Monday, December 18, 2006

An open letter to Brady Quinn

You’re Brady Quinn. You’re the quarterback of America’s most popular college football team, you just finished 3rd in this year’s Heisman trophy voting, and you’re nearing the end of a two-year internship under a coach who owns four Super Bowl rings and turns quarterbacks into gold.

You look more like a GQ model than a Notre Dame quarterback, and oh yeah, you’re likely to be the first pick in April’s NFL Draft.

Life’s good, huh?

Yeah, life’s good. That is until you do the math and realize it’s just as likely the team that will be holding that first spot in the draft is the Detroit Lions. And that’s where Brady immediately crosses everything off his Christmas list, scrapping such things as a Fiesta Bowl victory and a defense, the list now looking like this:

Brady’s Christmas List

1. Lions wins

2. Raiders losses

Santa, I have been a good kid all year. I listened to everything Charlie told me to do, and now I’m the top-rated player in the draft. Experts think I’m going to go first overall, which is great, unless that means going to Detroit! Remember that remote control car I wrote to you about in 6th grade? I know I said I wanted it more than anything … until now! Seriously Santa, you can’t give me to the Lions. Don’t let me down!


Well, since Lions wins are much more unlikely than Raiders losses, I’ve decided to get into the holiday spirit and give Brady and his family hope. Too often we think past the true meaning of the season: giving. It’s the least I could do.

Imagine sitting at Christmas dinner, knowing you’re going to be drafted by the Lions—as a quarterback, nonetheless. That’s the pro athlete’s equivalent to a criminal knowing he’s going to serve 8 years in prison in a couple months, and can’t do anything about it. Or, just imagine sitting in on the Quinn’s Christmas dinner this year:

Mr. Quinn: Well Brady, at least you can keep your number in Detroit.
Brady: DAD!
Mrs. Quinn: Honey, what did we say about using the D-word at the dinner table?

So, Brady, before those nightmares you’ve been having become reality, and before you can’t look yourself in the mirror without picturing that cute Honolulu blue uniform on, read this letter, on behalf of Detroit Lions fans everywhere, not only promising hope and a better day, but also promising more losses than wins every year from now on.

Dear Brady,

Congratulations! It appears as if you’re going to be the first-round draft pick of our Detroit Lions. Before we get into how honored we believe you are, lets first highlight what exactly that means, being a Lions first-round pick.

Of course, it means you’re going to make a lot of money. That’s always worth something, especially with what you’re about to encounter. We’re guessing after it’s all said and done, you won’t think the experience was worth the money. It’s alright though, because as a Lions first-rounder, you’re entitled to a second chance. One that nearly every coach out there will give you, because the Lions, unlike your coach, have the ability to turn what looks and feels like gold into—well, you know. First, you must make it out in one piece, something Joey Harrington almost didn’t accomplish. But look at Joey now, living in Miami with the skies clear and blue. Translation: that post-Lions career can’t come soon enough!

Now, we’re sure you know of the Lions rich tradition of quarterbacks, especially high draft picks, beginning with Andre Ware and more recently, the bewildered Harrington, Detroit’s all-time favorite whipping boy. But the blue-chippers aren’t the only quarterbacks embedded in Lions greatness. We also boast the stellar tenures of Scott Mitchell and currently, Jon Kitna. All of these quarterbacks have brought the Lions a grand total of zero playoff wins. Judging by past history, winning and stardom is virtually in the bag!

People say that being a Lions quarterback is the hardest job in the city. Don’t listen to them. The hardest job in the city is being a Lions quarterback that was drafted by Matt Millen. The fans will adore you if the team starts winning, but honestly, that’s not looking very good with Millen at the helm. Many people think of Millen as a joke. I don’t, I prefer to think of him as a guy sitting in his car that’s stuck in the snow, jolly and dumbfounded as the rest of the league passes him by. He’s a nice guy, and what better a situation to enter than one with a nice boss?

Sure, the Lions have never won a Super Bowl and they have lost 10 or more games each of the past 6 years, but things are looking up, Brady, and it starts with you. We’ll shower you with accolades before you take your first snap, and we’ll praise you with every touchdown pass you throw, but just savor that first touchdown, because it’s all downhill from there. See, that 23-71 record, it’s not as bad as you think. We need you! There is hope here! See you in April!


What’s Left of the Detroit Lions Fanbase

Now, on to the letters for Adrian Peterson and Joe Thomas. Heck, we might as well write one to Calvin Johnson too. Millen does have a thing for receivers, doesn’t he?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

How to cheat without getting caught

Oh, how I wish I were Kenny Rogers.

After his first three starts this postseason, he’s yet to surrender a run, a Jekyll-and-Hyde performance compared to his 8.85 postseason ERA entering this year’s playoffs, which by the way, just happened to be the highest in history.

His 42-year old soft-tossing left arm suddenly packs punch, looking more and more like that of a pitcher half his age.

He’s 3-0, doesn’t have an ERA, and for lack of a better word, has been unhittable.

But that’s merely an ounce of the reason I wish I were Kenny Rogers.

Rogers was caught cheating in the first inning of Game Two of the World Series Sunday night, and still got away with the crime, which can be described in a Law and Order type of scene like this:

Starring as the accuser whose ultimate motivation behind the accusation was public goodwill is St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.

The defendant is Rogers, who’s fitting nickname, “The Gambler,” has come full-circle the past few weeks. Three starts, three forms of dirt, pine tar or mud, and now, thanks to Todd Jones, chocolate cake isn’t even out of the question. More on the evidence later.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland acts as Rogers trusty lawyer whose “I’m not going to chew yesterday’s breakfast” quote Monday was so lawyer-like after his client was busted, you swear it was really Johnny Cochrane talking.

The judge and prosecutor are Steve Palermo and Alfonso Marquez, respectively. Palermo is an umpire supervisor and decided that although home plate umpire Marquez informed him that the suspect, Rogers, was indeed guilty of having a foreign substance on his left hand, no further action would be taken.

Cameras showed Rogers and Marquez talk between innings, and this is how Marquez recalled addressing Rogers.

“Kenny, also that dirt thing that you’ve got on your hand, if you’ll just do me a favor and take it off,” Marquez said.

That’s like telling the bank robber to return the money, get rid of the ski mask, and get on with his life. Oh, how you could just feel the love flowing in Comerica Park.

Now THIS is the kind of legal system we need.

THIS is what I have been calling for since second grade, the beginning of a countless number of times where I had been accused and prosecuted unjustly.

Hey, besides the fact that such a legal system would corrupt our society, at least there would be no need for jury duty. Because, as the jury, it’s so blatantly obvious what was on Mr. Rogers hand that we’ve all collectively decided to skip.

That’s right; we missed out on testimony from Leyland, who explained like Einstein how dirt-plus-spit-plus-rosin equals that circular brown sport on Rogers hand. That brown spot that television cameras caught on Rogers every time out this postseason and at least once in the regular season.

We missed Jones showcase a delicious piece of chocolate cake, fighting back the kind of mischievous laughter one gets while defending such an outlandish claim—that a pitcher could use pine tar to improve grip and combat the arctic-like temperatures of late October baseball in Detroit.

A claim that Jones coincidentally admitted to using in his previous stint with the Colorado Rockies.

So here we are, finally with somewhat of a grasp on this whole situation thanks to La Russa’s comments Monday.

