Greg Eno

Archive for the ‘All Sports’ Category

The good, the bad and the ugly: take this oddball Detroit sports quiz

In All Sports on January 16, 2017 at 7:32 pm

Published January 16, 2017

These are the times that try sports fans’ souls—in Detroit.

The Lions went up in flames in the playoffs. The Red Wings are a shell of their former selves. The Pistons are back to being unlikable and annoying after one season in the playoffs. The Tigers could go either way, and they don’t throw the first pitch for almost 90 days anyhow.

But let’s have some fun with all this.

I got to thinking that we have quite a history of ignominious sports stories in our town, so let’s see how much of that history you know.

This isn’t a fancy-shmancy, high-tech quiz. You’ll need a separate piece of paper and a pencil to keep track of your answers. The correct ones can be found at the bottom, so no peeking!

Please share this with anyone you think might find this a nice little challenge on MLK Day.

Ready? Grab your paper and pencil. I’ll wait.

Got it?

OK, let’s go!

Question 1.

The Pistons, in their pre-Cobo Arena days, once played an NBA playoff game in a local high school gym, because Olympia Stadium and Calihan Hall were predisposed. In what HS did the Pistons play a nationally-televised playoff game against the (then) Minneapolis Lakers?

A. Grosse Pointe

B. Redford Bishop Borgess

C. Detroit Northwestern

D. Cass Technical

Question 2.

This colorful, well-traveled NFL running back once told Lions coach Harry Gilmer, “If you want a messenger, send for Western Union,” when Gilmer told him to deliver a play call into the huddle.

A. Hugh McElhenny

B. Hopalong Cassady

C. Joe Don Looney

D. John Henry Johnson

Question 3.

True or False. Manager Billy Martin once punched out a Tigers pitcher behind a Detroit watering hole.

Question 4.

This popular Red Wing’s grooming habits once drew the ire of coach Ned Harkness.

A. Gary Bergman

B. Garry Unger

C. Marcel Dionne

D. Mickey Redmond

Question 5.

This Lions player crowed, on the eve of an exhibition game against the AFL’s Denver Broncos, that he would “walk home from Denver” if the Lions lost. 

A. Mike Lucci

B. Lem Barney

C. Mel Farr

D. Alex Karras

Question 6.

Most Lions fans worth their salt know that their team lost a playoff game in Dallas, 5-0, in 1970. But do you know which Lions receiver let a pass deflect off his hands and into the arms of Cowboys defensive back Mel Renfro, thus killing a potential game-winning TD drive in the closing minutes? 

A. Charlie Sanders

B. Earl McCullouch

C. Ron Jessie

D. Craig Cotton

Question 7.

Mark “The Bird” Fidrych’s fall from grace started in spring training, 1977, when he injured his knee while shagging fly balls in Lakeland. Which teammate warned Bird moments before the injury, not to goof around?

A. Tom Veryzer

B. Ron LeFlore

C. Dave Roberts

D. Rusty Staub

Question 8.

In the early 1960s, with the Pistons struggling as usual and contemplating a coaching change, GM Don Wattrick wanted to hire a former Piston as coach, but Wattrick told his first choice, “If you weren’t black, you’d be the answer to all my problems.” To whom did Wattrick utter those words?

A. Sweetwater Clifton

B. Earl Lloyd

C. Ray Scott

D. Walter Dukes

Question 9.

What was new Red Wings GM Ted Lindsay’s slogan after he was hired in 1977?

A. “The Wings Are Back!”

B. “Stanley Cup or Bust!”

C. “Aggressive Hockey Is Back In Town!”

D. “Make the Red Wings Great Again!”

Question 10.

Speaking of slogans, when the Pistons hired Dickie Vitale as coach in 1978, what play on words did Vitale coin to characterize his team? (no multiple choice here; just write down your answer)

Question 11.

Match the beleaguered Lions coach with his ignominious item:

A. Marty Mornhinweg                                                      1. Dropped dead of a heart attack during                                                                                                    training camp

B. Rod Marinelli                                                                2. “I don’t coach that stuff!”

C. Bobby Ross                                                                    3. “Pound the rock”

D. Darryl Rogers                                                               4. “The bar is high”

E. Wayne Fontes                                                               5. Pelted by snowballs by enraged Lions                                                                                                    fans

F. Harry Gilmer                                                                 6. “What does a guy have to do to get                                                                                                          fired around here?”

G. Don McCafferty                                                            7. “I’m the Big Buck”

Question 12.

Which former Tiger said this about his youth: “In high school I took a little math, a little science, some hubcaps and some wheelcovers”

A. Ron LeFlore

B. Willie Horton

C. Jim Northrup

D. Gates Brown

Question 13.

In the 1994 playoffs at Green Bay, this was Barry Sanders’ rushing total for the game.

A. 3 yards

B. 5 yards

C. -1 yard

D. 22 yards

Question 14.

This former Piston became the team’s youngest-ever coach, at age 24.

A. Dave Bing

B. Howard Komives

C. Dave DeBusschere

D. Ray Scott

Question 15.

The Lions went winless vs. the Packers on the road between 1992-2014. In their 1991 victory, this man returned a punt for a touchdown.

A. Herman Hunter

B. Mel Gray

C. Brett Perriman

D. Aubrey Matthews

Question 16.

In Game 7 of the 1934 World Series, this St. Louis Cardinal was removed from the game by Commissioner Landis for his own safety, to protect him from irate Tigers fans who pelted him with litter and fruit—angry at him for a hard slide into 3B Marv Owen.

A. Joe “Ducky” Medwick

B. Enos Slaughter

C. Frankie Frisch

D. Dizzy Dean

Question 17.

This Lions player guaranteed a playoff victory in Philadelphia in 1995. The Lions lost, 58-37, after falling behind 51-7.

A. Chris Spielman

B. Barry Sanders

C. Herman Moore

D. Lomas Brown

Question 18.

On January 2, 1971, the Red Wings lost 13-0, on the road. Which team administered that beat down?

A. New York Rangers

B. Toronto Maple Leafs

C. Montreal Canadiens

D. Philadelphia Flyers

Question 19.

In the summer of 1989, the Red Wings traded Paul MacLean and Adam Oates in what turned out to be a very one-sided deal. Who was the featured player the Red Wings got in return?

A. Darryl Sittler

B. Borje Salming

C. Bernie Federko

D. Ron Duguay

Question 20.

In 1966, the Pistons drafted Dave Bing with the no. 2 overall pick. But they felt disappointed that they couldn’t draft this player instead, losing a coin flip to the New York Knicks.

A. Cazzie Russell

B. Dave DeBusschere

C. Walt Bellamy

D. Willis Reed

************************************************************************************************************************

ANSWERS

  1. A
  2. C
  3. False. Martin punched out Dave Boswell, his own pitcher, when Billy managed the Minnesota Twins. The incident happened behind the Lindell AC at Cass and Michigan Avenue, in 1969.
  4. B (long hair)
  5. D (the Lions lost but Karras got on the plane anyway)
  6. B
  7. D
  8. B
  9. C
  10. “ReVitaleized”
  11. A-4; B-3; C-2; D-6; E-7; F-5; G-1
  12. D
  13. C
  14. C (player-coach, 1964)
  15. B
  16. A
  17. D
  18. B (Leafs scored seven goals in the third period)
  19. C (Red Wings also received Tony McKegney; ironically, the Red Wings could have drafted Federko in 1976 but opted for the bust who was Fred Williams)
  20. A

Scoring scale:

18-20: Expert on ignominy

15-17: Will win many bar bets

12-14: You pay attention most of the time

10-11: Meh

Less than 10: Move to Cleveland!

Please share this post with others who you feel will have fun with it!

Another Auld Lang Syne: the best/worst of Greg Eno for 2016

In All Sports on December 31, 2016 at 11:28 pm

Published December 31, 2016

It’s that time again.

Another year has flown by.

As I do whenever a new year dawns, I look back at the all-too voluminous amount of words that yours truly has splashed over the Internet, and pick out those pieces where I was on the money, and many more where I was less than prescient.

Here we go!

January 2016

On Ben Wallace’s jersey retirement (Jan 18)

Rodman of the “Bad Boys” and Wallace of the “Goin’ to Work” Pistons teams—who damn near matched Rodman and company with two straight championships of their own—perfectly represented the city for which they played.

Forget that the Palace is in Auburn Hills. Dennis Rodman and Ben Wallace played their basketball for Detroit, and when I say Detroit I mean the entire region, filled with natives and suburbanites who closely identify with the city’s hard scrabble resilience.

They couldn’t throw the basketball into the ocean but they made sure the other team couldn’t, either.

The Pistons, a franchise that needed about 25 years to start doing things the right way after moving here from Fort Wayne, should get some recognition for richly acknowledging the contributions of two players from small colleges who played a glamorous game without any glamour whatsoever.

Rodman and Wallace were two bulls in the NBA’s china shop. Good for them—and for the Pistons.

Saturday was the franchise’s night, too.

The Pistons would later retire Chauncey Billups’ no. 1 and have recently announced plans to retire Rip Hamilton’s no. 32 this season.

On new Lions GM Bob Quinn’s intro presser (Jan 12)

Quinn didn’t elaborate much. If someone would have asked him what he ate for breakfast, he would have said, “Food.”

When the 20-minute sparring was over, we didn’t know much more about Bob Quinn’s plans for the Lions than we knew before he was introduced by president Rod Wood.

But we do know this.

Quinn is clearly more about substance than style. And that by itself ought to encourage Lions fans.

He did have some kind words for owner Martha Ford and for his family—and for the Patriots organization. He thanked so many Krafts, he made the family sound like the Brady Bunch.

So it’s obviously not about winning the press conference. It’s about winning football games.

The Lions have won nine of them—so far—in Quinn’s maiden voyage. Whether they get the 10th and most important one on New Year’s Day remains to be seen for a few hours yet.

On Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill (Jan 13)

The Red Wings have mostly avoided lengthy slumps, and the only real negative is that the team has perhaps underachieved at home, which is a shame because the first half of the schedule was heavy with games at JLA.

But that’s nitpicking.

Blashill, of course, learned about coaching in the NHL from none other than Babcock, for whom he assisted for one season before getting more seasoning with the Griffins.

There are a bunch of firsts with Jeff Blashill.

First Red Wings coach born in the United States. First former goalie to coach the Red Wings. First one who was born in the 1970s.

There’s only one more first for him to achieve, and it’s a biggie.

Could Blashill be the first Red Wings coach to win a Stanley Cup in his first season on the job since Jimmy Skinner did it in 1955?

Just asking.

Umm…just joking, maybe? Less than a year later I called for Blashill’s head.

February 2016

On Calvin Johnson retiring (Feb 1)

Johnson can afford to retire at age 30 because he doesn’t need the dough like so many of his brethren do. The money he’s made—and it’s a lot—still might not last him for his entire life, but if he wants to earn some after his playing days, it’s always easier to do that when you have a sound mind.

I don’t think Calvin Johnson is retiring from the NFL because the Lions have had such little success in his nine years in Detroit. Granted, the team has mostly stunk, but that’s not why he’s thinking of getting out.

Another Lions superstar appears to be on the verge of retiring from the NFL at a relatively young age, but this time the team isn’t to blame.

It’s the game itself.

Not so many people agreed with me. They wanted to blame the Lions. 

March 2o16

On Adam LaRoche retiring from White Sox (Mar 24)

I don’t want to hear sad stories about how professional athletes don’t ever get to see their kids.

Yes, there’s a lot of travel involved, and a baseball season essentially starts in February and could last into early-November. I get it.

But what about home stands? And a bulk of the season takes place in the summer, when the kids aren’t even in school. And you still get almost all of November, all of December and all of January to spend time with the offspring.

Oh, and Drake LaRoche is home-schooled, which is another column altogether.

It’s not standing on principle if you don’t engage in dialogue to find common ground and a compromise.

It’s selfishness and entitlement, plain and simple.

And those are two terrible things to teach a child.

The White Sox came roaring out of the gate in 2016, indicating that the LaRoche thing may have galvanized them. But their 23-10 start was long forgotten by the end of another lousy season.

On Red Wings GM Ken Holland (Mar 14)

At the trade deadline a couple weeks ago, I beseeched Holland to do something bold.

Literally a trade for trade’s sake.

I argued that it was time to take the Red Wings’ snow globe and give it a good shake and see what happens.

I didn’t argue for the dealing of 19 year-old Dylan Larkin, or of goalie Petr Mrazek.

I may be stupid but I’m not a fool.

But in order to get off this treadmill that has become Red Wings hockey in recent years, I suggested a top-six forward be traded for another top-six forward.

But that’s not Ken Holland’s style.

The problem with the Red Wings—and it’s not just Holland—is that they tend to be loyal to a fault.

Holland and company can easily fall in love with players and they become Red Wings for life. Then they all get front office jobs when they retire. Even the fourth line guys.

Remember the odd bromance Holland had with Dan Cleary?

The Red Wings are not going to hell in a hand basket, but they’re in a rut.

And they still are. 

On Oakland University basketball coach Greg Kampe’s candor (Mar 4)

If Greg Kampe’s words were food, they’d be Thai stir-fry: spicy, eclectic and bursting with flavor. And all natural ingredients.

If you like your interviews to be antiseptic and predictable—where you can pretty much fill in the answer even before you ask the question—then don’t bother talking to Greg Kampe.

Kampe, Oakland University’s brutally honest men’s basketball coach, speaks without a filter. His words don’t come pre-processed. He takes being candid to the next level. With Kampe, the bare minimum you’ll get is candor. Often, you’ll get a little more.

Kampe is like the lyric from that song, “Oh Well.”

“Don’t ask me what I think of you; I might not give the answer that you want me to.”

Still the best interview we’ve done in seven years of The Knee Jerks.

April 2016

On comparisons between Isiah Thomas’ early Pistons teams and Reggie Jackson’s 2015-16 version (Apr 26)

Playoff heartbreak that began on a hot April night inside Joe Louis Arena in 1984.

You can dare to draw some comparisons between the Reggie Jackson Pistons of 2016 and the Isiah Thomas Pistons of the mid-1980s because both teams wandered back into the playoffs after an extended absence.

Both rosters contained a young core that figure to be together for several years to come.

And both teams had their heart ripped out in the final game of the year.

With any luck, we’ll look back at last Sunday as the baptism of Jackson’s Pistons and the April where the foundation of a championship-caliber team was built, albeit on the slab of discontent.

Maybe Jackson should give Isiah a call this summer. It can’t hurt.

Clearly Jackson’s ascent to an Isiah-like leader for the Pistons has taken a massive detour.

May 2016

On Dylan Larkin’s ranking among today’s Red Wings (May 4)

It’s not a stretch to say that Larkin, the 19 year-old whirling dervish, is the team’s best player. Certainly he’s the most exciting.

It’s not a stretch because the ex-elite players on the Red Wings—Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk—are no longer that. Datsyuk, in fact, may no longer be a Red Wing at all, if he follows through on his threat to move back to Russia to play hockey next fall.

Zetterberg is still a good player, but he’s not elite. He has morphed into a second or third line guy—something usually not befitting a team captain, though I doubt he’d be demoted.

It’s not a stretch to suggest Larkin is no. 1 because the other forwards haven’t taken that next step from good to very good, let alone from very good to elite.

Justin Abdelkader, likely your next Red Wings captain, isn’t elite, though right now he might be the team’s most complete player—which isn’t the same as being elite.

It’s not hard to imagine the Red Wings as being Larkin’s team in the near future, even without the “C” on his sweater.

Larkin will soon be the kind of player that will be worth the price of admission. Right now, he’s at the price of a couple of beers, and trending upward. He had a shaky second half, but that wasn’t shocking. He still finished with 23 goals and 22 assists and led the team in plus/minus with a plus-11. Only one other Red Wing scored as many as 20 goals (Tomas Tatar, 21).

Larkin, like the Red Wings as a whole, has regressed from last season. 

On Cameron Maybin giving Tigers a much-needed boost (May 26)

So what Maybin is bringing the Tigers now—a constant presence on the base paths, some sneaky power and an infectious, bubbling personality—is the team’s comeuppance, some 11 years after the 2005 draft. The Tigers went 5-1 last week, and Maybin was a huge part of that.

You can’t talk to a Tigers player right now without hearing Maybin’s name coming from that player’s lips.

