Wednesday, January 31, 2007

What If They Had Not Been Traded

Two of the former Tiger players taking part in the Fantasy Camp here in Lakeland are Jason Thompson and Steve Kemp. Remember how they were the rising stars on the Tigers during the late 1970s? It seemed like they would be the saviors of the franchise. It has always struck me how those two both had fairly good major league careers, but were not part of what the Tigers eventually accomplished in 1984 with their world title. Darrell Evans, who is also here, was the one free agent signing the Tigers used in '84 after they dealt away Thompson. Nobody could argue with the Kemp trade. Chet Lemon, acquired for Kemp from Chicago, in center field was a very important piece of the Tigers puzzle. If those trades had not been made, I doubt the Tigers would have had the type of success they did during the 1980s. Then again, Thompson and Kemp have nothing to be ashamed of about their major league careers.

Random Thought

- By the way, one of my pet peeves used to be people referring to "Justin" Thompson as "Jason" Thompson.

- The Sporting News Baseball Yearbook has Minnesota No. 1 its power poll in the major leagues, with the Tigers second. Surprised? I am. But this is what the Twins have going for them: Morneau, Mauer and Santana - their best three players just might be the best three players in the American League.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Back To My Youth

I used to talk to my father all the time about baseball. It was one passion we shared. To me, the Tigers I grew up with, and remember the most, were those from the late 1960s and the early 1970s. For my father, it was the Tigers of the 1930s - that team that won back-to-back American League pennants in 1934 and 1935 - and beat the Cubs in the 1935 World Series. He would talk about Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Mickey Cochrane, Tommy Bridges and the epic World Series loss to the Cardinals in '34 a lot. It helped fuel my love of baseball. As a kid, I loved the Tigers of late 1960s and 1970s. I remember the World Series in 1968 and the 1972 team that won the division and took Oakland to the limit in the ALCS. My favorite player was Willie Horton. So, even though I have been in this business a long time and have been fortunate enough to meet a lot of famous people and all that, a part of me is still enthralled by the Tigers of that era. That is why being down in Lakeland this week writing columns from the Tigers Fantasy Camp is a thrill. When I see Gates Brown or Horton or Mickey Lolich - or any of those players from that era - it reminds me of my youth when I loved baseball so much it was an obesession. This is going to be fun. I will doing a four-part series in The Oakland Press starting Thursday. Oh, and I guess baseball is still my obesession.

Random Thoughts

- I thought Michigan State was teriffic at Ohio State Saturday. Just one clutch shot here or there and the Spartans would have pulled it off. Certainly they sent a message to the rest of the nation - and Ohio State - they are for real.

- Chris Webber is making a huge difference for the Pistons. I do not care if they lost to Washington Friday. The Wizards were just hot that night. The Pistons are clearly the best team in the Eastern Conference.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Best Super Bowl Matchup In Awhile

It is always the strange Sunday. The one after the conference title games and before the Super Bowl. I like the matchup in this Super Bowl, though. It gets some new blood in there. And not some teams off in the distance like when Atlanta and Seattle made it. It is two teams and two cities we can identify with - Chicago and Indianapolis. It is the Big Ten Super Bowl. The Midwest Super Bowl. The Bears are known for their defense. Yet, their defense has not been dominant during the post season, while their offense has been better than advertised. The Colts are known for their offense, but at least until the second half of the AFC championship game, it was their defense which had been carrying them during the postseason. Peyton Manning is an extraordinary player. He is so good that we only recognize his failures. He was brilliant in the second half against the Patriots. He outplayed Tom Brady when it mattered. Yet, it was almost viewed as ho-hum - despite his failures in the past. It is OK. We can give Manning credit. I am always puzzled by the view people have of Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher being overrated. He is not. He is a great football player. The coaches of these teams are ideal. Both are even-handed and calm. You do not see gimmicks from Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy. They are solid - and so are their teams. To me, this is the best Super Bowl matchup in a long time, certainly better than the one we had last season at Ford Field.

