Archive for January, 2010
Only a team who plays in New Jersey could be jealous of Philadelphia.
The “New Joisy” Nets are still in the NBA, but they’re in it like John Edwards is in politics.
The NBA record for futility in a single season is nine wins and 73 losses, set by the Philadelphia 76ers of 1972-73. It’s a record that’s been moderately threatened, at times, in the 36 years since.
Now it’s being circled, surrounded, and threatened more than Jodie Foster in Panic Room.
The Nets, after losing to the Washington Wizards Friday night, stand at 4-41. They won on December 4, December 8, December 30, and January 27. They’re the only team that can recall every one of their victories this season like you could recall what you had for dinner last night.
And it’s not like anyone could really see this coming. The Nets won 34 games last season, 34 the season before that, 41 before that, and 49 the year before that.
The Nets sprang out of the gate like Uncle Wiggily this season, dropping their first 18 games. The season began before Halloween, and the Nets didn’t win their first game until more than a week after Thanksgiving.
You want long losing streaks? The Nets will stop you on the street, open their coat, and show you losing streaks dangling from inside.
The Nets have compiled losing streaks of 18, 11, and 10. They were “hot” for three games in December, when they went 2-1 after their 0-18 start.
Okay, so no one saw 4-41 coming, but these are the New Joisy Nets, and that hasn’t meant all that much.
The Nets were the team that off-loaded Julius Erving in 1976—that would be Dr. J himself—because they didn’t want to pay him. The beneficiaries of this heinous act? The Philadelphia 76ers. Go figure.
The Nets used to play in New York until they got booted out. Then they played a couple of seasons at Rutgers University while an arena was built for them.
The Nets are a product of the old American Basketball Association, and were one of the four refugees from that league when it folded and its remnants were absorbed by the NBA in 1976. They were, by far, the worst of the quartet.
The Denver Nuggets won 50 games in that first NBA/ABA merged season of ’76-’77. The San Antonio Spurs won 44. The Indiana Pacers won 36.
The New Jersey Nets won 22.
The Nets didn’t have their first winning season in the NBA until their sixth try. They started making the playoffs annually, but they were cameos, walk-ons. Actually, they were more like walk-OFFS—as in the Nets were consistently shown the playoff door after the first round.
As if you needed any proof that basketball coach Larry Brown is a vagabond, Brown even coached the Nets, from 1981-83. That’s a guy who likes coaching too much and who clearly doesn’t care where he does it.
Yet these lovable Nets entered into a Satanic pact and made it to two straight NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003. No, they didn’t come close to winning them, and were cannon fodder for the Los Angeles Lakers and the Spurs, respectively.
Then Jason Kidd left town and the team has yet to recover.
But aside from those two speaking appearances, the Nets have mainly been extras in the NBA—bit players. This season they’re taking on a new role.
This season the Nets are playing the part of the Washington Generals, that laughable opponent of the Harlem Globetrotters for most of the latter’s exhibitions. All that’s been missing from a Nets game this season has been the bucket of confetti and Meadowlark Lemon’s half-court hook shot.
On Friday night, the Generals/Nets actually had a shot at winning—or at least tying. They lost to the Wizards, 81-79. The Wizards are a bad team too—no Globetrotters—but there’s bad and there’s the Nets. There’s ugly and there’s Keith Richards—know what I mean?
Washington’s Earl Boykins, a veritable Lilliputian—he stands all of 5’5”—dropped home a 16-foot game-winning jump shot as time drained from the clock. There was 0.4 seconds remaining when Boykins struck. The Nets had been beaten with a fraction of a second left, by a fraction of a player.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” said Nets guard Courtney Lee afterward. “We’re starting to compete. We’re starting to fight. But there are things down the stretch we need to work on.”
Yeah, like keeping from being beaten by guys who are smaller than Shaquille O’Neal’s breakfast. But once again, the Nets can only blame themselves. Boykins was an unemployed rookie free agent when the Nets signed him in January 1999, starting tiny Earl on his now 12-year NBA career.
The Nets are coached by Kiki Vandeweghe, who once played for the team when it was actually semi-respectable. Vandeweghe played college ball at UCLA, where they would sometimes win four games in a week, instead of the 93 days it’s taken the Nets to rack up their four victories.
