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

Movie: "Isn't It Romantic"

"Isn't It Romantic" is a movie that both satirizes (makes fun of?) and pays homage to the romantic comedy film genre.

Rebel Wilson, the zaftig  Australian actress who has starred in all of the Pitch Perfect movies, plays our heroine, Natalie.  She  plays an architect at a firm where, if she is noticed at all, she is looked down upon by the other employees, is the one always told to fetch the coffee at meetings, and she doesn't quite know how to stand up for herself. She also lives in a crummy apartment in a crummy New York City neighborhood.  She does know one guy at the office, Josh, who actually is crazy about her, but she is just too emotionally blind to see it.  One night, when coming home from work, she gets mugged in the subway, knocks herself unconscious when she runs into a steel beam, and when she wakes up, she finds herself in an alternate universe.

Her doctor is impossibly handsome, her NYC neighborhood becomes transformed with fresh flowers growing everywhere.    Her apartment is huge and gorgeous with an unlimited designer wardrobe.  The handsome and rich client who treated her with disdain before has fallen in love with her, but Josh, that guy at the office who liked her all along, well he has fallen in love with a gorgeous supermodel, and they might get married <gasp!> before Natalie realizes that <gasp!> Josh has been The One for her all along.  Oh, and people on the street spontaneously break into elaborate choreographed dance numbers.  Her life has turned into the kind of RomCom Movie that she as always disdained.

The movie takes on all of the cliches that are a part of seemingly every RomCom you've ever seen, and it's actually quite a bit of fun.  This movie will make no Ten Best Lists, will win no awards, and, like most RomComs, you'll probably pretty much forget about it within a few months after you've seen it, but that doesn't mean it isn't a fun movie and worth seeing.  It'll give you a few laughs and make you smile, and who can't use that in their life?

Two and a half Stars from The Grandstander.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

To Absent Friends - Peter Tork

Peter Tork

Peter Tork, bass guitarist, and one of two true musicians of the 1960's band The Monkees, died earlier this week at the age of 77.

The story of The Monkees is well known.  In an effort to cash in on Beatlemania, NBC put together a sitcom in 1966 about a fictional band, The Monkees.  The show was done in the style of Richard Lester's Beatles movies, A Hard Days Night and Help!.  It became a hit, won an Emmy for Best comedy Series, ran for three seasons, and, surprisingly, The Monkees themselves became real honest to God rock and roll stars.

The Monkees
Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith, Davy Jones, Mickey Dolenz

When casting the show, the producers wanted actors and not necessarily singers and musicians.  Davy Jones, who became the teen heart throb lead singer and Mickey Dolenz were actors.  Michael Nesmith and Tork were real musicians.  Somehow, the group jelled and they became a big hit.  Inevitably, the group had the inevitable ego battles and split up.  Each went their separate ways, but over the years, they reunited for various reunion tours and concerts.  Jones passed away several years ago.  Nesmith, like Tork, has had  his own musical career, writing, producing and performing.  Dolenz, among other things, serves as a front man on something called the "Happy Together Cruise" wherein a bunch of singers and bands from the '60s and '70s era perform on cruise ships.  I know a guy who has been on several of these cruises, and he says they're great, and that Dolenz himself is a pretty nice guy!

Anyway, one of the most interesting things that I read about Peter Tork in the obits was that among other things he did in his post-Monkees career was spend a year and a half as a high school teacher in Santa Monica.  How cool would that have been to have a Monkee as your high school teacher?

RIP Peter Tork.

To Absent Friends - Stanley Donen

Stanley Donen
1924 - 2019

The lead paragraph of the New York Times' obituary for Stanley Donen, who died yesterday at the age of 94, described him as the man "who directed Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling, Gene Kelly singing in the rain and a host of other sparkling moments from some of Hollywood’s greatest musicals".

The list of Donen's directorial credits is long and distinguished, and includes some of Hollywood's greatest film musicals (On the Town, Royal Wedding, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Funny Face) and some pretty good non-musical ones as well (Blame It On Rio, Two For the Road, and one of my favorites, Charade), but if did nothing else, Donen would be remembered forever for co-directing, with Gene Kelly, "Singin' In The Rain".  This 1952 movie is considered one of the ten best American movies ever made and the best movie musical of all time.

