Archive for April, 2012

Apr
30

Monday Morning Manager: Week 4

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Last Week: 1-5
This Week: KC (4/30-5/2); CWS (5/4-6)

So, What Happened?

Nothing much that was good.

It’s been a long and event-filled April, hasn’t it?

MMM can’t remember so much drama in April that didn’t involve the Red Wings.

Unfortunately, the Tigers made news off the field, and when the season is already underway, that’s usually not a good thing.

Brandon Inge was released on Thursday, after the Tigers were swept at home by the Mariners in a series that was eerily similar to Seattle’s visit last April—which happened to be the last time the Tigers were swept in a series of three games or more.

So Inge was given the ziggy after 20 at-bats, two hits, and some shaky glove work. He apparently is set to sign with the Oakland A’s.

The release of Inge was, as MMM alter ego Greg Eno wrote, more of a mercy killing than a transaction.

Then came Friday’s wee hours.

Nothing good can be happening if the GM’s phone is ringing at 3:30 a.m.

Yet that’s what happened to Dave Dombrowski, as he was awoken to the lovely news that LF Delmon Young was under house arrest after a drunken verbal and physical confrontation that may have included some anti-Semitic remarks.

Wonderful.

Oh yeah—the Tigers lost five of six games last week, which seemed to go hand-in-hand with the off-field goings on.

Hero of the Week
MMM’s rule of thumb is that it’s hard to find heroes in weeks that are either strewn with wins or strewn with losses. The former, because there are usually too many to choose from; and the latter, because there are too few.

So the 1-5 week doesn’t provide a lot of pickings, but in this case, MMM doesn’t need a lot of time selecting the HotW.

MMM is naming Drew Smyly, who stared Yankee Stadium and the Bronx Bombers down and cut through them like a hot knife through butter on Saturday.

It couldn’t have come at a better time.

Smyly two-hit the Yankees in six-plus innings, then probably watched in horror as Jose Valverde almost frittered away a five-run lead in the ninth. But Valverde held on and Smyly got his first win. The kid lefty has a miniscule ERA of about one-and-a-quarter after four starts, in none of which has Smyly given up more than one run.

Smyly bailed the Tigers out one day after Justin Verlander labored through a second consecutive rugged start, only to see the bullpen ruin it.

Honorable mention: Austin Jackson, who’s getting it back together after a hot start was followed by a brief nosedive. AJ also authored what MMM likes to call the Greatest Catch ALMOST Made, when he nearly robbed Curtis Granderson of a home run on Sunday.

Goat of the Week

You have to ask?

Delmon Young’s future with the Tigers is tenuous on the heels of Friday morning’s meltdown on the streets of Manhattan.

But, MMM asks: what if the player in question was one of the superstars? Would the local columnists be calling as profusely for that player’s head, as they are for Young’s in suggesting that he be released?

Things that make you go “Hmmm.”

Dishonorable mention goes to that wild and wacky Brayan Villareal, who coughed up Friday night’s game with a display of wildness that would have made Rick Ankiel, the pitcher, blush.

Under the Microscope
Not only is Delmon Young UtM, he ought to be suspended by MLB.

First things first, though. Today Young is set to be evaluated by MLB, to determine what, if any, actions should be taken. MMM feels that a suspension is appropriate, even though some reports indicate Young could be cleared to play as soon as tonight.

Regardless, Young’s actions were so disturbing that the long-term effects could be, well, long. And unpleasant. MMM can’t wait to see what kind of reaction Young gets from the home crowd the next time he steps to the plate at CoPa.

Stay tuned.

Upcoming: Royals, White Sox

The Tigers return back to intra-divisional play this week.

The Royals come calling to start the week, and they’re already a mess, in a season where their kids were supposed to take a step forward. Hasn’t happened yet—not even close.

The Royals already have suffered an 11-game losing streak, and they only recently picked up their first home win.

The Tigers broomed them two weeks ago in KC.

Then it’s the White Sox in town for the weekend.

Rookie manager Robin Ventura has his team playing OK, and their cause is helped by the fact that Adam Dunn, while not tearing up the league, is having a much better season than 2011′s debacle. Of course, it would be almost impossible not to.

Jake Peavy is pitching well and the bullpen has been solid.

To say the Tigers need a big week is MMM telling you something you already know.

The Tigers, after a 5-1 start at home, are 6-7 at CoPa overall. They need to re-establish home field, and there’s no time like the present.

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

Categories : Baseball, Detroit Tigers
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Two Detroit sports underdogs peeled off their uniforms for the last time as members of their respective teams, and they both did it on Thursday.

While that’s not where the similarities end, the endings couldn’t have been more different. The only thing the cessations of their careers have in common is that they happened within hours of each other.

