Saturday, March 23, 2019

Calling B.S. on the Pitt Athletic Department

Since being named Athletic Director at Pitt in 2017, Heather Lyke has pretty much distinguished herself in that role, but a development this past week has caused me to call "bulls----" on the Pitt athletic department, and since the buck stops with her, well, sorry about that, Ms. Lyke.

I am speaking about the decision that Pitt has made to not play against Duquesne in the annual City Game basketball game next season.  "We just can't fit it on to our schedule next year" seems to be the word coming from Oakland.  Are you kidding me?  How many basketball games will be on Pitt's non-conference schedule next year? How many of them will be cream puff guaranteed wins against schools like East Overshoe State? 

Duquesne sits a few miles down Forbes Street from Pitt.  Duquesne is willing to play at the Peterson Center if PPG Paints Arena is somehow not available (which I find it hard to believe).  And Pitt can't see their way to playing this game?

I give credit to Pitt for agreeing to play Robert Morris next season in Moon Township for the opening of RMU's new on campus arena, but if they are using the scheduling of THAT game as an excuse NOT to find a way to play Duquesne, well, like I say....bull----!

All this is even more incomprehensible when one considers how the Pitt administration seems to be willing to crawl on its knees to schedule football games with Penn State, and then allows its fan base to bellyache and moan about Penn State's arrogance in not wanting to include the Panthers on its football schedule.  Looks like Pitt has learned a lesson from PSU and is doing the same thing to Duquesne in this instance.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

More on Mehno

The recent death of John Mehno, noted in this space six days ago, prompted me to head to my book shelves and retrieve this little volume:

This book was written by John and was published in 2007.  It is great book chock full of fun little argument starters like.....
  • What were the Steelers five most memorable games?
  • Jack Ham or Jack Lambert?
  • Were the 1979 Pirates really a "family"?
  • How did the Pirates go from powerhouse to laughingstock?
  • Do Al Oliver and Dave Parker deserve to be in the Hall of Fame? (Die hard Bucco fans might not like his answer to this one,)
  • What were the Pirates worst signings?
  • Was Barry Bonds really that bad a guy?
  • Who was the Penguins best player before Mario Lemieux?
  • Was Forbes Field really that great?
  • Was Three Rivers Stadium really that bad?
  • Who were the best Pittsburgh teams that didn't win championships?
You get the idea, and there are 100 of these little gems in this book.  I'm not even sure if this book is still in print, but it really is a must for Pittsburgh sports fans.  Like I said, it is now a twelve year old book.  How great it would have been to have had John write a second volume that would include topics that have popped up on the 'Burgh Sports Scene since 2007.  He could probably have done whole thirty or forty questions on Neal Huntington and Pitt football coaches alone!

I treasure my copy of this book, which I got John to sign for me when he spoke to the Pittsburgh SABR Chapter back in 2012.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

"Mary Queen of Scots"

For the second time in a week, I delved into a cinematic look at female British Monarchs ("l'll take female British Monarchs for a thousand, Alex") from long, long ago last night.  Last week it was "The Favourite", which told about Queen Anne in 1706.  Last night it was "Mary Queen of Scots", the story of the titular Queen and her, not sure what you would call it - her battles, rivalry, intramural tussles? - with Elizabeth I.  It starred Saoirse Ronan as Mary and Margot Robbie as Elizabeth.  This one took place back in the 1580's or thereabouts.

I'll be brief with my takeaways on this movie:
  1. It starred Saoirse Ronan, rapidly becoming one of my very favorite (as opposed to "favourite") actresses.  She alone makes a movie worth seeing, and she is the sole reason I watched this one. 
  2. The filmmakers managed to do the impossible:  They made Margot Robbie look unattractive.
  3. It was better than "The Favourite", but, that, admittedly, is setting a very low bar in this particular grandstand.
One and one-half stars from The Grandstander.

Monday, March 18, 2019

A College Football Time Capsule

When writing about the death of Dan Jenkins in this space ten days ago, I made mention of the book you see pictured here, "Saturday's America".  It was an updated collection of long form articles that Jenkins wrote when he was covering college football for Sports Illustrated.  It was published in 1970, and I read the book when I was in college.   Jenkins' death prompted memories of that book, so I went to the library, checked it out and re-read it last week.

