Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Tram Lands On His Feet In Cubs' First-Place Den

Buddy Bell: self-ziggied. Will manage the Kansas City Royals through the end of the season, then he will don a suit and tie and sit in the brass's suite at Kaufman Stadium, working in the Royals' front office.

Phil Garner: ziggied unwillingly. Ordered to stop managing the Houston Astros immediately. Just two years after leading an improbable second half charge all the way to the World Series.

Alan Trammell: safely ensconced on Lou Piniella's bench as his right hand man, helping the Cubs try to capture the NL Central flag.

Bell, Garner, and Trammell. Three former Tigers managers of the past decade. Two of them out of the dugout (or soon will be). The third, Tram, still alive and kicking, in a playoff chase -- something he never sniffed as Tigers skipper.

And don't forget Kirk Gibson, recently in the Tigers' small coaching office -- now helping the Arizona Diamondbacks as their bench coach. The D-Backs are also very much alive in the postseason chase.

The Tigers haven't found a whole lot of stability in the manager's office since Sparky Anderson retired to California in 1995. Not surprisingly, they haven't found a whole lot of winning, either. But the men that they've dismissed haven't set the baseball world on fire, either -- save for Garner's miracle year of 2005.

But Trammell, the poor soul who had to manage a group of minor league ballplayers in 2003 -- and thus won only 43 games -- has landed squarely on his feet, and with one of the game's better managers, for one of the game's most storied (albeit not successful) franchises. And with a chance to experience October baseball for the first time since a player in 1987.

I don't think there's any question that Trammell's hiring was mostly a public relations device when Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski tabbed him in late 2002 to take over a very bad ballclub. Management knew the product on the field was likely to be hideous. So why not try to divert some attention to Trammell and his lieutenants, the coaches from the '84 team? And who knows? Maybe Trammell can learn a thing or two about managing along the way. Certainly he would learn about abject failure.

It's fitting and proper, I think, that Alan Trammell, battle-worn and having survived his managing stint with the woeful Tigers, is now enjoying his just desserts -- even as his old club struggles to stay in their own playoff picture. Though he's a self-admitted Tiger at heart.

It may be harsh and even wrong to say that the Tigers used Trammell from 2003-05. But it really wouldn't be too far off the mark. It's even likely that more qualified candidates were overlooked so that Tram could be hired. If the Tigers didn't use Trammell, they came awfully close. But that's probably all a family secret.

Alan Trammell wears Cubbies pinstripes today. He wears them, at Lou Piniella's side, in first place.

Good for him.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 3-3
This Week: (8/27: NYY; 8/28-30: at KC; 8/31-9/2: at Oak)

The Tigers broke curfew Friday night, but nobody slapped their wrists or took away their driving privileges or grounded them.

They started a game at 11:06pm that evening, and by now you've read, heard, and seen all the talk about how bizarre it was, how strange that a big league ballgame should start after the nighttime news.

"What if it goes into extra innings?," I wondered aloud once I heard that the Tigers-Yankees game would start after a 4 hour, one minute rain delay. "That would carry it well past 2 a.m.!"

Try well past 3 a.m.

Carlos Guillen ended it with a walk-off, three-run homer in extras, and the Tigers half-ran, half-shuffled off the field and into their clubhouse sometime after 3:30 in the morning. Happy, but tired; a good tired, I suppose.

I'm dying to hear the rule about curfews, though. There was once a time when an inning couldn't begin after 1 a.m. And a game could be suspended at that point. But the rules are confusing, and I think there are a lot of variables. Certainly beginning a game after 11 o'clock must mean that there IS no more curfew. Who knows.

Anyhow, if the Tigers manage to pick themselves up by the cleat straps, and climb back into the playoff picture, they might point to the crazy night of August 24/25 as the night that things started to slowly but surely turn around for them.

Guillen clubbed -- and that's an appropriate verb because the baseball was nearly as low as a teed-up golf ball when he hit it -- an ankle-high breaking ball over the left field wall at 3:30. The Tigers won, after having blown a 6-3 lead. They were licking their wounds after the Indians left town with a 2-1 series win. The Wild Card was slipping further and further out of sight. So too, the division, though not at the critical stage yet. Simply put, the Tigers were a tired, soggy, scuffling team that needed a win in the worst way -- no matter how weird it was.

It's two out of three from the Yanks so far, with Game 4 this evening. Far less significant games have been played this season.

