Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Head(band) Case?

Let's see, Ben Wallace's minutes are declining, as is his performance, he and his coach can't agree on headwear and the Bulls, once thought to be one of the up-and-comers in the NBA, are heading straight downward. While Wallace's former employer, the Detroit Pistons, look utterly beatable every night and might not be able to stop me from driving the middle. Yeah, that decision seems to be working out well.

It's hard to view this one as anything but greed over intelligence. Wallace could have stayed here, playing primarily defense and rebounding, boosting his Hall of Fame status and keeping the Pistons closer to the NBA elite. Of course, he would have had to settle for millions of dollars over millions and millions of dollars. Instead, Wallace opted for Chicago's ridiculous cash offer and has been a complete disaster thus far. Combined with his last few seasons in Auburn Hills, where he feuded with Larry Brown and Flip Saunders, Wallace is quickly painting himself as a coach hating headcase whose career is in rapid decline. So much for that "Goin' To Work", team-first attitude Wallace became so closely attached with.

Do I think the entire headband-gate thing is stupid? Yeah, it is. I don't see what Skiles gains from such a policy. In a league where they worry about players showing up every night (and taking firearms on the road), should coaches really concern themselves over headbands? Probably not. However, is it asking Wallace, or anyone else, too much to give up the headband? Does it help him play better? (I thought we were told that it was the shoes?) In giving Wallace fourteen million this year, perhaps his employer has a right to enforce a dress code. It's not like it's breaking a constitutional amendment or anything. Just don't wear the thing. Consider it a professional courtesy.

In watching the Pistons this year, I keep thinking, "If Ben were here that guy would not be getting a lay-up right now". I also think "Maybe the Pistons wouldn't look so average, had Wallace stayed". Then, I see what is going on in Chicago and think that Joe Dumars made the right decision regardless of what happens down the road. Wallace's pouting appears to be more consistent than his play and that's just not worth the headache. Or the money.

Full Disclosure: DIBS Award

I'm going to come clean about my voting in the annual DIBS Tigers Awards. I know all of you were waiting for this revelation. My Tiger of the Year was Carlos Guillen. Second place went to Justin Verlander, third was Magglio Ordonez. Guillen won the DIBS Award.

My Tiger Pitcher of the Year went to Verlander. Kenny Rogers was second and third place went to Jeremy Bonderman (which I attributed to Bonderman being my current answer to the "Who's Your Tiger?" question) . I debated swapping Rogers and Verlander, as I could have for the Tiger of the Year. Both were terrific and if you feel Rogers was more deserving than Verlander, I wouldn't argue. Obviously, my DIBS-mates thought Rogers was the choice, as he claimed the most votes.

My breakout player? I'm thinking you've followed my train of logic here and guessed correctly that I picked Verlander. Joel Zumaya came in third and Marcus Thames was my third place choice. I never imagined Thames jacking out over 20 HRs. Verlander won the DIBS award.

Now, my Playoff Performers would have been, in order, Rogers, Sean Casey and Craig Monroe. Unfortunately, I failed to read the part of the email that said to vote for the Playoff Performer. Geez, I'm just clueless. Anyway, Rogers won the award, so my vote would not have swayed a thing.

Friday, November 24, 2006

It's Time

Fire Millen.

It's been a chant. A desperate plea. A rallying cry. It's even become a bit of a cultural phenomenon -- having arisen at sporting events not only in Detroit, but throughout the country.

Now, it's taken the next step. It's the only logical course of action.

I cannot give you a single reason to retain Matt Millen in the Detroit Lions front office. I don't think you can, either. My guess is that even Mr. Millen himself would struggle to find a solid reason for him to remain in his current position. Conversely, the list of reasons for the Lions and Millen to part ways is longer than the one Santa Claus finds himself faced with this time of the year.

You don't need me to rehash history here. You know what the Lions record is since Millen took charge. You all know about Millen's failings in personnel decisions -- both in terms of players and coaches. You are well versed in the off-field issues, ranging from players with substance abuse problems to coaches with DUIs. It's time the Ford Family stopped ignoring the obvious. It's impossible to categorize the Millen regime as anything other than a failure.

The Lions will head into 2007, the 50th anniversary of their last NFL Championship, with yet another high draft pick. Quite possibly, the first pick overall. With history as our guide, I can't expect Matt Millen to make the right decision with that choice. Of course, with history as our guide, I can't expect the Ford Family to make the right decision regarding Mr. Millen, either.

Update: The local media have joined the parade. Terry Foster is saying Millen has to go, but suggests the Lions GM might not be the only one shown the door. Long-time Detroit News scribe Jerry Green thinks the writing is on the wall, too.

