Archive for February, 2012

Feb
29

Hey, Hey, He Was a Monkee!!

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He was, as heartthrobs go, portable.

Davy Jones was adorable and could fit in your pocket, it seemed. He was the pipsqueak of the Monkees, the tiniest of the singers/actors who captivated young women of the late-1960s thru the mid-1970s.

He was part of the British Invasion but in a decidedly American way. The Monkees, save for Jones, was made up of Americans: Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork. They had an American producer (Don Kirshner at first) and their shtick was concocted by Americans (Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider).

Rafelson and Schneider, who were each steeped with television experience, wanted to make a quirky TV show about a rock and roll band. They didn’t, initially, intend for that band to actually become a rock band.

But that’s exactly what the Monkees did; they were every bit of a rock band as the others they shared spots with on the Billboard 100.

The lead singer was Jones, with his very British mop head—and very Beatles-like at the time.

Jones quickly became the unquestioned star of the Monkees—at least with the sweet young things who cried and fawned and fainted upon seeing him in person. Also very Beatles-like.

Jones is dead now, of an apparent heart attack at age 66. He’s the first of that generation’s heartthrobs to pass—unless you include Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison.

The list of singers, off the top of my head, who caused the females to swoon in Jones’ time includes David Cassidy, Leif Garrett, Bobby Sherman. Joining that group a tad later were the likes of Shaun Cassidy and Donny Osmond.

But Jones was one of the first to mesmerize the girls; the Monkees were formed in 1965, around the time Beatlemania was gripping our nation.

His British accent was part of his charm, because it stood out from the rest of the group. It gave him a waifish, almost vulnerable aspect to his persona.

The Monkees were carefully crafted. There was the Class Clown (Dolenz); the Goofball (Tork); the Intellectual (Nesmith); and the handsome, delicate front man (Jones).

But it was Jones, without question, who the girls came to see, when the Monkees would go on tour. From 1966-68, when the TV show was on the air, a ticket to a Monkees concert was as hot as anything.

The band (by this time they had removed the shackles placed on them by producers who wanted to limit their musical performances and replace it with studio musicians) continued to record several years after the show was canceled.

The hits were genuine and red hot at the time: “Daydream Believer”; “Last Train to Clarksville” (my personal favorite); “Pleasant Valley Sunday”; and “The Monkees Theme,” to name just a few.


Davy Jones, at the height of his heartthrob status

Jones didn’t sing lead on all of the hits, but he still managed to be the sexiest tambourine player that any teenaged girl could dream up, when he wasn’t crooning.

Jones had performed as recently as February 19. He was always up for Monkees reunions, and participated cheerfully—unlike Nesmith, who for whatever reason has consistently resisted Monkees-related events.

The Monkees each had trivia tidbits about them. Dolenz has a daughter who is an actor; Tork’s last name is short for Torkelsen, and he had a brother who was a running back for the Green Bay Packers in the NFL; and Nesmith’s mother invented Liquid Paper.

And Jones?

He was an actor before he became a rock star. There was irony to his career.

On February 9, 1964, he appeared with the Broadway cast of Oliver! on The Ed Sullivan Show, the same episode on which The Beatles   made their first appearance.

According to Wikipedia, Jones said of that night, “I watched the  Beatles from the side of the stage, I saw the girls going crazy, and I  said to myself, this is it, I want a piece of that.”

He got it, and then some.

As recently as February of 2011, Jones spoke enthusiastically of a possible Monkees USA and UK tour. His reasoning was brilliantly simple.

“You’re always hearing all those great songs on the radio, in commercials, movies, almost everywhere.”

I know what Jones meant. To this day, I get excited when “Clarksville” comes on the radio.

Time Magazine contributor James Poniewozik summed up Jones and the Monkees thusly:  “Whatever Jones and The Monkees were meant to be, they became creative  artists in their own right, and Jones’ chipper Brit-pop presence was a  big reason they were able to produce work that was commercial, wholesome  and yet impressively weird.”

Impressively weird. That may not be a compliment when spoken of others, but it’s dead on accurate when it comes to the Monkees. They may have started as a gimmick, but they ended as a legitimate part of rock-and-roll history.

Thanks largely to that tiny little Brit with the mop head.

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Feb
28

Li-Lo, the Homebody?

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Only time will tell if Lindsay Lohan will continue down the road of the straight and narrow.

That’s how it works with the addict, the abuser, the dependent. There’s no other way to evaluate the progress than to sit back and wait.

Lohan, maybe the oldest 25-year-old in Hollywood history, went on the “Today” show and told host Matt Lauer that she’s clean and sober and a “homebody.”

The fast life and the drugs and alcohol don’t appeal to her anymore, she told Lauer.

