Archive for July, 2011
It’s the summer of 1972 and Tigers general manager Jim Campbell is trying to squeeze one more championship out of the core of the bunch that won the World Series four years earlier.
Ever since that glorious year of 1968—the Year of the Tiger—Campbell has been wringing the roster, like a wash cloth, trying to get as much out of it as he can. There hasn’t been much help in the minor league system—certainly no one who can be brought to the big club and make any significant impact.
The pennant race of ’72 is an epic one, in a season truncated due to labor strife out of spring training. Some games are lost due to a players strike. The full 162-game schedule simply won’t be played, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn announces in April.
The season starts about a week late, and Kuhn decides that all games that weren’t played due to the strike will not be made up. Period. Like it or lump it.
The Tigers find themselves engaged in combat with three other teams as the month of July winds down: the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, though the Tigers hold on to first place by a 2 ½ game margin over the second place Orioles.
Campbell starts each day by scanning the waiver wires, then jumps on the phone to talk trade potential.
In 1972, the interleague trade deadline is much earlier than today’s July 31; in 1972, the deadline for trades that can be made between leagues that don’t require waivers is June 15. That was a month and a half ago as July 31 dawns.
In late-July, 1972, Campbell plays the annual “You give me this and I’ll think about giving you that” game with his fellow general managers—a grown up version of the same game that is played out on bicycles by young boys as the kids talk through chaws of bubble gum, shuffling through their newly-bought baseball cards.
But there are no “doubles” with which to swap, like the kids can with their Topps trading cards.
Campbell’s aging roster, being managed with brilliance by the volatile Billy Martin, is heading into the dog days of summer and the GM frets that Billy can’t bring the Tigers across the finish line first unless he gets some help from outside the organization.
Woodie Fryman is a 32-year-old tobacco farmer from Kentucky who is pitching poorly for a bad team, the Philadelphia Phillies. Fryman is a lefty whose success in the big leagues has been achieved in small chunks with larger chunks of mediocrity in between.
A couple weeks prior to July 31, Fryman starts for the Phillies and lasts just 2.1 innings, surrendering six runs.
But in typical Fryman fashion, read: inconsistency, Woodie starts on July 29 and pitches 8.1 solid innings, getting the win for the woeful Phillies that afternoon.
Yet a few days later, the Phillies put Fryman on waivers.
Campbell sees the waiver move come across his desk and picks up the telephone.
On August 2, left-hander Woodie Fryman, the tobacco farmer from Ewing, Kentucky, 32 years old and with a crumpled resume dotted with success and failure, becomes a Tiger after Campbell puts in his claim.
Two days later, Campbell sees another waiver move appear on the wire.
Duke Sims is a 31-year-old catcher/outfielder who is swinging a limp noodle left-handed bat with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He’s hitting .192 when the Dodgers jettison him via waivers.
Two years prior, in 1970, Sims hit a career-high 23 homers. But he’s another whose big league career has a lot of so-so about it.
Campbell puts in his claim for Sims anyway. Campbell notes that Sims’ best years came when he played in the American League, for Cleveland. Maybe he’s more of an American League guy, Campbell figures.
The Tigers, armed with their two new waived veterans—Fryman and Sims—slog through the month of August, trying like mad to fight off their competition and remain the kings of the AL East hill.
Campbell looks like a genius during August as Fryman pitches magnificently. Woodie starts six games in August, wins three of them, and posts an ERA of 2.36.
Sims shows some flashes, but isn’t exactly setting the league on fire.
Such is the way it goes with waiver pick-ups.
As August closes, and the four division pennant contenders separated by just two games, Campbell decides he needs to get Billy Martin another bat for his manager’s patty cake offense.
Down in Arlington, where the Washington Senators are playing their first season as the brand-new Texas Rangers, is a hulking man whose feats of power are legendary.
Frank Howard, aka Hondo, once hit 10 home runs—in one week. It happened in 1968, and Tiger Stadium was part of his seven-day onslaught.
Howard is one of a select few of right-handed hitters to hit a baseball over Tiger Stadium’s left field roof, a much rarer feat than to do the same in right field, for left-handed batters.
The Rangers are another awful club and Howard, age 36, is having a down year in 1972. He has just nine home runs in 287 at-bats and is batting .244.
Campbell buys Howard on August 31, just like you’d purchase something at a flea market that was once very valuable.
Campbell grabs the marked down Howard and tells his manager, “But I got him on sale, Billy!”
It’s September and Fryman continues to pitch great and Sims’ bat heats up and Howard, freed from bondage in Texas, plays some and cheers even more on the bench, thrilled to be in a pennant chase.
Fryman finishes the Tigers portion of his season with a 10-3 record and a 2.06 ERA. Sims catches fire in September and ends up with a .316 average and four homers in 98 at-bats, spelling Bill Freehan behind the plate and playing some left field.
Howard smacks a home run in 33 Tiger at-bats.
The Tigers survive the four-team battle for the division crown, as they play 156 games to the Red Sox’ 155, thanks to Kuhn’s dismissal of the games lost to the strike. It’s a big deal, as the Tigers finish 86-70 to Boston’s 85-70.
