Archive for September, 2011


Tigers-Yankees ALDS Game 1 (almost): Burning Questions

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Burning Questions in the wake of the postponement of Game 1 of the ALDS between the Tigers and Yankees, rescheduled for 8:37 p.m. Saturday.

The game only lasted 1-1/2 innings before the rains set in, but did the Tigers look nervous to you?

I thought they had butterflies, yes. Austin Jackson struck out on three hittable pitches and Magglio Ordonez uncharacteristically chased a horrible pitch on his punch out.

Then, defensively, catcher Alex Avila appeared to nonchalant his throw to first base after Derek Jeter struck out, costing the Tigers a baserunner. Miguel Cabrera couldn’t bring himself to throw to second base for a sure force out, and 3B Brandon Inge seemed to have a play at the plate on Jeter but threw to first base instead.

All that, plus Justin Verlander looked less than sharp, albeit in just one inning, and he never did give up a hit.

Who would have thought that Brandon Inge would be the starting third baseman for the Tigers in Game 1 of the ALDS after he was DFA’d in late-July?

Baseball is something, isn’t it? I raised the question on “The Knee Jerks” in mid-August: what if the Tigers recall Inge before September 1 and he contributes and winds up on the playoff roster? There’d be howls.

Well, that’s exactly what happened and Inge got rewarded for his faith and his commitment to the organization. Remember the rumors that the Florida Freaking Marlins were interested in him?

OK, so I gotta ask you: which team benefits more from the rainout? Or, more accurately, which team is hurt more?

I’m thinking the Tigers got the better end of this deal, though I didn’t think so as the rain kept falling and it looked more and more like Justin Verlander’s start would be washed out—or at the very least, he’d be done for the night even if the game was resumed.

Here’s why I think the Yankees are hurt more. CC Sabathia was set to throw Game 4 on three days rest. That’s out the window. Sabathia, like Verlander, will only throw one game in this series now, instead of two. But the Tigers have Doug Fister, and the Yankees don’t. Fister gets two starts now.

I’m liking a Fister/Max Scherzer/Verlander opening trio, especially with JV pitching at home.

But other than the pitching rotation, I don’t think either team is hurt/helped by the postponement more than the other.

Contrary to what some may believe, Game 1 will be resumed from where it left off. That is, even though there will be different pitchers, the lineups stay the same. Similar question as above: will this be a factor?

Here’s where you could make the case that the Yankees have an advantage. They were going to face right-handers in Games 1 and 2, no matter what. The Tigers, on the other hand, went with a right-handed hitting lineup against the lefty Sabathia.

Now, the Tigers must keep that lineup in tact, though they’ll be facing a right-hander in Ivan Nova. This means Inge where there would normally be Wilson Betemit, and Ordonez where there may have been Andy Dirks or even Don Kelly.

But this might be a moot point, as the Delmon Young-Miguel Cabrera-Victor Martinez heart of the order plays no matter what.

Does the rainout change your prediction?

Nope. Still got the Tigers in four. It just might happen in four straight days now, that’s all.

(Come back here in the hours after every Tigers post-season game—played or not—to read me answer the “Burning Questions”)

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“Burning Questions” Returns After Every Tigers Playoff Game

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Come back to this space in the hours after every Tigers playoff game, as I will answer self-asked “Burning Questions” about each contest, similar to what I did during the 2006 World Series.

I’ll ask myself the questions that YOU want answered. Either that, or questions you might find kinda interesting.

Regardless, come back here after every Tigers playoff game and enjoy my 1-on-1, hard-hitting interviews with myself!!

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One and Done?

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Reports say that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder may not seek a second term if he “completes his agenda” in his first term.

What the hell is that supposed to mean?

Two things about this odd statement, which was partially refuted by the governor’s communications director, Geralyn Lasher: a) what agenda could possibly cure what’s ailing Michigan in just four years; and b) why is Snyder already talking about walking away from the job.

According to Paul Egan’s article in today’s Detroit News, Snyder said Saturday on Mackinac Island he would be “happy to go fishing, go teach or do something else” if he could complete his agenda in his first term.

This is troubling to me.

Michigan is one of the most economically-depressed states in the country, additionally saddled by a city—Detroit—that is as messed up as it’s ever been, whether you’re talking schools or jobs or infrastructure or services.

