Blogs > The Back Page

The musings of a Detroit-area sportswriter in the digital age.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Who's more important?

Let's face it, by and large, it has been a boring summer. The front page has been routinely rounded out with items on swimming and the neverending Tour de France. But what happens on a day when there is news going on and the front page is lacking in space?
We encountered that problem in today's 5 p.m. budget meeting, with the opening of Lions training camp tomorrow (Saturday), the Tigers getting Jarrod Washburn from Seattle, and of course, the Buick Open in Grand Blanc.
The Buick is a no-brainer, especially since we have a staff writer covering the event. But the real choice came between the Lions and Tigers. We decided since the trade has more impact and that the Lions don't actually begin camp until tomorrow, the Tigers trade was fit for the front.
Those are just some of the news judgment calls we make on a regular basis, but they don't always come during the summer. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Future Stars

Searching through our photo system earlier today for pictures for our All-County high school girls soccer team, I came across this one, taken in January 2006 when four local girls were named to the U.S. Olympic Development team: Niki Read, Kayla Manino, Anna Sieloff and Megan Siebert.
Read, Manino and Sieloff made it to the All-County team, capping their high school careers. This picture goes all the way back to just before the beginning of their time with their respective high schools. Making that select team was a pretty good predictor of their success.
Be sure to pick up a copy of our Sunday edition to check out the All-County team.

Four Oakland County girls have been selected to the Olympic Development soccer team, which leaves for Europe in March. Names left to right: Kayla Manino, 14, of Bloomfield; Megan Siebert, 14, of Troy; and Anna Sieloff,13, of Troy; and Niki Read,14, of Lake Orion.
The Oakland Press file photo

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A.L. Stars

It was close, but the MLB All-Star Game got in under the wire Tuesday night, much to my relief. I wasn't fortunate enough to work on the copy desk last year and deal with the 15-inning affair, and with that in mind, I was surprised how quickly the game moved along.
It was great to see Curtis Granderson hustle his way to a triple in the eighth and get driven home by Adam Jones.
By the way, you might see our headline on various news sites, I chose "A.L. Stars" in lieu of "Still streaking."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Power of the people

Everyone who voted for Brandon Inge to get into the All-Star Game deserves a pat on the back. It was reported late Thursday Inge received more than 11 million votes on during the final All-Star balloting to earn a trip to his first Midsummer classic.
Some may say the system for the balloting was flawed, no way should people be allowed to cast more than one vote. But as far as I know, it's only for the final vote, so I'll just say I'm happy for Inge. And the Tigers' marketing people were on it the way they got the word out to vote for Inge.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Our new resident Twitterer

Apparently nearly 40,000 people follow new Piston Charlie Villanueva's Twitter account. Maybe I'll join so I can get the inside scoop from team huddles or get a peek when there's a TV timeout. It will be interesting to see a layer of separation eliminated between fans and the team. (I don't know for certain if any current or former Pistons are on Twitter).

Villanueva tweets he’ll sign with Pistons
DETROIT (AP) — Charlie Villanueva posted a message on his Twitter account, informing his followers he will sign with the Detroit Pistons.
“It’s a clear summer day in LA. I got my workout this morning,” Villanueva tweeted Monday. “Now I’m off to Motor City: the process continues... physicals, signing on Wed.”
He and Ben Gordon agreed to five-year contracts with the Pistons, a person with the knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press last week, for at least $35 million and $50-plus million, respectively.
“Well I’m a Piston,” Villanueva posted under his “CV31” screen name on July 2. “Long day yesterday, but got it done, God is good.
“Deeeeeeetrooooooiiiiittttttt basketballllllllllllll.”
The Pistons were allowed to begin negotiations with free agents on July 1, but the league prohibits its teams from announcing deals until the moratorium period ends Wednesday.
Villanueva played for the Milwaukee Bucks last season and Gordon was with the Chicago Bulls.
Both helped Connecticut with the national title in 2004.
“Last time I teamed up with BG we won a championship in 2004,” Villanueva tweeted last week.
Villanueva created a stir last season when he posted a message during halftime of a game with the Bucks on Twitter and got a stern lecture from Bucks coach Scott Skiles, who thought it gave the impression that Villanueva wasn’t focused.
Thanks to the publicity, the list of followers who subscribed to Villanueva’s Twitter feed quadrupled in just over 24 hours, going from about 1,600 subscribers to nearly 7,000. On Monday night, he had nearly 40,000 followers.

Get Inge a ticket to St. Louis

Even if you already voted for your favorite players for the All-Star Game, head back and help Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge get into the game by voting again. As Jim Hawkins mentioned in today's edition, you have until Thursday to help him get in.
Visit the MLB Web site and click on "All-Star Game Final Vote."

Monday, July 06, 2009

What's the status of the WNBA, really?

