Sunday, July 30, 2017

Critical Commentary - "Dunkirk"

Probably no movie of 2017 has received the critical acclaim as has Christopher Nolan's "Dunkirk", so I was anxiously looking forward to seeing this one when we took ourselves off to the Cinemark North yesterday afternoon.  In fact, I was so looking forward to it, that I actually did a little research about the actual events that took place at Dunkirk in May-June, 1940 so as to be better informed about what I was going to be seeing.  Hey, if a movie prompts you to become a bit better informed on historical events, that's a good thing.

I found "Dunkirk" to be a pretty good movie, but, sorry to say, I can't give it the full on Rave, Four Star Treatment that the professional critics are giving it.

Nolan tells the story of the Dunkirk evacuation from three points of view: (1) A British soldier trying to leave Dunkirk over the course of one week, (2) A civilian taking his private pleasure boat across the English Channel to assist in the evacuation on one day, and (3) An RAF pilot on a mission over the course of one hour.  As a plot device, this was kind of neat, if somewhat confusing until you were able to sort it out as you watched.  However, to me, and to other folks that I have talked with about this, the characters were almost secondary to Nolan showing the tremendous scope of what was taking place at Dunkirk.  In fact, the characters seemed to be so secondary, that when the final credits rolled, all the technical people involved in making the film were listed before the actors.  Ever seen that done before?

The most recognizable actors in this one, to me at least, were Kenneth Branagh as a British Navy Commander and Mark Rylance as the civilian boat operator.  Two younger actors playing soldiers in the "one week" aspect of the movie, Fionn Whitehead and Damien Bonnard, looked so much alike that I had a hard time telling them apart, and that detracted a bit from the movie for me.

"Dunkirk" is no doubt a tremendous technical bit of film making, which is why, I suppose, the critics love it so much, and it will probably win a bunch of Oscars because of it.  It also tells a story of amazing and heroic historic events, and if it makes younger generations - or not so young, like me -  aware of those events, that is a good thing.  And it most certainly depicts the horrors of war.  As a movie (as opposed to a film), however, it fell just a bit short for me.  If you want something of this genre, that tells of historic and heroic events, Steven Spielberg's  "Saving Private Ryan" (1998) is a better choice.

Two and one-half stars from The Grandstander.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Talk About Pretentious.....

In this morning's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, someone named Amelia Nierenberg reviews the new movie "Atomic Blonde", and the review actually contained this sentence:

"The careless plot bruises the film, otherwise rife with jagged brio, electric visuals, and a steamy, gnarled nest of vipers."

I have no idea as to Ms. Nierenberg's background, but I am picturing a young woman fresh out of journalism school who is itching to show how smart and sophisticated she is.  Instead she produces this claptrap.  A plot that bruises the film?  That is rife with jagged brio?

I have no inclination to do the research, but I am willing to bet that Harold V. Cohen, George Anderson, and Barbara Vancheri never resorted to such pseudo-intellectual b.s. in reviewing movies for the PG over the years.  I hope that the PG doesn't make her the permanent movie critic so that we don't have to read this kind of junk in the years ahead.  I mean.....

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

"War for the Planet of the Apes"

I have been anxiously awaiting the release of this sequel ever since I saw the "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (2014) which was itself a sequel to "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2011), the entire trilogy being a remake of the whole Charleston Heston - Kim Hunter - Roddy McDowell series of Planet of the Apes movies from the 1960's and -70s.  "War for the Planet of he Apes" certainly completes the trilogy of this new series of Apes movies, and it is a good one.

In this one, relations between the apes and the humans appear to have reached a boiling point and an Armageddon-type confrontation is in store.  So much so that the apes have considered moving from their shelters in the forests of the Pacific Northwest to a desert area somewhere "over the mountain".  However, an attack by a bunch of renegade soldiers led by maniacal and evil Woody Harrelson, prevents Ape leader Caesar from leaving and he needs a personal confrontation with old Woody.  

