Monday, January 31, 2011

Tigers getting a little more respect, but not much

It's interesting to see how the overall media perceives the Tigers. The preseason magazines are out, and the Tigers are getting a little more respect than in the recent past - but not that much more.
The Sporting News and Lindy's have the Tigers finishing second in the American League Central, but not getting a wild card berth. Both have the Yankees getting it.
Athlon's magazine has the Tigers placing third in the A.L. Central - with Minnesota first and the White Sox second.
All three publications say there will be a Boston-Philadelphia World Series. Two say the Red Sox will win that series.
I do think the Red Sox are the best club in the American League by far, but after that the Tigers have as much as any other team. They'll have to answer the "ifs" in the starting pitching rotation. You know, "if Max Scherzer pitches like he did in the second half of last year...If Rick Porcello pitches like he did in '09...If Phil Coke can adjust to the bullpen...If Brad Penny is healthy..."

Brady Hoke is getting the better of Mark Dantonio in recruiting

My column in Monday's Oakland Press:

Friday, January 28, 2011

More a mountain than bump in the road facing Spartans

It's only the midway point of the Big Ten season, and there is still the postseason conference tournament for redemption. Yet, losing to Michigan at home Thursday was a really bad sign for Michigan State. The Wolverines were 1-6 in the conference. Their rebounding was horrible going into that game. Yet, Michigan matched the Spartans on the boards. Amazing considering how that's traditionally been MSU's great strength. Normally, I tell you when the Spartans go through this type of slump, Tom Izzo has everybody right where he wants them - doubting his program.
But not this time. This slide doesn't appear to be a bump in the road. More like mountain.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Injuries and all, Red Wings the envy of hockey

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Follett's choice of words not good, but was he really being malicious?

Lions linebacker Zack Zollett's choice of words, "China doll," to describe Matt Stafford's injury troubles was unfortunate, especially in this town where they were used over and over to describe often injured first-round draft pick wide receiver Charles Rogers' plight.
But in the context of his entire statement about Stafford on a radio station in Fresno, they were little more than a blip on the screen. Follett's all-encompassing point is he essentially praised Stafford, and intimated he was more unfortunate than lacking toughness.
In other words, Follett is a relatively young man who speaks a lot, but may not have command of his vocabulary to match, and obviously didn't know what a match stick of controversy "China doll" represents when discussing football injuries.
He was contrite about it, except...
I thought it was a little strange the "flaming arrows" video he posted in which compared tweets on Twitter criticizing his comments to "flaming arrows" from the media. It was like he was comparing the media to Satan.
I do think, however, the media - and this is a generality - is often two-faced with athletes and celebs in interview situations.
On one hand, we want them to say what is on their mind. We chastise them for rattling off cliches and being boring. Or not speaking at all.
On the other hand, when they do speak freely, there is often this "got you" mentality. We take two words like "China doll" and blow them up into a big issue.
Then we wonder why athletes and celebs are so guarded with us.
Just food for thought.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

On the Pistons, Rich Rod and Cutler...

The Pistons have won a couple games, and there will be those who will point to it as a big turnaround because Richard Hamilton isn't playing.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The Pistons have had a couple younger players who have helped lately. Greg Monroe has played much better. Austin Daye had a terrific game against the Magic Monday.
That's good news. It's not good news when the coach doesn't confront the player, but sends the security guard to talk to him instead. As such, the Pistons recent success has been build on a house of cards. Could collapse at anytime.
Game with Denver Wednesday will be surreal. Pistons should have the edge because Denver plays tonight in Washington. Pistons are off.

Random Thoughts

- Rich Rodriguez should have better than normal insight on recruiting because he has been so involved in this particular class. I'll be interested in what he has to say about it. I don't view it the same as, say, Matt Millen analyzing the Michigan-Michigan State game. That is reprehensible.

- It seems odd how NFL players, current and former, just turned on Jay Cutler, essentially questioning his manhood. For his part, at least his coach and teammates have had his back. But there is little doubt this will follow him the rest of his career - unless he does something on the opposite end of the spectrum to change the perception. It's like everything he accomplished this season has just been thrown down the drain. Amazing.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Some impressions of the Tigers...

- I was really impressed at TigerFest with Victor Martinez. He carries himself like a true veteran player, and is anything but egotistical about catching. He says he'll do whatever is necessary to win. I believe him. Don't be surprised if he emerges as an important leader, not only on the field, but in the clubhouse.

