Archive for March, 2010
Anyone named Jesse James is destined to be a rat sooner or later, right?
James, the soon-to-be ex-husband of actress Sandra Bullock, has a notorious namesake, of course—the outlaw Jesse James who was a menace to society in the 1870s and until his killing in 1882.
Today’s James just might land on the public’s 10 Most Wanted list, because no one cheats on America’s sweetheart and gets away with it.
That’s how Bullock is sometimes billed, and with good reason. We don’t have too many great American actresses anymore. But Bullock and Reese Witherspoon, though there’s an age gap there, are sweetie pies of the big screen.
I feel bad for Sandy. News of husband Jesse’s apparent infidelity has come on the heels of the greatest year of her acting career. She was sky high, then this.
The word is that she’s back in California, having flown from a home in Texas, to confront her dirty rotten scoundrel husband.
Divorce is imminent, sources say.
The details are bound to get worse, as they almost always do. Rare is the one-time philanderer; where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and where there’s fire, there’s usually a few others smoldering, too.
James wasn’t a bad boy just once. He has humiliated Sandy on numerous occasions, according to the buzz.
Who, with any degree of sanity, cheats on Sandra Bullock?
What more did Jesse James want? All Sandy is, is gorgeous, smart, funny, talented, and by all accounts, a good wife.
Dirty rotten scoundrel, indeed!
Bullock and James in happier times, not that you could tell by the look on Jesse’s face
Whenever something like this happens, it only serves to underline the feats of those in Hollywood who’ve managed to stay hitched for decades.
Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman. Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller. Paula Prentiss and Richard Benjamin. To name a few.
But there are ONLY a few.
Is the divorce rate higher among celebrity couples versus Mr. and Mrs. Jane Doe?
I don’t have hard figures, but I imagine the answer is yes. When the question is, is infidelity higher, the answer is a resounding yes.
Leading separate lives doesn’t help; when Bullock is off making movies—and she’s made a lot of them lately—James isn’t always with her, of course. The cat is away a lot in Hollywood, and the town is filled with horny little mice.
The only saving grace is that the cheatee finds great sympathy in the court of public opinion. At least there’s that. Bullock was already a fan favorite; that will only be more so as more details emerge about James and what he did to her.
The humiliation of being cheated on is bad enough when just the victim knows about it. Imagine how it is when the whole world is in on it.
Tiger Woods cheats on his model wife Elin Nordregen. Jesse James cheats on adorable, talented Sandra Bullock. Michael Douglas cheated on beautiful Anne Archer in “Fatal Attraction.”
Yeah, I know the last one is fictitious, but the line gets blurred a lot when it comes to behavior in Hollywood.
Jesse James didn’t have enough by having Sandra Bullock.
Talk about being hard to please.
Here Tom Izzo is again.
Izzo is in another Final Four. He must have a VIP Card by now.
Izzo, the legend-blazing basketball coach at MSU, is maybe the best college coach to have won only one National Championship. If he doesn’t win another, Izzo’s is going to be a legacy where folks scratch their heads when asked how many titles he’s won. It’ll be a trick question.
“Gosh, Tom Izzo? What did he win, two or three? At least?”
Trick question!! One!
I hope that’s not the case. If Izzo, who’s bringing his kids back to another FF in Indianapolis this weekend, wins just one more national title, his place is secured as one of the all-time greats. And I’m talking Wooden, Knight, Meyer, Krzyzewski—guys like that.
Izzo shows up to these things—six in 12 years—but has only come away with the grand prize once, and that was 10 years ago.
But I’m about to give you a tidbit that is both amazing and validation of his stature.
Since Izzo’s been coach at MSU (he started in 1995), NO player who’s spent four years with him has ever NOT made a Final Four.
Think about that for a moment.
This is, arguably, Izzo’s finest coaching job. It’s been a higher maintenance group than he’d like, and he’s ridden point guard Kalin Lucas so relentlessly that if you look up “tough love,” there’d be the coach and Lucas, splattered on the page.
Now Lucas isn’t even available thanks to his popped Achilles, but the Spartans keep winning anyway.
