Archive for April, 2011

Apr
26

Katie Didn’t

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America has spoken, and they have done so loud and clear.

We don’t want “cute and perky” delivering our news. At least not nationally.

Katie Couric will soon be bidding CBS goodbye, the nearly five-year experiment of her anchoring the CBS Evening News officially a failure.

Couric started reading the TelePrompTers for CBS in 2006, fresh off her run on the “Today” show, the only female among the three major networks who delivered the evening news during the week. The “fish out of water” move was designed to carve into the ratings gap separating CBS from their counterparts, ABC and NBC.

By that measure, the hiring of Couric was a colossal mistake for CBS.

Recent numbers put CBS’s newscast at an average of 6.1 million viewers nightly, far behind ABC (8.1) and leader NBC (9.2).

Apparently when it comes to network news, it’d better be delivered by someone who isn’t cute and perky, and who isn’t a woman.


Couric: Cute and perky didn’t do it


In fairness, Couric didn’t project the same persona reading the news as she did kibitzing on “Today,” but that is what many viewers must have seen when they passed her by while channel surfing: the same pixie doll whose smile lit up the morning airwaves.

For whatever reason, females anchoring the network newscast have been very few and very far between. ABC made an infamous blunder back in the mid-1970s when they partnered Barbara Walters with curmudgeon Harry Reasoner. The two of them had the same chemistry properties as oil and water when mixed.

Now, with Couric leaving when her contract expires this summer, it would be surprising if another woman was given a shot in the near future.

Don’t weep for her, though. Couric is still too big a name to be unemployed for very long. In fact, the buzz is that she already has another project lined up.

Couric’s departure has had a lot of “imminent” to it for at least two years, when word leaked that CBS executives were squirming in their seats because of the tepid numbers that Couric was bringing them. It’s not all her fault, however; CBS’s numbers were in the tank before they hired Couric.

I don’t watch the news, local or national, because I find it too depressing. I read the newspaper, and the newspaper on the Internet, since I only get a paper-paper three days a week. So I’m not one to ask when it comes to, “Which network newscast do you like the best?”

Clearly, NBC has held that position on the mantel for a long time, with Brian Williams kicking everyone’s rear end.

After five years and no discernible uptick in viewership, it’s also clear that Couric being female, and being a perky one, didn’t float a lot of boats in TV land.

We still like suits and ties and humorless when it comes to TV network news.

Ladies, you haven’t come as long of a way as you think, baby!

Sadly.

Categories : Enotes, society, Television
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Apr
25

Monday Morning Manager 2011, Edition 4

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Last week: 5-1
This week: SEA (4/26-28); at Cle (4/29-5/1)

So, What Happened?

Now THAT’S more like it!

MMM is feeling almost giddy this morning, in wake of a very impressive sweep of the struggling White Sox and taking the Mariners, two-out-of-three.

Those Tigers must have read MMM last week, because in this space it was discussed how important it was for the Bengals to take advantage of a bad team (Seattle) and a slumping one (Chicago).

In the words of George W. Bush, “Mission accomplished!”

When a team like the White Sox is underachieving and they come to your place, all you want to do is beat them and get them the heck out of town before they catch fire. And the White Sox did look bad, didn’t they? Sheesh!

Yes sir, a 5-1 week which lifted the Tigers to 12-10 definitely puts a smile on MMM’s often crabby face.

Hero of the Week

Let’s hear it for Alex Avila, the nepotistic (is that even a word?) catcher who fans wanted to run out of town after Opening Day.

All Avila is doing is smacking the baseball all over the alleys, against righties or lefties, and delivering runs to the plate in the process. He’s also stuffing a sweat sock into the mouths of those who were all over his case just a couple weeks ago. He certainly wore out the White Sox over the weekend.

This couldn’t have come at a better time, what with Victor Martinez on the DL, forcing manager Jim Leyland to play AA against lefties, too. And the kid is responding.

Avila is one of those lefty swingers who can look like he’s got the smoothest stroke in the world (like right now), then can go back into flailing mode, just like that.

But right now Avila is hot, and good for him. He’s making papa—and MMM—proud.

Goat of the Week

MMM was going to name Phil Coke as GotW for his inexplicable start in Seattle last Tuesday, but instead 2B Will Rhymes is going to feel the wrath.

After winning the starting 2B job in spring training, largely because of his .300+ average last summer with the Tigers, Rhymes has hit nothing like he did in 2010. In fact, Rhymes is hitting nothing, period. He has zero—ZERO—extra base hits and his average is hovering around .200.

As a no. 2 hitter, Rhymes makes a good no. 9 guy. All he does now is lay down the occasional sacrifice bunt. Kind of like what a pitcher does at the plate.

MMM thinks it won’t be surprising to see Rhymes in Toledo and Scott Sizemore in Detroit before too long.

