Greg Eno

Archive for December, 2009|Monthly archive page

Tigers Look Good for 2010, if the Impossible Can Happen

In Baseball on December 30, 2009 at 4:03 pm

We’re in the thick of baseball’s Hot Stove League right now, and I must say, I love the Tigers’ chances in 2010.

Yes sir, I think they’ll do just fine. All they have to do is have every starter pitch a complete game every outing and oh yeah, hold the other guys to no more than two runs per pop.

That’s all.

Since the curtain closed on their end-of-the-season pratfall, the Tigers have lost their starting second baseman and No. 2 hitter, their starting center fielder and leadoff hitter, their set-up man in the bullpen, and their closer. And I hear Paws is in talks to sign with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Two years ago the Tigers were supposed to win 110 games and score ten times that many runs. Their batting order was the only one in baseball with an Upper Division and Lower Division Murderers’ Row. They were going to make a mess of the Central Division and laugh at the rest of the league.

Then they started playing the games and after an 0-7 start the team was practically eliminated from contention.

The reverse is true for 2010. The Tigers would appear to be lucky to score half of 1,000 runs, with their lineup that rivals Swiss cheese in the holes department.

The Tigers apparently mean to start a rookie in CF (newly-acquired Austin Jackson), a rookie at 2B (soon-to-be-promoted Scott Sizemore), and a bunch of .230 hitters. And Miguel Cabrera.

One look at the Tigers’ offense and it’s the fans who should be driven to drink, not the cleanup hitter.

I don’t play the stock market, but I might want a piece of Marlboro stock. Manager Jim Leyland, all by himself, will keep that company in business.

But here’s the rub. The Central Division, save for the Minnesota Twins, is filled with teams who bob up and down more than a buoy during a water skiing show.

Except for the Twins, who always seem to contend despite their warts, the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, and the Tigers take turns confounding the experts. If they’re supposed to be good, they stink. And vice-versa. Only the lovable Kansas City Royals can you chisel in for a bad season.

It looks bad for the Tigers now, I realize that. They have a bona fide superstar in Cabrera batting fourth, only he won’t seem to have much to clean up. He might lead the majors in 2010 in 400-foot solo home runs.

There’s an aging Magglio Ordonez, who you just pray didn’t use up what was left in him during the final couple months of 2009. There’s Carlos Guillen, who ends up on the disabled list more than eggs on a grocery list. There’s Brandon Inge, God bless him, who is a gamer and is gutsy and a great guy and when the dust settles he’s hit .230 again.

There’s Adam Everett, who is a throwback to the days of the good field, no hit shortstop. Too bad he’s not a throwback to the days of the good field, good hit shortstop era that came just after that.

There’s Ramon Santiago, who the Tigers have been treating like the 14-year-old kid who just can’t be trusted to stay home alone for any length of time.

There’s Gerald Laird at catcher, who has a great arm but a limp noodle as a bat. He’s another of those nice .230 guys.

“Spahn and Sain and pray for rain,” used to be the mantra for the old Boston Braves teams when it came to their starting rotation.

How about this for the 2010 Tigers?

“JV and Rick and we’re in trouble if it doesn’t rain a lick.”

OK, so it’s not as eloquent, but you get the idea.

And my apologies to new Tiger Max Scherzer, who might be a good third man in the rotation, if the team’s luck holds out.

Ahh, luck. That fickle lady.

There might be hope for the Tigers, after all. The Twins aren’t playing in the Metrodome in 2010, for starters.

Hey, it’s better than nothing.

Last Night on “The Knee Jerks”: Screw the Digital Age! We Like Rolling Them Bones!

In All Sports on December 29, 2009 at 6:10 pm

Put away the controllers and XBoxes and Playstations! We talked sports games last night—tabletop, board-game style—with Keith Avallone, owner of a website called www.plaay.com. At Keith’s site, you’ll find simulations of everything from roller derby to indoor lacrosse to, soon, hockey. That was our guest segment on “The Knee Jerks,” the weekly gabfest I co-host on Blog Talk Radio with Big Al Beaton, who’s rapidly beginning his own Internet writing empire.

After talking “old school” sports gaming with Keith, Al and I roasted the Lions (as usual), and wondered whether Drew Stanton has a future in the NFL—with the Lions or anyone else.

We also blistered the Free Press and its decision to run an “All Decade” team for the Lions, with such notables as Tony Semple, Joey Harrington, and Todd Lyght on it. The All Decade coach was Steve Mariucci! Oy vay!