I am not going to say any more, so as not to hint of any spoilers, but I will say the following:
  • Andy Serkis once again plays Caesar, and he's quite brilliant in doing so.  You really believe that this is an honest-to-God monkey walking and talking up there on screen.  It probably won't happen, but if Serkis gets an Oscar nomination for this part, it will be totally deserved.
  • The climactic scene, and I am not even going to hint at what it involved, was pretty spectacular.
  • Harrelson was the definite "bad guy" in this one, so you aren't supposed to like him, and that was easy, because for whatever reason, I just don't really like Woody Harrelson to begin with.
  • The ending was satisfying, yet sad.  The movie makers behind this series wrapped up this trilogy in such a way that I just don't see how they can come up with a fourth  movie with these same bunch of apes.
  • Of course, knowing Hollywood, I am guessing that sometime around 2020-21, somebody will decide to do it all over again with their own particular spin on it.  I think the current Hollywood lingo for that is called a reboot of a movie franchise.
This movie has been getting terrific reviews everywhere.  Tony Norman of the Post-Gazette gave it four stars and said that it would be a cinch for a Best Picture Academy Award nomination.  I'm not sure that I'd go that far, but it really is a great piece of film-making with a good story, great effects, and that aforementioned spectacular ending.

It gets Three Stars from The Grandstander.

And I just can't end a post about the Planet of the Apes, er, franchise without showing this clip from the very first Apes movie.  One of the more memorable lines in movie history.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Huey Lewis and the News

Huey Lewis and The News
Still going strong!

I was happy to see a few months ago that Huey Lewis and The News would be appearing at the Palace Theater in Greensburg on July 18.  It was the perfect opportunity for us to meet up with old friends Ron and Darrylin Loshelder, 

catch up over a nice pre-show dinner, and enjoy a great rock and roll band.  (Ron, by the way, is a local rock and roll legend himself, but that is a story for another day.)

(Sorry for the crummy quality of the pictures, but I forgot to bring my good camera, and had to rely in my less than optimal android phone.)

Huey Lewis and the News were formed in 1979 and have been recording and performing ever since.  Lewis is now 67 years old, looks great and sounds as great as ever.  Loved that he's out there performing in glasses!  This is the third time that I have seen Lewis and the News perform (Civic Arena, Star Lake Amphitheater), but it had been many years, and I'm glad to say that I wasn't disappointed.  Great line form Lewis early in the show:  "Hey, enough of all the old hits, I know that what you all really want to hear is new stuff."  He did do a few new songs, and they were pretty good, but the crowd wanted to hear the hits, and Lewis and the band did not disappoint.

This was our first time at the Palace Theater, and it's a really nice venue.  It's a long trip from McCandless to Greensburg, but if it's an act that you want to see - and the Palace gets a lot of good acts - it can be well worth it.

Oh, I did say that Lewis "did not disappoint", but that is not entirely true.  I was really hoping to hear them do "It's Alright" during the acapella portion of the show, but, alas, they did not.  So, thank God for YouTube.  Enjoy....

Monday, July 17, 2017

Bring On The Brewers

In case anyone missed it, sandwiched around the All-Star Break last week, the Pirates managed to take two of three games from the Cubs and two of three games from the Cardinals.  Forging a .667 winning percentage against NL Central foes has not been something that the Pirates have been successful in doing, even in the "glory years" of 2013-15, and so far in 2017, the Bucs are only 16-19 against the Central. So it is probably not a good idea to get too excited over these last two series, but that small degree of success makes the upcoming four game set with the first place Brewers interesting, does it not?

The Pirates are currently four games under .500, in fourth place in the division, and seven games behind the Brewers.  Should the Pirates pull a rabbit out of their hats and sweep the Brewers, or even win three of four, that will certainly cause what has been a moribund season to percolate.  Should the unthinkable happen, and the Brewers sweep the Pirates, that will all but end any hopes the Pirates will have of capturing the Central division, which is the only path to the playoffs for the representative of what has been a mediocre division in 2017.  Chances are the teams will split the series, and the mediocrity will continue.

Either way, this shapes up as meaningful series for the Pirates, and it so happens that I will be in attendance at games three and four of the series, and I am looking forward to it.


To A Whole Bunch of Absent Friends

A melancholy happy trails to a whole bunch of folks in the last several days.....