Prior to all the Madness, there was another implosion in the Big Ten tournament, but no one cares about that, really—especially if you dance like Izzo does in the 64-team soiree.
Izzo’s teams, in the NCAA tournament, typically win small and lose big, when they do lose. They’ll do great in the nail-biters, but then sometimes they prove to be no match in the games they lose. It’s a fascinating trend.
Izzo’s back in the Final Four. If the FF was a restaurant, the staff would yell his name cheerfully, guide him to his favorite table, and he’d order the usual.
But if he could just manage one more National Championship, that would be groovy. Final Four appearances are lovely, but rings are even better.
Don’t get me wrong. Izzo will go down as a great coach (Hall of Fame material for sure), regardless if his resume lists only “2000″ under the heading “National Championships Won.”
But one more would lift him to that truly elite level.
This 2010 run has already included two last-second wins. Izzo always wins those types of games.
Next up is a date with Butler, a fellow No. 5 seed. Butler, who plays in the league of the University of Detroit-Mercy. A couple of bratty teams, these No. 5 seeds are.
Izzo is in another Final Four. Every year you kind of shrug, shake your head and make a face if someone asks you how the Spartans will do in the tournament. Because the regular season—and the Big Ten tourney—is always pockmarked with curious losses.
And so often, you turn around and there Izzo is, in the Final Four.
He’s great at getting there. I’d love for him to be better at winning it.
What have you done for me lately, Tommy?
Such a thankless profession this guy’s in, eh?
You can never tell if the great hockey coach is winning or losing.
When he stands behind the bench, he always looks as if he’s trying to remember if he left the stove on—while also having to go to the bathroom.
His team could be ahead by three goals or down by two. You’d never know.
If he didn’t make a mint in hockey, Scotty Bowman could have fleeced all comers in a game of poker. Scotty didn’t smile, Scotty didn’t grin. Scotty didn’t scowl, Scotty didn’t wince.
Bowman, a legendary coach with so many Stanley Cup rings on his fingers that his hands are their own brass knuckles, had a lockjaw and the posture of a British Beefeater. It could be Game 7 of the Cup Finals and with Bowman, you’d find more emotion on a frog.
This is because Scotty’s games were played in his head while his players played them on the ice.
Mike Babcock doesn’t have the stoicism of Bowman, but you still can’t tell if his Red Wings are playing keep away with the puck or are being used as the other team’s personal Zamboni.
Babcock’s eyes narrow into slits and his head bobs back, forth, and then up to the scoreboard and then back to the left. That and he always looks like he can’t find his keys.
Babcock has the typical face of a former hockey player: chiseled, scarred, the texture of leather. His hair is unkempt and his clothes fit him like a paper doll’s.
You show me a hockey coach who’s a fashion plate and I’ll show you Don Cherry and no one else. And Don didn’t win much of anything before making a king’s ransom as a buffoon on television—the Dick Vitale of hockey.
The great hockey coach looks like he slept in his threads, and for about 45 minutes.
Babcock is a great hockey coach, and is having his greatest of seasons.
His greatest season wasn’t in 2008, when he brought the Cup back to Detroit after a five year absence. It wasn’t last year, when he nearly did it again.
His greatest season is right here, right now, guiding what was, for most of the year, a M*A*S*H unit through the rigors of an NHL campaign.
Babcock should get the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year, and mainly because he never put a pistol to his temple and pulled the trigger.
The Red Wings are on the verge of making the playoffs for the 19th consecutive season, and they’ll have done it with an injury-ravaged roster that was already reeling from some free agency losses and a player vamoosing to Russia unexpectedly.
If it wasn’t so damn serious, it would have been funny. Almost all the players on the Red Wings have been lost to injuries, starting almost immediately when Johan Franzen went down with a serious knee disturbance in the first week.
This wasn’t the usual frolic through the regular season, with the divisional title wrapped up in January. The regular seasons for the Red Wings have been mostly Mai Tais in the Bahamas; this one was rice paddies and Vietnam.
General Mike Babcock led them past all the land mines and, with a team of medics trailing him, he has positioned the Red Wings for the Purple Heart.
