Monday, March 31, 2008

April Fools Eve

Tomorrow is April Fools Day. Here are a couple recent developments that I wish were April Fools Day Pranks:

Interior of Michigan's Offensive Line Quits
I have no particular love for any of the individuals that quit (Alex Mitchell, Jeremy Ciulla, or Justin Boren). However, just the fact that new head coach Rich Rodriguez will have to essentially start fresh with an 80% (at least) new offensive line is rather disturbing. Unlike some Michigan fans out there, I don't blame RichRod for this. If the players couldn't handle the workload, they shouldn't be here. I blame the players for being wusses. And I blame Justin Boren for whining publicly about it afterwards. It is encouraging, however, that Georgia had three freshman starters on their OL last season, and they were arguably the best team in the country by the end of the year. An offensive line that performs like they did in the play shown above probably deserves to be replaced (screen shot stolen borrowed from mgoblog).

All Number 1 Seeds Advance to Final Four
For the first time ever, each of the regional number one seeds advanced to the final four. While this should make for an unpredictable final four, there is no underdog to root for this year - not even a semi-surprising four sead, much less an out-of-left-field George Mason. That's half the fun of the tourney - rooting for "David" to beat the "Goliath." It's not as much fun watching a bunch of Goliaths go at each other, but it should make for some exciting evenly matched tense games.

Curtis Granderson on the DL
The Tigers centerfielder and offensive catalyst will start the season on the DL with a broken finger. This could lead to a slow start for the Tigers, but they have enough pop in the lineup that they can survive a couple weeks without him. It's always a downer to start the season with your leadoff hitter on the shelf. If they can play .500 ball without him, they'll be fine.

Hideki Matsui got Married
Will this be the end of his legendarily huge and extensive porn collection? Will his wife make him throw it all out? If so, I have "a friend" who probably could find a use for it. From what I understand, Japanese porn is quite strange, even by porn standards.

Taos Lifts Ban on Snowboarders
The popular New Mexico ski resort Taos Ski Valley finally has given in. They are now allowing snowboarders on their hallowed slopes. I do not lament the fact that they have finally allowed snowboarders, but that it took so long. How long has snowboarding been around? Fifteen, twenty years? Having a snobby ban on snowboarders was becoming a failed marketing strategy, as they were neglecting a large portion of potential customers.


Antarctic Ice Shelf Collapses
A 160 square mile piece of the Wilkins Ice Shelf in Antarctic recently broke off. I'm no scientist, but that can't be good.

And just remember - don't believe anything you hear or read tomorrow. Celebrity deaths, political decrees, odd news items, etc.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Chris Webber - The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Chris Webber officially retired from the NBA yesterday. Like many Michigan fans, I have conflicting emotions when it comes to Webber.

The Good
On the one hand, he was the leader of a great collection of talented freshmen at Michigan that led the Wolverines to two consecutive final four appearances. He was a strong, powerful inside presence, he had a deft touch on mid-range jumpers, and he was a great passer and ball handler for a big man. His years at Michigan were arguably the most exciting in Michigan basketball history. My wife's introduction to Michigan basketball was the fab five era. After leaving U of M, he was the first pick in the draft. He was rookie of the year. He was a five-time all-star. He averaged 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists per game - only the fifth player ever to accomplish that (the other four are in the hall-of-fame). Showing he has a sense of humor about his past mistakes, Webber created "The Timeout Foundation," which provides educational opportunities for youngsters. He also has an extensive collection of African American artifacts that has been featured in several museums. By all accounts, he's a good guy.

The Bad
On the other hand, he seemed to be the epitome of unfulfilled potential. With Michigan down by two at the end of the 1993 National Championship game against UNC, he took the inbounds pass and traveled. When that wasn't called, he proceeded to dribble down court and call a timeout when the team did not have one, resulting in a technical foul and sealing the game for the Tar Heels. After turning pro, he squabbled with his first head coach Don Nelson, which led to him being traded after his first season. Like he did at Michigan, he made his NBA teams very good, but was unable to lead any of them to a championship. His last few years, he has been reduced to a shell of his former self due to several knee injuries.

The Ugly
Of course, there is also the minor matter of "The Ed Martin Scandal." Webber eventually admitted to accepting lots of money from Martin during (and before) his years at Michigan, which resulted in the Wolverines forfeiting lots of games, the deletion of Webber's records from the record books, and removing the two final four banners from the rafters of Crisler Arena. In addition, he is banned from involvement with the Michigan program until 2012. His legacy at Michigan could have been one of greatness and brilliance. Instead, it's one of cheating, horrible decision-making, and unfulfilled promise. In Ann Arbor, it's like he never existed. It's like institutional denial: "It never happened."

The bottom line is, many Michigan fans have great memories of the "Fab Five" years. At the time, it was incredible. Exciting basketball, lots of wins, an all-freshman starting-five, and great team players. However, those same fans feel like Webber betrayed them and their memories are forever tainted by his involvement with Ed Martin. While Webber is certainly to blame for his involvement, the coaching staff allegedly was aware of Ed Martin's shenanigans and turned a blind eye to it because of Webber's talent. The blame for all this, in order, falls on Webber, Martin, and the Michigan Athletic Dept.

I was trying to think of an analogy that makes sense. Maybe it's like a great love affair. It was great for a short time, and even a few years later you look back and think about how great it was - the sex melted your face, you were excited every time you saw her, and it was one of the happiest times of your life. But then, ten years later, you found out that she was screwing four other guys at the same time (your friends knew about it at the time and didn't tell you), and you just feel dirty. Then, when you see her five years after that, you're kinda happy that she looks like a crack-whore, and is living in a trailer with a meth-dealer in east Texas.

Edited to add: Chris Webber rapping. One more reason to dislike him.

Edited again: Apparently, the video has been taken down. Double turds!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

NCAA Regionals - South and Midwest

Click here for the East and West Regionals.

Here's part 2 of our guide to the NCAA regionals - the South and Midwest Regionals.

South Region - The Wink Martindale Region
This is the toughest region to pick. I think the Longhorns are going to beat the Spartans to reach the final four.

The Cardinal are led by twin big men Brook and Robin Lopez. These guys are "actual" twin towers. Really, they're twins. Do you think they'll mention that during the telecast? The Cardinal last made the final four in 1998. They have won one NCAA championship - in 1942. There were 8 teams in the tournament. Since all able-bodied men were off fighting in WWII, the starting lineup consisted of two semi-crippled overweight engineers, two large lesbians, and a golden retriever. Notable Stanford alums include President Herbert Hoover, former Vice Presidential candidate Admiral James Stockdale (Perot's running mate), filmmaker Roger Corman, actor Jack Palance, poet laureate Robert Pinsky, Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang, and Vintner Robert Mondavi (but not his son Shawn Mondavi). In fact, there are so many "notable" Stanford alumni, that I could not list all the astronauts, supreme court justices, etc. Suffice to say, Stanford wins just about any argument regarding significant alums.

What you need to know to watch the game: Their mascot is a tree. And the nickname is "Cardinal." Singular. It's cardinal, as in "the color red." As far as I know, they are the only college team with a color as their nickname - or a tree as their mascot. Lots of teams have color in their names (Blue Devils, Red Storm, Golden Hurricanes, etc), but Stanford is the only color as their name. Stanford has won the NACDA Director's Cup, awarded annually to the college or university with the most success in collegiate athletics, for 13 consecutive years (1994-95 to 2006-07). Also, did you know that Stanford has twin brothers on their team?

The Austin campus has over 33,000 undergrads, placing it behind only Penn State, Texas A&M, and Ohio State in total undergrad enrollment. The basketball team has landed on its feet after Kevin Durant left after just one season in Austin. They lost only six times all year, and three of those were to teams that are still alive in the NCAA tournament. If it's true that guard play is what leads to NCAA tournament success, Texas is in pretty good shape. Their top two scorers are guards. The Longhorns have never won a national title, but they last made the final four in 2003. They've always been known as a football school. Notable UT alums include cartoonist Berkeley Breathed (Bloom County), 70s wank fantasy Farrah Fawcett, singer Janis Joplin, record exec David Geffen, actor Fess Parker (Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett), ugly actor Eli Wallach, cheater Roger Clemens, and Ima Hogg (daughter of former Texas governor).