At approximately 4:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon, Brandon Inge was called into the manager’s office, and he certainly must have known what was cooking. When Inge stepped into Jim Leyland’s lair and saw that GM Dave Dombrowski and assistant GM Al Avila were also there, the trio likely didn’t even need to say a word.

Inge was out, given the ziggy by his patient-to-a-fault bosses.

This wasn’t so much a release as it was a mercy killing.

Inge’s baseball career in Detroit had become that rabid dog in To Kill a Mockingbird and the trio of Dombrowski, Avila and Leyland had no choice but to shoot it dead.

Detroit doesn’t have the reputation of Philadelphia or other tough sports burgs when it comes to booing its athletes out of town. The Motor City sports fan has a lot of forgiveness in his blood, sometimes to a fault.

But when it comes to Inge, the much-maligned utility man, there’s no question that the people had spoken. The Tigers organization, like any responsible customer service-based business, had no choice but to listen.

Inge, along with his .100 batting average, was jettisoned after Thursday’s game against Seattle. He was the butt of a wry and mean-spirited joke.

“Who bats after Brandon Inge?”

Answer: the other team.

In the end, there were one too many pop-outs, one too many strikeouts and one too many mistakes in the field. And each was followed by the cascades of booing in Comerica Park usually reserved for the superstar Tiger-killers from other teams.

I believe that last weekend’s unmerciful booing of Inge is what sealed his fate with the Tigers.

As the Tigers dropped three of four to the vaunted Texas Rangers, and as the entire team struggled to match forces with the two-time defending American League champions, Inge was hardly the Lone Ranger—as Leyland would say—when he struggled to to scratch out a hit.

But no Tiger was booed as savagely as Inge was as one at-bat after the other of his ended badly. He was the dead man walking—or in his case, striking out.

There was a stirring and murmuring in the crowd every time Inge strode to the plate against the Rangers, kind of like there is in those courtroom scenes in the movies.

A weekend of this and the organization that shuns drama decided to put an end to it on Thursday.

In the end, watching an Inge at-bat was—as the late, great sportswriter Jim Murray would say—like watching a guy walk into a noose.

About three hours after Inge was cashiered, Ben Wallace slipped on his Pistons jersey and his blue headband, and took the floor for what is likely the last time in his 16-year NBA career.

Nine of those seasons were spent in Detroit.

Boos didn’t rain from the Palace, however; far from it.

Wallace, who started the game at the insistence of coach Lawrence Frank, was greeted with a standing ovation by the sparse but grateful crowd. A video testimony of his brilliance as an undrafted player from Virginia Union played during a timeout. His Pistons teammates all donned blue headbands in honor of the man they call Big Ben.

The Pistons won, blasting the Philadelphia 76ers out of the gym, 108-86.

After the game, the 37-year-old Wallace appeared noncommittal about his future. After vehemently declaring that retirement was imminent earlier in the year (via ESPN), who among us will be surprised when he hangs up his sneakers and headband for good?

Inge and Wallace both arrived in town around the same time—Inge in 2001, Wallace the year prior.

Both were blue-collar players in their respective sports with less talent than most of their brethren, but with work ethics that dwarfed most.

Both were, at times, the face of their franchise.

You have now reached the end of the Similarity Zone.

Inge never left Detroit to play elsewhere, even when his bosses tried to show him the door. Wallace, on the other hand, grew mystified by coach Flip Saunders and took his act to Chicago in 2006 via free agency.

Ben Wallace and Chicago weren’t a good match. Just two years after inking a deal with the Bulls, Wallace was shipped to Cleveland. It didn’t work out very well with the Cavaliers, either.

By 2009 Wallace was back in Detroit, yet another prodigal son welcomed back by the sports faithful here.

Meanwhile, Inge was a loyal Tiger. Even when the team replaced his star with the likes of Ivan Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera and, by proxy, Prince Fielder, Inge was like a warped Dickens character.

“Please, sir, I want some more.”

Both Inge and Wallace made All-Star teams playing in Detroit, but while that may appear to be a similarity, it really isn’t. Inge’s All-Star year (2009) was an aberration, while Wallace was a multiple-time All-Star who was Defensive Player of the Year four times.

Then there is the end of their respective careers in Detroit.

Inge was driven out of town, done in by poor performance and customer dissatisfaction. Wallace was lauded and cheered, all the way until he disappeared into the tunnel leading to the Pistons locker room.

But there is one more similarity.

Both Brandon Inge and Ben Wallace wore their team logos as if branded onto their heart. Even though Wallace fled via free agency, it wasn’t anything personal against the city or its basketball fans. It was hardly a surprise when Big Ben returned in 2009.

Inge, for his part, could have done a money grab last summer when the Tigers designated him for assignment. Yet he chose to stick it out, serve his time in the minors and hope for a call-up, which he got.

It’s ironic that this final similarity did nothing to diminish the extreme disparity of how Inge’s and Wallace’s commitment to their team and their city influenced their exits.

