Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sit Back and Relax...It's Just Another Thursday with the HSL

I'm aware that he's no Carlos Boozer or Chris Bosh, but I really do like the Chris Wilcox signing. For the money the Pistons had remaining (not much) and the amount of good free-agent big men still left on the market (not many), the Wilcox signing was perfect. He checks in at about 6'10, 235, which is not ideal for a starting center in the NBA, but when you look at the other pivot men across the league, there are few teams that really possess a true center (meaning 7-foot plus, 280-300 pounds). When Wilcox is at his best, he's a better than average offensive player with a penchant for finishing anything around the tin. He could be labeled in the "high energy" category of big guys like Birdman Andersen and former Piston Jerome Williams, but he is more skilled than either of those two. Picture a guy like Joe Smith, but a little more athletic and not as reliable an outside shooter. With his ability to play above the rim and shoot a high percentage from the paint, Wilcox should fit in nicely with penetrating lead guards like Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum. One thing that will gnaw at Pistons fans when Wilcox gets on the court is his inability, like many other big men on this team past and present, to capitalize from the free throw line. With Wilcox being added to a stable that already employs notable brick-throwers Jason Maxiell and Kwame Brown, you will see teams put an emphasis on not allowing easy buckets for the Piston bigs, which could make for some scary nightly percentages from the charity stripe. John Kuester's club is not going to beat your brains out next year with overall girth and physicality, but the addition of Wilcox does turn a frontcourt that was completely suspect into one that is now semi-respectable. Just don't send 'em to the line...

-Rumors have the Los Angeles Clippers being very interested in the services of one-time All-Star and full-time malcontent Allen Iverson. So let me get this straight. The Clippers already employ perennial chucker Baron Davis, the man that became famous for going 63 games without once shooting over 50%. They have an up-and-coming shooting guard in Eric Gordon who should improve markedly with a full season under his belt. They used the top pick to nab Blake Griffin, a monster in the paint worthy of being the first or second option on most any NBA team. And now they want to bring aboard Allen Iverson, a player far removed from his prime, but whose mindset still tells him he is a superduperstar that deserves 20-25 looks a night?? Has there ever been a worse potential marriage between player and team? Why not bring Ron Artest to Detroit? Or send Kobe Bryant to the Nuggets? Even those would not be as much of a disaster as The Answer suiting up for the Clippers. If your team is already one of the least cohesive units in all of basketball, something tells me that adding A.I. to the mix is not necessarily the perfect remedy to the situation. People wonder, "What team is the best fit for Iverson?" I got news for you...there isn't one. The guy proved himself to be such a prima donna and me-first player in his short time with the Pistons last season that I cannot think of one franchise in the league that would benefit by signing him.

Uncomfortable Golf Terminology

Despite the unfortunate finish by sentimental favorite Tom Watson and the anti-climactic playoff to follow, I still enjoyed watching the British Open last weekend. It's always one of my favorite tournaments, mostly due to the unique playing conditions and the integral role that weather always plays in the proceedings. My only complaint is that with all the increased ruffiage and tall heather for the players to deal with, we are inundated by commentators with one of the most awkward phrases in all of sports. Whenever a player would dig way down with the club to try and rescue his ball from the deep stuff, an announcer would inevitably hit us with "Boy, look at this...he took a mighty swing, but the stuff was way too thick, and the ground just "grabbed the hozzle." The golfer would then naturally start bouncing around, shaking his wrist in pain, and you could only imagine the pain he was feeling everywhere else in his body, most notably the aforementioned "hozzle" area. When a man is standing waist deep in thorny patches of pine straw, any combination of the words "grabbing" and "hozzle" are enough to make me turn the channel...and readjust in my seat.

Tigers and Other Items from Around the League

Rick Porcello isn't just hitting the wall...he's smashing through it like a bulldozer going through tin foil. He's faced three straight weak-hitting ballclubs and been lit up each time. Ideally, you would love to be able to take a 20-year old like Porcello and either sit him down for a while or let him go sort things out in Toledo. But with the well-known struggles at the back end of the rotation, the Tigers are going to need Porcello to keep taking the ball every fifth day and hopefully regain his early season form in the process. Luke French has been solid thus far, but I wouldn't be too surprised if he rips off a couple of "2 2/3 IP, 7 H, 6 ER" performances in the next couple weeks as the American League starts to figure out his game. Armando Galarraga has managed to right the ship for now, but with the way his season has transpired, you can imagine he's got some elevator action left in that game log (a few more ups and downs). It's imperative for the Tigers that Porcello return to being a reliable hurler trusted to keep you in the game because this offense aint' gonna cover you too often and the back-end pitchers can be a roller-coaster ride.

