Monday, January 29, 2007

The Six Million Dollar Man

I got to thinking recently with Chicago in the Super Bowl how the fates of the Lions and the Bears have diverged since I saw them play at Soldier Field in the second game of the 2004 season.

That game was notable for a few reasons. One is that both teams looked pretty poor but the Lions ultimately won, thus ending their 24 straight road loss streak (three whole seasons). It was also the game where Charles Roger extended his broken collar bone streak to two consecutive seasons (nice work trainers). And it was the home debut of Bears Coach Lovie Smith, who was and still is paid less than a quarter of the salary (1.4M vs. 6M) than Steve Maruicci, the coach of the Lions in that game. Two and a half years later, Smith is in the Super Bowl and Maruicci, who was fired towards the end of the 2005 season is in broadcasting (though is still due to be paid 6 million dollars by the Lions next year.)

If the Lions were running a real business, Matt Millen would be fired on his disastrous financial decisions alone. Last year, the Lions paid 6 million dollars to a coach who didn’t coach (and is still the highest paid coach in the NFL), 2 million dollars to a first year coach who moved from a position rather than coordinator job (so here too they may have overpaid) and another 2 million or so for their offensive coordinator. All this money to coach a team who won three games. If you break that down per win, the Lions paid just over $2.5 million in head coaching salary for each of their three wins this season while the Bears paid less than 100K for their wins.

Millen fired his original coach Marty Morningwhig before the 2003 season (after giving him a vote of public confidence days earlier) to hire his Six Million Dollar Man. And in his haste to bring in the man they call Mooch, he did not interview any other coaching candidates, and was subsequently fined by the NFL for not considering a minority candidate. This whole episode just further proves that Lions owner William Clay Ford has absolutely no business sense. It's one thing to be the owner of a losing football franchise but to get hosed for millions by the complete incompetence of your own manager is quite another. Even if the team was winning, Mr. Ford should be upset that they have unnecessarily wasted millions of dollars.

If they were a real business enterprise (I know far fetched), and had looked at how overpriced a winning coach is in the NFL, and how many times qualified assistants go on to become successful head coaches, and how they can get those individuals for a lot less, why would you make any other decision (especially when you are going to lose three quarters of your game anyway.)

Friday, January 26, 2007

Nurturing Our Young

Last season was a wonderful, magical year for the Detroit Tigers. I knew it was for real when I read a baseball column in the New York Post over last year’s Memorial Day weekend that said, “Talking to AL executives, they say while the Tigers are a big surprise, they are no fluke.”

I guess it was hard to notice in 2003 as they lost game after game, that they were playing the youngsters that would lead them to an American League Championship in 2006.

The good fortunes of the Tigers and the Red Wings have been possible because of the talent they have drafted and developed. The Tigers exodus from winning baseball for the 12 seasons before their World Series appearance was the direct result of not drafting well and not developing their talent. Now that they are back on top, they are back to their old proven ways.

The Pistons have been winners too but have historically acquired their players though trades and free agent signings. While they did draft the anchor of their first championships (Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars) they traded for Bill Liamber, Rick Mahorn, Vinnie Johnson and Mark Aquire. Even now, with their All Star starting five, the only player they drafted was Tashyn Prince. Their second overall draft park Darko Milicic, after three pissy years in Detroit, turned out to be a bust and was traded (about the time they really needed him.) It has worked out well for the Pistons and the NBA is a league where you can trade yourself into contention, or as the case is with Isiah in New York, trade yourself into oblivion. (Let’s hope that the Pistons develop some of their new young players like Jason Maxiel and Amir Johnson.)

The Wings, though they did have the rent a high priced veteran method for much of the pre-lock out NHL, were able to do this even as they traded high draft picks because of their outstanding European scouting. The players the Wings have acquired via trade or free agency have always played a supporting role to their core group players, whom they drafted and developed. And it has had an international flavor. The Russian Five have been replaced by the Swedes as of late, but the result is the same. The Wings keep on winning.

Then there is the Detroit Lions. This pathetic franchise has done a poor job drafting and developing their own players, hence their horrible performance as a competitive professional football enterprise. And in professional football, you have no other choice. You can not build through free agency and trades and the Lions have proved this again and again through their horrible free agency signings. The Lions, as always, a disgrace to Detroit Sports City.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Lindell AC History Primer

MOTOR CITY JOURNAL: Legendary Lindell bar to fade into city's storied sports history

December 4, 2002
Detroit Free Press

The aroma from the grill smelled the same Tuesday evening at the Lindell A.C., and former Detroit Lion Wayne Walker's bronzed jockstrap hung augustly from the wall alongside museum-quality hockey sticks, bats and black-and-white photos.