The Tigers lose a heartbreaking ALCS to Oakland, 3-2, but they got the chance to play it thanks in part to Jim Campbell’s lucky dice and his thrifty shopping.
Tigers fans of 2011 can only hope that GM Dave Dombrowski has the same kind of lucky success as he ponders moves before Sunday’s interleague trading deadline.
Woodie Fryman and Duke Sims, indeed! Campbell took trash and turned it into treasure in 1972.
Any GM will take luck over skill at this time of year.
As far as serial rapists/sexual assailants go, the perp in Ann Arbor is moving with amazingly swift virulence.
Within two weeks, there have been six attacks on women, all late at night and all within the city proper. All victims have been between their late teens and early-30s.
And just in time for a new slew of freshmen girls who are arriving on campus in advance of the 2011-12 school year.
As the father of an 18-year-old daughter, I’m not sure what my emotions would be like if I had to drop her off at U-M now, right when these attacks are taking place.
Because one thing is certain: the assaults won’t end until the assailant is caught; serial anything doesn’t just stop, miraculously. The perp is either caught or dies—or else the crimes will continue.
The only thing preventing more killings than the four children who were sexually assaulted and killed by the Oakland County Child Killer in the mid-1970s was likely the death of the bad guy. That’s long been the theory of law enforcement and it’s got precedent.
These guys who commit repetitive crimes in serial fashion get too big of a thrill out of it to suddenly cease and desist.
They have to be caught or die in order for the attacks to stop.
But even as far as serial sexual assaults go, what’s happening now in Ann Arbor is shocking. The number of reported attacks in the past nine days has been mind-numbing.
Jennifer Smith is an employee at a hoagie shop on South State Street.
“I’ve completely changed everything I do,” she told the Detroit News. “This is probably the first time I’ve been worried about walking alone here.”
The latest attack occurred Tuesday, when a 21-year-0ld woman went to her car on the 700 block of South State Street at 11:30 p.m. to fetch something. A man grabbed her from behind and fondled her before she managed an escape.
Police composite of the alleged suspect in the Ann Arbor attacks
Police aren’t 100% certain that the attacks are the work of one man, because in some instances the victims are groped and fondled, and in some they’re actually raped.
But if there is more than one person involved, police think they could be working in tandem.
Ann Arbor police chief Barnett Jones thinks the assailant—if it’s one person—is a “predator” and “is doing some type of field work, lying and waiting for an opportunity” to strike.
“He knows what he’s doing,” Jones told the News.
That’s always the scary thing about serial criminals; normally they’re intelligent and have a game plan. The thrill is almost as much gotten from the prep work as it is from the crime itself.
That, and the satisfaction in the notion that the perp “fooled ‘em again.”
The power that someone must get from paralyzing an entire city’s female population with fear must be very intoxicating.
The good news is that the more bold and brazen the assailant gets, the better chance that the police will catch him.
But how many more women have to be victimized before that happens?
The Ann Arbor serial rapist/sexual assailant will strike again, no question. These guys don’t just get bored and stop.
Here’s hoping he’ll make the wrong move at the wrong time.
When I was a child and used to visit my grandparents who lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, one of the things I remember doing was sometimes hopping into the car and grandpa driving several miles into the little town near where they lived—to get the mail.
Every day they made that trip, unless it was winter time—then the mail could wait until the roads were passable.
For most of us, a check of the mail means nothing more than padding to the front door, opening it, and peeking into the box. Being fully clothed isn’t even required.
Can you imagine getting into your car and driving 10-15 minutes each way—just to check the freaking mail?
I wonder what will happen to those small, out of the way post offices, in light of the news that the U.S. Postal Service is closing 3,700 offices in order to cut costs.
And they have to do a lot of cutting.
The Postal Service needs to close a $20 billion gap in revenue by 2015.
The 3,700 offices that will close are spread out over all 50 states and Washington, D.C.
“The Postal Service of the future will be smaller, leaner and more competitive and it will continue to drive commerce, serve communities and deliver value,” Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said after releasing a list of the offices to be closed.
The closings are in addition to other cost-cutting ideas like a five-day delivery week, which I wrote about in this space back in November 2009.
It’s not a big mystery why the Postal Service is bleeding money.
No one uses them anymore.
Well, not literally, but almost.
If it wasn’t for junk mail and bills every week, your mailbox would be accumulating spider webs more than mail.
No one writes letters anymore. Fewer and fewer people are paying bills via the mail; they receive bills in the mail, but don’t pay them that way. And more and more folks are getting their statements electronically.
When I was 14, I had a pen pal. His name was Michael Maurer and he lived in New Jersey. I think we got matched up via the Baseball Digest. He was a Yankees fan and I was a Tigers fan and we wrote to each other several times over the summer. The excitement was palpable whenever I found a letter from Michael in the mailbox.
I exchanged letters with my grandmother a lot, too, back in the day.
In fiscal year 2010, the Postal Service suffered an $8.5 billion net loss.
Most of the offices to be closed suffer from lack of foot traffic and some only register about $50 in sales a day.
