Monday, October 31, 2005
He...could....go...all...the...WAY! (And he did)
Okay, Jeff -- you used one of your mulligans. Not sure you have many left, though.
Surely if Joey Harrington had thrown the ugly, ugly pass that was picked off by Charles Tillman and returned for a game-winning touchdown in overtime, giving the Bears a crucial 19-13 victory Sunday, the cauldron would be brewing tar and feathers would be at the ready.
But it was Jeff Garcia who tossed the ill-advised ball -- and by ill-advised I mean it the same way that lighting a match when you smell gas is ill-advised -- and because he had a fairly decent game up to that point, except for a questionable lateral/pass/shovel thingie that created controversy, there were some boos at Ford Field, but they were muted. Almost like, "We should probably be booing right about now."
Mostly the crowd was disappointed, not angry. The Lions, once again, followed up a big win with a bigger loss. First place was up for grabs. Now it’s out of grasp.
After watching Garcia for two games now, I love his improvisation. And, after watching Garcia for two games now, I loathe his improvisation. His antics are like that famous literary line, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Sure, he can make something out of nothing, but he can do it for both teams. He’s an equal opportunity provider that way. He almost lost the game in regulation, as you know, holding up the game and causing all sort of confusion and red challenge flags -- from both teams, and that’s quite a skill -- with his goofy-looking toss that the Bears thought they had returned for a TD. The Bears thought the throw was a backward lateral. And only with the Lions can you hear a loud cheer at Ford Field for an intentional grounding penalty -- 10 yards and loss of down.
But that bit of highjinks wasn’t enough for Garcia, who I suspect read a few too many press clippings and listened to a tad too much talk radio, all exulting his ability to be "creative". I think that because he tended to want to do it a LOT. And it eventually caught up to him at the end, when he broke a rule I believe they teach you as soon as your hands are big enough to throw a forward pass: NEVER throw across your body toward the middle of the field. And especially don’t do it in your own red zone. And double especially don’t do it in your own red zone in overtime. In a game where he had some nice DO’s, Jeff Garcia had, unfortunately for the Lions, one big fat DON’T, and it cost them the game.
"I will learn from that -- definitely," Garcia said during his postgame chat with the media.
Gee, I thought after three years of high school, four years of college, and over 10 years as a professional, it would have come up in conversation a time or two.
Leave it to the Lions to have a 35 year-old QB who is still experiencing on-the-job training.
Sunday, October 30, 2005
He used to "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee." Now, he sits quietly and draws, or clips things from magazines. He does magic tricks, too, his daughter says.
But there is no magic that can return Muhammad Ali to what he once was: the most recognizable, most dynamic person in the entire world. That’s right -- not just athlete. Muhammad Ali transcended sports and cut across the many fabrics of life like a sharp pair of scissors through strands of hair. He was, in his prime, indeed The Greatest -- in his sport and on his planet.
But now he is The Quietest. His daughter, Layla, 27 and also a boxer, and also a dominant one like her dad, recently told the Los Angeles Times that her father is showing such rapid advancement of Parkinson’s Disease that some days it takes too much out of him to merely speak.
"It takes him too much energy to talk," Layla Ali, who lives in L.A., told the Times. She said her father feels "like he's trapped inside his body. He can think. He has things he wants to say, but his lips sometimes just don't move to get it out," she said.
Ali, as I wish to remember him
I’ve always felt that Ali’s decline in health has been one of the saddest spectacles in my lifetime. Close to home, we’ve seen the difference between Vladimir Konstantinov, pre-car accident and after, and that wasn’t pleasant. But that was the result of a singular, horrific event. Ali’s slide has been gradual and slow, painfully so. ESPN Classic shows a lot of his fights, and while the performance inside the ring is impressive enough, it was the performances after, between and before the bouts that are also emblazoned into our collective psyche.
"The Mouth That Roared," some called him, and hearing Ali pontificate and work prose about how he was going to take care of his next opponent, or watching him kibitz with Howard Cosell, and seeing how he could get under the skin of Joe Frazier, was, to me, a significant part of American pop cultural history. Ali was one of those rarities: an athlete who could boast better than anyone, and then actually back it up with his actions inside the "squared circle." We could shake our heads at his verbal outrageousness, but when the final bell sounded, or when the referee ended the fight, we knew we had seen a man live up to and exceed his own expectations. Ali put the pressure on himself with his words, and released it with his actions. He was his own hydraulic system.
So when he retired, and his body began to betray him, not moving through the calendar with his mind, it was there for all of us to see. You don’t be Muhammad Ali and go gently into the night, even if that’s how you would prefer it. Icons don’t vanish, like those magic tricks Ali likes to do nowadays.
"See? That’s what boxing can do to you! Serves him right -- getting knocked around like that!"
You’ve heard that, right, about Muhammad Ali? It was the next stage of his sad transformation from Showman to Slowman. Blame the victim -- the American way. Problem was, do you really remember Ali ever getting his ass kicked? Do you ever recall any fight in which his head got beaten like a drum? Of course you don’t, because you can’t hit what you can’t catch. And the poor saps who got into the ring with Ali, even the talented ones, couldn’t figure out how to get him to stand still long enough to get some really good shots in. He only went down once, that I know of -- in the first Frazier fight, one of his few losses. Of course, that was avenged -- twice.
Ali put the pressure on himself with his words, and released it with his actions. He was his own hydraulic system.
Layla Ali, herself 21-0 with 18 knockouts, told the Times that she and her father "don't talk about boxing. He might come to a fight and say, 'You're bad.' But he was never one to talk much about boxing with us. That was not him." No, he saved that for the rest of the world.
Layla and dad
The more I saw Ali degenerate, the more I found myself wishing he was like he used to be when I was growing up. I don’t really feel like that about athletes, as a rule. I let them age gracefully, and think fondly of their past lives as performing masters. You can’t stop time, I theorize. But with Muhammad Ali, perhaps because his condition robbed him of his very being with all the rapidness of the rate of lean of that tower in Pisa, I longed to put the toothpaste back into the tube. But it just wasn’t to be, of course. Parkinson’s Disease is cruel, crueler than an Ali jab or uppercut, unfortunately. It doesn’t care if you are Uncle Joe or Aunt Millie or The Greatest. It will beat you into submission, slowly but surely.
Layla Ali gave us an update on her father when she told the Times, "He has his good days and his bad days. He's taking a lot of different medications. Sometimes, his speech is so slurred, you can't hardly understand him. But he definitely knows what's going on. That's for sure. He sees everything."
That’s what has got to be so horrifying for Layla and her father. His mind is willing, but his motor skills abandon him at times, so Muhammad Ali is trapped. And the man who once packed such a powerful punch can’t punch his way out of a paper bag, much less the encasement in which Parkinson’s has placed him.
"He's just taking life easy," Layla Ali told the Times. "He likes doing simple things. He loves to draw, he likes to color, he likes to clip pictures out of magazines. And he likes to do magic tricks. It doesn't take a whole lot to keep him entertained. But his attention span is very short when the subject is something more than that."
Layla Ali fears her father’s Parkinson’s is getting worse. It is one reason she sought out the newspapers, to tell the world that The Greatest is dwindling faster than normal. I used to think that, when it was going so slow, when the disease was taking its sweet time destroying Muhammad Ali, it would be preferable to see it just do its thing already. Now that it’s happening faster, now that it might finally be overcoming him, I don’t know what to think.
I feel stung. Like from a bee.
Saturday, October 29, 2005
Heck, Eli’s okay, actually. And his new role -- that of third man in the Pistons’ telecasts on channel 20 this season -- is probably going to be the perfect role for him.
Zaret will intro the show, do some halftime stuff, and roam the sidelines as a reporter during the game. Channel 20 will do about 25 telecasts, I believe. Zaret will not appear on the games covered by Fox Sports Detroit. The channel 20 team will consist of George Blaha and Bill Laimbeer.
Remember this dude?
I can’t even remember the last time I saw Eli Zaret on television, though I know he’s been busy writing books and working in publicity. There were times that he annoyed me -- his relationship/friendship with a scumbag like Denny McLain was off-putting -- but I guess being Zaret-free for all these years has made him more palatable. For now.
I suppose I should acknowledge that Eli Zaret is part of the pop culture when it comes to radio and TV guys in this town. He’s been around for nearly 30 years, if you can imagine that. Us oldtimers remember him on the old WABX radio station, then WLLZ, and of course his first TV job at channel 4. I’ve watched him grow up -- literally and figuratively -- from a rough-edged cub reporter to a dean of sorts on Detroit air. Just another thing to make me very much in touch with my age.
As far as the actual show itself goes, I think a third guy can add some proper spice and depth to the telecast. Basketball is made for the sideline guy, with its timeouts and such close proximity to the press. It’s a nice dimension, provided it’s not overused, as some networks are wont to do. And if Eli Zaret doesn’t know by now what we Detroit TV viewers want, then shame on him.
Zaret was one of those Detroiters who zipped off to New York to make it, but then came back with his tail between his legs. Just like Bill Bonds, and Bernie Smilovitz. Ironically, the one guy who DID make it in the Big Apple, my friend Bob Page, was considered a non-conformist and a troublemaker in Detroit -- irreverant and a loose cannon. Perfect ingredients, apparently, for success in New York. Makes you wonder why Bill Bonds couldn’t make it there.