1970.  This book truly is a time capsule for college football fans.  To give you an idea of just how long ago 1970 was, College Football-wise, consider the following:

In 1970, Joe Paterno was in only his fifth year as head coach at Penn State.  In fact, at one point in the book, Jenkins referred to him as "the young head coach at Penn State".  When was the last time you thought of Joe Paterno being young?

In 1970, Nick Saban was playing defensive back at Kent State University.

In 1970, Pat Narduzzi was celebrating his fourth birthday, and Dabo Swinney was celebrating his first birthday. 

You get the idea.

Anyway, the book covers some great stories from throughout college football's first 100 years, with primary emphasis on the 1960's.  Here are some of the highlights covered in separate chapters of the book:
  • The arrival of Ara Parseghian in South Bend, and how he revived the storied Notre Dame football traditions after the moribund coaching tenures of Joe Kuharich and Terry Brennan.  Also prominent in this chapter was a young QB out of Butler, PA, Terry Hanratty.
  • Stories of a various college whiz kids of the era such as Tommy Nobis, Dick Butkus, Joe Namath, and O.J. Simpson.
  • A great chapter about the "Game of the Decade" - the 1966 game between Notre Dame and Michigan State that ended in a 10-10 tie. The game where, as Jenkins put it,  Ara "tied one for the Gipper".
  • "Pursuit of a Blue Chipper", a story about college recruiting that focused on the pursuit of a  high school QB out of Abilene, Texas, Jack Mildren.  If anything, recruiting has no doubt become even more of a blood sport fifty years later than it was back in the 1960's.  Mildren eventually ended up at Oklahoma where he was the main cog in OU's wishbone offense.  I remembered being at the game when Mildren and his Sooners - Greg Pruitt was the featured running back - blasted Pitt out of Pitt Stadium with that wishbone attack in 1971.  The final score was 55-29 (I had to look that up), and Pitt was never in the game.
  • A story about the history of the Heisman Trophy.  This chapter seems remarkably quaint here in the 21st century ever since the Heisman Trophy was co-opted by ESPN and Nissan.
  • An entire chapter about Woody Hayes, many years before he punched that kid from Clemson on national television.  He still came across as a complete and total horse's ass.
There's lots more, and if you are a fan of college football and it's history, it would be worth your while to seek out this one, although you can probably only find it in libraries and on dusty shelves in used book stores these days.  

If I had one criticism, it's the fact that Jenkins often resorts to folksy, Texas dialect when writing.  You know, quoting guys  who say "dadgummit" in every other sentence and refer to the game as "fooball".    That's okay in the occasional magazine article, but it gets old when your bludgeoned with it for 290 pages in a book.

A Three Star rating from The Grandstander.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Lady Colonials Reign Supreme Once Again

On his sunny St. Patrick's Day afternoon,  Marilyn and I toddled on out to Moon Township to the campus of Robert Morris University to take in the Championship Game of the Northeast Conference Women's Basketball Tournament.  We were rewarded with a 65-54 victory by the Lady Colonials over St. Francis University of PA.  It was the eighth NEC championship for the RMU women in their history and the fourth such championship in the last six years. 

The North Athletics Complex on campus was packed and loud and it was a great atmosphere for the game which made for a fun afternoon.

Some scenes from the day....

The Colonials take the court!

Is there a spookier mascot in all of college sports?

Nina Augustin
A point guard from Helsinki, Finland.
She might have been our favorite player on the team.  She is one of seven international players on the RMU squad.  The others include 2 from Spain, 2 from Canada, 1 from England, and 1 from Japan.

They stormed the court when it was all over.  
We declined to participate.

The final score.

Getting ready to cut down the nets.

For various reasons, mainly the reconstruction of the Sewall Center into the sparkling new UPMC Events Center, which will be the Colonials new home beginning next season, we have not been on campus for several years, and being there today made us realize that we have missed it.  I am thinking that it just might be time come next fall to rejoin the ranks of RMU season ticket holders.

