Archive for January, 2012

Jan
31

Husband of Interest

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It won’t be too much longer, I would imagine, before we find out what happened to Jane Bashara, along with the how and the why.

The Grosse Pointe marketing executive whose body was found in her vehicle miles from her home has been dominating local news since she was strangled (police say) last week.

Today, investigators shared some more of their theories.

Bashara was likely killed in her home, investigators say. And, the killer likely had an accomplice.

More details keep seeping out—like the little one about husband Bob Bashara having a girlfriend, and that he was reportedly trying to buy said girlfriend a house.

And the whispers that the Basharas’ marriage was “on the rocks.”

And that Bob Bashara failed a polygraph test, according to sources.

And that his account of where he was the day/night of his wife’s apparent murder doesn’t jibe with what police believe happened.

And that Bob Bashara’s business owed more than $10,000 in back taxes.

So you can see that the likelihood of Jane Bashara being set upon by a stranger in her home, at random, then strangled and her body driven several miles away, is almost farcical.

Another wife gets bumped off.


Bob and Jane Bashara

I’m tired of men killing their wives. They ever hear of divorce? The wife gets to live and the husband gets to not spend the rest of his life in jail. Seems like a win/win to me.

Because it’s not like these hubbies are out there committing the perfect murders. They almost always get caught relatively soon, sometimes before the funeral has even taken place (Jane Bashara’s was today). And if not soon, they’re usually caught eventually.

The Bashara case might be one of someone being hired to kill the wife. It’s unclear whether Bob Bashara’s alibi will hold up.

Regardless, she’s dead, he’s the lone “person of interest” and how much do you want to bet that the police break this wide open before the end of next week?

What’s a little unusual about the Bashara case is that members of both sides of the family contend that Bob, nicknamed “Big Bob,” was incapable of committing such an atrocity.

Incapable? Really?

Is anyone—and I mean anyone—truly “incapable” of taking another’s life? What if an argument escalated into physical contact? Don’t people “lose it” all the time and lash out physically?

Of course, no one wants to think that those close to them are capable of murder. How creepy would that be?

And I understand why no one in the Bashara family—from both sides of the aisle, if you will—wants to think that “Big Bob” could kill anyone, much less his own wife.

But no one is truly incapable of behavior of the worst kind. Some are just more capable than others, and vice-versa.

Somewhere in these facts and details that keep tumbling out lies the truth about what happened to Jane Bashara, how it happened, and why.

And, sadly, it’s likely that the trail of suspicion and detection will land at “Big Bob’s” doorstep.

As usual.

Categories : crime, Enotes
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Jan
29

Inge Again Left Out in the Cold After Fielder Signing

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He has been, in a way, the Rasputin of the Tigers. Or the poetic feline who possesses nine lives. Take your pick.

They’ve tried running Brandon Inge out of town for about eight years now.

It’s all been done to him—free agents and trade acquisitions arriving to play
his position (twice), talk radio blazing with anti-Inge venom. The Tigers even
designated him for assignment last summer, and traded for a replacement: Wilson
Betemit.

Betemit has been signed by the Baltimore Orioles as a free agent. And Inge
not only survived his DFA, he made it all the way back to the Tigers’ playoff
roster.

Betemit, the man the Tigers traded for to take Inge’s spot on the roster, is
gone. And Inge is still here. Figure that one out.

Nature even tried to nudge Inge out of Detroit, vis a vis the infamous bout
of mononucleosis that befell him last year, which was likely a factor in his
woeful performance at the plate.

Yet here Inge was, as recently as last week, boldly and gamely speaking of
seizing, once again, his cherished spot at third base.

He declared himself healthy, and frankly a little ticked off.

“I love Don Kelly,” Inge told the media during the Tigers Winter Caravan last
week, speaking of the man he was slated to platoon with at the hot corner. “But
I don’t intend on platooning.”

Inge, the player who many Tigers fans either hate to love or love to hate,
looked to be working on yet another life wearing the Old English D.

Then came the news that rocked the baseball world.

It started spilling out on Twitter shortly after 3:00 p.m. Tuesday
afternoon.

Prince Fielder, the Herculean free agent first baseman, had been signed by
the Tigers. For nine years, at a cost of $214 million.

Inge again became collateral damage, because in order to make room for
Fielder—no fat jokes, please—the Tigers planned on moving incumbent first sacker
Miguel Cabrera to (drum roll please) third base.

Rim shot!

They’re doing it again to Brandon Inge.

The first time this happened was eight years ago, when the Tigers, coming off
a 43-119 debacle, managed to snare free agent catcher Pudge Rodriguez.

Inge was the Tigers’ catcher back then.

