Archive for August, 2012

Aug
30

Heeeere’s Your Pink Slip!

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Late night television options used to consist of a movie, something on UHF and “The Tonight Show.”

The air space after the local news was ruled with an iron fist by one Johnny Carson. ABC made a run at Johnny when it debuted “Nightline” in 1980 with Ted Koppel (a show born from the Iran hostage crisis), but Johnny was the unquestioned No. 1 when it came to TV around the witching hour.

Johnny was 36 when he took over “Tonight” in 1962. For comparison sake, Jimmy Fallon is 37 years old.

But Johnny got better and more dominant with age, just like a strong whiskey. He moved easily into his 50s and 60s, his hair getting grayer but his appeal not. His viewers got gray with him, and maybe that was part of it, too.

Joey Bishop made a run at Johnny in the late-1960s on ABC but even Rat Packer Bishop wasn’t much of a threat. Then Johnny moved the show from New York to California in the early-1970s and his already impressive guest list got even better, as the big-time movie stars were now even more accessible. Some would drive themselves to the NBC studios in Burbank to chat with Carson, then drive home.

David Letterman joined the fray in 1982 and finally there became a viable option to Carson’s old school blend of straight man, cheesy sketches and quirky guests like “the potato chip lady.”

Today, the late night TV pie is sliced so thin, into so many pieces, that it’s not a slam dunk anymore that “Tonight” (hosted by 62-year-old Jay Leno for almost 20 years now) will pull in big viewership nightly.

The vulnerability of “Tonight” was underlined recently when news broke that the show, which has been on the air in various forms for about 60 years, was making staff cuts.

Layoffs on the “Tonight Show”? Believe it.

Leno is only signed to host “Tonight” thru September 2013





About 20 people lost their jobs, and Leno’s $26 million annual salary took a 10-percent cut. According to the Detroit News article, it was only the second time in the show’s 58-year history that layoffs happened.

“Tonight” draws about 3.7 million viewers nightly, but before the sloppy, ham-handed switch to Conan O’Brien and then back to Leno a couple years back, those numbers were over 5 million viewers.

The late night audience is a younger breed, and they like Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” and they like Jimmy Kimmel, whose show will be shifted 30 minutes earlier, to the 11:35 p.m. slot to compete directly with Leno and Letterman.

Here’s more bottom lining for you: cable networks gobble up nearly 84 percent of the $5.6 billion late night TV market, according to research firm Kantar Media. The cause and effect is that the over-the-air networks are losing market share—over 5 percent last year alone.

NBC has prided itself on being a leader with television’s wake up and go-to-sleep viewers, with “The Today Show” and “Tonight” ruling the roost for decades. And NBC was a pioneer of sorts when it introduced programs like “The Midnight Special” on Saturday nights and “Tomorrow” with Tom Snyder weeknights at 1:00 a.m., after Carson.

Well, this isn’t 1966 anymore. Or 1996, for that matter.

Leno’s contract expires in September 2013. NBC may have a decision to make at that point.

 

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Aug
27

Monday Morning Manager: Week 21

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Last Week: 5-1

This Week: at KC (8/28-30; CWS 8/31-9/2)

So, What Happened?
 It’s what didn’t happen that was rather frustrating.

The Tigers had a fine 5-1 week at home, but lost ground in the standings, because what didn’t happen was a White Sox loss—not a single one. Chicago had a 6-0 week.

Even manager Jim Leyland appears to be scoreboard-watching.

“We have to try to figure some way to play better than the White Sox,” the skipper said after Sunday’s 5-2 win over the Angels. “They’ve been answering every bell so far.”

Indeed.

MMM isn’t panicked, because there are still about six weeks left in the season, and a 2.5 game lead isn’t very big at this stage, but a White Sox loss on occasion would be rather nice. They haven’t lost since being swept in Kansas City a week ago last weekend.

As for the Tigers, pitching was the key to just about every victory last week—that, and two-out hitting.

The offense wasn’t exactly prolific, but it was enough to support one solid start after the other from Tigers starters. Even rookie Drew Smyly got into the act, making a spot start for Doug Fister on Saturday and going six strong.

The Angels had been hot coming into Detroit, their offense humming. But Tigers pitching shut down rookie sensation Mike Trout and slugger Mark Trumbo. The Angels were without Albert Pujols, out with an injured calf.

The week began with a low-scoring three-game sweep of the reeling Toronto Blue Jays, a team ravaged by injury and with only five wins in their past 27 games. The third victory was an exciting 3-2 walk-off win in extras, thanks to pinch-runner Quintin Berry’s stolen base and race home on Alex Avila’s single.

The only loss of the week was a tough 2-1 decision Friday night, a game in which Ricky Porcello pitched well and only had one “bad” inning.

A 5-1 week ought to have produced a gain in the standings, but last week it didn’t. All the Tigers can do is keep pitching and winning and maybe the Chisox will hit a cool spell.

Oh, and Anibal Sanchez even had a good start, so have faith, Tiger Nation!

Hero of the Week
MMM believes that Jhonny Peralta delivered one of the biggest hits of the season on Saturday when he doubled home two runs in the eighth inning, with two outs, giving the Tigers a 4-3 lead on their way to a 5-3 win.

The White Sox were cruising to victory, as usual. The Tigers had fallen behind 3-0—thanks partially to Austin Jackson’s first error of the season—and were still trailing 3-2. A loss would have extended Chicago’s lead in the division to 3.5 games.

Two were out and earlier in the inning, Miguel Cabrera’s long drive to right center had been chased down by Torii Hunter. That appeared to be a bad omen.

Then Peralta struck, scoring Prince Fielder and Andy Dirks (from first base), and just like that, the Tigers were leading. Avila added an insurance run with a single, scoring Peralta.

Jhonny’s hit was huge.

