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Preview: Where Have You Gone, Johnny Grubb?

Where Have You Gone, Johnny Grubb?



A meandering look at America's pastime. A cozy place to stop by and rest your head, when the rest of sports makes you want to scream. Updated on Mondays during the 2012 MLB season, with occasional "bonus" posts during the week!



Updated: 2016-09-08T10:02:06.403-04:00

 



Granderson, Once Tigers’ CF Solution, Fighting to Reclaim Career as a Met

2014-02-23T10:01:36.331-05:00

The center fielder of the Tigers’ present and future was indirectly taking tips from one of the best, who played the position so well some 50 years prior.It was the summer of 2007, and Curtis Granderson, into just his second full season as the roamer of the vast expanse at Comerica Park, was having an impromptu lesson imparted to him.Granderson and I, an interloper at his locker, were chatting before a game against the Cleveland Indians, when coach Andy Van Slyke walked by and tossed Granderson a mitt.The outfielder’s glove had been recently re-laced, and that afforded Van Slyke an opportunity to pull it back from Granderson and jam it into his own hand, discussing the glove’s new laces and their length.Van Slyke flapped the glove open and closed, open and closed, while pantomiming the act of scooping up a baseball and throwing it back to the infield.“These laces are kind of long,” Van Slyke said. “Once, my laces were so long, I tripped over them during a game.”Granderson laughed, but Van Slyke was serious—or so he said.Granderson didn’t know it, but he was being schooled, indirectly, by Bill Virdon.Virdon patrolled center field for the Pittsburgh Pirates with aplomb in the 1950s. And when Van Slyke was a young big leaguer playing in Pittsburgh, like Granderson in Detroit in 2007, it was Virdon who did the tutoring in Pirates camp.And now Virdon’s teachings were being passed on to the wide-eyed Granderson by Van Slyke as I looked on.Granderson was 26 years old at the time—with a kewpie doll face and a smile that lit up Woodward Avenue. He beat out a speedster named Nook Logan just a year prior to claim the Tigers’ center fielder job.It was a job that Granderson was growing into very nicely, indeed.When we last left Curtis Granderson—and by “we,” I mean those who have an Old English D plastered across their heart—he was a bourgeoning star, slapping triples all around Comerica Park out of that nervous batting stance and robbing them with his glove.Granderson was going to play center field for the Tigers like Chet Lemon did before him, and like Mickey Stanley did before Lemon. And Granderson was going to stay with the Tigers forever.That last part is what the fans must have thought, anyway.Granderson was 28, seemingly just hitting his stride as an upper echelon center fielder, when the Tigers did the apparently unthinkable.On the heels of a terribly disappointing loss in Game 163 to the Minnesota Twins to close out the 2009 season, the Tigers made a blockbuster trade—a deal so big it took three teams to consummate it.Granderson was at the center of the trade, which landed the Tigers Phil Coke and Austin Jackson from the Yankees, and Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth from the Diamondbacks. The Tigers also gave up starting pitcher Edwin Jackson.Detroit baseball fans were aghast.Trading Curtis Granderson was considered blasphemy. He was a nice guy. A fine center fielder. A slapper of triples, a stroker of doubles, with a developing power swing. He smiled a lot. He was out there in the community year-round, helping out and becoming a Detroiter by proxy.He was going to play center field for the Tigers forever!It wasn’t just that Granderson was traded—it was that he was traded to the hated Yankees. He was too pure for New York. It was feared by yours truly that Granderson’s good deeds would be swallowed up and not really noticed in the Big Apple.Pinstripes never really looked good on him, in retrospect.They didn’t help his hitting. Oh, he hit his home runs in the new, cracker jack Yankee Stadium, where a pop fly to the second baseman could, with a gentle breeze, land ten rows up in the right field stands. But playing in New York ruined his swing.Granderson was soiled by Yankee Stadium. The tiny ballpark turned him into a free-swinging slugger. He used to be a gap-to-gap guy, spraying baseballs like a machine gun into the outfield, from left to right. As a Yankee, he became Adam Dunn.In his first season in New York, Granderson hit 24 home runs and his numbers were pretty much in [...]



Spring Training: Our Heart's Annual Ice Melter

2014-02-09T11:55:27.392-05:00

Sometimes I wonder if Florida and Arizona were placed on this Earth just so we in the North can see real life baseball players jogging and playing catch in the sunshine and in 80 degree temps every February.Now all those reading this who live in those states, hold your horses. I’m not “dissing” your burg. I’m sure your state has more to offer than warning tracks, base lines and pitcher’s mounds. I’m pretty sure, anyway.But this is a special week for those of us who are winter weary.We get to see white balls being thrown—that have stitches in them. The fat men this week won’t have carrots for noses and charcoal for their eyes and mouths—they’ll be hitting fungos into the outfield.We get to see brooms cleaning off home plate, instead of brushes sweeping snow off cars.It’s spring training time.This has been an especially rough winter in Michigan, so the four best words in the English language, “Pitchers and catchers report,” bring extra joy.We’ll smile extra broadly when we click on those initial images beamed up from Lakeland, showing the Tigers in their creamy white uniforms, running in the outfield and throwing the first pitches of the year.Female fans will be smiling, too, when they see new manager Brad Ausmus, all of 44 years old, tanned and handsome and wearing the Old English D.It may not be scientifically possible for photos and videos from baseball’s spring training to actually lower the outside air temperature, but don’t tell that to Michiganders who have been slugged by one of the most relentless winters in decades.Florida baseball and Arizona baseball, in February and March, seems to make all things possible.You start reading stories of the young phenoms and the free agent signees joining their new teams and the teams with new managers and the magazines with the predictions start to come out and it makes the winter a little easier to stomach, for you can see a flicker of light at the end of this frozen tunnel.The Tigers’ recent Winter Caravan was just a tease. It was seeing baseball players in person, but they were in winter coats and leather jackets and ski caps. It was Comerica Park, but under a thick blanket of snow.This week, pitchers and catchers start doing their thing, revving up for another baseball season. They’re the warm-up act for when the rest of the gang joins the fray a few days later.Before long, you’ll see the intense face of Justin Verlander, staring down the plate, instead of Tweeted photos of him smiling with swimsuit models.Nothing against swimsuit models, mind you.You’ll see Ausmus, taking in his first spring training as a big league manager, gazing out onto the field and you won’t be able to help but wonder what those gears in his head are spitting out.Who will bat lead-off? Who’s my Opening Day starter? (It’s not a slam dunk, is it?) How much do I catch Alex Avila? Do I have a strict platoon in left field? Will Ricky Porcello continue to develop into a solid big league starter? How will lefty Drew Smyly complement the four righties in the rotation?Just for starters.There will be the delightful sight of Miguel Cabrera, smiling and cherubic, punishing baseballs all over the outfield—and beyond.There’ll be Torii Hunter, his youthful exuberance defying his 39 years, laughing with teammates and telling the press, yet again, that all he wants to do is play in one freaking World Series before he retires.There’ll be the new Tigers—Ian Kinsler, Joe Nathan and Rajai Davis especially, stretching in their new duds and talking about how fun life should be as a Tiger.And don’t forget The Kid—Nick Castellanos—who on Opening Day will officially no longer be a prospect but a big league third baseman. Think there might be a few eyeballs on him?The Tigers team that gathers in Lakeland starting this week won’t be like any Tigers team you’ve seen in the Jim Leyland Era.They won’t be as plodding. There won’t be as much waiting for the three-run homer. There’s a vacuum cleaner at shortstop. They’ll actually go fr[...]



With Addition of Nathan, Tigers Taking No Chances With Ninth Inning

2014-01-28T00:54:39.761-05:00

It was something out of a cartoon. Warner Brothers would have been proud.The right fielder chases the well-hit baseball all the way to the wall, where he then tumbles over said wall and disappears, like the Coyote vanishing in yet another attempt to chase down the Road Runner.Only, this scene was hardly funny to Tigers fans.It was Game 2 of the ALCS last October, in Boston’s Fenway Park. The Tigers swiped Game 1 behind a combined one-hit effort from five pitchers. And they led Game 2, 5-1, in the eighth inning. A 2-0 series lead and a surprisingly easy path to the World Series beckoned.Then disaster struck, like a horror movie. The Red Sox weren’t dead, after all. The Tigers looked at the Bosox, lying prone on the ground, turned around to hug the girl, and when they turned around, the Red Sox were gone.So was the baseball hit by David Ortiz, off Joaquin Benoit, the Tigers de facto closer by process of elimination.The bases were loaded with Red Sox when Benoit served up a beach ball to Ortiz, whose nickname is Big Papi, and it’s not one of those “opposite” nicknames, like a bald guy they call “Curly.”Ortiz slammed a laser to right field, and Torii Hunter, bless his heart, gave it his all, but Hunter ran out of grass and ran smack into the wall, spilling over it and disappearing into the Boston night.With one dagger of a swing, Ortiz tied the game and as Benoit sagged on the mound, visibly shaken, the Tigers took on the persona of their makeshift closer, eventually losing the game in the ninth inning.You could say the series was 1-1, in favor of Boston.The Tigers, of course, lost the ALCS, 4-2, and the fourth loss was punctuated by another grand slam in the late innings, the second one off the bat of Shane Victorino, who teed off on reliever Jose Veras.Two grand slams into the Boston night, in two different games, both off late-inning relievers. Two swings that effectively canceled out the brilliant starting pitching the Tigers received the entire series.The bullpen was the Tigers’ fickle lover all year long in 2013. Every time the team felt its advances, it would turn its back on them. And the Tigers got rebuffed one final time, at the worst possible moment.As the Joker said in “The Dark Knight,” let’s wind the clocks back a year.A year ago at this time, the Tigers thought they had their new closer to replace the deposed Jose Valverde. He was big, young rookie Bruce Rondon, the roly-poly kid with the big arm and the big smile.It was a risk and a half. Plunging a rookie into a closer role is like tossing a grenade into a fox hole to test whether it will detonate. You turn your back, stick your fingers in your ears and hope for the best.Rondon went boom.It was clear from the get go, after the season started, that Rondon was too green to close anything other than a door.In May, the Tigers actually brought back Valverde. Papa Grande went boom, for the second time in eight months.That left Benoit, the Accidental Closer.It was makeshift, but it sort of worked. Benoit navigated the Tigers out of troubled waters, with the occasional banging into an unlit pier along the way.The rest of the bullpen was shaky—just unreliable enough to make it a source of worry for Tigers fans heading in to the playoffs.When FDR said that the only thing we had to fear was fear itself, he obviously hadn’t seen the Tigers bullpen.The starters were terrific, and the bullpen tried to hold it all together, but then the playoffs arrived and there was a blown game in the ALDS in Oakland, then the debacles in the Red Sox series.But opposing hitters beware. There’s a new sheriff in town.“Yeah, there’s pressure. But I will take that pressure with a chance to go out and win, a chance to get to the World Series.”The speaker is Joe Nathan, talking to the Detroit Free Press during the Tigers’ winter caravan.Nathan is a real closer. There’s nothing accidental about him. After a few years in the San Francisco Giants bullpen, setting up games in the l[...]