So Eli Zaret is back on TV in Detroit. Welcome back, oh-gravelly-voiced one.
Friday, October 28, 2005
Things kind of went downhill from there.
I bring that up because I read where the NFL is considering moving the Saints -- permanently -- to Los Angeles, if New Orleans can’t recover from Hurricane Katrina in sufficient enough time. So that would be a nice little "coming full circle" sort of thing for the Saints.
To tell you the truth, I’m still trying to figure out how and why the league abandoned Los Angeles as a pro football city to begin with. It may be the only time a city went from having two teams in the same league (Raiders, Rams) to none, all within a year. The Rams and Raiders both played their last games in the City of Angels in 1994.
But that’s all water under the bridge -- and out to the ocean. Now the league wants a team back in Los Angeles, and if it took a tragic hurricane and the demolition of one of its cities to make that happen, then so be it, dammit! But this business of taking franchises away from cities and returning them goes on in just about every major team sport. The NFL itself has done it -- to Cleveland. Now it would do the same with Los Angeles, which only happens to be the second-largest media market in the country. Why on earth would you want to have a team there?
When all this dust and verbal sniping settles, it will be fun to see what ultimately happens to the Saints franchise. New Orleans doesn’t appear to be capable any longer, and apparently the NFL has no interest in permanently placing the Saints in their current temporary home of San Antonio. Think the league will put out a feeler for bidders? Naah -- it’s L.A., baby. You can count on that.
The New Orleans Saints are going through a very difficult time right now -- both on and off the field. Their collective worlds have been turned topsy-turvy. They aren’t getting any breaks from the officials, and the ball isn’t bouncing their way. Some might even say they’re getting jobbed from several directions. But I admire the way they’ve handled themselves, despite coach Jim Haslett’s understandable outburst a few weeks ago. Preparing to play football games for the Saints each Sunday must be so much tougher than any of us can imagine. They are a team without a home, a microcosm of the city that they represent.
So when you consider all that, maybe it makes sense to put a team called the Saints in the City of Angels, after all. Can’t hurt.
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Happiness is telling 88 years to go to hell
It’s happened two years in a row now. The million-to-one shot came in. It snowed in hell. The calendar shows a month of Sundays. The coyote caught the roadrunner. Charlie Brown got a chance to kick the football out of Lucy’s hold.
The Chicago White Sox won the World Series, ending an 88-year drought, just one year after the Red Sox put the kibosh on an 86-year streak of no champagne. I can’t wait to see who wins it next year.
It was fitting that the Chisox would win the clinching game in a one-run affair. I don’t know what their record was in such games this year, but it was amazingly good. You have to have that over the course of a 162-game season, of course, to be baseball champions: the ability to win the close ones. It means you find ways to win games, more so than your opponents. And the White Sox won the close ones as consistently and as stubbornly as anyone in baseball in 2005, probably better. They now wear the crown, after all.
I’m not a White Sox fan, which means I haven’t experienced a lifetime void of baseball supremacy, so I wonder what the South Side folks thought all season. As their team won close game after close game, did that breed confidence in the postseason? Or was there still that feeling of dread? I’m sure a September slump that nearly wiped out all of a 15-game divisional lead caused White Sox fans’ stomachs to get queasy, but did that mean they were always nervous, always looking over their shoulder, just waiting for baseball’s Grim Reaper to catch up with the White Sox -- even in the World Series? Even during Game 3’s marathon? Or did the fans sit back, relax, and have the confidence that their team would come out on top, as they so often did in 2005?
It doesn’t matter now. The deed has been done. That chapter of White Sox history -- the longest chapter -- has been closed, finally ending, and on a happy note. It started with an old Remington typewriter and its final period was struck with a 21st century laptop. It started with Joe Jackson and Ray Schalk and Eddie Collins and Ed Cicotte and ended with Jermaine Dye, Scott Posdesnik, Paul Konerko and Jon Garland. In between there was Harry Groh and Ted Lyons and Luke Appling and Luis Aparicio and Early Wynn and Dick Allen and Bill Melton and Wilbur Wood and Ron Kittle and hundreds of others who were not nearly as talented but who nonetheless shared the same thing: the realization that their goal exceeded their grasp. Sometimes the names in White Sox history meant folly and slapstick, other times it meant near greatness. But every time it meant there would be no cigar, no trophy to fondle during the wintertime, no chest to puff out.
This business of eradicating championship droughts in baseball, I could get used to. First, it makes the Tigers’ 21-year gap measly in comparison. Second, enough is enough, isn’t it? After 88 years, how much more fun can it be to see a team fail to reach the promised land? So let the White Sox have their World Series victory, and let them enjoy it. It’s better than seeing the Yankees win, isn’t it?
I wish the Astros would have made a series out of it, though. Four-game sweeps -- and we’ve had two in a row now in the World Series -- leave an empty feeling, unless your team is doing the sweeping. In that case, you’d take it after three games, if you could. But the Astros were in their first Series themselves, and I was looking forward to having Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio getting more than four games after nearly 4,700 regular season games between them without an appearance in the Fall Classic. Oh, well. Some things aren’t meant to be, I guess.
But this is the White Sox’ moment, obviously, and maybe the Astros will be back someday and smash their streak, too. It’s the "in" thing now, apparently: longtime losers kicking the sand back into the bully’s face.
And after 88 years, the White Sox have their own freaking beach.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
I guess postseason baseball isn’t for kids anymore. Or senior citizens. Or anyone who has to get up and go to work the next morning. So who does that leave, really, to watch these games?
Obviously, people watch. The ratings say so. And that’s too bad, because it seems we’re losing a lot of potential fans at the most important, exciting time of the baseball season, because these World Series games that start after 8:30pm Eastern time are absolutely ridiculous.
It’s past 1am as I write this and Game 3 is still droning on, in the 12th inning. The game is over 4 ½ hours in length. Lord knows how many viewers have dropped off, like flies -- or nodded off, like little tired people. Just think -- in the "old days", it might only be about 5:30pm right now. It used to be that way, you know. In the days before the one-eyed monsters -- those would be TV cameras -- took over the purse strings and thus the game itself, we were treated to daytime playoff and World Series contests, and the sun actually still did rise the next day. Imagine that.
I don’t want to be naive or idealistic, because I know why they do it (for the prime time Neilsen numbers mainly), and I know this is a losing battle, but it doesn’t mean I can’t pontificate about how lousy it makes me feel to have these games start when the clock is nearing 9:00pm. I don’t expect 3:00 starts anymore, but hey, how about 7:00? A typical three hour game would wrap up around ten o’clock -- and that’s workable, in my book. And the networks would still get their precious prime time in, too.
Yeah, yeah, I know: what about those west coast people? 7:00 Eastern is 4:00 Pacific -- I realize that. Hey, bonus! At least SOME folks would get a taste of daytime World Series ball. Look, what are the most important innings: 1-2 or 8-9? It’s the finish that people don’t want to miss -- not the beginning. 7:00 starts would keep the majority of the games in the thick of prime time, and us Eastern time zone people wouldn’t need to brew pots of coffee or pop tablets of Vivarin just to get through the ninth inning.
If it’s money that talks, then why play games that cause viewers to walk -- to their bedrooms? Who will be left standing -- or at least sitting upright -- to watch the commercials on which advertisers have presumably spent a lot of money in order to be seen? By the late innings, those ads are playing mostly to dozing viewers and sleeping dogs.
Well, it’s after 2:00 now and the White Sox have surged ahead 7-5 in the 14th inning. They do know how to win those close games -- been doing it all year.
But tell me, if a World Series game ends in an empty forest of sleeping TV viewers, does it make a sound -- financially?
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
They went to 9-1 with a 6-2 thrashing of the poor Columbus Blue Jackets, a cute little team that got thumped by the Red Wings 6-0 on Saturday night. Both games were in Columbus.
I'm not sure what everyone expected out of our hockey team coming out of the gate, with a new coach and some supposedly key players lopped off the roster due to the NHL's new salary cap. And the captain, Steve Yzerman, has only played a game and a half this season. Whatever the predictions, I doubt they included this high-flying getaway.
Players like Draper have the special teams rocking
The Red Wings are kicking the league's ass right now, scoring goals by the bucketful and being stingy in the goals against department. Their special teams are par exemplar. The new coach, Mike Babcock, seems to know what he's doing, after all.
It's tempting to say, because it's the NHL, that it's "only" the regular season. But if you can win a bunch of games in October, go for it. It may help you in positioning for later in the season. Look, don't you still want Game 7 in your own building?
The Red Wings are playing with an urgency and a purpose that is usually reserved for post-trading deadline games and the playoffs. They appear to have decided that this is a new day in the NHL, a day in which they are no longer considered prohibitive favorites simply because their sweaters have a winged wheel on the front.
It's nice, actually, to see this kind of jackrabbit start by the Red Wings under Babcock. These are wins that will look awfully nice in the left hand column come March and April.
Monday, October 24, 2005
The Lions' latest savior is 1-0
In the NFL, the rule goes, there’s always some poor team worse off than you are. The trick is finding that team on Sunday.
