Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Kang Konundrum

It is a measure as to how far the Pirates have come in the last three seasons that the biggest story out of what has been a pretty bland Spring Training has been the fact that Andrew McCutchen has cut his trademark dreadlocks.

However, the second biggest story has involved the guy pictured to the left, Korean Baseball Organization superstar Jung Ho Kang, in whom the Pirates have invested about eleven million dollars.

Kang started great getting two hits, including a home run, it the Bucs first exhibition game.  Since then, however, not much good has happened.  In thirteen games, Kang has all of four hits in 31 at bats (.129) and has struck out twelve times.  So, what are the Pirates to do?  By all indications, Kang is coming north with the team as part of the twenty-five man roster.  Many critics feel that Kang should start in Triple-A in Indianapolis (not In The Annapolis, by the way) to accustom himself to American pitching. The fact that this will not happen, the critics say, is the Pirates Front Office making a roster move to strictly avoid embarrassing themselves over what is CLEARLY a dumbass signing (sarcasm intended) on their part.

At this point, Kang will be the twenty-fifth guy on the roster, and as I have stated on many occasions over the years, getting in an uproar over who will be the last man on the roster is a colossal waste of energy.  At this point, the guy is going to be used as pinch hitter and may play one day a week when Mercer or Walker need a rest.  And what was the alternative?  Steve Lombardozzi (who has already been sent down and will start the season at Indy)? After four years in the majors, Lombardozzi is pretty much a known quantity - a .250-ish hitting utility infielder, a perfect 25th man.  Kang, on the other hand, has, to use a Neal Huntington expression, does have a much greater upside, so I say that keeping Kang is not only the right decision from a business standpoint (that $11 million dollars!), but from a baseball standpoint as well.  And unlike the perceptions that many of us, including me, have had over the twenty year losing streak, I am confident that if it becomes obvious that Kang is not going to work - and you don't make that decision based on 31 at bats - the team will do what is necessary in the pursuit of a pennant  to assure that the best twenty-five guys are on the team.

By the way, if you place any stock in Spring Training statistics, and if you think that at least part of the Kang signing was going to send a message to Jordy Mercer, it seems to have worked.  In forty-two at bats, Mercer is hitting .333 with two home runs and an .878 OPS.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

"Rear Window" On The Big Screen

What a treat we had last night at the Cinemark North movie theater.  Thanks to the folks at Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events, we were able to see one of our favorite movies,

as it was "meant to be seen", on  a big screen in a movie theater.

Now we have seen this movie literally dozens of times over the years, but never, not once, on a big screen, and let me tell you, as nice as DVDs Blue Ray discs, and big flat screen HD televisions are, there is nothing quite like seeing a movie on the big screen.

The images are bigger (of course), the colors are brighter, and the details are so much clearer.  For example, as many times as we have seen this, I swear that we never noticed the apartment dwellers to the upper right of James Stewart's view that had the little girl.  Also, all of the people that appeared in the background walking on the street that fronted the apartment building across the courtyard, seemed more vivid and noticeable.  

If you don't know the story of "Rear Window", James Stewart played L.B. Jeffries, a news photographer who, as a result of a severely broken leg, is confined to a wheelchair in his small New York City apartment.  With no TV to distract him, he spends his time observing his neighbors across the courtyard from his rear window view.  Most of it is pretty boring stuff -  a chorus girl practices her dance moves and fights off ardent suitors, a lady does strange sculpture, a song writer struggles to come up with the right tune, a newlywed couple, a salesman with an invalid wife, and a lonely spinster.  All pretty mundane stuff, until Stewart suspects that something strange just may be going on in that salesman's apartment directly across the courtyard.

Stewart has a hard time convincing his girlfriend, played by Grace Kelly, and his homicide detective friend, played by Wendell Corey, that what he thinks happened actually happened, and how it all plays out makes this one of Alfred Hitchcock's most suspenseful movies, and, personally speaking, my favorite Hitchcock movie.  Also of note in this movie were the performances of Raymond Burr as the salesman and Thelma Ritter as Stewart's wisecracking visiting nurse.

