Saturday, September 14, 2019

RIP - My Pirates Bet

Born January 13, 2019
Died September 13, 2019

With the Pirates 17-8 (!!!) loss to the Cubs yesterday afternoon, my season long O/U bet on the Pirates, on life support since the All-Star Break, officially died.

In truth, when I placed this bet at Paris in Las Vegas back in January, I felt strongly that UNDER would have been the smart bet to make.  However, I did not want to place myself in a position where, come September, I would be rooting for my favorite baseball team to lose, so I went with the OVER.  I did think at the time that the bet wouldn't be decided until the final week, maybe even the final weekend, of the season, but this train wreck of a Bucco season made sure that my bet would be put to rest with two full weeks left in the season.

Lesson: Never bet with your heart, kids.

(Parenthetically, I need to add this.  In that 17-8 debacle of a game yesterday, the five Pirates pitchers that toiled in the game now have ERA's of 4.89, 7.30, 9.15, 8.74, and 9.92.  And GMNH tells us that he's prepared to move into 2020 with the group that he currently has in place.  What a joke.)

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Steelers Get Humiliated....and Some Pirates News!

A familiar sight - 
Donte Moncrief flat on the ground 
after failing to catch yet another pass 
against New England last night.

There is not much that can be said about that 33-3 humiliation that the New England Patriots laid on the Steelers last night.  Professional sports can be astounding in the sense that a team can point to a single occurrence - in this case, the Steelers season opener against the Pats - prepare for it for months, and then come out so flat and listless that it appears that they had no interest in playing at all, and are never in the game from the opening kick/pitch/tip-off.  This happens a lot in sports, and it always just astounds me when it does.  As one of the oldest cliches in the book says, that's why you play the games.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, I'll just recap some comments that I made on The Facebook last night while watching the game:
  • If the Steelers of the Tomlin/Roethlisberger ever played a worse game than last night, I cannot remember it.
  • Based on what we saw last night, I would guess  that opposing teams defensive coordinators will game plan against the Steelers as follows:  "Let them throw to Donte Moncrief and Ryan Switzer all game long, and we'll take our chances."
  • It was early in the second quarter, and I felt like I was watching  Pirates game.
  • I cannot come up with a single solitary positive thought or comment on the Steelers performance last night.
  • As a Steelers fan, one of the worst aspects of the ass-kicking they received from New England is that it will lessen the opportunity to gloat about the Browns and the ass-kicking that THEY received at the hands of the Titans yesterday.
  • How about old goat Bob Kraft down there on the field pre-game parading that Lombardi Trophy.  The guy has absolutely no sense of shame does he?
  • On the bright side, this week's episode of Pittsburgh Dad should be positively epic!
Oh, and speaking of the Pirates, lost amid the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the Steelers debacle, this headline was buried at the bottom of Page 8 of the Post-Gazette sports pages this morning:


Some quotes from the story written by Jason Mackey:

"The way general manager Neal Huntington put it Sunday, It doesn't sound as if there will be many changes to the Pirates for next season."


"Huntington's comments painted the picture that, unless something dramatic happens here, the Pirates might be coming back with pretty close to this existing group."

As is the case for last night's Steelers game, I can't quite find the words to respond to THAT either.  Those comments  ought to help sell a lot of season tickets this coming off season.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Sunday Morning Quick Hits.....

Pitt gets into the win column with a (as Myron Cope used to put it) desultory 20-10 win over Ohio University.  A win is a win, and Pitt surely needed one as they figure to be big underdogs the next two weeks.  However, on the entertainment meter, that game yesterday at Heinz Field scored pretty low.

On the plus side, the Ohio University marching band, The Marching 110, was terrific!  Really.

One of the reasons for that could be due to the fact that the Pitt game was totally hijacked by the news, delivered via social media on everybody's cell phones, of the release by the Oakland Raiders of that well known Steelers former WR, Antonio BrowNarcissist. That news completely inundated the crowd at Heinz Field and completely sucked all of the air out of the game being contested between Pitt and OU on the field. 

