Leland Stein III

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Big Ten Expansion just part of the new landscape

In sports column on January 14, 2013 at 1:44 am
Leland Stein III

Leland Stein III

By Leland Stein III

It is a little confusing how on one hand NCAA athletes – especially football and basketball – cannot get a happy meal without being labeled greedy and unappreciative of the lordly blessings the NCAA has bestowed on them with their scholarships.

I’ve seen all the narratives dominating sports news. Many with unwavering moral righteousness have expressed voices expressing disgust at the players calling them selfish and thoughtless, self-seeking, for wanting to just get a taste (like drive a car or have tattoo and dating money) of the mega-billion conglomerate that is college sports.

I tend to believe the NCAA and many that elevate at times are hypocrites. Yeah I know there are some who really believe in academia. However, there are many more that pretend to have virtues, moral beliefs and principles; yet, the underlying result for universities, coaches, administration and all the communication media and pundits that support it . . . is they actually end up possessing millions for themselves.

Big Ten

Big Ten

Look at the Big Ten and its recent expansion. It recently kicked off another round of conference expansion and realignment by adding the University of Maryland (formerly of the Atlantic Coast Conference, or ACC) and Rutgers University (formerly of the Big East Conference). They are expected to join the Big Ten in 2014.

Retorts echoed across America that both new schools were forgetting traditions and regional rivalries. So why do it? Money!! Something the student athletes that make all this happen are excluded from.

With all this positioning going on nationally, will the Big Ten who recently increase to 14 members, seek an extra expansion to 16-teams?

“There are some advantages to 16 (teams) compared to 14,” Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said. “Fourteen is clumsy. We’re not out looking for two teams, but basically we will continue to survey the landscape. We don’t want to get outflanked.”

While Hollis said a 14-team league is “clumsy” as far as football and basketball scheduling, a 16-team league is easier to schedule with two, eight-team divisions.

Hollis noted that if the Big Ten expands it dependent on “what happens in other areas” in the country. So I guess that means that if another conference drops an ace, then the Big Ten needs to counter with another ace. And so the money grab continues.

The Big Ten, already the richest conference in the nation, will be negotiating a new media rights deal in 2017. It was a trailblazer in standing up its very own cable network. Its revenues, including the Big Ten Network’s swelling coffers, are shared by Big Ten member institutions. It’s estimated that each Big Ten member will claim more than $40 million annually from future TV deals.

With 16 teams instead of 14, the Big Ten also would be able to provide more “inventory or games for the Big Ten Network, increasing its value “as long as it wasn’t in the league’s current footprint,” sources said.

As far as future Big Ten members, speculation has swirled around the league pursuing ACC programs such as Georgia Tech, Virginia and North Carolina.

I personally can never see North Carolina leaving the ACC. They along with Duke are the glue of that conference.

One factor that could impact whether the Big Ten expands in the future, specifically if it targets ACC teams, is whether Maryland will be required to pay the ACC’s $52 million exit fee.

The ACC has filed a lawsuit to guarantee the Terps pay the entire amount. Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman said Wednesday he doesn’t think the exit fee is enforceable.

If the Big Ten continues to do expansion, it could set off a domino effect in other leagues. However, history reminds us that conference realignment goes with the territory in collegiate athletics — and that the current configuration of collegiate athletic conferences wasn’t what is was 20, 30 even 60 years ago.

I do not mind the changes; I only wish some of it allowed added benefits to the student athletes that make it all happen!

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com.

Bonds, Sosa, Clemens excluded from Baseball Hall of Fame voting

In sports column on January 14, 2013 at 1:35 am

 

Leland Stein III

Leland Stein III

By Leland Stein III

COMMENTARY

I’m not surprised no one was elected to the Hall of Fame this year, after voters closed the doors to three of the best players in Major League Baseball (MLB) history. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa, who were all shutout and so was everybody else.

For only the second time in four decades, baseball writers failed to give any player the 75 percent vote required for induction to Cooperstown, sending a powerful signal that stars of the Steroids Era will be held to a different standard.

My question is what standard? If all were using then those that stood at the top are supremely talented. Maybe they would not have had the same numbers they ended with, but by no one can say anyone of the three would not have been Hall of Fame athletes anyway.

Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds

Yeah some have cheated to gain an advantage, but the fact of the matter is sports is change bands like one changes underwear and have multiple life love partners, yet we all still listen to their music and watch their movies.

But when it comes to athletics, especially football and basketball, they are held to a higher standard than any other in the national entertainment genre or our human discourse. Why? I think I’ll let our readers answer that interrogative.

No matter the situation Bonds, Clemens and Sosa’s accomplishments collected over long careers could not offset suspicions their feats were boosted by performance-enhancing drugs.

