Greg Eno

Archive for August, 2007|Monthly archive page

Bubble Players Might Go Pop After Lions Blow It

In Lions, NFL on August 31, 2007 at 4:21 pm

So if the Lions’ reserves and scrubs were to play the Bills’ reserves and scrubs, the Bills’ reserves and scrubs would win.

That’s about all you could get out of the (mercifully) final exhibition game of 2007, a 16-13 loss to Buffalo after the Lions’ first-but-mainly second stringers forged a 13-0, first half lead. It’s what you can get out of any final preseason game, really. Whose reserves are better?

Clearly, it’s not so much about winning or losing as it is about evaluation of the “bubble” players — those lads who better have a football exit strategy at the ready.

“I was very direct with them,” coach Rod Marinelli said of his bubble guys. “I told them that they didn’t help their cause,” he said, referring to the blowing of the 13-0 lead. “But we’ll look at the film.”

Ah yes, the film. Football coaches love film more than Leonard Maltin. And it’s bound to show them, through their practiced viewing, who will stay and who will go. I’m not quite sure what the pre-requisites are to remain a Lion, but you can bet the coaches will know them when they see them. And if they don’t … well, there’s always that afore-mentioned exit strategy.

Over 20 players’ heads will be lopped off over the next couple of days. Receivers who wear numbers like 10 and 15, and linebackers who wear numbers like 43, and other similarly out-of-place dudes, will be on the NFL released list. The final cuts are the cruelest, for a lot of reasons, not the least of which that it’s harder to find work with another club this late in the game. Everyone pretty much will have their roster set. The last thing teams want to do the week before the regular season begins is to scour the league for someone else’s discards. So, in an ironic way, those cut last might have the honor of knowing they survived the longest, but may be in worse shape than those who were cut earlier in camp and have perhaps been able to latch on with someone else. It’s crazy, the NFL.

In 1979, the team coming off a brisk second half finish in 1978 to earn a semi-respectable 7-9 record, the Lions watched in horror as starting QB Gary Danielson went down with a knee injury in the final preseason game. There was no real capable backup, except for the creaky veteran Joe Reed. Then Reed, too, went down, early in the season. All that was left was rookie Jeff Komlo, probably a bubble player himself. The Lions finished 2-14. The next year, Danielson healthy, the Lions went 9-7. No bubble QB that season.

The Lions lost last night and it hardly matters. That is, unless you’re a bubble player trying to stay in the NFL by the skin of your false teeth. Then helping to blow a 13-0 lead to another team of bubble guys matters very much.

It’s all on film, most likely.

Thursday’s Things

In Thursday's Things on August 30, 2007 at 6:52 pm

(every Thursday at OOB I’ll rant in list fashion. Last week it was “Things I Love About Football”)

Things You Might Not Know About Detroit Sports

1. That Babe Ruth and Casey Stengel nearly became Tigers managers. In the 1930s, Ruth’s career near the end, Tigers management threw the idea of The Bambino managing their team at the aging slugger. He was intrigued, but wanted to wait till he returned from an overseas trip to give his answer. Unwilling to wait, the Tigers hired Mickey Cochrane instead. Ruth would have had the job had he said “yes” right away. As for Stengel, the Tigers had all but hired him to take over the team in 1961, but a doctor’s checkup advised against the notion. Stengel had even chosen his Tigers coaching staff, eager to become the pilot in Detroit. Deeply disappointed, the Tigers hired Bob Scheffing.

2. That there will never be another #85 on the Lions. It hasn’t been officially retired, but no Lions player has worn #85 since 1971, when WR Chuck Hughes did so before dying on the field of a heart attack. Then again, they didn’t officially retire #56 either, and somehow they let LB Pat Swilling talk them into letting him wear Joe Schmidt’s old number, in 1993.

3. That the Red Wings played part of a game without a coach. In November 1973, the team flopping on the ice, the Red Wings fired coach Ted Garvin with a game scheduled for later that night. Their intention was to give the job to captain Alex Delvecchio, who was ready to retire as a player. But Delvecchio’s retirement papers didn’t get processed in time, so therefore he couldn’t coach (league rules at the time prohibited active players from coaching) that night’s game. Incredibly, management asked Garvin to coach, even though he’d already been canned. With about seven minutes to play, Garvin had had enough and walked off the bench and out of Olympia Stadium. This was the day before assistant coaches. So, injured winger Tim Ecclestone finished coaching the game!