The screenplay by John Michael Hayes, based upon a short story by Cornell Woolrich, makes lots of interesting observations on the nature of "rear window ethics" and the very private nature of what goes on behind the closed doors of your neighbors that make this a thought provoking movie on several levels.

"Rear Window" was released in 1954, and was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Hitchcock for Director and Hayes for Screenplay.  It didn't win any Oscars, but that takes nothing away from this movie.  If you've never seen it, you're missing out on a terrific thriller of a movie.  Also, try to seek out the Woolrich story upon which this movie is based.  Depending on your definition, it is either a long short story or a short novel.  It has been anthologized often and is not hard to find.  Woolrich wrote it under the pseudonym of "William Irish" so you may have to search out that name to find it.

Last night's screening also included filmed introductory and closing comments from TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, which added to the enjoyment of the movie.  I hope that TCM and Fathom continue to do screenings like this in the future.  It really is a treat to see these movies in a real movie theater.

Finally, a word about Grace Kelly.  Really, has there ever been a more beautiful actress to grace the screens of Hollywood?  She would certainly be in the Top Five of any such discussion. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

To Absent Friends - Chuck Bednarik

Pro Football Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik died this past week at the age of 89.

Bednarik spent his entire pro career with the Philadelphia Eagles, and is remembered as the last of the "sixty minute men", a guy who played on both offense and defense for an entire game.  

In the 1960 NFL Championship game, Bednarik played 58 minutes, on offense and defense, and with time running out, Bednarik tackled Jim Taylor as he was headed to the end zone for what would have been the winning touchdown.  This preserved the win and the championship for the Eagles, and it was the only post season game that a Vince Lombardi coached team ever lost.

Bednarik is also remembered for one particular hit that he made on Frank Gifford in a key game against the Giants in that 1960 Championship season.  Gifford was knocked unconscious on the play and missed not only the rest of the 1960 season, but all of the 1961 season as well.  This picture taken right after the play...

...made it seem that Bednarik was celebrating the injury, when, in fact, he was not.  Gifford, himself, and most of his Giants teammates absolved Bednarik of any type of "cheap shot" antics after the play, but the picture remains one of the most famous ones in football history, typifying the toughness of an era long gone.

Sympathies to all you Eagles fans who may be reading this, and RIP Chuck Bednarik.

A Haircut, Basketball, A New Book, the NFL, a Big Bang, and Other Topics

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

  • Well, the BIG NEWS out of Spring Training arrived via social media at Noon today: Andrew McCutchen cut he dreads!!! He looks good:
  • Is there a more fun sports weekend than the opening weekend of the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament?  We spent all of Thursday watching games deep into the night.  On Friday I met up with friends Fred, John, and Len and others at the Tilted Kilt and watched games all afternoon.  Lots of TV time on Saturday and Sunday watching the field of 64 being winnowed to 16.  I do regret not having had the foresight to get tickets for the Opening Round games that were held at the Consol.  I have great memories of seeing those same games at the Arena in 1997 and 2002.
  • On the downside, watching all those games means seeing commercials - the same commercials - time after time.  We can argue all day as to which are the best and which are the worst ones.    My own nominations....Best - The AT&T commercials with Shaquille O'Neal, Clyde Drexler, Julius Irving, and Christian Laettner.  The Worst (and no other is even close) - The trailer for that movie with Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart, a movie that shows promise of being one of the worst movies scheduled for release in 2015.
  • I was dubious when the NCAA announced a few years ago that all opening round games would be telecast on CBS, TBS, TNT, and TruTV, but it has turned out to be utterly fantastic.  The way they show the scores of other games, and the network on which it is being televised, thus enabling you to switch to another game, is the most viewer friendly thing on television.
  • That said, isn't it amazing how four games being played simultaneously can all manage to be in a commercial break at the same time?
  • As great as watching all these games is, I have to say that the endless cycle of foul-time out-free throw-time out-foul and on and on is extremely tedious.  I know that it has become an intricate part of the strategy of the college game, but surely there has to be a better way.
  • A special shout out to my SABR and Facebook Friend Susan Petrone of Cleveland.  On Tuesday, her novel, "Throw Like a Woman" was officially released.  I have already downloaded it on my Kindle, and it will be the next book that I read.  Good luck, Susan!
  • I know that we are very late to this particular party, but Marilyn and I, throughout he magic of syndication and reruns, have become completely hooked on "The Big Bang Theory".  We are far from caught up on all of the adventures of Sheldon, Leonard, Penny and the rest of the gang, but there is seldom an episode that we watch where we have not laughed out loud throughout the show.  Truly one of the funniest sitcoms ever.
  • Did you notice that NFL has announced that one of the games that will be played in London next season, between Buffalo and Jacksonville, will start at 9:30 eastern time and will not be broadcast in network television.  Instead, it will be streamed over some yet-to-be announced Internet streaming service.  This is the first shot across the bow, folks. If the money is there from some Internet giant like Netflicks, Google, or Amazon, and it will be, be prepared for one day seeing the Super Bowl through your computer, telephone, or Apple Watch.
  • Speaking of SABR, the Pittsburgh Chapter's next meeting will be on April 25, and I have already put together a presentation for that meeting.  It's been a while since I have done a presentation, and I am looking forward to it.  Makes you want to show up, doesn't it?

