Monday, January 28, 2008

To U-M: Tradition Is A Terrible Thing To Waste

I owe the University of Michigan basketball program an apology. I predicted on the radio they would lose to Michigan State by 30 points.
It was only 15. Guess we should give the Wolverines a trophy for a moral victory. They can set it in a glass case right next to the NIT hardware they earned during the Tommy Amaker era.
The Wolverines weren’t massacred at the Breslin Center, but merely blown out.
Nothing against John Beilein. Obviously he is a good coach. He proved as much at West Virginia. Whether his system is the right fit for Michigan remains to be seen, but that’s a different issue for another time. And there are some players there, most notably Manny Harris. But the main issue, as far as I’m concerned, is about resources and support for the basketball program.
I just can’t get this reoccurring vision out of my mind. It comes from attending the press conference when Rich Rodriguez was named as Michigan’s football coach.
It was of the massive re-modeling of Michigan Stadium, while Crisler Arena sits right next to it, long overdue for an upgrade or replacement.
College basketball is HUGE. The fact U-M’s administration essentially ignores it is shameful. Michigan has a great basketball tradition, particularly dating back to the Cazzie Russell era in the mid-1960s through the end of the Fab 5 era. Wasting it, and ignoring it because of an embarrassing scandal and MSU’s basketball success, seems so wrong.

Random Thoughts

- People ask me all the time what my favorite sport is, or assume it is baseball because I have a strong background in it. I don’t really have an answer to the question because I very much like all the four major sports, and follow them all with equal interest. I just know I don’t like any sport more than hockey.
But having said that, I didn’t watch a second of the NHL All Star Game. Didn’t even record it, although I did record the skills competition, which I do enjoy.
I hate the NHL All Star Game and missed the NHL deeply the last five days, but I have to admit the MSU-Michigan hockey games this weekend were both compelling and helped fill the void.

- Maybe the Lions should trade Drew Stanton to move up in the draft in order to select Chad Henne. Just kidding. Or maybe not. Henne was really good in the Senior Bowl. Better than Stanton the year before.

- Man, how did Eddie Guardado, at age 37, get a $2 million contract from Texas after missing much of last season with arm trouble and posting a 7.24 ERA? Teach your sons to throw left-handed, people. It’s the baseball gift that just keeps on giving.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Ernie Harwell Is A Treasure

Ernie Harwell turned 90 today. It is a cause for both celebration and reflection.
He has not only been the voice of the Tigers for generations, but also of Detroit and the state of Michigan.
Last month, I had Ernie on my radio show and, as always, I immediately received several e-mails, all basically saying, "It was great to hear that voice."
Who doesn’t remember hiding a transistor radio under a blanket when they were a kid to listen to that voice call the Tigers’ game from the West Coast? Who doesn’t recall weekend doubleheaders during the summertime, with that voice resonating during a family picnic?
Ernie is a friend. While that makes me fortunate, it hardly makes me a club of one. He has friends everywhere. And it’s genuine. He is truly a good person - and wise. I also appreciate his wife, Lulu, who strikes me as a person of much virtue, particularly those of kindness and loyalty.

Note: I will talking sports at The Art Van Furniture store on Dixie Hwy. in Waterford on Saturday from noon to 2 p.m. Stop on by. We have food and a free gift for everybody.

Random Thoughts

- I honestly can’t believe a team with Dwyane Wade is that bad. What has happened to the Miami Heat is incredible.

- I like that the Phoenix Suns are planning on playing a preseason game outdoors next season. It will be interesting to see how Steve Nash adjusts his shooting for the direction of the wind (LOL). It will be at a tennis stadium in California. There is no obvious place for the Pistons to do this, though. Too bad. I think the concept would fly around these parts.

- I can wait for the Senior Bowl. One of my favorite things is the NFL Draft. Count me among those who just can’t get enough of the draft.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Henne's Star Might Shine In The Pros

It doesn’t surprise me that Chad Henne is performing well during practice sessions at the Senior Bowl, and that his draft stock is apparently rising.
He is a big, strong kid with a rocket for an arm. I feel, in a way, he underachieved at Michigan given his talent.
I think part of it was an offense that was too vanilla. When they opened up the offense, he made several great throws during the bowl victory against Florida - legitimate NFL-caliber passes. But for the most part, Henne seemed bogged down by an offense that was too basic, too conservative and too predictable. Also, Henne was hindered by injuries his senior season - another obvious factor.
Is he another Tom Brady? No. Who is? But Henne might turn out to be another Michigan QB who has more success at the NFL level than he did in college. Lets put it this way: It wouldn’t shock me.

