Monday, July 30, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 2-6
This Week: (7/30-8/1: at Oak; 8/3-5: CWS)

"These are the times that try men's souls."

July started grand for the Tigers, and is ending graphically.

They got their tails kicked again by the Angels, 13-4, yesterday, and even Jeremy Bonderman couldn't stop the bleeding. He was, in his words, a "bottle of kerosene", giving up 10 earned runs in 2-2/3 innings. For the three-game series, Tigers pitching surrendered 34 runs -- and it was indeed every bit as ugly as that sounds.

It was a rare eight-game week for the Tigers, and they lost six of them to fall to just 16 games over .500, after peaking at 21 over following their three-game sweep in Minnesota, which seems like eons ago.

Nothing is going right at the moment. The pitching is atrocious -- starters and relievers -- the clutch hitting is nonexistent, and there just seems to be a collective "blah" hanging over the club. Maybe all the road games in July are finally catching up to the Tigers, who had prided themselves on winning away from home.

Somehow, though, the Tigers remain in first place by a thread, mainly because other teams keep helping them by beating the Indians, who are in a rut of their own. It's the division that nobody seems to want, right now.

More bad news: lefty Kenny Rogers on the DL with a sore elbow. His first three starts back from a season-long stint on the sidelines were amazingly good. The last three have been simply awful. He gave up four home runs in his last start in Chicago. That's when manager Jim Leyland and GM Dave Dombrowski sensed something was wrong.

Three more road games are on tap this week, at Oakland, before the Tigers FINALLY return home for some extended face play at Comerica Park.

The question, of course, with the non-waiver trade deadline looming, is, Who will be wearing a Tigers uniform on Wednesday that isn't wearing one now?

Next update on WHYGJG is Wednesday. I'll recap the Tigers' moves (and non-moves) and make the appropriate rants for yea or nay.


Some good news on the road trip was the contributions of Toledo call-ups Ryan Rayburn and Mike Hessman, especially in Chicago. They swung hot and heavy bats as the Tigers rested some people and dealt with injuries to Marcus Thames and Gary Sheffield (Sheff's is minor). Hessman is a 1B/3B with immense power, and Rayburn is a spark plug outfielder who sprays line drives. Both should be a big part of the future in Detroit -- unless one of them is traded tomorrow.


Friday, July 27, 2007

Before You Know It, A-Rod Will Be The New Standard Bearer In Home Runs

Between the time that Babe Ruth swatted three homers in one game in Pittsburgh as a Boston Brave in 1935 -- nos. 712, 713, and 714 -- and the time that Henry Aaron cracked no. 715 in 1974, almost 40 years passed. And now, as Barry Bonds lurks, some 31 years have gone by since Aaron's last home run.

The good news, for Bonds haters, is that you won't have to see Barry on the home run throne for nearly as long as that.

Nobody knows, of course, how many roundtrippers Bonds will end up with. He says he wants to play in 2008, but that might be all. So give him another 30-40 dingers, as a rough guess. That would put him close to 800 home runs.

But it will be Alex Rodriguez, the greatest home run-hitting third baseman since Mike Schmidt, who will be your next king of the four baggers. And A-Rod will do it in the next 8-10 years, tops.

It's amazing to me, but Rodriguez is basically a 500 home run guy (he has 499 right now) at age 32. Think about that for a moment. Bonds is 43. If Rodriguez chooses to play into his 40s, he's liable to knock on the door of, dare I say it, 1,000 home runs.

If continued to be blessed with good health, Alex Rodriguez will shatter anything that Barry Bonds has to offer when Bonds hangs up his spikes and puts his syringes and creams away for good.

Now, how long we'll have to wait for someone to pass Rodriguez is another story.

Rodriguez, it says here, will eventually be taking aim at 1,000 home runs

Clearly, this is a record that should have Ken Griffey, Jr.'s fingerprints on it, too. Injuries will forever cause us to wonder, "What if?" in reference to Griff. Hence the caution about Rodriguez. No one knows what will go snap, crackle, or pop at any given time in even the most conditioned athlete's body. But if Rodriguez can stay off the DL for the most part, he will hands down be the next home run champion.

Is that good or bad? Well, it's distinctly less bad than having Bonds up there, but I'm not sure about how good it is, simply because A-Rod is far from a universally-liked, respected player and person. He's not ... Griffey, Jr., for example. But he's not Bonds, and that is probably good enough for most folks.

