Archive for Out of Bounds
The news that the Red Wings are moving to the Eastern Conference should have been announced by one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, not a league spokesman.
The Five-Star General of choice should have gotten up, like in a military briefing, and announced that the Red Wings’ years-long occupation in the West was finally over with.
It’s peace for our time. We don’t have to fear fear itself anymore. The Korean War is ended. It’s pulling out of Vietnam, without Saigon falling.
The Red Wings’ mission out west has been completed. The NHL is letting the Winged Wheelers pull up their stakes from Los Angeles. That time share in Anaheim is going up for sale. They won’t need the guest house in San Jose.
Vancouver is a beautiful city, but it’ll have to survive without the Red Wings. The oxygen masks marked “Denver” can be put away.
No more looking around Dallas—Dallas—for good ice. The Alberta twins, Calgary and Edmonton, and their 9:30 p.m. Detroit starts won’t be missed.
So long, Minnesota. We hardly knew ye. St. Louis and the Gateway Arch? We’ll miss your breweries but not much else. Somehow we’ll have to live without that hockey Mecca, Phoenix.
Columbus will have to go back to being that town where Ohio State University calls home. Nashville? Love your music, loathe your hockey tradition.
Finally, there’s Chicago. Like Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz, “Chicago, we’ll miss you most of all.”
But the soon-to-be truncated rivalry with the Blackhawks—which began when they were the Black Hawks—isn’t enough to make the Red Wings grow wistful for the West.
No more 10:30 p.m. Detroit starts. No more playoff games watched by hundreds of thousands who showed up as bleary-eyed zombies the next morning at work.
The Red Wings have carried the West long enough. Their occupation has ended. General Bettman says it’s OK for the Red Wings to join the East.
Fittingly, the news came down this week, with the Red Wings making one of those lovely Western Canada swings through Alberta. They reacted so giddily, you half expected that they would drop their hockey sticks and run to Philadelphia.
Or Boston. Or New York. Heck, even New Jersey, and no one runs to New Jersey unless they’re in the Mob.
The Red Wings are moving to the East for the 2013-14 season. It’s all part of the realignment that was signed off on by the players association.
It’s Christmas in March for the Red Wings and their fans, particularly those old enough to remember the Original Six, when a trip “out west” meant you were taking the train to Chicago and Detroit.
The Red Wings will be placed in a division with four, count ‘em, four, Original Six organ-eye-zayshuns.
Detroit. Montreal. Toronto. Boston. And the New York Rangers are just a division away. Only the Chicago Blackhawks, from the O-6, are left behind in the West. The Blackhawks are a dynamic hockey club with a wealth of young talent, and they started this season with a streak of getting points in their first 24 games. It’s their turn to prop the West up.
That’s what the Red Wings did, you know—prop up the West. Don’t let anyone in the league offices in New York tell you otherwise. But the NHL loved having the Red Wings playing all those games in the Mountain and Pacific Time zones.
The Red Wings, with their expansive fan base and their Stanley Cups and their annual appearance in the playoffs, papered the houses, from the old Fabulous Forum in Inglewood to the arenas in San Jose and Anaheim, and all the way to Columbus. Especially Columbus.
For two decades, the Red Wings’ success was a boon to the attendance out west. It wasn’t unusual to see more blood red and white jerseys in the seats than those of the home teams.
Those days are done. The Red Wings will be rekindling rivalries that go back to before World War II.
The fans are beside themselves. They’re rubbing their hands together at the prospects of seeing the Canadiens and the Maple Leafs and the Bruins in Joe Louis Arena more than once every Leap Year.
The beauty of the move is that, finally, the powers that be saw the value of having the Red Wings in the Eastern Time zone.
It’s what’s best for the NHL, really.
The timing couldn’t be better. Look at the standings. All four of these Original Six brethren—even long-suffering Toronto—are good teams. It’s not just that they share lineage, they’re highly competitive.
NBC is a winner, too. The league’s TV network surely must be busting buttons when they see all the tradition-rich games featuring the league’s top squads that they can schedule for Sunday afternoons.
Remember Detroit-Toronto in Steve Yzerman’s young years? Remember how exciting those games were? And the Maple Leafs weren’t even any good back then.
I can see the smiles on the faces of the old-timers when they see those iconic Canadiens jerseys skating up and down the JLA ice several times a season.
You missed the Bruins’ visit to Detroit? There’ll be another one next month; you won’t have to wait until the next presidential election cycle.
Not all the teams in the new division are filled with tradition, but that’s OK. The Red Wings will also be joined by Florida, Tampa Bay (though Yzerman is the GM), Buffalo and Ottawa. But as Bettman pointed out, the Florida markets are filled with transplanted Michiganders.
The winners, clearly, are the Red Wings and their brand in this league gerrymandering. No more jet lag, and during the playoffs, no less. Fox Sports Detroit will enjoy higher TV ratings. A road trip from Toronto to Detroit is back in play, and vice versa.
The Red Wings’ mission out west is complete. They’ll be able to get through a hockey season without spending half of it waiting for their bodies to adjust to the time.
You miss games in L.A.? I guess you’ll have to wait until the Finals.
It was done with a wink—a victimless act perpetrated at a rather harmless time. The boys in blue were all over the place, but not one of them sounded the alarm.
The specter of competition took a back seat for the moment, as the Hall of Fame-bound slugger strode to the plate at Tiger Stadium. It was a Thursday afternoon—September 19, 1968—and the Tigers had wrapped up the league pennant a couple of days prior. They led this game over the New York Yankees, 6-1, in the eighth inning.
A quick bit of Internet research says a paltry gathering of 9,063 attended the contest. Given the score, the inning and the relative unimportance of the game, it’s likely just a few thousand remained when Denny McLain, already with his 30 wins for the season, grooved one in to Mickey Mantle.
McLain has come clean. The story isn’t apocryphal. As Stengel would say, “You can look it up.”
It’s a tale in Detroit sports lore that sounds like urban legend, like the one about AlexKarras throwing his helmet at Milt Plum in the Lions locker room after a tough loss.
The Karras tidbit is true, and so is this one about Denny and The Mick.
Yeah, McLain has said, I served up a fat ball to Mantle on that overcast September afternoon in 1968. Yeah, I hoped he would drive it out of the ballpark for a home run. It was his 535th career dinger, after all.
Mantle, a boyhood idol of McLain’s, came into the game—his last ever in Detroit—tied with Jimmie Foxx for third in all-time home runs, with 534. Only Babe Ruth and Willie Mays had clubbed more.
McLain wanted Mantle to break the tie, and shoot into third place all by his lonesome, on McLain’s watch.