Hootie Johnson, a former Chairman of the Augusta National  Golf Club died last week at the age of 86.  A southerner who could certainly be considered a progressive, Johnson will probably be most remembered for the intransigent stand he took when women's groups demanded that Augusta National admit women as full time members.  Fairly or not, the idea that Johnson wanted to keep his Club rooted in 1930's sensibilities will be what most will remember about him.  When I attended a practice round of The Masters "Toon-a-mint" (that's how Hootie pronounced it) in 2002, Hootie Johnson, clad in his green jacket, walked right past me.  I could have reached out and touched him.  Had I done so, I am sure that an army of Augusta National security forces would have been all over me.

Rochester, PA native Vito "Babe" Parilli died over the weekend at the age of 87.  Parilli was an All-American quarterback at the University of Kentucky and a Heisman Trophy contender in the early 1950's.  He couldn't quite make it in the NFL, and he was kicking around the Canadian Football League when he was given new life when the American Football League was formed in 1960.  He had a great career in the AFL, made the all-time AFL team (pre-merger), and was considered the greatest quarterback in the history of the Boston/New England Patriots.  Up until that Brady kid joined the team, that is.  Parilli served as Joe Namath's back-up on the Jets team that won Super Bowl III, and served a stint as quarterbacks coach for the Steelers under Chuck Noll during that height of the Bradshaw vs. Hanratty vs. Gilliam Steelers Quarterbacks Debate.

Oscar winning actor Martin Landau died at the age of 89.  He will probably best be remembered for his role on 1960's TV show "Mission Impossible".  Interesting story from his obit in this morning's paper. Landau was offered the part of Spock on the original "Star Trek" series.  He turned it down, thus missing out on a certain measure of pop culture immortality, and the part was given, as everyone knows, to Leonard Nimoy.  When Landau quit "Mission Impossible" after a couple of seasons in a contract dispute, he was replaced on the show by...Leonard Nimoy!  I will most remember Landau for his roles in Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest", Woody Allen's "Crimes and Misdemeanors", and, of course, his Oscar winning turn as Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton's "Ed Wood".

Finally, filmmaker George Romero died on Sunday at the age of 77.  He was most famous for his filmed-in-Pittsburgh zombie movie classic, "Night of the Living Dead" (a clip of which can be seen in the current hit movie, "The Big Sick").  Zombie movies are not my cup of tea, but Romero was a Pittsburgh guy (sort of) and a giant in his chosen field, and, as such, his passing deserves to be noted.

RIP Hootie Johnson, Babe Parilli, Martin Landau, and George Romero.

Friday, July 14, 2017

In The Area of Critical Commentary - "The Big Sick" and "In The Heights"

Everywhere you look, "The Big Sick" is getting four star reviews from critics all over the country.  Actor/comedian Kumail Nanjiani, a Pakistani-American, plays Kumail Nanjiani, a Pakistani-American trying to make it as a stand-up comedian in Chicago.  While doing his set one night, he is gently heckled by audience member Emily Gordon.  The meet afterward, have a one night hook-up, but soon become romantically involved and fall in love.  Meanwhile, Kumail's traditional Pakistani family disapproves of his choice of profession (they want him to go to law school), and are constantly trying to get him into an arranged marriage with a Pakistani woman.

Kumail and Emily have a fight and break up, then Emily comes down with a mysterious illness that forces doctors to put her into an induced coma as they struggle to find a cure for her illness.  This brings Emily's parents into the picture and another set of complications for Kumail.

Doesn't sound like the stuff of your typical romantic comedy, but this movie is truly funny while it raises important questions about cultural values, prejudices, and just what this crazy thing called love is all about.

The movie was written by Nanjiani and his real life wife, Emily Gordon.  Yep, that is the name of the character in the movie, so this is somewhat autobiographical, although I do not believe that the real-life Emily experienced a "big sick" in her own life.  Nanjiani is quite good in the movie as is Zoe Kazan as Emily (Fun Fact: Ms. Kazan is the granddaughter of Oscar winning director Elia Kazan), and then there are Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, who play Emily's parents.  I won't say that they steal the show here, they don't, but they are terrific in their roles.  I was especially surprised by Romano, who I still see as a TV sitcom star.  He was wonderful in this.  

