Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fielder's Home Run Joyride Almost 20 Years Ago

I'm a little early on this, I admit. I'm jumping the gun, but this time they can't call me back to the starting blocks.

You heard it here first, then.

When the Tigers gather for spring training in about three months---it can't get here fast enough, by the way---it will be 2010 and you can say it.

It'll be 20 years since Cecil Fielder knocked 51 homers out of the confines of American League ballparks on behalf of the Tigers.

Yep---1990. Even the most mathematically challenged can figure out that 2010 minus 20 equals 1990.

Go ahead and use a calculator anyway, if you wish. But you'll get 20 years since Cecil clubbed his way into the history books.

Fifty dingers might not seem like so much nowadays, but no Tiger had hit that many since Hank Greenberg was thrilling the folks at Briggs Stadium in the 1930s and '40s. Hank, in fact, almost hit 60---he clobbered 58 in 1938.

But unlike Greenberg, who was a product of the Tigers' farm, Cecil was an outsider. Actually, he wasn't acquired so much as imported.

The Tigers left the continent and traveled to the Far East to wrangle Fielder away from a Japanese team, also called the Tigers (Hanshin). Big Daddy, as he was called, had fled the country either because he was attracted to sushi or because he couldn't stand playing behind Fred McGriff. Or both.

Fielder was a Toronto Blue Jay but McGriff was dug in deep as the Jays' first baseman. McGriff was about Cecil's age but he was Big Daddy's superior, at least in the Blue Jays' eyes. McGriff swung lefty and maybe that's what hurt the right-handed hitting Fielder.

Anyhow, Cecil played for Hanshin in 1989 and the Detroit Tigers, in need of a first sacker, remembered what Fielder could do from his days in the AL East. So they sent a team of envoys to Japan and the result was that Fielder signed with them in January 1990.

The Tigers' first player from Japan and he was an American. Go figure.

Not much was made of the signing, other than the Tigers had filled a hole at first base. How it would turn out was anyone's guess.

After 14 games, Fielder had three home runs. Not bad; about a 34-homer pace.

Not bad turned into pretty good, and pretty good turned into "This guy's hotter than wasabi!"

Fielder slammed 10 home runs in his next 15 games, including three in, you guessed it, Toronto.

But it wasn't just that Fielder hit home runs. It was how he hit them.



He looked like he was swinging a toothpick, which is what all the big dudes make even 40-ounce bats look like. Fielder was big and muscular and should have been wearing a football helmet, not a batting helmet.

He cocked his bat just before he swung---another staple from the slugger's repertoire. And while he connected with nothing but air a whole bunch of times, pity the poor baseball that he didn't miss.

A Cecil Fielder home run came in three varieties---towering, lasered, and crushed. No one had punished baseballs in Detroit before him, or since. He was the strongest man to wear the Old English D not named Willie Horton or Marcus Thames.

One afternoon, Fielder took Oakland A's pitcher Dave Stewart downtown---downtown Lansing, that is. He drove a baseball over the left field roof at Tiger Stadium, which was by far the harder of the two roofs to clear.

Fielder kept knocking home runs throughout the summer of 1990, and around the All-Star break it was whispered: could Cecil hit 50? He had 28 and there was still about half a season to go.

Damon Runyon must have written the script from the afterlife and sent it down to Detroit, because going into the last game of the season---in New York, no less---Fielder had 49 dingers. If he was going to reach 50, he'd have to do it in Roger Maris-like fashion---in Yankee Stadium on the season's final day.

Manager Sparky Anderson placed Fielder second in the batting order, to give him an extra at-bat if necessary. He didn't need it.

In the fourth inning, with Tony Phillips on base, Fielder jacked a baseball off someone named Steve Adkins deep into the upper deck in left field in the Bronx. Number 50. Then, as if to make sure in case they added wrong, Fielder hit another, in the eighth inning. Number 51.

They usually don't take kindly to Japanese imports in Detroit, but they made an exception in the case of Cecil Fielder.

It'll be 20 years ago, coming up. No Tigers player---Cecil included---has come close to 50 since then.

Big Daddy, to Detroit from Hanshin, Japan via Toronto. Not the shortest route between two points, unlike his home runs. But it worked out.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Evaluating Baseball's Managers Throughout History

Chris Jaffe over at HardballTimes.com has written a book evaluating managers, entitled, oddly enough, "Evaluating Baseball's Managers."