So yeah, McLain grooved it, after Mantle told catcher Jim Price that a belt-high batting practice pitch would be lovely, in response to McLain’s query as to where Mantle would like the next pitch.
Mantle clubbed McLain’s offering into the green seats, which were barely dotted with paying customers.
McLain was among those applauding as Mantle rounded the bases on his gimpy, almost 37-year-old legs. The Mick nodded McLain’s way, a subtle act of respectful thanks.
The victimless crime had been perpetrated.
Twenty-six years and some change later, the gauntlet was again temporarily picked up, like a wayward penalty flag. But this instance was hardly victimless. Shameless, yes.
Here’s former Lions offensive tackle Lomas Brown, crowing on ESPN Radio last week, about a 1994 game quarterbacked by (then) newly-signed free agent Scott Mitchell:
“We were playing Green Bay in Milwaukee. We were getting beat, 24-3, at that time and (Mitchell) just stunk up the place. He’s throwing interceptions, just everything. So I looked at Kevin Glover, our All-Pro center and I said, “Glove, that is it.” I said, “I’m getting him out the game.” … So I got the gator arms on the guy at the last minute, he got around me, he hit Scott Mitchell, he did something to his finger … and he came out the game. Dave Kriegcame in the game. We ended up losing that game, 27-24. ”
Or, the Reader’s Digest version: “I purposely let my quarterback get waylaid, so he’d get hurt.”
No shame. No honor. No class.
Brown played for the Lions from 1985 to ’95. He was the team’s starting left tackle for every one of those seasons. Mitchell, a lefty thrower, didn’t need Brown to protect his blind side; that job was fulfilled by the right tackle.
Brown’s self-revelation of his blatant disregard for his own quarterback’s health should be a bigger story than it is. Maybe it was the timing, coming right before Christmas, today’s Lions out of the playoff picture.
Denny McLain’s fat pitch to Mickey Mantle, while done on purpose, caused no one any physical harm. It didn’t imperil the game; Mantle’s knock (in the eighth inning) made the score 6-2, which turned out to be final. The only thing McLain’s act hurt was one of the old green, wooden seats that Mantle’s home run ball nicked.
Lomas Brown’s recollection of his “gator arms,” a clever way of saying that he let his man beat him and have a free shot at the quarterback, is one of the darkest admissions I’ve ever read in sports.
Don’t snicker. Don’t chortle because the victim was Mitchell, who was hardly beloved in this town. I wasn’t a fan of Mitchell’s, either. The last image of him that I have is of Mitchell lying face down on the turf in Tampa during a playoff game in 1997, acting as if he’d been shot, when he was apparently injured during a quarterback sneak, of all things. You can question Mitchell’s toughness (and it was questioned a lot while he was the quarterback in Detroit from 1994 to ’98); that’s fine.
But Mitchell should no more have been the victim of Brown’s friendly fire than Bobby Layne. Brown wanted Dave Krieg in the game. So what if Krieg had stunk up the joint?
Pro football is a brutal game, and that’s not hyperbole. In fact, that’s a statement that should stand along with “water is wet” and “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.”
Pro football is locomotives crashing into each other every Sunday afternoon. It’s the perfect storm of size, speed and crossing paths. There’s a reason why the average length of an NFL career is less than three years. Too often, players walk onto the field as rookies and their careers are ended by being carted off it.
It’s a dangerous enough sport without being double-crossed by your teammates.
Mitchell was lucky that all he hurt that day was his finger. Damn lucky.
“Detroit was actually down, 24-0, in the second quarter and never trailed 24-3, as Brown said,” Crawford wrote, putting facts front and center. “Mitchell suffered a broken bone in his right hand when he was hit by Green Bay’s Sean Jones. At the time, the Lions were only down, 10-0, and Mitchell was 5-for-15 for 63 yards and two picks.”
Oh, and the Lions lost the game, 38-30—not 27-24 as Brown “recalled.”
Brown not only inexplicably confessed to his shameful act, he made it into a fish story. You know who does that? A braggart.
Mitchell, understandably, was appalled. “Reprehensible” was the word he used when he responded on Wednesday. He recalled of having Brown over to his house for dinner when they were teammates, with the other O-linemen.
It matters not that Brown, several days later, backed off and showed some remorse. The deed was done.
“You get frustrated during the course of the game,” Brown told ESPN2’s First Take a couple of days ago. “You do things that, a lot of the time, you think about later in life—you don’t think about right there, because it’s in the heat of the moment…
“The one thing I can say is I should have been more tactful at how I said that. That was wrong on my part. I should have humbly said that. It came off as boastful. I shouldn’t have said it that way.”
No, Lomas, you shouldn’t have done it that way.
Wax up the sleigh. Check it for flight. Shine St. Nick’s boots. Make sure Rudy’s nose is bright and squeaky clean.
Test the GPS. Gather the weather reports. Check the sack for rips. Tell Mrs. C not to wait up.
It’s gonna be another long night, but then it always is on December 24.
The jolly, old, fat man is set to make his annual trek. Chimneys the world over wait. Fireplaces are about to be pounced on.
Santa has something for everyone, or so they say. Keeping the faith, I’m going to accept that statement as fact. So, with that in mind, let’s see if he can find room in his big, red pack, upon his back—as Andy Williams sang—for these goodies.
For Calvin Johnson, a new NFL record, but more importantly, a football team worthy of his gargantuan talent.
For Matthew Stafford, highlight reels of Slinging Sammy Baugh and Fran Tarkenton, so the kid knows that you don’t have to have perfect “mechanics” to be a winner in this league.
For Jim Schwartz, a general manager who will draft him some defense.
For Rick Porcello, a team who wants him.
For Jhonny Peralta, a new nickname: The Kitchenette, because they say he has no range.
For Torii Hunter, nothing—because he already had his Christmas when he signed with the Tigers.
For traffic lights throughout Metro Detroit, Anibal Sanchez’s timing.
For Alex Avila, health and happiness—and for him, they’re one and the same.
For Miguel Cabrera, the abolition of sabermetrics.
For Tigers fans, also nothing—because they already have their new third base coach.
For Tommy Brookens, the new third base coach, the best of luck.
For the NHL, coal in its hockey boot.
For Mark Dantonio, a quarterback.
For Brady Hoke, a headset.
For Joe Dumars, a slashing, scoring small forward in the draft, because it sure isn’t on his current roster.
For Lawrence Frank, a book on the Pistons of the 1960s—oh, wait, he’s already writing the remake.
