Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Current Homestand Important, Despite Leyland's Comments

(My Weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 5-1
This Week: (5/29-6/1: NYY; 6/2-6/4: BOS)

I know what Jimmy Leyland is trying to feed us, and I appreciate it. I'm just not in the mood for it right now.

The Tigers manager would have us believe that these seven home games with the Yankees and Red Sox are just seven games on the schedule. He says they hold no more meaning than if those games were with the Texas Rangers, or Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Or Kansas City Royals. He says he's wary of bandwagon hoppers. He wants us to believe that the Tigers having the best record in baseball on Memorial Day is nothing worth writing home about.

"I'd rather be in first place at the end of the season," he says.

Well, sure.

But the Tigers, like it or not, are going to find that these games with the "big boys" from the Bronx and Beantown are indeed barometers. The team sits at 35-16, even after two straight shutout losses, yet 22-5 of that has been at the expense of the Royals, the Indians, and the Twins -- bottom feeders in the league. And they are 0-3 against the White Sox.

Don't get me wrong. If the Tigers go 0-7, or 1-6, or 2-5, it doesn't mean they're not a good team any longer. And if their record is opposite that, that doesn't assure anything either. So in that respect, Leyland speaks true.

But you can't tell me that even the Tigers players themselves aren't curious to see where their hotshot ballplaying puts them in relation to the vaunted Yankees and Red Sox. Certainly the fans are eager. The same with Internet bloggers and other riffraff.

The seven-game itch began ominously, with a Randy Johnson near-no-hitter. That's 18 innings in a row without a run crossing the plate for the Tigers. Even the greatest pitching can't win with that kind of offensive production behind it.

I'd like to see the Tigers go 4-3 in these seven contests. Keep some momentum, gain some more confidence, and maybe they'll even get a Sunday Night game on ESPN one of these days. That would be nice.

Even if Jimmy Leyland thinks I'm all wet.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Where's The Love? Tigers Keep Getting Buried In The Papers

If a baseball team is in first place and nobody in its home town writes about it, does it make a noise?

Those poor Tigers. For 12 seasons in a row they play considerably south of .500 -- many times shy of .400 -- and now that they are winners, they are ignored in their own city.

I don't mean the fans. They're coming out now -- with crowds touching 35,000+, and with ten straight games at CoPa starting tonight, they might draw 350,000 during the homestand, which includes seven games with the Yankees and Red Sox.

I'm talking about the local papers -- and the Free Press specifically, since that's what I read most often.

Yes, I know the Pistons deserve love right now -- Eastern Conference finalists and all -- but why isn't there any space for the Tigers before page 7, or 9, of the sports section?

Yet that's where the Tigers find themselves -- redheaded stepchildren in their own town.

That the Tigers are being buried in the newspapers is ridiculous. This is supposed to be a great sports town; we can't handle two good teams on the same front page?

I'm also wondering when the Tigers -- possessors of MLB's best record -- are going to be featured on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. But that's national, and I should be more patient in that regard.

But the Tigers are being given the short shrift, india ink-wise, and that's a shame.

The dailies are missing a pretty good baseball season.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Tigers' Growth In Early 80's Greatly Helped By Houk

The Major: Ralph Houk, Tigers manager from 1974-78

Ozz, one of my loyal readers, was writing me in response to a post I made on my general sports blog, "Out of Bounds", about transitional coaches and managers -- those men who take teams from the bottom and lead them somewhere around the middle, but no higher.

"Would Ralph Houk (1974-78) be considered a transitional manager?," Ozz wondered about the man who was the first to manage the likes of Trammell, Whitaker, Morris, and Parrish in the big leagues.

I wrote back and said no, Houk retired, and thus shouldn't be considered transitional, for he probably could have stayed had he wanted.

But Houk, upon retrospect, should be recognized.

Houk set the table for Sparky Anderson (I don't count Les Moss), guiding the young Tigers to an 86-76 record in 1978, his last in Detroit. Sparky joined the team in June 1979.

The Tigers of 1974, Houk's first season, were a hollowed-out shell of the 1968 and '72 teams that won the World Series and AL East, respectively. The heroes from those teams, still on the Tigers in '74, were old and way past their prime. The minor leagues weren't providing much in the way of solid big league talent. The Tigers were a foundering franchise, and it would be up to Houk -- a veteran manager who'd spent many seasons piloting the Yankees -- to weather the storm while giving some sorely-needed big league playing time to guys like Danny Meyer, Leon Roberts, Ron LeFlore, and Tom Veryzer. The Trammells and Whitakers were still several years away from being MLB-ready.