It was, everyone agreed, a completely remarkable turn of events.

But however crazy those turn of events were, they were, incredibly, topped only a few hours later when now free agent BrowNarcissist was signed by none other than the New England Patriots. 

I don't want to go all Oliver Stone here, but it stretches all credulity to think that there WASN'T any tampering and hinky doings going on behind he scenes among BrowNarcissist, his sleazy agent, Drew Rosenhaus, and, of course, the evil empire of Bob "Happy Endings" Kraft and Bill Belichick.  Surely the Commissioner's Office needs to look into the machinations that went into this farce.

And now tomorrow's highly anticipated nationally televised Sunday Night opener between the Steelers and the Patriots will be hijacked by constant close-ups of BrowNarcissist standing on the New England sidelines with all of his new best buds on the Patriots.  It'll be sickening.  

Of course, if the Steelers can only manage to beat the Patriots......well, how sweet would THAT be?

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

We're Ready for Some Football!

With a baseball season that has been the dumper, Pittsburgh-wise, for over six weeks, and after a weekend that force fed us college football games over a five day weekend and included a turd-in-the-punchbowl performance by the Pitt Panthers, we can all look forward to the debut this week of the lead dog in all of American professional sports (and yes, I am lumping big time college football and basketball as "professional"), the (imagine a Howard Cosellian voice here) National...Football...League.

Or maybe just listen to this....

In any event, the NFL opens its 100th season....

...this coming Thursday night with the Packers and Bears rivalry, and, more importantly from a local standpoint, on Sunday night when the Steelers take on the Patriots in Foxboro.  One can only hope that that game brings us scenes like this....

...which will lead to a sour puss scene like this....

But more on the Steelers in a minute.

This season I will be making weekly posts of the Grandstander Power Rankings (GPR) for the NFL.  This will rank the top four NFL teams in the same fashion that college football ranks its Top Four every week leading up to the College Football Playoffs.   I did this on Facebook last year to an underwhelming reception, so I figure that perhaps doing it in this space will lend it a bit more gravitas.  Who knows?

Anyway, I don't intend to release the initial GPR  until at least four weeks into the NFL season, so you will have to remain on the edge of your seats until then.  However, I  just can't resist giving it a bit of a go right now, so, herewith, The Pre-Season NFL GPR:
  1. PATRIOTS. Yep, gotta go with Coach Bill and the Golden Boy until  someone proves to be better or they show some signs of slippage.  However, no matter how the team does on the field, the big question is....Will owner Bob Kraft still be able to manage a Happy Ending for himself every week?
  2. CHIEFS. They have Patrick Mahomes.  What more can I say?
  3. RAMS.  When last seen, the Rams and especially their young QB Jerrod Goff looked totally outmatched in the Super Bowl by the Patriots, but note this:  They WERE playing in the Super Bowl, and thirty other teams were not, so I still like them going not the season.
  4. BEARS.  Strong defense and a dynamic young QB in Mitch Trubisky.  They're as good as any other team to place in here as the season begins.  In all honesty, though, I hope that they do not stay here throughout the season because if they do, Michael Wilbon will be positively insufferable.
Teams knocking on the door to crack the Top Four.....Chargers, Saints, Steelers, and Vikings.

From those eight teams, at least one of the Super Bowl participants will emerge.  You heard it here first.

Now, as to the local squad, I am very optimistic about the Steelers as they head into the season.  The distractions that totally overtook this team last season - and I don't have to mention their names, do I? - are gone.  The coaches and the players seem totally focused on one goal this season, and a real sense of TEAM seems to have permeated the team throughout training camp and the exhibition season.   And to whatever extent you can place your projections on exhibition games, the team, particularly the defense, seems to be better  going into 2019 the they were when they ended 2018.

I'll make no predictions of a Super Bowl win for the Steelers, although did place a $10 bet at 22-1 odds on them to do just that at the Rivers a few weeks ago, but I will predict this:  The Pittsburgh Steelers will win the AFC North Division championship this year.  