They speak of his energy. They rave about his outgoing personality. And mostly, they love what he’s doing on the field.

Maybin is providing sorely needed offense from the lower third of the order (manager Brad Ausmus is batting him seventh), which too often has been a graveyard for Tigers rallies in recent years.

“Maybin has added length to our lineup, no question,” Ausmus said over the weekend. “That’s the thing — if you can get the bottom of your lineup hot and swinging that bat well and getting on base, now you are flipping your lineup over and you’re getting your best hitters coming up. That’s how you score runs.

“When teams go on offensive streaks is when the bottom of the lineup is hitting,” Ausmus added.

Apparently the Tigers’ desire to trim payroll trumped whatever spark Maybin provided last season. Maybin was traded shortly after the World Series ended, to the Angels.

June 2016

On my father (June 19)

One of the reasons why I never felt awkward on the field with my dad functioning as a virtual coach was because he never called me out in front of the other kids. If he had advice to give me, he did it privately, with dignity. Which is more than I can say about too many LL parents.

He only got angry with me once on the field, and I deserved it.

Our team had gotten into a little tiff with the other guys. I can’t even remember what it was about, but our reaction to it, as a team, was immature, even for youngsters.

My dad was livid at how our team had behaved. He got even more so when, walking back to the car, I said something that was in support of our behavior.

He didn’t say anything to me. He didn’t have to. He just gave me a glare that I can still see to this day. It was the only time I’d been dressed down as a child, in silence.

That one, brief glare told me everything I needed to know, more than any speech could have.

We were wrong. And I was even more wrong for supporting us in our wrongness.

Dad will be gone 21 years in February. Time flies even when you’re not having fun, too.

On Detroit sportscaster Al Ackerman, who passed away (June 9)

Al Ackerman not only talked the talk, he walked the walk.

Al would give you the scores at 11:20 every night—first on channel 4 then on channel 7, then on channel 4 again—but he’d also give you a piece of his mind. And that wasn’t enough; he’d give those he was covering a piece of his mind, too.

Fellow sportscaster Bob Page, who started working with Ackerman at channel 7 in 1977, said yesterday in an email to me that Ackerman’s on-air persona wasn’t an act.

“He was crazy. Insecure as the day was long,” Page, who would eventually leave Detroit for New York, wrote. “He was a yeller and immediately disliked me because of my background. He’d actually scream at me, ‘You Grosse Pointe mother——!’ But I guess I won him over eventually because I was his reporter and I hustled and dug up stories constantly for him. We wound up getting along very well.”

Ackerman was the Bill Bonds of sports reporting. Viewers tuned in to see what Ackerman would say and who he would take to task. His on-air relationship with Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler, for example, was good television.

Ackerman wouldn’t say anything on the air about you that he wouldn’t say to your face. That was a cold, hard fact.

Oh, do I miss Al Ackerman!

On Tigers rookie Michael Fulmer (June 7)

If Fulmer keeps wiping out big league hitters the rest of the summer, a once-tenuous, shaky rotation suddenly looks downright nasty in spots 1-3, which is pretty much all you need in the American League, where competent starting pitching is at a premium.

It may not be the most desirable path, to put so much on a rookie’s shoulders, but that’s where the Tigers are right now.

“All of a sudden, now you feel like with Verlander, Zimmermann, Fulmer pitching like they’re pitching, it’s a good top three,” manager Brad Ausmus said after Fulmer’s silencing of the Toronto Blue Jays bats on Monday night.

And Fulmer already sounds like the typical “aw, shucks” phenom.

“Just see the sign, grip it and throw it and try to locate it as best as I can,” he said after his latest masterpiece. “At the end of the day, it’s trying to put zeroes on the board.”

Those zeroes have gone up on the board 22 times in a row, and a third.

Meet your 2016 AL ROY, Mr. Fulmer.

On Chris Osgood’s HOF credentials (June 27)

The debate over Osgood for the Hall will be wonderful to play out, whether he makes it or not. Even as he gives his induction speech—if he’s so fortunate—there will be naysayers to his enshrinement.

That’s OK. Hall of Fame debates are among the most fun in sports.

I don’t have a vote, but if I did, I’d cast a yes.

There are those who say that if you have to debate over a guy’s qualifications at length, then he’s probably not a Hall of Fame player.

Hogwash.

There are all sorts of Hall of Fame players. The no-brainers, the mildly debated and the hotly contested. Guys who wait for years because the appreciation for their careers grows in direct proportion to how long they’ve been retired.

Osgood’s career may not scream Hall of Fame, but even if it whispers it, and the voters give him admission, he’s a HOFer just the same.

I’d vote yes.

Ozzie didn’t get in. Maybe next year!

On the death of Gordie Howe (June 11)

Mikita’s respect for Howe was also evident in this great quote.

“The best teams in the league are Montreal, Toronto, and Gordie Howe.”

Mr. Howe, Mr. Hockey, or just plain old Gordie—however you choose to address him, has thrown his last elbow on Earth. He’s gone, passed away on Friday at age 88.

He could have been gone 66 years sooner than that.

Howe was checked by Toronto’s Ted Kennedy late in the 1949-50 season and went horrifically into the boards, fracturing his skull. Howe’s condition was perilous, at the very least. For a couple of days, the pressure on his brain made his prognosis highly suspect.

This was 1950. Brain surgery and treatment weren’t nearly as advanced as they are now.

It’s not melodramatic to say that Howe, not yet 22 years old, lay near death in the hospital.

He survived, of course, and made his way onto the ice several weeks later as his Red Wings teammates celebrated the winning of the Stanley Cup.

Howe survived the brain injury, the Canadiens, Mikita, expansion and his shameful treatment at the hands of the Red Wings following his retirement—his first retirement—in 1971.

Along the way, he made the folks in the NHL offices tear up their record books and write new ones.

He threw elbows, washed hundreds of faces, jabbed countless opponents in the ribs with his stick and he did it all while eluding the watchful eyes of the referee. There was no quicker trigger in the Old West than Howe’s on the ice.

RIP, Mr. Hockey.

July 2016

On Ziggy Ansah’s potential (July 30)

Ansah still has much to learn. The finer points of his position can only be absorbed with experience. The art of footwork, learning the strengths and weaknesses of opposing blockers and knowing the best routes to take to get to the passer—and which not to take—should take firmer hold with every snap he plays.

You don’t start playing football in high school and have the game mastered in four years.

But that’s OK, because conventional wisdom says that Ziggy Ansah is only going to get better the longer he plays. And he’s two years way from possibly playing for a team other than the Lions, who ought not to let that happen.

Ansah’s five-year rookie contract expires after the 2017 season. The Lions don’t want another Ndamukong Suh situation—although in retrospect, letting Suh go to Miami via free agency probably wasn’t all that bad.

Suh, a force in the middle, nonetheless could never be as valuable as a guy who plays Ansah’s position with brilliance, which Ziggy does already.

Give me a powerful edge pass rusher over a dominating defensive tackle any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Lions GM Bob Quinn knows of which he does. It’s only been six months, but Quinn already strikes me as the most competent front office guy to work for the Lions…ever. Certainly in my 46 years of following the team.

Quinn might be OK, but Ansah, thanks to injury and who knows what, has had an awful 2016.

On Stan Van Gundy’s third year upcoming (July 19)

If the Pistons get off to a mediocre start—or worse—in 2016-17, it will be interesting to see whether SVG has the patience to leave his core alone, or if he will be tempted to try more trades, contracts willing.

The Core Five needs time to jell. It’s an intriguing quintet and it could become a power in the Eastern Conference.

Van Gundy just needs to let it breathe.

Just because you can make major changes, doesn’t mean that you have to, or that you should.

The first stage of the Pistons makeover is pretty much complete. Van Gundy took a team that hadn’t made the playoffs since 2009 and in less than two years, turned it into a winning organization.

The 2015-16 Pistons, it could be argued, played the world champion Cleveland Cavaliers as tough as anyone did in the playoffs, despite the four-game sweep.

The first stage of the makeover is done, and the next stage is the toughest for a man with Van Gundy’s front office girth.

The Pistons are onto something here, but it ought not be broken up too soon.

They’re onto something, alright. A colossal failure, perhaps.

August 2016

On Jim Harbaugh’s nomadic ways (Aug 20)

Harbaugh is what Michigan needs—now.

And when he leaves—and I give him five years, tops (and probably less)—that will be what Michigan needs, as well.

Now, this isn’t to say that while he’s at Michigan, the Harbaugh-led Wolverines won’t have any big time success. In fact, they might even win a national championship.

But make no mistake—sooner or later, Harbaugh will rub folks the wrong way in Ann Arbor and/or the NFL will come calling again with some big bucks and another perfect storm will have been created that sends Harbaugh into the sunset.

Have chalk, will travel.

Or in Harbaugh’s case, have a hot motor, will travel.

This isn’t Harbaugh’s fault. It’s who he is. He can’t help that.

Coaches like he don’t plant roots, they plant stakes.

Harbaugh is 52 and he’s already been the head football coach at four different stops, the first three of which lasted an average of 3.7 years.

Even if you want to toss out the University of San Diego (2004-06) as a stepping stone program, Harbaugh still hasn’t shown the proclivity to stay anywhere for any significant amount of time.

But this is Michigan! It’s where he went to school and played quarterback for Bo Schembechler! This is what he’s always wanted to do!

Maybe it’s Harbaugh’s dream job—for now—but the thing about dreams is that you wake up from them, often rudely.

Again, most disagreed with me. They think that Jimmy is a Michigan lifer. We’ll see.

On Justin Verlander’s Cy Young Award possibilities (Aug 8)

The fastball regularly touches the mid-90s, even late in games. The pitch speeds are changed and mixed with virtuoso-like skill. The breaking ball is back to buckling hitters’ knees.

So yeah, why not Justin Verlander for Cy Young?

The fact that this is even a discussion in early-August after a lousy first month of the season should be enough to give Verlander some sort of an award right now.

The fact that this is even a discussion at all in 2016 is one of baseball’s best stories that no one is talking about—yet.

But as the season dwindles and the games grow in importance—which they will for the Tigers if they hope to be in the playoffs for the fifth time in the past six years—“Justin Verlander” and “Cy Young Award” will find themselves in an awful lot of sentences together.

And so it was true. Verlander actually garnered the most first-place votes, but finished second.

September 2016

On John Long’s induction into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame (Sep 9)

Long was a one-dimensional player but that was OK. He had a specialty and when Thomas shared the backcourt with him, many a time Isiah would find Long in the corner or at the elbow for that patented set jumper. From 1979-86, Long hit those shots to the tune of no less than 45 percent to as high as 51 percent of the time.

That’s some serious shootin’.

Long just celebrated his 60th birthday on August 28. His nephews, fellow Romulus natives and former Pistons Terry Mills and Grant Long, are 48 and 50, respectively.

It’s enough to make an old-timer like me groan.

John Long will be inducted into the MSHOF tonight, nearly two decades removed from hoisting his last NBA jumper.

But to hear him say it, Long is a “young” 60.

“I’m still in the same shape I was when I was playing, but I can’t run anymore,” Long told Perry Farrell of the Free Press. 

“I had a left knee replacement. If the Champions league (a new league made up of former NBA players) could find a way for me to run I could do everything else. I could play, but not like I used to. I can walk, and that’s the most important thing.”

Tonight Long will walk up to the podium on his replaced left knee and take his rightful place at the MSHOF induction ceremony, to be held at the Max Fisher Music Center.

He wasn’t an official NBA territorial draft pick, but John Long will always be a Michigander.

And a Hall of Famer, at that.

Good on ya, John!

October 2016

On Red Wings’ expectations for 2016-17 (Oct 12)

Ken Holland isn’t wired to transition a veteran, elite team into a young, mediocre squad trying to find its way.

The Red Wings, if things aren’t planned well, could become the NHL’s version of the Oakland Raiders—a proud team with iconic uniforms and logo whose mystique wore off long ago.

If things really go to pot, the Red Wings could also become the Edmonton Oilers, who’ve been bumping into themselves for over 20 years.

Fans are growing weary of Holland, and I wonder if Holland is growing weary of the Red Wings.

He’ll always be a Red Wing at heart but maybe he’d be better served somewhere else.

Somewhere like Ottawa, where the Senators are on their seventh opening night coach in 10 years—an NHL record.

Coaches aren’t the only people who know when their time has come to move on.

The fans’ discontent with Holland seems to grow exponentially by the week. Whether that means anything, remains to be seen. 

On Pistons’ chances in 2016-17 (Oct 26)

The Pistons can’t sneak up on folks this season. They’re not a ragamuffin, little engine that could unit any longer.

They’re coming off 44-38 and a playoff berth. Yes, they were swept by the eventual world champs in the first round but as far as sweeps go, it wasn’t a joke of a series. The Cleveland Cavaliers had to break out a sweat.

This is SVG’s third year and it says here that it’s likely to be his most important, even after history closes the books on his time in Detroit.

If things break the way they should and the way that the Pistons want, we’ll likely look back at this season as the one where the young ballers from Detroit came of age.

I don’t want to hear about taking one step back to take two steps forward. The Pistons should be done with taking any steps back for quite some time.

Sadly, the Pistons haven’t taken one step back. They’ve taken several.

On Lions coach Jim Caldwell’s job security (Oct 5, after a 1-3 start)

But after this season, all bets are off as to Jim Caldwell’s future with the Lions.

Going further, I’d be shocked if Caldwell returned in 2017. Unless the team somehow picked itself up after a gory 1-3 start and made the playoffs.

What are the odds of that?

On the flip, I doubt that Quinn would fire Caldwell mid-season, unless the 1-3 start spiraled totally out of control. Then a firing might be a mercy killing to put the coach out of his misery.

The new guy would be interim and would have zero chance of being retained beyond the end of this season.

For all we know, Quinn has someone in mind to take over as Lions coach in 2017 and beyond. Even if he doesn’t, Caldwell is probably gone. You never know who might be available after the season.

Quinn had a ton of housekeeping to do when he took the Lions GM job. He knew it, his bosses knew it.

Caldwell, truth be told, likely knew it.

Caldwell is already fielding job security questions, and we’re barely into October. He said the usual “I don’t worry about my job” thing, which always amazes me.

How come coaches never worry about their job security?

The calls for Caldwell’s head are back as the Lions are on the verge of a three-game winning streak and missing the playoffs after a 9-4 start.

November 2016

On Pistons’ move back downtown for 2017-18 (Nov 23)

This version of the Pistons are moving back into Detroit at a much better time in terms of the health of the franchise, than when they headed north in 1978. Despite the early stumbling this season, boss Stan Van Gundy has the team on a good track, considering what he took over in May 2014.

But they’d better keep it up.

The move back into Detroit will be a boon, initially. And it should be. The Pistons ought to be congratulated for contributing to the rebirth of the city—as long as we’re not talking about neighborhoods here.

But if they don’t win, the shiniest arena in the world won’t help them.

Fans in Detroit won’t walk across the street to see a losing NBA team. That’s been proven. But they’ll fill Ford Field to see a team that has one playoff win in 59 years. Go figure.

The Pistons are back in Detroit, starting next season. Good for them. Good for the city. Not sure what this means for Palace employees, but there always needs to be collateral damage, I guess, in the name of big bucks.

But the Pistons better win. And keep winning.

Why does it feel like the Pistons will again (and soon) be relegated to no. 4 in a four-team town?

So there you have it. Another year, another ham-handed attempt by me to pontificate about Detroit sports. As usual, I won some and lost some.

Have a great and healthy 2017!

These are some of my most perplexing things

In All Sports on August 25, 2016 at 12:55 am

Occasionally I will do a stream of consciousness piece because I’m too lazy to come up with a well-thought narrative.

Today is one such day.

I’ve done these before—ruminating on things in sports that I miss, things in sports that I love, etc.

My favorite—because I get to use my own words against me—is my annual proof or disproof of my bleatings for the year, which runs every December 31.

But it occurred to me that there is also an awful lot of things in sports that are simply mind-boggling.

Of course, my mind isn’t that hard to boggle, but be that as it may.

So, without further ado…

I’ll never understand…

Why a baseball manager refuses to let his starter try to get some outs in the ninth inning before bringing in the closer to, you know, close. Especially when the pitch count is friendly.

Why a football coach will call timeout to “ice” a field goal kicker, when many kickers have gone on record saying that they actually appreciate that time on the field to gather their thoughts, talk to the holder and snapper, etc—rather than possibly hurry the very important kick.