For Andre Drummond, the career of Shaquille O’Neal, because Ray Scott told me that Andre reminds him of a young Shaq.
For Greg Monroe, the career of Bob Lanier, because (see above).
For Pistons fans, a new RV, because you can all fit in one.
For George Blaha, some recognition (finally) as a damn good football play-by-play guy.
For Charlie Villanueva, no regrets.
For Tayshaun Prince, a nice twilight so his career will be properly book-ended.
For all of us working stiffs, the longevity of Jim Brandstatter.
For all of us husbands, Brandy’s marriage, too.
For Cecil Fielder, Prince Fielder’s smile at the next Thanksgiving table.
For Notre Dame football fans, you don’t get anything—your prayers were already answered.
For NHL fans, never Fehr.
For Alex Karras’ legacy, a diabolical plan to gain induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
For Miguel Cabrera, whatever he wants.
For Dominic Raiola, a seven-second delay.
For Ndamukong Suh, peace.
For Louis Delmas, two good knees.
For the two Vs, Vinnie Goodwill and Vince Ellis (Pistons beat writers), a thesaurus to help them describe what they are forced to watch nightly.
For Jerry Green, many more Super Bowls.
For Rob Parker, see Dominic Raiola.
For Mark Sanchez, the hell out of New York.
For Toronto Blue Jays fans, somebody to pinch them.
For Chicago Cubs and Lions fans, a support group.
For Billy Crystal, the only known celebrity Los Angeles Clippers fan, a winner.
For Billy Crystal’s movie career, the same, for it’s as overdue as are the Clippers.
For Magic Johnson, all the success with the Dodgers as he had on the basketball court.
For the San Francisco Giants, the antithesis for Magic.
For Linda McCoy-Murray, happiness with her new man. But he’ll never write like Jim.
For Jim Leyland, we folks off his back already.
For our daughter, anything she wants, because she tamed Oakland University as a freshman like she had ice water in her veins.
For my wife, see Charlie Villanueva.
For all of you who read me every week, a year’s supply of Zantac.
For eight years, every Saturday, I have pumped out 1,000+ words about pastimes—kids games played by grown-up millionaires. I have mused about the merits of the Lions’ latest draft, the Tigers’ latest free agent signing, the Pistons’ latest implosion, the Red Wings’ latest Stanley Cup.
Not this Saturday.
This Saturday, there won’t be any hand-wringing over the NHL’s (latest) lockout. There won’t be any fussing about another Lions season gone wrong. No analysis about whether the Tigers should have committed $80 million to a pitcher. No unsolicited solutions to all that ails the Pistons.
What does any of that matter, when 20 precious children woke up, went to school, and ended up being carried out of their classrooms in body bags?
For many, sports is a diversion—a way to unplug, for 2-3 hours, the cord that connects us to our troubled lives. We shove our money problems, our marriage troubles, and our job worries to the back burner, so we can yell and scream at the TV and bring our sports teams’ troubles to the fore. Sometimes the logic seems ill, actually.
But it’s not real life, in the strictest definition. The drama is played out on the field, or on the ice, or on the hardwood. At the end there is a winner and there is a loser but none of it really matters.
Even Reggie Jackson, who didn’t meet a spotlight he didn’t like, once tried to put sports in perspective.
“I was reminded that when we lose and I strike out, a billion people in China don’t care,” Reggie said.
Sports is a diversion, but even that is kind of disingenuous to say. The line between sports and real life is being blurred, almost daily. The off-the-court, off-the-field, off-the ice news is capturing a larger slice of the information pie. Sports isn’t, any longer, just about hitting a curve or sacking the quarterback. It’s not just about how to defend the pick-and-roll or getting the puck out of your own zone.
They used to do a lot of killing in sports, but it was all figurative.
Kill the umpire! Kill a penalty. Kill the clock.
Lately, as we’ve seen with recent incidents involving players of the Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys, they’re killing people for real.
But on this day we don’t look to sports to divert us. The games go on, but today we are glued to our TV sets, tied to the Internet, frantically searching for answers that may never come, to a one-word question.
That three-letter word starts so many of our queries.
Why did a 20-year-old young man kill his mother? Why did he then drive to the school where she reportedly worked, and gun down the principal and a school psychologist?
And, the biggest “Why?” of them all.
Why did this young man, reportedly identified as Adam Lanza, march into a classroom and start shooting grade schoolers?
Why did his mother have such powerful weapons registered in her name, to which Lanza had access? Why didn’t anyone see this coming?
After the why come the next big questions, and those all start with “How?”
How will the parents of the dead children cope? How will the parents of the surviving children ever hope to re-instill a sense of security in their kids? How will the town of Newtown, Connecticut, a small burg of about 27,000 people (not unlike the size of Madison Heights, where I live), manage to carry on after the slaughter that occurred in their town?
You want to keep sports in this discussion, in an allegorical way?
Well, here it is.
The country has hit its two-minute warning. But it needs to get the football back from the gun lobbies before it can mount a game-winning rally.
We’re out of timeouts, too.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in the wake of the news of the shootings that “today isn’t the day” to talk about gun control. Someone should remind Carney that we have no timeouts remaining.
If the day to talk about gun control isn’t the day in which 20 of our babies are shot dead, sitting at their desks in a kindergarten class, then we’ll never have that talk.
The nightmare in Connecticut has pushed us to the brink. Our backs are against the wall and all that sports rot. The gun violence keeps getting worse, backing us closer to that wall. It wasn’t bad enough after Columbine, apparently. Wasn’t bad enough after a Congresswoman was gunned down at a public appearance.
We edged closer to the wall after the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. And even closer, after the mall shooting in Oregon, just this week.
Now 20 little boys and girls are dead. If this doesn’t cause us to start kicking, clawing and scratching, trying to fight our way back from the edge of insanity, then the clock will run out and the game will be over.
For decades, the gun people have put all their chips on “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” It’s a rallying cry that lacks common sense and immediately puts blinders on those who utter it.
It’s catchy, I grant you that. It’s also true in the most literal sense. A Glock or an assault rifle won’t, of course, kill someone if no one takes hold of it, aims it, and pulls the trigger. You got me there.
But people with guns kill people. Why doesn’t the gun camp think that’s as catchy?
Get ready for the argument of, “If only someone at the school was armed, then a lot of lives might have been saved.”
The old OK Corral argument. The notion that, like in the movies, a hero will draw his weapon, and pick off the bad guy with one shot, with no possible chance of collateral damage or stray bullets striking and killing others.
You think that’s really how it would go down if everyone walked around with a pistol on their hip? Or is it more likely that more people might choose to go for their weapons to “solve” problems, in a horrific moment of indiscretion?
