Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Sharp's Point Dull When It Comes To Lions' Monday Night Debacle

First, let me say that I like Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press. I really do. I find him to be, normally, one of the few guys around town who writes with a clear head and even clearer conscience. Most of the time I agree with him, although that's not mandatory for me to enjoy reading someone's work.

But Sharp is missing the boat when it comes to the Lions, the preseason, and above all, their lousy performance Monday night against the Rams.

You can read Sharp's column that appeared this morning in the Freep right here. Basically, he urged Lions fans to "back away from the ledge", maintaining that the debacle on Monday was only an exhibition game, and thus absolutely nothing should be read from it.

Au contraire, mon ami.

The entire first half was starting 11 vs. starting 11. Everyone talked about how the third preseason game is a "dress rehearsal" for the regular season. The Lions themselves spoke brazenly of how they were so eager to show the national TV audience just what they were all about. Coach Steve Mariucci, in his postmortem yesterday, scratched his head because he was convinced the energy and focus was there, in the lockerroom, before the game.

So yes, Drew, there is reason to be concerned about this football team. This wasn't the first exhibition game, after all. This was the third, after several weeks of camp and eight quarters against live opponents. This was on "Monday Night Football". This was supposed to be a showcase, not only for Ford Field, but for the football team that plays on it.

But the Lions were absolutely terrible. They put up one of the feeblest efforts I've seen them put forth in quite some time, and that's saying a lot, considering the Lions are 16-48 since 2001. Does Drew Sharp think the Lions can just "turn it on" when the curtain rises for real, like a faucet? Is he really that naive to think the team is holding their cards close to the vest, not revealing all they have to offer until Green Bay on September 11?

What you saw on Monday is, sadly, pretty much what you'll see this season, unless the Lions get their act together in a hurry. For whatever reason, this is an offense that is being shackled by its line and its coaching staff's lack of creativity. Defensively, there is no pressure on the opposing quarterback, and the secondary is playing far softer than has been advertised.

"I would like to stand here soon and say 'I told you so'," Mariucci said yesterday, trying to convince reporters that his team is better than it has played.

I would like for Drew Sharp to be able to tell me that, too. But I don't think he nor Mariucci will get that opportunity.

Hello, 4-12

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Two Questions, One And A Half Answers

I have extra-sensory perception, or ESP, today. I have a really strong feeling that there are two questions burning up your mind on this last Tuesday of August.

One: What is wrong with Jeremy Bonderman?

Two: What is wrong with the Lions?

I know the answer to #2, but I confess I'm a tad lost on #1, but I'll give it a shot.

First, the Lions. Frankly, there is nothing wrong with this team that a pass rush, some pass coverage, an offensive line worth a nickel, and a few playmakers -- on both sides of the ball -- can't cure. I attended last night's debacle against the St. Louis Rams and I gotta tell ya, the closer you sit, the worse it gets. I snagged some corporate freebies -- 40 yard-line, 8th row lower level -- and from that perspective, you can really see how far behind the Lions are from 8-8, which is what the Rams were in 2004.

You can see, up close and personal, how much time the opposing quarterback has to look for receivers. I've seen my wife take less time to pick out an outfit than Marc Bulger had to spot an open man. And speaking of open men, I don't want to say the Lions' secondary is soft, but I've consumed marshmallows with more density.

You can witness with remarkable clarity the mass collapse of an offensive line. A house of cards comes to mind. Joey Harrington's pass protection was about as reliable and trustworthy as a Rafael Palmeiro congressional testimony. I know now why the Lions' offensive coaches preach the three-step drop when it comes to their passers: that's all the steps they are able to take before being overwhelmed by defensive linemen.

Then there are the penalties. The Lions, late in the first half, had a 1st-and-goal at the Rams' 5. Two holding penalties later, they had 1st-and-goal from the Rams' 25. Actually, it was three holding penalties -- two on one play. The Lions' offense and the opposing end zone are like double positives on a magnet; they repel each other. So until we can get the league to change the point value of a Jason Hanson field goal from three to seven points, it don't look too promising, folks.

My prediction: based on what I saw last night, the Lions will be lucky to win four games.

Now, on to Jeremy Bonderman. This young man is struggling mightily right now -- 1-5 in his last six decisions with another shellacking last night in Cleveland -- and you can only hope it's part of the maturation process for what I still believe will be an outstanding pitcher for years to come. He's been getting shelled lately, not giving his team much of a chance to win, and that's what is disturbing. In the season's first few months, you could almost look at Bonderman as that stud starter that can end losing streaks and always give you a good chance for a win. But since the All-Star break he's been frustrated, confused and downright awful.

The Bonderman situation is a question for which I don't have a ready answer, but here's my theory: he's still young, still learning how to pitch in the big leagues, and he still has to work on his stamina for a 162-game schedule. His 4.44 ERA is nothing special, but that will come down in the future. I just hope he doesn't wallow too much in self-disgust with his performances. Pitching coach Bob Cluck better watch this kid's emotions closely.

Just don't watch the Lions too closely -- or up too close. They'll do a number on you.

Monday, August 29, 2005

September's Question For Tigers Fans: "Did The Padres Win Today?"

The Tigers are in a pennant race -- did you know that? They're only 1 1/2 games out of first the NL West.

It's true. The Tigers, 62-66 and teetering, are within whispering distance of the San Diego Padres, who are 64-65 and also looking like a drunk walking a sobriety test line.

So here's my suggestion: For all of you looking for some reason to stay interested in the Bengals from now thru September, just use a little imagination. Pretend the Tigers are in the NL West. Since the AL Wild Card is now out of reach, if you slide the Tigers into the NL West, then you can have your own little pennant race. You can scoreboard watch with the Padres and the D-Backs and the Dodgers. Think of it as Interleague Play, but with a twist.

Here's what the NL West standings would look like with the Tigers in the mix:

San Diego 64 65 .496 --
TIGERS 62 66 .484 1 1/2
Arizona 60 72 .455 5 1/2
Los Angeles 59 71 .454 5 1/2
San Fran. 57 72 .442 7
Colorado 51 79 .392 13 1/2

Now, after looking at that, didn't the baseball season get a tad more interesting?

Okay, so I'm reaching, but I also wanted to illustrate how poor the NL West is this year. That you could be 12 games under .500 in late August, as the D-Backs and Dodgers are, and still be 5 1/2 games out of first place is pretty amazing -- that is, if you choose to use the word "amazing" in the same way the '62 Mets did.

But if you think whomever wins the division will simply be fodder for their playoff opponents, allow me to remind you of another Mets team -- the 1973 edition. The Yogi Berra-led Mets of '73 finished 83-79, winning the NL East by a smidgen. Actually, they were in last place as late as mid-August. But they defeated Sparky Anderson's Reds in the NLCS, and took the mighty Oakland A's to seven games in the World Series.

So if the Tigers can just sneak into the NL playoffs, we might have something to cheer about around here. But first they have to gain entry into the NL itself, and that may be a tall order.

Wait til next year.....

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Encyclopedia Baseballica

(the following column can also be viewed at, where a new column from yours truly appears each Sunday or Monday. They will also appear here for your reading pleasure. For archives of my columns there, go to and click on "Columnists")

I love my Baseball Encyclopedia.

It is a thick, thick hard covered book that looks like, well, an encyclopedia. Its cover is gray and it has long ago lost its paper jacket and the spine is coming unglued from the pages and some of the pages themselves are crinkled and folded and it weighs a ton but I love it.

Let me say to all the guys reading this, it is a great library book. And when I say library, I mean the, ummm....lavatory. You can now all wipe....the grins from your faces.

A good "library" book is a book that can be cracked open, wherever, and you can dive into it at that point. You can look at it out of context whenever you want. There is no story to read. You simply open it up and start absorbing.

I don’t even remember how I came upon my Baseball Encyclopedia (yes, it is worthy of capitalization, and besides, that’s its title, so there!). But I’ve had it for years, though I am not its original owner. It is the edition printed after the 1978 season, which is fine, because I don’t have much use for anything that happened from 1979-present anyway. It’s much more fun to peruse the game’s history through journeymen who played for the 1911 Reds or the 1925 Dodgers.

Here’s how my B.E. experience usually goes: I enter the library, plunk myself down, and haul the book from its resting pace, which is on the floor, leaning against the wall, always within arm’s reach. Then I open it and start reading. That’s all. Nothing much to it. But oh, the fun I have by doing that.

As you can imagine, the B.E. contains everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, about the national pastime, dating from the days of the American Association, which was just about ten years after our president was named Lincoln, to in this case, 1978. Every player who ever pulled on a big league uniform is listed alphabetically, complete with date of birth, death, height, weight, place of birth, place of death, and any nicknames he may have had. Also listed is whether he batted left, right or both, how he threw, and of course, his season-by-season statistics in detail, including games played by position. Pitchers are listed together behind the hitters.

But I realized it’s much more interesting and fun to browse the non-stars. Sure, I could look up Babe Ruth or Tris Speaker or Ted Williams, but as I run down the list, page-by-page, I’m much more intrigued by the guy who appeared in one game a long time ago and who may have incomplete personal data, like "Duke Kelleher" (an actual entry), who caught one game in 1916 for the New York Giants, never coming to the plate to hit. All we know about Duke is that he threw righthanded, which may have been an educated guess by the editors since how many lefthanded-throwing catchers have you ever seen? We don’t know if he batted left or right; maybe because he never came to bat. But we do know that he was born 9/30/1893 in New York City and died 9/28/1947 in Staten Island. Poor Duke (real name Albert) didn’t quite make it to 54.