MMM thinks it was huge enough to make him HotW, despite a week in which several Tigers chipped in to forge a 5-1 mark.

Honorable mention: Max Scherzer, who picked up two wins and keeps blowing hitters away, threatening to wrest the MLB strikeout crown from Justin Verlander.

Goat of the Week
It is with a heavy heart that MMM select fan favorite Austin Jackson as the GotW, but don’t worry—it’s mainly because it’s hard to find a Goat in a 5-1 week.

But AJ did go 0-13 in the Angels series, and his error (yes, first of the season, MMM gets that) could have put rookie Smyly on the ropes on Saturday. Regardless, the Tigers had to claw back thanks to Jackson’s dropped fly ball.

While MMM is nitpicking Jackson, he would be remiss if he failed to mention that Jackson was batting at a .332 clip at the All-Star break, and is at. 302 now. That’s a 30-point drop, and while not catastrophic, it’s something that MMM feels you need to remember.

It’s not enough, right now, to put Jackson UtM, but a 30-point drop in six weeks is a cause for concern, wouldn’t you agree?

Under the Microscope
If you thought that MMM had a tough time naming AJ the Goat, that’s nothing compared to placing Miguel Cabrera Under the Microscope. Actually, it’s Miggy’s right ankle that’s under the scope.

Cabrera’s bum ankle caused him to miss a game on Sunday—his first in about a year—and forced manager Jim Leyland to DH Cabrera the previous two games. This, after Miggy was pulled from Thursday’s game in the second inning.

MMM wasn’t crazy about Miggy’s gait in the two games he played after being pulled, and thus wasn’t shocked when Leyland scratched him from Sunday’s game. Monday’s off day gives Cabrera two days off in a row, essentially.

MMM thinks Cabrera’s ankle bears scrutiny because this is an MVP candidate and if he tweaks it and has to miss any significant time…

No need to finish that sentence.

Yes, Cabrera is a gamer and yes, he’s never been on the disabled list in his 10-year (yes, 10 years) career. MMM gets that. And MMM knows that being hurt isn’t the same as being injured. That said, Cabrera goes UtM anyway because he’s just too damn valuable to mess around with.

Upcoming: Royals, White Sox
“Spoiler” is a double-edged word. You really don’t want to be one, nor do you want to be the victim of one.

The Tigers play a spoiler this week—the Kansas City Royals. The same Royals team who swept the White Sox out of Missouri a couple weekends back.

The Royals, as usual, are out of the race. They have, as usual, a young and somewhat talented roster that hasn’t jelled yet. And they, as usual, are in a position to mess up a playoff contender’s plans.

The Tigers can’t afford to look past the Royals and set their sights on the White Sox, who come to town for the weekend.

The Royals are either feast or famine, it seems, when you play them. You either sweep them, or get swept. They laid a licking on the White Sox with a combo of good pitching and timely hitting. But then they can look so awful just one day later.

MMM wants 2-of-3 in KC. The pitchers: Sanchez, Justin Verlander (only 12 wins despite an ERA of around 2.50), and Porcello.

On Friday, the White Sox come calling—the Tigers’ last shot at them in Detroit this season (barring a playoff matchup).

Just like the Tigers of 2011, this year’s White Sox are getting career years from secondary players like Alex Rios and AJ Pierzynski, to support the Paul Konerkos and Adam Dunns of the world. Role players like Gordon Beckham and Tyler Flowers have chipped in with key hits recently.

Lefty rookie starter Chris Sale has been lights out, though with a 2.79 ERA in 71 IP last year, he definitely showed some promise in 2011 so this year’s season shouldn’t be a total shocker.

MMM doesn’t have to tell you how important the series against Chicago is, though the division will not be decided based on it. Repeat: WILL…NOT. No series on Labor Day weekend has the ability to win a division when the distance between two teams is as short as that between the Tigers and the White Sox.

Tigers pitchers: Fister or Smyly, Scherzer, Sanchez. If it’s Smyly on Friday, all three Tigers starters’ last names will start with S.

S, for Sweep?

Sorry.

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

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Aug
26

With Stafford & Co., OK For Lions to Be Pass-Happy

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Wayne Fontes, the moon-faced, chubby Lions coach from 20-plus years ago, had been on the job for only a few months in early-1989 when he had a plan.

Fontes had taken over the Lions from Darryl Rogers, which was like taking over Japan after Hiroshima.

The Lions were a sickly, offensively challenged platoon in 1988, when Rogers was given the ziggy in November and replaced with Fontes, his defensive coordinator.

It was Bill Ford, the owner, who levied the stinging indictment against Rogers after announcing his cashiering.

“We’re boring,” Ford complained to the media guys.

No one argued.

Fontes had five games with which to prove himself in 1988; the Lions were 2-9 at the time of Rogers’ dismissal. Fontes was saddled with that tag of “interim,” which was usually code for “after the season, you’ll never see this chump again.”

But that didn’t stop Fontes from trying his hardest with his five-game contract.

He brought in former NFL quarterback Lynn Dickey to work with the offense and impart his pass-happy wisdom to Lions’ starting signal-caller Rusty Hilger.

The Lions won two of their final five games, and even though both wins were over awful Green Bay, the Lions played the very good Bears very tough in Chicago, and it was all enough to show Ford that Fontes didn’t need the interim label any longer.

Fontes returned Ford’s generosity with a big old bear hug in front of the local TV cameras and ink-stained wretches.

Not long after being named the real coach of the Lions, Fontes went to work on that whole “boring” thing that his owner crabbed about in discussing Darryl Rogers.

First, Fontes drafted a running back, Barry Sanders from Oklahoma State. As good as Barry was in college, no one could have predicted the greatness that he would embody for the next 10 years.

His running back in place, Fontes went against NFL form and decided that he would build an offense not necessarily around the running game, but around the pass.

