.  Oh, and 27 K's in 92 at bats.  Alvarez has now accumulated over 2,100 at bats in the major leagues.  We can probably draw some conclusions.  He's going to hit 25-30 HR's in a season, drive in about 90 runs, hit about .235, and strike out 180 or so times.  He will make our jaws drop with some of the blasts that he will hit, and he will drive us totally nuts when he looks completely impotent at the plate swinging and missing while striking out in key situations.  Love him or hate him, what we have seen is what he is.

(He finished 2015 at .243 BA with 27 HR, 77 RBI, and 131 K).

Obviously, the Pirates had concluded that this just wasn't good enough, certainly not at the $8 million salary that Pedro would command in arbitration this year, and neither did any other major league teams who all turned deaf to any trade discussions concerning Alvarez.

Then there was this comment from this past October 8, 2015:

What we all saw last night was surely Pedro's last appearance in a Pirate  uniform.  How he was used by the Pirates this season made it apparent that the team had  lost their patience with such a one dimensional player, and the decision to not start him yesterday surly reinforced that notion.  I have always been a Pedro backer.  Many times over these last six seasons, and as recently as just this past Sunday afternoon, I have been in awe of how far he can hit a baseball.  Last night, however,  truly encapsulated the Conundrum that is Pedro Alvarez:  Over the course of 162 games, he will hit a lot of home runs, but when it comes down to any one specific game, he is far more likely to do what he did last night - strike out three times - than he is to launch one on the river walk.

I also throw in these two links on Pedro posts that addressed both his propensity to strike out and his production, offensively and defensively, to another past Pirate first baseman.

From May 16, 2013:

And from September 25, 2015:

Some other random thoughts on Pedro Alvarez....

  • We all remember that Pedro was a first round draft choice int he 2008 entry draft, the second overall pick in that draft.  Who went ahead of him? It was pitcher Tim Beckham to the Rays.  Beckham never panned out.
  • I am told by someone in the know that the discussions within the Pirates brain trust as to who to draft with that pick centered on three players: Alvarez, Buster Posey, and Eric Hosmer.  Hosmer went with the third pick to the Royals, and the Giants took Posey with the fifth pick.
  • The 18th pick in that draft by the way, was Ike Davis by the Mets, and with the 28th pick, the Yankees selected high school pitcher Gerrit Cole, who, fortunately, chose to enroll at UCLA instead.
The final career stats for Alvarez as a Pirate:
  • 2,784 plate appearances
  • 2,500 at bats
  • 590 hits
  • .236 batting average
  • 131 HR
  • 401 RBI
  • 809 K
  • 259 BB
  • .750 OPS
Averaged out over 162 games, Pedro the Pirate produced 29 HR, 88 RBI, 177 K, and 57 BB.

I have, mercifully, not included any of Alvarez' woeful defensive metrics.

Personally, I am sorry to see Pedro leave, but it became apparent as the season wore on, and as the lineup card was made for the Wild Card game, that it was time for both the Pirates and Alvarez to turn the page and move on.  Surely, the Pirates will have a difficult, if not impossible, time replacing those 29 HR's per season.  They will no doubt improve defensively with anybody playing first base, but will they be a better team without him?  That is an impossible question to answer until Neal Huntington assembles all of the pieces that will comprise the 2016 Pirates.

By all appearances, Alvarez was a good guy and a good teammate.  He certainly never caused any problems within the clubhouse or with the public. I hope that he succeeds mightily wherever he may end up. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Last Call for Legends

Recent days have proved to be a pretty tough time  for some sporting legends, three guys who, it can be argued, were among the very best to ever have played their particular sport.

Let's take them alphabetically.

Kobe Bryant has announce that he will be retiring at the end of this current NBA season.  Recent years have not been kind to Bryant.  Injuries have caused him to miss large parts of the past two seasons.  He returned in good health for this season, only to find that the skills that make him an NBA MVP, and NBA and an Olympic champion have deserted him.  He currently sports a shooting percentage in the neighborhood of thirty percent, and is causing many to compare him to Willie Mays as a New York Met.  Others are saying that he should retire NOW, immediately, and not drag out this final season as a shadow of his former, great self.  He has chosen to do otherwise, and I suppose that it can be argued that for all Bryant has done for the Lakers and the NBA, he has earned the right to go out on whatever terms he chooses.  So bring on the league-wide Farewell Tour.  It will be the last chance to see a guy who surely ranks among the Top Ten greatest players of all time.

My own personal memory of Bryant:  Setting the alarm clock for 2:00 AM on a Sunday morning in 2008 to watch the Gold Medal game of the Beijing Olympics live between the USA and Spain.  The Spanish team put up a good game against the favored Americans, but in the second half, it was Kobe Bryant who took control of the game and secured the Gold Medal for the USA.

Three weeks ago, Peyton Manning completed a pass in a game that enabled him to establish the all time NFL record for passing yards.  In that same game, he also threw four interceptions, injured his foot, and was benched in favor of Brock Osweiler.   Manning has not appeared in a game since, Osweiler has led the Broncos to two wins, and it now becomes a real possibility that we have seen the last of Peyton Manning as a Bronco, if not as an NFL quarterback.  

No one should ever question that Manning is among the very greatest of quarterbacks to ever have played, despite that somewhat lackluster post-season record.  To think that his final appearance in an NFL game may be that four interception game of a few weeks back is sad to ponder, and does bring back that image of Willie Mays falling down in the batters box as a Met in the 1973 World Series.

