Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Knee Jerks: The Bird Flies Home; The Tigers' Bullpen dazzles??; The Red Wings' Playoff Beards Are On!

Come on in, the water's fine!

Thanks for joining us for another webisode of "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al."

For the newbies, every Thursday I get all sports chatty with Big Al from The Wayne Fontes Experience.

This week, we mourn Mark "The Bird" Fidrych (and right after we mourned George Kell; damn); talk Red Wings playoffs (Pistons, too); marvel at the Tigers, especially Miggy, the Brandons, and the bullpen; and the usual suspects, Word Association and Jerk of the Week, show up.



Eno: Welcome to Thoisday and another webisode of "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al." I'm Eno, aka The Journalist, and he's Big Al, aka Mr. Big Shot. Al, thanks to my crazy life, we are once again doing this under the pale moonlight of midnight. How are you, my fellow Night Owl?

Big Al: ZZZZZ...Who? Wha? Huh? Almost midnight, and it's Eno...AGAIN. I'm fine, and I can't complain. Playoff hockey is on the TV, I'm almost over my sinus and cold issues and the Tigers are in first place. What's not to like right now? Well, save for the endless NFL draft talk, of course. And the Pistons having to face the Cavs in the playoffs.

Eno: Seems we've been starting with sad news lately. But we'd be remiss without some words about the Bird. Mark Fidrych isn't dead, is he? Say it ain't so, Al!!

Big Al: I wish. At this point of my life, I'm pretty damn jaded when it comes to athletes and pro sports. But the news of Fidrych's passing moved me to the verge of tears. Unlike most of our blogging brethren, we're old enough to have witnessed Bird-mania, in one way or another. 1976 was a different, simpler, and to be honest, better era. Mark Fidrych was a great pitcher whose career was far too short. But he was an even better person, which is why Fidrych's death hurt so damn much.

Eno: He was only a couple years away from medicine helping him, but it was too late. I think what hurt so much about his death was that he never truly grew up since '76, and I don't mean that in a bad way. He was still very much that 21-year-old we adored in 1976, so when he died, it's like that curly-haired kid died. Hard to explain, but are you with me?

Big Al: I think so. We may have changed, baseball may have changed, the media may have changed, but the Bird never did. He was still the same guy who appreciated what time in the sun he did have, rather than live in regret over what didn't happen. From all accounts, Fidrych was as happy now, as a 50-something truck driver, as he was as the most famous athlete in America. It really did feel as if one of the last links to my youth died with The Bird. I know the younger readers won't understand, but you really had to have been there in '76 to understand.

Eno: You absolutely had to live through it to believe it. I don't think I've ever seen anything like it, before or since. Like Rusty Staub once said, "I saw Tom Seaver mow them down in Shea Stadium, but I've never seen anything like The Bird." So sad. And the Phillies lost their longtime announcer, Harry Kalas, just a couple hours prior. Not to mention the tragic death of Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart. The baseball season has been unkind, and it's only nine days old.

Big Al: That's the thing about Fidrych. He became a phenomenon in a way that would never happen today. The media would have been all over Fidrych after his first win over the Tribe in mid-May ‘76. Back then, The Bird's fame was allowed to build natively and naturally. It helped that one of his most iconic games, the win over the Yankees in June of ‘76, was nationally televised in an era where you were lucky to see one or two games a week. Hell, I STILL get goose bumps and misty eyed watching Fidrych get the curtain call after the Yankees win. Damn, I miss those days....It's been an awful week for baseball, as fans all around the country were saddened in one way or another.

Eno: No doubt. So, let's lighten the mood. How 'bout those hockey playoffs? As we do this, the Rangers have already won on the road, in Washington. Did you catch my chat with Rick Nash and Ken Hitchcock at OOB? Lie to me and say yes.

