Archive for June, 2010
The smoking gun document leaked out, and its words were damning for the words’ originator.
The President of the United States, no less, was being called out by a powerful general for having a different sort of wartime strategy than the general would prefer. If the president’s path was taken, the words said, then the ramifications could be dire.
The president, after huddling with his Defense Secretary and the Joint Chiefs, rendered a decision: the general would have to be replaced. Because no one calls out the Commander in Chief on military matters, especially during wartime.
And that’s how it came to be that Harry S. Truman fired General Douglas MacArthur.
If you had Stanley McChrystal’s name on the brain, you’re forgiven. But it’s another example of the adage: if you stick around long enough, you’re liable to see history repeat itself.
The Korean War was the conflict in 1951, when much-decorated General MacArthur, commander of the forces defending South Korea, became mystified by President Truman’s “limited war” strategy.
MacArthur wrote a letter critical of Truman, and it fell into the hands of U.S. Rep. Joseph William Martin, Jr. (R-Massachusetts). Rep. Martin read it on the floor of Congress, along with providing copies for the press.
The letter ended, “It seems strangely difficult for some to realize that here in Asia is where the Communist conspirators have elected to make their play for global conquest, and that we have joined the issue thus raised on the battlefield; that here we fight Europe’s war with arms while the diplomats there still fight it with words; that if we lose the war to communism in Asia the fall of Europe is inevitable, win it and Europe most probably would avoid war and yet preserve freedom. As you pointed out, we must win. There is no substitute for victory.”
It was obvious that the “some” in that first sentence refers to Truman, as does “you” in the second-to-last sentence.
The letter of April 1951 wasn’t the first time MacArthur had been critical of Truman.
President Truman and General MacArthur, in happier times
On August 26, 1950, Gen. MacArthur was addressing the 51st National Encampment of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. In condemning President Truman’s policy toward the island of Formosa, MacArthur said: “Nothing could be more fallacious than the threadbare argument by those who advocate appeasement and defeatism in the Pacific that if we defend Formosa we alienate continental Asia.”
The relationship between Truman and MacArthur began to be strained from that point on, though the two worked together without much incident.
Then came the April 1951 letter, and Truman had had enough.
The decision to fire MacArthur was portrayed as being pretty much unanimous among the President and his close military advisers, along with the Joint Chiefs. While it was agreed that MacArthur hadn’t been guilty of out-and-out insubordination, he had come perilously close and that was enough to render his leadership counter to the greater good.
General McChrystal’s brain fart, in the form of his profile in Rolling Stone Magazine, made it impossible for President Barack Obama to keep McChrystal in command of the forces in Afghanistan.
The President had no choice but to fire McChrystal.
If an “old soldier” like the esteemed General Douglas MacArthur can be fired for publicly challenging his president’s—and thus the country’s—war strategy, then who can’t be?
It took almost 60 years this time, but these things have a way of cycling back, sooner or later.
Last Week: 2-4
This Week: at Min (6/29-7/1); SEA (7/2-4)
So what happened?
A disappointing, though perhaps predictable week on the road.
The Tigers, 13-19 away from Detroit when last week began, traveled into the hornet’s nests of New York and Atlanta, where neither home team loses all that much.
The result? An unsurprising 2-4 record, with the Tigers needing to win the final game of the series both times to avoid sweeps.
It all began in the rain and muck of Citi Field on Tuesday night, when Justin Verlander pitched two very shaky innings before the skies opened and a lengthy delay ensued.
The trip ended on a high note, with a 10-4 shellacking of the Braves, who’ve lost just eight times at home all season.
The good news? The Twins didn’t do much, either, and the Tigers actually stayed within a half-game of first place.
But the White Sox have been re-animated, and are suddenly making the AL Central a three-team race, which seemed an absurd notion just a couple weeks ago.
Hero of the Week
You can’t stop Brennan Boesch, folks—you can only hope to contain him.
And opposing pitchers aren’t even really doing that.
Every time I look up, Boesch is standing on second base—or rounding third in a trot.
This is getting ridiculous now.
Boesch, the Tigers’ rookie dropped from baseball heaven, could be the team’s left fielder for the next 10 years. He might combine with Miguel Cabrera to form one of the sickest hitting tandems that you’ll ever see in any big league batting order.
The future is exciting to contemplate, isn’t it?
Boesch kept slugging last week, and he was, again, a big factor in the Tigers’ wins.
You keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, i.e. the inevitable cool down, but until then, just enjoy the ride.
Goat of the Week
It’s time someone wrung their hands over Johnny Damon.
The 36-year-old left fielder/DH is looking every bit his age, and then some.
Damon is in a 6-for-37 slump, and he was invisible offensively last week. He did steal a couple of bases Sunday, but aside from that he’s been popless.
Damon’s average was .294 two weeks ago, and it’s now plunged to .269. And where’s the power? Damon has three homers in 253 at-bats.