4. That the Lions have only worn their white uniforms once at home. It was Thanksgiving Day, 1970, and NBC was set to broadcast the Lions-Raiders game. Back then, the Raiders’ white jerseys featured silver numbers — which were kind of hard to see on TV sometimes. So the network asked both teams to switch — the Lions wearing white (with blue numbers) and the Raiders wearing their familiar black jerseys. The Lions won, 28-14 — but never went back to wearing white at home, like so many teams do nowadays.

5. That Ernie Harwell was traded for a player. While broadcasting in the minor leagues, Harwell’s team wanted a particular player. The other team, the Atlanta Crackers, didn’t really like anyone on Harwell’s team’s roster. So after some wrangling, the Crackers agreed to accept Harwell as compensation, because they needed a radio announcer!

6. That the Pistons played a playoff game in a high school. In the early 1960s, before Cobo Arena was ready, the Pistons played home games at Olympia Stadium, sharing it with the Red Wings. But come playoff time, any conflicting dates would go to the Red Wings. One such instance occurred as the Pistons were playing the Los Angeles Lakers in a playoff series. Normally, they would have switched their home games to U-D’s Calihan Hall. But that, too, was unavailable. So the Pistons played their two home, nationally-televised playoff games at Grosse Pointe High School. The Pistons won both of them, but lost all three in L.A. to drop the best-of-five series, 3-2.

7. That the Lions were the first NFL team to lose to an AFL team. It happened in the preseason, in 1967. The Lions traveled to Denver, and DT Alex Karras said he’d walk home if the Lions lost. The Lions lost. Karras flew home with the team, after all. No NFL team had lost to an AFL team prior to this. How unsurprising.

OK, all done. Talk amongst yourselves. And remember, they’re just things.

Tram Lands On His Feet In Cubs’ First-Place Den

In Uncategorized on August 29, 2007 at 4:43 pm

Buddy Bell: self-ziggied. Will manage the Kansas City Royals through the end of the season, then he will don a suit and tie and sit in the brass’s suite at Kaufman Stadium, working in the Royals’ front office.

Phil Garner: ziggied unwillingly. Ordered to stop managing the Houston Astros immediately. Just two years after leading an improbable second half charge all the way to the World Series.

Alan Trammell: safely ensconced on Lou Piniella’s bench as his right hand man, helping the Cubs try to capture the NL Central flag.

Bell, Garner, and Trammell. Three former Tigers managers of the past decade. Two of them out of the dugout (or soon will be). The third, Tram, still alive and kicking, in a playoff chase — something he never sniffed as Tigers skipper.

And don’t forget Kirk Gibson, recently in the Tigers’ small coaching office — now helping the Arizona Diamondbacks as their bench coach. The D-Backs are also very much alive in the postseason chase.

The Tigers haven’t found a whole lot of stability in the manager’s office since Sparky Anderson retired to California in 1995. Not surprisingly, they haven’t found a whole lot of winning, either. But the men that they’ve dismissed haven’t set the baseball world on fire, either — save for Garner’s miracle year of 2005.

But Trammell, the poor soul who had to manage a group of minor league ballplayers in 2003 — and thus won only 43 games — has landed squarely on his feet, and with one of the game’s better managers, for one of the game’s most storied (albeit not successful) franchises. And with a chance to experience October baseball for the first time since a player in 1987.

I don’t think there’s any question that Trammell’s hiring was mostly a public relations device when Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski tabbed him in late 2002 to take over a very bad ballclub. Management knew the product on the field was likely to be hideous. So why not try to divert some attention to Trammell and his lieutenants, the coaches from the ’84 team? And who knows? Maybe Trammell can learn a thing or two about managing along the way. Certainly he would learn about abject failure.

It’s fitting and proper, I think, that Alan Trammell, battle-worn and having survived his managing stint with the woeful Tigers, is now enjoying his just desserts — even as his old club struggles to stay in their own playoff picture. Though he’s a self-admitted Tiger at heart.

It may be harsh and even wrong to say that the Tigers used Trammell from 2003-05. But it really wouldn’t be too far off the mark. It’s even likely that more qualified candidates were overlooked so that Tram could be hired. If the Tigers didn’t use Trammell, they came awfully close. But that’s probably all a family secret.

Alan Trammell wears Cubbies pinstripes today. He wears them, at Lou Piniella’s side, in first place.

Good for him.