Selig’s Going Away Gift to MLB (Replay) Ought to be Returned

2014-01-19T13:56:14.966-05:00

Former big league umpire Dave Pallone once set me straight on the credibility of the men in blue in the baseball diamond.“Remember, we umpires may not always be right, but we’re never wrong.”He’s right. The arbiters of the game might miss a call here and there, but their word is final. You’d have better luck protesting at a show trial.But what is this? Baseball is about to pop open a bottle and let a genie out that has been corked inside for over 125 years.Get ready for challenge flags and even more TV timeouts. Prepare yourself for confusion. Is this reviewable? Is that?Video replay is about to be unleashed on the game, and unlike before, where it trickled out for a few select plays, this time Bud Selig isn’t messing around. He’s dumping the genie out fully with a big plop.Someone once said of baseball’s lazy allure, “In baseball, you can’t run out the clock, like in other sports. You have to get 27 outs.”Baseball and time have always had a relationship built on trust; they agree not to interfere with each other.Umpiring the game has been no small part of this timelessness.Even when technology grew legs and could walk around and visit every game known to man, sprinkling its advances like Johnny Appleseed, baseball always managed to stay unexplored. It was the unconquered game in that respect.The means to allow umpires to have a peek at video replay to aid in decision making has been present since the 1960s. But half a century went by before baseball seriously considered using it.The game that has survived the Black Sox, the reserve clause, spit balls, sign stealing, collusion, the designated hitter and George Steibrenner will soon have another cross to bear.Selig, the outgoing commissioner, apparently wants to be known for more than a tied All-Star game and the wild card.So he’s about to shove video replay—serious, some-holds-barely-barred replay—down our throats.This is more than just the occasional home run, fair or foul calls that are now subject to review. Selig is opening up a whole array of plays that will now send the umpiring crew off the field and under a hood.The list of plays of which managers can begin to challenge umpires’ judgment starting this upcoming season isn’t pretty, if you’re a baseball purist.The Chicken Little people will tell you that baseball is taking a giant leap toward making every ball and strike an issue. The “let’s get the call right” people will tell you that any delays caused will be worth it.The truth, as usual, is somewhere in between.But there is one indisputable repercussion.Once the videotape machines start whirring, there’s no going back. It’s not too maudlin to say that the game will be changed forever.Baseball doesn’t change itself forever very often. I guess it figures that it got 90 feet for base paths right on the first try back in the 1850s, so it can be filled with hubris if it wants.Once Bud Selig’s expanded replay system starts spitting out videos, we won’t have another Don Denkinger or Jim Joyce to kick around anymore, that’s for sure.Denkinger famously blew a safe/out call at first base in the 1985 World Series that cost the St. Louis Cardinals a game—and maybe the series itself.Tigers fans and Joyce need no introduction after the latter picked a horrible time to be human in 2010, robbing Armando Galarraga—remember him?—of a perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning, also with a missed call at first base.We aren’t likely to have any more poster children for blown calls, once managers start using NFL-like challenges and more and more final words are taken from the umpires on the field.Sounds good, right? The “get it right” people are doing a happy dance.Since the 19th century, I’d say baseball got along just fine without halting play and making sure that every call was beyond reproach.Despite the voluminous list of calls subject to review starting in 2014, not every play is covered. So there will still be plays[...]



Kinsler Tigers' 2B Now, But For HOW Long?

2013-11-26T18:08:54.052-05:00

Ernie Banks. Pete Rose. Rod Carew. Robin Yount. Paul Molitor.The common thread may seem obvious---they're all Hall of Fame worthy players. But there's something else that ties them together, and it's something that may end up being very relevant to your Detroit Tigers.Each of them, from Banks to Molitor, started as a middle infielder. And each of them would abandon that position and move to other places on the diamond and further their Hall-worthy careers.What does this have to do with the Tigers? Let's just say that you might not want to get too comfortable with the idea of a double play combination of shortstop Jose Iglesias and second baseman Ian Kinsler, acquired last week from the Texas Rangers for Prince Fielder.Kinsler is 31 years old. Already there are signs that age could be rearing its head with Kinsler, at least in the form of stolen base output.Age and middle infielders are usually not a good mix, Omar Vizquel notwithstanding.The Tigers may have---emphasis on "may have"---traded for Kinsler with the idea that he could move elsewhere, such as the outfield, or first base.Some history, first.Banks broke into the big leagues with the Chicago Cubs in 1953 as a shortstop. By 1962, his tenth season, the Cubs had moved the 31-year-old Banks to first base, where he pretty much played the rest of his career, past his 40th birthday. Banks played 1,259 games at 1B, and 1,125 at SS.Rose was a rookie in 1963, age 22. He debuted as a second baseman for the Cincinnati Reds. By 1967, at age 26, the Reds shifted Rose to the outfield. He would spend the next 10-12 years moving all around the diamond, eventually settling at first base. Rose played 24 years, but only 628 games at 2B, his so-called "natural" position.Carew broke in with the Minnesota Twins as a 21-year-old second baseman in 1967. In 1976, at age 30, Carew was playing first base, and he never looked back.Yount was an 18-year-old rookie with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1974, arriving on the scene as a shortstop. But by 1985, before his 30th birthday, the Brewers moved Yount to the outfield.Molitor was 21 years old when he broke into the bigs with the Brewers as a second baseman in 1978, functioning as Yount's double play partner. A mere three years later, the Brewers moved Molitor---first to the outfield, then in 1982 to third base, which would be his position until 1990, when Molitor became mostly a designated hitter for the last nine years of his illustrious career.It would be a big shock, to me, if the Tigers see Kinsler as their everyday second baseman much beyond 2016. By that time, Kinsler would be 34 years old.Ah, but what about the greatest DP combo in history, you might ask---our own Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker?It's more than fair to bring them up.Tram and Lou never budged from their original positions, though the former did spend a handful of games in the outfield, at second base and at third base. Trammell played until age 38. Whitaker never played anything other than second base in a career that spanned from 1977 to 1995 (also age 38).But let's face it: Trammell and Whitaker are anything but the norm---in so many different ways.The good news is that, as we have seen, switching positions for the aforementioned Hall of Famers took nothing away from their offense. And their move from the middle infield came relatively early in their respective careers---all within the first 10 years.Kinsler is entering his ninth season, and he's played all but two innings in his defensive career at second base (the other two innings were at third base, in 2012)---over 1,000 games as a second baseman.He's ripe for a position change.It could be that Dave Dombrowski traded for Kinsler with an eye toward having Kinsler wear another type of glove. It could be that second base may be the territory of Hernan Perez before long. Kinsler may find himself at first base, and Miguel Cabrera could be a full-time DH.Or Kinsler could move to the outfield, a la Yount.Yes, this was a[...]



Fielder Leaves Detroit Cloaked in Mystery

2013-11-21T00:27:42.843-05:00

We never totally understood Prince Fielder. We were willing to give it a try, but we never really saw eye-to-eye with him.Was he the smiling, happy-go-lucky big first baseman with the even bigger bat, or was he the detached, enigmatic player who shrunk in the spotlight?Did he care badly, or did he barely care?Was winning the World Series of the utmost importance to him, or was it more important to the fans?Was he a baseball player who had a family, or was he a family man who played baseball?Was he a selfless man who wouldn't come out of the lineup, or was he a selfish man who wouldn't come out of the lineup?Was he a complicated individual with many layers, or was what you saw, what you got?It hardly matters anymore.Fielder is gone, traded into the November night to the Texas Rangers for 2B Ian Kinsler, even up. Unless you want to count the $30 million the Tigers are reportedly kicking in to sweeten the deal for Texas.Fielder arrived on a wintry January day out of the blue in 2012, and has vanished almost as abruptly, his supposedly untradeable contract forwarded to Texas.The move was made, presumably, largely for financial reasons. Fielder's $168 million owed has been swapped with the $62 million that Texas owed Kinsler. Add the $62 million to the $30 mill that the Tigers apparently threw in, and it's still a savings of $76 million for Detroit.That's money that the Tigers can now use toward signing Max Scherzer to a contract extension. Presumably. And, bonus: the trade means that Miguel Cabrera can slide back to first base and third base has now been opened up for hot shot prospect Nick Castellanos, who can now return to his natural position, while still being an occasional option in left field.So the dollars are big, the savings are tangible and the baseball part of it makes sense. No question about that.But it's hard to accept that this was just about money and playing musical chairs on the diamond.Fielder lost the fans in Detroit, which was quite an undertaking since they welcomed him with open arms less than two years ago.He was the second Fielder to play for the Tigers, and dad Cecil owned the town for a while. Yes, there were some hard feelings between father and son, but Prince Fielder in a Tigers uniform was no less fitting because of the off-field drama.It's hard to accept that this trade was just about money because of the fracturing in the relationship between Fielder and the fans. And Fielder and the organization.Buster Olney, for example, tweeted that there were people in high places in the Tigers organization who were "very down" on Fielder for his performance and his comments during the playoffs.Ah yes, the comments.You remember. The one that intimated that if the fans could do it, they wouldn't be fans---they'd be players. And the one that shrugged off his typical nasty October performance by saying that if the pitcher throws a mistake, Fielder hits it. Otherwise, he won't. Or the one that said he was going to go home and be with his family, and what's the fuss, because the playoffs are over with?I find it almost impossible that Fielder's being traded didn't have at least something to do with these remarks, which when paired with his RBI-less post-season, put a bull's eye square on his back.Detroit sports fans are simple folk, and I don't mean that in a derogatory way. In fact, far from it.Here's what they want, and it's very simple.The Detroit sports fan only asks that you, as one of their athletes, show that you're just as torn up as the fans are about failure.They want to know that you feel their pain.That's all.Fielder, in two post-seasons as a Tiger, not only failed miserably on the field, he failed miserably in the court of public opinion. He never really made us feel like that he was "one of us."Not once in either playoff did Fielder say, "I stink. I know a lot is expected of me and I'm just not getting it done."That's all he had to say. And the forgiveness would [...]



