Saturday, January 19, 2019

"Green Book"

We made it out to the movie theater for the first time in 2019 yesterday to take in "Green Book" starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali and directed by Peter Farrelly.  It tells the story of classical and jazz pianist Dr. Donald Shirley (Ali) who undertakes an eight week tour of the deep south in 1962.  To serve as his driver/bodyguard for the trip, he hires Tony "Lip" Vallelonga (Mortensen), a quasi-hood from the Bronx.  This becomes a different sort of "buddy road trip" movie as the erudite "Negro" musician and the racist Italian-American set off on this tour.  Neither guy is perfect, but both learn a lot from each other. 

Both the movie itself and Mortensen and Ali have garnered lots of Oscar buzz and deservedly so.  Interestingly, the film has been criticized by members of the African-American community (filmmaker Spike Lee, for example) and members of the Shirley family.  A most interesting defense of the movie comes from basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and is worth reading:

We both loved the movie and highly recommend it.  It gets  a full Four Star rating from The Grandstander.

Ali and Mortensen
Donald Shirley and Tony Lip

Steve Blass Retires

The big news on the Pirates front while I was on vacation was the announcement that broadcaster Steve Blass will be hanging up his microphone at the conclusion of the 2019 season and retiring.  At the age of 76, this year will mark the sixtieth year of Blass' association with the Pirates.  

Blass has been a part of the Pirates broadcast team since the 1980's and if you listened to those broadcasts, you know all the stories, as Steve tended to repeat himself as the years went on.  One thing that you could never deny is that Steve Blass loved the Pirates, loved the game of baseball, and he knew the game of baseball.  When he would drop the act of playing "Steve Blass" he was and is still capable of bringing insight to the game that you are watching.  

One can say that Blass hung around five or so years too long in the booth, and those thoughts aren't wrong, but I give him credit for walking away from the booth.  In a town where being a play-by-play and/or color announcer is like being a Supreme Court Justice or the Queen of England, I would hope that Blass' move would be an example to a couple of other sports broadcast "institutions" in this town.

Several years ago when I was chairman of the Pittsburgh SABR Chapter, I was able to get Steve Blass to come and speak to the group.  I found him to be a sincere and amiable guy with whom to deal.  When I sent him a thank you note after that meeting, I was surprised to receive a phone call from him a few days later thanking me for sending him a thank you note.  Who does that?

Coming from a genuine World Series Hero, I found that to be a humble and genuine thing from the guy.

To Absent Friends - Carol Channing

Carol Channing

The first Absent Friend of 2019 is legendary Broadway actress Carol Channing, who died earlier this week at the age of 97.

Channing became a star on Broadway in 1949 when she starred as flapper Lorelei Lee in "Gentleman Prefer Blondes", but she cemented her status as a certified and bona fide Legend when she starred as matchmaker Dolly Levi in "Hello, Dolly" in 1964.  The show won ten Tony Awards, including one for Channing as Best Actress in  Musical, and she went on to perform the role on national and international tours, and in three separate Broadway revivals in 1977, 1982, and 1994 when she was well into her seventies.  By her own account, she formed the role of Dolly Levi over 5,000 times.  Perhaps no performer is associated with one particular role as is Channing with Dolly Levi.

Ironically, Channing's movie career never really took off, and her two most famous roles, Lorelei and Dolly, were performed on screen by other actresses, Marilyn Monroe and Barbra Streisand.  Fun Fact:  When Channing won that Tony Award for "Hello, Dolly", one of the actresses she beat out was Barbra Streisand from "Funny Girl".

They dimmed the lights on Broadway earlier this week in Channing's honor.  It was well deserved.

RIP Carol Channing.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The GCR and Conference Championship Predictions

This coming Sunday is one of my favorite sports days of the year, the double header of the AFC and NFC Championship Games that will determine the Super Bowl participants.  The match-ups feature the Number One and Two seeds from each conference, so it promises to be a terrific afternoon and evening of football watching.

The Grandstander Confidence Rankings (GCR) as put forth in this space on January 7 held true throughout last week's four divisional playoff games with one exception: the #5 Patriots defeat of the #3 Chargers, but when it came time to make my predictions, I went against my own rankings and called for a Patriots win, so I believe I had that, along with the other three games of last week (Chiefs, Rams, and Saints).  So I brings a 6-2 prediction record into Championship Weekend, but first, the GCR as it stands today:
  1. Saints
  2. Patriots
  3. Chiefs
  4. Rams
My predictions will hold to this ranking:
  • Saints over Rams
  • Patriots over Chiefs
I especially look forward to the Chiefs - Pats game, and the Pat Mahomes - Tom Brady match up.  You could no doubt give me a sleeve length list of reasons as to why the Chiefs should win this game, and I probably could not make a reasonable argument against you.  However, I've seen the Belichick-Brady-Patriots movie too many times over the years, and I just can't bring myself to pick against them.