The interview will air Thursday morning, but MSNBC previewed it via Today.com.

“That’s not my thing anymore,” Lohan said. “I went out, actually, a few months ago with a friend. And I was so uncomfortable. Not because I felt tempted, just because it was just the same thing that it always was before. And it just wasn’t fun for me. I’ve become more of a homebody. And I like that.”

Lohan is 25 and who knows what else she can do right now to make money, other than to act.

She’s hosting “Saturday Night Live” this weekend and certainly her motivation to go on “Today” is that it’s a great vehicle on which to tell not only fans, but—and more importantly, frankly—TV and movie producers that she’s fit to hire.

Lohan’s interview with Lauer is just that—an interview, as in for a job.

With platinum blonde hair, Lohan looks good in a black dress as she explains to Lauer that, after being in denial, she’s ready to start proving herself all over again.

Lauer asked her point blank: How can those with the power to hire, trust you again?

“I think that that’s gonna take — I think that takes time,” Lohan said. “And I think that it’s actions. Because people can say things all they want, but I think I still need to go through the process of proving myself, you know, with ‘SNL,’ being on time, being, you know, keeping my — can’t say the word — but stuff together.”


Lindsay Lohan, the blonde and clean and sober version

It’s all very mature, lucid stuff coming from someone who’s been anything but for the better part of the past seven years, at least.

The proving ground starts with Lohan’s next role. And it’s an ironic one: Elizabeth Taylor.

It’s like what Marilyn Monroe once said of co-star Monty Clift, when they were filming “The Misfits” in 1960.

“(Clift)’s the only person I know who’s more screwed up than me,” Monroe said.

The notion of Lohan playing Taylor, who was an off-screen drama queen in her own right, is delectable. Yet that’s where Lohan’s road to professional recovery is about to begin, after her turn on “SNL” this Saturday.

Lohan knows that one clean job doesn’t a comeback make, no matter how much she shines in the Taylor project.

“I don’t want people to have that reason to be scared anymore,” she tells Lauer. “So being able to have this opportunity with ‘SNL’ and the film, I’m gonna do what I’m supposed to do, and enjoy doing it, and do it as best as I can.”

Lohan isn’t out of the woods yet. The fact that she acknowledges that is a step in the right direction, albeit a baby one.

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Feb
27

Zumaya Has Simple, Yet Difficult Choice To Make

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They came to Lakeland six Februarys ago—two restless kid pitchers already fed up with the bus rides and playing in leagues referenced by the frequency of the letter “A.” One was 21 years old, the other 23.

The Tigers were still not over the nightmare of 2003, when they lost 119 games. Management had canned sacrificial lamb manager Alan Trammell, giving Tram the ziggy once their use for him dissipated.

Trammell was the transitional manager and Tigers hero, used by the team to navigate through treacherous waters until an infusion of genuine big league talent arrived. Then Trammell, never given a chance of winning, would be cashiered and another, more experienced manager could be brought in.

Jim Leyland was that new manager in 2006. Older, more experienced, grizzled—that cliche word.

The grizzled (ah!) Leyland was effusive in his praise of his two young guns—the 21-year-old Joel Zumaya and the 23-year-old Justin Verlander, two right-handed fireballers.

But would the praise be enough to keep them on the 25-man roster that would be heading north in April? One was a reliever. The other, a starter. Would they stay, or would they play for Toledo?

Leyland, with a wink to the media, held off on telling Zumaya and Verlander whether they had made the club until the last minute before the 25-man list had to be submitted. In a devilishly sadistic way, Leyland enjoyed watching his kid pitchers squirm. It was all in good fun—for the skipper.

Then the news came. Zumaya and Verlander would both be breaking camp with the big league team. No more bus rides, lousy food and bumpy infields for them.

Neither pitcher made Leyland’s decision look foolish. Zumaya made the seventh inning—the seventh inning—fun again, blazing 100 mph fastballs past big league hitters. Verlander showed amazing composure as a starter, also with a blazing fastball among his repertoire.

The two young guns helped lead the Tigers to the 2006 World Series. Verlander was the official AL Rookie of the Year. Zumaya was probably someone’s ROY, somewhere. He might have been the fans’, for sure, who were enamored with his triple digits on the radar gun at Comerica Park, even if it was trumped up on occasion (shhh).

Now it’s 2012 and Verlander has continued on the path to greatness, entering his seventh season as a big league starter. His accomplishments by age 29 are mind-boggling.

And Zumaya?

The words screamed at me as I read my Sunday paper.

“Zumaya lost for season,” was included in the headline.

It was another slug in the gut, even though Zumaya was no longer a Tiger and instead a member of the rival Minnesota Twins, who signed him to an incentive-filled, one-year deal this winter.

