Saturday, April 30, 2005
Ruth's legacy will always be larger than Bonds'
If Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and the rest needed steroids to blast all those homeruns in this day of juiced up, lively baseballs and mediocre pitching, can you imagine what it would have taken them to do in the dead ball era of Babe Ruth? Bionics? Gamma radiation?
No, Ruth wasn't on steroids -- he was on beer and hot dogs. Such was the legend of the Babe, whose gastronomic exploits were a colorful backdrop to a career filled with larger than life performances, both on and off the field. If Babe was high on anything, it was life. And, thankfully, his is a legacy that will never be tarnished.
The same can't be said, of course, for some of today's sluggers, who are now getting cross-eyed looks and whose records are being mentally asterisked by baseball fans everywhere. Performance enhancing drugs? Is this baseball or a clinical laboratory?
This isn't just about steroids, though. Baseball is a monster now, as are all professional team sports. In a chicken or egg conundrum, it's either the rise of television or the rise of salaries that has forever soiled sports. It wasn't all that long ago, for example, when World Series games were played in the afternoon -- on a weekday -- or at least before the stars and the moon came out. No, you can kiss afternoon games in October goodbye. Television calls the shots now, and it would prefer to wait until the evening, when we are all captives inside, without foolish things like our lawns or grocery shopping or worship to get in the way, like they do in daylight hours. Fat TV contracts pump outrageous amounts of money into big league baseball's coffers, which is directly proportional to how much money teams can spend on players, should they choose to do so.
Money isn't clean -- literally or figuratively -- in most instances, and part of the financial contamination means there is temptation and opportunity. Temptation to do whatever it takes to gain a competitive edge, and the opportunity (i.e. financial means) to do exactly that. Sadly, it appears as if many major leaguers -- too many that we would care to know about, most likely -- have succumbed to this temptation and opportunity in a manner that is not only untowardly, but self-destructive and downright illegal.
Players in Ruth's day never had access to such funds, for sure, and because the media back then was limited to static radio broadcasts and daily newspapers, it hardly provided ballclubs with financial windfalls. In fact, most ballplayers worked jobs in the wintertime to make ends meet until spring training, if you can imagine such a thing. Or in today's terms, you may have been just as likely to run into Ivan Rodriguez behind the counter of 7-Eleven on a cold November morning as you would to see him behind the plate on a warm June afternoon. No joke.
Yet they busted their humps on the diamond because, well, that's who they were, that's what they did. They were baseball players, just as someone was a factory worker or a salesman or a laborer. Bound to their teams by the now defunct reserve clause (fancy for "no free agency") and with little guarantee of their jobs from year to year -- even the star players, baseball players played with a sense of desperation and urgency that can't be replicated by today's guaranteed contracts and signing bonuses.
"Every year I had to make my job"
Enos Slaughter, a star of the 1940's, said that despite hitting close to .300 and driving in nearly 100 runs every year, he went to spring training "fighting for my job. Every year there was a young player that was gonna come in and take my job. I had to make my job, every year." You want a guaranteed contract? Here was the guarantee: "We don't guarantee you a thing. Now go play ball and shut up."
What about the travel, apologists for today's players ask. They point to the fact that no major league baseball team was located west of St. Louis in the days before World War II. Surely that makes things more difficult, doesn't it, to have to play games in Seattle or Los Angeles, than New York and Boston? Well, sure, if you think traveling first class -- sometimes in private team jets -- with every detail taken care of for you, is some tough stuff. Which would you rather do: fly to California twice a season, or take a train to St. Louis four times?
Which would YOU rather use all summer?
This was in the day before commercial airlines, remember; every trip was made by bus or train. And to say the accommodations weren't quite as luxurious would be one of the safest things you could say about anything. In the days of Babe, there were eight teams in each league. The schedule was 154 games. That meant each team played its opponents 22 times each -- 11 home, 11 away. Those 11 away dates were usually divided into four trips -- four trips by rail, in cramped quarters, sometimes on the very same train your opponent was traveling. Not a lot of glamour in that.
Today there are 30 big league teams. That's approximately 330 pitchers (most teams have 11). Until 1960, there were 16 teams. Each team carried nine or ten pitchers back then, so the most pitchers that existed on big league rosters was about 160 at any given time. You don't think that more than doubling the amount of major league pitchers, combined with lowering the mound (1969), along with playing with a scientifically-proven livelier ball, and adding a team in a city like Denver with its high altitude, and building ballparks that are nothing more than glorified home run derby playgrounds, you don't think all that is gonna lead to an increase of dingers?
A night game at Coors Field in Denver:
the Babe would salivate!
And these guys still need performance enhancers? How about if we just let them hit a tennis ball off a tee -- with an aluminum bat? Think that might put an end to all this steroid nonsense?
Some might call me an idealistic fool who only wishes for a return to the past. But how foolish is it to think that maybe today's ballplayers enjoy advantages that their predecessors could only dream about?
You think the Bambino wouldn't like a crack at baseball in today's form? He'd have hit a thousand homers. You know, the hot dogs just weren't as performance enhancing back then.
Friday, April 29, 2005
Pudge Rodriguez: Hall of Famer
Carlos Guillen: All-Star in 2004
Rondell White: Experienced, professional hitter
Dmitri Young: Hacking his way to .300
Some are household names, some aren't. Some are journeymen, some are young guys coming into their own. Some have potential to be great, others are on the back end of their careers.