Random Thoughts

- Henrik Zetterberg has developed into one of the top dozen players in the world. He is the Red Wings best forward and a terrific two-way performer. But his on-going back problems are a cause for concern. He misses a lot of time and there is always the fear it will become an issue when it matters most - during the playoffs.

- Did the White Sox do the right thing by biting at the bait and signing Octavio Dotel to a two-year, $11 million contract. He has had arm issues and hasn’t posted an ERA under 3.90 in several years. But he is a veteran bullpen presence with a live arm. Hmmm. Wonder if he would have helped the Tigers, who are counting on hard-throwing youngsters Francisco Cruceta and Denny Bautista instead.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Was Pistons' Slump Just Reality?

It’s difficult to discern, in the landscape that is the NBA, whether what the Pistons are going through is inevitable or a trend.
Is it just a long season bound to hit a dead span? Or is it a red flag?
The NBA regular season is such a grind that it may be an unreasonable expectation for teams to remain "up" for that long of a schedule, especially when they realize the games that really count - the ones during the playoffs - don’t begin for a few more months.
The Pistons aren’t like most teams. They understand they are going to be in the playoffs. It’s just a matter the degree of homecourt advantage they are able to get.
There’s also the theory that losing an edge right now isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It allows a team to build to a proper crescendo during the playoffs.
We saw a couple years ago what happened when the Pistons played it all-out, all season at a breakneck pace. They had too little remaining in the tank for the playoffs.
I understand all of the above, and acknowledge it might very well be true. But when the Pistons get drilled by mediocre, struggling, dysfunctional teams such as the Knicks and the Bulls, sorry, but I still can’t help but find it disconcerting.

Random Thoughts

- I know, I know, Michigan’s football future would be a lot brighter with him than without him. From what I can tell, he is a great player. But sorry. Couldn’t help it. I still found the attention paid to Terrelle Pryor’s official visit to Michigan this past weekend to be ridiculous. The Michigan Mafia is falling all over themselves on this one. That part I find kind of humorous. What if the kids says, "No." Or if he decides to attend Ohio State? Will they have to shutdown the school? Will Ann Arbor cease to exist? You’d think so.

- Daniel Cleary just might be the most underrated player on the Red Wings. He is not only scrappy, but has a pretty good scoring touch - and he can skate.

- Wonder how the Patriots and Giants reached the Super Bowl with just one offensive coordinator, not a passing game guru and a running game expect, you know, like the Lions’ next season. Just keeps getting more absurd in Allen Park, doesn’t it?

Friday, January 18, 2008

$21 Million For Not-So-Great-Nate?

I have to admit I was a bit surprised the Tigers invested a $21 million contract in Nate Robertson.
Don’t get me wrong. I like what Robertson brings to the table in his role. When he is healthy and right, he has a pretty good fastball for a lefty, and he does have a bulldog quality about him.
But the bottom line is that he has a career record far below .500, and an ERA a lot closer to 5.00 than 4.00. Even in 2006, he was a .500 pitcher on a club that won 95 games. He’s been above .500 just one time.
Yes, you would like to have Nate Robertson on your staff. He is a good fourth or fifth starter. But for $21 million? What was the urgency to get him signed long-term like that?
Thing is, these type of deals haven’t necessarily worked out for the Tigers in recent years. Think Brandon Inge. Think Jeremy Bonderman. They didn’t exactly respond well to the excess security
The good part is that I like the idea of some of the 2003 Tigers being there for the good times, too. But still, $21 million? For Nate Robertson?

Random Thoughts

- Oh great, Bud Selig forever. Baseball thrives despite itself, I tell you.

- It will be interesting to see if Mike Babcock keeps rotating his goalies on the Red Wings difficult West Coast trip. Dominik Hasek is clearly playing better than Chris Osgood right now.

