Sunday, April 29, 2018

So, How Did The Steelers "Do In The Draft"?

Okay, I know that you all have been waiting for this, so here is my post-draft analysis on how the Steelers fared in the just completed 2018 Draft:

No one  - not Mike Tomlin, not Kevin Colbert, not any ex-jock talking head at ESPN, no talk-jock on 93.7 The Fan, and certainly not me - will be able to answer that question until, say, midway through the 2020 season. So enough with the analysis.

However, here are some thoughts....
  • Despite how all the Mel Kipers and Peter Kings of the world said that the Steelers absolutely, positively HAD to draft an inside linebacker to replace Ryan Shazier, the Steelers ended up drafting two safeties, a wide receiver, a tight end, an offensive tackle, a defensive tackle, and a quarterback (more on him in a moment).  No linebacker, which is why the "experts" are telling us how the Steelers "blew it".  Don't know about you, but I'm putting my money on Tomlin and Colbert before I put it on Mel Kiper Jr.
  • This will the Draft class forever identified, for better or worse, as the "Terrell Edmunds Draft".
  • You certainly like Edmunds', a safety, credentials. And his size and speed.  Let's hope he can deliver the goods for the Steelers.
  • The Steelers also took another safety, Marcus Allen of Penn State, in a later round.  Does this mean a lack of faith in third year safety Sean Davis?  Or will either Edmunds or Allen become more of a quasi-linebacker in the Steelers defense?
  • Any draft class is always made all the more intriguing when a quarterback is selected, which the Steelers did when they picked Mason Rudolph of Oklahoma State in the third round.
  • If you follow Pitt football, you certainly know about Rudolph, who positively torched Pitt in each of the last two seasons, both lopsided wins for the Cowboys.  Hey, I am no expert when it comes to evaluating pro football talent, but I know what I saw in those two games Rudolph played against Pitt, and he was devastating.  Does this translate into a successful NFL career? Who knows, but I like the pick.  It seems that in Rudolph, the Steelers are looking at the guy to groom to be Ben Roethlisberger's replacement two or three years down the pike.
  • One round earlier, the Steelers also selected Rudolph's battery mate at OK State, WR James Washington, who also tortured Pitt in the last two seasons.  Washington looks to be first in line to replace Martavis Bryant, the talented but knuckle-headed receiver whom they traded to Oakland on Thursday.
  • When the draft was completed, the Steelers announced the signing of a bunch of undrafted free agents.  Only one of these names was familiar to me, and it was an intriguing one: Quadree Henderson, WR, University of Pittsburgh.  He will no doubt be deep on the depth chart when the Steelers convene in Latrobe in July, but Henderson gave the Panthers many, many electrifying moments as both a receiver and, primarily, as a kick returner over the past three seasons.  How he might fair as a return man for the Steelers might give you a reason to watch the exhibition games come August.
So, let's hope that this draft yields more Antonio Browns and David DeCastros than it does Jarvis Joneses and Huey Richardsons.  No one will know until they get  them out on the practice fields.

Oh, and how can we leave this topic without highlighting the Feel Good Moment of the Draft for Steelers fans - Ryan Shazier walking on stage to announce the Steelers first selection.

Our First Game of the Season

Mrs. Grandstander and I attended our first Pirates game of the season this past Friday evening because (a) it was finally  a decent weather day in Pittsburgh, and (b) the Bucs were giving out free umbrellas to the first 20,000 fans who came through the gates (I understand that there were plenty of umbrellas left), courtesy of Highmark BCBS.

Love that Highmark logo 
on those bumbershoots!

It was the kind of game that makes you love baseball.  It was also the kind of game that highlights one of the things that drives you crazy about baseball.  

The Cardinals jumped out to a 5-0 lead, and despite a monster HR from Gregory Polanco, the Bucs trailed 5-2 going into the bottom of the ninth.  In spite of some great work from the Bucco bullpen, it was a rather desultory performance by the team, and it looked like it was going to be a loss for the home team.  However, the Pirates started the ninth by going double-single-single-triple and all of a sudden it was 5-5.  We were then in extra innings and the Pirates won it in the bottom of the eleventh.  Just like that, a pretty blah performance was turned into an electrifying win.

That was the good part.

Here was the bad part, and the game could be Exhibit A in the Commissioner's quest to speed up the pace of play in baseball.  The first eight and one-half innings were played in two hours and twenty minutes.  Then Cardinals manager Mike Matheny took over.

