Monday, March 30, 2009

Willis Continues To Confound Tigers

The news on Dontrelle Willis just keeps getting weirder and, dare I say, sadder.

The Tigers placed the lefty on the disabled list to begin the season. But this isn't any normal, run-of-the-mill DL placement. This isn't a knee, or an elbow, or a shoulder problem.

The Tigers placed Willis on the DL for anxiety. Yep.

As in, "We don't really know WHAT the heck is wrong with this guy -- except that it's between the ears."

Willis, who's struggled with control ever since coming to the Tigers from Florida a year ago, seems to have this propensity, now, to have good command in simulated games and between-appearance bullpen sessions.

Then, when the bright lights get turned on, Willis gets stage fright. Or something.

For when the games begin -- and these are just spring training games, don't forget -- Willis loses it and seems to forget everything that he's learned in simulation.

Not good.

I've been following the Tigers since 1971, and the closest thing that Willis's case comes to in Detroit is the sad story of Kevin Saucier, which I've written of here before.

Saucier, also a lefty, had a marvelous 1981 in Detroit after coming over from the Phillies. He was the team's closer and posted a fine under-2.00 ERA. He was lively and animated and would hop all over the field after saving another game for the Tigers.

Then, around mid-season in 1982, he feared for the safety of opposing batters and quit, on the spot.

And that's not even all that close to the Willis situation.

Certainly, no Tiger in my lifetime has been sidelined because of anxiety. Jimmy Piersall never played for them, after all.

It's disturbing, Willis's condition. It has a lot of "he's done" written all over it.

If a pitcher can't do it during the games, then why bother with him?

It may be getting closer to the moment where the Tigers have to release Willis and start chowing down on his $22 million contract. Better have the Pepto-Bismol at the ready.

For my gig at The Baseball Page, I was commissioned to select five players from the American League who I thought were intriguing, for a variety of reasons, and who readers should keep an eye on in 2009. Willis was one of those players. You can read what I wrote here.

It looks like Dontrelle Willis might be on the verge of seeing it all go down the drain. Who gets placed on the DL for anxiety?

Better yet, who ever comes back from such a distinction?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Gibby's Daring Made Kuntz A World Series Mini-Hero

Maybe when Rusty Kuntz tells the story nowadays, to those who don't know any better, the sacrifice fly has become a long drive to the warning track. And Kirk Gibson trotted home from third base, effortlessly.

I wouldn't blame Rusty if that's how it's being put forth. Nothing wrong with a good fish story now and again.

But I was there, and there are tons of folks still around who remember it from watching it on TV, and we know that Kuntz's sac fly that drove Gibson home with the go ahead run in the clinching Game 5 of the 1984 World Series was hardly a boomer.

I wonder if Rusty ever took Gibby out to dinner, or something, for making him moderately famous because of that play.

The scene: fifth inning, Game 5. The Tigers are trying to clinch the Series at home, but the San Diego Padres have come back from an early 3-0 deficit and the game is tied, 3-3. The bases are jammed with one out. Gibson is the runner on third base. Lefty Craig Lefferts has been brought in, so Sparky Anderson pinch-hits Kuntz for this blog's namesake, Johnny Grubb.

Kuntz, not a power hitter, swings mightily but manages only a soft, harmless pop up between the infield and the outfield, behind second base.

I'm in the CF bleachers, and I can see that Gibby is entertaining thoughts of trying to score, even though the ball is about to be caught by an infielder. But it's really not a bad decision, because 2B Alan Wiggins's back is partially facing the infield when he makes the catch.

Gibson takes off, building up his trademark head of steam. The crowd roars, which tips Wiggins off. But by the time he reacts and throws the ball homeward, Gibson is sliding in, safely.

It wasn't even really close.

Tigers lead, 4-3. A lead they would build on and never relinquish. And a sacrifice fly for Kuntz, who hit the ball maybe 200 feet.

But like I said, maybe that 200 feet is now 360, up to the track in left center at Tiger Stadium.

Or maybe Rusty has played it true, and told the story as it actually happened. Which, frankly, is a better story anyway. Who scores from third on a pop up to the second baseman, anyway? In the World Series, no less!

