Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Best Ever. Well, in My Mind

For as long as I can remember, whenever the thought of the best baseball player ever has come to mind, I immediately think of Willie Mays. To me it is that much of a no-brainer. I am not so sure the rest of the world thinks the same way. My guess is that Babe Ruth would get the nod if it were put up for vote among the masses. I think Jim Brown was the greatest football player ever. He could have dominated in any era, although there are many quarterbacks who merit consideration - especially Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana. And Jerry Rice was beyond incredible. I kind of get the idea Michael Jordan is considered the greatest basketball player of all-time. Me - I think it is Magic Johnson. Jordan did beat Johnson for his first title, but if Johnson had not gotten HIV and retired early, I feel he and the Lakers would have aced out Jordan and the Bulls for another championship or two. No player could play every position on the court the way Magic could. No player ever had as good court awareness and vision. Wayne Gretzky's numbers speak for themselves. So do those of Gordie Howe. The Great One and Mr. Hockey - those nicknames tell it all. Yet, if I'm honest with myself, I admit I think Bobby Orr is the greatest hockey player ever. He was just so gifted in every way, particularly skating.

Random thoughts

- The game I am looking forward to more than any other as the college football season opens this weekend is California at Tennessee. I know - Florida State and Miami are both better than those two teams. Then again, it seems like Miami and Florida State are constantly playing each other. I like the intersectional aspect of the Cal-Tennessee game. It is refreshing in this era of cupcake non-conference schedules. The Notre Dame-Georgia Tech game should also be interesting. Tech receiver Calvin Johnson might be the best receiver in the country and Reggie Ball is a very experienced quarterback.

- I would not be surprised if the couple days off because of the rainout in New York Tuesday does wonders for Tigers outfielder Magglio Ordonez. Maybe it will help him get a second wind.

- Wonder what the line will be for the Lions� season opener against Seattle. I'm guessing they will be underdogs even if they are playing at home. It must be weird for the Seahawks to be playing their first game this season at Ford Field after losing the Super Bowl there.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Why not Andrew Miller?

Jim Leyland carried a basic philosophy during spring training. It was that talent means more than experience. If you throw hard in Lakeland, you will throw hard in Detroit. And at all points in-between. If Jim Leyland did not think like that - and a lot of baseball people do not - Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya would have begun this season in the minor leagues. Can you imagine how much different the Tigers season would have been? That is why I really like the Tigers bringing Andrew Miller to the major leagues. I think it is a great move. From what I can tell, watching him pitch some games on the sports package I have on my dish during the regular season, and what he showed during the College World Series, Miller is refined. He has excellent command of the baseball and a fluid delivery - in addition to mid-90s velocity and a good breaking ball. It looks like he can get major league hitters out, and is not the type to get nervous under pressure. Who knows? He might be a huge fac tor down the stretch. If he is not, and gets knocked around a little bit, what have the Tigers lost here? It is not like Colby Lewis is going to get hitters out consistently. I like the way Dave Dombrowski thinks outside the box. Drafting Miller was smart. Signing him was a coup. Pitching him this September just might be the difference. You never know.

Random thoughts

- In addition to their victory over the Indians Sunday, the Tigers really needed Chicago to beat Minnesota. As is, a five-game lead at this late stage of the season is not too bad. Things, however, would have become pretty tight had the Tigers lost Sunday and the Twins won. The Tigers? lead would have reduced to three games. That would have been too close for comfort.

- Hmmm. See where Jim Leyland started Omar Infante at second base Sunday. Hmmm. See where he got two hits. Hmmm. See where the Tigers snapped a four-game losing streak. Hmmm. Maybe Leyland should start Infante pretty much every day until Placido Polanco returns. Hmmm. Seems like a no-brainer. Hmmm. Bet he does not on Tuesday in New York. Hmmm. Just an educated guess.