You know what that means, right? It means that the Cleveland Browns, the trendy and fashionable pick to win, not only their division, but to go all the way to the Super Bowl, will still finish the season looking up at the Steelers.  I grant that they are no longer the 1-31 team of 2016-17, and that they do have talent, but until I actually see them do it, see them beat teams, and beat the Steelers of Tomlin and Roethlisberger in particular, I am not ready to throw  full belief into them.  Baker Mayfield is an intriguing talent, but he ain't Otto Graham, and maybe not even Brian Sipe, just yet.

And speaking of the Browns, how would you like to be their first year coach Freddie Kitchens?  The hype is so great for them and the expectations are so high, if they don't come out and go 14-2, that goofball owner Jimmy Haslam, not to mention the rabid denizens of the Dawg Pound, will probably want him tarred and feathered and run into Lake Erie on a rail.  Talk about pressure.  I grant you that, unlike in past years, the Steelers can't just pencil in a 2-0 record against the Browns this year, but just how delicious will it be to watch the reaction in Cleveland if the Browns still manage to lose twice to the Steelers this year?

Speaking of wagers, my Maine resident and New England Patriot fan cousin, Jan Spencer and I have renewed our friendly wager on this week's Steelers-Pats game.  Look for a picture late Sunday night or early Monday morning on Facebook when one of us has to pay off on the bet.  Just to begin on a good note, here was Jan shortly after the Steelers 17-10 win over New England last December:

She did have the last laugh when the Super Bowl confetti fell, though.

It all starts on Thursday night, and I can't wait.


Thursday, August 29, 2019

Cleaning Out The Mental In-Box, Sports Division

A whirl around the wide, wide world of sports.....

Perhaps the most stunning news in sports this past week was the surprise announcement that Indy Colts QB Andrew Luck was retiring at the age of 29.  Yet another injury and the facing of yet another long and laborious rehab process caused Luck to reach this decision.  Equally stunning were the reactions of both the fans of the Colts and of the (too) numerous ex-jock talking heads that populate the (too) many sports networks that have too much time to fill.  How dare Luck do such a thing?  Everything from his dedication, his courage, and his very manhood was questioned by these neanderthals.  It was kind of distressing, actually.

From what I know and have read about Andrew Luck, he is an intelligent guy, and he would not have come to this decision lightly.  I hope he does well in whatever his future endeavors are, and that he can take every opportunity possible to tell the Steve Beuerleins of the world to go pound salt.

When the circus that comprised much of the Steelers off-season came to a merciful end this past winter with the free agent signing of a former RB by the New York Jets and the trade of one of their WR's to the Oakland Raiders I made comments in this space to the effect that I won't ever have to write about the two guys again, and I have pretty much kept to that.  Events over this training camp season and reports out of the Raiders camp have only reaffirmed that decision of mine, and it seems that everyone surrounding the Steelers would be well served to do the same.  In fairness, the Steelers themselves have pretty much adopted that stance.  That changed this past Sunday night when Ben Roethlisberger was interviewed by Michelle Tofoya on NBC and the subject of said wide out was mentioned.  I thought Ben took a high road and handled it well, but, of course, it brought up the idiotic tweets out of Oakland, and some idiotic comments by, among others, Shannon Sharpe.

Enough already.  That should be the last time anyone connected to the Steelers agrees to have anything to say about the guy who was last seen in Pittsburgh walking out and quitting on his team during the last game of the season.

How about those "Players Weekend" uniforms worn by all MLB teams last weekend?  Without doubt, the ugliest and most stupid idea ever.  Whomever in the high echelons of MLB came up with the idea for those monochromatic monstrosities should be fired immediately.

Earlier in the week, I made a post on Facebook and asked if anybody, anybody at all, actually liked them.  All I got were more comments saying how much everyone detested them.

