January 21, 2018

Elmore Leonard's Criminal Sense



HIGH NOON IN DETROIT 

"There was a photograph of Frank in an ad that ran in the Detroit Free Press and showed all the friendly salesmen at Red Bowers Chevrolet." — Swag
I've been reading the work of Elmore Leonard for several years now. Not long enough that I was able to go see him speak when he was part of the National Writer Series in Traverse City in 2011. I started reading Leonard's work not long after that appearance and I had wished that I had attended. I first heard of Leonard in the late '80s when I read his name as a comparison to the writer Tom Kakonis as I was reading his debut novel, Michigan Roll
Leonard wrote about Detroit, especially during his '70s heyday. His crime novels in the 1970s were incredible. The way he developed character and delivered dialogue is awesome. As a reader, I often found myself routing for the underdog dirtbags, who were often the secret stars of his work. Leonard had a way. 
Leonard started as a writer of Westerns; however, as the sixties turned to the seventies, he began writing about another type of cowboy, the criminal. He dabbled in crime novels in the late sixties, but turned completely as the seventies got going. Even though he was publishing about a novel a year, Leonard didn't take off until the eighties, around the time Get Shorty took off as a movie. Leonard was anything but an overnight sensation. 
As I continue to read and learn about Leonard, I have a great appreciation for this Michigan writer. If I'd only had the opportunity to see him speak in 2011, just before becoming a fan. That would have been a spectacular night! 


January 18, 2018

A LITTLE ORGANIZATION


GETTING ORGANIZED

There's somthing 'bout this Sunday
It's the most peculiar gray
Strollin' down the avenue that's known as A1A
Feelin tired, then I got inspired
I knew it wouldn't last long
So all alone I walked back home
Sat on the beach and there I made up this song

— J. Buffett — 


Who can't agree with Mr. Buffett's lyrics? It's about inspiration … at all the wrong times. Buffett had been living in Key West for a couple years at the time, and when he wrote the song "Tryin' to Reason With Hurricane Season," he told us when he wrote the tune. When I set out to write a blog post this afternoon, my focus was on writing about my progression from Franklin Covey Planners to electronic PDAs, to Moleskine calendars, and on to the Bullet Journal. Then, suddenly, I decided I needed a quote of some kind to post at the top of my page. So I thought to myself, "Hurricane Season" has some great lines that will set the pace. Then, the lyrics I chose are about inspiration, not necessarily planning. Inspiration and planning go together, but they're not mutually exclusive ... 

I've spent many years trying to get organized in just the right way. I've tried every coding system there could possibly be. I was a Franklin Covey addict for many years, then morphed into the PDA style and eventually onto the computer. I now use a homemade planner that I design myself along with Google Calendar. It seems to work pretty well. When I discovered the work of Mike Rhode and the Bullet Journal folks, I found the pieces I had been missing. So, I learn often, try different things in the Bullet Journal, and aim to get organized. 

I wonder who my audience is these days? 

January 17, 2018

The Struggle Is (Somewhat) Real

Writer Struggles to Write … But It's Not Writer's Block

When you've done something for 10 years, you would think you would be good at it. That's a lot of practice, after all. They say that practice makes perfect ...

I have been writing on this blog for more than 10 years. I have had my peaks and valleys as far as content. I have always tried to write about baseball, entertainment, and education. I suppose I could call baseball entertainment, but baseball is so important to me that I consider it separate from entertainment. Education has been my life for many years, so I often have thoughts about it that I like to share. Then I look at my output from last year and am disappointed. I notice that when I have natural breaks, I seem to write more … but I'm not writing on my blog enough.


BUT I AM NOT WRITING ON MY BLOG ENOUGH

  • I can blame the demise of the Detroit Tigers. I can say that with the destruction of the organization, I determined that the team isn't worth writing about. In fact, with no free agent signings and very few trades in the off season, things have become boring for baseball. The cold stove has been a strange, new development for baseball. Some are saying it's collusion again (30 years later). 
  • I could say that I haven't been going to much entertainment in the past few months, but that's only partially true. I went to Rick Springfield in December, after all. And I could have written about that event because it had a couple of points worth exploring: 1) one ticket to the show probably cost what all four of us who went together would have paid total at Castle Farms in 1982. I don't really know if he played Castle Farms in Charlevoix, Michigan, or not. But he might have. 2) He brought out a Make–a–Wish Foundation person to sing "Jessie's Girl" with him. That could have taken up some blog space. Beyond Rick Springfield, I saw Kid Rock in Detroit on multiple nights in September, but much of the fall was spent preparing, then being a part of our daughter Courtney's wedding to Tyler Stegman. Now, that was great entertainment and a mountain of fun! It was also tiring and didn't leave time to write. 
  • Of course, I should be writing about education all the time. In fact, I do write for education every week, because, as the superintendent at Vanderbilt Area Schools, I write a weekly column for a local newspaper. That deadline every Monday afternoon seems to sneak up on me. I have borrowed from this very blog at times to put together my weekly column. I live education and certainly should be writing about it more often. I have been involved in a new systemic reform process for a couple of years now called The Blueprint. It's developed by the Mi Excel team at the State level. It has been incredible how it has helped us transform this little school from a struggling system to one that is on its feet and improving daily. 
I am going to make an effort to write more often. I'm sure that if anyone was following RWA, they probably have left as I haven't posted since December 5, 2017. It's halfway through January 2018 and finally here is some writing. It's not like I don't write because I journal regularly, I take notes frequently, and have been learning about Sketchnoting recently. I always have a pen in my hand or pocket and use Baron Fig notebooks to capture information. 