A few weeks ago I wrote on this blog that I was optimistic about the Lions chances this season. Said I even thought they have a chance to make the playoffs. Ah, does anybody out there mind if I take it back?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Tigers Being Unfair to Infante

The Tiger front office and Jim Leyland have done a brilliant job orchestrating this season. That is not even an issue. But come on, what is their deal with Neifi Perez getting all the playing time at second base ahead of Omar Infante? I honestly cannot believe how poorly Perez swings the bat left-handed. He is a little better right-handed, but not much. He runs well and is good at turning a double play, but Infante does those things well, too. And I do not see where Infante is not a good fielder. He made an error against Texas. It was costly. But how many costly errors have Brandon Inge and Carlos Guillen made this season? Leyland has been unfair to Infante by not playing him ahead of Perez during Placido Polanco's absence. Infante is a much bigger threat at the plate. There is also the factor that Infante has paid his dues as a bench player this season. He should be rewarded with a chance to play every day when it is presented. It would be different if Perez was discernibly better player, but he is not.

Random thoughts

- The Lions taking a one-day trip to Oakland for a preseason game makes no sense whatsoever. Getting off a plane after that long of a flight and then playing a football game just hours later must increase the risk of injury. And it is weird the way Rod Marinelli no comments the issue. It is as if he has something to hide.

- Count me among those who think Charlie Sanders belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Hurting him, though, is not having a championship ring. The tight ends with similar statistics in the Hall, such as Mike Ditka and Dave Casper, did play on championship teams. During Sanders' 10 years in the NFL, the Lions only had four winning seasons - none during his final five seasons. It is probably the biggest reason he flies so much under the radar, despite his obvious brilliance as a player. The guy made the acrobatic catch an art form.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Sensitivity Training with Todd Jones

I had a long talk with Todd Jones recently when I was on a road trip with the Tigers in Boston. It was the first time I had an extensive conversation with him since he has returned to the Tigers. I was on the Tigers beat for much of his first stint with the club and got to know him pretty well. I think Todd is a good person. I like him very much. But he is also one of the most sensitive people I have ever met. He hears all the criticism. He remembers every slight. When he pitched poorly early in the season and was roundly criticized, he took it to heart. There is a website called " You would think, considering his success after that slow start, Todd would ignore it. Yet, he talks about it a lot. It bothers him. I was among those who thought Joel Zumaya was a better pitcher and should be the Tigers closer. I was wrong. Jones has gotten it done. One of the reasons is that he has taken the criticism and used it to motivate himself. It makes him stronger now compared to during his first stint with the Tigers when it would eat him up. When Todd was first with the Tigers, he was obsessed with Craig Biggio and how Biggio accused Todd of lingering with an injury when he was with the Astros. He could not wait to face Houston in interleague play. Then he blew back-to-back saves, one because Biggio homered off him. These days, Todd would not blow those saves. He is stronger mentally. Oh, and he has better command of his fastball and throws more first-pitch strikes. Seems like he was right and we were wrong. The one good thing about this is that the closer now matters in this town. He is like the Lions quarterback and Red Wings goalie. Not much is said about him when things are going well, but he booed lustily when he struggles. Willie Hernandez won the Cy Young and MVP awards in 1984, yet was eventually booed right out of town. Such pressure comes with the territory of closing games for a contending team.

Random thoughts

- Prediction: The worst football game of the year will be Nov. 4 when Michigan plays Ball State. It would be so much better if the Big Ten forgot about the BCS ramifications and hit the cutting edge by playing a round-robin schedule. That would be much better use of the extra game.

- Something to watch for Friday during the Lions preseason game at Oakland: Improved pass blocking by Jeff Backus. It was alarming how the Lions left tackle was scorched last week in Cleveland.

- Barry Bonds has performed so poorly this season that no team is likely going to want to pay him much to play next season - even American League clubs that can use him at DH. It looks like Henry Aaron's all-time home run is, thankfully, safe.



