Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Bizarre Tattoo, and the Worst NBA Player of All Time

DeShawn Stevenson has never been the most normal guy in the NBA. Before entering the league, he originally planned on attending Kansas to play for Roy Williams. But then his SAT score jumped curiously from 450 to 1,150, setting off a storm of red flags. He re-took it, got a 650, and hightailed it for the Association. As a rookie, he was charged with the statutory rape of a 14 year-old girl, though he somehow wound up with only probation and community service. He once had an infamous "who can grow a longer beard" contest with Drew Gooden. I think we can all agree nobody won that bet. So it's safe to say nobody was too surprised when Stevenson showed up at Wizards' training camp with a new tattoo covering his Adam's apple. And ol' DeShawn didn't just go the traditional 'skull and crossbones' or 'barbed wire' route. Nope. He decided to be more original than you could possibly imagine, getting a perfect likeness of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, tatted all over his neck. Huhhh???? What is the point of this? To confuse the guy checking him on D? Does it have something to do with him playing in our nation's capital and trying to pay tribute to a past legend in the politic game? Or does he just respect the hell out of Honest Abe's beard and this is his way of showing it? I got a lot of questions, and not many answers. And to be totally frank, with this guy's extremely shady and partially insane track record, I think that's for the best.

My Dad was in Boston a few years back on business and decided to take in a Nuggets-Celtics game as that night's entertainment. He came back with a couple of astute observations. One, the Fleet Center was built in the same fashion as the Palace and turned out to be a pretty enjoyable place to watch a game. And secondly, Nuggets reserve forward Ryan Bowen is hands-down the single worst player in the entire NBA. My Dad is among the most knowledgeable basketball fans out there, so when he makes such a bold statement and actually declares a player as the worst, you listen. And ya know what?? He was right. After monitoring the guy for the last decade, and analyzing his every move whenever he enters a game, I've still yet to identify a real basketball skill emanating from this 6'7'' forward with a 2.6 career scoring average.

Bowen has been a New Orleans Hornet for the last few years, but now he's heading to Oklahoma City to try and earn a spot with the Thunder for the upcoming season. That statement in and of itself tells you everything you need to know about Bowen's ability. Only a real lush has to try and "earn" a spot with the 23-59 Thunder. The best part about the whole story is the quote coming from Guy Zucker, Bowen's agent. Zucker waxes poetic about all of his man's desirable qualities without mentioning even one talent related to the game of basketball. "They tell us they have a spot. So we think we have a good chance. Ryan is incredibly professional, he's unbelievably smart, he's experienced, and he has no ego." I love the fact that each characteristic he attributes to Bowen is straight out of the "How to Describe a Gawky White Guy in the NBA" handbook. 'Professional...Smart...Experienced.' Couldn't he have at least thrown in something like "deceptively strong" or even a token "able to defend multiple positions"?? But to me, the best part about the agent's quote is his claim that Bowen possesses no ego. None? Like whatsoever?? Does he even consider himself a human being? I understand you're trying to push the guy's unselfish nature, but White Bread has been in the league nine years now...shouldn't he at least have a little ego?? Regardless, while many eyes will be focused on Cleveland (with Shaq) and LA (with Artest) this pre-season, my attention will be squarely on Oklahoma City to see if Ryan Bowen can continue his improbable NBA dream for one more season. He might make it, he might not. But we can be sure of one thing...his ego won't be getting in the way.

It's safe to say that the High Socks Legend is excited about the upcoming NBA campaign. Coming next week..."Chucky Atkins a Piston again. What does this do to their NBA title chances??" Reach the Legend at

Monday, September 28, 2009

And It All Comes Down to This...

If there is anything to be sure of in the game of baseball, it is sure of nothing. The Tigers entered last year as the heavy favorite to dominate the American League Central. Perennial All-Star Miguel Cabrera had been added to the mix in the prime of his career, Justin Verlander was coming off a spectacular sophomore campaign, and things looked to be setting up perfectly for a return trip to the World Series. Then the season started, and the world came crashing down. Seven straight losses out of the gate. The failed Edgar Renteria experiment. The tragic Jacque Jones experiment. An astounding 17 losses and near-five ERA for Verlander. Too many AB's for guys like Jeff Larish and Matt Joyce. Too much Dane general. Journeymen hurlers like Aquilino Lopez and Casey Fossum were counted on for big late-inning outs. The decaying Kenny Rogers and the crumbling Nate Robertson combined to give up approximately 900 miles in home runs. After opening day, the Tigers didn't see the .500 mark again until the 88th game of the year. They finished the 2008 schedule with 14 losses in 18 games and wound up in dead last. Behind the Royals. The freakin' Royals. It was an unequivocal disaster.

Which brought us to 2009. A fresh start. Practically zero expectations. The pundits told us this time that the Tigers might improve from their '08 collapse, but not to the point where we should take them seriously as playoff contenders. After all, their off-season moves were about as vanilla as it got. A chunky catcher with a solid arm in Gerald Laird. An aging, defensive shortstop with no stick in Adam Everett. A historically Jekyll & Hyde right hander in Edwin Jackson. And a lanky young bonus baby being counted on for 170 quality innings in Frederick Alfred Porcello (real name, no joke). Fans weren't exactly readying themselves for a memorable summer of baseball. April came and went without much of a whimper. But then the Tigers invaded Cleveland and swept a three-game set to assume first place in the division. That was May 10th. It's been 156 days since. They're still on top.

It hasn't been a classic pennant-winning type season. There have been surprises, both good and bad. You have Miguel Cabrera, a guy that has surprised nobody by maintaining his Hall-of-Fame quality numbers and anchoring the middle of the lineup all season. There's Curtis Granderson, who has morphed into Willie Mays Hayes from Major League II, bashing a career high in homers while seeing his average dip uncharacteristically to the dreaded .250 territory. Ryan Raburn has been a pleasant surprise, showing a frisky power stroke while still trying to fight off the ever-present and potentially lethal comparisons to former Tiger Shane Halter. Placido Polanco and Magglio Ordonez struggled mightily for half the year before turning it into overdrive. The middle of the lineup still doesn't scare anybody, but at least it's starting to resemble something that might. From the dark side, Armando Galarraga's slider was exposed as a one-year phenomenon, joining the likes of the Steve Sparks knuckleball and anything Bill Gullickson threw in 1991. Brandon Inge has dazzled with the leather, and fizzled with the lumber. His eight K's in three games over the weekend was frightening, to say the least. Verlander has been near perfect, this time winning 17 games, many of them coming when the Tigers needed it most (see, final game in Fenway last month). Brandon Lyon made an important switch after the first month of the year, deciding to throw baseballs toward the opposing hitters instead of the tropical grapefruits and industrial-sized beach balls he'd been tossing prior. It might have even been life-saving, as many doctors felt that Lyon was risking spontaneous combustion out on the mound if he continued his fire-setting ways. Fernando Rodney has caused many a worrisome 9th inning for Tigers fans, but this year, every time but one, things have turned out just fine. It practically mirrors this season.

The Tigers have been leading almost the whole way. In the last few weeks, they've walked leadoff hitters, missed easy grounders, and been shut down by no-name pitchers (I don't even think Daniel Hudson knows who Daniel Hudson is). The race has gotten tighter and tighter as the season draws to a close, but the Tigers refuse to budge from the catbird seat. One final test remains. The second place Twins, trailing by a minuscule two games, come to town for a season-deciding four-game series beginning tonight. They arrive without the services of their MVP first baseman, Justin Morneau. But in his stead has been the suddenly terrifying Michael Cuddyer, who seems to have hit all 30 of his homers in the last ten days. Joe Mauer, the Twins do-it-all rock behind the plate, could wind up with the rarely seen stat collection of 30 round trippers, 100 ribbies, and a .375 batting clip. Kinda reminds you of Gerald Laird...ya know, if Mauer put on about 50 lb's and dropped about 150 decimals from that average.

These Twins are by no means a collection of superstars, but that's the way they like it. They fly under the radar, and that suits them just fine. But this week, they have no choice. The entire baseball world will have their eyes focused on Comerica Park. The other races are virtually all decided, and the AL Central is the only drama that remains. In 2008, we wanted everything, and got nothing. This year, we expected nothing, and have gotten much more. As a great philosopher once said, "Nothing is perfect because life isn't perfect, and that's what makes it beautiful." This season hasn't been perfect...but if things fall the Tigers' way, it might wind up being the most beautiful sight two eyes have ever seen.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

It's Thursday...Let's Have a Little Fun!!

