Archive for August, 2010

Aug
31

Could’ve Ben Better

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Ben Affleck has been disappointing.

I look at Affleck, who has a new film coming out soon—a movie that he directed, wrote, and stars in—and I can’t help but think that he could have been so much more.

It’s been 13 years, believe it or not, since the 38-year-old Affleck burst onto the scene in Good Will Hunting, a film he co-wrote and co-starred in with Matt Damon about a math wiz who needs guidance.

The movie introduced us to Affleck, a nice-looking, well-spoken young man who looked to be the next big box office male lead. Co-star Damon seemed a tad too nerdy looking to assume that mantle.

But something happened on the way to stardom for Affleck. He made a lot of so-so movies; some were downright awful.

He could have been so much more.

There were some decent flicks: Armageddon, Shakespeare in Love, Boiler Room. But they weren’t blockbusters, and they weren’t yesterday. We’re talking about a decade ago.

Instead, there’s been Changing Lanes, Gigli, Jersey Girl, Surviving Christmas, and it hasn’t been so much what Affleck has done, it’s been what he hasn’t — which has become the matinee idol that so many of us thought he was destined to be.

He’s done “Saturday Night Live” many times and he’s poked fun at his failed relationship with Jennifer Lopez and he’s not had a bad career—just not one that reached its potential. My opinion.

So here comes The Town, slated for a September 17 release, in which Affleck plays a career bank robber who starts to grow a conscience, while at the same time trying to elude the FBI.

Affleck is the biggest name in the cast, though fellow players like Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm are probably recognizable by face.

A movie star’s career—and it’s often different than an actor’s, because there can be a distinct difference between actor and star—is at the mercy of variables outside the control of the player.
Script selection, though, is where the player has to be accountable. No one held a gun to Affleck’s head and ordered him to do Surviving Christmas.

But Affleck is only 38. He can still turn things around. Maybe The Town is the vehicle that will help him to do that. We’ll see.

I look at Ben Affleck and I don’t see failure. I just don’t see what I thought I’d be seeing, when he arrived on the scene in the late-1990s.

It’s been an uneven career, where I thought he was destined for Burt Reynolds or Chevy Chase or George Clooney-like box office power.

But he’s only 38. It’s far from over.

Categories : Enotes, Entertainment
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Aug
30

In Pittsburgh, the Bucs Stop in April

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The Pittsburgh Pirates will not have a winning record this season.

And water is still wet. The sun still rises from the east. Telemarketers still call at the dinner hour. Wile E. Coyote still hasn’t caught the Road Runner.

You know how whenever you watch a boxing match, no matter how little-known the fighters are, they always have winning records? This defies logic, because somewhere out there must be a fighter with a record of like 5-45. A tomato can with gloves.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are that tomato can.

It’s 18 in a row and counting—the Pirates’ streak of losing seasons. The last man to guide them to a ledger where the left hand column read higher than the right was none other than the Tigers’ own Jim Leyland, back in 1992.

That was about 18,000 packs of Marlboros ago.

It was also when George Bush—the first one—was president. Steve Yzerman was 27 years old and wondering if he’d ever win a Stanley Cup. VHS tapes were still all the rage. The Lions were good.

In 1992, when the Pirates sported a 96-66 record and went to their third straight NLCS, Barry Bonds was still in the Dr. Banner stage of his career, pre-Hulk. He could actually fit through a doorway without turning sideways.

Leyland had dark hair and lighter lungs. Lloyd McClendon was one of his players. Andy Van Slyke, too. The Pirates played in Three Rivers Stadium, along with the Steelers, who were still being coached by Chuck Noll.

The Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies weren’t even teams yet. The Milwaukee Brewers played in the American League. Randy Johnson was still young.

Tigers fans grouse that their team has been disappointing since 2006, when Leyland led them to the World Series in his first year in Detroit. 2006 did in fact end an 18-year streak of playoff-less baseball in Motown.

But the Pirates fan has the Tigers fan beat because at least the Tigers had two winning seasons among those 18 (1988 and 1993).

A typical Pirates season means being out of contention by Easter. And that includes the years when Easter has fallen in March.

There should be a sign outside of PNC Park: The Bucs Stop Here.

Baseball seasons can be cruel and heartbreaking, like kids on the playground or your college girlfriend.

Baseball seasons can tease and give you a come-hither look and motion for you to come upstairs, and when you get there you see skeletons of the men before you—like that Monty Python sketch with the milkmen.

The baseball season is arduous and long and has more peaks and valleys than the Dakotas.

Except in Pittsburgh.

In Pittsburgh, there never is any hope. There’s no teasing. Just mocking.

