Greg Eno

Archive for October 8th, 2012|Daily archive page

Cabrera Latest Quiet, Dignified Detroit Sports Superstar

In Baseball on October 8, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Detroit is not a “Look at me!” town. It doesn’t scream at you, like New York, or smirk at you, like Chicago. It doesn’t have the pretentiousness of Los Angeles or thesassiness of Philadelphia.

Detroit is a do-your-job, keep-your-head-down-and-plow-through kind of burg. Its biggest accomplishment is just getting through the day. All it wants is a cold beer at 6:00 and a game on Fox Sports Detroit at 7.

Detroit expects nothing from its professional athletes that it’s not willing to give from itself. It works hard, keeps its mouth shut, is just happy to be here, and so expects its sports heroes to do the same.

There hasn’t been much patience for the loudmouth, for the petulant, or for the ingrate. The whiner and the unhappy camper, Detroit can do without. Detroit is a “you don’t like it here, you can leave” kind of town.

So it’s highly appropriate that the greatest sports stars who have played in the Motor City in this generation have also been among the most humble and quietly dignified of their profession.

That’s how we like it here, after all.

Chest pounding is OK, as long as we get the feeling that the chest that’s being pounded is that of the team and the city, not of the individual.

We have been blessed to watch the strong, silent types.

The generation of which I speak starts in 1983, when the Red Wings, slugged by the disappointment of not being able to draft the kid from Waterford, Michigan, PatLaFontaine, instead nabbed a scoring machine from greater Ottawa named Steve Yzerman.

Yzerman arrived with the funny name and the manners of a young gentleman. He tiptoed around that first locker room in 1983, around the likes of Brad Park and Danny Gare and Reed Larson, an 18-year-old who scored 39 goals as a rookie—a total which might have been more than the words he spoke that season.

It was early in that 1983-84 season that I, as a cub reporter, turned from the crowd gathered around sniper John Ogrodnick after a rare win for the Red Wings and spotted Yzerman, quietly dressing. He couldn’t have looked more unassuming.

I tried to chat him up, with some jocular words long forgotten by the speaker. I strained to hear him as he buttoned his shirt. He was mere months out of high school, after all.

Three years later Yzerman was a 21-year-old captain, the youngest in the league. We met up again, this time as I was set to direct him in a public service announcement for youth hockey at Joe Louis Arena that I had written.

He was three years older—a four-year veteran at that point—but not any louder, no less humble. He did take after take on the ice with the gaggle of kid hockey players recruited to be in the spot, exhibiting no impatience, acting not at all like a diva.

Twenty years later we met again, at the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame induction dinner. He was four months into retirement and just a few weeks into his new gig as a front office suit. Again I tried to drag some words out of him. Again he was polite, humble and soft spoken. He greeted my wife as if he was meeting the Queen of England.

The generation moved along from 1983 to 1985, when the Pistons drafted a shooting guard from Natchitoches, Louisiana named Joe Dumars. Superstar point guard Isiah Thomas took to calling Dumars “Little Isiah,” even though Joe was a few inches taller.

Dumars was another who let his play do the talking. He carried a big stick. On a team of Bad Boys, Dumars was silent but deadly. He deferred but he didn’t shrink. Dumars punched the time clock for 14 years in Detroit, content to be an Indian on a team full of chiefs.

The generation rolled along. We’re at 1989 now.

The Lions, thanks to the inexplicable draft strategy of the Green Bay Packers, fall into a jitterbug back from Oklahoma State, Barry Sanders. Head coach Wayne Fontes stands in front of the curious media and declares Sanders to be the “No. 1 running back in America,” and this time no one cares to second guess the coach.

Sanders ends up becoming the best running back in Detroit, by far, and arguably the greatest in NFL history. But in a league often dominated by the boorish and the selfish, Sanders is a breath of fresh air. He’s quiet almost to the point of strange, but we lap it up in Detroit.

