Monday, December 29, 2008
Surprise! (not) The Yankees Are Spending Again
Sheesh. Miss the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, and see what happens?
The Yankees are spending money again. Big time. They're handing out triple-digit, million dollar contracts like they're growing on trees in the Steinbrenners' backyard.
CC Sabathia. A.J. Burnett. Mark Teixeira. They were even talking about bringing Manny Ramirez into the fold, almost as an afterthought.
The Yankees have been trying to buy the World Series since 2001, and eight straight years of failure in doing so isn't stopping them from trying it again.
Do you know that Alex Rodriguez has never played on a World Champion team? Neither has Hideki Matsui. Or Jason Giambi.
There's a whole host of them, actually, who have fewer World Series rings than the Philadelphia Freaking Phillies, for gosh sakes.
The Yankees owe MLB some $25 million in luxury tax, with payment due on January 31. But yet they pay it as we would pay Luxury Tax in a game of Monopoly.
Forget about Congress; GM and Chrysler should have asked the Yankees for a bailout.
It's like a drug addiction, with these Yankees and spending money. The crosstown, same-stadium-now Mets signed Frankie Rodriguez and JJ Putz, so the Yankees didn't dare stand pat. They saw the Mets and raised them Sabathia and Burnett and, in the biggest blow, Teixeira.
Will Sabathia and his new Yankees teammates be laughing next fall? Odds are they won't
Yet the small-town, small-wallet Tampa Bay Rays won the AL East last season, beating out the big-spending Yankees and Boston Red Sox. And for the record, Rays manager Joe Maddon isn't too fazed by the Yankees' most recent spending spree. Why would he? He beat them last year, after all.
Three things are certain in this world: death, taxes, and the Yankees trying to buy the World Series.
The Yankees were on a roll -- back in 2000. They had just beaten the Mets and captured their third straight world title and fourth in five years. Since then, the money has still been coming out of the spigot like water, but the championships stopped flowing. Mostly, it's been first-round disappointments. Once, it was even the ignominy of blowing a 3-0 lead in the ALCS -- to the Red Sox, no less.
But you think that's going to stop the Yankees? You think eight straight years of payrolls that would make Donald Trump blush, without winning anything of note, is going to make them frugal?
The Yankees will keep spending, we'll all keep shaking our heads, and chances are, they'll STILL be one of the 29 teams who don't win the whole enchilada come October (or November). And MLB will keep collecting its luxury tax, ensuring that the petty cash drawer stays filled.
The Tigers tried the Yankees way last year, and they collapsed from the weight of expectation. Now the Tigers go into 2009 as underdogs without many believers. The Yankees have put all the pressure on themselves, once again.
They can have it.
Friday, December 26, 2008
Ellis Didn't Think Sparky Had The Courage To Start Him In '71 All-Star Game
It was the days leading up to the 1971 All-Star Game in Detroit, and it springs to mind in the wake of the news of Ellis's death last week at age 63.
Ellis was the African-American pitcher who claims to have pitched a no-hitter on LSD. There's still some doubt about that. But Ellis was also the pitcher who purposely hit the first four Reds batters in a game in the 1970s, and there's absolutely no doubt about that.
And Ellis was part of All-Star history -- history that Ellis never thought Sparky had the guts to make.
Anderson, all of 37 years old in '71, was to manage the National League by virtue of his Cincinnati Reds capturing the NL pennant in 1970. The AL was managed by Earl Weaver, who had named Oakland A's lefty Vida Blue as his starter before Sparky announced his starting hurler. Ellis was having a fine season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and his name was bantied about as a possible starter for the NL.
But Dock wasn't buying it.
"They'll never put two brothers against each other," Ellis said, referring to the fact that both he and Blue were black. Indeed, it had never happened before -- two black men as the starting pitchers in an MLB All-Star Game.
Sparky read the papers. He knew what Dock Ellis said. Whether Ellis had intended his comment to be a dare of Anderson's gumption or not, the end result was that Sparky indeed chose Ellis as his starter. And whether Sparky intended it or not, the fallout was that the manager came out looking better than the outspoken pitcher.
But Ellis one-upped Sparky in terms of lasting impressions. For it was Ellis who served up the pitch that Reggie Jackson famously swatted into the light transformer on Tiger Stadium's right-center field roof. It might be the most talked about home run in All-Star Game history.
