Tom Gores is, in a not-so-nice way, the Pistons’ other piece of bread.
He is the absentee owner to complete the sandwich.
Right now, the only real difference between Gores, the Pistons’ owner, and Fred Zollner, is that Gores lives in California while The Z lived in Florida.
Zollner was the rumpled man who brought his Fort Wayne Pistons to Detroit in 1957. By the mid-1960s, the Z attended a handful of games a year. Maybe. He spent most of his time in the Sunshine State.
The Z’s ownership, splotched with curious hires, slapstick on the court and uncertainty, was on its last legs when his neighbor down south, Bill Davidson, led a consortium of basketball lovers based in Detroit and bought the Pistons from Zollner, who was in ill health. The year was 1973.
Davidson was the opposite of Zollner. He lived in Detroit more often than not, number one. And Davidson actually dragged himself down to Cobo Arena to see the team play, number two.
By the time the Pistons moved into the Silverdome in Pontiac in 1978, Davidson was very present, taking his seat on court level underneath one of the baskets. He rarely missed a game.
Davidson would build his own basketball arena in 1988, tired of being booted out of the Silverdome for tractor pulls and wrestling events. At the Palace, Davidson again took his place underneath the hoop, arms folded, usually with a pleasant grin on his face.
The Pistons, under Gores, who took over in 2011, are again a team with an absentee owner.
Gores flies into town rarely, attends a game or two, and blows back out of town. He is the Tornado Owner.
In Gores’ last touch down, he fired coach Mo Cheeks. That was a month ago. Gores hasn’t been seen or heard from since.
The dribbles of comments from ownership since Cheeks’ ziggy have come from Gores’ Platinum Equity minions like Phil Norment, in prepared statements.
Gores is more Los Angeles than he is Detroit, which is something considering that Gores is a Flint kid, having grown up there.
Gores is starry eyed and likes the glitz and glamour that Hollywood provides. Just last summer, Gores brought erstwhile Lakers coach Phil Jackson in as an unpaid consultant to aid in the Pistons’ coaching search.
Gores’ fascination with high profile people is fine, as long as it doesn’t unduly influence the basketball decision-making back in Detroit.
Chatter broke out a week or so ago, alleging that Gores was considering hiring Isiah Thomas to run the Pistons, as the team’s chief basketball executive.
Fans who think with their minds rather than their hearts should have screamed “NO!” running down the streets, hearing the notion of Gores tabbing Thomas to take over the Pistons.
Isiah as coach? Maybe that would fly. He did have some success developing and coaching young talent as coach of the Indiana Pacers.
But Thomas as executive has been a train wreck.
Platinum Equity issued a statement a couple days after the Thomas rumors started, saying that yes, Gores and Thomas did have a meeting (perhaps a dinner), but that the topic was the upcoming 25th anniversary celebration of the Pistons’ 1989 championship with the Bad Boys.
There was never any talk of Thomas joining the Pistons as an employee, the statement said.
The cashiering of current president and GM Joe Dumars is expected, so much so that just about all postulating about the Pistons’ future doesn’t include Dumars whatsoever.
Again, that’s fine. Dumars has hardly earned a new contract beyond the one that expires after this season mercifully comes to an end.
Let’s hope that the Isiah-to-Detroit chatter, in any role beyond coach, is nothing more than rumor.
The Pistons don’t need to be the third NBA franchise Thomas runs into the ground, following Toronto and New York.
Gores likes the big names, it appears. But sometimes it’s the little names that have the most success.
Davidson found that out the hard way, which is how lessons are usually learned.
Davidson fell for the dog and pony show that Dickie Vitale gave him—and everyone else—and hired the former U-D basketball coach in 1978. Vitale, in his own way, briefly owned Detroit—at least when it came to basketball. His Titans had great success at a time when the Pistons were, as usual, stumbling.
Vitale flamed out in just over a year. Davidson gave Dickie the ziggy, something for which Vitale was very grateful, from a health standpoint.
Once burned, Davidson went the opposite of high profile and dog and pony with his next hire.
Only the most intense basketball fan knew who the heck Jack McCloskey was when Davidson hired him off the Pacers bench—McCloskey was an assistant to Slick Leonard—and made Jack the Pistons GM in December 1979.
The recommendation to hire McCloskey came from none other than the deposed Vitale.
“Whenever I see Dick, to this day, I make sure to thank him,” McCloskey told me several years ago.
McCloskey had a couple disastrous years as coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, following years of college coaching in the Ivy League. Still, few Pistons fans knew who McCloskey was.
A little more than three years after being hired as GM, with the Pistons still a work in progress, McCloskey and Davidson went the unknown route yet again.
Chuck Daly was perhaps even more anonymous than McCloskey was, when the Pistons hired Daly from radio row, where he’d been working as a commentator on Philadelphia 76ers broadcasts.
Daly spent a couple years as an assistant to Philly’s Billy Cunningham, and worked briefly as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, during tempestuous owner Ted Stepien’s rule.
Again, only the gym rats knew who Chuck Daly was.
