Friday, June 29, 2007

The Curious Case Of The Pistons Draft

I found the Pistons’ draft to be quite puzzling. Although they took two players with the same position during the first round, their backgrounds couldn’t be more different.
Rodney Stuckey, taken 15th overall, is the prototypical obscure player from a small-time program, Eastern Washington in the Big Sky Conference. We have been told he is athletic. We have been told he is tough. We have been told he is the type of combo guard that fits the Pistons’ mold. But has anybody actually seen him play? I watch a lot of college basketball, including many obscure late night games from the Western part of the country. I have a dish that carries a lot more college hoops than just ESPN. I have never seen Stuckey play. All I can tell you is what I have seen from video highlights on the Internet and during the draft itself. And to be honest, I can’t tell that much. I can’t criticize nor praise the Pistons for this pick because I don’t know what they have gotten. And there will be those who will say, "Trust Joe Dumars," on this one. Well, for all his success overall, Dumars has made more than a few draft blunders. Darko, Rodney White, Mateen Cleaves, etc. Guess what I am getting at is that instead of a number, the Pistons probably should put a question mark on the back of Stuckey’s jersey because he is the franchise’s mystery man.
Shooting guard Aaron Afflalo, taken 27th overall, presents a completely different twist. We have all seen him play. A lot, too. While hosting the draft show for WXYT Thursday night, I didn’t take one call from a listener who thought he was a quality pick. Afflalo doesn’t seem athletic enough to make an impact in the NBA. When matched up against NBA-caliber talent from Florida during the NCAA tournament, his lack of athleticism stood out like a sore thumb. He is a relatively inconsistent shooter from long range as well. I wonder, honestly, if he will even make the team. Sammy Mejia , another guard from DePaul, will also struggle to make this team. He was chosen by the Pistons during the second round.
This draft will be judged on the players taken after Stuckey and Afflalo. Two of them are from the University of Southern California -. Nick Young, taken the pick right after Stuckey by Washington, and Gabe Pruitt, taken a few picks after Afflalo by Boston. I thought both those players - guards - would have been better selections. Young can really shoot. Pruitt also can shoot and is much more athletic than Afflalo.

Random Thoughts

- Frank Thomas hit his 500th home run Thursday, but that milestone doesn’t mean nearly what it used to. Is Thomas a sure-thing Hall of Famer? I’m not sure. If there was no DH. If this was a different era during which it was more difficult to hit home runs. Would he still have posted such impressive numbers? I am also not sold on Craig Biggio as a Hall of Famer, either, despite his 3,000 hits.

- Speaking of hall of fame issues, Igor Larionov definitely belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s a joke he is not in yet.

- Chad Durbin has pitched surprisingly well in relief. He has been effective because he has thrown strikes and gotten ahead in the count. There is nothing worse than control problems from a reliever trying to hold a lead. And those problems have hurt the Tigers’ bullpen all season.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

No Tiger? No Vijay? No Wow Appeal

Let me begin by stating clearly that I enjoy the Buick Open. I think it is a viable event. I am glad it is at Warwick Hills, which I find to be an improved and underrated course. And no, I have no problem that the greatest golfers in the world tear it up on an annual basis. It’s kind of refreshing after watching them struggle so in the recent U.S. Open.
My problem is more with the PGA Tour, and how it tends to hurt an event like the Buick Open. They changed the dates this year. The tournament is positioned in a less favorable spot in regard to drawing top players. They aren’t using it as a stepping stone between the British Open and the PGA like in the recent past. And they are taking time off after the U.S. Open. So, really, the Buick’s field isn’t attractive. Only three of the Top 25 players in the world. And with all due respect to Trever Immelman and Charles Howell - few know who they are. John Daly and Jim Furyk are the best draws. Who is not there? You begin with Tiger Woods, the defending champion, whose win was so thrilling last year. His wife just had the couple’s first child. Even his Buick affiliation can get Tiger there under those circumstances. No Vijay Singh. He and Daly had an epic battle down the stretch a couple years ago. And after that, the Tour lacks wow appeal - period.
It didn’t used to be that way. There were golfers besides the big stars - from the Ben Hogan-to-the Arnold Palmer-to-the Jack Nickluas-to-the Tom Watson eras that carried fan appeal. Julius Boros, Calvin Peete, Miller Barber, etc. Fans identified with them. It’s why the Senior Tour sustained itself, at least until those type of players aged, and the Senior Tour started to suffer the same troubles as the regular tour.
Tiger is great, but he alone can’t maintain the PGA Tour at the status it once carried. There has to be a little more. Or there will be weeks - too many of them - like this one in Grand Blanc when there is kind of an empty feeling.

A Reminder

- Within the next week or two, I will begin doing audio commentary podcasts at Please check them out and feel free to comment about them on this blog.

