Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Tigers. Contenders or pretenders?

Both. Though an average team, they're contenders in the American League Central division almost by default -- aka -- nobody else is really good either. The Twins have been racked by injuries, from starting pitchers to star players. KC hasn't been any good since the George Brett days. Who knows what Ozzie will come up with next on the south side of Chitown, and Cleveland is, well, Cleveland. With the current system being what it is, despite 3 better teams in the east (Yanks, Bosox, and Rays), and whoever comes out of the west, they might just back door their way into the playoffs.

Yet as far as being an elite team -- they're pretenders. In reality, they have one excellent starting pitcher in Justin Verlander. The rest are a crap shoot. Along with Josh Beckett of the Bosox, and maybe CC Sabathia of the Yanks, JV's amongst the best in the American League right about now. If he learned to hit a little bit, he might even be able to crack the Phillies' starting rotation over in the National League. Maybe. And why don't American League pitchers take batting practice anyway? They normally have 4 off days between starts, and what else do they have to do? Chew sunflower seeds and add another unsoiled uniform to the wash when the game's over? While on the subject of pitching -- every time I look, the Tigers have a couple new guys in the "bullpen" the average fan never heard of.  That can't be good.

Catcher Alex Avila has had a hot bat for a couple months and the "homers" want to make him an All-Star. Please. Same with Jhonny Peralta. Hell, he can't even spell his name right. Idle thought -- I wonder if he's related to Dwyane Wade? Some say the Tigers need Brandon Inge back. What for? He's been a career .230 hitter for 10 years. Defensive prowess? Try again. Yeah, he makes some good plays, but so does every other 3rd baseman in the major leagues. Inge is what the "homers" see a lot of on TV.  Litmus test? Gold gloves. Stats -- none. So he ain't all that.

Miguel Cabrera is a bonafide beast with the bat. Quick quiz.... Guess who has more home runs, RBI's, runs scored and stolen bases right now than Cabrera? Answer later. The rest of the position players on the Tigers run hot and cold. Another crap shoot. While the "homers" will pay homage to every word that comes out of manager Jim Leyland's mouth like he just came down from the mountain with the tablets, the fact is, he's a sub- .500 career manager. And contrary to what they may want to believe, that isn't a "burning bush" they smell. It's a Marlboro.

But when it comes to "homers" for the Tigers, nobody can beat the TV announcing team of Mario Impemba and Rod Allen. Those guys are in a class by themselves. Even when the Tigers are getting blown out of the ballpark, the positive "spin" they can come up with is incredible. They need not ever worry about losing those jobs. High-ranking politicians would snap them up in a heartbeat for their new careers as "spokesmen". If those guys got any more "Homerish", they'd turn into a cartoon with a blue-haired wife named Marge. Doh.

The Tigers are about average. Like this blog, the pitching probably needs to be better, and a few more hits wouldn't hurt either.

Quick answer. Curtis Granderson, now with the NY Yanks.  Sound familiar?

The "homers" said Austin Jackson would be better.


So far he's looked more like Austin Powers, but the only thing he's "shagged" is a fat contract.

Or maybe Steve Austin as the 6 million dollar (bionic) man. He could run fast and not hit a lick either. Seems to me Lee Majors got paid somewhere around $35,000 per episode of that show.

Wonder what AJ makes every time he strikes out?


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Where Wings take dream

That's a partial quote from something George W. Bush once said when he was Prez. Don't ask me. I never did figure out what he meant either. That ranks right up there with that "1000 points of light thing" his daddy came up with. Sounds good, but in the end, nobody knew what the hell they were talking about. Like the B boys, the Red Wings are hard to figure out.

The owner. He was born Michael Ilievski in 1929. Though of Macedonian (Greek) descent, one has to remember that in the post WWII era, when he was a relatively young man, including the McCarthy "red scare" madness of the 50's, that surname probably sounded very Russian/Soviet back in those days, which was not a good thing to have going for you if you wanted to prosper in this country. So somewhere along the line it became Mike Ilitch.

He wanted to be a major league baseball player. Though drafted by the Tigers, Ilitch only bounced around the lower levels of the minor leagues for a few years in the early 50's. The company line says his baseball career ended because of a knee injury, but his minor league stats suggest he was never going to be good enough for the big time anyway.

A few years later, in 1959, he got this bright idea about opening up a pizza parlor in Garden City. That led to another one and another one, and these days there's thousands of them all over the world. Never could figure out why someone of his heritage would name it after an ancient Roman dynasty, but it sure seems to have worked. Fast forward a couple decades, and Michael was a very rich man.

It should be noted, perhaps with a grain of salt, that somewhere along the way, Ilitch's accomplishments and devotion to the city of Detroit earned him being presented with a "key" to the city. Ceremonial to be sure, but still quite an honor, considering only 4 other people have achieved that status. Why the grain of salt? Because one of those 4 was none other than Saddam Hussein. Yep, the same one, during the Coleman Young years.  Don't believe me? Look it up. 

In the early 80's he wanted to own a Detroit pro team, and his first pick would have been the Tigers -- but they weren't for sale. So in 1982, he bought the Red Wings. Back then they were bad. Bad enough to have earned the name "dead wings". They weren't competitive, attendance and attention were way down, and they just pretty much -- well -- sucked. Fifteen years later they were hoisting the Stanley Cup, to be followed by a few more championships in subsequent years. Sounds great, right? So was Ilitch a savior, or just happen to be in the right place long enough for something good to happen? Depends how you look at it.