Random thoughts

- I know VS takes a lot of heat for carrying NHL on a network nobody heard of, but they did do a decent job during the All Star Game. Having Marty Turco miked during the game and talking to him while he was actually playing was an effective and interesting concept.
- Reason No. 7,891 the Lions are a joke: Running pictures of Smith, Dungy and Lions head coach Rod Marinelli on their website together, as if they are equals, just because they coached together and are friends. Marinelli led his team to a 3-13 record last season. At this point, he has nothing in common with Smith and Dungy as an NFL head coach. I guess, the Lions will do anything to come up a contrived spin to try to justify their dismal bottom line.
- I wonder how good Brent Clevlen will be this season. He struggled at Double-A last season, but his tools were much better than I had anticipated when compared to major league players. It would not surprise me if he contributes significantly to the Tigers this season.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Give Me The Fall Classic, Please

Do not get me wrong. The Super Bowl is just fine. Sometimes the hype gets overwhelming, but I do enjoy the game. I like the Stanley Cup playoffs immensely, but in their totality more than just the finals. Seems like the finals, and I do not know exactly why, are often anti-climatic. The NBA Finals are often exciting - especially back in the day when Magic went against the Pistons and the Bird and the Celtics. The NCAA championship game, too. But to me, the World Series tops them all. There have been more memorable moments and legends sealed in it down through the years than all the other big events combined. It is not just one game, like the Super Bowl and the NCAA title game. A team down 3 games to 1 has a legitimate chance to come back. That is not really true in the other sports. And baseball is meant more than any other sport for moments. You never forget those World Series moments. Too bad the World Series last year was such a dud. At least the rest of the playoffs, especially the Tigers divisional series with the Yankees and the Cardinals win over the Mets in the NLCS, were compelling.

Random Thoughts

- One of my favorite events is the Senior Bowl. The best part of the NFL Network is the way they cover it. I cannot wait for the NFL Draft. Personally, I do not think Joe Thomas, the big offensive tackle from Wisconsin is that good. But at this point, I do not see a clear-cut pick for the Lions. I know this, the organization collectively lacks the guts to do the right thing and take a quarterback in the first round.

- What happened to University of Detroit basketball? The Titans are 6-12 and have not had a winning season 2003-2004. Seems like they are slipping. I would like to see the Titans play Oakland. Seems like a natural rivalry. It is odd they do not play each other. They should every season.

- I love the grit Drew Stanton displays, and he can certainly run. He just does not seem to be as fluid as the top quarterbacks in the NFL.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Webber Move: So Far, So Good

It was Friday night, late at the end of what had not been all that exciting of an NBA game.
But I cannot help but wonder if what the Pistons did in overtime at Minnesota Friday night was not a turning point for their season.
Chris Webber played very well in that game. He fit in like a glove with his passing. He made a couple key plays, including scoring in overtime. It was more than that, though. Everybody, it seemed, made a key play or basket. The Timberwolves are not a great team by any stretch of the imagination. Kevin Garnett had been thrown out of the game earlier, sure, but it was a struggle nonetheless on the road - and the Pistons won it after they had lost six of their previous nine games. Ultimately, it might prove to be a very important victory. Certainly it looked like it based on the way the Pistons played Saturday against Sacramento. Looks like the Pistons are getting their act together.

Random thoughts

- The most mystifying move of the off season was when the White Sox traded Brandon McCarthy on the heels of dumping Freddie Garcia. Maybe White Sox GM Ken Williams knows something we do not know, but it seems like those two moves have opened the door for the Tigers to edge out the White Sox again. The Tigers starting pitching is clearly better now.

- Hope some of you saw “Hockey Night in Canada” Saturday. Sidney Crosby and the Penguins put on quite a show against the Maple Leafs. Seems like the NHL has found its next Gretzky - and nobody outside of the hockey geeks know about it. That is a shame.