They're an eclectic bunch, but so is a grouping of anchovies, lettuce, croutons and grated parmesan cheese. But together, they make a helluva Caesar salad. And together, the Tigers batting lineup of Brandon Inge, Pudge Rodriguez, Carlos Guillen, Dmitri Young and Rondell White are on the verge of bringing the salad days of Detroit baseball back to the Motor City.
Individually, the numbers are eye-popping. Starting at the top of the order and working down, Inge (.355), Rodriguez (.351), Guillen (.403), White (.324) and Young (.338) are simply smoking the ball. No other top five comes close to them as April gives way to May.
The exciting thing -- for Tigers fans and not so much for opposing pitching staffs -- is that you can make a case that none of these players are flukes. Inge hit nearly .287 last season, Rodriguez is a sure Hall of Famer, Guillen made the All-Star team while batting .318 in 2004, and White and Young are no strangers to .300 averages. That they are all on pace to have monster years at once has to be daunting for the rest of the A.L. Central.
Of course, winning teams don't just hit, and while the Tigers are very good at beating you 10-3 or 12-1, they have yet to learn the art of winning 3-2 -- the score of their win April 28 in Cleveland, by the way but still an anomaly. That's because the achilles' heel of this team, like so many others, lies in the feet of their pitchers -- the starters, specifically. The bullpen is solid, but the rotation of Jeremy Bonderman, Mike Maroth, Jason Johnson, Nate Robertson and Wil Ledezma is mostly very young, i.e. very inexperienced, and thus maddeningly inconsistent. Bonderman, the apparent ace of the bunch, is capable of mowing them down, but also suffered thru a six-run first inning against the Indians earlier this month. Johnson is just as likely to toss a two-hit shutout as he is getting bombed by the third inning. The rest, except perhaps lefty Maroth, are all over the charts, start-by-start. Live by youth, die by youth.
But it all has the makings of an exciting, interesting team, because when you watch the Tigers play, you're probably going to see lots of runs -- by someone.
The Tigers' 2005 version of Murderers' Row is fun and entertaining, and has the potential to be one of the most prolific offenses ever seen in Detroit. Problem is, they probably will need every one of those runs until the starting pitchers come together to at least form a pleasing side salad.
(for more on the Tigers, click HERE )
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Lolich flinging that rubber arm
The Mick would never do it, so I will. He would never look at disdain at the pitchers of today, who thrust their chests in pride if they toss 200 innings in a season. He would never denigrate the managers of those pitchers, who like to partition the game into two parts -- the first six innings (starting pitcher) and the other three (setup man and closer). He would never call attention to himself, and in particular his 1971 season, which has pitching numbers so huge, it looks like somebody of today's two seasons combined.
"The Mick" is Mickey Lolich, and before he hung up his spikes and finally rested his arm so he could make money in the doughnut business, Lolich was about as reliable of a starter as you can get. They said he had a "rubber arm", but even rubber will wear out eventually, won't it? Lolich didn't just take the ball every fifth day -- he took it every fourth, and, if the situation called for it, like a certain World Series that we will discuss later, every third.
I could go on and on -- just as Lolich's arm itself -- about Mickey's iron man status, but let's cut to the chase, alright? Let's just look at the 1971 season, a year in which if Lolich was a car, he'd have been driven, oh, 300,000 miles. And I'm only exaggerating slightly.
In '71, Lolich started 45 games. To save you the math, that's one start every 3.6 games. Or, to put it another way, only 32 innings of ball would go by between Lolich starts. Not impressed yet? Today's "workhorses" preen if they start 33-35 games, and their managers gaze at them lovingly if they do.
In '71, Lolich completed 29 games. That's right. The man started and finished almost as many games as today's aces start and leave for someone else by the 7th inning. Still not impressed? Well, those 29 games equate to at least 261 innings by themselves (there were no doubt a couple 10 and 11 inning efforts in there). If a guy throws 261 innings nowadays, he's the second coming of Cy Young -- or Mickey Lolich.
In '71, Lolich threw 376 innings. Mommy! So in his 45 starts, Lolich lasted an average of 8.4 innings. Can you imagine giving a fellow the ball today every 3.6 games, and knowing that he's good until there's one out in the ninth -- on a freaking average!?
Okay, so why did Lolich pitch so much and last so long every time he took the hill, especially in 1971?
Well, there was the ERA in '71 -- a tidy 2.92. So now we got a guy who will usually take you into the ninth inning and only give up about three runs in the process. You think he ain't gonna win a few games that way? And win he did -- 25 times. And oh yeah, he gave up an average of eight hits per nine innings, while walking just 2.3 and striking out 7.3.
And they don't call the best pitcher the Mickey Lolich Award winner?
The ironic thing is, Lolich didn't win the Cy Young Award in 1971. That honor went to Vida Blue and his 24-8 record and 1.82 ERA. I guess........
Just to show you that I am not simply plucking one awesome season out of a career filled with average ones, here's Lolich's stretch of innings pitched from 1969-1974:
'74: 308 (for Lolich's complete record, click here )
That's six seasons, 1874 innings. That means Mickey Lolich, by himself, threw 208 nine-inning games, or almost 35 a year, for six years. He should have been sued by the bullpen for lack of work.
