Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mystery subject

They come and they go. That applies to politicians, movie and TV stars, recording artists, athletes, and pretty much you name it. With few exceptions, even the best enjoy a few years of fame and then they fade away to be replaced by someone else. I suppose if your station in life was being a giant redwood tree, you'd enjoy a few more centuries of people gawking at you in amazement, like a couple guys named Philbin and Shatner, but eventually your time will come as well. At that, you would still serve a useful purpose. After all, I never heard of people building decks or fences out of ancient talk show hosts, and a decades old ham doesn't sound too appetizing.

Know where I'm going with this yet? Me neither. I have no idea. The end.

On second thought, I better come up with something, or I might hear about it from one of those nefarious "k" guys I mentioned last time. Working..... OK. Got it.

While a whole lot of trees will get wasted in newsprint, and umpteen inane terabytes of dissection, analysis, and predictions will be espoused by countless talking heads, in the end, as in the beginning, they come and they go, only to be replaced by others, and life goes on.

Therefore, I can sum up my whole opinion of Jim Tressel and whatever else is going on at Ohio State University in one word.


Hogwarts, a webmaster, and race cars

Paul Kampe is the on-line coordinator for the Oakland Press, a former cast member of South Park, Summa Cum Laude graduate of Hogwarts, and all-around cyberworld superstar. Well OK. Maybe he just watches the animated series once in a while and J. K. Rowling hasn't returned my phone calls to verify his transcript, but still --  the dude stays on top of things. It should be noted that PK is also lord and high priest of the OP sports blogs. In my position, it's very wise to stay on his good side. Scroll down and check out my pic. When that was originally taken, it looked a lot like Brad Pitt. Then I messed up once and, next thing I knew, BAM, that gruesome mug shot took it's place. Forget Mother Nature. It's not nice to fool with the webmaster. But even Paul has a boss, whose name starts with "k" as well, and I'm not talking about Kosmo. This k thing is getting out of control.....

Hmmm. Seems to me I had something else in mind when I started this......  Oh yeah. Right.

Maybe he wasn't the first or only person to notice, but PK mentioned that the Indy car driven by JR Hildebrand, which crashed on the last turn of the Indy 500, and the car driven by Dale Earnhart Jr. in the NASCAR Coca-Cola race later the same day, which ran out of gas on the last lap, were both sponsored by the National Guard. That raises an interesting question. Ill get back to that.

Besides the National Guard, the US Army has sponsored various race cars on various circuits as well. If you're a race fan, you've probably seen them on TV and never thought twice about it. Sponsoring race teams, especially at the elite levels, is a very expensive undertaking. It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to build one of those cars. There's also a "shop" somewhere, complete with a lot of serious machinery. Cha-ching. Throw in the salaries for the driver, the pit crew, the spotters, machinists, engineers, and various other people associated with the operation and we're talking millions just to get started. Hell, the tires are well over $500 apiece and how many of them do they go through? If the car gets wrecked, chalk up another few hundred G's to build another one. Somebody's gotta pay for all this, and I'm fairly certain they can't huddle up, blink, and find themselves in a State Farm office, with a friendly agent ready and willing to cut them a replacement check, nor do they have a piece of the rock, nor has some dopey girl sold them an insurance policy out of a shoebox in a sanitarium. In other words, there ain't no insurance.

Most of those cars have a lot of small decals on them, but those companies aren't coughing up any serious money. More likely, they're giving the race team a few bucks off on parts. The primary sponsor bears the brunt of the costs. In return, they get their name or brand out there and, hence, publicity. Hopefully this will contribute to whatever it is they're selling. This isn't exactly top secret information.

In the case of the National Guard and/or Army sponsored cars, it seems logical to assume those two entities are footing the bill. But wait a minute..... Like all other military branches, they're financed with taxpayer dollars, which brings me back to the question. Who's paying for all this? Unless I'm missing something, it's you, and me, and even that wizard mentioned above.

The $600 hammers and $1000 toilet seats were bad enough, but now we have to finance a bunch of military sponsored race teams that can't seem to win anything? Are there subliminal parallels to be drawn here?

Beats me. I think I'm beginning to understand what Paul sees in South Park. I'm a lot older than he is, but when in doubt, most people return to their comfort zone. I'm going back to my safe haven as well. The next issue of MAD magazine should be hitting my mailbox any day now.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Indy, Danica, Tiger, and Henry

Certainly few people would have predicted a rookie named JR Hildebrand would be in the position he was in nearing the end of the 2011 Indy 500. Through 499 and 1/2 miles, and 799 out of 800 turns he, and his crew, had been flawless. As the sub-plots of the race played out, Hildebrand found himself staring at winning the crown jewel. He had a big enough lead where he could have run out of fuel and cruised to the finish line, donned his laurel, drank his cold milk, and been forever enshrined as a winner of the greatest race in the world.

Then something unforeseen happened. He crashed coming out of turn 4 on the last lap. At that, even on 3 wheels, his wrecked car had enough momentum to cross the finish line and finish second. Considering the racers behind him were closing at well over 200 MPH, that meant he had a pretty decent lead  So who shot JR? No wait, that was something different. Scratch that. Yet something happened. Did he celebrate too early with the checkered flag oh so close and lose his concentration? Who knows, but given the ramifications between winning Indy and finishing second, the millions of dollars in endorsements and the fame a win would have brought, it's a safe bet Mr. Hildebrand will spend a lot of sleepless nights thinking about what could have been. It may be cruel, but sometimes a person only gets one shot at such a thing in a lifetime, never to get close again.

On another note, at some point in time, the media decided that Danica Patrick would be the face of Indy car racing. Nevermind she's only won one race in her entire career, and that in Japan, which by the way is where all the Honda engines, yuk, Indy racers run these days, come from. Here's a little known tidbit -- those ever-so trustworthy people at Honda Motor Co. supply the engines but only on the condition that, no matter what happens, they are not to be taken apart and/or inspected/repaired by foreign pit crews. If one fails, they'll supply another one, but what's really going on inside those things seems to be a secret. How they can pass tech-inspections under such a mandate is a very good question, but if they're putting out more HP, and all the car owners want them, it shouldn't be a complete surprise that the governing bodies of open wheel racing look the other way.