Did you know that former Tigers third baseman and announcer George Kell had a brother named Skeeter who played for the 1952 Philadelphia A’s? After one season and 213 at-bats and a .227 average, Skeeter never emerged in the majors again. But he and his brother did combine for 2,101 base hits (George had 2,054 of them). Speaking of combos, here’s one that could be called the Combo That Isn’t Really A Combo: the great Chicago Cub Billy Williams had 2,711 base hits in his 18-year career. But I’ll wager a Ball Park frank that you weren’t aware there was another Billy Williams, who played for the 1969 Seattle Pilots and went 0-for-10. So combined, the two Billy Williamses.....well, you get the idea.

Kell had a brother in the big leagues -- who'd a thunk it?

I guess I enjoy my B.E. because I love the romanticism of a time when all the games were played in daytime, which means all those numbers and statistics were compiled before dinnertime...
You can find some pretty amazing coincidences, too, in the good old B.E. My grandfather passed away a few months ago at the age of 96. He was born March 2, 1909. Anyhow, a month or so after he passed, I was telling my wife and mother-in-law about the great Mel Ott (not sure how we got on Mel) and that he was a Tigers announcer after his playing days. I also told them that Ott died tragically in an automobile accident. I decided to look up the date of Mel’s death, and discovered that he was born on the same day and year -- 3/2/09 -- as my grandfather. Things like that further enrich the B.E. love affair.
The great Ott shares my grandfather's birthday -- and you can look it up!

Every year’s worth of standings is listed, along with small capsule stats of each team’s top 12-13 position players and 5-8 pitchers. It tells you who the manager(s) was or were, what each skipper’s record was in the case of managerial changes, and the league leaders in various offensive and pitching categories. You can also head for the Manager Register, which lists every man who managed, his record, and the position his team finished that particular season. But the B.E. doesn’t stop there. In the cases of in-season managerial changes, the Register lists the team’s position before a man took over, its position after he left, and -- bonus -- if there were three managers that year and you’re looking up the middle guy, the Register tells you the team’s position at the end of the season, too. This even includes Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner, who tried to take over the reins in 1977 but was removed as manager after one game -- a loss -- by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. So there Turner resides, in the Manager Register, his 0-1 record forever preserved.

Of course, there is a year-by-year breakdown of every World Series, including small capsules of every game, Associated Press style. Here’s a random entry, taken from Game 2 of the 1905 Series between the Giants and the Philly A’s: "Bender, the Athletics’ tall Indian, evens the Series with his shutout and is aided by Lord’s two RBI’s." That would be Chief Bender and I am assuming Lord is not God (he’s not; he’s Bris Lord, a 22 year-old rookie from Upland, Pennsylvania).
All-Star Games are included along with the familiar capsules. Award winners, year-by-year, can be found. A history of the game and its rules changes are in there. I bet you didn’t know that the game went back and forth over whether a sacrifice fly should count as an at-bat, or that it waffled over how many balls should constitute a walk -- they started at eight and worked their way down to four over the game’s initial years -- or that for a time the spitball was legal. Inside the B.E. you will also find lifetime major league rosters for every team, with each player’s name and the years for which he played for that particular team -- listed, of course, alphabetically.

In fact, if there is something about baseball you want to know and you can’t find it in the Baseball Encyclopedia, it’s not worth knowing anyway. What more about the game do you need to know than the fact that Erskine Thomason threw one inning for the ’74 Phillies, striking out a hitter? Or that John Paciorek -- he was born in Detroit and went to U-M -- came to bat five times for the 1963 Houston Colt .45’s (they weren’t the Astros until 1965) and went 3-for-3 with two walks in his only game as an 18 year-old? How would YOU like to have a lifetime batting average and on-base percentage of 1.000? Pretty cool, huh? By the way, Paciorek’s appearance was on the last day of the season as the Colts started the youngest lineup ever -- on purpose. They got their tails kicked.

I guess I enjoy my B.E. because I love the romanticism of a time when all the games were played in the daytime, which means all those numbers and statistics were compiled before dinnertime until the mid-1950’s, when night baseball became more prevalent. Plus, just about every time I crack it open, the B.E. gives me another gem of trivia that literally makes me say, out loud, "HUH!" Like the fact that third baseman Ken Boyer hit 24 homers four years in a row in the 60’s. Talk about consistency.
A picture of consistency: Ken Boyer
I also like the anomalies -- the guys who had one very good season amongst a bunch of dreary ones. For example, let’s take Orioles outfielder Sam Bowens. The man never had more than 243 at-bats in any of his seven seasons except one -- 1964. That year, the 25 year-old Bowens put it all together, slugging 22 homers and driving in 71 runs while batting .263. Overall, a solid year, right? But in ‘65, Bowens fell all the way to .163 in 203 at-bats. The pact with the devil must have run out on New Year’s Eve, ‘64, because only once more did Bowens hit above .200, and that was .210 in 1966.
Oh, there are a bunch more examples I’ve found like Bowens and Boyer (can you tell I was browsing the "Bo’s" when I found them?), and the best part is, there are a bunch more I have yet to discover. They await me, leaning against my library wall, available after the next large meal.
So for all the Sam Bowenses in the world, and the Bris Lord’s and the Stuffy McGinnises and Eddie Gaedels (yes, the midget who batted against the Tigers), I bow to my Baseball Encyclopedia. And to be honest, I literally do have to bow to grab it. You’d have to see my library to understand.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Pudge Countdown: 37 Games And Out

I wonder if the Tigers still have Brad Ausmus’ phone number. Maybe old pal Brad, already twice a Tiger, can swoop back into town and handle the catching duties for a another year or two -- until he becomes a manager, which his peers think he should do, according to a recent Sports Illustrated poll.

If not Ausmus, then maybe Mike Piazza. He’ll be a free agent after this season, too. Or maybe there’s someone available in a trade, if the price is right. There is some young talent on the Tigers’ farm right now, for a change.

I have a feeling the Tigers -- specifically GM Dave Dombrowski and in a peripheral way, manager Alan Trammell -- are gathering their options right about now, because it seems to me Pudge Rodriguez is winding down his brief career in Detroit.

Rodriguez is likely to be "Long gone!", as Ernie Harwell would say

I have written about Pudge from time to time in this cozy little blog, and rarely has it been in a positive light. I haven’t slammed him -- I’ve just pointed out his sullen moods and the effect it may be having on his teammates. My colleague at Motor City Sports Magazine, Terry Foster, has been harsher, taking Pudge to task on Fox Sports Detroit -- that would be television, by the way -- for dissing Trammell. Foster has basically called Pudge out publicly on the airwaves. "You haven’t been around here long enough, son, to do that to a Tigers legend," Foster has pretty much said.

I don’t know that Trammell and his catcher can peacefully co-exist, at least not under anything other than a winning situation. If the Tigers were "World Series bound and picking up steam," like their 1968 theme song jingled, then maybe any perceived friction between All-Star catcher and manager would be overlooked, or not noticed at all. But the team is headed for its 12th straight year of losses outnumbering wins, and that tends to make everyone a bit crankier, especially when fans, players, coaches and front office all expected a better fate in 2005.

Willie Horton, however, is one that feels everything is right on schedule. Horton, the beloved former Tiger and current helper to Dombrowski, recently was quoted in one of the dailies as suggesting that the Tigers are on the right path and that, gosh, this rebuilding process is going along swimmingly. But then, Willie always did look at the Tigers’ glass as being half full.

Regardless, whether you think things are moving along at the right pace or not when it comes to the Tigers and their never-ending quest to finish above .500 (forget the playoffs), the Pudge Factor will definitely be a major player come this offseason. I have a gut that says Trammell will be back in 2006, although he may not finish the season. That means, by my reasoning, that Rodriguez might not be here at all. Of course, Dombrowski has got to find a sucker that will take on some of Pudge’s contract, which is pretty hefty for a catcher who will be 34 before next season. The Tigers might have to chow some of that pact to move Pudge. Check that -- they WILL have to chow some of that pact. If you don’t, you’ll never be able to trade him. Even P.T. Barnum would agree that you can’t deal Pudge without providing some financial incentive to the receiving team.

So there you have it -- another "Out of Bounds" revolving around Pudge Rodriguez. And none of it has been all that pleasant. Then again, neither have the Tigers lately.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Here Lies The The Pontiac Silverdome: 1975-2005

It hardly matters now, but the Lions' 30-year agreement with the Silverdome officially expired this month. Of course, the team long ago got out of that arrangement in order to move into Ford Field for the start of the 2002 season.

But I just thought it would be nice to remind you that it was 30 years ago this month that the Lions played their first game underneath the fiberglass, air-supported bubble roof at Opdyke and Featherstone. Actually, the second game they played there was under the roof. The first game, an exhibition against the Kansas City Chiefs, was played au natural, open-roofed, because the top wasn't ready in time. No joke.

In fact, back in '75, the Silverdome -- the name -- wasn't even a dream in anyone's head. The structure was dubbed Pontiac Metropolitan Stadium, which was soon shortened to PonMet.

It was state-of-the-art at the time, PonMet was, and by New Year's Eve of 1975 it was hosting an Elvis concert, a show in which The King, in all his girth, split his pants. Again I do not lie.

Anyhow, as you know, the Pistons were tenants from 1978-1988, and there were tractor pulls and monster truck shows and RV shows and anything else management could do to justify a stadium that was only used from August-April, and sporadically during those times.

The roof caved in a few times, displacing the Pistons, always during playoff time it seemed. People complained the 'Dome was cold and damp during the basketball season, which it absolutely was. The court was set up in the corner with a huge blue curtain hiding the rest of the cavernous stadium. It was, truthfully, a miserable place to watch NBA basketball. But the Pistons could jam 50,000 fans in there, if a bunch were willing to sit in the nose bleed sections, which were the seats you got by converting the free vouchers you could pick up at all the tire stores and dry cleaners and fast fry chicken joints in town.