Yeah, it is that sort of hypocritical behavior that the moral authority denigrates athletes, yet on the other hand they all reveled in the excitement that was created by Bonds, Sosa, Clemens and Mark McGwire in the homerun chases that uplifted baseball, elevated the television ratings and increased the national discourse in print, radio and television, and, made all of the talking and writing heads major duckets.

Still, in their holy than thou mind set the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BWAA), since most cannot bust a grape or throw a ball 10 miles per hour, decided in their sanctified belief that not a single player should be elected to the Hall of Fame.

Wow!!! The greatest hitters and pitchers from my generation didn’t come close to being elected. The 569 voters decided that my generation of MLB stars were not good enough. So, the 2013 induction ceremonies this July will set a record for indifference.

Oh there will be a ceremony as the veteran committee choices will induct three— umpire Hank O’Day, former New York Yankees owner Jacob Rupert and 19th century star Deacon White.

However it will be a silent ceremony for tourism in Cooperstown, N.Y. as all three have been dead since the 1930s and the Hall has had trouble finding a living relative of one.

Kudos for the holy BWAA! Not really.

Voters also denied entry to fellow newcomers Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Curt Schilling, along with holdovers Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell and Lee Smith.

Among the most honored players of their generation, these standouts won’t find their images among the 300 bronze plaques on the oak walls in Cooperstown, where – at least for now – the doors appear to be bolted shut on anyone tainted by PEDs.

Bonds, baseball’s only seven-time Most Valuable Player, hit 762 home runs, including a record 73 in 2001. He was indicted on charges he lied to a grand jury in 2003 when he denied using PEDs but a jury failed to reach a verdict on three counts he made false statements.

Clemens, the only seven-time Cy Young Award winner, is third in career strikeouts (4,672) and ninth in wins (354). He was acquitted last year on one count of obstruction of Congress, three counts of making false statements to Congress and two counts of perjury.

“It is unimaginable that the best players to ever play the game would not be unanimous first-ballot selections,” said Jeff Borris of the Beverly Hills Sports Council.

“It takes time for history to sort itself out, and I’m not surprised we had a shutout today,” Hall President Jeff Idelson said. “I wish we had an electee. I will say that, but I’m not surprised given how volatile this era has been in terms of assessing the qualities and the quantities of the statistics and the impact on the game these players have had.”

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII

Ask Smith: Professional coaching is perilous duty

In sports column on January 14, 2013 at 12:26 am
Leland Stein III

Leland Stein III

By Leland Stein III

Hey, I’m shedding no tears for or all the coaches that are getting waxed but their teams. They make a lot of money for leading their teams into battle.

However, if I was a fan of the one of the teams that did the firing I just might be upset.

For example, the Chicago Bears have won only won one Super Bowl and has appeared in two. Recently fired coach Lovie Smith took the Bears to it most recent Super Bowl, where he made history joining Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy as the first and only time two African-American coaches met in a Super Bowl.

Dungy, Smith’s mentor lost a close contest to the Colts.

Chicago coach Lovie Smith.

Chicago coach Lovie Smith.

Now dig this, the Detroit Lions go 4-12 and keep it coach, but the Bears go 10-6, just missing the NFL Playoffs and Smith gets canned.

Football watchers believe the decision came down to the Vikings’ win over the Packers in the final week of the regular season. A win by Green Bay would have ensured a playoff berth for Chicago.

Wow! How close is that? How many teams in the NFL would have loved to be in that position? It is not as if the Bears have a juggernaut franchise. They are very competitive, in fact losing in the NFC title game. I was there covering the game in frozen Solider Field in 2011 when the Packers won 21-14.

Dungy, who is at the front of speculation about filling NFL open positions, tweeted: “Lovie Smith’s firing is the 1 reason I’m not coming back to get fired for only winning 10 (games).

Former Bears coach Mike Ditka, who led his team to it only Super Bowl win said: “I think Lovie is a very good coach. I think that’s a 10-win season is important in this league. If Minnesota would have lost and the Bears were in the playoffs this wouldn’t have happened. That’s a fact. So how stupid is it then? It really is stupid.”

The Bears were 84-66 under Smith, but reached the playoffs just once since their Super Bowl appearance in February 2007.

The fallout associated with missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons proved too much to overcome for Smith.

Then there is Avery Johnson head coach of the new Brooklyn Nets getting waxed after starting the season by winning 11 of their first 15 games en route to their best start in franchise history, but have going just 3-10 in December, which prompted Brooklyn’s brass to make a change.

Heck this is basketball, many team have sat at .500 then turn their season around. Why so quick to pull the trigger? Johnson has won an NBA title as a player and led Dallas to the NBA Finals.

But he was given a team with a number of new players that needed time to gel.

