Friday, June 30, 2006

2006 Tigers Are Lysol For A Previously-Odiferous City

I wonder where Hiram Bocachica is? Or Kimera Bartee? I wonder if Gene Kingsale still follows the Tigers. Maybe Eric Eckenstahler tunes in the Tigers from time to time.

Sorry, Andujar Cedeno. Roger Cedeno, too. Apologies to Randy Veres and Phil Hiatt and Nate Cornejo. You've all been neatly replaced as Tigers memories.

The Tigers' roster since 1995, Sparky Anderson's last season, isn't exactly a Who's Who of baseball. In fact, it's more of a Who?

But those names, and other wretched ones like them, are now being properly put away, high in the attic of our minds. They are being replaced by ones such as Granderson and Verlander and Zumaya and Thames. And then some. Guys who can play the game.

One of the best things about a breakout season like the Tigers are currently enjoying is the antiseptic aspect of it. The 2006 Tigers are like a huge cloud of Lysol sprayed over the stench left over Comerica Park -- and Tiger Stadium -- by the above named offenders and their ilk.

Washing away now are memories of 43-119 and 53-109 and 65-97 and double-digit losing streaks and seasons in which 20 or so pitchers were used. Gone are times when the team was eliminated from serious contention by Easter. And some years, Easter comes in March.

It's a disinfecting season, 2006 is, and the smell is fresh and pleasant indeed.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

With More Support, Garner Could Have Brought Detroit Baseball Back -- Six Years Earlier

Phil Garner was hot.

Having stormed out of the dugout, the manager's veins bulged out in his neck as he went face-to-face with the offending umpire. The crowd roared as Garner revved up, eventually grabbing a bat and whacking it on home plate for emphasis.

Whack! Whack!

More crowd roaring.

By this time ejected, Garner did what most managers do when the damage is done: continue to act the fool. And, in front of the hometown crowd, a fool can be cheered as much as a competent.

When he finally marched back to the dugout, his cap off and his hair toussled and smoke shooting out of his ears, the fans at Comerica Park -- all 10,000 or so of them -- stood and applauded and hooted and hollered. It was April, 2001. And Garner had played the April Fool, but entertainingly so.

Garner's tirade, as manager of the Tigers -- which I saw in person -- came to mind as I saw him go off his rocker Monday night as his Astros stumbled against the Tigers. It was largely the same type of performance -- but with a tossed chair added to his repertoire.

There was a time when Garner may have presided over the resurgence of baseball in this town as is now occurring.

Hired to manage the Tigers before the 2000 season, Garner had plenty of ideas, many of which were encouraged and precipitated by team management. There would be a brand new ballpark -- Comerica Park. There would be a brand new superstar -- Juan Gonzalez. There would be a nifty, Japanese pitcher -- Hideo Nomo. And there would be money spent, the business suits told Garner. It was a welcome message, after spending several seasons managing the cash-strapped Milwaukee Brewers.

But it never occurred, the resurgence. It never came close. The Tigers flirted with wild card contention in early September, but their chances were about as real as Joan Rivers' face. Gonzalez, in the final year of his contract, never intended to re-sign in Detroit, despite GM Randy Smith's courtship. Nomo was a bust. And the promised money all seemed to go toward the Gonzalez fund, for nothing of note was spent on trying to lure anyone else to Detroit.

Early in the 2002 season, the team winless after a week, Garner got the ziggy. No resurgence. Just regurgitation.

"I would have loved to be a part of what's happening here," Garner said the other night after the Tigers whipped his team. "But it never worked out."

No, maybe not here. But Garner came back to town Monday as manager of the defending NL champ Astros. His team got swept in the World Series, but it got there. So there was a resurgence, after all -- Phil Garner's resurgence.

Still, he sounded almost wistful when speaking about his time in Detroit.

"Here, you have an entire state behind you. Millions of people. This is a sports state. You always have the full support of the people here."

Trouble was, Garner never had the full support of ownership while he managed in Detroit. The fans are great, but they can't make the necessary trades nor sign the needed free agents.

Though they'll tell you how it should be done. Always, that's been true.

Monday, June 26, 2006


51-25?? Tigers Still Not Ready For Prime Time

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 5-1
This Week: (6/26-28: HOU; 6/30-7/2: at Pit)

Last night the Chicago White Sox were -- AGAIN -- on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. Although it was against the Houston Astros, a repeat of last year's World Series. So all is forgiven -- this time.

The Tigers are 51-25. They are on pace to leave the 100-win mark far behind in their rearview mirror. Yet their likeness hasn't adorned "SNB" once this season.

The players will tell you that it's all okay with them; that "flying under the radar" mentality. And, they ARE the ones playing the games, so why listen to a curmudgeonly old Internet blogger and magazine editor?