Light has been shed on answers that were in the dark late Sunday night, where the accuser wouldn’t talk, the judge explained the process implied, and the defense’s comments not only disputed the judge’s, but defendant and defense lawyer sounded like they needed some time to get on the same page.

Confused yet?

La Russa confirmed he approached the umpiring crew to let them know about the pine tar on Rogers hand.

Yes, I said it. Pine tar. We’re making progress.

But, with delight from high above, in baseball’s immortal world, a world ran under a set of unwritten rules by names like Ruth and Aaron, including such brilliant cheaters like Bouton and Gossage, La Russa decided to take the high road and preserve the game’s integrity.

An integrity that cheating has been so much a part of for so long. La Russa knows his players have long used these innocent tactics which are widely accepted throughout present-day baseball, and even more so in it’s rich history.

He was also aware of the stain such an event would have on the game’s biggest stage, the World Series.

“I decided that I was not going to be part of [the garbage] where I was going to ask the umpire to go to the mound and undress the pitcher,” said La Russa.
“I said, ‘I hope it gets fixed, if it doesn't get fixed then I'll take the next step.’ Because I do think if someone is abusing ... the way we handle this is, quit doing that, before this becomes a big deal or ugly or whatever. I mean stop it. That's what was done last night,” he continued.
Kudos to La Russa, whom many believe to be the brightest mind in the game, for not forcing the ejection of Rogers in the opening inning, something that would have undoubtedly given the Cardinals an advantage.

Not only would Leyland have had to open the bullpen door in the first inning, Rogers magical postseason run would have come to an end right there, following a suspension.

It’s no secret La Russa and Leyland are great friends. But La Russa’s actions didn’t seem to be based on a friendship, but rather on a deeply-rooted passion for the game.

And as for the post-pine tar hand? It looked pretty good, as La Russa acknowledged. Rogers cruised through eight innings of two-hit baseball, extending his consecutive scoreless innings streak to 23. He’s now second place on the all-time list for consecutive scoreless innings in a single postseason, behind Christy Mathewson’s 27.

At least we known seven of those innings were pine tar free.

But the only thing more entertaining than the emotional Rogers mowing down the Cardinals lineup in Game Two would have been if one were able to listen to the two old-time managers converse afterward.

They both knew what happened, and that the situation couldn’t have worked out any better for the game, as weird and fishy as it looked and seemed.

Think about it again: Kenny Rogers was caught, but didn’t get caught.

Boy, if I had just known of this Rogers fellow in middle school. He would have been THE ultimate superhero.

Just think of the countless hours that were wasted in after-school detention, at home grounded, or actually studying for tests that could have just as easily been aced using the Kenny Rogers method.

You cheat. You get caught. You win.

Monday, October 2, 2006

Do you believe in magic? I do

Alright, so the sky has fallen.

That much is is evident judging by the looks of 40,000-plus people filing out of Comerica Park Sunday afternoon, a day in which these people expected to lose their voices instead of walking out silently.

A day where the Tigers were primed to capture their first division title since 1987, one where the champagne would flow yet again, only a week after the team popped bottles in Kansas City.

This celebration would undoubtedly be sweeter, in front of the home fans.

Sure, Zach Miner squandered any chance of clinching on Saturday night, after allowing 7 runs in the first inning.

But they couldn't lose to the Royals--who were 3-14 against the Tigers--again with an opportunity to clinch the division, could they?

Of course not.

And they did a great job of selling that to us the first three innings of the game, jumping out to a 6-0 cushion.

Four hours and thirty-seven minutes later, the only thing we were sold on was a mammoth collapse, and a trip to New York.

All that was left to do before boarding the plane was to sign and seal the A.L. Central championship to Minnesota, because afterall, the Tigers had just handed it to them.

What's worse (and is there really anything worse than getting swept by the Royals?) is the trip to New York, where they'll begin the postseason against the Yankees, formerly known as the A.L. All-Stars. With just one win against the quadruple-A Royals, they could have started off at home, with two games against the A.L. West champion Oakland A's.

But hey, as impossible as it seems, let's look on the bright side for a second.

At least we're not White Sox fans.

Boy, that must be one unhappy group of campers after watching both playoff-bound teams from the Central stumble, stumble, and stumble again down the stretch.

Truth be told, there's about as much of a bright side to this series with the Yankees as there is a nice side of the Bronx.

Which is why. . . GASP!. . . I'm going with the Tigers.

In October, you can only count on one thing: the unexpected.

Yes, the Tigers have limped into the postseason from both a physical and mental standpoint, far from their midseason form.

And yes, the Yankees boast the most dominant lineup anyone alive has seen, Yankee Stadium is still the most intimidating backdrop for playoff baseball, and they haven't missed a postseason in a decade.

But this series has upset written all over it, to just about nobody in the country except me.

No, I have no statistical proof whatsoever that points to the contrary, partly because I'm not mathematically gifted enough to create a new stat. But there simply isn't one that exists which points to an upset.

And I'm not sure, but I think my cat just asked me if I was crazy.

On paper, the Bronx Bombers lineup is staggering from top to bottom. Future Hall-of-Fame names such as Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Gary Sheffield are penned in nightly. Hearing the rest of the lineup just might make you sick.

Their pitching doesn't lack substance, either. Chien-Ming Wang was a victory away from 20 wins in the regular season, Mike Mussina is having another stellar year under the radar, and has anyone heard of Randy Johnson? He's questionable for the series, but that's not a pitcher Tigers hitters want to see this time of the year.

Let's not even get started with the Yankee Stadium ghosts or the aura of the pinstripes. We'll take those as they come. No need to scare Jim Leyland out of his boots.

There are a couple things stirring in my gut about this series.

This team has appeared to relish in the underdog role. Sure, they haven't been real underdogs since April or May, but whenever adversity hits, they've responded with wins. Take Leyland's outburst in mid-April, the Dmitri Young situation, or late-season sweeps at Chicago and Minnesota.

Every time, they've responded with wins. There is a sort of brotherhood around this team that you just don't see with teams that win the Wild Card and promptly get bounced from the playoffs.

When the postseason was clinched, most of them had a small taste of what winning is like, and after expecting to get more of that taste, it was taken away from them in a heartbeat. Now they want it back.

Secondly, in the playoffs, the lumber gets colder. Which means pitchers have a distinct advantage over hitters. The Tigers finished the regular season with the lowest ERA in the majors, at 3.84. That's quite a feat coming out of the A.L.

Coincidentally, the pitchers who started the season in the #4 and #5 slots in the rotation will open the playoffs. Oddly enough, it could work out best in this situation.

Both Nate Robertson and rookie Justin Verlander have the potential to win games in New York. Robertson has a bulldog mentality on the mound, and his record (13-13) doesn't do him justice with the run support he's recieved in the past.

Verlander hasn't fared well against the leagues top-tier teams, but the Yankees haven't seen him, another slight advantage for the Tigers. He has stuff that, when he's on, is flat-out dominating. But as a rookie starting in Yankee Stadium, can you really count on that?

A split in New York is absolutely crucial. Fly back home down 0-2, and the Tigers are done. They could scrape out a win in Game Three, give some Detroiters false hope and host another playoff game, but they will not beat the Yankees in three straight.

If the Tigers manage a split, they're going to wrap up the series without having to take a return trip to the Big Apple for Game Five.

The audacity I have to pick a four-game series win, not even a five-game thriller that would seem much more likely, you mutter.