I guess they're going to tear the 'Dome down -- at least that's what I hear. There really is no use for it any longer, and there hasn't been for years. I'll kind of miss seeing the big white bubble top driving north on I-75.

Rest in peace.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Little Leaguers On ESPN? Ain't No Worse Than The Obnoxious Parents

One of my fellow bloggers and regular readers, Brian DeCaussin (thanks, Brian, btw), who runs the very good "Beyond the Boxscores" blog, ranted on something the other day that I commented on at his site but has stuck in my craw.

Brian feels that the 12 year-olds who play in the famed Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA shouldn't be televised, or at least certainly not on Big Daddy ESPN. He cited the pressure it places on the kids.

I respect the hell out of that opinion, but I need to let you know why I feel strongly against it.

First, I know a little about Little League -- I was a player, as most of us boys were, and I covered the Junior League World Series for 13 year-olds in Taylor during my days in television production. I directed JLWS games on local cable TV from 1986-1993, and so I know the excitement these youngsters feel when the cameras are present. Many of them would come to our production truck and poke their heads in, awed by all the monitors and the graphics and the videotape replay machines. You could tell they were juiced up about it -- and some of them weren't even going to be playing in the games scheduled for broadcast.

As I commented on Brian's blog, I think the added pressure comes from the loudmouth parents who attend the average game at your local diamond. In my playing days and afterward, I have seen ridiculous displays of berating and humiliation inflicted by parents on their kids, other kids, and the umpires. I have seen friends of mine reduced to tears and swearing to never play again. And none of that, I believe, comes from the presence of television cameras.

If anything, ESPN televising the games means these kids will have an opportunity of a lifetime -- literally -- to perform on national television. As long as the coaches do a good job of deemphasizing the broadcast and focusing their players on the task at hand -- which is doing the best they can do -- then once the game begins, little Johnny should pretty much forget about the "one-eyed monsters" recording his every move. And the experience should be one that will be treasured for a lifetime.

However, I do understand what Brian is saying -- basically, kids at that age can be very emotional and the presence of a national TV network could jumble their nerves more than may already be occurring. But I still think the excitement -- positive excitement -- of playing on national television would mostly override that.

For more about this, check Brian out at

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Already, We Are Seeing The Value Of Jeff Garcia -- Whether He Plays Or Not

I am loathe to talk about the preseason when it comes to the NFL, because it is the football equivalent of corporate espionage -- don't reveal anything of significance to your competitors.

Still, one thing seems to be evident already: Joey Harrington is flourishing with the heat of an experienced backup quarterback present.

Through two pretend games, Joey is 14-15 for 145 yards and no interceptions. Of course, no touchdowns, either, but there you go. Regardless, he looks comfy and in command, spreading the ball around and apparently enjoying all the weapons at his disposal.

Jeff Garcia, for his part, has been shaky, but I discount that. As far as I'm concerned, he is contributing to the cause by simply being on the roster.

I truly believe it is no coincidence that Harrington has looked sharper than ever this early into things now that Jeff Garcia is around to keep him honest. I mean, how could it be? You have a guy who's been to the Pro Bowl behind you, you tend to mind your p's and q's a bit more than if you have, say, a certain youngster from Rutgers in camp -- not to name any names.

True, defenses are not revealing all they have to throw at you quite yet, but nor have the offenses, quite frankly (to use a Stephen A. Smith term). Running back Kevin Jones, for example, has been mostly shuttered down. Wouldn't it be terrific if Harrington's comfort zone only broadens as we get further and further into the season, when all the weapons are being utilized at full capacity?

A friend of mine recently emailed me and said he didn't think Lions president Matt Millen's failure to provide Harrington with a quality backup was as crucial of a mistake as I had wailed about on this very blog and in my weekly column. Well, without crowing too much -- because you can end up eating said crow -- I submit that we are seeing, before our very eyes, that Millen did indeed foul things up and stunt Joey's growth by waiting so long to bring a Garcia type to the Lions.

Jeff Garcia doesn't have to throw a single pass this entire season in order to improve the quarterback situation here. In fact, he has already made things better. It's called an "intangible."

Or is that too big a word to use this early into the football season?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Impossible Not To Think Of Chuck Hughes In The Aftermath Of Herrion's Death

We still don't know what ultimately killed young 49'ers offensive lineman Thomas Herrion. Maybe he was too obese. Maybe toxicology tests, the results of which won't be available for several weeks, will shed some light on the mystery. An autopsy conducted in Denver proved inconclusive.

Herrion, as you know, was on the field during the team's final 91-yard drive just before the end of the game against the Broncos in Denver. He collapsed and died minutes after returning to the lockerroom, which means he came very close to being just the second man to ever die on an NFL field.

The only one, of course, is Lions receiver Chuck Hughes. It is impossible not to think of Hughes now, especially for people like me who actually remember the whole sickening thing happening at Tiger Stadium.

Hughes' death is still the only on-field fatality in NFL history

Actually, I wasn't there -- I was listening on the radio. But it was no less stark to hear announcer Bob Reynolds, his usually excited voice somber, describing the scene of Hughes lying motionless on the grass as team doctors tried futilely to pound his heart back into rhythm. It was at the end of a Lions' loss to the Bears.

Hughes' cause of death was known within 24 hours. He had a heart condition, which he was born with and was undetected in team physicals, causing him to, in the words of a doctor, "Have an old man's heart in a young man's body." Chuck Hughes never had a chance, as it turns out, to live a long life, whether he was a football player or not.

Herrion, listed at 6'3" and over 300 pounds, apparently had no heart condition. He was, as far as anyone knew, in typical football player shape, although he was a very large man. But there are hundreds of very large men playing pro football; what made Thomas Herrion any more at risk? Perhaps we will know more in the weeks to come.

I don't know the exact number of men who have played professional football, but it surely must be in the tens of thousands. Yet only four -- Hughes, Herrion, JV Cain and Korey Stringer -- have died either on the field of play or during practice or in a lockerroom. So while Herrion's passing is a tragic story, I don't think it necessarily means that pro football players are dangerously obese and at risk of similar fates, as has been suggested by some doctors.

Like Hughes, Herrion was a little-known, young player trying to etch out whatever playing time he could. Now he will forever be linked to the receiver from Texas El-Paso in another way, as part of a tiny category of football-related fatalities. It is a horrible development, Herrion's death, and I only hope it doesn't share something else in common with Hughes' demise.

The night before Hughes' death, the receiver and his wife got into a horrible fight at a team function. They both slept in different locations -- Hughes at a team hotel and his wife at home. Neither apologized. So the last time Sharon Hughes spoke to her husband, the words were angry and hurtful. She revealed in an interview years later that her husband's death was almost unbearable because of the hateful argument the night before the fateful game.

I pray for Herrion's family's sake that there are no similar circumstances that would make his passing any more difficult to deal with than already is.

By the way, the last pass thrown Chuck Hughes' way in that game against the Bears on October 24, 1971 was a brilliant 25-yard catch that kept the Lions' late drive alive. So at least there's that.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Tigers Creeping Toward .500, But We "Won't Get Fooled Again"

What is that old saying -- "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me"?

Well, this would be about the tenth time this season you've been fooled if you think the Tigers are on their way over the .500 mark.

This nifty little 7-1 streak has brought the Bengals to 60-62, and has included a little bit of everything: two wins over miserable KC, two of three from the World Champs, and a three-game sweep of the Blue Jays, the first in Detroit since that memorable final weekend of the 1987 season. It has included nailbiters and blowouts. It has also raised hope that the team is finally going to post an overall winning record for the first time since 1993.

Don't count on it.

We've seen this before, haven't we, over and over again with these '05 Tigers? They fall way below .500, then go on a little streak and bob around it, then fall back again. And so on. And so on.

So what's to say that this flirtation with the coveted break even mark is any different?

I think the Tigers are simply rolling with the law of averages. They are, quite frankly, a 77-80 win team, and those types do exactly what the Tigers are doing: dancing around .500 like it was a bonfire out of control. And in the end, they have their 77-80 wins.

This is not to say that I think the Tigers have 77-win talent. I think they could very well have an 84-78 record, or thereabouts, based on the talent that I see on their roster. But unfortunately they haven't shown me that they can sustain success for any period of time.

"We play good baseball and lose, and play bad baseball and win," third baseman Brandon Inge said after the Tigers' 3-2, 13-inning win Saturday night.

Yep, that's about what happens when you treat .500 like a communicable disease.

Anyhow, get excited, if you'd like, that the Tigers are on another one of those "See, we really ARE a good team" streaks. But guaranteed, when the dust settles after the 162nd game, the true phrase will be, "See, you really ARE under .500 -- for the 12th year in a row."

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Live Or On Memorex, Preseason NFL Won't Break The Glass

Quick question for you: which is worse -- the Pro Bowl, or pre-season NFL football?

The Lions play the second of four exhibitions today against the Browns at Ford Field, and one of the newspapers actually ran a blurb in its Lions’ notebook that said, "A few thousand tickets remain for this Saturday’s Lions-Browns game. The tickets must be sold 72 hours before kickoff for the game to be broadcast live on Saturday."

Gosh, I hope they sold them! Heaven forbid we don’t see a preseason game LIVE!

I have so many problems with exhibition pro football that I hardly know where to begin. I think the first thing on my list is the ticket price -- 100% face value of a regular season game. How the NFL has been able to get away with this over the years is beyond me and surely must be one of the longest-running price gougings in capitalistic history. Full price to see a quarter and a half of starters and the rest filled with rookies and benchwarmers. But the fans still eat and drink like starters the whole game, don’t they? Maybe they can protest by spending all their money on food and drink in the first quarter, and cool it for the rest of the game. Tit for tat, right?

