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.  

September 28, 2017

Modern Radio Words

Awesome & Modern Learning 

I first started listening to podcasts about 10 years ago. Dave Ramsey’s daily podcast, which was an abbreviated version of his daily radio show, was the first one. People used the debt snowball to get into better financial shape and told Dave all about it. I learned a lot listening to Dave and his team.  

Then, I discovered that there were many others who also had high quality podcasts. I started to find "new" podcasts to listen to by reading various blogs. Seth Godin was one of the bloggers who began highlighting podcasts. Come to think of it, I'm surprised that Seth hasn't run with the podcast gig. It would be incredibly popular, I'm sure.  

I'm not even sure that Tim Ferriss has an official name for his blog, but it's one of the most popular and best there is. Ferriss has written four best selling books, but his podcast is top notch. He interviews many different people from all walks of life. His goal is to deconstruct excellence and help everyone learn from it. He has interviewed many interesting people and has shared his learning with everyone. Not only does he deconstruct people but initiatives, as well. 

Listening to Ferriss, I learned of James Altucher because Ferriss shared an article about Altucher on Twitter. I learned that Altucher had gotten rid of almost all of his belongings and lived from place to place, often using Airbnb. His podcast is also excellent. He too interviews people to learn the what, why, and how of accomplishing great things.

The Truth Barrel, which features writer Neil Strauss and professional athlete Gabby Reece as they turn the heat up to 220 degrees in a sauna and interview people to “get to the truth” of the matter. The people they interview all have interesting backgrounds and good stories to share. One of their most awesome is with the creator of Post Secret, Frank Warren. If you don't check out anything else that I highlight here, please check that one out. It will touch everyone in some way. Phenomenal. 

One of the best and most informative podcasts is by famous work curator Mike Rowe called The Way I Heart It. He tells shorts stories which leads to the “punchline” which is the information about who he’s telling the story about. Each time I listen, I try to determine who he is talking about. It reminds me of the old Paul Harvey radio show. It comes out every Tuesday. 

Another fun story style one is by writer Malcom Gladwell called Revisionist History. I also have listened to Side Hustle School by writer Chris Guillebeau, Art of Charm, and Noah Kagan Presents

The one good thing about my commute is that I get to use my truck as a classroom and listen to podcasts and audio books to learn. Sometimes I just crank up a new playlist and jam on down the highway ... 




September 27, 2017

A Good Run

Circa 2006 through 2013

It was a good run. The Tigers probably should have been in the World Series in 2013, not to mention that they should have won it all in 2012. It all went awry in the World Series in 2012, but at least they were there. It was a good run.


The sudden improvement of the team in 2006 under the tutelage of Jim Leyland changed the face of the franchise. Suddenly, the Tigers were a team to be reckoned with once again. The 2006 renaissance brought the team back to relevance, and despite rough seasons in 2008 and 2010, the Tigers during that several–year run could be counted on to be competitive. Two World Series appearances and regular rotations in the playoffs became the expectation.


We were proud to take the above photo and say, "that's the sun setting on the other team's season." Comerica Park was a fun place to be — and hosted more post season contests that Tiger Stadium did in its long, illustrious history. Tiger Stadium still holds a special spot in so many of our memories. The CoPa became an advantage for the Tigers.

It was a good run.

The run basically ended after the 2013 season. Granted, the team made the playoffs in Brad Ausmus' first season at the helm, but the team was different. Ausmus' first team came out running like crazy and changing the game. Suddenly, on May 1, 2014, the team reverted to its old ways. It was a strange, sudden change. Ausmus never made sense in retrospect.

The Tigers' great run officially ended sometime around April 15, 2017. That's the night I realized that this current crop wasn't going to go anywhere. The team seemed lackluster, uninterested, and ... unbalanced. Now, the information is coming out that Victor Martinez has been a clubhouse problem for at least a year. I'm sure there are other problems in the clubhouse, as well. It didn't look right. Didn't feel right.

It was a good run. It ended too soon.

September 06, 2017

A Trail of Justins

The Problem With Success: You Can Have No Justins 

The Tigers had an unprecedented run from 2006 through 2014. Jim Leyland was the manager for most of the era and Dave Dombrowski was the general manager. When Dombrowski came on board in the early 2000s, you could sense that a direction had finally arrived in Detroit. He worked closely with the owner, Mike Illitch, to build a top notch baseball team. The only problem with the Tigers teams during the era was that they were build like the 1970s era Baltimore Orioles — always waiting for the three-run home run. Well, the other problem was that the bullpen construction was … terrible. I'm not saying the scouts and management didn't try, it just didn't work.