As has been the case, the NEC winner will probably get a #16 seed in the NCAA Tournament, so their reward for today will no doubt be a match up with some power like UConn or Notre Dame.  Somehow, I think that the young women we saw today will welcome such a challenge, and that the inevitable outcome of such a game won't detract one bit from the luster of today's win.

Oh, and by the way.the RMU roster has only two seniors on it, so there is no reason the think that the run of NEC dominance for the ladies won't continue into next season.

Friday, March 15, 2019

To Absent Friends - John Mehno

John Mehno

Sad news was delivered today with the death of Pittsburgh area sportswriter John Mehno.  He was 64 years old.

Mehno wrote for various organizations over the years - Beaver County Times, Altoona Mirror, Associated Press, Sporting News.  In recent years he would do twice weekly columns that would appear online.  They were among the more trenchant and humorous pieces of sports writing that you would find here in the tri-state area.

I first became aware of John Mehno when he would sometimes substitute for various sports talk show hosts on the old WTAE 1250.  Many years ago, I asked him to speak at one of the Pittsburgh SABR meetings, and he gave a most informative and entertaining summary of his history with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  I ran into him on several occasions over the years since then and he was always a friendly a gracious guy with whom to have a conversation.

He was also a Facebook friend, and would always respond to your comments and posts.  I can say with great pride that he once referred me by name when quoting from "The Grandstander" in one of his columns a few years back.  Coming from a REAL sportswriter, that was a real compliment.  His observations on the Pittsburgh sports scene will be greatly missed.

RIP John Mehno.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

A Final Word on Le’Veon Bell

So, Le'Veon Bell signs a four year, $52.5 million deal with the Jets.  Last year, he turned down a five year, $70 million contract with the Steelers.  I attempted to read an article on Deadspin that purported to detail how much money was guaranteed in each contract, but halfway through it, my eyes started watering and my head started to hurt, so I quit.  I mean, who cares?

I will say this for Bell, he took a principled stand and sat out a year in order to get what he felt he was worth, so good for him.  That he acted like knucklehead during his holdout with tweets from jet-skis and strip clubs, sort of takes some of the Sam Gompers/Curt Flood like aura away from him, but still, you got to hand it to a guy who passed on 14.5 million bucks.  I am sure that the Steelers never thought it would go that far, and that, if they had it to do over, they would have traded him last summer for whatever they could have gotten (2nd round pick? 3rd round pick? a carton of jock straps?).   And don't you think that the Steelers might have used some of that $14.5 mil of cap space last year to have helped the team during the season?  Oh, well.

As it is, it certainly appears that Bell lost on the bet he made on himself.  Of course, when you sort through what the guaranteed dough was from the Steelers and is from the Jets, maybe he didn't, but I am pretty sure that he will never recover that fourteen point five large he DIDN'T get paid by the Steelers last year.

I was going to say a "Final Word" on Antonio Brown, but, really, I am just tired of that subject.  Instead, I will refer you to Joe Starkey's column in today's Post-Gazette.  Says it all:

Yes, the Steelers have lost a couple of major talents in Bell and Brown, but they did play last season without Bell, and James Conner, notwithstanding a couple of devastating fumbles in key situations, pretty much replaced him without a beat.  Brown's talents may be more difficult to replace, but let us all remember a critical number:

0 - The number of Super Bowls won by the Steelers with Bell and Brown in the lineup.

On another Steelers note, I was sorry to see that TE Jesse James has elected to sign as a free agent with Detroit.  I know that the Steelers will move on from this, but I always liked James, and thought he was an asset to the team.  I wish him well, and I hope that Vance McDonald can stay healthy for sixteen games next year.

Yes, this really WAS a catch!

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Two Movies

Watched two movies in the last two days, both of them Oscar winners.

"Spotlight" was the Best Picture Oscar winner for 2015, and we pulled it out and re-watched it on Sunday.   The movie, which details the Boston Globe's investigation and reporting on the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church in Boston in 2001-02, holds up terrifically as a drama and a thriller.  If anything, the movie is all the more searing in light of further news developments on this issue that came to light in the past year.  No doubt, this is a movie that stands the test of time and will still be compelling to watch ten, twenty, and thirty years from now.