Despite Pudge’s Hall of Fame credentials, Inge, with a sour puss, whined
about the acquisition. Inge thought himself fit to be the team’s starting
catcher, despite a batting average hovering around .200 in 2003.

Inge pointed to his defense, which he felt was akin to Rodriguez’s at the
time.

I thought Inge to be a petulant young player back then, with the way he
reacted to the (at the time) gargantuan news of Pudge’s signing.

Then in spring training 2008, Inge, the Tigers’ starting third baseman at the
time, was displaced by the winter time acquisition of Miguel Cabrera. On Opening
Day, Inge found himself in center field, of all places. Soon he was back behind
the plate, playing a position he thought he’d left for good after he fell in
love with third base.

Meanwhile, the Tigers kept playing musical chairs with their glove men.

Cabrera moved from third base to first base after 14 games. Carlos Guillen
switched from first to third. Inge kept catching, and would replace Guillen in
the late innings at third base.

Guillen didn’t play after August 25 that year, so Inge reclaimed third
base.

In 2009, Inge was an All-Star third baseman, and played the second half of
the season on two ravaged knees.

The 2011 season was a disaster for Inge. He didn’t have his health or his
strength, and soon he didn’t even have a spot on the Tigers roster. He was
roasted daily on sports talk radio. Even after being designated for assignment
in July, Inge refused to leave the Tigers, accepting the assignment rather than
becoming a free agent. He ended up in Toledo, which wasn’t far enough away for
the haters’ liking.

It looked like the end of Inge’s Tigers career. The team traded for Betemit.
Inge was a minor leaguer, his teammates mostly 10 years younger than he, or
more.

Yet I wondered aloud on “The Knee Jerks” podcast in mid-August whether the
Tigers might call Inge back to the big club when rosters expanded on September
1. Wouldn’t it be something, I opined, if Inge returned to the Tigers and became
productive?

The Tigers indeed recalled Inge—on August 20, making him eligible for the
playoff roster. Leading off the second inning, taking his first hacks as a Tiger
in a month, Inge clobbered a home run. The man fans hate to love and love to
hate got a curtain call.

That game on August 20 was the first of four multi-hit games Inge would
register as he got stronger and more productive. Rasputin was still alive.

As the Tigers’ winter caravan rolled on last week, Inge spoke eagerly about
the upcoming season, being healthy and all.

Then came the Fielder signing, and Inge was knocked for a loop yet again.

As manager Jim Leyland put it the other day, Inge is “not the happiest
camper” in the wake of the news of Fielder’s blockbuster, totally unforeseen
signing.

Leyland told the media at the Fielder press conference on Thursday that he
wishes he could have broken the news to Inge personally, instead of the latter
finding out the way the rest of us found out.

Normally it wouldn’t matter what a guy who hit .197 last season thinks about
player personnel moves. It wouldn’t matter if that player found out by TV,
radio, Pony Express or by messenger pigeon.

But there’s something about this crazy, mixed up relationship between Brandon
Inge and the Detroit Tigers. And, by extension, the fan base.

It’s a relationship that keeps all parties off balance. Just when Inge thinks
he has it made, the rug gets pulled out from under him. And just when the Inge
haters who follow the Tigers think they’re rid of him, he re-emerges.

Frankly, I’ve never seen anything quite like it in my 41 years of following
and covering Detroit sports.

Brandon Inge has, yet again, been nudged out of the picture, and this time
there isn’t center field or catcher waiting as a consolation prize.

Even though Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said Inge “is still an important part
of this team,” it’s hard to see how, with Cabrera moving to third base and Alex
Avila entrenched at catcher.

Lots of Tigers fans couldn’t care less if Inge is “not the happiest camper”
right now. They’re too giddy about Prince Fielder. Duly noted, and
understood.

With Brandon Inge, it always seems like there’s someone else. Then it always
seems like it’s him again. This has been going on for eight years now.

To quote the Grateful Dead, what a long, strange trip it’s been.

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Jan
27

Close Enough

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OK, it’s getting ridiculous now, the range of actress Glenn Close.

Is there any character that she can’t, or won’t, play?

Not satisfied with playing a wide range of women, Close is now branching out to the other gender—sort of.
Link
Close is now dazzling us in “Albert Nobbs,” where she plays the title character: an attendant in a well-appointed 19th-Century Dublin hotel. The work has earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.

But there’s more to it. Nobbs is a woman disguised as a man. Yes, “Victor/Victoria” comes to mind, though “Nobbs” is no comedic farce.

The idea of one gender pretending to be another for some sort of personal gain isn’t new, of course. Flat out comedies like “Some Like it Hot” to reflective films like “Yentl” have used the device.

But “Nobbs” is different. It’s based on a short story by an Irish novelist, and according to a story in today’s Free Press has been a passion of Close’s since she won an Obie for playing the role in 1982.