Brookens Left Out in the Cold in Tigers, Mariners Shuffling

2013-11-18T17:58:54.733-05:00

It wasn't supposed to go down like this for Tommy Brookens.He was the manager-in-waiting. The heir to the dugout throne.At least, that's what some folks surmised, when Brookens was hired to replace Andy Van Slyke as the Tigers first base coach prior to the 2010 season.I must confess. You're a fair cop. You got me dead to rights. I was one of those who thought Brookie would make a dandy big league manager. I said so HERE.Brookens had done some managing in the Tigers' low level minor league affiliates, so when he was brought in to replace AVS as first base coach in 2010, and given Brookens' deep ties to the Tigers that went all the way back to the mid-1970s when he was drafted as a third baseman, the dots started to be connected.It didn't matter that those connecting the dots had no say in the matter, of course.When Brookens slid over to the other side of the diamond and replaced Gene Lamont as third base coach prior to the 2013 season, it fueled the speculation that Brookens would take over the Tigers when Jim Leyland called it quits.A couple funny things happened, though.First, few expected Leyland to step down this soon. It was generally accepted---with resignation by his haters---that the skipper would at least manage in 2014.Second, after Leyland's surprising decision to retire from managing, Brookens didn't even get a sniff from GM Dave Dombrowski.DD interviewed hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, and that was it from Leyland's staff.The heir apparent, Brookens, went home to Pennsylvania and did some hunting, unsure about his future as a coach, let alone as manager.Well, nothing is unsure anymore. The Tigers announced the hiring of Omar Vizquel as first base coach, pretty much rounding out new manager Brad Ausmus' staff. There doesn't seem to be a place for Brookens with the Tigers, anymore.All that talk about Brookens being brought to the coaching staff in 2010 as a form of managerial grooming has turned out to be just that---talk.McClendon got the Seattle Mariners job, but informed Brookie that there isn't a place for the Pennsylvania Poker in the Great Northwest, either.Brookens recently told George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press, "We'll see how things go in the next couple weeks," when asked about his coaching future---anywhere.It won't be in Detroit.As far as baseball cities go, Detroit certainly must be the one where they talk about the third base coach more than any other burg. They hated Lamont, culminating in his horrific send of Prince Fielder in Game 2 of the 2012 World Series.After last season, Lamont became Leyland's bench coach. A mysterious problem with Geno's knees was blamed for the move off the field and into the dugout. Brookens moved from first base to third.I wrote that Brookens would be getting the longest honeymoon ever afforded a 3B coach because of the act he was following.I didn't get that one right, either.It didn't take long for fans to complain about Brookie as third base coach. Not long at all. Being the third base coach for the Tigers quickly had become high on the list of thankless jobs in Detroit sports.No one, after all, hangs around the water cooler the next day, lauding the third base coach's decisions. But in Detroit they seem to go out of their way to rake him over the coals.So Ausmus is the new manager, not Brookens. Tommy never had a shot.The new manager is bringing in mostly his own guys. That is par for the course.Tommy Brookens won't be one of the Leyland holdovers, joining Lamont and pitching coach Jeff Jones.Tommy won't be on McClendon's staff in Seattle, either.It's funny about heirs apparent. Someone always seems to forget to tell the guy doing the hiring.[...]



Trading Scherzer Now is a "Playing Not to Lose" Mentality

2013-11-18T10:36:20.796-05:00

Branch Rickey, the Hall of Fame baseball executive and the granddaddy of the sport’s farm system, said it time and again.“Always trade a player one year too soon, rather than one year too late,” Rickey postulated.But each theory has its exceptions, right?I don’t know if the venerable Rickey would trade Max Scherzer, if Rickey came back to life as the Tigers GM. But if he would, this would be one that ole Branch would have gotten wrong.Scherzer, 29, just won the American League Cy Young Award. He is due to become a free agent after next season. And there is a boatload of folks out there who want the Tigers to trade Max, for fear of letting him walk away after the 2014 season, with the Tigers left holding the bag.It’s sissy talk.First, let’s dispel some stuff here.After next year, if Scherzer still hasn’t signed an extension with the Tigers, the team only needs to make a one year qualifying offer (this year that offer was $14.1 million for one season), and if Max signs elsewhere, the Tigers receive a first round draft pick from the signing team.That’s not exactly the same as coming away with nothing.Regardless, this business of trading him now for fear of what might happen one year hence is defensive, playing-not-to-lose baseball. It’s not about playing to win.Oh, and by the way, Scherzer has publicly declared his lack of interest in being traded. He loves being a Tiger and he hopes that the team “doesn’t mess it up.”But taking Scherzer’s personal preference out of this for a moment, let’s discuss.The Tigers have been to the playoffs three straight years. Despite their warts, they are the unquestioned class of their division—the Cleveland Indians’ strong finish in 2013 notwithstanding.With some tweaking that GM Dave Dombrowski no doubt will make to the roster, there’s no logical reason to believe that the Tigers won’t return to the post-season in 2014. Some will peg them for the World Series—you can count on that.It stands to reason that the Tigers will be playing in October next year. How can they not, when their core includes the last three league MVPs and two of the last three Cy Young winners? When 40% of your starting rotation has a Cy Young on their resume, you’re onto something.So why would the Tigers want to, as Scherzer put it, “mess that up”?That’s what they would be doing if they traded Scherzer in what would plainly be a defensive move.The “trade Scherzer” people are under the impression that Dombrowski would get exactly what Max is worth, and maybe even more.But if you’re on the phone with DD, why would you toss in everything but the kitchen sink, when you know the other guy is trading from a position of weakness?If Dombrowski actively shops Scherzer, then he is basically announcing to the baseball world, “Help! I have a very expensive pitcher who I don’t think I can sign! What’ll you give me?”You think other execs will be quick to let Dombrowski and the Tigers off the hook?But there are reports that the Tigers are “listening” to offers for Scherzer, you say.Well, sure.I’d listen, to, in case someone is off their rocker enough to offer me a king’s ransom.Listening is not the same thing as talking. My wife reminds me of that all the time, so it must be true.Here’s what the Tigers should do—and what I think they will do.If they don’t sign Scherzer to an extension before spring training—and I say it’s still too early to say that they won’t—then the Tigers should just ride it out in 2014 with Max still wearing the Old English D, keeping the band together, so to speak, with some new studio musicians as support.Then, take your best shot in the playoffs.Some scenarios to consider, using this approach.Best case: Tigers win the World Series. Scherzer re-signs with Detroit. The fan base is delirious. Hey, it could happen.Medium case: Tigers [...]



Ivy Leaguer Ausmus Latest Catcher To Give Managing a Try for Tigers

2013-11-03T10:24:41.933-05:00

There’s something about being a catcher in baseball.First, you have to be a little different—maybe even a little nuts.There has to be something a bit off about a guy who is willing to squat 150 times a game while pitches are thrown at him between 90 and 100 mph, knowing full well that he will be used as a human backstop for three hours—with ricocheted baseballs battering his mask, his knees, his feet and his hands.The catcher is the quarterback on the baseball diamond—or maybe the free safety, as we’re talking defense here. He is also the pitcher’s best friend, confidante, guide and caddie. The golfer asks which club to go to—the catcher is asked which pitch to throw.The catcher sees the whole game, because the whole game happens in front of him. He doesn’t have to turn his back to see what’s going on.It’s this perspective on the field of play that has made the former catcher an attractive managerial candidate, throughout the history of baseball.The Tigers won their first world title in 1935, under the guidance of Mickey Cochrane, a catcher whose playing career was cut short thanks to a bean ball. Before the pitch to the head, Cochrane was a player-manager for the Tigers, following many years as a star for the Philadelphia A’s.The Tigers pennant of 1940 was directed by Del Baker, another former catcher.Five years after losing the 1940 World Series to Cincinnati, the Tigers won their second championship. The manager was Steve O’Neill, who had been—you guessed it—a catcher in his playing days.The Tigers, like every team in baseball, have called upon the former catcher multiple times to become the team’s skipper. It hasn’t always worked, but it hasn’t stopped teams from trying it, over and over.Ralph Houk was a backup catcher for the Yankees. Jim Leyland was an erstwhile catcher, stumbling around in the minor leagues for the Tigers, before hanging up his chest protector and mask and turning to managing.The Yankees have turned to catchers frequently to manage their ball clubs.Yogi Berra. Houk. And, more recently, Joe Torre and Joe Girardi.One of the top candidates for 2013 Manager of the Year, Oakland’s Bob Melvin, was a marginally talented catcher for the Tigers in the mid-1980s. Bruce Bochy, who has led the San Francisco Giants to two world titles in the past four years, was a catcher for the Padres. Bob Brenly, whose Arizona Diamondbacks upset the mighty Yankees in the 2001 World Series, was a catcher.Looks like the Tigers are going back to the former catcher well, as they seek to replace Leyland, who retired on October 21.Brad Ausmus is, by all accounts, a smart guy. He graduated college with a degree from Dartmouth, no less. In a sport where a hayseed from Podunk, Iowa has often become a Hall of Famer, an Ivy League education has hardly been a prerequisite for success. But Ausmus has it.What Ausmus doesn’t have, is any experiencing managing—unless you count that brief stint managing Team Israel in 2012 during the qualifying rounds for the 2013 World Baseball Classic.The Tigers, multiple reports say, are about to tab Ausmus—a former Tiger—to replace Leyland in the dugout.The contrast between Leyland and Ausmus couldn’t be more distinct.When the Tigers introduced Leyland as manager eight years ago, his resume spoke for itself—for good or for bad.There were all those years in Pittsburgh, and the three straight divisional titles (1990-92). But the World Series eluded him, sometimes painfully so.There was the 1997 world title with the Florida Marlins, which was ironic because Leyland’s team didn’t win its division—it was a Wild Card.There was a jaded year in Colorado (1999).Leyland’s managerial chops weren’t in question; the Tigers hired a veteran skipper who was 61 years old. There was wear on the tires.Ausmus is 44—just a few yea[...]



