Sunday, October 30, 2016

Four Games Into the World Series.....

Quick thoughts.....

  • Did even the most die hard of Cleveland Indians fans envision their team being up 3-1 after four games?
  • Is there anything better than watching those smug Chicago Cubs fans getting quieter and quieter as the ninth inning wound down in games three and four?
  • Okay, I know something that might be better, and that is seeing Joe "I Invented Baseball" Maddon standing in the dugout watching his team lose.
  • Wonder what Vince Vaughn thought when Jason Kipness hit that three run dinger moments before he had to sing Take Me Out to The Ballgame?
  • Speaking of which, Harry Carey has been dead for eighteen years now.  There are probably legions of Cubs fans who would like to see that tired seventh inning stretch trope done away with by now.  For people outside of Chicago, I'm guessing that the number is close to 99.9% who are sick and tired of it and want to see it go.
  • I'm surprised that the Cubs didn't send Kyle Schwarber up in the ninth to hit a six-run home run.  I'm sure that Joe Buck thought it was possible.
  • I am not one who subscribes to the theory that national TV announcers are "for" one team or "against" another.  I think that the top network guys, including Joe Buck, do a really good job in their neutrality.  That said, Buck and the Fox team were so positively gleeful when the Cubs evened the Series after the second game, that it was noteworthy to me.  And the love affair with Schwarber has been really hard to take.  It's making me root against Schwarber, and it's not even his fault!
  • As much as I would love to see the Indians wrap this up tonight, I would say that the Jon Lester - Trevor Bauer pitching match up favors the Cubs, so I am thinking that there is a good chance this Series goes back to Cleveland.
  • While I am enjoying the outcome of the Series so far, three of the four games have been yawners.  Only that 1-0 Game Three has offered edge of the seat tension from start to finish.
  • Terry Francona has managed in twelve World Series games.  His record is 11-1. That's pretty good.
  • Speaking of tropes that should be done away with, when did the City of Cleveland become known as "The Land"?  Yuck.  Dislike that as much as I dislike Pittsburgh being called "The Burg".
  • Pirates fans dislike of Maddon and the Cubs may border on the irrational at times  - or maybe not - but I think it is absolutely delicious that the Cubs could lose the Series on the Hallowed Grounds of the Friendly Confines, and in fact, could be swept in all three games at Wrigley right in front of their home town fans.
  • All that said, I am not considering this Series over quite yet.  Lester is tough, and that Cubs lineup CAN hit. Anything can still happen.
  • Still, I think I'll just post this picture for the hell of it...

  • Go Tribe!!

To Absent Friends - Sally O'Leary

Sally O'Leary died yesterday at the age of 82.  She was a long time member of the public relations department of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the personal baseball secretary to Bob Prince, and by the accounts of just about everyone who ever knew her, met her, or worked with her, she was one of a kind and was the "First Lady of the Pirates".  

I had the good fortune to meet Sally O'Leary back in 2013, and I can think of no better way to write this Absent Friends piece than to just cut-and-paste what I wrote in this blog back on June 23, 2013....

Meeting Sally O'Leary

If you grew up listening to Bob Prince broadcasting Pirates games, you will remember him often referring to his "Gal Friday, Sally O'Leary".  Over the years, in my involvement with the local SABR Chapter, I had occasion to correspond with Sally, and yesterday, I had the pleasure and honor of meeting Sally in person when she was the very Special Guest our monthly Breakfast Group.  Thanks to Dan and Len, long time acquaintances of Sally, for arranging this.

Sally began working for the Pirates in 1964 as an assistant to PR Director Jack Berger, and also served as the Baseball Secretary for Bob Prince.  She formally retired from the Pirates 14 years ago, but continues to serve the organization as the liaison for the Pirates Alumni Association.  We must have spent close to four hours with Sally yesterday, asking her questions, and hearing her stories about such folks as Bob Prince, Danny Murtaugh, Bill Mazersoki, Bing Crosby, Eddie Basinski, Vin Scully, Joe L. Brown, Fritz Ostermeuller, Leo Durocher,  Joe Torre, Curt Gowdy, Willie Stargell, Harry Walker, Kevin McClatchey, Wally Westlake, Dan Galbreath, Roberto Clemente, Frank Gustine, Dock Ellis, Harding Peterson, Ralph Kiner, Steve Blass, Bob Walk, Jim Woods, and on and on.  Are you getting the idea of what this must have been like for a bunch of life-long Pirates fans? 

To call Sally O'Leary a Treasure when it comes to the Pirates and the history of the team would not be overstating the case, and her love for and loyalty to the Pirates - even a Pirates Organization that is very, very different from the one she worked for - shone through.  

It was just a wonderful morning.  Thank you, Sally!

That is what I wrote three years ago, and I will take the liberty to add one more story that Sally told us that day.  Shortly after she began her career with the Pirates, Jack Berger walked up to her desk with several dozen  baseballs and told her "We need to get these baseballs autographed and sent out to people who have requested them."

"Well, who's going to autograph them?" Sally asked.  A reasonable question.

Berger's reply:  "You are.  Better learn how these guys sign things."

Thereby began a career of harmless forgery.  Sally then took a pen and a breakfast paper napkin and provided us some pretty neat facsimiles of the signatures of Roberto Clemente and Bob Prince, among others.  