I still felt sick for him, even if he was in an enemy camp.

More elbow trouble for Zumaya—after just 13 pitches during a workout over the weekend.

The prognosis is of the bottom line variety: Tommy John surgery; no ifs, ands or buts about it.

It’s either that, or retirement. The options have boiled down to those for the 27-year-old Zumaya.

Twenty-seven!

Who retires at age 27? Not even a punch drunk boxer does that.

Zumaya, reports say, will take a day or two to discuss his future with his family, which is the only faction of people he ought to discuss it with.

The options are simple, but also incredibly difficult to wrestle with.

Do the surgery and put himself through another exhaustive, long rehab, or hang up his mitt.

That’s it.

Zumaya, it is said, is intrigued by those pitchers who have found success after Tommy John surgery—and older pitchers at that. But he’s also unsure whether he has another long rehab left in him, both physically and mentally.

Well, of course he’s unsure.

Joel Zumaya has been coming back from one thing or another since 2007.

His last big league pitch came, ironically, in Minnesota in the summer of 2010, when he broke his elbow in a frightening and sickening scene.

On pitch number 13—yeah, 13 (how appropriate)—in his first official throwing session of spring training for the Twins, Zumaya felt pain. He walked off the mound, maybe for good.

Afterward, Twins GM Terry Ryan said of signing Zumaya, “It was a risk. It didn’t work out.”

Note that Ryan spoke in past tense, and in certainty—that Zumaya was through, done.

We’ll see in a couple days whether Ryan was premature in his comments, or dead on.

What different paths that were taken by the two young kids who showed up to Tigers camp in 2006, eh?

Categories : Baseball, Detroit Tigers
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Feb
26

Will Success Spoil Tigers’ Rock Star Verlander?

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Classify this under the “Time really flies, doesn’t it?” department.

Justin Verlander is about to begin his seventh big-league baseball season. You heard me. Seventh. But that should be of no bother to Verlander, who’s approached his career as if he was trying to experience everything it can offer before age 30.

It’s as if Verlander, the Tigers’ ace, came to Lakeland six Februaries ago armed with a bucket list—and age 30 was the drop-dead date, so to speak.

Win Rookie of the Year. Done.

Pitch in the playoffs. Done.

Pitch in a World Series. Done.

Make the All-Star team. Done.

Pitch a no-hitter. Done, and done—and almost done a couple more times.

Win the Cy Young award. Done.

Win a League MVP award. Done.

Be the ace of the Tigers’ staff. Done, like dinner.

Anything else?

Well, you know what’s not been accomplished yet? It’s that thing that prompted owner Mike Ilitch to bust open another piggy bank and sign Prince Fielder.

Verlander has pretty much done it all, except be part of a World Series-winning team.

He’s only 29, however. He still has the 2012 season in which to do that, and knock off his list by age 30.

After that, it’s all gravy.

Verlander is back in Lakeland for spring training number seven, and by all appearances, he’s relaxed, confident and playful.

Last year at this time, Verlander spoke of the small monkey on his back—the one that represented slow starts in April. He was, frankly, tired of starting every season like a distance runner with an anvil attached to his ankle.

So he put his mind to working hard, focusing even harder and treating the normally benign spring training games as if they were happening in September, with a pennant race in full gear.

No more molasses starts for him.

It worked, for the most part. Verlander racked up a couple of April wins for a change. His ERA for the month didn’t look like the price of a New York breakfast.

Another mission accomplished.

But then Verlander followed up his strong April with a garlic-like rest of the season.

Quite simply, Verlander didn’t lose the rest of the season. And I almost mean that literally. From May 1 to the end of the season, Verlander went 22-2. It was Denny McLain, 1968-ish.

Oops. Sorry. But the comparison to McLain is apt in this case, even if it makes your stomach turn a little.

McLain had swagger and confidence when he showed up to Lakeland in 1969, coming off his 31-6 campaign. Denny spent part of the offseason touring the country, playing the organ and showing up on the late-night talk shows.

Of course, those shows were hosted by the likes of Johnny Carson and Tony Bishop, but we’re talking 43 years ago.

McLain was the first man to win 30 games since Dizzy Dean in 1934, and while it took 34 years for it to happen again, we’re at 43 years post-McLain and no one has really come close to doing it again. Likely, Dennis Dale McLain will go down as the last of the 30-game winners.

Like Verlander, McLain was the undisputed ace of the Tigers’ staff. Like Verlander, McLain won the AL MVP and Cy Young awards in 1968.

See? An apt comparison.

McLain followed his ’68 season with another good one in 1969. He won 24 games and shared the Cy Young Award with Baltimore’s Mike Cuellar.

After that, it all went to pot for Denny. Actually, some of it went to cocaine. And racketeering. And embezzlement. It wasn’t pretty, as you know.

