Friday, December 30, 2005

Where Is The Pistons Game Tonight?

Has this happened to you? I get home from work and begin to ponder that night's television viewing choices. After a cursory review, meaning I check the non-local stations for something that I might find interesting, I recall that the Detroit Pistons have a game that evening. It seems like clearly the best option, so off I head to Fox Sports Detroit. This is where the problems begin.

An evening with the Eastern Conference Champs and the best team in the league is hardly a bad night of tv, so let's check in on Fred McLeod and Greg Kelser. FSD is on channel 32 in my area. Three quick clicks on the old remote and I Hmmmm. Something's amiss here.

What time is it? 7:30? Their home games begin at 7:30, right? Are they on the road? No, I'm pretty sure they are at The Palace. Oh, that's right. They are probably on channel 20 tonight. I still can't get used to George Blaha on the WB. So, it's off to channel 20.

Commercial. Ok, let's grab something to eat during this lull. An appropriate, or inappropriate, snack now in hand, I return to find something other than the Pistons. Gilmore Girls, huh? Ok, I must be wrong. They must be on the road. Oh, wait a minute. It could be an ESPN game. Let's check that out.

The sports mega-station is channel 9 here. Darn national cable broadcasts trying to confuse me. Is this an ESPN coverage night? A flip over to nine reveals....more poker. I'm glad poker's most recent fifteen minutes is just about over. That's when I remember that most national games start at 8:00 p.m. Alright, then. I guess I'll check back in about a half an hour.

The 7:30 slot, now closer to 7:40, is spent flipping between channels--Fox Soccer Channel (of course), Weather Channel (cloudy, cold with a chance of snow until May), Food Network (I love that Paula Deen's cooking), BBC America and ESPNEWS (Tigers still not doing anything). Finally, eight o'clock arrives and I head back to ESPN. What do I find? Yes, poker is still on. Or something else, but sure isn't Pistons basketball. What is going on?

A quick couple of clicks reveals that the Pistons are still not on channels 32 or 20, either. Where else could this game......oh, that's right. TNT still broadcasts NBA games. Is it Thursday night on TNT and Wednesday night on ESPN? Or is it Tuesday/Thursday on TNT, Wednesday/Friday on ESPN? Or vice versa? Of course, sometimes the local coverage forces a national cable blackout. Yet, it wasn't on either FSD or WB. Wait, I'm thinking way too much. Who cares? Just change the channel.

What if it was it on TNT the entire time and I've missed a half an hour? That would be really stupid on my part. TNT, channel 31, pops up and Law & Order is on. Still no Pistons. I've got two poker tournaments, the Gilmore Girls and repeat number 7,326 of Law & Order, but not the local NBA team? Three thousand stations on my cable, including NBATV and I still can't see the best team in basketball? What gives?

That's when it hits me. Channel 4. Yes, Channel 4. The local NBC affiliate has been broadcasting Pistons games that fall between the cracks. Now, I don't know who or what determines when the Pistons end up on a station that doesn't show NBA games, but I had best check. Two clicks and lo' and behold, it's in the second quarter of the missing NBA contest. Great. It started at 7:30, but I just didn't choose the right network. Just great.

It takes me the better part of a half an hour and five stations to determine where the Pistons are this evening. Now, before I let myself off the hook, let me come clean. I own digital cable. I could have, at any point, searched the on screen options and found the precise time and channel for the game I was looking for. I also could have grabbed that day's newspaper, which contains a television guide, and see where the game was, too. I did neither.

Sure laziness was a major factor, however, to make myself feel better, I chalk it up to being old school. See, in the old days, back when I walked in two feet of snow, uphill both ways to and from school each day, the Pistons were on a single station-- Channel 50. Yeah, thirty years ago, CBS had the national television deal, but I cannot honestly recall a Pistons game on their network.

Obviously, things have changed mightly since then. As my prolonged search revealed, the Pistons can be on any of five stations and that doesn't include ABC which began their NBA coverage on Christmas Day. From here on out, I've got to check six networks to find the Pistons. That's quite a change for someone who can remember when the Pistons couldn't find a local radio partner and ended up on Canada's CKLW.

For an old school guy, who grew up with the local NBA team on a single television station, this having to "look up" to find out where the Pistons are going to be each night of the week, probably will never become comfortable. Old school may indeed be cool currently, but it isn't always terribly effective.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Odds And Ends

Here are some random things I've taken note of recently. Without trying to provide more introduction than necessary, let's get right into it.

* Colorado is going to award it's football players iPods. I guess they found some of the money ex-coach Gary Barnett didn't get receipts for after all. I love just how ridiculous big time college athletics can be.

* I will rarely say anything nice about most people in the entertainment industry. In fact, you may notice a dearth of information about them on this blog in general, nice or not. However, I was saddened to hear about the death of John Spencer of The West Wing. I enjoyed his work.

* I still cannot believe the Boston Bruins traded Joe Thornton.

* Candles have become very popular in recent years. I know lots of people, ok, women, who love them. Therein lies my problem. I have gotten candles as Christmas gifts the last few years. Now, I understand these candles are coming from those who don't know me very well, again, women, but I'm a forty something male who watches endless hours of sports. I studied history in college. Does that sound like someone who covets candles?

