Archive for July, 2012

Jul
30

Monday Morning Manager: Week 17

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Last Week: 2-4

This Week: at Bos (7/30-8/1); CLE (8/3-5)

So, What Happened?

What a difference a week makes.

The last time MMM sat down at his laptop to bang out this weekly recap, some 168 hours ago, the Tigers were on a five-game winning streak, the White Sox were on a five-game losing streak, and Detroit had finally re-captured first place, by 1.5 games.

Today, the White Sox are the ones in first place by 1.5 games, and the Tigers are the team trying to right themselves.

That’s baseball. That’s all part of the game’s fascinating, humbling 162-game season.

Give the Chisox credit. They left Detroit a week ago Sunday looking like a team whose wheels might fall off, then they went on a five-game winning streak in which they found their hitting touch and even took two of three from the two-time defending AL champion Texas Rangers.

The Tigers?

It was a tough week on the banks of two of the Great Lakes—Erie and Ontario.

Progressive Field in Cleveland continued to vex the Tigers, who are 1-5 there this season. And Rogers Centre in Toronto wasn’t any kinder, though the Tigers did end the week on a winning note there.

It all added up to 2-4, a week after 6-1.

The week began with Monday’s off day trade of pitching prospect Jacob Turner, catching prospect Rob Brantly, and low minors pitcher Brian Flynn to Miami for 2B Omar Infante and RHP Anibal Sanchez.

When MMM laid out the pitching order for last week, he reminded you that Turner’s Saturday start would only occur barring a trade.

Isn’t MMM smart?

Anyhow, MMM is pleased that GM Dave Dombrowski appeared to patch two holes with one deal, though Sanchez can be a FA after this season. Infante scuffled last week in his return to Tiger Nation, but MMM isn’t concerned. It’s a huge upgrade from the Santiago/Raburn/Worth trio.

As they ask in the National Enquirer, how was your week?
Hero of the Week

It’s Jhonny Peralta this week, by a Tiger’s whisker over Doug Fister.

The Tigers offense has gone back into scuffling mode, and the last thing they needed was a three-game sweep at the hands of the Blue Jays. Enter Peralta, who slammed two homers, providing all the offense in Sunday’s 4-1 win.

Jh-P hadn’t had a hit on last week’s trip until he busted loose in Toronto. His timing couldn’t have been any better.

Peralta edges out Mister Fister, whose gem on Sunday also came at a great time. But without Peralta’s offense, Fister’s outing would have been just another wasted effort.

Goat of the Week

Ironically, it could have been Peralta, had he not had his breakout game on Sunday.

But MMM is going with Brennan Boesch, mainly because he represented, in MMM’s sometimes twisted mind, the struggles of the Tigers’ 5-9 hitters last week.

Manager Jim Leyland kind of called Boesch out, though not by name, when he ranted before Saturday’s game that certain guys have to start driving in runs, and pronto. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Boesch, Alex Avila and Delmon Young (who WAS mentioned by name) were who the skipper was talking about.

Boesch’s BA continues to hover around the very mediocre .250 mark, and he disappears suddenly and often, something that MMM finds very annoying.

Last week Boesch might as well have been on the side of a milk carton. He was 3-for-23 with six strikeouts, no runs scored and one RBI.

But then this week he might be 10-for-25 with a couple bombs and six ribbies.

Annoying.

Under the Microscope

Last week MMM put Dombrowski UtM because of the impending interleague, non-waiver trading deadline. But even though DD made the Infante/Sanchez trade, there’s still time before July 31 for another move.

But MMM won’t cop out and put DD UtM again; that would be taking the easy way out. But it’s food for thought.

Instead, MMM is taking his forceps and placing Infante UtM.

Why?

Well, his arrival was looked at as sweet relief for a fan base tired of looking at second base and seeing a black hole. But Infante went 2-for-14 after arriving, and while that’s a tiny sample size, you can bet that if he keeps scuffling, he won’t be flying under the radar for too long.

Still, MMM feels MUCH better seeing Infante’s name in the no. 9 spot, rather than the aforementioned trio of second basemen the Tigers have tried this year.

The other reason for the UtM designation for Infante is that if he has a good week at the plate, watch the over-the-top reaction from the fan base on places like MLive and sports talk radio. It’ll be the 180 degree opposite from the reaction to another tough week for Omar. It’ll be a hoot!

Upcoming: Red Sox, Indians

Another un-Tigers-friendly ballpark awaits the Boys this week: Fenway Park.

The venerable old baseball theatre, 100 years old, hasn’t been a great place for the Tigers in recent years, 2012 being no exception.

The Tigers dropped 3 of 4 in Boston in May, and that was against a Red Sox team that has been underachieving all year. The Red Sox are still “meh,” hovering around .500, but they could be hovering around .400 and still give the Tigers fits—in Boston.

Justin Verlander would normally have a shot at starting twice this week because Thursday’s off day might have allowed Leyland to skip Turner’s start, but with Sanchez in the rotation, JV will get an extra day off after Tuesday’s start in Boston and will take the mound next Monday against the Yankees in Detroit.

