Friday, December 30, 2005

Money Can't Buy Happiness -- Just Ask Miguel Tejada

Tejada: Unhappy in Baltimore; Detroit an option?

Two years ago, the Tigers made a pitch for free agent Miguel Tejada. They were coming off that dreadful 43-119 season. Tejada, the crown jewel of free agents that winter, was coming off an MVP season with the Oakland A's. So, naturally, he told the Tigers to stuff their offer in their protective cup.

Today, Tejada, who signed with the Baltimore Orioles that winter to the tune of six years and $72 million, is so unhappy and disgusted with the Orioles that he would like to be traded. Seems Miguel doesn't think the O's have done enough -- actually, anything at all -- to strengthen their club. He looks around his division and sees the Yankees and the Red Sox -- powers already -- and if that isn't bad enough, the mediocre Toronto Blue Jays have gone on a spending spree that would make Paris Hilton blush.

"I don't want to say anything bad that can hurt my teammates, but look at Toronto, they have strengthened themselves and we haven't done anything," said Tejada, who hit .305 last season with 26 homers and 98 RBIs.

So now Tejada wants a "change of scenery."

I wonder if the Tigers look any more attractive to him nowadays.

I don't know whether to laugh or shake my head at Tejada. Maybe I should do both. The trouble with signing with the Orioles is two-fold: Yankees and Red Sox. Period. He knew ahead of time that contending in the East was always going to be difficult as long as those two teams were still allowed in the league. The AL Central, despite the White Sox winning the World Series, is no AL East, let's face it. Any division in which even the Tigers can talk bravely of making noise isn't worth a hill of beans, in my book.

Now, that's not to say that Tejada's desire to win and to see his team make a splash in the offseason is a negative thing. Maybe, frankly, if they hadn't comitted $72 million to him, then they'd be able to be more active in the free agent and trade markets. Who knows.

Regardless, an unhappy Tejada isn't what the Orioles need, so he kind of has his team under the barrel after making his feelings public fodder.

Isn't owning a baseball team fun? You get to pay guys $12 million per year AND be hostage to them at the same time.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

U-M Once Again Comes Up Short In A Bowl Game

It began with a pregame heart attack in 1971, and continues with another blown lead in 2005. In between there have been strange calls, strange plays, and strangely below-par performances.

Whatever voodoo doll with a University of Michigan football uniform on it is out there, it must still be being passed around, because bowl game nonsense has been a hallmark of U-M's program off and on, mainly on, for the past 35 years or so.

The Wolves dropped another of those postseason games, 32-28, to Nebraska in the Alamo Bowl last night. They blew a nine-point fourth quarter lead, but that's nothing new for U-M, this season or in bowl games. The game ended with a bizarre, Cal-wanna-be lateral extravaganza which got the ball to the Cornhuskers' 13 at the final gun. That play, too, was a microcosm of Michigan's rate of success in bowl games: wild and wacky, but coming up short in the end.

It hasn't been all bad, of course, U-M's performance in bowl games, but mostly disappointment is the carryover feeling the program and its followers have between the final game of the previous season and the start of camp in August.

Bo Schembechler, a wonderfully succesful regular season coach, had a devil of a time in games played in December and January. The frustration for Bo began with his heart attack suffered days before his first Rose Bowl against Stanford in 1971, and it never really went away entirely. The Wolverines, however, actually won TWO bowl games in 1981: New Year's Day in Bo's first Rose Bowl victory, and on New Year's Eve 364 days later, winning the old Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston. But what is the first thing that comes to mind when I mention U-M football and bowl games? Not umitigated success, I can tell you that.

Bo: A heart attack in '71 was a harbinger of things to come

About a year and a half ago I asked Johnny Wangler, U-M's quarterback in that '81 Rose Bowl win over Washington, if Bo was emotional in the lockerroom following that win, which finally got the Rose Bowl monkey off his back.

"It was very emotional," Wangler told me. "And Bo didn't get emotional very often."

Things didn't change much after Bo left. Gary Moeller, and now Lloyd Carr, have unfortunately carried on the tradition of lost opportunities in bowl games. Even Carr's 1997 team, co-National Champions with Nebraska, have that nagging feeling that they should have been sole champions. Tom Osborne's well-timed announcement of his retirement as Huskers coach, I believe, contributed mightily to the vote that year. Always something with Michigan.

The Wolverines have tried all sorts of gimmicks and changes in itinerary, especially in bowl games played in California, to try to find the winning formula. But the truth is, they haven't had all that much luck in any of our continental United States, when it comes to those games played around the holidays.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Years Later, Bird Okay In My Book

There are two athletes who, in their playing days, rankled me to no end, for different reasons: Wayne Gretzky, and Larry Bird. Both were thorns in the sides of our Detroit teams. Both were superstars in their respective sports. And both were annoying as hell to me; Gretzky with his whiny approach to the game, especially in the 1980's, and Bird with his, well, whiny approach to the game. And Bird's dislike of the Pistons meant that the feeling was quite mutual.

But both Gretzky and Bird -- they're alright in my book now. I've learned to respect both of them as their careers advanced, and especially now that they're done playing. I am most certainly rooting for The Great One to be a Great Coach, and I am supportive of Larry Bird in his role as the president of the Indiana Pacers -- as long as they don't beat the Pistons, of course.

Bird has grown up nicely, thank you

Bird's reign as Pacers president doesn't get the acclaim as Joe Dumars' does in Detroit, but the job that the Hall of Famer has done in guiding the Pacers -- first on the sidelines as coach and now in the front office, is nothing short of brilliant, too. He has managed to cobble together a championship-contending team with more distractions and in a more volatile situation, frankly, than Dumars has had to contend with in Detroit.

The latest, of course, is the Ron Artest situation, although with Artest, you need to put Roman numerals after that; I think we're probably in Artest Situation IV, or maybe V. The loose cannon that is Ron Artest is a handful for any team executive to handle, and Bird is probably up to the challenge. But Artest's latest distraction -- publicly demanding a trade out of Indianapolis -- has pushed Bird over the edge, as far as biting his tongue publicly.

"I think enough is enough," Bird told the Indianapolis Star. "I think Ronnie will do fine, but not here." Bird added that he felt "betrayed" by Artest, rightly pointing out that he -- Bird -- has done nothing but try to please his fragile star.

"He was clearly frustrated," Bird said of Artest's trade demands. "Ronnie thinks if we lose, we would have won the game if he had the ball every time. The offense bogs down at times, but it's still a great offense. He held the ball a lot of times. Nothing frustrated me more than him not rebounding, but I didn't go out in the public and say anything."

Bird, at this point in his career, is a sort of hero of mine. As a coach, Bird was hesitant to take much of the credit for the Pacers' success, admitting that most of the real coaching was done by his assistants. He has matured and grown into his executive's role just fine, and has made mostly good decisions. If you want to call him the white Joe Dumars, then that's just fine, and also ironic. It was Dennis Rodman, if you recall, who complained in 1987 that if Bird was black, he wouldn't have gotten the recognition he did as a player. That assertion was ridiculous, of course, but so were some of the things Larry Bird said around that time.

But Larry Bird -- the executive -- no longer says outrageous, smarmy things. He no longer carries himself with all the spoiled graciousness of the high school jock who knows he's popular and to hell with everyone else.

Instead, he manages them.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Talk Of 70 Wins Would Drive A Former Pistons Coach Crazy

Daly: Chicken Little in Armani

Can you imagine if the Prince of Pessimism himself, Chuck Daly, coached today's Detroit Pistons? I think this team -- and the media covering it -- would change Daddy Rich's attire from Armani suit to straitjacket.

Daly never thought the glass was half full in Detroit. Sometimes he didn't even want to acknowledge any liquid in it at all. He was the epitome of the wary, let's-not-get-too-excited coach, always leery of what lied around the corner.

Once, when the Pistons had jumped out to a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five series over the overmatched Boston Celtics -- minus Larry Bird due to injury -- Daly was in hand-wringing mode.

"I'm bringing enough clothes to Boston to last several days," Chuck told the press, meaning that he was afraid the Pistons would have to play two games in Beantown -- not just one. It was never in the bag with Chuck Daly. The Pistons won Game 3, completing the first round sweep. So some of Chuck's clothes went unworn in Boston.

The Pistons played the New Jersey Nets in another of those best-of-fivers, back in 1985.

"They've (the Nets) beaten us like a drum all season," Chuck said with the proper amount of foreboding. "I have no idea how we're going to win a game, let alone the series." The Pistons swept the Nets away in three.

Even as the team got better and better, and worthy of championship talk, Chuck Daly played the role of Prince of Pessimism -- one of his nicknames in Detroit -- without wavering. Not that he didn't savor success, of course. Next time you look at video of the Pistons celebrating their second straight title in 1990, on the court in Portland, be sure to look at Chuck Daly hugging trainer Mike Abdenour. It isn't hard to read his lips.

"we won it! We f------ won it!," Daly shouted into Abdenour's ear.

This season's Pistons, with their glittering 22-3 getaway, are starting to cause folks to talk about a plateau that isn't bantied about too much: 70 wins. Such talk would put Chuck Daly in a funny farm, coiffed hair and all.

Scottie Pippen is one who believes the Pistons have a shot. And he ought to know what it takes, having played on the Chicago Bulls team that won 72 games. "They're playing such good basketball," Pippen said the other day. "And they have so many ways to beat you."

It's still hard to imagine, despite their jackrabbit start, that the Pistons could win 70 times. That means no more than 12 defeats, which means they only have nine more mulligans. But the franchise record of 63 wins is very much in peril, I would confess. The cruel NBA schedule, with its four-games-in-five nights fetish, can snap you up and put you on a little downward slide before you know it. But yet the Pistons have handled their early scheduling rigors with some panache, so who knows?

For his part, today's coach, Flip Saunders, has remained stoic and very noncommittal about the 70 wins talk. "It's still early," is about all you'll get out of Flip nowadays.

Today the Pistons play at an .880 clip. And still Chuck Daly, if he was the coach, would be trying to convince us of bogeymen under the bed.