Never did someone
do so much to earn champagne
Now, about that 1968 World Series. The Tigers were thought to be led by Denny McLain, with his sparkling 31-6 record. But McLain struggled in the Series, and Lolich swooped in, like Superman, and saved the day. He started three games, finished them all, and won them all. And to cement the legend, Lolich started Game 7 against Bob Gibson -- on two days rest. Gibson had never lost a Game 7. He was thought to be a lock. And Lolich matched him, pitch for pitch, until Gibson blinked and Curt Flood slipped, and before you knew it, the Tigers were champions.
If you check the record book, no pitcher has had anywhere near the type of iron man season as Lolich racked up in 1971. And you know what? No one ever will.
I think he earned a few doughnuts, don't ya think?
Lolich NOT pitching
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
The face of an idiot?
If Lou Piniella is, indeed, an idiot, it would only be because he agreed to manage the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, which in terms of baseball jobs is about as attractive as being Cubs fan Steve Bartman.
Why Lou is still scuffling around with the D-Rays is anyone's guess, but apparently his team has a beanball thing going on with the Boston Red Sox. If you think this is tantamount to a mouse having a heated rivalry with a lion, well there you have it.
Regardless, the teams danced again this weekend, and according to Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, on the field during the melee, Devil Ray players moaned that their manager, Piniella, was egging this sort of "tough guy" behavior on. "That's why we lose 100 games a year," D-Ray players said per Schilling, "because that idiot (Piniella) makes us do this stuff."
Naturally Piniella, who has a temper about as short as Earl Boykins, went off, calling a team meeting and asking if anyone had made the "idiot" comment. And, wouldn't you know, "They all denied it, to a man," Piniella said. Gee, what a surprise! Can you imagine that meeting?
"Alright, which one of you called me an idiot the other day?"
"You're all denying it?"
25 men nodding their heads.
My, what could be more proof than that?
Piniella also told the media, "I've forgotten more baseball than he (Schilling) knows."
Now that's original, Lou!
Look, I don't think Lou Piniella is an idiot. But if he thinks anyone on his ballclub is going to admit calling him that, then maybe he is a fool.
If you want more, read the whole story here
"911? Yes, our frontcourt has gone missing....help!"
Butch van breda Kolff, the old Lakers (and Pistons) coach, once said of Wilt Chamberlain when he coached him in L.A., "If the basketball court was made of grass, Wilt would wear out a one-foot square patch." The needle being, of course, that Wilt didn't stray too far. All that was missing was a tent and some stakes.
Something similar, yet different, is going on in this first round playoff series between the Pistons and 76'ers.
If the basketball court's paint could talk, it would be contacting the authorities and putting out an Amber-like alert, and ordering milk cartons printed with Chris Webber's face on the side. Webber has simply been missing from the low post, offensively and defensively. He acts allergic to rebounding. He seems most comfortable 20 feet from the basket, heaving jumpers that sometimes find the basket, but mostly don't. His favorite move is a smug sneer/grin after one of them actually swishes.
Webber had three rebounds in Game 1, and four in Game 2. So that's seven rebounds in nearly 70 minutes of play. The Pistons' frontline players, Ben and Rasheed Wallace, can grab seven rebounds in the time it takes you to run for some popcorn and back. If big rebounders are nicknamed "Windex" for how they clean the glass, then Webber's new name should be "Fingerprint" or "Smear" or "Toothpaste Splatter Guy."
Bill Laimbeer used to like the outside jumpers, too, but he also hung around the basket on defense a little -- to the tune of 10 or 11 rebounds per game.
And how about a missing persons report on forward Kyle Korver, the Ashton Kutcher lookalike? In fact, maybe it HAS been Kutcher out there, laying bricks and defending Tayshaun Prince as if Korver was wearing ankle weights. As Pistons TV analyst Greg Kelser so eloquently put it after Korver missed yet another wide open jumper, "If Kyle Korver can't make those shots, then he can't help the Sixers at all. He's of no use to them."
Can you sweep a best-of-seven series in three games?
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Earl Wilson: 1934-2005
Earl Wilson is gone, and I suppose that's what is bound to happen to members of a baseball championship team that is pushing 40 years ago in history.
Wilson, old #16, was an integral member of the 1968 Tigers World Series champs, and one of the first black men to don the Boston Red Sox uniform. Beantown was rather slow in integrating back in the 60's. Anyhow, Wilson was a consistent, serviceable right handed starter, but he could also kill you with his bat. Earl wasn't one of those "automatic out" pitchers when it came to hitting. Wilson slugged 35 homers in his career, behind only Wes Ferrell for pitchers. In '68 Wilson had seven dingers in just 88 at-bats. Those are almost Ruthian-like numbers.
I remember my father telling me that he swears Wilson would occasionally bat sixth or seventh in the Tigers lineup in 1968. I thought it might be true, since the regular shortstop was Ray Oyler, who hit something like .130, and the third baseman was Don Wert, who barely bobbed over .200. But then I hit Jim Northrup with that assertion, and the Grey Fox shook his head no.
"Nope, I don't remember that," Northrup, a '68 Tiger outfielder, told me several years ago.
