Friday, February 29, 2008

Lions Ticket Price Increases A Disgrace

Lets see...the economy in this state is struggling to an alarming degree, the Lions have had seven straight losing seasons, haven’t been to the playoffs in eight years, haven’t won a playoff game since 1991 and haven’t won a championship in more than a half-century.
So, yes, raising their ticket prices was a disgrace. This is a conservative estimate: The Lions just put another $12 million per season into owner William Clay Ford’s already bulging coffer. This wasn’t about making money, but rather how much. The Lions haven’t sold the pricey club level seats at Ford Field to the expected degree, and their marketing items aren’t exactly flying off the shelf because the team lacks charismatic players and is a loser on the field. So what they did essentially is make their most loyal fans pay for their own ineptitude by striking them where it really hurts these days - in the pocketbook.
It points to the insensitivity of Ford, an elitist totally out of touch with common people and their plight.
Contrast this with the lowering of playoff ticket prices by the Pistons and Red Wings, and you get just another example of why those organizations are so successful.
And why the Lions are not.

Random Thoughts

- Michigan State’s loss to Wisconsin was just another example of why a long tournament run shouldn’t be expected from the Spartans.

- It was a mistake by the Tigers to count on Fernando Rodney. While there are times when he is a quality major league pitcher, he lacks the durability and consistency required of a top-flight setup man or closer. Anybody surprised his arm is hurting? It’s not exactly a comforting thought the Tigers are counting so heavily on him this season.

Monday, February 25, 2008

This Could Just Be The Beginning For Verlander

Baseball, at times, gets overloaded with statistics, and facts and figures. It is to the point where many are rendered meaningless. But I don’t feel that way about the facts the Associated Press recently dug up about Justin Verlander.
According to the AP, he is the first pitcher in history to throw a no-hitter, pitch in the All Star game and the World Series, along with being named Rookie of the Year, during his first two seasons.
That, and fact he has compiled a 35-15 record his first two full seasons, is very impressive. There is no issue about who the Tigers opening starter should be. It is going to be Verlander. He is without question the staff ace. He earned that distinction last season by closing strong after a lull following the all star break.
Verlander throws so hard, has such good command of his off speed pitches and is such an extraordinary athlete, I do wonder if he has just scratched the surface. I think on a national scale, he hasn’t garnered the hype of some other pitchers, but I’d take him over the likes Johan Santana, C.C. Sabathia, Jake Peavy and Brandon Webb. The only starting pitchers I think might be better are Josh Beckett and Roy Halladay.

Random Thoughts

- Who is the better player, Shaquille O’Neal or Rasheed Wallace? Call me crazy, but I’d take Wallace. As for why, just look at the game tape from Sunday’s Pistons’ game at Phoenix. The game has changed. A big man like Shaq doesn’t have the value he once did. Versatile big men such as Wallace are more valuable.

- Yeah, if I were the Red Wings, I’d be concerned about scoring goals - especially from the second line. It’s why they might be wise to bite the bullet and pay more than they wanted for a front line scorer at the trade deadline.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Pistons Were Just Fine At Trade Deadline

Honestly, I think the Pistons should be happy with the way it worked at the NBA trade deadline.
What the Cavaliers deal told them - and the rest of the world - is they didn’t feel like they were good enough to win the championship as is, so they made a trade that almost smacks of desperation.
The Pistons - unlike Phoenix or the Lakers or the Mavericks or the Cavs - didn’t have to make a deal out of desperation.
As they stand, the Pistons are capable of winning the NBA title. Their chances are as good as any other team. Notice San Antonio didn’t make a major move at the deadline, either. Because, like the Pistons, the Spurs are decidedly solid. Other teams are trying to catch them in regard to being playoff-ready.
Does that mean the Pistons will win the title? Not necessarily. But any major move at the deadline would have likely hindered, not helped, their possibilities. Ben Wallace is over-the-hill. Joe Smith is probably the better player. The Cavs - like always - are a threat because of LeBron James. The trade didn’t change that. They are still behind the Pistons, Celtics and Magic overall on the Eastern Conference ladder.

Random Thoughts

- I enjoy the way the NFL Network covers the scouting combine. I find the 40-dash coverage to be particularly fascinating.

- I think Juan Dixon is good insurance for the Pistons. I still think, though, the Pistons would be wise to rely on their youngsters first off the bench in the backcourt.