Why some video replays take forever to decide, when I can pretty much determine the proper call after just one look. Am I in the wrong profession? Or are the officials?

Why baseball players put their gloves over their mouths when they talk to teammates. Their lips don’t work that good that they can be read anyway. Especially when the player has a huge chaw of gum or tobacco in his mouth to begin with.

Why hockey doesn’t simply make the nets larger if everyone is complaining (and they are) about the huge goalie equipment and the lack of offense in today’s game.

Why a 20-second timeout in basketball takes over a minute.

Why kickers don’t go back to wearing single bar facemasks. I mean, who are they kidding?

Why it took hockey goalies over 40 years for one of them to finally put on a damn mask in 1959.

Why some hockey goalies were still going bare-faced some 15 years later.

Why some baseball stadiums—even the ones not in Canada—include meters of distance on their walls. Is it to show off?

Why some fans will complain about a $5 hot dog, a $12 beer, a $4 pretzel, $30 for parking and a $15 program, yet declare that games are “better in person.”

Why we need mascots and the scoreboard to tell us when and how to cheer. We’re not attending a rugby match for the first time.

Why tennis scoring is the way it is. I mean, at least go 15-30-45 for crying out loud.

Where the aluminum trees are that provide all the bats in high school and college baseball.

Why we need a two-minute warning in the first half of pro football games, when college football doesn’t need any at all.

Why baseball teams hold “players only” meetings. They never work and often times the team gets its ass kicked following said meeting anyway.

Why Gaylord Perry wasn’t caught throwing a spitter in every single game he pitched.

What the Arizona Diamondbacks were thinking when they came out with their hideous brown uniforms. They make the San Diego Padres look like sartorial splendor.

Why hockey arenas announce the last minute of play in each period. There are these things called scoreboards…

Why the 3-0 pitch is always a strike and the 3-1 pitch is always fouled off.

Why Fox Sports Detroit doesn’t show us the innings a new pitcher has thrown in their little stat box, upon entering the game. Would sure put everything into perspective.

What constitutes offensive goaltending in basketball.

Or all the ways that a pitcher can commit a balk.

Why it’s called a “technical” foul.

Why managers kick dirt on umpires. The arbiters don’t do their own laundry.

Why we need sideline reporters on television. Other than a drunk Joe Namath slobbering over Suzie Kolber, what value for viewers has ever come from a sideline reporter?

Why football officials stopped firing pistols to signal the end of the quarter. Wait, maybe I do.

Why we don’t have coaches with names like Bear, Punch, Toe, Bo, Mayo, Sparky, Bep, Boom Boom, Whitey and Bud anymore.

Why every pitched baseball that even scrapes the dirt needs to be taken out of play. I never heard of a dirtball—outside the realm of used car sales and lawyers.

Why some Cubs fans still blame Stave Bartman for 2003.

Why no one remembers Bob Stanley for throwing the wild pitch that scored the tying run in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Why do we have to pin everything on one man all the time?

How a holder for a place kick manages to catch the ball, spin it laces out and place it down in such a short period of time. And get his fingers out of the way of being kicked.

Why a hockey goalie who allows no goals is said to have “pitched a shutout.” They’re firing the pucks at HIM!

How Alexander Cartwright nailed the 90 foot base path on the first try, some 160-plus years ago.

How a punt returner decides whether to call for a fair catch or not, because some punts that are fair caught seem so returnable and others that are returned, never should have been.

Why pitchers—whose job it is to throw the ball—can’t execute an accurate throw to second base after fielding a ground ball.

Why anyone would begrudge a pro football player’s salary, given their career’s brevity and the sheer danger it causes them.

Why basketball doesn’t add a four-point shot—if nothing else, for the sheer intrigue.

Why the 1985 Tigers didn’t come close to contending for the division, just one year removed from their magical season, with mostly the same cast and crew.

How the 1994 Red Wings lost a seven-game series to the (then) three year-old San Jose Sharks.

Why Johnny Wilson was fired as coach of the Red Wings after the 1972-73 season. Johnny didn’t either; I asked him about it 10 years ago and all he said was “Darkness with Harkness.”

Why baseball is the only sport that tolerates players leaving the benches during skirmishes.

Why Jhonny Peralta spells his first name that way.

Why the Lions hired Darryl Rogers as coach in 1985. Or why the Red Wings hired Ned Harkness in 1970.

What separates a pro bowler from a non-pro.

How the camera men follow a golf ball in the air on television with such precision.

Why we can’t have jump balls in high school or college basketball.

Why there’s still so much about sports that I don’t understand.

 

Howe’s humility, grace on par with Detroit’s sports history

In All Sports on June 17, 2016 at 1:30 am

Al Kaline sat across from Jim Campbell, the Tigers general manager.

Between the two men was a new contract offer, waiting for Kaline’s signature.

For the first time in his illustrious Tigers career, the dollar figure the Tigers were throwing at Kaline for a season included six digits.

The $100,000 a year contract was a nod to Kaline’s humble greatness wearing the Old English D. It was, frankly, the least the Tigers could have done. Campbell would have agreed.

Kaline was nearing the end of his great career, but he had a few more years left in the tank. The $100,000 offer came prior to the 1971 season, Kaline’s 19th in Detroit.

To Campbell’s amazement and chagrin, Kaline refused to sign the offer.

Not because it wasn’t enough—because it was too much.

“I don’t feel that I earned that offer,” Kaline told Campbell in so many words.

To no. 6, his 1970 figures on the field didn’t warrant six of them on a contract.

Campbell couldn’t get Kaline to budge. The $100,000 offer—huge money in the big leagues at the time, reserved only for the game’s superstars—was torn up. Kaline signed for $95,000.

A year later, Campbell finally managed to get Kaline’s John Hancock on a $100,000 contract.

In the early-1960s, outfielder Rocky Colavito was a darling in Detroit. The Tigers acquired The Rock just before the 1960 season from Cleveland for Harvey Kuenn, straight up. It was the first—and  only—time that a previous year’s HR champ (Colavito) was traded for the previous year’s batting champ.

Indians GM Frank Lane famously crowed about the trade.

“I feel like I traded hamburger for steak,” Lane proclaimed without class.

Kuenn was a bust in Cleveland, but Colavito continued to slug home runs. He had Hollywood good looks, the arm of a cannon and he combined with Kaline and Norm Cash to form a Detroit version of “Murderer’s Row.”

But during his stay in Detroit, Colavito made a strange demand. He wanted to be the highest paid Tiger.

Campbell, who took over as Tigers GM in 1961, would have none of it.

“As long as I’m here, no baseball player in Detroit will be paid more than Al Kaline,” Campbell said to the press.

Colavito grumbled. It wasn’t long before Campbell, tired of Rocky’s bellyaching, traded Colavito out of Detroit.

Kaline, through it all, never went public with any contract demands, even as Colavito’s were very high profile. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Kaline seemed almost embarrassed when the newspaper men wanted to know his take on Rocky’s demands.

Today, Kaline continues to be revered by Tigers fans the world over. A large part of that reverence has to do with Kaline’s humility.

Barry Sanders was, at the same time, the most electric runner in NFL history and the least exciting—when he scored a touchdown.

The docile manner in which Sanders would toss the football to the official after reaching paydirt is almost as legendary as his brilliant runs.

In a league known—and sometimes derided—for caustic end zone celebrations, Sanders’ lack thereof made him an even bigger hero, at least in Detroit.

Barry Sanders—another humble Detroit athlete.

Steve Yzerman spoke softly and carried a big stick—literally.

Yzerman, the unquestioned heart and soul of the Red Wings for so many years, carried himself with the humility and grace that the Detroit sports fan adores.

Whether it was explaining away another heartbreaking playoff series loss or reveling in another Stanley Cup won, Yzerman’s demeanor really didn’t change. His words were always measured, always well thought out. He didn’t have an ounce of hubris in his body.

For his quiet leadership and class, Steve Yzerman is almost as popular in Detroit as the automobile.

David Bing arrived in Detroit in 1966 in an old, beat up Volkswagen that he drove to Michigan from Syracuse, NY.

The Pistons desperately wanted to draft local hero Cazzie Russell in the summer of ’66. Cazzie, a basketball icon playing 45 minutes west on I-94 for the University of Michigan, wanted to be a Piston as badly as the Pistons wanted him to be a Piston.

But the Pistons, as was their luck in those days, lost a coin flip with the New York Knicks. Cazzie went to Manhattan. Bing was drafted second by the Pistons, out of Syracuse.

Bing, a skinny point guard and a virtual stranger to Pistons fans—all dozen of them—arrived in Detroit to play for an NBA team that, in the back of its mind, saw him as sloppy seconds to Cazzie Russell.

But Bing could shoot the ball and make passes that nobody on the Pistons had seen any guard make—ever.

Russell had a decent, albeit well-traveled NBA career. But it was nothing like that of David Bing’s.

Bing saved pro basketball in Detroit. That’s not an exaggeration.

He left Detroit with some acrimony, traded to Washington in 1975 by Bill Davidson, who didn’t appreciate Bing’s desire to renegotiate his contract in 1974.

Bing played for the Bullets and the Boston Celtics before retiring in 1978.

But when his playing days were over, Bing returned to Detroit and became one of the city’s most successful businessmen. He handled himself with style, class and grace.

Those things, combined with his business success and his wisdom, helped elevate Bing to the mayor’s office in 2009.

Bing is on the other side of 70 now but remains in Detroit, still supporting the franchise that traded him away in 1975 amid some rancor from both sides.

They are all around us—these graceful former Detroit athletes.

There’s Bing’s old teammate and coach, Ray Scott, as fine a gentleman as you’ll ever meet.

There’s Lem Barney, who’s always been a friend to the city’s youth.

There’s Willie Horton, who also left Detroit as a player with some bitter feelings, but who returned and is as much of the fabric of the city—not just the Tigers—as all the coney islands and Vernors you can shake a stick at.

We’ve lost a few recently, of course.

Charlie Sanders immediately comes to mind.

And, of course, Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe.

Howe’s death is, without question, the biggest blow that anyone alive has ever experienced, when it comes to former Detroit sports stars.

It’s bigger than Joe Louis’ passing, which came in 1981.

It’s bigger than Ty Cobb’s death in 1961, for a variety of reasons that you could probably surmise on your own.

It doesn’t get any more iconic than Howe.

But after having had a few days to reflect on Gordie’s passing last Friday, it occurred to me that we’ve been pretty damn lucky in Detroit to have cheered for athletes who were such fine men, on and off the battlefield.

Humility, grace and class. We like that in our Detroit sports stars, don’t we?

Thank goodness we have a lot of experience in that regard.

 

Lots of words, but great sports quotes a lost art

In All Sports on February 2, 2016 at 5:43 pm

Inside a quiet baseball locker room, aka the clubhouse, in old, decrepit Exhibition Stadium in Toronto, Tigers players changed, showered and tried to wash away the sting of another tough defeat.

One of them was still talking to the media. He tried to put a positive spin on what was becoming a nightmare weekend north of the border.

The Toronto Blue Jays had rallied from a 9-4 deficit on a Saturday afternoon, passing the Tigers at the finish line, 10-9, in a nationally-televised affair.

The Jays scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to cap their furious comeback.

It was September 26, 1987.

With the loss, the Tigers were on the wrong end of three straight contests in Toronto—all one-run defeats—and the American League East flag was slipping from their grasp.

The Tigers arrived in Toronto a half-game behind the Blue Jays on Thursday, but by late afternoon on Saturday, in front of the NBC Sports cameras, the Jays’ lead had ballooned to 3.5 games.

The Tigers had just eight games remaining, the Blue Jays had seven. The magic number for Toronto to clinch the division had shrunk to a measly five.

Kirk Gibson stood among the reporters and in a soft voice, Gibby tried gamely to send a positive message—to the fans back in Detroit and to baseball observers everywhere.

“Maybe we’re setting the biggest bear trap in history,” Gibson said as tape recorders whirred and pens wrote feverishly.

The next day, Gibson, one of the greatest clutch hitters in baseball history—certainly in Tigers history—came through yet again.

Gibby slammed a solo home run off Jays closer Tom Henke in the ninth inning, tying the game, 1-1. In the 13th inning, Gibson did it again, singling home Jim Walewander with the eventual game-winning run as the Tigers survived, 3-2.

The Tigers were still kicking. The bear trap was closing slightly.

The Tigers, of course, came all the way back and swiped the division from the Blue Jays, who dropped their last seven games—including the season’s final trio of contests in Detroit.

And Kirk Gibson’s words, “Maybe we’re setting the biggest bear trap in history,” became part of Detroit sports legend.

So, heard any good quotes lately?

There’s great irony in that question.

There have never been more words written, spoken, reported and recited than today. The digital age and social media see to that.

Yet we’re suffering through quantity rather than quality.

Despite all these words, nobody is saying anything memorable—and for these purposes, I’m talking about sports in particular.

A beleaguered football coach stares at the pigeons’ shadows as they gather on top of the Pontiac Silverdome. This is 1988.

An intrepid reporter sidles up to the coach and asks him what he’s looking at—since practice is going on at the same time.

The coach says he is counting pigeons.

Then the coach of the sad sack Lions looks at the reporter and wonders out loud, “What does a guy have to do to get fired around here?”

Darryl Rogers’ words, spoken to Jerry Green that fall day in 1988, are woven into Lions lore.

Rogers was indeed fired, weeks later.

Where are all the memorable sports quotes?

There’s a lot of trash talk. A lot of posturing. A lot of tweets and Instagram posts.

But there’s no “there” there.

Quantity over quality.

The bellicose linebacker is in his glory on Super Bowl media day. He’s taking the opportunity to take jabs at the opposing quarterback.

The linebacker is so flashy and verbose, his nickname—self-anointed—is “Hollywood.”

“Terry Bradshaw is so dumb, he couldn’t spell ‘cat’ if you spotted him the ‘c’ and the ‘a’,” the linebacker, Thomas Henderson, says to the media. This is 1979.

In Super Bowl XIII, Bradshaw then systematically destroyed Henderson’s Dallas Cowboys, throwing for 318 yards and four TDs. The Pittsburgh Steelers won, 35-31, and Bradshaw is named the game’s Most Valuable Player.

It was reported that after the game, Bradshaw sought out Henderson and said, “Hey Hollywood! Spell this: M-V-P!”

Good stuff. But so few and far between these days.

Here’s what a sports quote looks like today: “Blah blah blah. And blah, blah, blah. Blah!”

Or that’s what it seems like, anyway.

I submit that we have lost the art of the memorable sports quote because too many people are talking about too much stuff at the same time.

The Internet strikes again.

Now, I do see clever tweets from time to time. Some users of that medium are pretty good at using those 140 characters to their maximum.

But Twitter is fleeting. The content there has the shelf life of hot eggs.

I’m talking about gems that will be repeated 10, 15, 20 years from now—and longer.

The brash, abrasive baseball manager has had his fill of his owner and his superstar slugger.

The manager works in New York and for the Yankees—which was his dream job but it comes with baggage.

Annoyed with George Steinbrenner and Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin boils over.

“One’s a born liar and the other is convicted,” Martin seethes in the summer of 1978. Billy is referring to Jackson in the former and Steinbrenner in the latter.

Billy is fired for his rant, which is also part of his legend—and that of the Yankees.

The great quotes of yesteryear, I believe, would today suffer the same ignominy of their less-salient counterparts. That is, they’d be quickly forgotten.

Quantity over quality.

The oddball running back, a pro football nomad, has landed in Detroit, one of his many stops in the NFL circuit.

The running back has a reputation for driving coaches to drink, and worse.

The coach of the Lions wants to send in a play to his quarterback in a real, actual NFL game. So he enlists the help of his new, oddball running back.

The running back has the apt last name of Looney—Joe Don Looney.

Looney looks at the coach, Harry Gilmer, aghast at the orders to jog to the huddle with a new play.

“If you want a messenger, send for Western Union!” Looney says to the incredulous Gilmer.

Those were the days.

The Best (but mostly worst) of Greg Eno, 2015

In All Sports on January 1, 2016 at 5:42 pm

Yes it’s that time again.

The champagne is gone, the party hats have been put away and the resolutions have been made.

As appears here every year at this time, what follows is a look back at some of the fearless words I foisted upon you over the past 12 months. And, as usual, most proved to be false prophecies.

