Friday, August 31, 2007

Pudge's Future Depends On Now

The appropriate word, I believe, is "dilemma." It’s the position the Tigers are in regarding Ivan Rodriguez. He is 35 years old. His play has clearly slipped this season. His contract contains a club option for next season for an outrageous $13 million. Seems like an easy decision to cut him loose.
Then you look at the alternative. Vance Wilson after missing an entire season. Mike Rabelo, who seems suited to be a backup at best. No catchers developing in the minor league system. No viable options, really, via free agency. Trades are highly unlikely because there is such a dearth of catching in baseball these days any team with a good catcher holds onto him. Period.
So should the Tigers keep Pudge and be happy to pay the $13 million? There is no easy answer at this point. But by the end of this season, however, it should be apparent.
Pudge is having a poor season. On a team that scores a ton of runs with premier hitters in front of him in the order, he has 52 RBI. His on-base percentage is below .300. How can a player that experienced walk just seven times in more than 400 plate appearances? Seems like Pudge has also lost a little bit defensively, too. But it isn’t nearly to the same degree as at the plate because his skill level behind the plate was so extraordinary, the dropoff still puts him at a high level. And the Tigers pitching staff has been such a mess this season it has had a bearing on his defensive statistics.
The only person who can change these perceptions is Pudge himself. This last month of the season will make or break his career in Detroit. He is a certain Hall of Famer. Often when players of that ilk are put on the spot, they respond by silencing the doubts. Pudge has done that a few times in his career already. If he doesn’t respond to it, then you know he is done. It’s up to him.
I’d still be leaning toward picking up the option, but not if he doesn’t perform better down the stretch than he has lately.

Random Thoughts

- I got to know Sylvester Croom pretty well when he was the Lions’ offensive coordinator and thought he took a lot of unfair knocks for what were essentially decisions by Bobby Ross. Still, that wasn’t good for Croom that his Mississippi State team was thrashed so soundly by LSU Thursday. Granted, it is a tough task turning around a program in the SEC, but it doesn’t appear as if Croom has done so. Mississippi State should have been more competitive against, especially at home.

- I am glad there were so few fans at the Lions’ fourth preseason game Thursday. Charging regular season prices for cut-rate football is a ripoff. The NFL should do something about it, but won’t.

- It will be interesting to see what type of wrinkles Mike Martz pulls out in the Lions’ opener at Oakland. He revealed essentially nothing this preseason - which is a good thing. And you know there is something there. The Raiders have a strong defense, but I think the Lions will move the football. The question is: Will they be able to avoid sacks and turnovers?

- Andrew Miller’s future will depend on how much he learned from this experience. He had some solid success early on, but didn’t handle adversity well. If he throws strikes early in the count and commands his breaking ball reasonably well, he will star. If he doesn’t, he won’t. It’s not real complex.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Subject Is Barry Bonds And The Tigers...

I have this way of putting things at times that I admit is a bit of a copout. When somebody brings up something that is a remote possibility, but I really feel is highly unlikely to occur, I will say, "It’s possible, but not probable." It’s my polite way of saying, "That isn’t going to happen."
And it was in that situation I found myself Tuesday night as I hosted my radio show. The subject was Barry Bonds. He cleared waivers. The thought of him becoming a Tiger was raised. The phone lines lit up with "get Barry" calls
"Well, it’s possible, but not probable," I said.
People are enamored with big names. And Bonds is the biggest name in the game. There is also strong suspicion he is a cheat, and he is beyond difficult in terms of his personality. People around here generally couldn’t stand the guy, but as soon as his name is mentioned for the Tigers, people are, "Get him." A little absurd, perhaps?
I had one call suggesting they release Gary Sheffield and sign Bonds, because the two omne-time friends and workout partners obviously don’t get along after Sheffield’s comments to HBO about Bonds. Releasing Sheffield would force the Tigers to eat $26 million. And Sheffield is considerably younger and has much more athleticism at this stage than Bonds.
Well, here are the facts as I honestly see them:
1. Bonds will turn 44 next season and has noticeably declined.
2. It would cost the Tigers a small fortune to sign him - I’m guessing at the very minimum $15 million for one season.
3. At a park as spacious as Comerica Park, he would only be able to DH.
4. Outfield and DH are actually strengths for the Tigers.
5. Shortstop, catcher and perhaps a veteran starter to replace Kenny Rogers are far more pressing needs for the Tigers
6.. Even if Bonds has a strong relationship with Jim Leyland because of their days together in Pittsburgh, it’d be a risk in the clubhouse.
Yeah, it’s possible, but honestly, I don’t think it will happen - nor do I think it should.