- When Michigan plays Ohio State and Wisconsin, the Wolverines will need to at least be competitive. If they get destroyed, like at UCLA, their credibility - already shaky - will suffer immensely.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

This Is Not A Real Rivalry

There was an article on the cover of The Oakland Press sports section that caught my eye. It was not about Chris Webber, either. It was about the Red Wings and Nashville and whether they are really rivals. In the “new” NHL, they absolutely should be. Nashville has an excellent team and leads the division. The two teams play each other eight times. The Red Wings, typically strong, are not far behind. They play tonight (Wednesday) at Joe Louis Arena. Yet, there is little buzz about the game. It points out the folly of the “new” NHL as it relates to the schedule. Unless the Red Wings and Preds play an epic series or two during the playoffs, they will not be considered rivals. I cannot help but hope that the Red Wings move to the Eastern Conference in the future. It is just so much more interesting when they play teams from the Eastern Conference. It is not that I do not appreciate what Nashville has accomplished. The Preds are really good, but the rivalry seems forced and contrived, and as much as I would like to, I am having trouble buying into it. Sorry.

Random Thoughts

- As long-time readers of this blog know, I have always thought that Omar Infante has enormous potential as a player. I just wonder if he will ever get the chance to display it as long Jim Leyland is his manager.

- Signing day is not too far down the road for college football programs. I hear Michigan State is not doing too well in recruiting and will definitely finish in the bottom half of the Big Ten. Not a good sign. But it is not surprising. The Spartans football program is really on the back burner in the mind of the public and, evidently, recruits.

- I do not understand why Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson still have so much appeal to clubs. Both used to throw in the high 90s. Now both throw in the low 90s. Both are well into their 40s. Neither is close to being the same pitcher they used to be. Clemens got a million dollars per start last season and will likely get that much this season. That is insane.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Tigers Caravan Was A Classic

The Tigers have their winter caravan this week, and while it is done much differently than when I covered the team as a beat writer for The Oakland Press from 1986-98, it always brings back memories - most of them fond.
I used to dislike the trip. It meant spending hour after hour on a bus with team president Jim Campbell, who did not like me at all. I remember one time, in St. Clair, he "greeted" me as I got off the bus. He pulled out this old, leather appointment book, and out fell this yellowed copy of a column I had written a couple years before. Below my smiling face, the headline said: “Monaghan’s Pizza Logic Destroying Tigers.” It was very critical of then-Tigers owner Thomas S. Monaghan, who was incredibly off-the-wall.
"Just to let you know how much I follow the #%@* you write in that newspaper, I carry this where ever I go,” Campbell said. Then he started screaming at me, "You wish he were dead, don’t you!!!!"
It was not all bad, though. We used to stop at Win Schulers for a great meal - although the deviled eggs at various stops got to be a bit much. You really got to know the players back then on the bus. I remember playing hearts with players from Cecil Fielder to the late Chris Brown to current White Sox general manager Kenny Williams on the caravan. I used to remember thinking that I was glad we were not playing for money because they had a lot and me none.

Random Thoughts

- Best laugh I got all weekend was watching Steve Mariucci on the NFL Network hem and haw and dodge the subject of his good buddy Andy Reid punting on fourth down when he should have gone for it during the Eagles playoff loss to the Saints. His co-hosts, Rich Eisen and Deion Sanders, just would not let up on Mooch, either. It was as if he were dodging questions from the media as the Lions coach again.

- I really like the concept of a high school basketball tournament to celebrate Martin Luther King Day in Pontiac. Kudos to Pontiac Northern for the idea. Pontiac is truly a great basketball town.

- I am going to Michigan’s game on Wednesday vs. Penn State. The Wolverines should win that game, but it will be a tricky one because Penn State does have experience. The last thing Wolverines can afford is to be upset in conference play at home.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Just How Good Is Steve Nash?

I watched the Cleveland-Phoenix game Thursday night with great interest. As some of you might know, I have found it odd that the NBA has named Steve Nash its MVP not just one year, but the last two seasons. I understand he is an excellent player. That goes without saying. But the best in the league? I have not been buying it. I am starting to change my tune on Nash, however. He was utterly brilliant Thursday. He was clearly the best player on the floor - even better than LeBron James. His vision of the court is extraordinary. His court-vision reminds me a lot of Magic Johnson. Out of the blue, he will find an open man. He can also shoot exceptionally well and has excellent quickness. He is short, and defensively the Suns kind of hide him. Last season, one on one with Chauncey Billups, he just could not handle a point guard with that kind of size and strength when isolated. Yet, he does so many things well - that just might be splitting hairs. Still, if I were choosing sides for a pick up game, I would take LeBron, Kobe, Billups and Dirk ahead of Nash.