- Thought it was interesting how Phil Coke carries a huge chip on his shoulder about being traded by the Yankees. He was told during the postseason of '09 by general manager Brian Cashman he'd be there for a long time. He was traded to the Tigers not long after the World Series. "Guess by a long time he meant only a month," Coke said.

_ Magglio Ordonez is in easily the best shape he's been in as a Tiger.

- Jim Leyland has his batting order set for every spot except second. It's likely one of the three young second basemen - Will Rhymes, Danny Worth or Scott Sizemore - will hit there.

- Brandon Inge said that as good as Justin Verlander has been the last five years, he can still be better. "Nobody wants to hit against him," Inge said. "Wouldn't surprise me if he is scary good this season. Key will be keeping his pitch count down in early innings."

- I'm glad the Tigers are honoring Sparky this season. Was overdue. Hope they find a way to honor Bill Lajoie as well. He was every bit as integral to their success during the 1980s as Sparky.


Lions made their own bed when it comes to skepticism about Stafford's injury

Saturday, January 22, 2011

On paper, this is the Tigers' best since Sparky's top teams

Friday, January 21, 2011

Nabokov would be a tremendous addition for the Red Wings

If the Red Wings can get Evgeni Nabokov through waivers it would be a terrific acquisition. While he may be rusty after playing in Russia in the KHL, and being off for awhile, there is still time remaining in the season to sharpen his skills. He is a world-class goalie. Although perhaps slowed a bit at age 35, he still was good enough to get San Jose into the NHL's version of the final four last year, and was a first-team NHL all star as recently as 2008. Nabokov is undoubtedly an upgrade from Joey MacDonald, and Chris Osgood's status is more than a bit iffy with a sport hernia injury. And don't forget, Osgood didn't play much last season, and has hardly played this season. I can't see him returning in March and suddenly being in top form.
It's interesting the Red Wings didn't offer Nabokov a contract for next season. If they really felt desperate for a quality backup to Jimmy Howard, they would have. Nabokov undoubtedly then would clear waivers. But evidently, they don't feel that desperate at this point. Any kind of significant injury to Howard and they will, though.

My column in Friday's Oakland Press: On balance, Rex Ryan is good for the NFL -

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tigers "sign and trade" of Galarraga makes sense for both parties

It's not that complicated why the Tigers signed Armando Galarraga to a $2.3 million contract - then removed him from their 40-man roster.
I heard from a source, that his representative let the Tigers know he wanted to be traded after they signed free agent Brad Penny to be their fifth starter.
The Tigers would have much more trouble trading Galarraga if there was an arbitration hearing pending next month. From Galarraga's stand point, it makes sense because contracts awarded in arbitration are not guaranteed (just one-sixth if a player is released during spring training). He now has a guaranteed $2.3 million.
I'm not sure, though, what kind of talent he will bring in return. Probably not much. I would expect the Royals to be interested now that Gil Meche has suddenly retired.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

On MSU's recruiting in-state, Red Wings goalies, QBs in NFL Draft

- Doubt if there is any way back in the day - like five years ago - Detroit Renaissance linebacker Lawrence Thomas, the top prospect in the state, would have gone to Michigan State rather than Michigan. But that is what is going to transpire. The Spartans get at least half the top players in the state now. And it does matter. The 11-2 record, the sharing of the Big Ten championship in 2010, is proof.

- Chris Osgood's uncertain injury status has put the Red Wings in a precarious situation. They are lacking experienced depth at Grand Rapids - there is no way former first-round draft pick Thomas McCollum is ready for the NHL.
Joey MacDonald is serviceable only in small doses. It's put a lot of burden on Jimmy Howard to recover quickly from his knee injury, and to continue to play the bulk of the games, upon his return. And still be fresh for the postseason.

- Name you will hear the most leading up to the NFL Draft: Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert. He has the ideal NFL skill set. Big, strong, quick release, rocket arm. He is a better prospect than Washington's inconsistent, although more athletic, Jake Locker.

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Despite seldom meeting, Penguins are Red Wings main rival

Monday, January 17, 2011

On Rip, Shoelaces and Mags...

This is how I view Richard Hamilton's situation with the Pistons: If he is not traded within the next week or so, shame on the Pistons for sitting him out. There is no way he is not good enough to play on that team, and he deserves better treatment considering his place in franchise history. If they are sitting him out because they don't want to ruin the possibility of a trade, fine. I understand it more. A little bit.
Seems to me like Hamilton has become the scapegoat for all that is ailing the Pistons. To me, the bigger issue is lack of development by Rodney Stuckey, and spotty play from big-money free agents Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva. And Joe Dumars' questionable decision to give Hamilton a contract extension in the first place.