What you need to know to watch the game: Texas will be playing close to home in Houston. In addition, if they get out of the region, the final four is in San Antonio, which is about the same distance from Austin as Houston is. There is a serious possibility for a Texas advantage here. Also, their burnt orange is not nearly as annoying and retina-scarring as the Tennessee creamsicle orange.

This school was known as Memphis State University until 1994, when they changed the name to University of Memphis. Their basketball team has enjoyed a resurgence under head coach John Calipari and since his arrival in 2000, and have made the postseason every year he has been there. The Tigers have made the elite 8 the last two years. In order to do it again, they'll have to deal with a pesky MSU squad. Notable alums include actor and former presidential candidate Fred Thompson, game show host Wink Martindale, and civil rights leader Benjamin Hooks.

What you need to know to watch the game: Since they are playing in Texas on Friday night, I expect that there will be some inane discussion by the broadcast crews in-studio and on-site of the merits of Texas barbecue vs. Memphis barbecue. Prepare to be bored by it.

Michigan State
As I wrote previously, MSU has enjoyed some serious consistent success lately. This will be their seventh sweet 16 appearance in the last 11 years. Coach Tom Izzo (known as "God" in East Lansing) has built an elite program that is consistently contending not only for Big Ten titles, but for national titles as well. The Spartans have won two national titles (most recently in 2000), and they've been to four final fours in the last 9 years. This year's team was very inconsistent (a loss to Iowa in which the Spartans scored just 36 points, and losses to Illinois and Penn State), but Izzo has them peeking at tournament time yet again. Notable alumni include TV's Robert Urich, actor James Caan, Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane, and ambulance-chasing attorney Geoffrey Fieger.

What you need to know to watch the game: Izzo is known for his fierce rebounding drills, in which players often don football pads. The Spartans are always near the top of the Big Ten in rebounding, despite their somewhat undersized lineup. In fact, this year they led the conference in rebounding, as well as FG% and assists per game.

Midwest Region - The Chris Farley Region
I think Kansas is just too tough. Jayhawks over the Badgers for a trip to San Antonio.

Badgers head coach Bo Ryan is becoming the Tom Izzo of Wisconsin. The Badgers somehow consistently finish atop the Big Ten standings despite their overall whiteness, and the fact that players have to be convinced to come to school in Wisconsin. The Badgers simply outwork other teams and are surprisingly athletic - and very well coached. Wisconsin last made the final four in 2000, the year MSU took the title. While their plodding style is not always pretty, they know how to win. Not only that, but they've got a nice list of alumni. The list includes actress Joan Cusack, second lady Lynne Cheney, musician Steve Miller, actor Tom Wopat (Dukes of Hazzard), filmmakers David and Larry Zucker (Airplane!), actor Chris Farley, naturalist John Muir (founder of the Sierra Club).

What you need to know to watch the game: The Badgers' defensive stopper, Michael Flowers, will undoubtedly be assigned to Davidson leading scorer Curry. If anyone can stop Curry, Flowers is the guy. He held MSU's Drew Neitzel to a 1-for-10 shooting performance in their meeting earlier this year.

Davidson is a small private college in Davidson, NC. When I say "small," I mean small. The undergraduate enrollment is 1700. They won their conference title this year, and their best player (Stephen Curry) could probably start for any team in the country, including some NBA teams. His dad is longtime NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry. Their alumni list is surprisingly interesting, and it includes President Woodrow Wilson, former secretary of state Dean Rusk (1960s), former Clinton white house counsel Vince Foster, and former Fox News republican shill (sorry - redundancy alert) White House Press Secretary Tony Snow.

What you need to know to watch the game: If the Badgers can stop Stephen Curry - say, hold him to 20 points or less - they have a good chance of advancing. If Curry is able to get Flowers off the floor with foul trouble, or is able to get open and score 30+, look out Badgers.

Rock-chalk-Jayhawk! What the hell does that mean? I don't know what it means. I'm just a caveman. But there's one thing I do know: Kansas is good. They're making their sixth sweet sixteen appearance in eight years. They last made the final four in 2003, and they won the most recent of their two national titles in 1988, led by Danny Manning. In fact, I attended the regional final game that year in the Pontiac Silverdome. They played Mitch Richmond and the KSU Wildcats. Bill Self has been widely criticized for failing to get Kansas into the final four. He's trying to fill some mighty big shoes. The Jayhawks first coach was none other than the inventor of the game, James Naismith. Notable alumni include senator Bob Dole, actor Don Johnson, actor Paul Rudd, and baseball stat guru Bill James.

What you need to know to watch the game: Kansas has a very balance attack, with five players averaging between 9.5 and 13.1 ppg. Kansas leads the nation in scoring margin at 21 ppg.

Villanova is a catholic university located in Philadelphia. They may have been the last team invited to the tournament to fill out the field. A midseason five-game losing streak (including an embarrassing 22 point loss at St. Johns and a loss to Rutgers) almost doomed them. They have taken advantage of the opportunity with two tourney wins to make it to the sweet 16 for the third time in four years. They last made the final four in 1985, the same year that they upset Georgetown for their only national championship. Notable Villanova alumni include singer Jim Croce and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.

What you need to know to watch the game: Suggested drinking game - drink whenever reference is made to the 1985 national championship team. You'll be flat on your ass by the time the pregame show is over.

So, there you have it. My completely uninformed opinion about this weekend's games. Good luck with your brackets.

NCAA Regionals - East and West

Click here for the South and Midwest Regionals.

What I know about college basketball this year could fit on an old style 8-inch floppy disc. In other words, it's not much. Prior to the start of conference tournaments, I had not sat down and watched an entire game all season. But why should that stop me from posting a guide to the NCAA regionals? This is not original stuff, but I just gathered and assembled the info from around the internet into a concise package for your edumaction.

East Region - The Andy Griffith Region
This is the only region in which three of the four teams are actually located in relatively close proximity to the regional site (Charlotte, NC). I think Louisville is going to beat UNC for the spot in the final four.

For all the blather about UNC and tradition and Dean Smith and Michael Jordan and yadda yadda yadda, you would think they'd won like a hundred national titles. Nope. Just four. By the way, a "Tar Heel" is an inhabitant of North Carolina. Its origins are uncertain, but it probably has something to do with tar. And heels. Most famous alumni are basketball players, but some more notable non-basketball alums include novelist Russell Banks (The Sweet Hereafter, Cloudsplitter, Rule of The Bone), baseball guru Peter Gammons, comedian Lewis Black, actor Andy Griffith, President James K. Polk, Senator John Edwards, Caleb Bradham (inventor of Pepsi Cola), and Rick Dees (of "Disco Duck" fame).

What you need to know to watch the game: Rotation goes 9 or 10 players deep, and team averages just under 90 pts per game. "Carolina Blue" is only the second gayest color in the region.

Washington State
Washington State does not have much of a basketball tradition. They have one national title, and that came back in 1917, when they were still using peach baskets, there were only four teams competing, and all the players were 5'8" and had handlebar mustaches. And I think they used an inflated sheeps bladder for a ball. They last reached the final 4 in 1941. The Bennett family has brought basketball back to respectibility in Pullman, WA. Dick Bennett was followed by his son Tony as head coach. Last year, they lost in the second round of the NCAA tourney to Vanderbilt. Their most famous alumni are Microsoft co-founder and owner of the Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Seahawks Paul Allen and Bill Nye The Science Guy.

What you need to know to watch the game: Bennett coached teams are known for their tough defense. There is nothing else interesting about this team. Nothing.

The Cardinals have two national titles to their credit (1980, 1986). Head coach Rick Pitino has one title of his own from his years at Kentucky. They last reached the final four in 2005. Since 2000 the Cardinals are the only NCAA team to win a BCS bowl game, appear in the men's basketball Final Four, College Baseball World Series, and win a national championship in Track and Field. I've always wondered why their mascot is not horse-related, since the most famous horse race in the world, The Kentucky Derby, is held in Louisville. Their most famous alumni are senator Mitch McConnell, NPR host Bob Edwards, and celebfucker Larry Birkhead.