Yes, Detroit has its own leadership that should take care of the city, but it’s foolish to think that the governor’s effectiveness is in no way tied to the success of Detroit.

So in the face of all this, why in the world is Snyder already talking about wrapping everything up in a neat package and putting a bow on it by 2014?

Lasher, in partially refuting the account of Snyder’s Saturday remarks by Michigan Information and Research Service, a Lansing political newsletter, said that the governor only said that he “might” not seek a second term.

Same thing, in my book.

If Rick Snyder bails out after four years, then the citizens of the state ought to be outraged—whether they voted for him or not. Maybe more so if they did vote for him.

There is simply no agenda that can fix what ails Michigan in four years. Which makes Snyder’s supposed tape measure of gauging success laughable. Which then, in turn, makes his statement about possibly not seeking a second term almost seem fait accompli.

Lasher said Snyder is “too focused to give much thought to a second term and has never said whether he will seek re-election,” according to the News story.

Funny how this notion of Snyder going fishing after four years was never bandied about during his campaign seeking the office, huh?

You think that might have dissuaded some folks from voting for him—if he was considering making this a one and done governorship?

So here Snyder is, not even nine months after taking office, addressing a second term—specifically, whether he’s even going to seek one.

Even if you want to say that asking about a second term is premature at this point (and it might be), Snyder’s response is still troubling.

Why not simply acknowledge that there’s way too much on the plate right now to even consider getting it all done by December 31, 2014? And leave it at that. That would indirectly answer the question of seeking a second term while at the same time reiterating the scope of the job at hand, which is huge.

But to leave the door open—and more than a crack—for him to walk away from the job after one term, Snyder should have his electorate baffled and disillusioned right now.

A voluntary one-term governor isn’t what Snyder supporters voted for. As for his opponents, it may seem like good news, but isn’t it better to defeat a guy instead of having him go fishing?

Categories : Politics
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Monday Morning Manager 2011, Edition 25

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Last week: 3-3
This week: CLE (9/26-28); ALDS (9/30-10/1)

So, What Happened?

The Tigers clinched the AL Central on September 16 and have been on a win one/lose one see-saw ever since.

In the process they have fallen one game behind the Texas Rangers for home field advantage in the ALDS, with three games to play.

The good news? All the Tigers need to do is tie the Rangers, as the Detroiters hold the tiebreaker.

So somehow the Tigers need to finish with the same amount of wins as the Rangers by end of play on Wednesday.

The Rangers travel to the Angels, while the Tigers host the Indians. If the Rangers sweep, they clinch HFA. If they take two of three, the Tigers need to sweep. If the Rangers lose two of three, the Tigers just need to win two of three.

Confused yet?

Or, to make matters simpler: the Rangers’ magic number to clinch HFA is 3 (combination of Texas wins and Tigers losses).

Hero of the Week

There are so many players on the Tigers roster about whom you could ask, “Where would they be without BLANK?”

Among the top among those is Victor Martinez.

Has there been a better off-season free agent signing in the past decade than the Tigers’ signing of V-Mart last winter?

Martinez has been just what the doctor ordered, and then some, for the 2011 Tigers. A quick look at or Baseball Reference and then a peek at the lineups the Tigers were running out there in 2010 should show V-Mart’s value immediately.

The no. 5 hitters who hit behind Miguel Cabrera in 2010 included the likes of Don Kelly, Ryan Raburn and a faltering Brennan Boesch. But Martinez has fit into the five hole like a glove (no pun intended, as V-Mart rarely wears one of those!).

Martinez was at it again this week in the Tigers’ victories. He had a walk-off hit on Friday night and clubbed a go-ahead three-run homer on Sunday, which led to another win.

Martinez is now over 100 RBI, joining Cabrera in that category.

Honorable mention: Cabrera.

Goat of the Week

This is likely to be construed as terribly unfair, but MMM is unhappy with Alex Avila for losing sight of an errant pitch in the ninth inning on Saturday night, which enabled the Orioles’ game-winning run to advance from first base to third, setting up a successful squeeze play.