When Pudge arrived, things changed. 

It's On

With the trade last week of veteran starting pitcher and future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander, the Tigers signaled that the rebuild was real. It was happening. Apparently, we didn't get that idea as the team jettisoned JD Martinez ahead of time. Then, at the non–waiver trade deadline the Tigers moved Justin Wilson and Alex Avilia to the Cubs for some prospects. Suddenly, on the playoff–deadline day, the Tigers shocked everyone by sending Justin Upton to the Angels and, with a minute to spare, Justin Verlander to the Astros. The Astros made total sense as a destination for Verlander. He's a stud, big game pitcher and the Houston Astros needed one of those. Presumably, the prospects the Tigers acquired in the trade are top–notch talent. The 'Stros have been building for 2017 for a long time, so the trade could be the final piece of the puzzle.

Tiger fans were fortunate for several years to have JV as their Must See feature every fifth day. 

2006

The Tigers came out of nowhere in 2006 when they ended up in the World Series. You could say that Jim Leyland put Detroit baseball back on the map. As the Tigers' manager, Leyland had an incredible run. He was in charge and everyone knew it. Sure, we complained now and then — often loudly about his bullpen management — but Jim Leyland was one hell of a great manager. We missed him as soon as he retired. The Tigers made a mistake hiring Brad Ausmus to guide the team following Leyland. Ausmus' first team came out like a different club, stealing 35 bases in his first month. You could see that the direction had changed. Then, suddenly, it hadn't. The team quit running all the time and tracked back to the more 3–run HR style. The Tigers direction had been to go with a "team concept" alá the Pistons of the early 2000s; however, when the team decided to sign Pudge Rodriguez, all bets were off. The Tigers became somewhat of a destination club, which was cool. Free agents weren't scared to join the Tigers and Comerica Park became an okay place to play. When the team finally had some fun in the playoffs in '06, Comerica Park finally became "real" to many of us. Prior, we longed for the friendly confines of Tiger Stadium.

Up & Down

The Tigers had a great run from '06 to '14. Sure, there were ups and downs — and complete failures (read: 2008). Who else cried in 2009 when Porcello lost out to the Twins? The 2012 and 2013 teams were great. I still believe the Tigers were the best team in '12, but the Giants were hot; then, in '13, the Red Sox were DOWN and suddenly UP. The run basically ended when Prince Fielder belly flopped into third base … then talked to the media after the game. In a blue collar town like Detroit, you don't act like a lousy effort in the playoffs was meaningless! Ausmus' bullpen use in the '14 playoffs is, um, classic.


Comerica Park

Comerica Park is not a home run haven, despite what the architects of the Tigers lineups would have you believe. Yes, we've had some home run hitters, but the CoPa is not that kind of park. The Tigers have to build a team with a quick outfield, guys who can hit doubles, guys who can steal bases. Pitchers who can shut down opponents. And, finally, a bullpen. If Al Avila is going to rebuild the Tigers, he has to build a team FOR COMERICA PARK. Forget about the beauty and popularity of the home run, build a team like the '80s Cardinals who used speed to win baseball games. Comerica Park is a national park. It's huge. Build a team for that. I think that Daz Cameron, acquired in the Verlander deal, will probably man center field in the not to distant future. He'll be surrounded by similarly quick guys who can make plays in the outfield. The infield must be build by vacuums who can pick it. Speed and defense is the way the Tigers will win a Championship in their second go round in about three years. This has the potential to be a short rebuild. If Avila does it right, he will somehow build a bullpen. That was missing in the first carnation of the Tigers' dynasty. The rebuild will not be easy. The trades were the right thing to do. The Tigers payroll was bloated, the players were not performing, and the coaching staff has suffered.

The Ausmus Factor

If the Tigers do not give the pink slip to Ausmus, they may have a fan mutiny. Ausmus may not be entirely to blame for the team's problems, but his coaches should take the brunt of it. Changes must be made. The Tigers need teachers to coach the players. Tigers fans are passionate. They are tired of this team's underperforming. They blame Ausmus. If Ausmus returns for 2018, I think it will backlash on the Tigers. I don't think people will attend games. Who would I consider? I would reach out to Ron Washington, Ron Gardenhire, and Ron, er, Ozzie Guillen. Those are three experienced managers who I believe could take the rebuild and lead it on the right path. Washington always impressed me with the way he led those damn Rangers teams against the Tigers in the playoffs. Gardy, he's just a good manager. Ozzie, with the Tigers heavy Latin influences, would be a good leader for the team. Ausmus cannot return. After hiring a manager, the Tigers have to put together a teaching/coaching staff. I am always amazed at the results Ray Searage gets as the pitching coach in Pittsburgh. We need someone like that who can teach and develop.