15 years is a long time in pro sports, unless you're the Chicago Cubs or Detroit Lions, but those are stories for another day.  A lot of pro careers will start and end during that period of time.

Thing is, Ilitch might not have been such a great baseball player back in the day, but nobody can seriously question his business savvy. The REALLY smart business folks aren't afraid to surround themselves with very intelligent people on their payroll, and give them positions of authority that involve decision-making.

Enter Ken Holland, the General Manager of the Red Wings. From negotiating contracts, to the salary cap, to trades, to draft choices, to free agent acquisitions, it was Holland that built the Wings up into not only perennial contenders, but a class organization where everybody wants to play. How he's pulled all that off with nary a whimper of dissention from the locker room, including a few coaching changes along the way, is the stuff of geniuses.

Over the last couple decades, the Red Wings have been famous, or infamous, depending on one's viewpoint, for their "international flavor", starting with Russians, and now Swedes. For the most part, those were, and are, highly skilled players, but they rely basically on finesse, not physicality. The local media will chip in and give them rave reviews, of course, but I suspect even Mickey Redmond, a former Red Wing himself, and current announcer, bites his tongue once in a while, as to what he really thinks. Then there's people like Don Cherry, that loveable Canadian traditionalist, who just don't approve. Period. Personally, I'm not sure what to make of Cherry, but I do look forward to seeing what clothing ensemble he'll come up with next. Ya gotta love those shirt collars. Ahem.

But alas, as time marches on, there's a down side to this. Skill and finesse only go so far. At the NHL level in hockey, a certain amount of "retro" style play is required to seriously compete for the Stanley Cup. In other words, a team has to have a few "bangers".

Consider: when were the Red Wings the most successful in the Ilitch era? When they had the "grind line" of Kris Draper, Joey Kocur (later replaced by Darren McCarty) and Kirk Maltby. They weren't the most highly skilled players but they wore down the finesse guys on the other team with being physical. They were flying around hitting everybody in the late 90's. Yes, they were briefly reunited a few years ago, but they were also 10 years older. It made a difference. Nowadays the Wings don't have anybody like that. That's why they keep getting bounced in the first or second round of the playoffs. No tough guys.

Further consider: Most knowledgeable hockey people said all along the Vancouver Canucks were far and away more highly skilled than the Boston Bruins. You know who won the Cup. Vancouver hung in there for 5 games, but I suspect the physicality of the Bruins eventually wore them out, as evidenced by the last 2 games where the Canucks showed up, but had seemingly lost their will to play. They were beat up and gave up. Much the same thing happened last year when the Chicago Black Hawks won the Cup. They had skill, but they were also physical.

Perhaps the best example is the Russian Red Army team of the 70's. They came over to North America and were trashing all the NHL teams on their tour, because their precision with the puck was incredible. Then they ran into Bobby Clarke's Broad Street Bullies in Philly, where they got beat up on the ice, and eventually on the scoreboard. That was their only loss. To this day, some people say that was an anomaly. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just like the other NHL teams were mesmerized by the Soviets' style of play, the Red Army squad had never seen anything like the Flyers coming at them either. They weren't only good, they were brutal. So brutal the Soviet coach pulled his team off the ice in the first period and even considered forfeiting. We'll never know, but I suspect a phone call came from Moscow telling their coach that forfeiting was not their first choice -- and if that option was exercised, it might result in a very long vacation in Siberia. So they played on and eventually limped out of town with bumps, bruises, and a loss.  

I see the Red Wings in much the same predicament. They'll make the playoffs every year because, even with sometimes shaky goaltending, they have a lot of skilled players. But when the biggest news coming out of the Red Wings is about re-signing a 40 year old defenseman for another year, it doesn't take a genius to figure out not much has changed.

The NHL is the only pro sport where revenue sharing doesn't come into play for post-season (playoff) games. I suspect Mr. Iliev -- oops, Ilitch will continue to pack them in at Joe Louis Arena in the near future and enjoy some big cha-chings for a couple playoff rounds, but when they get down to the nitty-gritty and the tough teams, they won't get anywhere near the Stanley Cup again until they toughen up some.

The sympathetic local media (homers) will try to sugar-coat it, but don't believe it.

Sometimes it just is what it is.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Let's lose the homers and get real. The Pistons.

It's got to a point where it's become ridiculous. The "homers" are everywhere around here. By "homer", I mean people in the media that want their home teams to win so bad that they lose sight of reality. Being objective goes out the window in favor of blatant bias. It's like they're afraid of getting their press passes yanked or being chewed out by a producer for telling the truth.

Maybe that's understandable at the prep level, and even college, but when it comes to the pros, it shouldn't be asking too much for the media to act like pros themselves. This includes beat reporters, columnists, announcers, and talking heads on TV. Some of these people could find a silver lining in nuclear warfare, if one of their beloved home team players somehow survived.

I don't much give a damn. It is what it is, and let's take a quick, objective look at the pro sports scene around Detroit.

The Pistons. New ownership. Direction unknown. Can't get much worse. Joe Dumars had his day. Great moves to bring in Rip Hamilton, Big Ben, and Rasheed to put them over the top for a title. Botched the Darko thing. Getting to the conference finals other years was way over-hyped by the local media Pollyannas with their rose-tints.  That's like reaching the semis in a tennis tournament, or March Madness in the NCAA hoops thing, before getting ousted.  Nobody remembers, much less cares. Since then -- it's been all downhill.