Donahoe says the savings from the closings, which will start in the next four to six months, will be about $200 million.
But of course, these aren’t just buildings that are being shuttered. Real people are involved here.
3,000 postmasters, 500 supervisors and 500-1,000 clerks will be out of work, thanks to the closings.
I’m not sure how we got here, despite the reduction of use in services. This didn’t happen overnight. The Internet is growing fast, yes, but why do I feel like the Postal Service was slow to head off this kind of financial calamity?
Some post offices in small towns have held meetings to prepare to challenge any decision to close.
But the Postal Service is swimming in red ink. It’s unlikely that any decisions to close offices will be reversed.
Once again, the Internet giveth and taketh away.
That’s how it goes, with 21st century living.
Last week: 4-2
This week: at CWS (7/25-27); LAA (7/28-31)
So, What Happened?
Boy, it’s nice to play the Minnesota Twins outside, eh?
Their home dome advantage gone, the Twinkies are much easier pickings on the road, and the Tigers continued their success in Minnesota this season by taking three of four over the weekend, making them 5-1 this season at Target Field.
More importantly, the good weekend put a little more daylight between the first place Tigers and the second place Cleveland Indians. Thanks to a four-game Tribe losing streak that’s part of a 2-6 spell, the Tigers’ lead is now two full games.
Were it not for a giveaway loss last Wednesday to Oakland, the Tigers would be on a 5-1 tear right now. But a 4-2 week gets a thumbs up from MMM.
Hero of the Week
You think the Twins saw enough of Jhonny Peralta?
The Tigers shortstop terrorized the Twins, going 9-for-18 with two homers and eight RBI. If it seemed like all his RBI came with two outs, they almost did. Peralta is giving Tigers fans the best season by a Detroit SS since the days of Alan Trammell at Tram’s best.
The Tigers won handily in the first two games against the Twins, but that was only because Peralta incessantly provided two-out RBI. If he doesn’t come through, those games are a lot closer and who knows what could have happened.
MMM can’t tell you the confidence that is generated, seeing Peralta at the dish with RISP—two outs or not.
Jhonny has been amzaing. (Editors, don’t you dare fix that!)
Goat of the Week
It only took three batters faced to make a normally anonymous middle reliever MMM’s GotW.
You probably know who that is.
Lefty David Purcey entered Wednesday’s game against the A’s in the seventh inning with the Tigers ahead 5-3 and promptly defecated all over that lead.
Purcey walked the only three batters he faced, loading the bases with nobody out while 30,000+ at Comerica Park and manager Jim Leyland could only look on helplessly.
It didn’t help that Joaquin Benoit, summoned from the bullpen, graciously allowed all three runners to score. The tragedy of an inning gave Oakland four runs and a 7-5 victory that was about as brutal a loss as you can suffer when every game means so much.
What’s worse, the Tigers acquired Purcey from Oakland, even up for Scotty Sizemore. So Purcey had his meltdown against the team that traded him just a couple months ago.
Benoit is culpable, too, but none of that happens if Purcey, who tends to walk people at times, throws some GD strikes out of the bullpen.
Under the Microscope
MMM doesn’t want to be a doomsayer, but have you noticed the batting average of catcher Alex Avila lately?
It’s been going south—-not like a stone, but steadily. He;s at .277, just a few weeks after hovering around .300.
It’s giving rise to a couple of notions: a) Avila is hitting a wall of sorts; b) he still has some work to do as a big league hitter.
Neither is surprising nor uncorrectable.
Some rest might do the trick.
MMM thinks that Avila probably isn’t a .300 hitter, anyway, and that .275-.280 is more his speed. But the falling BA puts Alex UtM, as MMM is eager to see how the young man responds over the next couple of weeks.
Honorable mention: GM Dave Dombrowski, who is probably on the phone as you read this, talking trade in advance of Sunday’s deadline for non-waiver deals.
Upcoming: White Sox, Angels
Another week, another big series against a Central Division opponent. You’re going to see a lot of those over the season’s final weeks.
This week it’s three in Chicago, against the restless, third place White Sox.
Chisox manager Ozzie Guillen was quoted by the wire services on Sunday that he feels the breaks are starting to go his team’s way, and that the White Sox are officially a player in the Central race.
He’s probably right.
The Tigers are 4.5 games ahead of Chicago, but with three-game series, there’s really not any true significance unless one team sweeps. Otherwise, there’s only a one-game shift in the standings, either way.
MMM isn’t suggesting that the Tigers be content with losing two of three, but unless there’s a sweep, the prognosis of both teams doesn’t really change on Thursday morning from today.
Then it’s back home to face the Angels, a team that always makes MMM nervous because of their aggressive, frenetic style of play. The 55-47 Angels are desperately trying to keep the surging Texas Rangers in their view. The Angels are in second place in the West, three games behind Texas.
So it’s a big series for both teams, the last leading up to the July 31 interleague trade deadline.
That’s all for this week’s MMM. See you next week!