McLain was 24 years old when he had his magical season in 1968. By 29, he was out of baseball. By his early 30s, he was trying to outrun the law.

Comparison to Verlander, no longer apt.

But here’s what is apt: wondering how Verlander will respond in 2012 to all the heady stuff that happened last season and throughout the fall and winter.

Verlander appears on the cover of MLB 2K12, the video game. He’s in commercials with swimsuit models, also for 2K12. He looked dapper and comfortable telling funny stories on Conan O’Brien’s TV show this winter. He revealed an odd—but apparently successful—pre-start Taco Bell diet, which no doubt delighted the T-Bell marketing department.

And now he’s in Lakeland, the seriousness of the upcoming baseball season approaching, and he’s seen clowning with new instructor and former teammate Kenny Rogers—having fun and enjoying his now cemented status as one of the top young guns in baseball.

The Tigers even cajoled Verlander to place a call to free-agent fireballer Roy Oswalt, in an effort to convince Oswalt to sign with Detroit.

So how does Verlander handle all this stuff?

It’s a question that doesn’t so much concern me as it does fascinate me.

No Tigers pitcher has come off a season and offseason as Justin Verlander is right now since, well, Denny McLain in 1969.

Jack Morris, the Tigers ace of the 1980s, never won a Cy Young Award or an MVP, but he did win a World Series and started in an All-Star Game. He was the undisputed ace, but Morris wasn’t a media darling. He didn’t have the Hollywood good looks that Verlander has, or the magnetic personality.

The media was quite content to leave the snarling Morris alone from October through January. And he was happy to be left alone.

Morris did his talking on the mound, which was fine.

Verlander does that, too, but he is the Tigers’ rock star, on top of being their best pitcher. He’s handsome, jovial and easy to talk to. He’s developing a sense of humor that he delivers with a wink to the media.

It is quite possible, maybe even damned likely, that Verlander won’t replicate, in 2012, what he did last year. He may never, period.

Every superstar player/pitcher, if you look at their year-by-year stats, has that one season that sticks out among all the rest. Sometimes it happens early in a career, sometimes in the middle, and sometimes even late. But it happens.

Verlander may have had “that” year in 2011.

He’d trade it all for a World Series ring. Every one of them would.

Denny McLain has one of those, by the way. Not that it did him any good.

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Feb
23

Blue Bananas, Anyone?

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Let me pose a question for you, survey style.

Should I ask bananas to change their color from yellow to blue? Because I like blue so much better, and I think they’d be prettier that way.

Vote now: yes or no, and why.

What, you say? That’s a ridiculous question? What do you mean, bananas can’t change color? Really? No matter how hard I try, and no matter how many of you agree with me?

Wayne County Commissioner Kevin McNamara (D-Canton) is the latest to scratch for his 15 minutes, in the ongoing saga of Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano, aka The Little Italian General.

It’s Irish on Italian crime, just like the old days in the Bowery.

McNamara sent an e-mail out to thousands of his constituents in western Wayne County, posing this to them (verbatim): “Government cannot endure without some form of trust among the elected officials and by the taxpayers who voted for them. A vote may be forced upon the Wayne County Commission to ask County Executive Robert Ficano to resign. Complete a one-minute survey and comment.”

Ficano is the yellow banana here. And McNamara wants to know if his constituents should ask their commissioner to ask Ficano to turn blue.


Kevin McNamara

The survey is a great way to get some media attention, which McNamara certainly has. But its results are destined to be pretty much moot.

You see, there’s no provision in the County Charter that allows the Commission to remove Ficano from office, no matter how hard they try or how much they want to.

So why solicit responses for something that isn’t possible?

“My feeling is, quite frankly, I would like us not to vote,” McNamara told the Free Press. “As mad as I am at him, I haven’t seen that he’s done anything illegal. But I want to know what the people in my area think.”

Maybe McNamara is still “mad” over the leaked video of his alcohol-related traffic stop from last year, which may have come from someone inside Ficano’s inner circle.

It’s also an election year for the Commission. Ahh–NOW we may be on to something.

Commissioners Laura Cox (R-Livonia) and Bernard Parker (D-Detroit) have already gone public, but at least they’ve actually called for Ficano’s resignation, sans surveys.

Not sure what McNamara’s end game is here. It’s toe-dipping into warm water. Not surprisingly, per his Facebook page, response was running about 70-30 for Ficano to resign. But some of the comments expressed frustration with the survey.

“Kevin just do it,” one person commented.

Yeah, enough already!

Trouble is, there’s really nothing to do.

Stuck at the bottom of the Free Press story was this: McNamara said the Wayne County Charter has no provision for the commission to remove the executive, so any vote would be advisory at best.