Random thoughts

- The only question I have about Greg Oden going first overall in the draft is whether the NBA is a big man’s league any more. Tim Duncan is more of a power forward than a center. Shaquille O’Neal wasn’t the real force behind Miami’s title - Dwyane Wade was. And the Pistons won their title with undersized center Ben Wallace, who also can be classified as a power forward. I’d certainly be tempted to take Kevin Durant. He is pretty special.

- Sorry, but it’s gotten to the point where the Tigers just can’t trust Jason Grilli with any kind of lead anymore. His roster spot is pretty valuable about now, too. Would Zach Miner do better in that role?

- The Yankees are two games below .500. It might be getting a little late for any miracle comebacks.

- I don’t know whether it is good or bad the Tigers are home for this extended stand. For some reason, they are just two games above .500 at home. They should have a big home field advantage because the spaciousness of Comerica Park tends to freak out opposing outfielders.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Twins Might Be More Of A Threat Than Indians

Call it a gut feeling, but I think, ultimately, the American League Central race is going to come down to the Tigers and the Twins rather than the Tigers and the Indians.
Cracks in the Indians’ armor showed over the weekend. They were a base-running blunder by former Tiger Nook Logan away from getting swept by the lowly Nationals in Washington. The Indians seem to be the type of club that can get into a hitting slump - collectively - in a hurry. And I still believe the Indians’ bullpen is built on a house of cards.
Cleveland has a stronger starting rotation than Minnesota overall, but the Twins have the ace in Johan Santana. Minnesota’s bullpen is much stronger. I also like the Twins better offensively now that Joe Mauer is back. It’s my understanding the injury to Justin Morneau isn’t going to keep him out for too long.
The Twins are also better defensively than the Indians, and have this “X” factor with Torii Hunter being motivated by a contract drive. He has never played better.
And the Twins just have this knack for coming through. The same can’t be said for the Tribe. Not in recent years anyway.

Random Thoughts

- I did enjoy watching the U.S. track and field championships Sunday. The 100- and 200-meter dashes are my favorite events, and Tyson Gay put on quite a show winning both. But you hold your breath wondering if he will test positive for something. Unfair? Sure. But it seems like every time a sprinter does something brilliant, that is the case.

- Good for Oregon State winning a second straight College World Series. Oregon dropped its baseball program a long time ago and the Beavers have more than filled the niche. Wonder how NIKE feels about its school being a non-factor in such a visible event. Also, good for a non-Sun Belt or California or Arizona team winning a tournament that has been dominated so by warm weather programs in recent years.

- The Yankees are below .500. So how can Alex Rodriguez be considered a more viable candidate for American League MVP than Magglio Ordonez? If the vote were held today, it shouldn’t even be close. It should be Mags by landslide.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Bud Light Doesn’t Get It Right

I remember when I was a young baseball writer and the Tigers played in Milwaukee at not-so-quaint County Stadium. Bud Selig would venture into the press box.
He was the owner of the Brewers then, and he liked to schmooze with the baseball writers. I remember he introduced himself and shook my hand. He seemed like a nice enough guy. So this isn’t personal.
But my opinion of him as baseball commissioner, honestly, couldn’t be lower.
Maybe it was when he canceled the World Series. Or perhaps it was when he called the All Star Game a tie, as if it had all the meaning of a spring training game.
Maybe it was the way he turned a blind eye toward the steroids issue in baseball because, well, it was good business. I think Bud Selig is as phony as a three-dollar bill.
The latest is his strong arming of Jason Giambi into cooperating with the Mitchell investigation. Supposedly, he is setting up this scenario so he can later nail Barry Bonds. Yeah, right.
The problem I have with it is that Selig got tough too late. And now, he is essentially punishing the only player, Giambi, who has even remotely spoke with any sense of remorse for using the “juice.’’
Selig doesn’t want to solve the issue. He wants to point the finger of blame at somebody and issue some sort of meaningless punishment. What he should do is look in the mirror and point the finger at himself.
It would be different if Selig were just asleep at the switch. Instead he was aware, but happy with the status quo because of the public’s fascination with home runs. It made baseball a billions of dollars after the disaster in 1994.
That’s why he is a reckless driver at the helm - and a poor leader. It’s why the game is not in good hands.

Random thoughts

- An underrated factor, again, in the Tigers success has been Carlos Guillen. Notice who is hitting behind Magglio Ordonez? Guillen is hitting much better right-handed this season. Those were true bombs he hit from the right side in Washington. His biggest flaw: He always seems to be fighting some sort of nagging injury. This year, it’s a balky hamstring.

- Hey, maybe it’s just because I like drafts, but I am looking forward to the NHL draft this weekend. Good to see some Americans moving up the charts again in recent years. It’s been awhile since the United States has produced a truly elite player. Maybe Patrick Kane and James vanRiemsdyk, Americans expected to go among the top three picks in this draft, will fit the bill.