No one wins a golf tournament so much as they don’t lose it. It’s 72 holes of survival of the fittest, and he who makes the fewest mistakes comes out on top on Sunday afternoon.
It’s a sport with no teammates and only one person who understands you—the caddie. You spend four days trying to avoid about 17 miles worth of land mines and it can all blow up on you in the final few feet—or even inches.
Does the collar get any tighter than it does for the professional golfer on the tourney’s last day, when he starts the morning with a four stroke lead and looks behind him and sees a gang charging after him, making birdies and sinking 25-foot putts, all while looking cool and collected?
It can be the loneliest place on Earth—being the leader of a major golf tournament in its waning hours. The pressure has gotten some of the game’s greats, and a whole lot of its goods.
The pro golfer can’t duck into the showers and hide out after the 72nd hole and then sneak out the back door of the locker room, avoiding reporters. He can’t point to an error by his third baseman or an errant pass by his point guard or a strange play called by his coach as a contributing factor to his loss.
Golf tournaments aren’t won, as a rule. They’re just not lost.
No one can snatch a tournament in come-from-behind fashion without a conspiracy involving the leader. The followers can make all the birdies and eagles that they want, but they’re useless unless the leader is three-putting or slicing a drive into the woods or hitting a fat fairway wood into a bunker on the approach.
The caveat here is that none of this was true when Tiger Woods was on top of the golfing world.
Tiger won tournaments. He didn’t not lose them.
Woods was the exception to the aforementioned corollaries. He was the exception, no matter if you wanted to throw Hogan, Nicklaus, Jones and Nelson into the mix. Woods was better than them all. He played in a league of one.
Golf was a game that Tiger Woods owned, more than Muhammad Ali owned boxing and more than Pete Sampras ever owned tennis. Tiger didn’t come from ahead to lose, and when he came from behind to win, the leader never had a prayer.
Woods became one of the world’s best known athletes, traveling the globe in his red shirt and black pants and all those magic wands in his bag. He had a smile that could light Broadway during a blackout.
Woods was the prodigy golfer—swinging clubs that were taller than he, when he was still diapered. Other kids had a playground; Woods had a driving range.
Golf was forewarned. In the years leading up to Tiger joining the PGA tour, the stories of his prowess on the links were told the same way wide-eyed bank patrons of the 1930s talked about Dillinger’s jobs.
Golf was forewarned. Tiger Woods didn’t sneak up on the PGA. His presence was announced beforehand, like a tornado—and no one can do anything about those, either, except weather them.
Woods won tournament after tournament—with more than a few majors sprinkled in—and when he wasn’t winning he was often scaring the bejeebers out of the guy who did win. From 1997-2009, Woods was the tour’s no. 1 money winner nine times out of 13.
Almost $100 million Woods has won, slapping that tiny, dimpled ball around like no one else.
Woods owned golf. He won as a teenager and he won as a young man and he won as a veteran and he won off the course, with endorsements and a gorgeous wife and a beautiful family.
There’s irony—and maybe a cruel joke—somewhere in the fact that the demise of Tiger Woods began on a Thanksgiving weekend.
It was November 2009 when the story broke of Woods being involved in a bizarre car wreck near his home. It wasn’t long before the facts began to ooze out: Woods had been a naughty boy, cheating on his gorgeous wife, former model Elin Nordegren.
Then out of the woodwork came women who also claimed to have had sexual relations with Woods.
Divorce soon followed and golf was put on the back burner while Woods sought help for his destructive, deviant behavior.
The road back for Tiger Woods has been pocked with injury and poor play. He’s an also ran now; just one of the guys to fill the field. He hasn’t won a tournament in two years, not really coming close, in fact.
He lost his wife and his family and his endorsements. He lost his edge on the golf course and his aura. No one fears Woods now; it’s as if the PGA tour has been freed from his bondage.
The majors are being won by first-timers and Cinderella stories. Woods has abdicated his throne and a bunch of paupers are getting the chance to sit in it.
The latest news about Woods came earlier this week, and like all news about him since November 2009, it wasn’t uplifting.
Woods announced that longtime caddie Steve Williams, Tiger’s best friend on the golf course since 1999, was being canned.
“I want to express my deepest gratitude to Stevie for all his help, but I think it’s time for a change,” Woods said, not explaining why a change was needed.
Speculation is that the relationship between Woods and Williams chilled like champagne on New Year’s Eve after Tiger and Nordegren split.
Williams joins swing coach Hank Haney as ex-Woods employees turned scapegoats for their boss’s poor play.
Since caddies get paid based on the success of the golfers for whom they work, the past two years have been lean times for Williams, who nonetheless stuck by Woods.
All it got Williams was kicked to the curb.
In an interview with Television New Zealand following his firing, Williams said, “Obviously, working through a scandal, he’s had a new coach, a swing change, the last 18 months has been very difficult and I’ve stuck by him through thick and thin. I’ve been incredibly loyal — and then to have this happen, basically you could say I’ve wasted two years of my life, the last two years.”
Williams will probably be better off in the long run, because it’s becoming apparent that Tiger Woods simply isn’t relevant anymore. He’s a broken man with Achilles and knee injuries who fights himself on the course something fierce, and loses.
