Archive for August, 2011

Aug
30

My Senior Moment

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A less scrupulous parent might encourage his daughter to drop out of high school before her senior year. Or a poor one.

I’m about to be the latter, because I’m not the former.

Confused? Sorry.

Our daughter is entering her senior year of high school, or as it’s otherwise known to parents, The Shakedown.

The schools have us senior parents between a rock and a hard place, and don’t think they don’t know it.

My wife registered our daughter this morning for the school year, and being a senior is not only a very special year, it’s also very expensive.

There are the senior photos, of course. Those were taken this summer and while the proofs are absolutely beautiful, the packages begin at over $500.

I graduated high school in 1981, and I remember making a very understated trip to the Olan Mills studio in Livonia in the summer of 1980 with my polyester, three-piece suit and a comb.

We snapped a few head shots and I was probably on my way back home within the hour, at most.

Today, the poses are multiple, there are more wardrobe changes than a Lady Gaga concert, and there are so many good proofs you have no idea how you’re going to whittle them down. Hence the large and expensive packages for such undecided parents.

Then there’s the yearbook and the hoodies and sweats and the senior dinner and the all-night party. We also have to pay for the cap and gown, don’t you know. Cha-ching!

The all-night party, by the way, runs $80 a head. I have no idea what the kids get for $80 a head, but it ought to involve the aforementioned Lady Gaga concert! As in, Lady Gaga herself shows up and performs.

By contrast, the senior dinner is only $10 a person. I’d like to know what makes the all-night party eight times more expensive than the senior dinner. Come to think of it, I’d rather not know.

We’ve already purchased must-haves like the class ring and our daughter’s varsity jacket. That was last year. Thank goodness those are out of the way.

Eventually there will be graduation announcements that need to be selected and paid for. My wife made the analogy that having a senior is like having a daughter who is someone’s fiancee. Because the whole thing takes on a wedding planning-like aura.

I know it was 30 years ago, but I don’t recall all this…stuff going on during senior year.

If our daughter reads this, I would remind her that daddy isn’t really complaining. I’m proud and happy for you, sweetie. This truly is a special time.

Just as long as you don’t mind eating Kraft Mac and Cheese three nights a week.

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Aug
29

Monday Morning Manager 2011, Edition 22

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Last week: 5-2
This week: KC (8/29-9/1); CWS (9/2-4)
Magic Number to clinch division: 25

So, What Happened?

For the second consecutive week, the Tigers extended their lead in the AL Central from the week before.

Two Mondays ago, the margin was 2.5 games. Last Monday, it was 4.5. This morning it’s a full six games.

And there’s a new second-place sheriff in town—the Chicago White Sox, who are a half-game ahead of the Cleveland Indians.

The week also saw Justin Verlander tally his 20th victory in a performance that was below JV’s standards but still good enough to allow his teammates to score more than the other guys.

There was mini-controversy in the middle of the week when manager Jim Leyland “respectfully disagreed” with 3B Brandon Inge’s decision to throw to second base for an inning-ending force out in Tampa. The play backfired and the Rays got a walk-off win. Leyland thought Inge should have thrown to first base or touch third, as the bases were juiced.

Leyland also had to explain himself regarding comments he made about pitchers being ineligible for MVP consideration. For the record, Leyland supports Verlander for MVP but at the same time doesn’t feel pitchers should be considered. The Marlboro Man should go into politics.

Hero of the Week

Group hug! Group hug!

MMM is awarding the HotW to the Tigers pitching staff as a whole, thanks mostly to the job it did in Tampa during a four-game set in which the Bengals went 3-1.

The Rays, who went into the series on a five-game winning streak, scored just six runs in the four games.

Before the series, Leyland warned of the Rays’ fine starting rotation and expressed concern that it could be a “long week.”

But the Tigers starters went toe-to-toe with the Rays’, and the bullpen did its thing when called upon.

So special kudos to Verlander, Brad Penny, Max Scherzer and Ricky Porcello!

MMM was tempted to go with Phil Coke for his heroic and gutsy two-inning effort on Tuesday, but instead he gets honorable mention.


Goat of the Week

In a 5-2 week (all on the road), it’s tough to find a GotW.

But this space shall never be empty, so MMM is picking on Brandon Inge.

Pretty sure you know why.

Yes, this is because of the boneheaded play made in extras in Tampa on Wednesday.