Under the Microscope

This may surprise some, but MMM is putting pitcher Brad Penny under the microscope this week.

The timing may be odd at first blush, given that Penny flirted with a no-hitter and totally shut the White Sox down on Saturday. But, strangely, that’s precisely why MMM is putting the veteran righty UtM.

Why? Because after such a poor start to his Tigers career, which caused many fans to look at him cross-eyed, now those same folks (and MMM, obviously) want to see if Penny is indeed coming around, or had one of those “every dog has his day” moments against the Chisox.

MMM will be paying close attention when Penny makes his next start on Thursday. This is the guy the Tigers chose to sign over Armando Galarraga. MMM thought it was a good swap at the time, and still believes that. For now.

Upcoming: Mariners and Indians

Last week MMM stated that the Seattle Mariners should be the tonic for what was ailing the Tigers, who took 2-of-3 in the Pacific Northwest. This week, MMM is stating that the Mariners should be a good team to play to keep the wins coming.

But beware: the M’s will start King Felix Hernandez on Tuesday and this kid Michael Pineda on Thursday, both of whom the Tigers missed in Seattle last week.

Felix is the reigning Cy Young winner, and Pineda might be this year’s Rookie of the Year. Pineda is 3-1 with a 1.78 ERA, and he’s only 22 years old. Pineda has 21 Ks in 25 innings and opponents are batting just .202 against him.

Then the Tigers travel to Cleveland to face the surprising Indians.

The way the Tribe is playing, and with CF Grady Sizemore back in the lineup, this series will have shades of 2007-08 all over it, when the Indians were among the beasts of the Central Division.

While no one expects the Indians to contend all summer, part of the beauty of baseball is its long season and finding out if good, surprising starts can be sustained, and if bad starts can be overcome. The Indians are certainly in the former category.

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

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Apr
24

Red Wings Super Pest Helm Does it All

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If Darren Helm weren’t a person, he’d be a popcorn kernel stuck under your gum. If he were a TV character, he’d be Bobby Brady on that date with his brother Greg. If he were a beverage, he’d be sour milk.

Let’s hear it for the hockey pests!

There is precedence for what Helm, the Red Wings’ annoying, maddening, mighty mite of a forward, did to the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round of the playoffs. And it has its roots right here in Detroit.

Bryan Watson was a marginally talented hockey player who broke into the NHL in 1963 with Les Canadiens du Montreal, an organization that didn’t fiddle around too much with marginally talented hockey players, as a rule.

Watson was a 5’9” plugger whose eyes were always about to swell shut. He looked more like a tomato can boxer who all the other fighters used to pad their record. Of course, boxing and hockey in those days were practically subsidiaries of each other.

Watson came to the Red Wings in the summer of 1965 in the intraleague draft. He wasn’t yet 23 but already had two NHL campaigns under his suspenders, though they totaled just 44 games between them.

Red Wings GM/coach Sid Abel saw something he liked, though, and he tabbed Watson to play for his club, mostly as a defenseman—mainly because Watson was about as offensively gifted as a pitcher with a baseball bat.

Yet Watson suited up for all 70 of the Red Wings games in the 1965-66 season, netting two goals by accident and registering seven assists because he showed up every night. But Watson was a man of big numbers—when it came to minutes spent in the penalty box.

Watson racked up over two hours’ worth of penalties in ’65-’66—133 minutes to be exact. He did so by playing half his game inside his opponents’ jerseys and the other half inside their heads.

The Red Wings were one of the four teams to qualify for the playoffs in the spring of 1966—these were the days of the Original Six—and they drew the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round. Only, back then, they were the Black Hawks. Don’t get me started as to why they changed it.

Chicago’s superstar was one Robert Marvin Hull, a.k.a. Bobby, the Golden Jet.

The left winger Hull, the previous spring, popped in 10 goals in the playoffs, in just 14 games. He added seven assists for 17 points, leading the league in both categories. In fact, in his five previous playoffs, Hull netted 32 goals. Every playoff, it was a Hull of a spring.

But coach Abel had a plan for his Detroiters, in trying to contain Bobby Hull.

Abel went to Watson, a defenseman, and told him that he’d be playing forward, expressly for the purposes of being Hull’s worst nightmare.

From the moment they dropped the puck for Game 1, to the time the Red Wings eliminated the Black Hawks in six games, Watson dogged Hull. Watson was a fly and Hull was you-know-what.

For six games, Watson irritated Hull, and he did so with a smirk on his corduroy face with the swollen eyes.

Hull himself, in a moment of begrudging admiration, called Watson a “pest.”

But Watson’s teammates, notably Gordie Howe, slapped another nickname on Watson.

“Bugsy,” they began to call him.

