Friday, June 29, 2007
Never, that I can recall, was Thomas placed under a shroud of suspicion because of his exploits on the baseball diamond. Never do I remember his name being bantied about as a possible user of performance enhancing drugs. I don't recall seeing him raising his right hand in testimony on Capitol Hill. And I certainly don't remember him beginning his career with a David Banner-like physique and ending it with that of the Incredible Hulk.
Thomas, who hit his 500th career homerun last night, should breeze through Hall of Fame ballotting, unlike some of his contemporaries, whose numbers and change in body structure have most sensible people looking at them cross-eyed.
Thomas watches #500 fly in the Metrodome
"The Big Hurt," they call him, and it's because of the pain he inflicts on opposing pitchers, not on the game itself. Frank Thomas was jobbed of the Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2006 (he won it in 2000), a slight that I still can't understand. He went from 105 AB (and 12 HR) with the White Sox in 2005 to 39 HR, 114 RBI with the A's last season, in under 500 AB. His departure from the White Sox was contentious, which was something else I never understood, because all Thomas did was give that franchise 16 glorious seasons -- the last two of which were injury-ravaged. He, more than anyone, put the White Sox back on the radar after years of mediocrity in the 1970s and '80s.
He was, dare I say, the most feared righthanded hitter in the big leagues for most of the 1990s. And even now, at age 39, he's not someone I relish seeing come to the plate against my team. Yes, last year's ALCS against the Tigers was brutal for Thomas. And Tigers fans should thank their lucky stars that his slump coincided with that series. But you know what? Even though he struggled mightily against the Tigers last October, I always felt like the next at-bat would be the one where he'd break out of it and make us all pay.
There's no question that Thomas's career was lengthened -- and even saved -- by the designated hitter rule. He will go down with Edgar Martinez as two of the greatest DHs of all time. How much that matters to you is your business. I'm not a DH fan, but if it's there, you may as well have people who can do it properly.
Funny, but Thomas was ejected in the ninth inning last night, after disputing a called third strike.
"I'm probably the only one to hit his 500th homer and get ejected," Thomas said afterward.
I can think of hundreds of pitchers who wish they had that power.
Frank Thomas has hit 500 homeruns -- and counting. Every one of them, I believe, was smacked and pummeled out of big league ballparks without the benefit of foreign substances introduced into his bloodstream, or spread onto his skin.
"This means a lot to me because I did it the right way and I've busted my butt since college. I always worked hard in that weight room to be strong. I'm a big guy and I've been blessed with this talent," Thomas said of his accomplishment.
Hall of Fame, indeed.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
"One thing's for sure: the #2 overall pick is going to be the easiest pick in the history of the NBA draft."
Not-so-sloppy seconds is what awaits the Seattle Sonics, after the Portland Trailblazers make their selection, #1 off the board. And even the Blazers don't figure to screw this one up.
Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. Two big men of the "Rolls Royce" nature, to steal from Dickie Vitale's lexicon. Both kids -- and they ARE kids still -- should grow up to be a dominant big man for a long time. Hard to go wrong. But the comment about #2 being so easy is, Seattle will simply take who the Blazers don't. No analyzing. No hand-wringing. No comparing of notes. No last-minute looks at tape. If Portland takes Oden, Seattle takes Durant. And vice-versa.
But Portland hasn't always had good luck with drafting big men. Sometimes they've been very silly, in fact.
In 1972, Portland used the #1 overall pick to draft LaRue Martin, a 6-foot-11 beanpole from Loyola University in Chicago. He was going to inject hope and life into the third-year franchise.
In four NBA seasons, all with Portland, Martin averaged 5.3 ppg.
Martin (left) and Bowie: Together they made a decent benchwarmer, kinda sorta
In 1974, the Blazers tried again -- but this time their choice wasn't much of a stretch. Choosing the center Bill Walton from UCLA didn't require a lot of basketball sense. Of course, knowing he'd have an injury-plagued career would have been difficult. So would have imagining him putting America to sleep as a TV analyst. But Walton did lead Portland to its only NBA title, in 1977.
In 1984, Blazers management got their wires crossed and snapped Sam Bowie off the board, from Kentucky. They apparently didn't think as much of the jewel from the other basketball factory -- Michael Jordan from the University of North Carolina.
Now the Blazers have a chance to go 2-2, when they pick either Oden or Durant. They seem to be leading toward Oden. I think I'd lean that way, too -- but regardless, the Seattle Sonics will indeed have the easiest pick in NBA draft history. And they can basically grab immunity from criticism -- for who can possibly vilify them, even if Durant/Oden busts? NOBODY is suggesting they draft anyone other than who the Blazers DONT.
In 1980, there were two sleek, superstar-destined running backs that were sure to go very high in the NFL draft. One was Charlie White, old #12 for USC. The other was high-stepping Billy Sims, #20 from Oklahoma. White won the Heisman Trophy in 1979; Sims won it in 1978. The Lions would have the #1 overall pick in 1980, thanks to a 2-14 record in 1979. The '79 season would be their first of many forays into double-digit loss seasons over the ensuing three decades.
As the draft approached, speculation ran rampant: would the Lions select the reigning Heisman winner, White -- or the winner two seasons ago, Sims? White or Sims? Sims or White? It seemed to be quite a quandary.
The Lions, of course, chose Sims. And despite a career cut short by injury, Billy Sims was a far superior NFL running back than Charlie White, who went to Cleveland.
And sometimes you get the easiest pick in the history of the NFL draft, too. Such was the case in 1989, when Green Bay passed on Barry Sanders to take the performance-enhanced hulk from MSU, OL Tony Mandarich. Even the Lions couldn't botch that one up.
So tonight we'll find out. Oden or Durant? The Portland team is the only one that can make the big mistake here. If they pick Oden, and Durant proves to be the better pro, then you know what's gonna happen. If Seattle's pick disappoints, then the Sonics are victims of bad luck -- not a team that has pointed a shotgun at its foot and pulled the trigger.
No. 2 can, indeed, be a better position than #1.
As Three Dog Night so rightly noted, "One is the loneliest number." They also said that "Two can be as bad as one." But not quite as bad.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
by Siddy Hall
TOO MANY TEAMS (50), TOO MANY RACES (36), A SHORTAGE OF TRACK DATES AND HOW TO FIX IT
Every week about 50 teams are trying to fill 43 slots. After spending millions of dollars these 15 non top-35 teams have their fortune decided by a two-lap solo dash in non-racing conditions. It’s like a golf tournament field being decided by a “Longest Drive” contest. Anybody considering an entry into the NASCAR game right now probably just slammed a fifth of whiskey. You’d have to be out of your mind. Just ask Bill Davis or Team Red Bull.
Meanwhile the Busch Series continues to flounder along in its mysterious ways. The races are shown on TV and only the teams and their nearest relatives seem to care.
There’s a way to solve this and a host of other problems in NASCAR. I’m about to propose a way to make the Chase more exciting, the races better, the teams happier, and the track owners happier. It’ll be a happy fest after the “Siddy Hall Fix NASCAR Game Plan” is initiated.
STEP 1: Franchise the teams. The days of a “Team Elliott” rising through the ranks from an outback, small-town garage to the pinnacle of NASCAR is long gone. As beautiful of a story that it is – a guy or a group of people building a car in their own garage and taking it to the top – this is folklore from the past that will not repeat itself.
Franchise the teams and let them plan on racing each week. Allow teams to develop a driver without fear of being outside the Top-35 in points. In total, franchise 72 teams. Yup, 72.
STEP 2: Split the 72 teams into two groups of 36. (For now, we’ll call these groups the Gordon group and the Earnhardt group.) Each group races on its own. So you would have two separate standings with 36 cars each.
STEP 3: Shorten the season to 30 races. After 20 races the top-20 from each group forms a new group of 40 cars and the Chase begins similar to the current rules. Voila !! You now have a Chase where every car on the track is competing for the championship. Who’s not happy?
Please notice that even while reducing the race schedule, we are also adding race dates. There are now 50 race dates. Races for everybody! Rockingham step right up, you get two. Kentucky, help yourself!! Iowa, you’re in luck! Ontario, yes Canada, you finally receive the race dates that you deserve. O. Bruton Smith, you get your second Texas race date! Everybody is happy!
OTHER BENEFITS: By reducing the number of cars to 36 (or 40 for the Chase) the short track races will improve. Am I alone in believing that Bristol has suffered since allowing 43 cars in the race? The track is too congested. There’s a breakout of Yellow Fever at these races from all the cautions. Reducing the cars will increase the racing. Plus. NASCAR could actually hold three races at Bristol. One for the Gordon group, one for the Earnhardt group, and then one for the Chase.
