Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween!

I had a fun idea for a costume today.

I was going to wear my Tigers jersey and official World Series Tigers cap, then put some brown gunk on my hand and pretend to be Kenny Rogers.

Or I thought I could wear the same outfit and carry a ball, and when people asked who I was, I could throw the ball over their head and they’d say, “Oh, you’re a Tigers pitcher.”

Then I thought better of the plan. Ever since my infamous “JFK in Dallas” costume in 1991, I’ve sworn off costumes that really tick people off.

Some older people at that party were really upset. Apparently some things are off-limits.

And around here this week, the Tigers are most definitely not to be joked about.

Not only were Tigers fans happy to be at the big dance, but they bought into the pundit-speak that the Series was over before it even started.

Clearly, they thought, the team that rolled through the Evil Empire and spanked the A’s would have no trouble dispensing with a team that barely held on to its division title.

One could point out that the Tigers in fact were the ones who did not hold on to a division title, falling into second place on the last day of the season.

But count me among the people who didn’t expect to see the Cardinals running off with the trophy.

I wasn’t stunned they got past the Padres, since everybody gets past the Padres in the postseason. But I gave them no chance to get through our Mets, and we know how that happened.

So Tigers in the office were still walking around like zombies. They were so excited about this team, and rightly so. And to lose it because they threw the ball around – a lot – really hurt.

One reporter summed it up pretty well: “It’s like Cinderella going to the ball then falling down the steps on the way in.”

I can’t argue with that. I’m confident the Mets will return next year. But I can just as easily see this Tigers team finishing in third place in that division.

So we’ll keep the Tigers jersey on the shelf tonight, and go around wearing the black cat ears my daughter picked out for me to wear, a walking prop to her witch costume.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Kenny Rogers gambled he wouldn't get caught

Tigers pitcher Kenny Rogers has exposed what Mets fans knew all along: He's not that good.

People here in Michigan are tripping all over themselves to argue that the Gambler wasn’t cheating because, well, they really, really, want to win.

So here are the top 10 excuses for for Rogers to explain the smudge on his palm.

1) The ads are bogus! M&Ms really DO melt in your hands!

2) Mark of shame from the ending of the 1999 NLCS.

3) Learned a new trick from the fling-happy chimps at the zoo.

4) Just finished polishing his church shoes.

5) That last mudpie was a beauty.

6) Yankee taint.

7) Just got palm read by Mr. Hankey. Howdy-Ho!

8) Leftover fingerprinting ink after being charged with assaulting Texas cameraman.

9) Barry told him it was flaxseed oil.

10) Residue from World Series bat-chucking practice with sensei Clemens. Bow to your sensei!

I’m OK with that when he was playing the Yankees because sometimes you have to go the extra mile to stab their black hearts.

But in the World Series, that’s not going to work.

Clearly, stomping around the mound like he replaced his blood with Red Bull was a diversionary tactic, and a pretty good one, too..

And for goodness sake, Fox has cameras everywhere but the urinal cakes. Did Rogers not think one of those cameras would focus in on his hand?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Checking in on 'the neighbors' and Game One

My relationship with the Tigers is complicated.

The Mets are like family. We live far apart, but we still keep in touch and I still feel close. We’ll always have that unbreakable bond.

But the Tigers are like my neighbors. I kind of know them. I see them outside when the weather is nice. We have nice conversations. I go to their house every once in a while. I wish them well, but I’m not overly involved.

I probably know their kids better than I know the adults, which is also true of the Tigers, since their Midwest League team plays four miles from my front door.

The Lions, by the way, are like bad neighbors. They’re the ones who let the lawn go unmowed for weeks and leave the Homer Simpson Halloween decoration deflated and atop the garage roof year-round.

But I’ve shared some nice moments with the Tigers, attending several Opening Days and even the last game at the old stadium.

So I was extremely excited about the opportunity to see World Series Game One on Saturday. I'm still mourning the demise of the Mets. We should have been there. But the World Series is the World Series, and any chance to witness baseball history is a glorious thing.