The Lions found it, all right -- across Lake Erie, practically in their own backyard. The Cleveland Browns, it seems, are more of a mess than our football team is currently, which partly explains the Lions’ 13-10 victory yesterday in Cleveland.
But the Browns’ ineptitude -- their offense makes the Lions’ look like USC’s -- wasn’t the only reason the Lions came away with just their fourth road victory in their last 35 games away from Detroit.
The other reason -- and I hate to do this because I’m not one to agree with QB changes -- involves Jeff Garcia. I guess when I look at the choice of one quarterback over the other, I ask, "Does the new guy do things the other guy can’t or won’t?" And for one game, anyway, Jeff Garcia did so many things Joey Harrington hasn’t/couldn’t, it was almost ridiculous.
There was the rushing touchdown, for one. In case you haven’t been keeping track, Harrington has rushed for the same amount of touchdowns as I have in his four seasons here (that’s zero, in case you forgot I don’t play for the Lions). But Jeff Garcia, on 4th and goal from the one yard line, somehow managed to look for a receiver, not like what he saw, and take off running for paydirt. That sort of thing happens several times every week in the NFL, except in Detroit. Until now.
Garcia, playing on a leg that he described as "70%" earlier in the week, scrambled and ducked and twirled and twisted, sometimes leading to nothing more than a throwaway incompletion, but other times he actually found willing receivers of shuffle passes and bullets alike. All day I seemed to be saying, "Joey could NEVER have done that." And it wasn’t just the bleating of a success-starved Lions fan, either; Joey truly couldn’t have done the things I saw Jeff Garcia do yesterday. I also think it’s rather safe to say I am hardly alone today in that analysis.
Quarterback changes in mideason are the true toothpaste tube-squeezing moves coaches make, if you get my drift. If Garcia had gone out Sunday and stunk up the joint, like Ty Detmer did in Cleveland back in 2001, throwing 25 interceptions or whatever it was, then Steve Mariucci would have had a real dilemma. (Coach, here’s your paint, and there’s your corner). But it all ended up swell, for one game at least, and already Mooch was wondering, in the postgame press conference, if Garcia would be healthy enough to keep being the starter. Such are the questions one asks when the new QB is coming off a broken leg.
Chances are, Garcia will indeed be healthy enough and he will be calling the signals when the Lions host the Bears this Sunday. Speaking of the Bears, they are tied with the Lions atop the NFC North at 3-3, which makes this next game a battle for first place, I guess. Laugh at the record if you must, but the Lions haven’t played for the division lead as "late" as October 30 since....well, let me get back to you on that one. So it’s Bears-Lions for the North lead at Ford Field -- be there or be square. Okay, so it’s not a REAL division, but it’s ours and so what else is there to do but get into it a little bit?
Another piece to the Lions’ victory puzzle is the team’s baffling knack for creating turnovers and taking advantage of them. They did it again yesterday, picking off Trent Dilfer three times. By the way, if you think Joey Harrington isn’t your cup of tea.....Anyhow, the Lions’ DB’s have a nose for the ball -- you have to give them that. And, mostly, the turnovers lead to points, though Garcia did have a "Joey moment" at the end of the first half -- actually, Damien Woody did when he made a false start -- during the frantic push to turn R.W. McQuarters’ interception with a minute to go into a field goal at the very least. But other than that hiccup, the Lions under Garcia’s leadership weren’t flashy, but they made enough plays to control the clock and there appeared to be an intangible feeling that the guys were somehow playing harder for their new quarterback. Again, I hate to buy into that stuff most of the time, but it was hard not to notice the difference in the overall effort pre-Garcia and yesterday.
The problem is, Jeff Garcia is simply not the long-term answer to whatever ails the Lions offense. He may not even be, frankly, the short-term solution. There are plenty more games he could screw up, you know. But I suppose he is more of a short-term solution than Joey Harrington is, by a few whiskers. After that, who knows?
It may be a bit of a leap to say that Joey Harrington has taken his last snap as Lions quarterback, as what happened to Scott Mitchell in 1998 when he was replaced by -- ahem -- Charlie Batch, but it is within the realm of possibility to suggest that we may not see Pal Joey -- barring injury/reinjury -- for quite some time. Jeff Garcia has the reigns now, and isn’t that what most everyone wanted, from Mariucci to the fans and perhaps even the players?
So what do you know -- a quarterback change actually worked here, albeit for one game. But what happens when Garcia throws some interceptions and fumbles a couple times and generally looks like a 35 year-old has-been?
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
Sunday, October 23, 2005
"Make sure you write about the Yankees," Uncle Nick said. I guess he didn’t get the MCS part of the magazine’s title, but that’s okay -- Nick is retired now and even though he migrates to Florida, there is still a lot of New Jersey in him. And you can’t take the Yankees out of his blood. Lord knows Aunt Irma -- another one of my supporters -- has probably tried and failed in that regard.
Not that the Yankees need any more publicity, but I actually should thank Uncle Nick, because there is indeed something about the Yankees that I need to bring up.
Joe Torre will be back managing the team, and if the Yanks don’t make one other move before the 2006 season begins, they’ve already had a succesful offseason, as far as I’m concerned -- Lou Piniella be damned.
Torre belongs in the dugout, in pinstripes
The truth is, there probably isn’t anyone on this planet better suited to manage the Yankees right now than Joe Torre. That’s because to pilot that team, it’s not enough to possess a keen baseball mind, to know when to hit-and-run, or when to pull the starter and bring in the relief guy. It’s not enough to prepare for every game as if it was a collegiate final exam. It’s not enough to know the league inside and out. It’s not even enough to get the best of the Red Sox most of the time.
No, you have to have all that, and then some. You have to know how to coax Alex Rodriguez, prod Jason Giambi, communicate with Hideki Matsui, stroke Bernie Williams, please Derek Jeter, keep a pitching staff together with glue and paper clips, and oh yeah -- balance the enormity of George Steinbrenner on your shoulders, while trying to keep him from sliding onto your back.
If you can name someone who can do all that better than Joe Torre has for the past 10 seasons, then you win a kewpie doll.
Lou Piniella is available now, I see, having been freed from the purgatory that is the Tampa Bay Devil Rays -- a franchise that is fittingly close, geographically, to the Bermuda Triangle. And some Yankee backers would like to see Sweet Lou back in pinstripes. Forget that they tried that once, with marginal success. I know Piniella is older now, and presumably more mellow and maybe even wiser, but gee whiz, why in the world would you switch from the steady hand of Joe Torre to the potentially loose cannon that Lou Piniella, I believe, continues to be?
Look, under Torre, the Yankees have won and won and won, and while there haven’t been any World Series wins since 2000 -- heaven forbid five seasons go by in the Bronx without champagne -- there were four in five seasons between 1996 and 2000, including the trifecta of ‘98-’00. While all hell was breaking loose around him -- that goes with the territory when you manage the Yankees, you know -- Joe Torre kept his composure, his mouth mostly shut, and his wits about him. And he did it all while adding divisional titles and pennants and World Series trophies to his resume like you and I would add eggs and milk to our grocery lists.
Ironically, the choice to return to the Yankees was Torre’s, not Steinbrenner’s, according to recent reports. That’s usually not the case with George’s managers. But the fact that Torre has achieved that kind of status with The Boss is testament already that this particular manager is now in rarified air in the House That Ruth Built. Torre admitted that he wasn’t sure, at age 65, that he wanted to return to "As The Pinstripe Turns" for another season as a leading player.
"It was a waffle. It was going back and forth," he said during a news conference at Yankee Stadium. "It certainly came to mind: Do I want to continue to do this?" He said he spent several days with his family thinking over his future.
"I realize I still want to do this thing. I still want to manage," he said. "There's only one place to manage in my estimation. It's been the best time I've ever had, these 10 years."
It’s also been some of the best times Yankees fans have had, too -- these past 10 years. Joe Torre says there’s
only one place to manage, in his estimation. It’s a reciprocal thing, really, because there is only one person to manage the Yankees, in my estimation, at this point and time.
Thanks, Uncle Nick -- I guess I needed to get that off my chest, after all.
P.S. I understand my little cousin Stephanie -- Nick's granddaughter, just 5 -- has been under the weather lately with a nasty tummy virus. Here's wishing the little one back to good health, and also a prayer for peace of mind for her parents, Robert and Anna.
It might be saying a bit much to note that Jim Leyland holds the very future of the Detroit Tigers franchise in his 64 year-old hands, but he does. The Tigers have tried just about everything in the last 12 years to muster a winning record, and Leyland is the last managerial type that hasn’t been taken for a test drive. Let’s just hope he isn’t an Edsel.
His resume would suggest he isn’t, however -- an Edsel, that is -- and it says here that the Tigers have finally found their man. Jim Leyland will bring pride, execution, and fundamentals back to the Olde English D -- whether the players care for it or not.
This is it, baby. The Tigers have tried nice (Alan Trammell), high-strung (Phil Garner), unknown (Luis Pujols), stoic (Larry Parrish) and vanilla (Buddy Bell), all since Sparky Anderson retired after the 1995 season. Not one of these men had the guile, the wiles, or the wherewithall to somehow coax, prod or navigate the Tigers to any record in which their wins outnumbered their losses. So it is still that Sparky -- retired for 10 years now, and counting -- remains the last man to guide the Tigers to a winning record. That was in 1993. Since then, my wife and I have had a daughter born prematurely, grow up, go to kindergarten, then grades one thru five, and now she begins her first year in middle school, as a sixth grader. She has managed to grow up and mature. The Tigers have done neither in 12 years.