Maybe the Yankees knew something when they dragged their feet in negotiating with him after last season.
I was a proponent of bringing Damon to Detroit. And he may yet right the ship. But for the last several weeks, that ship has been banging against the rocks.
Upcoming: Twins, Mariners
Have plenty of Pepto Bismol and aspirin on hand. Prepare to be put through the wringer.
The Tigers are in Minnesota this week.
The Tigers couldn’t beat the Twins in the Metrodome, and they can’t beat them at new Target Field, having been swept there in May.
But the Twins must look at the Tigers as gnats that won’t go away.
Here come the Tigers, just a half-game back in the Central Division and tied in the all-important loss column.
The Tigers were nipping on the Twins’ heels in early May, too, but the sweep knocked them back. The Twins’ lead has been as large as 5-1/2 games, but their play of late has opened the door for all comers—including the surging White Sox.
As for the Mariners, they are woeful—except when they play the Tigers. The M’s are another weak sister the Tigers seem to have trouble handling.
But the Tigers may have shed that label with their 8-1 run against the horrid Pirates, Nationals, and Diamondbacks a couple weeks ago.
Be prepared to hear more about lefty Cliff Lee when Seattle comes to town. The brilliant pitcher has been rumored to be on his way to the Twins in a contract-shedding.
Radio blowhard Mike Valenti of 97.1 The Ticket says if the Twins get Lee, “the Tigers’ season is over.”
This is a week where the Tigers could find themselves in first place once it’s done.
That’s all for this week’s MMM. See you next week!
I don’t know what kind of a guy Frank J. Selke was, but he must have been some kind of awful.
The National Hockey League has a thing about naming awards and trophies after people, not accomplishments.
Baseball, basketball and football all have Most Valuable Player Awards. The NHL has the Hart Trophy, to show you.
There’s not a piece of hardware that the NHL gives out that isn’t named after a person, which means you need a cheat sheet to keep track of who means what.
Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings is the world’s best thief on skates. He wears a visor on his helmet, but he ought to wear a mask. If he did on the streets what he does in NHL rinks, he’d have a rap sheet that would make Kwame Kilpatrick blush.
The NHL names its award for the best defensive forward after Frank J. Selke, which means it’s honoring Selke, the longtime Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens executive of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, by rewarding on-ice crime.
What’s next? The Al Capone Award for most creative tax evasion?
Datsyuk, this week in Las Vegas, just captured his third straight Selke Trophy.
This means that Datsyuk, for three years running, has been recognized by the league as being the best in pilfering the puck from the other guys. His face shouldn’t be in a program, it should be on post office walls across North America.
This description of the superstar Datsyuk may seem to be an oversimplification, but the NHL tracks takeaways, a politically correct word that means the same as stealing. Try being mugged and filing a police report that says the perpetrator committed a “takeaway.”
In the category of puck stealing, Datsyuk is consistently near the top, if not leading the thieves. He was at it again this season, finishing second in the whole NHL among forwards. That, combined with his other criminal activity, earned him Selke No. 3.
Datsyuk does all this while also being among the very best offensive forces in the league. He giveth AND he taketh away.
“This trophy is special for me,” Datsyuk said in a phone interview. “I’m happy to represent the Red Wings. I hope it’s not my last one.”
Talk about brazen; he hopes to strike again!
There’s an art to the grab, of course. Datsyuk doesn’t just smash a window and make off with the puck. He’s too refined for that.
First, you have to accept that Datsyuk with a hockey stick against his brethren isn’t a fair fight.
It’s like Michelangelo squaring off against Tom Sawyer in a battle of paint brushes.
Datsyuk uses his stick like the surgeons at Beaumont use their fingers.
It starts with what he does offensively. Datsyuk could stickhandle the puck on a bed of nails. He doesn’t ever lose the puck, he just gets tired of playing with it.
All he needs is a slab of ice the size of a welcome mat and you could spend the entire afternoon trying to touch the puck and all you’d get is an ice cold stick.
Datsyuk could stickhandle in a phone booth and never touch glass.
He uses that same aplomb when it comes to his petty crimes when he doesn’t possess the puck.
Datsyuk takes the puck away in stealth fashion. He doesn’t mug the other guy. He doesn’t drape himself all over his opponent and strong arm away the vulcanized disc of rubber.
It’s a “now you have it, now you don’t” kind of a thing.
He usually comes from behind you. Most of the good crimes start that way, I know. But even if you know he’s behind you, it doesn’t do you any good. In fact, Datsyuk could give you a call and set up an appointment and tell you that he’s going to relieve you of the puck and it wouldn’t mean jack squat.
A common method is for Datsyuk to glide up behind you and neatly use his stick to lift yours off the ice surface, mid-stickhandle. In a flash, he has the puck and is skating away with it. He does it so fast you’d swear he was playing with giant chopsticks, not a hockey stick.