Lots of professional critics are calling "The Big Sick" the best movie of the year, and they may well be correct. You will laugh and you will cry, and if someone you love has ever been seriously ill, this will especially touch you.   Do not miss it.

Four Stars all the way from The Grandstander.

(CORRECTION: A few days after I wrote this entry, I learned that the real life Emily Gordon did, indeed, have a mysterious illness that caused her to be in a medically induced coma, very much like Emily in the movie.  Truth is stranger than fiction.)


Last night we made what will probably be, sadly, our only visit to the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera this year to see Lin-Manuel Miranda's "In The Heights".  This was the first Broadway musical production for Miranda, and it was the winner of four Tony Awards, and it certainly presaged Miranda's epic that was to come, "Hamilton".

It was a wonderful show with high energy singing and dancing, music that included rap, hip-hop, and salsa, as well as traditional Broadway-type ballads and production numbers.  As always, the CLO's production was top notch.

This is the kind of show that will no doubt be touring forever, and it is already being performed by high schools across the land.  It is one that you should try to see at some point in your theater going life.

Four stars.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Ron Burkle Interview

I hope that you all had the chance to read the extensive and in-depth story about Penguins principal owner Ron Burkle in the Post-Gazette this morning.  Burkle is an extremely wealthy businessman who, it can be stated with some accuracy, saved the Penguins franchise for Pittsburgh when he partnered with Mario Lemieux to purchase the team.  He prefers to stay out of the spotlight, and this interview, the team said, would be the only such one that he will do.

Anyway, it was a most interesting story and well worth your time to read.  However, one passage fairly jumped off the page and smacked me in the mouth when I read it.  It talked about how Burkle reacted to Ken Sawyer, who was the CEO of the Pens at the time the Burkle/Lemieux group took ownership of the team. The two had, shall we say, philosophical differences.

“I thought we were headed in the wrong direction because Mario, like almost everybody who’s got an incredible talent – whether it’s in business and you’re a great operator or whether it’s as a great player – when they get in the top position, they tend to lean on the CFO a lot, and the CFO doesn’t have a commitment to win,” Burkle said.
“The CFO has a commitment to try to end up with the most amount of money in the bank. And most of the time, just due to their personality, they have the wrong strategy, so their idea of how to end up with the most money in the bank doesn’t build the most value. I’d rather build value than put money in the bank, because value is ultimately what you’re after.”
Further on in the story, Burkle also stated, and this was the Money Quote in the story, as far as I was concerned:
“I didn’t think we had the commitment to winning,” he said. “We had somebody saying, ‘This is the way to end up the year without having to write a check,’ or ‘This is the way to end the year with having a few dollars in the bank.’ I thought that was taking the wrong direction.”
The Penguins, under the ownership of Burkle/Lemieux, have reached the Stanley Cup finals four times in ten seasons, and have won it three times, and are, according to Burkle, "a profitable team, under almost any scenario..."
Compare and contrast this way of doing business to the way Bob Nutting runs the Pirates.  And, yeah, I know that there is a salary cap in the NHL and none in baseball.  Cry me a river.  And just think, Pirates fans, the Burkle/Lemieux group did make an offer to buy the Pirates earlier in this decade but were quietly rebuffed by Nutting.

If you are interested, here is a link to the entire story from today's PG:

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Critical Commentary - Two '70's Movies

I have spent some time in recent days watching a couple of movies from the 1970's, and I have come away favorably impressed.

The first is an undeniable classic and may very well be the movie that defined the term "Blockbuster", from 1975, Steven Spielberg's "Jaws".

We've all seen this one, am I right, so I don't really need to tell you what it is about, do I?  One day this past winter I saw Blue-ray edition of "Jaws" in the ten dollar sale bin at Target, and I just couldn't pass it by, and I finally got around to watching it one afternoon this week.  

First off, I was amazed at how beautiful the movie was on Blue-ray.  Since this movie was made at a time when High Definition did not exist, I wasn't sure how it would look on my HD TV, but I needn't have worried.  It was gorgeous, and it was almost like seeing a brand new movie for the first time.  (How do they do that??) Secondly, and even more importantly, the movie still packs the terrifying wallop that it did that first time you saw it back in '75.