It hasn’t just been all the injuries.
It’s been a veteran goalie who lost his job to a rookie who couldn’t have had more question marks plastered on him before the season if he was the Riddler.
It’s been the overall improvement of the Western Conference, whose teams have reveled in kicking the Red Wings while they were down earlier in the season.
It’s been the under-achieving for most of the season of two key players who’ve managed to stay relatively healthy. Read: Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.
It’s been the distraction of also coaching Team Canada in the Olympics, and the “Get Gold or ELSE” mentality that an entire country levied against Babcock and Team Canada director Steve Yzerman.
It’s been all those things, and yet here the Red Wings are, four points in front of ninth-place Calgary and nipping at the heels of as high as the fifth seed. They’re on a 10-2-1 streak when it’s counted the most.
You tell me that this hasn’t been Babcock’s best coaching job in Detroit. Hell, it’s been his best coaching job, period.
No one pacing behind an NHL bench has done more this season with less, and with as many obstacles, as Mike Babcock has done with the Red Wings. Not even close.
But here’s the punch line: he doesn’t have an ice rink’s chance in Hades of winning the damn coaching award.
They’ll give it to someone who coaches a bunch of rag tags. Coach of the Year, in every team sport, has often been code for “Least embarrassing season by a coach with little talent.”
But that’s OK. Babcock doesn’t need a Jack Adams on his mantle to validate the job he’s done this season. Nor does he care about that stuff, anyway.
The great hockey coach also knows when he has the horses to make a legitimate “kick at the can,” as they say.
Babcock knows he has the horses. He’s dropped hints during his post-game comments, putting the other teams on notice that it would be unwise to wish to play the Red Wings in the playoffs.
The great hockey coach doesn’t make excuses or let his players feel sorry for themselves. He doesn’t long for the players who aren’t available.
The great hockey coach does the best he can with what he has.
Then he kicks his opponents between the back pockets come springtime.
The smart money is still on the red numbers.
(Note: every Friday I’ll post a favorite rant from the archives)
from March 18, 2009
I’m 45, which means I’m old enough to remember when MTV played music videos. VH-1, too.
Means I know what a VJ is, and that Don Imus and Rosie O’Donnell were once colleagues at VH-1.
I haven’t watched MTV in years, maybe going on decades. VH-1 hasn’t exactly been part of my viewing list, either. There was a brief spike in my VH-1 viewership when the show “Pop-Up Video” debuted, because I thought that concept was as cool as hell. But aside from that, meh.
It didn’t used to be that way.
I was smitten with MTV in the early-1980s, shortly after it burst onto the scene. Radio on TV!
That’s basically what it was. Only you could SEE the on-air talent, instead of having to imagine what they looked like. Some of the names, I’m sure, might resonate with some of you. Nina Blackwood. Alan Hunter. Mark Goodman. JJ Jackson. Martha Quinn.
They were young-ish — late-20s, early-30s — and they were basically disc jockeys on TV. Hence the brand new moniker of VJ — video jockey.
It was remarkably simpler back then, MTV was.
Original MTV jocks (from left) Jackson; Blackwood; Goodman; Quinn; and Hunter
You’d flick it on, courtesy your local cable company, and the odds were good that one of two things would be on the screen: a music video, or a VJ — TALKING about music videos. Or maybe pumping an artist’s latest tour, with dates and venues.
You could keep MTV on, in the background, and check in on it whenever you heard a favorite song of the day. Maybe you were just a fan of Nina’s, and when you heard her husky voice you’d stop whatever you were doing and poke your head into the TV room to see what she had to say. Or to just look at her. Not that I would know anything about that.
It was magnificently simple, looking back on it. MTV — music videos with some VJs sprinkled in.
Then there was VH-1.
I was thinking about all of this thanks to the news of Don Imus’s cancer diagnosis, which he revealed publicly a few days ago.
I first knew of Imus when I saw his craggy mug on VH-1, working as a VJ in the late-1980s. VH-1 was set up a little differently than MTV in those days. The MTV jocks were in a casual setting, almost basement-ish. They were sitting down, for one. The VH-1 jocks stood, in front of a chroma key background while psychadelic colors and shapes floated behind them.