Currently there are about 50 teams. Assuming that each team would be awarded a franchise, this allows room for 22 more teams. By setting a 2010 deadline, more teams could get organized and get on board. Certainly there would be some current and former drivers that would like a piece of this action.
Under this set-up, fans could enjoy two races each weekend that actually matter. One on Saturday night and one Sunday afternoon.
So long Busch Series!
Monday, June 25, 2007
The Pistons tried to play the nostalgia and emotion card last January, when they brought Chris Webber home to finally realize his dream of playing NBA ball in Detroit. And it worked, for a time -- until Webber either became too old or too disinterested (or both), seemingly overnight. Now it's questionable whether he wants to return for another season -- retirement possibly looming. Maybe just as questionable is the team's interest in bringing him back.
But there appears to be no questioning this: the Pistons would like to bring Grant Hill back to Detroit, forthwith. They'd like to throw him some mid-level bucks and let him do his thing off the bench next season. This, seven years after Hill pressed for his shipment to Orlando, in a sign-and-trade deal that brought the Pistons Ben Wallace and Chucky Atkins.
The Hill move was the first official transaction of team president Joe Dumars's executive career. It wasn't the best of scenarios for a rookie GM: the franchise player wants out -- and the whole league knew it. Yet Dumars, displaying his uncanny knack for being a front office man, engineered a whale of a deal.
Now, it may be another move involving Hill that will again help define Dumars's post-playing legacy.
This time, it would be the reverse -- Hill leaving Orlando for Detroit. And he would leave the Magic as he left the Pistons: no playoff series victories, dreams dashed, hopes crushed.
It's one of the most unfair of all NBA facts. Grant Hill, in 13 pro seasons -- many played under duress and painful agony, some not really played at all -- has never experienced winning a playoff series. He has not, simply, been anywhere near an NBA championship. And this about one of the classiest players the league has had the pleasure of calling its own in the last 20 years.
Hill, by all rights, should be in a television studio, trading barbs with Charles Barkley. Or maybe on the sidelines wearing a headset, telling Marv Albert what just happened, and why. Or maybe -- just maybe -- he should be carving his own niche as a front office man. Or a coach. Certainly none of us should have been surprised had that been the direction Hill decided to take.
This is because of his injury-ravaged ankles and legs, which have robbed him of almost two full seasons. Some say his decision to try to play on his mangled ankle in the 2000 playoffs for the Pistons contributed greatly to his subsequent problems. Then when he decided to opt out of Detroit, he was vilified, instead of praised for playing when lesser men would have sat on the bench in street clothes.
Hill's time in Orlando lacked the magic he imagined
It brings to mind another local guy, Danny Roundfield from Central Michigan, Detroit born and bred. GM Jack McCloskey acquired Roundfield before the 1984-85 season, from Atlanta, to be the stud power forward the team had lacked. Roundfield had, in previous years, been an offensive force and a beast on the boards.
In the regular season, Roundfield was OK -- not spectacular, but he wasn't 23 years old anymore, either. The Pistons qualified for the second round of the NBA playoffs in 1985 for the first time in nine years. And they had pushed the vaunted Boston Celtics to a sixth game, to be played at Joe Louis Arena.
Roundfield dressed and played some minutes in the first half. But something was bothering him, physically, and when the teams came out of the dressing room for the second half, Roundfield joined his Pistons mates -- in street clothes, the player's version of a white flag. And their sign of a small heart. That summer, McCloskey shipped Roundfield to Washington, for Rick Mahorn. They didn't call McCloskey Trader Jack for nothing.
The Piston Roundfield was nothing like the Hawk Roundfield
Hill would have none of that in 2000, against the superior Miami Heat in the first round. The Pistons, with Hill gamely leading them on his bad wheel, gave the Heat all they could handle in Game 2 in Miami. A win would have tied the best-of-five series at a victory each, with the next two games in Detroit. But then Hill was forced to the bench, the pain too great. The Pistons fell short, and their season -- and Hill's career in Detroit -- was over two nights later.
There are strong indications that Hill would be very amenable to a return to the site of the birth of his NBA career. He would be, they say, happy to be a bench player. He could be another Lindsey Hunter -- who left Detroit for a few winters, became an NBA vagabond, then returned in time to help the Pistons win a title in 2004.
When Grant Hill was drafted by the Pistons in 1994 -- amidst GM Billy McKinney's tears -- the team was nothing much. Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer had just retired. The Pistons won barely more than 20 games in 1993-94. They were sorry, pathetic former champions. The team Hill would return to in 2007 will be a championship contender -- in some way, shape, or form. And it would certainly provide Hill with his first postseason series victory.
There's still time for Grant Hill's NBA career to have a happy ending -- the ending that would make all the pain, rehabilitation, and heartache he's endured worth it.
All the Pistons have to do, I think, is ask him.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
This may sound like the cranky whining of an oldtimer who thinks things were better in his day, and you’re right. When it came to All-Star voting, at least, it just wasn’t any better than when we punched ballots with pencils, inkpens, or toothpicks.
Children of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, turn your head. Go back to your iPods, BlackBerries, and live streaming video on the Internets. Surf the web, find your All-Star “ballot,” and click to your heart’s content. Whatever you do, just go away. This column is for the simpler baseball fan – the one who would blush at filling out more than one punch card, let alone click on hundreds.
I should have kept at least one for posterity. Gillette lent its name to the pale blue and white ballots in my day (the 1970s), and it was fitting – because the sides were razor sharp. They were about the size of a business-sized envelope, maybe 2 1/2” x 5”. One-sided, of course, which meant all the candidates were listed in almost agate-sized type – National Leaguers on the left, American Leaguers on the right, vertically.
And oh, those chads! There were about 8-10 names listed per position, and beside those names were the hallmark of the Gillette ballots. Tiny rectangular boxes that were so small they defied poking by finger. Hence the aforementioned writing instruments or toothpicks.
You voted for one player for catcher and the infield slots, then three for the outfield. That was it – unless you had a write-in candidate, and you were only allowed one of those per league, if memory serves. The bottom quarter of the ballot had spaces for the write-ins. It was a very tidy system. If your write-in was a second baseman, then you’d better leave that position blank, and punch the write-in chad. Failure to do this correctly would void your ballot. Don’t scoff at the notion of write-ins. Steve Garvey started the All-Star game of 1974 for the National League as a write-in at first base.
And we weren’t entrusted with voting for pitchers. Absolutely not. That was left to the manager.
The Gillette ballots were available at the ballpark, and select retail outlets. But perhaps the best part was what you did with them after you poked them. I did my voting at the stadium, and there it would be – the folded-together cardboard display with the simple slot sliced into it, the MLB and Gillette logos prominent on it. Into the box your ballot would go. If you couldn’t make it to the park, you could mail it in (with a stamp and everything), if you can imagine such a thing.
See the "Gillette" name on top?
Notice how I’m not using “ballot” in the plural. It was more honorable back then. Oh, you could take as many ballots as you wanted, but I only voted once per season, and somehow I think I wasn’t in the minority.
It all seems so archaic now. Imagine a bunch of crotchety stadium workers, whose job it was to empty the cardboard displays and gather the cards, then ship them off to who knows where, ostensibly to be sorted and put thru some sort of machine to be read. It was, essentially, a blend of the modus operandi of the U.S. postal service, the SAT people, and IBM.
It was a satisfying feeling, dropping my punched card into the slot at Tiger Stadium. It was the adolescent version of civic duty, it was. You voted, and somewhere somebody – or something – was counting it.
Space was limited, so who was actually on the ballot became an annual ritual of suspense. It wasn’t a given that every player from every team would appear as a candidate. By the end of spring training the names would leak out.
Maybe in 1973 the Tigers on the ballot were Norm Cash, Aurelio Rodriguez, Willie Horton, and Mickey Stanley. Certainly Bill Freehan, too. Or maybe not. Every year it changed.
Now a word about ballot box stuffing. First of all, it was a literal term. These really were multiple ballots being stuffed into the Gillette display slot. By today’s standard, “stuffing” consists of exponential clicks of a mouse on the appropriate website. In the Gillette days, one could stuff the box if one had the patience to poke chads for hours on end. And then sweep all the eensy-weensy rectangles off your floor.
The voting results were printed in the newspaper, as they are today, but if your guy was falling behind, you didn’t have the convenience of zipping off an e-mail to all your comrades, urging frantic clicking. Back to the ballpark you went, to grab a handful (if that was your thing; it wasn’t mine) of Gillette cards and start de-chadding them. And all you could do was hope that other Tigers fans were doing the same.
One thing the voting of yesteryear had in common with the nonsense that occurs nowadays is its occasional unfair results. The system may have been blissfully simple back then, but it was still a popularity contest – which meant that undeserving players, previous stars who were off to miserable starts, would nonetheless find themselves leading their positions. Nobody said it was perfect – but it WAS better.
