You’ve stumbled onto Thursday at OOB, which can only mean one thing: The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al, my weekly chat with Mr. Wayne Fontes Experience himself, Big Al.

In this episode, we talk some Tigers pitching; a little World Series; a certain talent-less NFL team (take a wild guess) and whether a Hall of Fame QB tried to help them; and where we place Mike Babcock among NHL coaches (hint: it’s at least above Joel Quenneville). There’s even — GASP! — some boxing in there. It’s a full plate, and you don’t have much time, so here we go….

Eno: Well, the calendar says it’s Thursday, and that means you’re about to be subjected to another episode of “The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno & Al”. I’m Eno, aka The Journalist, and he’s Big Al, aka The Patient. Al, good to hear that you bounced back from your Tuesday trip to the docs, and that the rumors of your demise have been greatly exaggerated!

Big Al: I’m a survivor, what can I say? If I can survive what the Lions throw at me, I can survive anything! Though I am contemplating suing the Lions, William Clay Ford, Rod Marinelli, and the NFL for the cost of my medical bills and a little extra for pain and suffering. I think I have a case!

Eno: You know, you might! OK, I usually start, but I’ll defer and defend the south goal. What do you got?

Big Al: Throwing me a change up! Even better than Fernando Rodney’s! Speaking of which, the Tigers hired a new pitching coach since we last talked. They hired Rick Knapp, who was a long-time minor league pitching coach/instructor for the Twins. Thoughts?

Eno: Well, I like the pedigree; the Twins always seem to hang around every year because of their pitching. I like the hire. I think it’s interesting that Knapp has been doing the same gig for some 12 years and is only now getting a call to The Show. Not sure if that’s good or bad, but I give my stamp of approval – as if Jim Leyland cares!

Big Al: I’m sure the Marlboro Man cares about your opinion! What I liked about the hire, other than what you mentioned about the Twins pedigree – which is a good thing as the Twinkies always seem to have a endless supply of major league ready arms – is Knapp’s mantra, “Make the first pitch a strike.” The Tigers hurlers, both starters and relievers, had the awful habit of nibbling around the corners, instead of attacking batters with their best stuff. If Knapp can straighten out Justin Verlander, who was often hitting the 100 pitch count in the 5th inning, Knapp joining the Tigers will have been a genius move.

Eno: Yeah, the bases on balls were horrifically high last season. They say the best pitch in baseball is “strike one”, so we’ll see. We’ll also see what Knapp can do with Dontrelle Willis. Do you think Dontrelle’s another Steve Blass, or, closer to home, Kevin Saucier? Or is there hope for Willis after all?

Big Al: I think there’s still hope, but the “Steve Blass Syndrome” is always going to hovering over the D-Train till he proves otherwise. Hopefully his hearing a new voice will go a long way towards fixing Willis’s control issues. I don’t think we’ll ever see the same dominant Willis who won 22 games and finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting [a few years ago]. My fingers are crossed, hoping Willis can be a solid number four or five starter. That would go a long way toward shoring up a staff with more than a few holes. Other than Verlander’s pitch counts, getting into Willis’s head will be Knapp’s no. 1 priority.

Eno: Yeah, especially with Kenny Rogers probably done, and God knows what to expect from Nate Robertson, if anything. Speaking of baseball, don’t trash Tampa-St. Pete and their Johnny-come-lately fans – unless you want to be under siege. I trashed them – twice – lately on Johnny Grubb and those folks are in a tizzy! Basically, I crabbed that the Rays being 26th in attendance was shameful. Then on Monday I took a swipe at them and Philly as cities. But they know Eno down there now – for better or for worse!

Big Al: Keep holding their feet to the fire, Eno! Tampa had trouble selling out GAME 7 in the ALCS! But they had no problem selling out the Bucs game, as it was Mike Alstott Night. Screwy priorities, if you ask me. Let alone that Alstott was one of the most overrated fullbacks in NFL history. But I digress… Tampa is an awful baseball town, and you called them out on it. The truth hurts. Personally, I’ll be rooting for Philly; as nasty as their fans can be, you can’t deny it’s a great sports town, much like Detroit.

Eno: Yeah – Philly is Detroit, plus corrosives. The late, great sportswriter Jim Murray once wrote, “When a plane lands in Philadelphia, everyone gets on — nobody gets off.” Anyway, I agree – I’m rooting for the Phils, too. What’s your take on another Cubs collapse? Were they even IN the playoffs?