Next on my list is the injury factor. This isn’t spring training baseball, or even the NBA or NHL. Football is by far the most violent of team games; imagine two freight trains colliding head on and you have the typical NFL hit -- over and over again every Sunday. These guys don’t lay down because it’s preseason. So why do we need four of these snoozers? And to think that, prior to the 16-game schedule, the league played SIX exhibitions. Mama mia -- that’s a lotsa meaningless foot-a-ball! Coaches half-heartedly endorse the games, telling us that they need the football to properly evaluate their roster prior to the real deal. I think that if you can’t tell who should be on your football team after three weeks of training camp and two games, then either you’re not much of a coach, or terribly indecisive.

The players don’t like these games, either. They’d just as soon bang heads for real as quickly as possible. I bet hardly any of them would raise a peep if the preseason was reduced to two games. Of course, that raises the spector of an 18-game schedule, which might be a fun thing to think about. Two more "real" games would give fans a chance to see their teams play different squads more often when it counts. The Lions, for example, hardly ever play the Raiders, to name you one team. But to me, Lions-Raiders in August just doesn’t cut it. Place that game in October, though, and now it gets interesting to see the Lions go against the Silver and Black.

Maybe the rookies or guys on the bubble would be against a two-game preseason, but again, if you haven’t proven your worth by that point, then maybe it’s time to look for a career outside of football. And the veterans don’t need much more than a couple games to get into the swing of things. Besides, with a two-game preseason, the starters should theoretically play more per game, which brings me back to my original rant of charging full boat for a canoe’s worth of starting football players.

So watch the Lions-Browns today -- live or on tape delay -- and enjoy your 20 football minutes of stars before the understudies take over. If you get through it, remember: you’re halfway to the regular season!

Maybe the NFL Network is showing a replay of last year’s Pro Bowl sometime soon.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Lloyd Carr On The Hot Seat? Don't You Believe It

The Sporting News is a fairly reputable rag -- I subscribe to it so it must be -- but I recently read where they feel U-M football coach Lloyd Carr is on the "hot seat" because, according to TSN, he gets the "least out of his players than any other coach in the Big Ten."

Now, wait just a cotton-pickin' minute here.

First, you can't win the conference every year. And last I checked, the Wolves pretty much compete for the title year after year anyhow. There ARE other good programs in the Big Ten. Second, who's to say that Carr gets "the least" out of his players? How is THAT measured? Third, Lloyd Carr is no more on the "hot seat" than I am about ready to take his place. Carr will coach U-M until he's good and ready to retire, and that's how it should be. He has done nothing but win and win, and if the alumni and fans don't see that, then they have set a bar that is far too high.

Carr should be able to stay until he's ready to retire

Carr runs a squeaky clean program, at least as far as we know. And believe me, if there was anything anyone had on U-M football, we'd know about it. He has produced some NFL quarterbacks, which hadn't really been done prior to his reign. His players have nothing but good things to say about him, and they don't transfer or get into any serious trouble.

If that's someone who should be on some sort of "hot seat," then something is wrong with college football -- more wrong than what already is.

Carr has taken some heat, and maybe justifiably, for losing some Ohio State games lately. That is what can get a coach fired in Columbus or Ann Arbor -- not winning that last game in November. But prior to Jim Tressel's arrival at OSU, Carr pretty much dominated the Buckeyes. And Lloyd takes care of that school in East Lansing pretty good, too.

I think someone at TSN just felt like throwing a big name, high-profile coach onto their "hot seat" list. You know, so people like me can call them out.

Consider them called.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Looking For A Bright Spot On Tigers? Try Carlos Guillen's Courage

Sometimes, during the course of a long, losing baseball season, it's easy to overlook some of the positives. It's even more frequent to take for granted the few who actually pull their weight on such clubs.

That must explain what is going on with Carlos Guillen right now. Guillen, the Tigers shortstop extraordinaire, has been playing on one leg most of the season. His surgically repaired right knee is only "surgically repaired" by definition; it is hardly "repaired" in the "It feels great!" sense.

Guillen has shown perhaps the most courage and possessed the best work ethic of any Tigers player this mostly miserable season. He never complains or makes excuses, at least not publicly. He simply goes out there and gives it his best shot, even when you know it's killing him -- from a pain standpoint -- to do so. And if that wasn't enough, he's still hitting way over .300 and playing as good defensively as a one-legged man can.

At the moment, Guillen's exploits are being far overshadowed by the fate of Alan Trammell as manager and the supposed ill-feelings of Pudge Rodriguez toward the franchise, and vice-versa from his teammates. But fans should know that Guillen, who will be a Tiger for several years, is a rock that should be appreciated.

Hope that makes watching these guys play a bit more gratifying.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Break A Player's Neck And Sit Out 13 Games! -- Only In The Bettman-Led NHL

I haven't gotten to this yet, either because there's been other things on my mind, or I'm still trying to believe it.

Todd Bertuzzi has been reinstated by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman? Already? For breaking a guy's neck -- literally? After sitting out only 13 NHL games and one round of playoffs? And Bertuzzi is cranky because he thinks he's being reminded of it too much?

But first, Bettman. This guy's a riot, ain't he? He pleads that his hands are tied throughout the entire lockout fiasco, after most of the problem was of his own creation, then when he has a chance to actually show he has some teeth, he wimps out on this Bertuzzi suspension.

Eh, what's a broken neck between opponents, huh?

Bettman seems to think that, since the NHL lost an entire season and playoffs, Bertuzzi has missed enough hockey. Well, news flash, Gary: Bertuzzi still is only 13 games and a round of playoffs short of his peers. And Steve Moore, who was the victim in the on-ice mugging, will probably never play again. THAT's the way to show 'em, Mr. Commish!

I have oftened referred to Bettman as Mr. Irrelevant, because any league commissioner worth his salt would never allow an entire season to be lost due to labor strife, in my mind. He presided over a ridiculously aggressive expansion plan, placing franchises in odd geographic locations, and doing it far too rapidly. This led to financial problems for many teams, and the league as a whole. He didn't bargain in good faith with the players during the lockout because his thinly-veiled plan was to break the union. Bob Goodenow, NHLPA leader, lost his job because he couldn't handle Mr. Irrelevant. That in itself should be call for dismissal, I suppose.

As for Bertuzzi, his semi-tearful press conference the other day should be accompanied by a canister of Morton's salt. For it appeared that the main source of Bertuzzi's tears was the fact that all these bad people are out there "ridiculing" him because he broke a player's neck and ended his career. Does Todd Bertuzzi even know the meaning of the word "ridicule"? Poor Todd just wants to move on and play hockey, you see -- something his victim can't do, but why split hairs, right? I'd bet Steve Moore would love to be ridiculed right now instead of learning how to live his life all over again.

Anyhow, I just wanted to chime in. Just because I hadn't gotten around to it doesn't mean it doesn't bother me. And bother me it does -- very much, actually.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

A Royal Flush -- Down The Baseball Drain

When I was old enough to know about such things, and appreciate them, I figured that one of the records in baseball that would never be approached was the New York Mets’ 40-120 record of 1962. Never, did I think, could any major league team in this day and age of watered down baseball and free agency manage to lose ¾ of the games they play for an entire 162-game schedule.

Of course, the 2003 Tigers proved me wrong -- it was not only possible, but it took a 5-1 streak at the end of the year to keep the Tigers from the embarrassment of matching those 120 defeats. Obviously not having learned my lesson, I again reasoned that the ’03 Tigers were absolutely the last of their breed; no way could anything remotely like 43-119 ever occur again on a major league diamond.

Now along comes the 2005 Kansas City Royals.

The Royals have lost 16 in a row. Their record has tumbled to 38-79. You might look at the 38 wins and say, "Hey, they only have to win a handful between now and the end of the season -- more than a month away -- to beat the Tigers of 2003." Sure, that’s true -- but CAN they win even a handful of games between now and then?

First, who knows how long this current losing streak can stretch? It’s been 30 years, but even our own Tigers of 1975 were able to put together an impressive 19-game losing string. And the Royals might be mouse enough to break that by the end of the week. Even if they win tonight, though, that would put them at 39-79. They’d have to simply go 5-39 to have a record one game better than the Tigers’ 43-119 mark of ‘03. Simple, correct? But when you’re going as bad as the Royals are going currently, and it’s the dog days of August, it doesn’t take much to go off on another horrid losing streak.

Granted, KC will probably get it together enough to win several more than 43; the odds are still on their side, as awful a team as they are. But it’s becoming more and more possible, with every morale-deflating loss, that the Royals will have to get "hot" in September and play, say, .333 ball, to keep the national media away from Kauffman Stadium, and Jay Leno off their backs.

I have to admit, there is a sadistic bone or two in my body that hopes the Royals keep stumbling long enough to make September interesting, from a futility perspective. After all, with the Tigers out of the running again, what else is there to do, when it comes to the National Pastime?

By the way, the Royals manager is Buddy Bell, who suffered through a 53-109 year as Tigers skipper in 1996. On that team was pitcher Jose Lima, who is a starter for this year’s Royals.Now they’re together again, in another muck of stenchy baseball.

I guess it’s best to keep those two separated.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Drudge Rodriguez

Is Pudge leaning toward leaving town?

A few months ago, I posted that something was bugging Pudge Rodriguez. I said it seemed to have started during spring training, and had continued into the first several weeks of the regular season. He was more dour and sour and cranky, much more so than last season. And that was before the Tigers traded his friend Ugie Urbina.

Now there appears to be a small storm brewing around the Tigers, and Pudge is in the middle of it, whether he chooses to be or not, and whether it's his doing or not.