After Jordy Mercer's triple tied the game, Cards' pitching coach Mike Maddux slowly walked to the mound, all St. Louis infielders conferred on the mound, then Maddux slowly returned to the dugout.  Then the Pirate announced a pinch hitter, and then Matheny slowwwwwwwlllllyyyyy walked to the mound and called for a pitching change.  Pitcher slowly walked in from the bullpen and took his eight warm-up tosses before facing the Pirate batter.  Matheny then rinsed and repeated this painful process twice more in the inning.  Four mound visits, three pitching changes.  The bottom of the ninth took 30 minutes to play.  It felt like it took thirty hours.

And in watching Saturday's game on TV, it was more of the same Matheny.  

That's Reason Numero Uno why it was so much fun seeing the Pirates jam it up Matheny's butt and win two straight from the Cardinals.  How great it would be to see them sweep them this afternoon.

After a terrible week that culminated in the Bucs being swept in Philadelphia last weekend, the team has rebounded by winning four in a row, and this morning they sit in first place in the NL Central, albeit by a slim 1/2 game margin, with a 16-11 record (a 96 win pace over the course of 162 games!).

Things have gone surprisingly well for the Pirates this first month of the season.  It has been interesting and fun to watch, and this afternoon's contest offers the added bonus of getting to see highly touted pitching prospect Nick Kingham make his major league debut.  Because of an unscheduled double header earlier in the week, the team need a spot starter for today, and Kingham got the call.  He will probably be sent back to Indy after the game, but what if goes six or seven shutout innings and notches a win?  Let's hope that Neal Huntington has to make that particular tough decision sometime tonight.

Good luck, Nick Kingham!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

At The Movies...."A Quiet Place"

The movie "A Quiet Place" is currently generating lots and lots of buzz, so we took it in this afternoon.  It has been described as a Sci-fi/Horror/Suspense film, and it is all of that, but I would put the greatest emphasis on the "Suspense" part of the description.

The movie begins in the near future, and something bad has happened to Planet Earth. In an almost post-apocalyptic, setting, humans are being preyed upon by creatures that react to human sounds and noises.  As a result, everyone needs to remain perfectly silent, and the family around which this story revolves, communicates by using American Sign Language.  There is very little spoken dialog and subtitles are used throughout the movie.

I am not going to give any further details, so as not to even hint at what could become spoilers.  The movie stars John Krasinski and his real life wife Emily Blunt.  Krasinski also directed the film, co-wrote the screenplay, and served as an executive producer.  It is his movie, no question about it, and perhaps the best part of the movie is that it is only 90 minutes long, so there are no dragged out or superfluous spots, which means the suspense starts at the very beginning and never lets up.

If you are inclined to see this movie, see it now, in a theater, preferably when there are a lot of people watching.  That would really tend to intensify the suspense and the "Oh-my-God" moments that are throughout the movie.  At the matinee performance we saw today, there were a total of five people in the theater, so that was bummer.  And to wait to watch on DVD or streaming in the comfort of your home would probably lessen the thrills and chills of the movie.

Kudos also need to go out to remarkable young actress Millicent Simmonds who plays Krasinski's and Blunt's  daughter.  Simmonds actually is deaf which makes her performance all the more remarkable.  The character's deafness plays a key role in the plot line of the movie, and it us also used in the sound effects of the movie to great and suspenseful effect as well.

The movie is worth the buzz it is getting.  Mrs. Grandstander and I both recommend it, but be prepared to be white-knuckling your armrests and jumping off of your seat more that once as you watch.

Three stars from The Grandstander.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Final Season for "The Americans"

We are now four episodes into the sixth final ten episode season for the FX series "The Americans".  I have written of this show often on the Blog, usually in favorable terms, but, and you knew there was going to be a but here, didn't you?

For background, the series is about two KGB agents, Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings, who are living under deep cover in suburban Washington, DC during the Reagan Administration.  They pose as travel agents and have two children.  In fact, they are ruthless spies for the USSR, who will stop at nothing as the Mother County does cold war battle with the enemy USA.  And when I say "anything" and "ruthless", I ain't kidding.  That means sleeping with the enemy (in true cable series fashion, this shows offers a generous dose of gratuitous nudity) and, oh, yeah, killing the enemy if that is what's called for.  Over the years, we have gotten to see plenty of shots of star Keri Russell's bare bum, and also seen her and Phillip, but especially her, ruthlessly and relentlessly killing too many people to count.  