So the ’73 Philadelphia 76ers are now on the Nets’ radar. The Nets have to go 6-31 the rest of the way to avoid the ignominy of breaking the granddaddy of NBA records for failure. And that’s no slam dunk; 6-31 is a winning percentage of .162. The Nets are now piddling along at .089. That’s not a winning percentage—that’s a Mel Gibson blood-alcohol level.
So the next time you fret over the Pistons and their 15-30 record, remember that it’s still 11 full games better than the Nets. And if you’ve never attended a Pistons game when they’ve won, circle February 6 on your calendar—next Saturday.
That’s when the Nets come to town—also known as “Guaranteed Win” Night.
(Note: every Friday I’ll post a favorite rant from the archives)
from June 18, 2009
Tower of Power
In a long history of silly tiffs between the city of Detroit and those beyond its borders, it was one of the silliest.
But considering who was occupying the mayor’s seat in the city, it was no wonder that something seemingly so innocuous could turn into the proverbial mountain from mole hill.
The water tower above the Detroit Zoo became a big old bone of contention, circa mid-1980s, in the thick of Coleman Young’s tenure as Hizzoner.
It was all much ado about nothing, Bob Berg told me years later. With a chuckle, to boot.
Berg was Mayor Young’s spokesperson, both during and after Coleman’s years in office.
Berg and I got to know each other while I was Programming Director for Barden Cablevision in Detroit. We became friends of sorts. When my father passed away in February 1996, Bob was one of the first to send condolences.
One day, chit-chatting on the phone, I mentioned the water tower flap. Berg, by that time, had started his own public relations company.
First, the chuckle.
Then, “That was a bunch of nothing!” Berg told me, still laughing. “Oh, my goodness. The water tower…”
His voice trailed off.
The Detroit Zoo, geographically located in Royal Oak, is nonetheless part of the Detroit Zoological Society, which included the zoo on Belle Isle–which is squarely located in Detroit proper, obviously.
On the Royal Oak tower was Mayor Young’s name–as, you know, mayor of the city whose zoological society’s umbrella included the Zoo on Woodward and I-696.
Oh, the uproar!
How DARE Mayor Young splash his name on the tower, which is oh-so-visible to folks traveling east and west on 696!
It’s in Royal Oak, after all!
The Detroit Zoo water tower, when Kwame Kilpatrick was still Detroit’s mayor
If you’re too young to remember or simply have forgotten, this was big doings for quite some time. Yet another “us vs. them” thing to deal with when it came to the city and its suburbs.
Mayor Young, of course, tended to bring that mentality out, even from normally sane folks.
Young’s name–which was a large, horizontal decal on the tower’s face–perturbed people to no end. Non-Detroit residents, that is.
Berg dismissed it when I brought it up.
“The Zoo was part of the society, which was funded and staffed, at the time, by the city,” Berg said. “No matter who was mayor, his name would be on that tower.”
Ah, but no mayor had put his name on the tower prior to Young.
“It was just something we did, to make the tower look nicer,” Berg said.
Berg reminded me that the mayor is the one who hires and fires the zoo director.
Berg got a chuckle out of me bringing up the tower controversy, but he also admitted that it wasn’t very funny at the time. It took up a lot of his time, being the mayor’s press secretary and all.
“Funny, but nobody complains now,” Berg said at the time (circa 1995-96), noting that Mayor Dennis Archer’s name was painted on the tower with little to no fanfare.
Bob’s former boss, I reminded him, wasn’t exactly a kumbaya kind of guy, bringing city residents and the suburbs together in harmony.
To that, he begrudgingly agreed. With disclaimers, of course.
Still defending ole Coleman.
But I still like Bob. Saw him at a media function prior to the Super Bowl in Detroit in 2006. We shared a drink and laughed a bit.
He couldn’t pick his boss, I figured.
So Barack Obama’s been in office for one year and he’s already promising us that he won’t quit.
Not sure if that’s a good thing or not—that he has to remind us of that, I mean.
Obama’s State of the Union Address Wednesday night ended with an almost Richard Nixon-like line—but of course delivered with a lot more pizazz and confidence.
“I don’t quit!”
Neither did Tricky Dick, until the goods were too much on him to overcome.
I’m not comparing Obama to Nixon—well, not really. But it just goes to show you the different reactions that can be drummed up by different speakers delivering pretty much the same message.
Obama was at his best Wednesday night—pointedly glaring at the Republicans as he used his bully pulpit to call them out and place them into a tidy box. He also winked at them and joked, so that no one could accuse him of being a sourpuss or petulant.