Glenn Close as “Albert Nobbs”, which earned her an Oscar nomination, her sixth

It’s not enough to merely throw on the other sex’s clothing, sit in a make-up chair for several hours and report to work on the set. Anyone can do that. Close’s Oscar nomination is proof that she not only can look like a man, she can make an emotional connection to one as well.

The transgender role on film has often been equated with social outcast, and that’s the same in “Nobbs.” Albert isn’t just playing dress-up, after all.

I first became aware of Glenn Close in 1983′s “The Big Chill,” where she played Kevin Kline’s wife. Four years later, she terrified most men in the acclaimed thriller “Fatal Attraction.”

Since then, Close has just about run the gamut when it comes to the women she’s played, both from an emotional and historical standpoint.

So not satisfied with playing women any longer, looks like Close is setting her sights on playing men, though Albert Nobbs is a woman pretending to be a man. Still, for most of the film she is, for all intents and purposes, a man.

It can be argued that Close and Meryl Streep are the two greatest female actors in film today. It can also be argued that it’s been that way for the better part of the past two decades.

But Close, despite five Oscar nominations prior to her latest one for “Albert Nobbs,” has yet to win the gold statue. Streep has an astounding 17 Oscar nominations, including two wins.

Close is 64; Streep is 62. Their careers have virtually run parallel to each other.

But Meryl Streep hasn’t played a man—yet.

Categories : Enotes, Entertainment
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Victor Martinez’s name just got wiped off the front pages as if it had been written on a dry erase board.

There have been some shocking free agent signings in baseball since Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally unleashed the genie from the bottle back in 1975.

But the Tigers signing of Prince Fielder today caused more gasps than the first audience that ever saw a lady being sawed in two.

This wasn’t only unexpected, it was dismissed—by the very same man who consummated the deal.

Tigers President and GM Dave Dombrowski, just last week, said the Tigers wouldn’t be getting involved in the Fielder sweepstakes because of the longevity Prince would be seeking, despite the Tigers needing a bat to replace Martinez, lost for the 2012 season with a torn up knee.

Yet there it was, around 3:00 pm ET today: the news breaking with some salvos fired from Twitter, that the Tigers dug deep and snared Fielder for nine years, to the tune of $214 million.

This is “man bites dog” kind of stuff. Jimmy Hoffa was found—alive. Smoking doesn’t cause cancer.

Already it’s being speculated that Dombrowski wasn’t the real trigger man here. Owner Mike Ilitch, it is being said, stepped up to the plate, so to speak.

If that’s true, then the octogenarian owner just knocked one into the seats.

You wanted protection for Miguel Cabrera, in the wake of the Martinez injury? You wanted a left-handed stick to complement Miggy’s right-handed one?

Well, here comes Prince, complete with a navy blue and orange bow tied around his big belly.

Fielder is a Tiger, the second Fielder to be one. And Prince is even better than the first one—and the first one was pretty damn good.

Fielder is a first baseman, as you all know. The Tigers currently employ a pretty good one, if you recall.

No worries. It’s likely that Cabrera will move across the diamond to play third base, which would be the highest-profile sports move in Detroit since the Pistons fled to the Silverdome.

The Fielder signing comes from left field, to use yet another baseball term. But it ends at first base, which is where Prince will be entrenched. Reports say that the Tigers consulted with Cabrera about the signing before handing Prince the magic pen.

Miggy, those reports say, gave his blessing.

Why wouldn’t he? He has a bona fide elite slugger hitting behind him. He now has more protection than a Sicilian store owner paying the Mob.

Prince Fielder to the Tigers. Nine years, $214 million. Mr. Ilitch continues to spend his kids’ inheritance.

Think the Hot-n-Ready pizzas will stay at five bucks?

I think it’s highly likely that Ilitch shoved Dombrowski aside, so to speak, and ponied up the pizza dough to sign Prince.

Ilitch is past 80 years of age and he’s coming up on the 20th anniversary of buying the Tigers. Lord knows he had no idea he’d be 20 years into this and have next to nothing to show for it, except for a division title and two playoff appearances.

I’m guessing the owner thought he’d have a few World Series trophies in his case by now.

But it hasn’t happened. The Tigers made it to the Fall Classic in 2006, and saw their 2011 hopes dashed when too many of their guys tried to play while held together by baling wire and duct tape.

Then came news of the Martinez injury, suffered nearly two weeks ago during some agility drills.

V-Mart gone—for the season.

It was the biggest slug in the gut in Detroit since Houdini.

But here’s one way to mourn and grieve the loss of such a key player as Martinez: simply go out and buy an even bigger star.

Since when did the Tigers start wearing pinstripes?