A strange idea, indeed, considering Fontes had the best running back on any college campus in America set to don the Honolulu Blue and Silver in 1989.

Undaunted, Fontes looked at the Houston Oilers, a pretty good NFL team, and became enamored with the Oilers’ offense, which placed one runner in the backfield, four receivers spread out and eschewed a tight end.

Fontes, a defensive coach to the core, thought through the prism of an opposing defensive coordinator. With someone as dynamic as Sanders in the backfield, what would be nightmarish?

So, Fontes decided to copy the Oilers’ pass-happy offense, leaving Sanders to do his thing against defenses spread out to guard against all those pass receivers.

They called it the “Run-n-Shoot,” and while Sanders took care of the “Run” part, the Lions weren’t nearly as good at the “Shoot.”

 

Fontes had his receivers, but they weren’t exactly Pro Bowl in quality like the Oilers had in Houston. And Fontes’ quarterback, rookie Rodney Peete, was no Warren Moon of Houston.

But, Fontes tried. He did succeed on one point: The Lions weren’t boring any longer. Peete and the other QB, Bob Gagliano, flung the football all over the field, with various degrees of success. And Sanders was a one-man highlight reel; never before did fans ooh and ahh over a three-yard loss, as they did with Barry.

The Lions scored as never before, but their leaky defense turned many games into shootouts. Still, the Lions made the playoffs four out of five years between 1991 and 1995. They weren’t boring; that’s for sure.

The Lions ran various versions of the Run-n-Shoot for most of Fontes’ tenure as the Lions coach (1988-96). Not only were the Lions not boring anymore, some folks even worried that they scored too fast, thus not giving the defense time to catch its breath.

The Lions under Fontes had a supreme running back and a few good receivers here and there, but never could come up with “that” quarterback, the same old refrain four decades running.

Today’s Lions are just a few weeks away from opening Sunday 2012. They are the exact opposite of Fontes’ Barry Sanders’ teams.

The Lions of today are a premier passing unit, among the best in the league. And, they have more question marks at running back than the Riddler’s costume.

In the Run-n-Shoot days of the 1990s, the Lions tried to be a high-octane passing team, sometimes at the expense of their best weapon—Sanders.

 

If I was an opposing defensive coordinator back then, I’d have looked to the heavens and said thank you every time Sanders didn’t touch the football.

It’s called playing to your strength, no matter what the Pro Football Handbook might say about striking a balance between running and passing.

The football handbook people are wringing their hands over is this year’s Lions. They look at the running game and worry that it can’t crank out enough yards to keep defenses honest.

Ha!

With Matthew Stafford throwing and Calvin Johnson catching, plus all the other competent receivers on the roster, it really won’t matter if the Lions run the football well or not.

The Lions’ fortunes, make no question, will ride on Stafford’s golden arm and Johnson’s Velcro hands. They are the best QB/receiver tandem in the NFL, bar none.

Why force-feed a cache of questionable running backs the football, just for the sake of laying claim to running and passing balance?

It makes no sense.

It makes no sense to suppress Stafford and Co. because great players make great plays, whether the other team is stacked to stop it or not.

The Lions ought to play to their strength. They ought not to worry so much about running the football.

 

In a perfect football world, you’d gain four yards on a first-down running play, all game long. But, life isn’t perfect, and neither is any football team.

The Wayne Fontes’ Detroit Lions force-fed the Run-n-Shoot when they didn’t really have the proper personnel, other than the best running back on the planet.

The Lions of today would be foolish to run the football for the sake of running it, when they possess a passer like Stafford and receivers like Johnson, Nate Burleson, Titus Young and Brandon Pettigrew.

It makes no sense.

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Aug
23

Breaking Type

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Actors call it typecasting, and it’s a dirty word for them. It might as well be four letters in length.

Typecasting (aggh!!) has been the bane of many an actor, who gets pigeon-holed into a certain character or persona and, no matter how hard they try, can never really shake the image.

Typecasting isn’t all bad, of course. Many an actor has made a mint playing the same character, either literally or similarly.

And, conversely, there have been cautionary tales of a performer getting restless and leaving a successful TV series, for example, in an effort to find something else, anything else, to play. And those folks ended up losing a boatload of money.

J.K. Rowling has been typecast—as an author.

Rowling, the rags-to-riches author of the “Harry Potter” series of books, decided that enough was enough and stopped writing the Potter books, despite the enormous fortune the stories netted her.

I don’t know; if I was making the dough that Rowling was making—from the books and the films that were spawned from them—I think I might pump those suckers out like a Pez dispenser until my fingers fell off from all the typing.

But to her credit, Rowling decided to fight the typecasting and write “adult” stories. Not adult as in naughty—well, you get the idea.

Her first attempt at non-Harry Potter, non-adolescent, non-fantasy writing debuts soon—September 27, to be exact.

The novel is called “The Casual Vacancy,” and it takes place in a little British town (naturally; she’s a native Brit) called Pagford. It will retail for $35 and it revolves around an election held after a member of the parish council unexpectedly dies.

J.K. Rowling



From a story in today’s Free Press:

I expect the world to be ecstatic at the range of her imaginative reach,” predicts Rowling’s American publisher, Michael Pietsch. One of the few to have read the embargoed book, he calls Rowling “a genius, one of the great writers of all time.” Reading the 512-page novel, he says, “reminded me of Dickens because of the humanity, the humor, the social concerns, the intensely real characters.”

Two words: We’ll see.

More than 2 million hardcovers were printed, so it’s clear that the Little, Brown publishing company expects a boon in sales.

But there are some similarities to the Potter books. Namely, there are no advanced copies and therefore no advanced reviews to be found. No one will know until after September 27 whether Rowling has a hit on her hands, or not.

Rowling’s seven-part Potter series sold more than 450 million copies. So maybe a mere initial run of 2 million for “The Casual Vacancy” will prove to be a drop in the bucket.