Monday, December 26, 2005

MONDAY'S FEATURES: Quote of the Week, Obscure Factoid


The inimitable Charlie O. Finley

"Once I was in New York, and an empty cab pulled up, and Bowie Kuhn got out."

--Charlie O. Finley, Oakland As's owner and no friend of then-baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, circa the mid-1970's.


Toby Harrah: nothing doing

The Lonely Guy
Toby Harrah, playing shortstop for the Texas Rangers on June 25, 1976, played all 18 innings of a doubleheader without handling one chance. Then, in 1977, Harrah played 17 innings of an extra-inning game at third base without recording an assist.

Lions Win A Dandy, But Not According To Plan

In the end, it was all a mistake.

The Lions had just pulled off one of their most improbable victories, unexpected for 40+ years worth of reasons, and were staging a rather unusual scene indeed: jumping on each other on the field, hollering and whooping it up, celebrating a last-second field goal to beat the New Orleans Saints Saturday, 13-12. Take that, Tom Dempsey.

You remember Dempsey, don’t you? His record-setting 63-yard field goal lifted the Saints over the Lions at the gun, 19-17, in 1970. Thirty-five years and some change later, the Lions returned the favor, though Jason Hanson’s kick had to merely travel 39 yards for the victory.

But interim coach Dick Jauron let the cat out of the bag: the frantic moments that led to Hanson’s kick went largely unscripted. Typical, of the Lions. Even when they find a nut, turns out they were a blind squirrel all along.

"We knew we had time to kick it," Jauron explained to the, I’m sure, dazed press after the game. "We had told the field goal unit on the sidelines that we had time to kick the ball after the last play from scrimmage." It was true, barely. The Lions, without timeouts, had 19 seconds with which to work as Joey Harrington came up behind center, looking at a 3rd-and-10 at the Saints’ 36. A failed pass would mean about a 54-yarder for Hanson.

But here was where the mistake occurred: the next play was a 15-yard pass to Roy Williams, right in the middle of the field. The ball was now at the Saints’ 21. A very do-able kick. But as Lions fans all over screamed at their television sets, "SPIKE IT!", Harrington and the offense frantically ran off the field, giving way to the field goal people. Why?

"They (the field goal team) thought we meant, ‘Kick it no matter what -- first down or not,’" Jauron explained, sheepish but happy. "And once they ran on the field, it was too late to call them back, so we just said, ‘Let’s kick it.’"

Yeah, like they had a choice at that point.

Hanson also had to run on to the field too, don’t forget. I don’t know how often he practices field goals when he’s huffing for breath, but the snap happened, it was clean, the hold was good, nobody committed an infraction, and Hanson’s line drive kick was true. Lions win.

The not-spiking-the-ball thing was dicey, because not only did the Lions run the risk of running out of time -- a typical way for them to lose -- they also ran the risk of committing some sort of foul that can be associated with hurried snaps: false start, etc. And at the end of games, penalties against the offense require an automatic run-off of, I believe, 10 or 15 seconds from the game clock. The Lions, in such an instance, being flagged, would have lost, right then and there. No time to kick after the run-off of time. It all would have been such a Lionesque way to lose a football game. But this time the lump of coal was in the Saints’ stocking.

Harrington was asked after the game if this victory meant the Lions went into their finale at Pittsburgh with momentum, that ancient word.

"I wouldn’t call it momentum," Harrington said. I wouldn’t either.

But the Lions won, in such unbelievable fashion for a franchise that has maybe three or four of those kinds of wins on their resume in the past 40 years or so. The football gods decided to give the fans a Christmas gift.
The victory means nothing, of course, to the long term. I don’t think it saves Dick Jauron’s job. I don’t think it means the fans are any less forgiving of president Matt Millen. I don't think it means the lockerroom is all that much more harmonious. It may not even, frankly, help Harrington’s chances of sticking around next season, even though he came through in the clutch. The only person it may have boosted was receiver Williams, who made an outstanding 40-yard grab on 4th-and-17 from the Lions’ 24 that clearly saved the game, along with the 15-yarder just before Hanson’s kick. Williams, though, still tends to drop the easy ones, so the Lions will have to live with that, it seems, until he corrects that problem. But Roy Williams is a keeper -- one of the few on the Lions that you can say that about.

The Lions won Saturday, a Christmas Eve sugarplum, and it all mostly happened by accident, at the end.

But, good for them. Our bums deserve to feel good about themselves from time to time.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

In A Bottom Line Business, The Coach Is Always "Interim"

Earl Lloyd was right. So was Bum Phillips.

Lloyd, the Pistons coach from 1971-72, said upon taking over for the just-resigned Butch van Breda Kolff, "This is a funny business. When you sign on as coach, you are signing your own walking papers." Phillips, the old football coach of the Oilers and Saints, said of his profession, "There are two kinds of coaches: those that have been fired, and those that are gonna get fired. And I’ve been both."

Bum: "There are two kind of coaches....."

It dawned on me, watching Dick Jauron stumble along as interim coach of the Lions nowadays, that the term "interim coach" is sort of a redundancy. After all, is there such a thing as a permanent coach? It’s just that some are more interim than others -- only they might not even know it.

But some do. Lou Lamoriello is the general manager of the New Jersey Devils. He hasn’t been a full-time hockey coach since the mid-1980s. Earlier this week, Larry Robinson resigned as coach, committing a "self ziggy" -- the "ziggy" is that Detroit word for a coach firing -- citing health reasons. So Lamoriello himself took over, albeit on a very temporary basis. What else would you expect, considering Lou hadn’t coached an NHL game since 1988, in the playoffs, taking over for the suspended Jim Schoenfeld. The Devils lost that one, 7-1. But last week, in Madison Square Garden, the Devils won, 3-1. I guess Lou got a lot smarter in 17 years.

Front office types dressing themselves up as coaches is nothing new, of course, and sometimes it’s to satisfy ego, other times it’s done out of necessity, with the GM-turned-coach looking about as comfortable as a man passing a bowling ball-sized kidney stone. The Rangers’ Phil Esposito fancied himself the cure-all for the club when he fired his coach in the late 80’s, toward the end of the season, the playoff run gaining full steam. But the Rangers soon rebelled against Espo’s ways and the team went into the tank, getting swept in the first round. Kevin McHale fired Flip Saunders as Minnesota Timberwolves coach last season, taking the reins himself, admittedly with a lot of discomfort and reluctance. The move didn’t have much of an effect on anyone except maybe McHale himself, who quickly retreated back upstairs when the season ended, his worst fears confirmed.

Eddie Stanky committed a self-ziggy, after one game. Stanky, hired as Texas Rangers manager midway thru the 1977 season, wasn’t hired to be an interim guy; he was supposed to be THE guy. But after managing the one game, Stanky quit, saying he was homesick. Real thorough interviewing process there, huh? Ted Turner, Atlanta Braves owner, fired manager Dave Bristol and actually managed the team himself, for one game in 1976 -- and not with the notion of being as interim as you might think. But the league stepped in and spoiled Ted’s fun, ordering him out of the dugout after the one game (a loss). And how many people exist that can give Ted Turner the ziggy -- other than Jane Fonda?

Stanky, before homesickness entered his life

Being an interim coach, in the real sense of the term, must be similar to being a substitute teacher. The players/students gotta know you’re unlikely to remain long term. So how much respect and cooperation do those sorts get? Not to mention, they’re taking over a group who performed dysfunctionally enough to get the previous guy canned. Yet each of them fancies himself as motivator and teacher and leader enough to bring the team from its doldrums. For many it’s their first time as head coach, and they know it very well could be their last. It’s ironic, but the interim coach often has more of a motivation to succeed than his players. And the players can see right through that.

Interim coaches hardly ever get the job for real. They are, after all, still considered part of the slime in which the team has soaked itself....


When the Pistons fired Dickie Vitale in 1979, they turned the keys of their Edsel over to assistant Richie Adubato. Richie had Bob Lanier, brooding Bob McAdoo, and not much else. Fantasizing that he could repair what was irreparable, Adubato soon challenged his team’s work ethic. He ranted and raved on the sidelines. He pissed Lanier and McAdoo off. They weren’t going to take any guff from an unknown coach from Jersey named Richie Adubato. And, as expected, Richie was gone at the end of the season, having gotten the ziggy, the interim label fitting him like a glove.

When a coach gets the ziggy, someone already working for the organization makes a handy-dandy temporary replacement. Assistants minding their own business are frequent targets. We’ve already discussed GM’s turning into whistle blowers. But leave it to the Lions to try something outside of the box. In 1976, having fired coach Rick Forzano, GM Russ Thomas turned to Tommy Hudspeth, who was working somewhere in the player personnel department. To this day, I don’t know where in the world Hudspeth came from, yet he coached most of ’76 and all of 1977, too. When he got the job, everyone said "Who?" and when he left a year and a half later, everyone was still saying "Who?"

Who? Tommy Hudspeth!

Interim coaches hardly ever get the job for real. They are, after all, still considered part of the slime in which the team has soaked itself, leading to the "real" coach’s ziggy to begin with. In Detroit, it’s happened a few times, when the interim guy was asked to stick around. Wayne Fontes was an interim coach for the Lions once upon a time. Larry Parrish took over the Tigers from Buddy Bell in 1998 and was retained. Herb Brown guided the Pistons after Ray Scott got the ziggy and was hired permanently, sort of, until he got the ziggy and Bob Kaufman, the GM, took over. See a pattern here?

Sometimes replacements come from out of nowhere. After the Red Wings started miserably in 1985, coach Harry Neale was on the chopping block. Finally, during the holidays, Neale’s head was lopped off and, lo and behold, he was replaced by former player Brad Park, who was working as a TV analyst for ESPN. Park, who had played the previous two seasons in Detroit, had zero coaching experience when he was plucked out of the broadcast booth. Still, he bragged to associates that he could have the mess in Detroit cleaned up "in about six weeks." Not only was Park a first-time coach, he turned out to be a poor soothsayer, too. If anything, the Red Wings got worse under Park, who didn’t enamor himself with GM Jimmy Devellano. "We were like oil and water," Jimmy D. explained upon giving Park the ziggy shortly after the season.

Park as a Red Wing: as a coach, not so good...