- You know, for some reason, I think the Tigers should fear the Twins and the A’s more than Yankees for a potential wild card bid. The Twins just never quite go away, and the A’s are notorious for turning it on during the second half of the season.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Good Problem To Have

I don’t know if Mike Maroth, Chad Durbin or Nate Robertson qualify as great pitchers by any stretch of the imagination. Among the three, I think Robertson is the best, followed by Maroth and then Durbin, although that could change if Durbin gets just a little better. Robertson is left-handed and is capable of throwing in the 90s. He has some bulldog in him, like Maroth, who doesn’t have as good an arm. I admit I wasn’t impressed by Durbin at first. I thought he was a classic 4-A pitcher and didn’t understand why the Tigers, who are trying to get away from using those type of pitchers, were so intrigued. But he has shown a lot of late life on his fastball at times, and when he does, Durbin is relatively tough on hitters.
But all three essentially are No. 4 or No. 5 starters on a really good staff. So it speaks to the quality of the Tigers staff that only one of the three, probably, will be able to fit the fifth spot in the Tigers’ starting rotation soon - when Robertson comes back from the disabled list.
The Tigers are doing the right thing by keeping Andrew Miller in the rotation. It’s a no-brainer, actually. His first three major league starts have been impressive. Even if he doesn’t do well in a start or two, there is no reason to believe he isn’t ready for the major leagues. He is not going to learn anything more in the minor leagues, that’s for sure, and he brings so much more with him to the mound than Durbin, Maroth and Robertson. Kenny Rogers should give the Tigers a major lift.
If Robertson is healthy, I would keep him in the fifth spot. I would move Maroth and Durbin to the bullpen. They have some flexability with moving pitchers down to the minors. It also puts heat on Maroth, Wil Ledezma and Jason Grilli to perform better. There will be some decisions that need to be made. They be difficult ones, but ones other organizations simply don’t have the luxury to make. That depth becomes huge if there are more injuries.


- Coming soon: I will be doing audio commentary podcasts twice per week at Please check it out.

Random thoughts

- It seems like the Tigers using Eulogio de la Cruz as a starter in the minors is paying off. He appears more refined than when I saw him pitch when he was younger and he tended to be all over the place. They got him back to the bullpen in just the nick of time, too. I do wonder how he will do if placed into a game with a one-run lead in Atlanta this weekend. I think he just might pass that test if given the opportunity.

- I was shocked when an ad flashed on my TV to pay $29.95 to see Evander Holyfield’s upcoming fight. What is wrong with boxing? Nobody cares about paying to see that fight. Now if it was on regular TV, it would be of interest. And it would help promote the sport. It’s a shame what has happened to boxing. Holyfield is 43 years old. He is not the Real Deal anymore. He is the Real Old Deal. Why not just get the bout with him and Larry Holmes, or him and George Foreman, out of the way? Then we can move on with our lives - at lot less than $29.95.

- Prediction: Ozzie Guillen’s latest rant likely will be the impetus to cost him his job as White Sox manager. You don’t start pointing the finger at the players like that without pointing it at yourself, too. Players don't respect that. I call it the Bobby Ross syndrome. Guillen is a knucklehead. It’s obvious the White Sox won the World Series in 2005 despite Guillen, not because of him.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Telling Series In Philly For Tigers

The three-game series in Philadelphia went very well for the Tigers. This is a very good team. That much is clear. The Tigers hitting attack is so much better this season it takes me aback sometimes. It was apparent throughout the series in Philadelphia just how small the margin for error was for the Phillies pitchers. Magglio Ordonez has been a much smarter hitter this season. He has been brilliant at taking pitches the opposite way. He has been the classic example of a run producer relying on extra base hits - but not just home runs - to get RBI. I thought Placido Polanco played exceptionally well defensively in the series. His glove is underrated. Not only doesn’t he make errors, but he has decent range. Andrew Miller lost his start, but was nonetheless impressive. He gave his team a chance to win in a bandbox ball park, on the road, against a good lineup, and on a night when he clearly wasn’t at his best. Jeremy Bonderman and Justin Verlander continued to impress. They are 15-2 combined. What needs to be said other than that? Fernando Rodney’s fastball was much better Sunday. He kept it down and threw it for strikes. He was at 92 mph where he was at 95 mph or higher last season, but he doesn’t necessarily have to be overpowering to be effective. Commanding his fastball is much more important. And he commanded it well Sunday. That allows Rodney to setup his change up. The key will be winning this series against the Nationals. Getting at least two games. The Nationals are a bad team, but they have been a little bit more competitive lately. Also, the Tigers clearly aren’t the same club in games started by pitchers other than Bonderman, Verlander and, to a degree, Miller.

Random thoughts

- The statistic I am tired of hearing and seeing is how Tiger Woods is 0-for-29 in winning major championships when he is trailing entering the final round. He is barely in his 30s and has 12 major titles. He is in the Top 5 in just about every major. He is well on his way to surpassing Jack Nicklaus as the greatest golfer of all time. And it doesn’t matter one bit if he every comes from behind to win a major. Don’t believe it? Just ask Phil Mickelson.