The Tigers had climbed back from yet another 5-0 hole (as they did on Thursday) to tie the game, 5-5. Momentum looked to be going their way. Then Avila, who’s been terrific all year, turned into Mr. Magoo at the worst possible time.

Oh well.

Again, maybe unfair, but who said baseball is fair? Sometimes it’s foul!


Under the Microscope

A few weeks ago Austin Jackson turned as hot as a firecracker and lifted his average to nearly .260 after a year in which he floundered well under .250.

Then, just as quickly, A-Jax cooled off—and when MMM says cooled off, he means like an icicle.

MMM is placing Jackson UtM, not because of his defense (which is still exemplary), but because of his mysterious bat.

If the Tigers want to do some damage in the playoffs, they need Jackson to get on base. His presence on the base paths usually means good things for the rest of the lineup. He is that first domino, if you get the idea.

Disturbingly, after his hot spell, Jackson has returned to the strikeout-prone, easy out that he’s been for most of the season. And that’s not good news for the Tigers’ World Series hopes.


Upcoming: Indians, ALDS

The Cleveland Indians, back in mid-August, were no doubt looking at this week’s final series as one that would actually mean something.

Well, it does—to the Tigers. And, frankly, to the Indians, who have one last chance to play spoilers.

As MMM detailed above, the Tigers need to beat up on the Tribe to keep their HFA hopes alive.

Doug Fister takes the hill on Monday, likely followed by Rick Porcello and Jacob Turner or Max Scherzer.

The ALDS starts Friday, and it’s anyone’s guess where Game 1 will be: Detroit or New York.

Regardless, it’ll be Justin Verlander, of course, in Game 1, followed by Fister on Saturday. Monday’s Game 3 starter will be Scherzer. Game 4′s starter (if necessary) will either be Porcello or Brad Penny, pending the release of the Tigers’ playoff roster.

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

(As the regular season draws to a close, MMM would like to thank everyone who has read the MMM ramblings every week since that opening weekend in Yankee Stadium. Thanks!!!!)


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Sometime, 10 or 12 years from now, the face will be more chiseled and hewn. It’ll be the look of a man instead of a boy. The care-free smiling will be replaced by looks of introspection. The peach fuzz will be long gone—sandpaper in its place.

Matthew Stafford will find this out, first hand.

The mug of the NFL quarterback who’s been able to survive the league from college to his mid-to-upper-30s is the “after” following the “before.”

They’re handsome and unblemished when they enter the league. Then they leave looking like a tractor wheel drove over their face a few times.

Check out John Elway, 1983, and then compare it to Elway after winning his second Super Bowl in 1999. They could be son and father.

They all had the look.

Dan Marino bounded into Miami from Pitt with floppy, dark, curly hair. He had the looks of someone who should have been on the silver screen, not the gridiron.

Then came 17 years of beat downs from defensive linemen the size of Delaware, and Marino retired with a face that looked like it was morphing into corduroy. The hair wasn’t curly, it was matted.

No wonder defensive linemen love to kill the quarterback. Every one of those signal callers looks like the guy who always gets the girl.

The Lions’ Stafford and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh are cordial because they wear the same colors on Sunday. But make them opposites and Suh would treat Stafford like any other quarterback—with the epitome of rude violence.

Stafford has his good looks and his curly hair and his peach fuzz. And a rocket of a right arm. It’s like going up against an armed and dangerous Doogie Howser.

Stafford is 23 years old and when you gaze at photos of him in 2021, you’ll smirk and remember what a young NFL quarterback looks like before the brutes rearrange him.

That’s OK. The numbers will be enough to more than make up for the loss of looks.

The Lions finally have themselves a quote franchise quarterback. When Stafford gets done, he will have obliterated every team passing record and maybe a couple league ones, too.

Stafford will have thrown hundreds of touchdown passes and for tens of thousands of yards and his No. 9 will go up in Ford Field somewhere. A bust of his likeness will be made ready for Canton, Ohio.

He’ll retire with the face of the wise old quarterback—the one who aged like he spent four years in the White House, not 15 years in the NFL.

The amount of damage that Matt Stafford could leave in his wake is staggering to consider. Especially if he has someone like Calvin Johnson to throw to for most of his years in the league.