So the Tigers lost, and they lost, and they lost some more. In 1975, they lost 19 games in a row in July and August, on their way to dropping 46 of their last 57 games. 1976 was another losing season, but made bearable by the presence of Mark "The Bird Fidrych.

And Houk never whined, never panicked, never acted as anything but a class act, even though he was stuck, most of the time, with an inferior roster than his league counterparts. It wasn't until the core of the 1984 team hit the bigs as everyday players that Houk was able to enjoy a winning season in Detroit.

Houk retired after the '78 season, but then reemerged a few years later with the Red Sox. I went to a game in 1983 with the Red Sox in town. Kirk Gibson hit one over the roof, and the Tigers won. Sometime during the game, Houk went into another of his trademark tirades, kicking dirt, tossing his cap to the ground, and getting ejected.

Good old Ralphie. Always The Major.

He retired again-- for good -- after the next season.

Monday, May 22, 2006


Tigers Using Same Recipe For Victory As '68 Team

My weekly take on the Tigers

Last week: 5-1
This week: (5/22-25: at KC; 5/26-28: CLE)

As I've mentioned here before, I've been listening to "The Year of the Tiger," an audio cassette recording of the 1968 album recreation of the Tigers' World Series season.

That season, the Tigers used the weapon of the late-inning rally to overwhelm their opponents, time and again. And the game-breaking hits came from not only the usual suspects -- Horton, Cash, Kaline, etc. -- but from the "no-names" like Matchick, Price, and Tracewski.

When backup catcher Vance Wilson hit a two-out homerun to beat the Twins' ace Johan Santana in the eighth inning last Thursday for a narrow Tigers victory, it got me to thinking.

"When THAT happens," I said, referring to Wilson's unlikely tater, "you start to wonder."

Then Curtis Granderson, perhaps not so unlikely a hero, smacks a two-out solo homer in the ninth inning to tie the Reds. The Tigers won in the tenth -- on an errant throw from shortstop. Yesterday, Placido Polanco -- definitely more likely a hero -- gets a game-winning pinch single in the eighth inning to break a scoreless tie. The Tigers win again.

It's the same formula used in 1968. A different hero every game.

There is no Denny McLain and Mickey Lolich, but there is Kenny Rogers and a cast of young guns who, as a rotation, might be as formidable as McLain, Lolich, Earl Wilson, and Joe Sparma. Maybe more so. No kidding.

I keep waiting for the Tigers' team ERA to rocket, but it's staying steadily in the low 3's, and that'll win you a bunch of baseball games.

This week presents a different type of challenge. Instead of seeing how the Tigers measure up against stronger opponents -- that'll be next week when the Yankees and Red Sox come to town -- they'll have to do what a contending team does: beat up on the likes of the Royals. They have four games in Kansas City, and contending teams win three of the four in those types of series.

Strangely, it'll be interesting to see if the Tigers are looking ahead to next week's big boys.

The Tigers taking a team lightly? They certainly have every reason to. We'll see if they do.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Tigers For Real -- But So Many Others Have Been At Times, Too

Are the Tigers for real?

Well, yeah -- the same way the '78 Red Sox were for real, or the '69 Cubs, or the '64 Phillies, or the '51 Dodgers for that matter. Maybe they're for real the way the '59 Go-Go Sox were for real, or the '67 Red Sox, or the '69 Mets. They might even be for real the way the '97 Marlins were for real, or the 2001 Diamondbacks. Or the '03 Marlins.

The truth is, all those teams were "real" in their own way. Some were for real from April to September, before autumn's arrival struck midnight on their seasons. Some weren't all that real until after the All-Star break, and yet others were real in the most important of times -- the season's final weeks. Still others, like the '84 Tigers, were real from the end of spring training to the middle of October.

The Tigers are for real -- for right now. They sit at 27-13 after the season's first 40 games -- some sort of magical barometer, if you listen to baseball folks. They play at a .675 clip, which is a percentage that typically cannot be caught. It's also a percentage that typically cannot be maintained over the course of 162 games.

