Thursday, June 30, 2005

Tigers Have Been Free From Kenny Rogers-Like Incidents, And That's Part Of The Problem

The knee-jerk reaction to seeing Texas Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers go all Kung Fu on some poor unsuspecting cameramen is, "What an ---hole!" The second thing that may come to mind to Tigers' fans is, "That would never happen here with one of our guys."

Both reactions are the correct ones to have. Rogers indeed acted like an ---hole, and something like that would probably never happen with a Tigers player. Too bad.

The Tigers could use an ---hole or two. I know manager Alan Trammell is proud of the guys he has on the team, as is president Dave Dombrowski, and that's great, but when the one individual who is most known for his fiery personality is your bench coach (read: Kirk Gibson), then there's a problem.

I don't know what goes on behind the scenes in the Tigers' clubhouse, I confess. Maybe there is someone who is that no-nonsense, you'd-better-hustle-or-else kind of leader. Maybe there is someone who will call a players-only meeting, or knock over the postgame spread, or attack a water cooler with a bat. Maybe there is someone who will, if the mood strikes him, snarl at reporters or tell them all to blank off by his mere silence. Maybe there is someone who acts like a disturbed bear during hibernation after a loss. Maybe there is someone who will cause his teammates to play hard just by glaring at them. Maybe.

But tell me, who might that be on this Tigers roster? Pudge Rodriguez? Naah -- too much of a nice guy. Dmitri Young? Too personable. Brandon Inge? Too young. Jeremy Bonderman? Even younger. Bobby Higginson? Too insignificant.

Now, I'm not condoning Mr. Rogers' behavior, and I certainly don't mean that you have to load your roster full of jerks to breed a winning attitude. But gosh darn it, what's wrong with a little crankiness? What's wrong with having some dudes on your squad with whom you'd feel comfortable in an alley fight? What's wrong with losing the nice guy act -- slowly but surely -- and experimenting with some guys who would normally not pass the first interview as potential Tigers?

Like I said, what Rogers did was over the line and, from what I could tell, totally unprovocated. Apparently the lefty was still stinging over some suggestions -- started by the press, of course -- that he'd backed down from a start and exaggerated an injury to justify it. So the cameramen, who probably couldn't care less about Kenny Rogers, felt the brunt of his pent-up hostility.Wrong, wrong, wrong. Yet, at the same time, right, right, right!

If you get past the visual images of Rogers losing his cool -- which, at this writing, have been played 678,222 times by ESPN -- you'd understand that Kenny's outburst is merely a symptom -- or trait -- of the kind of player who typically plays on a lot of winning teams. And last I knew, Rogers himself has reaffirmed his status as one of the game's best, and most mentally tough, pitchers. His ERA has looked like the price of a candy bar most of this season. There is absolutely nothing wrong with playing with some spit and vinegar, as long as you keep it between the white lines. But that's what's so fascinating about players like Rogers and Gibson: vinegar sometimes spills outside the lines. But it's all good and winked at because that's just how those players are.

All I'm saying is that the Tigers have been populated for so long by nice guys, you'd think they were running a Dale Carnegie School. And what has it gotten them, exactly, since 1993, especially? Well, there was that brief flirtation with Wild Card contention back in 2000. And......hold on....I think I got, I guess that's about it. So how about trying it another way, folks? How's about we lose some of the choir boy act and get some guys who show up to the ballpark with their uniform already looking like that of Peanuts' Pigpen? Or who might, just might, explode on occasion, like the proverbial time bomb? How much worse could it be, when you get right down to it?

Contrary to popular belief, Leo Durocher never said, "Nice guys finish last." What he did say was the following, referring to the New York Giants: "Take a look at them. All nice guys. They'll finish last. Nice guys. Finish last." But no matter how you think Leo put it, he might as well have been talking about the Tigers in a clairvoyant sort of way.

And the beat (and the losing ) goes on....

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Tigers Should "86" #11, But Won't As Long As Sparky And Mikey Don't See Eye-to-Eye

When Sparky Anderson was leading the Tigers to the 1984 World Series title, he did so with an axe to grind. In his book, "They Call Me Sparky," the old white-haired manager admitted that much of his motivation was to show his old bosses, the Cincinnati Reds, that they had made a mistake in firing him after the 1978 season. "I wanted to win for all the wrong reasons," Sparky opined.

But what cap is Sparky wearing on his Hall of Fame plaque in Cooperstown?

That Spark decided to be inducted into the Hall as a Red wasn't terribly surprising, considering he didn't want to have much to do with the Tigers at that point, back in 2000. Or now, for that matter. Or ever, as long as Mike Ilitch owns the team. For a while it looked like the Reds, not the Tigers, would be the franchise in Sparky's doghouse. But Anderson so obviously dissed Ilitch in his book, and you wonder if the bridge can ever be repaired.

I'm not exactly sure what caused the friction between Sparky and Mikey, but I have a hunch it has something to do with the manager's stand against the possibility of replacement players during spring training, 1995. Sparky was against it as adamantly and as publicly as any manager at the time, maybe the most. He all but dared Ilitch to fire him, flatly refusing to manage major league impostors. The notion of playing with replacements was real back in '95, because baseball was still coming out of its labor woes that wiped out the 1994 World Series. It could go on, Sparky said, but it would go on without him. And that was pretty much the last straw for Sparky in Detroit. Buddy Bell took over in 1996.

Sparky's ill will actually began shortly after Ilitch bought the club in 1992, when one of the new owner's moves was to fire Anderson's friend Bo Schembechler, oddly cast as the team's president. Bo was the lightning rod during the Ernie Harwell fiasco in late 1990, punctuated by Ernie's famous December press conference, where he announced he'd been told 1991 would be his last season as the team's radio announcer. Firing Bo Schembechler, at the time, was as guaranteed for garnering good P.R. as announcing that all kids attending Tigers games would receive free puppies. Ilitch, in Sparky Anderson's mind, pandered to the populist viewpoint at the expense of his buddy Bo.

So whenever you see ole Spark around the team, as he was in spring training in 2003, it's strictly for his "boys" -- Alan Trammell, Kirk Gibson and Lance Parrish. It sure as hell isn't for Mike Ilitch.

This is all a shame, because the Tigers should retire #11 -- Sparky's old number. But it's also a shame because there is another big reason #11 should join 16 (Hal Newhouser), 6 (Al Kaline), 5 (Hank Greenberg), 2 (Charlie Gehringer) and 23 (Willie Horton) as rafters-dwelling numbers: Bill Freehan.

Because of Sparky and Ilitch's feud, Freehan (right) gets slighted

Since 1963, only two men have worn #11 in Detroit: Sparky and Freehan. It would be wonderful to finally officially put #11 to bed. To the Tigers' -- and Ilitch's -- credit, no one has worn 11 since Sparky left the team. And frankly, nobody probably ever will. So why not have a ceremony and frame Freehan's and Sparky's names around a big encircled #11?

Freehan, a man chiseled by God to be a catcher, did the number proud from '63-'76. He still, to my knowledge, holds the all-time A.L. record for best fielding percentage by a catcher. His block of the plate against Lou Brock in the fifth game of the 1968 World Series should be among the top five greatest plays in Detroit's sports history, if you ask me. Horton, by the way, made the throw that nipped Brock at the plate and turned the Series around. How fitting, then, for Freehan, a local boy like Horton (born in Detroit and schooled at U-M), to join Willie with a retired number.

But alas, this is unlikely to ever happen as long as there is the chasm between Sparky and Mike Ilitch. You'd might as well start giving the number out again to be worn; it would be retired in our minds only.

It seems silly, in a way, to allow what seems to be an outdated, petty feud prevent what should be a joyous and festive occasion from happening at Comerica Park. But it is there, for all to see: never will #11 get its just desserts as long as Mike Ilitch owns the Tigers. And not just Bill Freehan should be sad about that.

What do YOU think? I'm eager to hear from you. Post a comment or email me at to chime in.

Sacre Bleu! My '74 Expos Don't Stand A Chance With Me At The Helm

Whoever said managing a baseball team is easy? I mean, besides fans and anyone else who’s never tried it before?

I’ve tried it, and it ain’t easy. My record speaks for itself, sadly.

Okay, so it’s not REAL baseball. Some of you faithful Greg Eno readers may recall that I usually replay a baseball team’s season through the magic of tabletop games like APBA, Strat-O-Matic, Replay, Pursue the Pennant, etc. You might also recall that last year’s foray with the 1991 Cubs in PTP was, shall we say, less than successful. And you might also remember me writing that I even fired myself a few years back while piloting the 1959 Pirates in SOM. Thaaaat’s right…..fired myself. I continued to manage, of course, but while pretending to be an interim guy.

Did I also tell you that I’m a little nuts?

Anyhow, I am now leading the 1974 Montreal Expos, that lovely 79-82 club of Ron Fairly, Pepe Frias and Ken Singleton. Okay, so they’re not populated with Hallof Famers, but…this is getting ridiculous. After flirting with .500, like the Tigers, getting close at 21-22, my Les Expos have stumbled big time, losing 13 of 17 to fall to 25-35. I’m in danger of getting fired again.

So here’s the deal: I play most nights, after my lovely wife and child have gone into slumber, the sounds of rolling dice lulling them to sleep. And, lately, the sounds of “#$!@#”. Like the other night, which was another way I am separated from the ghosts of Walter Alston, Casey Stengel and Joe McCarthy: down by three, bottom of the 9th, and my leadoff man, Mike Jorgensen, gets a base hit, then moves to second on a wild pitch. The next batter, Barry Foote (told you they weren’t Hall of Famers), singles. So what do I do? I commit a cardinal sin, that’s what. Instead of holding Jorgy, whose run is meaningless, I send him, challenging the arm of the Cubs’ Jose Cardenal. Big mistake. Jorgy gets nabbed, and instead of 1st and 3rd with no outs, I’m looking at man on 1st, one out.

Oh, how Montreal talk radio would be up in arms!

We recovered to win last night, and can even our four-game set with the 66-96 Cubs tonight.

Maybe the guys will play hard the rest of the way to save my job.