I’m also lucky that my bosses allowed me to work at the game, which allows me to run around looking for people doing crazy things and ask them questions. Reporters are nosy by nature. We want to ask these questions. A pad gives us the authority to do so. It also gets me into some places that would be difficult otherwise, such as the rooftop deck of Cheli’s Chili Bar across the street form Comerica.

I met some fun folks. One woman from Romeo, Mich. hosted a tailgate party by converting her mini-van into a giant tiger. She told me she bought 40 yards of tiger-striped material, buying the entire stock of four Wal Marts.

I had several hours to scurry around talking to people like this, then filed my stories from the laptop. Thank you to the staff at the downtown Au Bon Pain for allowing me to use their wi-fi!

I also checked out a couple of the vendors. Don’t think for a minute that every time a saw a cap or shirt with the Cardinals’ logo I didn’t think there was a version with an orange inter-locking NY going to waste a warehouse somewhere.

There were corporate sponsors handing out t-shirts. It’s amazing to watch people go into a feeding frenzy for a crappy shirt advertising GM or hot dogs.
So close, guys, so close.

I ran into a number of people wearing Mets jerseys who bought their tickets last week expecting our boys to be there. We all lamented what should have been.

Just entering the ballpark for a World Series game is an emotional thing. Some people get all teary. OK, that was just me. But I stood awhile and watched other people get their tickets scanned, walk through the turnstiles and let out a holler and pump their fists.

You also get some primo freebies, like a an XM satellite radio in addition to the ever-present towel, which is guess is better than the Thunder Stix we had to endure a couple years ago.

I spent the time before the game walking around the stadium, watching the people. It’s a different kind of charged atmosphere. People pause and take photos of everything.

There are also a lot of VIPs running around. I also ran into Vinny Castilla, for some reason wearing a media credential. He was very nice. Newly unemployed Dusty Baker was posing for photos, and I swear Curt Schilling walked past in the concourse.

The pregame festivities were moving. Bob Seger played “America the Beautiful” as a massive American flag was unfurled that seemed to cover about 80 percent of the outfield. Some F-18 Hornets roared overhead as he finished.

That tugged at the heart of the couple sitting next to me. The husband and wife took turns holding a bright pink sign, reading that a brother was watching the game while serving in Iraq.

Doing the nosy reporter thing, I found out that he is in the Air Force and as been outside Tikrit since August. He also served two tours in Afghanistan. He’s a huge Tigers fan, and if he couldn’t make it to the Series, they would in his place.

The game was a battle of rookies, with Anthony Reyes for the Cards and Justin Verlander for the Tigers. We know what the Mets did to Reyes last week, so I wasn’t surprised when Craig Monroe hit a double in the first inning and came around to score two batters later.

But, as we’ve seen them do, the Cards answered with a run in the second and Verlander mistakenly and famously decide to challenge Albert Pujols in the third.

Fat Albert’s bomb took the crowd right out of the game, and Reyes started mowing down the Tigers. It got so bad that people around me started talking about college football. They should have been escorted from their seats! You do not, for any reason, discuss the lesser sports while attending a World Series game.

The Cards tacked on three more runs in the sixth when Brandon Inge decided to throw the ball around and interfere with runners.

Shortly after that, my seat-neighbor’s cell phone went off – it was her brother calling from Iraq, saying that he was watching the game on Armed Forces Network. It was fun to watch them being able to share the moment despite the brother being in harm’s way on the other side of the world.

Craig Monroe launched a monster shot the bottom of the ninth. But that still left the Tigers down by five and sending the fans home disappointed – and me still just overjoyed to be there.

I finally made it home around 2:30 am, physically and emotionally exhausted and grateful for every minute of the day.

The Cardinals impress me. I didn’t give them much of a chance of getting past the Padres and no chance at all of getting around our Mets. They’re still overwhelming underdogs, but I can’t count them out.

