Friday, December 22, 2006

Tradition Makes Baseball The Best


I know this nation has had a love affair with the National Football League. Me, too. I enjoy the NFL immensely - despite the Lions foibles. Honestly, and I know it surprises a lot of people, but if asked to make a choice, I would probably say hockey is my favorite sport in the sense I would rather watch a hockey game than anything else - especially at the game. College football is special. I cannot get enough of it. I used to feel the same way about college basketball, but to be honest, it seems like only the NCAA Tournament counts anymore. I do not get as fired up for the regular season as I used to when I remember many important Big Ten games, some I was fortunate enough to cover for The Oakland Press. I still watch an inordinate amount of college basketball, though. I just cannot name the starting lineup of every Big Ten team - and half the ACC - like I used to be able to. And the NBA is always interesting, for one reason or another, and the Pistons remain, in my opinion, championship quality. But when you come down to it, baseball is the best sport. What separates it is the tradition. Take the Hall of Fame, for example. What a great debate the balloting sparks every year. Should Lee Smith be in? How about Goose Goosage? Is Jim Rice a Hall of Famer? How about Andre Dawson? And that is before you even touch the Mark McGwire question. Go to the book store. There are as many books about baseball as there are for all the other sports combined. Honestly, I cannot wait for the baseball season to start if for no other reason than to see how the Gary Sheffield deal turns out.

Happy Holidays

This will be my last blog posting until after the New Year. I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a safe and joyful holiday week and a happy New Year. I will be back posting blog entries every Monday, Wednesday and Friday following the holiday season. And I would like to thank you all for supporting this blog this past year, and for reading The Oakland Press. I enjoy the interaction this blog allows with our readers, who have provided great insight on many issues.

Pat Caputo

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bonderman Deal A Dandy

There was a point last season, during the second half, when I must admit I wondered if the Tigers should give Jeremy Bonderman a long-term contract. As good as his fastball is - and the fact he probably has the best slider in the American League - aside, there seemed to be something missing. Too many big innings. He would pitch seven innings and six would be great, but he would give up a lot of runs in that one big inning and lose. Or he would struggle mightily in the first inning. They needed him a couple key starts during the second half - and he did not come through. But that changed during the postseason. He was really good in some pressure-packed games. I do not believe, either, that his problems have been the lack of a third pitch - the conventional thinking. He has a good changeup and a decent forkball (he has thrown both). This is more a mental hump he had to get over about getting out of jams. He seemed to do that during the postseason. And he has made a little more pro gress in that area each season. Bonderman is a tough kid mentally. He gets through the tough times. Given his talent and experience, the four-year, $38 million contract they gave Bonderman was a very good signing by the Tigers.

Random thoughts

- Are the Red Wings really playing Columbus again tonight? Yuck. Is Garry Bettman clueless or what?

- Kalin Lucas from Orchard Lake is the ideal Tom Izzo recruit. Not only is he talented athletically, but he has the attitude to fit the program at Michigan State. He is smart and he is tough - the prototypical MSU player, actually.

- I follow college football as closely as anybody I know, but I do not know anything about Middle Tennessee State. I wonder Phil Steele knows anything about Middle Tennessee State? The Motor City Bowl has to do better than that in the future if it wants to remain a viable entity.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Time for McCown

Has it ever been more obvious that the Lions must make a quarterback change? Every week, the same scenario develops. The Lions game is relatively close. Then Jon Kitna does something like take a sack he should not have. Or fumbles. Or is intercepted. He is at his absolute worst during the fourth quarter when a game is on the line. It is unbelievable Lions head coach Rod Marinelli sticks with him and still proclaims him as the Lions quarterback next season. This is going nowhere. It is time to see what Josh McCown can do. He may not be better than Kitna, but it is doubtful he would be worse. He did have some 300-yard passing games with the Cardinals, the Lions are paying him relatively a lot of money and he is young enough that their might be some potential there. As is, they are just wasting time with Kitna.

Random Thoughts

- With Kevin Jones injury such a factor, the Lions might to consider pursuing restricted free agent running back Michael Turner. It is doubtful the Chargers will be able to match offers for Turner considering what they are paying LaDainian Thomlinson. Turner is a sensational player.
- In the red zone early in the final quarter Sunday, the Lions probably should have tried throwing the ball to Mike Williams. Seems like he was pretty effective when they threw his way Sunday. Maybe - just maybe - he should have played more this season. Make that a lot more.
- Carmelo Anthony should get a least a 10-game suspension for the cheapshot punch he threw Saturday night in New York. At least he was contrite about it with what seemed like a sincere apology.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Lambeau Losing Defines Lions