MSU’s Revolving Door Must Stop With Dantonio

In Mark Dantonio, MSU on August 29, 2007 at 1:37 pm

The words were strongly prophetic, but considering who was speaking them, they were also sopping wet with irony.

“We need to build stability here, instead of changing coaches every gosh darn three or four years.”

The speaker was former MSU football coach John L. Smith. And he spoke them to me, over a telephone, for a preseason, published profile prior to the 2006 season.

Well, here it is 2007, and right on schedule, the Spartans have a new football coach — as they do every gosh darn three or four years.

Stability, Smith’s word, has been hard to come by in East Lansing ever since George Perles hung them up after the 1994 season. Nick Saban, awash in rumors he was NFL-bound, lasted from ’95-’99, but they were five distracted years — with annual speculation about his fleeing to the pros. Then, after all was said and done, he took his whistle and chalkboard to LSU. The NFL would have to wait. Bobby Williams was a disaster from 2000-02. Then Smith, despite a denial on national TV, was named coach in early 2003. His reign lasted four seasons, but they were pock-marked with player behavioral problems and, in bottom line fashion, more losses than made alumni and administration comfy.

So here comes Mark Dantonio, a former Spartans assistant and fresh off three relatively successful years at Cincinnati. And here’s hoping he’s given more than the token 3-5 years to turn things around.

If you look at the history of college athletics, success is rooted in there not being a revolving door in the coach’s office. Unlike the pros, where “quick fixes” can be attained via free agency or trades or high draft picks, it takes time to build at the college level. There’s recruiting and teaching and weeding out the problem children, and more recruiting, and momentum that needs to be gained and support that needs to be garnered. It just doesn’t happen in two or three years.

Now, this isn’t to say that MSU erred in releasing Smith, who at times acted the fool and was mocked more than he was respected by the media, often times. But if the powers that be, i.e. AD Ron Mason and his bosses, feel that they’ve learned from past transgressions and gotten it right with Dantonio — and so far college football observers think that they have — then give the man time. REAL time. Not four years. Not five years. Barring scandal or frequent court appearances by players, give Mark Dantonio a full six years before properly evaluating his performance.

In Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan has employed three head coaches since 1969. Three. The Spartans do that in a decade. Let’s flip it around. In basketball, MSU has stability. Tom Izzo has been there for over ten years. Meanwhile, the Wolverines have struggled on the court, and coaches have come and gone frequently since Steve Fisher was fired in 1997. Which program do you suppose has been the one going to Final Fours and getting the best recruits?

Ahh, recruiting. Today’s high school athletes aren’t hayseeds. They know what’s going on. And many of them have folks advising them who also know what’s going on. And a recruit commits not to a school as much as a coaching staff. So when they see the silver whistle being passed to and fro, like a hot potato, it may be off-putting.

I have no idea if Mark Dantonio is the right guy for MSU, though there’s evidence to suggest that he is. But I’m not paid to make that decision. The due diligence has been done, the interviews were carried out, and the hire was made. MSU has secured their next football coach. Now let him be.

WNBA Drops Ball Come Playoff Time

In WNBA on August 28, 2007 at 4:05 pm

In 1984, the Tigers cruised to the AL East Division crown. They started 9-0, then 16-1, then 26-4, then 35-5. Nobody ever caught them. They won 104 games. Still, when the curtain was raised on the ’84 postseason, the Tigers found themselves in Kansas City, playing on the artificial rug of Royals Stadium — even though they won a full 20 games more than the Royals during the regular season. No matter. The Tigers, thanks to baseball’s silly method of awarding home field advantage to divisions in opposite years, had the misfortune of winning their division in an even-numbered year. The year for the West winner to host the first two games of the best-of-five series.

It rankled a few, as it should have. Could the Tigers, despite their April-to-September brilliance, be bumped out of the playoffs by an inferior Royals team, thanks in part to starting a short series on the road, unfairly so?

Thankfully, it didn’t come to that. The Tigers dutifully swept the Royals into their living rooms, to watch the World Series on television.

The WNBA is once again showing why they are a wannabe major league operating under bush league conditions.

The Detroit Shock, like the ’84 Tigers, made mincemeat of their division. They had sewn up the title with four regular season games remaining — out of 34. The first round of the league playoffs is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it best-of-three affair. That’s kind of weird to me, right there. But it gets weirder. For whatever reason, the series is set up so that the team with home court advantage — at least it’s determined by merit — begins on the road. So the Shock, with their glittering 24-10 record, had to begin their league title defense in New York, in hostile Madison Square Garden, against a mediocre Liberty team.