But I'm not speaking from the players' point of view. All I'm saying is that it would be nice if the Worldwide Leader (as Big Al says) would show our Blessed Boys some love.

Astros-White Sox is hard to argue with. So is Yankees-Red Sox. But I've seen far less compelling matchups than that on Sunday nights. Not many of them have held my interest for longer than an inning or so.

A look ahead to the Tigers schedule -- the next month of Sundays, if you will -- shows the following opponents on Sundays:

Kansas City.

Okay, so those aren't the most thrilling of opponents, granted. But certainly if one of the teams playing on Sunday night is the team with the best record in the game, then I'd say you're halfway to a good game already.

This isn't about who the Tigers are playing -- not anymore. It's about the Tigers themselves. I'd bet a good portion of folks are curious to see this team that's resuscitated a baseball city and its fans all across the country. Besides, I'm one to share. I'll be thrilled to let the rest of the nation enjoy a snippet of what we've been presented with during these first 76 games.

Let 'em see Jimmy Leyland and his managing of daring. Show 'em the whirling dervish that is Curtis "Never Nervous" Granderson. Watch as they are thrilled by the renaissance of one Magglio Ordonez. Grin as the 100 MPH pitches of Joel Zumaya and Justin Verlander give chills up their spines.

There's plenty to go around for all.

Wake up, ESPN. Sunday nights could be a whole lot more boring without the Tigers on. Trust me.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Thanks, Larry! Thames Now A Detroit Untouchable

Ten years ago and some change, Marcus Thames was selected by the New York Yankees in the annual entry draft. In the 30th round. That means that some 800+ players were snapped off the board before Thames. Six years later, he finally made it to the Yankees. He got into seven games, had 13 AB. He hit a homerun.

Then in early June 2003, Thames was traded by the Yanks to the Texas Rangers, for Ruben Sierra. Seven years previous, the Yankees had traded Sierra to the Tigers for Cecil Fielder. Now they would welcome him back, for the 26 year-old whose future in New York was clearly cloudy.

With the Rangers, Thames made it into 30 games in 2003. He had 73 AB. He hit one more homerun, giving him two in 86 big league AB. At the end of the season, Thames was granted free agency. The Rangers didn't have any use for him, either.

In December 2003, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski decided to take a flyer on Thames. What else can you call it when you sign a 26 year-old who's been scuffling along in the minors for seven years, and who owns a major league BA of just over .200?

Fast forward to 2006.

"Mr. Ilitch says I haven't made any requests," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said last night after another thrilling, come-from-behind Tigers victory. "But I'm making one now. Put my brother Larry on the payroll. He's the one who told the team about Thames."

Larry Leyland lives in the Toledo area, and functioning as a de facto scout, he brought news of grandeur about a hard-hitting outfielder named Marcus Thames, who was playing for the Mud Hens. The news was flashy enough to prompt the Tigers to bring Thames to the big club in midseason 2004.

In 165 AB, Thames hit 10 homers. Then in spring training, 2005, he tore the cover off the ball. He was the hottest, most dangerous hitter wearing the Detroit colors in Florida. Then something happened that both greased then-manager Alan Trammell's skids and steeled Thames' resolve.

Thames, in a terribly unfair decision, was left off the Tigers' 25-man Opening Day roster. He was shuttled back to Toledo to make room for aging Bobby Higginson, who had once again muddled through a horrible spring.

Players were outraged. Fans were bamboozled. Dmitri Young said publicly that Marcus Thames had been "screwed." Some say that decision severely impaired Trammell's ability to secure the respect of his players.

Thames watches another rocket being launched by his bat

But baseball is a funny game. Not long after Opening Day, outfielder and free agent signee Magglio Ordonez had a hernia go "pop." He would be lost for months. Thames was welcomed back to Detroit courtesy the Toledo Shuttle.

But even though he hit seven homers in 107 AB, Thames was eventually re-shuttled back to the Mud Hens. He had lost his edge, a certain je ne sais quoi, folks in the organization had said. Of course, they'll tell you anything when they send you back to the minors. That steeled him some more.

Today, Marcus Thames takes a regular turn in the Tigers lineup. He's playing so wonderfully, hitting the ball with such violence, that it's hard to keep him AND another prized young outfielder, Craig Monroe, in the lineup together. Maybe if the rules allowed for four outfielders, it would work. Because there's the healthy Ordonez -- returning to his past glories -- and the jitterbug centerfielder Curtis Granderson. Thank God for the DH in this instance, huh?

The Tigers won last night because Thames, batting third, smacked an 0-2 pitch off the Cardinals' closer Jason Isringhausen and deposited it far into the left centerfield seats -- a two-run homer that tied the game in the bottom of the ninth. It set up Placido Polanco's game-winning double in the tenth.