He even derided the Supreme Court, who was sitting perhaps 30 feet in front of him. I don’t recall any president doing THAT during a SOTU address.
MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews, I think, summed up the president’s speech best.
“This one was to ‘get the audience back’ as they say.”
Obama, essentially, was boldly and proudly putting himself up against his detractors and the other party, side by side, and asking the American people to pick a side. At least, that’s what I got out of it.
“The ‘Just Say No’ party was sitting on its hands and smirking,” Matthews went on. “That, unfortunately, might be good politics…We’ll see.”
Jobs was a hot button topic, and was placed toward the front of the speech. After reciting some “feel good” stories, vis a vis letters he’s received, Obama acknowledged that for every success story, there are many others that are far less so. People still not working, still not sure WHEN they’ll be working again.
But the underlying theme seemed to be Washington and its partisanship.
“Everyday is Election Day,” he said.
Then he challenged both parties to, in essence, get stuff done.
I liked this line: “We not only have a budget deficit, we have a trust deficit.”
He’s right; I don’t have statistics to back this up, but I would submit that trust and faith in the federal government is at or near an all-time low.
Obama’s numbers have been sinking, which isn’t terribly surprising, considering where he started out a year ago. But it has been 12 months, and the bleeding needs to be clotted, so the SOTU address was designed to do just that. It’s not often that you can have 75 minutes of national TV time, unabated.
You give Obama that kind of face time and a TelePrompTer and if you’re on the other side, you’re going to take some hits. No question.
But I recall something an old football coach once said.
Bum Phillips, who coached the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints in the NFL, was talking about halftime pep talks.
“I don’t give speeches,” Bum drawled. “Because no matter how good a speech is, the first time a player gets the stuffing beat out of him, he forgets that speech.”
That would seem to suit Washington just fine. Unfortunately.
If Louis Whitaker had played in New York, he’d have been considered tantalizingly aloof.
He’d have been a modern day Joe DiMaggio—occasionally available for appearances but still mysterious and fiercely private. He would be heralded as “the quiet Yankee.” Media types would be falling over themselves to get an audience with him.
If Whitaker had been a New York ballplayer, and if he had conducted himself as he did in Detroit, he’d have been “Silent Lou” instead. And the more he withdrew, the more fascinated the press would have been about him. His Hall of Fame chances would have increased exponentially.
If Whitaker had shunned a reunion of, say, the 1977 Yankees team that was George Steinbrenner’s first World Series winner, the city would have shrugged and said, “That’s Lou for you.” Then the press would have marveled at his elusiveness. He’d have been Garbo and Howard Hughes and Jackie O, all rolled into one.
But Whitaker played in Detroit, and so he’s just kind of weird.
Whitaker, it was confirmed, won’t be helping out the young Tigers this spring training, even though he could do so and still go home for lunch. Whitaker lives in Lakeland, and yet despite being a baseball’s throw away, he’s sitting this one out, and maybe the rest of them.
“That’s true,” a Tigers spokesman said. “He won’t be in uniform. He won’t be helping out.”
This, on the heels of Whitaker’s willful lack of participation in last September’s 25th reunion of the 1984 Tigers World Series team—something Lou said he wouldn’t be doing way back in spring training of 2009. He turned out to be a man of his word.
Whitaker, as a Tiger, was a man of few words, and there’s no crime in that. He had an engaging smile, but didn’t care much for the press. He was the anti-Alan Trammell in that department.
Whitaker played 19 seasons for the Tigers (1977-95) and we knew as much about him after season No. 1 as we did after season No. 19. The man played nearly two decades in Detroit and he was a ghost.
Whitaker didn’t hang around town after the season. He didn’t make any appearances on behalf of the team, unless he was forced to. He mingled not among his public. He was the anti-Curtis Granderson in that department.
Whitaker was a sterling second baseman but a rotten ambassador for the game, and for his team. Maybe it was fitting. His double play partner, Trammell, always had a kind moment for the media and an affection for the city and respect for the franchise, even though Tram was a San Diego guy and liked his Pacific Coast time.
Maybe it was fitting, then, because often times the great duos in history are total opposites.
I have no idea why Whitaker won’t be attending spring training this season with the Tigers, as he’d done from 2004-09. I have even less of an idea why he distanced himself from the 1984 reunion.
But we wouldn’t know those answers because Lou Whitaker never gave us any insight, never let us in, to have any idea of what he was all about. Not once, in the 19 years he played in Detroit. If he’d have been a running clock, he would have been a mysterious one without a battery—because we never knew what made him tick.
