Well, another miserable year for Detroit sports has passed with the expiration of 2018. And 2019 already has included another Pistons blowout loss.
But you know what time this is, right?
It’s time for another look back to see how clear or murky my crystal ball was in the just-completed year.
Here we go…
On Pistons President Stan Van Gundy:
Van Gundy has no clue what he’s doing as an executive. I don’t say that to be mean or to be derisive or to raise eyebrows. Like a comedian once said during a celebrity roast, “These aren’t jokes. These are facts.”
And it’s certainly no laughing matter, what’s going on with the Pistons these days.
The blockbuster trade that sent Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley to the Clippers and brought Griffin and his albatross of a contract to the Pistons played well in Detroit for about a week. Since then, the fans—and, I hope, the media—are beginning to catch on.
The Pistons—well, Van Gundy, specifically—got taken. The Clippers went in search of a fool that would take Griffin and his contract off their hands and they found one. SVG has not only not improved the Pistons in four years, he’s made their future arguably worse than it was when he arrived. And the Pistons were pretty bad when he got to town.
SVG was given the ziggy after the season, but his mess is still being cleaned up by Dwane Casey, and will be for quite some time.
On Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer:
The other component to the breakneck Maturation of Michael Fulmer is that he’s already starting to sound like he’ll be a go-to guy for quotes when it comes to taking the temperature of the Tigers.
“We’ve got no pressure, no stress,” he said last month. “We’re not here to shock the world or listen to what anybody else has to say. We’re just going to keep our nose to the grindstone and go out and compete and try to win games. We’re going to go out and have some fun.”
As much as I enjoyed hearing Verlander’s takes over the years, I doubt JV would be so gosh-golly-gee whiz if he was still on the Tigers roster now.
Less than three years ago, Michael Fulmer was a hot prospect in the Mets farm system whose path to the big leagues seemed blocked by the big club’s embarrassment of riches in the starting rotation. It’s not that way anymore in Queens.
Fulmer, meanwhile, has risen from unknown to former Rookie of the Year to ace to injured ace to coveted prize around baseball. And soon, it seems, to young leader in a clubhouse crying for them.
Yeah, we’ve seen Fulmer grow up before our very eyes. As long as we didn’t blink.
Ah, but more injuries and another mediocre season make one wonder whether Fulmer can indeed be the Tigers’ ace for years to come.
On new Lions head coach Matt Patricia:
Matt Patricia didn’t just inherit a football team today. He has now plunked onto his back a gorilla of King Kong size. It’s a gorilla that has been fed over the years by his predecessors and the players whose continued stumbling and bumbling have made today’s task of winning a championship so much more difficult than it was 20, 30 years ago.
So why should fans think Patricia can succeed after 60 years of failure?
Well, if it means anything to you, I heard Patricia speak of preparation and being disciplined and being fundamentally sound and insisting on his players going about their business professionally and playing the game the right way.
Lip service? Maybe, but I don’t recall those points being emphasized as strongly at any of the previous Lions coaching pressers I’ve watched, and I’ve seen a lot of them.
I will also say this.
Never have the Lions, in my lifetime, hired someone to coach their team who has the long time connection to a winning program as Patricia had with the Patriots. In fact, not even close.
You can be cynical if you want. You can roll your eyes. You can say you’ll believe it when you see it. You have my permission. Totally understandable.
The Lions have hired Matt Patricia and the way I see it, it’s going to boil down to finding out what force is stronger: the grooming of a smart, prepared, organized coach by perhaps the greatest head coach and most successful franchise in pro football history, or the “Oh no, we’re the Lions!” mentality in Allen Park.
Place your bets.
Speaking of bets, the odds just got longer that Patricia will be “the one” to lead the Lions to the promised land.
On Michigan basketball coach John Beilein during March Madness:
While March’s Madness often lives up to its name, the fickle finger of fate often being the middle one and pulverizing pre-tourney brackets into dust, it’s no fun to not predict at all.
So here’s one, and I don’t usually do prognostications. This is Michigan’s year.
The Wolverines are due, for one. Since the school’s national title in 1989, Michigan has flirted with championships three times since, reaching the Finals in 1992, 1993 and 2013.