Here are pictures of two of the most famous scenes in film musicals ever, and the man responsible for filming them was Stanley Donen.

Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling in "Royal Wedding"

Gene Kelly dancing and singing in the rain

For all of his accomplishments, Donen was never once nominated for an Academy Award, but in 1998, the Motion Picture Academy made up for this oversight by awarding Stanley Donen an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement.  His acceptance of that award was a classic:

RIP Stanley Donen.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Movie: "Can You Ever Forgive Me?"

Author Lenore "Lee" Israel had a moderately successful career as a magazine writer of celebrity profiles as well as some full length celebrity biographies, but she fell upon hard times in the the early 1990's when her autobiography of cosmetics queen Estee Lauder bombed.  Almost by accident, she hit upon a scheme of forging letters and documents from prominent and deceased authors such as Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward and selling them on the collectibles market.  Inevitably, of course, the whole scheme came crashing down around her.

This story is told in the 2018 movie "Can You Ever Forgive Me?", directed by Marielle Heller and based upon Israel's memoir of the same name.  It stars Melissa McCarthy, taking 

a break form her foul-mouthed persona that she plays in so many film comedies, as Israel.  She shows that she can pull off a dramatic role.  She has been nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for this role.  She won't win, but it was a well deserved nomination.  It costars Richard E. Grant as her friend and cohort in the forgery scheme.  He also has been Oscar nominated, and he may well win the Best Supporting Actor award for this role.

Also appearing in this movie in a small but significant role is Saturday Night Live original cast member Jane Curtin, and it 

was a real kick to see her on screen once again.  And if you want to feel the passage of time, it can be noted that Ms Curtin is now 71 years old.  Which means she was only four years older than me when she broke through on SNL all this years ago.  (For the record, she STILL is only four years older than me.)

The movie also has a great musical soundtrack, including a very cool Paul Simon tune called "Can't Run But".

This was an entertaining movie, and I would recommend it highly.  It gets Three Stars from The Grandstander.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Ruminations on Oscar; No Predictions

The Grandstander is going to forgo his usual tradition and NOT offer any predictions for the Motion Picture Academy Awards, which will be given out this coming Sunday evening.  The reason is simple - I just haven't seen enough of the nominated films and performances to offer an informed opinion.  I have seen three of the eight Best Picture nominees, two of the performances for Best Actor, Actress, and Supporting Actor, and none of the Best Supporting Actress nominees, so what in the hell do I know?

That doesn't mean that I don't have an opinion or three, so here goes.

Here are the eight Best Picture nominees:
  • Black Panther
  • BlackKKlansman
  • Bohemian Rhapsody
  • The Favorite
  • Green Book
  • Roma
  • A Star Is Born
  • Vice
I have seen Black Panther, Green Book, and A Star Is Born.  I caught the last twenty minutes of Bohemian Rhapsody when I snuck into a theater after I saw another movie at the multi-plex.  I want to see BlackKKlansman, and The Favourite (although I have heard that that one is really strange), have no desire to see Roma, and I am squeamish about seeing anything related to Dick Cheney, no matter how good the acting might be.

The darling of the critics and the film cognoscenti is Roma.  It is a black and white movie filmed in Mexico with English subtitles and is a semi-autobiography of the filmmaker, Alfonso Cuaron (a previous Oscar winning director).  It topped many critics' Ten Best lists for 2018, and has been snagging a lot of Best Picture awards for various other organizations.  It may very well win the Best Picture Oscar.  It will probably be seen by a couple of hundred movie goers, and will be quickly forgotten.  

So how about this?  How about the Motion Picture Academy give its top prize to a movie that people actually went to the theaters and paid their money to see, a movie that the audiences actually, you know, liked and enjoyed.  Using that criterion, that should make Black Panther and A Star Is Born the front runners to take home the Oscar.  I have no doubt that Roma is a wonderful movie from a technical standpoint.  You know, beautifully filmed and exquisitely shot, but how many people have actually seen it?  If it wins, it will not be a popular selection among the movie going public.  What would be wrong with rewarding a popular movie with the Oscar?