Watson pestered and bugged Hull so much that the Golden Jet was grounded. Hull managed to score just two goals in the series, one year after dominating the postseason. In fact, Watson matched Hull’s goal total that spring, netting two in 12 games for the Red Wings, who lost a heartbreaking Finals to the Canadiens.

Bryan “Bugsy” Watson’s legend was born in the spring of 1966, as he became the first officially acknowledged hockey irritant.

Others came after Bugsy—guys like Kenny “The Rat” Linseman, Patty Verbeek, a.k.a. “The Little Ball of Hate,” and Theo Fleury, who in his prime had a bounty placed on his head by half the league.

Now here comes Helm, the 24-year-old who looks 14, and he’s going to need a nickname pretty soon. That, and a good lawyer, because it won’t be long before opponents start asking judges for personal protection orders against him.

Helm is from Winnipeg, which is so ironic it’s ridiculous, because his play may have just sent the Coyotes back to that Manitoba burg, as the team’s future remains clouded.

Helm’s legend began two springs ago, when he scored the series-winning goal in overtime against the—fittingly so—Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference finals, the goal that sent the Red Wings into the 2009 Cup Finals.

At a players and media gathering held before the Finals at the RenCen downtown, I approached Helm as he sat alone, unbothered by the press, at his designated table. I found it odd that no one wanted to talk to the kid whose goal sent the Red Wings to the championship round for the second year in a row.

It wasn’t long before I discovered why; you needed the hearing of a hunting dog to pick Helm’s words up. If he were anymore soft-spoken, he’d be mute.

As I strained to hear him, Helm gave me a bunch of “aw, shucks” and “I’m just having fun” and he was so enamored by his talented teammates I thought he was going to excuse himself to go ask for autographs.

But that’s the Darren Helm off the ice. The Helm on the ice has just emotionally scarred the Coyotes for life.

Helm, in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it series, was a one-man wrecking crew. His combination of speed and aggressiveness and talent bothered the Coyotes relentlessly.

The speed is bad enough. Helm traverses the ice from end to end like he’s always skating downhill. Whether he’s pursuing puck or person, Helm is Carl Lewis on skates.

Then once he catches you, Helm really gets nasty. It’s not enough that he moves like the Roadrunner; he has to act like Dennis the Menace while he’s at it.

In Game 4, Helm did more on the Red Wings’ second goal of the night than most players do in a week.

He raced behind the Coyotes net on a play that looked as dead as the octopuses that are tossed onto the Joe Louis Arena ice. After arriving, Helm crunched a defenseman so hard that the poor guy took out his teammate—a two-for-one job. Not finished, Helm then assumed control of the puck, skated to the left side of the Phoenix goal, spotted teammate Patrick Eaves at the right of the crease and delivered a perfect pass that Eaves slam-dunked into the net. If it were basketball it’d have been an alley-oop play.

The Red Wings are preparing for the second round now partly because of the spirited, frenetic, incessant play of Darren Helm, the team’s quiet pest. Forty-five years after Bugsy Watson blazed the trail, the Red Wings have spawned another virulent player.

Let’s hear it for the hockey pests!

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Apr
19

A Word About Our (Shrinking) Sponsors

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Doesn’t anyone ever advertise on television anymore?

That might seem like a foolish statement, because Lord knows our favorite TV programs are chopped up like stir-fry vegetables so that 2-3 minute commercial breaks can be added.

But the TV advertisement market seems to have been cornered by just a few categories: prescription drugs, beer, cars, car insurance and wireless gizmos. Those five seem to dominate 80% of the break time, with the remaining 20% scattered into far less significant groups.

Where are the cereal ads? Big Boy commercials? Laundry detergent ads? Candy and gum spots?

The memories of my youth, when it comes to ads on TV, keep pointing to iconic characters like Madge (Palmolive dish soap); the Tidy Bowl Man; Jack Guilford’s old man in the “Cracker Jack” spots; Mr. Whipple (Charmin bath tissue); the folks on the boat singing about Faygo; and a plethora of cereal characters (Toucan Sam, Cap’n Crunch, the Trix rabbit, etc).

The commercials back then were typically 60 seconds in length, so the ad agency folks had much more time for character development over the course of their campaign. A 60-second Cap’n Crunch commercial could just about tell and entire story—while also keeping firmly in mind that it was cereal they were hawking.

Today’s artsy-fartsy spots often leave you hanging as to what they’re even advertising until the final few seconds.

I suppose Flo, the Progressive Insurance Girl, is an example of today’s iconic characters of advertising. That’s fine. At least those ads are plentiful in their variety. Who else is already sick of the wireless gizmo commercial with the two guys on the ski lift? And it’s only been on the air for a few weeks.


Mr. Whipple!!