Another modus operandi involves Datsyuk pretending like he doesn’t know you have the puck, allowing you to skate by him, presumably unnoticed. But then a flick of his stick later, he’s poke checked you, you’re sans the puck and he’s with it and you can’t wait to see what the security cameras show.
And he does it all with a wide-eyed, innocent expression on his face that suggests a lovable scamp.
Datsyuk never changes his expression; he always looks like a puppy who got caught piddling on the living room carpet.
But hey, do you want irony? You wanna hear the kicker?
Get this—Datsyuk just missed winning his fifth straight Lady Byng Trophy.
Translated: that’s the award the NHL gives out for sportsmanship and—I can barely stifle a grin as I type this—for gentlemanly conduct.
Only in the NHL can they honor a guy for stealing and being a nice guy, all at the same time.
But it’s true; Datsyuk really IS a perfect gentleman when he absconds with the puck.
Pavel, the Friendly Bandit.
Datsyuk, when reached for comment after his latest Selke Trophy, started singing like a canary. He was quick to implicate accomplices of the past.
“(Steve) Yzerman, (Sergei) Fedorov, (Igor) Larionov, I learned every day in practice from those guys,” Datsyuk said. “I’m happy to disappoint a guy and make him not score on us. I want to score a lot, but I’m happy if they don’t score on us.”
Pavel Datsyuk’s been “disappointing” guys in the NHL for eight years now. So that’s what he calls it, huh?
Again, try that at the local police precinct.
“Some guy, he committed a takeaway of my wallet! He REALLY disappointed me!”
Why are we parsing words? Datsyuk’s getting away!
Never mind—he’s already gone.
Reputations precede you in pro sports. And they can enslave you.
It’s easy to spoil us—we who don’t play the game. We who merely watch and follow and pound out Tweets and blister athletes in 140 characters or less.
We got used to Magglio Ordonez, the Tigers right fielder. Every late winter/early spring, when the reports of how the Tigers were shaping up started to flitter in from Florida, we’d do a mental evaluation, position-by-position. When we came to Maggs, it was a simple evaluation.
A batting average north of .300, 20 to 30 home runs, threatening 100 RBI, at least.
There was no need to fret over Ordonez. He was a pure hitter, born to hit .300. He was as reliable as tomorrow’s sunrise.
Someone once said of a natural born hitter, “He could roll out of bed on Christmas Day and slap a base hit.”
That was Ordonez. He won a batting title with the Tigers in 2007 and followed that with a strong 2008. He has a career BA of .312, and has banged out over 2,000 hits. So why worry about a guy like that?
Turn back the clock 12 months and recall, if you will, what they were saying about Ordonez.
The numbers were shocking in their lack of punch.
One year ago today, Magglio was hitting .274, with a measly three homers and but 24 RBI.
There were some factors. A nagging injury. Some personal matters. A pending contract kicker, based on number of at-bats.
They started calling him a singles hitter, a Punch-and-Judy guy. His power was gone, and so his career must be soon to follow.
Manager Jim Leyland even tried the most desperate of solutions when a hitter stops hitting: the benching.
I’ve never understood how a guy is supposed to work his way out of a slump by sitting in the dugout all day, but that’s just me.
They looked at Ordonez’s age, saw that it was 35, and that only made matters worse.
The words began to be whispered: done; washed up; a has-been.
If you need some perspective, look no further than the great Ted Williams.
You heard me.
Teddy Ballgame. The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived. Teddy’s words, by the way.
Williams was 41 years old in 1959 and suffering with a pinched nerve in his neck.
The nagging injury limited Williams to 272 at-bats and—get this—a .254 batting average.
.254?? Ted Williams?
.254 and Ted Williams go together like sardines and ice cream.
He was 41 and it looked over with.
But Williams was determined not to let his last season in the big leagues read .254 next to it.
He got healthy with his neck and came back for one more year.
In 310 AB in 1960, Williams hit .316 and slammed 29 HR—one every 10.7 AB.
He knocked one out at Fenway Park in his final career at-bat, into the teeth of a strong wind.
THEN he retired.
Ordonez is back.
He’s hitting .322, with 10 HR and 49 RBI. That’s .048, seven and 25 better than last year at this time. The ball again explodes from his bat. The swing is back to its upper cut smoothness.
It’s more, well, Ordonez-ish.
Seems like he hasn’t forgotten how to hit, after all.
And his resurgence is a huge reason why the Tigers’ 3-4-5 hitters are among the best in baseball right now.
We should have known better.
Pavarotti doesn’t suddenly start singing out of key. Wolfgang Puck doesn’t forget ingredients. Stephen King doesn’t start writing romances.
Magglio Ordonez is a hitter. It’s what he does. He’s no more washed up, at age 36, than Austin Jackson.
We should have known better.