Sure enough, the Shock were tripped in Game 1. Suddenly they faced elimination, just like that, as they prepared to play Game 2 at The Palace.

The Shock slipped by the Liberty, 76-73, in Game 2. Their title defense survives for another game. Game 3, the rubber game, is set for tonight in Auburn Hills.

Now, it’s not a gimme that the Shock would have won Game 1 had it simply been played at home. The Shock, after clinching the division so early, went into that “we don’t care about wins, just health” mode, and promptly lost their last four matches. Frankly, I’ve never been comfortable with that approach heading into the playoffs, no matter the sport. Good, crisp play doesn’t come out of a spigot; you can’t just turn it on whenever you want.

So the late season half-effort is playing more than a small part, I think, in the Shock’s difficulties with the much weaker Liberty. But starting Game 1 on the road in a best-of-three, when you have home court advantage, is unacceptable.

The WNBA is once again showing why they are a wannabe major league operating under bush league conditions.

Why does the WNBA do it this way? To save on travel costs? In a three-game series, the home-away-home system means more traveling than the away-home-home method, granted. But is the league that cash-strapped? How much does it cost to jet the teams from Detroit to New York and back again?

Travel cost is already being saved by limiting the first round to a three-game maximum, although I always thought longer series meant more gate and concession money, but what do I know?

But I can abide the 2-of-3 mini-series if the superior team gets to start it at home, where it should. Yet nobody seems to squawk about it, so there you have it.

Still, it’s time for the WNBA to step up and act like a major league, instead of putting on minor league-style playoffs.

Monday Morning Manager

In Monday Morning Manager on August 27, 2007 at 3:48 pm

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 3-3
This Week: (8/27: NYY; 8/28-30: at KC; 8/31-9/2: at Oak)

The Tigers broke curfew Friday night, but nobody slapped their wrists or took away their driving privileges or grounded them.

They started a game at 11:06pm that evening, and by now you’ve read, heard, and seen all the talk about how bizarre it was, how strange that a big league ballgame should start after the nighttime news.

“What if it goes into extra innings?,” I wondered aloud once I heard that the Tigers-Yankees game would start after a 4 hour, one minute rain delay. “That would carry it well past 2 a.m.!”

Try well past 3 a.m.

Carlos Guillen ended it with a walk-off, three-run homer in extras, and the Tigers half-ran, half-shuffled off the field and into their clubhouse sometime after 3:30 in the morning. Happy, but tired; a good tired, I suppose.

I’m dying to hear the rule about curfews, though. There was once a time when an inning couldn’t begin after 1 a.m. And a game could be suspended at that point. But the rules are confusing, and I think there are a lot of variables. Certainly beginning a game after 11 o’clock must mean that there IS no more curfew. Who knows.

Anyhow, if the Tigers manage to pick themselves up by the cleat straps, and climb back into the playoff picture, they might point to the crazy night of August 24/25 as the night that things started to slowly but surely turn around for them.

Guillen clubbed — and that’s an appropriate verb because the baseball was nearly as low as a teed-up golf ball when he hit it — an ankle-high breaking ball over the left field wall at 3:30. The Tigers won, after having blown a 6-3 lead. They were licking their wounds after the Indians left town with a 2-1 series win. The Wild Card was slipping further and further out of sight. So too, the division, though not at the critical stage yet. Simply put, the Tigers were a tired, soggy, scuffling team that needed a win in the worst way — no matter how weird it was.

It’s two out of three from the Yanks so far, with Game 4 this evening. Far less significant games have been played this season.

Meanwhile, the injury bug continues to batter the team. Now it’s rookie starter Jair Jurrjens who’s the latest victim. Inflamed shoulder. On the DL, for the requisite 15 days. Back to Detroit comes Zach Miner, who huffed and puffed last Thursday after being demoted with the return of Joel Zumaya. The Tigers’ pitching staff has played yo-yo with far more pitchers than was surmised in March. Up and down the same few names have come. Injuries have been mostly to blame for all the shuffling.

After tonight, the Tigers will either have gone 6-7 or 5-8 in this 13-game stretch of playing just the Indians and Yankees. The former is acceptable; the latter may be an indictment on their tenuous playoff chances. What a different one game can make.

Like I said, far less significant games have been played this season than tonight’s.