Click here for an excerpt about former Yankees, Tigers, A's, Rangers, and Twins manager Billy Martin. Good stuff, Chris!


Monday, November 16, 2009

One Last Word on the Metrodome....

Just had to share this, from the late, great sportswriter Jim Murray, about the Metrodome in Minnesota. I'm guessing he wrote this about 20 years ago.

You should see this ballpark. It looks like a whole bunch of trash bags of hangers. The roof looks like a quilt comforter. If it had a swastika on it, you’d think it was the Hindenburg. The world’s biggest hot-air balloon. You’d be afraid to light a match in it. It’s kept aloft by air. If they ever turn off the fans, you’d have the world’s biggest pile of Teflon. If it slips its tether, you’d half expect to find yourself floating over downtown Chicago. You keep looking around for Cantinflas and David Niven… .”

I don't know about you, but I feel better already.

Tigers scribes announce 2009 season awards

Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander unanimous winners

Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera and starting pitcher Justin Verlander were voted the Tigers' top positional player and top pitcher of 2009, in a vote conducted by the Detroit Independent Baseball Scribes.

Cabrera and Verlander each received 20 first-place votes.

Cabrera had a .942 on-base percentage plus slugging average (OPS), which was good for fifth in the American League. He had a .324 batting average, 34 home runs and 103 RBIs. All four categories led the Tigers. His Ultimate Zone Rating of 2.8 ranked second of all AL first basemen.

Verlander led baseball in strikeouts with 269 and was tied for first in the AL with 19 wins. He had an ERA of 3.45. He led the Tigers in all three categories.

Voting was also conducted in two other categories: breakout player of the year, for the player experiencing his first taste of success in the major leagues; and most improved, for the player who made the biggest step forward from the previous season.

Rookie right-handed starting pitcher Rick Porcello earned 18 of 20 votes for the breakout honors. The 20-year-old completed the season with a 14-9 record, 3.96 ERA and 89 strikeouts in 170 2/3 innings. Also receiving votes were right-handed starting pitcher Edwin Jackson (1) and utility player Ryan Raburn (1).

Verlander was also named comeback player of the year, rebounding from a 2008 season which saw him go 11-17 with a 4.84 ERA and 163 strikeouts. He received 11 of 20 votes in the category. Also receiving votes were right-handed closer Fernando Rodney (3), Raburn (2), Brandon Inge (1), Brandon Lyon (1), Jackson (1) and utility infielder Ramon Santiago (1).

Voting was conducted during the week of Nov. 9-15.

Established in 2005, the Detroit Independent Baseball Scribes now has 21 members who write primarily on the Internet. Its member writers are affiliated with such online organizations as MLive.com (Booth Newspapers), SB Nation, ESPN.com, Freep.com, Bleacher Report, Yardbarker, MVN, Fan Blog and Fan Huddle.


The Detroit Independent Baseball Scribes include:

Bless You Boys -- Ian Casselberry
Daily Fungo -- Mike McClary
DesigNate Robertson -- Scott Rogowski
Detroit4lyfe -- Bob Biscigliano
Detroit Tigers Den -- Austin Drake
Detroit Tigers Weblog -- Bill Ferris
Eye of the Tigers -- J. Ellet Lambie
Fire Jim Leyland -- Mike Rogers
It's Just Sports -- Patrick Hayes
Jamie Samuelsen's Blog -- Jamie Samuelsen
Mack Avenue Tigers -- Kurt Mensching
MLive's The Cutoff Man -- James Schmehl and Scott Warheit
Old English D -- Jennifer Cosey
Roar of the Tigers -- Samara Pearstein
Spot Starters -- Blake Vande Bunte
Take 75 North -- Matt Wallace
Tigers Amateur Analysis -- Erin Saelzler
Tigerblog -- Brian Borawski
Tiger Geist -- John Brunn
Tiger Tales -- Lee Panas
Tiger Tracks -- John Parent
Where have you gone, Johnny Grubb? --Greg Eno

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Trading Granderson Not as Tragic as Some Would Believe

Curtis Granderson is a nice guy. He’s the kind of man any father would be thrilled to have his daughter marry. He is one of the true ambassadors of baseball, and I don’t throw those kinds of words around willy-nilly.

