Greg Eno

Archive for May, 2007|Monthly archive page

Who Said Road To Finals Would/Should Be Easy?

In NBA, Pistons, playoffs on May 31, 2007 at 1:30 pm

It may not be 20 years ago to the day, but it’s 20 years ago to the moment.

Eastern Conference Finals. Knotted at two games apiece. Game 5 slated for the hostile home of the more experienced (read: older), favored team whose appearances in the NBA’s Final Four are commonplace. And that experienced team is poised to lock horns with a familiar foe in the NBA’s Final Two.

Sound familiar? It should, because that was the scenario in 1987 when the Pistons met the Celtics in the creaky old Boston Garden for Game 5 of their East final. The Celtics had held service in Games 1 and 2, and the Pistons did the same in Games 3 and 4. Just like this year’s tussle with the Cavaliers. Game 5 in Boston was — since it cannot possibly be written otherwise — pivotal.

The Pistons stayed with the Celtics the entire game. So much so, that they found themselves with a one-point lead — and the ball — with under ten seconds to play.

Anyone want to tell me what happened next? Anyone?

Yeah — THIS.

Then the Pistons, despite that slug in the gut, recovered to win Game 6 at the Silverdome, and gave the Celtics all they could handle again in Game 7. It was a tight affair in the Garden. Then Adrian Dantley and Vinnie Johnson butted heads, knocking both players out of the game, and that pretty much snuffed out the Pistons’ hopes.

Such ghoulish history might not be pleasant reading today, for the comparisons between today’s Cavs and Pistons and 1987’s Pistons and Celtics might be a little too eery for comfort.

Drew Sharp, in today’s Freep, has an opinion piece titled, “There’s No Excuse For Losing to Cavaliers.” Mitch Albom, in the Chicago series, prattled on about how the Pistons were wasting energy against an inferior opponent. Sharp, too, acts as if the Pistons are playing chopped liver in this Cleveland series. Mike Stone, yesterday on the radio, whined that the Pistons of 2004 would never have let Cavs rookie Daniel Gibson score 21 points, as he did in Game 4. Yet it was the ’04 Pistons who let benchwarmers Brian Scalabrine (Nets) and Luke Walton (Lakers) go off in crucial playoff games.

Then, in the next sentence, the very same Chicken Littles will opine that nobody expects perfection, when all they seem to be doing is strongly hinting as such.

Here are the facts: the Pistons are 10-4 in the postseason, and are in a best-of-three with the Cavs, with two games in Detroit. No time for slitting throats or jumping off bridges — or bandwagons. The fact that they dared not to sweep every series can be overlooked, can’t it?

Having said all that, the Pistons will be probably lose in the NBA Finals against the Spurs. I felt the same way about the Lakers in ’04, but had I known then what I ended up knowing — that the Lakers were an unraveling, aging bunch, I might have picked the Pistons. The Spurs are neither unraveling nor aging — at least not to the point of creating a serious erosion of their skills. Remember Gary Payton and Karl Malone wheezing against the Pistons in the 2004 Finals?

So this is probably it for the Pistons — Eastern Conference champions. It’s as far as I thought they’d go. They will be significant underdogs against the Spurs — as should any team in the modern era, if they could return to the court during their prime and take on Tim Duncan and Company. The Spurs are the class of the league. Losing to them will not be dishonorable at all.

But as much as losing to the Cavs would be an upset, it wouldn’t be inexcusable, as Sharp suggests. The ’87 Pistons were a steal and a head butt away from facing the Lakers in the Finals. It can be said that the Cavaliers aren’t all that far separated from the Pistons, either. They aren’t anyone’s dregs.

The 1989 Pistons went 15-2 in the postseason. The ’90 version went 15-5. The 2004 champions were 16-7. The ’89 team was an anomaly; most champs lose a few along the way. The Pistons shouldn’t listen to the hand-wringers who would have them go 12-0 in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Not that they do. Thank goodness.

Tigers’ Swoon In June ’82 Too Much To Overcome

In Uncategorized on May 31, 2007 at 12:20 am

June can be a lovely month: weddings, graduations, school letting out. The weather can be the most pleasant of all the summer months — usually not too hot or too cold. Just right. And there’s baseball — the season officially starting to get a little serious.

The 162-game season, with its marathon mentality, is always going to provide plenty of ebb and flow. Ups and downs. A rollercoaster, that overused description.

Yes, June can be a wonderful month — and it has a better chance of being that way if your baseball team doesn’t get pulled down by that force field known as the “June Swoon.”