Ilitch is acting like the Mike Ilitch of the pre-NHL lockout days, when he could wait for the clock to turn midnight on July 1st each summer and fork over the money for Kenny Holland to snag the free agent star du jour.

It was all so easy, and fun, back then. Stanley Cups were the payout for such largesse investments.

But back to Ilitch and his age.

It may be that the length of Fielder’s contract outlives the man who signed off on it. I know that sounds morbid but it’s very possible.

Mike Ilitch wants to win a World Series in the worst way. He’s more driven than most owners, because most baseball owners didn’t live through World War II; actually, most of them weren’t even born then.

Age can be a big motivator, along with fear. They sometimes go hand in hand, like in this case. Mike Ilitch is scared to death of not winning baseball’s biggest trophy before he passes.

The owner has done this before. He stepped in and got involved, enabling Dombrowski to trade for Cabrera in December 2007.

That has worked out pretty good so far.

But the brass ring has eluded Ilitch, with his baseball team.

So he broke out 214 million ways to try to resolve that.

When does spring training start?

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Ice hockey, the world’s fastest sport, is played at blinding speed by powerful men gliding along the rink on razor-sharp blades fastened to their boots, swinging fiberglass sticks at a vulcanized rubber disc.

It’s polo played on ice, sans the horses.

The thrills and chills come from the long, effortless strides of a puck-carrier as he bores down at the goalie from the wing, at some 25-30 miles per hour. Until he loses the puck, and the same thing happens, going the other way.

It’s a sport whose stoppages of play can come in rapid-fire fashion or as few and far between as an apology from Rush Limbaugh.

The typical rink is 200 feet long by 85 feet wide. That’s 17,000 square feet of frozen fun.

Yet despite all that area with which to work, an Italian-Canadian named Phil Esposito made his living operating within a fraction of it.

Esposito was a center man, or, to be true to his Canadian roots, a centre man. But he played the position as if he was employed by the Boston Celtics instead of the Boston Bruins, for whom he toiled in his heyday of the 1970s.

If the NHL had a three-second rule in front of the goal crease, Esposito would have led the league in violations.

The Bruins led the NHL in goals in the 1970-71 season, scoring nearly 400 in 78 games. Esposito scored 76 of those, by far a new NHL record. If you measured the distance the pucks traveled, those 76 goals likely traversed no more than the 200-foot length of a rink, combined.Esposito was immovable in front of the opponent’s goal. He never took a slap shot in his life. He didn’t shoot the puck, per se—he shoved and poked and pushed it past the goal line.

The single-season goal scoring record that Esposito shattered was held by Bobby Hull, who ONLY took slap shots. The two players’ styles couldn’t have been any more different.

Hull skated; Esposito planted.

As for their shooting skills, if they were pitchers, Hull was Nolan Ryan and Esposito was Phil Niekro.

Yet both hockey players made it into the Hall of Fame by scoring bushels of goals. It’s just that Hull did it from afar and Esposito did it from the goalie’s doorstep.

Esposito comes to mind as I watch this man the folks around town call The Mule play hockey for the Red Wings.

Johan Franzen wears No. 93, a number never considered to be worn in Esposito’s day. Hockey players back then didn’t wear a number higher than 35, and that was reserved for the goalies.

If a player was sent to the minors, his replacement simply took his number—kind of like a hockey doppelganger.A hockey player wearing No. 93 in Esposito’s time might as well have been all green with one eye in the middle of his head.

Doesn’t matter. Franzen plays Esposito-like hockey.

They call Franzen The Mule because, well, you ever try to move a mule that doesn’t want to be moved?

Like Esposito four decades ago, Johan Franzen takes a vast majority of his cracks at the net a stick’s length away from it.

Franzen is the bull to the goalie’s china shop. He has the finesse of a caveman and the grace of the town drunk. His goals have the beauty only a mother can love.

But hockey doesn’t award style points. Like its brethren, hockey is a bottom-line, end-of-the-day sport. Wins are doled out to the team with the most goals, not the most oohs and ahhs.

Every team should have a Johan Franzen. Yet not every team does.

It may seem that all Franzen does is throw himself at the net like a blind squirrel in search of a nut, hoping to pick up a few. But Franzen is a strong, powerful forward with a will to match. He is maybe the most purposeful player in the NHL.Especially come playoff time.

Since he’s been a regular with the Red Wings (seven seasons), Franzen has been his most lethal when the buds begin appearing on the trees and you can start smelling the charcoal and lighter fluid again.

In 83 career playoff games, Franzen has 37 goals—about 10 more than he averages per the same amount of games in the regular season.

An injury reduced him to just eight playoff games and two goals last spring, his effectiveness neutralized by his poor health. It was one major reason why the Red Wings couldn’t advance past the San Jose Sharks and the second round for the second year in a row.