For the record, of the three nominated movies  that I have seen, here is how I would vote: 

1. Green Book    

2. A Star Is Born

3. Black Panther

I'd be happy if any of those three won. I'm also pulling for Glenn Close to win Best Actress for her role in The Wife.

As we await the 2018 winner, let's look back at the winners in the past years that ended in the numeral 8:

2008 - Slumdog Millionaire
1998 - Shakespeare In Love
1988 - Rain Man
1978 - Deer Hunter
1968 - Oliver!
1958 - Gigi
1948 - Hamlet
1938 - You Can't Take It With You
1928 - The Broadway Melody

My $.02 worth....One of the movies that Shakespeare In Love beat out in '98 was Saving Private Ryan, a much better movie....The Best Supporting Actor award in '88 went to Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda, an hilariously funny movie and Kline was soooo good in it ("say it, Ken, Cathcart Towers Hotel...")....one of the movies that Deer Hunter beat out in '78 was Coming Home; that was the year for grim Viet Nam aftermath flicks; Jon Voight and Jane Fonda won Oscars for Coming Home....one of the movies that Gigi beat out in '58 was Separate Tables, a good movie for which David Niven and Wendy Hiller won acting Oscars...Dan Bonk take note: the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1958 went to your main man Burl Ives for The Big Country.

Enjoy the show on Sunday!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

To Absent Friends - Joe Gibbon

Joe Gibbon
1935 - 2019

Normally, a guy whose Major League career can best be described as "mediocre to fair" would not rate an Absent Friends citation by The Grandstander, but when that guy was a member of the  iconic 1960 World Series Champion  Pittsburgh Pirates  (iconic to Pittsburghers that is), then his passing demands to be noted in this space.  So today we bid a melancholy happy trails to Joe Gibbon.

Gibbon, a lefty out of Hickory, Mississippi, was a 25 year old rookie for that 1960 squad.  In 27 games, nine of them starts, Gibbon went 4-2 with a 4.02 ERA, and pitched in two games in that memorable '60 Series.  He also pitched in two games for the Bucs in the 1970 NL Championship Series, and if you had made a bet with me on that, I would have lost money.  I had no memory of Gibbon coming back with the team late in his career.

He also served the Pirates well when he was traded to the Giants prior to the 1966 season.  The player the Pirates received in exchange?  Matty Alou.

Gibbon pitched for 13 seasons in the majors, eight of them with the Pirates, and also included stints with the Giants, Reds, and Astros.  His career numbers are 61-65 with a 3.53 ERA (44-46, 3.61 with the Pirates).

Yep, a mediocre career, but he was a member of perhaps the most special team in the history of Pittsburgh professional sports.   His death, by the way, leaves only fourteen players from the 1960 team that are still alive.

RIP Joe Gibbon.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Geezer Rock Tour Rolls On

Now in it's third year, the Sproule/Bonk Geezer Rock & Roll Tour stopped in at the Homestead Carnegie Library Music Hall this past Saturday night for a performance of the 1970's era hit machine, Three Dog Night, and I have to tell you, never has the term "Geezer Rock" been more applicable than seeing Three Dog Night perform in 2019.  That said, it was a really enjoyable evening and a fun concert.

Now I was never what you would call a huge Three Doig Night fan back in the day, but I knew that they had a lot of hits, and I knew that I would probably recognize more songs than I realized that I would, and damned of that was not the case.  Front man Danny Hutton talked about the band being together for fifty-one (51!!!) years, and that at their height they had twenty-one (21!!!) consecutive Top Forty hits, and that is exactly what they gave the crowd (that appeared to be a sell out, by the way) on Saturday.  Unlike some acts, Three Dog Night wasn't about to give the crowd "some of our new stuff". No sir, they sang nothing but the old stuff, the hits, and you recognized every single song that they sang.