You also might want to hear my last rant of 2009—a 15-minute rampage on the Indy Colts and their decision to bench Peyton Manning on Sunday. It’s among my best, if I do say so myself!

Al included himself, indirectly, in his pick of “Jerk of the Week.”

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, for updates on scheduled guests, time changes, etc.

Upcoming guests/topics:

Jan. 4: Big Ten basketball preview (OR January 11)

You can listen to the episode by clicking HERE.

Stanton Simply Awful in First NFL Start

In football on December 28, 2009 at 4:46 pm

OK, so you saw Drew Stanton. Happy now? Can we move on?

If Stanton remains with the Lions as the No. 2 man behind Matthew Stafford, let’s all chip in and provide Matthew with the best medical care available—and maybe we can raise enough dough to buy some offensive linemen, too.

Stanton was the prime suspect in the Lions’ 20-6 loss to the 49ers in the Bay Area on Sunday. He was the leader of the gang that came in and stole whatever chances the Lions had of winning.

In the season of giving, Stanton giveth, alright—to the 49ers. And in doing so, Stanton taketh away from his own guys.

Stanton fumbled. He threw three interceptions, the last of which was as hideous a thing as you’ll ever see on a football field. Finally, he was benched, his head hanging in abject defeat.

Stanton made his first career start yesterday, and if he was a Broadway show he would have closed after one night. It was the worst debut since the Italian Army in WWI.

This is who everyone clamored for?

They say the most popular QB in the NFL is often the guy who’s not playing. So I guess that makes Patrick Ramsey, a Lion for less than 72 hours, the apple of every Lions fan’s eye right now.

Stanton has wallowed as a Lion ever since being drafted by his hometown team in 2007. Some of us, present company included, thought he’s been getting a raw deal for three seasons now. Maybe he deserved it.

Stanton’s from Farmington Hills—the residents there are disavowing any knowledge of him—and he attended Michigan State University, which is no doubt this morning expunging all record of him ever playing as a Spartan.

Stanton was so bad on Sunday that he even made Daunte Culpepper a sight for sore eyes, when the latter entered the game with a tad over six minutes remaining. It was moments after Stanton threw maybe the worst interception in the history of pro football—and I’m not exaggerating AT ALL—a givesy-backsy one play after SF’s Frank Gore fumbled and gave the Lions the ball at the 49er 29.

Gore fumbled and the Lions, with a quick score, would have been within 10 points. Well, it would have been interesting, anyway. So Stanton does a play-action, has all the time in the world to set himself and plant his feet and do all those other mechanical things quarterbacks do, and he lasered one—right into the chest of Dre Bly, of all people.

It was like the Lions found a $20 bill in their other pair of pants and Stanton set fire to it immediately.

Stanton had a QB rating of 31.9, and even though I have no idea how that’s computed, I know that it doesn’t get much lower than that. I think you can play Electric Football and have your QB post a better rating.

OK, so he’s still a rookie, for all intents and purposes. He’s rusty. His confidence was probably shot to hell.

But even given all those built-in excuses, Stanton under achieved. He proved he’s not ready to seize the moment. And, in the process, he gave team coaches and management a big, fat opportunity to say, “I TOLD you he couldn’t play!”

So dump him then. Get someone else. Stafford can’t possibly stay healthy for 16 games, given the line he plays behind and his sense of recklessness on the field. So the Lions will need someone who can step in and doesn’t have bubbles coming out of his pants and a big red nose and a fright wig and who is wearing size 34 shoes.

Stanton can’t play at all. Culpepper can’t play anymore. Ramsey never could play in the NFL. The Lions have Matthew Stafford and a black hole.

Am I being too hard on Stanton? I don’t know; was the United States too hard on the Japanese after Pearl Harbor? Was Elin Nordegren too hard on Tiger Woods?

My apologies to Culpepper, by the way. Daunte, I apologize for actually thinking that Drew Stanton gave the Lions a better chance to win than you. I stand corrected. Neither of you gives the Lions a chance to win.

There—I feel better now.

The Lions have one game left, and I suppose they’ll have to start a quarterback in it. Wouldn’t you love to be coach Jim Schwartz? He’s hungry, and when he opens up the fridge all he sees is moldy cheese and something green and gooey under plastic wrap.

Quick—someone give Schwartzie Scott Mitchell’s phone number.