It's going to be a New Orleans - New England Super Bowl.  As always, watch, but don't bet.

One more thing in The Grandstander Owns Up To His Screw Ups Department.

Since it was played I have not written at all about last week's College Football Playoffs Championship Game, but let me refresh your memories as to what I wrote about it in the aforementioned January 7 Grandstander post:

Well, if it (an Alabama-Clemson match-up) is repetitive, we are assured of one thing -  a competitive and exciting game, as each of their meetings in the past three years' CFP games have been.  

I am calling for an Alabama win, but I have discarded my usual "watch, but don't bet" advice.  While at the Rivers Casino last week, I visited the new sports book and  placed a $15 wager on Clemson getting +5.5 against the Tide.

Final score: Clemson 44 - Alabama 16.  Competitive?  I believe that I didn't have that.  On the other hand, I will be able to cash that winning ticket on Clemson the next time I visit The Rivers!

A Tale of Three Quarterbacks

Pro football fans will all remember the 2004 NFL Draft when three quarterbacks were selected within the first eleven picks of the first round:  Eli Manning by the Chargers-and-then-to-the-Giants, Phillip Rivers by the Giants-and-then-to-the-Chargers, and Ben Roethlisberger by the Steelers.  Each of them lived up to their billing, and each of them achieved success in their NFL careers.  Each of them will probably,  eventually become Hall of Famers.

The circumstances of that particular convergence of QB talent in one draft was discussed much this past season when (a) it seemed that Eli Manning was struggling with the Giants over the past two seasons and may well be washed up,  (b) when Phillip Rivers led the Chargers to a double digit win season and the playoffs, and (c) when Ben Roethlisberger piled up impressive statistics while also throwing a lot of interceptions as the Steelers had a late season collapse.

So, of those three QB's, who was/is the best?  Which one did the most for his team?  Which one would you pick today if for your team if each was in his prime?  Such questions just screamed for a Grandstander Spreadsheet, so here you go (all stats are according to

Ben RoethlisbergerEli ManningPhillip Rivers
Games Played216232212
Games Started214230208
Completion %64.460.364.5
Total Passing Yards56,19455,98154,656
TD Passes363360374
TD Pass %
Int. %
QB Record144-69-1116-114118-90
Winning %0.6750.5040.567
QB Rating94.284.195.6


Completion %62.460.559.4
TD Passes301814
Winning %0.6120.6670.455
Super Bowl Record2-12-00-0

Like most sets of statistics, you can bend these numbers any way you'd like to make a case for one guy over the other two. Rivers has more TD passes and a higher QB rating, but a losing record in the playoffs, Manning has a perfect record in Super Bowls, Roethlisberger has more passing yards, has won more games, has a higher winning percentage, and has played in and won more playoff games.  All things considered, I'm glad that the team for whom I root, the Steelers, had Roethlisberger over these last fifteen seasons that either of the other two.

Oh, and just for shits and giggles, I thought that I would add one more name to the spreadsheet, that of a guy who is a contemporary of that 2004 triumvirate, albeit he has played nineteen seasons as opposed to the fifteen seasons of Ben/Eli/Phillip.

Ben RoethlisbergerEli ManningPhillip RiversTom Brady
Games Played216232212269
Games Started214230208267
Completion %64.460.364.564.0
Total Passing Yards56,19455,98154,65670,514
TD Passes363360374517
TD Pass %
Int. %
QB Record144-69-1116-114118-90207-60
Winning %0.6750.5040.5670.775
QB Rating94.284.195.697.6


Completion %62.460.559.463.3
TD Passes30181472
Winning %0.6120.6670.4550.737
Super Bowl Record2-12-00-05-3

Is there any doubt who the greatest quarterback of this century, if not of all time, is?  Brady has led his team to EIGHT SUPER BOWLS (and has a good chance of making in nine in another couple of days).  Let that sink in.  That is just an unbelievable fact, and I doubt that it will ever happen again.  Ever.

Oh, also shows figure for "Comebacks" and "Game Winning Drives", although it didn't mention how they define the two stats.  Regardless, and given some intuitive thinking of what those terms mean, you may find those numbers of interest as well.