They also live directly across the street from Stan Beeman, the FBI agent whose job is to track down Soviet spies.  Apparently, Stan is as dumb an FBI agent as Noah Emmerich, the actor who plays him, is a bad actor.  For six seasons this guy has been the most wooden actor I have ever seen.

How they manage to do all this, while raising two kids in suburban America and running a travel agency, constitutes a plot hole large enough to drive an 18 wheeler through, but so what?  For the first three or four seasons, the show was great.  Fast moving and exciting, you could follow the plot lines, and you couldn't wait for the next episode.  As is often the case, however, "The Americans" stayed too long at the fair.  The show should have ended after season four, maybe even season three.  Last year and this current and final season have just stretched out and are no longer compelling at all.  

So, you may ask, what is wrong in this final season?  Let me cite a few things (NOTE:  If you are not caught up on this final season, the following observations may be considered spoilers; you've been warned):
  • Since the end of Season Five, a time jump has occurred, and Season Six takes place four years later.  Daughter Paige is in college, and son Henry is off at some fancy prep school in New England playing hockey.
  • Phillip has apparently tired of the spy game, and is now devoting all of his time to running his travel agency.  Question:  Can a KGB agent actually "quit" and remain in his American location, and if so, would the KGB allow him to become a full time capitalist American businessman?
  • Towards the end of Season Four, the Jennings' handlers instructed them that it was time to turn Paige into a Soviet spy as well.  This girl, who was your typical American teenager and had no idea what her parents really did for a living, agreed readily.  Would that really happen?
  • Son Henry, still has no clue of his parents' occupation.
  • Elizabeth remains in the spy game full throttle, working to sabotage an upcoming Reagan-Gorbachev Summit, and is more brutal than ever.  In four episodes so far, she has brutally killed three people.
  • She is bringing Paige into her operations, but all Paige seems to be doing is sitting in a car by herself while Mom is out spying.  What's up with that?
  • Stan Beeman is still clueless.
  • Phillip is faced with financial problems because his travel agency expanded too quickly, and he might now be going broke.
So, six episodes remain to tie this all together.  I predict bad endings for everyone.  I can see a couple of possible scenarios.  

(A) The entire Jennings family gets killed in some final Armageddon-like sequence.  

(B) Paige gets killed in some shoot up with the FBI right in front of her mother and father, who are then sent off to life in a federal penitentiary.  Everybody forgets about Henry, who continue to excel on the ice and gets drafted by the Washington Capitals.

(C) Phillip and Elizabeth get killed right in front of Paige, who is traumatized for life, but still get sent to the pen for life.

(D) When the dust settles and the FBI realizes that their ace Special Agent has lived across the street from these people for ten years, sends Stan to head up the FBI office in Nome, Alaska.

(E) In his final day in office, President Reagan pardons Elizabeth, because his kids Ron and Patti loved watching her when she was in "Felicity".

Okay, I don't really know how this will end, but in all honesty it simply HAS to end badly for the Jennings, right?  I mean, they are spies and killers, enemies of the American way of life, and just really bad people.  They've got to either die or be sent away forever to prison.  Nothing else would be just.

Whatever happens, I wish that it would have happened two years ago.  The show isn't what it was, and we are watching it now, not because it is good, but because after investing five years into watching it, we now just have to see how it ends.  The show now is like an aging ball player past his prime, a shadow of its former self and hanging on for one or two seasons too many, playing out the string.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

A Trio of Absent Friends

Sadly, lots off people of consequence have died in recent days.  Let us take them in alphabetical order.

Harry Anderson

Actor and performer Harry Anderson was only 65 when he died on April 14th at his home in North Carolina.  He is best known for his role as Judge Harry T. Stone on the terrific  ABC sitcom "Night Court" that ran from 1984-92.  A three time Emmy nominee, he started his show biz career as a magician/busker/street performer in San Francisco and sort of fell into stand up comedy and acting.  After "Night Court" and another sitcom "Dave's World", which had a four year run, he returned to his roots and opened a night club and magic shop in New Orleans.  Of this career change, Anderson stated “I am richer than Davy Crockett, (and) I can settle back and do what I want to do. And what I want to do is card tricks and magic.”