The odds of Dick Jauron being retained as Lions head coach beyond this season lie somewhere between 50-1 and those of the sun rising in the west, if you want to know the truth. For his part, Jauron says he’d like to stick around. "It’s one of 32 jobs like it in the world," Jauron explained. "It’s a special position to be in."

You know what, Dick? Enjoy it while you can. But that’s one way to shed the "interim" tag: don’t get asked back.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

We Don't Need Sports On TV On Christmas Day.....DO We?

I think Pistons-Spurs is a wonderful matchup for national television. It usually is, when the two finalists from the previous June hook up. For that matter, Heat-Lakers, in its own dysfunctional way, presents the TV viewer with an intriguing storyline, especially with Pat Riley back in charge of the Heat sidelines. Yes, great games, both, and it’s hard to argue with those two games being part of an NBA TV doubleheader.

Just not on Christmas Day.

I know I’m howling into the wind here, barking up the wrong tree, talking to a brick wall, shouting complaints to deaf ears, and all that rot, but I just don’t know why we need these two games, or any pro or college sports for that matter, on Christmas Day. I also don’t know why some movie studios release new films on Christmas Day. Aren’t 364 other days in a year enough to take in a movie?

Now, my wife will tell you, I am the last person that’s going to complain about too much sports on TV. Just ask her what happens to the movie she’s watching when she leaves the room for 30 seconds. In a flash, the bleatings of a character on Lifetime is replaced by the bleatings of Rasheed Wallace on Fox Sports Detroit.
But as insatiable as my craving for sports can sometimes be, I absolutely wouldn’t miss it if it wasn’t on TV on Christmas Day. Besides, football on Thanksgiving Day satisfies my sports-on-a-holiday needs. So why can’t we just turn off and tune out on December 25, enjoying as background sound the giggles and squeals of the kids playing with their new toys, or a Christmas CD spinning holiday favorites or even -- heaven forbid -- families actually talking?

Yes, I know not everyone celebrates Christmas from a religious standpoint. But it is, on the other hand, a national holiday, no matter what race, creed or color you are in this country. So why can’t it be observed with a moment of sports silence? And by a "moment" I mean.....all day.

I know this part of my argument won’t inspire much sympathy or empathy, but let’s not forget the players who have to play in these games. Regardless of what you think about the millionaires playing games today, perhaps you have some compassion for the ones who have to jump on a plane, leaving their families -- again -- alone on a day when most of us wouldn’t consider being anywhere else but home. And if that doesn’t do it for you, heartstring-wise, then how about the employees at all the stadiums? Do you think Tom the Ticket Taker or Mabel the Beer Girl is thrilled with dragging themselves to the arena on Christmas Day, to deal with some of the bozos that attend these contests? Wouldn’t they rather be home, warm and cozy, enjoying family and fellowship?

Will I peek in on the Pistons-Spurs game tomorrow? Of course. And maybe if I was 100% sincere, I would boycott the game and not watch it at all. But I maintain that if it wasn’t on, I wouldn’t care. I wouldn’t suddenly divert my attention from our 12 year-old daughter or my mother or my mother-in-law or my wife and think, "Hmmmm...I wonder what sports are on the tube today?"

It’s bah-humbug in reverse.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Tony Dungy: Living Every Parent's Worst Nightmare

Tony Dungy

Today, Tony Dungy is not the coach of the Indianapolis Colts, chasing a Super Bowl dream. He is not the former quarterback at the University of Minnesota. He is not the hard-working assistant who learned how to coach football players under Chuck Noll at Pittsburgh. He is not the man who took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from the dregs of the league and molded them into Super Bowl contenders.

Today, Tony Dungy is not any of those things. Today, he is a father. He is a husband. He is a grief-stricken man living every parent's worst nightmare.

For those of us with kids, especially, Dungy's tragedy -- his 18 year-old son dead of an apparent suicide -- hits close to home. We have a 12 year-old daughter, and I can assure you that it is impossible not to think of the worst when you bring kids up in today's world. The thought of burying my child scares me senseless.

Dungy's misery resonates even more with me because just last month, my wife's best friend lost her 25 year-old son, a bright, handsome kid, finding him dead on the couch the morning of November 17. Autopsy results are still pending. There is absolutely nothing you can say to a person -- best friend or casual acquaintance -- whose life will forever be altered. I can't imagine going to bed, my son sleeping on the sofa, and awakening to find him not breathing and cold. But that's what happened to my wife's friend. How do you console that?

Tony Dungy's life, like my wife's friend's, will never, ever be the same. It can't be. His football coaching career will continue, I'm sure, probably for many more years. He will, perhaps, one day get some gratification from this season, which was shaping up to be
potentially the most special of seasons. Maybe years down the line. Maybe never.

But this isn't the time to think about football, clearly. I hear people saying, with good intentions, "And around the holidays, tooo," as if there is ever a better time to lose a child. But every parent will tell you -- whether it's Christmas Day or May 16 or August 22, the death of a child is a two-ton kick to the stomach that leaves an imprint on the outside and damage on the inside from which you never truly recover. That kind of grief is similar to battling alcoholism. Time will make it better, and it is a step-by-step process. But just as an alcoholic is always an alcoholic -- the recovering kind, eventually, so is a grieving parent always just that. The pain never dissolves entirely.

When I heard about James Dungy's death, I was sick. To have this happen to Tony Dungy and his family just when it appeared they were riding the crest of a wave with their football team, was perhaps the cruelest reminder that pro football has absolutely nothing on real life.

Sparky Anderson had a sign in his office that said, "Every day the world turns upside down on someone sitting on top of it."

Please include the Dungys in your Christmas prayers.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Not-So-All-Pro Bowl

Seven Indianapolis Colts named to the Pro Bowl. Michael Vick named, suspiciously so, according to some folks. Even a Lion -- defensive tackle Shaun Rogers -- made the team. Yawwwwwn......

If there is a more inconsequential all-star game than the NFL Pro Bowl, perhaps it is the MLS Soccer Jamboree or the Garfield Heights, Ohio Little League Honor Roll. It's a joke game played under joke rules featuring players who are selected based on reputation more than performance. It's touch football played under the sun in Hawaii and they may as well just put a lei on the quarterback for as often as he gets hit.

To me, the more respectable postseason honors belongs to the All-Pro team, which usually varies significantly from the Pro Bowl rosters. I believe the All-Pro squad is selected by the Associated Press. Certainly they underwrite it. Regardless, there are no players on their selection crew. And the players, who have a role in determining who makes the Pro Bowl, don't always think right. They sometimes make decisions based on the last time they faced someone -- which may have been three years ago.

I remember Pat Swilling when he played for the Lions. Swilling, a pass rushing linebacker/defensive end, arrived in 1993 after a decent career in New Orleans. For that '93 season, Swilling was serviceable, and made the Pro Bowl, probably rightly so. But in 1994, Swilling was far from the Pat Swilling of old. He was injured. His sack total dropped way down. He just wasn't, frankly, a top notch NFL linebacker anymore.

Yet Swilling made the Pro Bowl anyway, and that was the last straw for me regarding that game and the people who play in it.

It's laughable, really, to see the teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing over the Pro Bowl and who makes it and who doesn't. Of course, I'm sure there are contract incentives based on Pro Bowl selections, and since players have a hand in deciding rosters, it's a curious thing indeed, when the fraternity of NFL players tend to look out for one another. If you think I am suggesting that may taint some players' decision-making, well there you have it.

This just in: Jerry Rice is an alternate.

Relax -- I'm joking. I hope.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Johnny Damon The Latest Red Sox Star To Join The "Evil Empire"

First, Babe Ruth. Then, Roger Clemens. Now, Johnny Damon.

The Yankees keep plucking Red Sox stars out of Beantown and placing them in pinstripes. And that's not including such "B" list stars as Mike Torrez and Luis Tiant -- other Red Sox who fled to the Bronx.

Damon: Money talks, as always

Damon, the erstwhile Red Sox centerfielder, is set to sign with the Yankees. He says he is doing so because "New York came after me hard and that impressed me. I'm headed for New York."

The Curse of the Bambino may have been crushed, but still the Red Sox play second fiddle to the hated Yankees.

Damon's exodus not only creates a gaping hole for the Red Sox, it is a double whammy because it instantly makes the Yankees the favorites to win the AL East. Suffice it to say that if Red Sox fans were going to have to say goodbye to Johnny Damon, the absolute last place they would like to see him land is in New York. But that's where he's destined, scruffy beard, long hair and all.

It's hard to believe that Damon once plied his trade in the podunk town of Kansas City, isn't it? Once he was a budding star playing for a crap team; now he has traded up, twice, and is roaming the hallowed centerfield of Yankee Stadium. The pastures of Dimaggio and Mantle. The greenery of Murcer, Rivers and Williams.

Johnny Damon wasn't all that much in the 2005 postseason, but then again neither were any of his teammates. Hence, their early exit. The Red Sox defended their crown with the force of a gentle breeze. But Damon was spectacular in the 2004 championship run, and even though he is no spring chicken, he is still one of the most complete players in baseball.

And now he wears pinstripes, which must make the members of Red Sox Nation want to choke on their baked beans.

You have to think that Yankees owner George Steinbrenner gets an extra little sadistic pleasure in signing free agents from Boston. It's like GM snatching Lee Iacocca away
from Chrysler. Or Tubby's luring Jared from Subway.

Johnny Damon wears pinstripes this morning because the Yankees were aggressive and relentless in their pursuit, as they always are. There hasn't been a World Series parade in Manhattan in five years and counting. That's too long, when you are constantly buying filet mignon at the meat counter.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Belfour Passes Sawchuk, But Not REALLY

Congtratulations, Ed Belfour: you passed Terry Sawchuk on the NHL all-time wins list for goaltenders, moving into second place.

But Terry has still got you, and all the rest of them, in a category that may never be trumped. Sawchuk had 103 career shutouts -- 115 if you count playoffs -- and that by far leads active goaltenders.It's fitting and ironic that Belfour should pass Sawchuk on the wins ladder with a wild, 9-6 Toronto Maple Leafs victory over the New York Islanders Monday night. First, it's fitting because that game represents the "new" NHL -- the league after the rules makeover post-lockout -- and its tendency to high-scoring games. It's also ironic because Sawchuk played in the days of the 1-0, 2-1 wins, mostly, and it is once again fitting that he remain firmly on top of the shutouts list on a night when the person who is passing him in wins gives up six goals in the process.