The Red Sox still have Wild Card thoughts dancing in their heads, despite a hundred mediocre 2012 games.

Thursday is a day off and then the Indians come calling.

Cleveland had a good series against the Tigers last week but sandwiched around those three games has been some bad and mostly losing baseball for the Tribe.

The Tigers haven’t had much success against the Indians in Cleveland or Detroit this year, and that has to change right now, especially since MMM is squeamish about what might happen in Boston this week.

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

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They wore black, like all the bad guys in the Westerns. They had a player everyone called Big Ben who wore a handlebar mustache and who spoke with a voice that sounded like it was coming out of a cement mixer.

They had a bald guy named Otis Sistrunk, who looked like someone with a name like Otis Sistrunk. They had a craggy, old gunslinger, George Blanda, who John Wayne might have played.

The collection of nicknames read like a proper gang of bad guys. The Mad Bomber. The Stork. The Assassin. The Snake.

They were coached by big, fat John Madden, because every group of henchmen is led by someone they call Mr. Big, right?

The owner, Al Davis, wore slick-backed hair and jewelry and sunglasses and he said “Just Win, Baby!” and he was out of Central Casting, too—as the Money Man who wanted to win at all costs.

They were the Oakland Raiders, and their reign of terror in the NFL lasted about 20 years, from 1970-90, until the franchise kind of lost their way—and their edge.

Davis yanked the Raiders from Oakland in 1982 and relocated them in Los Angeles, but that didn’t change their countenance. It wasn’t like the beach mellowed them.

The Raiders were the NFL’s Bad Boys, with apologies to the Detroit Pistons. There was an aura about them. Davis instilled what he called a Commitment to Excellence to the franchise, which operated like a rogue college program—if that program was committed to not only excellence but to absorbing other schools’ ruffians.

Davis operated as if he wasn’t happy unless his team’s roster was full of the kookiest players in the league. His franchise welcomed the downtrodden, the castaways, the washed up. The Raiders made it a habit of trading for or signing players other teams wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole.

Jim Plunkett was a two-time loser, a ballyhooed quarterback out of Stanford University who was drafted first overall in 1971 to be the savior of the New England (nee Boston) Patriots. He failed. He was shipped back to northern California in 1976, to resurrect the San Francisco 49ers, still searching for a QB several years after the retirement of John Brodie.

Plunkett failed again, this time miserably, with the 49ers.

Typical of Davis, he looked at Plunkett and saw opportunity where others saw bust. In 1978, Davis brought Plunkett across the Bay to play for the Raiders, looking for someone to replace the aging and departed Kenny Stabler.

Plunkett, the two-time loser, became a two-time Super Bowl winner with the Raiders deep into his 30s, capturing the Lombardi Trophy in 1981 and 1984 (at age 36).

Davis brought maniacal defensive end Lyle Alzado, then 33, over from Cleveland in 1982 when it looked like Alzado’s career was on the decline. Alzado, like so many Raiders before and after him, was revived in Silver and Black.

The Raiders were penalized a lot, but that was OK because they were good enough to overcome them. Davis always constructed a team built around the pass, a carryover from the wild, wide open days of the AFL, which never met a fly pattern it didn’t like.

What Al Davis’s Raiders did was intimidate players and officials alike, as they snarled and didn’t just win, baby—they pillaged.

But what the Raiders didn’t do, despite having more ne’er do-wells on their roster than any other NFL team on an annual basis, was run afoul of the law.

The league rules? Those were bent like a Gumby doll. But the criminal justice system? Even the Raiders knew better than to take on the police and the courts.

The Detroit Lions, modern day version, are doing it all wrong.

Where the Raiders in their heyday were sly and stealth in their sometimes disregard for the rulebook, the Lions are about as subtle as a bull in a china shop. Where the Raiders made the record books, the Lions are making the police blotter.

Where the Raiders intimidated, the Lions are mocked and ridiculed for their apparent lack of self-control—on and off the field.

The longest off-season in Lions history is mercifully over. Training camp has begun, the NFL’s version of prison.

It was an arresting off-season, literally and figuratively, for the Lions. The team had more mug shots than photo shoots. Their players posted more bail than a 1970s rock band.

This off-season came on the heels of a 2011 season that, while playoff worthy, was also rife with undisciplined and just plain stupid play on the field.

Naturally, some of the Lions players want to channel all this negativity and take the hackneyed approach of “us against the world,” and use it as a motivator.

Again, wrong, wrong, wrong.

In case the Lions haven’t noticed, the rest of the league is not impressed with the Lions’ “bad boy” image.

Green Bay star receiver Greg Jennings, a product of Western Michigan University, recently openly wondered whether the Lions have what it takes upstairs to be a winning unit on the field. Jennings was pessimistic about the Lions’ chances of being disciplined enough on Sundays to ascend to division champion.

Jennings is not alone.

The folks who predict that the Lions will take a step back in 2012 from their 10-6 playoff season of 2011, say so because they, like Jennings, wonder about the Lions between the ears.

The good news is that the off-season nonsense is not—repeat, not—a reflection of coach Jim Schwartz, GM Martin Mayhew, owner Bill Ford or anyone else in the Lions organization.