This Stafford-to-Johnson connection is in its third year but it seems brand new. Stafford has missed so many games due to injury in his first two seasons that you wonder if Lions coach Jim Schwartz threw an ice-cream social at the beginning of training camp in August to reacquaint his star QB and receiver.

The connection has done its thing for two games in 2011 and already it should be causing defensive coordinators to curl into the fetal position.

It’s not just that Stafford and Johnson connect; it’s in how many ways they do so.

Is there a needle that needs threading? A howitzer that needs firing? A touch that needs to be floated?

You want a five-yard pitch and catch? A 12-yarder at the sidelines for a first down? A 25-yard strike down the middle? A two-yard fade route in the end zone?

And that’s just Johnson.

The Lions have a franchise quarterback but they also have people he can throw to. It takes two to tango in the passing game.

Let me switch gears for a moment, and take you back 30 years.

When Isiah Thomas joined the Pistons fresh out of Indiana University in 1981, he had a concern. And it was a valid one.

Isiah was used to winning, number one. He won an NCAA Championship with the Hoosiers in ’81 as a sophomore. He was surrounded by a talented bunch at the college level.

Then he was drafted by the Pistons—a team that won 16 and 21 games, respectively, in the two seasons prior to Isiah’s arrival.

So Isiah had a concern. He initially kept it private, revealing it only to those in his inner circle.

Isiah Thomas wondered, quite frankly, to whom on the Pistons he’d pass the ball. He wouldn’t exactly be playing with a bunch of future NBA Hall of Famers.

Stafford has no such concerns, playing for the Lions in 2011.

There’s Johnson, of course. Which is like a menu that starts with lobster tail.

But there’s also Nate Burleson—the John Taylor to Johnson’s Jerry Rice.

There’s talented, athletic rookie Titus Young, who comes from Boise State, where they do more passing than on a Florida expressway.

There’s the cache of tight ends—Tony Scheffler, Brandon Pettigrew and Will Heller, who are basically power forwards with hands of Velcro.

There’s a jitterbug of a running back, Jahvid Best, who can catch the football and motor up the field 10 yards before the defenders notice him running between their legs.

Still, it’s Calvin Johnson on whom Stafford will rely most. Which is smart. If I was a quarterback, I’d rely on a skyscraper with hands, too.

Stafford-to-Johnson has the potential to be the best tandem in Detroit since Fisher and Body.

And 10, 15 years from now, after Matthew Stafford has shut people up about a Bobby Layne Curse and has rewritten the Lions record book and has put No. 9 into moth balls forever, we’ll look at him and see, somewhere, that boyish, peach-fuzzed face of 2011.

And the smile—the one he displayed as the NFL Commissioner presented Stafford with the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Don’t snicker. The Lions pre-Stafford are the “before.” Lord knows what the kid will do as he authors the “after.”

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Another Bad 9/11

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September 11 wasn’t a great day for Amy Yasbeck, either. Nor for any of us who loved John Ritter—and that’s a whole lot of folks.

The September 11 I refer to wasn’t the 2001 version, which was horrific. It’s the September 11 that occurred two years later.

It was 9/11/03 when we lost Ritter, the actor. And when Yasbeck, also an actor, lost her husband.

Ritter was starring in the successful ABC comedy “8 Simple Rules” when he collapsed on the set and died several hours later, thanks to a leaky aorta. He was 54 years old.

Bio had a special about “Three’s Company” the other day—maybe purposely on the 11th because that was the date of Ritter’s death eight years ago. The special was a very cool look back on the history of the show, filled with clips and behind-the-scenes info.

It was “Three’s Company,” of course, that introduced us to Ritter as Jack Tripper, the pretend-gay roommate of blonde bombshell Chrissy Snow and sensible, attractive brunette Janet Wood—played by Suzanne Somers and Joyce DeWitt, respectively.

For eight years on “Three’s Company,” Ritter stumbled, bumped, smirked and flirted his way around the southern California apartment. It was Somers, actually, who became the biggest star initially (gracing dozens of magazine covers), but after she left following season four due to a contract dispute, it was clear that the reason the show continued to thrive was because audiences loved Ritter.

And what wasn’t there to love? Ritter’s Tripper was, at the same time, goofy, clumsy, big-hearted, smart and funny.