Boy, do those Florida Marlins have some fun. Caught the end of their thrilling comeback win over Philly last night and the on-field celebration following the final run was something typically reserved for a World Series-clinching victory. No joke. When Brett Carroll laced Brad Lidge's meatball right back up the middle for the walk-off W, almost the whole Marlins squad was charging the field before he even reached first base. Hanley Ramirez, who was on 3rd representing the winning run, actually made a banana turn to round home plate as he scored so he could then make the quickest path possible out to the gathering mob towards first base. They all came spilling out onto the field in record time, and were doing it with such vigor and enthusiasm that two of the guys got tangled up and wound up tumbling to the ground. But nobody cared. Everybody was screaming and laughing, and I'm pretty sure at one point I saw one guy giving the Marlins mascot a piggy-back ride. You would have thought they just secured a playoff spot, or won their 50th straight game. In reality, they had simply moved to within 4.5 games of Colorado for the wild card, a somewhat lofty number at this point in the season. But they just kept jumping on each other and running all over the field. You could tell Phillies first sacker Ryan Howard was none too pleased having to avoid the celebrating Marlins on his trek to the dugout after the final hit. And I venture to say things could have gotten very ugly if anybody even made the slightest contact with the big fella at that moment.

To top the whole thing off, we see Carroll now being interviewed by the TV people near the Florida dugout. And away from the action, we also see a couple of still-giddy Marlins emerging from the other end of the dugout holding a giant Gatorade jug. I thought to myself, "No way are they about to give this guy a Gatorade shower after a regular season win that brought them to within 4.5 games of a playoff spot. They usually only do that after the Super Bowl." Well that's what this game seemed to be to these guys. Sure enough, the two Fish converged on Carroll with the Gatorade in tow, and let loose with the entire 500-oz container of Lemon Lime heaven. No joke. I'm pretty sure it was the first time I had ever seen such a thing for a regular season baseball game. It really was one of the more underrated moments from this baseball season. It's a team that probably knows they have pretty little chance of making the playoffs. It's a team that routinely plays in front of maybe two or three dozen fans (including family members) when they are at home. But none of that mattered Wednesday night.

It was just pure jubilation following one of the most exciting wins in all of baseball this year (the whole 9th inning was absolute chaos). I normally reserve a pretty serious hatred for all things Marlin following their 2003 NLCS with the Cubbies, but after watching this current school of Fish have the time of their life Wednesday night, I'll be rooting for them to shock the world over these final two weeks and somehow find a spot in the dance.

The Pittsburgh Pirates got some unwanted recognition recently for setting the all-time record for consecutive losing seasons by a team in the four major sports (17). But they aren't totally alone. The Baltimore Orioles kinda slide under the "Inept Franchise" radar, but let it be known that these guys have been nothing short of awful. Aside from the perpetually putrid Buccos, the O's are the only other MLB squad to fail to record even one .500 season this century. The Orange-Birds have managed to be less than average every single season since Y2K, yet they never seem to catch any real flak for it. This was once a proud franchise that competed for championships most every year from the mid-60's on through to the mid-80's. They had Hall-of-Famers like Jim Palmer, Frank Robinson, and Cal Ripken, Jr. My, how things have changed. The '09 edition is a whopping 35 games out of first, and contains a pitching staff made up entirely of rice pilaf.

And if you think these guys are planning a big season-ending run to provide some momentum for 2010, think again. They dropped their season-high 7th straight game last night, and to make things just a litttttle bit sicker, the pitcher they lost to (Scott Richmond of TOR) was 0-6 in his last nine starts with an ERA close to infinity. But on the bright side, (ummmmmm), (still thinking)...nope, I got nothin'. That's one sad franchise.

I don't understand why the one-armed man in The Fugitive decided to murder Harrison Ford's wife with what looked to be a Magic 8-Ball. Was that the popular weapon of choice back in the early 90's?? Did the guy stop at one of those 'Gag Gift' shops on the way to the house? Why didn't he pick up a Whoopee Cushion and some Silly Putty while he was at it? And another thing. The bad guys in this movie obviously went to great lengths to hatch this whole scheme and frame the completely innocent Richard Kimble (Ford), but what was the logic behind having a guy with a prosthetic arm actually do the wet work? On the list of things that one-armed men specialize in, I wouldn't think that "cold-blooded murder" would be at the top of the list. Not to mention, if the henchmen did think there was a chance Ford would encounter this mook at some point during the chaos, wouldn't discovering that the man only had one wing narrow the possibilities immensely? Like, if Doc Kimble had to go to the cops and tell them, "Umm, yeah, he was a white guy, kinda tall...that's pretty much all I got," I can't imagine they would have been on the fast track to hunting him down. But if he reports to the Five-O that the killer in question was only working with uno brazo, I'd think they would have the guy in cuffs within the hour.

However, despite these few very minor criticisms, The Fugitive remains one of the best movies of all-time, and stands out as one of those flicks that you seem to enjoy every time you settle in like it's your first time viewing the picture. There's much more to discuss regarding this film (like why was that one female doctor so bitter at Ford when she realized he saved a kid's life...and why wasn't Ford's beard nominated for a 'Best Supporting Actor' Oscar), but we'll save those gems for another time. And if you haven't seen The Fugitive yet, well, let's just say that one of us is a complete lush...and it's not me.

What's with Placido Polanco wearing that Breathe Right nasal strip lately? Doesn't he already look enough like Mr. Potato Head? What's next, a goofy pair of sunglasses and a fake moustache?? Feel free to drop a comment on any of the aforementioned topics, or reach me by E-mail at

Monday, September 21, 2009

Yet Unnamed Monday Weekend Sports Re-Kap

Entering this road series with the never-say-die Minnesota Twins, most Tigers fans were just looking for one thing: a single win. Just one little W to keep the AL Central lead at a comfortable margin and slow down that oncoming Twinkie Train that kept appearing closer in the rear-view mirror. Well, things weren't looking very good heading into the finale yesterday. The Tigers fell Friday night when their bats went silent. They dropped a Metrodome special on Saturday afternoon when Nervous Don Kelly was inserted late in the game as a defensive replacement in a move that could best be described as "curious, shocking, and well, just very, very curious." So it all came down to Sunday. Maybe the most important ballgame of the year. So who else would you want toeing the rubber on such an occasion than Nate Robertson?? Wait, what?? You mean the same Nate Robertson that achieved an almost unimaginable 6.35 ERA last year while pitching basically the whole season as a starter? Couldn't be! The same Nate Robertson who allowed more earned runs than anybody else in the entire American League last season?? That guy?? You're telling me he is being trusted to take the ball for a reeling Tigers team, go out, and win a game to possibly save the entire season? It seems improbable, but then again, this team's drive for a spot in October has been anything but conventional all season long. So Nate when out and decided to make the season even crazier...and won the biggest game of the year.

Of course, Nate's performance isn't going to conjure up any memories of Steve Carlton or Warren Spahn, Hall-of-Fame left handers from yesteryear. He allowed his fair share of baserunners, threw a million pitches in a shot period of time, and only wound up lasting five innings. But he got the job done. He stayed away from the big inning, kept the ball down, and somehow kept the suddenly Ruthian slugger, Michael Cuddyer, from making his customary trot around the bases. It was far from a heroic or memorable performance, but on this day, it didn't need to be. It just needed to be enough. It was.

And now, the picture becomes a little more clear. The finish line that looked miles away after the Don Kelly Experience on Saturday now looks like to be well within reach once again. The Tigers, a team that has maintained a firm grip on first place since May 10th, find themselves ahead by three games with 13 to play. A day off tomorrow and then a mad dash to the finish (13 games in 13 days). You get the feeling now that the worst is finally over. The pesky Royals did their best in the last 10 days to make some waves and rock the boat from side to side. The Metrodome did its part on Saturday to recall the ghosts one more time for a final send-off. And Sunday could have been the finishing touch. A loss, a sweep, and for all intents and purposes, a season that would not be recovered. But the Tigers, behind Nate Robertson circa 2006, and the sizzzzzling Placido Polanco, weren't ready to throw in the towel just yet. They got the one win they came to Minnesota for at the time they needed it most. Tiger Nation can finally exhale for a minute. After all, Nate's next start won't be for another five days...

