Archive for March, 2011

It’s been about 20 years since the Pistons did their infamous walk-out on the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals, and still Scottie Pippen can’t get over it, or the “Bad Boy” Pistons themselves.

Pippen’s Bulls won the next three NBA championships, starting in 1991, and eventually six of the next eight from ’91 to ’98. You’d think all that hardware would help mend Scottie’s wounds.

Apparently not.

Pippen is still whining about the Pistons, some two decades after some of their starters walked off the floor before time ran out in Game 4 of the Bulls’ sweep.

Pippen recently told the Chicago Sun-Times:

”The Pistons were a nasty team. You always had to expect them to play dirty because, remember, they were the Bad Boys of Motown. They’d go out of their way to be mean and try to hurt you.

“And because we had better athletes, coach Chuck Daly just let them play the way they had to play to win. Bill Laimbeer was no real athlete. The same for Rick Mahorn and Joe Dumars and James Edwards. We were faster, quicker, more competitive and smarter.”

The only thing Pippen got right in the above comments was the one about Bill Laimbeer not being much of an athlete. No one in Detroit, though, propped Laimbeer up as athletic. He was, however, one of the best rebounders in the history of the league because of his positioning, technique and, yes Scottie, his basketball IQ.

And do I see Joe Dumars’s name in there as being “no real athlete”? That’s a lot of Bull.

And let’s clear up, once and for all, this misconception of the Pistons being thugs who deliberately tried to hurt you. I think there’s a line between aggressive, hard-nosed basketball and thuggery. I seriously doubt that the Pistons played the game with the idea of deliberately hurting opposing players.

If anything, blame the Celtics for the Pistons’ style of play.

The Bulls needed four post-seasons before finally beating the Pistons in a playoff series, and the Pistons needed three (1985, ’87 and ’88) to unseat the Celtics for supremacy in the East. And it was during those rugged playoff series that the Pistons learned the same hard-nosed, physical brand of play that has been misconstrued by the Bulls and other NBA observers as being sadistic.

You think the Celtics of Bird, Parish and McHale were more finesse than physical?

Please.

Did the Pistons turn it up a notch in the physicality department? You betcha. But they needed to, in order to finally topple the Celtics.

The Bulls of Pippen and Michael Jordan—that was probably the first time any writer put Pippen’s name before MJ’s, by the way—were indeed less physical. But it also took them one more try to dispatch the Pistons than it took the Pistons to eliminate the Celtics.

The Bulls’ defeat of the Pistons in the 1991 ECF was less about the Bulls’ supremacy than it was about the Pistons’ fatigue. The Pistons had played into late-May or June since 1987. They came off another brutal series with the Celtics in the ’91 East semis, and the Pistons simply hit the wall. They had nothing left.

I find it amusing but also annoying that Pippen and others still whine about the Pistons, even after 20 years and after all those Bulls championships. It’s too bad that all that success, and time, hasn’t enabled Scottie Pippen to soften a little and be more philosophical than psychotic about those “good old days” of Pistons-Bulls basketball.

Get over it, Scottie. The Pistons are still in your head, and it’s pretty pathetic.

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Mar
29

The Barefoot Diva

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I wonder how Ina Garten is going to explain this one when she arrives to gain entry past the Pearly Gates.

Garten, the syrupy-sweet, giggling “Barefoot Contessa” on the Food Network, has surpassed a line that you cross at your own risk.

When it comes to kids and animals, one must tread very lightly.

When it comes to kids dying of cancer, it’s no time to trot out traditional acts of avoidance.

An “I’m really busy here, ask me later” doesn’t get it this time.

Garten has been ducking the advances of six-year-old Enzo, who’s suffering from Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, something which will almost certainly kill him, sooner rather than later.

Enzo, through the terrific Make-a-Wish Foundation, has not once but twice requested that he be able to cook a meal with Garten.

Seems that Enzo became infatuated with Garten and her show while he watched TV with his mother, who tuned into “Barefoot Contessa” regularly.

I’ll let TMZ.com pick up the story from here.

M.A.W. approached Garten with the wish last year … but at the time, she was unable to meet with Enzo due to a book tour. The organization urged Enzo to pick another wish, but he told them he wanted to wait until she becomes available.

We’re told the organization went back to Ina this year … but her team responded with a “definite no” … once again, citing scheduling conflicts.

Not just a “no,” but a “definite no.”

Sheesh.

Garten’s people keep citing scheduling conflicts, and they say that she “can’t honor every request.”

Umm, how many requests is she getting from six-year-olds with a terminal disease?