That's okay -- sometimes old ballplayers' memories aren't so good. Regardless, there are those who said Wilson may not have succumbed to a designated hitter on the days he took the mound, had the rule been in place, and may even have been a spot-DH on his off days. Talk about never seeing his kind again!
Wilson made a name for himself in the business world after baseball -- one of the few of his time who pulled that transition off successfully.
But I will remember him as the pitcher who could support himself, and sometimes did so out of necessity.
Earl was 70. Rest in peace.
Monday, April 25, 2005
Do you realize that it could be the Pistons, not the New York Knicks, who are being dragged into the depths of the NBA by the boat anchor that is Isiah Thomas?
If Thomas had not had his falling out with Pistons management, then Joe Dumars would not have had the opportunity to bring the team back to championship status.
Goofus (left) and Gallant
And when you look at Thomas' post-playing career resume, you should thank your lucky stars if you're a Pistons fan worth his/her salt.
Here's Zeke's ghoulish history after he hung up his sneakers and donned a suit:
--Running the CBA into the ground
--Making a mess of the Toronto Raptors
--Being a so-so coach of the Pacers
--Piloting the Knicks as if he was blindfolded
Here's the Dumars file (Gallant to Isiah's Goofus):
--Taking the dregs of a 30-win team and, operating within budget, turning into an NBA champion within four seasons
There's something to be said for irreconciable differences.
How hard up is Jackson for Broadway, anyway?
Now I see where Phil Jackson is planning on meeting with Zeke to discuss the Knicks coaching job. Is he that desperate to coach his former team?
Sunday, April 24, 2005
Michigan Chances of this photo being taken in Michigan: zilch
Nickname: The Wolverine State
Number of Wolverines In The State -- Ever: Quite probably zero, according to historians.
The above example is to illustrate that what I am about to do -- slice, dice and otherwise Ronco sports team nicknames -- doesn't have to be limited to the world of sports. The world of humanity has plenty of opportunities for such an exercise. But who cares about humanity; this is a sports column, dammit. Where else can you see Ronco used as a verb?
In the beginning, sports team nicknames were borne out of function -- kind of like the original surnames. You know -- if you were a cooper, your last name was Cooper. If you were a tax collector, your last name was Paine. Same thing with sports. You played on a team that wore red socks? Then you played for the Red Sox (I guess they thought "Red Socks" wasn't as efficient a use of letters). Or it was a geography thing. Way before the Yankees were...the Yankees, they were known as the Highlanders. And it wasn't because they played at the bottom of a ravine.
Sometimes teams were even named for their owners. Baseball's Brooklyn team, before they were known as the Dodgers, called themselves the Robins, after owner Wilbert Robinson. And we all know the origin of the Cleveland Browns football name -- founder Paul Brown. Good thing his last name wasn't Krzyzewski.
The height of narcissism: naming a freaking team after yourself
Back in the Golden Age of sport, team ownership and management weren't lazy when it came to naming their teams, especially when they moved from city to city. The Baltimore Orioles, before moving from St. Louis, were the Browns (no, Paul Brown didn't own them as well). The Portsmouth Spartans football team moved north to Detroit and became Lions. Did some nicknames stay the same in a city move? Sure, but they made sense. The Athletics name survived Philadelphia and Kansas City before its current home in Oakland, but can't players be Athletics no matter where the play? An addendum to that rule is, if the nickname made no sense in City A, then it's acceptable to keep in City B. The Rams were the Rams in Cleveland and Los Angeles before their exodus to St. Louis. Call me crazy, but placing Rams after any city name other than Butte, Montana or Casper, Wyoming just doesn't cut it. The only real rams you'd see in Cleveland, L.A. or St. Louis would be courtesy of overzealous cabbies. And Braves passed thru town in Boston and Milwaukee before ending up in Atlanta. That's also 0-for-3 in terms of making sense.
All of which brings me to my pet peeve of sports nicknames and all that are wrong with them: the Utah Jazz. Read that again. The....Utah......Jazz. This violates both of the above rules: Jazz can't be jazz everywhere (i.e. Athletics), and it DID make sense in City A (re: New Orleans). Why in the world the folks who bought the New Orleans NBA team and moved them to Salt Lake City would keep the Jazz moniker simply defies logic. But wait, it gets worse. The original Jazz logo involved a sort of musical note thingy as part of the "J". Again, in N'awlins, that's wonderfully appropriate. But not only did they keep the name, they kept the logo. So now you have these basketballers running up and down a court in the middle of freaking Utah with a musical note on their uniforms. And it wasn't a Tabernacle Choir musical note -- it was a jazz note. Ahh, but my friends, it gets even worse. When the Jazz decided to, ahem, jazz up their uniforms, they redid the logo with the word "Jazz" running in an ascending fashion over a mountain ridge. Yeah, nothing says jazz to me more than the snowy whitecaps of Utah mountains. Call it insult to nickname injury.
Don't you just feel like swinging to some Count Basie when you look at this?
I've never been to Philadelphia. But I don't think I need to visit to confirm that I'm not likely to see an eagle anywhere in the greater metropolitan area.