The Time For Tiger Stadium To Go Is Now

In Tiger Stadium on August 27, 2007 at 1:00 pm

If it was up to the boy mayor and his Cass Tech lieutenants, they’d probably steal away in the dead of night and plant the implosives themselves, and depress the plunger before anyone could stop them. Down it would all come, and the matter of what to do with Tiger Stadium would be over with, once and for all.

I really don’t blame them.

There was the Polo Grounds in Upper Manhattan. The first field of Willie Mays. The spot of the Shot Heard ‘Round The World. The teams used to enter the field from a steep set of stairs in dead center field. It was by those stairs that Mays robbed Vic Wertz of an extra-base hit in the 1954 World Series. Only maybe the most famous defensive gem in postseason history.

The Giants moved away from New York after the ’57 season. Off to San Francisco they went, leaving the Polo Grounds vacant. The impatient New Yorkers wasted little time in turning the field of Ott, Hubbell, Mays, and Thomson into a brand new set of apartment housing.

The Polo Grounds, Manhattan

There was Ebbets Field, across the river in Brooklyn. Branch Rickey’s Dodgers called it home. Da Bums. Announcer Red Barber used to say that when the Dodgers lost, there were a lot of suppers that went cold and uneaten that evening. Ebbets Field, where Jackie Robinson broke the ancient color barrier. Where Roy Campanella blocked the plate. Where Gil Hodges hit home runs. And where the Dodgers played many a World Series themselves, usually losing to the Damn Yankees.

But when the Dodgers joined the Giants in the venture out west, to Los Angeles, in time for the 1958 season, Ebbets Field’s fate was sealed. It, too, was being battered by the medicine ball before long – thumped until its concrete crumbled and the structure came crashing down onto the weeds it housed.

Ebbets Field, Brooklyn

There was Sportsman’s Park, in St. Louis. Stan “The Man” Musial played there. Did you know that of Musial’s 3,630 hits, exactly half were made on the road, and half at home? Half at Sportsman’s. But when the Cardinals moved into Busch Stadium in the 1960s, the city figured it had no more use for a vacant ballpark. Down Sportsman’s Park went. Out with the old, in with the new.

Comiskey Park, in Chicago. The White Sox started playing there in the early 20th century. Down by the stockyards, on the city’s South Side. It’s where the fans almost took the place down themselves, in 1979, during an ill-conceived “Disco Demolition” promotion. They blew up disco records in center field, between games of a twi-night doubleheader with the Tigers. Soon the field was covered with drunken, non-baseball, but disco-hating fans. The turf was torn to shreds as the explosives rang out. The White Sox forfeited Game 2 to Detroit.

“The night they drive old Comiskey downnn….” (almost)

Anyhow, they built a new Comiskey Park, adjacent to the old one, and opened it in 1991. The Tigers, ironically, were the first opponents in the new Comiskey Park. They destroyed the White Sox, much like the disco-hating fans destroyed the old Comiskey turf, by the score of 16-0. The Tigers did it all, except for cracking a champagne bottle against the new building. As for Old Comiskey? Leveled – a parking lot for new Comiskey, which is now U.S. Cellular Field or some such thing. Didn’t take long – didn’t take long at all, for the aldermen and other politicos in Chicago to declare Old Comiskey D.O.A. Not much wrangling or swapping of pie-in-the-sky plans for its preservation. They needed parking. So there you have it.

Atlanta used to have Fulton-County Stadium. It was a banner year for Atlantans in 1966. That’s when the Braves moved there from Milwaukee, and the NFL’s Falcons first spread their wings. They called FCS the Launching Pad, for all the home runs that took off there. It was where Henry Aaron surpassed Babe Ruth, in April 1974. Neon Deion Sanders ran back punts and interceptions with brilliance there, channeling another similarly talented DB – a guy named Lem Barney.

But then the city had Turner Field built, named after Braves owner Ted Turner. Before long it was evident that Atlanta had no need for FCS. BOOM! Implosives took it down. No controversy. No real debates to speak of. No more need, so down it came.

Other cities seem to know what to do with their old stadiums. In fact, there isn’t a municipality that comes to mind that has left one of their relics to sit and decay for the eight years that Tiger Stadium has, having been of no more use to the Tigers.

I have the same memories and fondness for what Tiger Stadium used to be, just like the next person. I know that it will never truly be replaced as a baseball-watching venue, nor will the area surrounding the park be matched in romance by Montcalm, and Woodward, and Brush Street – the roads paved around Comerica Park. I know all this. And I know that it IS an official Michigan Historical Landmark.