Is the way to put out a fire, to throw more fire at it?
We’re at the two-minute warning. We have no more timeouts remaining. We need the ball back. The situation is just that dire.
We can’t put off the rally any longer. Twenty babies are dead. If that’s not a game changer, then we’re doomed.
There was a time, believe it or not, when Bill Ford wasn’t a very patient man.
There was a time when coaches of his football team were held accountable for their records, for their incompetence. There was a time when he showed some urgency to win.
There was a time when he acted as if he was in his 80s.
It was when he was in his 40s.
Ford, the Lions owner, used to know a bad pony when he saw one.
And he saw one, big time, in the form of Harry Gilmer, the cowboy hat-wearing former quarterback from Alabama who Ford hired as Lions coach for the 1965 season.
The job became available because the coach for 1964, and for seven years before that, George Wilson, was the first to fall victim to Ford’s long ago impetuousness.
Not long after Ford bought out his partners to become Lions sole owner in 1964, he rolled up his sleeves and went after Wilson, ordering the coach to fire some of his assistants. Wilson told the owner to shove it and resigned.
Enter Gilmer, and after two lousy seasons, Ford had seen enough, rendering the dreaded ziggy.
Gilmer’s records in those two seasons were 6-7-1 and 4-9-1. You have records like that now, and you get a contract extension.
When last seen in Detroit, Gilmer and his cowboy hat were the targets of snowballs being heaved by the fans at Tiger Stadium after a loss to the Minnesota Vikings, his last home game as Lions coach.
After Gilmer came Joe Schmidt, who coached the Lions for six seasons before becoming mystified and frustrated, the loser in a power struggle with GM Russ Thomas.
Enter Don McCafferty, and in his only season as Lions coach (1973), he felt the wrath of Ford’s impatience. There were public grumblings from the owner after an embarrassing home loss to the putrid Baltimore Colts, in which Ford questioned the players’ will to win.
Ford was 48 years old when he levied that disgusted review of his football team.
That was a long time ago.
McCafferty died the following summer. Assistant Rick Forzano became the head coach. Ford, still showing a tendency to be impatient, fired Forzano after a little more than two full seasons.
Tommy Hudspeth was next. Ford gave Tommy a season-and-a-half before canning him and bringing in Monte Clark.
It was then that Ford, for whatever reason, seemed to lose his zeal to hold his coaches’ feet to the fire.
Clark stayed on for seven seasons, perhaps one year too long. Darryl Rogers—the hires were starting to become really inexplicable at this point—was brought in. Rogers was so bad that he openly asked reporters, “What does a guy have to do to get fired around here?”
Rogers stayed on too long. His defensive coordinator, Wayne Fontes, replaced Rogers in 1988. Fontes coached for eight full seasons, which was also too long.
Bobby Ross, brought in to replace Fontes, committed a self-ziggy in 2000, in his fourth season as Lions coach. Had he not canned himself, who knows how much more rope he would have been given.
Then there’s Matt Millen, perhaps the most hated man in Detroit sports. Ever.
Look what it took for Ford to fire Millen, after nearly eight years of slapstick.
The older Bill Ford has gotten, the more passive he’s become.
Now compare this to Mike Ilitch.
Ilitch is 83. You could make a case that he looks physically gaunt—frail, even. His appearance at the trophy ceremony when the Tigers captured the 2012 American League pennant caused some stage whispers about the owner’s health. At times, it looked as if Ilitch was being propped up, literally, by GM Dave Dombrowski on the mini-stage as the league trophy was being presented.
Yet as the autumn of his life is upon him, Mike Ilitch—owner of two teams, a pizza empire and other holdings—seems to be just getting started.
There’s urgency with his baseball team. It envelopes the organization.
“Win one for Mr. I” seems to be the mantra.
There’s always urgency with his hockey team. The Red Wings have been a Stanley Cup contender for about 20 years and don’t show any proclivity to being tired of that stature.
There’s urgency with Ilitch’s city, too. Just this week, grandiose plans were revealed for a new hockey arena for the Red Wings surrounded by an entertainment district, reportedly not far from Ilitch’s Fox Theatre.
Ilitch’s hockey brain trust of VP Jimmy Devellano, GM Kenny Holland, assistant GM JimNill and coach Mike Babcock have been together forever, but it’s a good forever. There’s been no real reason to change, so why do so?
Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland have been Tigers since 2001 and 2006, respectively, but there is a feeling of urgency. There’s a feeling of accountability. Their still being with the Tigers doesn’t smack of complacency, nor of passivity.
Win one for Mr. I—that’s the marching order, up and down the Tigers organization. And it’s not a phony, Knute Rockne kind of thing.
Ilitch, at 83, frail or not, burns with the desire to slay his white whale—a World Series championship. Just ask new Tiger Torii Hunter, signed last month.
Hunter couldn’t wait to sign on the dotted line after seeing that fire in Ilitch’s eyes.
The two octogenarian owners in town, Bill Ford and Mike Ilitch, each have white whales. One is bereft of a Super Bowl, the other a World Series.
Both are proud, loyal and considered to be very nice men who are respected within their respective circles.
But when compared, side by side, it just isn’t close when it comes to rendering a verdict as to which man has the stronger sense of urgency to win.
Does Bill Ford want to win a Super Bowl before he dies? Of course he does.
Mike Ilitch just seems to want to win a World Series more.
Life on the road in the NBA is supposed to be a battle of attrition, fraught with jet lag, living out of suitcases and sleeping in airports. It’s supposed to be filled with games in enemy arenas tilted with unfriendly whistles and acerbic leather lungs in the champagne seats.
There are supposed to be no gimmes on the road in the NBA. Even the dregs of the league can manage to play at least .500 ball in their own building.
That’s the way it is, pretty much, for visiting teams. Until they come to Detroit, er, Auburn Hills.
They’re papering the houses for Pistons games again. Just like they did when the team got dropped off on Detroit’s porch by owner Fred Zollner in 1957, when he moved his Pistons from Fort Wayne, IN.
First at Olympia Stadium, then at Cobo Arena, the Pistons would be lucky to fill a third of the building. Phony attendance figures would be announced over the PA. Even among the puny crowds, a good portion of them got in for free or at reduced rates, thanks to all the coupons floating around town.
When the Pistons grew up enough to build their own basketball Palace back in 1988, it was thought that the days of papering the houses were long gone.
But the franchise has returned to its old ways.
They’re not counting too good at the Palace, and it’s getting embarrassing.