Red Wings Are Now the Rodney Dangerfields of the NHL

In Hockey on December 27, 2009 at 5:23 pm

Well, how do you like the rest of the NHL? They’re showing their true character, these teams.

Look what they’re doing to the Detroit Red Wings these days.

Someone must have hung a sign outside Joe Louis Arena: “Free licks! Get ‘em in—limited time offer.”

The Joe used to be a House of Horrors for opponents. You flew into Detroit, got your requisite butt kicking, and moved on. They weren’t hockey games, they were wakes.

The Red Wings might stumble or lose interest enough to let five or six games, total, slide into the “L” column in any given season at JLA. They toyed with opponents, like an ape with a piece of Samsonite.

Now everyone is coming into Detroit and winning hockey games, like it’s part of a new world order. Even Florida and Atlanta have done it this season, and they win in Detroit once a decade.

The Red Wings are being treated shabbily on the road, too. It used to be that when the Red Wings came to town, you bought a ticket to see your team play the role of the Washington Generals to the Detroit Globetrotters. And you enjoyed it. The Red Wings were so special, it was an honor to see your team get clocked by them.

But look at what the league has the gall to do nowadays.

First they strip the Red Wings of their key goal scorers via free agency, in the summertime, then conspire with the hockey gods to rain injury and pestilence on them during the season. Finally, they’re acting like vultures, picking at the Winged Wheel carcass.

These are the Detroit Red Wings, folks. A little respect, please!

You don’t treat the Red Wings like this. These are the Popes of hockey. They’re practically royalty. You wouldn’t invite the Queen of England over and let the dog play with her crown, would you?

This is disgraceful, what’s going on in the NHL this season? I want to lodge a complaint.

All you teams are playing the Red Wings brave now, aren’t you? It’s like Jerry Quarry having a shot at Muhammad Ali with one of Muhammad’s arms tied behind his back.

They’re even shutting the Red Wings out now, which used to happen only during leap years or something. Five times the Red Wings have been blanked, and twice it’s happened two games in a row.

Of course, you knew team scoring would be down, seeing as the Red Wings lost a bajillion goals vis-à-vis players traipsing to other cities to play hockey in the offseason. It was the biggest mass exodus since the Exodus.

Players don’t leave Detroit to play hockey elsewhere, as a rule, unless they’ve been shipped out of town. But the Red Wings lost Marian Hossa, Mikael Samuelsson, Tomas Kopecky, and Jiri Hudler off last season’s Stanley Cup Finals roster. Even the backup goalie, Ty Conklin, skipped town.

OK, so the economics of hockey dictate that you just can’t keep all of your good players. Fine. But what about all of the injuries?

The Red Wings have been hit so hard by injuries that the Detroit Medical Center opened a kiosk behind Section 212 at The Joe. The first thing you do when you enter the Red Wings dressing room is scrub up.

As far as injury bugs go, the Red Wings are dealing with a humdinger of a cockroach. I’ve seen flies drop with less frequency than Red Wings players this season. Mike Babcock isn’t coaching the Red Wings, he’s trying to keep them animated. The best shot on the team is cortisone.

But does the rest of the NHL care?

I thought hockey players were the kindest, most down-to-Earth of all the professional athletes. Turns out they have a mean streak of a serial killer and are as opportunistic as a personal injury lawyer. I’m surprised at them—taking advantage of the league’s First Family like this.

This is kicking a team when it’s down—and they’re wearing skates while they’re doing it.

The Red Wings have a record of 18-14-5, which is really 18-19. They score about 2.6 goals a game. The Red Wings of old would have 2.6 goals before the game was 29.5 minutes old.

The Chicago Blackhawks recently played the Red Wings twice in four days, and the Hawks treated the Wings like Rodney Dangerfield. Normally, a home-and-home series between the two teams would be just another chance for the Red Wings to remind the young Blackhawks who was the Stanley Cup-contending team and who was the smart aleck kid.

The Blackhawks skunked the Red Wings twice, by identical 3-0 scores. It didn’t matter that the Red Wings were hurt, depleted, and miserable. This is pro sports; the next team that feels sorry for you will be the first.

“They’re just better than we are right now,” Babcock said of the Blackhawks after the second whitewashing.

And healthier, and younger, and more confident.

The Red Wings haven’t been getting much sympathy around the league. It’s open season on them now, and even the 98-pound weaklings have been getting their shots in. The Red Wings have been league bullies for years, and now it’s their turn to get their lunch money taken by force.

