The other day I got a ping on my phone from that it has now been 11 years since any Detroit major league sports team had won a championship. There are several reasons for a team’s inability to win the big prize: bad luck, better opponents and, ah, yes…they’re re-building.
What does that mean exactly? The prevailing definition is the team must suffer some fallow years while young, inexperienced players learn the ropes, gain some seasoning and maybe one day will develop into key elements of a championship team.
What does it really mean? It means your team will suck for an extended period of time because the owners of the team offloaded talented, but high-priced players to avoid busting through the salary cap or simply to save some dough, leaving less expensive over-the-hill scrubs or not ready for the show minor leaguers filling out the roster. Then management crosses their fingers hoping a couple of those kids can quickly morph from newbie to MVP just long enough to win it all. Then it starts all over again. The kids become talented men who know how to play, want either want bigger contracts or test the free agent waters for even more money, so the owners dump ‘em and it’s time to, uh, re-build again.
All this time the tone-deaf owners expect us to pay inflated, major league prices to attend minor-league level games and then wonder why the stands are so empty the vendors can be seen huddling in corners mumbling to themselves, “what am I gonna do with all these goddam hot dogs?” Easy. Beg the owners to stage more “Bark in the Park” nights when hungry bowsers will gladly relieve them of their unsold sausages.
Bottom line is, they’re not doing it right. The whole idea of the minor league system is to constantly develop younger talent that is ready for the big time as the veterans begin to falter or retire. Other positions are filled in through savvy trades and sensible free agent signings. The whole process should be a gradual and constant but that’s not what’s happening.
I often wondered what would happen if other businesses were run this way. Say..in a law firm. A successful firm is stacked with highly skilled, highly paid attorneys who are winning criminal cases and multi-million dollar judgements. The place is flush. The partners are rolling in it. All is good. But at some point the partners realize they could be keeping more money by off-loading their highest paid lawyers and replace them with green rookies straight out of law school. So they pull the trigger. All in the name of, uh, rebuilding! Uh oh. Now the firm is losing cases left and right and their biggest clients have abandoned them. The partners are forced to sell their summer and winter homes, yachts and Bentleys. Despite this precipitous drop in performance, the firm seeks new clients at the hourly rate previously charged when they were flush with experienced barristers…but there are few takers. The firm’s shingle is dangling by a thread. Now..if only they had brought along young, promising rainmakers all along who could gain experience and skill so they were ready when the older attorneys retired or moved on, they’d still be raking in the fees and no vacation homes or ridiculous luxury items would be sacrificed.
It seems like such a simple and logical way of doing things. If you keep the pipeline filled with a constant flow of developing talent, you’ll never have to re-build..because all along you’ve been building.
I won’t waste time with wordy exposition. It’s time to shut down the various Halls of Fame and replace them with a concept that eliminates subjective voting and often results in unjustified snubs of worthy honorees. I’ll explain my simple and logical substitution in a moment.
The rationale is simple. All too often a player misses a shot at enshrinement for reasons totally unrelated to their performance:
*Not “flashy” enough
*Despite worthy career achievements they’re left off the ballot because the class of candidates is stacked the particular years they are eligible
*Voters/sports writers who have a particular bias against them for one reason or another.
*Despite worthy achievements the player was stuck on otherwise weak teams that didn’t win championships.
*Player spent career, or most of career in small media markets leading to less coverage and attention.
Just this year, beloved former Detroit Tigers second baseman Alan Trammell was finally granted entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but not his long-time double-play partner, second baseman Lou Whitaker who also had a stellar career. In fact, considering the popular stat Wins Above Replacement, Sweet Lou comes out ahead of Tram, 74.9 versus 70.4. Oh sure, you can twist numbers to prove your point and this is just one stat merely to show that two fairly comparable players can be treated very differently.
To go beyond sports, think about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Why in the world are the mega-selling innovators, the Moody Blues, only just being admitted to the shrine in Cleveland?
Look, everyone has their examples of egregious snubs and can make arguments one way or another for their favorites to be recognized with a plaque screwed to the wall of a hallowed hall, but its painfully, and obviously apparent the path to admission is seriously flawed.
So I toss up this jump ball for discussion. First, eliminate voting. The venues would contain constantly updated displays of arrays of, say, top 100 achievers all-time in various statistical categories and winners of honors like the MVP, Cy Young award and Rookie of the Year. Bowing to how the games have changed over the years, similar displays would be broken out into various eras in order to place certain accomplishments in a viable context. There’s no voting. The displays are simply updated. Given we’‘re in a technically advanced age, images, videos and career highlights could accompany a player’s listing.