You can still vote at the ballpark today, but the influx of online voting makes the ballpark voting practically irrelevant. It’s perhaps a gentle nod to greybeards like me, to provide an outlet for voting at the stadium. But we’re a disenfranchised lot, I’m telling you.
Sure, All-Star voting today is more convenient. How can it not be, when you can participate in baseball civics in your PJs and slippers? After all, who wants to drive down to the ballpark, grab a paper ballot and punch out tiny rectangles and place them into a cardboard box and vote only once?
I’m not the person of whom to ask that question. Because I’m wondering why anyone wouldn’t want to do that.
The computer was a great invention, but it wasn’t meant for everything.
I’m loathe to let go of the past. I still shave with a Gillette razor, to show you.
Friday, June 22, 2007
Nowadays, the order of drafting is determined by powerballs sucked thru a tube. The NBA lottery. The non-playoff teams get assigned a certain amount of powerballs, supposedly weighted so that the weaker teams have a greater chance of their, ahem, balls being sucked thru the tube. It all sounds rather obscene, but there you have it.
Back in the day, they used a different kind of a lottery. It was called a coin flip.
The Pistons and the Knicks were involved in such a game of chance, way back in 1966. At stake was the selection, #1 overall, of the pearl known as Cazzie Russell, who played at Michigan. The Pistons wanted Cazzie. Cazzie wanted the Pistons. Just the year before, the NBA had abandoned the old territorial pick, which enabled teams to choose one player from their geographic region without fear of that player being selected by anyone else. Had Cazzie Russell been available in 1965, he would have gone to the Pistons -- no ifs, ands, or buts. And no coin flips.
The Pistons lost that coin flip in 1966. Or so they thought. The Knicks chose Russell, as expected.
The Pistons ended up with the consolation prize -- othwerwise known as David Bing, the guard from Syracuse.
Guess who "won," after all?
I bring up Bing, not only because of the upcoming draft, but also because I'd like to add to the Pistons' to-do list this summer.
Plans should be underway -- terribly overdue, by the way -- to erect a statue of Bing in one of the main concourses of the Palace. Or maybe it would be more appropriately placed in the Cobo Convention Center, not far from the bust of former mayor Albert Cobo. Regardless, it needs to go up, and sooner rather than later. For if it wasn't for Bing, there's no guarantee that the Pistons would even have remained in Detroit, let alone them becoming three-time NBA champions in Motown.
Bing (left) and Lanier: they should have a date with bronze
While they're at it, they might as well build one in Bob Lanier's likeness, too. Lanier came along in 1970, and with Bing he helped bring the Pistons into the previously unexplored realm of respectability. The 1973-74 team won 52 games, to show you. And it took an angry, bitter, seven-game series loss to the Chicago Bulls to keep them from a possible berth in the Finals.
Bing was grace on the court, with a deadeye shot and slithering drives to the hoop. Lanier was the first great big man the Pistons ever employed. Maybe the only one, with apologies to Bill Laimbeer and Ben Wallace.
Both Bing and Lanier have been noteworthy citizens in their post-NBA playing careers. Bing, for a time, was considered a viable option as Detroit's mayor. His investment in the city -- both financially and emotionally -- has been grossly overlooked by the folks in this town. Lanier now works for the NBA as a sort of missionary and orator -- giving back to the youth around the world.
Of course, both have their numbers retired and raised to the Palace rafters. But that's not good enough. You have to crane your neck to see them, first of all. Reminders of Bing and Lanier's contribution to the Pistons franchise should hit fans square between the eyes as soon as they walk into the building. Or put the statues outside, if that suits your fancy.
By the way, tonight their old coach, Ray Scott, will receive a Brown Bomber jacket in a ceremony at Cobo, honoring him as part of the culmination of a week-long worth of activities celebrating Joe Louis's becoming world heavyweight boxing champ some 70 years ago. Scott is also a recently-announced member of the Class of 2007 of the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.
That's an overdue thing, too.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Sadly for you readers, that got my creative juices flowing. Yes sir, my brain was like a basted turkey on Thanksgiving Day. Or something like that.
I got to thinking: if Marinelli should have a football stadium in his name, because of his dedication to the sport and because he's probably Rosemead (CA) High School's most famous alumnus -- at least when it comes to sports -- then what would Lions coaches of the past have their names lended to?
Cue the flowing juices.
The Harry Gilmer Sno-Cone Maker. Gilmer (1965-66) was pummeled by fans with snowballs after what would be his last game as coach, in December 1966 at Tiger Stadium. The Maker named after him comes without cones, as a tribute.
Joe Schmidt Field (in Minnesota). Yes, Minnesotans decide to give Schmidt, Marinelli-like treatment as they name a sandlot field near the Metrodome in his honor. Why? The Vikings went 11-1 against Schmidt's Lions from 1967-72.
Mr. Forzano Head. This twist on the popular children's plastic potato toy offers kids (and adults alike) the opportunity to insert different eyes, noses, ears, and mouths into Rick Forzano's (1974-76) "head" -- making him look anyway they'd like. The theory? Hardly anyone remembers what he looks like, anyway -- so why not create your own image? Deluxe set includes Mr. Hudspeth Head, for equally-as-nondescript Tommy Hudspeth (1976-77).
Monte Clark Memorial Gardens. This quaint cemetery in southern California honors Monte Clark (1978-84) who once said to reporters, "See you at the cemetery" after a loss dropped his Lions to 1-4 in 1983 in Anaheim.
Darryl Rogers Park. Little-known municipal park in metro Detroit, where you can feed the pigeons. (Readers of "OOB" and devout Lions fans know the meaning behind this one).
The Wayne Fontes "What? Me Fired?" Game. In cooperation with MAD Magazine's Alfred E. "What? Me Worry?" Newman, this board game has competitors trying to avoid landing on the "FIRED" space. The title comes from Fontes's bizarre intrusion into Bill Ford Sr.'s press conference announcing Fontes's firing, when the deposed coach said, "Fired? What do you mean I'm fired?"
"Coaching Football For Dummies," by Bobby Ross. Actually, Ross ghost-wrote this book, in which the coach only teaches "good" things, and not turnovers, penalties, and botched plays. Born from Ross's tirade when he famously yelled, "I'm a good coach! I don't coach that stuff!", following another mistake-filled Lions loss.
The Marty Mornhinweg Muscle Machine. This sleek, powerful motorcycle bears MM's name, thanks to his famous "ride-off" on a motorcycle during his first Lions training camp, supposedly out of disgust.
Steve Mariucci Coastway. A bumpy, 100-yard long stretch of California coastline, named affectionately for Mooch and his beloved West Coast Offense. Visitors are forbidden from walking more than seven yards at a time, however.
BONUS: Let me know what should be named after president Matt Millen.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
The Lions have never gotten much out of the Rogers name. Their current Rogers -- "Big Baby" Shaun -- is again trying management's patience, this time combining his here-today/gone-tomorrow desire to play with criminal charges that he groped an exotic dancer against her will.
It began in 1985, when the Lions established yet another mark for ineptitude by hiring coach Darryl Rogers away from Arizona State University. Rogers never had the credentials to be a successful pro coach -- mainly because he'd only coached in college, which has rarely been the resume of a winning NFL leader. Then Rogers compounded the problem by essentially bringing his entire ASU staff over to the Lions -- and none of THEM had had any NFL experience. The result? A lame duck coach who counted pigeons on the Silverdome ceiling, wondering aloud, "What does it take to get fired around here?"
Then there was Reggie Rogers -- that potentially-dynamo of a defensive lineman. This Rogers had all the tools, physically: he was strong, fast, and reckless. Unfortunately, he combined the last two of those in his automobile, and was tagged with vehicular manslaughter, ending his playing career before it really got started.
And, of course, Charlie Rogers -- draft bust extraordinaire.
Four Rogers, four headaches -- in their own way.
The first-name Rogers haven't been that bad. Roger Zatkoff -- ornery, mean lineman from the 1950s. Roger Brown -- a very competent DL from the 1960s.
Well, at least the Tigers have Kenny Rogers. He seems to have done quite well with that surname.
Maybe we can get "Big Baby" to change his last name to Merriman? Then at least we can pretend.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
by Siddy Hall
JUNIOR + JEFF + JIMMIE = ANYONE BUT HENDRICK
Wow. One week after the announcement that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was planning on joining the Rick Hendrick Victory Garage, I’m still left shaking my head. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.
In Daytona during “Speedweek” – when Little E became a Big E, or A, depending on your viewpoint, by dropping his bombshell that he was seeking a controlling interest in DEI – I was pumping my fist like he’d just won a race. I was like, “That’s right Junior! Show ‘em who’s the real Boss!”
