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 …

August 21, 2017

Trying to reason with organization season ...

Is there such a thing as too organized? 

Most of my friends and colleagues will tell you that I am one of the most organized people they know. I am definitely a good planner and can create a great itinerary. I don't disagree with people who say I'm organized because I do try to perform some key organizational ideas: touch a paper once, everything has its place, put it in your calendar, etc.

My first time down the rabbit hole of organization was when I was trained  in the time management system known as the Franklin Covey Planner in around 1998. It was one of the best training sessions I ever attended. For years, I marked my planner following the treatise put forth in the Covey planner. Then, digital came about and I bought the digital piece with the CD-Rom software for the FC system. Then, Palm Pilots came around. I tried to be digital but really just got unfocused. Then, Google Calendar came about.

We were using the Google Apps before they were a true suite regularly at Sheridan Elementary when I was the principal. We were early adopters and were able to communicate in our calendars and via Google Docs. We had a great system going. Then, I discovered the Moleskine Planner system around 2008. I decided to combine my planning on the Google Calendar with a modified Franklin Covey system within the Moleskine. It worked for a few years, then I started printing my own calendars using a template in InDesign. Basically, I have kept a digital and analog calendar for several years. I just operate better that way.

Recently, I discovered the Bullet Journal. The Bullet Journal allows me to do some things that I don't think I had incorporated well. It has the Future Planner, where you can write events and to-dos from upcoming months. It also has an index, where you can keep track of people and events and "index" them. I haven't done that previously. As I learned about the Bullet Journal, I also learned about the Daily Plan Bar, which I incorporate into my Bullet Journal. I have a "rough draft" Bullet Journal right now. I'm getting my feet wet and learning the system. I bought the actual Leuchtturm1917 Bullet Journal at JenniBick in Washington, D.C. when we visited in July.

I continue to try to learn how to be organized. So much research is out there, and I have condensed it into a system that I think will work for me. It's so key in the world in which I work to be able to have things in order as well as be able to communicate information.

On a side note, a couple of months ago, I said to Lori, "Let me show you the system I've been working on."

She said, "Rick, I think you have a problem." Then she said a couple things about OCD and some other acronyms I think she's learned in her counseling program at Western Michigan University!

I ... don't ... think ... she ... was ... serious ...

August 13, 2017

When Your Cup Is Empty …

Please, Pour Me a Refill

Poor service permeates our lives these days. It may be poor service at a restaurant or lousy customer service at a convenience store. I don't think the people I talk to on a regular basis are regular complainers, but it sure seems there are a lot of people talking lousy service.
Last week, we ate dinner at a place that highlights its great deal on a fair meal. The meal is decent, the atmosphere good, but the first thing the waitress says is, "It's going to be an hour before you will be served." I made mention that maybe she could have said that in a little more polished way. One of the folks we were dining with, though, said, "You never apologize for being busy." Touché.

We stayed because we enjoy getting together like this occasionally, or weekly. We don't mind the wait. We enjoy chatting and talking up the latest events in life. However, it is great when the waitress checks back in, keeps the table informed, or at least fills up beverages.

Do You Know Good Service When You See It?

I'm not an expert so I might not even be able to discuss customer service. I just hope that the service improves because I would be disappointed to see another restaurant fail. We know that the more times we experience bad service, the less likely we are to go back. Imagine that this wasn't a standing event in our lives, but the first time we stopped in. We likely wouldn't return. And we would tell others, and they would never go, either.

This all leads to another issue. Everyplace has a "help wanted" sign in its window. It's becoming difficult to find help, let alone good help. So, if someone shows up to work is that good enough? If you have someone to take care of business, is that good enough? Our conversation the other night led down this road? One of the diners I was with said, "At least leave a dollar tip because she showed up for work." A couple of others said, "No way." We tipped in the end.

Is showing up good to work enough, or is it a start?

July 13, 2017

the Need to Write

Writer's … block

Some days, I know I should write before deciding to write on Rick's Writing Again. I need to clear out the many different thoughts in my head. There's just so much going on during the summer … Usually, I use the morning pages to clear my head, and I guess I'm going to have to get back into that habit. The idea behind the morning pages is to clear your head so you can be more creative. I can't even find a starting point to write anything coherent this morning.

Part of me wants to write something about how the beginning of the second half of the baseball season is the beginning of the end of summer. Another part wants to write about the state of education currently, and how so few kids are going into education as a career these days. Then, I could also write about the projects we have going on at the house. Or maybe I could write about our efforts to walk more this summer.

There's so much to write about. I've been enjoying podcasts again. I especially enjoy Tim Ferriss, James Altucher, The Art of Manliness, The Truth Barrel, as well as others. I also like to dabble in what Mike Rowe, the Art of Charm, and Dave Ramsey have to say. I wish that some of the podcasters would produce less content because it's hard to keep up with, and I end up skipping podcasts that sound "less interesting." Sometimes the podcasts that don't sound interesting end up teaching a great deal.

Anyway, I don't know if I said anything constructive today. Check out a couple of the aforementioned podcasts. They usually have something of value to share. Thanks for hanging in there. (I'm heading to Lansing for a conference. Ah, summer …)

July 11, 2017

Born in the USA

The Boss 

Today, I'm trying to think of something different to write about. I have been writing about baseball lately. I'm listening to Bruce Springsteen, The Boss, on my Amazon Alexa. In the '80s, I wore out a cassette version of Springsteen's seminal classic, BORN IN THE USA. The LP came out in one of my favorite years, 1984. The album contained basically became a "greatest hits" collection itself. Seven singles from the album charted, and the B-side to the final single, "My Hometown," contains my favorite Christmas song, "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (Live)." Springsteen was rolling in '84-'85, nearly a decade after his "breakthrough" platter, BORN TO RUN.

Springsteen still records and tours today. Allegedly, he puts on an incredible stage show that lasts several hours. When USA came out, I was 12 years old. I didn't realize the social commentary The Boss was making; I didn't understand that until a good decade or so later. I liked singing along to the songs — and couldn't believe that so many good tunes were on one cassette. Granted, my favorites at the time were John Mellencamp, Billy Joel, Bob Seger, and Jimmy Buffett. If that doesn't prove that the music you listen to when you're young greatly influences your later listening habits, I don't know what is … I own many of Springsteen's recordings, but nothing is nearly as good as the "comeback" from 1984.

My favorite song on the LP is "Darlington County." I've always liked the music and the lyrics and feel it tells an interesting story. The song was not one of the aforementioned seven singles, either. Most of The Boss's best work tells stories. One of the best stories I heard about him is at the Fox Theater in Detroit during his Ghost of Tom Joad tour in the mid-'90s, the crowd was cheering and he told them to "hush." He was on a unique (at the time) folk tour to support the LP and wanted the crowd to listen to the music and lyrics. I always thought that was cool.