Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Kang Konundrum

It is a measure as to how far the Pirates have come in the last three seasons that the biggest story out of what has been a pretty bland Spring Training has been the fact that Andrew McCutchen has cut his trademark dreadlocks.

However, the second biggest story has involved the guy pictured to the left, Korean Baseball Organization superstar Jung Ho Kang, in whom the Pirates have invested about eleven million dollars.

Kang started great getting two hits, including a home run, it the Bucs first exhibition game.  Since then, however, not much good has happened.  In thirteen games, Kang has all of four hits in 31 at bats (.129) and has struck out twelve times.  So, what are the Pirates to do?  By all indications, Kang is coming north with the team as part of the twenty-five man roster.  Many critics feel that Kang should start in Triple-A in Indianapolis (not In The Annapolis, by the way) to accustom himself to American pitching. The fact that this will not happen, the critics say, is the Pirates Front Office making a roster move to strictly avoid embarrassing themselves over what is CLEARLY a dumbass signing (sarcasm intended) on their part.

At this point, Kang will be the twenty-fifth guy on the roster, and as I have stated on many occasions over the years, getting in an uproar over who will be the last man on the roster is a colossal waste of energy.  At this point, the guy is going to be used as pinch hitter and may play one day a week when Mercer or Walker need a rest.  And what was the alternative?  Steve Lombardozzi (who has already been sent down and will start the season at Indy)? After four years in the majors, Lombardozzi is pretty much a known quantity - a .250-ish hitting utility infielder, a perfect 25th man.  Kang, on the other hand, has, to use a Neal Huntington expression, does have a much greater upside, so I say that keeping Kang is not only the right decision from a business standpoint (that $11 million dollars!), but from a baseball standpoint as well.  And unlike the perceptions that many of us, including me, have had over the twenty year losing streak, I am confident that if it becomes obvious that Kang is not going to work - and you don't make that decision based on 31 at bats - the team will do what is necessary in the pursuit of a pennant  to assure that the best twenty-five guys are on the team.

By the way, if you place any stock in Spring Training statistics, and if you think that at least part of the Kang signing was going to send a message to Jordy Mercer, it seems to have worked.  In forty-two at bats, Mercer is hitting .333 with two home runs and an .878 OPS.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

"Rear Window" On The Big Screen

What a treat we had last night at the Cinemark North movie theater.  Thanks to the folks at Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events, we were able to see one of our favorite movies,

as it was "meant to be seen", on  a big screen in a movie theater.

Now we have seen this movie literally dozens of times over the years, but never, not once, on a big screen, and let me tell you, as nice as DVDs Blue Ray discs, and big flat screen HD televisions are, there is nothing quite like seeing a movie on the big screen.

The images are bigger (of course), the colors are brighter, and the details are so much clearer.  For example, as many times as we have seen this, I swear that we never noticed the apartment dwellers to the upper right of James Stewart's view that had the little girl.  Also, all of the people that appeared in the background walking on the street that fronted the apartment building across the courtyard, seemed more vivid and noticeable.  

If you don't know the story of "Rear Window", James Stewart played L.B. Jeffries, a news photographer who, as a result of a severely broken leg, is confined to a wheelchair in his small New York City apartment.  With no TV to distract him, he spends his time observing his neighbors across the courtyard from his rear window view.  Most of it is pretty boring stuff -  a chorus girl practices her dance moves and fights off ardent suitors, a lady does strange sculpture, a song writer struggles to come up with the right tune, a newlywed couple, a salesman with an invalid wife, and a lonely spinster.  All pretty mundane stuff, until Stewart suspects that something strange just may be going on in that salesman's apartment directly across the courtyard.

Stewart has a hard time convincing his girlfriend, played by Grace Kelly, and his homicide detective friend, played by Wendell Corey, that what he thinks happened actually happened, and how it all plays out makes this one of Alfred Hitchcock's most suspenseful movies, and, personally speaking, my favorite Hitchcock movie.  Also of note in this movie were the performances of Raymond Burr as the salesman and Thelma Ritter as Stewart's wisecracking visiting nurse.

The screenplay by John Michael Hayes, based upon a short story by Cornell Woolrich, makes lots of interesting observations on the nature of "rear window ethics" and the very private nature of what goes on behind the closed doors of your neighbors that make this a thought provoking movie on several levels.

"Rear Window" was released in 1954, and was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Hitchcock for Director and Hayes for Screenplay.  It didn't win any Oscars, but that takes nothing away from this movie.  If you've never seen it, you're missing out on a terrific thriller of a movie.  Also, try to seek out the Woolrich story upon which this movie is based.  Depending on your definition, it is either a long short story or a short novel.  It has been anthologized often and is not hard to find.  Woolrich wrote it under the pseudonym of "William Irish" so you may have to search out that name to find it.