The Swoon has jumped up and yanked away pennant hopes — both false and real. It has caused entire city populaces to run around in panic. It has brought more weather to already craggy manager faces.

I’m not sure what it is about the year’s sixth month, but it has been an absolute death knell for so many squads, so many times in the past.

The Tigers, 25 years ago, had one of their worst June Swoons ever.

As is typical of the Swoon, it had no real warning signs. The Tigers, in 1982, sprinted out of the gate, their record sitting at a spiffy 36-19 on June 12. They led the pack. Everything was clicking.

There is an annoying name now for any hit, walk, hit batsman, sacrifice fly, or homerun that produces victory for the home team during its final at-bat. The walk-off________.

Such a nonsensical phrase didn’t exist in 1982, but had it, it would have been used quite a bit in reference to the Tigers in June. Their 36-19 record turned to 37-33. Fourteen losses in fifteen games, including a ten-game losing streak. And many of those losses came in their opponent’s last at-bat. A walk-off________.

Sparky Anderson, the white-haired leader, was as perplexed as anyone. He’d smoke his pipe after games and try to explain away a season spiraling out of control before July 4th. It was a June Swoon at its worst — wheels tearing away as the carriage careened down the rocky slope.

The Tigers never really recovered in 1982. By the time they righted the ship, too many teams had leapfrogged them in a highly competitive AL East Division. They finished at 83-79 — 12 games behind Milwaukee, in fourth place.

Could the 2007 Tigers be felled by a June Swoon? What team couldn’t, really?

Add Gibson To List Of Unlikely Playoff Villains

In NBA, Pistons, playoffs on May 30, 2007 at 4:19 am

The names are sure to draw shivers and cold sweat from die-hard Pistons fans.

Bernard King. Larry Bird and Dennis Johnson. Brian Scalabrine. Luke Walton.

And now, a new playoff villain: Daniel Gibson.

Maybe the above group should be categorized. For certainly King, who beat the Pistons by himself in a first round best-of-five series in 1984, and Bird and Johnson (The Steal in 1987) were genuine NBA stars who ate plenty of people’s lunch in their illustrious careers. Perhaps it’s unfair to them to place them in the same, unfiltered company as Scalabrine and Walton and Gibson.

Scalabrine, surely you recall, went berserk in Game 5 of the East semifinals at the Palace in 2004. He hit triples from all over the court, and it’s not an overstatement to say that he alone willed the Nets to victory that night, in overtime.

Walton had his 15 minutes of fame in Game 2 of the ’04 NBA Finals, when he was all over the court, offensively and defensively, making a nuisance of himself — and helping to spur the Lakers to the “W.”

The Scalabrine/Walton nightmares are only tolerable because the Pistons ended up on top in both of those series. It should also be noted that there hasn’t been any proof that either player has had nearly as good of a game since, and we’re talking three years ago. Each of them walked out of anonymity and into the black hat and twirling mustache of playoff bad guy. But both of their moments were fleeting, thank goodness.

Gibson, the Cleveland Cavaliers whirling dervish rookie point guard, terrorized the Pistons last night, and was a huge reason why the Eastern Finals are now knotted, 2-2. He hit three-pointers. He knocked balls out of Piston hands. He drew charges. He distributed the ball nicely. He was deadeye accurate on free throws. And he did it all with a grin curling his lips and an occasional chest-pump. He played with an annoyingly high level of confidence that belies his youth and inexperience.

Oh, there was Drew Gooden, too. And Zadrunas Ilgauskas. And, of course, LeBron James. The four of them — these three plus Gibson — basically outplayed the Pistons’ top four guys, and made the crucial plays down the stretch. They deserved the win, no question.

Watching Gibson do his thing, I determined that he would NOT go off like that in Detroit in Game 5. Further, I submit that the Pistons will spank these unruly Cavs and send them to bed without dinner, to the tune of a 10-to-15-point margin of victory.

Enough of these Cavs already. Enough of the inability of the Pistons to get their big men and their guards all playing well on the same night. Enough.

Ahh, but it will be enough, at least for the next game. The Cavaliers have been awful in Detroit and I see no reason why that trend needs to change now. It’s a whole lot easier to have fun and smile and chest pump when the arena’s denizens are all behind you.

The Pistons are still in good shape; how can you NOT be when the series is a best-of-three with two in your building?

But, come on, Chauncey. Loosen up. Chris Webber, get involved. Antonio McDyess, please come back. Make Daniel Gibson have something else in common with Brian Scalabrine and Luke Walton: they each sucked after their 15 minutes were up.