Tigers New Manager Will Have Pressure Beyond Belief

2013-10-24T21:48:13.401-04:00

There isn't that much pressure on the next manager of the Tigers. All he has to do is win the World Series in his first season.There'll be no honeymoon. No get-to-know-you period. They'll give a hearty cheer when the new skipper is introduced on Opening Day at Comerica Park, then the second guessing will begin on talk radio and on Twitter that night.There'll be head scratching and open questioning of President/GM/CEO Dave Dombrowski's lucidity in hiring the new guy---sometime in mid-April, I reckon.And here's the real laugher: the new manager will be compared, unfavorably, to Jim Leyland---by those very people who wanted to run Leyland out of town.Then the new man will have to fend off the improving Cleveland Indians, win the division, tiptoe through the mine field that is the American League playoffs and win the World Series. That's all.Yet there is no shortage of takers for this job. Maybe half these guys have no real idea of what they're getting themselves into.You thought 2012 was "World Series or bust"? You ain't seen nothing yet.Just because the Tigers will have a new manager doesn't mean the fans' insistence on the team's first world championship since 1984 will abate. Next season will mark the 30th anniversary of that '84 club, as if the pining about that magical year needs any more encouragement.Lloyd McClendon, the Tigers hitting coach, had his interview for the managing job already. Experienced job seekers will tell you that it's best to be either the first or last person interviewed for a position. So Lloyd might have something going for him in that regard.I won't pump for any particular individual here. I will say that I'm not sold on promoting from within. The Red Wings tried that with Dave Lewis, who followed Scotty Bowman after winning the Stanley Cup in 2002. That didn't go so well, mainly because---and GM Kenny Holland admitted this to me in 2006---the Red Wings needed a new voice entirely, and Lewis didn't provide that.That's not to say that McClendon can't be successful as Tigers manager. But with three straight post-season flame outs, it says here that an outside person might be needed.Here's the rub: as good of a job as the Tigers managerial position is, it will come with intense pressure to win now. The roster may look significantly different as soon as in 2015.As the speculation persists as to who Dombrowski will hire, and as the list of supposed candidates grows, it's easier for me to tell you who won't get the job.Scratch the following off your list.Don Mattingly. Kirk Gibson. Tony LaRussa. Ron Gardenhire. Mike Scioscia. Joe Maddon. Eric Wedge. Manny Acta.The reasons are as follows, for each man respectively.Sticking with Dodgers. Sticking with Diamondbacks. Staying retired. Won't leave Twins without pitching coach Rick Anderson. Contract too complicated to get out of in Los Angeles. Tampa won't let him leave. Health issues. Too risky.There.Now, as to who might get the job?Keep these guys in the mix for now.McClendon. Dusty Baker. Brad Ausmus. Jim Tracy. Ozzie Guillen. Tony Pena.The reasons are as follows, for each man respectively.Already interviewed. Past success. Mike Matheny redux. Dark horse but brilliant mind. Crazy enough to work. Experience, can relate to the plethora of Latin-American Tigers.Dombrowski, it's been reported, will likely wait no longer than the first 10 days of November before choosing his new manager. This gives us about two weeks or so to see the focus shift to the finalists, as news of interviews comes to light.Regardless, this is a great job for the right person. But the right person must know that if the 2014 season isn't capped with a parade down Woodward Avenue, there will be hell to pay.When Leyland said yes to Dombrowski eight falls ago, the Marlboro Man wasn't exactly following a tough act---and God bless Alan Trammell.&n[...]



History Will Judge Leyland Favorably in Detroit, and It Should

2013-10-22T12:02:07.077-04:00

The year still looms there, like the cheese that stands alone.1984.It used to be 1968. That was the year that all Tigers fans would reference, sometimes happily, sometimes wistfully, sometimes pessimistically.It seemed like we waited eons after the Tigers' 1968 World Series triumph for that feeling to come again. But it was only 16 years, which in retrospect is nothing, really.And there was plenty of winning between '68 and '84 to keep fans from losing too much faith.The '68 club was the core of the 1972 team that won the AL East on the next-to-last day of the season. That group got old and fizzled, leading to the lean years of 1974-75.Mark Fidrych was more than enough of a distraction in 1976 to keep you from remembering that the Tigers were winning just 74 games.There was another 74-win season in 1977, but we were still blinded by the idea of Fidrych, who kept trying to come back from a shoulder injury.In 1978, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker made their full-time debuts, and the Tigers began a stretch of .500+ baseball that would run through 1988.And in there was 1984.You don't have to say much beyond the year.And here we are, some 29 years later, and 1984 is the cheese that stands alone.There was 1987, when the Tigers rocketed past the Toronto Blue Jays in a frantic final week of baseball that will never be forgotten in these parts. But that Tigers team was spent and fell to the Minnesota Twins in five games in the ALCS.There was a close call in 1988, but the Tigers couldn't quite catch the Boston Red Sox in the AL East.Then came 1989's bottoming out---a 103-loss season, which saw manager Sparky Anderson take a leave of absence due to exhaustion.That 1989 season started an ugly stretch of baseball in Detroit---one that continued unabated for 16 years.Mike Ilitch bought the team in 1992 and after a series of miscues in the front office and in the dugout following Sparky's departure after the 1995 season, Ilitch hired a young executive named Dave Dombrowski to get the team's act together. It was November, 2001.Dombrowski, hired in as the team's president and CEO, fired GM Randy Smith and manager Phil Garner one week into the 2002 season---after Dombrowski had been on the job for five months.The Tigers bottomed out once more, to the tune of 119 losses in 2003. Dombrowski knew that was coming. He also knew that the team would be so wretched on the field, the dugout may as well have some flair.Hence the hiring of Alan Trammell as manager for 2003.Trammell was the sacrificial lamb---the rookie manager who couldn't possibly have any success with the joke of a roster that he had been provided. Casey Stengel managed the 1962 Mets, you know. Funny how stupid Casey was when he didn't have Mantle, Maris, Berra and Ford on his roster.Trammell had Munson, Halter, Young and Witt.Tram put in his three years, and was dispatched when Dombrowski's roster re-tooling began to take shape.1984!That year was even more prominent when Trammell managed the Tigers, because he had Kirk Gibson and Lance Parrish on his coaching staff. It was maybe the only time in big league history when the coaches, even at their ages, were better players than the guys on the 25-man roster.Tram got the ziggy after 2005, with a clubhouse in disarray and the taste of an 8-24 finish to the year lingering in everyone's mouths.Jim Leyland sat at the podium, just announced as the Tigers new manager in October 2005, and made a confession."I don't know too many players on the roster yet, to be honest with you."Leyland had been out of the managing game for six years, after stepping down following one less-than-inspired year managing the Colorado Rockies in 1999.But at the press conference announcing his hiring by the Tigers, with his friend Dombrowski smiling beside him---the pair won a world title in 199[...]



Burning Questions: ALCS Game 2

2013-10-14T10:08:58.358-04:00

Did Jim Leyland yank Max Scherzer too early?Boy, is that a "hindsight is 20/20" question if MMM ever heard one! The Tigers had a four-run lead. Max was well over 100 pitches and, according to Leyland, Max was "spent." If the Tigers bullpen can't get six outs before the other team scores five runs, then why have them?MMM is sympathetic to those who complain about today's pitch count mentality, but with a four-run lead and six outs to go, going to the pen was the right move, no matter how it turned out.Looks like Austin Jackson is picking up where he left off in the ALDS, eh?Yes, and that's not good. MMM was hoping that, like other players in the past, a new series would mean a fresh slate. But A-Jax looks just as lost now as he was last week. He's a terribly streaky hitter, and this particular valley couldn't have come at a worse time.Don't let Torii Hunter off the hook, either. MMM is amazed that the Tigers have come this far with getting nothing from their top two hitters in the batting order.As for Jackson, cries have returned that he's not a true lead-off hitter. Hard to argue with that, really. MMM has expressed concern in the past about Jackson and where he's hitting in the lineup. Then Austin will go on a hitting jag and that quiets the complainers for a while. He's a very enigmatic hitter, and part of the reason he's such a hot topic is because he bats first.Right now, it seems like the count is 0-2 before Jackson even steps into the batter's box.How much does this loss affect the Tigers, going forward? There's an adage: momentum is tomorrow's starting pitcher. So true, especially in the playoffs. Yes, the Tigers let Game 2 get away. Yes, a 2-0 series lead, heading to Detroit, would be delightful. But that's old news. The biggest game in the playoffs is always the next one. The Tigers are playoff-tested; they've played 31 postseason games in the past three years. And in there have been some gut-wrenching losses. Every time, the Tigers have bounced back. MMM likes the chances with Justin Verlander on the mound in Game 3.Are the Red Sox this year's "team of destiny"?MMM has indicated that before, and after Game 2 it's hard to change that theory. But Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez made the Red Sox' fearsome offense look so harmless in the first two games. Yet here Boston is, with a split. So yeah, they seem to have the pixie dust sprinkled on them now.How about Jhonny Peralta, eh?Incredible, and good for him. Peralta is no Melky Cabrera, despite those who will try to draw that similarity. Cabrera was deceitful and a jerk about his PED involvement. Jhonny was humble and apologetic.MMM thinks it's great that JP has turned into the Tigers' hitting star so far in the playoffs. This is why he was included on the playoff roster. MMM never understood the idea of leaving Peralta off. The man served his time. Last MMM checked, this was America. You do your time, you move on. End of story.Thoughts on Phil Coke being added to the roster for the ALCS?Not really. MMM would be shocked if Coke is brought in during a high pressure situation. Drew Smyly is still the top lefty against lefty hitters. That won't change. Coke was added because he has good numbers against some of the Boston hitters, that's all.Still going with the Red Sox in six?Yes, even though the Tigers starting pitching is lined up really well for the rest of this series. The Red Sox have found a way, through 162 games and the first six games of the playoffs, to get it done. Game 2 just reinforced that notion.Which hitter for Boston do you fear the most right now?Dustin Pedroia. That little stinker. He's the kind of guy who gives Tigers pitchers fits. MMM is expecting Pedroia to unleash a series of big hits in this series.Not David Ortiz?Nah. He had his big hit. The [...]