After reading Enzo’s story, I couldn’t help but think of New York Jets QB Mark Sanchez, who was so touched by a young fan’s adoration of him—that kid has cancer, too—that, without being nagged, Sanchez all but adopted the boy. Sanchez flew him to a Jets practice, had him meet all the players, get autographs, and let the kid sit at Sanchez’s locker, just taking it all in.

The smile on the boy’s face went from Maine to California.

Not only that, Sanchez routinely called the boy, sometimes right after games, wondering what the youngster thought of the game. Sanchez would call at other times, too, just to chat.

Sadly, the boy who adored Sanchez passed away earlier this year.

Sanchez, it was reported, took the death pretty hard.

So Garten’s boorish behavior does have its inverse, thankfully.

I can appreciate the need for a celebrity to prioritize requests, though I’m not sure Garten is getting all that many, but there you go.

But at what point do you put someone at the front of the line? Doesn’t that ever occur to the “people” who are charged with the task of managing their boss’s agenda?

And why didn’t Garten herself overrule her minions and say, “Whoa—we need to address Enzo’s request?”

The cruel irony is that Garten’s people keep citing not enough time as their reasoning for rebuffing Enzo’s advances, yet if anyone is running short on time, it’s the six-year-old with cancer!

According to TMZ, a member of Enzo’s family says the 6-year-old is heartbroken … and asked parents, “Why doesn’t (Garten) want to meet me?”


The horrible Garten (left) and six-year-old cancer patient Enzo

The MAW Foundation says that Enzo has finally changed his request to swimming with dolphins, which the Foundation is working on as we speak.

I don’t know if Garten and her staff figured that this shameful denial of Enzo’s innocent request would never see the light of day. Nothing doesn’t see the light of day anymore, it seems, which is good and bad.

In this case, it’s very good.

It’s good that this came to light, because the more people who realize that Ina Garten is a fraud, the better.

According to one of Garten’s reps, “Despite her demanding schedule, [Ina] participates and helps as many organizations as she can throughout the year, helping children and adults like Enzo with life threatening and compromising illnesses. ”

Actions speak louder than words, lady.

Thankfully, there are athletes/celebrities like Mark Sanchez, and like actor Johnny Depp, who is famous for his eagerness to engage fans and surprise them with acts of kindness.

Then, of course, there are those like Ina Garten, who has smiled, winked and giggled her way to a fortune making hoity-toity French food on The Food Network.

Now we know that behind that smile and hidden behind those irritating giggles is a person whose heart is as cold as dry ice.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall when Ms. Garten is called out on this one by the man upstairs.

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Mar
27

Tigers’ GM/Manager Duo Will Return Beyond 2011

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They are the Frick and Frack of baseball in Detroit. Some would call them Laurel and Hardy. On a good day, they’re Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

It gets so that, when you see either Dave Dombrowski or Jim Leyland, you’re half-surprised not to see them joined at the hip.

They’re two peas in a pod. Twin sons of different mothers.

Dombrowski, the Tigers President, CEO, General Manager—and what the heck—let’s call him the Grand Poobah while we’re at it—and Leyland, the manager, have been joining forces for going on 30 years now, in various venues.

When Leyland was a rookie coach with the Chicago White Sox in 1984, Dombrowski was with the team, too, at the right hand of GM Roland Hemond.

After Dombrowski had cut his own teeth as a GM, he found himself in Miami, running the Florida Marlins franchise, which was brand new. Before long, there was Leyland again, as Dombrowski’s manager. In 1997, the pair won a World Series together.

In November 2001, the Tigers tabbed Dombrowski as their new President. Four years later, Leyland and Dombrowski held a joint press conference, announcing Leyland as the Tigers’ new manager.

Today, they’re into their sixth season together in Detroit, believe it or not. And this is where the Frick and Frack thing comes into play.

Dombrowski and Leyland—we’ll call them D&L from now on because it’s easier for my lazy, fat fingers to type—are lockstep, one behind the other, walking a tightrope. Two men working without a net.

Neither has the security of a contract that runs beyond the 2011 season.

No pairing of GM and manager in Detroit baseball has been so closely linked as D&L. Not even Jim Campbell and Sparky Anderson, who worked together in the early-1980s before Campbell eased into semi-retirement, were fused together like D&L. And Sparky adored Jim Campbell.

Yet D&L are accepted as a package deal. If one goes, so should the other. Same thing if one stays.

It says here that all this talk about contracts and “lame ducks” and “Will they stay, will they go?” will end sometime before the All-Star break, when each is signed to a contract extension—but not as a tandem, contrary to what some would believe.