When the Tigers were playing .250 ball in 2003, also in May, I dismissed their chances of challenging the 1962 Mets (40-120) for baseball futility. No way, I said, could they be "real" bad for that long. They darned near proved me wrong. They were for real, in a baaaad way, until the season's final week, when they got "hot" to finish 43-119.

So maybe the Tigers will play .675 ball thru the summer.

Yes, it's very unlikely.

But they are for real now because they have the pitching (a 3.15 team ERA), the defense, the clutch hitting, and they play with smarts. If your team does all those things for 40 games, it'll be for real, too. For the time being.

I think the fun will last for most of this summer because the pitching is something that shows no sign of fading, and isn't that the barometer of all barometers? The smarts are unlikely to go south, too. And the manager will be sticking around, and I think he has a pretty significant hand in all this.

So are the Tigers for real?

Sure they are. As real as you can get after 25% of the season has been played.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Now That The Winning Is Here, Young Unable To Contribute

It must be frustrating for Dmitri Young. At least he's not Bobby Higginson.

Young, a Tiger thru and thru by now, is recovering oh-so-slowly from a variety of injuries, all having to do with his legs. He's already been on the DL, and may go back soon. So he's missing out on a lot of the fun that this 2006 season is already bestowing upon the Tigers and their fans. He's giving it a go, with manager Jim Leyland's blessing, but it's not all that beneficial to the team. Young struggles now to hit at even a .200 clip, the Mendoza Line -- a place where he is certainly not accustomed. For DY is a perennial .300 or near .300 guy.

Young's health could be key to Tigers' chances

Almost everyday, it seems, the Tigers consult Young and huddle together to determine whether Dmitri needs a second placement in sick bay. It may be the wise choice to DL Young again. Better now, and have him healthier later on, than try to muddle through now and perhaps do even more damage. The usual sports injury dilemma.

But for now, Leyland plays Young as his DH and hopes the switch-hitter can provide the Tigers with a much needed lefthanded bat against righthanded pitching. But the gravity of DY's physical condition was evident last week when, in Baltimore, Leyland opted to use Pudge Rodriguez at first base instead of Young, when the skipper wanted to give Chris Shelton a day off. It was Rodriguez's first game at the position in his 15-year big league career. Of course, just like everything else Leyland has tried this season, the move worked. Pudge made two outstanding plays in the first few innings.

Still, Young can't help but feel like he's an outsider looking in at a party that he always hoped would happen in Detroit.

Young came to the Tigers before the 2002 season, and he now finds himself as the senior member of the team -- the Daddy Cat. Naturally, that means he has been gulping down the losing longer than any of his teammates. Now the Tigers can call themselves winners -- at least for the time being -- and Young hasn't been able to help the cause all that much. Can't be too gratifying.

But Young is not Higginson, so there's that much he can be thankful about.

Bobby's gone now, and the team nor the fans seem to miss him all that much. But Higgy toiled for 12 seasons in Detroit, and with nary a sniff of playoff contention. Often, the teams were out of it by Mother's Day. A couple seasons, by Easter. No joke. You wonder how Bobby feels about the Tigers now -- winners with him gone, out of baseball.

Dmitri Young isn't gone, and he certainly isn't forgotten. But so far -- and we're about 25% through the season -- he hasn't been a factor in the Tigers' new-found winning ways.

Who said baseball, or any other sport for that matter, was fair?

Monday, May 15, 2006


My weekly look at the Tigers...

Last Week: 4-1
This week: (5/16-18: MIN; 5/19-21: CIN)

This is getting spooky now.

The Tigers keep winning, and keep passing tests (except for that damn Metrodome), and keep gaining confidence, and keep acting like a team that belongs in the rarified air of contention, and keep pitching gems, and it's all enough to make your 13-year-gap-of-winning-baseball mind to swim.

The Tigers swept the Indians for the first time ever in Jacobs Field -- and that ballpark has been around for a dozen years or so. It was another test passed, because next to the Twins' dome, The Jake has been maybe the second most horrific foreign ballpark for the Tigers.

This team is playing good baseball, my friend, and something tells me it has some staying power, although check back after Father's Day. Gotta get through both parental holidays before you get serious consideration.