Franzen is 6’3”, 225 pounds and doesn’t take no for an answer around the net. He plays like a bulldozer, but in reality he has hands as soft as rose petals. Often, you need to see the replays of his goals to appreciate his dexterity in such close quarters in the crease area.

Franzen has 18 goals this season in 47 games. On that pace, he’ll register about 30 for the year, which would be second to his career-high of 34, set in 2009. Of his 18 tallies thus far, all but a few have been scored while breathing down the goalie’s neck.

Franzen plays on a very intriguing line with center Pavel Datsyuk and right wing Todd Bertuzzi. I say intriguing because few lines in the NHL can match theirs in terms of creativity (Datsyuk), smarts (Bertuzzi) and sheer strength (Franzen).The line is becoming a beast in the league. All three of them are playing some of their best hockey right now. It’s a matchup nightmare for opposing coaches.

Johan Franzen isn’t likely to get a sniff of MVP talk, probably ever in his career. His play isn’t glitzy or glamorous. His goals don’t find their way on any of the ESPN highlight montages.

But try playing chunks of games without him and see how the Red Wings fare.

Not that I’m suggesting it.

Forget Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg et al—how Johan Franzen goes will pretty much determine how the Red Wings go. They are, after all, the only team that can saddle up a mule.

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Jan
19

Nature or Plastic?

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Lesley Visser, the statuesque, longtime correspondent for CBS Sports, was on my TV screen last weekend. And I barely recognized her.

She had that “look” about her. The one that has, more and more, vexed both male and female celebrities—though more female than male.

The “look” is what we’ll refer to here as “the Joan Rivers Syndrome.”

You know—plastic surgery gone wild.

WHY are so many people in the entertainment industry who appear on stage or in front of the camera allowing butchers to take to their face?

The results aren’t pretty—literally.

Lesley Visser, I thought, was an attractive woman in her 50s who was aging quite well—and naturally. Yes, she had a jogging accident in 2006 which required some surgery to her face, but what I saw last weekend as she did some pre-game NFL playoff work, was above and beyond the call of duty, so to speak.

She’s hardly alone.

Even Marie Osmond—yes, Kewpie doll-cute Marie Osmond—looks to have gone under the knife. And I thought her Mormon beliefs would have forbade such work.

The Joan Rivers Syndrome is hard to pinpoint. You can tell that someone who’s afflicted with the Syndrome has had something done, but you can’t quite narrow it down to anything specific. Rather, the entire face has an unnatural puffiness to it. The eyes are more almond shaped. The lips are thicker. The skin has a smoothness to it that makes it resemble something that the folks at Madame Tussauds came up with, using their magic wax.

The Syndrome victims look, at the same time, like they went 15 rounds in a boxing ring, and had their face ironed. It’s a strange combination, which is why it looks so grotesque.

I don’t know why those who opt for plastic surgery think the “after” looks better than the “before.” In fact, the “after” makes them look like they are suffering from some sort of glandular disease.


THIS is why I named it Joan Rivers Syndrome

 

Dolly Parton, who has a new movie out with Queen Latifah, also has Joan Rivers Syndrome (heck, let’s start calling it JRS for short).

Heather Locklear, another one.

And on and on.

Wayne Newton, among the men, maybe looks the creepiest nowadays. How ironic, for if anyone has a job for life in the entertainment industry, it’s Wayne-o. Yet he opted to have his face reconstructed, and when I saw him last year on “Dancing With the Stars,” I was appalled. Even natural facial expressions like smiling looked weird, thanks to JRS.

The worst part is that the plastic surgery can’t be undone. Once the knife is lowered, its work is oh-so-permanent. And for the worse.

Give me the celebrity who chooses to let nature take its course, rather than the one who causes you to want DNA to prove their identity.

Oh, if you want to look at some more plastic surgery catastrophes, click HERE. Good luck.

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The knee is an unpredictable and petulant joint—one that can take an inordinate amount of pounding, twisting and extending, then can buckle and tear while performing much less strenuous activities.

We’ve had some famous knees in Detroit sports.

Nick Eddy was a hard-running, even harder working running back for the Lions in the late-1960s. A star at Notre Dame, Eddy started suffering knee injuries while playing under the Golden Dome. Those injuries followed him from South Bend to Detroit.

Eddy tried as hard as any human being could, to keep himself healthy and being available to tote footballs for the Lions. But his knees betrayed him, and his pro career never really got going.

Billy Sims took a pitch in Minneapolis one fateful Sunday in 1984 and swept to his left. A Vikings linebacker named Walker Lee Ashley leveled his helmet at Sims’ knee and blew it up. It was the last carry of Sims’ mercurial NFL career, after just four-plus years.