However, the pitching matchups are favorable for the games in Detroit, and there's a mysterious air of confidence flying around, arising after such a disappointing weekend.

Such confidence that can't be measured with history, stats, or pitching matchups.

In a word, it's magical. The team, the season. The mix of young and old, the rebirth of a baseball town. Something tells me that this ride won't stop for the Yankees, and the story will continue.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Getting in isn't good enough

It sunk in late Wednesday night, after Joe Crede grounded into the last of his three double plays, giving the Tigers a 6-2 win in the rubber match of a crucial series against the Chicago White Sox.

This Tigers team is playoff-bound for the first time in 19 years.

It's clearly evident--barring a major collapse the last 10 games, six of which come against the basement-dwelling Kansas City Royals--after a very convincing late-season showdown in Chicago.

When the Tigers needed to outslug the power-laden White Sox, they did, smashing six home runs, including four in Monday's 7-2 victory.

When they needed to execute to manufacture runs, they did better than the defending champs, who grounded into 7 double plays.

And, as the story has went all season, when they needed to outpitch their opponent, they did.

Continuing to polish their league-best pitching numbers, Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman once again delivered.

Rogers, wrote off by many after his post All-Star Game swoon, once again claimed ownership of the White Sox, improving his record against them to 3-1, with a microscopic 0.82 ERA.

Then, after rookie Justin Verlander was knocked around Tuesday night, Bonderman once again turned in a clutch performance, once sign of--dare I say it--an ace.

It's outings like Wednesday night's that makes one want to shake the inconsistency out of Bonderman, the only thing preventing him from becoming a bona fide ace.

But although the path to the postseason is looking clearer and clearer everyday, the Tigers still have a division title to win, with the Minnesota Twins lurking only a half game back in the standings.

A playoff berth via the Wild-Card spot would be nice, sure, but undoubtedly bittersweet.

How can one complain about the Tigers making the playoffs, you ask?

Because now that we have seen the potential of this team, we can no longer rest on our laurels that making the playoffs is just good enough.

With every win, expectations have been raised. This team has no relation to the past 12 losing teams, and shouldn't be treated that way. They aren't the same old Tigers.

This team has spent four months of the season in first place.

In April and May we pondered if this team would finish above the .500-mark.

In the summer heat of June and July, we could see the Wild Card in the distance like a mirage.

But when the division lead stretched to 8 1/2 games over the White Sox in August, and 10 1/2 over the now-2nd place Twins, the Division Crown became our target.

Expectations change.

And now, a month later, the lead over the media-darling Twins has all but evaporated.

The Twinkies are now the feel-good story, rebounding from a horrible start to get back in the race, and they just won't go away. There is still a cloud of skepticism over the Tigers.

They're the nervous freshman kid giving a speech in front of the whole school. Everyone's just waiting for him to mess up.

A division championship would pit the Tigers against the soon-to-be AL West champion Oakland Athletics, with the Tigers having home-field advantage.

The Tigers won the season series, 5-4, and match up more than favorably with the A's.

Rogers has two wins and can't lose in Oakland, Verlander has looked dominant in games against them, and wouldn't you love to welcome those Californians to Detroit in October?

A wild-card spot would see the Tigers kick off their postseason in Yankee Stadium against a playoff-seasoned team who is 5-2 against them this year.

And consider those two wins as a gift.

Because in October, there will be no walk-offs against Kyle Farnsworth or late inning three-run home runs off Scott Proctor.

No, there will only be Mariano Rivera.

And an early exit from the playoffs, the end to a fantastic summer with nothing to show for except rich promise for the future.

So, as the Tigers finish the regular season with the Twins breathing down their neck, ask yourself this question:

Is just getting to the playoffs really good enough?

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Young's release puts damper on playoff race

Don't be that fan.

Excuse me.

What I meant was, don't be that person.

Because those of you cheering Wednesday's dismissal of Dmitri Young aren't fans.

Don't be the person to kick Young when he's down, possibly further down than ever before.

Young's five-year tenure with the Tigers officially ended with the club's unconditional release of the 32-year-old designated hitter, whom battled back from substance abuse problems to join
the first place Tigers down the stretch.

General Manager Dave Dombrowski cited the move was "strictly performance related."

But it's clear to everyone not wearing a blindfold that something transpired Wednesday, before or during a rain delay exceeding 3 hours, which proceeded a 5-4 extra innings loss to the Seattle Mariners.

What that was, however, remains to be seen.

It could have been a confrontation between Young, who was batting in third in the lineup Wednesday, and manager Jim Leyland, after Young popped out with the bases loaded in the third inning.

The count was 2-0, and Mariners pitcher Gil Meche was laboring, allowing a Vance Wilson home run followed by a Brandon Inge double and back-to-back walks before Young stepped to the plate.

Conventional wisdom says he didn't have the green light.

But Young took a rip at the 2-0 offering, and popped out for the 2nd out, virtually killing a Tiger rally.

Or it could have been in the eighth, when Leyland pinch-hit for Young with recent call-up Kevin Hooper.

Hooper, who his known to have good success buting, was used to sacrifice two runners into scoring position.

Two runners that scored one batter later on Craig Monroe's early Christmas gift, a double misplayed by Seattle rightfielder Ichiro Suzuki, who lost his footing in Comerica Park's wet grass.

But something tells me Young has been around long enough to understand a baseball move when he sees one.

And quite possibly, this could be the final chapter in the demise of Dmitri Young, who arrived in 2002 with a golden smile, ready to turn this team, still years away from winning, around.

The substance abuse and domestic violence problems that nearly forced Young into rehab and out of baseball could have relapsed, punching a one-way ticket out, that same smile now turned to the look of a shameful man, weary and battered.

What the next month has in store for the reeling Tigers is anybody's guess. But Young was a nice comeback story on a team that is this season's best story.

Activated from the disabled list on July 21 after a tumultuous couple months battling personal issues, Young was awarded new life, one equipped with base hits, home runs, a first-place team, and yes, that contagious cheek-to-cheek grin.

Since he rejoined the Tigers as their potential answer to a lack of left-handed bats in the lineup, Young hit .292 with 7 home runs and 19 RBI. Young exceeded expectations in his return, and as recent as Wednesday routinely hit in the middle of the lineup.

A performance-based decision, huh?


On the field, the Tigers will attempt to spark their offense, putrid as of late, without Young, a left-handed hitter, which has publicly been touted as one of their needs.

The Tigers brass decided it was in the best interest to move on without Young, for the good of keeping the team's morale high.

Maybe it was.

Compounded with his recent issues, Young has a history of attitude problems, most notably last year, when he had run-ins with Pudge Rodriguez and then-manager Alan Trammell.

The release, now lingering above the Tigers as they head to Minnesota for a four-game series with the 2nd place Twins, is unfortunate and sad.

It would have been nice to see Young win with this team, after enduring the past five losing seasons, including the horrid 2003 season, where the Tigers lost 119 games, an American League record.

They have lost a hitter who can certainly help them wrap up the A.L. Central and secure a playoff birth.

But most importantly, Dmitri Young may have lost himself, to a place nobody wants to be. A place that was seemingly in the rearview mirror just a couple weeks ago.

That can turn a smile into a frown on anybody's face.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Time to panic in Motown?

This is what everyone has been waiting for and dreading at the same time.

Today, Detroiters alike will walk into work and have to face “that guy.” That guy who will look you straight in the eye at the water jug and say “I told you so,” only a day after the Tigers suffered their first sweep of the 2006 season to the Chicago White Sox in atypical fashion.