The Palace can’t possibly afford the Pistons much in the way of a home court advantage these days. It’s too quiet, too polite an atmosphere. Once again the building is less than half full, like the old days of Pistons basketball, when the shorts had buckles and the socks were wool and sagging.
The attendance figures are again papering the house. The other night against thePhoenix Suns, the public address announced a crowd of 10,000-plus. Like the old joke goes, maybe there were 10,000 people—but 7,000 came disguised as empty seats.
I watched the game on television, and try as you might as a director in the production truck, you can’t hide empty seats—especially when they were in as long supply as they were that night. No offense to the ladies, but the crowd looked like that of a WNBAgame.
The Pistons would make a basket, make a defensive stop, do something else good—and there was plenty of good in the 117-77 romp—and the efforts would be greeted with polite applause. Golf claps, if you will.
Fans dotted the landscape at generous distances from each other, as if everyone had consumed garlic for dinner. It was a good night if you had to get up often to run to the bathroom or the refreshment stand, or merely stretch out.
Yet the Pistons had the gall and audacity to announce a crowd of over 10,000 on a night when the fans could hear the players talk—and vice versa. Maybe they counted everyone twice, to be safe.
This was Pistons basketball, some 45 to 50 years ago, when Cobo was visited by only the most curious, and sometimes for free. They announced phony crowds back then, too.
I never thought those days would return.
But maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised, because once again, Detroit is proving itself to be a front-running town when it comes to pro basketball.
Two of the loudest venues I’ve ever experienced, however, have involved Pistons games.
They were 20 years apart.
The first was in April 1984, at Joe Louis Arena. First round of the playoffs—the Pistons first appearance in the postseason in seven years. The fifth and deciding game—the night Isiah Thomas went crazy against the New York Knicks, scoring 16 points in the final 90 seconds of regulation in a game in which the Pistons lost in overtime.
JLA was as loud that night as I’ve heard it for Red Wings playoff games—and I’m including Stanley Cup Finals tilts.
The crowd was spellbound by the drama being played out on the court, in a game that would decide the series—Bernard King of the Knicks seemingly going 1-on-1 with Isiah Thomas, the other eight players on the court merely place setters, bit players on stage.
The other occasion of loudness took place two decades later—Game 3 of the 2004 NBA Finals, at the Palace. The Pistons were manhandling the mighty Los Angeles Lakers, on their way to a third league championship.
The Palace reverberated. If you wanted to think, you couldn’t hear yourself doing so. Ididn’t know that building could be so loud—and I’d attended rock concerts there as well.
But those were shrieking crowds pulling for playoff contenders. Not papered houses, and the term “fair-weather fans” comes to mind.
Detroit, from the moment the Pistons showed up, kicking and screaming on the city’s doorstep, has never truly been a basketball town. It never will be. Detroit, when it comes to its pro basketball, is a front-runner’s town. The fans have been fair weather since 1957.
That’s the last time the Lions won a championship. It’s been 55 years, and in that time, the Lions have won a grand total of one playoff game. One.
There have been winless seasons, and seasons nearly so. There have been poor coaching hires, bad drafting and the handing over of the team’s reins to a color analyst.
Yet the Lions need only to open the doors at Ford Field and the place will be packed on Sundays. And on Thanksgiving Day. The folks here can’t get enough of its football, the same way a masochist can’t get enough lashes with a whip.
The Red Wings have a fan base deeply rooted and passed down by generations. It’s a core group that has never abandoned its team, even in the darkest days—and from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, those days were dark indeed, and they couldn’t all be blamed on Ned Harkness, whose name formed an unfortunate rhyme.
Mention the Tigers and folks’ hearts naturally warm. The mention will invoke memories of first visits to Tiger (or Briggs) Stadium; of family and Boy Scouts outings; first dates; the thrill of seeing Kaline, Cash, Colavito, Lolich, Freehan, McLain, Gibson, Parrish, Whitaker, Trammell et al doing their thing in their creamy white uniforms with the Old English D branded over their hearts.
No fair-weather baseball fans here. No sir.
The Pistons, today, are losers. They are trying desperately to remake themselves on the fly, so as not to be tagged with that dreaded “rebuilding” label. Rebuilding smacks of years and years of suffering. But the fans won’t be fooled. They know how far away the years of playoff contention and shrieking for winners are, and those days aren’t exactly right around the corner.
So the Palace is half empty, at least, on most nights, while the 10 players do their thing on the court. Detroit can open its wallets and its hearts to losers in the other sports, but not with the Pistons.
Some say the detachment is due to geography. The Pistons should move back downtown, they say. I think you could plop a Pistons game across the street from some of the so-called fans here, but if the team is losing, they won’t bother to make the walk.
The Pistons have been Detroit’s redheaded stepchild and always will be.
Vince Lombardi is dead. Mike Ditka has faded away.
Bill Belichick is all the rage. Mike McCarthy lives on.
The Lions, the team that can’t shoot straight and hasn’t since 1957, is once againzigging when the league’s winners are zagging.
They are a team wound tight, and it all starts with their coach.
Lombardi and Ditka, two larger-than-life coaches, were godfathers of their time. There was no coach in the NFL that could evade the shadow cast by Lombardi in the 1960s, a decade he and his Green Bay Packers owned.
“What the HELL is going on out there?” Lombardi bellows even today from the sidelines, his immortal self still pumped through our televisions thanks to NFL Films. “You’re supposed to be a helluva defensive team! Didn’t look like it to me! Eighty yards down the field, just like that!”
“Nobody’s tackling out there! Everybody’s grabbing. NOBODY tackling. Grab, grab, grab!”
It’s forever iconic—Lombardi on the sidelines, in his winter coat and hat, gap-toothed and angry as his defense jogs off after surrendering a long scoring drive. Wanna bet that the Packers won the game anyway?
Ditka, aka Iron Mike, is also forever captured on celluloid and stamped on our consciousness. Chomping on his gum, Ditka gets in the faces of Richard Dent, SteveMcMichael, Jim McMahon and at whoever else Iron Mike wants to rattle his saber.
Like Lombardi in the ‘60s, Ditka was the coach with the big shadow in the 1980s. His Bearsonly won one Super Bowl in the decade, but his teams were always contenders and his 1985 squad might be among the Top 5 teams in NFL history.
Lombardi and Ditka were coaches wound tight at a time when that worked. They were rah-rah and fiery and the Knute Rocknes of their time, when Knute Rockne was still relevant even in death.
That was then.
Having a head coach that is a loose cannon isn’t what works in today’s NFL.
Belichick, the New England Patriots coach since 2000, would come in last in a Mister Congeniality Contest. He has the personality of mold. You’ll find better quotes from a frog.