Yet which team gets which engines? Are some ever so slightly better than others? The HMC people know, but seemingly nobody else. Over there, they treat their women as second-class citizens but a lady American race car driver shows up in their country and wins a race when she's barely even been competitive before. Think about that what you will.

On to the predictable. Danica's main sponsor is GoDaddy.com. By sheer coincidence, I'm sure, ahem, this year's Indy 500 was primarily sponsored by -- yup -- GoDaddy.com. So who did you think was going to get the most coverage during the race, and whose mug would you expect to see on a lot of commercials for this or that product? You just had to know that somewhere along the line Danica would be leading the race and, sure enough, with about 20 laps to go, she was. Nevermind that all the faster cars in front of her had taken a necessary pit stop to get enough fuel to finish the race, and Danica either had to stop eventually for the same, or run out of "gas"; she was then in the lead for a few laps. Danica leading late in the race will be what many will write and talk about, but it was a mirage. After she "came in" for fuel, and the superior cars zoomed past and reset the leader board to where it should be, short of a miracle, unless they all  crashed or blew up, she had ZERO chance of winning.

I think comparing Danica Patrick to Tiger Woods might be fun. Let me throw a few things out at you, and you decide which they may have in common, and where they might differ a great deal.

Pretty faces.
Their chests.
Their butts.
Media darlings.
Hissy fits.
Air time during an event they're competing in.
Air time during an event they're not competing in.
"Minority" status. See media darlings above.
Which you'd rather see on TV for a serious interview by an unbiased hard-nosed reporter..
Which you'd rather see hooked up to a polygraph for the same interview.
Which you'd rather see trying to sell you a used car.
Which you'd rather have as a next-door neighbor.

And on a personal note -- which one would you rather ride next to, Henry? Careful. That answer could get you in trouble. :-)

Idle thought. Why do they still call the Thursday before the Indy 500 carburetion day? Those cars haven't had carburetors for a couple decades. Shouldn't they call it "injector" day? Then again, that word might lead me back into saying some things about the aforementioned Tiger Woods that would get ME in trouble. Henry and I have bosses of a different sort (they both start with the letter "K", what are the chances of that?) but there comes a time when it's best to just shut up.


Friday, May 27, 2011

A former party animal's look at the Indy 500. Part II

Somewhere shortly after 6:00 AM on race day, depending on our place in line, we arrived in the Promised Land, the infield. Emerging from the tunnel, it was then another free-for-all, with vehicles going every which way to stake out yet another "spot". I never did know what became of the Winnebago people at that point, but that was their problem, and staying out of the way while on foot was a very good idea.

The infield rats would race to get a choice piece of turf, park the vehicles, and throw out a blanket close to the track. Some folks thought it was better to be in this turn or that turn, or maybe the back straightaway, but it really didn't matter. I'll come back to that.

Now it's 7:00 AM. Most people are either severely hung over or still carrying on, and nothing's going to happen for 3 hours. Naptime.

In those days the festivities started at about 10:00 AM. That was when the "parade" laps would begin. They involved a bunch of movie stars, athletes, and of course, those loveable politicians that never saw a publicity stunt they didn't like, riding around in convertibles smiling and waving at the masses. The rookies in the crowd would get excited and clap, while the vets glanced up, and then rolled over to catch a few more z's. It was gonna be a long day, and who cared about those twits anyway? We were there to see a race. Well, sort of.

The race started at 11 and was usually done by about 2. Back then, ABC's Wide World of Sports tape-delayed the telecast until 5 PM. (If you were a race fan at home waiting to see it on TV, it was probably also a good idea to stay away from radio newscasts, because those folks would announce the winner, which would definitely spoil the fun of watching a race that happened hours earlier,)

When some chaplain would give his blessing, we started paying attention. Jim Nabors of Gomer Pyle fame would sing, "Back Home In Indiana", which was kinda cool, somebody else would sing the national anthem, a few fighter jets would make a pass overhead, several thousand helium filled baloons would be released, and the immortal words would come over the PA system. Not counting Janet Guthrie, who's main job at that time was to get publicity but stay out of the way of the real racers on the track, they were, "Gentlemen, start your engines". Since then, seemingly everybody that runs a race of any kind, particularly NASCAR, has copied that. But it all started at Indy.

The "pace car" would lead the race cars on a few parade laps while they warmed up. Then the official "pace laps" started and things speeded up some as they went by. On the last pace lap, it got faster. Finally, the green flag would wave and off they'd go. It would take the cars almost a lap to get up to full speed, but if you were never there, and only saw it on TV, you can't begin to appreciate how fast those cars were when they went by the next time.

After the initial excitment of the first few laps, and depending on wrecks, blown engines, and anything else that would cause a yellow flag to come out to slow the field, drivers would come into the pits and get new tires, another load of fuel, minor adjustments, and go back out. After a while, this would get out of sequence, and it was hard to figure out who was leading the race. Besides, too much of anything eventually gets boring, so knowing the race would still be going on for a couple hours, we'd wander around and check things out.

And, oh my, did things happen in the infield. You have to remember that these people had been partying for 2 or 3 days, and either through alcohol, other substances, or lack of sleep, a lot of inhibitions were long gone.Vans came in handy for something else too. Others saw fit to do the same in the front of pick-up trucks, which was kind of comical. Let's just say some people weren't thinking about Al Unser at that particular moment in time. Or maybe they were. Hmmm. Hope it was the girl.

Needless to say, we had a good time in the infield and with maybe 20-30 laps to go, we'd get back to paying attention to the race.

I stilll wonder about those folks that paid big bucks to sit in the stands. Those were the same people that were staying in motels. Then they paid more big bucks to sit up on the hard seats at the race. We had shade, and could walk anywhere we wanted to. Could they see more of the race track than we could? That's a double-edged question. They could see more of it, but their view never changed. We could walk around and see just about any small part of it we wanted to. And when nature called, who had the advantage? We did. They had to hike down from their seats. We had other options. Blazing hot? They were stuck up there and had to cook in their pews. We had shade from vehicles, and any number of contraptions that were rigged up to keep the sun out. Worst-case scenario for us was getting back in the van and turning on the AC to cool down for a few minutes.