Last night's screening also included filmed introductory and closing comments from TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, which added to the enjoyment of the movie.  I hope that TCM and Fathom continue to do screenings like this in the future.  It really is a treat to see these movies in a real movie theater.

Finally, a word about Grace Kelly.  Really, has there ever been a more beautiful actress to grace the screens of Hollywood?  She would certainly be in the Top Five of any such discussion. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

To Absent Friends - Chuck Bednarik

Pro Football Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik died this past week at the age of 89.

Bednarik spent his entire pro career with the Philadelphia Eagles, and is remembered as the last of the "sixty minute men", a guy who played on both offense and defense for an entire game.  

In the 1960 NFL Championship game, Bednarik played 58 minutes, on offense and defense, and with time running out, Bednarik tackled Jim Taylor as he was headed to the end zone for what would have been the winning touchdown.  This preserved the win and the championship for the Eagles, and it was the only post season game that a Vince Lombardi coached team ever lost.

Bednarik is also remembered for one particular hit that he made on Frank Gifford in a key game against the Giants in that 1960 Championship season.  Gifford was knocked unconscious on the play and missed not only the rest of the 1960 season, but all of the 1961 season as well.  This picture taken right after the play...

...made it seem that Bednarik was celebrating the injury, when, in fact, he was not.  Gifford, himself, and most of his Giants teammates absolved Bednarik of any type of "cheap shot" antics after the play, but the picture remains one of the most famous ones in football history, typifying the toughness of an era long gone.

Sympathies to all you Eagles fans who may be reading this, and RIP Chuck Bednarik.

A Haircut, Basketball, A New Book, the NFL, a Big Bang, and Other Topics

Cleaning out the Mental In-Box......

  • Well, the BIG NEWS out of Spring Training arrived via social media at Noon today: Andrew McCutchen cut he dreads!!! He looks good:
  • Is there a more fun sports weekend than the opening weekend of the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament?  We spent all of Thursday watching games deep into the night.  On Friday I met up with friends Fred, John, and Len and others at the Tilted Kilt and watched games all afternoon.  Lots of TV time on Saturday and Sunday watching the field of 64 being winnowed to 16.  I do regret not having had the foresight to get tickets for the Opening Round games that were held at the Consol.  I have great memories of seeing those same games at the Arena in 1997 and 2002.
  • On the downside, watching all those games means seeing commercials - the same commercials - time after time.  We can argue all day as to which are the best and which are the worst ones.    My own nominations....Best - The AT&T commercials with Shaquille O'Neal, Clyde Drexler, Julius Irving, and Christian Laettner.  The Worst (and no other is even close) - The trailer for that movie with Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart, a movie that shows promise of being one of the worst movies scheduled for release in 2015.
  • I was dubious when the NCAA announced a few years ago that all opening round games would be telecast on CBS, TBS, TNT, and TruTV, but it has turned out to be utterly fantastic.  The way they show the scores of other games, and the network on which it is being televised, thus enabling you to switch to another game, is the most viewer friendly thing on television.
  • That said, isn't it amazing how four games being played simultaneously can all manage to be in a commercial break at the same time?
  • As great as watching all these games is, I have to say that the endless cycle of foul-time out-free throw-time out-foul and on and on is extremely tedious.  I know that it has become an intricate part of the strategy of the college game, but surely there has to be a better way.
  • A special shout out to my SABR and Facebook Friend Susan Petrone of Cleveland.  On Tuesday, her novel, "Throw Like a Woman" was officially released.  I have already downloaded it on my Kindle, and it will be the next book that I read.  Good luck, Susan!
  • I know that we are very late to this particular party, but Marilyn and I, throughout he magic of syndication and reruns, have become completely hooked on "The Big Bang Theory".  We are far from caught up on all of the adventures of Sheldon, Leonard, Penny and the rest of the gang, but there is seldom an episode that we watch where we have not laughed out loud throughout the show.  Truly one of the funniest sitcoms ever.
  • Did you notice that NFL has announced that one of the games that will be played in London next season, between Buffalo and Jacksonville, will start at 9:30 eastern time and will not be broadcast in network television.  Instead, it will be streamed over some yet-to-be announced Internet streaming service.  This is the first shot across the bow, folks. If the money is there from some Internet giant like Netflicks, Google, or Amazon, and it will be, be prepared for one day seeing the Super Bowl through your computer, telephone, or Apple Watch.
  • Speaking of SABR, the Pittsburgh Chapter's next meeting will be on April 25, and I have already put together a presentation for that meeting.  It's been a while since I have done a presentation, and I am looking forward to it.  Makes you want to show up, doesn't it?