We used to see Madge a lot, working in her salon, dipping a unsuspecting woman’s fingers into a bowl of Palmolive. That’s true. But the women were different and even though the gist was the same and the catch phrases never changed, there was still an element of variety to the campaign.

Gone are the days when commercial catch phrases made their way into the public consciousness.

The last was probably the Wendy’s spots with old Clara Peller, who crabbily asked, “Where’s the beef?!”

Even George H.W. Bush stole it for political gain.

I am so tired of prescription drug ads. And, they make me angry, because I can’t help but think that the cost of those ads are part of why their products’ prices are ballooning.

Even Coke and Pepsi have given up; they don’t advertise much anymore, either.

Thank goodness for YouTube, where you can easily get lost searching for and viewing classic TV commercials from various decades. What a treasure trove of nostalgia!

I now return you to your regularly scheduled blog…

Categories : culture, Enotes, Television
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Apr
18

Monday Morning Manager 2011, Edition 3

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Last week: 4-3
This week: at Sea (4/18-20); CWS (4/22-24)

So, What Happened?

The Tigers somehow won four games last week with an offense that couldn’t punch its way out of a paper bag.

The week began ominously with a Justin Verlander loss to the hot Texas Rangers. which is unfair to even write because JV was excellent; the Tigers got shutout, however, dropping them to 3-7. Tigertown was aghast.

Two straight walk-off wins over the Rangers ensued, followed by a shutout of the Oakland A’s out west (thanks to the stellar pitching of starter Phil Coke) on Thursday. On Friday night, the Tigers took advantage of a boatload of walks from A’s pitchers—and a clutch, ninth inning homer from Miguel Cabrera to tie the game—to win going away in the 10th inning.

Then the Tigers slipped, dropping the last two games in Oakland as the A’s starters vexed the Tigers’ woeful offense.

MMM is beyond cranky with the rinky-dink offense. Even minus Magglio Ordonez, as the Tigers have been a lot already, a .245 team batting average is unacceptable. And MMM will say it again: sophomore Austin Jackson‘s struggles are more than alarming. Someone better get this kid turned around before his confidence is ruined irreparably.

Hero of the Week

In what is sure to be one of many, many times this season, MMM is going with Miguel Cabrera as its HotW.

Miggy won the game on Tuesday with a walk-off single, and saved the Tigers’ bacon Friday night in Oakland with a solo homer in the ninth inning of a game where the Tigers looked dead, despite trailing just 1-0.

What’s amazing about Cabrera is how hard—and far—he can hit baseballs that aren’t in his wheelhouse. Then again, what isn’t in Miggy’s wheelhouse? Whether he’s jammed or challenged up high or enticed by a low, outside offering, Cabrera drives the ball. It’s uncanny. Even his outs can be majestic and exciting to watch.

If not for Cabrera last week, MMM thinks the Tigers likely would have been 2-5 instead of 4-3. And that’s a mighty big difference, especially when you entered the week 3-6.

Goat of the Week

This may sound like MMM is copping out, but the choice for last week’s Goat goes to the entire offense.

It’s been since the home opener that the Tigers have struggled mightily to push runs across the plate. It just seems so hard for them right now. If they’re not hitting home runs, they’re not scoring, and that’s beyond disturbing.

So many can be indicted: Ryan Raburn; Austin Jackson (still); Will Rhymes; and several more. The team batting average says it all, along with the anemic on-base percentages that dot the roster.

MMM wants and expects the bats to heat up soon, or else.

Under the Microscope

Back by popular demand (because I said so) is UtM, where MMM calls out a player as being looked at very closely by the Tigers fan base for the moment, and why.

Is it any surprise that the year’s first UtM “honoree” is CF Jackson?

A-Jax’s woes continue and it’s becoming the white elephant in the room. No one really wants to talk about it, but it’s there, folks.

Jackson looks confused and bewildered, which might be OK if you’re the family’s crazy uncle, but not so endearing in your baseball team’s starting center fielder and lead-off man.

That low rumbling you hear that is getting louder is the Tigers’ fan base growing restless about Jackson. His average is an unsightly .170 after another 0-for-4 on Sunday.

MMM is starting to sound like a broken record: a struggling Jackson is directly proportional to a struggling team offense.


Upcoming: Mariners and White Sox

The Seattle Mariners should be the tonic for the Tigers’ offensive struggles; the Mariners’ pitching staff stinks. And Seattle’s offense is even worse—dead last in the majors with a .214 batting average. Even Ichiro Suzuki is scuffling along at .254.

And—bonus—the Tigers will miss Seattle ace Felix Hernandez, who pitched on Saturday.

The Tigers MUST take advantage.

This weekend, the Chicago White Sox invade Comerica Park, and if a team has a worse bullpen right now than Ozzie Guillen’s bunch, MMM would like to see it.