I suppose to each their own, but when I hear of someone saying how much they partied at the Indy 500 in those days, while staying in a motel before the race, and sitting in the yuppie seats during it, I just nod and smile.

I'd like to tell them Doris Day partied in her way and John Belushi partied in his, and there just might be a slight difference, but they wouldn't get it anyway.

They didn't have a clue then, or now.

And no, I never did wear a toga, but thinking back, it might not have been such a bad idea.

That was a long time ago, and I've mellowed out. These days, I have a garden, fish pond, a couple yorkies that I love, and the Heritage rarely goes faster than 80. That's only pace lap speed.

I must be getting old. Sigh.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A former party animal's look at the Indy 500 Part I

The Indy 500 will go off this Sunday, weather permitting. It's nothing like it used to be. Quick, other than Danica Patrick, name 5 drivers. Chances are, you can't.

I used to go every year back in the 70's and into the 80's. Names like Foyt, Rahal, Dallenbach, Ongais, Rutherford, Andretti, and the Unsers were very well known. I watched Janet Guthrie, the first female to ever particpate in the race, and some kid named Rick Mears, who would later go on to win a few of them, was just arriving on the scene.

It was called the "greatest spectacle in racing", and indeed it was. Besides Indy, the same circuit of cars raced a lot of other places, including right here in Michigan at MIS, but no doubt, the Indy 500 was the crown jewel. Open wheel racing was very popular. Then Tony George, the President of the Indianapolis Speedway, went on an ego trip, decided he would be the boss of the sport, and wanted to change everything, especially the cars. This resulted in a feud with the owners of the cars that lasted for years, and eventually the sport self-destructed. As we all know, NASCAR has since filled the void.

But back in the day, it was a blast. Serious partiers, such as myself and a few friends, would arrive in Indianapolis on Thursday, and certainly no later than Friday, with our "infield" tickets. The whole town was one big party. Bar owners made a ton of money, as did their help; motels were booked solid at exorbitant rates, and then there were the people like me that would head down I-69 in a van and find a parking lot close to a grocery or party store, and hopefully a gas station. I'll get back to that. What may have been in the back of those vans is open to your imagination, but let's just say "different strokes for different folks".

The store owners didn't care that we camped out in their parking lots. After all, they were selling are the booze, beer, pop, ice, and munchies they could get their hands on. Unless you did something outrageous, the cops would leave you alone. Toilet facilities? Sometimes the stores would oblige, and sometimes not. Then if the obvious wasn't going to work in the parking lot, you hiked to the gas station and stood in line for the restroom. They might charge you a buck. Didn't dare move the van or somebody else would take your spot. Showers? It was usually a good idea to bring a sponge along for when you were in that restroom. Needless to say, those restrooms got rather ugly after a while, but when you're hanging out with the hard cores, ya do whatcha gotta do. Walk back to the van, throw on a different shirt and carry on. The same pair of Levis was good for the weekend. Underwear and socks? Never wore them, but I'll own up to deodorant and a toothbrush.

On Saturday morning, a day before the race, at some time, which was a big secret, the Speedway would open up the "back forty". This was a huge field on Speedway property, but outside the track. Getting in there was the next step. While the cops were trying to keep things semi-orderly on the streets, it was pretty much a madhouse getting to the entrance, and then stake out a "spot". Normally, within a couple hours things were starting to settle down. Tents went up, lawn chairs, grills, and some rather innovative ways to provide "shade" appeared. People would even haul mini-bikes, or small motorcyles out of the backs of vans or pick-ups with campers and start roaring around. The fire marshalls would show up and clear "fire lanes" in case something bad happened. But there was only one set of restrooms on that property, and they were close to the entrance to the track. If your spot happened to be on the far end away from them, it was quite a hike to get there, and those facilities made the gas station restrooms look like the Hilton. This was not a place for the feint of heart. You had to want to be there. Bad. You had to sense it, feel it, breathe it, and whatever it took-- it took.

It was also a pretty good idea to have your coolers stocked up when you got into the back forty, because there was no going back, at least in a vehicle, and that grocery or party store was a mighty long ways away to walk, let alone carry a cooler. The partying went on throughout the day and into the night, and a lot of things happened, most of which I can't mention here.  Even stuff that, on the surface, sounds ridiculous. There was a time when I got offered a 6-pack of beer for one measly can of Coke. Guess he was all beered out and had some seriously hot pipes going on.  After a couple days of non-stop partying, things like that happen. What's even worse is -- I didn't take the deal. You had to be there to appreciate that.

But we all knew that at 6:00 AM sharp, the next morning, on race day, ticket-takers would appear at the gate, and the tunnel would open to let us under the track and into the final frontier, also known as the "infield". This was no time to worry about properly collapsing and rolling up a tent. You got it down the fastest way you could, chucked it in your vehicle, and got in line again. Snooze, ya lose. Even the fire marshalls didn't get in the way of that.

By the way, such vehicles as Winnebagos had their own area, off to the side of where we stayed. They had lived in relative luxury for a few days, compared to the rest of us that had been reduced to the bare necessities, but Winnebagos were too tall to clear the tunnel, so those folks had to hoof it. Maybe that was a fair trade-off.

Race day next time.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The other side of the Lance Armstrong saga

Lance Armstrong is back in the news. It seems some people just won't give up trying to prove he used illegal substances during his cycling career, particularly on the Tour de France, even though he hasn't competed in it for several years.

The latest to come forward was Tyler Hamilton, a former teammate of Armstrong's. On a "60 Minutes" segment, Hamilton said Armstrong, the team managers, trainers, other cyclists, and even he, Hamilton, were involved in all this. Everybody did it. If that's true, did it make it right? Probably not, but I have some questions.

First, the TV viewer doesn't get to see the entire interview when a 60 Minutes correspondent sits down with their "guest". This is all edited, and we only wind up seeing what the producers want us to see. This can be a very handy tool if they're trying to make a point, but doesn't necessarily speak well of unbiased journalism.