- Carlos Defino was perplexing. Sometimes he looked like a great athlete and a pure shooter. Other times, he seemed disinterested. I know his trade to Toronto was probably just one of several moves the Pistons will make this off season. I just wonder if they will replace Delfino will a player who is better. Ideally, the Pistons will replace him with a superior spot up shooter.

- Dmitri Young has turned his career around in Washington. He ranks among the National League leaders in batting average, taking full advantage of replacing the ailing Nick Johnson at first base. He should be motivated for this series. I still think the Tigers did the right thing by cutting him loose. His last couple years with the Tigers, Young was a horrible influence in the clubhouse.

Friday, June 15, 2007

What To Do About Rodney And The Bullpen

The Tigers’ problem is obvious. Their bullpen stinks. The solution, however, isn’t as apparent.
Admittedly, I don’t have a simple solution for it. A few weeks earlier, I advocated that the Tigers bring up a young pitcher or two from the minor leagues and use them in relief roles. I still think that may help, but their biggest problem right now isn’t long relief (although that hasn’t been good, either), but a setup man. If the starter gives the Tigers seven good innings, who do they turn to during the eighth inning of a close game? The answer just can’t keep being Fernando Rodney.
I hear people say Rodney has always struggled. That is not true. He was pretty good for the Tigers last season. And he was their setup man for most of the season, not Joel Zumaya, although I thought the roles should have been reversed many times (Zumaya would pitch the seventh). I don’t agree with those who think Rodney should be sent to the minors or released. I do believe, however, he should be moved back to where he isn’t pitching with the game on the line. Where he can work an inning or two and stretch out a little bit. I do wonder if he is healthy. I had Dan Petry on my radio show Thursday night, and he said it looked like Rodney may be slowing down his delivery and tipping off his change up. Whatever, his velocity is down and the command of his fastball is spotty.
Trades for bullpen help are risky and seem to seldom work. Bullpen help usually comes from within. Even closers just kind of appear. Remember Bobby Jenks with the White Sox? There are some decent relief pitchers on bad teams - Eric Gagne and Akinori Otsuka from the Rangers and Chad Cordero from the Nationals. All are expensive in terms of salary. Each would cost more in terms of players than maybe what the Tigers have to offer among prospects not named Cameron Maybin. The Tigers veteran pitching has little trade value. I just don’t see it happening.
Adding to the issue is Zumaya’s injury. Who knows? In all the years of covering baseball, I have never heard of that injury before. It might be a big deal. Then again, it might not be.
One answer might come from dropping a starter into the setup role. Nate Robertson, assuming he gets the zip back into his fastball, might work there. But that would be a huge sacrifice to ask because starters get a lot more money that setup guys - and Robertson is just starting to get to a point in his career where he is starting to make big money. Besides, isn’t Robertson a better starter than both Chad Durbin and Mike Maroth? In the short term, I might try Wilfredo Ledezma in the setup role. He struggles with his command at times, but at least he has decent stuff and tends to step up to challenges.

Random Thoughts

- How come people are so quick to jump on Craig Monroe? Seems to me like he has been a very good player for the Tigers the last couple seasons. He had a horrible game Thursday, but he has been one of the Tigers best clutch hitters in recent years. He has also averaged 90 RBI the last two seasons. They loved Bobby Higginson for a long time in this town and he topped 90 RBI just two times during his career with the Tigers.

- It was very pleasing that Nicklas Lidstrom won the Norris Trophy again. He is an utterly brilliant hockey player. He is so smooth and subtle, yet effective. If you go to the game and just focus on him, it’s amazing how much he does each shift. Lidstrom covers more than half the ice defensively, he has an incredibly strong stick tying up forwards, nobody is better at making the right decisions bringing the puck out of his own zone and he is the best in the world on the point of the power play. When he skates backward along the blue looking for hole to either shoot or pass the puck, it is classic stuff. Nobody has ever done that better. Outside of Gordie Howe and Steve Yzerman, nobody has played better for the Red Wings. With all due respect to Red Kelly, Lidstrom is by far the best defenseman in Red Wings history.

- I am covering the All Star Game in San Francisco and do hope that Barry Bonds is not added to the roster for one reason above all: It would be the Barry Bonds Circus. It would take away from all else about the game. That includes Jim Leyland managing the American League squad, perhaps Justin Verlander starting the game and Magglio Ordonez playing a significant role.

- Curtis Granderson is really playing good baseball. It would not surprise me if he becomes a force for the Tigers like Garret Anderson was for the Angels a few years ago. It’s one of the more underrated stories about the Tigers season thus far.