Random Thoughts

- The Hockey News seems to think the Red Wings will live up to their reputation this season. In their preseason magazine, they rate the Wings as the best team in the NHL - but pick Anaheim to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. I can’t wait for hockey to start. I need my hockey fix - badly.

- How can the Tigers have 16 hits and score just three runs? That was a bad loss Tuesday.

- I watched the first half of the Raiders’ third preseason game against St. Louis and they looked good. QB Duante Culpepper scrambled a couple times for first downs and looked sharp passing. Based on what I saw, I would be surprised if he isn’t name starter. And they are strong defensively. The Lions will have their hands full in their season opener in Oakland.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Not Exactly A Reason For Optimism

They say the third preseason game is the dress rehearsal. They say if there is a preseason game that actually matters, it’s the third one. If that is the case, then the Lions are in trouble.
Peyton Manning is a truly great quarterback, and the Indianapolis Colts are the defending Super Bowl champions, but the way they went through the Lions Saturday night was utterly ridiculous.
It was a reminder of the previous two third preseason games during which the Lions turned in similarly floundering performances. The third preseason game in 2005 against the Rams, a 37-13 loss at Ford Field on Monday Night Football when the Lions brought out the black jerseys for the first time, was the beginning of the end for Steve Mariucci as the head coach. Last year, when Rod Marinelli - incredibly and foolishly - took his team the same day and back to Oakland for the third preseason game, was nearly as embarrassing of a loss. And similarly lingering. This wasn’t good, either. It pointed out the Lions’ obvious weaknesses defensively, and how they haven’t covered their tracks at the backup quarterback spot. Shaun Rogers didn’t play and has hardly practiced - and the season is less than two weeks away.
All the optimism that has come out of Allen Park has been nothing more than rhetoric. There have been all kinds of things that have gone wrong since Rod Marinelli has become head coach. Precious little has gone right. Saturday night in Indy just another one of those things that went wrong.
And I do believe, based on that performance, it is fair to wonder if Marinelli will ever get it right. The message for him and the Lions organization in its totality is simple: Start winning. Turn rhetoric into reality. Because they made their bed with all this talk and propaganda. If they don’t win, they will have to sleep in the fallout - and it will be anything but pleasant.

Random Thoughts

- Football is a brutal game. I mean all that hard work from somebody like Daniel Bullocks to earn a starting spot and after one devastating play, his season is over. You have to feel for the kid.

- The most underrated aspect of the Tigers win Sunday was their fielding. Carlos Guillen made a brilliant play in the ninth inning at first base. Also, Brandon Inge made a very good play charging the ball earlier in the game.

- Yeah, I felt a bit cheated Sunday when I went to the game and Derek Jeter didn’t play for the Yankees. Wonder if they would have won had he played.

- It was impressive the way Joel Zumaya bounced back from his bad outing against Cleveland with a clutch performance Sunday.

- I was surprised Yankees starter Phillip Hughes doesn’t throw harder. He seems to have a good feel for pitching, though.

- I wrote my column for Monday's Oakland Press on Curtis Granderson. Check it out in "Sports Columns."

Friday, August 24, 2007

Great Pitching? What Great Pitching?

Can we please stop talking about the Tigers’ great pitching? Can we please put to rest the notion the Tigers are so good because their pitching is so good?
Truth is, they have played so poorly lately because their pitching has been bad.
The evidence is overwhelming. They rank 11th in the American League in pitching. They rank in the bottom quarter of the major leagues in runs allowed.
Last season, their pitching was among the best in baseball. This season it ranks among the worst. Like Sparky Anderson used to say, "You don’t have to be Branch Rickey to figure it out." Solid outings by Jair Jurrjens and Nate Robertson this week don’t really change that.
And it’s just the bullpen. That’s the cruel twist of this season. The bullpen is finally set. Fernando Rodney is throwing very well. Joel Zumaya is back. They have a good situational lefty in Bobby Seay, so this isn’t a losing Jamie Walker issue. It’s the starters, particularly Jeremy Bonderman and Justin Verlander, who have struggled lately. Robertson was great Thursday and deserved a better fate, but his ERA is 4.80 and he has allowed 160 hits in 135 innings. His ERA is a run higher than last year. Those three starters have done nothing to off set the loss of Kenny Rogers. If anything, they have enhanced it.
There is more than a month of the season remaining. After the Tigers face the Yankees this weekend, they play nine straight games against losing teams. There is still plenty of time to make up ground. I don’t believe they are done. I still believe they will be there in the end. But if they don’t get better pitching, they won’t be. That’s undeniable bottom line.