Meanwhile, the injury bug continues to batter the team. Now it's rookie starter Jair Jurrjens who's the latest victim. Inflamed shoulder. On the DL, for the requisite 15 days. Back to Detroit comes Zach Miner, who huffed and puffed last Thursday after being demoted with the return of Joel Zumaya. The Tigers' pitching staff has played yo-yo with far more pitchers than was surmised in March. Up and down the same few names have come. Injuries have been mostly to blame for all the shuffling.

After tonight, the Tigers will either have gone 6-7 or 5-8 in this 13-game stretch of playing just the Indians and Yankees. The former is acceptable; the latter may be an indictment on their tenuous playoff chances. What a different one game can make.

Like I said, far less significant games have been played this season than tonight's.


Friday, August 24, 2007

Lefthanded Pop Would Be Nice September Addition

I don't know if anything can be done, anymore, to pull the Tigers up from the undertow that's dragged them down since sweeping the Twins in Minnesota in late July -- a series that has appeared to have cursed them. They are 11-23 since that sweep. When the wheels appear to be coming off, a quick, easy fix isn't an option.

But if I was GM Dave Dombrowski (and if my facial structure and eye color changed, and my chin was indented, then MAYBE I might look like him), I'd be in search of another bat, preferrably a lefthanded one.

What, no pitching? Well, it would seem to be far more likely to find a hitter than an arm at this point of the season. Plus, as inconsistent as the pitching has been, it's been the team's maddening inability to get, in manager Jim Leyland's words, "a lousy single, or even sacrifice fly" at crucial moments that has cost them more ballgames than the pitching has. Time and time again, Tigers hitters are coming to the plate with a runner on third base and less than two outs, or a runner at second base. And time and time again, those hitters are popping up or striking out. Maddening. And unacceptable.

The Tigers' current #3 hitter, Casey, has three homers. That's unacceptable.

Outfielder Craig Monroe is gone, mainly due to such shenanigans. He was hitting in the low .200s, and in the low .100s since mid-June. But Monroe may have the last laugh. He's in Chicago now, traded to the Cubs. The first-place Cubs.

With Gary Sheffield out for an undetermined amount of time, the need for another bat, preferrably an experienced one, is almost mandatory. And one that swings from the left side of the plate would be even better. With the exception of Curtis Granderson and Carlos Guillen, the Tigers are woefully punchless from the left side. Sean Casey has three home runs. Backup catcher Mike Rabelo has none. All the power hitters are righthanded, making the Tigers' suddenly inadequate offense even more susceptible to good righthanded pitching, which the AL is full of.

I'm not suggesting that the Tigers have to now rely solely on home runs to score. But a decent lefthanded power hitter would make the lineup more balanced and keep opposing pitchers a little more honest. I'm hoping that one can be had at this late juncture.

It still might not be enough to save the season, but one thing's for sure: it can't hurt.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Tigers Don't "Feel" Like A Playoff Team, To Me

I want you to take a step back and try to answer this question objectively.

Do the Tigers, to you, "feel" like a team that's headed for the playoffs?

There's no right or wrong answer here. If you answer in the affirmative, then that's terrific. You're able to look past the many warts and injuries and the current 11-22 slide and stand firm in your resolve. I admire you. If you answer no, then you are, perhaps, biased by this 33-game funk, which is a violation, I suppose, of my order to answer the question objectively.

I fall among those biased by these last 33 games, but I also like to think of myself as a realist.

Its hard to imagine, but the Tigers had the best record in baseball after 93 games (57-36). They had just swept the Twins in Minnesota. Despite injuries to the pitching staff, things looked very promising.

But then Gary Sheffield hurt his shoulder, and the starters stopped giving quality starts, and the bullpen started to implode, and the breaks started going the other way, and...

The Tigers haven't won more than two in a row since that sweep in Minnesota in late July. Sheffield's shoulder is troubling him again. A nasty flu bug is just now completing its run thru the Tigers clubhouse. The bullpen remains shaky, despite the return of Joel Zumaya. The starters remain unreliable, unable to consistently pitch deep into ballgames. And it just doesn't seem to be showing any signs of ending anytime soon.

The Tigers don't need to win eight or nine in a row. They're still just 1-1/2 games out of first place, thanks to the Indians' recent stumbling and bumbling. But they do need a nice little 10-4 or 8-2 stretch to regain some confidence and maybe jump start things again. I'm just not sure if it's in them.