You could play this game forever because there are examples all around us. How many penguins do you figure reside in Pittsburgh, outside of the zoo? And while were talking about the Steel City (at least they got it right with the football team's name), has piracy really been prevalent there? Apparently enough to give the baseball team a name. Here's another Jazz-like example: the Calgary Flames. And there's also some irony. Calgary is in Canada, right? And isn't hockey Canada's, like, national sport, eh? Yet the city got it right with the American football team's name (Stampeders of the CFL, which makes sense for a city that has an annual Stampede), but blew it with the hockey team. Flames worked great in Atlanta, because of the huge fire there (go see "Gone With the Wind"), but in Calgary? I know things burn there, too, but, still....
Hurry! The "C" is on fire! Oh, my!!
You want more? Okay, I got more. The Sacramento Kings. This nickname came from the old Cincinnati Royals, who moved to Kansas City and became the Kings (don't confuse this with the Royals baseball team, which does play in Kansas City and also doesn't make sense) before the trek west to California's capital. And last I checked, Sacramento still governs under a democracy, not a monarchy. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't a king.
I've never been to Philadelphia. But I don't think I need to visit to confirm that I'm not likely to see an eagle anywhere in the greater metropolitan area. Same thing with falcons in Atlanta, or devils in New Jersey (at least I hope not). I'm not sure when Buffalo laid claim to sabres, or Tennessee to titans. Heck, I don't think I've ever seen a tiger around town other than on the other side of a moat at that zoological museum at Woodward and I-696. Or, a lion for that matter. Yet there you have it.
Some nicknames are beautifully congruent. Dallas has the Stars hockey team, and the Cowboys football team has a big ole star on the helmet, and they both play in the Lone Star state. Yesssssss. Colorado's teams has all the state's natural wonders covered. The NBA's Nuggets (reference to the old west and gold diggers in the state), the NHL's Avalanche (snow), baseball's Rockies (mountains) and the NFL's Broncos (another old west, rugged thing) all make Denver the winner of the Nickname Game, as far as I'm concerned.
Denver's clean sweep of logodom
Before you even think of taking a knock at our own Red Wings as being incongruous, hold up. There is actually a very cool story behind it. James Norris, the team's owner at the time, had seen an amateur team in Montreal play, and legend has it the team utilized wings on their logo. Norris thought that looked spiffy, decided to combine it with Detroit's automobile heritage, and the famed winged wheel was born. Of course, this came on the heels of nonsensical names such as Falcons and Cougars, so Red Wings didn't have a very tough act to follow.
The coolest logo in sports, by the way.
But maybe I'm taking this whole team nickname thing too literally, which can't be good, either, now that I think about it. Back in the 1920's, when Calvin Coolidge was president, he was introduced to football star Red Grange at a White House dinner. "Red Grange, Chicago Bears," an aide whispered into president Coolidge's ear. The prez grabbed Grange's hand, shook it, and said grandly, "Oh, Mr. Grange! I always was very fond of animal acts!"
Too bad Coolidge, at that moment, didn't take his own nickname literally: Silent Cal.
Saturday, April 23, 2005
-- Giants manager Leo Durocher, circa 1950's.
I'm a big fan of professionalism, I really am. I like my cashier at Rite Aid to have his shirt tucked in, his hair combed. I want the person on the other end of the phone to display proper telecommunications etiquette. I appreciate the waiter telling me to stay away from certain dishes, even if they're today's specials.
I don't, however, feel the choir boy thing is a prerequisite to winning in sports.
On my baseball team, I want some wacky guys. I think an eccentric nut on my hockey team is all right. I am all for an offensive lineman on my football team eating raw dove hearts, if that's what makes him mean enough to shove around defensive tackles on Sunday. I don't even mind it if the coach has a little of Jekyll and Hyde in him.
I bring this up because I keep hearing about how happy and lovely the Tigers' clubhouse is, and has mostly been, ever since Sparky Anderson took over back in 1979. "We have a great bunch of guys," I've heard more than one Tigers player say, for years and years. "Everyone gets along -- there are no cliques." Great! And the Tigers have had two winning seasons since 1988. That's what they do in Detroit, don't you know -- as soon as a player is acquired, he's fitted for a pair of rose-colored glasses.
Where have all the characters gone?
When the Tigers acquired flamethrowing reliever Kyle Farnsworth from the Cubs, there was some hand-wringing. Seems as though Farnsworth has been observed marching to the beat of a different drummer at times. He was described variously as "quirky", "offbeat", and "hard to figure out." Good! There's always room for that kind of fellow, especially in the bullpen. It takes a different type of individual to be a late inning reliever anyway, in my book, just like it takes someone who might be a tad crazy to be a goaltender in hockey.
Farsnworth marches to the beat of a different drummer? GOOD!
The mild worry over Farnsworth's acquisition serves to show how far we've fallen from the days when pro athletes were some of the craziest, weirdest, scariest men to walk among us. Oh, players still make news with their actions off the field, but it's for all the wrong reasons. We don't have characters anymore -- we have liars and felons.
And where are the villains? Every sport needs those guys who wear the black hat -- a man everyone hates, unless he's on your team, of course. Bill Laimbeer, in his heyday, was such a villain. Laimbeer was vilified in enemy arenas, hung in effigy and showered with verbal venom. And he loved it. He would actually exhort the opposing fans, encouraging their ire. They hated that, too. But now when a guy is booed or protested against, it's more likely to be because of a pending rape case or use of performance enhancing drugs, or because of an asinine comment made to the press.
