Thursday, March 17, 2016

Detroit. Slip-sliding away?

No, not the city itself. That became a hopeless cause long ago. Violent crime, blight, gangs, drugs, crooked politicians/corruption, and other factors collided over the years to turn it into the mess it is today.

Rather, this is about their professional sports teams. Let's look at them.

The Detroit Tigers. As the late Ernie Harwell was fond of saying, "hope springs eternal". Indeed it does at this time of year -- every year. But last time I looked, the Tigers finished in the basement of their own division last year. Sure, they went out and made a few moves in the off season hoping to shore up certain deficiencies. But it's not like they operate in a vacuum. So did every other team. The ever-faithful Tiger glass half-fullers (with the local scribes spewing the usual propaganda) always assume the optimum scenario. Players that had an off year in 2015 will bounce back to peak form. Those that were injury prone will remain healthy. With another year of experience under their belts, the "rosy prospects" will be even better. Every free agent is going to come to town and have an All-Star year. But we know it usually doesn't work out quite that way. Not long ago, the Tigers had the "best starting pitching staff in all of baseball", and a regular "murderer's row" batting line-up. Or so the fans were told. What could go wrong? Evidently, something did, and has for over 30 years. The Tigers haven't won a World Series since Ronald Reagan was campaigning for his second term as Prez way back in 1984. It's almost Orwellian. Sorry. There is little reason to think they'll pull it off in 2016 either. Much more likely is the Tigers (despite their enormous player payroll) will be a mediocre team. Maybe not wind up in the cellar again, but does anybody really think they'll improve enough to roar into the post-season? Highly doubtful.

The Detroit Pistons. They don't even play in Detroit. Haven't for forty years. Currently the Pistons are on the bubble of making the playoffs. Maybe they squeak in as an 8 seed in the rather weak Eastern conference of the NBA -- and maybe they don't. Even if they do, what will be their reward? Two things. They'll get a couple home games in the first round of the playoffs. These are major cha-chings for the owner and franchise. That's the upside. The downside is they'd be unceremoniously broomed out of the playoffs by the #1 seed Cleveland Cavaliers. Bottom line is the Pistons are at best a mediocre team and, given their current structure, don't have much of an upside in the near future either.

The Detroit Red Wings. Yep, they've made the NHL playoffs 24 years in a row -- a record. They even won a few Stanley Cups along the way. But that streak is in danger of being broken. The Wings have been slumping, the Philly Flyers have been hot as of late, and the Detroiters currently find themselves in 9th place in the East, with only 8 spots available. Upside? Like the Tigers, it's always about young prospects. Finding young Dylan Larkin in their own backyard was a terrific break. But after a hot start, he's cooled off some. Same with their goalie Petr Mrazek. For a while, he was almost unbeatable, but lately the other teams have figured him out and he's giving up goals at a rate more in line with his original resume. Their two best players, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are in their middle 30s and likely won't be around much longer. Outlook for the future? Somewhere between average and bleak. On that note consider -- nobody much calls Detroit "Hockeytown" any more. Though once considered a prime destination, in recent years star free agents have been willing to accept less money to play elsewhere. Definitely a bad omen.

The Detroit Lions. James Michener could have probably penned his longest novel of all in a documentary of the Lions' foibles over the decades. From top to bottom, this has arguably been the most pathetic franchise in the history of American professional sports. The Lions last won a game of note way back in 1957, when a guy named Eisenhower was President. Ironically enough, this was about the same time the Edsel was about to be put into production and start rolling off Ford assembly lines. True, William Clay Ford didn't buy a controlling interest in the team until a few years later. Yet history reveals an even more astounding piece of irony. Guess what day WCF officially sealed the deal to take over the Lions? The very same day, Nov. 22, 1963, that Prez John F. Kennedy was fatally shot in Dallas. DEFINITELY a bad omen. Everybody knows there have been 50 Super Bowls played and the Lions have never made it to a single one. And they also know the puddy-tats have won a grand total of one -- ONE -- playoff game over all that time. Countless generations of players have come and gone. A variety of sometimes bizarre head coaches have hit town with high hopes and limped out in shame a few years later. Out of all of them, NO head coach ever employed by the Lions has ever gone on to become a head coach again elsewhere in the NFL. Given the good-ole-boys coaching carousel that is still prevalent around the league, only one logical conclusion can be drawn. Detroit is where head coaches go to initially get rich, but eventually die. Jim Caldwell will be no different. One Bob Quinn is supposed to be their latest savior as a GM because he came from the Patriots. Seems to me, once upon a time, a guy named Matt Millen came riding into town to great fanfare. How did that work out? Bottom line? The Lions remain pretty much a mess. They don't even know who's who on their O-line. Still no decent running back, nor reliable tight end. They've got a Ziggy on the D-line who's pretty good, but the rest consists of cast-offs from other teams and a few -- there's that word again -- prospects. They've got one good linebacker, if he can stay healthy, and the secondary remains Keystone Koppish. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has put up some gaudy passing stats over the years, but never won a single playoff game. His primary target was one Calvin Johnson, who also put up good personal stats. When in doubt -- heave it in the general direction of the former Megatron. It worked a lot, but CJ took a continual beating over the years. You can't throw to a guy in double or triple coverage and not expect him to get pounded a millisecond after he catches the ball. The last couple years Johnson has rarely been able to even practice. To his credit, he showed up on game days and remained effective. Yet who can blame the guy for retiring? He's got plenty of dough. Better to get out now with his faculties still somewhat intact. The Lions' biggest weapon just took a hike and the rest of the team is underwhelming at best. Forget 2016, Lions fans might still be waiting for a Super Bowl appearance in 2026, or 2036, or 2086. But in the foreseeable future, these guys are going nowhere. The truly sad part is how the Lions and their faithful scribes will convince the latest generation of suckers that this just might be the magical year. Three words. No -- it -- won't.

All in all, things aren't looking good for the former (they don't build many cars there any more) Motown. And the outlook for the professional sports teams that still bear their name doesn't appear too rosy either.

Tis a shame. Once such a proud, thriving, prosperous city, only to see it all slip-slide away. Alas.

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