Four Stars all the way from The Grandstander

Got around to watching "The Favourite" yesterday.   My reaction to this one is simple:  THIS got nominated for ten Academy Awards?  Marilyn was in and out of the room as I watched this, and when she asked me how it ended, I had a hard time in answering her.  When you have to go to the Google Machine to research what the ending of a movie was all about, well, that's not my kind of movie.

One review I saw said that the movie was "idiosyncratic".  I suppose that is one way to look at it.  It was prettily photographed and the costumes and make-up were eye-catching, but it was also pretty pretentious.  The acting from Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone was good, but when the sum of the parts add up to a story that is just, well, weird, it's not for me.

The Oscar it won was for Best Actress for Olivia Colman.  Good for her, but after seeing this movie, I still say that Glenn Close got shafted by not winning the Award for "The Wife".

Only One Star from The Grandstander.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Bye-bye, "Bye Bye Birdie"

I have fond memories of the 1963 movie "Bye Bye Birdie".  

I can remember seeing it at the time it was released.  Thought it was cool to see Dick Van Dyke, who was so funny on that new TV series at the time.  There were some great songs..."Put On A Happy Face"...."The Telephone Hour"...."One Boy"...."Kids".  Paul Lynde was just great singing about "these kids today", and what twelve year old boy didn't love seeing a young Ann-Margret up there on the big screen in all her glory?

Well, "Bye Bye Birdie" was on TCM last night, and I gave up after about forty minutes.  Maybe it was the staging, maybe it was the direction, but we both thought that the movie version was incredibly dated and stiff (especially Van Dyke's performance).   Not sure I'll ever give it another look-see when the opportunity arises.

Funny thing, though.  Over the years, I have seen two stage productions of this show.  One was a professional touring company that starred Tommy Tune, and the other a few years ago when it was North Allegheny's Spring Musical.  Both of those productions showed that "Bye Bye Birdie" can be a fun and energetic musical STAGE comedy.  It is a staple on the high school musical circuit, so it will no doubt continue to be performed forever.  Go see it on stage if you ever get the chance.

Just take a pass on the 1963 film version.

Oh, and come to think of it, Ann-Margret is STILL pretty damn special, as I wrote back in 2017.....

Who Carries Cash?

Users of The Facebook know that when you make a post on your timeline, probably eighty-five or so of a hundred will just sit there, ignored and maybe garnering an occasional "like', "ha-ha" or "angry" emoticon, a dozen or so might engender a comment or three, but every so often, you will put out a post that will light up the metaphorical switchboard.  You never know what topic will tickle the fancy of your Facebook friends.

Two days ago, I made this post describing an experience that I had at the local DiBella's Sandwich Shop, and the floodgates opened.....

So I’m at a local fast food emporium for lunch today, and the cashier had a problem with the guy in front of me. Something to do with his gift card not covering the total amount of the bill. Anyway, the guy says “I don’t have any cash.” Is this a new thing, a millennial thing, not carrying any cash with you? Who leaves the house without cash on them? Or am I just incredibly old and missed the fact that it’s not cool to carry cash?

The incident caught my attention because earlier in the week on his podcast, Tony Kornheiser was going on and on about how he seems to be the last person left in the world who carries cash and pays for things in cash, and that is what prompted me to make my Facebook post.

So far, there have been thirty-two responses to that post that I made.  Many people of my, ahem, age demographic mentioned that while they carried "some" cash, they usually paid for everything by credit cards in order to get reward points and cash back bonuses.  Okay, I get that.  Those same people mentioned that their kids never carry cash.  Younger respondents mentioned how they not only don't carry cash, they don't use credit or debit cards, and that they pay for stuff using some app or another on their phone.  This is clearly a generational thing.

Me?  I start out every week with fifty or sixty bucks in cash in my wallet.  I'd feel naked leaving the house without cash in my pocket.  Yes, I find myself paying for larger purchases (a meal at a nice, i.e., non-fast food, restaurant) with my debit card, but I am not going to be the guy who pays for his $.99  fountain drink at Sheetz or McDonald's with a credit card.  It's just not going to happen.  I am also a person who likes to throw some dough into a street musician's tip jar.  Can't do that with a debit card, although my friend Alyson from Lawrenceville tells me that you can if the musician has something called Venmo.