Now the media is playing up the Pistons' drafting of Brandon Knight as a no-brainer. Indeed it was. For a team that already has too many guards, it showed absolutely no brains to go get another one. Unlike the Pistons, the competitive teams in the NBA have a lot of talented, tall guys. A team might have a couple flashy players, but without "tall", they won't get far. If you think the Pistons were bad last year, it's going to get worse before it gets better.

It's no surprise they didn't make any trades. After all, who do they have on that roster that any other team would want? Free agents? Forget about that. No player agent is going to advise one of his star clients to go to a place where the owner remains a mystery, the team has little chance of being competitive, is already pretty much "capped-out" with regards to money available, the front office may be revamped, and they don't even have a coach, for chrissakes.

Joe D's a fine man, but as he was so great on his rise as GM, he's just as terrible on the flipside a few years later. Like all players eventually find out -- it's a business. When you've outlived your usefulness, you're gone. Joe's no exception. He should be broomed.

More important -- Tom Gores -- the new owner -- needs to come out of the shadows and start showing what he's made of. Will he be an active owner and show up at games? A recluse? Win at all costs or tighten the purse strings? A fan's owner or a snob? Nobody knows. He needs to do something because it all starts with him.

Up next -- the Red Wings.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Quit the crying and man up

Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals recently suffered a fractured arm. Ouch. A couple of trainers eventually helped him off the field. I had a broken wing years ago. It turned this rather nasty shade of dark purple right away and it hurt pretty bad, so I looked up a bone doctor in the Yellow Pages, made the call, and drove myself there to get it reset and casted. Thankfully, I'd grown out of my youthful penchant of 4-speed transmissions by then and had an automatic. Regardless of how smooth the linkage may have been,  shifting with a broken right arm might have been a problem which would have forced me to Plan B -- call a friend -- or even a cab. But it wasn't that big a deal. So since when does a fractured arm mean you can't walk? I guess when you're a major league baseball player. He didn't man up.

(It's the little things that get annoying. Like buttons and zippers, or tying your shoes. Learning how to write with the other hand. Holding one arm out of the shower. And that toilet paper thing got a little messy the first few times until I got the hang of it.)

Hockey players aren't like that. An NHLer might get a really bad cut, requiring a lot of stitches -- and they'll skate off. They can be hit by a high speed puck, or a devastating check that knocks them into la-la land, and they'll try to skate off, or even crawl off -- but they don't want anybody helping them. They man up.

Years ago, NFLers not only played with arm casts, but liked them, the better to club an opponent with. I don't know who got the worst of that. For the first couple weeks I had mine on, every time I accidentally bumped into something with it, it was an attention grabber. If I'd have clubbed somebody with it, I'm not at all sure who would have suffered more. But those dudes were out there. Finally the NFL made them start padding the casts. This was probably a good thing for both clubber and clubbee. Regardless, they were manning up.

Jack Youngblood, a defensive end on the old LA Rams, once finished a play-off game on a broken leg. He was slamming bodies with offensive linemen, trying to rush the quarterback, and bring down ball carriers until the final whistle. That has to be the all-time record for manning up. If you have a better one -- lay it on me.

Then there's the NBA. The bigger the stars, the bigger the crybabies. I don't need to name names. You know who they are. If they accidentally get a hand to their face, and God forbid if it results in a, HORRORS, scratch, or an elbow to the body, they'll start screaming, go down, and writhe in pain, like they -- well -- just got clubbed with a cast or had a broken leg. Funny thing is -- after a couple minutes of being coddled, knowing the TV cameras will be all over them, they'll pop up and be just fine. They couldn't even SPELL "man up".

I drove to the doctor's office. Hockey players handle it. Football players handle it. Albert Pujols didn't grade out so well.

And basketball players?  If they really want people to believe it's a "contact" sport, then 2 words----

Man up.

Monday, June 20, 2011

NASCAR, Joe Gibbs and apple pie

First things first. My apologies to George Pohly of Journal Register News Service, who covers NASCAR for same, because I'm going to "borrow" some of his stuff. I'll get back to that.

I dare say even the casual American sports fan has heard of Joe Gibbs. Starting way back in the 60's, he was an assistant football coach at such places as San Diego State, Florida State, Arkansas, and Southern Cal. On to the NFL, where he served in similar capacities for the (then) St. Lous Cardinals, Tampa Bay Bucs, and San Diego Chargers. Old timers might remember a guy named Don Coryell and a quarterback by the name of Dan Fouts. DC was the head coach, and DF was throwing the ball, but "air Coryell" was the brainchild of then offensive coordinator Joe Gibbs.

Finally he got a shot at being a head coach for the Washington Redskins. While there, he won 3 Super Bowls in 12 years. Pretty impressive stuff. He did a second not as successful stint for the Skins in the early 2000's, and to this day still serves as a "consultant".

In 1992, he created Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), and has fielded such drivers as Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart, and more recently Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Joey Lagano. On top of the Super Bowls, throw in 3 Sprint Cup championships. In 1995, he even dabbled in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) where he owned a funny car, top fuel dragster, and a pro stock car. Those were all sponsored by McDonald's.

Needless to say, the man has one helluva resume, and if he's not a billionaire by now, he can't be too far from it. Yet it seems like he keeps getting caught "cheating" once in a while. That brings me back to Pohly's words.

Gibbs "has an admirable reputation. He preaches faith, family, organization and integrity, making him NASCAR's answer to, ahem, Jim Tressel, the former Ohio State football coach".