When Aaron hit no. 715 on April 8, 1974, the thought of anyone hitting nearly 300 more than that would have been stuff of fantasy. 1,000 home runs. An insane number, back in the day. Yet Rodriguez, I am telling you, has a legitimate crack at it. He figures to end 2007 with anywhere between 515 and 520 dingers. That would put him 480 to 485 away from 1,000. He's 32. He can play, we would assume, another 10-12 years -- especially with the DH rule. Could Rodriguez swat 480 homers in 12 seasons? Better question would be, if he's healthy, why COULDN'T he?

But forget about 1,000 homers for the moment. It's not going to take anywhere near that for A-Rod to be A-1 in terms of all-time home runs. I'd say 780-790 would do it. And he's going to get there in a flash. That will be child's play for him.

Alex Rodriguez has 500 home runs at age 32. You do the math.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tigers Have Made Waiver Deal Spashes, Too

The non-waiver interleague trading deadline is next Tuesday. Simply put, it's called "THE" trade deadline because teams can deal freely. Any trades made after July 31 have to involve players being put through waivers first -- an extra step that has stonewalled deals in the past.

The Tigers, for the second consecutive year, figure to be placed under the heading of "Buyers" -- that category of teams who are looking for players to boost their playoff runs. The "Sellers" are the teams either hopelessly out of contention, or too cheap, or both. Even when the Tigers were Sellers, rarely was anyone buying what they had on the lot. The Tigers had Edsels for sale in a market full of Corvettes.

I thought it would be fun to take a look at some trades the Tigers have made in pennant races of the past -- the ones that occurred AFTER the non-waiver deadline.

1967. The Tigers snag Hall of Fame slugger Eddie Mathews from the Braves. Mathews, already over the 500-homer mark, sticks around past the '67 pennant disappointment and is a member of the 1968 champs.

1968. Two veteran pitchers join the Tigers. Don McMahon comes over from the White Sox in late July, and one of my all-time favorites, Elroy Face, is acquired from the Pirates on August 31. I like Face because he is the author of one of baseball's great anomalies. In 1959, Face went 18-1 as a reliever for the Pirates. But as a 40-year-old with the Tigers in '68, he gets into just two games for a total of one inning.

1972. Lots of acquisitions by GM Jim Campbell. Lefty Woodie Fryman, catcher/outfielder Duke Sims, and first baseman Frank Howard are the biggest names. Fryman goes 10-3 down the stretch, Sims contributes power and a .300+ average, and Howard cracks a couple of homers in September. Howard, incidentally, joined the Tigers too late to be included on the playoff roster, so Hondo -- who always played on bad teams in Washington -- had to be a 6-foot-7 cheerleader in the heartbreaking ALCS. The Tigers lost the series, 3-2, and Howard may have been able to make a difference. But he was ineligible.

1984. Nothing earth-shattering here. The big move that year came in spring training, when Bill Lajoie swindled the Phillies for Willie Hernandez and Dave Bergman for John Wockenfuss and Glenn Wilson. The Tigers acquired lefty reliever Bill Scherrer in late August.

1987. The John Smoltz year. Need I say more? Smoltz-for-Doyle Alexander won the division for the Tigers. You know the rest.

1988. The Tigers finish second, but on August 31 they make a flurry of moves, acquiring Fred Lynn from Baltimore, and pitcher Ted Power from Kansas City. It's a crazy day. For Lynn and Power to be eligible for playoff rosters, they have to physically be in the same city as the Tigers are as of midnight on the 31st. Power makes it to Chicago easily, but Lynn's plane touches down right around the witching hour. It's determined that if the Tigers win the division, a special meeting will be convened by MLB to decide Lynn's fate. The Tigers finish a game behind Boston. No meeting needed.

1993. The Tigers finish a distant second this time, but they are on the fringes of contention when they trade for Eric Davis (Dodgers) on August 31. Davis swats a homer in his first Tigers game, but is injured (again) in 1994 and is out of baseball in 1995. He returns in 1996.

2006. I'm watching the Tigers on a Friday night in mid-September and all of a sudden I see Matt Stairs pinch-hitting. I didn't even know the Tigers had acquired him. Stairs plays the last couple of weeks, and contributes a game-tying, ninth inning homer in the season finale, but the Tigers lose the game and the division anyway.

2007. We'll see if the Tigers feel they've addressed their needs sufficiently enough at the July 31 deadline without having to make any waiver deals afterward. Who's going to be the Todd Bertuzzi of baseball?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 4-2
This Week: (7/23-26: at CWS; 7/27-29: at LAA)

The Tigers have a very home-heavy schedule, beginning August 3rd. That's when they'll start a stretch of 32 of their final 53 games being played at Comerica Park.