This is not just the wailing cries off an Old Guy bitching about "these kids today", but as more and more business are going cashless, real problems arise for that segment of the population that is "unbanked", and until I read this article that my friend Marilyn from Delaware sent me, I didn't realize how large that segment was.

As you will read, the City of Philadelphia has passed legislation prohibiting business to operate on a 100% Cashless basis.

Anyway, I'm not going to rail against progress, but I am still going to carry good old fashioned Coin (or Paper) of the Realm on me, and I will try my best to accept the fact that, as the wise man from Hibbing, Minnesota said over fifty years ago, the times they are, and continue to be, a-changin'.  I wonder if Bob Dylan carries cash on him?

Anyway, I thought I'd share a couple of the comments that I received to my post. 

From Kaye in Maine.  I won't give her age, other than to say that she is a Gen-X'er:

The blank looks when your nieces and nephews open their Christmas cards and find a check... 😂 🤔 🙄

Perhaps the best response came from my fellow Central Alum and BC retiree, Dan from Kennedy Twp:

Last night after seeing Shen Yun, we walked to the parking garage where many people were lined up to pay at machines with their credit cards, phones, whatever. The cash window had no one in line, and we made the elevator ahead of them all! 

See, sometimes, cash is best!

Friday, March 8, 2019

"Free Solo"

"Free Solo" won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature Film of 2018 for filmmakers Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarheli, and we caught up with it this past week. It is the story of climber Alex Honnold who specializes in "free climbs", that is, no ropes, harnesses, or anything else mountain climbers use when climbing a mountain.  These guys, use nothing but their hands and feet.  Crazy!

This movie was about Honnold's attempt to be the first person to free solo El Capitan mountain in Yosemite National Park.  Thirty-two hundred feet of sheer granite.  

Yep.  These guys are crazy.

I would highly recommend that you watch this movie.  Not only to see Honnold's attempt (SPOILER ALERT:  He makes it!), but to consider the fact that the people who were filming this were right up there on El Cap with him!  How they did that is also a part of this movie.

And while we knew the outcome, I have to tell you that Marilyn and I were barely breathing during the last twenty minutes or so of the movie as Alex was making his climb.

Three Stars from The Grandstander.

To Absent Friends - Dan Jenkins

Dan Jenkins
1929 - 2019

Legendary - and it is not an exaggeration to use that word - sportswriter Dan Jenkins died last night at the age of 89.  A native of Fort Worth, Texas, Jenkins forged a career that lasted over sixty years, primarily with Sports Illustrated and later with Golf Digest.

Golf and college football were Jenkins' primary beats, and no one covered them better or more colorfully.  He also authored several books and novels, the most famous being the pro football novel, "Semi-Tough".

Back when I was in college, 1970 or -71 or so, I bought this book:

The book was a collection of Jenkins' feature articles about college football that has appeared in Sports Illustrated over the years.  I no longer have the book, and it is probably long out of print, but if you can get hold of it and are a fan of college football, you should.  My memories of it are that it was one terrific book.

RIP Dan Jenkins.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Tom Seaver

I just saw the news that Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver, 74, has been diagnosed with dementia and will be retiring from public life.  His family has asked that everyone respect his and their privacy.

This news makes me very sad.

Watching A Ballgame!

After spending the last several months decrying the tightfistedness of Pirates management and watching every other team in the NL Central seeming to get better while Neal Huntington made one dumpster dive signing after another, it was nice to settle in this afternoon and watch the Pirates actually playing an actual baseball game, albeit a Grapefruit League exhibition game.  How nice to see the green grass of the old emerald chessboard set against the backdrop of palm trees, blue skies,  and Florida sunshine.  Let's see, can lay it on any thicker?  Probably not.

Anyway, the Pirates beat the Orioles 5-4.  All Bucco runs came on solo home runs, one by short stop apparent Eric Gonzalez, one by Adam Frazier, one by a guy nobody ever heard of (and of whom we may never hear again), and two by former #1 draft pick Cole Tucker, the second of which was a walk-off dinger in the bottom of the ninth.