In semi-related news, Jair Jurrjens continues to dominate for the suddenly sizzling Braves, lowering his ERA to a sparkling 2.67 Wednesday night in a victory over reigning Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum. If there's one deal that Dave Dombrowski could take back in his tenure with Detroit, it would be that one: sending away Jurrjens, a promising starting pitcher, for aging shortstop Edgar Renteria. Teams sometimes fall under that spell of believing they have a "surplus of starting pitching," when there really is no such thing in today's world of 5-man rotations, free agency, and Nate Robertson. A strength can become a weakness in the blink of an eye, meaning you really have to cherish every starting pitching commodity in your franchise. And by "cherish," I do not mean "giving up 22-year old flamethrowers for 32-year old Deivi Cruz clones." You win some, you lose some in the trading game, and you roll with the punches. But with the way this Tigers team has been so top-heavy in their rotation, you would think Dombrowski has had more than few sleepless nights thinking about this one.

-Is there a pitcher more fun to watch in the whole league than Carlos Zambrano? He might not be dialing it up in the mid-90's consistently like he was once able to, but he's still among the most charismatic athletes in all of sports. He works at a frenetic pace, challenges every ball/strike call within three feet of the plate, and as much as any player in the entire league, wears his emotions on his sleeve. With every inning-ending strikeout, Big Z fires off the mound, points toward the sky, all with an expression so maniacally glued to his face that you would think it's Game 7 of the World Series instead of game 17 of the regular season. To demonstrate the intensity and energy Z possesses on the mound, just watch his actions once the pitch is delivered and the catcher is about to throw him the ball back. He's so amped up to get the pill back in his hands for the next toss that he'll start striding towards the dish as soon as the ball crosses the plate. When the catcher gets ready to throw it back, Z is only about 15-20 feet away, already jacked up thinking about the next offering. Throw in the fact that he might be the best hitting pitcher in all of baseball (Zambrano pleaded for manager Lou Piniella to put him in the lineup for interleague play...even when the DH was permitted), and you have the complete entertainment package.

Unfortunately, due to the Cubs propensity for late season swoons and playoff collapses (you may have heard about this), the Z-Pack has never been able to showcase his arsenal on the game's grandest stage. Something tells me it might change this year. The Cubbies have been a middling squad the whole year, but as luck would have it, nobody has run away with the NL Central. It's a division of underachievers, and one would think that with the loads of talent arming the Chicago lineup and pitching staff, an August-September charge might be on the horizon. Piniella's crew has managed to hang around all year with an injury to their fiercest slugger (Aramis Ramirez) and virtually no production from two of their highest-paid players (Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley). With a potent offense practically foaming at the mouth waiting to finally get untracked and a pitching staff that is just starting to come together, look for the forever underdogged Cubbies and their lead bear Mr. Zambrano to quite possibly make their first Fall Classic appearance in 64 years.

-Eric Young from Baseball Tonight is really starting to grow on me. He has a voice like Avery Johnson, he talks a mile a minute, and I always get a kick out his description of a home run traveling to "Souvernirrrrrrr City!!" I liked him as a player, but I might like him even better as an analyst. Gimme E.Y. and Fernando ViƱa over regulars Dave Winfield and John Kruk any night of the week.

Forgotten Detroit Tigers of the Past

It isn't often that you have a real life major league baseball player living on your block growing up, but that was indeed the case in the early 90's when geeky left handed relief pitcher Paul Gibson took up residence no more than eight houses down from the High Socks Legend. Gibby wasn't exactly an intimidating presence coming out of that old Tigers' pen, making him seem that much more accessible when he'd be out on his driveway hanging out. He sported oversized eyeglasses and was a tad on the chubby a cross between Kent Tekulve and Danny DeVito. I remember one lazy afternoon we were walking down the street and Mr. Gibson happened to be outside doing some work. Since one of the privileges you are granted as a young lad is the ability to speak freely without really knowing any better, I took a shot and addressed the Tiger lefty. Having just read that morning's sports page, I sauntered up to the bespectacled journeyman and proudly recited, "Hi, Mr. are 3 and 5 with a 4.29 ERA!" I thought he would have appreciated the recognition (he wasn't exactly being mobbed in grocery stores) and the personal interest I had taken in his statistics, but I was sadly mistaken. After a few seconds of him staring down at me with a maddening expression, Gibson gruffly responded, "Yeah, I know...thanks." I could tell it wasn't a traditional "thanks" that I'd been taught in the early stages of elementary school to mean genuine gratitude towards the person you are speaking to. Instead, this was one of those ", if you don't excuse me, I'm about to go back in the house and watch highlights of myself serving up grand salamis to Jesse Barfield while I cry myself to sleep" kind of deals.

I merrily went about my way after the brief interaction, but Gibson was not as lucky. It wound up being his last year in Detroit, after which he would move on for a couple nondescript seasons with both New York clubs. Sometimes I wonder if Gibson's whole career, and life for that matter, was derailed by that short season summary I delivered to him that fateful summer night. On one hand, I feel terrible for possibly ruining a man's life and torching his dreams. But on the other hand, I feel like a hero. Because that truly seemed like the only time in Mr. Gibson's life that he was recognized by anybody...a fan, one of his teammates, even a member of his own family. Don't fret, Paul. You might be a "Forgotten Detroit Tiger of the Past," but here's one guy that will always remember you.

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