McCarthy, today’s Packers coach, is the anti-Lombardi. McCarthy doesn’t toss his rolled up play sheet to the ground. He doesn’t bark. He hasn’t uttered any iconic quotes and never will. Whereas Lombardi looked like a football coach, McCarthy could be your next door neighbor who borrows your lawn mower. Probably even the one who loans you his.
Boring works in today’s NFL. Staid is the way. A general calm, from top to bottom, is what today’s winning franchises exude.
Today’s winners don’t bitch about not getting respect, especially when none is deserved.
The Lions are a team wound tight, in a freefall from their brief stay at respectability. If you want to finger point, you can skip the 53 guys in uniform and zero in on their coach, Jim Schwartz.
This is a guy who can’t even get through a post-game handshake without a hockey game breaking out.
I’ve been a supporter of Schwartz’s, and with good reason. He took a team from the abyss of 0-16 and gradually and steadily improved them, going from two wins in his first season to six in his second to 10 (and a playoff berth) in his third.
But going 2-14 and 6-10 and 10-6 (plus a first round playoff knockout) is one thing. Being consistently good and being spoken of in annual Super Bowl contender discussions is quite another.
Teams like the Patriots, Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens et al, teams who always seem to have 10+ wins every year and show up annually to the NFL playoff party, are franchises rooted in calm and which have cool heads from top to bottom.
They don’t act impetuously. Their players don’t whine to the media, or run afoul of the law or the league’s rules. Their coaches don’t act like raving lunatics.
If the Lions are going to be more than occasional (read: flukey) playoff participants, they have to calm the heck down.
They have to stop stewing about lack of respect, as center Dominic Raiola did before last Sunday’s game against the Packers. The (then) 4-5 Lions, Raiola felt, weren’t getting any love from national media websites who were dismissing his team’s playoff chances. He dared to compare the Lions to the also 4-5 New Orleans Saints.
“But then the Saints are 4-5 and they’re right in the hunt,” Raiola told the Detroit Free Press. “How the (bleep) does that work out? I don’t know. Whatever. We’re 4-5, too. So they’re basically writing us off.”
The Saints won the Super Bowl three years ago. They have been winners for several years running. The Lions have one playoff win in 55 years. And still Raiola wonders why the Saints’ 4-5 isn’t treated the same as the Lions’ 4-5.
When was the last time you heard a player from the Patriots, Packers, Steelers, Ravenset al complain about a lack of respect?
Raiola was at it again earlier this week, after the Lions imploded against the Packers and before the 9-1 Houston Texans came to town for the annual Thanksgiving Day game. He was speaking about Houston defensive lineman J.J. Watt, who is having a remarkable season.
“Bring it,” Raiola dared Watt through the media.
So Watt brung it, to the tune of three sacks, several quarterback hurries, five tackles and a couple of batted down passes. And the Lions lost.
The Lions, against the Texans, let another game slip away largely because of a gaffe committed by their head coach that was borderline incompetent.
Schwartz tried to challenge a touchdown scored by Houston running back Justin Forsett, an 81-yard gallop that should have been nullified by virtue of the fact that Forsett was clearly down according to TV cameras, yet the officials’ whistles didn’t blow. A booth review, automatic on all scoring plays, surely would have called the touchdown back.
But Schwartz, acting as impulsively and with the same lack of discipline and brains that his team frequently shows, whipped out his red challenge flag and slammed it into the Ford Field turf, a move as illegal as going through a red light, according to the NFL rule book, which states that attempts to challenge a touchdown play are as against the rules as they are unnecessary.
Now, you can say that the rule is silly. You can say that it would be nice if the referee, Walt Coleman, would have sidled up to Schwartz and said, “Jim, put the flag away. The guys in the booth will take a look at it.”
But Schwartz should know the rules. Of all the boneheaded moves the Lions (and their coaches) have made over the years, Schwartz’s blunder might be at the top of the list. It’s right up there with Marty Mornhinweg taking the wind and Bobby Ross going for two.
“I was just so mad, I had the flag out before (Forsett) got to the end zone,” Schwartz told the media after the game.
The Lions are undisciplined, mouthy and in a freefall.
Just like their coach.
In the mostly inglorious history of Thanksgiving football in Detroit, the Lions have dragged themselves onto the field with a variety of emotions.
They’ve been prohibitive underdogs, the Turkey Day game their only appearance on national TV, where they’ve been the Washington Generals to their opponent’s Harlem Globetrotters.
They’ve come in as hopeful spoilers, trying to be the scrappy group of rejects that ruins their more formidable opponent’s playoff run.
They’ve run onto the field with false bravado, perhaps even with a winning record, determined to show the nation why they deserve respect.
They’ve laid eggs, played the game of their lives and suffered stinging and sometimes cruel defeats.
They may as well play these games on February 2, because there’s a Groundhog Day aspect to Thanksgiving Day football in Detroit.
Every fourth Thursday of November, Lions fans wake up, wash and stuff their bird, jam it into the oven, flick on the parade on the tube (or traipse downtown to see it in person), and can’t wait until 12:30 p.m. to arrive. As if last year didn’t happen.
This is because a myth has been propagated for decades: that the Lions always turn in a fine performance on Thanksgiving Day.
The facts don’t bear that out, and recent results are finally starting to hack away at that Redwood of a myth.
The Lions, in the past 11 years, have won one Thanksgiving Day game, and that came way back in 2003.
Just call them the Myth-Busters.
But of all the emotions the Lions have carried with them onto the gridiron on Thanksgiving, only once have they strapped on their helmets with sheer, unadulterated rage.
It happened 50 years ago to the day of this year’s holiday game.
November 22, 1962.
The Lions played the Green Bay Packers that day, and never before or since did they take the field with such a chip on their shoulder, regardless of the date, regardless of the situation.
The Lions’ crankiness could be traced to their first meeting with the Pack in ‘62, about a month or so prior, in Green Bay.
In the rain, on a muddy field, the Lions let one slip away—literally.
Nursing a 7-6 lead and with the football near midfield in the closing minutes, the Lions had the undefeated Packers on the ropes. Perhaps one more first down, just one more, would salt the game away in the gloom of Green Bay. The date was October 7.
Then the Lions made their slip-up.
The Lions defense mauled the Packers that day, limiting the defending NFL champs to two measly field goals all afternoon. And that defense was on the sideline, watching its offensive counterparts about to commit football harakiri.
Football 101 says that in the situation the Lions found themselves in—a lead late in the game, with the football—the course of action is to keep the ball as grounded as a wayward teenager.