But not all. So I included some posts where I was proven to be right, after all.

Right or (mostly) wrong, I had a blast.

So without further ado, here is the Best/Worst of Greg Eno for 2015.

January 27

(Pistons) On Brandon Jennings’ injury and what coach/president Stan Van Gundy will do:

And here’s where Van Gundy’s dual role of coach and president comes into play.

As a coach, he doesn’t have to petition his GM for a certain player to take Jennings’ place on the roster.

As president, he doesn’t have to convince his coach of anything personnel-wise.

Van Gundy wears both hats, and this is a prime example of why the Pistons thought hiring one man to do both jobs was a good idea.

It’s an unwanted, unplanned example, but here we are.

Van Gundy, like his players, has no choice but to carry on in Jennings’ absence. But with the power invested in him by owner Tom Gores—power that all but a handful of NBA coaches don’t possess—SVG can move on without any hint of disconnect between the court and the front office, which happens more often in the NBA than you think.

SVG traded for Reggie Jackson, and while you don’t wish injury on anyone, Jennings’ situation opened the door for the Pistons to acquire what is turning out to be one of the best PGs in the Eastern Conference.

February 16

On the possibility of Mike Babcock bolting the Red Wings for Toronto:

But Babcock’s tardiness in re-upping with the Red Wings shouldn’t be confused with a desire to coach elsewhere. He has it good in Detroit and he knows that. He works for a terrific owner, has a good relationship with his GM and his family has firm roots in Northville.

In Toronto, Babcock wouldn’t be hired to just make the playoffs a few times. He’d be brought in to win the whole shebang, and sooner rather than later. Patience is already razor-thin in Toronto; even someone with Babcock’s name and resume wouldn’t be given a very long leash. It would be the shortest honeymoon since Cher and Gregg Allman’s.

Whether Babcock would choose to turn his cozy home and hockey life upside down to work in the pressure cooker of Toronto, which is Canada’s New York when it comes to hockey, is highly debatable. In fact, it’s worse—it’s damned unlikely.

Umm….

March 16

On Jimmy Howard and whether he’ll start in the playoffs:

Howard, frankly, deserves to start in Game 1 of the playoffs. He’s earned that right. The Red Wings aren’t paying him millions to take a seat in favor of a rookie, for gosh sakes.

But don’t be taken aback if Babcock shows little patience with Howard and does a switcheroo. In the middle of a series.

It might not even be so much an anti-Howard move as a pro-Mrazek one.

Babcock loves Mrazek’s swagger. He loves it that the 23-year-old Czech firmly believes that he will be a star in the NHL. And the coach has liked what he’s seen from Mrazek in spot duty.

It may not be this spring, but sometime in the near future, Petr Mrazek will be the Red Wings’ no. 1 goaltender. That seems to be the track on which the Red Wings have the Czech.

Petr Mrazek was named the starter, and he played very well—pitching two shutouts at the Lightning.

March 31

On what the Lions’ front office needs:

There’s too much desperation with the Lions. There isn’t the feeling that the hand at the wheel is steady amid the rough waters of the NFL.

The Lions need such a steady hand. They need a veteran NFL guy to oversee things.

They need someone like Ernie Accorsi.

Accorsi is steeped in NFL knowledge. He’s held a variety of jobs, including general manager, assistant GM, PR flak and consultant. He helped the Bears in their GM search in December.

He’s 73 years old and he’s available for a full-time position.

Running the Lions might be intriguing enough for someone like Accorsi, who laid the groundwork for a Super Bowl win with the 2007 Giants.

The Lions haven’t had a heavy hitter upstairs. They haven’t had heavy hitters on the sidelines either, really.

But Jim Caldwell seems fine as head coach. The problems don’t start with the coach.

The dysfunction is with the guys in the suits.

Mayhew and Lewand have had their chance. They’ve had six years. Now they need a football man to report to.

The Lions should give Ernie Accorsi a ring, but that phone call would have to come from Bill Ford Jr., who just might do something progressive, even by accident.

The Lions heeded my advice—kind of. They hired Accorsi as a consultant last month.

March 22

On Greg Monroe’s future with the Pistons:

Van Gundy will have to use a full court press to convince Monroe that the SVG Way is the path that will lead to competitive basketball in Detroit.

Monroe will have to feel good about the direction in which the Pistons are heading, or else he is sure to get big bucks elsewhere. Unlike Bob Lanier, Monroe isn’t tethered to the Pistons and he doesn’t have to beg for a trade.

Monroe can simply peel off his Pistons jersey after Game 82 this season and move on from them.

Unless he wants to stay.

Greg Monroe has leverage in today’s NBA that Bob Lanier could only fantasize about, 35 years ago.

Today’s Pistons are much closer to contention than the 1979-80 team (16-66) that Lanier begged to be removed from. But Monroe still has played five years in the NBA and all he’s known is losing, coaching changes and chaos.

The Pistons will be asking Monroe to take a leap of faith that, heretofore, has little basis on which to positively refer.

Monroe left, but that was probably a good thing in retrospect.

April 20

On Stephen Weiss’ future with the Red Wings:

Weiss started strong last November when he came back from his hernia surgery, popping in a couple of goals in his first game. But soon he went back to being invisible and pretty much useless.

The benching in March wasn’t entirely unexpected, though a tad surprising.

The playoffs in the NHL has always been a time for everything and everyone to reset.

The regular season is like an Etch-a-Sketch. The playoffs are what happens after that Etch-a-Sketch gets shaken and cleared.

It’s a clean slate for everyone, and for every team. Seeding matters little, unlike in the NBA, where only a handful of teams truly have a shot at the championship.

Weiss, like every player on the roster, got to hit the reset button last week.

But you can’t do it anymore, not two games into the first round. There is no time for mulligans.

But the beauty of playoff hockey is that Stephen Weiss could still be an impact player for the Red Wings. He could still score some timely goals and make some of those signature passes that were his hallmark in Florida.

He’d better do it soon. If he even gets another chance.

He didn’t. The Red Wings cut their losses and released Weiss over the summer.

June 1

On Jeff Blashill taking over for Mike Babcock:

The question to be answered will be, “How much will the Red Wings miss Mike Babcock?”

That’s where Jeff Blashill comes in, because if he’s able to lift the Red Wings to the next level, i.e. past the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2009, it won’t be about Babcock anymore.

With Dave Lewis, the shadow of Scotty Bowman always loomed. Lewis took over the defending Stanley Cup champs and a team that won three Cups in six years.

There was nowhere to go but down for Lewie.

Blashill is succeeding a high profile guy behind the Red Wings bench, but at the same time, it’s not a terribly tough act to follow.

Babcock has a great resume and the hardware to support it, but the hard fact remains that the Red Wings haven’t advanced to round three of the playoffs in six years.

Blashill, after a rough start and despite a current funk, has transitioned fairly seamlessly as the Red Wings’ new coach.

July 6

On whether the Tigers will be sellers at the trade deadline:

That’s why there won’t be any white flag raising and “selling” of the team’s assets on or around the July 31 deadline for interleague trades.

There’s no way that Ilitch will authorize President/GM/CEO David Dombrowski to engage in a fire sale, ridding the Tigers of as many fat contracts as Dombrowski can fob off on other teams.

Those who equate Miguel Cabrera’s calf strain and loss for at least six weeks, with the need to pack it in for 2015 and start a rebuilding project, mid-season, are whiffing.

First, the “sale” of expensive guys like pending free agents David Price and Yoenis Cespedes won’t bring back the king’s ransom that some fans think it will.

Price and Cespedes are rentals, if they’re moved at the deadline. The acquiring team(s) would essentially get those players’ services for two months and probably not more than that, unless they’re the Yankees or the Dodgers.

What team in its right mind will send the Tigers a boatload of top level prospects for a player it likely won’t be able to sign to a long-term contract?

Got this one wrong, though I think the whole scenario cost Dombrowski his job, ultimately.

August 29

On not letting the Red Wings’ Justin Abdelkader become a free agent:

Abdelkader is signed through June 30, 2016. After that, when midnight strikes, it will be a league free-for-all to acquire the Michigan State grad and Muskegon native’s services.

Unless the Red Wings step in and shanghai Abdelkader to a long-term contract extension.

This is no joke. The Red Wings can’t let Abdelkader go. There really isn’t anyone else on the roster who can, right now, step in and do what Abdelkader does for 17 minutes (not including time in the penalty box) on a nightly basis.

We all knew that Abdelkader was scrappy and pugnacious and relentless, especially along the boards, which is the slop to his pig.

But then, last season, no. 8 broke out another aspect of his game—that of consistent scorer.

The Red Wings listened to me and extended Abdelkader shortly after the season began.

 

August 31

On the future of Tigers manager Brad Ausmus:

Watching the Royals run away and hide, and suffering through discouraging injuries to key people, and trying to play through yet another bad bullpen year, have finally caught up to the Tigers, mentally.

They are sleepwalking through games anymore, and they are under legitimate indictment for one of professional sports’ worst transgressions: they’re not competing.

Look at the scores. The Tigers are routinely getting their clocks cleaned.

They’re making mental errors and the overall hustle is waning.

The Tigers are a last-place team and playing like they can’t wait to get this season over with.

Ausmus, who seems helpless at this point, is the Tigers’ 2015 version of Mayo Smith, 1970.

I’m not sure when Smith realized that his days as Tigers skipper were numbered, but certainly he knew, at some point in 1970, that he wasn’t coming back in 1971.

Maybe even his players felt the same way, which might have contributed to their uninspired play down the stretch.

Ausmus is a smart man, and he’s been around baseball long enough to know what gets managers fired in the big leagues.

It’s one thing to be saddled with a bad bullpen. It’s another to have a starting rotation in tatters, and a lineup that is frustratingly inconsistent.

But it’s quite another to have players forgetting how many outs there are, and failing to run out ground balls and giving away at-bats with zeal.

Those are the things that get managers fired.

But not in 2015. Ausmus was brought back for the third year of his contract.

September 30

On the future of Lions OC Joe Lombardi:

Caldwell has been steadfast in his support of Lombardi, who is proving on a weekly basis that football genius isn’t necessarily hereditary.

The fans are practically begging Caldwell to at least snatch the playbook from OC Lombardi, if not fire him altogether.

Wayne Fontes saw a season crumbling around him in 1993. He had been on the precipice of the Super Bowl two years earlier and after a nosedive in 1992, Fontes didn’t want to miss out on another chance at playoff glory.

So despite a 7-5 record, Fontes blew things up at the Silverdome.

And it worked.

Jim Caldwell is a fine man of high character. I know it likely goes against his grain to embarrass Lombardi by taking over the play calling. And Caldwell doesn’t seem to have the demeanor to fire a coordinator in mid-season.

But it’s exactly this kind of “nice guy” stuff that the owner, Bill Ford, displayed for years, to a fault—particularly as he aged.

Caldwell eventually pulled the trigger on Lombardi in late-October—though probably too late.

October 2

On whether Dylan Larkin should make the Red Wings out of training camp at age 19:

Larkin, not as shy as Yzerman was (and still is), has made no bones about it. His intention is to make the Red Wings. Right now. He’s trying to avoid a bus ticket to Grand Rapids at all costs.

“It is what I have been waiting for and I’m ready for it,” Larkin said about playing in the NHL, sooner rather than later.

“I think I’ll be a dominant player all over the ice,” Larkin continued. “I’ll be a player than can play against the other team’s top line and can still produce offense. It might take a while, but it does for everyone to become a dominant player.”

You never heard Steve Yzerman talk about himself in that manner at age 19—and Yzerman never really did, not even after he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, for goodness sakes.

Coach Blashill is helping by letting the teenager show off his wares against other top-line NHL players in the pre-season matches, and Larkin has been responding.

GM Kenny Holland has said that there’s no rush in getting Larkin to the NHL.

But that was before training camp and the exhibition schedule began.

The Red Wings made the right choice in keeping Larkin. He needed no further minor league seasoning.

October 13

On Martha Ford’s level of impatience:

Now Martha Ford has a chance to do something bold. She has a chance to show that loyalty and patience shouldn’t trump the lack of on-field success.

There’s little doubt in my mind that if her husband was alive now, coach Jim Caldwell, GM Marty Mayhew and President Tom Lewand would have absolutely nothing to worry about.

Despite the 0-5 start. Despite the realization that draft picks are, once again, not playing to the value of their selections. Despite the utter disorganized product on the field. Despite a so-called franchise quarterback melting down before our very eyes. Despite players loafing it on the field. Despite the feckless response of the coach to a robbery in Seattle. Despite the Lions again being looked at as a joke nationally.

None of that would matter, thanks to the loyalty and patience of one Bill Ford.

Ironically, the only sign of disloyalty and impatience has come from Golden Tate, toward the fans.

But Martha Ford can change all that.

She did indeed make her bold move in early-November, releasing Mayhew and Lewand.

November 5

On which pitchers the Tigers should target in free agency:

Two names that should intrigue Tigers fans the most as Avila goes shopping are Jeff Samardzija and Scott Kazmir.

Samardzija (righty) and Kazmir (lefty) could probably be signed at second tier money—not that that’s cheap, though it would be considerably less than what would be required to bring Price back or lure Greinke to Detroit.

The Tigers could benefit in two ways if they ink Samardzija, who will be 31 when next season begins.

One, they could take advantage of Samardzija’s less-than-great 2015, which followed an uneven 2014, when he pitched for the Chicago Cubs and the Oakland Athletics.

Samardzija was among several new players that the Chicago White Sox brought in with the idea of making a run at the Central Division title in 2015.

But Samardzija was, basically, awful this season.

He was 11-13 with a 4.96 ERA and a WHIP of 1.29. He led the league in hits surrendered with 228 and he gave up more hits than innings pitched since he threw just 19.1 innings in 2010.

The other way the Tigers could gain an edge with the addition of Samardzija is by a division rival’s subtraction.

Think about it. The Tigers’ gain would be the White Sox’s loss, despite Samardzija’s down year.

With Kazmir, the Tigers would be getting a seasoned big league lefty.

Kazmir, who pitched for Oakland and Houston in 2015, will turn 32 in January—not ancient but old enough to have been around the block a couple of times.

Kazmir was good with Oakland (5-5, 2.38 ERA in 109.2 innings) but not so much with the Astros (2-6, 4.17 ERA in 73.1 innings).

Kazmir’s schizophrenic season could drop his market value, to the Tigers’ delight.

The Tigers went in a completely opposite direction—signing Jordan Zimmermann and Mike Pelfrey. 

November 10

On retiring Sergei Fedorov’s no. 91:

Sergei is in the Hockey Hall of Fame now, fair and square. He was formally inducted on Monday night, along with Lidstrom, who goes by the nickname The Perfect Human.

Fedorov, the Imperfect Human (tying him with billions of people around the world behind Lidstrom), has waited long enough. It’s time to put aside whatever rancor is left about Fedorov and string his stinking number into the rafters at The Joe.

I can still hear some gasps of indignation.

But he left! He left us!

He held out! He was a Johnny-come-lately in 1998!

He had a weird relationship with Anna Kournikova!

Yes, yes, and yes.

So what?

This one remains to be seen.

November 30

On the still-maturing Pistons:

The Pistons of today are probably not yet ready to contend to the degree that Van Gundy would feel that a bold move for a high profile player late in the season would make a big difference.

After 17 games, the Pistons are too flawed and too soft mentally. Too prone to stretches of malaise.

They obviously can’t even handle the small, marginal success of a 5-1 start. They can’t be taken seriously—not yet.

But they’re getting better.

It’s a process.

The Pistons continue to struggle with consistency—especially on defense. But SVG has them moving in the right direction, for sure.

 

So there you have it! Another year, another set of false prophecies, with some accurate ones tossed in like some pepper with the salt.

Here’s to a joyful, healthy and prosperous 2016 for all who read this blather!

Before the Internet, Sports Scores Were a Pay Phone Away

In All Sports on December 14, 2014 at 5:31 pm

I was at a public gathering one evening and I needed to find out the score of a game. So I used a phone.

Only, I didn’t bring up the Internet and go to ESPN.com or the like; I placed a call. And it wasn’t my phone.

No, not to my bookie. I never made enough dough to have a bookie.

I called SportsPhone.

We’re talking circa the mid-to-late 1980s.