The first Potter movie was released in 1997, so in 15 years those youngsters are now grown and perhaps have started families of their own. Will they be a target audience for Rowling’s first adult novel?

“Fans who read Harry Potter as children will be one of the core audiences for this book, without a doubt,” says Diane Roback, children’s book editor at Publishers Weekly. “I cannot think of an author who is more beloved by her readers.”

But will those readers break form and look at Rowling as she obviously would like to be seen? That is, as an author with some range?

Again, those two tiny words: We’ll see.


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Aug
21

The Flappy Homemaker

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I recently saw Comedy Central’s roast of comedienne Roseanne Barr, and one roaster after the other ended their set in a similar fashion: by thanking her for being a trailblazer and for opening up opportunities for other female stand-up comics.

That’s all well and good—Roseanne’s successful, eponymous sitcom did indeed open up paths for other strong, sassy female characters on television.

But let’s not forget who did Roseanne on stage before Roseanne did it.

Phyllis Diller kind of looked like Cruella DeVil on stage, with her long cigarette holder and her feathery boa and her wild, untamed hair. But Diller wasn’t an evil, wretched woman—she was just funny, albeit sometimes in an evil, wretched way.

Diller would go on stage, as Roseanne later did, and complain about being a housewife. Diller called her husband Fang and he was the butt of a lot of her jokes. Poking fun at the defenseless, non-present spouse has always been a winner, whether the joke teller is male or female.

But good material works best with a good delivery, and Phyllis Diller, who died the other day at the very ripe age of 95, had one of the most iconic deliveries in stand-up comedy history.

Diller would puff on her long cigarette and poke her eyes out from the feathers and deliver her jabs at Fang and other targets, ranging from the mailman to cooking, and then punctuate many of her jokes with a laugh that was big, throaty and borderline mad.

Roseanne has a distinctive laugh, too—though I’m sure that’s all coincidental.

Phyllis Diller was born Phyllis Driver in Lima, Ohio in 1917. She studied music and learned to play the piano quite well, but was intimidated by other pianists and dropped the thought of pursuing music professionally.

Watching her on stage, it’s hard to imagine Diller being intimidated by anything. But she was, and so comedy became her second and, eventually, highly successful career choice.

She even lived in Ypsilanti for a time; her husband worked at the Willow Run Bomber Plant during WWII.

After a stint as an advertising copywriter, Diller’s comedy career dawned along with television’s role as an American pastime, in the early-1950s. It all started in Oakland, CA with “Phyllis Diller, the Homely Friendmaker,” in 1952.

The stand-up career began in 1955 at a place in Southern California called The Purple Onion. She took the stage for the first time on March 7 and didn’t get off until 87 straight weeks passed.

Then St. Louis became her home and as the 1960s arrived, Diller began appearing on other people’s TV shows throughout the decade, riding the coattails of everyone from Jack Benny to Ed Sullivan to Johnny Carson. Bob Hope invited her along to entertain troops during the Vietnam War.

Throughout, Diller kept poking fun at herself, at Fang, and speaking of funny, it was funny that men laughed along with her, too—not just the fellow housewives in the crowd and watching at home.

This is because Phyllis Diller’s humor was everyone’s humor. Her perspective might have been female, but her jokes  were unisex. Men may have laughed at Diller because of her outrageous persona on stage; women laughed at her because they could relate to what she was talking about.

Like Joan Rivers (pre-plastic surgery), Diller overstated her bad looks. Like Rivers, Diller was no classic beauty. But, also like Rivers, Diller wasn’t a dog, either, especially after some gentle plastic surgery of her own in later years. Through the wild hair and the boa and the mad laugh, Phyllis Diller wasn’t an unattractive woman—certainly not the brutal looking one she made herself out to be.

To wit, an old Diller joke goes like this: She’s running after a garbage truck pulling away from her curb. “Am I too late for the trash?” she’d yell. The driver’s reply: “No, jump right in!”

Fang was fictional, by the way. Diller was married and divorced twice, and had six kids from the first husband. But neither spouse was actually Fang—that husband was her stage husband.

So I guess you could say that Phyllis Diller had three husbands—two real and one made up, for comedic purposes.

There wasn’t much comedy in recent years from Diller—just lots of cooking, gardening and, believe it or not, painting. It was a quiet ending to what had been a rather loud life.

In typical Phyllis Diller fashion, she had some skewed advice to her fellow housewives.

“Never go to bed mad,” she once said. “Stay up and fight.”

Sounds like something Roseanne might have said. But she’d have been the second.

Categories : Enotes, Entertainment
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Aug
20

Monday Morning Manager: Week 20

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Last Week: 3-3

This Week: TOR (8/21-23; LAA 8/24-26)

So, What Happened?
Never has the above question been so apt.

MMM is still trying to figure out what happened, especially over the weekend, when a series against the Baltimore Orioles turned from promising to regretful and, perhaps, damaging.

MMM is also wondering what they’re putting in the baseballs these days. Baltimore’s Chris Davis seemingly flicked his bat at a Ricky Porecllo pitch in the seventh inning Saturday night and the ball flew into the Tigers bullpen—an opposite field, three-run shot that broke a scoreless tie and sucked the life out of Comerica Park.

But nothing was more stunning, or staggering, than Sunday’s loss.

A 5-0 first inning lead under sunny skies and with Doug Fister on the mound led every Tigers fan to believe that it was going to be a frollicking, happy-go-lucky day at the yard. A series win and a possible half-game deficit in the division looked imminent.

How many times does a pitcher give up five runs in the first inning and even stay in the game for five innings, let alone qualify for and get the win?

That’s exactly how Baltimore’s Wei-Yin Chen picked up a victory on Sunday. If a bloop single looks like a line drive in next day’s box score, then Chen’s win must look like a gem this morning in agate type.