What a crazy, mixed up hockey season this is. The Phoenix Coyotes, practically wards of the league—a team that Wayne Gretzky didn’t even want a part of—are battling for supremacy in their division. The defending Cup champs play in the Eastern Conference. Now THAT’S something.

And the Detroit Red Wings are being defiled like a cheap floozy in Times Square.

But check back in May. That’s only five months away in normal time, but in the NHL that may as well be a galaxy far, far away.

NHL Gets It Right: No Action on Christmas Eve, Day

In Hockey on December 25, 2009 at 6:07 am

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the NHL, not a creature was stirring.

Do you hear that sound? The sound of silence?

If you want to hear anything in any NHL arena on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, first you’ll have to break into the joint. Then, having succeeded, you won’t find a soul.

For two days, the sticks stay untaped. The skates stay hung on their hooks. The pucks stay in the freezer. There might as well be a sign that says, “No morning skate to-day.”

The National Hockey League doesn’t do much right, so when they do, it’s only fair to blare it. The appearance of “NHL,” “good,” and “decision” in the same sentence that doesn’t also include “not a” is up there with “Man listens to wife,” so this is big doings.

The NHL, bless their frozen souls, outlaw their own game on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The players are ordered to stay away from “the building.” No games, no practices. If one has the urge to throw a hip check, then it’s to be done to the kids at home, or the family dog.

For two days, not only are the goalies pulled, but so is everyone else. The only sweater worn is a garish holiday one, around the fire at home.

Good for the pucksters. They got one right for a change.

I wish other sports would follow suit.

The NBA has had a fetish for playing games on Christmas Day for decades. The Red Wings used to do it, too, in the 1960s, but then the players and their wives protested and the game was dropped from the schedule.

Do we need sports on Christmas? Are we so ravenous? Is our hunger so insatiable?

The NHL, by giving its teams Eve and Day off, are also saying to their fans, indirectly, “And you should have better things to do, too.”

And we should.

The NBA ought to listen, but I doubt they will. Starting at noon ET today, the TV will be filled with NBA games—at least on ABC and ESPN—until past midnight. A quintuple-header—five games, with start times of 12, 2:30, 5:00, 8:00, and 10:30 p.m.

Why?

Can’t we shut it off for a day and maybe say a few words to our families, even if we don’t care for them all that much?

Not to pick on the NBA, because college football serves up Bowl games on Christmas, like it’s just another day on the calendar. The movie theaters swing open their doors, too. And that’s worse, because that requires leaving the house. Isn’t being able to see a movie 364 days a year enough?

Yeah, it’s a free country, with free enterprise. I get it. If mom and pop want to open on Christmas Day, then that’s their prerogative.

But isn’t it refreshing that the NHL has a two day moratorium, enabling players and coaches and arena workers to be with their families? Is that so much to ask, really?

Yet in today’s economy, I can see where it might be attractive for a concession worker to pull in a Christmas Day shift at double time pay. Point taken. But do you really think that those folks have an option?

Pretty much the same people work the same jobs at every game in any given arena. If the schedule says “game,” then they’re expected to be there. Maybe holiday pay isn’t that important to everyone.

I’m probably going to be lonely on this one. I can hear it now.

“Christmas Day games are wildly popular! Who are you to take away our sports? If you have a problem, then don’t watch.”

Just thought I’d save you some time.

OK, fine. You’re right; not everyone celebrates Christmas, number one. Two, not everyone has a warm and fuzzy family situation that they can’t wait to enjoy.

All I’m saying is, I think it’s great that the NHL locks their doors on the 24th and 25th. Mainly because it’s just so anti the norm. Again, refreshing.

And yes, I will take your advice. I won’t watch a minute of the NBA today. I plan on going 0-for-5. Gonna give myself a collar.

I’ll make it up some other time, believe me.

Lions Need to Give Stafford a Strong Veteran Presence Behind Him

In football on December 23, 2009 at 3:21 pm

Not to bring up the dead during this holiday season, but when Joey Harrington was in Detroit, struggling to become an NFL quarterback, the Lions organization didn’t do a lick to help him.

By his second season, the Lions tried to plug Joey into Steve Mariucci’s pattycake, West Coast offense, with garish results. Square peg, meet round hole.

But the most egregious thing the Lions did during Harrington’s formative years was something they didn’t do.