Sawchuk's 103 shutouts will never be challenged

Records that may never be broken in sports are fun things to contemplate. Some are no-brainers, like Cy Young's 511 wins or the Lakers' 33-game winning streak in 1971-72. But I believe Terry Sawchuk's 103 regular season shutouts is another mark that no other goaltender will touch.

How many shutouts does a really top-notch netminder get anymore, in a season? Four? Five? At that rate, Joe Goalie would have to play over 20 seasons at a premier level to even come close to Sawchuk.

Sawchuk was the backbone of an incredible Stanley Cup run for the Red Wings in 1952. At age 22, Sawchuk spearheaded the Wings to a perfect 8-0 postseason record by posting four shutouts in those eight contests. Red Wings fans had a better chance of sliding the puck through the old "Score-O" slot between periods than Red Wings' opponents had of putting the rubber disc past Terry in '52.

Sawchuk, as many of you know but some might not, suffered a tragic end in 1970. As a member of the Rangers, Sawchuk was engaging in horseplay that May with teammate Ron Stewart, and impaled himself on a metal barbecue grill. He died from complications. He was 40 years old. He planned on playing a few more years. Had he, the unbreakable record would have been even more so.

So way to go, Eddie the Eagle -- but never can you truly pass Terry Sawchuk for goaltending excellence. And I know you're okay with that. Who wouldn't be, among your fraternity?

Monday, December 19, 2005

TWO NEW MONDAY FEATURES: Quote of The Week, Obscure Factoid

Starting today, every Monday I will delve into the "Out of Bounds" archive files and titillate you with a Quote of the Week and an obscure factoid from the world of sports. Rinse and repeat.


Jim Murray

"Philadelphia is quite a city. Whenever a plane lands there, everyone gets on, nobody gets off."

--Longtime Los Angeles-based sports columnist, the late, great Jim Murray


There are many pucks in the NHL Hall of Fame, but one is very special. It is from a November 10, 1979 contest in Los Angeles between the Kings and the Minnesota North Stars -- a game in which the same puck was used the entire game. It never sailed into the stands. Pretty cool, huh?

The puck that made history

The Cincinnati Bengals: The Kid Who Wore The Dunce Cap Is Now The Teacher

A few years ago, the following statement would have been considered ludicrous: You can learn a thing or two from the Cincinnati Bengals.

Not anymore.

Oh, you could have learned from the Bengals between 1991-2002, actually, if you wanted to learn how to draft poorly, how to run a cheap organization, how not to pick head coaches, how to create apathy among your fans, and how to be mocked by the rest of the league and by football fans across the country.

But now that curriculum remains the sole possessor of the Detroit Lions. Bad Football 101.

The Bengals have switched departments, however, and now can hold class on How To Turn Things Around, led by Professor Marvin Lewis.

If the Lions want to do any sort of homework at all, any kind of research that might, MIGHT make them a winning organization, then they should look no further than southern Ohio, and the rather quick resurgence of the Bengals.

The Bengals clinched the AFC North yesterday with a systematic destruction of the Lions, 41-17. Someone from the Free Press picked the game 40-10. I want that guy at the blackjack table with me. Anyhow, this will be the Bengals’ first playoff appearance since the 1990 season. The division was called the AFC Central in those days.

But what burns me about the Lions -- even though I am desensitized enough now to chuckle at their ineptitude -- is that other teams seem to be able to get it together, sometimes several times over, after long stretches of failure, like the Bengals’ recent troubles. The Bears are doing it, with Lovie Smith. And so are the Bengals, under Marvin Lewis, who is just in his third season as head coach and has already won 27 games. The Lions have won 20 games since 2001.

Both Smith and Lewis, it should be pointed out, are African-American head coaches in a league that hasn’t exactly been a beacon of progressive light in that regard. But that’s another blog entirely.

The Bengals, who had worn the nickname The Bungles like a dog collar for most of the 1990’s and into the 2000’s, hired Lewis before the ’03 season, around the same time they drafted quarterback Carson Palmer out of USC. Two 8-8 seasons followed, leading into 2005, a season in which the Bengals are 11-3 and considered a team no one wants any part of in the playoffs.

So what did the Bengals do that was so nifty? What was the magic elixir they swallowed to turn themselves from ugly ducklings to beautiful football swans?

Well, there was Lewis, for one, the Baltimore Ravens’ defensive coordinator and the guru behind the team’s Super Bowl XXXV win over the Giants. And Palmer, for two. But the ownership hadn’t changed, and Mike Brown, Bengals owner, was perhaps even less popular than Bill Ford in Detroit. I don’t purport to know all the answers, nor do I intend on launching into a dissertation about what the Bengals have done and how they’ve done it. All I know is, something clicked for them. Something turned that franchise around 180 degrees. And if I were the Lions, I’d be very curious to find out what it was.

The optimistic part of Lions fans wants to say, "Hey, they did it in Cincy -- a city whose NFL franchise was considered the absolute dregs of the league for about a decade -- why can’t they do it in Detroit?"

Well, that’s an oft-asked question, of course, but I think the Bengals just may provide the Lions with a useful model as to how to answer it. I’d look into Lewis himself -- his style, his philosophies, his organizational skills, his relationship with his players. I’d look into the recent drafting history of the Bengals. I’d look into where they patched their roster with free agents. I’d look into how they developed Palmer.

Yes, I’d do all that and I would be proud to announce publicly, "We’re going to pattern ourselves after the Cincinnati Bengals and return the Detroit Lions to championship caliber."

The Bengals put on a clinic yesterday, once again turning the passing game of a Lions’ opponent into no-contact drills. Palmer had way too much time to throw. And the Lions continue to throw three-yard passes when they need six.

When the Cincinnati Bengals are now schooling you, it’s situation critical.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Pitcher On The Edge Just What Tigers Need

(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")

Rogers brings a fire sorely needed

George Bernard Shaw, that clever old chap, once said, "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about." You got that right, Georgie, and the only thing worse than losing is losing in a vacuum, ignored by your brethren.

The Tigers have been losers, for sure, for the last dozen years or so, but what’s worse, they’ve been losers not in grand fashion, but with all the zest and spice of flour, and with the same amount of color. They can’t even lose with some histrionics.

Our baseball team has been mostly made up of "gee, whiz" swell guys who brag about how harmonious things are in the clubhouse, but yet who proceed to go out and lose 60% of the time, or more. Nice guys really do finish last in Detroit, where baseball is concerned.

Where are all the snarling beasts who have the truculence of a bear disturbed from his hibernation? Where are the loose cannons who play with recklessness and whose uniforms are forever dirty and untucked? Where are the eccentrics who always seem to have that look in their eye that, had they not been wearing a baseball outfit, would cause you to turn and hightail it the other way?

Not in Detroit, I can tell you that. Until now, maybe. Finally.

The Tigers signed lefthanded starter Kenny Rogers a week or so ago. The move was rightly lauded, except maybe by the TV cameramen around town. Rogers, at age 41, brings something to the mound that no Tiger since Jack Morris has possessed: an internal restlessness and simmering anger, combined with real pitching skills. Rogers takes the hill with a chip on his shoulder. He isn’t flour -- he’s ground cayenne pepper.

Rogers chose Detroit, he said in a conference call, for several reasons, besides the two year, $16 million contract that I would presume caused him to return the Tigers’ phone calls to begin with. He says the team is on the verge of contention (of course, that’s what Pudge Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez said, too), he likes the idea of pitching in Comerica National Park, and he feels a good vibe between himself and manager Jim Leyland. He has history with Rodriguez. Maybe Pudge will play nice now that he has a supporter in the clubhouse, which will be, by my estimations, his first.

The much-publicized shoving incidents with the television cameramen last summer notwithstanding, Kenny Rogers brings an edge -- and 190 career wins -- and a fierce, almost fearless competitiveness to the Tigers’ pitching staff that has been gaping in its vacancy and crucial in its need. The kids who play at being Tigers pitchers nowadays can stand to learn something from Rogers. And the Tigers haven’t had a mentor type on its pitching staff since perhaps Frank Tanana, and that’s going back over 15 years.

Ryne Duren: celebrated Yankee drunk

Pitchers can be funny types. Ryne Duren, the old Yankee and celebrated alcoholic, used to purposely throw pitches ten feet over the catcher’s head during warmups to give the hitters the notion that maybe he had no idea where the ball was going to go, or that he was possibly inebriated. Or both. Dizzy Dean, incensed at a hitter who was overly-digging in at the plate, called out to him, "Dig yourself a deep one, boy, cuz ole’ Diz is gonna BURY you in it!" Bob Gibson, it was said, was so surly and unapproachable on the days he was scheduled to pitch, his own teammates would part when he strode by like the Red Sea’s obeying of Moses. Don Drysdale had a simple rule for the other team: if one of my guys gets hit by a pitch, two of yours goes down.

If I could change one thing with the Tigers....I would give the team some personalities -- some misfits, even.

The Tigers actually had a guy like that for half of last season: reliever Kyle Farnsworth, a big, good ole boy who was imposing on the mound at 6’5" and who had that slightly off-of-center personality that I find so alluring in a pitcher, especially a late-inning man like Farnsworth. It impressed me to no end when Farnsworth, during a brawl with the Kansas City Royals at Comerica, not only drove one of the Royals pitchers -- also a big dude -- into the ground like a croquet stake, but also had that wild look in his eye that made his size seem all the more intimidating. But Farnsworth was dealt near the trading deadline, and has since signed on with the Yankees. I think the folks in the Bronx are gonna fall in love with that guy.

Jeremy Bonderman, I think, has the potential and the makeup to be that kind of edgy pitcher, but he’s still a baby -- 22 years old -- and he is one of those who desperately needs a Kenny Rogers type around him every day. To his credit, Rogers himself said that he can also learn from the youngsters like Bonderman, that being around such talented youth might even make Rogers feel younger and more productive. That’s wisdom, folks -- such as we aren’t accustomed to in Detroit, coming from one of its ballplayers.