Yes, I'm married, but Mrs. B.B. isn't into the candle craze, either. Sure, candles are great when the power goes out and my flashlight batteries go belly-up, but aroma laden candles? Thank you. Really. Thank you. But, please stop.

* Michael Andretti is returning to Indy Car racing presumably to attempt to win the Indianapolis 500 which has eluded him. I'm not sure whether to wish him luck or wonder if he needs mental help.

* All Detroit Pistons fans, really all basketball fans, should start cramming the NBA All-Star ballot boxes (virtual or not) with the names of the Pistons starting five. You can only vote once every twenty-four hours, but get out there and vote for the best starting five in the league--Ben Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton.

* If you can't legitimately vote for all five, at least give Billups and Hamilton your vote. Yes, Allen Iverson and Dwyane Wade are spectacular, but better?

* We hear so much about customer service these days, but am I the only one who thinks for all the talk customer service is far worse than it has ever been?

* Let me see if I got this straight. The Treasury Department stopped Cuba from competing in the upcoming World Baseball Classic? First, Al Capone, now Fiedel Castro. The spirit of Elliot Ness is alive and well.

* On a slightly more serious note, the U.S. government should relent and allow Cuba to play. We played a bunch of communist countries for years in the Olympics and have all kinds of trade deals with communist China, let Castro's boys come up and play a little of our national pastime.

* After losing Johnny Damon to hated rival New York, something tells me that the Red Sox off-season is just beginning. Here is my guess as to what the Sox will do to counter the Yanks and their depleted lineup. First, they spend the winter convincing Roger Clemens to do a farewell tour in his original uniform. The Sox peddle a starter (Matt Clement is my guess) to Seattle in a deal that brings them centerfielder Jeremy Reed. The Sox will move David Wells for some bullpen help or middle infielder. They sign free agent shortstop Alex Gonzalez. Boston will probably look for a lefthanded bat for firstbase as well.

* Did you see where the Chicago Cubs might be offering Mark Prior to Baltimore in a package for Miguel Tejada? The Cubs situation is one that scares me as a Tigers fan. Not that long ago, the Cubs had the young starting rotation in the game--Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano. Now, Wood may be a closer due to ongoing arm problems. Prior, once the most coveted prospect in the game, has battled arm problems each year and is tradeable. Zambrano is now the ace of the staff.

It doesn't take much for young pitchers to fall. That's why you need so many to succeed--because so many never live up to expectations. That's why betting the farm on Jeremy Bonderman, Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya is a risky proposition. The odds are two of three will never come close to what you believe they will be. There needs to be more quality arms in the system ready to go, if they fail. (Please, don't fail, boys.)

* That's another reason why I had hoped the Tigers would have added another solid veteran arm for 2006. You can't get too much pitching. If nothing else, you can always trade some later, as the demand always exceeds the supply.

* Oh, no. Not the Twins. Anyone else worried about how badly Rondell White is going to beat on the Tigers in '06?

Hey, you made it all the way through the entire post. Congratulations. Sorry, no prizes are available, but I thank you for stopping by and actually reading this. Have a happy holiday.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Now, It's The Fans Fault

It appears that in the Bizzaro World that is Detroit Lions football, George Costanza's favorite break-up line has been turned on it's head all season long. "It's not you, it's me" has been reversed in Allen Park, Ford Field and anywhere where someone wearing Honolulu Blue may speak. These Lions firmly believe that "It's not me, it's you" when suggesting where the team's problems lie.

Since the beginning of the year, guys like Jeff Garcia, Dre Bly, Roy Williams and Charles Rogers have been looking for answers to the team's shortcomings. All have made it clear that the problem is any one, but themselves. This week, the football crying game took an unanticipated twist. Instead of hinting or plain calling out their teammates, coaches or the media, Mr. Bly aimed his finger straight at you and me--the fans.

Seems, the Pro Bowl corner just couldn't get himself jacked up for last Sunday's encounter with Cincinnati because he was just terribly depressed about the Lions' fans "Orange Out" protest. Going out to warm-up in front of so many orange clad fans in the Lions' home facility made Bly less than excited.

To his credit, Bly also made it clear that he understood that Detroit's football fans were mad and they had every right to protest. However, wearing the other team's colors was just too much for him. Now, this alone was enough for me to start typing, but it gets better.

The next day on the radio both Chris Speilman and Bill Laimbeer, two of the most notable Detroit sports figures of the last twenty-five years, concurred with Bly. Both men thought it was over the line for fans to wear the colors of the Bengals. Hey, even Kevin Antcliff, Motor City Sports Mag guy, thought the same thing. Anyone else see a tiny problem here?

Bly and Garcia, in particular, have been calling out teammates all season long. That's apparently cool. However, fans calling out Matt Millen after posting the worst five year record in football comes across as non-supportive? Telling the NFL Network that Joey Harrington is the cause of all the Lions ills is a stand-up move, but wearing orange makes you a traitor?