You’re blood pressure will rise, hands clenching with a force that would crush Ozzie Guillen’s glasses, and you’ll prepare to berate him.

Then, suddenly, you’re at a loss of words. Just like that.

He’s gone, sporting a smirk upon his exit, and all that’s left to absorb your anger is the water jug.


Now for the daunting task of explaining to the boss how you’ve engaged in a boxing match with the jug . . .

To think you’d ever be this angry over the Tigers.

But it’s no time to panic, right? The White Sox have only beat the Tigers 9 out of 12 games, roughed up their rookie ace three times, cast a spell over their defensive prowess, and are now within striking distance of first place.

First place?

Weren’t they wrote off when the Tigers won 2 of 3 in mid-July at Comerica Park, when the Tigers stretched their lead to a season-high 10 games, when the Minnesota Twins passed them in the standings?

If they weren’t, they were as close to it as the Tigers were to all but sewing the division up last weekend.

In Chicago, we saw a battered ace, squabbled grounders, bad throws, and an enraged superstar.

What we didn’t see was the Tigers of the previous 114 games, the Tigers that hit, pitched, and fielded well. The Tigers that knew they were going to win on their trip to the ballpark.

Ivan Rodriguez’ ejection in the eighth inning symbolized the whole series in one word: frustrating.

It was the last straw in a horrible weekend at U.S. Cellular Field.

The last straw for the Tigers, who believe they are better than the White Sox, who are sick of being overlooked, and who know they underachieved on a national stage.

Frustrating because they just can’t put it together against their experienced, World Series-tested nemesis, who play against the Tigers with the toying swagger of an older brother beating his younger brother.

It’s as if the White Sox looked at the Tigers before this series and said, “The one-handed dunk was nice, but watch this,” before reeling off a Vince Carter-like 360, leaving the Tigers to ponder what they can do next time to win.

The Tigers now travel to Boston and will try to put a halt to this 5 game losing streak, the season’s longest. History is suggesting this losing streak will continue, as the Tigers have fared 1-12 in Fenway Park the past 3 seasons.

But isn’t history what this team has been defying all season? From the amazing turnaround to the magical moments, something unusual is going on here. This team will weather the storm. Jim Leyland will make sure of that.

Leyland insists each series is equal in importance, but there has been a buzz surrounding every Tigers-White Sox series since June. The sweep was shell-shocking.

Now let’s see if the Tigers have panicked or not.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A day on the Tigers bandwagon

“Scooch over,” I hear. “I have no room,” someone says. “My leg is asleep!” another man screams.

I’m huddled in the back corner of a semi truck, amongst hundreds of people crammed like sardines, and the number is growing with no end in sight.

The temperature must be reaching 100 degrees, and with the heat comes the pungent smell of humanity that lingers.

On jumps the guy from down the street, the pizza delivery boy, and three brunette bombshells in their mid-twenties.

Flocks of men make room in an attempt to seat the young ladies, but they walk straight past to a spot underneath a Brandon Inge poster.

I can feel the speed picking up as I close my eyes and wonder to myself where we’re headed.

Shortly after I open my eyes, my question is answered with the sight of a grandmother and her grandson waving a flag that reads “OCTOBER OR BUST.”

Dogs are barking, cats meowing, and parrots singing.

Next to me, a conversation is brewing. “Did you hear what Ron Allen said last night?” I overhear from a man with a distinct country accent.

“Who’s Ron Allen?” I reply.

“The Tigers broadcaster, duh,” he confidently states. He then goes on to inform everyone around that Ron Allen won a World Series with the 1987 Tigers.


We’ve hit something. Everyone jumps. There are shrieks in the distance, but mostly just agitated looks of how comfortable it is sitting on wood planks.

Whispers circulate around until one man finally declares, “We’ve just ran over the Indians!”

New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner climbs in, and is visibly upset because nobody recognizes him.

Behind him is Tony the Tiger, famous for gracing Frosted Flakes boxes worldwide. A mother and father emblazoned with Tigers gear from head to toe urge their kids to give Paws a hug.

Kiddie corner from me, a group of college kids formed a circle. They’re burning time looking through a Tigers program. With a hint of authority in his voice, one states “Marcus Th-AY-mes and Brent Cleveland are going to become stars one day.”

The group nods, and a kid with a Carrot Top-like afro says, “Dude, we’re going to Cleveland?”


Heads turn to see what the noise is.

“It’s just the Royals,” says a librarian that just came aboard, holding a stack of books that includes Baseball For Dummies.

Everyone sighs and turns their attention to an argument that’s heated up.

“We got Pudge in a trade with Texas!” says one.

“No, it was Florida! We traded him for Bobby Higginson!” replies the other.

“Didn’t he come from New York?” interrupts a young blonde haired girl. She is wearing an all-white Tigers cap with the tag attached.

As she turns around, everyone gasps. It’s Paris Hilton.

“Why do you still have the tag on?” I ask.

“Because, like, once the Tigers start losing again, I’ll, like, take it back or something and buy, like, another hat,” she says, leaving nothing to the imagination of what’s going on inside her head.

Echoes of “Who’s Your Tiger?” can be heard from every section. After numerous Curtis Grandersons and Justin Verlanders, a guy with a dusty Tigers cap says, “Chris Shelton! Because he’s leading the league in home runs!”

Conversation turns to Comerica Park.

“It’s such a nice stadium,” a lady chirps.

Another man agrees. “I never even went to a game at that other stadium, but I’ve been to 32 games this year,” he says.

“What was the name of it, anyways?”

I finally lower my head into my hands and shake my head.

Just another day on the Tigers bandwagon.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Soriano signals World Series run

The baseball season has hit late July, and you know what that means.

Trade rumors.

They’re swirling around once again, and this year, big names are blowing around with virtually every team outside of Kansas City or Pittsburgh in the hunt.

And for the first time in a decade, the Tigers are serious players at the July 31 trade deadline, looking to buy rather than sell.

(For all of you who were up in arms last July when G.M. Dave Dombrowski dealt Kyle Farnsworth to the Atlanta Braves for a couple of minor league pitchers, let me clue you in on one thing: they were not buyers in any sense of the imagination. And one of those minor league pitchers is 6-2 as a rookie. Zach Miner, anyone?)

So, as we get pelted daily with rumblings of players headlined by the Washington Nationals Alfonso Soriano, let’s all collectively do something.

First, find the nearest mirror and look it square in the eye. Then, repeat after me.

“Alfonso Soriano.”


“World Series.”

Then pinch yourself.

Because if Dombrowski does pluck Soriano from the Nationals, the Tigers will undoubtedly become the World Series favorite in the American League.

The Nationals reportedly want Tigers top pitching prospect Humberto Sanchez, who is 5-3 with a 3.61 ERA at Toledo, another high pitching prospect like Toledo’s Jordan Tata or the rising Jair Jurrgens in Erie, and an additional prospect, most likely a positional player.

Sanchez’ potential prowess on the mound is compared to the dynamic rookie duo of Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya.

But the success Verlander and Zumaya have enjoyed thus far have Tiger fans jaded.

Jaded, because for every Verlander there’s a Rick Ankiel, and for every Zumaya there’s a Ryan Anderson, prospects who were billed the next big thing but couldn't produce.