So there would be Imus, delivering mono-syllabic intros and chatting with the off-camera crew. He was stoic and sarcastic and I thought he was great. I had no idea that he was also a “shock jock” on New York radio. Then there’d be a shift change, and out would be Imus and in would be Rosie O’Donnell — this pixie-ish Irish girl wearing a beret. Where Imus was laid back and a man of few words, Rosie was chatty and hyper. And quite adorable.
Now Imus battles cancer, having revealed himself (to me, anyway) to be nothing more than a mean-spirited hack on the radio. And Rosie, long ago un-closeted, is a champion of causes and is another who has found Michigan to be moviemaker-friendly. In a story straight from a 1940s flick, Rosie discovered the star of the movie she filmed in Michigan sitting in a diner in downtown Detroit. No joke. She goes up to the kid — a teenager — and asks him if he wants to be in pictures. A star is born.
Hers was born in front of the VH-1 cameras, VJ’ing. It led to bigger and better things for her.
And Imus? In retrospect, he probably didn’t take the VH-1 gig too seriously. I’m sure it was far too vanilla for his taste.
But they played music videos, at least. Back then.
Did you hear? Sounds like Magglio Ordonez is going to have a big year.
The audible feeling is that Maggs is going to look more like the Ordonez of 2006-07 than the impostor who wore his uniform for all but the final month of the 2009 season.
Manager Jim Leyland and GM Dave Dombrowski have, more than once this spring training, alluded to the sound that Ordonez’s bat is making when it connects with the baseball.
I’m not exactly sure what that sound is, but I know this: if you think that the Tigers’ offensive fortunes ride on the broad shoulders of Miguel Cabrera or the rough-whiskered face of Johnny Damon, or the potential of young Austin Jackson, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
It says here that Ordonez’s performance will, more than anything, determine the Tigers’ chances of contending in 2010—pitching notwithstanding.
Maggs’s struggles in 2009 are well-documented, and painful to recall. He was a power and gap hitter turned Punch and Judy. His average was pedestrian, and he was unplugged from his power source; if he was a beer, he’d have been Ordonez Lite.
Then, as mysteriously as it vanished, Ordonez’s gap hitting returned in late-August. It was a time when Cabrera desperately needed another bat in the lineup to join him in his fight to create some semblance of an offense for the Tigers.
From September 1 until the end of the season, Ordonez went 43-for-98 (.439) with seven doubles. He raised his average from .275 to a season-ending .310, thanks to 15 multi-hit games among the 28 in which he appeared. “Snap” and “crackle” were reunited with “pop.”
As Ordonez heated up, Cabrera cooled off. The Tigers were a one-man offense for the last couple weeks of the season, but that one man was Maggy, not Miggy.
Ordonez tried mightily to bring the Tigers across the finish line ahead of the Minnesota Twins all by himself, but it proved to be too daunting of a task. An electric extra base hit in the final week against the Twins wasn’t only a game-changer, but it looked like it might have clinched the division for the Tigers; it was the game where the Tigers moved three games ahead of the Twins with four to play.
You know what happened after that.
The last hurrah for Maggs was a clutch home run that tied Game 163 in the eighth inning. He finished the season on an incredible 24-for-49 (.490) tear.
If Ordonez can regain his mojo, the Tigers offense not only “sounds” better, it IS better.
It’d be terrific if the rookie Jackson and the grizzled veteran Damon can form a solid 1-2 punch at the top of the order. Cabrera will get his 30+/100+ in HR and RBI, no matter what.
But if the 36-year-old Ordonez, who figures to hit third, isn’t the Maggs we know and love, then the house of cards collapses.
If Cabrera hadn’t vanished on the Tigers, with Ordonez’s resurgence taking place simultaneously, the Tigers would have waltzed to the divisional title in September.
Let’s hope spring training’s sounds don’t prove to be deceiving.
Could Harry Houdini have possibly died on any other day of the year than Halloween?
I always found delicious—or maybe it’s salacious—irony in the fact that the famed magician and escape artist took his last breath on Halloween. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I was certain that it was, somehow, appropriate.
