Archive for May, 2012

May
31

Lidstrom’s Stealth Perfection Irreplaceable

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When Nick Lidstrom first suited up for the Red Wings in 1991, George Bush was president—the first Bush. The Tigers’ first baseman was Fielder—the first Fielder. Joe Dumars was hard at work at the Palace—as a player. The Lions were having a season that would find them in the NFC Championship Game.

It was a long time ago.

In 1991, we had no idea that this Swedish defenseman, an NHL rookie, would grow up to be the greatest blueliner of his time—and maybe of all time.

It wasn’t like when Bobby Orr burst onto the scene in the 1960s. With Orr, greatness seemed inevitable. Orr was unlike anything we’d seen before. Before Orr, no defenseman made an end-to-end rush. No defenseman could skate like Orr. No defenseman could pass like Orr.

NHL defensemen before Bobby Orr treated the rink as if there was a force field beyond the center red line. They were among the worst skaters and were often placed on defense because of that lack of ability. Being a defenseman was like being the kid deposited into right field during a game of pickup baseball. Or the street football player who was told on every play to “go long.”

The NHL defensemen of the Original Six era scored exactly one goal each, every season. They had more bruises on their body from blocking shots than they had points. They had names like Doug Harvey and Leo Boivin and Moose Vasko. They were so heavy on their skates they created divots on the ice.

So when Orr arrived, it was like when the electric guitar first screeched on the nation’s 45s.

A guitar can do that?

A defenseman can skate? Shoot? Pass?

Nick Lidstrom snuck up on us. He didn’t do anything in a flashy way. He didn’t wow us. He didn’t reinvent the position, like Orr did.

All he did was play it perfectly—for 20 seasons.

That’s the irony of Lidstrom’s career, which came to an end in one of those press conferences in the bowels of an arena where the athlete toiled. The end came, as it always does, with the athlete wearing Armani instead of Nike and speaking into a single microphone instead of the cluster that is thrust at him in the locker room after the game.

When the news broke yesterday that there was a press conference called for today involving Lidstrom and GM Ken Holland, didn’t we all feel like we were told that the coach wanted to see us, and that we’d better bring our playbook?

We all knew. We tried to theorize that there was some reason, any other reason, for the presser.

But we all knew.

The irony is that Lidstrom was the Perfect Defenseman yet he managed to do so in a manner that rarely stood out.

When you ask a hockey person about what they liked most about Orr there is quite a menu.

When you ask a football fan about Barry Sanders and what they liked most, you might as well have a seat.

Back to the Red Wings: ask someone who watched Steve Yzerman play in Detroit for 22 years about Stevie’s characteristics and the superlatives will flow: toughness; determined; focused; warrior; leader; heart and soul.

But ask the same folks about Lidstrom and there’ll be yammering and stammering before the person finally blurts out “Perfect!”

Yes, that sums it up, but how can someone play his position perfectly yet leave so few words for us to use to describe the perfection?

It was clear that when we paid to see Barry Sanders, we paid to see him juke, twist, stop and start and split into two in order to avoid a tackle.

We paid to see Cecil Fielder hit a baseball over the left field roof of Tiger Stadium—or strike out mightily trying.

We paid to see Yzerman play on one leg, gut through a horrific eye injury, and grind his way over, around and past the Colorado Avalanche.

But what did we pay to see Lidstrom do?

Using a hockey stick like a skilled surgeon would wield a scalpel? Never being out of position? Seeing the rink like Bobby Fischer would see a chess board? Playing the angles like Minnesota Fats played the cushions?

Lidstrom did all of that, but it wasn’t “pay to see it” stuff.

Perfect isn’t exciting. We’re more enthralled by the imperfect with style and panache.

Lidstrom had neither style nor panache. He appeared to blend in, until you bothered to stop and recall a time when he made a mistake—and couldn’t think of one.

So what now, with the announcement of Lidstrom’s retirement this morning?

Well, the Red Wings can go out and sign free agent Ryan Suter. But frankly, they could sign three Suters and I’m not sure it would be an upgrade. And that’s no knock on Suter, any more than saying three Ford Mustangs aren’t an upgrade over a Lamborghini.

First, when discussing the Red Wings without Lidstrom, please refrain from using the R-word.

Replace.

You don’t replace Nick Lidstrom. Let’s get that straight right now.

All the Red Wings can do is cobble together as much talent as they can on defense and hope for the best, really. They’re a much worse team now than they were yesterday, no question.

But all is not lost. Plenty of teams have won the Stanley Cup without the greatest defenseman in NHL history on their roster. I mean, look who’s playing for the Cup right now.

The sun will rise tomorrow. It’s just hard to imagine that it will, after it set on Nick Lidstrom’s career today.

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May
28

Monday Morning Manager: Week 8

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Last Week: 3-3

This Week: at Bos (5/28-31); NYY (6/1-3)

 

So, What Happened?

 

The Tigers were sweepers and sweepees last week.

They spent a horrifying three days in Cleveland to start the week, where clutch hits were as plentiful as snowballs in July. Then it was off to Minnesota to get well—or at least better—at the Twins’ expense. In Minnesota, the offense came alive and even featured the most clutch hit of all—a two-run homer in the ninth ining to turn a deficit into a victory.

The starting pitching was competent, but the defense and base running wasn’t, for the most part. Even the three wins in Minny were tainted by suspect displays of both.

The bottom line? A three-game winning streak (first back-to-back wins since April 18) and maybe some stroked egos heading into Boston.

The week also featured newcomer Quentin Berry, who in just five games has taken the Tigers’ fan base by storm with his hitting, speed and range in center field.

Hero of the Week

MMM likes the aforementioned Berry, who was called up from Toledo midweek because Austin Jackson’s painful side remained painful. Ajax was placed on the 15-day disabled list.

