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.
There’s a line in the Beatles song “Strawberry Fields” that states “nothing is real.” No kidding. The latest blow to tangibility is the move by the Detroit Tigers and many other sports teams and event venues to eliminate real tickets in favor of “mobile tickets.” That, of course, means in order to get in the door or through the gate you have to flash a virtual ticket on your smartphone. If you don’t have a smartphone, one, your kids will laugh at you, and two, you’re probably not being rude at dinner by checking your text messages. Oh, three, you can call a number at the box office to reserve your seats, then have to schlep to a ticket window at the venue to have a paper ticket printed out. So convenient.
Me? I like real tickets. Not because I’m a technical Luddite. I just like ticket stubs. I have tons of them and they all mean something to me.
These Yankee Stadium ticket stubs from the 1960’s remind me of great afternoons with my dad and brother making the trek from our home in Queens up to the Bronx. Mickey Mantle played in every one of those games and we enjoyed multiple “dirty water hot dogs” at each one too. The stub on the right were awesome box seats right near the Yankees dugout.
We lived closer to Shea Stadium where the Mets played and went to plenty of games there too. What I always liked about the Met’’s ticket stubs was the sad face of their mascot Mr. Met with his umbrella on the rain check.
Another Shea Stadium stub was for a concert on July 9, 1971 with Humble Pie and Grand Funk Railroad. Rain was threatening to cancel the show with the rain date the 10th. That would have been a problem, because that was the date of my brother’s wedding and I really liked both rock bands. Lucky for all, the rain held off.
I love the ticket stubs for what New Yorkers call the “old” Madison Square Garden. That’s the one before the current, or “new” Madison Square Garden. With our high school ID card we could get in the old barn for Knicks or Rangers games for $1.50-$2.50.
When the “new” Garden opened in ’68, my family had great seats to see the Rangers vs. the Montreal Canadiens. The seats were green.
A couple of weeks before Woodstock my friends and I had the good fortune to land tickets to the famous Fillmore East, where impresario Bill Graham came out on the stage and introduced a new band from San Francisco “making their first east coast appearance.” Santana blew the doors off the place and the weed-whacked crowd demanded several encores. Just think. They were the third-billed of three acts. Three Dog Night was number two with Canned Heat headlining. Those tickets set us each back a fat $3.50–not bad for both a brilliant show and decent contact buzz!
There are so many more, like this one from Resorts International in Atlantic City where my wife, my parents and I saw Rodney Dangerfield melt down when he got no respect from a heckler. They traded f-bombs as the crowd joined the fun and Rodney walked off telling us all to screw ourselves. Instant memory.
My wife and I went to grad school at the University of Arizona the first year the old Pac 8 conference expanded to 10 to include both the UA and Arizona State. All of a sudden we were in the big time. Near the end of our time there, the Arizona Wildcats beat mighty USC and UCLA in successive games..and our stubs prove we were there for both of them.
Another memorable stub from our grad school days was when the Arizona Wildcats faced the California Golden Bears. Quarterback for Cal was John Elway. You can see we got our money’s worth. Not only did we see a future Hall of Famer, we got in for free.
Sure, there were stubs from a Broadway show, Bob Dylan, Chicago and Eagles concerts,
the Grand Ole Opry and the old Schaefer Music Festival concerts in Central Park. Ah..the Schaefer shows. Thousands of buzzed music fans gathering in a converted outdoor skating rink. The two stubs you see here represent a couple of the times my old school buddy and I met after work from our summer jobs in Manhattan. One was to see J. Geils Band, the other was a total surprise. It was supposed to be The Byrds, but then canceled for some reason and a very wasted, but brilliant, George Carlin stepped in. I think we made out pretty well.
I have many, many more, but you get the idea. You may remember events you attended by gaining admittance via ephemeral mobile tickets. If you put your mind to it. But here’s the big difference. You can say you were there. I can prove it.
Opening Day at Tiger Stadium I’ve never attended an opening day as a spectator, but I do have some clear memories of a couple that I was compelled to cover as a correspondent for CNN. I remember them because one involved almost being beheaded by a ball thrown by a Cleveland Indian, and the second involved mayhem at the old Cincinnati Riverfront Stadium when I covered the banning of Pete Rose from baseball.
I was sent to Tiger Stadium for their home opener in 1995, which occurred only players suspended the strike that began the previous August, wiping out the end of the season and post-season. The fans were angry and tossed beer bottles, baseballs and other debris on the field.
Suspecting the fans would be pissed, I was sent to get some comments from Tigers players before the game. I walked up to giant Cecil Fielder who mumbled some gibberish only decipherable by a code breaker. As I attempted to get the slugger to form actual words, Indians outfield Kenny Lofton decided to take advantage of my vulnerable position and whizzed a ball by my noggin’ so close I saw Sparky Anderson’s life before my eyes. Lofton’s asshole move sparked a chuckle from Fielder who then mumbled something like “igotnuthintosay.” I only know that because a drunk guy in the front row listening to my attempt at an interview was annoyed when I persisted in trying to get the beef slab to give me just ten good seconds of wisdom I could use. He shouted at me, “hesayhegotnuthintosay!” Oh.
I covered the entire arc of Pete Roses’s banning from baseball and that’s worth an entire blog post by itself. But I’ll tell you about the first opening day after Rose was bounced, replaced by Lou Pinella as Reds manager.
We get on the field before the game, which was artificial turf. Not good artificial turf. I’ve been on trampolines with less bounce. Anyway, our first target was team owner Marge Schott. She was not a nice person..banned from managing the team from 1996 to 98 for spewing garbage supporting policies by that great baseball figure Adolph Hitler. Her constant companion, aside from her bigotry, was her dog Schottzie, which she brought to the game. I both the dog and the cur in a front row box seat and I attempt to get some obnoxious comments. Schottzie decides he doesn’t like reporters, hops over the rails and takes a dump at my foot. Marge says she agrees with that comment then goes on to blab blab blab about what a good boy Pete Rose is.
My next quarry was manager Lou Pinella. It was a kick to try to talk to him since I’m a native New Yorker and a big Yankee fan and Looouuuuuuuu was a favorite when he wore pinstripes. Now he wore the scarlet letter R but I didn’t hold it against him. What I did hold against him was that he was a ton taller than I imagined and I was barely able to get the mic up to his mouth. I was glad he turned out to be a cool guy and didn’t let any animals take a crap on my crappy shoes.
And then there was reliever Rob Dibble. Can’t help it. Every time I heard his name I thought of Office Dibble on the old Top Cat cartoon show. When I ask about his feeling about Pete Rose he goes completely bonkers to the point of incoherance in his support of his former manager. Everyone picked up our soundbite which may have been ESPN’s Play of the Day that day.
In the end, between the dog shit and the bullshit our story came out just fine. However, thinking about that distant memory I’m not going to be able to resist, at least once today, hollering, “Hey Officer Dibble!”
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.