Sports:1965-66 Pittsburgh Pirates the Team Time Forgot

The Pittsburgh Pirates last World Series Championship was 1979, with the Willie Stargell, we are family Buccos, and a thrilling 7th game win over the Baltimore Orioles. The other championship seasons for the Pirates were 1909, 1925, 1960, and 1971.  The group that won the championships in 1909, 1925, and 1971, had some good runs of 3 to 4 years, that included a championship season.  The 1960 and 1979 Pirates had, that one year, of a magical combination of camaraderie, skill, and luck that led to a world championship. Then there was the  run of the Barry Bonds Pirates, that won three straight division titles in 90, 91, and 92, but could never quite make it to the world series. They are still talked and written about today. But a team that is rarely mentioned is the Pirates of 1965 and 66. For 1.9 seasons, they played some of the best baseball, this town has ever seen. From May 21 1965 until Oct 3 1966 the Pirates won 173 games and lost 108. From May 21 in 1965 they finished the season 81 and 48 for a winning percentage of .628.  Translated into a 162 game season that would be 102 wins for the year. In 1965 they were 90 and 72 and in 66 they were 92 and 70.  Unfortunately, there was a team out in Los Angeles that was simply better.

The beginning of the 1965 season marked the end of the first Danny Murtaugh era in Pittsburgh.  He had managed the Pirates to the 1960 World Series victory over the Yankees and the Pirates had mostly good years under his regime which began in mid season of 1957.   The new manager of the Pirates was Harry “The Hat” Walker.  Nicknamed the hat for way he always adjusted his hat between pitches, when he was batting.  There were no helmets in those days, when Walker played.  He was one of the most respected hitting instructors in baseball, and the Pirates developed into one of the best hitting teams in baseball during the next 2 years.  The Pirates still had a good core from the 1960 team which included Bill Mazeroski, Roberto Clemente Bill Virdon and pitchers Vernon Law and Bob Friend.  But this was a team with lots of new faces.  Don Clendenon was at 1st, Gene Alley was the new shortstop, and a young Willie Stargell was the left fielder.  Bob Bailey, the new Pirate bonus baby as they liked to call them in those days, was the third baseman.  Jim Pagliaroni  and veteran Del Crandell anchored the catching.    The pitching staff besides Friend and Law had the fire balling Bob Veale and Don Caldwell to round out a solid rotation and Tommie Sisk was a spot starter. The season did not get off to a great start to say the least.  Bill Mazeroski had a broken foot suffered in spring training, and would not  field his position until mid May.  Roberto Clemente suffered a thigh injury in winter baseball, that would hamper him the first half of the season, and cause him to miss about 10 games in April.  Despite all of this the Pirates jumped out to a 5 and 2 start thanks to some very strong starting pitching, particularly by Bob Veale. But then they went on a skid, that would take them to 9 and 22.  Bill Mazeroski started his first game at second base on game 32, but even that could not get the Bucs going as they lost their next 2 games to drop to a season worse 9 and 24. At this point in the season, Harry Walker was considered more of a pain in the ass with his incessant talking and constant hitting instruction.  He really seemed to bug the great one, Roberto Clemente.  But from that point on this team really jelled.  They won their next 12 games, and became one of the best hitting teams in baseball the rest of the season and into 1966. After the 12 game winning streak, they lost their next 2 games, but then ran off another 7 in a row.  For the rest of the summer they treaded water, and finished at the All Star break 44-43.  They continued to have ups and downs after the break, until about mid August, and then they ran off a nice 12 and 2 streak.  The streak was highlighted by a great double header win over the Dodgers at Forbes Field. They beat Sandy Koufax in 11 innings in the first game 3-2, and Vernon Law out dueled  Don Drysdale 2-1 to win the second game, and move the Pirates to within  2.5 games of first place in the National league.  But alas, that would be as close as they would get. Even though they finished strong, by winning their last 4 games to finish 90-72, it would not be enough and they finished 3rd.  But it was one hell of a run in 1965. Vernon Law got the comeback player of the year, as well.