Burning Questions: ALDS (Tigers-A's)

2013-10-11T10:39:35.508-04:00

Welcome back to Burning Questions with Monday Morning Manager (MMM)! They are presented today as the ALDS as a whole, but going forward they will appear after every post-season Tigers game.So what sticks out in your mind after another thrilling five-game ALDS between the Tigers and the A's?That MMM is sure glad Justin Verlander plays for the Tigers. Max Scherzer, too. Contrary to the eight runs scored in Game 4 and the just-what-the-doctor-ordered homer by Miguel Cabrera in Game 5, it was clutch pitching that carried the Tigers. Scherzer got a win as a starter and in relief, and Verlander twirled 15 scoreless frames. Joaquin Benoit did his thing, albeit shakily at times. Pitching was the cream that rose to the top for the Tigers in this series.Did Jim Leyland wait too long to get Jhonny Peralta's bat in the lineup?Yes, but MMM sort of understands. The first two games were played in Oakland and Leyland clearly wasn't warm and fuzzy about playing JP in left field, especially in an unfamiliar ballpark. You saw how Yoenis Cespedes' triple in Game 1 ate up Andy Dirks.But as the series moved on, and the Tigers in desperate need of an offensive spark, Leyland almost had to use Peralta. Besides, why give him a crash course in playing left field, get him as many at-bats as possible in Miami to close the season and place him on the playoff roster, if you're not going to play him?It was also right to play Peralta at SS in Game 5, as Jose Iglesias has been channeling Eddie Brinkman as of late. The Tigers' needs were definitely more on the offensive side of the ledger heading into that decisive game.Did Cabrera's home run in Game 5 put some fears to rest about his physical capabilities?Yes and no. It showed that he can still pull a ball that's inside, when he doesn't need his legs as much. But as far as MMM is concerned, Miggy still hasn't shown that he still has that eye-opening power to the opposite field. There are still concerns, and there should be.Where does Verlander's performance in Game 5 rank, both in Tigers history and his own history?Don't forget Game 2, when he went seven scoreless and fanned 11 but got nothing to show for it. As far as Game 5, it was just another example of why JV is a true "money" pitcher. He's the Jack Morris of his day, sans the surliness with the media. It ranks right up there in team history, though MMM still places Mickey Lolich's gutsy Game 7 in the 1968 WS ahead of Thursday's effort, because it came on two days' rest and it was truly for all the marbles.Suddenly everyone forgets about what Scherzer did!Not necessarily. Max gets series MVP from yours truly. He got the Tigers off on the right foot in Game 1, and even though the mess was his own creation, Mad Max pitched out of a bases loaded, nobody out situation in relief in Game 4, which clearly might have saved the Tigers season. But with Verlander on his game, it might be time to just declare that the Tigers have a 1 and a 1A when it comes to pitching aces.What's wrong with Austin Jackson?A-Jax has always been a streaky hitter, and this is obviously one of those bad streaks. When Jackson struggles, he doesn't even make contact, as what is happening now. MMM is worried that Jackson is swinging right through low-90s fastballs that have no movement. But Jackson can come out of it just as mysteriously as he sank into it.MMM remembers Nelson Cruz and what he did to the Tigers in the 2011 ALCS. But in the ALDS against Tampa, Cruz was brutal. So it really can turn around quickly. Also, Placido Polanco was the MVP of the 2006 ALCS, but didn't even get a hit in the five-game WS that followed. Baseball is funny that way.So what about the Red Sox in the ALCS?Not feeling too good about it, mainly because under Jim Leyland, the Tigers[...]



Tigers-A's Playoff Rivalry Began With a Bat Toss

2013-10-05T18:05:07.786-04:00

The eyes are wild, the face tight and taut. He is caught in pre-fling, rage washed over his mug. He is prepared to throw the bat, and it looks as if in that moment, he wants the lumber to behead its intended target.Bert Campaneris is shown in the photograph, snapped from the first base side of the diamond, standing in the batter’s box, a baseball bat in his right hand, grasping the handle, barrel down. The photo shows him in the split second before he whipped the bat toward Tigers pitcher Lerrin LaGrow.With that moment of indiscretion by Campaneris, the first salvo in the playoff wars between the Oakland A’s and the Detroit Tigers was fired.It came in Game 2 of the 1972 American League Championship Series, in Oakland. The A’s had won Game 1 and were ahead, 5-0, in the seventh inning when Campaneris took leave of his senses.Some bean ball shenanigans were being played in Game 2. In the A’s fifth inning, Tigers reliever Fred Scherman knocked A’s slugger Reggie Jackson down twice in the same at-bat.Campaneris was fleet of foot, and there are stories that say Tigers manager Billy Martin ordered the rookie LaGrow—who had just 39 big league innings on his resume—to throw at Campaneris’ legs. Knowing Billy, the speculation is probably true.LaGrow’s pitch did indeed nail Campaneris in the ankle area. Without hesitation, as if acting reflexively, Campaneris planted his feet and flung his bat toward LaGrow, who ducked to avoid being decapitated.A donnybrook ensued, and Campaneris was suspended for the remainder of the series. The series went the maximum (at the time) five games, the A’s prevailing with a nail-biting 2-1 win in Game 5 at Tiger Stadium—aided by a highly questionable call at first base that went against Detroit.Thirty-four years later, Magglio Ordonez stood in the batter’s box at Comerica Park, a bat in his hand, but he chose to use it in the conventional manner. It was Game 4 of the ALCS in 2006, the Tigers leading the A’s, 3-0. The game was tied, 3-3, in the bottom of the ninth inning, with two outs. Two runners were on base, and Ordonez stepped in against Oakland’s usually reliable closer, Huston Street.With one swing, Ordonez evoked memories of Kirk Gibson against Goose Gossage in Game 5 of the 1984 World Series, sending a Street fastball deep into the night, far over the left field wall, sending the Tigers to the Fall Classic.No Tigers fan worth his or her salt will ever forget the sight of Placido Polanco jumping up and down like a little boy as he rounded third base, once Magglio’s home run cleared the fence.The second salvo in the A’s-Tigers playoff wars was fired, more than three decades after the first.It’s another raucous night at the Oakland Coliseum. Game 5—the deciding game—of the 2012 American League Divisional Series is being played, Tigers vs. A’s yet again.Oakland and its scrappy bunch, which made the walk-off win part of its strategy in 2012, had roared back on its home field and erased a 2-0 Tigers series lead, forcing the Game 5. Game 4 was won in typical A’s fashion—in the last at-bat, with the crowd beside itself. The A’s scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth off wobbly closer Jose Valverde to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.Slugged but not out, the Tigers turned to Justin Verlander, whose charge was simple in definition but difficult in its execution: to shut the A’s down and quiet the feverish Oakland crazies.Verlander, pitching as if possessed, mowed the A’s down. He pitched all nine innings, allowing just four hits. He walked one and struck out 11. The Tigers won the game, 6-0, and the series, 3-2.The third salvo was fired.The Tiger and A’s are separated by thousands of miles, [...]



Gates Brown's Heroics in 1968 Forever Indelible in Tigers History

2013-09-30T18:08:40.230-04:00

"Gator Brown," Jim Northrup once told me, "would have been the best DH in the league if he was born five years later than he was."I could see that.If ever a rule change seemed to be in the wheelhouse of one man, the American League's switch to the designated hitter in 1973 was Gates Brown's calling. But, as Northrup said, Brown was 34 years old by the time the DH was put in effect.Brown was, indeed, the Tigers' first-ever DH when the team took on the Indians in Cleveland on April 7, 1973.Retrosheet.org says that Gates flied out to right field in that first at-bat as a DH. The first-ever hit by a Tigers DH would have to wait until the next day. Yes, Brown delivered it, as he followed his 0-for-4 Opening Day with a 2-for-3 afternoon.But in 1974, the Tigers made Al Kaline their full-time DH, as No. 6 made his swan song through the AL in his 22nd and final season.Brown retired after the 1975 season, 36 years old and spent. He had less than 50 at-bats in '75, a season in which the Tigers suffered through a 19-game losing streak and lost 102 games.Brown was, in fact, tailored for the DH role, if only he'd been a few years younger, as Northrup said.Gates, who passed away recently at age 74, was never a Gold Glove threat. He was a roly-poly, lumbering man whose skills defensively were average at best. But put a bat in his hands, and Brown struck fear into the opposition.There was 1968, of course.It was the year when the Tigers had magic pixie dust sprinkled on them. Time and again the Tigers came from behind to overwhelm the other guys. And on many occasions, it was Gates Brown who delivered the knock out punch, often in the Tigers' last at-bat.Brown was the hero who came riding in to save the girl tied to the train tracks. The Tigers would be tied, or behind, in the ninth inning or beyond, and manager Mayo Smith would nod to Gates and no. 26 would pick up a bat, emerge from the dugout, and the Tiger Stadium crowd would go mad.It started early in 1968, Gates' heroics.In game two, on April 11, Brown pinch hit for pitcher Jon Warden and smacked a solo home run in the bottom of the ninth, snapping a 3-3 tie.In retrospect, and to hear the old-timers tell it, Brown hit 15 pinch hit home runs in 1968, all to win games.The truth is that Gates hit six homers in 92 at-bats in 1968, but only three were of the pinch-hit variety. But two of them did win games for Detroit. In an August doubleheader at home versus Boston, Gates won both games with walk-off hits---a pinch-hit home run in game one, and a base hit in the nightcap (he started that game) that capped a four-run ninth inning rally.But it wasn't just with home runs that Brown rallied the Tigers in 1968. He did it with singles, he did it with doubles. Gates batted .370 in 1968, striking out just four times all year.The role of the pinch-hitter might be one of the toughest in all of sports, especially if you subscribe to the theory that hitting a baseball is among the most difficult things to do, no matter the sport. Try doing it coming off cold from the bench, never knowing when your name will be called. In the aforementioned twinbill against the Red Sox, Brown wasn't brought into game one until the 14th inning. Yet he torched a home run.Brown made pinch-hitting his claim to fame, once it was evident that he wouldn't be cracking the starting lineup consistently as a left fielder. There were too many good outfielders in Detroit during Gates' time (1963-75). Willie Horton, Northrup, Mickey Stanley and Al Kaline all log jammed the Tigers outfield in those days.So the words "pinch-hitter extraordinaire" became Gates' tag. He is easily the most prolific in Tigers franchise history, and among the best in MLB histor[...]



