Monday, January 19, 2015

Losing Max Scherzer Doesn't Make My Brown Eye Blue

I'm not sure anyone is surprised to learn that Max Scherzer is getting the heck out of Dodge (or the city that produced Dodge, anyway.) He's joining former Tiger Doug Fister in the starting rotation of the Washington Nationals this spring. And you want the truth? I'm not devastated that he's leaving. I'm still fuming that they dealt Fister for a bag of peanuts. 

Holding the line on his earlier offer to Max was absolutely the correct stance for Dave Dombrowski to take. The Nationals are spending a boatload to get him and if reports are even remotely in the ballpark, they may still be paying Scherzer years after he retires. I've read it's a seven year deal somewhere between $180M and $210M with the possibility that some income will be deferred for seven more years.
Max Scherzer meme: on phone, thumbs up, saying "Kudos to me!"

If that's true, Max will be on the Nationals' gravy train until nearly 2028. When he's 44. That's a huge financial risk for a team to take on a pitcher who rarely makes it past the 6th or 7th inning even when he's pitching a gem and whose best years may soon be behind him. That contract makes him pretty untradeable, too, so they better like what they get. Max has been great and I'm thankful for the seasons we've called him a Tiger. I also don't begrudge him this chance at all. Kudos to Max, right? Practically speaking, though, the Tigers just don't need another bloated salary extended into years in which a pitcher's contribution can reasonably be expected to decline. Rapidly. They're already locked into Justin Verlander for what will be the remainder of his productive years (and then some.) With a lot of other cash tied up in the big bats, like Miggy and VMart, and a few key position players, there isn't much salary room for Dombrowski to work with while remaining under the luxury tax threshold. 

It is concerning to me that the best starting lineup in baseball has been tinkered with and sold away without getting much in return. We missed Fister last year. We might miss Porcello this year. Worst of all, I still have zero faith in the ability of the bullpen to save games when the starters stumble or the bats go cold. Maybe it's not time to worry, yet. Verlander did pick it up a bit and David Price, last year's trade prize, should be great again. If Anibal Sanchez stays healthy, that gives us three starters any team would envy. And two that I couldn't name right now for the life of me. With the addition of Cespedes' bat to the line-up and the re-signing of J.D. Martinez, maybe there will be a better cushion of runs to eliminate the bullpen from mattering. It's a wish more than a belief at this point.

I so want to trust Dave Dombrowski. I want to believe he'll surprise us with another great starter or a serious closer when we least expect it. I promised myself after he unloaded Prince Fielder, the world's biggest albatross, that I would never pass judgment on his mad genius again. It's been hard to keep my word, though. When I think of this team, I feel like they're the Yankees of the Great Lakes. Big names. Huge payroll. Long term commitments. And what I expect will happen soon -- performance that won't be worth the expenditure. In trying so hard to win that World Series for Mr. Ilitch, they've become bloated, old, and have left their farm system in a state of drought. 

Time will tell how it goes this year. There's not much the Tigers can do this summer to bring me down, anyway. Baseball is just an enjoyable time filler until...

Harbaugh. September. Right?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Déjà-vu and '69: Does a Buckeye Win Mean It's Happening?

The National Championship Game tonight looks a lot different than I expected it would a couple months ago when the world was wondering how the NCAA was going to pit two SEC West teams together without angering the rest of the country. Like most non-SEC fans who are sick to death of hearing about SEC greatness, tonight's match-up between Oregon and Ohio State pleases me. At least on the surface. 

I like the new format because the playoffs to get to tonight's game did a decent job of getting two very deserving teams together. In retrospect, TCU may rightly argue that it deserved a playoff berth over FSU based on both teams' bowl performances. These kinds of judgments will always leave someone upset. If they went to an eight team format, Team #9 would feel the same way. For a first time run through the process, I think it's proven itself superior to the old BCS format already. With no changes, we'd likely be watching an Alabama/Florida State or Alabama/Oregon game tonight. 

The moral quandary I feel about this game lies in who to support. I have no affinity for the Oregon Ducks. They can be fun to watch and I like their uniform combos. Forgive me, this is the "girl" in MGoGirl! I also have plenty of unadulterated hate for OSU and it would take a whole separate post to document its history. In the end, I think I can justify nearly any outcome tonight in a way that makes me feel good - or at least feel hope.

If the Ducks Fly High

This is the easiest and happiest outcome to swallow. It doesn't compromise any deep-seated values and beliefs. If the Ducks win, I don't have to live in a world where Buckeye trolls can taunt us with "THE Ohio State University Buckeyes - 2015 National Champions" for the rest of the year and God knows how long after that. The jealous Wolverine in me would take immense pleasure in seeing OSU lose ... and the bigger the better. If the Bucks have to choke down the bitter pill of loss and humility, I can support that with enthusiasm. The Buckeyes always get nice things. Some deserved - I can't deny that they have one dee-luxe incredible coach. Some not deserved - again, that's a whole other post. Tonight, I'm okay to let Urban Meyer eat cold, sad post-game consolation pizza. Again.