Together, the two unknowns—GM McCloskey and coach Daly—built an NBA empire in Detroit. The same empire that Thomas, Gores et al will celebrate later this month in the Silver Anniversary party.
The well-known Thomas and the high profile Vitale have each crashed and burned when given opportunities that exceeded their grasp.
The unknown McCloskey and little regarded Daly built two championship teams with the Pistons.
These are the facts, but will Gores’ Hollywood shades filter them out?
He was wearing a smart leather jacket, hair still damp from a post-practice shower. It was one of the last team workouts before the playoffs began. Spring hockey, the best kind of hockey, was on the horizon.
But first, there was the matter of a nod to history.
Nicklas Lidstrom and I stood as spectators in the Joe Louis Arena concourse, as the Red Wings were about to unveil the new sculpture of Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. The date was April 10, 2007.
We were scrunched together, players and media alike, awaiting the drapery to be pulled from the white bronze piece of artwork that depicted Howe in follow through after a shot.
Lidstrom, unassuming in his version of street clothes, kept his eye on me, even though I was slightly behind him and to his right. He appeared to not want to lose sight of me.
Moments earlier, in the Red Wings’ dressing room, I had asked Lidstrom for a few words. I was writing for a local sports magazine at the time, and my assignment was to get a feel for the team’s mindset as the playoffs beckoned.
Lidstrom, ever the gentleman, apologized, but with a rider.
“I can’t do it now, but right after the ceremony,” he told me.
We all were herded upstairs, near the Gordie Howe Entrance. The way Lidstrom kept looking at me, I got the feeling that he was more concerned about our chat than I was.
Not long after the unveiling, Lidstrom approached me and the brief interview began, as he promised.
He didn’t know me from Adam, although I’m sure he’d seen me in the locker room before—and would see me again.
But the point is, Nick Lidstrom made good on his word, even to an ink-stained wretch.
They’re going to have another ceremony tonight at the Joe, and this time Lidstrom won’t be merely a spectator. This time, the nod to history is a nod in his direction.
Number 5 gets hoisted to the rafters tonight, taking its rightful place next to 1, 7, 9, 10, 12 and 19 as retired Red Wings jersey numbers.
1. Terry Sawchuk, the best goalie ever and the most dour. Perhaps, at the same time, the best at what he did and the most unhappy while doing it.
7. Ted Lindsay, who had the most appropriate nickname for his on-ice persona and the most inappropriate for when he was off it—Terrible Ted. Never has the NHL seen someone who so lived up to his moniker as a player and so lived down to it as a person.
9. Gordie Howe, who is still one of the few hockey players any man on the street can actually name. The bumpkin from Saskatchewan who made good.
10. Alex Delvecchio, who played the game with quiet grace. Fats wasn’t spectacular, but somehow he always ended up with 25 goals and a bushel of assists every year.
12. Sid Abel, who centered the Production Line between Howe and Lindsay. Old Bootnose, who served the Wings so well as a coach, GM and TV commentator in addition to his years as a Hall of Fame center.
19. Steve Yzerman, who immediately comes to mind in Detroit when anyone says “The Captain.” Never has the Red Wings franchise employed a player who played with more grit and heart than Stevie Y.
Lidstrom joins these greats tonight, his jersey settling in nicely way up high. It won’t be out of place.
If Sawchuk was the brick wall, and Lindsay was the pest, and Howe was the complete player, and Delvecchio was the smooth playmaker, and Abel was the fulcrum, and Yzerman was the heart and soul, then Nick Lidstrom was the Red Wings’ calm.
The plaque of Ty Cobb outside Tiger Stadium called him ”a Genius in Spikes.”
Lidstrom’s should say “a Guardian on Skates.”
Lidstrom, for 20 years, was the Red Wings’ sentry, a hockey beefeater who played the game without expression or emotion. He logged his 25-30 minutes a night, poke checking and angling opponents into submission. He didn’t lay a body check on anyone in his life. Lidstrom was the game’s Lt. Columbo, who didn’t need a gun to solve crimes.
Tonight it will be official: Nick Lidstrom will take his rightful place among the Red Wings’ all-time greats. No one shall wear no. 5 in the Winged Wheel ever again.
As with the other retired sweaters in the rafters, why bother?
Tonight we’re having hot dogs. This is a good thing.
My mom used to call it tube steak. Funny.
I love a good hot dog now and again. There’s so much you can do with one.
Before I married my bride, we took a trip to Chicago for a long weekend. That’s when I rediscovered my love for the Chicago Style Hot Dog.
Wendy’s sold the specialty dogs in the summer of 1988, and I scarfed them up often. I was mesmerized by the combination of celery salt, mustard, pickled hot pepper, dill pickle relish and tomato that was globbed onto the tube steak, which was nestled in a poppy seed, thick bun.
Then the Wendy’s promotion ended and it wasn’t until our 1991 trip to the Windy City that I found a place that sold them. Chicago Style Dogs weren’t plentiful on Metro Detroit menus, I came to find out. You know—our love affair with the Coney Dog and all.
The place in Chicago was called Madison Avenue Dogs, and they used their acronym to name their Chicago Style Dogs.