-Just try and keep me away from that Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movie...ain't gonna happen. That was one helluva book when I was growing up, and needless to say, I was pretty jacked up when I found out it was being made into a movie. I know most great books don't translate as well to the big screen, but I'm still holding out hope that turns out to be the exception, and not the rule. The only unfortunate part is that the HSL's longtime movie buddy, B-Shoke, has jumped ship from the D and is now living in Atlanta, making a Meatballs outing a virtual impossibility. Maybe it's for the best, though. There were in fact, some very sick double features back in the day, including a "Nobody else will ever find out about this" night that included back-to-back viewings of The Chronicles of Riddick (not one of Vin Diesel's finest) and Garfield: The Movie (we might have been the only ones in the place over the age of 9). Throw in the not-so-memorable evening when I practically had a nervous breakdown walking in to see the dark and ominous flick The Crow when I preferred the much more kid-friendly 3 Ninjas Kick Back, and I might just have to wait until the DVD comes out to see if these meatballs really do come down from the sky.

-Bizarre finish to the Michigan State game in South Bend on Saturday. Kirk Cousins misses a wide open Larry Caper in the back of the end zone for the go-ahead score, then flings a mindless game-ending pick on the very next play when a field goal still would have sent the contest into overtime. I wasn't aware that Cousins was in fact the "cousin" of Gus Ornstein.

-Prediction of the week came Thursday afternoon during another Tigers shellacking at the hands of the Kansas City Royals. KC was at bat with men on the corners when former Tiger Josh Anderson came strolling to the dish with his punchless piece of lumber. Sitting in the Copa's upper deck, I commented, "At least they can't do any more damage now." After all, when Anderson was with Detroit, it was a miracle if he hit the ball out of the infield twice in the same week. He hadn't hit a homer all year. Hearing this, die-hard Tigers fan and part-time psychic Ricky Lee offered up this straight-out-of-left field prediction. "I guarantee he's going to hit his first home run right here. Just watch." Again, a couple pitches into the at-bat, he repeated his claim. Not many people are out there calling home runs for players that haven't hit one in their last 267 trips to the plate, so nobody took it too seriously. But then it happened. The count went 2-0, Anderson got the green light, and Armando Galarraga went into his special bag of tricks and decided to literally throw a fully inflated beach ball in the direction of home plate. Anderson turned on the pitch with every muscle in his 195-pound frame and sent it flying on a dead line towards the right field bleachers. An absolute laser beam, the ball cleared the fence by a good 25 feet and Anderson had his first round tripper of the year. But more importantly, the bizarre words of Ricky Lee had come true. It ranks near the top of the list of live in-game baseball predictions. But one must take into account that it was, in fact, the lifeless right arm of Armando Galarraga that served up the pitch, and by rule, 25% credit is automatically taken away on any home run call. A final prediction: Anderson will never hit a home run in the big leagues again and will be a professional calf-roper within the next 3-5 years.

-Why do baby clothes need pockets? You see these little infants all the time walking around in their miniature cargo pants and you can't help but wonder, "What exactly is lil' fella carrying around in there?"

-You ever hear someone say, "Ewww, I hate frosting" when birthday cake slices are being doled out? Yeah, I've heard it...and let me just say this. Anyone who says such a thing is not your friend. Seriously. Stay away from them. They are scary people, and they are up to no good. It's OK to prefer the cake portion over the frosting side, but it is not OK to simply dismiss the frosting as "gross" or "icky." Saying these things makes you a Communist, and more importantly, the world's biggest lush.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Flashback Friday with the HSL

The Tigers invade the Metrodome this weekend for the season's most critical series, a three-gamer with the second place Twins that could end up deciding the AL Central race. In this "High Socks Legend Flashback," we turn the clock back to a column written in mid-May immediately following a particularly gut-wrenching Twins sweep over Jim Leyland's crew. As this article brings to light, the Homerdome has never been the most friendly venue to the Tigers or any visiting club, for that matter. So grab a bottle of TUMS and enjoy this terrifying journey through the hallowed halls of the flukiest baseball stadium on the planet, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.

Note: This article originally appeared on May 15th.

The Tigers entered the state of Minnesota feeling pretty darn good. They had just completed a brilliantly pitched three-game sweep over the Indians. The starters were dominant, the relievers were solid, and all seemed to be right in Tiger Town. But there's one thing that Minnesota has that Cleveland does not: the Metrodome. Or more aptly titled, the Detroit Tigers Very Own Personal House of Horrors. More than any other park in the American League, you just never feel like a lead is 100% safe in that giant bubble. The grass is fake, the fans are noisy, and the opposing hitters are downright frisky. And when the dust finally settled on this 3-game set, the Tigers found themselves trudging home empty handed. And dreading the next trip back to Minneapolis.

The opener on Tuesday night was just a flat performance that will happen more than a few times during a 162-game season. Armando Galarraga was shaky and the Tiger bats were quiet. No reason to panic. Still two opportunities to grab a game in this godforsaken building.

The second contest had it all. Dontrelle Willis made his 2009 debut and proceeded to get hit harder than a Lawrence Phillips ex-girlfriend. The sooner he realizes that he is the present-day Rick Ankiel and that his only future lies in being a position player, the better off all of us will be. Somehow, the Tigers battled back with long bombs courtesy of Miguel Cabrera, Brandon Inge, and Glenallen Hill-impersonator, Jeff Larish. But like all games in the Metrodome, you can't be sure of anything until the final out is recorded. Sure enough, a 2-run lead in the 8th went up in smoke when Jason Kubel took a Joel Zumaya fireball and promptly blasted it somewhere in the general direction of Mars. It seems that Kubel was raised on the Matt Stairs' school of hitting where you try to hit every single pitch as far as humanly possible. Give that guy 7 to 8 years and he'll be checking in at the same 300 bills that Stairs has been for the last decade.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 12:30 AM, Curtis Granderson laced a signature triple with just one out. Perfect. But after a short pop fly by Potato Head Polanco failed to get him in, Granderson took matters into his own hands. Or more appropriately, his feet. Grandy stutter-stepped a bluff towards the dish. Twinkie reliever Jesse Crain panicked and went through with a halted delivery so awkward that a balk was called even though nobody seemed to really know where the infraction occurred. Normally, when you score a run in such bizarre fashion in the 13th inning of a marathon game, the home team is so demoralized that they are content to take their three quick outs in the bottom half and get to sleep. But not in the Metrodome.

Kubel (or Ruth, whichever you prefer) led off with a single. Trouble. A sacrifice moved him over. Then a Bermuda Triangle single by Twins 2nd sacker Matt Tolbert tied things up again. The Twins have mastered the "we might not hit it hard, but you can be sure we're hitting it in the exact perfect place" technique. Tolbert is another example of the perennial Twins' annoyance. They always have that same no-stick, good-gloved, 2nd baseman that hangs around for a few years before a new scrub comes along. Luis Rivas held the title for a while, Alexi Casilla carried the torch after that, and now Matt Tolbert is continuing the tradition proudly. Somewhere, Steve Lombardozzi is smiling. So with the game now tied and Tolbert aboard, it was simply a matter of how the Twins would pull it out. The bases were ultimately loaded with two outs, and longtime Tigers assassin Joe Crede was stepping into the box. On the mound, Brandon Lyon was in his third inning of work and looking malnourished. The matchup was so uneven that Crede could have been forced to use one of those plastic light-sabres you used to get at the circus and he still would have hit the ball 450 feet. Sure enough, Lyon tried to coax one more breaking ball out of his dying arm, and Crede deposited it for a walk-off slam.