- The dynamic surrounding the Yankees is weird. When they play poorly early in a season, there is panic in New York. Then when they go on a hot streak and get right back in it, everyone kind of goes, "Ah, you knew that was going to happen - they’re the Yankees." Mike Mussina threw well the other day. That is every bit as important to the Yankees as the addition of Roger Clemens.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Special Performance By A Special Pitcher

I was watching a game the other night. The Reds were playing the Cleveland Indians. Homer Bailey, the top prospect for the Reds, was pitching. It was his major league debut. He had a 3-2 lead, and there were runners in scoring position. He was just trying to get through the inning to get the required five in for his first major league victory. The crowd in Cincinnati rose to its feet and gave him a running, thunderous and standing ovation. It was enough to spark Bailey, who had been laboring. He struck out David Dellucci, a pretty good left-handed hitter, to end the inning. He did so with a 93 mph fastball. Yet, next to Justin Verlander, the kid looked like a soft tosser.
Don’t get me wrong. Bailey has a chance to be a pretty good pitcher. But still, I can’t help but think how fortunate the Tigers are they took Justin Verlander instead of Bailey with the second overall pick in 2004 draft. It’s my understanding it came down to those two in the Tigers’ draft room.
Verlander closed his no-hitter Tuesday against the Brewers by hitting triple digits on the radar gun. It was an incredible performance. His slider was even more devastating. It was yet another sign of just how special Verlander truly is while standing 60 feet, six inches from home plate.
Last year, it was evident when the Tigers played the Cubs in Wrigley Field, Verlander has a special feel for pitching. He began one hitter by throwing three straight changeups. Two were strikes, one was a ball. His fourth pitch was a 100 mph fastball to punch out the hitter, who had no chance. While he does throw that hard, Verlander can be just effective at 95 mph or 96 mph. He spots his pitches well and knows instinctively how to setup hitters. He doesn’t flinch under pressure. Remember how he pitched out of the first-inning jam in Game 2 of the ALDS vs. Yankees last year? Statistically anyway, Alex Rodriguez will likely go down in history as the greatest player of all time. He had no chance on the 100 mph fastball Verlander buzzed on the corner at his knees to strike him out, ending the threat. No Justin Verlander, no pennant last year. Taking him second overall, was the single most important draft choice in franchise history.
There are a lot of great young pitchers in the game. None is better than Verlander. His ERA this season is 2.79. The last two seasons, he is 24-11. Those are Cy Young Award- type numbers. Even though Bailey was a high school kid, I talked to some scouts who thought he was more refined that Verlander, who was just 21-18 during his college career. He wasn’t supposed to be that polished. Greg Smith, the scouting director at the time, insisted the Tigers select Verlander. Can you imagine if they didn’t? Even if they had selected a prospect as good as Homer Bailey?

Random thoughts

- Obviously, I don’t think much of Neifi Perez’s skills. But that was a great play he made Tuesday night to save Verlander’s no-hitter. He won a Gold Glove early in his career with Colorado. That play was indication as to why. It was brilliant.

- Verlander’s no hitter just might catapult the Tigers into a streak they haven’t really had this season. With Andrew Miller up with the big club and throwing well and the offense rolling, don’t be surprised if the Tigers take off. They seem to have survived their early difficulties. Now it is time for them to thrive.

- Where are all the Magglio Ordonez bashers? I talked to dozens of them last season. Still think the guy can’t play? Still want Brent Clevlen up just so he can be Mags’ personal late-inning defensive replacement? That was a nice play he made on that sinking line drive Tuesday, huh? Ordonez is having an MVP-caliber season so far. He was pretty good last year, too - better than many gave him credit for.

- Bottom line: It’s just time for the Lions to get rid of Shaun Rogers. There comes a point where a troubled player wears out his welcome in a specific town. That point has come for Rogers. What I can’t figure out is where the bad attitude has come from. When I was still on the Lions’ beat during his first two years in the league, he wasn’t like that. He prepared like a winning player. Now that’s the last thing he does - or is. Again, though, the question begs to be asked: Is it the environment or the player? People are naive to think it’s changed just because Rod Marinelli is the coach. It won’t change until Matt Millen is gone.