He’d never do it, but Jimmy Devellano should have burst into the NHL’s offices in New York City and cried out, “What does a guy have to do to get into the Hall of Fame around here?!”
And he should have done it 10 years ago. At least.
They finally granted Jimmy D. Hall of Fame status yesterday. Thank goodness they’re not doing it posthumously. I was beginning to wonder.
Red Wings Executive Vice President Devellano, 67, will be enshrined next year. Seems the last ones to know he’s a Hall of Famer were the only ones who mattered, sadly. Isn’t it always the way?
Devellano took the path less traveled to get here.
He didn’t play the game. He didn’t coach it. He just happened to know all about it. He was the Howard Cosell of hockey.
Jimmy D. started showing up at the hockey rink in St. Louis back in the days of the NHL’s first expansion, in 1967. The Blues’ first coach was Hall of Fame player Lynn Patrick, and after 16 games, Patrick had enough.
Patrick quit and his young assistant was thrust into the head coaching role. The assistant was Scotty Bowman.
So Jimmy D. becomes a hockey groupie around the Blues and Bowman, probably at his wit’s end, gives Devellano a scouting job. He didn’t even pay Jimmy, at first.
That’s how it all started for Devellano. It’s like Bill Shakespeare starting out as a copy boy.
You know the rest—Jimmy gets hired by another expansion team, the New York Islanders, in 1972. He canvasses Canada, looking for hockey players, in such glamorous burgs as Moose Jaw and Flin Flon and Cranbrooke.
Jimmy never played, never coached, but he had an uncanny way of knowing if a kid was either going to be a pro hockey stud or a pretender. He was a savant.
Devellano’s scouring for hockey talent in North America under Islanders GM Bill Torrey gave Torrey the core for the teams that would win four straight Stanley Cups (1980-83).
If you went to Las Vegas and played the blackjack table with the same knack and cunning that Jimmy Devellano had for identifying NHL talent in small town North America, they’d call security and have you banned from the tables for life. They’d be phoning Atlantic City to give them a heads up as you were being led out.
Jimmy seemed to have a fetish for starting with a franchise at the very bottom.
He did it with the Blues. He did it with the Islanders.
He most certainly did it with the Red Wings.
The Blues and the Isles had excuses for their ineptitude—they were expansion teams.
The Red Wings had been in the league for 55 years when owner Mike Ilitch made Jimmy D. his first hockey hire. And they were a total, complete mess.
Devellano had never been given the kind of opportunity that Ilitch gave him in the summer of 1982. If Jimmy wanted to be a GM in the worst way, then his wish was granted.
The Red Wings were slapstick, but they weren’t comedy. You need tragedy plus time to make comedy, they say, and the Red Wings just had the tragedy part down when Devellano arrived.
Joe Louis Arena in those days was a great place to study for a science test or to catch up on your reading. Mike Ilitch had himself a 20,000 seat library. The arena was so sparsely populated and so quiet, the only things missing were a microfiche reader and a copying machine.
Ilitch gave away cars. He tried other promotions, all designed to divert your attention from the players wearing the Winged Wheel.
Devellano arrived in town and no one in Detroit knew who he was. But he came from the Islanders, and they were winning the Cup every year, so what the hell?
At the presser introducing him as the Red Wings’ new GM, Jimmy said in his squeaky Canadian voice, “As long as Jimmy Devellano is the general manager of the Detroit Red Wings, we will NOT trade a draft choice.”
Rome would be built brick by brick, with no quick fixes.
His first draft pick as Red Wings GM was Steve Yzerman. So there.
Jimmy made good on his word. He horded draft picks and traded for more of them. He signed cheap, veteran free agents—Band-Aids. Most had seen their better days in the NHL. Some had never seen good days, period.
In 1985, Jimmy tried the quick fix, after all. Ilitch gave the blessing to spend money.
So Devellano signed one college free agent after the other, and went after some NHL mercenaries.
The plan backfired, to say the least. The Bay of Pigs was more successful.
The Red Wings won 17 games, allowed over 400 goals, and went through two overwhelmed coaches—Harry Neale and Brad Park. Both were so traumatized that neither went back into coaching.
But then Jimmy hired Jacques Demers as coach—some would say Jimmy shanghaied Jacques; his aggressiveness in going after St. Louis’ coach bordered on illegal.
The climb to respectability and eventually Stanley Cup contender had begun with the hiring of Demers in the summer of 1986.
Jimmy hasn’t been the Red Wings’ GM since 1990, when the team hired Bryan Murray to coach and to manage. But he’s been no less a part of building the mini-dynasty that has captured four Cups since 1997.
Jimmy never had much hair, and what little he had always looked dirty and was matted over his scalp as if he used a comb with the middle teeth missing. His clothes fit him like a kid playing dress-up with his dad’s wardrobe. He didn’t walk, he waddled.