The Tigers won, 2-1, behind the great pitching of rookie Jair Jurrjens and a 2006 dose of relief pitching. But those kinds of games have been few and far between. And the offense was silent -- managing just three hits. Last night, the Tigers left two runners on base in the 7th inning. OK -- they were still only two runs behind, clawing back from an 8-3 hole to creep within 8-6. Still two more at-bats to make up those runs. But the bullpen, once again, failed them, giving up a three-spot in the top of the 8th. Those kinds of things just suck the life out of a team. The Tigers made it interesting in the ninth, but couldn't get over the hump, thanks to that three-run eighth by the Indians.

The hitters are striking out far too often, especially with runners in scoring position, and double-especially when those runners are on third base with less than two outs. One of baseball's cardinal rules is to at least put the ball in play in such situations.

Like I said, I just don't have that playoff-loving feeling. But those that do aren't wrong -- just incredibly optimistic. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 2-4
This Week: (8/21-23: CLE; 8/24-27: NYY)

There's no bigger indicator, right now, that this isn't the 2006 baseball season for the Tigers than this: there is no Wild Card to default to, to get into the playoffs. It's win the division to get in -- that's it. No cushy 10-game leads to fritter away, only to outlast the White Sox anyway for the title of Kings of Second Place. The Tigers are going to have to get into the October tournament the old fashioned way -- by winning their division.

After losing three straight in New York (I figured the Tigers would lose 3 of 4 in the Bronx, even after Thursday's win), the Tigers are three behind the Yankees, but the Yankees are not the Wild Card leaders at the moment. That honor goes to the Seattle Mariners (remember them?), who are 1/2-game ahead of the Yankees. But here's the rub: the Mariners lead the Tigers by five games in the loss column.

I've had some folks ask me why being behind in the loss column is such a bad thing, and why is it worse than being behind in the win column? It's because losses are games that are, well, lost. You can't "make them up." But if you're tied in losses yet behind in wins, it means you have games in hand and, theoretically, can make up your deficit simply by winning them. Make sense?

Being five back in the loss column, with less than 40 games to play, isn't healthy. Having two teams ahead of you isn't healthy, either -- especially when one of them (the Yankees) doesn't appear to be slowing down at all.

The Tigers' objective should be to focus on the Central Division and let the Wild Card be damned. They are 1-1/2 games behind the Indians -- but only two behind in the "L" column. And they have the Tribe in three head-to-head matches this week at Comerica Park.

Last year, the Tigers stumbled home 19-31 and blew the division on the last day of the season. Of course, they had qualified for the playoffs the weekend before, thanks to being Kings of Second Place. There's no such safety net in 2007. It's "Division or Bust!" -- or at least it should be.

Random thoughts after a rough weekend in New York:

The Tigers continue to have a maddening knack for striking out when simply putting the ball into play would drive in a run. Brandon Inge and Curtis Granderson have been the biggest offenders lately. Each seems to be easy pickings with breaking balls below the shins. Manager Jim Leyland, without naming names (he didn't have to), talked about the team's inability to drive in runners against the Yanks.

"The swings we had were unacceptable. We're taking strikes and swinging at balls," Leyland said.

Inge: "I can't explain it. They're pitching me like I'm Babe Ruth. Everything is away. I haven't seen a ball in the middle of the strike zone in a week."

Um, Brandon? It's called "advanced scouting." You know, those guys who go to ballgames and report on what they see? Obviously the book on you is, "throw him down and away. Feed him off-speed stuff, especially with two strikes."

They're not going to change until you do, my friend.

Now, about Cameron Maybin, the prized rookie fly catcher. Extremely raw, obviously. Hits a lot of balls to the right side and straightaway, it seems. Shaky defensively. Made a bad throw to the plate when a good one might have made the play close. Struck out a lot. But hit a majestic homer to center field off Roger Clemens. Bottom line? All I can go by is what everyone in the baseball world says: that Maybin is a legit five-tool player who'll make Detroit go crazy in a few years. And if that's true, then I'll never forget the homer off Clemens Saturday.

Also, you can't get any rougher than starting your MLB career in New York in a playoff race, going against Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens. So it's all smooth sailing from here, Cameron. If only.

