Saturday, September 27, 2008

Final Thoughts on the 2008 Detroit Tigers

74-88, .457, 5th place in the American League Central. Dead last, even behind the Royals. Thank goodness this nightmare season is over.

Position Players

Curtis Granderson—Curtis started off the year on the disabled list after suffering a fractured finger in the second-to-last spring training game. He rallied after that, especially improving on his strikeout numbers and his average against left-handed pitchers. Despite missing the first three weeks of the season, he still scored over 100 runs.

Placido Polanco—Normally sure-handed Polanco committed eight errors this season, compared to none all of last season. He hit .307, down from .341 the season before, but his numbers with runners in scoring position declined even more, down to .278. For the previous three years, he hit .364, .396, and .380 with RISP. This is a big reason for the Tigers’ poor year.

Gary Sheffield—Sheffield, who had off-season shoulder surgery, tried to stage a comeback after a dismal year last year. Unfortunately, he tore a tendon in the middle finger of his right hand sliding into second base, and re-injured his surgically-repaired shoulder early on. As a designated hitter, a player should bat higher than the .228 with 19 home runs and 56 RBI. His continued thuggish behavior, especially during the recent scuffle with the Indians’ Fausto Carmona, makes me want him gone. I don’t care if he ever hits 500 home runs.

Magglio Ordonez—The 2007 American League Batting Champion got lazy this year. His constant swinging at the first pitch caused him to ground into a staggering 27 double plays. He still hit .317 with 103 RBI, but his fielding and baserunning were just plain awful.

Carlos Guillen—Carlos moved over to first base because of his 24 errors at shortstop last year, but the move was short lived to make a position for the even worse-fielding newcomer, Miguel Cabrera. He committed 14 errors in 89 games at third, and he just didn’t seem to have much pop in his bat, with only 54 RBI compared to 100 last year.

Pudge Rodriguez—Pudge was hitting .295 for the Tigers this year, when they traded him to the New York Yankees for former Tiger relief pitcher Kyle Farnsworth. It marked the end of the Tigers’ playoff hopes, as they were visibly shaken after the trade was announced. After that, they went right down the tubes. Thanks, Pudge, for coming to Detroit and putting us back on the baseball map.

Brandon Inge—Brandon suffered a displacement fracture to the ego this season. When the Tigers brought third baseman Miguel Cabrera over from Florida, Brandon found himself without a starting job. Even after Cabera proved to be as mobile as an oak tree in the hot corner, the Tigers put Carlos Guillen there instead. Brandon began the season in center field in the place of Curtis Granderson, and was actually one of the only hitters who didn’t fail in the first few weeks of the season. Brandon played in the outfield, at third, shortstop, and catcher this season. His batting average was atrocious, but he only committed one error the entire season, that one coming with only two games remaining in the season.

Marcus Thames—Marcus didn't show the improvement I looked for last year, keeping his long swing and hitting everything to the pull field. It scares me every time he goes after a ball in left field.

Miguel Cabrera--Leading the American League in home runs at 37, Cabrera got off to a very slow start. Once he got used to the American League, he hit like crazy. It was very exciting watching him in the second half of the season. He started out the season at third base, where he was a butcher, but converted quickly into a very good defensive first baseman.

Edgar Renteria--This was supposed to be the shortstop that we were looking for to shore up our infield, but Edgar's lack of hustle and production made him expendable. He hit .332 last year, but only managed .270 this season. The Tigers are not picking up his option for next season.


Justin Verlander—A nightmare season for Justin, as he struggled with control over his fastball in more games than not. It seemed like early in the season he tried to slow his pitches down, but all that did was give the batters more time to tee off. He ended up with the most losses of any pitcher in the American League.

Kenny Rogers—I said stick a fork in him at the end of last season and I was right. He just lost it this year. Retire, Kenny.

Jeremy Bonderman—Season-ending surgery took Bonderman completely out of the equation as he battled a blood clot in his pitching arm. He actually had to have a rib removed.

Nate Robertson—Nate collapsed completely, and his dominance over left-handed batters ended quickly.

Armando Gallaraga--What a bright start for a young pitcher. Armando came up to replace the injured Jeremy Bonderman and had a better season than Bonderman has ever had! He went 13-7 with a 3.63 ERA. By far the best pitcher we had this season.

Joel Zumaya—An off-season injury took Zumaya out and he never recovered.

Fernando Rodney—I would still pay money to see him shipped out of town. He still looks like a lost child on the mound and fields his position like a coachless little leaguer.

Todd Jones—The Roller Coaster knew this was his last year and he played hurt most of it. He's retired now.