Besides the growing feeling among the beat writers that Rodriguez is, in general, unhappy in Detroit, there is also the supposed dissent among the players about the Kyle Farnsworth trade -- allegedly spearheaded by Pudge -- and resentment from his teammates over Rodriguez's trip to Colombia during his four-game suspension, instead of staying home and rooting his guys on.

Rodriguez's comments on these sorts of matters have been icy. "No comment," "Ask the manager", "Ask Dombrowski -- I just play" -- all these have not exactly erased doubts about his contentment in a Tigers uniform. You wonder if he asks himself, on an almost daily basis, "What was I thinking?," in regards to signing with a club that had, the season before, lost 119 games.

Trading Pudge is perhaps an option, although interest in a 33 year-old catcher who will be 34 before next season, and who is making the dough he is making, may not be terribly plentiful. His numbers are okay, but certainly they paled in comparison with some of his All-Star brethren in July. There still hasn't been any definitive explanation for his stark weight loss, either -- not that he owes us one. Just another thing that makes you go "Hmmmm...."

If you read the banner headline in yesterday's Detroit News sports page, manager Alan Trammell will be gone long before Pudge anyhow. Maybe, it was suggested, the catcher's attitude will improve once there is a change in the dugout. Then again, maybe not.

My take? I wasn't convinced Pudge was the same happy camper from a year ago way before this recent nonsense to begin with. Although I support one more year for Tram, I confess it may be best if one of the two left town before the 2006 season.

Who knows? Maybe they'll both be gone.

Stay tuned.....

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Winning At All Costs? Tee-ball Coach's Actions Reprehensible

(the following column can also be viewed at, where a new column from yours truly appears each Sunday or Monday. They will also appear here for your reading pleasure. For archives of my columns there, go to and click on "Columnists")

In this country, you are innocent until proven guilty, at least in theory. We are not supposed to convict a person until he or she has had a trial before a jury of their peers. Until then, all actions that the accused is purported to have done should have the word "alleged" preceding them.

But I don’t care about all that right now. I want to put Mark Downs’ head on a tee and bash it with the heaviest bat I can find.

In case you weren’t unfortunate enough to have to read this story, allow me to enlighten you.

Downs is a 27 year-old tee-ball coach in Pennsylvania. Read that again. He is a TEE-BALL COACH. That means he is in charge of teaching the rules and spirit of baseball and sportsmanship to very young, impressionable minds. Part of that spirit is that every child, no matter what, must be allowed to play at least three innings in every game to which he shows up. On Downs’ team is Harry Bowers, 9, who happens to be autistic and suffers mild mental retardation.

When Downs’ team, the Falcons, qualified for the league’s playoffs, he calculatingly told parents not to relay the news to Harry’s mother, Jennifer Bowers. Apparently Downs, who must have the Satanic version of the Vince Lombardi ("Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing") gene inside his bony body, reasoned that Harry’s presence would damage the Falcons’ chances of winning. Most likely he was right. But news flash, you despicable, crazed nut: WHO THE #$%!# CARES? This is freaking tee-ball, not Game 7 of the World Series.

So Harry shows up anyway (damn him, right?) to the June 27 game, but instead of it ending there, and Downs’ vile motives staining this situation any further, the coach offered Keith Reese, 8 and the hardest thrower on the Falcons, $25 if he would hit Harry in the face with the ball, presumably so the youngster wouldn’t be able to play. If you think this story is already sick enough, you ain’t read nothing yet. Keith’s first toss hit poor Harry in the groin, which sent the autistic child running to his mother, crying. But Jennifer, exhibiting a kind of attitude and instilling the type of lesson into her boy that Mark Downs couldn’t possibly even dream of, encouraged her son to continue playing, convincing him the pain would soon go away and everything would be fine. Unfortunately, Harry’s mom had no idea she was sending him back into a deranged plan to intentionally put her boy out of commission. If she had, I think we may have been reading news of Mark Downs’ funeral instead of what happened next.

Re-entering the game of catch, Harry eagerly told Keith to toss a few more. Downs told Keith to "go out there and hit him harder," according to Keith’s testimony in court at Downs’ hearing. So Keith’s next throw hit Harry in the left side of the face and ear, drawing blood. According to Jennifer Bowers’ testimony, Downs "came over and told us the balls must be after him (Harry), and he suggested Harry take the day off." Keith’s father testified that after the game, which the Falcons won (who cares?), Downs admitted to making the offer. Downs of course denies this.

Jennifer Bowers went to the state police, God bless her, and they charged Downs with criminal solicitation to commit aggravated assault, corruption of minors, criminal conspiracy to commit simple assault and recklessly endangering another person. While they’re at it, the judicial system should make a Mark Downs Clause that allows, for this case only, the sentence upon conviction be that Jennifer Bowers be allowed to throw as many baseballs at Mark Downs’ head as her arm can manage.

It turns out this is not Downs’ first brush with the law. He is now facing charges for allegedly threatening and assaulting his fiancee in May. Just the kind of dude you want coaching your 9-year-old, huh? In fairness to league president Eric Forsythe, he had never had any complaints about Mark Downs prior to this beanball incident. But if Forsythe knew about the assault charge against Downs on his fiancee -- and I’m not sure if he did -- he should have immediately suspended Downs from his coaching duties. Or, "take a few days off," to use Mark Downs-like logic.

Downs was ordered to stand trial (he didn’t testify during the hearing, which speaks volumes), and when that decision was rendered, the evil coach stormed out of the courtroom and left the parking lot with tires squealing, according to bystanders. His lawyer, Tom Shaffer, told Sports Illustrated his client is innocent and that the media are trying to make a pariah out of Downs.

Sorry, Tom -- Mark Downs did a fine enough job of that all by himself.

Yeah, yeah -- everything is "alleged" and nothing’s been "proven" and Mark Downs isn’t officially guilty of anything and all that rot. But if this incident didn’t happen the way the kids and Jennifer Bowers and Keith Reese’s dad testified it happened, then I’ll swallow a baseball glove. Downs is reprehensible and if he’s allowed within 100 miles from another tee-ball game, it’s too close. He has twin daughters, by the way (they both play for the Falcons). Please pray for them.

As for Harry Bowers and his mom Jennifer, I implore you to know that not all molders of young minds and attitudes are as contaminated with immoral stench as Mark Downs. Sometimes it may seem like the bad guys are all over the place, but jerks like Downs eventually get theirs -- here or hereafter.

And young Harry will find his reward, sooner or later.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Who Was That Masked Man Wearing #91? Not Robert Porcher

I’m not sure who it was wearing #91 for the Lions during last night’s exhibition opener against the Jets, and frankly, I don’t care. All I know is that it wasn’t Robert Porcher, and so as far as I’m concerned, it shouldn’t have been worn, period. At least not this soon, anyway. Maybe not ever again.

Porcher, who retired last season after 13 years as a Lion, was by far the best defensive lineman the team had during his time here (1992-2004). He was also one of the biggest contributors to the metro area, from a charitable standpoint, as any athlete around town. He rarely complained, and allowed his contract to be reworked a few times so the team could sign other players. Anything for the good of the team, Porcher reasoned.

Porcher was the best d-lineman in Detroit from '92-'04

So now they would casually give his number to someone else? In the first freaking exhibition game since he retired? My goodness, the body isn’t even cold yet.

Look, I know there are still tons of players in camp, which means you use up a lot of numbers, but last I knew, there are 100 possible numbers that an NFL player can wear (0-99), and even with the few numerals the Lions have retired, that still leaves well over 90. And the team couldn’t have found one that wasn’t 91 for that lineman to don in Friday night’s game?

Maybe you don’t agree with me that Porcher’s number should be officially retired, joining the likes of Bobby Layne, Doak Walker and the rest, but the Lions could have still honored him by not handing out his 91 so quickly. It just struck me as untoward that someone else should wear 91 so soon after Porcher wore it with so much consistency and pride. This is certainly nothing against the young man who wore the number last night -- and I really should get his name -- but he can’t possibly, at this stage of his career, so much as carry Robert Porcher’s jock.

I remember when the Lions did the same thing to Alex Karras’ #71. He was released during camp in 1971, and within weeks a young man named Bob Tatarek was wearing the same number that Karras wore so brilliantly between 1958-70. That bothered me, too.

I hope I’m not the only one who found the sight of #91 running around the field and it not being Robert Porcher as offensive. I hope someone around the Lions realizes this catastrophic mistake and corrects it, before the home exhibition opener next week.

Until then, whoever you are that was wearing the jersey last night, no offense, but you can never be the REAL 91.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Eagles Give T.O. A....T.O

The old baseball manager, Joe McCarthy, just after becoming the leader of the Red Sox in the late 40's, was asked how he would handle Ted Williams, who had a reputation of being a rather petulant player.

"Any manager who can't get along with a .400 hitter," McCarthy said, "should have his head examined."

I thought of McCarthy when I was reading and watching the Terrell Owens soap opera unfold in the Eagles' camp. However, I don't think coach Andy Reid should necessarily have HIS head examined, although you wonder what is going on with both coach and player, since both have so much at stake.

Owens is the best wide receiver in the game today, as much as I hate to admit that. The Eagles are a championship contending team. Reid is a well-respected coach who has done a brilliant job since taking the reins. So the last thing that team needs is the nonsense that is happening now.

Reid sent T.O. home for a week -- he's supposed to return to camp August 17 -- and if you are able to decipher what really happened to precipitate that, you're better than me. All I've been able to muster is there was some sort of confrontation/altercation/situation -- or anything else that ends in "ion" -- and the coach thought it would be best if Owens went home and shot baskets in his driveway (I've seen that footage almost as much as the O.J. "chase" in the Bronco).