Big Al: What? Oh, yeah...sure I did. Of course I did, OOB is in my RSS feeds! (Kids, make sure to subscribe to both OOB and TWFE. Thanks, and try the veal!) Anyway... I'm not at all concerned about the BJs. (How could you name a team knowing it would be shortened to reference a sexual act? Anyone?) The Red Wings are a better coached, more talented, vastly more experienced team. There will NOT be a first round upset. *knock on wood*

Eno: Well, not if the Wings can contain Nash. Ah, but if that kid goalie Steve Mason outplays Christopher Osgood, then the Js (I refuse to use the other initial, too) might have something, don't you think? Nash says his team isn't there just to show up for four or five games, you know.

Big Al: Lip service till the BJs (snicker) prove otherwise. Give me a team with Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Hossa, Franzen and Lidstrom (and I'm just scratching the surface, talent-wise) over any team in Gary Bettman's little playground called the NHL. Will there be a scare or two? Sure, it's the Cup playoffs. But in the end, the Wings will win Round One in five over the blow...uh, Blue Jackets.

Eno: OK, then I won't worry! Big Al is on the case! Speaking of which, who do you think comes up big in Round One for Deetroit?

Big Al: I could say Marion Hossa begins his quest for one of those 11-12 year deals Ken Holland has so creatively come up with to run wide around the salary cap (By the way, fans in other NHL cities are pissed, not because the Wings are doing it, but because their own GMs were too dumb/chicken/uncreative to do so themselves) but I'll say Chris Osgood plays well, and eases all our worries. *again, knock on wood* Because goaltending is what it all comes down to, right? Who's your "Big man on ice" for the winged wheelers?

Eno: I like Hossa. I think he's gonna pick up where he left off in the regular season. In fact, I like Hossa for the Conn Smythe, should the Wings go all the way. Speaking of Ken Holland, what are your thoughts on Johan Franzen's 11-year deal?

Big Al: It's another feather in Holland's overloaded-with-feathers cap. It's brilliant! Make the contract long enough where the cap hit becomes less an issue, on players whom I'm willing to bet will be extremely productive for the vast majority of the deal. It's not as if Holland is handing out these deals to just anyone. Zetterberg, Franzen, and I'm guessing Hossa will get one as well, are IMPACT players. Z is one of the best, if not THE best, two-way players in the NFL. Franzen is an elite power forward. Hossa is an offensive force. Expect to see this "average salary" loophole in the CBA closed when it comes up for negotiation, but till then, go for it. The Red Wings may be the best run franchise in sports; this is just another reason why.

Eno: Agreed. So, I've been dominating the paint here. Care to take the ball and do a "turn and gun", as George Blaha would say?

Big Al: Let's talk Tigers. They are 5-4, in first place in the Central, and for the most part (save Verlander's Opening Day start and Lyon's blown save the next day) they have played well. At the very least, it's a relief to see the Tigers not end their season before it really gets started...unlike the staggering Tribe. Any specific Tiger stand out to you so far, Eno-sabi?

Eno: Well, Miguel Cabrera, obviously, but how about Brandon Inge? He's gotten some clutch hits, already has four homers, and is channeling Brooks Robinson at third base. Actually, he's channeling Brandon Inge, because No. 15 is one hell of a third sacker. I smell a Gold Glove in his VERY near future. You?

Big Al: Possibly, but only if he hits respectably. Ever notice you have to be a decent hitter to win a Gold Glove? (which are highly subjective and likely overrated) Odd for a defensive award, but I digress. I have to say Cabrera, because one, he's MASHING the HELL out of the ball, and two, unlike Inge, Cabrera is going to continue to hit a ton. I'm telling you, he'll make a run at the Triple Crown this season...and for many more. It's going to be a pleasure watching Cabrera destroy pitching for the nest several years!