Random Thoughts

- Jon Kitna’s back spasms don’t seem to be that serious of an injury, but they do lead to an uncomfortable feeling about the Lions. You can debate all you want about Kitna’s merits as the Lions QB, but there is little doubt he is by far their best option. They did not do a good job of covering their tracks if something happens to Kitna. If he gets injured and can’t play, the Lions are in serious trouble.

- The Shock begin the playoffs today in New York and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of interest. I don’t think that is fair. They have won a couple championships. They do have excellent players and interesting personalties and a high profile coach. They deserve more credit and attention than they have been getting.

- The Eddie Drummond era is over. It is true that wide receiver is the Lions’ deepest position and there are other viable options for returning kicks. But it’s also true that Drummond has lacked the same explosiveness since suffering a leg injury a couple years ago. Give him credit, though. He has had an NFL career - a decent one. He was even an All-Pro one year. That wasn’t anticipated when he came out of Penn State as an undrafted free agent. It’s also an example of how fleeting success can be in the NFL. It was just 2005 that Drummond was an All Pro.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Big Baby Being Treated Like One

Nearly a month after training camp opened in July, Lions defensive tackle Shaun Rogers ran a few plays in practice. So what are we supposed to do? Go out and celebrate with a ticker tape parade?
I fully understand Rogers’ value to the Lions. He is a rare combination of size and quickness. There aren’t many defensive tackles as gifted. But while preaching toughness and team unity, the Lions have let Rogers work at his own pace, one so slow that it would be difficult to imagine supposedly hard-nosed coach Rod Marinelli letting anybody else get away with it.
Given Rogers’ talent, I am not sure if Marinelli isn’t right to comprise his standards for Rogers. It’s about winning during the regular season. Everything else is just rhetoric.
Talent-wise, Rogers can definitely help the Lions win because he does clog the middle so effectively and is a playmaker.
But how likely is that if he barely plays in the preseason? Or after spending all of training camp working on the side rather than in pads with the rest of the team? Will he tucker during the fourth quarter of close games? Can he, honestly, be depended on?
Those questions are legitimate ones. And they are disconcerting.

Random Thoughts

- Jair Jurrjens has filled out some and is throwing harder than he did when I saw him pitch in the minor leagues. He used to sit pretty much at 90 mph with his fastball. Tuesday against Cleveland it was at 92 mph to 94 mph. That extra velocity helps him a great deal to hit the strike zone. He has to keep the ball down and work it in and out because there doesn’t seem to be a lot of late life on his fastball. His changeup is pretty good, but his breaking ball is inconsistent. I still see him as a fourth or fifth starter, but he is pretty poised and has a good feel for pitching. That might give him a chance to ultimately be better than that.

- It seems strange that Chad Henne has started for four years at quarterback for Michigan - and wasn’t named as one of the Wolverines’ captains.

- One of the worst parts of this Michael Vick mess is having to see these painful Joey Harrington press conferences during which he explains, "I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and, dog gone it, people me." They are giving me nightmarish flashbacks.

- I know he has had some injury issues, but Jarvis Hayes was a solid signing for the Pistons. He is a smart player with solid athleticism who can score off the bench. And he remained relatively healthy last season.