Given the totally objective method of recognizing player’s accomplishments, it’s time to trash the “fame” part of the name. Let’s face it, many of those not admitted to halls of fame are as famous as those who are.
Instead, call these venues Halls of Recognition? Stay with me. You do something great, it’s instantly picked up by the computerized display system and added to the appropriate display. I would think visitors would be somewhat enthralled watching the displays update as the season progresses, and secure knowing the displays would not be the same upon repeat visits.
Look, I love visiting Cooperstown, Canton and Toronto. Haven’t yet been to Springfield. The museum, exhibits, videos and memorabilia are thrilling to see and only add to my enthusiasm for the sport. Who doesn’t get a kick out of seeing Babe Ruth’s giant bowling shoes or taking a photo next to the Stanley Cup? It’s all very cool. But once I walk into the Hall of Fame area of the buildings for me, the joy of the game is tempered, knowing someone who accomplished so much…giving everything to their sport, was unfairly denied the small gesture of recognition.
There will be no conversation in my house tonight. There will be no conviviality. There will be only conflict…and deathly stares, possibly combined with smug looks of superiority. The husband and wife will set in separate chairs, watching the same hockey game, but seeing it quite differently. The husband calls it “the Rangers game.” The wife calls it “the Red Wings game.” The husband, I, am from New York. The New York Rangers of the 1960s and 70s spent the season in furnished apartments in the sprawling apartment complex in Queens where I lived. It exists today. It’s called Glen Oaks Village. The Rangers were part of my childhood. Boom Boom Geoffrion lived next door to my aunt and uncle and slammed the walls, screaming bad words in French when he returned to the apartment after a loss. Andy Bathgate swung his kids on the swings in the playground of our grade school, P.S. 186. We ran into the Rangers in the Silver Moon diner, and if we paid a buck, we could watch them practice at Skateland, a mile away. Rod Gilbert and Jean Ratelle and Reggie Fleming and Vic Hatfield waited for us afterwards and signed autographs. Ed Giacomin would put a cigar in the mouth hole of his goalie mask and dare his teammates to shoot it out. For $1.50 and our high school ID card we could get tickets to see the Rangers in the old Madison Square Garden. We lived for Marv Alpert to yell “Shot! Score!” The Rangers were life.
But life took me away from the Rangers when my wife and I moved across the country to Tucson, Arizona in 1978. The Coyotes were years from howling in Phoenix or Glendale, or wherever they are now. The only hockey was a pathetic minor league team called the Tucson Rustlers. We lost track of the NHL.
When I was hired by CNN in late 1981 I was excited to move to Atlanta, only to find out the Flames flamed out and moved to Calgary.
In 1989 I was transferred to Detroit to take over the bureau and we were reunited with the NHL. I could lustily root for the Rangers again when they invaded Joe Louis Arena. But over the past 26 years I’ve also become a loyal Red Wings fan and even attended a Red Wings fantasy camp playing alongside Chris Osgood and Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay.
How can you root for both the Red Wings and the Rangers? When does the team loyalty statute of limitations run out. How long do you have to be away from your hometown before you can’t root for your hometown team anymore?
I contend you never have to stop. Yes, I’m also a Yankees fan, but when the Tigers faced the Yanks in the playoffs a couple of years ago, I decided it was the Tigers turn to win my loyalty in hopes our town would see its first World Series victory since 1984. Another Yankee fan called me a traitor and said I could never go back. But it got me thinking about letting go. I’ve now lived in Detroit longer than I’ve lived anywhere. Must I give up my childhood loyalties in favor of teams representing the town where I’ve spent the most time? I don’t think so. I have specific reasons for rooting for my teams. I wish Detroit’s teams the best of luck. The teams that represent my adopted city. But I remain loyal to the teams that represent the first time I attended Yankee Stadium with my dad and brother, saw Roger Maris hit two of his 61 homers in ’61, attended my first NFL game with my brother and saw Joe Namath as the last man between the opponent and end zone take him down, even on gimpy knees. I remain loyal to the team that exposed me to Walt Frazier and Willis Reed even though they are, today, a pathetic shadow of past glory.
It’s OK. We will be sportsman and sports lady like watching the hockey game tonight. I will cheer if the Rangers score…but quietly smile when the Red Wings do too. My wife won’t say a word…unless of course, the Rangers get smoked. Then we’ll have a problem.