What you need to know to watch the game: Head coach Rick Pitino is short and wears nice suits. Team playes frenetic defense - often with a full-court press.

The Volunteers are not known for their basketball program. Their most accomplished era, prior to this one, was when they featured the "Ernie and Bernie" show, starring Ernie Grunfeld and Bernard King, and that was back in the 70s. Now, with Bruce Pearl at the helm, they are becoming a perennial NCAA tournament team. They also made it to the sweet 16 last year. Their women's team probably out-draws their men's team. The women have 7 NCAA titles. The men have never won a national title, and have never been to a final four. Their most famous alums include authors Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse 5), Alex Haley (Roots), and Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men), as well as noted poker player Chris Moneymaker, and former Jordanian Prime Minister Ali Abu al-Ragheb.

What you need to know to watch the game: Head coach Bruce Pearl wears a loud orange sport coats on the sidelines, and sometimes does a good imitation of David Puddy. Volunteers "creamsicle orange" is the gayest team color left in the sweet 16.

West - The Don Knotts Region
I'm picking UCLA to beat Xavier for a trip to the final four.

The Musketeers have become virtually a perennial participant in the NCAA tournament, despite the fact that their coaches often leave for more lucrative jobs elsewhere - Thad Matta to OSU, Skip Prosser to Wake Forest, Pete Gillen to Providence. They've made the field in 7 of the last 8 years. In that period, they have only lost in the first round twice. Not bad for a small private school (4000 undergrads). Notable alums include hall of fame pitcher and current senator Jim Bunning, and actor Robert Romanus, who played Mike Damone in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

What you need to know to watch the game: Xavier has six players averaging between 9.8 and 12.1 points per game.

West Virginia
The Mountaineers have recently encountered some prosperity, thanks in part to the coaching and recruiting of John Beilein, who's now Michigan's head coach. They've never made the final 4, but they made a run to the elite 8 in 2005, and the sweet 16 in 2006, behind the sweet shooting and multiple tatoos of Kevin Pittsnogle. They also won an NIT championship in 2007. So Bob Huggins (a WVU alum) inherited a tourney-tested squad this year. It's no surprise that he has them in the sweet 16 again. Notable alumni include actor Don Knotts, coaches Terry and Tommy Bowden, logo Jerry West, accused felon Pacman Jones.

What you need to know to watch the game: Bitter WVU fans are still threatening to kill Rich Rodriguez. Perhaps a trip to the final four will help them move on. Well, that and some moonshine from cousin Cleetus' still.

The Bruins have 11 national titles to their credit, and current coach Ben Howland has had them back into the final four the last two years. It's hard to top the tradition of UCLA basketball. Like UNC, their list of alumni is also basketball-intensive. As you might expect, it's pretty entertainer-heavy as well. Notable non-hoops alums include astronaut Story Musgrave (missions on all five space shuttles), overactor Jack Black, actor James Dean, MILF Heather Locklear, Spinal Tap's Harry Shearer, The Doors' Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison, former LA mayor Tom Bradley, and writer Carlo Castaneda.

What you need to know to watch the game: PAC-10 player of the year and freshman of the year Kevin Love is the nephew of Beach Boys singer Mike Love.

Western Kentucky
Located in Bowling Green, KY, the Hilltoppers made it to the NCAA tourney by virtue of their upset victory in the Sun Belt Conference tournament. WKU has previously made it to one final four - in 1971. Notable alums include filmmaker John Carpenter, PGA pro Kenny Perry, journalist Duncan Hines. Now, I'm not an expert, but when I looked up "hilltopper" in, this is what I got. Instead of putting it here for all to be disgusted by, I'll just link to it, and you can be disgusted by choice. "I'm a Hilltopper!"

What you need to know to watch the game: The Hilltoppers rely on two players to do most of their scoring. Lee and Brazleton average more than 34 ppg between them, and no one else on the team averages more than 8 ppg. Also, they have one of the most inexplicable mascots in all of sports. His/her/its name is Big Red, and that's him/her/it on the right.

Check back later to see the midwest and south regions.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Tom Izzo and Lloyd Carr

Tom Izzo has led his Michigan State Spartan basketball team to an impressive 7th NCAA Tournament sweet 16 in his 13th year as a head coach. It got me to thinking: his reign is similar in many ways to Lloyd Carr's run (also 13 years) as Michigan's head football coach. Let's have a look.

First of all, both started coaching in the shadow of a legendary coach: Izzo followed Jud Heathcote, and Lloyd followed Bo (after a few years of Moeller). Izzo's winning percentage as MSU head coach is 70%, and Lloyd's winning percentage as UofM head coach was 74%. Each has one national title - Izzo in 2000, Carr in 1997. Izzo won a title in his fifth year as head coach. Lloyd won a title in his third year. Izzo's team has seven sweet 16 appearances. Lloyd's teams finished in the top 16 seven different times. Each has had teams that in off-years still had some success at the end of the year - Lloyd with his bowl win over Florida last year, and Izzo with an elite 8 run in 2003 with 12 losses.

I'm not going to sit here and argue that Lloyd was a better coach than Izzo. They coach different sports with vastly differing philosophies, and the measures for success are quite different in each sport. Lloyd can't match Izzo's three consecutive final four appearances. Izzo can't match Lloyd's five conference titles. It's hard to equate coaching accomplishments in different sports, but both coaches have attained a kind of consistency that successful teams strive for. Lloyd led Michigan to bowl appearances in each of his 13 seasons, and Izzo has 11 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.

I have a lot of respect for Tom Izzo. I started thinking about Izzo and his success after their victory over Pitt this weekend, and how nice it would be to have a team in the tourney year after year. His teams are always near the top of the Big Ten and are sucessful in the tournament because they play smart and tough, and are well coached. And scandals at MSU are rare. He always seems to get the best out of the talent on his team.

Michigan head basketball coach John Beilein had some very nice success at WVU, and his leftover players are in the sweet 16 this year too. If he can start to get some good players to come to Ann Arbor (and not to East Lansing), he'll have Michigan contending in the Big Ten in no time. I have a feeling that in a couple years, we'll be starting an NCAA tournament streak of our own.

Go Blue!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Terrelle Pryor - D-Day

Well, it's back to football for a quick post. Terrelle Pryor is allegedly going to make his final decision on where to attend classes play football next year. It would be nice if he were to sign on with Michigan, but all experts seem to be thinking OSU. I am now more interested in his recruitment just for the possibility that he could play hoops. The Michigan basketball team could use some help. Would he even be allowed to play basketball at Michigan? He's gotta be good enough to contribute to a 10-win team. I have read some stuff on the web saying that he's a top-25 high school basketball player in addition to being the top high school football player. Beilein and Rodriguez should be sure to make a few more phone calls to Terrelle (assuming that it's legal) to make sure they have stated their case to him. He could help both the basketball and football teams immensely, and help jump start both programs after recent coaching changes. He is supposedly announcing his intentions at a noon EDT press conference. Godspeed, Terrelle.

NOTE: tOSU it is. Good luck Terrelle. Looks like Threet will be our QB next year.

Go Blue!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

2008 Detroit Tigers Preview - Wilco-Style

The Detroit Tigers will win the American League Central this year. Mark it down. After some brilliant off-season moves by GM Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers have the best lineup in baseball, and a great starting rotation as well. The band Wilco is in a similar situation. They just made a key acquisition for their latest album Sky Blue Sky - guitarist Nels Cline. I recently went to see Wilco in concert here in Houston and I can say with certainty that, thanks in part to the addition of Cline, they are at the top of their game. Here is a quick 2008 Detroit Tigers preview, with the projected starting line-up (in one possible batting order), and the Wilco song lyrics to help describe each player:

Your Team outlook - "Wishful Thinking"
Fill up your mind with all it can know
Don't forget that your body will let it all go
Fill up your mind with all it can know
'Cause what would we be without wishful thinking

This summarizes the feelings of just about every baseball fan in the spring. Except for the Pirates fans. And maybe the Devil Rays fans. And possibly the Orioles fans. All right, Royals fans too. But the last two seasons have produced some unlikely World Series teams: Colorado last year, and Detroit in 2006. I suspect that the fans of those two teams were less than optimistic about their teams' chances before the season.

