At the end of every year I bring you the top 10 Michigan sports stories.
This list will be a little Tigers-heavy, because the Tigers made more news than anyone else in the state. Regardless, here’s what I think is the list:
1. The Tigers make the ALCS for the third straight year: There was a time some 10 years ago that this feat would never have happened. But for the third straight year manager Jim Leyland got the team to the brink of the World Series – despite continued calls for his resignation. Though the Tigers lost to the eventual World Series champion Boston, the Tigers did something they haven’t done in a long time.
2. Michigan’s men’s basketball team makes it to the national championship game: The Wolverines weren’t picked by many to go to the Final Four, let alone the title game. But for the first time since the Fab Five era, Michigan was playing for a national championship. They lost to top-ranked Louisville and Rick Pitino, but making it was a huge accomplishment for the Wolverines and coach John Beilien.
3. Michigan State wins the Big Ten-plus-two in football: The Spartans had a fantastic defense coming into the season. But how would their offense measure up? The offense did just enough to win every game except Notre Dame, but the defense was the star of the show, becoming the top-ranked defense in all of college football. A win over then-second-ranked Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game sealed the Spartans’ trip to the Rose Bowl Wednesday against Pac-12 champion Stanford.
4. Jim Leyland resigns as Tigers manager: Leyland had ignored his critics long enough to take the Tigers to three straight ALCS appearances. But he decided it was time for him to give up baseball, so he resigned shortly after the season ended. The Tigers hired former Tiger catcher Brad Ausmus to replace him, and he replaced the majority of the coaching staff Leyland had to help him.
5. Tiger Jhonny Peralta was suspended in the Biogenesis scandal: Peralta’s name was among many who had gone to the clinic in Florida, which was exposed for distributing performance-enhancing drugs. The Tigers’ shortstop was hit with the usual 50-game suspension for first-time offenders, and he accepted it. The Tigers took him back for the playoffs, but didn’t negotiate a free-agent contract after the season, and he signed a four-year, $52 million deal with St. Louis – surprising many who thought a cheater shouldn’t be getting $13 million a year.
6. Tiger Miguel Cabrera makes it two MVPs in a row: Cabrera hit like he did in 2012 without getting a Triple Crown out of the deal. However in a runaway vote by the Baseball Writers Association of America, Cabrera won again. So for three straight years Detroit has had the MVP of the league: Once with Justin Verlander and twice with Cabrera.
7. Tiger Prince Fielder is traded to Texas: Fielder was popular with Tigers fans for being a generally likable guy who hit long homers or was fun to watch run the bases as a big guy. But he fell out of favor with the fans when he hit just .182 against the Red Sox in the postseason. The Tigers got out from under his massive contract when they sent him to the Rangers for second baseman Ian Kinsler. Fielder slammed Comerica Park on his way out the door, saying he couldn’t hit as many home runs because the fences were too far away.
8. The Detroit Pistons fire Lawrence Frank: For the seventh time in the past 13 years, Pistons president of basketball operations Joe Dumars fires a coach. The Pistons had muddled through another lousy year, and Frank was made the scapegoat. The Pistons then went out and hired former Philadelphia 76ers guard Maurice “Mo” Cheeks to lead the Pistons, and so far the team has responded well. Frank would later be hired as the special assistant to Brooklyn Nets rookie coach Jason Kidd, but frequent clashes with Kidd got Frank demoted to off the bench.
9. The Red Wings squeak into the NHL playoffs: In the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season the Red Wings showed why they missed the retired Niklas Lidstrom and now-San Jose Shark Brad Stuart, as they clinched the seventh playoff spot in the Western Conference on the second-to-last game. A first-round upset win over Anaheim was followed by a second-round loss to Chicago, and that was that for the Wings, who would move to the Eastern Conference for the 2013-2014 season.
10. The Lions go from first place to out of the playoffs in the span of a month: An absolutely awful NFC North was there for the taking when the Lions opened the 2013 season 6-3. But losses in five of the last six games will keep the Lions from making the playoffs for the second year in a row. Now the focus is going to be on head coach Jim Schwartz, who has orchestrated the last two late-season meltdowns by the Lions. Will he stay or go? Stay tuned.