“Three’s Company” was one of the few sitcoms that succeeded almost entirely on the plot device of the bedroom farce. The show’s storylines were laced with sexual innuendo and no matter which landlord the three had (Norman Fell/Audra Lindley or Don Knotts), the assumption was always that something naughty was going on behind closed doors, a feeling that was propagated by the dialogue heard from behind those doors.

It was a guilty pleasure of the late-1970s, early-1980s.

But the glue was Ritter, whose flair for physical comedy reminded us old-timers of Dick Van Dyke, with the pratfalls and funny facial expressions.

Ritter wasn’t particularly tall, and so he didn’t have the long legs that work so well in physical comedy, a la Van Dyke, Chevy Chase and John Cleese, but he was limber and talented.

It wasn’t until after “Three’s Company,” when Ritter began branching out, that we saw how gifted he was as an actor, period. He could do drama, we found out. He could do a love story. He could play a bad guy.

But there was something comforting about seeing Ritter return to his comedic roots when he returned to TV with “8 Simple Rules,” about a sportswriter who had written a book, “8 Simple Rules to Date My Teenage Daughter.” The book, written by Bruce Cameron, was real. The show took place in metro Detroit.

The show was becoming a hit and had just started its second season when Ritter took ill and died.

His widow, Yasbeck, sued, claiming that Ritter’s condition was improperly diagnosed in the crucial, initial moments of his taking ill. According to Wikipedia, “several of the defendants have settled out of court for a total of $14 million, including Providence St. Joseph, which settled for $9.4 million. On March 14, 2008, a jury split 9-3 in favor of the doctors, clearing the physicians of any wrongdoing.”

Yasbeck’s birthday is September 12—they day after her husband died.

In the Bio special, Fred Silverman, the longtime TV executive who first brought “Three’s Company” to the screen, lamented that Ritter’s untimely death robbed us of someone who really could have been great.

He’s right.

As terrific as John Ritter was, at age 54 he should have had a couple decades more left in him to entertain us, cutting across all genres.

That would have been great.

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Monday Morning Manager 2011, Edition 23

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Last week: 6-0
This week: at CWS (9/12-14); at Oak (9/15-18)
Magic Number to clinch division: 7

So, What Happened?

The Tigers are eating through the AL Central like a buzzsaw.

The magic number is being chopped daily, to the point where it’s highly likely the division will be clinched this week.

The Tigers are on a nine-game winning streak, all against their Central colleagues. It’s a purposeful, determined run that has turned a tight race into a joke.

Weren’t we just looking warily at the second-place Cleveland Indians, who were a mere 1.5 games behind, and tied in the loss column?

We were, and the Indians are now a dot in the rearview mirror. The second place Chicago White Sox are about as small of a dot. A 10.5 and 11-game lead, respectively, over the White Sox and Indians seemed unfathomable a few weeks ago.

The most impressive part of the week was the way the Tigers totally dashed any hopes of an Indians return to the race, by sweeping the Tribe in Cleveland Monday thru Wednesday.

Hero of the Week

This may seem like a copout, but MMM is giving props to the entire offense this week.

Oh, the usual suspects like Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, Alex Avila et al could be chosen (again), but the primary reason the Tigers are on this 9-0 run is due to incessant two-out hitting, and that hitting has come from all different sources.

The Tigers seem to face no deficit that they can’t handle, as their offense, 1-thru-9, is raking the ball.

The list of heroes lately pretty much encompasses the entire positional playing roster.

Even the Ramon Santiagos and Brandon Inges of the world have gotten their day in the sun since the Tigers stepped on the gas pedal three weeks ago.

It’s almost unfair to single out one player in an undefeated week, so MMM isn’t!!

Honorable mentions: Inge, for his walk-off homer on Saturday; and starting pitcher Doug Fister, who’s settled the rotation down immensely.

Goat of the Week

Are you kidding?

You want MMM to pick on someone during a 9-0 run that has all but sealed the division?

OK, here goes: Brad Penny ought not to be in the Tigers’ playoff rotation.

Penny is clearly the rotation’s weak link right now, and he and first pitch strikes have not been on speaking terms in quite some time.