Thanks to faithful “Out of Bounds” reader Brian DeCaussin, who cleared up the College World Series format for me. A lovely “OOB” t-shirt will be his. Here’s Brian’s email:

Hi, Greg.I'm not sure I understand every little aspect of theCollege World Series, but here's what I think Iunderstand.It's begins as a 64 team field, just like thebasketball tournament. Conference tournament winnersget automatic berths and the selection committee picksthe at-large schools just like in basketball. The committee also seeds the teams using, amongstother things, the ever-popular RPI. (Yes, NCAAbaseball has an RPI. Go to Boyd's for aprimer.) The field has a traditional bracket formatthat determines match-ups throughout.The 64 teams are divided into "Regionals" of fourteams. The four teams in each regional play a doubleelimination tournament. The winner advances onto a"Super Regional". The Super Regionals feature only two teams in eachbracket in a best of three format. Basically, it'sstill a double elimination scenario. Lose two, youare out.The winner of each of the Super Regionals advances toOmaha. Basically, these would be your Elite 8 teams,if this were hoops.The eight participants in Omaha square off in anotherdouble elimination tournament. The two winners ofeach side of the brackets then face off in a best ofthree championship series. The baseball tourney is like most NCAA championshipformats except that has a double elimination processat each step. I hope this helps. Feel free to ask questions. Whoknows? I may even have an answer or two.Brian

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Placido Polanco: Fun To Say, Fun To Eat (Well, Not Literally)

There are some sports names that I’ve known over the years that are simply fun to say:
Chico Maki. Manu Tuaiasosopo. Harthorne Wingo. Spud Webb.

And now, Placido Polanco.

Polanco, who I didn’t really know because I don’t follow the National League, is a cherub-looking guy with a face as round as a baseball. But he’s already won me over; the guy can flat out hit. My colleague at Motor City Sports Magazine, Muneesh Jain, was beside himself when the Tigers acquired second sacker Polanco from the Phillies for reliever Ugueth Urbina.

“We don’t NEED a second baseman!,” Muneesh wailed to me.

“What if he hits .390 in his first month?,” I should have said. Then I would have looked like a freaking soothsayer.

Polanco has done nothing but hit the bejeebers out of the ball, play some decent second base, and filled the #2 spot in the batting order like custard in a donut – yummily.

It should be noted that Polanco didn’t just start hitting when he pulled on the Olde English D. He is no stranger to the .300 mark. The Phillies let him go because they are high on young Chase Utley. But after watching Polanco swing the bat and play second, this Utley better be the second coming of Joe Morgan.

So thanks, Philly – we’ll take Placido. Even if my friend Muneesh doesn’t think we need him.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The College World Series? High School Calculus Was Easier To Figure Out! (But You Could Win A T-Shirt)

Today’s post is a contest of sorts.

I need your help.

One of those wonderful “Out of Bounds” t-shirts will be available later this summer (when the new batch is ready) for the person who can tell me, correctly, how the heck the College World Series of baseball is formatted.

I survived high school calculus. I went to college – and graduated, too! I even made it through our daughter’s fifth grade homework this past school year. But I cannot, for the life of me, figure out the College World Series.

Now, I must admit, I am not a fan of college baseball. Never have been. The aluminum bats turn me off; I can’t get past those. Anyhow, maybe that is contributing to my dumbness when it comes to what is, I assume, their granddaddy event. You might wonder, then, why do I care how they run the darn thing, if I am not a fan?

Sometimes you just need to know certain things, even if it doesn’t truly matter. The College World Series absolutely doesn’t affect me, because I couldn’t care less who wins it, frankly. But I would also, at the same time, dearly like to know how the tournament works because it’s one of those mysteries, like Ted Koppel’s hair, that you’d kind of like to be explained.

Plus, I’m in the mood to give out a t-shirt or two.

If more than one person responds with the correct answer, I’ll put their names in a hat and draw. Or you can fight to the death for it – whichever strikes your fancy.

So please post a comment or email me at to clue me in.


Sunday, June 26, 2005

"Rooftop" Jones' Debut Kept The Tigers Rolling In '84

(another in a series of posts featuring memorable Tigers -- in one way, shape or form -- who played in Detroit since the last All-Star game here, in 1971. This series celebrates the return of the midsummer classic to the Motor City in 2005, and a new feature will appear each weekend until the game is played in July)

One of the things that most championship teams have in common, in any sport, is contribution from so-called "role players" -- guys who aren't starters, typically, but who do certain things quite well. All your stars can't play all the time, of course.

The 1984 Tigers had role players coming out of their ears: Marty Castillo, Rusty Kuntz, Johnny Grubb, to name a few, all contributed in their specialized ways. But another guy personified "role player" to the nth degree, and he wasn't even on the team when the Tigers broke camp in April.

Ruppert "Rooftop" Jones was a lefthanded power hitter who had seen most of his better days pass him by when the Tigers came calling, signing him as a free agent in April. Tigers GM Bill Lajoie figured the club needed another stick, especially one from the left side, so he snagged Jones on the cheap. Lajoie thought the pull-hitting Ruppert would be a good fit for Tiger Stadium, with its short porch in right field. It didn't take long for Lajoie's assessment to ring true.

Jones was a hit right off the bat with the Tigers in '84

After a short stay in the minors to regain his batting eye and timing, Jones joined the team in Detroit in early June, when the second place Blue Jays were in town. Despite their phenomenal start, the Tigers were feeling pressure from the Jays, who were also playing great ball and were nipping at the Tigers' heels. The first game of the four-game set was a classic; it was the Monday night when Dave Bergman fouled off what seemed like 20 pitches (it was eight) off Blue Jays reliever Roy Lee Jackson, then finally won the game with a walk-off homer, on national TV. But Toronto won the next two, and suddenly they were only 3 1/2 games off the lead. Enter Jones.

Ruppert, called up the previous day, had a very auspicious Tigers debut. He slammed a three-run home run off the facing of the third deck -- hence the nickname "Rooftop", even though it didn't clear the roof -- to help lead the Tigers to victory and bump their lead to 4 1/2 games. He caught fire as soon as the Tigers promoted him, and before long the Jays were left with dust in their mouths as the Tigers consistently kept their lead between 8-12 games all summer long.

Jones quickly became a fan favorite, with his huge chaw of tobacco in his cheek, his bulging eyes as he got ready in the batter's box, and his towering home runs. Lajoie was right -- Ruppert was indeed a perfect fit for Tiger Stadium, and for Tigers fans. He wasn't much of an outfielder, but that's not why the team acquired him. Jones filled his "role" perfectly -- providing punch from the left side, both in a DH and pinch-hitting sort of way.

Jones said that going to the Tigers revived him, like a splash of cold water in one's face. The energy of the pennant race, plus the team's obvious destiny to win the division, was just what the 29 year-old Jones needed.

Jones slugged 12 homers in just over 200 at-bats with the '84 Tigers, then signed with the Angels, where he had a few decent seasons, making it back to the ALCS in 1986.

Would the Tigers have won the division, the pennant, and the World Series without Ruppert Jones? Probably -- they were that good. But it doesn't diminish his contributions to that marvelous ballclub. Besides, you never know what might have happened had the Blue Jays won that game back in May to pull within 2 1/2 games of the Tigers. Could have been a different race. But thanks to Ruppert "Rooftop" Jones, Tigers fans never had to worry about that.

(next week: Tito Fuentes)

Saturday, June 25, 2005

For Mooch And Tram, Time To Win Is Now, Not Later

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

"Fire Alan Trammell!"

"Sack Steve Mariucci!"

It won’t be long before those two declarations will be heard more and more around this town. You know it’s true.

Both Trammell, the Tigers manager, and Mariucci, the Lions coach, started leading their teams in Detroit in 2003. Both had lousy first seasons -- Trammell had his with big league impostors. Both made some strides in their second tries. And both must win -- if not now, then very soon -- to save their jobs, already, if the fans have anything to say about it.

Trammell (left) and Mariucci already are on the hot seat, in Season 3

It’s probably accurate to make such a statement, though it hasn’t been mentioned too often, beyond the impulsive callers to the sports radio talk shows around town. It’s accurate because both men are in charge of teams that are beyond trying the patience of their respective fans. It’s accurate because honeymoons with the Tigers and Lions, if they were real honeymoons, would be over with when the couple checks into their hotel suite.

But mainly it’s accurate because each man’s ownership is providing him, slowly but surely, with the tools needed to be successful. Tigers owner Mike Ilitch has been breaking out the checkbook lately, the scouting department is finally beginning to produce big league-caliber players, and certain Tigers are maturing and coming into their own, all at the same time. The core is developing at Comerica Park, and it’s up to Trammell to take it to the next level. Same thing with Mariucci. President Matt Millen has been orchestrating some nice drafts as of late, and his free agent signees have been mostly smart and capable.

So it’s getting to be that time -- when expectations are higher and more realistic instead of being just lip service. And when that stage of development occurs, only one person is accountable: the manager, or coach. Trammell has this year, and that’s about all, to show people he can manage a bit and manage real big leaguers to boot. Mariucci better win some games in 2005, because his shine has mostly worn off since that day when he was introduced as Lions coach in a ceremony befitting the crowning of a new king. There are whispers that Mooch may not have been the hotshot that was advertised, and that his success in San Francisco may not have been all that much to begin with. Did he win a Super Bowl? An NFC Championship? No and no. In fact, he led the 49’ers no further than Wayne Fontes led the Lions, postseason-wise, when it comes right down to it. I forgive you if you just winced when you read that. But it’s true.

Mariucci’s hiring was exciting because for the first time since....probably ever, the Lions had snagged someone that other NFL teams -- real, honest-to-goodness NFL teams -- also had considered seriously to run their programs. Trammell’s introduction as Tigers manager was neat because he was a local hero coming home to save the team. But that kind of anticipation and titillation only goes so far. Sooner or later you have to win. Later is gone; Sooner is here now, at the door with his bags because he plans on staying a while. And chances are, he’ll still be here after Trammell and/or Mariucci are gone, if history is any indicator.