Monday, June 11, 2007

About Time Leyland Stated The Obvious

I have pointed out from the first week of the season that the Tigers bullpen was built on a house of cards. And that it really collapsed when Joel Zumaya suffered that freakish injury to his finger. I also pointed out the Tigers were living on borrowed time because of their bullpen. I still believe that. The Tigers, including manager Jim Leyland, have been slow acknowledge the severity of the problem. But Leyland did Sunday. Anything I asked him about following the game, he came right back to the bullpen and how it wasn’t good enough. It didn’t matter if the Tigers just pounded a future Hall of Fame pitcher in Tom Glavine. It didn’t matter the Tigers are on pace to break the club record for runs scored in a season. All he wanted to talk about was how bad his bullpen is, and how his team isn’t going to do much if the problem isn’t corrected.
This just a couple weeks after he had an outburst, rather unprovoked by the media, about his bullpen getting heat. Reading between the lines: I think Leyland wasn’t too pleased with Jason Grilli’s performance Sunday.
I do wonder why they keep staying with the same cast of characters in the bullpen instead of trying something different? They have some good young arms in the minor leagues. Why not try one or two? What are they going to do with their rotation when Nate Robertson comes back? It is obvious Andrew Miller belongs in the rotation, and that Kenny Rogers is about to start pitching in the major leagues again. Who goes to the bullpen? And the Tigers may have to bite the bullet and make a trade sooner than ideal because Fernando Rodney as a setup man is a disaster about to happen. He threw 49 pitches in two innings in his last two outings. Hitting is a fickle beast. It tends to come and go on a whim. The Tigers are outslugging teams, but at some point their bullpen has to hold a one-run lead on a consistent basis from the seventh inning on. Right now, it seems like a five-run lead isn’t safe. Glad Leyland finally acknowledges the problem. Maybe now the Tigers will finally do something about it.

Random thoughts

- If the Spurs win the NBA title for the fourth time in nine years, does that qualify as a dynasty? I think so. And I also believe, as understated as he may be at times, Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward of all-time. And I believe that is what he is - a power forward. Not a center. Certainly, I’d put him ahead of Karl Malone. With all due respect to the old timers and some truly great centers, but my all-time NBA team would be: Michael Jordan (shooting guard), Magic Johnson (point guard), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (center), Duncan (power forward) and Larry Bird (small forward). I see only center as debatable (Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell). But there are cases that can be made for Oscar Robertson and Jerry West at guard, and Dr. J at small forward.

- Most preseason forecasters have Michigan in the Top Five nationally, some as high as No. 3. My best guess is when the polls come out is they be No.4 - behind USC, LSU and West Virginia. That seems reasonable given Michigan’s returning firepower offensively and departures defensively. I know the Wolverines are going to very good this season. What I am not so sure about is Ohio State. The Buckeyes lost a lot. This is going to be the true test to whether Jim Tressel is really that great of a coach. Great coaches don’t have down years very often. We’ll see what Tressel can do after losing much of his crew. The Buckeyes’ quarterbacks, Todd Boeckman and Robbie Schonehoft, are huge and strong-armed, but lack mobility. And so much of what the Buckeyes have been about revolved around Troy Smith’s mobility. That was especially true in the matchups against Michigan.

- It is more a sign Andrew Miller is ready that he allowed a three-run home run, pitched out of bases loaded jam and survived through difficult times against a tough lineup such as the Mets than it would have been if it had all gone perfectly right Sunday, like it did during his first major league start against the Cardinals. The poise he displayed under pressure means a lot.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Baseball Is All About Tradition

A few years back, I worked on a story about why there weren’t any major league players from Oakland County. It seemed strange because for years they had been so prevalent. Dick Radatz was from Berkley. Bob Welch from Hazel Park. Dan Fife and Tim Birtsas from Clarkston. Jim Burton from Rochester, Steve McCatty and Dick Billings from Troy. I played against four future major leaguers growing up - Kirk Gibson from Waterford Kettering, Steve Howe from Clarkston, Brad Havens from Royal Oak Kimball and Brian Clutterbuck, who pitched for the Milford in the American Legion league I was in. Some of them were great players, too. Gibby won an MVP, Howe was Rookie of the Year and Welch a Cy Young Award winner. Radatz was an All Star. McCatty led the American League in wins one season. Havens was talented enough to be traded for Rod Carew.
One of the people I interviewed for the piece was my coach at Birmingham Groves, Jim Crosby, who is still coaching. I made an off -the-cuff remark that kids just don’t play baseball as much anymore. And he corrected me, telling me they play a lot more - the kids who play. "They probably play twice as many games as you used to," he said.
I guess so. Organized ones, anyway. But you don’t see kids from this area making it to the major leagues like they used to, either. And it used to be the local college teams did better. Both Michigan and Eastern Michigan were powerful teams that advanced to the College World Series. Now it’s this monumental upset when Michigan wins a regional. Kids play the game more, but not for the same reasons. It’s the not biggest part of their life to the same degree it was back then. And not every kid plays baseball. Used to be just about every kid did.
The thing I have always loved about baseball, I think more than anything else, is its tradition. I have always been slow to accept change when it comes to baseball. I don’t believe this is an age thing, either, because I loved that tradition from the time I was little kid and I was at the Baldwin Library in Birmingham soaking in everything I could about the history of the game. I knew all about Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb when I was seven or eight years old. It’s the one thing I hope stays the same about the game, and why I tend to fight change. I am concerned kids don’t just go out in the street and start playing ball - the way we did when I lived in St. Clair Shores. Or up to the field to play on their own. I am concerned the designated hitter has unnecessarily changed the balance of the game. I watch a lot of baseball, and the National League brand is just better - even though the American League clearly has better players. Interleague player is fine in New York and Chicago and on the West Coast or in Texas and Ohio where there are natural rivals. The Tigers don’t have a natural rival, so often they left out to dry. Good the Mets are coming into town this weekend, but I’d rather see the Yankees and Red Sox on second trips in. To me, they are the Tigers rivals.
Baseball is the perfect game. It has perfect balance. I don’t like to see it tampered with. And I liked it better when kids played it for the right reasons around here - pure love of the game. I know that’s how I felt about it. Still do.