Bly can't get up because a small percentage of fans show up in orange for one game, but fans that have been subjected to some of the worst football in NFL history for almost fifty years are supposed to stay upbeat continually?

Bly who now proudly defends the Honolulu Blue and Silver and Black with pride also donned the Blue and Gold of the St. Louis Rams. When his current contract expires, Bly could and probably would choose to wear an entirely different set of colors on Sundays. Yet, Lions fans who opted to wear orange on a single Sunday are the disloyal members of this arrangement?

Bly and anyone in the Lions uniform can leave and change alliances at a whim. Lions fans aren't seriously considering that option. How do I know? Because they continue to show up. They aren't at home rooting for their new team on NFL Sunday Ticket. Nope, they are showing up at Ford Field every single week. Sure, a handful or two might give up their season tickets, but should the team show even a glimmer of hope, they will be back in Honolulu Blue faster than Renee Zelwegger tossed aside Kenny Chesney.

I find it interesting that when players and management make decisions we don't like, like a player leaving via free agency or the team cutting a veteran for cap reasons, they trot out the old "It's a business" line. If that's is indeed the case, and the Lions are a business, their patrons have been getting some of the worst customer service in history.

If the Lions were your wireless provider, cable television company or corner pizza joint, you would have chosen to go with the competition's product decades ago. Yet, instead of opting to root for another NFL franchise, a small, but highly visible group of Lions fans wear the opposing teams color and some players, ex-players and media-types label this as crossing the line?

Why do I find it difficult to accept that all the parties who are getting paid to provide our entertainment--players, management and ownership--have carte blanche to do whatever they wish, which includes providing an inferior product and running the franchise into the ground, but the parties actually writing checks to the Detroit Lions Football Club are viewed as the traitors for taking a visible stance in opposition?

The team that has quarterbacks that can't throw, receivers that can't catch and lineman that can't block now blames the fans for their lack of enthusiasm on gameday? What about being a professional athlete? What about mental toughness? What about all those home losses when the fans were dressed appropriately in Honolulu Blue? What caused those defeats?

What I found doubly amusing this week was that Minnesota head coach Mike Tice called out Vikings fans for doing a similar thing. Seems Tice believes that tons of Vikings fans sold their tickets to Pittsburgh fans thus filling the Purple and Gold home field with Steelers supporters. Of course, Tice viewed this action as disloyal, as well.

The same guy that the NFL had to fine for illegal selling his annual allotment of Super Bowl tickets is calling out his fans for selling their tickets? The franchise that twice has forgotten it was "On The Clock" at the NFL Draft has a head coach with the audacity to question the loyalty of its fans? Priceless.

I wonder if Bly, and to a lesser extent, Tice, understand is that the fans in their home stadium were loyal fans. They just happen to be fans of the opposition. Something I never heard Bly, Speilman or Laimbeer admit is that a bunch of the folks dressed in Bengals colors were actually from Cincinnati.

See, it's a little known phenomenon called being a good football team. Good football teams get lots of support. Even on the road. If the Lions were about to win their division with a win in Cincinnati and looked like a possible Super Bowl contender to boot, do you know how many Lions fan clad in Honolulu Blue would fill the Bengals' home? Are you kidding me?

What I think a number of people in sport have missed is how the dynamic between fans and their teams has changed. And, no, it's not because of sports talk radio, internet sites or a hostile media. Although, all of those have moved the landscape. No, what has changed the most is the money. The huge amounts that the leagues, individual teams and players now accumulate combined with the astronomical costs of owning season tickets has altered the perspectives of all involved.

Indeed, while most of us don't openly recognize the change in our attitude, it's obvious. Fans are increasingly buying into the "It's a business" excuse. We have come to accept that players come and players go. We accept, although with mindnumbing awe, the contracts today's athletes receive. We embrace salary caps. We have learned to deal with free agency, even when our team is hurt by it.

Listen to sports talk radio for any extended period of time and you will hear the changing acceptance of sport as business. A number of fans talk about transactions while looking through the pane of budgetary constraints. They talk of the cost benefits of building via the draft. They know what their team's salary cap number is right this moment. These are not the wild ramblings of fanatics. It's an acknowledgement that they understand the financial side of the game.

Conversely, these same fans are far less willing to accept poor performance over a protracted amount of time. Fifty years ago, a prolonged losing skid was bad luck. Today, it's poor drafting, poor free agent decisions and a criticism of the general manager's ability to make the franchise a winner. It doesn't matter if fans spend thousands on season tickets or hundreds on cable television, they are less tolerant of a losing franchise in an era when parity and the ability to build anew are leveling the playing field for all teams.

Their increase in spending means fans are no longer just supporters, but investors. They invest time, money and energy into their team. As such, they aren't terribly interested in excuses for failure when it's their investment is going down the tubes. They are going to demand change. More accurately, they are going to demand steady progress. It's what investors have come to expect.

Perhaps, those who opposed the Lions fans in orange this past Sunday should understand that their temporary change in fashion was a financial decision, as well. They are tired of wasting their money without getting some return on their investment. After all, it's just a business, right? Or does that excuse only count when it's being spouted by those getting the checks not by those writing them?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

For The Second Time This Year...