New York is an esoteric, ethereal town. There are just enough of them in that city who glorify the sullen, the withdrawn, the hermit-like, to make you believe that those types are fascinating.
But maybe they’re just strange.
Whitaker was always strange, to me. He belonged in New York, or Los Angeles, or maybe even Paris. He was one-dimensional, less than brilliant. He had no use for his public and even less for the very media who could have elevated him to Hall of Fame status, or at least to the level of kindred soul in Detroit.
He looked at the 1984 reunion—the Silver Anniversary of the last World Series champion in Detroit—and sniffed at it. He told the Tigers no, some six months before the actual event. Maybe he had something else planned, like a nap.
I have no problem with Lou Whitaker, the ballplayer. He was, once, one of the very best second basemen of his generation. He was one of the few who helped re-define what a leadoff hitter’s role could be. Lou started games with home runs. Not as often as Rickey Henderson, but often enough to be one of the game’s innovators. No one had done that before in Detroit with any consistency.
But Whitaker could have been so much more in Detroit, and in the game. He seemed to have no sense of moral or social obligation to his fans or to his city. He was a commuter.
So the fans won’t see Whitaker down in Lakeland this spring. It appears to be of his own choosing. Perhaps he grew bored with it. I couldn’t tell you, and I don’t dare speculate, because no one knows Lou Whitaker. Because he never let us.
That’s because our guest was beat writer Dave Pemberton of the Oakland Press, whose blog about the team can be found here.
Dave got us caught up on the latest news surrounding the possible sale of the team, went over his mid-season grades, and talked about the near and long term future of the REALLY Bad Boys. Chalk it up perhaps to his professionalism, but you’ll hear that Dave didn’t seem quite as visibly shaken as Al and I are about the Pistons’ future.
After Dave’s segment, Al and I plunged into the other hot topics around town—especially the Tigers, as their caravan makes its way around the state. We discussed their wild and wacky lineup, particularly who’s going to bat leadoff and No. 2. We also speculated about who the No. 5 starter might be, and why the Tigers don’t consider making someone (*cough* Carlos Guillen *cough*) a full-time DH. (Oh, and listen to Al’s proposal as to who should be the No. 2 hitter—verrry intriguing).
Finally, we roasted Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi for the very incendiary remarks he made about the U-M hockey program, coach Red Berenson, and how they supposedly retarded the development of Kings star Jack Johnson.
Then, as usual, we closed with our “Jerks of the Week.”
On the Tigers: “You can’t play Gerald Laird as much as you did last year. He played too much in 2009. He can hit better, but he has to catch less.”
Also on the Tigers: “I like Ryan Raburn batting third. He has power and can maybe hit 25, 30 home runs.”
On the Red Wings: They’re getting players back. They’re going to be one scary SOB come playoff time.”
On the Tigers: “What in the world is wrong with having one guy being the full-time DH? Instead they’re going to do it by committee again. Too many people moving around the field, moving around the batting order.”
Also on the Tigers: “I’d like to see Nate Robertson seize that No. 5 spot in the rotation again. I like his bulldog mentality. For awhile, I thought his career might be over. But he seems healthy now.”
On Dean Lombardi: “There’s an unwritten rule that you don’t trash a university’s program. And he put his own player in an awkward situation as well. The only thing that keeps this from completely blowing up is that it’s the Los Angeles Kings, and who cares about THEM?”
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A little over 16 years after being attacked in Detroit, Nancy Kerrigan just got clubbed again.
This time it’s fatal; Kerrigan, the figure skater who was whacked on the leg at Cobo Arena in January 1994 in a bizarre plot cooked up by her rival’s camp, has now lost her father.
Daniel Kerrigan, 70, was found dead in his Massachusetts home early Sunday morning, and his son and Nancy’s brother, Mark, is under arrest.
Mark Kerrigan, 45, pleaded not guilty during his arraignment in Woburn District Court Monday where he was charged with assault and battery on a person over 60.
Police reports said officers received a 911 call to the Kerrigan home at 7 Cedar Avenue about 1:30 a.m. Sunday and found Kerrigan’s father, Daniel, unconscious and not breathing on the kitchen floor.
Mark Kerrigan, an unemployed plumber and Army veteran, was found in the basement, where he had been living in his parents home since being released from a Billerica jail where he served time on 2007 assault and battery charges.
