Greg Eno

Archive for June, 2006|Monthly archive page

2006 Tigers Are Lysol For A Previously-Odiferous City

In Uncategorized on June 30, 2006 at 10:10 pm

I wonder where Hiram Bocachica is? Or Kimera Bartee? I wonder if Gene Kingsale still follows the Tigers. Maybe Eric Eckenstahler tunes in the Tigers from time to time.

Sorry, Andujar Cedeno. Roger Cedeno, too. Apologies to Randy Veres and Phil Hiatt and Nate Cornejo. You’ve all been neatly replaced as Tigers memories.

The Tigers’ roster since 1995, Sparky Anderson’s last season, isn’t exactly a Who’s Who of baseball. In fact, it’s more of a Who?

But those names, and other wretched ones like them, are now being properly put away, high in the attic of our minds. They are being replaced by ones such as Granderson and Verlander and Zumaya and Thames. And then some. Guys who can play the game.

One of the best things about a breakout season like the Tigers are currently enjoying is the antiseptic aspect of it. The 2006 Tigers are like a huge cloud of Lysol sprayed over the stench left over Comerica Park — and Tiger Stadium — by the above named offenders and their ilk.

Washing away now are memories of 43-119 and 53-109 and 65-97 and double-digit losing streaks and seasons in which 20 or so pitchers were used. Gone are times when the team was eliminated from serious contention by Easter. And some years, Easter comes in March.

It’s a disinfecting season, 2006 is, and the smell is fresh and pleasant indeed.

Walker’s Death Causes Wonder

In Uncategorized on June 30, 2006 at 8:23 am

Randy Walker had a twinge back in 2004. In October of that year, Walker checked himself into a hospital after experiencing chest pains. He was diagnosed with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle; the condition is not a common ailment, and is usually caused by a virus.

He was out of the hospital in two days.

“I’ve really taken my doctor’s orders to heart, because frankly, I want to see my grandkids someday,” Walker, Northwestern’s head football coach, said at the time.

Two months ago, Northwestern gave Walker a four-year extension through the 2011 season. He joined the school in 1999 after nine years at Miami of Ohio.

Last night, Walker died, not long after collapsing with chest pains. He was 52 years old.

When I was a child, and someone would die around that age, the adults would say something like, “Such a young man.” I remember begging to differ. To me, anyone over 40 was ancient.

Today I’m approaching 43, and I know all too well that a 52 year-old man dying is indeed too young. My own father passed of a massive heart attack ten years ago. He was 57. Another young one.

But my father, like Walker, had previous heart issues. In fact, my dad had open heart surgery in 1965 — at age 26 — to have an artificial valve inserted. He flew — and my dad was deathly afraid of planes — to Houston to have the operation done by famed heart surgeon Dr. Michael DeBakey.

And that valve was working just fine when he died suddenly in February 1996.

I’m always amazed that coaches, with their long hours and penchant for getting wound up during games, haven’t been carted away on stretchers into waiting ambulances more than they have. It’s unbelievable that more of them don’t drop dead before our very eyes, despite how morbid that may sound.

Detroit has been a heart attack-prone sports city.

There was Charlie Dressen, the Tigers manager of the mid-1960’s. He suffered a heart attack in spring training, 1965, and was stricken again in May 1966. He died that August.

Lions coach Don McCafferty was barely a week into his second training camp in 1974 when he was felled. He died almost immediately.

And need I remind you of Chuck Hughes, the Lions receiver? He died during a 1971 game against the Bears — a seemingly healthy man in his mid-20’s. Heart attack.

Ray Oyler, the light-hitting shortstop of the ’68 Tigers, was dead at age 42, in 1981, of a heart attack. Joe Sparma, a pitcher on that World Series championship team, died in 1986 after suffering a heart attack. He was 44.

Some get the warning signs. Former Utah basketball coach Rick Majerus, certainly not svelte, obeyed the twinges of his body and cooled it. Eventually, he got out of coaching, preferring the pressure-less world of TV talking head.

