Sweaty Men Endeavors

The sports blog with the slightly gay name

Friday, April 28, 2006

I'll drink a draft instead of watch one, thanks

I have been a huge fan of the NFL Draft. I'm one of those guys who set aside the majority of a late-April Saturday afternoon to see the bad teams pick from the pool of top college players, vicariously living the life of a NFL general manager and amping up my anticipation for the upcoming season as my beloved Detroit Lions got the piece that might finally push them out of the mediocrity muck.

That's really what it's all about. I don't know what it's like in other cities that have good football teams, but in Detroit, the NFL Draft is akin to the Super Bowl for Lions fans. It's a day of hope. Possibility. Promise.

But in the weeks and days before the 2006 NFL Draft, flipping through the various draft previews on magazine stands, and scrolling through assorted mock drafts on the internet, I noticed something very strange happening. Feelings inside my chest and brain that I hadn't experienced before. After some introspection and self-evaluation, I've figured out exactly what this is.

Apathy. I'm very close to not giving a $#!+ about this year's draft. And I never thought I'd say that.

When blogs like Trade Down! popped up, I was intrigued and checked it out regularly. Who were the top prospects at each position? Who were the sleepers? Who would be a good fit for the Lions? It was water for a thirsty man, especially after suffering through another miserable season.

But now, it's too much. You really can have too much of a good thing. And what are we really talking about here. As Alex Williams wrote in last Sunday's New York Times, it's "sports without the sports."

As could be expected, one of the chief culprits of beating a topic until it's pulped, flat, and lifeless is ESPN. For the love of Mel Kiper, how many "NFL Draft Specials" do they need to show? It's been the majority of ESPN's prime-time programming this week. Major League Baseball? Nope. NBA playoff games? Nah. Three to six to nine guys deliberating over who's the best quarterback between Matt Leinart, Vince Young, and Jay Cutler, who might trade up or trade down, while making jokes about the Detroit Lions taking another wide receiver for two-hour chunks at a time? Okay, sure.

How many times do I need to read that the Texans will pick Reggie Bush, A.J. Hawk will go to the Packers, and the Lions will opt for Michael Huff? Jokes about the Lions taking another wide receiver are about as fresh as Brokeback Mountain cracks. (No offense to you, Complete Sports. Your joke was actually pretty funny. But oh my God, if the Lions took Chad Jackson over Santonio Holmes...) Don't get me wrong; there are some good mock drafts out there (such as those already mentioned). And I know putting some thought and knowledge into those, not to mention just typing out all of those names, takes a lot of work.

This isn't me as William Shatner talking to Star Trek fans from that Saturday Night Live skit. If I'm coming across that way, I certainly don't mean to. Because I understand it. For people who love the NFL Draft and follow it closely, I've been there with you. I've let those beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoons go by while I sat in a room dimly lit by a TV screen, with a draft preview magazine, a bag of Ruffles, and onion dip nearby.

I'm not Michael Wilbon. I don't hate the NFL Draft.

And I'm not washing my hands of it. I've looked over the available players too, and if Huff is there for Detroit at the ninth selection, I'll be a pretty happy guy. You want your first-round pick to make an impact, and I think Huff would definitely do that for the Lions. (In a perfect world, I'd want D'Brickashaw Ferguson or Hawk, but hey, that one extra win over the Saints at the end of last season meant something for the pride of the franchise. And that's worth not having the second pick in the draft. Excuse me while I repeatedly hit myself in the head with a football wrapped in a Lions jersey.)

But I'm not giving myself over to it tomorrow. Not when it's supposed to be a sunny, 70-degree day. As I said, I've already given up enough of those. As Brian and I discussed a couple of weeks ago while talking about the Lions and the draft, watching the whole thing play out takes so much time - especially when your team picks ninth. By the time it's done, you're wondering what happened to all of the hours you thought you had.

Surely, this is yet another example of the Lions beating me down, snatching away my love of something and taking a big steamy, drippy $#!+ all over it. Maybe I feel like a sucker, having defended Matt Millen for doing what I thought was a good job with a draft. But after looking back at Millen's drafts, it's no mystery as to why the Lions have been stuck in NFL Hell. Two, maybe three, of his six first-round picks have worked out. Sure, mistakes happen and players are overrated, but you can't miss on those players. Those are the guys that need to be the rocks on your roster, the difference makers.

You know what it really comes down to? Fear. I'm afraid to see what Millen will do. And I'm terrified that my nightmare scenario (which SportsCenter's mock draft played out yesterday) will occur: the Lions will have no choice but to take a quarterback because those are the best players available and the guys they really wanted will be gone. I can't watch that.

Tell me once it's over, and I'll take a look. Until then, however, it'll be too painful.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

When Durham Bulls attack

So I missed last night's Pistons-Bucks game. I know, I know - it's the playoffs. Every game counts. But I, uh, had dinner plans that I couldn't change. I realize if I was on a date with a nubile young female or putting together a business plan for superstardom, I'd get a pass from sports fans. But Sweaty Men Endeavors has a covenant with the people, so I'm going to be honest and tell you that it wasn't like that. Yes, there were females. But no superstardom. And no sports.

(Hey, how'd that game go, anyway?)

Rather than subject you to a live blog of my evening at La Shish, however, I thought we'd talk about a young man who appears to have a bit of an anger management problem. And if you'd like, we can even stretch and say it's almost Detroit sports-related, since the gentleman in question is the younger brother of one of our fighting Motor City Kitties. I caught the news on ESPN's crawl last night, while watching Baseball Tonight. It was one of those "Say what?!" blurbs that makes you want to rewind the tape, except you're not watching a tape, you're watching a live broadcast, so you have to wait for the loop to run full circle.

If you haven't already heard, Durham Bulls outfielder Delmon Young, perhaps the top prospect in minor league baseball, was ejected last night from a game against the Pawtucket Red Sox for throwing his bat at an umpire.

Here's a description of the incident by Paul Kenyon of the Providence Journal:

Batting with two on and no outs in the top of the first, Young was called on out strikes. As Pawtucket catcher Corky Miller stepped in front of the plate to make sure the runners stayed where they were, Young lingered at the plate.

