Blogs > The Back Page

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

Monday, September 19, 2011

My first visit to Michigan Stadium

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Division champion Tigers: Then and now

Michael Jackson was still "Bad" in a good way, "The Simpsons" made their first appearance and I was 5. The Tigers clinched their last division title, then the AL East, Oct. 4, 1987. The circumstances surrounding the Tigers' comeback to take the division, as well as the stadium they called home, were much different. So was pop culture and the cost of living.

Then — Now
Local TV: WDIV-4 (over the air) — FSD (basic cable)
Local radio: WJR-AM (760) — WXYT-FM (97.1)
Manager: Sparky Anderson — Jim Leyland (similar in appearance, though)
Owner: Tom Monaghan — Mike Ilitch
Home field: Tiger Stadium — Comerica Park
Winningest pitcher: Jack Morris (18) — Justin Verlander (23)*
Record: 98-64 — 88-64*
Biggest trade: John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander — Charlie Furbush, Casper Wells and others for Doug Fister

In life, things were pretty different, too.
Population: 242,288,918 — 307,006,550
Life expectancy: 74.9 — 78.7
Unemployment% 7 — 9.1
Inflation%: 3.78 — 2.87*
Gas/gallon: $0.95 — $3.62
Milk/gallon: $2.28 — $3.50 (organic > $)
First-class stamp: $0.22 — Why not email?
Med. cost home: $104,500 — $221,800
top grossing movie: "Three Men and a Baby" —
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"*
Best-selling record: "Slippery When Wet," Bon Jovi — "21," Adele*
Information base: Library — Internet
Popular gadget: Walkman/pager — Tablet computer/smartphone

*Year/season to be continued

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Big Ten Network drops the ball using computer software to write game recaps

It's a subject I've opined before on this platform: Should journalism outlets be using computer-generated copy, Narrative Science, in particular? A list exposed the Big Ten Network for using the software, but BTN, which runs Associated Press content, adequately labels the NS content as such in its quarter-by-quarter recaps. Chances are, however, that most people have no idea what Narrative Science is. BTN links to the service's homepage, but once there, the site gives no appearance that it's a computer generating stories about human activities. Instead, it looks like a site based in agriculture.
This is the awkward lede to the NS story:
"Denard Robinson threw for 338 yards and four touchdowns, leading Michigan to a 35-31 victory over Notre Dame on Saturday at Michigan Stadium."
This is the lede to the AP story we ran:
"Denard Robinson threw a 16-yard pass to Roy Roundtree with 2 seconds left, lifting Michigan to a 35-31 heart-pounding win over Notre Dame on Saturday night."
Notice the difference?
Here's another graceless paragraph:
"The Wolverines operated their air game to perfection in dismantling Notre Dame’s defense. Michigan’s air attack couldn’t be contained, as it torched the Fighting Irish for 338 yards and four touchdowns. Robinson completed 11 of 24 passes for the Wolverines. Michigan racked up 452 total yards."
I might just sound like some curmudgeonly writer, but I don't want some computer hack taking my job, especially if it can't do the task equally well. And even if they perfect the software, it seems a human proofreader should still be on hand to double-check and add a human touch.
Here's a visual of the game in case you forgot about the latest thrilling end to a Michigan-Notre Dame tilt. There's no confusion in the broadcast.

FINAL THOUGHT: The Big Ten Network can't find ANY students writers at one of the 12 schools underneath its expansive umbrella to craft games stories rather than showing J-school students why they shouldn't even bother with the art?

Tiger Stadium's rebirth stunted by growth council

Chevrolet seemed to have a grand idea to help resuscitate Tiger Stadium, taking a cue from the fans' whose tireless grassroots effort has been used to remove and cut, grass and roots, growing on the lot which has been reduced to basepaths and the center field flag pole. The automotive giant laid out its plans to maintain the field which would then be used for youth baseball games. Seems reasonable enough, since the stadium hasn't seen much in the way of attention, except for the fans' efforts and the bulldozers a few years ago, since shuttering after the 1999 season.
MLive reports the city, the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation in particular, was less than enthused about the proposition.
"The site you refer to is a valuable piece of property for redevelopment because of its size and location, ... It is being reserved for a comprehensive development that will bring a substantial investment and new economic activity to the city."
Hmmm. More than 10 years later and the site sits vacant and would be completely overgrown, save for the flag pole of course, if not for the assistance of unpaid weekend volunteers? It seems more than acceptable that the site be used for youth sports and not stashed for potential "economic activity to the city."
(Click here to join a Facebook group for the Tiger Stadium Conservancy.)