The Chisox have already blown six saves this season, which is almost unfathomable.

“I don’t have a closer,” Guillen said bluntly the other day.

After scraping and clawing to get back to .500, the Tigers have to do it all over again this week. The opportunity is there—with the bad Mariners and inconsistent White Sox on this week’s menu.

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

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It’s easy to spot the scratched hockey player at the arena.

He’s the one in the loose-fitting suit, with hair that looks like it’s still damp from the shower. The face has clearly avoided the razor. There’s no necktie. He walks down the corridors looking like he jumped off the cover of GQ magazine.

The only thing worse than being a scratched hockey player, especially in the playoffs, is being a healthy scratched hockey player.

The healthy scratches can’t blame mysterious upper or lower body injuries for their absence. There’s not a cotton-picking thing wrong with them, physically.

And yet, the feet are in wing tipped shoes, not skates. There isn’t a helmet in sight. The hands are gloveless.

The healthy scratch isn’t in the lineup because, frankly, the coach found 20 other guys he’d rather have available that night. You can be kind and call the scratched player a victim of “the numbers game,” but that’s just a nice way of saying he’s 21st out of 20 for that evening.

Healthy scratches aren’t Hall of Famers, as a rule. They’re guys who have been benchwarmers throughout the season, or have been back and forth from the minor leagues ad infinitum, shuttled more than businessmen commuters at O’Hare Airport.

But then you look at Mike Modano and it’s OK to do a double-take, or even a spit take, if you like your humor more slapstick than subtle.

Mike Modano: sure-fire Hall of Famer, a veteran of the NHL playoff wars since the George H.W. Bush administration, a healthy scratch—for a playoff game?

This is like hiring Michael Caine for your movie and making him an extra.

But there Modano was, healthy as a horse but sitting in the press box on Wednesday night, dressed in a suit and not a uniform as the Red Wings were battling the Phoenix Coyotes on the ice surface three stories below.

Modano is 40, sure, but this is his time of the year.

Coming into this season, Modano had suited up for 174 post-season games, popping in 58 goals and amassing 145 points. He hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2008 when the Red Wings signed him last summer, but that wasn’t his fault—he played for the Dallas Stars, who have recently become allergic to the playoffs.

Suddenly, last summer.

It seemed like such a good idea at the time. Modano had turned 40 and was considering hanging up the skates, the Stars electing not to offer him another contract. He was born in Livonia and grew up in Westland, and the Red Wings are always looking for veteran depth. Maybe they could coerce the center man to give it another whirl.

So the Red Wings took a moderate risk and inked Modano after a brief courtship. He showed up to the press conference at Joe Louis Arena to announce the signing tanned, looking fresh, and still with those boyish good looks he had when he entered the NHL as an 18-year-old in 1989.

I wrote that Modano was defying the proper look for a 40-year-old hockey player. His face wasn’t stapled on, for one.

Modano looked good, felt good, and when he perused the Red Wings roster, he had high hopes that Detroit would be a fitting place to end his career with his second Stanley Cup (he won it in 1999 with the Stars).

For the Red Wings’ part, they saw in Modano a veteran playmaker and puck handler who could also win some face-offsand maybe net 15-20 goals, too.

His signing meant some eager kids would have to wait their turn, but in Detroit, it’s always about winning now; there’s as much patience in Hockeytown as there is in a two-year-old in a car.

Both sides were thrilled. It was a marriage of convenience, but also with some endearment.

Modano got off to a slow start, although he did score a goal on opening night. After that, he struggled to get acclimated to his new teammates, and probably to wearing red after 21 years of wearing green and black.

It was starting to come together in November, but then came a nasty wrist injury late in the month, when a skate in Columbus gashed him.

The injury set Modano back three months; he returned in late-February, any momentum and chemistry that had been built flushed down the toilet.

It was like going back to the drawing board. But time wasn’t on Modano’s side; it never is for the 40-year-old athlete.

The season was furiously marching to the finish line, and Modano was the guy chasing the bus, clutching his briefcase and holding his hat on his head, yelling for the driver to stop.

The production after the injury was about the same as that of before the injury: it dripped out, like an IV.

Modano got into 40 games in the regular season, scoring four goals. No one had to tell him that his was a disappointing signing.

Then, in a flash, it seemed, the playoffs arrived, and when coach Mike Babcock and his staff sat down to fill out the lineup card for Game One, it was with great consternation that they left Modano’s name off it.

Mike Modano, healthy scratch. For a playoff game.

Not what anyone had in mind when the Red Wings brought the veteran, home-grown kid back to Detroit.

Modano has gone on record as saying that this is likely his last chance at the Stanley Cup, because retirement is beckoning him.

“I can’t stay on the ice as long,” he told the media a few days ago. “I think my body is telling me that I’m near the end.”