MMM wonders, Why Win Chen? Or, rather, HOW Win Chen?

Chen win because the Tigers put together one bad at-bat after the other. Maybe they thought Chen would roll over. Maybe they thought everything would come easy after the first inning.

The only thing that came easy after the first inning was Chen and the O’s drum-tight bullpen’s ability to get Tigers hitters to pop up and ground into double plays.

A loss in Minnesota started the week, before the Tigers rebounded with a mini three-game winning streak leading up to the grisly weekend games against Baltimore, a team that leads Detroit by two games in the Wild Card race.

The Tigers missed a great chance in the division race because the White Sox were swept by the Royals over the weekend, though Detroit did pick up a game and trail by just 1.5 games.

Hero of the Week

Forgive MMM but he is choosing Miguel Cabrera for an unprecedented third week in a row.

It’s like going to a favored restaurant and saying you’re going to order something different, but you end up choosing your favorite dish yet again.

MMM had that feeling as he perused the menu before choosing the Hero.

How can you go against Miggy, who went 10-for-21 with a couple of big flies and six ribbies? You can nitpick and say he didn’t do much on Saturday and Sunday in two close games, but that would be, well, nitpicking.

MMM wanted to choose Prince Fielder, whose two homers—including a tie-breaking, two-run moonshot in the eighth inning—on Friday led directly to victory. But a .476 BA for the week (Cabby’s) was too hard to overcome. Again, Prince finishes a close second in the HotW race. He was 6-for-20 last week.

The problem with MMM tabbing Cabrera three weeks in a row is that it means no one else (save Fielder) is really having big weeks lately. Believe MMM when he says he would love to have Cabrera’s streak end next Monday!

Goat of the Week

Before the season, MMM showed his brilliance by actually suggesting that the Tigers insert Brennan Boesch into the lead-off spot, usurping Austin Jackson, who was coming off a disappointing 2011 season.

Even MMM gets it wrong sometimes.

But he isn’t getting it wrong this morning, because Boesch is, without question, the GotW.

BB was hitless for the week and looked like a hitless player. Let’s just say he wasn’t robbed, wasn’t the victim of bad luck. He was just…bad.

MMM had high hopes for Boesch. MMM envisioned Boesch being a gap-to-gap hitter whose swing and game was perfectly suited for Comerica Park’s expansive outfield. Not a power hitter, per se, but a guy who would hit 15-20 home runs and 30-40 doubles, if he played every day. Maybe even 5-10 triples.

Not happening this season.

Boesch has turned into a weak-hitting lefty swinger who rolls over the baseball, driving the ball into the ground, usually in the form of a 4-3 on your scorecard. His hits, anymore, seem to be only occurring if his grounders bleed into the outfield.

He is overpowered by even mid-90s fastballs and has a swing that is so long, if it was a book it’d be War and Peace.

Boesch is confounding. What’s worse, he’s part of the Tigers’ problem on offense, not any part of the solution.

Under the Microscope
Anibal Sanchez was acquired from Miami in late-July to solidify the no. 5 spot in the rotation. He wasn’t expected to be Doyle Alexander, 1987 vintage, or Doug Fister 2011. All Sanchez was expected to do was to provide veteran presence so the Tigers wouldn’t have to rely on a rookie like Drew Smyly or Jacob Turner every fifth day in a division race.

Instead, Sanchez has, so far, thrown gas on the fire that is the fifth rotation spot.

Sanchez’s next start was bumped from Sunday to this Wednesday, an indicator of his struggles. In four Tigers starts, his ERA is well over 7.00.

MMM doesn’t believe that the Tigers’ chances of winning the division rest on how Sanchez performs. The team has bigger issues, frankly, than Sanchez. But Anibal is UtM because if he continues to pitch poorly, Jim Leyland will be left scrambling. And with 41 games remaining, scrambling is the last thing a manager wants to do when it comes to his starting rotation.

Upcoming: Blue Jays, Angels
The Tigers’ nine-game home stand continues and concludes this week as the Toronto Blue Jays and LA Angels visit.

The Blue Jays are a funny team. You don’t really know what you’re going to be facing each day you play them. They have the talent to make you look bad, but they can also look awful themselves.

Hey, sound familiar, Tigers fans?

When talking Blue Jays, two names pretty much stick out: 1B/3B Edwin Encarnacion and left-handed pitcher Ricky Romero.

Encarnacion leads the team in BA (.289), HR (31) and RBI (82). He’s the Jays’ Triple Crown guy.

Romero leads the team in wins (8) and in strikeouts (104). He starts in the series opener on Tuesday as the Tigers continue to see lefty starters in streaks.

Romero’s ERA is a high 5.47, but that is good enough for second among the starters, which tells a lot about why Toronto is in last place in the AL East.

Tigers starters against Toronto: Max Scherzer, Sanchez, Justin Verlander.

The Angels were losers of three of four games in Detroit a week after the All-Star break, and they are a desperate team right now. Their season of high hopes is in danger of crashing, thanks in part to the surprising Oakland A’s. Even rookie sensation Mike Trout has been showing signs of fatigue, though he rebounded with a five-hit weekend against Tampa.

The Angels always scare MMM, no matter how they’re playing at the time. It’s a team that can beat you in a lot of different ways, and they keep the pressure on from innings 1-9 with their speed and manager Mike Scioscia’s aggressive style.

Tigers starters: Porcello, Fister, Scherzer.

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

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January is a safe time to talk about baseball. There are no games on the schedule, no performances to track. The dead of winter makes a very comfortable backdrop against which to make declarations, bold predictions and lofty promises.

Few are the wintertime bon mots that get remembered much past spring training. Even fewer are those that actually come true.

The Tigers winter caravan was about to get into full swing last January. The annual tour through the state, designed to warm the hearts of the baseball fans and to attempt to break up winter’s cold and doldrums with an opportunity to wax about the National Pastime.