At worst, the Lions are paying the price for perhaps recklessly acquiring players with suspect pasts. At best, the Lions’ off-season of Arrested Development is a fluke that could have happened to any team in the league.

The off-season is over with, and I say training camp couldn’t have come soon enough. But the Lions’ fate in 2012 won’t have a lick to do with how they helped keep the fingerprint ink people in business between January and July.

Their success (or lack thereof) will be tied to how they handle themselves on the field, between the ears, every Sunday.

The Oakland/LA Raiders of “Just Win, Baby” and a Commitment to Excellence may have been the NFL’s Bad Boys, but they were also crazy like a fox. The Raiders won because they learned to channel their aggression so that they could be successful with it, instead of in spite of it.

It’s a nuance that the 2012 Lions will have to master if they want to do in Honolulu Blue and Silver what the Raiders did in Silver and Black.

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Jul
27

Johnny Dangerously?

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The Greatest Actor Alive Today has played an effeminate pirate; John Dillinger; an undercover Fed trying to bust the mob; a young man with scissors for fingers; the Mad Hatter; and that’s just for starters.

What he hasn’t done, despite all that range and the sometimes cartoon-like qualities of the characters he’s portrayed, is sparked a whole lot of controversy.

Johnny Depp, The Greatest Actor Alive Today, will be appearing as Tonto in a new Disney movie about the Lone Ranger. It’s a Jerry Bruckheimer project. And while that has many Deppophiles licking their chops, it has one group a little on edge.

Those would be the Native Americans, a segment of whom have been a little queasy ever since Bruckheimer Tweeted a photo of Depp in his Tonto garb, complete with face paint, feathers, the whole shot.

“The moment it hit my Facebook newsfeed, the updates from my friends went nutso,” wrote Natanya Ann Pulley, a doctorate student at University of Utah, in an essay for the online magazine McSweeney’s.

According to the Associated Press, for Pulley and her friends, the portrayal of Native Americans in Western movies is getting old.

“I’m worried about the Tonto figure becoming a parody or a commercialized figure that doesn’t have any dimension or depth. Or consideration for contemporary context of Native Americans,” she said.

What’s funny is that Depp has played so many different characters in so much scene-chewing glory but has never really brought the ire of any particular group.

Until now—maybe.

Just because some Native Americans have a problem with Tonto’s return to the big screen, that doesn’t mean Bruckheimer and Depp have alienate the entire brethren.

According to the AP, in New Mexico, where some of the movie was filmed, the Navajo presented Depp, his co-star Armie Hammer, director Gore Verbinski and Bruckheimer with Pendleton blankets to welcome them to their land. Elsewhere, the Comanche people of Oklahoma made Depp, one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, an honorary member.

“In my niece’s mind, I met Jack Sparrow,” said Emerald Dahozy, spokeswoman for Navajo President Ben Shelly and a member of the Navajo group who met with Depp. “My personal view, I like him playing in a character which he can embody well.”

There’s also the matter of Depp being perhaps the most likable big box office star in recent memory—maybe ever.

Depp as Tonto in the 2013 Disney version of “The Lone Ranger”; Armie Hammer is the Lone Ranger

Stories abound of his generosity, with everyone from autograph seekers to curious kids who’ve commiserated with him on movie sets. He has sent them gifts, appeared at their school functions, and been just an all-around nice guy.

So maybe Depp’s nice guy image off screen will soften any indignation or blowback from his portrayal of Tonto—if there’s any necessary to begin with. Those who decry the film may change their mind once they actually see it.

The AP reports that Depp has said the film will be a “sort of rock ‘n’ roll version of the Lone Ranger” with his Tonto offering a different take from the 1950s show.

That would appear to be a step in the right direction, right there—for those worried of any over-the-top stereotyping.

The film is slated for a 2013 release, and the cost is already at $200 million—before all the marketing costs.

Gyasi Ross, a member of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana who lives and has family in the Suquamish Tribe, outside Seattle, said, “I’m not sure how much redefining I’m going to expect, not sure how much of the movie will be something I can show my son.”

Maybe he’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Categories : Enotes, Entertainment, movies
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Jul
25

What Would YOU Do?

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The question goes like this: “What would YOU do for a Klondike bar?”

I’m not sure what I would do, exactly, but I’d do some things.

I’d do some things, because there is something wonderfully simple yet with largesse about a Klondike bar.

You know what a Klondike bar is, right? It’s that block of vanilla ice cream generously covered in chocolate, wrapped by hand, it seems, in foil.

When eaten immediately out of the freezer, before it gets a chance to get remotely soft, is the best way to eat a Klondike.

They have different flavors, but I think I like the old fashioned vanilla the best.

They come in packages of six and I start to get sad as early as when the third one gets lifted from the freezer, for that means it won’t be long before we’re out of Klondikes.

Mrs. Eno doesn’t buy Klondikes every week, and that’s a good thing, because absence makes the stomach grow fonder.

Klondikes wouldn’t make me nearly as happy if they were constantly in the freezer, as counterintuitive as that sounds.