Eno: Oh, the kid's a beast, and I say kid because he's only going to be 26 when his birthday arrives in a few days. He's scary good. Like Jim Leyland said, "He's awfully good. He's better than awfully good." I agree that Inge isn't likely to keep this up with the bat, but he's played great baseball out of the gate. It's almost as fun watching him rob the opposing team of runs as it is to see Cabrera do his thing with the stick. And how about that bullpen? They retired 24 straight batters at one point. Zach Miner got his butt kicked on Monday and returns to the 'pen till further notice. The Tigers won't need a fifth starter for a while. And Marcus Thames still doesn't play! Though he might now, if Carlos Guillen's Achilles keeps acting up. Why is Carlos always hurt?

Big Al: Because it’s Carlos just being Carlos. Just as it's impossible for Inge to hit over the Mendoza Line, it’s impossible for Guillen to remain healthy. It's too bad, as his bat is needed for the long haul. It's also why the Tigers picked up Josh Anderson, who's proven to be a pretty decent pickup as a fourth outfielder. As for the pen, I HOPE HOPE HOPE HOPE they can keep it up. Even Lyon has pitched well since his awful first outing. Surprisingly, Fernando Rodney is throwing filthy stuff as the closer. Then again, being in a contract year, maybe it isn't surprising. Bullpens are mercurial things; good one season, awful the next...often with the same arms. Let’s hope this is the long overdue (since '06) good season for the pen.

Eno: Same with the division. Seems like each year, another team takes its turn being the rummy. So far this year, that's Cleveland. But it's still very early. Let's change the tune to the Pistons. Do they win even one game against King James and his Court?

Big Al: No. I just don't see it. This is the swan song for the Pistons as we have known them. They'll go out much like the Bad Boys Pistons went out, with not even a whimper against the NBA's Star of the Next Decade. Let's hope they shake hands this time...

Eno: Ha! Good one! OK, so if they're swept away, what does that bode for coach Michael Curry? Is he the coach next season, no matter what, or does he need a strong playoff showing (i.e. winning two games) to save his hide?

Big Al: Joe Dumars normally is quick to fix mistakes, but he has had a long relationship with Curry, and Curry was handpicked by Joe D to run the team. Dumars will also take the Allen Iverson fiasco into consideration, as asking a rookie coach to ride herd over an uncooperative Iverson was too much to ask. Unfortunately, I think Curry's safe for one more make-or-break season. From what we've seen this season, he doesn't deserve it.

Eno: No, I think he was way in over his head. I applaud Joe D. for giving a guy like that a chance, but it just didn't work. Ironically, Dumars may NOT make a change, when that's all he's done is change coaches. I think he evaluates who he thinks he can attract in free agency, who might not return, then decide which coach is best for that group of personnel. Whether that be Curry or someone else, like an Avery Johnson.

Big Al: I hope you're right, but how many more coaches can Dumars give the ziggy to before the Pistons become known as coach killers? (They may be at that point now) The only thing in Dumars's favor is that the players known as being head cases and coach killers, such as Rasheed Wallace, will be gone next year. In many ways, the team may be a clean slate, as I wouldn't be surprised to see Rip Hamilton be sent packing. Let’s not forget that he wasn't exactly an angel in the "who's the 6th man" imbroglio with Iverson. We may see a backcourt of Will Bynum and Rodney Stuckey next season. And that doesn't sound all that bad, after the bad taste left in my mouth by all the player BS this year.

Eno: Yeah, I think we're at the point now where I really don't care who's gone and who stays. I've had my fill of the "old guard", frankly. I'm eager to see what happens this off-season, and next, when the free agent class of 2010 hits the open market. OK, it's late. How about some WordAss?

Big Al: Sounds kinky, but OK, I do it!


Eno: Leading off: Speedy Darren Helm is back with the Wings for another Cup run. Your WordAss when I say his name?

Big Al: Should have been up all season. Just shows you how deep the Wings roster is overall, when Helm had to spend most of the year in Grand Rapids. Won't happen again...

Eno: Next, will the Washington Nationals ever be any good?

Big Al: They'll turn the corner when the Washington Generals do. (For you kids out there, it's a Harlem Globetrotters joke. But is it a joke when you have to explain it to most of your audience?)