Randy Walker’s death will be properly mourned, and it may prompt a temporary uptick of physical exams from men in their early 50’s.

And still I’ll wonder how the sports coach, with his hard and mostly sleepless life, combined with game day angst, doesn’t leave us too soon more often. Not that I’m complaining.

With More Support, Garner Could Have Brought Detroit Baseball Back — Six Years Earlier

In Uncategorized on June 28, 2006 at 6:44 pm

Phil Garner was hot.

Having stormed out of the dugout, the manager’s veins bulged out in his neck as he went face-to-face with the offending umpire. The crowd roared as Garner revved up, eventually grabbing a bat and whacking it on home plate for emphasis.

Whack! Whack!

More crowd roaring.

By this time ejected, Garner did what most managers do when the damage is done: continue to act the fool. And, in front of the hometown crowd, a fool can be cheered as much as a competent.

When he finally marched back to the dugout, his cap off and his hair toussled and smoke shooting out of his ears, the fans at Comerica Park — all 10,000 or so of them — stood and applauded and hooted and hollered. It was April, 2001. And Garner had played the April Fool, but entertainingly so.

Garner’s tirade, as manager of the Tigers — which I saw in person — came to mind as I saw him go off his rocker Monday night as his Astros stumbled against the Tigers. It was largely the same type of performance — but with a tossed chair added to his repertoire.

There was a time when Garner may have presided over the resurgence of baseball in this town as is now occurring.

Hired to manage the Tigers before the 2000 season, Garner had plenty of ideas, many of which were encouraged and precipitated by team management. There would be a brand new ballpark — Comerica Park. There would be a brand new superstar — Juan Gonzalez. There would be a nifty, Japanese pitcher — Hideo Nomo. And there would be money spent, the business suits told Garner. It was a welcome message, after spending several seasons managing the cash-strapped Milwaukee Brewers.

But it never occurred, the resurgence. It never came close. The Tigers flirted with wild card contention in early September, but their chances were about as real as Joan Rivers’ face. Gonzalez, in the final year of his contract, never intended to re-sign in Detroit, despite GM Randy Smith’s courtship. Nomo was a bust. And the promised money all seemed to go toward the Gonzalez fund, for nothing of note was spent on trying to lure anyone else to Detroit.

Early in the 2002 season, the team winless after a week, Garner got the ziggy. No resurgence. Just regurgitation.

“I would have loved to be a part of what’s happening here,” Garner said the other night after the Tigers whipped his team. “But it never worked out.”

No, maybe not here. But Garner came back to town Monday as manager of the defending NL champ Astros. His team got swept in the World Series, but it got there. So there was a resurgence, after all — Phil Garner’s resurgence.

Still, he sounded almost wistful when speaking about his time in Detroit.

“Here, you have an entire state behind you. Millions of people. This is a sports state. You always have the full support of the people here.”

Trouble was, Garner never had the full support of ownership while he managed in Detroit. The fans are great, but they can’t make the necessary trades nor sign the needed free agents.

Though they’ll tell you how it should be done. Always, that’s been true.

Jim Leyland: AL Manager Of The Year

In Uncategorized on June 28, 2006 at 3:10 pm

Hockey calls it the Jack Adams Trophy. But they’re the league that has a fetish for naming their awards and trophies after hockey people — and sometimes non-hockey folks. Lady Byng, for example, never skated one shift in the NHL.

The rest of the four major team sports keep it simple, stupid: Coach of the Year. Correction — in baseball it’s Manager of the Year.

Each league likes to present these awards to commanders who’ve taken over a rickety plane and have managed to fly it straight, if even for just one season.

Wayne Fontes was a one-hit wonder. He took a pedestrian Lions team that finished 6-10 in 1990 and used emotions and some pixie dust to coax it into a 12-4 record and a trip to the Conference Championship. He won Coach of the Year honors, even though the voters must have known that the 6-10 1990 team was also coached by Wayne Fontes. Regardless, the Lions free-falled in 1992, dropping to 5-11. If there was an UN-Coach of the Year award for ’92, Fontes would have won that, too.