"I heard the umpire say, you better get going," said Miller, who thought the strike call was correct. "I turned around and saw he was still in the box. I didn't hear him say anything. I think he took a little too much time."

As Young began to walk away, the umpire ejected him. Young was four or five steps away when he realized he had been thrown out. He turned and flipped the bat underhanded at the umpire. The bat was going end over end as it struck the umpire in the chest and shoulder.

Complicating the matter is the presence of replacement officials, in lieu of the regular minor league umpires being on strike. As the replacements have reportedly received threats, teams aren't releasing the names of the umpires. (The Association of Minor League Umpires, as you might imagine, has no such qualms.) So the guy on the business end of Young's bat toss was kept from the media after the game.

Young had no post-game comment, which might have been the smartest thing he did all night. While sitting in time-out back in his hotel room, perhaps young Delmon contemplated the explosiveness of his temper, which has become something of a problem. Last year, he was suspended three games for bumping an umpire (though he may have been mad about playing for a team called the Biscuits - it's unclear). He also demonstrated a loose grip on the bat in times of anger when he threw his bat in the air after being hit by a pitch. (The bat landed about 20 feet from the pitcher.)

Delmon, what's up with that? Why the chip on the shoulder, son? Did you already spend your $4 million signing bonus? Are you pissed about the Devil Rays not calling you up to the majors, while Damon Hollins somehow holds a spot in the Tampa Bay outfield? (Don't be mad about Joey Gathright, though. Fantasy baseball owners need those stolen bases, okay?) Or maybe you're frustrated that big brother Dmitri was off to such a slow start before going on the DL. (If that's the case, Detroit fans hear you on that.)

I guess what I'm trying to say, young Delmon, is turn that frown upside-down. Things aren't so bad. Hey, I have a bad temper, too. Just yesterday, in fact, I almost cut down my neighbor's tree because one of its thorny branches nearly poked me in the eye while I was mowing the lawn. But I took a deep breath, walked away, sat on the porch with a bottle of water, and thought about all the falafels, hummus, and bread I'd stuff in my face later in the evening.

Visualization, Delmon. Take yourself to a better place. Think about what makes you happy. You have friends here, Delmon. We're all rooting for you. Well, except for that guy you threw the bat at last night. He might still hold a grudge.

(Meanwhile, what should we set the over-under at for Delmon's suspension? 10 games? 25? 30? I'm going to say 15.)


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Overhang hangover

With last night's premiere of a new Tiger Stadium documentary, Stranded at the Corner, at Detroit's Gem Theatre, I'm reminded of something that struck me over the weekend. I was looking at images of the New York Mets' new ballpark, and noticed that plans call for an upper deck overhang in right field, resembling one of Tiger Stadium's most distinguishing characteristics. This will join the Texas Rangers' Ameriquest Field, which also has a "home run porch" in right field (and is actually much more reminiscent of Tiger Stadium's architecture).

I'm not someone who laments the loss of Tiger Stadium. (I certainly hate that the old ballpark is being left to rot, and wish Detroit would do something with that land, but that's probably a post for another day.) I happen to like Comerica Park, despite assorted foibles such as an upper deck too far from the field, the ill-situated left-field scoreboard, and outfield fences that are probably a bit too deep (though the Tigers have taken steps to fix those).

I guess I just find it curious that two other modern ballparks thought so much of a feature that was distinct to Tiger Stadium that they've incorporated it into their respective designs. It feels like another city took something that was "ours." And that bugs me.


Thinkin' baseball this morning

▪▪ I thought Tim Salmon was out of baseball, but there he was, hitting a home run against the Tigers last night. Maybe Mike Scioscia called Salmon back for a night because he had five previous homers against Kenny Rogers. You think? No, you're right.

As 6-4-2 writes, it was a special moment for Salmon, his intro music, and the fans that have followed him throughout his career.

▪▪ The Detroit News' Tom Gage is trying to rain on my Tigers parade. He's right about Jim Leyland benefiting from an infusion of young talent and a healthy roster, two luxuries Alan Trammell didn't have last season. But Leyland deserves credit for pouncing on old tendencies with the "it's not good enough" speech last week, and his deft handling of the bullpen so far. Joel Zumaya, Todd Jones, and Fernando Rodney have all benefited from Leyland patiently letting his relievers work their way out of jams early in the season. Let me enjoy this, Tom.

▪▪ "Rule 5" draft picks are in vogue with the early success of Chris Shelton, which led Rob Neyer to post his All-Time Rule 5 team at ESPN.com.

▪▪ So what's with all the home runs early in the season? Baseball Musings addressed the smaller strike zone theory a week or so ago (which Neyer and Alan Schwarz also discussed on ESPN's "Baseball Today" podcast last week), along with the possibility that the steroid ban is affecting pitchers more than hitters.

In Sunday's Washington Post, Dave Sheinin also listed steroid-less pitchers among his plausible theories, which include baseballs wound more tightly, warmer weather in the Midwest and East, terrible pitching, and players finding loopholes in MLB's steroid policy.


Monday, April 24, 2006

Pistons 92, Men in Tights 74

This might be the haze from sitting in front of a computer for a few hours (I think Eno predicted this would happen), but when Drew Sharp writes that Richard Hamilton was the best player on the floor last night, I have to agree with the man. (It wasn't easy to type that.) Not only was Rip the Pistons' second-leading scorer with 21 points, but he was fierce on defense, making Michael Redd's night miserable.

As the Freep's Krista Latham points out in her game recap, Redd's only baskets (four of them) were scored on drives to the basket. Hamilton didn't give him any room to breathe on the perimeter. His growth as a player, both offensively (with his three-point shooting) and defensively, has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of the Pistons season.

Redd might have a breakout game in him, which could give the Bucks one win in the series. But if not for that, I don't see how Milwaukee can give Detroit much to worry about. The Pistons started out the game too hyped-up, which resulted in poor shooting and kept the game tight. But once those nerves were calmed down, the men in tights didn't have a chance.