I can't even describe the disappointment that this season has brought me. The Tigers had a lineup loaded for success. "Win now" was the philosophy behind the trades that brought Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, Edgar Renteria, and Jacque Jones to the Tigers. Instead it blew up in our faces. This season was harder to watch than 2004 (when I was first able to watch Tigers games on cable. Thank goodness I couldn't watch in 2003 when they went 43-119) and 2005 when they toyed with getting to .500. This team had all the pieces in place, but just played poorly. It was like they would try to find new ways to lose. When the starting pitching was good, the bullpen was bad. When the starters and bullpen were good, the defense or hitting would let them down. It was just like watching an orchestra, whose musicians all had different sheet music, trying to play all at the same time.

There's always next year, I guess.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

All Star Superman

As All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder was, in my opinion, the worst Batman comic book ever printed, All Star Superman is among the best examples of its title character's comics.

For 12 uninterrupted issues, unmarred by world-shaking crossovers and unnecessary guest appearances, we have been treated to Grant Morrison's and Frank Quitely's tribute to the wonder that is Superman. Nearly every element of the Superman of my youth is there: the bottle city of Kandor, the Fortress of Solitude, Krypto the Superdog, the Superman robots, Luthor as evil scientist (as opposed to the post-Crisis corporate tycoon), Jimmy Olsen's signal watch, and Bizarro. And it's all done well. Morrison takes the inane and treats it with respect and dignity and tells a story that is completely adult, without language and gore that would gall anyone with good taste.

The story begins in issue #1 with Lex Luthor killing Superman. No, really. Luthor plots Superman's death by overloading his cells with solar radiation, the same solar radiation that provides Superman's powers. Superman literally has more power than he can handle, and his cells are being disrupted by the surplus. Superman spends the entire 12-issue run putting his affairs in order and doing what he can for humanity before his inevitable end arrives.

Frank Quitely's art takes some getting used to, but grows on you after a while. He tends to draw Superman's red trunks more like boxer briefs than the circus trunks that inspired them, and Superman's cape is a bit short. But then again, that's how it looked in the fifties and sixties.

This title is a throwback in another way, too. I probably wouldn't have bought the first issue and gotten sucked into the story if it had not been for one thing: The first issue had a variant Neal Adams cover (seen at right). I am a huge fan of the Superman vs. Muhammad Ali treasury comic done back in 1978, and Adams' Superman is nearly as iconic to me as his Batman is. I remember a lot of the 70s Superman books were the same way. They would have an Adams or a Rich Buckler or a Nick Cardy or even a Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez cover, with Curt Swan interiors. Quitely is a bit more stylized than Curt Swan, but his blocky Superman is certainly reminiscent.

This series may have taken three years to put out 12 issues, but the story was well worth the wait. This is how Superman should be done.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Counting to Ten

She's growing up way too fast.

Sera went from diapers to "big girl panties" in about five seconds. We started the potty training process when school let out in the beginning of June, but we got sidetracked when we went on our long vacation in July. When we came back, though, we started the process again, and bam! She's potty trained. The sticker she's wearing in the picture is from her first accident-free day at daycare. She was very proud of it, and so were we.

She's really interested in helping us cook. Magi and I share cooking duties, especially in the summer when I can grill every night if I want to. Whichever one of us is not cooking tries to keep her entertained so she doesn't get underfoot, but it's been more and more of a challenge. In the picture, she is helping to stir the pasta salad that fed me for a week at school.

We just assembled the Learning Tower, a pretty expensive stepping stool that has safety rails to keep flush with our work surfaces in the kitchen. Sera has already found it wildly fascinating to help prepare food, and I like that. I learned to cook in college, working in the dorm cafeteria. Don't generalize, now...Western Michigan University's food service was outstanding. There were never complaints about food in the dorms. I credit it for helping me to decide to stay in the dorms all the way through school. Cooking is a skill that everyone values when you can do it well, and I'm glad that Sera wants to learn. Yesterday, she helped make her own sandwich for lunch. She chose what went on it and spread the mayonnaise on with her plastic knife. She chose chicken and ham, mayonnaise, tomato, onion, pickle, and sport peppers from the refrigerator. I'm not making this up. I didn't choose a single item. She's like a little Dagwood, this one. Takes after her daddy!

The most amazing thing that Sera has done in the past few weeks is to count to ten. It's not what you think. She didn't just recite the numbers in order. She counted her floating letters one by one as we put them away. It's just amazing to me how quick she is, and the quantum leaps in cognitive development she makes. And every time she does it, I feel like she's moving too fast. On one hand, I want to take her to do grown up activities like canoeing and hiking; on the other, I want her to stay my little girl forever.