MAD dogs were a hit with us. Plus I loved the atmosphere in that place.
MAD was connected to a Thai Restaurant, and by the looks of things, Thais ran the hot dog joint, too.
You’d place your order—they offered many types of dogs but MAD dogs were by far their specialty—and the order taker would yell out, “TWO MAD!”, “THREE MAD,” etc., depending on how many you wanted.
My wife and I have dabbled with making our own MAD dogs at home. It’s still a work in progress.
The Chicago Style Hot Dog
But I can go for any type of hot dog—boiled, grilled, what have you. I like the hot dog because it’s one of those foods that turns into your own personal canvas. The hot dog is similar to the pizza in that regard, or a trip to the salad bar. Almost anything goes.
Diced onions, chopped up hot pepper, relish, mustard, you name it. Except for ketchup.
I don’t do ketchup on hot dogs. My wife does, unashamedly. I just can’t get into the flavor combo.
At old Tiger Stadium, the hot dog vendors carried with them two containers of mustard and none of ketchup. Someone once told me that was because the sugar in ketchup attracts flying insects.
Maybe it’s just that mustard is the only proper condiment for a hot dog.
In the TV show “King of Queens,” Kevin James’ Doug Heffernan ate a hot dog with mayonnaise on it in one episode. His friend Deacon called him out on it.
“Who puts mayonnaise on a hot dog?” Deacon asks incredulously.
“I do,” Doug responds. “And one day, so will everyone.”
As far as I’m concerned, other than ketchup and mayo, you can put anything on a hot dog.
Our local Home Depot gloriously serves hot dogs for a couple bucks a pop. It’s difficult to walk by the stand on your way in or out of the store and not stop for a quick tube steak.
But when we have the time and the ingredients, there’s nothing like once again dabbling with the celery salt, peppers, tomatoes, mustard et al.
Isn’t that MAD?
The Hockey Hall of Fame is located in Toronto. But for years, the Hall had a satellite office in Detroit.
If you didn’t feel like jumping on Highway 401 or the train in Windsor, and you wanted to see hockey relics, you just needed to venture to Joe Louis Arena—specifically the Red Wings dressing room.
The players weren’t in the Hall, but that was only because they had yet to retire. Certainly, that was their post-playing destination.
The names above the cubicles in those days—from the mid-1990s to the early-2000s—were a Who’s Who of the NHL.
Yzerman. Hull. Shanahan. Hasek. Lidstrom. Robitaille. Murphy. Larionov. Fedorov. Chelios.
Everyone was 35 years old, or older. Everyone had won Stanley Cups, somewhere. Everyone had their ticket already punched to the Hall.
The Red Wings were so old and experienced in that time frame, the official team drink was Geritol.
But oh, did they win.
Stanley Cups were won in 1997, 1998, 2002 and then, after a pause to re-load the roster, in 2008.
Even the coach for three of those Cups, Scotty Bowman, was HOF-bound.
They could have erected statues outside the dressing room for the players suiting up inside.
Back then, you could be arrested for being young and playing for the Red Wings.
Youthful players were bargaining chips in those days for the league’s trading deadline. The Red Wings drafted smart, developed even smarter, and then just when you were ready for the NHL, you got traded for someone with gray hair.
There was no salary cap. GM Kenny Holland needed only to dial his boss, Mike Ilitch, tell the owner how much pizza dough it was going to take to sign the highest profile free agents, and thy will be done.
It seemed like the Red Wings had nobody on their roster less than 30 years of age.
When the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) took effect starting with the 2005-06 season, the days of the blank checks were over with. Each team would have to budget. Free-spending teams like the Red Wings—the New York Yankees of hockey—now had ceilings.
It was like telling Hitler to stop invading.
Holland managed to steer the Red Wings through the waters of salary caps and budgets to the tune of 2008’s Cup and darn near another one a year later.
But the team was still mostly made up of veterans. Youngsters were few and far between.
The Red Wings kept making the playoffs—22 years in a row now and counting—but the graybeards started to fall by the wayside after the 2009 Cup Finals.
Kirk Maltby, Kris Draper, Darren McCarty, Chris Chelios, Chris Osgood and Tomas Holmstrom were some of longtime Red Wings who hung up their skates.
Then Nick Lidstrom called it quits in 2012, which sent many fans into a frenzy of panic.
A quick look at the roster after all this churn saw a bevy of players who dared to be in their 20s.
Certainly the Red Wings would dip, most folks thought. The team was too young, too inexperienced.
Save for Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Todd Bertuzzi and newcomer Daniel Alfredsson, the 2013-14 Red Wings were shy on veteran presence.
The modern era Red Wings didn’t win four Stanley Cups and all those playoff games with kids.
It’s still in question whether this season’s Red Wings will continue the playoff-making streak, but if they do, they’ll have to do it with key contributions from youngsters.
The Red Wings aren’t used to this. Coach Mike Babcock isn’t used to this. GM Holland isn’t used to this. And the fans most definitely aren’t used to this.