I couldn't agree more, but maybe George was too easy on him, by ignoring the obvious. I'm not that nice. If Gibbs ever wanted to be known as the "All-American boy" success story, he can forget about that, because he threw that out the window a few years back with an unforgiveable choice. Pohly spoke of such things as illegal oil pans, magnets, and failed post-race inspections. Sure, most teams will bend the rules and push the envelope as far as they can, and yeah, NASCAR has to closely monitor the inmates so they don't take over the asylum, but Gibbs commited a cardinal sin.

That "All -American boy" thing goes right along with mom, apple pie, and Chevrolet. Or Ford. Or Dodge. Or any other American brand.

But not TOYOTA, which are currently the cars and engines of Gibbs' choice.

Like Pohly said, "Come on, Joe. You can be better than that. You can be smarter than that".

I doubt even Mickey D's would take him back at this point. Ever hear of one of those going out of business? They don't. It's no coincidence those arches are golden. Like gold, they never lose their value. As long as there's cows and potatoes, there will be McDonalds. It's an American icon, as is NASCAR, but there's a difference. Some might view Toyota as a sort of cancer that has found it's way into the NASCAR circuit, and Mr. Gibbs needing some serious chemo before it gets terminal, like it did with Honda and the Indy cars. How popular are THEY these days?

Jim Tressel may have lost a lot of face, but even HE never bowed down to Japanese masters.

Sorry if I stepped on your toes George, but I hope I did ya proud in the end.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The most interesting man in the world

No, it's not that guy on TV advertising a foreign beer, that looks like he might start drooling any second. And contrary to what she may think, Hillary's never been all that. So who is it? Martin Sheen? Justin Bieber? Alfred E. Neuman? Brandon Inge? Anybody that's a lifetime .230 hitter and makes upwards of 5 million bucks a year must have SOMETHING going on besides tats on his forearms.

It just might be Rory McIlroy, the barely 22 year old northern Irishman that's tearing up the US Open. 14 under after 3 rounds of play? That's not only a record, it's incredible. Open courses are set up to be extremely difficult. In years past, the best players in the world, and even the eventual champion couldn't even break par.

Golf purists might sniff and say, yes, but the rough isn't as deep. Maybe not, but besides the usual assortment of sand traps, water hazards, and undulating greens, try 7500+ yards on for size. Those same purists could hit the best drive of their life, followed by the best fairway wood of their life, and maybe, just maybe, they'd get to the green on some of the par 4's on this course. Did I mention the sand traps and water that surround them?

Is McIlroy the most interesting man in the world? In some ways. Consider: He likely makes Phil Mickelson wish Tiger was playing. He's a whopping 21 shots behind the Irish kid heading into the final round. Even Eldrick at his finest never pulled that off.

As I write this late on Sat night before the final round, yes, I remember he choked bad the last time he was in this position on Sun. Don't think it will happen this time. If it does, send sports editor Jeff Kuehn an email about what an idiot I am. He likes that sort of feedback.

At any rate, back to the most interesting man in the world. Tiger used to be. All the pressure of the cameras, microphones, money, fame, and even umpteen different women never fazed him. Once he got married, his golfing career started to slowly swirl around and head downward, like pushing the lever on a certain bathroom facility.

Here's hoping McIlroy avoids that pitfall, and here's REALLY hoping he stays away from that beer the slobbery guy advertises. I got into that stuff once and woke up next to an ugly woman. Still don't know what happened.

Pound the ball, not the bimbos. Drain the putts, not the pints, and above all ----

Stay single, my friend.

PS. On a personal note, I hope the Irish kid wins this thing. Why? Because maybe then Irish Charlie will finally buy a round at the Gridiron. Hmmm. Nah, probably not, but miracles have been known to happen.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Wild in the streets

The Miami Heat were eliminated from the Finals in their own building, as were the Vancouver Canucks.

Given those two cities, and their fans, I would have bet a lot of money that if either was going to start fires, turn over cars, loot buildings, and basically run amok, it would have been Miami. I would have lost that bet.

It's brutally hot in Miami this time of year, which never helps attitudes, and given certain other, ahem, factions that are in abundance there, one might think that would have been a tinderbox for mayhem. But not much seemed to happen after Lebron and Co. got kicked to the curb.

Who would have guessed the Vancouverites would run wild in the streets?  Not me.

Then again, the Canucks are all they have in the way of major pro sports. I can't remember if they have a Canadian Football League team, but that wouldn't count anyway. Look at it this way. Imagine if the Pistons never existed. They've won a few titles, and been very competitive in a lot of years even when they fell a little short. Same with the Tigers. They haven't won a championship in a long time, but at least they make it interesting once in a while. Pretend they never existed either. Delete the Red Wings, their Stanley Cups, and the excitement they generate every year from your memory banks as well. Guess what?

If all you had was the Lions to root for over the last 40 years, you might have been fortunate to maintain your sanity, let alone civility.

Throw in rain damn near every day in Vancouver, year after year after year, and it's probably a miracle a few suicide bombers didn't do their thing after that game.

Let's bring the deleted Detroit teams back into existence. When it comes to a big game, the people in that city will turn over cars, loot, set fire to things, and run amok -- even if their team WINS.

It seemed the local newscasters couldn't wait to show what was happening on the streets of Vancouver.

Evidently, they have short memories of what's happened in their own collective back yard in years past, or think we do.

Maybe it's a good thing if the Lions never get to the Super Bowl because, win or lose, if that ever happened, everything from 8 Mile Rd. to the Detroit river might go up in flames.