Of course, the fact that Rogers is lefthanded doesn’t hurt, either. Comerica has vastness in the left field alley, which should play into his hands.

But it is the vastness in his experience and the never-satisfied approach to the game that will prove to be invaluable to the Tigers’ young stable of pitchers.

If I could change one thing with the Tigers, right behind driving in runs with less than two outs and treating a ball three count as if it was poison, I would give the team some personalities -- some misfits, even. I don’t mean the kind of troublemakers -- read: Pudge -- that permeated 2005’s clubhouse and turned it into Romper Room’s evil twin. I mean, I’d want to sprinkle the roster with a blend of experience, eccentricity and competitiveness. Just about every World Series champ has that, to varying degrees. At least if the Tigers lose with my roster, they might be fun to watch and talk about.

Kenny Rogers says another reason he likes Detroit is because of all the beautiful suburbs and the golf courses in the area. So here’s a word to the videographers in the Metro Area:


Friday, December 16, 2005

Top 25 Of.....WHAT? Cupcake Beaters?

Let me preface everything I am about to rant about here with this comment: I don’t do college basketball.

It’s nothing personal against those who do. I don’t hate the college game. I don’t begrudge anyone who cares to follow it. It’s just not my bag.

I don’t fill out March Madness brackets. I don’t gush over how pure the college game is. I don’t know who starts for Duke and I don’t know who coaches two-thirds of the teams in the Top 25.

Ahh, the Top 25.

Forgive me, but does it really matter who is in the Top 25, who is out, and who is ranked where -- in December? Or January? Or even February? Isn’t the National Champion crowned via a tournament in March? And aren’t those seedings drawn, sometimes not even taking into account a team’s ranking in the polls?
December is a funny month in college basketball, in my eyes, because it just seems to exist to give teams an opportunity to pad their non-conference records with cupcakes. How the pollsters can place certain teams above others when they’re playing schools like Middle New Mexico State or Peoria On The Hill is beyond me, especially when they’re winning by scores like 115-52.

Michigan State, I think, is ranked up there somewhere. Tom Izzo’s boys are supposed to be hotshots, and that’s okay by me, because I always want our state’s schools to be successful. Just because I don’t care to join in on the fun doesn’t mean others’ enjoyment should be ruined. Michigan is racking up the wins too, I believe. But then again, December used to be a clean sweep for the Wolverines back in the day. Looks like Tommy Amaker is taking U-M fans on a pleasant trip on the wayback machine.

Of course, I suppose if we didn’t rank teams there wouldn’t be as much to talk about.

I think the other reason I can’t get into college basketball, or college anything for that matter, is I need more time to get to know the players and where they play and what they’re good at doing on the basketball court, or the football field. But there are so many schools and so many players and they come and go so frequently that, to me, Duke is Duke, Indiana is Indiana, and so on. I can’t name you three players on any college team. They’re just school names, with faceless players filling out the uniforms. Oh, I may know of a stud here and there, the "Rolls Royce players" Dickie Vitale crows about, but mostly they are unknowns.

I’ve had this argument before with people, but I’ll say it again, and I will again say it with no malice intended nor any disrespect: if you want to enjoy the highest quality level of any team sport, turn to the pros. Period. If you like the rah-rah, sis-boom-bah stuff, then college athletics is your cup of tea. No harm done. Now can’t we all just get along?

I know I am in the minority -- at least of people who’ll admit it -- when I say I prefer an NBA contest to a college game any day of the week. I am tired of defending the pro game against the hackneyed argument of "All you need to see of an NBA game is the last two minutes." To say that is to dismiss all the great, athletic plays you’re liable to see during the other 46 minutes. But I know I am talking to a wall a lot when I say that.

But let me add that I also think things like Power Rankings, etc. have no place in the NBA either, because again, who cares? The six-week tournament that runs into the middle of June is its own "power ranking."
To me, college basketball in November and December, before conference play, is like spring training baseball. It doesn’t really count. A case could even be made that the games in January and February aren’t all that important, either, though that might be a harder argument. It’s all about March -- you know, that Madness stuff?

Hey, if you can tell me the only part of an NBA game that matters is the last two minutes, then.....
fair is fair.

No harm, no foul.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Red Wings' Finale At Olympia Something To Shout About

It’s long gone now, some sort of armory building in its place, at the corner of Grand River and McGraw on Detroit’s west side. A whole generation now has come along, and they certainly have never experienced it in person, and probably are barely aware of it, even in mythology. Today’s Red Wings fans, those Hockeytown Wing Nuts, sometimes think nothing happened of any real importance before they were born.

But I want to let you know that today’s date, December 15, was the day the Red Wings played their last game at the Old Red Barn -- Olympia Stadium, back in 1979. And I was there.

Olympia Stadium

My friend Bob Davis and I had sat in the stadium’s parking lot all that Saturday morning waiting to buy tickets to a future game in this new place called Joe Louis Arena, on the riverfront. Never did we think any tickets would actually remain for that evening’s game -- the grand finale after over 50 years of Red Wings occupancy. But when we finally got to the box office, I decided to ask anyway.

"You wouldn’t have any tickets left for tonight, would you?," I said with little optimism.

"We have two left," the person behind the bulletproof glass told me. I scarcely could believe my ears.

So we left -- after buying tickets to a game in February against the Flyers -- and came back for that evening’s contest, which just so happened to have been not only historic, but one of the most exciting games played in a decade when the Red Wings were not so much.

The opponent was the Quebec Nordiques, one of four teams that joined the NHL that October after surviving the World Hockey Association. Le Nordique was coached, in a tad of irony, by a future friend of Hockeytown, Jacques Demers.

Anyhow, the Nordiques jumped on the Red Wings and by the midway point of the second period, Quebec had a 4-0 lead. It seemed insurmountable, because the hockey entry in Detroit back in those days wasn’t known for anything other than losing. It looked like they would be booed out of Olympia and into their new arena.
But then the Red Wings scored, toward the end of the second period, and there was finally something to cheer about. We were sitting in one of the corners, somewhere in the balcony. Then early in the third period, another goal and the Nordiques now led 4-2. Hope fluttered its heartbeat and Olympia Stadium came alive.

From that point on, for almost the entire third period, the Red Wings dominated play, peppering the Quebec netminder and you could sense that this was going to be no ordinary game, on an extraordinary night. Sure enough, the Red Wings scored again, making it 4-3. The Red Barn was rocking and it was LOUD. I have been to three different crazy loud games: the ’79 finale at Olympia, the ’84 Pistons playoff game at Joe Louis Arena against the Knicks (when Isiah Thomas scored 16 points in 90 seconds), and Game 3 of the NBA Finals in 2004 at the Palace. I couldn’t really place one over the other in terms of decibels. Suffice it to say I’d put any one of those shrieking crowds against anything you could come up with.

Then, with just over three minutes to play, Red Wings defenseman Greg Joly took the puck behind his own goal. Slowly he started, a one-man rush up ice. Met with no resistance until his own blue line, Joly picked up some steam. He was one of the few Red Wings defensemen who had some wheels. He had to start deking Nordiques around center ice. Before you knew it, Joly was in the Quebec end, the puck on his stick as if it had been taped there. He went to his right, toward the boards, then brought the puck beck toward the middle of the ice. There was one more defenseman to beat. Joly put the puck between that poor player’s legs, and just like that he was in all alone on the Quebec netminder. One more deke, and the puck was flipped over the sprawled goalie.

Well, my goodness, you would have thought the Red Wings had captured the Stanley Cup. I wasn’t at the Joe when the Cup was won for real in ’97 or ‘02, but I will tell you that no way was JLA louder than when Joly scored the game-tying goal on December 15, 1979, at Olympia Stadium. The rafters shook and the metal and concrete quaked and for a moment I honestly thought the entire building would come down, right then and there, saving the city an implosion fee.

This was long before regular season overtime, so when the horn blew a few minutes after Joly’s goal, the game was over. No extra session. Certainly no shootout. Just a 4-4 tie. Remember tie games?
The fans stood and roared as the Red Wings skated off the ice, having given the faithful one last reason to scream, in an era filled with mostly boos. After the game, Bob and I hung around and were rewarded when just about all the players came out of the dressing room, smoking cigars and wearing topcoats. We got tons of autographs. I also saw someone trying to steal an entire row of chairs. No joke.

The Red Wings played their first game at Joe Louis Arena on December 27, 1979, against the St. Louis Blues. They lost. Back to the 70’s norm, you know.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The NHL In Kansas City? Hasn't Canada Suffered Enough?

Imagine, for a moment, if 3/4 of the major league baseball teams were located in Canada. That's "our" national pastime, isn't it? Imagine also if, anytime one of those poorly-placed teams went belly-up, baseball relocated another poorly-placed Canadian town.

I don't want to be a shill for our neighbors up north, but what must they be thinking whenever they look at the makeup of the National Hockey League?

Canadian cities in the NHL are few and far between, and in one instance a franchise has been moved from Canada to a curious U.S. city indeed -- Phoenix.

Part of the NHL's financial woes can be traced to an overly optimistic and ambitious effort to place franchises in cities that have, frankly, no business being in the hockey business: Atlanta, Miami, Tampa (Stanley Cup notwithstanding), Columbus, to name a few. This force-feeding of hockey to sunbelt towns doesn't work, has never worked, and probably never will work, at least not to the degree that is needed to keep those franchises, and the league, from being wobbly financially.

It's not just whether those cities can fill arenas. It's, how many people OTHER than those with their fannies in seats are watching. What does it say about the state of the NHL when ESPN basically told the league "NO Vacancy" when it came time to place it on their programming schedule? Desperate for a network contract, the NHL turned to fledgling OLN -- Outdoor Life Network -- and while OLN's efforts to cover the game have been admirable, employing such name announcers as Sam Rosen, Mike Emrick and John Davidson, it ain't close to being ESPN. Actually it IS ESPN -- circa 1982.