But it felt like a wake inside the cramped, mythical, formerly rowdy saloon at Cass and Michigan in downtown Detroit. That was an appropriate feeling, because the Lindell is closing Sunday night after 52 years of serving burgers, beers and sports as one of the state's best-known bars.

"I've done my share of crying already," said waitress Lisa Soria, 42, who began working the counter in 1979.

Owner John Butsicaris, 82, said the bar will close with a party featuring an appearance by the Stanley Cup.

"There are so many years here," Butsicaris said. "So many people. So many incidents. My whole life has been here."

Butsicaris said he would like to reopen the Lindell near the downtown stadiums, but he is not close to a deal. The new owner, who could not be reached, plans to open a nightclub in the Lindell location. Butsicaris will take the memorabilia with him.

The Lindell attracted little attention in recent years, but it was one of Detroit's true hot spots into the 1970s -- when all of Detroit's professional teams played nearby, numerous local stars and visiting VIPs made the bar their home-away-from-home, and many people believed several vodka tonics before bedtime was good for you.

In 1968, the Tigers gathered at the Lindell with hundreds of patrons the night they clinched the American League pennant just blocks away at Tiger Stadium.

In 1963, National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle charged that the Lindell was a center for illegal sports betting, and forced Lions tackle Alex Karras, the future actor, to sell his share in the bar.The Lindell also was the site of a brawl between Karras and flamboyant wrestler Dick the Bruiser, whose real name was Richard Afflis.

Those incidents gave the Lindell a raucous reputation, as did its association with Billy Martin, the rambunctious Tigers manager who became the bar's patron saint. Martin, who began drinking there as a New York Yankees infielder with teammates Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle, befriended Butsicaris and his late brother Jimmy.

"They would come to town and borrow my car," said Butsicaris. "I had a real snazzy Buick convertible."

Martin soon suggested they convert the place to a sports theme. Martin told them how they could split a baseball bat lengthwise to better fasten it to the wall, and he procured bats from all the American League teams.

In 1969, Martin added to the bar's legend when he made national news by punching out one of his pitchers, Dave Boswell, in the alley behind the bar. Boswell received 20 stitches; Martin got seven. At the time, Martin was manager of the Minnesota Twins.

The Lindell also drew notice because John and Jimmy Butsicaris promoted the career of Ron LeFlore, a Jackson prison inmate who became a Tigers star.

Jimmy Butsicaris was the subject of a 1979 TV movie on CBS, "Andre and Jimmy B," the story of how Butsicaris became a foster father to young Andre Reynolds, son of a heroin addict. Karras played Jimmy B in the film. Jimmy Butsicaris played a bartender in the movie "The Paper Lion," George Plimpton's saga about the Lions, starring Karras.

The Lindell began to fade when the Lions moved from nearby Tiger Stadium to distant Pontiac.

"I took that personally," said Butsicaris. "I have never been to the Silverdome."

The Lindell began life in a fleabag hotel nearby at Cass and Bagley, when the area was Detroit's skid row. It moved to Cass and Michigan in 1963.

"Jimmy never let a hooker work the bar," said longtime radio personality Sonny Eliot, a close friend of the Butsicaris brothers. "It was a neighborhood bar in downtown Detroit.

"It saddens me to see it die. Well, not really die, but fade away."

Remembering Detroit's Original Original Sports Bar: The Lindelll AC [Detroit Athletic Co. Blog]

Photos from the Lindell AC in Detroit Facebook Page [Facebook]

Lindell A.C. No More [Faded Detroit]

Lindell AC in Detroit [Facebook Group]

Discuss Detroit: Lindell A.C. [Discuss Detroit]

Last of the Lindell AC [Flickr]

Lindel AC (sic) (Athletic Club) []

Lindell AC 1310 Cass Avenue Detroit [DetroitYES]

Lindell AC owner John Butsicaris dead at 91 [WXYZ Detroit]

Detroit is more than Detroit Rock City!

Okay to kick this thing off I thought I’d answer one of the stock questions I sometimes throw out to the ladies I hit on. It can be an interesting and revealing question. “What was the first concert you attended?” Mine was Billy Idol during the Rebel Yell tour (in case you’re interested.) Anyway, that is not the question here. The question is “What was the first time I saw a live sporting event for each of the Detroit pro teams?”