- You know who has much egg on his face as far as I’m concerned - Tiki Barber. All he did was rip his coach, and then Eli Manning after he retired. Look where the Giants are without him?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

It Does Make You Wonder About Rodriguez

I guess you could call it "Filegate." But honestly, this whole ruckus about Rich Rodriguez destroying office files at West Virginia seems like much noise about nothing.
Any truly important files involve copies. And are on computer files. This isn’t the dark ages.
Seems like just more of West Virginia’s loud lament over Rodriguez’s departure. That part, I do find bothersome. Not necessarily from West Virginia’s standpoint, but Rodriguez’s.
I mean he is from there. Obviously they loved him before or they wouldn’t hate him so much now for leaving.
It does appear to make Rodriguez seem selfish and cold-hearted, which isn’t a good thing from Michigan’s view. I mean, if he did this to West Virginia, what makes anybody believe he won’t do it to Michigan some day.

Random Thoughts

- Richard Hamilton was brilliant with 39 points Tuesday. Makes me think: Why can't he do those type of things more often?

- Sure, the Red Wings would be interested in Marian Hossa, who had three goals for Atlanta during a shocking 5-1 victory Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena. What contending team wouldn’t be? But if I’m the Thrashers, I’d consider a max contract to keep him in Atlanta - despite his desire to leave. With Hossa, Ilya Kovalchuk and goalie Kari Lehtonen, the Thrashers have a potential Stanley Cup contending nucleus to build around.

- Wonder if Johan Santana would have more or less value at the trade deadline than he has now?

Monday, January 14, 2008

On The Tigers, NY Giants, Chargers and Goalies

I was at TigerFest Saturday and these are some of the impressions I took away from it as the boys of summer are in the state for their annual winter visit:
- Concerns about Miguel Cabrera’s fitness are unfounded. He did put on an alarming amount of weight last season, but has lost it. I was surprised by how tall he is, and he looks really strong. Cabrera will fit in perfectly with this team in terms of his demeanor as well. His is not unlike that of fellow Venezuelan’s Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen. In other words, perfect for a ball player.
- Jim Leyland’s is not as concerned about the Tigers’ bullpen as the media and fans. He is putting it on the starting rotation to go deeper into games.
- Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski is not feeling heat to make a trade for bullpen help. He says either Francisco Cruceta and Denny Bautista - or both - could emerge this year to give the Tigers’ bullpen much-needed depth. He says Tiger scouts clocked Bautista’s fastball as high 100 mph when he was with the Rockies.
- The Tigers have no plans to trade Brandon Inge and will ask him to report to spring training with pitchers and catchers to re-acquainted with the catching position.
- There was a line down the street at the opening of the event. I remember, not long ago, when they couldn’t give tickets away to TigerFest.
- The Tigers own this town right now. Amazing.

Random Thoughts

- Lost in the shuffle of the Tony Romo meltdown Sunday was just how little faith the Giants coaching staff had in Eli Manning throwing the football while protecting the lead during the fourth quarter. The ineffectiveness of the Giants offense with the lead should have cost them the game. Manning was, however, spectacular on the Giants scoring drive to close the first half.

- The most underrated unit remaining in the playoff chase is the Chargers defense. The Chargers have played well on the road, but there is little doubt a cold weather trip presents a difficult task.

- If the playoffs started today, who would be the Red Wings’ starting goalie in Game 1? I think it would be Dominik Hasek. But should it be?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Red Sox Still Rate A Slight Edge Over Tigers

The Tigers, after making the biggest trade in their history, have taken a dramatic leap forward.
The question is, how big is that leap when compared to the defending world champion Red Sox?
I still see the Red Sox as being a better club than the Tigers. Their lineup remains potent, their starting pitching strong, especially at the top with Josh Beckett, and I think the Red Sox bullpen is stronger than the Tigers, particularly at the backside with Hideki Okajima setting up Jonathon Papelbon.
Worrying about the Red Sox, though, is putting the cart before the horse. The Tigers still have to win the American League Central, which they did not last season. The Indians haven’t improved since last season on paper, but have several young players capable of improving within the team. Also, Travis Hafner wasn’t himself last season because of injuries. He will be stronger in 2008.
I don’t know what to make of the White Sox. Shortstop Orlando Cabrera is a top-line player, but giving up Jon Garland - a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher - for him was a steep price. The Nick Swisher deal was a good one. He gets on a base a lot and will hit some homers in that tiny ball park. The White Sox will score a tons of runs, their starting pitching should be OK and they have an excellent closer in Bobby Jenks. But they lack bullpen depth and still need a center fielder.
Each season takes on a life of its own. It’s the beauty of baseball. The day-by-day drama. A lot of factors can go wrong and right that aren’t anticipated. All we know is that the Tigers have put themselves in an advantagous position to reach the postseason, and possibly take it all this year.
At this point, there isn’t much more this town can ask.

