Blogs > From The Bleacher Seats

A roundup of news on sporting events, people and places in Southeast Michigan by columnist Jim Evans.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A nostalgic Tigers' tale

I have never taken my relationship with the Detroit Tigers lightly.
It’s been a long-term relationship; a lot longer than most marriages last in this country.
It was probably 50 years ago when I got to my first Tigers’ game.
Dad would take us to a handful of games each season.
As young boys, we’d wear our Little League uniforms and our gloves and wait for the foul ball or the home run that really never did arrive.
We’ve witnessed some great moments, the stuff of scrapbooks and soaring memories.
We were there the final day of the regular season in 1967, when the Tigers needed to take both ends of a doubleheader against California.
They won one, finishing a game back of American League-pennant winning Boston.
We were there a handful of times the next year during that magical season when the Tigers did win the pennant and later, the World Series.
We could not get tickets to the ’68 Series, but I remember sitting in the gym at Walled Lake Junior High listening to the Tigers take on the Cardinals that fall. Obviously Mr. Lamb, the gym teacher, was a Tigers’ fan, too.
We saw some great players from other teams, too. The Yankees with Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford. The Red Sox, with Carl Yaztrzemski and Carlton Fisk. The Twins, with Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew. The Orioles, with Jim Palmer and Brooks Robinson.
My brother, Bill, loved Willie Horton. When Willie first came up with the team, Bill absolutely papered his bedroom with newspaper clippings about the young phenom from Detroit.
Later on, when I got into the sports writing business, I had plenty of chances to cover the Tigers. I was there in the press box when the Tigers clinched the pennant in 1984, and watched along with a packed Tiger Stadium when Kirk Gibson launched his historic home run against the Padres.
I always get a little nostalgic when I think about those early days with the Tigers. My brother, Bill, passed away a handful of years ago, felled by a rare neurological condition. My dad fell victim to colo-rectal cancer more than a decade ago.
I’m a father with four kids. I am sorry to say that we have not been to enough Tigers’ games over the years.
But we went last fall, and prior to the game, we watched “Field of Dreams” at the Fox Theatre. My mom was along with us. It was a great night and it brought back a lot of memories.
Especially when Kevin Kostner and his dad started playing catch. I could not help myself. I started weeping uncontrollably.
There’s something about baseball. There is something about the Tigers. Bless you boys in 2011.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bob Probert: Read it and weep

I like hockey fights.

I mean, I like them more than hockey sticks to the face. I like them more than elbows and shoulders to the head.

There’s no fear of retribution in Gary Bettman’s game today.

There are too many cowards roaming the ice trying to hurt people. 

So I like hockey fights.

That is why I loved what Bob Probert did when he was with the Red Wings.

Few, if any, were tougher. None came galloping over the hill like the charging cavalry when a teammate was in trouble.

I’m reading Bob Probert’s book “Tough Guy. My Life On The Edge.”

I started to get tears in my eyes while reading the prologue called The Last Chapter. It chronicles Probie’s final day, when he succumbed and died while out on the boat with his wife, his in-laws, and his kids.

It had to be awful.

Probert had awfully serious demons, to be sure.

His book takes an unflinching look at all of them.

He drank too much. He took drugs. He was promiscuous. He wasn’t always a nice guy.

But eventually, he was accountable. He owned up and he straightened up. He became a husband and a father and that sort of responsibility will sober a person up quick.

I guess I am writing this as a belated Thank You note.

Thank you for all of those thrills over the years. Sure most of them came on the end of a balled up fist, but so be it.

Probie could also play hockey. Don Cherry points out that in 1988, he scored 29 goals and had 33 assists in 74 games with the Wings. He had 15 power play goals, five game-winners and was plus -16 with 398 penalty minutes. In the playoffs that season, he had eight goals and 13 assists in 16 games.

He helped resurrect hockey in Detroit. When he joined the team, the Red Wings were pretty miserable. Channel 4 sportscaster Al Ackerman used to call them the Dead Things and he was right.

Detroit has been an unapologetically tough town for years, long before Eminem and Chrysler reminded people of that fact. We respect people who work hard, and Probie worked hard when he was on the ice.

Unfortunately, he partied way too hard off of it.

Still, he was a fan favorite.

In the book, Probert recalls his first partial season in the NHL:

“I knew that if I wanted to stay in The Show, I would have to fight all the tough guys, and that is what I did. My third scrap in the NHL came in the first period of a game against the Flyers on December 14. I took on Dave Richter. He was a big southpaw – six foot five, 215. He was just there to fight. I did all right. Obviously you try the best you can to ask the guy to acknowledge that you’re going to fight him so that you don’t jump him. For me, I just want an honest fight. You grab my arm, I grab yours, and we’ll see who wins. That kind of thing. Some guys got dirty. They would pull hair or gouge you eyes. But in general most of the heavyweights in the NHL were pretty good.

“Then I had a scrap with Rick Tocchet … we went at it right in front of the penalty box. I was fighting fair but Tocchet gave me a couple of head butts. I returned the favour, so in the end it turned out to be a pretty fair fight.”

There were lots more fights to follow. His scraps with guys like Toronto’s Tie Domi and New Jersey’s Troy Crowder, are legendary. Pretty soon, Probert became known as the heavyweight champ of the NHL. That’s when all the young guns came gunning for him.

Probert writes about a fight with Dave Semenko, who was playing with Toronto at the time. He accused Semenko of fighting dirty when the Wings and Maple Leafs met earlier in the season.

“The play was in Toronto’s end, and was going to our end. Semenko was the last man to leave his zone, so I hung around. I was ready to return the favour from the last game. He tried to get my shirt off, but I got one arm out and tagged him a couple of times. I knew it was over and stood back, and as the ref came in, Semenko was on one knee. He went to get up, but was hurt, or stunned, and that was pretty much it for him. He didn’t play too many more after that.”

Don’t get the wrong impression. Probert’s book is no fairy tale. It wasn’t co-authored by Mother Goose. The truth is unvarnished. The language can be jagged. There is no happy ending. Imprisonment after being busted at the Tunnel from Windsor to Detroit is never a good line to put on the resume.

It offers unblinking insight. It is a captivating read.

I just wanted to say thanks, Probie. Even if it is belated.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pure "Animal" Magnetism

Does the name George "The Animal" Steele ring a bell?
If you are a professional wrestling fan, it should. He was one of the most popular wrestlers on the circuit for years.
Still doesn't jog your memory? Let me help a little. Much more hair on his chest and back than his head. A penchant for eating the stuffing out of turnbuckles. A tongue as green as Kermit's complexion. A vocabulary that would lose in a spelling bee to a Cro-Magnon.
His battles in the ring were legendary.

He's had plenty of lesser-known battles, too.
What a lot of people do not know about George "The Animal" Steele is that his real name is Jim Myers. Despite his ring persona, he is a very intelligent man. He graduated from Michigan State University and went on to earn his masters degree. He spent decades in education as a teacher and coach at Madison High School in Madison Heights, Michigan.
He has also battled dyslexia his entire life. Attending school was a definite challenge. There were no gray areas in the classroom when Myers was growing up. You were either smart or stupid; intelligent or dumb.
He proved all of those teachers wrong. It took lots of time and lots and lots of hard work, though.
Something else that took some time was Myers' battle against Chron's disease. His affliction was so severe that they aimed the Last Rites his way on a couple of occasions. He whipped it, too.
Jim Myers and I are currently working on his memoirs. It's a very enjoyable project. He has led a fascinating life. There are many, many fascinating stories.
You'll be reading more of them soon.