Detroit vilified Inge, but portrayed Wallace as a hero.

Go figure.

Apr
27

Some Answers, But More Questions

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There is a notion, and one that I hold to be true more often than not, that says a serial killer or group of killers doesn’t stop killing until they’re caught or are dead.

There’s no real incentive, when you think about it, for the sociopaths and otherwise mentally ill killers to stop without provocation to do so.

Why would they? They’re crazy enough, in the first place, to commit such atrocities, and part of the thrill for them is the cat and mouse game played between police and killer(s).

The serial killer is usually very smart (though demented), organized and purposeful, albeit that purpose is often lost on the sane.

The serial killer doesn’t just wake up one day and decide to stop killing. There may be gaps between murders, but they almost always continue until the perpetrator is no longer able to commit them.

So the assertion today on Detroit radio that those responsible for the Oakland County Child Killings are still alive, should be met with a bunch of raised eyebrows.

Note I said “those who are,” not “he (or she) who is.”

The killings, which occurred in 1976-77, are now 35 years in the rear view mirror. They just stopped one day, lending credence to the belief that the person(s) responsible was/were unable to continue the violence.

I always believed the OCCK were the work of one man. A popular (barely) belief is that the perp was someone named Christopher Busch, who committed suicide in 1978.

Makes sense.

But today on Charlie Langton’s show on WXYT-AM (1270), Debra Jarvis, mother of one of the victims, asserted through her attorney Paul Hughes that several people were involved in the killings, and she bases that on the leads provided by an informant known simply as “Bob.”

A federal lawsuit was filed this week by Jarvis against the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office, Michigan State Police and others for failing to turn over investigative information requested by the families.

Jarvis, mother of victim Kristine Mihelich (10), told Langton, “I have been in contact with him (Bob) for the past two years and he has information beyond the old newspaper articles… He may be our answer.”


Kristine Mihelich, 10 years old when killed in January 1977
 

Mystery Bob has often gone underground on a whim, sometimes when he’s been frustrated by his perceived lack of cooperation by police in regards to his information.

The eyebrow-raising part of all this, to me, is the notion that several people were involved, not just one individual.

Barry King, father of victim Timothy King (11), believes the aforementioned Busch was involved, but King also thinks Busch was just one of several people involved.

“I believe there were a lot of people involved,” Barry King said on Langton’s show today.

Through Hughes, “Bob” says that the group may have been tied to at least six other murders after the OCCK, but they stopped leaving the bodies in public after nearly being caught doing so with Timothy King’s body.

One of the killings, “Bob” says, occurred out of state.

So why did the killings stop, if several people were involved?

Did the gang break up? Did they all die at once? Were they all arrested?

The claims by “Bob” at first blush seem to answer some questions. But, alas, they also appear to simply create brand new ones.

Such is the life of a 35-year-old cold case.

Categories : crime, Enotes, society
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Apr
24

Thanks (?) For the Memories

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That Marilu Henner—she remembers everything.

No, really—she does.

The actress Henner, 60, is one of 12 people on this planet who has been diagnosed with hyperthymesia, which has nothing to do with temperature, though it sounds like it does.

It has to do with memory.

Henner can literally recall every day of her life after her baptism. Give her a date, any date, and she can tell you details, no matter how mundane.

A skeptic might say, “Well, how do we know that she’s just not making the memories up?”

I think that’s a fair question.

But only 11 others have this ability/condition/skill, so there must be some tests that are conducted to prove hyperthymesia exists.

Henner, without hesitation, recalls the day she found out she got the part of Elaine on TV’s wildly successful “Taxi.”

She tells Inquisitr.com, “It was June 4 of 1978. It was a Sunday and I found out at the ‘Grease’ premiere party. ‘Taxi’ is so vivid to my mind. The very first rehearsal was July the 5th of 1978. That was a Wednesday and our first show was shot the 14th, a Friday.”

Impressive but not unheard of, to recall such a significant moment.

But that’s the rub. Those with hyperthymesia can recall every single day of their lives, landmark moment or not.

Henner describes it thusly: Whenever she’s given a random date in her life, Henner sees “all these little movie montages, basically on a time continuum, and I’m scrolling through them and flashing through them,” she says.

That either sounds very cool or kinda scary; not sure which.


Elephants have nothing on Henner

Possessing such an iron clad memory would seem to have its downfalls. I don’t know if I’d want that many memories clogging my brain, like an overstuffed file cabinet.

But Henner must not mind, because she’s eager to talk about it and has written a book, “Total Memory Makeover.” In fact, to her, hyperthymesia provides Henner with a sense of self-significance.

“It’s that defense against meaninglessness. I’m not just occupying time.  There’s some significance to what I’m doing and how I’m living my life,” she says.

I remember watching actor Ed Begley, Jr. on David Letterman’s show years ago and he has the ability to tell you the day of the week of any date in history, within seconds.

