Greg Eno

These are some of my most perplexing things

In All Sports on August 25, 2016 at 12:55 am

Occasionally I will do a stream of consciousness piece because I’m too lazy to come up with a well-thought narrative.

Today is one such day.

I’ve done these before—ruminating on things in sports that I miss, things in sports that I love, etc.

My favorite—because I get to use my own words against me—is my annual proof or disproof of my bleatings for the year, which runs every December 31.

But it occurred to me that there is also an awful lot of things in sports that are simply mind-boggling.

Of course, my mind isn’t that hard to boggle, but be that as it may.

So, without further ado…

I’ll never understand…

Why a baseball manager refuses to let his starter try to get some outs in the ninth inning before bringing in the closer to, you know, close. Especially when the pitch count is friendly.

Why a football coach will call timeout to “ice” a field goal kicker, when many kickers have gone on record saying that they actually appreciate that time on the field to gather their thoughts, talk to the holder and snapper, etc—rather than possibly hurry the very important kick.

Why some video replays take forever to decide, when I can pretty much determine the proper call after just one look. Am I in the wrong profession? Or are the officials?

Why baseball players put their gloves over their mouths when they talk to teammates. Their lips don’t work that good that they can be read anyway. Especially when the player has a huge chaw of gum or tobacco in his mouth to begin with.

Why hockey doesn’t simply make the nets larger if everyone is complaining (and they are) about the huge goalie equipment and the lack of offense in today’s game.

Why a 20-second timeout in basketball takes over a minute.

Why kickers don’t go back to wearing single bar facemasks. I mean, who are they kidding?

Why it took hockey goalies over 40 years for one of them to finally put on a damn mask in 1959.

Why some hockey goalies were still going bare-faced some 15 years later.

Why some baseball stadiums—even the ones not in Canada—include meters of distance on their walls. Is it to show off?

Why some fans will complain about a $5 hot dog, a $12 beer, a $4 pretzel, $30 for parking and a $15 program, yet declare that games are “better in person.”

Why we need mascots and the scoreboard to tell us when and how to cheer. We’re not attending a rugby match for the first time.

Why tennis scoring is the way it is. I mean, at least go 15-30-45 for crying out loud.

Where the aluminum trees are that provide all the bats in high school and college baseball.

Why we need a two-minute warning in the first half of pro football games, when college football doesn’t need any at all.

Why baseball teams hold “players only” meetings. They never work and often times the team gets its ass kicked following said meeting anyway.

Why Gaylord Perry wasn’t caught throwing a spitter in every single game he pitched.

What the Arizona Diamondbacks were thinking when they came out with their hideous brown uniforms. They make the San Diego Padres look like sartorial splendor.

Why hockey arenas announce the last minute of play in each period. There are these things called scoreboards…

Why the 3-0 pitch is always a strike and the 3-1 pitch is always fouled off.

Why Fox Sports Detroit doesn’t show us the innings a new pitcher has thrown in their little stat box, upon entering the game. Would sure put everything into perspective.

What constitutes offensive goaltending in basketball.

Or all the ways that a pitcher can commit a balk.

Why it’s called a “technical” foul.

Why managers kick dirt on umpires. The arbiters don’t do their own laundry.

Why we need sideline reporters on television. Other than a drunk Joe Namath slobbering over Suzie Kolber, what value for viewers has ever come from a sideline reporter?

Why football officials stopped firing pistols to signal the end of the quarter. Wait, maybe I do.

Why we don’t have coaches with names like Bear, Punch, Toe, Bo, Mayo, Sparky, Bep, Boom Boom, Whitey and Bud anymore.

Why every pitched baseball that even scrapes the dirt needs to be taken out of play. I never heard of a dirtball—outside the realm of used car sales and lawyers.

Why some Cubs fans still blame Stave Bartman for 2003.

Why no one remembers Bob Stanley for throwing the wild pitch that scored the tying run in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Why do we have to pin everything on one man all the time?

How a holder for a place kick manages to catch the ball, spin it laces out and place it down in such a short period of time. And get his fingers out of the way of being kicked.

Why a hockey goalie who allows no goals is said to have “pitched a shutout.” They’re firing the pucks at HIM!