Random Thoughts

- Most interesting aspect of spring practice at Michigan will be whether Devin Gardner pushes Denard Robinson for the starting quarterback spot. Or whether he will be allowed to do so.

- Three players returning will from injury-plagued seasons will play a dramatic role on the American League Central this season: Magglio Ordonez, Justin Morneau and Grady Sizemore. The Indians are interesting. A lot of young talent there.


Lions won't catch Packers and Bears until Stafford equals Rodgers and Cutler

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I think Denard Robinson will stay and star for Brady Hoke

Denard Robinson was the perfect quarterback for Rich Rodriguez's system at Michigan, but will he be such an ideal fit for new Michigan coach Brady Hoke.
I would think so. I don't see Hoke taking his best asset - and just discarding it. You know, like Rodriguez did with Ryan Mallet. There is a lot there to work with in Robinson. He is not only a truly great runner, but a far better passer than many fans give him credit. Last season, he completed 62 percent of his passes with 18 TDs and 11 interceptions. He was a sophomore, and in his first year as a starter, so he undoubtedly will improve.
From what I'm hearing, Robinson is staying. From what I am hearing, Hoke gave athletic director David Brandon the right answers about Robinson. I would be surprised if Robinson is not more efficient - and just as spectacular - under Hoke's watch.

Random Thoughts

- Greg Monroe has played surprisingly well for the Pistons lately, so there has been some hope, but they badly need the proposed three-way trade with the Nets and Nuggets - or something - to go through. Richard Hamilton's time, as good as it has been overall with the Pistons, is clearly done. And yes, I do think it was disrespectful not to play him Wednesday vs. Memphis.
Also, Zack Randolph and Rudy Guy just killed the Pistons inside. Where was Charlie V? Not a good minutes from him.

- Would the Tigers sign another reliever? Seems like Brian Fuentes and Rafael Soriano would cost more than they'd be willing to pay, but Grant Balfour and Jon Rauch could be possibilities.


At least Brady Hoke sounds like a Michigan football coach

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

On the state of MSU football and basketball - and the Tigers signing Brad Penny

The disappointment of the bowl rout to Alabama aside, Michigan State shouldn't be unhappy with a final ranking of 14th in the Associated Press poll. The Spartans finished one spot ahead of the "other MSU" - Mississippi State. When history looks back at 2010, it will see that the Spartans beat Michigan, Notre Dame and Penn State in the same season, and that the Spartans did have a signature victory over Wisconsin, which placed No. 7 in the final AP Poll. There was a lot more good than bad for the Spartans football in 2010.

Random Thoughts

- Who would have thought at this stage of January, the Spartans' football team would be rated in the Top 25, and not the basketball team. Yet, who doesn't expect Tom Izzo's squad to make a long tournament run in March? It's all about peaking at the right time.

- Brad Penny is a quality pitcher and should help the Tigers - if he is healthy. It's good the one-year contract, reportedly worth $3 million guaranteed, is incentive-laden. If healthy, Penny could easily win 12-to-15 games for the Tigers. If healthy, Penny would be a significant upgrade from Armando Galarraga as the fifth starter.
But look, in that relatively short paragraph, how many times "Penny" and "if healthy" were mentioned. The knock on Penny is that, just when you start to depend on him, he breaks down. Happened just last year in St. Louis.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Michigan will not be able to find a better fit than Les Miles

Michigan reportedly is going to interview LSU's Les Miles for its head football coaching vacancy, and to me, he's the ideal fit for the position among potential candidates.
Miles won a national title at LSU. He beat Ohio State in the BCS title game. He has strong Michigan ties as a player under Bo Schembechler in the 1970s, and as assistant coach. He has taken over a program that was down and led it to heights - Oklahoma State.
He is also a dynamic personality. And it doesn't matter if he had a recruiting tiff with former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr. It also doesn't matter if there are all these urban legends being passed around about how he didn't along with some people in the Michigan family - for one reason or another.
It would wise for all those who truly care about Michigan's football program to unite toward a common goal.
Tell me a better coach on the board for Michigan? Nobody. Also, if he takes the job, it would quell the notion Michigan has beg to get a head football coach.