Random Thoughts

- Of the major golf tournaments, the one I like the best and feel is the most important is the U.S. Open. It is different because of the way they trick up the golf course. Some people would say that takes away from the shot-making of the world’s top golfers. I say it tests their skill more.

- The one thing good about Anaheim winning the Stanley Cup is that it means hard-nosed hockey is back. The Ducks are being compared to the Islanders of the late 1970s and early 1980s. A bit of a stretch, for sure, but the style is the same. The Ducks combine skill with a real toughness. You have to admit, the Ducks play hockey the way it was meant to be played. And to think the Red Wings should have beaten them...Oh well.

- Look, when I was on the Tigers beat, the only round baseball would reveal from its draft was the first round. They were so paranoid about college coaches finding out the selections of high school players and then recruiting them. It was a backward philosophy, so I guess the baseball draft being televised Thursday represents significant progress. The coverage, though, was a little underwhelming. They need a Mel Kiper-type to liven it up.

- I did like the Tigers No. 1 pick, Rick Porcello. It’s another high-ceiling prospect with signability issues. But if they sign him, they will have one of the top players from this draft from the 27th position. There is risk there, but it is minimal given the chances of the 27th overall pick starring otherwise. I just wonder when the Tigers will get burned by their continual dancing with agent Scott Boras.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Sheffield's Comments Miss Real Issue

Gary Sheffield’s comments in GQ magazine have created quite a firestorm. His premise is that Latin American players are "more manageable" than African-American players, and that is why there are three times as many more (8 percent compared to 24 percent) in the major leagues. Like everybody else, he has a right to his opinion. I don’t take his view as bigoted, either, as much as misguided and misinformed. It seems like a rationalization that isn’t necessary.
It’s simple, in Latin America, baseball is king. Kids growing up in those areas, many of them dirt poor, use baseball as their tool to escape poverty. They are hungry to get out. They play the game with a drive that is not unlike many urban kids in this country with basketball. Baseball is not, generally, the sport of choice in urban areas in this country. It is more in Tampa, where Sheffield was raised - and the numbers reflect that - but not in most other areas. Not even in Los Angeles. Not anymore. Baseball teams could care less about where players come from or their racial makeup. That is why they scout Latin America so extensively. Why you are seeing more players from the Pacific Rim countries. And why an African-American pitcher, David Price from Vanderbilt, will likely be the first or second pick in the upcoming baseball draft. If anything, Latin American players have more to overcome because of the language and cultural barriers they face that are unimaginable to American players - regardless of race. That is the part where Sheffield is not being respectful to Latin American players.
It just seems like this is Sheffield justifying the shrinking number of African-American players in the major leagues with one ridiculous swipe of a brush. It doesn’t need to be justified, no more than white Americans need to justify why there are relatively few white players in NFL or NBA compared to the general population. I thought, maybe, we were getting beyond obsessing about the racial makeup of sports teams. Guess not.
My concern about the future of baseball in this regard isn’t necessarily about the way the sport breaks down along racial lines, but economic ones. There was a time when it was the game of the people. Now kids take lessons - hitting or pitching - from paid instructors. It’s almost become like golf in that way. They have to be on travel teams. It’s almost become like hockey in that way. Those have become necessities to keep up. Both factors cost money. A lot it. Baseball was never meant to be a sport for the elite, but rather one that everyone can play and have an equal chance. I’d like to see the sport become more a part of our urban areas, which, by the way, tend to have a large population of African Americans.
If there is a problem, that seems to be the solution. Not crying "Fire" when there really isn’t one. You know, like Gary Sheffield in GQ.

Random thoughts

- I am not sure how the Rasheed Wallace situation is going to play out. He has become the symbol of all that went wrong with the Pistons. And he definitely brought it upon himself with the way he just quit on his team when the issue still was a long way from being decided in Cleveland. Too much crying. No doubt. But there is flipside. He is a very good player. He is a player who has come through for the Pistons in the past. Generally, he does have the respect of his teammates and those within the Pistons organization. I don’t see that as necessarily the issue. But will he still have the respect of the fans? Seems like they have turned on him. And once that happens in this town, that player is usually done.

- Good for Michigan in advancing to the Super Regionals in the NCAA Tournament. It wasn’t that long ago when Michigan reaching the College World Series was anything but unusual. Eastern Michigan got there, too. Lake Orion’s Nate Recknagel is making quite name for himself as big-time hitter for the Wolverines.