So who’s to say Sanchez will turn out to be more of a stud than dud? The unknown factors of the potential deal are what make it all the more fascinating.

Although the loss of Sanchez would be key in the deal, the most important factor is that Soriano is an unrestricted free agent next winter, and will test the market.

He is the crown jewel of next year’s class, and he will cash in after being dictated to join the Texas Rangers, then the Nationals via trade. Many people believe he wants to go back to New York.

You don’t think the Yankees would love an Alfonso Soriano right now?

If Soriano wants to wear pinstripes again, he will, because George Steinbrenner’s pockets seemingly grow larger each year.

The probable departure of Soriano would then leave the Tigers with a three month rental of the five-time All-Star for the top pitching prospect in the organization.

Not exactly a wise flip-flop.

But the reward that can be reaped in October from an Alfonso Soriano smack dab in the middle of an already dangerous lineup is immeasurable.

That reward is a World Series championship, which would certainly vindicate any kind of deal bringing Soriano to the Motor City, regardless of whether he stays or not.

Somewhere, Dave Dombrowski is asking for a raise.

And something tells me he’s going to get it.

Dombrowski has made shrewd moves to get this team to where they are today. The Jeff Weaver trade that brought Jeremy Bonderman in, acquiring Placido Polanco from the Phillies last summer, and the signings of Pudge Rodriguez and Kenny Rogers form the nucleus of this first-place

So as the trade deadline looms, Dombrowski will once again be put to the test.

Is Soriano the missing piece to the puzzle, or is the risk of losing him too great to part ways with a young fireballer?

This city and these fans have been starving for a winner for nearly 20 years now, and everyone, including the players, can taste it.

But the first-place Tigers have merely tasted how sweet victory can be with their 64-31 record now compared to the jubilation of winning in late October.

To do that, Dombrowski will once again make the right move at the deadline.

The right move is Alfonso Soriano.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Pay day for Big Ben

Ok, so you’ve sentenced your Pistons’ Ben Wallace jersey to a sad, dark, gloomy life in the back of your closet.

You might have even set it ablaze; cursing, screaming, kicking and crying, finally confirming the neighbor’s suspicions that you’re crazy.

And that afro wig you thought looked so hip, well, that’s finally been served up as dinner to your dog.

Two weeks ago, Wallace, who is now viewed by many Detroiters as a Benedict Arnold, decided to take the 4 hour trek west on I-94 to the Windy City and become an employee of the Chicago Bulls.

Check that.

Wallace is probably taking the sub-60 minute trek by plane. Possibly in a new private jet, which he can surely afford after accepting the Bulls 5 year/$60 million offer.

The Bulls offer was $12 million more than the Pistons offer of 4 years for $12 million per year.

And just like that, with one stroke of the pen, the chances of the Pistons winning a third straight Central Division championship became just a little bit slimmer.

Because not only did the Bulls get significantly better with the addition of Wallace, they also robbed the Pistons of their trademark stingy defensive ways and now force them to give in to the offensive dominant NBA.

The harsh reality is the Pistons run could be over with the Wallace’s departure.

The philosophy change that must come with losing the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year coupled with the emergence of the Eastern Conference will play huge roles in next year’s success.

As we saw first-hand this spring, LeBron James is ready to win now in Cleveland. In Miami, where the Larry O’Brien trophy resides, Dwyane Wade shows no signs of slowing down after an unbelievable postseason. And in Chicago, with the addition of Wallace, they have instantly become a team that can make a deep run in the playoffs.

The recent signing of Nazr Mohammed to replace Wallace is a huge question mark. Mohammed, who played on the 2004-05 Spurs championship team, has shown some signs of becoming a solid center, but couldn’t get off the bench in San Antonio as recently as last year.

Wallace was the cornerstone of this franchise for the past five seasons, and arguably the most popular athlete in Detroit during that time. He epitomized their “Goin’ to Work” slogan with his hard-working attitude and blue-collar play on the floor, transforming the Pistons defense into one of the best in NBA history.

He was a perfect fit for Detroit, and Detroit was a perfect fit for him.

So the question is, why?

My question is, why not?

Ben wasn’t himself this past season, his final, in Detroit. There were the obvious clashes between new head coach Flip Saunders and Wallace. The tension reached its peak on April 7, when, after being removed earlier in the game, Wallace refused to re-enter the game when his teammates needed him late in the 4th quarter. The Pistons lost, 89-87.

His displeasure continued to leak out during the Pistons’ struggles against the Cavaliers and Heat this past postseason, at one time criticizing the way Saunders ran practice.

It’s also not a secret that he wasn’t happy with the amount of touches he was getting on the offensive end.

So, naturally, that’s going to weigh on your decision to return, even with the four great seasons before 2006, which included a championship.

Even more natural is the wide-eyed look any one of us would get on our face if we were face to face with $12 million. Which Wallace was.

The decision probably wasn’t that hard for him anyways. Stay in Detroit, take $12 million less, play for a coach whom he doesn’t like, and count on playing only defense for 82 games.

Or, go to Chicago, swim in a pool of dollar bills, play for an upstart team with young coach Scott Skiles at the helm, and shoot the ball in the process.

It was Wallace’s last chance to cash in on a maximum contract. He took advantage of it. More power to him, and to the Bulls for making a wise choice.

Wallace can be more than just a defensive player if utilized the right way. Under Larry Brown, Wallace averaged just under 10 points a game. That declined last year, when he averaged only 7.3 points a game.

So while the popular opinion is that Chicago overpaid for a one-way player who’s past his prime, I’ll put a vote in for the minority. John Paxson knows what he’s doing with the Wallace signing.

He signed a veteran who will bring tons of experience to a talented young cast of players such as Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, and Luol Deng. He signed a center who could average a double-double.

And he robbed a rival of their identity.

Friday, July 7, 2006

Tigers midseason report card

A gift sent from the heavens above.

That’s how you can describe the Tigers first-half of the 2006 season, in which they lead the defending champion Chicago White Sox and in a most impressive fashion, boast baseball’s best record at 56-28.

Magical is another word.

Whether it be Curtis Granderson’s game-tying home run in the ninth inning with two strikes and two outs on May 20, or Marcus Thames matching Granderson’s feat against the St. Louis Cardinals a little over a month later, the first half has been simply magical.

And in the process, they’re waking up ghosts of 1984.

The ’06 Tigers are only one game behind the ’84 champions’ record of 57-27 through, ironically, 84 games.

But how dare this team. How dare they rattle off wins on a pace we haven’t seen since the Bless You Boys of ’84, the only year this past quarter century people remember for the Tigers.

Detroiters, for good reason, are still skeptical of these Tigers, who have a unique mix of fresh and seasoned talent. Many won’t be sold on the team until the final out is recorded on October 1st.

But it’s crystal clear that these Tigers compare to the previously futile Tigers like day compares to night.

The first stepping stone was the 40-game mark, which Hall-of-Fame manager Sparky Anderson was known to judge his teams by.

27-13, check.

Now, as the All-Star Break looms, the Tigers have continued their torrid pace, and remain at the perch of the MLB.

Here are the mid-season grades:


Curtis Granderson, CF. Grade: B+. Such a pleasant surprise to see Granderson produce this well in his first full big-league season. Has delivered in several clutch situations, hits to all fields, and shows flashes of power. His average (.283) has been steadily increasing. Fielding has been nothing less than extraordinary, especially with Comerica Park’s spacious confines. Needs to cut down on the strikeouts.