Second, one has to wonder about Hamilton's motive(s). Consider -- this is a guy that trained his whole life to become an elite cyclist. And what did he find when he got near the top? Being in a position where his job was to help somebody else (Armstrong) win and enjoy all the glory, while he was barely mentioned. Could the "green-eyed monster" be playing a part in this?

Third, evidently Hamilton was compelled to testify before a federal grand jury in Los Angeles, hence his "revelations". That in itself raises a question. Last time I looked, the Tour de France was pretty much in, well, France. What business is it of prosecutors in LA as to what may or may not have happened on the other side of the world? Of course the FBI, as they are prone to do, are sticking their noses into it. They want blood and/or urine samples from some French laboratory that were taken from Armstrong approximately a decade ago. You'd think they would have better things to pursue. Sorry to repeat myself, but again, the last time I looked the "F" in FBI stood for "federal", not international. They have no more jurisdiction in France than the French federal cops would have in LA. They can ask for a favor, but they can't demand anything. If I'm in charge of such a company, where names and results are supposed to be confined to a very select few, and otherwise remain confidential, I tell the fibbies they're in the wrong country, and can go take a hike back across the "pond".

Hamilton mentioned the wide use of EPO. I have no idea what that is. There's been talk about human growth hormone, testosterone, and a lot of other substances ending in "one". If you're not a pharmacist, I doubt you have a clue either what they all are.

Then there's the alleged blood transfusions. This is having your own blood taken out, and put back in at a later date. In America, we call that getting ready for a major surgery. In the cycling world, they call it doping.

But I guess it could be worse. Putting blood back in is one thing. I'm sure glad no allegations have been made about the same thing happening with urine samples. A reverse catheter? That sounds like it could be painful.

At that, where does it all end? Prosecutors and cops are spending millions of tax-payer dollars trying to prove a point that most of us could care less about.

Does the name Barry Bonds sound familiar?

Getting down and dirty with Tiger Woods

A friend (yes, believe it or not, I actually have a couple) told me I've been too nice lately, and not living up to the name of this blog. Well then.

While scrolling around on the satellite dish, I noticed a show titled "Lost Land of the Tiger". This was on a channel called NGW. It only made sense that this had to be about Eldrick "Tiger" Woods. My brilliant mind quickly concluded that NGW probably stood for "no golf wins", "not going well", or maybe even "notoriously greedy womanizer", but I was wrong.

Turned out it was about an elusive creature that goes on the prowl occasionally and has big teeth. Well OK, I suppose comparisons could be drawn there, so let me put it this way -- it was about four-legged tigers with stripes, rather than the two-legged variety with red shirts. Actually, NGW stood for National Geographic Wildlife. Hope that clears it up.

I scanned down and noticed "Hogs Gone Wild". This was on the Discovery channel. I understand the media wants Tiger to be everywhere, but was this about Harley Davidsons, or could it somehow tie into some of those girls in Vegas? Wrong, and wrong again.

It was about pigs. You know, the kind where bacon comes from. Those sort of hogs. I think I was relieved.

Not far below that was the Learning Channel. They offered a show called "Strange Sex". As they say, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but could it be? I didn't want to know. TMI.

At any rate, poor old Tiger's on the shelf again. It seems his knee hurts, his calf hurts, his foot hurts, everything hurts when he can't win anymore. Probably nothing more so than his pride.

I don't want to hear it. A while back he won the US Open, which typically features extremely difficult courses, on basically one leg. For that, he was a hero. Newspapers and magazines had article after article, and, oh man, the talking heads on TV went into overdrive.

Nowadays, a bunch of very talented young guns are on the scene, and Tiger can't seem to keep up with them. Eldrick had his day when he was the best, but that day has passed.. He got to the point where he "cherry-picked" the tournaments he wanted to participate in for big bucks, maximum exposure, and of course, the chase for Jack Nicklaus' "major" win record. I don't see it happening. He can profess all the injuries he wants, and I suppose that nasty divorce business he went through would be enough to give anybody a case of the "yips", but he's just not good enough anymore. People rise to the top, enjoy the limelight, megabucks, endorsements, and fame, and then others come along and kick them to the curb. Such is the way it goes in professional sports. It ain't personal -- just business.

Don't worry about Eldrick. If he never picks up a club again, chances are he's still got enough dough to buy your whole complex, neighborhood, or subdivision, with some serious change left over. If that doesn't work out, he can always go on the talk show circuit, like all the other has-beens, though I'm not at all sure how well he'd be received by the Swedish audience.

In the end, I suspect he made at least one person happy. For some unexplainable reason, I get this weird feeling that Fuzzy Zoeller's fried chicken tastes a lot better these days. Something to do with the Masters' Championship at Augusta National several years ago, I think.

And Tiger? He's laying low. NGW indeed. Now Getting Wiser.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

There's balls, and then there's balls. Part II

On November 8, 1970, a guy named Tom Dempsey trotted out onto the field at Tulane Stadium. This was where the New Orleans Saints played their games before the Superdome was built, and Dempsey was their place-kicker. As it happened, he was going to attempt a 63 yard field goal, some 7 yards longer than had ever been accomplished in the NFL at that time. He only had half a foot on his kicking leg and kicked "straight away", as opposed to the soccer style kickers we see today. He made it to beat the Detroit Lions. I watched it on a black and white TV with rabbit ears and, given the Lions, somehow I wasn't surprised.
That record stood for 28 years. On October 25, 1998, Jason Elam, of the Denver Broncos, matched it. Since the original, 40 years ago, nobody has kicked a longer one in the NFL.

Back in Dempsey's time, the same football was used for the whole game, on every play. Running plays, pass plays, punts, field goal attempts, kick-offs -- it didn't matter. Same ball. Somewhere along the line, that changed. "Kicking balls" came into existence. This is common knowledge. Don't believe me? The next time you watch an NFL game, pay close attention when a punting or field goal situation arises. The ball that was used on the last play gets tossed out and a "different" ball comes into play. Further, check out the kickers when they're teeing it up for a kick-off. They squeeze the ball. There's a reason for this. They can tell the difference and they're making sure they have a "kicking ball".