Kirk Gibson, that's who. He's one of the few who had the daring and the sense of drama to try such a cockamamie thing. But he did it, and gave Kuntz the game-winning RBI in the process. The GWRBI in the game that made the Tigers champions of '84.

Leave it to Gibson, though, to trump himself -- twice. First he hits the legendary homer off Goose Gossage later in that game, to REALLY seal the deal, then he bests Dennis Eckersley four years later, as a Dodger, with that even MORE legendary homer.

But Gibby kicked things off, as a Fall Classic hero, with his feat of daring on Rusty Kuntz's pop up. Rusty owes him one, if he hasn't paid up by now.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

George Kell: Sadly, God Waaaved Him In!

I always found it so ironic that George Kell mastered the art of the strikeout call, when he hardly struck out himself.

Kell, who died Tuesday at age 86, won the 1949 batting title, nosing out Ted Williams, no less. That much, you probably know. But how about this? In doing so, Kell struck out 13 times. Total.

A big league season is about six months long. So Kell, in hitting .342, struck out about twice a month. Once every 15 days or so.

Yet of all the signature calls that Kell, as the Tigers' longtime broadcaster, had, I think I'd put his strikeout call in the top two or three.

There were a few versions.

In a non-crucial portion of the game: "He STRUCK him out," in that Arkansas-coated accent.

In a more important situation: "Hey, he struck him out!"

In the last out of the game, a big Tigers' win put to bed: "STRIKE THREE! OH, HE STRUCK HIM OUT!"

I remember on one occasion, channel 4 edited together all of Kell's strikeout calls during a Jack Morris win in Kansas City. Morris fanned ten or eleven guys, and the montage was all of the third strikes, as described by Kell.

They were pretty much all the same. "Heee....struck him out." Nothing too exciting. But the fact that they WERE all the same was, to me, fascinating. For that wasn't a sign of boring repetition, but rather of sameness and reliability and, because of it, the comfort that Kell provided the viewer/listener.

He was a speaker of half-sentences, and that was OK, too.

I found one of our daughter's baby videos last summer, and it was shot back in 1993. The TV sound was on in the background, and, clear as a bell, there's Kell and Al Kaline, describing a Tigers game in Milwaukee.

"Here comes Cecil," was all Kell said at one point. That's all that needed to be said. Then, after the first pitch: "Up high." Again, all that needed to be said. A few moments later, after some blissful silence that today's announcers fear like the plague, there was this in the background as our two-month-old daughter rolled around on the bed: "Ball two, strike one. (long pause) Ground ball to short....(pause, then Milwaukee crowd cheers)...two out, in the sixth.

"Now it's up to Gibby!"

Man, it doesn't look nearly as good in print as it sounded to my ears, but those who grew up listening to Kell are probably smiling.

The one that gave you chills -- at least me -- was when a runner would try to score on a base hit and the ball was being hustled in to the infield.

"They're WAAAVING him in!" Kell would yell, and there wasn't anything more exciting. "There's gonna be a play at the plate!"

A ball would be fouled off, rather hard, into the stands. "Look OUT!" Kell would warn, as if the fans could hear him.

Of course, I could go on and on. And I'm really not imparting anything to you that you don't already know. That's what happens when the famous, the beloved pass away. We all say the same thing, pretty much -- but we somehow feel remiss if we don't say it.

Oh, and there's this. I used to be a pretend Detroit Tiger in my Livonia driveway as a kid. Sometimes I'd be myself, magically inserted into the Tigers lineup, or I'd be one of the real players -- Willie Horton, Norm Cash, etc. I'd have my plastic bat and my Tigers cap on and I'd dig in against an imaginary pitcher.

The "pitch" would be delivered and I'd swing. Funny how I always connected, dead-on.

Then I'd be Kell, announcing my heroics.

"There's a lonnnng drive! Way back! That ball is...GONE!"

I think I even tried to do Kell's Arkansas accent, as an 8-year-old.

Kell hasn't announced games regularly since 1995. But despite his 13 years away, his loss is still like it happened while he was an active broadcaster. He retired, but never truly left us.