If, as Foster suggests, the entire Lions front office is sacked, could anyone blame the Ford's for making such a radical move?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Bring On Round Two

I understand that when presented with the possibility of an Ohio State versus Michigan rematch in the national championship game, Florida head coach Urban Meyer suggested that if such a game took place the NCAA should immediately institute a playoff format for this year. I hate to rain on Meyer's pity parade, but does he really think a playoff system is going to eliminate rematches? I've got some bad news Coach, a playoff format will only increase the odds of second encounters.

To provide an example, let's Meyer's idea into action. We will assemble the top ten teams in the land for a playoff. For the sake of this discussion, I'll use the Associated Press poll, but use any poll that makes you feel better. You've got OSU, Michigan, USC, Florida, Arkansas, Notre Dame, West Virginia, Louisville, LSU and Wisconsin. Now, we know the Buckeyes and Wolverines have seen each other once. Michigan has also played the Irish and Badgers. Notre Dame is about to face USC and the Trojans beat up Arkansas months ago. The Razorbacks are going to run into Meyer's Gators in two weeks. The Gators and LSU have already met and WVU and Louisville butted heads weeks ago.

Do you see a (very literal) repeating theme here? There are eight potential rematches in this proposed playoff system. It doesn't help if you include a few more teams, either. If you sneak down the polls a bit further, you also open the door for schools like Auburn (who has seen Florida, Arkansas and LSU in person), Oklahoma and Texas (who play in a pretty big game annually themselves). A playoff format doesn't diminish the odds of a Round Two. In fact, it would seem to increase the odds of second chance encounters all over the place -- including, by default, the title game.

In addition to Coach Meyer, I'm surprised so many in the media are against this possible rematch in the championship game. If this were college basketball's greatest rivalry going to a second meeting, would anyone really be complaining? Again, just for the sake of my post, let's say Duke/North Carolina is the hoops version of Ohio State/Michigan. The Blue Devils and Tar Heels collide twice a year in the regular season, right? That's no problem. They often meet in the ACC Tournament. If they were the top two ranked teams in the land and played Volume III in the conference tournament final, would anyone be lamenting it?

Then, just to finish the thought, if Duke and UNC advanced to the National Championship Game, having gone through the regular season ranked 1-2 and having faced each other three times, would anyone mind seeing a fourth encounter? Okay, the folks at NC State, maybe not so much, but wouldn't the mainstream media be cranking the hype machine up full blast for Round Four of Duke and UNC?

The media big boys love the Yankees and Red Sox match-ups, no matter how often they run into one another. Same with the NFL. Teams like the Patriots and Colts can run head long into one another two or three times a year, sometimes for several years in a row, and it's the story of the weekend, but Michigan and Ohio State twice in the same year? Oh, no, can't have that.

In the end, I suspect neither the wide spread complaining or my confusion over their objections will be worthy the energy. USC will probably drop Notre Dame and UCLA and surge past Michigan in the BCS standings giving them the opportunity to play the Buckeyes for the national championship. Hey, wait a minute. Hasn't USC played in the championship game the last three years in a row? Didn't they lose to Texas last year? Do we really want to see them, again? Why should they get four shots at the title?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Sheff Deal

It's hard not to like the Detroit Tigers acquisition of Gary Sheffield. While, Sheffield has never been one of my favorites, he's a great hitter. Not a good hitter. A great hitter. When your career average is .298 and you are only forty-five homers short of 500, you qualify as a Hall of Fame caliber slugger. Yes, the Tigers did relinquish three prospects. However, let's consider two things.

First, how often can you get a middle of the lineup hitter with Sheffield's numbers? Teams that have them are usually not willing to give them up. The second thing to remember is that the Tigers made this deal and their starting rotation hasn't been altered. Do you think the Tigers could have landed a Manny Ramirez or even Mark Teixeira without sending Jeremy Bonderman or Nate Robertson the other way? The first thing I thought when I heard Sheffield was a Tiger? "Who's gone? Bonderman or Robertson?" Much to my continuing happiness, the answer was neither.

Now, the Tigers new clean-up hitter does come with baggage. His ego will arrive in Lakeland a full week ahead of his body. We all have reasons to be wary of Sheffield's ongoing unhappiness. However, I often believe these things get blown out of proportion. Let me give you an in-house example.

Last year, Pudge Rodriguez and Dmitri Young tossed Alan Trammell and, in turn, their teammates under the bus. They were clubhouse problems all season long and it probably cost Tram his job. This year, Jim Leyland arrives and keeps Pudge happy. Young runs into problems off-the-field and the Tigers finally see enough and ship him out. The two problem children of 2005 are no longer an issue in '06.