This might be considered a flukey bump in the road, except Owens has a history that would suggest otherwise. He alienated folks in San Francisco, even suggesting that quarterback Jeff Garcia might be gay. He has publicly called out his own QB, Donovan McNabb, chiding him for being sick late in Super Bowl XXXIX. He did the Sharpie thing in the end zone. He mocked the Cowboys by spiking the ball at midfield. And now this with Andy Reid.

It's nice to know that, even though there haven't been enough wins on the field, the Lions have been mostly free from this sort of drama. You'll be hard-pressed to come up with any confrontational moments that have gone as public as the Owens-Reid saga. Of course, all this nice-guy stuff with the Lions hasn't done much for the won-loss record, either.

However, there have been some priceless moments, both involving former running back Joe Don Looney. When asked to deliver a play into the huddle during a game, Looney snarled to coach Harry Gilmer, "If you want a messenger, call Western Union."

Also, when Looney had failed to show up for a practice during camp, veteran linebacker Joe Schmidt was asked to cajole Looney into leaving his guitar and his dorm room at Cranbrook and join the team on the field.

"I haven't missed a practice in 12 years," Schmidt said, hoping to inspire Looney.

"Really, Joe?," the flakey back said, "then maybe you should take the day off, with me. You deserve it."

Schmidt had no reply for that one.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

This Year's Curse Busters: The Chicago White Sox!

It must be in vogue now to break curses. It’s a new trend, apparently. It began last season with the Red Sox putting the ghost of Babe Ruth where the sun don’t shine.

Now the White Sox seem on their way to exorcising their own demons.

I gotta tell ya, I thought, back in May and June, that the Chisox would come down to earth. I thought there was no way this club could come out of nowhere and play .660 ball for an entire season. But everytime I look, their record is on par with our beloved ’84 Tigers, who started 35-5 and never looked back.

What tells me that this may be their year is they keep winning those darned one-run ballgames, many of them in extra innings. They did it again last night, victimizing the Yankees 2-1 in 10 frames. Making the Yanks victims is also becoming a hot new item.

The White Sox haven’t won a World Series since Babe Ruth was a teenager. It’s been almost 100 years, folks. They haven’t even been to the Big Dance since 1959 – 46 years ago for all you non-mathematicians. There were divisional crowns in ’83 and ’93, but that’s been it. In neither case did they come close to advancing past the ALCS.

They are making a mockery of what was already a suspect AL Central. Even the Twins, who have owned the division lately, have been made pedestrian by these South Siders. Not even injuries to the aptly named Big Hurt, Frank Thomas, have slowed the Sox down. They have pitching, defense, clutch hitting, a pugnacious little manager, and what else do you need?

But this isn’t just some cute little team that is only capable of winning the Central. They have the goods to go all the way. They’ve done it to the league for this long – why not a little longer? I’ve given up on them folding. They show no signs of slowing down. Frankly, I don’t think manager Ozzie Guillen would allow it, anyway. He reminds me of Billy Martin, only Latin American and sober.

I know it may still be too early to call the AL for the White Sox; this isn’t an election, after all. But if you can find any chinks in their armor, I’d sure be glad if you’d let me know about them. I don’t think even the mighty Red Sox have what it takes to upend the White Sox’ apple cart.

Plus, the Red Sox are so last year, anyway. This year’s curse busters reside in the Windy City.

Do I hear “Cubs in 2006?”

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Should Alan Trammell Return Next Year As Tigers Manager?

Managing can be a lonely job

Last year I wrote a column that wondered, basically, how the Tigers could ever fire Alan Trammell. I said it already was, at that time, difficult to imagine the Tigers NOT being managed by Tram – he seemed firmly set, even in his second season.

Now, if he’s firmly set in anything, it might be cement boots.

Just one year later, Alan Trammell’s name is slowly turning into mud. The whispers actually started last year, but most of those folks were ignored; it was too soon, cooler heads said, to accurately judge Trammell as a big league manager.

But after 112 games in 2005, those whispers have not only gotten louder, they’ve gotten more frequent and have gained credibility. The Tigers sit at 53-59, once again hopelessly out of the playoff hunt, even the wild card variety.

Like I’ve indicated here before, Trammell may be in over his head a bit with this managing thing, now that he has genuine big leaguers to guide. On paper – ahh, the dreaded words – the Tigers’ lineup seems formidable. Yet, they have trouble scoring runs. The pitching staff has been above average, yet the team still can’t win because the offense has been inconsistent. Does Alan Trammell go to bat? No, of course not. Does he pitch and play defense? No. But neither has any manager who’s ever been fired, unless you’re Lou Boudreau or Frank Robinson or one of those other playing managers from the days of yore.

So it’s not about Trammell doing it on the field himself. It’s about how he can motivate his players to do so. And it’s also about in-game strategy, which has been suspect. How else can you explain the ills of a club who, by rights, should be bobbing along a few games over .500?

The feeling is here that Alan Trammell should get one more season to prove himself. I never have liked the idea of firing managers every couple of years, especially when Year One in Tram’s era was a mockery of big league baseball. So next season would be, in my eyes, his third season of managing genuine major leaguers. By then, we should certainly know whether he has what it takes.

I must say, however, that I am getting the sinking feeling that Tram is the guy that takes you from Point A to Point B, but that another man may be needed to go from Point B to the playoffs, which I guess is Point C under my logic. Call it point-to-point managing.

The other night the Tigers managed to win one.

"We’re going to keep battling,” Rondell White said afterward. “There are a lot of games left to be played.”

That’s something, I guess. Maybe Trammell hasn’t lost the troops after all. That buys him another season, too, in my book.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Will "The Great One" Be "The Great Coach"? History Says No

I never cared much for Wayne Gretzky as a player, early on in his NHL career. I’m not sure why; I think it was because I thought him to be soft, and a bit of a whiner, and how dare he be compared to Gordie Howe, anyway?

But as the years wore on, my disdain for The Great One dissipated into begrudging respect, then eventually a genuine affection. He grew on me. I developed a taste for his kind of hockey. And, I had to admit sooner or later, the kid could play, couldn’t he? It’s amazing that he did it for so many teams, though.

Now I actually sort of revere Wayne Gretzky. I have admired what he has done for hockey, especially since he retired. He sincerely cares for the game, and considers himself a guardian of it. And that’s a very good thing.
But history is against Gretzky now, and I think that is part of what drives him in his latest endeavor. Gretzky will be the next coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, and the challenges don’t get much greater than that. The team has won no playoff series -- zero, zippo -- since 1987, right when Gretzky was in the middle of winning Stanley Cups galore with Edmonton. They weren’t even in Phoenix then -- they were the Winnipeg Jets. Wayne could do better than to coach the Coyotes, except for he’s one of the owners, so he sort of has to do it if he wants to coach in the NHL. And he must want to coach, very badly, for this will be no picnic.

I say history is against him because how many true superstars have gone on to become superstar coaches? Or great coaches? Or even good ones? It’s not that Gretzky risks tarnishing his reputation; he’s done too much for hockey for that to happen, I believe. But it’s likely he won’t have all that much success, either. However, if Wayno wants to look somewhere for inspiration, he need not look further than Larry Bird, and that was pretty recent. Bird, who never was much for coaching and had to practically be dragged kicking and screaming into it, led the Indiana Pacers to the NBA Finals. So that’s something, I suppose.

But mainly it’s been a path full of carcasses when it comes to great players trying to coach, or manage. Ted Williams did all right for awhile. He was Manager of the Year in 1969. So we have Bird and Williams. Got any more?

The popular reasoning for this phenomena is that great players have natural talents and abilities that simply cannot be imparted to other players. You can talk theory and approaches all you want, critics say, but when it comes right down to it, either a player can play or he can’t. And the superstar player-turned-coach doesn’t have the patience to deal with such mortality. Usually they throw in the towel before they’re fired.

Wayne Gretzky just might have what it takes to be a successful coach in the NHL. I think that if anyone can do it, he can. Gretzky seems grounded and wise to the mountain up which he is about to climb. He knows the game up, down, sideways and around. I wouldn’t bet against him, that’s for sure. But the odds aren’t favorable; they never are when a Hall of Fame player tries to be a coach.

Especially when the team he is about to coach has a legacy of failure as long as his of success.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Detroit Has Another Hall of Famer -- Congrats To Jerry Green

When it comes to Hall of Fame debates – who should be in and who shouldn’t – there can be much argument, depending upon whom you’re discussing. You know, does so-and-so have the numbers? Was he a “gamebreaker”? Was he an “impact player”? Does he belong with the other all-time greats?

Well, there should be no such doubt when the person in question is Jerry Green.

Jerry Green has covered every Super Bowl, and doesn't plan on stopping

Green, the venerable sportswriter for the Detroit News, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame yesterday, along with other no-brainers like Dan Marino and Steve Young. As far as I’m concerned, Jerry Green blends in just fine with those guys.

I have been reading Green for over 30 years. One of my favorite sports books is “The Detroit Pistons – Capturing A Remarkable Era,” which came out in 1991. It’s a wonderful account of the surreal early history of a franchise that was pretty messed up for a pretty long time. Green’s perfect mix of sarcasm, irony and factual reporting makes it a must-have coffee table book. It works well in other rooms, too, but I’ll leave that to your imagination. It’s a guy thing.

Green is one of only five men who have covered every one of the 39 (or, XXXIX) Super Bowls. He plans on making it 40-for-40 next February at Ford Field. He is 77 years old, and retired officially, but he still makes the rounds.

“I was like all other kids my age,” Green said in an interview for the News, “I wanted to be an athlete. I wasn’t good enough, so I became a sportswriter instead.”

Thank goodness for that.