But I’d trade him in a heartbeat.

This is one of those columns that will get me, figuratively, run up the flagpole at Comerica Park, hung in real-life effigy. You’ll have thought that I started a Kill All Puppies campaign by the time the vitriol is done with.

That’s OK. Nowhere does it say, “Thou must always write what people WANT to read, not what they SHOULD read.”

It’s the job, or rather the duty, of the columnist to present opinions and viewpoints that are genuine, not populist. Even if those opinions are as popular as ants at a picnic.

The hot stove has been fired up. It’s the time of year—the World Series done, the general managers convening—when logic gives way to jingoism. When the bubble gum cards get broken out.

Give me your Joe Shmoe and I’ll give you my John Doe.

The GMs are meeting, and they don’t do it to say hi and catch up with the wife and kids.

All 30 of them are charged with trudging to the meetings, some better equipped than others, and sniffing around to see how they could improve their ballclubs via trade.

Some have better, more attractive bubble gum cards than their colleagues. And more money.

It’s a time for the Internet to teem with rumors, suggestions, and demands from its paying customers.

Break out the bubble gum cards!

The media people, who should know better, don’t, apparently. They’re the ones who usually cast the first stone.

There’s this mythical thing—a place, really—that conjures up, to me, an image of a baseball player posing in front of a throng of potential suitors. He’s standing, by his lonesome, as if on display, on this mythical spot.

It’s something called the “trading block.”

The media people, supposedly so well connected, hear things. Perhaps sometimes they imagine that they hear things. Maybe voices come to them in the middle of the night.

Then these things get splattered onto the Internet, and don’t worry, the fans will take it from there.

One of these things went splat! onto the Internet this week.

“Report: Tigers’ Granderson, Jackson on trading block.”

Not sure where it started, nor by who. Someone heard something, I suppose. Payroll money might be an issue.

The players are center fielder Curtis Granderson and pitcher Edwin Jackson—two supposed key playing cards in the house of them that collapsed with historic ignominy down the stretch.

Not so much Jackson, who has only been a Tiger for one season, but Granderson’s possible cashiering has the fan base in Detroit beside itself.

In a way, it’s charming that the mere thought of dealing Granderson away is met with such resistance. This is because it shows that being a good guy and being active in the community still means something to some towns. And Detroit has been very good that way; they’ve always appreciated the hard-working guy, the genuine dude.

But I’m getting rather tired of being satisfied with just having a bunch of nice guys on the Tigers. The Tigers have had nice guys for years. Maybe not as high profile as what Granderson does, but nice guys nonetheless.

When Miguel Cabrera’s drinking binge made headlines in the final weekend of the season, what sprung to my mind almost immediately was, “This kind of stuff just doesn’t happen with the Tigers.”

The Tigers have been, for the most part, a button-downed organization with precious few rabble rousers on their roster over the decades. That’s why the Cabrera thing resonated so much; it was so out of character for anyone wearing the Old English D over his heart.

Nice guys are great. But winning is even better.

It may sound cold and callous, but give me players with whom I can win baseball games, not popularity contests.

Granderson is coming off an All-Star year, but in title only. He should have been an All-Star in 2006, or 2007, or 2008. Any year than 2009, when he made the squad almost out of default because of the dearth of center field talent in the American League.

He hit .249, was dreadfully and shockingly ineffective against left-handed pitchers, had an obscenely low on-base percentage—that gauge of a player’s ability to not make outs—of .324, dipped dramatically in doubles and triples, and struck out 141 times. All as a supposed leadoff hitter.

It was Granderson, by the way, who made a baserunning blunder befitting a Little League player in the ninth inning of the one-game playoff in Minnesota, getting doubled off first base on a line drive. A blunder that tore the heart out of the Tigers.

Yet he is considered an “untouchable,” another terrific sports word.

You don’t dare trade Curtis Granderson, his adoring public says, because, well, he’s CURTIS GRANDERSON!

He’s a nice guy. Is active in the community. Someone on the Internet wrote that Granderson was the “face of the franchise.”

He does have an electric smile, I’ll give you that.

I’ve talked to Granderson on a number of occasions. A couple years ago we shared a few minutes of quiet time after a game—a loss—as he told me about his experience in Great Britain, bringing baseball to kids across the pond.

The guy’s terrific, no doubt. Always has time for the ink-stained wretches and shameless hangers-on.