If the Buckeyes Rise

This is where I'm supposed to insert the usual platitudes about the B1G not having a great reputation and how an OSU national championship would raise the conference into a semblance of respect again. And, yes, I do believe that it would help the B1G a little bit. 

Most of all though, it would just suck. Helping the B1G isn't a big enough feel-good point to justify puffing up the most irritating fans in college football with the eternal glory of their victory. There would be no end to it for years to come. 

So just how do I justify acceptance of a Buckeye championship? 

It comes down to my feeling that something is happening beyond our control. A little déjà-vu, if you will. A little karmic justice. And all we, as Michigan fans, need to do is be patient and put up with the trolls for a few months.

All the Pieces are Falling Into Place

This is what I feel in my bones. And you may think I'm nuts and that's okay. But IF Ohio State wins tonight, it's happening. 1969 redux. The parallels are there. 
  • I think it's the reason we've spent years wallowing in mediocrity. Like the 1960s under Bump Elliott, whose tenure had some rough years and perennial problems beating OSU and MSU. 
  • I think it's the reason that Jim Harbaugh came to us this at exactly this time, in a moment of great need and desperation for the program. He was schooled by Schembechler, the man who took over a struggling Michigan team from Elliott in 1969. A team for which few people had great expectations going into the season. 
  • I think it's the reason that Ohio State might win the National Championship this year and carry itself with the arrogance of invincibility into next fall. The same way they carried themselves into Ann Arbor that fatefulday in 1969. Defending champs expecting to let the blood of a few Wolverines. And the rest became history.

If OSU wins tonight, it's all happening so that on November 28, 2015 in front of what could be a record crowd at the Big House, Jim Harbaugh will lead a recharged and resurgent Michigan team to an unexpected victory over the Buckeyes - defending National Champions - just like his mentor Bo did 46 years earlier. 

We all know history is bound to repeat itself. In a few hours we'll know just how closely it might come to pass. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Painful Labor and Rebirth of Hope for Michigan Football

I've never had children, but I know plenty of women who have. Some of my friends have described the birth process as the worst pain you can ever imagine. In one apt description, they say it's like drawing a basketball through a garden hose, which makes me rather happy to be a very involved aunt. Over the years I've had to ask, "Why on earth would you ever be open to having another after all THAT?" The answer was always the same. "Because when you look into that baby's eyes and hold him, you don't care about the pain you went through to get him." The memory of the pain is lessened because the happiness overwhelms it.

That's a great comparison to how I view 2014, particularly when I look back at the year in Michigan Football. It was one stumble after another for the Wolverines, Brady Hoke, and most of all, for Athletic Director Dave Brandon. There was shock and grief over the losses, the scandals, the embarrassing marketing stunts, and the growing rift between those running the Athletic Department and the Wolverine-loving fans who help fund it. I know at one point last fall, I felt the situation was utterly hopeless. I could see no light in the tunnel, just more tracks leading nowhere. We had a crazy AD, a new athletically-untested president, and a likable but hapless coach. There was an angry revolution brewing among students, alumni, and season ticket-holders. The diagnosis was, to extend my metaphor, Clear Blue Easy. Michigan Football and its fans have been suffering (at least) 7 years of uncomfortable gestation. We had it all. Nausea. Aches and pains. Tender emotions. And those Braxton Miller contractions were no picnic, either. There were a few good times: the 11-2 season, the Under the Lights series, Dave Brandon getting handed two boxes. For the most part, however, there was no rosy, happy glow on this aging mother of a program. 

Then in December, the proverbial water broke and Brady Hoke was relieved of his duties. The rebirth process of Michigan Football began in earnest. It was a month of laborious waiting as interim AD Jim Hackett conducted his search for the new coach. Hours of breathless panting and frazzled nerves over media hearsay and rampant rumors. Who would it be? Will he look like us? Will he grow to be successful? And ironically, instead of "Will we be able to afford his college?" it was "Would our college be able to afford him?" Like those on the verge of new parenthood, those last couple of weeks were filled with great hope, anticipation, and no small amount of fear.

On December 30, Jim Hackett announced the arrival of James Joseph Harbaugh as our new head coach. Yes, it's a boy! Actually a man and a damn good one at that. I'm sure more than one cigar or drink was sacrificed in his honor. It was a long time in coming, this hopeful rebirth of the Michigan program and already we're proud of our new arrival. Like any new kid at a family gathering, he will be the center of attention and much adoration. Our Jim spoke well and from the heart that first day, sharing feel-good stories of old and happier days and he called this place his dream. His home. And if all goes well, his permanent one. It wasn't even New Year's Eve yet and I was utterly intoxicated.

I guess all those moms were right. You can go through a lot of pain and suffering if the eyes you're looking into when it's all over are ones you dreamed about seeing as you waited all that time for him to come. Jim Harbaugh was born with an M chromosome and raised to be exactly where he is today, doing what he's doing. It feels like he's all ours now, but I think it's possible he has been from the beginning when he was just a boy joking around with Bo Schembechler and hanging around his dad, Jack, on the practice field. 

The rebirth has been long and difficult for all of us. But I can truly say, after seeing our man again after all these years, I no longer have strong memories of the pain we've endured to get him.

My happiness overwhelms it.