Monday, August 21, 2006

Lions need to be better than that

They say the third preseason game is the most important because it is, in essence, the final dress rehearsal for the regular season. So the Lions better hope they play better this Friday in Oakland than they did last Friday in Cleveland. They forced some turnovers and kicked some field goals as a result of those turnovers. Otherwise, it was not a good performance in any way. It was particularly disturbing the way they could not stop the run. The Lions have some serious issues at linebacker. Somehow the injured Boss Bailey coming to the rescue as a middle linebacker is not exactly comforting. It is understood he has speed and covers ground defending the pass. But he is also thin - almost with the build of safety - and is easily engulfed by blockers. And he does not tackle well and is often hurt. The Lions could not run the ball, pointing out a lack of progress from their offensive line. They also did not throw the ball enough to wide receiver Mike Williams. He has made two nice catches, one in each of their preseason games. Yet, they have not thrown the ball his way hardly at all and he is still buried down the depth chart when he is clearly a better talent than any other receiver they have with the exception of Roy Williams. The least they can do is test Williams this preseason. It is surprising - and disappointing - the Lions have chosen not to. As for Charles Rogers, the Lions need to end this charade. Either cut him or make him part of their plans. Keeping him in such a vague position is not only hurting Rogers, but the team collectively because he has become a distraction.

Random thoughts

- What is a safer assumption: Jason Hanson making an extra point attempt or Tiger Woods winning a major golf tournament when he enters the final round with a lead? Both seem about as "automatic" as can be.

- Just when it seems like Jeremy Bonderman has turned the corner and become a truly elite pitcher, he turns in a stinko performance like Sunday. Adding salt to the wound is that the Tigers never needed him more.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Way Too Much Panic Over Verlander

This one comes from the land of lost perspective. It involves Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander. He did not pitch well in his last two starts. And they rested him for a start because he had a tired arm. And it is as if his career has come to an end - or something equally ridiculous. Or at least in the minds of so many people - too many - it means he is not going to pitch well for awhile. Nothing could be further from the truth. Talk about skewed expectations. Verlander is not only a rookie, this is just his second professional season. It is true. He was the second overall selection in the 2004 draft, but it was based more on raw ability than his track record. As a college pitcher, he was just 21-18 against suspect competition. What Verlander has done this season is remarkable. He is 14-6 with a 3.14 ERA. What more do you want? Even his loss to the Red Sox Wednesday was amazing in that he could not throw either of his off-speed pitches with any effectiveness, nor spot his fastball - and he nearly got away with it. Remember, he lost these last two games at Chicago and Boston, against very potent lineups in small ball parks. Although he is roughly the same age as Jeremy Bonderman, Verlander does not have nearly four seasons in the major leagues under his belt like Bondo. He has not won more than 200 games during his major league career - the way Kenny Rogers has. The kid needs room to grow. Tigers manager Jim Leyland will give him that. Tiger fans would be wise to calm down and do the same.

Random thoughts

- Is there anything more annoying than the Lions - Charles Rogers saga? Enough already. Either play the guy or cut him. This charade has gone long enough. For a franchise that vows to avoid distractions, they are sure letting this one dictate to them.

- I love the Michigan State offense. And for reasons more than quarterback Drew Stanton. Running back Javon Ringer is a terrific player. Too bad the Spartans defense will likely continue to be underwhelming.

If the Tigers season ended today, I would cast my vote for Tiger of the Year for Carlos Guillen. He just might be the most underrated player in the American League.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Tigers Just Keep Roaring Back

You have to give the Tigers this much: They are resilient. Just when you think they are headed for serious trouble, they bounce back nicely, which is exactly what they have done the last two nights with victories in Boston. Fenway Park is not an easy place to win. The Red Sox are considerably above .500 at Fenway and below .500 on the road. The two games were a bit strange. Manny Ramirez really helped the Tigers out with a bad baserunning mistake Monday. Tuesday�s game was just all over the place - although I have to admit I would have liked to have seen Ivan Rodriguez try to turn a double play at second base. Pudge should be performing better run production-wise this season, but the more you�re around him, the more you understand why he is such a great player. He is a truly exceptional athlete, who does everything well. The Tigers won the two games primarily because of Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman and the bullpen. Todd Jones has been excellent. Time to give him his due. The Tigers Polanco, though. He is a very underrated player. Did you know he entered this season as one of 18 major league players with a lifetime .300 or better average. In fact, four those hitters were in the Tigers� lineup Tuesday - Polanco, Pudge, Magglio Ordonez and Sean Casey, the latter who had another huge hit (a two-run double) Tuesday.