When Spielberg agreed to do the movie - and he was only 27 years old at the time, let that fact sink in on you - his vision was that the shark should not be seen by the audience for at least the first hour of the film.  This would build suspense to the point that you would leave you seat when you did see it, and, yes, I STILL jump when that shark puts his head out for the water as Roy Scheider lays out that chum line.

Then there are all of the extras that appear on the Blue-ray disc.  Hours and hours of them, including a two hour 1995 documentary called "The Making of Jaws", and I am still working my way through them.  

Two lines of dialog from that movie have made their way into the current vernacular to the point that many people who use them may not even realize from whence they came:

  • "This was no boating accident." To be used when presented with a set of facts and suppositions, often in the work place, that are obviously pure unadulterated bullshit.
  • When confronted with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, either at home, with your family, or in the workplace, who among us hasn't said "We're going to need a bigger boat."
If you are a fan of this movie, or if in the unlikely event you have never seen it, seek out and pick yourself up a copy of the "Jaws" Blue-ray.

The second movie was Arthur Hiller's 1976 comedy "Silver Streak".

I remember going to the theater to see this one when it was released - and for all you youngsters out there,that was the only way you could see a movie back in 1976 - and enjoying it a lot, but I know that I had not seen it since.  I was prompted to watch it again because my pal Dan often makes reference to this one, particularly to one specific line of dialog near the end.  

You always wonder how a movie, particularly a comedy, might hold up forty-one years after it's first release, and I am delighted to say that this one was still fresh and still funny.  Not a whole lot of it was dated.  It is sad to note that the three lead actors in this one, Gene Wilder, Jill Clayburgh, and Richard Pryor, are no longer with us, which is all the more reason to watch this one again and enjoy their performances.  Pryor in particular is brilliant in this.  There was also one scene that I had completely forgotten in which Wilder puts shoe polish on his face, at Pryor's urging, to disguise himself as a black guy in order to avoid the cops.  It was absolutely hilarious.

The plot of the story, as if that really matters, involves Wilder taking a three day train trip for Los Angeles to Chicago in order to relax and be "bored for awhile".  On board, he meets a sexy lady in the cabin next door, gets involved with some bad guys, and gets thrown off the train three different times, yet is somehow able to catch up to it and re-board. Implausible and slightly ridiculous, but still outrageously funny.

As I said, Pryor was fabulous in this movie.  I got hysterical when he grabbed the radio while driving a stolen police car, called the sheriff and told him....

Hey Chauncey, this is Grover T. Muldoon. You wanna know what happened? We just whooped your ass. We whooped your ass. Ha ha ha!

This movie also gives you he opportunity to see, in a bit part near the end of the movie, a very young Fred Willard.

Lots of funny stuff in this movie, including a classic line from Scatman Crothers, which I will save for use when we take our own train trip to Chicago later this year.

All in all, two very worthwhile trips back into the 1970's this past week for The Grandstander.

A Pirates Thought

The Pirates have closed out the figurative first half of the season on somewhat of a high note, winning five of their last seven games, including two of three form the floundering defending champs, the Cubs (and doesn't your heart just ache for Genius Joe Maddon?).

Today's thoughts, however, are elsewhere.

I hope that all Pirates fans read Joe Starkey's column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Friday.  It was headlined "Pin the Pirates Pitiful First Half On the Players".  I won't restate it here, but it was good reading, and I urge you to check it out.  

Towards the end of the column, however, Starkey made one statement that summed up perfectly my feelings that have existed towards the management of the team since the trade deadline approached last season:

That is not to absolve management or ownership. It must stink to be a baseball fan here because the Pirates are constantly worried about saving a buck. The minute somebody shows promise, the question immediately becomes: How soon before they get rid of him? Nobody can enjoy McCutchen’s renaissance because he could be tossed out the window any second.
That’s no way to live.