The irony of the canning was Johnson had just been named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for November. Assistant P.J. Carlisemo was named interim head coach, and retained the rest of Johnson’s staff.

“You never think when you’re a .500 team and then you’re going into two more home games at home that something like this would happen,” Johnson said at a news conference. “But this is ownership’s decision, and this is what we sign up for. This is part of our business. Fair or unfair, it doesn’t matter.”

Johnson said he was caught off guard. “If I was the owner I would not have fired me,” he lamented.

The Nets are now going after Phil Jackson, who just announced his engagement to Lakers’ owner Jerry Buss’ daughter, Jeanie. Jackson was bypassed by the Lakers in November after Mike Brown was surprisingly fired five games into the season.

I do not see any way Jackson takes that job. Heck, the Lakers job, whom he coached to five NBA titles, might open up after their less than stellar showing under Mike D’Antoni.

Also in the NFL Andy Reid in Philadelphia, Smith, and Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona, all coaches who took teams to the Super Bowl, plus Norv Turner in San Diego, Pat Shurmur in Cleveland, Romeo Crennel in Kansas City and Chan Gailey in Buffalo have all been shown the door.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII

USA Women dominate 2012 London Olympics

In sports column on January 14, 2013 at 12:19 am

MBy Leland Stein III

LONDON – Triumph and tragedy. Stars were born, and legends were toppled. But in the end the superstars were indeed super.

The 2012 London Olympic Games, lived up to the hype and even more. What makes the Olympic Games so intriguing and captivating is that it happens only once every four years.

Just think an Olympic athlete has to peak at every four years. There is no room for mistakes and/or I‘ll get it done next year attitude if an athlete has a bad day – simply put there is no tomorrow. In the sports genre . . . the Games are the ultimate do it now or never opportunity for many.

Gold Medal winning USA 4x400-meter relay (l to r , Allyson Felix, Deedee Trotter, Sanya Richards-Ross, and Francena McCorory.

Gold Medal winning USA 4×400-meter relay (l to r , Allyson Felix, Deedee Trotter, Sanya Richards-Ross, and Francena McCorory.

Sure there are always a few superstar men and women that have the gift of ability, tenacity, courage, commitment and single mindedness that are all necessary to just compete in the Games let along win more than one title.

Well, superstar swimmer Michael Phelps become the most decorated Olympian of all time with 22 medals. Phelps also holds the all-time records for Olympic gold medals (18, double that of the next highest record holders). In the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Phelps won four golds and two silver medals.

Maybe even greater was the effort of Jamaican phenomenon sprinter Usain Bolt. He made himself a true legend of sport with his unprecedented second gold triple triple – winning the 100-, 200- and 4×100-meter relay.

The 25-year-old Bolt in the face of stronger competitors than in Beijing, unleashed that intrinsic determination and drive that only a superior athlete processes.

London famous Tower Bridge. - Jon Gaede photo

London famous Tower Bridge. – Jon Gaede photo

USA gymnast Gabby Douglas, 17, became the first African-American to win the all-around Olympic gymnastics title in London. She later was chosen The Associated Press female athlete of the year. Her autobiography, “Grace, Gold and Glory,” became No. 4 on the New York Times’ young adult list. She, along with here gold medal teammates recently completed a 40-city gymnastics tour, in which she got to meet President Barack Obama.

Another women’s star that rocked the sports world was Serena Williams. She won Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the London Games two years after her career was nearly derailed by health problems. She and her sister Venus won their third Olympic doubles title and she also won her first single’s gold medal.

Also high on my memory list is how the American women rocked the Olympic Games. Douglas and her gymnastics squad won the team gold medal. Swimmers Missy Franklin and Allison Schmitt were multiple golden. There were track and field stars Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards-Ross that chewed up the track.

Gabby Douglas. Leland Stein III photo

Gabby Douglas. Leland Stein III photo

One of my favorite athletes had to have been the 800-meter runner from Kenya, David Rudisha, who set a world record in winning the gold medal. I have never seen anyone with a more beautiful stride and running gait.

Also with the Games being in London, being in the stadium to witness Great Britain’s Mo Farah win the 10,000- and 5000-meters in thrilling style, as well as watching British darling Jessica Enis win the heptathlon . . . at both events if there had been a roof on the stadium it would have come off as 80,000 people roared both to victory while waving the Union Jack.

The Olympics are a celebration of humanity and people, where for close to a month all of this earth’s brothers and sisters come together in a friendly spirit of competition that challenges not only their opponent, but themselves and us to keep the spirit of peaceful integrated humanity alive.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter at LelandSteinIII

 

Bo Jackson: The greatest athlete ever?

In sports column on January 13, 2013 at 11:27 pm

Pic cutline: BO JACKSON the great two-sport star.