Other World Series notes:

-- My buddy Rich once said that if he ever attended a World Series game, he'd never leave his seat because he wouldn’t want to chance missing one of those iconic plays that will be discussed for generations.

That’s a good rule. But, damn, there’s a lot of time between innings. You know the John Mellencamp song from the Chevy ads? They played it in its entirety once between innings and still had time to kill.

--Eminem is an idiot. He had some kind of rambling video message played before the game that ended with him swinging a toy bat and missing a ball, then saying that’s how the Cardinals would be hitting, then did the same, connecting, and implying that’s how the Tigers would hit.

--The Tigers get points for taking the field to Kiss' "Detroit Rock City" pounding from the Comerica sound system. Now, you'd think that would be an obvious selection to pump up the crowd, but I had never heard it played at a Tigers game until this year. Then again, the organist at the old Tiger Stadium thought playing "Mexican Hat Dance" over and over was clever. Playing Kiss is always a good thing!

--Tiger fans have their own version of the taped-on red Spiezio soul patch – Magglio Ordonez wigs.

--The souvenir selection was somewhat disappointing, and stupid-expensive, at least as the ballpark. That didn’t stop long lines from forming at the concession stands. I bought a program and cap with the Series logo and cap emblems for each team. In that respect, it’s good the Mets were not there because I would have been far more tempted!
The "Spirit of Detroit" was dressed for the occasion.

Feel good for these fans. Detroit certainly has problems, many of them self-inflicted. But it’s been a baseball town in hibernation.

It’s been a tough couple years for many Michiganders. The state’s economy is in transition and the struggles of the auto industry have really taken their toll in the people in the state, even those who don’t work directly for the carmakers.

And the Tigers have been horrible pretty much since we arrived here in 1990.

These folks have suffered through a lot of things, and they are going crazy for this team, much more so than over the Pistons’ title two years back.

I’m a National League guy and I have ties to St. Louis. But I won’t feel bad if the Tigers ride this wave of emotion to a championship – now that it won’t come at the expense of the Mets.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Mets are going home, but I'm still Series-bound

I would never have imagined that I’d be going to the World Series and the Mets would not.

But that’s what’s happening.

Apparently I got a little excited in the newsroom on Thursday morning when my Mom called to say that my Christmas present would be a ticket to Game One in Detroit on Saturday night.

There may have been jumping involved. I don’t remember, but my co-workers do – and have reminded me often.

People here in Grand Rapids are going nuts over the local team making a miraculous run through the Yankees and Athletics. It seemed like a good chunk of the office was trying to get tickets online on Monday, when10,000 ducats were sold in under 30 minutes.

I volunteered to work, offering to do the assorted outside-the-stadium atmosphere stories, talking to fans from West Michigan about their joy of seeing the long-lowly Tigers on the big stage.

If I couldn’t get in, at least I’d be close to the action – as close as I’d ever get to seeing the Mets in the World Series.

The Mets? Of course they’d be there! We were merely toying with the Cardinals through the week, taking the series back to Shea to celebrate before the Flushing faithful.

It was our fate and destiny! No Pedro, no Duque – no problem! Rookie pitchers were tossing gems, Oliver Perez seemed to he recovered from whatever sent him to the minors in Pittsburgh.

And Endy Chavez’s catch? Pure Mets magic, right up there with Tommie Agee and Ron Swoboda.

Yadier Molina, earned admission to the “Bleeping” Family with his two-run shot off Hielman in the top of the ninth. But when Valentin and Endy got on base in our half of the frame I knew the Mets magic was at work again.

Remember, we don’t do things easily in the postseason. Baseball history is written about the miracles, not the blowouts.

Or not.

I’m working through the whole shock/denial/anger/acceptance thing.

Shock: We got beat by the Cardinals? They barely hung on to their division title? They beat the Padres in the first round because, well, everybody beats the Padres in the first round.

Denial: No way did that just happen. We’ve been planning for the World Series since May. We’re getting El Duque back to pitch Game One. We’re the ones who are supposed to be going to Detroit.