Earlier in the year, Steve Blass got into a bit of a jam when he made an old-man-yelling-at-the-clouds comment about the excess amount of jewelry being worn by some opposing player.  The comment was seized upon by some as being racist and Blass was branded as such.  Now, you can say that Steve Blass is many things, a cranky old guy being one of them, but one thing that he is definitely NOT is racist.  His entire body of work in his sixty year association with the Pirates and MLB makes such a notion absurd.  Blass is also smart, or he certainly was in this case, because he chose to ignore the entire kerfuffle.  Never responded to any of the changes, and inside of a week, the entire story deservedly went away.

I mention this only to suggest a path for those associated with the Pittsburgh Steelers to follow whenever the subject of a certain Oakland Raider comes up for discussion.

One of the more distressing bits of news amidst the crashing and burning of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the second half of the 2019 season was the news that Jameson Taillon underwent Tommy John surgery for the second time in his career, and that he would be lost not only for the rest of 2019 but for the entire 2020 season as well.

Taillon was the second player selected overall in the amateur draft in 2010, and it hasn't been an easy road for him.  Tommy John surgery and surgery for a sports hernia cost him parts of two seasons in the minor leagues and delayed his debut in Pittsburgh.  He also was a cancer victim a few seasons back.  He seemed to turn a corner in 2018 and it looked like he was going to become the ace of the staff that the Pirates expected him to be when they used that high draft slot to select him.  This second TJ surgery on his pitching arm certainly throws his future and career in doubt.

Of course, shortly after his surgery, Taillon tweeted out the above photo of himself with the message that he knows what lies ahead, and that he will do the work necessary to get back to where he belongs.  Nobody really knows what our sports heroes are really like in real life, but Jameson Taillon has given every impression that he is as he seems:  hard working, strong, and, mainly, a good guy.

Here's wishing him nothing but the best as he heads down the long path of rehab.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

"Mike Wallace Is Here"

We went off our usual move trail on Friday and took in this new documentary about former "60 Minutes" pit bull journalist Mike Wallace.

It covered Wallace's career.  He started in radio and TV reading news, acting in soap operas, and doing commercials for just about anything, including Fluffo shortening.  But when he began doing interviews, he found his niche.  Interestingly enough, when he joined CBS, he was looked down upon as a "pitchman" by the serious newsies like Ed Murrow, Eric Severeid, and Walter Cronkite, but he became a force when the still ratings challenged "60 Minutes" converged with the collective mess known as Watergate, and a legend and a career was made.

The doc shows clips of Wallace's highlights...interviews with people like Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, John Erlichman, William Westmoreland, Barbara Streisand, Kirk Douglas, and, perhaps the biggest coup of all, the Ayatollah Khomeini in the midst of the Iranian Hostage crisis.  It tells of Wallace's own battles with depression, and his ultimate impact on his profession.

It is a well done movie about one of the more captivating and compelling journalists in television history.  Wallace, by the way, was still working when he died in 2012, one month shy off his 94th birthday.

As movies in general go, it gets Two and One-half stars from The Grandstander, but in the documentary category, I'll go to Three Stars.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Brooks Koepka and the "Average" Golfer

I heard the morning show guys on 93.7 The Fan talking about this today and thought it deserved some attention/discussion.

At a presser preceding the PGA Tour Championship now being contested at East Lake CC in Atlanta, someone asked Brooks Koepka, four time major champion and currently the world's #1 ranked player a question the effect of....If you took an "average guy, an average player" out of the gallery at random, gave him a set of clubs and paired him with you, Brooks Koepka, in this tournament, how many strokes would you, Brooks Koepka, have to give him in order for it to be competitive?

Well, on the sound bite, Koepka at first just laughed and then said, "well, if an average guy is a fifteen handicap, I don't know, maybe 75 strokes over the four rounds of the tournament?"  (Not an exact quote, but that was the gist of it.)

Well, The Fan's Dunlap, Mack and Colony, all agreed that in saying 75 strokes, Koepka was just being diplomatic in answering the question.  That if an average golfer (and by the way, I am guessing that an "average golfer" is nowhere near a fifteen handicap) started a four round tournament on a course set up for PGA Tour players 75 strokes ahead of Brooks Koepka, not only would Koepka win, he would blow the doors off the poor sap who get suckered into thinking that the might be able to compete in such a contest, a contest on a 7,000+ yard course where there is no rolling the ball in the fairway, playing from behind trees and in thick rough and deep sand traps "as it lies", and where even the casual two foot "gimmes" from the Wednesday night league must all be putted out.