Random thoughts

- I'�m with the Tigers in Boston. I have been to Fenway Park many times in the past on assignment for The Oakland Press, but not since 1998. Fenway is even better than I remembered it. If you see Fenway, and do not feel the tradition of baseball being played there since 1912, you simply do not like baseball.

If I had an MVP vote this year, right now I�'d be leaning toward the Yankees Derek Jeter. He has held that team together through some very troubling times.

I'�m interested in seeing how Omar Infante responds to playing every day now that Polanco is out of the lineup. Infante has enormous talent, but has lacked consistency when playing as a regular in the past. Will it be different for him this time around?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Time to find out if the Tigers are for real

It is not as if we did not know this was coming. We have been waiting for this for some time. Accomplishing something as good as making the postseason in Major League Baseball always come with a price. The price comes with that wrenching feeling in your stomach. You know, the one everybody has now that the Tigers have lost five straight games and lead the White Sox by only 5 1-2 games in the American League Central. Wait a second. Did I just write only 5 1-2 games? That is still a pretty big lead. The problem is this week. It has the Tigers playing three games in Boston against the Red Sox, while the White Sox have four games at home against the Royals. Yeah, the same Royals who were drilled 13-0 Sunday by the Indians. This could get really tight really soon. A part of me has suspected all along that the White Sox are a better team than the Tigers. But every time that notion has crept into my head, the Tigers have done something to dispel it. They have always bounced back this season. Consistency is their trademark. Who knows? Maybe that is what will happen again this week in Boston. I do know this, they have to field better - especially Carlos Guillen. That much is obvious, I suppose. I also know that the White Sox have already had their rough moment. They played very poorly in July - and survived. The Tigers have only themselves to blame for that as it relates to the American League Central title. The Tigers have given away too many games they should have won lately. Now it is coming back to haunt them. I still think the Tigers will make the playoffs, though.

Random thoughts

The best thing about the Lions preseason opener was the play of quarterback Dan Orlovsky. It looks like he has a bright future. The worst thing was the lack of passes thrown toward Mike Williams and Charles Rogers. How are they going to know what these guys can do if they do not throw them the ball?

I liked the Tigers deal for Sean Casey, but it seems to me he already has a lot of doubters around these parts despite a career batting average that tops .300.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Rogers and Williams need to play

The Tigers have won the world championship twice during my lifetime - in 1968 and 1984. And neither time were they involved in a pennant race. They clinched long before the season ended both years. The real excitement did not really begin until the postseason. Conversely, the Tigers have been in three great pennant races of note over roughly the same period. In 1967, they needed to win at least three out of four games while playing back-to-back doubleheaders against the Angels to close the season. It was to tie the Red Sox for the pennant. They split. The "Impossible Dream" Red Sox won a thrilling three-way race with the Tigers and the Twins. In 1972, a veteran group of Tigers edged out Boston in a close race for the division championship and nearly upset Oakland during the American League Championship Series. It was during my second-year on the Tigers' beat that they rallied down the stretch and beat out Toronto in the final game of the season to win the division. We all remember '68 and '84 so vividly, and don't quite have the same feeling for '67, '72 and '87 even though, overall, those seasons were more thrilling. So - and please forgive my stream of consciousness on this - I do not know if I am quite sure how I feel about the stretch run of the season. On one hand, I remember just how exciting '87 was day-by-day for such an extended period of time. It literally defined the term, "pennant race." On the other hand, I do feel a club can get better prepared for a playoff run if it has time to get ready by clinching early.

Random thoughts

- There is no doubt in my mind the national championship Ohio State most recently won has been stained by what has become of Maurice Clarett. Without him, they do not win the title. And his deportment since leaving speaks volumes about Ohio State as being more of a football factory than an institution of higher learning.

- The charade the Lions insist upon with Charles Rogers and Mike Williams needs to stop. Those two should play more snaps than any of their receivers during the preseason so the Lions can get an accurate evaluation of where they stand. Then, if they do not perform, they can be cut without issue. Burying them on the depth chart does not allow for that accurate of an evaluation.