The calendar flips to February, the Pirates gather for spring training, and already the folks there are talking about the Steelers’ chances or girding up for the next Penguins playoff run.

Then comes March and the exhibition games come, and the people up north in the Steel City plead with the media down in Florida not to let them know of all the tripping over the shoelaces and the throwing to the wrong base and the striking out with the bases loaded—because there’ll be plenty of time for that between April and September.

The Pirates are usually something like 8-17 in April, and by the time the kids get out of school in June, the Games Behind First column in the standings is in the 20s and growing faster than Pinocchio’s nose at a game of liar’s poker.

At the end of the season the Pirates are always 67-95. It’s uncanny.

For 18 seasons now, the Pirates have been playing the role of the team that all the others feel they should beat. The other 15 teams in the National League have two different kinds of vacations on their schedule: the All-Star break and whenever they play the Pirates.

As is always the case with losing franchises, it’s never a case of lack of trying (unless you’re the Los Angeles Clippers). The Pirates try. But when the Pirates try, it’s like when George McGovern tried to beat Richard Nixon. Or when Chuck Wepner tried to beat Muhammad Ali.

About that.

The Pirates don’t win because they never have enough talent. Their last decent catcher was Jason Kendall, and that was eons ago. They used to have Jason Bay, if that floats your boat.

The Pirates, since 1993, have been like an expansion team stuck in the baseball version ofGroundhog Day. They’re always young, inexperienced, and made up of minor leaguers. Every year. Again, uncanny.

Actually, one thing has changed. The Pirates used to finish last in the NL East. Now they finish last in the NL Central. So there’s that.

Pittsburgh hasn’t seen baseball this bad since the early 1950s, when Joe Garagiola was the Pirates catcher. Back then, the Pirates would go 50-104, and the only attraction was Ralph Kiner. Today the Pirates go 67-95, and they’d kill for someone half as good as Kiner.

With a history of 90-plus-loss seasons dotting the past 18 years, you’d think the Pirates would be using the revolving door method of hiring managers. But since Leyland’s last season in Pittsburgh in 1996, the Pirates have only had four skippers—and two of them sit in the Tigers’ dugout as coaches today: Gene Lamont and Lloyd McClendon.

It’s on the roster where there’s been the revolving door. The names change, but not the talent level. The Pirates rosters have been a Who’s Not Who of baseball.

This year the Pirates even outdid themselves in their mediocrity. They hit loss No. 82—thus guaranteeing a losing record in the 162-game schedule—last week, which is a new record for them in terms of promptness. They typically don’t lose their 82nd game until about a week or so later than that.

As I write this, the Pirates are 43-84. They’re on pace to lose about 107 games—even more Piratian than usual. Their roster, as usual, is filled with 20-somethings who are household names—they’re only known in their own household.

Ba-dum-BUM!

But the Pirates have one thing going for them. They have a player who has the best name in baseball: outfielder Lastings Milledge.

Just call him Last for short. Seems appropriate.

Categories : Baseball, Out of Bounds
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The Detroit sports fans are an easily scorned bunch.

When they’re happy and when it’s moved them, the Detroit sports fans have long cheered the miscreants, the black sheep types. They’ve leaped from their seats to yell themselves hoarse for pugilistic, alcoholic, drug-taking hockey players. Players coming off suspension have been greeted like returning war heroes.

They’ve also booed mightily at some of the most talented athletes to ever roll through this town.

The basis for this is quite simple.

Work hard and show that you want to be here, want to be one of us, and we’re behind you through thick and thin.

But display a desire to be elsewhere, and you’ll get a swift kick between the back pockets.

The Detroit sports fan is fiercely loyal, maybe to a fault. And he/she expects that same loyalty from the athletes wearing the city’s uniform colors.

I’ve seen them go mad for Bob Probert, when Probie was living in an apartment near enough to Joe Louis Arena so he didn’t have to drive—because he couldn’t, thanks to legal issues. I’ve seen them rise and roar for him when he battled the Blackhawks and the bottle, and cocaine.

I’ve also seen them mercilessly boo Sergei Fedorov, a player infinitely more talented than Probert and who defected from Russia and who helped the team win three Stanley Cups, because Fedorov had the temerity to flee as a free agent.

Because of this insecurity that the Detroit sports fans have ingrained in them, Johnny Damon should forever be a member of their fraternity.

Damon has rejected a trade to the Boston Red Sox. He’s turned his back on a better playoff race, and playing for a higher profile team. He’s said no to chasing the Yankees and the Rays and being on ESPN every week and a chance to rekindle old, strong teammate relationships.

Damon has pulled a reverse from the playbook. Normally it’s the Detroit teams that lose players to the brighter lights of fame and relevance.

