Blogs > From The Bleacher Seats

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

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Congratulations, Jim Leyland

I say congratulations to Jim Leyland.
I see he signed another one-year contract with the Tigers, and he deserves it.
I mean, his team got into the World Series again. I know we were all madder than Lewis Carroll’s Hatter in Alice in Wonderland when the Tigers got swept by the Giants.
Was that really the manager’s fault? While I know my vision is not the greatest, I did not see the 67-year-old Leyland step into the batter’s box once during the Series. That was Miguel Cabrera watching the final strike go by in the fourth game, right? And that was Prince Fielder flailing away at another sweeping curve from yet another lefty on the San Francisco pitching staff, right?

So as aggravating as it was to watch the Tigers belly flop against the Giants, you have to tip your cap to Leyland, his coaches and the players for getting as far as they did. Cabrera had a historic season, winning the Triple Crown, the first time it’s been done since Yaz in ’67. Fielder also had an outstanding season, as did Austin Jackson.
The starting pitching was nearly flawless in plenty of games, which was almost a necessity with a team constructed largely of adequate defensive players at best. Can you imagine trying to pitch for the Tigers? Other than Jackson in center, who else could be classified as outstanding in the field? Thankfully, most of the Tigers could catch balls hit directly at them. Unfortunately, most had the range of three-legged cattle.
The team was perpetually plagued by some of the worst fielding this side of Walter Matthau and his Bad News Bears. Who hammered this team together anyway? The guy with the carpenter’s belt was named Dombrowski, not Leyland.
I know Leyland gets roundly criticized by some. That’s the curse of social media and sports talk radio. Every Tom, Dick and Harry from Harrison Township suddenly has a forum. Suddenly three guys sitting in their boxer shorts and wife-beater T-shirts constitute a groundswell of public opinion. Forget the fact that their breadth of experience in baseball ends with swatting the ball off a tee, coaching a bunch of 10-year-olds, or getting cut from their junior varsity team in high school.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the passion of fans. I don’t agree with everything Leyland does either. When I saw Don Kelly step to the plate, I nearly choked our Yorkshire Terrier breathless. And, thanks to Jose Valverde, I nearly started to drink heavily again and I’m not talking soy milk or Nesquik.
I have been around a long time. I can still hear the “Sparky Sucks!” chants. Last time I looked, the late George Anderson was residing in the Hall of Fame. Jim Leyland could very well wind up in Cooperstown someday, too.
Even if he sucks. Sorry about that, Phil in Ferndale.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A license to screw up

I’m not sure where to turn on this.
But rest assured, I will properly use the turn signals on my ’97 subcompact.
I was at the Secretary of State office recently to purchase new license plate tabs and to renew my driver’s license.
I could not renew my driver’s license.
“Your license was suspended in New Jersey,” I was told.
“That’s funny,” began my retort. “I have not been in New Jersey since 1977, and I did not even own a car then. I took the bus to and from work.”
“You’ll have to clear that up with New Jersey,” I was told.
So much for the Welcome Mat out front of the Secretary of State office. Service with a smile or was that a sneer?
She jotted down a phone number.
I called that long distance number when I got home. A very pleasant lady from New Jersey was sympathetic, but told me I had to call another number.
I did and was greeted by another sympathetic ear. But sympathy did not equal a solution. Sorry, I can’t help you. Here’s another number to call.
I called the third number and was greeted with a recording. Leave a message and someone will call back within five business days.
A handful of days later, I got a call back. A man took my home address and said a letter would arrive in the mail informing me what had to be done.
I got the letter. New Jersey wanted a birth certificate. It wanted additional information. It all had to be notarized. I’m not sure, but I think New Jersey wanted our first born, too, who is now 35 years old.
The traffic violation by some other guy named James Evans occurred in 1995. He failed to appear in court. His license was suspended.
Only that James Evans is not this James Evans. And James Evans is not exactly an uncommon name. Just ask the millions of folks who used to watch the television show “Good Times.” The dad’s name was James Evans.
This has definitely not been a good time. If I get stopped by the police before this is resolved, they’ll see my license has been suspended in New Jersey. I’ll try to explain that New Jersey’s James Evans is not Michigan’s James Evans.
They probably will not believe me. I’ll be taken to jail and I will be allowed one phone call. It won’t be to New Jersey. It will be to Geoffrey Fieger, Sam Bernstein or home so my wife, Kim, can bake me a cake with a file in it pronto.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

In homage to Alex Karras

Growing up as a fan of the Detroit Lions, Alex Karras was larger than life.
His seeming contradictions took on some real magnitude, too.
A seriously tough guy, he wore glasses that Wally Cox would’ve embraced.
An All-Pro football player who could also really act. Think Sir Laurence Olivier in eye black.
As a member of the Lions’ Fearsome Foursome, he routinely throttled people on the football field. He also knocked out a horse with one punch in Blazing Saddles.
His wife, Susan Clark, reported that her husband is suffering from kidney failure and does not have long to live.