The final bomb to drop was the announcement yesterday by Tiger Woods that he has not begun any strenuous rehab from his recent back surgery (his third such surgery in recent years), that he has no plans or thought as to when he will resume golf activities at all, much less competing on the PGA Tour.  In fact, Woods has said that anything that might happen for him on the golf course, including winning any tournament would have to be considered "gravy" at this point in his life.

Even though many observers felt that Woods' days as a dominant golfer were behind him, the thought that we may never see him seriously competing again is shocking to think about.  Jack Nicklaus once said that he would never become a "ceremonial golfer", and for the most part, Jack kept to that.  I can't imagine that Woods will ever slip into that role either.

Woods is 39 years old, will turn 40 later this month, Manning is 39, and Bryant is 37.  As Charles Barkley has so eloquently put it, "Father Time is undefeated", and as Shaquille O'Neal put it "Thirty-nine.  It ain't twenty-nine, Bro."  These are facts that came jarringly home to roost in these last few weeks in the cases of Kobe Bryant, Peyton Manning, and Tiger Woods.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

"Grady Gets Glasses"

Were you like me, were you the first kid in your classroom at school to have to get eyeglasses?  (It happened to me when I was in third grade.) Or maybe one of your kids had to get glasses at an early age.  If so, then this new children's book, "Grady Gets Glasses" might be right your and your children's alley.

One of our neighbors, Dede Rittman, is a retired teacher from the North Allegheny School District, and she has just had her first children's book published, a nifty little story about Grady, a bunny who has to wear glasses.  The book is beautifully illustrated by one of Dede's former students from NA, Lauren Givens Wood.

Why a bunny?  Well, I will let Dede explain all of that to you on her website,  The book will be available in stores and at Amazon after the first of the year, I believe, but you can order copies now directly from Dede via the website.  

Ms. Rittman has promised that there will be more Grady stories coming in the future, including one where Grady plays golf. I can't wait to read that one!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Discovering (and Supporting) a New Artist

At this time I would like to introduce you to Sean Millroy and Itanza Saraz, who perform together under the name Sle (pronounced "slay"; the letter e has one of those ' over it, but I cannot make my keyboard do that).  Sean is the son of Kathy Millroy, a friend and fellow volunteer at the Highmark Caring Place.  Sean is a graduate of Seneca Valley High School and Belmont University in Tennessee.

Sle has just released an EP collection of songs called "Autumn Cadence" that I believe is worth your effort to hear.  The five songs in the collection were co-written by Sean and Ms. Saraz.  Itanza does the vocals on the songs, and Sean played the guitar and other instruments.  The songs are a kind of blend of blues and jazz, and make very nice listening.

You can listen to Autumn Cadence by clicking on the following link:

You can support Sle and download Autumn Cadence into you own personal music library by accessing this link:

The site allows you to make a contribution to Sle in any amount that you wish.  Think of it as virtual tip jar.

I met Sean one night last week, and I learned a bit about how the music business operates in the 21st century.   No more do up and coming artists seek the means to make a record and have a label produce and market an album for them, and yes, I still use such arcane terms as "record" and "album".  In this case, Sean and Itanza were able to produce and record their songs and release them as MP3 files via the Internet.

As a friend of  mine often says, someone is join got be the next great doctor or the next great judge or the next great film director or the next great singer/songwriter. Someone is going to do those things, and who is to say that next great singing duo won't be Sle?  I would urge you to click on the above links and listen to the music, and then consider offering your support to them.  

Who knows, ten or fifteen years from now, you may see Sean and Itanza collecting a Grammy Award on television, and you will be able to say that you were there on the ground floor when they were just starting out.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Movie Review: "Spotlight"

Few movies have had more buzz prior to its release as has "Spotlight".  Critics have been fairly unanimous in their praise, and it is a dead certain cinch to be nominated for a passel of Academy Awards, and may well be the odds on favorite for the Best Picture of the Year.  It has also been called the best movie EVER about the newspaper business, something that might be hard for fans of "All the President's Men" to accept.  In fact, so much has been made about that opinion, that I had cause to wonder, "Do newspaper critics love this movie because it is a great movie, or do they love it because it is a great movie about newspapers?"

The movie takes place in 2001-02 when the special investigative reporting team of the Boston Globe undertakes an investigation into the sexual abuse scandals that were occurring over a period of decades in the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.  Specifically, the investigation's focus centered on the institutional cover up by the Archdiocese and the legal community in Boston.

The subject matter is such that I suspect that many people will choose not to see this movie.  Fine.  However, it needs to be noted that this, tragically, is a true story.  These events really did take place.  

That aside, is this a good movie?  It absolutely is.  It depicts the work that goes into reporters cultivating sources, digging for the facts, hitting dead ends, wearing out shoe leather, and making sure that the story gets told and told correctly.  It is a thriller, and the very nature of the story is such that you are moved and deeply affected by the story.  As a piece of motion picture art, this is a terrific movie.  Any awards that this movie garners in the awards season ahead will be well deserved.

Directed by Tom McCarthy, who co-wrote the script with Josh Singer, "Spotlight" includes a terrific ensemble cast....Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, and Stanley Tucci.  Not sure if any one actor will dominate the Oscars.  Surely Ruffalo and Keaton will receive acting nominations, and I wouldn't be upset if Tucci received one either.  The Oscars do not have an award for Best Ensemble Cast (as the Screen Actors Guild does), but if it did, the "Spotlight" would be a cinch for it.

Lots of good lines in this movie, but the one that was a real grabber to me was "If it takes a village to raise a child, then it also takes a village to abuse one."

Four stars all the way for this one.