Though the Tigers have been able to pick Penny up (and he did recover from a four-run first inning on Friday), there’s no question in MMM’s mind that Penny should be the odd man out come October.

The Tigers won’t need a five-man rotation in the playoffs, and they certainly don’t need Penny’s stressful starts.

Under the Microscope

The adage goes that you can never have too much pitching—starting or in the bullpen.

The Tigers will need all hands on deck (or is it all arms on deck?) come playoff time, and one of the most important weapons could be reliever Al Alburquerque.

Alburquerque is still trying to regain his mojo after missing time with a concussion. His strikeout ratio is through the roof. How valuable is that, especially in the playoffs? How great is it to call upon a guy when you need a strikeout (or two)?

MMM will be keeping a close eye on Al-Al in the closing two weeks; he can be invaluable during the post-season.

Upcoming: White Sox, A’s

The White Sox will get their last three whacks at the Tigers this week in Chicago.

Even a ChiSox sweep won’t impact the race at this point, but if the Tigers remain in buzzsaw mode, the magic number could be down to one when they leave the Windy City.

Regardless, after the White Sox it’s on to Oakland, where the Tigers almost surely will clinch the division, as they play four games there.

Not much to say about these upcoming games, except that the Tigers just need to keep playing good baseball and continue to feel good about themselves.

Oh yeah—and clinch the division and have a champagne shower. That would be good, too.

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

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Lions Coach Schwartz Has That Winning Look

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Jim Schwartz has been the head coach of the Detroit Lions for nearly three years and I don’t trust him.

He doesn’t have “the look.”

How can he be the coach of the Lions and not look like he just saw Humpty Dumpty fall down and bounce back up?

The Detroit Lions coaches of years past have always had “the look.” The one that speaks the ghoulish thousand words.

They’ve all had it, from Schmidt to Forzano to Clark to Rogers (who had the look from the moment he signed his contract) to Fontes to Ross to Mornhinweg to Mariucci to Marinelli.

It’s the look of exasperation combined with defeat and humiliation. Sometimes the look is expressed on the sideline, after watching another fumble or completed pass to the other team or a game-killing nine-minute drive by the opponent to eat up the rest of the fourth quarter.

Sometimes the look happens during training camp, when the coach realizes that his players don’t have that thing called talent.

Sometimes the look occurs during one of those post game press conferences, when all the geniuses holding tape recorders and microphones ask, “So what happened?”

The look has claimed some fine football coaches in Detroit, and some clowns.

Schwartz is different, and that’s why I don’t trust him.

When is he going to have the look? And if he isn’t, then I’m really suspicious of the guy.

Schwartz bounced into town in January 2009, just weeks after the Lions pratfall to a still unbelievable 0-16 record. The NFL is a league of parity and, at times, mediocrity is enough to get by.

To go 0-16 in the NFL is longer odds than beating the house at blackjack. But the Lions pulled it off. Someone could have won a mint.

So here comes Schwartz, fresh off a defensive coordinator’s gig in Tennessee, and he had that typical “just hired” look that all the Lions coaches had at one time or another: smiling, at ease, no crow’s feet. He looked like the Presidents of the United States do on Inaugural Ball night, before the job turns them into the gray-haired, wrinkled and crucified.

The cameras snapped and the tape recorders whirred and a beaming Schwartz posed with a football and a Lions helmet and all you could think of was, “That poor, poor man.”

Now, it must be pointed out that to follow 0-16 is like being a singer going on stage after a comedian who bombed; you’d have to be a pretty God-awful crooner to not get applause.

Schwartz’s Lions won three games that first year, in 2009. It was a decent enough honeymoon, especially considering that his starting quarterback, Matthew Stafford, missed some playing time due to injury.

Then came 2010 and Stafford goes down just before halftime with a severe shoulder injury on Opening Sunday—surely that would have been time for Schwartz to flash the look.

The Lions gamely soldiered on during that game in Chicago and had a potential game-winning TD pulled back from them by the officials, and all the Lions could do was look on like they were at a dinner table with a sleight of hand artist.

All this happened before the season was 60 minutes old.

Still, Schwartz never got the look.

After 12 games last year the Lions were 2-10 with Stafford having suited up for all of three contests, his shoulders ravaged with injury. Even the backup, Shaun Hill, went down with a bad wrist.