I bring this up because there is some scuttlebutt out of Pittsburgh, from Mario Lemieux himself, that it's very likely the Penguins will have to move after the 2006-07 season, when their agreeement with Mellon Area expires. Lemieux, player-owner -- that's also something you'll only see in the NHL, by the way -- says slow progress in securing a new arena in Pittsburgh might force the Penguins to look for another igloo.

The same old "We need a new arena or we're moving" threat.

But here's the rub: do enough people in the Steel City care if the Penguins take their pucks and sticks and flee?

Already there is talk of potential new homes for the Pens. Davidson, during the OLN broadcast of the Penguins-Red Wings game Monday night, cited Kansas City as a possible venue.

Kansas Freaking City?

The NHL tried that already, in case some of you are too young to remember. The Kansas City Scouts stumbled through the National Hockey League from 1974-76, before they were granted clemency and moved -- to Denver, as the Colorado Rockies (NOT the baseball team). That didn't work, either, so the club ended up in New Jersey, as the Devils. The NHL has had its share of carpetbaggers.

So a hockey person such as Davidson, who I respect, would suggest Kansas City? Instead of more deserving Canadian towns?

Well, there's Winnipeg, for one. The Jets became the Coyotes when they migrated to Phoenix. If American cities get second chances in hockey, then shouldn't Winnipeg?
Or how about somewhere in Saskatchewan? New Brunswick? Hey, what about Hamilton, Ontario? The Maple Leafs might not like it, but tough cookies. If major league baseball can convince Peter Angelos, Baltimore Orioles owner, that a team in nearby Washington, D.C. wouldn't be Armageddon for his team, then surely Gary Bettman ought to roll up his sleeves and soothe the fears of Maple Leaf ownership. He owes the league that much, for all the doo-doo he's helped put it in.

The NHL has expanded too quickly and to the wrong cities. It is a lethal combination, especially for a league that has had to resort to gimmicks such as shootouts to determine the outcomes of games.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

For Men Like Pat Riley, Coaching Always Beckons

Okay, all of you surprised that Pat Riley is taking over the coaching duties of the Miami Heat, raise your hands. Now, all of you who raised your hands, keep them there, so I may slap them with a ruler.

The much-anticipated takeover on the Heat sideline came to fruition yesterday, as coach Stan Van Gundy resigned, for "personal reasons", and president Pat Riley assumed the duties. I have a hunch Van Gundy’s "personal reasons" may have been Riley glowering at him and saying, "You’re through, pal."

The Van Gundy Watch began almost as soon as the Pistons eliminated the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals last June. Riley casts a large shadow over any coach, and it all but swallowed up Van Gundy. And Stan is no twig, so you know how much shadow it takes to swallow him.

Pat Riley, it was suspected all summer, would have a decision to make. For even before Shaquille O’Neal went down with an injury on opening night, the prediction was Van Gundy might have trouble meshing new players like Antoine Walker and Jason Williams into the mix. Sooner or later, the so-called experts said, Riley would have to step in and save the Heat from themselves. That’s what happens when a Hall of Fame coach has keys to the executive washroom.

Sure enough, Shaq got hurt and the Heat, preseason favorites, in a paradoxical way, to win the conference, stumbled out of the gate. Despite a win Friday night, the record was an unsightly -- for them -- 11-10. Hardly the record of conference champs.

Enter Riley in a move about as surprising as a Lions draw play on 3rd and 12.

I am more than a little suspicious about Van Gundy’s resignation. He was Riley’s hand-picked guy, and there is certainly some mutual respect going on there. In fact, it was their relationship that had pundits gnashing their teeth over how Riley was going to handle a Van Gundy exit, as if it was pre-supposed. So the coach made it easy for his boss by quitting. I’m not buying it, but who cares what I choose to purchase from Pat Riley, right?

But the thing is, about guys like Pat Riley, you can take the coach off the sidelines but you can’t take the sidelines out of the coach. Men like Riley, and Chuck Daly and Hubie Brown and a bunch of dudes currently patrolling NBA sidelines, or sitting in television studios, are practically put on this earth to coach. Anything else they choose to do in between is considered a layover before their next gig -- even if that means years later. It’s what drew Dick Vermeil out of the coziness of the broadcast booth. It grabbed Mike Ditka, so much that he was willing to coach the New Orleans Saints. It even directed Vince Lombardi to quit as Packers GM and coach the Redskins. And, in the most extreme example, it convinced Brown to try his hand at it again, when he was 70 years of age and years removed from his last coaching job.

And now it lures Pat Riley, as most of us knew it would, eventually, no matter how happy he told us he was being the team president. The chalkboard and whistle and dry eraser always beckons. Daly called himself a "gym rat." It may have been uncomfortable watching him try to make chicken soup from the feathers he had to work with in Orlando and New Jersey after he left the Pistons, but that’s what he wanted and who were we to say, "You had your time in the sun in Detroit, Chuck -- time to give the young whippersnappers a shot"?

You see, being a coach isn’t what men like Pat Riley do. It’s what they are. And most of them return to it, sooner or later.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Cowardly Lions: Fourth Quarter Failure At Goal Line Typical

Watching the Lions’ futile fourth quarter trip to the Green Bay Packers’ goal line, trying to break a 13-13 tie last night, it dawned on me that their coming up empty was an apt metaphor for their entire run under the ownership of Bill Ford. And, to a smaller degree, a microcosm of this wretched season.

The Lions had made some nice plays to get themselves into position to snap the deadlock and, in the process, move one step closer to exorcising the demons of Lambeau Field, where they haven’t won since 1991 B.F. (Before Favre). They had first and goal inside the five yard line. Optimism was acceptable. Kind of like during the Lions’ offseason and training camp days.

But then the Lions, showing absolutely no imagination or creativity in their playcalling, rammed into the Packers’ defensive line with no success. That left fourth down, and while Joe Theismann and Paul Maguire lauded them in the broadcast booth for going for the touchdown, the Lions took timeout. What happened next was the perfect metaphor for the 2005 season, and for the franchise in general in 41 years of Ford ownership.

After calling timeout, after having nearly two minutes to talk strategy and determine what they should do to move the ball the needed two feet to paydirt, keeping in mind that two previous rams into the line produced zilch, the Lions broke their huddle. As Jeff Garcia led the team to the line of scrimmage, it was impossible not to think of how the team had turned the playcalling over to quarterbacks coach Greg Olson. It was hard to ignore all the bland, dull, punchless offensive calls in the Steve Mariucci era. It was natural to almost beg for something other than another drive into the belly of the Packers defense.

The ball was snapped, and after all their brainstorming on the sidelines, after all their analysis of the recent data, after a presumed scan of all plays available to them in such a situation, the Lions ran a quarterback sneak. Straight into the Packers’ absorbent gut. It didn’t come close to working.

"Horrible call," Theismann complained in the booth.

And that, you see, was the Detroit Lions in a nutshell.

They knocked on the door, provided their fans with hope, and then frittered opportunity away like sands through an hourglass. They got to within three yards of taking the lead, with four downs in front of them in which to do it, and revealed a set of play calls that lacked imagination and execution. But most of all, in the biggest inidictment, they lacked courage.

Former Tampa Bay coach John McKay once said of his team, "Half of our players are brainless; the other half are gutless." That would be an appropriate description of the Lions’ play calls whenever they find themselves in a first-and-goal situation.

Watching the Lions trying to punch it in from short range is like watching a small child play miniature golf: the ball goes everywhere but in the hole, even from inches away. You just want to scream sometimes.

Why, oh why, is it so hard for our football team to score touchdowns, especially when the football is placed within ten feet of the goal line? The offensive line gets absolutely no push, the plays that are called never involve the quarterback rolling out, or even any run outside of the tackles. They are boring, predictable, and fearful. Like McKay said of his Bucs, half the plays are brainless, and the other half are gutless.

I watched the Cowboys beat the Chiefs in this manner: with the ball at the Kansas City one yard line and the clock ticking away in the fourth quarter, quarterback Drew Bledsoe faked a handoff, calmly stood in the pocket, and threw a pass to a third string tight end. The play worked -- easily. The third string tight end was so wide open, it caused Chiefs defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham to go ballistic on one of his assistants on the sidelines, caught by the CBS cameras. Regardless, it just served to show what can happen if you think outside of the box -- literally. The Lions love stuffing the ball into the opponent’s box, as if they have this All-NFL offensive line that can make the other guys look like swiss cheese.

So instead of using Jeff Garcia’s supposed athleticism and mobility, the Lions thrust him -- a 185 pound QB -- into the line. They may as well have covered him with blood and fed him to sharks.

I won’t even get into the rest of the game, except to say the Lions got rooked by the officials when they ruled the Packers did NOT hold in the endzone in the possession immediately after the goal line sham. It should have been 15-13 Lions thanks to the safety that ensues when anyone commits holding in the endzone. But the officials somehow ruled that the hold occurred outside the endzone, which is curious since the line of scrimmage was the two-foot line and the offensive lineman was moving backwards when he committed the foul. Maybe he held at the one-inch line.

Regardless, that’s not why the Lions lost. They lost -- for the 15th straight time in Green Bay, including playoffs -- because of that sad display near the Packers’ goal line. They couldn’t even beat the Packers in Green Bay in a year when the Pack is 2-10 going into the game.

It takes most teams a couple plays to bang it in from the one yard line. It has taken the Lions 48 years to bang it in -- a franchise for whom every year falls short of paydirt. If you want a capsule of the Lions’ monotonous futility, you will find it right here: Jeff Garcia, on a quarterback sneak.


Sunday, December 11, 2005

Julio Franco: On His Way To Being A 50 Year-Old Big Leaguer

Franco: baseball's Energizer Bunny

God bless Julio Franco.

God bless a guy his age (47) who can not only still play professional baseball, but can do it at the highest level. God bless a guy who can, approaching 50, not only play at the major league level, but play it in such a way that he commands a new two-year, $2.2 million contract. Actually, God has blessed Julio Franco, because he can do all of these things, and has.

Franco signed with the Mets the other day, and this is also significant because he has spent the last several seasons in the bigs in the National League, where he cannot take advantage of the designated hitter rule and be half a player. Julio Franco plays first base, plays it well enough that he isn’t considered a liability. But it is his bat, let’s face it, that is keeping him in The Show. Julio Franco can still swing it, to the tune of a .299 career average, which included a strong .275 in 2005 with the Braves. He had nine homers in just 233 at-bats.