Nothing better than some baseball talk in mid-January to put the cold temps and chilled bones on hold, or at least in the background, if even momentarily.

As the caravan was about to rev up, there came a news item from Tiger Land.

Austin Jackson, the center fielder who just completed his pockmarked sophomore season, was the center of the news item.

Jackson was a riddle wrapped inside an enigma. He was the Churchill’s Russia of the Tigers. After two seasons, most followers of the team were scratching their heads.

He belonged on To Tell the Truth, playing the two impostors and the real guy, all by himself.

In 2010, his rookie year, Jackson batted .293. Even though he struck out a lot, he wasn’t out of place in a big league batter’s box. His fielding was exemplary, loping around in the majors’ vast center fields like a gazelle with a mitt.

Hi-res-145832927_crop_exact
McClendon’s January tweak of Jackson’s swing has paid rich dividends 
Leon Halip/Getty Images

 

In 2011, Jackson still patrolled center field like an Irish cop does the Bowery, but his hitting tailed off dramatically. The average sunk to .249 and the strikeouts became more viral—and less tolerable, thanks to the 44-point drop in his BA.

In the playoffs, Jackson batting leadoff seemed to help torpedo the Tigers more than helping them win. He seemed to be regressing as a big-league hitter, especially when the spotlight’s glare was brightest.

So that was the situation with Jackson when the January announcement came that hitting coach Lloyd McClendon was working with Jackson on the young hitter’s batting stance.

You could almost see the collective eyes of Tigers fans rolling.

If you’d like to get into a business where the adulation is rare and the bitching from the populace is constant, you might want to consider becoming a big league team’s hitting coach—that is, if you can’t make it to manager.

The slumps are all yours. And the success stories?

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the credit.

McClendon, we were told, had seen something he didn’t like with Jackson’s stance. Something caught on that new standby, videotape. Of course, it’s not even tape anymore—it’s all digital.

McClendon didn’t like Jackson’s high kick before the swing. There were other things, stuff that only hitting coaches see, and McClendon went to work on those, too.

Some of it, McClendon said he had tried to correct on the fly during the 2011 season. Clearly those fixes didn’t take; Jackson was a shell of the offensive player he displayed in 2010.

Last offseason, brilliant bloggers such as the one you’re reading right now suggested that Jackson was no longer suited for the Tigers’ leadoff role. We keyboard bangers declared Jackson and his .249 batting average were No. 9 material in the batting order, not No. 1.

I showed my genius by pushing for the Tigers to use Brennan Boesch at leadoff in 2012.

Of all the things that can make you smarter, a keyboard isn’t necessarily one of them.

So McClendon did his thing with Jackson’s mechanics, whether the fan base or the media or the wretched bloggers bought into it or not.

It’s been one of the most shameful parts of this rollercoaster 2012 season that McClendon has been given no credit—zero, zilch, nada—for the resurgence of Austin Jackson.

Jackson is even better than he was in 2010, when he burst onto the scene as the kid from the Yankees organization who would replace Curtis Granderson in center field for the Tigers, and who put together a season worthy of Rookie of the Year status.

This year, whatever McClendon did with Jackson has been Midas in nature.

Jackson still strikes out more than the average, but he is doing so less frequently, mainly because he’s cut down on swinging at pitches that aren’t strikes.

Sounds simple, but if hitting were simple, everyone would be Ted Williams.

The biggest improvement has been Jackson’s laying off the pitches high in the zone—pitches which ate him up nightly last year. Gone is the high leg kick, which McClendon suspected was throwing everything off in Jackson’s swing.

A baseball swing is not unlike a golf swing. The hitter moves more parts of his body than an exotic dancer during a businessman’s lunch.

Just like in golf, the baseball swing is a precision instrument of hips that either open or close too much, hands that either stay in or fly out, shoulders that are balanced or not, and eyes that either stay on the ball or don’t.

And that’s before the bat even makes contact with the baseball—if it does at all.

The result of McClendon’s tutoring of Jackson is that the Tigers have one of the premier center fielders in all of baseball. They have a triple threat at leadoff: a guy who can hit, hit for power and run. Jackson can take you deep or take you shallow. He can pull you down the line or shoot you up the gap.

Jackson is, simply, a complete hitter who is light years ahead of where most thought he’d be in 2012 after last year’s struggles.

Austin Jackson is the poster boy for the phrase, “Sometimes you have to take one step backward to take two steps forward.”

Think of that the next time a TV shot of Lloyd McClendon in the Tigers dugout causes you to hurl invectives.

But don’t worry—I’m not holding my breath.

Categories : Baseball, Detroit Tigers
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Aug
17

On Warm Buckets

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In the history of the U.S. Presidency since 1865, on seven occasions the sitting president was unable to finish his term. All but one of those were due to death (Richard Nixon’s 1974 resignation). And it should be pointed out that another of those seven, Franklin Roosevelt, died in office but in the beginning of his fourth term, which is a Constitutional impossibility these days.

So it’s not all that common, of course, when the vice president has to step in and assume the reins of the Commander-in-Chief, mid-term.

Yet there is a fascination with the choice of presidential running mates every four years.

The vice presidency is a funny thing. You’re, as they say, a “heartbeat away” from becoming the most powerful man in the world, yet while you’re waiting for that to happen, you’re as relevant as, well the vice president.

The job is, as former VP John Nance Garner once famously said, “not worth a bucket of warm piss” (yes, he said piss—not spit as has been mostly reported).

But we wait on pins and needles every four summers to see who the non-incumbent party’s candidate will choose as his running mate. Yet on Election Day, we don’t vote for vice president. No one goes into the voting booth pulling the lever for a man’s running mate.

That doesn’t stop the analysis or the hand-wringing or the speculation or the talking points, all about a decision that doesn’t really have any bearing on the direction of the country.