This morning, in 165 AB, Thames has 15 homers. A Ruthian-like ratio of one homer every 11 AB. He's hitting .309. His 15 homers have only produced 28 RBI, but that's sorta nitpicking. Thames is becoming indispensable -- a player that might even be considered "untouchable" when the trading deadline arrives late next month.

Not bad for a 29 year-old who didn't even become a regular big leaguer until, oh, eight or nine weeks ago.

Marcus Thames, for my money, is the most powerful righthanded hitter to play in Detroit since Cecil Fielder, who was the most powerful since Willie Horton before him. Thames doesn't just hit homerun balls, he destroys them. Surely they're unusable once his bat is done with them.

Jim Leyland is right, Mr. Ilitch. Pony up some dough for Larry. But save some for Marcus -- when his contract comes up for renewal. You're going to need it.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Guillen's Distraction May Be Too Much For White Sox To Overcome


It's a word I've used to describe White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, in my Out of Bounds blog. I've used it, and haven't wavered about it.

It's not fag, which Guillen used to describe Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti. But it's a word that is hardly flattering -- at least in this country. I'm not sure about Guillen's Venezuela.

Guillen is becoming a major distraction for his team, and that can only be a good thing in Detroit. Commissioner Bud Selig fined Guillen and ordered him to attend sensitivity training in the wake of his slurs against Marriotti. Whether the Sox can continue to win and nip at the Tigers' heels as long as Ozzie Guillen remains their manager has yet to be determined. History would suggest they cannot.

Good teams, even great ones, have been taken down by that dirty "D" word -- distraction. Sometimes they can play through it for some of a season, or most of it, or even just about all of it. But eventually it will grab them and pull them down.

The 2005 Pistons made it all the way to Game 7 of the NBA Finals with the mother of all distractions, coach Larry Brown, tethered to them like a boat anchor. It wore them down to the nub, until they could no longer muster the energy to vanquish the San Antonio Spurs. Brown carried no such baggage the previous year. The Pistons won the whole enchilada.

Baseball, with its long, grind-it-out, marathon of a season, can tease the great teams who have distractions. They can go long stretches of time with the bells tolling all around them, and play good ball. Until the jabbing of distraction is no longer easy to ignore. Then the play falters, and championships that seem so certain abruptly become in peril, or even turn into paper hopes.

Ozzie Guillen isn't cute. He isn't funny. His behavior and his words -- several more examples could fill two posts worth of this blog -- bely someone who should be in charge of a major league baseball team. For now he's been fined, and ordered to attend sensitivity training -- and that alone is enough embarrassment for one baseball team. But if anyone thinks this is the last salvo we'll hear from Mr. Guillen, then they are the same ones who put milk and cookies out for Santa Claus every December 24.

So when it happens next, what will be the consequences? And for his team, the wondering of that next time and its fallout can very easily short circuit a return trip to the playoffs.

Greater teams have fallen victim, truthfully.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Miner Is A Major Part Of Tigers Rotation

Who's Mike Maroth again?

Zach Miner has been the righthanded version of Maroth, and the Tigers' starting rotation hasn't missed a beat.

Miner, 3-1 after last night's complete-game, 10-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, sports a nifty 2.08 ERA. He has fit in nicely with a rotation that gives up runs almost begrudgingly -- with all the ease of pulling teeth.

Miner was part of the Kyle Farnsworth trade, made last summer when the Tigers shipped Farnsworth to the Atlanta Braves. The Tigers also got Roman Colon in the deal, which was sharply criticized at the time because it appeared to be a white flag waved. Some thought the Tigers should have kept Farnsworth and tried to sign him as a free agent after the season. Besides, the critics said, the team might have a shot at the playoffs. Some of the critics wore the Old English D, but they had hardly played like playoff contenders, so they reaped what they sowed.

Farnsworth wasn't signed by the Braves, and now he pitches for the Yankees. If the Braves, a model of consistent winning, couldn't sign him, then what would the Tigers' chances have been? GM Dave Dombrowski knew more than most. Fancy that.

Miner's insertion into a rotation that has been as solid as a rock is yet another indicator that this might be a very special baseball summer in Detroit. In the past, a Zach Miner type would have imploded; can you say "Nate Cornejo"? But this is 2006, and these are Jim Leyland's Tigers, and that means that naturally, Miner is a keeper.

So what do the Tigers do with Maroth, when the lefty comes off the disabled list? Has there ever been a Wally Pipp of the pitching variety?

Monday, June 19, 2006


Tigers' First 70 Should Be Bottled And Distributed

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 6-1
This Week: (6/19-21: at Mil; 6/23-25: STL)

Late inning comebacks. Banner pitching performances. Power up the wazoo. Scoring early and often. Playing hard all the time.

If the Tigers can somehow take their performance thru their first 70 games this season and bottle it, saving it for distribution when they need it, then we'd have something. But then again, we truly do have something: a first-place team that doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon.