Random Thoughts

- The Giants are crazy for giving Barry Bonds a $17 million contract. The guy cannot play any more, he is a distraction beyond any other and people are not excited about him breaking the all-time home run record of Henry Aaron.

- It does not seem right that Tajuan Porter and Malik Hairston are having so much success so far away from Detroit in Oregon. Can you imagine how much better Michigan and Michigan State would be if they had one or the other - or both. And Joe Crawford.

- I still can believe Brady Quinn will be the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. He just seems so overrated.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Tram and Lou Deserve Better

I cannot help but wonder if the reputation of Alan Trammell as player has not been hurt by what he did as a manager. Trammell was a great player. He was the World Series Most Valuable Player in 1984, and he should have been the American League MVP in 1987. He hit .300 enough times, won enough Gold Gloves and hit with enough power for his position to be in the Hall of Fame. Yet, his percentage keeps going down. It was 13 percent this year. Conversely, if Trammell had gone into broadcasting, it would have helped his Hall of Fame chances. It did wonders for George Kell, Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese and Ralph Kiner. They were all shunned by the writers, but were inducted by the veterans committee. Because Trammell and Whitaker have done so poorly in the voting by the writers, it will be difficult to justify their induction into the Hall by the veterans committee. That is a shame. Both deserve better.

Random Thoughts

- I fully expect Wilfredo Ledezma to have a breakout season. It would not surprise me if he wins 12-to-15 games and replaces Mike Maroth permanently in the Tigers starting rotation.

- Drew Brees was named by the Associated Press as the first team All-Pro quarterback. I still think, despite public outcry to have my head examined, that Brees would have meant four or five more victories this season for the Lions. And that if Jon Kitna were the Saints QB, they would not even make the playoffs. Why? Because I believe the first-team All-Pro QB makes that much difference between and losing - regardless of the offensive line.

- I am not sure if the Lions would not be better off if Mike Martz left the team. His offense was all about yards between the 20s, but not scoring when it was needed. Also, his presence seems to keep the Lions from going after a franchise QB. In that way, he is hindering the progress of the organization. The Lions will not win consistently until they have a big-time QB. It has been the one thing missing since their last title in 1957.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Lions: Is It The People Or The Environment?

The answer I have never quite come up with regarding the Lions is whether their troubles are because of the environment causing the people, or the people causing the environment. Obviously, there is something horribly wrong with the culture surrounding the franchise. It is a losing one. Weird things happen to the Lions as a result - like Joey Harrington coming back on Thanksgiving Day and playing like Johnny Unitas against the Lions. And then on Sunday, it was Jeff Garcia lighting up the Giants in a playoff game with Marty Mornhinweg calling the plays for him. Those two guys gotten eaten alive around here. Garcia had some injury problems, but he did act strange, too. Mornhinweg came across as extremely overwhelmed as a head coach. You wonder, however, if it would have been different for both if the Lions were not such a bungled operation. Think about it. Matt Millen is hanging his hat on Rod Marinelli having changed the losing culture. Yet, the Lions lost two more games this season than they did the year before. Dan Miller asked me on FOX 2 Sunday night what changes I would make to their roster and, too be honest, they need a complete overhaul. There is not one area that can be considered a strength. I like Ernie Sims, for example. The gall they have in Allen Park to say the things they do - as if they are getting it right. It is unbelievable. Who is a better QB? Jon Kitna or Jeff Garcia? Who has won more games in the league? Who has taken teams to the playoffs? Who has been to the Pro Bowl? Who is still playing this season? Yet, if you asked the Lions brass, they would act as if Kitna has been better all along. So would a lot of Lions fans, the ones who continue to buy into propaganda. What a farce.

Random thooughts

- Michigan State had a pretty good test at Indiana Sunday and did not pass it. State can have a really good season, but will have to tighten up defensively during the conference season. The Spartans had been playing very well defensively until Sunday. That is what made the loss discouraging.