A league that brought you the spike is now made retro by Sanders, who is content to simply hand the football to the on-field officials after a touchdown, as if this was 1959, not ’89.

It was in 1994, at the peak of Sanders’ aura in Detroit, that I met him during the shooting of a clothing commercial for television. Sanders was in the middle of a wardrobe change when I poked my head in the dressing room at Barden Cablevision, where I was working in management.

“Mr. Eno,” Sanders said, grinning, with a firm grip of my hand. He acted like the honor was his to meet me, instead of the other way around.

The blip on Sanders’ career, of course, was that it ended so abruptly and the silence that we thought to be endearing while he was zigging through defenses that werezagging, turned out to be maddening in his stunning retirement.

The generation keeps moving, now on to 1991.

The Red Wings’ scouting people have done it again. They drafted, two years prior, a Swedish defenseman with the 53rd overall pick named Nicklas Lidstrom. Now it’s the 1991-92 season and Lidstrom is suiting up for the first time in the NHL, as a 21-year-old.

Lidstrom puts his suspenders and skates on in 1991, takes them off nearly 21 years later, and in between, wins more Norris Trophies as the league’s best defenseman (seven) than the number of killer quotes he produces for the media.

On the ice, Lidstrom is the chess player of defensemen, capturing the other team’s king with angles, strategy, knowledge and a stick that he uses like a surgeon wields a scalpel. He doesn’t throw more than a handful of body checks in over 20 years. Like Sanders for the Lions, Lidstrom somehow manages to play his entire career without getting hit hard by the other guys.

Lidstrom ends up as another Detroit superstar labeled with words like dignity, humility and grace. He becomes that leader by example who prefers to do his talking between whistles.

The generation that began in 1983 is about to close. But not before one more Detroit sports superstar amazes us with selflessness, even amidst the pinnacle of personal achievement.

Miguel Cabrera, Triple Crown winner, would rather that we not bring that subject up. As Cabrera closed in on the first TC in 45 years, he appeared embarrassed of his grandeur. He was Roger Maris, though not as tormented. Cabrera didn’t want the attention that his feat naturally attracted. If he was going to talk, he wanted to talk about the team.

His preference wasn’t always granted.

There has been nothing negative said about Cabrera as a teammate, by his teammates. He is another Detroit sports superstar without the diva gene.

We’ve been fortunate to have such talented men play for our teams whose dignity and grace somehow managed to equal or even eclipse their accomplishments.

Sometimes it’s good to be Detroit, indeed.

Burning Questions: ALDS Games 1&2

In Baseball on October 8, 2012 at 3:17 pm

(note: During the playoffs, Monday Morning Manager will be answering Burning Questions. The morning after every Tigers playoff game, come back here for MMM’s answers to the questions that many  of you have about the previous night’s game. Today’s BQ addresses both Games 1 and 2)

What do you make of the complaining the A’s hitters have had about the strike zone, particularly after Game 1?
The strike zone did seem to be a tad generous in Game 1, but two things about that: 1) a pitcher of Justin Verlander’s stature will get the benefit of some doubt, just like all great players do in every sport (you think LeBron James doesn’t get some favorable whistles?); 2) generous strike zones, if they exist, don’t just materialize in the later innings. Hitters should know by the third or fourth inning, tops, that the home plate umpire’s zone might be a tad expanded. Whether they agree or not, maybe the A’s hitters should have taken some swings, even if defensive in nature, at some of those pitches. Besides, MMM doesn’t think that a few pitches out of 100+ decided the game. Verlander was terrific.

As for Game 2, MMM thought Doug Fister had his classic fastball working—the one with the late movement that catches the black. Catcher Gerald Laird did a wonderful job of receiving those pitches—not moving his glove, which was positioned in the strike zone. The baseball may have gone by the left-handed hitters inside, but Laird caught them in the strike zone. Great job.