Cole Tucker

It was intriguing to see Tucker.  Tall and rangy, and if those two blasts he hit today can be any indication of how he can hit  - and, let's face it, it's the Grapefruit League, so we can't let ourselves get carried away - his eventual arrival at PNC Park in late 2019 or 2020 is something to look forward to.  He also appears to be a fun loving and charismatic kid, a possible future "Face of the Franchise".

When I turned the boob tube on to see the game this afternoon, it was already the fourth inning, so many of the guys on the field were minor leaguers, guys who will not be with the team come Opening Day, but so what.  More importantly, as I tuned in, Brownie and Steve were saying good-bye and thank you to GMNH for spending time with them in the booth for a few innings, so I missed hearing Neal's line of b.s., so I consider that a good thing.

Late in the game, the announcers talked about the passing of Bob Friend a few weeks back.  Steve Blass' very emotional reminiscences were quite heartfelt and touching to hear.

Lots of time in the future to analyze the team and slice-and-dice the moves of the Front Office and Clint Hurdle, but when you watch a game for the first time since the end of the previous season's World Series, it's fun to just sit back and enjoy it.  Which I did.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

A Couple of Christie Classics (No Spoilers)

I cut my teeth as a fan of mystery, detective, and thriller novels back when I was in high school and began reading the books and stories of Agatha Christie.  It began, as I have said many times, a lifetime hobby for me and it has given me endless amounts of leisure time reading pleasure over the past fifty or so years.

Recent events have prompted me to re-read a couple of Dame Agatha's classics, both of which featured her most famous creation - Detective Hercule Poirot.

First on my list....

"The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" takes place in the small English country village (surprise!) of King's Abbot, where an older Poirot has gone to spend his leisure retirement years growing and experimenting with vegetable marrows (are you kidding me?).  When one of the more prominent residents, Roger Ackroyd, gets bumped off, Poirot's neighbor, Dr. Sheppard, who also narrates the story, and the local coppers enlist Poirot's aid in determining who was the nasty bit of goods that done in the old bloke.  Before he's through and unmasks the killer, we are made aware of poisonings, blackmail, hidden romances, and the value of village gossip in assisting Poirot in his work.

This novel was published in 1926 and was quite controversial at the time.  Why?  Well, the denouement  of this story offers a kind of a twist that had never before been used or seen in detective fiction up until then.  Critics accused Christie of "not playing fair", a charge at which Christie scoffed, and because of this twist, "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" is considered one of Christie's most important and famous works.  Many critics consider it one of the top crime/detective novels of all time.  I can remember reading it for the first time when I was in college and actually figuring our who the villain of the story was before it was actually revealed to the reader, and as much as I read these stories, that doesn't often happen.

And the "twist" in the story that caused such an uproar?  Well, I said that the top "no spoilers" so you're going to have to read it yourself to find out.

I was prompted to re-read this one after watching the awful mini-series that Amazon Prime Video produced based upon it last month (you may recall that The Grandstander gave that series a Zero Star review!).   I am happy to say that this book, which I read while still in high school, and was one of the first Christie novels I ever read, remains a terrific read.   

In this story, published in 1936, Poirot receives a series of letters signed only "A B C" that tell of  forthcoming murders that will take place in a given locations.  The locations and the victims are presented in alphabetical order.  None of the victims appear to be related to the other, the locations are spread out along the countryside, no one has a clue as to who is doing these foul deeds or why.  Oh, and a book,  an "ABC Railroad Guide", has been left with the bodies of each victim.  It can only be the work of a mad man!!!  The story is narrated by Poirot's long time "Watson", the bumbling Capt. Hastings, and, of course, the Scotland Yard detectives investigating the series of murders merely tolerate Poirot's presence.  They think that old Hercule is long past his prime and may even now be slightly gaga (I love some of those early twentieth century British terms Christie uses), but guess who solves the whole thing in the end?

Like I said, stay away from that mini-series adaptation of "The A.B.C. Murders" now available on Amazon, but do make it a point to read this one.  It really is a classic.