The Tigers, 46-24 and playing as good of baseball as we've seen in nearly 20 years, are cutting a swath thru the big leagues that is now including the National League in its wake.

The Chicago Cubs are not one of the premier teams in the NL. They have been beset by injuries, and they are the lowest-scoring team in the league. They are a popgun team playing in a ballpark that screams for howitzers.

So the Tigers took no prisoners and spanked the Cubbies around Wrigley Field all weekend. Always, the formula was the same: score in the early innings, and have the pitching staff keep the boot pressed against the opponent's throat throughout, applying pressure gradually.

If you think that's about the same way the 1984 World Champion Tigers went about their business, then YOU'RE thinking it, not me. But since you mentioned it, I agree.

More interleague play beckons this week, with three games in Milwaukee -- remember the Brewers? -- and three at home against the Cardinals. Albert Pujols might be activated in time for the Comerica Park denizens. And, unlike past years, the other team will need as much help as it can get.

Bless You, Boys!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Happy Father's Day: Grilli Enjoys Rare Situation

Happy Father's day to Steve Grilli. I'm sure it's got to be one of his better ones.

Grilli, who pitched for the Tigers in the mid-70's, now has the joy of watching his son Jason pitch for them -- and for a first-place club. No such luck for dad, who was a Tigers hurler during some dark days, brightened only by Mark Fidrych's dream season of 1976.

Jason wears dad's #49, and is the spitting image of him in the face. He had one bad game -- June 4 against Boston when he walked a bunch and hit a batter -- but mostly he's been trustworthy, especially for a long relief man, as is his charge.

Like father, like son: Steve (left) and Jason Grilli

It's a great story, to me, whenever a father sees his son play the same sport in the same city in which he excelled. The Griffeys come to mind, of course. They played together in Seattle, and now Junior roams the outfield in Cincinnati, where his dad enjoyed success with the Big Red Machine teams.

But usually the father/son, same city thing is elusive. The Tigers had two Joe Colemans -- both pitchers, and now they have the Grillis. Typically, however, you have a father/son thing like the Ray Boone/Bob Boone scenario -- where dad and son star in different cities. Of course, with Ray, there's a grandfather/grandson storyline, thanks to Aaron and Brett.

The older Grilli runs a bar in upstate New York, where the dish is always pointed toward Tigers games, as you can imagine. No doubt Steve Grilli winced as he saw his son struggle against the Red Sox, and maybe he cursed with Jason as the umpire squeezed the strike zone against him in Toronto last Sunday. And also doubtless that it's harder for Steve Grilli to watch his son pitch than it was to actually be a pitcher in the big leagues. Such is the doting dad's dilemma.

When Gordie Howe signed with the WHA's Houston Aeros in 1973, enabling him to play with sons Mark and Marty, he said with a smile, "I'll be a protective father."

But Gordie was able to do something about it on the ice. For the faraway dad, watching on a satellite dish hundreds of miles away, the feeling of empowerment is as thin as the stitching on a baseball.

Friday, June 16, 2006

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Tigers Do Things A First Place Team Should

Right now, the absolute dregs of the American League are the Royals and the Devil Rays. They have been dutiful punching bags for their brethren throughout this season. The Royals, in fact, are a punching bag sitting on a doormat with a scarlett letter on them and a noose around their neck. And then some.

The Tigers are 11-1 against these teams, which means they're doing what first place teams SHOULD do: beat up on the weak sisters.

Beating bad teams is thankless; do it, and you get no praise. Don't do it, and the naysayers will be out so fast it'll make your batting helmeted head swim.

But here's some praise, after all: The Tigers are acting like a first place team. They are beginning to show signs of rebounding -- not letting bad streaks keep them down too long. So when the team was in a 2-8 slump after losing two games in Chicago, Tigers fans started to look at each other with the same expression reserved for when you're seeing a new foal taking its first steps: you know you're going to see some falling down.

So what have the Tigers, a first place team, done since then? Only win six of eight, including three of four over the woeful Devil Rays. That's what the good teams do: right themselves, and do it at the expense of a last place club, to boot.

Our ballclub is also developing the uncanny knack for pulling games out of the fire. Sure, they've been burned a few times themselves, but they now lead all of baseball in winning games that they trailed after eight innings -- four of them and counting. That, too, is the sign of a first place team. Even the game the Tigers lost to Tampa was an extra-inning affair made possible by a ninth-inning rally.

People still ask me if I feel the Tigers are for real. I'd say after 67 games, they don't look to be going anywhere anytime soon. Still there are disbelievers. My photographer/art director at MCS Magazine, Greg Shamus, told me last night, "I don't think they'll make the playoffs. I think the White Sox are too tough, and I don't think the Tigers will get the wild card."