It’s not overly dramatic to suggest that Woods, at age 35, is in the sunset of his golf career.
And, as usual with the pro golfer, he has no one to blame but himself.
So what do you think of the Tigers’ new acquisition, brought in after the All-Star break and in advance of the interleague trading deadline? Do you think he can provide a boost? Is he an upgrade from what the team had prior to his arrival?
Tell me, what do you think of Carlos Guillen?
Don’t look at me like that. You thought I was speaking of someone else?
I promised myself, at the beginning of the season, that I wouldn’t write about Guillen, talk about Guillen, or even mention his name—not until he was officially a part of the team.
It was nothing personal, nothing superstitious. It just didn’t make sense, to me, to waste typing, speaking or thinking about a player whose future was suspect, at best.
The second baseman Guillen underwent microfracture surgery on his knee, thanks to an injury suffered while completing a game-ending double play in New York last August. Inexplicably, Tigers management seemed to go into spring training, 2011 actually expecting Guillen to join them when the team headed north.
That was a foolish notion at best, an irresponsible one at worst.
I promised not to breathe Guillen’s name until his return appeared imminent. Anything else was a waste of time.
But all bets were off when Guillen returned to the Tigers lineup last Saturday, his knee surgically repaired and pain-free.
My self-imposed moratorium is over. Guillen is back and he’s hitting the ball—so far—and looking mobile at second base. The black hole at second base has been filled.
With Guillen’s return and the acquisition of 3B Wilson Betemit, the Tigers, in less than a week, have plugged two gaping cavities in their lineup.
Guillen has looked sharp and fresh, swinging the bat with authority. He smashed a monster home run the other day against Oakland that ate up a fan in the right field stands. It would have eaten up a fourth outfielder with a glove, with the ferocity Guillen displayed in hitting it.
If Guillen can continue his inspired, competent play, and if Betemit is even his .268 career self, the Tigers will have taken two giant leaps for fankind.
Now all that’s left is to secure another starting pitcher, which is like saying all your bank account needs to be solvent is an extra 50 grand.
Easier said than done.
GM Dave Dombrowski isn’t playing anything close to the vest this year. Why should he? Why be coy now?
DD isn’t shy in acknowledging that another starter is in his crosshairs. With so many teams still considering themselves “buyers” at this deadline, might as well lay your cards on the table.
But I can finally say it now: Carlos Guillen might be the biggest “X” factor you’ve ever seen in Detroit, regardless of sport. His return and potential production down the stretch might be the biggest yet least expected thing to happen to any Detroit team trying to scratch and claw its way into the post-season.
It wouldn’t have been shocking to learn that Guillen’s knee simply wasn’t responding as well to treatment and rehab as hoped. It would have been dispiriting but not unexpected to find out that we shouldn’t count on seeing Guillen until 2012.
That’s what makes Guillen the premier “X” factor. This is a guy whose stat line might have been filled with goose eggs in 2011, but who might now be a key contributor down the stretch.
It’s OK now to speak of Carlos Guillen, in my book. Scream his name from the rooftops, if it tickles your fancy.
What a pickup, eh?
The first thing I notice is the smell.
It’s not an odor, it’s a scent—tickling the olfactory nerves with its blend of the newly minted, the newly printed. Then there’s sometimes a hint of coffee wafting from somewhere in the back.
I love walking into a bookstore.
The used bookstore has its own scents, and that blend is appealing, too.
But today I talk about the new bookstore, where nothing has been pre-owned, and the books have only been read by the patrons sitting in overstuffed chairs or on hardbacks as they sip their lattes.
The big box bookstore is dying a slow, agonizing death. It reminds me of the gradual yet pervasive disappearance of the drive-in movie theaters, “back in the day”—which was less than 20 years ago.
The announcement that Borders is liquidating, severing over 10,000 jobs across the country and over 400 in Ann Arbor alone, is sad beyond the job loss, which this economy hardly needs.
This isn’t just a chain closing; it’s maybe the harbinger of a piece of our soul being cut out of us.
For now, Barnes and Noble survives, but for how much longer?
It’s another instance of how the Internet giveth and can taketh away.
There hasn’t been an economic double-edged sword in recent times quite like the Internet.
Jobs have been created, but you get the feeling that more have been eliminated in this digital, e-age.
Amazon.com has been blamed, in part, for Borders’ demise. More people are doing their browsing online—and not just website surfing. I’m talking actual BROWSING. Remember that?
Remember when you touched and felt the items you were considering for purchase? Remember when buying decisions were made on more than just a thumbnail photo on your computer’s monitor?
The convenience of online shopping can’t be overlooked. I admit that there’s something wicked about “shopping” in your pajamas at 11:00 at night.
But then I walk into a bookstore, as I did last weekend (Barnes and Noble, in fact), and there was that smell again, beckoning me—that come hither scent of books, magazines, games and java.
That’s java the coffee, not java the computer programming language.