Until now.

But only physically. There's still that home movie that I have, for example. And the stuff rattling around in my head.

"Thanks, Larry, and good afternoon everyone. The weatherman says we're gonna get this one in."

Stuff like that.

Monday, March 23, 2009

"Comfortable" Cabrera MVP Material

Last year, Miguel Cabrera wasn't comfortable. Not for a good, long while, anyway.

There was a new team to get used to, a new city. Heck, a whole new league. He signed a big, fat contract with the Tigers -- the kind that causes folks to expect a little bit from you. Correction -- more like demand.

Then third base didn't agree with him, and the feeling was mutual. He was shifted to first base not long into the season. So, more getting used to.

Toss in a slow start, which was an offshoot of the above, and you had the makings of a real mess. They started to boo a little bit at Comerica Park.

Yeah, Cabrera was uncomfortable, alright. Said so himself.

So how did all that discomfort affect his production, you might ask.

Well, he set career highs in HRs (37) and RBI (127).

Cabrera is more comfy this year. Again, right from the horse's mouth.

Cabrera launches another one

The idea of a comfortable Cabrera, after the destruction he caused in 2008 while "uncomfortable", ought to make American League pitchers and opposing managers curl into the fetal position.

I just hope they uncurl in time to see Cabrera be named the Most Valuable Player in the American League. You heard me.

Cabrera doesn't have half, in 2009, of what he had to contend with in '08. He might not even have a quarter of it. It's all there now: settled in to the city; adored by fans (it took a while); used to the manager, his teammates; "over" his contract status; more familiar with AL pitching.

Goodness gracious -- are we looking at 45 HR, 140 RBI? Maybe more?

The right-handed hitting Cabrera uses all fields; he's no dead-pull hitter. In fact, his power to right field might be more impressive than what he has for left field. I saw Cabrera, on more than one occasion last season, simply "flick" the bat, and darned if the ball didn't end up over the right-center field fence. He does that from time to time.

The only major stat in which Cabrera slipped last year was batting average. He "only" hit .292 in 2008, after hitting .320+ in each of the three years previous to that. But don't forget -- he was uncomfortable.

I'm kidding.

What's not a joke is this: Miguel Cabrera has the tools, the talent, and the approach to be a multiple MVP winner before all is said and done. Especially done. There will be stretches where you simply cannot get him out. And there will be streaks in which he'll club five, six homers in a week and drive in 15, 16 runs. Guaranteed.

Cabrera is a specimen, and did I mention that he has a birthday next month?

He turns 26.

Good Lord.

He's still a child, in a way, Cabrera is, and he's already become a human wrecking ball. Just think of what he'll do when he starts to lose the baby fat.

I've been known for the hyperbole; guilty as charged. I practically enshrined Justin Verlander into the Hall of Fame last spring in one of my fits. But I still stand by my prediction of greatness for JV, and I'll do so for Mr. Cabrera. Is he even old enough for me to call him Mr. Cabrera?

Miguel Cabrera, AL MVP. Yes, in the future, but also right now. This year.

Comfy cozy.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Willis And Strike Zone Still Only Casual Acquaintances

Dontrelle Willis still can't get the ball over the plate. Maybe he never will.

It's not looking good for Mr. Willis, who's desperately trying to show the Tigers -- and the baseball world -- that 2008 was simply nothing more than a ghoulish, chilling nightmare, not the start of the end.

Willis came to the Tigers in December 2007, in the same trade that brought Miguel Cabrera from the Florida Marlins. He was thought to be a major addition to a rotation that needed one more live arm. Willis wasn't that far removed from a 22-win season.

His arm has been live, alright. Too live. Lively is more like it.

Willis can't throw strikes. That's pretty much what it boils down to. He started not throwing strikes last spring, and it was a concern, but not a panic. Then the season started, and Willis kept not throwing strikes. He didn't stop there; he added not throwing the ball anywhere near the plate to his repertoire.

There were fat dudes on carnival midways, throwing softballs at milk bottles, who had better command than Dontrelle Willis in 2008.

Willis mastered two pitches last season: a ball, and a LOOK OUT.