Leyland has been to the promised land,
a change from recent Tigers managers
But that will change with Jim Leyland. Maybe not next season, but not long after that. In the list of former managers post-Sparky, did you notice something absent? Specifically, something big and shiny and gold?
Leyland has a World Series ring, and he got it working with Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski down in Florida, with the Marlins. So there’s the something new -- the last bullet in the holster, the final two bits: trying a manager who has actually reached the end of the baseball rainbow and found gold. Maybe the Tigers are just saving the best choice for last.
If nothing else, Leyland will bring order, discipline and respect back to the clubhouse, which under Trammell was about as harmonious as an elevator being shared by Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. There was nonsense that went on in the Tigers’ lockerroom that you wouldn’t believe, and after I found out about it, it was very clear that Trammell lacked the clubhouse presence his idol and mentor, Sparky Anderson, so keenly possessed. Some of what happened was childish and almost silly, but it was also disrespectful and chasm-building. But Jimmy Leyland will straighten that out, forthwith. He will operate with a hand sorely needed by this almost motley group.
I believe that part of what has ailed the Tigers over the last decade is that they haven’t had enough players who respect the game of baseball. I almost got the feeling a bunch of them were only playing the game because there’s a lot of money to be made in it. What other conclusion can you come to when throws are made to the wrong base, running the bases is a constant adventure, and batters treat a ball three count as if it was plague-infested? The Tigers, for too long, have played with an odiferous, careless approach that could not be corrected by the under-experienced, lesser managers who’ve led them since Sparky’s departure.
"Certain things aren’t optional."
Jim Leyland’s challenge, then, won’t be to sell himself to the fans, or the media, or his bosses. He’s got all the goods to make a successful run in Detroit -- if only he can get his own players to purchase them. You see, there has to be a change of paradigm so radical, so abrupt, that it's bound to cause some rattling around, like a car’s passengers after the driver slams on the brakes. And history says that some players may be tossed out an open window when Leyland puts on the brakes. After that needed jettisoning, the new manager can go about the business of putting together a group of players who want to play baseball with respect and care to detail. You know, the winning kind.
When Sparky Anderson managed here, one of the many stories told about how tight his ship was run involved clubhouse music. Seems Sparky had a rule about when it could be played, and when it couldn’t. Apparently on this occasion, there arose a rather loud "discussion" about the type of music to be played. Two players, specifically, were at the center of the debate. After a minute or so of this bickering, the story goes, Sparky appeared from his manager’s office and said, simply, "Enough!" And that was the end of the "discussion."
No such thing ever came close to occurring in the Tigers’ den under Alan Trammell.
Back in the early 90’s with the Pirates, Jim Leyland had a much-publicized row with Barry Bonds in spring training. It was captured on videotape -- with audio. Granted, this occurred well before Bonds turned into the Incredible Bulk, but he was nonetheless the team’s superstar, and once the nation saw how Leyland handled him, a watershed moment happened. There was no mistaking who the boss was in Pittsburgh. Funny how postseason appearances were the norm for the Pirates back then, huh?
So Alan Trammell is gone, at least from the Tigers’ dugout, and with him goes his mostly inexperienced coaching staff along with snuffed out hopes that somehow the 1984 Connection -- Trammell, Lance Parrish and Kirk Gibson -- was going to save baseball in Detroit. There is a new sheriff in town, and he brings with him loads of experience in his deputies, which includes two former managers: Gene Lamont and Lloyd McClendon.
"Certain things aren’t optional," Leyland said at his introductory press conference. "Being on time, playing the right way, being a good teammate. Those are no-brainers."
Yes, they are. But so have been the Tigers in recent years.
Friday, October 21, 2005
The Houston Astros entered Major League Baseball in 1961, as the Colt .45's. No World Series appearances in their first 43 years of existence meant that the franchise hasn't really had a face.
Ahh, but they do, actually.
Craig Biggio has played over 2,500 games as an Astro; Jeff Bagwell has logged 2,100+ games in Houston. That's nearly 4,700 games, or over 42,000 innings of baseball, with no World Series appearances. Until now.
What the Astros' being in this year's World Series means is that Ernie Banks is still the poster child for lengthy baseball careers without a sniff of postseason ball. At least Bagwell and Biggio have been to the playoffs prior to this season. But Banks, the great Chicago Cub, never played in anything other than spring training or regular season contests. He came close in 1969, but the Cubs blew the divisional title to the Mets.
Ernie never made the playoffs after nearly 2,600 games
It seemed for a time that our own Steve Yzerman was going to have that collar on him, but 14 years after joining the NHL, the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup. Back to baseball, Al Kaline played 14 seasons as a Tiger before the World Series of 1968.
Bagwell and Biggio have toiled largely in anonymity, but when you look at their numbers, you're looking at two potential Hall of Famers. But playing in Houston hasn't exactly been Valhalla for their career reputations.
I hope that the two of them get their just desserts in this series, mainly from the TV types, who like to make a story out of everything. But the fact that Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio are FINALLY in a World Series after 4,700 games between them is not a story that has to be contrived or exaggerated.
Welcome to the Series, gentlemen.
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Take the new NBA dress code, for example.
First of all, the NBA doesn't need a dress code -- it needs a code of conduct. You could dress every one of them in tuxedos and spats, but it wouldn't mean they would all suddenly start acting like little angels. Not that they should, of course; NBA players are people, too, and people aren't perfect. But the point is, quit concentrating on what they wear and focus more on how they behave.
It's not just dramatic incidents like the Pistons-Pacers brawl last November, either. It's a general, across-the-board reputation the league's players have, right or wrong, that they are nothing more than thugs with dough. Does some of that image come from their attire? Perhaps. But I think more of it comes from the things they say and do.
Latrell Sprewell comes to mind -- not once, but twice. First there was the choking incident with his coach, P.J. Carlesimo, back in 1997. Then there was the outrageous comments he made a year or so ago about wanting his contract renegotiated, complaining to the press that, "I have to feed my family, man." I don't think it was relevant what Spree was wearing in either of those incidents.
There are more examples I can cite, of course -- other players who have done or said things that haven't exactly been a league PR director's dream. And yes, there are a lot of good guys in the NBA, too -- no question about that. But we always tend to focus on the negative, don't we? Makes for better headlines. And blog topics.
So, I guess I am in agreement with most of the players who say the dress policy is silly and should be slam-dunked. But my reasoning may be different from theirs. It's not needed, it says here, because that's not the NBA's problem when it comes to its reputation.
If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck -- no matter how you dress it.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Tedy Bruschi, the Pats' Pro Bowl linebacker, who may one day be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has been cleared by a boatload of doctors to resume his football playing career. It was Bruschi, you recall, who suffered a mild stroke back in February.
Bruschi wants a fourth ring, but at what cost?
I've said it before in this blog, and I'll say it again: I still think "mild stroke" is an oxymoron. How the hell can there be anything minor about a stroke? You know, blood flow to the brain, all that jazz? Yet the doctors say it's okay to play again, and Bruschi, who made a wonderful decision to not attend training camp, was like a wild horse released from the pen.
Whether Tedy Bruschi can still play with the all-out, full throttle intensity that he could prior to his episode, only time will tell. Football is not a game to be played at 3/4 speed -- not even 7/8. It's a 100%, no-holds-barred free-for-all out there every Sunday, and as soon as you start thinking about how it may affect your health, you are at an immediate disadvantage -- physically and mentally.
I certainly am in no place to pass judgement on Bruschi's decision to suit up. After all, if the brightest medical minds say go for it, then who am I to say that I, too, wouldn't rejoin my teammates on the field? But I also think there would be a tiny piece of me that would be saying, "Greg, you had a stroke. What the hell are you doing playing football?"
But the decision is Bruschi's and Bruschi's alone -- though I'm sure his wife had something to say about it. Regardless, he's coming back, and from a pure football perspective, the Patriots could use him. The defending champs are 3-3, banged up, and looking very pedestrian nowadays.
There's an old saying about great players: "75% of (fill in the blank) is better than 100% of most other guys."
But playing at 75% -- mentally or physically -- can be self-destructive, especially in the violent world of pro football. I hope Tedy Bruschi remembers that when he squares himself for his first big hit.
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Harrington or Garcia: Does it really matter?
I'm sick of writing about Joey Harrington. I'm sick of speculating whether Jeff Garcia will start, or Dan Orlovsky, or anyone on the waiver wire. I'm sick of trying to explain away his lack of production, his inability to lead, and whether or not his teammates are truly in his corner.
I'm sick of it, just as I was sick of it when Scott Mitchell was giving way to Charlie Batch, and when Rodney Peete was giving way to Erik Kramer. And it doesn't just stop there, of course, with the Lions and the man behind center.