Damon, 36, was placed on waivers and the Red Sox claimed him. He had about 48 hours to approve a trade to Boston, since the Bosox were not one of the eight teams to which Damon would consent being traded.

The Red Sox wanted him for real. They say it wasn’t merely a procedural move to keep the Yankees and Rays from making a play for him. Red Sox players of the magnitude of Jason Varitek and David Ortiz reportedly reached out to Damon, campaigning for him to return to Boston, where he spent some of his finest years.

This is where it usually goes against the Detroiters. This is where the celebrated player is wont to tell us it’s been nice and all, that we have a decent town, but that the allure of the Red Sox or the Celtics or the Lakers or the Patriots is too damn much to resist.

Except when it comes to the Red Wings.

But these are the Tigers, and they’re 63-63 and nine games out of first place and seem to be nothing more than destined to finish Show to the Twins and White Sox’s Win and Place.

This is Detroit with its hard-scrabble town and its beleaguered, unemployed fans and a baseball team that’s never on ESPN and which has fallen out of the playoff race faster than a sinking lead balloon.

No matter. Damon is staying.

“I’m not jumping ship,” he says.

Damon loves the city and the organization and the fans and being a mentor to all the Toledo Mud Hens surrounding him.

“I’m almost a player-coach,” he said recently, and it was with pride, not prejudice.

Damon likes the Tigers so much that he is making early overtures to come back in 2011, putting some pressure on the front office. He even went so far as to say that had he been traded elsewhere this season, he’d still like to come back next year. And he’d only agree to a trade to a team not on his list of eight if he could be guaranteed that the Tigers would get good young prospects in return.

When was the last time you heard a player say that?

Damon says in his heart he’s a Tiger. And he’s only been a Tiger since February.

The Detroit sports fan eats that stuff up. Damon is exhibiting that desire to be here in spades, belying his relatively short time in town.

What Johnny Damon did this week, nixing a trade to a better team with a more grandiose near future just so he could stay in Detroit and play as a Tiger, won’t soon be forgotten by the sports denizens in this town.

The love he gets here from now on ought to be the 180 degree opposite of the vile he has gotten from Red Sox fans ever since leaving Boston for New York some five years ago.

Damon left a good thing once, and it’s come back to haunt him.

He’s not about to make that same mistake again.

And Detroit will forever love him for it.

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Aug
24

Havin’ WHOSE Baby?

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Thirty-six years ago, the worst song of all time reached #1 on the Billboard charts.

That sounds like opinion, but it’s almost morphed into fact.

The poll was conducted by CNN in 2006. The winner (loser?) was Paul Anka’s ode to his expectant wife, “(You’re) Having My Baby,” which found itself on the top of the charts on this day in 1974.

Anka, whose songwriting prowess cannot be denied, penned a stinker when he wrote “YHMB,” which was written in celebration of the impending birth of Anka and his wife’s fifth child. Anka wrote the song while appearing at Lake Tahoe.

At the suggestion of United Artists recording executive Bob Skaff, Anka was asked to change the song from a solo effort to a duet with virtually unknown vocalist Odia Coates, who made the mistake of being present in the studio when the song was about to be recorded.

Anka took a lot of abuse from women’s rights activists, who saw the lyrics and the spirit of the “YHMB” to be highly chauvinistic, egotistical, and basically obnoxious.

Among other issues, the song was criticized for declaring the child was the man’s, rather than the couple’s. Anka would later replace the line “you’re having my baby” with “you’re having our baby” while performing in concert.

The song was so vilified that Anka would often simply omit it when he sang a batch of his old hits in concerts.

Then there’s the 2006 CNN poll, which placed “YHMB” at the top of the heap when it comes to all-time bad songs.


Paul Anka

The National Organization for Women gave Anka the satiric “Keep Her in Her Place” award during “its annual putdown of male chauvinism” in the media on Women’s Equality Day. Ms. Magazine “awarded” Anka their “Male Chauvinistic Pig of the Year” award.

All that, yet the song achieved great commercial success.

One of the lines from the song that took some heat stated that while the woman could have “swept it from [her] life” (abortion), she hadn’t because it was “a wonderful way of showing how much she loves him” In response to feminists, Anka said the song was “a love song”.

The song is typical 1970s shlock—a syrupy melody and an arrangement that screams lounge singer.

But it topped the charts, 36 years ago today.

Perhaps no Paul Anka quote is more appropriate for this discussion than the following.

“I believe in criticism,” he once said.

And he’s gotten a ton of it, for a song he probably innocently wrote over three decades ago.

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Aug
23

Monday Morning Manager

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Last Week: 4-3
This Week: KC (8/23-25); at Tor (8/26-29)

So What Happened?