 

 

By Leland Stein III

ESPN has done it once again! Its noteworthy ‘30 for 30: You Don’t Know Bo’ documentary hit the mark and jogged my memories and senses. The film examined the truths and tall tales that surround Bo Jackson, and how his seemingly impossible feats captured our collective imagination for an all-too-brief moment in time.

Two sport star Bo Jackson and his famous Nike commericals.

Two sport star Bo Jackson and his famous Nike commericals.

Vincent Edward “Bo” Jackson’s run (1986 to 1994) on the national sporting stage was indeed brief, but left a lasting memory for all sports aficionados.

As a neophyte reporter in Los Angeles, I just so happen to have been starting my journalistic journey when Bo came to town. What a ride it was scribing about this one-of-a-kind athlete.

Bo, a 1985 Heisman Trophy winner while at Auburn, became the first and only athlete to be named an All-Star in two major American sports (football [1990] and baseball [1989]).

In football, he played running back for the Los Angeles Raiders of the National Football League. In baseball, he played left field and was a designated hitter for the Kansas City Royals, the Chicago White Sox and the California Angels of the American League in Major League Baseball

For me one of the most memorial things about Bo was that he recorded the fastest 40-yard dash (4.12 seconds – hand-timed) ever recorded at any NFL Combine. His electrifying time is still the fastest verifiable 40-yard dash time in NFL history.

At 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, Bo is the only athlete to measure up in size and speed to the great Jim Brown. Indeed his football stats are Brown-like. At Auburn in his senior year (1985), Bo rushed for 1786 yards which was the second best single-season performance in SEC history, and, his 6.4 yards per rush averaged, at the time, was the best single-season average in SEC history. For his performance in 1985, Bo was awarded the Heisman Trophy.

Leland Stein III

Leland Stein III

It did not stop there as Bo took the NFL by storm. The amazing thing is he never joined the Raiders until his baseball season with Kansas City was completed. He never played more than 11 NFL games in a season, never went to training camp, but in 173 carries, Bo gained and astounding 950 yard and averaged 5.5 yard per carry

In baseball Bo hit over 20 homeruns in four consecutive seasons. In 1989 he had his best season clocking 32 dingers, with 105 RBI’s and 26 stolen bases and an All-Star appearance.

In both sports Bo seemed to deliver on the big stage. On Monday Night Football in 1987 Jackson turned in a 221 yard rushing performance against the Seattle Seahawks. During this game, he ran over Seahawks linebacker Brian Bosworth, who had insulted Jackson and promised in a media event before the game to contain Jackson. He also unleashed a 91 yard run where he disappeared through the entrance to the field tunnel to the dressing rooms with teammates soon following. Jackson scored two rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown in the game. His 221 yards 29 days after his first NFL carry, is still a Monday Night Football record.

Bo Jackson win the Heisman.

Bo Jackson win the Heisman.

In the 1989 baseball All-Star game Bo was named the game’s MVP for his play on both offense and defense. In the top of the first inning, he caught Pedro Guerrero’s 2-out line drive to left-center field to save two runs. Then he led off the bottom of the first—his first All-star plate appearance—with a monstrous 448-foot home run. In the 2nd inning, he beat out the throw on a potential double play to drive in the eventual winning run. He then stole 2nd base, making him one of two players in All-Star Game history to hit a home run and steal a base in the same game (the other is Willie Mays). Bo finished the game with two hits in four at-bats, one run scored and two RBI.

Those are only a snippet of what Bo did as the greatest two sport athlete ever. He was perhaps the most dominant football player of his era. He ran through arm tackles like wet toilet paper and punished would-be tacklers like no other. In baseball he was the fastest and strongest player in the league.

Bo Jackson was one of the brightest-shining sports stars the world has ever known. Like a magnificent comet streaking through the sky it shines bright then is gone just as quickly. During the 1991 playoffs versus Cincinnati Bo suffered a serious hip injury that ended his football career. Amazingly after sitting out the entire 1992 baseball season Jackson was able to return to the Chicago White Sox in 1993.

His sports accolades led to Bo being the first international Nike spokesperson. The famous “Bo Knows” campaign was ground breaking and changed the face of athlete and shoe advertisement.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII

Proposed Ilitch Downtown Detroit arena could be linchpin for area.

In sports column on December 18, 2012 at 11:46 pm

Detroit a sports entertainment venue, get Ilitch development done

Ford Field hosted Super Bowl and Comerica hosted MLB All-Star Weekend.

Ford Field hosted Super Bowl and Comerica hosted MLB All-Star Weekend.

By Leland Stein III

Wake up Detroit movers and shakers! This is a crucial time that calls for bold moves and long-term vision, not only for Detroit, Michigan’s largest city, but the entire state.