It would take a tortoise-like start by the Tigers out of the gate—the season starts next week—for owner Mike Ilitch to even contemplate a change in leadership. Ilitch doesn’t have a history of sporting a hair trigger when it comes to rendering the ziggy.

The owner’s pizza dough hasn’t always been spent wisely. Starting in 2007, the teams have had a fetish for going into the tank sometime in late-July. The Tigers, under nine years of Dombrowski having the key to the executive washroom, have made the playoffs once. Lesser teams than theirs have beaten them out in the Central Division, more than once.

But Ilitch won’t fire either man, because the fact of the matter is, before D&L came along, baseball in Detroit was bereft of hope, devoid of excitement.

When Ilitch brought Dombrowski in, it was like hiring Bob Vila to remodel Ma and Pa Kettle’s shack.

It wasn’t Dombrowski’s first tear down and rebuild.

He built the Montreal Expos’ farm system into one of the best in baseball. Then, in Florida, Dombrowski took an expansion team and had them winning a World Series in their fifth year of existence.

Read that last sentence again.

Throughout baseball history, expansion teams have been outfitted with a butter knife, a squirt gun and a plastic sword and sent out to battle. Expansion teams spent their first five years buried in baseball’s basement, unable to sniff the scent of the post-season until at least six years, or more, into their existence.

It took the New York Mets, born in 1962, eight years to make the playoffs. The Houston Astros, who also debuted in ’62, needed 19.

In 1969, baseball added the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots in the American League and the Expos and the San Diego Padres in the NL. The Royals needed eight seasons to make the playoffs; the Pilots lasted one season in Seattle and moved to Milwaukee, where they didn’t show up in the post-season until 1981.

The Expos didn’t make the playoffs until 1981; the Padres, 1984.

In 1977, the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners joined the AL. Both languished. The Blue Jays made the playoffs in 1985, but the Mariners needed another ten years before finally qualifying in 1995.

Expansion teams in every sport are stocked with the game’s dregs—players that nobody else wants. The results on the field, ice, court and diamond are thus unsurprisingly bad.

Yet Dave Dombrowski, from scratch, built the Florida Marlins into a World Series winner in Year Five.

It hasn’t been so easy in Detroit.

The Tigers were almost an expansion team when Dombrowski took them over. They hadn’t made the playoffs since 1987. The 1990s were mostly filled with bad baseball. The Tigers’ ballpark was old and decrepit before moving into Comerica Park in 2000. The players who performed in it weren’t old, but they were decrepit, too.

It didn’t take Dombrowski long to start cleaning house. He fired the GM (Randy Smith) and the manager (Phil Garner) on the same day, about a week into the 2002 season, assuming the role of GM himself.

The Tigers were awful in 2002, historically awful in 2003, and not much more than mediocre in 2004-05. That’s when Dombrowski fired manager Alan Trammell, who was used as a stopgap—someone the fans could reminisce with so as to distract them from the product on the field.

Dombrowski hired Leyland in October 2005.

Hello, again.

Leyland then made a boneheaded mistake—he brought his Tigers to the World Series in his first year as manager. Expectations haven’t been the same since.

The Tigers have been stumbling in games played after the All-Star break ever since Leyland took over—including in 2006. I have been one to say that enough is enough—the second half collapses must come to an end, or else the manager must go.

Yet this is inarguable: baseball in Detroit, prior to the arrival of Dave Dombrowski, for over a decade was as enjoyable and as well-anticipated every year as a root canal.

The Tigers on the field, prior to the Jim Leyland Era, were a joke.

Dombrowski inherited an expansion team, essentially. In his fifth year at the helm, with Leyland as his manager, the Tigers made the World Series.

On Thursday—in March!—the Tigers open the 2011 season in New York, the sixth season of D&L. Neither man is signed past the last pitch in October.

No matter. Both will return, barring a season more horrifying than our worst nightmares.

And let’s not go there, shall we not?

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Mar
24

Liz

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It never mattered how much time passed since Elizabeth Taylor made a film that resonated, and it wasn’t since 1966, really. It didn’t matter that her work over the past 30 years mostly filled the small screen and was more perfunctory than rich.

Taylor, who passed away Wednesday at age 79 from congestive heart failure, was in that rarified air of movie stars who were living icons, no matter how little they worked.

Marlon Brando. Warren Beatty. Paul Newman. Robert Redford. Heck, Doris Day.

These actors could go years between films and it didn’t matter. Their legacies were secured.

Taylor was among them. She hadn’t done anything compelling on celluloid since she knocked it out of the park in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in 1966, for which she won her second of two Oscars.