But it wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. Because there was only supposed to be two options. Either he obtained DEI – in its entirety, hopefully – or he went to race for Richard Childress in the Black Number 3.
Rick Hendrick!!?? Why not Childress? What the heck happened? RCR has three good race teams and room for a fourth. From afar, it appeared that everything was perfectly in place for Junior to hop in the #3, or the #33, or the number #333 or whatever he liked.
Richard Childress has been oddly quiet and detached about the entire situation. It’s gotta hurt hearing that relationships played a big part in Junior’s decision and that his long successful relationship with Dale, Sr. was outweighed by Rick Hendrick.
This is strictly a guess, but I think having Jeff Gordon as a teammate may have played a larger role in Earnhardt’s decision-making than he’s let on. I recall Dale Sr. taking a strong liking to Gordon when the latter was enjoying his early success on the track. Dale treated Gordon more like a son than a rival. He regularly displayed a warmth toward Jeff that you rarely saw from The Intimidator. He never even punted Gordon into a wall.
After years of bitterness that Junior fans have displayed towards Gordon’s “Kool-Aid Nation” it’s amusing to watch Earnhardt fans scrambling to justify the impossible contradiction of Little E sharing the same garage as the 24-Car. The most common justification is to invoke a sort of NASCAR version of patriotism. Any “true” Earnhardt fan will continue to raise their can of Bud to Junior regardless of the car owner.
But that is only one half of the equation. The other half is what to do about Jeff Gordon (and Jimmie Johnson). Do you still invoke the middle-finger salute as he drives by? I doubt that they will. Instead they may be forced to create some new arch enemy.
Personally, I never quite bought into the Earnhardt – Gordon rivalry. I’ve always liked both. If I were hard-pressed to choose one then I would go with Gordon. But I’ve happened to like both guys for the same reason. They’ve both displayed a lot of grace under pressure.
I disagree with critics that charge Gordon with being too robotic of a personality. He’s always come across to me as the real deal. A cool, classy dude that handles pressure well. And beneath the smooth exterior lies a thirst for winning that can’t be quenched. Part of his greatness is that he never gets bored with winning.
So it’s actually fitting that the two kings of the sport (with apologies to Richard Petty) – Gordon and Earnhardt, plus the reigning champion, Jimmie Johnson – should become teammates in 2008. It has its own logic that extends beyond contract agreements.
If it’s high school again, the 3-J’s (Junior, Jeff & Jimmie), would be the ones surrounded by the pretty girls in the hallways. The Gibbs drivers would be a slightly lesser rival bunch. And the gang from Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates would be skipping classes to work on new tattoos.
This is why in 2008, I say “Anyone but Hendrick’s.” Anyone but the 3-J’s. They’re too much. Individually, they are fine. Collectively, I can’t stand them. They make me feel like I’m cheering for the New York Yankees. They are supposed to win. And that ain’t no fun.
(you can e-mail Siddy Hall: cityhall172000 at yahoo.com)
Monday, June 18, 2007
Nifong, the Durham County D.A. whose shameless rush to judgement indicted, tried, and convicted -- in the court of public opinion -- the Duke lacrosse players of a sexual assault that they did not commit, has so far resigned and been disbarred. Now the lacrosse players may be on the verge of legal action against him.
Good. Go for it -- as much as you can. The resignation and disbarment, when I read about them, were gratifying, no doubt. But it's not enough. Not nearly enough.
Nifong: Don't let up!
The laundry list of bad behavior by Nifong in the Duke case isn't pretty. Lying to the court. Suppressing DNA evidence (Nifong says he was certain he gave defense attorneys everything; so at the very least he's incompetent beyond belief), keeping it from the defense. Lying to the bar. Making inflammatory comments in public about the players -- some even made when he was aware of evidence that suggested his case was crumbling.
Nifong should be hit with as many lawsuits and prosecutions as possible, because it's downright scary to think that he was a D.A. and may have done this to others, in lower-profile cases. Read: the ones whose defendants weren't white.
Of course, it's not as if you can toss Nifong into jail, dangle the key in front of him mockingly, and proclaim an end to maverick prosecutors for all time. But, by God, when you have a chance to unveil a new poster boy for such abhorrent behavior, you'd better do it.
Drew Sharp of the Free Press, while clearly anti-Nifong, also suggested that the Duke boys didn't do themselves any favors by hosting such a morally-loose party with an "exotic dancer" to begin with. Maybe. But has he ever heard of a "bachelor party"? Kids/young adults have done this for years, and will continue to do so. It doesn't mean their lives should be potentially ruined because of one man's twisted, warped, self-serving sense of "justice."
Count me among those who thought the Duke lacrosse players had been gotten dead to rights. I was looking at them as another cautionary tale of privileged athletes who feel that they are above the laws of decency and jurisprudence. I looked at them and saw a bunch of William Kennedy Smiths.
Now that the REAL facts have been out, and now that the spotlight of shame has been refocused, I look at Mike Nifong and I see something far more sinister than a William Kennedy Smith repeat.
I see evil. Evil cloaked in the sheep's clothing of justice.
And I wonder, how many more like him?
Sunday, June 17, 2007
But now he was a Lion, and he hadn’t traded the Ohio State scarlet in for Honolulu Blue for very long before he began to impress his teammates and coaches.
Chris Spielman was a beast in the weight room. He brought the art of the curls and the bench pressing to a level never before seen in Lions Land. His tireless work ethic had the veterans of perpetual losing raving.
“I didn’t come here to lose,” Spielman said then, in spring, 1988 – shortly after the Lions nabbed him in the second round of the draft, 29th off the board. He was very much used to winning as a Buckeye, and before that, as a high schooler in Massillon, Ohio. He was born, so appropriately, in Canton, Ohio – home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. You half-wondered if his was pigskin.
One by one, those in the Lions’ inner sanctum grew wide-eyed when speaking of Spielman’s maniacal behavior in the sweaty, stuffy rooms in the bowels of the Silverdome.
Surely, they thought, this ethic has to rub off. And if it does, winning football will probably follow.
By the time Chris Spielman fled the Lions in disgust after an embarrassing playoff loss in 1995, his pro career had included five postseason games in eight years and one victory in those five.
“The wheels are coming off here,” he said on his way out of town.
Weight Room Football had failed, after all.
Spielman as a Buckeye, before the losing consumed him and spit him out
More fun in the mid-1990s. Bill Ford Jr. announces he and some of his minions are going to spend some springtime with the San Francisco 49ers, to see how winning football franchises go about their business. Never mind that the 49ers joined the NFL some 15 years after the Lions did. Team Ford comes back with their notepads full, awash with ideas that they feel confident can be implemented with the Lions. And maybe they, too, will be a model of success, as the 49ers were.
The note-taking must not have been too good.
I’ll give the Lions this, though: they’re an awfully good football team in May and June, when the players wear nothing but helmets and jerseys, and when the physical contact is limited to high-fives after a successful play run against phantom defenders. They have, perhaps, led the league in unbridled optimism in the year’s fifth and sixth month over the past 15 years or so. There’s been nothing that can stop them, until the pads are put on and the phantom defenders become real, live opponents.
Another May of mini-camps and “voluntary” workouts has come and gone, and now we’re midway through June. And again the Lions are up to their springtime tricks.
The wide receiver Calvin Johnson, the #2 overall draft pick in this year’s draft, is making his quarterback, his head coach, his offensive coordinator, and even some hypnotized members of the media ready to size him up for a bronze bust in Canton.
“He’s everything I thought he’d be, and then some,” quarterback Jon Kitna said last week after watching Johnson catch some passes without the annoyance of pads or defenders who were trying hard to stop him.
The quotes from those watching these contact-free exhibitions were auspicious in their exuberance for the rookie wide receiver.
Well, what did you expect them to say?
“This kid Johnson – what a waste of a draft pick!”
That’s my line, after all – and not until October, at the very latest.
Johnson CAN catch with defenders draped over him -- but just not in May
Actually, Calvin Johnson has the goods to be everything we thought he’d be, and then some. And then some more. He is, in my mind, the closest thing to a sure bet for stardom as a Lions draft pick since the team picked the jitterbug Barry Sanders in 1989.
And that’s not just the giddiness of spring football talking.
But in years past, the Lions have pulled this act time and again. They speak of team harmony and attitude adjustments and how everyone is “on the same page,” all said while the footballs are rolled out before Memorial Day.
Unfortunately, the NFL doesn’t allow mini-camp touchdowns to count for real.
Yes, it all seemed to be the same old springtime bleatings, until the news broke that threatened to disrupt the smooth sailing of June football.
Shaun Rogers, the hulking, sulking defensive tackle, was accused this week of unwanted groping by a local exotic dancer. This is the same Rogers who attended one of head coach Rod Marinelli’s mini-workouts last month and spoke to the media while wearing some rose-colored glasses that surely were custom-made for his growing head.