And that leads me to my biggest question from last night's game: What the #@$% was with those tights? I mean, Pistons fans accused Joe Smith of wearing tights while he played here, but I always thought that was a figurative criticism for being such a pansy in the frontcourt.

Ah, okay - apparently, they've been rockin' out the Lycra all season long. No wonder David Stern wants to ban those things next season. If one player wears them for "medical reasons," that's one thing. But when almost the entire team breaks out the leggings, it looks, well, kind of silly.

I do see one benefit, however: If Andrew Bogut insists on looking like he's auditioning for Fame, then 'Sheed simply has to knock him around in the post. You can't get outscored or rebounded by someone dressed as a member of the Joffrey Ballet (and, at times, plays like it, too). What do you say to Ben Wallace when you go back to the bench or stand in the huddle?

But anything that keeps 'Sheed in the paint, working the ball near the basket with strong moves and short jumpers, is a good thing. Bogut, like his teammates, was completely overmatched last night.

Oh, and a note to Michael Hunt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (who very smartly doesn't go by "Mike"): It's not boring when you win the game. You need new material, buddy.

(Photo by Clarence Tabb, Jr./ Detroit News)


Love that pitching!

The road continues to be berry, berry good to the Tigers. Of course, the Mariners' hitters were very, very kind to Detroit's pitchers. But that's probably not giving the Motor City Kitties enough credit.

Consider the competition, but the Tigers' pitching was outstanding during a three-game sweep of Seattle. Between the three of them, starters Mike Maroth, Nate Robertson, and Justin Verlander (YAY! We got to see him on TV!) only allowed one run over the weekend. And though the bullpen had its shaky moments, particularly Todd Jones' taking us back to the days of the "roller coaster" on Friday and Joel Zumaya allowing three runs yesterday, they got the Mariners out when it counted most. But the Tigers' best reliever right now, as Billfer pointed out, is probably Fernando Rodney. Jones got the save on Sunday because he pitched the ninth, but Rodney was in during the game's most important situation.

Zumaya, Rodney, and Jones look like a pretty fearsome late-inning threesome, giving the Tigers the type of bullpen they wanted last season with Kyle Farnsworth, Ugueth Urbina, and Troy Percival.

And the offense? Hey, it was good enough. Even when it looked like the Tigers might give themselves a cushion yesterday, after Craig Monroe's three-run homer, it turned out they really needed those runs. Don't the good teams combine good pitching and timely hitting? It's looking more and more like Detroit deserves to be placed in that category.

At the risk of repeating myself, however, I hope the Tigers maintain their focus for the next three games against Anaheim Los Angeles. At 10-9, the Angels look like they might still be trying to find themselves, so Detroit could be catching them at the right time. And the front of their rotation is going, which certainly won't hurt. No need to settle for a .500 West Coast road trip. Not when they're playing this well.


It began with the Wings

How great was yesterday for Detroit sports fans? Did you spend all day frequently checking the TV, or did you just park yourself in your favorite chair for eight hours? (With requisite bathroom and food breaks, of course.) You had the Red Wings-Oilers playoff game on in the early afternoon, Tigers-Mariners in the late afternoon, and Pistons-Bucks capping off the evening.

There was yard work to be done at Casa de Casselberry, so sacrifices had to be made. Tough choices. So that meant the Red Wings didn't get all of my time yesterday. (Staying up through Friday night's double overtime helped with my justification. It's not like the Wings didn't get any attention from me this weekend.)

I won't break the whole day down, as Michael Rosenberg did in today's Detroit Free Press. (Who got the better end of the deal? He attended both the Wings and Pistons games, which seems like the type of day I would've loved to have while dreaming of being a sportswriter. But hey, I was able to take a late-morning nap. Is enjoying the simple pleasures a sure sign of getting old?)

But during the staff meeting at the Sweaty Men Endeavors office this morning, we decided that each game from such a big sports day needed to be addressed. So in the interests of time (yours and mine), I'll try to keep my thoughts short.

First, the Red Wings' 4-2 loss to the Oilers, which ties their playoff series at 1-1:

The Wings need to score more goals. Hi, my name is Mr. Obvious. But I've been out of this hockey thing for a while and need to get re-acclimated.

To me, it seems like they need to change their style a bit to make that happen. Crisp passing and pretty playmaking isn't going to get it done, because Edmonton's defense is too tight. So charge the net more. Plant someone in front of Dwayne Roloson. Keep throwing the puck at the net. You might get a rebound. The goalie might get tangled up. Isn't that how Henrik Zetterberg scored the Wings' second goal on Sunday?

So much for the "new NHL," right? Sure, it's ugly, but look how the series has gone so far. Kirk Maltby has scored two goals. Jason Williams' score yesterday found the net on fluke bounces off the defenseman and goalie. Not exactly classic, draw-it-up-on-the-dry-erase-board strategy.

But maybe the Wings are already doing that enough and lost largely because of two costly turnovers. If so, then things should be okay. However, this ain't the first time a more talented Detroit team has lost because the opponent prevented them from showing off their skills. If that's the case, start creasing your forehead with worry.

▪▪ Here's Abel to Yzerman's take on yesterday's game. (Much, much better than mine, but hey, I'm trying to make up for it through hard work.)

▪▪ Radio Free Detroit also has excellent analysis for you.

▪▪ And for several thoughts on the series, as well as the overall NHL playoffs, check out what Off Wing Opinion has collected.

Tigers and Pistons stuff to come...

(Image from "Calvin and Hobbes" ©2006 Bill Watterson/ Universal Press Syndicate)


Friday, April 21, 2006

Fighting for a win

It's still early in the season, but is it possible that the Tigers' ninth-inning rally over Oakland yesterday was the kind of game that could serve as a team's turning point? (Maybe "tipping point" is the more appropriate term.)

Brandon Inge's 15-pitch battle with Justin Duchscherer almost seemed to be a direct response to those who have criticized the Tigers for not extending at-bats and making pitchers work. By the time Inge fouled off nine straight two-strike pitches to fight his way on base, Duchscherer (subbing for the chest-strained Huston Street) had nothing left for Curtis Granderson and walked him in for the go-ahead run.

