Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The sorry state of Detroit sports

Yours truly recently spent a day driving all around the city of Detroit. Other than what's loosely referred to as the "Fox District", it's not a pretty sight -- to say the least. Yes, a few billionaires, notably Mike Ilitch, have revamped a few historic buildings and even constructed their own mega-baubles to house professional sports teams, in an effort to revive the long ailing city. Whether or not this was a result of their loyalty to the city, or receiving major tax breaks for building there -- which would further line their own already fat pockets -- would seem to be an interesting question.

Nevertheless, by and large, the vast majority of the city of Detroit continues to be a crime-ridden, blightful wasteland. Murders are up, streetlights are down, and they can't even seem to figure out a way to pick up and dispose of the megatons of garbage that's been piling up. BTW, years of corruption finally landed Detroit into bankruptcy, and a whole lot of people are going to get stiffed on money that was rightfully owed them before it's all over. Again -- not a pretty sight -- unless one happens to be a billionaire investor. They have a way of being immune to such things. Imagine that.

And, of course, there are the professional sports teams that bear the "Detroit" name. The Detroit Pistons, the Detroit Red Wings, the Detroit Tigers, and the Detroit Lions. On that front, things aren't looking a whole lot better either.

Late Pistons' owner William Davidson saw the wisdom in moving his team out of the woeful confines of Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit. He was even willing, temporarily, to have his team play in a football stadium (Pontiac Silverdome). To his credit, Davidson built the Palace in Auburn Hills, a first-class arena to this day, using his own money. No coercing the tax payers out of their hard earned dollars, and he built it in a place where the dreaded "eminent domain" didn't force whole neighborhoods out of their homes. Alas, the once mighty Pistons have fallen on hard times in recent years. Currently a few games out of a playoff spot, things don't look good in the near future either. Despite a new owner professing good intentions and various promotions, the Pistons struggle merely to get fans to show up for their games. It's been a decade since they won their last title, but they are currently nowhere near being even considered contenders, let alone championship caliber. Even if things go right for them, it will be at least several more years before they become relevant in a playoff conversation. Forget about the Pistons.

The Detroit Red Wings have the current longest streak of making the playoffs in pro team sports history -- some 22 years. But they're in danger of failing this year. And even if they somehow make the playoffs -- does anybody really think the Wings are contenders for the Stanley Cup? Yes, lower seeds have been known to get hot during the playoffs, and even win the Cup -- but these guys? I hardly think so. What's incredible is that there's talk of building them a brand new sparkling venue at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, when there's not a damn thing wrong with the current Joe Louis Arena they currrently play in -- likely gouging the tax payers for a good deal of the cost -- and all this while Detroit continues to wallow in billions of dollars of debt. How, pray tell, can such a notion even be taken seriously? Holy one-percenters, Batman. If Ilitch can pull THAT off, he should forget about pizza and being a sports owner and run for Senator -- maybe even President. Only those sort of folks can spout such hypocrisy with a straight face. Regardless, forget about the Wings and the Cup this year, and likely for a few more years. Ain't gonna happen.

The Detroit Tigers have had high expectations in recent years. Indeed, they have done quite well. Just last year, many Tiger fans boasted their team had the best starting pitching rotation in all of baseball, and a regular murderer's row batting line-up. They would get bounced by the Boston Red Sox in an American League playoff series. Not long before that, the Tigers were on cruise control into the World Series. The San Fran Giants would get out their brooms and sweep the Tigers away in the Fall Classic. This year, since making a few roster moves, once again the Tigers are doing their media/fan blitz trumpeting themselves as being better than ever. And the ticket prices just went up again. Go figure. Whether or not they can deliver in October and November remains to be seen. And oh, despite all the bluster, the Tigers haven't won a World Series since 1984 -- thirty years. That's a long time. Still, they definitely appear to be the best chance any Detroit team has of winning a championship in the near future.

The Lions? Well, let's see. Their recently deceased owner William Clay Ford Sr., who's teams offered up a half century of futility/comedy during his tenure, passed the team along to his wife Martha, an octogenarian herself. She came from the Firestone family. They know a lot about tires, which probably came in handy for the Ford Motor Company assembly lines. We'll ignore that little detail about some of those tires mysteriously exploding a few years back.

Maybe Martha and her three daughters, all of whom long ago vanished into the ether of the above-mentioned one-percenters, can turn this whole mess around. And let's not forget her son, Mustang Billy, who will be kept on as vice-president, in case the girls deign to accept a little male advice here and there. But isn't Bill Jr. the same guy that insisted Matt Millen was the answer to all the problems that had ailed the Lions for so many years?

Maybe the Lions are better off with the ladies being in charge. Given their pitiful history, it's worth a shot.

But in the end, like the city itself, with the possible exception of the Tigers, Detroit's in sorry shape indeed.


  1. The Lions paid for 75% of Ford Field with priavte funds.

    1. So what you're saying is -- they only gouged the taxpayers for about $125 million. Gee, what a bargain.

    2. But John, look at it this way. At least Kwame didn't get his hands on the $125 million.

    3. It's more generous than Ilitch's proposal.

    4. Both Ilitch and his pizza always seemed a bit greasy to me. But what do I know?