I wonder what kind of odds the wise-guys in Vegas would put on such a thing happening.

Me? I figure it's about a coin-flip.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

If it's Mark Cuban, it's going to be special

Ever heard of a guy named Micky Arison? I didn't know who he was until I looked it up. Just so happens he's the owner of the Miami Heat. Know what he looks like? Me neither. Would he have made a public appearance had the Heat won the NBA title? Beats me.

Most owners of professional sports teams are billionaires and, near as I can tell, it must be in the blue-blood by-laws that once a person has that much wealth, it's mandatory they become a recluse. Sure, there are exceptions, but generally, they don't associate much with their teams, much less us low-life hoi-polloi, the fans. Normally, they'll have a team president to oversee the entire operation, a general manager to negotiate contracts, trades, free agents, and the like, and regular managers or coaches to handle the actual players at the field/court/ice level. The point is -- mostly it's a snooty bunch that somehow think they're above it all. And maybe they are. I wouldn't know. I've never been a billionaire to see how it feels. Hell, by the time I get done paying my bills every month, I'm lucky if I'm a thousandaire. For that matter, after a certain court proceeding that starts with a D a few years back, I was a gaspforair. But I digress.

Love him or hate him, Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA champ Dallas Mavericks, is most definitely an exception. He goes to a LOT of games. Further, you won't find him in some luxury suite behind tinted glass, wearing a suit and tie, and trying to impress a few high-rolling businesspeople, while ignoring the game. Far from it. He's down there a couple rows back from his team in a sweatshirt or jersey, ball cap, and tennis shoes rooting them on. He'll hug his players, and even argue with the referees to the point where he's been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years. Can you imagine William Clay Ford, owner of the Lions, going nose to nose with a football official over a holding call at Ford Field, or Mike Ilitch, owner of the Tigers, getting into a spit-flying rhubarb with a baseball umpire at Comerica Park? Me neither. Ain't gonna happen.

The name "Mavericks" is perfect for a team Cuban owns, because that's exactly what he is. It's not like Tom Cruise playing  "Maverick" in Top Gun. That was only make-believe. This dude's for real.

Now he gets to hold a parade in Dallas. If it were any other owner, that would likely consist of marching bands, the players waving at the crowd from atop fancy floats, and the usual stuff parades are made of. With this guy, who knows, but I'm betting it will be worth watching. Maybe he'll have the players riding elephants, circus style. I wouldn't put it past him. Hate to be the guy that had to clean up after that, tho. When an elephant has a need, it's a big one. Ahem.

Plus he's already said he's going to forego the usual championship rings because he has something else in mind. Cars, boats, solid gold basketballs, tropical islands? Your guess is as good as mine.

Yet it's ironic. Past and present players, coaches, reporters, and the talking heads constantly mention the importance of winning a "ring". Now the Mavericks are champions and it appears they won't be getting one.
Whatever Cuban has in mind as a replacement -- it better be good.

I suppose when you're a maverick billionaire you can do things like that.

This could get interesting.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

This was not supposed to happen

The home town wanted them to win. The media wanted them to win. The shoe companies wanted them to win. I'll flat-out guarantee you the folks on Madison Avenue that create all the advertisements for other sports related products wanted them to win.
But they didn't win. They got trashed in their own building. Yep, the Miami Heat crashed and burned.
So much for all the hype about the Big 3. Think back about that pompous, made for TV presentation that featured Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh that you've probably seen 100 times, when they were introduced in Heat uniforms. Backs to the camera, smoke rising, music blaring, and they emerged from the mist. The crowd went wild. The talking heads engaged warp drive. The ad people were probably orgasmic. It was as if Ruth, Gehrig and Cobb --  or Bach, Beethoven and Mozart -- or daVinci, VanGogh and Rembrandt -- or Galileo, Newton, and Copernicus -- or Tesla, Einstein, and Edison were back in the mortal world to work their magic and genius. At that point in time, there were probably a few hard-cores that likened them to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Bet you won't see that bit popping up on the screen again anytime soon.
In the end, it was just 3 basketball players that wound up looking like Larry, Moe and Curly when the pressure got cranked up. They play in Miami, call themselves the Heat, but they couldn't take the heat when another team looked them square in the eyes and wasn't intimidated.
I have little doubt the stories will still be about Lebron and Co., as to how they lost, rather than giving the Mavericks credit for kicking their ass, but that's just the way the media works. Once a darling, always a darling, and they'll find a way.
The Madison Avenue folks that haven't jumped out of a window yet have to go to Plan B. I can sympathize with that. It might not be easy coming up with a new spin on Terrycloth or Kidd's milk. And good luck with Dirk Nowitzki, when even David Stern, the Commissioner of the NBA, butchered his last name while presenting him with the MVP trophy on national TV.
After all the millions of dollars and all the hype, they didn't man up, so for now it's Lee, Didi and Chrissie.
It could be worse. Besides their ridiculous salaries, they will still make a ton of money off royalties from TV ads -- and yes -- there will be TV ads -- trust me, the Mad Ave. folks will come up with something.
That's something (Andrew) Louis, Moses, and Jerome (the real names of Larry, Moe and Curly) never enjoyed the luxury of.
Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard. (Horwitz, Feinberg, and Horwitz)
A bad comparison? Look at it this way. The original 3 stooges did a lot of their work in the 20's and 30's. Do you think people will still find replays of the trio in Miami entertaining to watch 80 or 90 years from now?
Maybe they should sign a guy named Shemp (Samuel). Couldn't hurt. Nobody knows who else is on that team anyway.
Summertime weather in Miami can be brutally hot, sometimes in more ways than one. I hope the Big 3 enjoy their vacations, particularly Lee. If the heat gets unbearable, he can always go back to a cooler climate. Cleveland comes to mind. Good luck with that.
Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