Anyone reading this under the age of 40 may not know of what I speak. It may as well be written in hieroglyphics to those folks.

Wherever there was a public phone (remember those?), there was SportsPhone. We’re talking the days before everyone had a “mobile device.”

SportsPhone was a lovely invention. Not lovely enough to not be made extinct by the advances of technology, but in that regard SportsPhone is hardly alone.

Oh, how I miss those days.

There was excitement, there was drama. I’m not talking about the games themselves; I mean in terms of just waiting for the score.

SportsPhone worked like this: you dialed into a number (1-976-1313) and on the other end you were greeted by the (fresh) recording of a fast-paced, breathless voice of someone like Dave LewAllen or Rich Kincaide, who would blast through the scores of all the major sports matches of the night. Some brief mentions of top stories were thrown in as well.

The recordings were updated every 10 or 15 minutes, so you were getting almost all partial scores unless you called past 11 o’clock at night, in which case everything was pretty much final—unless the Tigers, Pistons or Red Wings were playing on the Left Coast.

Sounds archaic, doesn’t it?

Well, of course it was! But that’s all we had in 1985.

The Tigers didn’t air 162 games a year back then, even with the birth of the pay-to-watch Pro-Am Sports System (PASS) on cable.

The Pistons had plenty of games not televised, as did the Red Wings.

So with no Internet to run to, what else was a shaggy young man to do if he wanted to know how is team was faring?

Dial 1-976-1313, that’s what.

Now, using public pay phones meant you needed one of two things: lots of loose change, or a calling card.

I can see the 30-year-olds’ heads spinning at the mention of a calling card.

It was actually very simple. Before AT&T there was something called Ameritech. And before Ameritech there was something called Michigan Bell. And Ameritech and Michigan Bell had calling cards.

The calling card was a sort of credit card for phone calls. The calls were billed to your home phone bill. You dialed the number you wanted from a pay phone and then, when prompted, you’d punch in your calling card number in lieu of depositing coins.

I knew my calling card number by heart. In fact I was probably the fastest calling card puncher in the midwest.

You had to be fast, if you wanted to get the score in rapid fashion, so you could rejoin your party without appearing to be too rude.

I called SportsPhone from all sorts of places and events: wedding receptions (including when I was the Best Man), social gatherings, business meetings and even dates.

One of the first things I would do whenever I entered an establishment was ascertain where the pay phone was. I’d mark the spot mentally, because you never knew when you might have to make a quick dash to call Dave LewAllen to see how the Red Wings were doing in Chicago.

This was when establishments had pay phones.

The voices on SportsPhone all sounded so rushed and urgent and I liked that. It added to the drama. Every time, LewAllen et al sounded as if they were giving their reports amid gunfire from a war zone. They couldn’t mince words or waste any time.

At the end of every call, they’d tell you when the next update was forthcoming. Mostly it was 10 or 15 minutes, although on some especially frantic nights, SportsPhone would update in seven or eight minute increments.

I think I got hooked on SportsPhone during the first Tommy Hearns-Sugar Ray Leonard fight, in September 1981.

I was a college freshman and if the fight was on closed circuit TV, I had no idea where it was being shown. And even if I did, I certainly didn’t have the cash for admission.

So I called SportsPhone that night. A lot.

Even from my dorm room, I could get a feel for the excitement and drama of that fight as it happened, because I was dialing SportsPhone every couple of rounds or so.

My heart sank when, on one call, I got the word that Hearns had been knocked through the ropes in the late rounds. Another phone call confirmed it: Sugar Ray had won by technical knockout.

Times had changed by 1989, when I did have the dough to pay to see Hearns-Leonard II on closed circuit TV. I wished I hadn’t; Hearns was jobbed in the decision, which was a draw.

I saw Hearns last December and I told him that he got rooked, which probably made me the millionth person to tell him that.

He laughed and told me that even Sugar Ray admits that Tommy won that fight.

But despite witnessing the second fight on television as it occurred, somehow it still doesn’t measure up to that September night in 1981, when as a freshman at EMU I “followed” the bout from my dorm room through several frantic phone calls.

For some who lived through the 1980s, the most famous phone number is 867-5309.

Pfft!

Gimme 1-976-1313. Now THAT’s a phone number!

The Best (and Worst) of Greg Eno For 2013

In All Sports on January 2, 2014 at 3:44 am

It’s that time again.

It’s time to look back at a year’s worth of columns and see how the Detroit sports landscape looked through my crossed eyes.

So, without further ado, here’s the annual “Best of/Worst of Greg Eno” for 2013.

February

On the Red Wings’ slippage to begin the truncated 2013 NHL season:

The Red Wings used to play a selfish brand of hockey—meaning that they never let the other team have the puck. They cycled and passed and it was like watching the Harlem Globetrotters with the basketball during “Sweet Georgia Brown.”

It’s become so hard for the Red Wings now.

No longer do teams step onto the Joe Louis Arena ice shaking in their skating boots. Gone is the intimidation factor at The Joe. The crowds are still sellouts but it’s a polite crowd nowadays—19,000+ who are sitting on their hands too often.

We knew it wasn’t going to be the same this season, but for a long time it was all conjecture, thanks to the labor lockout. The hockey season was always somewhere over there, past the horizon.

Then the labor strife was over and the NHL started playing games again, and all of Hockeytown’s fears are being realized.

The Red Wings are an ordinary team, no longer one of the league’s bullies. They win on some nights, lose on others. They are 7-7 and it befits them.

This could describe this season’s Red Wings, eh?

March

On then-rookie Andre Drummond being, at age 19, the Pistons’ best player—already:

In Drummond’s absence the Pistons have collapsed like a house of cards. They are shockingly inept with Drummond out of the lineup. They are pushovers in the paint, and lost everywhere else on the court defensively. The only rebounds they grab these days are the ones that fall directly into their hands.

The Pistons, with Drummond on the sidelines, have become a disinterested, wretched mess of a basketball team. They are unable, perhaps even unwilling, to play anyone tough right now.

Drummond’s absence and the Pistons’ subsequent freefall into oblivion are about as coincidental as cause and effect.

So it’s not too much to say that Drummond, at 19 years old, is the Pistons’ best player right now. It was not too much to say back in 1981 about Isiah Thomas, when the 20-year-old rookie from Indiana University became the Pistons’ best player just a few minutes into his first game.

Thomas didn’t stop there; he became the franchise’s best player of all time.

It’s way too soon to say that Drummond is a HOF player, but his impact on the team remains significant

————————

On the Red Wings moving to the Eastern Conference for the 2013-14 season:

NBC is a winner, too. The league’s TV network surely must be busting buttons when they see all the tradition-rich games featuring the league’s top squads that they can schedule for Sunday afternoons.

Remember Detroit-Toronto in Steve Yzerman’s young years? Remember how exciting those games were? And the Maple Leafs weren’t even any good back then.

I can see the smiles on the faces of the old-timers when they see those iconic Canadiens jerseys skating up and down the JLA ice several times a season.

You missed the Bruins’ visit to Detroit? There’ll be another one next month; you won’t have to wait until the next presidential election cycle.

The Red Wings ought to be thankful, too—because had they still been in the West, they would be way out of the playoff picture this season.

—————————-

On Justin Verlander’s contract situation and his possibly heading toward free agency after the 2014 season:

So I wouldn’t worry too much about Justin Verlander hitting the free market after next season. Ilitch won’t have that. There will come a time when the owner will yank DaveDombrowski by the ear into a room and ask his GM, flat out, how much it’s going to cost to keep Verlander in the Old English D. Dombrowski will tell his boss, who will fork over a check, and that will be that.

That check is likely to steamroll past $200 million.

It will be a bargain.

Verlander is nothing like we’ve ever seen on a pitching mound in Detroit. He’s 30 years old and he’s just getting started. He’s pitched in more big games already than most guys will see in a lifetime. His awards and achievements and accolades read like a 20-year veteran’s. He’s funny and good-looking and loves the media.

He also thinks free agency will be fun. Too bad he’ll never get to find out for real.

JV did, indeed, sign an extension for over $200 million—and proceeded to have a difficult year, though he turned it on in the playoffs.

———————————–

On collecting baseball trading cards as a kid growing up in Livonia:

Outside the store we’d stand, our bikes between our legs, gum packing our cheeks like sunflower seeds in a hamster’s.

The first thing you tried to do was offload “doubles”—those duplicate cards that were not needed. We’d shuffle through our cards like traders on the floor of the NYSE, calling out doubles loudly in case anyone was interested, right then and there.

The checklists were always mental. Everyone seemed to know which cards they needed, cold. We didn’t have to consult with a grocery list of needed cards. And we also knew which cards we already had, so the doubles could either come in the form of two of the same card from that day’s haul, or by way of mentally connecting your collection at home with those cards being shuffled in your hands in front of the store.

Sometimes you’d end up with triples or even quadruples, usually of some bench player who rarely found his way into an actual game. No one got three or four Rod Carews.

Brings back some memories for you, I hope!

April

On the Lions drafting DE Ziggy Ansah:

The whole idea of the draft is volatile enough. You hardly need to add to its propensity for being tenuous.

Yet that’s what the Lions have done, by picking hugely talented but terribly raw DE Ziggy Ansah, number five off the board. This kid could become the best pass rusher to wear Honolulu Blue since Bubba Baker.

Or he may flat out stink.

Boom or bust. Star or dud. Genius or folly.

Pretty much describes the NFL Draft as a whole, I’d say.

Ansah had a decent rookie season. He is far from being a draft bust—so far.

————————————

On the Red Wings signing G Jimmy Howard to a six-year contract extension:

The wolves were out again this week, as news came to light that the Red Wings are about to outfit Howard with a six-year, $31.8 million contract. It should be signed any day now, after some final details are hammered out.

The therapists on talk radio, namely Bob Wojnowski and Jamie Samuelsen, had a bunch of apoplectics on their hands Thursday evening when the topic of discussion turned to Howard and his soon-to-be new contract.

The bridge jumpers were aghast. They didn’t like the length of the deal. They thought GM Ken Holland was “overpaying” for one of his own. They didn’t like the money, as if they were each being shaken down for a share of the payout.

Mainly, they didn’t like the idea of Jimmy Howard playing goalie for the Red Wings for the next six years.

Based on how Howie has played this season, the fans like this contract even less.

——————————————

May

On the freefall of WR Titus Young and how it compares to that of Charlie Rogers, the team’s first round pick of 2003:

It’s not about football anymore for Titus Young. It’s about life, and his ability to survive it. It should be pointed out that Young is the father of a nine-month old baby boy, Titus Jr.

Again we smirk and shake our heads at Young’s personal life, as we did at Charlie Rogers’.

Rogers never got any help. Young’s father’s comment gives hope that Titus can get some help and support. Maybe there will be a personal posse that will gather and help Young battle his demons.

Charlie Rogers is 32, broke, and has no future. The world that was once his oyster is now his living hell.

That’s nothing to smirk about.

Let’s hope the next time we read of Young, it’s about how he’s getting his life together. Don’t hold your breath.

———————————————–

On the Tigers’ much-maligned utility man, Don Kelly:

He is the quintessential Jack of All Trades, Master of None. Killing him is like killing nine mediocre people. But he’s open-minded; he’ll try anything once—and he has.

Don Kelly has done it all on the baseball diamond. He just hasn’t done it all that well.

Ah, but what would baseball be without the Don Kellys of the world?

Someone has to be the 25th man on a 25-man roster. Kelly has spent his entire big league career looking over his shoulder and seeing no one behind him.

It’s been a baseball life lived on the edge—of extinction.

Kelly, the Tigers Designated Sitter, has been hanging on to a big league job by a thread for so long, it defies physics.

The Tigers drafted him in the eighth round of the 2001 amateur draft. Little did they know it would be like drafting a boomerang. Every time the Tigers tried to throw Don Kelly away, he kept flying back to them.

Kelly meandered his way through the Tigers farm system, like a rat in a maze, looking for the cheese. He started as a shortstop but that soon proved to be as significant as saying a chameleon started green.

In the minors, Kelly switched to third base, then to second, then to first, then back to third base again. He was threatening to rewrite Abbott and Costello’s act, all by himself.

Kelly will return to the Tigers in 2014, the ultimate baseball survivor

—————————————————

June

On the comparison between new Pistons coach Mo Cheeks and his predecessor, Larry Frank:

The similarities pretty much end with their both being NBA head coaches prior to coming to Detroit. Frank coached the New Jersey Nets; Cheeks steered the Portland Trailblazers and the Philadelphia 76ers. Both coaches led their teams to the playoffs, but neither went very far into the postseason.

After that, Cheeks and Frank part ways.

Frank never played pro basketball. Not even close. He was a pipsqueak gym rat who started his coaching career as an errand boy for legendary Indiana University coach Bob Knight. After Indiana, Frank lived a hard scrabble basketball life, taking very unglamorous jobs before finally getting his break. Still, he became an NBA head coach at age 33.

Cheeks not only played in the NBA, he was one of the game’s star point guards in the 1980s. He was manning the point when the 76ers won the league championship in 1983. His career was filled with assists and points and both individual and team success.

Mo Cheeks can never be accused of not knowing what it’s like to play in the NBA.

But Cheeks, so far, has presided over a terribly inconsistent basketball team in Detroit. But it’s still early.

———————————————-

On the breakout year of Max Scherzer’s:

The Tigers soon discovered that the scouting report on Scherzer was dead solid perfect—he was the human roller coaster.

It was Cy Young one day, and Sigh Young five days later.

Scherzer’s arm was alive, alright, but it was like what a scout once said about a young Sandy Koufax.

“Koufax would be a great pitcher,” the scout said, “if the plate was high and outside.”

Scherzer was installed in the Tigers rotation in 2010 and not having seen him pitch before, I thought the young man was trying to throw his arm to home plate, along with the baseball.

Scherzer, at the time, had what is known as a “violent” delivery. His windup was designed to gain power from his legs, which he then used to whip-snap the baseball from his right hand like it had cut him off in traffic.

It was anyone’s guess as to where the baseball was going at that point.

It wasn’t that Scherzer was ridiculously wild. In his only full season with the Diamondbacks, he averaged about 3.5 walks per nine innings.

He just threw a lot of pitches. Like, a ton of them. He was about as efficient as the government.

The Tigers presumably knew what they were getting in Scherzer, which was a big arm who could be a fixture in their rotation, as long as he could be refined. They hoped that he could, one day, be a nice complement to their ace, Justin Verlander.

Some say that Max has supplanted Verlander as the Tigers’ ace. I say give it at least one more year before you make such a declaration. Besides, Max may be gone after 2014, anyway.

July

On Chris Chelios’ being voted into the HHOF, and his unexpected turn as a Red Wing:

I’ll never forget where I was when I heard the news that the Red Wings had acquired Chelios in March, 1999 at the trading deadline. I was in my car, and nearly ran it into a ditch.

Chris Chelios, a Red Wing?

It was Ted Williams to the Yankees. Larry Bird to the Lakers. A Hatfield to the McCoys.

Chelios was 37 when the trade was made, and it looked like so many the Red Wings were famous for making—a wily veteran on his last legs, for a prospect that would never find serious ice time in Detroit anyhow.

Chelios was traded for a defenseman named Anders Eriksson, who was 24 at the time and who would play in the NHL for another 11 years, but whose career reads more like a travelogue. Eriksson played for six more teams after being traded to Chicago, never carving out much of a niche anywhere he went.

But a funny thing happened with this Chelios-for-Eriksson deal. Despite being 13 years Eriksson’s senior, Chelly nearly played in the NHL for as long as Eriksson would last.

Chelios became a Red Wing, and eventually the Winged Wheel was tattooed emotionally on his heart. Detroit slowly replaced Chicago as Chelios’ home. He opened restaurants in metro Detroit, got involved in charity work and won two more Stanley Cups along the way (2002 and 2008). He played in Detroit until he was 46 years old, beating Gordie Howe in that category by three years in the age department.

Last week, Chelios—along with fellow Red Wing Brendan Shanahan—was voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Chelly deserves it, but did anyone thing he’d play for the Red Wings for as long as he did?

——————————————-

On the idea of the Pistons moving back downtown:

Move the Pistons back downtown, the romanticists say. The crowds will return.

The Red Wings’ recent announcement of plans to build a brand new hockey arena in the area near Comerica Park and Ford Field has fueled the Pistons-to-downtown rallying cries.