Willis delivers another one high and outside (probably)

The Tigers have a new pitching coach, Rick Knapp. He comes from the Twins' organization, which has this uncanny ability to produce one good young pitcher after another. Much of why these pitchers are so good is that they throw strikes. Consistently.

So the Tigers hoped that Knapp would arrive, work with Willis, change some things, and everyone could declare 2008 one of those flukes.

Whatever magic potion Rick Knapp has been feeding Dontrelle Willis either hasn't kicked in yet, or Willis is immune to it. In either case, the outlook isn't good.

Willis pitched in the Tigers' exhibition loss to Atlanta on Thursday, and the results were, as usual, mixed. That's about as good as you can hope for from Willis anymore -- mixed results. He wasn't terribly wild, but he was hit hard. It's like pick your poison.

The spring totals are creepy: 11 2/3 innings, 13 earned runs and 10 walks. Not much has changed, it seems.

The notion of Willis being finished must make the Tigers nauseous. There's a boatload of money that he's owed, whether he makes the team or not. On the baseball side of things, the Tigers never got anywhere near what they thought they were getting when they traded for Willis. Not that they could have predicted such a dramatic and swift loss of command.

After switching from his trademark high leg kick to a more conventional windup, Willis returned to the high kick in his final inning Thursday. The Detroit Free Press reported that Knapp prefers the high kick, and Willis will be reverting to it from now on.

It's rarely a good thing when windups and batting stances are constantly being changed, from one style to another. OK to change once, but when it becomes a back-and-forth thing, it smacks of folks reaching for straws.

The Tigers are trying to cobble together a pitching staff that will service them for the 2009 season. The rotation isn't set yet, and neither is the bullpen. Some of that has to do with injuries. And some of it has to do with guys not separating themselves from their competition.

All this, and Dontrelle Willis still can't throw strikes. At least not enough befitting a big league pitcher. That's two springs in a row now. Not good. Not good at all.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Uh-oh? Zumaya Being Held Out Of Action -- Again

I'm getting that Doom Doom feeling about Zoom Zoom again.

Joel Zumaya is feeling some more discomfort in his pitching shoulder. Again. And he's being held out of spring training competition. Again. And the Tigers' bullpen -- specifically, who will pitch the seventh and eighth innings? -- is back in flux. Again.


It may not be as serious as in previous instances, but anytime the topic du jour is Zumaya's shoulder, and the discussion includes words like "stiffness", "soreness", and "won't pitch" -- well, you're excused if you start developing a nervous tick.

I'm not ready to breathe yet, when it comes to Zumaya and his attempts to play out a season in good health. And I won't exhale until the 2009 season is in the books and Zoom Zoom hasn't spent one day on the disabled list. It may be a pipe dream, but you can't convince me that a pitcher is free from arm/shoulder trouble until he's played at least one season DL-free.

Of course, maybe Zumaya and the DL will become good acquaintances over the years. Doesn't mean his career is a dud, and it doesn't mean that he can't be a key contributor, once again, to the Tigers' bullpen. It just may mean that he's a high maintenance pitcher. That, I suppose I can contend with. But there's nothing sadder than to see a young player flame out before his time (see Fidrych, Mark) due to injury or other things out of his control.

I'm sure the Tigers, burned in the past, are babying Zumaya, maybe beyond what's actually necessary. No qualms with that. But I just start to squirm, uncomfortably, whenever I read that Zumaya is being held out of spring games.

The Tigers can still market a C, C+ bullpen without Zumaya, but it's a solid "B" with him healthy and doing his thing. And the Tigers, as a team, jump a half-a-grade or so with Zumaya manning the seventh and eighth innings.

As pitchers and catchers reported for spring training last month, Zumaya declared himself healthy and pain-free. Said he hadn't felt this good in quite some time. Then, a few appearances later, he began to be held out of the reindeer games. Maybe it's just a precaution. I hope.

I'm not being totally selfish here; I want Zumaya healthy for HIS sake, too -- not just for the Tigers'. I don't want him to be another cautionary tale. Like I said, it's too sad.