Monday, August 20, 2007

In Truth, Tigers' Cup Should Be Running Over

It’s an old saying. Granted, it’s trite. But it’s also true. We live in a world where the glass is either half-full or half-empty. It depends on how you look at it.
The Tigers just lost three straight games after winning the series opener in New York. And they should have won at least one of their losses because the Yankees didn’t necessarily play nor pitch that well. It was, bottom line, bad baseball by the Tigers. Whatever they did well was negated by mistakes or poor at bats or questionable pitches or shoddy fielding.
It does seem like the season is getting away from the Tigers - and quickly. Glass half-empty.
Yet, the Tigers are only a game and a half behind Cleveland in the American League Central, with the Indians coming to Detroit for a three-game series this week. Glass half-full.
I think there should be concern. Every time it seems like the Tigers start playing a little better - wham - they fall apart again.
A lot of fans are waiting for an emotional outburst from manager Jim Leyland, but I doubt that is going to happen. I talked to him about that before the Tigers left for the road trip. The last thing he wants to project as a leader is panic.
But his actions suggest he is uneasy. The Tigers are looking for shots in the arm. It’s why Cameron Maybin got so much playing time over the weekend. He is a potential spark. It’s why Ryan Raburn is going to start at third base Tuesday against the Indians. He has been hot and Brandon Inge has been awful. Raburn struggled with the glove at third base during his minor league days, but the risk is minimal because it’s not like Inge has played well at third base lately.
This is not the time of the year when hurt feelings matter. Results do. If Raburn gives the Tigers a better chance to win games this week, so be it - play him over Inge.
I do think this season is far from over. The odd twist is that the Tigers are just hair away from finally getting their bullpen in order with Fernando Rodney back and throwing much better, and Joel Zumaya about to return.
Do I think they will win the division? Yes, I do. But it might be more a case of the Tigers backing in than running through the front door. I am sure that their fans would take such a scenario - no questions asked. And once in the playoffs, anything can happen. Remember the Cardinals last year? But given the way this season has unfolded, it shouldn’t be a glass half-full, glass half-empty proposition. The Tigers should be winning their division in a rout. That they aren’t is disappointing.

Random Thoughts

- Inge’s dismal performance has been as puzzling as it has been underwhelming. Leyland and the Tigers management don’t like him - they love him. It’s why he got such a handsome contract during the off-season that comes with the assurance he won’t have to return to catcher. But he has clearly taken a step backward this season. His four-year, $24 million contract, which seemed like a bargain when it was signed, might have been a mistake.

- Fans who are standing in judgement of Cameron Maybin’s long-range future based on three games in New York, or even the rest of this season, are completely clueless. Did you know Mickey Mantle got off to such a slow start he was sent back to the minor leagues by the Yankees and was talked out of quitting the game by his father? Did you know Willie Mays was hitless in his first 12 at bats in the major leagues, homered off hall-of-famer Warren Spahn in his 13th at bat - and then went hitless in his next 13 at bats? Both were 20 - the same age as Maybin at the time. Oh, and by the way, history is full of players who began their careers with a flash - and didn’t pan out. Where have you gone Brent Clevlen and Chris Shelton? Detroit turns its lonely eyes toward you. And the Tigers aren’t rushing Maybin. He is good enough that he is easily one of the 25 best players in their organization. He will learn far more in the major leagues than he will in the minor leagues at this stage. Bringing him up was the right move.

- I have a feeling my impression of the Lions’ second preseason game is pretty typical. I liked the way they looked, but I am not sure if it was because they were so good or because the Browns were so bad. The Browns were so discombobulated it was comical. But it shouldn’t dismiss how sharp the Lions were during the first half.

Friday, August 17, 2007

About Maybin, The Pennant Race and The Tigers...

I suppose it is dangerous to feel this way when the Tigers are in the midst of a series vs. the Yankees in New York, but I do think they will be right there until the end, and probably make the playoffs. I like the way they have played the past week. They look like themselves again. Seems like what transpired over that awful three-week span was more an aberration than a trend.
I do feel, however, that in order to get into the postseason, the Tigers must outlast Cleveland in the American League Central, that it will be difficult to beat out the Yankees or the Red Sox from the A.L. East this time to secure a wild card spot. I see 95 wins or so getting the wild card slot again. I anticipate the Tigers finishing with only about 90 wins (I don’t think Seattle will win more than 90 games, either, by the way).
That could change with Joel Zumaya’s return to 100 percent health. And Fernando Rodney is throwing the ball exceptionally well and seems to have re-gained his confidence.
Another "X Factor" is Cameron Maybin. I wrote here a few days ago that I wouldn’t be surprised if they called up Maybin. They did Friday. He could really give them a shot in the arm. He is extremely talented, and not all that unpolished considering his youth. But a word of caution here: Don’t expect a savior. Whatever the Tigers get out of Maybin would be gravy, something that wasn’t anticipated. In that way, he could be like an impact player acquired at the trade deadline.
The best part about Maybin is that he is yet another symbol of how the Tigers are building a core of relatively young players that should keep them in legitimate contention deep into the future. Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman and Andrew Miller on the starting staff. Maybin, Curtis Granderson and Gorkys Hernandez in the outfield and Brandon Inge at third base - that’s a pretty good base camp.
What the Tigers need to develop, though, are the shortstop and catcher spots. I expect the Tigers to pick up the option on Ivan Rodriguez’s contract, and I do believe they can get one more year after this one out of Carlos Guillen at short, but what about after 2008? There are no ready-made answers for those positions other than trades and/or free agent signings because their system is thin at those spots.