Trammell’s case is a bit more touchy, because it’s practically like Al Kaline managing the team for as beloved as Trammell was as a player, and how do you call for the firing of someone like Kaline, for crying out loud? But Bart Starr, who could have been elected the mayor of Green Bay and never been unseated, was fired as Packers head coach eventually. Tommy Heinsohn was as Boston as baked beans, and he got the boot as Celtics coach. And let’s not forget that Sparky Anderson, Trammell’s mentor, was fired as Reds manager in 1978 despite four World Series appearances and two championships in nine seasons. So it can happen; legends can be fired.

Tram might get a longer leash because Ilitch is so respectful of the team’s tradition, but the owner fired Jacques Demers as coach of the Red Wings even though he practically considered Jacques a son. It’s about winning, and Trammell’s playing career and his nice guy status won’t mean a hill of beans if the Tigers don’t start edging themselves over .500 on a consistent basis.

Mariucci is probably more expendable, because even though he is a Northern Michigan boy and best buddies with MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo, Mooch will be, frankly, just another NFL coach who passed through town if he doesn’t get a hold of this situation and start getting the Lions into the playoffs and make some noise when they get there. I doubt very much Lions fans will be concerned about Izzo shedding tears with his friend Mariucci if the latter gets the axe.

Having said all this, it is still unlikely that either man will be canned without a proper amount of time to prove himself, despite the fans’ consternation. But this column isn’t about what Ilitch or Bill Ford Sr. will do; it’s about what the fans will demand. And before long, you’re very likely to hear more and more chatter about getting rid of Trammell and/or Mariucci around every water cooler in Metro Detroit. And on every call-in show on the radio. And in every sports chat room. And on every sports blog. And, eventually, in every column in the News and Free Press.

To be fair, both Tram and Mooch relish the pressure that the need to win produces, and both are eager to meet the challenge. Both are well-versed enough about Detroit sports to know that their popularity and resumes won’t carry them further than their records. Both like and respect their owners, and feel they owe it to them, if nobody else, to win. Both know that their reputations are on the line, and that their success or failure here will impact future jobs in their respective games.

Still, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown -- especially crowns that have been as tarnished as those associated with the Tigers and Lions of late. And when I say "of late", I mean the last 48 years. Three world championships in almost half a century between them will create such tarnishing.

To make it all go away, all Tram and Mooch have to do is follow the advice of Raiders managing partner Al Davis: Just Win, Baby. Or we’ll just find someone who will -- local hero or not.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Wanna Feel The Love, Joey? Accept A Demotion

Insert boos and abuse from talk radio here, please

Okay, so what else is going on around town, sports-wise, now that the Pistons have all gone home for the summer?

Basketball still happening at the Palace; Shock doing okay. Baseball not even halfway done yet at Comerica Park; Tigers doing alright. Zamboni still gathering cobwebs at Joe Louis Arena; Red Wings scattered all over the world. And mini-camps and drills still going on occasionally in Allen Park; Lions primed for another quarterback controversy.

Now that my mind is cleared from my Pistons hangover, I have a brilliant idea for Joey Harrington. If he really wants the fans' support --and he does, trust me -- and if he truly is getting tired of the abuse -- and he is -- then I have the perfect solution:

Become the backup quarterback.

That's right. Take a demotion. Abdicate the signal-calling throne. Sneak into the team's offices and retype your name behind Jeff Garcia's on the depth chart. You do this, Joey, and I think you'll like the results.

I'm no genius, believe me. I'm simply utilizing the Hipple/Munson/Kramer Theorem, which states that, "The most liked quarterback in Detroit shall be the backup."

See? All you have to do is anoint Jeff Garcia the starter -- Numero Uno -- and you suddenly become the most liked QB in town. Let's face it: the football fans around here have always preferred their quarterbacks with clipboards and baseball caps. They love them like that. But as soon as the helmet gets put on and the clipboard is replaced with an actual football, well....the love goes away, don't you know.

I know it's not easy to be #2 when it comes to being an athlete, because you want to play, let's face it. But you don't care for the booing and the vitriol, either, and the only way to shield yourself from that is to not play. It's a genuine football Catch-22, I tell you.

Playing = booing and abuse on talk radio.
Not playing = adoration and cessation of aforementioned booing and abuse on talk radio.

It's not rocket science, folks.

If you think I'm full of pigskin, fast forward your football brain to, say, mid-October. Joey is on the bench, having not played a down. The Lions are 2-4 -- a record, of course, that MUST be the quarterback's fault entirely. Garcia is being booed and taking abuse on talk radio. So what happens next?

"Put in Joey!"

"Even Harrington could have completed THAT pass!"

"We want Harrington!"

"Backup quarterbacks -- UNITE!"

And so on.

If you still don't think this or something very similar to it would happen, then either you haven't lived here for more than a day, or you've been sniffing the stickum again.

I doubt, even after having said all this, Joey Harrington will take my advice. I know it's not in a player's heart and soul to willfully step aside and let someone else take his place. I know Joey will hold on to the starter's job with every fiber of his being. I know that he believes he's the man who can succeed where dozens of quarterbacks have failed.

It's kinda cute, in a way, that he's still so naive.

Thanks, Krista! Today's Freep Gives "Out of Bounds" Some Generous Ink

Just wanted to give a shout out to Krista Latham of the Detroit Free Press. Krista is a sportswriter there, and she is also at times the "Undercover Fan." Sorry to out you, Krista, but you deserve my thanks for the nice plug in today's Freep, on page 2C, in your story about Pistons bloggers. Very generous of you to give me such ink. And you mentioned the debut of Motor City Sports Magazine, which will hit newsstands October 4, 2005.

Speaking of MCS Magazine, you should know it will be a monthly pub dedicated to Detroit and Michigan sports -- high school, college and pro. Look for it. For subscription info, mouse on over to

To find out what Undercover Fan had to say about me, click on "MORE" at the end of this post.

Thanks again, Krista! (And now you know what I wrote about a Pistons' Game 7 loss).

Dethroned? Naah -- Time Just Ran Out On The Pistons

Whether Brown leads them or not, Pistons still champs in my book

Well, the Pistons and I have one frightful thing in common: we both have lousy timing.

What a time to go cold. What a time to lose the aura. What a time to run out of tricks in the bag.

You should know what I'm talking about. I crowed -- oh, did I crow -- that a Pistons Game 7 win was so much in the bag, you didn't even have to watch the game if it was too much for you. I bragged about how hot I've been, prediction-wise, in these playoffs. I told you there would be a party down Jefferson Avenue.

Then I went cold, just like the Pistons, at the worst possible time -- the very end, when it mattered the most.

The Pistons led, 48-39, in the third quarter, and you could start to feel that ebb that had been swaying back and forth gradually tilting the Pistons' way. A couple more baskets there, a couple more stops, and I think the Pistons would have been on their way to back-to-back titles.

But the Spurs did not go away. Neither team had after the first four games, so why should we have expected it would happen in Game 7? In a flash the lead was two -- 48-46 -- and then you knew, just knew, that you'd have to sweat another one out. One more angst-filled ending. One more "here we go again, so buckle your seat belts" fourth quarter.

The Pistons had been starring in their version of "The Perils of Pauline" throughout the playoffs, and this time the bad guy finally got the girl. Right from the opening tap of the first game of the first round, the Pistons flirted with danger. They fell behind by 16 points -- in the first quarter! -- to the Sixers in Game 1 of Round 1. They trailed the Pacers 2-1 with Game 4 in Indy. They had to win Game 6 and Game 7 to get past the Heat. And now, one more peril was created, a big one this time: 0-2, then 2-3, with the last two games in San Antonio. One more "foxhole", as Chauncey Billups said, out of which to climb. But you figured, hey why not, they've done it all season, what's one more? You especially thought that after a gutsy Game 6 win. Weren't all the Pistons' wins in the playoffs "gutsy"? Sure seemed like it.

One too many.

It was said about the great Lions quarterback Bobby Layne, "Bobby never lost a game; time just ran out on him." I think that fits the Pistons pretty well, too. It may be arrogant, but I agree with them that if they play their game, they will win. It's more about what they do or don't do that dictates the final result.

Look, the Pistons have no more been "dethroned", in my book, than a divorced man loses his title of "father" to his offspring. It's corny, but the Pistons are still champions, in heart and mind if not on paper, because of how they play in momentous occasions. Yes, they got cold from the field in the last 18 minutes and scoring baskets was like eating soup with a fork. But man, did they never quit. Even though watching the final minute was like watching someone taking the last piece of pizza, but only gradually, one morsel at a time, I didn't truly think it was over until there were 10 seconds left and the Pistons were down by three possessions. That's how much it takes to believe the Pistons won't come through. Ten seconds left. A three possession ballgame. Only then could the Spurs feel like champs.

But the Pistons should feel like champs. They should feel it all summer long, all through training camp, and throughout next season (regardless of who the coach is), and certainly during next year's playoffs. They should feel it because they are it. They are as tough-minded and as resilient a bunch as I've ever seen pull on NBA uniforms. They have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. I even forgive them Game 5's misery, which will poke and jab them, but that's the NBA, brother. Sheed happens.

So I was wrong. I got cold, like the Pistons, at the most inopportune time. They didn't win. But they are winners.

Thanks, guys.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Hey, It's In The Bag, Pistons Fans! So Take The Night Off

All you Pistons fans who feel like you’re going to Sheed your pants in anticipation of tonight’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals, here’s a word -- literally -- of advice for you: relax.

Yep, that’s right. Chill out. Take a bubble bath. Enjoy a glass of iced tea. Read a good book and curl up on the sofa. In fact, you don’t even have to watch the game if it’s too much for you. I’m giving you a night off tonight, if you wish, from the drama and angst of these NBA playoffs. I’m granting you the option of finally getting off this rollercoaster you’ve been riding for two months worth of postseason action.

The Pistons are gonna win it, and if you don’t believe me, then I feel sorry for you because all you’re going to end up doing is giving yourself an ulcer and a Chauncey stomach.

I speak the truth because the hottest person in these last two rounds hasn’t been Billups or Hamilton or Prince or even Wade or Ginobili. It hasn’t been Rasheed or Ben or Shaq or Duncan.