Second, this year’s U-M squad might be Beilein’s most complete since he arrived on the scene, and not just in terms of Xs, Os and talent. There’s a terrific blend of youth and experience throughout the roster. Winning the Big Ten tournament again last week when there was no real incentive to do so, was a good sign of the team’s mindset heading into next week.
“It’s a long season. You’re just going to have those ups and downs. That’s what it is and you just have to keep coaching through it,” Beilein said Friday. “Any team that doesn’t have ups and downs, watch out because you’re going to have a quick down in March. It’s all part of the process.”
The process for John Beilein has always included winning. He’s done it wherever he’s coached, even at places where you need Wikipedia and Google maps to find.
The vagabond days are long gone. Beilein’s marble has long since plopped into place in Ann Arbor. He’s 65 years old and will retire a Wolverine. There’s only one thing left to do at Michigan. Something tells me that the fickle finger of fate this time for the Wolverines won’t be the middle one. It would be a nice change.
They came close, didn’t they?
On Tigers RF Nick Castellanos:
Castellanos, as a right fielder, isn’t anywhere near the level of Clemente or Kaline but he’ll be there for probably 150 games this year and Kaline himself worked with him in spring training, as Al has done every year with young outfielders since he retired 43 years ago. Castellanos can only get better. Literally.
But it’s his bat that is making Castellanos a leader on the Tigers. He’s batting cleanup, to show you, behind the great Cabrera. The Tigers would love for Nicholas to be a shutdown defender in the outfield but for now, they need his pop in the batter’s box.
In his four big league seasons heading into this one, Castellanos has been steadily improving offensively.
In 2017, the so-called breakout season happened.
The Tigers need Nick Castellanos now more than they ever have in his still young big league career. They need his bat. They need him to get better in the outfield. And, they need him to lead.
The Tigers appear to be done with shuffling Castellanos around the diamond. Right field is his place. He will never be Kaline out there but he has Kaline teaching him, so there’s that.
Castellanos has big dreams, which he shared in January during the Tigers’ winter caravan.
“I would love to be a franchise player here,” he said. “When I sit in my backyard and I’m looking up and just daydreaming about my dream career, it’s, I’m the kid that helped bring the World Series back to Detroit.
“That’s plan A: I never leave and I play 23 years in the big leagues here and I’m an unbelievable right fielder and now I’m in conversations with Al Kaline. That’s the dream. That’s the goal. That’s what I love.”
Tigers fans would love that too. Especially the female ones.
So what happened? The off-season has been filled with Castellanos trade rumors.
On the Pistons’ rumored interest in hiring Becky Hammon as head coach:
So you think that the idea of Becky Hammon—a girl—patrolling the sidelines as Pistons head coach, is too outside the box and shouldn’t be considered at this time, if at all?
Let me tell you something.
Becky Hammon is more qualified to coach the Pistons than David DeBusschere, Dickie Vitale and Michael Curry were combined.
Don’t believe me? Here’s longtime NBA big man Pau Gasol, a two-time NBA champion, and one of Hammon’s pupils with the Spurs.
“I’ve been in the NBA for 17 years. I’ve won two championships … I’ve played with some of the best players of this generation … and I’ve played under two of the sharpest minds in the history of sports, in Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. And I’m telling you: Becky Hammon can coach. I’m not saying she can coach pretty well. I’m not saying she can coach enough to get by. I’m not saying she can coach almost at the level of the NBA’s male coaches. I’m saying: Becky Hammon can coach NBA basketball. Period.”
Do I flat out think the Pistons should hire Becky Hammon to be their next head coach? Yes, I do.
And I couldn’t care less if she wears heels or loafers.
It didn’t happen, of course. But that won’t be the last time we hear Hammon’s name connected to a HC job in the NBA.
On Dwane Casey:
But last week, the Pistons made it official. The moon and the stars aligned and Casey, formerly of the Toronto Raptors, who was the Pistons’ primary target as soon as he became available on May 7, was introduced to the Detroit sports media as franchise coach no. 32 in Detroit.
“Our time is now,” Casey said to the press as he sat to the immediate right of owner Tom Gores and to the far right of Ed Stefanski, who has no title but who is running the show—I guess. Just call Stefanski, Big Ed.