Metrodome 2, Tigers 0

But they had one more shot. Justin Verlander was on the hill. There's been no hotter pitcher over the last month. Jim Leyland even pegged Magglio back into the 3-slot in the order to try and get his bat going. The Tigers were determined to come home with at least one W in their back pocket. Through six innings, Verlander was masterful. Practically untouchable. Of the 19 outs he recorded, 13 were marked with a 'K' in the scorebook. And finally, the Tigers busted out with an inning of their own and hung a crooked 5-spot in the 6th. So now they had a five run lead in the 7th inning with their ace pitcher cruising along, and the players all dead tired after an excruciatingly long game the night before. Even this was not something the Twins and the Metrodome could overcome. Think again. Verlander was pulled after two men reached with one out. Bobby Seay entered to face the Twins' parade of lefties, where he excels. Unfortunately, there's good Bobby Seay, there's bad Bobby Seay, and then on a day like this one, there's "I'm literally going to throw a beach ball towards the plate" Bobby Seay. Finally, Zach Miner was summoned from what is now looking like a pretty shaky scene down in the Tigers' pen. As if the series couldn't end any other way, Joe Crede broke his bat on another perfectly placed Metrodome single and the home team had the final lead, 6-5.

Having difficulty in a certain stadium or venue is not unique to just the Tigers and their Metrodome struggles. In the NBA, the Pistons have gone to Utah for the last 25 years and all they have to show for it are some gut-wrenching losses and one very painful Mailman-to-Isiah elbow. The Lions have trekked up to frigid Lambeau every year since '92 and have come up short every single time. Kevin Bacon's Winabi tribe emerged victorious in The Air Up There, but I don't think anybody believes in their heart of hearts that they win that game if it is played in Mingori territory. Sometimes a home field just means that much. And this week was one of those times. There's just something unfriendly to the visiting team about the Metrodome. Maybe it's the vastly under-reported story that their workers were manipulating the air conditioning system during the '87 and '91 title runs to aid the Twins' cause. Or it could be the "Am I a football field or a baseball diamond?" dilemma that makes for odd dimensions and poor sight lines. Or maybe it's the fact that every single ball hit in the gap by a Tiger over the last five years has wound up one-hopping over the fence for a ground-rule double, always with a man on first that would have easily scored otherwise. In the past, unknown baseball vagabonds like Jason Tyner and Lew Ford immediately have turned into the second coming of Mantle and Maris when dropped into the ultra-friendly home confines of the Metrodome. The Tigers return to Comerica Park tonight, and you can imagine that coming home never felt so good.

There's a small silver lining in this frustrating series sweep. Target Field, the new home to the Twins, is scheduled to be ready for play Opening Day next season. It will be outdoors with real grass. Which means that the Big Bubble in Minnesota will no longer be able to torment the Tigers with its high bounces, garbage bag homers, and unorthodox rallies. But like any big change in life, you wonder if the Tigers might wind up missing the old guy once he's gone and replaced with a newer, shinier, version. After the last 72 hours of misery...I think they'll handle it just fine.

One can only hope that this scene will not be recreated in some capacity this weekend. However, if a 3-game Twins sweep does occur, the High Socks Legend will not be held responsible for bringing about any type of jinx or curse with the re-posting of this column. Reach the HSL at - -

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Are You "Softball Guy"???

The Guy Dressed in Full Regalia

Listen up, dude. There are no TV cameras in the area. The Goodyear blimp will not be making an appearance. There are three fans in the bleachers, and only one of them is awake. Ninety percent of the guys out here are wearing a beat up T-shirt, an old pair of Champion shorts, and some $25 plastic spikes from Dunham's . So please do us all a favor and explain why you are dressed to the f$%#king nines like it's the seventh game of the World Series.

Wearing long pants is one thing. Quite understandable, actually. The infield dirt is far from perfect and nobody wants to go home with a bloody wheel. But that doesn't give 'Full Regalia Guy' the right to show up all pinstriped out in major league quality gear like he just finished a photo shoot with Jeter and A-Rod. I might even go so far as to allow the baseball pants, but somehow the pinstripes being involved just puts this mook on a totally different, much sicker, level. Up top, this gear-obsessed individual refrains from simply donning the typical sweat-stained tee that most of us find perfectly suitable. He instead opts to wear an actual softball jersey from one of his former teams that reads, "1992 Garden City Fall Ball Regular Season Co-Champs" in a bizarre attempt to 'impress' the rest of us with his glory-filled history that most likely involved too few women and far too many late-night Tombstone Za's.

Throw in the thick Nike wristbands he wears on each wing, the eye-black typically reserved for big leaguers splattered all across his mug, and the prescription Oakley sunglasses he has perched atop his surgically-bent authentic Olde-Enlgish D cap, and you've got "Full Regalia Guy" in a nutshell. He might look good, and he might feel good, but none of that can ever make up for the immense amount of respect we all lose for him every time he steps between the white lines.

The Guy with the Cooler

This guy is always one step ahead of the game. Whereas you show up to the field on a blistering summer day with nothing but a warm (and soon to be much warmer) bottle of water, Cooler Guy comes fully prepared. He's got his equipment slung over one shoulder, but it's the other arm that carries the truly precious cargo...the cooler. In this little compartment of heaven, our hero has jammed in a healthy amount of cubed ice, below which sit all of the softball cooler essentials. There are the 3-4 sports drinks, all different flavors, a couple of 20 ounce waters just to keep everything balanced, and then finally, the grand finale. That one little pudgy can of Coca-Cola Classic, crammed into the deep corner of the cooler, enveloped in ice, just waiting to be cracked open and guzzled after that final pitch in what is undoubtedly the most perfect beverage choice for that exact moment in time. You might out-hit or out-run the Cooler Guy once in a while, but trust me, he will always be more refreshed.

The Guy that Cares Too Much

A routine single that could be a double with extreme hustle and a death-defying slide into second base?? Check. Able to recite the standings team-by-team heading into the final week and exactly what your squad needs from each game to get into the playoffs? Check. Willing to stay after your game to watch other teams play just to pick up a few scouting tips for the future? Check and mate. This guy has always held a special place in my heart because frankly, I am this guy.

I'm not bragging about it and I'm not exactly proud of the fact, but I won't try denying it, either. I've been known to show up an hour before game time just to secure the coveted 3rd base dugout that makes it easier to coach your guys rounding the bag heading for home. I lie awake many a night during the softball season lamenting a missed opportunity at the plate or a muffed grounder that could have been an easy two. But I'm not exactly the only one. My dad and brothers will also talk about last week's games until they are blue in the face, often forcing someone to declare a "moratorium," at which point no more softball discussion can take place until a new game is played.

Like I said, I'm not proud of myself...but it's who I am. I'm the guy perfectly willing to slide on a jagged-pebbled infield and live the rest of my life with an 8-inch scar along my left shin just to make sure I avoid the sweep tag on a play at the plate during a meaningless back-end of a doubleheader on a 96° day in the middle of July. You might beat me on a particular day, but trust me...nobody cares more than I do. I'm just not sure that's a good thing...

The Guy that Worships the Rule Book

Slo-pitch softball is generally a pretty controversy-free affair. Or at least it should be. Rules Guy is constantly looking to mix it up...once the play is over. In one game this year, older brother and rulebook aficionado Gabe spent the full seven innings calling out the opposing hurler for "not being on the rubber" when delivering the pitch. Now, in a sport where the ball is pretty much served up to the hitter on a silver platter, such a minor infraction would normally go unnoticed. Not when Rules Guy is in the building. He will bring it to the umpire's attention repeatedly even though it is painfully clear that the man in blue could care less if the pitcher was delivering the ball from Saturn. He's here to scoop his 27 bones and be on his way while exerting as little energy as humanly possible for the hour and a half he's behind the plate.

But back to Rule-Man. He's not so much concerned with the normal ins and outs of the game. He goes to a deeper level, where few have gone before and even fewer have returned unharmed. He'll research the legality of an obscure softball item like the "Knob Cuff," a device attached to the bat handle to improve grip. Again, it's no big thing either way...a knob-cuffed bat ain't gonna make or break someone's day at the plate. But Rules Guy isn't hearing it. He's by the book, through and through. You can try and sneak one by him, but I wouldn't recommend it. The last guy who did wound up getting his "knob" cuffed...if you know what I mean.

The Guy that Always Has "Somewhere to Be"

This guy takes scheduling conflicts to a whole new level. Sure, he only has one or two softball games a week, but you can be sure that those games will be taking place at the exact same time as another monumentally important event in the guy's life. You would think that only the President of the United States could be this busy, but apparently you'd be mistaken.

And the thing is, "Somewhere to Be Guy" never really has a classic excuse. He'll give you a heads-up during the week that's as off-putting as it is reassuring. You'll get a curious E-mail that gets progressively more bizarre with each word you read.