Monday, March 16, 2015

"Dead Wake, The Last Crossing of the Lusitania" by Erik Larson

May 7 of this year will mark the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the British passenger liner Lusitania by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland.  Erik Larson has written this book to tie in with that century anniversary.  I saw this book reviewed in the Post-Gazette last week, and it also popped up on my daily email from Amazon.  I had read three other of Larson's books (The Devil in the White City, Thunderstruck, and In the Garden of Beasts).  His books are all well researched, and he is a terrific writer when he tells his stories, so I was all over this one.  I finished reading it in two days.

I confess to having known very little of the story of the sinking of the Lusitania.  I knew it happened.  I knew it had something to do with drawing the United States into World War I, but I knew very little of the event itself.

Larson tells the story almost cinematic fashion (if done right, this would make one terrific movie).  Alternating chapters take place aboard the Lusitania as it leaves New York and crosses the Atlantic, headed for Liverpool, aboard the German  Unterseeboot-20, or U-20, as it leaves it's base in Germany to patrol the North Atlantic and the Irish Sea, and it also intersperses chapters in London's Admiralty office, and Washington DC, where the widowed President Woodrow Wilson was juggling to keep the USA neutral while the rest of the world was at war and was also falling madly in love while courting Washington widow Edith Galt.

The central characters of the story are Lusitania Captain William Turner and U-20 Captain Walther Schwieger.  Throw in the passengers aboard the Lusitania, and the research that Larson had to have done to tell their stories is staggering to imagine, Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill, several British Intelligence operatives, and you've got one fascinating book.

One torpedo hit the Lusitania that May 7 morning 100 years ago, and eighteen minutes later, the ship was gone.  Twelve hundred people died, seven hundred survived.

Of course, there are questions that still exist as to why the Lusitania was struck.  Where were the Royal Navel escort ships that were supposed to escort passenger ships?  British navel intelligence was well aware of the presence of U-20 in those waters at that time, why wasn't the Lusitania better warned and protected?  And why did officials the British government, led by no less than Lord of the Admiralty Churchill himself, so zealously seeking to affix blame on Captain Turner?

It's a great story, a very sad story, and a terrific book.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The NCAA Tournament Selections

Some quick comments after watching the NCAA Tournament Selection Show:

  • I think Seth Davis mentioned 19 schools who will advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
  • According to Doug Gottlieb, there are about a dozen teams in the field who shouldn't be there.  Really?
  • One of the guys, not sure if it was Davis or Gottlieb, and can you really tell them apart, said that in the Opening Round Arizona will be playing a "virtual home game" - in Portland, Oregon!  C'MON MAN!
  • Clark Kellog mentioned several teams who can "score the basketball".  Good to know that they aren't playing their games with baseballs or golf balls.
  • I miss the days of Billy Packer bitching and moaning that not every single ACC team made the tournament.
Robert Morris gets a play-in game in Dayton.  Not surprising.  Need to get past the Opreys of Northern Florida for the chance to upset the Dookies.

Let's Go Colonials!!!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Jimmy Brandt and His Big Break

The Valspar Open is being played this week at the Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, FL on the PGA Tour.  This is also the event in which Jimmy Brandt, 

the winner of Golf Channel's "Big Break Myrtle Beach" last year got his chance to tee it up with the Big Boys with a free entrance into this tournament.