Today I’m not here to talk about Houdini’s death, per se—he died in Detroit after some slugs to the gut in his dressing room in Montreal a week prior—but about his birth.
Harry Houdini, you see, was born on yesterday’s date, in 1874.
He was born in Hungary, as Ehrich Weiss, to Jewish parents. Yet for whatever reason, Houdini would in his adult life, after stardom, claim to have been born on April 6 in Appleton, Wisconsin. Go figure.
Houdini, still using the Weiss name, gravitated toward carnivals and freak shows as a young man, even appearing as a “Wild Man” at a circus. Then he learned card tricks and became known as the “king of cards.”
Growing tired of the card tricks, Houdini/Weiss looked for something else far more challenging and rich to add to his repertoire. Escape tricks filled that bill.
In 1893, while performing with his brother Dash as “The Houdini Brothers”, Harry met fellow performer Wilhelmina Beatrice (Bess) Rahner, whom he married. Bess replaced Dash in the act, which became known as “The Houdinis.” For the rest of Houdini’s performing career, Bess would work as his stage assistant.
Houdini was no longer the “king of cards”; using his escape shtick, the new nickname was the “handcuff king.”
There really wasn’t anything Houdini wouldn’t try to escape from: cuffs, shackles, chains, straitjackets, you name it. When even that grew stale for him, Houdini added “death defying” to his billing. Water-filled containers were a popular prop for him. The idea that audiences might actually see Houdini perish before their very eyes proved to be an oddly appealing attraction.
Still not satisfied, Houdini kept adding on to his act.
Being “buried alive” was among his most famous addenda.
The end came in 1926 when a McGill University student deciding to help Houdini perform, without warning slugged Houdini several times in his dressing room in Montreal, causing trauma to the magician’s abdomen.
Houdini arrived by train in Detroit on October 24, 1926 with a 104-degree fever. Yet he performed anyway. Not long after, he landed in Grace Hospital. On Halloween afternoon, Houdini died in room 401 from peritonitis from a ruptured appendix.
Contrary to popular belief—we use that term a lot when it comes to celebrity deaths, don’t we?—the blows to the stomach didn’t cause his appendicitis; he was suffering from it for a few days prior to the mishap. And, his appendix might have burst anyway, though the trauma inflicted certainly didn’t help.
In once describing his career, Houdini sounded unimpressed with himself.
“My professional life has been a constant record of disillusion, and many things that seem wonderful to most men are the every-day commonplaces of my business.”
Happy 136th, Harry! Your spirit is floating around here somewhere, no doubt.
It was Yogi Berra Weekend when it came to our teams over the past few days.
The venerable Yankee, who famously extolled that it’s “never over till it’s over,” would be smiling that moon-faced smile if he was plugged into the scene here.
The Red Wings and the Michigan State Spartans both squeezed the clock dry in thrilling fashion. The Red Wings got one-and-a-half victories engaging in such drama, and the Spartans scored a big-time win the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
First, it was Brian Rafalski burying the puck with 0.2 seconds left in the third period in Edmonton on Friday night, tying the game and giving the Red Wings a much-needed point. They went ahead and lost the “third point” in a shootout (ugh!) but Raffi’s goal avoided an embarrassing (and costly) goose egg against the Oilers.
The next night, it was Henrik Zetterberg flipping a backhand past Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo to give the Red Wings an overtime win. Zetterberg wasn’t quite as efficient as Rafalski; there were 0.3 seconds left when Hank struck.
As if that wasn’t enough, MSU escaped the second round and a furious Maryland rally late in the game to win, 85-83, on Korie Lucious’s three-point dagger as the clock expired.
Between those three games, there was half-a-second remaining on the clock, combined, when the heroics happened.
The Red Wings’ late-game fun was no less important, or clutch, than the Spartans’ survival into the Sweet 16. Those three points the Wings gathered over the weekend will loom large when the final tally is counted at the end of the season.
Tonight, it’s the Penguins at Joe Louis Arena, and the last time the Pens skated the JLA ice surface, it was with the Stanley Cup above their heads and champagne in their eyes.