The rotation, one thru five, is as solid as a rock. It's got the look of some of those great Atlanta Braves staffs in the 1990's: Some veteran leadership, and young, talented arms. All the starters are giving the team a chance to win on any given night, and what else can you ask for?

But what stands out most, I believe, from Tigers teams of the recent past is the defense and the smart baseball being played now. The 2006 Tigers are making key plays, and smart plays, with their gloves. They're making good, aggressive decisions. They're believing in themselves more and more each day. And why not? At 16-7, they have the best road record in all of baseball.

The starters, other than Kenny Rogers, are all young, in good physical shape, and won't appear to wear down. The bullpen is humming along. The bats are booming when they have to be booming, and are clutch and timely when the situation calls for it.

Again -- spooky.

Time to dust off your baseball-watching and analyzing minds. Something tells me the fun will last past July 4th this year, and maybe Labor Day.

And we're all out of shape. We're not used to this.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Tanana A Hall Of Famer -- In Michigan Anyway

He once could throw a baseball about as fast as anyone in the big leagues at the time. He paired with Nolan Ryan -- The Ryan Express -- to give the California Angels a lightning-fast one-two punch -- and righty/lefty to boot. Fans weren't doing it yet, but had they, those big "K's" they hang over the balconies in ballparks would be weathered and worn for all the strikeouts the two of them registered. Back in the day, those ancient words.

Then he blew out his arm, and had to reinvent himself if he hoped to stay in the big leagues. So Frank Tanana went from a man with a rocket arm -- a thrower, really -- to a sage pitcher.


A changer of speeds.

Keeping the hitters off balance.

All these are kind, dignified terms, but what Tanana became -- and even he would agree -- was a junkballer. No longer able to pop it over 90 MPH, Tanana bended and slithered and snuck it past hitters at 70, 75 -- maybe in the mid-80's on certain deliveries.

Tanana went from throwing heat to tossing butterflies

Tanana, a Detroiter through and through, is one of the inductees this year into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. The announcement was made last month, and he'll go in, along with Jimmy Devellano, Sonny Grandelius, Dan Majerle, Greg Kelser, Dave Diles, Diane Laffey, and Jack McCloskey, during the Hall's dinner in early October.

Tanana won 240 games, and even I, a known walking sports encyclopedia, didn't know he had registered that many W's. But why wouldn't he? He pitched for 20 years in the bigs.

He was a Tiger from 1985-1991 -- missing out on the pennant and World Series fun of '84 by half a season. The Tigers acquired him from the Texas Rangers in mid-season 1985.

But Tanana was also the starting -- and ending -- pitcher on the final day of the 1987 season, which gave baseball fans around here one of the most exciting last weeks of any season ever. The Tigers climbed out of a 3 1/2 game hole with eight days remaining to capture the AL East flag. And Tanana pitched the clincher on that last Sunday -- a 1-0 shutout of the foundering Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays endured maybe the biggest choke job of any final week, enabling the Tigers to sip champagne. They lost their last seven games of the season, incredibly.

Not only was Tanana the artisan of a complete-game shutout, he helped make the final out, fielding Dane Iorg's tapper and underhanding it to Darrell Evans, setting off more baseball pandemonium in Tiger Stadium, just three years removed from the "Bless You, Boys!" season of '84.

As Tanana addressed us media types during the press conference announcing the inductees April 6, he spoke with deadpan humor.

"Sadly, that game in '87 was the last time the Tigers had anything to celebrate," he said to chuckles.

We laughed, because what else was there to do?


Tanana was one of those baseball vagabonds, really. Besides the Angels and the Rangers and the Tigers, he took his crooked left arm and his junk to the Red Sox and the Yankees and the Mets. He was 40 when he hung 'em up in 1993.

Frank Tanana, the local boy who made good, might have missed out on 1984, but he helped give us our most recent baseball thrill.

Too bad it was 19 freaking years ago. And counting.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Great Leyland Curse?

Tell me, just what have the Pittsburgh Pirates done since Jim Leyland left them? Yeah, I know the Bucs suffered through four straight losing seasons before he was jettisoned after the 1996 campaign. But then J-Ley went to the Florida Marlins the next year, and The Fish won the World Series.

Leyland skippered the Pirates during their last heyday -- the late '80's and early '90's. The club won three straight NL East flags (1990-92), yet couldn't make it to the World Series in any of those years. Still, it was the last time Pittsburgh Pirates baseball was anything to shout about.

