Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Best Wishes, Teke

When the Famous North Side Breakfast Group dined with former Pirate broadcaster Lanny Frattare earlier this summer, he made an allusion to the fact that former Pirates star relief pitcher Kent Tekulve "wasn't doing well".  Soon thereafter, Teke disappeared from the Pirates post-game TV show, but no one ever gave any definitive reason as to why.

Last night, news was released that Teke had undergone and was now recovering from heart transplant surgery.  


Just goes to show that elite athletes are also human beings and are subject to the same physical and human frailties as anyone else.  Thank goodness for Teke, and for all of us, that we live in a world where medical science can effect remedies and cures that would have killed people just a generation or two ago.

So, best wishes go out to a genuine Pirates World Series hero, and a guy who could not be a better ambassador for baseball in general and the Pirates in particular.

Nothing would be better on Opening Day 2015 than to see Teke coming in from the Pirate bullpen to throw out the first pitch of the season.

Get well quickly, Kent Tekulve.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Olympians Come to Pitt

Thanks go out to my friend, Mark Matera, who clued me in on and invited me to join his son and him at an event at the University of Pittsburgh last night.  The event in question was the premiere of a documentary film called "The Renaissance Period of the African American in Sports."  

The film was produced by Pitt alumnus, Trustee, and Olympic Bronze Medalist (1948), Herb Douglas.  The film focused on nine African American track and field athletes who were on the United States Olympic Track and Field team at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, which were staged under the watchful eyes of Adolf Hitler.  Of course, the most famous of these athletes was Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at those games.  However, other medals were won by these nine athletes, including a gold medal by Pitt's John Woodruff, and Mack Robinson, whose younger brother, Jackie, would go on to make some history of his own eleven years later.

Following the film, a panel discussion moderated by WTAE news anchor Andrew Stockey featured the following Olympians:

Harrison Dillard, winner of four Olympic Gold Medals, two each in both the 1948 and 1952 Olympics.  Dillard is now 91 years old.  His Olympic teammate, Herb Douglas, is 92, and if you saw both men you would put them in their late seventies or early eighties.

Bob Beamon, Gold Medalist in the long jump at the 1968 Olympics.  Beamon's Gold Medal is is most remembered because in a sport where records my be broken by fractions of inches, Beamon's Olympic jump broke the then world record by almost 22 inches.  

His record in the long jump stood for an amazing 23 years.

Edwin Moses, Gold Medalist in both the 1976 and 1984 Olympics, and Bronze Medalist in the 1988 Games.

Moses so dominated his event, the 400 meter hurdles, that he won 122 consecutive races in this event, a streak that lasted for nine years ands nine months (1977-87).

If you haven't been keeping score up until now, that was four athletes on stage with nine Olympic medals, seven of them gold, among them.

Hearing these men talk about their careers, with an emphasis on the African American experience that they shared, was remarkable and enthralling.  I only wish that Stockey would have asked Beamon to talk about the atmosphere in the Olympic Village in Mexico City after the protest on the Medal stand that was staged by Tommie Smith and John Carlos.  (For you younger readers who may not know what I am talking about, look it up.  It was a remarkable story, and a story that defined a distinct era in American history.)

Beamon did tell the story of his record setting leap in Mexico City.  About how he concentrated so hard not to foul, about all the years of training that led to this moment, about how is heart was pounding, and how, as he was at the apex of his jump, he took time to look at his watch. That last part obviously didn't happen, but it was the laugh line in the story.  This is obviously Beamon's "go to" story, and you can tell that he has told it many, many times over the years, but you know what?  That was okay by me and the rest of the audience.

The evening ended with Pitt Chancellor Emeritus Mark Nordenberg telling a very moving story about 1936 Olympic Champion John Woodruff, and also introducing from the audience former Pitt football player Bobby Greer, who became the first African American to play in the Sugar Bowl football game in 1957, after Sugar Bowl officials wanted to not allow him to play in segregated New Orleans, and Pitt said "he plays, or no one plays".

(During the reception prior to the event, Mark Matera introduced me to Chancellor Nordenberg, and I have to tell you that he is one very impressive gentleman.)

As we were leaving the event at the end of the evening, I got to say hello to and shake the hands of both Bob Beamon and Edwin Moses, and I have to tell you, it was a VERY cool experience.

I am most grateful to Mark Matera for thinking of me and including me in this experience.  It was a very memorable evening.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Steelers Prediction 2014

Since I probably watched the equivalent of about a quarter and a half of the Steelers during their practice game season, I won't pretend that I did a lot of in depth analysis of the team as they head into the 2014 season.  Therefore, my prediction is going to be based strictly on a gut feeling.  

This feeling is based upon the fact that the NFL is structured in such a way that no team stays on top forever, and that all teams will go through peaks and valleys.  The smart teams with strong organizations are able to ride out the valleys in such fashion that the periods of time in which they are in those valleys are short ones.  The Steelers, I believe, have proven themselves over time to be both a strong and a smart organization, and it is for that reason that I believe that they are ready to emerge from the two year valley that has produced consecutive 8-8, non-playoff seasons.

