The Best 'Sheffs' Know When Their Cooking Days Are Over...Why Doesn't Ours???
After the Tigers made their unexpected run to the AL pennant in 2006, many felt they might just need a little tweak to help get over the top. Maybe a reliever or two, possibly a little more power to bring off the bench. You heard some fans mention the need for another "big bat," and that request made sense too. After all, the Tigers had gotten career power years from a number of guys that year, including Brandon Inge, Craig Monroe, Marcus Thames, and Chris Shelton circa April-May. The DH role was filled by a host of guys, ranging from Thames to Omar Infante to the random Matt Stairs appearance down the home stretch. The case could be made that a legitimate masher to go with Magglio Ordonez was the team's biggest need. Dave Dombrowski obviously felt the same way. However, his execution of these ideas and ultimate selection for who to target was a giant swing and a miss...and the Tigers are still paying for it.
Anyone who saw that Tigers-Yankees playoff series in '06 could tell that Gary Sheffield was a shell of his former self. His shoulder was messed up, his bat speed looked different, and for all intents and purposes, he was unable to simply catch a baseball anymore. He batted 12 times against the Tigers in that series. He picked up a total of one hit, a single, to go with zero walks and four strikeouts. Things were getting so bad for Sheffield that Joe Torre decided to sit him against soft-tossing lefty Kenny Rogers in Game 3, opting to go with Jason Giambi instead. It was becoming clear that the Yankees had fallen out of love with old Sheff. Despite the fact that he had put up big numbers in the years preceding '06, it was not an uncommon occurrence for one serious injury to derail a power hitter's career as he approached the age of 40. Look at Jeff Bagwell, Mark McGwire, or the best example, Ellis Burks. Burks was still consistently posting great years into his late 30's until a sprained wrist sidelined him. Without the same ability to quickly bounce back from injury as he would have 15 years prior, Burks played in a handful of games over the next 2 years before stepping away quietly. Meanwhile, Dombrowski had apparently viewed the situation in an entirely different light and saw Sheffield as the perfect answer to his "Search for a Slugger" dilemma.
Sheffield's two years with the Tigers have truly robbed the team of a weapon that many American League teams use to their advantage: the designated hitter...that actually hits. While he did have a torrid stretch for a time in his first year, it was interrupted by a fluky injury on one of his rare days playing the outfield. Besides that hot period, however, it has been nothing but frustration and wasted at-bats from a spot in the order that demands production. His batting average last season dipped to a Pete Incaviglia-esque .225. And despite only appearing in 114 games, he managed to equal his career high in punchouts.
Sometimes a trade can be highly damaging without really losing anything valuable in the deal. That is the case here. All the Tigers had to send to the Yankees was a small side of rice pilaf in the form of injured right-hander Humberto Sanchez. However, with Sheffield coming to the plate over 1,000 times in the last two years, the real harm was done in the player the Tigers received. I would love for Gary Sheffield to transform into the Gary Sheffield of old when he would routinely blast 35 homers and drive in 115. But the truth remains his career has not been the same since that ALDS in 2006 and he is entering camp 40 years old.
Sometimes the signs are there even before something takes place. The song Sheffield chose for his at-bat music when he arrived in Detroit always struck me to be quite ironic. He strode to the plate with the rap tune, "This Is Why I'm Hot" blasting through the loudspeakers. Just one major problem...Sheff hadn't gotten hot yet. It's been two years, and he's still tipping the hot scales somewhere between Cheryl Miller and Charlize Theron right after she did "Monster." As he approaches his third season as the primary DH on a team hoping to contend for a division title, it might be time for that song to come to fruition.
You Gotta Love NBA All-Star Saturday Night
Among the dumbest ideas in NBA All-Star weekend history...having a referee on hand to govern the playful little game of H-O-R-S-E on Saturday afternoon. Longtime veteran official Mark Wunderlich skittered around the half court, following the players everywhere, repeating every word they uttered in anticipation of their next attempt. A sample conversation went something like this.
Mark Wunderlich: "So what's it gonna be, Kevin"?
Kevin Durant: "I'm goin' from the elbow, gonna go off the glass."
Wunderlich (In official referee voice, but talking to nobody in particular): "He will be shooting from the elbow. And will be making it off the glass."