Berry’s debut was met with great skepticism, as the Tigers were continuing to scuffle along. All we knew about him was that he was fast.

Berry is fast, or sure. But in replacing Jackson and also Don Kelly at the leadoff spot, Berry got on base with hits and walks, stole bases, and played a very impressive center field. His presence clearly sparked the Tigers in Minesota.

For someone who nobody had really heard of at the time of last week’s MMM offering, Berry was a very pleasant surprise and already has folks wanting him to remain on the roster when Jackson is scheduled to return this Friday.

Sports talk radio was abuzz after Sunday’s win, chatting up Berry and presenting scenarios by which he would stay on the 25-man roster when Jackson comes off the DL.

MMM was duly impressed as well; Berry started Sunday’s game-winning rally with a base hit, then stole second base.

Honorable mentions: Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, for coming alive over the weekend. Cabby stroked the game-winning homer on Sunday—a monster shot to straightaway center that was vintage Cabrera. Fielder went 9-for-11 in Minnesota and quelled some of the negative talk about him.

Goat of the Week

 

MMM is going to indict the entire team this week, vis a vis the terrible defense that is being displayed on a daily basis.

The Tigers seem to lead MLB in the four-out inning, though MMM doesn’t have any hard numbers on which to base that. Sometimes the Tigers toss in a five or even six-out inning on occasion.

The infield defense, especially, has been rotten of late. Seems the Tigers can’t complete a double play to save their souls.

All this silliness is starting to come back and bite them in the you-know-where.

Wednesday night in Cleveland, Fielder turned what should have been an easy out at home plate into a badly thrown misadventure, allowing the go-ahead run to score in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Reliever Brayan Villarreal played the stooge in Minnesota, botching a sure double play by throwing the baseball to neither the second baseman or shortstop after fielding a come-backer. He also threw wildly on a pickoff attempt.

Jhonny Peralta couldn’t finish a DP on Sunday when he threw high to first base after being given a perfect throw from Rick Porcello.

And those are just a few examples.

MMM thinks the Tigers ought to clean up their defense before they entertain thoughts of catching the Indians and White Sox, much less thinking about playoffs and World Series. Yes, the hitting has been suspect (left the bases loaded twice on Wednesday), but the Tigers are giving away far too many outs on defense.

For all the hand-wringing over whether Cabrera can play third base, MMM thinks we should have been more concerned about Fielder at first base, where he’s been below average.

Under the Microscope

MMM is placing a non-player UtM, and that would be GM Dave Dombrowski.

Why? Because DD has a decision to make when Jackson comes off the DL on Friday.

Who gets lopped off the 25-man?

If Berry continues to be a spark plug this week in Boston, the decision will be even more important—and scrutinized; hence, UtM.

MMM would like to see Ryan Raburn released, but that doesn’t really solve everything, because to leave Ramon Santiago as the starting second baseman would be ill-advised.

It just seems that there ought to be room on the roster for Berry, especially if he keeps this up.

MMM, however, believes that the likely scenario is for Danny Worth to be sent down—again. MMM wonders how many options can possibly be left with Worth.

So UtM goes Dombrowski, because the chatter has already begun re: Quentin Berry and his amazing opening week.

Upcoming: Red Sox, Yankees

 

How about seven games with baseball’s Hatfields and the McCoys this week?

It’s off to Boston for four games, then a return home to face the Yankees after the 10-game road trip.

Neither team is happy where it’s at right now; the Red Sox probably more so. Boston is 23-24, same as the Tigers, and the Red Sox dropped two of three to Tampa Bay at home over the weekend. They lost Sunday eerily similar to how the Twins lost to the Tigers: on a two-run home run in the top of the ninth that turned a one-run deficit into a lead and, ultimately, a victory.

The Red Sox had another lousy start this season, their second straight, and while they’ve played better as of late, they are nonetheless last in what is turning out to be a very interesting AL East race.

The Yankees are in third place, looking up at Baltimore (!) and Tampa.

It’s always a big event when the Yanks come to town, and in recent years Comerica Park has proven to be a House of Horrors for the Bronx Bombers.

Derek Jeter, the only Yankee player that MMM likes, is playing like the Jeter of old, and that’s good for baseball. The Kalamazoo product is a treasure, and it’s nice to see him rebound from a couple of non-Jeter-like years.

Jeter is hitting .342 and running as good as he has in years. The rest of the team hasn’t always followed his lead, but the Yankees are 26-21 and on a five-game winning streak.

MMM believes, though, that this week is less about the high-profile competition and more about the offense continuing to come alive and the infield defense getting tighter. The Tigers aren’t playing the Red Sox and the Yankees this week so much as they are still playing themselves.

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

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Under normal circumstances, I would dismiss the comparisons of a second-year NBA big man to the likes of Hall of Famers Bob Lanier and Willis Reed as so much horsepucky, figuring it to be spewed by an over-exuberant fan who might never have seen Lanier or Reed play a single minute.

I might roll my eyes and lightly smirk at the notion of the Pistons’ Greg Monroe, after just two NBA seasons, having anything more in common with Lanier and Reed other than all three of them are left-handed.

Unless the one making the comparison is Ray Scott.

If you’d ever like to go NBA brain-picking, you could do a whole lot worse than to talk to Scott, who some around town remember as a one time NBA Coach of the Year with the Pistons, but who fewer remember as being one of the best and most consistent big men of his time, playing for the Pistons in the 1960s. Today Scott, 73, is as close to a basketball Yoda as you’ll find in this town.

Scott was a leaping, rebounding, and scoring big man out of Portland University, but he was really a Philadelphia kid. The Pistons nabbed him fourth overall in the 1961 draft, and for most of the decade Scott produced double-doubles (points and rebounds) every night like a Pez dispenser.