The best line goes to Jim Leyland, however, for describing Inge's at-bat as lasting for "one-and-a-half Marlboros." I considered taking up smoking myself after the fifth foul ball. (Just kidding, Mom.)

Throw in Jeremy Bonderman sticking it out for six more innings, after giving up three runs in the first, with Fernando Rodney hanging tough after loading the bases in the ninth and getting the win, and you have what Billfer called "comeback jubiliation." Hell, I stood up out of my chair and yelled when Rodney struck out Adam Melhuse to end the game. (Back to the set-up role for you, Fernando.) I can't remember the last time I did that while watching the Tigers.

But it's only a turning (or tipping) point if Detroit carries that same resolve to Seattle and Anaheim for the next six games. If they slide into old tendencies, act as if their work for the road trip's already finished with the two wins in Oakland, play lethargically against the Mariners, and then try to get it all back against the Angels, yesterday's comeback might not mean a whole lot and Leyland could blow his stack for the second time in as many weeks.

The next week could give us a much better idea of what kind of baseball team we'll have in Detroit this summer.

(Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

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This is me, trying to "bring it"

Back in October, in the burgeoning days of this blog, I fell into the conventional thinking that the Red Wings might struggle in the "new," post-strike NHL. And Susannah (whose musings you can read at Pub of Knowledge) called me out on it, saying I shouldn't just assume that the championship days were over in Hockeytown. As the Wings begin the NHL playoffs tonight, I thought it was worth pointing out Suz's hockey wisdom.

And thankfully, both Detroit newspapers have playoff primers today (well, sort of), so fair-weather hockey fans such as myself can get up to speed after somehow ignoring the regular season. Yes, sir - that Devils-Rangers series should be a good one. Brother against brother in New York, I hear. And you always have to watch out for the Avs in the playoffs. Yep.

... Man, I am going to be clueless.

You know, I hate that I've become this kind of hockey fan. I wasn't always like this. (However, I'm not the only one, judging from how little fanfare the Red Wings received in Detroit through the winter.) Wake me when the playoffs begin. Oh, and wake me when the puck drops for the Wings' inevitable West Coast starting times. ("Yeah, they went into triple overtime with the Ducks last night, and I stayed up for the whole... thing... Actually, the game just ended before I came into work. Hey, did anyone make coffee?")

I used to call in sick to work or skip class (there's a reason it took me so long to finish college) to watch Red Wings playoff games. Friends and family thought I was crazy when I refused to watch the first period on TV with them, opting to listen to the radio in my car or another room because the Wings somehow lost whenever I sat down to watch the game from the very beginning. I don't have any numbers on it, but the record is good. (It works for the Pistons, too. I can't explain it.)

And now, I have to remember where OLN is on my cable system again... man, I just found it the other day - Oh wait! We have CBC here in Michigan; I'll just watch that. Between living in Iowa for two years and the NHL lockout last season, I'd forgotten that was an option. What a luxury.

▪▪ Here are real Wings-Oilers previews from Abel to Yzerman and On the Wings.

▪▪ Behind the Jersey has spanned the internet for expert predictions on the series.

▪▪ EJ Smith, my colleague at Motor City Sports Magazine, has posted his picks for the entire NHL playoffs at Radio Free Detroit (along with his NBA picks). In less comprehensive fashion, so has MLive's Ansar Khan.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Knowing is half the battle - Part 2

And now we know where Joey Harrington will be playing football next. Hopefully, you didn't order your new "#3 - Harrington" jersey with the Bengals, Chiefs, Jets, Raiders, or Broncos because Joey - cue that Will Smith CD you bought for a party once - is going to Miami. (Believe me, it was hard to get a head start on my Christmas shopping for my Joey-adoring mother and sister with all that uncertainty going on.)

And just so we get this straight, Joey ain't askin' the Lions to trade him to the Dolphins, he's saying that's where he's going to play. Period. Don't bother trying to work out a deal with another team anymore (which wasn't really going that well for Matt Millen, anyway).

"I look forward to joining the Miami Dolphins whenever I am released or a trade is completed," Harrington said in a press release issued by his agent.

"I'm going to Miami," he said to Mitch Albom, while taking a field trip in Washington D.C., presumably to check out the cherry blossoms, rather than waiting to greet the Wizards before they head to Cleveland to take on the LeBrons.

And it's probably a savvy choice by Harrington. Daunte Culpepper won't be ready to start the season for the Dolphins. Hell, I'd be surprised if he plays at all in 2006. I'm no doctor, as you know, I'm a blogger, but that kind of injury - all three ligaments in the knee torn - used to reserve you a seat on the retirement train. Even if Culpepper recovers, who's to say he'll be able to play right away? So with a team that looks like a playoff contender, Miami needs to make sure it has a quarterback. Hellooooo, Joey.

You think Joey is doing this to at least slightly stick it to the Lions for wasting the first four years of his career? No? Not even a lil' bit? Just a smidge? Nah, you're probably right. The fact that Miami can't give Detroit what it wants - a fifth or sixth-round draft pick - because the Dolphins don't have picks in those rounds this year, and thus will content themselves with waiting until the Lions release Harrington in June is surely incidental. A big ol' co-win-kee-dink.

Knowing is half the battle - Part 1

So now we know. Washington, Chicago, and Indiana all won last night, which means Milwaukee was issued the golden ticket of a first-round match-up with the Pistons in the NBA playoffs.

Hey, at least it wasn't Indiana. Did you want Pacers-Pistons in the first round? If Indiana can make their way to a later-round series against Detroit, so be it. I'll take another year of that. But I'd prefer to go a season without highlights of "THE BRAWL" and watching Jermaine O'Neal suffer through another injury-plagued postseason.

Meanwhile, I don't think the last two weeks of Detroit Pistons basketball will be included in the DVD of the 2005-06 season. Unless there's an extras disc for DVDs shipped to Argentina for Carlos Delfino fans. He notched another 17 points in last night's 16-point, "Can we please begin the playoffs now?" loss to the Wizards. Bright side for Washington? If/when the Pistons win the NBA title, the Wizards can claim they swept the champs in the regular season. Gilbert Arenas can use that line with the ladies all summer long.