Placido Polanco, 2B. Grade: B. Polanco has been true to form, striking out only 21 times in over 300 AB’s, and his average sits at .284, which will get higher. He missed 12 games due to injuries that could be nagging him the 2nd half. Sometimes kills rallies, he has grounded into 12 double plays.

Ivan Rodriguez, C. Grade: B. Pudge can still hit, that’s obvious by his 90 hits and above .300 average, but his ability to drive in runs has left him. His 39 RBI’s are the least in the everyday lineup besides Marcus Thames, but he has roughly 100 less AB’s. This team wouldn’t be where they are right now without his leadership, as he has made a U-turn from last year’s attitude, now having fun again. Pudge will be starting the All-Star Game for the American League behind the plate.

Magglio Ordonez, RF. Grade: A-. The Tigers finally reap some benefits from Ordonez’ massive contract. He has 15 homers and 59 RBI, putting him just a notch below what the Tigers expected when they signed him. Another good sign is that it appears as if the injury woes are behind him. Ordonez has played in 80 of 84 games so far, and is replacing Boston’s Manny Ramirez on the All-Star team.

Carlos Guillen, SS. Grade: B. Guillen is showing the same stellar numbers he put up in 2004 before his injury. With 10 home runs and 50 RBI, he is knocking in runs, and his average is hovering around .300. He’s still a rock at shortstop, and is running more under Leyland, with 12 stolen bases.

Chris Shelton, 1B. Grade: B-. Sure, he was tearing the cover off the ball the first two weeks of the season, but since his production has been way down. Still, a 16 home run start is good for his first full-time stint in the majors. However, Shelton has struck out too much (82 times), and has been very streaky at the plate.

Brandon Inge, 3B. Grade: B-. Inge recently surpassed his season high for home runs—in the first half. He’s discovered an unforeseen ability to hit for power, but his average has struggled. .225 ranks with the lowest of starting A.L. position players. Defensively, he has been average—makes astonishing grabs, but muffs some routine plays.

Craig Monroe, LF, Grade: C. Monroe has shown above average power the first half of the year, hitting 12 home runs with 41 RBI. His approach at the plate has been questionable at times, banking on the long ball instead of situational hitting. Monroe is also battling trade rumors and the emerging Marcus Thames.

Marcus Thames, lF, Grade: A-. Thames has exploded onto the scene after platooning between Toledo and Detroit for a few years. He has hit 17 home runs in only 196 at bats, and has completely taken the left field position away from Monroe. Thames has an amazing .633 slugging percentage, and is proving he can hit for average as well.

Omar Infante, UTIL, Grade: B+. Finally, Infante has found his niche as a utility man. Leyland likes him in this role, and likes even more the way he’s been playing. In 33 games, Infante is hitting a respectable .269 and has provided the Tigers with a reliable backup at the infield positions.

Vance Wilson, C, Grade: B+. Wilson has provided Leyland with a steady backup catcher that can provide occasional offense but more importantly, veteran leadership for the young starters. Already he has surpassed last season’s totals for home runs and total bases, and Wilson is hitting .310 with 84 AB’s. And let’s not forget the 2-run homer off Minnesota Twins ace Johan Santana back in May.

Ramon Santiago, UTIL, Grade: C-. Santiago is merely a backup that cracks the lineup because of his slick fielding. Not much to expect offensively in the 2nd half either, he is hitting a putrid .194 with a dozen hits and an RBI.


Kenny Rogers, SP, Grade: A. With an 11-3 record and a probable All-Star Game start in Pittsburgh, Rogers has performed like nobody could have imagined at the young age of 42. His veteran presence can be felt throughout the whole staff, especially with the starters. Rogers has a 3.85 ERA and is averaging more than 5 strikeouts per 9 innings.

Jeremy Bonderman, SP, Grade: B+. Bonderman’s 7-4 record doesn’t do him justice so far this year. His run support is the worst on the staff, and he has pitched very well deep into games with nothing to claim but a no-decision. Bonderman stands 5th in the A.L. with 107 strikeouts, and hasn’t allowed more than 3 earned runs in a start since May 29.

Mike Maroth, SP, Grade: B+. After a hot 5-2 start where he routinely pitched into the sixth and seventh innings allowing no more than a run or two, Maroth was sidelined due to elbow problems. Maroth underwent surgery on his left elbow to remove bone chips, and is expected to return in August.

Nate Robertson, SP, Grade: B+. Robertson’s 8 wins and 3.35 ERA virtually came out of nowhere, producing All-Star type numbers. Before coming up north in April, Robertson was the biggest question mark in the pitching staff because of his spring struggles. He has a 1.27 ERA against left-handers.

Justin Verlander, SP, Grade: A-. A rookie by title only, Verlander has stifled opponents with a 3.01 ERA, good for 2nd in the A.L. Even more impressive than his 10 wins, which is tied for 3rd in the league, is the fact that he has pitched most of the first half without his knuckle curve, his most effective breaking pitch. Considered an All-Star snub by many, Verlander’s velocity is routinely clocked in the upper-90’s.

Zach Miner, SP, Grade: A. The rookie who was a relative unknown in last year’s Kyle Farnsworth deal with Atlanta has done nothing at the big league level but win. Miner is 5-1 with a 2.68 ERA. He is 5-0 after his rough debut against the Red Sox, and even managed to record a complete game on June 20 in Milwaukee, only the 2nd Tiger this year to do so.

Roman Colon, RP, Grade: C-. Colon’s only start of the year wasn’t very impressive, as he only lasted 2 1/3 innings, allowing 5 runs. He has been spotty at best out of the bullpen, and has allowed 5 home runs in 24 2/3 innings pitched, mostly contributing to his 4.74 ERA.

Jason Grilli, RP, Grade: C. Grilli has done a serviceable job in middle relief, with a 3.86 ERA in 24 appearances. He hasn’t allowed more than a run in any appearance since April 13.

Jamie Walker, RP, Grade: B+. Walker is used exclusively as a left-handed specialist, and has thrived, with a 1.17 ERA. He has only allowed runs in 3 of his 27 appearances.

Wil Ledezma, RP, Grade: INC. Ledezma, who was called up in June, is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 5 games.

Joel Zumaya, RP, Grade: A-. Equipped with a fastball that hovers around the century mark, and on occasions, topping it, Zumaya is 2nd among A.L. relievers in strikeouts, with 53. He is 4-1 with a 2.09 ERA, and has delivered in many clutch situations. Opponents are hitting a mere .176 off of him, and his 20 holds lead the majors.

Fernando Rodney, RP, Grade: B-. Rodney, who started the year as the closer, opened 2006 without allowing a run throughout April. He is 7 of 9 in save opportunities. Down the stretch he has hit some rough patches, those highlighted by allowing 5 runs on July 2, lasting only 1/3 of an inning.

Todd Jones, RP, Grade: C+. Jones is on pace to notch another 40-save season, saving 22 of 25 this first half. However, his ERA has ballooned to 6.00, and his record still stands at a dark 1-5. It doesn’t appear Jones has the ability to pitch more than his standard one inning of work any longer, two out of the three times he has, he has given up four runs or more.


Jim Leyland, Manager, Grade: A+. Leyland has brought discipline and confidence to a team that has not had such a leader since Anderson in the mid-1990’s. His relationship with players individually has been great, and his hard-nosed personality has fit well. Frontrunner for Manager of the Year, Leyland has shown the spark that was so evident in his days with Pittsburgh and Florida.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A moment without time

Of all the elements that make the game of baseball simply fascinating, the most unique of them is that the end of the game is dictated by the players, not a clock.