Also, let's not forget the advent of soccer style kickers. In the old days, there were a few of them around, like Jan Stenerud and Garo Yupremian, but they were the exception. Nowadays every place kicker does it soccer style. Why? Because they can kick it farther and they're more accurate.

Remember, in Dempsey's day, kick-offs came from the 50 yard line. As the kickers got stronger and constantly boomed them out of the end zone, kick-offs were moved back to the 40. Then the 35. Then the 30, where it is today.

So given much stronger kickers over the years, and even "kicker balls", how is it that nobody has kicked a longer field goal than a guy with half a foot did 40 years ago?

If you can answer that, go to the head of the class, because I have no idea.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

There's balls, and then there's balls. Part I

No, it's not like that. This is about sports, remember?

First, there's the home runs in major league baseball. When I was a little boy, I can remember being at Tiger Stadium, where I watched Norm Cash hit a baseball over the roof in right field. Back then, I had my handy-dandy transistor radio glued to my ear, and heard announcer Ernie Harwell estimate the ball had traveled 525 feet. Norm did it more than once, and several others accomplished it as well.  Hitting the ball over the roof in left field was an even more colossal feat. To the best of my recollection, only 3 men ever accomplished that. Harmon Killebrew, Frank Howard, and Cecil Fielder, all big brutes indeed. Those balls had to travel well over 500 feet as well. The longest home run ever is generally attributed to Mickey Mantle. Supposedly, he once clubbed one 585 feet.

Fast forward a few decades. Most major league pitchers still throw fastballs in the 90 MPH range, the hitters have their bats custom made, and it's widely assumed the balls themselves are "juiced", compared to the "old days", whereby they fly farther than they used to. Players like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and that loveable Barry Bonds were setting all kinds of home run records, and were allegedly "juiced" themselves. So combine the same speed of pitches, better bats, hotter balls, and players that could seemingly flick their wrists at a bad pitch, yet wind up hitting a homer, and what do you have?

Nobody that got credit for hitting one over 500 feet, much less approaching the Mick's supposed record at 585. A chubby guy like Norm Cash could sock them 525 and muscle-bound people like McGwire and Bonds couldn't hit it that far? Ever? For all those years? 480-490 was considered a "monster shot", even during the steroid era. Do you see something wrong with this picture? Obviously, I don't get it. Somebody please explain it to me.

Football next time. Bet you can guess where I'm going to go with that......

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Who's a home boy supposed to root for anyway?

The Pistons were lousy, and are history for this year. The Lions are, well, the Lions. The Tigers have a long season ahead of them, and they appear to be about average. And, of course, the Red Wings got knocked out of the Stanley Cup playoffs last week. So what's left?

The rest of the NBA and NHL playoffs. But who to root for? Let's break it down.

In the NBA, there's Miami vs Chicago, and Oklahoma City vs Dallas. If you're anything like me, you've just about had enough of all the hype over Lebron, D-Wade, and Bosh in South Beach. Dallas/Okla is a tough call. I can sympathize with the Okies, because what else do they have going on out there? Then again, Dirk Nowitzki of the Mavs, a probable future Hall of Famer, is a heck of a guy and helluva player that has slaved away for many years in a bridesmaid's role, because the Lakers or Spurs always seemed to stand between him and glory. Yet every time I think of Dallas, Jerry Jones and the Cowboys come to mind. They rank right up there with the aforementioned Big 3 in Miami. What did the kids used to say? Gag me with a spoon? Close enough. So OK, ChiTown won the Stanley Cup last year, but the north-siders have been enduring the Cubbies since forever, and the south-siders have to tolerate Ozzie Guillen, so I consider that a push. And I'd "sooner" be a lot of places than Oklahoma. Go Bulls.

Then there's the NHL. Boston vs Tampa Bay, and San Jose vs Vancouver. Boston's got enough going on. The Celtics are perennial contenders, as are the Red Sox, and the Brady Bunch in nearby Foxborough is always an elite football team, so I can't get behind the Bruins. Tampa Bay? Nothing against them, but any place where Mother Nature hasn't made ice in the last few thousand years is difficult to consider a serious hockey town. San Jose? They're in the same neighborhood as the reigning World Series champions in San Francisco. Besides, they just knocked off our beloved Red Wings -- again. A pox on them. That leaves Vancouver. Maybe it's unpatriotic for an American to root for a Canadian team, but not counting a certain snooty waiter in a Montreal restaurant, I never met a Canadian I didn't like. They're a friendly bunch. And how can you not root for a club that calls itself the Canucks, ay?

Don't you think our northern friends would root for a team south of their border that called itself the Yankees?

Hmmm. Maybe not.  

Friday, May 13, 2011

Debbie, Brenda, and a hockey game

Once upon a time there were these two women who had never been to a hockey game before. Then by the grace of God, or more likely from a third party that couldn't attend, they lucked-up and fell into a pair of tickets for the Red Wings' Game 6 at Joe Louis Arena, Tuesday night. As indoctrinations go, this was bound to be impressive. I suppose I could mention something about losing a "cherry", and of course that would be in reference to tuning out Don Cherry, that loveable Canadian hockey guru/announcer, but perhaps I shouldn't go there. Ahem.

Deb and Brenda hooked up on game day at the Gridiron, a bar on Montcalm, in Pontiac. It's a pretty cool place. Good food, great people, and it's owned by one Tom Jones. No, not the Welsh singer of old that had all the ladies drooling over him. Quite the opposite. While there's indeed some drooling that goes on, it's my understanding that Tom has upgraded his meds, and things are getting better. Just kidding -- I think. And beware of any bartender named Lynn, Mary, or Chris. You think you're slick? Good luck with those 3. Any of them could tear up Don Rickles and Robin Williams at the same time, while cooking food, serving drinks, handling all the Keno tickets, and never miss a beat. And of course, there's Dawn. Life got you down? Go in there on most any afternoon, and ask for her. She doesn't even drink, but she'll give you a hug to make you feel better, if only for a little while. Nobody hugs like Dawn. But I digress.

Then it was off to the Greektown Casino for D & B. After feeding the slots a few bucks, they jumped on the people mover and headed to Joe Louis Arena. Their tickets were in section 227, which means upper bowl, last row. Nosebleed country. Brenda later commented that it felt like climbing the steps to a Mayan temple.