Playoff fun begins Sunday night at the Palace. Wouldn't it be great if the Pistons swept, if for no other reason than the series wouldn't last a full two weeks? (Hey, lay off TNT - they have Law & Order reruns to show, man.)

(Photo by Clarence Tabb, Jr./ Detroit News)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Hey, did you hear Jim Leyland got mad?

It's too late for me to write about the Leyland tirade, isn't it? I kind of presume that everyone reading this blog reads most of the same blogs I read. So you've already read the other takes from Eno, Knobler, T-Fos, and Billfer, right? And then there's Big Al's Leyland-Fife comparison. Didn't miss that, did you? Of course you didn't.

Good choice by me to post something about the Pistons watching the clock until the playoffs begin, rather than the "Get your heads out of your @$$es!" outburst we've been waiting for ever since Leyland took the Tigers job, by the way.

When I first heard about this on the radio, I thought it was too early in the season to go ballistic, and Leyland could be on his way to a Dick Vermeil-esque burnout. On the other hand, Monday's "on a jet plane" loss to Cleveland was exactly the right time for it. Leyland was dead-on: Settling for a split, for "just enough," has been the last decade-plus of Detroit Tigers baseball. And those days have to be over if any progress is to be made.

After reading stories by Tom Gage and Danny Knobler today, however, it seems apparent that Leyland needed this as much as the players. He had to make sure he still had the fire. He needed to see if he could still storm into a clubhouse and send players scurrying into their lockers. Could he still bring the hammer? Now we all know the answer is emphatically yes.

But Leyland himself says it's "forgotten," so I won't push it. I don't want him yelling at me. I'm a very sensitive man. My lower lip might quiver. Because of the cigarette breath, that is, not the actual yelling.

▪▪ If you ever wondered what Leyland would look like had he been the manager of the Sunnydale baseball team on 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' check out what my main (wo)man Sam(ela) gave us at Roar of the Tigers.

▪▪ Did you read this? Jason Beck posted a funny story about another Leyland tirade back in his Florida days, where he went into the locker room not once, but three different times to chew out the players.

▪▪ At The Detroit Tigers Weblog, Billfer is concerned about Justin Verlander's pitch count last night in Oakland. (Tiger Tales raises the same concern.) Maybe Leyland was taking out his remaining residual anger on poor Justin by leaving him out there for 121 pitches (at least one of which was clocked at 101 mph).

▪▪ You think Pittsburgh Pirates GM Dave Littlefield is sick of answering questions about Chris Shelton by now? Littlefield makes two different mea culpas to MLB.com (via Jason Beck) and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (via Buster Olney).

▪▪ Are my eyes telling me the truth? The Tigers actually on TV tonight? Of course, it's a West Coast game, so I don't know if I'll be staying up to watch it. Maybe if I take a nap after posting this...

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Playing out that string

Have you ever been at a party where you were just dying to leave, but couldn't? Maybe you didn't drive, and the person whom you rode with is having a good time and doesn't want to go. Or the festivities are at your place and there are people who insist on sticking around until you chase them out with a chef's knife?

I think that's how the Pistons are feeling right now.

Last night was the equivalent of skipping the last week of classes, taking "mental days" before final exams. Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, and Lindsey Hunter were inactive for the game against Milwaukee, indicating the evening's true priorities: Just stay healthy, let the "owies" heal, and play out the rest of the schedule. As could be expected, the Bucks took advantage of their free pass and scored a 20-point victory.

Did it matter? Of course not. Detroit clinched home-court advantage throughout the playoffs last week. On Sunday, they set a franchise record for wins in the regular season. Season's over, man! If the NBA would've allowed the Pistons to forfeit the final two games vs. Milwaukee and Washington, they probably would've.

But since they had to play the games, Flip Saunders decided to see what he has on the bench, which has arguably cost the team a handful of victories, but is something many observers have been pleading for - especially over the past few weeks. So the reserves ruled last night, probably best indicated by Maurice Evans disrupting Ben Wallace's pre-tip-off routine of sprinkling rosin powder on the scorer's table. Oops. Hey, give Mo a break - he was a starter.

Carlos Delfino hopefully reminded Flip that he can be a force off the bench, with 18 points. Hell, Dale Davis and Kelvin Cato (who might not be on the playoff roster) got to play, too! But the story of the evening, if you'll pardon me paraphrasing The Who, is that the kids were alright. Alex Acker? Four assists. Jason Maxiell? 11 points and 12 rebounds. And how about Amir Johnson? 18 points on 6-for-6 shooting. (Okay, Bobby Simmons scored 10 points on the kid, but let's stay positive.) Nothing like giving everyone a little bit of confidence before the playoffs begin next Sunday.

One more dress rehearsal against the Wizards. Maybe Gilbert Arenas will wear himself out again, seeking vengeance on that mean ol' Flip Saunders, who had the sheer temerity to only give a few minutes to Mr. Gilby in the All-Star Game, thinking it might send a message to the championship favorites. Meanwhile, the Pistons will keep their eyes on the prize, waiting for the Bucks, Pacers, or Bulls to bring it on.


Monday, April 17, 2006

"Bloggers Night" at the Fish

This is the true story of three strangers - each of them bloggers (running multiple blogs, at that) - who agreed to spend their Friday evening at a Michigan baseball game, chatting about the woeful Detroit Lions and the upcoming draft, the promising Detroit Tigers and the merits of Brandon Inge, intro music for batters walking to the plate (preferably heavy metal), photography (Where's a telescopic lens when you need it?), and embarrassing 80s music (Journey #@$ing rules, man!), while also consenting to be photographed.

From left to right, we have Brian who works his boo-tay off on Big Ten Hardball (and Beyond Boxscores), the world-famous Sam(ela) of Blue Cats and Red Sox fame (along with Roar of the Tigers), who's pursuing approximately a half-dozen degrees from the University of Michigan and has apparently found a way to add five extra hours to the day, and yours truly, the Fried Rice Thinker and chronicler of sweaty men endeavoring, who's crushing poor Sam's left shoulder with his gigantic melon and appears to be reaching to give Brian a pinch on the caboose (much to the amusement of the woman behind us with hand to mouth).