Nobody could intimidate Laimbeer
"Today's athletes are either really nice, normal guys or likely to have a rap sheet -- no in between."
The NFL has tried mightily to legislate characters out of the league. But even some of the modern day attempts at buffoonery come off as contrived and over the top. Terrell Owens' famous Sharpie incident was a nice try at eccentricity, but it was clearly planned and premeditated. There's a difference between Owens' bravado and the actions of men like former 49ers offensive tackle Bob St. Clair of the 1960's, who was nicknamed "The Geek" because of his tendency to eat just about anything, whether it was to win a bet or simply because he felt like it. He was crazy, after all. Not literally, but in the "characters in sports" sense. Once, after a dove hunting outing, St. Clair was making a pile of dove hearts. A rookie teammate happened by and asked St. Clair if he was planning on making sauce out of the hearts. St. Clair looked at the kid, grinned devilishly, and started popping the raw hearts into his mouth. The rookie's reaction, unfortunately, was not preserved for history.
"The Geek" ate dove hearts -- whatever it takes, baby
The Oakland A's of the 1970's fought each other almost as vociferously as their opponents, and they won three straight World Series titles. Speaking of Oakland, thank goodness for the Raiders, who have laid out the welcome mat for some of pro football's most disenfranchised, dysfunctional players over the years. And despite some recent bumps in the road, the Raiders have been able to patch these wackos into their lineup to the tune of one of the best winning percentages in the NFL since the merger with the AFL in 1970. Happiness doesn't breed winning and discontent doesn't breed losing -- it's the other way around in both instances.
Today's athletes are either really nice, normal guys or likely to have a rap sheet -- no in between. Who in baseball is today's Bill Lee, aka The Spaceman? Who is football's Bobby Layne, partier extraordinaire? Basketball's Bill Walton, Grateful Dead fan and beach bum? These players, and those of their ilk, were mostly harmless, yet they provided comic relief and caused many an eye to roll and head to shake in their time.
Bill "Spaceman" Lee -- can't ya tell?
The Lions had Joe Don Looney for awhile, who more than lived up to his last name. The Red Wings employed Howie Young, who played like a train that jumped a track and was a lover of the city's nightlife. The Tigers had Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, who talked to baseballs, for gosh sakes. The Pistons had Erwin Mueller, who wore Coke bottle eyeglasses and probably led the league in beer drinking. In fact, it was the Pistons' first coach in Detroit, Charley Eckman, who had one of the most memorable lines in the business. Disdainful of over-coaching his players, Eckman once said his two favorite plays were "'South Pacific' and put the ball in the basket." Can you imagine Larry Brown saying such a thing nowadays?
There just isn't any color anymore in pro sports. We are awash in shades of gray, and it's borrring. Say what you will about Dennis Rodman, but I always thought his escapades were a breath of fresh air. Who did The Worm hurt, really, besides himself? Even Charles Barkley I could abide. Sir Charles would open his mouth -- he's still this way, actually -- and some of the most honest, outrageous things poured out. But the beauty of it is that you get the feeling Barkley isn't putting on -- he really does believe the things he says. I agree with very little of what he says, to be honest, but that's okay. We need more Charles Barkleys around. There are too many of the other microphone types taking up the airwaves. Oh, where are you, Howard Cosell? Your kind is gone forever, I fear. Hockey Night in Canada even got rid of Don Cherry, another sign of that sport's apocalypse.
The vanilla is glopped over the coaching ranks, too. Where's today's Billy Martin? Woody Hayes? Or even Bob Knight, before he was watered down and mellowed? Will we see another Leo "The Lip" Durocher? Will another NBA coach light a stogie on the bench, a la Red Auerbach? Answers: nowhere, nowhere, nowhere, no and no.
Alan Trammell, in his third year as Tigers manager, is creating a professional, business-like clubhouse like his mentor, Sparky Anderson, did in the 1980's. And that's fine -- nobody says you have to have a bunch of jerks on your team to enjoy success. But when an off of center type like Farnsworth is dealt by the Cubs because, well, he's off of center, and he's closely monitored by his new team for any signs of unusual behavior, it seems like more attention is paid to potential negativeness than to the upside his size and loose cannon status can bring to the table. If the guy can pitch, and maybe even intimidate a few opposing hitters along the way, then so be it.
Ryne Duren, most likely hungover
The Yankees of the early 60's used to have a relief pitcher named Ryne Duren, who wore thick glasses and was a known alcoholic. He also was just wild enough to make hitters think long and hard before digging in. When Duren was brought into a game, he would often purposely throw his first warmup pitch over the backstop. Why? "I just wanted them to think, 'Maybe this guy's a little too wild to go up against.' Or maybe they would think I was drunk. Either way, I had an advantage."
The fabric of sports was more fun when it was put together like a quilt. Today it's processed, like polyester. Then again, they just don't make things today like they used to, so why should sports be any different, I suppose.
Another Williams? Another Receiver?
Now I know why they call them "mock drafts".
The Lions mocked all the NFL experts and pundits by selecting USC receiver Mike Williams with the 10th pick in the 2005 draft. So much for going for defense.