But if three commissioners request a meeting to debate a resolution calling for his resignation, the meeting would have to be held, the story says.

But Ficano isn’t resigning, and the Commission can’t make him.

In fact, I’d put the chances of the Little Italian General abdicating his throne at about the same as, say, bananas turning blue.

But thanks for asking, Kevin.

Categories : Enotes, Politics
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Feb
21

Not-So-Sloppy Seconds

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As much as I would have liked to have seen Eddie Murphy do a turn, there’s something wonderfully comfortable about having Billy Crystal to fall back on.

I’m referring to the Academy Awards, which take place this Sunday. Crystal, the actor/comedian/director, will host, as he’s done so many times before.

But Billy wasn’t the first choice this time.

The Academy wanted to go with Murphy as a first-time host, but not long after inking him, the show’s producer, Brett Ratner—a chum of Eddie’s who was instrumental in getting him the Oscar gig—quit, and a day after that, so did Murphy.

I was totally on board with the notion of Murphy escorting us through the sometimes interminable broadcast, but like I said—Crystal isn’t a bad second choice.

Oh, how many funny moments Crystal has given us as Oscar host—some of them occurring in the show’s opening montage.


Crystal, with the best co-star he’s ever had not named Jack Palance

 

But one that sticks out is when the Academy honored longtime silent movie producer/director Hal Roach, 100 years young, in 1992.

Crystal pointed Roach out in the crowd, and the centenarian stood and started to speak. Unfortunately, the theater’s sound system didn’t pick up his words for broadcast.

Without missing a beat, and displaying his God-given ability at comedic timing, Crystal deadpanned, “I think that’s fitting, after all — Mr. Roach started in silent film…”

It was one of Oscar’s funniest moments. You can see it here.

There have been many more bouts of laughter, with Crystal at the helm, and no doubt there will be even more added to the list this Sunday.

So it’s not a bad thing that Eddie Murphy isn’t going to make his Oscar hosting debut—not when you have an old pro like Crystal ready to yuk it up.

Billy Crystal, who never really found his footing as a film star in any movie without “City Slickers” in the title, is clearly much better poking fun at the industry than he is at being in it.

We can’t be good at everything, after all. Crystal has his niche, and that’s more than a lot of his brethren can say.

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Feb
19

Red Wings Draw “21″ More Than One Way

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Tuesday night at Joe Louis Arena, as the clock’s final few minutes ticked off, 21,000-plus fans stood and shouted, as if they were at a blackjack table at one of the city’s casinos.

“Twenty-one!! Twenty-one!!”

It was a night where no one left early to beat the traffic. The score was out of hand, but that was the point.

The Red Wings were about to put the Dallas Stars away and, thus, ring up their 21st straight home victory.

Just the latest accomplishment by the best franchise in pro sports.

And appropriate that the chant be “21!”—because that’s also how many consecutive seasons the hockey team from Detroit will have qualified for the playoffs after this 82-game season is in the books.

I wonder if we truly appreciate and understand what it is that we’re seeing here with this Red Wings—as they say in Canada—”organ-eye-ZAY-shun.”

It’s not just that the Red Wings qualify for the postseason as reliably as Punxsutawney Phil rises from his hole every February 2nd. It’s that the Red Wings don’t just make the playoffs—they annually expect to be the last team standing in June, hoisting the Stanley Cup over their sweaty heads.

With the exception of 1991, when the streak began, there hasn’t really been a year among the 21 straight playoff appearances when the Red Wings haven’t been in the discussion as serious Cup contenders. Oh, they’ve been more serious in some years than others; but for the most part, you would be remiss to exclude them from at least the Final Four conversation.

There have been first-round disappointments and Finals heartbreaks, and wins and losses in series in between. But can you think of a spring when you didn’t think they could go all the way?

It has no precedent in sports, really. The Celtics of the 1960s were an amazing unit that racked up championships like dirty dishes at a diner during the lunch rush. But even the Celts didn’t make the playoffs 21 years in a row.

The Yankees of the 1940s and into the ‘60s were almost annual World Series pre-season picks. But they had some down years mixed in, when they weren’t a factor in the pennant race.

Les Canadiens du Montreal—winners of the most Stanley Cups on Earth—never put together two decades straight of championship-caliber teams.

The NFL’s dominant teams are neatly segmented into decades. The team of the 1950s (Cleveland); the 1960s (Green Bay); the 1970s (Pittsburgh); the 1980s (San Francisco); the 1990s (Dallas); and the 2000s (New England). But no 20 years of consecutive excellence for any of them.

What haven’t the Red Wings provided us since 1991?

Record-setting seasons? Check (the 1995-96 club won a league-record 62 games).

Stanley Cup Finals appearances? Check (six of them, including four wins).