- It will be interesting to see how the Spurs defend LeBron James in the NBA Finals. Bruce Bowen is more than aggressive player. He is often a dirty one. So is Big Shot Bob.Wonder if those tactics will work with LeBron. They sure did with Steve Nash and the Suns.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Welcome to Band Wagon Town

The Pistons and the Red Wings both reached the conference finals. Before they started, such an ending to each of their seasons would have been deemed as successful. Both teams were, allegedly, on the slide. Each was supposed to regress rather than make progress. Yet, in the end, I get this sense that people are disappointed by the performances of both teams.
Look, I don’t like the way the Pistons performed during the fourth quarter Saturday in Cleveland. Flip Saunders made an amazingly foolish decision by starting the period with Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton on the bench in favor Lindsey Hunter and Flip Murray. Rasheed Wallace flipping out when the game was still in doubt was downright embarrassing. The Pistons didn’t play well in any of the games vs. the Cavaliers. But five straight Eastern Conference finals? I remember when I was a kid and the Dave Bing-Bob Lanier version of the Pistons just made the playoffs and it was a big deal. I remember how bad they were between the Bad Boys era and the Going to Work era. It’s as if fans are complaining because the Pistons aren’t a dynasty. No, they aren’t. But the Pistons have been pretty good.
Ditto for the Red Wings. They were much better during both the regular season and the playoffs than had been anticipated. Nobody can say they were soft this time. And their future is fairly bright. Yet, their playoff run drew a collective yawn. I remember when I was a kid and the Red Wings missed the playoffs virtually every season. I remember when they won a playoff series against Atlanta (then the Flames) and it was this huge deal. I remember when they hadn’t won the Cup in eons and broke through and what it meant.
Could it be we’re spoiled around here when it comes to our sports teams. That when they win, we only accept more. That we fall for teams like the Tigers who have won one pennant in more than two decades, but don’t respect the teams that deserve it the most because they are consistent winners. Could it be we, strangely, hold their success against them. Could it be we have just become Band Wagon Town. Seems like we have.

Random Thoughts

- Andrew Miller pitched seven shutout innings Sunday. Dallas Trahern is 9-1 at Double-A and Triple-A. What are the Tigers waiting for?

- If the Spurs win the NBA title, it will be for the fourth time in nine years. To me, that is amazing because, with all due respect to Tim Duncan, it just doesn’t seem like the Spurs are that good.

- That minor league manager in the Atlanta Braves system who went off on that obviously choreographed tirade was a bit too much. Too me, it’s just not funny anymore. It appeared the guy was trying to call attention to himself. Guess he accomplished that, but it was nonetheless phony.

- Check out the Johnnie Morton mixed martial arts bout on youtube. He was brutally knocked out. It was surreal, actually. Then he refused to take the post fight drug test. Personally, I liked J-Mo, but I know a few people who were probably more than happy to see that.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Was It Bad Defense Or LeBron's Greatness?

The Pistons are being roundly criticized for the way they defended LeBron James Thursday night. For how he was able to attack the basket unimpeded over and over. For how he simply destroyed the Pistons during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, when everybody knew he was going to shoot each time down the court.
I am not so sure it is justified. There are times, albeit very rare, when a truly special athlete just exerts his will. Nobody was going to beat Tiger Woods when he won his first Masters. If pressed, he probably would have shot a 59, or something equally ridiculous, for the final round.
Three very different style pitchers allowed Reggie Jackson’s three straight homers during the ‘77 World Series. There were a couple times in the Super Bowl they could have put the entire secondary on Jerry Rice - and he still would have sprung free and scored touchdowns.
It was just LeBron James’ time. It was his moment to take over. Period. That was utter brilliance. The Pistons were completely helpless to stop him.

Random Thoughts

- For some reason, Justin Verlander’s personal house of horrors is Jacobs Field. He melted down there during a start last season, had a rough major league debut there and pitched poorly again at Jacobs Field Thursday. It was disappointing, though, because the Tigers really needed him and they gave him a lead. Same with Nate Robertson Wednesday in Tampa. The last thing the Tigers need is for their starting pitching to go belly up. The Tigers have had three normally dependable pitchers let them down and blow leads this week - Verlander, Robertson and closer Todd Jones.

- College coaches in the NBA just don’t seem to work. I don’t see Billy Donovan being an exception in Orlando. His skill was more as recruiter, not as an x’s and o’s guy.

- The Tigers simply need more production from first base. Sean Casey has been a disappointment. Marcus Thames is not the answer there. Too bad Chris Shelton isn’t doing a little better at Toledo because he might get another chance. But his power numbers aren’t that good and he is still striking out too much. Or that Jeff Larish hasn’t taken off at Erie. He is a left-handed hitter with power. If he develops quickly, it would help the Tigers immensely.