Very impressive, but that’s mainly a mathematical formula that Begley uses. It’s not true memory.

Marilu Henner can recall everything, of everyday of her life. Without fail.

Despite her proclamations to the contrary, I still say, “Better her than me.”

After all, Henner can never say that something slipped her mind.

That’s too much pressure!

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Apr
23

Monday Morning Manager: Week 3

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Last Week: 4-3

This Week: SEA (4/24-26); at NYY (4/27-29)

So, What Happened?

The Tigers did what they needed to do in Kansas City and then scuffled at home against the buzzsaw that is the Texas Rangers.

The Royals and Rangers are two teams going in completely opposite directions, and the Tigers’ results reflected that: a sweep in KC, and a 1-3 record against the Rangers in Detroit.

The Rangers are a bunch of mashers who put more pressure on you than a pop quiz. They hit, they run, they steal, they milk pitch counts, they pitch and they field. Other than that, they’re not much of a team.

In between games of a DH on Saturday, the Tigers optioned maligned and struggling LHP Daniel Schlereth to Toledo and purchased the contract of RHP Thad Weber, who had a 0.75 ERA in 12 innings with the Mud Hens.

Schlereth needed to be put out of his (and the fans’) misery, with a 10.29 ERA this season as he pitched batting practice every time out. MMM would agree, as Schlereth was last week’s Goat.

On Sunday, Terry Foster of the Detroit News suggested that another player be put out of his misery as well. MMM will give you one guess who that is!

On Monday, a certain ace’s pitch count became an issue (more on that in a few sentences).

Hero of the Week

In what is sure to be a constant theme, MMM is going with Justin Verlander, who has already had to play the role of Tigers’ stopper—winning over the Rangers on Saturday (Game 2) in a game that felt like the “must win” variety, even though it was just April 21.

Were it not for JV, who also won on Monday in KC, the Tigers would have been swept in four games by the red-hot Rangers.

For whatever reason, Saturday’s game two felt like desperation for the Tigers, who were outclassed by Texas by an aggregate score of 20-6 in the series’ first two games.

Enter Verlander, who labored through six innings (115 pitches) of annoyingly patient and hard-working Rangers bats, allowing just one unearned run and doing what an ace does: shut down the opposition when it’s badly needed.

On Monday, Verlander pitched a complete-game, 131-pitch epic match to notch his first win of the season.

That outing sent Tigers Nation all atwitter, literally and figuratively. The phones lit up the switchboard of talk radio like a Christmas tree with folks debating whether manager Jim Leyland was either reckless or fearless in leaving JV in for all those pitches.

The final pitch, a 100 mph strike at the knees and on the black, froze Alex Gordon with the bases loaded.

MMM, for one, loved the drama and thinks all the hand-wringing is for naught.

Honorable mention: rookie LHP Drew Smyly, who had two strong outings and survived a blistering line drive right between the numbers on the back of his jersey in Kansas City.

Goat of the Week

MMM would love to give this award to Schlereth yet again, but why speak ill of the dead?

Instead, MMM’s vitriol is reserved for last week’s UtM designee, Brandon Inge.

Inge, as Foster accurately wrote, seems to be letting the fans’ treatment get to him. He has one hit this year (albeit a game-winning HR) and his at-bats continue to be laced with pop-ups and strikeouts. Even his supposedly reliable glove was suspect last week, committing errors and making poor decisions.

We could be seeing the first drumming out of town of a Tiger by fan treatment and pressure since Jason Grilli.

It’s a perfect storm: Inge’s already polarizing presence; his poor hitting; his shaky glove; and the fact that, sans Schlereth, there really isn’t another Tiger who the fans are angry with.

Under the Microscope

MMM is tired of putting Inge here, so this week’s UtM designee is Rick Porcello.

MMM is putting Ricky UtM because of MMM’s curiosity re: how Porcello will respond to his first awful outing of the year: Saturday’s one-inning, 8 ER, 10 hit debacle.

Entering Saturday, Porcello had pitched 14.2 innings and allowed just three earned runs.

His ERA jumped from below 2.00 to over 6.00 in one start.

So just when you thought Porcello might be ready to take the next step toward being a reliable starter, he craps the bed against the Rangers. Granted, Texas can mash, but MMM is worried that Saturday was more indicative of who Porcello truly is, rather than what his first two starts showed.

We’ll see come Thursday, when Porcello toes the rubber against Seattle.

Upcoming: Mariners, Yankees

Just like last week, this week features a warm up act prior to the main event.

Last week it was the Royals before the Rangers; now it’s the Mariners before the Yankees.

Seattle was the victim of a perfect game on Saturday by Chicago’s Phil Humber. The Mariners are offensively challenged, the perfect game notwithstanding, as that can happen to anyone.