In my years watching and covering the Lions, the team has gone from Greg Landry to Bill Munson to Landry again to Munson again to Landry again to Gary Danielson to Eric Hipple to Chuck Long to Bob Gagliano to Peete to Kramer to Mitchell to Batch to Harrington. That's 11 right there, around the maypole. It takes most NFL teams 40 seconds to call a play and yell "break." It has taken the Lions 40 years to yell "break," and the only things they have broken have been quarterbacks.
It just gets old, man. At this point I don't care if it's the system that sucks, or the quarterback using it, or the play calling, or whatever. It's a chicken-or-egg thing, as far as I'm concerned. My guess is that it's the player himself, because if a guy is truly good enough, he can play the position anytime, anywhere, under any system, for any coach.
There was more about Harrington and his supposed impending abdication to Jeff Garcia in today's Free Press. Click at the bottom for that story, if you dare.
The charade here is that coach Steve Mariucci is clearly so unenamored with his quarterback that it seems to be obvious to everyone except Mooch. The coach, by the way, would make a great press secretary. I haven't seen an NFL coach talk so much in a weekly press conference yet say nothing as much as I have seen Mariucci do it. He is saccharin where the team needs some sugar.
Same old Lions.
Monday, October 17, 2005
But Kenoy Kennedy is only in his first year as a Lion. He has no clue what the thought process, nor the execution process is around here. Well, Kenoy, here it is: as soon as you knocked Jake Delhomme out of the game yesterday, along with his nine fourth quarter comebacks (courtesy Fox Sports), leaving the reins of the Panthers to scrub Chris Weinke, most of us who know about the Lions and their ways knew our team’s goose was cooked.
You see, that’s how the Lions typically lose ballgames: by having cold, mediocre quarterbacks come off the bench and leading the charge with no timeouts left, when only a touchdown will do the trick. They also lose them by having their own warm QB’s lead the charge and fail at the last moment (read: Tampa Bay). In other words, the Lions are very good at coming up just short in those kinds of ballgames, but also unfortunately very good at losing those types of games when they were the ones coming from ahead.
I can't watch either, Damien Woody
Only with the Lions can feelings of dread be evoked by having an opponent’s starting QB knocked out of the game during the final drive, with that team still almost 80 yards away from paydirt. Only with the Lions can you pretty much figure that that situation has "gut-wrenching defeat" written all over it. With other teams, you pump your fist when a guy like Chris Weinke comes off the bench needing a TD with no timeouts left and three minutes and 80 yards to go for victory. With the Lions, you pound your fist and tell Kenoy Kennedy, "NO! NO! You fool!"
Until the end, I thought the theme of my analysis was going to be The Two Jakes: the one who threw two TD passes to his own receivers, and the one who threw two to the Lions’ defenders. There were four touchdowns in the game until Weinke entered, and Jake Delhomme threw all four of them, when you think about it.
The Lions, though, are still atop their division at 2-3, tied with the Bears, who were the latest team to lay a thumping on the Vikings, which is okay by me because the Minnesota Vikings are my most hated team in all of professional sports. The constant heartbreak at their hands in the 1970’s turned me into a Purple People Hater.
Regardless, the Lions are still a first place team, and the fact that this is true and not a sick joke is an indictment of the NFC North. You don’t think the league is keeping a wary eye on the North, praying a 7-9 or 8-8 record doesn’t win the thing?
The Lions lost mainly because their offense was once again putrid (it only generated two Jason Hanson field goals) and they couldn’t punch it in after Marcus Pollard’s 86 yard reception to the Carolina five yard line. They kicked a field goal, and instead of 24-14 late, it was 20-14. And as long as the Panthers were only one score away from a win, the Lions fan’s heart went tickety-tickety.
Joey Harrington looked lost again, and his protection was awful again. And there were a couple more of those "players get in Joey’s face" confrontations again -- with center Dominic Raiola, and receiver Kevin Johnson. It was awfully evident thru the TV cameras that neither player was complimenting Joey on his hair. Or anything else for that matter.
The Carolina Panthers handed the Lions another "tough" loss Sunday. Or rather, the Lions handed an opponent another come from behind win. Either way is applicable. What else do you expect from a game where the other team’s quarterback threw two TD passes -- to both teams?
And add Chris Weinke to the long list of scrubs who have killed the Lions. Except it’s no longer a list; it’s a freaking card catalog.
Sunday, October 16, 2005
So the NHL is going to have its referees wear microphones and announce penalties to the crowd and television audience just like the National Football League officials do. Perhaps you've already seen it.
Just as long as the refs don't announce goalscorers. Or which youth hockey teams are in the building. Or the attendance figure. Or how to qualify for the between-periods contests.
For that is Budd Lynch's domain, and we can't have the league messing with that.
Lynch, 87, is in his 56th season with the Red Wings. Mostly, he has spent that time booming his baritone voice into a microphone, in one capacity or another: radio, TV, public address announcing. He spent some time in the team's public relations department. For all I know, he's helped pop the popcorn and made sure the pucks were properly frozen before the game, too.
Budd Lynch: 56 seasons and counting
I grew up watching the Red Wings in the early 1970's, and back then the television team was Bruce Martyn and Budd Lynch. Talk about a booth graced with greatness. It was like a cockpit populated by Charles Lindbergh and The Red Baron. I am telling you, it was a marvelous time to watch -- and mostly listen to -- the Red Wings, back when there wasn't much to get excited about on the ice, so you got your fun from the cracking voice of Martyn and the dramatic voice of Lynch.
Martyn is retired now -- been that way for eight years or so and enjoying his time up in Gaylord, I presume. But Budd Lynch is still kicking it with the Red Wings, from providing the 20,000+ regulars at the Joe with the pregame lineup changes to thanking them and wishing them a safe trip home. In between there are goals and penalties to announce, in a way only Lynch can: succinct, no-nonsense, and always baritone. Then, of course, are those seven words that define the NHL P.A. announcer: "Last minute of play in this period." Lynch has them all beat there, too.
I had the pleasure of meeting Lynch on two occasions -- 14 years apart and one of those as a child. In 1973, my folks had taken me to my very first Red Wings game at Olympia Stadium -- the old Red Barn on Grand River and McGraw -- and to my amazement, before the game, there was one-armed Lynch (he lost his right arm during WW II), presumably on his way to the broadcast booth. Even at nine years of age, I knew who he was, and my father asked him to sign my program. I stood, dumbfounded, program dangling, totally unfit for Lynch to sign, so my folks quickly slammed it on a nearby table and the autograph was received. Then, in 1987, working in local cable television, I met Lynch again, as a guest on one of our shows. I was much more conversive on that occasion. We got to talking about the greatest player of all time. Naturally, there was only one choice in Budd's eye. "There was none better than #9," Lynch said, referring to Gordie Howe. "And there never will be."
Lynch started with the Red Wings in 1949, which makes him a seven-decade man for the club. He makes Gordie Howe's longevity with the Winged Wheel look like the run of Magic Johnson's late night talk show.
If you're wondering why Budd Lynch isn't retired in Florida, catching NHL games on the dish, let it be known that he has tried. The team just wouldn't let him quit. In 1975, Lynch tried retirement #1, but then-GM Alex Delvecchio convinced him to stay on as the team's publicity director. Then, in 1985, retirement #2 failed when Marian Ilitch urged him to continue with the club as public address announcer.
That was 20 years ago. I think Lynch has given up trying to quit the Red Wings.
"Budd's been such a tremendous ambassador for our team and the game," Wings general manager Ken Holland said in an interview with the Detroit Free Press in February, 2004. "He's been such a big part of our history and a bridge between the eras. He's just a great human being."
Part of what makes Budd Lynch a great human being is the charity golf tournament he hosts on Grosse Ile every August. The Budd Lynch Celebrity Golf Classic benefits the Guidance Center, a behavioral health and human services organization dedicated to the mental well-being of residents in Wayne County. Only Lynch doesn't just host it. Even without a right arm, Budd plays, too. But that's nothing new. In a good summer, he'll play golf two or three times a week. He shoots in the high 80's to low 90's. Basically, his age, and then some, on a bad day.
"I don't worry about long drives," Lynch quipped to the Free Press. "I play three five-iron shots and hope for a tailwind on the long holes. Like everybody else, it's a challenge." Yeah, like everybody else with one arm gone.
Lynch started with the Red Wings in 1949, which makes him a seven-decade man for the club. He makes Gordie Howe's longevity with the Winged Wheel look like the run of Magic Johnson's late night talk show. He's been there for the glory days of the 50's and early 60's, the slapstick of the 70's and the rebirth of the club in the late-80's. Then there were the 90's, and now the 00's, and...I'm getting tired just writing about it.
Lynch is Canadian by birth, but has been living in Wyandotte for years. "My downriver liver," is how he explained it to me. For those who know, downriver is a hotbed of hockey - youth, high school, you name it. It's a fitting nest for a man whose life has been mostly sticks and pucks and rinks.
Another NHL season is underway, and that means the old One Arm Bandit - the nickname is Lynch's own for himself - is doing his thing, keeping the JLA denizens informed. He could never be replaced by a referee with a wireless microphone.
"Last minute of reading in this column."
Friday, October 14, 2005
That new player is Darko Milicic, and if he does what I think he might do, the Pistons should be right where they want to be in June, and belong: in the NBA Finals.