There was great hope entering the 1966 season with that great finish of 65.  The Pirates now loved the fact that Walker talked so much.  Even Clemente was getting use to hit. The 66 season saw the Pirates contend from the beginning. They got out of the gate quickly and were in first place from April 18th to May 4th.  They stayed near the top the rest of way until they regained first place on July 14th.  They remained in first or second except for one day until September 28. They were only 1.5 games out of first place with 3 games to play but were swept by the Giants and finished 3rd again only 3 games back.  It was the first year that Steve Blass contributed to the season in a big way with a an 11 and 7 record and ERA of 3.87.  This team could hit and they were a grinding team.  Their longest win streak was 6 and longest losing streak was 4.  They were never below .500 for the entire season.  They did everything well.  They seemed like a team that could take it all in 1967.  But again, it was not meant to be.  They acquired Maury Wills in the off season and it seemed that this would be the catalyst to propel the Pirates to the World Series.  The 67 team did not jell, however, and Walker was fired in mid season with Murtaugh taking over, but the results were the same.  It would only be Blass, Stargell, Clemente, and in a minor way Mazeroski, to be around for the run in the early 70’s that would bring the next title to the Pirates.  But, for  that two year period, this Pirate team played some great baseball, and was an exciting group to watch. They just couldn’t get to the big stage.  In my mind, it still does not diminish the way they played the game. I will always remember them and that magical stretch they had from mid May of 1965.

Golf: The Brain

This blog could be the blog about making a blog.  It started out looking at one particular area and then turned into it’s current state, a mixed bag of end of the year thoughts, and highlights. Confused, you should be on my end of this blog. Like most stories, let’s start at the beginning.  The original idea for this golf blog was to look at the right brain, and see if we use the right brain  enough, when we are playing golf. The difference, between the right brain and the left brain, is that the right brain is the more intuitive side, and the left brain is the more factual side.  The left side tells you, this is a pen, and your right side tells you how to use it.  There are lots of articles, and even books about right and left brain dominance, some of which, I have read.  It was thought, that people could be more right brain dominate, and others could be left brain dominate.   I am not going to expound any more about this subject, and  how this affects an individual, because in researching this theory, I found out this is all hogwash.  Boy, do I wish I hadn’t read those books, that proposed the left right brain theory.   More up to date data shows that there is more communication between the left and the right brain than was thought previously.  Even though the right brain may be more intuitive and creative, it is being shown that the left brain may still be driving the bus. This so called dominance of one brain over the other is simply not true. This shot a hole in the idea that maybe we are not as intuitive as we should be on the golf course, especially if we are left brain oriented . This is found in an internet course called Brain Myths Exploded, lessons from Neuroscience.  It is an 11 hour course and I am about half way through it.

Considering, that I am still thinking that this game is 100% mental, once you reach a certain level, I find all this new information on the brain very interesting. Instead of this idea, that one side of the brain is dominating the other side of the brain, maybe it is the lack of communication of the two sides, when we are playing, that causes us to play so poorly at times, or to hit a particular bad shot. This could be saying the say thing as the domination factor,  just in a different way, but I doubt it. Lack of communication is not the same thing as dominance. Meanwhile, unless we get some unusual weather here in the Burg it may be awhile before I get to test out any of these theories. The brain probably is the most important club in the bag when it comes to playing golf. We just don’t know how far we can hit it, yet.

On a more personal note I am headed to San Diego for Christmas with the grandkids and family.  Looking forward to that trip, and seeing everybody.  I was able to play a few more rounds of golf, since the end of the season golf blog.  I wound up playing 135 rounds of golf this year, which is more than last year but just a little shy of my record of 150 rounds.  It will be tough to break that record, because  a lot of 36 hole days were played that year, and I think those days are behind me.  I think I can still play 36 holes in one day but not on a regular basis like I did 3 or 4 years ago.  The weather was better this year, which helped in getting more rounds in, than last  year. My most recent round was highlighted my a near hole in one.  On the 17th hole at Ponderosa I hit a cutting 7 iron about 140 yards into a cold wind that stopped about 3 inches behind and right of the hole.  It was a close call for hole in one number 6.   It has been a good year over all and I hope that I continue to have good health and be able to play this goofy game as much as I want. There may be one more blog before the end of the year but if there is not, Happy New Year, and see you in 2020.