This is as good as it gets for any regular season game that the Red Wings have played in March over the past 20 years or so.
The defending Cup champs, in town for the only time this season. The Red Wings with the memories of the Penguins celebrating the winning of hockey’s Holy Grail in the Wings’ own building. A playoff spot squarely on the line for the Winged Wheel.
This is one night when the adage is a lie: that “the regular season don’t matter in the NHL!”
Like hell it doesn’t.
There are no throwaway games left now. No more mulligans. Every point is precious. A two-game losing skid can kill you. A three-game winning streak might lift you a few spots in the standings, just like that.
As for Sparty, they live to fight another day—specifically this Friday against Northern Iowa, who just happen to be the belles of this year’s ball.
Ice ran in the veins of “Luscious Lucious” as he took a pass, glanced at the hoop, decided against firing, then calmly dribbled and took a couple steps to his left before lining up his game-winning triple.
It would have been a horrible loss; the Spartans had the Terrapins by 15 points with less than ten minutes to go in the game. A late 80-71 lead evaporated like spilled water on a Phoenix sidewalk.
Three key games over the weekend for the Red Wings and Spartans. Three heart-stopping buzzer beaters. Three happy (mostly) endings.
It’s mad, I tell you!
Starting next Monday, hundreds of thousands of metro Detroit women will have to start talking to their husbands again on weekday mornings.
For 45 years, they’ve been waking up with Dick Purtan–until Friday, when the radio veteran hangs up his microphone.
For over three decades, the women around town got their news from Bill Bonds at 11:00 p.m., went to bed with Johnny Carson, and woke up with either Purtan or J.P. McCarthy. But then Johnny retired in 1992, Bonds left channel 7 in 1995, and J.P. passed away later that same year.
That left Purtan as the last true media giant in Detroit. And, maybe, the last we’ll ever know.
Longtime radio observers like Specs Howard Institute’s Dick Kernen disagree with me. Kernen says that as long as someone “has the magic, like Dick, to create quality content,” then “personality radio” will stick around, despite that medium’s changing landscape.
As much as I’d like to believe that, I’m not as confident as Kernen. Mainly, because I don’t see anyone who’s even close to assuming Purtan’s role, at least not on today’s airwaves.
Drew and Mike over at WRIF have reunited, and they are once again running roughshod over their competition in the mornings. John Mason, for 18 years at WJLB and now in syndication from WGPR, is another uber-strong morning guy in Detroit. Yet neither of those shows is woven into the fabric of the city as was Purtan’s and J.P.’s.
Purtan’s audience was always a tad older than the rockers and urban guys, anyway. His main competition for years was McCarthy.
“J.P.’s show was serious and political, and ours was funny and satirical,” Purtan told the Free Press in recollecting those days from the late-1960s thru the mid-1990s.
Purtan, unlike McCarthy, was a radio vagabond, making himself available to the highest bidder. He makes no bones about it, nor apologizes for it. Where J.P. stayed with WJR, Purtan didn’t stay too long at any one station; he had many radio homes: WKNR, CKLW, WXYZ, WCZY, and ending at WOMC.
Purtan told the Freep that his picking up stakes fueled his longevity. McCarthy was the anomaly; to make the big bucks and stay appealing, Purtan realized that his audience would move with him, giving him leverage in contract negotiations.
But the changing face of radio—specifically, the unseen face of upper management and the business side of things—made yapping into a mike from 5:30-10:00 a.m. less fun for Purtan. Hence, he’s at peace with his decision to retire.
I once asked the late Mark (Doc) Andrews, a longtime member of “Purtan’s People” before passing away in 2004, to describe a typical morning working with Purtan.
“Laughing. We laugh and have fun, and laugh some more. It’s a great gig,” Doc told me.
That’s all Purtan wanted to do—make his audience laugh, even when there wasn’t a whole hell of a lot to laugh about in Detroit.
He did it for 45 years, and when he signs off Friday, the laughter will stop.
“The immediate future is filled with sleep—staying up late and waking up even later,” Purtan says of his retirement plans. He’ll also write a book, which should be a big seller. And lots more time will be spent with wife Gail, a breast cancer survivor who was also diagnosed with ovarian cancer 13 years ago.