Darko is a different player, it seems, under new coach Flip Saunders. If he can do the following on most nights, what a terrific thing it would be:
*15 minutes, 8 points, 3 blocks, 7 rebounds*
Darko's confidence is obviously improved
That's certainly do-able, and that doesn't include the shots his 7-foot + frame alters, nor the assists he might get, or at the very least, the scoring opportunities he might create with his fine passing.
It's like a new acquisition in the off-season for president Joe Dumars: tentative, frustrated Darko dealt for a reinvigorated, confident version.
What has also been impressive about Darko -- he's already achieved "first-name only" status in this town -- is his continuing to take the high road when it comes to discussing his two seasons under coach Larry Brown.
"Larry Brown is a great coach," is what Darko usually says when asked about the difference between LB and Flip. He's only 20, but he doesn't take the bait when reporters try to get him to bad-mouth Brown, especially now that Saunders is playing him in the first quarter.
That's an amazing, refreshing change of pace for a young man who was shackled to the end of the bench for 162 regular season games and about 50 playoff games in two seasons. It all earned him the cute yet humiliating nickname, "The Human Victory Cigar," which is typically reserved for low-round draft choices or journeymen veterans, not someone drafted in the top three overall.
Darko Milicic is the new big man in Detroit, and it didn't cost Dumars a thing to get him, unless you count the dollars it took to snare Flip Saunders as his coach. Really, it was a two-for-one: Brown for Saunders and Darko.
Dumars rooks the league again.
Thursday, October 13, 2005
Steve Yzerman returns to the Red Wings lineup tonight, and it’s oh-so-wrong.
Not the return, of course -- but rather, its venue.
That we should watch Yzerman skate with the Wings for the first time (not counting those silly exhibition games) since taking a puck to the eye on May 1, 2004, in front of an enemy crowd in Los Angeles, isn’t proper. His return should be at home, in front of the 20,000+ regulars at the Joe, complete with the three-minute standing ovation. Then he should go out and score the winning goal in overtime and feel fit as a fiddle. Such heroes should be accorded storybooks, shouldn’t they?
Yzerman, when we last saw him in a game that mattered, had collapsed like he’d been shot -- which he had, by an errant slapper -- and only skated off the ice after several horrifying minutes lying on the ice, his entire career flashing before our eyes. The lasting image was of him being assisted into the dressing room, a bloodied towel pressed against his damaged eye. It was doubtful whether he’d skate back out -- ever.
It’s not the eye that bothers him now. He plans to wear a protective visor this season, most likely his last as a player. It’s been an annoying groin injury that has delayed Yzerman’s 2005-06 debut. Groin injuries can be lethal poison to hockey players, especially goalies. Naturally, goalie Chris Osgood is battling a groin injury as well. Remember how Dominik Hasek’s groin acted up a couple years ago? So Yzerman now fights through a groin problem, and once again we are left to wonder how much hockey is truly left in #19’s 40 year-old body.
All this is why Yzerman should be suiting up in Detroit, in front of the Hockeytown loyalists. Heck, he’s already missed four games -- why not a few more? Wait til the team gets back from this road trip and then stick The Captain into the lineup. Sure, he’ll get an enthusiastic welcome when he steps out onto the JLA ice, regardless if it’s his first game back or not. But it will be even more so if he does it as the Official Return. Hey, maybe the rest of the team will be so jacked up that it may prove to be a bonus to the cause.
I’m sure that if you were to poll him, Yzerman would tell you he couldn’t care less where he plays his first game in a Red Wings uniform this season. He’ll just be glad to be on the ice after that brush with career death 5/1/04. He never got caught up in all that hero worship baloney. But that’s okay -- that’s what we hero worshippers are here for.
And we say bring Stevie back on the riverfront, in front of the crazies with their Wing Nuts and their Yzerman jerseys and their $12 beers. Insert him into the starting lineup, complete with laser images on the ice before the game and a short video montage on JoeVision to boot. Do it all, and party like it’s the Cup Finals. For Stevie Yzerman is back and he’s going to give us one more go around and if the only thing that’s different in him is a plastic protective visor, after the puck he took to his eye 17 months or so ago, that ain’t nothing.
Are you listening, Mike Babcock? Come on, loosen up.
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
I have tried -- oh, how I have tried -- to support Joey Harrington. I have tried to justify his slow development by telling myself that other good -- not even great -- QB's have needed three, four, even five seasons to come into their own. I have even thought about how God-awful Terry Bradshaw was -- long before he became a God-awful TV analyst.
But I am perilously close to slipping off whatever sort of bandwagon exists for a quarterback whose winning percentage and passer rating, combined, don't even equal 80 percent.
Joey should probably look elsewhere by the end of 2006
I don't think it's going to happen for Joey in Detroit, and not all of that is on Joey. In today's NFL, it's not good enough to simply be talented. You have to be in the right "system" nowadays. You have to be in a situation that exploits your strengths and deemphasizes your weaknesses.
So what does Joey Harrington do well? (no jokes or snickers, please). Well, he has a strong arm -- no question about that. The kid can heave it. He has fire. He has a pretty good pump fake.
But he has happy feet. He feels pressure where there is none. He throws the ball too quickly. He lacks accuracy.
Now, if you find a successful system in the NFL that can match that analysis, you're a better man (or woman) than me.
Sunday's 35-17 win over Baltimore, with its storyline of Ravens players going raven mad, overshadowed what was another awful performance by the Lions' quarterback. Not even 100 yards passing, less than 50% completion rate, and two interceptions. As Sparky Anderson would say, "There ain't enough perfume in the world to make that one smell good."
Yes, the Lions won, but Harrington was lost again, the confidence he has in himself and that his teammates have in him melting away like a popsicle in August. Shoot, even the coach himself, Steve Mariucci, seems to act as if he has a remedial offense on his hands run by a first-year football student. And don't think the players don't see that.
But the Lions are "married" to Harrington just as they were "married" to Charlie Batch, to use Matt Millen's own words when he arrived in town nearly five years ago. Joey's contract doesn't expire til after the 2006 season. By then it will be time to file for divorce.
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Leyland, the Tigers new manager, in one stroke made a move that should have produced a collective "AMEN!" from fans who have been watching this team play with one eye closed: he hired Andy Van Slyke.
Van Slyke, the former brilliant centerfielder for the Pirates and Cardinals, was hired by Leyland to tutor the Tigers’ outfielders -- specifically centerfielder Curtis Granderson. The best part is, even though Van Slyke was obviously gifted, the word is he is also a student of the game and should slip into his new coaching cloak just fine, thank you. For if anyone can use some help navigating around Comerica Park’s spacious centerfield, it’s Granderson and Nook Logan and anyone else who shows up to give it a shot.
The reason I’m so hyped up about Van Slyke’s hiring is that for years -- the last few seasons at Tiger Stadium and the first six in CoPa -- the Tigers have complained about the vastness of each ballpark’s centerfield, complained about being weak "up the middle," yet they never brought in a guy with Van Slyke’s credentials to set the dudes they had straight. Then, in less than 24 hours, Leyland -- who professed to know very little about the Tigers -- identified a sore need and addressed it.
In fact, Leyland’s staff is impressive on the surface. He’ll be joined by two former managers: third base coach and bench coach Gene Lamont and bullpen coach Lloyd McClendon. Don Slaught will be the hitting instructor, and Rafael Belliard the infield coach. Word is that Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild is the frontrunner for the same job in Detroit. All are steeped in big league coaching experience, something which Alan Trammell was desperately in need of when he roamed the Tigers dugout.
But I can’t help but returning to Van Slyke when it comes to talking about the staff. He is also intriguing because he was the only member of the new staff that was a possibility of turning any offered job down. But Leyland was able to convince Andy to downplay any concerns he had and he managed to get him to Detroit. And the Tigers’ young outfielders will be far better off for it.
Oh, how the Tigers need someone like Van Slyke to teach them about outfielding! How wonderful it is to have, at their disposal daily, Van Slyke’s knowledge and feel for the game. And, frankly, isn’t nice to look in the dugout and know the coaching staff isn’t populated with neophytes?
Jimmy Leyland, for someone who told us you didn’t know much about the Tigers, you sure as heck picked up mighty quickly.
Monday, October 10, 2005
I lost track of how many times the Lions tried running straight into the Raven's defensive line when Detroit had the ball at the Baltimore 1 yard line for what seemed like an eternity. All I know is Kevin Jones was rammed into the line like a sacrificial lamb, because with the Lions' front five unable to move a rolling chair, Jones may have been running into a brick wall for all the abuse he took trying to score the touchdown.The Lions eventually did score, thanks to another of the many horribly stupid penalties against the Ravens that gave the Lions chance after chance all afternoon. Although I still don't know how the officials could tell that Artose Pinner managed to punch the ball in amidst all the humanity at the goal line.
Aww, what the hell -- give it to 'em!
The Lions' best offensive weapon wasn't Jones, however -- even though he did run as hard as I've seen any back run in quite some time. The best weapon -- and the most reliable and consistent -- was the dreaded yellow hanky. The officials threw so much yellow laundry out there -- many of them resulting in Lions first downs and/or Ravens ejections -- that you half-expected some Munchkins to pop out and sing to Joey Harrington, "Follow the yellow flagged road....follow the yellow-flagged road!" Because that's what the Lions did -- followed the yellow-flagged road straight to the end zone and victory.