But it didn’t matter, because Taylor had been in our consciousness since she was an adolescent star, and her many marriages often provided more drama and intrigue than any role she ever read for.

In “Woolf,” for example, it was almost impossible to watch her share mesmerizing screen time with real-life husband Richard Burton and not imagine how close that story was to her actual marriage.

Taylor was an activist, particularly with her work involving AIDS. She was one of the first stars to be vocal about the disease, before it became hip and before folks started wearing those trendy ribbons.

Then, of course, there was her oddly fascinating relationship with Michael Jackson, which at times defied description—just like Jackson himself.

Taylor had been trying to die on us for decades. Stories of her close calls and medical drama have been going on since she made “Cleopatra” in 1963. Yet she almost made it to age 80.

The marriages, though, remain the biggest and most talked about part of her legacy. In a way, that’s sad, but none of it was made up.

She had eight of them, including two with Burton. Tragedy ended her promising joint venture with producer Mike Todd, who was killed in an airplane crash in 1958.

Taylor’s acting career was front-loaded; all the good stuff happened 40 years ago and longer. But when it was good, it was some of the best ever.

“Giant.”

“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

“Suddenly Last Summer.”

“BUtterfield 8.”

“Cleopatra.”

And, of course, “Woolf,” in which Taylor played Martha, half of a bitter aging couple, who uses alcohol, along with a young couple, to fuel anguish and emotional pain towards each other.


1932-2011


Taylor was only 34 when she made “Woolf,” which is amazing, because she seemed so much older, as the script called for. And it wasn’t just makeup that made her appear that way. It was, simply, her acting.

To give further indication of Taylor’s acting skills and range, those considered for the part of Martha included Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman, Rosalind Russell and Patricia Neal, all considerably older than Liz.

Taylor’s name really was Elizabeth Taylor. She was born in London, her mother an actress.

There was an elegance about Elizabeth Taylor. She was about as close to royalty as you’ll get in a country that has no monarch.

She hadn’t done anything all that special in front of a camera in about 45 years, but that didn’t matter. But she did the AIDS thing and she lent her name and likeness to perfume. She was a giving, philanthropic person. She cared about people.

Taylor had her time and the fact that its impression left such a lasting mark is testament enough to her place in American culture, isn’t it?

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Mar
22

Ohio’s Gloating Fool

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What happened to being a gracious winner? What of the civil courtesy between states, when it comes to our elected officials?

John Kasich must have been that kid who whooped and hollered whenever he won anything, from Chutes and Ladders to a game of H-O-R-S-E on the driveway.

Kasich, a Republican, is the governor of Ohio, but he also has been a political commentator on Fox News, hosting a show on the network for some six years (2001-07).

He’s a neighbor of ours in Michigan, but he’s the kind that you hope to avoid, going from your car to your house. If he’s mowing his lawn, you wait until he’s done before you mow yours.

Kasich has taken the low road when it comes to landing goodies for his state, specifically when it comes to being the lucky recipient of Michigan’s apparent move away from its film tax incentives, thanks to new Governor Rick Snyder’s seige on them.

Kasich’s state snapped up “The Avengers,” which was initially scheduled to be filmed in Michigan. But because of the pending change to Michigan’s incentives, i.e. it won’t be nearly as attractive for movie producers to do work in the state, the makers of “The Avengers” decided to knock on Ohio’s door.

Sure, you can film here, Kasich said.

That’s all well and good. I can hardly blame Ohio for gobbling up Michigan’s mistake.

What I don’t care for is Kasich’s gloating about it.

“We won another one from Michigan,” Kasich crowed recently.

First, I don’t know what “another one” means, unless he’s talking about the now one-sided U-M/OSU football rivalry.


The gloating Ohio Gov. John Kasich

Kasich wasn’t done being a poor winner.

“Michigan dropped the ball,” he added.

Geez, John—you forgot to add, “Naa naa ne naa nyah”!

It’s unseemly for a governor to publicly rub salt into the wounds of another state, especially a neighboring one. Kasich could have been very happy for Ohio without making Michigan’s film enthusiasts—and job-seekers feel worse than they already do.

Kasich could have spoken about being grateful for the opportunity that presented itself. He didn’t have to call attention to why that opportunity became available in the first place. And he certainly didn’t have to do it in the manner that he did.

If I’m Snyder, I’m putting Kasich’s gloating remarks in a special place in my brain, for future reference.

Time was that there was some decorum, especially among elected officials. You took the high road and even avoided mentioning others by name, if you could help it.

Kasich went out of his way to urinate on Michigan, like a juvenile.