He reluctantly left New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and settled in Asheville, NC.

Hal Greer

Most people under the age of sixty probably had no idea of who Hal Greer was when they read of his death on April 14th at the age of 81.  A native of Huntington, WV, Greer played basketball at his hometown Marshall University, and then had a fifteen year career in the NBA with the Syracuse Nationals and Philadelphia 76'ers.  He was a ten time NBA All-Star, scored over 21,000 points, and was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982.

He was the point guard of the 1966-67 Philadelphia 76'ers that won the NBA Championship.  Greer's teammates included Wilt Chamberlain, Billy Cunningham, Luke Jackson, and Chet Walker. They compiled a record of 68-13, which at the time was the best single season record in NBA history.  That team was the ONLY team to ever defeat a Bill Russell-led Celtics team in a playoffs series.  To this day, there are many basketball historians who proclaim that 1966-67 76'ers to be the greatest single season team in NBA history.  

Bruno Sammartino

Professional wrestling has changed a lot over the last thirty years or so, but in the early days of televised pro wrestling, which was done on a local basis throughout the country, one man stood out above all, and that was Bruno Sammartino, who died yesterday, April 18th, at the age of 82 after a lengthy illness.  

He was born in Pizzoferrato, Italy, spent much of his early years living off the land and hiding and escaping the armies of Mussolini and Hitler.  His emigrated to America at the age of nine, settled in Pittsburgh, graduated from Schenley High School in 1955.  He tried weightlifting and one way or another was "discovered" and became a professional wrestler. Not just any pro wrestler, but a heavyweight champion who became famous around the world and was reputed to have sold out Madison Square Garden in New York more than any other single performer.  However, Pittsburgh was his home, and he lived in his same modest North Hills home for the last 56 years of his life.

I am pleased to say that, yes, I did see Bruno perform once on a WWWF (as it was then known) wrestling card at the Civic Arena at some point in the mid-1980's.  He was nearing the end of his active career at the point and was billed as "Living Legend Bruno Sammartino".  I don't remember who he grappled with that night, but, yes, he won his match.  

He was indeed a Living Legend and a cherished Pttsburgher.

RIP Harry Anderson, Hal Greer, and Bruno Sammartino.

To Absent Friends - Barbara Bush

Barbara Pierce Bush

First Lady of the United States

Wife of George H.W. Bush
41st President of the United States

Mother of George W. Bush
43rd President of the Unites States

There is nothing that I can add to the tributes, and non-partisan tributes at that, that have been said of Barbara Bush in these last three days.  I think that these words of her own describe her best.

RIP Barbara Bush.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Harrisons In The News

It was quite a day yesterday for Pittsburgh athletes named Harrison.

First, the bad news.  Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison 

was placed on the disabled list after suffering a broken bone in his left hand when he was hit by a pitch on Sunday.  This is the same bone that was broken last August in the same manner and that ended Harrison's season.  He is expected to be out from four to six weeks.

As I postulated in the space two days ago, the Pirates are a team that can ill afford to lose any of their starters for any length of time, but Harrison might - might - be the one guy whose loss would be felt the least.  A combination of Adam Frazier and Sean Rodriguez will be the tandem that will be expected to pick up the slack in Harrison's absence.

To replace him on the roster, the Pirates recalled infielder Max Moroff from Indianapolis.  Moroff spent time in Pittsburgh last season and accumulated 120 at bats.  Overall, the numbers on the back of his baseball card (to use a Neal Huntington-ism) were not impressive, but as I wrote on The Grandstander last winter, his 2017 progressed in such a fashion that he at least becomes an intriguing guy to look at.

Of course, at this point, we have no idea who will get most of the playing time while Jay-Hey recovers.  Frazier is no doubt first among equals here, but I'm okay if Moroff gets a legitimate shot at it.


Meanwhile, down at the other end of General Robinson Street, former Steeler James Harrison announced his retirement from football.

A former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Harrison will go down as one of the all-time greatest Steelers, but his last year here didn't end well.  He was released by the Steelers in December, and after that there was talk that he was disruptive, lackadaisical, and a bad teammate in his final season here.  Plus, he incurred the wrath of irate Yinzer Steelers fans by signing with the Patriots after his release.  I mean, who did he think he was, signing with the hated forces of Kraft-Belichick-Brady?  Like he had a right to try to keep earning a living? (Some Steelers fans need to get over themselves.)  As Art Rooney II said in his annual post season presser, sometimes the final acts of even the greatest players' careers don't often end well.