But the Mariners can pitch a little bit, and last year in an early-season series in Detroit, the Ms swept the Tigers, and they took two of three in Seattle in April, too. So they’ve played the Tigers tough lately.

But the Mariners’ offense is pitiful; the leading hitter among regulars is batting .275 and many of the starters are below .250 with no power. Even 1B Justin Smoak, who has terrorized the Tigers recently, is scuffling at .203 with two homers.

Ahh, but then it’s the Yankees, in New York.

Another early season litmus test, MMM thinks.

You can’t overstate the importance of games with teams like the Yankees, who the Tigers don’t play very often. This will be their only trip to New York—in the regular season.

The Yanks are off to a fine start and that includes aging SS Derek Jeter, who’s hitting above .360. Curtis Granderson had a three-homer game last week and has six taters overall.

They famously came back from a 9-0 deficit on Saturday in Boston, scoring 14 runs in the seventh and eighth innings to win, 15-9.

The Yankees also remember all too well that their season ended on their home turf last year at the hands of the Tigers, with Alex Rodriguez swinging and missing in Game 5 of the ALDS.

Should be a blast in the Bronx!

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

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The fact that no one wanted the football player from Scottsbluff Junior College—that’s in Nebraska, by the way—and thus never drafted him turned out to be par for the young man’s course.

No one wanted Richard Lane, from the moment he was born. Literally.

Twenty-five years before showing up at the Los Angeles Rams’ training camp, looking for a job because the one he had at an aircraft factory was unfulfilling, baby Richard was taken in as an abandoned infant in Austin, TX.

True story.

The woman was named Ella Lane, and she raised Richard as her very own.

Richard Lane grew up with an athlete’s body: gangly arms and a long torso. No one wanted him at a four-year university, so he played a year for Scottsbluff JuCo.

The theme of no one wanting Richard Lane was a running one.

Lane was a defender and a receiver for Scottsbluff, but football didn’t really grip him. So it was off to the Army for four years, serving in that brief peacetime between WWII and the Korean War.

Lane got a job at an aircraft factory during the Korean conflict. That didn’t really grab him, either.

With his resume thin on experience in anything else, Lane decided to give football another shot.

So he shows up as a walk-on at the Rams camp in 1952, and the coaches look at him and think he’s got a receiver’s body: tall and lanky with those long arms.

The Rams were the NFL’s glamour team back then. They scored on the field and off it. The quarterback, Bob Waterfield, was married to knockout actress Jane Russell.

Lane even took a receiver’s number, 81, in anticipation of joining the Rams’ talented pass-catching corps.

It was the number he wore into Hall of Fame status—as a defensive back.

Richard Lane didn’t impress so much as a receiver, but he took to practicing with the defense, and it was realized that those long arms and that size could be just as useful in defending passes as in catching them.

The Rams had a receiver, Tom Fears, and he liked playing a popular song of the day on his phonograph (that’s right): “Night Train,” a jazzy number by Jimmy Forest.

The Rams players levied the nickname “Night Train” on Richard Lane because of the ferocity with which he tackled. Richard didn’t care for it at first, but the moniker grew on him.

It grew on him partially because one of his vicious tackles was described in print in the L.A. papers as “Dick ‘Night Train’ Lane derails Charlie ‘Choo Choo’ Justice.”

Just like that, Richard became “Dick” and “Night Train” in one fell swoop.

Night Train’s whistle didn’t alert ball-carriers nearly soon enough before they were leveled by a favorite Lane defensive method: the now-illegal clothesline tackle.

It became Lane’s signature move. He rarely made a tackle below the jaw line.

They even had a name for it: The Night Train Necktie.

Lane could tackle, yes, but in 1952, in his rookie season—the walk-on made the team as a DB with flying colors—Night Train set a league record for interceptions, with 14.

It was a 12-game season in 1952. And today, some 60 years later, with the NFL playing a 16-game season since 1978, Lane’s single-season interception record still stands. It hasn’t really been threatened in years, in fact.

Lane was traded by the Rams to the Chicago Cardinals in 1954. He played six seasons for the Cards before being dealt to Detroit. By that time—1960—Night Train was the unquestioned premier cornerback in football.

Lane played the secondary but tackled like a middle linebacker. He was feared for what he could do with the football in the air and with it tucked under a receiver’s arm.

Night Train made All-NFL in his first four seasons with the Lions. He had a tight end’s size and the countenance of a bear awakened early from hibernation.

After Lane retired from the Lions in 1965 at age 38, the defensive back position became less about brawn and more about elegance and style. Rules changed. The clothesline tackle was out, for example. Being physical with receivers didn’t earn respect, only penalty flags.

The position became dominated by players like another Lion, Lem Barney, and Mel Renfro of Dallas and Herb Adderley of the Packers—smaller finesse guys with catlike quickness.

And they wore numbers in the 20s, not 81.

And they were all drafted. And presumably not abandoned shortly after birth.