Thank You! Burning Questions Are Next

2013-09-30T10:44:32.428-04:00

To everyone who has stopped by this space every week to check out Monday Morning Manager, I thank you! It was another fun season, and boy did it go by quickly!

Next up: the playoffs, and that means---you guessed it---more Burning Questions!

Come back here the morning after every Tigers playoff game as I answer those BQs!

First edition: Sunday, October 5. See you then!!



Monday Morning Manager: Week 25

2013-09-23T10:56:56.818-04:00

Last Week: 5-2This Week:  at Min (9/23-25); at Mia (9/27-29)So, What Happened?The Tigers had a good week, but the Cleveland Indians played the Houston Astros, so the celebration in clinching the AL Central will have to come on the road, as the Tigers couldn't quite wrap things up before the final home stand of the year was complete.The Tigers took five of seven games during the week, but the Indians swept the hapless Astros, four straight, from Thursday thru Sunday, thus not contributing to the whittling away of the Tigers' magic number, which this morning sits at two.MMM can't write another word without mentioning Saturday's historic come-from-behind win, when the Tigers scored six runs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game before winning it in the 12th.The comeback marked the first time in some 66 years (against the Washington Senators) that the Tigers scored six runs in the ninth inning to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.The improbable win fittingly came on the night that the Tigers surpassed three million in attendance for the third straight year. But how many folks stuck around for the ninth inning heroics on Saturday?MMM believes that, after spending money on tickets, parking, refreshments, etc., why on Earth not get your money's worth? Stay for the whole game! MMM thinks the only thing worse than spending all that money is to spend all that money and not see the biggest comeback at home in 66 years! Is avoiding some traffic worth it?Victor Martinez caught another game as the Tigers tinker with getting his bat in the lineup should the team make the World Series and thus play three games in a National League park.Jhonny Peralta worked out in left field last week in the Instructional League. He is eligible to play in this weekend's series in Miami to close out the season, after serving his 50-game suspension related to his involvement with the Biogenesis lab.MMM wouldn't be surprised to see JP in left field in Game 1 of the ALDS, if the opposition throws a lefty.Jose Iglesias is officially the team's starting shortstop, despite being hit on the hand with a pitch last week. The hand isn't broken, and it's just a matter of Jose dealing with the soreness.Hero of the WeekWell, look who's back to being a .300 hitter.Victor Martinez is hitting .303, with 81 RBI, as the season's final week is upon us. That is truly amazing.V-Mart missed an entire season, then got off to a rocky start, his BA in the .230s as recently as mid-June.What followed was one of the greatest individual comebacks in recent history.Martinez started smoking the ball, and in the second half of the season his BA is actually higher than Miguel Cabrera's.V-Mart was 10-for-24 last week with a homer and six RBI. He is positively on fire.MMM is giving him the honors not only for what he did last week, but for how the week lifted him above .300 for the first time all season.Honorable mentions: Prince Fielder (10 hits last week); Torii Hunter (nine hits); and Max Scherzer (20th victory on Friday night).Goat of the WeekIt got lost in the shuffle of a 5-2 week, but Austin Jackson scuffled.A-Jax went 6-for-33 with eight strikeouts and scored just two runs. In a week where the Tigers offense did pretty good, the leadoff hitter didn't. But it shows the depth of the offense that it could survive a bad week from the leadoff guy and still win five games.For all of his mechanics adjustments (losing the leg kick, etc), Jackson still strikes out far too often for a leadoff hitter (125 Ks in 528 AB). He has but eight stolen bases. Even on a team that isn't known for its small ball, this is a very low number for someone who bats [...]



Monday Morning Manager: Week 24

2013-09-16T11:02:28.905-04:00

Last Week: 4-2This Week:  SEA (9/16-19); CWS (9/20-22)So, What Happened?The week began with the sky falling, apparently, but ended with it being partly cloudy, as it turns out.After Monday night's loss to the Chicago White Sox and Chris Sale, the Tigers' lead in the AL Central had dipped to 4.5 games, where nine days ago it had been 8.5 games after two wins over the Cleveland Indians.The Indians were (still are) charging, and the Tigers were lurching after a 16-2 win over the KC Royals on September 6 proved to be their only victory in six games.The sky was falling!MMM understands the uneasiness when an 8.5-game lead is cut in half in nine days, but with the Tigers starting pitching, it's difficult to fall apart.Within 48 hours, the Tigers had beaten the White Sox twice, the Indians lost twice, and the lead was back to 6.5 games. It sits at five games this morning. The Indians swept the White Sox in four games in Chicago, and have now beaten the White Sox something like 44 consecutive times. And MMM is only slightly exaggerating.Miguel Cabrera was kicked out of a game, mid-at-bat, in the first inning for the second time this season. He even holds records like that!Max Scherzer is still stuck at 19 wins, as his run support has dried up. Alex Avila (gasp!) is heating up.Hey, maybe the sky really IS falling!No, that would only happen if Jim Leyland pinch runs for Prince Fielder, apparently. (BTW, MMM is OK with the decision not to pinch-run. Fielder wasn't in scoring position, and most players can score from first on a double with two outs, and Prince is one of them. The Royals just made a great play).Hero of the WeekHey, did someone tell Alex Avila that it's 2011?MMM is thrilled to see the Tigers catcher perk up, and last week Avila did so to the tune of 6-for-17 (including 4-for-4 last Tuesday), with a pair of homers, both in Sunday's game, the latter of which was the game-winner in the eighth inning.The strikeouts are still unsightly (100 in 297 at-bats) but the swing is getting back to that shorter, compact variety that helped AA produce an All-Star season two years ago.A productive Avila makes the Tigers lineup all the more difficult to deal with, because Avila typically bats in the lower third, and if he's going good, suddenly the Tigers are ornery from one through nine.MMM is still concerned that Avila may need to learn a new position in the next couple of years (LF?) because of all the physical abuse he takes behind the plate. But for now, it's lovely to see him look more like the hitter we all know he can be. Never before has a .222 BA been so good to see.Honorable mentions: Prince Fielder (10 hits last week); Victor Martinez (nine hits); Rick Porcello (first career CG on Tuesday); and Doug Fister (7.2 scoreless innings but a loss on Saturday).Goat of the WeekThis may seem a bit punitive, but MMM is going with Drew Smyly.Sorry, Drew, but in a 4-2 week it's hard to find a true Goat.MMM selects Smyly because he let Scherzer's 20th win slip away on Sunday. A wild pitch enabled the Royals to score the tying run in the eighth inning. Yes, the Tigers won the game anyway, thanks to last week's Hero, Avila. That actually seems rather congruous to MMM.Under the MicroscopeDid you know that Miguel Cabrera hasn't had an RBI since September 7?Just let that sink in for a bit.MMM knows that Cabrera won't win his second straight Triple Crown, but the greater concern is, how is Miggy's health truly?He seems to look a bit more nimble, but a 5-for-19, RBI-less week makes MMM wonder if Cabrera isn't still bothered by his hip and abdominal problems.It might see[...]



Monday Morning Manager: Week 23

2013-09-09T10:45:26.979-04:00

Last Week: 2-4This Week:  at CWS (9/9-11); KC (9/13-15)So, What Happened?MMM apologizes for no update last week. It was Labor Day and Mrs. MMM had some family time planned!Now, on to Week 23's update...It was a tough one for the Bengals. Two series losses, and what was once a very comfy 8.5 game lead in the division is now down to 5.5, thanks to those never-say-die Cleveland Indians, who were winning four in a row while the Tigers struggled against Boston and Kansas City. But the magic number for clinching is 15, so MMM urges against "panic in Detroit," as David Bowie once sang.The Tigers have been brutal in Boston in recent years, so last week's 1-2 showing in Fenway Park was hardly a shocker, even though Detroit won the first game. In fact, FSD said that the Tigers have never won a series in Boston since Jim Leyland took over as manager in 2006. That's eight years of futility.Then it was on to KC and another series loss but MMM is picking the Tigers to make the World Series.MMM knows what you're all thinking, and some of it likely can't be printed here on a family blog.The logic is this: the Tigers should steam roll to the World Series, as long as they don't have to play the Royals in the playoffs!Right?The Royals, who are 31-17 since the All-Star break, improved to 9-7 against the Tigers this season, doing what the Royals do: playing small ball. Except for Eric Hosmer, re-born after last year's sophomore year debacle. Hosmer played, as FSD's Rod Allen said, "big boy baseball." Hosmer, whose rebirth this year started not long after George Brett's brief stint as hitting coach began, thrashed the Tigers with extra base hits and homers all weekend.In other news of the week, Andy Dirks and Omar Infante each had five hits in the Tigers' 16-2 win over the Royals on Friday. The Tigers as a team had 26 hits in the game, but then the bats slumbered the next two days. The 14-run win came on the heels of an ugly 16-run loss (20-4) to the Red Sox last Wednesday.Justin Verlander continues to perplex, as he gave up a two-run homer to Salvador Perez on Saturday that was the difference maker.Hot prospect Nick Castellanos got his first MLB hit, an infield single on Saturday. But MMM wants to know how that could be, since Nick was about to be called out on the bang-bang play, except that Hosmer couldn't hang on to the baseball. Shouldn't that be an error?Anyhow....Hero of the WeekOmar Infante did something quite spectacular on Friday night.He had five hits and six RBI (he came a whisker away from seven), which is Miguel Cabrera territory---except that not even Cabrera has done that. Infante's bid for a grand slam came inches away from happening. It took a video review to confirm that it was a bases-loaded, bases-clearing double.Infante's season is another (*cough* V-Mart *cough*) that is getting lost in the Cabrera shuffle. But Omar's play has been nothing short of terrific all season. MMM wonders what this division  race would be like had Infante not missed over a month after being spiked by Colby Rasmus in Toronto in early July.Infante's range defensively has saved more than a few runs, as well.Last week Infante was 9-for-22 and lifted his BA to .325. He is a free agent after the season, and MMM scoffs at those who suggest that the Tigers might be interested in fellow free agent Robinson Cano this winter.Why go after Cano when Infante is about the same age and would come much cheaper? Cano is a marvelous player, but MMM doesn't see where he is a distinct upgrade over Infante defensively.Honorable mentions: Dirks, who is perking up at jus[...]