“This” is seeing a bunch of young, fast players in red sweaters, creating havoc, scoring goals and flying around the ice. “This” is a reliance on a new wave of players, many of whom started the season in the minor leagues. “This” is an exciting batch of kids that might, just might, be the core of a Cup-winning team in the not-too-distant future.
For now, though, it’s about making the playoffs this spring.
Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan are four of these exciting young players. Their average age is 23. And they are becoming an annoyance to play against.
Nyquist has a knack for scoring big goals. Tatar is immensely talented and looks like the Red Wings’ next puck wizard after Datsyuk, who is basically playing on one leg thanks to a bad left knee. Zetterberg isn’t playing at all, due to a herniated disc in his back that recently required surgery.
Jurco and Sheahan, who was the team’s first round draft choice in 2010, have hockey smarts beyond their years and create plenty of scoring chances with their passing skills.
In a season marred by injuries, these four young players are tasked with keeping the Red Wings in the playoff hunt. It’s on them now. Reinforcements aren’t really on the way.
Free agent bust (so far) Stephen Weiss is only just now on the verge of returning from a sports hernia injury that has kept him sidelined for over two months.
Datsyuk plays on one leg, Zetterberg doesn’t play at all.
Johan Franzen has just played his first two games after missing 25 of 26 with post-concussion symptoms.
Darren Helm has been in and out of the lineup—mostly out—with a variety of injuries.
Even the goalies—Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustvasson—have missed considerable time due to various physical maladies.
But the four kids are healthy as horses right now. And they’re eager. And they’re having a blast.
It just may be that the Red Wings’ fate—playoffs or not, and then how far they go in the post-season—is directly tied to how Tatar, Nyquist, Jurco and Sheahan perform.
In recent weeks, their production has saved the team’s bacon.
This reliance on so many young players is not how the Cup-winning Red Wings teams back in the day got it done.
But partly out of necessity and partly due to the fact that these kids can flat out play, today’s Red Wings are daring to take a path to the playoffs that the franchise has never had to try.
Out with the Geritol, and in with the Flintstones vitamins.
The distinctly debonair, razor-thin, legendary British actor was in the middle of his scripted bit of monologue when suddenly the crowd was in an uproar.
It was 1974, in the middle of an American craze that inexplicably had caught on ever-so-briefly, as so many other American crazes seem to do—-inexplicably.
This particular craze was called “streaking,” or running naked through a very public place. The nation’s ballparks and football stadiums, to name just a couple venues, were being overrun by those sans clothing, making their mad dashes.
And now the Academy Awards show was being interrupted by a streaker. He was male, even if just barely.
David Niven, startled by the sudden burst of hoots and howls from the audience, turned and looked to see what the commotion was all about. A streaker was moving behind him, across the stage, flashing the “peace” sign with his fingers.
Straying off script, Niven commented with spot-on—as they say in his country—comedic timing.
With typical British cool among chaos, Niven quipped, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, that was almost bound to happen… But isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?”
The Academy Awards—better known as The Oscars—are on this Sunday. Niven’s streaker incident was hardly the first time that the Awards were used to showcase one’s, ahem, views. Nor would it be the last.
Actors have used their acceptance speeches to push political agendas. Marlon Brando sent a supposed Native American (it’s been widely suspected that she was merely another actor, ironically) to refuse to accept his Best Actor Award for “Godfather”, purportedly in protest of the country’s treatment of American Indians.
George C. Scott declined his Best Actor Oscar for “Patton” because he didn’t like the political machinations of the Awards themselves. So he stayed home and watched a hockey game. True story.
Woody Allen made news by deliberately declining to attend the Oscars when “Annie Hall” was up for Best Picture, so he could keep a weekly clarinet-playing date in a New York club.
Those are just a few examples.
Others have put their foot in their mouths accidentally in acceptance of their awards, blurting out curse words or other untoward, awkward things.
And who can forget Sally Field’s, “You LIKE me! You really LIKE me!”?
Personally, I enjoy watching the Oscars, but mainly to pick them apart. I guess I’m masochistic that way.
I hope to be entertained and laugh along the way, however. With Ellen DeGeneres hosting this year, the odds of that happening are good.
I also look forward to the montage of those in the film industry who we lost since the last Oscars. Invariably there’s someone about who my wife and I will look at each other and say, “(Fill in the blank) DIED? I didn’t know that!”
Even the montage has angered me in the past. The omission of Farrah Fawcett several years ago still rankles me.
Yes, the ceremony is notorious for running long and some of the speeches are boring and still others will make you squirm a little, but there are also some kick-ass ones as well.
Watching the Oscars is probably like sitting in the kitchen and eating ice cream right out of the carton, but it only comes once a year, so view with impunity.
Now…if they could only move it to Saturday night. The damn thing goes past midnight and people have to work the next day, don’t you know!
Oh, and here’s the famous Niven clip.
There’s a certain delicate symmetry when a person’s birth city and death city are the same.
Harold Ramis has such a line on his biography.
Born: November 21, 1944; Chicago, IL.
Died: February 24, 2014; Chicago, IL.