Ellis serves and Reggie feasts in '71 All-Star Game in Detroit
Despite drug troubles, a battle with alcoholism, and a volatile personality, Ellis managed to win 138 games in his MLB career. But he lost the hand he played with Sparky Anderson prior to the '71 All-Star Game. Or maybe he won. Dock did want to start the game, after all -- and he got his wish.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Where Have You Gone, (fill in the blank)?
1. John Wockenfuss. 'Fuss was Brandon Inge without the defensive chops: a versatile player who could catch, play the outfield, first base, DH, and jack an occasional ball out of the park. No. 14 was as blue collar and hard-working as the city in which he played.
2. John Hiller. My favorite Tigers pitcher. Hiller could do it all: start, long relieve, situational relieve, close -- you name it. And he often did it all within a week. A lefty with a wicked strikeout ratio. All this, and he did it after suffering a heart attack in 1971. I never thought Hiller got enough national recognition for what he accomplished after he was stricken at such a young age. If Fergie Jenkins is the best right-handed pitcher from Canada of all time, then Hiller's got my vote for best Canuck lefty.
3. Tito Fuentes. The Tigers' first free agent signing, in 1977. Tito was just here to play 2B until Lou Whitaker was ready to take over, but Fuentes gave us his best year -- at least in terms of BA (.309; the only time he ever hit .300). Not a great fielder, but a flamboyant, hot doggy player who I emulated when I was a 14-year-old Little Leaguer. The old-timers will remember his little bat flip he did at home plate before every at-bat.
4. Fred Scherman. I don't know what it was about Scherman, but I just liked him. He was pretty effective as a situational lefty and part-time closer in the early-1970s, until he slammed his fist against a wall in anger one day. He was never the same after that.
5. Champ Summers. I share with Big Al my liking of Summers, the left-handed hitting slugger whose swing was built for Tiger Stadium's short porch in right. He had a terrific HR/AB ratio, and even though he had an iron glove, his offense turned Detroit on in the early-1980s. Supposedly had a contentious relationship with manager Sparky Anderson, dating from when they were both in Cincinnati.
6. Alex Johnson. Detroit-born Johnson was a head case, but he finished his career with the Tigers in 1976. A former batting champ, Johnson once accused Angels teammate Chico Ruiz of pointing a loaded gun at him in the clubhouse. Brother of NFL running back and U-M grad Ron Johnson.
7. Dalton Jones. Jones was a pinch-hitting specialist, and one day he lost a home run (maybe it was even a grand slam) because he lost track of himself and passed the first base runner on the base path.
8. Kevin Saucier. "Hot Sauce" had a brilliant season in 1981 as the Tigers' closer, posting an ERA of well under 2.00. His act involved jumping up and down excitedly and slapping his glove after the final out, shaking anyone's hand that he could grab. Retired abruptly the next season, fearing his sudden loss of control would result in him hurting someone.
9. Chris Pittaro. The kid that was supposed to be so good, Whitaker was going to have to move to 3B to make room for this second sacker phenom. Not so fast.
10. Darnell Coles. His first term with the Tigers was punctuated by the night that he threw a ball out of Tiger Stadium in disgust of the fans' treatment of him. Playing 3B, he just whipped the baseball over the roof on the third base side during between-inning warmups. No joke.
So there are ten for now -- ten Tigers who I'd like to know the whereabouts of. For one reason or another, they stuck to my psyche.
You got any?
Friday, December 19, 2008
Treanor Brings The Most Famous Tiger Wife Since '88 To Motown
But the Tigers have added, by one, to that tiny list with the signing of backup catcher Matt Treanor yesterday. Treanor is the considerably less famous spouse of Olympic Gold Medalist and pro beach volleyball player Misty May-Treanor.
Misty now joins Nancy Lopez as famous Tigers wives. After those two ladies, the pickings are pretty slim as far as spouses go. And this isn't to belittle the community and charitable efforts of Tigers wives throughout the years; I only mean famous in terms of name recognition.
Lopez, the retired pro golfer, is still married to Ray Knight, who played for the Tigers in 1988. And it's another example of the better half nudging out the man for media attention. Knight even served, for a time, as his wife's caddie on the LPGA Tour.
Knight, these days, works as a TV analyst for Washington Nationals games. Not sure what transgression he committed to get that gig, but there you have it.