Now that the Ilitch organization has finally put it out on the table their vision for building a new entertainment district downtown anchored by a multipurpose arena that would be home to the Ilitch-owned Red Wings, and hopefully the Pistons, I say make it happen with the quickness.

As Detroit continues to dig itself out of the economic disaster of 2007 that sent the city, state, country and the auto industry on a precarious and uncertain future, this proposed venue would give the Motor City an enormous shot in the arm.

All of Detroit leaders need to look at transformation Indianapolis and San Antonio undergone. Two smaller cities that were both seeking to define themselves. Each city recognized and acknowledged the future and regenerated themselves as sports entertainment venues.

Leland Stein III

Leland Stein III

Indeed sports and walkable entertainment collectively is the new model to ensure a city’s rotation in hosting the mega-sporting events like the Final Four, Super Bowl, NBA All-Star Weekend and many other sports and entertainment events.

Sure there are those that will Detroit’s finances, the many vacant homes, and the continued Urban American homicides. Distracters will talk about the neighborhoods needing special attention and rightfully so. However, the dynamics of inner cities in America is a national problem of economics, employment, shifting population, and old infrastructure.

But one problem is no reason to hold up another potential uplift. If indeed the proposed multipurpose arena is commenced, it would not only host hockey and basketball, it would host a range of shows, concerts and other events, while the broader district would include residential housing, retail shopping, office space and more.

What more needs to be said? The City Council, Mayor’s Office, and state government needs to all get on board and help turn this vision into a reality.

I have been to both San Antonio and Indianapolis and seen how the new model of building all their sports venues in a walkable proximity. In conjunction with the arenas and stadiums hotels, eateries and housing have evolved.

Take the Los Angeles Staples Center for example. I was in LA when the developers started building the arena and many said who will perform there and that it was a waste of money and resources.

Well, the Lakers and Clippers and Kings after seeing the venue quickly abandon their arenas. The Staples Center has galvanized a three block district called LA Live that has clubs, restaurants, theaters and hotels.

The LA downtown area before the Staples Center and LA Live was built was a waste land of poverty.

A number of cities have shown us how a city came use the sports entertainment model to regalvanize a downtown and city.

An Ilitch family’s Olympia Development news release quoted George W. Jackson Jr., the city’s top development official and president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., as saying the plan “makes good” business sense.

“It’s not a plan for an isolated, single-use structure,” Jackson said in the statement. “Instead, it builds on the clear successes we’ve already had downtown integrating districts that feature entertainment, and support commercial, retail and residential development around them.”

The Ilitch organization pegged the probable price tag at $650 million. Legislation introduced in Lansing would create a new “catalyst development project” that could benefit from support from the Michigan Strategic Fund and also from the use of Downtown Development Authority tax revenues that support projects in the central business district.

“It’s always been my dream to once again see a vibrant downtown Detroit,” said Mike Ilitch, chairman of Ilitch Holdings, in the statement. “From the time we bought the Fox Theatre, I could envision a downtown where the streets were bustling and people were energized. It’s been a slow process at times, but we’re getting there now and a lot of great people are coming together to make it happen. It’s going to happen and I want to keep us moving toward that vision.”

I too had this vision. So let’s keep it moving Detroit.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter at LelandSteinIII

Gun violence knocks out Camacho

In sports column on December 18, 2012 at 11:35 pm
Hector Camacho in Vegas before a title fight. – Jon Gaede photo

Hector Camacho in Vegas before a title fight. – Jon Gaede photo

By Leland Stein III

In many cases tragedy seems to shadow the practitioners of the Sweet Science. It is my hypotheses most of those that engage in professional fisticuffs are on that stage to uplift their lives or families from an entrenched placement in the lower-socio economics of life.

Living and fighting to get out of the lower-socio economic conundrum of humanity, the escapees seem to find misfortune at some point – financially, domestically or professionally.

Unfortunately, the numbers of great boxers that have endured tragic endings are too many for me to recount. Vernon Forrest, Alexis Argüello, Arturo Gatti, Steve McCrory, Michael Dokes, and Joe Frazier just to name a few.

The latest of the Sweet Science champions to have the 10-count rung is Hector “Macho” Camacho. On November 20, 2012, Camacho was shot once in the jaw while in his hometown of Bayamón, Puerto Rico. Several news agencies reported that Camacho, 50, was seated in the passenger seat of a friend’s Ford Mustang when he was shot by unknown individuals from a passing SUV.

The driver of the car, Adrian Mojica Moreno, a childhood friend of Camacho, was killed in the attack. Camacho was taken to San Pablo Hospital in Bayamón, where he was reported to be in critical condition.