The Tigers had a “sandwich week.”

Their bread was a win over the Yankees on top and a sweep of the Indians on the bottom. In between there were three losses to the Yanks.

Kind of like good rye bread with head cheese inside.

Still, it was a winning week—4-3 when so many of them recently have been lopsidedly losing.

The week also showed the vast difference in competition between the Yankees, who might be World Series-bound again, and the Indians, who are among baseball’s dregs.

But the Tigers will take their four wins and run, won’t they?


Hero of the Week

MMM likes this Will Rhymes cat.

It’s too early—far too early—to determine whether Rhymes can be a serviceable, everyday second baseman. But it’s not to early to render an early, snap judgement on the kid.

MMM likes Rhymes’ range, his arm, and the fact that he appears to be a throwback to the hard-nosed, pesky middle infielder of days gone by.

Rhymes was recalled last week as a replacement for the perpetually-disabled Carlos Guillen, whose knee took a hard slide from the Yankees’ Brett Gardner on Monday night.

Rhymes rapped out four hits in Sunday’s win over the Indians, and scored three runs. Since his recall, Rhymes is 8-for-17 with five runs scored. His batting average is up to .310.

Even better is that Rhymes swings lefty, and solid-hitting middle infielders who bat left-handed aren’t aplenty.

MMM likes how Rhymes always seems to be in the middle of things—rallies, double plays, you name it.

But his time with the Tigers is still a small sampling.

If the Tigers make a splash in free agency this off-season, and pick up some offensive pieces elsewhere, maybe Rhymes can be the everyday second sacker in 2011 and beyond.

Close runners-up: the Tigers’ starters in the Cleveland series, who made the Tribe look helpless most of the weekend.

Goat of the Week

The Tigers’ bullpen’s luster keeps becoming more of a distant memory.

With the exception of solid and steady Phil Coke, the relief corps has been as guilty as any for the team’s freefall after the All-Star break. Leads have been lost and close games have turned into laughers, thanks to the guys in the pen.

It didn’t manifest itself against the Indians, but it sure did in New York, and that was just a continuation of a nasty trend that’s more than 30 days old.

MMM has been cranky with the bullpen for a few weeks, and this time it lands them as Goats of the Week.

Upcoming: Royals and Blue Jays

Things never seem to go according to plan when the Tigers play the Royals, whether it’s in Detroit or in Missouri.

The Royals have a knack for taking series from the Tigers when you least expect it, and when the timing couldn’t be worse.

Nothing is really all that crucial now, because the Tigers are out of playoff contention. Still, it would be nice to take 2-of-3 heading into Toronto—especially since the Tigers won’t see Comerica Park again until Labor Day.

If the Blue Jays were a boxer, they’d be a slugger with no finesse. Their ballgames are like Marvin Hagler-Tommy Hearns battles.

The Blue Jays like to pound you into submission, slamming home runs at a dizzying pace. If you like four-baggers, the Blue Jays might be the most exciting team in baseball. Earl Weaver, who just turned 80, would love to manage them.

The Tigers don’t play on artificial surfaces too much, and they’re not really designed for such an environment. Yet they would be best served avoiding a slugfest with the Jays, whose entire lineup, just about, can take you deep.

Perhaps looking ahead to the Jays series, the Tigers reportedly are recalling slugging outfielder Casper Wells from Toledo today.

That’s all for MMM this week. See you next Monday!

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Aug
22

Sudden Immortality Forever Link Thomson, Branca

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Bobby Thomson didn’t hit his famous home run off a tee, in case you were wondering.

Nor did he flip the ball into the air, fungo-style, and swat it over the left field wall at the Polo Grounds on October 3, 1951.

Most of the great history makers had sidekicks.

Charles Lindbergh had the Atlantic—and his plane. Dr. Jonas Salk had mold. Elvis Presley had his hips.

And Bobby Thomson had Ralph Branca.

Thomson, auteur of the biggest walk-off home run in baseball history, died this week at age 86.

It was Thomson who slammed Branca’s pitch into the Polo Grounds seats in the bottom of the ninth of the tiebreaker game between Thomson’s New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, lifting the Giants into the 1951 World Series.

With one swing, Thomson became as famous as Babe Ruth, even though he was one-tenth the player that Ruth was.

Such is the gravitational pull of the legendary singular moments that occur from time to time in baseball, a sport where nothing can happen until the pitcher hurls the ball toward the plate. After that, all bets are off.

Thomson’s three-run home run capped a furious second half charge by the Giants, who found themselves double digits in games behind the Dodgers at one point during the 1951 season.

The Giants chomped into the Dodgers’ lead like a Pac Man game until the two teams were in a dead heat by season’s end. Baseball rules at the time mandated a best-of-three playoff to determine the league champion.