Knight came to the Tigers a couple years after his biggest moment in baseball: the '86 New York Mets' improbable comeback in Game 6 of the World Series against Boston. It was Knight, who had singled in the ninth inning, who can be seen giddily racing home with the game-winning run after Mookie Wilson's dribbler somehow eluded first baseman Bill Buckner. It's easy to read Knight's feelings as he's being mobbed at home plate: namely, "I can't believe we just pulled this off!"
Knight then went to the Orioles in 1987, and was signed by the Tigers as a free agent in time for the '88 season. Tigers manager Sparky Anderson knew Knight from managing him in Cincinnati. Knight's swan song in Detroit wasn't anything to write home about, but for a year the Tigers had a player who was arguably less famous than his wife.
Now, just imagine this photo with Misty in a Tigers jersey
Treanor comes to the Tigers from Florida with a good attitude and some knowledge of the current roster. Treanor played with Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson while with the Marlins. He says he's excited to be with a team that he feels is capable of winning. And for the record, Treanor says he is very proud of his wife and her volleyball partner Kerri Walsh.
"I get emotional talking about it, because I know how hard she (Misty) worked for it," Treanor told the Free Press. "Those women are very inspirational to me."
Nicely said. And what's also nice is that the Tigers have settled their catching situation in the past week, inking Treanor after trading for starter Gerald Laird. So at least that's under control.
Oh, and if you're a Red Sox fan, don't look, but here's the Buckner/Wilson/Knight play from 1986:
Monday, December 15, 2008
Northrup Is Convinced: Flood's Stumble Didn't Matter
Jim Northrup would like to, I believe, write his own book one day and title it, Flood WOULDN'T Have Caught It.
I saw Northrup, the former Tiger who played on the 1968 World Series championship team, signing books at the Borders book shop at Oakland Mall over the weekend. And it reminded me of a conversation he and I had about ten years prior.
At the time, Northrup and I were an unlikely pair, trying to make a TV show work. I was co-producing it, a local cable show where Northrup and Oakland Press sports writer Jim Hawkins went on the air and tried to sell baseball memorabilia to the viewers. It wasn't a very good show, but it enabled me to pick the Gray Fox's brain in between rolling tape.
Inevitably, the discussion turned to Northrup's famous drive in the seventh inning of Game 7 that sailed over the head of Cardinals center fielder Curt Flood. The clutch hit was a triple that drove in two runs and sent the Tigers on their way to victory. And since Flood plainly stumbled as he went back for the ball, it was widely believed that it was Flood's misstep that enabled Northrup's hit to go uncaught.
That belief clearly has Northrup steamed -- at least it did when he railed at me back in 1998.
"There's no way Flood would have caught that! Take a look at it again. That was a rope!"
That's the G-rated version of what Northrup said after I brought up the hit and the notion that it was Flood's stumble, not Northrup's power, that opened the floodgates.
You could tell that history's version of Northrup's smash off Bob Gibson rankled the Fox to no end. His face literally turned red and you could almost see his insides clench.
Of course, I'd seen the play countless times prior to Northrup's rant, and I confess to buying into the version that says Flood would have caught it had he not stumbled. But now when I see it, I try to look at it from Northrup's point of view. Trouble is, the only available video accounts of the hit don't really enable the viewer to see the ferocity with which the ball was driven. All you pretty much see is Flood going back. Yet Northrup, of course, would know as well as anyone how hard he hit the ball, and on what sort of line. And he's absolutely convinced that Flood didn't have a prayer -- stumble or no stumble.
Here's the play (good luck trying to verify Northrup's assertion. But I will say this: don't EVER argue the matter with him):
Friday, December 12, 2008
Leyland Should Have Followed His Own Advice Months Ago Re: His Contract
But Leyland conveniently left out that it was he, Jim Leyland, who placed that white elephant in the room to begin with.
The white elephant is Leyland's contract situation. The manager is signed only thru 2009, and not one day beyond that season. It's often referred to as a "lame duck" scenario -- and one that supposedly invites dissension as dog doo-doo invites flies.
First, that's not always true. Managers and coaches have worked the final years of contracts since time immemorial and have done just fine, thank you -- and so have their teams. The players have even behaved themselves; imagine that.
Second, tough cookies. Leyland is lucky to have a job.
Leyland says shut up and let him manage; will he follow suit?
I've written it before here -- that Jim Leyland did absolutely nothing to warrant an extension beyond his current contract. He and GM Dave Dombrowski were the Mutt and Jeff of the Tigers, and that's not a compliment in this instance. Both had miserable 2008s. Both are on the hot seat.