Casey is also unlike any Pistons coach who has been unveiled since Saunders was introduced in 2005, in that he feels bold enough to actually say things like “Our time is now” with a straight face.
Since Flip left the Pistons in 2008, any coach following him could never truthfully say “Our time is now” unless he followed it with “to rebuild.”
“The history of the Detroit Pistons basketball organization and Tom’s vision for it is what sold me,” Casey said at Wednesday’s presser.
If by history he means 32 coaches in 61 years, I wonder about Casey’s sense of it.
But he’s hired, the Pistons are giving him five years—which is eternal for the organization—and he was, as mentioned above, their first choice.
This time, the Pistons and their man zigged at the same time.
That, in and of itself, is an accomplishment.
If Casey can only get the players to zig at the same time!
On Tigers skipper Ron Gardenhire:
This is the first time I can recall Tigers fans being able to root for a quote-unquote scrappy team since maybe the mid-to-late 1970s. The awful Tigers teams from 1989-2005 weren’t scrappy—they were just plain bad. Managers came and went frequently. The team wasn’t very likable.
Gardenhire has his players buying in, and it’s manifesting itself in the team’s scrappiness—there’s that word again—especially in the late innings. It seems like when the Tigers do win—they’re still under .500 at 34-37—it’s because they’re scoring from the seventh inning and beyond. They never win in a blowout. It always takes late inning heroics.
Let’s take a look at this Rally Goose thing, for example.
The Rally Goose is cute and all, but let’s face it—good teams don’t have to resort to such silliness or gimmicks. If the talent-challenged Tigers think that a wayward goose flying into a facade at Comerica Park has somehow sprinkled some magic pixie dust on them, who are we to tell them otherwise? More importantly, Gardenhire isn’t about to do so, either.
Gardy has let the players embrace the Rally Goose, a replica of which sits in the team’s dugout every night. He hasn’t dismissed it as so much nonsense. He hasn’t pooh-poohed its place.
The fans have bought in to this crazy goose stuff as well, creating hashtags on social media and bringing signs to the ballpark. Even Friday night in Chicago, the TV cameras spotted a Tigers fan holding up a #RALLYGOOSE sign.
So the Rally Goose is a fun way to keep the Tigers, ahem, loosey-goosey. The players love it. It’s another way to bond with their fans, who I think are having more fun with this group of players than they had with those division-winning teams from 2011-14.
The weight of expectations lifted from everyone’s shoulders, the 2018 Tigers and their fans are looking at baseball through a different lens.
There isn’t nearly as much vitriol for the manager and his strategy in the comments sections on the Internet. The lineup isn’t questioned on a daily basis. The bullpen moves aren’t scrutinized under a microscope. Nobody has come up with a nasty, derogatory name for Gardy yet.
Almost as soon as I wrote this, the Tigers went down the tubes. So blame me.
On Red Wings D Dennis Cholowski:
It’s probably too harsh—and too early—to say that Cholowski, a 6’2″, 200-pound sculpture, has to you-know-what or get off the pot, but if anyone has a moment that needs to be seized, it’s he.
Anyone who knows even a thimble full about hockey knows that the Red Wings suffer on defense from a deadly combination of lack of skill and depth. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Lidstrom, at age 48, could probably dust off his skates and make the team out of training camp this September.
There simply is no better time for someone of Cholowski’s ilk—whether you’re talking size, age, puck-moving skill or hockey IQ—to do anything but make it impossible for Red Wings brass to not include him on the opening night roster in October.
There’s a gaping hole on the D-corps in Detroit, and if Cholowski doesn’t fill it, shame on him.
Yes, that’s a lot to say about someone who’s not legally allowed to have a beer after a game, but that’s what pro sports has turned into. A 20-year-old who was drafted two years ago is on the clock.
The Red Wings haven’t had a young D-man as eagerly anticipated to make his NHL debut as Cholowski, since…well, maybe when Lidstrom debuted in 1991. After Nick, the Red Wings relied heavily on deadline trades and free agent signings to cobble together a top flight blue line corps. They certainly didn’t do it via the draft.
I’m not saying that we will someday see Dennis Cholowski’s number hoisted to the rafters, but the kid has an opportunity like few before him to become entrenched on the Red Wings’ D at such a young age.