Big Al: I have a soft spot for any city that can boo Santa Claus. As for the Cubbies? Short playoff series are practically a toss up. We saw it with the Tigers in ’06; they got hot at the perfect time. The Cubs are unquestionably a better team than the Dodgers, but LA got hot, and also got some very good pitching, at the right time.

Eno: Well, whatever – but the Cubs have now officially started a second century of waiting for a championship. Unbelievable that you can go ONE HUNDRED YEARS and not win. Makes the Lions’ drought look like a two-week vacation. After THAT segue, what do you make of this allegation that Brett Favre somehow gave the Lions an hour of his time to work on a game plan for the Packers? I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or roll my eyes at this – or all three!

Big Al: I think Rod Marinelli’s “No comment” on the situation speaks volumes. Of course Favre is going to deny it, but considering his acrimonious departure from Green Bay, his trying to get back at the Packers doesn’t surprise me. But really, it’s a non-story. Giving the Lions, of all teams, inside info would be like giving me step-by-step instructions in ballroom dancing. Even if I know what to do, I don’t have enough talent to do anything with the knowledge! The Lions could have listened in on the Packers’ huddle, and it wouldn’t have done them a lick of good.

Eno: Too funny! That’s what I meant about the laughing and eye rolling! Here’s the white elephant in the room that all the MSM types seem to want to ignore about the Lions: THEY DON’T HAVE ANY TALENT! Honest to God – these guys write and write and the coaches talk and talk and the Lions’ lack of NFL talent is rarely talked about. The MSM and the coaches seem to think that it can be corrected. NO IT CAN’T – not now, anyway. But did you notice that when the veteran players are asked what’s wrong, like Dom Raiola, he says, “I don’t know.” That’s because he’s afraid to publicly say the team isn’t any good.

Big Al: I totally agree. For all of Marinelli’s bluster about playing hard every snap, giving 100%, if the talent isn’t there, giving 1000% isn’t going to make any difference. You win in the NFL on talent, period. I also found it fascinating the Lions named Rudi Johnson as captain, replacing the “injured” Jon Kitna. Whatever it says about a player being made captain who was picked up days before the season started, it can’t be very good. There must be a HUGE leadership vacuum in the Detroit locker room.

Eno: I know – I thought the same thing about the Rudi Johnson thing. OK, on to that “other” Johnson – Calvin. Before I say anything, what’s your impression of #81?

Big Al: That he should be touching the ball more than five times a game. The fact that (offensive coordinator) Jim Colletto can’t get the Lions’ only playmaker the ball is an indictment of his badly designed offense. But my biggest fear about Megatron is his becoming “Lionized” – a talented athlete playing down to the talent surrounding him.

Eno: Well, we may slightly disagree – but about his “playmaker” status. Maybe it’s the Lionizing that you referred to, but Johnson, to me, seems unable to make the routine plays with any reliability. Seems that he drops at least one pass per game, if not more. Mike O’Hara (of the Detroit News) crabbed about CJ’s two catches on Sunday, but he failed to mention Johnson’s drop on that drive near the end of the first half – the drive where Marinelli once again showed the clock management skills of a five year-old. Typical that Johnson caught the meaningless Hail Mary with time expired. I just don’t think Johnson makes enough plays, period. Now, should the Lions throw to him more? Of course, because he’s still the best they’ve got. What I’D like to see are more of those plays where he comes off the line of scrimmage and catches the ball in the flat, like a pseudo running play. Nobody seems to be able to tackle him when they do that.

Big Al: You make a good point, as Roy Williams had the many of the same issues. It would also help if the Lions had a legitimate NFL-quality QB throwing to Johnson. Dan Orlovsky is not exactly a top tier QB. Save for a couple of Scott Mitchell seasons in the mid-1990s, when was the last time the Lions had a QB you knew could get the ball to the right receiver in the proper spots? Since Bobby Layne left for the Steelers, they’ve been few and far between.

Eno: Yeah, speaking of the Cubs’ 100 years, how can you go 51 and only have ONE Pro Bowl QB? And if you look at Greg Landry’s stats from that year (1972), they weren’t eye-popping. Must have been a thin year for NFC QBs. I don’t know, Johnson frustrates me. What’s funny, Al, is when you look at what the Lions’ opponents do the week AFTER they play Detroit. Look at what Matt Schaub and Steve Slaton do next week. It’s funny, it really is. Hell, the 49ers just fired Mike Nolan becuase he’s 0-4 since playing … the Lions!