Mark Fidrych shagged fly balls in Lakeland in spring training, 1977, despite the warnings of teammate Rusty Staub. The clairvoyant Staub was right. Fidrych landed awkwardly on his right knee and “felt something slushy”—words he used to me as I spoke to The Bird via phone in 2007.

The “slushy” feeling turned out to be ligament damage, and contributed greatly to Fidrych not only missing most of the ’77 season, but indirectly causing him to overcompensate and develop arm trouble, from which he would never recover.

And who can ever forget the torture and pain that Steve Yzerman put himself through during the 2002 playoffs, his knee so ravaged that he would have to undergo highly unorthodox reconstructive surgery during the off-season? But the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup, so mission accomplished, in the Captain’s eyes.

This after Yzerman, in 1988, slammed into the goal post the night he scored his 50th goal against Buffalo at Joe Louis Arena, knocking him out for the remainder of the season and the first two rounds of the playoffs.

So we know a little about daunting knee injuries in this town.

But these things are like deaths in the family—no matter how many times you experience it, the next one isn’t any easier to cope with.

The news of Victor Martinez’s major knee injury, the one that will likely cause him to miss the entire 2012 season, was something I caught in a “wait, what?” fashion.

I had the TV muted and was peeking in on the Red Wings game, during intermission. On the screen was a graphic, and it had V-Mart’s photo and it said something about missing the entire 2012 season.

Wait, what?

Surely I must have read it wrong. Or so I hoped.

The news was all too true.

That petulant knee, again.

Martinez, it turns out, was doing some agility drills as he prepared for his second season as a Tiger. No doubt the drills he did have been performed by tens of thousands of athletes in the past.

A slip of the foot and a knee buckle later, and the Tigers, just like that, lost a .330 hitter who drove in 103 runs last year, and who was invaluable as a consummate pro and teammate.

Players of Victor Martinez’s ilk simply don’t grow on trees.

So as the Tigers—and their fan base—try to come to terms with the news of Martinez’s expected 2012 absence, it helps to keep expectations to a realistic level.

Meaning, you ain’t replacing V-Mart with another V-Mart.

There are plenty of free agent options available. GM Dave Dombrowski’s cell phone just about blew up in the hours after Martinez’s injury was made public fodder, with calls from agents of players looking for work.

You’ve heard the names, over and over, by now.

Is there a Martinez on the list?

The closest is Prince Fielder, and while it’s intriguing to imagine Cecil’s kid accepting a one-year deal in Detroit before testing the market again for 2013 and beyond, it’ll take a boatload of cash and quite a payroll hit to make that happen. Not likely to transpire, but fun to think about.

The next closest, perhaps, is Vlad Guerrero, coming off a so-so season in Baltimore.

The rest of the list contains some acceptable names, but not all of them would one consider to be enough protection behind Miguel Cabrera. In fact, few of them would be.

So the Tigers have to realize that they just won’t go out and pluck another V-Mart from the tree.

Guerrero would be a fine addition. He is strictly a DH at this stage of his career, so in that way he’s a tit-for-tat replacement for Martinez, who even before this latest injury wasn’t going to play in the field anymore—not with the Tigers signing Gerald Laird to be catcher Alex Avila’s backup.

But Vlad won’t hit .330, and he’s not a switch-hitter, another thing that Victor has over the available free agents.

Still, a Guerrero who can hit for power but not threaten .300 would make opposing managers at least think twice before issuing Cabrera the four-finger pass.

My money is on the Tigers signing Guerrero for a year.

The next step in the coping/grieving process is to find perspective.

Yes, the Tigers lost a major cog to the machine when Martinez’s foot slipped and his knee exploded. No, they cannot hope to totally replace all that V-Mart brings to the table, on the field and off.

So what would you have them do, wave the white flag, a month before pitchers and catchers report? You want Dombrowski to throw up his hands and say, “Well, we might as well not even play the games this year”?

No. This is baseball. Teams lose star players to injury all the time, and often times, if they’re good enough, they overcome those injuries.

If losing Victor Martinez was the only thing the other teams in the AL Central needed in order to bridge the 15-game gap between the Tigers and the second place Cleveland Indians, then the pessimists are right—may as well not even play the games this year.

But Martinez isn’t the only reason the Tigers ran away and hid from their Central brethren in 2011.

This is another bad knee injury that has slugged this city’s sports fans, and it didn’t even happen during a game. In a way, that makes this even worse. The least Martinez could have done was get hurt actually playing baseball.

Last I checked, the Tigers still have 162 games to play this season. Last I checked, they were runaway winners of their division.

See you in Lakeland.

Categories : Baseball, Detroit Tigers
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He was the NHL’s original Iron Man—a man of perfect attendance, whose offices were located in six Taj Mahals of indoor sports venues.