It was surprising, actually, to see a Brian Billick-led team self-destruct like the Ravens did yesterday at Ford Field. Maybe the Ravens became enraged after falling behind to the Lions 14-0. Maybe they missed their anger management courses this week. Whatever the reason, Baltimore threw footballs and bumped officials and taunted the Lions and held defensively and personal fouled offensively and it was so bad at one point that the Lions actually kicked off from the 40 -- the Ravens 40, due to multiple personal fouls.
But back to the Lions offensive line, and the play calling. First the play calling: it's about as imaginative and daring as choosing vanilla ice cream with your sundae. We didn't see any rollouts during that goal line stand, or any pitches, or sweeps, or passes, or anything other than the line plunge. It was as if the Lions' play calling was on a CD that was frozen in its disc drive. It kept spitting out the same play call. Reprehensible.
As for the line, it still is, shall we say, hole challenged? (Gotta be PC nowadays). Everything -- and I mean EVERYTHING -- Kevin Jones got on the ground he got on his own. He even had to run over Ray Lewis, for goodness sakes. He had something like 29 carries for 60 yards -- thanks to four carries for no yards during the stand -- but if ever stats never told the story about a runner's day and effort, it was Kevin Jones' day yesterday. The man never had so much as a puncture to work with, much less a hole, yet he was a terror to the Ravens defenders. Taking on Jones was like taking on a bumper car. This kid is the real deal, folks.
21 penalties. Three turnovers. Two ejections. It all added up to a Lions victory, because even the Lions couldn't lose one with those kind of stats on their side. Talk about indictments -- this time of an opponent.
Sunday, October 09, 2005
I am about to share with you something that, to certain folks, should qualify me for possible extradition from this country. I am about to reveal an opinion that some would consider only slightly less sacrilege than if I lit a Bible on fire while mooning a nun.
Ready? Here it is: I don’t care who wins the Heisman Trophy. In fact, I couldn’t care less if they never gave the thing out ever again.
There -- I said it. Lock me in a padded cell and throw away the key. Make me watch replays of the 2003 Tigers. Revoke my bathroom reading privileges for a month.
I don’t care; you can do all of that to me, and then some, but I am telling you, I will never care who wins the Heisman Trophy -- college football’s crown jewel for individual achievement . And I certainly don’t give a flying football in early October who might sorta, kinda be the possible front-runner -- merely speculating, of course.
To be fair, I should also reveal that I’m more of a pro guy when it comes to all the four majors -- football, hockey, baseball, basketball -- instead of a college man. In fact, I’d rather listen to an endless loop of Lionel Ritchie songs for 16 hours while having my toenails plucked out instead of watching one inning of college baseball -- which, for as long as they keep using aluminum bats is why it is surely the most hideous of all college attempts at the professional version.
So since I’m not all that ga-ga over college athletics -- by the time I figure out who the players are and what teams they play for, they graduate or get arrested -- it probably isn’t all that shocking to know that I treat the Heisman Trophy with the same enthusiasm reserved for, say, watching cobwebs form. And I know why that is, by the way. After some brief self psychoanalysis, I hit on it: there have been so many Heisman winners who’ve flopped in the NFL -- heck, even the CFL -- that I believe it merely exploits the vast difference in quality of the college ranks versus the pro game. And I have no patience for that.
Think about it. How many Heisman winners have truly taken the NFL -- or CFL -- by storm? Oh, there have been some, no question. But only some. Mostly the hotshots who win the Heisman end up having pro resumes as long and as impressive as Dennis Rodman’s career as an actor -- or his career as a bride. For every Billy Sims, there are triple the amount -- at least -- of Andre Wares, to keep the examples local. So how can a college player perform so wondrously while on campus, yet fail so miserably as a professional? Simple: the pros are a much different animal, baby. That’s where they play REAL football, son. And the NFL guys would be glad to show you where you can place your Heisman statue -- over and over again. And they have -- over and over again.
But what really gets me about this Heisman thing is something called the Heisman Watch. It begins sometime around.....the minute the room is cleared after the most recent Heisman Trophy presentation, and doesn’t let up until they actually present the Heisman again. So there are maybe 11 or 12 minutes where we do not have to put up with the Heisman Watch. The Heisman Watch is simple, yet only slightly less annoying than that Stephen Urkel kid on "Family Matters."
I don’t care who wins the thing the night before they hand it out, so why in the world would I care in the first week of October?
Basically, the Heisman Watch means we are force-fed four or five players who supposedly have the goods to be considered the nation’s top player, and once their names have been established, every newspaper, radio and TV station, office geek, and Beano Cook will track their performances, so we can see how they compare. Forget that Tommy Smith plays games against teams like Bethune-Cookman while Joey Madison plays games against teams like Notre Dame, creating an apples-to-oranges comparison that you couldn’t top unless you literally compared apples to oranges. Forget that despite the trophy being for the "best college player", 95% of the candidates are offensive skilled players. Forget that schools launch aggressive marketing campaigns to media members and voters, complete with DVDs and media kits and probably dinner coupons or free Blockbuster rentals, all designed to sway votes for their school’s player, who we are all supposedly watching each week with baited breath, because the Heisman Watch says we should. Forget all that, because this is the Heisman Trophy, dammit, and whomever captures it shall conquer all -- until the NFL Draft in April.
Did you know that some Heisman winners never even get drafted? Or, if they are selected, it’s in a round like the seventh, when teams are just trying to fill out their lists. "Well, Fred, we need to pick a few more guys....how about that kid who won the Heisman? Maybe he’s a player." So perhaps it’s not the trophy itself with which I have an issue. Maybe it’s the fact that the winners, despite being winners, nonetheless have the odds stacked against them when it comes to being impact players in the NFL (or CFL). So now we’re back to "the college game can’t hold a candle to the pro game" thing. And the sooner all those college geeks accept this discrepancy, the better. Look, if you want to see the highest level of performance in any of the four major sports, look to the pros. End of story. If you are into the rah-rah, sis-boom-bah thing, then college is your game. That’s cool -- it’s all good. Just please acknowledge it.
Close to home, there apparently is some talk of MSU quarterback Drew Stanton being listed consistently on the Heisman Watch. Now I’m sure that if Stanton were to win, it would be a great thing for his school and the dailies here would stumble all over themselves covering it. Again, I’m cool with that. But now is too early for such talk. I don’t care who wins the thing the night before they hand it out, so why in the world would I care in the first week of October? There’s still more than half a season to be played. Do we have an "MVP Watch" in the NBA in December? In major league baseball in May? Besides, who are these faceless, nameless people who create the Heisman Watch list? If you ask me, the whole thing seems rather dictatorial and discretionary -- kind of like those phantoms who set the season’s fashion trends. "This fall, green is the thing. So go out and buy as much green as you can, and I’ll get back to you about what you should wear for winter."
Don't get me wrong. I would not have the college game’s cozy little Heisman presentation done away with, nor do I wish any ill will on those who actually watch a Heisman Watch. I don’t mind if you announce the winner and hoist him on your shoulders and immediately induct him into the College Football Hall of Fame. If that’s what floats your boat, go for it.
Just don’t expect me to care.
Saturday, October 08, 2005
The White Sox, who were less than impressive as the season wound down, losing almost all of a double-digit lead in the AL Central, beat the Red Sox into submission, finishing the three-game sweep with a 5-3 win at Fenway Park. It may have been one of the feeblest defenses of a world championship ever. Leave it to the Red Sox.
But does this series win mean the passing of the "curse ended" torch from Beantown to the Windy City? Could it be that we might see, in successive years, nearly 200 years worth of curses abolished?
The White Sox gave Boston their "A" game for three straight, playing like the June/July/August club south side fans grew to love, instead of the September impostors who were starting to make the ’78 Red Sox and ’69 Cubs and ’64 Phillies look like amateurs in the blown lead department. It’s funny how teams in sports can do an about face in the postseason and reverse their direction, both for the good and for the bad.
Our 1995 Lions, for example, ended the season with a seven-game winning streak. They were 10-6 and marched into a Wild Card game in Philadelphia as arguably the hottest team in pro football. Tackle Lomas Brown predicted -- guaranteed, actually -- a Lions victory. Then the Lions promptly got creamed, 58-37 in a game in which they once trailed, 51-7. In the playoffs. On national television.
So it’s not how you finish the regular season. It’s how you start in the playoffs. For this sweep of the Red Sox should give a boost to a team that nearly frittered away a huge divisional lead last month. They gave an entire city (except for Cubs fans) a sinking feeling, trust me. Now they are in the ALCS, but that hasn’t meant squat, either. Since 1983, the Chisox have made an appearance every ten years or so (‘83, ’93 and ‘05) and so far, they’ve come up empty. They haven’t been to the World Series since 1959. Before that? Don’t ask. We’re not talking pennant-rich franchise, here. This ALDS victory is the first playoff series win for the White Sox in nearly a century.