Jacques Demers arrived in Detroit in the summer of 1986 with this charge: take a 17-57-6 team that gave up over 400 goals and make it at least in the neighborhood of respectable. He did more than that — he also led his team to the finals of its conference. For that he won the — ahem — Jack Adams Trophy. The Red Wings made it to the league’s Final Four the next season, too — with their injured captain Steve Yzerman missing the season’s final month due to a serious knee injury. Voters thought that Demers’ coaching was still solid, and so bestowed upon him a second straight Adams Trophy.

It’s almost unheard of for the Coach (or Manager, or Jack Adams) of the Year Award to go to a coach who takes over a winner and keeps it winning. Pfft — anyone can do THAT, the voters reason. Show us someone who’s making chicken salad out of chicken feathers. It’s the main reason why Chuck Daly never won the award whilst coaching the Pistons — even though there were years when nobody could outcoach him. But there you are.

Jimmy Leyland has won Manager of the Year — twice, in fact. Once in 1990, after leading the Pirates to a 21-game improvement, and again in 1992, after coming off a division-winning season. He bucked the odds on that occasion.


Your 2006 AL Manager of the Year

The Tigers have been chicken feathers for well over a decade. Some would say they have been more like the feces of a horse, but you get the idea.

Today, the Tigers sit at 53-25, the best record in all of baseball. This in a town where the 53rd win usually comes sometime in September. If at all.

He won’t ever agree with the assertion, but there is no way the Tigers have the glittering record they now possess if Jim Leyland does not occupy the manager’s office.

He’s leading a team that’s starting to make a town go daffy over its baseball again, and he does it with daring, unconventional means, and a constant challenge to his players. There is no question, from player 1 to 25, who bosses the team.

Leyland, in my completely unbiased mind, is this year’s hands-down winner of his third Manager of the Year Award. You might as well give it to him right now, as far as I’m concerned.

Managers don’t pitch. They don’t field. They don’t hit. So how can they influence a team’s success, or failure?

There are maybe six inches between the ears of the average big league baseball player’s skull. They say baseball is a game of inches, and never is it more true than in this example. Because it’s the manager who can infilitrate those six inches of cranium and take up residence, coating the player’s mind with mantras of how to play, how to win, how to lose.

Some can do it better than others, let’s face it.

None of the men who’ve succeeded Sparky Anderson as Tigers manager — and we’re in the 11th season of no Sparky — have been able to commandeer their players’ brain matter like Jim Leyland is doing this season.

Of course, some players’ brains aren’t the problem. It’s their ballplaying skills. So sometimes it doesn’t matter how much you control their psyche; if they can’t play, they can’t play. Leyland knows this perhaps as much as anyone who’s ever managed.

In 1997, Leyland’s Florida Marlins won the World Series, thanks to a run in the bottom of the ninth of the seventh game. He had some players who could play. And the players had a manager who could manage. They also had a GM who knew how to get the right personnel. His name was Dave Dombrowski.

But in 1998, his owner having sold off his star players in the world’s most expensive fire sale, Leyland was forced to manage big league impostors. The result was a 54-108 record, 12 months after winning the whole enchilada. The manager had players who couldn’t play. And the fact that the players had a manager who could still manage meant nothing.

There is a line about a hotshot rookie that has made the rounds in sports.

“If he doesn’t win Rookie of the Year this season,” his coach supposedly said, “then he’ll never win it.”

Jim Leyland isn’t limited to one shot at winning Manager of the Year. His duplicity in the early-1990’s is proof of that. But his chance of winning one in the American League, with the Tigers, may not be as great as in 2006. Because next year he won’t be managing a team that’s coming off a season in which they were horse…feathers.

My vote is cast. My unbiased vote.

And With The #1 Pick….