And that is the problem in a nutshell.  Since Memorial Day, Andrew McCutchen has been playing at a level that has equaled, if not exceeded, the levels that made him an MVP caliber - and the 2013 MVP - in the early years of this decade, but how can you really savor them knowing that the man who has symbolized the resurgence of the Pirates will be gone, if not by July 31, then surely in the off season,
It ain't easy being a Pirates fan.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Critical Commentary - "Baby Driver"

I took in the much talked about movie "Baby Driver", written and directed by Edgar Wright, this afternoon.  To be honest, I wasn't sure how much I was going to like this, so I came into it with mixed expectations.  I came out of it feeling that I definitely was entertained, and I definitely got my money's worth for my admission ticket.

Twenty-three year old Ansel Elgort, a young actor with whom I was not familiar, played the title character, Baby, yep, that was his name, a young expert driver who served as the wheel man for criminal capers masterminded by shadowy crook Kevin Spacey.  Baby is almost constantly seen wearing ear buds.  Music is what drives him, and music is essential to him as he plays his role in these various capers.  Music, in fact, plays throughout the movie, and becomes as much a character in the film as any of the actors.

Ansel Elgort  

Other key figures in the movie are John Hamm (of "Mad Men" fame) as Buddy, and Oscar winner Jamie Foxx as Bats.  Perhaps the most charming person in the movie is Debora, a waitress with whom Baby becomes romantically involved.  Debora is played by Lily James....

Lily James

As I watched, I just knew that I knew her, but couldn't think of what show or movie I had seen her in before.  Turns out that she played Lady Rose, the progressive thinking and totally sexy cousin of the Grathams in "Downtown Abbey".  She was  quite charming in this one.

For what the movie is - a caper flick with lots and lots of action - "Baby Driver" certainly delivers the goods.  There at least four (hey, I lost count) auto chase scenes that make the ones in "Bullett" and "The French Connection" look like little old ladies driving to church on Sundays.  There is also gun violence, lots and lots of gun violence, in this one, so be warned.

I liked young Anson Elgort. He could be someone worth watching in the years ahead.  And a word about John Hamm.  Since "Mad Men" went off the air, you haven't seen much of him outside of those H&R Block commercials, but he is pretty good in this movie.  I have heard some people dismiss him as simply a "television actor", and maybe he will be forever known as Don Draper, but I think he comes through well as one of the bad guys here.

I was tempted to go with three stars on this one, but I am going to scale it back to two and one-half stars simply because of all the violence.  Yes, these are violent people being depicted, but we got the idea early on.  No need to beat us over the head with it.

Let me close with the title tune, which is played over the closing credits of the movie, as played by the great Simon and Garfunkel.

Monday, July 3, 2017

To Absent Friends - David Vincent

David Vincent
At RFK Stadium, 2007

It wasn't long after I joined the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) in 2001 that I became aware of the name David Vincent.  I knew Vincent, who died yesterday after a two and one-half year battle with stomach cancer at the age of 67, as a stalwart researcher, and as the guy who knew everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, that there was to know about any and every home run ever hit in the history of major league baseball.

In reading about him today, I also learned that he was a key figure in the indispensable website, a guy who knew as much about umpires and their history as he did about home runs, and the guy who has been the official scorer for Washington Nationals games in Washington ever since the team relocated there in 2005.

For a much better summation of David Vincent and the kind of guy that he was, I refer you to the story in today's Washington Post by Nats beat writer Chelsea Janes:

Over the years, I had a few occasions to contact Mr. Vincent for some reason or another, and he always responded quickly and courteously.  I never met him personally or even talked with him by telephone, but I just knew that I was dealing with a real gentleman.  I will close with one story about one of my dealings with him.

Shortly after I was able to get Chuck Tanner to speak to our Pittsburgh SABR Chapter, and after Tanner told the story with which he had been entertaining audiences for years, i.e., "I once pinch hit for Hank Aaron and hit a home run", I contacted Mr. Vincent to see if this was a true story.

Sorry to tell you, said David, but no, Tanner never did hit a home run as a pinch hitter for Hank Aaron.  Great story, but not true.  He did tell me this story about Tanner and two of his home runs, though.