A lot off the in-between song patter that the guys gave focused on riffs about how old they are.  Hutton said that most of their old hits are songs that you now hear as background music on movie sound tracks, at Walmarts, and "doctors' offices; especially doctors' offices."  It got a big laugh from the, shall we say, "mature" audiences.  Hutton introduced his son who was playing bass in the back up band, and he, the son, is now a middle aged man!  And God bless the guys, they did their best to groove while singing their songs, but what you saw were guys in their mid to late seventies trying to dance.  Not pretty, but, like I said, a fun concert.

Three Dog Night
Taken with my iPhone camera

As Three Dog Night went through their playlist, you just knew that there would be an encore, and you just knew what it was going to be, a rousing rendition of "Joy to the World".  

Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea
Joy to you and me

A great way to end the evening!

Oh, and one more thing.  If you live in the Pittsburgh area, and have never been to a concert at the Carnegie Library Music Hall in Homestead, make it a point to try and do so.  It's a beautiful facility, small and intimate with terrific acoustics.  A great place to see a concert.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

"The Adventures of Robin Hood"

If you listen to the hosts on Turner Classic Movies our read the writings of movie critics and historians, you will hear and read time and again that this 1938 movie, "The Adventures of Robin Hood", starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland and directed by Michael Curtiz is one of the great, most rousing swashbuckling adventure movies ever.  though

So, I watched it earlier this week.

Sorry, film buffs out there, but I won't be putting this one on my list of "Movies To Take With Me If I Am Ever Stranded On A Desert Island".  I will say this, though, for its time, I suppose that this was a marvel of a movie.  Even today, eighty-one years later and seeing it on TCM in standard definition, the colors by Technicolor are amazingly bright and rich, so it must have been breathtaking to audiences in 1938.  Still, the actions and cheerful laughter of the Merry Men in Sherwood Forest come across as cringingly forced and stilted.  As I watched, I kept thinking that what I really should be watching is Mel Brooks' "Men In Tights".  This one just wasn't for me.

I will also say this.  Olivia de Havilland, who is still with us at age 102, was amazingly beautiful in this one.  She would achieve 

de Havilland and Flynn

true screen immortality the following year as Melanie in "Gone With The Wind".  The movie also costarred Claude Rains as the bad guy Prince John.  Four years after this one, both he and director Curtiz would do much, much better work in a little movie that we like to call "Casablanca."

One star from The Grandstander.

Monday, February 11, 2019


We had missed this highly acclaimed and highly recommended movie when it was out in the theaters late last year, so we finally caught up with it last night via Amazon Prime.  Glad we finally got to it.

Three women - Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, and Elizabeth Debicki - get caught in the crossfire of Chicago racial tensions and crooked ward politics when a heist-gone-wrong ends up in the death of their husbands and leaves them as, well, widows.  To save themselves, they have to pull off a heist themselves.  I'll spare you the details; just watch the movie.  A terrific cast also features Liam Neeson, Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell, and Daniel Kaluuya.  Consummate old pro Duvall pretty much dominates every scene that he is in.

Like a lot of heist flicks, it gets kind of murky at the end, you know, like what happened to all those bags of money, so you just have to take some of it on faith.  It is directed by Steve McQueen, who directed the Oscar winning "Twelve Years A Slave" of a few years back, and there are some terrific action scenes in it.  One of my favorite scenes, though, was a subdued one between alderman candidate Farrell and his assistant while they are driving down a street in a car, and all that you see is the outside of he car as it drives down the street.  You only hear the conversation.  Doesn't sound like much as I write this, but it's pretty neat on screen.  To me, anyway.    

The screenplay was by McQueen and Gillian Flynn, author of "Gone Girl", so the blood lines for this movie are pretty good.

Really good movie.  Three Stars from The Grandstander.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

To Absent Friends - Frank Robinson

Frank Robinson

Baseball Hall of Fame member Frank Robinson died today at the age of 84.  Robinson was a former National League Rookie of the Year, won MVP Awards in both the American and National Leagues, and is historical because he was the first African American to be named a manager in the major leagues (Cleveland, 1975).