“He was clearly intoxicated, he was also extremely combative with the police, very violent. He refused to comply with their orders and they had to subdue him with the use of pepper spray. He had to be forcibly removed from the home,” state prosecutor Elizabeth Healy said during the arraignment in court.
Nancy Kerrigan is 40 now. She was 24 when a goon hired at the behest of the ex-husband of Kerrigan’s chief rival for the U.S. Skating Championships, Tony Harding, clubbed her just above the knee. The attack happened right outside the dressing room at Cobo Arena in Detroit.
You’ve seen the video, shot moments after the clubbing. It shows Kerrigan, wailing and clutching her wounded leg.
“WHY? WHYYY?” She cried.
Nancy Kerrigan, moments after being attacked at Cobo Arena in 1994
In the Department of Poetic Justice, Kerrigan overcame the injury and captured a silver medal in the Olympic Games in Lillehammer about a month after being set upon in Detroit.
Now she has to deal with a much worse blow.
Mark Kerrigan, according to state prosecutor Healy, suffers from post-traumatic stress illness from his military service and takes medication and receives therapy for it.
Kerrigan’s mother Brenda, who is legally blind, was at home at the time of her husband’s death and said she heard the fight but was unclear as to exactly what happened. Nancy Kerrigan, a two-time Olympic medalist, arrived at her parents’ Stoneham home late Sunday morning, making no comment.
The Kerrigan attack didn’t do any favors for Detroit, a city that never seems able to outpace its bad press. It didn’t matter that it could have happened anywhere—or certainly whichever town was hosting the skating championships that year. It only mattered that it happened in Detroit. The press made it seem like it was fait accompli that a violent act such as the Kerrigan incident should occur in Detroit.
Thankfully, I would bet you that if you polled 100 people who would confirm recollection of the attack, less than half of them could tell you which city it occurred in. Time heals, and makes people forget.
But I know where it happened—specifically. I’ve stood in the very spot where Kerrigan got her leg whacked, because I’ve been in Cobo many times, mainly for TV productions. I could point it out to you today.
As for the death of Kerrigan’s father, prosecutor Healy says the accused son/brother is “very distraught and in grief. He denies the allegations of the commonwealth,” she said.
Mark Kerrigan has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
So did Harding’s people to the allegations of attacking Nancy Kerrigan, at first. And look what happened there.
Archie Manning hasn’t taken a snap for the New Orleans Saints in over 28 years, and still they’re sticking it to him.
The timing has never been good between Manning and the Saints.
First, he plays for them at a time when they were their most slapstick—from 1971-82—with Manning compiling a grisly record of 35-91-3. Now, when he has a chance to perhaps enjoy his old team going into the Super Bowl for the first time, it’s a year when they’re up against his kid.
The Saints are marching into the Super Bowl. The redheaded stepchild of the NFL gets to sit at the big people’s table.
Cross the Saints off the list of teams who’ve gone Super Bowl-less since entering the NFL.
They started with a bang, the Saints did. Turns out they peaked in the first 20 seconds of their existence—until now.
John Gilliam took the opening kickoff in the Saints’ very first game in 1967, against the Rams, and returned it for a touchdown.
The Big Easy, indeed.
Not so fast.
Gilliam’s kickoff return would pretty much be the franchise’s highlight for, oh, 42 years.
Now the Saints are going to the Super Bowl, thanks to another special teams play: Garrett Hartley’s 40-yard field goal in overtime—almost one yard per year of the Saints’ frustration—lifting Nawlins to a 31-28 win over the Minnesota Vikings Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.
The Saints are going to the Super Bowl. Now I really have lived. I’ve just about seen it all.
The Saints in their early years had jazz great Al Hirt on their side, a St. Bernard named Gumbo, players with names like Jubilee Dunbar and Guido Merkens, a kicker with half a foot who banged one home from 63 yards, and it didn’t do them a lick of good.
The Saints didn’t play football, they committed it. The NFL kept bringing the Super Bowl to New Orleans because they knew there’d never be a home field advantage.
Their play was even a hazard to the health of our feathered friends.
Here’s Manning, on a kick returner the Saints once signed.
“He had this big old bird, like a huge parrot,” Manning once told NFL Films about the new guy. “It just sat on his shoulder. So we get dressed and everyone’s asking him, ‘Where are you going to put that bird?’ He says he’ll just put him on the top shelf of the locker and he’ll just stay there.”
