Friday, October 28, 2011

Moneyball, a Hit

The Oakland Athletics were at the very bottom of Major League Baseball's salary scale and General Manager Billy Beane had to figure out a way to put a competitive product on the field given the organization's financial constraints. Beane implements a radical system of evaluating the talents of ballplayers that had been developed by the research of Bill James and statisticians to develop a roster.  Beane, played by Brad Pitt, was once a can't miss high school baseball star believed to be destined for greatness. He was drafted in the first round by the New York Mets in the 1980 draft after turning down a scholarship to Stanford University.  Billy was said to be a Five-Tool player that made baseball scouts drool. After many years toiling between the major and minor leagues Billy's career ended in 1989 never having lived up to the hype.

Moneyball, based on Michael Lewis' best seller of the same name, begins after the A’s successful 2001 season that ended in an ALDS defeat to the Yankees. The A's faced a problem; stars Jason Giambi and Jason Isringhausen were free agents that the A's could not afford to keep and Beane had a lot of work to do in order to field a winning team. Enter Peter Brand (Paul DePodesta in real life), a young Harvard educated economist played by Jonah Hill who was hired away from the Cleveland Indians to be Beane's top assistant. Brand brought his expertise of sabermetrics to the A's organization and applied new methods of assessing a ballplayer’s value to a team. Instead of focusing on traditional statistics like batting average and RBI, sabermetrics emphasizes on-base and slugging percentage.  Beane and his assistant were able to cobble together a lineup consisting of bargain basement retreads and young prospects to take the American League by storm. Conflicts arise between Billy, his scouting department and A's manager Art Howe, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Billy also deals with interpersonal conflicts throughout; his failure as a ballplayer and life as a divorced father. The movie goes on to capture the magical run that the A's made during the 2002 season and concludes with Billy's courtship by the Boston Red Sox.

Having read the book I was a little skeptical of a movie being made about baseball statistics, however I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the movie.  The movie was cast well as Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill were excellent in their roles. Art Howe was furious with Hoffman's portrayal of a clueless boob of a manager that was just along for the ride, but the role added to the against the odds theme.  The film does not go into great depth of the origination of sabermetrics and the different tools that are used to evaluate players and did not mention the 2002 draft which was a major topic of the book.  The film also focused on Beane’s relationship with his daughter which is hardly revealed if at all in Lewis’ book.  Perhaps the director wanted to give Billy more human qualities.  Criticisms I have read are that the A’s never won a World Series and the book/movie ignore the importance of the A’s terrific trio of starting pitchers Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson to the success of the team, which is true.  The point is, despite the huge salary disparity the A’s were able to have great success and found a formula that ended up changing the game of baseball.  As a Pirate fan I only wish that management had the same foresight and ingenuity to create a winning team.  I highly recommend this movie; one does not have to be a big fan of baseball to enjoy.  The Blast Furnace gives this picture 5/6 irons.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Where yinz goin to?

If you're looking ahead to potential vacation destinations for next summer, Pittsburghers might want to think about saving some cash and taking in the sights in their own fair city, as Pittsburgh was among the locations listed in National Geographic Traveler's Best of the World 2012.

The slideshow proclaims our three rivers setting as one of the most naturally beautiful in the world, touches on our rich cultural offerings, and, of course, focuses on our recent "reinvention" as reasons to visit.

The city tourism office must be be loving this most recent accolade and, in fact, already have it featured prominently on their website. But who can blame them? It's an impressive list from a renowned organization that comes with a lot of credibility.

But while you're at appreciating the art at the Warhol and the architecture of the Allegheny County Courthouse, it wouldn't be a proper trip to the 'Burgh unless you also took a ride up the Incline to get your photo on Mount Washington, followed up by a Primanti sandwich.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Springsteen, Grushecky Together Again

Grushecky and Springsteen perform in front of packed houses in Pittsburgh in 2010
Bruce Springsteen and legendary Pittsburgh musician Joe Grushecky will be performing two shows at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland at 7:30 p.m. November 3 and 4.  Tickets go on sale on Tuesday, October 18.  This is the second consecutive year that the 'Boss' will be performing at the intimate Pittsburgh venue with Grushecky and the Houserockers.  Last year audiences packed the hall and rocked out for over two-and-a half hours to the longtime friends commemorate the 15th anniversary of their collaborative effort "American Babylon."

Any memorable Grushecky or Springsteen shows in Pittsburgh that you've seen?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pittsburgh Golf Courses: Grand View Golf Club

Grand View Golf Club's # 9 overlooking the Edgar Thomson Steel Works
Nestled atop the hills of North Braddock, PA sits the Grand View Golf Club. This 18 hole course is challenging to both amateur and veteran golfers alike. Grand View has quickly become the Blast Furnace's favorite Pittsburgh area golf destination. The course offers spectacular views of the first and last major steel mill in Western Pennsylvania, Edgar Thomson Steel Works, Kennywood Park, the Mon Valley, and off in the distance the skyscrapers of Downtown Pittsburgh.