This TMI thing is getting out of control

Don't look now, but Curtis Granderson, formerly of the Tigers and now a NY Yankee, just hit his 20th home run. He's on the same pace as the late Roger Maris was in 1961 when he broke the Babe's season record. How do I know this? The talking heads on the 4-letter network are all over it. Now does anybody really believe CG has a mosquito's chance in a bat house of hitting 60+ home runs? Wake me up when he has 50 with a month left in the season. Until then, TMI.
Don't look now, but Danica Patrick just ran in another Indy car race somewhere. She must not have won. How do I know this? Because if she'd have taken the checkered flag it would have been the lead story instead of a blurb to fill another 30 seconds worth of air time. Wake me up when she's drinking milk in victory lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Until then, TMI.
If Dwyane Wade tweeted about how hot his last shower was, Tiger Woods passed gas, or Lebron James hiccuped, we'd know all about it. TMI.
This is getting out of control.
Then there's the supposed Top Ten highlights. Typically, they will feature a couple outfielders making diving catches while the talking heads rant and rave. Time out. A lot of college players and certainly most major leaguers make those plays routinely anymore. You name a major league outfielder and I'll guarantee you he can run and catch or he wouldn't be there. It's not like there's a bunch of sumo wrestlers or Richard Simmons type guys playing those positions.
There's always a few basketball dunks. The talking heads will attempt to overload their microphones. Time out. Just about everybody in the NBA can dunk. This is like making a 3-inch putt on a golf green. There's a lot of ways you can do it. Left hand, right hand, front of the club, back of the club; you can do a 180 or 360 or even cartwheels before you tap it in. But in the end there's nothing special about it. NBA dunkers will hang on the rim and scream. Can you imagine a PGA golfer putting the fingers of both hands in the hole and doing the same?  Please.
There's always going to be a soccer goal on the highlights. I understand this. ANY goal in soccer is a highlight. Nuff said.
Uh-oh. Serena Williams just broke a fingernail?
Why do I get this sinking feeling a corporate jet just took off from Bristol, Conn, the headquarters of ESPN, with a full crew to cover it?
Yep, this is getting out of control.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


When I signed up to write this thing, the boss man said it had to be about sports. Well, OK then. I'm going on record as saying lumberjacking is a sport. Don't believe me?

You've probably seen those shows where guys with razor sharp axes and souped up chain saws compete to see which one can chop and saw the fastest through logs in various ways. They can strap those climbing spikes around their ankles and go up a tree as fast as a scared squirrel -- with all their gear, to boot. It probably doesn't rank up there with the Super Bowl when it comes to popularity, but it's amazing in it's own way.

That said, I hereby announce the inaugural Wrath of John lumberjacking contest. Burgers, dogs, pop, beer, KFC, pizza, salads, and anything else the contestants want to eat and drink will be provided. The details of TV and/or newspaper coverage have yet to be ironed out, but many appreciative spectators are guaranteed.

The rules are simple. Different contestants will be assigned to different cottonwood trees in my neighborhood, and whichever one completely obliterates their tree first wins however much money I can scrape together in the next few days. Further, all contestants must finish their tree or no refreshments for them.

Those things have got to be one of God's worst creations of all time. Pools, ponds and AC units get clogged up. The stuff blows in garages, sticks to screens, gets in cars, and when I let my Yorkies out, they come back in covered with the stuff. These trees serve no useful purpose. They're just nasty.

So hear ye, hear ye, lumberjacks. I've thrown down the gauntlet. However, this competition is only open to the elite amongst you. The top pros. The fastest guys with the best equipment. Amateurs need not apply. Why? Because once the competition starts, you'll only have a few minutes to complete your assignment.

There's a reason for this. By the time the homeowners realize what's happening to their trees, you need to be done and gone.

Finding me is easy. Just cruise through Waterford with your windows down, radio off, any sort of fast-food take-out in a bag on your seat, and listen carefully. My 4-legged kids will pick up that scent when you get within a few miles and guide you in with their yapping.

See you in the backyard. Will that be Coke or Pepsi? Bud or Miller? Macaroni or potato salad? Double cheese or italian sausage? Original recipe or extra crispy?

Doesn't matter. Bring it on. I'll handle it, and I'm ready when you are.

Monday, June 6, 2011

To all the knee-jerk wimps -- shut up

Yes, I saw the replays of Buster Posey, a catcher for the SF Giants, getting hurt in that home plate collision several days ago. Now some people want major league baseball to change the rules. To which I say -- shut up. It's part of the game, and has been for well over 100 years. I even heard a person say they should make them slide or get tossed out of the game. It would be safer that way and, after all, they do it in slow-pitch softball. SAY WHAT? Comparing MLB to slow-pitch softball is like comparing the Navy SEALS to the cub scouts. Shut up.

Earlier tonight I saw a Boston Bruin get "jacked-up" by a Vancouver Canuck. He hit him high with a check and an elbow, and pretty much knocked him into nowhere land. I hope the guy's OK, but it's the NHL. Things like that happen. In Boston, the home crowd was outraged. Thing is, had the situation been reversed, they likely would have been on their feet cheering. Who's kidding who here?

