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

Monday, August 20, 2012

Red Wings become L.A. Kings' latest victim in Twitter battle

The Los Angeles Kings' official Twitter feed (@LAKings) has quickly gained a reputation as one of social media's most fierce, even before the team won its first Stanley Cup in June.
The Red Wings' official Twitter account apparently didn't take kindly to being @mentioned in a Kings tweet last week that read: 'Ding, dong, the @DetroitRedWings are dead' in this weeks 4 on 4."
Below is an account of the incident on Twitter captured by Fox Sports Detroit via Storify. 

The "official" Red Wings response appears to be have since been deleted.
The upstart Kings have several fewer Stanley Cups than the Red Wings, as noted in the Twitter battle, and their also behind the Original Six franchise in followers: 198,961 (as of Monday afternoon) - 169,761 — but the Kings' account has been hailed as a breath of fresh air for its combative nature. And the Red Wings aren't the first victim.
While it seems odd that two teams' Twitter operators' would engage in such a childish argument, it is humorous to see.
What followed the taunt was a link to a weekly segment discussing the upcoming season, if there is one. The story in questions lists the Red Wings as one several teams who might be on the outside of next spring's playoff race. One contributor even uttered the "Ding, dong," statement, which concluded: "Too many holes, not enough aging Europeans to fill them."
Florida, Nashville and Pittsburgh were also mentioned as possible outsiders. What's unclear is why those teams weren't @mentioned by the Kings.
Red Wings fans shot back:
  • @BHesselink: @LAKings yet, people said the same thing when yzerman retired, yet the wings have proven that they will make the playoffs every year. 
  • @Mountainhawk98: Do the @LAKings get to hang a banner for good, or do they have to take it down for Lakers games? 
  • @RedWingsDoc: @LAKings I'd try to win ten more cups and make the playoffs 21 years in a row before making comments like that. Even the losers get lucky. 
As the oversight of corporate social media becomes more tightly controlled and careers are destroyed for saying anything objectionable, the L.A. Kings are continuing on the attack. One thing is for certain — this is the most exciting thing the Red Wings have done this offseason. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

SUMMER READING: Bob Probert's 'Tough Guy' every bit as wild as imagined

Steve Yzerman may be Red Wings royalty, but Bob Probert was a rock star. If you really needed any proof, his memoirs, "Tough Guy: My Life on the Edge," released shortly after his July 2010 death, cement every instance of excess -- and there are plenty -- with great detail.
Probert makes it clear the book was being accrued late in his life as a means for family and fans to discern truth from legend. And with Probert, a long-time Red Wings enforcer who was part of the rise from the so-called Dead Wings in the mid- to late-1980s, there were plenty of tales.
Fighting, drinking, drugs and second chances. Those, along with Probert's struggles with alcoholism, are the focus of the narrative.
There's no doubt Red Wings fans recall some of "Probie's" famous exploits: The DUIs, getting caught at the Detroit-Windsor border with cocaine, and the fights with Tie Domi. They're all there. I knew after I began reading excerpts of this book in the Detroit Free Press, that I would one day read "Tough Guy." Again, I'm not an avid book reader, but that may change.
The book begins recounting the last day of Probert's life, July 5, 2010, with painstaking detail. It's difficult not to feel for Probert's family, his children and wife Dani -- who should be commended for sticking with Probert through his well documented struggles.
The biography then delves into Probert's childhood and career in the minor leagues. But beyond the season-by-season recollection, what is most notable is the ease with which Probert was seemingly determined to throw away his promising career. (I was a child in Probert's heyday, somewhat immune from the headlines, so most of this is new to me, although I have always been aware of Probert's larger-than-life reputation.)
What fans didn't see through Probert's eight tumultuous nine seasons as the Red Wings' enforcer is the family he was building and ultimately trying to save when he ran out of time.
Probert died from coronary disease (there's now an annual motorcycle ride in his honor to support the cause) while boating with his family on Lake St. Clair just days after he and his wife celebrated their 17th wedding anniversary. He says he never thought he would make it to 40. He was 45 when he died.
This autobiographical indulgence is a must-read for any Red Wings fan of the Probert era. I couldn't set down the nearly 250-page life story of one of Detroit sports' often overlooked all-time stars. It's too bad no one has had the good sense to produce a Probert biopic film, at least at a regional level. There are very few names in hockey of those who haven't made the Hall of Fame or ever even hoisted the Stanley Cup which draw such reverence as Bob Probert.
(Recently, I reviewed "Three And Out," a book about Rich Rodriguez's tumultuous time at Michigan.)