Anger: Beltran, freaking swing at the ball! Bases loaded and you’re going to try for a walk? You should be the stinking MVP and you’re not up there blasting? No excuse! You can’t let the season end with your bat on your shoulder.

Acceptance: It was an amazing season. Two years ago we would have been giddy to finish second, last year we would have wept for joy for a wild card berth. This year we ended the Braves’ historic run, and with our young talent and brilliant GM, there’s no reason to think this was a one-year fluke. We’ll be back. And while it hurts today, it was a fun ride all summer long.

So off I go to Detroit tomorrow.

Someone asked if I could still enjoy the Series game even though the Mets won’t be there. Heck yes! Attending ANY World Series game is a glorious, once-in-a-lifetime event.

I’m so blessed that I’m going for the second time in my life. Thank you Mom and Dad!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Every signature tells a story: Mets, Tigers and Cookie Rojas

Is it strange to have a favorite third base coach?

Should the Mets pull this out as we all expect, they’ll come to Detroit for the second time. The first was in 1997 and it led to an encounter with Cookie Rojas.

Cookie and I go way back, though he doesn’t know it.

Back when I was a new reporter in Connecticut, I was handed what was supposed to be a temporary assignment in what we considered the Siberia bureau working for a bureau chief we universally despised. The three reporters were branded malcontents, and one day the suburban editor came up to set us straight.

I didn’t like my role, which was filling in for the other reporters, basically doing the stories they either couldn’t get to or didn’t want to do. Which means I ended up attending a lot of sewer commission meetings.

I expressed this to the editor, a baseball fan who grew up in Philadelphia but wore a Giants jacket.

"Well, you can be like Cookie Rojas," he said.

"Cookie Rojas? What?"

"He played all over the place and had a good career."

I was young and cocky and indignant. Cookie Rojas? Being compared to a utility infielder was not what I had in mind after graduating from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

"I don’t want to be Cookie Rojas, I want to be Darryl Strawberry!" Keep in mind, this was 1988, when being Darryl Strawberry would have been a good thing.

The editor rolled his eyes. I thought I showed great restraint in not summoning the names of Seaver or Willie Mays.

"Yeah, yeah, Cookie Rojas. He played a little bit of everything," the editor repeated.

That night I pulled Rojas’ 1977 Topps card to hang above my desk, probably just to be difficult.

Truth is, I was selling Victor Octavio Rojas sort. He had a 16-year career as a player with the Reds, Phillies, Cardinals and Royals. The five-time All-Star had a .263 career average and 1,660 hits in the pitching-dominated 1960s.

I started following his career. He managed the Angels for a season, and was tapped to be a coach for the Florida Marlins. In a spring training game against the Mets, I took much delight in seeing Rojas coaching third base and pointed him out to my dad and sister, who proceeded to yell "Coooookkieeeeeee" until he finally turned and waved.

Shockingly, this became something of a tradition in the coming years, with the apparently unfazed Rojas responding with a wave every time.

So I was glad when Cookie was hired to be a coach for our favorite team, and he kindly signed my Mets book at a spring game in Vero Beach.

Later that year the Mets made their only appearance at Tiger Stadium for and interleague series, and naturally we were decked out in Mets gear from head to toe for the first game.

I was standing by the rail before the game taking photos when Rojas walked by on the field. In purely a reflex reaction, I yelled "Coooookkkkiiiieeeee."

But rather than waving, he stopped and started walking in our direction. My son and I certainly stood out in our Mets jerseys on Tiger turf.

"Sure, I’ll sign something."

This was not what we were seeking, but I sure didn’t want to insult the guy. How do you turn down when someone comes over and offers an autograph. I quickly dug into my backpack and pulled out the official National League ball I had hoped to have signed by Todd Hundley, John Olerud, Edgardo Alfonzo or Rey Ordonez.

Cookie signed it with a smile, right on the sweet spot. I shook his hand and thanked him.