That’s OK, John. We’ll remember that.

Categories : economy, Enotes, Politics
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For the first time since Richard Nixon was president, no big league team will break spring training camp with a Ken Griffey on its roster—Senior or Junior.

Every April from 1974 through 2010, there was a Ken Griffey in the majors. First it was the original Griffey—Senior—who broke into the bigs with the Cincinnati Reds and who kept playing until his baby boy grew up and was old enough to be his teammate with the Seattle Mariners in 1990.

Then there was Junior, making his big league debut in 1989 with peach fuzz as a 19-year-old with the Mariners.

Junior gutted it out until age 40, when his body creaked for the last time, and he retired last June, once again a member of the Mariners after a couple of stops in between.

Now there are no more Ken Griffeys, for the first time since 1973.

Combined, Senior and Junior banged out 4,924 hits, slugged 782 home runs and drove in 2,695 runs. They were the John and John Quincy Adams of baseball.

More accurately, the Griffeys were a family business the same way the Mafia was in concrete and restaurant linens.

But no longer.

Junior called it quits last year, and it wasn’t the clean break that someone of his stature should have enjoyed.

Junior was 40, he was hitting less than .200, his power was gone and bottom-feeding bloggers like yours truly were calling for him to hang up his spikes and save himself further embarrassment.

There was an unseemly story of Junior falling asleep in the Mariners clubhouse—during a game. Worse, the leak came from Griffey’s own teammates, who went to the media before going to Junior himself.

Griffey was back where it all began—Seattle—but the homecoming was awkward, and if there was anything storybook about it, then it was penned by the Brothers Grimm.

It was a far cry from 1989, when the teenaged Griffey bounded into the majors with a smile that matched his range in center field—as broad as a barn.

The Junior smile sported enough wattage to light up every ballpark from Seattle to Boston.

They used to say that, as good as he was, there was no telling how much better Mickey Mantle could have been had he been afforded the chance to play on two good legs instead of one. Same for Al Kaline, to a degree.

Mantle played baseball in terrific pain for most of his career, yet he sailed into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. The Tigers’ Kaline played many years on a deformed foot that, in Al’s own words, was like “having a toothache in my foot” every day.

Kaline, too, was elected into the Hall of Fame as soon as he was eligible.

So too will Junior, but that doesn’t begin to tell the story of a career that was part triumph, part tragedy.

It’s easy to be conflicted when discussing Ken Griffey Jr., because you can both be enamored with his remarkable talent and marvel at his numbers, or you might simply shake your head, wondering what might have been.

It wasn’t because of brevity that you’d shake your head; Junior played 22 years in the big leagues, after all. But several of those 22 years were lost to injury.

It reminds you of the players during wartime—the Hank Greenbergs of the world who lost time to serving their country and whose baseball numbers were sheared because of it.

Griffey Jr. lost time to conflict, too, but it was within his own body.

Usually the problems occurred below the belt.

His legs betrayed him most often, specifically his hamstrings. In a period from 2001-2006, Junior missed over 400 games due to various ailments. That’s about two-and-a-half seasons, and at the rate he was going at that time in his career, one number stands out above all others: 630.

That’s how many home runs Junior lofted over the seats, using that trademark, smooth-as-silk uppercut swing that was the Mona Lisa of its kind.

You give Junior back that time missed, and we’re not talking about Barry Bonds as the one surpassing Hank Aaron for first place on the all-time home run list.

Junior would have amassed about 3,300 base hits, slugged 750-plus home runs and driven in over 2,000 runs, had his legs not betrayed him.

“What’s the difference?” you might ask. “He’s going into the Hall of Fame anyway, isn’t he?”

True.

But Griffey Jr. wouldn’t have just been a Hall of Famer; he would have been the epitome of greatness.

For at least a decade, Junior was considered by many to be the best player in baseball and not just of his own time, if you know what I mean.

Then the injuries struck, and all those games he could have played in went down the drain, never to be recovered. The calendar stops for no man.

The folks in Seattle never really understood or got over the trade that shipped Griffey to the Cincinnati Reds following the 1999 season—a year in which Junior slugged 48 home runs, had 134 RBI and scored 123 runs.

It was like trading Willie Mays in his prime.

Griffey’s injury woes hit him in Cincinnati, almost as if some mad doctor in Seattle started poking a voodoo doll made in his likeness.

Griffey played for the Reds from 2000-2008 before being sent to the Chicago White Sox for their pennant push. The Mariners brought him back as a free agent in February 2009, some 20 years after his big league debut.

That’s where the Brothers Grimm took over the tale-writing duties.