Leyland, some say, is unhappy and disappointed that the Tigers didn't extend him. Again, tough. Where does it say that a manager or coach has to be signed beyond the upcoming year? And all this stuff about "lame duck" is a bunch of hooey. As Leyland himself finally admitted this week, if a manager is to be fired, he'll be fired -- no matter how many years he has left on his pact. And I'll say it again: Dodgers manager Walt Alston worked over 20 years on one-year deals. Wanna question those teams' success rate?
Here's a sampling of Leyland's comments about the matter, published in the Free Press.
“That’s [contract] not an issue. It’s very simple: If we do well, I’ll probably still be there. If we don’t, I won’t. But I’m not going to make that a subject all year long, talking about things that aren’t important, because that’s not really important. What’s important is getting our team to spring training, getting back in the good grove, getting our guys healthy and playing baseball.
“No matter where you are or what your contract is, when you do good, you stay. If you don’t, at some point you go. I’ll leave it at that. That’s the end of the conversation for the rest of the year about that.”
Nice. If only he had come to that realization before he opened his mouth and whined about it in October.
Leyland, in those comments, basically verbalized a truth that amazingly appeared to have eluded him a couple months ago.
But it's also disingenious for Leyland to tell us to mind our own bees' wax when it comes to contracts, since it was he who opened Pandora's Box in the first place. Granted, someone in the media would have brought up the matter, since some folks seem so infatuated with managers who don't have contracts lasting beyond the upcoming season. But then it would have been OK for Leyland to say, "No comment, next question." Instead, he bellyached about it, drew attention to it, which couldn't have pleased his owner, and is only now saying what he should have said from the get go.
Leyland is like the guy who yells "Fire!" in a crowded theater then scolds everyone for wondering where the fire is.
I just hope he takes his own advice and zips his lip when it comes to his contract status. Like he says, “No matter where you are or what your contract is, when you do good, you stay. If you don’t, at some point you go. I’ll leave it at that."
God, I hope so.
Monday, December 08, 2008
Tigers Trade For Laird, And It's OK To Yawn
That's OK. The Tigers just filled a hole, and so now move on to the next one.
The Tigers have pried Laird from the Texas Rangers for a couple of pitching prospects, only these aren't the kind of prospects that were needed to extricate Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis from Florida, or Edgar Renteria from Atlanta (Jair Jurrjens, anyone?). These were middle-of-the-roaders, it's guessed, and that's fair, because Laird is pretty much a middle-of-the-road catcher.
But Laird, 29, has some experience, and he can throw the odd runner out trying to steal. And the Tigers feel a whole lot better with Laird as their starting backstop, rather than the unproven Dusty Ryan. As well they should.
Laird had 24 doubles in just 344 at-bats last year with the Rangers. That's a little bit of pop -- and the kind of spray hitting that should play well in Comerica Park.
When I found out that Laird was on the Tigers' radar, I was quite OK with it. I knew Laird was a guy who would fit in well in Detroit: tough, blue collar, not flashy. An old school catcher. And there's that 40% success rate in throwing out base stealers, which isn't bad. At all.
So catcher is taken care of. Now time to move on to shortstop and pitching help.
This is an old-fashioned kind of winter meetings trade. Nothing dramatic, but one that addresses a need, and one that both teams can live with. The Rangers have a trove of catching prospects, and needed pitching. The Tigers were kind of the negative image of that. So the soil was fertile for a trade. If this was weather, you could have labeled it a "winter trade watch"; the conditions were right for a deal.
The "watch" turned into a "warning", then turned into the real deal. It's not a tornado, this Gerald Laird trade. Maybe not even a winter storm. Perhaps just a windy thunderstorm. But we all know how sunny it can get after those things pass through town.
Friday, December 05, 2008
Tigers Just Trying To Field Nine Guys At This Point
The shortstop of the future, aka Cale Iorg, is still a year away, at least, from assuming the starting role. Edgar Renteria, the shortstop of the past, is now a San Francisco Giant -- back in the National League, where he clearly belongs. His time in Detroit and Boston was proof that he's not an American League kind of a guy. The shortstop of the present? That is a question, and the answer may be Jack Wilson of Pittsburgh. Or Adam Everett of Minnesota, if you believe the rumor mongers. Is it too late to ask Alan Trammell if he has a year or two left in the tank?