One year for the Pistons, Scott averaged 13.5 boards a game, snatching basketballs away from the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Jerry Lucas while the rest of his teammates fought gamely but usually ended up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

That was Pistons basketball in Scott’s day—the losses piled up like dishes in the kitchen of a diner during the lunch rush.

So when Ray Scott says Greg Monroe reminds him of Willis Reed and Bob Lanier, you ought to listen, because Ray played against the former and coached the latter.

Ray was waxing the art of big man play in the NBA last week on “The Knee Jerks,” the weekly podcast I co-host with Big Al Beaton. Ray, always the gentleman, was on hand to help us celebrate our third anniversary of doing the show.

It was then when Scott said something that would have caused me to bop the speaker in the mouth—had the speaker not been Ray Scott.

“With Greg Monroe, we finally have a big man in Detroit who we can throw the ball into for all four quarters and make something happen and we haven’t had that since Bob Lanier,” Scott said of the kid from Georgetown who just finished his second season for a bad Pistons team, which Scott and Lanier know all about.

For full disclosure, Ray wanted us to know that he serves on the board of Monroe’s charity foundation. That’s OK; what he said didn’t smack of shilling. Ray doesn’t roll like that.

Monroe, to hear Scott say it, might become the best NBA center from Georgetown since Patrick Ewing. No less.

It was already galling to hear Ray make the comparisons to Reed and Lanier—until you thought of how many nights Scott and Reed jostled under the boards at Cobo Arena or Madison Square Garden, leaning against one another, waving a hand in each other’s face. And then you just had to think of all the practice sessions with Scott the coach and Lanier the player from 1972-76, when Ray coached the Pistons and Lanier was depositing those 10-foot hook shots over the likes of Kareem and Nate Thurmond and Dave Cowens.

Monroe survived a drama-filled rookie season with the Pistons in 2010-11 under the disrespected coach John Kuester. The 6’10” center/power forward didn’t get off the bench much in the first couple weeks of the season, but by the end of it, Monroe was starting and showing the tender skills that made him attractive to president Joe Dumars.

Year two was when Monroe took his giant leap for mankind.

The numbers shot up, from 9.4 points/7.5 rebounds per game to 15.4/9.7. Even the free throw percentage went way up, from .622 to .739. The confidence soared with the numbers. The team didn’t exactly soar with Monroe, but a 21-21 finish after a 4-20 start was something to build on for next season.

Entering Year three, it’s not crazy talk to call Greg Monroe one of the Pistons’ leaders—on and off the court.

Ah, but there is one area in which Monroe gets dogged a little—a criticism that has followed him like a piece of toilet paper stuck to a shoe.

It’s whispered that he’s not as tough as an NBA big man should be. That there’s a mean streak that Monroe simply doesn’t possess.

Scott, on our show, said that Reed was “as mean as a snake.” Lanier, the coach said, had a toughness that was different than Reed’s but manifested itself in how Bob played through pain and through the turmoil that sometimes beset the Pistons in the 1970s.

It’s unclear, this early in Monroe’s career, whether he’ll develop that nasty edge that is required to be a beast to play against on a nightly basis. Scott, for example, used “easy going” in describing Monroe.

But the strides made in Year Two, combined with the flashes that rookie point guard Brandon Knight showed, makes one wonder if the Pistons have themselves an inside-outside combo in the making not seen since—dare we say it—Scott was coaching Dave Bing and Bob Lanier.

“I like the way (Monroe) goes about his business,” Scott told us this week. “He is easy going but he works very hard and that’s how you show great improvement, as he did this past season.”

Reed’s watershed moment was in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, when he limped onto the Madison Square Garden floor on one leg thanks to a torn thigh muscle, gamely starting against the Los Angeles Lakers and nailing a couple of mid-range jumpers. He only played a few minutes, but his mere presence inspired his teammates to a blowout win for the championship.

Lanier came into the NBA on one leg as well. The St. Bonaventure grad had his leg in traction when the Pistons drafted him in the first round in 1970, the after effects of a nasty knee injury suffered in the 1970 NCAA Tournament.

“Bob had to work hard on a day-to-day basis just on conditioning alone,” Scott recalled.

For 10 seasons Lanier battled his brittle knees, Pistons upheaval and bemusing coaches before being liberated via a trade to the Milwaukee Bucks in 1980. Unlike Reed, however, Lanier never achieved his ultimate goal of an NBA championship, though he came close with the Bucks a couple of times.

Greg Monroe’s greatest moment as a Piston has yet to be realized. Wondering what it might be is enough to warm the cockles of a fan’s heart.

So there you have it. Greg Monroe, just two years into his NBA career, reminds Detroit’s basketball Yoda of a pair of Hall of Fame centers.

Ray Scott is about the only fellow in town who can get away with such hogwash.

Because he’s probably right.

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May
25

Unfathomable? Sadly, No

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For crying out loud, now seven year-olds are hanging themselves.

The suspected reasons? Depression. Bullying.

Neither should apply to a second grader. The latter shouldn’t apply to anyone.

A poor 14-year-old girl in Detroit found her seven year-old brother dangling from his bunk bed. The child had managed to fasten a noose from a belt and hanged himself.

How do seven year-olds even know about hanging, much less how to do it? How does a child of that age pull this horrific act off, physically?

The mental and emotional aspects are just as chilling.

The child was, according to published reports, despondent over his parents splitting up, and there was some bullying going on at school, for good measure.

Enough of each, apparently, to cause the boy to grab a belt, climb onto his bunk bed, and do himself in.

Think back to when you were seven years old. It may be fuzzy but you ought to have memories.

To do so is also an exercise in futility, because most readers of this blog (if I have my demographics right) were likely seven years old in the 1960s, ’70s or ’80s. All decades before the Internet and before bullying became more than a shakedown for lunch money on the way to school.