MMM feels that Inge should have looked at second base and, seeing 2B Ramon Santiago was struggling to get to the bag, taken the almost sure out at first base, as batter Elliott Johnson is hardly a speedster.

As Leyland said, there’s no guarantee the Tigers would have won the game, even if Inge had gotten his team into the next frame. But it was nonetheless a bad decision that directly led to the winning run scoring.

Sorry, Brandon. Even a 5-2 week means someone screwed up, somewhere.

Under the Microscope

The Tigers announced that top pitching prospect Jacob Turner will start Thursday afternoon’s game against the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park.

Welcome to UtM, Jacob!

Frankly, the entire team could be UtM, as the Tigers are starting a homestand against a bad Royals team and the second-place White Sox.

But when Turner is scheduled to pitch his second career start, it’s hard not to put the young man UtM.

All eyes will be on Turner as he looks to replicate his fine start of last month, when he went 5.1 innings against the Angels, surrendering just three hits and two earnies (the Tigers lost, however).

It will be interesting to see how brisk walk-up sales are for that game, an afternoon affair.

Upcoming: Royals, White Sox

If this was football, the media types would caution against the Tigers “looking past” the last-place Royals in anticipation of the arrival of the second-place White Sox.

MMM says fear not.

First, the series against the Royals is four games. You don’t “look past” a team for four games.

Second, the Tigers appear as mentally locked in now as they’ve been all season.

The team is playing as if it’s on a mission, which it is. The end is only 29 games away. The magic number to clinch the division is 25, which means it could be in the teens by the end of the week.

The Tigers aren’t going to come out flat against the Royals, not after a 5-2 road trip and playing before four straight crowds of 30,000+. Not gonna happen.

As for the White Sox, they too are playing good baseball, some of their best of the season. But they’re likely to be anywhere from 5-7 games out of first place when they come to town, almost mandating a sweep of the Tigers to climb back into the race.

Again, unlikely that the Chisox will be able to pull that off, especially with Verlander throwing on Friday, and on one extra day’s rest.

MMM can smell the division flag, can’t you?

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

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Aug
28

Avila’s Toughness Surpassed Only By His Production

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They say that Ray Fosse was never the same, after being run over by the freight train that was Pete Rose. It’s difficult to argue with that notion, because a look at Fosse’s numbers before and after the collision in the 1970 All-Star Game provides a stark comparison.

Fosse was a 23-year-old catcher for the Cleveland Indians when Rose of the hometown Cincinnati Reds motored home with the potential game-winning run in the bottom of the 12th inning, trying to score from second base on a single by the Cubs’ Jim Hickman.

Rose and the baseball thrown by Kansas City’s Amos Otis arrived at home plate at approximately the same time. This was the All-Star Game, not Game 7 of the World Series. Yet you couldn’t tell the difference, the way Rose drove into Fosse like a football lineman into a tackling sled.

Fosse was knocked practically into the first base dugout. His catcher’s mitt spun out of his hand like a Frisbee, the baseball bouncing harmlessly away.

And Rose scored the winning run, in front of his Cincinnati public.

Fosse writhed in pain, his shoulder on fire.

But true to the catcher’s code of toughness, Fosse was back in the Indians’ lineup when they resumed play two nights later. And he continued to play, right through to the end of the season, maintaining his .300+ batting average.

It looked like Fosse would survive Rose’s Charlie Hustle play, after all.

But in 1971, Fosse hit .276. In 1972, he hit .241. In 1974, .196. In 1975, .140.

Fosse didn’t survive Rose, as it turned out.

Pete Rose has, maybe unfairly, been blamed for ruining Ray Fosse’s career, with a baseball play that would have made the Gashouse Gang Cardinals teams of the 1930s proud. That Rose made the play in a meaningless exhibition game has been a sore subject with some folks, including Fosse.

Home plate has been the scene of some of baseball’s most notorious wrecks.

There was the famous “snooze” by Cincinnati’s Ernie Lombardi, who was knocked senseless in the 10th inning of Game 4 of the 1939 World Series by the Yankees’ King Kong Keller. As Lombardi fought unconsciousness, Joe DiMaggio scooted all the way around the bases, the baseball just a few feet away. The play was the key part of a three-run rally that gave the Yanks the World Series in four games.

Or how about the Cardinals’ Lou Brock trying to score without sliding in Game 5 of the 1968 World Series at Tiger Stadium? Willie Horton nailed Brock at the plate, when Lou tried to run over Bill Freehan with no success. The play turned the Series around for the Tigers.

Today’s players are bigger and stronger than ever before, and the collisions at home plate are becoming more and more horrific. The catchers usually come out on the losing end.

If spectacular crashes are what you seek in baseball, be it ever so humble—there’s no place like home.

San Francisco catcher Buster Posey was lost for the season after he was turned into a crash test dummy back in May, his ankle mangled gruesomely.

The Tigers have a catcher who has been collided with, foul tipped into and used as a human backboard on an almost daily basis.

Watching Alex Avila toil behind the plate for the Tigers this season has been Chuck Wepner vs. Muhammad Ali—and Avila is most certainly Wepner.

You look at Avila getting run into by base runners, you see him take one foul tip after the other—even in the neck last week—and you watch him flop around and butterfly like Dominik Hasek as he fights off errant pitches, and you ask, “How much can this guy take?”

Which is exactly what we all screamed at the TV the night Ali pounded Wepner for 15 rounds in 1975.

These are the so-called “dog days” of the baseball season: late-August—deep into the schedule but not close enough to the end of the season to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

This is the time of the year when the heat and humidity have been searing and steaming catchers for weeks like veggies in a boil-in bag on the stove.

Its the time when the catcher is supposed to be wearing down a little bit.

No less than Freehan, perhaps the greatest Tigers catcher of them all, used to point to this time of the year as when he’d start to feel his energy being “sapped.”

So what’s with this Alex Avila, whose perpetual 5:00 shadow makes him look like Bluto from the Popeye cartoons?

Avila recently started 18 straight games for the Tigers, a streak that ended on Thursday. No catcher starts 18 straight games anymore. No catcher starts eight straight—at least not as a rule.

Avila’s “mini me” impersonation of Lou Gehrig has been born out of necessity. Avila catches because no one else on the Tigers roster can, frankly.

Victor Martinez, the more-DH-than-he-is-catcher who the Tigers signed as a free agent last winter, has been anchored to the DH role lately because of a bad knee.

Don Kelly is listed as the team’s emergency catcher. If that sounds like a punch line, I understand.

Brandon Inge is back with the Tigers after his one-month exile to Toledo, giving manager Jim Leyland another option, but Inge hates catching and squatting repeatedly is probably not good for his surgically-repaired knees (yes, plural).

So that leaves Avila, and not only did he catch 18 straight games, he—get this—seems to be getting stronger as the dog days move along.

What Avila has done in August is strap on his gear—the “tools of ignorance” as the great Bill Dickey called it—everyday, and subject himself to more physical abuse than any Three Stooge not named Moe. All while smacking the baseball around at a .450-ish clip for the month.

This after a bad July that saw Avila register just one measly RBI. Ironically, the month included Avila’s first-ever All-Star Game appearance.

It was during July, when Avila’s batting average had sunk about 30 points from its .300+ level, that I thought the young man was hitting the proverbial “wall.” Avila is only 24 years old but catching can age you faster than being the President of the United States.

Then Leyland had no choice but to play Avila because Martinez’s knee went pop.

Leyland penciled Avila in for those 18 straight games and not only did Alex not tire, his bat became as scorching as the temperature.

Quite a turnaround from Opening Day in New York, when after just one game talk radio was filled with blowhards accusing the Tigers of nepotism, among other vitriol, because of Avila’s status as the son of assistant GM Al Avila.

The blowhards wanted to run Alex Avila out of town after one lousy game—admittedly not one of his best performances but still a typical Detroit sports fan overreaction.

I wonder, don’t you—how do they like him now?

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Aug
26

With Division in the Bag, Tigers Need to Think Playoff Roster

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If the Tigers do what I believe they will—win the division (and by 8-10 games, btw)—there will be some hard decisions to be made in the name of the roster.

The 25-man for the first round has to be set by midnight, August 31. There could be some tweaking between the ALDS and CS, if the Tigers make it that far, but mainly only due to injury.

Who stays and who goes?

If the Tigers lop off a pitcher and carry an 11-man staff, that creates space for one more position player. Clearly, there’s no need for a five-man rotation in the playoffs, so why waste a roster spot for a guy who won’t see any action?

The Tigers could keep a 12-man staff and shift Rick Porcello or Brad Penny to the bullpen for long relief, but all that does is overcrowd the pen, again at the expense of a more valuable position player.

Here’s a look at my proposed 25-man for the ALDS:

C Alex Avila, Victor Martinez (hold on; more on this later!)
1B Miguel Cabrera
2B Ramon Santiago, Ryan Raburn
SS Jhonny Peralta
3B Wilson Betemit, Brandon Inge
OF Austin Jackson; Brennan Boesch; Delmon Young; Magglio Ordonez; Andy Dirks
UT Don Kelly

SP Justin Verlander; Max Scherzer; Doug Fister; Brad Penny
RP Rick Porcello; David Pauley; Jose Valverde; Joaquin Benoit; Al Alburquerque; Phil Coke; Daniel Schlereth

Note the absence of Duane Below. It was a tough call, but I went with Schlereth because of his slight edge in big league experience. Plus, I want Alburquerque, despite his current recovery from his concussion.

The other tough call was Pauley over Ryan Perry, though I wouldn’t put up much of an argument the other way; they’re almost both the same guy, in my opinion.

So there you have it—the 25-man for the ALDS.

It’s an 11-man staff with 14 position players.

I listed V-Mart as a catcher, but in truth Inge should be called upon in a pinch, should Avila go down (heaven forbid). I am hesitant to devote a spot to Omir Santos because of his total lack of big league experience and with, potentially, three other guys already on the roster who can catch (Martinez, Inge, Kelly). That, and I like Dirks.

I like the offense/defense platoon of Betemit/Inge at third base. How amazing to have both of them on the playoff roster, when Betemit was essentially Inge’s replacement after the latter was DFA’d.

Even the Inge haters must be honest with themselves: who do you feel more comfortable with, defensively at third base, in a close playoff game in the late innings—Wilson Betemit or Brandon Inge (Wednesday’s brain fart by Inge notwithstanding)?

By the way, as the Tigers stretch their lead in late-August, the Chicken Little folks are out, talking about 2009′s collapse.

The 2009 Tigers and the 2011 version are nowhere near the same team.

In 2009, the Tigers had no V-Mart hitting behind Cabrera. Not even close. The 2009 team didn’t have the production at SS that Jhonny Peralta is giving them now. Again, not even close.

The 2009 team didn’t have a 2011 Alex Avila.

The 2009 team had Fernando Rodney, not Jose Valverde.

The 2009 team had no Doug Fister in the rotation. It didn’t have a Cy Young-worthy Justin Verlander (though JV was pretty good). It didn’t have Max Scherzer at the top of the rotation.

And the 2011 Tigers don’t have a team anywhere near as good as the 2009 Twins chasing them.

True, the 2009 Tigers had Jim Leyland. You got me there.

But this 2011 team isn’t going to collapse. The pitching is too good (though not great) and the lineup is too deep and well-rounded to go into any prolonged losing streaks. Plus there’s Verlander to nip those in the bud.

Look, even if the Tigers finish a mediocre 15-17, that would still give them 86 wins. That means the Indians would have to finish 23-12, and the White Sox 23-11 just to force a playoff.

Not gonna happen.

Time to start thinking about playoff rosters. August 31 is right around the corner!

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Aug
25

Beetle Mania

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The VW bug I remember was baby blue, had the engine in the rear, and there were subway car-like straps hanging from the roof over the back seats.

I loved the logo (still do)—the “V” perched on top of the “W” inside a circle; the word “Volkswagen” on a diagonal over the back hatch, which hid the engine.

This was circa 1970-72. I was a young child and the baby blue VW Beetle was the first car my parents possessed of which I have vivid memories.

I used to sit in the car as a youngster, in the driver’s seat, and pretend I was driving on the open road. I would play with the “controls,” as I called them—the dials of the radio, pushing the cigarette lighter in (don’t worry; it didn’t get hot because the car was turned off), fiddling with the vent and heat knobs, etc.

I was stationary in our driveway, but in my imaginative mind, I was cruising along at 45 MPH, switching lanes and making turns. I would pretend to drive to locations I was familiar with: the local Big Boy, the gas station, the supermarket.

Then they stopped making VW Beetles in this country and you pretty much didn’t see them on the road for years.

Now they appear to have made quite a comeback.



The “new” Beetle I’ve been seeing on the road lately (top) and a version similar to what my parents had in the early-1970s (above)


I am seeing the “new” Beetles on the road more and more lately, and that’s a good thing.

There’s something about the rounded bug, hugging the pavement with its compact little body, tooling around town, that makes me smile. Sometimes, wistfully.

The car reminds me a lot of the baby blue version we had in my days as a Livonia lad. I can still see it parked in my mother’s driveway (she still lives in the house where I grew up).

Of course, I thought the notion of a car with its “trunk” in the front and the engine in the back was pretty cool. Not sure that it was all that good for safety, but there you have it.

In the past several months, there has been an absolute influx of Beetles on the road. I’m convinced of it. I see them in all sorts of colors, too.

There was a time when I thought the idea of ever seeing VW Beetles on American roads again was pure fantasy. Now they’re all over the place—at least in Metro Detroit, where I live, work and play.

Plus, they’re just so gosh darn cute.

Categories : culture, Enotes
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Aug
22

Monday Morning Manager 2011, Edition 21

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Last week: 4-2
This week: at TB (8/22-25); at Min (8/26-28)

So, What Happened?

Last Monday, MMM said the Tigers had a do-over—another chance to create separation between themselves and the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox, after failing to do so the week prior.

Mission accomplished—given the mulligan.

The week began with the Tigers nursing a 2.5 game lead over the Tribe, and it ended with that lead stretched to 4.5 games. The White Sox are five games behind.

The reason for all this increased separation, of course, was the fun weekend the Tigers had at the expense of the Indians at Comerica Park. The three-game sweep of the Indians began with two convincing victories followed by a nailbiter that should have been convincing but wasn’t.

MMM is still replaying Awesome Jackson’s game-ending rocket to home plate to seal the Tigers’ victory on Sunday afternoon, which completed your garden variety 8-2 double play.

Hero of the Week

MMM thinks that, because of Justin Verlander’s dominance, other players have been getting the short shrift when it comes to HotW.

Not this week.

MMM would like to honor catcher Alex Avila with the HotW designation.

This is overdue, and is largely because of Avila’s catching streak, which by today’s standards is Cal Ripken-like.

Avila has started 17 straight games at catcher for the Tigers, which is unheard of in the 21st century. Granted, none of them have been doubleheaders, but the streak—borne out of necessity thanks to Victor Martinez’s trick knee—is nonetheless very impressive.

What’s more, Al-Av has been pounding the ball throughout the month of August, and continues to grind out at-bats and see a lot of pitches every time he steps into the batter’s box.

Avila has been almost indestructible behind the plate, turning into a human pin cushion what with all the foul tips and errant pitches he has to smother. Witness the aforementioned DP on Sunday, when Jackson’s throw only works if Avila stands his ground and hangs onto the ball throughout the impending collision.

MMM believes the Tigers have found their backstop for the next 10 years.

Honorable mentions: Verlander (natch), Phil Coke and Martinez, who were all clutch last week in their own ways. MMM would also like to give HM to GM Dave Dombrowski, for acquiring Twins OF Delmon Young for a bag of baseballs last Monday—a trade that wasn’t on anyone’s radar, and one that has the Indians fans beside themselves, according to some comments posted on Cleveland.com, which is like MLive.


Goat of the Week

Ricky Porcello made two starts last week, and in neither was he impressive. Nor was he in the start before those.

Handed a 7-0 lead on Sunday, in a start in which he was cruising, Porcello gave up a seemingly harmless solo home run to Carlos Santana in the fourth inning. Then all hell broke loose.

Porcello promptly let the Tribe back into the game, surrendering four runs in the Indians’ five-run frame.

Porcello fell behind batters, couldn’t locate low and the result was some Cleveland batting practice before manager Jim Leyland brought the hook after 3.2 innings.

On Monday against the Twins, Porcello couldn’t get his sinker ball to sink and the result was similar to Sunday’s, except the Tigers lost.

After an undefeated July, Porcello has looked lost in August. And the Tigers need all hands (or, more appropriately, arms) on deck for the stretch run. MMM thinks that Porcello had better get his act together, and quick.

Here’s where pitching coach Jeff Jones gets to show us why he’s better than Rick Knapp.


Under the Microscope

MMM is tempted to place Porcello UtM because of the previous category, but then there would be no reason to work a Brandon Inge reference into this week’s analysis.

He’s baaaaaaack!

Yes, Inge, the much-maligned, DFA’d third baseman is back with the big club after about a month in Toledo. Hollywood producers would have been proud of what happened on Saturday night in Inge’s first at-bat after being recalled.

SMACK! Inge hit his second homer of the year and he later delivered a run-scoring double to finish with three RBI in the Tigers’ 10-1 win.

MMM is putting Inge UtM because Leyland says he’ll use Inge against lefties. But how long before Inge slowly but surely works himself back into the role of full-time 3B?

Inge and Wilson Betemit—acquired from Kansas City in a trade that seemingly ended Inge’s Tigers career—both on the same team? You gotta love baseball and its pockets of irony and romance.

Oh, by the way—last week’s UtM player, Will Rhymes, was sent back to Toledo to make room for Delmon Young the very day that MMM appeared in this space last week.

But Inge has nothing to worry about in that area; he’s not going anywhere—except toward the top of the depth chart, MMM thinks.

Upcoming: Rays, Twins

This could be a bad week.

MMM doesn’t mean to ruin your week before it gets started, but just know that the Tampa Bay Rays are hot and still have wild card aspirations. And know that the Minnesota Twins would love nothing more than to spoil the Tigers’ divisional lead in the Twins’ own ballpark.

As Leyland said in his post-game comments on Sunday (broadcast by FSD), the Tigers are going to be facing one of the league’s best starting rotations down in Tampa.

Of course, the Rays will see Verlander on Monday, which is no walk in the park, either.

The Tigers should be thrilled with a split in Tampa, especially considering the Indians will be simultaneously hosting the lowly Seattle Mariners for three games. Yet another reason to root for Casper Wells and Charlie Furbush!

The Twins will be waiting this weekend, which makes this a real land mine week for the Tigers. If they can navigate through it while absorbing as little damage as possible, like their lead remaining no less than 2-3 games, then it’s a successful week in MMM’s book.

MMM also suggests the Tigers intentionally walk Jim Thome every time they face him this weekend.

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

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Aug
21

Like Karras Did, Suh Dominates in Trenches for Lions

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The greatest defensive tackle in Lions history had a nose for the quarterback. He had to, because he couldn’t see the passer.

Alex Karras, the Golden Greek (aka Tippy Toes), had the eyesight of Mr. Magoo but the olfactory nerves of a shark in blood-tinged waters

Karras was a wrestler at the University of Iowa, and he used that experience to break free of pass protectors through the use of agility and leverage.

Amazingly, it was Karras who initially feared for his own safety.

“I learned at a very young age,” Karras once told NFL Films, “that if I ever lined up to do battle…that I could get hurt!”

Karras joined the Lions in 1958 as a rookie from Iowa, when the Lions were defending league champs. Needless to say, no other rookie has joined the team under those circumstances since then.

He came into the NFL with Wayne Walker, the linebacker from Idaho. Together they were part of some very good defenses in Detroit, often when the offense was nowhere nearly as competent.

But that was the NFL, circa the mid-to-late 1950s through most of the 1960s: The league was filled with gritty, nasty defenders who rarely made a tackle below the jaw line. Helmets of the so-called “skill” players popped off like champagne corks on New Year’s Eve, in those days.

Occasionally, the player’s teammates would check to make sure the head wasn’t still inside.

This was the NFL of the day—the polar opposite of the upstart American Football League, whose game scores looked more like college basketball tilts than those of pro football.

The AFL had the Mad Bomber—Oakland QB Daryle Lamonica. The NFL had the Mad Stork—linebacker Ted Hendricks.

The Lions could play some defense, especially in the trenches, where Karras was joined in crime by partners Darris McCord, Sam Williams and Roger Brown. Behind them was middle linebacker Joe Schmidt, the pride of Pitt.

Then the Lions added Lem Barney to the secondary, which already included Dick LeBeau and Bruce Maher.

Too bad the offenses were often plodding units who needed a month of Sundays to score 50 points.

Karras was the ring leader, make no mistake. Alex adored the spotlight and the attention. He walked around training camp at Cranbrook wearing horn-rimmed glasses, plaid shorts and smoking a cigar.

“Alex was two different people,” longtime Chicago Bears center Mike Pyle told Ed Sabol’s folks at NFL Films. “On the field, he wanted to destroy anyone wearing the opposing uniform. But off the field, just a really nice guy.”

Karras played in the days when television was just starting to sink its claws into pro football. He once told me that the classic Thanksgiving Day game in 1962, when the Lions tore Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr limb from limb, was special to him because it was one of the first games Karras had played on national TV.

“You started to play the game for television in those days,” Karras told me.

Karras liked TV so much, he found a second career in it.

Some might argue against my opening sentence, refusing to believe that Karras was better than today’s Lions brute, Ndamukong Suh, even though Suh has played just one season in the NFL.

Sorry, but never can a man of one year’s experience be considered the best of anything.

However, I may be stupid, but I’m not foolish enough to tell that to Suh’s face.

Clearly, Suh has the potential to best Karras as the Lions best-ever defensive tackle. Granted, that might even happen this season. But it’s too soon to declare Suh the best—for now.

The Lions have themselves, in Suh, a weapon of mass destruction. Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham ought to come to work handcuffed to a briefcase, inside of which holds the keys that are simultaneously inserted to turn Suh on.

The destructive powers of Suh, once unleashed, are irrevocable.

That is why the Lions should dismiss the fine that Suh received after his throwdown of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, which occurred early in last Friday’s exhibition opener.

The NFL nicked Suh for $20,000. But it’s not the money that has coach Jim Schwartz, GM Marty Mayhew and the Lions fan base worried.

It’s the reputation.

Suh, after just one season and one exhibition game, is smack in the middle of the NFL’s radar. He wears Honolulu Blue to us, but to the powers that be in the league offices, Suh wears a black hat. The fines started early last year, too—also in the preseason. And they never really stopped.

It’s troubling that Suh gets an inordinate amount of attention from the disciplinarians for his wont to cause mayhem. It’s not his fault that he has the strength to throw people around like rag dolls. Suh’s tackles just look worse than those of other, mortal men.

Helmets tend to fly off and arms and legs get splayed around, when Suh gets his mitts on a ball carrier.

But the Lions ought not to worry about the fines so much that they try to reel Suh in. He’s too good, too powerful, too dynamic to try to suppress.

Suh is the most dominating force the Lions have employed in years. Even Big Baby, Shaun Rogers, wasn’t this good in his heyday. Neither was Jerry Ball or Doug English or Al “Bubba” Baker.

Karras was, but Alex isn’t likely to hold his place as Best Ever Lions Defensive Tackle, for much longer.

The two of them—Alex Karras and Ndamukong Suh—have something else in common: both got themselves into hot water with the NFL; Karras for his gambling, Suh for his sadism.

“In pro football,” Karras told NFL Films, “you line up every Sunday to play the game of battle.”

Here’s Suh, speaking to the Free Press last week: “I’m not going to stop playing hard. Like I said before … I owe it to my teammates, I owe it to the coaches, and I owe it to the fans first and foremost. That’s the reason why they watch the game. It’s one of the reasons football is football, cause it’s physical contract, aggression that is made exciting.”

Karras and Suh—two defensive greats whose careers began over 50 years apart. Yet they sound like they could have been terrific teammates, in any era.

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He can’t run, he can’t throw. He doesn’t hit with any authoritative power (anymore).

All Victor Martinez does, is beat you.

Yes, I’ve shamelessly lifted from the old quote uttered by manager Leo Durocher, about the pesky second baseman Eddie Stanky, circa the 1950s.

To think there was a time when some in the Tigers fanbase wanted the team to sign slugger Adam Dunn instead of Martinez, back when both free agents were available for suitors.

It sounds ludicrous, but here we are approaching late-August and Tigers C/DH Martinez is literally hitting twice of what Dunn has managed for the White Sox.

Dunn continues to wallow in the .160s, while Martinez hovers in the .320s for the Tigers.

Martinez is as slow as molasses running uphill. He can’t really catch now, thanks to his achy knee. And even when he could catch, his throwing arm left a lot to be desired.

He only has seven home runs, where some of us expected more like 15-20, at least.

But oh, that batting average. And that good batting eye. And the lack of propensity to strike out or to look foolish or to be impatient at the plate.

All Martinez does, is come through in the clutch, with men in scoring position. Time and time again.

It’s why he’s closing in on 70 RBI with those seven measly homers. Martinez can’t run, so triples are out of the question—but doubles have been few and far between, too.

That’s OK; Martinez just goes with the pitch and slaps base hits between the infielders and outfielders, taking whatever the pitcher gives him.

What a joy it’s been to watch “V-Mart,” as the cool people call him, play as a Tiger on an everyday basis.

You never really can get a good feel for a guy until you see him play day in, day out, for your team. As much as I saw Martinez when he was with the Indians, I wasn’t able to appreciate him like I can now.

He’s fit into that no. 5 slot, behind Miguel Cabrera, like a baseball glove.

Which is ironic, because Martinez rarely wears one of those anymore.