We've had the same problem here. The Tigers have done a little diddly and a lot of squat since Sparky Anderson felt uncomfortable enough under the Mike Ilitch ownership to leave following the 1995 season. In fact, in the first post-Sparky year, the Tigers stumbled to a 53-109 record under Buddy Bell. They've been struggling to tread water ever since. They've even sunk a few times. They've been a Titanic with nine lives.

Today the Pirates sit at 10-25, and even Hollywood is getting cranky.

Actually, not Hollywood -- but actor Michael Keaton. Seems Keaton, a Pittsburgh native, is so fed up with the lousy Bucs teams of the past decade that he used the occasion of Opening Day to take a swipe at Pirates management. He said, in essence, that the team needs to pee or get off the pot when it comes to acquiring big league talent. Then, moments later, he threw out the first pitch -- after throwing the first salvo.

So I got to thinking, after the Pirates' record was flashed on the ESPN News screen yesterday, that they haven't been much since Leyland left. And here the Tigers are, 21-13 in his first year back as manager after six seasons off.

Another baseball curse? It just might be, when actors who play at make-believe seem to know all the answers.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Leyland, Like The Rest Of Us, Eager To See How Tigers React To Current Grind

Jim Leyland knows better. He has managed too many games, been a part of too many organizations, seen too many things, worked with too many different levels of talent, to get excited over the first 30 games of any season -- even if his team has won 20 of those first 30.

"This is when you find out what you're made of," Leyland said yesterday after his Tigers lost another tough one, 7-6 -- their fourth loss in five games. "Things have been going good, and now we've let some games get away. So we'll see what we've got a little bit."

Ah, I love the way baseball managers talk: "We'll see what we've got a little bit."

Is he channeling Sparky Anderson?

If this is indeed a genuine slide, then it can be traced to Todd Jones' blown save Saturday in Minnesota. That's when the wheels started to fall off, if this becomes one of those 3-10 things. If the team wins a couple here and there, and stops the bleeding, then Jones' pratfall will be just another blip on the screen of a 162-game season.

But sometimes, especially with teams that aren't used to winning, or are young, something as relatively innocent as a blown save can rock the boat more than it would with a team like the Yankees or Red Sox or -- as much as I hate to admit it -- the White Sox. And the way the Tigers lost last night -- on a couple of homeruns in the seventh inning and a costly error in the eighth -- should be cause for eyebrows to raise and for the imaginary barometers to be gotten out.

The Tigers are in a bit of a grind now. It all came so easy for them during their six-game winning streak. They didn't have to pull too many games out of the fire. But now their pitching is finally showing some chinks, and their hottest hitter isn't hot anymore (Chris Shelton), and the defense (read: Carlos Guillen especially) suddenly looks shaky.

But Jim Leyland has seen it all before. What he hasn't seen, however, is how this particular team will react to it. Not even a grizzled veteran possesses a crystal ball.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

"Year of the Tiger" A Wonderful Listen

I have been listening to "The Year of the Tiger" in my car lately.

It's an old audio cassette a former co-worker of mine made for me, circa 1993. The cassette is a dub, from album, of the classic product rushed into the stores by the Tigers after clinching the 1968 pennant.

"TYOTT" is a wonderful nostalgia trip -- full of actual in-game radio calls from Ernie Harwell and Ray Lane, as they decribed highlight after highlight of that glorious '68 season.

The cheesy, 60's-style music is there, as is some formulaic writing in between radio clips, but that just makes it all the better, to me.

What I like about "TYOTT" is that it recalls a much simpler time in life. When Tiger Stadium was all green, and bleacher seats probably cost 50 cents, and a box seat set you back maybe $4.00. I'm sure a scorecard and program went for about 50-75 cents -- maybe even cheaper.

But when Harwell says in his melodic voice, "And the Tigers take the series, under sunny skies and behind the pitching of Denny McLain....for the White Sox -- no runs, no hits, no errors, nobody left on base...final score: Tigers 3, Chicago 1," you can't help but sigh wistfully. You can practically see the denizens leaving the old ballpark on that Sunday afternoon, happy after another Tigers victory.