Long before the tentacles of corporate sponsorship wrapped themselves around the naming of stadiums and arenas, the NHL of Johnny Wilson was played in a half dozen barns, each wonderfully devoid of anything remotely corporate in name, though several were botanical.

Chicago Stadium. Maple Leaf Gardens. The Boston Garden. Madison Square Garden. The Forum. Olympia Stadium.

The names of the arenas screamed hockey.

And Wilson screamed hockey by showing up to work everyday—580 consecutive times, to be exact.

This was the Original Six era—14 games played against each of your five opponents, for a 70-game schedule.

Which means that Johnny Wilson, playing for the Red Wings and Blackhawks in the 1950s, suited up for eight straight seasons without missing a game.

It was hockey without helmets, with shoulder pads smaller than those on today’s women’s attire and with cages around the rink, not Plexiglas.

Travel was by train, sometimes on the same cars as your opponent, if the teams were playing a home-and-home set. That made for some interesting commutes.

It was a race to see which would happen faster: players losing their teeth, or their faces being sewn back together.

All the players were Canadian.

The 70 games were scrunched together between mid-October and late-March. There was no two-month run of playoffs. Everything was wrapped up by mid-April, in time for the baseball season to take center stage.

Wilson joined the Red Wings late in the 1949-50 season, a 20-year-old from a town called Kincardine in Ontario. That was another constant—not only were all the players from Canada, they all hailed from towns that you needed a map to find.

Wilson, a left winger, picked a great time to debut in the NHL, because just weeks later, the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup.

Too young to crack the Red Wings’ talent-rich lineup on a consistent basis, Wilson bounced back and forth between Detroit and the minor leagues until midway through the 1951-52 season, when he got called up yet again.

That’s when he started his streak of 580 consecutive games played. No more minor leagues for him.

Three more Stanley Cups followed (1952, ’54, and ’55), with Wilson popping in the odd goal, and skating up and down his wing, dutifully, every night.

EVERY night.

The bottom line was this: Johnny Wilson got called up to the Red Wings in 1951 and didn’t miss a game the rest of the decade, despite a trade to Chicago in 1955 and back to Detroit in 1957.

The original NHL Iron Man.

Johnny wasn’t the only Wilson kid playing in the NHL—he just played in it longer. His brother, Larry, made it with the Red Wings for a time.

Larry also followed his big brother behind the bench as Red Wings coach.

More about that later.

Johnny Wilson died in Metro Detroit on December 27 at age 82, after an illness.

You’d hardly have known it, judging by the shameful under-reporting of his death by the Detroit newspapers.

Wilson was one of those Red Wings alumni who stayed in the area, hung around the team and who was always eager to talk hockey.

I should know.

In fall 2006, I moderated a roundtable discussion about hockey, comparing eras and talking about how the game has evolved since the 1950s.

The panel consisted of Ted Lindsay, Shawn Burr and Johnny Wilson.

Wilson was 77 at the time but he was as sharp as a scalpel, talking hockey and, more importantly, listening.

It was a wonderful hour.

Before we sat down and talked, I told Wilson that I thought he got a screw job, when he was fired as Red Wings coach after less than two seasons in 1973, and right after missing the playoffs by two measly points. I had wanted to tell him that ever since it happened.

He grinned and said, “Darkness with Harkness,” referring to GM Ned Harkness, who rendered Wilson’s ziggy.

About four years after Johnny was canned as Red Wings coach, brother Larry came along and tried coaching the second half of a 16-55-9 year in 1977. Two years after that, Larry dropped dead of a heart attack, at age 49.

You may know Larry’s son—and Johnny’s nephew—Ron Wilson, coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Johnny Wilson was a great Red Wing. He wasn’t a prolific scorer; there were plenty of those on the roster. He won no MVP Awards nor had any remarkable seasons, statistically.

But he was there every night, in the lineup, for those 580 consecutive games. He won four Stanley Cups. And he kept himself closely aligned with the Red Wings, being active in the Alumni Association.

Wilson was also a pretty damn good coach who won a championship in the AHL before coaching the Red Wings.

He was a true gentleman who represented the Winged Wheel with class, dignity and respect.

He died on December 27 and his death barely got a sniff from the local fish wrap. Maybe everyone was too giddy about the Lions clinching a playoff spot just days earlier.

It was a shameful example of under-reporting, because Wilson was among the greatest of Red Wings.

As a player, he was as solid—and reliable—as they come. As a coach, he was innovative and settled the team down from the upheaval that existed when he took over.

As an alumnus, Wilson was active, involved and you knew there was a Winged Wheel tattooed on his heart.

He deserved better from the local papers, which should get a game misconduct for virtually ignoring his legacy.