Griffey hit .214 in 2009 and everyone was too polite to say it out loud, but again the comparison to Mays was apt, in that Junior was looking like the Say Hey Kid, circa 1973, when Mays stumbled around for the Mets as a 42-year-old.

But Griffey came back for more in 2010, against the judgment of people who thought they knew better. Perhaps they were right.

Junior was dreadful, his skills gone. When the story broke of the alleged sleeping incident, it was sad but in a way, it went along nicely with the whole, “He should have retired” talk.

So he did, finally.

The other day, Junior addressed the circumstances surrounding his abrupt retirement last June.

“I just felt that it was more important for me to retire and instead of being a distraction, it no longer became the Seattle Mariners, it became, ‘When is Ken doing this? When is Ken doing that?’ and that’s something I didn’t want to have my teammates, who I truly cared about, having to answer these types of questions day in and day out,” Griffey said.

Today, Griffey is still with the Mariners, as a special consultant. He plans to work with the kids and do some time in the broadcast booth.

And it’s left to us to wonder what might have been, had Junior’s legs not caused him so much grief.

Categories : Baseball, Out of Bounds
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Mar
18

MLB Network Shows No Love for Tigers in “Prime 9″ Series

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For those cursed with having access to the MLB Network on your televisions, did you catch two monumental disses of the Tigers in recent weeks?

The network runs a series called “Prime 9,” in which it presents Top 9 lists in various categories. It’s sort of like the NFL Network’s “Top Ten” series, but in 30-minutes instead of 60, and done in a far less entertaining nature.

Two lists caught my eye as I thumbed through the on-screen guide: Top 9 Double Play Combinations of All-Time, and Top 9 Plays at the Plate in baseball history.

They caught my eye because of what I perceived would be heavy Tigers influence on each list.

Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, I knew, would adorn the Top 9 double play combos. I wanted to see how high they ranked, according to the wonks charged with compiling the list for MLB Network.

And as far as plays at the plate go, how much more important can you get than the one that occurred in Game 5 of the 1968 World Series, when Willie Horton nailed Lou Brock at the plate at Tiger Stadium, turning the tide of not only that game but of the entire series?

So I tuned in.

Tram and Sweet Lou couldn’t even break the Top 5 in MLB Network’s Top 9 combos, if you can imagine such a thing.

The two men who combined to turn the most double plays as a duo in history, the two who played alongside each other for 18 years, aren’t even in the top five?

They were placed behind the likes of Cleveland’s Robbie Alomar/Omar Vizquel and the network’s choice for #1 combo, Mark Belanger and Bobby Grich of the Baltimore Orioles.

Unreal.

As if “Prime 9″ didn’t hurt its credibility enough with that sad display, it hit rock bottom in its episode about top plays at the plate.

The Horton/Brock/Bill Freehan play didn’t even make the cut!

Oh, but they included the post-season play where Giants manager Dusty Baker’s kid had to be pulled from harm’s way by J.T. Snow.

Puh-lease.

The Horton/Brock/Freehan play took place in a pivotal game of a World Series in which the trailing team rallied to capture the championship. It’s legendary, and its photographic images are iconic.

Who can’t see, with their eyes closed, Brock’s foot an inch away from the plate as Freehan applies the tag?

Yet it didn’t even make MLB Network’s list. Some of the ones that did, aside from the Baker incident, were suspect at best.

The 1968 World Series play at the plate should have been a no-brainer.

And putting Trammell and Whitaker in the top 3, or higher, was similarly a task that should have required little to no brain power.

Then again, maybe the disrespect is no surprise, given the pair’s obscenely poor showing in Hall of Fame balloting.

“Prime 9″ is falsely named.

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Mar
15

TV News Gets Its “Props”

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No one shuffles papers anymore on TV.

I’m talking about the news people, who are moving further and further away from a paper-enslaved society. They’ve stopped killing trees—which is one less story for them to report, if you like irony.

In the days of Huntley and Brinkley and Cronkite—heck, even Chevy Chase—an iconic image was to see the newsmen read off their typewritten scripts (no TelePrompTers back then), turn the page when done, and then came the shuffling.

It happened at the end of the broadcast—Cronkite would say, “And that’s the way it is…” and the camera would pull back and we’d see old Walter shuffling his pages of script on his desk.

I miss that. Call me silly, I don’t care.

I bring this up because the paper shuffling has now been replaced by a new icon of TV news.

The laptop has replaced the news script.

The laptop has invaded the newsroom desks of the TV studios throughout America.