I can remember once reading a story by Pittsburgh sports writer Bob Smizik, written in 1999 when various "All Century " lists were being complied, that said that whenever lists of all time great players are compiled, the name of Frank Robinson gets frequently overlooked, and that is an injustice.  Can I interest you in these numbers compiled in a 21 year career....

Hits - 2,943
HR - 586
RBI - 1,812
BA - .303
OPS - .943

Prorated over a 162 game season, Robinson hit 34 home runs and drove in 105 runs per year.

When you were a contemporary of Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, maybe numbers like that do get overlooked, but they shouldn't have been.  I know this - when I was watching that 1971 World Series, the one Baltimore Oriole batter that I least wanted to see at bat against the Pirates was Frank Robinson.

RIP Frank Robinson.

A Week in The Arts

In the past week, I have taken in two movies, a musical play, and a streaming series.  Some quickie thoughts on each....

Oscar winning director Peter Jackson was commissioned by Britain's Imperial War Museum to take over 100 hours of film footage from the first world war, and "make something of it".  Jackson painstakingly restored film that was faded, blackened, and otherwise damaged from sitting in their canisters for over 100 years, colorized it, and turned it onto an astonishing documentary that tells of the horrors of war and its aftermath.  At the conclusion of the film itself, Jackson provides an additional film (think of it as an "extra" that comes on a movie's DVD release) that explains exactly how he and his team did what they did in creating this movie.  If you go to see the movie, please stay to see this additional feature.

Four Stars from The Grandstander.

Watching last week's Super Bowl prompted me to seek out and find this 1977 thriller from director John Frankenheimer.  In this one, the Palestinian terrorist group Black September decides to launch a terrorist attack on America by loading down the Goodyear blimp with explosives and attacking Miami's Orange Bowl during the Super Bowl.  Marthe Keller plays the Black September terrorist who is spearheading the plan, Bruce Dern plays a whacko American veteran who feels like he has been shit upon by "the system" who will pilot the blimp, and Robert Shaw is the Israeli intelligence officer who has to ferret out the plan and stop it.

One of the attractions of this movie was that parts of it were filmed on location in the Orange Bowl while the actual  Super Bowl, number X, between the Steelers and Cowboys, was being played.  So you get to see real plays from the actual game.  It also serves as a time capsule of sorts for a time before the Super Bowl became, for all intents and purposes, a national holiday.  At one point, Israeli agent Shaw looks at his FBI counterpart and says "What is this super bowl?"  Can you imagine such a thing?

Anyway, I had not seen this movie since it was new in theaters forty-three years ago, so I wasn't sure what to expect, but it holds up surprisingly well as a thriller, a football time capsule, and, sadly, a preview of just what exactly terrorism was to become in our world.

Three and one-half Stars from The Grandstander.

"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" the musical adaption of the Roald Dahl children's book and the Willy Wonka movie, was the fifth show in this season's Broadway Pittsburgh Series.  Honestly, of the shows in the series, this was the one for which I had the lowest expectations, and through the first act, I wasn't thrilled.  However, the second act, when the characters actually went inside Willy's chocolate factory, was terrific, and it turned the show into a most pleasant evening at the theater.  The performance of the Oompa Loompas alone, during the show and at the curtain call, was almost worth the price of admission, as was the performance of eleven year old Rueby Wood in the role of Charlie.

Three Stars from The Grandstander.

I have always been a fan of Agatha Christie, and Amazon has shown some very good adaptations of Christie stories over the years, so I  was really looking forward to seeing this three part adaptation of "The A.B.C. Murders", a genuine Christie classic.

All I can say is that this proved to be three hours of my life that I will never get back.  The movie was so dark in tone and spirit as to be almost unwatchable.  John Malkovich, a very capable actor, played Hercule Poirot, and he would have been fine, i suppose, but whoever came up with this version - producers, writers, director? - gave him a version of the famous fictional detective that was nothing like you would expect.  They also gave Poirot a back story that was unconnected to anything that Agatha Christie devised to the point that the sound that you heard in the background was no doubt Dame Agatha spinning in her grave.