This is it, young man. Meet the bull’s horns.
And indeed, Cholowski has been a bright spot during what has been, so far, a mostly dark season for the Red Wings.
On the Lions hiring Lomas Brown to do radio analysis:
I’m not sure whether Lomas Brown is stupid, gutless, or reprehensible. He’s probably all three.
The stupid part comes in by going on national airwaves and letting us all in on his dirty little secret—of which he was all-too eager to share. Doing the bad deed is one thing. Telling everyone about doing the bad deed is less than brilliant. Keep that stuff to yourself.
The gutless part comes in because Brown knew that Mitchell’s legacy as a pro quarterback in Detroit hardly rivaled that of Bobby Layne’s. Mitchell, by the end of his time with the Lions in 1998, was derided by the team’s fans. And no doubt Brown considered that when he blabbed about trying to get the guy hurt “for the good of the team.” Basically, Brown bragged about it because he figured the backlash would be minimal, because it was Scott Mitchell. My, what a big man you are, Lomas.
The reprehensible part is Mitchell’s word, actually. And it’s accurate. Pro football’s violence is nothing to tempt fate about. It’s nothing to point at and say, “come hither.” Did Brown, for one moment, consider that what he was going to do could not only end Mitchell’s appearance that Sunday, but for all Sundays thereafter?
Lomas Brown committed arguably the worst violation on the field that any pro football player could come up with. Yet he’s the radio voice of the Lions now.
This was one of those 24-hour news cycle things, but I still don’t like the idea of the Lions hiring Brown. Plus, he’s not very good.
On U-M’s football program under Jim Harbaugh, following the opening day loss to Notre Dame:
Is Michigan football better off now than it was four years ago?
With Saturday’s excruciating 24-17 loss at Notre Dame, the Wolverines are now a pedestrian 9-9 in their past 18 games. I’ll leave it to the stat nerds to find out for sure, but I bet they’d have to go back quite a ways to find the last time Michigan football split 18 games down the middle.
Let’s cut to the chase, because no one else seems to want to answer the question head on. The mainstream sports media in town is really good at moving themselves to the edge of cliffs but then pulling back.
But no one wants to ask the ultimate question.
Is it time to declare the Jim Harbaugh Era a flop and part ways?
The fact that this is almost a rhetorical question doesn’t give the press a pass. See what I did there? Press…pass?
It’s rhetorical because I don’t see the administration at Michigan giving Harbaugh the ziggy. If anything, it will be the other way around.
You can’t fire Jimmy Harbaugh because he just quit.
Harbaugh has shown to be a guy with one eye on the NFL when he’s in college, and one eye on college when he’s in the NFL.
Is it fair to judge a college football coach after one game of his fourth season? If it’s someone of Harbaugh’s ilk (and money), then the answer is a resounding yes.
The blue chip recruits keep rolling in, drawn to Ann Arbor by Harbaugh’s aura and the allure of playing before over 100K people on Saturday afternoons. Yet at the one position where Harbaugh has shown in the past to have brilliance as a coach—quarterback—the results have been mixed, at best.
Saturday, it was transfer Shea Patterson’s turn in the spotlight, and while he showed positive signs, the offense still only managed 10 points and when the Wolverines had a chance to drive toward a game-tying touchdown in the closing moments, Patterson failed to protect the football on a scramble. Game over.
Is the football program at Michigan significantly better now than it was four years ago? Hey, is it even marginally better?
In big games, big moments, U-M has come up small under Harbaugh. Repeatedly. Which is stunning, because Harbaugh as a player and in other stops as a coach, didn’t exuded that negative aura at all.
The way the Wolverines’ season ended—with back-to-back blowout losses against Ohio State and Florida—keeps this question burning briskly.
On retiring Red Wing Henrik Zetterberg:
It’s been said that the Red Wings officially lost their collective mojo when Lidstrom retired in 2013—that they never recovered from that. I’m not sure. While they haven’t come close to replacing Nick—certainly not a criminal offense—the rest of the roster got old and decrepit around the same time. And the long foreseen but only recently instituted rebuild didn’t help matters by its tardiness.
Even the loss of Pavel Datsyuk a few years ago didn’t truly end an era of Red Wings hockey. It ended with the retirement of Zetterberg.