So it’s an apples and oranges comparison, I know, to recall your life at age seven and the lives of kids today. Maybe not even apples and oranges. Probably apples and liver.

But I ask you to recall age seven in order to start a path to the answer to this question: Where did it go sideways? When did being seven years old become tantamount to being a corporate CEO after Black Friday?

What kind of bullying is going on among seven year-olds that could drive one to kill himself? And how does a child of that age become so mentally broken by his parents’ breakup that he figures his life is over anyway, so might as well accelerate it?

My parents separated when I was 11, got back together twice, then divorced when I was 14. That’s not an ideal age for a boy to lose a father’s influence at home, but there you go. The implications of the divorce on me as a person, I believe, didn’t manifest themselves until well into my adult years.

But at 11 and 14, suicide wasn’t even on the radar for me. There was some shame and embarrassment that my folks weren’t living together, but nothing remotely suicidal.

At half that age, this boy in Detroit hanged himself.

I know I’m asking a lot of questions in this post, but that’s always the bi-product of terrible stories like this—questions, which are plentiful. What’s in short supply are answers.

The 7 year-old hanged himself in this Detroit house
The story being reported says that the boy had been counseled by a pastor and that in addition to the bullying, he was teased constantly for being the only boy in a home with eight girls.

A knee-jerk reaction to suicides which point to bullying is to dismiss the victim as being weak emotionally and/or overreacting to what was being done/said to him.

At least lately, there seems to be more of an accounting of the tormenters. Anti-bullying campaigns have been ratcheted up in recent years. But there’s still the whispered opinion, “It can’t be THAT bad.”

Everyone has a different level of tolerance; that much is true. And, indeed, what might drive Person A bonkers might roll off Person B’s back.

But one thing is certain: if there was no bullying, levels of tolerance wouldn’t matter.

Bullying will never go away completely. But I hope it’s being reduced, thanks to the levels of awareness being raised almost daily.

Bullying, alone, didn’t cause this Detroit youngster to kill himself, according to reports. There is the recent parental split to consider as well.

Yet I have a feeling that the bullying and teasing played more of a role than the breakup.

Was it THAT bad?

Yes—for that little boy.

And if you think his case is an anomaly, consider this.

Of the 36,951 suicides recorded in the U.S. in 2009 by the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, 265 involved children ages 5-14.

Two-hundred and sixty-five. That’s five a week, and that was three years ago.

“It’s just a tragedy on so many levels,” Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee Jr. said Thursday, calling the situation “unfathomable.”

Yes, but clearly one that isn’t as unusual as you might want to think.

Categories : crime, Enotes, school, society
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May
22

The Brit and the Bostonian

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At first blush, it would appear that the male Brit from Isle of Man and the black female from Boston have nothing in common, apart from being singers.

 

The Brit moved to Manchester and then to Australia and grew up in a family of singers, songwriters and musicians, and the American girl, one of seven non-musical kids, stayed in Boston, where, as her mother said, “She literally loved to sing. She used to go through the house singing, singing. She sang for breakfast and for lunch and for supper.”

 

The Brit enjoyed the familiarity of being in a pop group with his two brothers—one a twin—while the American girl spent time as a backup singer for the wildly popular Three Dog Night in the late-1960s, early-1970s before making it on her own as a solo artist.

 

Then the disco rage hit America hard, and suddenly Robin Gibb and Donna Summer had a whole lot in common.

 

It was in 1977-78 when Gibb of the Bee Gees and Summer of, well, Donna Summer, made their splashes on the disco scene. The Bee Gees revived their careers with the soundtrack to “Saturday Night Fever,” and Summer had several hits that made her the de facto Queen of the Discotheque.

 

Robin Gibb, along with fraternal twin Maurice, teamed with Barry to form the Bee Gees, a group that started in the late-1960s as a ballad-singing trio of harmonizers and would end the 1970s as an uptempo, driving group of pulsating dance musicians.

 

Summer was a backup singer for Three Dog Night, a mostly commercial but hit-making group who were constantly at or near the top of the Billboard charts from 1969-74.

 

Gibb, 62, and Summer, 63, both died within three days of each other (May 17 and 20), and both of cancer.

 

The Bee Gees, under the guidance and direction of mega-producer Robert Stigwood, had early success in the late-1960s but by 1973, they were teetering as the hits dried up.Stigwood reinvented his trio of brothers and by 1975 they were recording disco-type numbers like the hugely popular “Jive Talking.” Their record sales went through the roof. Then came the “Fever” soundtrack, and that made the Bee Gees hotter than a firecracker.

 

 

Summer, meanwhile, ventured out on her own in 1974 after leaving Three Dog Night and also in 1975 found Billboard love with the disco tune “Love to Love You Baby.” Summer’s role initially was that of demo recorder, but she got the idea of cooing the lyrics, a la Marilyn Monroe, and even convinced producer Giorgio Moroder to turn out the lights, sit with her on a sofa, and “induce” Summer’s moans and groans, which she blended into the song. After hearing the result, Moroder had Summer’s version released instead.

 

So from different sides of the “pond,” the Brit Robin Gibb and the Boston girl Donna Summer eventually became contemporaries, their songs no doubt played back-to-back on radio stations across the country in the late-1970s.

 

Gibb and his brothers, and Summer didn’t invent or launch the disco craze, though it might seem like it. Some people probably think that they did. But the truth is that the disco era looked to have a short shelf life before the Bee Gees and Summer revitalized it with their music.

 

Bill Oakes, who supervised the “Fever” soundtrack, said of the Bee Gees and the monster album, “Disco had run its course. These days, Fever is credited with kicking off the whole disco thing–-it really didn’t. Truth is, it breathed new life into a genre that was actually dying.”

 

The very same could be said of Donna Summer and her rat-a-tat-tat slew of hits from 1976-80.