I have read that the Christie Estate is constantly commissioning these series and movies (the remake of "Murder on the Orient Express" of two years ago, for example) based upon her works in order to keep the name of Agatha Christie before the public, introduce younger generations to her works, and, not incidentally, keep her books moving off of bookshelves across the world.  I cannot imagine that the Estate was happy with this version of one of Christie's most famous works.

ZERO Stars from The Grandstander.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Patriots Win

The New England Patriots defeated the Los Angeles Rams, 13-3, to win the Super Bowl last night, and in the twelve or so hours since the game ended, it has become de rigueur for sportswriters, commentators, and people on various forms of social media to try to out-snark each other in proclaiming how AWFUL and BORING and LOUSY the low scoring game was.  Even people who have spent a season decrying how out-of-control offense had gotten in the NFL and how defense has been legislated out of the game (yeah, that's you, Michael Wilbon) are trashing this game.

I agree that this one might not have been as exciting as that Steelers 27-23 win over Arizona ten years ago, or the Pats come from behind overtime win over Atlanta two years ago, or last year's 41-33 Eagles win over New England, but when you consider what was at stake - the Super Bowl Championship! - there is some value in a low scoring game, when a 3-0 lead, which NE held at halftime and deep into the third quarter, could be wiped out and overcome on the very next play of the game (which didn't actually happen, but it could have).

Context is everything.  I will grant you that if that game yesterday was played at 1:00 on a Sunday afternoon in early October, it would have been written off as a desultory and boring game, but if you cannot find tension and value in  game like that when the league championship is at stake, well, then you're just looking for something to bitch and moan about.  You probably shouldn't be a sports fan at all then.

I have written much about the Belichick/Brady/Patriots Dynasty in the lead up to this game, so I won't belabor it in this post.  Simply stated: 18 seasons, 9 Super Bowl appearances, 6 Super Bowl Championships.  Greatest of all time, and we will ever see anything like it again, certainly not in my lifetime.  It is becoming part of the narrative that last night's Super Bowl win was the "last shot" for this particular Pats' dynasty.  Maybe so, but raise your hand if you would be willing to bet a lot of money on Coach Bill and the Golden Boy NOT being in the hunt for the Super Bowl next year. Anybody?  Didn't think so.

To Absent Friends - Bob Friend

Bob Friend

Bob Friend died peacefully in his sleep yesterday at the age of 88, and it can truly be stated that he was and remains one of the Pirates all-time greats.  A career record of 197-230, 3.58 (191-218, 3.55 in 15 seasons with the Bucs) might tell you otherwise, but if you were around and followed the Pirates and watched Bob Friend pitch, you know otherwise.

It is well known that for the first seven years of his career, the Pirates teams for whom he pitched were one of the worst, and sometimes THE worst, teams in baseball.  Friend went out every fourth day for this teams.  In three of those years, he led the league in starts and in one of them he led in ERA.  He won 22 games for the Pirates in 1958, and was a key starter for the 1960 pennant winning Pirates, winning 18 games with a 3.00 ERA.  Vernon Law won twenty games that year and the Cy Young Award, but if you asked around the NL, I'm guessing that opposing teams would have told you that Friend was the better pitcher.  He was a four time All-Star, and the winning pitcher in two of those games.  He had 163 complete games in his career.  He is still the Pirates all time leader in starts, innings pitched, strikeouts, and losses.  That last stat may not be something to celebrate, but it is a testimony to Friend's durability.  He was the Pirates opening day pitcher seven times, and never spent a day on the disabled list in his sixteen year career.  

While this can't be quantified, I also remember my Dad always saying that it seemed that whenever Friend pitched, he always went up against the other teams best pitcher - Warren Spahn, Robin Roberts, Juan Marichal, you get the idea.  He also is noted for giving up the first big league hit to eventual all-time hits leader Pete Rose, and I am guessing that Rose would be the first one to tell you just how good Bob Friend was.  Undoubtedly, had Friend pitched for teams early in his career that were even halfway decent, he probably would have had in the neighborhood of 250 wins and would have been a borderline Hall of Fame candidate.