Arriving early, perhaps they didn't understand why there were so many empty seats for such an important game. Then all of a sudden, maybe a half hour before game time, it filled up in a hurry. Wall to wall sardines, and red and white pom-poms on every seat. A nice touch, courtesy of Mike Ilitch. It surely beat trying to wave pepperonis or anchovies.

Along the way, they were treated to Bob Seger, Kid Rock, and Eminem's Chrysler video on the big screen. Goose-bumpy type stuff while the crowd worked itself into a fever pitch.


Somewhere during all this, the game was actually played. While it was highly exciting for the first 2 periods, the score was still 0-0. I called Debbie on her cell and left a message. It should be noted that Debbie is, ahem, rather well-endowed in a certain part of her anatomy. The message was this --- "Show em the girls. That ought to get em going".

Sure enough, a few minutes later, goals started happening. Did she really do it? Beats me. All I know is it didn't show up on TV. A while later I got a return phone call, but the only thing I could hear was deafening crowd noise.


When it was over, and everybody except the San Jose Sharks were happy, it was time for them to go. Considering their seats, and with the exception of Charlie Brown's kite, what goes up pretty much has to come down eventually. Somehow they navigated their way out of there, pom-poms in hand, hopped back on the people mover, and headed back to Greektown.


Some time later they wound up back at the Gridiron, where I presume they had a night-cap, and headed home. Both are still active GM shop rats on day shift, and 5 or 6 AM comes pretty quick after a night like that. Did they make it to work the next day? That seems to be classified information for some reason. Go figure.

Sounds like Deb and Brenda had a great time, enjoyed an experience they'll never forget, and it was a win-win all the way around, right? Not exactly.

Brenda said she really got into it, and she's a "cuz" of mine, so I'll always root for her.

Debbie? She borrowed a Red Wings jersey from some guy to attend the game. Turns out she's a Chicago Black Hawks fan, and was only going through the motions.

Girls or not -- that's a boo, hiss.

It's not my fault a certain web-site crashed yesterday and made this article a day late. If you scroll back up to the top, you'll notice it was finally posted on Friday, the 13th. Something was bound to go wrong. It did. The Wings have already lost game 7 and been eliminated.

Which means there's only one thing to do. Go see Dawn. I need one.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Idle thoughts from a confused mind

No matter how you look at it, it's been pretty interesting for the last couple weeks in the world of sports.

The #1 seeded San Antonio Spurs were bounced in the first round of the playoffs, as were the Orlando Magic. Who would have ever thought that would happen?

The Chicago Bulls quietly finished the regular season as the #1 seed in the East. They have one super-star and a pretty good supporting cast. Somehow that rings a bell from a couple decades ago. Does MJ sound familiar?

The 2-time defending world champion LA Lakers got the red-headed stepchild treatment from the Dallas Mavericks. Outta here. Good. I've had just about all the Kobe and Zen I can stand for one lifetime.

After a whole season of ups, downs, doubters and skeptics, it appears the Big 3 from the Miami Heat have finally come together and jelled with their supporting cast. Can anybody stop them from winning the NBA title? Barring injury, I think not, but I don't have to like it.

An Arabian guy got whacked in Pakistan by a navy SEAL team. Perhaps that wasn't very sporting of them but, hey, stuff happens.

Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers threw the second no-hitter of his career. That in itself is impressive, but what's truly amazing is that afterwards, Jim Leyland almost, but not quite, actually smiled. Getting a laugh out of that guy would be like getting a laugh out of Lurch, of the Addams family. Not sure, but I think maybe his face would break.

Some long-shot horse named Animal Kingdom won the Kentucky Derby. It seems like the Disney influence is everywhere these days. Sigh.

Novak Djokovic defeated Rafael Nadal on a clay court in Spain. Don't laugh. This is no small feat. Beating Nadal on clay, let alone in his home country, happens about as often as the Washington Nationals beating the Harlem Globetrotters, Rush or Hillary saying "I'm sorry", Lindsey Lohan spending a few months worth of quality time with the Amish, the Lions winning the Super Bowl -- well -- you get it.

Seve Ballesteros, one time world-class golfer and long time world-class man, died at the age of 54.

The Red Wings have come back from an 0-3 deficit to tie their series with San Jose. Like the Phoenix, they've risen from the ashes, and...... no wait. They whacked Phoenix in the first round, and they're never coming back. Dead is dead. Or was that that Saudi guy? I dunno. I get confused with so much stuff going on.

Not so surprising dept-----

There's another driver feud in NASCAR. There will be blood -- or at least sheet metal.

Manny Pacquiao easily dispatched another opponent and Floyd Mayweather is still afraid to fight him. One is a congressman. The other may soon be a defendant.

The NFL owners and players continue to act like spoiled 3rd graders on the playground. Maybe someday soon, both sides will realize the only people winning here are the lawyers. Cha-ching.

Not a peep out of Tom Gores, the new owner of the Pistons, lately. Evidently there's a law that says once a billionaire comes to this town, they must also become a recluse. Go figure.

I may be confused about a lot of things, but here's what I understand. After spending the last few weeks getting the usual spring chores out of the way, it's time. Unplug the trickle charger, change the fluids and pop in a new set of plugs, give it a bath, and fire up the old softail. It's time to go riding.

On that, I'm crystal clear.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Phil Jackson. Champ or chump?

Between the Chicago Bulls and the LA Lakers, Phil Jackson has 11 NBA championship rings. On the surface, that would seem to be very impressive. But is it really? Let's look deeper.

I wonder how much it had to do with him being in the right place at the right time, and the talent he inherited in both places, versus his own abilities. How many rings do you think he'd have if he'd been coaching, say, the Sacramento Kings and the Washington Wizards during those years?

Phil's not alone. Take George "Sparky" Anderson, for example. He's in the baseball Hall of Fame, and was generally regarded as a great manager, for a long time. But was he? With the Big Red Machine he managed in Cincinnati during the 70's, he had 6 or 7 position players that eventually went into the Hall of Fame themselves. All Sparky had to do was put a different pitcher on the mound every day and turn them loose. You and I could have done that. When the players got older, the team started losing, and Sparky got fired. About that time, the Detroit Tigers had several up and coming young players that were extremely talented. Like Jackson, Sparky fell into another rose garden. Right place at the right time.