The dramatic comebacks of '68 -- and there were plenty -- give you chills as well as Harwell and Lane describe them as they occur. There's also Harwell's call of Dick McAuliffe going after Tommy John:

"Oooh -- that one just about hit him...I think Mac's a little perturbed...he says something to John, and now he goes after him! Pete Ward steps in there...Gates Brown is out there...the umpires try to separate the combatants here...Tommy John, I think, has hurt his arm."

Oh, yes, he did. And McAuliffe was suspended five days. His fine? $250. No joke.

The funny thing about "TYOTT" is the omission of World Series action. 1968 was the last year of no divisions, so when you wrapped up the pennant, that was it until the Series. The highlights of the Tigers' pennant-clincher is there, from September 17, but that's basically where the album ends. Makes me think they rushed it into stores somewhere between 9/17 and the World Series in early October. I wonder why. Maybe the Tigers' PR department was afraid the team was going to lose.

Regardless, head over to eBay and search for this artifact. I'm sure someone who's foolish enough not to know what he or she has will put it up for bid sooner or later.

Monday, May 08, 2006


Last Week: 4-3
This Week: (5/9-11; at Bal; 5/12-14; at Cle)

Friday, on this blog's daddy, Out of Bounds, I wrote that if the Tigers were truly to get my last foot onto their bandwagon, they'd have to win two out of three against the Twins in that house of horrors, the Metrodome. Never mind that the Tigers emasculated the Twins, 33-1, in the previous weekend's series. Beating them in Minnesota would be the true test.

Well, they weren't able to do it, though they probably should have. Todd Jones suffered his first blown save of the season Saturday, and Johan Santana took care of them Sunday -- no-hitting the Tigers through six innings.

Now we'll see a little bit more of what the Tigers are made of, having lost three of four and continuing on the road for six more games.

Saturday's blown game happens, and the Tigers haven't had too many of those this season. Still, will the team respond favorably? They did after manager Jim Leyland's tirade when the Tigers fell to 7-6 with a listless loss to Cleveland. They ripped off a 12-3 streak, including the destruction of the Twins in Detroit.

No butt-chewing is needed this time, but how well the Tigers are able to survive this minor turbulence will give us yet one more indication of how a team that isn't used to winning will handle adversity. Learning to win is largely made up of how you respond to losing.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

I'm Making A Major Commitment To Attend A Minor League Game This Summer

I have never been to a minor league baseball game, and shame on me.

I have never experienced the coziness and small-town feel of baseball in the raw, and that absolutely has to change.

It's not like there aren't opportunities around these Southeastern Michigan parts. There's the West Michigan Whitecaps out Grand Rapids-way, the Lansing Lugnuts, and the Tigers' Triple A affiliate Mud Hens in Toledo. All are within a couple hours drive of my metro Detroit home.

The funny thing is, I've often wondered what it would be like to pay less than $20 for a baseball ticket, less than $5 for a beer, and less than $3 for a soft drink. I've wondered what it would be like to pay less than $15 to park my car, less than $5 for a dish of nachos, and less than $50 for a souvenir. I also fantasize at what it would be like to pay less than $5 for a program, and less than $4 for the staple of all baseball staples -- a hot dog. With all the fixin's.

So what am I waiting for? The Mud Hens might be the best bang for my buck -- because their roster is filled with Tigers of the past and the future, and it's only about 75 minutes south on Interstate 75 to Toledo. Even with gas prices through the roof, that may be the way to go. Lansing is about the same distance from me, and maybe I'll do the Lugnuts next time. But for now, I'll set my sights on Toledo.

Folks who have been tell me that the minor league baseball experience is underpriced, really. The ballparks are fan and family friendly, the players are accessible, and the entire feel is Norman Rockwellian. Better than the Orwellian feel that MLB can exude from time to time.

And, the baseball isn't bad. The bats are wooden -- hear that, college baseball lovers? -- and that's almost enough for me right there. Even the lower tiers of minor league ball will provide an enjoyable baseball viewing show, for these are professionals, no matter their salaries, and they're all trying like the dickens to make a living out of it. Doubtful you'll see anyone dogging it -- failing to run out a grounder, jogging lazily for a ball hit into the gap -- on a minor league field, because these players aren't raking in $50,000 per game, regardless of their level of effort.