Very helpful, Mr. Wunderlich. Dude even went so far as to actually demand Joe Johnson pass him the ball under the hoop before a free throw just like he would in an NBA game. Not even kidding, he actually did that. Johnson was all set in to hoist up his "eyes closed" free throw and Wunderlich flashed his hands like a big man in the post, signaling Joe to toss him the ball. He reluctantly followed his orders, and after receiving the ball back from Wunderlich, proceeded to brick the free throw. Unbelievably, he wasn't even the most useless ref on hand for All-Star Saturday night. How about the ref suiting up for the dunk contest??? How is this guy needed at all? The only human I can think of that serves less of a purpose is the ice cream man who happened to "run out of ice cream sandwiches" earlier, but still goes around playing his jingle and selling his goods. If you don't have the ICS, then why bother even existing at all???? Same with the Slam Dunk Contest ref. If you aren't gonna make any calls during the event, then why bother being present? Might as well be at home watching "Forget Paris."
After watching Rudy Fernandez in his first dunk contest, one thing became evidently clear. The man has seen "Tin Cup" way too many times. In that movie, Kevin Costner ends the movie by blowing the U.S. Open by repeatedly trying to reach the green while hitting over water from approximately 350 yards away. Time after time, he dunks each ball in the water while Rene Russo laughs hysterically for no apparent reason. If only Fernandez could have dunked with the same frequency on Saturday night. He pulled fellow Spaniard Pau Gasol on the court to assist him with the humanly impossible, "Behind the back pass off the backboard from Gasol, Fernandez runs up, jumps and catches the ball well behind the hoop, flies through the air defying all laws of physics, and eventually ending up on the other side of the rim for the reverse slam." They attempted this dunk about 20 times in the 2 minutes allotted with zero success. It was hard to watch. And not in one of those, "This is hilarious...what great entertainment" ways. It was depressing. A lot of things went through my mind in that 120 seconds of sadness. Why does this two minutes feel more like 200? Couldn't Isiah Rider have gotten a one night reprieve from the state pen to at least give this contest four legitimate competitors? Or if the NBA really needed a white guy in this spot, wasn't Bobby Sura free? Knowing him though, he would have shown up ready to go for the festivities, only to pull out at the last minute with 'flu-like symptoms.'
Does Wilson Chandler know that it's okay to turn down an offer? When Nate Robinson initially approached him for his big tandem dunk during the contest, did it actually sound good to him? "Look here, Wilson buddy. I got a big idea this year. Now hear me out. What's gonna happen is you are going to get down on all fours a few feet in front of the basket. That sounds humiliating I know, but just listen to the rest because it's not what you think. I'm not jumping over you...I'm jumping ON you. I'm gonna take a giant step right on the small of your back and catapult myself up towards the rim. It's gonna be sweet!! I'm gonna rack up a 50, the crowd will go ballistic, and the only thing you might end up with is a broken back or maybe a little nerve damage. We cool"?? Well, somehow he agreed, Robinson pulled off the dunk, and Chandler left the arena later in the night having taken a hard shot to the back and a much more severe blow to his self respect.
Cheryl Miller...first let me say Yamma-Hamma!! Loved her getup...phhhhh. That was brutal. Did she literally borrow the outfit that David Alan Grier's dad wore in that dinner party scene in "Boomerang"?? Apparently they do not have mirrors in Phoenix. Sometimes I can tolerate her a little bit, but Saturday night, she was unforgivably awful. With Dwight Howard getting ready to attempt his final dunk in his showdown with Nate Robinson, Cheryl thought it was a good time to now start interviewing Lebron James about the possibility of joining the contest next year. Ok, not a terrible interview to go for, and makes for interesting speculation in the future. But why at that point?? Ever heard of building a moment? When we should have been hearing from the announcers what score Howard needed to keep the title, with the drama building for the contest we were presently watching, instead we were treated to a random interview with James throwing out some meaningless "guarantee" that he would join in next time around. Impeccable timing on that one. Sometimes the networks and talking heads get so obsessed with predicting events of the future and hyping up things down the road that they forget to actually keep the spotlight on the current moment while it is going on. Lastly, her deliberation while opening the envelope to reveal the winner was wildly ineffective. The crowd was all set to hear who the champion was, and Miller stood there holding the envelope like she'd just seen a ghost. Yeah, it's not the Oscars, girl...next time, just say what is on the card and go back to looking exactly like Larry Fitzgerald.