Random Thoughts

- It’s amazing the Cardinals are below .500 and so close to the lead in the National League Central. It’s also an embarrassment to the Cubs, who should, honestly, be running away with that division.

- A sleeper team in college football is Texas A&M. The Aggies lost a lot of close games last season, beat Texas in the regular season finale and return a very good veteran QB in Stephen McGee, and two excellent running backs - massive Jovorskie Lane and speedy Mike Goodson - who compliment each other well. Their defense is getting better.

- Anytime the Tigers face Mike Mussina these days I view it as an automatic win for Detroit. He is not even close to being the same pitcher he used to be.

- This second preseason game will be a good test for the Lions. The Browns are home, will play hard and there is much hype surrounding Brady Quinn. It will be interesting to see how the Lions react to all that.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sizemore vs. Granderson: The Debate Has Begun

Sports rivalries can’t be contrived. They just kind of happen. Sometimes they develop because of factors that would have been difficult to foresee. The Tigers and the Indians, for example. I see a rivalry brewing there that may last a number of years. And I see the impetus of the rivalry being the center fielders for each team.
Grady Sizemore or Curtis Granderson - which is the better player? Guess it is the Midwest’s version of Willie, Mickey and The Duke. Or is fast becoming that.
This hit home with me Tuesday as the Tigers, in what was an utterly fascinating game, took sole possession of first place by downing the Indians in a tight game at Cleveland. Sizemore hit a two-run homer off Jeremy Bonderman during the first inning for Cleveland’s only runs. Granderson made a breathtaking diving catch to save the Tigers’ bacon during the late innings.
Sizemore has gotten a lot more hype coming up than Granderson. Everybody has always talked about fast he is, and that Sizemore has power potential. He has been moved out of the leadoff spot to third in the order. I still think the national perception would be that Sizemore is the better player.
I am not so sure about that, though. Sizemore is very good, and is on his way to becoming a great player. But I’d take Granderson. Look at all the triples he has a hit. For a guy who wasn’t supposed to be that fast, he sure runs the bases well and covers a lot of ground in the outfield. His flaws are he doesn’t hit left-handed pitching worth a lick and strikes out too much. But given Granderson’s exceptional work ethic, it wouldn’t surprise me if corrects those problems.
The Tigers have two very good center field prospects - Cameron Maybin and Gorkys Hernandez. Both are faster than Granderson - particularly Hernandez who has truly exceptional speed. But I’d hand the center field job to Granderson right now for 10 years and make those other guys shift position. Center field is kind of a leadership position. Granderson is going to be the Tigers leader deep into the future. When I talked to Maybin at the Future’s Game, he discussed at length how he is following Granderson’s lead.
Not that Sizemore isn’t, but Granderson is the real deal. It wouldn’t surprise me if he has a better career than Sizemore.

Random Thoughts

- I would highly suggest seeing the current edition of "Real Sports" on HBO for two reasons. It provides a true glimpse into why Pacman Jones is so troubled. In his interview with Bryant Gumbel, he takes accountability for nothing. It’s really unbelievable. Also, there is a segment on dogfighting that is, to say the least, disturbing.

- OK, OK...I’ve had enough of Joey Harrington’s whining about how rough it was when he played for the Lions. He finally figured things out by the end, but it was too late. For his first three seasons in a Lions’ uniform, he not only underachieved on the field, but he was arrogant, aloof and clueless about the leadership role of an NFL starting quarterback. Harrington’s biggest enemy in Detroit wasn’t the fans or Dre Bly or Steve Mariucci, it was himself. Bottom line.