Luckily, the Pistons have an owner now who won’t take the bait.

Tom Gores didn’t find his money in a satchel somewhere. He wasn’t born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. He didn’t win the Lotto, nor sue for negligence. He wasn’t left a fortune by a rich uncle.

Gores got his money fair and square—by earning it and turning profits into bigger profits. He navigated choppy financial waters to build his portfolio into something pretty amazing for a guy who has yet to reach his 50th birthday.

Gores is smart enough to know that the only thing that will bring fans back to see the Pistons in droves is winning.

Gores knows that you can move the Pistons downtown all you want—put them right smack next to the RenCen if you please—but it won’t mean a hill of beans if the team keeps turning in 29-victory seasons, like the one just passed.

I have a hunch that Gores is perfectly happy to have his team remain in Auburn Hills—for now.

August

On MLB’s desire to use instant replay for more than just HR calls, starting in 2014:

Major League Baseball is on the verge of expanding its relatively limited use of instant replay for the 2014 season. Taking its cue from the NFL, MLB will allow managers to use challenges—one prior to the seventh inning and two afterward, until the game ends.

Pallone, in a Facebook comment to me, wrote simply, “Why don’t we just use robots!!”

I understand Pallone’s stance (he absolutely detests FSD’s so-called FoxTrax, which supposedly determines electronically if a pitch was a ball or a strike), especially given that he is a former big league umpire.

But there’s also something to be said for getting the call right, and for returning good umpires back to anonymity.

I say use the damn thing already.

Looks that way!

September

On the return of Red Wings RW Dan Cleary:

The Red Wings didn’t have to say yes to Cleary just because he drove up to Traverse City to ask for his old job back—especially not after it was reported that he was on the verge of signing with another team.

This one’s for loyalty and for not always chasing the money. This is for everyone who doubts that pro sports teams and players really will scratch each other’s backs—when push comes to shove.

Dan Cleary said no to the money, and yes to being a Red Wing. The team said no to convenience and yes to rewarding past performance.

How about that?

Yeah, how about that? And how about Cleary’s awful performance thus far?

——————————————————

On the Lions’ ineptitude in Washington, written on the eve of their game against the Redskins:

They’re going to fly to Washington, land, de-board, take a bus to their hotel and spend Saturday night dreaming of touchdowns and defensive stops. They’re going to imagine themselves walking off the field on Sunday as victors.

Dutch Clark couldn’t do it. Neither could Bobby Layne or Joe Schmidt. Lem Barney was never a winner in Washington, nor was Charlie Sanders.

Sorry, Chuck Long. Scott Mitchell, you couldn’t win there either (Mitchell was the one who threw the game-winning pick-six in overtime to Darrell Green in 1995).

So you have to give this 2013 group of Lions an “A” for guts and gall. They fancy themselves as the squad that can fly home from Washington as winners. That the Redskins are 0-2 and not exactly one of the league’s best teams perhaps buoys them. But the quality of the two teams has meant diddlysquat in years past. It’s always been Goliath beating David, no matter what.

Detroit at Washington, NFL style. Forget the spread; take the ‘Skins. It’s the lock of the century, every time. The house always wins. It’s been the biggest waste of three hours on a Sunday for eight decades and counting.

Go figure.

The Lions WON. Go figure.

———————————————————–

On SS Jose Iglesias making Tigers fans forget—already—Jhonny Peralta

But Peralta is the 2013 Pipp, whose place in the Yankees lineup at first base was taken by one Louis Gehrig in 1923 as Pipp infamously nursed a headache. Pipp was a pretty good player, too, but he was no Gehrig, as it turned out.

Iglesias is already making people think of Peralta as a distant memory, and Jhonny has only been gone for a little more than a month.

Iglesias plays shortstop as if he tumbled out of the womb wearing a mitt. It wouldn’t surprise me if his first words were seis-cuatro-tres.

Brooks Robinson was dropped on Earth by God to play third base. Iglesias is a shortstop the way Brooks was a third baseman. In just seven weeks as a Tiger, Iglesias has made plays that you only see on video games, or in dreams.

There isn’t a baseball that Iglesias can’t get to. He has the range of a nuclear bomb, and an arm like an ICBM missile.

We have never seen shortstop play in Detroit like we’re seeing it now with Iglesias. With all due respect to Alan Trammell and Steady Eddie Brinkman, Iglesias combines competence with flair. He’s an acrobat playing baseball, and part gymnast, too.

What’s Spanish for vacuum cleaner?

The Tigers have Iglesias sucking up ground balls at SS for several years to come. Should be fun to watch.

—————————————————————

On the amazing comeback of Victor Martinez, especially after his slower-than-molasses start to the season:

I remember watching a game on television in June, when Martinez started to perk up a little bit. Still, his average was below .250. FSD analyst Rod Allen said, ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if Martinez was back around .300 by the end of the year.”

I thought Allen to be merely spewing out propaganda as a homer shill.

Well, look who was right, after all.

Martinez has lifted his batting average, which was like an anchor, all the way to “around .300,” just as Rod Allen prophesized.

Martinez’s recovery from an awful first two months, at age 34, especially considering that the resurrection came after losing an entire year to injury, when there were calls for his head in May, is nothing short of amazing.

Martinez is on pace to hit .300, drive in 80+ runs, and his bat is considered so valuable to the Tigers’ cause that the team is seriously considering playing him at catcher in World Series road games, where the designated hitter doesn’t exist.

This isn’t a comeback, it’s a reincarnation.

They shouldn’t call it the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award. It should be renamed the Victor Martinez Trophy.

Mariano Rivera won it, in his final year before retirement. V-Mart fell victim to sentiment.

October

On the Red Wings’ struggles:

These are tough times for Babcock’s bunch, just 12 games into the season. He has some guys he badly would like on the ice but just can’t be, due to injury—like Darren Helm, who is exactly what the Red Wings need right now. Patrick Eaves will be dressing for the first time, Wednesday in Vancouver.

Babcock also has guys who are new and who were supposed to be a big deal but who haven’t been yet—Stephen Weiss, for starters. Daniel Alfredsson, to a lesser degree.

Babcock has a defenseman, Brendan Smith, who is confused and prickly for being scratched. He has had to split up Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, which the coach is loathe to do, because when he does so, it usually means that something is wrong.

And something is wrong with the Red Wings right now. This time, Babcock doesn’t need to give us a hard sell on it.

“Right now, with the way we’re playing, we have no chance,” he said after the Rangers game.

No eye rolling from anyone this time.

And the struggles continue…

————————————————-

On the Tigers’ search for a new manager:

Now, as to who might get the job?

Keep these guys in the mix for now.

McClendon. Dusty Baker. Brad Ausmus. Jim Tracy. Ozzie Guillen. Tony Pena.

The reasons are as follows, for each man respectively.

Already interviewed. Past success. Mike Matheny redux. Dark horse but brilliant mind. Crazy enough to work. Experience, can relate to the plethora of Latin-American Tigers.

Dombrowski, it’s been reported, will likely wait no longer than the first 10 days of November before choosing his new manager. This gives us about two weeks or so to see the focus shift to the finalists, as news of interviews comes to light.

Regardless, this is a great job for the right person. But the right person must know that if the 2014 season isn’t capped with a parade down Woodward Avenue, there will be hell to pay.

Ausmus got the job, and let’s hope he dialed Matheny and thanked him.

—————————————————

On retiring manager Jim Leyland:

Leyland didn’t always push the right buttons, but what manager does? He was slave to pitch counts. He wasn’t particularly aggressive or creative. The move of Jhonny Peralta to left field, when it comes to Leyland, was almost off the charts. It was Mickey Stanley to shortstop-ish.

But the players adored him. And when players like the manager, they tend to play better. That’s a fact.

1984!

It still stands alone. Leyland wasn’t able to rip that year from the wall. It’s 29 years and counting. That gap makes the 1968-84 wait seem like nothing.

Leyland, thanks to the emergence of the Internet and talk radio, was nitpicked and criticized more than any Tigers manager prior to him, combined.

But would we have nitpicked and criticized, if the team was dreadful?

Isiah Thomas, the great Pistons point guard, once said that fans don’t boo nobodies.

Translated: only the irrelevant escape feeling the heat.

The very fact that Jim Leyland, in his eight years managing the Tigers, faced so much criticism, is actually a testament to the man.

Here’s wishing the Marlboro Man all the best in retirement—though it is a soft retirement of sorts. Leyland will still advise President/GM Dave Dombrowski.

—————————————-

November

On the trials and tribulations of Michigan football this season:

Hoke, while not the popular first choice, at least had some Ann Arbor pedigree.

He was a Michigan Man—a term that is beginning to be more laughable than serious these days.

Hoke, frankly, looked more like he belonged at Michigan, coaching football, than his predecessor. His name even sounded more like Michigan than his predecessor, if you want to be even more superficial.

To Rodriguez’s muscular build, good looks and Latino last name, Hoke offered a squishy body, a moon face and a name of a left tackle.

To Rodriguez’s mild manner and soft voice, Hoke’s demeanor conjured humorous comparisons to the late comedian Chris Farley’s satirical motivational speaker.

Then they started to play the football games.

And here, near the end of Year Three under Hoke, the Michigan football program is in no better shape now than when Rodriguez was given the ziggy.

It may actually be worse.

Hoke’s most critical year as U-M football coach will certainly be 2014.

————————————————

On the legacy left in Detroit by 1B Prince Fielder, traded to Texas for 2B Ian Kinsler:

Detroit sports fans are simple folk, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. In fact, far from it.

Here’s what they want, and it’s very simple.

The Detroit sports fan only asks that you, as one of their athletes, show that you’re just as torn up as the fans are about failure.

They want to know that you feel their pain.

That’s all.

Fielder, in two post-seasons as a Tiger, not only failed miserably on the field, he failed miserably in the court of public opinion. He never really made us feel like that he was “one of us.”

Not once in either playoff did Fielder say, “I stink. I know a lot is expected of me and I’m just not getting it done.”

That’s all he had to say. And the forgiveness would have been plenty.

Instead, after the 2012 World Series sweep at the hands of the San Francisco Giants, Fielder deflected criticism, essentially saying that fans better not look at him cross-eyed, because he’s one of 25 guys.

Those comments didn’t get too much play. They were spoken almost in a vacuum. But he said them.

Fielder will always remain an enigma in the Old English D.

————————————————–

On the Tigers’ new manager, Brad Ausmus:

Ausmus is 44—just a few years removed as a player. He was one of the best defensive catchers of his time. He has worn the Old English D, as then-GM Randy Smith kept trading Ausmus, and trading for him. But to Leyland’s resume as a manager, Ausmus offers a big baseball brain and not much else.

Ausmus has yet to be second guessed. He has yet to hear his name besmirched on sports talk radio. Nobody wants to fire him—yet.

It’s the cleanest of clean slates—a manager with not a speck of big league managing experience.

It’s also a hell of a risk.

The Tigers aren’t a team in development. They’re not in rebuilding mode. This isn’t a situation where a manager and his players can learn on the job, together. This job isn’t warm and fuzzy. It’s win or else.

The Tigers expected to win in 2011. They expected it again in 2012. The pressure to do so in 2013 was off the charts. So what do you think expectations will be in 2014—Ausmus’ rookie year as a big league skipper?

GM Dave Dombrowski apparently feels that Brad Ausmus, all 44 years of him, has what it takes to enter this win-or-else pressure cooker and come out without being so much as scalded.

I still maintain that Ausmus’ hiring is a risk, but I believe it is less so, after some thought and Ausmus’ answers to the questions put forth to him since he was hired.

December

On the Lions’ plummet from division leaders to being on the verge of missing the playoffs:

The Lions should be cruising, on their way to the playoffs.

They could still get there, of course, but if they don’t, there ought to be repercussions.

The infamous winless Lions season, in which they became the only team in NFL history to go 0-16, was five years ago. That is ancient history when you’re talking about a league in which teams’ records go up and down like an EKG reading.

Head coach Jim Schwartz is in his fifth season. He has a losing record in four of those years. The Lions did seem to be trending upward after Year 3, when their games won went from two to six to ten. But last year the Lions regressed badly, to the tune of 4-12. If the charge was that they got too full of themselves after a 10-6 record and going one-and-done in the playoffs, then shame on them—and on Schwartz.

This year’s team started 6-3 but has become as wobbly as a Weeble.

If the Lions don’t win the division this year, they will have no one to blame but themselves. And the apologists who would tell you that this somehow still shows improvement are part of the problem.

The Lions must not only make the playoffs, but must win a playoff game for Schwartz to earn trust back that has been lost since the 2011 season.

If owner Bill Ford can shake himself free from the yoke of blind trust and loyalty, and let his football people—and his son—make some decisions that may be difficult but necessary, then the Lions will finally show the football world that they are through with moral victories and settling.

The Lions blew it, Schwartz lost his job, and the gag job was complete.

———————————————–

On EMU football:

A few weeks ago, longtime pro and college coach Jerry Glanville let it be known that he was tossing his cowboy hat into the ring to be Eastern’s next football coach. His interest isn’t a joke. Glanville is dead serious.

EMU should be dead serious about Glanville, by the way. Hiring a big name guy is about the only thing the school hasn’t tried. Glanville’s hiring would put EMU football on some people’s radars again—and that by itself is a great start to resuscitating the program.

Besides, Glanville is the only big name coach who appears willing to come to Ypsilanti. I’d hire him in a heartbeat.

EMU didn’t listen to me (big surprise) and hired former Drake coach Chris Creighton. Frankly, the university did the right thing. Now, if they’d only return Hurons as the school’s nickname…

 

There it is—2013 at a glance. As usual, I was right a little, wrong a bit more, and that trend will probably always be the case.

Happy New Year!

That Time Again: The Best (and Worst) of Greg Eno

In All Sports on January 1, 2013 at 6:08 pm

It’s become an annual tradition. Look back at 12 months of tripe and pick out the stuff that I either got very wrong, very right, or that makes one think I might be onto something (or on something, whichever).

So without further ado, here’s the Best (and Worst) of Greg Eno for 2012.

January

On the state of the Lions after their 45-28 playoff loss in New Orleans:

“There needs to be more roster massaging before the Lions can truly call themselves Super Bowl contenders. No one gets bumped out of the playoffs in the first round, as soundly as the Lions did, and comes back with the same cast and crew and expects to make progress.”

Yet that’s exactly what GM Marty Mayhew did, for the most part, as his draft was less than spectacular. And you saw what happened.

On what the Tigers should do in the wake of the Victor Martinez knee injury:

“Is there a Martinez on the list?

The closest is Prince Fielder, and while it’s intriguing to imagine Cecil’s kid accepting a one-year deal in Detroit before testing the market again for 2013 and beyond, it’ll take a boatload of cash and quite a payroll hit to make that happen. Not likely to transpire, but fun to think about.

The next closest, perhaps, is Vlad Guerrero, coming off a so-so season in Baltimore.

The rest of the list contains some acceptable names, but not all of them would one consider to be enough protection behind Miguel Cabrera. In fact, few of them would be.

So the Tigers have to realize that they just won’t go out and pluck another V-Mart from the tree.

Guerrero would be a fine addition. He is strictly a DH at this stage of his career, so in that way he’s a tit-for-tat replacement for Martinez, who even before this latest injury wasn’t going to play in the field anymore—not with the Tigers signing Gerald Laird to be catcher Alex Avila’s backup.

But Vlad won’t hit .330, and he’s not a switch-hitter, another thing that Victor has over the available free agents.

Still, a Guerrero who can hit for power but not threaten .300 would make opposing managers at least think twice before issuing Cabrera the four-finger pass.

My money is on the Tigers signing Guerrero for a year.”

They didn’t sign Guerrero for a year. They signed Fielder for nine.

February

On the Red Wings’ Tomas Holmstrom playing in his 1,000th career game:

“Holmstrom is the crazy guy in the war movies who tosses himself onto a grenade in a fox hole. Only the fox hole, in this case, is the goal crease. The grenade is the puck. And Holmstrom has allowed his body to be battered and bruised all in the name of moving said puck across the red line—for 1,000 games.

You figure that if Holmstrom plays about 15 minutes a night, then his 1,000 games represents 250 hours of punishment in front of the net. Can you imagine being slashed and cross-checked and making yourself a target for shooting pucks for over 10 days straight?”