THEN we’ll see if Gibson grins.

Tuesday’s Feature Returns: The Straightaway

In Straightaway on May 30, 2007 at 3:47 am

(Siddy Hall, NASCAR contributor to “Out of Bounds”, recently moved to Brazil. Here is his first offering since calling Sao Paulo home)

The Straightaway

by Siddy Hall

SEARCHING FOR JUNIOR IN BRAZIL

Greetings from São Paulo, Brazil, my new home of 12 days. Sao Paulo is a big city, among the five largest in the world. It’s approaching winter here, but the weather is still comfortable although cool at night. Traffic in a metropolitan area of over 15,000,000 is often a major grind. It’s like trying to run 43 cars at the Hickory bullring.

Although the top-selling car in Brazil is Volkswagen, Chevy and Ford are well-represented, also. Please forget your truck or SUV while here. It’s all small to mid-size sedans. Peugeot, Mercedes and Fiats are also common in Sao Paulo.

This is F1 country. The Land of Senna. The road leading to the largest airport is named after the late, great Ayrton Senna. He has a tunnel named for him, too. The winner of 41 races and 65 poles in 162 Formula 1 starts is a racing legend. He was a two-time winner of the Sao Paulo Grand Prix.

You know you’re big when they name tunnels after you: Ayrton Senna

In NASCAR’s quest to Rule the Racing World it has identified six countries, or markets that it likes most: Canada, Mexico, Japan, Germany, the U.K., and Brazil. These countries each have large markets with a racing heritage and an affinity for the U.S.

So where is NASCAR in Brazil? And how about Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya? While navigating Sao Paulo and speaking with friends I tried to discover whether NASCAR had penetrated the minds of Brazilians.

First, I checked out the magazine racks at newsstands in downtown Sao Paulo. Things look a lot like in the U.S. Numerous magazines are available for the “wrencher.” People who like to re-build cars or build street-legal hot rods have many magazine choices. As for auto racing, it’s pretty much all Formula 1.

Not surprisingly, Brazilians know who Montoya (right) is far more than Earnhardt, Jr.

A couple of magazines give about four pages to NASCAR, placing it on equal footing with other styles of local racing. NASCAR has developed some local racing series such as Stock V-8. They look like Nextel cars except they’ve been shrunken. Overall, from magazines to posters to T-shirts, NASCAR was tough to find.

I decided to ask my future father-in-law, a major sports fan, if he knew who Dale Earnhardt, Jr is. I was met with a blank stare. After I explained that some people think of Dale as the American Racing God, version 2.0, he replied, “I don’t know the pilots. Besides they just drive in circles. It’s not emotional.” He added, “They need Brazilian drivers for the people of Brazil to care.”

I then asked if he knew Juan Pablo Montoya. Without hesitating he said, “Yes, I know him.” After a smirk he added, “He had his moment a while ago.”

Want to know how to cool off a boisterous conversation among a group of Brazilian woman? Ask them if they know Junior. A woman named Fazio silently considered my question and responded, “Is he supposed to be a famous actor or something?” I figured, well, she’s a woman who wouldn’t know this stuff. Just a long-shot question. But then I followed up with Montoya. “Yes, I know who he is. He races cars.”

OK. 2-0, Juan over Junior in the early going.

Finally, it’s me and the boys, drinking cervejas at an outdoor bar. Time to get some answers. Among our group is Andre, a guy who knows a thing or two about the NBA. Does he know who Junior is? I’m met with silence, bafflement. After my explanation he states, “I don’t know the pilots.” But he knows Montoya, 3-0.

NASCAR in miniature? No, it’s a Brazilian stock car

Another gentleman describes how he visited New York and suddenly all of these colorful, noisy stock cars drove slowly through the shutdown streets. It was amazing. NASCAR.

Another guy, Gabes, wearing a Boston Celtic sweatshirt, joins us. I gotta ask about Junior. He stares at me for a while then very slowly says, “Doesn’t he… drive… a car… for something?” Hey, we’re getting somewhere, Brian France. I explain that Earnhardt is the most famous driver in NASCAR. Gabes replies, “Yeah, the most famous driver after Tom Cruise in ‘Days of Thunder.’” Everybody laughed.

One recurring theme about Juan Pablo Montoya: He’s not loved. Perhaps because he’s Columbian and a former rival to Brazilians in Formula 1, praise was short for Juan. Knowledge of his move to NASCAR generates only mild interest.