So, I hate to burst your bubbles out there, but if among you prized possessions is a Roberto Clemente or Dick Stuart or Willie Stargell autographed baseball or photo that you got from the Pirates once upon a time, there is a good chance that it just might not be as authentic as you think it is.

Sally O'Leary was indeed one of a kind, and there will never be another like her.

RIP Sally O'Leary. It was an honor to have known you.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Exposition Park Gets Remembered

Back in 1995, when Pittsburgh hosted the annual convention of the Society of American Baseball research (SABR), some members of the Pittsburgh Chapter (Dan Bonk, Len Martin, Ed Luteran, Dennis Repp, Dennis DeValeria among them) researched and pinpointed the location - probably within about fifteen feet or so - of home plate of Exposition Park, the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1890 to 1909.  (How they were able to do this is a fascinating story which I will not go into at this point.) The spot was commemorated by a spray-painted home plate in a parking lot of Three Rivers Stadium.

Since them a lot has happened:  PNC Park and Heinz Field were built, Three Rivers Stadium was imploded, and the area between the two stadiums has been developed and has boomed with new office buildings, restaurants, and parking garages.  Yet, the spray-painted Expo home plate remained, sitting in a parking lot at the corner of General Robinson Street and Tony Dorsett Drive, becoming more faded with each passing year.  Yesterday, however, a step was taken to ensure that this little piece of Pittsburgh and baseball history would not be forgotten when this more permanent vinyl marker was placed on the spot.

Credit for getting this done goes out to a lot of people, but, first and foremost, the lion's share goes to my friend Len Martin.  Len, who along with Dan Bonk, co-authored the 1994 "Forbes Field Build-It-Yourself" book, has been on this project like a dog on a bone for as long as I have known him.  Len, along with local historians Craig Britcher and Andy Terrick, continue to research, not only Exposition Park, but other venues and sites where baseball, both amateur and professional, was played in Pittsburgh even before Exposition Park came along.  Len also designed the home plate marker that you see above.

Thanks also go out to the following on this project:

  • The aforementioned Craig Britcher and Andy Terrick.  Craig is a friend and a curator at the Heinz History Center and Western PA Sports Museum, and I always love to give a plug to the History Center!
  • Brian O'Neill, columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, whose recent column about this project stirred a lot of interest among the general population of the city.
  • Pittsburgh parking magnate Merrill Stabile, who met with Len and gave his blessing on the installation of this marker in one of his parking lots.  Word is that Mr. Stabile is also open to a similar commemoration of the home plate spot of Three Rivers Stadium.
  • To a lesser extent, Len's and Dan's fellow Saturday morning breakfast mates, Jim Haller and Yours Truly.  This project has been discussed much over the course of our many years of breaking bread together.
I will leave you with some scenes from yesterday on location at Exposition Park.

The prep work and installation of the marker:

There were several supervisors for this job.  Kind of like a  PENDOT project.  The gentleman on the right is Jack, a producer from Root Sports.  Yes, you might - MIGHT - be seeing this story on Inside Pirates Baseball during an early season rain delay!

Brian O'Neill and Len Martin

Craig, Jack, and Len admire a job well done.

Len settling in to receive the first pitch!

Len, Myself, and Craig

This is what you see today when you dig in at home plate at Exposition Park.  Yes, your Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is produced everyday in shallow right-centerfield.

Meanwhile, three blocks away back at PNC Park, this former denizen of Exposition Park looks on in approval.

Len, Craig, and I score the first runs on this new home plate.

We already saw a few people looking on curiously as they walked through the parking lot yesterday afternoon.  Feel free to check it out yourself someday soon.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Second Guessing Narduzzi

I am not one who makes a habit of second guessing professional coaches and managers, and yes, I realize that this is a statement that one makes right before they second guess a coach or a manager.  I figure that they make big bucks to make hard decisions, and they know more - a LOT more - about the X's and O's of their sports and the skills of their teams than I do.  That said, I am now going into the Second Guess business, at least as far as last night's Pitt game is concerned.

A prior commitment prevented me from attending last night's Pitt - Virginia Tech game, which Tech won by a score of 39-36, and, in fact, I didn't get home until late in the third quarter.  When I turned on the game, the score stood at 22-21, Virginia Tech.  I saw Tech score to go up 29-21, and then watched the ensuing offensive fireworks by both teams that culminated in Pitt scoring with little more than two minutes remaining in the game to draw within three points, 39-36, of VT.

Head Coach Pat Narduzzi, or HCPN, as he is called on the message boards, could have then done one of two things at that point.

  1. Attempted an onside kick to get his offense back on the field in a last ditch effort to win the game or tie the game and go into overtime.
  2. Kick off normally and use his three remaining times out to stop Tech and get the ball back on a punt and drive the length of the field to score and either tie or win the game. As you all know, this is the option that HCPN chose.
Based upon the seventeen minutes or so that I saw of that game up to that point, the onside kick seemed to be the only option for Pitt.  Yes, the odds of recovering an onside kick are small, but were they any smaller that the odds of Pitt stopping and preventing VT from making a first down that would seal the victory for them?  And even if Tech would have recovered the onside kick, Pitt would have been no worse off, save for field position, than they ended up: the defense on the field, with all three TO's remaining, and  trying to prevent VT from making a first down as they ran out the clock.  Again as you know, Pitt didn't prevent VT from making that first down and running out the clock, and really, was there any doubt in any of your minds that Virginia Tech wouldn't make that first down?