I agree with Drew Sharp. Maybe I would feel better if I thought Sharp was actually agreeing with me? Probably not.

Now, I don't necessarily agree with every point Mr. Sharp makes, but the general premise is that the Tigers are banking everything on an uncertain future. It's a perspective worth debating even if you aren't enamored with the idea of the Tigers making the Josh Beckett trade.

It's difficult to understand how so many players, both via trade and free agency, are on the market, yet the fourth place Tigers don't feel anyone more than Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones can help this team.

Here's an interesting tidbit courtesy of Bob Nightengale of USA Today. In his sidebar entitled, The Buzz, Nightengale states:
Tigers GM David Dombrowski told his staff that the team must have a winning season or there will be massive firings, starting with himself.
I guess I've just gone way too far off the cynical deep end, but I'm not buying this for a second. Seriously, if you were the Tigers G.M. and you absolutely had to win this year or get canned, would you place your fate in the hands of Kenny Rogers, Todd Jones and an everyday lineup as injury riddled as the Tigers have been? It just doesn't seem to make much sense.

If Dombrowski were under heat, wouldn't he make bolder moves this winter? I just can't see any G.M. thinking some minor adjustments to a fourth place club was going to save his job.

If it is true, who wants to be first to ponder the viability of Paul Depodesta or Theo Epstein?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Monday, December 12, 2005

Expectation Levels

I was going to write one of my typical hot stove league posts, but in doing my research, I came across Lynn Henning's piece in today's Detroit News. Maybe it's the weather. Maybe it's the Lions. Maybe I'm just plain nuts, but this story really has my shorts in a knot.

The bottom line in Henning's story is that the Tigers appear ready to stand pat. Expect little changes the rest of the winter. That's fine, but don't expect any changes in the standings, either. You field a fourth place team, that's probably what you are going to get. Henning contends the Tigers streak of below .500 records may end. I wonder how?

The veteran News writer, whose work I genuinely enjoy, offers up the infuriating:
The greater expectation is Detroit will play in a slew of genuinely excellent
baseball games next season. Those tight, well-played games will in many cases
become one-run losses for a Tigers team that still isn't on the same level as
Cleveland, Chicago, or -- depending upon who's pitching -- the Twins.

Mr. Henning, forgive me, but if they lose to their three division rivals, albeit in better form, how do we expect the team's prolonged sub .500 mark to vanish? If the Indians, White Sox and Twins are too much, how about Boston, New York, Los Angeles and Oakland, to say nothing of the Kansas City squad that beats the local guys far too often. Where are these 82 wins going to come from?

Again, forgive me, but I expect more. Yes, I realize where the Tigers are at in terms of talent, revenue and payroll, but I'm just not in the mood today to settle for better baseball. Oh, it's a step in the right direction, but it's still losing. Perhaps, the years of losing have lowered expectations, but I'm not ready to accept that tonight.

Again, maybe I'm just cranky because we are sleepwalking through the end of another wasted Lions' schedule, but the prospect of finishing 82-80 doesn't make me rush to call the Tigers ticket office. It doesn't make me believe that the playoffs are right around the corner. In fact, quite the contrary.

If the current thought process is to stand pat and wait for the kids to arrive, how much longer do we wait for the kids to become savvy enough to compete for the post-season? We all know that once the prospects arrive there is going to be a learning curve. We will then get to wait for our kiddie corps to grow up. Is that 2008? 2009? 2010? Longer?

I want to believe that Justin Verlander is going to be American League Rookie of the Year in 2006. I want to believe that Carlos Guillen's knee is going to hold up and he is going to be productive again. I want to believe that Jeremy Bonderman, Curtis Granderson and Chris Shelton are all going to take big steps up in 2006. I want to believe that Ivan Rodriguez will return to his Hall of Fame form. I want to believe that Placido Polanco is that good. I want to believe that the clubhouse problems will be minimized and Jim Leyland can steal a few wins along the way.

Long before Opening Day, I will probably share some of Mr. Henning's upbeat sentiment. (For the record, I attempt to make each January 1 my cutoff day for negative thought on the Tigers.) However, tonight it's cold, dark and the next big snowfall is about two days away. The last thing I need to hear is that the Tigers are content with their team where it stands--in fourth place. Forgive me, if I get a bit annoyed with the sound of that. It's probably just the weather.

My Man Earl

In case you haven't noticed, I've tried to make Beyond Boxscores a Lions-free zone for a while. I'm just tired of hearing about the Lions. It's dominating sports-talk radio. It's dominating the newspaper. Chants of "Fire Millen" are dominating arenas from Ann Arbor to Pontiac to the nation's capital (I guess Wings fans at the game against Washington struck up the oh-so-popular refrain). It's just been all Lions, all the time in Detroit and I thought I'd give you and me a break for a bit.

However, I have to stop my silence on our beloved Honolulu Blue and Silver for a moment. Not only do I want to discuss the Lions, I want to say something nice. Yes. I mean it. I have some positive to say about a Lions' player without a shred of sarcasm attached. Here goes.

