Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Consider The Source When It Comes To Canseco's Aim At Ordonez

Jose Canseco has always been a cartoon.

He was a freakish hulk at the plate, waggling his bat with that wide-open stance, with those Popeye forearms of his. He played the outfield with an iron glove. Once, a ball bounced off his head and went over the fence for a homerun. I'm sure they have replays of it on YouTube. In Yankee Stadium one evening, he left the on-deck circle to confront a fan who shouted some things about Canseco and his wife and Madonna. He tried pitching once. And he was a World Champion, in 1989 with the A's. He mounted several comebacks, and was a journeyman player by the time his career ended.

It hasn't gotten much prettier to look at after he hung up his jockstrap.

So consider the source -- and arm yourself with a whole canister of salt -- when you hear Canseco speak of "outing" former and current players in his self-generated and perpetuated steroids scandal.

But what he purportedly tried to do to the Tigers' Magglio Ordonez has made Canseco less of a cartoon and more of a bad horror movie.

Canseco's blatant extortion attempt on Ordonez will likely backfire on him

It seems that Canseco "asked" Ordonez, last summer, to invest money in a film project Canseco was spearheading. The project was about steroids in baseball. Only, it was inferred that if Ordonez said no, he would find himself in Canseco's new tell-all book.

Extortion isn't the stuff of cartoons.

Ordonez, it was reported, approached GM Dave Dombrowski about the "offer", but neglected to press charges. Maggs didn't want to make a mountain out of a mole hill, apparently. That's very admirable, but it sorta IS a mountain when someone is using such heavy-handed methods to get money from you.

Canseco's book comes out in March, at which time we'll all find out to what extent Ordonez is mentioned in it. But revelations of Canseco's extortion attempt against the 2007 MLB batting champion significantly harms the credibility of the book -- even if the information in it is 100% factual. Canseco now comes off looking as someone more interested in financial gain than in trying to expose wrongdoing in baseball. Why else would he try these scare tactics with Ordonez?

We'll see how much of a distraction, if any, Canseco's book will be to Ordonez and the Tigers. But if you're worried, take comfort in the fact that, thanks to Canseco's boneheaded ploy, Ordonez now looks victimized, as opposed to about to be exposed and vilified.

Looks like Canseco plays life the way he played the outfield: clumsily.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tigers Ought To Fete '68 Team This Summer At CoPa

Don't look now, but it's coming up on 40 years since the Tigers' World Championship of 1968.

We passed the 20th anniversary of the '84 champs a few years ago, and last year it was the 20th for the 1987 Comeback Kids, who stole the AL East pennant from the Toronto Blue Jays in the final week of the season. It won't be long before 20 years have gone by since the 2006 AL Champion team. Don't laugh. I know oldtimers like me certainly aren't.

The '68 team, for whatever reason, seems to elicit more romance than the '84 club. Maybe it's because baseball in the 1960s was at the tail end of another era, when pitchers dominated and there were four starters, not five, and the DH was still a cockeyed idea in someone's head. Or maybe it's because the 1968 team played a large role in providing a salve for a city still reeling from the 1967 riots and from the near miss for the pennant. It was also the last year before baseball split into divisions. And, it gave legend Al Kaline his only World Series appearance and victory.

A few of the '68 Tigers are gone. Joe Sparma, Ray Oyler, and Don McMahon all died relatively young. We lost Earl Wilson in 2005. Eddie Mathews has long ago passed on, as has manager Mayo Smith.

But many of them are still around, and I wonder if the Tigers have anything planned to commemorate the franchise's first championship since 1945. They did something way back in 1978, to recognize 10 years, but there was some flack for contriving an "anniversary" so soon after the event. Mickey Stanley, Mickey Lolich, and Willie Horton were still active at the time. Nothing, that I recall, happened in 1988 or '98 to honor the team.

It would be nice to end that drought this summer, with some sort of nice ceremony. Forty years ain't a short time, you know.

Ernie Harwell, Ray Lane, and George Kell are still kicking -- the team's radio and TV announcers back then. Many of the beat reporters and columnists are still alive, too. You could have quite a roster of participants, in addition to the players.

It's food for thought, especially in this day and age of celebrating things that don't always have just cause. Forty years ago, the Tigers turned Detroit on and injected the city with baseball fever. It was wonderfully timed, and kept us satiated until the late 1970s, when the team became revitalized.

Give 'em a Day this summer.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Gossage A Deserving Hall of Famer, But Morris Has A Good Point, Too

What is a baseball Hall of Famer?

Pose that question to 100 voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, and see how many different responses you get. Oh, you'll get overlapping adjectives, like longevity, consistency, and dominance. You'll also find that some put special weight onto MVP Awards, or Cy Youngs, or championships. This diversity is one reason -- maybe the BIGGEST reason -- that it's almost impossible to quantify what qualifies a player for Hall induction.

The votes came in last week, as you know, and only one person was elected: pitcher Rich "Goose" Gossage.

It's not really fair, or accurate, to label Gossage as just another closer who's finally getting his due, post-career. Because not only did Gossage begin as a starting pitcher, a la Dennis Eckersley, he also pitched more than just the ninth innings of games.