But enough. Enough of the multitude of plans for its restoration, and renovation, and preservation – and any other “ation” you can come up with. Enough with the talk. Enough with trotting out Ernie Harwell and the visions of boxing matches and museums and amateur baseball and Lord knows what else. Please.

Let it go. Implode Tiger Stadium, forthwith, and let them use the land wisely, we hope. I’ll bet Corktown could use some new shops, or a bank or two, or maybe a grocery store, for goodness sakes. Keep the Historical Marker and maybe even a portion of a wall or maybe erect a statue or two. That’s fine. But please, PLEASE, knock the stadium down and remove the source of all the uncertainty and the visual eyesore that is a daily reminder of what used to be and what will never be again.


Lefthanded Pop Would Be Nice September Addition

In Uncategorized on August 24, 2007 at 5:20 pm

I don’t know if anything can be done, anymore, to pull the Tigers up from the undertow that’s dragged them down since sweeping the Twins in Minnesota in late July — a series that has appeared to have cursed them. They are 11-23 since that sweep. When the wheels appear to be coming off, a quick, easy fix isn’t an option.

But if I was GM Dave Dombrowski (and if my facial structure and eye color changed, and my chin was indented, then MAYBE I might look like him), I’d be in search of another bat, preferrably a lefthanded one.

What, no pitching? Well, it would seem to be far more likely to find a hitter than an arm at this point of the season. Plus, as inconsistent as the pitching has been, it’s been the team’s maddening inability to get, in manager Jim Leyland’s words, “a lousy single, or even sacrifice fly” at crucial moments that has cost them more ballgames than the pitching has. Time and time again, Tigers hitters are coming to the plate with a runner on third base and less than two outs, or a runner at second base. And time and time again, those hitters are popping up or striking out. Maddening. And unacceptable.

The Tigers’ current #3 hitter, Casey, has three homers. That’s unacceptable.

Outfielder Craig Monroe is gone, mainly due to such shenanigans. He was hitting in the low .200s, and in the low .100s since mid-June. But Monroe may have the last laugh. He’s in Chicago now, traded to the Cubs. The first-place Cubs.

With Gary Sheffield out for an undetermined amount of time, the need for another bat, preferrably an experienced one, is almost mandatory. And one that swings from the left side of the plate would be even better. With the exception of Curtis Granderson and Carlos Guillen, the Tigers are woefully punchless from the left side. Sean Casey has three home runs. Backup catcher Mike Rabelo has none. All the power hitters are righthanded, making the Tigers’ suddenly inadequate offense even more susceptible to good righthanded pitching, which the AL is full of.

I’m not suggesting that the Tigers have to now rely solely on home runs to score. But a decent lefthanded power hitter would make the lineup more balanced and keep opposing pitchers a little more honest. I’m hoping that one can be had at this late juncture.

It still might not be enough to save the season, but one thing’s for sure: it can’t hurt.

VBK Spiced Up A Dreary Pistons History

In Butch van Breda Kolff, NBA, Pistons on August 24, 2007 at 3:50 pm

He was the most colorful of all the Pistons coaches — including Dickie Vitale, because he lasted longer than Dickie and actually had some success. Plus, he quit. Dickie was last seen being dragged, kicking and screaming, from the Silverdome court during a game. A couple days later, Vitale was given the ziggy.

Bill (Butch) van Breda Kolff is gone. Dead at age 84. He was the Pistons coach from 1969-71, and boy, did he pack a lot of punch in his relatively short time here. But Butch spent a relatively short time everywhere he went. And he left stories in his wake.

There are a few I can recall, thanks to what I remember and what I’ve read. Butch met his future wife in the army brig; that’s pretty colorful. They were both in there for different transgressions, and sometime before they were released, the seeds of love had been planted. He loved beer and steambaths. Whenever he arrived at a new NBA town, he went in search for the nearest steambath house, when other folks were looking for the nearest pool hall or bar.

van Breda Kolff (right) as Princeton coach in the 1960s

VBK (that’s what they called him, probably thanks to weary headline writers) coached the Lakers in 1967-68 and ’68-69. Both years the Lakers went to the Finals. Both years they lost to the Celtics. In ’69, in Game 7, VBK famously left Wilt Chamberlain on the bench for some crucial fourth quarter minutes. Wilt couldn’t believe it. The press couldn’t believe it. But VBK had an attitude and a look that said, “BELIEVE it.” He was fired after that. VBK had a great line about Wilt and his lack of mobility. “If the basketball court was made of grass, Wilt would wear out a one-foot square patch,” Butch said.