Random Thoughts

- The Red Wings are a team of great character. To go out to Western Canada, with injuries issues like they have, and get six out of six possible points is extraordinary. Vancouver has an exceptional team. The Red Wings beat the Canucks Saturday without Brad Stuart, Pavel Datsyuk and Valtteri Filppula. Henrik Zetterberg played nearly 25 minutes in that game. What a terrific player. Jimmy Howard has improved in the shootouts, another factor.

- Thought the last version of the HBO special on the Winter Classic was the best. Sidney Crosby begging for a penalty shot was pathetic. Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau's comments to the camera as he walked off the ice following his team's victory - and the Penguins' not shaking hands as had been the tradition - was a classic. And just as easily could have been muttered by Red Wing fans everywhere toward the Pens and Crosby.

- Troy Murphy is a good player on a bad team starting forward. He, however, would definitely be a short-term upgrade for the Pistons, who still have a good shot at making the playoffs. And it would mean they have unloaded the contract that is hanging on the franchise - that of Richard Hamilton. But if Rip goes, it will still be a sad day. He has presented much, much more good than bad during his time with the Pistons.


If the Seahawks can win a playoff game, why not the Lions?

Sunday, January 09, 2011

I've got the perfect for the Lions at 13th overall in upcoming draft. What do you think of Mark Ingram?

Friday, January 07, 2011

On Bill Martin's statement, Gores owning Pistons, Ingram

Former Michigan athletic director Bill Martin said he won't go back and second guess the hiring of Rich Rodriguez as the Wolverines' football coach.
OK. I will. It wasn't a good choice. From Day One, Rodriguez was a round peg trying to fit into a square hole. And it was about on the field. One way or another, Rodriguez's Michigan teams were poorly prepared in the vast majority of their bench mark games. Lack of support from the administration or alumni or a former coach had nothing to do with that part of the equation. Period.

- I do like Tom Gores as potential owner of the Pistons because of his local background. You can take a person out of this state, but you can't take this state out of the person. It would be good to have somebody who has had success outside of the state coming back, in a sense. Seems like he'd be a good owner. Multi-billionaire. Flint-area native. Michigan State grad. Those are good things.

- I know the Lions have obvious needs at linebacker and cornerback, but can you imagine a dream backfield of Mark Ingram and Jahvid Best? I think they would compliment each other perfectly. Thunder. Lightning.


Thursday, January 06, 2011

Some Baseball Hall of Fame voting thoughts from a voter...

There aren't that many top-flight starting pitchers who will be on the Hall of Fame ballot in the next few years. I do think Jack Morris will move to above 60 percent on the ballots next year, and has at least an outside shot at getting in before his eligibility runs out after the next three years.

- How can Barry Larkin get so much more Hall of Fame support than Alan Trammell when Trammell was at least as good a player.

- Bobby Higginson got no votes. Anybody surprised?

- Ah, I still couldn't bring myself to vote for Mark McGwire or Rafael Palmeiro. Not sure I ever will.

A step in the right direction

Michigan has many good options after firing Rich Rodriguez. My column in Thursday's Oakland Press:

Sunday, January 02, 2011

When in doubt, make that call

Every year since Steve Repko left The Oakland Press because of serious illness, I made it a point to call him on Christmas Eve.

I was going to this past holiday season, too, but I worked that night relatively late and forgot to make the call.

The best copy editor I ever worked with, and a tremendous baseball writer as well, passed away a few days later.

I hadn't talked to him for several months. It had been awhile since I had told him how much we missed him at the paper, and how much I respected him.

If only I had made that call...

Steve's death came a couple days after former Tigers general manager Bill Lajoie died. Of all the people I have been associated with in sports, I liked and respected Lajoie the most. He had the greatest baseball mind I've ever encountered. He took me under his wing when I was a young baseball writer and literally made my career by teaching me so much about the game.

He wrote a book a year or so ago and sent me a signed copy. It was on my plate to write about the book, and to give him a long overdue call - and thank him for all he'd done for me.

I got "too busy" and never made that call.

If only I had made that call...

Thing is, I had no excuse. I had a similar feeling earlier in 2010 when Jody Headlee, a dear friend of mine at The Oakland Press, and Tigers manager Sparky Anderson died. These were also people who had a profound impact on my life.

And I never made that call.

We should never be too busy to stop and understand all we have to be grateful for - especially the precious few who have been true friends and mentors.

I failed miserably in this regard - and feel terrible about it.

I wished I could call Steve and Bill today so they could find it in their hearts to forgive me.