Think about it. If Koepka shot even par - which is 70 at East Lake, I believe - in every round, and if Joe Average managed to shoot 90 in each round, which he would be lucky to do, Koepka beats him by five strokes.

I can only imagine Koepka went back into the locker room and said to his fellow Tour players, "you ain't gonna believe what some guy just asked me", and that they all had a good laugh over it.

Switching from golf to baseball, I have to say that after watching the Pirates lose three of four to the Nationals this week (cumulative score of all four games, 32-6; cumulative score of the three games the Pirates lost, 31-2), I have to say that I am not sure now many more posts you'll be seeing from The Grandstander on the Pirates for the remainder of this season.  I mean what more can possibly be said, and I've run out of synonyms for "lousy", "horrid", and "wretched".

So, perhaps the next post of any length or depth you will see on the Pirates in this space will be at season's end when we see who, if anyone, will be held accountable by Bob Nutting for what has been a total and complete second half collapse (and does "collapse" even begin to describe what we've seen since mid-July?) by this team.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The State of the Pirates as of 8/17/19

Okay.  We all know the numbers.

At the All-Star Break, the Pirates just might have been the hottest team in the National League.  They had just gone 8-5 in a thirteen game stretch against some of the better teams in MLB (Astros, Brewers, Cubs). They were 44-45, two and a half games out of first place and two and a half games out of the final wild card spot.  People were actually feeling positive about the Buccos.

What was to follow after the All-Star Game was a stretch of such impossibly lousy and rotten baseball, that I honestly had a hard time remembering anything like it in all the sixty-plus years that I have followed baseball in general and the Pirates in particular.   Since that time, they have gone 7-25.  To put that in perspective, that is a "winning" percentage that would produce a record of 35-127 over 162 games.  And not only have they been losing, but they have been losing in ways that are particularly astounding in that they have been showing a complete lack of discipline and displaying lousy fundamentals in executing the game.  (When I was away on vacation last week, the team posted a 1-7 record.  All I saw were the final scores online every night. I'm thankful that I was out of town and not exposed to that particular stretch.)

A particularly sour cherry was put on top of this rotten sundae with the reporting yesterday about the rifts and a complete lack of discipline in the Pirates clubhouse that has at time led to near physical altercations between players and coaches and even Clint Hurdle.  Much of this has revolved around relief pitchers Keone Kela and Kyle Crick.  Honestly, were I member of this particular Pirates bullpen, I would be doing everything in my power to stay OUT of the limelight rather than have it shine upon me and emphasize just how god-awful it has been all year.

GMNH had to take to the MLB Network airwaves yesterday to address this mess, which he did by spewing out a two minute bullshit sound bite wherein he essentially said nothing.  On the telecast last night, Propaganda Ministers Joe Block and Bob Walk failed completely to address this particular stinky elephant in the room.  Not a single mention was made of the breaking story that had dominated the sports airwaves in Pittsburgh all afternoon.  I'm sure that Greg and Steve followed the same path on the radio.

Kevin Newman walks it off for the 
Pirates' 3-2 win over the Cubs last night

And as often happens in the game of baseball, the Pirates went out last night and played one of their better and most satisfying games of the season.  Joe Musgrove pitched an outstanding game, and rookies Brian Reynolds, Cole Tucker, and Kevin Newman played key roles in producing a ninth inning walk-off 3-2 win over the smug and insufferable Joe Maddon and his Cubs and their smug and insufferable fans who populated PNC Park last night.  The only aggravating thing about the game was that the winning pitcher ended up being Jackass-in-Chief Keone Kela.  Oh, well, that's baseball.

And the narrative on the post game show immediately became "the Bucs have now won three of their last four games."  I'm sure that that will be Greg Brown's lead on the opening of the telecast tonight.