"Might only be there for 1st game this wknd. B'day party at 11:30. Clown needs ride. C ya Sunday...if I'm still alive."

You sit there and re-read it a good dozen times, but the message never becomes more clear or less insane.

Is it actually his birthday party, and that's why he has to be on time? It could be a kid party, but you know for a fact this guy is unmarried and doesn't really have any friends with little ones of their own. And why is he the one in charge of picking up the clown? Don't clowns generally transport themselves to such events, and to take it one step further, haven't we all pretty much decided as a society that clowns are just too downright creepy to enjoy at any more large gatherings? None of these questions are answered, because the guy in question is always too hyper during the game to get any real information out of. He's always so worried about getting out on time, saying cryptic things like, "Let's get a 1-2-3 inning here, boys! Or else you might not be seeing me at all next week. Wish I was kiddin'!!!"

At this point, you seriously consider calling the police to report this mystery clown that clearly becomes homicidal if he is not picked up at the previously agreed upon time. But then you reconsider. Because having "Somewhere to Be Guy" on the roster is always way more trouble than it's worth, and having him clipped by some freak with size-26 clodhoppers and a giant red nose might be just the solution you've been looking for all along.

The Lush

This guy can only hide his extreme level of inebriation for so long. He might show up to the field at a reasonable time before the game. He might take a seat on the bench and lace up his cleats. Everything appears to be normal. Then the Lush steps to the plate for his first AB and you realize something ain't right. He fouls the first pitch off, but it's one of those foul balls that could almost be considered a swinging strike with how little contact was really made. The next pitch is three feet outside, and you can tell it took every fiber of the Lush's being not to hack at it. The final pitch of the sequence is the one that finally jumps up and tells you..."This man had a LOT to drink last night." It's a meatball, right down the middle, perfect arc. But Lush starts his under-the-influence swing way too late. He loses hold of his back foot in the process. And when his bat finally finishes its adventure with a triple-hitched follow through that would make only Charles Barkley proud, the ball is nestling cozily in the catcher's mitt and Lush is presumably done for the day.

He might make it back to the dugout in one piece, but you can be sure that within the next 10-15 minutes, he will be taking a few steps towards the nearest garbage can and leaning over to let out some of last night's celebration while everyone else looks on in sheer horror. That's the thing you can never figure out about the Lush. If he's gonna go out the night before a doubleheader and just get absolutely blasted to smithereens, why even bother showing up?? Somehow, SeƱor Lush thinks he has this superpower-like ability to pound 16-18 brews, chase 'em with several unidentified shots, and still resemble a legitimate able-bodied athlete the next morning just because he got 2.5 hours of sleep on his buddy's kitchen floor and then crushed a 64-ounce Lemon-Lime 'Rade on the way to the field. A real chemist. Thankfully, usually after the Lush takes his first embarrassing turn at the dish, he calls it a day. He'll find a comfortable piece of dugout bench to pass out on or just try "walking it off," which will also generally result in him tipping over and then proceeding to black out for the next 2-45 hours. But every team's gotta have a Lush, or else it wouldn't be the great American pastime that is Slo-Pitch Softball.

Got a "Softball Guy" of your own?? Drop your example in the comments area below, or send me an E-mail with your thoughts at

Monday, September 14, 2009

Quarterbacks, Leprechauns, and the Worst Franchise in the History of Western Civilization

The Detroit Lions wrapped up their infamous 0-16 campaign last season with a 10-point loss at Lambeau Field on December 28th. The franchise underwent a number of changes following that abomination. A newer, more hostile, logo was adopted. Rod Marinelli was fired and Jim Schwartz was hired. The first overall pick was spent on a future franchise signal-caller in Matthew Stafford. Various castoff pieces were added to the roster, giving the team several new names to adorn the backs of their jerseys. Unfortunately, the name seared onto the front has remained exactly the same, and tragically, so has their unmistakable ineptitude in every single facet of the game.

Let's get one thing straight. Nobody expected anything out of the Lions yesterday. No grand illusions of an opening week miracle. No wild dreams of Stafford throwing for three bills or the secondary actually resembling a real NFL unit. Everybody and their brother was well aware the Lions had virtually no chance of coming out on top in their trip to the Big Easy, but mannnn, did it have to look so much like last year? When a team goes zero and sixteen, you figure there is nowhere to go but up. As in, this is rock bottom, so the only direction from here is to start that climb back to the top. Not exactly true. What if you stay exactly the same?

That is what it looked like for our Leos during another forgettable Sunday afternoon. Drew Brees carved up Gunther Cunningham's defense all day with a sniper-like precision. The revamped secondary looked, dare I say, worse than last year's version that intercepted passes about as often as Grady Jackson passes up dessert. The defensive line was especially horrendous. I mean, what exactly was Landon Cohen trying to accomplish when he delivered a senseless forearm shiver to the head of Drew Brees (which he got flagged for), and then followed it up with a hands-in-the-air, "I didn't do anything!" motion to the officials? Was he sending some type of message? It left me utterly confused. Kind of like when rookie fireball safety Louis Delmas thought it was a good idea to rip the ball away from the celebrating Jeremy Shockey a good five seconds after the play had been completed. Brilliant. But it really doesn't get any worse than the Stafford pick late in the 2nd quarter deep in Saints territory, followed by a "Non-Player" for the Lions (the referee's words) committing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty during the return by interfering with the official's ability to oversee the action. You could watch every football game, college and pro, for the rest of the year, and you wouldn't see that same sequence of events repeat itself even one time. But the Lions do it without ever really breaking a sweat.

Oh and sixteen was a once in a lifetime thing. But after Sunday's debacle, with the silly penalties, the dismal running game, and the unimaginative coaching, suddenly 0 and 32 doesn't seem like an impossibility. If you can't root for perfection, you might as well root for the exact opposite. There's 15 more of these public executions to go. Let's see if we can make history...again.

Is there anyone out there that doesn't absolutely hate the Leprechaun character from Notre Dame? Homeboy takes the word "annoying" to a whole new stratosphere. He's always wearing some horrible kilt/blazer get-up that looks to be about three or four sizes too small. He is constantly bouncing around the sidelines stirring up trouble with no real purpose in mind. And no matter how many times they might graduate an old leprechaun and usher in a new one, somehow they always wind up with that same red-haired, freckle-faced lush that looks like he belongs on a box of Lucky Charms. Seeing Michigan beat Notre Dame was sweet, but seeing that Matt Bonner clone moping along the sidelines put the cherry on top.

On the second college football Saturday of the season, we were treated to a pair of last-second thrillers here in the state of Michigan. And if these two games reminded us of anything about the game itself, it is this. Never underestimate the importance of the quarterback position. Football is a unique game with 11 players on each side all responsible for their own unique task on each individual play. The linemen block, the receivers catch, and the tailbacks run. But the quarterback truly controls the game. They are in charge of the most precious commodity, the ball, for the duration of the contest, and Saturday showed us just how critical this spot on the field can be.

Take Michigan, for example. This team looks to be a completely different squad from the 3-9 outfit of 2008. But when you look closer, a lot of the faces are still the same. You have Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown in the backfield. You have Greg Mathews and Kevin Koger catching passes. You have Obi Ezeh and Donovan Warren roaming the field on D. Even Rich Rodriguez has remained the same, refusing to ditch that irritating little red wristband that he seemingly wears 24 hours a day. But there is a new kid under center, and it has made all the difference in the world. Tate Forcier did it all on Saturday, cementing himself in Michigan lore with his gutsy 4th-quarter comeback against the hated Fighting Irish from South Bend. He's got a big arm. He's able to make smart decisions, despite playing in just his second college game. And most important, in what is often the telltale sign of whether a QB will 'make it,' he is composed and confident in the pocket when the Earth starts to collapse around him. Never was this more evident than on that final series when the O-line started to get pushed back on every play, and Forcier showed the poise and athletic ability to get out of Dodge, while still looking for available receivers down the field during the scramble.

If this same scenario presented itself last season (down 3, time ticking down, needing a clutch drive to win or tie), it would have went something like this. Incompletion, incompletion, sack, incompletion + sack +intentional grounding + lots of groaning from the 100,000 plus in attendance. Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan had essentially none of the improvisational skills that Forcier does (I'm not sure that Threet even had a soul), and we see now that one simple change at the quarterback position might mean the difference between 3-9 and 9-3.