Individual stars/future Hall of Famers? Check, check, check and dozens more checks.

Player development? Check (an unbelievable amount of the Red Wings’ key contributors were drafted in the lower rounds; Tomas Holmstrom, who recently played in his 1,000th game and who has 240 goals, was a 10th-round draft pick).

Stable, competent management? Check (the hierarchy of owner Mike Ilitch, VP Jimmy Devellano, GM Ken Holland and assistant GM Jim Nill have been working together since the Reagan administration).

Last spring, however, it looked like some of the Red Wings’ luster was tarnishing.

After a second round exit in 2010, the Red Wings trailed the San Jose Sharks—their 2010 vanquisher—three games to none in the second round of 2011.

Too old! The window has closed! The Red Wings’ time has passed! The end of an era!

And that was from the fans, uttered on sports talk radio and the like. The national pundits joined in, too.

Nobody gave the supposedly old and decrepit Red Wings a prayer to make the Sharks series competitive.

But Detroit won Game 4 and then stole a stunning victory in Game 5 in San Jose. In Detroit for Game 6, the Red Wings played as if they refused to accept that the Sharks were the better team. It was a tight, low-scoring affair that saw the Sharks edge in front in the third period by a goal, despite not being the best team on the ice that night.

The Red Wings sneered at their supposed fate and stormed back to snatch Game 6 and force a Game 7 that had earlier in the series been as expected as a man winning a fight with his wife.

The Sharks held on and captured the series, but I don’t know that I’d ever been as proud of a Red Wings team as I was after they made the unthinkable thinkable.

Just when you thought they were old, done, over with as a dominant NHL team. Last year, the Red Wings struggled to win at home. They were a very mediocre 21-14-6 at the Joe, which is the NHL’s way of saying they were 21-20.

Not done with giving us thrills and chills, this year’s Red Wings have again made Joe Louis Arena a house of horrors for opponents. They again lead the entire league in total points.

If you can come up with some sort of NHL record, this Red Wings “organ-eye-ZAY-shun” is likely to break it. And they have yet again, besting the 1930 Bruins and 1976 Flyers for most consecutive wins at home in one season.

“Twenty-one!! Twenty-one!!”

People often ask me if I ever think I’ll see the day when the Lions win the Super Bowl. Before I answer them, I remember that there was a time where I never dreamed I’d see the Red Wings win a Stanley Cup, let alone four.

Joe Louis Arena was barren, devoid of fans and excitement. The biggest cheers came during intermission, when cars were handed out for free by a desperate Ilitch ownership, in its formative years.

I remember knocking off work several times in 1985-86 and deciding, on a whim, to head up I-75 from Taylor to downtown and catch a Red Wings game, all by my lonesome. Parking was a breeze. There was no line at the box office. I paid my 15 bucks and sat in the lower bowl. I could stretch out quite comfortably.

The Red Wings would lose, but that was OK. It was NHL hockey on a shoestring, without the crowds. I could skip to the refreshment stand and get back to my seat and barely miss any action.

I thought of those days as I gazed out from the press box, covering Game 7 of the 2009 Cup Finals, during a stoppage of play. How far this franchise has come, I thought.

The Red Wings lost on that night, too.

They haven’t done much of that over the past 21 years, have they?

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Feb
16

I Got It, You Take It

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It’s often used in the world of sports, the notion of “doesn’t anybody want to win this thing?”

Typically, scribes and observers will say that about a baseball pennant race or some other competition in which the players or teams involved appear to be more insistent on losing and screwing up than actually winning.

The Michigan GOP Primary is nearing, and the two front-runners are stumbling over themselves to crow how they would NOT have authorized a bailout of the Big 3 automakers if they were president.

This on the heels of news that GM just announced a 2011 profit of $7.6 billion. Profit sharing checks are upwards of $7,000 for giddy GM employees.

Yet here are Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum sweeping into the state, trying to out shout the other about how against the bailout they still are.

It’s a rather strange strategy, to say the least.

Usually politicos are wont to crow their “I told you so” stance. It’s a tried and true method of making yourself look good to voters—to be able to puff out your chest and tell everyone, “If only you had listened to ME, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

But when the results of your stance are proven to be wrong/misguided, wouldn’t you just want to shut up about it? Or, at the very least in this case, eat some humble pie and feel good for the car industry?


If Romney looks weary here, it’s probably because he’s been expending a lot of energy double and triple-talking his way around the auto industry bailout situation

 

Romney and Santorum, however, don’t see it that way, apparently.

Romney is more egregious, as he’s done some verbal gymnastics in trying to explain his 2008 column in the New York Times. The one entitled, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”

Yeah, that one.