 

 

 

Categories : Enotes, Entertainment
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May
21

Monday Morning Manager: Week 7

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Last Week: 3-4

This Week: at Cle (5/22-24); at Min (5/25-27)

 

So, What Happened?

Every time the Tigers get a “big win”, you think it might be the win to trigger a winning streak. Yet it hasn;t happened in over a month.

 

The Tigers continue to be without consecutive wins since April 18, despite a stunning comeback in Chicago on Tuesday and Justin Verlander’s near no-hitter on Friday.

In fact, they were swept in a two-game series at home by the pitiful Minnesota Twins.

The big story was Verlander, who pitched 8.1 no-hit innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Even though JV narrowly missed his third career no-hitter, manager Jim Leyland called Verlander’s gem the best game he’s seen pitched. Ever.

So the Tigers continue to wander around, alternating wins and losses everyday in a monotonous display of mediocrity that is bringing their fan base to a rolling boil.

Hero of the Week

Speaking of monotonous, MMM fears he may be heading that way if he dares to name Verlander  as the HotW yet again.

But while Verlander’s mastery of the Pirates was the big story, MMM is going with Alex Avila in what many of you may say is either a surprise pick, or one that’s just plain odd.

 

There’s method to MMM’s madness.

MMM is hoping that by picking Avila, it might kick start him a little bit—that and the big hit he had in Sunday’s win. With runners on second and third in a tie game in the seventh inning, Avila, against a tough lefty reliever, fought off a couple good pitches before lacing a single through a drawn-in infield to put the Tigers ahead to stay, 4-2.

Avila needed that hit badly, as FSD’s Rod Allen said on the air. The Tigers catcher is one of those “role” players whose part is being played by an understudy, or an impostor.

MMM is hoping that a little HotW love will help get Avila going. Plus, it truly was a big hit he had on Sunday!

Honorable mention: Max Scherzer, for his on-again, 15-strikeout performance on Sunday.

Goat of the Week

MMM is cranky with a few folks, so that makes choosing just one Goat rather difficult.

After careful consideration, MMM is pinning the rap on Don Kelly. 

This may seem unfair, but MMM has never claimed to be the hallmark of justice.

Kelly had a chance to give the Tigers a lift when he took over the center field and leadoff jobs from the injured Austin Jackson, but instead he took one collar after the other, giving the Tigers essentially two straight no. 9 hitters in their lineup.

Jackson’s absence and Kelly’s presence were felt many times over the weekend, as it seemed like several rallies were taking shape when Jackson’s leadoff spot came up in the inning. But Jackson wasn’t there—and Kelly wasn’t, either, as he made out after out.

Kelly is fine defensively but has gone 1-for-17 since replacing Jackson as the starter in CF.

Under the Microscope

This is a group “effort” this week.

MMM saw over the weekend that when guys like Avila, Delmon Young, Ryan Raburn and Jhonny Peralta (Brennan Boesch, too) produce, the Tigers are a MUCH better team. And that’s why the team hasn’t been able to put together a winning streak—those guys just aren’t getting it done consistently, if at all.

 

Avila’s big hit on Sunday cemented what had been brewing in MMM’s sometimes-demented mind: if that kind of hit had been occurring more often from the aforementioned individuals, the Tigers would probably be in first place right now, instead of three games behind.

So MMM is placing the guys mentioned above, collectively, UtM.

If that group of guys gets it going, you’ll start to see winning streaks again—guaranteed.

Upcoming: Indians, Twins

The Tigers travel to Cleveland to face the first-place Indians in late-May.

Sound familiar?

The Indians are doing it again—leading a weak division in the early stages of the season, just like in 2011.

But this time the Tigers are just three games back; last season, the Tigers were as many as seven games behind the Tribe before June.

Cleveland started last season 30-15 before things started to fall apart. This year, the Indians are 23-18.

It’s  hard for MMM to say that a series in May is “big,” but given the Tigers’ current case of the blahs, performing well in Cleveland this week would go a long way toward making everyone feel good about the Bengals.

Plus, who wants to fall any further back in a race than they already are?

Verlander is set to pitch the series finale in Cleveland on Thursday, with one extra day’s rest.

As for those pesky Twins, as MMM said last week, strange things sometimes happen when the Tigers play those guys from Minnesota, and those strange things seem to never work in the Tigers’ favor.

The Twins did win four straight before being clobbered on Sunday. The first two of those wins came in Detroit last week.

But MMM loves that the Metrodome is gone!

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

Categories : Baseball, Detroit Tigers
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The Tigers came out of spring training in Lakeland confident of their hitting. Their lineup was rich with veteran bats and some young ones. The offense didn’t figure to be a problem.

But oh, what about that pitching!

The pitching caused some of the so-called experts to make a face that was consistent with biting into a lemon. There were a couple reliable arms but after that, you might have wanted to pray for rain, a la the old Boston Braves of Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain.

Then a funny thing happened. The offense was slow out of the gate, and the pitching—surprise, surprise—actually became the team’s saving grace.

Chalk another one up against the supposed wise baseball minds.

Sound familiar?

It should—if you’re over 45 years old.

If you thought I was speaking of this year’s Tigers, you’re forgiven. You should also be heartened.

This is the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Tigers—who often are nothing more to people’s recollection than the team that came four years after the heroic 1968 Tigers.

But the ’72 Tigers came within a whisker—pun intended—of making the World Series. And the formula they used was the opposite of what was forecast for them.

The Tigers of 1971 were a power-laden team, filled with those same heroes from 1968.

Norm Cash, still raising the right field roof at age 36.

Jim Northrup, another dangerous left-handed bat.

Bill Freehan, still the league’s best catcher.

Willie Horton, always a big bopper.

Al Kaline, another 36-year-old veteran who made the All-Star team in 1971, as did Cash and Freehan.