In Uncategorized on June 26, 2006 at 4:14 pm

Basketball is unlike any other team sport. And so is how it is replenished every summer, vis a vis the entry draft.

In what other sport can you change 20% of your starting lineup, with one reading of a name into the commissioner’s microphone?

The NFL Draft is the mother of all drafts. Well, it’s a mother, anyway. Fans circle the draft’s date one year hence, and make arrangements to fly to New York City, or crowd themselves into a team-sanctioned circus tent near their town. They wear jerseys and paint their faces and issue a verdict within three seconds of Paul Tagliabue’s announcement of their team’s choice. The draft is dissected more than a biology lab frog. Pasty-looking experts on ESPN tell us all we need to know, so much so that you wonder why they bother having the actual draft at all? Then you see who actually picks who, and you remember why the pasty experts call them “mock drafts.”

But for all that grandeur, pro football is 22 starters — offense and defense. And don’t forget the special teamers. Yes, there are impact players, but their impact can sometimes only be so much, if the buffoons around them are constantly engaged in tomfoolery.

The NBA has no such quagmire. Five starters. Maybe eight contributing players per team — the ones who play when the score isn’t a 20-point gap with two minutes to play.

With such a limited roster, one great choice can indeed affect a team’s makeup dramatically.

Or not.

In the early 70’s, the Portland Trailblazers selected, #1 off the board, a tall beanpole named LaRue Martin. He was heralded as a “can’t miss” kid — those ancient words. His impact is still being waited to be felt. Although he did have some impact; Martin’s bust greased the skids for a certain Portland coach to be fired, because he didn’t have the good fortune of coaching the teams’s next #1 pick, Bill Walton. That coach’s name was Jack McCloskey.

In 1984, the Trailblazers struck again. Michael Jordan was a jewel, staring brightly at them following a couple of glorious years at the University of North Carolina. He was another can’t-miss kid. Maybe the Portland people told themselves they weren’t going to fall for that label again. They selected Sam Bowie, a rickety center from the University of Kentucky.

Oops.

The Pistons had themselves a cache of first round picks in the 1978 and ’79 drafts. They were stockpiled — gathered for long, hard winters by management. The team would only need to use them with some degree of competence, and a competitive team would be theirs.

Only one problem: Dickie Vitale.

Vitale gathered the curious under his draft circus tent and proceeded to select the following players in those two years: John Long (U-D); Terry Tyler (U-D); Phil Hubbard (U-M); Greg Kelser (MSU); Roy Hamilton (UCLA). The territorial draft had been killed off by the NBA in the mid-1960’s. Yet Vitale, with his one good eye, couldn’t see past his own state’s borders, apparently.

Bust!

This Wednesday, the bright TV lights will burn and camera flashes will pop and the former players-turned ESPN announcers will tell us all about it before it happens, as usual. More can’t-miss kids will be selected. Some will definitely miss, however. So we will be lied to — imagine that.

Mock drafts, indeed.

MONDAY MORNING MANAGER: Week 12

In Uncategorized on June 26, 2006 at 3:32 pm

51-25?? Tigers Still Not Ready For Prime Time

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 5-1
This Week: (6/26-28: HOU; 6/30-7/2: at Pit)

Last night the Chicago White Sox were — AGAIN — on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. Although it was against the Houston Astros, a repeat of last year’s World Series. So all is forgiven — this time.

The Tigers are 51-25. They are on pace to leave the 100-win mark far behind in their rearview mirror. Yet their likeness hasn’t adorned “SNB” once this season.

The players will tell you that it’s all okay with them; that “flying under the radar” mentality. And, they ARE the ones playing the games, so why listen to a curmudgeonly old Internet blogger and magazine editor?

But I’m not speaking from the players’ point of view. All I’m saying is that it would be nice if the Worldwide Leader (as Big Al says) would show our Blessed Boys some love.