Eno: Or how about the Pittsburgh Pirates. Same question.

Big Al: Judge Smails once said, "The world needs ditch diggers too." When it comes to the Pirates, MLB needs bottom feeders too.

Eno: So true! OK, I ask you how many dingers Miggy Cabrera hits this year and you say....

Big Al: When I was on the Detroit Tigers Podcast, I said Cabrera was capable of 45 round trippers. I know it was on the high side, but I was making a point; he's capable of big numbers. I'll say...40. Ready for of few, journalist dude?

Eno: Hit me, I'm open!

Big Al: Since we're talking Tigers and numbers, who leads the Tigers in saves, and how many will he get?

Eno: Hmmm....good one. I guess I'll relent and say Fernando Rodney, but with 22 or 23. I think he and Brandon Lyon will still share duties. Not sold yet on Rodney. He can go sideways in a hurry.

Big Al: Which is why he scares us all! Next, I say the Wings playoff run ends...and you say?

Eno: ...with them hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup in early-June!

Big Al: Works for me, and I also agree. They have to be the favorite to win it all. Let’s take a left-hand turn, and talk about fisticuffs. MMA or boxing?

Eno: Oh boxing, for sure. Though the sweet science hasn't thrilled me since Tommy Hearns-Sugar Ray Leonard, 1989. Tommy won that "draw", by the way. Even Sugar agrees!

Big Al: Agreed, I also loved boxing in the glory days of the 1980s. I guess I'm just not hip enough for mixed martial arts. One more, back to the Tigers, and their de facto ace of the pitching staff (yes, I said it, ace), Armando Galarraga!

Eno: For all the bad that GM Dave Dombrowski has wrought over the past couple years, you have to give him his props when it comes to A-Gal. BTW, I just broke my own rule of NOT making cutesy nicknames out of a guy's first initial and first syllable of his last name. But Galarraga is gonna be something. Mark him down for 15, 16 wins.

Big Al: Well, it's creeping up on 2 a.m. here in the wilds of Southeast Michigan, so I'm thinking you throwing around cutesy nicknames is a sign we should wrap up this episode of The Knee Jerks. A-Gal? Lord....

Eno: I know!! Hey, no Jerk of the Week, real quick?


Big Al: Gosh damn, how could I forget?! Proceed with your Jerk, my Jerkiness.

Eno: Will do. Mine are the Angels and the Red Sox, who emptied their benches the day after showing brotherhood in a pre-game tribute to Nick Adenhart. Jerks, all of 'em!

Big Al: My jerk is White Sox color man Hawk Harrelson. I was stuck watching the WGN feed of Wednesday's Tigers-Sox game, and Harrelson gives being a homer a bad name. A VERY bad name. He lost it when Ryan Perry was legitimately wild in the 8th inning. Quote the Hawk: "He's doing it on PURPOSE!" Sure, an obviously nervous rookie reliever is advancing a runner all the way to third base on wild pitches, some mistakenly in tight, and he's doing so ON PURPOSE? I was ready to jam an ice pick in my ear. Hawk Harrelson is a frigging loon. A LOON.

Eno: Hawk has been a loon since he was a player. He "retired" in his prime so he could join the pro golfer's tour. That never panned out. Then he was once miscast as the Chisox GM. He's always been a free spirit. Save the ice pick, and your ear; he's not worth it, Al!

Big Al: If you insist. Nope, I can't do it. HAWK MUST GO! HE'S EVIL E.V.I.L. EVIL! Hell, I think that's another sign we should call this meeting of the Jerks adjourned!

Eno: OK, OK!! Till next week, my fine feathered friend (because of the Night Owl thing). Have a great week, and I look forward to talking Red Wings and Pistons playoffs with you next time!

Big Al: Hopefully the Pistons will still be playing. Oh yeah, it takes the NBA three damn weeks to play a series! But that's a discussion for another time. Same Jerk channel...yadda, yadda, yadda?

Eno: Indeed! Nitey-nite!

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