A much larger issue, of course, is Pitt's inability to prevent their opponents from scoring points.  Oh, Pitt scores a lot, too, and their games are enormously entertaining to watch, but their defense, particularly their pass defense, is practically nonexistent.  For a far better analysis than I can give, I would highly recommend that you read Joe Starkey's column in this morning's Post-Gazette.

Pitt now stands at 5-3, and as my buddy Dan Bonk has pointed out, a mere eleven points separate them from being 8-0, but as I have pointed out before, it is not inconceivable that with a twist or turn here or there, they could also easily be 1-7 or 2-6.  The rest of the schedule is @Miami, @Clemson, Duke, and Syracuse.  I am thinking that 2-2 is the best that Pitt fans can hope for at this point.

One final note and something that has been bugging me all season.  The uniform pants that defensive lineman Ejaun Price wears are ridiculous.  We all like to make fun of the NFL and its "uniform police", but seeing Price out there in those shorts is, as I say, ridiculous.  That Pitt coaches, or the NCAA itself, allows this is strictly bush league.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Andrew Miller and What Might Have Been

There is little doubt that perhaps the most outstanding performer in MLB's 2016 post-season has been Cleveland Indians pitcher Andrew Miller.  I seemed to remember Miller's name being bandied about at the time he was coming out of the University of North Carolina and coming into the MLB Entry Draft.  He was projected to be a high draft pick at the time that the Pirates, due to many seasons of ineptitude, had a very high draft pick.  So, when Miller came into the game last night, I went to the Google Machine to do a little research.

The year was 2006.  With the first pick in that draft, the Kansas City Royals selected Luke Hochevar, not a Hall of Famer, to be sure, but not a bad ballplayer, either. With the third pick, the Rays selected a future All-Star Evan Longoria.  Great pick.  It wasn't until the sixth pick that the Tigers selected Andrew Miller.  Miller has bounced around with five teams before landing with the Indians this season, and while his career may not have warranted, in hindsight, that overall number six pick, he sure has been worth his weight in gold to Cleveland in October, 2016, hasn't he?

So what else happened in that 2016 draft? It's always fun to use 20/20 hindsight in these stories. Right after Miller went, the Dodgers selected a high school pitcher named Clayton Kershaw.  Three picks later at number ten, the Giants selected Tim Lincecum out of the University of Washington, and at number eleven, the Diamondbacks selected Max Scherzer from the University of Missouri.  That's a lot of Cy Young Awards right there in that draft.

The Pirates? Well, they had the overall number four pick that year, and used it on a pitcher: Brad Lincoln from the University of Houston.  So, with Kershaw, Lincecum, Scherzer, and Miller still on the table, the McClatchey-Littlefield brain trust selected Brad Lincoln.  Lincoln pitched for parts of five seasons in the Bigs, compiling a record of 9-11, 4.74 (7-9, 4.62 with the Pirates), and he has been out of baseball since 2014.

I realize that such backward looks aren't always fair, and that similar stories can be told for every team in the Majors, but it is yet one more additional reason why being a Pirates fan can sometimes just drive you plain crazy.

Monday, October 24, 2016

World Series Time!

The time has come for the Grand-Daddy of All Important Sporting Events in America, the World Series.  If you have been following this Blog, you know that I have continually been picking against both the Indians and the Cubs, and calling for a Dodgers World Series victory from Day One.  Well, when you are wrong you are wrong.  (For the record, I went 3-for-4 in picking the Division Series, and 0-for-2 in the League Championship Series.)

So, time for a do-over.  I admit that my picking against the Cubs had more to do with a dislike for Joe Maddon, and my own personal rooting preferences, than it did with sound baseball logic.  Somewhere amidst all of those prediction posts, I believe that I did say that the Cubs were, in fact, the best team among all of those in the post-season.  It is now time that I bow to the inevitable in making a prediction, and here it is:

The CUBS to win in six games.  And as an added prediction, the Series MVP will be Anthony Rizzo.  I know that Kris Bryant is terrific, and will probably win the NL MVP Award this year, but when the Pirates play the Cubs, the guy that I fear the most in that line up is Anthony Rizzo.

As for a rooting interest, well, that is a different story.  Marilyn and I lived in Cleveland from 1974-78. Yes, the glory days of Frank Robinson, Gaylord Perry, Buddy Bell, Wayne Garland, Rick Manning, and, yes, a young George Hendrick, before he was Joggin' George.  My first loyalties were always with our Beloved Buccos in those years, but, yes, we became Tribe fans during those years, and that rooting interest will be with us once again as this World Series plays itself out.  Plus, in a battle between smug and self-important Joe Maddon and Terry Francona, there really is no contest as to who you see want to hoist that trophy.

So, Let's Go Tribe. It's how to root, but probably not how you want to bet.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

"Hamilton" - What Music!

No, I have not seen the transformative musical, "Hamilton", but I finally got around to downloading the Original Cast Album and have been listening to it for much of the last twenty-four hours, and it is what everyone says it is.  The music, the lyrics, and the way it is performed by author/composer Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast is unlike anything I have ever heard.  Just an amazing musical experience.  Everyone says that Miranda is a true genius, and after listening to this recording, I am inclined to agree.