Agatha Christie and her vast catalog of novels, plays and stories are sometimes criticized in this day and age as being too cozy and sterile, and not realistic.  However, when you read past the staid features of some of the characters, you realize that the crimes about which Christie writes are often quite brutal and violent.  And if much of the violence takes place "off camera", if you will, the perpetrators are no less evil than anyone you would find in a story by Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane, or current writers like John Sandford or Michael Connelly.  I have also read critics who will tell you that if social historians want to get a true glimpse of what life was like in England and Great Britain at certain points in history (in the case of these two novels, the time between the World Wars), they can get a perfect picture of it by reading the novels of Agatha Christie.

Yes, sometimes the pace of the stories may seem too leisurely, and sometimes Poirot's use of his little gray cells seem to produce conclusions that he pulls out of thin air, I maintain that if you want to spend a couple of hours with a "crackling good yarn" (as one of her characters might put it) involving an intriguing mystery, an Agatha Christie novel is a good place to start.

And re-reading "Roger Ackroyd" and "A.B.C." will no doubt prompt me to reread this one very soon...

This was the every first Christie novel that I ever read back in 1968 or so, and it is one that I have re-read every four or five years.  "And Then There Were None" was published in 1939, and it may well be the most perfect mystery story ever written.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Sports, Money, and Morgan Freeman

Sports and money much in the news this past week......

Bryce Harper finally signed a contract this week.  It's with the Phillies for 13 years and a total of $330 million, which comes out to $25 million and change per year.  Harper will NOT be the highest played player in MLB.  That will be the Rockies Nolan Arenado at $32.5 million, and there are several others out there who make north of $25 million, including his new teammate, pitcher Jake Arietta.

There is a report out there that Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, turned down an offer from the Dodgers for four years and $180 million, which would have come out to $45 million per year.  Plus, it would have made Harper a free agent once again at the age of 30, when, assuming his career arc continues as it has over the years, he could have cashed in on yet ANOTHER mind boggling contract.

I guess it was more important to Harper (and Boras) to sign the contract with the largest total payout ($330 M) versus getting the highest single season contract ever ($45 M).  That is a real first world problem.  No wonder it took so long to hammer out a deal.  Plus, Boras gave out this memorable quote:

"It was important to Bryce to sign a contract where he knows he'll be in one place with the same team for a long period of time." (Those may not be the exact works, but that's the gist of it.)

Okay, I realize that this Phillies contract includes no-trade and no-opt-out clauses, but what are the odds that Harper will spend the entire thirteen year length of that contract with the Phillies?  I say that there is not a chance in Hell that that will happen, and I'd bet a hundred bucks to that effect.  Trouble is, that contract expires after the 2031 season, the year in which I will turn eighty, so there is a chance that if he is still with Philly then, I won't be around to see it, or to pay off or collect upon said bet.

Oh, and I can't wait to hear and see how the denizens of Citizens Bank Park are going to react the first time Harper goes into a ten game 5-for-44 slump.

However, I also know this, if the Phillies strike it rich and reach a World Series or two during the first five or six years of that contract with Harper playing a key role in their success, both the team and its fans are going to be really, really happy with the deal, and that is something that we followers of the Bob Nutting Pirates are never going to experience.

And in football, we Steelers fans are being inundated with news coverage and endless talk show bleatings about (a) negotiations of a contract extension for Ben Roethlisberger, (b) the team not "tendering" or "franchising" Le’Veon Bell, and (c), the entire Antonio Brown fiasco.

Here is what The Grandstander thinks.

(a) The QB is the most important position on the team.  They have to do this deal.  Even though Ben turns 37 today (Happy Birthday, Big Ben!), and his skills may not be what they once were.  Just don't make these negotiations turn into yet another media circus.  Fat chance.

(b) Seeya Le'Veon, and don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.  I do admit, though, that I am interested to see where he ends up and how much money he gets.  He bet big time on himself by skipping a season last year, and he may never get back that $14.5 million that he didn't get from the Steelers last year, but we'll see.