It was a rockin' good time at Fisher Stadium on Friday night, huddling up with a couple thousand of our closest friends, and watching Michigan spank Ohio State like a brat acting up at the grocery store, 14-3. (Michigan went on to sweep the weekend from the Buckeyes, which threw the Big Ten standings out of whack, and sent Mr. Big Ten Hardball scractching his head.) There was dancing, singing, and a couple of cars dented and smashed by foul balls. (Oh, that poor guy from Ohio...) Despite minor disagreements between Sam and I over the suitability of Run DMC's "It's Tricky" as intro music, and faced with the abject horror of my confessions of love for 80s power ballad bands, our evening of college baseball was very pleasant.

I hope we get to do it all again, at a ballpark near you.

If you'd like to see more photos from the game, check out Big Ten Hardball (which is filling a void you wanted filled, whether you realize it or not) and Samela's Flickr labor of love. You will get no more pictures from me, as I still have yet to join the digital camera revolution, pending an upcoming birthday.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

Today's note for the Tigers

Dear Detroit Tigers pitchers,

Just a thought, but maybe you shouldn't give Jim Thome anything to hit today.

Okay, I understand - you need to see if the kid can blow Thome away with his cheese. But just one at-bat. And only if the bases are empty.

Dude is killing us. Just in case you didn't know.

You're still my guys. Who's my Tiger? All of you.

But try something new. Let somebody else beat you today.

Ian D. Casselberry

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Learning from the enemy?

Today's Chicago Sun-Times has a brief item in its White Sox notebook about Paul Konerko's familiarity with Tigers hitting coach Don Slaught.

If you didn't already know, Slaught's company, RightView Pro, provides instructional software, graphics, and video technology to personal trainers, amateur and professional coaches, and major league ballplayers throughout the country. (Here's a Detroit News feature on Slaught from last December.)

White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker is a big believer in Slaught's instructional techniques (lending his endorsement on the RightView Pro front page), and recommended Konerko talk to Slaught a couple of years ago when he was struggling with his swing.

But the Tigers' performance with the bats so far this season might be the best testimonial to Slaught's tutelage. You already knew they were swinging some heavy lumber in their first six games, but Tiger Tales compared the Tigers with the rest of the American League yesterday, confirming just how impressive they've been: First in runs scored, home runs, slugging, and OPS, and third in batting average.

Think we'll get a game in this afternoon? Clouds are rumbling, lightning's flashing, and the skies are looking dark and gray here in southeastern Michigan.

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Monday, April 10, 2006

Blog Hooky at the ballpark

Today's Opening Day in Detroit, which means it's a local holiday and plenty of people will be playing hooky and getting hammered around Comerica Park (and the old Tiger Stadium) for most of the afternoon.

Spring is now officially in the air. For one day, everyone's a baseball fan around here. And this year, the people seem especially eager to embrace our tied-for-first-place Detroit Tigers (after approximately 4% of the schedule has been played) as they arrive triumphantly at Comerica Park to play the defending World Series champion Chicago White Sox. So reality could come crashing in fast this week, but for the past seven days, it's been damn fun to root for a winning baseball team.

We love playing hooky here at Sweaty Men Endeavors, and plan to stroll around the ballpark, smile and fraternize with fellow baseball fans, and skip work we're supposed to be doing. That is, until the first pitch at 1 p.m., after which I'll be heading back home since I don't have a ticket to the game (and am low on the press credential totem pole at Motor City Sports Magazine).

Speaking of MCSM, they'll be having a tailgate party from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the corner of Madison and Randolph, in the parking lot just south of the Gem Theatre. There will be a RV with banners hanging, so it shouldn't be too hard to find. Stop by and say hi, if you're in the area. And if you've ever wanted to meet a sportswriter, this is a good chance for you. I'd be happy to escort you over to Comerica Park, where you might be able to meet some of the working press.

So as much as I'd love to write about Chris Shelton's batting average plummeting two hundred points or discuss whether Ben Wallace's "I'm not going back in and you can't make me" pout deserves to place him in the same sentence as Scottie Pippen and Carmelo Anthony, I'll have to defer.

▪▪ Detroit Bad Boys was shocked at Wallace's behavior, but thinks Coach Flip Saunders handled the situation correctly.

▪▪ The Detroit Free Press' Krista Latham writes that Ben was sending a message to his teammates, more than acting out against his coach.

▪▪ Terry Foster (whom I met yesterday at a book signing) says recognizing Wallace's intent and role on the team was an important moment for Saunders as Pistons coach.

▪▪ The Detroit News' Rob Parker says Wallace and his teammates are ready to move on. I'd love to argue with that, but Big Ben's effort against Indiana yesterday seems to support that. Maybe this was a much-needed splash of cold water.

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Friday, April 07, 2006

Home! Run! Derby!

It wouldn't be completely unreasonable to get really excited about the 2006 Detroit Tigers now, would it?

Three wins, no losses? Hitters that are just - pardon me - #@$%in' flat-out mashing the ball, and suddenly treating games like batting practice? Another young pitcher coming out of the bullpen and pitching impressively?

And this wasn't even against the Kansas City Royals. These were the Texas Rangers, presumably a contender in the AL West and a more appropriate barometer for success. Of course, when Lone Star Ball has its hand over its face as the Rangers gave their fans "R.A. Dickey on the mound, Nevin and Dumpmaster D hitting 4th and 5th, and Adrian Brown hitting 7th," that should probably be taken into consideration. (And check out the comments in that open thread if you want some smiles with your morning coffee.)

The first four innings were like a SportsCenter highlight reel. I was so entranced that I completely forgot about Pistons-Heat on TNT. (How'd they do? Oh yeah? Cool.)

Hey, why is Brandon Inge leading off the game? Where's Curtis Gr-- Is that a home run? Yeah!

... You know, Inge did a pretty good job leading off last year. Maybe it would take some pressure off Granderson if-- Home run, Magglio Ordonez!