I'm not in super-duper panic mode yet, but I'll feel a whole lot better once Zoom Zoom is back on the mound, throwing pills to the plate, instead of ingesting them for pain.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Phillies & Tigers Have Quite An Inter-personnel History

The Philadelphia Phillies are, for the first time since 1981 and for only the second time in their 127-year history, heading into a season as defending world champions.

That, plus a recent piece I wrote about the '84 Tigers and the famous trade made with the Phillies in spring training that brought Willie Hernandez and Dave Bergman to Detroit, caused me to think of other Tigers who became Phillies, or vice-versa.

Phillies who became Tigers

Tony Taylor was a solid-fielding, solid-hitting second baseman who actually stuck around long enough to amass over 2,000 hits in his career. He was mostly a Phillie, but became a Tiger in 1971 when GM Jim Campbell began providing manager Billy Martin with aging veterans to patch holes in an organization that was becoming frightfully bereft of young talent.

Taylor gave the Tigers some decent part-time play, batting .287 from June-October in 1971, and .303 in '72 when the team won the AL East title. He slumped to .229 in 1973, and was released that winter. Think a poor man's Placido Polanco: a right-handed contact hitter who rarely struck out. And a glove that was above average. Taylor only made 13 errors in the three seasons that he was a Tiger.

Speaking of '72, Campbell once again turned to the Phillies for veteran help.

He picked up lefty Woodie Fryman, who was wallowing with a very bad Phillies team when Campbell acquired him off the waiver wire on August 2nd.

Fryman, a noted tobacco farmer from Kentucky, did even better than Tony Taylor in the "aging veteran contributes" department. He simply went 10-3 down the stretch with a 2.06 ERA, including pitching the division-clinching game against the Red Sox at Tiger Stadium. He faltered in '73 and '74, however, and the Tigers traded Fryman to Montreal. But Fryman wasn't close to being done as a big leaguer; he played until 1983 at age 43.

I used Placido Polanco in reference to Tony Taylor, so here's Polanco, period.

The Tigers raised some eyebrows in the summer of 2005 when they traded relief pitcher Ugueth Urbina to Philly for second baseman Polanco, who was being nudged out because the organization wanted to make room for Chase Utley. Trading pitching for non-pitching was deemed unwise, and not many people in Detroit had even heard of Placido Polanco.

That skepticism didn't last too long.

Urbina flamed out, and before long was in prison, under suspicion of murder south of the border. Polanco was a key cog in the Tigers' rise to the World Series in 2006, and is still a front-line player.

Tigers who became Phillies

Glenn Wilson, for whatever reason, didn't get along with Sparky Anderson. And that meant that he wouldn't last long in Detroit; few players did, who didn't see eye-to-eye with the Tigers' skipper.

Wilson was a talented, right-handed hitting corner outfielder who had average power but who hit for good average and drove in runs. Yet he found himself in Sparky's doghouse, and from there you rarely emerged. So Wilson was packaged with OF/C/DH/1B Johnny Wockenfuss in the Hernandez and Bergman trade of '84. In 1985, Wilson had 102 RBI on just 14 HRs with the Phillies, hitting a solid .275. He finished with the Pirates and the Astros, never putting up eye-popping numbers, but functioning as a capable big leaguer.

Wockenfuss was a fan favorite in Detroit and was truly sorry to leave the Tigers. He hit .289 in just 180 AB for the Phillies in 1984, then retired in '85 after just 37 AB, at age 36.

Lance Parrish knew almost as soon as he signed his free agent contract with the Phillies that he had made a mistake.

Parrish as a Phillie; doesn't look right, does it?

Parrish left the Tigers after the 1986 season and signed with Philadelphia, a city whose fans are not known for their patience or compassion. It was odd, seeing Parrish in the Phillies pinstripes. And he was never comfortable. He got off to a miserable start and the booing soon began. His BA was still below .200 in late-May. 1988 wasn't any better and then Parrish became a journeyman the rest of his career, save a decent season or two with the Angels. In 1994, Parrish asked the Tigers for a tryout. They politely declined.