Sadly, Holmstrom hasn’t been able to add to his total, thanks to the lockout. And it’s no sure bet that he’ll be back, anyhow.

On the status of Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch:

Jackson shouldn’t be batting leadoff any more than Ben Wallace should be the Pistons’ new starting point guard.

Why not make Boesch the new leadoff hitter?

Dump Jackson down to ninth, where he belongs.

Boesch IV, the leadoff version, will likely hit .270-plus, start the occasional game with a home run, and—most importantly—he won’t strike out 175 times. He’s got some speed, is a competent base runner and he won’t strike out 175 times. He’ll get on base with surprising frequency. Did I mention that he won’t strike out 175 times?”

Jackson had a breakout year of sorts, and Boesch…didn’t. Shows you how much I know.

March

On the off-season (up to that point) of Lions GM Mayhew:

“Martin Mayhew seems to be the guy that can take this thing from 0-16 to the Super Bowl. He has done a marvelous job of drafting, trading, signing and re-signing.

The latter—re-signing—has been far more important to the Lions’ future than any free agent from outside the organization they’ve signed in recent years.

Mayhew wanted to keep his own free agents in the fold, and rework the contracts of some of his star players to create the financial space in which to do all that re-signing.

His off-season, thus far, has been A+.”

That was BEFORE the draft, which wasn’t very good, to say the least. And Mayhew is suddenly on the hot seat, perhaps.

On Pistons (then) rookie point guard Brandon Knight:

“Coach Frank, speaking basketball-ese, put it this way to the Free Press the other day.

“I think a big part of it is when Brandon is playing north-to-south and not east-to-west. He has those, we call them ‘rack attacks,’” Frank said in that East Coast dialect that all pro-basketball coaches seem to have.

“That’s vital, especially for a primary ball handler, you have to be on the attack and put pressure on a defense,” Frank continued. “When you do that, it might not be your shot, but you’re going to collapse (the defense) and force help.”

There you have it. The Pistons are better off when Mr. Little makes those big rack attacks.

Only time will tell if those rack attacks, and his growing chemistry with Greg Monroe, will put Brandon Knight on the path of Dave Bing and Isiah Thomas-like greatness.”

Knight this season, at times, appears to be regressing, or at the very least, not progressing as much as hoped.

May

On the dreaded retirement of Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, after it was made official:

“You don’t replace Nick Lidstrom. Let’s get that straight right now.

All the Red Wings can do is cobble together as much talent as they can on defense and hope for the best, really. They’re a much worse team now than they were yesterday, no question.

But all is not lost. Plenty of teams have won the Stanley Cup without the greatest defenseman in NHL history on their roster. I mean, look who’s playing for the Cup right now (LA and New Jersey).

The sun will rise tomorrow. It’s just hard to imagine that it will, after it set on Nick Lidstrom’s career today.”

And there STILL haven’t been any games played since, to see what life post-Lidstrom is like.

On Pistons big man Greg Monroe, as said by frequent “Knee Jerks” guest and former Pistons player and coach, Ray Scott:

“It was then when Scott said something that would have caused me to bop the speaker in the mouth—had the speaker not been Ray Scott.

“With Greg Monroe, we finally have a big man in Detroit who we can throw the ball into for all four quarters and make something happen and we haven’t had that since Bob Lanier,” Scott said of the kid from Georgetown who just finished his second season for a bad Pistons team, which Scott and Lanier know all about.

For full disclosure, Ray wanted us to know that he serves on the board of Monroe’s charity foundation. That’s OK; what he said didn’t smack of shilling. Ray doesn’t roll like that.

Monroe, to hear Scott say it, might become the best NBA center from Georgetown since Patrick Ewing. No less.”

Nothing that Monroe has done this season indicates that Coach is wrong.

June

On the Lions’ consistency:

“So far, the lack of football heads rolling in Detroit since 2008 seems to be working. The Lions seem to be getting better. Schwartz is on the last year of his contract, but that will soon be ripped up and an extension signed, I would imagine.

All of a sudden, the Lions are a model of consistency in today’s NFL. An improved won/lost record has been concurrent with that consistency.”

Never mind.

On the hype over Quintin Berry:

“Jackson, one of the premier center fielders in baseball, went down, and here came Berry, riding in from Toledo on what some people thought was a white horse.

Berry did his best at being Jackson’s stand-in. For a few games the Tigers got a lift from the journeyman. It didn’t hurt his standing that, at the time of his promotion, Boesch and Young were terrible.

But let’s not get carried away. Berry may not even be with the team come September. He might be long forgotten by then, as the Tigers, it is hoped, scramble for a playoff spot. Or, his speed alone may keep him on the roster. We’ll see.

Who will not be forgotten, who will not be a footnote to this season, is Jackson. And, I submit, Boesch and Young, when all is said and done.

Jackson has the potential to be the best all-around center fielder the Tigers have had since Al Kaline roamed there in the late-1950s.”

Berry faltered, as I expected, though his spot on the 2013 roster seems secure, for now.

On Tommy Hearns’ induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame:

“Hearns fought all the big names: Sugar Ray Leonard (twice), Roberto Duran, Wilfred Benitez and Marvin Hagler. The opponents were always the best that boxing had to offer at the time. Tommy didn’t always win, but even in defeat, he fought a hell of a fight. The Hagler bout is legendary for its fury.

He did all this mostly in the first half of the 1980s, at a time when Detroit needed a champion and a figure of respect in the worst way. The 1979 depression, which hit the Big Three automakers hard, had sapped a lot of the spirit out of Detroiters.

But then came Tommy Hearns with his long arms and his wicked right, and in a way, when Tommy kicked the ass of Duran (in 1984 with the hardest punch I’ve ever seen thrown, by the way), we felt like we were kicking ass, too. And when Tommy lost, most famously to Leonard and Hagler, we felt like we got slugged in the gut as well.

Tommy Hearns was more than a boxer. He bridged some of the gap between team champions (1968 to 1984) and made Detroiters proud again.

For that alone, he should be in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.”

 I think we can all agree that this was long overdue.

August

On the worry over the Lions’ lack of a bona fide running attack:

“With Matthew Stafford throwing and Calvin Johnson catching, plus all the other competent receivers on the roster, it really won’t matter if the Lions run the football well or not.

The Lions’ fortunes, make no question, will ride on Stafford’s golden arm and Johnson’s Velcro hands. They are the best QB/receiver tandem in the NFL, bar none.

Why force-feed a cache of questionable running backs the football, just for the sake of laying claim to running and passing balance?

It makes no sense.”

 I stand behind this, despite 2012’s 4-12 record.

September

On the MVP race between Miguel Cabrera and the Angels’ Mike Trout:

“Cabrera is having a season that would be a runaway MVP year in just about any other, except for the kid Trout and his highlight-reel play in center field, which has combined with the power and cunning batting eye to give Cabrera a run for his money.

Trout has dropped off, however, at the bat in recent weeks. He hit .284 in August and is at .257 in September. His team is still in the playoff hunt, as is Cabrera’s, so that’s mostly a wash.

It would be easy for MVP voters to become enamored of Trout’s position of glamour, to recall the feats of derring-do he’s accomplished in center field, look at his total offensive numbers (not just the ones since August), and award him not only the Rookie of the Year, but the big enchilada, too.

Those voters will try to justify their vote by pointing to Cabrera and his sometimes uneven play at third base, which isn’t as sexy as center field to begin with, and offer that up as a reason to go with Trout as MVP.

If a man can win the Triple Crown, or come so damn close to it that we’re still wondering if he can do it on Sept. 22, his defense would have to be a combination of Dave Kingman and Dick Stuart’s to cancel it out enough to take him out of the MVP race.”

Thankfully the right decision was made!

September

On the future of Lions RB Jahvid Best, and his role in today’s NFL, when it comes to concussions:

“Some have suggested that Best hang up his spikes and call it a career, despite his tender age and this being just his third pro season. The brain is nothing to be trifled with, they say. Maybe because of Best’s youth, he should consider retirement.

Best has given no indication that he will retire. Lions fans, eager to see what Best can do for an extended period of time, haven’t exactly blown the horn for retirement, either.

No matter what Best’s fate turns out to be—short-lived career or full recovery and longevity—the NFL has a problem on its hands.”

The NFL needs to work on better helmets, among other things. Best won’t be the last player imperiled.

October

On the Pistons using big men Greg Monroe and rookie Andre Drummond at the same time:

“Two years ago, GM Joe Dumars selected Greg Monroe, a scoring big man, from Georgetown University, which has been known to produce a good NBA big or two.

Monroe has developed to the point where, heading into his third season, he is considered a team leader and on the verge of stardom. He’s the first scoring big man on the Pistons since Rasheed Wallace, only Monroe doesn’t treat the key as if there was a force field around it.

Neither does Andre Drummond, the Pistons’ rookie center from Connecticut, a seven-foot, shot blocking kangaroo who, at 19 years, is tender in age but loaded with skills, some of which still need to be harnessed, and refined.

Pistons fans are daft. They are beside themselves in wonderment of what they could be seeing on the floor, with Monroe and Drummond running side-by-side. Never before have the Pistons possessed two athletic men of this size, at the same time.

It’s enough to make one dare murmur those two words.

Twin Towers.

About time the Pistons tried it.”

Coach Lawrence Frank has been trying it more, with success, and to the pleasure of the fans.

November

On Lions coach Jim Schwartz, who I obviously soured on after the beginning of 2012:

“But Schwartz, acting as impulsively and with the same lack of discipline and brains that his team frequently shows, whipped out his red challenge flag and slammed it into the Ford Field turf, a move as illegal as going through a red light, according to the NFL rule book, which states that attempts to challenge a touchdown play are as against the rules as they are unnecessary.

Now, you can say that the rule is silly. You can say that it would be nice if the referee, Walt Coleman, would have sidled up to Schwartz and said, “Jim, put the flag away. The guys in the booth will take a look at it.”

But Schwartz should know the rules. Of all the boneheaded moves the Lions (and their coaches) have made over the years, Schwartz’s blunder might be at the top of the list. It’s right up there with Marty Mornhinweg taking the wind and Bobby Ross going for two.

“I was just so mad, I had the flag out before (Forsett) got to the end zone,” Schwartz told the media after the game.

The Lions are undisciplined, mouthy and in a freefall.

Just like their coach.”

It’s been reported that Schwartz’s job is “under review” by the Ford family, largely because of this kind of stuff.

On Matthew Stafford’s inconsistency:

“The concern, and it’s a valid one, is that Matthew Stafford this season has been too erratic. His once accurate arm has betrayed him too often, and not just with difficult throws. Basic tosses are going astray. High, just out of the reach of wanton fingertips. Wide, too far for even the longest of arms to grab. Low, skipping off the turf into the receiver’s belly.

Too many errant throws.

It doesn’t matter how much the Lions run the football. They are, not yet, a team that is going to ram the ball down anyone’s throats with any consistency. The Jacksonville Jaguars, it should be noted, are not exactly a league powerhouse.

The Lions will only go as far as Matthew Stafford’s golden arm will take them. That arm, so far this season, has been puzzling in its too-often inaccuracy.”

Though I certainly didn’t foresee an 0-8 second half.

December

On the Tigers’ signing of pitcher Anibal Sanchez, and the future of Rick Porcello:

“High profile, expensive free agent pitchers, as soon as the ink dries on their signature, become as unpredictable as tomorrow’s weather. Their arms get fragile. They need a GPS to find home plate. They spend more time on the disabled list than eggs on a grocery list.

But if you’re going to have an embarrassment of riches anywhere on your roster, then it may as well be in your starting rotation. You could do worse.

The Tigers can now trot out, weekly, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Sanchez, and a pitcher to be named later, who might as well be Dontrelle Willis. The critique is that they’re all right-handed (except for Willis). But that’s like saying the one thing wrong with Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady is that they all wear number 12.

In a business where teams struggle to even name four starting pitchers, the Tigers have four who could lead many rotations in baseball. The Tigers are so rich in starting pitchers that they actually have six of them.

Ricky Porcello, the oldest 23-year-old pitcher in baseball, will apparently battle it out with lefty Drew Smyly for the fifth spot in the rotation. But there should be no battle here. Keep the southpaw Smyly, whose ceiling is ridiculously high (witness what he did in Game 1 of the ALCS in Yankee Stadium, after the Tigers were waylaid by Jose Valverde in the ninth inning), and trade Porcello.”

Time will tell, but I maintain that Porcello is more valuable as trade bait than as a long reliever.

On the city’s two octogenarian sports owners—Mike Ilitch and Bill Ford:

“The two octogenarian owners in town, Bill Ford and Mike Ilitch, each have white whales. One is bereft of a Super Bowl, the other a World Series.

Both are proud, loyal and considered to be very nice men who are respected within their respective circles.

But when compared, side by side, it just isn’t close when it comes to rendering a verdict as to which man has the stronger sense of urgency to win.

Does Bill Ford want to win a Super Bowl before he dies? Of course he does.

Mike Ilitch just seems to want to win a World Series more.”

Anyone want to disagree with that?

So there you have it. The highlights (and lowlights) of another year of scribbling.

Hope you have a great 2013!

The Best (and Worst) of Yours Truly, 2011

In All Sports on December 31, 2011 at 3:23 pm

In a flash, a whirr and a blur, another year in sports came and went. 2011, it seemed, might have been missed had you blinked.

And what a year it was.

Tigers AND Lions in the playoffs, for the first time in the same year since 1935.

Pistons with a new coach (again).

Red Wings almost coming all the way back from an 0-3 playoff deficit against the San Jose Sharks.

Michiganfootball resurging under new coach Brady Hoke.

And I wrote about it all—with varying degrees of premonition and soothsaying.

For the fourth year in a row, I take you through the calendar and share some of my bon mots—and why they were or were not some of my best.

 

January

(on Steve Yzerman putting together a winner inTampaBay)

You can dress him however you like, put him wherever you want, but you can’t take the will to win out of him.

There’s quite a story going on in the NHL, not that you’d know it, because it’s happening to a team closer toCubathanCanada.

Yzerman is Vice President and General Manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, a hockey team that really does play in the NHL; I looked it up.

No team with which Yzerman has been associated has had a losing season since 1991.

Now he’s taking the slapstick Tampa Bay Lightning and making them the new Beasts of the East.

Yzerman is turning theTampa(freaking) Bay Lightning into winners in his first year on the job.

Surprised?

Stevie’s team made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, as a matter of fact.

 

(on why the Pistons should hang onto veteran Tracy McGrady)

McGrady might be a Hall of Famer when all is said and done, except not all has been said, and it doesn’t look like all has been done; not even close.

The Pistons signed McGrady last August and it was the quintessential marriage of convenience. McGrady needed the Pistons so he could show the NBA that he still had game, and the Pistons needed another NBA veteran with a name; a player who wasn’t too far removed from his oohs and aahs days.

 The Pistons didn’t need another swingman; in fact, they needed one like a hole in the head. And it wasn’t like NBA teams were knocking McGrady’s door down for

 

his services. But the Pistons figured they could get McGrady on the cheap (which they did), and maybe he could still score a little and provide a veteran presence.

It’s not a bad idea to keep dudes like this on your roster, if you can manage it.

The Pistons decided otherwise, and let McGrady walk away after one season in Detroit.

 

(on the once unthinkable retirement of former Piston Dennis Rodman’s number)

He worked as a janitor at theDallas-FortWorthAirportafter high school, but after another growth spurt he gave hoops another shot.

Keep in mind he played little to no high school basketball.

Turns out Rodman could play the game, after all, mainly because he had a fetish for rebounding. He played a semester for some place calledCookeCountyCollegeinGainesville,Texas, averaging over 17 points and 13 rebounds per game.

From there it was on to SE Oklahoma State, an NAIA school—which was not exactly the career path of choice if one hoped to crack the NBA.

The Pistons are going to do something on April 1 that, had you put money down on it in 1986, you’d be breaking the bank right about now.

On that date, Dennis Rodman’s No. 10 Pistons jersey will be raised into the rafters, which is appropriate because that’s often where you could have found Rodman himself, in his salad days as the league’s most ferocious rebounder.

Not long after, Rodman went into the Basketball Hall of Fame, too, for good measure.

 

February

(on the long overdue election of NFL Films founder Ed Sabol into the Pro Football Hall of Fame)

Ed Sabol is still around, thank goodness. He’s 94 years old.