The results were all too predictable.  In a field of 144 golfers, Jimmy finished at eight over par and tied for 127th place.  He was 14 strokes behind second round leader Brandon De Jonge who is in at -6.  Needless to say, he failed to make the cut.

I don't mean to make light of this, because young Jimmy Brandt is no doubt a better golfer than anybody that I know, but there is being a good golfer, and then there is being a golfer good enough to compete on the PGA Tour, and to say that there is a world of difference between those two options is putting it mildly.

Back in December, when "Big Break Myrtle Beach" concluded, I wrote the following on The Grandstander:

In that championship match, Brandt defeated Peterson on the seventeenth hole, 3 and 1. It was a ragged match that at times it was a match that neither guy seemed to want to win.  Winner Jimmy defied golf's oldest cliche that you "putt for dough" by butchering almost every opportunity he had with the flat stick.  Still, he prevailed, and in addition to his cash and prizes, his Big Break will come in the form of an entry into the PGA Tour's Valspar Open which will be contested March 12-15 this coming season.

I will be tracking and reporting on Jimmy's performance in that event, but I will predict now that, based on how he performed on BBMB, he not only will not make the cut, he will be in the bottom five of those "missed cut" players.  For his sake, I hope I'm wrong because he seems like a nice kid, but professional tournament golf is the ultimate meritocracy, and I fear that a cruel fate awaits the young man.

Okay, so he didn't finish in the bottom five (eleven golfers, including John Daly, posted scores higher than +8), but I can still say that I believe I had that.

Brandt came across as a nice young kid on Big Break, and I hope that he can overcome this and make a go of it on the Tour, but he's got a ways to go.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Old Movie Review - "Airport" (1970)

Last night we watched, don't ask me what made me DVR this one, the 1970 movie "Airport", which was a big blockbuster movie that was based on Arthur Hailey blockbuster novel from the late 1960's.  This movie had a huge cast of stars - Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, George Kennedy, Helen Hayes (who won an Oscar for this one), Jean Seberg, Jacqueline Bisset, Maureen Stapleton and on and on.   I think that I saw this when it was released, but I have not seen it since, and man, am I glad I watched.  It was so wonderfully cliched and cheesy, that you just have to love this movie.  And it was played straight by such terrific actors like Lancaster, Martin, and Kennedy.  I wonder what they were thinking when they were making this one.

There was so much overwrought dialog that I don't even know where to begin, but I will just give you one sample.  This is a scene involving Kennedy as the ace airport maintenance guy, Joe Patroni,  as he attempts to get a stuck-in-the-snow airplane off of a runway in order that the crippled incoming jet piloted by Martin can land, and thus save the lives of all on board (hey, I told you it was cliched):

Mel Bakersfeld: Joe, this is Mel. There's no more time. Stop all engines and get out. Repeat. Stop all engines. 
Cockpit qualified young man: Mr. Patroni, she won't take much more. 
Joe Patroni: Well anyway, she's gonna get it. 
Mel Bakersfeld: Joe, the plows are moving. Shut down and hold on! Joe Patroni! Do you read me? Acknowledge! 
Mel Bakersfeld: Joe! Shut down! 
Cockpit qualified young man: Mr. Patroni? Don't you hear him? Shut down. 
Joe Patroni: I can't hear a thing. There's too much noise. Hold on. We're GOIN FOR BROKE! 
Cockpit qualified young man: [after the plane gets out of the ditch] The instruction book said that was impossible. 
Joe Patroni: That's one nice thing about the 707. It can do everything BUT read. 
[throws his chewed and soggy cigar over his shoulder]

Really now, does it get any better than that?  I don't think so.

"Airport" was obviously a huge success, because it went on to spawn not one, not two, but THREE sequels.  I don't believe I saw any of them, but I just may have to search them out.

One thing that seeing "Airport" does is that it reinforces the sheer brilliance of this 1980 movie...