In that moment, only a loon would call a play requiring quarterback Milt Plum to fade back and dare a forward pass. Only a stark, raving madman would suggest anything other than a nice, safe running play—especially in the unsure footing that day.
As the Lions defense looked on helplessly and in horror, Plum shot a pass toward the sideline, where intended receiver Terry Barr slipped in the mud. Plum’s throw was easily picked off by cornerback Herb Adderley, who galloped downfield, deep into Lions territory.
Moments later, Paul Hornung booted a field goal in the waning seconds and the Packers shocked the Lions, 9-7.
The Lions trudged off the field, losers of a game they had in their hip pockets, that is until someone—it wasn’t initially known who it was—foolishly called for a pass. Even if the Lions hadn’t made that first down on the ground, they could have punted and pinned the Packers deep, with not much time remaining.
That loss divided the team, maybe for years—certainly for the rest of that season. In the locker room afterward, it was demanded of Plum which birdbrain called for that pass. Plum didn’t give the inquisitor—it may have been Alex Karras or Joe Schmidt—a satisfactory answer.
Karras’ helmet flew past Plum’s head and smacked against the wall, hurled by its enraged owner.
Defense vs. offense.
The Lions played on after the game in Green Bay, dropping a tough one to the New York Giants a couple of weeks later. The Packers kept winning, and they were still unbeaten when they squared off against the Lions on Thanksgiving.
Green Bay was 10-0; the Lions were 8-2, though both teams knew that the records should have been an identical 9-1 for each side.
Raging with anger, the Lions defense tossed the Packers offensive line around like rag dolls in their relentless pursuit of quarterback Bart Starr. Karras, Schmidt and the rest of the defense played the game of their lives that Thanksgiving, sacking Starr 11 times (the stat was unofficial back then) in front of a national TV audience.
The Lions roared to a 26-0 lead and won, 26-14. The champion Packers didn’t have a prayer.
In the end, though, it didn’t matter. The Packers finished the season 13-1; the Lions, 11-3. No Wild Cards back then. The Lions finished in second place; the Packers returned to the championship game and beat the Giants for the second year in a row.
Had the Lions not let that game in Green Bay slip away, both teams would have finished 12-2 and met in a divisional playoff contest.
And never in the past 50 years have the Lions played any Thanksgiving Day game with the fury they displayed against the Packers on November 22, 1962.
Disrespected? Yes. Dismissed? Yes. Hopeful? Yes. Enraged? Not for a half-century.
But they sure have caused such rage, haven’t they?
The Detroit Lions scored four rushing touchdowns last Sunday in Jacksonville. They have 10 rushingTDs thus far, a pace that would give them 20 for the season, which would eclipse 2011’s mark by 11.
The game in Jacksonville was an anomaly of immense proportions. The 10 rushing TDs so far in 2012 are cute and all, nothing more.
Get it out of your head if you think the Lions have established a running game that will make them a quote-unquote balanced team.
The Lions will only go as far as the golden arm of Matthew Stafford will take them. Period.
Trouble is, that arm has been flinging the football high and wide, and low and outside. If Stafford was a pitcher, he’d be a young Sandy Koufax, who was described by a scout thusly: “He’d be a great pitcher, if the plate was high and outside.”
Stafford has his yards. He’s piling them up like a squirrel does with the nuts for the winter. He’s averaging about 300 passing yards per game. But unlike a squirrel’s stash, Stafford’s yards haven’t all been beneficial to the Lions’ cause.
Some of the yards are paper yards—phony stats that make the day’s work look much better than it really was. The telltale stat is touchdown passes, and that’s where Matthew Stafford, 2012, is in default.
Stafford, through eight games, has eight scoring passes. That’s one per game. That’s 16 for the season. That’s lousy.
In 2011, Stafford lasered 41 passes into the end zone, into the willing hands of Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew et al. It was, by far, a franchise record. Stafford, healthy for a full year for the first time in his young NFL career, led the Lions into the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.
Stafford also threw for over 5,000 yards in 2011, which was another first for a Lions quarterback. But as nice as the yards were, it was all those touchdown passes that impressed. Let’s face it: No NFL team drafts a hotshot QB because he does a great job handing the ball off.
Stafford’s golden arm, in 2011, bailed the Lions out of one mess after another. Time and again, his team would fall behind early, the hole getting deeper the longer the game went on. A 17-point deficit inMinnesota. More than that in Dallas.
Then Stafford, the kid who went to the same high school as that escape artist of the 1950s, Bobby Layne, would go to work, slinging the football all over the field in a frenetic game of catch-up. More often than not, the recipe worked: start slow, end fast.
Stafford was Dudley Do-Right, his team the girl tied to the railroad tracks.
The comebacks of 2011 weren’t dumb luck. Stafford, even after sluggish beginnings, would carve up the opposition in the second half, a surgeon with a scalpel. His throws were dead-eye accurate, the proverbial needle threaded with lethal precision.
The second half of Lions games last year went like this. Cue the theme from The Lone Ranger. Start biting the nails. Keep one eye on the clock, the other one closed.
Stafford marched the Lions down the field to victory last season with his golden arm, damning the torpedoes and delivering the football into the sure hands of his receivers, always just out of the reach of the defenders. The Lions had no running game to speak of last year, but it didn’t matter.
It didn’t matter if every fan in the stadium, the announcers in the booth, the millions watching on TV, the cheerleaders or the chain gang knew that the Lions would send Stafford back to pass on virtually every down. It didn’t even matter if the 11 guys lining up across from him knew that he was going to throw. Stafford came out on top anyway, for the most part.
It hasn’t been quite the same in 2012, not that we should have expected it to be.
The NFL can be a fascinating league. Its seasons are like a series of books written by the same author, but not as an anthology. If you were to chart most teams’ progression over a period of five years or so, it would look like an EKG reading.
Rare is consistent excellence. Only a choice few teams can be counted on to reach the playoffs every year.
Trends don’t last more than a year at a time, either. Your team might be a great inducer of turnovers by their opponents one year, not so good the next. And so on.
Last year the Lions mastered the art of the comeback. This year, they have won three of their four victories by scoring in the final 30 seconds, and they have indeed been coming from behind, but it’s an awfully dangerous way to live, especially with Stafford not being quite the same passer as he was in 2011.
The comeback, trademarked so famously by Bobby Layne in the 1950s, was never designed to be a way of life. It was only supposed to be called upon on occasion, not every damn week.
The Lions fall behind too much, the exception being last Sunday in Jacksonville, a rare frolic for them. Stafford didn’t have to sling his gun. The Lions scored four touchdowns with him handing the ball off. That was the anomaly.