In a sense, I grew up with Alex Karras. He came to the Lions as a first-round draft pick out of the University of Iowa in 1958. He played his entire NFL career with the Lions retiring in 1970 at age 35.
He was a first-team All-Pro in 1960, 1961 and 1965, and he made the Pro Bowl four times. He missed the 1963 season when he was suspended by NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle in a gambling probe. Karras was recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a defensive tackle on the All-Decade Team of the 1960s.
"We know Alex first and foremost as one of the cornerstones to our Fearsome Foursome defensive line of the 1960s and also as one of the greatest defensive linemen to ever play in the NFL," Lions president and Royal Oak Shrine grad Tom Lewand said in a statement released late Monday night. "Many others across the country came to know Alex as an accomplished actor and as an announcer during the early years of Monday Night Football.
"We join his legions of fans from both sports and entertainment in prayer and support for Alex, his wife Susan, and his entire family during this most difficult time."
Like I said, I grew up with Alex Karras. When I was a kid in Walled Lake, the Lions used to hold training camp on the grounds of Cranbrook school in Bloomfield Hills.
Many, many times, my dad would take my two brothers and me to those lush grounds to watch the Lions get ready for another season.
The setting itself was a sweaty dichotomy. There, amidst the ivy-covered trappings of private school privilege, were men who earned their living in the most primal way.
For all of its garnishments, especially in today’s NFL with multiple camera angles on every eye tic and sideline reporters commenting on each burp and hiccup, football remains a brutish game.
It is sheer will lined up against sheer will on fourth and goal at the one-yard-line with time expiring.
Few were better in his era in figuring out that equation than Alex Karras. He was an exceptionally fine football player.
Karras played himself in the Paper Lion. He played Mongo in Blazing Saddles. He spent three years in the booth on Monday Night Football. He was the adoptive father in the television sitcom Webster
The 77-year-old Karras has suffered from a variety of health problems in recent years, including dementia and cancer, and is part of the mass concussion lawsuit more than 3,000 former players have filed against the NFL.
Alex Karras has only a few more days left at best in this life.
I never met the man and yet, I will mourn his passing. I saw him pass by many times at Cranbrook. A chunk of my young life will pass also. Really, much of it has already been interred. My dad’s been gone more than a decade. My brother, Bill, died a few years ago.
The circle of life does not just wear Honolulu blue and silver. I’m wearing reading glasses with stark black frames as I write this.
In homage to you, Mr. Karras.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Animal instinct; Jim Myers returns home to Madison Heights

The sign above the entrance says Jim Myers Stadium.
Time was, when the man himself might have a hard time deciphering it.
Jim Myers overcame dyslexia to graduate from Madison High School and earn a Master’s degree from Michigan State. He endured when nobody really had even defined dyslexia.
He remembers being put in the brown bird reading group when he was in grade school.
To Myers, it color appropriate.
“That meant we read like poop,” he said, chuckling.
He can read the Jim Myers Stadium sign just fine, thanks. He appreciates the fact it mirrors the name on his birth certificate and not the one he carried into the professional wrestling ring for so many years.
That is the way he wanted it. George The Animal Steele was an alter ego, a part-time job.

Jim Myers was an esteemed educator and coach at Madison High for three decades. Like most good teachers and coaches, he imparted lessons and impacted lives the entire time he was there.
Although he eventually became internationally known as professional wrestler George The Animal Steele, his greatest impact was in his hometown.
“I was never an all state athlete,” said Al Morrison. “I was never the star of the team but the other guys treated me the same as everybody else. We were teammates and that came down to leadership. It was all because of Coach Myers.”
Jim Myers coached Morrison in both football and wrestling. Morrison is now president of the Board of Education in Madison.
Morrison was just one of the many former players who appeared at a ceremony at Madison High Thursday evening honoring Myers.
The auditorium was filled with the Hall of Fame coach’s family, friends, former fellow teachers and former student-athletes. They were there to recognize a man who left many fingerprints in his time.
And, not all of them were around the necks of men like Bruno Sammartino, Randy Savage, and Hulk Hogan.
“Teaching and coaching go back to mother and father and my roots. Education was very important to my mother and my father. My dad came to Michigan out of the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma. He was a brilliant man without an education. He knew how important an education  was, and once I got that degree, I wanted to help other people get an education and succeed in life,” said Myers. “Believe me, not everyone liked me. With me, it was black and white, right and wrong. I was a disciplinarian.”
There are plenty of people who believe that teachers make too much money these days. That is certainly a mantra heard in some circles.
When Jim Myers started teaching and coaching, his pay was $4,300 a year. He started wrestling because he needed extra income. Jim and his wife, Pat, had two young children with another on the way.
Since the folks from Abercrombie and Fitch weren’t hiring male models at the time, he eventually decided to try wrestle.
That meant climbing into the back seat of cars with other big men and driving to places like Kalamazoo and Muskegon and Toledo. He’d make 50 bucks or whatever, stop for some bread, bologna and beverages for the drive home, and then cough up gas money when the trip was over.
Wrestling would eventually become much, much more lucrative than that. Ultimately, George The Animal Steele was flying to venues across the country and the world. Fifty bucks would not even handle a week’s worth of tips to people like bellhops, waitresses, and chauffeurs.
For years, George The Animal Steele was one of wrestling’s most hated villians. Later, he was a loveable cartoon character who sported a green tongue and habitually munched on turnbuckles.
But to Myers, up until the very end, wrestling was always just a part-time job.
He loved teaching. He loved coaching. He loved impacting kids like himself; kids who never breezed through school. He loved the National Honor Society kids. He also loved those who populated the other end of the grade curve like himself.
“Later on, back in those days, top wrestlers were making $250,000 to $300,000,” said Myers. “The deal was, I was a school teacher looking for a part time job. Teaching and coaching were  what I loved to do. While the part-time job became more lucrative than the full-time job, the full-time job was my love. A lot of people found it unbelievable that I turned down all of that money for so many years, but I had found my calling.”
That calling was at his alma mater, Madison High School.
Pat and Jim Myers reside in Florida these days. He eventually left Madison High to go into wrestling full time, but he was nearly 50 years old and his career was mostly in the rearview mirror by that time.
Crohn’s disease nearly laid claim to him, and they even blew Taps in his direction once or twice.
Jim Myers, 75, walks with the help of a cane these days. Still, he walked proudly into the stadium named after him Friday night. The Madison High Eagles were playing the Shamrocks from East Detroit.
He even ate a hot dog, not the stuffing from a turnbuckle. Welcome home, coach.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Tuesday is Running Day in Royal Oak