I can remember at one point in the mid-1990's, I was representing Blue Cross and playing in some charity golf outing or another.  As I was getting changed in a near empty locker room, I looked over and who do I see getting ready to play but Robert Bartmess Friend, old #19 himself.  I walked over and introduced myself to him, and probably made some silly fanboy remark.  He couldn't have been nicer.  A real gentleman.  It was the type of encounter that Friend had probably endured thousands of times over the course of his life, but he made me feel like I was the first person who ever said anything like that to him.  It was a special moment for me.

RIP Bob Friend.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Final GCR of the Season

The final Grandstander Confidence Confidence Ranking (GCR) of the NFL season is now in:

  1. Patriots

The Grandstander went 8-3 in his NFL post season predictions.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Why I Am Rooting for the Patriots in the Super Bowl Tomorrow

Yeah, yeah, I know it can be viewed as treasonous and a mortal sin to root for the Patriots, but I am going to be doing so tomorrow as they take on the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.  Here's why:
  1. Three weeks ago in Las Vegas I place a $15 bet on the Pats to win the Super Bowl and three and a half to one.  So there's that.
  2. History has it's eyes on them.  What the Pats have done over the last eighteen season has been undeniably historic.  Nine Super Bowls in eighteen seasons.  We'll never see this again, certainly not in my lifetime, so I will always, in most instances, root for historical greatness.
  3. Tom Brady.  Yes, he can be smug and annoying, and yes, the officials always seem to give him the benefit of the doubt, but he is also the greatest quarterback who ever played the game.  After tomorrow, he will have played in NINE SUPER BOWLS.  No other player - ever - has appeared in more than six.  This is historical greatness that must be appreciated and burnished.
  4. If New England should lose tomorrow, Brady's record in the games will fall to 5-4 and there will be people who will say something like, "well, he's barely over .500 in those games, so he's no big deal."  A Brady/Pats win will cut off such patently ridiculous statements at the pass.
  5. Bill Belichick.  As Brady is to quarterbacks, Belichick is to coaches.  He's the best there is and ever was.  Yes, he's crusty, arrogant, a poor loser, and a public relations man's nightmare, but there is something about him that appeals to me (and yes, I have gotten as PO'd over and at him over the years as many of you have).  I like his single-mindedness, and his penchant for sending a metaphorical middle finger at authority, especially the Suits in the NFL offices on Park Avenue.  For example, earlier in the season, Coach Bill appeared on the sidelines in his rumpled Patriots blue hoodie when every other coach, assistant coach (including the Pats' staff), and player was wearing those mandated military-style olive drab hoodies.  And if you tell me that you DIDN'T love seeing Bill hurl that Microsoft Tablet to the ground during the Chiefs game last week, I just don't believe you.  I mean, who among us HASN'T wanted to do something exactly like that at one time or another.
  6. And how about that story that Bill Cowher told this week of Belichick's offer to help him, Cowher, and the Steelers out in preparing for the Broncos in the 2005 AFC Championship game, after Belichick's Pats had lost to Denver in the previous round of the Playoffs.  You gotta love him for that, right?
  7. My cousin Janice Spencer lives in Maine and is a big Patriots fan, and she was a really good sport when the Steelers beat the Patriots in December, posing with a Terrible Towel on Facebook, so I am rooting for the Pats for her sake, too.
  8. I don't really care that a sixth Super Bowl win will tie the Patriots with the Steelers for most Lombardi Trophies. Neither my civic nor sports fandom self-worth will be diminished by such a fact.  Also, nothing that the Patriots do, or any other team, for that matter, lessens the accomplishments of the Steelers over the years.  Let's all get a grip here.

Of course, the main thing I am hoping for is an entertaining and competitive game.  And if the Rams should win, that's okay by me, too, my fifteen buck wager aside, for a couple of reasons.  One, I would be happy for Pitt's Aaron Donald to get a Super Bowl ring, and two, I'd never feel bad to see Bob Kraft and his stuffed blue-shirt-with-a-white-collar come up on the short end, and if that conflicts with my History Has It's Eyes On You themes spelled out above, well, being a sports fan doesn't always have to be accompanied by perfect logic.

Enjoy the game tomorrow, everyone!