December 05, 2017

It's Always Writing Season

Sometimes We Don't Know Why We Start

I started this blog way back in 2006. I started the blog for a couple reasons. One reason was that I thought it would be a good way to share my thoughts and predictions about baseball. In the fall of 2005, when the Tigers unceremoniously released Alan Trammell and the rest of the 1984 crew who were running the organization, I had suggested that Jim Leyland would be a good choice. If I had blogged something like that, then I would have looked like an informed baseball fan. But, I didn't have a blog and never put it in published format. The other reason was that I have always liked to write, including professionally for different newspapers and magazines over time, so I thought maybe I might just possibly have something to say.

The second post in April 2006 discussed the death of Steve Howe. 

Generally, my viewpoints cover education, baseball, and rock 'n' roll music. I suppose those are the things I am most passionate about; though, since I started RWA several years ago, I find that watching baseball on TV has some advantages and watching Youtube videos of concert clips isn't all that bad. Don't get me wrong, I still love to "be there," but FOMO doesn't have a hold on me like a little over a decade ago.

I find that I am able to keep the blog updated when I have more time to write. I keep telling myself that I should set aside time and keep the blog updated, but I never seem to do that. I know I am sporadic, at best. I know that I used to have something to say and put it out there in a timely fashion. Now, I write things and sit on them for a while. I have one blog that I started about heroes that I will probably release one of these days; however, we keep finding that our heroes are really zeroes.

But that's a story for another day.

November 26, 2017

A Good Life All The Way

Some of it's magic and some of it's tragic …

I'm going through a Jimmy Buffett phase these days, capped off by the book Jimmy Buffett: A Good Life All the Way by Ryan White. I had read about his "Key West days" in the past, but never realized the almost Hemingway–esque friendships that existed. There were writers like Thomas McGuane and Jim Harrison and musicians like Jerry Jeff Walker — and eventually Jimmy Buffett. He arrived into this cultural movement way before Key West was overtaken by tourists and commercialism. My interest in Buffett began in the '70s when my parents would listen to JB vinyl albums like Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Latitudes and Son of a Son of a Sailor. It sounds like it must have been an interesting time in Key West in the early '70s as these writers and musicians were starting out their careers … and no one had any idea the fame that would result.


October 07, 2017

My Life in a Small Town (Yet Still the Same and Only God Knows Why)

Drivin' My Life Away

I drive a great deal, so I cycle through various activities on my Bluetooth. I seem to go in three–week cycles of listening to music (usually playlists), podcasts, and audio books. I've always been prone to getting stuck in certain artist rotations for weeks at a time. Some of the usual suspects follow, with a special nod to the "favorite" song by that artist. I like to call these songs "the ones I would never change if they came on the radio ...

Billy Joel — "My Life." Just a great combination of music and cool lyrics. This song has been one of my favorites forever, going on 40 years. Mr. Joel has many of my favorite tunes, but this is the top one.


John Cougar Mellencamp — "Small Town." I grew up in a proverbial 'small town,' and have spent much of my educational career in small towns. In fact, in two different districts I have referenced Mr. Mellencamp and this song in superintendent graduation remarks. A classic, no doubt, but this one was hard to pick, as well.


Bob Seger — "Still the Same." I think this song just ages well. The lyrics are catchy and they make you stop, listen, and think. Again, Seger has so many great tunes.


Kid Rock — "Only God Knows Why." Simply for the best line in rock 'n' roll: "You get what you put in and people get what they deserve." To me, that's a mantra and so true. It's about karma in a way. Absolutely love singing those lyrics at a Kid Rock show.




September 30, 2017

The Tigers Had Tradition

The Tigers Are at a Crossroads

“The Tigers have tradition / And Sparky’s main ambition / Is to get them to the classic in the fall.”


Guy Named Sparky Arrives

Sparky Anderson indeed got the Tigers to the 1984 World Series. It was his fifth full season at the helm. He inherited some good players when he arrived, but convinced the GMs, Jim Campbell and Bill Lajoie, to make some changes -- even sacrificing talent for character and stability. For years, I considered that Sparky just didn’t want anyone who would get the limelight more than he. In retrospect, I think he just didn’t like showboaters.

Two Legends. Ernie Harwell in the front, Sparky Anderson in the back. 