Chris Shelton's next two at-bats? Home runs. Are "Big Red" or "AROUS" appropriate nicknames for this guy anymore? How long before he outgrows those? At what point does he earn the nickname "Babe"? Babe Shelton. Tell me there's not a ring with that.

Craig Monroe? Looong gone! Marcus Thames? Touch 'em all!

R.A. Dickey? Dude gave up six home runs. He might want to reconsider this whole knuckleball thing. At least stop tossing it underhand, or whatever he was doing last night. On the bright side, he can say he tied a major league record. Can you imagine Buck Showalter and his pitching coach, Mark Connor, in the clubhouse, going over the box score like Joe Riggins and Larry Hockett in Bull Durham? ("New league record!")

Oh, and Magglio added another home run in the ninth inning. But Dickey didn't give that one up. He was probably on his way to the minors by that point.

Is Troy Percival's advance scouting really that good?

Man, I can't wait to see how the Tigers follow up that game! Hell yeah, I'll be watching their next two ga-- What's that? Next two games aren't on TV? You're kidding, right? How can every one of their opening week road games not be televised? Wouldn't you want to generate some excitement and whet Detroit fans' appetite for baseball when the home team arrives next week?

No? One-fourth of the schedule isn't on TV this season? No other team in the majors has fewer games televised. Son of a... Who the #@$% came up with that genius plan?


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

My shining moment?

I didn't pay much attention to Monday night's national championship game after halftime, but not necessarily because the score wasn't that close and UCLA had mustered only 25 points. No, I think my interest was low because the Bruins' presence in the title game ensured that I was the winner of Kevin Antcliff's Super Blogger Tournament Challenge Extravaganza.

When I say "I was the winner," however, I really mean "I was lucky as hell and just barely squeaked out a victory." And when I say "barely squeaked out," I'm talking by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin. I finished just one point ahead of Complete Sports, who not only knows a hell of a lot more about college basketball than I do, but is actually a UCLA fan, so this must've been particularly painful for him.

However, he's been an excellent sport and taken his loss like a man, posting a salute to the winner, as was agreed upon by each participant in Kevin's Happy, Happy Tournament Pick 'Em and Super Fun Variety Hour.

Also gracious in defeat were the aforementioned Mr. Antcliff and Need4Sheed. (Hello to anyone who's here for the first time because of their links, by the way. I hope you keep coming back, by the way.) You guys are making me blush. Seriously. But keep your chins up. Just remember, we're all winners. I just happened to be more superior (not way more, just a smidge totally more) than you in this one instance. If it's any consolation, I spilled salsa on my sweatshirt earlier today at Qdoba, so the world still insists on keeping me humble.

And if there's one prize to be truly won from this, it's that I finally got a spot on Need4Sheed's blogroll. I didn't want to beg. I didn't want to plead. But man, I wanted my blog on that list and have spent the past couple of months making serious puppy dog eyes at it. That day has finally arrived, and well, I think my blog looks damn good there. Affirmation, baby.

Natalie runs the best-looking and most fun sports blog around, in my opinion. I'm considering getting a tattoo of her Rip Hamilton cartoon head on my waiting-to-be-toned bicep. (Also in the running are Chauncey Billups on one shoulder, and David Hall on the other - bit of an inside joke if you're not in the metro Detroit area.)

Thank you kindly, ladies and gentleman. My winners' touch is now eyeing a fantasy baseball trophy. Look out!

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

It's just one game... it's just one game...

Whew! It's a good thing today is an off-day on the Tigers' schedule, because I'm still working off a sports hangover from the best sports day of the year. (Or maybe I'm just carrying the malaise from last night's national championship basketball game. Yeesh. But more on that, and its benefits for me later on.)

The hangover cost me crucial hours in being early to the blogging scene with a post-mortem on yesterday's Opening Day victory for the Tigers. So please allow me to acknowledge those who blogged before me:

  • What is an "AROUS" and is it on fire? The internet's favorite feline anarchist has the answer at Roar of the Tigers.
  • Billfer is smiling. Let's hope the Tigers can keep his (and our) frowns upside-down.
  • TigerBlog was pleasantly surprised by Kenny Rogers.
  • Jason Beck was impressed by the Tigers' focus, which is likely a sign that Jim Leyland's message is getting through.

Sure, it was only one game, and it was against the Royals, whose primary purpose should be to hold the fort on last place in the AL Central. But to me, the Tigers couldn't have had a better Opening Day showing because some important questions were answered right away:

▪▪ How would Kenny Rogers, one of the team's big free-agent signings, work out?

One run and three hits in six innings; I believe the baseball intelligentsia calls that a "quality start."

▪▪ Will Chris Shelton hit as well as he did last year, now that "the book" has been written on him?

Hell, he might be even better. Kauffman Stadium could not contain "Big Red," as he hit home runs to each side of the field.

▪▪ With Todd Jones on the DL, can Fernando Rodney close out games in the 9th? (And will he ever live up to expectations?)

I believe that was a 1-2-3 ninth inning against the Royals' likely three best hitters (Grudzielanek, Sweeney, and Sanders).

▪▪ Is this Zumaya kid ready for the major leagues?

Oh man, Joel Zumaya. Walking Mike Sweeney wasn't a great way to begin, but he quickly made up for that with two strikeouts, and ended up the shining star from yesterday's game. Throwing him into a tight, late-inning situation was a savvy move by Leyland. See what the kid's got, right?

Greg Eno devoted his blog to young Joel today, calling his debut "one of the most anticipated seventh innings around here in quite some time." Royals Review said the 21-year-old rookie was "filthy." ESPN.com's Buster Olney raved about Zumaya's stuff, and declared him a star in the making. Everybody's favorite Detroit sports columnist, Rob Parker, said the Royals hitters were turned "into goo."

Also, Pudge Rodriguez drew a walk, which is already an encouraging improvement over last year. And Carlos Guillen reminded us of what he can do when healthy. I'm telling myself not to make too big a deal of it, as I did last year. After all, Brandon Inge has apparently forgotten how to slide into second base properly. But I'll sure as hell take at least one day to enjoy the new 2006 season.

(Photo by Orlen Wagner/ AP)


Monday, April 03, 2006

The best sports day of the year?