In East Lansing, the heavily favored Spartans dropped a heartbreaker to the Chippewas of Central Michigan in one of the more bizarre finishes to a football game you will ever see. But to me, the story of the game still comes down to two simple letters: Q and B. The Chips have a Senior, Dan LeFevour, capable of dominating a game and leading his offense when it matters most. He threw for 328 yards on the afternoon, many of them coming during the climactic 16-7 barrage they laid on Sparty in the 4th quarter. On the other side of the field, Mark Dantonio is stuck in that timeless football conundrum of trying to balance the playing time of two talented quarterbacks in the span of one game.

In the first week of the season, while hosting Montana State, it was never an issue. Everybody was laughing, the scoreboard was exploding, and it was smiles all around. But when a talented CMU team came calling on Saturday, the old axiom saying that "Two -quarterback systems never work" reared its ugly head. Kirk Cousins opened things up and came out firing. He hit Blair White on a couple of long balls, avoided big mistakes, and seemed to be finding his flow on the field. But as protocol would have it, Keith Nichol was summoned for the 2nd stanza and the Spartan offense seemed to become stagnant. Cousins wound up finishing the day 13 of 18 for 164 yards, but what if he played the whole game and instead had a stat line something like '20-28, 225.' Things very well might have turned out differently. It's not to say that Cousins and Nichol are not both highly talented guys. They clearly have their own special set of skills, and both have proven themselves worthy of legitimate playing time. But it just doesn't work that way.

Much like a starting pitcher in baseball, a quarterback has to work himself into the game, find the right pace, and make the appropriate adjustments. Being yanked for a series or an entire quarter can be a major hindrance to those things being accomplished. There was similar talk heading into Michigan's season of multiple quarterbacks all splitting time under center. But once Tate Forcier introduced himself to the world and proved to be the man in charge, that idea was all but erased. The same needs to be done at Michigan State. It is a difficult decision, and one that might ruffle more than a few feathers for the guy left on the outside looking in, but it is a necessary evil. You show me a team that tried to rotate two quarterbacks for an entire season, and I'll show you a team that struggled to find a real offensive identity throughout the course of that year.

Dan LeFevour was undoubtedly the best quarterback on the field Saturday, all but forcing his team down the field during those critical 4th-quarter drives. But one has to wonder if he would have had the chance for such heroics if Mark Dantonio had simply handed the keys to Kirk Cousins at kickoff and then asked for them back after the final horn. Two is better than one in a lot of situations. A trip to the free throw line...a tailor-made double play ball up the middle...heck, some even prefer Back to the Future II over the first one, and I can't really disagree. But in the case of the coveted quarterback position, one is really all you need.

Contact the High Socks Legend at

Friday, September 11, 2009

Three Weekend Prognostications from the HSL

Detroit Lions at. New Orleans Saints

This one can only end one way...badly. What chance do the Lions have at pulling the upset on Sunday? About as much chance as Mrs. Doubtfire had in gaining custody of the kids after her bizarre three-month stint as a cross-dressing senior citizen. In other words, it might be fun for a minute, it might make you laugh and smile a few times along the way, but when it's all said and done, everyone will be crying, women will be shouting, and Pierce Brosnan will be choking to death on some over-spiced jambalaya.

I was at the Lions late-season game last season against these same Saints. And boy, that sure was some beating. The Lions defense provided ZERO resistance. I mean, ZERO. The Saints converted every single third down. Their punter never stepped foot on the field. Drew Brees spent part of the afternoon drinking Gatorade and eating nachos...and that was while he was still in the pocket looking for receivers. So maybe things are due to change for this year's matchup. Ummm, right.

The Lions did bulk up on D a little bit in the offseason. They grabbed the aging, but still semi-productive Julian Peterson from the Seahawks. Larry Foote was also plucked from the champion Steelers. Combining with tackling machine Ernie Sims, the Lions actually have a respectable linebacking core for the first time since George Jamison and Chris Spielman were anchoring the position. The secondary got its usual patchwork improvements, signing retreads away from other teams and hoping they will dramatically improve just by slipping on the Honolulu Blue. Cornerback Phillip Buchanon had perennial All-Pro written all over him coming out of Miami earlier in the decade. But it soon became clear that despite his track star speed, his overall technique and covering ability left plenty to be desired. He now comes to the D after a handful of fairly average seasons in Houston and Tampa Bay. They could put the name "Fernando Bryant" on his jersey and nobody would bat an eye. Anthony Henry was also picked up to aid the Cream of Wheat-soft secondary. The only problem is that he's like 4-5 years removed from his best days and has lost enough foot speed that the Lions acquired him with thoughts of shifting him to safety where they could better hide his declining agility. But after that plan didn't pan out, Henry was moved back to the island that is cornerback in the NFL, where he will most likely get abused so routinely by opposing receivers that it wouldn't be so unlikely for him to file rape charges with the police following some of the games. In other words, Drew Brees better be prepared to have the time of his life on Sunday. Let's just hope he is kept under 500 yards. We don't want things to get embarrassing...

Prediction: Saints 31, Lions 10

Notre Dame Fighting Irish at. Michigan Wolverines

In last year's contest, the Irish smoked the Wolverines on the field, but lost their obese coach to a horrific knee injury in the process. And even though that wound up being a humiliating day for all Wolverine fans, I can honestly say I would probably take that exact same result if the opportunity presented itself. That's how much I enjoy Charlie "My Head is a Perfect Square" Weis.

The game on Saturday should be much different. The quarterback situation in Ann Arbor last fall was not something you see very often. Michigan has made a habit of sending their signal callers to the NFL, and that's why seeing Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan hack it up last year was such an abnormal sight. Things look to be back in shape now thanks to the arrival of two very talented freshmen. Even while taking into account that the opponent last weekend, Western Michigan, was beyond awful on defense, QB's Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson were very impressive. Forcier displayed a deft touch with the long ball and a poise of a guy that had been playing college ball for two or three years. Robinson didn't show much in the way of the arm, but sure put on a show with his feet. He shows a unique ability to make something out of nothing, which is a refreshing change from the typically immobile Michigan quarterbacks of the past.

The defense also appears to be a much improved unit. Coming into the game with Western, many people expected the Broncos to put up some big numbers at the Big House with returning star quarterback Tim Hiller leading the way. The rejuvenated Blue defense had other plans, however, and spent most of the afternoon pummeling the shell-shocked Hiller into one of the worst games of his career. The Irish team coming to AA will present a much stiffer challenge. They will also be riding high after an opening-week destruction of a high-powered Nevada team. Jimmy Clausen seems to finally be coming into his own as the golden boy of South Bend. He has tremendous talent alongside him, most notably at the wide receiver position, which will provide a significant challenge for the gifted but still youthful Michigan secondary.

The one thing that I have grown to dislike about this rivalry is the rising popularity of the "Rudy Sucks" t-shirts sold all over the Ann Arbor area each year leading up to this game. Not to get on a soapbox or anything, but let's be honest for a minute. Rudy Ruettiger does not suck. The man was five foot nothin', he weighed a hundred and nothin', he barely had a speck of athetic ability, and he hung in there with the best college football players in the land for two years. AND he walked out of there with a degree from the University of Notre Dame. What more does the guy have to prove before we start to give him a little respect? Please, fellow fans of the Big Blue. Root for your squad, wish injury on Belly-Buster Weis, get under the skin of Sunshine Clausen...but please, refrain from insulting Rudy. You wouldn't heckle God, would you? Exactly.

Prediction: Michigan 27, Notre Dame 23

Central Michigan Chippewas at. Michigan State Spartans

Despite each team's result from college football's opening weekend, this game might be more of a contest than some would be led to believe. The Sparties began their '09 campaign with a wood shed job against the Craig Kilborn-led Montana State squad. On the other side of things, Central went on the road to the desert and saw their usually explosive offense get absolutely shut down by Arizona's defense. Dan LeFevour, the Chips multi-talented QB, accounted for virtually no yardage and will surely be chomping at the bit to straighten things out in this game. MSU's offense came out humming in the opener to the tune of almost 500 yards.