Detroit Red Wings: When I first came to and started to comprehend sports, I grew to love hockey. In Detroit, you are fed a steady diet of the great Canadian game via the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC). The basement where I would get out the hockey sticks and tennis balls and pound my parent’s new paneling into submission always had Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights. And being on the east side and less than a mile from the territorial waters that pointed South into Canada, the station received better reception than a lot of the Detroit stations with their west side broadcast towers. The Red Wings were horrible in the late 70s and early 80s, and didn’t make the playoffs even when 16 of 17 NHL teams were invited. They were known as the Dead Wings at the time although you would not know this if you wanted to get tickets to a game. They had a rolling method of selling individual game tickets and would announce a certain game would go on sale at 3 in the afternoon and they would be sold out in a couple hours. Somehow one time we did get tickets and this would be the only game I attended at the old Olympia Stadium. I remember my father being quite horrified at the west side Grand River location and even more so by the narrow passageways in and out of the stadium. Even to this day the most nostalgic words he will express about the old stadium are, “that place was a fire trap.” The game was against the St. Louis Blues and the Wings were in the middle of the first season with their big free agency signing that season, the goalie Rogie Vachon (BTW, awesome hockey name). The game was a high scoring affair and when it was over the Wings had lost 6-5. (Don’t know how I remember that.) Anyway, the next morning in the sports pages there was a story about how Rogie Vachon was actually nearly blind in one eye and he somehow finessed his way through his physical. It would be a while before the Wings got good including a heartbreaking loss to the San Jose Sharks in the 1994 quarterfinals and a sweep by the New Jersey Devils in 95 (I had tickets to Game 5) but three Stanley Cups, and a lot of Russian and Swedish players later, it’s all good.

Detroit Pistons: Before they moved out to the Palace, the Pistons were a nomadic team in terms of a home stadium. They started to play at Olympia Stadium and then downtown at Cobo Hall (after the big move from the Fort Wayne) before they made the move to the ‘burbs to play at Pontiac Silverdome. There was a window when Isiah Thomas had been drafted (1981) and they were not quite the ‘Bad Boys’ yet and you could get awesome tickets down close to the floor at the Silverdome. They had built this huge contraption that sealed off much of Silverdome and added floor seats but they could hold a lot of people, in fact they had huge crowds of 60,000 people at times (trying to find the citation for this). That is the great thing about basketball; you can get seats that are scary close to the action. I remember walking by the floor during their warm-ups and the players would be inches from your face as they retrieved the practice balls. So we were courtside at the Pontiac Silverdome but I can’t remember who they played or what happened. I remember it was not tough to get tickets, which changed when they got good. It was the era of Greg Kelser and Kelly Tripucka, in other words, a mediocre era. But that would change with the Bad Boys and as George Blaha refers to him, the arrival of “the prophet Isiah.”

Detroit Lions:
This also took place at the Silverdome, the home (for one game) to Super Bowl champions the 1984 San Francisco 49ers. This was a game that took place on a December 15 (not sure what year) I think Billy Sims was on the team on that point (which only lasted four or five seasons). They won that game. The best time for me as Lions fans growing up was Billy Sims rookie year, where they won their first four games and their safety Jimmy ‘Spiderman” Allen, receiver Freddie “Doc” Scott and Tight End David Hill recorded the song "Another One Bites The Dust" and rewrote the lyrics to make them Lions centric (ex. “See Billy Run, You couldn’t catch him with a gun.) I had a Billy Sims poster on my bedroom wall that year and it included a Q and A that said his favorite actor was Tony Curtis, which I didn't think of much at the time but seems interesting now. The Lions were always hopeless. I remember in High School after getting done with a hockey game wanting to get home because it was the first game that Chuck Long was starting as a Lion in his rookie year. Kind of like rushing to the scene of an accident just so you can gawk.

Detroit Tigers:
When I was a kid, I was a Tigers fan above all other teams. Going to Tiger Stadium was like going to a cathedral. When I walked through those tunnels and saw that beautiful field, with the groundskeeper smoothing out the infield dirt and watering the outfield grass, it was like a mystical place. I don’t remember my first game but a couple games stand out. The first was a doubleheader where I earned free tickets from a paperboy route I had at the time. This was when I was confused and thought seeing two games was better than one. The more the better and it’s all free. Life is good. It was cool that my dad agreed to stay for the two games (hope I’m as patient with my son). It was a horribly hot and humid and sticky day and the game ruined my pair of shoes (evening out the savings for the two tickets.) I believe it was against the Blue Jays. And the best game of them all was the 1984 American League Championship Series when the Detroit Tigers defeated the Kansas City Royals and earned a place in the World Series (which they won) and created the prototype for all celebratory riots that followed. And there was a third game that stands out, the return of Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. I remember the news of his start in the 1980 season was all the radio chatter and my dad scored the seats, and the Bird came back, pitched a great game and the Tigers win, but sadly that would be the last season of his career. I love the Bird, man, he was awesome.