The new return man dropped the first punt that came his way. It looked like it would be a one-night stand in New Orleans.
“So we come back into the locker room after the game,” Manning said, “and that bird was DEAD. Just laid out in the locker.”
Manning, running for his life (as usual) as a Saint
No one knows more about the pain of playing for the Saints than Manning, a tremendous talent surrounded by very little of it. His best season was 1979, when he “led” the Saints to an 8-8 record. The high didn’t last long; the Saints fell to 1-15 in 1980.
The Saints finally put Manning out of his misery, trading him in 1982. But they were cruel to him again; they dealt him to the Houston Oilers, who were a 1-8 team in the strike-shortened season. Manning went 0-5 as a starter.
Manning finished with the Vikings, and of course it was when they were down, too. His career record was 35-101-3.
As for his old team, even when the Saints got good they were lousy. Starting in the late-1980s, the Saints would tease and lure, just like the city in which they played. Playoffs? No problem. Winning in the playoffs? The Saints weren’t the Big Easy, they were the Big Hurt. They should have sued White Sox slugger Frank Thomas for copyright infringement.
But now the Saints, the New Orleans Saints—the team whose fans started the bag-over-the-head thing and called their team the “Aint’s”—are going to the Super Bowl. And they don’t have to present a ticket at at the turnstile to get in, either.
When Hartley kicked that field goal in OT Sunday, he also booted away 42 years of “don’t even think about it” and “not quite good enough.” Forty-two years of knee slapping hilarity and theatre of the absurd.
What’s the NFL coming to? First the Arizona Cardinals make it to the Big One, and now the New Orleans Saints? Someone call Anthony Edwards, because I see another “Revenge of the Nerds” in the making.
The Lions just lost someone from their table. The Saints got called up to the podium.
Well, there’s always the Cleveland Browns to talk to. For now.
Mike Ilitch is a pizza guy, so he’s used to raising dough. He ought to know what to do.
Yes, it’s not the most creative of puns, but it’s also very appropriate. Ilitch, you see, needs some cash. Some dough. Some of that filthy loot.
He ought to know what to do.
Tack on a quarter to every pie he sells. Gouge the customers a little more on the beer at Joe Louis Arena. Nudge the price of a red hot a dime or two upward at the old ballpark.
He should do it all, and then some, until he has enough moolah to keep Justin Verlander around town for, oh, the rest of his career. Or at least to make JV feel good about such a prospect.
It’s the dead of winter, and in this day and age, that means we talk business when it comes to baseball. Then if there’s time, we’ll talk about the game itself. But there’s usually not much time left.
It’s the dead of winter, and arbitration doesn’t mean umpiring. It’s a bean counter in a suit, sitting before player and management, with two salary figures in front of him.
The arbiter is like the umpire, though—he has to pick one or the other.
Safe or out. This figure or that figure. No in-between. You’re not “kind of” out, you know?
The player will state his case, and so will management. It’s also known as nitpicking time.
I have no idea what the Tigers will say at such a hearing about Verlander, if it comes to that.
The Tigers want to pay Verlander $6.9 million this season, according to reports. The kid wants $9.5 million. Don’t reach for the calculator—that’s a $2.6 million difference.
So what will the Tigers say about Verlander, who led the majors in strikeouts last season, who won 19 games, who had a fine ERA of 3.45, and who stopped one losing skid after the other, and whose next start all summer was anticipated more than Dec. 25 by a six-year-old?
What will they say about a kid who isn’t quite 27, who has already won the Rookie of the Year Award, who’s thrown a no-hitter, who’s pitched in the World Series, and who keeps adding to his career high in season victories—from 17 to 18 to, now, 19?
Joe Garagiola once wrote a book called Baseball is a Funny Game . It’s funny, all right. It’s so funny that you can use the word “only” in front of “$6.9 million” when it comes to a player’s salary.
As in what the Tigers are offering Verlander. For now.
An arbitration hearing can be avoided if the Tigers and their star pitcher, within the next month, agree on a salary figure to get them through the 2010 season. That $2.6 million gap can still be bridged. Or else, it’s off to a hearing and it’ll be the mother of all nitpicking.
What will the Tigers say to the bean counter in the suit? That they don’t like the way Verlander ties his shoes? That he could use a mint?
But even if the Tigers and Verlander agree on a salary for 2010, that just puts off the inevitable: keeping the Old English D on his left breast for as long as they both shall live.