Lin-Manuel Miranda

I doubt very much that I will ever have the opportunity (or the disposable income!) to see "Hamilton" on Broadway, where the neon lights are bright, but sooner or later, "Hamilton" will be sending out touring companies, and I will be among the first in line to see it when comes to a theater near me.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Golf Story

Our Tuesday Retiree Golf Group convened at Scenic Valley Golf course in Finleyville yesterday.  The foursome in which I played was the first of our groups to go out and we found ourselves playing behind a group of four older gentleman.  Yes, they were older than we were, which slowed down the pace of play a bit, but what the hell, it was a beautiful Fall day and we were playing golf, so no complaints.

Because of a commitment that Marilyn and I had last evening, I had to cut my round short, and I only played nine holes.  As I was washing up in the rest room before heading home, I encountered one of the gents who was in the foursome in front of us.  I asked him of he was about to head out for their back nine.  

"No" he said, "I've found that I am a pretty much just a nine hole golfer now that I'm in my nineties."  

"Are you serious?", I asked, while doing  a classic double take.  If I'd been drinking at the time I'd have done a classic Danny Thomas spit-take.

"Yep, I'm ninety-three."

Honestly, if you had seen this guy playing golf, or even just stood there talking to him, you'd have said he was maybe in his late seventies, and you'd have been mildly surprised if you'd have been told he was over eighty.

So, God bless this guy, and his playing partners, who were probably in the same general age range.

Moral of the Story?  Well, I'm not sure, but it has inspired me to keep playing golf for as long as I possibly can.

Monday, October 17, 2016

It Was A Busy Weekend....

Some recollections of a busy weekend before it gets too far in the rear view mirror.....

  • The weekend began for us on Friday afternoon when we took in the new, heavily promoted Ben Affleck movie, "The Accountant".  It was exciting, it was action packed, and it was somewhat original, and we enjoyed it a lot.  Both Marilyn and I are big fans of Affleck, so we were not disappointed.  However, when you leave the theater and reflect upon it, you can begin to see some of the elephant sized holes that were in the storyline, and you start asking questions like "Well, where did he learn how to do.....?" or "How did he know to go to....?"  You know what I mean.  Don't let that stop you, though, because as I said, it's really entertaining.  Also quote violent, so be forewarned. I give it two and one-half stars.
  • Saturday afternoon gave us that amazing 45-31 Pitt victory over Virginia.  After a first half in which neither team could stop the other, a Jordan Whitehead 58 yard interception gave Pitt a 35-28 lead right before halftime.  And then, Pat Narduzzi and the defensive staff made some kind of miraculous adjustments at halftime and stopped UVA cold over the final two quarters.  This has seemed to me to be a hallmark of Narduzzi in his time at Pitt.  When adjustments are needed to be made at halftime, they make them.  Doesn't happen all the time, but it happens more often than not, it seems to me.
  • Then came that Steelers 30-15 loss at Miami yesterday.  This highlights a disturbing trend over recent seasons of the Steelers losing to crummy teams, teams that the should be beating.   And make no mistake about it, the Dolphins are a bad team.  They will finish below .500 by a wide margin when all is said and done. the injury to 
  • And as for the injury to Ben Roethlisberger.....  As I write this, it is not known how many games he will miss, but with each game that he doesn't play, the Steelers chances of that predicted Super Bowl win, or even a run in the playoffs, decrease exponentially.

  • On a much happier note, we took in our first play of the 2016-17 Pittsburgh Public Theater season on Sunday night, "The Fantasticks".  Until last night, all I knew about this play was that it was the longest running musical play in American theater history (it has been running in New York City continuously since 1960), and the song "Try To Remember" came from it. A story about two young people falling in love, in sprite of the (seeming) objections of their fathers, overcoming the rough spots when the bloom is off the rose, and then cementing that love forever.  I thought it was delightful, and, as usual, the staging and presentation by the PPT was fabulous.  The show runs through October 30 at the O'Reilly, and I highly recommend it.
  • The three leads in "The Fantasticks" were played by Mary Elizabeth Drake, Jamen Nanthakumar, and Josh Powell. Each of these young actors were making their debuts with the PPT, and I hope that we will see them again in the years to come.
  • Theater Trivia: The part of El Gallo in "The Fantasticks" was originated way back in 1960 by Jerry Orbach.  Orbach was at the beginning of what would be a long career on Broadway (he would later win a Tony Award) and in the movies, but he will probably be best remembered for playing hardened and sardonic Detective Lennie Briscoe on TV's "Law and Order".
  • The program gave a list of some of the actors who have played in "The Fantasticks" over the course of it's long history.  In addition to Orbach, you can also include folks like Liza Minelli, Elliott Gould, Richard Chamberain, and F. Murray Abraham.
  • We got home Sunday evening in time to see the final five innings of the Dodgers 1-0 win over the Cubs, led by the dominating performance of Clayton Kershaw.  The performance of Kershaw both last night and in the NLDS against Washington has put to rest, it seems, the notion that "Kershaw stinks in the post season".  He's STILL not the "next Koufax", though.
  • The Dodgers' win is going against the hoped for conclusion of a Cubs pennant.  The series now stands at 1-1 with three games now coming up in LA.   In the American League, the Indians have taken a 2-0 lead as that series now heads to Toronto.  You know that MLB and Fox, in spite of possibly losing a large chunk of that LA market, are dying for a Cubs-Indians World Series. Two teams that, between them, have not won a World Series for 176 years. It would be quite a story line, but pardon me if I am cheering for Joe Maddon to be dealt one giant dose of humility.  I am, however, rooting like hell for the Tribe!
  • And on one final note, we stopped at Appleby's for dinner on the way into town for the play last night, and I had a cheeseburger, the "American Classic Burger" to be specific.  Long time readers know of my never ending quest for terrific burgers, and that search usually avoids chain restaurants, but I gotta be honest, that burger at Appleby's last night was absolutely terrific.  I can't recommend it highly enough!