...which satirized "Airport" and played it for laughs with such brilliant performances from Robert Hays, Julie Haggerty, Leslie Nielsen, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Peter Graves, and especially Lloyd Bridges.  I just may have to pull that one out and watch it today.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Murder at the Dog Show

Many thanks to friend Kaye Mushrow Peltier, the Official New England Correspondent to The Grandstander, for tipping me off to this story about hinky doings on the Dog Show Circuit involving this lovable looking pooch.

This Irish Setter's registered name is Thendara Satisfaction, but is much better known as Jagger.  As Jagger is from Great Britain, I am guessing that this name is a bow to another well known Englishman, Mick, but I digress.

In any event,  three year old Jagger was competing in the prestigious Crufts Dog Show in Birmingham, England.  The Crufts, from what I am able to discern, is THE dog show in England, comparable to the Westminster Kennel Club Show in New York City.  Anyway, during the course of the show, Jagger turned up dead.  An autopsy performed on Jagger showed that he had been fed poisoned meat.  Jagger had been murdered, presumably by the owners of competing dogs.

Authorities are investigating.

You expect to read about something like this in the ultra-cutthroat world of American youth sports (remember that story about the Mom who put out a hit on competing kid in a cheer leading competition a few years back? They made a TV movie about it), but at a Dog Show!  And in the home country of Lord Grantham, who so loved his unfortunately named dog, no less?

It would be easy to make a lot of "Best In Show" type jokes about this, but it really is a pretty awful story.

RIP Jagger.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Classic Movie - "All About Eve" (1950)

Until yesterday, I had never seen what everyone considers a classic, "All About Eve".

The movie won six Oscars in 1950, including Best Picture, and starred Bette Davis as Broadway star Margo Channing and Anne Baxter as the title character, the scheming Eve Harrington.  Eve presents herself to Margo as her biggest fan, ingratiates herself to Margo and her entourage and becomes a kind of personal assistant to her.  Eve then plots and schemes to undermine Margo at every turn in order to become a star herself.

"All About Eve" was nominated for fourteen Academy Awards, winning six of them, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (George Sanders) and Best Director and Best Screenplay (Joseph L. Mankiewicz).  Among it's nominations were both Bette Davis and Anne Baxter for Best Actress and Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter for Best Supporting Actress.  Also featured was a young Marilyn Monroe, who appeared briefly as an aspiring actress.

1950 was quite a year for movies.  Going up against "All About Eve" for Best Picture that year was the Billy Wilder's classic "Sunset Boulevard".  Talk about a heavyweight championship bout!  Gloria Swanson was nominated for Best Actress that year as well, and it has been long thought that the classic portrayals of Margo Channing and Norma Desmond by Davis and Swanson cancelled each other put and allowed Judy Holliday to win the Oscar for her performance in "Born Yesterday".   The Best Actor award was won by Jose Ferrer for "Cyrano de Bergerac" against a field that also included William Holden, James Stewart, and Spencer Tracy.

Perhaps the best part of this movie was the script.  Lots of great quotes and long pieces of dialog for each of the characters, especially Bette Davis, who was really terrific playing the Broadway grande dame who was fearing that her star was in its descent and that she might be pushed out by someone younger.  In that regard, Margo Channing had much in common with Norma Desmond (although Margo wasn't flat out nuts).

One of the thrusts of this movie was comparing the milieu of Broadway to Hollywood, and in that regard, it has something in common with this past year's Oscar winner, "Birdman".  I suspect, however, that people will continue to watch "All About Eve" long after they have stopped watching "Birdman".

As I said, there is lots and lots of terrific dialog in this movie, but its most famous line is this quote from Davis/Channing:

"All About Eve" is a movie you definitely want to see.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Future Pirates Pitching Rotation

In the not too distant future, the Pirates starting pitching rotation could include these four guys (age is as of Opening Day, 2015):

Gerrit Cole, 24, 6'4", 240 lbs.

Nick Kingham, 23, 6'5", 220

Jameson Taillon, 23, 6'5", 245

Tyler Glasnow, 22, 6'8", 225

Now will that be an imposing rotation to roll out against opponents or what?

Of course, only one of these guys has proven that he can pitch in the majors so far, so we can only hope that Kingham, Taillon, and Glasnow will live up to the promise that they have shown in the bushes so, but it sure is fun to imagine the possibilities of what the future may hold, isn't it?