How Alexander Cartwright nailed the 90 foot base path on the first try, some 160-plus years ago.

How a punt returner decides whether to call for a fair catch or not, because some punts that are fair caught seem so returnable and others that are returned, never should have been.

Why pitchers—whose job it is to throw the ball—can’t execute an accurate throw to second base after fielding a ground ball.

Why anyone would begrudge a pro football player’s salary, given their career’s brevity and the sheer danger it causes them.

Why basketball doesn’t add a four-point shot—if nothing else, for the sheer intrigue.

Why the 1985 Tigers didn’t come close to contending for the division, just one year removed from their magical season, with mostly the same cast and crew.

How the 1994 Red Wings lost a seven-game series to the (then) three year-old San Jose Sharks.

Why Johnny Wilson was fired as coach of the Red Wings after the 1972-73 season. Johnny didn’t either; I asked him about it 10 years ago and all he said was “Darkness with Harkness.”

Why baseball is the only sport that tolerates players leaving the benches during skirmishes.

Why Jhonny Peralta spells his first name that way.

Why the Lions hired Darryl Rogers as coach in 1985. Or why the Red Wings hired Ned Harkness in 1970.

What separates a pro bowler from a non-pro.

How the camera men follow a golf ball in the air on television with such precision.

Why we can’t have jump balls in high school or college basketball.

Why there’s still so much about sports that I don’t understand.

 

Harbaugh’s time at U-M will be fleeting because that’s who he is

In college football, Uncategorized on August 20, 2016 at 9:35 pm

Published August 20, 2016

Timing is everything.

Jimmy Harbaugh, when he was hired in December 2014 by the University of Michigan to run its football program, was exactly what U-M needed at that moment.

There had been some winning seasons in Ann Arbor post-Lloyd Carr, who retired after the 2007 season, but nothing that was eye-grabbing. The Rich Rodriguez Era was brief (three years) and forgettable. The Brady Hoke Era (four years) was angst-filled.

Michigan wasn’t Michigan.

Teams weren’t scared to play in the “Big House” any longer. When Toledo walks in there and comes out victorious, something’s not right.

There were some bowl games after Carr but there were also too many oddball losses—of both football games and of mystique about the program that roiled the alumni.

Harbaugh, meanwhile, was flaming out in San Francisco with the 49ers. Both he and management were rubbing each other raw.

It all conspired to create the perfect storm for Harbaugh to bolt the NFL and return to his alma mater, where his hiring was hailed by the victors valiant.

Harbaugh was what Michigan football needed.

He proved it in his first season, when only a fluke loss to Michigan State marred what would have been an unquestionably outstanding first campaign.

He proved it on the recruiting trail, where his sometimes unorthodox methods have helped him reel in one big blue chip fish after the other.

And he’s proved it in the 24-hour news cycle, where you almost can’t open up the Internet without seeing Harbaugh splashed all over it.

But if you have ideas that this is Jimmy’s last coaching stop before he hangs up his khakis for good, you’re delusional.

Harbaugh is what Michigan needs—now.

And when he leaves—and I give him five years, tops (and probably less)—that will be what Michigan needs, as well.

Now, this isn’t to say that while he’s at Michigan, the Harbaugh-led Wolverines won’t have any big time success. In fact, they might even win a national championship.

But make no mistake—sooner or later, Harbaugh will rub folks the wrong way in Ann Arbor and/or the NFL will come calling again with some big bucks and another perfect storm will have been created that sends Harbaugh into the sunset.

Have chalk, will travel.

Or in Harbaugh’s case, have a hot motor, will travel.

This isn’t Harbaugh’s fault. It’s who he is. He can’t help that.

Coaches like he don’t plant roots, they plant stakes.

Harbaugh is 52 and he’s already been the head football coach at four different stops, the first three of which lasted an average of 3.7 years.

Even if you want to toss out the University of San Diego (2004-06) as a stepping stone program, Harbaugh still hasn’t shown the proclivity to stay anywhere for any significant amount of time.

But this is Michigan! It’s where he went to school and played quarterback for Bo Schembechler! This is what he’s always wanted to do!

Maybe it’s Harbaugh’s dream job—for now—but the thing about dreams is that you wake up from them, often rudely.