Want another Detroit example? Need I point out our very own, Rasheed Wallace? Arguably the NBA's poster child for bad behavior prior to his Detroit trade, Wallace has become a fan favorite here and his image has improved during his tenure in Auburn Hills. While his technical fouls continue at an astronomical pace, he's hardly the league's most hated player anymore. He isn't loved around the league, but his once famous antics haven't really materialized here.

Now, this isn't to say that Sheffield won't whine. The odds are overwhelming that he will. It's just that some of Sheff's attitude could be minimized in the right situation. Perhaps, reuniting with Leyland and Dave Dombrowski will help that. Perhaps, getting out of the Big Apple will diminish the amount of time Sheffield spends talking to the media, thus decreasing the odds of him saying something publicly the Tigers will cringe at. Maybe, just maybe, Sheffield can pull a Rasheed Wallace and find Detroit to his liking.

Let's also keep in mind the great panacea for all clubhouse problems -- winning. If the Tigers can continue to contend, Pudge, Sheffield and everyone else will find a way to make nice. That or we will downplay Sheffield's tantrums (think of Boston's "Manny being Manny" mantra) as long as the wins keep piling up. If Sheff is hitting .295 with 35 homers and 110 RBI on a Tigers team that is in first place, it's going to be hard to criticize the trade even if the three prospects are doing well.

And what of those three prospects, you might ask? What if one of them is the next John Smoltz? Well, let me start with some advice. STOP WORRYING ABOUT THE NEXT JOHN SMOLTZ. Geez, must we dwell on that one move forever? Do you want to trade in the 1987 A.L. East title? It's not like Doyle Alexander came to town and stunk the place up.

Just remember that everyone was worried about the Juan Gonzalez trade, too. The Tigers gave up too much. Justin Thompson could be great. Oh, Francisco Cordero is a star in the making. Frank Catalanotto can really hit. Thompson's arm blew out, Cordero had a few nice seasons in Texas but didn't tear up the league and Cat can still hit, but he's not a difference maker. (A side note. I wouldn't be overly surprised if Cat returned here this winter. Sheff's arrival might diminish the odds of Cat's second tour of Detroit, but for the right money, his lefty bat could help.)

I remember when Jeff Weaver got shipped out, too. Oh, the cries from Tigertown. While Weaver got his revenge on Dombrowski and company in Game Five, his career hasn't exactly lived up to our expectations. He's on team number five, at least. The Cardinals grabbed him this summer after the Angels decided it was back to the minors for the former Tigers pitcher of the future. I'll take Jeremy Bonderman, thank you. (And this if from a guy who's Tiger was Weaver, back in the day.)

For every one John Smoltz prospect there are countless hundreds of prospects that don't amount to more than a line in the Baseball Encyclopedia. The honest to goodness truth about prospects, from the uber-variety to the bargain bin models, is that they rarely pan out. Most never even make The Show. Sure the really hyped ones, especially those making good coin, do usually appear, but success is far from assured. Any number of factors -- injuries, roster logjams, not learning another pitch or inability to hit off-speed stuff, reaching the ceiling of their potential before reaching the majors -- can deter a player's career permanently.

The Tigers sent the Yankees a pitcher with a spotty minor league record prior to 2006 with a history of injuries. They also sent two Class A pitchers. The distance between Class A and Major League Baseball is quite a bit longer than the drive from Lakeland to Detroit. While the three prospects the Tigers sent to NY all have potential, you do have to give up something to make a trade. Yet, the success of all three young players is far from guaranteed. Their big league careers are hope. Conversely, Sheffield's is fact.

Without harming a World Series roster or giving up your number one prospect (Andrew Miller) the Tigers obtained a player who instantly becomes their most dangerous offensive threat. I may not be a Sheffield fan, but even I can appreciate how fortunate the Tigers are to pull of such a deal -- attitudes, risks and all.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Rose Rises In Phoenix

Jalen Rose has spurned offers from Detroit and Miami to play in Phoenix. Per usual, I have questions. When did Phoenix get involved in the Rose Sweepstakes? I had only heard the Heat and Pistons mentioned. Why do the Suns need Rose? How long can the Rose hang with the run and gun and run some more Suns? Isn't he going to get worn down by the pace Phoenix plays its best basketball at?

Captain Azinger

Paul Azinger, one of my favorite all-time golfers, is going to be named captain of the 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup team. It's a great gig. It's also a no-win situation. Kind of like being manager of the New York Yankees or a goalie for the Detroit Red Wings. Win? Well, that's expected. Lose and your an idiot.