Big Al: Yet Rod Marinelli remains employed. No one ever said the NFL was fair. It’s not as if the Lions have been getting pounded by elite teams. Hell, the tough part of the schedule is just beginning. Which is why the 0-16 talk isn’t just so much hot air. The Lions are playing several playoff contenders in the second half of the season. It’s going to get real ugly, real quick at Ford Field.

Eno: I recommend that no one under 18 years of age be allowed to watch what Peyton Manning does to them. It’s gonna look like no contact drills. Switching gears yet again, the Scotty Bowman-infiltrated Chicago Blackhawks just fired Denny Savard just four games into the season and replaced him with Joel Quenneville. Thoughts?

Big Al: I’m thinking it’s Scotty Bowman making his presence felt. He wants his own people in there. But still, 4 games into the season? If you have that itchy of a trigger finger, why did they even bring Savard back in the first place? It’s similar to the Tigers giving Phil Garner the ziggy a week into the season (in 2002). They were looking for any excuse. Plus Quenneville is no slouch behind the bench.

Eno: Hey, Garner had to go. I called for that one. After the Tigers went 0-3, I was saying, “Get rid of Garner!” Axing Randy Smith at the same time was a bonus! Well, I must say about Quenneville: Mike Babcock is twice the coach Quenneville is. Babcock showed balls of steel when he replaced Dom Hasek in the first round against Nashville. Not too many coaches would have the guts to make that move, because most of what could happen is bad. Then you got Quenneville who REFUSED to yank Jose Theodore and insert the backup against Detroit in the second round. Joel should have benched Theodore when the series shifted to Colorado; what harm could it have done? But he stuck with Theodore and the Red Wings kept scoring. The Avs wouldn’t have won that series, probably, but if they ever could have used a spark, it was before Game 3 in Denver. Yet Quenneville didn’t give them that chance.

Big Al: Quenneville definitely made some strange decisions in that series, especially in reagard to Theodore. But comparing any coach to Babcock is a losing proposition. The man (Babcock) is practically a class by himself in NHL coaching circles. He’s done an amazing job in forming the Red Wings into his vision.

Eno: Hey, did you realize that I managed to work in both Detroit athletes named Dominic/Dominik into this chat? Pretty clever, eh? Well, Al, anything else that’s eating you?

Big Al: Other than the ulcer in my gut? I know this is out of my comfort space, so to speak, but I find the sudden collapse of the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) promotion Elite XC fascinating. Not two weeks after their street fighting, Internet sensation Kimbo Slice was taken in 15 seconds by a much smaller, run of the mill tomato can, the promotion dissolved, losing immense amounts of money in the process. It just goes to show MMA in many ways is no different than boxing. It’s run by a bunch of shysters taking advantage of fighters getting their heads beat in for a small slice of the money pie.

Eno: Yeah, I think you just described boxing, didn’t you? Or the MMA? I can’t tell the difference! Oh, where have you gone, Gerry Cooney and Ken Norton? Where have the closed-circuit TV bouts gone? The fights down in Manila?

Big Al: The glory days of boxing. I was a big fan in the ‘80s, when Detroit’s Kronk Gym was dominating the lower weight classes. To me, watching Tommy Hearns in his prime was a sight to behold. I remember watching him DESTROY Pipino Cuevas for the welterweight title on Wide World of Sports. And watching Hilmer Kenty win the first title for Kronk back in the day. I think being old enough to have seen the likes of Marvin Hagler, Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard – I could go on and on – in their primes, in many ways the golden age of the sport, soured me on today’s boxing and MMA. It just isn’t the same.

Eno: The hardest punch I ever saw, bar none, was the one Tommy laid on Roberto Duran. Wow. I saw Hearns-Leonard II on closed circuit, and I’m telling you, Tommy won. Well, Big Guy, time to say farewell, I fear. Got anything going this weekend?

Big Al: I’ll be trying to find ways in that crazy thing called the Internets to watch the Lions game, as I think we’ll be guaranteed a blackout. And let’s not forget the little in-state tussle going on in Ann Arbor Saturday. I expect we’ll both have something to say next week about the Wolverines and Spartans.

Eno: Oh yes, we will. I’ll be at Warren Mott’s game against SH Stevenson on Friday, since my daughter’s in the band. Mott is 6-2, Stevenson 7-1. But I’m picking Stevenson by 10. So much for me being a homer! Well, have fun LISTENING to the Lions lose to Washington. See ya next Thoisday.

Big Al: See you next week on TKJWTFWEAA!

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