The sheer awfulness of the post-ASG Pirates, combined with the stories of an out-of-control clubhouse simply screams out this question.  Who will be held accountable for this mess?  On most teams, either the manager or general manager or both of them would be fired at season's end, if not sooner.  However, both Hurdle and Huntington have two years remaining on contracts that reportedly pay them $3 million and $2 million per year, respectively.  Can't imagine that Bob Nutting is going to pay out Ten Large over the next two years to guys to NOT work for him, so what happens?  

My guess is that the fall guy for this will be pitching coach Ray Searage.  That will be the cheapest way out.  A couple of other coaches might get sacrificed as well.  And maybe Clint Hurdle will decide to "retire" after negotiating a compromised buy-out of his contract with Nutting.  I'm guessing that GMNH will be back in all his glory.

I can tell you this.  If nothing happens, if they build on the fact that "we've got  a lot of great hungry young players who are ready to bust loose", if the Best Management Team In Baseball returns intact, there probably will not be an "insurrection" among the Pirates fan base, because, after all, what can the fans do about this?  There will, however, be a complete and total blanket of apathy and ennui that will fall over the baseball fans of Pittsburgh.  For the Pirates bean counters, Apathy and Ennui will end up being far worse than an Angry Insurrection.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Vacation, Outer Banks, 2019

If you have noted the prolonged absence of The Grandstander in recent weeks, it is due to the fact that we made our annual trek with Mrs. Grandstander's side of the family to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, specifically, Corolla in Currituck County.  This was out thirty-fifth year for this trip, and there was a grand total of eleven Sproules, Moellenbrocks, Stoners, and Richards in attendance this year.

There is not really much that I can say about this vacation, as we all did pretty much what we have always done on this trip - lazed on the beach and at the pool, ate well, relaxed, and enjoyed each other's company.  I strongly suspect that it is this "sameness" that makes this trip so special for everyone of us.

I won't go into a lot of detail, but, for the sake of my own personal historical record, I will share a few photos with you.

On Monday night of the week,  Marilyn and I prepared the dinner.  As many of you may know, we always try to have a special "theme" for our dinner, and this year it was "Chinese New Year", specifically, the Year of the Pig.

Appropriate decorations....

And if the food wasn't authentically Chinese, at least it was authentically labeled....

Our weather was perfect.  We did not miss a single minute of beach time because of rain or bad weather.  Although one evening, some awesome storm clouds rolled in....

Followed by heavy rains....

And when the rains stopped, it produced a pretty rainbow....

And an even more beautiful sunset....

Nature can be spectacular.

On our own "date night", Marilyn and I went to this place...

...and while we didn't stay for the actual sunset, we did enjoy this cool view during our meal.

During the trip, I bought only one thing for myself, and it came from the campus bookstore at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA:

This will be my way of standing with Mike Tomlin during the upcoming Steelers season.

One interesting observation for you.  The house where we stay is, of course, equipped with lovely flat screen HD television sets.  However, from the the time we arrived on Saturday until Thursday night, none of the TV sets were ever turned on.  It was only on Thursday evening when someone realized that there were NFL exhibition games airing on the NFL Network that the set was turned on.  In all, the television was on for probably about three hours in the course of the entire week.  For the better part of six days, television did not exist in our world, and, I have to say, it was peaceful and delightful.  I didn't miss it for one second.

It was good week.  Nothing beats time spent on a beautiful and relaxing beach.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

To A Trio of Absent Friends

As often happens when you go on vacation and leave the keyboard behind you, things can get backed up in the old in-box, so to that end, let us pay tribute to a trio of individuals whose recent deaths deserve noting.

Harold Prince

Broadway Impresario Hal Prince died in recent days at the age of 91.  The list of shows that Prince either produced and/or directed is a veritable Hall of Fame of Broadway musical theatrical productions, and it covers pretty much the entire second half of the twentieth century.  Just to name a few:

The Pajama Game
Damn Yankees
West Side Story
Fiddler On The Roof
Phantom of the Opera
A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to The Forum

And I could go on, but you get the idea.  Prince won twenty-one Tony Awards over the course of is remarkable career.