I had the pleasure of meeting Green at a function in April, 1998 to trumpet Sparky Anderson’s book, “They Call Me Sparky.” I was so happy to be able to tell Green, in person, how much I enjoyed reading him and especially his Pistons book. He seemed genuinely humbled and maybe even a tad embarrassed by my accolades. But it made me feel good, because I’m sure guys like Jerry Green don’t get too many folks telling them how much their work is appreciated.

So here’s another chance for me to laud you, Jerry Green. Congratulations on the Hall induction, and have fun at your 40th Super Bowl. Maybe the Lions will honor you by joining you there – on the field.

Hey, a fella can dream, can’t he?

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Something For Joey -- Finally; So Does He Have What It Takes?

(the following column can also be viewed at, where a new column from yours truly appears each Sunday or Monday. They will also appear here for your reading pleasure. For archives of my columns there, go to and click on "Columnists")

Do or die for Joey in 2005? Probably yes

When Joey Harrington joined the Lions as a top draft choice in 2002, there was no shortage of excuses as to why he couldn’t become a successful NFL quarterback.

No running game. Poor receivers. A coach who may be even more clue-free than he is. A suspect offensive line. Nobody to push him. A franchise that has been a graveyard for quarterbacks in any year that followed Bobby Layne.

If the excuses were a grocery list, then team president Matt Millen has been pushing his cart with one hand and crossing items off with the other.

Proven coach -- check. Better pass catchers -- check. A running back that teams must respect -- check. A better and more experienced offensive line -- check. A legitimate backup that can push him and talk to him -- check.

So what will the Joey apologists say now?

I don’t consider myself an apologist nor a basher of Harrington. I suppose I’m a fence-sitter, which makes me a sideshow freak in Detroit, where it is not only accepted but expected for fans to be on polar opposites when it comes to the quarterback position. However, whether I’m pro-Joey or anti-Joey or let-me-wait-and-see-about-Joey, the facts are plain: everything is in place now for the Lions quarterback to finally start busting a move.

Look, the offensive tools Harrington has now, compared to what he was working with in his rookie year of 2002, is like the difference between a race car driver behind the wheel of a Ford Escort and a Maserati. There is no comparison when it comes to the skill players wearing Honolulu Blue and Silver in 2005 and the jokers masquerading as NFL’ers in 2002.

When he’s not figuring out which talented receiver he should target -- Roy Williams, Mike Williams, Charles Rogers, Kevin Johnson or Marcus Pollard -- Joey can simply hand the ball off to running back Kevin Jones and let him do his thing, which he did better than anyone in the second half of 2004. All that is supposed to make an NFL quarterback’s life easier, is it not?

Of course it is, and that’s why this year -- 2005 -- is the year we should find out whether Pal Joey has what it takes to be a bad-ass QB in the NFL. But it’s far from the only reason.

Jeff Garcia is in camp, after all, and that may be the most important factor in Joey’s development than anything else. Finally -- FINALLY -- the Lions have provided Harrington with a #2 guy who has actually played a little bit in the league and, bonus, has gone to some Pro Bowls and won some playoff games. Not one Detroit quarterback, since Layne’s days of the 1950’s, can you say all that about. Not a one. It’s both amazing and shameful that the Lions have had one signal caller -- Greg Landry in 1971 -- make the Pro Bowl in nearly 50 seasons. The team has been the league’s undertaker when it comes to the quarterback position. And its cemetery is running out of room for headstones.

But this is the closest thing the Lions have had to a potentially killer offense since the glory year of 1995, when Scott Mitchell was surrounded by Herman Moore, Brett Perriman, and a running back named Barry Something-Or-Other. That club broke some records, both franchise and league-wise, but the end result was a horrific playoff blowout in Philadelphia. Of course, it’s pretty hard to blame the offense when the defense gives up 58 points, as it did in Philly that day.

Yep, weapons abound for Harrington as the 2005 season beckons. But let’s get back to Garcia. I’ve always felt that one of the biggest mistakes the Lions were making in recent years was not providing Joey Harrington with a backup who’s had some success in the league. Not only to push him on the field and presumably improve his game, but to be an extra ear and mouth. You know, someone that can talk quarterbacking and listen -- someone who’s had the kind of success on the field that Harrington has heretofor only been able to imagine. It isn’t always good enough to just have a quarterback coach. A player like Harrington needs a peer. He needs a guy who can take him aside, as a fellow QB, and fill his mind with all the nuances and tendencies of opposing players and defensive schemes. And, of course, he needs a backup that everyone in the league knows could step right in and lead the team without any significant drop-off in production. Jeff Garcia meets all those requirements. Too bad the Lions stunted Harrington’s growth for three seasons before bringing in a guy like that.

Garcia is -- finally -- the veteran backup Joey has needed

There’s a double edge to this sword, however. Because of Garcia’s past success and apparent ability to continue to be successful, it will be even sooner that fans will start calling for a change behind center. And we have yet to be convinced that Harrington thrives under that kind of pressure. So while it may be comforting for Lions fans to know that Jeff Garcia waits in the wings, it should be just as much of a concern, maybe more, to think what a change could do to Harrington long term. Because the future is Joey Harrington, not Jeff Garcia, who is 35 years old by the way. But this quarterback controversy risk is a risk that should be well worth it. Let’s face it, Harrington wasn’t going to get any better with Mike McMahon on the sidelines holding a clipboard.

The Lions can win with Joey Harrington as their quarterback -- I’m convinced of that. The Baltimore Ravens won a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer, don’t forget. But what has me still teetering on the fence, mostly by myself, is the fear that the team will not give him the chance to prove that before getting seduced by the Garcia-Steve Mariucci connection, hoping the two of them can re-create the salad days in San Francisco. But, like I said, that risk comes with the territory when you sign a legitimate NFL quarterback as your backup.

So will this be the year we find out whether Joey has the goods? Is this the make-or-break season for him? Will all those offensive weapons make it easier for him to be a winning quarterback?

Let’s wait to answer those questions -- at least through the first two games, okay?

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Chris Osgood A Red Wing Again? Surrre....Why Not?

It’s looking a lot like Chris Osgood will be the Red Wings’ new/old #1 goalie, especially now that the Blackhawks have signed Nikolai Khabibulin, who was probably too expensive for the Wings anyway. My thought? Welcome back, Chris. My second thought? You must REALLY like Detroit.

Why else would Osgood subject himself to the burden and anguish of playing goal in Detroit? But he may be as crazy as a fox, because there isn’t much of an act to follow here. Curtis Joseph didn’t get the team past the second round -- not that it was all his fault -- and the lockout has made everything seem like a distant memory when it comes to the NHL. I believe the fans will welcome him back with public shows of cheers and the like, but privately they will grumble that we couldn’t get anyone "better."

But what’s the matter with a netminder who has won a Stanley Cup -- in Detroit, of all places? It must be the Trent Dilfer syndrome. You know, "We won despite him, not because of him." Poor Chris Osgood. He’sa nice guy who has had a pretty darn good NHL career, yet he still can’t seem to shake the notion that he’ll never be, truly, one of the elite goalies in the league.

News flash, folks: He doesn’t have to be Hall of Fame material -- just good enough not to lose games. This Red Wings team is still well-stocked with talent, so I don’t believe you need an All-World goalie to win the whole enchilada. Isn’t that how the Wings won in 1998, all you Osgood-bashers? Despite of Osgood, not because of him?

Bring it on, Chris.

So you think today’s professional athletes are overpaid, spoiled brats? That they think of nobody but themselves? That they couldn’t care less about the fans, who, after all, help pay their salaries?

Well, here’s something that should make you feel a little better.

The other day at a Cincinnati Reds game, a six year-old boy was at the ballpark with his grandfather. Apparently the grandfather collapsed with a heart attack, creating quite a scene in the stands. Realizing the small boy was traumatized, Reds players and staff escorted him away from the frightening situation and, for the next several hours, the boy went everywhere from the field to the clubhouse, being showered with gifts from players such as batting helmets, gloves, and other items.

Unfortunately, the grandfather passed away due to the massive heart attack. But reading the account of how the Reds players treated that little boy was extremely encouraging and renewed my faith in the professional athlete’s spirit.

"We just didn’t think the little guy should have been alone," Ken Griffey Jr. said.

My hat’s off and the Reds may be my new second-favorite team, surpassing my beloved Dodgers.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Surprise! Key To Lions' Offense May Be The Tight End

There’s a snake lying in the grass on the Lions, as far as opposing teams should be concerned. That is, if snakes were over six feet tall and weighed over 200 pounds.

Roy Williams. Charlie Rogers. Mike Williams. The Kevins Jones and Johnson. All these, plus pal Joey Harrington, will get all the ink and airwaves in the next few weeks as Lions fans and the media goof around trying to figure out where the team will finish this season, or how they will begin.

But wait a minute -- what about Marcus Pollard?

Pollard, a tight end signed away from the Colts, is the aforementioned snake. While defensive secondaries scramble all over themselves trying to cover the Lions’ talented receiving corps, Harrington should be able to earn a lot of his dough finding Pollard for six, seven, eight yard gains as if he was playing a game of catch.

Pollard got lost in the shuffle in Indianapolis, too, mainly because of some quarterback named Peyton something, and the fact that all those TD passes the QB tossed went to receivers and running backs. But Pollard is a veteran, more than capable receiver, and he gives the Lions something they haven’t had since perhaps Charlie Sanders -- a veteran, more than capable receiver at the tight end position.

Pollard should be able to help the Lions point the way this season

With the Lions, tight end has seemed to either be a place for an untested rookie or an over-the-hill guy. It’s either been a Casey FitzSimmons or Rodney Holman type, to give you a couple of examples. David Sloan looked to be on the verge of goodness, but he got hurt and was never the same. But Pollard can catch, block some, and has been a part of explosive offenses before, something that folks are whispering could be used to describe the Lions this season.