“Their (the coaches’) expectations are high, and I plan on fulfilling those expectations,” Rogers said in May, before the unexpected groping.
Rogers: somebody should have told him "no contact drills" applies to strange women, too
Rogers’ nickname is “Big Baby.” There are so many jokes in there, it’s like one of those puzzles where you have to come up with 32 words from one.
Just how much Rogers’ alleged misbehavior – apparently designed to remind us that “no contact drills” only applies to the springtime football field – will affect the Lions’ springtime harmony is anyone’s guess. But some of those who write about the team are encouraging the Lions to jettison Big Baby. How can you, they ask, build a team around a player who’s talented but devoid of character?
Football, the Lions have proven every year on schedule, is an easy game to participate in during the barbecue and fireworks seasons. The offense looks sharp when there are no defenders. The esprit de corps rises. The glass is always half full.
Then that damn regular season comes along. Better find someone to grope – with their consent, of course.
Friday, June 15, 2007
The Cavaliers surely put on one of the most embarrassing displays in recent NBA Finals history in getting swept by the San Antonio "Dynasty" Spurs. And when I say "recent", I mean "ever."
I'll say it again: the Pistons would NOT have taken down the Spurs, the NBA Team of the 21st Century. But sheesh -- they would have certainly done the Eastern Conference prouder than the Cavs. If the East torch has been passed, as I suggested it had been a couple weeks ago, and if the Cavaliers are the best the Eastern Conference has to offer, then that conference deserves every bit of criticism and disrespect that it gets.
Sometime in the third quarter last night, the Cavs managed a one-point lead after a mini-flurry. It was their first second half lead in the entire series. That's disgraceful, at that level of basketball.
Where was Boobie Gibson and his annoying three-pointers? Where was Donyell Marshall from the corner? Where was Zydrunas Ilgauskas's 15-foot jumper? Where was Drew Gooden? And where was LeBron James, most of all?
The only thing that carried over for the Cavs from the Pistons series was the flopper Anderson Varejao, who spends so much time on his back on the basketball floor that you might as well emblazon his chest with the Quicken Loans Arena logo. Varejao had one last flop in the tank when he drew an undeserved offensive foul on Tim Duncan in the fourth quarter, when Cleveland was still threatening to make it a game.
But Varejao's theatrics weren't nearly enough to make the Cavaliers competitive in one of the most lopsided Finals they've played since Dr. James Naismith nailed a peach basket up for his incorrigible gym students.
The more I watched these Finals -- and I couldn't stomach very much, believe me -- the angrier I got. I wasn't sure if I was mad at the Pistons, or the Cavs, or the world. All I know is, the Pistons lost four times to those shmucks, and they too should feel embarrassed.
The East could have fed the Spurs the Atlanta Hawks and I don't know if the end result would have been all that much different. Brutal.
If losing in a Finals is supposed to be a learning experience and a prep for bigger and better things in the near future, then this series was to the Cavs what molecular biology would be to a kindergartener. I saw nothing on the floor that suggested James's team was merely cutting its Finals teeth, readying itself for a successful encore next season, or the year after. Instead I saw a basketball team stuck in the headlights of a freight train. They were Bobby Brady on that episode of the "Brady Bunch" when he was struck mute during a game show appearance.
The San Antonio Spurs are NBA champs and all hail them. They are truly the class of the league. It's just a shame that the Wizards, Nets, and Pistons let such impostors as the Cavaliers overtake them to represent the East.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
But I have to give them some props, because yesterday, in the afterglow of Justin Verlander's no-hitter Tuesday night, WXYT asked listeners to contribute their candidates for all-time great individual performances in Detroit sports history, while at the same time trying to determine where Verlander's ranks.
Not a bad idea.
Only, I highly suspect that a vast majority of those moments phoned in were NOT actually witnessed by the callers in person. So I'd like to take it one step further and list, in no particular order, the greatest individual feats that I've seen -- live, at the venue. None of this "heard of it," "read about it," or "saw it on TV" nonsense.
1. Kirk Gibson cooks Gossage's goose. Officially, the Tigers became world champs in 1984 when Tony Gwynn's lazy flyball to left field settled into the glove of Larry Herndon for the final out of Game 5. But to me and and the rest of the packed Tiger Stadium crowd on October 14, 1984, the moment the Tigers became the best baseball team in the world was when Gibson rocketed Goose Gossage's pitch deep into the upper deck in right field, turning a precarious 5-4 lead into a soul-sucking 8-4 margin in the bottom of the eighth inning. My first Detroit championship (too young to remember 1968).
2. Oh, Isiah! I'll never forget how steamy hot and muggy Joe Louis Arena was on that April night in 1984. I also remember my 1978 Camaro pooping out in a drive-thru lane that afternoon, and me scrambling to get it fixed in time so I could get to the game. It was the deciding Game 5 of the first round of the NBA playoffs: Pistons vs. Knicks. It was played at JLA because the Silverdome was otherwise engaged. It was a great game BEFORE Isiah Thomas's antics. And all he did was score 16 points in 90 seconds at the end of regulation, forcing overtime. Three-pointers. Steals and layups. Turnaround jumpers. Slithering drives thru the lane. Isiah did it all, and then some. We screamed ourselves hoarse. The Pistons lost in overtime, but Thomas's performance was absolutely amazing. I'm maybe most proud of having been at this one.
3. Morris's near no-no. OK, it wasn't like he carried a no-hitter into the late innings, but in July, 1990, Jack Morris -- in an otherwise dismal year for him, and the Tigers -- pitched the best game I've ever seen. It came against Kansas City. He gave up a one-out single in the first inning. That runner was promptly erased by a double play. Then Morris set down the next 24 men in order -- as close to a perfect game as you're gonna see. I still have the scorecard. I kept track of pitch count, too -- and found when I checked it that Morris threw 117 pitches -- 67 for strikes. The Royals didn't hit too many balls hard that evening, if I recall. Nor were there any defensive gems that stand out. It was just a bitch of a pitcher at his best.
4. Stevie Y. steals a game by himself. Funny how some of these occurred in regular-season, seemingly meaningless games. It was early in the 1991-92 season. Blackhawks in town, and they hold a one-goal lead late in regulation. There are less than ten seconds left, and a faceoff in Chicago's zone. Yzerman wins the faceoff, but he wins it to himself. Eschewing his teammates' help, Yzerman shoved the puck toward the Chicago goal, disregarding the multiple defenders, and kept jamming at it until it fluttered over Ed Belfour's shoulder. Tie game with seconds left. Then he wins it in overtime with a goal. As exciting as an NHL game can get in October.
5. Kevin Jones runs wild. Obviously another meaningless game, since this is the Lions we're talking about this time. But Jones was special on this December Sunday against the Cardinals in 2004, his rookie season. He ran over, through, and around the Cardinals to the tune of nearly 200 yards in a Lions win. But this wasn't one of those Barry Sanders-like 200-yard days, when 160 of them came on two carries, as was Barry's wont. Jones carried about 30 times, and he combined brute power with speed and elusiveness that day like no Lions running back I've seen -- before or since. And that includes Sanders and Billy Sims.
6. Gibson again. But this came the year before his '84 display. Boston Red Sox in town, and the crowd is still buzzing about Gibby's homerun over the right field roof when he steps to the plate in the late innings. He gets on base with a single. Then someone -- can't remember who -- drives a ball into the gap. Gibson is intent on scoring. VERY intent. He rounds third like a freight train, and the ball and he arrive at home plate at the same time. Poor Rich Gedman, the Red Sox catcher. For Gibby plows into Gedman, knocking him senseless and the ball loose. Gedman somehow recovers and tags Gibson, who has already skipped across home plate. But Boston manager Ralph Houk loses his mind, saying that Gibson missed the plate and that the umpire, who Gibson also knocked off balance, was out of position to make the call. Houk gets tossed, the run stands, and the Tigers win. A typical game for Gibson, who played every one with fury.
I'd love to hear yours. Drop me a line! email@example.com.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Even when the TV announcers refuse to acknowledge the feat, as FSN's Mario Impemba and Rod Allen did last night, describing Justin Verlander's no-no at CoPa. Not once did the words "no-hitter" escape either man's lips. Instead, they let the crowd -- and strategically placed shots of the ballpark scoreboard -- tell the story.
Filthy. Nasty. And ridiculous.
Not so 23 years ago, when Jack Morris hurled the last Tigers no-hitter in the season's first weekend, at Chicago's old Comiskey Park.
It was the NBC "Game of the Week," -- that Saturday afternoon staple. Vin Scully was behind the mike, and he continually broke baseball's axiom of not mentioning a no-hitter while it's in progress. From about the fifth inning on, Scully wasn't shy to say "no-hitter" in waxing descriptive about Morris's performance. It was so incessant that when the final out was recorded -- a strikeout of Ron Kittle -- and Scully yelled, "And he HAS his no-hitter!," I thought, "No, Vin -- he has YOUR no-hitter!"