Food: Back in the Saddlea

Haven’t blogged about food for awhile for various reasons.  I tried, despite what I wrote in a previous blog,  to lose that extra 10 pounds, and again failed miserably.  The reasons I did this, was that I thought it would be a good opportunity, because I did not have the stress of working and I was scheduled for cataract surgery on December 4th.  I thought this might give me some extra incentive, but I should have known better, because in reality this extra 10 pounds I am lugging around is not a major health hazard. The incentive was not really there.  It was the wrong time of year to try and do something like this,also.  The weather is getting colder and the body wants to retain fat, not lose it.  I think that is why so many New Year’s resolutions fail, when it comes to weight loss.  It’s in the middle of winter, and the body is fighting like mad to hang on to that fat, to help it keep warm.  The cataract surgery went well, and I am over all this nonsense, and can get back into enjoying food.  I have been cooking food for about 10 years now and I am a very good amateur cook.  But that is the key word amateur.  I do not think that people that  teach cooking realize, this is all people want to be, is good amateur cook.  We do not need to chop an onion in about 15 seconds.  If I tried to do it that fast, I probably would lose my fingers first, and I’m not too sure how good they would taste in the sauce or soup, I was making.  I  think not enough is mentioned about cooking to taste.  Cooking things that you like. Grilled portabella mushrooms may be great, but not if you do not like mushrooms. The thing I like most about cooking is that you learn the basics, then you can create.  Here are some of my basic ideas when it comes to cooking and keeping it simple and flavorful.

First, don’t  get all worried about chopping onions, peppers, carrots or celery all the same size.  I always chop these vegetables a larger size than most.  They still cook up fine, and I feel you can taste them better, in whatever you are making.  I always sauté some kind of vegetables first when I am making rice. Once the veggies are softened, I add the rice and coat it with the olive oil for about 60 seconds, pour in the water.  It makes the rice more flavorful  and keeps it from foaming up and spilling, making a big mess.

Any time you are making a sauce depending on what it is, always add lemon juice or ketchup to it, my “secret ingredients”.   Horseradish and Mayonnaise is another one for a white sauce.  Horseradish heavy for cocktail sauce with lemon juice. Hot sauce used in small amounts add some real flavor to sauces with out adding any heat to the sauce.

Rubs work better than marinades. I find that rubs make meats more tender and flavorful, than marinades, and it’s easier.   I rub round roast, flank steak, pork roast, pork shoulder, tri tip, pork chops, turkey breast, chicken, ham and just about any meat I am going to grill or roast.  I usually put the rub on in the morning and refrigerate for 5 to 6 hours or will even do it overnight.  My basic rub is Montreal Steak seasoning, Paprika, Chile Powder, then smaller amounts of Cumin and Garlic Powder.  Put the rub on liberally.  For roasts the rub should cover the meat so you do not see the meat. Only slightly less for steaks, chicken parts, and pork chops.  For steaks I usually just do Montreal Steak seasoning, doing both sides.

Brining is the new thing for the Thanksgiving day turkey, and now you can  get turkeys that are already brined.  Its worth the time, or the cost, if you don’t want to do it yourself. It makes a huge difference in the tenderness of the white meat.  The  only other cut of meat that I think should be brined is the boneless pork chop.  It’s easy and it makes the pork chop so tender.  It is the difference maker when it comes to grilling pork chops.  There are plenty of brining recipes for pork chops and I don’t think there is one better than the other.  The key to brining, whether it’s the turkey or the pork chop, is to thoroughly rinse the food when you are done to remove all the salt.  With pork chops, you do not want to over brine.  You should only brine them for about 90 minutes to 2 hours depending on how big they are.  I wasn’t all that impressed on what brining did for chicken, so I don’t bother brining the little bird.