Monday, March 16, 2015

"Dead Wake, The Last Crossing of the Lusitania" by Erik Larson

May 7 of this year will mark the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the British passenger liner Lusitania by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland.  Erik Larson has written this book to tie in with that century anniversary.  I saw this book reviewed in the Post-Gazette last week, and it also popped up on my daily email from Amazon.  I had read three other of Larson's books (The Devil in the White City, Thunderstruck, and In the Garden of Beasts).  His books are all well researched, and he is a terrific writer when he tells his stories, so I was all over this one.  I finished reading it in two days.

I confess to having known very little of the story of the sinking of the Lusitania.  I knew it happened.  I knew it had something to do with drawing the United States into World War I, but I knew very little of the event itself.

Larson tells the story almost cinematic fashion (if done right, this would make one terrific movie).  Alternating chapters take place aboard the Lusitania as it leaves New York and crosses the Atlantic, headed for Liverpool, aboard the German  Unterseeboot-20, or U-20, as it leaves it's base in Germany to patrol the North Atlantic and the Irish Sea, and it also intersperses chapters in London's Admiralty office, and Washington DC, where the widowed President Woodrow Wilson was juggling to keep the USA neutral while the rest of the world was at war and was also falling madly in love while courting Washington widow Edith Galt.

The central characters of the story are Lusitania Captain William Turner and U-20 Captain Walther Schwieger.  Throw in the passengers aboard the Lusitania, and the research that Larson had to have done to tell their stories is staggering to imagine, Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill, several British Intelligence operatives, and you've got one fascinating book.

One torpedo hit the Lusitania that May 7 morning 100 years ago, and eighteen minutes later, the ship was gone.  Twelve hundred people died, seven hundred survived.

Of course, there are questions that still exist as to why the Lusitania was struck.  Where were the Royal Navel escort ships that were supposed to escort passenger ships?  British navel intelligence was well aware of the presence of U-20 in those waters at that time, why wasn't the Lusitania better warned and protected?  And why did officials the British government, led by no less than Lord of the Admiralty Churchill himself, so zealously seeking to affix blame on Captain Turner?

It's a great story, a very sad story, and a terrific book.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The NCAA Tournament Selections

Some quick comments after watching the NCAA Tournament Selection Show:

  • I think Seth Davis mentioned 19 schools who will advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
  • According to Doug Gottlieb, there are about a dozen teams in the field who shouldn't be there.  Really?
  • One of the guys, not sure if it was Davis or Gottlieb, and can you really tell them apart, said that in the Opening Round Arizona will be playing a "virtual home game" - in Portland, Oregon!  C'MON MAN!
  • Clark Kellog mentioned several teams who can "score the basketball".  Good to know that they aren't playing their games with baseballs or golf balls.
  • I miss the days of Billy Packer bitching and moaning that not every single ACC team made the tournament.
Robert Morris gets a play-in game in Dayton.  Not surprising.  Need to get past the Opreys of Northern Florida for the chance to upset the Dookies.

Let's Go Colonials!!!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Jimmy Brandt and His Big Break

The Valspar Open is being played this week at the Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, FL on the PGA Tour.  This is also the event in which Jimmy Brandt, 

the winner of Golf Channel's "Big Break Myrtle Beach" last year got his chance to tee it up with the Big Boys with a free entrance into this tournament.

The results were all too predictable.  In a field of 144 golfers, Jimmy finished at eight over par and tied for 127th place.  He was 14 strokes behind second round leader Brandon De Jonge who is in at -6.  Needless to say, he failed to make the cut.

I don't mean to make light of this, because young Jimmy Brandt is no doubt a better golfer than anybody that I know, but there is being a good golfer, and then there is being a golfer good enough to compete on the PGA Tour, and to say that there is a world of difference between those two options is putting it mildly.

Back in December, when "Big Break Myrtle Beach" concluded, I wrote the following on The Grandstander:

In that championship match, Brandt defeated Peterson on the seventeenth hole, 3 and 1. It was a ragged match that at times it was a match that neither guy seemed to want to win.  Winner Jimmy defied golf's oldest cliche that you "putt for dough" by butchering almost every opportunity he had with the flat stick.  Still, he prevailed, and in addition to his cash and prizes, his Big Break will come in the form of an entry into the PGA Tour's Valspar Open which will be contested March 12-15 this coming season.

I will be tracking and reporting on Jimmy's performance in that event, but I will predict now that, based on how he performed on BBMB, he not only will not make the cut, he will be in the bottom five of those "missed cut" players.  For his sake, I hope I'm wrong because he seems like a nice kid, but professional tournament golf is the ultimate meritocracy, and I fear that a cruel fate awaits the young man.

Okay, so he didn't finish in the bottom five (eleven golfers, including John Daly, posted scores higher than +8), but I can still say that I believe I had that.

Brandt came across as a nice young kid on Big Break, and I hope that he can overcome this and make a go of it on the Tour, but he's got a ways to go.