There’s a ceetain degree of excitement that I get when I see that a package of Klondikes has made its way into one of the grocery bags that come home.

I know this sounds like a paid advertisement (I wish!), but there really is no generic version of a Klondike, so there you have it—I have to use the name.

So why am I glorifying the Klondike today?

There are two left in our freezer, and I noticed them again today. It got me to thinking about the aforementioned jingle, which in my mind is one of the best advertising campaigns ever created.

The question is apt.

“What WOULD you do for a Klondike bar?”

Because they’re just so gosh darn good.

Ask yourself the question, if you enjoy a Klondike as much as I do (which is doubtful, but even if you’re close, that’s OK).

What would you do for one?

If a Klondike bar was just out of your reach, and the person who could retrieve it for you asked you to perform some sort of a task in order to get it, what would your limitations be?

It’s a question meant to be taken seriously, now!
You can eat a Klondike with your fingers and you don’t have to rush. A firmly frozen brick will last a good five minutes before getting too soft—or before it disappears, whichever comes first.

My Klondikes never get soft.

So what would I do for a Klondike bar?

Just try holding one out of my reach if you want to find out. I dare you.

Categories : advertising, Enotes, food
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Jul
23

Monday Morning Manager: Week 16

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Last Week: 6-1

This Week: at Cle (7/24-26); at Tor (7/27-29)

So, What Happened?

What a fun, frollicking week of baseball for the boys at Comerica Park last week!

Yeah, they got scorched by the Angels, 13-0 on Tuesday, but that was the only blemish as the Tigers put together a 6-1 homestand, their first since the All-Star break.

The epic week catapulted the Tigers into first place, all by their lonesome, 1.5 games ahead of the White Sox, who got broomed in Detroit over the weekend.

The Tigers took no prisoners. They hit, they pitched, they caught the ball, they threw the ball, they were stone cold solid in the clutch.

MMM approves, very much.

Miguel Cabrera hit his 300th career home run, Quintin Berry hit his second, and Brennan Boesch just hit home runs of various numbers.

Tigers starters got stingy and the bullpen even stingier. There was no foolishness defensively.

Basically, the Tigers played, in one week, as if they were trying to make up for the season’s first three months.

Hero of the Week

MMM has been saying it since late April: the Tigers’ struggles have been because a select group of 2011 heroes have been 2012 goats.

Brennan Boesch was among that group—until recently. In fact, he was UtM as recently as last week.

Boesch, the sometimes perplexing right fielder, had a great week. He sliced balls to left, drove them up the middle, and rocketed them into the right field seats. He hit with no outs, with one out, and most importantly, with two outs. It was enough to make MMM cry tears of joy. For if Boesch can hit like this down the stretch, the Tigers are in business.

Boesch hit home runs on consecutive days over the weekend, including a three-run blast on Saturday that turned a 2-1 lead into a much more comfortable 5-1 margin.

MMM makes Boesch the Hero not because he was the most indispensable Tiger last week, but because he simply had a consistently productive, highly encouraging week in a seven-day stretch full of heroes.

Dare MMM say The Stroke is back for Mr. Boesch? We’ve been fooled before, but this just has a different feel.

Honorable mention: Rick Porcello, for his gem on Saturday in which he outdueled Chicago All-Star Chris Sale.

Goat of the Week

In a 6-1 week, Goats are hard to find. So MMM is going outside the box this week.

MMM is tabbing the folks who all but called 21-year-old right hander Jacob Turner a bust, following his horrific start on Tuesday against the hard-hitting Los Angeles Angels.

Even some mainstream media scribes got into the act, as one of them said that Turner’s stock as a trading chip “plummeted” after the Angels debacle.

Five days later, MMM was listening to talk radio and Turner, who had just earned his first big league victory with 5.1 innings of three-run ball, was suddenly talked about as part of the reason why the Tigers’ pitching will be OK, after all.

Make up MMM’s mind!

But seriously, folks, just because scouts attended Tuesday’s game—when Turner gave up seven runs in two innings of work—doesn’t mean that his stock “plummeted.”

Scouts know better than to make rash judgments after one game. They know, already, a lot about Turner and probably also know that Tuesday was an aberration.

So please stop the mood swings, Tigers fan base, aka this week’s Goats of the Week.

Under the Microscope

The trading deadline for interleague, non-waiver deals is a week from tomorrow. So in a MMM tradition leading up to the deadline, this week’s UtM subject is GM Dave Dombrowski.

Even with the team playing better, you can bet that all eyes will be on DD as July 31 nears. The Tigers are on fire now, but this is not a team without holes and needs.

Second base, for one. One more starting pitcher, preferably veteran in nature, is another.

The Tigers’ sense of urgency has been dialed back thanks to the 13-2 run they’re on, so DD should be able to have more leverage than when the team was scuffling.

Still, MMM thinks if the deadline passes with the Tigers standing pat, that’s not going to go over too well.

But the move(s) Dombrowski makes don’t have to be blockbuster in nature. In fact, with Andy Dirks apparently getting closer to returning from an Achilles injury, the Tigers’ 25-man roster suddenly looks uber crowded.