And that's the bad news.

For whatever reason, the Tigers, after 96 games played overall, are five games over .500 (26-21) at home, and 15 over on the road (32-17). It's an imbalance that is difficult to figure out, except to maybe just chalk it up to the same adage you use anytime anything perplexes: That's baseball.

But it's also not alarmist to say that the Tigers better spiff up that home record if they expect to remain in the thick of things throughout September.

They dropped another home series over the weekend, to the resurgent Royals, being led by a kid named Billy Butler. (I'm sorry, but I can't say his name without thinking about Billy Buckner).

The Tigers play 32 more road games this season. Let's say they falter a bit on the road in the Dog Days and only manage a 16-16 mark. It would put even more pressure on them to make hay at home.

It's likely that it will take 93-96 wins to secure a playoff spot, comfortably. The Tigers have 58 now, so they need 35-38 more. That means, in the above "Let's say" scenario, the Tigers would need 19-22 home wins in their final 34 home games. That's a hefty percentage for a club who's treated Comerica Park, so far, as if its home cooking is being done by Debra Barone instead of Martha Stewart (yes, you need to be an Everybody Loves Raymond fam to get that reference).

There haven't been too many offers of explanation emanating from the Tigers clubhouse about this home/away thing, but you wouldn't really expect any. Ballplayers are the last people you go to, to explain statistical oddities. Plus, they don't really care about all that stuff nearly as much as the folks who write about them.

I remember asking Curtis Granderson, back in May, about the "big" seven upcoming games with the Cleveland Indians.

What if a team, I asked, gets off to a 5-2 or 6-1 start in the season series? Does that mean anything?

"I think it means a lot more to the fans and the media than it does to the guys in this room," Granderson said, which didn't surprise me in the least. And, indeed, the Indians won the first five games. But the Tigers have come back to win four of the last five. And who's in first place, anyway?

Still, I don't think it's a matter of nitpicking to say that if the Tigers list their concerns in the season's final two months, their home record ought to be on it.

But look at it this way: maybe the pedestrian home mark so far means there's plenty of magic in those creamy whites and Old English D still left in the tank for the pennant push.

The beer glass is half full, right?

Two unusual things on the Tigers' docket this week. Actually, one of them has already occurred this season, but in reverse.

The first is a five-game series with the White Sox in Chicago. You don't see too many five-gamers anymore, and this one is due to a rain date that will be made up this week as a day-night doubleheader. (Speaking of things you don't see anymore, how about twi-night doubleheaders?).

The other is a Chicago-to-Anaheim trip, Thursday to Friday. In April, the Tigers went from Anaheim to Chicago in one day. Granted, Thursday's game is an afternoon affair, but I still think the schedule makers got this wrong. Manager Jim Leyland crabbed about it in April, and I don't blame him. Doubtless he'll crab again, especially after playing five games against the Chisox.


Friday, July 20, 2007

Mr. Commissioner: A Simple "Yes" Or "No" Will Do, Thank You

So what will it be, Mr. Commissioner?

Barry Bonds just hit home run nos. 752 and 753. He only has three more to go before he breaks Hank Aaron's all-time record, perhaps the most hallowed individual record in all of professional sports. Certainly the "sexiest," that misused word. He just hit two in one game. The record could fall any moment now, maybe even this weekend. Would you bet against it? Oops -- sorry. No betting in baseball. My bad.

It's getting closer, this record-breaking event -- and granted, it's unfortunately going to be occurring under rather suspect conditions. You know, the whole "did he or didn't he?" thing re: banned substances, steroids, etc. So here it comes, Bud -- and yet we still don't know whether you plan on passing thru a turnstile, or being secreted thru an undisclosed tunnel, and being present in the ballpark where Bonds's record-breaking no. 756 will be deposited.

It's not just a question of protocol and manners, this matter of you being there to greet Bonds as he crosses the plate after swatting the "one." Your silence and continued refusal to clue us all in has made it that way. It SHOULD have been an innocuous question. It SHOULD have just been a matter of protocol. But because you've ducked and dodged the issue, you've cast aspersions. You've turned your attendance into an approval or disapproval of Bonds and his career.

Selig, NOT answering the most prevalent question of the day

"If Bud's gonna be there, then he must have no problem with Bonds and the accusations against him, after all."

"If Bud'd NOT gonna be there, then he obviously isn't comfortable with this whole thing."