Exploring the relationship between coaches and beat writers

(Recently, I reviewed "Three And Out," a book about Rich Rodriguez's tumultuous time at Michigan.)
John U. Bacon spent three years embedded with former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez and his staff after what was originally intended to be some three months to produce a piece on the evolution of the spread offense. It’s apparent through the 400-some pages of “Three and Out,” Bacon and Rodriguez were like a beat writer and the coach they were assigned to cover -- with much better access to the behind-the-scenes life of a coach. (However, as noted in my book review, Bacon seemed to be very empathetic about Rich Rod’s plight.)
The working relationship between the two entities on the beat can be interesting. It’s a bit different than the way city council or cops and courts reporters bond with their sources. There are long, late hours; roadtrips; and real life pushing against each.
Bacon summarizes this relationship on page 232.
“The tension between coaches and sportswriters has long been noted but little understood. Working on this project confirmed what I’d long suspected: The problem isn’t that sportswriters are so insightful and ask the tough questions, as we’d like to think. No, most coaches don’t hate sportswriters. They simply dismiss us as unathletic, pompous fools who have no idea what it’s like to play a competitive sport, let alone coach one.”  
It’s safe to say most, if not all, sportswriters are actually sports fans. I don’t know how many other beat writers in the newsroom can claim the same. I don’t imagine many court reporters go home to a bookshelf full of legal hardcover literature, but maybe that’s just my naivete. There’s a certain amount of sports IQ that goes into the various beats, chief among them being knowledge of the sport. And it seems there are far fewer people who have this acumen.
And despite how many writers have spent countless in front of the TV, computer, tablet or smartphone, precious few have competed at the level they are covering (with the exception of preps writers).
So while I lament the limited vocabularies of certain sportscasters, their playing career is something that can’t be replaced by a degree from any of the nation’s journalism schools. Their celebrity and insight is too much to compete with.
Regardless of background, no one is immune from asking a stupid question once in while. Likewise, coaches (but more likely their players, especially in high school) sometimes say stupid things. It happens and it’s part of life. But Rodriguez's successor, Brady Hoke, admitted at a recent Michigan Associated Press Sports Editors conference that one thing that could draw his ire would be a reporter's ignorance and attacking one of his players.
Trust is another big part of the working relationship between coaches and beat writers. Writing with a clear malicious intent is never going to get a beat writer anywhere. I’ve always figured that’s why they leave the opinion pieces to the columnists.
It’s an interesting relationship between coaches and writers, and surely few are as tension-filled as those between Rodriguez and the Michigan media members.  

Author of Rich Rod book presents case against paying college athletes

(Recently, I reviewed "Three And Out," a book about Rich Rodriguez's tumultuous time at Michigan.)
“Three and Out” author John U. Bacon presents a decent argument for college athletes to continue not being paid. Around page 350, he calculates the cost of a scholarship for Michigan football players:
“By the time a fifth-year scholarship senior from out of state graduates from the University of Michigan, his school has spent over $580,000 on him, whether he’s an All-American or a fourth string, long-snap center -- and that does not include the Academic Center, strength and conditioning, facilities, administration, athletic trainers, or tape.
“When people argue it’s time to start paying players, they usually miss two vital points. First, Michigan’s is one of only a handful of athletic departments that make a profit, and it had lost money in the years between (athletic directors) Bo Schembechler and Bill Martin. If you pay one quarterback, you had better pay the women rowers the exact same, or you’ve violated Title IX. Once you start doing that, watch colleges start folding teams they can’t afford.”
… “The average player gets a very good deal financially. Only a very few, like Denard Robinson, make more money for their school than their school spends on them. The only sensible solution, I’ve always believed, is for the NFL and NBA to set up viable minor leagues to give those rare stars a real choice -- the same option high school hockey and baseball players have.”
In a very similar scene passed down through “Fab Five” lore, Denard Robinson has a Chris Webber moment. And to this day, Robinson seems content, where Webber soured on the Michigan and the NCAA’s capitalizing off his image.  
Page 353 reads: “After lunch, Robinson walked over the spot where John F. Kennedy had stood almost fifty years earlier to introduce the idea of the Peace Corps, and past a retail tent selling yellow T-shirts with SHOE at the top, LACE at the bottom, and an untied cleat in the middle.
“Think they’d give me one?” he said, walking by unnoticed.
“Only if you want an NCAA violation,” I replied, recalling a similar conversation Chris Webber had with Mitch Albom.
“‘That’s crazy,’ he said, smiling. I didn’t have the heart to tell him a replica of the No. 16 jersey he wore on Saturdays was going for $70 down the street. Paying players might be impractical, but it’s even harder to justify why some guy selling Denard’s nickname on a T-shirt should make a profit -- or EA Sports for that matter.”
With college football season about to begin, it’s only a matter of time before the Heisman hype begins anew, with Robinson’s mug and signature dreadlocks again plastered everywhere.

