Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Ilitch mystery

As owners went, Mike Ilitch of the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings was a bit reclusive. Such are the ways of billionaires at times.

He certainly wasn't "out there" like Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, Dan Snyder of the Washington Redskins, Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavs, or Dan Gilbert of the Cleveland Cavs, among others. Even the cheese baron, Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots was spotted here and there.

[Idle thought. Given his artery clogging empire, Kraft should have owned the Green Bay Packers. How perfect would that have been?]

Yet once in a while, Mike Ilitch would emerge from his ivory tower to make an appearance.

[Idle thought II. Supposedly, the fans own the Packers. They can buy in, but never sell. Kind of like a Hotel California scenario. Check in but never leave. Scary. Yet that begs the question -- who and how decides who the front office personnel is in Cheeserland?]

But since Ilitch's death earlier this year, his son Chris, ostensibly the controlling partner of both the Wings and Tigers, seems to have become almost CIA spookish. As in, we kind of know he's out there somewhere, but it's all top-secret hush-hush classified information.

Dad wasn't afraid to spend lavishly in pursuit of championships. Indeed, the Wings would transform from also-rans in the NHL to winning 4 Stanley Cups under his ownership. He shelled out whatever it took to procure great players.

Likewise with the Tigers. Their payroll has consistently been in the upper echelons of Major League Baseball for several years. Alas, they would win two American League pennants, but could never get over the hump in the World Series. It wasn't for lack of ownership dough.

But now that Ilitch the elder has passed on to the great (if a bit greasy) pizza pie in the sky, it appears the days of free spending are over.

This seems strange, given the massive amounts of money television contributes to professional sports franchises for the broadcast rights. Some have claimed teams don't need to sell a single seat at a single game, and will STILL turn a hefty profit from ad and paraphernalia sales. Call yours truly skeptical regarding that claim, especially given the preposterous player salaries the free agent market and labor/management negotiations have created in the last couple decades. But I dunno. Let's just say serious bucks are changing hands somewhere, and the average fan is footing the bill one way or the other. Those $10 watered-down draft beers and $8 soggy hot dogs aren't by accident.

Nevertheless, it would be nice if Chris Ilitch showed his face once in a while and actually uttered a few words to the public.

Hey, his daddy left him a billionaire heir. The least he can do is mingle with the hoi-polloi on occasion.

Though it might go against his blue-blood heritage, it's really not that daunting a task.

Distasteful? Maybe.

But hey. It's Detroit. Most everybody's only sense of taste is in their mouths anyway, the afore-mentioned greasy pizza notwithstanding.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Justin Verlander thing

OK, the KC Royals knocked off the Detroit Tigers again. No big surprise there. Though the front office of the Tigers (and their fans) are no doubt loath to the idea of totally rebuilding, it appears they won't have much choice but to blow it up and start over before long. The current team in its current state is not sustainable and will only get worse over time.

Former "ace" Justin Verlander escaped without another loss on his record, but obviously didn't get a win either.

In fact, he hasn't won a game in a month. Only two in the last two months. His record stands at 5-7, with a mediocre 4.50 ERA over 100 games into this season.

For that matter, Verlander has only had one decent year since 2012, that being 2016. Other than that, he's been the definition of a "journeyman" pitcher.

Yep, he's a horse and capable of throwing 120-130 pitches in any given start, but what good is it if he can't rack up wins?

Throw in the fact the Tigers still owe him almost $80 million for the remainder of his ridiculous contract (three more years plus pro-rating the rest of this one), and the Fastball Flakes man starts looking a lot more like an albatross around their necks than a serious asset to the team.

Hey, if you're going to shell out way north of 20 million every year to a guy that only plays every 5 or 6 days, it's certainly not unreasonable to expect he'll win more games than he loses. But that has not been the case.

As the trade deadline quickly approaches, it is rumored teams such as the Chicago Cubs and LA Dodgers might have an interest in Verlander.

The Dodgers have certainly been cruising along this year, holding the best record in all of baseball. But their ace Clayton Kershaw might have an injury that sidelines him for a while.

Since their historic World Series championship run last year, the Cubs just can't seem to get any traction this year, despite their talent elsewhere, and their starting pitching has been a main reason why.

Money isn't a problem to either of these franchises, but why would they consider bringing Verlander on board, even if the Tigers could work out a deal with either of them?

The LAST thing the north-siders and la-la landers need to do is trade off promising young prospects or established position players for a pitcher that is clearly on the back side of his career. And a hugely overpriced one at that.