Game Winning Drives44423730

If you believe that a quarterback really and truly earns his keep late in the game, when your team is down, when their back is to the wall, and any other cliche you care to use, then you see that Roethlisberger, given four fewer seasons in the league, is right there with Brady in these particular categories.  However, we all know what the Brady-Ben record is when these two guys have gone head to head over the years, and it is pretty one sided in Brady's favor.

Just some numbers for you to chew on to make the case for your favorite quarterback, or a case against a guy you might not like.

"So, How'd You Do In Vegas?"

As I alluded in my post of yesterday, the question you see at the top of this post is the question that everybody always asks you when you return from Las Vegas (or from a trip to the Rivers of Meadows Casinos, for that matter).  So, when we departed for Sin City, I decided that I would keep a log of just exactly "how I did" while there. Now tracking your wins and losses is tantamount to asking the car dealer, "How much does that car cost?"  In other words, if you have to ask, or, in this case, keep track, you shouldn't be doing it in the first place, but what the hell?

So, to answer the question.  I took a stake of $500 with me to play with, and I'd have been willing to lose that with the idea that I had fun while playing.  When I tallied it all up on Monday night before bedtime, I was in the red for the whopping amount of $24.70.  Losing that small of an amount over four days is a "win" for me.

  • On two occasions I made a "what the hell" bet at a roulette table.  Dan and I would each place $20 on Red for one spin.  Twice it came up black.
  • On three or four occasions I fed money into a slot machine, violating my oft made promise to never play slot machines.  They don't call them one armed "bandits" for nothing.  I know that people sometimes hit big on slots, but I hate the damned things.
  • On separate occasions, I lost $60 and $100 at a black jack table, and it happened so fast that I felt like I was gut punched by Mike Tyson.
  • I made $15 bets on three of the four NFL Playoff games, going with the Chiefs, Patriots, and Eagles (I didn't bet on the Cowboys-Rams game), and I won all three of those.
  • On two occasions, I left the black jack table with a $50 and a $60 profit.
  • On Monday night, our final night, I started with $100 at a $15 black jack table at the MGM Grand Casino.  It wasn't going well. I was down to only $25 in chips, and then it turned.  I started to get some good cards, made a couple of nice hits, and I cashed it in when my stack got to $175.  Let me tell you, THAT felt good, and it was the gambling highlight of the trip for me.  It was the last bit of gambling that I did on the trip. I knew that if I pushed it, that sweet taste in my mouth would have, inevitably, turned sour.
I also made a $15 bet on the Pirates to win OVER 79.5 games this year, a $15 bet on the Patriots to win the Super Bowl, and three separate $15 bets on Jordan Speith, Dustin Johnson, and Tommy Fleetwood to win the Masters.  If any one of those guys win the Green Jacket, that $24.70 loss will be turned into a very tidy profit.

I will say that it was really fun to be in various casinos while NFL Playoff games were taking place.  Wherever you went in the casinos, you were never far from banks of TV sets where you could see what was going on. Dan and I spent some time watching the Patriots game while ensconced in the Sports Book at Caesar's Palace.

Sports Book at Caesar's Palace
Sunday, January 13

That was a different experience.  The place was huge, it was packed with people yelling and cheering, and you just marveled at the thought of how much money was at stake for many of the degenerate gamblers who were doing the yelling and screaming, certainly a lot more than my measly fifteen bucks.

No doubt about it, Las Vegas is a fun place.  We arrived at our hotel at about 8:00 on Friday night, spent three full days visiting other hotels and casinos, eating some great meals, and catching two shows, but by the time we checked out on Tuesday morning, we were ready to go.  Three days was just right for us.

Viva Las Vegas!!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

My Pirates Bet

While on our Vegas Vacation, I see that Neal Huntington had a press conference - not sure if it was here in Pittsburgh or down in Bradenton - and announced that in the period of 2013 through 2018, the Pirates have had the overall NINTH BEST RECORD IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL, and have made the post season in THREE OF THOSE SIX SEASONS (going 2-5 in those three appearances, which I don't believe he mentioned).

I swear that, while sitting in Las Vegas, I could hear the fans  cheering, the bands playing, and the fireworks exploding that was surely taking place in Pittsburgh over this joyful news.


Sorry I wasn't home to take it all in.