Finally, make sure that you know thy grill.    Where are the hot spots.  Know how long it takes to cook every cut of meat that you grill, even if it takes a little bit of trial and error. You do not want to keep lifting the lid of the grill, and peaking every 60 to 90 seconds.  Even though I am big believer in the statement, the fat is the flavor, you should trim some of the fat off, of what you are going to grill.  The same thing for burgers, get the 90% lean at least.  The reason being, if the cuts are too fatty, as the fat drips into the flames it has a tendency to make giant flames, which can just burn the hell out of the meat. You want to keep that lid of the grill down for at least 4 to 6 minutes per side depending on what you are cooking.  Turn off the middle burner if you need to cook things through like chicken or pork.

That’s it for now. Will have some more tips and ideas in future food blogs.  The main thing here is to learn to cook.  Food Network is a great place to learn, and get started. I think cooking food makes you appreciate it more, and makes the whole consumption process more enjoyable.

Sports: Pirates, Management Team in Place, What’s Next.

Well, the Pirates have a manger, a general manager and a President, finally.  They shall remain nameless in this blog to protect their families.  The question now is, what are they going to do.  The consensus is that the Pirates need to tear it down and rebuild.  If you watch MLB Network, there doesn’t seem to be any other way for the Pirates to get back on top. Certainly, for the new management team, this is the safest way to go. If you are rebuilding you are going to get at least a 2 year reprieve on criticism and maybe even a third.  It is the cheapest way to go.  Even though the payroll of the Pirates is one of the smallest in baseball,  it can be pared down even further, by trading Starling Marte, Chris Archer, Gregory Polanco, and Keone Kela.  With the exception of Polanco, they should all bring back some good prospects and they are, by far,  making the most money.  Trading them would more than make up for the money be paid to Huntington and Hurdle over the next two years.  Polanco was called one of the most disappointing players in all of baseball, by Joel Sherman on MLB Now, the show for the thinking fan. Geeze, and I thought I was hard on Polanco. The point is, he probably is not going to get much of a return.  The rebuild proponents, which there are many, point to  the 93 losses the Pirates suffered this past year, as the reason this team needs to start over.   But let’s just wait one gall darn minute here.  At the All Star break this team was 44 and 45, and about 3 games out of first place.  Then they collapsed mightily, on and off the field.  So are you going to base a rebuild on just a 2 month bad stretch.  Granted, they have not come close to making the playoffs since 2015, but at least when they take the field this is not a bad or old team.

According to Baseball Reference, by measuring , Wins Above Replacement, a player value stat (WAR) the Pirates have 5 solid Major Leaguers in Josh Bell, Adam Frazier, Kevin Newman, Bryon Reynolds and Starling Marte.  WAR is a production number, so the more you play the more your WAR can go up. Jacob Stallings with only 71 games played and 210 plate appearances had a WAR of 1.4 with 2 being a Major League starter.  With more starts Stallings should be able to hit that 2 number easily. That would give the Pirates 6 position players considered Major League starters. Compare that with the rest of the NL Central at the moment.  The Cincinnati Reds have just one, the Milwaukee Brewers 3, the St. Louis Cardinals 5 and the Chicago Cubs 7.  I know that gives Stallings the benefit of the doubt on a small sample size but who cares.  The Pirates starting 8 is pretty good and the oldest member of the group is Marte at age 30.  The Pirates have 2 glaring weaknesses third base and right field.  How they will deal with that I have know idea and again I do not care.  I know the pitching is a mess but there is lot’s of pitching out there on the free agent market.  The management team has not really given us a clue on what they will do, but it will become evident, as this offseason moves along what’s going to happen.

Derek Shelton, the new Pirate manager, (sorry Derek I mentioned your name) said that this will be a fun clubhouse.  He may be the first manager to win Manager of Year and lose 95 to 100 games, if he can keep that promise.  I can hear Bob Walk saying after the 95th loss, ” This is the happiest I have ever seen the Pirate clubhouse since I have started broadcasting. They weren’t this happy when they first made the playoffs in 2013″.  Bringing happy and losing together, would be quite an accomplishment for the new Pirate manager. In case you haven’t figured it out, I am against the rebuild solution to the Pirate situation.  Have a 140 million dollar payroll,  make a few good trades, and this team can contend. What ever happened to that saying, the nucleus is there.  How big does a nucleus have to be for it to be significant.  The Pirates have 6 in the field and despite the pitching being such a disaster they have about 4 or 5 solid arms. In my view that’s enough to add on, not tear down and start over again.