The teams split the first two games of the playoff, and the Dodgers were ahead 4-2 when Branca was summoned from the bullpen in the ninth inning of Game 3.

Thomson had some power; he hit 264 home runs in his 15-year career. This wasn’t Bucky Dent/1978 at the plate.

You know what happened. Branca threw, Thomson swung, and Giants radio announcer Russ Hodges lost his mind.

“THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT”

A young whippersnapper on Bleacher Report suggested to me that Hodges’ call—long heralded as the most famous in sports history—was overrated.

“All he did was yell the same thing over and over,” the whippersnapper whined. “What was so special about that?”

If he’d been sitting next to me I would have backhanded him across his puss.

Instead, I took a deep breath and wrote back to him that Hodges’ call gained so much notoriety because it was basically the very first dramatic sports call captured on audio tape.

That, plus even many non-sports fans know what “The Giants Win the Pennant!” refers to.

Branca, by the way, is still alive, if anyone has cared to wonder.

He’s 84 and enjoying his retirement at the Westchester Country Club in Rye, New York.

What’s fascinating, to me, about the Branca/Thompson connection is that neither player was anything close to being a Hall of Famer. If they didn’t have the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” no one beyond their own families would know who they were after retirement.

Branca was 88-68 with a 3.79 ERA. He made three All-Star teams but he was no star, per se. Thomson had a career batting average of .270 and ended up becoming a journeyman, playing for five teams from 1946 to 1960. Thomson, too, made some All-Star teams but All-Star rosters throughout history are teeming with dogs who had their day.

Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca were joined at the hip the moment that baseball soared into the seats at the Polo Grounds on 10/3/51.

Baseball’s Batman and Robin, forever.

Ironically, just months prior to his death, Thomson was finally showing signs of Branca fatigue.

For decades, Thomson had been haunted by accusations that sign-stealing engineered by Giants manager Leo Durocher enabled Durocher to somehow signal to Thomson what pitch was coming from Branca—specifically a fastball.

Thomson vehemently denied those charges.

In a Q&A with the New York Post’s Steve Serby published in May 2010, Thomson says those who accuse him of benefiting from sign-stealing are trying to take something away from him.

Among the accusers: Ralph Branca himself.

“Naturally I’m not happy about anyone who takes away from me the one thing that I’ve always thought, the one thing I can take credit for (that) I’ve earned in my baseball life,” Thomson told the Post.

So does Thomson have any hard feelings toward Branca re: the sign stealing accusations?

“I just got a little tired of having that home run taken away from me. I was glad to get down here in Savannah (GA) and get away from it. In the last four years, (Branca’s) called twice, I guess to do a card show. I’m all through with card shows, and I wasn’t going to come to New York. I’ve had enough of Ralph, and I’m sure he’s had enough of Thomson.”

Thomson also hit a homer off Branca in Game One of the playoff. Funny how no one has cried about stealing signs when it comes to THAT dinger.

But a word about Ralph Branca.

On the day Jackie Robinson made his big league debut in 1947, the number of folks against the idea of a black man taking a Major League Baseball field included many of Robinson’s own Dodgers teammates.

In fact, only one of them had the temerity, the courage, and the sense of decency to stand alongside Robinson during the playing of the National Anthem prior to the game. The others refused.

That man was Ralph Branca.

Indeed, the sign stealing thing aside, Thomson calls Branca “A very decent person.”

Baseball immortality strikes like lightning—it shows no preference based on skill, stardom, or reputation. And it comes with no warning whatsoever.

The Tigers had a light-hitting shortstop named Cesar Gutierrez, a career .235 hitter. Yet on June 21, 1970, Gutierrez went 7-for-7 in an extra-innings game in Cleveland. He came into the contest hitting a robust .218.

Ty Cobb never went 7-for-7. Nor did Ted Williams or Rogers Hornsby or Tony Gwynn.

I love the suddenness of baseball fame and infamy. The sport has a propensity for it that makes it, in my mind, America’s greatest game.

“It’s a funny thing with Ralph Branca and me ending up the way we did on the ballfield,” Thomson told the Post.

Indeed.

Categories : Baseball, Out of Bounds
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Aug
20

Sonny Outside

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Someone took leave of their senses at Channel 4 back in the day, and I’d love to know who it was.

Sonny Eliot owned Detroit weather TV in the 1960s and ’70s. He was the first of the goofy weathermen—the kind who just as soon tell a corn pone joke as they would give you the day’s temp and humidity.

Eliot wove his groaners and homespun wit into his weathercasts seamlessly. His delivery was like a silver ball in a pinball machine on warp drive, bouncing and ricocheting off each town’s current condition frenetically. Every couple of minutes Sonny would come up for air and tell us a joke.