Modano says that he abides by the coach’s decision to not play him, and he vows to be ready at a moment’s notice. What else would you expect him to say?

Here’s the cruel irony: Modano came to Detroit to help the Red Wings win a Stanley Cup. Yet the more often his team wins in the playoffs, the less likely Modano is to crack the lineup, barring injury to a teammate.

“This is probably my last chance,” he said of chasing hockey’s Holy Grail.

How’s this? Modano might not even see the ice again this post-season. The mentality during hockey playoffs is, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix iti.e. lineups.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Mike Modano, Hall of Famer, was supposed to be in uniform for the playoffs, not in a suit. One of the reasons the Red Wings signed him was for this time of the year, specifically.

I feel bad for the guy, don’t you?

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Apr
15

Tigers Need 2010 A-Jax to Reappear Quickly

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It wasn’t all that long ago that I issued a severe weather watch.

Not a warning—that’s what you give when you see signs of brewage, like with a tornado—but a watch.

The directive was that Austin Jackson better have a good season, or else the Tigers offense would be working with one hand tied behind its back.

It was the opinion here that the second-year Jackson—not Miggy Cabrera or Magglio Ordonez or Victor Martines—is the most important brick in the team’s offensive house.

If Jackson doesn’t get on base with any consistency, I cautioned, then the Tigers’ house of cards collapses. The theory was that any good offense is keyed and triggered by its leadoff man, and since that’s Jackson’s job, it’s up to him to start setting the table for the big boys.

The “watch” part comes into play because this is Jackson’s second year after a terrific rookie campaign, and those sophomores automatically are placed under watch.

Now we can upgrade the severe weather watch to a warning.

Jackson went 0-for-4 last night in the Tigers’ 3-0 win over the Oakland A’s. And this wasn’t one of those hit-the-ball-hard-but-got-robbed kind of o-for-4s. This wasn’t the case of a guy being snakebit for a night.

Jackson was 0-for-4 and looked every bit the part, flailing at pitches and not looking real comfortable at the dish. His batting average has sunk to .184, the strikeout total still elevated (16 in 49 AB). The conditions that were right for a second-year slump have now materialized.

Yes, the Tigers have won three in a row. But they haven’t done so with a punishing offense. The team struggles to score runs on most nights, and it’s impossible not to connect those team struggles with Jackson’s personal ones.

For a leadoff hitter, the on-base percentage is the live-or-die statistic. If it were a person it would be Judge Joe Brown. There is no gray area when it comes to the OBP; you either have a good one, or you don’t. And there are no mitigating circumstances.

Jackson’s OBP is .259, sickly for even a No. 9 hitter. Or a pitcher.

As a result, the Tigers must scratch and claw for their runs, or wait for someone to hit a home run.

Even last night was an example—and the Tigers won.

The A’s pitching staff issued an unsightly 11 walks—1o of them unintentional. Yet the Tigers couldn’t scratch out a run until the seventh inning and used walks to edge ahead, 3-0 in the eighth inning.

An 11-walk affair ought to yield more than three piddly runs.

The lack of clutch hitting isn’t all Jackson’s fault, of course, but you can’t help but wonder where the Tigers offense would be if today’s Jackson was more like the 2010 Jackson who hovered at or above .300 most of the season.

You can turn a cross-eyed look at new Tiger Victor Martinez, too, who’s barely above .200 and looking like he’s trying too hard to impress.

But it’s Jackson, I maintain, who holds the future of the Tigers offense in his sophomore hands.

Nothing that’s happened in the first 13 games of the season has changed my mind. And it ought to convert others.

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Apr
14

Our Little Early Bird

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I’m not one to get too personal in this space but sometimes you just have to make an exception.

It was 18 years ago today, at 3:57 p.m. to be exact, when the medical staff at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak cut a 2 lb, 14 oz little pipsqueak of a girl out of my wife in an emergency C-section. The screaming, wiggling little thing could have fit in a shoebox but gave the nurses all they could handle.

Our daughter was a preemie, and there was no place better to take care of her than at Beaumont, which had—and still has—an outstanding neo-natal care department.

My wife had been laid up with toxemia in the months leading up to the birth, which wasn’t supposed to occur until sometime in June. But during a routine check-up on Good Friday, 1993, her doctor advised her to go to Beaumont, and not to pass GO and not to collect $200.

We thought there were simply going to be some more tests and that she’d be home by the end of the day.

Imagine my surprise when, the next time I saw my bride (we’d just been married since September and our daughter was conceived on our honeymoon), she was being wheeled out to the waiting room, in a wheelchair and a hospital gown.

So much for being home by the end of the day.

It was soon determined, after getting my wife a bed in a semi-private room, that the baby—our baby not due until early-June—would have to be delivered, by hook or by crook.