Gossage was a "closer" at a time when it wasn't unusual for him or those of his ilk to come into games in the eighth, seventh, or even sixth innings. In 1978, for example, when Gossage was named AL Fireman of the Year, he logged a Herculean (by today's standards) 134 innings pitched, according to Along the way he saved 27 games and won 10 others, with a dazzling 2.01 ERA. Mariano Rivera, widely regarded as the greatest closer of his era and a sure-fire Hall of Famer, routinely pitches anywhere between 70 and 80 innings, or just over half what Gossage logged in '78.

1978 wasn't an aberration for the Goose. He never quite touched 134 IP again, but he was near 100 on several occasions. His saves weren't the three out, ten-pitch variety. His 21 decisions in '78 indicate that; managers Billy Martin and Bob Lemon wouldn't hesitate to bring Gossage in at the first sign of trouble -- and that was rarely just in the ninth.

Why am I going on and on over Gossage, who was finally elected after several rejections?

Well, I suppose it's to express my support for the voting results, and also to make Jack Morris feel a tad better.

Morris, the almost-Hall of Famer who fell a little short again last week, made several comments publicly in the wake of the tabulation. One of the concerns he expressed was what he perceived to be a sort of over-compensating tendency the voters have toward relief pitchers. Basically, Morris doesn't want the recent, perhaps trendy movement to recognize relief pitchers -- some belatedly -- to overshadow the exploits of some arguably deserving starters.

Like himself, of course. But also others he cited, like Bert Blyleven.

It's a legitimate, reasonable point, and one that I believe isn't rooted in sour grapes.

For the record, Morris didn't begrudge Gossage his achievement -- in fact, he lauded the results when it came to the Goose. But he also wasn't shy to express disappointment over his exclusion -- and who can blame him?

I took, with great difficulty, an official position on Morris's candidacy a few years ago, and I'm not comfortable changing it -- though it's tempting. I wrote that Morris, in my mind, was just barely not a Hall of Famer. It wasn't that some of his numbers didn't impress me -- they did -- but the one number, his 3.90 career ERA, was a little too high for my comfort level. His 254 career wins, though, had they been perhaps 25-30 more, might have cancelled out the ERA. I could go with a 280-290 win guy with a 3.90, but not a 254 win guy. You're free to disagree with my logic, of course.

So the writers didn't just overcompensate for relievers by electing Gossage, Mr. Morris. Yet I agree with you that they shouldn't ignore worthy starters while they're simultaneously recognizing the stalwarts of the bullpens.

Even if you're one starter who doesn't quite make the grade. No harm in that, though.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Like Inge (Maybe), Wockenfuss A Super Sub Who Was Odd Man Out

Perhaps no athlete in Detroit in recent memory has bonded so well with fans, yet had so many infuriated with him at the same time, than Tigers (so far) third baseman Brandon Inge.

Inge is drenched in this community, both on and off the field. His biggest fans are those who, in some cases, don't give much of a hoot about baseball -- but who like him and appreciate him for his involvement with children and other worthy causes. He's adored by teammates, and has made himself into quite a third sacker, considering he has only played the position for a few seasons.

But Inge might be an ex-Tiger when all is said and done this spring training. The mega-trade for 3B Miguel Cabrera could see to that. Unless the 30-year-old (yes, he's 30) Inge acquiesces to a reduced role in 2008 -- i.e. that of a sort of "super sub" who can competently play a number of positions. It was a role that Mickey Stanley gladly played late in his Tigers career, because he knew that was his best chance to remain in Detroit, where he had rooted himself.

But after Stanley, there was another fan favorite who tossed away the catcher's gear and turned himself into a nice utility player.

Johnny Wockenfuss, he of the corkscrew batting stance and Fu Manchu mustache, joined the Tigers in the mid-1970s as a backstop. But by the time the 1980s were here, Wockenfuss had already worn a first baseman's glove, patrolled the outfield, and was a decent DH and pinch-hitter. And with some power.

Wockenfuss was well-liked in Detroit, because he looked like the fans: kind of rumpled, a bit weathered, and with lunch pail written all over him. By '83, Wockenfuss was also a favorite of manager Sparky Anderson, and came up with some big hits. He wasn't a Gold Glover, but he wasn't awful, either.

But the Tigers' surplus of young talent squeezed 'Fuss out, and he was traded in spring training 1984, along with Glenn Wilson, to the Phillies for Dave Bergman and Willie Hernandez. That deal worked out pretty well, if you recall.

Will Inge experience the same fate? He wants to play, and sees himself as a starter, as well he should. It's unclear if he'd be amiable to a reserve role in Detroit. Early indicators are that he seeks a trade. Can't really blame him, though he'd leave behind a bunch of disappointed fans. He'd also leave behind some who would say "Good riddance", due to his maddening offensive struggles. He's not the greatest with RISP, that's for sure.

He's a sort of paradox, Inge is. You either love him or hate him, it seems. But I have a feeling that the tears would outnumber the jeers should he leave Detroit.