Morris defied Scully's rules-breaking and the yammering of a loudmouth White Sox fan, who kept trying to jinx Morris by mentioning his gem-in-progress every time the pitcher returned to the dugout. After the no-no was in the books, Morris spotted the fan and said, "I got it, you #$!#!"
True to the rules, third baseman Brandon Inge said that "not a word was spoken (about the no-hitter) all night." Verlander concurred, saying that nobody sat next to him in the dugout.
My favorite rules-breaking story involves Don Larsen and his perfect game in the 1956 World Series. In a documentary I saw on television, Larsen's voice provided the narrative as highlights from the game flickered in black-and-white on my set.
"Nobody would look at me. Nobody would talk to me," Larsen says as we see him strike out guys and mow the Dodgers down. "I felt like the loneliest man on earth.
"Finally, around the seventh inning I went up to (Mickey) Mantle and said, 'Wouldn't it be something if I threw a no-hitter in the World Series?' He just looked at me like I was insane and moved away from me."
I think it's a riot that Larsen himself broke the rules, at his own risk.
Verlander, probably, could have endured various attempts at jinxing last night. He had "great stuff", those all-encompassing words for when a pitcher can do little wrong. He was "filthy," "nasty," and "ridiculous" -- if you listened to or read what the Brewers' hitters had to say after he handcuffed them and threw away the key.
In retrospect, I, perhaps, was a rules-breaker myself last night.
I wasn't watching the game -- not at first. I had ceded the TV to my wife, and was sitting with her in the front room when my cell phone caught my eye. Too lazy to walk into the computer room and check the score on the Net, I opened my phone's web browser and went to MLB scores. Tigers 3, Milwaukee 0, 7th inning. I highlighted the game and pressed SELECT. There was the line score, in tiny but powerful type: MIL 0 0 0. One out in the seventh inning.
"Justin Verlander has a no-hitter in the seventh!," I said.
"Wow," my wife said -- and kept watching her program.
I followed the game via cell phone until I could take it no longer. But I had a choice to make: Verlander hadn't needed my help for seven innings. Would I screw him up by tuning in for the eighth and ninth?
Damn the baseball rules -- I wanted to see history!
I sweet-talked my way into taking over the TV. And so I saw the last two innings of Verlander's brilliance -- including the amazing play made by Neifi Perez to both steal a hit and start a double play in the eighth.
I was standing throughout the ninth -- which thankfully didn't take all that long. Verlander did indeed have "nasty stuff" -- stuff that easily overwhelmed any bad karma my late arrival might have wrought.
We can say it now with impunity: Justin Verlander has a no-hitter going!
No-hitter now complete. Done. In the books.
That's the best thing about pitching a no-hitter, I would think: when it's over with, the void of loneliness is filled over with love and support from your fans and teammates in a bursting through that certainly can't be topped by much else.
It's another thing that only the athlete himself can truly understand. We can only imagine.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
by Siddy Hall
BORING SEASON HAS BEGUN
The June Pocono race came and went, which means one thing: Break out the hammock and tie it to your two favorite trees. In the north, it’s summertime. But it’s more than that. It’s also the official start of the Boring Racing Season. It’s the pre-Silly Season nap session. You’ll likely take mucho siestas in your hammock while following the Chase.
Check it out. Starting with last week’s Pocono race, the next 10 races includes two each from Pocono and Michigan, two road courses and Loudon. That’s seven races out of ten.
"Gentlemen, start your alarm clocks!"
So maybe you enjoy road courses. It provides a change of pace. Here’s what else could provide a change of pace: dirt tracks and bullrings. Let’s see some machines rolling around with tire marks on their side. Let’s see some cars with their roofs missing and their engines exposed on a rough day.
What else is there? Daytona, Chicago and the Brickyard. I’m not a fan of the Brickyard. But, hey, with 36 races, why complain about having one in the Shrine of Motorsports. Especially with so many in attendance. But a long drag race leading into a corner with no banking? I need to go hop in my hammock.
The Brickyard: rife with history, devoid of much creativity
The good news is that the tracks serving the fans in the northern U.S. and Canada finally get served. It’s their turn to party. It’s their chance to re-paint their refurbished school bus into a NASCAR party on wheels. Alcohol is the fuel for these Mad Max-like war machines. Their collective motto could be supplied by the singer, Andrew W.K.’s “Party ‘Til You Puke.” The mayhem is best filmed and uploaded to YouTube.
....buses like these are sometimes best viewed (and smelled) from a distance
Speaking of boring tracks, guess where Race # 26 will be held? California. Just two weeks after the second Michigan event. California will host the final race to determine who makes the Chase. Then two weeks after California, another dose of Loudon. It’ll be mid-September by then, folks. Time to put the hammock away and send the kids to school.
To recap: 14 races. One-half (seven) will be at either Pocono, Michigan, Loudon, or California. Plus two road courses. Yee-haw.
MEMORIES OF MICHIGAN: My home track was Michigan. I’ve attended races at three tracks: Michigan, Atlanta, and Daytona. What was great about Michigan was camping out for days in advance in a field across the service drive that runs next to MIS. About eight families would park their RVs on Wednesday, forming a large courtyard for all of us to enjoy. The rest of us would pitch tents, trying to stay away from the noise of the generators.
Neighbors would wander over and hang out, especially at night when the live music would begin. Songs about Dale Earnhardt. Arguments over drivers. In the daytime when walking around you spotted your camp by the #3 and #9 flags hanging high on a flagpole.
You can’t do that anymore. Too much success for NASCAR put a squeeze on space. Now the cars are crammed together like a housing project. Is it worth the trouble to battle traffic for this? I guess, but it just ain’t the same.
One of the unique things about NASCAR is its sounds. The one that stands out for me was walking to the track from our campsite at Michigan as qualifying was being conducted. To hear the sound of a single car turning into Turn #4 from outside the track left me spellbound. What on God’s earth could create that kind of noise?
FACTOIDS: Name the only two drivers in the top-35 in points who have failed to land a top-10 finish this year.
Name the only driver who would currently qualify for the Chase without a top-5 finish this year.
Answers: Tony Raines and Sterling Marlin have no Top-10’s. Clint Bowyer has no Top-5 but would make the chase.
HARD TO BELIEVE: After Race 2 from California, David Ragan (below) was ahead of Jeff Gordon in money winnings for the year.
(you can e-mail Siddy Hall: cityhall172000 at yahoo.com)
Monday, June 11, 2007
In response, I've started a "Go to the Polls for Placido!" voting campaign @ my blog (http://swarheit.blogspot.com/2007/06/go-to-polls-for-placido-all-star.html) and I was hoping that if we were able to spread the word through our various blogs, encouraging people to vote, either on-line or at Comerica Park, we can get Tigers fans behind the campaign.
Consider the word spread, Scott!
a) The Cleveland Cavaliers are finding out the hard way that, in the NBA Finals, these aren't the Pistons they're playing.
b) The San Antonio Spurs are finding out, to their delight, that in the NBA Finals these aren't the Pistons they're playing.
OK, it's actually a trick question. They're BOTH true, and therein lies the enigma wrapped in a riddle that is the summer 2007 edition of the Detroit Pistons.
Watching the Finals, I couldn't help but think that the Pistons would never have fallen behind by 28 freaking points in the first half, as the Cavs did in Game 2 last night. Yet I also acknowledge that the Pistons, by the end of the Eastern finals, were outclassed by the Cavs and didn't deserve another trip to the NBA Finals. Weird, huh? But also true.
Again, let me reiterate my point from Friday: there's no way the Pistons beat the Spurs in a Finals rematch from 2005. Absolutely not. But they sure as heck would have put up more of a fight than the Cavs have for seven of the eight quarters played thus far.
Oh well -- too bad, so sad. Water under the bridge, that ship has sailed -- all that.
But what does it say about a basketball team in the NBA when both of the above A & B statements can be true -- at the same time?
Dumars leads a pit crew; McCloskey operated a garage
This promises to be one of the most intriguing off-seasons the Pistons have experienced since the days of Trader Jack McCloskey, when the grizzled GM was forever burrowed in his laboratory every summer in the 1980s, trying to find the right concoction that would thrust the Pistons into title contention.
A little Dan Roundfield here. Oops, lose the Roundfield and add some Rick Mahorn. Toss in some William Bedford. Wait -- ixnay the Bedford -- too volatile and I think it's making the elixir turn sour. Inject some John Salley and Dennis Rodman -- two little-known secret ingredients. Too much Kelly Tripucka; get rid of it and give me that Adrian Dantley over there. Hmmm -- still not quite right. What say we jettison the Dantley and replace it with Mark Aguirre?