Great News for NASCAR, however. It’s easier to see a NASCAR truck race on TV than an NBA playoff game. Brazil has its own SPEED channel outlet and they show the stuff. This channel is not in every home, but it’s available as part of a subscription package. Strangely, to these American eyes, the promos don’t focus on Jeff Gordon or Junior at all. Only one guy is being pushed. Yup, Juan Pablo Montoya, Mr. 23rd in points.

The NBA playoffs? It’s shown only if they run out of soccer games. There’s four channels of futbol, non-stop.

Do you suppose Jeff & Tony & Jimmy & Dale could lace up the sneakers for a game of soccer? It could be Hendricks & Gibbs & Ginn against Fenway Roush & Michael Waltrip Racing & Team Red Bull & Haas. Or better yet, how about a version of soccer/demolition derby being played on a soccer field. The cars could trade paint while trying to boot an oversized soccer ball with the nose of their cars. Michael Waltrip’s car could be a goalie and just sit there and block shots. Brazil might watch that.

(you can e-mail Siddy Hall: cityhall172000 at yahoo.com)

Monday Morning Manager

In Monday Morning Manager on May 28, 2007 at 3:06 pm

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 2-4
This Week: (5/28-30: at TB; 5/31-6/3: at Cle)

First take on the week: Magglio Ordonez is hitting on another plane than anyone else.

Second take: the Cleveland Indians were a hungrier bunch of ballplayers than our Tigers this past wekend.

The Indians came here, looked around, and conquered the Tigers — swiping first place in the process. And they did it while laughing, high-fiving, playing loose and confident, and they just looked like a ballclub who took this series a lot more seriously than the Tigers did. Maybe it meant more to Cleveland. Maybe it was because the Tigers handled the Indians so well in 2006. But if you were looking, you could see it: every hit, every sacrifice fly, every inning-ending double play was met with happy faces and fist pumps — on the field and in the dugout.

The Tigers, on the other hand, had the look of a concerned, unsure team.

I may be reading too much into this. These just may be the bleatings of an ink-stained wretch and know-it-all blogger. But once I noticed the Indians’ demeanor over the weekend, it became harder and harder to ignore.

They had fun at Comerica Park — boy, did they ever. And they’re feeling pretty good about themselves, I’d wager. It’s up to the Tigers to go into Cleveland this week and weekend and put a little hurt on the Tribe — before the Indians open up too big a lead for comfort.

But there are three games against the potentially frisky Tampa Bay Devil Rays before the rematch with the Indians, in Florida. The Rays are 12-14 at home and can put a licking on you if you don’t take them seriously. And it might be easy to overlook them, with the Indians looming again.

But the more long-term concern should be the pitching staff — specifically the meshing of the starters and the bullpen. The starters are finding it increasingly difficult to give Jim Leyland anything more than 5-6 innings. The bullpen is leaky, and is injury-riddled. As a result, the Tigers are becoming what they want to avoid: a team that relies on its offense and power to overwhelm opponents. They have to outslug you now to win, and that’s not what a pitching-proud team needs to do.

At Memorial Day, it’s proper to say that if the Tigers can keep their heads above water in this wacky AL Central until Joel Zumaya, Kenny Rogers, and others get healthy, then they should be in good shape heading down the stretch.

In the meanwhile, be ready for some long games.

Slow-To-Be-Interested Pistons Get Bumped In Game 3

In NBA, Pistons, playoffs on May 28, 2007 at 12:39 pm

On this Memorial Day, and with the Pistons tinkering along in the NBA’s Final Four, a.k.a. the Eastern Conference Finals, it’s appropriate to take time to honor those who have given their basketball lives for the franchise.

Ahh, screw that. Actually, I’m thinking of two guys who proved memorable, but in a far less honorable way. But they’re relevant to my opinion.

When Marvin “Bad News” Barnes toiled for the Pistons (1976-77), there would be some occasional concern as to whether he would make it to practice, or downtown to Cobo Arena in time for the game that evening. Then there was some debate whether, once he got into the ballgame, he would be effective or sleepwalk on the court.

William Bedford (a Piston from ’87 to ’92), seven feet of babysitting fun, had his own issues, too. Some of those issues ended up snorted into his nose. Anyhow, because of his quirky ways — and when I say quirky I mean self-destructive — he earned a clever nickname from Isiah Thomas, a play on Bedford’s name. “Willy B,” Isiah called him. As in, “Willy B here? Willy B late? Willy B good?”

Sometimes coach Herb Brown, urged by the chants from the Cobo crowd, would insert Barnes into the game and he’d turn the place on, canning jumpers and grabbing rebounds, starting a Kevin Porter-led fast break. Fun times.