The Triple-A All-Star Game will be played in Toledo this July, but as my colleague at MCS Magazine, Eric Smith, reminded me, that might not be the truest representation of a night out in Toledo for baseball. He might be right. So maybe I'll settle for a regular season contest. Besides, all of the home team will be made up of Mud Hens -- not All-Stars from teams I have no connection to, really.

If any of you have had minor league baseball experiences you'd like to share, leave me a comment. I'm interested.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Wood's Shattered Knee Still Vivid -- 30 Years Later

As many times as I've been to Tiger Stadium, as many plays as I've seen, and as many wonderful moments that I've seen -- absolutely topped by witnessing Kirk Gibson's homer off Goose Gossage in the 1984 World Series -- one that keeps popping into my skull is the sight of Wilbur Wood flopping around like a fish on the grass in front of the pitcher's mound.

Wood was a lefthanded knuckleballer -- unusual, when you think about it; most knucklers are righties -- who pitched for the Chicago White Sox. He pitched so much, he would have records like 24-20 or 21-22 at the end of the season.

Wood finished his career with a 164-156 record

In 1976, Wood took the mound at the Stadium on a weekend afternoon. It was the first season the Chisox wore those goofy, old-time uniforms that looked like softball threads. They even donned shorts with those unis from time to time.

Ron LeFlore was the batter. I looked at retrosheet.org, and the date was May 9, 1976. It was the sixth inning. Wood delivered a fluttering knuckler, and LeFlore took it right back up the middle, as most hitters are instructed to do with a knuckleball.

The line drive smacked right into Wood's knee and shattered the kneecap. You could hear the ball smash into Wood's knee. The crowd gasped. I was sitting in the lower deck, third base side. So I got a very good look at Wood, in terrific pain, gyrating and tumbling around on the grass. There was silence in the ballpark as Wood's howls could be heard.

Thirty years later, and the images and sounds resonate.

Wood was done for that season, but pitched into 1978.

And not since then have I seen such an injury, in person, at The Corner. Or in Comerica Park. Nor do I wish to.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Finley's Designated Runner Never Got Out Of The Starting Gate

Back in the late-1970's, the San Francisco Giants had a slow-footed catcher named Marc Hill. And when I say slow-footed, I mean in the way that molasses running uphill is slow-footed. Anyhow, when Hill finally stole the first -- and only -- base of his career, the team decided to have some fun and later set up a ceremony in which Hill was presented with the base, in a glass case, complete with a plaque commemorating the event.

If former Oakland A's owner, the late, great Charlie O. Finley, had his way, the only running guys like Hill would have had to do would be to jog to and from their positions. For Finley espoused the notion of a Designated Runner, in the same spirit that the American League adopted the Designated Hitter rule in 1973. In Finley's grand plan, the DR would literally be situated just outside the batter's box, near the hitter with the square wheels. At the crack of the bat, or upon ball four, the DR would set his feet in motion and function as that hitter's ghost runner for the remainder of that inning, and for every subsequent at-bat.

I swear I'm not making this up.

Finley and his prototype orange baseballs

Finley came as close as he could to employing his own DR when he hired Herb Washington -- a fleet track star from Michigan State University --to run exclusively during the 1974 season. Washington appeared in 92 games in '74, and scored 29 runs. He had zero plate appearances. As a base stealer, the unrefined Washington did okay, swiping 29 bases in 45 attempts.

But Finley's sideshow became even more derided when Washington was picked off first base in the '74 World Series against the Dodgers. Although, the A's won the series, so Washington's gaffe was overshadowed. Herb Washington was released 31 years ago today -- May 4, 1975 -- and that's strange, because I didn't know that until after I started writing this post. Spooky.

For his career, Washington appeared in 105 games, scored 33 runs, and had 31 stolen bases.

Finley ditched the notion of a DR about the same time he dumped Washington as an employee.

Finley also pushed for orange baseballs for night games, wanted pitcher Vida Blue to legally change his first name to "True," and his team was the first -- and only -- ballclub to wear white shoes. In fact, Finley's hockey team, the NHL's California Golden Seals, was the first -- and only -- club to wear white hockey skates. Finley also had a classic line about former Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn: "I was in New York once, and an empty cab pulled up, and Bowie Kuhn got out."