This simple trait of America’s pastime has created unbelievable moments that aren’t seen in other sports.

Sunday night was one of those moments.

At game time, the Chicago White Sox were a half game behind the Detroit Tigers in the A.L. Central standings. A few hours later, heading into the bottom of the 8th inning, they were one and a half games back.

They began the bottom half of the eighth down, 9-2, to the Houston Astros. The rain was falling and for all intensive purposes, the game was over.

Then the White Sox found new life. Who knows what provided the spark on such a night. It could have been the exit of Astros hurler Roy Oswalt, who put the Sox in a daze, allowing only two runs on five hits through seven. He was lifted because his pitch count was hovering around 120.

It could have been the championship mentality instilled in the team by skipper Ozzie Guillen.

Or maybe, just maybe, it could have been something else. Something beyond the Astros power, something the St. Louis Cardinals were grumbling about after their series at U.S. Cellular Field.

Whatever it was, it was incredible.

Sox shortstop Alex Cintron started the momentum with a base hit to right field.

Two batters later, following a Scott Podsednik walk, Tadahito Iguchi cashed in with a three-run homer to left.

9-5, Astros.

After allowing the three run shot, Russ Springer quietly sat down the Sox sluggers in order.

Iguchi’s blast merely made the game respectable again, with everyone, including myself, firmly believing that the Astros still had a stranglehold on the game.

Closer Brad Lidge, who has struggled this year, took the mound in the ninth to “get some work in.” Lidge had supposedly put his early season struggles behind him, going 7-7 in his previous 7 save opportunities.

That work quickly became increasingly tougher as the Sox loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth and Iguchi at the plate.

In a 1-1 count, Iguchi tagged Lidge’s 99 mph fastball to deep left center field, which eventually disappeared into the stands above Billy Pierce’s retired number.

And it was the first inning all over again.

A seven run deficit erased in two innings, on two home runs, by one player.

Even with all of Iguchi’s heroics, the White Sox still could not muster out the victory. The Astros scored in the 13th on a Willie Taveras single, and won, 10-9.

The game wouldn’t even reward the Sox for their unthinkable comeback.

Football has last second field goals, hockey has overtime thrillers, and basketball has buzzer beaters.

But magical comebacks like these do not exist in other sports, because the team is not only battling their opponent, but they are battling the clock as well.

It’s games like Sunday night’s that put the game’s beauty into perspective.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Don't buy into U.S. hype

Take this and frame it because you will probably never see this again.

This is me writing about soccer.

But ignoring the world’s biggest sporting event, the World Cup, would not only be ignorant on my part, but for once, the United States team is making some noise overseas.

After an improbable 1-1 tie with the Italians, the Americans have a chance to advance to the round of 16 for the first time in their history.

Let’s face it though, it’s not going to happen. This is a nice lovey-dovey story, but the soccer gods will not allow the U.S. to advance.

To advance, they must beat an upstart Ghana team who beat the mighty Czech Republic, 2-0 on Saturday, and needs Italy to beat that same Czech team.

A tall task for sure, but anything is possible. I just don’t see it happening.

The Czech Republic beat the U.S., 3-0, in Group E’s opening game.

The Czechs, ranked #2 in the world by FIFA in May, are kicking themselves after Saturday’s loss, because a win would have cemented their spot in the round of 16.

And although Italy is a great team, it’s hard to imagine a team as good as the Czechs being shown the door after two straight losses.

For that game to even matter, the U.S. must take care of business Thursday morning against Ghana.

Everyone has bought into this revolution of sorts in U.S. soccer. The consensus is that this team is different than the previous embarrassments in 1998 and 2002. They’re more talented, and can compete with their European counterparts.

That’s just not the case.

These European teams are better than the U.S. team top to bottom, and it’s showed so far.

U.S. head coach Bruce Arena does have a right to be angry, because the officiating in Saturday’s game was horrible.

Official Jorge Larrionda from Uruguay made some absent-minded calls on the United States’ Pablo Mastroeni and Eddie Pope, which undoubtedly changed the complexion of the game.

Mastroeni received a red card late in the 1st half, and Pope was ejected early in the 2nd half for receiving his second yellow card, forcing the U.S. to play a man down virtually the entire half.

The Mastroeni red card was widely believed to be a make-up call from Italian Daniele De Rossi’s ejection 28 minutes into the game, when he elbowed U.S. forward Brian McBride.

I’m struggling to understand why a make-up call would be appropriate after De Rossi clearly earned his red card, whereas Mastroeni should have merely received a yellow card for his actions.

Whatever may be the case, the U.S. finally earned a point, and should feel lucky in doing so.

Their score was tallied off the foot of Cristian Zaccardo, who, in an attempt to clear the ball, netted an own goal. This tied the score and closed the scoring on an exciting game.

So as we look towards Thursday, where it will be decided if the U.S. lives to play another day, through another team’s destiny or their own, we can be sure of one thing:

The rest of the world is still superior to us in soccer.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Jones is nearing the end

Todd Jones wants nothing more than the Detroit Tigers to win. You can hear it in his voice and see it in his eyes.

Jones is the only player this past decade to sign with the Tigers simply because he wanted to wear the Old English D. He considers Detroit to be his home, and the fans to be his own.

But those same fans reached the breaking point Wednesday night, after another terrible late-inning performance by Jones, something that has become all too common recently with the Tigers.

As Jones exited the mound in the 12th inning, where he allowed four runs on four hits to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays en route to their 5-1 win, he was not so pleasantly greeted by a lengthy wave of boos from the remaining crowd at Comerica Park.

Jones’ record fell to 1-5. His ERA now stands at an abysmal 7.27.

This is the latest in Jones’ recent string of bad pitching which has become increasingly painful to watch.

For the 38-year old closer who is the Tigers all-time saves leader, the end is near. There are two young relievers (Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya) ready to step in once manager Jim Leyland finally pulls the plug on Jones as closer.

And this should be sooner rather than later.

Leyland is sticking behind Jones as the closer, a sign of respect as I see it. Leyland has been around long enough to know when a player’s skills have eroded and are betraying him from success.

He is also being very careful not to embarrass Jones. Todd Jones is one of those guys that you couldn’t pay a teammate to say something bad about. He loves the game, and he loves to compete.

The worst thing Leyland could do at this point in time is publicly scrutinize the veteran closer and prevent him from being any kind of asset to the team down the stretch.

I still believe in certain situations, Jones can be effective. Those situations are not saving games.

Leyland insists that Zumaya, 21, is not ready to assume the closer’s role, but I could see changes being made sometime after the All-Star break. Leading all A.L. relievers with 43 strikeouts, Zumaya may not be ready for a full-time position, but it would not hurt to sprinkle some save opportunities for him

It’s tough to see Jones struggle the way he has recently, where his ERA is above 15.00 his past seven appearances.

It’s even tougher with the weight put on the Tigers to win close games, now that they are in the middle of a pennant race.

Jones’ skills, not Jones, are letting the fans down, and that’s the last thing he wants to do.

Monday, June 12, 2006

What channel is your hockey on?

Does anybody know who’s winning the Stanley Cup Finals?

I do, but not because I’ve watched more than a minute of the compelling, star-studded, media circus Carolina Hurricanes-Edmonton Oilers series.