An Observation

While attending the musical production at North Allegheny High School this past weekend, I noticed that there were posters in the Men's Rooms (and the Women's Rooms as well, as confirmed by Mrs. Grandstander) that urged students to make use of their school guidance office and the school counselors if you, a student, were experiencing or involved in any of the following:

  • Having thoughts of suicide
  • Alcohol or drug addiction
  • Experiencing physical, mental, or sexual abuse at home, church, or school
  • Unplanned pregnancy
I would be naive and foolish to state that these conditions did not exist back when I was a high school student, but they sure were not talked about like this, and I salute NA, and, presumably, all school districts for being open about these topics and making sure that students know that help is available to them.

It also makes me realize that being a parent has to be one of the hardest jobs in the world.  God bless all of you parents out there.

"42nd Street" at North Allegheny High School

This past Friday evening we partook in what has become an annual event for us - the annual North Allegheny High School musical.  This year it was an old Broadway war horse, "42nd Street", and what a wonderful treat it was.

We have been attending the NA musicals for the better part of ten years and every time we walk out we always say, "this was the best one yet".  I also repeat what I always say after one of these, and that is, if you ever worry about the state of the world and "all these kids today", just go to a high school musical, any high school musical.  Your spirits will be lifted immensely from watching the energy, the energy, and the performances these 14-18 year old kids.

"42nd Street" was no exception, and we particularly enjoyed this one because four of the principal leads, two male and two females, were members of St. John Neumann, our home parish.  Well done Margot, Elizabeth, John, and  Mark, as well as ALL of the kids involved - actors, orchestra, and crew.

We also felt a kinship with this play because one our friends and fellow Caring Place volunteer, Andrea Jaecks, an art teacher in the NA school district, served as the choreographer for this play (as she has for the last several years).  Andrea had told us that probably 3/4 of the cast had never tap danced before, but if you saw this play, and saw those 40 or so kids up there on stage tap dancing their hearts out, you would have never known it. So while this play was all about the kids, and rightly so, I also want to send out special props to our friend Andrea.  You did a terrific job, Mrs, Jaecks!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Pirates Are On TV Today!

It has occurred to me that The Grandstander has been somewhat silent on the subject of the Pirates this off season, an off season in which the Pirates, I believe, did fairly well for themselves.  Well, as the headline mentions, the Bucs' opening Grapefruit League game this afternoon against the Blue Jays will be televised on the MLB Network today, so I suppose it's time to throw out the first (blog) pitch of the season.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing to watch this spring training will be the development and deployment of this guy, Korean League hot shot Jung Ho Kang.

You know the story.  The Pirates posted $5 million dollars to the Korean Baseball League just to have the rights to try to sign Kang, and then signed him to a multi-year contract that will pay him another $5 million.  (The very idea of the Pirates doing a deal such as this would have been positively unimaginable four or five years ago.  Kang may or may not work out for the Pirates, but the team should be applauded for this outside-the-box approach in securing talent for the major league team.)  Kang was short stop in Korea and that is where he will begin as a Pirate, but the team also indicated that they will try him out at first, second, and third base during the spring.

This raises the following questions:

  • What happens to Jordy Mercer?  I can't imagine Mercer losing the SS job, but if he starts out in 2015 like he did in 2014, when he was hitting below .200 one month into the season....
  • Was the 2014 performance of Josh Harrison an aberration or the real deal?  That is one of the big questions going into this season in my mind, and it seems, the team's as well.  If Harrison continues this year as he did last year, great, but if not, the team needs a Plan B, and it obviously isn't Pedro Alvarez at third.  Which leads us to perhaps the biggest question of the 2015 season....
  • Pedro Alvarez at first base.  Can he adapt to the new position?  I don't think that that will be the issue.  I'm not saying that playing first base in the major leagues is easy, but let's face it, we've all seen a lot of butchers playing the position over the years.  The question is, will Pedro return to hitting 30+ home runs and driving in 100+ runs this season.  If he can do that, you won't be seeing Jung Ho Kang or any one else with a first baseman's mitt any time soon.
  • The signing of Kang also makes it clear that the Pirates do not expect to have Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez after they reach free agent eligibility.  That is a topic that deserves an entirely separate Grandstander post some other day.
  • And, of course, the biggest question of all:  Will the ability that Kang showed in the Korean League (40 HR power, which the Pirates are not expecting) translate to being a solid Major League ball player? As I said, it will be one of the more intriguing stories of spring training and on into the season.
Gone from the team this year are Ike Davis, Gaby Sanchez, and Travis Snyder.  New to the team are free agent signees Corey Hart and Sean Rodriguez.  Hart will be called upon to spell Alvarez at 1B, and Rodriguez will be an spare infielder and pinch hitter.  I believe that these are solid additions to the team.  Remember, these guys are being signed as bench players.  Five years ago, they would have been signed as starters.  How far this team has come.