Curtis Granderson (CF) - "Joe DiMaggio Done It Again"
Grandma's home by the radio
On the television watching Joe
She jerks the beard off of Grandpa's chin
Joe DiMaggio's done it again

It could be argued that Granderson had his breakout season in 2007. After all, he became only the third player in major league history (and the first since Willie Mays in 1957) to have 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 home runs, and 20 stolen bases in a single season. However, he's still young (just turned 27 on Sunday) and has some things he can improve on. In the leadoff spot, it would help if he were more selective and took a few more walks (only 52 in 2007), and he strikes out too much (141 in 2007). He has improved his OBP each season, so I am expecting big things from Granderson in 2008. He may not be in the same class as Joe DiMaggio, but he has some serious skills, and just an incremental improvement over last year could lead to big things for the Tigers this year.

Fun Fact: Has a highly entertaining blog on

Placido Polanco (2B) - "Outtasite (Outta Mind)"
You don't see me now
You don't want to anyhow

Polanco is a steady performer who rarely makes headlines, but gives 100 percent in every game. He quietly produced a .341 average last year, and has not made an error in the field since July 1, 2006. His play is so steady and predictably good that "out of sight, out of mind" is where he comfortably sits. And considering the ineptitude of Tiger second basemen since Sweet Lou hung up his spikes, I'm fine with that. His position in the batting order could be either 2nd or 9th. Depends on where Leyland wants to put Renteria.

Fun Fact: Seems to have a gigantic head.

Miguel Cabrera (3B) - "Monday"
Monday, I'm all right, get me out of FLA

Cabrera, along with Willis, was acquired in the offseason from the Marlins for prospects. According to reports from spring training, he has shed a lot of weight since last season, when he resembled the fat 1976 Elvis. He's reportedly down to a relatively svelte 240 pounds (he's 6'-4" - he's never gonna be below 220 or so). The Tigers are counting on Cabrera to provide some pop that was lacking from the third base position last year when Brandon Inge manned the hot corner. In four full seasons, Cabrera has averaged 31 home runs and 115 RBIs. If he meets those averages this year, the Tigers will be very happy. Even better, as of opening day, Cabrera is still only 24 years old. Long live The King (hopefully "skinny Elvis" for this year).

Trivia: Practices Santeria. Kinda like voodoo. Could be good for the team.

Magglio Ordonez (RF) - "Via Chicago"
I'm coming home
I'm coming home
Via Chicago

The former Chicago White Sox rightfielder "The Big Tilde" had one of the all-time greatest seasons in Tiger history in 2007. He won the AL batting title with a .363 average, hit 28 home runs, and drove in 138 runs. Oh yeah, and he had 54 doubles. And his OBP was .434. With all the additional help he has in the lineup this year, if he even approaches those numbers, the Tigers will be hoisting the World Series Trophy in October. Not only that, but he has some sweet hair - harkens back to big Bake McBride size fros protruding from under the batting helmets.

Fun Fact: Has a son named Magglio Jr. and a daughter named Maggliana. Wife's name is Dagly. Two Magglios, one Maggliana, and a Dagly. Wow.

Gary Sheffield (DH) - "Meanest Man"
If it weren't for your talking I hear on the street
I'd be the orneriest man that you ever did meet

My feelings about Sheffield have been stated previously in the blog. He's a dick. But he can really hit the baseball. If he stays relatively healthy (120 games or more), he should have a typically productive season - 25 HRs, 80 RBI, .300 avg. However, he's 39 years old, and he's had some nagging injuries the last couple years. This has the potential to be the weak link in the lineup if Sheff can't stay healthy.

Fun Fact: Likes media attention.

Carlos Guillen (1B) - "That's Not The Issue"
You've got a problem, I think you know
I'll tell you mine before you go
You've been thinking about somebody new
That's not the issue

Guillen is switching positions this year. He was a shortstop (worst fielding pct. of all major league SS) and thankfully he's moving across the diamond to first base. He has played the position quite a bit in the last couple years - due to some injuries, and the fact that Sean Casey, by all acounts a swell guy, did not have much power. First base is a position where a team typically expects a bit of power, which Guillen can definitely provide. he's a steady 20 HR, 90 RBI player, and that should do just fine. While he's no Sean Casey in the field yet, he has the potential to be very good defensively (1 error in 44 career games at first). Due to the new high quality defense on the left side of the infield, first base defense should not be a major issue.

Fun Fact: In 2006, Guillén became the first player in modern Major League history to raise his average for six consecutive seasons, batting .320.

Edgar Renteria (SS) - "A Shot In The Arm"
Maybe all I need is a shot in the arm

The acquisition of Renteria allowed the Tigers to move Carlos Guillen and his 24 errors and limited range over to first base. Renteria made just 11 errors last year and won the NL gold glove for shortstops. In addition, Renteria was no slouch at the plate, with a .332 average. He and Polanco are both very good options to hit second, so Leyland may have both of them there at various times this season. This acquisition should be a real shot in the arm for both the offense and defense.

Fun Fact: Renteria is one of only three players to be the last hitter of two World Series, having won the 1997 Series with a walk-off RBI single and ended the 2004 World Series with a groundout to the pitcher

Ivan Rodriquez (C) - "Pot Kettle Black"
I myself have found a real rival in myself
I am hoping for a re-arrival of my health

I think Pudge would agree if I said that last year was a bit of a down year for him. Hopefully it was just that, and not the start of a steady decline. He's getting old (he's 36), and he's caught a lot of games. But he's still very good defensively (4 straight gold gloves), and he's capable of getting hot at the plate for long stretches. His experience is valuable for the young pitching staff. He'll still be tough to steal on, especially since the starting staff has three lefties and Verlander, who has one of the best pickoff moves in baseball. At this point in his career, if he can play 125 games and hit .280/15/75, the team would be very satisfied.

Fun Fact: Made his major league debut for the Texas Rangers on the same day he was married (June 20, 1991).

Jacque Jones (LF) - "Misunderstood"
But you're so misunderstood
You're so misunderstood

Jacque Jones is a mystery to me. The Tigers acquired Jones this offseason to play leftfield. He appears to have some power - 13 or more homeruns in 7 of his 8 full ML seasons. However, in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field last year, he managed just five. He doesn't have much speed - 13 SB is his best season. His career average is .280. Meh. He doesn't walk much, so his OBP is not real good (.329 career OBP). He strikes out a lot. He doesn't appear to be all that good defensively and doesn't have a great arm. Am I missing something? He'll start as the regular leftfielder, but if he doesn't produce, Marcus Thames, Ryan Raburn, or even Brandon Inge could get some playing time in left.

Fun Fact: The only man named Jacque to ever play for the Tigers (this may or may not be true, but I feel safe in asserting this - any evidence to the contrary is welcome)

Justin Verlander (RHP) - "Summerteeth"
Like a cloud his fingers explode

Verlander is a stud. He pitched his first major league no-hitter last year. In two full seasons, he's won 35 games. His K/BB ratio is almost 3, and improved from his rookie year. He's a bonafide ace. I think 20 wins is not out of the question for Verlander. With the potent offense, he should have no trouble going deep into games with good sized leads. He's only 25 years old, so he should be winning games for the Tigers for many years to come.

Fun Fact: In Verlander's no-hitter last year, only three of 30 hitters managed to hit a ball to the outfield. He also struck out 12.

Jeremy Bonderman (RHP) - "Should Have Been In Love"
Your life's been stinking, your heart's been sinking,
And you're too busy thinking to stop
You blink and you're blue

Despite the fact that this will be his sixth major league season, Bonderman is only 25. Bonderman did not have a good year in 2007. He still managed to win 11 games, but his ERA was over 5. Even with a high-octane lineup, that's not good enough from your number 2 starter. If he can get his ERA down, he has the potential to win 20 games. He's a workhorse, but had lots of first inning trouble in 2007. He has already proven himself to be a money pitcher in the postseason.