But at least Purtan leaves on his own accord, read: healthy. His longtime rival McCarthy was forced out due to the cancer that eventually took his life.
Purtan won’t totally vanish; he plans on spending a lot of time maintaining and providing content for http://www.dickpurtan.com/.
“It’s pretty hard to stop when you’ve done this as long as I have, and I want to be involved,” he says.
After a little sleeping in, of course.
It’s the most romantic, glorified position in our most romantic, glorified sport.
Even when baseball was played with mushy balls by men wearing baggy uniforms and pillbox hats, when you traveled to the ballpark by horse and buggy or traipsed there by foot, centerfield was the glamour position.
Ty Cobb started it, pretty much.
Cobb used his freakish speed and sheer determination to patrol center, in between slapping base hits all over the field at a robust .370+ clip every season.
Then there was Tris Speaker, the Texan who splashed onto the scene with the Boston Red Sox before being shipped mysteriously to the Cleveland Indians in a trade that doesn’t get panned as badly as the sale of Babe Ruth, but was almost as bad for the Bosox.
Centerfield’s standing in baseball as the Rolls Royce of positions grew as time marched on.
Joe DiMaggio, a skinny Italian kid from California’s Bay Area, turned centerfield into Beverly Hills. Left and right fields were Fresno.
Then came the 1950s.
Baseball’s epicenter was New York. The Dodger Bums from Brooklyn, the Giants from northern Manhattan, the Yankees from the Bronx—it was the most storied time for baseball in and around Gotham. Every team was competitive; one of the three was always in the World Series.
Centerfield was lockstep with all that team glory in New York.
Duke Snider with the Dodgers. Willie Mays with the Giants. Mickey Mantle with the Yankees. The debate about who was the best centerfielder among the three raged throughout the five boroughs. No player from any other team was even in the discussion.
The Tigers’ Al Kaline started as a centerfielder. And he was every bit as good as Snider, Mays, and Mantle, but someone realized that to waste a howitzer of an arm like Kaline’s in center, when it could be better put to use in right field, would be an egregious mistake.
It’s the pulse of the diamond. It’s where the fastest, best, most sure-handed players are assigned. The greatest outfield plays in baseball history have been made by centerfielders.
The great centerfield debate in New York was fueled by the fact that the three ballparks involved—Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds, and Yankee Stadium—each had vast outfield acreage to cover. If you wanted to play some good centerfield in those stadiums, you had to be part gazelle, part park ranger.
The centerfielders also usually batted in the glamour spots of the order—leadoff or No. 3 or cleanup. They were the defensive wizards and the offensive spark plugs.
The comedian/actor/director Billy Crystal said he used to dream of playing centerfield for the Yankees. He and millions of other little boys.
Tiger Stadium was another of those vast ballparks in centerfield. It was 440 feet to dead center, with power alleys that could cause lesser outfielders to want to phone a cab if a gapper got slapped into left or right center.
Mickey Stanley played it as well as anyone. Mickey was a Grand Rapids kid and after playing center for a few years, he was all of Michigan’s. With Stanley in center, you could relax when the ball left the infield.
Ronnie LeFlore, practically straight from Jackson State Prison and into a Tigers uniform, had a devil of a time with centerfield in the late-1970s. LeFlore was signed from prison because of his speed and his bat. When it came to his defense, everyone politely looked the other way.
Chester Lemon was brought over from the White Sox for Steve Kemp in 1982, and manager Sparky Anderson took leave of his senses and made Lemon a rightfielder for a season, before re-depositing him in center, where he played with brilliance before the trade—and where he wowed us for the Tigers for eight seasons.
Others have come and gone since then: Gary Pettis and Brian Hunter, who each had blazing speed but cooked noodles for arms; Milt Cuyler, who also had the required speed but who lacked the anticipation and proper routing needed to chase down baseballs driven to his right or left; and a host of others who leased time in center, and whose names wouldn’t be worth the time for me to write nor for you to read.