Senior wideout Blair White got off to a huge start with nine catches and 162 yards. White will be trying to make history in another way this year, as he tries to break Wayne Chrebet's single-season record for "Backhanded, Semi-Racist Compliments from Broadcasters Only Paid to Caucasian Wide Receivers." You know, stuff like, "He isn't the most athletic guy in the world, but he manages to get the job done," and "He's not the type of guy to break a game open, but he will get you the tough yards over the middle." This has long been a tradition in the world of football broadcasting. Even when Keyshawn Johnson was making like 75 third down grabs a year for the J-E-T-S, Chrebet was still widely considered to be their "third down guy" and the "ultimate possession receiver." For now, Blair White will just have to keep playing ball and trust that he will ultimately get his due credit as the year goes on. After that, he has full permission to take off the pads, let his guard down, and go join the "Tom Waddle-Ed McCaffrey Support Group for 'Exceptionally Crafty' Wide Receivers."

Prediction: Central Michigan 20, Michigan State 16

Got a prediction of your own?? Drop it in the 'comments' area below or float me an e-mail at

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

All of the Winners from the Holiday Weekend

Shepherd's Hollow Golf Club

Yeah, I went toe-to-toe with the 37th best public golf course in the country (according to Golf Digest), and to nobody's surprise, the treacherous track came out on top. But do not think for a second that I went down without a fight. I started the round bogey-par, and in hindsight, could have called it a day at that moment and been named the winner by unanimous decision. But then again, if I did that, I wouldn't have had the wonderful opportunity to slam 20-25 never-to-be-found-again golf balls into the various patches of woods and deep heather that this monster possesses. The day was not without its unique moments, however.

On one particularly daunting Par-4, with hazards blanketing each side of the fairway, I reached back for a little something extra. Careful takeaway, left arm straight, head down, all culminating with an explosive follow through as I sent the the ball rocketing on its path to stardom. A split-second later, I heard a funny little 'clunk'-type sound, while simultaneously feeling a light tap on the toe portion of my left shoe. I hoped for the best, but after glancing down, my unfortunate suspicions were confirmed. I had struck that little white Pinnacle with all my might...and it wound up hitting me on the foot. Total distance traveled: about eight inches. Amount of self-esteem and self-worth lost in the process: incalculable. There are certain "firsts" in sports that are associated with accomplishment and celebration. Babe Ruth, the first player to bash 60 homers in a season. Wilt Chamberlain, the first (and only) player to score 100 points in a game. Kathy Ireland, the first female All-American in Division-I football history. My becoming the first amateur golfer to smack a tee shot off of his own front foot might not be remembered along quite the same lines, but it will surely be a moment difficult to forget by the three other unfortunate souls that had to bare witness to the event in all its sad, unathletic glory.

Melanie Oudin

There were plenty of other notable sports stories from the weekend. College football kicked off with a slew of powerhouse matchups. Pennant races in baseball shifted into fifth gear as the calendar trickles closer and closer to October. The USA men's soccer team took out El Salvador in a crucial World Cup qualifier. And there was plenty more action on the hardwood, in the ring, and on the track. But without question, the most enjoyable athlete to watch from the whole holiday weekend was none other than Melanie Oudin. The 17-year old from Georgia has taken the tennis world by storm in the last week and a half, and her matches have suddenly become "Must See TV." Yeah, I said it. It's not just the fact that she is an American, or that she is an underdog that continues to take out much higher ranked players in each successive round. It's the life and passion that she brings to the court, seemingly living and dying with each ferocious swing of the racket, that makes her matches such tremendous drama. Sometimes tennis players get a bad rap for being 'robotic' on the court. Roger Federer, the face of the game, was long criticized for his lack of emotion on the court, and though he has improved in that area, he is most definitely no Melanie Oudin. She follows up each forehand winner or break point with about eight huge Tiger Woods-esque fist pumps, often with a primal scream to go with it. Oudin has the crowd at Flushing Meadows practically eating out of her hand, and the unbelievable support she gets from them is the kind of thing that can drive a player all the way to a Grand Slam final.

Everybody loves rooting for the little guy, and in this tournament, Oudin fits the bill. She was ranked 221st a year ago, and now is taking out players like Maria Sharapova and Elena Dementieva without breaking a sweat (Ok, that last part was a lie...her in-game perspiration level makes Chauncey Billups look dry by comparison). She is all of 5'6 and does not possess the raw power or strength that some of the other top female players possess (Williams sisters, Dinara Safina). Instead, she relies on an unrivaled will to return every single ball, frustrating her opponents into countless mistakes while she goes on fist-pumping and bounding around the court with those quirky multi-colored sneakers with the word "Believe" etched along the bottom. Will Oudin continue her miraculous run and make it all the way to the game's grandest stage? Only time will tell. Next up is Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, who has more victories this year than any other woman on tour. One thing is for sure, though. The refreshingly vibrant Oudin will leave everything she has on Arthur Ashe court, and anyone with access to a TV better find some time and settle in. Pennant races are great (or at least they were pre-wild card) and football weekends are about as good as it gets. But once in a while, an unforgettable run takes place in the world of tennis, and it only makes sense to give it your full attention. Lord knows I will.

People That Did Not See the Movie
Flash of Genius

When the previews for this flick started playing last year, it looked like a clever, little, dramedy with the always pleasant Greg Kinnear leading the way. Homeboy managed to invent some type of "Intermittent Windshield Wiper," only to be screwed over by the major car companies that essentially ripped off his creation. Seemed like a unique (based on true) story with a quality cast. What could go wrong? Um, how about everything? I had the misfortune of being unable to fall asleep on a recent hot summer night, and Flash of Genius had just kicked off on Cinemax 12. Needless to say, after about 47 minutes, I was overwhelmingly depressed and wanted absolutely nothing to do with windshield wipers in the near future. I thought that despite the frustrating premise of Kinnear being stolen from, his character would still be a charming, likable, leading man. Boy, was I under the wrong impression. Instead, you wind up hating the auto companies for their dishonesty, but also despising Kinnear for his perpetually sour face and poor treatment of his wife and family. In the end (believe me, you aren't seeing it), this mook winds up getting large settlements from Ford and Chrysler, winning the case that he fought for so long. But in reality, nobody wins. Kinnear's character is a loser, the people that paid good money to see this in the theater are bigger losers, and people like me that actually stuck it out for the entirety at 3:45 AM are the biggest losers. You used to go into a Greg Kinnear movie with a pretty good confidence that you were in for a quality 110 minutes. But a lot has changed since You've Got Mail. And sadly, I am all too aware.

People That Don't Get Their Dreams Shattered Every Summer by the Cubs

There's a reason you don't hear fans in the off-season screaming, "Yes!! We signed Milton Bradley!!! The final piece to the puzzle!!!!" Ahh, the life of a Cubs fan. Who would have seen this disaster of a year coming? The Cubbies crushed the ball last season to the tune of an NL Central crown and a second consecutive playoff berth. Of course, they were ousted unceremoniously by the Dodgers, but still, things looked very promising heading into '09. But then the aforementioned Milton Bradley signing happened (when does picking this guy up ever help a team?), Kevin Gregg was brought on board to "close" games (if "closing" means throwing 86 mph meatball hoagies over the heart of the plate and hoping they don't get hit to Somalia), and just about anything that could go wrong did go wrong. Aramis Ramirez got hurt, Carlos Zambrano jumped the shark, Geovany Soto became the biggest Rookie of the Year bust in history, and another baseball season passed with the Cubs on the outside looking in. My Uncle Steve has always given me a hard time for "poisoning" my younger cousin Mayer into becoming a die-hard Cubs fan like myself. And it's hard to say the man doesn't have a point. But the time will come (probably next year) when the Cubs will finally break through, and then it will all be worth it. Worth all the Kosuke Fukudome strikeouts...all the Alfonso Soriano dropped fly balls...and all the daily heartbreak that comes with being a fan of a team entrenched in the longest championship drought in all of professional sports. Keep on believin', May...because anybody can root for superstars like Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, and Ryan Howard: but it takes a real fan to continually sing the praises of the Jeff Bakers and Sam Fulds of the world. We might be losers...but we're loyal losers, and that counts for something.

(Sidenote: the Cubbies have 26 ballgames left. Assuming they win all 26, which isn't all that improbable, it would put them at a dazzling 95-67, which should be plenty good for one of the four National League playoff spots. I'm just saying...let's keep our eyes open here. There might be quite a little story developing...)