The Tigers need a bridge, that's all, to Iorg. The shortstop of the present need only be such for the 2009 and MAYBE the 2010 seasons. But it shouldn't be a wasted spot in the batting order, either. The Tigers already have one of those, with Brandon Inge and his limp noodle bat slated to play third base every day.
Wilson: Tigers SS of the present, soon?
Everett would appear to be another limp noodle. He batted all of .213 last year. And Wilson was slowed by injuries in 2008. That's what they said about Renteria in 2007, and you can see where that got the Tigers.
Personally, I like Ramon Santiago. A lot. He is very good defensively, and I like his bat, which seems to have a lot of clutch to it. Of course, that's all been in limited at-bats. It's a whole different ballgame, literally, when you move from 200 plate appearances to 500+. But the Tigers see Santiago as a backup and nothing more. Kind of hard to argue that fact, I suppose -- as that's all Santiago has been since he arrived in Detroit.
Big Al of WayneFontes.com, in our weekly chat called The Knee Jerks, chided me for believing that the Tigers' move to let Renteria walk without offering him arbitration was a smart one. He asked, "Are the Tigers THAT financially strapped?"
No, I said -- but they don't like the idea of paying Renteria $9 million -- which is what he would have gotten if he accepted. Or, had he left after the offer, the Tigers would have been granted two compensatory draft picks. The Tigers feared no one would snatch Renteria up, and that they'd be stuck with him for another year at $9 mill.
Not cash strapped, just trying to cut costs where it makes sense.
Shortstop isn't the only hole the Tigers have. They need pitching help and a catcher. Also not small deals. Last off-season was about beefing up the roster. This year it's about fielding nine players when the curtain rises in April.
Bottom line: the Tigers WILL have a starting shortstop in the fold before spring training. Same with catcher. Pitching? Stay tuned. Two things at a time here!
Monday, December 01, 2008
2003 Tigers Were Minor Leaguers In Big League Costumes
"What if Babe Ruth had played today? How big would he be?"
"What if Ted Williams played in New York, and Joe Dimaggio played in Boston, with the respective short porches in right and left?"
"What if Curt Flood hadn't slipped in center field chasing down Jim Northrup's hit in Game 7 of the 1968 World Series?"
Actually, that last one was answered defiantly by Northrup himself, to me, when I asked him about the hit several years ago.
"I hit that ball so hard and on a line, no way Flood woulda caught it, even if he didn't slip!," the Silver Fox growled at me.
There's been some talk lately about the 2003 Tigers in Detroit, as the football Lions plow ahead toward an ignominious, winless season. The comparison is apt because the Lions are trying to avoid setting an NFL record (no team has ever finished 0-16), just as the '03 Tigers tried to avoid eclipsing the 1962 New York Mets' loss total of 120.
The Tigers succeeded -- if you want to call it that. Well, they avoided the record, anyway. They only managed to lose 119 games.
Dimitri Young was one of the few 2003 Tigers who was a bona fide big leaguer
But those 2003 Tigers, I believe, were the answer to a rousing game of What If?
"What if a Triple-A team played 162 games in the big leagues?"
I'm not trying to be funny. The 2003 Tigers were barren of legitimate major league talent. Their roster was filled with players who either never played MLB beyond 2003, or who ONLY played in 2003, and only for the Tigers. In other words, players who had no business slipping on a big league jersey.
But the Tigers had to fill their 25-man roster, and with the door having just closed on the Randy Smith Era one year prior, the re-tooling was just beginning at the hands of Dave Dombrowski. Hence the hideously high number of players who simply were not big league material.
Teams don't win 100 games by accident, and they certainly don't lose 119 that way, either. The 2003 Tigers deserved every one of those 119 Ls -- don't kid yourself. Frankly, it's amazing that they managed to win 43.
This was an even more bizarre case study, because I doubt very highly if the '03 Tigers could have managed to finish within shouting distance of .500 if they played in the Triple A International League, where their farm team, Toledo, plays. They were that bad.
The '62 Mets, of course, had the excuse of being expansion in nature. The 2003 Tigers were in their 103rd season in the American League. Yet they somehow managed, thanks to former GM Smith's incompetence, to become so awful that after 156 games, they were an ungodly 80 games below .500 (38-118). I still can't believe that happened, but it did.
So the next time you wonder what would happen if a minor league team literally found itself in the big leagues for a full season, look no further than the 2003 Tigers. That's one "What if?" question that has been answered.