Friday, October 14, 2016

MLB Predictions, Round Two, and a Pace of Play Comment

Before getting to The Grandstander's LCS predictions, allow me to review how I have done so far.

To save you from looking it up, I called the following for the League Division Series:

  • Blue Jays over Rangers
  • Cubs over Giants
  • Dodgers over Nationals
I believe I had that!

Oh, what's that you're asking?  Well, why yes, I did pick the Red Sox over the Indians.  Can't win 'em all, but if you bet with those four picks, you'd have made money.

So what do I see coming up?

In my previous selections, I had the Red Sox over the Blue Jays, so I need a reset here.  I can't make much of an informed choice here, I have to admit.  I couldn't name many players from either team, to be honest, but I do know that much of the Indians' starting pitching staff is lost to injury.  They got away with that in a three game series with the Sox, but I am thinking that the Jays have a lot of fire power that will overcome the Tribe's short staff.  In all honesty, I will be rooting for the Indians and Terry Francona, but I will call this one as a Blue Jays win.

My original prediction called for the Dodgers over the Cubs, and I will stand by that,  I have no doubt that the Cubs are the best team of the four remaining, but I somehow think that the Cubs' history will continue to catch up with them and cause them to somehow kick it away.  However, the manner in which they won the clinching Game 4 against the Giants does make me think that maybe the nonsensical "curses" that Cubs fans so love to talk about, if they exist at all, may well be banished as a result of that win.

I will also stand by my original prediction of the Dodgers to win the World Series, albeit over a different team than I originally thought.

Before I leave, how about those two final games in the two NL series?  Imploding bullpens, over-managing, endless pitching changes, games that take FOREVER to complete, and in the end, storybook heroics from Clayton Kershaw.  Great theater, to be sure.

Baseball does have a problem, though.  The Cubs-Giants game four, and Dodgers-Nats game five were dramatic, terrific ball games, but, as noted above, they took forever to complete.  Both ended well after midnight.  The seventh inning alone in the Dodgers game took one hour and six minutes to play.  The entire game took four hours and thirty-two minutes.  Dusty Baker made FOUR pitching changes in that inning alone.  Yeah, yeah, I know that the charm of baseball is that it has no clock, you can't go into four corners, take a knee, or run out the clock.  I know all of that, but who really has time for that?  If I was still working and had to get up with an alarm every morning, there is no way that I see the end of either of these games, and these are the most important games of the year, the Showcase Events of the season.  And when these four hour games involve a couple of also-rans playing out the string in August, and those games do happen, who cares?

Like it or not, Baseball Purists, the game really does have a Pace of Play problem, and if MLB doesn't make real efforts to address it, pretty soon, all us old guys who love the game no matter what are going to be gone, and then, no one will care.

Revisiting "American Graffiti"

This past Wednesday evening I visited the Cinemark North Hills to take in another Fathom Events presentation of an old movie on a big screen.  This one was 1973's "American Graffiti".  This was the second feature film directed by George Lucas, and it depicts a single night in the lives of a group of teenagers, the night before two of them were to leave their small California town and set off for college "back East".

When this movie was released in 1973, it was viewed as a "nostalgia piece" which is odd when you consider that it takes place in 1962, a mere eleven years in the past.  However, when you think about it, 1962 could have, indeed, been viewed with nostalgia in 1973...Jack Kennedy was still alive and in the White House, no one in America had ever heard of the Beatles, there was no drug culture to speak of, no hippies, and no mention was even made of a place called Viet Nam, although we are starkly made aware of it in the coda at the end of the movie, just before the credits roll.

This movie is probably most remembered for two things.  One, an absolutely terrific soundtrack featuring vintage pre-British Invasion American rock and roll.  The music plays almost continuously throughout the movie, sometimes even drowning out some of the dialog, something that I did not remember from when I first saw this movie back in '73.  

The second notable thing about the movie is the cast which included, among others....

Ron Howard, just after "Andy Griffith", just before "Happy Days", and long before he went on to become one of America's best directors, and an Oscar winner.

Richard Dreyfuss, before "Jaws", before an Oscar in "Good-Bye Girl", and many other great roles.

Cindy Williams, before "Laverne and Shirley".

Suzanne Somers, before "Three's Company" (she wasn't even billed in this one).

MacKenzie Phillips, before whatever that sitcom was that she was in.

And perhaps most famous of all, Harrison Ford, before "Star Wars" before "Indiana Jones" and on and on.

That George Lucas sure had an eye for talent, didn't he?