A fearless prediction: Manny Legace will play better than any Red Wings goalie this coming season. And he will not only lead the Blues to an unexpected playoff berth, but win a series for them.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Is it "if" or "when" the Tigers go to the playoffs?

Tigers manager Jim Leyland was asked the other day when he feels comfortable with a nine-game lead. His answer was a good one. "When we have eight games left," he said. The Tigers have a nine-game lead in the American League Central with 49 games remaining. That is a very comfortable cushion. Is it possible they could still not make the playoffs? Yes. But it is not probable. If the Tigers were to not make the playoffs now, it would be because of a collapse. Of course, the schedule is a difficult one this month with road trips to Chicago, Boston and New York. I just do not see the Tigers collapsing. They have too much depth. For example, they could go seven-deep in their starting pitching rotation when Mike Maroth returns. Most teams, even the contenders, have trouble beyond their Top Three in the rotation. That is certainly the case with the Red Sox.

Random thoughts

- Leyland should consider moving Curtis Granderson to the bottom of the batting order and leading off Placido Polanco. Granderson�s strikeouts are hindering his effectiveness as a leadoff man. Polanco makes much more consistent contact. Neither is a base stealing threat.

- Who is the Tigers Rookie of the Year, Joel Zumaya or Justin Verlander? It is really difficult to compare the value of those two as it relates to the Tigers� resurgence.

- The Tigers play a huge game Friday night at Chicago. The Lions open the preseason that night against Denver. It will be interesting to see how much the Tigers success takes away interest from the Lions. I am just thankful for TiVo so I can watch both game Friday..

- It does seem odd the Lions are starting Boss Bailey at middle linebacker. He has great speed, but struggles engaging blockers and is, at best, a spotty tackler.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Buckeyes Ranking Opens Eyes

The coaches poll is out and Ohio State is ranked No. 1 and Michigan 15th.
To some U-M fans, this might seem insignificant. How often in the past have the Wolverines been ranked much higher in the preseason, but not delivered on the field? It almost seems like a blessing given the past. But it is significant from the standpoint that it points to Ohio State as, clearly, the preeminent football program in the Big Ten. The days of John Cooper and Michigan beating Ohio State on a regular basis are over. Michigan cannot claim a more recent national championship, either. It is even more amazing that Ohio State has such a lofty ranking considering the caliber of players they lost from last year’s team. It was far more impact players than the Wolverines lost. Yet, Ohio State is still much more highly-regarded. The Buckeyes of Jim Tressel have become more than a thorn in the side of the Wolverines. They have caused serious wounds. That makes this season especially important for Michigan football. The good part: The Wolverines remain an immensely talented team more than capable of winning the Big Ten. Actually, it would not surprise me if the Wolverines did just that, beating Ohio State along the way. It will be interesting to see the impact new coordinator Ron English has on the defense. It will be the key. It also would not surprise me if quarterback Chad Henne learns from his struggles last year (his stats were not the bad, either) and has a huge season.

Random thoughts

- What an amazing weekend for the Tigers. Can there be any more evidence of their pitching depth than Wil Ledezma, Jason Grilli, Jamie Walker and Fernando Rodney combining to shutout Cleveland 1-0. The Indians are not a good team, but it has nothing to do with their hitting attack. It is very strong.

- Anybody out there still want to trade Craig Monroe? Can you imagine if the Tigers had acquired Alfonso Soriano and benched or traded Monroe. I am not certain if Soriano would have pulled off the same type of heroics. How does the saying go? Sometimes the best trades are the ones you do not make.

- Reason No. 70 I will not cast my vote for Mark McGwire for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame: He is reportedly not cooperating with former senator George Mitchell's investigation into performance-enhancing substances in baseball. What a disappointment McGwire has become. And on every level.