Random Thoughts

- Twenty-three points? Fifteen rebounds? Holding Tim Duncan in check? That was "good" Rasheed Thursday night in San Antonio. Charles Barkley said at halftime on TNT he should be the best player in the league. That night, anyway, Rasheed Wallace played like it.

- The stellar play of Chris Osgood and Dominik Hasek this season has left Jimmy Howard as a forgotten man. I wonder very much how good Howard really is. I thought he was terrific in college at Maine? I also wonder if we will ever find out.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

It's Pryor Or Bust For Rodriguez and U-M

My initial reaction during these very early days of Rich Rodriguez’s stint as Michigan’s football coach is that he is putting all his eggs into one basket.
It is into the basket of quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who solidified his spot as the top high school player in the nation over the weekend by winning MVP honors in the U.S. Army All-Star game.
Pryor is the total package. Extraordinary running ability. Excellent arm. A lot of size. Think of Vince Young, yet a better passer. He is the prototype for Rodriguez’s spread offense, and seems refined enough to start and produce as a freshman.
But it’s all about Pryor now. Rodriguez better get him. He was in on him at West Virginia and appears to have the inside track, but other schools are ready to pounce, too, including Ohio State, which just might be willing to start Pryor right away ahead of Rob Boeckman after his so-so performance in the BCS title game loss to LSU.
Michigan has no returning starters at the skill positions. Mike Hart, Mario Manningham, Adrian Arrington - are gone. Their backups, such as Carlos Brown at running back and Greg Mathews at receiver, have been underwhelming to this point. With Ryan Mallett transferring, QB is very thin. Pryor would help, obviously, but he might have to be a miracle worker as a freshman. And if Rodriguez doesn’t land him, it will be a major blow.

Random Thoughts

- Mike Martz should play well in San Francisco, at least for awhile. QB Alex Smith took a step back this year because of injury and ineffectiveness, but is not without talent. He has some good receivers to work with there (Vernon Davis, Darrell Jackson, Arnez Battle), but they had been underachieving. Frank Gore is a premier running back and the offensive line is pretty good. Developing Smith is the key.

- Darren McCarty back with the Red Wings? I am sure it would sit well with the fans. He was extremely popular in this town. But can he keep pace with the most-skilled team in the NHL. At this point, I would guess not.

- What a brutal road trip this is for the Pistons. But they are a prideful team, and will be motivated at Dallas and San Antonio after a subpar performance against the Celtics Saturday. I see them splitting their games in Texas.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Morris, Trammell Deserve More Hall Recognition

It will be revealed Tuesday if there will be any new inductees into baseball’s hall of fame. And every year, when it is over, I have the same lament. How can Jack Morris not be among those voted in? And how can Alan Trammell get such little support?
Morris won 254 games. He was an utterly dominant performer during the postseason. Among his gems was a 10-inning, 1-0 shutout during Game Seven of the World Series. He was the winningest pitcher in baseball during the 1980s. Doesn’t matter if his career ERA of 3.90 would be the highest of any pitcher in the Hall. He had that ERA during a period of great run production in baseball history. It’s all relative. If Morris had pitched during the 1960s instead of the 1980s, his career ERA likely would have been below 3.00.
It is bothersome that Ozzie Smith got in on the first ballot and Trammell gets few votes when it is considered the two were contemporaries - and Trammell was actually the better player.
The Tigers took Smith and Trammell in the same draft. They signed Trammell and didn’t sign Smith. I once asked Bill Lajoie, the former Tigers general manager and the one who drafted them, if he regretted signing Trammell and not Smith. He just looked at me kind of funny and said, "Are you kidding? We got the better player."
I don’t disagree.