BTW, nice, classy move by Derek Jeter to throw the ball Maybin hit for his first big league hit (a single on a hit-and-run play) into the Tigers dugout for keepsake purposes. I like Jeter. A lot. He's about the only Yankee I can stomach, actually.


Friday, August 17, 2007

2007 Brewers A Poor Version Of 2006 Tigers

In the end, they're still the Milwaukee Brewers.

I was waiting for this all season, and now here it is -- the collapse of the usually-awful Brew Crew, which bolted out of the gate 24-10 and had folks calling them the "Tigers for 2007." But now the Brewers sit, wobbling, on top of the NL Central division by a half-game, with a very unimpressive 62-59 record. They've lost 13 of 18 and are 38-49 after their 34-game start.

Yeah, they have some nice young talent: Prince Fielder, Ben Sheets, Jeff Jenkins. But they were 75-87 last season and haven't been good in eons. And they don't have several ingredients that enabled the Tigers to make such a drastic climb in 2006 -- namely manager Jim Leyland; a bevy of young, power arms; veteran stars; and GM Dave Dombrowski.

After sweeping the Brewers in Milwaukee this week, the Cardinals -- yes, the stumbling, bumbling St. Louis Cardinals -- are just 2-1/2 games behind, and only one back in the loss column. Lou Piniella and Alan Trammell's Cubs are in second place -- and they're my favorite to win the division.

The collars are shrinking around the Brewers' players necks. This is a real pennant race now, not the let's-pretend-they're-important games of April and May. The Cubs charged, cooled, but are getting warm again. LaRussa and his Cardinals are somehow in the thick of things despite an under-.500 record. This race is reminding me of the 1973 NL East, won by the Mets, who finished just a couple games above .500 -- and who were in last place (five teams in front of them) as late as late August. Thanks to the expected descent of the Brewers, this is now a three-mediocre-team race.

The Brewers of 2007 are NOT the 2006 Tigers. Yes, the Tigers limped across the finish line last season, but they still won 95 games, thanks to an incredible 76-36 start. That's the first 112 games, Brewers fans -- not 34. I knew your team wasn't all that good. It just took a little longer than I thought to be proven right.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Grilli The New Whipping Boy With Departure Of Perez

Jason Grilli, a few days ago, trotted out a typical athlete's response to the boo-birds of his hometown.

"I'd like to go to where those people work," the Tigers reliever said, "and boo them at their office."

This retort is flawed in many ways, not the least of which is that the ones doing the booing aren't being paid millions to perform -- nor are those folks charging admission to see them work. Or $5.00 for a hot dog while they're watching.

Grilli is a frustrated pitcher right now. He's had a devil of a season, and he seems to save his worst performances for Comerica Park. He is greeted with boos when he runs to the mound, and that shabby treatment is usually reserved for a maligned closer -- not a long reliever.

They booed him again Monday night, when the A's were having their way with the Tigers. Grilli had done nothing, to that point, to deserve being booed, except to have his name announced on the PA. He gave up an infield single, but then got some strikeouts to end the inning. He could be seen yelling some epithets as he walked to the dugout. Don't know to whom those f-bombs were directed, but the fans could have been a target.

Grilli's improper response came late last week, when he poured some gasoline on a Tampa Bay rally, giving up a grand slam to Johnny Gomes to spoil Nate Robertson's victory. The Tigers won anyway.

With Neifi Perez banished, out of the fans' nightmares for good in 2007, Jason Grilli has seemed to taken on the role of the Tiger pinata. Before Monday night, I hadn't witnessed a Tigers pitcher being booed as he entered a game since ... perhaps Todd Jones, after some rough outings. But this was no mixed reaction, as with Jones or even Fernando Rodney, who can also be maddening. These were flat-out boos -- no mistaking it. It was the fans saying, "We don't want you in this game, nor on our team, for that matter."

I can see where such a reaction would cut through Grilli, whose dad pitched in Detroit in the mid-1970s. He's a good guy who doesn't take his roster spot for granted. But his frustrated reaction was framed wrongly. Comparing yourself to a regular Joe Shmoe who doesn't get booed in his office is silly and simple-minded.

When the Tigers win, it's usually not because of Jason Grilli, and when they lose it usually can't be blamed on him, either. Same with Neifi Perez. Yet these two are maybe the most vilified of all the Tigers. Fans are funny.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 4-3
This Week: (8/13: OAK; 8/14-15: at Cle; 8/16-19: at NYY)

This is as big as it gets for mid-August.