So, the question put to me was..."How good is this movie, really, forty-three years after it first came out?"  My answer:  It's a good movie, but I'm not sure that I'd call it a call it a classic.  It does a great job in setting the mood of one particular point in time in our culture.  It also captures the insecurities and the fears of kids on the cusp of adulthood.  In those respects, "American Graffiti" nails it, especially when it gives you that "Whatever happened to..." bit at the end.

There are some really good scenes, but I was struck by one comic scene of which I had no memory.  Towards the end of the movie Laurie (Williams), after a fight with boyfriend Steve (Howard) allows herself to be picked up by Bob Falfa (Ford). She jumps into Ford's hot rod  and icily says "Don't say anything and we'll get along just fine."  Hotshot Falfa/Ford regards her sitting all the way across the front seat from him and begins to sing, in an affected deep voice, "Some Enchanted Evening".  It was totally out of character for Falfa and out of context for the rest of the music in the movie, but it worked and was just a great scene by Ford and Williams.

As with all of these Fathom events movies, it played once on Sunday, and twice on Wednesday.  I don't know how many people came on Sunday, but when I bought my ticket on Wednesday, the ticker seller told me I was the first person to buy a ticket for it that day.  Three other people showed up after I did for the 7:00 show.  That can't be good for business, but I hope that this was an aberration, and that these Fathom Events special screenings will continue.

Bob Dylan, Nobel Laureate

The world yesterday learned of the decision of the Swedish Academy to Award the Nobel Prize for Literature for 2016 to Bob Dylan.  Dylan, the first American to win this honor since Toni Morrison in 1993, can be described as many things...musician, singer, songwriter, Chronicler of a Generation (a trite title which Dylan himself eschews), a "song and dance man" (his own description), lyricist and poet, and it was that last description that the Academy used in making this award.  Sara Danius, Secretary of the Academy, in making the announcement, described Dylan as "a great Poet in the English speaking tradition" and credited him with "having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition."  She also suggested that people seeking reasons why they award was bestowed could start by listening to the seminal album, "Blonde on Blonde", and that, by the way, is what is currently playing in the background as I type out this post.

Of course, such a non-traditional awardee is being greeted with some skepticism and even derision by some in the literary world, proving that Bob Dylan at 75 years of age and after over fifty years in the public eye is still capable of shaking windows and rattling walls.

Congratulations, Bob Dylan, and thank you.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Football in Pittsburgh, 2016

We are not quite one-third (actually, 31.25%) of the way through the Steelers season and halfway through the Pitt season, and 2016 has been nothing if not wildly entertaining for fans of these two teams.

At the beginning of the season, I said that the Steelers would "win twelve games, win the AFC North Division and gain first round playoff bye, win the AFC Championship, and win the Super Bowl."  Today the team sits at 4-1 and are one, two, and three games ahead of their AFC North rivals, and are playing at a level that is almost impeccable. Yes, they did fall behind the Jets at one point yesterday, but was there ever a moment in that game when you felt that they were NOT going to comfortably beat the Jets?

There have been injuries to some key players, but it hasn't appeared to slow them down a bit.  And, yes, there have been times when that bend-bit-don't-break defense can get a bit scary, but they have been more than adequate, in fact, they have been quite good, when it comes to surrendering points, and all four of those wins have been laughers.

Well, there was that blip in the form of that 34-3 loss to the Eagles in Week Three.  Not sure how you account for that, and I am thinking that when the season is over, that game may well qualify for the NFL Aberration of the Year Award.

And as long as none of those key injuries happens to #7, I see no reason to back off of my pre-season prediction.

And while none of us can look past the Dolphins next week (it's the kind of game that the Steelers have lost in recent seasons), that match-up with the Patriots at Heinz Field on October 23 is shaping up as a possible AFC Championship preview.


Then there are the Pitt Panthers.  

They are half way through the season and are 4-2 (1-1 in the ACC).  Save for the opener against Villanova, everyone of the Panthers games have been high scoring, decided in the final minutes of each game, and wildly entertaining.  Pitt could very easily be 6-0 today.  They also could very easily be 1-5.  They are just that kind of a team, and it has been that kind of a season.

What remains before them are home games with Virginia Tech, Duke, and Syracuse, and road games with Virginia, Miami, and Clemson.  The only game among those six that appears to be a sure thing is a loss to Clemson.  Of the other five, it would be a surprise but not a shock if Pitt went 4-1 or 5-0.  It would also not be a shock to see them go 1-4 or 2-3.

Two more wins are needed for Pitt to gain Bowl eligibility, which is no great shakes in today's college football scene, but winning their division in the ACC is also in play given some help from some other schools.  My buddy Bob Middleman, who has forgotten more about Pitt football than I will ever know, told me before the season that he thought Pitt would be a 7-5 team this year, maybe 8-4.  Those numbers are attainable, so if that is how it ends up, I suppose that you would be able to call this a reasonably successful season.  It will then be up to Pat Narduzzi to continue to bring in his kinds of players and continue to coach 'em up.