- For Michigan and Michigan State to play just one time in a college basketball season just doesn’t seem right.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Tigers Back On Top Of The World

Sparky Anderson used to have a sign in his office about the world turning over every 24 hours on the people sitting atop of it. It was certainly apropos about baseball.
There are a zillion and one things to love about the game, but near the top of the list has to be the beauty of a pennant race. Every day is about ups and downs that leave you on the edge of your seat. Look at the Tigers. Count me among those who were about to leave them for dead at the side of road as recently as Friday night when they lost that weird game to Oakland. They did look bad. And for an extended period. There didn’t appear much Jim Leyland could do to pull them out of it. A couple days later, the Tigers were back in first place, and all is well again.
Of course, there could be a turn for the worse on the horizon. The Yankees are lurking for eight games in 12 days against the Tigers starting later this week. Then again, it could be a good thing is the Tigers beat them. It’s just the nature of a pennant race.
There are reasons the Tigers played better the last couple days. Magglio Ordonez stepped forward and re-established himself as an MVP candidate. Justin Verlander gave the Tigers the solid start they needed. Yorman Bazardo and Aquilino Lopez came up from Triple-A and threw very well. Fernando Rodney appears to be back on track, hitting 97 mph on the radar gun. Oh, and don’t forget Marcus Thames. We always seem to overlook him, but Thames has became a very important player for the Tigers. He homered off Dan Haren Saturday night. That says a lot about Thames right there.
Mostly, though, I think the Tigers have the Cleveland Indians to thank for surviving their lull. Last season such a swoon cost the Red Sox the playoffs because the Yankees weren’t nearly as forgiving in the American League East. The Tigers are on pace to win about 90 games. And given the struggles of The Tribe, particularly their bullpen of late, 90 wins just might be enough for the Tigers to win the A.L. Central.

Random Thoughts

- Tiger Woods was typically methodical while winning the PGA Championship over the weekend. He is incredible. I just wish there was a golfer or two that would step into the fray and really test Woods. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of competitive character among those chasing him - particularly from Phil Mickelson.

- I honestly don’t know how excited fans should be about Cameron Maybin hitting three home runs during his first three games after being called up to Double-A Erie. The ball park in Erie is small. Those games were played in Erie. Maybin’s power numbers figure to rise dramatically because of that. The ball parks in West Michigan and Lakeland are very spacious. However, I wouldn’t dismiss this kid in any way, shape or form. He is a special talent with a Curtis Granderson-like attitude and work ethic. He just might fly through Double-A and give the Tigers a lift if he were called up in September. The question is, would it be worth getting his service time clock started already? Helping Maybin’s cause is the way Justin Upton has sparked the Diamondbacks since he was called up to the majors. And Upton is even younger than the 20-year-old Maybin.

- Placido Polanco’s major league-record consecutive game errorless streak for second basemen is even more impressive considering his range. He seems to get to everything, particularly balls hit to his glove side.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Leyland Is A Strength, Not A Weakness

I was in the Tigers clubhouse the other day after a loss and manager Jim Leyland said it was his responsibility, that he was to blame for the Tigers’ disconcerting slide.
I applaud Leyland for being a standup guy, but I don’t think the Tigers’ recent collapse has been his fault. That bullpen has been a disaster since Joel Zumaya got hurt. Is it Leyland’s fault? No. I feel like he has handled the bullpen well under adverse circumstances. But he can only do so much. Nobody can make chicken salad out of rubber chickens.
Jeremy Bonderman has gone south at the worst possible time. Is that Leyland’s fault? No.
Gary Sheffield and Marcus Thames have been hurt. Craig Monroe has slumped. Leyland’s fault? No, no and no.
Leyland has made a couple questionable decisions regarding when to remove pitchers. He, for example, took Nate Robertson out too soon, and Bonderman not soon enough, in their recent starts. But mostly the Tigers have tanked because of injuries and a sour bullpen. Also, Bonderman and Justin Verlander have shown they still have a ways to go before becoming genuine "aces."
Panic? Yeah, there is panic in Detroit. The Devils Rays series was disturbing. How could the Tigers split with such a reeling club that has been so awful on the road? I don’t have a certain answer for that, but I don’t feel it lies with Leyland’s managing.