The concern, and it’s a valid one, is that Matthew Stafford this season has been too erratic. His once accurate arm has betrayed him too often, and not just with difficult throws. Basic tosses are going astray. High, just out of the reach of wanton fingertips. Wide, too far for even the longest of arms to grab. Low, skipping off the turf into the receiver’s belly.
Too many errant throws.
It doesn’t matter how much the Lions run the football. They are, not yet, a team that is going to ram the ball down anyone’s throats with any consistency. The Jacksonville Jaguars, it should be noted, are not exactly a league powerhouse.
The Lions will only go as far as Matthew Stafford’s golden arm will take them. That arm, so far this season, has been puzzling in its too-often inaccuracy.
It’s one reason, maybe the biggest, why the Lions muddle along at the halfway point of the season with a mediocre 4-4 record.
They each took their turns, none lasting more than three years, sometimes less than a full season. Each had, in his own mind, a fantasy that he could be the man who would bring relevance back to baseball in Detroit.
George “Sparky” Anderson left the Tigers after the 1995 season, the organization a shambles and the talent as thin as onion skin. Sparky wasn’t getting any help from the scouting guys as he steered the Tigers through the first half of the 1990s before retiring. The decision makers kept rolling the dice on draft day and those dice kept coming up snake eyes. By ’95, the Tigers’ farm system was bereft of Grade A, big league talent.
So it was for the 10 years after Sparky left that the Tigers shuffled managers in and out of town. There was a revolving door at Metro Airport for the baseball skippers.
Sparky managed in Detroit for almost 17 full seasons. He was Detroit baseball every bit as those named Whitaker, Trammell, Gibson, Morris and Parrish.
But after 1995, Sparky was gone and the brass upstairs had a devil of a time finding a suitable replacement. It wasn’t ever an easy task leading the big league impostors that management let wear Tigers uniforms in those days, but ultimately you’re judged on wins and losses, and Tigers managers post-Sparky had a lot more losses.
Finding a replacement for Sparky as manager was Randy Smith’s first task after being named general manager in December 1995. At his introductory presser, I asked Smith cold: did the next Tigers manager need to have big league experience?
Smith, tanned and looking very much the California from where he came, pursed his lips and paused.
“No,” he said, drawing the word out. “Iwouldn’t necessarily say that’s a prerequisite.”
It wasn’t. Smith hired Buddy Bell, a decent ballplayer in his day, but with zero, zilch, nadabig league managing experience.
Bell’s first season as Tigers manager was a disaster. Bedeviled by the shockingly bad pitchers he was provided, Bell led the Tigers to a 53-109 record in 1996. The team ERA was 6.38. It’s amazing the Tigers won even 53 games.
Bell lasted until the end of August, 1998. One of those hurried press conferences was called, where it was revealed that Bell had been given the ziggy—that Detroit word for coaches being fired—and that one of his coaches, Larry Parrish, was being elevated to manager.
Parrish was another decent big league ballplayer who had zero, zilch, nada managing experience at the major league level. But Parrish would be manager, saddled with that caveat title of “interim,” sports speak for “until we find someone better.”
The Tigers didn’t find anyone better, apparently, because Parrish was asked to come back and manage for 1999.
After an underwhelming year, the Tigers decided they needed to find someone better after all, and dumped Parrish to bring in former Milwaukee skipper Phil Garner.
Garner’s nickname from his playing days with the Oakland A’s and Pittsburgh Pirateswas “Scrap Iron,” for his gritty play and tendency to play with his uniform dirty all the time.
Garner had done an OK job in Milwaukee, but he was hardly a blue chip prospect when he arrived in Detroit in 2000, the first year of Comerica Park.
Garner lasted two seasons and the first week of a third, when the new team president decided to sack his GM and manager on the same day.
The president, Dave Dombrowski, hired just five months earlier, gave both GM Smith and manager Garner the ziggy at the same time, booting them both out the door with the Tigers drowning in mediocrity.
Dombrowski named bench coach Luis Pujols the new (interim) manager. The Tigers were going backwards, it seemed. Pujols not only had no previous big league managing experience, he hadn’t even been a decent player.
Pujols finished an excruciating 55-106 season before Dombrowski had seen enough and turned a legendary player into a sacrificial lamb.
Dombrowski canned Pujols and turned the keys of his Edsel over to Alan Trammell, who had the requisite NONE next to the line that said Previous Big League Managing Experience.
But at least Trammell had been a good player.
Alan Trammell had no chance of winning with the sorry excuse for a roster that he had been provided. His hiring, and subsequent naming of Kirk Gibson as bench coach, was a public relations stunt, and no more—designed to attempt to distract the fans from the disgraceful baseball being played.
Trammell lasted three seasons, the first of which was 2003’s 43-119 debacle.
When I asked Randy Smith back in 1995 if previous big league managing experience was crucial to becoming Tigers skipper, I had no idea that the answer would be no for the next decade.
After Sparky hung up his spikes and put away his pipe in 1995, the Tigers went from Buddy Bell to Larry Parrish to Phil Garner to Luis Pujols to Alan Trammell. The Not-So-Fab Five.
Prior to Jim Leyland’s arrival seven years ago, Tigers baseball was wandering aimlessly, devoid of a personality, without relevance. They had fallen behind even the Pistons in terms of buzz.
Leyland, hired by Dombrowski in October 2005, definitely had big league managing experience, though his last taste of it was in 1999, when he did an admittedly poor job in his one year in Colorado.
Six years off rejuvenated him, and Leyland’s relationship with Dombrowski (they won a World Series together in Florida in 1997) didn’t hurt, either. So Leyland took the job, a job which had been a graveyard for managers since 1995.
In the Jim Leyland Era, the Tigers have won two division titles, appeared in three postseasons, and won two league pennants. Yet his approval rating seems to bob around the 50 percent mark; you either love him or you hate him.
That’s the price of relevance. The only worse thing than being talked about is not being talked about, a noted wordsmith once said. If you took the fans’ venom for the Not-So-Fab Five and combined it, it still wouldn’t equal that which is heaped on Leyland on a daily basis.
The price of relevance.
Whether you like him or not, Leyland will be back, managing the Tigers in 2013. It will be his eighth year at the helm in Detroit. Only Sparky Anderson and Hughie Jennings have managed the Tigers longer than that in franchise history.
Leyland hasn’t delivered a World Series championship yet, but people are talking about the Tigers like never before. Certainly more than they talked about them in the decade prior to his hiring.
The Tigers are relevant, and have been since 2006. So do with that what you will.