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Jan
14

Zoom-Zooming Out of Motown

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Last we saw Joel Zumaya on a big league diamond, he was throwing out a ceremonial first pitch at Comerica Park. He acknowledged the big cheers, and for the briefest of moments, it was 2006 all over again.

But the more resonating image of Zumaya, the fireballing reliever, was of him writhing on the ground in Minnesota in the summer of 2010, his elbow broken after delivering one of his violent pitches.

Who could forget it, if you were watching on television?

The tears of pain, the twitching of his fingers as Zumaya clutched his right elbow, apparently even having trouble breathing.

I know I’ll never forget it.

Zumaya’s dramatic end to his 2010 season was not unlike that of Dave Dravecky, whose left arm snapped and was left dangling after a pitch in 1989. Dravecky’s arm was eventually amputated.

Dravecky’s situation was cancer-related, but the image was still the same: pitcher throws baseball, pitcher is suddenly rolling around on the ground in massive pain.

Now it appears that Zumaya has thrown his last pitch—as a Tiger.

Looks like the Tigers aren’t interested in bringing Zumaya, a free agent, back into the fold—even after a showcase in front of MLB teams in Houston appeared to go well for the 27-year-old.

Tom Gage of the Detroit News wrote that Zumaya could end up signing with his hometown San Diego Padres.

Fine by me, if the Tigers won’t bite, because the last thing Tigers fans want to see is Zumaya in the American League, haunting them.

The comparisons have been made to Mark Fidrych, and there’s some of that, for sure.

Both were 21 year-old rookies when they took the baseball world by storm. Both had magical seasons, which were exactly 30 years apart. Both then fell victim to injuries (each had fluke ones) and had difficulty recapturing their prior glory. And both, of course, pitched for the Tigers.

But the book on Fidrych has long ago been closed. Zumaya still has time to distance himself from The Bird.

It’s just not likely to happen as a Tiger.

The Tigers have their late inning bullpen all set, at least on paper.

They signed Octavio Dotel, a veteran of 13 MLB teams, to handle the seventh inning. Joaquin Benoit handles the eighth inning. And Jose Valverde closes things.

There’s Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth for left-handed variety. And don’t forget righty Al Alburquerque, he of the wicked slider, but who is battling arm troubles of his own.

There simply isn’t room for an arm with a checkered past, i.e. Zumaya.

I wish Joel Zumaya well, obviously. I’m sure the rest of Tigers Nation is with me, even if it looks like his career will resume with another team—if it resumes at all.

There’s still time for him to silence the Mark Fidrych talk.

I hope he does.

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Jan
12

Wild Pitch

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Whatever happened to Mr. Belvedere? Or Marilyn Turner, hawking Carpet Center?

How about Bob Allison for Bobson Construction?

Remember Mel Farr and his cape, “flying” through the skies over Metro Detroit, promising a “Farr better deal” on Ford cars?

Or the Metro Detroit Ford Dealers commercials, which always featured sports celebrities, including all the Detroit sports team coaches at one time or another?

I’m still wondering if anyone got five pounds of free coffee from Ollie Fretter for finding a deal that he couldn’t beat.

I can still see the homely face of Irving Nussbaum of New York Carpet World, with his tag line, “The BETTER carpet people!”

The company pitchman, in Detroit, has often been more well-known than the product being sold.

I should know; I work for one.

Brian Elias, my boss at 1-800-HANSONS, is one of the last of a dying breed, along with Gordie over at ABC Warehouse.

Elias and Gordie are among the last of the combination company owner/pitchman, which used to be a staple around these parts.

Elias is perhaps more well-known than his product—windows, doors, roofs and gutters—or at the very least, as well-known.

Gordie, of ABC Warehouse, has a company slogan to rival the “Get It Done” of Hansons’: “The closest thing to wholesale.” And his bespectacled, mustached face is enough to make people do double-takes when they see him.

Car salesmen have always made good pitchmen.

Not just Farr, the former Lions running back-turned Ford dealership owner; how about Walt Lazar (Chevrolet, “The super, super dealer”), who used to be seen “conducting” an off-screen orchestra playing his theme song?


Ollie Fretter

An iconic campaign of radio commercials belonged to Gene Merollis, another Chevy dealer. The ads consisted of brief jokes between a set-up man and “Mr. Merollis.” Each spot ended the same way.

“That Merollis, what a great, great guyyyyyy!”

I heard those spots a billion times on the old CKLW-AM “Super 8″ station back in the 1970s.

Today we have Elias, Gordie, and Bill Bonds and William Shatner, two actors pushing law firms.

After that, not so much when it comes to local pitchmen.

Then again, most of the products being sold anymore are either beer, prescription drugs or cars—all at the national level.

Commercials aren’t as fun anymore.

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