Off the bench was Gates Brown, who, if he had been born five years later, might have been the greatest designated hitter in history, let alone just for the Tigers.

Then you had the role players, like Mickey Stanley, Aurelio Rodriguez, Tony Taylor and Dick McAuliffe, all of whom could reach the seats more than occasionally.

So it was understandable that the Tigers felt comfortable with their offense coming out of spring training in 1972; the 1971 team had won 91 games and finished a strong second to Baltimore.

On the mound, the Tigers rotation was anchored by veterans Mickey Lolich (lefty) and Joe Coleman (righty), but after that it was a crapshoot. Lolich and Coleman each won 20-plus games. Then you did a rain dance.

The offense bulled its way to the 91 wins—that and the magic of manager Billy Martin.

Martin was, in a way, the perfect manager at the perfect time for the Tigers in those days.

It’s the tenet of hiring and firing coaches and managers in sports that you replace the fired guy with his polar opposite.

If the fired guy is too nice and too much a “player’s manager (or coach),” then you get a tough guy to take his place.

If the fired guy is too strict, you bring in an old softy who the players can “relate to.”

If the fired guy is quiet, go get a loudmouth. If the fired guy has loose lips, hire a clam with lockjaw.

And so on.

The 1970 Tigers played uninspired baseball for manager Mayo Smith, a hands-off skipper whose laissez-faire ways worked in 1968, to the tune of a World Series championship.

But by 1970, the Tigers were cranky and filled with the distraction of Denny McLain, whose escapades often went unchecked by the passive Smith.

As the ’70 season closed, it was terribly apparent that the Tigers needed a swift kick between the back pockets.

Enter Martin, one of the most celebrated butt kickers of all time.

Martin was still a raw manager in 1970, having guided the Minnesota Twins to the 1969 AL East pennant as a rookie skipper. Martin fought the umpires and his own players on his way to glory. A celebrated incident with pitcher Dave Boswell occurred in the alley behind the Lindell AC in Detroit. Martin gave the term “giving the pitcher the hook” a whole new meaning, as he KO’d Boswell after a night of drinking.

Minnesota fired Martin after one winning but notorious season in what would become a career trend for him.

After the 1970 season, the Tigers dismissed Smith, who on his way out of town claimed the baseball fans of Detroit couldn’t tell the difference between a ballplayer and a Japanese aviator. Smith’s words.

GM Jim Campbell brought in Martin, a manager Campbell admired from afar, and a former Tigers player (1958).

Campbell figured—rightly, really—that Martin was just what the coddled Tigers needed in order to awaken their talented roster.

Martin barged in and ruffled some feathers, but also coaxed 12 more wins out of the team in 1971, challenging the Orioles for much of the year.

All this was the back story as the Tigers opened the 1972 season, 40 years ago.

Well, you know what happened—the hitting went south (.237 team BA) and the pitching outperformed the expectations. And Martin’s veteran team managed to stay in the race all summer.

Campbell brought in some graybeards like lefty Woodie Fryman, who was the 1972 version of Doug Fister (2011) and Doyle Alexander (1987); catcher Duke Sims; and slugger Frank Howard.

The season’s final weekend pitted the Tigers against the Boston Red Sox in a three-game series in Detroit. Thanks to a spring training players strike that cut into the regular season, the Red Sox would end up playing one fewer game than the Tigers.

The Tigers took the first two games of the series, and thus clinched the division pennant. The Red Sox finished one-half game back—thanks in part to playing one fewer game.

The offensively-challenged Tigers, who drastically underperformed with the bats, used surprisingly good pitching and their two veteran starters (Lolich and Coleman—1972’s Justin Verlander and Fister), along with Fryman and some unexpectedly strong bullpen arms, to nip the pack at the finish line.

In the ALCS, Oakland beat the Tigers, 3-2 in a heartbreaking series.

A year later, Martin became too much for the Tigers to handle, so he was canned and replaced by his opposite—the more easygoing Ralph Houk.

The 1972 Tigers were the last Detroit playoff baseball team until the 1984 heroes.

Forty years ago. It hardly seems it—if you can remember it to begin with.

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May
17

What About Bob?

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On the one hand, it’s hard to imagine what possible gain the mysterious man named Bob could have in deliberately misleading and misrepresenting himself as the case-cracker of the Oakland County child killings from 1976-77.

On the other, there are plenty of whack jobs out there, so you never know.

I have written a few times about the killings, which took the lives of four children, ages 10 to 12. It’s a case that fascinates me, not only because I was 12 when the killing started and 13 when they ended, but because it is a high-profile cold case—possibly one of the most notorious in Michigan history.

Bob has gotten back into the headlines again, having conducted a rather bizarre round of interviews with reporters from the law office of Paul Hughes. Of course, Bob was nowhere to be found; the interviews were conducted, one-by-one, via a telephone placed on a table in Hughes’ office.

Bob suggests that he, along with some fellow investigators, have a bunch of very useful information about the killings—if someone would only give him access to certain key parts of the exhaustive investigation that’s been conducted, off and on, since 1977.

On Monday, a 65-minute audio recording was released in which Bob puts forth his theories about the killings, which includes suggestions that the killers (there were at least five people involved, he says) may have committed the crimes on pagan holidays or coinciding with the lunar calendar.

The recording was made in October 2010 as Bob spoke, via speaker phone, with Chief Assistant Oakland County Prosecutor Paul Walton and Undersheriff Mike McCabe.

Bob has enthralled at least two of the victims’ families, but he has hardly impressed prosecutors and other criminal investigators.

“He’s not going to give any information because he doesn’t have any
information,” Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper said Tuesday.

“The most bizarre and saddest thing is that anyone was buying any of this,” she added.

Bob says the bodies may have been deliberately dumped in communities whose first letters were designed to spell out some sort of acronym, if arranged chronologically.