I have a feeling I'll get my wish both ways.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


In the fall of 1984, I took a course called Film Interpretation (ENGL 210) at Western Michigan University. It was a four-credit course, and part of my English minor course of study. Before you begin to think that it was a blowoff course, you need to understand something. It changed my life, and remains to this day the course I use most in my daily life. In this class, I not only had to watch the movies but had to write about them extensively. I learned technical terms like rack focus and non-musical sound bridge. I learned what each member of the credited crew list does. And I had to identify and write about themes and techniques presented throughout some of the greatest movies of all time. Included in the film list were Citizen Kane, Meet John Doe, Cheyenne Autumn, The Quiet Man, It's a Wonderful Life, The Seventh Seal, The Third Man, The 39 Steps, and Deliverance.

If that last choice seems odd, it did to me the time. Deliverance was one of only three color films we saw (Cheyenne Autumn and The Quiet Man being the others) and I wondered before the projector started rolling why it was among the classics. My mother and stepfather had gone to see it back when it was released in theaters in 1972, and I still remember them talking about the foul language and how it wasn't necessary, but that didn't stop them from buying the soundtrack, complete with the song, "Duelling Banjos," riffs from which are still used to this day when certain subjects are brought up.

As I watched the film, I was transfixed. Deliverance begins as a buddy film, with four Atlanta business men taking a canoe trip on the Cahulawassee River. The Cahulawassee is about to be dammed by a power company, which will back up the waters to form a lake. Entire towns will be moved en masse and the valley will cease to exist. Lewis Medlock (Burt Reynolds, in his breakout role) is the leader of the pack, literally defining macho for a generation. Jon Voight plays his second banana, Ed, an art director who is bored with his life and family. Drew (Ronny Cox) and Bobby (Ned Beatty) are their hangers-on who come along for kicks.




The canoe trip begins well enough, with the foursome encountering a cross-section of Appalachia. As they fuel up their cars at a filling station, Drew initiates a jam session with a local albino boy, playing his guitar matched with the boy's home-strung banjo. the duet increases in complexity and speed until Drew finds himself outmatched by the boy. The city and country cultures mix seemlessly until Drew concedes the match and offers the boy his hand in congratulations. The boy turns his head away, ignoring the gesture, to which Bobby cruelly and dismissively responds, "Give him a few bucks."

As they make their way down the river, the neophyte canoers meet and master some minor white water, bolstering their confidence in the task ahead. They make camp, bonding over whiskey and a fish that Lewis spears with his bow. This marks the end of the buddy movie, as the next day Ed and Bobby pull up on shore to rest. They encounter two mountain men, who take them captive and rape Bobby. This is the salacious part of the movie that popular culture always refers to as the "Squeal like a pig" scene. It's too bad our culture wasn't a bit more mature, because the true horror of the violence justifies Lewis' actions as he fires an arrow into the back of the rapist as he is about to turn his gun on Ed, who has a similar fate awaiting him with the other man. As the rapist dies slowly and the other man gets chased off into the woods, the foursome has to decide what to do. This is the heart of the film, not the "Squeal" scene. The men argue about the results of their actions, and whether or not they should even report the killing. As they finally decide to bury the man upstream where no one will ever find him, their fates are sealed. After the burial scene, in which Drew, the sole vote for turning themselves in, digs like a frenzied animal (in direct proportion to the humanity of his argument) the four men make haste to get off the river as quickly as possible and to put the trip behind them.

As they approach some fast water, Drew is shot in the head and falls into the water. The canoes are both dumped in the rapids and Lewis is severely injured with a compound fracture of his right femur. Bobby and Ed get themselves and Lewis to shore and hunker down in a gorge with sheer cliff walls. When night falls, Ed scales the cliff face to go after the shooter. He just makes it to the top where he falls asleep. Waking at first light, Ed sees a mountain man with a rifle trudging through the forest. He takes aim with his bow and looses an arrow into the throat of the man, but the tree he is resting on gives way and he falls on one of his own arrows, which impales him through the side. He pulls the arrow through and packs the wound with his own clothing. He then lowers the body down to the river below, and the three surviving men sink another body and make their way home.

Lewis has almost died in the night and needs medical attention immediately. They begin their hurried trip downriver, when they encounter Drew's body, his arm savagely twisted behind his own neck in a most unnatural angle. They decide to sink Drew's body into the river too, and quickly get their stories straight as they approach their destination. They get to the town where their cars were left, and get to the hospital. Their story almost doesn't hold up with the local sheriff, but the men escape, hearty, but not necessarily whole. The last thing we see is Ed's nightmare of bodies rising to the surface of the new lake.