“It’s 42 degrees today in Manchester, where a man made a killing in the stock market—he murdered his broker.”

Sonny also combined the day’s weather into one nonsensical word.

“Today it was cloudy and breezy—cleezy kind of weather,” Eliot would say as he wrote the new word vertically down the map of Michigan—in chalk. Sonny was still a chalk guy when the other blow-drieds in town began opting for fancy-shmancy electronic gizmos.

But one day, someone in the upper management of Channel 4 decided it would further Sonny’s shtick if he did the weather outside, on the roof of the station’s headquarters downtown.

Naturally, this decision occurred in the wintertime.

So there was Sonny, in a topcoat, jamming his chalk hand into his coat pocket to keep it warm between writing down the temps on the Michigan map. His nose was red and you could see his breath.

Why we had to see Sonny Eliot perform outside is a mystery that I’m afraid will never be solved.

It was needless and added nothing to the weather segments. If anything, it took away.

Reminds me of what someone once said about France.

“Going to war without France is like going deer hunting without an accordion.”

The Sonny Outside Experiment didn’t last long, thankfully. They put the poor guy indoors before long.


Eliot doing his thing; note the word “clilly” on the map
 

In his heyday on Detroit’s airwaves, Sonny Eliot did the TV weather on channel 2—and then channel 4—at 6 and 11 Mondays thru Fridays, hosted “At the Zoo with Sonny Eliot” on Saturdays, and did weather updates on WWJ radio during the weekdays. He continued the WWJ segments twice a day for years after retiring from TV.

Not bad for a former fighter pilot during WWII.

But the Eliot/outside thing unfortunately portended the future.

Nothing, and I mean NOTHING—short of a presidential assassination attempt, heaven forbid—gets TV news teams more excited than stormy weather.

They love the tornadoes and blizzards and lightning and high winds. They even love just the threat of all that stuff. Mention that there might be some rough weather coming our way and the TV news management people’s eyes light up and their salivary glands start working overtime.

Cue the poor slob doing his stand-up report amid 50 mph winds and sleet. Break out the satellite maps. Start conducting man-on-the-street pieces, asking painfully stupid questions.

Look, weather is important. I don’t mean to suggest that it isn’t. Anything that literally affects every human being, one way or another, is relevant.

But TV news people treat daunting weather as if they, well, enjoy daunting weather. Let’s just say that when a severe thunderstorm is on its way, it’s not only the winds that get stiff.

I’m an adult and I’m smart enough to know when the weather is getting bad. I don’t need to see a news correspondent standing in the thick of it, his or her eyes barely able to stay open for all the snow, dust and debris in them, to get the picture.

At least the folks at channel 4 had the sense to bring Sonny Eliot back inside before the weather got too inclement.

Categories : Enotes, Television, weather
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Aug
20

Clemens Must Take on Feds With No Bullpen Help

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Roger Clemens is going have to work out of this jam all by himself.

He can’t be pulled for a reliever. And he can’t just rear back and let loose with a 95 mile-per-hour fastball and try to blow the Feds away.

It’s going to take some finesse and nibbling around the corners. He needs to induce a harmless ground ball, that his lawyers can turn into an inning-ending double play.

Clemens is under Federal indictment. It’s the one thing you don’t want to be under, other than Refrigerator Perry.

The Feds say Clemens lied with his pants on fire back in 2008 when he testified before Congress, saying that he no way, no how, took performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) as a big league pitcher.

They have six counts against Clemens, the Feds do. They say that Clemens, no less than 15 times, made knowingly false statements while under oath on Capitol Hill.

A Federal indictment ought to make the one under indictment soil his or her briefs. It’s a big deal, because lengthy prison time could be in the offing. And indictments aren’t brought lightly; usually the Feds feel they have a pretty good case.

It’s one thing to have a feeling that someone is lying to Congress. It’s quite another for that feeling to become an actual indictment. The Federal government usually only indicts when it thinks it can win, and win convincingly.

Clemens is still sticking to his story. He maintains that it’s not he who is lying, but rather his former trainer, Brian McNamee, who told Congress at the same time that Clemens was testifying that McNamee injected Clemens more than a dozen times with steroids and human growth hormone (HGH) between 1998 and 2001.

McNamee supposedly has syringes, vials, and other physical evidence—including even some of Clemens’s DNA—to support his claims.

Clemens and McNamee have since sued each other for defamation, with Clemens’s claims being essentially dismissed by federal courts. McNamee has a suit pending in federal court in New York.

Former Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, the top Republican on the House panel at the time of Clemens’ testimony, called it “a self-inflicted wound.”