The hottest person, you see, has been me. Moi. Yours truly. The auteur of this cozy little blog.
You can read these next few lines to the theme of "Shaft" if you’d like, but suffice it to say that I was the cat who said the Pistons wouldn’t drop out against the Heat after they went down 3-2. I was the dude who said they would win a blowout in Game 6 over Miami and a tight one in Game 7, and it happened exactly as I said. I was the one who said the Pistons would settle themselves down and win Game 3 against the Spurs. I was the man who risked his life for his fellow man by suggesting the Pistons relax and have fun in Game 6 because nobody expected them to win. I was the one who reminded folks that the 1990 Pistons hadn’t won in Portland in over 15 years, yet swept all three in Oregon to win the championship, so why couldn’t today’s Pistons snap an eight-year streak in San Antonio like a twig if the Portland streak was a tree trunk?

You see? Hotter than a habanero pepper, I tell you.

So spend some time with your family tonight. Go to a movie. Play video games. Drop in on Aunt Meg or Uncle Joe. Check out the Tigers on the tube, if you must watch TV. Go ahead -- I’m telling you it’ll all be fine because the Pistons will do what you want them to do, so why put yourself through any more agony?

But if you MUST watch the game, if you just have to see for yourself that I am right and truthful, I understand. I mean, I could be wrong.

But I’m not.

See ya on Jefferson Avenue.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Don't Look Now, But The Tigers Will Soon Take Center Stage

Time is running out on the Tigers. Their two month rehearsal is over, and in a couple of days they will have to perform for real. The curtain will be raised -- because the Pistons' season will be over with and we will be forced to turn our attention their way. It's one of the few times that an opening act is sure to upstage the headliner.

The Tigers are 34-33, and if they have been over .500 this late in a season, then maybe it is written on a stone tablet somewhere. Okay, maybe it hasn't been quite that long, but it sure hasn't been just yesterday, either. There are 95 games remaining, and even though they probably won't mean a hill of beans as far as qualifying for the playoffs is concerned, the team has a chance to finish north of .500, and that alone should be cause for a parade, much like the one San Antonio planned for tomorrow.

Jeremy "I'm Not Jack Morris, But I Play Him On TV" Bonderman simply went into that House of Baseball Horrors, the Metrodome, and quieted the Twins to the tune of a complete game 7-2 victory. Fitting that the Tigers should win in Minny last night, the very same evening the Pistons snapped their winless drought in San Antonio. Bonderman, with his bulldog toughness, is indeed the closest thing the team has had to an ace starter since Morris, and if you don't think so, just try to approach him on the day he's scheduled to pitch. Apparently he is about as ornery as Morris, and he's just getting started. Bonderman is only 22, which is obscene. No pitcher should be this poised and this focused and this freaking mean that young, unless he's still playing in a Pony League somewhere and is cranky because of it.

The Tigers are not good enough to win the division this year, that much is for sure. They are probably not good enough to contend for a wild card spot. They may not be, frankly, even good enough to win more than they lose -- even with the return of Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez and with a surprisingly effective pitching staff. But they might keep us interested until Lions training camp begins in mid-July. Oh, how easy it is to be satisfied around here nowadays when it comes to baseball. The Tigers have lowered our expectations so much, you need a limbo bar to keep track of them.

It figures that in the season when the pitching is finally legitimate, the hitting goes south. The Tigers traded a pretty good reliever -- Ugie Urbina -- for a pretty good hitter -- Placido Polanco -- and when was the last time that happened? Usually it's hitting for pitching, but the Tigers suddenly find themselves awash with good, young arms in their organization. See what happens when you get rid of Randy Smith and his Mr. Magoo scouts?

It's this maddening absence of a consistent offense -- a surprising void -- that will keep the Tigers shackled to the .500 level. It is too much to ask a pitching staff to keep the other team to two or three runs every game over 162 games. This isn't the late 60's anymore; hitting is the game now, not pitching and defense, like the good old days.

So in two days the Pistons will be finished, the curtain will rise, the baseball season will take front and center, and I have just one thing to say to the Tigers:

You got one month to hold my interest.

Win Or Lose Game 7, Pistons Have Proven Their Mettle

Unlike Games 1 & 2, the lane closed fast and often on Ginobili in Game 6

At one point early in the Pistons' remarkable 95-86 win in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, Game 5 hero Robert Horry had fallen flat on his keester, and Ben Wallace took advantage of the situation and slammed the ball home. The symbolism was clear: Game 5 was an ancient memory for these Pistons.

At this point, I almost don't even care if the Pistons win Game 7. Okay, I do care -- very much so, frankly -- but I am so proud of them right now that, to me, they've already proven themselves with yet another display of their mental toughness. I certainly wouldn't bet against them in Game 7 -- no way, uh-uh. How could you? By now, after watching the last two playoff runs by this team, you'd have to be blind -- both in eye and in heart -- to not see that the Pistons absolutely do not wilt under pressure. They are 5-0 in games in which they face playoff elimination under Larry Brown, and at least three of those have been in the most hostile of situations: Game 6 in New Jersey in '04, Game 7 in Miami ths year, and last night's Game 6.

The entire city of San Antonio was just ready to burst out with partying and celebration. The champagne was chilling in the Spurs' lockerroom. The parade, we were told over and over, was planned for Thursday. The Pistons hadn't won in San Antonio since 1997. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

But the Pistons have this unreal ability to take such situations and turn them into positive energy and play their toughest basketball. So Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton went out and proved that if they aren't the best backcourt in basketball, then they are most definitely the best that has never made an All-Star team. Toss in some Tayshaun Prince offensive boards at the most key of moments, devilishly gutsy play from Rasheed Wallace, who was aggressive yet restrained with his five fouls, and the Pistons took control of the game in the closing moments. They had seen a seven-point lead that they had tried to nurse wittled down to one, 87-86. Then in the last couple minutes, Detroit outscored the Spurs 8-0. Hello, Game 7.

The only parade that will occur in San Antonio on Thursday will be the marching of the Pistons into the SBC Center to try to do what nobody thought they could do, mainly because nobody has done it: win the last two games of a Finals series, on the road, to win the championship. The funny thing is, the Pistons will still be underdogs, but that's just fine. But it's not right. I think the Pistons, considering the situation, should be looked at as having the upper hand. This is one of those moments they relish.

Once again, the 2-3-2 format changes the dynamics of this series. Normally, the Pistons would ave won a home Game 6 to force Game 7. But not only have they pushed this series to the brink, they have exorcised those "You haven't won in San Antonio since 1997" demons, all in one fell swoop. Forcing a Game 7 by winning Game 6 on the road is a whole different animal. Now all the Pistons have to do is relax and have fun, as I hoped they would do in Game 6, because most folks still think the odds are against them. And maybe the odds, from a mathematical sense, are indeed not in their favor.

Just the way the Pistons like them.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Down 3-2, Pookie Piston? Relax And Have Fun!

Cheer up, son: the pressure's all on the Spurs

Here's a question for all of you Pistons fans to ponder as you gnash your teeth and wring your hands and fantasize of all the ways Tony Soprano might do away with Robert Horry:

When is it easier to relax, have fun, and let it all hang out in professional sports -- when the whole world expects you to fail, or when an entire city breathes down your neck, ready to crack open cases of champagne and is telling you, "Don't EVEN think of losing!"?

This is where you're supposed to say, "Ummm...the first one?"

Tell me, what percentage of this great basketball-loving country expects the Pistons to win one game in San Antonio, let alone two? How many believed that whomever won Game 5 would win the championship? How many think that, because of Game 5's classic drama, anything after it is merely something that has to be played so the Spurs can officially be crowned champions? And how come I'm asking so many questions today?

Sorry to be so inquisitive, but if the Pistons ever just wanted to toss aside all their angst, tension and just play some damn basketball, it is tonight in Game 6. They say they thrive on the "us against the world" situations and maintain they play their best ball when their backs are to the wall. Well, I'd say their backs are pretty much part of the brick and mortar right about now. Just about EVERYONE figures this series is over. You've heard the talk, the numbers: the Pistons haven't won in San Antonio since George Gervin was a rookie (okay, maybe not that long, but April 2, 1997 may as well be an eternity for some media folks), they stunk down there in Games 1 and 2, blah, blah, Blaha.

To hear some people talk -- and I'm not including Bill Walton here because the operative word was people -- the Pistons may as well not even bother showing up tonight except for the presentation of the Larry O'Brien Trophy to the Spurs so they can shake their hands.

But here's something else for them to talk about, by the way: do they know that when the Pistons split the first two games of the 1990 Finals with the Trailblazers, they hadn't won in Portland in over 15 years? Don't they remember what happened next? Didn't the Pistons sweep all three games in that Oregon town to win the championship? Why am I still asking so many freaking questions?

Anyhow, see where I'm heading here? (Another question, sorry). Okay, the Pistons haven't won in San Antonio since '97. Fine. I could quibble and say the Pistons only visit the Spurs once a season due to league scheduling, but I won't stoop to that level, even though it's true. But a friend of mine, Bob Zahari, likes to point out that such streaks are actually good omens for the streakee because, frankly, they're due. Z, you're absolutely right. Aren't the odds that the Pistons are bound to win in SBC sooner or later? Why not make it sooner?

Look, even I have my doubts about whether the Pistons can pull this off, and I'm about as optimistic of a guy as there is when it comes to our basketballers. My gut tells me this may be one hole they don't crawl out of, but who the hell am I? The Pistons have proven so many people wrong about their chances in so many playoff series the last couple of years, they'd make great defense attorneys. They're the Perry Masons of the NBA.

So here's to hoping the Pistons just stay loose, have a ball, and enjoy the hell out of tonight's game. Basketball jerseys don't have collars, but don't for a moment think the Spurs won't feel their throats tighten the longer the Pistons hang around. And if you think the pressure should be on the Spurs to finish the Pistons in Game 6, what the heck do you think it will be like during a Game 7?

Then we can all say, "The Spurs haven't beaten the Pistons in San Antonio since June 12, 2005."

I don't know about you, but Z and I think those aren't very good odds. Not a long enough streak.