I say thank goodness because only last week did the powers that be deem him worthy of induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

You heard me; it took them nearly 50 years after he fed his first footage into his 16 mm camera to put Ed Sabol into the Hall of Fame.

This is more overdue than a cure for the common cold.

Ed Sabol doesn’t just belong in the Hall of Fame, he should have his own wing. This is like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame realizing it hadn’t yet inducted the electric guitar.

It was very satisfying watching Ed, with son Steve by his side, giving his induction speech.

 

March

(on who should be the Tigers’ starting second baseman)

If I had a vote, I’d cast it for Will Rhymes to be the Tigers’ second sacker.

Rhymes, a lefty bat, is a prototypical second baseman. He’s hard-nosed and the front of his jersey is always dirty. He hit .304 in 191 AB last season, and he only made four errors in 53 games.

He’s a late bloomer, turning 28 on April 1, but that’s still seven years younger than (Carlos) Guillen.

Umm, you can’t win them all. Rhymes did indeed win the job in spring training, but he didn’t hit a lick and was lopped off the 40-man roster earlier this month.

 

(on the importance of leadoff hitter and centerfielder Austin Jackson to the Tigers’ cause)

Jacksonis the most important because if he gets a case of the sophomore jinxies, and the Tigers don’t have a reliable leadoff hitter, then the house of cards that is the team’s offense gets blown down.

Jacksonstrikes out a lot, which is understandable for a young player, but also more tolerable when that young player is hitting .300. It’s not so great if the batting average is .250 or .260.

Well, the batting average was .249, and the strikeouts jumped from 170 to 181. Yet the Tigers still won their division.

 

April

(on the sad state of veteran forward Mike Modano, who was on the outside looking in, for the most part, during the NHL playoffs)

Mike Modano, healthy scratch. For a playoff game.

Not what anyone had in mind when the Red Wings brought the veteran, home-grown kid back toDetroit.

Modano has gone on record as saying that this is likely his last chance at the Stanley Cup, because retirement is beckoning him.

“I can’t stay on the ice as long,” he told the media a few days ago. “I think my body is telling me that I’m near the end.”

Modano only got into two playoff games, and he retired over the summer, after having missed about three months of the season with a badly gashed wrist.

 

May

(on my frustration with the stubborn Tigers manager, Jim Leyland)

Jim Leyland, in case you haven’t heard, is a rocket scientist.

He presides over a job so sophisticated, so complicated, that it defies the understanding of those who aren’t rocket scientists.

He stands above all in his knowledge of his very scientific vocation, and therefore has no use for those whose brains simply cannot wrap themselves around the mesmerizing theorems, laws and corollaries that one must know in order to manage a baseball team.

OOPS; did I say Jim was a rocket scientist?

I made an assumption, since that’s how he treats his job, and those who dare question his logic.

The Marlboro Man had the last laugh, of course.

 

(on the prospects of new U-M football coach Brady Hoke)

Michiganfootball had been living in the penthouse and is now slumming. This is a program whose name wasn’t just spoken, it was said with a sneer—by both supporters and rivals.

 

Michigandidn’t get hurt, it inflicted it on others.

…But Hoke needs to start beatingMichiganState, too. And continue to beat Notre Dame. And he needs to keep having good recruiting classes. He needs to restore pride and faith inMichiganfootball once again.

Brady Hoke has one charge and one charge only: He has to saveMichiganfootball. That’s all.

And you know what?

I think he’s gouhnna do it.

That last sentence was my attempt at spelling how Hoke pronounces “gonna.” And, for the record, Hoke seems to be right on course, leading the Wolverines to a fine 10-2 season.

 

(on the Red Wings forcing a Game 7 in their conference semi-final series againstSan Jose, after dropping the first three games)

It’s now the thinkable.

The Red Wings are Secretariat in 1973, the ‘51 Giants, the ‘78 Yankees. They’re the ‘68-69 New York Jets, the 2004 Red Sox.

The tortoise has nothing on them, in that great race against the hare.

Check the calendar for a month of Sundays. Charlie Brown might get that kick off, after all, out of Lucy’s hold.

This isn’t happening, but yet it is. Even Disney’s Mighty Ducks never pulled something like this off.

The Red Wings are going to play a Game 7, which was a fantasy a week ago. Remember a week ago? A gut-wrenching overtime loss in Game 3? Devin Setoguchi with a hat trick, including a penalty in overtime and the game-winner shortly after he fled the box?

The Red Wings dropped that Game 7 to the Sharks, but they made Hockeytown so extremely proud of them.

 

(on why the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera hasn’t been embraced by fans as a superstar player should)

We love the idea of Miguel Cabrera being on our team. But we don’t love him. In fact, there’s a bunch of us who may not even like him, because he’s not that likeable of a guy, frankly.

Which is all such a shame, because we probably have him figured out all wrong. His teammates liken him to a big, cuddly bear. That may be the case; they ought to know, after all.

But we don’t see that side because we don’t see him. All we see is a big, talented man wearing a Tigers uniform. That may be enough for some, but it falls way short for most.

We don’t know Miguel Cabrera because we never hear from him. This is his fourth season as a Tiger and the man is a blank canvas, save for some splotches that have been tossed onto it.

I stand by this, though he ingratiated himself more as the season wore on.

 

 

June

(on LeBron James, after the Miami Heat lost the NBA Finals toDallas)

The Miami Heat won’t soon live this one down, folks. Maybe not ever. History, me thinks, will be in a cranky mood when it passes judgment on the 2010-11MiamiHeat—the team LeBron James couldn’t wait to join. The team that so easily seduced him, but that he also disappointed by leaving during the NBA Finals.

Until he wins a championship—and there’s no guarantee that he ever will—LeBron James should go down as one of the most laughable “superstars” that pro sports has ever seen. He should go down as a less-than-brilliant, heartless, gutless player who managed to fool his public even while hiding in plain sight.

But LeBron didn’t just fool them; he failed them.

His name doesn’t belong in the same sentence as Michael Jordan’s, unless it’s to create a grocery list of reasons why it doesn’t.

Why don’t I tell you what I REALLY feel?

 

(on the death of former Tiger Jim Northrup, and my personal dealings with him)

Jim Northrup always got his hacks in—whether it was at the plate or at the table.

I remember conversing with him on the phone in advance of the roundtable and it was free form Northrup. He was in a mood to talk, as usual, so I obliged, feeding him batting practice pitches and marveling at the results.

I found out that he hated playing for Billy Martin because, according to Jim, Martin was quick to take the credit and even quicker to blame his players and others when the Tigers were in a losing funk.

I found out that when Norm Cash was released in 1974 (the day after my birthday), Norm found out on the radio, driving to the ballpark. Northrup told me that he was so upset about the way his friend and teammate was cashiered, that he burst into manager Ralph Houk’s office to vent.

He was one of a kind, Jim Northrup was. RIP.

 

July

(on the potential end of Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood’s career)

So it will be with Osgood, 38, who is likely to be among the last to acknowledge that his days as Howard’s backup are over with.

Osgood is coming off two less-than-stellar seasons that have been pocked with injury, most recently to the groin—a goalie’s worst enemy.

Osgood is another who isn’t making things easy forHolland. Ozzie hasn’t offered to be jettisoned, nor will he make such an overture. At least, it’s doubtful that he will.

 But Osgood’s reticence hasn’t stoppedHollandfrom carrying on with his duties as GM. The Red Wings have some money to spend on a new/old goalie. They told Osgood (and Kris Draper) that a new contract wouldn’t be offered until after July 1, the date that free agents can begin to be signed. That is, if a contract would be offered at all.

It wasn’t, and Ozzie retired to help coach the organization’s young goalies.

 

(on the All-Star season authored by Tigers catcher AlexAvila)

Now I know why they call April 1, April Fool’s Day.

 

For that was the date, after just one game had been played in the 2011 season, that sports talk radio was lit up with phone calls from loudmouths on their cell phones, calling for the ouster of catcher Alex Avila from not only the Tigers starting lineup, but from the roster, from Detroit, and probably even the state of Michigan—to be on the safe side.

The Tigers had lost on Opening Day to the Yankees inNew York, and I won’t argue that it wasn’t one ofAvila’s crowning moments. He was shaky behind the plate and he looked overmatched with the bat—albeit he was going against southpaw CC Sabathia.

 After one game, the callers were frothing at the mouth.

 By mid-season, those same callers were urging fellow fans to vote for Avila for the All-Star team.

 

August

(on the importance of Lions QB Matthew Stafford staying healthy for the whole season)

Every timeStaffordgets hit, every time he scrambles around in the pocket—hell, every time he jogs onto the field for player introductions—Lions fans will wring their hands and rock back and forth in their seats.

The sales of candles and rabbit’s feet will explode in Motown this football season.

…The Lions are worthy of the buzz for reasons other thanStafford, I will grant you that.

There’s Ndamukong Suh, the wrecking ball defensive tackle, who might be, after just one season, the best in the business. Suh is the godfather of the D-line and sitting with him at the table are some very fearsome lieutenants.

There’s freakishly big Calvin Johnson, the receiver who gleefully gallops across the gridiron, making the football that he’s clutching look like a baking potato.

There’s more talent across the board than any Lions team we’ve been presented with in years.

But Matthew Stafford has to stay healthy. He just has to.

So far, so good.

 

(on my [then] disappointment with Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera)

Baloney, I say, to those who would tell me that I expect too much from Miguel Cabrera.

Look at his numbers, they’ll say. He grinds out an MVP-like season almost annually.

So how come Cabrera has never truly ever, in his four years as a Tiger, put the team on his back for any extended period of time?

Has he? Go ahead—I’ll wait while you come up with some examples. Or one, even.

Cabrera is doing it again, his timing again impeccably bad.

He has pedestrian numbers, this season, for a man of his talents. He swings too much at the first pitch. He grounds out to shortstop more than I thought was humanly possible.

This is the column that I took the most heat from. And Cabrera turned it around almost immediately and I gladly ate crow.

 

(on the Pistons hiring yet another new coach—Lawrence Frank)

They paraded another poor sap onto the lectern to be given his death sentence as the new head coach of the Detroit Pistons the other day.

There was Joe Dumars, team president, leading the march, and the way these things have gone over the years, you half expected to see Joe reading from a Bible n Latin, his head bowed.

The scene that unfolded on Wednesday was the seventh one presided over by Dumars since 2000.

It goes like this: Dumars leads his doomed coaching choice onto the lectern, says a few words tinged with hope and confidence that the man seated to his left is “the one.” Doomed coach speaks of work ethic and tradition and fends off questions about his past failures or mercurial history. The proceedings end with Dumars, the coach’s future executioner, shaking hands and smiling with his eventual victim as the cameras snap away.

Let’s hope Frank proves to be something other than just another Pistons coach who stays for a couple years then is jettisoned.

 

September

(on Lions coach Jim Schwartz)

Jim Schwartz has been the head coach of the Detroit Lions for nearly three years and I don’t trust him.

He doesn’t have “the look.”

How can he be the coach of the Lions and not look like he just saw Humpty Dumpty fall down and bounce back up?

The Detroit Lions coaches of years past have always had “the look.” The one that speaks the ghoulish thousand words.

…A look further at the hype reveals a common thread—the folks going ga-ga over the Lions do so because they all believe in the head coach.

“Smart” is the word that is most often repeated when describing Schwartz.

Jim Schwartz does know his football. He knows talent. And he knows what he’s doing as a head coach in the NFL.

Now THERE’S a look for you.

Schwartz has the 10-5 Lions in the playoffs, three years after 0-16. Looks good to me!

 

October

(on the prospects of the Red Wings without defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom)

Lidstrom, the Red Wings‘ all-universe defenseman, is 41 years old. In human years.

In hockey-playing years, he’s closer to 30, because he hasn’t used his body as a battering ram or for someone else’s target practice.

Lidstrom plays hockey like Bobby Fischer played chess and Minnesota Fats played billiards—literally. No one has seen that 200’x80’ sheet of ice better than Lidstrom, who is always a move or two ahead of his opponent. He’s the geometric hockey player—using the puck’s caroms and angles like Fats used those green felt rails.

 

There hasn’t been a defenseman like him, before or since he entered the NHL in 1991. I’ll put up a batch of my wife’s Pasta Fagioli that there won’t be one like him after, either. Ever.

Sooner rather than later, the Red Wings will have to pursue the Cup without Lidstrom, a frightening thought indeed.

 

(on why the Tigers beating the Yankees in the playoffs couldn’t really be celebrated)

It’s tempting to say that this is as good as it gets—that the moment is so savory as to be incapable of being eclipsed.

The problem with beating the New York Yankees in the first round of the playoffs—on the Yankees home field in a do-or-die game that boils down to the fate of the last batter, indeed the last strike—is how easy it is to feel like nothing can be tougher.

Or that nothing could be better.

As sweet as the Tigers’ 3-games-to-2 victory was over the Yankees in the American League Divisional Series (ALDS), it doesn’t change the fact that the Tigers are still just one-third of the way toward their post-season goal.

And that’s as far as the Tigers got, thanks to Texas’s Nelson Cruz.

 

November

(on why Lions DT Ndamukong Suh is good for the NFL’s business, good guy or bad guy)

It doesn’t matter if the publicity is positive or negative. The NFL loves Ndamukong Suh because, for the first time in decades, the league has a Bad Guy.

Suh’s entry into the NFL is the best-timed debut of any pro player since Magic Johnson and Larry Bird splashed onto the NBA scene in 1979. Before Magic and Bird, the NBA was scrambling for media attention. They were like the NHL has always been.

Prior to Magic and Bird, the NBA used to televise its Finals games on tape delay. No fooling.

The NFL has been desperate for a marquee name on defense for several years. The two guys who most fans think of when it comes to tough defense—Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis—are on the back end of their careers.

Suh’s play on the field seemed to take a slight step backward in his sophomore season, but his presence in the league is still high-profile and impactful.

 

(on former Lions guard—and paraplegic—Mike Utley’s battle to once again walk sans crutches)

Utley then made one of the most famous gestures inDetroitsports history.

His life certainly flashing before his eyes, his fear of his own well-being no doubt palpable, Utley nonetheless thought about the fans and his teammates.

He managed to work his right hand into a position of hope.

Thumbs up!

The gesture just about brought the Silverdome down. The image was beamed onto the big JumboTron screen above the end zone scoreboard, so that the fans could see it, just as those watching at home on television could.

 

Thumbs up!

Utley’s message of hope became the rallying cry for the Lions, who didn’t lose another game the rest of the year until they succumbed toWashingtonin the NFC Championship game in January.

It’s hard to find a more inspirational figure than Mike Utley.

 

(on the mid-season struggles of Lions QB Matthew Stafford)

But someone has to get Matthew Stafford right. And fast. There’s no Dave Krieg 1994 or Eric Hipple 1981 standing by. The only way backup Shaun Hill starts is ifStaffordis hurt—there’s no QB controversy here.

Staffordisn’t right. His sluggishness extends back to the 49ers game on October 16.

The Lions have to fix him, or none of this playoff talk will mean a Hill of beans.

The Lions fixed him—i.e., his broken right index finger healed—and Stafford is as hot as they come heading into the playoffs.

 

December

(on a new era of Lions football, being ushered in by coach Schwartz, after the team clinched a playoff berth)

It’s a new age of Detroit Lions football. Jim Schwartz aims to make his the next great era. One that will make history not as kind to the Fontes years, after all.

If that happens, we just might look back to Christmas Eve, 2011 as the victory that started the Lions on their way.

We just might.

 

(on new Pistons coach Lawrence Frank and his dual charge: to make the Pistons competitive and likeable)

From this hodgepodge of a roster, coach Frank has to not only make the Pistons competitive but also make a team that people will want to see perform. He doesn’t have the luxury of a superstar player around whom the rest of the team satellites.

The Pistons’ fan base, I suspect, is ready to embrace a kinder, gentler team—even if it’s one that doesn’t produce a lot of wins right away. That’s how bad things have gotten here since 2008.

Frank has dealt with starting 0-16 inNew Jerseya few years ago.

The Pistons won’t scare him.

The Pistons’ new slogan, to replace the tired and worn “Going to Work,” should be a derivative of Al Davis’s mantra with the Oakland Raiders.

“Just Like Us, Baby.”

After three games, the likeable part looks to be more feasible than the competitive part, for now.

 

There you have it! 2011 in a nutshell.

See ya next year.