But Romney has not only explained it, he’s re-defended it. Amidst all sorts of facts suggesting that he was dead wrong. His “solution” of a “managed bankruptcy” has very few, if any, people with industry and financial knowledge on board with him. Some have described it as laughable, given the state of the economy in 2008.

Again, strange strategy heading into a primary in—MICHIGAN.

Especially when you’re trailing your opponent by four points, in the latest Detroit News poll (34-30, to Santorum).

What’s next for these GOPers? Some caustic remarks about corn just before traveling to Nebraska? Decrying the movie industry on their way to California?

Romney is airing some TV ads that show him driving around Metro Detroit, waxing nostalgic about his childhood. He talks about going to the Auto Show with his dad. Then he makes an about face and openly wonders, “How could this great industry get itself into such a fix?”

Romney has it wrong. It’s not about how the Big 3 got into the mess (that’s a whole other story), it’s the success story of how they got out of it. But I can see why Romney doesn’t want to harp on that, because he was against the eventually successful solution. And he’s still against it, and would be against it again.

Santorum told the Economic Club of Detroit today that he wouldn’t have bailed the Big 3 out, either. Good for him.

Don’t either of these guys want to win here?

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Feb
14

Whitney

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In the wake of the news of Whitney Houston’s death, you’ve heard a lot of folks say that we’ve lost “the voice.”

It’s true, that Houston, the pop superstar who died at age 48 on Saturday, was an immense talent; certainly the best female voice of her generation. I know I’ll get some argument there, but I don’t care. The woman could belt it out, and her rendition of the National Anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl was as perfect as that song can be sung.

But I squirm a little when “the voice” is discussed as being hushed now in her death, because have we really had Whitney Houston’s true voice in recent years?

And by recent years, I mean about ten.

It’s not as if Houston was singing like it was the late-1980s and early-1990s, right?

Far from it.

I saw a clip of Houston a couple years ago, trying to deliver us those pipes, and to me that was the real tragedy—not what happened Saturday in the Beverly Hills Hilton.

Houston’s physical form died on Saturday, but her voice had been killed off years before, thanks to the usual talent snuffer of alcohol and drugs.

I imagine reaction to her death was similar to that of Marilyn Monroe’s, back in 1962. There was shock, of course, but that was quickly followed by a feeling of fait accompli.

It’s like what I wrote about Michael Jackson after his death in 2009: did you really envision seeing Houston live to the ripe age of 70 or 80?

That would have been terrific, of course, because it would have meant that the drugs and alcohol would have been licked. But I didn’t hold out much hope for that; I don’t know about you.

So the words, “Whitney Houston, dead at age 48,” just don’t hold much shock value for me, as awful as it is for someone to perish that young.

The details of the circumstances of Houston’s death are still trickling in, but we seem to be able to agree that she took some—what else—drugs and alcohol and settled in for a bath. Then she apparently drifted into sleep (wonder why?) and after that, we’re not sure. Could be heart attack, could be drowning. Not sure.

Reports are conflicted as to the nature of her behavior in the days leading to her death. Some say she was cheerful and happy. Others have called her behavior “erratic.” Again, not sure.

The only thing you’re ever really sure about in these kinds of mysterious deaths is that the person is, in fact, deceased. Speculation then runs rampant.

Had she lived for 20-30 more years, maybe Whitney Houston would have rescued at least some of her voice. But I really don’t care about that. We had it and we can always relive it through recordings, YouTube, etc.

I would have liked to have seen a sober Houston recovered from the drugs and the drinking, perhaps further pursuing a movie career, or acting as an advocate for others struggling with addiction.

I would have liked to have seen her host a talk show or become a spokesperson of some sort.

I had given up on her singing career. The voice was gone years ago.

I’d have liked to have seen any of these things, of course, rather than her being buried this week.

The great tragedy of Whitney Houston isn’t just that she wasted her singing talents. It’s that she then blew any chance of having a second, even more fulfilling life that likely would have influenced even more people than she touched with her singing voice.

So yeah, sad.

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When is someone going to officially declare that hockey players are certifiably
nuts?

I mean off-their-rocker nuts, totally and completely out of their minds?

It’s a sport played by Kamikazes, who zoom around an ice rink surrounded by
non-giving hardwood boards, with sharp objects all around them: skates, sticks,
corners of elbows and teeth—those that haven’t been spit out on the bench, that
is.

You think football players are tough? Maybe so, but they also have all their
marbles, because the NFL hasn’t seen a leather helmet since World War II. The
face mask started to come into vogue in the 1950s.

Jacques Plante, the legendary Hall of Fame goalie, tried to put a thin,
flimsy mask on his face in the mid-‘50s and was all but mocked out of the
league. It wasn’t until Plante took one too many vulcanized rubber discs between
the eyes and refused to play without facial protection that Montreal coach Toe
Blake consented to the wearing of the mask—with conditions.