That was the high point of the game, which the Mets lost 14-0, with Bobby Higginson hitting three home runs.

So I’m counting on the Mets next trip to Detroit, hopefully this weekend, to turnout a little better -- though with someone else in the third base coach’s box waving people home.

I’m a more specialized reporter now, but the bosses still appreciate that I can tackle other kinds of stories in a pinch. And when I’m out of my element I think of Cookie Rojas.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Pity poor Tom Verducci, the postseason is no fun for him

I realize it seems like Yankee hack Tom Verducci can’t hit “send” on his computer without getting my goat.

But I’ve tried to contain my outbursts for the times when he really gets the whole barnyard.

Well, back up the truck because here go the goats – and the chickens, pigs and cows, too. Verducci got loose on SI.com today with a whine-o-rama about how the postseason doesn’t meet his high standards for excitement.

Here’s a sample:

"DETROIT -- Can this postseason be saved? Thanks mostly to the juggernaut known as the Detroit Tigers, who are so hot they can bat Neifi Perez second and watch Kenny Rogers become John Wayne, baseball is giving us an October with almost no drama, no moments for posterity and no storyline for the FOX people to hook the viewer who needs a reason to come to the tube. Welcome to a non-competitive October, which is the last thing we've come to expect from baseball. If the 2006 baseball playoffs were a sitcom or talk show --- hate to break it to you, folks, but we're sitting through the Arsenio Hall of postseasons -- it would have been cancelled long ago."

I think we know were Verducci’s going here. If the Yankees aren’t involved, Tommy loses interest faster than Jose Reyes racing to second base.

Sorry you're bored, Tom, because there have been some exciting, close games so far. Seriously, “Almost no drama, no moments for posterity and no storyline?”

Did he not see Paul Lo Duca tag two people at home in the same play? That was memorable

How about Frank Thomas coming to bat with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth in ALCS Game 2? Or even Big Frank launching two bombs in Game 1 of the Division Series, taking the Twins and likely Cy Young Award-winner Johann Santana out of the series?

Did he miss the Cardinals battling back and getting over on the Mets in NLCS Game 2?

How about the Tom Glavine-Jeff Weaver duel in Game 1 of the NLCS? It seemed pretty dramatic when Carlos Beltran’s blast landed a third of the way up the Shea scoreboard.

I kind of thought Carlos Delgado making the most of his first postseason was a cool storyline, especially with his monster shot against the Dodgers and two homers in Game 2 against the Cards.

The whole Yankee soap opera was entertaining for a day or two.

No, Tom’s not happy because the team he spends a career hyping couldn’t cut it this year despite spending $200 million on dysfunctional All-Stars. Tommy’s going go have to go the rest of the season without lavishing praise on Derek F. Jeter or dropping condescending smacks on Fenway grounds crew members -- "dirt tenders," in Verducci-speak.

Maybe he can take some time and go back and re-read his column from the 2004 All-Star Game when he putdown Milwaukee as some kind of hicktown undeserving of an important event. It’s never too late to apologize, Tom.

Of course, if he bemoaned having to travel to Milwaukee, I can only imagine what Verducci will have to say about Detroit.

So while Verducci laments the lack of drama, moments and storylines, I’m going to kick back and enjoy all three – because they’re all there.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Postseason scares on Friday 13th

As I’m sure you know, it’s Friday the 13th.

I used to like those movies when I was younger. I have no idea why. I guess any homicidal maniac who wears sporting equipment was OK. And he was far better than the other big baddie at the time, Freddy Krueger, who ran out of puns somewhere in the middle of the first film and seemed to go on for about a half-dozen more.

So I guess it’s a day where we’re supposed to be thinking about scary things. And so far this postseason we have seen some scary, scary things.

Let’s review the top 10 scary things so far:

1) That red thing on Scott Spiezio’s chin. If you’re going to grow a beard, then grow a beard. But that thing looks like a ponytail growing out of his lower lip. Is that some kind of hazing prank?