Earl Holmes is having an excellent year. He should be the team MVP. He might even merit some Pro Bowl discussion except his team is so horrible, I doubt he will even get sniff.

I heard an accurate assessment of the Lions today. I think it may have been Mike Valenti at 1270am who stated "The Lions have a quarterback that can't throw, receivers that can't catch and lineman that can't block". However, Holmes is the exception to that rule.

Week in and week out all Earl Holmes does is his job--stop the guy with the ball. Holmes, who seems like he has been in pro football since the days of Slingin' Sammy Baugh, is making a ton of tackles. He has made 75 tackles to date, good for second place on the team, while missing two games to injury and only on the field in running situations.

Not only has Holmes slowed down the team the Lions face each week, he's performed so well that the line of would-be replacements for his job remain in limbo. Holmes simply outperforms his younger teammates.

I've always liked Holmes. He came to my attention all those years ago when his career began with Pittsburgh. With the Steelers, Holmes did much of what he does now--stop the opposition. Ten years later and Earl Holmes still does his job very well. He's the one Lions who does.

Friday, December 09, 2005

U.S. In Group Of Death

Italy. The Czech Republic. Ghana. Those three nations are the United States' opposition in the first round of the 2006 World Cup. My first thought? "That's not good". However, that thought lasted only a minute or so. Even after reading where many experts have proclaimed the U.S. draw as the feared "Group of Death", where nations' hopes for World Cup success go to die, I only held onto that first thought for about sixty seconds.

My second thought is the one that seems to be staying. That notion is that eventually U.S. Soccer has to beat the big boys. Why not start at Germany '06? We can all point to FIFA rankings, American players having more success in leagues abroad and winning CONCACAF, but until the U.S. Men's National Team starts dropping the big boys on the biggest stage, the United States soccer team won't get any respect outside its borders.

Does Italy concern me? Of course. They remain a super-power. The Czechs? They are, perhaps, the best team in the group. I know little about Ghana other than they got in, are ranked 50th in the world and have to be taken seriously because they are on the schedule and this is soccer.

Yet, Group E is the tabbed as the Group of Death, in part, because the United States is also in it. The boys in red, white and blue are pretty good. A solid argument can be made that they deserved Mexico's seeding. However, Mexico has history on their side. They also have what the U.S. needs to capture--international respect.

It will be hard for the Americans to achieve that, for many the '02 World Cup was a fluke for the U.S., but I know it won't happen at all until the U.S. can beat the big names--Argentina, Brazil, England, France, Italy, et al. Forget rankings, friendlies and anything else. If the United States team covets the title of soccer power they need to act like one.

Playing against football's elite is cool. Beating them is the objective. The time has come for U.S. Soccer to show the world that '02 wasn't a fluke or a fix. Bring on Italy, the Czechs and Ghana.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Tigers Land Jones And Rogers

Todd Jones and Kenny Rogers, huh? It's a start. I guess. I'm trying to warm up to the idea of the Tigers bypassing the likes of Juan Pierre (which I believe is a mistake) and landing two members of AARP for their pitching staff. Ok, I guess I'm not getting over the fact that Minnesota is rumored to be chasing down Hank Blalock and the Tigers are signing senior citizens. I just have reservations about both deals.

Look, like just about everyone else who has said or written a word about him today, I like Todd Jones. I'm happy he's back even if I have to sit through more than a few of his traditional strikeout, walk, single, forceout at second, walk, stolen base, groundout to short on three-two pitch while up only one run ninth innings. (Jim Leyland is going to go through cigarettes this year like Earl Weaver did everytime the former Baltimore manager sent Don Stanhouse to the hill late in games. Jones may provide relief, but it ain't instant relief.) Jones is a good guy and likes Detroit. He also had arguably his finest season wearing the Olde English D.

Yes, the Tigers paid more for Jones than I would have preferred. (However, you could plug the name of every other free agent signed to date into the previous sentence and it would still be accurate.) Jones is also much closer to forty than thirty and that is reason for concern. Yet, Jones is still a decent closer and most certainly an upgrade over Fernando Rodney, even if every Jones outing is a roller coaster ride. The two year contract with Jones also minimizes the Tigers risk which is something I universally embrace.

Then comes Kenny Rogers. I'm not as optimistic about The Gambler's arrival. Oh, Rogers is still a solid MLB hurler. He is also coming off a fairly nice season and leaving a hitter friendly home yard for Comerica Park, a place where pitchers should fare much better. Like Jones over Rodney, I would grudgingly acknowledge that I view Rogers as an upgrade over Jason Johnson.

So, why am I not as positive about Rogers? Yes, there is last season's mental breakdown. His abuse of the media in Texas does little to warm my heart. I just am not excited about the notion of Rogers beating on our local press. (Even though many of you secretly would love the idea if you could pick the media member.) Detroit and the Tigers simply do not need an ounce of any negative press.