Ramis, the comedic actor/director who passed away Monday from a rare and painful vascular disease, was as Chicago as wind, deep dish pizza and crooked elections. If you cracked him open you’d have found a Cubs cap and a megaphone.
Ramis was always smirking. He had that twinkle in his eye, as if he knew something you didn’t. When it came to movie making and laugh making, he did.
Ramis was one of the leaders of a band of merry men and women who yukked it up at the original Second City improvisational theater group in Chicago, starting in the late-1960s. He was hardly alone when it came to finding fame later, but his imprint on American filmmaking puts him near the head of the class.
Ramis’s first role on the big screen saw him smirking all the way through 1981′s “Stripes,” the comedy he co-wrote and starred in with Bill Murray, directed by Ivan Reitman. Three years later, Ramis again took to the typewriter—this time with co-star Dan Aykroyd—and wrote “Ghostbusters.”
As the years went on, Ramis found more fortune staying behind the scenes, writing killer dialogue, physical comedy and directing the same.
Ramis’s body of work as a writer and/or director reads like so many film critics’ Top 25 lists of comedy vehicles.
“Caddyshack”; “National Lampoon’s Vacation”; “Groundhog Day”; “Analyze This”; “Analyze That”; “Meatballs”; “Stripes”; “Ghostbusters”; “The Office” (TV); “National Lampoon’s Animal House.”
That’s some serious comedy, right there. Iconic stuff.
And, of course, there was the transformation of Second City’s magic of improv from stage to small screen, when Ramis was a lead writer in the 1970s and ’80s on “SCTV,” produced out of Canada, when Toronto joined Chicago as a major contributor of raw talent that would go on to bigger and better things.
You’ve heard of John Candy, right?
Ramis spun his work off “SCTV” and made his foray into film, and we laughed and laughed.
Harold Ramis: 1944-2014
In the “I am not making this up” department, Ramis once worked in a mental institution in St. Louis for seven months.
“(The experience) prepared me well for when I went out towork with actors,” Ramis once said. “People laugh when I say that, but it was actually very good training. And not just with actors; it was good training for just living in the world. It’s knowing how to deal with people who might be reacting in a way that’s connected to anxiety or grief or fear or rage. As a director, you’re dealing with that constantly with actors.”
Sadly, the man who brought us to tears of laughter and split our sides so often, had a painful and debilitating end as he battled his rare vascular disease.
Vasculitis develops when the body’s immune system turns on its network of veins and arteries. Blood vessels become inflamed, restricting the flow of blood or cutting it off entirely, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Ramis was first diagnosed a few years ago.
Coming from someone who should know, having worn both hats, Harold Ramis once gave his analysis of the roles of writer and director.
“I always claim that the writer has done 90 percent of the director’s work.”
However you choose to slice it, there’s no number crunching needed with this: Harold Ramis made people laugh.
Today, Chicago is a little less windy, the deep dish pizza a little colder. Even the Cubs are worse off.
The center fielder of the Tigers’ present and future was indirectly taking tips from one of the best, who played the position so well some 50 years prior.
It was the summer of 2007, and Curtis Granderson, into just his second full season as the roamer of the vast expanse at Comerica Park, was having an impromptu lesson imparted to him.
Granderson and I, an interloper at his locker, were chatting before a game against the Cleveland Indians, when coach Andy Van Slyke walked by and tossed Granderson a mitt.
The outfielder’s glove had been recently re-laced, and that afforded Van Slyke an opportunity to pull it back from Granderson and jam it into his own hand, discussing the glove’s new laces and their length.
Van Slyke flapped the glove open and closed, open and closed, while pantomiming the act of scooping up a baseball and throwing it back to the infield.
“These laces are kind of long,” Van Slyke said. “Once, my laces were so long, I tripped over them during a game.”
Granderson laughed, but Van Slyke was serious—or so he said.
Granderson didn’t know it, but he was being schooled, indirectly, by Bill Virdon.
Virdon patrolled center field for the Pittsburgh Pirates with aplomb in the 1950s. And when Van Slyke was a young big leaguer playing in Pittsburgh, like Granderson in Detroit in 2007, it was Virdon who did the tutoring in Pirates camp.
And now Virdon’s teachings were being passed on to the wide-eyed Granderson by Van Slyke as I looked on.
Granderson was 26 years old at the time—with a kewpie doll face and a smile that lit up Woodward Avenue. He beat out a speedster named Nook Logan just a year prior to claim the Tigers’ center fielder job.
It was a job that Granderson was growing into very nicely, indeed.
When we last left Curtis Granderson—and by “we,” I mean those who have an Old English D plastered across their heart—he was a bourgeoning star, slapping triples all around Comerica Park out of that nervous batting stance and robbing them with his glove.
Granderson was going to play center field for the Tigers like Chet Lemon did before him, and like Mickey Stanley did before Lemon. And Granderson was going to stay with the Tigers forever.
That last part is what the fans must have thought, anyway.
Granderson was 28, seemingly just hitting his stride as an upper echelon center fielder, when the Tigers did the apparently unthinkable.
On the heels of a terribly disappointing loss in Game 163 to the Minnesota Twins to close out the 2009 season, the Tigers made a blockbuster trade—a deal so big it took three teams to consummate it.