Normally, we wouldn't give much of a care whether the commissioner is "in the house" when a milestone is reached or surpassed. But this is no ordinary record, Bud, and it's not coming under normal circumstances. Yet either you don't seem to understand that, or refuse to acknowledge it.

Look, all it takes is for you to tell us, one way or another, if you'll be there. And here's the great part: despite what we might think, all you have to do is casually give your response -- yea or nay -- and tell us that the reason for your tardiness is that you wanted to wait until the time drew near and saw what was on your busy schedule. If it's yes, you can say that a baseball commissioner's duty dictates that he be there when such things occur. If it's no, you can blame it on a conflict or that you want it to be all about Barry, without the distraction of your mug.

It doesn't even matter -- or at least it shouldn't -- what your personal beliefs are, Mr. Commissioner. It really doesn't. I personally believe you should have your fanny in a seat in the ballpark that day, but that's just me. I happen to be one who thinks sports commissioners have a duty to be present when their game's "A list" records tumble.

But your delay in revealing your intentions has tied your "yes" or "no" to "approval" or "disapproval" of Bonds -- and, in extension, other players of his ilk.

It's a simple question, Bud Selig: Do you, or do you not, plan on being in the ballpark when Barry Bonds hits home run no. 756, becoming the game's all-time homer king?

Yes, or no?

It's going to happen, much sooner rather than later.

We're waiting...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Like 1978, Yankees Lurk Behind Red Sox

It was 29 years ago today.

The Yankees found themselves 14 games behind the Red Sox in the old AL East. They were sitting at a very un-Yankee-like 47-42, while Boston was tearing up the league at 61-28. Then, a few days later, Yankees manager Billy Martin popped off to the media about owner George Steinbrenner and outfielder Reggie Jackson, saying, "One's a liar and the other's convicted."

Steinbrenner, the latter, didn't appreciate his personal demons being dredged up in the media. He fired Martin and replaced him with the decidedly less flamboyant (and abrasive) Bob Lemon.

From that point on, the Yankees went on a second half charge that I still haven't seen anything close to being repeated since. Not even the Twins' relentless pecking away at the Tigers' lead last year compares.

The Redd Sox clung to a four-game lead when the Yankees visited for four games, beginning September 7. It was known as the Boston Massacre -- advantage Yanks. New York demolished Boston by these scores: 15-3, 13-2, 7-0, and 7-4. They had now caught the Red Sox -- making up the 14-game deficit in 53 games. You know the rest. The Yankees won the division in a one-game playoff at Fenway Park. The Bucky Dent game.

There is no manager firing this season (not yet, anyway), but the Yankees are lurking, just as they did in 1978.

A couple of weeks ago the Yankees were 13 games out of first place. They were an under-.500 team with rumors swirling about the fate of manager Joe Torre. And again the Red Sox were running away with the division. Not even the Wild Card, were the Yankees in contention for.

Have you checked the standings this morning?

The Yankees are creeping over .500. They're 47-44 -- 5-1 since the All-Star break. The Red Sox lost last night, so their lead over New York is now eight games. Normally a healthy margin in mid-July. But the '78 Yankees were six games worse than that, and they came all the way back. As for the Wild Card, the Yankees are seven games behind Cleveland.

It's not likely, granted, but it's also not inconceivable that the Yankees, still a talented lot, can catch the Red Sox in the final 71 games of the season. Boston has 69 remaining.

The Yankees of '78, though, had far superior pitching than the 2007 version. No question about that. And they had the clutch-hitting Jackson and the eerily calm guiding hand of Lemon, the new manager. Under Bob Lemon, the Yankees finished 48-20 -- nearly .700 ball.

But the 2007 Yankees are not beyond a second half comeback. They've been scuffling along all season, but maybe they're poised to put it all together and give the Red Sox a run for their money. Already the lead has been shrunk from thirteen to eight.

Don't count them out, those Yankees. They lurk, and you can bet the Red Sox -- and their fans, especially -- can feel the breathing against their necks, however faint.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 2-2
This Week: (7/17-19: at Min; 7/20-22: KC)

A few years ago, he was the whiny, soon-to-be former catcher of the Tigers. Management had just somehow lured Pudge Rodriguez to its 43-119 dregs of a ballclub. It was February, 2004. And Brandon Inge, the incumbent catcher, was barking.

"I know I can be just as good defensively," Inge crabbed to reporters as the Tigers were about to unveil their new, Hall of Fame backstop. "I'm not seeeing where it's (signing Rodriguez) is that much of an upgrade."