V-Mart's Resurrection Nothing Short of Amazing

2013-09-01T13:27:19.933-04:00

Rick Sutcliffe, the big right-handed pitcher of the 1980s, once spoke of winning the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award, which he did in 1987.“You know what that tells you? It tells you that you were terrible the year before.”The Tigers’ Victor Martinez is running away with this year’s American League Comeback Player of the Year Award. If it’s anything less than unanimous, then they may as well stop giving out the thing.But Martinez wasn’t terrible the year before this one—he didn’t have a year before this one.Martinez—they call him V-Mart—is having one of the greatest seasons in recent Tigers history, but nobody outside of the team’s fan base knows about it. Hell, sometimes it seems like the folks who are Tigers fans don’t know about it—or at least, they’re not talking about it.Martinez is playing on the same team as Miguel Cabrera, which this year is like being one of Jesus’ disciples. You kind of get lost in the shuffle.But that doesn’t change the fact that Martinez is authoring a season that will look more impressive as it gets further in the past.They say that hitting a baseball with any degree of success is one of the hardest things to do in sports. Try doing it after taking a year off.Victor Martinez didn’t exactly take a year off, to be accurate. The year was ripped from him.Let’s wind the clocks back to January, 2012.The news slugged Tigers fans in the back of the neck. It was a rabbit punch—a cheap shot that no one saw coming.The winter was in full swing, baseball’s spring training reporting dates still more than a month away. Hockey dominated the news, the Red Wings season about half finished. The Lions had been eliminated from the playoffs. The Pistons were again sunk into irrelevance, which was becoming another winter tradition.Then the news came over today’s version of “the wire”—the Internet.Victor Martinez had hurt himself. Badly. It was early, but things didn’t look so good. The sometimes catcher, mostly DH who batted .330 and had 103 RBI in 2011 had perhaps suffered a season-ending injury—some three months before the season even started.He was working out and something went wrong, the stories that blazed through Twitter’s news feeds like a California brush fire, said.It was something the matter with his knee.I have always found it ironic that, despite some of the physical gyrations and unusual moves that athletes engage in during game play, it is sometimes the mundane, the routine, that fells them.Norm Nixon, a leading point guard in the NBA in the late-1970s, early-1980s, popped his Achilles tendon while out for a jog. The injury pretty much ended Nixon’s career, which figured to have several years still left.In a 1977 game, Bob Lanier, the Pistons’ Hall of Fame center, received a pass and went to bring the basketball toward his big body when an opposing player slapped at the ball, trying to knock it away. It was a typical defensive move that occurs dozens of times in any given NBA game. But this slap instead hit Lanier’s hand square, breaking it, and putting Big Bob out of action for weeks.Mickey Mantle, cruising in for a “routine” fly ball in the 1951 World Series, tripped over an exposed drain pipe at Yankee Stadium and badly hurt his knee. Al Kaline, after striking out in 1967, slammed his bat angrily into the rack and broke his finger. Kaline missed many crucial weeks of a heated pennant race, which the Tigers ultimately lost.Now here was Victor Martinez, working out on his own in January, when his foot planted[...]



Monday Morning Manager: Week 21

2013-08-26T10:36:07.737-04:00

Last Week: 4-2This Week:  OAK (8/26-29); CLE (8/30-9/1)So, What Happened?MMM isn't sure who said it first, but it has been oft repeated."Momentum is tomorrow's starting pitcher."Now, that shouldn't necessarily be taken literally. MMM takes it to mean that in baseball, what a team does the day before shouldn't be counted on as a predictor of what is to come today.Certainly not series to series.Take last week, for example.The Tigers struggled at home against the stinky Twins, dropping two of three. The New York Mets, meanwhile, were winning two of three from the Twins (makeup game) and the Braves.And then came the weekend series between the Tigers and the Mets.The Tigers manhandled the Mets, for the most part. The team that went 1-2 earlier in the week slaughtered the team that went 2-1.Here's another example of baseball's fickleness, also involving the Mets.In late-May, the Mets beat the Yankees four straight games. Then the Mets went to Florida to play the God awful Marlins and got swept, three straight.Joe Garagiola was right: baseball is a funny game.The Tigers, led by Miggy Cabrera (who else?) stormed into New York and with apologies to Kevin James, became the Kings of Queens.It was a clean sweep of the hapless Mets, who are once again looking at a crossroads with yet another manager. Terry Collins' contract expires at the end of the season.Victor Martinez played catcher in two of the three games, and he performed admirably. MMM can't see a scenario by which the Tigers would keep V-Mart's bat out of the lineup in a National League ballpark should they make it to the World Series. So, expect Victor behind the plate in the Fall Classic if the Tigers are in it.It should be noted that Alex Avila continues to have headaches related to his concussion. He was lifted out of a rehab game last week because of it.In other news, Justin Verlander continues to vex us, Max Scherzer improved to 19-1 and showed some batting skills (RBI double) and those damn Indians won't go away.Hero of the WeekIt takes quite a week these days to knock Miguel Cabrera from the HotW perch.Victor Martinez did it, though.MMM could have, once again, gone with Miggy here, but V-Mart impressed by pulling catcher duties in New York while continuing to hit.For the week, Martinez was 7-for-21 and while he netted just two RBI, MMM likes that he returned to catching like a duck to water. And in those two games in which he caught, Martinez got a couple of hits and was every bit the quarterback behind the plate. And, he handled all his fielding chances flawlessly.Austin Jackson and Miggy may have had a more dazzling week stat-wise (and Cabrera's home run on Sunday was quite the bomb), but MMM is going with Martinez for once again showing what a great pro and teammate he is.Honorable mentions: Cabrera (enough said); Austin Jackson (12-for-28, two homers on the heels of being named the Goat last week); Scherzer (a win and an RBI double).Goat of the WeekJustin Verlander, MMM is sorry.But the Goat label is worn by JV, who had yet another foul outing last week against the Twins.Ten hits, six runs in seven innings. He didn't get the loss, but it doesn't matter. It was the rubber game of a series and JV didn't get it done.Yes, Verlander's year, overall, is one that many starters would take. But JV isn't "many starters."Verlander says he hasn't quite figured things out yet. Well it's late August so the question begs: WILL he find it this year?That is a question that can't be answered now, but in the meantime, Verlander is GotW.Und[...]



Monday Morning Manager: Week 20

2013-08-19T10:26:07.746-04:00

Last Week: 4-4This Week:  MIN (8/20-22); at NYM (8/23-25)So, What Happened?You don't see eight-game weeks very often, but that's exactly what the Tigers had last week.Thanks to an earlier rainout, the Kansas City Royals came to town and a four-game series turned into a five-gamer. The Royals have been hot after the All-Star break, and the upstart team from Kansas City was looking to "make a statement" in their weekend visit to Detroit.The Royals came to town 7.5 games out of first place, and after a doubleheader sweep of the Tigers on Friday, they had visions of leaving Detroit 4.5 games back.But some guy named Miguel Cabrera had other ideas.Miggy, simply the best hitter on the planet, socked a walk-off homer on Saturday night, then on his first swing on Sunday, smacked a two-run homer to stake the Tigers to a 2-0 lead as they went on to a 6-3 win.The result? The Royals' fantasies of taking four of five turned into dust. The Tigers shoved the Royals 8.5 games back, and in the process distanced themselves from the second place Cleveland Indians to the tune of seven full games.Race over?MMM is hesitant to declare the AL Central to the Tigers, because this is baseball and crazy things can happen, but a prolonged slump/collapse seems unlikely by the Motor City Bengals.This isn't 2009, when a flawed Tigers team blew a seven-game lead in September and lost a one-game playoff to the Minnesota Twins. The 2013 Tigers are a much more complete team, and loaded with starting pitching.The Royals still have six games with the Tigers on the schedule, but MMM feels that they simply won't matter all that much. But again, we'll see.The week began with a disappointing 1-2 record in Chicago against the Pale Hose, making the Tigers 2-4 since their 12-game winning streak. But the Royals series happened, and so did a 3-2 mark.The week's games were tainted with the revelation that Prince Fielder filed for divorce from his wife Chantel in late May. Naturally, social media and talk radio blew up with amateur psychologists who theorized that Fielder's impending divorce has played a significant role in his struggles since, well, late May.MMM admits that Fielder's nosedive in BA and power coincided with the filing date, but why can't this be just a coincidence? And if it's not, so what? Pro athletes aren't robots---no matter how much money they make.Hero of the WeekMMM is considering changing this section to "Miggy's Heroics of the Week."Seriously, what's going on here?MMM has seen his share of clutch performers in Detroit. Baseball-wise, Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris come to mind. But nobody comes close to what Miguel Cabrera is doing these days.MMM wants to pick a different HotW, but Cabrera just keeps doing heroic things.He's playing hurt, number one. We all know that. Then he does something like win Saturday's game with a walk-off home run, and follows it with a homer on the first pitch he sees on Sunday, which got the Tigers rolling. So two pitches, two big home runs, at a time when the feisty Royals had visions of getting to within 4.5 games of first place.Honorable mentions: Fielder, for a big home run in the first inning on Friday as the news of his impending divorce caused a stir on talk radio and the Internet; Max Scherzer (18-1); and backup catcher Brayan Pena (filling in very admirably for the concussed Alex Avila).Goat of the WeekWhen you go 3-for-28 while you are supposed to be the catalyst, you earn GotW "honors."Austin Jackson, you are MMM's Goat.A-Jax was virtually i[...]