Of all the events I have been fortunate enough to cover for The Oakland Press, the one where I have seen one team defeated before the start of a game more than any other is when I have witnessed the Lions play the Packers at Lambeau Field. Even during warmups, you just feel how the game is over before it gets started. One game I covered there, Brett Favre just kept heaving the ball deep down the field - and Bryant Westbrook and Terry Fair kept getting called for pass interference. A couple other times, Favre kept throwing these short passes to Ahman Green, who ran for one big gain after another. The Lions offense never gets it going there. I think the Lions struggles at Lambeau can be summed up by last season when they kept running behind an undersized center, Dominic Raiola, against a 400-pound nose guard, Grady Jackson, near the goal line. Shaun Rogers also got a foolish penalty for a hit out of bounds. At least that game was close. It may not be Sunday. I watched a tape of the Packers victory at San Francisco last week. Green is running well. Favre is throwing well. Donald Driver is an excellent receiver. Greg Jennings was a brilliant draft pick. A. J. Hawk and Charles Woodson have really helped the Packers defense. After winning just three games last season, the Packers have made significant progress. With another solid move here and there, and Favre with coming back, they will probably be a contender next season. Certainly the Packers are in much better shape than the Lions for next season. Again, it speaks volumes about the Lions ineptitude.

Random thoughts

- I love Allen Iverson as a player. I admit the thought of him becoming a Piston is intriguing. However, it is the wrong time. As they stand right now, I honestly think the Pistons are championship contenders and should not shake up the deck to acquire Iverson. If he ends up in Miami, so be it. There is only one ball. It would be interesting to see how the Heat would share it.

- A prediction: Michigan will enter next season as the top-ranked college football team in the country. And it may be a stretch. For while the Wolverines will be returning a terrific offense, their losses defensively will be significant.

- I am sorry, but I cannot help but chuckle every time I envision Joel Zumaya playing "Guitar Hero."

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Do You Fear The Yankees

You just knew, after the Tigers unceremoniously knocked the snot out of the Yankees in an American League Division Series, that the Yankees would come on strong in free agency this off season. And they already have, signing left-hander Andy Pettitte to a one-year $16 million deal. Now speculation is running rampant the Yankees will sign Roger Clemens next because he and Pettitte are so close. That would give the Yankees a possible rotation of Mike Mussina, Pettitte, Chien-Ming Wang, Clemens and Carl Pavano, if the latter is healthy and is not traded (the Yankees have gotten offers from the Rockies and Cardinals for Pavano). That starting pitching combined with the Yankees thunderous lineup could make them deadly again. But it could also be playing into the Tigers hands. Clemens was 7-6 last year. He does not even throw in the mid-90s anymore. Mussina was not throwing very hard late last season, either. And Justin Verlander easily won his start against Pettitte, who also appears to have slowed, last season. If the Tigers play their cards right, they could be a force for years to come. But they must remember that youth combined with experience is the best way to go. They must give room to their young players to grow and not rely solely on big-name players who are overpriced because they are past their prime. That is the major concern about the Gary Sheffield deal, and why re-signing Brandon Inge was so important. They still need to let Curtis Granderson develop and bring along Wilfredo Ledezma - and not be afraid to rely on Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller in the not-too-distant future. The Yankees are not a good role model for the Tigers to follow. Remaining on the course they have established is the wiser path. They can beat the Yankees. The Tigers have already proven that. But they will never beat the Yankees at their own game.

Random Thoughts

- Getting five players selected on the Associated Press first- and second-team All-American teams is quite an accomplishment for Michigan. It is a testament to the coaching job Lloyd Carr and his staff have done. Nobody can say they did not get the most of out their stellar recruiting classes this season.

- It is just me, or do the Red Wings make average goalies look great. Ray Emery? Come on. The loss to Ottawa Tuesday hauntingly looked like one of the Red Wings’ playoff losses in recent years.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Strange World of the NFL

I really did not like it before the NFL Draft last spring when it seemed like the NFL experts were piling on Texas quarterback Vince Young. They did not like his throwing motion. He was portrayed as being unintelligent. To me, he was the greatest college football player I had ever seen. Put in the right offense, I saw his NFL career taking off. NFL coaches and team officials just do not think outside the box enough. They want to control players like they are at control of a joy stick. Sports do not function that way. Football is no exception. While good coaching obviously helps, the players are ultimately in charge. A coach can only put them in proper position. It is up to the athletes to make plays. Oh, by the way, Vince Young makes plays. Good for the Tennessee Titans for having the vision. As a result, they have the future the Detroit Lions do not.

Random Thoughts

- I know Orlando is having a surprisingly good season, and that Darko is doing far more for the Magic than he did for the Pistons. But he is not that good. He has only confirmed what many of us suspected all along - that Joe Dumars made the biggest mistake of his mostly brilliant career as a general manager by drafting him second overall.

- Count me among those who still find "Coaches Corner" with Don Cherry as "must see TV." What a knucklehead. But I just cannot get enough of the guy.