Inge's comments were noticeably devoid of offensive talk. At the time, his career BA wasn't even .200, in over 800 AB.

Rather than ship Inge away, though, the Tigers decided to convert him into a third baseman.

Today, Brandon Inge, no longer a catcher in mind or in spirit -- and certainly not in shin guards and chest protector -- is becoming one of the best third basemen (defensively) in all of Major League Baseball.

Inge displayed more of that glove prowess over the weekend against the Mariners.

Twice he made the signature play of the Gold Glove third sacker -- the bare-handed, grab-and-throw on a slow roller to nip the batter by a micro step. And he did it, both times, with not only confidence and coolness, but he has attained greatness at his position in this way: you EXPECT him to make that play, no matter how tough. Both times I saw him make it, I was amazed. But neither time was I surprised.

Also, on Saturday, a foul pop-up drifted toward the stands, off third base. Inge glided that way, one eye on the ball, the other on the grandstands. You could tell, by watching on TV, that this would be no easy endeavor -- but that Inge would try it anyway. He reached with his right, gloveless hand to feel for the railing, his eyes never losing sight of the ball. It was evident by now that this ball would not be caught in fair territory, if caught at all. And it wasn't. Inge dived INTO the stands, glove extended and open, throwing his entire body into the paying customers who scrambled to get out of his way. He literally disappeared among them. But when he emerged, the baseball was secure in his mitt.

It was one of the most brilliant plays I'd seen a third baseman make in years.

Friday night, Inge dove to his right, placing himself horizontal to the ground, and caught Adrian Beltre's liner, robbing him of a double when the Mariners were threatening to cut into the Tigers' lead.

There's also the howitzer of an arm, which enables him to make up for any bobbles or precious seconds when he has to hit the dirt to snare a ball.

Inge has not only converted into a third baseman -- he's morphing into Brooks Robinson before our very eyes.

The play in the stands came one batter after centerfielder Curtis Granderson made a nifty shoestring catch on a liner to straightaway center. Those two players, Granderson and Inge, represent the next two Gold Glove winners the Tigers will boast. They should come this year; if they don't, call the Attorney General, for a crime of monumental proportions will have been committed.

For the record, Inge says he doesn't miss catching anymore.

Inge's heroics with the glove, combined with the usual, "strike quickly and suddenly" offense, helped the Tigers gain a 2-2 split in Seattle. A keeper, for sure. The Mariners had been red hot at home, and in general.

This week, it's three in that damn Metrodome, followed by a weekend visit by the Royals, which represent the Tigers' only home games until August 3rd. But starting 8/3, the Tigers will finish the season with a decidedly home-heavy schedule. They MUST turn Comerica Park into a house of horrors for the visiting teams. If they do that, they should be a shoe-in for the playoffs.


Friday, July 13, 2007

In A Perfect World, Franco Would Decide When "It's Time"

I hope this isn't how it ends for Julio Franco. I hope the last at-bat he had -- albeit a base hit in Houston on July 7 -- isn't the last of his career and he didn't know it. I hope HE gets to decide when it ends -- and with the proper send-off by fans across the country.

Franco, who'll turn 49 next month, was cut by the New York Mets yesterday. Officially he was "designated for assignment." Same thing. He certainly won't be sent to the minors. His hit in Houston only raised his BA to .200 this season (10-for-50), so once again the emotion-less baseball decision had to be made. Such decisions have no room for nostalgia or warm-and-fuzzy feelings.

A couple years ago, Franco -- whose first MLB game was April 23, 1982 for the Phillies -- said in an interview that he'd like to play in the majors until he was 50. And who could have snickered at the time, for as recently as 2004 -- at age 46 -- Franco was hitting .309 in over 300 AB for Atlanta. Even last season, with the Mets, Franco hit a respectable .273 in 165 AB. He was a serviceable player -- a backup first baseman and pinch-hitter -- for a playoff team. None of this half-a-player, DH stuff. He came within a whisker of playing in his only World Series.

Franco as a Phillies rookie in 1982 ...
... and as a 48-year-old Met in 2006

I'm not delusional. I knew that one day, this day would come -- the day when Franco's employer decided that there was no longer a place on the roster for his battle-weathered body. But I guess I always hoped it would happen in the offseason -- if at all. I always wanted Franco to be the one to decide when his career was over, not some general manager.

The funny thing is, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays brought him into a game as a pinch-hitter once, to give him one last at-bat in the bigs. He struck out. That was on September 22, 1999. He returned to the bigs two years later, and has been there ever since -- until yesterday.