Random thoughts

- I like everything about the Pistons as a team except for one thing: They seem to blame the referees for everything. A little bit of on-court whining goes a long way. It is counterproductive. And it’s just not Rasheed Wallace that is like that, either. It’s their entire starting five.

- In addition to stacking up a number of victories, the terrific season Chris Osgood is having for the Red Wings has provided another benefit. It seems to have motivated Dominik Hasek. He has been just as good or better than Osgood lately - and that’s saying a lot. Talk about healthy competition.

- Of the four NFL playoff games over the weekend, the one I liked best was the Jacksonville-Pittsburgh encounter. Not only was it a close game that went down to the wire, but I loved the nasty nature of it. Those two teams were really hitting each other.

Friday, January 04, 2008

About The BCS, Lidstrom, Sheffield And Inge

All I know about the BCS title game between Ohio State and LSU is to expect the unexpected.
This has been a game of many upsets. One year, when Florida State was seemingly invincible, Oklahoma beat them. Another year, when Oklahoma appeared to be on its way to a certain rout, it was beaten by LSU. Ohio State won when it was wasn’t supposed to - against Miami (Fla.). And lost when it was expected to win - last year against Florida. Oh, and I expected USC to beat to Texas that one year - and it didn’t.
I think we underrate the BCS title game. It’s big, but not Super Bowl big, or quite like the NCAA basketball tournament. Guess that’s because the winner isn’t quite as definitive. I don’t like that aspect of the BCS title game, particularly this season (I think USC would beat both LSU and OSU). But I must admit, it is usually a darn good football game.

Random Thoughts

- This from a recent discussion I had with Red Wings announcer Paul Woods: Why not Nicklas Lidstrom for the Hart Trophy? He should win it during his career. This seems to be the perfect season for it. He is the best player in the league. The Red Wings wouldn’t be nearly as good without him.

- The most important story in spring training will be the health of Gary Sheffield. If he is healthy, the Tigers lineup should fall perfectly into place. If he isn’t, there will be a hole there.

- The biggest story in spring training will be Brandon Inge - if the Tigers haven’t traded him by then. Seems awfully quiet on that front, doesn’t it? Especially with pitchers and catchers reporting in just little more than a month.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Good And Bad Of U-M's Bowl Victory

Michigan’s New Year’s Day bowl victory over Florida was a good-news, bad-news tale.
It was good news because it sent Lloyd Carr off into retirement on a high note. Carr did an excellent job of carrying on Michigan’s tradition. Despite being a bit dour and somewhat prickly, he was a credit to both the school and this state. We owe him a debt of gratitude. The losses to Ohio State and his bowl failures late in his tenure will, unfortunately, be part of Carr’s legacy. But so should all the good things he did - the Big Ten titles, the national title, Michigan’s unique consistency.
The win over Florida was a reminder of all those good things - and what the Wolverines are capable of producing when they get their collective act together. It was also good for the Big Ten, destroying a lot of myths about the superiority of SEC football. I have a great deal of respect for SEC football. It might even be the best conference in the nation. But the Big Ten is still formidable. This was a reminder - for myself included. Honestly, I thought Michigan was going to get crushed in this game.
As for the bad news part, I couldn’t help but wonder how Michigan’s fate the last couple years of Carr’s regime might have been different if he threw caution to the wind like he did Tuesday. It was as if the chains had been taken off of Michigan’s skilled players - on both sides of the ball. It seemed to make all the difference in the world.

Random Thoughts

- I didn’t like the outdoors NHL game in Buffalo, I loved it. Would love to see them do it at Comerica Park with the Red Wings. It reminded me of the fun of playing pond hockey, which I still do every now and then. Obviously, Sydney Crosby is a great player. The numbers speak for themselves. But I think he is even greater after seeing some of the moves he put on Tuesday. What a talent.

- All you need to know about the Lions is how much money they are paying Cory Redding and Jeff Backus. And how remarkably unproductive they are compared to their hefty paychecks.

- Tigerfest is coming up in a couple weeks. Spring training is just around the corner. Still wonder what the Tigers will do to augment their bullpen. Still wonder where the future lies for Brandon Inge.