Now he will ply his trade with the Mets, who thought enough of his skills to give him a contract that will run past his 49th birthday.

I don’t have to tell you how remarkable that is. I don’t have to sit here and do the hackneyed thing of mentioning what was going on in the world when Franco debuted in the majors (1982). I don’t have to make cutesy comments about what most men Julio Franco’s age are doing right about now, and how they are nowhere NEAR playing even stick ball, let alone major league baseball. After all, you should know that what we are seeing with Julio Franco is nothing short of a freak of nature and an example of the triumph of the human spirit, of mind over aging matter.

He is a 47 year-old man paying a game built for boys half his age.

It is so refreshing and cool to see a guy like Franco not only play the game at his age, but to play it with such commitment and enjoyment. He has stated in interviews that he fully intends on playing past his 50th birthday. Beyond that, who knows? Beyond that, who cares? He already deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame. Julio Franco has over 2,500 hits. Sure they’ve been spread out over 22 seasons, but how many players even stick around for 22 seasons? Do you know that as recently as 2004, as a 46 year-old, Julio Franco was a .300 hitter? He rode in at .309. But this wasn’t some token .300; Franco had over 300 at-bats that season. In fact, Franco has only hit lower than .275 once in the past 12 seasons. He’s not just some old guy taking a roster space from someone else.

So Julio Franco signs with the New York Mets, for two years and $2.2 million. He will play first base for them and pinch hit, but he won’t be a sideshow. He will be a real contributor. Why would you think anything else, after 23 years?

UDM Athletics Always A Lure For "Downriver's Dick Vitale"

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

I’ve known Harvey Theeck for 20 years, so I figured it was about time that I found out more about him.

Like, for instance, he once considered himself "Downriver’s Dick Vitale." That’s okay; I always preferred ole Harv to the real Dickie V, anyway.

Harvey Theeck is the equipment manager for University of Detroit Mercy varsity athletics, has been for 14 years now, and only the other day did I finally find out what he did for a living.

"Order, inventory, issue, collect, maintain," Harvey told me, describing his job in five words into a telephone from his office, which I have seen, by the way. It’s not much. Clark Kent had bigger quarters in which to change.

Those five words refer mainly to uniforms. Lots of uniforms. UDM has 16 varsity sports, and over 300 athletes playing them, and they all need to look clean and spiffy before they break sweat. Harvey makes sure their duds are shipshape. Then he gets to clean them, when they don’t smell so nice. Fourteen years of this must qualify him as an honorary homemaker.

It’s not just uniforms, though. There’s equipment -- he IS the equipment manager, after all. This means that if a basketball hoop structure goes boom, or a low-jump hurdle wobbles too much, Harvey is on the scene. Don’t snicker. YOU try playing basketball with a three-foot high hoop.

"In my first season as equipment manager, a strut on one of the basketball hoop structures went bad," Harvey told me. "I had to make sure it got fixed. There was a 20 minute delay before the start of the game." The UDM men were to play Loyola that night, and the broken basket was at the end of the court where the Titans were warming up. There had already been such a long delay to fix everything, so the game was begun without UDM’s guys getting a chance to truly warm up. No matter. They saved their warming for the game. They beat Loyola by 25 points.

I met Harvey Theeck back in the day -- the mid-80’s, to be exact -- when I was in local cable television production downriver. Harvey, teaching at Allen Park Cabrini High School by day, was our color analyst for prep basketball by night. It was a gig he cherished, so much so that he fancied himself a nickname and a persona.

"It was at a time when Dick Vitale was gaining prominence as an analyst," Harvey said. "And I always liked U of D’s program (Vitale had been U-D’s coach from 1973-77), so I kind of considered myself ‘Downriver’s Dick Vitale.’"

I directed many of those broadcasts from the production truck, and I can tell you that Harvey Theeck was one of the best basketball analysts I’ve heard, so you know. He teamed with the Bobs -- first Lewandoski and then Zahari, and we had a ball bringing weekly games to TV sets downriver.

"I remember Allen Park High had a team that was 2-20 with all freshmen starters, and by the time they were seniors they went something like 24-2," Harvey said. "Back in those days, you had great teams at Southgate Aquinas, Flat Rock. I had a lot of fun doing those games, especially during March Madness."

"I have always liked the program at U-D.....And here I am, working for the school."

I asked Harvey what was the best part of an equipment manager’s job, once I was enlightened what the equipment manager’s job was to begin with.

"Game day," he said without hesitation. "That quiet moment when everything is laid out and clean, just before the team comes in and dresses. That’s cool." Harvey says his job is mainly "preventive maintenance" on game day, so when the teams are in action, he is there, ready if needed. Only he rarely is needed, so "they pay me to watch games," Harvey said with a chuckle.

Unfortunately, of those 16 varsity sports at UDM, none are baseball. The university dropped the program a few years ago amidst a terribly rampant budget cut in the athletic department. Oldtimers will tell you that in its heyday, U-D’s baseball program was in the upper echelon nationally. For years the team was coached by Bob Miller, a favorite of Harvey’s.

"Bob Miller was a character, always telling stories," Harvey said, and it was easy to notice the wistfulness in his voice. "He would do magic tricks in the dugout. He was just a great guy." Miller, who pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies "Whiz Kids" in 1950, is also the answer to a trivia question: Name the first time two rookie pitchers both started the same World Series game. It was 1950, when Miller faced the Yankees’ Whitey Ford in Game 4. That was the only time, too, until it occurred again in 1997.

"It’s sad we don’t have baseball anymore (at UDM)," Harvey said.

Another character was the late Ricky Byrdsong, who coached the mens basketball team in the early 1990’s. "Byrd would tell his players he wasn’t going to be at practice," Harvey recalled. "But then he would hide up in the press box and catch them goofing off." And there was more Byrdsong. "Sometimes he ran a drill where if you missed a free throw, you had to remove a piece of equipment." How bad were some of the free throw shooters? "Some guys were down to sneakers and a jock strap," Harvey said.

Harvey Theeck entered the world of uniforms, baskets, hurdles and batting cages back in 1989, when he saw an ad in a newsletter for a Director of Intramurals at U-D. At the time, he was working at Selfridge Air Base, in the recreation department. He applied, got the job, and moved into the equipment manager position in 1991. And he has seen a change in athletes over the past 14 years.

"Kids today would rather try to walk on to a program like Michigan, Michigan State, instead of getting a free ride at a school like UDM," Harvey said by way of observance. That change hasn’t helped recruiting, for the schools like UDM, EMU, etc. would hang their hats on snagging players who weren’t quite Big Ten ready. Now, those players appear willing to take their chances at the bigger schools. "It’s especially true in basketball," Harvey told me. I guess they want to play in games in which Dickie Vitale might be announcing.

I still see Harv occasionally, whenever I find myself at Calihan Hall, working for the Catholic Television Network. He is hyped about MCS Magazine. "I hope it makes it," he told me. "We’ve had magazines like that come and go." I was the choir, and he was the preacher. But Harv is a subscriber, so he’s obviously a practitioner of his preaching.

But back to UDM. "I have always liked the program at U-D," Harvey said. "And here I am, working for the school. People from out of town still say to me, ‘Oh yeah -- isn’t that the school where Dick Vitale coached?’"

Vitale hasn’t worked at McNichols and Livernois in almost 30 years. And Harvey hasn’t been "Downriver’s Vitale" for almost 20. But what are you going to do, when there are uniforms to clean, press and lay out for today’s Titans? Bet Dickie V. never did that.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The OTHER 40 Year-Old Pitcher From Texas

Well, the Tigers almost did what I wanted them to do, and maybe this is better anyway.

They signed a 40-something starting pitcher, all right, someone from a team that plays in the Lone Star State. But it was Kenny Rogers, not Roger Clemens, who inked a deal -- two years for reportedly $16 million -- that will bring the Tigers that veteran anchor to their starting rotation. I had campaigned for the Tigers to recruit Clemens, recently cut loose by the Astros. Instead they snagged Rogers, 41, from the Rangers.

Most likely, signing the lefthanded Rogers, though the money is awfully high for someone who will be 43 by the time the contract expires, will nicely fill a void in the rotation for Detroit. Don’t get me wrong; I’m still loathe to throw big money at free agent pitchers. But Rogers, like Roger (Clemens), has proven to be durable for most of his 17-year career. There’s a risk factor, certainly, but odds are the Tigers will get two seasons and 50 or 60 starts from Rogers during them. And if recent history holds as a trend, those starts will be mostly quality ones.

Rogers was practically unhittable before the All-Star break in 2005, and even though he came back to earth a tad from August on, he still finished with 14 wins and a 3.46 ERA. Those numbers qualify you as an ace on the Tigers staff. In 2004, Rogers won a career-high 18 games. He is approaching 200 wins in his career. The Tigers haven’t seen such numbers from a starting pitcher since Jack Morris, back in the day.

And, like Morris -- or rather, Rogers can be like Morris Concentrate -- Rogers has an edge that the Tigers have so desperately needed on the hill from a starter. Of course, that "edge" can cut like a knife.

May as well get into it right now. Rogers has anger issues, as we all know. It gained national prominence last June when he went ballistic on a TV cameraman, which is usually not a smart thing to do because the guy has.....a camera! And so, the attack was caught on videotape, and played as much as the Zapruder film for a few days. The timing of the incident was such that there were calls for Rogers -- named to the All-Star team -- to forfeit his spot on the American League squad as a sort of penance for his actions. Yours truly hopped on that bandwagon, mainly because it might have paved the way for Detroit’s Jeremy Bonderman to make the team. The game was played in the Motor City, which would have made Bonderman’s appointment even richer. So I wrote that Rogers should, indeed, have stepped aside. I still believe it would have been the right and honorable thing to do, his signing with Detroit notwithstanding.