- It is a good thing Rod Marinelli took his team for that dreadful one-day road trip to Oakland for the all-important third preseason game. It was to build character, remember? I am sure it will really help the Lions now that they are 2-11 and his players have stopped listening. Yeah. Right. Sure. OK. What a joke.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Next Great Lions Mistake

When the Lions signed Shaun Rogers to a long-term contract, it seemed, on the surface anyway, to be the right thing to do. He was the one really good player on the Lions defense - a legitimate Pro Bowler with the capacity to become great. The problem is, the Lions did not see beyond the tree. They signed Rogers knowing his work ethic was questionable. They signed him knowing his attitude was sour. They saw all the physical aspects of his game - and reacted predictably. But they did not do what good organizations do. They did not see beyond his talent to what is inside him as a competitor. To keep a player like Rogers motivated, you do not give him a long-term contract. Matt Millen is so poor at judging talent it is incredible. He does not understand the tangible aspect of players, nor the intangibles. Now the Lions are saddled with a big problem for the long-term - Shaun Rogers.

Random thoughts

- Yeah. Great. Barry Bonds is going to break Hank Aaron's all-time home run record. The nation has not been this happy about a development since Tom Cruise got married. Yippie. Where is my party hat?

- I know Steve Nash had 42 points Thursday night. I know his Phoenix Suns scored a zillion points against the Nets. I still think he is overrated. I just do not see the Suns winning an NBA title playing that kind of basketball. Has there ever been a more lame NBA MVP than Steve Nash? And he has won the award twice. Wow.

- Pavel Datsyuk is one of the best players in the NHL when he tearing down the wing on a two-on-one break, and he plays with the puck as if it is on a string. That was a great goal he scored in overtime Thursday. Problem is, there is never that kind of room during the playoffs - even in the new NHL.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

It Is About The Pitching

For the most part, the Tigers have taken a wise course of action this off season. In other words, they are not doing anything stupid like moving too much of their excess pitching. Humberto Sanchez in the Gary Sheffield deal was more than enough. There was so much focus, after the World Series, about what was wrong with the Tigers, and not enough about what was right, which is their pitching. It's true. They do have six legitimate starters - Kenny Rogers, Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson, Mike Maroth and Wilfredo Ledezma. It is also true their staff is balanced toward left-handers. But it is also true that the most difficult aspect to procure in baseball is good left-handed pitching. Also, Rogers is in his early 40s, and his contract runs out after this season. The way the Tigers are shaping up, there is pitching to support a possible departure by Rogers, especially considering the Andrew Miller factor. The Tigers should be contenders deep into the future if for no other reason than their pitching. It would be a shame if they wasted it in panic-stricken deals. Good too see they are not doing that.

Random thoughts

- The Pistons announcing their games as sellouts is a joke. I know they are prideful at The Palace, but lets not venture into the land of the ridiculous.

- Tom Izzo is doing a great coaching job with his Spartans. Defense wins games. These guys are playing defense.

- Craig Monroe is an underrated player. Nobody had more clutch hits than he did last season for the Tigers. Why is everybody so quick to want to trade him? Jim Leyland indicated at the winter meetings the Tigers will not move Monroe. Smart man.

- The Lions should have a shot against the Vikings Sunday. Minnesota has a good defense, but QB Brad Johnson has just been awful lately.

- My Heisman Trophy ballot: 1) Troy Smith, Ohio State; 2) Darren McFadden, Arkansas; 3) Michael Hart, Michigan

Monday, December 04, 2006

Skeptical About MSU

Michigan State had its Queen Latifah moment last week. You know, U-N-I-T-Y.

And I honestly do not know for sure. Perhaps Mark Dantonio might turn out to be the right selection as MSU's football coach. There are some things on his resume that are impressive.

But I do not trust MSU when it comes to this process. I am suspicious of every last deal and detail. I heard George Perles was not at the press conference. Why? I also heard one of his former players, who played for both he and Dantonio - when Dantonio was Nick Saban's secondary coach at MSU - called WXYT-1270 AM and ripped Dantonio. Could there be trouble brewing on that front? I look at Dantonio and see relative success at Cincinnati and Ohio State ties. But I also see an underwhelming coaching staff. I see MSU losing a couple key recruits because blue chippers no longer see MSU as a destination for blue chip football players. Dantonio recruited primarily in Ohio and Pennsylvania at Cincinnati, but did not land blue chip recruits. Will he be able to deliver at MSU? Will the political factions really give him a chance? I am sorry. There are four decades of distrust build up in MSU football and many of the same people still in place. I do not think you can teach these old dogs new tricks.

Random thoughts

- Thank you to everybody that posted condolences last week about the passing of my father. When I saw them on Friday I was truly touched.

- I know the Big East is a BCS Conference, but Brian Kelly was sure quick to jump from Central Michigan to Cincinnati. I thought a lot of him as a coach, but am not sure anymore. It is not exactly a sign of self-confidence to jump so quickly to a second-tier job like Cincinnati.

- Josh McCown at wide receiver smacks of a coach, the Lions Rod Marinelli, who is putting in build-in excuses for his failure. It is like, "We're lacking so much talent we had to put a quarterback at wide receiver." What a joke, especially considering the Lions have drafted three wide receivers in the first round since 2003.