Who goes when Dirks returns? This isn’t September, when the roster expands to 40. If Dirks comes back before then, someone has to go.

DD, Tiger Nation turns its lonely eyes to you, ooh-ooh-ooh.

Upcoming: Indians, Blue Jays

Say goodbye to the creamy whites for nine games—the Tigers are headed back on the road.

It’s another three-city trip, and the first two legs are this week, in Cleveland and Toronto.

The Indians are doing it again.

The Tribe is wilting under the heat of summer, just as they did in 2011 after their surprising start.

They didn’t race out of the gate in 2012 as they did last year, but the Indians are nonetheless getting colder as the summer gets hotter.

Their latest slide is at four games, and this one has put them under .500 (47-48).

Remember when Cleveland closer Chris Perez crowed a bit too loudly after the Tribe swept the Tigers back in late-May? Remember when he smugly declared that while the Tigers may have bigger names, the Indians were more of a team?

MMM is dying to hear what Mr. Perez has to say now.

How’s that “we don’t have stars but we have a better team” thing working out for you now, Chris?

Wait—is MMM the one crowing too loudly now? What do YOU think?

The Indians get Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, in that order, this week.

After three days in Cleveland, the Tigers take their road grays across the border to Toronto.

The Blue Jays don’t have their superstar right fielder Jose Bautista, who is on the disabled list. He’ll miss the Tigers series.

MMM is usually a little concerned when the Tigers play in Toronto, as it’s one of the few ballparks with artificial turf, and the Tigers aren’t exactly built for that kind of playing surface.

But this year the Tigers have Quintin Berry, and the team’s 1-2 punch of Austin Jackson and Berry at the top of the order, with their blazing speed, has MMM actually looking forward to this week’s trip to TO.

Porcello, Turner (presumably, barring a trade) and Fister get the nod this weekend in Toronto.

Will the Tigers stay hot on the road? Don’t touch that dial!

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

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So it really took an MIT grad to come up with electric football?

Not exactly.

But it took an MIT grad to come up with electric horse racing and then decide that there was no money in that, but that there might be in a football version.

Norman Sas was a mechanical engineer, another egghead from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He served in the U.S. Navy and worked in plastics and turbines for General Electric.

In 1948, he became president of a family-owned company founded by his father. The company was named the Tudor Metal Products Corp.

Sas, with his mechanical engineering degree and his Navy experience and his time with GE, was, above all else, a visionary.

The Tudor company had itself a horse racing game whose pieces moved on a sheet of vibrating metal, powered by good old-fashioned electricity.

In the late 1940s, pro football was entering its golden age. Television, the burgeoning technology of the time, was a big part of the nation’s growing interest in the gridiron exploits of pro football teams.

Sas decided to hop onto football’s potential gravy train. He looked at his family company’s horse racing game and got ideas.

“Watching these horses run,” he once said (as quoted by The Washington Post), “I thought, ‘Gee! If we could come up with some football figures and get them running against each other, we’d have a football game.’”

Indeed.

So Sas instructed his workers to start cranking out more vibrating sheets of metal, with two big changes: paint them green and include white gridiron markings, and break the horse molds and create new ones to look like football players.

Then, as Sas himself noted, they’d have a football game.

Norman Sas is gone now. He passed away last week at age 87. His electric football game likely has entertained millions of kids since its invention over 60 years ago.

I was one of those boys. Maybe you were, too.

Even now, I get a twinge of excitement when I say the words “electric football.”

I hear electric football and I am taken back, immediately, to the Christmas of 1971.

I’m not sure if I asked for Sas’s game, but I knew it could be found in the annual Sears Christmas catalog. I used to marvel at just the small photograph of the game—a sort of aerial shot, with all 22 molded plastic men painted to resemble NFL teams facing each other in two platoons of 11, ready for action.

There was a cardboard replica of a “stadium” with fans, clipped to the game, along with holes cut out for the plastic knobs of the scoreboard.

A beautiful thing.

So I came downstairs on Christmas morning in ’71, and there, on the floor under the tree, was an electric football game.

I stormed to it and immediately wanted to know which teams Santa had brought me.

“The Bears and the Vikings! The Bears and the Vikings!” I cried. The Bears were in white.

My dad corrected me. He must have been there when Santa delivered it.

“The Giants, not the Vikings.”

“The Bears and the Giants! The Bears and the Giants!”

A kid never forgets his first electric football game, no more than he forgets his first bike, his first crush, his first paying job.

My first Tudor electric football game was more than just a game—it was a whole world.

The game itself was fun, even if the players did mostly end up on the sides, vibrating uselessly, by the time each play ended.

But it wasn’t just the playing of the game that mesmerized me. It was the components—the plastic yellow goalposts; the felt footballs; the green bases upon which the players stood and which had tiny plastic bristles on the bottom that caused the players to move on vibration; the “timer,” which consisted of two plastic gears that were located in one of the end zones; and most of all, the painted uniforms.

I owned several electric football games throughout my childhood, and without question the most fun, for me, wasn’t actually playing electric football—it was ordering teams who might one day find themselves on the metal field in my bedroom.