Apparently the “hip” thing now, if you’re a news anchor, is to keep an open laptop on the desk before you. It seems to be mainly a prop, because I’ve never seen an anchor actually refer to the laptop.


Cronkite and the new dinosaur of TV news: the typewritten script on paper
Probably some producer of some TV news show decided that an open laptop would give the anchor credibility. Lord knows why. Have you seen the people who use laptops nowadays? I wouldn’t trust them to mow my lawn.

How much do you want to bet that the laptops aren’t even powered up?

This is hardly the end of civilization as we know it; I’m not angry about it. Actually, I think it’s kind of amusing.

I’m not such a curmudgeon that I believe typewritten, paper news scripts should be sacred items.

But with open laptops sitting on the desks of all the TV news studios nowadays, it makes me wonder what the next hip thing will be.

Maybe the younger anchors of the near future will text the news and the words will appear on our TV screens.

Don’t laugh.

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In his finest hour, Jim Otto moved mountains. Actually, he moved defensive linemen, but they were mountainous men, and Otto used leverage, strength and sheer will to clear them out of the way.

Otto, the Hall of Fame center for pro football’s ne’er-do-well Oakland Raiders from 1960-74, played football at knee level. His world on the gridiron was mostly lived 24 inches off the ground.

Otto touched the football on every play, but in the same way that a bell is involved in every boxing match. Nothing happened on the football field until Jim Otto said so. No one was to flinch until Otto made his snap to the quarterback.

He wore the unusual number of 00, to represent the first and last letters of his last name. Where others in the trenches had helmets adorned with criss-crossed cages in front of their faces, Otto eschewed all that protection in favor of the simple, two-bar face mask that was worn by wide receivers and running backs.

For 60, 70 snaps every Sunday afternoon, Otto gave his heart and soul to Da Raiders, hiking footballs to everyone from Tom Flores to Daryle Lamonica to Kenny Stabler to Father Time himself, George Blanda.

He won league championships, and he won over his teammates. Jim Otto was the stabilizing force on so many great Oakland Raiders offensive lines.

You couldn’t fit a beach towel on the area of turf that Otto worked on as he fended off a bull rush by Merlin Olsen or plowed enough daylight for a Raiders running back to squirt past him for a gain of four yards. Otto’s office was a patch of grass for an offense that loved to traverse acres of it at a time.

He gave the Raiders everything he had, then he retired and owned some Burger King restaurants for a time, making some actual money.

After Otto quit playing football, everyone moved on in Raider Nation. The fans cheered a new center, a guy named Dave Dalby—who was pretty damn good in his own right.

Otto was done with pro football, but pro football wasn’t done with Jim Otto.

Otto played the most brutal of games in the most ferocious of ways, and he paid dearly for it.

As today’s pro football forces battle it out in boardrooms instead of in stadiums, trying to hammer out an agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) so that there won’t be a labor stoppage, I can’t help but think of Otto and others like him who literally sacrificed their bodies’ well-being in the name of beating the other guy on Sunday.

Specifically, I recall a documentary I once saw years ago, with Otto as its tragic hero.

Maybe it was on “60 Minutes” or some such program. Regardless, the cameras and narrator told the story of Otto, now retired, and what the man had to put himself through—just to get out of bed in the morning.

His knees ravaged, his joints creaking, the pain relentless, Otto was shown how he wakes up every day.

It was a slow, rudimentary, agonizing process.

As the cameras rolled, we saw Otto do his level best to swing his unbent legs across the mattress, his feet’s eventual destination being the bedroom floor. We saw him wince, stop and grimace as what would take most people seconds encompassed several minutes of Otto’s existence.

This was just him getting out of bed. You could barely watch him put on a pair of pants. Having a life was a whole other deal.

In the feature, we saw Otto pay a visit to his doctor. We saw, up close, his gnarled kneecaps and crooked joints. We saw a man in enormous pain, on a daily basis.

In his finest hour, Jim Otto was a human wall for his quarterbacks and running backs. He was the offensive line’s rock, its most reliable man. He put in his rugged time and on most days, you didn’t notice him. You didn’t say his name.

That meant he played great—again.

But when I saw Otto in the TV special, it wasn’t his finest hour. He was a sack of old, used bones. The wall had crumbled.

Otto has undergone some 28 knee surgeries—nine as a player. He’s had multiple joint replacements. He also fought off three life-threatening bouts of infections due to his artificial joints.

In August 2007, they cut Otto’s right leg off because it was ravaged with infection.

I don’t have the numbers, but I’d be willing to put down a sawbuck or two that says that Jim Otto didn’t make, in his entire football career, half the dough that some of today’s centers make in one season—who are half his talent.