Maybe this isn't the end of the line. The pennant races are heating up. Maybe another team -- indeed even an AL club so that Franco could go the 1/2-player route and be a DH -- will take a flyer on him. Or maybe he'll keep himself in shape over the winter and put out feelers to other big league clubs for at least a spring training invite. Maybe.

Julio Franco might not be a Hall of Fame player, in some people's eyes. I think with nearly 2,600 hits, that he is Cooperstown-worthy. But I would challenge you to refute this: Julio Franco was a player with Hall of Fame dedication and commitment.

I hope I can stop using past tense, and only use it when Franco himself decides it's time. I know baseball doesn't work that way. I wish it did.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

LaRussa Takes Leave Of Senses By Keeping Pujols On The Bench

Tony LaRussa, in one fell swoop: alienated his star player; betrayed his league; and sent people scurrying to see whether he is on the verge of dementia.

LaRussa, the manager of the NL All-Star team, found himself in the following situation last night: bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded, down by one run. And Albert Pujols, his brutus of a slugger, on the bench, still unused. And that's where Pujols remained, while LaRussa let Phillies outfielder Aaron Rowand bat for himself.

Now, this is not to slight Rowand, or any All-Star for that matter. They wouldn't be suited up if they couldn't play the game a little bit. But Pujols is a special talent that shouldn't be gathering dust in the dugout, especially with the game, home field advantage in the World Series, and league pride on the line. The NL hasn't won the midsummer classic since 1996. Even LaRussa himself admitted before the game that his stars were getting cranky and embarrassed by that fact.

So Pujols stayed anchored to the bench, Rowand made an out, and the AL's dominance continued.

LaRussa's explanation? He was "saving" Pujols in case the game went into extra innings, because of Pujols's ability to play different positions.

BUZZZ!! Thanks for playing, Tony -- we have some lovely parting gifts for you.

Pujols, for the record, lit into his manager a little bit, wryly observing that he didn't fly all the way out to San Francisco to not play. His words belied someone who was understanding of the decision, as LaRussa purported Pujols was. LaRussa, don't forget, had a dust-up with third baseman Scott Rolen in the NLCS last year -- a little feud which threatened harmony going into the World Series. That was about playing time, too.

I don't know what LaRussa was thinking of. How does he suppose a Pujols at-bat with the bases loaded, two outs, and a one-run deficit is going to lead to anything other than these two results: an NL win, or an AL win? No ties! If Pujols connects, it ain't gonna be for anything that's only gonna drive in one run at that point.

The "play for extra innings" explanation was something LaRussa used in the 2005 game, too, when he kept Pirate Jason Bay out of action.

It's one thing to piss off a player from another team, but why in the world would you risk ticking off your star player -- especially when you have an entire second half of a season in which to co-exist? Not to mention blowing a chance to win a game that was very much there for the taking.

All because you're "saving" Albert Pujols for extra innings?

In an All-Star game, you don't leave any guns unfired. Especially your own.

I'm sure Pujols won't hold this snub over LaRussa's head the rest of the summer. Doesn't seem to be his style. But it won't be because LaRussa deserves any sort of slack. Maybe Tony just didn't want to be accused of playing favorites.

But with his "non-move" last night, the only people he seemed to be favoring was the American League team. And they'll take it.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 5-1
This Week: (7/9-11: All-Star break; 7/12-15: at Sea)

Five straight wins against Cleveland and Boston is the right way to end the first half. And that's what the Tigers have wrought, leapfrogging them into first place all by their lonesomes, by one full game over the Indians. None of this "ahead by percentage points" stuff.

There are a few memorable catches I've seen Tigers outfielders make. There was Jim Northrup, robbing Davey Johnson of the Orioles by leaping above the left field fence to snag a homerun, back in 1972. There was Bobby Higginson, also against Baltimore, taking another homer away, in right field in 1999. Both of these were in Detroit, in old Tiger Stadium.

But Curtis Granderson may have eclipsed both of those efforts with the ridiculous grab he made yesterday off Wily Mo Pena, in left center field. Everything had to go right -- the timing of the jump, the lunge with the glove, the ability to keep it in the mitt after tumbling to the ground. Curtis did it all, and made the catch of the year, without question.

Who says you need the three All-Star starters in the lineup to have an exciting game? The Tigers sat Magglio Ordonez, Pudge Rodriguez, and Placido Polanco, for a variety of reasons, but mainly for rest. And the Tigers didn't miss a beat, nor should the fans have felt cheated, for there are plenty more heroes than just the big guns on their ballclub.