The money boys in Vegas has set the over/under line for Steelers wins at 8.5, so I say bet the OVER.  The Steelers are going to win 10 games this year and make the playoffs.

I will also make the following observations, for whatever they are worth.....

  • One thing we do know is that since the end of last season, the Steelers have gotten younger and they have gotten faster.  The question is, have they gotten better.  I will don the rose colored glasses of a Yinzer Fan, and say that they have.  I hope.
  • That said, the fact that they felt the need to re-sign a 36 year old Brett Kiesel is worrisome.
  • All bets are off, prediction-wise, if Ben Roethliberger gets hurt and is lost for any significant (i.e., two or more games) length of time.
Okay, let's get ready to play real games that count with a look at the Old School Steeler logo,

and a couple of old school Steelers heroes.  I don't have to identify these guys for you, do I?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Lt. Columbo and Anne Francis

Readers who are also Facebook Friends of mine know that I have been on a recent kick of watching old episodes of the "Columbo" TV series that starred Peter Falk.  Last week I watched an episode from 1973 that starred the lovely Anne Francis, upon whom I had a crush in my younger teen years, as did, I suspect, many male teen aged viewers of "Honey West" back in the mid-sixties.  I say this with some conviction because my Facebook post on the topic elicited a huge response.  Okay, so maybe it was only a half dozen or so responses, but still a trend in my book.

Before I proceed, let me post a gratuitous picture of the lovely Miss Francis in her role as private detective Honey West:


Anyway, the response prompted me to dig out an episode from 1972, Season One, of Columbo called "Short Fuse".  This one starred Roddy McDowell, who shamelessly overacted throughout the entire episode, while wearing absolutely preposterous 1970's era hipster fashions.  Miss Francis played his girlfriend who he ended up treating rather shabbily.   James Gregory played the role of Roddy's victim in this one.  William Windom also had a semi-key role, and the "Special Guest Star" was Ida Lupino.

(An aside.  I was also a big reader of Mad Magazine in my teen years, and they once did a satire on some movie that McDowell was in.  In their satire, Mad called him "Roddy McTowell", and ever since,  cannot watch anything that features Roddy McDowell that I don't think of him as "Roddy McTowell".  Make of that what you will.)

The show followed the typical Columbo formula.  We know who did it, the killer underestimates the (seemingly) bumbling Lt. Columbo, and practically spells out what he did for the dim bulb police lieutenant, only to be out-witted brought down in the end.

Anne Francis would have been 41 years old when this one was made.  She looked good, but seemed to be just a bit old for the part that she played. Still, there was just something about that mole below and to the right of her lower lip.

I do enjoy watching these old episodes.  Despite the fashions of the era, they hold up pretty well.  I also can't help but noticing how incredibly cheap looking the sets are or these shows.  Really bad. But the stories are good, the writing can be hokey at times, but for the most part it's not bad, and Falk is terrific in his signature role.  It is also interesting to see how the series provided employment for TV stars whose own series had been canceled (Gene Barry, Leonard Nimoy, Windom) and old movie stars whose primes were long past (Ray Milland, Myrna Loy, Ida Lupino).  All actors really want to do is work, and shows like Columbo provided it for them back in the seventies.

Before closing, how about I throw in another gratuitous cheesecake picture of Anne Francis.  I'm guessing that this photo was circa mid-1950's.

Monday, September 1, 2014

All Games Count - Even the Ones in April

On this Labor Day, 2014, the Pirates sit at  71-65 in third place in the NL  Central, two games out of first place and two games out of the final wild Card spot.  By all accounts, it has been a pretty exciting season, and it looks like the Bucs are going to give us a nice ride over the final month of the season.  

Just for fun, I decided to do a little research to put to rest the old cliche that now that it's September and the weather gets chilly and the stadiums get packed, these are the games that "really count".  In point of fact, those games played in the chilly days of April before sparse crowds actually count too.  Here is how the team has fared, month-by-month:

April 10-18
May 16-12
June 17-10
July 15-11
August 13-14

So, had the Pirates been able to reverse that April record and gone 18-10, today they would 79-57, and would have far and away, the best record in the National League.  Even had they just scraped by in April at 14-14, their record today would be 75-61, which would still be the best record in the League.  And keep in mind that some of those additional April wins could possibly have been additional losses for the Brewers or Cardinals.

Moral of the Story:  All Games Count - Even the Ones in April.

The Bucs now have 26 games remaining.  I had predicted at the beginning of the season that they would win 89 games.  They will have to go 18-8 to achieve that, and that is really asking a lot, but if they do, then I'd say the NL Central championship would be theirs.   Playing .500, 13-13, would give then 84 wins and would probably not be good enough for a wild card spot. 16-10 would probably put them in the playoffs.  It's asking a lot, but the team is capable of doing it.  And as April and that stretch in mid-August showed, they ware also capable of going 11-15.  