Bedford, when the spirit moved him, would occasionally be effective, too. He’d block a shot, make a post move for a dunk, and in a flash he would show why GM Jack McCloskey was so fascinated by his tall frame and high ceiling. Fun times, as well — but oh, so fleeting.

I’m reminded of Barnes and Bedford — two coach-killer B’s — when I see today’s Pistons wrestle with themselves in these NBA playoffs.

For reasons that they will perhaps take to their graves, these Pistons don’t always seem too interested when the introductions are over with and the fire has been shot off by the cannons behind the backboards and the referee blows his whistle and tosses the ball into the air at center court. They treat the first quarter, and indeed sometimes the second and even, from time-to-time, most of the third, as a grade school child treats school mornings.

It happened yet again last night, as the Cleveland Cavaliers, no doubt pumped by their home crowd and the prospects of an 0-3 deficit, raced out of the gate in the opening minutes while the Pistons wiped their eyes and asked for five more minutes under the covers.

It was 16-9 before the Pistons, as Red Wings analyst Mickey Redmond would say, “Got ‘er goin.'” They would recover to take a 24-22 lead, and the game was nip-and-tuck from that point on.

The Pistons talk with their chests puffed out about how they “know how to win” in the closing minutes of games, and that they’ve “been through all this before.” But doesn’t knowing how to win also include knowing how to take games just as seriously in the opening minutes — heck, the opening 24 minutes, for gosh sakes — as you take them in what everyone likes to call “crunch time”?

You’ve heard all the quotes before — the ones about the other team coming out with more energy, and with more of a sense of urgency, after the opening tip. Pistons coach Flip Saunders called the end of Game 2 “Groundhog Day,” for its similarities to the end of Game 1. But if there’s a continued repeat about the Pistons, a la the Bill Murray movie about a man who relives the same day over and over, it’s the beginning of games, not the ends of them.

It’s been said derisively about the NBA that you only really have to watch the last two minutes of an NBA game to find out what happened. I have said the same thing — about movies on Lifetime. Anyhow, it seems as if the Pistons themselves subscribe to this “last two minutes” theory, but with a twist. They act as if they only have to bear down for those final 120 seconds.

If they’re not careful, the Pistons will still be hitting the snooze button while the Cavs are preparing for San Antonio or Utah.

The Popup That Never Came Down

In Baseball, Little League on May 27, 2007 at 8:36 am

As a baseball player, I peaked at age 14 and was washed up by age 15. A has-been before I was even a high school sophomore.

But I had my moment, which is all anyone can ever really ask for, I suppose.

It dawned on me that it was 30 years ago this summer when I put a team on my back, carried it for awhile, then caught the biggest popup of my life.

I look at the photo now, taken by my father in my backyard, and the first thing that I notice is how much of a beanpole I was. The uniform was pinstriped in blue, and it made me look even skinnier than I was. The pose was a batting stance, surely copied from some Topps baseball card of the day. But after 30 years the photo remains, a wallet-sized pic in a small frame which sits on an old cabinet in the basement.

The team was Bra-Con Industries, and no, that first part isn’t short for brassiere. Long “a” please. Though I have no idea who the heck Bra-Con Industries was, or is. All I know is that they sponsored our ballteam, as evidenced by the block “BRA-CON” splayed across our chests. It was the first time I got to wear a real baseball uniform – double-knit top and pants, with stirrup socks, too. I wore #11 – Bill Freehan’s number with the Tigers. But I was a second baseman. And a pitcher. And, for the most part, a poor hitter. Until I was sprinkled with magic pixie dust for a few weeks in the summer of ’77.

We played in a league in Livonia. Our nemesis was a team sponsored by Don Massey Cadillac. Oh, how I hated those guys. They had nicer uniforms, they had equipment bags for each player, and they traveled in one big van, like some sort of commune. But they could play some mean baseball. Each time we played them, they spanked us good – the scores progressively worse every time we locked horns with them.

So first place was out of the question, but that didn’t mean we had no playoff hopes. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Our manager was a roly-poly guy who kind of reminded me of Don Zimmer as I think back on it. But with far, far less baseball acumen. Sadly, I’ve forgotten his name, but I remember his kid was on the team. The old man’s big thing was getting the equipment put away on time. Seriously. He had a fetish for gathering the bats and helmets and depositing them into their respective bags – while the game was going on. It didn’t help team morale to see the skipper putting away the gear while you’re trying to mount a last-inning rally. But as sure as I’m sitting here, that’s what he would do.