2) Fox announcers. I realize that Joe Buck’s dad is an all-time great Cardinals announcer. But it seems like he’s leaning way too far toward the Cards than an objective announcer is supposed to. I’m not saying he’s bordering on Klapisch-esque Yankee homerism, but I thought the guy was gonna break out in tears after Beltran launched that blast a third of the way up the scoreboard in Game One.

3) The Oakland Athletics. Do the A’s plan to show up at some point? After they ripped through the Twins, I thought they’d beat up the Tigers and we’d be looking at 1973 Part II without the benefit of having Willie Mays. Instead they’re tossing the ball around and need to go Red Sox v Skanks ‘04 if they want to stick around.

4) Kenny Bleeping Rogers is pitching like a man possessed -- seven years too late to do us any good. He’s due for a meltdown.

5) High school football. I had to run out to pick up my son Friday night, and I was thinking, "OK, I can listen to the game on the radio on the way there and back and not miss much. I got in the car and punched up the local sports radio station, and instead of Major League Baseball playoffs they’ve got a high school football game with announcers getting waaaaay too excited. I punched in a couple other sports stations, and it was the same thing -- but with broadcasters not mainlining Red Bull. What the heck? High school football is big out here. Not like Texas or anything, but there are people here who tailgate before games. Being a New Yorker living here is difficult sometimes.

6) NLCS umpiring. How come when the Mets are up, the umpires are suddenly calling strikes like they’ve got a date with Rachel Ray after the game?

7) Arod’s incident with the jet sliding off the runway. Not for nothing, but next time I board a plane I’m going to stand up and say "Attention please, are there any members of the New York Yankees on this aircraft?" If so, I am so outta there.

8) Snow. We expect snow here in Michigan. Some people even like it. I must say I don’t mind it in December. Sadly, we get it from November to April. And there is no way I want to wake up in the at the start of the league championship series and see an inch of snow on my lawn. We still have green leaves on some trees, for goodness sake.

9) A hot tub in Vegas, baby! The Verizon ad was funny the first time, and maybe even the 30th time. But by airing No. 325 I openly hate it. If I didn’t have cool David Wright wall paper on my Verizon phone I’d start a boycott.

10) Steve "Psycho" Lyons making fun of blind people. And this guy was traded for Tom Seaver?

Post-games scares:

OK, the Wagner meltdown hurt. But remember we had won eight in a row until last night and you're going to drop one once in a while. We're still going to win this.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Cory Lidle, ex-Met

There are days when we use this space to mock, rebuke, bemoan and curse all thing Yankee.

But today is not that day.

Our thoughts and prayers this day are with the families of Cory Lidle and the other people injured and killed in today's tragedy.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Tigers, Yankees, pie and the spectacle

Remember the scene in “Stand By Me” where Gordie is sitting around the campfire and tells the story about the pie-eating contest?

The thumbnail version is that the overweight, picked-on kid enters the contest and plots his revenge against the town by downing a whole bottle of castor oil just before the event, eats the pies then hurls all over the place. As the smell of the vomit wafts through people in the crowd, they, too, start hurling all over everyone and everything.

As this is happening, the picked-on kid stands on the stage, proudly surveying the chaos he has created.

Friends, I submit to you that the Detroit Tigers are “Lard Ass” Hogan.

In the wake of their improbable triumph over the Evil Empire, the Tigers have unleashed chaos and despair over all things Yankee.

It’s a beautiful thing. Let’s chronicle the events since that fateful Saturday night.

1) There are rumblings that Yankee skipper Joe Torre will be packing his bags. I guess nine straight first-place finishes and six trips to the World Series are not enough to keep your job.

And when you think about it, this should polish off Torre as a manger. How can he go somewhere else with his reputation intact? It’s not like any team searching for a manager is ready to contend, unless you put a lot of faith in the “Sack Showalter, Soar to the Series” theory.