It’s not talked about a whole lot, but I wonder if Night Train Lane’s 14 interceptions in 1952 will be eclipsed someday. Today’s players have four more regular-season games to work with than Lane had, yet they still can’t touch his record.

Night Train died over 10 years ago, in January 2002. After his playing days, he became a champion of Detroit’s inner city kids, working especially closely with the Police Athletic League. With PAL, he tried to give drugs and gang life the Night Train Necktie.

Richard Lane comes to mind as we move closer to another NFL Draft.

The undrafted player is, at the very best, only the 225th-best college football player in the country, theoretically. Thirty-two teams, seven rounds, and that makes 224 drafted kids.

But when you consider how many young men play college football—including all the NCAA Divisions and the junior colleges—being no. 224 ain’t bad.

But it still isn’t likely to equal winning a job in the pros.

As for the undrafted players?

Vegas wouldn’t touch their odds.

Richard Lane probably wasn’t calculating odds or consulting polling experts when he showed up at Rams camp in 1952 as an undrafted, unfulfilled aircraft factory worker.

He just wanted to try football again.

Assessing the skills of college players in 1952 didn’t involve nearly the due diligence we see these days. But could even today’s NFL personnel gurus miss out on a Night Train Lane, with all their bells and whistles of preparation and surveillance?

Undrafted free agents flood NFL training camps every summer. Few make their respective teams. Even fewer become stars.

Richard Lane’s life before pro football was something ripped from a dime store novel.

Abandoned as an infant. Played one year of football for a junior college. Took four years off from the sport to serve in the Army. Arrived uninvited to the day’s most glamorous pro team’s camp. Tried out at receiver but was moved to cornerback. Set a new record for interceptions in one season, as a rookie. Became a Hall of Famer and was named the best defensive back of all time for the NFL’s first 50 seasons.

Wonder what Vegas would have given those odds.

Will there be another Night Train Lane, left unchosen at this year’s draft?

Well, there hasn’t been one in 60 years, so why should the streak end now?

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A pitcher’s start on April 16, unless it results in a no-hitter, ought not have the kind of buzz, scrutiny, debate, outrage and hand-wringing as Justin Verlander’s did, Monday against the Royals.

Yet it did.

That’s what throwing 131 pitches will do around these parts.

The trouble with Verlander is that he’s a freak—a pitching specimen not seen around Detroit since the ball was dead and there weren’t any numbers on the backs of the jerseys.

And because Verlander is a freak, we don’t really know what to do with him.

He’s strong enough and durable enough to zing 130+ pitches into the catcher’s mitt, many north of 95 mph. Yet he’s also important enough that if he were to be lost for any significant amount of time, the Tigers might as well forfeit.

So we want to see Verlander finish what he started, because he is, in a way, his own de facto closer. You can make a case that a Justin Verlander, after 100+ pitches, is still your best bet in the ninth inning of a save situation—better than even the man who saved 49-of-49 attempts last season, Jose Valverde.

Manager Jim Leyland gave Verlander a shot at the now elusive complete game last week against Tampa. That didn’t go so well, if you recall. But the men who followed JV to the mound didn’t do him any favors, either.

But that game against the Rays was another freakazoid outing by Verlander: eight innings of one-hit ball, with not even 90 pitches thrown.

A “no brainer,” as Leyland said, when it came to running Verlander out to the mound in the ninth inning.

Monday night in Kansas City wasn’t a no-brainer, not at all.

Verlander had eclipsed 100 pitches, yet went out to finish what he started, with a 3-1 lead. The one KC run came way back in the first inning, which in a Verlander start might as well be last week, for the way that he can distance himself from early damage.

Personally, I thought it was great baseball theater, watching Verlander struggle and put men on base and allowing the second Royals run to cross the plate.

Will Leyland take him out, or leave him in?

After the second runner was placed on base, Leyland chugged out of the dugout.

But he didn’t remove Verlander. He didn’t even look at the bullpen. It was marvelous.

The bases became loaded after a hit batsman—the no. 9 hitter—and leadoff hitter Alex Gordon could have won the game with a simple base hit.

But nothing is simple against Justin Verlander, not even in the ninth inning after over 125 pitches.

Maybe especially in the ninth inning, after 125+ pitches.

Gordon’s at-bat was as heart thumping and exhilirating as any you will see in a game played in Kansas City on a Monday night in mid-April. Or in New York in late September.

I loved it. I loved the drama. And I loved the ending: a 100 mph fastball at the knees and on the black, taken for strike three.

With no margin for error, Verlander had thrown the unhittable pitch.

So who cares if it was 131 pitches? Who cares if it might have seemed reckless? Who cares if 29 of the 30 managers wouldn’t have done what Jim Leyland did?

It was great theater and Justin Verlander will be just fine and all the scuttlebutt is much ado about nothing.