Granderson was at the center of the trade, which landed the Tigers Phil Coke and Austin Jackson from the Yankees, and Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth from the Diamondbacks. The Tigers also gave up starting pitcher Edwin Jackson.
Detroit baseball fans were aghast.
Trading Curtis Granderson was considered blasphemy. He was a nice guy. A fine center fielder. A slapper of triples, a stroker of doubles, with a developing power swing. He smiled a lot. He was out there in the community year-round, helping out and becoming a Detroiter by proxy.
He was going to play center field for the Tigers forever!
It wasn’t just that Granderson was traded—it was that he was traded to the hated Yankees. He was too pure for New York. It was feared by yours truly that Granderson’s good deeds would be swallowed up and not really noticed in the Big Apple.
Pinstripes never really looked good on him, in retrospect.
They didn’t help his hitting. Oh, he hit his home runs in the new, cracker jack Yankee Stadium, where a pop fly to the second baseman could, with a gentle breeze, land ten rows up in the right field stands. But playing in New York ruined his swing.
Granderson was soiled by Yankee Stadium. The tiny ballpark turned him into a free-swinging slugger. He used to be a gap-to-gap guy, spraying baseballs like a machine gun into the outfield, from left to right. As a Yankee, he became Adam Dunn.
In his first season in New York, Granderson hit 24 home runs and his numbers were pretty much in line with what he did as a Tiger in 2009.
But then Yankee Stadium’s poison infiltrated his system.
In 2011 and 2012 combined, Granderson slugged—and that was the word for it—84 home runs, drove in 225 runs, and struck out 364 times. His batting averages for those two years were .262 and then .232, respectively.
But he no longer hit doubles and triples all that much—44 and 14, respectively in 2011-12 combined, where with the Tigers Granderson averaged 29 doubles and 14 triples per season.
And the lefty-batting Granderson never did learn how to hit left-handers after the trade to New York, against whom he has a career BA of .226.
Seduced by the right field porch that he could seemingly reach out and touch from the batter’s box, Granderson turned from sprayer to hacker at the plate as a Yankee. He became, for the most part, a home run or strike out guy.
This year, Granderson takes that poisoned swing from the Bronx to Queens, as a new member of the New York Mets. He signed with the Mets as a free agent after an injury-riddled 2013 season saw Granderson suit up for just 61 games with the Yanks.
Granderson is soon to be 33 years old. To us in Detroit, that doesn’t seem possible. He still has the kewpie doll face but there’s some maturity to it now. He doesn’t look 33 yet he does, at the same time.
He is moving into grizzled vet status. This year will be Granderson’s 10th in the big leagues.
The man who would be the Tigers’ center fielder until he retired is now trying to revive his career in the National League, asked to be a mentor of sorts to teammates and fellow outfielders Eric Young, Jr. and youngster Juan Lagares.
Granderson was a wide-eyed youngster once, getting impromptu outfield lessons from Bill Virdon by way of Andy Van Slyke via pantomime in the Tigers’ clubhouse.
Time will tell if Granderson can smile the calendar into submission in his new pinstripes in Queens.
And also, if he can regain a hitting stroke that, despite his nifty home run numbers, lost its way with the Yankees.
A few weeks ago, hurried and on my lunch break, I stepped into the Barnes and Noble bookstore in downtown Royal Oak. My goal was simple: purchase a newspaper.
Every Friday I cash my paycheck in Royal Oak and then take in lunch somewhere in town. But I’m one of these people who can’t eat alone if I don’t have something to read. Hence the newspaper.
My usual provider, the gas station by the bank, was out of papers, so I remembered B&N.
The bank took longer than usual, so the sands in the hourglass were dwindling. But hey, it’s only a newspaper, right?
The newspapers at B&N are located behind the cashier’s counter. They’re not self-serve.
So first I had to wait for a cashier, which knocked off precious seconds from my meal time. But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part came when I voiced my request.
“Detroit News,” please, I said to the college-aged cashier.
He retrieved it. I had my dollar ready, eager to pay, leave, and look for sustenance to jam down my throat.
He needed to scan the newspaper, and that took a few tries before it beeped.
“Are you a Rewards member?” he asked.
No, I am not, I told him, as I jabbed the dollar toward him.
“E-mail please?” he asked.
My jaw dropped.
“For a newspaper?”
He gave me a sheepish look. “I just want to see if you’re in the system.”
Again, I said, “For a newspaper?” although with much more irritation in my voice.
By this time I sort of tossed the dollar toward him. But he still clutched my newspaper, holding it hostage.
He could see that I was not a happy camper—my annoyance was hardly subtle—and he looked at his co-worker, as if unsure of what to do with a man who just wanted to buy a newspaper and who wasn’t a Rewards member and who didn’t want to provide his e-mail address in order to purchase said newspaper.
I had had enough.
“I’m in a hurry. Can I just please have my newspaper?” I said.
Finally he relinquished it.