But that's okay, you see, because if you listen to the Lions, they're now so good and have so few holes that they could pretty much draft anyone they damn well wanted to draft -- and so they did.
Oh, Williams might be a smart enough pick. He's huge -- 6'5", 229 pounds, and comes from a glamorous offense that won a national championship last year. Problem was, Williams wasn't around. He didn't play last year, having been banned from NCAA play after his failed bid to enter the 2004 draft. Still, he was considered highly enough to be the third receiver selected today. So when you think about it, to have three young receivers like Mike Williams, Roy Williams and Charles Rogers could be pretty darn exciting.
But, as usual with the Lions, who will be catching the ball is far more certain than who will be throwing it. Only three months until the Great QB Debate in Allen Park. But that's another posting. Heck, that's another blog.
With apologies to the Las Vegas act, Michael and Roy and the Lions should be far more enjoyable than Siegfried and company. Although our guys have been known to be mauled at times, too.
Will This Man Be Throwing To
The Williamses Come September?
Friday, April 22, 2005
Do you have any idea how hard it is for the Pistons to NOT face one of Larry Brown's former teams in the Eastern Conference playoffs? They could have played New Jersey; Brown coached there in the early 80's. They could have played Indiana; Brown was there in the early-to-mid 90's.
Instead, they'll play Philadelphia. And, oh yeah, Brown was there, too, in the late 90's/early 00's. So the "Brown is facing one of his former teams" storyline is about as fresh as the lettuce on a Big Mac.
Still, the Pistons-Sixers matchup is intriguing, because it is always so when one of the players on the opposing team just happens to be the league scoring leader. Perhaps basketball, more than any other sport, allows for individual performances to greatly impact team results. If you don't think one man named Allen Iverson can beat five men who aren't, you'd be right most of the time. But I have two words of caution for you: Bernard King.
It was 21 years ago this month when King, then of the New York Knicks, literally beat the Pistons single-handedly in a first round playoff series. King averaged over 40 points a game (yeah, that's right), and the Knicks bumped the Pistons out in five games, back when the NBA used the best-of-five format in the first round. King, a small forward,was about as unstoppable as they get for a five-game stretch, especially when you consider it was the playoffs. True, that '84 Pistons team was nowhere near this year's version. They didn't play defense, for one thing. But still, King's dominance proved that, while unlikely, a great player can fly solo and lead his team to playoff series wins.
Will Iverson torch the Pistons enough to lead Philly to the upset? The likelihood is extreme at best. However, it might be fun watching him try. Remember what Tracy McGrady almost did to the Pistons in the first round two years ago? Oh, Iverson will talk about getting others involved and he might even dish out his 8.4 assist per game average to prove his intent. But it will clearly boil down to A.I.rather than the four satellites playing around him.
Pistons in five.
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
I drew a parallel because the identity of the new pope, though speculated about, wasn't official until he was announced and brought before the cheering masses in St. Peter's Square. Kind of like an NFL draft choice, not that there is any correlation in importance, of course.
Anyhow, just who the Lions will select at pick #10 this Saturday has been speculated about ad nauseum -- much more so than the next pope. Well, as you know, as the Cardinals in Rome cast their secret ballots, the signal was: black smoke -- no new pope yet; white smoke -- success. Fine -- simple and rich with tradition.
So why not different colors of smoke at Ford Field? Everyone from a quarterback to a linebacker to an offensive tackle to a wide receiver have been bantied about as being the Lions' choice at #10. This is supposedly because the team isn't nearly as talent-poor now, and can afford to take "the best player available," as opposed to drafting "for a need."
"Look, Marge -- the Lions have made their selection!"
It can be basic, really. Just gather the masses outside Ford Field downtown and set up a temporary smoke stack for all to see. Hand out programs with the following key: blue smoke (linebacker), red smoke (wide receiver), green smoke (offensive tackle), fuscia smoke (quarterback). Then team president Matt Millen can appear at a makeshift balcony and proudly make the announcement: "My brothers and sisters, after much deliberation, I am delighted to announce your newest Detroit Lion!" Then the newly-drafted player would be revealed, complete with Armani suit and Detroit Lions baseball cap.
Hey, it could be a new tradition. They could sell hot dogs and soda pop and Eminem CD's. It would be like our own Motor City version of Times Square on New Year's Eve.
And as for the team's second pick? Who cares -- the crowd will still be abuzz over the first one, if they play it my way.
It's worth a try; the Lions have been blowing smoke up our rear ends for years anyway.
Saturday, April 16, 2005
You bet they are. Cursed with poor decisions, bad trades, awful drafts, questionable contracts, and mind-boggling front office strategies.
Actually, make that, they were cursed. All that nastiness changed when the team hired Dave Dombrowski as president in November 2001. Dombrowski had the smarts to fire general manager Randy Smith, for starters. Remember when Smith, barely into his 30's when the Tigers hired him in 1995, was this hotshot young executive? Well Smith, now barely into his 40's, has all but vanished from the scene. I'm pretty sure he has a baseball job somewhere, though it may be as a clubhouse attendant for all I know.
Dombrowski has done as good of a job as any exec could, considering what he inherited. The Tigers were a team bereft of hope, devoid of legitimate young talent, when he took over. In less than four years, the team is considered one on the rise, and a potential Central Division champ in the near future. And they're still only two seasons removed from that mind-numbing 43-119 record of 2003.
