The Year in Sports - 2014

Posted In: Sports, Local Sports, National Sports,   From Issue 802   By: Richard Curry

26th December, 2014     0

Michigan State football highlighted this year in Michigan sports.  The Spartans won the 2014 Rose Bowl, which was the 100th year of this storied annual event.  They beat Stanford (11-2) 24 to 20.  MSU out-passed the Cardinals 332 yards to 143 in the win.  State finished with an impressive 11-2 record and a National third place ranking.  2014 saw Mark Dantonio’s team go 10-2 and 7-1 in the Big Ten.  They chalked up three wins of 56+ scores.  Mark makes $3,700,000.00 a season.  He is 73-31 at State (52 wins in the last 5 years).  He’s the 16th highest paid in the country.  Past MSU coach Nick Saban gets $7,300,000.00 at Alabama.  It’s good to be the college football coach.

The U of M Wolverines ended their 2013 Bowl day with a 31-14 stomping from Kansas State in the ever-popular “Buffalo Wild Wings” Bowl.  It has gone from bad to worse this year for Brady Hoke.  This year U of M (no bowl game this season) finished 5-7 with notable losses to Notre Dame 31-0, Minnesota killed them 30-14, MSU rolled them 35-11, and Ohio State slipped passed 42-28.  Brady’s saddest moment went national when he played his injured QB Shane Morris with a concussion.  This one will send him packin’ at season’s end.  I do like the man.  I hope his future goes well.

Bob Martin and Review Magazine have allowed me to get a field press pass for both MSU and U of M football games for the last twenty years.  Nothing matches the pomp and pizzazz in Ann Arbor while looking thru my camera as the U of M band high steps out onto the field in front of 115,000 fans, and the Wolverines storm out of the tunnel on their way to high-fiving the banner in the center of the stadium. 

The talented dance team and cheerleaders add to the entertainment.  The Maize and Blue have had plenty of success over the years with 11 National titles with famous players that included Tom Harmon, Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson, all Heisman Trophy winners.  MSU in nearby East Lansing does not have to take a backseat to anyone in the world of college football with their 75,000+ fans, six National titles and eight Big Ten championships since 1953. 

I’ve always enjoyed the company of their mascot Sparty, the ringing of the white liberty bell, and the back flipping athletic cheerleaders celebrating MSU T.D.’s.  The biggest game played in the last 100 years in college football was here in East Lansing when the #1 rated Notre Dame football team, was challenged by the #2 MSU Spartans.  My close friend, Frank (Murky) Waters (lettered in 1966, 1967, 1968 and son of Muddy Waters, Saginaw Country Sports Hall of Fame member) played on the field that day for his coach Duffy Daugherty.  In that 1966 historic ball game it ended in a 10-10 tie.  On the same team with Murky were eight future NFL football players.  The three notable:  Bubba Smith, George Webster, and Gene Washington.

MSU’s basketball success in 2014 has been phenomenal.  They finished their season as Big Ten champions, ranked 8th and 11th in the nation, had a 29-9 record and were 12-6 in the Big Ten.  Tom Izzo continues as one of the best coaches in America.  They lost their final game in the Elite 8 in a heart breaker to Connecticut 60-54.  This year again they came out strong for another competitive season.  At the University of Michigan it wasn’t much less as the Wolverines went 28-9, 15-3 in the Big Ten and were regular season Big Ten champs.  They lost to Kentucky in a heart breaker 75-72.  This year the Kentucky Wildcats are killing everyone in sight. 

The Detroit Lions (currently 8-4) have been going through coaches like Ndamukong Suh goes through offensive lines.  In just the last ten years we have had Steve Mariucci, Dick Jauron, Rod Marinelli, Jim Schwartz, and now Jim Caldwell.  The Lions have had some great come-from-behind victories, most notably getting by the Saints 24-23, Atlanta in London, England 22-21 on a last-second field goal, and slipping by Miami 20-16 in the last minutes.  Then the Lions of Christmas Past return scoring whopping six points in Phoenix, and getting pounded 34-9 by the NFL’s best New England Patriots.  The Lions did not score one single touchdown in eight quarters of football (Zero, notta, no touchdowns – WTH?). 

Lions came to life on Thanksgiving to pound the Bears 34-17.  Calvin Johnson caught 11 passes for 146 yards.  Stafford threw for 390 yards.  And oh-my –goodness my other favorite team resides in Tampa.  This team has a less-than-sensational 2-10 record.  It’s time to watch the 1957 NFL World Championship game again on U-Tube:  Result – the Detroit Lions and Tobin Rote 59-14 over the Cleveland Browns.