That may be so. Sixty-seven games does not a playoff qualifier make, that's for sure.

But I think regardless of what happens, the first 67 games have ensured that the remaining 95 are going to be pretty fun.

And we haven't had 95 fun games around here since 1987.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Rollercoaster That Jones Rides Is A Thrill Tigers Can Live Without

The thrill you get after riding a really good rollercoaster is heart-thumping, scary, and electrifying. Then you can't wait to go again.

Todd Jones, though, has taken the Tigers and their fans on a rollercoaster this season that none of us care to ride again, thank you.

Jones, at times, can be the lights out closer -- one-two-three, with nary a sniff of trouble. Other times, he can be the struggling, late inning pinata for the opponents. Up. Down. Up. Down. And around, in between.

As the July 31 trade deadline looms about six weeks away -- unless Jonesy puts a screeching halt to his thrill ride -- GM Dave Dombrowski might be forced into a hard decision: Ride -- no pun intended -- with Todd Jones toward a likely playoff push, or seek another late inning man via trade?

This is all about baseball. For if this were about good people, then Todd Jones would be Mariano Rivera, Rollie Fingers, and Bruce Sutter rolled into one. You won't meet many nicer in baseball. But alas, this is about baseball, and if a player cannot perform his sole duty with any measure of consistency, then that player is vulnerable to replacement.

Manager Jim Leyland, the other night after the Tigers disposed of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, defended Jones and Fernando Rodney, who's had some tough outings recently.

"Those guys [Jones and Rodney] are good pitchers," the skipper said. "They have a tough job. And when they, quote-unquote 'blow' one, people want to make a big deal. It's because when they don't get the job done, because of the game situation, it stands out."

Jones has 17 saves. Only a few of them have been the one-two-three, painless kind. But the bottom line is results, and by that measure, Jones has indeed saved 17 Tigers victories -- even if he's placed many of those games in dire peril.

But it's not Jones' saves, of course, that will determine whether he remains the closer throughout the season. It'll be the ones that got away. His ERA is hideous, and opponents bat well over .300 against him. Those are not two stats you'd prefer to see from the man who's supposed to slam the door shut on the bad guys in the ninth inning.

Jones saves, but he also giveth away

Last night, Jones was blitzed for four runs in the 12th inning. The Tigers lost. The inning before, he was one-two-three. Two nights earlier, Jones was magnificent in the Tigers' extra-inning defeat of the Rays. Friday night in Toronto, Jones was the pinata again -- contributing mightily to the Blue Jays' eight-run eighth inning. The Tigers lost. The night before, Jones was one-two-three in Chicago in the ninth -- with a comfy four-run lead. A week ago Friday, in the ninth inning against the Red Sox at home, Jones was one-two, but gave up a two-run homer before he could get out #3. The Tigers lost.

It's hard to imagine anything other than a brilliant run in the next month changing the Todd Jones dilemma. The Detroit News' Jerry Green called Jones an "enigma" in his online column Sunday. That's about right.

As a person, there's nothing rollercoaster about Todd Jones. He's forever kind, personable, and a good teammate. As a relief pitcher, he's a wild ride, spinning out of control at times.

One-two-three? Sometimes. Sometimes not.

Can the Tigers live with that throughout September?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

ESPN Won't Acknowledge Tigers -- Even Now

I was watching ESPN Sunday Night Baseball the other night -- Sunday, fancy that -- and the crew in the booth got field reporter Peter Gammons involved in the conversation, which was about potential personnel moves teams might make before the July 31 trade deadline.

Gammons yammered on about the usual suspects, at Jon Miller's prompting: The Red Sox. The Yankees. The White Sox. And then the Dodgers, and the Rangers, and others. He dutifully told us what those teams were interested in, and how they might acquire it -- if they chose to at all.

Not one word was mentioned about the Tigers.

The Tigers -- owners of the best record in baseball. The Tigers -- rising from the ashes, like a phoenix after 12 years of moribund slumber. The Tigers -- who would seem to need a thing or two to maintain their status as a first place team throughout the summer.


But I've come to expect that from -- as Big Al likes to call ESPN derisively -- The Worldwide Leader.

It's as if the network doesn't want to acknowledge that the Tigers are now players. Like this is high school again, and we're dealing with cliques.

The Red Sox, Yankees, and White Sox are the "cool" people in the hallway. And ESPN seems to prefer it that way.

Take the Sunday night matchup, for example: Indians/White Sox. And, guess who was on Monday Night Baseball? White Sox/Rangers.

Yeah, yeah -- the Tigers got the Deuce when the Yankees were in town. Chris Berman even showed up for that one. Deliciously, it was the only game of the series the Tigers won -- and in walk-off fashion, to boot.

But that's a Thursday night on ESPN2. What about Sunday night on ESPN1?

Maybe The Worldwide Leader is figuring the Tigers will go away and leave the party to the cool cats once more.