Leland Stein III

Leland Stein III

The bullet pierced Camacho’s left cheek, and fractured his fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae, lodging in his right shoulder, and causing a lesion to his carotid artery which restricted blood flow to his brain. At one point, doctors announced that Camacho was expected to survive but might be paralyzed; however, after he suffered a cardiac arrest during the night, the next morning doctors reported that Camacho was clinically brain dead. Dr. Ernesto Torres said in response to his family’s request, he was taken off life support and died shortly thereafter.

I wrote from three of Camacho’s title fights. The first was a loss to Julio César Chávez in 1991 at Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas, Nevada. Again I scribed in 1994 at the Las Vegas MGM Grand Garden Arena, where Félix Trinidad gave him his third professional loss. And finally, in 1997 at the Convention Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he beat legend Sugar Ray Leonard with a fifth round TKO.

Camacho also fought at the Detroit Joe Louis Arena, in 2000, where he earned a victory against Bobby Elkins.

My personal remembrance of Camacho was that he was a unique athlete. He learned from Muhammad Ali that one could milk the genre while adding, along with pure skill of being a combatant, the entertainment value of the sporting event.

I made sure I was at his big title fights, because he gave one a show. His in ring garb, his good looks, ring savvy, and his charisma were things that made him standout.

Before being taken to the United States, Camacho’s body laid in state at the Puerto Rico Department of Sports and Recreation in Santurce. During the two days Camacho’s body was on viewing, hundreds of people visited the facilities to pay tribute to the fighter.

Camacho was truly a Puerto Rican sports icon who many boxing journalist put in the conversation as one of the “Top 5 Puerto Rican boxers” of all time, along with Trinidad, Wilfredo Gómez, and Wilfredo Benitez..

The boxing historian, Mario Rivera Martinó, said Camacho, was a “complete fighter” in the Lightweight division.. World Boxing Council president José Sulaimán noted that Camacho “revolutionized boxing during his time.”

Ed Brophy, director of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, acknowledged Camacho’s talents in attracting an audience. He said, “Camacho brought a lot of excitement to boxing. He was bright, colorful, and always gave something to talk about with his walks to the ring, with his unique style of entering, and the costumes he wore.”

I will always remember Camacho’s flamboyant approach to the ring, with his extravagant and exaggerated costumes, feather crests, bright clothes, and the loud rhythm of the Latin music he chose.

Hiram Martínez, senior editor of ESPN Deportes, said about Camacho’s training: “He transforms himself into a hungry, focused, and dedicated boxer, that works hours and hours polishing his speed, his wit, and the style that turned him into one of the greats of all time. That’s the only way you can explain why all those great hitters he faced during the best moments of his career never knocked him down.”

Maybe Camacho was not the greatest fighter ever, but he uniquely combined a contagious charisma, impressive boxing skill, a child’s soul, a salesman shrewdness, and a superlative confidence in himself . . . that created a bigger than life “Macho Time” persona.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or at Twitter @lelandsteinIII

Déjà vu for Detroit Cass Tech

In sports column on November 26, 2012 at 9:18 pm

Detroit Public School League team best Detroit Catholic Central again for yet another State title.

By Leland Stein III

Detroit Cass Technical High Schoool celebrates second consecutive Div. 1 State title. – Andre Smith photo

Cass Tech coach Thomas Wilcher came into the post Division 1 State title press conference at Ford Field with a giant smile on his face. Good for him! He, his coaches and his players earned it.

In fact, the excellent turnout in Downtown Detroit showed up in respect for the Detroit Public School League (PSL). It mattered not where one graduated from, the Cass Tech 36-21victory over perennial power Detroit Catholic Central, was a victory for all that has prepped in the Michigan’s largest public school district.

In the post game press conference Wilcher exclaimed, while smiling like a Chester the cat, “Hey, you only live once. We may not make it back again.”

Leland Stein III

 

While his retort is very, very true, as evident by the fact only two PSL schools – Cass Tech (12-2) and Martin Luther King (2007 Div. 2) – have won Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) titles in football, he surely had his fingers crossed for the future.

Sure Wilcher will lose some of the top talent in the state, but with the closing of former PSL powers like Mackenzie, Redford and Murray Wright, just to name a few, the talent in the City has been condensed, and, with Cass Tech at the same time developing a solid overall program, they have been able to create an environment where good student athletes want to come. Couple the closing of historic PSL schools and the environment Wilcher has fostered at Cass Tech is why it has become an elite program in the state.

“This is happening because of the approach of our coaches’ teaching,” Wilcher told me. “They work our kids hard in practice, and, hold themselves accountable for our outcomes.”

Cass Tech’s Damon Webb runs by a DCC defender at Ford Field. – Andre Smith photo

Sounds like a very good formula for success to me.

That formula was tested in last year’s MHSAA Div. 1 Final, where Cass Tech socked the Michigan high school football world with a resounding 49-13 spanking of the Lordly Detroit Catholic Central. Sure that victory was great, but last year was last year.