Monday, June 20, 2005

"Horry"-Fying! Pistons Will Be Haunted By Defensive Lapse

Robert Horry, sticking his final dagger into the Pistons' hearts

I have not played organized basketball since I was 14 years old (I'm 41 now). I have never, ever coached the game. I haven't even played a pickup game in several years. I have never been a student of the game, have never been unusually wise to its theories, and have never purported to know all that much about the x's and o's beyond what any normal fan might know.

But there is one thing that even I knew when the Pistons were in a timeout with 9.5 seconds remaining in overtime of Game 5 of the NBA Finals last night:


Horry, who didn't score a single point until there was one second remaining in the third quarter, somehow found an empty telephone booth at the Palace and changed into his Superman costume. Well, maybe not, but he found his deadeye shooting touch, and he began raining three-pointers on the Pistons like a basketball-sized hail storm. Four of five he had hit, 18 points he had scored, and his shots were as clutch as clutch can get. Oh, how he was saving the Spurs time and time again, whenever it looked as if the Pistons might pull away and put the Spurs down 3-2. Forget Manu Ginobili. Disregard Tony Parker. Even Tim Duncan should have been brushed aside during the Pistons' timeout in that situation -- 9 seconds remaining and the Spurs down two, 95-93. A two-point basket, you could live with. A three-pointer was what you had to be worried about, because even though I am no basketball expert, as I indicated, even I know that three points, when you're up by two, can put you behind by one.

Especially when the hottest player, the player that has been sticking daggers into your heart throughout the fourth quarter and overtime, is on the floor, inbounding the ball.

So Horry tosses the ball in to Ginobili in the corner, and even though he is 30 feet from the basket, Rasheed Wallace tries a trap -- a weak trap, by the way -- and Manu does what even I -- the non-expert, you recall -- would do: pass it to the guy who has been hitting all those big triples. And Horry, probably scarcely able to believe his fortune, finds himself as alone as a guy who had a limburger and onions sandwich for lunch, and calmly drains a go-ahead trey as if he was tossing a penny into the Atlantic Ocean. Ballgame -- and maybe series.

The Pistons will be haunted by this breakdown in defensive fundamentals for longer than you want to believe. If coach Larry Brown didn't harp on his guys to keep a man on Robert Horry and be careful of the triple during that strategy session, then I'm a monkey's uncle. And I'm an only child, so you know what the odds of that one are. Yet just two seconds into the play, the only man that was left open was......ROBERT HORRY! It's enough to make a Pistons fan want to eat Ben Wallace's afro.

Hey, everyone makes mistakes. Everyone has mental lapses, even veteran NBA players. But Sheed tends to have them more than others. From his ill-timed technical fouls to his maddening refusal to take the ball to the hole, Wallace's mind appears to be elsewhere in the most cataclysmic of times. Did you catch how he almost became the second coming of Chris Webber at the end of regulation? Snatching the rebound of Tim Duncan's missed put-back as time ticked away, Sheed tried to call timeout, even though the Pistons had none remaining. But unlike Webber's blunder in the '93 NCAA Championship game, the clock read 0:00.0 when he attempted such foolishness, so a technical foul wasn't called. How would that have been for a way to lose? Even Rip Hamilton, you could see, was beside himself. He rushed to Sheed, obviously unsure that time had expired, and was frantically telling him something like, "YOU IDIOT!! WHAT THE #$&% ARE YOU DOING?!!" Or words to that effect.

So having dodged that dart of a mental blunder, the Pistons appeared, several times, to take control in overtime. And every time they did, Robert Horry was there -- a put back, a drive, dunk and foul, and those irritating triples. Watching Horry launch from behind the arc, as hot as he was, was like watching a guy drive in for an uncontested layup: you knew it was going in. Yet during the most crucial play in a game full of them, Horry was abandoned by Rasheed Wallace all so he could try to trap a man 30 feet from the hoop when the Spurs still had a timeout left should Ginobili had gotten into some real trouble. OOPS!

No, the series isn't over. Yes, the Pistons seem to defy the odds, time and again, and do things that most people don't believe they can do. But this one is going to be awfully tough to bounce back from.

You don't have to be a basketball expert to see that.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

2-3-2 Format Might Be Pistons' Saving Grace Again

More than a trophy is at stake in
this year's Finals

Let's hear it for the 2-3-2 format of the NBA Finals!

I'm still not quite sure why the NBA does it like that, considering every other playoff series in every other round is 2-2-1-1-1, but it can have a dramatic effect on things in the most important series of them all, and I'm wondering why it's set up that way. Why fool with formats in the Finals?

By the way, in case you live beneath a rock, the 2-3-2 means two games at the favorite's arena, three at the underdog's, and two more at the favorite's. In every other series, after the first four games are split 2-2, the teams alternate home games.

So the Pistons, in any other series, would be playing tonight's Game 5 in San Antonio, not the Palace. It could very well make a difference in who wins these Finals. Think about it. The Spurs, beaten and dazed, would be heading back to Texas for some much needed home cooking and an excellent opportunity to right the ship and take a 3-2 series lead. Then the Pistons would need to win two in a row to capture their back-to-back titles.

But with the 2-3-2, the Pistons have the pivotal fifth game at home, and they, not the Spurs, can keep the momentum going and capture a home win for that all-important 3-2 lead. It is a change in format that is unbelievably drastic, when you consider it for a moment.

Last year, of course, the Pistons took advantage of their split in L.A. in Games 1 and 2, swept their home games and won the Larry O'Brien Trophy. It's interesting to note that not only were the Pistons the first to sweep their home games under the 2-3-2, which took effect in 1984, but they were also the first to sweep the games on the road, too -- in 1990 at Portland. Not a bad little statistic.

Tonight's game cannot be overstated in its importance, though I'm sure the loudmouths on ABC will give it a shot. This has been an odd Finals series, maybe one of the oddest ever, and while conventional wisdom says the Pistons will win Game 5, who can tell after four blowouts? Whomever wins this series will have added quite a piece to their legacy. A Pistons repeat would be simply impressive as hell, and a Spurs title would be their third in seven seasons. Both have a lot to lose with a defeat: the Pistons would be portrayed as paper champions and one-year wonders, and the Spurs, if they lose, would be painted as soft choke artists. That's all.

The feeling here is that the Pistons will win tonight, but not in a blowout. Then, I gotta admit, I like them in a Game 6 down in Texas. Three straight wins in a Finals series is a tough winning streak to top, and the momentum will be completely on the Pistons' side. If it goes seven, though, I kind of think the Pistons might be in trouble.

Regardless, this series has a lot at stake for both teams, much more so than any matchup in recent memory. I disagree that the four laughers are bad for the game. It merely sets up an ending that no one -- no one -- can predict with any certainty. It's great theatre, frankly.

Let's get it on.

Woodie & Hondo Helped Fuel Tigers' '72 AL East Charge

(another in a series of posts featuring memorable Tigers -- in one way, shape or form -- who played in Detroit since the last All-Star game here, in 1971. This series celebrates the return of the midsummer classic to the Motor City in 2005, and a new feature will appear each weekend until the game is played in July)

More and more sports fans are emerging who weren't even born when the Tigers were just two measly runs away from going to the 1972 World Series. Around Detroit, the '68, '84 and even the '87 teams get all the publicity, for their World Series and/or divisional exploits. But hardly anyone talks about the '72 club, and they might be the most interesting story of them all.

The '72 Tigers were managed by Billy Martin, and I could fill up an entire blog with just stories about him, so suffice it to say that Billy was, of course, fiery. Going into the season, Billy was concerned about the team's pitching but not so much about the hitting, which figured to be sufficient. The Tigers were coming off a second place finish in 1971, to the Orioles, and even though Martin complained publicly that the O's seemed to have all the good, young talent and the Tigers didn't, Detroit was nonetheless clumped into a group of teams that had a shot at winning the AL East title. The Tigers were an older, veteran-laden team than the other contenders, and it was the team's way to pick up aging players to plug holes that their minor league system couldn't.

So the Tigers acquired, in Martin's tenure, vets like Duke Sims, Tony Taylor, Dave Boswell, Jim Perry and Dean Chance, to name a few. But in 1972 specifically, the Tigers struck gold with the acquisitions of pitcher Woodie Fryman and first baseman Frank Howard.

The Tigers got Fryman from the Phillies, who were having a terrible season. Howard came from Texas, also awful in their first season as ex-Washington Senators. Fryman, a lefty starter, was 32 and was experiencing a 4-10 season when the Tigers snatched him up. Fryman fit in nicely immediately, going 10-3 with an ERA under 3.00. He was Doyle Alexander before Alexander. Doyle, as you probably know, went something like 9-1 down the stretch for the '87 Tigers who won the division on the final day of the season. Fryman was dominant, and it was a good thing, too, because surprisingly it was the Tigers' pitching that saved their bacon because the vaunted offense struggled mightily. The starting rotation of Fryman, Mickey Lolich, Joe Coleman and Tom Timmerman was so proficient that the offense didn't have to score a lot of runs, which it didn't.

Fryman was 1972's Doyle Alexander for the Tigers

Howard was an even more interesting story. Hondo was 36 and at one time with the Senators was considered one of the most feared sluggers in the game. In 1968, for example, Howard hit 10 home runs in one week, still a league record. He had come into the big leagues with the Dodgers, and before long he was consistently hitting 20-30 homers. But by the time the Tigers came calling in '72, Howard was near the end of the line and was merely pedestrian with the new Rangers. It seemed like his career was over. But the Tigers' acquisition breathed life into Hondo. He only played 14 games, but he had some key hits and was perhaps the team's biggest cheerleader. He had to cheer, because he was acquired too late to qualify for the postseason roster. I always felt sorry for Howard because of that, being relegated to booster when everyone knew he was dying to play in the ALCS against Oakland. But Howard insisted he was simply happy to be in the playoffs, coming over from the last-place Rangers, even if he couldn't play.

Who knows how the '72 ALCS would have turned out had
Howard (above) been able to play in it?

The Tigers won the division by outlasting the Red Sox and Orioles. The title was clinched on the final Saturday night of the season with a win over Boston at Tiger Stadium. Because of a players strike that began the season, the Tigers played 156 games, the Red Sox 155 in '72. And the Tigers won the division with an 86-70 record compared to the Bosox' 85-70 mark. Who says one game can't make a difference?