The Cubs were champs last year. The Dodgers are coming strong. The Tigers appear to be going down the tubes.

Verlander's from Virginia, has spent his entire major-league career with the Tigers, and likely wants to finish it there.

It's difficult to imagine how and why he could, or would prefer to go somewhere else at this point.

It is the opinion of yours truly that if Tigers GM Al Avila has a lick of sense -- which is debatable -- he'll try to unload #35. It would shed a huge salary and he just might, repeat MIGHT, get something halfway decent in return to build on in the future.

The only question is --

Is anybody else dumb enough to bite?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The NASCAR Indy problem

Well OK, Kasey Kahne won the 2017 Brickyard 400. The two fastest cars on the track, teammates, somehow figured out a way to wreck each other.

Good. Both Kyle Busch and Martin Truex drive for Joe Gibbs racing. You remember Joe. A deeply religious man. Red, white, and blue to the core. Mom, apple pie, and ---- Toyota?

Yep, he became quite the hypocrite when he sold out to a Japanese auto company for cars and engines. So screw him, his cars, drivers, and teams. The very definition of NASCAR -- has "National" as its first word, not international. This is an American race and series, dammit. Buy and drive American or get the hell out.

But enough on that rant. NASCAR has a much bigger problem to worry about. Falling attendance at tracks and rapidly dwindling TV ratings.

It's certainly true that, once upon a time, the Indy 500 was the "greatest race on earth". Yours truly used to make his annual pilgrimage to the famed track every year back in the days of yore. So many legendary names of Indy car racing were involved that I won't list them here.

And it was a tough ticket to get. The track would be packed, both in the stands and infield every year.

Then came the infamous "feud". One faction of Indy car brass wanted to drastically change the rules, and the other refused to go along with it. As both sides continued to stand fast, it all but ruined the sport. Attendance and fan interest plummeted.

At the same time, NASCAR was enjoying a rising tide of popularity. They had a bunch of big-time name recognition going on as well, the marketing department was in overdrive, and there wasn't an empty seat in the house at their over 30 races each year. At one point, it was the second largest revenue sport in America, though always far behind the mighty NFL.

But look what has happened in recent years. The Indy 500 has rebounded to almost, but not quite its former place of eminence in the world of racing. They're selling out again.

On the other hand, NASCAR has taken a ratings nosedive.

At this year's Brickyard 400, once a huge draw for motorheads, the number of empty seats was astonishing. Entire sections of bleachers with nary a soul sitting in them. Even on the "front stretch", prime viewing, attendance was sparse.

Of the roughly 400,000 fan capacity at Indy, including the infield crazies -- which I was once a proud member of -- it appeared they could only sell a fraction of them -- maybe 20% -- if that.

Also true is NASCAR has lost a few "name" drivers to retirement in recent years. Gordon, Stewart, and Earnhart Jr. is next. But the one-time magic of the "good ole boys" packing the tracks everyplace they go appears to be over.

And it's not just at the Indy venue. At most races during the year, one can see a noticeable absence of butts in the seats, and the TV ratings continue to fall.

Maybe this is what happens when a once proud mega-franchise markets a sorry competitor such as Danica Patrick to the heavens. She was never any good -- never will be. A total waste of sheet metal, tires, first class equipment, competent pit crew, racing fuel, and a wreck waiting to happen.

Or it could be that America has finally wearied of the "roundy-round" series and turned its attention -- and sports bucks -- in other directions.

Then again, I, for one, have never quite got my head around NASCAR holding its equivalent of the Super Bowl -- the Daytona 500 being the biggest "game" -- on the first week of their season.

Add in the fact they won't let a race end when it's supposed to, but rather make it go into overtime, or double overtime, with crazy restarts and sure to be resulting wrecks, along with the nutty scoring system even the Almighty probably scratches his head trying to decipher, and maybe they've finally reaped their just desserts.

But it ain't looking good right now.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Rocky mountain high mystique

Recently, Albert Chen of Sports Illustrated penned a lengthy article on how and why pitchers for the Colorado Rockies face such a nightmare.

It's the altitude, of course.

The poor hurlers struggle to catch their breath in such rarifed air, and balls go zooming out of the park far more than at any other venue. Needless to say, their collective ERAs suffer accordingly.

As most scribes and talking heads are wont to do these days, Chen had a bazillion geekish statistics to bolster his argument.

Because the altitude at the Rockies home field offers 20% less "air", then breaking pitches will spin 20% less, hence "breaking" that much less as well. Fodder for opposing batters.