So wherever Torre lands next, when he finishes anywhere other than first place, people will say, “See, he can’t win without a $200 million payroll. A trained chimp or Don Zimmer could have manager to the playoffs.”

2) If No. 1 is true, then reports are that Yankee retread Lou Piniella will take over. Oh yeah, that’s what they need, a guy last seen bailing from the Devil Rays, right after bailing on the Mariners.

Anybody care to speculate how fiery Lou’s tantrums will go over in a Yankee clubhouse allegedly stocked by corporate executive types?

If Lou couldn’t motivate a bunch of juvenile Devil Rays, what makes anyone think players like Jorge Posada and Derek F. Jeter will do anything but chuckle when Piniella goes into his “Throw the Base” routines?

3) One of the arguments in favor of Lou is that he’s had success with Alex Rodriguez in Seattle. That may be true, except the universal consensus is that 8-Rod, too, is headed out of town.

Alex, of course, got lose with the “I sucked” comments while Tigers players were pouring champagne on Michigan State Police troopers’ hats.

Now, I’m not saying Alex is wrong. The stats don’t lie. He did suck, and for $25 million he could have mixed in an occasional base hit.

But the truth is that signs point to Rodriguez being banished even before his clubhouse confessional.

You don’t bat the reigning MVP eighth in a win-or-go-home game unless you are trying to make a statement. You also don’t sign off on Yankee hacks writing damning articles in Sports Illustrated the week before the playoffs unless you are trying to tell someone they are not wanted.

Heck, if the series had gone one more game, Rodriguez probably would have been assigned to the ground crew or being the bat boy.

Don’t blame this all on Torre. I don’t believe for a minute that any of those things could have happened without the higher-ups signing off. Maybe they even ordered the hit.

4) Speaking of ARod, the New York Daily News looked to bump it’s circulation among Mets fans by posting this headline on the back page on Tuesday: “Blame Jeter.”

I have no problem for that. I blame Jeter for everything from gas prices to the Blue Jays’ horrid uniform. But the News actually tried to back up their allegations with facts.

Jeter, the apparent pick among AL beat writers to take home an underserved MVP, got toasted for being a rather lame team captain and not defending ARod when he was getting pounded on all season, allowing the situation to snowball to the point that Rodriguez was a quivering pile of pinstriped pooh once the postseason rolled around.

It’s a major event when the fawning New York media implies that Jeter had a day that wasn’t quite as glorious as the day he is entitled to for all his greatness. To see these guys actually state that St. F. Jeter has a fault is just shocking. I’m sure apologists like Klapisch and Verducci will strike back in full rage during the next few days, possibly even picketing outside the News’ headquarters.

No doubt all of this was fueled by the Mets’ chipping their way past the Dodgers on the same day. I’m not a Newsday fan, but the “Sweep and Weep” headline was possibly the best ever.

When all this shakes out, here’s what I expect to see happen.

1) Torre is indeed fired, takes his $7 million contract and spend the year making occasional visits to the Baseball Tonight studios where he can join Steve Phillips in second-guessing his former employers.

2) Piniella takes over, throws a fit when Bobby Abreu goes only 3 for 4 in a game against the Red Sox, overturns the clubhouse spread and is stunned when Mariano Rivera shows no emotion when a piece of fried chicken bounces off his forehead. Silly Lou, cyborgs don’t show emotion.

3) After a year of meltdowns and a second-place finish behind the Red Sox, Der Boss decides that the Yankees need a more calming presence and rehires Joe Torre.

4) Alex Rodriguez is traded to the Los Angeles Angels for a Rally Monkey and Dean Chance, who despite being long retired is still younger than Randy Johnson, and Donnie Moore, who despite being, well, dead, is more useful to the team than Carl Pavano. The Yankees agree to pay whatever part of ARod’s $25 million contract that the Rangers aren’t paying.