Last season, even when the Tigers were zooming off to their unreal 76-36 start, there was a nagging feeling that they were still unproven against the "big boys", namely Boston, New York, and Chicago. The White Sox had beaten them fairly regularly, and so ahd the Red Sox and Yankees. Not until the postseason did the Tigers put that nonsense to rest.

This year, that was beginning to be the case again. 0-5 against the Indians in the first five meetings; 1-3 against the Red Sox. But the Tigers have now beaten the Tribe four of their last five contests, and the Red Sox three in a row. And they handled the Angels pretty well back in May.

The All-Star break is here, believe it or not, and the Tigers are a first-place team without the benefit of full health, or anywhere near it, from the get go. Kenny Rogers, Joel Zumaya, Nate Robertson, Fernando Rodney, and Tim Byrdak --almost half a pitching staff, have all missed significant time due to injury. Many of the hitters got off to horribly slow starts in April. Yet the Tigers lead the majors in runs scored.

Is the best yet to come for the Bengals?

If it is, then there will certainly be October baseball again in Detroit -- LATE October.


Friday, July 06, 2007

Miller: Too Early To Be Comfortable As A Big Leaguer

Andrew Miller is 22, 6-foot-6, lefthanded throwing, and will one day be a son-of-a-bitch to bat against in the big leagues. Already, after just a handful of MLB starts, his manager has suggested that Miller might be approaching SOB status.

"When he releases the ball, it's like he's three feet away from home plate," Jim Leyland said a month or so ago about his rookie pitcher's long frame. He used the comparison to help justify why he was keeping Miller on the staff -- and in the starting rotation --when injuries called for shuffling and demotions.

Miller was splayed on the sofa in the Tigers' clubhouse, relaxing before yesterday's game with the Indians when I asked him when he could feel as comfortable calling himself a big leaguer as he was on that faux leather couch.

"I don't think anyone with three or four (major league) starts should ever feel that way," he told me. "Especially with a team like this, where we're expected to win. I know that if I don't perform, I don't have any job security whatsoever."

We said Andrew Miller was young. We didn't say that he's naive, though.

"We're expected to win here," Miller says of the Tigers

Miller is 3-2 with a 3.81 ERA after five starts in the bigs. He's shown definite flashes of why the Tigers were in such a rush to sign him last summer after making him their first round draft pick (University of North Carolina), and why they wanted to see him in MLB games, pronto (he pitched in eight September games in 2006 with a 6.10 ERA in 10.1 IP). He's also shown signs that some big league hitters aren't impressed yet. He's given up four homeruns, for example, in 28.1 IP in his 2007 starts.

"I think coming up last year has made things easier this season," Miller says. "They were important ballgames in September (that he pitched in). They -- I mean WE -- were trying to win the division. The fact that there was that extra pressure is certainly helping (now)."

To fans and other observers, it might seem like a no-brainer that the Tigers keep Miller around for the duration this season, giving Leyland three lefty starters and yet another power arm -- the kind of arm that the skipper likes in pennant-affecting regular season games and in the postseason. But the only no-brainer thing that Miller will concede to is that his performance and his performance alone will be the thing that determines whether he stays or he goes.

"There are a lot of guys who can start for us," Miller says. "I have to pitch pretty well to stick around. I know that if I don't perform well, I could very easily lose my job."

As for his manager's embellishment of his height and its effect on opposing hitters, Miller downplays his size.

"I don't think about it. I think it probably is somewhat of an advantage, but when I'm throwing a pitch, I'm not thinking about using my height extra on a certain pitch or anything like that."

Little comfort, I would guess, for hitters to know that the giant 60 feet, six inches from them isn't thinking about how menacing he looks on the hill.

We ended our discussion, and Miller went back to perusing the latest issue of Baseball America, relaxed and comfortable on the sofa.

Not to disprespect the rookie's caution, but I think he ought to get used to how that sofa feels.


P.S. I was at CoPa yesterday working for Michigan In Play! Magazine, the July issue of which should be out soon. I write a column for Jack Rosenberg's publication, called "Word Around the Campfire" -- a compendium of things I've seen and heard in locker rooms and streets about Detroit sports. In August, Miller's relationship with veteran lefty Kenny Rogers will be included in "the campfire." MIP is available at about 400 locations in Metro Detroit, and it's FREE. Log on to for a location near you.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Young's Turnaround Muted Because Of Its Circumstances

All those who thought Dmitri Young would again be an All-Star, raise your hands. Now do so without blushing.