In full disclosure, I didn’t think Harbaugh would leave the NFL for Michigan. I wrote as much and I wasn’t wishy-washy about my views.

I thought the allure of chasing the Vince Lombardi Trophy was too intoxicating. I didn’t think Harbaugh wanted to dive back into the recruiting wars—at least not just yet. Not even for Michigan.

I muffed that one.

So I might not appear to be the best soothsayer out there when it comes to portending Jim Harbaugh’s future.

But I do know that just because he surprised me and left the NFL for Michigan, that doesn’t mean that he won’t take another head coaching job somewhere else, and sooner than Go Blue fans would like to think.

Harbaugh runs hot. He doesn’t idle. His internal governor isn’t wired to idle.

This was on display last week when Harbaugh got miffed at reporters’ questions about suspended players and their length of punishment. Legitimate questions that required answers, even if the answers were destined to be pat.

But Harbaugh’s hot engine without the ability to idle kicked in and he came off looking petulant and in mid-season, evasive form—in August.

I give Harbaugh three more years at Michigan, four max. His contract signed on December 30, 2014 was for seven years. He’ll never fulfill it.

Harbaugh will determine that his work at Michigan is done—or others will determine it for him. There’ll be a buyout, an amicable split. Maybe it will be contentious behind the scenes. Whatever.

Then it will be back to the pros, most likely. I don’t see another college job luring him away.

By then Harbaugh will be in his mid-50s, still young enough to make his mark elsewhere. But maybe at that point the engine will start to run a little cooler.

Jim Harbaugh is the kind of coach whose last job won’t be known until he stops coaching. Until then, it will be anyone’s guess how many more stops he has left in him.

Again, that’s not his fault. I’m not criticizing him for it. That’s just who he is.

But he’s what Michigan needed on December 30, 2014. And vice versa.

Timing is everything.

Cy Young talk about Verlander not only real, but unreal

In Baseball on August 8, 2016 at 2:37 am

Published August 8, 2016

We were all warned.

The fans who doubted, the opposing hitters who may have thought that their jobs got a little easier, the media wonks who wrote about his greatness in the past tense.

He warned us all.

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The tweet was shot into cyber space following the latest—at the time—poor outing from Justin Verlander.

It was after an ugly, five inning cameo in Cleveland in which Verlander gave up eight hits, seven earned runs and took the loss. His record fell to 2-3 but more importantly—and more disturbingly—his ERA was 6.49 and the WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) was a smelly 1.44.

Verlander had turned 33 years old in February, so right away some folks looked at him cross-eyed because of the calendar’s possible negative effects. He pitched well in the second half of 2015 but this was a new season and he seemed to have regressed to his struggling ways of 2014 and the early portion of last year.

So here we were, six starts into 2016 and Verlander’s body of work left a lot to be desired.

There was a brutal outing against the Pirates in which Verlander couldn’t make it out of the fifth inning, surrendering 10 hits and seven runs.

There were some decent starts mixed in, but the consistency wasn’t there and just when you thought that Verlander might have been righting the ship, he laid the egg in Cleveland.

He was looked at as a former ace, never again to attain that status. The comments on the Internet and the cranky calls into sports talk radio were less than kind.

Verlander was done. Finished. This was the end of an era happening before our very eyes. Thank goodness for Jordan Zimmermann, eh?

Verlander is one of baseball’s most tuned in players. He craves the spotlight. He feeds off big game pressure like a termite does off wood.

And he knows what people are saying about him behind his back—or in this case, for all the world to see and hear.

That’s why Verlander went into Joe Namath mode, circa 1969, with his tweet guaranteeing greatness once again.

The tweet wasn’t lacking in boldness. Verlander didn’t use any word less than “dominate.” He didn’t make any safe predictions. It wasn’t wishy-washy nor could the tweet have been misinterpreted in any way, shape or form.

“I’m going to dominate soon!”

Now, the Twitter world is filled with half-cocked declarations and ill-advised blather. The outlandish seems to be the norm at times.

Professional athletes are often in the middle of Twitterverse firestorms, and most of the time the controversies are of their own doing.

So when Verlander tweeted out his promise of dominance—and soon!—it no doubt would have been used against him if the warning/prediction didn’t come close to being true. It was also derided by some at the time the tweet was shot out as being an empty, almost pathetic pledge by a once-great pitcher.