Categories : Baseball, Detroit Tigers
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Apr
19

From Bandstands to Pyramids

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There was some cruel irony toward the end of Dick Clark’s life.

Clark, the TV producer giant who passed away yesterday at age 82, seemed to be ageless for decades. Many a crack was made about Clark’s youthful-looking face and how he looked no older in 1975 than he did in 1955.

It was true. Clark’s full, bushy head of hair and twinkling eyes were TV staples almost from the moment he started a local show based in Philadelphia named “Bandstand,” way back in 1952.

The name later was changed to “American Bandstand” as the show grew in popularity and went national.

Clark eventually branched out to game show producing, which made a mint for colleagues like Merv Griffin and Ralph Edwards. Clark made a mint, too, whether behind the scenes or in front of the camera, hosting shows like “The $10,000 Pyramid,” which later upped its title ante to $25,000.

But “American Bandstand” was always his baby and the show Clark was most closely associated with until he helped us ring in the New Year back in 1972 . It didn’t hurt that fellow industry giant Barry Manilow penned and sang the official “Bandstand” theme song.

Through it all, Clark’s ageless looks were his trademark.

That’s why I say cruel irony invaded, toward the end.

Dick Clark didn’t age for over 40 years, then all of a sudden he became old faster than bananas left on the kitchen counter.

A stroke was the main culprit, robbing him of much of his coherent speech and severely contorting his face, which wasn’t so young-looking anymore.

It was wince-inducing, watching Clark gamely try to make it through the countdown to the ball dropping in Manhattan on recent New Year’s Eves. He was difficult to understand, his voice was like sandpaper, and you half wished Dick would have gently backed away from “Rockin’ Eve” duties entirely.

But easy for me to say when someone who had cameras and microphones coursing through his blood for just about his whole life, should call it quits.

Clark didn’t age for decades, then aged all at once, it seemed.

This is another legend leaving our midst, make no mistake about it. Just because the recent Dick Clark wasn’t the Dick Clark we remembered—physically—doesn’t mean his place in television history is any more threatened.

Clark’s production company brought us hundreds of thousands (at least) of hours of TV enjoyment. He didn’t host them all—he couldn’t, possibly—but he was as integral as one could be to their creation and longevity.

Clark took a small gamble back in 1998 when he put Donny and Marie Osmond back together, this time as talk show hosts. Would the nation watch the brother and sister tandem in a different milieu than their more customary variety show one?

They did, and the show lasted two strong seasons. Another Dick Clark success story.

Clark was also marvelous as host of “Pyramid,” and you could tell that he had emotional investment in the show and was closely involved with the game’s rules and format. When contestants would play for the “big money,” one-on-one with a celebrity with that big pyramid board flipping its squares above as the clock ticked, it was Clark who set the stage with his last-minute instructions and his famous, “Ready—GO!”

It was also Clark who would gently remind the contestants of where they erred and how they could have done it differently. Always with empathy, never with smarm.

Dick Clark never got old, until the very end.

You can’t say the same about his legacy; that truly is timeless and will never age.

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Apr
18

Phoney Baloney

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I’m about ready to rip the phone out of the wall. All four of them.

You ever walk by those skeletons of days gone by—the pay phone? Or rather, where a pay phone used to be? The useless wires dangling from the back of the unit, the actual phone itself long gone?

That’s what I’d like our bedrooms and kitchen and basement to look like—the remnants of where a land line phone used to be.

They say that the land line is about to go the way of the pay phone. That time can’t come soon enough, frankly.

The only reason we have land line phone service, nearest I can tell, is to be harassed at all hours of the day and night. Because it certainly isn’t to make phone calls, or to receive any meaningful ones.

My wife and I use our cell phones to place calls, even from the home. Same with our daughter. My wife’s mother, who we live with, takes only a handful of calls a month—usually from doctor’s offices, confirming appointments. And mom-in-law doesn’t really place any calls, either.


Weapon of mass frustration


The other 98% of the time, the phone rings with the telecommunications version of e-mail spam.

How and when did this happen? When did the home telephone, i.e. the “land line,” turn into nothing more than an annoyance whose ringing wants me to stick knitting needles into my eyes?

The average phone “conversation” in our house, when it involves an incoming call, lasts about two seconds, on average. That’s because the first thing we hear is the obvious bleatings of a pre-recorded message.

That’s when the receiver gets hung up, forthwith.

The home telephone used to be a lifeline of sorts. Maybe even a life blood. Remember how lost you’d feel when the phone service would go out? There was a feeling of disconnect—literally—from the outside world.

There was nothing sadder than the sound of dead silence when lifting a phone whose service was down.

Now, I would give my left ear to have the damn thing shut off for good.

The only reason we maintain land line service is that we have our Internet service through the phone company. It seems like too much work to combine our phone and satellite TV services.