- I keep hearing Joel Zumaya’s name mentioned from spring training. He missed most of the last season and is already injured for this season. The Tigers can’t count on Zumaya. Anything they get from him will be gravy. I understand he is a charismatic figure in this town, but he has been undependable The stark, honest truth is durability is more important than a 100 mph fastball.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Why Would The Lions Want Any Of These Guys?

I do find laughable the thought the Lions are mulling over whether to re-sign their potential free agents. If there is anything that shows just how poorly this team has been put together down through the years, it is the list of free agents from the Lions.
Teddy Lehman, Boss Bailey, Keith Smith, Damien Woody, etc. - it reads like a list of disappointment. I find the Lions sudden love for Woody particularly amusing. He spent nearly his entire time with the Lions as a bust, but ended with the coaches loving him as a right tackle. Now they want him back. Typical Lions’ weirdness.
Rod Marinelli indicating he wants Shaun Rogers back is another factor that seems odd. But like Woody, it is also an indication of just how thin this team is in regard to its talent. They can’t afford to unload underachievers because there aren’t even average players waiting to replace them.

Random Thoughts

- I thought the All Star break came at a bad time for the Pistons. They were really rolling and it was apparent during Tuesday’s loss to Orlando they lost some of their steam during the break.

- Yes, I thought Ian Laperriere’s shot on Nicklas Lidstrom was a cheap one. He got his elbows up and was intending to unnecessarily strike him in the head. It was totally proper for the Aaron Downey to retaliate the way he did. Actually, it was good to see.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Did The Red Wings Peak Too Soon?

Amazing, isn’t it, how a season can turn on a dime? A little more than a week ago, the Red Wings were so far out in front, the remainder of the NHL needed binoculars to see them.
Six games, six losses and just one point later, the Dallas Stars are within eight points of the Red Wings.
And, as if on cue, the schedule maker has ordered up a road trip to Colorado and Western Canada - places not exactly known to be sympathetic to the Red Wings.
There is no sugar coating this. It is not good. Dominik Hasek’s hip flexor is ailing at a bad time. But isn’t that the fear about Hasek - some sort of quirky injury that lingers? Hate to say it, but it is difficult not to correlate Chris Osgood’s recent funk with him signing a three-year contract extension. It did start right when he signed the extension.
There are some inconsistencies about Jimmy Howard. He is not ready yet. Goaltending is a huge concern, particularly in a conference where the goaltending is particularly solid.
But other issues come to light. What is with the breakdowns in the defensive end? Where has the Red Wings’ scoring touch gone?
This team does need an infusion at the trade deadline that is beyond what most thought just a couple weeks ago.
Because at this point, it seems like the Red Wings may have peaked too soon.

Random Thoughts

- I have been down on all star games and the events surrounding them in general, but I must admit the slam dunk contest did catch my eye. Dwight Howard was terrific. It was excellent entertainment. Truly enjoyed it.

- I don’t see where Boston College’s Matt Ryan is necessarily going to be a franchise quarterback. Or Brian Brohm. Andre Woodson was very unimpressive at the Senior Bowl. I like Chad Henne’s pro prospects better, to be honest. This doesn’t seem to be a good draft for quarterbacks.

- I see where Francisco Cruceta can’t get to Lakeland because of visa problems. Every year - visa problems. Just another one of those great spring training traditions. Love it.

Friday, February 15, 2008

My Top Five Tiger Spring Training Question Marks

OK, here we go:

1. How will the Brandon Inge saga play out?
I found it interesting Jim Leyland talked this week about it being a strong possibility Inge will be traded. That is a totally different tone than was set at Tigerfest last month. That, to me, indicates there must be interest in Inge from other clubs. There was none before.

2. Who will emerge out of the bullpen?
The Tigers are counting on Denny Bautista and/or Francisco Cruceta to come through. Both have great arms. Bautista hits triple digits on the radar gun at times, and Cruceta has a nasty sinking fastball he throws in the low to mid-90s. I have heard promising things about young relievers before, though, only to have it turn out to be fool’s gold. Don’t know what it will be this time.

3. How healthy is Gary Sheffield?
With Sheffield at the top of his game, the Tigers’ lineup is unbelievably strong. But if Sheffield isn’t himself, it won’t be nearly as fearsome.