Astros-White Sox is hard to argue with. So is Yankees-Red Sox. But I’ve seen far less compelling matchups than that on Sunday nights. Not many of them have held my interest for longer than an inning or so.

A look ahead to the Tigers schedule — the next month of Sundays, if you will — shows the following opponents on Sundays:

Pittsburgh.
Seattle.
Kansas City.
Oakland.
Minnesota.

Okay, so those aren’t the most thrilling of opponents, granted. But certainly if one of the teams playing on Sunday night is the team with the best record in the game, then I’d say you’re halfway to a good game already.

This isn’t about who the Tigers are playing — not anymore. It’s about the Tigers themselves. I’d bet a good portion of folks are curious to see this team that’s resuscitated a baseball city and its fans all across the country. Besides, I’m one to share. I’ll be thrilled to let the rest of the nation enjoy a snippet of what we’ve been presented with during these first 76 games.

Let ’em see Jimmy Leyland and his managing of daring. Show ’em the whirling dervish that is Curtis “Never Nervous” Granderson. Watch as they are thrilled by the renaissance of one Magglio Ordonez. Grin as the 100 MPH pitches of Joel Zumaya and Justin Verlander give chills up their spines.

There’s plenty to go around for all.

Wake up, ESPN. Sunday nights could be a whole lot more boring without the Tigers on. Trust me.

Thanks, Larry! Thames Now A Detroit Untouchable

In Uncategorized on June 25, 2006 at 4:09 pm

Ten years ago and some change, Marcus Thames was selected by the New York Yankees in the annual entry draft. In the 30th round. That means that some 800+ players were snapped off the board before Thames. Six years later, he finally made it to the Yankees. He got into seven games, had 13 AB. He hit a homerun.

Then in early June 2003, Thames was traded by the Yanks to the Texas Rangers, for Ruben Sierra. Seven years previous, the Yankees had traded Sierra to the Tigers for Cecil Fielder. Now they would welcome him back, for the 26 year-old whose future in New York was clearly cloudy.

With the Rangers, Thames made it into 30 games in 2003. He had 73 AB. He hit one more homerun, giving him two in 86 big league AB. At the end of the season, Thames was granted free agency. The Rangers didn’t have any use for him, either.

In December 2003, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski decided to take a flyer on Thames. What else can you call it when you sign a 26 year-old who’s been scuffling along in the minors for seven years, and who owns a major league BA of just over .200?

Fast forward to 2006.

“Mr. Ilitch says I haven’t made any requests,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said last night after another thrilling, come-from-behind Tigers victory. “But I’m making one now. Put my brother Larry on the payroll. He’s the one who told the team about Thames.”

Larry Leyland lives in the Toledo area, and functioning as a de facto scout, he brought news of grandeur about a hard-hitting outfielder named Marcus Thames, who was playing for the Mud Hens. The news was flashy enough to prompt the Tigers to bring Thames to the big club in midseason 2004.

In 165 AB, Thames hit 10 homers. Then in spring training, 2005, he tore the cover off the ball. He was the hottest, most dangerous hitter wearing the Detroit colors in Florida. Then something happened that both greased then-manager Alan Trammell’s skids and steeled Thames’ resolve.

Thames, in a terribly unfair decision, was left off the Tigers’ 25-man Opening Day roster. He was shuttled back to Toledo to make room for aging Bobby Higginson, who had once again muddled through a horrible spring.

Players were outraged. Fans were bamboozled. Dmitri Young said publicly that Marcus Thames had been “screwed.” Some say that decision severely impaired Trammell’s ability to secure the respect of his players.


Thames watches another rocket being launched by his bat

But baseball is a funny game. Not long after Opening Day, outfielder and free agent signee Magglio Ordonez had a hernia go “pop.” He would be lost for months. Thames was welcomed back to Detroit courtesy the Toledo Shuttle.

But even though he hit seven homers in 107 AB, Thames was eventually re-shuttled back to the Mud Hens. He had lost his edge, a certain je ne sais quoi, folks in the organization had said. Of course, they’ll tell you anything when they send you back to the minors. That steeled him some more.