(Note the sarcasm above.)

Nobody, and I mean nobody, is watching this year’s Cup Finals, including myself. As late as 2004, the Stanley Cup-deciding series was a fixture on my television set, even with the lowly Tampa Bay Lightning-Calgary Flames matchup.

And here’s why this year, it’s not even a blip on my radar screen.

I actually had to search for my channel guide to see if my cable provider airs the Outdoor Life Network, now the NHL’s flagship station.

After a 15-minute search for the guide, it turns out they don’t.

In a way only the NHL and commissioner Gary Bettman could, they completely screwed the teams, players, and most importantly, the fans with this T.V. deal.

In 2005, after a lockout that all but removed hockey from major sport status in the United States, the league opted to sign its TV rights deal to OLN instead of ESPN.

ESPN, who has been airing the NHL since 1992, declined the one year, $60 million option for the 2005-06 season.

However, multiple sources said ESPN was still interested, just not at the price the NHL was asking or that OLN was offering.

OLN won the NHL with a $65 million deal the first two seasons, with one year options extending to 2011, hinging on OLN subscriber levels.

This is where then NHL lost any chance of becoming relevant in America for a very long time.

The logical decision would have been to sign with ESPN for less money. ESPN is by far and away the kingpin in sports broadcasting, and it would have allowed the NHL to showcase their new, fast paced game to over $20 million more households than OLN could have.

The league’s reasoning was that OLN would market the NHL better than ESPN because it would be the cornerstone of the network.

Here’s a news flash: all the marketing in the world would not boost the NHL’s ratings as significant as the league seems to think it would and what better way to market your product than having it on ESPN in primetime?

Here are some figures from Nielsen that show how far the NHL’s television value has actually fallen. The 2005-06 OLN broadcasts averaged 117,000 households. In the 2003-04 NHL season (before the lockout), ESPN and ESPN 2 averaged 416,000 and 209,000, respectively.

The NHL can’t even beat the WNBA or poker anymore. According to ESPN’com’s Darren Rovell, more people watched the 13 WNBA broadcasts on ESPN 2 than the NHL on OLN this year. Also, NBC’s poker series, which follows their NHL playoff coverage, is outdrawing the main attraction by 200,000 viewers.

NBC’s ratings have actually gone down from the regular season to the playoffs, from 1.09 million households to 1.02 million.

During the same time slot that could be filled by playoff hockey games, ESPN was airing other programming such as poker, the Women’s College World Series, the U.S. Paintball Championships, and that terrible Battle of the Gridiron show.

I’d like to think that if you throw a conference or Stanley Cup final in those slots they’d outdraw any of the aforementioned events.

But ESPN will probably take their chances without the NHL. They can afford to. They have a chokehold on the competition.

Until the NHL comes to their senses and gets back on ESPN, we will watch the league continue to deteriorate in the eyes of the casual fan.

The funny thing is, most of us can’t even watch that.

Friday, June 9, 2006

Shaq ready to fulfill guarantee of NBA title

The NBA Finals have started once again.

And, for the first time in three years, the Detroit Pistons aren’t representing the Eastern Conference.

In their place is a team that put them in their place last series, the Miami Heat. The Heat didn’t only want to beat the Pistons, they wanted to embarrass them for what happened a year earlier.

Powered by the dominant Shaquille O’Neal and electrifying Dwyane Wade, they showed the offensively impaired Detroit squad the door in six games.

Now, the only thing that stands behind the Heat and a NBA Championship that O’Neal guaranteed upon arriving in Miami is the upstart Dallas Mavericks and superstar Dirk Nowitzki.

First year head coach Avery Johnson has, (and I promised myself I wouldn’t use this saying) put the “D” back in the “Big D.” For the previous several years, Dallas has notoriously been unable to stop anyone from scoring, whether it be Kobe Bryant or Star Jones.

It’s only fitting that on the road to their first Finals appearances, both teams hurdled their previous roadblocks. Dallas unseated the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in a thrilling seven game series in the Western Conference Semifinals. This series saw this Maverick team earn years of playoff experience as, after losing Game 6 in Dallas, they traveled north to beat the Spurs at home in the deciding Game 7.

The big adjustment the Heat will need to make is in defending Dallas’ transition game. The Pistons didn’t run the floor nearly as much as Dallas will be, and this could be key in getting O’Neal fatigued. If I’m Avery Johnson, I’m salivating over this match-up because the Mavericks can run the Heat into the ground.

If that doesn’t happen, watch for O’Neal to take over. Once the Heat get comfortable running their half-court offense, which is a two man show with a mediocre supporting cast, Dallas will run into one question:

How do we stop Shaq?

They won’t be able to answer that question because it simply can’t happen. Dallas doesn’t have big enough or enough big bodies to bang with O’Neal throughout this series. The problem with the offense being run through O’Neal is that, like the late years of the Los Angeles Lakers dynasty with Kobe Bryant, there is another superstar waiting to explode and capture the spotlight.

If Wade realizes the best way to earn his first ring is to use the big man down low, I see the Heat winning in seven, and Shaq flashing his fourth ring.

Monday, June 5, 2006

Can Tigers handle lead role?

After two disappointing postseason exits by the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Pistons, respectively, the stage is set for the Detroit Tigers to captivate our summer with a feeling Detroit sports fans have long forgotten: a Pennant chase. I, for one, can’t tell you what meaningful late summer baseball means.

Check that.

I can’t tell you what meaningful summer baseball means, period.

The last time the Tigers played a postseason playoff game, I was still a week away from making my debut on this Earth. And this whole winning thing isn’t only a new thing to us. Only two of these Tigers (Magglio Ordonez, Pudge Rodriguez) have experienced playoff baseball. Justin Verlander, arguably the Tigers best pitcher to date, and Joel Zumaya, are rookies. This is Curtis Granderson’s first big league season. We still don’t know how Chris Shelton will hold up in his first season as a full time starter.

Judging by the first half of their highly publicized test against the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, there’s still some work to do.

The Tigers started off 2-5 against New York and Boston, and should have been no worse than 4-3. Stranded opportunities and poor clutch pitching ultimately cost them two wins. Against Yankee pitching on May 30, the Tigers left 7 runners on base in the 1st and 8th innings, both times having the bases loaded with no outs.

There is no excuse for not pushing one run across in the first, as this would have given Roman Colon, in his spot start for the injured Mike Maroth, some breathing room and confidence. In the eighth, when the go ahead run was 90 feet away and the pressure was on, Granderson and Placido Polanco could not deliver. The Yankees took over in the 11th, after a Jason Giambi solo shot off Todd Jones and defensive miscues.

Jones dropped the ball yet again Friday night.

A two run home run off the bat of Kevin Youkilis gave Jones his second blown save and the series was opened on the wrong foot, a game that should have been won. After the previous night’s comeback, with Carlos Guillen’s walk-off single in the 10th, a wave of momentum to begin the Boston series would have been the Tigers ally once again.

This first place team is now the main attraction in town, and will continue to be throughout the fall if they keep playing good baseball. But with the added fame comes added pressure, not only from the fans and media, but from a team that sits 2 ½ games behind them in the A.L. Central standings. A team that has experience, something the Tigers do not have.

The Chicago White Sox host the Tigers in a 3 game series, starting tomorrow. After getting swept the first time these teams met, it’s critical that they get a series victory this time around, or the pressure is amplified once again.