No homecoming game. No king and queen riding in the back of convertibles. Generally, no cheerleaders, marching bands or public address announcers.
Not to put anyone on the therapist’s couch, but the loneliness of the long distance runner can ring true to a certain extent.
High school cross country meets are generally run in front of gatherings, not crowds.
“This is one day when the light will shine on cross country,” said Dave Barnett, who is co-coach of the boys’ cross country team at Royal Oak High School. Ryan Piippo is the other boys’ coach.
Clyde Ewell is the girls’ cross country coach at Royal Oak High.
Running Day in Royal Oak will be Tuesday. The races will all be held on the Royal Oak High cross country course which starts at the south end of Quickstad Park, located near the intersection of Lexington and Marais.
The afternoon begins with a high school meet matching Royal Oak Shrine Catholic and Royal Oak High. The boys 5k race will begin at 4:30 p.m., with the high school girls starting at 5.
A two-mile middle school race that includes students from Royal Oak, Shrine and Our Lady of La Salette in Berkley will start at 5:30 p.m. A one-mile open race is scheduled for 5:50 p.m., with a Raven Race for youngsters that measures one-quarter mile begins at 6:10 p.m.
Parking will be available in the high school lot on Lexington, the Senior/Community Center on Marais, and the high school student lots which are accessed on Normandy.

This is the second year for Running Day in Royal Oak. Three years ago, Shrine coach Wright Wilson invited Our Lady of La Salette runners and runners from Shrine’s Academy to join the two high schools during a meet at Memorial Park.
The bottom line of Running Day in Royal Oak for the coaches is  they would like to see more kids running.
“I’ve always said the world would be a better place if everyone ran cross country,” said Barnett, smiling. “It’s a great sport and it has done a lot for us individually.”
This country would certainly be better off. Way too many of us can’t jog to the mailbox, let along run hard for 3.1 miles.
Obesity rates are skyrocketing. We’re the fattest group of people this side of a John Candy look-a-like contest. Fannies are spreading like that BP oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico. Bellies are ballooning like the national debt.
“I think Running Day in Royal Oak is a great idea,” said Wilson. “It brings the sports to a larger community than what we’d normally see. In fact, we have several runners who participated in either last year’s Running Day in Royal Oak, or at Memorial Park two years ago who had such a positive experience they are still running.”
Three of them are on his Shrine High team now; Brendan Battle, Conor O’Hara and Daniel Carlin. Two more are younger but are still running in school; Carolyn Luddy and Ellie Kendell.
“They’ve all run the open races; whether it was the junior high two-mile run or the grade school one-mile race. They all had positive experiences. It’s great to see they all wanted to continue running as a sport,” said Wilson.
Way too often, we have turned running into a punishment in our schools. Screw around in gym class and run a couple of laps around the track. Mess up in football practice and do the same.
What happened to the pure joy of running like when we were kids? Race you to Jack’s house! Tearing around the backyard with the family dog in hot pursuit.
“When we had that meet at Memorial Park two years ago, the main attraction was the high school meet. We were hoping to recapture some of those great Royal Oak Kimball-Royal Oak Dondero meets of days gone by,” said Wilson. “Now there is only one public high school in Royal Oak, but there are two pretty good running schools. I love the idea of Running Day in Royal Oak,” said Wilson.
Show up Tuesday afternoon at Quickstad Park. Coach Barnett will thank you. Coach Piippo will thank you. Coach Wilson will thank you.
Someday, your cardiologist will thank you, too.