The candidate usually picks the opposite of himself. If he’s a loudmouth, he’ll tab a quiet guy. If he’s Northern, he’ll go Southern. If he’s right or left of center, he’ll go with someone more central.

He doesn’t even have to like the man he’s choosing.

In 1960, Massachusetts’ John Kennedy, who wrested the nomination from the likes of Texan Lyndon Johnson, felt he needed Johnson’s appeal to Southerners and those who weren’t crazy about JFK’s being Roman Catholic.

So despite not being enamored with each other, the two joined forces on the Democratic ticket for the good of the party. It worked; Kennedy narrowly beat Richard Nixon on Election Day.

Does Paul Ryan matter? History says, not likely





The Kennedy/Johnson thing, though, is an exception to the rule. A presidential candidate’s running mate—and indeed, a president’s vice president—is mostly there not to embarrass his (or her) boss. Hence the occasional hoof-in-mouth Joe Biden, who sometimes makes Barack Obama cringe, no doubt.

Even dunderheads like Dan Quayle didn’t keep his candidate from winning.

Did Sarah Palin prevent John McCain from beating Obama in 2008? Well, she likely didn’t help, although I assure you the race was between McCain and Obama, not Palin and Biden.

Paul Ryan is Mitt Romney’s choice for vice president. Immediately after being picked, Ryan’s record on Medicare became the star of the day’s 24-hour news cycle. Polls show that, several days after being selected, Ryan hasn’t changed the Obama/Romney numbers all that much, if at all.

Which is how it should be. Which is how it isn’t treated, until Election Day, when voters vote for president, not vice president.

John Nance Garner knew that better than anyone.

Categories : Enotes, Politics, presidency
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Aug
14

BLT with TLC

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Adam Richman, the moon-faced foodie from The Travel Channel, has been setting out across America to find the country’s best sandwich.

There are 12 finalists in “Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich in America,” which airs on TTC Wednesdays at 9:00pm.

Detroit is represented, as the Yardbird sandwich from Slows BBQ is among the final 12.

In today’s Freep, food writer Sylvia Rector writes that Slows chef Brian Perrone tosses smoked, pulled chicken with sauteed mushrooms and then adds cheddar, applewood bacon and a special sweet-and-tangy mustard sauce.

Sounds scrumptious, as do these sandwiches in Rector’s story. But they all have one thing in common: a strong hint of hoity-toity-ness.

Nowhere in Richman’s series or in Rector’s story, which tells of the Freep’s 2008 attempt to find the Best Sandwich in Metro Detroit, will you see a true American classic.

Give me a good ole BLT (or two) and you can have all your fancy-shmancy sammies.

Is there anything better, really, than freshly fried, crisp bacon layered with ripened tomatoes and crispy (not wilted) lettuce, lightly slathered with mayonnaise and sitting between two slices of toasted bread?

The only thing not good about a BLT is the price of the B.

Honestly, as much as I love bacon, I don’t know why anyone would purchase it if it’s not on special.

I can’t see spending upwards of $5 on a pound of Oscar Meyer or other “name brand” bacon.

We wait till those glorious two-for-$5 specials appear at our local market. Then we snatch up a couple of pounds and go to town.

And watch out for those pseudo specials, where the markets offer 2 12-oz. packages for $5. That’s really only a pound-and-a-half for five bucks, which is tantamount to about $3.33 per pound.

I sometimes make and eat a BLOT, which is simply a BLT with slices of onion.

Crisp is the operative word, however, when talking BLT. Everything that has to do with the sandwich, save the tomato, ought to be crisp; the bacon can’t be gummy, the lettuce can’t be wilted and the toast can’t be soggy. Or else, the sandwich loses much of its appeal.

And oh, what an appeal it has.

Gathering the family around the kitchen table for a bunch of “serve yourself” BLTs is a great answer to the nightly question, “What’s for dinner?”

If you have the patience to baby the bacon during cooking, then you’ve survived half the BLT battle. A proper crisping of two pounds of bacon in a frying pan can take upwards of 30-45 minutes; anything less will result in under cooked, gummy bacon, which is like a tough, overcooked filet mignon in terms of kitchen nightmares.

The tomatoes ought to be ripe and juicy—not orange and hard, like the ones found on a cheap diner’s tossed salad in winter time.

The mayonnaise must be present but not overly so. It’s the goofy uncle of the sandwich, and we all know how obnoxious and insufferable a goofy uncle can be.

The lettuce should be Romaine, if possible, and freshly bought. It has to be able to withstand the bacon’s warmth and the tomato’s juiciness. Wilted, old lettuce can torpedo a BLT’s flavor and feel slimey in your mouth.

The bread ought to be white—not Italian, French or (gasp!) anything Pita. I might get some static here, but I maintain that a traditional BLT tastes best on sliced white bread, lightly toasted.

Cut that sucker in half, diagonally, and you’ll have your own Sandwich of the Year.

This BLT isn’t stacked exactly as I would do it, but it looks tasty



As for how to layer it, that’s up to you. I place the bacon on first, then the lettuce, then the tomato. If it’s a BLOT, the onion goes on between the lettuce and the tomato. Only the top slice of toast gets swiped with mayonnaise. But that’s just me.

One more thing: I like to not put my BLT down once I start eating it. They tend to fall apart if properly stacked. So grasp the sandwich with both hands and then after biting into it, gently release one hand while keeping the other on the sammy, to guard against self-destruction.

It’s an American classic, I tell you, and it’s not just for lunch. BLTs with a soup of choice make a proper dinner.

Make sure you have a bag of fresh potato chips ready to complete your plate. Something pickled works nice, too, as a relish.

If you like the sophisticated sandwiches that Richman is hopping, skipping and jumping to try, or the ones Rector judged in the Free Press, God bless you.