You always see the same familiar faces in the first row where the players sit during the dunk contest. You know, Shaq, Lebron, Chris Paul, Jerome Williams. Wait, whaaaat??? Yep, you heard me right. The Junk Yard Dog aint even in the league anymore, and he still manages to show up every single year in the prime seating among all the other A-Listers. Hey, I enjoyed Jerome's tenure as a Piston as much as the next guy, plus he was an honorary High Socks Legend, but shouldn't the top billing go to current stars or at the least, retired NBA stars? I understand George Gervin and Dominique being in the crowd reaction shot, but JYD?? Really? He hasn't played in the NBA since 2005, and many might argue it was actually much sooner. I demand that if he has the same seat next year, he bring along Don Reid and they wear matching teal Pistons jerseys from 1998. Jerome can reminisce about his offensive rebounding prowess with the Stones, while Don could wax on all night about his record season when he averaged just over 65 fouls per 48 minutes.
Speaking of bizarre NBA sightings, you could not miss big Adonal Foyle in the 2nd row, wearing a giant yellow sweater vest with large black polka dots. Excellent wardrobe choice, Adonal. On the one night in your life where you knew you'd be on TV with other famous players and people, you opted to resemble a massive bumblebee. Good look. After watching "Bee Movie" several times in the last few months, I gained a certain affinity for the species. I thought they were actually kind creatures at heart that were just misunderstood. However, after seeing what bees look like now in the form of Adonal Foyle, I view them as "disinterested, unmotivated, lazy, with absolutely zero low-post game to speak of."
Sometimes the 'Sweet Science' Can Be Quite Sour
Some pretty bizarre boxing action on Saturday night as well, making a good remote control man a critical factor for everyone's overall enjoyment. Luckily, I have won several medals throughout my life for mastering this skill. The fight I'm talking about was the Kermit Cintron-Sergio Martinez bout. Incidentally, the fighters had 3 career losses between them, all to the recently revealed to be cheating Antonio Margarito. Martinez knocked Cintron out with a clean shot to the jaw in the 7th. Or so it seemed. The referee counted to 10, while Cintron sat dazed on the mat indicating he'd been hit with a head butt and not a punch. The bell sounded to signal the end of the round, Cintron slowly rose to his feet, the referee began waving his arms as if to indicate the end of the fight, while Martinez jumped atop the corner rope to celebrate the victory. All of these things happened simultaneously. It was pure chaos.
Cintron thought that not only was he drilled with a head butt in the first place, but that he'd also beaten the count. The replay confirmed that Cintron was wrong on all fronts. He'd been cracked with a clean right, and was still touching the canvas when the ref hit 10. As boxing does on occasion, they got it completely wrong. They allowed the fight to go on, ruling Cintron had barely escaped the 10 count. Martinez continued to dominate, racking up rounds by attacking the cut left eye of Cintron. When the referee docked Martinez for a phantom holding of the head in the 12th and final round, it was only a blip in what was going to be a dominant final tally. Again, as boxing does every so often, they screwed it up royally. Michael Buffer took the mic, and to the crowd's disappointment, revealed that the bout had been scored a draw. Pretty heinous judging, really. Cintron had a couple good rounds out of 12, got knocked down (and really out), and finished the night with blood spewing madly out of the left eye. The real guilty party in the whole thing was the referee. Two of the three judges scored the fight a draw (the third had it correctly for Martinez), which means that if the questionable point deduction was not made, we would have had a perfectly fair and just unanimous victory for Sergio Martinez.
On one hand, it's ridiculous decisions like this that turn some people off to boxing. I am in the other camp, however. I think that human error and differing opinions are sometimes what makes sports great. I've never been an instant replay advocate, either. It was inevitable in football, and I am afraid of where baseball will take it now that it has opened the door already with home run reviews. While Don Denkinger indeed missed a huge call in the 1985 World Series that cost the Cardinals the title, it is that kind of moment which will be completely missing from the future history of the game if more additions are made to replay. Nothing wrong with a little controversy every now and then. They make for good stories and conversation down the road. Who says everything always needs to be seen in black and white?? Nobody likes to see a missed call, but every once in a while, it turns what would have been a ho-hum sporting event like Martinez-Cintron into a night of pretty entertaining boxing action. And yes, for the record, it is 4:08 AM and I most definitely should have stopped writing a good 35 minutes ago.