All of which is balderdash when one takes into consideration the other unmentioned side of the equation.

If the air is that much thinner, then it logically stands to reason fastballs should meet that much less wind resistance and travel 20% faster. A guy that normally throws 95 MPH should now have a heater somewhere around 115 MPH on the radar gun. Try getting around on that.

Chen cites an above average amount of runs scored at Rockies home games. Well dang, shouldn't that work both ways? So what's the problem?

And if the "thinner" air is that much of a factor, as in the above-mentioned 20%, then why is it we've never heard of record-setting home run blasts? Nowadays, anything over 420-440 feet is deemed a "monster shot" by the hyperventilating announcers in their never-ending quest for superlatives.

So if those can happen at all other Major League ball parks -- and they do on a regular basis -- then shouldn't we hear about balls travelling 20% further at Coors Field? Like of the 500+ variety? When's the last time you heard of one of those being hit into "orbit"? You haven't, because it hasn't occurred.

This seems particularly odd in the age of (allegedly) "juiced" baseballs, bats custom made to fit every hitter, and the same hitters being in much better shape (stronger) than they ever were in days of old.

Evidently, we're supposed to believe a pudgy first baseman named Norm Cash that played for the Detroit Tigers decades ago hit several homers over the roof of the former Tiger Stadium, estimated to have traveled well over 500 feet, with deader balls, but no current sluggers can come anywhere near matching it. Does that sound logical?

And hey, let's face it. Both the Rockies and their opposing team on any given day play under the same conditions. If the venue is so conducive to run production, shouldn't that work both ways as well?

Far be it from yours truly to doubt the intent and veracity of Albert Chen, and SI in general, but excuse me if I call myself skeptical.

As the Bard once famously penned himself --

This could well be another classic case of Much Ado About Nothing.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Chump of the day

Here was the setting. The Detroit Tigers were visiting the KC Royals and getting pummeled. This is what can happen when a major league team throws the ball around on the field defensively like a bunch of little-leaguers that have been over Ritalined and their pitchers are basically serving up batting practice.

In the ninth inning, with the Tigers a whopping 12 runs behind and already one out while at bat, they had a runner on first base. Typical baseball etiquette, if there is such a thing, would have seemed to dictate they just get the darn thing over with. No way were they coming back from such a deficit. Take the beating and move on.

But no. The runner decided to steal second base. Of course there was no throw from the catcher. The Royals likely didn't anticipate such a bush league chump move and would quickly go on to close out the lop-sided victory.

So technically, the Tiger runner, who isn't worth naming, gets a stolen base added to his stats. Good for him.

But if I'm Kansas City, I'd file that away in the memory banks for a later date.

Next time this clown comes up to bat when the two teams are playing each other, perhaps one of their pitchers will drill him with a 95 MPH heater in the ribs.

Want to act like a chump?

We'll treat you like one.

By all means, take your base. And one more thing.....

How does that feel?

OJ Simpson to be free

First off, it's about damn time.

Yeah, I get it. Lots of people still, and always will think OJ brutally murdered Nicole and Ron. They are entitled to their opinion, but it has never been anything more than arm-chair prosecutorial speculation.

They weren't there. Nor was I. Nor were you. During the criminal trial, the jury saw all the evidence, lack thereof, and heard all the testimony from relevant witnesses. We didn't. And they came back with a not-guilty verdict. Twelve people and it was unanimous.

That should have been the end of that.

But no, a civil wrongful death suit followed, pushed hard by Ron's parents. And Simpson was found culpable. Here's a question -- How can one be found guilty of wrongful death when a previous jury said he didn't do it in the first place? But that's the way it went down. Ron's family would get a judgment of over 30 million dollars against OJ, attempting to loot him of all assets forevermore.

Yet a couple things were also in play. By that time, OJ was happily living in Florida, where state laws made him basically untouchable. And his NFL pension, a handsome sum indeed, was off-limits. Florida's a great state with tons of things to do year-round, and Simpson could live the life of ease playing golf every day, swimming, hanging out with babes, and whatever else he chose.

But then he did something incredibly stupid. Going to Las Vegas with a couple friends and attempting to retrieve memorabilia he thought rightfully belong to him was a colossal mistake. So was one of his pals having a gun in tow.

So he got jacked up on a whole range of charges. Armed robbery, kidnapping, anything the prosecutor could think of. They threw the proverbial book at him.

And the verdict quickly came back guilty, on all charges. Did he commit a crime in Vegas? Sure. But upon sentencing, it quickly became obvious the "system" was out for "payback" on a verdict they strongly disagreed with in the first place.