But to say that he’s untouchable, beyond consideration for trade, might be community wise but is baseball foolish.

In fact, there may be no better time to trade Granderson than now, with the Tigers in need of a shakeup after the most embarrassing season in their history. You heard me.

This was worse than the 43-119 debacle of 2003. Worse than 53-109 in 1996 or 57-102 in 1975, when the Tigers lost, at one point, 19 straight games. Worse than those dreadful teams of the early-1950s.

You can have all of them and they can’t beat the 2009 Tigers in terms of flat out embarrassment and shame. They became the only team to be in first place starting as early as May 10 yet fail to win its division. They became the first one to cough up a three-game lead with four games to play.

And you’d have a .249 leadoff hitter considered untouchable from such a disgraceful outfit?

If you want to use that word, untouchable, then take pitchers Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello and call me in the morning.

I’m not saying give Curtis Granderson away for a box of baseballs and a batting doughnut. All I’m saying is, take a look at it, if you can get something decent in return.

Someone has to say it in this town, for cripe's sake. No one else seems to have the temerity to do so.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Baseball in November? It MUST Not Happen Again

As I write this, we’ve managed to elect two new governors in this country, and scores of other officials locally—-yet we haven’t crowned a baseball champion.

That’s right—-Election Day came and went and the World Series was still going on.

Now, it’s likely that by the time you read this, either the Phillies or the Yankees will have emerged triumphant. But there was no winner as November 4th dawned, and there just seems to be something inherently wrong with that.

Late isn’t so great.

If the Series goes the full seven games (the Yanks lead 3-2 as I write this), it will end on November 5, which will officially be the latest any MLB champion has been determined. If the Yankees wrap it up in six, it will tie the 2001 World Series (Arizona beat New York in Game 7 on 11/4/01) for lateness.

What if the Colorado Rockies had managed to emerge from the National League playoffs? Can you imagine WS games in Denver in November? You might have to wait until the following spring to find out how the thing turns out.

The World Baseball Classic helped push Opening Day back to the end of the first week of April, which has, in turn, put the World Series into November. And this is with most of the LDS and LCS series going nowhere near their maximum length. If those earlier series had gone longer, the World Series would be threatening to hit double digits—-as in November 10, 11, etc.

But you know what? Baseball’s Opening Day being April 6 or 7 was the norm, and not too long ago. But that was in the day of the traditional Sunday doubleheader, which has gone the way of the dinosaur, and flip phones.

You’d have a DH—-and I don’t mean designated hitter—-every Sunday afternoon in just about every ballpark in the big leagues. It was as American as the sport itself. So you could start a season as late as April 10-12, for example, and still fit the 162-game schedule in before too many days occurred in October.

Of course, there was no third tier of playoffs, like you have now thanks to Bud Selig’s Wild Card.

But knowing that the post-season, from LDS to WS, can now take about one full month to complete, I think it’s time to look at pushing back Opening Day into late March.

Look, I’m not crazy about that, either, but I’m willing to concede some games in March. It’s the lesser of two evils: early season games in March, or World Series games in November? I’ll take Option A, please. BUT—-and this is a biggie—-let’s be smart and schedule as many March games as possible in either domed stadiums or warm weather climates. Can’t we have a small modicum of common sense?

I’m not a meteorologist, nor an editor at The Farmer’s Almanac, so for all I know the temperatures in early November don’t vary all that much from late October. But two things: a) they MIGHT vary quite a bit; and b) who cares if they vary at all—-baseball simply wasn’t meant to be played in November!! Unless it’s in places like Venezuela.

I admit that I’m a traditionalist. Guilty as charged. But is it too much to ask to get baseball over with before trick-or-treating? Will we one day be flipping channels between the World Series and election coverage? (It could have happened this year; it was only by luck that this year’s Election Day fell on the World Series off day).

And what of post-season nicknames for playoff and World Series heroes of the 21st century?

What do we call Alex Rodriguez from now on? Mr. Octember? Or do we go the hyphenated route: Mr. October-November?

Seriously, this is nuts. Since MLB absolutely refuses to hold doubleheaders unless they’re forced to because of rainouts, then they MUST start the season earlier. Because one year Mother Nature is going to have herself a little fun and wreak all sorts of havoc on a November World Series.

Play Snowball!