Finley was baseball's Designated Looney -- a different kind of DL.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Gather The Old '62 Mets -- The 2006 Royals Are Making A Run

Send an APB out for Marv Throneberry. I think Roger Craig is around somewhere -- find him. Heck, even Choo-Choo Coleman is kicking it someplace, I believe.

Or, if that's too hard, I'll just seek out Jeremy Bonderman or Brandon Inge from the Tigers clubhouse inside Comerica Park.

The '62 Mets (40-120) and the 2003 Tigers (43-119) may have met their match -- and more.

The 2006 Kansas City Royals aren't just off to a slow start, at 5-19. They're not just a team that's trying to find itself as it stumbles out of the gate -- with the talent to "rally" to 70 or so wins.

The Royals are as putrid as any baseball team that's slung on flannels or double-knits over the past 100 years. They are a disgraceful ballclub that might not win even 40 games this season. They are 0-11 on the road after being whipped twice by the Tigers in Detroit. They are a team bereft of hope, pathetic in its ineptitude.

Last season, the Royals lost 19 in a row, and already in 2006, before the calendar turned to May, they've authored an 11-game skid. They're making Manager Buddy Bell's 1996 Tigers team, which went 53-109, look like the 1927 Yankees.

This is a bad, bad team, folks.

I don't think it's overly dramatic to suggest that the Royals will struggle to win 40 in '06. Already buried, they find themselves playing out the string before Mother's Day -- a situation all-too-common in Detroit in recent springs. They'd have to go 35-103 to reach the 40 win plateau, and if you think that should be a walk in the ballpark, think again. The Royals are playing at barely a .200 clip currently, and they still have a host of games with the Red Sox and Yankees -- not to mention a bushel full with the White Sox, Indians, and -- gulp -- Tigers, to play.

Watching the Royals' season in '06 will be akin to witnessing the slowest, most drawn-out train wreck imaginable. We'll cringe, wince, and keep one eye closed and the other open as the dog days of summer arrive. Days and days will go by when the Royals' total in the left-hand column in the standings will be exactly the same -- no movement. In fact, their win total might be, at times, the most constant, static figure since Mike Tyson's IQ.

The Royals, who play in a beautiful ballpark, used to be a model franchise. They won, and the fans were loyal, and the stadium was aglow with aesthetic attractiveness. Now, only the ballpark is worth seeing, and the good people of Kansas City have seen it for 33 years, and counting. Surely that alone is not enough to put fannies into the seats.

Maybe the Royals will indeed crack 40 wins this season.

But I wouldn't bet on it.

Calling Chris Cannizzaro!

Monday, May 01, 2006


Last week: 4-2
This week: KC (5/1, 5/2); LAA (5/3, 5/4); at Min (5/5-5/7)


If any team has slaughtered another in a three-game series to the tune of 33-1, as the Tigers did to the Minnesota Twins over the weekend, then I'd sure like to know when, and who, and how.

It was as if the Tigers finally got their chance to gain vengeance against the bully that has been stealing their lunch money for years, those Minnesota Twins. In my mind, they couldn't have picked a better team to destroy last weekend. The Twins have used the Tigers as their personal punching bags for just about all of this decade.

What strikes me as most impressive, however, isn't necessarily the wins, but the way the team is handling its new-found success. There's a business-as-usual tone in the clubhouse -- kind of an understanding that, yeah -- we're supposed to win. A quiet confidence.

It all starts at the top, of course. Manager Jim Leyland is the one who instills this attitude.

"He's getting the most out of his players because they respond to him," backup catcher Vance Wilson said after yesterday's 6-0 win. Wilson had three hits, spelling Pudge Rodriguez.

Others have said similar things about their new boss: Magglio Ordonez, Rodriguez, Todd Jones, Nate Robertson, and Dmitri Young are among those who've extolled Leyland. This is the real deal, this new-found confidence and belief. And when the pitching is there, as it's been all month, it makes the game that much easier to play. And to manage.

The Tigers have five more divisional games this week -- two against the Royals and three more against the suddenly mediocre Twins. In between are two games against the Angels. This could be another winning week. 5-2 is possible, which would put the Bengals at 21-11. That's a pace that has been unheard of in Detroit in over a decade.

And the more the team responds to success with its business-like approach, the more they'll get that feeling of "we're supposed to win."

Because Tigers teams lately haven't.