There wouldn't be room to run this story in its entirety in the print edition, nor the need to. I'm putting it out here as a bonus, if you will.
To hear the Associated Press tell it, the WNBA is doing a lot better than we all thought.
Skip to the 20th paragraph to read the logical arguments as to how poorly the league is doing.
The Detroit Shock nearly folded in 2002 and they appear headed toward another dismal season this year — after winning the championship a season ago.
As far as I know, you can't get even get Shock games on the radio anymore, at least the schedule on their Web site would lead you to believe their is no radio broadcast home for the team. And their games are rarely on TV anymore.
Maybe Detroit isn't a big market when it comes to women's basketball. I don't know what fan support is like in other cities, but I'm willing to bet it's not much better.
Attendance is up 3 percent? Paid attendance? I've never heard of people paying for Shock tickets, but rather getting free vouchers.
The Mercury are being paid $1 million dollars to have LifeLock's name on their jerseys instead of their own? Sounds pretty cheap to me, but I'm not trying to finance a profession women's basketball team.
Yes, the league started with eight teams and is currently at 13, but five teams have also folded in the process. Talking about expansion seems far-fetched to me.
I still have little hope this league will last more than two more seasons.
Don't get me wrong, these women are great role models and athletes, but my problem is with the AP for writing such a fluff story, rehashing what I would call 'negatives' into positives.

WNBA’s originals leave league in good shape
The Associated Press
The opportunities for female athletes were so minimal back then it was no wonder Lisa Leslie had modest expectations when she first heard about the WNBA. She envisioned a summer league, with games in small gyms and players wearing reversible jerseys.
“When I saw our locker room was the same locker room that Magic and Kareem and James Worthy had once come out of, I was just overwhelmed with the possibilities,” she said.
Critics gave the WNBA little chance when it began, predicting it would join the WBL, ABL and soccer’s WUSA on the trash heap of failed women’s leagues. Even the support — and the deep pockets — of the NBA wouldn’t be enough to make it relevant.
Now here it is, 13 years later. Leslie is the league’s all-time leading scorer and last of its founding stars and, as she prepares to say goodbye, the WNBA is not only surviving but thriving.
“I don’t remember there not being a league,” said Candace Parker, who was 10 when the WNBA started and is now Leslie’s teammate on the Los Angeles Sparks. “And that’s a great thing.”
Leslie was unstoppable at USC, the Pac-10’s all-time leader in points, rebounds and blocked shots. She was thrilled at the prospect of representing the United States at the Atlanta Olympics, two years after she finished school, but figured that would be the end of her basketball career.
There was, after all, nothing more for her in America.
Professional leagues for women operated overseas, so women who wanted to keep playing had no choice but to become international travelers. Sheryl Swoopes, dubbed the “female Michael Jordan,” played in Italy and Russia. Cynthia Cooper spent 11 years in Italy and Spain. Teresa Witherspoon was a six-time All-Star in Italy, and played another two years in Russia.
Leslie decided to stay in the United States, signing with the Wilhelmina modeling agency and planning a career in broadcasting.
Then, in April 1996, the NBA’s Board of Governors announced the creation of the WNBA.
“I wasn’t quite as sensitive to the gender discrimination until we launched the league and everyone said it was going to fail because it was women. That’s ridiculous,” NBA commissioner David Stern said.
As irked as Stern gets now about gender equity — the ho-hum reaction the U.S. women got for winning their fourth straight gold medal in Beijing compared to the adulation showered on the men’s team is “enough to make you into a feminist” — it was economics that drove the creation of the WNBA.
The original WNBA franchises were initially affiliated with their local NBA teams, giving owners a new revenue stream and keeping their arenas occupied in the summer. Regional TV networks got additional programming. Everyone was looking for new ways to capitalize on women’s buying power, which was steadily increasing.
The players didn’t care what the reasoning was. They just knew they had their own league and it was built for the long haul.
“It’s not our fault we’re girls,” Leslie said. “We just wanted to play, too. We’re just trying to find our spot in the world.”
Ads trumpeting “We Got Next” outnumbered Dennis Rodman’s tattoos during the 1997 NBA Finals, and the WNBA was on TV from the very first tip. Not some random channel at 3 a.m., either, but the big-time, NBC and ESPN. In its second season, the league averaged an impressive 10,800 in attendance.
“You’re talking about a group of ladies that were hungry. It was something we wanted very badly,” said Witherspoon, still third in all-time assists. “Of course we took full advantage.”
Leslie remembers being in awe of the first-class treatment they got, the big arenas and the fans cheering for them. She also remembers — and still does — feeling a responsibility to repay those fans by signing autographs or do community appearances.
“We’re all role models,” she said. “It’s still important what that impression is for that one child, that one fan.”
Like any new venture, there were bound to be growing pains. Five franchises have folded, including the Houston Comets, winners of the first four WNBA titles. Attendance dipped in the early 2000s. Rosters have been trimmed from 13 to 11 this season, a concession to the economic downturn.
“If there was a problem for us, it was that it got very successful very fast in the first year or so, and it was perceived as more successful than it actually was,” Stern said. “When it sank back ... the handwringing began, and all of those people who in the first year predicted we’d be gone by the second and in the second year predicted we’d be gone by the third said, ’OK, here it comes.’
“But it’s found it’s spot, it’s growing.”
Indeed, attendance last year rose for a second straight season and is up nearly 3 percent so far this year — impressive numbers during the recession. Merchandise sales are up, and LifeLock is reportedly paying at least $1 million a year for the right to have its name on the Phoenix Mercury’s jerseys. The level of play has risen, and Stern said there is interest in expansion teams.
In what might be the most impressive sign of the league’s staying power, the WNBA is in the first season of an eight-year contract with ESPN/ABC that, for the first time, pays those all-important rights fees.
“It has its own spot,” Witherspoon said. “We have our own position, we have our own fan base. That’s the beauty for us, it’s our own. We have something our young girls can wake up to, turn their television on and visualize their dream.”
And girls who once watched Witherspoon and Cooper and Ruthie Bolton and dreamed of the day they could play, too, are doing just that.
Young players like Parker and Diana Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter and Sylvia Fowles and Seimone Augustus have stepped up just as their role models once did, allowing the league to make a smooth transition from those golden girls of Atlanta into a second decade.
“It’s very powerful, but it’s also a tremendous responsibility. As a mom of a girl, I want her to have every opportunity that a boy would have,” said Parker, who played in her first game Sunday since the May 13 birth of daughter, Lailaa.
Who knows? Maybe Lailaa and Leslie’s daughter, Lauren, will be playing alongside one another as the WNBA celebrates its 35th anniversary.
“I’m glad at least her generation will have a choice,” Leslie said. “It’s all a process. I just try to do my part so hopefully we can continue to leave it in a better place.”