The Tigers didn’t sign him to catch, of course. They already have the young, seemingly indestructible Alex Avila for that. It was understood by both parties—the Tigers and Martinez—that the role would be that of mostly DH with some catching sprinkled in. That, and a smidgen of first base.

But now Martinez strictly bats, as his knee continues to give him trouble. Late in games, it won’t be shocking to see him lifted for a pinch runner, especially in tight ballgames with the Tigers behind. It happened the other night against the Twins, which was a good call even though Martinez’s spot in the order came up in the ninth inning and Victor wasn’t there to man it.

Martinez strictly bats nowadays, which works out well, because he’s pretty damn good at it.

There is a lot of talk about Justin Verlander being the team’s MVP, and maybe even the MVP of the entire league. Understood. But where would the Tigers be without Martinez’s .320+ batting average and plethora of clutch hits?

Victor Martinez has been everything the Tigers envisioned when they signed him last winter. Actually, he’s been less, in a way; he can’t catch at all now.

Even Avila would say, “Who cares?”

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Aug
18

Size DOESN’T Matter

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When we first saw Danny DeVito, he was behind a cage, his face poking out over a counter.

Despite his small stature, it soon became evident that you couldn’t keep DeVito caged forever.

DeVito, 66, filled our living rooms with his bitter venom as Louie De Palma in ABC’s “Taxi,” starting way back in 1978. His role as the taxi company’s boss and dispatcher, pacing behind his caged pen as he spewed words of anger, frustration and exasperation with his employees, made De Palma one of the best-known characters on TV. Not the most well-liked, but one of the best-known.

DeVito was so good as De Palma that it was easy to think he was a mouthy little runt in real life.

Turns out he was a pretty nice guy—and a terrific actor, to boot. And producer. And director. And comedian.

Today, finally—after dozens of his lesser-deserving colleagues received them—DeVito was honored with the 2,445th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The ceremony was held in connection with the Sept. 13 release of the DVD of the sixth season of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” the FX comedy in which DeVito co-stars as the ne’er-do-well co-owner of a Philadelphia bar.

DeVito’s come a long way since his days as a cosmetician. You heard me.

That was DeVito’s first job out of high school, back in 1962 in New Jersey (where else?). He worked there because his sister owned the salon.

A year later, he enrolled at New York’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts so he could learn more about cosmetology. While at the academy, he fell in love with acting and decided to pursue a career in it.

The career choice didn’t exactly pay instant dividends.

His first paying gig was for $60 a week in a one-act play. And this was after years of unemployment.

DeVito scrounged for work in off-Broadway productions before landing a high-profile role in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” playing a delusional mental patient named Anthony Martini. He reprised the role in 1975′s movie version, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Next was an Emmy Award for his “Taxi” role of De Palma in 1981.


DeVito as Louie De Palma in “Taxi” (1978-83)

You pretty much know the rest; DeVito has been on the small and large screen ever since, often playing the same type of character but in different ways. In some roles, he’s almost gotten you to feel sorry for him because there was some soft-heartedness behind the crackly exterior, but thankfully DeVito would eventually remind us why his character was to be detested.

It was way more fun to laugh at and get angry with DeVito’s characters than it was to embrace them.

As a director, DeVito helmed “Throw Momma from the Train”; “The War of the Roses”; “Hoffa”; “Matilda”; “Death to Smoochy”; and “Duplex.”

Not all hits among that list, but enough of a body of work to be relevant and keep him in the loop of working directors for a time.

The producing credits are even more impressive: the Academy’s Best Picture nominee “Erin Brockovich”; “Pulp Fiction”; “Get Shorty”; “Man on the Moon”; “Gattaca” and “Garden State.”

DeVito has been a success away from the business, as well, remaining married to actress Rhea Perlman since 1982, and raising three kids with her.

It wasn’t until today’s news that I realized Danny DeVito didn’t have a star on the Hollywood walk of Fame. Considering some of those who’ve been honored in the past, I’d say someone missed the boat—several times—on this one.

“I’ll tell you one thing,” DeVito once said, “it’s a cruel, cruel world.”

But today it was very nice to Danny DeVito.

About time.

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Aug
17

Vote for My “Out of Bounds” Blog at CBSDetroit.com!

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CBSDetroit.com is running a contest that aims to ID the Detroit area’s Most Valuable Sports Blog.

Click HERE to vote for my WordPress blog! You can vote every day between August 16 and September 9th!

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