Other Odds and Ends
-Michigan picked up a vital road win on Sunday at Northwestern. It took overtime to do it, and the offense the last two minutes of regulation was nothing short of abysmal, but it's still a road win in the Big Ten. Another critical week is on the horizon. A home date with Minnesota and a road game at Iowa. To dig deep and grab both these wins would be a huge boost for John Beilein's club and their hopes of securing an NCAA tournament berth for the first time since 1998. Michigan currently sits at 6-7 in the conference, with five games left. It is imperative that Manny Harris play with the same aggression he displayed in the 2nd half against Northwestern. He literally threw the team on his back and willed them to a win. Lord knows he aint gettin' any production from his three point guards. Seriously, are C.J. Lee, David Merritt, and Kelvin Grady the worst set of point guards in Michigan history? These guys make former Wolverine PGs Avery Queen, Travis Conlon, and Mike Gotfredson look like NBA Hall-of-Famers.
-At what age does it become inappropriate to get a good head of steam while pushing the shopping cart and then hop on the sides and ride along until you crash into one of the aisles? I'll say 23.
-Did "Demolition Man" have the best cast of any movie in history? Wesley Snipes in his prime, Sly Stallone still doing his thing, Sandra Bullock probably looking better than she did at any other point in her career (though you could make a case for 'Speed'), Dennis Leary back when people still thought he was kinda funny, and a number of others that included Rob Schneider, Benjamin Bratt, Bob Gunton (warden from 'Shawshank'), and Jesse Ventura. Not too shabby. This flick also had one of the more bizarre final battles in an action movie, culminating with Stallone cracking Snipes in the head and knocking it clean off, since Snipes had just been frozen solid a moment prior. Though it sounds unrealistic, I remember watching in awe with my Dad, brother Gabe, and buddy B-Shoke, and buying the whole thing completely. Saw it again tonight, and yes, I'm still convinced Wesley Snipes is currently walking around L.A. without a head on top of his shoulders. It's that believable.
-The standards for a sports news item making it on to the ESPN Bottom Line ticker have practically been eliminated at this point. Apparently they will put up just about anything nowadays, no matter how dumb it makes us all seem for reading it. Caught this gem earlier tonight. "Phillies' manager Charlie Manuel says that you can 'probably pencil in' Cole Hamels for the start on Opening Day." Wait a second...so you're telling me that the defending World Series champions are planning to give the best pitcher in the National League and their biggest postseason hero the ball on Opening Day????? You gotta be kidding me!! Come on, now...
-Though it has gone under the radar, gnochhi has emerged as quite possibly the most underrated food of the last decade. It's fun to eat, everybody pronounces it differently, and it goes well with a multitude of sauces. Next time you're at the local Italian joint, order up some gnochhi. You can thank me later.
-I could write a realllly long thing about this, since it really does bother me to the core of my being, but I'll keep it to a few sentences. One of my favorite parts of the NBA All-Star Game was always the player introductions. Maybe the best part of the game, really. You'd see the player get introduced, come out on to the court, and then do that cool walk down the row of the players that were already called, high-fiving or fist bumping with everybody in their own unique way. It was always a smile to see the players from different teams interact in that atmosphere, and usually made for excellent TV. The camera wouldn't dare pan away from the All-Star until he had completed his trip through the high fiving line of teammates. My, how times have changed. Tonight, the adwizards at the NBA thought of a much different, and less entertaining way, to handle the player intros. They would announce a guy, he'd come out and wave, and then they would call the next guy 3-4 seconds later. We never got to see the famous player greetings from years past because the camera just stayed on the spot where the players entered the whole time. It was like watching a 1-Camera sitcom ('Mad About You' tried this once and the results were not pleasing). It was disappointing, and to be quite honest, downright heartbreaking.
-When it comes right down to it, and we put all the BS aside, I think it becomes quite clear that Orange Pop is simply unbeatable. Obviously, it's not easy to locate in certain instances, but when it is accessible, there's nothin' better. Red Pop gets some attention, and yes, that is also a tremendous beverage, but don't even try and act like it can hold a candle to Orange. You would be lying to yourself, and more importantly, to Faygo.
I miss the days when Paul Reiser was in the public eye and the NBA All-Star Game was done right. Drop a comment of your own in the area below or break me off an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org