5) ARod regains his form and is sent to Red Sox at the trading deadline for Manny Rameriz, Mike Lowell and Roger Clemens, who came out of retirement a week prior to the deal. Rodriguez, who does not bat eighth, goes on an eight-week power binge. In an important game against the Yanks, ARod strides to the plate to face Mo Rivera with the bases loaded and promptly clanks one off the Ruth monument. Jeter trips him as he trots past, prompting Verducci to write “Classless ARod tries to pass through Derek’s personal space.” Rivera shows no emotion because cyborgs don’t show emotion.

Remember, you read it here first!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Remembering Buck O'Neil

I was fortunate to meet Buck O'Neil in February at the Negro Leagues Museum.

Tip of the cap to baseball ambassador Buck O'Neil, who died yesterady at age 94.

One of the joys of my job is that sometimes you get to be in places where you meet some incredible people. I had the extreme pleasure of meeting Mr. O'Neil twice -- you can read about it here -- and he was an amazing gentleman.

We have to put up with a lot of jerks in baseball. Once in a while we run into someone like O'Neil who reminds you about all the good things. A lot of people were angry that O'Neil wasn't among the Negro League players and leaders selected for the Hall of Fame this year. He fell one vote short, and it's a sign of his graciousness that he was on hand in Cooperstown to help induct the 16 men and one woman enshrined this summer.

It certainly would have been an honor for him to be included. But I don't think we're going to need a plaque to remember Buck O'Neil.

Godspeed, Buck!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Mets and Tigers, a common bond

I’ve lived in Michigan for 16 years and have attended Detroit Tigers games every year, but I can’t really say I’ve been a fan of the team. Until now.

Tuesday night’s spanking notwithstanding, we Mets fans must embrace all things Motown and get behind the Tigers.

It’s not just because they’re playing the Vile Ones. There’s more. We can offer moral support for suffering from the same malady: Kenny Bleeping Rogers.

Of course we remember what happened in Game 6 of the 1999 NLCS. How can we possibly forget? The image of Todd Pratt catching ball four way high and way outside then disgustedly dropping the ball as Andruw Jones could scarcely express his glee at driving in the winning run and sending his team to the World Series without even having to swing at a pitch, it’s all seared in the backs of our minds repressed with the deepest and darkest memories.

Flash forward to last Sunday. The Tigers were fighting to hang on to their division title, and already gagged away a 6-run lead against the worst team in baseball.

With the game tied in extra innings and first place on the line, who does Jim Leyland trot out there? The Gambler.

That decision right there is enough to make every writer dive into the mailbox to take back his Manager of the Year ballot before it could be counted.

The only thing I imagine Leyland was thinking is that there’s no way Rogers can have the ame meltdown twice. Surely, he must have thought, Rogers learned from his past.

Apparently not. I watched highlights late Sunday and saw bases loaded and ball four, way high and way outside. The exact same spot. The only thing missing was Gerald "Ice" Williams skipping home.

"He did it AGAIN?" I shouted to my wife. "How in the heck can he possibly do that twice? That ball wasn’t even close!"

As Yogi said, "It’s like deja vu all over again."

All the horrid details of that season-ending nightmare came back. I had just started here in Grand Rapids, and was commuting two hours each direction to Flint until our house sold.

I was working nights at the time, typically not leaving until after 11 p.m. But I was glued to the newsroom television until midnight when Ozzie Guillen tied it up again in the bottom of the 10th inning, then picked up the game on the radio.

There was a leadoff double from Ice, who moved on a sacrifice from Brett Boone, followed by intentional walks to Chipper Bleeping Jones and Brian Jordan. Then up stepped Jones, bat firmly on his shoulder.

There’s not a lot of things to see on the route between Grand Rapids and Flint. A lot of farms. Perhaps a cow was startled by the scream of agony coming from the cranberry-colored Plymouth Voyager speeding through the darkness at that late hour.

After roughing up the cameraman last year while a member of the Texas Rangers, Rogers he allegedly also got into a little spat with a Tigers fan on Sunday who has since filed a police complaint.

The Gambler, it seems, is nothing if not consistent.