Fun Fact: Was the only high school underclassman to be drafted by a MLB team (he was a junior), the A's in 2001.

Dontrelle Willis (LHP) - "Monday"
Monday, I'm all right, get me out of FLA

Willis was acquired in the same trade that brought Cabrera to the Tigers. He has been in a bit of a decline the last couple years, but the Tigers are hoping that a change of scenery will do him some good. The AL might take some time to get used to his high leg kick, but that should only take him thru the first couple months. He has been a 20-game winner before (2005), and he has pitched over 200 innings in each of the last three years. However, his trends over the last three years are not good: strikeouts, down; walks, up; HR allowed, up; ERA, up. Hopefully the Tigers' staff can get him back on the right track.

Fun Fact: In 2005, became the third player in modern baseball history to win 20 games and collect 20 hits in the same season.

Nate Robertson (LHP) - "Unwelcome Guest"
I treat horses good
And I'm friendly to strangers
I ride and your running
Makes my guns talk the best

Nate is the quiet guy on the staff. Verlander throws a no hitter. Bonderman throws 95 mph heat. Willis has won 20 and has the unorthodox delivery. Rogers shoves cameramen. Nate just goes out and pitches. He's made at least thirty starts in each of the last four years. He's probably good for nearly 200 innings and double digit wins. He lets his results do the talking for him. What do those results say? Steady, decent lefty who tends to give up a lot of HRs and doesn't strike out a lot of guys.

Fun Fact: In a rare coincidence, Robertson logged the exact same number of innings pitched in back-to-back seasons, with 196.2 in both 2004 and 2005.

Kenny Rogers (LHP) - "One By One"
One by one my hair is turning gray
One by one my dreams are fading fast away

Good old Kenny Rogers is still at it. He's the only guy on the team that's older than me. He's 43 (born in 1964). He's the quintessential "crafty lefthander" much like Frank Tanana was in his days as a Tiger. Rogers was limited to only 11 starts due to an injury last year, but he reached at least 13 wins in the previous five seasons. He doesn't really strike anyone out anymore, so he has to rely a good defense to help him out. Kenny is this year's wild card in the rotation. He could make 34 starts, or he could break a hip and miss the majority of the season.

Fun Fact: Knows when to hold them, and also knows when to fold them. He is well aware that you never ever count your money when you are sitting at the table. There will in fact be time for counting when the dealing is done.

Todd Jones (CL) - "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart"
I am trying to break your heart
I am trying to break your heart
But still I'd be lying if I said it wasn't easy
I am trying to break your heart

What can you say about Jones? Due to another freak injury to Joel Zumaya (2006, guitar hero; 2007, moving boxes for wildfire), the Tigers enter the season with Todd Jones as their closer again. Jones is quite unusual for a closer - he doesn't strike anybody out (33 K in 61 IP). Most closers are fireballers. For example, the Angels Francisco Rodriguez had 90 K in 67 innings. Some closers make you want to watch the ninth inning to see how silly they can make the hitters look flailing at their unhittable 99 MPH fastballs. When Todd Jones enters the game, I tend to cover my eyes or change the channel. He does still have a nice badass porn-stache/biker-stache.

Fun Fact: On September 27, 1999, Jones threw the last official pitch at Tiger Stadium, striking out Carlos Beltran as the Tigers defeated the Kansas City Royals 8-2.

Bullpen - "Why Would You Wanna Live"
It's all happened here before.
I know you've seen it too

This is the biggest question mark on the team. The bullpen, including closer Jones, could potentially be a disaster. If Leyland can coax good seasons out of the likes of Jason Grilli, Yorman Bazardo, Zach Minor, and Bobby Seay, his credentials as a hall-of-fame manager are further burnished.

Jim Leyland - "Box Full of Letters"
Wish I had a lotta answers,
'Cause that's the way it should be
For all these questions,
Being directed at me

Jim Leyland has enjoyed quite a career renassiance after coming out of retirement to manage the Tigers. He is very good at what he does, and Dombrowski has assembled a great team for him to manage this year. The only way the Tigers don't win the AL Central this year is if they have a rash of injuries. They have enough guns to survive an off-year from a couple players, but if they lose multiple players for significant time, they're in trouble - just like almost every major league team.

Fun Fact: Once, when he was being interviewed by ESPN, he was asked about his well-publicized tendency to smoke cigarettes in the dugout. Leyland paused for a moment, put his head down and delivered the obligatory platitudes about how bad smoking is for you, how children should avoid smoking, how he knows it's unhealthy. Then he looked directly into the camera, his eyes very wide, and said, "Still. Smokers out there, you know what I'm talking about. That moment, after you've had a huge meal, say at Thanksgiving, when you step outside in the cold, light up a cigarette and take a deep inhale ... that's about the best moment in the world, you know? All the smokers out there, you know that feeling. Sometimes, smoking is fantastic." I love it.

Bless You Boys!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Mary Ann and Mary Jane

Well, it all makes sense now. Dawn Wells, who portrayed Mary Ann Summers on the TV series Gilligan's Island, was just recently busted for possession of marijuana. In 1998, Bob Denver, who of course played Gilligan on the same show, was busted for having a parcel of weed sent to his house. He originally said that the package came from none other than Dawn Wells, but did not end up naming her in court. Instead, he blamed it on "some crazy fan." So Denver's original claim about who sent him the package seems like it might have been true.

I like to imagine that both Gilligan and Mary Ann were partaking while on the island. That would explain some of Gilligan's bumbling and forgetfulness. And Mary Ann, being from Kansas, was familiar with farming techniques, so she could have easily had a little garden somewhere over near the lagoon. What would each of the castaways have been using, if they had access to drugs:

The Skipper (Jonas Grumby)
Speed. Just like a truck driver, he would have had to stay alert and awake thru long trips. Sure, it was only a three hour tour, but the luau he attended the previous night went well into the wee hours of the morning. Plus, he couldn't really count on his first mate to do any work, since Gilligan was always sneaking around with his one-hitter below deck. His stash obviously ran out on the island, or he would have lost some weight. He ended up sharing Ginger's cocaine.

Ginger Grant
Cocaine. As a Hollywood starlet, she would have chosen coke. It's just a natural fit. It kept her slim, and she needed the energy while on the island to re-make all of her fabulous gowns from seaweed, fish parts, and sand. Mary Ann's farming expertise helped her grow coca plants in a plot near the cannabis.

The Professor (Roy Hinkley)
This is a tough one, since the professor seems to be so straight laced. But since he was so well versed in chemistry and could somehow manage to make batteries out of seaweed and coconuts, I think the professor would have synthesized his own drug from extracts of the various flora and fauna on the island. It would have been a killer party drug, but mostly he would have laid on the beach and stared at the stars. He was the Owsley of the island.

Thurston Howell III
Mr. Howell would have been an opium smoker. He commissioned the professor to make him a giant hookah out of pieces of the SS Minnow, seashells, and bamboo.

Eunice "Lovey" Wentworth Howell
Prescription drugs - probably oxycontin, Xanax, qualudes, and HGH. Their trunk of cash also included a nice stash of pills concealed in a false bottom. In fact, it's entirely possible that the Howells were on the run from a federal drug investigation. They drugged everyone on the SS Minnow to the point of unconsciousness, then steered the boat onto a reef and beached it on an island that they bought from a arab sultan. When everyone awoke from their hazy stupor, the Howells made up the story about the "storm." That would partially explain the large trunk filled with cash.

And last but not least, I think it's worth a mention that my mother went to Stephens College in Missouri with Dawn Wells. And finally, the age-old question: Ginger or Mary Ann? I say Mary Ann.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Athletes as Actors, part 3: Major League Baseball

Click here for part 1.
Click here for part 2.