So those are the highest-profile Tigers/Phillies over the past 40 years. Let me know if I missed anyone!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Healthy Guillen Key To Tigers

It's getting tiresome, seeing Carlos Guillen...NOT on the field. Or not in uniform. Or not anywhere near the Tigers, because he's rehabbing something.

It's becoming an annual summer thing in Detroit -- the Guillen extended trip to the disabled list (DL).

It hasn't been just one thing that keeps getting broken, either -- it's an assortment of ailments. And Guillen's time spent on the DL has been soaring at an alarming rate over the past three years.

Guillen is valuable for many reasons, but two of the most important ones are that he's a switch-hitter (the Tigers have shockingly few of them), and he can play a variety of positions. Of course, the latter has been due to a combination of ineffectiveness and the needs of manager Jim Leyland, but it's true, nonetheless, that Guillen could, at any given time, play: SS, 1B, 3B, and, this season, LF.

Guillen is the Tigers' starting left fielder, but notice that I didn't use the sometimes interchangeable word "everyday" in substitute for "starting". For it's getting more and more difficult to declare Guillen an everyday anything, thanks to his injuries.

A bad back. A bad shoulder. A bad groin. A bad abdominal wall. All these, and more, have knocked Guillen out of the Tigers' lineup for varying amounts of time since 2005. The two worst examples were in '05, when Guillen only played in 87 games, and last season, when he participated in just 113.

Last season, Guillen missed 49 games, not playing past August 25. After 8/25, the Tigers went 10-21. It's partly coincidence, but not entirely.

The move to LF this season is designed to get as many at-bats as possible for as many of the Tigers' starting eight as possible, but it's also being done with an eye toward Guillen's health. This spring training, Guillen is attempting to complete a comeback from last year's pinched nerve in his back. It even hurts to write "pinched nerve in his back." Can you imagine how painful it is to actually have one?

Guillen (left) and Magglio Ordonez have a much better chance of repeating this celebratory scene from the 2006 ALCS if Guillen can stay off the DL

At the time of his permanent trip to the DL last August, Guillen was hitting a steady .286. But that's also considerably down from the .300+ years he was making us all accustomed to in Detroit. Bottom line: Guillen's being shifted to the DL was the white flag; his back had been flaring up and bothering him all season. Typically, you don't just get a bad back suddenly; it slowly wraps its tentacles around you and squeezes the health out of you.

So far, so good this spring. Guillen is playing in the World Baseball Classic (for Venezuela), and has reported no pain, yet, as he gets ready for what he hopes is an injury-free 2009.

A healthy Guillen isn't just something that would be nice to have -- it's practically mandatory, for the Tigers to do anything of note in '09. Not only does he present problems because of his switch-hitting status, but Guillen is one of the finest men on the team. His leadership isn't done with words or antics; it's done the old-fashioned way, with hard play and courage.

Yes, courage. Don't forget that Guillen nearly died in 2001, when he contracted tuberculosis. Not only did he contract it, he played with it. It probably did his body no good, but Guillen played with TB, because that's what he's about.

Such a teammate isn't commonplace, anymore, in baseball.

The Tigers have many players to whom you could attach "MVP" to: Miguel Cabrera; Curtis Granderson; Magglio Ordonez; Placido Polanco; Justin Verlander. But none of them bring, in quite the same fashion, the intangible leadership qualities that Guillen provides.

It would be nice to see Guillen in uniform as often as possible in 2009. For a change.

Friday, March 06, 2009

"Rooftop" Jones Another Instant 1984 Legend

I had known about Ruppert Jones, from his days toiling in near-obscurity with the Seattle Mariners, but he had mostly dropped off my radar by the time the 1984 baseball season began. I knew that he was a left-handed hitting outfielder, and that he once had some pop in his bat. But he played for the Mariners, which meant that he wasn't a household name by any means.

So when the Tigers signed Jones and dispatched him to AAA Evansville in April of '84, I may have halfway raised an eyebrow -- then hoisted another beer at Theo's Tavern or the Spaghetti Bender, or wherever else I chose to do my drinking on the campus of Eastern Michigan University as a junior student.

Little did I, or anyone else, know that Ruppert Jones, within a few months, would be known as "Rooftop" Jones and would become yet another delicious side story in a wild, wonderful championship season.