But he knew his hockey players. Even after his GM days, Devellano was the Great and Powerful Oz behind the curtain at JLA. Then he got older and he turned Yoda for GM Kenny Holland.
You’d like to say that Jimmy Devellano has forgotten more hockey than all of us know, except that I don’t think Jimmy has forgotten a lick.
The NHL shouldn’t enshrine him, they should clone him.
They’re finally putting Jimmy D. into the Hall of Fame. It’s almost a redundant move. Nothing’s been this overdue since an apology from Ann Coulter.
This Week: at NYM (6/22-24); at Atl (6/25-27)
So what happened?
The National League came to town and all was good again.
The Tigers should pull a Milwaukee Brewers and lobby for a move to the NL. The American League can have the Brewers back, as a matter of fact.
The Tigers’ dominance over the Senior Circuit continued last week. A weekend sweep of the Pirates was followed by a weekday sweep of the Nationals, which was followed by a 2-of-3 series win over the Diamondbacks.
The Tigers have won eight of nine, rolling through the National League visitors like a baker’s pin over today’s bread dough.
But now it’s a bunch of games with @ before the opponents’ names.
But here’s to last week, when the Tigers beat up on teams they should have—following underwhelming performances against the weaker sisters in their own AL Central.
Hero of the Week
When a team has a 6-1 week, it’s hard to pick one guy over everyone else, but how about some love for Brandon Inge? Not that he doesn’t get his fair share for a player who takes a .230-ish average home every winter.
But Inge has been on a quiet tear as of late. He’s hitting in the high .300s over his past 20 games or so. He had a big week last week, too: 7-for-20, including a clutch, laser triple Friday night against Arizona. His glove work, as usual, has been outstanding.
The season average is up to .261 now, which is rarified air for Mr. Inge.
Not the strongest of Heroes in a great week, but it’s nice to have the problem of wondering who to choose because the list of candidates is long—right?
Last week on “The Knee Jerks,” the podcast I co-host with Big Al Beaton, we discussed the merits of sending struggling sophomore starter Rick Porcello down to Toledo to work on things.
The consensus was that if the team feels he’d be better off clearing his head in Ohio, then this is actually a good time to do it.
Four of the five starters are pitching OK—and some are pitching better than OK.
The Tigers pulled the trigger Sunday, optioning the 21-year-old to the Mud Hens.
And it’s not certain that he’ll be back up in 10 days, like Max Scherzer was after his demotion.
“He could be but we’re not saying he will, by any means,” GM Dave Dombrowski told the Detroit News. “It’ll be a matter of when we’re told he can be an effective big league pitcher again.”
It’s generally faster for pitchers to figure things out than it is for hitters, when the problems are mechanics. Witness Scott Sizemore, who was jettisoned when the big leagues proved to be too big for him. Sure, Sizemore’s batting average with the Mud Hens looked good after he’d been there for a few weeks (over .300), but that’s against AAA pitching.
No one seems to think that Sizemore’s ready for another appearance in The Show quite yet, despite his relative success in Toledo.
Porcello may or may not be able to correct what’s ailing him in a couple of starts. Now that he’s with the Mud Hens, there should be no hurry to return him to the Tigers. He’s younger than Scherzer and has less big league experience.
Plus, the Tigers are winning without his contribution, and there are still 94 games remaining.
So yes, Porcello is MMM’s Goat this week, but it’s tough love.
Upcoming: Mets, Braves
It’s one thing to kick the Pirates, Nationals, and D-Backs around in your own backyard. It’s quite another to take on the Mets and the Braves at their place.
I’m tickled at the Tigers’ 8-1 homestand, but the next nine games are where you’re going to find out a lot more about them. For after this week’s trips to New York and Atlanta, the Tigers go to Minnesota next Monday thru Wednesday.
If 8-1 is followed by 2-7 or 3-6, then hold off on the “Tigers are a contender” talk.
The Tigers are 13-19 on the road, and the Mets and Braves are outstanding at home.
Two forces are about to collide here, and at first blush it looks like advantage, NL teams—for a change.
The Mets don’t bash their way to victory; their team BA is .257 and only two players are in double digits in home runs. But four of their five starters have ERAs between 2.69 and 3.64, and their overall team ERA is fifth in the NL.
One to watch for is lefty Hisanori Takahashi, the 35-year-old rookie from Japan who moved from the bullpen into the starting rotation on May 21 and has an ERA of just over 3.00 in six starts. He’s due to face the Tigers this week, having last started on Friday—when he threw six shutout innings at the Yankees.
As for the Braves, the news last week was that 38-year-old Chipper Jones will NOT retire forthwith, as had been reported. Jones says he’ll put off such talk until after the season.
Manager Bobby Cox, however, IS retiring—after the season. So this will be the Tigers’ last chance to see Mr. Ejection, barring a matchup in some sort of series that’s played in October…what do they call it again?
Player to watch for the Braves: the rejuvenated Troy Glaus, who had all of 29 at-bats last year with the Cardinals.