It was only last September when Young was banished from the Tigers, unceremoniously and strangely, during a rain delay at Comerica Park. It was the culmination of a sordid year of off-the-field troubles and injuries. Cancer in the locker room, folks whispered when he left town, the pennant push in full swing. Odd timing, too, for it appeared that Young was getting his stroke back after his early season troubles.

The free-swinging Young bats at a .335 clip in 2007

Anyhow, Young's career, while maybe not over, appeared on life support at the time. It was highly questionable whether any big league team would give him another shot, though being a switch-hitter with his resume probably gave him a better chance than the bleak picture the pallbearers with pens painted.

That team was the Washington Nationals. A chance for Young to be reunited with Jim Bowden, the Nats GM who was in the Reds' front office when Young played there. Bowden, it's presumed, did some due diligence. And he knew how good of a hitter Dmitri Young could be, when he was on his game and there weren't any distractions.

This season, Young is a National League reserve -- the Nationals' lone representative, and it's not a charity move by Tony LaRussa. It's not a pity selection, because the Nationals have to have a player on the roster. Young, as of Monday, was hitting .335 with seven homers and 38 RBI. I'd say a .335 hitter isn't on the All-Star team because of his good looks.

Yes, this might be a very nice "feel good" story if only it wasn't for the off-the-field issues that plagued Young in 2006 -- and for the continued perception that his character is less-than-spectacular. It would be easier to embrace his All-Star selection if there wasn't the domestic violence charge brought against Young a year ago spring. Or the whispers of his destructive ways within the Tigers clubhouse. Or one of the most heinous of charges in pro sports -- that he doesn't always stay interested. That he, in other words, dogged it for the Tigers last season.

The Dmitri Young, "cut-in-September-and-an-All-Star-next-July" story would be a much nicer one if we didn't have to cut through the thick brush that is his reputation and criminal charges.

We might even applaud him, for example.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 2-4
This Week: (7/3-5: CLE; 7/6-8: BOS)

OK, I'm hesitant to make too much out of a regular season game played on July 1, but I'll lay you dollars to doughnuts that the Tigers players -- and even gruff manager Jim Leyland -- will agree with me: last night's 1-0 win over Minnesota was HUGE.

The Tigers had lost four out of the first five in this 12-game homestand. They looked lifeless against freaking Scott Baker, he of the 5.77 ERA and .299 opponent BA. One hit thru six innings. And that lone hit -- a leadoff triple by Curtis Granderson in the fourth -- was followed by weak at-bats from the nos. 2, 3, and 4 hitters. Grandy stayed stranded at third.

Thankfully, Jeremy Bonderman was just as effective, and the teams went into the eighth inning scoreless.

The first two Tigers went out -- lifeless again. Then Marcus Thames, the most powerful Tigers hitter the team has employed this side of Cecil Fielder, smacked Baker's offering -- a force-fed shot into left field, over the wall.

Todd Jones -- amazingly enough -- pitched a quick, painless, 1-2-3 ninth for the save.


The win doesn't mean the Tigers' little funk is over with. But it was MUCH needed. Plop, plop, fizz, fizz -- know what I mean?

The Tigers won the game despite only mustering three hits off Baker, who got hung with a loss that can only be justified by saying, "That's baseball." They didn't pount the other team into submission, as they so often do. But that's OK -- because to win a division or make the playoffs as a Wild Card, you're going to have to win some 1-0, 2-1, 3-2 ballgames.

Bonderman gave the Tigers a chance to win on a night when his teammates looked limp against a mediocre pitcher. That's what good teams' top-tier starters are supposed to do, when the bats are like balsa wood.

Coming up, the Indians and Red Sox visit, which should make for a fun week at Comerica Park. But the Tigers have to start making some hay at home. They're 20-18 at CoPa, and that's not a championship-caliber record. Can't rely on winning all these road games. And psychologically, a 12-game homestand is supposed to translate into a padding of the record, so when it doesn't happen, it's a downer.

The Tribe is hot again, just in time for their invasion of Detroit. In late May, the Indians swept the Tigers at CoPa. Can't have a repeat of that this week.

P.S.: Congratulations to Troy Percival, whose comeback with the St. Louis Cardinals has been so far, so good. Percival, 37, hadn't pitched in the big leagues in about two years when he joined the Cardinals a couple weeks ago. Yesterday, Percival got his second win in the weekend series with the Reds. He's 2-0. Well, 3-0 -- when you consider the comeback itself.