The Tigers lost the first two games of the ALCS in Oakland -- it was best-of-five back then -- but then recovered to win the next two in Detroit. Then, in the deciding fifth game, which Fryman started, the Tigers lost a heartbreaker, 2-1, when little-used reserve George Hendrick slid home with the go-ahead run in the fourth inning. The Tigers were that close to returning to their second World Series in five seasons.

Both Fryman and Howard returned to the Tigers for the 1973 season, but neither had much of an impact. Fryman was 6-13 with an ERA over 5.00, and Howard was a part-time DH, hitting 12 homers in 227 at-bats. The Tigers flirted with contention, but then Martin lost it -- as he always did wherever he went -- and got fired, and the team finished third.

Neither Woodie Fryman nor Frank Howard wore the "olde English D" very long, and lots of folks don't even know they played for the Tigers at all. But without them, the Tigers may not have won the AL East in 1972. And had Howard been able to play in the playoffs, maybe the Tigers would have won the ALCS, too.

But I guess we'll never know, will we?

(next week: Ruppert Jones)

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Schmidt's Estrangement From Lions Another Sad Episode Of Ford's Ownership

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

The man with the best winning percentage as a Detroit Lions coach under the William Clay Ford ownership -- 40 years and counting -- never was a head coach before, nor after guiding the team. He had the one NFL head coaching job -- with the Lions from 1967-72 -- and was basically never heard from in the league again. What’s worse, he has barely been associated with the Lions organization since he coached, and that’s a shame because the man is Joe Schmidt and he was only the greatest defensive player the team has ever had. Some might even argue he was the best player, period.

There was no such thing as middle linebacker before Joe Schmidt

The Lions have had 12 head coaches since Ford became sole owner of the team in 1964, and only one has ended his stint as a winner: Schmidt.Yet once he walked away from the Lions in early 1973, citing the meddlesome ways of GM Russ Thomas, Schmidt has been a stranger to the team. He was never sought out when the team needed football advice, which was basically constantly.. He was never offered a job in the organization. He was never a candidate anywhere else in the league for a coaching position, but that’s not so mysterious. However, Schmidt’s apparent estrangement from the team he served so well as linebacker and coach is disappointing, even if it never gets mentioned, which is another slight, as far as I’m concerned.

Schmidt played for the Lions from 1953-65, and if you have any doubt about his abilities, it has often been suggested that he helped invent the position of middle linebacker, just so you know. Schmidt was the anchor of a defense that at times dominated the league in the 1950’s. As a show of how much emphasis the team and its fans placed on defense in those days, when the Lions won the 1953 championship, it was Schmidt the players and fans held aloft, thrusting him as close to the sky as they could, even though the game was won by a Bobby Layne-led drive in the closing minutes. The Lions were a winning, entertaining group in those days, their roster heavily populated with Hall of Famers and near-Famers. Layne rightfully got his props as QB, but the defense was clearly led by Schmidt. Without Joe Schmidt, maybe there is no Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke, or anyone else with the initials MLB next to their name on an NFL roster. That’s no overstatement, either.

Schmidt’s prowess as a player continued over to his coaching. The Lions were a mess -- as usual -- when he took over in ‘67, and after a couple rebuilding years, the team became consistent winners, posting above .500 records in each of his last four seasons. Schmidt had restored the Lions -- his team, his franchise -- back to playoff-contending status. The only thing his teams couldn’t do was beat the Minnesota Vikings (the Lions were 1-11 against the Vikes during Schmidt’s tenure). I often wondered how far his 1970 squad, which finished 10-4, would have gone had it just managed to squeeze out a touchdown or even a couple of field goals against Dallas in the playoffs. That was the infamous 5-0 loss, and the Cowboys went on to the Super Bowl that season. What might have been.

But Schmidt coached like he played -- angry and no-nonsense -- and it eventually led to a butting of heads with Thomas, the general manager who at various times during his lengthy tenure may very well have been the most hated man in all of Detroit sports. In fact, it was Thomas’ unpopularity in Detroit that Schmidt was trying to parlay during a power struggle that emerged after the 1972 campaign. The Lions had, once again, finished second in their division, but Schmidt and Thomas disagreed about the team’s direction going forward. Schmidt complained that Thomas was overstepping his bounds as GM, becoming too involved in personnel and game preparation decisions. He took his complaints to owner Ford, figuring William Clay would keep the popular Schmidt and offload the mostly loathed Thomas. But Ford put his weight behind Thomas, an old friend, and Schmidt resigned, posthaste. His career won-lost-tied was 43-34-7. A record like that nowadays as Lions coach would enable a man to be elected mayor of the city.

Ford, for all his warts, has often brought old Lions back into the fold, either as an assistant coach or a front office person. He has, for the most part, respected the team’s tradition, such as it is. But when it comes to Joe Schmidt, it’s been different, and I’m dying to know why.

It’s not terribly surprising that Schmidt never coached again after quitting the Lions. He wasn’t all that jazzed to do it in the first place, and doubtless he would only have done it for the Lions, a team for which he bled Honolulu Blue blood. But Charlie Sanders, the great tight end, was welcomed back, both as an assistant coach and as a member of management. Greg Landry came back to coach quarterbacks. Larry Lee went from offensive lineman to the front office. Dick Jauron is the Lions’ current defensive coordinator. None of them, except for Sanders, had Lions playing careers half as brilliant as Schmidt’s. Yet they all drifted back to the franchise in some way, shape or form. As for Schmidt, he was almost immediately out of sight, out of mind after walking away. It wasn’t until 1993 -- 20 years after his resignation -- that the team mentioned Schmidt’s name publicly again, and when it did, it couldn’t have been more awkward, or disrespectful.

The Lions had traded for hotshot linebacker Pat Swilling that April, a deal made with the New Orleans Saints just before the ’93 draft. Swilling had always worn #56 with the Saints. Schmidt wore 56 with the Lions. Supposedly the number was retired by the Lions, although there was never a formal ceremony. Typical. Anyhow, Swilling thought it would be great if he could wear 56 in Detroit. Joe Schmidt’s number. The number of a Hall of Famer. That Swilling decided not to respect the team’s tradition and to put people on the spot, including Schmidt himself, told me a lot about Pat Swilling before he played a single down for the Lions. Schmidt had worn 56 for 13 seasons, doing it as proud as any NFL player could do a uniform number. Pat Swilling had been a Lion for about 48 hours.

So what did the Lions, those clueless boobs, do? They publicly announced that, yes, Swilling could have 56 -- imagine that -- and on top of it all, Joe Schmidt would be at a made-for-TV press conference to "offcially" unretire #56. I always wondered how the team got Schmidt’s phone number, or even his area code, considering his name was hardly breathed around the Silverdome. So the press conference was held, Schmidt presented the "Swilling 56" jersey, told the media that it was okay by him if Swilling wore the number (what else was he going to say?), and back into the closet he went. Have you heard anyone involved with the Lions mention Joe Schmidt’s name since then? Neither have I. Oh, by the way, Swilling wore 56 for a couple so-so seasons, and bolted for the Raiders. Letting Pat Swilling wear Schmidt’s #56 for about 30 games was like letting someone use the Mona Lisa as a dartboard. It still angers me that Pat Swilling, not Joe Schmidt, was the last Lion to wear #56.

Also, whenever the Lions have needed some football consultation -- and they’ve needed plenty -- never have they looked for Joe Schmidt. It’s probably too late now, since Schmidt’s been away from the NFL for so long, but if there was only one man -- ONE -- who’s been able to coach a team to an overall winning record in over 40 years, wouldn’t you think that team would want to tap into that man’s football brain from time to time? Yet the Lions have never, as far as I know, brought Joe Schmidt in for a cup of coffee and given him an opportunity to postulate as to what ails the team, and how it could possibly be cured.

So did Schmidt anger Ford when he resigned in ‘73? Did he burn bridges when he tried to win the power struggle with Thomas, who Ford adored and to whom the owner was loyal, to a fault? Or did Schmidt himself want nothing more to do with the Lions? Regardless, it’s sad that one of the greatest players in Lions history has had virtually no ties with the team in over 30 years, other than to unjustly "unretire" his jersey number. The least the Lions can do is to "re-retire" #56, complete with a festive Ford Field ceremony, at halftime of a game with, say, the Packers, a fierce Schmidt-era rival of the Lions. That would be fitting and proper.

This is where you picture me not holding my breath.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Gibby's 'Bear Trap' Just Might Snap Down On The Spurs' Title Hopes

The lane snap closed on Ginobili in Game 4 like a certain bear trap
did on the Toronto Blue Jays in 1987

Okay, so what do Kirk Gibson and the NBA Finals have in common?

Back in 1987, when the Tigers were making a furious run at the AL East title, they traveled to Toronto on the season's next-to-last weekend. They were a half game out of first place, nipping at the Blue Jays' heels.

The first three games were all losses, but Saturday's was a particularly gut-wrenching defeat. It was nationally televised, and the Tigers blew a huge lead, gradually, throughout the game, and lost in the Jay's last at-bat. NBC's Vin Scully accurately said the Tigers had "come from ahead" to lose. The team was 3 1/2 games out, with only a week and a day's worth of games to be played, and never were the fans' hopes lower. But then Gibson stood in the Tigers' clubhouse after the game, and as dejected teammates changed and showered around him, he uttered these words:

"Maybe we're just setting the biggest bear trap in history."

Gibby's words would never ring more true.

The Jays collapsed like a house of cards. The Tigers won the next day to start Toronto's slide, thanks to Gibson himself, who hit a game-tying homer in the ninth then drove in the winning run in the 11th. Toronto didn't win another game the rest of the way, the Tigers did, and they finished their improbable comeback with a three-game sweep of the Jays the following weekend.

Gibby's words might ring true again -- 18 years later

The Pistons might have set up such a bear trap in San Antonio last week.

If few people thought the Tigers would catch the Blue Jays after falling 3 1/2 games out of first place with a week to go in '87, how many outside of Detroit thought the Pistons would even win a game against the Spurs, let alone the entire series? Try about as many as you can count on one hand, and maybe still have some uncounted fingers remaining.