Clifford Branch

Former Oakland Raiders wide receiver Clifford Branch left us last week at the age of 71.  Now, I am no fan of the Oakland Raiders, never have been, but that cannot lessen the admiration of many of the great players who have worn the Silver and Black over the years, and Branch was one of the best.  He played on three of the Raiders Super Bowl winning teams and in four Pro Bowls over the course of his fourteen year career.  He was a major player in so many of those classic Steelers-Raiders games back in the 1970's, and did rivalries come any better or more heated than the one between those teams of that era?  I don't think so.  For that reason alone, the passing of Cliff Branch deserves to be noted.

Perhaps the most shocking and saddest news of all, however, was the death on Sunday morning of Steelers assistant coach Darryl Drake at the too young age of 62.  In all honesty, I could not have told you the names of any Steelers assistant coaches beyond the coordinators.  Let's face it, there are so many assistant coaches on NFL teams any more, who can keep track of them?  That doesn't make the loss of Drake any less shocking or sad, especially when you hear all of the heartfelt responses and memories from all who had been associated with Drake over the course of his long coaching career.

Darryl Drake in his final game as Steelers WR Coach
this past Saturday night.

RIP Hal Prince, Clifford Branch, and Darryl Drake.

Monday, July 29, 2019

"Once Upon a Time....In Hollywood"

One of the most highly anticipated movies of the Summer Movie Season has been Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon A Hollywood".  The movie takes place in 1969, and while it is hard to come to terms that a movie that takes place during a time in which you yourself lived can be considered a "period piece", that is what Tarantino has given us.  He lovingly creates Los Angeles and Hollywood during the winter and summer of 1969, right down to the fashions, hairstyles, the movie marquees, and the songs being played on the AM radios in the cars that everyone is driving.  That's one thing to love about this movie.

Another is the story.  It centers around Rick Dalton, an aging, just about over-the-hill actor played by Leonardo DiCaprio.  His hit TV western series, "Bounty Hunter", has been long canceled, and he is reduced to playing bad guys on various TV series like "Mannix" and "The FBI".  The only hope to salvage his career, says hot shot producer Al Pacino, is to move to Italy and make spaghetti westerns, something he doesn't really want to do.  His long time buddy and stunt double, Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt, really has become a has been, begging for work and being reduced to a driver and go-fer for DiCaprio's Dalton.  Dalton lives in a home in the Hollywood Hills, right next door to the home of hotshot director Roman Polanski and has movie starlet wife, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie).  Rick is hoping that maybe he can get to know him and maybe land a part in the next big Polanski movie.

The acting is superb.  I have never seen DiCaprio be bad in a movie, and he is great in this.  There is a scene where he converses with a young female child actress while on a movie lunch break that is wrenching.  Same for Pitt.  He just might be the key figure in the whole story, as he comes to terms with the decline in his career, as well as the discovery he makes when he picks up a young hippie teenager and drives her to her commune at the Spahn Movie Ranch.  Pitt is now 55 years old, believe it or not, and he shows every one of those years in this movie, and to good effect.  

Finally, there is Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate.  Young and beautiful, she plays Tate as a woman who can't believe that she has "made it" in the movie biz.  She is positively charming in a scene where she goes into a movie theater and watches herself on screen in a Dean Martin movie.  It is a wonderful scene.

Then there is the story itself.  You know all along that this story will end with that hot August night when Charles Manson sends his minions into the Hollywood Hills to do his evil will.  The tension in the build up to the event is palpable, and then.....well, I won't tell you what Tarantino does next, but remember, the name of the movie begins with "Once upon a time...."

I had a couple of concerns going into this one.  One, would it be a typical Tarantino bloodbath of gore and violence?  Also, at 2 hours and 40 minutes in length, would it be too long to sit through?