They induced my wife with pitocin, which is standard. But after a day of that, it was evident that a vaginal birth was unlikely.
Link

I spent the night with her and the next day, after another morning of waiting for the bun to come out of the oven, and with family in the waiting room, suddenly everything got frenetic.

In a flash, there were more nurses than usual and the bed was being wheeled away and I was handed a blue gown, hat, and mask.

The bed was wheeled down the hall, toward the delivery room. There wasn’t panic, just urgency.

OK, maybe I panicked a little.

Upon entering the delivery room, I was told not to touch anything that was color coded blue. I remember saying, “I will not touch anything blue.” That’s a good time to follow orders.

I held my wife’s hand and I’d never held the hand of anyone so cold who was still alive. The anesthesiologist sat next to me. I remember asking if she was supposed to be so cold. I don’t remember what he said. Probably, “Yes, now shut up.”

Several minutes passed and I heard someone shout, “Sharon, would you like to see your baby coming out?” and they held a giant mirror for her—and me. Only, I looked away. Sorry—too much that I didn’t want to see.

Then, the baby was out and she was being carried to a nearby table. I was told to come see.

The first words out of my mouth, and I’ll never forget it, were, “Is she going to be OK??!!!”

The reason for my concern was the wiggling, purple and red person I was staring at. She was SO SMALL. Turns out she wasn’t even three pounds, which means she wasn’t even as heavy as a bag of sugar. As I said, a shoebox would have been a suitable abode.

The nurses assured me that, yes, she’d be OK.

For about two months, our little girl lived in Beaumont’s NICU, in an isolette, wires attached to her body and often her eyes covered to protect them from the harsh light. Everyday we visited, my wife twice a day—once in the day and again with me in the evening after I left work.

Finally, on June 4, 1993, our little Nikki came home—and even then she barely scraped the scales at four pounds.

Looking back, we should have been more scared, but the staff at Beaumont was so good and competent, and their reputation was so stellar, that I guess our fears were alleviated. That, and Nikki never encountered any serious health concerns while in the hospital; that helped.

Turns out that my wife’s regular doctor had difficulty delivering her because of the position of the baby. Thankfully, the head of the department was in the hallway, purely by chance. And he was summoned, with both my wife and our baby’s survival in jeopardy. He used his experience and skill in safely extricating our child.

This I found out later, and I’m glad I did. I didn’t care to know that at the time!

So Happy Birthday, Nicole. You’re officially an adult. But always our baby.

Categories : Enotes, medicine
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Apr
12

The Organized Assassin

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It has often been the M.O. of the American assassin to not have much of an exit strategy—no real end game beyond committing the act itself.

Leon Czolgosz had absolutely no chance of escape following the murder of President McKinley in 1901. Same with Charles Guiteau, killer of President Garfield 20 years earlier.

Witness the random, aimless meanderings of Lee Harvey Oswald following the shooting of President Kennedy, when he couldn’t even get out of town despite the chaos within it.

There was one exception, however.

One hundred and forty-six years ago Thursday, actor and miscreant John Wilkes Booth sneaked into the suite of President Abraham Lincoln in Washington’s Ford’s Theater and shot him point blank in the back of the skull.

Booth’s mission was accomplished; Lincoln was mortally wounded and he would die several hours later.

Beyond that, Booth knew what he wanted to do—get out of Dodge, and fast.

After pulling the trigger of his pistol, Booth leaped from the suite to the stage, severely injuring his leg in the process. He shouted something, “Sic semper tyrannis,” Latin for “Thus always to tyrants.” It was part of Booth’s flair for the dramatic; it was also a reference to what Brutus said at Caesar’s assassination, and it was the motto of Virginia.

Booth had arranged for a getaway horse and an escape route was in his head. Booth was part of a plot that was to not only kill Lincoln, but also Vice President Johnson and Secretary of State Seward. The mission was to take out the president and the next two successors, in an effort to throw the government into panic and leave an opportunity for the Confederacy to take advantage.

In his 2005 analysis of Lincoln’s assassination, Thomas Goodrich wrote, “All the elements in Booth’s nature came together at once – his hatred of tyranny, his love of liberty, his passion for the stage, his sense of drama, and his lifelong quest to become immortal.”

That pretty much sums it up well.


John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865)


Booth died 12 days after shooting Lincoln, after being shot inside a barn on the farm of the Garrett family in northern rural Virginia. He was ratted out by William S. Jett, a former private in the 9th Virginia Cavalry.

But Booth had an exit strategy; he just couldn’t quite pull it off.

His dying words, allegedly, were, “Tell my mother I died for my country.”

Booth blamed Lincoln for the country’s troubles, and believed himself to be the man deemed to punish the president.