I bring up Otto so that when you hear of the NFL wanting to go to an 18-game regular season and you hear the players balk at such a notion, don’t be so quick to label them as petulant, rich crybabies.

In fact, don’t be so quick to narrow your eyes at the players in general and call them “millionaires” and ask that they keep their mouths shut.

Otto was considered a star, as validated by his bronze bust in Canton, Ohio. He played all those years. And he was by far, the exception to the rule.

The typical NFL player is employed for an average of 3.5 years. This means he’s done with his primary source of income by age 26 or 27—at best. Most of them are nameless, faceless guys filling out a jersey until they’re replaced by someone younger, healthier and who can stand upright for more than five minutes at a time.

Not every player makes the really big bucks. A salary of $400,000 might seem like a lot of dough to you. But do you really think that a man making 400 grand and whose career is done by age 27 is set for life?

NFL players are masochists. There’s no other way to describe it. What they put themselves through—the jolting collisions, the muscle strains, the concussions, joints that look like God put them together in the dark—so that we can enjoy the spectacle of the sport in between trips to the refrigerator, is mind-boggling.

I don’t know what side you’re on in this owners vs. players dispute. I understand that neither side is exactly a great source of sympathy. But if you look deeper, you should find that only one side is truly making as much cash as it can while it’s still physically capable of making it.

Jim Otto gave his leg—literally—to the game of professional football. He played 15 seasons, or about four times the average. Yet he made his real money by owning restaurants.

Think about that the next time you choose to lump the haves with the have-nots when it comes to pro football players.

Categories : football, Out of Bounds
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If things had gone according to plan, Kirk Gibson might be preparing a college football team somewhere right now, getting ready for spring practices. He might have just finished talking up his school in the living rooms of America’s heartland, looking enraptured parents in the eyes and giving them the lowdown of what it would be like for their kid to play football under Coach Kirk.

He might have a resume of 10, 12 years in the NFL behind him as one of the game’s best wide receivers, or even tight ends.

He might have been considered a hotshot candidate to make the jump from the campus to the pros. He might have been more appealing than Jimmy Harbaugh.

It could have been all that, instead of where he is today, trying to cobble together a respectable team in Arizona as first-year manager of the Diamondbacks.

Veteran broadcaster and author Bob Page, a friend, recently told me of the time when the tide likely turned for Gibson—when Kirk went from certain pro football prospect to basher of big league pitching and eventual National League MVP.

“I got a leak from someone in the Tigers organization that they were going to hold a private workout for Gibby at Tiger Stadium,” Page told me. “I called Bill Lajoie, who wasn’t the GM at the time but who was in the front office and who was supposedly organizing the workout. Lajoie denied it.”

Unimpressed with Lajoie’s denial, Page secured a videographer from channel 7 and they traipsed to the ballpark early the next morning, when the workout was to have occurred.

And there, as the leak had suggested, was Gibson, in the batter’s box at Tiger Stadium.

He was finishing up his college education at Michigan State. This was circa 1978.

Everyone who’d seen Kirk Gibson play football at MSU figured him to be a solid NFL prospect. He was a big receiver, he could fly, and he had soft hands. That, and he had a football player’s mentality: tough and a kicker of asses.

Sure, Gibby had played some baseball but baseball was seen as not being big or physical enough for him.

Yet there he was, taking his hacks at Tiger Stadium as Page watched and his cameraman rolled tape.

“He swung and missed a lot,” Page said. “But when he connected, he hit the ball a mile.”

Before long, Gibson was eschewing pro football and was focusing his attention on the smaller game of baseball.

A year later, Gibson was making his debut for the Tigers.

As a young big leaguer, he wasn’t all that different from the private workout days. Gibson swung and missed a lot. But he also hit the ball a mile, when he made contact.

This pattern would pretty much repeat itself throughout his 16-year MLB career, which peaked with the 1988 NL MVP while playing for the Dodgers.

He hit the ball a mile in Game 5 of the 1984 World Series, famously sealing the deal for the Tigers.

There’s no doubt in my mind that had Gibson pursued the NFL, even with his injury-prone body, that he’d have made a helluva pro player and he would have followed the same career path as he is now in baseball—that of coach.

Gibson is 53 now, a perfect age to be honing his skills as a football coach, college or pro.

He would have been good at that, too.

Maybe better than he will be as a baseball manager, though we’ll never know.

You can imagine Kirk Gibson prowling a sideline, can’t you?

You can thank a hush-hush baseball workout at Tiger Stadium over 30 years ago in making the football talk a big game of “What if.”

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