He says a lot, actually, but whether any of it is true is highly debatable. You can listen for yourself HERE

One thing should be certain, whether Bob is credible or not: his 15 minutes are up.

He claims to not be willing to name names or delve further into his theories, because he doesn’t want to jeopardize the investigation, which is funny because he, at the same time, professes an utter distrust of the authorities who have conducted said investigation.

Bob’s involvement is a side show of a $100-million lawsuit being filed by Hughes on behalf of Deborah Jarvis, mother of victim Kristine Mihelich, 10.

No one has met Bob in person—not even Jarvis, who says she’s had “hundreds” of telephone conversations with him over the past several years.

Bob’s 15 minutes are done. He needs to pee or get off the pot, so to speak. There certainly can be some common ground found, when it comes to disseminating his purported information in a way that doesn’t jeopardize anything.

McCabe seems to be speaking common sense when he says, “It’s a pretty sad state of affairs that this thing has turned into a
circus,” he said. “And that’s a huge disservice to the families and
especially the victims.”

Enough of Bob’s games. If he has tangible evidence that can bring closure to the victims’ families, he needs to spill whatever beans he has.

If he doesn’t, Bob, in a way, is no better than those who committed the horrible crimes some 35 years ago. He might even be worse.

Categories : crime, Enotes
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May
14

Monday Morning Manager, Week 6

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Last Week: 3-4
This Week: at CWS (5/14-15); MIN (5/16-17); PIT (5/18-20)

So, What Happened?

The mysteriously quiet bats of the Tigers lingered all week, a maddening, baffling subscript to a season of unexpected mediocrity.

The team even dipped below .500 briefly (16-17), after losing in Oakland on Saturday.

A 10-run outburst on Thursday was followed by three straight games of muted offense as the Tigers split a four-game set in Oakland after dropping two of three in Seattle—another series pocked with lazy, languid offense.

Not surprisingly, two of the Tigers’ three wins came from Justin Verlander.

MMM is getting tired of typing “Brandon Inge,” but he has to do it yet again, as the Tiger-turned-Athletic abused his old team with a grand slam on Thursday and a three-run homer on Friday.

The Tigers also saw the return to the rotation of Doug Fister, and although he didn’t get a win in two starts last week, he pitched brilliantly.

Hero of the Week

Well, MMM certainly isn’t going to give HotW to anyone wielding a bat.

So that leaves the arms, and while MMM was almost giddy over what Fister gave the Tigers in his return from injury, the bottom line is winning, and that pretty much leaves you-know-who.

Justin Verlander rode to the Tigers’ rescue twice, with victories Tuesday and Sunday, both coming with his team under duress.

Tuesday’s win followed a debacle on Monday, when the Tigers (namely, reliever Octavio Dotel) spoiled Fister’s tremendous start by coughing up three runs in the bottom of the ninth in such an act of goodwill, the Tigers should have claimed it on their taxes as a charitable contribution.

Sunday, JV silenced the A’s with seven innings of one-run, two-hit baseball after the Tigers had dropped two straight in Oakland. He’s now 4-1 and hasn’t lost a beat from his glorious 2011 season.

Honorable mention is Fister, who slid right into the no. 2 starter role seamlessly after having not pitched for the Tigers since the second game of the season.

Goat of the Week

MMM is going with Prince Fielder, who is earning his fat contract the same way Milli Vanilli earned their Grammy Award back in the day.

Cecil’s kid is swinging a cold bat these days, and is in the midst of a 0-for-18 stretch.

Fielder is doing nothing to help out Miggy Cabrera, and Prince’s Arctic bat is dragging an already tenuous offense down even further.

At a time when the Tigers need their “big boys” in the worst way, Fielder, as one-half of them, has basically become a rotund stop sign in the Tigers’ batting order.

While Cabrera can still drive in runs when he’s not at the top of his game, Fielder is giving the Tigers nothing at the moment. He’s not immune to slumps—MMM understands that—but his struggles have extended to beyond just last week.

Dishonorable mention is Dotel, whose implosion on Monday night in Seattle surely will go down as one of the quickest and ugliest meltdowns by any Tigers reliever in recent memory. The veteran turned a 2-0 lead into a 3-2 loss with a display of wildness (wild pitches, walks) that was both stunning and hair-pulling.

Under the Microscope

MMM figures that the one human being on the planet who is truly sorry to see Inge leave Detroit is Ryan Raburn. 

With Inge gone, Raburn’s anemic batting average and continued reputation for taking half a season to heat up is now UtM.

Raburn now has no buffer with Tigers fans; no one to share his misery with.

MMM looks at Raburn’s BA, which is not only not his weight but also not the weight of a growing adolescent, and shakes his head. Here we go again.

How much longer can the Tigers carry a player who doesn’t get it going until after the All-Star break?

But the UtM designation is for the venom Raburn is sure to be getting in the immediate future on sports talk radio and in the blogosphere and around the water coolers for his utter lack of production thus far.

Upcoming: White Sox, Twins, Pirates

It’s a rare three-team week on deck for the Bengals.

First it’s off to Chicago in an attempt to end the nine-game road trip with a 5-4 record.

But that will take a two-game sweep, and the Tigers haven’t won consecutive games since April 18, which was so long ago, the Pistons were still playing.

Tonight it’s rookie sensation Drew Smyly against veteran lefty John Danks, to kick things off.

The Minnesota Twins and their MLB-worst record invade Comerica Park on Wednesday for a pair of midweek games. The Twins aren’t flukey bad—they’re just plain bad, and again injury-prone.

But things have a habit of taking a turn for the bizarre whenever the Tigers and Twins get together, so we’ll see.

The weekend will see the first interleague play of the season, when the perpetually-under-.500 Pittsburgh Pirates visit.