Friday, August 04, 2006

These Tiger Losses Mean Something

The Tigers have lost three of their last five games. That in itself is not much of an issue. Even the best teams go through stretches when they do not win. The Tigers� lofty record suggests they are one of those best teams. But it is disturbing the way the Tigers lost those games. They blew a lead and made numerous errors Sunday in a loss at Minnesota that would have completed a series sweep. Jim Leyland, simply put, stuck with Jeremy Bonderman too long. They made four errors Monday night in a loss to Tampa Bay. Then, with Tampa Bay throwing a limited lineup and suspect pitching at them, the Tigers were beaten again Thursday night. The Devil Rays are a bad team. Just splitting four games with them, when the next month, save for six games against Cleveland, presents all contenders, was not good. The Tigers have had some spans of losing games earlier this season. Most notably was going 3-7 over a 10-game period against the Yankees, Red Sox and White Sox. The difference was the Tigers were beaten in those games. Three of the past five days, they have beaten themselves. They gave away three games. And it may cost them later when the playoff race really heats up.

Random thoughts

- The weirdest statistic nobody talks about is that Joel Zumaya actually has more blown save opportunities (four) than Todd Jones (three). Zumaya is just one for five in save situations.

- The more I think about his future, the more I would like to see Zumaya start a game or two. I am starting to think that might be his best role. It seems like lately he is overthrowing. Maybe it is to light up the radar gun. He admits he enjoys the thrill his triple-digit readings gives fans. If he were a starter, he would have to pace himself more. It also seems like he muscling the ball too much lately, which was the flaw he displayed early in his professional career. He would have to smooth himself out if he were starting. It is too late to make that change this year with the Tigers in first place. I am talking about next year. It would seem like the Tigers rotation would be really strong with Verlander, Bonderman and Zumaya out front. It would also open the door for trading either Nate Robertson or Mike Maroth in a value-for-value trade.

- I remember when holding the world record in the 100-meter dash meant you were considered "The World�s Fastest Human." Now the record just raises eyebrows of suspicion about performance enhancing drugs. And that is sad.




Wednesday, August 02, 2006

What is not to understand about Maybin?

Throughout the frenzy surrounding the trade deadline, the one thing I did not get was the number of fans who honestly thought the Tigers should have traded prospect Cameron Maybin to the Washington Nationals for Alfonso Soriano. Dave Dombrowski passed on the deal. There is not a general manager in baseball who would not have done the same thing. Even the Yankees, under the circumstances, would not have parted with Maybin. What Maybin is doing at his age in the Midwest League is extraordinary. He is leading the league in hitting and on-base percentage. He is among the top 10 in steals and RBI despite having less than 300 at bats because a fluky index finger injury set him back for awhile earlier in the season. Most kids are in the Gulf Coast League at that age. He is one of the youngest players in Class A ball - and perhaps the best player. He has five-tool potential. Before the "Moneyball" era, he probably would have been the first overall pick in the draft. The only reason he w as not is because he had the leverage of college baseball, and there were signability concerns. He is like Derek Jeter and A-Rod at the same age. He is easily the best position player prospect the Tigers have had since the nucleus of their �84 world title team. And if he stays healthy, he will push his way through the farm system quickly. The idea, even if he pans out, he will be no better than Soriano does not hold water from the standpoint the Tigers control the rights to Maybin for six years in the major leagues. They would have had to sign Soriano to a long-term deal for at least $15 million per season next year. And by the end of the deal, he will be slowing down just as Maybin starts to hit full-stride. I expect Baseball America will name him one of the best prospects in baseball - maybe No. 1 - the next time they do a list. The idea there is no such player as a sure-thing prospect is valid, but Maybin�s talent and demeanor (he is a solid kid) minimize the risk. He is the most valuable commodity the Tigers have - on par with Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya. And that is not just my theory. That is something anyone in organized baseball would say.

Random thoughts

- The Red Wings� obsession with older goalies is disturbing enough, but Dominik Hasek? The guy left the Wings holding the bag not once, but twice. What happened last season when Ottawa depended on him? The Senators got burned.

- You know it is a magical season when you call up a corner outfielder who was hitting .224 in Double-A ball, place him in center field and he starts hitting and fielding like Willie Mays. Brent Clevlen has looked that good the past few nights, but do not expect that to last.

- The Lions term that Pro Bowl defensive tackle Shaun Rogers is week-to-week with a shoulder strain is laughable. A word to the wise: Do not trust much the Lions say these days about injuries. It would not surprise me a bit if Rogers injury is more severe than they are letting on.