Dave Dombrowski, plotting his next move
But before Dombrowski -- B.D. if you will -- the Tigers were indeed cursed. In fact, the team was mostly this way ever since Mike Ilitch purchased it in 1992. But this was no Bambino or Billy Goat thing, like they have in Boston and Chicago. This "curse" was simply an array of boneheaded decisions, bad front office hires, and amateur drafts that looked as if they had been conducted by amateurs. Nine years of this nonsense went by, then Ilitch snapped Dombrowski up, and the train is now back on its track.
So while Ordonez' hernia problems are a bummer and discouraging, he will be back. But his illness has nothing to do with a curse.
Who would have done it to them, anyway? Ty Cobb?
Thursday, April 14, 2005
The mural, which has featured MUCH larger-than-life images of Barry Sanders and, most recently, Steve Yzerman, sits white and blank.
Of course, this has prompted the question: Who should adorn the mural next?
That's easy: Rosa Parks. Aretha Franklin. Henry Ford. Heck maybe even Eminem.
But pre-supposing that it must be a sports figure, which it probably will be, then why not Willie Horton?
Willie Horton, a Tiger through and through. Willie Horton, who grew up on the sandlots of the west side and gave folks a sneak peek of things to come when he hit a home run at Tiger Stadium while still a high schooler, in a PSL championship game. Willie Horton, who has served the organization in so many capacities -- player, coach, instructor, ambassador, front office assistant. Willie Horton, who has done so much for the city and its youth.
Yes, I believe old #23 would look mighty fine adorning the Cadillac wall.
If those fans look higher, maybe they'll see Willie on the Cadillac Building, too
Sure, I know he already has a statue at Comerica Park; so what? The mural is temporary, anyway, and what better time to place a baseballer up there than now, on the dawn of a new season?
Nobody asked me, of course, but I vote for Horton.
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Tiger gobbled up majors like Pac-Man, folks squirmed and moaned that one man's dominance was somehow damaging to the game. How much more fun it would be, they said, if others won once in awhile.
So as Woods slumped in the last two-plus years, nobody, predictably, came close to matching his exploits. Nobody emerged, front and center. Nobody was, truthfully, the player to beat. Everyone was in the same boat, it seemed, without Tiger at the rudder.
Well, you know what? Golf got a tad more boring, folks, in the meanwhile.
He's baaaack -- I hope.
Every sport, I am convinced, needs a dominant player, someone that everyone guns for. Someone that fans love, but yet also love to see get defeated every so often. Someone that fellow competitors dream of going up against, even if they get the snot kicked out of them.
Tiger Woods was once that player, and with his dramatic, come-from-behind win at last weekend's Masters, he may be on his way back to being that player.
If he is, golf just got a much-needed shot in the arm.
Come on, admit it -- golf was more fun when Tiger was winning everything in sight, seemingly invincible. His mastery of the game put him in a class by himself, and wasn't it thrilling to watch the others trying to play the tournament of their lives just to stay within shouting distance of him? Wasn't it more exciting when someone else won, since whenever someone else won, it was mostly considered an upset?
But then Tiger slumped, and golf slipped into its version of parity. You know, "on any given Sunday...."
I hope the old Tiger Woods is back. I hope this latest Masters win, which Woods himself called the "sweetest" of his four Augusta championships because of its dramatics and the official ending of his slump, is only the beginning of his return to dominance.
Golf, which has been a sport of Davids lately, needs its Goliath.
Yeah -- so what, right?
I contribute weekly columns at www.RetailDetroit.com (new one every Sunday). When you arrive at that site, find "Columnists" on the lefthand toolbar and click it. There you'll see my smiling mug. I think you can take it from there.
My blog is called "Out of Bounds" because: a) it was the title of my column at www.motorcitysports.net (soon to be a magazine, where I will have the same column), and b) I think it perfectly captures my perspective on sports -- humorous, irreverent, off the wall.
What goes through your mind when you see "Out of Bounds"? Hopefully, you think: loose cannon, free spirit, etc.
If someone is "Out of Bounds", that person has crossed some imaginary line, right?
We're gonna cross some lines on this blog, I promise you that.
Here you will find mainly sports talk, and mainly about the teams from my hometown of Detroit. Sorry, rest of the country, but the Motor City needs more voices out there. Aren't you sick of the Yankees and Red Sox, anyway?
Okay, now what are my qualifications to pontificate about sports, besides having access to a computer?
I began following sports in 1970, when I was all of seven years old. One of my first memories was watching Tom Dempsey, a kicker born with half a foot, beat my beloved Lions with a 63-yard field goal as time expired. It was November 8, 1970, and despite the fact that I just witnessed one of the toughest defeats you can imagine, I think I was hooked. So that's where it all began. I am now in my 35th season watching, covering, and talking sports. I may not have seen it all, but it's pretty close.
Anyhow, I'll put my two cents in, almost every day, about whatever sports bee is in my bonnet. If you agree and think I'm on the money, I'd love to hear it. If you think I am a few jokers short of a deck, then I'd love to hear that, too. What's some good sports talk without frequent disagreements? The only things that'll be missing from this blog will be a bowl of pretzels and a cold beer. Although if you're buying, I'm game.
Ready? Here we go.....