4. Does Kenny Rogers have anything left in the tank?
This will be difficult to discern during spring training. Rogers’ radar gun readings don’t mean much. But if he suffers a setback with his shoulder, it can’t merely be dismissed as "spring training arm." It would be a major cause for concern.

5. How much zip does Dontrelle Willis have on his fastball?
If the gun says in the mid-90s, the Tigers have really got something. If it is lower, it could mean Willis is not as good as advertised.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

There Definitely Is Lying In Baseball

Baseball and congress are an odd mix. Seems like when they get together to discuss something, nothing really gets resolved legally.
But the court of public opinion sure does turn. Roger Clemens is in trouble in that regard. There is a lot more evidence that has been submitted to suggest he did use performance-enhancing substances, than there is to discount the notion.
Seems like Clemens is trying to hide behind the ball player’s creed, "What is done here and said here, stays here."
Andy Pettitte put God before the game and The Rocketman - and told the truth. That wasn’t good for Clemens. McNamee is a little weasel - and everybody knows it. He had lied for players in the past. You get a clear sense of that. He stopped on Clemens’ behalf simply because he had to.
My problem comes with the circus congress makes of this. It’s laughable. So is the fact this is garnering so much interest when there is a war to be settled, an economy in shambles and perhaps the most important presidential election in eons on the horizon.
Look, for a span of 20 years or so, use of steroids and Human Growth Hormone was rampant in baseball. It looks like Roger Clemens was one of the players involved. Can’t say I’m overly surprised. If he has lied before congress, he was foolish because he may find himself in similar legal hot water as Barry Bonds.
But, honestly, this has become a stale story on every level. There is no crying in baseball, but there is lying.
At this point, I’m not so sure if I care anymore who is telling the truth.

Random Thoughts

- I do think winning Friday night’s game vs. Columbus is very important for the Red Wings. They don’t want to go into a funk with the playoffs less than eight weeks away - especially when they have a rugged road trip to Western Canada coming up next week.

- Michigan State was exposed - again - during its loss at Purdue. The Spartans are better this season, but not to the degree their record suggests. They are not an elite team, that’s for sure. Certainly, they aren’t road warriors.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Tiger Hotseat Belongs To Bondo

Seems to me the Tiger player most on the hot seat for this coming season is Jeremy Bonderman.
All the tools are there for Bonderman to be a dominant top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher. The mid-90s fastball. The big breaking slider in the mid-to-high 80s. A solid work ethic.
This is not one of those players who doesn’t care. Bonderman does hold himself accountable for his performance and, clearly, the trust of his teammates and manager means a lot to him.
But it is puzzling why that doesn’t transform onto the mound. His long-standing - and getting worse - problems in the first inning are becoming the stuff of legend. So is the way he kind of folds during the second half of seasons.
Bonderman did earn back much good will with Tiger fans based on the way he pitched during the postseason in 2006. Yet, he lost it with the way he just faded during the second half of last season when the Tigers needed him most.
The slack is gone. Patience is running out on all levels. It’s time for Jeremy Bonderman to perform. If he doesn’t, he will become one of the more unpopular athletes in this town.

Random Thoughts

- I didn’t watch a second of the Pro Bowl. Nor a second of the NHL All Star Game. Think I will make it the trifecta this weekend by not watching the NBA All Star Game. We have to give up several days of real basketball for that?

- Being real honest here, I do wonder if I will have to eat my words about Kobe Bryant now that the Lakers have Pau Gasol.

- The most underrated aspect of Nick Saban is his ability to recruit. It is no surprise Alabama had the best recruiting class in the nation. Love him or hate, Saban does get the most from his players. They develop under his coaching. It’s why kids want to play for him.

Friday, February 08, 2008

I Just Don't Get The Shaq Trade

I must be missing something. I can’t believe Phoenix Suns general manager Steve Kerr has risked so much trading for Shaquille O’Neal. I don’t understand how Shaq is the missing part that is going to put the Suns over the top.
Shaq was a great player - with emphasis on "was." He is a shadow of his old self. He doesn’t run the floor well at all anymore. Seems like he would slow down the Suns’ run and gun, freewheeling offense more than help it.
I know Shawn Marion is eligible for free agency, but he is a premier player in his own right - and has been a very important part of the Suns.
Shaq, right now, is more of a great name than a great player. I understand playoff basketball can become a grind, but what are the Suns going to do, honestly? Slow it down and get into set offenses? Then toss the ball into Shaq and watch him miss free throws? That would be playing into the hands of the opposition. I can’t help but think this trade will hurt the Suns more than help them.