SUMMER READING: 'Three And Out' -- Redemption for fans who liked Rich Rodriguez

I always felt sort of bad for Rich Rodriguez in his time at Michigan. That's probably why I picked this book off the shelf in the first place. And for anyone else that felt, the same, "Three And Out," the aptly named documentation of every flub in Rich Rod's tenure at Michigan, is a likely page-turner.
Admittedly, this book was released in the middle of Brady Hoke's first season at the helm of the Wolverines, when many had already forgotten about the three "lost" years delivered by his predecessor.
And yes. The book, more than 400 pages, addresses the "You Raise Me Up" moment at the season-ending Bust.
There's no guarantee that Rich Rod haters would even pick up this book. But if you consider that this is the ultimate manual for Rich Rod sympathizers, it's not likely that faction would bother.
"Three and Out," which has the very long subtitle: "Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football," labors over every instance of Rodriguez's seeming unprofessional demeanor and buffoonery. Every single reason Rodriguez is no longer the coach at Michigan is well documented. Here are some reasons given to support Rich Rod:
  • Bo Schembechler held the Michigan program together until his death on the eve of the "The Game" in 2006, pitting No. 1 vs. No. 2. Had Bo been around, while there's a good probability Rodriguez would have never become Michigan's coach, but if he had assumed the post, there never would have been the same in-fighting and dissonance among "Michigan Men." 
  • Former Michigan AD Bill Martin botched the coaching search following Lloyd Carr's well-known impending retirement. He and Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman also screwed Rodriguez publicly by instructing him not to address his $4 million buyout from West Virginia.
  • West Virginia, another well-established, football crazy community, ran the mother of all smear campaigns on Rodriguez. 
  • Rich Rod was slow to learn Michigan tradition, but didn't really have anyone (Martin) helping him learn. 
  • Rich Rodriguez was great when speaking to his team, but not a polished public speaker by any means. Ultimately, this would be his biggest deficiency. The book paints the Josh Groban incident as the overwhelming straw that broke David Brandon's back.
  • The book portrays the Detroit Free Press as if it were out to get Rodriguez from Day 1 (think practice scandal that the book explains piece by piece, person by person). That may be true, but the book maintains that fact as Gospel. (The author also points out Rodriguez nearly exhausted his life savings defending himself from the NCAA's subsequent investigation.)
  • Rich Rodriguez was as frustrated by his team's defense, or lack thereof, as was everyone else.
All the subplots are there, too. Lloyd Carr didn't recruit well late in his time at the helm, then helped his best former players transfer and never took a stand to help Rodriguez as he struggled through choppy waters. Rodriguez's well-publicized struggle to become a "Michigan Man" is belabored in the book, as it was in Rodriguez's real life.
But like many fans, I was intrigued by the long-supressed season-ending banquet where Rodriguez apparently sealed his fate. As expected, it doesn't come until the end of the book and consumes nearly as many pages as Brandon's prolonged firing of Rodriguez and subsequent coaching search.
Easily forgotten about the Bust was that Rodriguez began his closing speech very well with a brutally honest assessment of his program which had the audience seemingly in Rich Rod's hands. Then he began reciting Groban's lyrics. Then the music came on. Several people began holding hands, singing in chorus with Rodriguez. Except new Athletic Director Dave Brandon.
"It might have been the longest four minutes in the 94-year history of the Bust," author John U. Bacon writes."I'm Rich Rodriguez and I'm proud to be coach at the University of Michigan. And I hope you realize I truly want to be a Michigan Man."
Fox Sports apparently offered $50,000 and another outlet $100,000 for footage of the event, which Brandon reportedly ordered destroyed on site. It's not difficult to find many things on the Internet, but this is one thing I've truly never been able to find. 
This book, while very well written by Bacon, who has also written about Schembechler, it has a shelf life. I waited nearly a year for various reasons, mostly that I'm not an avid book reader. As time goes on and Brady Hoke fills the potholes that exploded under Rodriguez's regime, it's likely this book will find it's way to discount bins. Not great for the publisher, but certainly a welcome sight for Michigan football fans, who, according to this book, never really left Rodriguez's side.
There are so many "what if" moments revisited from Rodriguez's tenure. "Three and Out" could have been titled "Rich Rodriguez Never Had a Chance at Michigan."