First baseman Glaus, 33, has 14 HR and 55 RBI and is hitting .280.
The Tigers know all about Glaus, having seen him for all those years with the Blue Jays and Angels.
That’s all for this week’s MMM. See you next week!
Before Jack McCloskey was “Trader Jack,” the risk-taking, daredevil GM of the Detroit Pistons—architect of two World Championship teams and damn near a third—he was a rumpled old college basketball coach.
The Eastern seaboard was his jurisdiction. He coached for 10 years at Penn then for six years at Wake Forest, picking-and-rolling in the sweaty gyms of the campuses of Rutgers, St. John’s, Temple, North Carolina and CCNY. The basketballs in those days had just become lace-free.
The shoes were canvas sneakers and their tops were high; if you wore them with today’s basketball shorts, the tops and the shorts would just about touch.
Trader Jack was Coach Jack, and his teams were winners.
Before he was even Coach Jack, McCloskey was Lt. Jack—serving in WWII, commanding a landing ship for the Marines.
It made a road game in Philadelphia seem like a Hawaiian vacation.
In 1972, Coach Jack was lured out of his college lair and agreed to make the jump to the NBA. Perhaps you’ve heard of a potential similar move in the news lately.
The expansion Portland Trailblazers were three years old but still in their Terrible Twos when they hoodwinked McCloskey into leaving campus and becoming their new head coach.
In their first two seasons as an NBA club, the Trailblazers had won 47 games, lost 117. They were the typical NBA expansion team; if they made it through all 48 minutes without tripping over their shoelaces, it was a good night.
McCloskey took the job, and one thing about it was attractive, for sure.
The Trailblazers, thanks to their ghoulish 18-64 record of the season before, were possessors of the first overall pick in the 1972 NBA Draft. There was no lottery back then. In those days, the “last shall be first.”
McCloskey knew a little bit about college players, and he positively drooled over the specimen from the University of North Carolina who would be the cornerstone of the Trailblazers, around whom the entire roster would be rebuilt.
Bob McAdoo wasn’t a basketball player, he was a scoring machine.
Mac was six-foot-nine but he played nine-foot-six. You didn’t guard him, you watched him with an umbrella—as he rained points on you like a monsoon.
McAdoo was, unquestionably, the most talented player that would be available in the ’72 Draft. The Trailblazers had the first overall pick. You do the math.
In February, McCloskey was on the phone, guesting on “The Knee Jerks,” a podcast I co-host with Big Al Beaton. And he recalled how things went horribly wrong in 1972.
“It looked like McAdoo was going to be ours,” Jack said in his famously raspy voice. “The negotiations were going fine. But close to the draft, the owner (of the Trailblazers) and Bob’s agent disappeared into a room.
“When they came out, the deal was off.”
To this day, McCloskey has no idea what happened. All he knows is, one moment he was about to coach the greatest college player in the country, and the next, the kid vanished—like waking up from a good dream and finding out that the giant marshmallow you were munching on really was your pillow.
Bob McAdoo, the crown jewel of the 1972 draft, the leaping, point-churning All-American from North Carolina, was so close to McCloskey and the Trailblazers yet so far. Mac might as well have been playing on Mars.
McAdoo wasn’t going to be a Trailblazer, after all. So who would? If not McAdoo, then who was the hotshot college player about to be selected first off the board?
When they told Coach Jack the name, he might have asked them to repeat it.
The kid’s name was LaRue Martin, from Loyola of Chicago. LaRue was nearly seven feet tall—a beanpole on sneakers. He was so skinny, if he had turned sideways you’d have lost sight of him.
And—get this—McCloskey had never heard of him.
Jack McCloskey, who until being hired by the NBA’s Trailblazers had scraped out a living scouting, recruiting, and coaching teenagers from across the country, had his new bosses informing him that they were about to draft a kid who was an unknown.
It was like being a wine connoisseur and having the maitre d’ bring out something in a Boone’s Farm.
“I said, ‘Gee, I know a lot of college players but I’ve never heard of LaRue Martin,’” Retired Jack told Big Al and me.
LaRue Martin, 22 years old, showed up at Trailblazers camp that fall—we assume with photo ID on his person.
Bob McAdoo, meanwhile, was snatched up by the Buffalo Braves with the No. 2 overall selection, on his way to superstardom and multiple NBA scoring titles—and a trail of migraines he caused along the way.
“LaRue Martin was a very nice young man,” McCloskey said. “But he just wasn’t worthy of that high of a draft pick.”
There are two instances when someone being described as nice should cause grave concern: before a blind date, and when you’re assessing the No. 1 overall pick of the NBA Draft.
Martin played in 77 games his rookie season, but only 996 minutes, or about 13 minutes per game. It wasn’t playing time, it was charity.
LaRue scored 340 points in those 77 games—4.4 per appearance.