On May 13, 1956 in the first game of a double-header at Crosley Field, the Braves had a 15-0 lead over the Redlegs. Aaron was taken out of this blow-out in the sixth inning and replaced defensively by Tanner. When batting in the top of the eighth, Tanner hit a home run. Obviously, in telling the story over the years, batting "in place of Hank Aaron" became "pinch hitting for Hank Aaron." It made for a better story. "Print the legend" as the newsman told James Stewart, "The Man who shot Liberty Valence."

Tanner actually had only one pinch hit home run in his playing career, and it was while pinch hitting for another Hall of Famer....Warren Spahn. This was the oft-noted home run that Chuck hit on the first pitch of his first at bat in the majors.

So, not only would David Vincent answer your question, but, in my case at least, he gave you more information and you learned a lot more that you thought that you would.

In the world of baseball research and baseball in general, David Vincent will be missed.

RIP David Vincent.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Pirates at the Halfway Mark, plus One Game

So we know what the Pirates' specifically and the NL Central Division's 2017 season in general has been like.  A mediocre team stuck in what is turning out to be a mediocre division.  The Pirates played below .500 in both April and May, but, hey, in June they "surged" to a 13-13 record.  You took a look at the division, and thought, well, maybe, just maybe, the team could hit a hot streak and somehow win the Central Division. After all, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, right?

All conditions looked good.  The Pirates had won four of six games and marching into PNC Park for the holiday weekend, were the San Francisco Giants, the team that was, by record, the second worst team in the National League.  Time to turn on the jets, get serious, win some ball games against a bad opponent, and begin a second half charge.

Instead, the Pirates rolled over and played dead and were swept by the Giants. They now stand at 37-45, six games behind the first place Brewers.  Worse, they managed to get two pretty good starts from back-enders Chad Kuhl and Trevor Williams yesterday and today got bupkis for the effort.  I was at the game yesterday afternoon when the Giants did all that they could to help the Pirates win that game.  Giants pitchers issued ten walks - TEN!! - and the Buccos managed 1 run while stranding fifteen - FIFTEEN!! - base runners.  The game went into extra innings and the Giants scored the winning run on a Daniel Hudson wild pitch.  I didn't see today's game, but the box score tells me that the bullpen, which stinks (with the exception of Felipe Rivera), blew another one.

As I have watched the Pirates this season, there has been nothing there that gets me excited about them.  The personal irresponsibility of Jung Ho Kang and Starling Marte put the team behind an eight ball so large that there is no getting out from it.  You see guys like Phil Gosselin, Gift Ngoepe, Jacob Stalliings on the team.  You see bench guys playing out of position and too often.  And then there is that parade of stiffs and no names in that bullpen.  And you see Max Moroff.

Hey, God bless the kid.  He is only 24 years old, and he has fulfilled the dream of just about every American little boy - he is a professional baseball player who has made the major leagues.  He may one day blossom and become an All-Star, and for his sake, I truly hope that he does, but.....He started today for the second game in a row and went 1-for-3 and this raised his batting average to .103.  You read right...ONE-ZERO-THREE.  Yes, he is a utility guy who is at best the twenty-fifth guy on the roster right now, but a guy toting a .103 BA should not be on a Major League roster.  I mean....

One word describes this weekend against the Giants and it also describes this entire season: Disheartening.  It began in the off-season when all talk seemed to center on the Pirates efforts to trade Andrew McCutchen.  That talked continued throughout spring training and into the season, and will only ramp up as the July 31 trade deadline approaches.

The Pirates are on a tightrope.  Do they stand pat and/or trade for (cheap and inexpensive) guys who might help them win a lousy division and hope that the dice roll right for them in the post-season, or do they begin the process of tearing it all down and start a rebuild that might payoff with some success in a 2020-2023 window?

My guess is that Neal Huntington will start the rebuilding process (although he will never use that word), and between July 31 and Opening Day, 2018, guys like McCutchen, Gerrit Cole, Josh Harrison, Tony Watson and others will no longer be Pirates, having been traded for various "prospects" with "high upside".  Any trade that Pirates make will no doubt be able to be defended in a pure baseball sense, but when these guys go, especially Andrew McCutchen, "disheartening" won't even begin to describe how that is going to feel.