Jim Leyland was my favorite manager. Brad Ausmus is no Jim Leyland. 

Rant over. 

I've been thinking this whole thing in my mind for about a week. I love the Tigers — always will. My fortieth year of routing for them was nothing like that first year when Mark Fidrych took the world by storm. I've been a die hard for a long, long time. I've seen good teams and I've seen bad teams. I've been able to watch future Hall of Famers on a regular basis. I've had Sparky Anderson and Jim Leyland as the manager of my favorite baseball team. (I've also had Luis Pujols as the manager for that team …) I don't think it will be long before they're good again, but it will be a long couple of years. If the ownership makes the right choice in the new leadership, that will limit the pain. I hope the team puts a focus once again on character because that makes a difference.

But before I end, can anyone explain what the problem with Justin is in Detroit this year?

August 23, 2017

Technologically "Speaking"

Technological Education 

Education has changed greatly in the last 20 years. Schools have a great deal more technology, much higher expectations regarding state and national assessment, and a lot less opportunity to teach. As technology has become more and more commonplace in schools, it has caused a few changes along the way. Technology has been integrated into many assessment systems so students are able to be assessed digitally — which leads to presumably quicker results. Technology has also founds its way into students' pockets, which leads to problems with student attentiveness. I remember when texting first came around. My own kids would tell me how they could text with their phones in their pockets. I don't know how to do that, but a generation of kids do. This piece is not about educational technology but the technological education of our lives.

Everyone across the street is on a device while they wait for dinner. One person is connected to a cord in another person's pocket. I assume this is to keep the device charged. This is how we interact! 

I love technology and believe it has a place in education and in life. Just like any other tool, though, we have to use technology the right way. At one point, I may have thought that technology for technology's sake was a good thing; however, now young kids are glued to their devices. I do not think this is a good thing. At one point, when technology was expensive, schools could offer devices that students generally didn't have access to. Now, that technology devices are cheaper — and folks are  spending their money on the devices — everyone has a computer in their pocket. Just look the next time you go out to eat. Or while you're waiting to be seated (see above).

The technological education we are currently experiencing is like nothing we have seen before!

August 22, 2017

THE LEADERSHIP ILLUSION

GETTING RESULTS 

I discovered Mike Schmoker's work in 2006. I read RESULTS NOW and my opinion of what was possible in education totally changed. I shared it with some teachers and they felt the same way. Some of Schmoker's ideas "push" teachers a bit, but overall his work is exciting. 

I have been able to work with Mr. Schmoker a couple of times, including bringing him into a local school district as well as a large annual conference. His presentation makes you think. One of the best slides, a quote from researcher Richard Elmore, says:

"THE ACTIONS OF ADMINISTRATORS, INCLUDING ALL FORMS OF IMPROVEMENT PLANNING & STAFF DEVELOPMENT, HAVE VIRTUALLY NO IMPACT ON THE QUALITY OF TEACHING IN THE SCHOOL." 
The slide also contains the disclaimer:
THIS IS NOT A MATTER OF WORK ETHIC; IT IS A MATTER OF MISPLACED PRIORITIES. 
I have been an administrator for much of my career. The field of education has greatly changed, and become more rigorous. Evaluation has gone from a "hit or miss" field to one that has become annual and very high stakes. The change has been led by such educational leaders as Charlotte Danielson and Robert J. Marzano.  Schmoker has referenced evaluation for a great deal of his career. I have been part of several teams that created evaluation rubrics and have been trained officially in both Danielson and Marzano. It's amazing how similar both systems are. Each system in a way goes all the way back to the work of Madeline Hunter, the lesson plan guru. Planning, instruction, classroom management, and professional qualities are so important in education.

Is there currently a leadership illusion? I think schools are improving, but there is so much complexity in schools these days. Learning and understanding the work of these leaders is important, but it's also important to take leadership in a school to a new level. Certainly, education has changed in the last decade, but overall we're still trying to help students achieve! Teaching and learning are still the most important activities in any school …