Today, all of Tigers fandom is still in mourning over the trade of good guy Curtis Granderson. Four years ago, in Granderson’s first full season as the Tigers’ everyday centerfielder, I wrote that he’d turn the town on with his splendidness, both on and off the field. It was one of the few times when I was spot on.
Granderson’s play in center took me back to the days of Mickey Stanley and, really, to even those big boys of the 1950s from the three New York boroughs.
He’s gone now—so fitting that he’s with the Yankees—and centerfield in Detroit will now be entrusted to a raw rookie.
Austin Jackson hasn’t played an inning in the big leagues. But he’s supposed to be quite a player—the best prospect in the Yankees’ organization before being traded to the Tigers in the Granderson deal.
Reggie Jackson, no less, has raved about him. Tigers manager Jim Leyland’s eyes light up when he talks about Austin Jackson’s play this spring training.
In one fell swoop, the Tigers are asking the kid to: a) replace Granderson in centerfield; b) take over the leadoff spot in the batting order; and c) get on base and steal bases.
And oh, by the way, if you don’t do those things too well, Austin, our chances to win decrease exponentially.
It’s a glamour profession, centerfield is. It’s bright lights, big city out there. No one hides an iron glove in center. You can’t be inconspicuous batting leadoff.
“Leading off, playing centerfield…”
It rolls off the tongue. And millions of boys have inserted their own names into that fictitious P.A. announcement. Billy Crystal is hardly alone.
We’re about to find out if this kid Jackson has the goods to not be dwarfed by the specter of playing centerfield in the big leagues. He’s not following Cobb or DiMaggio or Mantle or Mays, but you’d think so, gauging by the fans’ take in post-Granderson Detroit.
I’m willing to meet Mike Feinberg halfway, but I’m not so sure the feeling would be mutual.
Feinberg is co-founder of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), as well as being the superintendent of KIPP Houston. KIPP is a network of 82 high-performing public charter schools serving 21,000 children in 19 states.
Feinberg’s program is rooted in the premise that the school day is too short. And the school year, too.
But Feinberg takes it to another level. His KIPP schools’ classes run from 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and the kids attend school two Saturdays a month, and they have three weeks of mandatory summer school.
Feinberg has a gob of stats that say his extended school days and years are the best thing since sliced bread. You can read that laundry list in his editorial for CNN.com.
I’m a parent, so I’m concerned about my child’s education as well. But I have different concerns than Feinberg, I think.
You see, I’m also a former child, as I’m pretty sure Feinberg is. But he seems to forget that kids need time to be, well, kids.
So here’s where I’m willing to meet Feinberg halfway.
I’d be open to consider the notion of longer school days—just consider it, mind you—if Feinberg and others who espouse it are willing to address my notion of, “Will it cut down on homework?”
If not, then it’s off the table, as far as I’m concerned.
A longer school day should also mean more time to complete assignments—in class. That is, if Feinberg would argue that the massive amounts of homework are a bi-product of too-short days.
And what of after school activities? Where’s the time for those? And who wants to hang out after school after being there for nine-and-a-half hours and two Saturdays a month?
I have a full-time job with a nice salary and benefits and I’m not in the office as long as Feinberg’s kids attend school each day; they have me beat by an hour a day.
Do we want our kids in school longer than most moms and dads spend time at work?
“Take away time, take away learning,” Feinberg writes. “…there is no substitute for the hours a student spends with an effective and inspiring teacher,” he adds.
Ahh, those disclaiming words: “effective” and “inspiring.”
Not every teacher is those things, and Feinberg ought to know that.
I’m not trying to change Feinberg’s mind; I’m sure his success stories are genuine. I’m just not sold that we have to push our kids as far as he’d like us to.
“Students actually look forward to their weekend KIPP days, when they get extra academic help and participate in activities such as cooking, knitting, soccer or African drumming,” Feinberg argues.
Every student, Mike? Or just some?
He closes with references to China, and cites the Chinese’s longer school days/year.
“This means that American children may eventually compete with Chinese kids who have had thousands of more hours of learning time.”
I admit, it’s food for thought. But 7:30-5:00 is simply too damn long. It’s not necessary.
You can only be a kid once. Sadly.