Random Thoughts

- I guess I should be really interested in the Rogers Clemens’ saga. But I’m not. This has become a farce.
I understand. There were steroids in baseball. Can’t do anything about it now. If Clemens lied, punish him and move on. If Bonds lied, punish him and move on. Test for performance enhancing drugs the best you can, and move on. I’m sick of the steroids issue, to be honest. I just want to see a baseball game, to be truthful.

- Love Hockey Day in Canada. Seems to me like it is Super Bowl Sunday for Canadians. They love their sports in Canada. Boxing Day. Hockey Day. What about Curling Day?

- A question: Who will have the highest batting average on the Tigers this season? Obviously, the leading candidates are Miguel Cabrera, Placido Polanco and Magglio Ordonez. I think it will be Cabrera because he will benefit from all the terrific hitters surrounding him in the Tigers’ lineup.
A darkhorse to lead it: Carlos Guillen. He is almost the forgotten Tiger, but he is capable of posting a very high batting average.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Why All The Fear Of The Not-So-MIghty Ducks?

You know, it’s funny. I keep hearing about the Anaheim Ducks. How they are the defending Stanley Cup champions. How they are big and physical and tough - too big and physical and tough for the Red Wings.
How Teemu Selanne is coming back, and how the Red Wings need to counter that move as soon as possible. Or the Red Wings are going to be in big trouble.
But it seems to me, the more pertinent question at this point, is whether the Ducks are going to make the playoffs.
Anybody notice they have lost six games in a row? Anyone look at the standings to see the Ducks are only three points from following out of the top eight in the Western Conference?
In fairness to the Ducks, all but one of their recent losses. But in all fairness to the Red Wings, they are 16 points up - a full eight victories - on the next best team in the NHL. Six losses in a row? The Wings have lost 10 games all season. Oh, and that home loss during the Ducks’ losing streak? It was to the Red Wings.
Sure, the playoffs are what really matter. Of course, the Red Wings and Ducks remain on a collision course to meet in the postseason. But come on - as a one-seed versus an eight-seed in the opening round? If the Ducks don’t pull out of this tailspin, you never know. It just might happen that way.

Random Thoughts

- I was shocked the Giants won the Super Bowl. I thought, honestly, they had no chance. I was glad it turned out that way, however. It made for a much more compelling game. Oh, and it doesn’t bother me in the least to see Bill Belichick get so obviously outcoached on such a large stage.

- The best thing about the Johan Santana trade from the Tigers’ standpoint: The Mets are in the National League. The last thing the Tigers needed was Santana landing with the Red Sox or the Yankees. He will be even more dominant in the National League without facing a DH regularly, and because there just aren’t quite as many quality hitters as in the American League.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Kobe Bryant: Ball Hog Personified

There is much marveling going on about Kobe Bryant. And I understand it. He is an incredible talent.
But truth is, the championship aspect of his career, now a fading memory, was made by Shaquille O’Neal. When Shaq went elsewhere - through no small doing of Bryant - the Lakers went South. They have a winning record now, but still don’t rate as a real championship contender. I doubt they will be as long as Bryant is the main focus of the team.
He is a ball hog. An ego come alive on the court. He is a spectacular player, true, but doesn’t make those around him better.
Thursday night at The Palace, Bryant was spectacular against the Pistons. Thursday night at The Palace, the Pistons won the game.
It was a game that summed up Kobe Bryant since Shaq departed for his championship in Miami.

Random Thoughts

- As long as they keep delivering the mail and don’t close the banks that Saturday, I have no issue with Bo Schembechler Day. The man was an icon in this state in every sense of the word.

- Illinois, despite its Rose Bowl appearance, and Michigan State, despite Mark Dantonio being an obvious upgrade at head coach, are still far behind Notre Dame, Michigan and Ohio State on the recruiting trail. And it will be reflected on football signing day next week.

- What I really hope happens this coming baseball season: Justin Verlander and Josh Beckett go head-to-head at least one time, preferably in Detroit - although April at Fenway Park wouldn’t be all bad, either.