There's been a lot of tragedies in various sports. In 1957, Herb Score, a dominating pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, got hit in the face by a batted ball. Ten years later, Tony Conigliero of the Bosox got hit in the face by a pitched ball. Neither were ever the same after that. Before them, and even to this day, pitchers are still vulnerable to such a thing, and batters will continue to get hit by pitches. OK wimps. Speak up. How would you make this safer? Nerf balls? Wiffle bats? Shut up.

Consider auto racing. Formula 1 racing has never been big in America, but many fatalities have occurred on that circuit. Closer to home, several Indy car racers have perished, as have NASCAR drivers, the most famous being Dale Earnhart Sr. If you saw it live, or have ever seen the tape of that incident, you'd know that Sterling Marlin did the same thing to Dale that Dale had done to hundreds of others over his years as the "Intimidator". It was just another race move, but somehow Murphy's law came together and Dale wound up dead. The wimps cried. Guess what? Dale hated restrictor plates that slowed the cars down. Had it not been for that so-called safety mandate, he might be alive today. Shut up.

Alex Zanardi, a former 2-time champion CART driver, (what used to be the REAL Indy car drivers), once found himself in the unenviable position of being sideways on the track after a mid-race collision. Those drivers are basically laying down in their cars, with their heads up and their legs stretched out. Another car coming along at well over 200 MPH wound up sawing Zanardi's car in half. That included taking his legs as well. It's probably a miracle he survived that accident, but what did he say afterwards? It's racing. Things happen. No hard feelings. The guy who suffered the most manned up. The wimps wanted to change the rules. Shut up.

There's been football tragedies. Darryl Stingley of the New England Patriots was paralyzed in a collision with Jack Tatum of the Oakland Raiders in 1978. Mike Utley of the Detroit Lions had a similar fate befall him in a game against the LA Rams in 1991. For those that don't remember, Stingley lowered his head and ran into Tatum's shoulder pads, and Utley was taken down on a freak play by a defensive lineman. There was nothing even remotely "illegal" about either play. Those are only two high-profile examples of many. It's pro football. Big guys. Fast guys. Mucho adrenalin. Full contact. Unfortunately, sometimes bad things happen. They're already padded up to the max and highly conditioned. OK wimps. What do you suggest to make things safer? Touch football would certainly cut down on the injuries, but just how popular do you think that would be? Shut up.

How about curling? It's kind of like shuffleboard on ice. If one of those guys or gals slips while sweeping away and sprains their ankle, the wimps would probably want to get rid of the brooms. Shut up.
Even kids aren't immune. You've heard about children suffering various freak injuries, and even death, in various athletic endeavors. What would the wimps suggest? Keep them in a biosphere playing video sports until their bodies have matured? Shut up.

It is what it is. If the wimps don't like it, I have some suggestions for them. They can take up basket-weaving, macrame, crossword puzzles, dime novels, and they probably have hundreds of channels to choose from with their cable and dishes. Use the clicker and be happy. Watch cooking shows. Judge shows. Home shopping shows. Game shows. Cartoons. Whatever.

Just stay away from sports and everything will be alright.

But for you weak-kneed geeks, if you just have to go there, I offer you 2 words......

Nuff said.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

National anthems and goose bumps

Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but sometimes songs can give me goose bumps. Jim Nabors singing "Back Home In Indiana" just before the Indy 500 always gets me there. American gold medal winners standing on the podium at the Olympics and singing along to the Star Spangled Banner sometimes does it. And then there's Lynyrd Skynyrd tunes, of course.

Watching the first 2 games of the Stanley Cup Finals in Vancouver did it too. While the players probably hail from several different countries, it's an American town, Boston, vs a Canadian town, Vancouver. In such cases, both countries have their national anthems sung before the game. Visitors first -- home team/country last.

Granted, it's a mighty long ways from Boston to Vancouver, and even considering cross-continental flights and/or scalpers, I don't think there were too many "beaners" in that building. Translation? Probably 99% "canucks", which is the way it should be. No doubt the reverse will be true when the series goes back to Boston. I'd refer to that crowd as "yanks" but it seems the Bostonians are a little testy about that word for some reason. Go figure.

But they did it up right in Vancouver with the national anthems. One guy for the Star Spangled Banner followed by another for O Canada. Both these men sang like operatic tenors, ala Pavarotti. Though I didn't catch their names, they were good -- REALLY good. Outstanding. Bravo stuff.

What really got my attention, though, was the second guy's rendition of O Canada. Half way through the song he stopped singing and held the microphone out for the crowd to carry the song. As the cameras panned the building, it seemed like just about everybody was joining in. They knew all the words and were belting them out. Towards the end of the anthem, the singer jumped back in, the crowd sang even louder, and it ended in a deafening crescendo of nationalistic pride.

I got goose bumps.

Whos' going to sing the anthems in Boston is anybody's guess, but what happened in Vancouver is a tough act to follow. I just hope they get it semi-right. When it comes to their own national anthem, my guess is about a quarter of the people in that arena will sing, and about half of those will actually know all the lyrics.

In other words, if whoever's singing the Star Spangled Banner stops midway through the song and expects the crowd in attendance to carry it -- well -- I don't think that will work out so hot. And would it be asking too much to have a singer that actually knows the words and will sing it like it was originally written? I don't care about jazz, soul, rap, country, rock, blues, reggae, or any other genre the singer has a background in. Just do it right -- one time. Make Francis Scott Key smile rather than roll over again.

But I don't think that will happen. It will probably be the celebrity flavor of the month that will butcher it yet again, thinking they're somehow cool. No matter what, when it comes to singing at sporting events, I hope they don't even allow Roseanne in the building. Remember her with a microphone at a ball game? I don't know what comes after ugly, but whatever it is, she nailed it.

As I said a while back, I've always liked Canadians because they're so down-to-earth and friendly. Salts of the earth. Do anything for you.
I wonder if they'd consider loaning out those 2 tenors to Boston for a few days. If anybody can get the crowd singing -- it's them.

And maybe, just maybe, I'll get goose bumps again.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Brown-out in LA

Some guy named Brown just got hired as the new coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. A man by that name got ran out of Cleveland not long ago by an owner named Gilbert --  or was that Dilbert? No matter. Both are frustrated characters. One has a comic strip named after him, and the other one should have, but I digress.

Even before the first practice, film session, or any other team activity, what does this new Brown say about the Lakers? It's Kobe's team. Really? Evidently, he can't be Bad Bad Leroy Brown, baddest man in the whole damn town. Leroy wouldn't suck up like that. He'd kick ass and take names. Same with Jim Brown, the former running back. He has Cleveland roots and few would question his alpha-male makeup. I doubt it's James Brown. He was one of the most talented people I've ever seen in his own way, but I think coming back from the grave to coach a basketball team might be asking a bit much.

So who's left? Bobby Brown? I'd be good with that if he could get his ex to sing the national anthem, and even stay up late for the west coast games just to hear her. Nobody did it like Whitney. But last I heard, Bobby was in jail, or at least jammed up in some sort of legal trouble so, nah, it can't be him.

Charley Brown? Will Lucy wind up taking Mitch Kupchak's spot as GM?  Unlikely, but it would sure be interesting.

Turns out it's a guy named Mike. Big dude. Smart. Well-spoken. Scholastic. Glasses. Maybe like Urkel on steroids. He's taking the place of Phil Jackson. Thing is -- at least the former coach had a plan when it came to "family matters". Through his various techniques as the Zen Master, the players in LA-LA- land were somewhat kept in check. Now Mike's the coach and the first words out of his mouth were that the head inmate is going to be in charge of the asylum. This is leadership? Maybe he should consult with Jack Nicholson, who sits courtside. Jack could tell him all about someone flying over the cuckoo's nest. If Mike hires someone named Ratchet as a medical assistant, it's time to pay closer attention.

Maybe I'm missing something here, but I thought a guy named Buss was supposed to head up this operation. Yet "buss" is a synonym for "kiss", and when it comes to Kobe -- use your imagination where that buss/kiss goes.

On the other hand, Brown will wind up with a guaranteed contract that, win or lose, will pay him millions and millions of dollars. Given that, maybe the ad people had it right a while ago.

"Be like Mike" sounds like pretty nice work if you can get it.

I can only hope this Mike doesn't get an underwear endorsement like the other Mike. Urkel in briefs? That could get scary. Fruit of the loom is one thing. Fruit in the room is quite another. No thanks.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A wacko's look at Dallas vs Miami

As you know, Dallas and Miami are tied 1-1 in the NBA finals. I predicted Miami would win it all several weeks ago, and still think that way, but Dallas has this nasty habit of roaring back from double-digit deficits in the 4th quarter to win games. To pull that off in Miami, giving the Heat their first home-court loss of the playoffs, was very impressive.

But who has the advantages and why? Let's look at some maybe not so hypothetical comparisons and demographics.

The home towns. "Big D" vs "Little Havana". The land of the "north forty" vs the land of "South Beach". Rednecks vs. red snapper. I'll call that even.

A grizzled old coach that was a former player, has been around the league in various capacities for decades, and probably lists 7 or 8 Celtics in his Top Ten Best Ever list, goes up against a young pretty-boy that few had ever heard of before this year, that might well list a few Kardashians in his Top Ten. Advantage -- Griz.

There's Old School vs Nu-Skool that can be broken down into even more categories.

Older fans are probably rooting for the Mavs. The younger ones -- the Heat. Working for years to earn it vs instant gratification. See Dirk vs :Lebron.

Texas yee-ha, vs Miami hip-hop.

Saloons vs nightclubs.

Beer vs umbrella drinks.

Steaks vs sushi.

Tornadoes vs hurricanes.

Horses vs alligators.

Pick-ups vs Beemers.

Rope vs dope.

"Sweet" spreads vs street "creds".

Though it might put me on the horns of a dilemma, Lou Gossett Jr. once said something about steers and queers in a movie. Perhaps I should leave it at that, before I get gored. No, he's the new owner of the Pistons. How did they get into this dialogue?

In this hypothetical world, I can even talk about possible racial preferences. The most recognizable faces of the Mavs are Kidd and Novitzki, who happen to be white guys. James, Wade, and Bosh, the Big 3, for the most part, represent the Heat. They happen to be black guys. Deny it all you want, but some people actually base loyalties on such folly.

Yet, they have things in common. A guy named Bush was once the governor of both states. They both have the death penalty and frequently use it. And it can get unmercifully hot in either location during the summer.

But something about this match-up goes against the logical forces of the universe. It has to do with the owners. A guy named Micky Arison owns the Heat. Micky sounds like a good-ole boy name. He'd probably get along just fine in Texas.

A guy named Mark Cuban owns the Mavs. Need I say more?

Somehow that's just wrong.

So who am I rooting for?

The Canucks. Love that name.