There is also the fact that Rogers is over forty years old. He is a soft-tossing lefty, "crafty" would be the baseball parlance, which should help his arm, but how long much longer can he be effective? I also know that Rogers hasn't performed terrible well under the heat and I'm not talking about those muggy August days downtown. No, I'm referring to pitching under pressure. Note, his less than dazzling stint in New York and his collapse at the All-Star Game and second half fade last season.

Like Jones, Rogers got more money than I would have liked. Eight million a year? Seems like quite a bit for the prototype soft-tossing pitcher that Dave Dombrowski usually avoids. It makes me wonder why, coupled with his off-field problems, Dombrowski opted for Rogers over the remaining free agent arms? Rogers deal is only for two campaigns, as well. He's here, but not for long and that does soften my concern.

I also need to point out something about Rogers. Because some in Tigertown are already misguided about it, I want to be very clear on this next statement. To help, I'm going to type slowly. Here goes. Kenny Rogers is not a number one starter. I repeat (still typing slowly), Kenny Rogers is not a number one starter.

Jeremy Bonderman is still the Tigers number one guy. Do not be confused by the cash. Do not be confused because so many have implied or demanded that the Tigers acquire a veteran number one arm. Rogers is, indeed, a veteran, but he is not a number one guy. In fact, there were/are zero number one starters available via free agency this year. Hopefully, we are now clear on this.

Jones and Rogers are pretty clearly stop-gap moves. Additions made for the short-term while waiting for the next round of Tiger farmhands to arrive. I remain hopeful that the Tigers not not anywhere near done. I'm still hoping for upgrades (can you say "Tejada"?), this in spite of the fact Dombrowski continues to say that "one closer, one starter" is all the Tigers are looking for and that the lineup is "set". Yeah, set for fourth place.

These first two moves are decent. They aren't spectacular nor do they make the Tigers significantly improved. Overall, my grade on these deals would be something like a B-/C+.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

What Path Should The Tigers Follow?

I'm more than a bit conflicted at the moment. I'm just not sure what the Tigers should do. The patient side of me thinks the Detroit Tigers should do the smart thing and be frugal with their cash, bypassing multi-million dollar gambles like A.J. Burnett, and wait for their farm system to build a nucleus to the ballclub. Once an established, young, talented core is assembled, then go out and add free agents as needed.

The more realistic side of me also wonders if the Tigers should even do that. They are not able to keep pace financially with the Yankees, Red Sox and other baseball super-powers nor can I envision a day when they will be. This leads me to think that the Tigers might be better suited to follow the same path as the Oakland Athletics.

The cash strapped A's have perpetually contended for the American League West by bringing up a nearly endless string of top flight prospects. Big names come and go in Oakland, but the A's maintain their ability to play quality baseball and not break the bank. Alas, this is about the time the other half of my brain kicks in.

There is a part of me that says baseball is like a high stakes game of poker. If you can't afford to play with the big boys, maybe it's time to admit your stuck at the nickel slots. If the Tigers can't afford to get into the game, perhaps it's time we just concede that sustained success probably isn't going to come Detroit's way.

In listening to sports-talk radio today, I came across two types of callers. Each group accurately reflecting one of my conflicting sides. One side demands the Tigers stay the course. They want the team to wait for the prospects because free agency is a failed plan and not financially reasonable for the team. They view the long term path to success as having a viable minor league system. It's hard logic to argue with and normally the course I would purpose. Of course, there is the opposite view.

The callers representing the contrary perspective lament the Tigers woeful state. They look back at twenty years of failed can't-miss prospects and say "Enough!". If you want to win, you must spend. If you intend to go with a roster of guys like Pudge Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Placido Polanco and Dmitri Young--all over thirty, injury prone and making decent to great coin--you've got to make a run at this thing right now. You aren't playing for the future with so many guys that old.

They argue that failed prospects outnumber those that live up to the hype by an astronomical number. If you are waiting for the next core group of young Tigers to lead the franchise, you may be waiting forever. Sure, Billy Beane and his A's have done a great job, but keep two things in mind. First, the A's haven't won the World Series since the Steroid, I mean, Bash Brothers were together. Second, who, besides Oakland, is really having that kind of sustained success by relying almost totally on their farm system? The answer might be no one.

The baseball geek side of me almost always opts for the patient, farm building, adding an occasional free agent approach. It's the direction I'm sure a great many of my fellow baseball fanatics prefer. However, while we may like to play fantasy GM and debate prospects and hope for the best, Dave Dombrowski has another more pressing problem.

It's true that the baseball geeks amongst us may still buy tickets simply out of our love of the game and our desire to watch prospects grow (once they get here, of course), the majority of fans aren't as diehard as we are. They are going to need to see results. Maybe not all the time, but often enough to convince them that the team is worthy of something more than their annual trek to Comerica Park for a single contest.

I'm guessing the majority of fans, or should I say would-be ticket buyers, need to believe the Tigers are a good baseball team. They need hope that the Tigers are not only going to win during their traditional appearance, but probably win more often than they lose all season long. Without that hope, they are probably going to come down for their Opening Day beer or mid-summer hot dog and head back home to wait for next year. This is the group Dombrowski has to find a way to appease.