The Tigers take on the Indians and Yankees both on the road, for six games. No biggie -- just the two teams that surround them in the standings. The Tigers hold a 1/2-game over the Tribe in the AL Central, and are one game behind the Yankees, who are scorching hot. The Indians are about as hot as the Tigers, which is somewhere between tepid and room temperature. But often how well a team plays changes from series to series.

Speaking of which, I'm blaming this current Tigers funk (8-16 in their last 24 games) on the Curse of the Twins. That's right. The Twins, in case you don't know, are my most-hated team in all of MLB. It's that damn dome, mainly -- plus the fact that they never seem to go away.

This slide began immediately after the Tigers swept the Twins in the Metrodome. Detroit was 57-36 and was heralded as the best team in the bigs. Then the wheels started to come off. It's almost like the baseball gods said, "OK, you swept the hated Twins -- but it'll cost ya!!"

Big time.

Are they out of this malaise? The two-game winning streak notwithstanding, I won't be convinced until this rash of games with the Indians and Yankees (both teams visit Detroit next week) is completed. Then we'll have a much better gauge.

It's simple, really. The starting pitchers need to get deeper into games. With Fernando Rodney back and appearing to be effective, and Joel Zumaya almost back, the starters can do everyone a lot of good by getting into the seventh inning more often. That was the formula for success in 2006.

Let's just hope those damn Twins don't repeat THEIR 2006 formula and capture this thing on the last day of the season again.

Did I mention that I hate them?

Slowly but surely the offense seems to be busting out of its doldrums. They lost Friday night, but still managed to score 10 runs and came back from an 8-1 deficit. They aren't making pedestrian pitchers look like Cy Young as much anymore. And they're stringing hits together and driving balls into the gap again.

Now let's see them do it against Cleveland and New York.

I hate the Indians, too. The Yankees I can abide, for whatever reason. Maybe because I expect them to be good, with that payroll. I don't mind being beaten by Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter and the rest of them. It's the Ryan Garkos and Josh Barfields and dudes like that who annoy me.

Did I mention that I hate the Twins, too?


Friday, August 10, 2007

Casey: Wilson Would Look Good As A Tiger; Sheff Remembers Everything

As the minutes dwindled before the 4 p.m. non-waiver trading deadline on July 31, one Tigers player wondered, for a moment, if he'd be reunited with a former teammate.

"I was watching TV and there was like eight minutes left and they said, 'Deal imminent to Detroit.' So I called Jack and said, 'Are you coming to Detroit?' He told me he didn't know; he was watching the same thing I was," first baseman Sean Casey told me yesterday.

So it was that Casey flirted with the idea of Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson joining him in Detroit for the stretch run, and maybe beyond. Casey and Wilson played with each other in Pittsburgh in 2006, before Casey was dealt to the Tigers at last year's deadline.

I suggested to Casey yesterday, before the Tigers' dud of a loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, that Wilson could still be a Tiger soon -- if he's able to clear waivers in a trade. Wilson would be insurance if the unthinkable happened to Carlos Guillen -- or at least to give Guillen a break. Casey, excited on July 31 about the prospect, still likes the idea of Wilson in a Tigers uniform.

"He's a great player, man," Casey said. "He's one of the best shortstops I've played with. He can flat out go get it. I think he'd be great here. He's a great player. I mean, he's with the Pirates now. I don't know. He's a good guy, he can hit. Good baseball player."

Wilson told a Pittsburgh newspaper that he would waive a no-trade clause to join the Tigers.

Wilson is "a great player ... he can flat out go get it," Casey says

"Anytime a contender shows interest, it's something to think about," Wilson said in the published piece about the Tigers. "I'm a Pirate and I hold that very dear, but ..."

He didn't have to finish that sentence -- not when you toil near the division basement and a first-place team (which the Tigers were at the time) is rumored to want you. Later, it was confirmed that Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski did indeed have talks with the Pirates about Wilson, who makes around $6-7 million per year.

As for himself, Casey -- also a guy who can hit -- spoke casually yet confidently about his season, although he's only hit three home runs in 2007.

"I've had seasons where I've hit a lot of home runs, and seasons where I've hit eight or nine," Casey said. "I hit a lot of balls to right center, and those aren't home runs (at Comerica Park)," he added with a big laugh.

"But I have 26 doubles and I feel like I'm swinging the bat pretty good," Casey says -- and he does have a .290+ average.