And no knock on Nate Peterman, but a top flight college quarterback would be nice.  And more guys named Quadree.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Movie Review: "The Girl On The Train" (No Spoilers)

Regular readers may recall that I wrote a review of the best selling Paula Hawkins novel, "The Girl On the Train" way back in March, 2015.  To refresh your memory:

I really liked the book, and the immense popularity of it made it a sure thing that it would be made into a movie.  Now, whenever Hollywood decides to convert a popular book into a movie, there is always the risk that they will, how can I say this....screw it up.  Those fears came alive when the first thing you heard about the movie was that the location of the story would be moved from suburban London to suburban New York City.  Oh, well, take a deep breath and check it out anyway, I said to myself.

Fear not.  This film adaptation by screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson and director Tate Taylor delivers the goods.  The locale aside, it is a taut and suspenseful thriller, dark and gritty at times, and a faithful adaptation of the novel.

The movie stars Emily Blunt as Rachel, the Girl On The Train.  It is not a glamorous role, and she pulls it off quite well.  It also stars Haley Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson are Megan and Anna, the two other key women in the story, and Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, and Edgar Ramirez as the male figures in the story. Also featured are TV regulars Allison Janney, Laura Prepon, and Lisa Kudrow.  Kudrow's character was not in the book, but she plays a significant role in advancing the plot.

The story deals with a missing woman who may or may not be dead, an alcoholic heroine who may or may not be delusional, and husbands and wives who may or may not be as wholesome as they appear.

I'll say no more, other than to say that if you have read the book, I don't think that you will be disappointed in Hollywood's version of it, and if you haven't read the book, you're in for a pretty nifty thriller if you go see it, which I recommend that you do!

Four Stars from The Grandstander.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Looking Back at the Pirates and a Playoffs Prediction

Since there is probably no single subject written about in The Grandstander more than the Pittsburgh Pirates, it behooves me to take a final look at the 2016 season of our favorite baseball team.  (Did I say final?  I am sure that I will continue to yak on this subject well beyond the confines of this particular post.)

Back on April 2 (and you can look it up), I made my pre-season prediction for the team by means of a lengthy Q&A format.  I am not going to go through the entire thing, but I do want to highlight one portion of that post:

QUESTION: What is the biggest concern with this team?

ANSWER:  In my mind it's simple...starting pitching.  Gerrit Cole is a bona fide major league ace.  No problem there.  Francisco Liriano is solid, and I have high hopes for Jonathon Neise.  After that it gets shaky.  Jeff Locke?  We know what we are getting in him  -  a 26-30 lifetime pitcher with a career ERA over 4.00 through five seasons.  He's not going to turn into Sandy Koufax any time soon.  Thirty-eight year old Ryan Vogelsong was beaten out of a starter's job by Juan Nicasio.  Nicasio certainly earned that on merit in Spring Training, but will he be able to sustain that when the opponents start playing for real?  All indications are that the troika of Locke-Nicasio-Vogelsong are merely placeholders until top pitching prospects Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow arrive after a month or two of minor league seasoning in Indianapolis.  That's a lot of "ifs" in the rotation.  Maybe it will work out.  Pirates fans sure hope so.

We can talk all we want about the poor season of Andrew McCutchen, and the occasional disappearances of Jung Ho Kang, but when it came down to it, the starting pitching was the big culprit in the 20 game regression of the team.  Liriano stunk, Nicasio was miscast as a starter, Cole, who was to be the bell weather of the staff, had a bad year, Niese was a bust, Vogelsong pitched like the 39 year old retread that he was (although his being able to come back and pitch after that absolutely horrific injury was one of the Feel Good stories of the season), and as for Jeff Locke, the less said the better.

So when I said that starting pitching was my biggest concern for the season.....I believe I had that.

On a bright note, the young kids from Indy did begin to make their appearances.  The brightest light among them appears to be Jameson Taillon.  Going into 2017, Gerrit Cole is still the #1 guy on the staff, but Taillon will be breathing right down his neck for that role.  Others such as Chad Kuhl, Tyler Glasnow, Steven Brault, and Trevor Williams all made their debuts, some with a greater degree of success than others, but there is reason to be optimistic about the staff going into next year.  That said, obtaining an experienced and good (as opposed to a typical Neal Huntington reclamation project) to add to the staff should be a priority in the off-season.

One of the main criticisms heard throughout the season went along the lines of "The Pirates won 98 games in 2015, and the front office did nothing to improve upon that team to make a run at the World Series in 2016."   My own theory, and it is strictly my own, and even if it is true, the Front Office will never admit to it, was that last year, 2015, was the year where they had to make the run to the Series.  That was the team that was built for the deep run into the post-season.  And when they fell short, it was time to rebuild the team (again, the FO will never say that), and they did:  Alvarez and Walker were jettisoned, Burnett retired, and Happ, as you may have heard mentioned once or twice, was allowed to leave via free agency.  I believe that 2016 was to be a year to begin working younger players into the mix, and that is what happened when we saw Taillon, Kuhl, Adam Frazier, Josh Bell and others begin to take on bigger roles as the season progressed.  

Will all of that begin to bear fruit in 2017, and make the team contenders for the last years of this decade?  Well, that is why they play the games, and why we will continue to watch.

And what was that final prediction back on April 2 for the 2016 season?

QUESTION: So, how many games are they going to win, and are they going to make the post-season?