They never provided him with an honest-to-goodness, veteran NFL QB to help him along.

It wasn’t about the competition. Joey was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2002 draft. There should have been no illusions about whether he was the quarterback of the future—back then.

But all the Lions gave Harrington was a kid from Rutgers, Mike McMahon, and called it a day. They brought in Ty Detmer for a time, but that’s not really what I’m talking about here. They brought in Jeff Garcia in 2005, but Garcia was a Mariucci guy and still fancied himself a starter in the NFL. Plus, by 2005 Harrington was in his fourth season and he himself was halfway out the door in Detroit.

It may not have made one bit of difference, but we’ll never know whether his progression as an NFL quarterback would have been helped by the presence of a veteran backup who could have functioned as a mentor and sounding board.

What the Lions did was draft a blind mouse and gave him Mr. Magoo to work with.

Well, the Lions have a rare second opportunity to right a wrong. They can give Matthew Stafford someone to help him—and not Daunte Culpepper.

Not a guy who’s trying to audition for another job elsewhere. Not someone who’s done like dinner.

The Lions need to bring in a veteran who understands that his role is that of caddy and adjunct coach—not someone who thinks he can steal the starter’s job from Stafford.

I look around the league and I see someone like Mark Brunell, with the Redskins. Now that’s more like it.

In 1994, the Lions made a ferocious run toward the playoffs—but only after starter Scott Mitchell went down with an injury and veteran Dave Krieg took over. Krieg had one of the best stretches of his long career, and the Lions charged to the postseason.

So far, the Lions have provided Stafford—who’s only the franchise—with a self-serving Culpepper and a kid, Drew Stanton, whose confidence has been shot full of holes since being drafted by his hometown team.

Scott Linehan needs help, too. The offensive coordinator would be better served if he had a veteran guy who could take Stafford aside after practice and fill in any gaps created by the coaches.

There’s also the matter of just being in the NFL, period. Not only how to read defenses, but how to read life as a pro football player. How to carry yourself. How to handle not only the bull rush of a blitzing linebacker, but that of the media. Stuff like that.

Stafford’s the No. 1 guy in Detroit. There’s no debate about that. If things go according to plan, he’ll be a Lion for 10 years, at least. But those early years in the NFL are so key. It’s when habits—good and bad—are learned. It’s when confidence is built or destroyed forever.

Just ask Joey Harrington, if you can find him.

Last Night on “The Knee Jerks”: NHL Central Musings, Another Lions Waxing

In All Sports on December 22, 2009 at 4:25 pm

Hockey took center ice, so to speak, last night on “The Knee Jerks,“ the weekly gabfest I co-host on Blog Talk Radio with Big Al Beaton, who’s rapidly beginning his own Internet writing empire.

We held our much anticipated NHL Central Roundtable, in which we hosted Bleacher Report writers from Chicago, Columbus, and Nashville. Our St. Louis guy had a conflict and couldn’t participate.

Joining us were Tab Bamford (Blackhawks), Ed Cmar (Blue Jackets), and Mark Willoughby (Predators). Each one of those guys were extremely knowledgeable and provided excellent analysis of their respective teams. We went a good 50 minutes and could easily have taken up the entire show time with that discussion.

But what would an episode of “The Knee Jerks” be without Al and me ripping on the Lions?

QB Daunte Culpepper was our target, with both of us agreeing that he should never take another snap in a Lions uniform. Al ranted about “moral victories” and I countered with one about fans who want the Lions to lose for “draft positioning.”

With the holiday approaching and it being a relatively quiet week around Detroit sports—and having discussed the Red Wings in the roundtable—we wrapped up a bit earlier than our usual two-hour allotment. Not before choosing our Jerks of the Week, of course!

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, for updates on scheduled guests, time changes, etc.

Upcoming guests/topics:

Dec. 28: Tabletop sports game creator and business owner Keith Avallone

Jan. 4: Big Ten basketball preview

You can listen to the episode by clicking HERE.

Another Moral Victory, As Lions Don’t Embarrass Themselves Against Playoff-Bound Cards

In football on December 21, 2009 at 3:26 pm

If you look real hard at the NFL standings in this morning’s newspaper—squint, go cross-eyed, maybe dip the newsprint in lemon juice and hold it up to a black light—you’ll see a fourth column, nestled among W, L, and T.

It’s MV. And the Detroit Lions are among the league leaders in that secret society category.