Hank wasn’t the last connection to the Red Wings’ last Stanley Cup in 2008—that honor goes to defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who will be likely following Hank into the sunset after this season. But by hanging up his skates, Zetterberg has officially closed the door on an era of the fast and furious, “firewagon” brand of hockey in Detroit, which is what they used to call Mickey Redmond’s Canadiens style back in the day.
I remember on the night that the Red Wings retired Yzerman’s number 19—Jan. 2, 2007—I was sitting in a private suite, helping out Fox Sports Detroit on that evening’s broadcast. Ted Lindsay sat next to me. As we watched the action on the ice below, Teddy said simply, “It’s a young man’s game today.”
NHL players have been frequently known to skate deep into their 30s and even into their 40s. But it truly is a young man’s game, as every professional sport is. Only the premier, elite players are kept on NHL rosters at advanced ages.
Henrik Zetterberg hasn’t been an elite player in quite some time. His numbers gradually faded with each passing year. But he was an elite teammate and an elite captain.
“One of the greatest warriors I’ve ever been around,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said of Hank last spring.
“One of the greatest Red Wings to ever play for this organization,” GM Kenny Holland said on Thursday.
At least Zetterberg can retire knowing that he had nothing left to give. At his age, and having played so many games in recent years, there really shouldn’t be any “What could have been” feelings coursing through his body.
He wasn’t Mickey Redmond. He was what Mickey could have been.
Nice career, Hank. How Swede it was.
Zetterberg took with him the last of the Red Wings’ glory days, which may not return for years.
On the potential of Dylan Larkin as Red Wings captain:
Larkin probably is about as ready to assume the captaincy as Yzerman was in 1986. Which is to say, he isn’t, by traditional metrics. He’s too young. His game is still a work in progress, though it’s progressing quite nicely.
But who’s the best player on the team? It’s Larkin, and it’s not close. And I see a certain je ne sais quoi in his body language on the ice. It is captain-like.
Dylan Larkin is about as close to being the face of the franchise as you can get right now. If you see that as an indictment, so be it. But it’s true.
Dylan Larkin probably isn’t ready to be the captain of an NHL team. But yet, the timing is right for him to assume the role with the Red Wings.
Naming Larkin team captain now won’t make the Red Wings contenders this season. It’s not about that.
But the team does need direction amidst the current rebuild. Why not have a young captain to go along with the young, wet-behind-the-ears players that are supposed to be the future?
Why not have Larkin lead the Manthas, Rasmussens and Cholowskis?
Give Larkin the C and be done with it. The sooner you let the kid start to grow into the role, the better off the organization will be—on and off the ice.
He’s probably not ready. But he’s as ready as he’ll ever be, and for today’s Red Wings, that’s good enough.
So how about it? Larkin is having his best season yet.
On Lions QB Matthew Stafford:
I have no idea if the Lions will win another championship in my lifetime. I’m 55, and I’ve followed the team for 48 of those years. But I do know that they won’t win one under Stafford.
The clincher for me was seeing how lost he looked without Tate. Without Golden Freaking Tate. That led to the realization: Stafford has topped out in Detroit. He’s done all that he can do.
He did a lot, frankly, but he was following Jon Kitna and the others I mentioned. And, Stafford was drafted by a dysfunctional franchise. But so was Terry Bradshaw, and Terry got the Steelers rolling by his third season and didn’t look back.
Stafford didn’t benefit from the amazing drafting that Bradshaw did in Pittsburgh, but so haven’t a lot of championship caliber quarterbacks.
It’s not going to happen for the Lions with Matthew Stafford. In that regard, he’s no more guilty than dozens of other men who have tried their hand under center. He’s the most ballyhooed, and the most expensive, but he’s no more guilty.
But another 10-12 years will have ticked off the calendar, plus who knows how many more in the post-Stafford era.
He wasn’t the guy, as it turns out.
Stafford is the best quarterback to ever suit up for the Lions. He’s just not the most successful.
Better luck next time.
Hey, there’s always next year, right?
And to those of you who braved my blog in 2018, I appreciate your foolishness.
Here’s to a playoff berth for one of our teams in 2019! (Which one will it be?)