Random Thoughts

- There was a relatively small crowd at Ford Field for the Lions’ preseason opener Thursday. It would have been nice of the Lions to throw a couple passes toward Calvin Johnson early in the game instead of making fans wait until nearly halftime. And when the ball was thrown Johnson’s way, it was easily the highlight of the night. He seems special. The team overall, however, still appears to be mediocre.

- Oddest thing I have ever heard a manager say that eventually proved to be true: When Gary Pettis played for the Angels, Sparky Anderson said he was the greatest center fielder he’d ever seen - even better than Willie Mays. This was before Pettis came to the Tigers. I’m not old enough to remember Mays distinctly. I can only go by the highlights I have seen of him, although I have seen many. He was truly great. But it is true, at least in my opinion, the best defensive center fielder I have seen was Gary Pettis. Seems like he is a forgotten player.

- A prediction: The most-celebrated player on Michigan’s defense following this season will be tackle Terrance Taylor. He is strong and athletic and plays the leverage game very well. By the time he leaves Michigan, it just might be as a first-team All-American.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Reason To Celebrate Or To Cry?

Cynicism is not something I find flattering. And it is big news that Barry Bonds broke Henry Aaron’s all-time home run record. But I must say, with all sincerity, I am just glad it is over. It is not something I am going to reflect much on in the future. Well, at least until somebody else - probably Alex Rodriguez - starts closing in on the record. And, hopefully, this is a record that was made to be broken.
I did watch some of Bonds’ chase, but it was forced. I made myself do it because of what I do for a living, and because I feel compelled to comment about it, not for the joy of experiencing such a monumental moment. It was the same when I was in San Francisco for the All Star Game. It was obviously the big national story. I wrote two columns about Bonds. I did get into the media pile around Bonds as he spoke. Yet, I found the entire scene oddly morose.
It’s like when you’re watching the game and they flash into the stands and show his wife and his family. There are trying to show a human side to Bonds, and I salute ESPN for that. And Bonds was nice enough about breaking record, but you just don’t see the human side of him - regardless. Maybe it’s because of his normally sour attitude. Or perhaps it’s because of the steroid issue, but it’s almost like watching a robot instead of a ball player. It’s so cold.
I resent how Bonds, instead of unifying people in this quest, broke them apart. It became a racial issue. If it had been a different personality with no alleged cheating involved, race would have been a moot point - like it is when Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan - or any number of athletes of all different backgrounds - standout. It brought out the worst in Bud Selig. And that’s pretty bad. It put Aaron in an awkward position. It tarnished what was once, and sadly is no more, baseball’s - and perhaps all of sports - most-sacred record.
Yeah. Cynical. That’s how I feel about it. And believe me, I don’t like my baseball that way.

Random Thoughts

- I am very much looking forward to the Lions preseason opener. My whole view on the Lions is simple. I understand the natural optimism that comes from the start of training camp, but I feel it has been over the top this year. There is nothing tangible there. Nothing has been shown on the field. On Thursday, we’ll have a better idea if the Lions are any better because they will be on the field. They will actually be playing. It is only preseason. So it doesn’t mean that much. But it does mean more than what has been essentially meaningless rhetoric coming out of Allen Park.

- I have to admit, my first impressions of new Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio are good. John L. Smith was off-the-chart goofy. It just wasn’t working. But I am not sure if Dantonio has the type of player personnel to quickly improve the Spartans. Playing the way he wants to play - power football - against Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame can be difficult. You need strength in the lines. Doesn’t seem like the Spartans have it. Nor much depth.

- Nate Robertson has shown flashes of really pitching well. He threw the ball exceedingly well against the Devil Rays Tuesday. Jason Grilli has not shown flashes of pitching well. That was ugly - again - Tuesday. But was it Grilli’s fault of Jim Leyland’s for putting him in that spot?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Tigers Season On The Brink