Now, this entire exchange obviously took less time than it did for you to read about it, but when you’re in a hurry and all you want to do is buy a newspaper for one dollar and you can’t do it without being asked about memberships and e-mails, your stomach grumbling, each second translates to ten times its length.
Thankfully, my normal newspaper provider (gas station) hasn’t run out of papers since. And if they do, I’ll be damned if I wander into B&N to purchase one. I’ll do without, or try to find a box dispenser.
I love the gas station, by the way. I grab a paper, give the attendant a dollar, and walk away. If there is someone ahead of me in line who is buying cigarettes or lottery tickets (don’t get me started), I just put the dollar on the counter, wave my newspaper so it is seen, then walk away. The attendant has my back.
At the gas station they don’t need to scan the paper. At the gas station they don’t ask me any questions. All they do is take my dollar and tell me to have a nice day. I love the gas station.
But this inconvenience, such as displayed at B&N, is happening all over. The ability to make simple purchases without being asked to present membership cards or provide phone numbers and e-mail addresses is slipping away from us. K-mart asks if you want a paper receipt or one e-mailed to you—even if all you’re buying is a gallon of milk. And the answer you give can’t be verbal—it has to be registered on their debit card thingy.
But hey, this is progress, right?
In a way, Dominic Raiola is the last man standing. He’s like the ruins of Rome. He’s the remembrance of a monarchy. He just needs a tour guide and a brochure for the passing patrons.
In April, 2001, Raiola, a stubby center out of Nebraska, was the second draft pick ever made for the Lions by President Matt Millen. Doubtless that Raiola had no idea what he was being drafted into.
There is no one on the current Lions roster that better symbolizes the ruins of the Millen Era than Raiola.
Calvin Johnson, the NFL’s best receiver, dates back to Millen’s tenure, but CJ was drafted in 2007 and Millen was gone a year later.
Raiola joined the Lions organization just three months after Millen did. Millen finally got fired early in the 0-16 2008 season, but Raiola and Jeff Backus, the tackle from Michigan drafted ahead of his offensive linemate in ’01, weren’t so lucky; part of their penance was to remain behind—guilty as sin of being drafted by Millen.
Could anyone have possibly known that, 13 seasons later, Dominic Raiola would still be squatting on Sundays, gripping the football and readying it for a snap—all 13 years spent with the Lions?
Raiola plays arguably football’s most thankless position. Nothing can happen until the center does his thing, but aside from that, you hike the football and then ten second later, you pull yourself out from a pile of humanity.
The centers for the game’s greatest quarterbacks are remembered no more than the fellow who broke the four-minute mile after Roger Bannister, the second guy to climb Mt. Everest and the act that followed the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
Center in football is not a position played for notoriety, though Raiola has tried to be the story in the past.
There have been some ill-advised, occasionally outrageous comments. He’s gotten into it with the fans, walking off the field. There was an alleged incident with a marching band before a game, with an ugly epithet supposedly tossed around by Raiola.
And through it all there’s been one playoff game in 13 years, a monumental occasion that so overwhelmed Raiola, his comments leading up to the game indicated that he could scarcely believe it was happening. By the time he realized it was real, the Lions were being lapped by the New Orleans Saints, 45-28.
Centers don’t typically play their best football in their 13th season. Two reasons for this: 1) centers don’t typically play 13 seasons; 2) their bodies age as well as bananas.
Yet Raiola, in 2013, was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the second best center in the NFL. Not bad, considering the Lions almost didn’t bring him back after season no. 12.
There won’t be any doubt of Raiola’s coming back in 2014. Moved by perhaps his best season ever, the Lions recently rewarded their center with a one-year contract and a reportedly sizable raise—from $1 million in 2013 to $1.525 million in ’14.
Raiola captained an offensive line that, despite a 60% turnover from 2012, was among the NFL’s best and most consistent units in 2013.
“It’s humbling to me that I earned another year in the NFL, that’s first and foremost,” Raiola told the Detroit Free Press on February 7, after the Lions announced the signing.
“I’m in the same spot as I was last year, another proving ground. Can this 35-going-on-36-year-old play? And I’m going to work hard and let my play do the talking.”
Raiola, like Backus before the latter retired a year ago, is often guilty by association with the Lions when it comes to his legacy. He has never made the Pro Bowl, despite missing just four games in his 12 years as a full-time starter (all four came in 2008). Consequently, he’s often been portrayed as part of what’s wrong with the Lions instead of being lauded for his durability and solid play.
But Raiola hasn’t helped his own cause with some of his antics, usually involving his mouth.
Raiola hopes to play 15 years and hang them up. His newest contract is for one year, so like he said, it’s proving time again in 2014.
Since becoming a starter in his second season, here’s who Raiola has hiked the football to: Joey Harrington; Mike McMahon; Jeff Garcia; Jon Kitna; J.T. O’Sullivan; Dan Orlovsky; Daunte Culpepper; Drew Stanton; Shaun Hill and Matthew Stafford.
That’s 10 quarterbacks, and only Stafford was worth a hill of beans. It’s also a big reason why the Lions’ record while Raiola has been with the team is a putrid 60-148.
Hence the guilt by association thing.