No matter, Cass Tech came out strong, scoring on four big plays, forcing five turnovers. It all started when Jourdan Lewis scored on the first play from scrimmage. He beat double coverage and turned a 40-yard gain into an 89-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Jayru Campbell.

“I just don’t think, I react,” Lewis said. “The safety was playing over the top. Jayru put it in the right spot.”

To show Campbell’s growth as a quarterback, he noted that the play was intended as a short pass, but the corner came up. “We both looked at each other and went with the go (pattern),” he said.

Five plays later 6-foot-2, 260 pound defensive lineman Kenton Gibbs scooped up a fumble and nimbly ran 58 yards for a touchdown and a 12-0 Cass Tech lead before I had finish eating my between game sandwich.

Another game-changing play happened in the fourth quarter as Cass Tech faced a fourth-and-9 and Campbell checked out of one play and into a draw that turned into a 26-yard gain.

“I think the strength of the quarterback,” Wilcher gladly noted, “like I told him on the telephone one night, ‘I don’t care about your arm right now, I just love the way you think on the football field.’ That’s what makes him so important to me right now.”

What had hurt the PSL in other years was the line play, but Cass Tech’s offensive and defensive lines controlled the game. Lead by seniors Gibbs, David Dawson and Dennis Finley the Technicians played the game in the trenches.

“”It feels great that all the hard work in practice and the off season has paid off,” Finley said. “This is what you play for, and, we did this as a team.”

Added Dawson: “I knew we had a chance to make history. We lost some tough games, but we did not lose confidence. We rebounded from that King loss in the City Playoffs and refocused as a team as we did last year.”

Campbell threw for 154 yards and Mike Weber, another sophomore, rushed for 186 yards on 20 carries. Weber did play in last season’s title game because of a knee injury. “I had to wait my turn,” he said. “I just ran with my blocks and had fun.”

The entire PSL and it alumni had fun, too.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or at Twitter @lelandsteinIII

Miguel Cabrera Wins AL MVP

In sports column on November 18, 2012 at 3:21 am

Cabrera Wins AL MVP

By Leland Stein III

MIGUEL CABRERA, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and former homerun king Hank Aaron. – Dan Graschuck photo

The awards just keep piling up for Detroit Tiger Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.

He’s been named Sporting News player of the year, walked away as the Hank Aaron Award winner, given to the league’s best offensive performer, and, now he is officially the America League MVP.

The slugging Tigers third baseman, the first player to win baseball’s Triple Crown since 1967, became the second consecutive Tigers’ player to hoist the MVP trophy.

Tigers’ pitcher Justin Verlander won the AL MVP in 2011, and no sooner had this year’s results been announced than Verlander congratulated Cabrera by tweeting, “Best player in baseball … THE MVP.”

Cabrera said he was “a little concerned” it would be close, but with many points to spare, he became the first position player on the Tigers to be MVP since Hank Greenberg in 1940.

Leland Stein III

Tigers Pitchers have won five MVPs since Greenberg’s: Hal Newhouser in 1944 and 1945, Denny McLain in 1968, Guillermo Hernandez in 1984 and Verlander last year.

The 28 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America made the final picks and their results were announced live on the MLB Network. Cabrera overcame Mike Trout of the Los Angles Angels in the voting.

Cabrera beat Trout, 362-281, in a weighted voting system. Cabrera received 22 of the 28 first-place votes, to Trout’s six first-place votes (Cabrera was second on each of those ballots). Tigers Verlander finished 8th in the voting and first baseman Prince Fielder finished 9th.

“Wow. Wow. I don’t believe it,” Cabrera said. “I’m very excited. I’m like, I don’t have any words to explain like how excited I’m right now. I never expected I’d end up winning because Mike Trout, he (had an) unbelievable season. Man, I’ve very surprised.”

“(I want to) share with all the fans in Detroit, all the fans in Venezuela,” Cabrera said. “It’s going to be exciting for my country Venezuela and my family and I’m very happy for getting this MVP. I’m sure they are going crazy in my country right now.”

Cabrera is the first player from Venezuela to win the MVP award.

Said Tigers manager Jim Leyland: “I think when you do something that hasn’t been done in 40-some years, with everything (Cabrera) did down the stretch when we needed him the most. I was a little nervous about it, but to be honest with you, I just felt like if this guy doesn’t get the MVP, then there should be no such thing as an MVP.”

Prior to the release of the MVP, baseball writers and analyst had predicted the Trout should win the award. He led the AL in runs scored with 129, and stolen bases with 49. Plus, it was noted his defense was exceptional in his rookie campaign, too.