- Ben Wallace won Round 1 with the Pistons in Chicago Saturday, but that game would have been a lot different if Chauncey Billups had played.. I still think the Pistons, with Billups, would take the Bulls in a playoff series.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Larry Brown of Football

Nick Saban is not a good football coach. He is a great football coach. Problem is, he always has to be told he is loved. With him, it is not so much the job, but the courtship that counts. He loves to be the hot candidate and to come into town as a hero. What he lacks is the guts to stick out difficult situations. When he is coaching in the pros, he is a college coach at heart. Then when he is coaching in the college ranks, he is a pro coach at heart. Problem is, he lacks loyalty. It is never about the program. It is all about Nick. And he wears out his welcome quickly. He is the ultimate grouch. People tire of being constantly chewed out. And leaves too often under the guise of family circumstance. That part of his act has become disingenuous. He will do well at Alabama, but do not be surprised if he is back in the NFL within four years. It is just the way Saban is.

Random thoughts

- When Lloyd Carr steps down as the football coach at Michigan, there should be little doubt the Wolverines should go after Les Miles of LSU to replace him- . What is there not to like about Miles - including his U-M background.

- Maybe I am missing something, but Brady Quinn does not strike me as being that good. I just do not see him as the first overall pick in the NFL Draft. To me, Troy Smith is a lot better.

- The next great young pitcher will likely be Homer Bailey, a right-hander who figures to make his major league debut with the Reds sometime this season. The Tigers considered taking Bailey with the second overall pick in the 2004 Draft before selecting Justin Verlander. As good as Verlander is, it would not surprise me if Bailey has the better career. He is younger, being drafted out of high school. And yes, I have talked to a number of scouts who have said he is that good.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Matt Millen: A Knucklehead For The Ages

Lions president Matt Millen makes the bed. The rest of us have to sleep in it. He says he will never quit as the Lions team president. That should not be necessary. Lions owner William Clay Ford should fire him. The record is a matter of record - 24-72 in six seasons. It makes Millen the worst general manager ever in professional team sports. But beyond the obvious, is the arrogance Millen carries with him about that record. He laughs off all criticism. He has no use for fans whatsoever. He has a couple lap dogs in the media who would lick his boots if they were 0-96 the past six seasons because they either have a job that depends on the Lions approval, or they count on Millen, or his minions, to feed them information. It is embarrassing to those of us in the fourth estate. Ford - and Ford alone - enables Millen. Without him, he would not be able to stand alone. Not with that record. It has made him the laughingstock of the NFL. I am sick of hearing about the relationship of Millen and Ford. Or that head coach Rod Marinelli has a great working relationship with Millen. The Lions were 3-13 this season. They were two games worse than they were the year before. They showed no improvement at all. Anything that comes out of Allen Park should not be believed. It is all about deception. Trying to make garbage sound like gold. They do nothing for their fans. They do not care about you at all. You are there to be gouged. And they do not care about winning. Everything about the Lions is predicated on saving individual face. It is a bad organization in every facet, the business and operations ends included. Nothing is about winning. Rod Marinelli is a nice guy, so they present him as a pawn in the equation. Tell me how the Lions were so well coached? Good to see how loyal Marinelli is. Making Donnie Henderson a scapegoat by firing him, apparently to bring in his son-in-law, is a typical classless move. Welcome to the club, Rod. You fit in perfectly. But watch your back. It is just a matter of time until Millen makes it your fault and removes you spine the way he did to Steve Mariucci.

Random thoughts

- Does Boise State belong ahead of Michigan in the final polls? That is a tough question. If Michigan played Boise State at neutral site, I still think the Wolverines would win handily. Oklahoma was undermanned this season and probably overachieved this season because the Big 12 was down.

- If Bears coach Lovie Smith were wise, he would skip the formalities and start Brian Griese at quarterback during the playoffs. Rex Grossman is awful.

- The place of Steve Yzerman in Red Wings lore is unquestioned. What is often overlooked in all the discussion about his ability as a leader, however, was his skill as a player. Before his balky knee and age caught up to Yzerman, he was probably one of the Top 20 players ever, in terms of skill, to play the game.