Today, Marcus Thames takes a regular turn in the Tigers lineup. He’s playing so wonderfully, hitting the ball with such violence, that it’s hard to keep him AND another prized young outfielder, Craig Monroe, in the lineup together. Maybe if the rules allowed for four outfielders, it would work. Because there’s the healthy Ordonez — returning to his past glories — and the jitterbug centerfielder Curtis Granderson. Thank God for the DH in this instance, huh?

The Tigers won last night because Thames, batting third, smacked an 0-2 pitch off the Cardinals’ closer Jason Isringhausen and deposited it far into the left centerfield seats — a two-run homer that tied the game in the bottom of the ninth. It set up Placido Polanco’s game-winning double in the tenth.

This morning, in 165 AB, Thames has 15 homers. A Ruthian-like ratio of one homer every 11 AB. He’s hitting .309. His 15 homers have only produced 28 RBI, but that’s sorta nitpicking. Thames is becoming indispensable — a player that might even be considered “untouchable” when the trading deadline arrives late next month.

Not bad for a 29 year-old who didn’t even become a regular big leaguer until, oh, eight or nine weeks ago.

Marcus Thames, for my money, is the most powerful righthanded hitter to play in Detroit since Cecil Fielder, who was the most powerful since Willie Horton before him. Thames doesn’t just hit homerun balls, he destroys them. Surely they’re unusable once his bat is done with them.

Jim Leyland is right, Mr. Ilitch. Pony up some dough for Larry. But save some for Marcus — when his contract comes up for renewal. You’re going to need it.

30 Years Later, Still None Like Fidrych

In Uncategorized on June 25, 2006 at 6:57 am

Mark Fidrych died in spring training, 1977. Funeral arrangements are still pending.

For one year he was very much alive – The Bird. From May to October, 1976, Fidrych spun the baseball world round and round on top of his self-manicured pitching mound. He was a spike on what was mostly a flatlined baseball heart monitor in Detroit between 1974-78.

Then Fidrych himself flatlined, and it basically happened in one fateful moment in Lakeland, Florida in March 1977.

Nobody since has splashed onto the baseball scene as Fidrych did in ’76. Nobody has captivated the game’s fans – young and old – with the same youthful naivety and innocence as Mark Fidrych did 30 years ago. Nobody has even come close, really.

Do not tell me about Fernando Valenzuela’s debut, or Kerry Wood’s. Do not tell me about Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire and their assault on a homerun record, which was most likely taken via a crooked path. Do not tell me about any of these, or any other, because I will spot you the goofiest stretch of gravitational pull of fans that you can muster, and it simply cannot match Fidrych’s 1976 traveling show.

The legend of Fidrych is oft-told, so there’s no need to bother with too much space for that. Suffice it to say that the tall, gangly, 21 year-old kid with the yellow mop of hair turned everyone on by talking to the baseball, grooming his pitching mound – on his hands and knees – and enthusiastically congratulating his teammates after big plays and wins. And oh, yeah – The Bird could pitch, too. He had a 19-9 record and a league-leading 2.34 ERA. He was the American League’s starting pitcher in the All-Star Game.

“I’ve seen Tom Seaver go out and mow them down,” then-teammate Rusty Staub, the former New York Met, said during that glorious summer of ’76, “but I’ve never seen a pitcher turn on the fans like The Bird.”

The numbers – the attendance figures, specifically – told the story. Ballparks across the country held an average of over 30,000 fans every time Fidrych took the mound. He certainly must have led the majors in walk-up ticket purchases. Fidrych was baseball’s pied piper.


Fidrych owned the baseball world in 1976

Then it all ended, and with a soft thud of a leg awkwardly planting itself on an outfield’s grass.

It was Staub who felt a feeling of foreboding.

“Bird was goofing around, shagging balls in the outfield,” Staub once recounted of that March day in 1977. “He was jumping up and down, and acting foolish. I told him that he’d better take it down a notch. I was afraid he was going to hurt himself.”