I asked him what his hitting approach is at Comerica Park, considering it's not all that friendly to guys who hit the ball in the gap who can't run real well.

"I just try to hit the ball hard somewhere. I don't really have a different approach here versus someplace else."

So you don't try to jack one out, if the situation calls for a homer?

"No. I've never done that my whole career, man," he says with laughter, "and I'm not going to start now!"

Will the congenial Casey, a.k.a. The Mayor for his back-slapping, happy-go-lucky demeanor, be joined by Jack Wilson before long in Detroit?

Something tells me that ship hasn't left the port yet.


A few weeks ago, in a column over at Out of Bounds, I wrote about Gary Sheffield's playing in the Junior League World Series in Taylor, back in 1982. I used to direct TV coverage of the games in my cable days (1986-93). And I recalled Sheffield's Tampa team winning the tourney as the South representative. The JLWS is for 13-year-olds, while the more popular Little League World Series (Williamsport, PA) is for 12-year-olds.

Yesterday I asked Sheff if he recalled that experience.

"I remember everything, man," he said with a grin.

He then proceeded to tell me what diamond he played on, where it faced, and on what side of the park it was on. This was 25 years ago.

Sheffield pitched and played infield in the JLWS.

Speaking of Tampa, was it worse to lose to the Devil Rays than, say, Cleveland or New York?

"Nope. Doesn't matter who we lose to. We have to play better. That's it."

Sheffield also said that he watched Barry Bonds's 756th home run as it happened, with his wife.

"I think it's great," he says of Bonds's accomplishment.

Does Sheffield think of 500 home runs, which he's approaching?

"Naww. That's just a number," he told me.

What about when you get to 499?

"Then I'll start swinging for the fence, to get it over with."

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

No Commish Needed To Create Asterisks With Barry Bonds

I wonder how many baseball fans knew of the word "asterisk" before 1961. That's when commissioner Ford Frick deemed that one of those little starry thingies would be placed next to Roger Maris's name in the record books as he chased Babe Ruth's single-season home run record. Frick's reasoning? Maris would be setting the record in a 162-game season, while Ruth clubbed his 60 homers in a 154-game season in 1927.

Maris had a great line about the asterisk and its "justification" by Frick -- a sort of baseball scarlett letter, if you will.

"He says there should be an asterisk because I didn't do it in 154 games," Maris said to the press. "But which 154?"

You can see Maris's version, too -- if you look at how he did it. Maris didn't hit home run #1 until April 26, 1961 -- in the Yankees' 10th game. So Maris, if you want to get technical, hit his 61 in the team's final 152 games -- two less than Ruth in '27.

756 Home Runs

Today, there doesn't need to be an asterisk, or a star, or a small "x", or a tiny agate dagger next to Barry Bonds's name as the game's all-time home run king. Ford Frick's punctuation was force-fed onto an unwilling and confused public -- and on Maris. In Bonds's case, the public is placing its own asterisk onto the whole deal.

The asterisks are practically visible, like in that new cell phone commercial where the young lady shows up at the competitor's store and sees "Dating Game" and "Mike Douglas Show"-like stars all over the place, as reminders that there's always a catch. Ask anyone about Bonds and his accomplishment, and the asterisks start floating around that person's head immediately. You can hear their influence in the person's voice as he tries to explain his feelings about seeing Henry Aaron's 755 fall. Very few people, if any, that I've heard -- from Bob Costas to Joe Fan -- have sounded resolute one way or another. Everyone seems to be having a difficult time getting their arms around this situation. And that ambiguity is probably indictment enough of Barry Bonds.

Me? I didn't stay up to watch Bonds past his first at-bat last night, a double. It's not that I willingly avoided it. I just didn't care enough to tune in. It wasn't until this morning, when I flipped on ESPN, that I found out Bonds had hit no. 756. And even then I didn't have much reaction.

I remember when Aaron was about to surpass Ruth. It was Monday Night Baseball, from Atlanta. The whole world, it seemed, was tuned in with me as I watched in our family room. What other channel was there to watch than ABC, channel 7 in Detroit, that Monday evening?

But last night I was definitely unimpressed -- at least enough to not bother to watch it happen, live. The hundreds of replays were enough to satisfy my minimal curiosity. Like I wrote a little while ago, we won't have to suffer Bonds all that long. Alex Rodriguez will surely pass him before we know it.