MV—the Moral Victory. The Lions do pretty well against that spread; have for years, as a matter of fact.

The NFL’s Moral Victory is something that’s declared, not proven on any stat sheet; it doesn’t necessarily even jump out at you on the JumboTron scoreboard in the end zone.

The MV, loosely translated, means getting just due for something that should be routine.

The Lions lost yesterday—a distinct “L” in the commonly-accepted league standings that are visible to the naked, untrained eye. The scoreboard says so. It read Cardinals 31, Lions 24 when the sands of time ran out.

But hold on—a Moral Victory was declared! The first salvo was fired on that social media jobbie-do called Twitter.

“Lions lose, 31-24. But at least they didn’t quit after falling behind by 17,” was how one Twitterer described it, moments after the final gun.

Yeah, there’s that.

So I guess the Lions did quit the week before, in Baltimore, when the Ravens gave them a swirly and a Melvin and took their lunch money to the tune of 48-3.

No MV when you lose by 45, eh?

The Moral Victory means that you hang in there and don’t give up and, basically, come close but lose to a superior opponent. The NFL is filled with teams superior to the Lions, so the latter has more opportunities for the MV than most of their brethren, granted.

The 2-12 Lions fell behind yesterday to the 9-5 Cardinals, 17-0, and with the Lions you don’t know which way that can go. A 17-0 deficit is just as likely to turn into 34-3, or it could result in an MV.

The bereft-of-big plays Lions pulled a couple out of their…posterior, and just like that a football game broke out.

Safety Louis Delmas, a rookie who has the temerity to play as if he knows what he’s doing in this league, started the mini-onslaught with a 101-yard interception return. Considering it often takes the Lions’ offense several possessions to traverse such a distance, Delmas’s doing it in under 30 seconds was all the more impressive. 17-7 Cardinals.

Not long after, running back Maurice Morris, filling in for the ACL-torn Kevin Smith, boogied into the end zone to the tune of 64 yards—on ONE carry! Very un-Lions-like. 17-14 Cardinals.

Then beleaguered Jason Hanson even made a field goal, and the game was tied, 17-17.

At least the Lions weren’t quitting. A Moral Victory was in the air.

The Cardinals went ahead again, 24-17, and the Lions tied it—again. The sweet smell of MV filled Ford Field like Christmas cookies baking in the oven.

Of course, no one in their right mind truly thinks the Lions will win such a contest, so the Moral Victory beckons the faithful. They get high off of it.

The Lions aren’t quitting! They’re in the game in the closing minutes! Take a deep breath and inhale that!

Then, of course, there’s the inevitable collapse into defeat, another one goes under the “L” column, but at least there wasn’t embarrassment attached to this latest loss.

Another hallmark of the Moral Victory: escaping humiliation and abject failure.

Speaking of abject failure, a message for Lions QB Daunte Culpepper: Magglio Ordonez called—he wants his throwing arm back.

Culpepper was again ineffective on Sunday, underthrowing receivers—until a Hail Mary just before halftime that sailed thru the uprights—and generally looking like a guy whose NFL career is swirling down the drain. Which it pretty much is.

Watching Culpepper now, trying to portray an NFL quarterback, is like listening to William Hung sing; it’s impossible to do without making a face and turning away in dread.

Culpepper is done. Finished. History. Somewhere, a television studio and an Armani suit beckons him. Might as well get the graphic ready: DAUNTE CULPEPPER, NFL ANALYST.

If the Lions had any compassion, they’d pull the plug on Daunte today. Cut him and put him out of everyone’s misery. He made a gallant effort in the offseason, losing weight and displaying leadership vocally and having a terrific attitude. But the guy just can’t play anymore. Even Johnny Unitas soiled his legacy, stumbling around in a San Diego Chargers uniform at the end. So it’s not unique to Culpepper, this carrying on past your time thing.

The Moral Victory, though, is preferable to the ugly loss, I will grant you that. Less jokes and snide remarks, number one. The players can show their faces in public. The coach doesn’t have to rush to the film projector so that he may prepare his indictments and identify the perpetrators.

The MV column is in there, somewhere in the NFL standings. You just have to look for it.

If you can’t find it, just let us know. We in Detroit can locate it pretty easily.

Take Heart, Lions Fans: Even Arizona Cardinals Became Winners

In football on December 20, 2009 at 1:48 pm

So even the Arizona Cardinals got it right, eventually.