Tudor, inside its game instructions booklet, displayed full-color photos of all the NFL teams depicted as electric football players, painted in replica uniforms, in home and dark jerseys. Each tiny helmet had a “logo” painted on it, which was really just a blob of paint in a color that closely matched the actual logo.

Oh, how I would look at those pages over and over and make my wish list for what teams to order.

Picking my spots carefully, I would put in a request to mom from time to time. She’d usually come through, depositing a check in the mail, and when that small brown box arrived—well, let’s just say it was like Christmas morning all over again.

The teams came in vacuum-sealed plastic bags, with the names and colors printed in black on the outside, e.g. LIONS D (for dark).

Even today I can pretty much tell you which NFL teams I owned in electric football and in which jersey—dark or white.

I would be remiss if I forgot the stick-on jersey numbers, which came on sheets and were color-coordinated with the uniforms.

Electric football was a world in of its own, and I lost myself in that world from age eight to 18. Even as high school seniors, my friends and I would gather at my house after school and play, but with a twist: We fashioned a piece of cardboard that was placed vertically on the line of scrimmage, to shield the formations from each player.

Only when all the players were situated, pointed and angled would the cardboard be lifted, revealing the matchups. Then, that magic switch would be turned on.

Sas’ invention was more than just a hobby for kids. Once it was licensed officially by the NFL in 1967, the cash started flowing into the league offices.

“For the first 10 years, we generated more money for NFL Properties than anyone else,” Sas once said.

But that was in a day before video games, which took electric football down like a blindside tackle.

Norman Sas, I wonder if you knew how many boys you made happy by giving them the world of electric football.

A whole lot more than if the game had been electric horse racing, I’ll tell you that.

Goodbye, Norman—that MIT degree came in handy, as it usually does.

Categories : football, society
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Jul
20

Why (this time)?

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So add going to the movies as the latest in the list of perilous activities in this country.

That list includes walking down the street, filling up your gas tank, standing in line at the fast food joint, attending school, sitting at your desk at work, enjoying a picnic, driving down the freeway, and watching TV in your living room.

The tragic shooting in Colorado last night at a screening of the latest Batman movie again underscores, as if we needed it, that nowhere are we truly safe.

The examples listed in the second paragraph are, off the top of my head, activities that people were engaged in when they were shot, either in a mass shooting, a drive by, by a serial killer or something in between.

James Holmes, 24, is a former med student and he is in custody now as the alleged shooter. As I write this, 12 have perished and nearly 40 are wounded. All at the hands of one man—who was armed as if he was ready to go to war.

Maybe he was, in his twisted mind. Certainly, dressed as he was with a bullet proof vest and wearing a gas mask, one might get that idea.

Holmes is the exception, in that when these horrific crimes occur, typically the shooter doesn’t make it out alive; he either shoots himself or is killed by police.

So at least there might be some gratification in dissecting his mind to find out the answer to the only real question that matters, and the only one people want the answer to forthwith.

Why?

That is a question that doesn’t necessarily produce closure or satisfaction, even when the perpetrator is alive to answer it. You think the families of the victims of the Manson Murders feel good about what Charlie said after being apprehended?

Holmes, police and witness accounts say, released a canister apparently filled with tear gas and just started shooting, into a crowded theater. He was armed with a shotgun, a rifle, and two handguns. And his canister.

Reports were that explosives might be found in his apartment, whose building was evacuated.

So it’s another male shooter, armed to the gills, with military-like gear, turning an everyday civilian activity into a horror movie.

No, you can’t even go to the movies anymore.

The truth is, you can do whatever you want and 99.999% of the time, nothing will happen to you like what happened to those 12 poor victims last night in Colorado.

The truth is, we might feel squeamish about going to the movies for a brief period, but then forget about all that and enjoy the experience just as before.

The truth is, we really do feel safe most of the time. Until something like this happens, and we get a little nervous. But then it goes away.

Until the next time.

Categories : crime, Enotes, society
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Twenty-five years later people in Detroit are still talking about John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander.

It’s the Motor City’s version of the Alamo.

It was around this time in 1987 when the Tigers traded blue chip pitching prospect Smoltz (Lansing Waverly), 20, to the then-awful Atlanta Braves for wily, irascible veteran Alexander, who was 36 at the time of the trade (he turned 37 in September).

Alexander was lights out for the ’87 Tigers, going 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA down the stretch as Detroit came from behind to nip the Toronto Blue Jays at the wire for the AL East title.

And Smoltz?

Hall of Fame. But who knew?

And that is the rub.

It’s been a quarter century since that trade and there are still baseball fans in this town who shake their fists and use it as their rallying cry whenever talk of trading a minor league prospect is bandied about.

In San Antonio-like fashion, they cry, “Trade BLANK? Remember JOHN SMOLTZ!”

It’s happening again.

Nick Castellanos is a nice looking player who terrorized Class A with Lakeland, which earned him a promotion to Double-A Erie. He’s not doing all that bad over there, either. He, like Smoltz in 1987, is 20 years old.