Have the Pistons won the NBA Finals? Of course not. Have they altered the course of the series? Aye-aye, captain. Are they in the Spurs' heads? Add a few more "aye-aye's" to that one.

The Pistons didn't just square the Finals last night with their 102-71 victory. They put on a basketball display of such dominance that if it was a baseball game, all that would have separated the Spurs from having a perfect game thrown at them would be a scratch single.

The Pistons' performance was, by the numbers, awesome: 18 forced turnovers, 22 fast break points, only 4 turnovers of their own. They outscored the Spurs 51-36 in the first half and 51-35 in the second. They never allowed San Antonio to make any significant runs. Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker were restrained because the Pistons squeezed the lane from the width of I-696 in Games 1 & 2 to that of a hallway. But you didn't need a stat sheet to confirm the Pistons' total control of Game 4. Even someone watching their very first basketball game, with hardly any knowledge of the rules, would agree that the Spurs were absolutely demolished. It doesn't take a basketball guru to see that one team was racing down the court for layups and dunks all night while the other struggled to even get a shot off.

But buyer beware: this series is far from over, and just as people shouldn't have written the Pistons off as dead after Games 1 & 2, nobody should go overboard and declare the Spurs as moribund after two lousy games in Detroit. The Pistons have unbelievable confidence now, no question, and the Spurs are in a fog, but this is the NBA and these are the two best teams in the game and great teams have the ability to bounce back. Nobody gets to the NBA Finals with luck and by being a fluke. There's a reason only two teams remain now and that reason is each team has resiliency, talent, and bounce back capability.

It is often said that in a playoff series, the next game is always the most important. And how much more important can Game 5 get? Just please don't use the hackneyed phrase that it's now a "best-of-three" series. A seven game series is just that -- a seven game series. It has ebbs and flows and a best-of-three series means you're starting from scratch at 0-0. This Finals series is hardly about starting at 0-0 now. The Pistons are surging and the Spurs are reeling, which is exactly why Game 5 is oh so vital. The Pistons must continue to apply the pressure, continue to choke the Spurs, or else they might yet go back to Texas trailing, which would be awful after what they were able to do in Games 3 and 4. So Game 5 is the Finals' next "must win" game, which will be followed by another "must win" for somebody in Game 6. T'ain't no best-of-three, people.

Mission two-thirds accomplished for the Pistons in Detroit. And even if they go 3-for-3 at the Palace, they still probably will be considered underdogs, because the final two games are in San Antonio. But never would being an underdog feel so sweet.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Billy, Wait! A Better Job Will Be Opening Soon

Laimbeer can coach, as his WNBA title proved

I see where Bill Laimbeer is getting more and more serious in his discussions with Knicks boss Isiah Thomas about coaching in the Big Apple.

Lams, one word: WAIT!

You don't want to coach the Knicks, and you especially don't want to work for Thomas, the 16-ton weight of the NBA. Everything Isiah has touched in his post-playing career has turned to stone. He is the anti-Midas.

I know you're eager to coach in the NBA, Billy, but PLEASE exhibit some patience. You're too busy coaching the WNBA's Shock, anyway, to be thinking about the Knicks or any NBA team. Swin Cash, Ruth Riley and Deanna Nolan need you more than Isiah or anyone else in the men's game, for the moment. Anyhow, a better job, for you, is sure to open up soon anyway.

The Pistons will have a vacancy, no question, as soon as the NBA Finals are wrapped up, and despite those reports that say ex-Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders is the frontrunner to land in Detroit, you are an intriguing option for Joe Dumars and Bill Davidson. You are a local hero, a la Dumars, and you have proven you can coach a bit, thanks to your Shock ladies. You know what the "Bad Boys" and tough defense are all about, and you know how important Pistons basketball is to the scheme of things here. You found that out sitting next to George Blaha and analyzing all those Pistons games on TV. You know the deal here, babe. You could make a serious run at winning the coaching job in Detroit/Auburn Hills.

So why not chill, cool your jets for a bit, and wait for Dumars to come calling?

The Knicks job would be a disaster. Isiah's clue free, despite all those overly nice things you said about him and his personnel decision-making abilities. You wouldn't get a warm and fuzzy welcome there, not that you ever needed that. But the job is tough enough without the fans on your side, so why make it tougher? I know you like and respect your old teammate Zeke but come on, the guy is flying a rickety ship and you don't want to go down with him and torpedo what could be a promising NBA coaching career, do you? In Detroit you'd have a far better chance of success, which means you'd be well on your way to being a fixture on NBA sidelines -- in Detroit or elsewhere.

If Larry Brown returns as Pistons coach next season I'll cut the net down at the Palace and swallow it whole. It ain't happening, so why not wait and see what Joe D. and Mr. D. have to offer? If Flip gets the job after all, so be it, but chances are Isiah will still need a coach at that point, although I still wouldn't take the Knicks job if I were you. If not Detroit, then another, more stable NBA team will come calling, don't you fret. You're gonna coach in the NBA, that's for certain.

So patience, Lams, patience. Don't be blinded by the bright lights and false allure of Broadway and the Garden. Their glare is only hiding the reality of a dim and doomed future on the Knicks bench.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

"A Series Breaks Out" -- And The Pistons Believe Again

Billups helped "x out" the Spurs in Game 3

Well, the Pistons stomped the Spurs last night, just as I thought they might, and even though I hate to quote from anyone on TV, ABC's Al Michaels hit it dead on when he said, "And just like that, a series breaks out."

Oh yes, indeed.

Aside from the hope that the Pistons' 96-79 win will quiet some of the national media's love-in with the Spurs, who Jason Whitlock of the Kansas City Star called "one of the best teams the NBA has ever produced", the victory had enough ingredients to it that the Pistons' confidence should be restored and the Spurs' should take a slight hit.

I saw a nice little trap, which had been mostly absent in San Antonio. I saw forced turnovers, another missing piece in Texas. I also saw Pistons shots actually go into the basket, which was another vast difference from the games in San Antone. But mostly I saw a team that believes in itself again.

This mission is far from accomplished -- no doubt about that. Winning Game 3 is meaningless, basically, if the Pistons don't also capture Game 4. But a chink has been put into the Spurs' armor, and Manu Ginobili, supposedly the best player since Michael Jordan, if you listen to Bill "Frontrunner" Walton, had the "coming down to earth" game that was also sorely needed, if you're a Pistons booster. But the mission is also well under way in Auburn Hills, and now it will be up to the Spurs to match the Pistons' intensity.

In pro sports, half the battle can be the simple belief that your opponent is beatable. And I'm not sure the Pistons truly believed that until late in the third quarter of Game 3.

As Spurs coach Gregg Popovich -- who I like and respect, by the way, mainly because he's not that loudmouth, sore loser Stan Van Gundy -- said, the game last night was 63-63 with about 1:30 left in the third quarter. Then the Pistons pressed, got some turnovers and some more fast break points, and suddenly it was 71-63 Detroit. Things only got worse from there for the Spurs. But up to that point, the Spurs were still driving the lane, still draining three-pointers, and basically refusing to wilt to the hostile Palace environment. Those last couple minutes of the third and the first few minutes of the fourth might -- might -- be the turning point of this series, should the Pistons climb up and over the Spurs. It was a window where the Pistons believed again, and received a jolt of adrenaline and confidence as dramatic as if someone plunged a six-inch syringe directly into their heart.

No, mission far from over, but if the Pistons take the Spurs to the woodshed in Game 4, not only will a series have broken out, it will have spread, like a bad rash. And Game 5 is in Detroit, too -- hardly the antihistamine the Spurs will need for such a rash.

"Rematch"? No, It's Just Interleague Play!

Just wanted to get something off my chest.

I have no problem with interleague play in Major League Baseball, although I still think interest would be even greater if the teams played NL rules in AL parks and vice-versa, to better give fans a taste of how the grass is on the other side of the fence. And I have no problems with geographical rivalries emerging: Cubs-White Sox, Yankees-Mets, Angels-Dodgers, etc. But what is it with the incessant references to "rematches"?

The Yankees are playing the Pirates, which is being billed as a "rematch of the 1960 World Series." The Reds-Orioles series is a "rematch of the 1970 World Series." The Tigers-Padres tilt this week is, of course, a "rematch of the 1984 World Series."


The only true "rematch" this year of interleague play was when the Red Sox visited the Cardinals. Those two teams met just last October, and there was a nice little subplot with Boston infielder Edgar Renteria coming back to St. Louis, where he made the final out in last year's series as a member of the Cardinals. Both teams have largely the same cast and characters as 2004, so that is an honest-to-goodness rematch. But Yankees-Pirates is no such thing, unless Bill Mazeroski, Dick Stuart and Vern Law suddenly decide to suit up for Pittsburgh, and Tony Kubek and Yogie Berra and Whitey Ford pull the pinstripes on again. It's merely a meeting of two franchises who, 45 years ago, happened to have played each other in a World Series. Nothing more than that. Call it anything else. Say "this is the first time these two franchises have payed each other since the 1960 World Series." That would be okay. Say "a lot has changed since the Yankees and Pirates faced each other 45 years ago in the Fall Classic." That would be fine, too. But please, PLEASE don't call it a "rematch."

Webster's defines "rematch" as "a second contest between the same opponents."

Tell me, what is the same about the 1960 Yankees and the 2005 Yankees, besides the pinstripes and the hatred most of America has for them?

I know it's not a big deal, and this sort of thing is bound to happen when interleague matchups occur, but it still bothers me because it's wrong.

Closer to home, the Tigers-Padres series this week at Comerica Park is no more a rematch of the 1984 World Series than if my 2005 waist size battled my 1984 waist size. They're both just opponents in name only.

By the way, my 2005 waist size would kick my 1984 waist size's ass.

See what can happen in 21 years?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Whatever You Choose To Call It, The Pistons Better Bring It Tonight

Okay, so what is it for the Pistons tonight? Put up or shut up. No tomorrow. Backs to the wall. Must win. Bring your "A" game. One quarter at a time.