Les Moss We Hardly Knew Ya

Sparky replaced Les Moss, who hadn’t done a bad job when he took over for Ralph Houk. Moss, however, wasn’t Anderson and didn’t last until the end of June. Legend has it that after Anderson was let go from the Reds after the ‘78 season, he was going to take a year off. The Cubs as 1979 rolled on started making noise about approaching Anderson; in a move unlike himself, Jim Campbell reached out to Anderson. Anderson joined the Tigers in June 1979. He lasted until after the 1995 season in Detroit. Many feel he was blacklisted because he supported the players during the strikes in 1994 and 1995. He refused to manage replacement players. That was quite a stand to take, but he probably figured, “What do I have to lose?” Sparky wasn’t that great a manager in his last couple years, but he also had run out of talent. A good managing job was 1993, when he took a team of also rans and never weres and made them competitive. I think the team scored 20 runs twice in the first couple weeks of the season.

Buddy Bell ... Larry Parrish ... Phil Garner ... Luis Pujols?

Sparky gave way to Buddy Bell who was run out of town by his assistant coach Larry Parrish. Parrish didn’t last long and was replaced by Phil Garner. Dave Dombrowski came to town and decided to fire Garner and hire … ummm, Luis Pujols. That experiment went about as expected and Alan Trammell came to town beginning in 2003. He lasted through 2005, when real talent seemed to be developing. Dombrowski brought in a gentleman who had been retired since 1999. Jim Leyland said he was burnt out after his one season in Colorado in 1999; he hadn’t managed or even interviewed since. Leyland was the right person for the job. He was a Tiger minor league manager in the 70s and early 80s before departing to be a coach on new White Sox manager Tony LaRussa’s staff. In 1986 he took over as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates and their brash young star, Barry Bonds. Leyland was awesome throughout his tenure.

Leyland for Governor

Granted, everyone bitched. He couldn’t do this right or that right. He certainly couldn’t manage a bullpen -- but what about the bullpen that Dombrowski gave him. I mean, come on, Ryan Perry was a future closer, right? A series of botched draft choices and ill-advised signings constantly led to the bullpen being the white whale to Leyland’s Captain Ahab. Ah, Captain Hook, the former Tigers manager created the modern bullpen. Sparky Anderson diminished the role of the starter and dramatized the role of the bullpen. Leyland turned out to be genius in the end. Those who complained would have welcomed him back by July of Ausmus’ first year.


"Bad" Ausmus

Ausmus was a colossal failure. His first month was great but after that, not so much. Ausmus brought a different approach for a month. The Tigers were stealing bases and being agressive, but a moratorium was placed on the aggressiveness on May 1. And from then on out, Ausmus’ Tigers teams were more like a ‘70s era Baltimore Orioles team: looking for that three-run home run. This is not necessarily all Ausus’ fault, though. During his second season in Detroit, the Tigers owner at the time, Mike Illitch, suddenly fired longtime GM Dombrowski and replaced him with his longtime assistant Al Avila.


What Really Happened?

I would still like to read a novel about WHAT HAPPENED! Dombrowski, despite his inability to put together a good bullpen, turned around an organization that was moribund for several years. Randy Smith was the umpteenth in a series of inept General Managers, so when Illitch paid the money to bring in Dombrowski to run the organization, the fan base was fired up. The jury is still out on Avila. His first offseason signings left a great deal of confusion (Zimmermann — only team bidding for him; Pelfrey — really a two-year package?; Mark Lowe — okay, maybe this one sort of made sense; Justin Upton — paid a lot of money). After the 2015 August reboot, the offseason was confusing, especially when the Tigers suddenly signed Upton. Upton was a good ballplayer, but didn’t necessarily fit at the time and situation of the rebooting team.

Next Era

Currently, Avila is still on as the GM; however, Ausmus is out as manager. The Tigers turn the page, seemingly. They have a young cast of characters and virtually no chance of signing any free agents of note in the offseason. The youngsters could make a difference. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Tigers deal both Ian Kinsler and Jose Iglesias this winter. That would be a good move for the team and its history. The numbers they wear, #3 and #1 respectively, could finally be retired for Tigers legends Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker. This deserves to happen. This has to happen at this point! It could be a tough couple of years for the Tigers, but the long-term outlook could be good. No question, though, they missed the boat on a World Championship in the best era of Tigers baseball.

Comerica National Park

The Tigers have to build the team for the stadium. The team plays in one of baseball’s largest parks, so they need to do five things to compete and finally win a Championship.

  1. Build an outfield that has speed and can chase the ball down. The new era of Tigers baseball has to focus on defense. A defensive team in Comerica Park makes more sense than a power team. While you’re at it, build a defensive infield, as well. Defense will win a Championship.
  2. Don’t focus only on a pitching staff with the so-called “power arms.” Build a pitching staff that will keep opponents off balanced in a three-game series. Focus on quality pitchers who can win games. The Dombrowski power arm era didn’t lead to a title.
  3. Build a bullpen organically. Find and develop people within the organization who can be relievers and make it work. They did it with Drew Smyly and can do it with others.
  4. Harken back to the ‘80s and swipe bases. Make this team different from all others and exploit the stadium. Build a team that can run, run, run and keep opposing defenses completely off balance. Make the other teams make mistakes.
  5. Hire a manager who can develop a team and is willing to hire teachers as coaches who can build a team for the long run.

Let’s hope the Tigers can turn it around. Right now, they have the worst record in baseball.