I don’t even have to buy anything at a bookstore in order to enjoy myself. On Sunday I had some time to kill while the ladies in my life had fun at the Ulta makeup store. I spent some 15 minutes standing and crouching in front of the sports section of books, sliding one out on occasion to peruse.
I wandered over to the mystery section, and then the history area. Nearby were some spiritual books, one of which I actually purchased.
I have stabbed my nose into a book for purposes of just smelling it. I admit it. I smell books. Why? Because they smell good. I also love their newness, their crisp pages, their tight binding.
I could spend hours in a bookstore and buy little to nothing. It’s the best babysitter for me, and my wife knows it.
There’s a Borders near me, in Oakland Mall, though for how much longer, who knows. I was there last weekend, too.
I love the smell of a new bookstore.
You can’t get that online.
Not that the cutthroat world of business cares much about that.
The sure-fire Hall of Fame goalie was beginning to show his age. At 43, the Red Wings’ netminder was battling the puck something awful, and the puck was winning. Too often the vulcanized rubber disc was finding its way over the goal line and tickling the twine.
It was another playoff season in Detroit, aka “Hockeytown”, that self-named moniker smacking with arrogance. The Red Wings were six years removed from their last Stanley Cup and in between were many post-season disappointments.
The 2003 first-round sweep at the hands of the Anaheim Mighty (then) Ducks. The 2004 second round upset levied on them by the Calgary Flames. The 2006 first round shocker suffered against the Edmonton Oilers. The heartbreaking 2007 Western Conference Finals loss to the just plain Ducks.
Now it was 2008 and after four games of the first round series with the inferior Nashville Predators, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock made, in my book, one of the gutsiest moves authored by any coach in this city. Ever.
“The puck is going in the net,” Babcock complained to the media after the Predators beat the Red Wings twice in Nashville to square the series at 2-2.
The puck went into the Red Wings’ net in the first two games in Detroit, too, but Babcock’s bunch was able to overcome that with its high-powered offense. Not so much in Nashville.
So, just like that, Babcock pressed the “eject” button and Dominik Hasek was vaulted out of the Red Wings cage and in went Chris Osgood for Game 5 in Detroit.
I’m still amazed by Babcock’s moxie in making that move, because I’m convinced that he’s one of few NHL coaches who would have pulled the trigger—maybe the only one at that time.
My belief was supported later in the playoffs, when Colorado coach Joel Quenneville failed to show the same guts and left bedraggled goalie Jose Theodore as his starter when a goalie change could have given the Avalanche a much-needed boost.
Osgood was magnificent in Game 5, despite surrendering a goal late in the third period that tied the game. The Red Wings won early in overtime to take a 3-2 series lead. It gave me chills when Osgood was announced as the game’s no. 1 star and he skated out and raised his goalie paddle while the Joe Louis Arena crowd chanted “OZZ-IE!! OZZ-IE!!”
The Red Wings won the series one game later and eventually captured their fourth Stanley Cup in 11 years, thanks in no small part to Osgood’s goaltending.
Babcock went with his gut in switching from the Hall of Famer Hasek to the hardened veteran Osgood and the reward was the greatest.
That moment is dripping with irony, because indefinitely we will debate whether Chris Osgood belongs in the Hall of Fame, despite his clutch work in 2008 in relief of a no-brainer HOFer in Hasek.
Who should or shouldn’t be in any sport’s HOF makes for the best arguments and liveliest debates. It’s great bar talk, a wonderful complement to a cold one and some pretzels.
Osgood retired yesterday at age 38, unable to assure the Red Wings that his troublesome sports hernia injury and suspect groin won’t go “pop” sometime next season.
Osgood leaves the playing ranks with 401 wins and 50 shutouts, and two Cups as a starter, a third as a backup. And one game away from a third and fourth, respectively, in those categories.
He leaves with 15 playoff shutouts and a 2.16 GAA and .916 save pct. in the post-season.
For comparison’s sake, the great Martin Brodeur—another sure-fire Hall of Famer—has 23 career playoff shutouts, a 2.01 GAA, a .919 save pct, and three Stanley Cups.
Not all that different, is it?
But the HOF debate, when it comes to Chris Osgood, isn’t just about numbers. If it was, then there would be little debate at all.
Fellow Bleacher Report Red Wings featured columnist Matt Hutter, on the sports podcast I co-host, “The Knee Jerks,” addressed the Osgood/HOF talk earlier this year.
Osgood, Hutter fears, doesn’t have that “wow” factor that other HOF goalies have.
Guys like Patrick Roy, or Brodeur, or Hasek.
Osgood achieved his 401 wins and his 50 shutouts as quietly as one man can get them. The 400 wins were upon us before we knew it, or could squawk too much about them.
Osgood got his 400 wins and now he’s retired, just like that. We’re starting the debate flat-footed.
Osgood will be one of the most interesting players in recent years to discuss, post-retirement. His worthiness of HOF status can be expertly argued, both ways. Depending on the talking points of the plaintiff, you can walk away certain that he is or isn’t a Hall of Fame goalie.
Maybe Chris Osgood is the Jim Thome of hockey.