The Tigers have three players, basically, whose names should never be spoken by other teams wanting to do some wheeling and dealing. Names that ought to be forbidden to even be mentioned—and that includes by any delusional fans from Detroit.
One of them is Miguel Cabrera, the man-child slugger. Another is Rick Porcello, the baby-faced hurler whose potential is so bright, they ought to give away sunglasses at every one of his starts at Comerica Park.
And the third of these unspeakables—forget untouchable—is Verlander.
The Toronto Blue Jays, a month or so ago, traded their ace starter, Roy Halladay, for three unknown entities, a.k.a. prospects. They did so because they either couldn’t afford to pay him, or didn’t want to.
I think Ilitch wants to pay Verlander. I think he looks at him as a cornerstone of his baseball franchise. Mike just needs to find the cash somewhere.
It’s going to take a king’s ransom, but the Tigers ought to put shackles and a ball and chain on Verlander and keep him in Detroit until he gets gray and distinguished. No Roy Halladay nonsense. I’ve written it before: Halladay has the stuff to win the Cy Young Award in any given season; Verlander has the stuff to throw a no-hitter in any given start.
No pitcher has gone into the Hall of Fame with significant time as a Tiger on his resume since Jim Bunning, and he last pitched for the Tigers nearly 50 years ago. Before that, it was Hal Newhouser, whose era was World War II.
That’s about to change.
Put these words into a time capsule if you wish, but Justin Verlander is going into the Hall of Fame. He is. And he ought to go in as a Tiger. Which means you have to pay him.
I know it won’t be cheap. I know it won’t always be comfortable to cut those checks twice a month. But this town doesn’t make starting pitchers, as a rule. Detroit has famously made beer, tires, soda pop, potato chips, coney dogs, and, on occasion, automobiles.
But Vernor’s fled. So did Uniroyal. And Stroh’s. And Jack Morris. The least the Tigers can do is keep one of the few homegrown products we have left in our midst.
So pass the hat, Mikey. Gouge us some more, we don’t mind. Justin Verlander bailed your baseball team out last season more than Charles Rogers’ lawyer. Rake up the loot. Find it somewhere.
Make Verlander a Tiger until there’s not one single pitch left in his golden arm. These types don’t come around very often, especially here.
Soon JV will have his hand on your wallet. And when he does, just turn and cough.
(Note: every Friday I’ll post a favorite rant from the archives)
from March 31, 2009
Good Humor Me
Tell me, do some things seem smaller than what you remember, or did they just seem bigger because YOU were small?
Probably a little bit of both. But you can strap me to a lie detector, make me swear on a stack of Bibles, and have me stand on the grave of my father. In all instances, I’ll tell you that the Good Humor bar is smaller than it once was.
This isn’t another example of a bug-eyed kid whose recollection, as an adult, has become skewed over time.
Grab me a rosary and stick it in my hands. Make me look my mother right in the peepers. Threaten to swipe my first (and only) born if I’m lying.
The Good Humor bar is shrinking.
This atrocity made itself present in our home last week. My lovely wife came home with two boxes of Good Humor bars — Toasted Almond and Chocolate Eclair — and it was enough to make me undress her with my stomach.
First, I must enlighten the babes among my readers. The older folks, bear with me. This won’t take long.
The Good Humor ice cream truck tooled around the burbs, its driver dressed in all white and jingling a set of bells that were located above the rear view mirror. With his hand.
That’s right — no piped in music, no endless loop of calliope-style melodies. Just some bells, jingled and jangled by the driver, aka The Good Humor Man, as he saw fit.
The truck itself was white, too, and compact. It looked like an old white fridge that burst, like popcorn, on steroids and on wheels.
The Good Humor Man had an amazing sense of touch. Because he hardly ever relied on his eyes, when he was fetching your order at the curb. You’d tell him what you wanted, and he knew instantly which of the two hatches on the truck’s sides to open. Then, simply by reaching inside, without looking, he’d pull out the correct item(s).
I still don’t know how they did that.
Now THAT’S what I’m talkin’ about!
The trucks disappeared from the neighborhoods years ago. But the Good Humor bars remained, in grocery stores and gas stations.
Toasted Almond is the best. I’ll sock you in the kisser if you try to argue otherwise. But be that as it may.
So the Good Humor boxes are pulled out of the grocery bag last week, and we notice that the company is now paying homage to its past by including, on each carton, a color drawing of a Good Humor Man from days gone by, serving some kids from his truck. Pretty cool.