There's other such examples in the sports world, if you think about it. Here's a quickie.... Most Tiger fans think Jim Leyland is terrific. Maybe. He won the World Series with the Florida Marlins, which was basically an All-Star team at that time, and made it to the Fall Classic with the Tigers. Yet if you look at his career stats, he's actually a sub .500 manager. That means he was pretty lousy somewhere else along the line.

But Phil Jackson is a unique sort of guy. He lives in a mansion in la-la land, gets paid bazillions of dollars, and dates the owner's daughter. In laymen's terms, this is commonly referred to as a pretty sweet gig. He's credited with creating the "triangle" offense, but I'm not sure anybody understands what that is. Ever read or hear a sports writer or talking head explain it? Not me.

Phil has been known as the "Zen Master". An interesting thought, indeed. First, Zen, has to do with Buddhism. Is he a Buddhist? I don't know, and to each their own, but Jackson doesn't act like it.

Consider some of the Buddhist precepts:

Wisdom. Regarding basketball, I suppose Phil gets a pass on that one.

Suffering. Most of us would stand in line to suffer like Phil has -- so that's a no.

Humbleness. Michael Jordan? The Lakers? Need I say more?

Reincarnation. He goes to sleep in Chicago on the down-swing and wakes up in LA on the up-swing? Buddha or not, a basketball god somewhere was smiling on him.

Nirvana. The state of absolute peace and bliss. Maybe that comes with winning those rings.

Beats me. The only thing I know about rings is you stand in front of a preacher to put one on, and you stand in front of a judge to take it off a few years later.

Yet there's another precept. Discipline. It appears Jackson forgot about that one, and, as the master, he surely didn't pass it along to his players. As long as he and they were winning, everything was hunky-dory, but when it came time to lose, the above mentioned suffering and humbleness went out the window.

As a clearly superior playoff team (the Dallas Mavericks) was completing their sweep of the Lakers, and winning by a large margin late in the game, Phil's boys reverted to goon-squad tactics. Namely, if you can't beat em, maim em.

Perhaps it's understandable that one player might do something stupid out of frustration, but to have another one resort to thuggery mere minutes later is inexcusable. There's only two ways that could happen. Either Phil sanctioned such behavior, or he had no control over his players. Neither one speaks well for a supposed "Zen Master". When it was over, Jackson came across with his usual aloof attitude, as if he is on some mental/spiritual level that us mortals will never comprehend. It's not working here.

Phil Jackson. Started out a champ. Now looks like a chump.

Some folks fret and stew this may be the last year Jackson coaches. I hope not, but for different reasons. Winning another ring is not one of them. It would be nice to see him come back for one more year. Maybe then, on a farewell tour, he can finally get the humbleness and discipline things right.

The suffering? That will never happen in Phil's world, but like Meatloaf once sang -- 2 out of 3 ain't bad.

(A couple hours later)  Damn, almost forgot. It's Mother's day. Hope all the mothers and muthas had a great day today. Pretty sure I don't have to get into the differences. You know who you are......

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Osama bin Laden and Rashard Mendenhall

According to our federal government -- a few days ago, a Navy SEAL team killed Osama bin Laden. His body was supposedly taken aboard an aircraft carrier and buried at sea. Our President has said there will be no photographs. No body, no pix, no nothing -- except the word of the government that it happened. Think hard about that and draw your own conclusions.

That said, Rashard Mendenhall, a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, is also coming under some fire these days for something he twittered, or is that tweeted? Beats me. I've got better things to do with my life than be a slave to some fancy phone, just so I can monitor tweets and twits every 5 seconds. I don't really care what Dwyane Wade's first thought is when he gets out of bed, or what Lindsey Lohan had for dinner last night. But I digress.

Upon news of bin Laden's demise, this country went into celebration mode. From politicians chipping in their usual useless 2 cents worth, to John and Jane working stiff, a lot of people are happy.

Mendenhall took offense and said, in part, "What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side....."

I totally agree with Rashard. Be it war, state-sponsored executions, or even those that may have harmed us from without, I see no reason to celebrate the death of another human being. Some are evil and rightfully deserve to be brought to justice, but taking a life should never be a reason to party.

Indeed, Mendenhall has other valid points. We've seen grainy videos of bin Laden over the years, supposedly from a cave -- and we now know how accurate that so-called intelligence was -- but the audio was over-dubbed with an english translation. What was he really saying?  I don't know, and you don't either.

As far as only hearing one side, Mendenhall's right on the mark again. Ask yourself this.... How do we know what we think we know about such things? Reporters are hand-picked to attend high-level press conferences. What they hear and write about has already been filtered. Whether it's true, false, or spin, they get only the information the powers on high want them to have. Most will add their own little touches, whether on-line or in print; even that goes through an editor somewhere, where it may be altered again, and finally the public gets to see the end-product. How close is that to what really happened to begin with? Your guess is as good as mine.

In the meantime, we have no idea what the "other side" is saying. As an example, Hillary Clinton can trot around the globe demanding this or that. Are leaders of other countries taking her seriously, or merely humoring her to keep the "foreign aid" bucks coming, then laughing after she's gone? You and I don't know.  Like Mendenhall said, we only get to hear one side. (A prediction. Now that Osama's supposedly gone, the American people need a new Public Enemy #1. Another bad guy we haven't even heard of yet will be coming your way soon)

Of course, upon becoming aware of Rashard's comments, Steelers' team president Art Rooney II had to issue a poltically correct response. He hadn't spoken with him, can't comprehend it, is proud of the military, blah, blah, blah. Like most of his ilk, when presented with a dilemma, they'll trot out the stars and stripes. It's just another typical PC gloss-over, waiting for the next news cycle, so this will go away. This comes from the same family that instituted the Rooney Rules, whereby mostly black teams playing in front of mostly white crowds, have to interview mostly black men when head coaching positions come open, while mostly white owners in the end get filthy rich(er).