There are asterisks galore out there right now when it comes to Barry Bonds. By now we all know what those little starry thingies are called. This time, it didn't take a stilted, jealous commissioner to place them there, as in the case with Ford Frick and Roger Maris. But nor did they appear magically, out of the blue. Bonds himself knows how they got there, even if he refuses to acknowledge it.

Go A-Rod!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 1-5
This Week: (8/6-9: TB; 8/10-12: OAK)

The words that Jim Leyland used to talk about the current state of his baseball team weren't exciting, but they were accurate.

"Dull" and "bored" were two of them, and you can kind of see where he's going with that -- mainly because you see where the Tigers are going, which is not North.

They made it 13 losses in 17 games yesterday in a, well, "dull" 3-1 affair against the White Sox -- who, if they played everyone as hard as they played the Tigers, wouldn't be mired in fourth place right now. The Chisox are 8-4 against the Tigers.

"It's dull throughout the lineup right now," Leyland said of his punchless offense.

Then he spoke about the fans, who still fill Comerica Park every day.

"We're not doing things that are exciting the fans. We're not getting a couple guys on, hitting a triple, getting them all revved up.

"They're (the fans) bored right now. And I don't blame them."

This is the worst 17-game stretch in the Leyland Era. It smacks of last year's 19-31 limp to the finish line, although the Tigers were maybe due for that after starting out 76-36 in 2006. The Indians keep losing, which is making this slide somewhat bearable. I shudder to think how far behind the Tribe the Tigers would be if Cleveland wasn't also scuffling.

Leyland talks about the offense, but the starting pitchers have GOT to put together some decent innings. Someone has to go out and pitch seven or eight brilliant innings and turn this thing around. Quality starts have been as hard to come by lately as a trip on metro Detroit's roadways without encountering an orange cone. The supposedly strong starting rotation, hit by injuries and slumps, isn't contributing much of anything right now.

This week offers the clash of two tides: the losing streak of the Tigers versus the always losing Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Which will triumph? If the Tigers can't get well against TB, then ...

Last August, the Tigers lost Placido Polanco for 45 days and the team plummeted. Now, with Gary Sheffield playing hurt and/or out of the lineup, the Tigers look just as lost. It's amazing how one man's absence can have such a ripple effect on the rest of the team. We all knew how brilliant a move it was to acquire Sheffield from the Yankees. Now we're having his importance rammed down our throats. We get it already -- he helps!! Now get him back to us in one piece!


Thursday, August 02, 2007

Cubs' Rise Might Be Due To Fear Of Their Manager

Maybe the Chicago Cubs are being stoked by fear. Maybe they have no intention of seeing steam shooting out of ears or eyes turning green or a pudgy body bursting out of its baseball double knits.

Yes, maybe the fear of manager Lou Piniella is what explains the Cubs' current ascent into a first place tie with the Milwaukee "We were never that good to begin with" Brewers.

About two months ago, things couldn't have looked much more bleak for the Cubbies. Their catcher and one of their pitchers but a new meaning into the term "battery" -- in their own dugout. The team was miles below .500. Piniella -- gasp! -- hadn't been thrown out of a game, though he was heard taking his team to task publicly. Then Piniella finally was tossed, but he reacted so violently that the league slapped him with a suspension. The Brewers had started 24-10 and looked like Tigers 2006 Lite.

But look who is atop the NL Central, neck and neck with the Brewers, who are just 34-40 since their hot start?

Former Tigers manager Alan Trammell is Piniella's bench coach. So, good for Tram, too.

Clearly, it can't JUST be the fear of the explosive Piniella that is doing it for the Cubs -- or else the Tampa Bay Devil Rays would be a postseason threat. But Tampa Bay never had Alfonso Soriano, or anyone close to him. Nor did they have the consistent pitching and timely hitting and solid defense -- all of which is being used, once again, as the formula for success by a big league team. The Cubs.

It was Piniella, don't forget, who orchestrated the stunning 4-0 sweep/upset of the Oakland A's by the Cincinnati Reds in the 1990 World Series. He's gotten a lot out of little talent before, the Tampa experience notwithstanding.

To be truthful, the NL Central isn't the prettiest of divisions. The Cubs aren't rising to the cream of the league. But they are a first place team for a franchise that could use some bragging.

Lou Piniella's Cubs are tied for first. Spread the word.