Schwartz kept his cool and his composure. He didn’t fly into a Bobby Ross-like rant. He didn’t talk of pounding the rock like Rod Marinelli. He didn’t wonder, like Darryl Rogers did, what it took to get fired around here.

Schwartz didn’t stand in front of the inquiring media minds and say, “See you at the graveyard,” like Monte Clark did in 1983. Schwartz didn’t take the wind instead of the football, like Marty Mornhinweg.

And he didn’t quit, like Ross did—and had done before and after coaching the Lions—in the middle of the season.

Schwartz stayed the course, working with a third-string quarterback, a second-string running back and a defense that was front heavy and back light.

Then something funny happened. The Lions beat the Packers for their third win of the season. They knocked Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers senseless before halftime.

Then the Lions went down to Tampa and ended a road losing streak that dated to 2007, by booting the Bucs in overtime.

The day after Christmas, the Lions returned to Florida and stunned the Miami Dolphins with a fourth quarter comeback that included the once-light secondary making some big time plays—something we haven’t seen in these parts since Lyndon Johnson was president.

That was three straight wins, and the best part was that not only did Jim Schwartz not have the look, he didn’t have the other look, either—that of someone who thinks he’s accomplished something, when he really hasn’t.

Some of the Lions coaches of the past have had that look, too.

The Vikings came to town on the season’s final weekend and the Lions thumped them, for a season-ending four-game winning streak.

Never before did a 6-10 record look so good in the history of the NFL.

Through it all, Schwartz had a different kind of look.

It was the look of the in-control football coach—the rock steady, steely-eyed man who, when you look at him, you can’t tell if he’s winning or losing by 40 points.

Schwartz may not have always been the perkiest coach during his weekly press conferences. He may have become bristly when discussing injuries. He wasn’t Dale Carnegie.

But he wasn’t a snake oil salesman or a phony, and Lord knows we’ve seen those types on the Lions sidelines, wearing headsets.

The Lions four-game winning streak to cap the 2010 season, along with the anticipated health of Stafford and continued massaging of the roster by GM Marty Mayhew, have caused even the national football observers to look at the Lions as serious playoff contenders.

A look further at the hype reveals a common thread—the folks going ga-ga over the Lions do so because they all believe in the head coach.

“Smart” is the word that is most often repeated when describing Schwartz.

Jim Schwartz does know his football. He knows talent. And he knows what he’s doing as a head coach in the NFL.

Now THERE’S a look for you.

Categories : football
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It Took Too Long, But Tigers Finally Taking Command of Division

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It took them 123 games, but the Tigers finally are showing that they are the class of the AL Central.

The big cats toyed with the Indians and the White Sox into the latter part of August, playing with them like a toy mouse.

It seemed like forever that the Tigers were 5-7 games above .500 and unable to create any separation between themselves and the (then) second-place Indians.

On Friday, August 19, the Tribe came to Detroit, just 1-1/2 games behind the Tigers and feeling good about themselves. The Tigers were muddling along, their customary seven games above .500 (65-58) after 123 games. They had just acquired OF Delmon Young. Maybe Young’s addition could spur a hot streak.

Since then—only three weeks ago today—the Tigers are 16-4. The Indians are 8-13.

The Tigers are claiming their division the way champions should—by mowing down the closest competition in grand style.

Since August 19, the Tigers are a combined 9-0 against the Indians and the White Sox, the two teams who had any hope of catching them.

That’s called putting a division away.

The wake up call must have been that first Indians series, three weeks ago. The three-game set ended on a sunny Sunday afternoon, with a fantastic and thrilling crash-boom-bang play at the plate. The fly out double play sealed a Tigers sweep. In less than 48 hours, the Tigers turned their 1-1/2 game lead into a 4-1/2 game spread.

The White Sox came calling last weekend and the Tigers used a mind-boggling comeback from an 8-1 deficit on Saturday to roll to a sweep of that series, too.

Off to Cleveland, and with three efficient wins the Tigers demoralized the teetering Indians, whose only goal now is to finish above .500 after winning just 69 games last season.

This isn’t a race anymore, it’s a wake.

Here lies the White Sox and Indians, who gave it a good go but whose rosters simply aren’t on the same level as the Tigers’.

It took 123 games, but the Tigers show now why no team is close to them, from top to bottom, in terms of talent and performance in the clutch.

How many two-out hits have the Tigers gotten in this 16-4 run?

The failure to deliver the key hit was one of the culprits in the team’s wobbly and maddening stay of 5-7 games above .500, when the division was so ripe for the picking.

The division is now picked and is in the Tigers’ basket, waiting for consumption, to be washed down with champagne.

This is how a championship team responds when the heat is on and the games increase in importance. You ever hear of the Yankees stumbling to a division after trying not to win it?

Justin Verlander is 22-5—20-2 in his last 22 decisions. He’s been solid as a rock all year. So too have been Victor Martinez and Alex Avila. Jhonny Peralta, too.

Now others are contributing—some who’ve been vilified.Link

Ryan Raburn, for goodness sakes. Even Don Kelly. Ramon Santiago. Heck, Brandon Inge has looked a lot better since his exile to Toledo.

Young has been exceptional as a Tiger. Wilson Betemit, acquired from Kansas City, has muscled some key hits into the alley and over the wall.

No, I’m not leaving Miguel Cabrera out. I will address him now.

Several weeks ago I took some major heat for a piece I wrote, crabbing that the uber-talented Cabrera wasn’t pulling all of his weight. I stand behind that, still.

But since I wrote that, Cabrera has made me look even more foolish than lots of folks believe me to be. That’s fine. Glad I could help.

Cabrera has been brilliant in the 16-4 run. No question about that. He is, finally, tapping further into the potential for destruction that he possesses. I don’t know that he could be any better than what he’s been for the past three weeks.

Before that, I don’t know. But now, Cabrera is at the top of his game, which is elite.

The Tigers are making mincemeat of their division. Now they are in a neck-and-neck battle with the Texas Rangers for home field in the short ALDS.

With four games against the A’s, three against the Orioles, three against the Twins and six more against the White Sox and Indians, the Tigers schedule looks delectable.

The Tigers are playing as divisional champions should. It took 123 games, but the cream has zoomed to the top.

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The Winner Is…US!

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Now, why didn’t someone think of this years ago?

Earlier this year I crabbed about the woeful mismatch of Anne Hathaway and James Franco as co-hosts of the Oscars. They had no chemistry with each other, and the two of them combined still couldn’t make enough of a host to keep from being overwhelmed by Oscar’s duties.

There won’t be such a dilemma next year, for Eddie Murphy is riding to the rescue.

Yes, Oscar has wised up and tabbed actor/comedian Murphy to escort us through Oscar’s interminable broadcast in 2012.

This should be a great pick. It’s Steve Martin-esque, and I wonder why they haven’t invited Steverino back, come to think of it.

Oscar’s telecast needs someone to wink at the industry, not blatantly mock it. Hathaway and Franco tried too hard. Rather, they were given ridiculous material with which to work. But then again, neither of them had the chops to make it palatable.

Murphy, like Martin and Billy Crystal and Johnny Carson and Bob Hope—all great hosts of Oscars telecasts of the past—is a veteran industry insider who’s had us laughing and who we’ve laughed at. Having a stinker or two on your resume ought not eliminate you from contention; instead, it should make you more endearing.

That was another bad thing about Hathaway and Franco (sorry to pick on them but…); they were too damn young. It was like having Justin Bieber hosting the Grammys.

Murphy, with his smart wit, light-up-the-room smile and stand-up comedy experience, has all the goods to knock it out of the park next year on Oscar Night.

Brett Ratner, who will produce the 84th Academy Awards show along with Don Mischer, called Murphy “a comedic genius, one of the greatest and most influential live performers ever.”

“With his love of movies, history of crafting unforgettable characters and his iconic performances — especially on stage — I know he will bring excitement, spontaneity and tremendous heart to the show Don and I want to produce in February,” Ratner said.

Well said. In fact, Murphy makes so much sense, it’s dumbfounding that he hadn’t been considered until now.

The hiring of Eddie Murphy has added appropriateness.

Who better to host Oscar’s notoriously long telecast than someone who starred in a film called “48 Hours”?

GUMBY, dammit!

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