A few minutes later, Staub’s fears were realized.

“I saw him come down funny on his left leg, and there was a popping sound,” Staub said. “I thought, ‘Oh, no. He did it. He hurt himself.’ Bad.”

Fidrych tore up his left knee, shagging flyballs in a spring training outfield.

******************************************
June 28, 1976. The night that Mark Fidrych officially became a part of the public’s consciousness.
******************************************

He missed the first nine weeks of the season, and made his return at Tiger Stadium in late May, 1977. The opponents were the expansion Seattle Mariners. Fidrych, pitching again in front of a sellout crowd of shrieking fans, pitched well but lost.

He seemed on the way back, going 6-4 with another respectable ERA of under 3.00. But then more trouble: His right arm went funny.

Tendinitis, they called it. Back to the disabled list Fidrych went.

That was pretty much the end of his baseball. Fidrych tried several comebacks from the arm trouble, but each got progressively worse. He retired officially in 1981, after getting knocked around like a pinball while trying to make the Boston Red Sox.

The prevailing thought, the connect-the-dot wisdom, was that Fidrych’s knee injury caused a subtle change in his pitching mechanics, which brought on the tendinitis. It’s a logical theory, one that has been put forward by medical experts.

So using that widely-held view, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych died 29 springs ago.

But that was the flatlining. The spike occurred almost 30 years ago to the day.

June 28, 1976. The night that Mark Fidrych officially became a part of the public’s consciousness.

It was “Monday Night Baseball” on ABC, a network that found football so pleasing on Monday nights that it decided to try baseball there, too. Besides, they only had to change one word on the graphics.

This was a big deal because the New York Yankees were the opponents. And after some moribund years, the Yankees were returning to the glory that had been theirs and theirs alone for decades. Billy Martin was their manager. They came to Detroit with a healthy eight-game lead in the American League East division.

Fidrych handled them. Easily.

Pitching with the urgency and quickness that was another of his trademarks, Fidrych finished off the Yankees in one hour, 51 minutes before nearly 48,000 fans and millions watching their boob tubes. The final score was 5-1. Fidrych’s win bumped his record to 8-1, and by Tuesday morning the 29th of June, 1976, an unbelievable amount of folks knew who Mark Fidrych was, who may not have known the previous evening.

That Monday night game, for all intents and purposes, was Fidrych’s zenith. He was the All-Star starter a few weeks later, but he was knocked around in two innings by the cream of the National League crop.

Fidrych was the quintessential “one hit wonder”, but he was never bitter about his career’s brevity. Consistently he has been thankful for the time he had, and genuinely unfazed by his body’s betrayal. Always he has been willing to return to Detroit to participate in special occasions or sign autographs.

He has been at peace with his playing career, yet he never got back into the game in some other capacity. He never really tried. We are left to wonder why.

Danica Patrick: America’s Racing Sweetheart (Is That Sexist?)

In Uncategorized on June 24, 2006 at 3:13 pm

It might be nice, sometime soon, if Danica Patrick were to actually win an Indy-style race. But there’s evidence that that moment may not be all that long in coming.

She led her first Indy 500 for awhile, in 2005, as a rookie. She placed in the top five. She was no joke in this year’s Indy, either. The girl has shown, to me, that she belongs among her male brethren. Kind of like the anti-Anna Kournikova, who didn’t even belong in her own gender when it came to her tennis-playing ability. Though she was in the top five in looks, granted.

Patrick is an adorable young woman who likes to have pedicures, facials, and go shoe shopping. She wants to take care of her new husband because, as she told Sports Illustrated in the current issue, “He takes care of me and supports me at the track.” So she seems like she has a proper, balanced personal scale as well.

And, by the way, Danica Patrick can race a car.