But current team president Joe Dumars doesn't necessarily have the luxury of time, as McCloskey did, when Jack took a team at expansion-like status in 1979 and used most of a decade to turn it into a serious championship threat. Dumars, stung by some recent personnel decision hiccups, must retool on the fly, attempting to manage that tricky balance between respectability and lottery in the process. He might have to take one step backward, so to speak, to take two steps forward. While McCloskey tinkered, it was largely shrugged off. The Pistons had never been truly good. The Tigers were a division contender every year. And the Red Wings, led by Jacques Demers and their young captain, were beginning to fascinate again during the winter months. So it was easy to smirk and shake your head while McCloskey worked behind the big blue curtain inside the Silverdome.
No such luck for Joe D nowadays. His Pistons are in a pitstop -- not on a hoist in a garage, as McCloskey's Pistons were. Dumars has to change tires, check for backfires, and keep the engine fueled -- and he has to do it in 30 seconds, comparatively speaking.
Perhaps never before has the Detroit basketball club been more aptly named than now. Pistons wear out over time, as you know -- unless some are replaced.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Or so says Alan Meyer.
My friend Alan isn’t a native Detroiter. He isn’t a denizen of Hockeytown – that self-proclaimed title Detroit fans have given their city, as undisputed reverends of Canada’s game. I’d dearly love to see the reactions of the folks of Montreal whenever Detroit is referred to by that branding. But I digress.
Alan is an old college friend who re-established communications with me, out of the clear blue, last year. Seems that writing for magazines and on the Internet will occasionally make one’s name auspicious.
Alan’s not a Detroiter, but he’s got a lot of Midwest about him. He’s an Ohio guy, actually – and I knew that when I met him at Eastern Michigan University, back when the school’s teams were called Hurons. I assure you that I didn’t hold his Ohio nativeness against him. Still don’t.
But he’s in California now, work dragging him to the left coast. And he rocketed an e-mail to me last week less than 24 hours after the Anaheim Ducks captured their first Stanley Cup, disposing of the Senators in five games. The Sens play in Ottawa, a more Cup-worthy city, according to Mr. Meyer.
“It’s a shame that Ottawa or cities like Detroit or Montreal or Toronto – great hockey towns – didn’t win,” Alan wrote.
Forget the cities. This year the Cup was won by a bunch of Ducks. Last year it was a group of Hurricanes. The Cup before that, Lightning struck.
No Red Wings. No Rangers. No Canadiens. No Maple Leafs. Not even any Flyers, Oilers, Flames, or Islanders. These were once the keepers of the Cup. The Canadiens were the biggest and most consistent offender. They played keep away with the trophy throughout most of the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. They won four in a row from 1976 to ’79, then the New York Islanders followed that up with four straight of their own from 1980 to ’83. Not to be outdone, it was then the Edmonton Oilers’ turn to reign supreme. They captured five Cups in the seven years between 1984 and 1990.
Montreal. Long Island. Edmonton.
Cup-worthy, all of them. Why? Well, occasionally the outdoor temperature is known to dip near or below that of the ice on which the game is played, for starters. In the Cup-worthy cities, fans hustle into the arena to warm up. In non-Cup-worthy cities, fans hustle into the arena to cool off.
But there was more from Alan than just tears of empathy for the Cup-worthy towns. And it was the most sobering point of all.
“The (Cup) victory really does nothing for the general population of Anaheim or Orange County in general,” Alan huffed. “Outside of the 17,372 people at the final game, there probably aren’t too many people here who really give a *bleep bleep* about winning the Cup. It’s really unfortunate.”
So there you have it – intelligence from the Pacific coast. The Stanley Cup has again been awarded to a city whose citizens wouldn’t recognize it if they tripped over it.
Yeah, but how will it play OUTSIDE the arena, Scott?
This is what NHL commissioner Gary Bettman wants, though. To him, the winning of Cups in Tampa, Raleigh, and Anaheim is validation of his Johnny Appleseed method of marketing: plant franchise seeds where they have no business operating, and declare it a success if the teams win Cups – even if 90% of the general populace of those metropolitan areas don’t know a Stanley Cup from a coffee cup.
“For hockey’s sake,” Alan opined, “at least here in California, the only hope is that maybe this Stanley Cup victory will plant a seed of increase in popularity of the sport. But I really doubt it, though. Professional sports here are really a diversion to a way of life.”
The day that winning an NHL championship becomes a “diversion” in Detroit or Montreal is the day before Armageddon hits.
But that’s what it is to southern Californians, according to my Midwest-at-heart pal Alan.
“The departure of the (NFL’s) Rams and the difficulty in obtaining a replacement franchise” is the bi-product of the notoriously laid-back attitude of sports fans near the beach, Alan says. “For the most part, the baseball stadiums here empty out beginning in the seventh inning.”
One of those stadiums, it should be pointed out, houses the Dodgers – one of baseball’s most storied franchises. And they can’t keep the interest of the paying customers till the last out is recorded? Yet, say hello to the new bearers of your Stanley Cup for the next 12 months, at least.
Things were in proper order until 1999, when the relocated Stars of Dallas won the first Cup for any city south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Any hopes that that Cup was an anomaly have been shattered by the recent captures by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, and now Anaheim Ducks.
Tampa is a beach town, too. They have those “let’s go to the game and cool off” fans. Carolina is tobacco country, and basketball rules the sporting landscape – along with NASCAR. Anaheim is Disneyland and a city full of late arrivers and early departers. These balmy areas have won the last three Stanley Cups, and if you think such victories have done wonders for hockey popularity in those towns, then you’re Gary Bettman’s kind of person – a dum-dum.
But the games are played on the ice, not according to geographic location of the combatants. Detroit, Montreal, Toronto and the rest are Cup-less this summer because their teams weren’t good enough to get the job done, plain and simple. And now look what’s happened. Another shanghaied Cup.
“In Detroit, for most fans,” Alan concluded, “professional sports ARE a way of life.”
Told ya – not bad for an Ohioan.
Friday, June 08, 2007
Didn't think so.
I think the grief over not making it to the NBA Finals isn't so much that there's a groundswell of opinion that the Pistons could have taken the Spurs out. Rather, it's more of an "if the Spurs are gonna kick someone's ass in the Finals, then it'd better be OURS" kind of a thing.
Seriously -- Timmy Duncan's team is the class of the NBA, the Dallas Mavericks notwithstanding. They are, in the 21st century, what the Bulls and Lakers and Celtics were during various times in the 20th.
Last night the Spurs put a licking on the Cleveland Cavaliers that was hardly surprising. The Spurs are what the Pistons used to be, only better. It would be a minor miracle if the pesky Cavs can do much more than shove the series to five games.
LeBron James was harrassed into a 4-for-16 shooting night, and this time there wasn't enough Boobie Gibson or Drew Gooden or Zadrunas Ilgauskas to save the day. And there won't be, for the Cavs will find that the Spurs' defenders make the Pistons look like San Antonio Lite.
To San Antonio's credit, they're saying all the right things about James and his potential to go off at any moment, like an un-defused time bomb. And James might, before the series is done sometime next week, break out for 30 points or so. But mostly the young King will be getting on-the-job training about what the NBA Finals are all about. And it will make him stronger, and better, in the long run. Not a pleasant thought for the rest of the NBA East.
In Game 1, Tony Parker had 27 points. If that comes close to happening again, forget what I said about the series being extended beyond four games. In fact, I'd be tempted to pick a four-game sweep in three matches -- if that were possible.
No, the Pistons wouldn't have had much of a prayer against the Spurs. Perhaps they could have been a better match for the Spurs than Cleveland will be -- mainly because of experience and the revenge factor. But the Pistons would have needed seven games to eliminate the Cavs, and a rested San Antonio club would have loomed -- on the road -- a few nights later.
The way I figure it, the only thing the Pistons missed out on by not doing away with the Cavs was the ignominy of losing to the Spurs twice in three seasons for the whole enchilada. And we'd still be wringing our hands over Joe Dumars' offseason moves.
Gives us one more week with the Tigers, as far as I'm concerned.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
My take? The black major leaguers must be where all the black GMs and black managers are.
Baseball hasn't been a forerunner of civil rights, that's for sure. Doesn't mean that its been against them, of course, but nor have they been a standard bearer.
MLB missed out on some pretty darn good players in the 1920s and 1930s -- black sluggers and pitchers who surely would have found their way into Cooperstown as big leaguers, had more than just the baseball been white, back in the day.