Until we opened one of the white plastic bags encasing a Toasted Almond.
I was tempted to tell my wife to throw it back, and tell him to get his old man.
If the Toasted Almond bar was made of wool, and you put it into the dryer, then the result would be what we held in our hands.
I was thinking I might be able to consume it with one generous bite, it looked that small.
My wife and I said it almost simultaneously.
“Look how SMALL!”
It was also noted that the price was conspicuously not smaller.
One nifty thing about the new Good Humor bars: you’ll never have to worry about them melting before you can finish them.
I noticed the same phenomenon with the Bun chocolate bars. My folks gobbled them up when I was a kid. They came (still do) in a square-ish wrapper, the bar itself setting on a flimsy cardboard bottom. Of course, I remember the Bun bars as being the size of a paper plate.
But still, they’re much smaller than they used to be, despite my glorification of them in my mind.
Again, the price doesn’t appear to be shrinking.
I know that we sometimes remember licking suckers the size of hubcaps and watching movies on screens that went from horizon to horizon. I get that sometimes we exaggerate the sizes of things from our childhood.
But the Good Humor bar is getting smaller.
Either that, or my stomach is getting bigger.
Hey!! Wait a minute….
The hard-living, hard-drinking first baseman was a star in Detroit. He thrilled the denizens with monster home runs, master glove work, and always gave reporters a dandy for the papers the next day. He might have been, after Al Kaline—or even before him—the most popular Tiger in town, were you to take a random straw vote.
Everyone who played with Norm Cash knew he was a drinker—a heavy drinker. His managers knew it, the press knew it. But it was all a nice family secret. Of course, it was easier to keep such a secret in those days, when only a handful of beat writers and radio and TV people ran with the team.
The truth came out years later, and by that time Stormin’ Norman was off to other pursuits. Television beckoned for a while, until a mild stroke affected his ability to speak. Cash’s Texas drawl was hard enough to decipher before the stroke.
Cash’s drinking was winked at, and certainly never tackled with any seriousness. I have no way of proving it, but from what I know—and I’ve been following Detroit sports for 40 years—Norm Cash never set foot in a rehab center.
Then he fell off a dock up north—drunk, they say—and hit his head and was knocked cold, in shallow water. That’s where they found his body, on that gray October day in 1986.
Cash was 51 when he died, after a night of drinking at his cottage near Beaver Island.
I wept when Cash was cut by the Tigers the day after my birthday in August 1974. He was my favorite Tiger, by far. Even to an 11-year-old, his gregarious personality had real appeal.
Jim Northrup once told me of his indignation at how the Tigers released his teammate.
“I heard it on the radio,” Northrup said. “And I think Norm may have, too. Anyway, Norm called (GM Jim) Campbell and Campbell told him not to come to the ballpark, basically.”
Northrup let his displeasure be known, and whether by coincidence or not, Northrup himself was excised—sold to the Montreal Expos the next day.
Cash was hitting in the .220s with seven homers in about 140 at-bats when the Tigers let him go after 15 seasons.
Admittedly, it doesn’t take much to get me to think of Norm Cash, perhaps my most favorite of all the Tigers, but it’s really not hard for me to think of him now, in the wake of Miguel Cabrera’s public cleansing with the press yesterday at Comerica Park.
I would think that even Miggy’s detractors—and I’ve been one—are pulling for him in his struggle with alcohol consumption, which he pretty much admitted to fighting yesterday.
The Free Press’ Michael Rosenberg, a wonderfully talented writer with a good feel for the human condition, wrote a terrific piece this morning about the “new” Cabrera.
“I think that’s going to be positive for my life, for my family,” Rosenberg quoted Cabrera, in describing the humiliation of his late-season drinking/domestic disturbance incident. “I feel good. I feel great.”
Rosenberg included this:
Cabrera certainly wouldn’t be the first player whose hangovers kept him from hitting hanging curveballs. There is a reason that when former Cy Young Award winner Bob Welch wrote a book about his alcoholism, he called it “Five O’Clock Comes Early.” Welch, a Detroit native, drank so much, so late into the night, that late afternoon arrived before he was ready for it.
Nor was Welch the first player, obviously, who drank his baseball troubles away. And not even Norm Cash was a pioneer in that regard, either.
All I know is, despite the stroke, Cash died far too young. Because of drinking, indirectly, and never having slayed that dragon.
Miguel Cabrera is 26 years old.
Think about that for a moment.