His assistant, though – that man’s name I remember. It was Mr. Nadratowski. His kid was on the team, too – John, our catcher.I think Mr. Nadratowski was going thru a divorce or something distressing at home. That, and I think he drank a little bit.

But he was a great guy, and he knew far more baseball than Mr. Equipment Manager.

The big turnaround came when Equipment Manager left the team suddenly. I can’t remember if it was a planned vacation, a resignation, or what, but all I know is the team was left under the control of Mr. Nadratowski. Thank goodness. He made some lineup changes immediately. Then I got hot.

I had been scuffling along, playing a solid second base and taking my turn every few games on the mound. But hitting at a mediocre clip, as usual. Then, for a few glorious weeks, my bat turned to gold.

I still don’t really know what happened, except to say that I was simply torrid. It got so that the parents would get extra excited whenever I came to the plate. I smacked the ball pretty good for about five or six games, lifting my batting average well over .300. Heck, it may have been over .400.

The biggest hit was a triple I drilled off a kid named Greg Everson. But Everson wasn’t just any kid pitcher. He was so good, in fact, that he became a minor leaguer – reaching AAA at one point. I looked him up on Google, and found that the Tigers, who had owned his rights, traded him for big league pitcher Jerry Don Gleaton of the Kansas City Royals, on April 2, 1990. Retrosheet.org confirmed this.

So this wasn’t chopped liver I was batting against. Yet I took him deep to left center, and legged out a three bagger. It was the peak of my hotness. Then, moments later, the next batter lined out to the third baseman, who promptly tagged the bag, doubling me off. Sixty to zero in 3.2 seconds.

I cooled off a bit, but we were still a solid second place team, trailing Don Massey Cadillac of course. The second place finish meant we would qualify for some sort of city playoff. Kind of like a runners-up championship.

The game was played at Livonia’s Ford Field (it’s still there), on Farmington Road and Lyndon.

It was a nip-and-tuck affair. Then I came to the plate in the late innings, a man on third with one out. I managed a sacrifice fly, driving in the go-ahead run.

Still clinging to that slim lead in the last inning, our opponents put a man on base with two outs. Can’t remember what base, however. Doesn’t matter. Playing second base, my eyes got as wide as saucers as the next batter popped up, high into shallow right field. It was my ball. MY ball. I waved everyone off. It felt like it would never come down. But it did, finally, and I squeezed it as tight as I could. Ballgame over. City championship won.

I was mobbed by my teammates. It was the only time any team I had played for had won anything of any significance.

We each got trophies (it’s still in the basement, too) with our names on it. But the best part was at the postseason banquet, when we received our trophies. It was held at a local pizzeria. Mr. Nadratowski, still battling his personal demons at home, got up in front of everyone and said some words. I remember him thanking us, the kid players, and then starting to sob. I think we had brightened his life somehow.

Funny, but I’m starting to tear up a little bit now, 30 years later.

Wish I had kept the damn ball.

Oh Say, Can You Seay? Bobby’s A Valuable Commodity

In Uncategorized on May 25, 2007 at 2:10 pm

Perhaps it says a lot about how baseball has evolved that when a middle-innings, situational lefthander flees for another team and more money, that his departure is accompanied by some nailbiting and furrowed brows.

In years past, such a personnel move would have been greeted with a yawn. And rightly so. But today, the lefthanded pitcher who can come into games and get lefthanded hitters out consistently is becoming more and more of a precious commodity.

So when Jamie Walker capitalized on this new way of looking at pitching staffs, taking an unbelievable offer from the Baltimore Orioles in the offseason, there was genuine concern in Tigertown. Namely, who would get lefty hitters out, if Walker is not here to do it?

Wilfredo Ledezma? More of a spot starter, long relief guy. Someone who can chuck two or even three innings in a game if need be. Andrew Miller? Starter of the future. Needs to pitch every fifth day — somewhere. But not a situational lefty.

Bobby Seay? NOW you’re talking.

Seay signed with the Tigers as a free agent in November, 2005. He made the team out of spring training last year, but didn’t pitch for the Tigers after early June. This is because with Walker around, there wasn’t much need for Seay’s services. So Seay, who had a mostly undistinguished career with Tampa Bay and Colorado prior to signing with the Tigers, was sent back to Toledo.

This year Seay, 28, is being counted on more and more by manager Jim Leyland to not only get out lefty batters, but some righthanded ones as well. And that confidence is something that the southpaw from Sarasota, FL certainly appreciates.