Thome, the left-handed hitting slugger, is closing in on 600 home runs. In past years, such a milestone would earn the achiever a punched ticket into Cooperstown, no questions asked.
There are those—and I’m one of them—who aren’t convinced that Thome is a Hall of Famer, despite the 600 dingers. Again, Thome supporters could wonder why there’s even a question.
The Osgood topic is made even more volatile because Osgood himself has gone on record expressing his intense desire to be in the Hall of Fame. This isn’t some guy who is taking a “que sera, sera” attitude about his worthiness. Osgood wants to be in the Hall—badly.
There’s a three-year waiting period after retirement before a player is eligible for election into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
Osgood is on the clock. That’s great news for the beer and bar industries.
Last week: 1-2
This week: OAK (7/19-20); at Min (7/21-24)
So, What Happened?
The last thing this town needed, after all the talk over the All-Star break about the Tigers’ second half woes, was for their baseball team to limp out of the gate to start 2011, Part II.
Yet that’s exactly what happened as the Tigers were outscored 13-2 in dropping the first two games of their weekend series with the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park—including the Tigers’ money pitcher being off his game on Friday night.
Sports talk radio, as expected, exploded.
“The collapse is nigh!” was the theme of the post-game talk shows.
The Tigers stopped the bleeding with a come-from-behind, 4-3 victory on Sunday, continuing a disturbing trend where they lose the first two games of a series and then salvage the third.
Hero of the Week
There were only three games last week, and only one win, so the pool of candidates for HotW is a small one, indeed.
Candidate #1: Starter Brad Penny, who bounced back from a bad inning early in Sunday’s game to qualify for the win.
Candidate #2: DH/C Victor Martinez, whose clutch, two-run single in the sixth inning tied the game, 3-3.
Candidate #3: Newly activated 2B Carlos Guillen, whose single right after V-Mart’s put the Tigers ahead, where they stayed.
MMM is going with Victor Martinez, because if he doesn’t come through, Guillen doesn’t get a chance to do what he did.
Not only that, but after starting the second half 0-2 and looking sluggish to start the game Sunday, the Tigers needed a two-out knock in the worst way. And Martinez, signed over the winter instead of a certain free agent who the White Sox inked, came through in spades.
Goat of the Week
MMM is getting bored with targeting 3B Brandon Inge, but sometimes it just can’t be helped.
Like Sunday, when Inge was approached after the game by 97.1 The Ticket’s Jeff Riger, who asked Inge about the abuse he’s taken from fans recently.
“I don’t think you’re a true fan” if you boo players, Inge said, though he added that everyone has that right and prerogative.
Inge also told Riger that “I don’t care what you think,” referring to fans.
MMM can see where Inge is going with these comments, but they don’t work coming from the mouth of someone hitting .180 with 1 HR and 17 RBI in mid-July.
And how is booing a trait of someone who “isn’t a true fan”?
This was no way to douse the flames, Mr. Gas Can!
So this week’s Goat is Inge for inserting his cleats into his mouth.
Under the Microscope
This is new for MMM: placing someone UtM who has no name.
To wit: MMM would like to place the fifth starter UtM, except that MMM doesn’t know who that is. No one does, for the moment.
Manager Jim Leyland needs a starter for Wednesday’s game against Oakland, unless he pitches Justin Verlander, who would be going on his regular four days’ rest, thanks to today’s off day.
Regardless, sooner or later a fifth starter will be needed to replace lefty Charlie Furbush, who replaced lefty Phil Coke.
And whomever that is, will be UtM.
Will it be the much-ballyhooed prospect Jacob Turner, a right hander? Will it be lefty Duane Below, from Toledo? Will it be someone from outside the organization?
Doesn’t matter. MMM is placing Mr. X UtM—whoever he is. Even a “fifth starter” is important, because he takes the ball every fifth day, just like everyone else. The success or failure of that starter can determine whether a losing streak is extended or not, and whether the bullpen gets a breather or not.
Upcoming: A’s, Twins
The Oakland A’s have been a disappointment this season. And, they’re 16-32 on the road.
So when the A’s stroll into Comerica Park for two games on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Tigers ought to pounce on them.
But the A’s have, historically, been a difficult team for the Tigers to beat, regardless of record.
Those two games are huge for the Tigers, who then travel to Minnesota to play the Twins four times.
Yes, the Twins—baseball’s Jason.
When the Tigers last saw the Twins, the Bengals swept them out of Detroit and Ron Gardenhire’s bunch was a stunning 17-37 and double digits out of first place.
Since then, the Twins have gone 27-12 and are—get this—just five games out of first.
Granted, three teams are ahead of them, but the Twins’ turnaround is yet another testament to that team’s moxie and how freaking annoying they are.
This will be a distinctly different Twins team than the Tigers faced the first time in Minnesota, when Detroit swept.
Make sure your seat belt is buckled and your trays are in the upright position, for the Tigers are playing the Twins in Minnesota four times this weekend in a series that could either vault the Twins right into the thick of the AL Central race, or knock them back a couple pegs.
That’s all for this week’s MMM. See you next week!