It doesn’t matter that Raiola is hardly why the Lions have been so bad for so long—he’s been here, and that makes him part of the problem in the fans’ eyes.
Also, Raiola lives in his native Hawaii in the off-season, which doesn’t help. He’s not Nate Burleson, the recently released receiver whose gregarious demeanor and frequent appearances on national networks, pumping the Lions and the city of Detroit, have ingratiated him to the fan base.
Raiola leaves the mainland after the season and never makes it back unless there are OTAs to be conducted.
Plus, well, he’s a freaking center.
But the Lions aren’t bringing Raiola back for a 14th season out of pity or nostalgia. Salary cap dollars are too precious for anything silly like that. Witness the cashiering this past week of Burleson and safety Louie Delmas—two vocal leaders and proud Lions.
It’s about whether you can still play football, no matter what the birth certificate and the calendar have to say.
The Lions inked Raiola for another year because they don’t have a ready replacement, and his 2013 season was pretty damned good. And by all indications, the new deal is met with great appreciation by its recipient.
“I call (the Lions) my hometown team,” Raiola told the Free Press. “So it’s very humbling to me and I’m just thankful that they saw more gas in my tank.”
It’s funny. Raiola, the man who ends just about every play on the turf, is still standing when it comes to the Matt Millen Era.
Television was pretty much an extension of the theater when Sid Caesar first started showing up in the living rooms of America in the late-1940s.
The performances were shown to audiences much like you would see something live on stage—few if any close-ups, archaic blocking, everything horizontal. Not that you couldn’t deliver the goods shooting that way—just look at any “Honeymooners” episode.
But it was the work ethic that also translated from theater to early television. The shows may have been in front of cameras, but the players performed like it was Broadway—live and often.
Sid Caesar is gone. The year, just 43 days old, has already been unkind. We’ve lost legendary animator Arthur Rankin, Philip Seymour Hoffman and, on Monday, Shirley Temple Black.
Caesar was 91 when he slipped away today in California after a short illness.
Caesar lit it up every week, for 90 minutes no less, in “Your Show of Shows,” which was basically television’s first foray into sketch comedy.
Every Saturday night, from 9:00-10:30, Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris—plus several regular guest stars, put on what was essentially was a live variety show—39 weeks a year.
It was, truthfully, the original “Saturday Night Live.”
“YSOS” won a couple of Emmy Awards along the way, but its lasting imprint has nothing to do with hardware. The early-1950s was a great time to be on television if you had any bit of pioneer in you and cared to blaze some trails. And Caesar and his band of merry men (and women) did plenty of blazing in the four years that “YSOS” was on the air.
Writing for Sid Caesar was as important as performing with him. If you wanted a career in TV as a writer, you wanted to write for Caesar. He was television’s doorman for aspiring writers.
Reiner called upon his years of writing and performing on “YSOS” as inspiration for “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” which set many scenes in the writing office of Buddy Sorrell, Sally Rogers and Rob Petrie, who wrote for the bombastic, hard-to-please TV star Alan Brady (Reiner).
Sid Caesar was widely known in the 1950s as the best comedian in the world—TV, radio, movies, you name it. He had the rubber face, the gangly body and the New York-soaked voice that always went well with comedy.
It was Caesar and fellow comic Ernie Kovacs who looked at television as a block of clay with which to play, like children in a sandbox. Maybe the better analogy is pigs in slop, for the comedy of Caesar and Kovacs was hardly spic and span—in terms of props, physicality and creativity.
In “YSOS,” Caesar and Coca could be anyone from a squabbling married couple to an artist and his muse to two bums on the street. Always, they were scenery chewers but most importantly, always they were funny.
“Television had its share of comedy geniuses,” Los Angeles Times television critic Howard Rosenberg wrote in 1994. “Yet arguably none has been as uniquely gifted and inventive as Caesar. Watching him perform, you just know light bulbs are popping continuously in his brain.”
Caesar wasn’t as prolific on the big screen, though he did do memorable turns in films such as “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” and Mel Brooks’ “History of the World: Part I.”
But movies weren’t Caesar’s milieu. He was a performer who needed the rush of going in front of a live audience, being beamed live into people’s homes, eschewing multiple takes, cue cards and TelePrompTers, which weren’t even around when Caesar came on the scene—not that he would have used them anyway.
It truly was the Golden Age of Television in Sid Caesar’s day. Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason, Reiner and Kovacs were lock step with Caesar when it came to television comedy—all pioneers in their own way and all making their mark in this new medium that supplanted radio as the family’s watering hole of entertainment.
Caesar’s shtick included his famous “double talk” bits, in which he’d shamelessly combine languages, dialects and jargon with hilarious results. Thankfully, YouTube functions as our own personal Museum of Broadcasting History, so we can fire up a Caesar sketch 24/7.
There’s great irony in one of Sid Caesar’s quotes, coming as it did from a pioneering genius such as himself.
“The guy who invented the first wheel was an idiot,” he once said. “The guy who invented the other three, he was a genius.”
That makes for some laughs, but Caesar invented the first wheel of sketch comedy. There was nothing idiotic about that.