“Clemens was not under subpoena. He came voluntarily,” Davis said. “And I sat there in the office with [committee chairman] Henry Waxman and said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t lie.’ ”

Apparently, Clemens didn’t take that advice to heart. Now he has the bases juiced (so to speak) and no one warming up in the bullpen.

I believe that Clemens lied. The indictment speaks volumes, and why would McNamee lie, knowing the repercussions if he was proven to be making up tall tales?

All that, plus the physical evidence that McNamee says he has—which he kept for some 10 years, for just such an occasion as this one.

For what it’s worth, Clemens’s old teammates are standing by him, including Yankees catcher Jorge Posada and steroid user extraordinaire Jose Canseco.

Current Yankee Lance Berkman, a teammates of Clemens’s in Houston, said, “Whatever you want to say about the guy, he belongs in the Hall of Fame. In my opinion, legacy-wise, I guess that’s up to—I mean, 200 years from now, who cares?

“But in the short term, I guess, he may have some things to address,” Berkman conceded.

That’s one of the biggest understatements of the year.

Clemens is back on the mound, staring in at a federal indictment that stands menacingly at the plate. And the Feds don’t strike out that much when it comes to this kind of thing.

I have a feeling that Clemens is going to be taken deep.

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Aug
18

Hanson Proves Lions Can At Least Be Consistent At One Position

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He showed up 18 years ago from Washington State University with his right leg and not much else. He didn’t even have a name.

For his first few weeks in town, at Lions training camp, all we knew him as was “the kid who’s replacing Eddie Murray.”

Jason Something-or-Other.

HANSON, we were reminded by the Lions media liaisons.

Kickers in pro football have two kinds of lives, it seems: cameo, or Methuselah.

The 40-year-old kicker is far from an anomaly. If you can survive the first couple of years, you have a good shot at staying in the NFL for a couple of decades.

Morten Anderson, the pride of Michigan State, swatted footballs with his left foot with the reliability of the sunrise. He did it until he was 47 years old. He tried retiring a couple of times, but on each occasion he was asked back. On each occasion he said yes—because being a kicker in the NFL is a pretty good gig. It’s like having a desk job for the Mafia.

Funny thing is, Anderson’s 25-year career started this way: he twisted his ankle on his very first NFL kickoff, way back in 1982. Twisted his ankle on a kickoff?

You betcha. Twisted it good; he missed eight weeks.

He recovered, and kicked for a quarter century longer.

The Lions’ Jason Hanson is 40. He’s been losing his hair for years. Every training camp he shows up and his hairline has receded a couple centimeters. But he plays for the Lions, a franchise that has led the league in hair loss for its coaches and fan base for decades. So what do you expect?

Besides, Hanson doesn’t kick with his hair.

Hanson survived those first couple of seasons as Murray’s replacement, and then we blinked and Hanson is entering his 19th NFL season. One more year and he qualifies for a gold watch.

The man he replaced, Murray, was thought to be old. Murray kicked for the Lions from 1980-91—12 seasons. Then the Lions thought he was losing his power on kickoffs and the field goal accuracy was waning. So they released him, having drafted the kid Hanson.

Murray, by the way, left the Lions and kicked for nine more seasons, retiring in 2000 as a 44-year-old. Eddie even won a Super Bowl, with the 1993 Cowboys. Just like Errol Mann.

Errol Mann—there’s a name from the past. Mann was cut by the Lions in 1975 after kicking for them for years and he ended up with the 1976 Oakland Raiders—and Mann won a Super Bowl with them.

Funny how players win Super Bowls before and after playing for the Lions, but not while.

So it’s another training camp and Hanson is again entrenched as the Lions kicker, despite nursing an injury to his left, non-kicking leg. Last summer in camp he nursed an injury to his right, kicking leg.

Yet Hanson isn’t like some NFL players, who lose their jobs due to injury. Hanson is the Lions kicker even when he can’t kick. He’s had more job security than a Supreme Court Justice.

Which means Hanson will likely retire from pro football as a Lion. Not that there haven’t been some grumblings the past couple of seasons, when Hanson has had the audacity to actually, you know, miss a field goal attempt.

He missed several last year, but he didn’t miss them by much. It wasn’t like he was hooking them like a bad tee shot. Still, the footballs Hanson kicked last season didn’t find their way through the uprights and above the crossbar with the success rate we’ve been used to seeing from No. 4. The injury he suffered in training camp was presumed to be the culprit.

No matter. Hanson is back, as usual, and he’s the kicker, despite undergoing surgery earlier this month on his left leg.