Even after Jackie Robinson's debut in 1947, baseball took its sweet time, as other teams responded to the Brooklyn Dodgers' groundbreaking move like tortoises moving uphill. The Boston Red Sox didn't employ a black ballplayer until the 1960s were almost upon us, for goodness sakes. When Hank Aaron was on the verge of breaking Babe Ruth's career homerun record, the treatment he received from his fellow Americans was hideous.
Today, there are two managers, out of 30, who are of color: Ron Washington (Texas) and Willie Randolph (Mets). There's one GM, out of 30, who is black: Kenny Williams (White Sox). This isn't an anomaly; MLB has always been this way. Never have the numbers ever been much different than they are currently.
Sheffield, I can tell you, is all about the truth. He'll patiently talk, even when he's hitting .120, which he was when he and I spoke for 15 minutes at his locker before a game in April. He doesn't go into hiding when things aren't going well on the field. He doesn't say things to make headlines or because it's good copy. He says it because he believes it.
For example, when I asked him what his initial thoughts were upon finding out he'd been traded to Detroit, he didn't give the stock, "Oh, it was great because they're the defending AL champs and it's a great baseball city, blah-blah" reply.
"My first thought was that it wasn't a good fit," Sheffield told me.
"I asked my agent, 'Where am I gonna play?' They already had a starting outfield. And I didn't want to be a first baseman again," Sheffield said, referring to his ill-fated stint at first last season with the Yankees.
It was only after manager Jim Leyland soothed Sheffield's concerns about being a DH that the slugger grew to like the idea of being a Tiger in 2007.
There's no bullshit about Gary Sheffield. What you see is what you get. He gave us his ideas about why MLB isn't all that black-friendly. Not all of it do I agree with, but the facts are there: the percentage of black players and managers and executives are shamefully low.
And the problems pre-dated straight shooters like Sheffield, by decades.
But they're not all that closer to being solved. Not by a longshot.
BTW, if you're wondering why baseball is given the short shrift at "OOB", it's because I write about it exclusively at my other blog, "Where Have You Gone, Johnny Grubb?" Check it out sometime, if you haven't already!
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
The Orlando Magic -- ownership, players, and fans alike -- may not feel like it right now, but I figure they're some of the luckiest people on earth right now, in the wake of Billy Donovan announcing he'd like to avoid the long lines at Disney World and stay at the University of Florida.
Ironically, I doubt it was a sudden realization or appreciation for the pro game's history of failed college coaches that dissuaded Donovan from fulfilling his signed contract with the Magic, just a couple days after the ink dried. He cited being "conflicted" between his desire to enter the NBA as a coach and his love for UF.
Actually, it's sort of like when someone gives up their ticket on a plane to someone else, only to see it crash. Fortuitous, but hardly planed.
Donovan, barring his emotional duress, would have boarded that plane -- the rickety one that flies college-to-pro coaches to their career deaths -- while so many of us would have been left on the ground, screaming, "For the love of God, don't do it!"
Why, oh why do college coaches think they can make it in the pros -- in every sport? And why do they continue to think so, despite overwhelming evidence that the chances of success are abysmal at best and nil at worst?
From little-known dudes to overrated blowhards to legitimate big-name guys, it just doesn't happen when the switch is made from books to bucks.
Have there been exceptions? A few. But there's been snow in May, a White Sox world championship, and moments of dead air on a Bill Walton-occupied broadcast, too -- but I wouldn't be running to the betting window to wager on any of them happening again anytime soon.
The other funny thing is listening to the observers making a laundry list of why Donovan would stay. Vitale, who should know, was pontificating into a telephone the other night on ESPN.
"He has a university who loves him. An athletic director who loves him. He has a great situation. He has happiness. Like (former coach) Jim Valvano used to say, 'DON'T MESS WITH HAPPINESS.'"
Well, yeah -- but don't most of them who flee the campuses have all of what Donovan has at Florida? I'll answer my own question: Yes, they do. Yet they leave anyway.
Look, I understand about wanting new challenges and succeeding where others have failed and all that. So it's not the coaches I find culpable -- for if they're offered, who am I to tell them they shouldn't go?
So I guess my cross eyes should be aimed toward the owners and management of those pro teams who are, right on schedule every so often, dipping into the college ranks for their next hotshot coach. The Red Wings were one of the early cautionary tales, hiring Ned Harkness right from Cornell University in 1970. At least they learned their lesson and never tried it again.
"Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it."
Ahh, but the owners and GMs aren't forgetting the past -- they're ignoring it. They're defying it. They're spitting into the teeth of its wind. And time and again, they're ending up with saliva on their puss.
"A pro fool and his college coach are soon parted."
I made that one up myself.
Of course, the coach still ends up with the money in the end. So he's not the fool, after all.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Ernie Irvan was the quickest car that day and somewhere in the first 100 laps he was about to put Cope a lap down. When Cope failed to show the ‘proper’ courtesy to the race leader within say, 0.005 seconds, Ernie lacked the proper patience and tapped Cope, sending both cars reeling. Tow trucks were required and Irvan’s seemingly bright day was finished.
As the cameras followed Cope through the garage area, suddenly Larry McReynolds blasted through, blabbering away, wanting a piece of Cope. How dare a jalopy like Cope’s not get out of the race leader’s way!! Roll out the red carpet, Derrike. It’s Ernie Irvan!! The bewildered Cope failed to repond with what I believed was proper vengeance. To this day I’m still mad that Derrike didn’t deck McReynolds on the spot.
Mears victory was more like a rabbit trick. We watched the cars go around for over four hours and suddenly the race winner was not a stallion but a llama. But Mears’s win was fun and surprising, and of course, a win is a win. In Truex’s case, the only question was whether his equipment had a slight fade in it. Many times the best car all day becomes an average car at the end. Truex somehow grew stronger.
The final re-start began with 40 laps remaining. It took 20 laps before the Bass Pro Shops machine was lapping respectable cars. By the end of the event he had opened up a seven second lead. There was no good fortune or strategy required here. This was a good ole fashioned serious butt-kicking.
THAT ZEN MOMENT: The funny thing about auto racing is that it can take some time to realize that you are witnessing greatness. This is the major difference between driving hard, NASCAR-style, and driving hard, NBA-style.
Recently, in the NBA playoffs, LeBron James scored 29 of his team’s final 30 points in leading his team to a double-overtime win. The domination was obvious and it registered quickly. The greatness that Martin Truex and his team displayed at Dover took longer to understand. It was one of those moments of Zen.
The Autism Speaks 400 was a clean race. Not until Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch battled on lap 271 was there any real drama. The cars ran a crisp pace in a good, clean race. The kind of good, clean racing that over two hours can lead to a trance-like state for the viewer. Throw in a little nap in the middle and by lap 250 you may be in a state of meditative boredom. Until as Jim Morrison once said, “You break on through to the other side.”
That’s how it was for me. For 250 laps I was watching … then napping … watching … then napping. Finally, I was about to give up. I was going to get off my couch and go do something useful, when that Moment of Zen arrived. “The Attainment of Awakening.”
MY CRAZY IDEA: Has any track builder ever made a track in the shape of a figure-8? I imagine this configuration with no intersection. One end of the track would be elevated 20 feet higher than the opposite end. So, there would be an uphill and a downhill slope to the track. I think it would be cool. Right turns and left turns. I believe that my new track, the Siddy Hall International Speedway, should receive two races.
BASS PRO SHOPS: One reason why I’m happy for Team Truex is that Bass Pro Shops is one of my favorite car sponsors. And I don’t even fish. I just enjoy seeing that Bass on the hood of the One-car. And why can’t I fish? I’ve never liked worms. They’re gross.
BRAZIL TV: Watching the race from Sao Paulo, Brazil has its own unique challenges. The race is broadcast in Portuguese. The announcers seem like they are really into the action. However, I don’t know what they are saying. They don’t have their own pit and garage reporters. While the announcers interpret what’s being said, I’m left wondering.
For instance after the Kurt Busch – Tony Stewart melee, Fox interviewed Busch. I noticed that Kurt seemed to talk for quite a while. I can only imagine…
Fox: Kurt, what happened out there?
Busch: Well, we had a good car today. The Miller Lite Dodge wasn’t quite as good as Ryan’s but we felt like we had a top-Ten car until that #@!^%&* 20-car made his &^$%^^% car too wide and had to act like his %$@* pumpkin-mobile is the %^^$$$# King %^&% of the track. Payback is a &&(*%&@!^&&*%$ fatboy.
Am I right?
CONGRATULATIONS DEI: So Junior’s leaving and you can stick a fork in DEI, right? That’s what I’ve been saying. After recent talk about how DEI will continue on and be strong, I gotta admit that I was rolling my eyes and smirking while saying, “Let me show this amazing swamp property that I’ve got for sale. You’ll love it.” Besides those teams that face the pressure of trying to make races each week, no organization is under more pressure than DEI. Great job, Teresa, Max and everybody from Team Truex.