So while the Pistons were in search (again) for a new coach in the summer of 1969, there was a well-known face at their draft table that June.

VBK was being courted, apparently, by Detroit. Although he failed to confirm that, even as he sat with Pistons executives on that draft day in 1969. But the Pistons did, indeed, hire VBK. And after the team drafted Bob Lanier in 1970, things took off — for a little while, anyway.

The ’70-71 Pistons streaked out of the gate at 9-0. It’s still the best start in franchise history. You can look it up. They finished, though, at 45-37 — stumbling toward the end and failing to make the playoffs. But it was the first time, since the team moved to Detroit in 1957, that any Pistons club had managed to win more games than it lost. It’s also the first season I remember following pro sports, and I have vivid memories of a TV news piece about VBK. The camera isolated on him on the sidelines. He was like an aerobics instructor. He was up. He was down. He lied down on the floor, on his stomach, looking for God knows what. He yelled at the refs. He yelled at his players. He yelled at the refs some more. He kicked a basketball into the crowd in anger. And this was one game.

The summer after that season, the Pistons gave VBK a shiny new contract. He wasn’t impressed.

“Hell, you can always quit if you want to. Or they can fire you,” VBK said of the written word.

In November ’71, his team 6-4, VBK quit, because he wanted to. He felt like the players were tuning him out. Just like that, his career in Detroit was over with.

He became a basketball vagabond after that, coaching in Phoenix for a little while, then New Orleans. Then some women’s team. A college. A high school. VBK did it all. Have whistle and chalkboard, will travel.

Once, while coaching in the ABA (he did that, too), VBK kicked another basketball. This time his shoe flew off with the kick. He was ejected and fined. He protested. The reason? The shoe, VBK pointed out, had traveled further than the basketball.

That was Butch for you.

Thursday’s Things

In Thursday's Things on August 23, 2007 at 2:39 pm

(every Thursday at “OOB” I’ll rant in list fashion. Last week it was “Things I Can Do Without”)

Things I Love About Football

1. Second and one. There’s nothing better than when your team gets nine yards on first down. The playbook opens wide, like a bank vault. It’s almost like a free play — as long as you don’t do anything silly, like throw an interception. But the Lions never do silly things, do they?

2. Measuring for a first down. I remember ex-Bucs coach John McKay, talking to NFL Films, and he was amazed at how the officials were able to toss the ball around after a play, and somehow manage to place it where it was when the ball carrier touched the ground. He said it with his classic sarcastic edge, i.e. Do they REALLY know where to put the ball? Anyhow, I must admit that there is some nifty little drama when the chain comes onto the field and it gets extended, and the camera is showing the ball and the end of the chain in extreme closeup, and you’re wondering if the football’s nose will poke past the first down marker… Man, I’m getting chills already.

3. Blocked kicks. I just love it when kickers or punters have their perfect little world tossed upside down, and they have to do something like chase a blocked kick or, better yet, throw a panicked pass or make a run for it. Of course, NOTHING will usurp Miami’s Garo Yepremian and his ridiculous pass attempt in Super Bowl VII, which was plucked out of the air by Washington’s Mike Bass (U-M), who ran it about 50 yards for a TD. Good stuff.

4. LaDainian Tomlinson. Hard to spell, and kinda tough to pronounce — especially after a few cold ones — but this guy is what pro sports should be about. He’s talented, has a great personality, is all about team, and is the kind of guy you’d want your daughter to marry. And not just for the money — though that doesn’t hurt. But seriously, the “new” LT is a dynamite guy — on and off the field.

The “new” LT is squeakier clean than his predecessor, the Giants’ Taylor (shown in a mug shot)

5. Goal-line stands. I like when a running back takes a handoff, leaps over his linemen, and is met by a wall of defenders, who slam him backward. Nuh-uh. Not this time, baby.

6. Incomplete passes. Huh? More accurately, I like it when a DB breaks up a pass and there ISN’T a penalty flag thrown. Every receiver makes that abhorrent move with his right hand, like he wants a flag thrown, after every single freaking incomplete pass. Not EVERYTHING is pass interference — and even pass interference isn’t pass interference, half the time.

That’s all for this week. Talk amongst yourselves. And remember, they’re just things.