As for the Red Sox, some would say they are now fit to crawl back into their spider hole of ignonimy after a year of freedom. But that would be unfair. These short best-of-five series can catch some teams off guard, and it can be over so quickly. The Red Sox ran into a buzzsaw, and there you have it: Wait til next year. No matter; as long as the Bosox have the Yankees in their division, they’ll be fighting the Yanks neck and neck.
It was strange watching footage of the White Sox -- the freaking White Sox -- showering each other with champagne in their lockerroom. But all they’ve done in my book is qualify for the real deal: the ALCS. They don’t just hand out World Series berths, you know.
You gots to earn it. And the White Sox are out of practice in that area.
Friday, October 07, 2005
Charlie Rogers is like that little microcassette on those "Mission: Impossible" episodes. You know, the ones that self-destruct in five seconds?
Rogers, the Lions’ third-year receiver who STILL hasn’t played the equivalent of one NFL season, and barely half of one, is, as you know, suspended for four games by the league for a violation of the substance abuse policy. We all told him to look out for his shoulder; we didn’t know he should have been looking over his shoulder.
The ironic thing is that Rogers’ suspension came right after he uttered some comments of frustration in the lockerroom immediately following the Lions’ loss to the Bucs.
"I’m not sure what they want out of me," Rogers said Sunday after the loss. Well, I’d say for darn tootin’ what they DIDN’T want was you suspended for four games, Charlie!
Speaking of Charlie, the last players named Charlie who amounted to a hill of beans on the Lions were tight end Charlie Sanders, from 1968-77, and on defense, Charlie Weaver, a decent enough linebacker in the early seventies. So maybe going back to Chuck or Charles is the way to go. But then there are haunting images of Chuck Long trying to play like a lion, so never mind that.
Rogers’ problem, of course, has nothing to do with how his name is spelled. It has to do with all the missed time and the whispers that he is not a durable, big play receiver yet, and may never be for that matter. It has to do with an apparent lack of maturity that reared its head in the post-loss lockerroom Sunday, and has now been grossly evident after the NFL suspended Rogers.
To me, Rogers has the makings of being the Carlos Pena of the Lions: remarkably talented but only able to showcase a portion of that talent at a time, leading to demotions and worse. Call him snakebit or stupid, Rogers has nonetheless fallen far short of his NFL aspirations. Right now he must be on the "pay per catch" plan, because there is no other way to demonstrate the amount of dough the team has shelled out to Mr. Rogers.
But when all’s said and done, all the Lions want is for Charles Rogers to be healthy, happy and productive. Yet judging by his postgame comments, the injuries and the suspension, I don’t think Rogers has come close to achieving that trifecta.
So long, Charles. Again we hardly got to know yee.
Thursday, October 06, 2005
At least, if last night’s 5-1, Opening Night victory over the St. Louis Blues (what an appropriate name for that team, by the way) is any indication, Legace should collect his paycheck wearing a mask and toting a gun.
Manny talked about being nervous leading up to his first Opening Night start. He seemed to speak almost longingly of the years when he could relax and enjoy the pregame festivities, instead of having butterflies on the ice, between the pipes. But we still don’t know how Legace handled his first Opening Night as a starter, because he didn’t do anything -- because he had nothing to do.
The Wings could have talked Jimmy Rutherford into suiting up once more, for all the action Legace saw for 60 minutes against the Very Blues. Mostly, the game went like this: Red Wings control the puck for several minutes, pepper the St. Louis net, score a goal here and there, the puck occasionally gets tipped into the Detroit zone, and Manny plays it to a defenseman.
Yes, you too can be an NHL goalie!
Of course, it wasn’t Legace’s fault that he saw about as much action as a pimply-faced Chess Club member at a singles dance. The Red Wings came out jumping, they pressured the Blues, and gave them barely a cube of ice with which to work. If this were a heavyweight bout, it would have been called midway through the second period, because the Blues played as if they were on the final leg of a grueling west coast trip.
Also good to see were contributions from new Wings like Brett Lebda and Mikael Samuelsson, who each scored a goal. And this kid Daniel Cleary is like a Kris Draper Mini-Me for the way he bounces around the ice like a pinball. But it was the veteran Brendan Shanahan who reminded the youngsters what NHL justice is like, when he took the Blues’ Keith Tkachuk to task for cheap-shotting Pavel Datsyuk as the whistle blew. It’s always nice to see teammates cover for their own, especially the small scoring machines.
Not every game this season will be as easy for Legace, or Chris Osgood, or Jimmy Howard, as last night’s systematic destruction of the Blues. Heaven forbid. But for as much criticism as the Red Wings rightfully took after melting against the Flames in the 2004 playoffs, it was heartening to see a roster infused with youth and speed and hustle blending in with the scorers and graybeard veterans and playing such a precise, aggressive match. And for one game, new coach Mike Babcock is a genius, of course.
But if this continues, Manny Legace might need occasional oiling to repel the rust.
Meet me in St. Louis.
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
First impressions of the Tigers’ hiring of Jim Leyland: it’s probably what they need, although Lou Piniella would have been a special treat.
Second impressions: how did Dave Dombrowski sleep during the last month?
According to reports in the Detroit Free Press, GM Dombrowski knew "sometime last month" that Alan Trammell was a goner as manager. But he decided to let Tram finish the season "in a professional manner." Only Trammell didn’t know it.
I don’t know why I find the notion of Trammell functioning as a clueless lame duck for several weeks as being rather unseemly. How could DD look at Tram every day and think, "You’re gone, pal. You’ve got no chance of staying. The decision has been rendered." How could he look the reporters in the face and pretend that the verdict is not in? The second question is easier to answer: Dombrowski is the master of speaking without really saying anything. He would make a good presidential press secretary.
Frankly, managers are fired at every and any point during a season -- even the day before the finale. I’ve seen it. So why Dombrowski couldn’t have pulled the trigger on Tram and let a coach finish up the season -- even with a dozen or so games remaining -- I guess only he can say. Except he won’t, because as Dombrowski told reporters after announcing Trammell’s firing: "I told him the reason. I don’t think I owe you one." Next question.
No, DD let Trammell finish the season in "a professional manner." Unfortunately for the manager, "professional manner" came with a side order of angst, sleeplessness and churning emotions, most likely. All because Dombrowski didn’t see fit to tell Trammell of his decision until his precious Monday after the season. So Trammell got his "professional" ending, but in that ending, he’s still just as fired as if the deed had been done with the season droning toward a conclusion.
But enough of that.
Leyland is supposedly a "no nonsense" type. It’s the same rollercoaster that losing teams ride: hire a nice guy, then a tough guy, then a nice guy....and on and on and on. Because losing teams always seem to need a different leadership style than what they are currently experiencing. The nice guy is needed for younger, more tender players. Then the team gets older and more veteran-laden, and a tough guy is needed to keep the big egos in check. Then the tough guy will wear on everyone’s nerves in a few years, and a nice guy will be needed once again. And through it all, the L’s outnumber the W’s. The same cycle. The cycle of losers.
Having said that oh-so-cynically, Leyland is probably a good choice, because if there was one thing the Tigers weren’t in 2005, it was cohesive. The clubhouse was the major league version of a Rubik’s cube: all those different colors, but it was impossible to form them into a tidy square. Just when you thought you had most colors handled, another would screw the whole thing up. Leyland has the experience, the respect, and the demeanor to smash the cube into commission, if that’s what it takes.
"Let me tell you: certain things are not optional," Leyland said at his introductory press conference. He proceeded to list them: being on time, playing right, following the rules. For starters. It all sounds exactly like what the doctor ordered for this sick franchise. Until it needs a gentler hand.
But now is not the time for gentle. The Tigers need jolts. The Tigers need bombs dropped on them. The Tigers need the bad cop to Trammell’s good cop.
The team hopes it has found all that with Jim Leyland. He says he has the fire. He says he is recharged and ready for another challenge. Bless you, boys!
Monday, October 03, 2005
But there was mostly head shaking and frustrated blow-by-blow accounts of another wretched loss as all the reporters asked him, "Hey, what happened out there?" Tram probably got tired of giving the same answer, which was basically, "I have no idea, guys....we keep talking about this stuff, you know."
Well, Tram won't have to worry about answering those questions anymore. He is out as Tigers skipper, after three seasons and a grotesquely round record of 186-300.
Maybe it never was to be for Tram here, at least not beyond the three seasons he was given. Maybe he was destined to be the transitional guy that gets you from level to another, before another is brought in to take you the rest of the way. But maybe no one can take this group to the next level. Maybe.
You can make the argument that Tram never had that much to work with, certainly not in Year One, and you can say that injuries and trades contributed to this season's meltdown. But I believe that a horrid stretch of baseball that began in August with the team at 61-62, and never ended until the season itself was finished, cost him his job. The 10-29 finish sealed his fate like an envelope. Not only did the Tigers lose in bunches during that 39-game stretch, they got their tails kicked. The played with no life, no inspiration. No guts, even.
All that was too much for Tram to overcome, much more so than his errors with in-game strategy and his handling of the pitching staff and his questionable hires on his coaching staff. When a baseball team plays like a limp rag for almost a quarter of a season, that is an indictment of its leader, fair or not.
Trammell was offered a job in the Tigers front office. At least there, the employees don't throw to the wrong bag or make boneheaded baserunning decisions or leave runners in scoring position with less than two out.