Be that as it may, as great a player as Harrison was, and he was great, he was not an easy guy to like.  He had a penchant for borderline  and, shall we say, questionable hits, that made you cringe sometimes (and cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines by the League).  He was one of the guys that you like him when he plays for YOUR team, and you hate him when he plays for the Other Guys.  There was also a domestic violence incident back in 2008 that the Steelers looked the other way on (not one of Dan Rooney's finest hours) that cast a shadow over Harrison in the minds of many.

Still, he will be remembered for perhaps the second greatest play in Steelers history, and probably the greatest single defensive play in Super Bowl history.  His 100 yard interception return for a touchdown that was crucial in the Steelers Super Bowl XLIII win over the Cardinals.  If you are a Steelers fan, you never get tired of watching it.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Ex-Pirates in 2018

With nothing better to do on a Sunday morning, I thought that I would dive into the interwebs and see what some of our favorite ex-Pirates are doing with their new teams in the now two week old 2018 baseball season.

Submitted for your approval:


Neil Walker

Pedro Alvarez

Andrew McCutchen

Russell Martin

J.A. Happ
Gerrit Cole
Charlie Morton
Tony Watson

All stats through April 14

I am offering no value judgments or opinions here.  Just thought that it might be of interest.  What I haven't done, mainly because I'm just too lazy right now, is do a side-by-side comparison of what the current Pirates (10-4 and in first place by 2.5 games) who have replaced these guys are doing.  Just off the top of my head, I would say that the current hitters are doing better.  The current pitchers, Jameson Taillon excepted, not so much.

I also know that this sheet is not all-inclusive, as I know that there are other ex-Buccos plying their trade out there in MLB.

I have saved my spreadsheet so I will be updating these numbers at semi-regular intervals as the season progresses. Or maybe I won't.  Depends on how I feel.

I also will be dedicating this semi-regular feature to my pal Len Martin, because I know how much he just LOVES to talk about former Buccos.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Critical Commentary: "Dangerous Book..." and "The Death of Stalin"

Submitted for your approval, a TV Series and a Movie.

First, the TV series, "The Dangerous Book for Boys".

We stumbled upon this one by accident.  It debuted just last week on Amazon Prime.  It is the story about a family - a single mother of three middle school aged boys - that is facing life after the death of her husband and the boys' father. As the series opens, the death has already occurred, and we see that the boys' grandmother resides with them and, showing up in episode one is the twin brother of the deceased father.  We also learn that prior to his death, the Dad prepared a book, "The Dangerous Book for Boys", to help his sons navigate throughout life in his absence.  How to  Talk to Girls, How to Build a Treehouse, and How to Play Poker are some of the lessons, and each is played out to illustrate a life lesson for the boys.

There are a lot of sitcom elements here - Grandma is an ex-hippie from the sixties, and the uncle is a wacky, but lovable ne'er do well - but what the show does well is addressing the issues that confront families when a loved one dies.  How do we talk about the person who died?  What happens to the kids in school after someone dies?  How does a Mom who never had to pay the bills even try to cope with such a new responsibility?  How is grief different for a child, a spouse, and mother, and a sibling?

It is a sweet and serio-comic look at a topic that is all too pervasive, but is not often talked about until, of course, such a death visits itself upon a family.  It is a short series, only six half-hour episodes.  We watched it in two nights, and were sorry when it ended.  Sure hope that it will come back for another season.

Four stars all the way from The Grandstander.

Now the movie.  

It is 1953.  USSR dictator Josef Stalin has just died, and the band of Commies who comprised Stalin's court have to decide what happens next and who will take over governing the Soviet Union.

The filmmakers play this power struggle for laughs while not hiding what a treacherous band of murderers and criminals they were.  To call this a "dark comedy" would be putting it mildly.  As we left the movie, Marilyn expressed her disdain for it because what was funny about Stalin and the oppression and terror that he embodied?  I certainly can't argue the point.

I will say, though, that seeing Steve Buscemi playing Nikita Khrushchev was funny.  Picture Carl Showalter, the inept kidnapper/killer that Buscemi played in the movie "Fargo", as the ultimate cold warrior Khrushchev.  What can I say, but that it is a terrific performance.

Two and 1/2 stars from The Grandstander.