The answer to the first question is No, not a lot of gore and violence, although, given the subject matter, there is some of that.  As to the second question, the answer is also No.  Never looked at my watch once as the movie unfolded.

And as an added bonus, you also get a good look into the movie business.  How they get made, the schmoozing and politics that go into it, much of it often cutthroat, and how actors really "act" when they are being filmed.

I kind of knew that I would like this movie going into it, but it turned out better than I thought, and I ended up loving it, and I am not a Tarantino acolyte as so many people are.

This one get the full Four Stars from The Grandstander.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Bucs Just After The Break

Eighteen days ago, July 8, I made a post on this blog entitled "Bucs At The Break", wherein I waxed enthusiastically over a thirteen game stretch prior to the All-Star Break when the Pirates went 8-5 against teams that were higher than they were in the standings.  You can look it up easily enough.

In order to save myself retyping the same words, allow me to cut-and-paste another passage from that post:

After the Break, they face another thirteen games against teams above them in the standings, Cubs, Phillies, and Cardinals.   If they can fashion another 8-5 record, or better, in those games, then you have to think that the Front Office will simply HAVE to make an effort to add a piece or two to put the team into a position to make a run for a playoff spot.

That thirteen game stretch ended today, and I don't think that I have to spell it out for fans of the team what happened, but, what the hell, here it is, anyway.  They went 2-11 in those games.  They are now 46-56, in last place in the NL Central, 9 games out of first place, and 9 games out of the Wild Card with eight teams between them and that second WC spot.

For all practical purposes, the season for the Pittsburgh Pirates is over.

The question of what does Neal Huntington do at the July 31 trade deadline (My $.02: listen to any and every offer that might be made for any and every player on the team except Josh Bell, Kevin Newman, and Brian Reynolds) is of far less importance than this one:

Who will be held accountable for this mess of a season?

You could say that it's the fault of Clint Hurdle and his coaching staff, especially Ray Searage, so fire them all, BUT they can only work with the players that they are given, SO....

You could then say that it is GMNH's fault because he has produced a pretty bad ball club, which has included a parade of pitchers who absolutely, positively do not belong in a major league uniform (I don't have to list them for you, do I?), and whose big splash deal of last year, the acquisition of Chris Archer, has blown up in his face like a cheap exploding cigar, so fire him, BUT Neal is hamstrung by a budget that is requiring him to try and compete with a payroll that ranks 27th among MLB's thirty teams, SO.....

You can then say that the accountability buck stops at the desk of owner Bob Nutting, and one thing we know is that Bob Nutting likes nothing more than making money, and the Pirates are making money, so he's not likely to change his skinflint ways (never mind the fact that maybe he could make even more money if he actually had a winning and competitive team).  He likes it just the way it is right now.

So, when the season comes to its merciful end for the Pirates in September, a couple of coaches, or Clint Hurdle, or maybe even GM Neal may get sacrificed to placate the angry masses, but as long as Bob Nutting is still signing the checks, I fear that things are never going to change.

Maybe the team might catch lightning in bottle some year like the KC Royals did a few years back, but we as Pirates fans are doomed to serve the rest of our days as fans residing in baseball's version of Purgatory.  That's the way Bob Nutting wants it, that's the way the MLBPA wants it, and that's the way MLB itself wants it.

Us fans?  We're screwed.

Update On The "Jack Sell Affair"

I just want to briefly update my post of earlier this morning over Joshua Axelrod's article in this morning's Post-Gazette on Chuck Noll's first Steelers training camp wherein former PG Steelers beat writer Jack Sell, who was quoted extensively in the article, was misidentified several times in the article as "Jack Sells".

Shortly after making my post, I sent an email to Mr. Axelrod and pointed out the error.  He promptly and politely responded and acknowledged his mistake, stating that it was a "silly mistake on my part".  He told me that the online version of the story was immediately corrected, and that a correction will be printed in tomorrow's print edition of the paper.

So that puts that to bed.

Josh Axelrod is the son of the late Post-Gazette sportswriter Phil Axelrod and current PG features writer Sharon Eberson, so he comes from good newsie stock.