If Plante had trouble seeing the puck, Blake said, then the mask was history
and so was Plante if he had a problem with Toe’s disclaimer.

Plante could see the puck—or, he told his coach that he could see
the puck.

Not that any of Jacques’ brethren followed his lead right away.

Goalies continued to mostly go maskless until, unbelievably, the 1970s.
Only then did the last few bare-faced netminders vanish.

I always thought a goalie not wearing a mask, facing pucks being fired around
his head at upwards of 75 MPH, was akin to a race car driver refusing to wear a
seat belt.

While all this insanity in hockey was going on, the NFL did away with leather
helmets and as the years went on, the quality of the headgear got increasingly
better.

Meanwhile, the NHL eschewed helmets like a
dieting woman waving off a slice of cheesecake.

A few wore them, and they too were derided, as Plante had been. Again, not
until 1979 did the NHL mandate helmets for its players. But there was a
grandfather clause that said players who signed contracts before ’79 had the
option to wear helmets or not.

That’s why Red Wings fans were
treated to the balding head of Harold Snepsts from 1985-88.

The hockey players’ shoulder pads until the Reagan administration were a
rumor.

Don’t get me started on visors.

Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s Jackie Robinson—the league’s first black player—was
in Detroit several years ago, sponsoring an initiative to get more
African-American kids playing hockey in the inner city.

I knew of O’Ree, of course, but I didn’t know that he hid the fact that he
was blind in one eye.

Come again?

“Oh yeah,” O’Ree told me as we chatted in a RenCen lounge. “I was afraid if
they found out I couldn’t see in one eye, they wouldn’t let me play
anymore.”

The irony is that because we’re talking hockey, not only would they have let
O’Ree play, the powers that be might have sent their scouts looking for more
one-eyed prospects.

Hockey players lose teeth, have their faces gashed open and break their
legs—sometimes all before the first intermission. They might miss a shift or
two—or however long it takes a doctor to pull, stitch or set whatever needs to
be pulled, stitched or set.

Toronto defenseman
Bob Baun beat the Red Wings in the 1964 Stanley Cup Finals with an overtime
goal—playing on a snapped ankle.

O’Ree played with one eye.

Amazingly, there has been only one fatality in a game—that of Minnesota’s Bill
Masterton, in 1968, whose head hit the ice after a check. And we’re talking
about 100 years of this ice hockey stuff.

Masterton’s death, by the way, had no effect on players wearing helmets. They
continued to not don them.

I remember watching video of Buffalo goalie Clint
Malarchuk bleeding from his neck like a wide-open faucet after his carotid
artery was slashed by a wayward skate. I can still see the white ice below his
neck turn deep red within seconds.

Malarchuk almost died, but he kept playing after his neck healed.

If you need more convincing that hockey players are coo coo, look no further
than the Red Wings’ Tomas Holmstrom.

Holmstrom played in his 1,000th career NHL game Friday night. Good for him.
That’s not an insignificant milestone.

But that also means that Holmstrom has subjected himself to 1,000 games of
being hacked, whacked, face-washed and throttled—not to mention putting himself
in the crosshairs of powerful slap shots from the point.

Holmstrom is that guy you’ve seen camping out in front of opponents’ nets
since 1996 with utter disregard for his own well-being. Nothing good can come
from stationing yourself where Holmstrom does during a hockey game, but a whole
lot of bad can happen.

Well, there is one good thing that comes from it: scoring goals.

Holmstrom, before Friday’s game, had scored 240 goals in the NHL. I’ll bet
200 of them have come with a very expensive physical price to pay.

Holmstrom isn’t the flashy goal scorer who uses sleight of hand and smoke and
mirrors to deposit pucks past goalies while nary being touched.

Oh no.

Holmstrom is the crazy guy in the war movies who tosses himself onto a
grenade in a fox hole. Only the fox hole, in this case, is the goal crease. The
grenade is the puck. And Holmstrom has allowed his body to be battered and
bruised all in the name of moving said puck across the red line—for 1,000
games.

You figure that if Holmstrom plays about 15 minutes a night, then his 1,000
games represents 250 hours of punishment in front of the net. Can you imagine
being slashed and cross-checked and making yourself a target for shooting pucks
for over 10 days straight?

Holmstrom is the typical hockey player—which means he’s as crazy as a box of
yo-yos. What does he think of all the abuse he’s endured for 1,000 games?

“It’s fun, for sure,” he told the Free Press the other day. “People
just are like, ‘Congratulations, 998, 999. One to go.’ Frequent reminders. It’s
fun.”

I’m telling you, these guys are looney.

Congratulations, Tomas—you crazy SOB.

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