Eddie Mathews saw something on the chalkboard in the clubhouse and decided, all by hisself, that it was time for a meetin.’
Mathews, the Hall of Fame third baseman, was a Detroit Tiger for all of one day, maybe not even 24 hours. He had just been picked up from the Houston Astros to provide some help in the pennant push of 1967. It was late August.
Eddie was the only man who played for the Braves in Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta. He’d won a World Series in 1957, defeating the mighty Yankees, and returned the next year, though the Yanks got revenge.
Eddie played for quite a few managers in his day, and always with the proper subordination as a player. So when he walked into the Tigers clubhouse that August day in ’67, he was a little peeved.
“We’ll win it despite Mayo!” was what “some clown” — Eddie’s words — had written on the black board in the middle of the clubhouse about manager Mayo Smith.
Eddie, a Tiger for just a few hours, called a meeting. Players only.
In it, he took his new teammates to task for showing that kind of disdain for their manager.
Immediately, Mathews became ingratiated by men who wished, among themselves, that Smith had “chewed them out more.” So Mathews’s beat down was some welcome piss and vinegar.
The Tigers came within a whisker of winning the 1967 AL pennant. We all know what they did the following year.
But eventually Smith’s laissez-faire, “treat them like men” approach petered out. The Tigers quit horribly on Mayo in the final months of the 1970 season, and Smith was replaced after the season by Billy Martin, the pissiest and most vinegary of them all.
Someone needs to talk to the Pistons of today, because it sure doesn’t seem like their coach is doing it.
The Pistons have lost 12 games in a row. And counting. They look about as ready to burst out of their slump as an unpopped kernel of corn at the bottom of the bag. There are whispers that the big “Q” doesn’t stand for John Kuester—it stands for “quit.”
The Pistons, at least publicly, are getting a love-in from their coach.
“There are some hugs in there,” Kuester, the first-year man, said the other day. “We address things, but there’s room for some hugs.”
I’m not saying go the Gilbert Arenas route and start pulling guns, but enough with the hugs.
“We have a great group of guys,” Kuester also said recently.
Kuester might not be the right type of man to coach the Pistons, after all
The Pistons are, again, devoid of leadership. It’s been a black hole, a vacuum, ever since they traded Chauncey Billups away. Poor Michael Curry got swallowed up by it. Don’t believe me? Anyone see Michael lately?
The Pistons are a bunch of soft scorers and Ben Wallace. They play with no life, no urgency. The Palace is a great place to go to get caught up on some reading, or maybe study for a trigonometry test.
But their coach thinks they’re a bunch of great guys who aren’t afflicted with anything that some hugs can’t cure.
Kuester’s Mayo Smith-like approach would be great if: a) the Pistons were contenders; b) the Pistons were mature enough to police themselves; or c) Kuester wasn’t a rookie head coach. None of the above is the case.
Who’s the leader? Again, it doesn’t seem to be Rip Hamilton. It’s the same old story. Tayshaun Prince speaks as much as a mime. Rodney Stuckey is still trying to learn how to be a point guard. The new guys, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, don’t have the pull. Chucky Atkins scowls a lot, but isn’t a leader.
And they’re being coached by Dale Carnegie.
The Pistons are bound for the draft lottery, which isn’t the end of the world, but they’re headed there like a man trudging off to his own execution, with nary a hope in the world of a stay.
What’s worse, they don’t seem to care.
I’ll even take some in-fighting right now. Without the gunplay. You know what I mean.
These are the NBA’s dog days—the middle of January, the end of the season nowhere in sight. It used to be a time when the Pistons of old would struggle to stay interested, mainly because they had a playoff spot sewn up and usually the division, too. Now they struggle to stay interested because they’re so bad and no one is around to make sure they stay interested.
GM Joe Dumars created this mess, in case you were wondering. He’d better fix it, and fast. Or else leave town and we’ll find someone who’s up to the task. Joe fixed someone else’s mess, once upon a time. Let’s see if he has it in him to fix one of his own making.