Orthodox Training Methods

When fight night comes for the blockbuster showdown between Pretty Boy Floyd and Juan Manuel Marquez in a couple weeks, I will be rooting for the Mexican warrior Marquez. While I respect Mayweather's extreme domination of the sport over the last decade, I, like many others, have grown tired of his over-the-top cockiness and contrived "retirements" staged solely for a bigger cash grab down the road. As is always the case when a mega-fight approaches, HBO has kicked it into high gear with their "24/7" series profiling the combatants and taking the viewer inside the respective training camps. It's an excellent show that never fails to get you hyped up for the bout, but in this week's episode, there was a pretty disturbing sequence from the Marquez gym. Juan Manuel was finished with his workout for the day, and was seen heading toward the restroom to take care of a little business. In a strange turn of events, however, Marquez emerged from the bathroom holding a small glass with a yellowish substance filled up about halfway. I initially thought to myself, "Oh, they are just showing us that the fighters are being drug tested leading up to the fight. That makes sense." Next thing I know, Marquez is taking a seat and raising the glass upward. Ummm...what in the Sam Hill is going on here? Sure enough, Marquez completed the act and drank every last ounce of those fluids that had just come from his body no less than 15 seconds prior. Apparently a person's urine is loaded with many minerals and vitamins, so Marquez figures, semi-psychotically "Why let it all go to waste when I can just put it in a glass and put it right back into my system?" I understand you're preparing for the most challenging 12 rounds of your life, and that being in tip-top shape is of the utmost importance, but isn't there some kind of line to be drawn here? Sure, we were all mortified a few years back when we found out Moises Alou routinely urinated on his hands to try and prevent blisters, but at least the man wasn't drinking the stuff like it was Crystal Lite Lemonade. I was firmly in the Juan Manuel Marquez camp heading into his epic battle with Money Mayweather on September 19th. Now? I could not care less if he wins. I just want the man to stop freaking me out...

Not mentioned, but also winners from the weekend. The Tigers...they never lose, and there have been recent reports from unnamed sources claiming that Aubrey Huff might actually still have an active pulse. Michigan Wolverines...yes, we understand that the fast quarterback does not tie his shoes. Can we put that one to bed for a while? Michigan State Spartans...a big W over Montana State that had all the electricity of an NFL pre-season game. The Shock...they also never lose, and it might be time for you to call the Palace to reserve your block of playoff tickets (kidding...but only a little).

Drop your own winner from the weekend in the comments section below, or reach the High Socks Legend by e-mail at

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Very Quietly, the Worst Franchise in Baseball History

The Texas Rangers are fighting desperately to get their name added to the list of this season's postseason participants. They remain just a few games back in both the divisional and wild card races. In doing so, they are also trying to erase their name from another much less prestigious list, that one being, "Major league teams that have never won a playoff series." Out of 30 big league franchises, a grand total of two qualify for this infamous distinction: the Washington Nationals (previously the Montreal Expos) and the aforementioned Rangers (previously the Washington Senators from 1961-1971). It's not easy to play baseball for nearly 50 years without once emerging victorious in a playoff series. But the Texas Rangers have done it, and managed to almost fly under the radar in the process. Futility on this level is usually associated with perennial losers like the Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Clippers. But the Rangers can go bummer-to-bummer with any of those squads. They just don't want you to notice.

Until the last couple of years, the Rangers didn't have to feel so bad. They were one of four teams not to win a playoff series. They could find some comfort in knowing that the Expos/Nationals, Colorado Rockies, and Tampa Bay Devil Rays were all living the same nightmare. But then a funny thing happened. The expansion teams stopped acting like expansion teams. The Rockies caught fire down the stretch in 2007 and squeaked their way into the dance with an epic one-game playoff win over the Padres. They followed that up with consecutive sweeps in the NL playoffs and they could officially wipe their name from the list of playoff losers.

(Interesting note about that playoff run. They played three series that postseason, and each one of them resulted in a sweep. They broomed the Phillies and D'Backs, and then were goose-egged by the Red Sox in the World Series. Can anybody name one single moment from that Rocks-Sox series?? That whole postseason was quite possibly the least dramatic in baseball history.)

Then last year, the Rays made their first appearance in October and took out a pair of Sox; first White, then Red, on their way to the Fall Classic. The "Playoff Failures" list had now been cut in half.

The Expos/Nationals combo lack of success is well known. For years, their small-market franchise served as a feeder system for the rest of the major leagues. The one season that they looked to have a lock on a playoff berth and possibly much more, the strike of '94 occurred, washing those dreams away in one fell swoop. Even with their recent switch to D.C., the franchise remains woefully inept and things do not look to be changing anytime soon. For God's sake, they just signed Livan Hernandez for like the 15th time in their short history. But for some reason, when the topic of the truly lame franchises in professional sports gets raised, the Rangers manage to get off Scot-free. Not with the High Socks Legend.

They've been around since 1961 (8 years before the Expos). In those 49 seasons, they have not once eclipsed the 95-win mark, but have managed a whopping six campaigns with 100+ losses. Everybody knows the Rangers usually have pitching issues, but would it be too much to ask for them to have even one Cy Young award winner in their entire history? Apparently it is, because they have not. Heck, you could probably make the argument that the best "Texas Ranger" of all-time was Chuck Norris' "Walker" character from the ill-fated USA police drama. At gunpoint, I guess you could call the late 90's their "Glory Years," but that's a bit of a stretch. They did make the playoffs three times (the only appearances in their history), but ran into the eventual champion Yankees each time. The funny thing is that the boys from Texas actually won that very first playoff game back in 1996; they then proceeded to drop their next nine without breaking a sweat.

Those playoff series would always pan out the same way. The Rangers would trot out some mook like Aaron Sele, Rick Helling, or a 45-year old John Burkett. The Yankees would counter with borderline Hall-of-Famers like David Cone and Andy Pettitte. Juan Gonzalez and Pudge Rodriguez would go a combined 2 for 22, and before you realized the series even started, the teams would be shaking hands and saying their good-byes. Heck, in the '98 series, the Rangers managed a total of one run on thirteen hits for the entire three-game set. Those are totals normally reserved for nine innings of play...not 27.

Which brings us back to the here and now. Ron Washington's Texas Rangers continue to hum along, sitting at 75-58, just a couple games removed from one of those four precious American League playoff spots. The Yankees have one. The Tigers, in all likelihood, have another. The other two will most likely come from the Rangers, Angels, and Red Sox. But really, what good would it do for the Rangers to take one of those spots? They have been playing baseball for close to 50 years, and not once have they made even the slightest of peeps on the game's grandest stage. People can talk all they want about moribund outfits like the LA Clippers and the Detroit Lions. They can talk about their poor ownership, shoddy management, and comedic on-field performance. But at least both of those not-so-storied franchises can still lay claim to a postseason advancement at some point in their history. The Rangers are still waiting for such an experience. Might this be that year?

They have an All-Star 2nd baseman, Ian Kinsler, who has adopted that 'late 90's Rangers' slugging mentality (29 home runs, .254 BA). They have a semi-anonymous powerhouse in right field, Nelson Cruz, who in his first real chance to be an everyday player, is on his way to a 35 HR season. And their longtime Achilles heel, the pitching staff, has finally started to scratch the surface of respectability. Old warhorse Kevin Millwood keeps squeezing quality starts out of that worn right arm. Relative unknown Scott Feldman has been the rotation's biggest surprise. The 6'5 Jewish right hander from Hawaii (you don't see those walking around every day) has racked up a sparkling 14-4 record after winning a total of seven games in his first four big league seasons. So maybe this is finally their time.

This club has been suiting up and playing ball in D.C. and Arlington since 1961. And in that time, they have won one playoff game and zero playoff series. It's time we stop ignoring the elephant in the room and start associating this franchise's brutal history with the other perennial losers in sports that are constantly subjected to jokes and punchlines at their own expense. The Rangers have the opportunity to go out in the next month and grab one of those remaining playoff spots. But if they get there, I wouldn't expect a very long stay. Their first round opponent would be none other than the New York Yankees, menacing postseason nemesis from yesteryear. As for me? I'll be busy clearing out the space right between "Cubs" and "Washington Generals" in our "Longtime Losers Wall of Shame." These guys need a home, and something tells me they won't be finding it in this year's playoffs. You hid for a while, fellas...but the jig is up. You are losers, and it's time the world knows it.

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