Well, the tweet is being used, alright, but not as Exhibit A in the public opinion trial against him, but as the start of an incredible timeline that has Justin Brooks Verlander in the discussion—big time—as a possible American League Cy Young Award winner.

Verlander told us that he was going to dominate—soon!—and gee whiz, that’s exactly what he started doing after that start on May 3 in Cleveland.

He wasted no time in backing up his bravado with action.

Five days after Cleveland, the Texas Rangers came to Detroit and Verlander silenced the Rangers’ big bats with seven innings of shutout baseball. He only gave up three hits, walked just two and fanned nine.

But Verlander didn’t get a decision because right after he left the game, Tigers relievers coughed up eight runs in the final two innings and the team lost.

No matter.

Verlander kept going out there every fifth day and he continued to, using his word, dominate.

There was one stinker—a June 26 loss to the Indians in Detroit in which the Tribe roughed Verlander up to the tune of eight runs and nine hits in 4.2 innings. But other than that, Verlander has, indeed, dominated.

On Friday night, the New York Mets, with their vaunted though underachieving pitching staff, invaded Comerica Park. The series opener featured a dandy of a pitching matchup: one of baseball’s young guns, the not-quite-24 years old Noah Syndergaard, and the grizzled Verlander.

Starting pitchers will tell you that they’re not going up against the other starter—they’re going against the other team’s hitters.

Sometimes that’s true.

Sometimes that’s pure, unadulterated, balderdash.

Verlander was indeed going up against Syndergaard on Friday night. How could he not be?

Here was one of the Mets’ big, young arms—one who is being counted on by the Kings of Queens to pitch them back into the National League playoff picture. It was a Friday night, the opener of an intriguing weekend series because of the direction each team was headed in—the Tigers going north, the Mets not so much.

And here was the once-great Verlander who is now great again, taking the mound to show the kid Syndergaard that it’s great to be young, but it’s better to be experienced.

Syndergaard pitched well, but Verlander pitched better.

The Tigers held on for a 4-3 win, and Verlander moved to 12-6 with a 3.52 ERA and a shrinking WHIP of 1.05. He leads the league in innings pitched (153.1) and is striking out 9.6 batters per nine innings, which is his highest ratio since 2012 and the second highest of his 12-year career.

The fastball regularly touches the mid-90s, even late in games. The pitch speeds are changed and mixed with virtuoso-like skill. The breaking ball is back to buckling hitters’ knees.

So yeah, why not Justin Verlander for Cy Young?

The fact that this is even a discussion in early-August after a lousy first month of the season should be enough to give Verlander some sort of an award right now.

The fact that this is even a discussion at all in 2016 is one of baseball’s best stories that no one is talking about—yet.

But as the season dwindles and the games grow in importance—which they will for the Tigers if they hope to be in the playoffs for the fifth time in the past six years—“Justin Verlander” and “Cy Young Award” will find themselves in an awful lot of sentences together.

Oh and speaking of important games, is there anyone Tigers fans should want to see on the mound for such games more than Verlander?

Jack Morris still resonates in Tigers lore for being Detroit’s workhorse and the team’s most trusted starter in games that absolutely had to be won. It was a reputation that followed Morris to Minnesota and Toronto.

But with no disrespect to Morris—or to Mickey Lolich, Verlander is, without question, the best big game pitcher in Tigers history.

In 98 postseason innings, Verlander is 7-5 with a 3.39 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. He has struck out over 10 batters per nine innings in October.

Just ask the poor Oakland A’s about Verlander’s playoff dominance after what JV did to them in the 2012 and 2013 ALDS: one earned run in 31 innings combined, with 43 strikeouts.

The success in October hasn’t translated in Verlander’s two World Series appearances, but the Tigers don’t even get past the ALDS without Verlander in 2012-13.

Verlander lives for this time of year, when the games grow in size and the glare of the spotlight is hotter and could blind a lesser pitcher.

Every time he takes the mound from here until the end of the season, Verlander will be a pig in slop because the games start to really matter.

The resurgence started with the tweet heard ’round the world on May 3.

We were warned.

Verlander delivered.

Even Broadway Joe is winking.

 

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