Castellanos is a third baseman by trade, but the Tigers seem to be set there with some guy named Miguel Cabrera, who is 29 and on the way to a Hall of Fame career of his own. As for Castellanos, there hasn’t been a Greek athlete this popular in Detroit since Alex Karras.

The Tigers are experimenting with Castellanos in the outfield, a move that is perhaps designed with two things in mind: to prepare Castellanos for a career in Detroit, or to make him more valuable as a trading commodity.

Think about it: if other big league teams think that Castellanos is stonewalled at third base because of Cabrera’s presence, the Tigers deal from a point of weakness. But if Castellanos is being groomed for the outfield, then the Tigers aren’t buttonholed.

Either way, the Tigers win with Castellanos.

Prospects are just that—prospects. They’re chips to be played at the table.

But there is hand-wringing from the Alamo people. The thought of trading Castellanos (just one example) makes them queasy. As if the Tigers will never have another prospect ever again.

Remember how we were told what a prospect Cameron Maybin was? How he was a five-tool player? A can’t miss kid?

Maybin was traded to Florida in December 2007, along with another supposed blue chipper, lefty Andrew Miller, in a deal that brought Cabrera, no less, to Detroit. Maybin was eventually shipped to San Diego. He hasn’t done much as a big leaguer. The ceiling for Maybin now seems unreachable, judging from his big league numbers so far.

You want the real deal? For every Smoltz, there are hundreds of Maybins. You want to place your chips on the smart money? Place them on the established big leaguer.

Job One of any big league organization is to constantly develop players, i.e. trading chips. Some of  those kids will be funneled through the system and eventually play for the club that drafted them. Others will be traded, usually for established big league players.

You’re afraid to trade Castellanos? Or right-hander Jacob Turner? Or lefty Andy Oliver? Or anyone else being grown on the farm? Tough. Then go out and draft and develop more prospects.

For a contending team like the Tigers, when given the choice of hanging on to a “can’t miss” prospect or trading said prospect to acquire a big league player to help NOW, the error should be on the side of risk instead of caution.

You don’t win pennants and World Series with kids or prospects. You win with good, solid major league players. You use the prospects to get those MLB players.

Do those big leaguers always pan out? Of course not. But hey, do prospects? No, and even less so.

This is big league baseball. High stakes stuff. The meek do not inherit this Earth. If you want to win, are serious about winning, then you have to take risks. You have to sometimes cut the cord with your supposed blue chip prospects. You have to trade them. Sometimes.

In my book, there is no such thing as an “untouchable” prospect, unless that player is specifically penciled in for a position with the big league team immediately, i.e. Mike Trout of the Angels, 20 years old and an amazing talent.

So forget John Smoltz. Please. It’s been 25 years.

Categories : Baseball, Detroit Tigers
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Jul
18

Mystery Solved! (Quickly)

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Donald Sobol knew his audience.

Sobol, who passed away the other day at age 87, wrote the Encyclopedia Brown mini mysteries for decades, which engrossed adolescent boys (mainly) with the adventures of Leroy Brown, aka Encyclopedia, who was the son of the police chief in the fictional town of Idaville.

Encyclopedia solved mysteries, and he did it in short order, both in terms of time and in pages.

I was a fervent reader of the EB series as a kid, and I fit Sobol’s demographic perfectly; i.e. I wasn’t exactly the most patient boy around, nor did I have the comprehension to “solve” a mystery that lasted much longer than five or six pages.

Sobol knew that I was not the exception, and so he made sure his EB mysteries didn’t last long enough for the reader to lose interest.

That’s pretty much how long, in terms of pages, each Brown mystery lasted. The boy detective often would begin his “investigation” at the family dinner table, and sometimes just closing his eyes and thinking for a couple minutes did the trick.

The “crimes”, of course, were of the petty variety; many bordered on being nothing more than pranks, often committed by Leroy’s fellow kids or an occasional unscrupulous adult.

The hook in every mini mystery was that Sobol would drop clues within the narrative that the reader, if sharp-eyed enough, could easily identify and thus solve the case. The back of the book gave the answers.

I found myself turning to the back probably more often than I should have.

I didn’t have the patience, not because the stories bored me but quite the opposite: I couldn’t wait to read the next one.

Oh, how I read those Brown books, borrowed from the local or school libraries. I gobbled those things up.

Sometimes I’d even channel Leroy and actually figure out the mistake the bad guy (or girl) made, and the turning to the back of the book was done to confirm my findings.

But mostly I read them quickly, made a cursory look through the pages, and if something didn’t jump out at me, off to the answer I went.

I remember one clue was that a letter supposedly written by an adult that would exonerate Leroy’s suspect was dated June 31.

Get it?

Sobol was more than the author of the Brown series. He started in 1959 with something called Two Minute Mysteries, which were grown up crimes solved by a Dr. Haledjian. Then, in the early-1960s, Sobol decide to write for an audience with short attention spans, and Encyclopedia Brown was born.

Sobol also penned non-fiction pieces, often under different names.

But nothing will identify Sobol’s legacy more than Leroy Brown and his friend Sally Kimball and arch enemy Bugs Meany.