Jones, in near anonymity as a Mariner

Jones was called up to the Tigers in early June, and in typical Sparky Anderson fashion, the manager put Jones into the lineup right away. The Toronto Blue Jays were in town, and they were the only team that had a snowball's chance in Hell of slowing down the Tigers, who had famously started 35-5, but were now on a 4-8 streak. The Jays had moved to within 3-1/2 games of the Tigers.

Jones started in center field, and went 1-for-3. The Tigers lost. The next day, Jones started again in center. And he launched a rocket of a home run, onto the right field roof at Tiger Stadium. It was part of a four-run sixth inning. The Tigers won, moving back to a 4-1/2 game lead. The Jays wouldn't get closer the rest of the season.

They started calling Ruppert "Rooftop" shortly thereafter -- and Jones lapped up the attention. No longer was he playing in a vacuum. He had been a Yankee for a period of time, but hardly one of their stars. In Detroit, Rooftop Jones became an instant legend, in a season that made legends of many. The famous "short porch" in right field at Tiger Stadium was custom made for his upper-cut, lefty swing.

Jones hit 12 HR in 215 AB in spot duty with the '84 Tigers, though he only got eight at-bats (hitless) in the post-season. But he got himself a World Series ring. After the season, Jones was granted free agency and ended up signing with the Angels. He hit 46 HR in three seasons with the Angels -- maintaining a good HR/per AB ratio -- before retiring after the 1987 season at age 32.

Ruppert "Rooftop" Jones -- another Tiger who was sprinkled with the magic pixie dust of the 1984 season. A few of them did that in '84 -- swept in for the fun and were hardly heard from again. But they had their moments in the sun that year, and that's all any big league player can really ask for.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Grandy In The WBC? It's Not OK With Me

Curtis Granderson doesn't have my permission to play in the World Baseball Classic. I hereby order him to stay in Lakeland, with his REAL teammates, and get ready for the 2009 season in the traditional way. Further, I order him to not hurt himself, as he did last year late in spring training.

Oh, how I wish Grandy wouldn't play for Team USA in the WBC. I wish even more that my demand means more than the space it takes up on this blog.

Granderson, of course, just happens to be the one player in all of baseball who you'd want to represent the United States of America. If that sounds like I'm laying a lot on Grandy, then so be it. It happens to be fact.

So I get why Granderson, the Tigers' four-tool center fielder (he just needs to work on that arm a bit), was asked to be on Team USA. Who wouldn't want a young man who can triple to left, homer to right, beat out an infield hit, and steal other teams' fun by covering more real estate than Century 21? All that, and an award-winning smile and a personality that makes Dale Carnegie look positively cranky.

So go if you must, Curtis -- but you'd better not hurt yourself, or else I'm gunning for you, my friend.

Yeah, he caught it.

In case you're still bamboozled about what in the heck happened to the high-priced, over-hyped Tigers of 2008, look no further than Granderson, who injured his hand late in spring training and missed most of April. The Tigers were 8-13 when Granderson finally made his debut, on April 23. In his first game back, Grandy went 2-for-4 and the Tigers drilled the Texas Rangers, 19-6.

One player does not and should not a team make, but I submit that if Curtis Granderson had been healthy from Day One in 2008, the Tigers would not have gotten off to the start that they did. He simply does too much. You don't just slice someone like that out from the top of your batting order, from your center field position, and not feel the absence.

A healthy Granderson, from jump street, is essential. The Tigers cannot pretend that they have anyone who can come close to duplicating all that Granderson does on the baseball diamond. Because they don't. No one in MLB does.

Never mind wondering how many All-Star games Granderson will perform in when all is said and done. Better start contemplating how many MVP Awards will end up on Grandy's mantel. It's not being a homer to say this. Just ask around the league.

Granderson is gone now, off to be with Team USA. But not before slamming a home run for the Tigers on his way out the door. Just a nice reminder of what the Tigers will be missing in camp for up to possibly three weeks.

Just as long as they're not missing it when the curtain rises for real. We've already seen how lethal that can be.