ANSWER:  The team won 98 games last year, second best in all of baseball.  They are not going to do that this year.  The Cubs are good, and the Cardinals are always going to be the Cardinals.  Those three teams are going to beat up on each other all season so it will be difficult to win upwards of 95 games in the Central.  Because of my concerns with the starting pitching, I see the team taking a step backwards.  They will be good, they will provide all of us with a fun and entertaining season of baseball, they will win more games than they lose, but I see them winning 89 games and not making the payoffs.

Well, they didn't make the playoffs, so I believe I had that.  And the Cubs and Pirates did not "beat up on each other".  The Cubs manhandled everyone, winning over 100 games, and they owned the Bucs, winning fourteen of eighteen games.  (As a side note, the Pirates went 30-29 against the rest of the NL Central, Brewers, Reds, and Cardinals.)  Also, 78 actual wins was far below my prediction of 89, so I did NOT have that one right.  You can't win 'em all, as the Pirates so ably demonstrated to us this past season.

Oh, and a couple of stats that I found remarkable this year:
  • Starling Marte led the team in hitting at .311 (.818 OPS), but managed to drive in only 46 runs while usually hitting in the four or five hole of the batting order.  That was a very "soft" .311 folks.
  • Twenty-one (21!) different pitchers recorded a Win for the team this year.  Is that some sort of record?
  • Jeff Locke was second on the team in wins (9), and led the team in innings pitched (127.1), and I am not sure just exactly WHAT that says about this year's pitching staff.

Okay, short and sweet, with no deep analysis, The Grandstander's MLB Post-Season Predictions:

  • Division Series:  Blue Jays over the Rangers; Red Sox over the Indians; Cubs over Giants; Dodgers over Nationals
  • League Championship Series: Red Sox over Blue Jays; Dodgers over Cubs.  I do believe that the Cubs, as proven over 162 games, are the best team in baseball, but I also think that they will find some way to screw the pooch and remain the lovable, cursed Cubbies, just the way their fans like them.  
  • World Series:   What has been a magical season for Big Papi and the Sawx will meet its match, and Clayton Kershaw will shake off his post-season miseries, and that the Dodgers will claim their first championship since 1988.  
You heard it here first.  As always, watch, but don't bet.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Pirates Home Runs in 2016; and a Final (?) Word On Pedro Alvarez

Last March the esteemed North Side Breakfast group had a semi-heated discussion concerning how many HR’s the Pirates would hit in 2016?  We went through the projected starting lineup, and both Jim Haller (JH) and Dan Bonk (DB) made actual predictions, and we also arrived at a consensus prediction.  Well, I saved those numbers (written on an Allegheny Sandwich Shoppe place mat), and today I compared them to the actual results, and here they are:

JH Predicts DB Predicts Consensus Actual








“First Base”

29 HR @ 1B per SRod, Jaso, Bell

92+29= 121





















HR in 2016


HR in 2015


These actual numbers are taken from the MLB stats on the Pirates website.  The site tells you that Pirates first basemen hit 29 HRs in 2016:  Sean Rodriguez 18, John Jaso 8, Josh Bell 3.  I am not sure if all of SRod’s homers came as a first basemen.  I am guessing that some of them came when he was playing another position, but that is a minor quibble.  If you accept the Pirates figures of 29 dingers from 1B, then the 121 HR’s produced by the starting lineup exceeded the estimates of Dan and the consensus, but fell well short of Jim’s projections.  As a team the Pirates hit 153 home runs, thirteen more than they hit in 2015.  No one except Jim saw that coming, but who knew that Rodriguez and Matt Joyce would combine for 31 home runs, and David Freese, who would add another 13 dingers, probably hadn't even by signed by the Pirates at the time we had this discussion. 

Another much asked question prior to this season was "How are the Pirates going to replace the 43 home runs and 148 RBIs Pedro Alvarez (27/77) and Neil Walker (16/71)?"

Well, they did and they didn't as it turned out.

Accepting the Pirates database, the 1B Troika of Rodriguez-Jaso-Bell (29 HR, 117 RBI) eclipsed Pedro's 27 and 77.

It was at second base where the team fell short.  Second basemen Josh Harrison and Adam Frazier combined for 6 home runs and 70 RBIs, well short of Walker's 16 circuit clouts, but only one short of his runs batted in.

And of course, no discussion of Pedro Alvarez can be made without discussing his defense.  Please note the lower portion of the chart below.

Rodriguez Jaso Bell Pedro Alvarez
At Bats


Total Chances
Fielding %




In addition to the three current Pirate first sackers shown on the chart, David Freese also handled 378 chances with only 3 errors, and another five players played the position at various times, handling 34 chances with zero errors.  Regardless of how you slice-and-dice the Pirates offensive production at first base this past season, I don't think it can be questioned that they were better off defensively in 2016 at first than they were in 2015.

And as for Alvarez, still a subject of much discussion among Pirates fans, he seems to have found his niche in Baltimore as a platoon Designated Hitter.  Only 38 of his 337 AB's came against a left handed pitcher (1 HR, 6 RBI, .238 BA). He had very limited appearances on defense this season, fielding only nine chances and making four errors in the process.  

So, would the Pirates have been better off with Pedro in 2016 than they were without him?  It is a question that I am sure a large subset of Pirates fans will continue to beat to death on social media and talk shows.  One thing is for sure:  Pedro will be in the post season that begins tonight, while all of his former Bucco teammates will be watching on television, so I guess he is having the last laugh.