“I like to cook dinner with my husband and watch TV at home,”
Danica told Sports Illustrated

She’s amused at comments like those from fellow driver Robby Gordon, who suggested that Patrick’s lighter weight gives her an unfair advantage.

“That [weight thing] is silly and not relevant, really,” she told SI. “If my weight gave me such an advantage, I would have won every race by now. I’m kind of flattered when people try to pick apart and find reasons or excuses as to why I’ve been successful. It means I’m doing something right.”

You go, girl.

It’s not just Patrick’s looks, though, that pulls me toward her. It’s her outlook and her toughness and the fact that she’s already proving that a woman belongs in the pits. But then I had a strange, if not morbid thought.

What if, God forbid, something were to happen to her on the track? Something really bad. Something, dare I say, fatal?

What would that effect be on our psyche?

I remember when the Challenger space shuttle exploded in 1986, and the first thought many of us had was of that teacher, Christa McAuliffe, who was along for the ride as a civilian. Fair or not, her life seemed more mourned than those of her trained, experienced companions. She represented any one of us, I suppose.

Danica Patrick is cute and young and recently married and vibrant, and fair or not, I believe that places her on another shelf when it comes to today’s race car drivers. Which is strange, because there are a lot of male drivers who are handsome, married, and vibrant.

But Patrick is female, and despite her obvious belonging, I still think she resides on a slightly different plane among her sport. So if something were to happen, I believe that would be extra difficult to digest. Even writing those words, I wince, because it suggests her life is more important than her colleagues — which it clearly isn’t.

I’m just talking about the effect it would have on people in general — maybe the non-racing fans, especially. But then again, maybe I’m exhibiting some subtle sexist angle by even bringing it up. She can take care of herself in a car, clearly, but why do I feel like a lot of America would like to shield and protect her?

But she’s great for the sport and I’m all for her.

Go, Danica!

Guillen’s Distraction May Be Too Much For White Sox To Overcome

In Uncategorized on June 23, 2006 at 7:42 am

Punk.

It’s a word I’ve used to describe White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, in my Out of Bounds blog. I’ve used it, and haven’t wavered about it.

It’s not fag, which Guillen used to describe Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti. But it’s a word that is hardly flattering — at least in this country. I’m not sure about Guillen’s Venezuela.

Guillen is becoming a major distraction for his team, and that can only be a good thing in Detroit. Commissioner Bud Selig fined Guillen and ordered him to attend sensitivity training in the wake of his slurs against Marriotti. Whether the Sox can continue to win and nip at the Tigers’ heels as long as Ozzie Guillen remains their manager has yet to be determined. History would suggest they cannot.

Good teams, even great ones, have been taken down by that dirty “D” word — distraction. Sometimes they can play through it for some of a season, or most of it, or even just about all of it. But eventually it will grab them and pull them down.

The 2005 Pistons made it all the way to Game 7 of the NBA Finals with the mother of all distractions, coach Larry Brown, tethered to them like a boat anchor. It wore them down to the nub, until they could no longer muster the energy to vanquish the San Antonio Spurs. Brown carried no such baggage the previous year. The Pistons won the whole enchilada.

Baseball, with its long, grind-it-out, marathon of a season, can tease the great teams who have distractions. They can go long stretches of time with the bells tolling all around them, and play good ball. Until the jabbing of distraction is no longer easy to ignore. Then the play falters, and championships that seem so certain abruptly become in peril, or even turn into paper hopes.

Ozzie Guillen isn’t cute. He isn’t funny. His behavior and his words — several more examples could fill two posts worth of this blog — bely someone who should be in charge of a major league baseball team. For now he’s been fined, and ordered to attend sensitivity training — and that alone is enough embarrassment for one baseball team. But if anyone thinks this is the last salvo we’ll hear from Mr. Guillen, then they are the same ones who put milk and cookies out for Santa Claus every December 24.

So when it happens next, what will be the consequences? And for his team, the wondering of that next time and its fallout can very easily short circuit a return trip to the playoffs.

Greater teams have fallen victim, truthfully.