“Well, with having (Joel) Zumaya out, I think we all have to kind of pick up our roles,” Seay told me before yesterday’s 12-0 skunking of the Los Angeles Angels. “Having Jim’s confidence is definitely a positive for me, and I just look to go out day in and day out and try to get the job done.”

That he has — even though the ERA is a typically misleadingly high 5.40 in 13.1 innings of work. The more relevant stat for a reliever is opponents’ batting average. And despite the slightly elevated ERA, opposing batters are hitting Seay at just a .216 clip.

Seay acknowledges that the bullpen is going through a rough patch currently (its overall ERA is scraping near the bottom of MLB), but he points out that those numbers can be misleading.

“We started off pretty hot,” Seay says of his bullpen comrades. “The bullpen I think, in my opinion, has been pitching pretty well. We’ve just had some tough games where we’ve given up a lot of runs. But for the most part, we’re doing our job.”

It would be naive to say that the Tigers don’t miss Zumaya, despite the team’s winning ways ever since he got injured. But Jason Grilli seems to be getting off the schneide, and even Fernando Rodney has settled down, though he’s been unavailable for a couple of days due to a stiff shoulder that’s not believed to be serious. Jose Mesa is still scuffling along. But Seay has only given up three walks and one homerun in his 13.1 IP — numbers that also bode well for a manager’s confidence in a reliever. And those are numbers that are in alignment with the goals he set for himself prior to the 2007 season.

“Just throw strikes, really. Keep the walks down. Pitch to contact. You know, just not give up any free bases. So far so good, for the most part,” Seay says.

A team’s bullpen often manages to form a bond and camaraderie unlike anything in team sports, because of the time spent together — and its distant proximity from the dugout. Seay says the Tigers have established a definite esprit de corps beyond the left field wall at Comerica Park.

“It’s pretty loose. Jeff Jones (bullpen coach) keeps things pretty loose down there. We know it’s a long season and that we’re going to be relied upon to seal up some wins or hold some leads. I think the spirit down there is pretty good.”

It usually is, when the wins are coming as consistently as they have for the Tigers in May. And Bobby Seay is no small part of that.

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MISCELLANEOUS NOTES

Carlos Guillen is a man of his word.

Before yesterday’s game, working for Michigan In Play! Magazine, I hit Guillen with some questions about his health. I had noticed, as did others, that he was wincing at second base the other night, not long after a ferocious swing at the plate.

“I feel great, my friend,” Guillen said.

The back doesn’t feel stiff?

“Nope.”

He also told me that as far as his reputation for not being able to stay healthy, “What can I say? If you play everyday and expect something to happen … you know, it can happen sitting on the bench.”

Hmmm…I suppose.

So what does Guillen do after proclaiming his great health? Only hit two homeruns and drive in five runs as the Tigers had a field day against the Angels.

That’ll teach me to question a guy’s wince.
******************************
Saw backup catcher Vance Wilson and asked him how close he was to returning from his elbow injury, which has knocked him out all season thus far.

“I don’t know. Not sure. Just trying to get it to loosen up,” he said of the elbow, which is on his throwing arm.

Having as much fun as last year?

“Team-wise, yes. Personally, no,” Wilson told me.

Wilson is chomping at the bit — you can tell. He bounds around the clubhouse and in the dugout — being one of the most active injured players you’ll ever see.

His return shouldn’t be considered a minor addition for the Tigers — no disrespect to current backup Mike Rabelo. For Wilson, at his best, is perhaps the best #2 catcher in all of baseball.

"Groundhog Day"? Naah — Just An Alternate Ending

In NBA, Pistons, playoffs on May 25, 2007 at 12:39 pm

Pistons coach Flip Saunders called it “Groundhog Day,” referring to the movie where Bill Murray relives the same day over and over again. Saunders thought the comparison apt as he described the eery similarities of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, which his team won, 79-76 — and Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, which his team won, 79-76.

Nice try, Flip — but I prefer to think of the two games as being similar to a movie’s DVD that has special features, including an alternate ending.

You didn’t like the ending of Game 1, when Cleveland’s LeBron James passed the ball to Donyell Marshall for a potential game-winning three-pointer? Well, check out last night’s alternate ending — the one where James keeps the ball (Marshall was still lurking in the corner, a la Game 1) instead of kicking it out.

Happily for the Pistons, both endings resulted in them riding off into the sunset.