Athletes want to be actors, and actors want to be athletes. Baseball players, because of their relatively normal physical stature, are more suitable for a wider variety of roles than, say, a 7-foot-tall freak of nature. That's not to say that they actually get a wider variety of roles. Here are some of the most notable (not necessarily the best) professional baseball players who tried their hand at acting:

Chuck Connors
Wow - the things you learn when you are researching a li'l ole blog post. Without turning this into a "Chuck Connor Biography" post, here are some highlights: after being discharged from the army in 1946, Connors played center (he's only 6'-5" tall) for the Boston Celtics in the 1946-47 season, but left early to go to spring training with the Brooklyn Dodgers. After knocking around in the minors for a couple years, he made it to the bigs in 1949. After 5 weeks and one at-bat, he was sent back down to the minors. He played again in the majors in 1951, where he hit a couple homers for the Cubs. When he was sent down to the Cubs minor league affiliate, the LA Angels, he was noticed by a fan who was also a casting director. His focus turned to acting and he appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows. He's most well known as the star of "The Rifleman," which ran on TV from 1958-1963. Also appeared in Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, and Soylent Green.

Soldier. Basketball player. Baseball player. Badass Rifleman. Nice little career, Mr. Connors. Kudos.

Keith Hernandez
Due to its New York setting, Seinfeld very frequently featured NY baseball players in the show. Some of the players featured included Danny Tartabull, Paul O'Neill ("You promised a kid in the hospital that I'd hit two home runs?"), Bernie Williams ("are you the guy put us in that Ramada in Milwaukee?"), and Derek Jeter. But no NY athlete had a more memorable appearance on Seinfeld than former Mets first baseman Keith Hernandez. After meeting Jerry in the health club locker room, he asks Jerry to help him move ("Help him move? You just met the guy!"). Hernandez is not exactly deserving of an Emmy for his performance, but the episode he appeared in ("The Boyfriend") was great, in part due to his portrayal of himself.

Best line: "I'm Keith Hernandez."

Wade Boggs
This former Red Sox/Yankees Hall-of-Famer also played himself, in an episode of Cheers where he gets pantsed by the gang at the bar. Nothing more than a cameo, but it was memorable for me because I was a big fan of Cheers back in the day.

Best line: "But I AM Wade Boggs!"

Jim Lefebvre
The former major league player and manager had a couple notable roles in the 60s. He appeared on Batman as one of The Riddler's henchmen in two different episodes (and was the victim of several "whams," "pows," and "kerblams" from Batman and Robin), and he appeared on Gilligan's Island as a "native" in the episode where the natives think Gilligan is a god. Also, in the 80s, he had minor parts on St. Elsewhere, Alice, and M*A*S*H.

Best line: "pulu si bagumba"

Bob Uecker
Uecker was the star of Mr. Belvedere, which ran from 1985 to 1990. He even hosted SNL. Not bad for a lousy backup catcher with a .200 lifetime batting average. He didn't win any awards, but his show was on for a long time. He also played the announcer in Major League and its sequels.

Most famous line: "Juuuuust a bit outside."

The Simpsons
On the Simpsons episode entitled "Homer at The Bat," C. Montgomery Burns stacks his softball team with a bunch of ringers from the major leagues in order to win a bet with the owner of the Shelbyville nuclear power plant. While technically I'm not sure you could consider this acting, all of the following players lent their voices to this episode: Ken Griffey Jr., Don Mattingly, Jose Canseco, Darryl Strawberry, Roger Clemens, Mike Scioscia, Steve Sax, Ozzie Smith, and Wade Boggs (Burns originally wanted Honus Wagner, Cap Anson, and Three-Finger Brown). All of the players eventually get hurt in various ways except Strawberry, who of course plays the same position as Homer. Homer ends up driving in the winning run with a ninth inning bases-loaded "hit-by-pitch." In the DVD release of the season, the director's commentary notes that all of the players were great to work with except one who they won't name except his name rhymes with Manseco. Canseco was originally slated to have an extramarital affair with Edna Krabappel, Bart's teacher, but Canseco's then-wife objected.

Best line: Homer - "No matter how good you are at something, there's always about a million people better than you."

Don Drysdale
The former dodger hall-of-fame pitcher, who was also a star basketball player at UCLA, appeared on several TV shows in the 60s and 70s. His credits include appearances on The Brady Bunch, Leave It To Beaver, and The Rifleman. Mostly, he played either baseball players or announcers.

Best line: "Greg, you suck. There is no way you can be a major league pitcher. Give it up already."

In summary, like basketball players, baseball players mostly portray themselves or "baseball players" or announcers. Very few have broken out of that mold. It's probably because most baseball players are kinda dumb. Not that it takes a brain surgeon to play baseball, but they do have to memorize lines and where to stand - which requires, you know, thinking.

I know I must have missed some. Send me your suggestions in the comments. I think I'll tackle part 4 (other sports - golf, boxing, hockey, cricket, badminton, soccer, etc.) next week.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Houston Rockets' - 19 In a Row!

My hometown Houston Rockets won their 19th consecutive game last night. I'm only an occasional NBA fan (except during the playoffs), but I know enough basketball to know that this streak is pretty damn amazing. Some notable facts about the 19-game winning streak:

  1. Only three of the 19 games have had a final winning margin of one bucket or less.

  2. The last seven games of the streak have been without Yao Ming, who's out for the year resting for the olympics with a stress fracture in his foot.

  3. Since Yao went out, the Rockets have been winning by an average score of 106-88.
  4. Prior to the streak, the Rockets had a four game winning streak broken with a loss to the Jazz. So the Rockets have won 23 out of their last 24 games.

  5. Since they lost at Boston on Jan. 2, the Rockets are 28-3. After losing that game, the Rockets record stood at 15-17.

  6. The upcoming schedule looks interesting. They're at Atlanta on Wednesday, then home for Charlotte on Friday. That should bring the streak to 21. Then they have two consecutive tough home games against Celtics and Lakers on Sunday and Tuesday. After that, it's a three game road trip to New Orleans, Golden State, and Phoenix (the last two are on consecutive nights). I don't see the streak going past 24, but you never know.

I would love to see a Pistons vs. Rockets NBA finals, but I know it's a long season and a streak in February doesn't mean anything in June. It's been fun to see the Rockets come together, start to play defense and share the ball, and become more of a running team in Yao's absence. Dare I say it, the team has become a much more socialist team in the absence of their big fella. To each according to his needs, from each according to his means. Go Rockets.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Seven Deadly Sins - Updated for the 21st Century!

It appears that the Catholic church has updated their list of sins. In addition to the original 7 mortal sins (Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, and Pride), the Vatican has come up with more things you are not allowed to enjoy without guilt. Included on the new list are drugs, genetic manipulation, social injustice, and pollution. I wonder why pedophilia is not specifically called out. I suppose that's covered by Lust and Gluttony, but I thought it deserved a mention. I thought the original seven covered a lot of ground, but apparently, the Vatican has decided they'd like to add several more vague sins.

  1. Drugs? Taking drugs is a sin? What about the blood pressure medication my wife takes? What about the ibuprofen I take to ease the pain of my rapidly aging muscles after a long day of being awake? Sinful? Assuming they are talking about any mind- or mood-altering substance, alcohol and cigarettes must be included. I know they're probably referring to illegal "street drugs" like cocaine, heroin, and the like, but I won't even get started on that - that's a whole post unto itself.

  2. Genetic manipulation? Breeding dogs/cattle/etc. to select desirable characteristics (hunting dogs, more delicious steak, etc)? Producing a new, disease resistant tomato? Sinful? Using embryonic stem cells to help a person with a spinal cord injury perhaps walk again? Why is it a sin to use all of the latest state of the art knowledge and tools to help your fellow man thrive and live a longer and more fulfilling life?

  3. Social injustice? What the hell does that mean? Is the vatican communist/socialist? Surely they are not arguing that it's a sin to have lots of money. Are they?

  4. Pollution? This is the only one I agree with. But aren't we all, just by being alive on the planet, constantly polluting? I mean, I am emitting CO2 even as we speak. I think I just released a little methane too.

On the one hand, I applaud the church for trying to update their rules a bit. After all, the original seven deadly sins originated way back in the 6th century. On the other hand, it seems like they would take some time to come up with something that might be relevant to current issues (e.g., pedophile priests). Allowing priests to marry, just like practically every other religion allows their clergymen to do, would make the job more attractive to people that aren't pedophiles and/or closeted homosexuals. "Nah," says the vatican, "let's come up with an expanded list of stuff everyone can't do." Brilliant.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Athletes as Actors, part 2: NBA Basketball

Here's part 1.
Here's part 3.