Friday, July 03, 2009

Bad teammate, like Beckham

There wasn't room for this item in print today, but this is funny. Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl is writing "The Beckham Experiment," which is to be published in two weeks. Excerpts containing Landon Donovan's take on his L.A. Galaxy teammate are less than favorable.
There's a part near the end pointing out Beckham was denied a glass of wine at dinner because he didn't have an ID. What does that say about the status of the world's most famous current soccer player, that a server doesn't recognize him? Bet Michael Jordan never ran into that ridiculousness.

Donovan: Beckham has become a bad teammate
NEW YORK (AP) — David Beckham has become a bad teammate on the Los Angeles Galaxy, according to Landon Donovan.
“All that we care about at a minimum is that he committed himself to us,” Donovan was quoted as saying in an excerpt of Grant Wahl’s “The Beckham Experiment,” scheduled for publication July 14. “As time has gone on, that has not proven to be the case in many ways — on the field, off the field.
“Does the fact that he earns that much money come into it? Yeah. If someone’s paying you more than anybody in the league, more than double anybody in the league, the least we expect is that you show up to every game, whether you’re suspended or not. Show up and train hard. Show up and play hard.”
Beckham joined the Galaxy in July 2007 from Real Madrid and has a $6.5 million average annual income from the team, twice the $2.94 million Cuauhtemoc Blanco earns from the Chicago Fire. Donovan was fifth at $900,000 at the start of the season.
Beckham was loaned to AC Milan last winter and the 34-year-old midfielder is to rejoin Los Angeles for its July 16 match at the New York Red Bulls.
Donovan was angry that when Beckham was suspended for a game at Houston last year, he didn’t attend the match.
“I can’t think of another guy where I’d say he wasn’t a good teammate, he didn’t give everything through all this, he didn’t still care,” Donovan said. “But with (Beckham) I’d say no, he wasn’t committed.”
An excerpt of the book was published in this week’s Sports Illustrated. It portrays Beckham as stingy, saying he wouldn’t pick up meal checks for teammates who earn as little as $12,900 annually. It states Terry Byrne, Beckham’s best friend and personal manager, pressed for the Galaxy to strip Donovan of the captain’s armband and give it to Beckham. Donovan went along with the move.
It says that at a dinner at Morton’s steak house in Arlington, Va., Beckham initially wasn’t served wine because he didn’t have ID, and needed the intervention of the maitre d’.
Byrne, according to the excerpt, was hired as a Galaxy consultant and conducted the search that led to the hiring of Ruud Gullit to replace Frank Yallop as coach — even though general manager Alexi Lalas advised against hiring the 1987 European player of the year.
“My sense is that David’s clearly frustrated, that he’s unhappy and, honestly, that he thinks it’s a joke,” Donovan said last August.