Does today feel like Christmas to you, too? (Minus the annoying relatives, wrapping paper, and egg nog, that is.) The first Monday in April, with Major League Baseball's Opening Day games being played in the afternoon and evening, followed by college basketball's National Championship game at night, is a sports holiday. We should all have the day off. (Here in Detroit, we're probably saving that for the Tigers' Opening Day at Comerica Park next Monday.) I would also make the case that today is the finest day on our sports calendar.

Some of you might think the opening Sunday of the NFL season is more exciting. And I wouldn't argue much with that. I'm much more likely to spend the entire day in front of the TV (especially because it's a Sunday) on that day than I will be today.

I'm not saying it's my favorite time of year. That would be September, with college and pro football getting started, and the late-season pennant races in baseball. Every weekend (and most weeknights) seems to have something at stake in the fall.

But there's something about today - with the end of one season and the beginning of another - that feels more special to me. And this will be the first time in a long time that I'll really be able to enjoy it. In the last few years, I either couldn't (or didn't) get the day off from work, or I had a paper due and ended up pulling an all-nighter because I spent all day watching TV. Of course, I could never fully enjoy watching baseball and basketball with the dark cloud of a term paper and a night of no sleep looming over my head.

Not this year. The calendar is cleared. I have the food ready. It all began with picking up the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press baseball previews this morning. And they're on my coffee table, along with Sports Illustrated's preview, ready to be read. It's time to rock. Bring on the Nats and Mets!

What makes a Hall of Famer?

Affirmation, baby. If I'm looking at this through Pistons-colored glasses and not seeing the larger picture, please let me know, but I'm not sure there's been a more underrated great player in NBA history than Joe Dumars.

While flashier guys like Reggie Miller seized the spotlight, Joe D had the more complete game, excelling on both offense and defense. If the Pistons needed him to score 30 points, he could do that. Play tough defense on the other team's top scorer? Okay. Take the ball to the basket? Yep. Knock down three-pointers? You got it. Hit all of his free throws? Absolutely.

He won two championships in his prime - earning the MVP award of the 1989 NBA Finals - and later in his career, showed his leadership qualities by willingly taking on the role of mentor, showing a younger team how to win as the torch was passed to Allan Houston and Grant Hill.

Dumars has only added to his considerable legacy by taking that winning touch to the front office, and becoming one of the NBA's top general managers (which could warrant its own Hall of Fame status). And as Terry Foster points out, he's also a good person, both on and off the court - which is exemplified by the league citizenship and sportsmanship awards he was given while he played. He absolutely belongs in the Basketball Hall of Fame, and it's great to see him inducted.

But Dominique Wilkins? A Hall of Famer? Really?

Help me out with this. Okay, he's the NBA's ninth all-time leading scorer, which obviously deserves recognition. Maybe this is harsh, but to me, 'Nique was largely a ball-hogging showboat who seemed to care more about making highlight clips and racking up points than winning games. If I recall correctly, he refused a move from small forward to shooting guard because he felt it'd cost him a spot on the All-Star team. To me, Wilkins' career is summed up by his Game 7 shootout with Larry Bird in the 1988 playoffs. 'Nique scored 48 points to Bird's 37, but the Celtics won the game.

Of course, it's not the NBA Hall of Fame, so Wilkins' college career at Georgia - where he's the fourth-leading scorer in school history, and holds the single-season record for points scored - also factored heavily into his induction.

Charles Barkley didn't win any championships either, but he got his team to the NBA Finals, dominated at a position for which he was undersized, and was highly regarded enough to be named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history.

I'd expect plenty of people to disagree with my questions about Wilkins, and maybe he just had the misfortune of playing in the same era as the great Celtics, Pistons, and Bulls teams of the late 80s/early 90s. But I guess I'm wondering what the standard for a Hall of Famer is.

Perhaps I'm influenced too much by baseball's more rigid criteria, which might be too strict. Yet it seems like basketball and football allow most everyone in. Having a good career seems enough in those sports. And maybe that's the way it should be. But to me, it seems like the Hall of Fame should represent the top level of excellence in a sport. Is that what we're really seeing here?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Sunday jibber-jabber

(Or: How I avoided yard work on an early Sunday afternoon.)

▪▪ A couple of weeks ago, Tom Zografos wrote on SportsInferno.com that no one seems to care about Steve Yzerman right now. Well, if Yzerman keeps playing as he has lately, he won't be ignored. (And if he gets 700 goals before he retires, that would definitely get noticed. But he'd have to maintain a torrid scoring pace for the remaining nine games on the schedule.)

However, I do think there's still quite a bit of apathy remaining from last year's NHL lockout. Plus, Detroit fans know how this hockey thing goes: the playoffs are what matters, right?

Ultimately, this is classic Yzerman. He doesn't want the questions about his retirement to overshadow the rest of the team, which has the best record in the NHL. He'll get all the praise and care he'd ever ask for after the curtain finally closes on his career.

(Via Abel to Yzerman, here's a piece on Yzerman from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.)

▪▪ I'm not sure if it's due to so many good baseball blogs being available, writing some baseball stuff for Motor City Sports, or just having a sports blog this time around, but I am really excited about baseball season. And I think I got carried away with the additions to my blogroll. I tried to get at least one blog from each MLB team in the sidebar. (If you give it a browse, and I think I missed any good ones, please bring them to my attention.)

▪▪ Watching Barry Bonds on TV (such as his childish, surly "Because I'm an adult and I don't have to react to anything if I choose not to" interview with ESPN's Colleen Dominguez this morning) could sap some of my excitement if I let it. Big Al already covered ESPN's glaring conflict of interest in giving airtime to Bonds' exercise in narcissism, so I'll refer you there.

Meanwhile, I hope ESPN allows its "Baseball Tonight" staff to ignore the show, and conduct themselves like analysts and journalists, and am rooting for "Bonds on Bonds" to become the lowest-rated program in the recent history of the network. And yes, I might still believe in the Easter Bunny.

▪▪ Hopefully, this isn't the beginning of a trend for the 2006 Detroit Tigers. Uh-oh. Not a good way to start the season.