Sports: Devaluing Conference Champions

This week is Championship Week in college football.  There are the 5 power conference championship games, this weekend, that will have little or no significance on the College Football Playoff rankings.  This week more than any other shows the fallacy of the playoff system in college football.  The best thing you can say about it is, it’s better than nothing and better than picking just two teams.   You will hear on Sunday night such terms as meeting the eye test, most deserving and total body of work, on the self serving ESPN network.  This is a perfect example of a sport, and a sports network  thinking that their fan base is just plain stupid.  There is no other sport that picks their champion by such obscure phrases.  All other championships are decided on the field, not by some closed door committee. Granted, there are some at large bids for the NCAA tournaments, but the majority of the teams are in the tournament by winning their conference championship games, and there are 64 teams in the tournament.  Let’s look at what will probably happen this weekend, but also, what could  happen this weekend, which will have little bearing on the final four.

The biggest game of the five is LSU vs. Georgia, for the SEC Championship. This game will dictate what the weekend will be like.   LSU is about a touchdown favorite to win the game and a victory would eliminate Georgia from the top 4, unless a lot of other things happen. This puts Georgia under more pressure to win the game.   If Georgia pulls off the upset, then LSU would most likely stay in the top 4, and compete for the National Championship. For Georgia, it is a win or most likely go home scenario, which doesn’t seem quite fair.  The same thing can be said of the Ohio St. vs Wisconsin game.  If Wisconsin  pulls off the big upset, that probably won’t get them in the top 4, but it is unlikely to knock  Ohio St. out of the top four.  Wisconsin, would probably have to win by 14 or more points, to put Ohio St. out.   If  OSU, LSU, and Clemson, all win, and Clemson is almost a 30 point favorite to beat Virginia,  then it all boils down to the two winners of the Big 12, and Pac 12 Championship games. Then the committee would have to choose one and those phrases will be rolling off everybody’s tongue, come Sunday night. No matter what happens, one conference champion will not get in the playoffs, and if one or more upsets occur, as many as 3 conference champions will not have a crack at the National Championship.  Talk about making conference championships insignificant, the NCAA does it again. Of course, there is an easy solution to the unfairness of the whole mess.

The winners of the five conference championship games make the playoffs.  These are the five power conferences, and if you win your championship game you should move on. This is what sports are all about. What happens when Notre Dame has a great year. Just join the ACC Notre Dame, they need you really bad, and with this system, now you need them.  The end of the season games are more significant, and a conference championship game should be a playoff game. So how would the playoffs go from that point on.  The two lowest ranked teams that won would play the next week, and the winner would occupy the fourth spot. The schedule would then proceed as it is now.  Let’s look at those three disgusting phrases that are now used to pick the 4 teams. This team meets the eye test.  In other words, they look like the best team when you watch them play, and in many stats categories.   How many teams in other sports look great to the observer, but still lose the big game.  Try, too many to count.   The most deserving team, due to a tougher schedule, some  heartbreaking losses or who knows what.  Some times you don’t always get what you deserve.  Welcome to the real world.  The total body of work.  Three teams,  Ohio State, LSU, and Clemson, are going into these Championship games undefeated and untied.  Many people are of the belief, if these teams lose, they are one loss teams that DESERVE to go on, because of their total body of work.  Should they have made the New York Giants defeat the New England Patriots twice, because the Patriots were 18-0 going into that Super Bowl. That was a nice body of work, until the Super Bowl.  How can any team have a chance at a National Championship in football, and lose their conference championship game. The committee and ESPN will try and convince you, if that happens.  There is only one way to determine a champion and that is on the field.  Playoff football is different.  When is college football ever going to realize this.

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