So they hammered him. Nine to thirty three years in a penitentiary, for crimes that any ordinary individual would have received far less punishment for. It was a blatant miscarriage of justice done by those with wrongfully vengeful attitudes. And sadly, the public cheered.

There was never any kidnapping, nor was anyone physically harmed in that Vegas hotel room. But yes, it was a stupid thing to do in the first place.

Fast forward nine years and the perception of many has done a complete about face regarding OJ Simpson.

He's not only been a model prisoner, helping many other inmates in various positive ways, but even the guards at the pen regarded him with high esteem. To have done nine years behind bars with nary a complaint for acts that rose nowhere near that level of punishment finally resonated with many in the public as well -- as if they ever counted in the first place. Everybody cheered when his final parole was finally granted. After all, he'd already been paroled on all the charges but simple robbery, and nine years was WAY over the top for such an infraction.

So OJ, now 70, but mistakenly thought to be 90 for a brief humorous moment by a clueless parole official, wants to go back to Florida to live out the rest of his days.

It's probably a pretty safe bet that Orenthal James Simpson will be a model citizen from here on out. He's seen the not-so-fair wheels of justice up close and in person grind away, and it hasn't worked out exactly well in his case. Nine to thirty three years for what more probably should have been a 3-5 sentence.

But still, the powers that be have to get in one last dig. Even though OJ has been given the green light to his freedom, it won't happen for at least a couple more months -- October 1 at the earliest. This is absurd.

They've had nine years to sort out the paperwork when this day finally came, so what, pray tell, is the hold-up, no pun intended, now that it has?

He should be released tomorrow, if not sooner, and while first class airfare probably shouldn't come as part of the deal, at least given a bus or train ticket to take him wherever he wants in Florida. A couple more days on the road likely wouldn't bother him much as he ponders the past -- and future.

Nevertheless, at long last, after all the arm-chair quarterbacking, speculation, media sniping, and the outrageousness of his time being incarcerated, he will finally be free.

And did I mention it's about damn time?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Detroit Tigers trade prospects

OK, the very good hitting, but poor fielding JD Martinez is already gone to Arizona for handful of the proverbial "prospects".

Once again, former ace Justin Verlander took the mound, and pitched fairly well, but couldn't close the deal against the KC Royals. Well over the halfway point of the season, the Fastball Flakes man has a pedestrian 5-7 record. Besides, with three mega-cha-ching years left on his contract, he's not likely to gather much interest from other teams.

Southpaw reliever Justin Wilson's stock was riding high, and he might have been worth a player/prospect or three. But he entered the same game against the Royals with a 3-2 lead, and not only blew the save, but lost the game in the bottom of the ninth (4-3). His market value just took a major hit in the eyes of general managers elsewhere around the league, who were no doubt watching.

Third baseman Nick Castellanos? Forget about it. Who wants a .250 hitter that is terrible fielding his position?

Designated hitter Victor Martinez is now 38 years old. Can anybody even remember if and when he was capable of playing a position -- any position? Besides being slower than a tortoise on the base pathes, his hitting has dropped off as well. The Tigers are stuck with him.

Former Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera is showing the effects Father Time takes. Never much defensively, he appears to be on the back side of his career bell curve as well. Throw in a Verlander-esque contract to boot, and he's not going anywhere.

Lately Cabrera has mouthed off about the political situation in his native Venezuela. He needs to shut up about that. Good grief, he's become a multi-multi-multi millionaire playing a game in America, and shouldn't that be enough? If he wants to make a difference in his native country, here's an idea -- quit playing baseball and move back. Otherwise, zip it. Nobody cares.

Manager Brad Ausmus, on the last year of his contract, his become the lamest of lame ducks. Is it his fault the Tigers have so far stunk it up this year? Probably not. That rests with GM Al Avila, who is and has been the player procurer. Ausmus can only put them out there and hope they perform to the best of their abilities -- which hasn't been much. But he'll take the fall. No way will he be back for another season.

It must be nice to be Alex Avila. Once a Tiger, then shipped out, and now a Tiger again. Life can be good when your dad is the GM. A little nepotism anyone?

Thing is, as underwhelming as the Tigers have been this year, things are shaping up to be much worse in the near future. This team has too many oldsters, is WAY too heavy with contract obligations, and looted their farm system trying to get over the hump in recent years -- which they never quite made.

The piper has finally come-a-calling. This could get seriously ugly for the next few years......