There’s something wrong with the world in which I now live. Since when did they change slapstick and make it into refined theater?

The Arizona Cardinals are now a championship contender for two years in a row.

The blind squirrel found a nut—twice.

The Arizona Cardinals? Winners, two years in succession? About to wrap up another divisional title?

It’s like the Marx Brothers playing Shakespeare. Buddy Hackett reading Hemingway on stage. The Keystone Kops getting their man.

Maybe I woke up in one of those parallel universes. The kind where the sun rises in the West and human beings answer the phones at the utility company and the Arizona Cardinals are (gulp) good.

The Cardinals, who visit the Lions on Sunday and who will most likely leave Detroit 9-5 and in tune for the playoffs, used to be lockstep with all the inglorious losers in professional sports.

You could break up a room at just about any comedy club with the mere mention of their name.

The Lions have kept their losing confined to one city; the Cardinals have traveled the country, dropping turds from Chicago to Phoenix.

The Cardinals used to be the Los Angeles Clippers of the NFL when they played in Chicago. They shared a big city with a legitimate team, the Bears, and provided comic relief. And financial turmoil.

Here’s Pat Summerall, who was a Chicago Cardinal before he made it big with the New York Giants and CBS television.

“We used to get paid and run to the bank immediately,” Summerall once told NFL Films. “There’d be fights in the locker room. They’d dump our paychecks on the floor and make us fight for them. Then it was a race to the bank, to cash them before they bounced.”

The Cardinals got nudged out of Chicago and took their vaudeville act to St. Louis in 1960.

The Cardinals passed through the Gateway to the West and were semi-transformed. An occasional winning season would break out. Then, as if they’d signed a one-year pact with the Devil, the following campaign would be a return to fumbling, bumbling, and stumbling.

St. Louis wasn’t westward enough, though. The Cardinals pressed on in 1988, taking their sideshow all the way to Phoenix.

Phoenix! How fitting; the Cardinals move to a city named after a bird that rose from ashes.

But the losing followed them, like that annoying neighbor kid who won’t leave you alone.

The Cardinals even tried changing their affiliation. After six years of being known as the Phoenix Cardinals, they decided that one city’s reputation wasn’t enough to sully, so they indicted the entire state; they became the Arizona Cardinals in 1994.

The Cardinals, until last year, were among those sitting at the table at the back of the room—filled with those who’d never played in a Super Bowl.

The Lions, Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Houston Texans lost a member, when the Cardinals plowed their way through the 2008 playoffs and made it all the way to the Big One.

The Cardinals, like the Lions, are owned by a Bill.

Bill Bidwill, 78, has been the sole owner since 1972, after sharing the honor with his brother Charlie for 11 years. Other than his signature bow tie, the only thing Bill Bidwill was known for was losing. And being clue-free about how to win. Sound familiar?

Bidwill also has a kid named Bill. The comparisons to the Lions would be spooky, if not for one thing—the Cardinals are actually winning football games.

Which brings me to my opening state of confusion.

The Arizona Cardinals can’t be winners. This might be one of the first signs of the Apocalypse. Maybe that stuff about 2012 is true, after all.

They have an aging quarterback, Kurt Warner, who’s trying to recover from a concussion. But they also have a young, gun slinging lefty named Matt Leinart who’s stepped in and the Cardinals haven’t really missed a beat with the USC grad at the helm.

Leinart is young, good-looking, and from California. Which means he’s hated by every defensive lineman in the league and by sports writers in their mid-40s.

The Cardinals have a superstar wide receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, whose name sounds like he should be a friend of Beaver Cleaver’s. The have a running back named Beanie Wells, and I’m back to the Cleaver thing.

“Mom, can Larry and Beanie come over for dinner?”

The offensive line actually blocks. The defense is capable. The Cardinals are, you know, a real football team.

It should bring hope to Lions fans everywhere. If the Cardinals can do it, then…

Of course, Lyle Lovett did get Julia Roberts, albeit briefly.

The Cardinals are winners. Two years in a row. The clock broke at 11:59. Ice crystals are forming in Hades. I hear Steven Seagal is up for a Golden Globe.

My call to the cable company really is very important to them. The check really is in the mail. Comcast must be done buying things.

In such a parallel universe, you’d think the Lions could even be successful.

Instead, we get Jason Hanson missing field goals.

Maybe the Lions can find a player named Lumpy.