Take your pick. Regardless, the Pistons are about to play one of the most important games in franchise history tonight -- Game 3 of the NBA Finals -- and if you think I'm overstating things a bit, I'm not. But of course, the Pistons have put themselves in such a position, so it's put up or shut up. Sorry -- I used that one twice.

But really, ever since they won the world championship, and before, the Pistons have been quick to point out the lack of props they get for being as good as they are. They've thrived on the "us against the world" mentality, and purport to enjoy it when they are underdogs and nobody gives them a chance. Well, guess what? They are underdogs now, very much so, and nobody gives them a chance -- not a fat one, nor a slim one.

This is one of the most important games in franchise history because this is an opportunity beyond opportunities to put your play where your mouth is and show everyone that you are not paper champions -- one year wonders who happened to be in the right place at the right time (read: the Lakers' demise). This is a chance to prove all that stuff, really prove it, about how you play better when you're pushed to the edge and how you have hearts of champions and all that other propaganda. A chance to remind everyone that the Pistons, if they go, will not go quietly and will make recapturing the NBA title as difficult of a thing the Spurs will ever do in their basketball lives. A chance to reign a little longer as champs and still keep alive the hope that this summer will be as glorious as the last.

All that pretty much goes out the window with a Game 3 loss and an 0-3 hole. Sure, you could still make a statement in Game 4 under such circumstances, but it would be one of those "who cares" statements, like something you shout to someone whose back has already been turned and who's well on their way to something much better.

There is no more time for talk about getting Rasheed the ball or how Chauncey has to get everyone, including himself, involved, or how Rip can find his shooting touch or why Tayshaun hasn't been anything or what has happened to Ben. Time's up on that. There is only time for the effort of all efforts, the return of stifling defense, and the declaration, to yourselves and your fans, that the Pistons are still the world champs until someone takes it from them. Not only takes it, but rips it from their cold, dying, gnarled fingers. But the Pistons are not dead yet. They are not even twitching. They are still very much alive.

As alive as a team can be when it has no tomorrow.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Be Careful What You DON'T Wish For, Lou -- The Owners May Keep You Rooted As D-Rays Manager

Piniella's bubble seems ready to burst

Seems like there may be a game of chicken going on in Tampa Bay.

Lou Piniella is acting very much like a man who would very much like to be fired as manager of the Devil Rays. He has taken a page from the Billy Martin book of self-destruction, calling out ownership publicly, saying in essence that there is not the desire to win -- at least not now.

"They're not interested in the present, only the future," Piniella said the other day of the New York-based group that's held controlling share of the ballclub for about a year. "But when other teams are getting better presently, you're going to get your butts beat."

But Piniella wasn't done -- not even close.

"I'm not going to take responsibility for this," he said. "If I had been given a $40-45 million payroll, I'd stand up like a man and say it's my fault. Well, I'm not going to do it. So if you want answers about what's going on here, you call the new ownership group and let them give them to you."

The D-Rays have indeed been getting their butts beat -- allowing 10 or more runs six times since May 29. They were pelted 25-4 in the first two games of their weekend series with the -- gulp -- Pittsburgh Pirates. And the payroll numbers are real -- Piniella didn't make them up. But for Lou to say "I'm not going to take responsibility for this", is wrong. A manager publicly stating that the buck doesn't stop here is not the right message to send to his players. Why should his players now give 100% if their manager shrugs his shoulders and says, "Look what I'm up against, guys"?

Alan Trammell not once complained during the 43-119 sham that was the 2003 season for the Tigers about the big league impostors that he was given to manage. He didn't whine about payroll and say "Ask Mike Ilitch" when pressed about his ballclub's travails. Granted, Trammell was a managerial rookie in '03, and Piniella has been around the block a few times. Doesn't matter. It's bad behavior, no matter how lengthy or impressive your resume may be.

Anyhow, I mentioned "game of chicken" at the top because I doubt the D-Ray owners will axe Piniella, even after his outburst. And maybe they won't simply because that's probably what Lou wants. He knows he can find a job elsewhere, so why not do it all except leave a suicide note? The worst thing that can happen to him now is to remain manager of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

His worst nightmare just may come true, at least for the remainder of this season.

Oh, by the way, Piniella is proving what Sparky Anderson always maintained: good players make managers good, not the other way around. It always has, and always will be, true.

Pistons' Discovery In Texas: Looking Into The Mirror Can Be Extremely Uncomfy

The Pistons have met the enemy and it is them. Problem is, it's them in San Antonio Spurs uniforms.

The Spurs have done a wonderful job, so far, of playing Pistons Basketball better than the Pistons. Of course, those Texans will say it's "Spurs Basketball", but why quibble when I'm trying to make a point?

Whatever you choose to call it, the Spurs are moving the ball, playing active defense, making hustle plays, and draining three-pointers like a basketball storm from hell. They're also getting the calls, but I hate to go there because the Detroit media are villifying the Pistons for whining, when in fact they have a case; the Spurs are getting the whistles to blow their way, and I think even an objective observer would concur.

From the "glass is half full" seat, where I sit, the Spurs did nothing more than hold serve on their home court. The next three games are in Detroit, and I think the Pistons will spank the Spurs in Game 3, giving them something to think about and putting a chink or two in their armor. I think even Manu Ginobili, who has been anointed the next best thing since sliced bread -- and Michael Jordan -- will come down to earth. Watching Ginobili sink three-pointers like he was pitching pennies into the ocean was a tad discouraging, but home cooking has always agreed with the Spurs. Hey, if you listen to Bill Walton, which I am loathe to do, the Spurs don't have much of a chance in the "wildest, most difficult place to win in all of sports" -- the Palace of Auburn Hills. He really did say that, or something very close to it. It must be true, because Bill Walton never uses hyperbole, does he? Oh, and Walton, no fan of Larry Brown, tried to insinuate the Pistons don't believe in their coach any longer by saying, "You have to wonder if the Pistons still believe in their coach." Okay, so he more than insinuated it -- he damn well said it. Still, it was a cheap shot and a clueless analysis. Typical of Walton, anyway.

By the way, what did you think of ABC's love-in with the Spurs? Their pregame and halftime shows have been so full of Spurs features and fawning, you would think you were watching Fox Sports Southwest. It's been disgusting, the slant toward the Spurs, and you can only hope it gets better when the series shifts to Detroit. Like, how about a pregame interview with, say, Rick Mahorn and Bill Laimbeer, so they can diss the Spurs and predict a Pistons victory? That would even out Ahmad Rashad's ridiculously softballish "interview" with former Spurs stars David Robinson and George Gervin. Robinson said the Pistons had to "step it up" and they both picked the Spurs to win. Wow -- what a scoop, Ahmad!

Maybe I'll turn down the sound and listen to George Blaha tomorrow night. Of course, the radio feed is about three seconds ahead of the TV feed, so that makes for a strange experience. Still, it might be worth it to not listen to anymore pro-Spur drivel. Of course, it's been like this throughout the playoffs with the Pistons and their opponents. In Round 1, the announcers gave their love to Allen Iverson. In Round 2, it was the Reggie Miller Swan Song Farewell Tour, and in Round 3, it was The Dwyane Wade Mini-Series on TNT. The Pistons have been treated about as shabbily on the tube as any defending champ I've seen.

Of course, maybe ABC was on to something last night; they treated their coverage as if the Pistons weren't even there. Then the Pistons decided to justify the slant by not showing up.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Quiet Al Cowens' Explosion In Chicago 'Strange But True'

(another in a series of posts featuring memorable Tigers -- in one way, shape or form -- who played in Detroit since the last All-Star game here, in 1971. This series celebrates the return of the midsummer classic to the Motor City in 2005, and a new feature will appear each weekend until the game is played in July)

Cowens (left) and Farmer were involved in one of the strangest on-field incidents in Tigers' history

If there was a "Jeopardy" category called "Infamous Tigers-White Sox Games Since 1971", no doubt the most well-known clue would be, "This caused a forfeit to the Tigers of the second game of a doubleheader at Comiskey Park in 1979." The correct question? "What is 'Disco Demolition' night?" The exploding of disco records in the infield between games of a doubleheader that June evening of '79 is still talked about from time to time.

But a year later, another Tigers-White Sox matchup was the setting of one of the most bizarre on-field incidents that I've ever seen.

In May 1980, the Tigers traded first baseman Jason Thompson to the California Angels for outfielder Al Cowens, the 1977 AL MVP. Thompson was one of a trio of young, talented Tigers that somehow fell into manager Sparky Anderson's doghouse, along with Ron LeFlore and Steve Kemp. So off to the Angels Thompson went, and to the Motor City came Cowens, a serviceable if not flashy player who was a solid .280-.290 hitter and played a decent outfield.

The year before, in '79, Cowens had been hit in the face with a pitch by former Tiger Ed Farmer. The pitch did some severe damage to Cowens' jaw, and it robbed him of some of hs confidence at the plate. He kept his anger over the pitch to himself, allowing it to brew and fester. How much this was eating him became painfully obvious a year later, as a Tiger.

In a game at Comiskey, Farmer faced Cowens for the first time since the beaning. It was remarked about, but certainly nobody expected what was about to occur. After a routine groundout, Cowens didn't even bother running all the way to first base. In a flash, he charged the mound, fists flailing, intending on beating Farmer to a pulp. Of course, the benches emptied, and the two combatants were separated. It was so odd watching on TV, and probably in person, too, because if you didn't know the history between the two men, you would have thought Cowens had lost his mind. Even knowing what had happened, it was strange, because it was just a simple groundout for crying out loud.

But it got even stranger. At first, Cowens expressed no remorse for what he did, feeling fully justified to have gone after Farmer. But as the weeks went on, and his temper cooled, Cowens did indeed apologize. But he wanted to go even further, so with the egging on of some of the Detroit media and his teammates, Cowens agreed to shake hands with Farmer prior to a game with the White Sox at Tiger Stadium. The handshake was captured on camera, of course, and Farmer accepted Cowens' apology.

To this day, I don't think I've ever seen two players shake hands on the field over a fight.

Cowens played for the Tigers thru the 1981 season. Sadly, he died young, at age 51, in March 2002. Maybe he'll pal around with Farmer when Ed joins him upstairs.