So we have the desire to remove our phones but we lack the will, apparently.

The result is that we pay some $40 a month to be harassed.

Forty bucks a month to hear that we are winners of cruises we never entered the contests of; $40 to be asked several times a month of anyone in our household has diabetes; $40 to be hung up on when we answer the phone (that’s the one that gets me).

We sometimes let the offending calls go to the machine, but 2/3 of the time no one leaves a message.

Can’t be that important, then.

The phone used to be the center of a hotbed of activity. It’s how play dates were made, how we spoke to businesses, how we got news from our family members.

It would also strike fear into the hearts, when it dared to ring at 3:00 a.m.

Nothing good happens at 3:00 a.m, except child birth, and no one calls about that until after 9:00.

So we have four of these instruments of harassment plugged into our walls: one in the basement, one in the kitchen, and two in bedrooms. We literally groan when they ring. No kidding.

Somehow, like the pay phone, the land line phone became a victim of cell phones, the Internet, and plain old apathy.

It now almost represents a simpler time of letter writing, bike riding and manual transmission.

The land line phone—a museum artifact in our very own homes!

But get it out of my house. Seriously.

Categories : Enotes, society, technology
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Apr
16

Monday Morning Manager: Week 2

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Last Week: 3-3
This Week: at KC (4/16-18); TEX (4/19-22)

So, What Happened?

The Tigers lost a player, added a lightning rod to the active roster, saw two starting pitchers make their 2012 debuts (one a MLB debut), watched in stunning horror as they lost a game started by Justin Verlander, and are trying to ride out a 0-for-17 slump by one of their superstars.

It was quite a Week-After-Opening Day.

Outfielder Clete Thomas was lost to the Minnesota Twins via waivers, and on Saturday the Tigers activated IF Brandon Inge from the DL.

Drew Smyly lasted four innings in his maiden MLB start but pitched pretty well. Adam Wilk started Saturday and did OK.

But it was Verlander’s shocking loss, midweek, that had Tigers fans everywhere buzzing.

Taking a one-hit shutout into the ninth against Tampa, JV got away from what had been working, got over excited, and was tagged with four runs as the Rays beat him, 4-2.

A 5-0 start for the Tigers looked imminent when Verlander strode to the mound to start the ninth, but it didn’t take long for the Rays to kick up their heels in a half inning that seemed to last forever (actually, over 35 minutes). When the dust settled, the Rays scored four runs off Verlander, Daniel Schlereth and Jose Valverde.

Count MMM among the stunned.

But the Tigers bounced back with a win the next day to go 5-1 on their season-opening home stand.

Hero of the Week

MMM likes Rick Porcello, who made two terrific starts last week: 14.2 IP, 3 ER. He salvaged a game in the White Sox series, after taming the Rays on Tuesday.

Porcello, if he can pitch like this, will be an enormous lift to the Tigers’ cause. MMM doesn’t expect results quite this good, but the starts were nonetheless encouraging for a kid trying to find consistency in his performance.

MMM was gleeful, watching Ricky-Por turn the White Sox bats into limp noodles. How many tappers back to the mound did Porcello induce? Seemed like 10.

Honorable mention: backup catcher Gerald Laird, who had three hits (including a home run) filling in for Alex Avila during Sunday’s win.

Goat of the Week

As mentioned above, Cabrera is 0-for-17 lately, but MMM just can’t name him GotW.

That dishonor goes to southpaw Schlereth, who can’t seem to get anyone out this year—not even lefty batters.

Mark’s kid poured gas on Verlander’s start, and just hasn’t been very good. At all.

Frankly, MMM is losing patience with Mr. Schlereth, because if he can’t retire lefties, then what good is he?

Under the Microscope

Oh come on; you need MMM to tell you?

Why, Brandon Inge, of course!

MMM isn’t crazy about naming Inge, either, because of fatigue over the Man You Hate to Love.

But MMM would be derelict in his responsibilities if he didn’t name Inge, coming off the DL and ready to play, for better or worse.

You know the drill. Inge plays, Inge enrages, Inge comforts, Inge smirks, Inge is defiant.

Rinse. Repeat.

He was the DH on Sunday (hold the jokes) but figures to rotate at 2B with Ramon Santiago and Ryan Raburn. A three-headed monster at 2B? As of now, yes.

Upcoming: Royals, Rangers

A three-game set at Kansas City is this week’s opening act.

The REAL excitement should be at CoPa, when the two-time defending AL Champion Texas Rangers invade on Thursday for four super-charged games.

What an early season treat!

MMM can’t wait to see this ALCS re-match.

Verlander will go on Saturday, in case you were wondering. He opens the Royals series tonight.

As for the Royals, the Tigers ought not overlook them. KC is brimming with young, up-and-coming talent, and MMM feels that finally, the Royals are getting it right.

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

Categories : Baseball, Detroit Tigers
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