To put his foot down, or not to put his foot down, that is the question. Is it nobler in the mind of Tiger fans that manager Jim Leyland takes the high road with his floundering club? Or should he lash out at them like he did last season after a lackluster performance against Cleveland?
I think it is a tough call. Hitting is such a fickle aspect of the game. It comes and goes on a whim. And the Tigers not having Gary Sheffield in the middle of the lineup does hurt. Oh, and they could use Marcus Thames about now, too. But starting pitching, the kind the Tigers are reputed to have, is supposed to be the one constant. Kenny Rogers and Andrew Miller are hurt, but Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman are not. Bonderman, in particular, has been puzzling. There is no reason he should be having the problems he does during the first inning. It is the one factor keeping him from becoming a truly great pitcher. That needs to change.
Leyland can’t will that happen. Or his hitters to start hitting. Just keep plugging away is the proper answer. But it doesn’t guarantee a solution. The Tigers season is on the line during the next three weeks. Period. They must make hay against the woeful Devil Rays. And they have to hold their own against the Indians and those damn Yankees, who have made up eight games in just 17 days on the Tigers. They sure could have used a boost at the trade deadline on any number of fronts. Too bad that didn’t get done.

Random Thoughts

- Winning 300 games is an amazing feat. Thing is, I have never viewed Tom Glavine as an amazing pitcher. His average season is 15-10 with a 3.49 ERA. I do believe he is a Hall of Famer. But I do wonder how successful he would have been had he spent his entire career in the American League instead of all of it in the National League.

- What is Bud Selig doing? He only made a weird situation even stranger when he reacted the way he did when Barry Bonds tied Henry Aaron’s all-time home run record.

- I really enjoyed Charlie Sanders’ Hall of Fame speech. There was a lot of genuine emotion. He is a bright guy with a proper perspective on life. There are a lot of people in the Lions front office, which is by far the worst I have been around, that could learn by observing how Charlie goes about his business.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

On The Oakland County Top 10 List...

I very much liked writing the series about the Top 10 Greatest Athletes in Oakland County History.
In case you missed it, or parts of it, the final list went:
1. Kirk Gibson; 2. Pat LaFontaine; 3. Hayes Jones; 4. Meg Mallon; 5. Pete Dawkins; 6. Campy Russell; 7. Micki King; 8. Alexi Lalas; 9. Ted Simmons; 10. Peter Vanderkaay. We’re working on getting the profiles posted on website.
The list came from readership voting on both website and through a mail-in ballot from our print edition. It was shared with a list sports editor Jeff Kuehn compiled, and that I did. The final tally was based on a 50-25-25 percentage basis. My list was the same as the final list, with a couple changes in position. And I had Steve Howe on my list instead of Vanderkaay. I knew Steve, played against him in high school and American Legion ball and liked him.I fully understand how talented he was - and troubled. For my thoughts on Howe, who was 11th on our list, go to and type "Caputo" and "Howe" in the search box to read the column I wrote following Steve’s unfortunate death last year.
All voting segments had Gibson No.1. Chris Webber, wrestler Steve Fraser, Bob Welch, Bill Muncey and Bill Freehan also received strong support.
Vanderkaay did very well in readership voting and I understand why he was included on the final list. He did win a gold medal and there may be more in his future.

Random thoughts

- I must admit I was surprised by the way the trade deadline went down. Surprised because the Tigers didn’t make a move because they have serious problems in their bullpen. Surprised because other American League teams with needs didn’t make moves, either. The only significant move that might affect the Tigers later was Boston acquiring Eric Gagne. And it was more a case of the Red Sox augmenting what was already a strength. I see the Tigers wanting to acquire infield help as concern about the health of Carlos Guillen. That was evident Tuesday when he made a bad error that opened the flood gates for Oakland, and then left the game with a sore knee. Jack Wilson is a good player whose growth has been hindered by the malaise in Pittsburgh. If he comes to the Tigers - which is still possible later this season or during the off season - it would give the Tigers the option of moving Guillen to first base next season. Guillen seems to struggle to stay healthy while playing shortstop.

- Kevin Garnett is a great player. I have always thought a lot of Ray Allen. I just wonder how well Paul Pierce is going to handle being the third-wheel in that equation for the Celtics. Seems to me like he has always been a selfish player.

- I don’t want to belabor the point, honest, but I do find the fact Shaun Rogers is not practicing telling. He should be recovered from surgery and in shape by now. Also, the knee injury to Drew Stanton is dangerous because the Lions can’t put him on injured reserve this season and still have him practice with the team. That would greatly slow down his growth. And if they have him as their No. 3 QB with little practice time, it would be very risky. Seems like a no-win situation there.