Last week, MMM said he was a little wary of the mood he’d be in today, given all the issues facing the Tigers last week as they made their first West Coast trip. Sadly, those fears were mostly confirmed.

The Mariners were losing a lot before playing the Tigers–and are at it again now that our boys have left town. The A’s, with newly-acquired Inge and a bunch of kids, are over .500 and showed the Tigers why.

This three-team tour of midwest MLB teams this week is another seven-game week and another opportunity for the Tigers to bust out of May’s Malaise.

See what MMM did there?

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

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He is the most senior of Tigers, with the cashiering of Brandon Inge a couple weeks ago. He played for Luis Pujols and Alan Trammell. He experienced 43-119 as a starter and the World Series as a bench warmer.

He has, at times, enjoyed the same kind of popularity that the Lions’ backup quarterback has over the years—i.e. it’s sometimes better to be on the bench than in the game. You look more appealing to the fans that way.

He hits from both sides of the plate, as so many players like him do. But he doesn’t necessarily hit from either side terribly well, also keeping with his brethren.

He scores about 30 runs a year and drives in roughly the same amount. He hits a home run every full moon. Though he did once lead the league in…sacrifice hits.

He’s slick with the glove and let’s face it, that’s why he’s stayed in the big leagues every year since 2002.

Ramon Santiago is 32 years old—33 in August—and he’s your new elder statesman on the Tigers, now that Inge has found work in Oakland.

Going from Inge to Santiago in terms of Tigers seniority is like when ABC went from Howard Cosell to Fran Tarkenton in the Monday Night Football broadcast booth.

Everyone talked about Inge. Everyone had an opinion.

Ask a Tigers fan about Santiago and you’ll have your question answered with another question.

“Santiago? What about him?”

If Ramon Santiago were a country, he’d be Switzerland. If he were a jacket, he’d be a 40 regular. If he were a bandleader, he’d be Tommy Newsom.

Santiago’s act has played in Detroit since 2002, with only a two-year hiatus in Seattle (2004-05) in which he had a grand total of 47 at-bats for the Mariners. Speaking of Seattle, the Tigers made a whale of a trade when they dealt Santiago to the Mariners; they got Carlos Guillen in return. Even Santiago would tell you that was a steal.

The Mariners released him after the 2005 season and the Tigers snatched him up—kind of like when you find that old pair of shoes in the closet that you could have sworn you had gotten rid of—the comfy ones that you’re glad to again have in your possession.

Santiago never showed flashes of brilliance with the bat as Inge did. In fact, Santiago doesn’t really show flashes of anything except attendance in the dugout. A typical Santiago year is to dress for almost all of the 162 games, play in about two-thirds of them and actually bat in half of those.

His role is that of defensive replacement, and with the Tigers infield in recent years, that can mean a whole lot of replacing.

Santiago will start maybe once a week and it won’t be memorable with the bat. But, he’ll catch just about everything and make a few nifty plays in the field and all he’ll get is a pat on the rump and be told to stand by until he’s needed again.

Such is the life of the big league benchwarmer.

When Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder or Austin Jackson arrive at the ballpark, they don’t even bother to look at the lineup card that’s taped on a wall near the Tigers locker room. Not only do they know they’re playing, they know where they’re batting.

It’s like the 1920s Yankees, who invented numbers on the backs of uniforms by virtue of where their players batted in the order, hence Babe Ruth being No. 3, Lou Gehrig No. 4.

Jackson bats leadoff, Cabrera third and Fielder fourth—every game.

When Santiago shuffles into the clubhouse, he could make a mint if he took wagers from fans, ushers and equipment kids on his way inside, as to whether he’s playing that night. But the odds would always be 1:3.

The most at-bats Santiago had in any given season was 2003’s atrocity, when he got into 141 games for the 43-119 Tigers, most of them starts at shortstop, and he registered 444 ABs. He still only scored 41 runs and drove in his 29 RBI, even with all the extra appearances. But he did lead the league with 18 sacrifice bunts.

For the next four years combined (2004-07), Santiago had a grand total of 194 at-bats. And it took him 102 games to get those.

Yet the next disgruntled word Santiago utters will be his first. He has shown as much emotion as he’s had playing time. I don’t know if he cusses, but I bet if he does, it’s the Spanish version of “Oh, darn.”

It has taken Santiago 10 years and over 1,800 at-bats to slug as many homers as Cabrera is likely to have by the end of August (25). But when “Santy,” as his teammates call him, knocks one out of the park, it’s a moment as rich with pleasant surprise as seeing a man win a fight with his wife.

If you’re a pitcher who’s surrendered a Ramon Santiago home run, it’s like being an adult duped out of a cookie by a toddler. Like the hare losing to the tortoise.

But it cannot be disputed that Santiago is the Tiger with the most seniority now. He’s the accidental elder statesman.

His teammates love him. They’ve gone on record. They rave about Santiago’s professionalism, his preparedness and his gentle, subtle mentoring of the younger Latin American players on the team.

At times in recent years, Santiago’s insertion into the lineup on a more regular basis has been suggested by a fan base frustrated with second base ever since the Tigers inexplicably let Placido Polanco walk away into free agency after the 2009 season.

As the team has tried the likes of Will Rhymes, Scott Sizemore, Danny Worth, Ryan Raburn and even Inge at second base, Santiago has been the backup and the fans have called for him—albeit in a “process of elimination” kind of way.

But the truth is that Ramon Santiago simply isn’t an everyday player. It wasn’t true when he was younger, and it certainly isn’t true as he approaches 33 years old. And there’s no crime in that.

This is Santiago’s 11th season in the big leagues and his ninth with the Tigers. He is the most senior baseball player in Detroit.

But I know what I’ll get if I ask you about No. 39.

“Santiago? What about him?”

Categories : Baseball, Detroit Tigers
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