Baseball Trades Today More About Money Than Personnel

In Baseball on December 18, 2009 at 4:40 pm

It was a line uttered by a wisecracking former player for the Cleveland Indians. Its genealogy dates back to the mid-1980s.

“The first thing they do when they find out you have talent in Cleveland,” the player said, “is trade you for three guys who don’t.”

That observation was made because of curious personnel decisions that the Indians front office had been making, none of which involved money. Just plain baseball.

I’d like to update that missive.

The first thing teams NOT named the Yankees and Red Sox do when they find out you have talent, is trade you for three guys who don’t make any money.

The Winter Meetings—and this isn’t all that long ago—used to be a gathering of big kids in suits with bubblegum cards rubber-banded together.

“Give me your Freddy Lynn and I’ll give you my Frank Tanana.”

If players were on the “trading block,” it was because of performance or age or maybe an oil-and-water relationship with the manager. The December meetings were thrilling, because you never knew what kinds of mega deals might be spawned from them.

It’s December 1979 and the Tigers make a trade that is classified under “addition by subtraction.” They have a new manager, Sparky Anderson, and after only four months on the job, Sparky already knows who he’d like to cast off.

So base thief—and just plain thief—Ron LeFlore gets shipped to Montreal for a lefthander named Dan Schatzeder. No one with a straight face can argue that it’s a fair deal. LeFlore was a bona fide .300 hitter with some power who could steal 50+ bases while hardly trying.

But it was the hardly trying part that got Sparky’s goat. Never having warmed to LeFlore’s off-the-field behavior, Sparky had GM Jim Campbell send him away, forthwith. Didn’t matter who the Tigers got back in return, really. Which was obvious, when all LeFlore netted the Tigers was Schatzeder, who was OK but nothing terrific.

Sparky continued to have Campbell purge the roster of those not of the manager’s liking, over the next several years. But you can’t argue, because the Tigers became solid contenders by 1981 and won the World Series in 1984.

The point to all my meanderings? Trades were made for just about anything except for what they’re mostly made for now.

It’s the money. The cash. The filthy loot.

The Toronto Blue Jays were the latest to get cheaper, practically giving pitcher Roy Halladay away in a three-team trade involving the Phillies and the Mariners. The Jays got “prospects” in return. Read: they got some guys who don’t cost the GNP of a small country.

It used to be that you made baseball trades because of, well, baseball. You assessed your needs and met up with some other GMs in the lobbies of hotels and trade proposals would be scratched out on the back of a room service menu and then hands were shaked later that day.

Hardly ever was a guy’s contract status the prime consideration. And deals were rarely made in the superstar-for-prospect category.

Now, if you’re a GM, you have to keep your finance guy tethered to you. You don’t scout potential players anymore, you vet them.

Teams today simply cannot afford to keep their best players, at least not all of them. Some, like the Blue Jays and others, can’t really keep any of them, because of their light pocketbooks.

You can suggest “salary cap” all you want, but good luck getting such a proposal through the MLB Players Association. You’ll have better success shoving this morning’s toothpaste back into its tube.

A devoted reader bemoaned to me last week about the Curtis Granderson “get cheap quick” trade.

“The Yankees buy their championships!”

I gently reminded him that that’s what the Red Wings used to do, pre-salary cap. A July press conference announcing that year’s big free agency catch was an annual thing around Detroit.

“That’s true,” he said. “Guess we can’t really complain then.”

No, you can complain. Because I am.

I’m complaining because I’m not sure that most baseball trades aren’t made because of money first and personnel needs second.

How else to explain the cashiering of a pitcher like Halladay, who is a legitimate Cy Young threat every year, for a bunch of unproven kids?

Closer to home, it’s also OK with me if you wring your hands over Justin Verlander. He can be a free agent before the 2012 season, if the Tigers don’t get him signed long term before then. Verlander is making $3.75 million this year, which is today’s drop in the bucket. How much will it take to keep JV in a Tigers uniform? Maybe a cool $100 million over five, six years?

Halladay has Cy Young potential every season; Verlander has no-hitter potential every start.

Baseball teams are like college programs anymore. Just when you get enamored with the players, they’re gone in four years.

A hard look needs to be taken at baseball’s financial setup. It’s not even about the Yankees and the Red Sox. It’s about giving teams more of an opportunity to compete financially and keep the players who draw the most fans, i.e. tickets.

Then we can get back to making trades based on baseball, not contracts.