Hoping might be more like it.

Come on, Jimmy Leyland! Show those network dudes a thing or two.

Monday, June 12, 2006


"Difficult Stretch" Done, Tigers 7-9;
We'll Take It

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 3-3
This Week: (6/12-6/15: TB; 6/16-6/18: at ChiC)

Sixteen game segments hold a special place in these parts. Just ask the Lions. And, in any given sixteen games around Ford Field lately, you'd get a won/lost mark of either 5-11, 4-12, or the like.

The Tigers just finished a 16-game stretch that was supposed to function as some sort of barometer of their worth as a "real" major league team. They were games against the Indians, Yankees, Red Sox, White Sox, and Blue Jays -- teams that are, some would say, more "real" than the Tigers. Hence their importance.

The Bengals went 7-9 during this test -- a record the Lions have only been able to dream about.

And, like a Lions fan, who might take 7-9 and run, today's Tiger nut might also want to do the same thing.

Considering the team was, at one point, 2-8 within the 16-game march, 7-9 isn't so bad. And, frankly, these were teams who had mostly excellent offenses. The Tigers' starting pitching staff handled them, for the most part. The bullpen got frazzled occasionally, which contributed mightily to the below-.500 mark. But the starters earned high marks -- even rookie Zach Miner, who now has to be Mike Maroth -- righthanded -- until further notice.

The offense, though, is peek-a-boo: Now you see it, now you don't. It emerges in waves, then settles down -- like an ocean tide. They still rely too much on the homerun, but there were signs as the recent road trip went on, that moving runners along and getting clutch hits that weren't homers was still a part of their arsenal -- which was so much why they sprinted out to that 35-14 start.

Four games at home against dangerous Tampa Bay -- that's right, I said dangerous, because they can whack the ball from time-to-time -- might be tricky, but a split will still be considered disappointing. The three interleague games at Wrigley Field should be fun this weekend.

So the dealio is this: 40-23, with 99 games remaining. A game-and-a-half lead in the division.

The magic number formula, in case you've always wondered, is to take the amount of games the leading team has remaining (99), add one, and subtract the difference in losses between the leader and the second place team (one, in this case). So the Tigers' magic number is 99.

Post it around town!

Friday, June 09, 2006

The National League Continues To Get It Right When It Comes To The DH

Did you know that, in the 1920's, the National League wanted to adopt a designated hitter rule, but the American League rejected it, preferring to stick with tradition? The NL then abandoned their bid.

It's funny what you can learn about the game on any given day. I read that one in a Tigers history magazine that was distributed during the 2001 season -- the 100th anniversary of the team being in the American League.

The DH question is sorta like Coke or Pepsi; you either like one, or the other. There are few fence-sitters.

I'm anti-DH, but beyond that, what has me bothered is that every level of organized ball from adolescent years on up has adopted the rule, leaving the National League as the only league that does NOT employ the DH. Which means that the chances of the DH being abolished at the major league level are slim and none -- and slim just left town.

I suppose you can call me a traditionalist. Or Traditionalist. Regardless, what is it about baseball that screams, "It was perfect the way they designed it! Leave it alone!"

Basepaths 90 feet long. Pitcher's mound to the plate: 60'6". These distances remain ideal, despite the increased abilities of today's athletes versus those of the 19th century. Yes, the mound was lowered after the 1968 season, but the distance to the plate remained unchanged.

Why did we have to fool around with the game to the extent of the designated hitter to begin with? Why, after about 100 years of professional baseball, was it determined that the pitcher should no longer bat?

The AL agreed to try the DH for a three-year trial, beginning in 1973. Then, after the third season -- during the 1975-76 offseason -- the rule was permanently adopted. At the time, the AL was the lone wolf when it came to a DH rule. But gradually, minor leagues began to use it, then colleges, then high schools. No wonder pitchers are even lousier hitters now than they were pre-DH; not a one of them has to bat beyond the age of 15.

But this isn't about whether pitchers are bad hitters or not (they are, obviously). It's about how the game was designed to be played, and the logic behind changing that. The theory of the DH rule was, indeed, to inject more offense into the game, no question. But what was the basis for such a desire? Were polls conducted? Were fans consulted? Was there an overwhelming feeling that the game needed more runs scored? Was baseball losing fans due to low-scoring contests?

I was 9 when the DH rule was introduced, so I don't recall for sure, but I remember thinking the game was just fine the way it was. I suppose I was in the minority -- not that 9 year-olds were consulted.

The funny thing is, a majority of the baseball fans I talk to tell me they are anti-DH. And it's a legitimately random lot; I don't just "hang" with anti-DH people.

Yes, my arguments are the same bleatings you've heard ad nauseum: The DH takes away strategy; it makes managers' jobs in the AL easier, especially when it comes to pitching changes; it has artificially lengthened careers.

I'm sorry, but all these are true.

Pitchers are bad hitters, granted. They've been bad hitters, mostly, since the early 20th century. For every Babe Ruth (as a Red Sox slugging pitcher), there were maybe a dozen Bob Buhls (Buhl was a pitcher who once went over 50 at-bats between hits in the 50's and 60's). But that's just the way the game is (or was, in the AL). Just like kickers are bad tacklers in football. But the NFL didn't institute a "designated tackler" who would run onto the field after a kickoff or punt was booted, did they?

Every sport has its own quirks, or perceived weaknesses, like poor-hitting pitchers. Basketball has defensive specialists who can't shoot. Football has its poor-tackling kickers. Hockey has the offensively-challenged defensemen, and skill-challenged tough guys. It's just part of those games.

The further away we get from 1973, the more I laud the NL for sticking to its guns and refusing to adopt the DH rule. They now stand as the lone wolf, just as the AL did in '73.

Call me a "double switch lover" -- I don't care.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Price ISN'T Right When He Refers To Tigers As "We"

I like Jim Price -- the Tigers radio analyst -- enough; he's a decent sort. He's a Tiger thru and thru, and anyone from the '68 world champs is okay by me. Denny McLain excluded.

But Jimbo -- you gotta stop saying "we" when referring to the Tigers on the air!

"We have someone warming up in the bullpen."

"We got a run to get within one of the Red Sox."

"We haven't pitched real well lately."

And on and on.

Call me an oldtimer, but the use of "we" and "us" and "our" is unseemly to me from a team's announcer -- radio or TV. There should be at least some propriety of impartiality. It's okay to get excited when the good guys do well, and bemoan perhaps something negative -- like an Alex Cintron three-run homer to beat you -- but do it by saying "the Tigers", not "we."

What was, do you think, the most famous radio call in the history of sports -- let alone baseball?

Russ Hodges' excitations when Bobby Thomson's homerun captured the 1951 pennant for the New York Giants have been burned into the brains of sports fans for over 50 years. "The shot heard 'round the world," they called it. And here's Hodges' words:

"The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!"

Hodges didn't scream, "WE win the pennant! WE win the pennant!"

That's because "we" didn't win -- the players won.

Even when I talk to people about the teams around town, I refrain from using possessive pronouns -- and that's just in private conversation.

"The Red Wings just couldn't get it going," I might say. Or, "I don't know what happened to the Pistons after Game 2 of the Cleveland series."

Not, "We couldn't get it going," or, "I don't know what happened to us after Game 2 of the Cleveland series."

I don't know -- maybe I'm anal about this, but using the team names will suffice, thank you.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

You can use "we" in that instance, in case you were wondering.

Monday, June 05, 2006


2-5 Stretch Against "Big Boys" Cause For Concern?

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 2-5
This Week: (6/6-6/8: at CWS; 6/9-6/11: at Tor)

Last week I said -- in this very space, fancy that -- that if the Tigers were to go something like 2-5 in their stretch of seven games against the Yankees and Red Sox at Comerica Park, it doesn't mean that they're a bad team.

They went 2-5, indeed. And, no, they're not a bad team. I wouldn't lie to you, after all.

But they're not as good as the heavyweights -- not yet. Maybe it was the law of averages -- the Tigers had gone 15-2 before the Yanks and Bosox came to town -- but the Tigers still looked mostly like hopefuls instead of sure bets for the postseason against New York and Boston.

The pitching was dicey. The hitting was spotty. Hence the 2-5 mark -- and only that was managed thanks to a dramatic come-from-behind win in the last game of the Yankees series.

The Tigers looked a bit tight -- as if they were trying too hard to prove to folks that they are, indeed, for real. Sports Illustrated had adorned a button of them on their cover last week. Inside was a nice story about how baseball is "back" in Detroit.

Prior to the past seven games, the Tigers were 35-12 against the lesser lights, and 0-3 against the White Sox. Now, they are 2-8 in ten games with Chicago, New York, and Boston -- and all at home. I don't want to believe that those numbers are telling, but I'm afraid they might be -- to a certain extent.

For all their improvement in 2006, there's still one thing the Tigers don't yet possess that the New Yorks and Bostons and Chicagos of the league do: The experience of winning.

It's one thing to puff out your chest against the Royals or the Twins, but teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, who no doubt were very aware of the confidence the Tigers were breeding amongst themselves, thrive on coming into a hostile environment and knocking the home team down a peg or two. The Yankees knew what might happen if they let the expected large crowds at CoPa get going, so they never did. Even in the second game, which the Tigers tied 6-6 with a rally, the Yankees bore down and blitzed the Tigers for five extra-inning runs for an 11-6 win.

By the time the Tigers lifted themselves off the ground by winning the last game of the series, the Yanks had taken three of four and fled town happy.

The Red Sox came to town and willed a discouraging, 3-2 ninth-inning loss on the Tigers Friday night, then ran away from them Sunday in the late innings, 8-3. The Bostons, too, won their series in Detroit.

I think we'll find out how much the Tigers have learned about winning big games when they visit the White Sox this week.

Our baseball team is still the student, so a 2-8 mark against the league's professors shouldn't be all that surprising.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Buy That Man A Lunch! Dombrowski's Signing Of Rogers Oh-So-Important

If Kenny Rogers never wins another game for the Tigers this season, I'll still buy Dave Dombrowski lunch for signing the veteran lefthander.

Every time the TV cameras show Rogers in the dugout on his off day, he's talking. And who he's talking to is one of the team's younger pitchers: Jeremy Bonderman. Nate Robertson. And, last night, Zach Miner.

Miner, just called up from Toledo, will start today's game against the Red Sox, subbing for the injured Mike Maroth. And during last night's 6-2 win, the kid seemed to be picking Rogers' 41 year-old pitching brain. At least that's what it looked like, everytime the telecast showed us young Miner, who was huddled next to Rogers, charting pitches.

Rogers seems to revel in the brain-picking. He appears to speak with a matter-of-factness that can't be taught -- it can only be learned, and from years of experience. You can't tell me that Rogers' influence hasn't been a big reason why the Tigers' starters are key to helping the team possess the major leagues' lowest ERA.

That was all part of the plan, of course. DD's signing wasn't only for what Rogers can bring to the mound every fifth day, but what he can bring to the clubhouse -- specifically the pitchers -- everyday. He is a Yoda of pitching, and no wonder the kid Tigers hurlers hang on his every word. Just about all of them have raved about Rogers' taking the time to fill their heads with tales of wisdom. And it's working.

The Tigers haven't had this sort of combination pitcher/professor since...wait a minute, it'll come to me...umm...

Come to think of it, maybe they never have had this in the past 38 years -- since 1968 when Elroy Face spent the autumn of his career in Detroit. But Roy was a reliever, and the Tigers were already well on their way to the pennant when he came aboard in September.

To have a guy like Rogers, who can tell you how to do it one day, and then go out and actually do it the next, is a rare luxury. And he's one very big reason the Tigers sit atop their division this morning -- in June, no less.

What are you waiting for, DD? I already said lunch was on me.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Bonds To Detroit? Oh, That Sports Talk Radio!!

I suppose I should cut sports talk radio some slack. After all, when you have to program so many hours a day, you're bound to talk drivel. But sometimes it seems as if the radio stations in town ran out of stuff to talk about years ago.

Nonetheless, the banter on WDFN (1130-AM) yesterday was whether the Tigers -- as if they'd be in a position to -- should look into acquiring Barry Bonds for an anticipated playoff run.

You know -- lefthanded bat needed and all.

The question did what it was designed to do: light up the phone lines, to give the screeners something to do other than cram another piece of pizza down their gullet. And to keep the hosts from drifting into a discussion about failed hygiene habits -- which they've been known to do, so don't laugh.

The general consensus was that, yes, Barry Bonds would look just nifty in a Tigers uniform. Even if you'd have to have one custom made -- wherever you go to have clothes tailored for Incredible Hulks nowadays.

All would be forgiven as far as steroids go, it seemed by the callers' attitudes yesterday, if Bonds came to Detroit. Tigers fans would suspend ethics for a shot at a pennant.

It should be pointed out that Bonds-to-Detroit hasn't been bantied about anywhere that I'm aware of, except on local sports talk radio in a time-filling capacity. So outside of the metro area, I doubt "Barry Bonds" and "Detroit Tigers" are anywhere near occupying the same sentence.

But I have to begrudgingly admit that the question was somewhat intriguing, mainly because of what Bonds symbolizes to many folks, your friendly blogger included. He is a laboratory project in a baseball uniform, and I'd absolutely hate to have to root for him. But I would, if he donned the Old English D, because that's what you do: you root for your team to do well. Of course, it doesn't mean I have to like him. Teammates don't always get along -- so why should players and fans be any different?

It seems HIGHLY unlikely that Bonds, a 5-and-10 man who can veto any trade, would sign off on a deal that had Detroit as his destination. Maybe not even New York, or Boston, or Chicago. Possibly Anaheim. Maybe Oakland. But Detroit? Seems like an exercise in futility to even talk about it. But because of the cloud surrounding Bonds, there's some wicked fun in the chatter, I must acknowledge.

Besides, Bonds would want #25, and that's still Norm Cash's number, in my book.

Of course, Stormin' Norman used a corked bat in his dream season of 1961 -- he admitted as such -- so he didn't always play fair, either.

Maybe jersey #25 is fitting, after all.