The Lions brought in someone named Aaron Pettrey this year to handle kicking duties while Hanson recuperates. The Lions have brought in a number of kickers over the years, usually rookie free agents. They’ve done so as if they were trying to satisfy some sort of NFL Equal Opportunity Employer provision.

“Each team shall have two kickers in training camp.”

Pettrey’s chances of being the Lions kicker are off the board. Vegas wouldn’t touch it. He’s only with the Lions because they have to have someone kick during the exhibition games.

Every young kicker the Lions have invited to camp has come with the primary objective of hooking on with another NFL team. Hanson’s job has been as untouchable as Elliott Ness.

But a good, reliable kicker is hard to find—like a good, honest car mechanic. And when you find one, you don’t let him go. You don’t even look around for alternatives, almost for fear of jinxing what you have.

Murray became vilified in Detroit for missing the biggest kick of his career—the 1983 playoff game in San Francisco, when his 43-yarder at the final gun started wide right and stayed wide right. Had he connected, the Lions would have advanced to the NFC Championship Game.

Murray kicked for the Lions for eight more seasons, but never did he truly live down that miss against the 49ers.

Hanson hasn’t been in such a monumental situation in his 18 years with the Lions, mainly because the past nine of those have been spent in football purgatory.

Hanson would probably give his non-kicking leg to be in a position to miss a big kick.

But he shows up every year, on time, and with a smile on his face. Hanson has been through seven head coaches, a slew of special teams coaches, and more losses than you can shake a stick at. But he’s a Lion, always will be, and has never shown an inclination to jump ship.

He’s 40 years old and it’s becoming less and less possible to imagine any other skinny guy swinging his leg at held footballs in a Lions uniform.

Hanson has been a morsel of comfort food for a fan base that has had to choke down hospital grade cuisine for the past nine years.

But is the end near? Nobody can kick forever—not even Morten Anderson or Jan Stenerud or John Kasay—who’s still doing it for the Carolina Panthers, two months shy of his 41st birthday, the only kicker the Panthers franchise has ever employed.

All I know is that Hanson, just two seasons ago at age 38, went 21-for-22 in field goal attempts, including making a 56-yarder. Over his 18 seasons, he’s connected at a success rate of 81.8.

I have a hunch that last year’s 21-for-28 was an aberration, and that we’ll see a reliable, accurate Hanson once again in 2010. And we may see that for several more years.

Jason Hanson just has to keep kicking for the Lions. I was married one week after his first game with the team in 1992. He’s the only Lions kicker my marriage has ever known.

If he retires, I’ll have to start treating Mrs. Eno a whole lot nicer.

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Aug
18

Late Night with JFK

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The spot is marked with a round metal plate, embedded in the cement on the doorstep of the University of Michigan Student Union.

It was there, nearly 50 years ago (gulp), where presidential candidate John F. Kennedy stood and delivered a speech late in the evening of October 14, 1960. There were only a few weeks to go before the election. And Kennedy was tired and haggard after whirlwind campaigning.

But he wasn’t too tired to go public for the first time with his vision of an organization that would encourage recent college grads to serve their country overseas as voluntary missionaries.

It was called the Peace Corps, and JFK first stumped for it while in Ann Arbor, running a neck-and-neck race with Vice President Richard Nixon.

There’s doubts that Kennedy was the very first individual to concoct the premise of the Peace Corps, a volunteer program run by the Federal Government. Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey, for example, introduced a bill in 1957 that would have established a program very similar to what ended up becoming the Peace Corps.

So what is the Peace Corps, exactly?

From its Wikipedia page:

Each program participant, or Peace Corps Volunteer, is an American citizen who commits to working abroad in an assignment for the organization for a period of twenty four months after three months of training. Generally, the work to be performed is related to international development. Specialties include education, business, information technology, agriculture, and the environment.

Kennedy won the 1960 election, of course, and signed Executive Order 10924 on March 4, 1961, officially establishing the Peace Corps.

Nixon, by the way, railed against the Peace Corps idea on the campaign trail. One of his gripes is that it would become a “haven” for draft dodgers.


President Kennedy greeting Peace Corps volunteers on August 28, 1961

JFK tabbed his brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, as the Peace Corps’ first director.

In just under six years as director, Shriver developed programs in 55 countries with more than 14,500 volunteers.

I’ve been to the spot where Kennedy stood and first spoke of the Peace Corps. Apparently the late night speech was rather impromptu and was delivered to a less-than-huge crowd of people.

But it’s kind of cool that something so historically significant happened in such an intimate location in such an off-the-cuff manner.

Oh, and Kennedy addressed the Peace Corps idea in his inauguration speech on January 20, 1961. Perhaps you’ve heard the words, which were in reference to the program.

“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country”

Categories : Enotes, Politics, society
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