It’s never predictable when the professional athlete will break down, physically. Chalk it up to genetics, perhaps. Some players are freaks of nature. Who can explain why Brett Favre played one of the most physically punishing positions in sports with Lou Gehrig-like durability?
Why is it that the quarterback Favre played 19 seasons and hardly missed a start, and the basketball player Greg Oden is like a man made of salt who was left out in the rain?
When the break down happens, it can come suddenly, without warning. And it’s often very uncomfortable to look at.
I’ve written it before, how the great Willie Mays made me wince as he stumbled around in the outfield as a 42-year-old in the 1973 World Series, playing for the New York Mets.
I remember watching Steve Carlton turn into a vagabond pitcher, lugging his worn out left arm from city to city in a desperate attempt to stay in the big leagues.
Brandon Inge is a 34-year-old third baseman who appears to be crumbling into pieces before our very eyes.
Inge is the Tigers fan’s piñata. He symbolizes, to some, all by himself, everything that ails the team. Callers to the sports talk radio shows in town take great glee in verbally smacking Inge, passing the stick to the next caller so he can take his whacks. The hosts aren’t any more kind.
Some of the beat downs haven’t been without justification. Inge, at his best, has never been more than a .250 hitter with the pop to slam an occasional home run. He strikes out too much and doesn’t have any plate discipline to speak of. This has been going on for 10 years now.
It’s stunning, in a way, that Inge has managed to stick around in Detroit for a whole decade, given his numbers. But at the same time, it’s not crazy, because of his nifty glove work and lunch pail attitude, which has always endeared athletes to the folks in this burg.
But what’s been happening in 2011 has been indefensible, even by Inge’s staunchest supporters. The numbers don’t lie, and the truth they tell is grisly.
Next to Inge’s name is a .183 batting average, a single home run and 17 RBI. Even the golden glove has been mostly bronze.
Yes, there was the bout with mononucleosis last month. But Inge has recovered from that, yet the production hasn’t been any more prolific since he returned to the lineup.
Before the mono, there were injuries to both knees over the past two years which haven’t helped matters.
When the Tigers break spring training camp every year, when it comes to Brandon Inge, you can expect about a .230 batting average, maybe 20+ home runs, 70 RBI and a boatload of strikeouts. And pop outs. And grounding into double plays. Rallies go to Inge’s bat to die.
I heard a funny joke on sports talk radio last week, from one of the piñata whackers.
Question: “Who bats after Brandon Inge?”
Answer: “The other team.”
It’s garishly funny, and also sadly true.
No one in Detroit expected all that much from Inge, offensively, when the Tigers headed north in advance of their March 31 opener in New York. Few folks ever do.
But this has been off the charts bad.
Inge’s troubles with the bat are so dumbfounding and perplexing that it’s clear no one in the Tigers brain trust, starting with manager Jim Leyland, has a clue what to do about it.
“We’re kind of grasping at straws,” Leyland was quoted by the papers recently, when discussing his third baseman’s nightmarish season.
I didn’t expect much from Inge, either, but I didn’t see .183 coming. I don’t think even Inge’s biggest haters saw .183 coming.
Inge shouldn’t be the target of abuse anymore, because this is beyond a guy in a slump. This is pathetic.
There isn’t a more confused, lost, clue-free hitter in baseball—with the possible exception of the White Sox’s Adam Dunn—than Brandon Inge.
Making fun of Inge now is borderline cruel. It’s like laughing at a guy in a wheelchair.
What no one is suggesting among the Tigers’ hierarchy, at least not publicly, is maybe the simplest explanation of them all for Inge’s struggles.
It could be nothing more than a guy who’s at the end of his career.
Inge is 34, which isn’t ancient but some players wear down sooner than others. All those games that Leyland let Inge play in recent years as a nod to Inge’s reputation as a “gamer”, when in reality the third sacker should have been on the disabled list, are now coming home to roost.
That’s how I see it, anyway.
Everyone is over-analyzing this—both the Inge haters and supporters.
But what if Brandon Inge is just…done?
I’ve complained in the past about the Tigers organization’s inability, for 10 years, to find anyone who can help Inge improve as a hitter. From his big league debut on April 3, 2001, Inge has been mediocre at the plate, and no one has been able to coax even modest improvement.
So who is going to help him now?
But it is probably a moot point; no one can help him because Inge is on a slippery slope to the end of his career. He’s 34 and the light at the end of the tunnel might be a freight train.
His body is likely beginning to come unglued, along with his mind. Inge drags his bat to the plate and he goes up there and flails away. His body language isn’t comforting.
Valiantly, Inge says positive, optimistic things to the media about his tiny numbers. He’s going down swinging—pun intended.
Soon a decision may be made about Inge’s future. The Tigers know they can’t call themselves a contender with a third baseman hitting .183. It would pain them, but the Tigers might be forced to release Inge and eat his contract, which pays him about $6 million a year.
It would be hard to imagine another team taking a flyer on him, should the Tigers cut him.
Brandon Inge might be done, and there’s no shame in that. But there can be plenty of humiliation, which is what he’s going through right now.
It’s not funny. The end of a career never is.