There’s less talent on the field this year because the league is clamping down on domestic violence.  Peterson beat his child with a switch.  Rice punched his wife in the face and dragged her out of an elevator by the hair.  Numerous players are being caught monthly for drug abuse. 

Now, let’s talk about college football, the 2013 National Championship FSU team has now gone two years and not lost a game.  They are quarterbacked by a doof named Jameis Winston.  So far he’s dodged a rape charge, pushed an official, shoplifted crab legs out of a grocery store, shot squirrels on campus, stood on the table in the commons screaming profanities as he tweeted, and he’s being checked on for selling his own autographs for profit by the NCAA.  But he continues to wait to be reprimanded, as the school does nothing (until the season ends).

The Detroit Tigers of 2014 were the mere image of the 2013 ball club.  Instead of winning their 4th straight Division title by one game over Cleveland, they did it again this year by winning one game over Kansas City.  The Baltimore Orioles then swept them in 3 straight games… 12-3, 7-6, and 2-1.  The most painful thing for me was watching former Tiger Delmon Young beat them in the all-important second game.  Miguel Cabrera limped through another season on a broken foot, but still hit .313, 25 homers, and 109 RBI’s. 

Tiger of the Year was Victor Martinez hitting .335, 32 homers, 103 RBI’s.  It was just announced last month that he signed for four more years at $68 million.  In his talk to the press he said: “This is my home.  This is where I want to finish my career.”  I have to tell you that this announcement brought me to tears.  This man is my Tiger.  The big surprise of the year was a gift from the Houston AstrosJD Martinez hit .315, 23 homers, and 75 RBI’s.  Ian Kinsler was a steady .275, 17 homers, 92 RBI’s and played a great 2nd base.  Alex Avila is back with a million dollar raise for batting .218, but the concussion–prone catcher is great defensively. 

Max Scherzer was a stud on the mound going 18-5 with 252 Ks.  All year Max told us he loved his teammates, he loved the city of Detroit, and he loved his fans.  Well he was offered $244 million for six years and said ah, no.  This greedy bastard is going to be leaving Detroit.  I hope wherever he goes his arm falls off.  Oh my goodness, Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins, a 24-year-old outfielder just got $325 Million contract.  This kid has only averaged .271 for the last five years.  BASEBALL HAS LOST ITS COLLECTIVE MIND. 

Vintage baseball’s best team still resides here in Saginaw.  The Saginaw Old Golds in 2014 (in their 7th year) were 25-4.  They won their 5th World Title, fourth Michigan Cup, second Fudge Bucket, and have not lost a home on Ojibway Island in two years.

Now, out of the state of Michigan, we have Jose Conseco – once a power hitter along with Mark McGuire for the Oakland A’s.  Mistakenly blew off his finger with his own gun.  One week later when gambling his finger fell off.  One day after that he called E-Bay and wanted to put his finger and the gun up for auction.  Yes, it’s not surprising that this was done by the same man who went back on a fly ball that hit him in the head and bounced into the seats.  This only proves that steroids are not good in your diet.  Jose should try for the Mirror Ball on “Dancing with the Stars” next year.

A few more random thoughts: The Baseball HOF left Jack Morris out for the 15th straight year.  This is seriously nuts.  The man won 254 games, was 7-4 in post season, pitched 175 complete games, won four World Series rings with three different teams, had 2,478 K’s, and pitched a 10-inning game seven 1-0 shutout at age 37.  NEWS:  Retired policeman (age 71) in Tampa shoots a man to death for texting during movie previews.  No more texting for Chad.   Excerpt from Mark Howe’s (Gordie Howe’s son) book, “A Hall of Fame Life in the Shadow of Mr. Hockey: Gordie Howe has suffered two strokes this year and suffers from dementia.  “Mark:  “Dad’s opinion is that Bobby Orr was the best player ever because he revolutionized the game to bring defensemen into the offensive play.  For me, the most gifted was Mario Lemieux and the most creative was Wayne Gretzky (his daughter’s pretty creative). But if you put all the categories together, to me, Dad was the greatest player of all time.  And I might be prejudiced of course, but I also believe there never has been a better father or teammate – even if he is your father too.” 