Either way, it is going to be an exciting ride to the finish.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Classic Movie Review - "How to Marry a Millionaire" (1953)

"How To Marry a Millionaire" played last night as part of The Essentials series on Turner Classic Movies, and, having never seen it, and spurred on in part by the recent death of Lauren Bacall and by an ever-abiding interest in Marilyn Monroe, we settled in for a Saturday Night at the Movies to watch this one.

The premise of this movie is probably one that could not get made in 2014:  three attractive, but poor, models, set themselves up in a swanky New York City apartment in the hopes of attracting, snagging, and marrying  rich men.  Essentials co-host Drew Barrymore admitted that she, as an actress and producer today, found the concept that "a woman needs a rich man to survive in the world" made her a bit squeamish, but that the dialog and the performances of the three stars, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, and Lauren Bacall overcame her misgivings over the premise.

(As an aside, I initially agreed with Barrymore on this point, and thought that this is a movie that would never get made in 2014, but then I thought - throw in some raunchy language and some occasional gratuitous nudity, and what you have here was the early 1950's version HBO's "Sex and the City", but I digress.)

Anyway, I am not sure I'd call this movie a "classic" but it was frothy and fun and the performances off the three leads were quite good.  In his introduction to the movie, Robert Osborne made some interesting points:

  • This was the first movie that Bacall, 29 at the time, made in color, and that while she was third billed, she was perhaps the catalyst of the trio, and delivered her comic lines perfectly.
  • The movie represented a passing of the torch of Hollywood glamor girls from Grable, 36, to Monroe, 27.  It has been said that during the filming Grable said to Monroe, "Honey, I've had mine, now you go get yours!"
  • The movie cemented Monroe's stature as a comic actress, and she was brilliant in it.
The movie also featured William Powell as one of the rich millionaires upon whom Bacall sets her sights.  Powell was 61 years old when this movie was made, and still terrific in a comic role as the wealthy sophisticate, a la Nick Charles of the "The Thin Man" franchise.  Powell would make only one more movie after this one, "Mister Roberts" in 1955, before retiring from the movies.

There were a couple of funny "inside" lines in this one.  In one scene, Grable listens to music on the radio and mentions that its a recording by that "dreamy Harry James" and Bacall, in talking about how she likes older men, mentions that she is even crazy about "that old  guy in The African Queen".  The historical timing wasn't quite right or I am sure that Monroe would have been given a Joe DiMaggio line to deliver as well.

I mentioned that the movie made Monroe's reputation as a comic actress, and I will point to one scene in particular to emphasize this.  One of the gimmicks in the movie is that Pola, Monroe's character, needs to wear glasses, is "blind as a bat" without them.

Of course, she never wears them because, as she puts it, "you now what they say about girls who wear glasses".  This leads to such goofy things as her holding a book upside down while pretending to read, but the best scene occurs while she is wearing this spectacular dress:

In this scene, the three girls meet and strategize in the Ladies Room of a posh night club. Monroe primps and checks her hair and make-up, and the lines of her dress in the mirror, removes her glasses, and then walks right into a wall when she tries to exit the ladies room. Simple, but very funny when done right, and Monroe did it right in this scene.

There are time lapses and plot holes in the movie that one could drive a truck through (for example, how does Grable get back with her ranger, after she and Fred Clarke are photographed on the George Washington Bridge?), but who cares?  As I said, it was frothy and fun, and it answers the question, When it comes to finding true love, is money really all that important?

This one will turn up again on my DVR Alerts.

Oh, in a specially taped introduction to The Essentials opening, Robert Osborne paid special tribute to Lauren Bacall, and mentioned that TCM will be devoting the entire day of September 15th to her with a twenty-four hour marathon of her movies.  Something to watch for.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Time to Award an H.A Citation

It has been some time now, but The Grandstander now sees the need to dust off a coveted award, The H.A. Citation, after reviewing the behavior if Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon.

A talented football player, Gordon led all NFL WR's in receiving yards last year, in spite of serving  a two game suspension for a violation of the NFL's collectively bargained substance abuse policy (emphasis mine).  However, Gordon has somewhat of a checkered personal life.

While at Baylor University, Gordon was suspended not once, but twice for substance abuse violations and was eventually kicked off of the football team.  He has had not one, not two, but three violations of the NFL's policy, and it was the third such violation that led to his being given a one year suspension from the NFL, a suspension that was upheld by the League in a decision handed down yesterday.

However, none of the above, believe it or not, has led to the awarding of The Grandstander's H.A. citation to Gordon.  No, it was Gordon's statement upon hearing the news yesterday that  - and I may not have the quote 100% accurate, but the gist of it is accurate - that he was shocked and "disappointed" that the NFL didn't express "better discretion and judgement" in the adjudication of his case.

So, it is for Josh Gordon's questioning the judgement and discretion of ANYONE ELSE in the entire world, let alone the NFL Lords of Discipline, that an H.A Citation is hereby award to Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns.

Josh, this one's for you!

(Photo courtesy of Dan Bonk Enterprises)