Now as for Cavaliers’ coach Mike Brown blowing out an aorta after the no-call on James during his final move to the basket: chill — there was no foul. I’m serious. I tried to find one, believe me. But the contact that occurred was nothing more than the usual incidental stuff that happens in an NBA playoff game in the paint. Now having said that, it might have been a foul in Cleveland — but it would have been the wrong call. Brown’s real outrage should be at Larry Hughes, who found a gift laid at his feet when Rasheed Wallace couldn’t corral the rebound of James’s shot, leaving Hughes with a wide-open 12-footer. His shot wasn’t even close to going in.

Now a word about Wallace. It was so cathartic to hear what he said about Cleveland’s Anderson Varejao’s flopping. The most egregious of these unwarranted collapses onto the floor came late, when Wallace grabbed a pass and made a rather wild, turnaround jumper that put the Pistons up, 77-76. As Wallace took the pass, Varejao flew to the floor as if he’d stepped on a land mine.

After the game, Wallace bristled when it was suggested that he was having “battles” with Varejao up and down the court.

“That kid is too young to be having battles,” Sheed said. “That flopping isn’t playing defense. The league should make that flopping a technical foul next season. They’ve done a lot to give me technical fouls. I’m just glad we had veteran officials who could [recognize the flopping.]”

Hear, hear!

Of course, Brown had a hissy fit over that Wallace play/shot, and it happened right in front of him. So if he got that one wrong — which he did — then no wonder he was wrong about the LeBron no-call, which was some 70 feet away from him.

There has been the usual hand-wringing about the Pistons after these first two games against Cleveland. But unlike so many other occasions, this time the hand-wringing might be warranted. You could even say the Pistons hold a 2-0 lead yet trail the series.

“First one to 80 is going to win, it looks like,” Saunders said.

Let’s hope the Pistons don’t find another alternate ending on that DVD. Time to rent another movie.

May I suggest “Waiting to Exhale”?

Tigers’ Old Road Threads So Simple, So Grand

In Uncategorized on May 23, 2007 at 1:14 pm

They were flannel, of course — these were the days before double knits were all the rage. And they were remarkably plain and simple. Kind of like the Penn State football duds. I thought they were rather boring when I was a child, but I find myself longing for them now.

They were the Tigers’ old road uniforms — and when I say old, I mean the style that was worn in the 1960s and early-1970s. The 2006 Tigers wore them in Seattle last year for a Turn Back the Clock Game, but in case you missed that, here’s what I’m talking about:

That’s good old Mickey Stanley modeling the uniform for you.

It’s lovely, isn’t it? Plain block DETROIT on the front. Light grey. A number on the shoulder (actually, I think the latest version had numbers on both shoulders. Looks like the number is only on the right shoulder in this pic). The back had the number in dark blue, with no edge or drop shadow. In 1970, all MLB teams (save a few, like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Cubs) sewed names on the backs of the jerseys. I can live with the names. And with this uniform, the players’ names were in the same block, no-frills style as the DETROIT on the front.

The pants had no piping down the sides of the legs, that I can recall, and while searching for images on Google, I saw none. Just plain grey.

Be still my heart.

I think my infatuation stems from the fact that whenever I think of those uniforms, I’m taken back to my childhood — a much simpler time. Plus I’ve been listening in my car a lot to an old audio cassette a co-worker made for me years ago of the classic album, “Year of the Tiger,” which features actual game audio of radio men Ernie Harwell and Ray Lane describing the thrills of 1968 as they originally broadcast them. So I think listening to that is making me long for the old road threads, too.

The plain greys were the road unis that the Tigers wore for the entire decade of the 1960s, and until midway thru 1972, when they changed during midseason (which was odd, come to think of it) to this version:

By the way, Mark Fidrych is on the right in this photo.

Note the thick “D” on Fidrych’s cap. It was orange with a white drop shadow. For the 1982 season, the “D” lost its drop shadow and became the plain orange that the team still wears today, on the road caps.

Yes, I know way too much about uniforms throughout history. I admit it.

Anyhow, the above version that Fidrych is wearing served the Tigers thru the glory days of 1984, all the way until 1994, when the team switched to a similar version of today’s road uniforms. Those had ridiculous shoulder stripes that continued down the sides of the leg. That was scrapped after a couple of years to the current version. Also, the Tigers briefly used this logo on their road caps:

Remember?

The home uniforms have remained basically unchanged — the creamy whites of Greenberg and Gehringer in the 1930s and 1940s are practically the same as the ones of Inge and Bonderman today. And I love that, too.

So there you have it. I think the Tigers should change back to the 1960s’ road duds — at least for more than just one game per year. Maybe they could wear them on Sundays away from Detroit.

Whaddya think?