Mark Howe was Stu Irving’s (later of the Saginaw Gears) roommate on the 1972 USA Silver Medal winning Olympic team in Japan.  Mark was only 16 years old (still the youngest in the history of Olympic hockey).   Mark Howe:  “My dad was kind without a fault.  If he were at a gas station and did his own windows, he’d go to the next car and do theirs.  After shoveling our driveway he’d do the guy’s next door.  Rake leaves, then he’d do the neighbor’s.  But on the ice – we’re talking about a different man.  Once while driving to Olympia, dad would say, ‘keep an eye on so-and-so.’  Dad could be pretty cruel.  This night it was Blackhawk’s Keith Magnusion.  After the face-off the puck went into the corner where dad threw a vicious elbow right in the middle of Magnusion’s face.  Keith might already have been out cold as he was falling, but dad still grabbed him by the back of the head, brought it down and almost put his knee through Keith’s face.” 

Keith played in 589 games and had 1,442 penalty minutes.  He died in a car (at age 56) that was driven by his friend Rob Ramage who was drunk (3 times the legal limit).  The family sued for $9.5 million in damages and won.  Phil Esposito remembers meeting Gordie Howe for the first time during a faceoff.  Phil:  “I’m standing on the leftwing next to Gordie and Bobby Hull says, ‘You got that old son-of-a-bitch?’  Gordie just looks at me and smiles.  The puck drops and I go in to get it and suddenly…WHAM!  He gives me an elbow right beneath the nose in the upper lip.  I still have the scar where I got six stitches.” 

My own Gordie Howe story:  Years back in the middle of the winter Gordie came to Saginaw to raise money for our ice rink.  When Gordie and I pulled into the parking lot, we were the only two there.  Rushing to get in he slipped and fell on the ice.   I reached out for his big hand to pull him up.  Gordie paused, put his hand on my shoulder, and looked firmly into my face and said, “If you tell anyone you picked me off this ice I’ll have to punch you in the nose.”  I love the man.

SHOW ME THE MONEY:  Clayton Kershaw pitched for the Great Lakes Loons in Midland in 2007 (7-5, 2.77 ERA, 134 K’s, and 50 walks).  On 1/15/2014 he signed a $125 million contract with the Dodgers for seven years at $30 million a year - now that is crazy money”.  But today he’s the very best pitcher in baseball.  Some interesting net worth:  Wayne Gretzky - $200 million, Gordie Howe - $8 million, Sergei Federov $40 million, Mario Lemieux $45 million, Sidney Crosby $30 million, Steve Yzerman $65 million, Alexander Ovechkin $30 million, my neighbor Ryan Howard $60 million, Derek Jeter $125 million, Michael Jordan $650 million, Magic Johnson $500 million, Tom Brady $120 million, Tiger Woods $500 million, Jack Nicklaus $280 million, Greg Norman $300 million, Anna Kournikova $50 million, Maria Sharapova $90 million, Saginaw’s own Serena Williams $100 million, and Arnold Palmer $675 million.

The Baseball HOF voting needs to be revamped.  MY PLAN:  150 votes only, broken down this way:  25 from GM’s, 25 HOF’ers, 25 Baseball Beat writers, 25 baseball announcers, 25 baseball authors/ historians, and 25 baseball managers.  Then rotate in each group every year.  This way people that know baseball can make an intelligent choice.   

Hockey:  The 2013-14 Detroit Red Wings fought their way back to make the spring playoffs going 39-28-5.  The Wings won game one from Boston 1-0 on a Pavel Datsyuk goal, but lost the next three to exit early.  2014-2015 is looking promising.  Jimmy Howard’s on his game (11-4-4).  This team has serious speed with Nyquist (10 goals), Abdelkader, Glendening, Tatar, and Helm.  Talented scoring from Datsyuk and Zetterberg (league’s best beard, 21 points) and a solid defense led by Kromwall with 15 points at the quarter mark of the season.  They find themselves one point out of first with a 14-5-5 record in the Eastern conference.  To me a 12th Stanley Cup looks very possible.  The shootouts have to improve, so it was nice to see Gustov Nyquist win one, when his Wings came back from a 4-1 deficit against the Devils. 

The Saginaw County Sports Hall of Fame enshrined the 1976-77 Turner Cup Champion Saginaw Gears.  This team lit up downtown that entire winter.  In that season Paul Evans and Dennis Desrosiers poured in 96 goals.  Future NHL star, Mario Lessard led the way in the net.  Little known fact:  our trainer Gunner Garrett (a serious goof in our men’s’ league) stayed the course.  Now has a trophy named after him given to the Trainer of the Year in North America. The next SCHOF selection should be Marcel Comeau.  This smooth skating Wing played all 11 Saginaw Gear seasons, 732 games, 339 goals, 559 assists, 898 points, and 242 penalty minutes.  He then went on to coach 15 years and today drafts players for the Winnipeg Jets.