Anyway, while out in Las Vegas, I figured that I had to make some sort of bet on the Pirates.  The Paris Casino Sports Book had the Over/Under for Pirates wins in 2019 set at 79 and 1/2.  Now, if I were a logical, unbiased, objective better, I would definitely go for the UNDER on this bet, however, I'm still a Pirates fan at heart, and I didn't want to put myself in a position of rooting against  the Pirates winning if, say, the season came down to the final week, and the Bucs were sitting at 76 or 77 wins. It will also make it really interesting if,  on the final day of the season, the Pirates are sitting 79-82. Should that be the case, I am going to really, really be paying attention on what would otherwise be a meaningless 162nd game of the season, and I'll be very unhappy if Clint decides to play nothing but September call-up scrubeenies and give Doyvadas Neverauskas the ball to start that final game.

What did I bet, you ask?  All of $15.  It won't break me if I lose, but I'll STILL want to see Jameson Taillon starting that last game of the season!

Oh, and Marilyn happened to have a two dollar bill in her wallet, and she wanted to do something "fun and frivolous" with it in Las Vegas, so she put that Thomas Jefferson on the Pirates to win the 2019 World Series.  At 150 - 1 odds.  A tidy little $300 payout when the Bucs kick the Yankees' or Red Sox' asses come next October!

Caesar's Palace Sports Book
on an NFL Playoff Sunday

Viva Las Vegas, 2019

The seed was planted over a dinner with our friends Dan and Susan right after Thanksgiving.  "We're thinking about going for a long weekend in Las Vegas right after Christmas.  Whaddaya think?", said Susan, and before we knew it, CLICK/BOOM, we had booked a long weekend trip to Las Vegas, and thank you Southwest Airlines and the Paris Las Vegas Resort for making such  great deal to fly out and stay in the Town That Moe Greene Built, and so it was that last Friday night, we were welcomed accordingly:

For Marilyn and I, it had been ten years since we last visited this uniquely American playground, and if anything, it has gotten bigger, brassier, and more over the top than ever.  Las Vegas truly defines the term "sensory overload", and we had a ball every step of the way.

In all we visited and won/lost money in eight different casinos: Paris, Bellagio, Mirage, Caesar's Palace, Venetian, Encore, Aria, and MGM.  We saw two different shows:

Marilyn and I had actually seen "Love" in 2009 when we last visited Vegas.  We said at the time that it was so good that we'd like to see it again someday, and so we did.  The show has actually changed some since then.  Some different Beatles songs are featured now, but still the same great Beatles music (need I say more?) and still those marvelous acrobatics and dancing moves of the Cirque Du Soleil performers.

As for David Copperfield....well, it was simply an amazing show of magic and illusion.  It seemed to me that I have seen Copperfield do his thing on television forever, so it surprised me that he is only 62 years old.  To see his act live on a stage was really a fantastic thing to see.  And he does this twice a night, three times on weekends, throughout the year.  As the concierge at our hotel said, "He's a machine."  

When we decided that we were going to the Copperfield show, it triggered a memory for me.  Many years ago, David Copperfield was going to do a show in Pittsburgh, and I remember at the time that my mother said that that was something that she wouldn't mind seeing.  I don't think she ever got to that show back then, so I dedicated my visit to that show two nights ago to my Mom, which was kind of nice.

We had some great meals at some cool places.

This restaurant, Mon Ami Gabi, is in the Paris Resort and includes an outdoor seating area that simulates and outdoor Parisian cafe.  It is directly across the street from the Bellagio, so when you are there for dinner in the evening, you get a great view of the famed dancing fountains of the Bellagio.

And when you breakfast there, which we did twice, you get this view.

The other fancy meal we had was here.

Carbone's is located in the Aria Hotel and Casino, and it is an "Authentic New York Italian Restaurant".  More than being a great meal, which it was, dinner there was a real experience.  The atmosphere made it a dining event as much as a meal.  Many thanks to my Highmark friend and fellow retiree Sandy Tomlinson for recommending the place to us.  

Another very cool thing that we did was ride The High Roller.

It is a huge ferris wheel that takes a half hour to make a complete circle.  At its peak, you are 540 feet above the ground, and it really is spectacular to see all of Las Vegas and the surrounding desert and mountains.

A really fun thing to do.

Of course, the question that everyone asks you when you return from Las Vegas is "How'd you do at the tables?"  Testing the laws of probability, of course, is an integral part of the Vegas Experience, and we did do that, but that part of the trip deserves a separate write up, which will be forthcoming in the days ahead.  Watch for it.

In closing, no matter where you go, even Las Vegas, there is always a Pittsburgh connection...

Here's looking at you, kids....