I take pride in having never having been a PC wimp. That is for those that worry too much about what everybody else thinks, while being afraid to say the obvious, even if it offends people. There's always countless lies and spins for any situation, but there's only ever one truth, so why not just say it? Some people will like it and some won't, but it is what it is.

In that respect, if anybody out there knows how to forward this to Rashard Mendenhall, please do so. Tell him I salute him. He had enough guts to put an unpopular truth out there. Hatred, killings, and especially celebrating death, no matter who is involved, or for what reason, is not something to be proud of.

Justice is one thing.

Blood-lust for pure enjoyment is quite another.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Fords? Kick them to the the curb.

Technically, the Lions can't draft an owner, of course, but the existing one can be shunted aside. Look at what recently happened elsewhere.

Frank and Jamie McCourt, the owners of the LA Dodgers, got caught up in their own personal nasty divorce business. They neglected a once proud franchise to the point of making it a laughing stock, while living like royalty. Some of their expenditures, that are coming to light, were outrageous.

Enter Bud Selig, the Commissioner of major league baseball. Some people think Selig's had too many Buds, and is a bumbler. Not true. Citing a recent article by Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated -- Selig's been Commissioner for 19 years. During his tenure, MLB has expanded from 26 to 30 teams, the playoffs have expanded from 4 to 8 teams, the owners and players have had labor peace for 16 years, revenue sharing and drug testing have come about, and two-thirds of the teams have new or renovated stadiums. Translation? Don't underestimate this guy. The man gets things done.

He'd had enough of the McCourt fiasco, so he basically stepped in and took control of the franchise away from them. Who's in charge now, and whether that will hold up to legal challenges is unclear, but Selig did it anyway. We'll see how that plays out.

Which brings me back to the Lions. The "laughing stock" bit has been well documented for many years from objective people in the media to comedians, to talk-show hosts, and even syndicated columnists. NFL commissioners have come and gone in the last several decades, but none of them was willing to address the obvious. If ever there was a team that needed to be taken over by the league -- it's the Lions. And it has been for a long time.

Given the current player/owner stand-off, you may or may not approve of the policies and tactics of  NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, but I dare say nobody thinks of him as a dummy. When this negotiation business is finally over, maybe he should consider kicking the Ford family to the curb, as far as running the Lions. After all, like the McCourts, they've been living like royalty, while their team has been in shambles. It only took Bud-man a year or two to drop the hammer on the McCourts. The Ford thing has been going on for almost HALF A CENTURY.

Consider: According to Oakland Press business editor/writer Joe Szczesny, the CEO of the Ford Motor Co. could make in excess of $300 million dollars this year. Throw in the "board" people, the presidents of this or that, the executive vice-presidents, the group vice-presidents, your everyday garden variety vice-presidents, and on down the corporate line at a few million here and stock options there, and the next thing you know, we're talking about serious money. The total team salary of the Lions was $122.9 million. Does this mean the CEO of Ford Motor Co. alone is worth two and a half times what all the football players are worth?

Maybe. At least the car company has trotted out some winners over the years since William Clay Ford bought the Lions in 1964. From luxury to style to horsepower, there was a wide selection. LTD's, Crown Vics, Mustangs, Mercs, Cougars, pick-up trucks, vans, etc. There was something for everybody. Ford is even a major player on the NASCAR circuit. They've provided motors, bodies and other parts for several race teams over the years. Mark Martin used to drive one of those cars. He was long in the tooth and his primary sponsor was Viagra. Somehow that deal petered out and he had to move on. But I digress.

The football team has been a never-ending production line of Yugos. As in, you go to the stadium and you go away poorer and disappointed. The Lions PR machine will put out a lot of spin, and some reporters will say things are looking up. Playoffs this year. The Super Bowl can't be far away. What they don't seem to comprehend is that all the readers and watchers aren't idiots. Some of us understand that they have to play up to these people, in order to maintain their access to the "inside" stuff. It would be nice to think that the majority of these folks know better, and their Stevie Wonder vision through Janis Joplin rose-tinted glasses is all a facade for show, but sometimes I wonder. Optimism is a good thing. Reality is better.

At any rate, it's time for the Commissioner to step up and put an end to this travesty. If Bud can sit in Milwaukee and pull it off in LA, then Roger can sit in NYC and pull it off in Detroit. He can call it "in the interest of the league". He can call it "by popular demand". He can even call Doctor Jack. Maybe he's got one more left in him.

Just make the call. Any call. Do something. The status quo is not acceptable any longer. Is that a roger, Roger?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Brrr. I feel a draft. Must be the Lions

Is the NFL draft over yet? It seems like it's been going on forever and, in some respects, it has. You name the newspaper reporter that covers pro football, or any of a seemingly endless supply of talking heads on TV, and they've been carrying on about this for weeks. In the end, all they accomplished was wasting a lot of trees and throwing out a few trillion worthless sound bytes, because they can no more predict how the draft will go than they can tell us if it's going to rain on any particular day 2 months from now.

They'll break down teams position by position, list their needs in order of importance, ask and answer their own questions, go into "character" issues, tell you how this or that guy fared at the NFL combine, recount their college careers, and probe into every other aspect they can find. I wouldn't be surprised if they knew how much money the tooth fairy normally left under their pillows. They have all the data, but there's just one problem. None of them have a clue how it will eventually play out. Mel Kiper would seem to be the poster child for this nonsense. Here's a guy that's probably made millions by knowing every statistic on every player and team, then predicting the order in which they will get drafted -- by who -- and why. Thing is -- I can't remember him ever getting anything right. I wonder if he's related to Matt Millen somehow.....

Which brings me to the Lions. You name the position (and yes, that includes quarterback -- (if he can't play, what good is he?) other than defensive linemen, and they need help. So what do they draft with their first pick? A defensive lineman. Only the Lions could come up with a pearl of wisdom like that. That's like the Red Wings having 4 goalies, the Tigers having 4 catchers, or the Pistons having 4 point guards. They might all be very good players, but they can't all participate at the same time, which in turn weakens the team elsewhere.

There's a better way to go about this business.

First, the Lions need to draft an owner. Can't be done, you say? Wrong. There's a way. More about that next time.