Fans won't have to choose between Lions and Tigers postseason

It shouldn't come as any surprise, but tickets to the Tigers' potential opening round playoff series, the first in five years, sold out in less than an hour Monday. Fans were quite aroused by a then nine-game winning streak that included a Brandon Inge walk-off home run Saturday. Also unsurprisingly, the Lions' Week 1 win at Tampa Bay garnered nearly three times the television ratings as the Tigers' 2-1 series-sweeping victory over the Twins. It was the Lions' best audience for an opening week since 2003, when Joey Harrington threw four touchdown passes, two of which rookie Charles Rogers caught in his NFL debut.
It's a good thing for fans the Tigers' potential clincher, Saturday against Oakland, will be broadcast on FOX after all. (Originally the game was scheduled to have no television coverage.) Hopefully they get it done that day, rather than holding out until Sunday, when the Lions host the Chiefs, which will be shown on CBS. Staggered start times mean there would be little head-to-head competition Sunday, but what would the ratings show if the Tigers happened to play on Sunday during the postseason?
Fans likely won't have to pick between their teams. The two wouldn't play on the same day until Game 4 of the World Series (Oct. 23, time TBA), if the Tigers were to make it that far. No games of either American League Divisional Series is scheduled for a Sunday and the one Sunday game of the ALCS (Oct. 9) is the week the Lions host the Bears in Monday Night Football.
(Tigers beat writer Matthew B. Mowery compiled fans' reactions to Tigers playoff ticket sales below.)

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

New era of programs is interesting, but not viable

Desmond Howard specialized in making tremendous catches in his career at Michigan. Now, one of his most famous, a 1991 fourth-down touchdown catch from Elvis Grbac against Notre Dame, will be further immortalized. Saturday's printed game programs will be laced with a special chip that includes new audio as well as the familiar call below:

"Open the program and you'll hear three unique perspectives of the play as it happened" the program description reads.
Included is coach Gary Moeller's on-field reaction, as well as Brent Musberger and Frank Beckmann on the TV and radio broadcasts. To further commemorate the TD snag, the audio chip insert folds out into a photo of "the catch" signed by Howard.
Howard went on to win the Heisman Trophy that season and was recently inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame. He'll be honored for the accomplishment Saturday.
Fans don't have to fight the crowds at Michigan Stadium's first night game to buy the special section. The programs can also be ordered online and feature a QR code which, when scanned, will redirect smartphone users to even more audio from that day.
CNBC's Darren Rovell says 1,000 copies of the $15 commemorative programs have already been sold. The sports business guru predicts Michigan will sell out of the 15,000 stock or pre-printed keepsakes, which will revitalize the game program industry. I agree with his first assessment, but not the latter. There may be a spike in multimedia programs, but it's a matter of time before the fans' interest is gone and the commemoration market collapses.
Also, the production cost of a commemorative program with an audio chip is higher than that of traditional print, driving the cost up for the fans. Diehards will always find money for these special products, but that doesn't mean it's going to be worth the cost and effort to keep producing them.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The proper way to remember Tom Kowalski

Fans and Friends are invited to remember MLive/Booth Newspapers Lions beat writer Tom "Killer" Kowalski at a public memorial at Cheli's Chili in Detroit at noon Friday. But how will he be remembered during the football season?
Commemorative patches and stickers permeate pro sports. The Tigers are wearing one in honor of hall of fame manager Sparky Anderson. The collar of Pistons jerseys have recently been emblazoned with "Mr. D." The Red Wings wore a "VK+SM" patch through the 1997-98 season after a post-Cup celebration ended in tragedy. The Lions wore a "61" sticker after Mike Utley was paralyzed on the field.
It's time for the Lions to wear another. This time to remember Kowalski, who died Monday at 51. The outpouring of emotion was all over the news that evening and the residual feelings are still being felt on social media.
I took some flak from sports editor Jeff Kuehn when I suggested via Twitter at 11:30 p.m. Monday:
"Is it unprecedented for a team to wear a commemorative patch for a beat writer?"
The next day, I saw a tweet from another fan request a retweet to get the Lions to commemorate the writer they called "Killer."
Today came news from Pro Football Talk that Facebook fan page has been started to petition the Lions to wear a commemorative patch this season. The proposed design isn't intrusive, a simple "TK" in the distressed font already used on Lions jerseys.
Columnist Pat Caputo has an idea: Name the Ford Field press box after Kowalski and other legendary beat writers.
"It would be like taking a page out of the Lions' play book when they retired the jersey No. 20 for Lem Barney, Billy Sims and Barry Sanders," he writes.
Either honor sets a precedent I would be proud to one day be remembered by.