(c) Brown is perhaps the best receiver in the NFL, maybe the best ever in Steelers history (think  about that if you will), but he is a selfish and narcissistic team killer, who quit on his coaches and teammates last season, and I hope that the door DOES hit him in the ass on his way out.  I don't care about him, and I don't care to read or hear about him anymore.  As far as AB is concerned, I refer you to the great Morgan Freeman (I know you were wondering where he came into this discussion) and this quote from "The Shawshank Redemption":

"I don't give a shit."

Friday, March 1, 2019

To Absent Friends - Roy McHugh

Roy McHugh
1915 - 2019

This past Sunday, legendary Pittsburgh sportswriter, columnist, and editor, a veteran of both the Pittsburgh Press and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Roy McHugh died at the age of 103.  I, of course, remembered McHugh as a great, really great, sports columnist that I remember reading regularly as I was growing up.  

McHugh retired from the PG in 1983, and  this will give you a sense of how long ago that was. I heard about his death while listening to Ron Cook's and Joe Starkey's radio show on 93.7 on Monday morning.  Both of these guys are long time Pittsburgh newspapermen, but Cook said that he "barely knew" McHugh, and Starkey said that he had no memory at all of him, had never met or known him.  When I mentioned McHugh's death  on my Facebook feed on Monday, I realized that many of the people who saw that post would have had no idea as to just who Roy McHugh was.  You live a long life, and you end up surviving everyone who might remember you.  

In his obit for McHugh in the PG, Gene Collier told the story of going out to dinner with McHugh and some other friends in honor of McHugh's 100th birthday.  McHugh shrugged the whole thing off by saying, well, it is a milestone, but after this, there is only one milestone left.  Typical McHugh observation.

I would highly recommend that you read the obit written by Gene Collier.  It tells the Roy McHugh story far better than I can:

RIP Roy McHugh

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Oscars Thoughts.....

My observations on the Academy Awards presentation this past Sunday evening.....
  • I will start by acknowledging what has been almost universally hailed as the highlight of the evening, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper calmly leaving their front row seats and going on stage to sing "Shallows", the Best Original Song Oscar winner.  
  • It was a great performance, and the fact that it was presented on television from the stage, even with and  behind the performers so as to see the audience, made it even better.
  • I didn't miss the fact that there was no host for the show.  That certainly made the show move quicker as it eliminated the need for said host to crack lame jokes every time he introduced the next presenters.
  • That said, I did miss an opening monolog.  They are usually pretty funny.
  • I also missed the host coming on at about 10:45 in the night and saying "well, we've reached the halfway point, folks."  That joke is like DiMaggio's streak: it's been told at 56 consecutive Academy Awards shows, and now it's over.
  • One critique that I read of "Roma" leading up to the show was that, while it might be a wonderful piece of film making, it was also self-indulgent and the "most expensive home movie ever made".  Had it won Best Picture, I might - might - have felt complied to see it.   Now, I don't have to. 
  • I have not seen "The Favourite".  Perhaps Olivia Coleman deserved that Best Actress Oscar, perhaps she didn't (and, hey, she did give a great and heartfelt acceptance speech), but I feel really bad that Glenn Close did not win it. This was her seventh Oscar nomination, and she has never won.  She turns 72 next month, and you wonder if she'll ever get another chance.
  • I expressed my thoughts in this space a few days ago stating that of the three nominated movies that I had seen, my vote for Best Picture would have gone to "Green Book", so, say it with me now.....I believe I had that!
  • Department of How to Make the Academy Awards Show Shorter.....The performances of four nominated Best Original Songs took ten minutes and twelve seconds.  Yeah, I timed them (what a nerd).  Don't perform those songs every year and you shorten the show.  Of course, you do that and ABC cannot promote an appearance of Lady Gaga (or, in prior years, Barbra Streisand, Bruce Springsteen, or Lin-Manuel Miranda to juice up the ratings).  And of course, if you did that this year, we would have missed what was the best part of the evening (see first bullet point above).
  • I realize that the death of Stanley Donen on Saturday happened too close to the show to get his name and photo included in the filmed In Memoriam tribute, but wouldn't you think that someone, anyone, could have mentioned the loss of this industry giant at some point during the course of the show?
  • In closing, a salute to the four Oscar winning actors of 2018....
Rami Malek, Olivia Coleman, Regina King, Mahershala Ali