Besides the suspect abilities of the men who’ve played the position, the Lions have also treated the tight end like a leper. In the run-and-shoot days, tight ends weren’t even on the roster. Then, when they did accumulate them, the Lions refused to use them. Or, they had a guy who could block but not catch, or who could catch but not block. They made up a good tight end -- combined.

In this West Coast Offense, supposedly, the tight end gets some touches, to use a basketball term. And you could do a lot worse to touch the football than Marcus Pollard. So if the Lions are serious about this West Coast thing, I suggest they look Pollard’s way when it comes to a crucial 3rd-and-5 kind of play. Seriously, I can’t imagine how you can cover everyone with this offense. Or Pollard could help lead the blocking on a screen pass to Kevin Jones. See how easy it is to be an offensive coordinator sitting in front of your computer monitor?

All levity aside, watch for Marcus Pollard this season. The dude can play a little bit of football, and he plays it at a position that will be often ignored by opposing defensive coaches. That’s how you get bitten by snakes, you know.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Five More Years Of Millen? GOOD!

So I see where Matt Millen just signed up for five more years. And you know what? I’m glad.

Relax, all you Millen-bashers; don’t go looking for a pigskin on which to gnaw. The Lions need this, really. You can’t be changing directions every few years. And, I hate to break this to you, but Matt is actually doing a pretty good job. It just took him a few years to feel his way in this football executive thing.

The man has drafted well, and although I’m not going to throw a bunch of factoids at you to support that claim, suffice it to say that there are quite a few starters and contributors on this club that are Millen draft picks. Free agency has seen some busts, but mostly the players Millen has brought in have been serviceable, even Pro Bowl caliber in some instances. Look at the roster right now -- it’s full of youth and speed and skill, on both sides of the ball. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Matt Millen’s roster appears to be more suited to face the rigors of this NFL season than Ken Holland’s most recent Red Wings roster was to be successful in the most recent NHL playoffs. How about them apples?

Millen’s biggest mistake -- and he made many, I know, at first -- was hiring an inexperienced man as his first head coach. Millen himself has admitted that he, basically, was clueless at first, stepping from the broadcast booth into an NFL front office. So it didn’t help matters that he hired Marty Mornhinweg, who had never been a head coach in the league. The blind-leading-the-blind approach was disastrous and set the Millen agenda back a few years. His second biggest faux pas, in my eyes, was waiting three seasons before he provided Joey Harrington with a legitimate NFL quarterback to push him and help him.

But both of those errors have been corrected, and all there is to do now is tweak things and allow Steve Mariucci to prove his value. That’s exactly the position in which a good football executive should place himself. And with Millen’s new extension, it sends the message to Mariucci and the players that the boss ain’t going anywhere anytime soon. That means stability, and that is what every successful NFL franchise has had.

Did I just insinuate that the Lions are on their way to being a successful NFL franchise? Well, all I’ll tell you is that yesterday’s news of Millen’s re-signing didn’t do a thing to harm those chances. No joke.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

All Those Who Should Be In The Hall Of Fame Take A Step Forward -- Not So Fast, Raffy

Well, well -- I’d say the voters who decide such matters as which players are eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame will have quite a little dilemma on their hands in five, six or seven years -- depending on when Rafael Palmeiro retires.

Palmeiro was proven to have used steroids, which not only is a violation of the game’s rules, but a violation of his own words, when he waggled his finger at Congress in March and said, "I don’t use steroids, and never have. Period."

Instead of "period," maybe he should have used some other form of punctuation, like "semi-colon," or "ellipses" or "comma," followed by a qualifier of some sort.

Raffy, with his own brand of denial (love the index finger)

Now Palmeiro says he didn’t "knowingly" ingest these steroids, and frankly, that’s where I stop following that part of the story. I guess anybody can deny anything if you use logic like that.

But the part that I won’t stop following, because it’s far too big to ignore and it makes for great debate, is whether or not Raffy should be allowed into the Hall of Fame. My knee-jerk reaction was yes, because I also believe Pete Rose should be in the Hall.

But then I stopped myself and thought, "Wait a minute -- Petey should go in because I don’t think what he allegedly did had anything to do with what he accomplished as a player on the field." Ahh, there’s the rub -- because if Palmeiro indeed used steroids, and used them for any considerable length of time, then that definitely impacted his performance between the white lines.

Gentlemen, start scratching your heads and rubbing your chins. And, altogether now, "Hmmmm....interesting...."

This is a real problem, because Palmeiro, statistically, should be a shoe-in for the Hall, despite what guys like ESPN’s Skip Bayless argued, prior to this latest news. Bayless said Palmeiro shouldn’t be in the Hall because he wasn’t a "difference maker" or an "impact player" like his fellow 500 homerun, 3,000 hit colleagues. That’s a bunch of hogwash, and I told Bayless so (well, I emailed him and I’m sure he read it.....yeah, right). Anyhow, Raffy’s numbers scream induction, but his actions whisper doubt. And that whisper will grow into a low rumble soon, maybe by the time you’re reading this.

I have to admit, I am still on the fence on this one, because I need to know, if possible to find out, how long Palmeiro has been using such performance enhancers. I’ll bet, however, that this didn’t just start happening last week, last month, or last year. Palmeiro didn’t, after 15+ years in the majors, wake up recently and said, "I think I’ll try this steroid thing and see if it’s for me."

So accepting the fact that he has used these substances for several years, potentially, I must admit I am still on said fence because it is difficult to quantify how much those steroids helped him as a performer. Who knows -- maybe in some crazy, mixed up way, it hindered him. You never know.

My gut tells me he should be in, but I must say, there’s enough bothering me about it that I’m not sure if that’s what I ultimately will think. This situation has no precedent, really, although I’m sure the subject will come up when Mark McGwire becomes eligible in a few years. Raffy has blazed an unfortunate trail here, because he is the first of the Hall-worthy denyers to have been proven false. How proud he must be.

What also bothers me is that the news of Palmeiro’s testing positive, while disappointing, wasn’t all that surprising to me. What does that say? Am I so desensitized to this kind of news that the shock value has worn off, or do I think, deep down, that most of ‘em are guilty as sin? In either instance, it’s not a good thing and it speaks volumes about the state of the game.

How cruelly ironic that this revelation should come just weeks after Palmeiro joined the 3,000 hit, 500 homer club. Instead of celebrating that, we are mentally and verbally placing the scarlett letter on his jersey.

Got any drugs for that, Raffy?

Hey, Lions fans -- check out my colleague at MCS Magazine, Kevin Antcliff, at his blog, He is giving you some behind-the-scenes looks at training camp, including quotes and other good stuff. Visit him and gobble it up!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Jelly Has Lost Its Peanut Butter: Darren McCarty, Ex-Red Wing

They are two of the most everlasting images in Detroit sports history, post-Baby Boom Era: Kirk Gibson raising his arms triumphantly after his homerun off Goose Gossage in the 1984 World Series, and Darren McCarty artistically scoring the clinching goal in June 1997 to win the Red Wings first Stanley Cup since 1955. Ask any Motor City sports fan, and I guarantee you these two will be on the top of about 90% of the lists.

Well, McCarty is gone now, an ex-Wing thanks to the pitfalls of the new CBA between NHL players and owners. The club bought out his contract, because there was so much money to be cut and too few options around to spread those cuts. And although it happened in the thick of summer vacation, there was nonetheless a collective sigh heard around Detroit when McCarty got the axe.

Darren McCarty is a classic example of what plays well in Detroit -- hard-nosed, blue-collar, no-nonsense types. McCarty was about as Detroit as it gets when it comes to professional athletes, and he fit this shot-and-beer town like, well, a hockey glove.

This city has always embraced guys that the folks feel they can relate to -- much more so than the fancy-shmancy athlete who would just as soon leave town the moment the season is done, never to return until the curtain opens on the next one. McCarty led a rock band, was active in the McCarty Cancer Foundation, and served on the ice as protector and enforcer for the team's skilled players, of which he would admit he certainly was not one. But he did have the skill, if you want to call it that, to beat the stuffing out of Claude Lemieux when Lemieux was ripe for it, and now that I think about it, the image of McCarty pounding the turtled-up Lemieux may be #3 on that list of everlasting memories, or not much behind.

McCarty, enforcing the rules with Mr. Lemieux

Forget where certain guys are born and reared -- players like Darren McCarty were adopted Detroiters, both ways. The feeling is always mutual between a guy like McCarty and the city's sports fans. If you stay here and work your tail off and don't complain and be visible around town and do some charitable things, Detroit fans will welcome you into their hearts like a new puppy. And McCarty was about as much of the fabric of Detroit sports -- Detroit, period -- as anyone who's played here in the last 25, 30 years, maybe longer.

How many other athletes have written open letters to the fans upon news of their dismissal? McCarty did, and the emails and return letters from the enthusiasts were overflowing. I'm convinced some even shed real tears. Is that corny? Maybe. But isn't it refreshing, in this day and age of the Unapproachable Athlete, to see such genuine affection between player and fan?

The funny thing is, I'm not really sure who the Red Wings plan on replacing McCarty with on the ice -- he may not have been terribly skilled but he was certainly valuable. The team says it was all about money and their hands were tied and I believe some of that propaganda. But I'm not sure how hard management worked to get creative and try to fit McCarty into the scheme of things; wouldn't he have played for less money in a restructured contract? I don't know all the ins and outs, but it would have been awfully nice to see both parties do some fancy footwork that would have enabled Darren McCarty to wear the Winged Wheel this season, and beyond.

The toughest thing may be seeing McCarty playing hockey in another city, wearing another sweater. It is highly possible, you know -- he's not all THAT old. But even if that happens, we all know he is a Detroiter in his heart. And that runs deeper around here than the Detroit River.