Athletes want to be actors, and actors want to be athletes. Basketball players, because of their freakish height, seem to get lots of roles that are, well, "basketball players." Either that or humongous villians or gigantic genies. Here are some of the most notable (not necessarily the best) NBA basketball players who tried their hand at acting:

Shaquille O'Neal
The thing I like best about Shaq is that he doesn't take himself too seriously. He's appeared in four movies, two of which (Kazaam and Steel) he also got executive producer credits for, meaning he basically hired himself to be in his own movie. And he played a basketball player in Blue Chips. He also hosted SNL in 1998. This appearance featured a hilarious scene in which Shaq was Tracy Morgan's son and was attempting to sit on his lap. Shaq's monotone voice does not lend itself to expressing anything other than, well, nothing.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar
Kareem not only played Roger Murdock the co-pilot in Airplane!, but he also appeared in a Bruce Lee movie, Game of Death. Played himself in guest appearances in movies and on TV shows, including Fletch, Full House, Diff'rent Strokes, Scrubs. His role in Airplane featured this classic line: "Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes." Oh, and Kareem has a pretty cool blog right now. Check it out.

Bill Laimbeer
Laimbeer was perhaps the most hated player of his era. He played a sleestack in the 70s on Saturday morning kids TV show Land of The Lost. Perfect role for a ugly, lanky teenage doofus - put a green lizard suit on him and have him lurch around for a few minutes. Although his professional acting career is unremarkable, his entire NBA career consisted of pretending to be fouled and claiming innocence whenever a foul was called on him. Some might call that "acting" too...

Wilt Chamberlain
Not only did he claim to have bagged over 20,000 women, but he appeared on lots of shows in the 60s and 70s (Laugh-In, What's My Line?). But he was not really "acting" but "appearing." He did play a gigantic menacing villian in Conan The Destroyer. He was a model of physical fitness even into his later years, as he toyed with NBA comebacks up until he was in his 50s - mainly because of his jealousy of how much money was being made by everyone but him. Also, for a while he was a partner in a film production company.

Ray Allen
Allen, a former star at UConn, played Jesus Shuttlesworth in He Got Game. His other notable role was in Harvard Man, in which he played - you guessed it - a basketball player. Has perhaps the most boring wikipedia bio of any NBA player. The Onion had it right.

Alex English
The former Denver Nuggets star played "Amazing Grace Smith" in Amazing Grace and Chuck, in which English's character takes up the cause of a kid who refuses to play little league baseball until nuclear weapons are disarmed. He also played himself in Eddie. During his playing career, he was known as being "smoove." I think this means that he scored a lot and played no defense.

Julius Erving
NBA hall-of-famer Dr. J was in The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh. Since this was a basketball movie, lots of players from that era (1979) were in this movie, including such players as Leon Douglas, Eric Money, Bob Lanier, Chris Ford, John Shumate, and Curtis Rowe. Hmm - seems to include a lot of ex-Pistons. Trivia - averaged 26 points and 20 rebounds per game in his two years of varsity basketball at UMass.

Rick Fox
Of all the NBA basketball players on this list, Fox is the most accomplished actor. In addition to the obligatory basketball movies he appeared in (Blue Chips, He Got Game, Eddie), he also was a regular on the HBO series Oz, and appeared in many TV shows over the last several years (Ugly Betty, One Tree Hill, Dirt). While he may be the most accomplished actor on this list, he's also the worst basketball player on this list. So I guess everything balances out.

Only a couple of these guys played anything except basketball players. Fox, whose good looks and relatively reasonable 6'7" stature allows him to play more "regular" roles; Shaq, who hired himself to play a genie and a superhero; Kareem, who was a karate black belt; and Wilt, who played a gargantuan prehistoric villian. So, if you're an NBA player and you want to get into acting, here are the possible career paths to explore:

  1. Portray basketball players. To do this, you need to wait for a basketball movie to be made. Anyone, including Leon Douglas, can do this.
  2. Portray freakishly tall villians/superheroes. See Shaq, Wilt, Kareem.
  3. Finance your own movie, hire yourself as star. See Shaq.
  4. Be handsome and not be freakishly tall. See Rick Fox.

I must have missed some. Send me your suggestions in the comments and I'll add more if I have time. Stay tuned for part 3 next week.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Athletes as Actors, part 1: NFL Football

Click here for part 2.
Click here for part 3.

For whatever reason, athletes want to be actors, and actors want to be athletes. Normally, actors can't just spontaneously become athletes because they lack the physical attributes to make the switch (most actors are either quite dainty and fragile, or are fat chain-smokers). However, many athletes have been able to parlay their fame into some decent acting gigs. And football players, often because of their freakish size, seem to be well suited for acting. Here are some of the most notable (not necessarily the best) pro football players who tried their hand at acting:

Defensive Line - What is it about defensive linemen that make them turn to acting? There are lots to choose from for this list. Is it their freakish size and strength? Is it the steriods? Is it the slavish adherence to instructions and directions? Why so many defensive linemen, but no offensive linemen? Are offensive linemen too smart? I'm perplexed.

Bubba Smith
The former MSU Spartan All-American defensive tackle (who played professionally for the Raiders, Colts, and Oilers) played Moses Hightower in the Police Academy series of movies. But he also appeared in such 70s and 80s staples as Eight is Enough, Charlie's Angels, Taxi, Vegas, and Wonder Woman. What, no Love Boat? No Fantasy Island?

Typical role: big dopey oaf (or big oafish dope)

Merlin Olson
Former Rams defensive tackle and NFL hall-of-famer was on many episodes of the hit 70s/80s TV series Little House On The Prairie before starring in his own short-lived series, Father Murphy. Also "starred" in a series of ads for FTD, which tried to make it okay for men to like flowers.

Typical role: sensitive bearded man or clergy

Alex Karras
The former Detroit Lions defensive tackle not only starred in his own series (Webster), but he also played one of the most lovable iconic retards in film history - Mongo in Blazing Saddles. He appeared in such 70s series as Love, American Style, The Odd Couple, McMillan & Wife, and M*A*S*H. He even hosted SNL once in 1985. In researching this, I also discovered that Karras finished 2nd in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1957. Was also suspended from the NFL for a year for gambling.

Typical role: meathead

Roosevelt (Rosey) Grier
Another Rams lineman. He had roles in shows as far back as 1965 (Man from UNCLE). His credits include such memorable shows as I Dream Of Jeannie, Daniel Boone, Kojak, CHiPs, Quincy, and Love Boat. Oddly enough, also had a variety show called "The Rosey Grier Show" that lasted exactly one episode. He also appeared on Match Game, and in one episode of The Simpsons (as himself). Also known for espousing the masculine virtues of needlepoint. Rosey served as a bodyguard for Robert Kennedy during his run for president in 1968, but was guarding Ethel Kennedy, the Senator's wife, then expecting a child, the night that Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles in 1968. Grier and Olympic gold medalist Rafer Johnson heard shots fired ahead of them. Grier grabbed the gun of the assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, and jammed his finger behind the trigger, breaking Sirhan Sirhan's arm. Wow. Top that, Brian Bosworth.

Typical role: suave sensitive soul brother

Fred Dryer
Former Rams pro bowl defensive end had his own hit series in the 80s - Hunter. He has also reprised the role for a couple TV movies since then. According to IMDB, he was a finalist for the role of Sam Malone on Cheers. He did make several guest appearances on Cheers (as Sam's former Red Sox teammate) thru the years.

Typical role: macho stud (Clint Eastwood-lite)

John Matuszak
A former Raider and Oiler, one of The Tooz's early appearances was one that suited his acting talents well: he played a caveman in "Caveman," which featured Ringo Starr. Perfect casting, since his lines were essentially grunts. He went on to appear in lots of TV shows, as well as "One Crazy Summer." Appeared on one episode of "Hunter."

Typical role: caveman, or intellectual equivalent

Lyle Alzado
The former Broncos/Raiders/Browns defensive end was most well-known for his admission of steroid use during his career. Ironically, he appeared in an anti-drug music video sponsored by the Reagan administration called Stop the Madness. Just say no, Lyle. I had a loser classmate in junior high who insisted that he knew Alzado personally, and that this fact might impress people. This only made me dislike Lyle Alzado.