Azinger will have one thing in his favor, it's not like any of the other recent captains have fared very well. Lose and he will just be following suit. Oh, he will get hammered, but not as much if it was the first U.S. loss in years. If he wins, however, he will come off looking like a genius.

I should also mention that I think Larry Nelson was wronged by the PGA. Nelson, a Golf Hall of Fame member, three time major champion and the only American ever to go 5-0 in a Ryder Cup, deserved the captaincy (at some point) and it now appears his window for that chance has closed. I'm happy for 'Zinger, but disappointed Nelson may never get the opportunity.

Hockey: One Month In

I know this surprises the majority of inhabitants of Hockeytown, but the NHL season is underway. I kid you not. The NHL has been playing games for weeks. Who knew, right? Well, I have to admit that I have been paying a bit of attention.

I'm sure my interest in pucks is directly related to the fantasy hockey league I was asked to participate in. Although, we all know this isn't exactly my first fantasy hockey league team. I also suspect my NHL viewing habit is about to be overtaken by a basketball habit. (I'm more gym rat than rink rat.) In light of this expected transition, allow me to make a hockey related post. Who knows when the next one might occur?

It's difficult to have any NHL discussion right now without starting in Buffalo. The Sabres are smokin'. They are 11-0-1. Boston had them down last night, but the Sabres came from three behind in the third and beat the B's. According to all the experts I hear and read, this Buffalo team is perfectly suited for "The New NHL". They are the favorites to win the East and have certainly looked the part since opening night.

Speaking of how the Sabres look, the boys in Buffalo have a new uniform. I'm not sure I like it. I'm not sure I don't. I do like the nod back to the team's original color scheme, but that stylized Buffalo noggin? I've heard plenty of negativity about the new logo -- some have wondered aloud when Buffalo became the squirrels-- but, the new design is leading the league in sales. And wins. I do think it's better than its red-eyed predecessor.

I guess Brendan Shanahan was right about moving on. Shanny is third in the NHL in points with 18, twelve of which are goals. That mark leads the NHL.

I've seen the Detroit Red Wings a few times and I can definitely say these are not the Red Wings most fans have grown accustom to. Some of the usual suspects remain in place, but I think the average Wings fan is going to wonder who many of these guys are.

What on Earth has gotten into the New York Islanders? After the Isles front office follies and 15 year contract to keeper Rick DiPietro this off-season, most hockey fans (on Long Island and elsewhere) wrote off yet another season before it began. Surprisingly, the Islanders have winning record and are 6-2-2 in their last ten games.

Even more of a shock, Alexi Yashin is just piling on the points. Three assists in last night's 5-2 win over New Jersey. If Ted Nolan gets effort out of Yashin, he should be coach of the year regardless of where the Isles finish in the standings.

I think it's safe to say that the Sedin Twins have arrived. Vancouver's twins, Henrik and Daniel, are amongst the league's top 25 in points and are making Taylor Pyatt look like an all-star. This comes one season after making Anson Carter a thirty goal scorer and land him a big free agent contract. Yes, the Sedin boys are good.

Another line making waves is Toronto's top unit. Mats Sundin, Darcy Tucker and Kyle Wellwood are off to a terrific start. Sundin and Tucker each have fifteen points and are amongst the league leaders in that category. It might be quality television to turn into Hockey Night in Canada tomorrow as the Leafs host the Sabres.

You cannot listen to any hockey related banter for more than about ten minutes without the speaker referring to "The New NHL". I'm not sure if I've actually heard a definition, but it has to do with eliminating obstruction and less fighting. Or, at least, that's what the talking heads have me believing.

There are plenty o' whistles under the new rules. I've seen a few games where even the thought of tripping lands you in the box. And actually using your stick to impede a player? Just tap the guy and head off, because that ain't allowed.

You remember Pittsburgh's championship years. The teams that featured a cast of stars including Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Bryan Trottier, Paul Coffey and Jaromir Jagr. Well, here come the Penguins, again. The next wave of superstar talent has arrived in the Steel City. Sidney Crosby leads the charge, but he's getting plenty of help from Marc Andre Fluery, Evgeni Malkin, Ryan Whitney and Jordan Staal. I wonder if the franchise will stay in Pittsburgh or if another North American town is going to enjoy watching this team grow up and win? (Of course, they are winning now. They sit atop the Atlantic.)

That's all the hockey for now. Perhaps, a second hockey post might emerge before the holiday season concludes. Or not.