Just give me a BLT, made the way described above, and I won’t be missing out on a thing.

I might be more thirsty than you, but it’s a small price to pay.

Categories : Enotes, food
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Aug
13

Monday Morning Manager: Week 19

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Last Week: 3-4

This Week: at Min (8/13-15; BAL 8/17-19)

So, What Happened?

*Sigh* MMM had such high hopes for last week. It started so promising.

Two wins over the vaunted New York Yankees to kick things off, and in the third game, another huge come-from-behind win looked to be in the offing. That failed, and another promising rally in the fourth game was snuffed out as well.

Then it was off to Texas and that series got off to a flying start as well before the ninth inning became unkind to the Tigers once again in game two. Game three? More on that later.

So a 2-0 start turned into a 3-4 week, and with the games increasing in importance, that kind of penthouse-to-outhouse week isn’t welcome.

By the end of the week, the bullpen seemed in shambles and Brayan Villarreal revealed that his elbow is “tired.” Phil Coke and Joaquin Benoit are imploding nightly. MMM is concerned!

Miggy Cabrera continues to be really good at playing baseball, which is the only thing keeping the Tigers afloat, it seems. Even a Justin Verlander start isn’t the automatic win it used to be.

Hero of the Week

Does MMM dare to pick the same Hero two weeks in a row?

Of course he does!

MMM again tabs Miguel Cabrera, who was 8-for-26 with two bombs and seven ribbies last week, as he continues to keep the team propped up on his broad shoulders.

MMM is underwhelmed, however, by Cabrera’s minimal range at third base, which seems to be getting smaller as the season goes on, maybe due to his bad left ankle. But he does, as he says in the commercial playing on FSD Detroit, “Like to hit.”

It just seems to MMM that if a hit needs to be gotten, if a run needs to be driven in, Cabrera is the Man. Prince Fielder is no slouch, either, but Cabrera batting third is so nice to see.

Honorable mention: Andy Dirks, who is keeping his BA around .340 even after his long layoff due to his Achilles injury.

Goat of the Week

Joaquin Benoit is throwing beach balls to the dish and it’s making MMM get sweaty palms—and a splitting headache.

Benoit, the Tigers’ set-up man, is setting them up, alright—setting them up for opposing hitters, who are taking him deep more than a batting practice pitcher.

Benoit has surrendered 10 homers in his last 15 innings, which is a streak that MMM wonders is unmatched in MLB history.

He also has a fetish for giving up back-to-back bombs, and it’s costing the team some games. Benoit struck again on Thursday afternoon, when he turned a 3-2 lead into a 4-3 deficit with two pitches to Mark Teixeira and new Tigers killer Eric Chavez.

Benoit’s sudden (well, not so sudden; this has been going on since the All-Star break) penchant for throwing home runs is a killer, and it is, sadly, just a symptom of the team’s bullpen woes, which are growing every week in seriousness.

There’s Benoit and a shaky Phil Coke and a sometimes shaky Jose Valverde and an imploding Villarreal and it’s just not looking too rosey out there.

Under the Microscope

MMM hates to say “I told you so,” especially when it doesn’t mean good things for the Tigers, but here’s an excerpt from MMM Week 14:

“This is a dark horse, outside-the-box UtM this week.

Relief pitcher Brayan Villarreal.

And it’s not so much an UtM for just this week as it is for the second half of the season.

Villarreal is this year’s Al Alburquerque: high strikeout guy who blows people away with a slider. Seemingly unhittable at times.

But AA had a second half in 2011 that was pocked with inconsistency then an unfortunate incident in Baltimore, when he was hit in the head by a baseball during batting practice, giving him a concussion from which he never recovered.

MMM is watching Villarreal to see if he continues to make hitters look silly out of the bullpen in the sixth and seventh innings, over the season’s crucial second half.

So consider this MMM’s mid-season UtM for 2012, Part II.”

Ugh.

Looks like MMM was right to put Villarreal UtM, because in his last three appearances he has looked lost.

Now we find out why, perhaps. Call it Daniel Schlereth Syndrome.

Villarreal told Tigers officials that his elbow feels “tired.” There are going to be tests on it soon.

Great.

GM Dave Dombrowski might have to scour the waiver wires again to see if he can bring in a veteran arm for the bullpen, which suddenly looks a mess.

So this week’s UtM is the bullpen in general, and Dombrowski specifically, as MMM wonders if DD will find another arm. Those kinds of deals can often be the difference between making the playoffs or not. They’re not sexy trades, but many championship teams have brought in veteran bullpen guys for the stretch run, and it has often worked.

Upcoming: Twins, Orioles

The Tigers have found Target Field in Minnesota much more to their liking than that damn Metrodome.

The Tigers’ record in Minnesota lately is pretty good, and they swept the Twins there in May. They’ll need more of the same this week, to recover from their current 1-4 streak, which began after beating the Yanks twice to start last week.

The rotation in Minny: Anibal Sanchez (who was rocked Wednesday against the Yankees), Doug Fister, Max Scherzer.

After an off day, the Baltimore Orioles, still in the playoff race, visit Comerica Park, where the Tigers are 15-3 lately.

The Tigers won 2-of-3 in Baltimore in the first series after the All-Star break. The game they lost was because Benoit (surprise!) gave up two homers in the same inning to serve up a walk-off loss.

The Orioles have switched back to the cartoon-style bird on their cap, and while their lids now smack of the days of Rick Dempsey and Kiko Garcia and John Lowenstein, today’s Orioles are a young, talented squad that can hit. Their pitching may be suspect, but the Tigers’ bullpen stinks so it’s a push.

The Orioles series kicks off a nine-game home stand. The first-place White Sox don’t seem to be in the folding mood, so it’s important to keep protecting CoPa.

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

Categories : Baseball, Detroit Tigers
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