I believe that Snyder will be missed as the fourth outfielder and a pinch hitter.  The outfield of Marte-McCutchen-Polanco is set and could be one of the best in all of MLB, so crying about who will be the fourth outfielder is yet another sign of how far the team has come.  That role will be up for grabs and among those competing for it will be Jose Tabata and Andrew Lambo.  It could be the last time around for each of these guys as far as being Pirates is concerned.

Also missing this year is catcher Russell Martin, and no doubt about it, this is a loss that will be difficult to fill.  The team is banking on newly acquired Francisco Cervelli staying healthy for 130-140 games this years, something that Cervelli has never been able to do in his career.  There are few questions about the Pirates everyday line-up, but there is no denying that there is a Big Question behind the dish for them.

The biggest question about the Pirates pitching is which one of the six starters -  Cole, Liriano, Burnett, Morton, Locke, and Worley - will not make the five man rotation.  Nice problem to have.

Lots of reasons to be optimistic about the 2015 Pirates, and it all begins this afternoon against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Let's Go Bucs!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Book Reviews: "The Girl On The Train" and "Motive"

In addition to watching a lot of television of late, the cold and snow has also been conducive to reading.  Need to curl up for a few hours with a good book?  Try these....

If you check out the best seller list in the Sunday paper every week, you will have seen this novel, "The Girl On The Train", sitting at Number One for the past several weeks.

The book begins with the first person account of Rachel Watson, the girl on the train, as she rides her commuter train into London one summer morning.  Each morning Rachel's train stops along the back yards of several houses that run alongside the tracks, and Rachel fantasizes about the residents that she sees each morning in two particular houses.  Harmless daydreaming?  Maybe for most people, but not for long for Rachel.

We also soon learn that Rachel drinks. Heavily, and this creates some problems for her.  We also soon meet two of the women who live in those houses, Megan and Anna, who tell their first person stories in alternating chapters.

Also involved in the unfolding drama are husbands and ex-husbands, an infant child, a psychiatrist, a couple of police detectives, and one of the women disappears.

Sounds confusing, but once you get into the rhythm of the novel, it moves quickly, and you find yourself involved in one pretty nifty thriller.  It is reminiscent of "Gone Girl", but the characters, most of them, anyway, are much more sympathetic.  Makes you look forward to Paula Hawkins' next book.

Marilyn and I both read this one, and we both recommend it highly.


Every winter also brings about the publication of a new Jonathan Kellerman novel featuring his signature character, Dr. Alex Delaware, a psychiatrist who serves as a consultant to the Los Angeles Police Department, working hand in hand with homicide detective Lt Milo Sturgis.

Like a lot of series, the Delaware stories may have slipped into "formula", but so what?  They are always tense, and they are extremely well written.  Kellerman can write dialogue better than just about any other author in this field.

"Motive" begins with Milo stumped by a particularly brutal killing of a young woman in LA.  There are few leads, and the ones that there are end up going nowhere. This is a case that seems destined for the cold case file as  "unsolved".

A few weeks later, Milo is called out on another homicide, seemingly unrelated, but there is one disturbing similarity to the one that stumped him a few weeks earlier.  Is there a serial killer on the loose?  Milo calls in Alex for assistance, and the fun - for the reader, anyway - begins.

As I say, it is always fun to read the latest adventures from a favorite author about characters that you have come to know over the years, and in "Motive", Kellerman and Delaware have come up with another good story for their fans.