If Kenny Rogers has any weird incidents as a Tiger, it would be the first such occurrences around Detroit baseball in quite some time. The Tigers have not only been bad for most of the past 16 years, they’ve been....borrring. The dissension that tore through the Tigers clubhouse in 2005 and contributed to manager Alan Trammell’s dismissal was an anomaly; normally the Tigers are a bunch of "good guys" who all get along swell and consider themselves pals and who go out and lose 60 percent of the time, or more. There’s been a bunch of vanilla about them. If ever the phrase "Nice guys finish last" was applicable, it’s had as its bullseye the yearly mess that has been Detroit Tigers baseball.

That isn’t to say I am advocating Kenny Rogers to go cameraman hunting again, or anything similar. That’s bad for business. Instead, I am saying that if Rogers is able to keep his anger in check, his feistiness can only be good for a team that is struggling to find its way under a new manager, Jim Leyland, who I have a feeling doesn’t mind having a surly guy or two on his ballclub -- as long as it’s channeled in a positive manner.

Did the Tigers overpay by giving Kenny Rogers $16 million over two years? Probably. But then again, they’ve been overpaying for hitters lately, and that hasn’t panned out so well. Throwing big money at free agent pitchers isn’t my cup of tea as a rule, but I feel better when it’s given to a guy who has a track record -- unlike some of these flash-in-the-pans who’ve been raking in the dough the last several winters.

So forget what I said about going after Roger Clemens. We now have our own 40 year-old-plus guy from Texas -- at $8 mil a year.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

BREAKING NEWS: Tigers To Sign Kenny Rogers

Kenny Rogers

The Tigers have reportedly reached an agreement with lefthander Kenny Rogers, 41, on a two-year contract worth about $16 million.

Rogers went 14-8 with a 3.46 ERA in 2005, making the All-Star team. He won a career-high 18 games in 2004. In his 17-year career, Rogers is 190-131.

Come back to "Out of Bounds" tomorrow for my take!

Todd Jones And Random Thoughts As The Hot Stove League Cranks Up....

Jones had 40 saves for the Marlins in 2005

Maybe, in the Tigers' case, the fifth time will be the charm.

The Tigers signed closer Todd Jones, reportedly, and if that's the case, the 37 year-old Jones will be the fifth closer the team has used since Opening Day 2005. Jones pitched previously for the Tigers between 1997-2001.

The Closer Carousel started with free agent signee Troy Percival, who gave way to Ugueth Urbina, who gave way to Percival again, who gave way to Kyle Farnsworth, who gave way to Fernando Rodney. Percival was injured and his career may be over. Urbina was traded to Philadelphia and now he faces attempted murder charges. Farnsworth was traded to Atlanta and just signed with the Yankees. Rodney is still with the Tigers, but is deemed a risk because of his age and inconsistency.

Todd Jones must really want to pitch in Detroit again to sign up for a job that has been poison to those preceeding him.

Jones, who reports say will come on board for two years and $11 million, is actually a pretty good signing for the Tigers. The money is still a little high, and one only has to go back one day on this blog to see what I think of signing free agent pitchers. However, in relative terms, the Tigers made a wise choice, because Jones is a veteran who is proven and who shows no signs of slowing down. Troy Percival was supposed to be last year's Todd Jones, but Percival had some injury concerns prior to signing in Detroit. Jones has been mostly healthy. Of course, a pitcher's arm can fall down and go boom at any moment, and it usually seems to happen after the ink dries on a new contract. Have I confused you yet? Bottom line: good signing.


(l to r) Piazza, Thomas and Clemens: all out of work -- for now

Speaking of baseball, the Mets aren't offering arbitration to Mike Piazza, the White Sox are doing the same with Frank Thomas, and the Astros appear willing to let Roger Clemens be on his way. Looks like the makings of a pretty good team -- if this was 1995.

Actually, all of the above can still play a little bit, given the right situation. Piazza can be a serviceable DH/first baseman, Thomas still has plenty of pop in his bat, from a power standpoint, and Clemens keeps himself in ridiculously good shape. I still think Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski should give Roger's agent a call, even if it seems like a longshot that Clemens would consider Detroit.

But it just goes to show me how fast time flies, and how old I have become. I blinked and the last ten years have flown by. Wasn't it just yesterday when the mention of Mike Piazza and Frank Thomas, for example, meant you were talking about two of the most feared hitters in baseball? Wasn't Piazza just the second coming of Johnny Bench?

I remember seeing Hal McRae in his prime, and now his son -- Brian -- has seen his career come and go and is now a TV analyst, retired from playing. When sons of players you remember watching are now old and retired, you start to look at your own waistline and cholesterol counts a bit closer.

Does Aaron Boone or Brett Boone have a son in the minor leagues yet?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

"Losers" In Burnett Sweepstakes Just Might End Up Being Winners

So the Toronto Blue Jays won the sweepstakes for free agent starting pitcher A.J. Burnett, late of the Florida Marlins. They’ll pay him something like $55 million for the next five years to take the mound every fifth day.
Burnett was 12-12 for the Marlins in 2005, yet was considered the cream of the free agent pitching crop.
The Tigers were thought to be interested in Burnett, because of his ties to team president Dave Dombrowski, and because of the Bengals’ need for starting pitching.

So the Jays "won", and you know what? They can have him.

Just what kind of a season does A.J. Burnett have to have in 2006 to justify being paid $11 million? For that dough, I figure 350 innings, 25 wins, and 275 strikeouts, with an ERA of around 2.00 would fit the bill. Of course, in today’s baseball world, I suspect the Jays will settle for 180 innings, 15 wins, 150 strikeouts, and an ERA that doesn’t touch 4.25.

That’s the way it is with free agent starting pitchers, you know. You overpay -- way, way overpay -- then explain yourself a couple years later, when the contract looks ugly and begins to resemble a homely girl the morning after you took her home from the bar after a few too many drinks. But if the Blue Jays want to feel like winners, and if the Tigers want to feel jilted, that’s fine. Everyone has my permission.

But the odds are so very against pitchers who get the free agent bucks, as history will bear me out. Their arms do funny things as soon as the first paycheck clears the bank, it seems. And A.J. Burnett wasn’t even the first free agent the Blue Jays signed this month. Last week the Jays gave closer B.J. Ryan a five-year, $47 million booty. That’s over $100 million tied up in two pitchers between now and 2010. So tell me what makes the Blue Jays "winners" in this scenario, again?

Look what happened to Carl Pavano, for example. Last winter the Tigers, among other teams, stumbled all over themselves trying to convince Pavano, a free agent starter from Florida, to sign with them. They wined and dined him -- similar to the tact that was successful in landing closer Troy Percival. And we all know how that turned out. Anyhow, Pavano chose the Yankees, had a miserable - ahhh, so typical -- season, and is now on the trading block. One of the interested teams as far as talking trade? The Tigers, naturally.

I’ve always thought fat contracts for free agent pitchers -- starters or relievers -- was mostly wasted money, mainly because, first of all, they are not everyday players, and secondly, they have to have such oustanding years to even come close to justifying the contract in the first place. Anything else feels like wasted dollars. Better to develop your own young arms, if you ask me.

I’m not sure how deep into the bidding the Tigers got for Burnett’s services, but I have a hunch it was probably a good thing that they "lost" out to the Blue Jays. You see, while you can never have too many good arms on your staff, you CAN have too many expensive, not-worth-all-that-money arms. They drain the bank accounts dry, and who needs a player who can only play every fifth game, anyway? They don’t even finish what they started, for heaven’s sake.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Indy, Beware: There Are Nasty Hawks In Seattle

Peyton and Company, beware: there are some ballHawks in Seattle that have you circled on their football calendar.

If there’s anyone left who can derail the Indianapolis Express, it has to be the Seattle Seahawks. And if the Hawks don’t knock the Colts off in a few weeks, they just might do it several weeks after that -- in Super Bowl XL.

The Seahawks annihilated trhe Philadelphia Eagles, 42-0, in Philly, on national television, and surely the wakes must be already underway in the City of Brotherly Love. The Eagles, defending NFC Champs, were officially laid to rest by Seattle on a snowy night that was symbolic of the storm that has surrounded the Eagles all season, really. It hasn’t been very peaceful in Philadelphia, football-wise, and perhaps it was best that the Seahawks put the Eagles out of their misery quickly and decisively. The Eagles finished 0-4 on national television, and their record in the national media wasn;t much better, with the Terrell Owens situation leading the way.

No, it’s all about Seattle now -- Mike Holmgren’s bunch is a nifty 10-2 -- and how the torch has been passed cross country in the NFC. The 12-0 Colts visit Seattle in Week 16, and if things continue this way, it will be a meeting of titans that the league hasn’t seen in the regular season in years. Think of it: the 14-0 Colts visiting the 12-2 Seahawks. A possible Super Bowl preview. Seattle maybe being the 1972 Dolphins’ last hope to ruin a perfect season, because Indy’s last game is at home against the Cardinals. Christmas weekend, no less. Happy Holidays to pro football fans everywhere.

The Seahawks destroyed the Eagles with their defense, returning two interceptions for touchdowns, and their offense, which doesn’t get the publicity as the one in Indianapolis, but which is every bit of efficient, really. This team can play some football, and it’s nice to say that about someone other than the Colts or the Patriots or the Steelers. Or the Eagles.

The NFC sometimes gets treated like the NFL’s redheaded stepchild. The Patriots have had a lot to do with that, of course, though they never seem to win the Big One by anything more than an Adam Vinatieri field goal. Every season the preseason favorites seem to come out of the AFC, save perhaps the Eagles, but we all know what has happened to them. And, frankly, it’s been difficult to make much of a case for anyone else in the NFC, because everyone else is either unproven in the playoffs, shaky at too many positions, or just plain mediocre.

But the Seahawks are not only not shaky and not mediocre, they are poised and primed for this opportunity -- a chance of a lifetime to win the whole enchilada. As far as being unproven in the playoffs, that may be a valid critique. But don’t forget, if they go up against the Colts, they’ll be playing another team that hasn’t been able to win the Big One, or even the conference championship. And even if the Seahawks are unable to halt the Colts’ streak, and Indy finishes 16-0 (I think I just heard the ’72 Dolphins collectively clutch their chests), isn’t it more important to finish 3-0 in the postseason?

The Seattle Seahawks have the talent and the coaching to do it. No joke.