Bob McAdoo averaged 18 points and nine rebounds per game and won the league’s Rookie of the Year Award. He would average over 30 points per game the next three seasons.
LaRue Martin played in the NBA for four seasons and laid in 1,430 points—total. McAdoo scored that in pre-game warm-ups in the same time frame.
Coach Jack didn’t have much luck in the NBA. First his bosses blew the deal with McAdoo. Then he was fired after two seasons—just before the Trailblazers got it right and drafted Bill Walton to play center.
When Coach Jack became Trader Jack with the Pistons as their new GM in 1979, the team had a brooding, petulant forward who wanted to be anywhere but in Detroit.
The forward was Bob McAdoo.
When McCloskey first laid eyes on McAdoo at North Carolina, Mac was fine wine. When he encountered McAdoo with the Pistons seven years later, Mac was fine whine.
Twelve years after the Trailblazers’ mistake with LaRue Martin, they managed to top it.
Prior to the 1984 draft, the Trailblazers, possessing the No. 2 overall pick, again looked at a player from North Carolina—a kid of such fantastic skills and leaping ability that he would eventually become an airline.
But the Trailblazers said no, and selected a center with bad knees from Kentucky, Sam Bowie.
The Chicago Bulls, with the next pick, chose Michael Jordan.
And you think Jim Joyce’s call was bad?
Tom Izzo finally did it.
He finally uttered those three little words.
No, not those three little words—but these were even better.
“I’m a lifer.”
And with that, they ought to start building a fence around the Michigan State University campus.
On top of the fence should be a sign, in huge green letters on a white background: “NBA: KEEP OUT.”
Izzo, the MSU basketball coach who flirted with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers last week, not only told them no, he essentially told the entire NBA the same thing.
“I’m a lifer,” Izzo said at a press conference yesterday, “And damn proud of it.”
I wrote about the Izzo Watch last week and I was criticized for being mean spirited. Others—including MSU people—said that as much as it pained them to admit it, they agreed in principle with what I had to say.
Namely, that Tom Izzo had—to that point—failed to give the NBA any reason to keep his name off their phones’ speed dials. Until he did so, I wrote, we were likely to go through this kind of thing every couple of years, ad nauseam.
And who needs that?
Yesterday, Izzo officially barred the NBA from his coaching life.
“I’m a lifer.”
If his word has any merit—and we have no reason to believe that it doesn’t—then this confession of being a lifer at MSU should finally take Izzo’s name out of the rumor mill when future NBA coaching jobs open up.
If it doesn’t, then I’m back to where I was last week: shame on Tom Izzo.
Izzo is remaining at Michigan State because he’s happy there. Better than that—he’s content. There’s a difference, though it’s subtle.
Happy means it’s fun to go to work. Content means that you’ll never be in want of anything as long as you keep your butt firmly planted where it currently rests.
Izzo made the right decision and everyone knows it. Probably even Dan Gilbert, the hotshot, high-spending owner of the Cavs, knows it, in his heart.
Izzo’s trip to Cleveland last Thursday can now be described thusly: He came, he saw, he vacillated.
Typically, when a guy makes a trip to a city that’s courting him—when he visits that team’s facilities, meets its head honchos and takes a look at the roster—there’s a presser called forthwith to announce that guy’s hiring.
Izzo came back from Cleveland and clearly he wasn’t able to pull the trigger. He likely spent the weekend asking himself why.
The answer was wonderfully simple but maddeningly elusive.
Izzo couldn’t say yes to Cleveland because he couldn’t say no to Michigan State.
The Detroit News’ Lynn Henning got it all wrong. It wasn’t the first time.
Henning wrote the other day that Izzo’s taking so long to decide meant that his heart simply wasn’t all with MSU anymore. Henning went one step further: Izzo had taken so long, that he had gone beyond the point of no return; he couldn’t any longer stay at MSU and retain any sort of credibility.
Henning was 180 degrees wrong. Izzo took so long because his heart was at MSU. If it wasn’t, he’d have signed a deal with the Cavs last weekend, shortly after returning from his trip to Cleveland.
The decision was a double-edged sword—yes to Cleveland, no to East Lansing.
It was a whole lot easier to say yes than it was to say no.
Just after Izzo took the podium yesterday—before he really started talking in earnest—a couple players rushed the stage. They embraced him, individually.
The line of players kept coming. So did the hugs.
Izzo endearingly referred to a couple of the recent graduates as “has beens” as they took their turn paying homage to their coach with silent, heartfelt hugs.
It was a wonderful 30 seconds, give or take.
You think you’d ever see anything like that in the NBA if a coach announced he just signed a contract extension to stay?
Now reverse it for a moment.
If the presser was to announce Izzo was leaving, and then his players—EX-players—did the hugging procession, you might have had the first in-presser reversal in sports history.