It's this larger, more apathetic group the Tigers have to juggle. They are much more likely to drop the Tigers if the team doesn't give them something to grab hold of. It's called creating a buzz. It's the reason the Pudge Rodriguez signing was so big. It's the reason the Tigers are not peddling the future Hall of Famer are current clubhouse problem for a can of corn.

The nerdy baseball types are right now cringing at the mere suggestion that the Tigers do something as foolish as "creating a buzz" to make a few ill-informed fans temporarily happy.
Don't they understand it's could actually hurt the team in the long run, they wonder?

The answer is no and they aren't interested in the kids at West Michigan. They are interested in their baseball team. The one their grandfathers and fathers watched. The one in the Olde English D, not the single A franchise outside Grand Rapids. What they so ardently desire is for their team to win. And win now.

My fellow geeks would counter that they, too, want to win right now, but don't want to sacrifice the future by tying the club down with huge contracts that can't be moved. They don't want to lose prospects that could provide the prolonged success that acquiring veteran big leaguers can't. After all, one of those youngsters with the Whitecaps could become the next Alan Trammell or Lou Whitaker, building blocks for the next twenty years.

The immediate satisfaction crowd might concur, but would counter that neither approach is guaranteed and waiting for the last twenty years has brought losing, apathy, empty seats and the Tigers only on cable television. They would point to the payrolls of the most successful teams and argue that the big winners are the big spenders. If the Tigers aren't capable of spending with Boston, both New York clubs, Baltimore and the other big money teams, the Tigers are, at best, destined to become little more than a feeder team for them. It's not a concept they are going to warmly embrace. It's certainly not one they are going to pay to watch.

It's just not an easy proposition, is it? I don't envy Dave Dombrowski. He entered into Detroit with a minor league system void of prospects and a big league club equally short on talent. He's trying to fill the Tigers farm system with talent while attempting to make the Major League club competitive again. It's nearly an impossible balancing act.

The heart of Tigertown is patient. They are the fans Dombrowski and Mike Ilitch don't have to cater to. We are along for the ride. However, as a business entity, both men have to realize that those on the fringe of Tigertown aren't going to plop down more time or cash on the Tigers until they are motivated to.

This group of alienated fans, turned off by the years of failure and baseball's labor strife, are the folks who bring attendance to over two million a season. They are the folks who might buy a twenty-one game package if the Tigers can do anything to rekindle the old flame for baseball in their hearts. They are the fans the Tigers will consider when deciding what to do with the Tigers roster this winter.

On the surface, it doesn't make much sense, financially or in baseball terms, to appease those on the fringe with flashy moves that some would call more style over substance. Yet, after the years of sub-standard baseball this is where the Tigers find themselves--trying to find the fine line between long term and short term success while keeping the entire fanbase happy enough to open their collective pocketbook. It's a complicated matter. One that leaves even a baseball geek like me baffled as to what the Tigers should do in the coming days.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Scratch Byrd, Mets Off Tigers List

Paul Byrd has signed with Cleveland for two years at $7 million dollars per season. Am I nuts or is that just way too much? Even if it is, that is going to drive the market up on everyone else. That takes Byrd off the market and makes me wonder if Kevin Millwood is looking for even more than $7 million a year.

In another pre-Winter Meetings deal, Paul Lo Duca has been traded to the New York Mets. That means we can cross the Mets off the list of teams the Tigers can move Pudge Rodriguez to. Please, Mr. Dombrowski, get Juan Pierre tonight before the Marlins peddle him for a fungo bat and year's supply of Cracker Jack.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Making A List

Veteran readers of this blog will acknowledge that I rely heavily on two things: unfounded rumors and wild speculation. With that in mind, and on the verge of baseball Winter Meetings, I bring you my Detroit Tigers shopping list*. These are the players I would most like to see in an Olde English D come Opening Day.

(* This list is subject to change depending on current rumors, deals that are made and the whims of this blogger.)

1. Javier Vazquez, RHP. I've been down this road before. I think a Vazquez for Pudge Rodriguez deal makes sense. Well, it does to me anyway. Sure, Vazquez has Detroit on his no-trade list. (A good catch by Lee Panas at Tiger Tales for picking up the no-trade clause note.) That doesn't mean a trade can't happen anyway. Humor me.

2. Juan Pierre, CF. Pierre is skyrocketing up this chart. Why? Let's make a quick checklist as to the voids Pierre would fill in the Tigers' lineup. A true CF? Check. A leadoff hitter? Check. A lefthanded bat? Check. Do we need this guy? Check. Why don't I have this guy number one, again?

3. Troy Glaus, 3B. A year ago the Tigers tried to sign him as a free agent. After a fine '05 campaign, the Diamondbacks appear open to the thought of moving the former UCLA star. Why? I don't know and I don't care. He's a legit power hitter and pretty darn good defensive thirdbaseman. Yeah, yeah. He's got shortcomings. So does this blog, but you came anyway, didn't you?

4. Barry Zito, LHP. The only reason the former Cy Young Award winner isn't higher is because I simply do not believe the Tigers can offer enough to Billy Beane to land him. If they did, I'd worry that the Tigers gave up their entire farm system. I mean the entire stinking system--players, stadiums, uniforms, everything.