What about Joaquin Benoit? He nearly gave up the game-tying home run in Game 1, and had a horrific eighth inning in Game 2 (wild pitch for a run, solo homer to put Oakland ahead).
Benoit is baffling. He went through that very tough stretch in August where he surrendered 10 homers in 15 innings (MMM still can’t believe that, even as he’s typing it), then he settled down for a while, leading us to believe that he got all that out of his system. Now he’s back to being scary again. It happened late in the regular season and is continuing, so far, in the playoffs.

But don’t get your hopes up that Jim Leyland will replace Benoit as the set-up man. Once the Marlboro Man sinks his teeth into a player, it’s awfully hard for him to let go, sometimes to a fault (i.e. Ryan Raburn). MMM thinks that Benoit is the guy, at least through the ALDS.

Is Alex Avila back?
One can only hope. Al-Av had a clutch home run in Game 1 that gave the Tigers a little bit of insurance, but then was called out on strikes in a crucial at-bat in the eighth inning of Game 2. So you tell MMM—is Avila back or not? He says he’s feeling great—much better than in 2011’s post-season. We’ll see.

MMM is excited that guys like Quintin Berry, Don Kelly and even Danny Worth (with the glove) are contributing. That’s what you need for a long playoff run: bench guys chipping in. It’s like getting scoring from your fourth line in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Will Coco Crisp’s dropped fly ball in Game 2 turn out to be the signature play of this series?
Perhaps, but MMM was more impressed by Avisail Garcia’s rifle throw that nailed Crisp at the plate in the sixth inning, keeping the Oakland lead to 2-1. If Crisp scores, the A’s lead 3-1 and there is still only one out in the inning, with runners on second and third. Garcia’s throw is being lost in the shuffle, not only because of Crisp’s error but by everything that happened from the seventh inning on. But MMM still thinks Garcia’s throw, which looked like it came from a 10-year veteran instead of someone not even in the big leagues until August 31, was the key play of Game 2.

How good of a hitter is Miguel Cabrera?
The best. The single he had in the ninth inning of Game 2 was classic for a great hitter. Cabrera was facing a very tough righty in Grant Balfour, and had two strikes against him. Balfour threw a breaking ball, and Cabrera didn’t try to do to much—just shot it into center field for a base hit, sending Omar Infante to third base. Miggy didn’t try to pull it and didn’t overswing—two things that could have resulted in an inning-ending ground ball double play. That put a runner on third base with less than two outs.

So…Don Kelly?
Hey, give the guy some credit. MMM thinks Balfour figured he could overpower Kelly with some high cheese, except that Kelly seemed to be sitting on the fastball and timed it just right, driving the ball deep enough for the game-winning sacrifice fly. MMM wasn’t worried about Kelly hitting into a double play; a strike out would have been the most likely scenario. But Worth was in the on-deck circle, and no offense, but if Kelly doesn’t get the job done, Worth probably wouldn’t have, either.

The A’s were upset that Al Alburquerque kissed the baseball before tossing it to Prince Fielder to end the ninth inning. Much ado about nothing?
Sure—if you’re the winning team. Losing teams, especially those down 0-2 in a best-of-five series, are looking for anything to rally around. Being indignant about Al-Al’s peck is a way to try to manufacture some sort of cause. Al said he just got caught up in the moment. Unfortunately he did it right in front of the Oakland dugout. A’s manager Bob Melvin said he didn’t see it (or, saw it and it didn’t bother him). Outfielder Josh Reddick called it “unprofessional.”

MMM thinks it’s kind of amusing that in this day and age of showboating in pro sports, what Alburquerque did is thought to be so atrocious. The A’s have a closer who can get a little silly, too. All teams do things that are brazen and brash and abrasive. MMM’s advice to the A’s: get over it—you have bigger fish to fry, like winning a game or else your season is over.

So, IS the season over for Oakland?
MMM thinks so. The A’s have to beat Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, without any margin for error, in order to advance. MMM thinks Oakland’s .238 team BA in the regular season is finally about to catch up with them. But they had a great season and exceeded all expectations.

Come back here Wednesday morning for BQ after Game 3!!