For the look on Izzo’s face as his players spontaneously showed PDAs spoke a thousand words.
Izzo sparred with Henning for several delectable minutes yesterday, the coach’s face at times barely able to conceal his annoyance and disdain for Henning’s “you can’t stay NOW” column.
“Now THIS is more like the UP!” Izzo said to cheers, referring to his native Upper Peninsula’s way of duking it out, verbally, in public.
So Izzo stays, where he belongs. He fancies himself a Bobby Bowden, a Bo Schembechler, a Coach K, a Jim Boeheim. Izzo’s words. Guys who kept their rear ends in one place, despite other temptations.
“I have no desire to be a Paterno,” he said, referring to the octogenarian football coach at Penn State. “But I’m right there with those other guys.”
Izzo said those three little words. He finally said them. There should be no more NBA overtures.
I hear Phil Jackson might retire from the Lakers.
That makes me think of two little words.
Betty White’s been around show business so long it’s tempting to ask her if she was an understudy at Ford’s Theater the night Abe Lincoln got shot.
Or if she ever shared a stage with Sarah Bernhardt.
White is 88 but if you’re only as old as you feel or behave, then she’s not old enough to remember the Reagan Administration.
Betty White is refreshing. She uses her real name, for one—and for someone of her generation, that’s an anomaly. She really is plain old Betty White. Not Ruth Dingelbratter or Helen McDuffie.
Betty Marion White.
She was born on January 17, 1922 in Oak Park, Illinois—probably when there were no Oak trees and there wasn’t a park built yet.
Her family was among the many who headed West in the hopes of something better, during the Great Depression. The Whites ended up in Los Angeles, and Betty graduated from Beverly Hills High School—in 1939.
The woman was a high school senior during just the second of FDR’s four terms.
I wonder when the dimples set in.
Betty White, 88 years young
White is working on, by my count, her fifth screen career, big and small.
The first was in the 1950s, when she starred in “Life with Elizabeth” from 1952-55— a sitcom that she also co-produced. Forget Lucille Ball—Betty White was the true pioneer when it came to being a woman who had control both in front of and behind the camera.
White won her first Emmy Award for “Life with Elizabeth.”
Betty’s second career occurred in the 1960s, when she was a regular on the old “Password” game shows hosted by her eventual husband, Allen Ludden.
The third came as incomparable Sue Ann Nivens, the “Happy Homemaker,” on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in the 1970s—quite possibly both the creepiest yet most enthralling female character in TV history.
Legend has it that in a production meeting, Moore suggested that the Sue Ann Nivens character be played by “Someone who can play sickeningly sweet. Like Betty White.”
The show’s producers did one better, and got White herself.
Career number four occurred in the 1990s, when White teamed with Rue McClanahan (who we just lost), Bea Arthur and Estelle Getty on “The Golden Girls.” Only White remains with us today.
Betty White’s fifth career is happening right now, all around us.
It’s Betty’s world and we’re all just living in it.
There was the marvelous turn as Gammy in 2009′s “The Proposal,” followed by very public and very feisty support of co-star Sandy Bullock in the wake of the ghastly behavior of Bullock’s hubby Jesse James.
She’s appeared in commercials and recently hosted “Saturday Night Live.”
Now she’s set to wow us in TV Land’s new original series, “Hot in Cleveland,” which debuts this Wednesday night at 10:00 p.m.
White joins the highly underrated Wendie Malick, still cute-as-a-button Valerie Bertinelli, and equally underrated Jane Leeves in the new series.
TV Land’s promos have just about featured White, relegating her young whippersnapper co-stars to background players.
And why not?
Betty White is enjoying a career rebirth like none I’ve ever seen of an actor in their late-80s.
I think it’s because White is America’s grandmother. All of us can pretty much relate someone in our family to some portion of a character that Betty White has played lo these past 60 years or so.
And don’t forget the humanistic Betty White who, as herself, did all those commercials and PSAs for animals’ rights and dog food and meds.
In between all the aforementioned highlights have been countless guest shots on various TV shows and cameos in movies and other game show appearances.
Ludden, her third husband, died from stomach cancer in June, 1981 and White has remained single ever since. She has no children of her own, though she inherited four from Ludden’s previous marriage.
If you go to Betty’s IMDb page and scroll down to her Filmography, it reads like an encyclopedia of television history. It’s all there—sitcoms and game shows; talk shows and dramas; comedies and variety shows.
Betty White is 88 years old and her career is taking off—again. She’s the American Airlines of show business.
One of my all-time favorite lines in television occurred on the final episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
Murray the writer is lamenting the staff being canned by WJM-TV’s new owners.
“Being fired,” Murray sighs, “is like being violated.”
To which sex-starved Sue Ann Nivens says brightly, “Leave it to Murray to look on the bright side!”
I’ll be watching TV Land Wednesday night at 10:00. Can’t wait to see what Betty Marion White has cooked up this time.