The front nine features seven par 4's and two par 3's. The distance is manageable, however there are very awkward lies and narrow fairways that emphasize accuracy and careful club selection. It is very easy to drive a ball into an adjacent fairway or over a hillside. Highlights of the front 9 include the views of the Edgar Thomson steel mill and Kennywood Park as previously mentioned and the two par threes, # 5 and # 9, which require precision tee shots due to the heavily vegetated rough in front of the holes and wooded areas behind the green.
Hole # 3
The back nine overlooks the residential areas of East Pittsburgh and while the view is not as stunning as the front nine the holes are some of my favorites. The back nine consists of two par 3's and two par 5's. Hole # 14 is the most intriguing as the 154 yard distance is deceptive due to the 90 foot drop in elevation. One must play this hole like a 110 yard shot so a pitching wedge or nine iron is optimal. Golfers must make solid contact off the tee or the ball will be lost in the unplayable wooded brush in the foreground. Hole # 15 is the most beautiful hole on the course. The 350 yard par 4 is the flattest hole on the course and lies at the bottom of a valley. The green is slightly elevated with a sand trap located directly in front. The course ends with a challenging 540 yard par five. Two lakes are located to the left of the uphill fairway and the green is blind off to the left making a second shot difficult to aim and gauge distance. Make sure you choose your club carefully on your approach shot since the parking lot is behind the green. The clubhouse overlooks the 18th green and makes for a nice place to relax after a challenging round of golf. The clubhouse offers a wide variety of food and drinks and is nicer than most others in the Pittsburgh area.
Picturesque hole # 15
Grand View is affordable and comparable to other quality public courses. The greens, fairways, and tee boxes are usually in pretty good shape when we play. The greens are not overly difficult considering the landscape. Par for the course is 70 and has a rating of 67.5 (silver tee). Recommendations:
  • Bring a lot of balls with you due to the topography of the course.
  • Take a cart, I recommend not walking the hilly terrain.
  • Be very careful driving the carts, the turns are tight and paths are steep.
Grand View is a place we try to play at least once a year and seem to always have fun despite our abysmal scores. This is a must play golf course in Western PA.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger - Disappointing at Best

The last movie that I saw was Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It was a game time decision to see Apes or Captain America: The First Avenger. Since choosing Apes I felt as if I truly missed out on one movie that I was sure to love. I felt that I had to make it to see Captain America, but after seeing it last night at the Maxi Saver in West Mifflin I am glad that I didn't pay full price for what turned out to be a disappointing movie.

Captain America takes place during WWII as pathetic wimp Steve Rodgers (Captain America) played by Chris Evans is denied enlistment to the US Military for many physical deficiencies. This sets the stage for Rodgers to desperately seek entrance and even though he has no stunning physical characteristics, he possesses the smarts, determination, and other words the "intangibles" to be a great soldier. This allows him to be selected as the prototype for a new breed of super soldiers.

While the story with Rodgers is taking place we see another side of the story which introduces Johann Schmidt, Red Skull, played by Hugo Weaving conducting scientific experiments while simultaneously killing naysayers who are against his occult obsessions. Red Skull was a previous scientific experiment and his role is to also develop super soldiers based on ancient superstitions with which Nazi leader Adolf Hitler also shared a fascination.

These two stories ultimately should coincide and leave for a heart stopping action movie, but from my point of view this was never achieved. Both stories took too much time to develop and once they FINALLY came together the two main characters had a short fight sequence and then the movie ended. The movie did a horrible job bringing together why Red Skull wanted to develop his own army outside of Hitler's, how Captain America and Red Skull became enemies, and left no satisfying conclusion. The only idea that tied the two people together was one was an American soldier and the other a quasi-Nazi soldier.

In addition to the story line being so boring, it seemed like it should have been released directly after 9/11 because it seemed like a cheesy patriotism propaganda movie from the 1940's. I rarely fall asleep during movies at the theatre, but I did doze off for the last 10 - 15 minutes and missed nothing as my wife explained what happened. I was told to stay for the credits by the usher and we stayed in order to see the preview for next summer's blockbuster hopeful The Avengers which hopefully will bring some characters with small roles from Captain America together with other Marvel characters together with success.

I am glad that I saw Captain America only because it was on my list. Other than that, I do not recommend Captain America unless you have absolutely no other options.

Pills gives Captain America: The First Avenger 1/6 Irons, the lowest movie review to date.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Favorite Pittsburgh Dive Bars

I was scouring the news and came across an MSN article detailing the Nation's Best Dive Bars and thought to myself, "I have been in quite a few dive bars myself, in fact possibly even too many too remember." I came up with a top 5 list of my favorite dive bars here in Pittsburgh. As I was coming up with my list I had a hard time determining how to arrange my list. I went simply with atmosphere, drink price, and memorability. I did not take into account service, attitude of management, or how crowded the bars are.

Top 10 Favorite Dive Bars

10. Casey's Draft House - If this place did not have a midget pouring shots it would not have made the list.
9. Chief's Cafe - Just walk inside one time and order 40. This place is classic drunkenness at it's best.
8. Brillobox - Most likely purposefully a dive, this caters to hipsters and provides a great night out.
7. Slaphots - Maybe if you're lucky you'll see Mike Lange after a Penguins game.
6. Sam's Bar - Classic long bar with a mirror behind it. Reminds me of Moe's Bar on the Simpsons complete with a balding man slouched at the bar.
5. Warehouse Cafe - This is where we all got our start when drinking being home for the holidays.
4. Bar 11 - Candy necklaces, flaming Dr. Peppers, and foam squirting all over the place and who can forget the pounding of the drum?
3. Gene's Place - The type of place where everyone knows and remembers you. The legend of Good Gibbons was born here and a deep fried turkey at Thanksgiving. Words can't describe this bar.
2. Kopy's Bar - Great music, cheap drinks, locals, darts, memorable decorations and on a South Side side street.
1. Garage Door Saloon - Oakland side street, open air, loud music, cheap drinks, and memories from yesteryear. I only wish it were still Cumpie's.

What is your ranking?

For more information on Pittsburgh bars be sure to check out the Ultimate Pittsburgh Bar Crawl.