Deliverance is one of those rare movies that is written by the same man who wrote the novel upon which it is based, James Dickey. Dickey was known to me as a poet when I saw the movie, but not as a novelist. After seeing Deliverance, I kept my eye out for the book at garage sales. Sure enough, I found a copy for a dime and I've read it dog-eared over the last 20 years or so. The prose is pretty nice:

"Movies and pictures of Indians on calendars gave me a general idea of what
to do, and I waved the paddle slowly through the water, down and along the left
side of the canoe. The nose with Drew in it--I saw now that I was moving
him to one side or the other, to turn the canoe, was going to be a big part of
the problem--swung heavily out toward midstream, where the current began to pick us up and move it a little faster. The sensation of pure riding could not have
been greater though we were doing not much more than drifting, bogged with the
weight of the gear, and with uncertainty."

That's some good stuff, right there. The book, as you might imagine, fills in all of the gaps left behind by a two-hour screenplay. The first chapter takes you behind the motivations for taking the trip in the first place, which admittedly, the dialogue of the film takes care of less-than-adequately. The reader finds out Ed's last name (Gentry), for example, which is never mentioned in the movie at all.

But, this is one time when seeing the movie will not spoil the book. In fact, I recommend seeing the movie first and then reading the book. There are hardly any inconsistencies between the two ("Squeal like a pig" is not in the book), and the cinematography of the canoe trip adds to the mind's eye when reading about it. Since James Dickey wrote both the movie and the book, you can consider the movie sort of a condensed finished draft with a little added material.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I hate this day. I always hate this day.

In 2001, our four-teacher team had taken all 100 of our students into our large lecture room to take ISTEP, our annual high-stakes exam. The kids were busily working away, when one of our team members came in, badly shaken. One by one, we went out in the hallway, where she told us about the World Trade Center. My first thought was, well, a plane hit the Empire State Building by accident once and it was no big deal, but then she told me that it was a passenger plane. We struggled through the next two hours of testing, trying desperately not to upset the students. My eyes kept welling up and I had to leave the room several times. On one of those trips, the second plane hit live on television. I immediately turned back around to get the information to my friends. A messenger came around to the rooms, instructing us not to tell the students what was going on until after the testing was over for the day. When it finally was, the kids asked us what was wrong. They were pretty observant, that group. We turned on the televisions in the room right about the time the fist tower fell.

The next several hours were a living nightmare. We were told not to leave the televisions on, and to just go about our day. Right, like that was going to happen. I kept watching on my classroom computer, as covered the events, bringing new video footage up every couple of minutes. A few parents came in to get their kids that day, and I can't say as I blame them. I would have too. There was no question in anyone's mind that terrorists had struck America.

I was angry. No, I was furious. I wanted to know who had done this reprehensible thing and I wanted to hit them back. I stopped on the way home and bought an American flag and mounted it outside my house. Many others did the same thing over the next few days. I remember a spirit of togetherness and unity that I'd never felt before and I've never felt since. I supported the president when he sent troops into Afghanistan. There was and is no question that it was the right thing to do. It would have been equally right to go after bin Laden with every resource at our disposal. It would have sent a clear message to those who would employ these means to achieve their goals.

Now I wonder if we'll ever get him.

In 2004, Magi and I visited Ground Zero. If you've never been to Manhattan, let me describe it as a cacophany with the volume turned up to 11. Cars honking, sirens wailing, people bustling about town, all have their music. But when you step onto the block where Ground Zero is, it's like being in the Cone of Silence. It's eery. All the activity ceases. Even the street hawkers peddling their 9/11 postcards and scrapbooks are relatively laid back. What struck me the most besides the obvious gaping wounds in the concrete where the footprints of the towers lay, was the shrapnel damage done to the adjacent buildings. Some of them are old, with moldings that no one builds with anymore, and they were peppered with debris from the falling towers, scarring their beauty. We saw a neighboring building that was simply--there's no other way to say this--shrouded. It was covered in a large black canopy that looked just like a funeral veil. It was a somber, life-altering moment to see the site in person.

I hate this day.

Monday, September 08, 2008

My Turn

After a week of taking care of a sick Sera and a sicker Magi, it's my turn. Sera came home from daycare with a cold last week, and Magi wasted no time in picking it up. I stayed home with Sera, since I have way more sick days than Magi does, and then Magi stayed home when she needed to last week. I haven't missed any days for myself, but I certainly could have justified it today when I coughed for 45 minutes straight. I bought some cough drops and got it stopped, and I made it through the day, only to find that Sera has a runnier nose than she did when she was in the middle of being sick, along with a slight fever. So, I may be home with her again tomorrow. If I am, I'll post something more substantial.