5. Hank Blalock, 3B. I could just be plain stupid, but don't the Tigers need a lefty power guy at Comerica Park? Yes, I know his road splits indicate he may be more a product of the ballpark he plays in, but he's still probably an offensive upgrade over Brandon Inge.

6. Matt Morris, RHP. He's higher on this list than the player at number seven for two simple reasons. I think he will be cheaper and sign a shorter term deal than the next guy on my list. It's not like he's an awful pitcher, either.

7. A.J. Burnett, RHP. The flavor du jour. Everyone with a checkbook is chasing this below .500 career hurler. He does have great stuff, though. He also underachieves and might be a clubhouse problem. Did I mention it might take $11 million or more a season to get him into an Olde English D? He's sinking on my list nearly as fast as Pierre is climbing it.

8. Aubrey Huff, OF/1B/3B. The only reason Huff isn't much higher is that this is the first winter I can recall where his name hasn't be tossed about as trade bait. As this appears to be more my fantasy than even the others, he checks in at number eight. If he's available, he would top Blalock and probably Glaus on my list. I wonder if the Rays might be convinced into pairing Dmitri Young with his brother Delmon?

9. Bobby Abreu, OF. The Phillies are denying he's available. I suspect in regards to the Tigers, that's correct. If there was even a snowball's chance, Abreu would obviously be much higher.

10. Kevin Millwood, RHP. He's only about two years older than Burnett, but seems like he's been around forever. I just don't believe he's considering Detroit, but as he's a solid starter, he stays on the list.

11. Adam Eaton, RHP. There are rumors the Padres may part with Eaton. I have my doubts, but he's got to be on the list.

12. Carl Pavano, RHP. Rumor has it the Tigers called the Yanks and wondered if Pavano could be available. The same rumor claims Pavano wants out of New York. GM Brian Cashman has been in constant denial mode since the rumor came out. Make of that what you will. I actually think Burnett has better stuff, but clearly the Tigers appear to be enamored with Pavano.

13. Lyle Overbay, 1B. Yes, another firstbaseman. He is, however, a lefthanded stick. He's also most definitely on the market. How in the world the Tigers would clear up the logjam at first, I have no idea. (Well, ok, I do have an idea, but that's not the subject matter right now.)

14. Adam Dunn, OF/1B. He's been rumored around here for about two years. I don't know if the Tigers or Reds are interested in a deal for Dunn, but, hey, old rumors die hard. He certainly would be a lefty power bat. Dunn's arrival would only further clutter the 1B/DH/OF glut at Comerica Park.

15. Jeff Weaver, RHP. Kidding. Just kidding.

16. Toby Hall, Ramon Hernandez, Brad Ausmus, C. Any of them would be my choice as catcher if Pudge were moved. I suspect the Tigers would slide Inge behind the plate, if Rodriguez went elsewhere, but I'm not crazy about that plan. Don't fear Tigertown, Ausmus won't get East of the Mississippi.

17. The remaining free agent relievers. The Tigers are going to sign a free agent closer, so I best warm up to the notion of one of them pitching the ninth for Detroit. The current thought has Dombrowski chasing Trevor Hoffman. I'm not thrilled. I see Hoffman as Troy Percival, Part II. I just can't get past the similarities--older guy, made his name on the left coast, history of arm troubles. It's just too scary. The bet here at BB is that Jose Mesa will be the guy. Again, that's just a gut feeling. I'm not bothering with facts.

18. Paul Byrd, RHP, Jarrod Washburn, LHP. Both older and not what they used to be. You could argue that the Tigers might be better off letting Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya learn in The Show than coughing up money for either of these guys. You might be right, but the Tigers are determined to add a hurler and if everyone else is gone, I suspect they would sign one of these two.

19. Joey Gathright, OF. The Rays are outfield heavy. Rocco Baldelli is scheduled to return to centerfield in Tampa in '06, thus Gathright might come at a reasonable price. I like his offense a bit better than Nook Logan's and his speed is close to Logan's. This is bargain hunting move, but there are worse options.

20. Nomar Garciaparra, 3B. I think if he's healthy he might be able to play LF, CF or 3B. I admit to being a Nomar fan, but I'd offer him nothing more than a two year, incentive laden deal.

As to whom the Tigers might trade to get some of the above names, I don't care as long as those names do not include Jeremy Bonderman and Justin Verlander. Joel Zumaya is on the fringe of untradeable, as well. Chris Shelton is really close, too. However, anyone else is fair game. It depends on who ends up here.

As for the potential free agents, I don't mind coughing up ridiculous amounts of Mr. Ilitch's money with one provision--it had best be a short term contract or the guy better be really, really good. I don't believe anyone on the list above qualifies for the latter, so the former is my only concern.

As an example, I like Matt Morris, but not for five years under any condition. If the Tigers are determined to land Burnett, fine, but I'd rather see them pay him $12 million a season over three years than $50 million over five. That's just me.

Hopefully, the Tigers will be active over the Winter Meetings and we will have plenty more to debate and discuss.