Monday Morning Manager: Week 19

2013-08-12T11:40:45.102-04:00

Last Week: 5-2This Week:  at CWS (8/12-14); KC (8/15-18)So, What Happened?First, MMM would like to apologize for being AWOL last week. MMM celebrated a birthday (the big 5-0) and Mrs. MMM put together a picnic last Monday. Hence, no update last week.Now, on to this week's update...In 1978, just after Labor Day, the New York Yankees invaded Fenway Park in Boston for a big four-game series with the Red Sox. The surging Yankees had whittled a huge Boston lead in the AL East (it was 14 games on July 17) down to four games.The series became known as the Boston Massacre. The Yankees swept the four games, outscoring Boston 42-9 in the process. The race was tied, and you know the rest.Last week, the Cleveland Indians, playing good baseball, welcomed the Tigers to Progressive Field for a four-game series. The Indians were a mere three games out of first place.The Tribe got within three outs of  a victory on Monday night, which would have cut the Tigers' lead to two games. But then Alex Avila struck for a three-run dinger off closer Chris Perez, the Tigers won 4-2, and the lead was four games instead of two.It all went downhill from there for Cleveland.The Tigers swept the series, lifted their lead to seven games, and left the Indians staggering, like a punch drunk boxer.The Tribe lost two more, to the Angels, before righting the ship on Sunday.The Tigers left Cleveland and went to New York, and despite touching Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera for three shocking ninth inning homers on Friday and Sunday, lost two of three to the Yankees.No matter. It was a fine 5-2 week, giving the Tigers a 17-5 record after the All-Star break.Miguel Cabrera continues to be hampered by his hip/abdominal injuries, but he pulled a Kirk Gibson against Rivera, slugging two dramatic home runs despite featuring a noticeable limp.Justin Verlander was slandered by now ex-radio host Jack Clark, who accused JV of using PEDs.The person who DID use them, Jhonny Peralta, began his 50-game suspension last Monday.Jeremy Bonderman (remember him?) returned to the Tigers after a three-year absence and was the bullpen hero in Wednesday's 14-inning win.Alex Avila is on the 7-day concussion DL after being dinged by a foul tip on Thursday.Whew!And that's not all of it!Hero of the WeekMMM realizes he is not alone in being unable to describe the feats of Miguel Cabrera.What does it say when Cabrera is dwarfing last season's Triple Crown numbers?He is on his way to cruising to a third straight batting title, which for a right-handed hitter puts him in some rarefied air.And now Miggy is just being ridiculous—creating legendary moments that is normally the stuff of fiction.He blasted two monumental home runs against Rivera and the Yankees.On Friday night, limping due to injury, with two strikes on him, two outs, and the Yankees ahead 3-1 with a Tiger on base in the ninth inning, Cabrera took a low fastball from the best closer in baseball history and lofted it over the center field wall, tying the game. And Cabrera did it in New York, a city that has seen more than its share of legendary baseball moments.Not finished with Rivera, Cabrera again homered off the only man in the majors who wears no. 42, in the ninth inning on Sunday, drawing the Tigers to within 4-3. Moments later, Victor Martinez homered off Rivera as well, tying the game.All this as Miggy battles a nagging hip/abdominal combo that allows him to hit, but which makes running and fielding dicey.The homers, th[...]



Dombrowski Again Shows Why He's One of MLB's Best GMs

2013-08-06T17:08:17.224-04:00

They are riverboat gamblers dressed in Armani. They are playing with company money, corporate assets. Their cell phones burn hotter than a California brush fire.Some are craftier than others. Some are more aggressive than others. Some go for the big payoff—risk takers supreme. Others are content to settle for the smaller, safer bet.Here’s an example.It’s around Valentine’s Day (ironically) in 1989. The Pistons’ wheeler and dealer has been burning up the phone lines. He has a mercurial, tempestuous, volatile player on his hands. The player cannot any longer get along with his coach. That comes from the player himself.The riverboat gambler tries to broker a meeting between player and coach. The player rebuffs the efforts.“I told Adrian, ‘Coach Daly will talk to you anytime you want.’ But Adrian didn’t want to talk.”The speaker was Jack McCloskey. And he was recalling the circumstances surrounding his gutsiest trade ever. That’s my opinion and I am sticking to it.McCloskey traded Adrian Dantley to Dallas for Mark Aguirre, straight up. Dantley—asMcCloskey recounted to me via phone several years ago—was an unhappy camper in early 1989, despite the Pistons tearing up the league, seeking that elusive championship. And frankly, the Pistons weren’t too pleased with Adrian.The Pistons made the Finals in 1988, but lost in seven hellacious games to the Lakers. They had come close—oh, so close—to winning their first title in franchise history.There had been grumblings that Dantley, perhaps the best post-up small forward in league history, was a ball and chain around the Pistons’ offense. The term black hole was even used—as in when the basketball was delivered to Dantley, it was never to be seen by a teammate again.The Pistons had some athletes who could get up and down the floor, led by the smiling assassin Isiah Thomas. But when Dantley got the ball—usually on the wing—the offense came to a screeching halt. After two-plus seasons of this, certain folks got annoyed. Certain folks in very high places.So it was that even with the backdrop of a team playing .750 basketball, Dantley was frustrated. He felt the tension, and he (rightly) felt that it was directed toward him.McCloskey pleaded with Dantley to talk to his coach, Chuck Daly. Dantley refused.“I had no choice,” McCloskey told me that evening in 2009. “I had to trade Adrian.”The trade deadline was coming up. And even if McCloskey—so aptly nicknamed “Trader Jack”—felt that he “had no choice” but to trade Dantley, I still say it was his gutsiest trade. Maybe the gutsiest in Detroit sports history.The trade, for another player who had issues with his coach—Aguirre—could have had a negative affect on team chemistry. For despite Dantley’s foibles, the Pistons were used to them. And they knew the reputation that Aguirre had in Dallas and his Reggie Jackson-Billy Martin relationship with coach Dick Motta, who himself would never win Mr. Congeniality. With Dantley vs. Aguirre, it was kind of like the devil you know versus the one you don’t.McCloskey made the trade. Dantley, who to this day thinks the deal was engineered by Thomas (Aguirre’s close friend), brooded. Aguirre was taken to dinner by a contingent of Pistons and the law was laid down. The [...]



Senior Tiger Santiago Still Has His Rare Moments

2013-07-29T11:22:52.705-04:00

It wasn’t exactly Ernie Broglio for Lou Brock, but on January 8, 2004, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowskipulled off a trade that was as lopsided as it gets. DD must have approached the Seattle Mariners with a gun and a mask.On that day, Dombrowski traded infielder Ramon Santiago for Carlos Guillen.You heard me.Ramon Santiago for Carlos Guillen, straight up.To add insult to injury, Dombrowski ended up with Santiago, too, a couple years later, when “Santy” signed with the Tigers as a free agent in January 2006.Guillen, meanwhile, was arguably the heart and soul of a Tigers team that made the World Series in 2006 and contended pretty much every year after—and is still contending some two years after Guillen last played.And Santiago?The diminutive infielder can’t hit his way out of a paper bag these days. He’s a switch-hitter, but maybe it’s more bait and switch. Unless there’s an injury, Santiago gets on the field about as often as a starting pitcher. He’s been the 24th or 25th man in Detroit for years.It wasn’t always that way.There was a time when the Tigers trotted Santiago out on most days, counting on him as a daily player, which is kind of like running your car everyday on one of those tiny spare tires.The year was 2003. Santiago appeared in 141 games, splitting time between second base and shortstop. He hit a robust .225.That year, Santiago fit right in. The Tigers lost 119 games in 2003. They were the 1962Mets, redux.It was that winter, following that nightmare season, when Dombrowski somehow convinced the Mariners to take Santiago off his hands for Guillen, even up. Guillen was a six-year veteran whose batting average improved for four straight years—.158 to .257 to .259 to .261 to .276. He was 28 years old, just entering his prime.The Mariners bit. Guillen came to Detroit and batted .318, .320, .320 and .296 in his first four years as a Tiger. In 2007, Guillen had 102 RBI and was, at the time, one of the best shortstops in baseball.And Santiago?The term “utility player” can be deadly accurate or it can minimize the impact a player has on his team. It’s like “character actor” in Hollywood.Santiago plays second, third and shortstop. He won’t hurt you at any of those positions, defensively. He won’t help you much with the bat, either. Since being reacquired by the Tigers in 2006, Santiago hasn’t had more than 320 at-bats in any given season. But he’s been like an old, comfortable shoe.Santiago is also the most senior Tiger, gaining that status after Brandon Inge was cashiered last year.Ramon Santiago made his big league debut on May 17, 2002 for a Tigers team that was so dysfunctional, it’s a wonder they never ended up on The Jerry Springer Show.The manager was an overwhelmed Luis Pujols, who took over after Phil Garner and GM Randy Smith were fired by Dombrowski in the season’s first week.Pujols was as respected as a substitute teacher. The Tigers were an out of control bunch, losing games and fighting amongst themselves. It was, without question, the low point of Dombrowski’s 12-year reign as team president.So it turned out that the Tigers had no one better to man the middle of the infield in 2003 than Santiago, who was 24 and probably in over his head as an everyday player. But he gave it a shot, played his hardest, hi[...]