To give you an idea of how non-violent and passive Leroy was, Sally was his bodyguard—the one kid who would stand up to the bully Bugs.

Reading Sobol’s mini mysteries was unlike anything else I read. The books weren’t long novels, and the answers weren’t like anything found in a puzzle book. The series was a perfect amalgam of fiction and fun.

And they didn’t last too long. Even now, I type Leroy.

Why? Because I’m too impatient to spell out Encyclopedia.

Sobol knew me and my kind well.

Categories : Enotes, Entertainment
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Jul
16

Monday Morning Manager: Week 15

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Last Week: 2-1

This Week: LAA (7/16-19); CWS (7/20-22)

So, What Happened?

Justin Verlander got torched in the All-Star Game, AL manager Ron Washington scolded him publicly, and JV was linked to supermodel Kate Upton.

Oh, you mean what really mattered?

The Tigers extended their win streak to six games, before losing a toughie in Baltimore on Saturday night, a 13-inning marathon. But—guess who—Verlander sealed the series win with surgeon-like precision on Sunday, using his scalpel, er, arm to carve up the Orioles on three hits in eight shutout innings.

It was a big series win, maintaining the momentum—if there is such a thing in baseball—from before the break.

Rookie lefty Drew Smyly landed on the disabled list, retroactive to July 7. He has a sore side. What is it with Tigers pitchers and sore sides this year?

Jacob Turner starts on Tuesday.

One more thing: Miguel Cabrera is playing like he plans on simply taking his first MVP Award, simply because he wants it. He hit two baseballs over the weekend so hard that MMM feels sorry for the cowhide spheres.

Hero of the Week

MMM only has three games to work with when it comes to Hero and Goat this week, but as you know, that’s enough to come to a decision.

MMM likes Miguel Cabrera, because the ferocity of his power—to center field and right field, no less—put exclamation marks on the Tigers’ two wins in Baltimore.

Cabrera is gaining on Texas’s Josh Hamilton for MVP consideration. Hamilton appeared to be running away with it in April and May, but he’s cooled off and Miggy is on a mission. His power knows no bounds. His flair for the dramatic is unparalleled. His hitting approach is elite.

Take Sunday’s bomb in the ninth inning. That poor kid Steve Johnson never knew what hit him. But just a couple pitches prior to the homer, Johnson tied Cabrera in knots with a wicked curve ball. No matter. When the kid tried to paint the black with a fastball on the outside corner, Cabrera swung at it as if the baseball was on a tee. The result: a 420+ foot home run to center field that might have had a flight crew and peanuts on it.

That followed a rocket on Friday night on a pitch that was low and a little outside.

Miggy plays no favorites and takes no prisoners.

Honorable mention: Verlander, for his series-winning gem on Sunday.
Goat of the Week

MMM feels kinda bad about this, but he only had three games with which to work.

Joaquin Benoit, you’re this week’s Goat.

MMM feels bad because Benoit has been mostly terrific this season. But had he not given up two home runs in the 13th inning on Saturday, the Tigers would be working on an eight-game winning streak. And, the White Sox lost on Saturday.

Twice the Tigers had a chance to win in extra innings Saturday, and after Jose Valverde blew it in the 11th, Benoit did the same in the 13th.

So why not Valverde as Goat?

Benoit gave up two homers, number one, and the second was to a guy, Taylor Teagarden, who just came off the disabled list and wasn’t even expecting to play, let alone be a hero.

That’s why.

Under the Microscope

Is the real Brennan Boesch on display, or is this just another tease?

Boesch, the sometimes confounding right fielder, has been hitting well as of late. Even balls he isn’t hitting all that well are dropping in for base hits.

MMM wants to believe that Boesch, along with Jhonny Peralta, is getting back to his 2011 level of play (before Boesch hurt his wrist).

If so, MMM loves the Tigers’ chances in the second half.

MMM is putting Boesch UtM until further notice, not convinced that this recent hot streak is a harbinger of things to come.

Upcoming: Angels, White Sox

The Tigers marketing and sales departments must love this post-break homestand.

The Angels and the White Sox?

One team making a run for its division, with marquee players and a rookie phenom, and a team the Tigers are chasing? And a natural rival, to boot?

What a way to kick off the home portion of the second half schedule, eh?

The Angels invade for four games, and the only thing that will be lacking is that neither Jered Weaver nor Verlander will pitch.

But it will be the Tigers and their fans’ first look at rookie Mike Trout, who is leading the league in hitting at age 20 (he’ll be legal to drink on August 7). Oh yeah, and there’s that first baseman the Angels signed in the off-season—Albert something or the other.

As for the White Sox, MMM isn’t convinced they can keep up their first place pace in the second half. Too many rookies, including their manager.

But Adam Dunn is the Dunn of 2010 and prior, and Paul Konerko and AJ Pierzynski are two of baseball’s most underrated players, in MMM’s humble opinion. Or, in today’s text message age, IMMMHO.

Still, the rookie thing gnaws. Or maybe it’s just wishful thinking.

Regardless, this ought to be a wild and wonderful week of baseball at Comerica Park.

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

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