No matter, Cabrera, who finished the season with a .330 batting average, 44 homers and 139 RBIs en route to winning the majors’ first Triple Crown since 1967, did enough to win the voters. Add in his .606 slugging percentage and .999 OPS also led the majors, the MVP ended up being a slam dunk for this Tiger slugger.

After Cabrera had officially won the Triple Crown, MLB Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig said: “It is an honor to congratulate Miguel Cabrera on earning the Triple Crown, a remarkable achievement that places him amongst an elite few in all of Baseball history. Miguel has long been one of the most accomplished hitters in the game, and this recognition is one that he will be able to cherish for the rest of his career.

Said MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds: “I just think the Triple Crown and getting a team into the playoffs really made a big difference for Miguel Cabrera. I believe, at the end of the day, the Triple Crown and getting into the playoffs was the difference-maker.”

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII

International gathering sends Emanuel Steward Home

In sports column on November 18, 2012 at 3:13 am

International gathering sends Emanuel Steward Home

Emanuel Steward and Leland Stein III at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Final bell rung for Detroit icon.

By Leland Stein III

Well, no more dog walks together or eating that great barbeque. The final 10-count bell has been rung at Greater Grace and my friend, and more importantly, a friend to thousands has been laid to rest.

Emanuel Steward a certified Detroit and international icon has gone home. The humble founder of Detroit Kronk Boxing Team, an HBO Boxing commentator and Hall of Fame trainer, probably would have blushed if he could have seen the spectacular celebration given to him by the multitudes of pugilist, media peers and admirers.

Men and women from all over the world found their way to Detroit to honor a man that only wanted to help others, the only way he knew how. Get them in the gym and in the process sneak some life lessons to them that more times than not stuck.

I understood the depth and breadth of Steward’s impact in the Sweet Science, but I was even surprised to see the overwhelming inclusion of individuals that he has cajoled

Aretha Franklin.

In all our dog walks and general conversations he never bragged about the company he kept and experienced.

He just would have been happy to know that Mayor Dave Bing, Aretha Franklin, Judge Mathis, Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence, Bob Arum and Jim Lampley were there to celebrate his noteworthy life.

But he would have been impressed with the pugilist that came to acknowledge how he turned good athletes into champions.

Some of those champions in attendance were Sugar Ray Leonard, Hilmer Kenty, Milton McCrory, Lennox Lewis, Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, Thomas Hearns, Michael Moorer, Evander Holyfield, Iran Barkley, Jimmy Paul and Roy Jones, just to name a few, were all there and spoke of the legendary memories that Steward has left us all with.

Champions Lennox Lewis and Thomas Hearns.

Frank.lin, the Queen of Soul, stood in the church pew and blasted out a special ad-lib song that was generated just for Steward.

“Emanuel flew away,” Franklin sang, as she started to improvise and the applause grew and tears started to well in my eyes. “Emanuel Steward was a good man! Yes, he was. He was a champion . . . Oh, yes, he was. You have to be, you’ve got to be, a champion to train one . . . Oh, yes, you do.”

Representing Steward’s HBO family was Lampley. He talked about their special bond. “I can truly say that Emanuel was my best friend,” he exclaimed, “but I’m sure all of you here and many more across the world can say the same thing. If there was any man that lived up the Dr. (Martin Luther) King’s dictum it was Emanuel. He judged people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin; he was truly color blind.”

Wladimir Klitschko

Breaking me down even further was Hearns, who Steward took off the streets and turn into a legendary multiple champion.

Soaking in tears, Hearns shared: “This is hard for me. I said this morning that I would be alright. I tried to make Emanuel proud of me. He was a very special man in my life. I wouldn’t be the man I am today without Emanuel Steward in my life. He was more than a trainer to me — he was like a dad. He taught me things, and I saw my life change.”

Wladimir, who flew in from Germany said: “We have lost a friend, but Manny Steward lives in the hearts of all of us. He had a great gift from God. I will carry on all my life what he taught me. He was a great mentor.”

“I had the opportunity to meet Emanuel about 40 years ago,” Bing said during an uplifting but heart-wrenching memorial service. “We had great respect for each other, and I have always looked upon him as a friend. He represented his family and the city of Detroit with dignity. He always made me very proud to know him.”

Emanuel Steward at his last interview at the Joe Lewis Arena in Detroit. Dan Graschuck photo

Leonard called Steward a trainer of life. “He saved the lives of kids out there by putting them in a sweaty gym,” he recalled.

Said Holyfield: “Nobody ever lost when they did what Emanuel Steward told them to do in the ring.”

Lewis echoed the sentiments of many: “Emanuel was there for my major fights — I wish I was there for his. He is the greatest trainer that ever lived. We can’t forget his contribution to the sport of boxing. I can only rejoice in his memory.”

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII