Friday, June 29, 2007

Blame Broadcasters Drysdale, Kell For Sparky-To-Detroit

A casual conversation at a press box buffet led to Sparky Anderson becoming manager of the Tigers in 1979 -- and kept him from managing the Cubs in 1980.

It's a story I had almost forgotten about, but was reminded of when I cracked open They Call Me Sparky, Anderson's authorized biography with Dan Ewald, which was originally released in 1998. I attended the premiere of the book at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, and got an autographed copy. But I digress.

The Tigers were in Anaheim in June 1979, playing reasonably well under new manager Les Moss. Hall of Fame pitcher Don Drysdale was an Angels broadcaster back then, and Sparky was doing TV features for an LA station, having been fired by the Reds after the 1978 season.

Sparky's book, released in 1998

Sparky told Drysdale that he was set to be the manager of the Chicago Cubs in 1980. A verbal agreement had been reached with the Wrigley family.

Later, in the press box cafeteria, Drysdale saw Tigers broadcaster George Kell and told him about Anderson's gig with the Cubs in 1980. Kell then sought out Tigers GM Jim Campbell and relayed Drysdale's scoop.

The next day, Campbell began peppering Sparky with short, abrupt phone calls -- each one progressing in interest. Sparky initially said he didn't want to manage -- anywhere -- until 1980. He also told Campbell that his asking price was probably too steep for the financially-conservative Tigers. But Campbell persisted. He wanted Sparky immediately, not in 1980.

"There's no way I could look Les Moss in the eye if I knew I was firing him at the end of the season," Campbell told Sparky, according to the book.

Finally, Sparky, impressed by Campbell's diligence, agreed to take over the Tigers the following week, when the team returned to Detroit.

It didn't work out right away. The Tigers went 2-9 in Sparky's first 11 games at the helm.

But it worked out for the next 16 years. And the Cubs lost out -- again. The team that had been cursed by a billy goat was now done in by a press box buffet conversation. Typical.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Read Between The Lines: Ozzie Under The Guillen-tine

We may be rid of the scourge that is Ozzie Guillen, after all.

Guillen, the manager of the Chicago White Sox, seems to have his neck placed squarely under the executioner's razor-sharp blade, the basket handy to catch his lopped off head. And wearing the black mask is GM Kenny Williams.

Uneasy should lie Guillen's head under the Chisox crown

"I'm tired of watching this," Williams uttered over the weekend as the Sox dropped to an unsightly 13 games under .500. The AL Central figured to be a four-horse race this summer. Hardly anyone suspected the Sox would pull up lame two weeks before the All-Star break.

"Changes will be made," Williams continued, and it would be a surprise if those changes don't include the manager. Guillen might have been cute and cuddly to White Sox brass when the team was winning, despite his propensity to stick his cleats into his foul mouth. But now that the Chisox are ten games under .500, 12 games behind the Tigers and looking moribund -- despite a three-game sweep of equally inept Tampa Bay -- it would seem that Guillen's time is drawing to a close.

Not that baseball would miss him. Ozzie Guillen's pugnaciousness made him a terrific ballplayer and probably a delight to manage. But his antics and words -- too many to consolidate here -- don't wear well as a field boss. He's like Billy Martin that way, but Martin was a winner everywhere he managed, and only twice finished below .500 in 16 seasons as a manager.

So far, no changes have been made, that Williams has promised. There would seem to be enough talent to produce much better than a 32-42 record.

Dust off the hot seat, open up the books in Vegas, and start the countdown. Tell the f0lks at ESPN to make the "Who Will Replace Ozzie?" graphics, ready to be flashed on the screen at a moment's notice. Create the Internet polls, with a choice of successors. Ozzie Guillen may not be the manager of the Chicago White Sox when the teams reconvene after the All-Star break. If Kenny Williams keeps his word and makes changes to shake up his ballclub, and replacing Guillen isn't among those changes, then much of his talk will be just that.

"I'm tired of watching this," Williams said.

Then may as well get rid of the person who hasn't been able to do anything to stop it.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 6-0
This Week: (6/25-28: TEX; 6/29-7/1: MIN)

What a wild, wonderful, kinda wacky week for the Tigers.

Two sweeps on the road. A visit to the White House for Justin Verlander, including 20 minutes of face time with the Commander-in-Chief. A trade. Another trade. The return of Kenny Rogers. A couple of national TV games. Sean Casey's first homerun of the season. Andrew Miller shining on ESPN.

That enough for you in one week?

Oh yeah -- the Tigers took over first place, too. They're two games ahead of Cleveland now, thanks to a brilliant 8-1 road trip that saw them bat around so often, it was like a Little League team run amok.

The team is in a zone now, and they're 15-5 since the blowout in Cleveland on June 1, when Todd Jones turned an 11-7 lead into a 12-11 loss in the ninth inning. That's what championship ballclubs do -- they react to brutal losses with disdain and fury. How many of you thought the wheels were coming off after that June 1 debacle? At that moment, the Tigers were 4 1/2 games behind the Indians, a team they were 0-5 against. Their bullpen looked worn to the nub. No lead was safe. They had lost seven of eight. Only the most eternal of optimists could have predicted a 15-5 run at that juncture.

But the Tigers pulled it off, and in three weeks they went from the fading second-place team that couldn't beat Cleveland to a charging first-place team that doesn't look like it can be headed off.

The Blessed Boys are on some kind of run. They are, quite simply, overwhelming their opponents now. Their offense is like a twitching snake -- you never know when it will strike. The other team's pitcher -- even someone like John Smoltz, for goodness sake -- will seem to be cruising along, boring his way thru the Tigers' lineup. Then SNAP -- the snake strikes. Before the poor soul on the mound know what hit him, four or five runs have crossed the plate. They do this. Constantly.

How does this rotation sound? Jeremy Bonderman; Kenny Rogers; Justin Verlander; Andrew Miller; Nate Robertson.

Now how does it sound combined with the major leagues' most potent offense?

Wipe that grin off your face.

This week, seven games at home -- the start of a 13-game homestand. Texas and Minnesota here this week, Cleveland and Boston the week after. The Tigers have been kings of the road thus far in 2007. Time to establish something at Comerica Park, too. Just think how nifty the record will be after a successful homestand; we're talking somewhere in the stratosphere of 53-34, 54-33. Then the All-Star break.

I said, wipe that grin -- ahh, go ahead. I'm grinning, too.


Friday, June 22, 2007

Rejecting The Orioles Once Unheard Of

I guess the Baltimore Orioles didn't learn their lesson with Lee Mazzilli.

Mazzilli, the ex-Yankee, was Orioles manager for a mostly unsuccessful run in 2004-05.

Now another ex-Yankee is vexing them -- but in a different way.

Joe Girardi said NO to the Orioles -- rejecting their offer to manage their ballclub. This just a couple days after longtime executive Andy MacPhail said YES to the team -- as their head of baseball operations.

MacPhail grew up around the Orioles. His father, Lee, used to be a team exec. Lee MacPhail, in fact, was the architect of the Orioles teams that terrorized the American League from 1966-71 -- even though he left the O's after the 1965 season.

But Girardi, last year's NL Manager of the Year with the Florida Marlins, listened to the Orioles and apparently didn't like what he heard. Either that, they say, or he's waiting to be Joe Torre's heir apparent in New York.

Regardless, Girardi rejected the Orioles, and that's quite a change, for the managerial job in Baltimore was once considered a jewel in MLB. But the Orioles haven't sniffed playoff contention in quite some time -- certainly the longest stretch of ineptitude since the team moved from St. Louis (Browns) to crab country in the mid-1950s.

It's not known whether the Orioles have a Plan B for their manager vacancy. Maybe there's no Stan Van Gundy waiting in the wings, like the Orlando Magic had when Billy Donovan abruptly changed his mind about leaving the Florida campus to take over their team.

Just another unsolicited opinion from another know-it-all blogger, but the Orioles might want to take a look at Kirk Gibson, biding his time in Arizona as the D-Backs bench coach. The Orioles have my permission to talk to Gibby.

I heard a rumor floated that Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon is on the Orioles' radar.

But what IS known is that Joe Girardi will not be the Baltimore Orioles' next manager. He turned them down, and I'm not sure if that speaks more about Girardi or about the Orioles. Suffice it to say that a rejection of the Orioles was once an unheard of proposition.

So maybe Girardi's NO says more about the Orioles, after all.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Unbeatable Records? Put DiMaggio's Streak At The Top

It's good fodder for the barroom. Add it to other great debates over a pop, such as who does and doesn't deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.

The question, simply: Which of baseball's records are least likely to be broken, if ever?

Now, some rules. I'm not talking about ridiculously unachievable marks, such as Cy Young's 511 career victories. Actually, I'm not talking about longevity at all, really. OK, I'll give it up: I'm talking specifically of one record, and one record only.

Nobody -- repeat, NOBODY -- will again hit in 56 consecutive games, as Joe DiMaggio did in 1941. No sir. If this blog were on paper, I'd tell you to print it in indelible ink. But not before having it notarized and placed into a time capsule. These words of mine, you can mark.

Casey Blake of the Indians recently had a hitting streak. Maybe he still has it, for all I know. Last I checked, Blake had hit safely in 26 straight games. Pardon me while I *yawwwwwn.*

No disrespect to Blake, but that's still less than half of DiMaggio's streak, and it's still considered by many to be impressive. And, frankly, it is. Twenty-six games really are nothing to yawn at, despite my titter in the above paragraph. But that just illustrates my point. Nobody has come close, really, to placing DiMaggio's streak in jeopardy. And were talking 66 years. And counting.

Pete Rose came the closest. His streak reached 44 games in 1978, before Atlanta's Gene Garber struck him out to end it. Rose sneered afterward that Garber was "pitching like it was the seventh game of the World Series." Sour grapes? Sure. But Pete was still 12 games shy of tying Joltin' Joe. And that was 29 years ago.

I don't have any scientific research or fancy numbers or DNA samples to prove my theory. It's just a solid hunch. Funny how, in this world of expansion, "watered down" baseball where the pitching is far inferior to that which DiMaggio faced in 1941, that still no one has seriously threatened the 56-game streak. And nor did anyone before the ever-expanding media glare, which has been blamed for why certain records still exist today. When ballgames were played in relative anonymity -- pretty much just for the paying customers -- under the sun in the '40s and '50s, when media attention was limited to a couple of beat writers and a few radio announcers, no batsman took a run at DiMaggio. So maybe it's not the ESPN generation after all.

Maybe it's just too damn hard to do.

Think about it. Fifty-six games in a row. That's more than a third of a season. What's even more amazing is that the day after DiMaggio's streak was stopped -- and largely because of two outstanding defensive plays at third base by Cleveland's Ken Keltner -- the Yankee Clipper started another one. It lasted 17 games, I believe. So he hit in 73 of 74 games. Goodness gracious.

In fact, I'll go one step further. I believe that if I had the choice between the two, I'd tell you that someone will hit .400 in a season before anyone hits in 56 straight games. Heck, I think you'll see elephants rain down with beach ball sized hail before someone hits in 56 straight games. Ironically, 1941 was the last year .400 was reached, also -- by Ted Williams, who didn't win the MVP Award. Reason? DiMaggio and his streak -- and his pennant-winning teammates.

So you can stop all the claptrap about who has the best chance to clip the Clipper. It ain't gonna happen.

Just a hunch.

(you can vote on whether you agree with me, in the latest WHYGJG poll, elsewhere on this page)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 3-3
This Week: (6/18-20: at Was; 6/22-24: at Atl)

Much has been made over the Tigers' come-from-behind, 7-4 win at Philadelphia Sunday afternoon. The focus has been on the five-run seventh, which turned a 3-1 deficit into a 6-3 lead.

But I contend that the victory was bigger for the bullpen than it was for the Tigers hitters.

Oh, did the bullpen need those three innings of one-run ball! A 3.00 ERA for the game, for a pen that has been on the wrong side of 5.00 for most of the season -- and that has been causing manager Jim Leyland undo stress, even when his team scores seven, eight, twelve runs in a game.

They had their moments yesterday, did the Tigers relievers. They put some men on base. An error by Carlos Guillen taxed the already-fragile Fernando Rodney. But the bottom line is, the Phillies scored just the one run in the final three frames.

Plop, plop, fizz, fizz.

It's very much up to conjecture as to whether the Tigers' bullpen woes will iron themselves out by the time the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline passes. That's but six weeks or so away. The key will be the rotation, coming back to full strength soon. Kenny Rogers and Nate Robertson will join Jeremy Bonderman, Justin Verlander, Andrew Miller, Mike Maroth, and Chad Durbin to give the team seven starters. More chances for the bullpen to not have to enter games in the fifth and sixth innings as often. The effect of fatigue can't be overlooked when it comes to relief pitchers. The domino effect of Joel Zumaya's injury has been felt for the past several weeks. It speaks volumes when your most reliable reliever is Tim Byrdak -- who was not even on the radar in spring training.

The booming bats have been great, and it was wonderful to see them come to life in the late innings yesterday to help win the Phillies series. But when I watched the game unfold,I was very attentive to see how the bullpen would do. They needed that lead preservation more than the hitters needed the big inning.

Fun fact: tonight's game in Washington is the Tigers' first in the Nation's Capital since September 8, 1971. No, Kenny Rogers wasn't in the big leagues back then.

This weekend, we'll be treated to another possible World Series preview: Tigers at the Braves. Should be fun. And another of Gary Sheffield's former teams. This guy is like having Larry Brown on your side!


Friday, June 15, 2007

John Hiller: The Tigers' Most Flexible Pitcher Ever

What I'm about to tell those of you who have only been following baseball since the 1990s is going to certainly sound like a fable -- something constructed from the mind of a loon.

But there was a time when pitchers actually wore several hats -- those of starter, middle reliever, set-up man, closer. Whenever you needed their arms, they were ready to take the ball.

One of my favorite Tigers of all time is John Hiller. There's so much to like about Hiller it's hard to know where to start. There we go -- let's talk about starts.

Hiller could start. He was a lefty with a high leg kick and a whip-like arm who could strike out guys like the Nolan Ryans and Randy Johnsons of the world. In fact, on my fifth birthday (as it turns out) -- on August 6, 1968 -- Hiller struck out the first six Indians to face him. That's still a team record, and might be close to an MLB record as well. For his career, Hiller made 43 starts, completing 13 of them (not a bad pct. for a spot starter). Of those 13 CG, six were shutouts.

Hiller could relieve. That much we know more than anything. But he could relieve anytime. He wasn't just a closer. He had a nice and tidy career ERA of 2.83, with 125 saves. His penchant for throwing strikes and racking up the Ks served him well in the bullpen, too. He could get a single out in the ninth inning, or give you five innings of long relief to save a tired bullpen.

Oh -- and there was the whole heart attack thing, too.

A trimmer Hiller, post-heart attack

Hiller was a chubby dude until January, 1971, when he suffered a heart attack at age 27. His career figured to be over; why wouldn't it? It was a freaking heart attack.

But it wasn't over -- not by a longshot.

Hiller came back at the end of the 1972 season, thinner but not any less effective. I'll never forget the image of him in the Tigers locker room after the team clinched the AL East crown. Mocking his heart condition, Hiller stuck a fan under his jersey to simulate an over-active heartbeat.

The next season, Hiller came back with a vengeance. He set a then-record with 38 saves in '73. Granted, a few were generous, recorded before baseball made a rule change to make saves a little tougher to get. But only a few were that way. Most were under the same pressure-packed situations the closers of today face.

I'm sure Hiller was a favorite among his managers, too, for his flexibility. Think about today's pitchers. How many would you entrust to start one week, set up the next, and close the next? Or even within the same week? But Hiller was that trustworthy -- year after year. AND he was lefthanded -- a bonus.

He quit suddenly in 1980, at age 37. His last game pitched was on May 27. There was nothing wrong with him. He just didn't feel he had the competitive fire in him anymore.

He walked away, and the last great, flexible Tigers pitcher walked away with him.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Verlander Had Help In The Booth, But He Didn't Need It

If there's such a thing as someone feeling lonely when tens of thousands of people are screaming on your every move, then I suppose it would have to be a pitcher working on a no-hitter.

Even when the TV announcers refuse to acknowledge the feat, as FSN's Mario Impemba and Rod Allen did last night, describing Justin Verlander's no-no at CoPa. Not once did the words "no-hitter" escape either man's lips. Instead, they let the crowd -- and strategically placed shots of the ballpark scoreboard -- tell the story.

Filthy. Nasty. And ridiculous.

Not so 23 years ago, when Jack Morris hurled the last Tigers no-hitter in the season's first weekend, at Chicago's old Comiskey Park.

It was the NBC "Game of the Week," -- that Saturday afternoon staple. Vin Scully was behind the mike, and he continually broke baseball's axiom of not mentioning a no-hitter while it's in progress. From about the fifth inning on, Scully wasn't shy to say "no-hitter" in waxing descriptive about Morris's performance. It was so incessant that when the final out was recorded -- a strikeout of Ron Kittle -- and Scully yelled, "And he HAS his no-hitter!," I thought, "No, Vin -- he has YOUR no-hitter!"

Morris defied Scully's rules-breaking and the yammering of a loudmouth White Sox fan, who kept trying to jinx Morris by mentioning his gem-in-progress every time the pitcher returned to the dugout. After the no-no was in the books, Morris spotted the fan and said, "I got it, you #$!#!"

True to the rules, third baseman Brandon Inge said that "not a word was spoken (about the no-hitter) all night." Verlander concurred, saying that nobody sat next to him in the dugout.

My favorite rules-breaking story involves Don Larsen and his perfect game in the 1956 World Series. In a documentary I saw on television, Larsen's voice provided the narrative as highlights from the game flickered in black-and-white on my set.

"Nobody would look at me. Nobody would talk to me," Larsen says as we see him strike out guys and mow the Dodgers down. "I felt like the loneliest man on earth.

"Finally, around the seventh inning I went up to (Mickey) Mantle and said, 'Wouldn't it be something if I threw a no-hitter in the World Series?' He just looked at me like I was insane and moved away from me."

I think it's a riot that Larsen himself broke the rules, at his own risk.

Verlander, probably, could have endured various attempts at jinxing last night. He had "great stuff", those all-encompassing words for when a pitcher can do little wrong. He was "filthy," "nasty," and "ridiculous" -- if you listened to or read what the Brewers' hitters had to say after he handcuffed them and threw away the key.

In retrospect, I, perhaps, was a rules-breaker myself last night.

I wasn't watching the game -- not at first. I had ceded the TV to my wife, and was sitting with her in the front room when my cell phone caught my eye. Too lazy to walk into the computer room and check the score on the Net, I opened my phone's web browser and went to MLB scores. Tigers 3, Milwaukee 0, 7th inning. I highlighted the game and pressed SELECT. There was the line score, in tiny but powerful type: MIL 0 0 0. One out in the seventh inning.

"Justin Verlander has a no-hitter in the seventh!," I said.

"Wow," my wife said -- and kept watching her program.

I followed the game via cell phone until I could take it no longer. But I had a choice to make: Verlander hadn't needed my help for seven innings. Would I screw him up by tuning in for the eighth and ninth?

Damn the baseball rules -- I wanted to see history!

I sweet-talked my way into taking over the TV. And so I saw the last two innings of Verlander's brilliance -- including the amazing play made by Neifi Perez to both steal a hit and start a double play in the eighth.

I was standing throughout the ninth -- which thankfully didn't take all that long. Verlander did indeed have "nasty stuff" -- stuff that easily overwhelmed any bad karma my late arrival might have wrought.

We can say it now with impunity: Justin Verlander has a no-hitter going!

No-hitter now complete. Done. In the books.

That's the best thing about pitching a no-hitter, I would think: when it's over with, the void of loneliness is filled over with love and support from your fans and teammates in a bursting through that certainly can't be topped by much else.

It's another thing that only the athlete himself can truly understand. We can only imagine.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 4-2
This Week: (6/12-14: MIL; 6/15-17: at Phi)

The Tigers are averaging an obscene 8.65 runs in the month of June -- and that includes Friday night's shutout at the hands of the Mets. And by the looks of things, they'll need to keep that pace up -- unless the bullpen trades its gas can in for a fire hydrant.

I like Jason Grilli. I like him as a person, and I like him as a reliever. When he's reliable, Grilli can be the everyman in the bullpen. He can pitch long relief, as he did in Texas when Nate Robertson couldn't get an out in the first inning last week. He can be a sort of set-up man. He can get crucial outs in the late innings.

But Grilli hasn't been reliable. He's taken a couple steps forward, then slipped back -- and this has gone on all season. He went back into "gas can mode" yesterday, facing three batters and not getting an out, enabling the Mets to creep closer. The Tigers pitching, from 1 thru 12, has been riddled with injury and under performing. The team ERA is 4.61, and that's largely because the bullpen's figure is well above 5.00.

Manager Jim Leyland is frustrated.

"It's hard when you don't know what you're going to get," Leyland told reporters after yesterday's 15-7 win over the Mets.

Poll every one of the 30 MLB managers, and I'd be surprised if it wasn't unanimous: a manager prefers to outpitch his opponents, not outslug them. The 8-7, 15-7, 3 1/2-hour game isn't a big league manager's cup of tea -- mainly because the bats can't always be relied on to bail out the arms. Leyland acknowledged as much in his postgame comments. He said if the Tigers keep relying on their impressive offense exclusively, "we'll be nowhere to be found" at the end of the season.

The Tigers, this morning, have an offense that is averaging a shade over six runs per game. It's not inconceivable that they could score over 1,000 runs this season (a 6.2 avg), but as awesome as that is, let it be said once again: pitching will determine the AL Central race, not hitting.

So it's kind of ironic and maybe even fitting that the team's most reliable reliever is a dude that few had even heard of when the club frolicked in the Florida sun last March.

Tim Byrdak is fast becoming a lefthanded Joel Zumaya -- not in terms of pitch velocity (although he can bring it), but in how he comes in and absolutely slams the door shut on most opponent rallies. He's one of the few earning his fireman's hat in the pen currently. It's gotten to the point where I root for Leyland to call Byrdak's name, and feel genuinely secure when he enters the ballgame. Feelings I once had for the injured Zoom Zoom Zumaya.

Kenny Rogers looks close to returning -- and the impact of that news can't be overstated (though all of us will try). Insert a healthy, productive Rogers into the rotation, and all of a sudden the bullpen's load decreases instantly.

WHYGJG friend Scott Warheit is trying to rally his fellow bloggers -- and the fans -- into helping Tigers second baseman Placido Polanco leapfrog past the Yankees' Robinson Cano in All-Star voting. Polanco still trails Cano by about 9,000 votes in his bid to be the AL's starting second sacker.

Scott writes:

In response, I've started a "Go to the Polls for Placido!" voting campaign @ my blog ( and I was hoping that if we were able to spread the word through our various blogs, encouraging people to vote, either on-line or at Comerica Park, we can get Tigers fans behind the campaign.

I have also added a thread publicizing the campaign at website (for those unfamiliar, people post stories on Digg and as visitors and readers "Digg" the story, it becomes more popular, and is more prominently displayed on the site) so you can encourage your visitors to visit Digg to help hype up the story as well. That address is

Consider the word spread, Scott!


Friday, June 08, 2007

Yes, Virginia, It's True: Billy Drew Out Of A Hat

The lineup wasn't working -- at least not the way it was being penned by the manager. Four straight losses in a muggy August when the divisional race was turning into a four-horse affair.

Time to shake things up -- literally.

On August 13, 1972, Tigers manager Billy Martin actually did do what legend says he did. The story is not apocryphal, nor an urban legend. He really did it -- drawing his batting order out of a hat, desperate for a victory.

I wonder what the fans at Tiger Stadium were thinking when PA announcer Joe Gentile read this over the speakers:

1. Norm Cash 1B
2. Jim Northrup RF
3. Willie Horton LF
4. Eddie Brinkman SS
5. Tony Taylor 2B
6. Duke Sims C
7. Mickey Stanley CF
8. Aurelio Rodriguez 3B
9. Woodie Fryman P

Obviously, Martin didn't have the guts to put Fryman's name in the baseball cap.

When you look at that lineup, some pieces would have made sense to the fans -- like Northrup and Horton at #2 and #3, and the #6 thru #9 slots aren't that wacky. But Cash batting leadoff and Brinkman hitting cleanup is a hoot. And Taylor would never have batted fifth in a normal lineup, either.

Cash singled to start the bottom of the first against the Indians that Sunday afternoon. After Northrup grounded into a double play, Horton homered. The Tigers ended up winning, 3-2.

I wonder when the method to Martin's madness was revealed. I was only nine years old and a week, so I don't recall the coverage of the game.

But it's true -- Billy Martin drew a batting order out of a hat in a sign of desperation. He never tried it again, which is odd, because it wasn't like Billy to quit while he was ahead.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Donovan's About-Face Recalls That Of Stanky's

For about a week in 1977, the Texas Rangers' managerial job was treated like a hot potato, as it was tossed about four times in eight days.

I got to thinking about the Rangers and their bizarre managing carousel for two reasons: the Tigers are playing in Texas currently, and I was bemused at University of Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan and his decision to quit the Orlando Magic after a weekend as their "conflicted" coach.

Actually, the first person I though of in the Rangers' debacle of '77 was Eddie Stanky. "Stinky," they called him, and "The Brat" (NOT short for bratwurst, either; Stanky was a pest as a player).

Stanky as a Boston Brave; doubt there are too many photos of him as a Rangers manager

The Rangers fired manager Frank Luchessi with a not-so-bad 31-31 record in late June, almost 30 years ago to the day. Then they turned to Stanky, who hadn't managed in the big leagues in nine years -- but who also had a winning overall record in a career that included parts of eight seasons with the Cardinals and White Sox.

June 22, 1977 -- according to That was the day Stanky managed his first -- and only -- game for the Rangers. His team was in Minnesota, and despite falling behind 4-0 in the first inning, the Rangers ended up winning 10-8.

But almost immediately after the game the 60-year-old Stanky began feeling homesick. He didn't mess around; he quit the Rangers the next day, unbeaten as their skipper.

Next, the Rangers tabbed Connie Ryan, whose only managerial experience had been a 27-game stint as the Braves' interim guy in 1975 (he went 9-18). Ryan went 2-4 with the Rangers, but parted ways with the team when he announced he would not be interested in the job beyond finishing the '77 season.

Manager-hunting for the third time in a week, the Rangers hired Billy Hunter (no pun intended). Hunter had even less experience than Ryan: he had none at all. Yet he was the most successful of the Rangers' managing quartet, going 60-33 and bringing the team in second behind the Kansas City Royals. And Hunter did what Ryan would not: commit to managing the team in 1978 -- which he did, until being fired with one game left in the season.

But it's Stanky that came to mind as I followed Donovan's odyssey the past couple of days. The Brat missed his family. Donovan feared he would miss his, too -- his college family. Of course, Billy Donovan said "no" to a lot more money than Stanky did back in 1977.

Fun fact: Willie Horton was on that 1977 Rangers team. He batted cleanup in Stanky's only game. He went 0-for-3. Maybe Stanky figured the team wouldn't do much if he couldn't get Horton to hit!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 3-4
This Week: (6/5-7: at Tex; 6/8-10: NYM)

It's funny how the memory works. Saturday morning, after the Tigers blew a four-run lead in the ninth Friday night in Cleveland, John Lowe wrote in the Free Press that it was the first time the Tigers had blown a lead of at least four runs in the ninth inning -- on the road -- in almost 21 years.

And I knew EXACTLY which game that was, back in 1986.

After double-checking on the best website on the planet,, I found it.

August 29, 1986: Tigers at California. I remember watching that game, and that the Tigers had a huge lead, and blew it. Boy, was I right. They went into the bottom of the ninth with a 12-5 lead -- and lost, 13-12.

Yep -- eight runs in the bottom of the ninth, culminating in Dick Schofield's grand slam off Willie Hernandez. I remember catcher Mike Heath slamming his helmet in the dugout as the Angels fans went bonkers. It was a time when Hernandez was giving up homers and blowing leads, and was being booed out of town just two years after his MVP/Cy Young year.

Today's Tigers showed me a lot -- rallying to win the last two games of the Indians series, after the Friday night debacle made them 0-5 against the Tribe.

Lost in the series was the fact that the Tigers smacked around the Indians' pitching pretty good all weekend, even in the losses. 2-5 against Cleveland should have been 3-4, so I guess that's not too bad.

Sorry to see Jose Mesa get released. As I wrote here last month, I was hoping Mesa -- with his experience and savvy -- could be a great help in the bullpen, after coming off the disabled list. It never happened -- his fastball a few mph slow and his movement not all that good.

He's 41, and unfortunately throws with his right arm. Not being a lefty might mean his career is over.

This week the Tigers get Fernando Rodney back and invade Texas to take on the struggling Rangers. Already the vultures are out, picking at the carcass. First baseman Mark Teixeira can be had, they say. Now I hear that the blabbermouths on ESPN say closer Eric Gagne -- frequently injured lately -- could be Detroit-bound if the Tigers' bullpen woes continue.

And don't forget the Mets! They come to town this weekend. Now THAT should be some fun! The World Series that almost was, in 2006.


Friday, June 01, 2007

Granderson's Level-Headed Thinking Being Put To Test Now

Times were good. The Tigers had just smacked the Los Angeles Angels, 12-0, to move to 12 games over .500. It was their 17th win in 23 games. The bats were hot. The pitching was in a groove. They were in, ahem, first place.

So when I approached Curtis Granderson after the slaughter of the Angels and asked him about the upcoming seven games with the then-second place Cleveland Indians, he spoke with the cool, level-headed mind of the player, while the fans and media wanted to talk otherwise.

"I think it's a lot of talk, mostly," Granderson told me. "I think to the people on the outside -- like the fans -- it means a lot. To the players on the inside, it doesn't mean as much."

Then this -- more level-headedness: "If I'm not mistaken, last year [when we played the White Sox] they took it to us at the beginning of the season, but toward the later part of the season, we kind of took some wins from them.

"If a team (in these Tigers-Indians games) goes 5-2 or 6-1, from the fans' standpoint, they might think, 'Oh, our team isn't as good as we thought.' But as players, we always know we're one pitch, one swing away from winning the series or winning that particular game."

Granderson's words come to mind now, because the Tigers are on the verge of being the team on the wrong end of that 5-2 or 6-1 record -- and their fans will certainly ask the question that Granderson proposed in his analysis.

Namely, IS our team not as good as we thought?

Well, maybe not now -- but it's also not as healthy as we thought, either.

Last night's 11-5 loss to the Tribe was not an anomaly. These Indians, as I had said they would be during the offseason, aren't going anywhere this season. They are the class of the division. Their bullpen isn't rotten, like last year's.

But the Tigers, at this time in 2006, were the class of their division, too. Their bullpen wasn't rotten, either. They were healthy, for the most part. They were winning games in all sorts of ways -- and many that they had no business winning. They cobbled together a lead that reached double digits in games by the middle of August.

Then they had to play the last 50 games -- during which they went 19-31. And they lost the division that they had all but sewn up.

There's a reason the MLB schedule is 162 games. Rarely will it produce paper champions, or emperor-less clothes.

The Indians are the class of the AL Central as the calendar turns to June. But there is 2/3 of a season still to play. Doubtless that fact is not lost on Curtis Granderson or any of his teammates.

It's our job, after all, to do the worrying and second-guessing. And we're quite good at it, I might add.