Unlike the assassins of our other fallen presidents, John Wilkes Booth never intended to be caught. He fully expected to escape and live the rest of his life basking in the glow of his misdeed.

Even Oswald, it could be argued, believed himself to be doomed following the murder of Kennedy. In fact, I would suggest that Oswald didn’t even think he’d be successful. I believe his panicked moves after the killing suggests those of someone who was scared to death that he actually killed the president, and didn’t know what the hell to do or where to go.

Not Booth; he didn’t want to be a martyr, he wanted to be a Confederate hero, and live to enjoy that status.

Booth’s sister Asia had been given a letter by her brother in January 1865, some four months before the assassination. Booth instructed her not to read it until after his death.

It read:

“I know how foolish I shall be deemed for undertaking such a step as this, where, on one side, I have many friends and everything to make me happy … to give up all … seems insane; but God is my judge. I love justice more than I do a country that disowns it, more than fame or wealth.”

Such is the mind of the determined—and organized—assassin.

Categories : crime, Enotes, history
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Apr
11

Monday Morning Manager 2011, Edition 2

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Last week: 2-4
This week: TEX (4/11-13); at Oak (4/14-17)

So, What Happened?

Buzz saw, meet the Tigers; Tigers, meet the buzz saw.

MMM had an inkling the Tigers might have the kind of week they had, given the nagging feeling that a slow start was in the offing, and the fact that the opponents were two teams that were primed to cause trouble: the Orioles because of their resurgence, and the Royals because they always play the Tigers tough.

Sure enough, the Tigers found the competition to be more than adequate for their slippery paws to handle, and they stumbled to a 2-4 record for the week.

The Tigers played suspect defense (to be kind), didn’t get much from their bullpen, and their bats went silent in the last two games against Kansas City.

It all added up to another .333 week, leaving the Tigers 3-6 for the season. And they are getting exactly what they deserve.

Hero of the Week

MMM is torn, because it was only one game out of six, but Justin Verlander gets the nod.

JV was stellar in Baltimore on Wednesday in a game the Tigers needed badly. A loss would have put them 1-4, and the O’s would have been 5-0 and with confidence soaring going into the series finale. The Tigers might have come home 1-5 if not for Verlander, who shut the O’s down with eight brilliant innings.

Verlander proved his status as the Tigers’ horse and ace: he won a game the Tigers needed to have to stop the bleeding, and he did it convincingly. That’s what your top gun pitcher is supposed to do, and he did it—big time.

MMM considered Jhonny Peralta, who’s been swinging a smooth stick so far, but sadly, none of Jhonny’s hits have really produced anything, other than a sweet batting average.

MMM also liked Phil Coke’s start on Saturday.

Goat of the Week

MMM is going to indict Austin Jackson, who has limped out of the gate with an average that’s less than his weight—and AJ’s not a big guy.

Consider this tough love, because MMM loves Jackson.

Yet this is what was feared in this space—that Jackson would find Year 2 much more difficult than Year 1. If you recall, Jackson sprang from the starting block last year like his hair was on fire. This year is the polar opposite.

MMM is also cranky with the team’s defense, which is leaving a lot to be desired. MMM has seen Little League teams play better with the glove than the Tigers have in these opening nine games.

The Tigers have been throwing the ball around recklessly and, apparently, aimlessly—and the pitchers are throwing wild pitches and wildly to first base during pick-off attempts.

Yes, the rubber wall that is catcher Alex Avila isn’t helping, as many of these “wild pitches” are either passed balls, truthfully, or at the very least, maybe there should be a separate “assist” column for catchers when it comes to wild pitches. Because Avila would be leading the league in WPA right now.

The defense isn’t as advertised—-it’s even worse.

Upcoming: Rangers and A’s

Ahh, nothing like an 8-1 Texas team when you’re struggling, eh?

That’s who the Tigers face starting tonight at Comerica Park.

But again, here comes Verlander, who will start the opening game against Alexi Ogando, who was excellent in his last start against Seattle on April 5; he pitched six strong, surrendering just two hits and no runs.

Once again, the Tigers need Verlander to be the horse and get them (again!) a much-needed win. It’s only April 11 and the Tigers have needed this kind of medicine twice already.

Then it’s off to Oakland with no travel day (though Wednesday’s series finale is an afternoon affair). The A’s are 4-5 but they’re no picnic in their ballpark.

The Oakland series is the start of one of those delightfully unpredictable west coast trips that you brace yourselves for, hoping for the best and expecting the worst.

This is, already, a crucial week for the Tigers. MMM knows you take comfort in seeing the Twins 3-6, and you’re not too fazed by the Indians’ 7-2 getaway, but these are seven big games. A bad week makes them 5-11 or something, and that’s not cool.

They can start by not kicking and throwing the ball around. And scoring without the benefit of the long ball would be nice, too.

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

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