Five young men have made names for themselves coming out of Saginaw:  Matt Hoffman was a line mate of Eric Lindros when the Oshawa Generals won the 1990 Memorial Cup.  Matt played 12 pro seasons.  With Oshawa in 90-91 he was 41-58-99 points.  In 93-94 with the Johnstown Chiefs he was 33-40 for 73 points.  He was drafted by the Calgary Flames #140 in the 7th round of the 1991 draft. 

Jason Paige was my stick boy at Heritage High School.  In four years at Notre Dame he was 29-21-50 pts and 163 PM.  With the Trenton Devils he was 8-13-21 with 94 PM.  He’s now a successful businessman in Tampa. 

Kyle Schempp was drafted in the 6th round of the NHL draft by the NY Islanders (155).  At Ferris in 43 games he was 10 goals, 15 assists.  Chris Liebinger (two years at Heritage High School) has played 53 games for Michigan Tech (1 goal, 5 assists, 6 points, 72 PM).  Goalie Devin Williams plays for the Erie Otters in the CHL.  He was player of the week April 13th, going 2-0 with 60 saves.  This year in 16 games he has a goals against of 2.65 and a .891 save percentages.

A FEW GREAT SPORTS MOVIES: “Rocket Richard”  (2005) was a great movie about one of hockey’s best, Rocket Richard (scored 544 goals, the first to score 50 goals in a season and won 8 Stanley Cups), who was discriminated against because he was a French Canadian.  This movie made you understand what he went through to succeed.  When Richard died at age 78 more than 50,000 people came to pay their respects. 

“Fear Strikes Out” – Life and times of Jimmy Piersall.  Jim was a 17-year ML player who was regarded as one of the game’s best fielding outfielders (.988 FA).  Jim once tried killing me when I made a disparaging remark while asking for an autograph outside Tiger Stadium.  Casey once said, “Jimmy was one of the best ever defensively.”  He was a two-time Gold Glove winner, two-time All-Star, and averaged .272 lifetime.  Jimmy had a domineering dad that pushed him towards a mental disorder.  He had numerous electroshock treatments throughout his career to survive himself.  Jimmy went on to be an announcer and also as a part owner of a ball club.  For what he overcame he should be in the HOF.  Jimmy had 9 kids in his first marriage. 

“42-The Jackie Robinson Story” This was OMG great.  I met Jackie Robinson during spring training in Vero Beach, FL in March of 1954 when I was 11.  I shook his hand.  I also talked to Don Newcombe.  That man was big.  He is 87 this year.  They became my favorite team.  In the movie version of Jackie’s life, Harrison Ford did a great job as Branch Rickey and so did Chadwick Boseman as Jackie.  Rachel Robinson, Jack’s wife, is still with us at 92 (Jackie died at 52).  I once met Sharon Robinson (age 63), Jack’s daughter.  I asked her what moment in her life she thought described her dad best.  She said, “After dad won his 1st and only World Series, we bought a home in Connecticut.  In January I ran out to the lake to ice skate.  Dad stopped me and walked out to the center of the lake.”  I said to her and?  Sharon replied, “Dad couldn’t swim.”  You gotta love it. 

In Lakeland, FL in March of 1969 (World Champions in 1968) Tigers’ Gates Brown (died at age 72 on 9/27/13) and Willie Horton had to stay in a black hotel (2 miles from the park) and not rooming with the regular Detroit team.  White cab drivers wouldn’t pick them up.  Unreal but true. 

My close friend Jim Northrup (died 6/8/11 at age 71) told me, “When I played baseball in 1958 for Alma College in Georgia I stayed at a player’s home.  His dad’s KKK robe was hanging on the coat rack.  On the way to the game while passing a graveyard, he said ‘That’s a white graveyard.’  I said what?  He said, ‘We throw our niggers in the river.’  In town the blacks would have to get off the sidewalk when we were walking.  They also had to go in the backdoor of stores, and they couldn’t try clothes off the rack. 

But the worst was when a Georgia player asked me to witness a hanging after the game.  I said Hell NO.  They did hang a black man that night.”  In all honesty, you can’t make this stuff up.

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