Typical role: Reagan administration shill

Running Back - Two of the all-time greats, and that's about it

OJ Simpson
This former Heisman Trophy winner went on to play for the Buffall Bills and break the single season rushing record with 2003 yards in 1973. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985, his first year of eligibility. He also appeared in some sweet flicks: Roots, Capricorn One, Towering Inferno, the Naked Gun movies. He even hosted Saturday Night Live in 1978. Oh, and he slashed the throats of his ex-wife and an innocent bystander in 1994, instantly killing them both. Actually, I'm only kidding. He was never convicted of this crime. He has spent the last twelve plus years of his life tirelessly searching for the perpetrator(s) of this crime. It is rumored that he has spent over three million dollars in greens fees and charter fishing boat fees in the pursuit of the killers.

Typical role: murderer

Jim Brown
Widely considered the best football player to ever lace up the cleats, he retired at the age of 29 after a brief but spectacular 9-year career. He's got some great films on his list of credits: The Dirty Dozen, Ice Station Zebra, Three The Hard Way, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka. He earned all-american honors in both lacrosse and football at Syracuse. He's well known for speaking out for, and supporting, causes he believes in. He is a bad mutha, and at the age of 72 could probably kick the ass of many current NFL players.

Typical role: badass hero

Defensive Back - Only one DB? Deion, are you ready for your close-up?

Fred Williamson
Former Raiders/Chiefs/Steelers defensive back, "The Hammer" played a badass in just about every one of his films. Of all these guys, he has had the longest, most successful acting career. In fact, he's still at it today. I have no idea what it's about, but he appears in the upcoming movie "Black Kissinger" as Henry Kissinger. Sounds like a straight-to-video release. Some other tidbits: like Alex Karras, is from Gary, IN; he appeared in Playgirl in 1973; he was Spearchucker Jones in the movie M*A*S*H.

Typical role: badass hero - lower budget

Quarterback - I would have thought there were more QBs that went into acting. After all, they are the glamour boys of the NFL.

Terry Bradshaw
Hall-of-Fame Steelers QB Terry Bradshaw recently appeared in the film "Failure to Launch" and showed his bare ass. Dozens of people from across the country are rumored to have been admitted to psychiatric hospitals in an effort to erase the image from their brains. Also appeared in Cannonball Run and Hooper, two Burt Reynolds films. Mostly plays a version of himself.

Typical role: affable southern country bumpkin

Joe Namath
Broadway Joe, along with respected journalist Dick Schapp, co-hosted The Joe Namath Show. He also guest-hosted The Tonight Show several times. He appeared on both The Love Boat and Fantasy Island, as well as The Brady Bunch. Namath was offered the job to host "Family Feud" when the show was revived in 1988, but the producers had second thoughts, and ultimately hired Ray Combs instead. He is most well known by the youngins for his Monday Night Football interview with ABC sideline reporter Suzy Kolber, in which he appeared drunk and asked Kolber for a kiss.

Typical role: drunk

It's strange that all of these are older guys. I have a theory. I think it is can be attributed to two factors:

  1. Current players make so much money when they are playing that they are less likely to need to have a post-NFL career that requires actual work (as opposed to "endorsing" or being a "spokesman" for someone).
  2. There are so many more NFL broadcasting jobs now. ESPN alone probably employs a dozen former players. Same goes for Fox, CBS, NBC, and the NFL network. Not to mention all the on-line stuff.

I must have missed some. Send me your suggestions in the comments and I'll add more if I have time. We were going to do all sports at once, but there were too many football players. We'll get to the others soon enough.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Mr. Basketball Finalist

Brad Redford is from my home town Frankenmuth Eagles! He even wears the same number 12 that I wore as an Eagle, which has obviously contributed to his success, although my shorts were much shorter and tighter. The wonder kid from the Muth got it done again last night with an 80-75 OVERTIME victory against a very good Belding team. He missed a shot to win it at the buzzer in regulation but nailed the opening 3-pointer in OT and the Eagles never trailed after that. Mr. Redford and the Eagles move on to play Hemlock in the regional finals, a team that Brad destroyed in their first meeting, scoring a state of Michigan record 27 points in the FIRST QUARTER! The video below is only through his first 15 games. Since then he set a State record for most consecutive free throws made at 102, (second best ever in the country), he has a chance at the national record for best FT% in a season, and he passed Glen Rice and Magic Johnson on the career points total which is now at 2051 I believe. This kid can flat out shoot! Enjoy!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Neil Young - Heart of Gold

In our minds we tend to remember a person the way they were the last time we saw them or the way the person looked the time when they played a big part of our life. Think about a high school friend who you have only seen once or twice since graduation. You will probably picture that person as the 17 or 18 year old friend you knew oh so many years ago. A snapshot frozen in time. The same holds true for our musical heroes. My mental image of Peter Frampton will always be the young, long haired rock god on the cover of Frampton Comes Alive, not the balding, older man recently featured on a Geico commercial. What about the artists that stay with you through your life time, that grow old before your eyes while continuing to put out great music? I would argue that for a rare few, we allow our mental images of those musicians to age as we ourselves add "experience" and milestone birthdays. These mental images and memories of those special few people evolve with us for the most part. I just finished watching the Johnathan Demme motion picture Neil Young Heart of Gold. I now have my lasting image of Neil, the way I will remember him from now until some sad day in the future when I hear the news of his passing. More on that to follow but first, back to the beginning of Neil for me...

Neil and I go way, way back. The first 8 track tape I ever bought was Live Rust and the first triple album I purchased was Decade. Certainly not popular picks for a 14 year old in the late 1970's but Neil's voice and variety of musical styles made me want to listen over and over. The liner notes inside Decade were hand scribbled by Neil and I read every word wondering what experiences had led him to write each song. "I wrote this song for my first car and my last girl" and it was obvious he cared deeply for both. Neil's music was a thread connecting me to acoustic rock, to folk, to blues, to garage band grunge, to country, to rockabilly, and to protest songs. From Neil I found CSN, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, The Grateful Dead, Linda Ronstadt, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan, The Band and countless others. I have seen him in concert several times, a couple of shows with Crazy Horse; twice alone with just his piano, organ, guitars, and harmonicas; and once with the Shocking Pinks during his rockabilly tour. Every show different, every show very good. Any of those moments could easily qualify as the image of Neil that I store away in my memory bank. Then I watched Heart of Gold...

The film which was recorded at the Ryman Auditorium in 2005 and released in June of 2006 is much more than a "concert film." Jonathan Demme directed this film masterfully. It is a highly personal set of songs delivered by Neil and a fabulous list of musicians and back up singers including Emmylou Harris (who has never looked better and is simply stunning), Neil's wife Pegi, Rick Rosas, Karl Himmel, Ben Keith, Spooner Oldam, Chad Cromwell and many others. Leading up to this project Neil had recently recovered from a life threatening brain aneurysm, he lost his daddy only two months earlier, and had just released the stellar and critically acclaimed CD Prairie Wind. The result is a deeply personal, truly heartfelt, and amazingly calming collection of performances that would be therapeutic to anyone experiencing trauma or a recent loss in their life. This is the folk and country side of Neil. It is all acoustic as he performs the entire Prairie Wind CD plus a fantastic selection of his classics that still have heart, legs, and a timeless feel including I Am A Child, Old King, Comes A Time, Old Man, Needle & The Damage Done, Harvest Moon, 4 Strong Winds, and The Painter. For the final song nearly forty musicians and singers gather on stage for an outstanding rendition of One of These Days, only to be topped by Neil all alone on stage with his guitar singing the hauntingly great The Old Laughing Lady as the credits roll. When he finishes, he packs up his famous old guitar once owned by Hank Williams Sr. and walks off the Ryman Auditorium stage as if to say "If this is it I am at peace with myself and my music." This is how I will forever remember one of my musical heroes, the amazingly talented Neil Young. Thank you for the music and the memories Mr. Young. Long May You Run.