Monday, June 28, 2010

Monday Morning Manager

Last Week: 2-4
This Week: at Min (6/29-7/1); SEA (7/2-4)

So what happened?

A disappointing, though perhaps predictable week on the road.

The Tigers, 13-19 away from Detroit when last week began, traveled into the hornet's nests of New York and Atlanta, where neither home team loses all that much.

The result? An unsurprising 2-4 record, with the Tigers needing to win the final game of the series both times to avoid sweeps.

It all began in the rain and muck of Citi Field on Tuesday night, when Justin Verlander pitched two very shaky innings before the skies opened and a lengthy delay ensued.

The trip ended on a high note, with a 10-4 shellacking of the Braves, who've lost just eight times at home all season.

The good news? The Twins didn't do much, either, and the Tigers actually stayed within a half-game of first place.

But the White Sox have been re-animated, and are suddenly making the AL Central a three-team race, which seemed an absurd notion just a couple weeks ago.

Hero of the Week

You can't stop Brennan Boesch, folks---you can only hope to contain him.

And opposing pitchers aren't even really doing that.

Every time I look up, Boesch is standing on second base---or rounding third in a trot.

This is getting ridiculous now.

Boesch, the Tigers' rookie dropped from baseball heaven, could be the team's left fielder for the next 10 years. He might combine with Miguel Cabrera to form one of the sickest hitting tandems that you'll ever see in any big league batting order.

The future is exciting to contemplate, isn't it?

Boesch kept slugging last week, and he was, again, a big factor in the Tigers' wins.

You keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, i.e. the inevitable cool down, but until then, just enjoy the ride.

Goat of the Week

It's time someone wrung their hands over Johnny Damon.

The 36-year-old left fielder/DH is looking every bit his age, and then some.

Damon is in a 6-for-37 slump, and he was invisible offensively last week. He did steal a couple of bases Sunday, but aside from that he's been popless.

Damon's average was .294 two weeks ago, and it's now plunged to .269. And where's the power? Damon has three homers in 253 at-bats.

Maybe the Yankees knew something when they dragged their feet in negotiating with him after last season.

I was a proponent of bringing Damon to Detroit. And he may yet right the ship. But for the last several weeks, that ship has been banging against the rocks.

Upcoming: Twins, Mariners

Have plenty of Pepto Bismol and aspirin on hand. Prepare to be put through the wringer.

The Tigers are in Minnesota this week.

The Tigers couldn't beat the Twins in the Metrodome, and they can't beat them at new Target Field, having been swept there in May.

But the Twins must look at the Tigers as gnats that won't go away.

Here come the Tigers, just a half-game back in the Central Division and tied in the all-important loss column.

The Tigers were nipping on the Twins' heels in early May, too, but the sweep knocked them back. The Twins' lead has been as large as 5-1/2 games, but their play of late has opened the door for all comers---including the surging White Sox.

As for the Mariners, they are woeful---except when they play the Tigers. The M's are another weak sister the Tigers seem to have trouble handling.

But the Tigers may have shed that label with their 8-1 run against the horrid Pirates, Nationals, and Diamondbacks a couple weeks ago.

Be prepared to hear more about lefty Cliff Lee when Seattle comes to town. The brilliant pitcher has been rumored to be on his way to the Twins in a contract-shedding.

Radio blowhard Mike Valenti of 97.1 The Ticket says if the Twins get Lee, "the Tigers' season is over."


This is a week where the Tigers could find themselves in first place once it's done.

Stay tuned.

That's all for this week's MMM. See you next week!


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ordonez Shows That He's Nowhere Near Finished

Reputations precede you in pro sports. And they can enslave you.

It's easy to spoil us---we who don't play the game. We who merely watch and follow and pound out Tweets and blister athletes in 140 characters or less.

We got used to Magglio Ordonez, the Tigers right fielder. Every late winter/early spring, when the reports of how the Tigers were shaping up started to flitter in from Florida, we'd do a mental evaluation, position-by-position. When we came to Maggs, it was a simple evaluation.

A batting average north of .300, 20 to 30 home runs, threatening 100 RBI, at least.


There was no need to fret over Ordonez. He was a pure hitter, born to hit .300. He was as reliable as tomorrow's sunrise.

Someone once said of a natural born hitter, "He could roll out of bed on Christmas Day and slap a base hit."

That was Ordonez. He won a batting title with the Tigers in 2007 and followed that with a strong 2008. He has a career BA of .312, and has banged out over 2,000 hits. So why worry about a guy like that?

Turn back the clock 12 months and recall, if you will, what they were saying about Ordonez.

The numbers were shocking in their lack of punch.

One year ago today, Magglio was hitting .274, with a measly three homers and but 24 RBI.

There were some factors. A nagging injury. Some personal matters. A pending contract kicker, based on number of at-bats.

They started calling him a singles hitter, a Punch-and-Judy guy. His power was gone, and so his career must be soon to follow.

Manager Jim Leyland even tried the most desperate of solutions when a hitter stops hitting: the benching.

I've never understood how a guy is supposed to work his way out of a slump by sitting in the dugout all day, but that's just me.

They looked at Ordonez's age, saw that it was 35, and that only made matters worse.

The words began to be whispered: done; washed up; a has-been.

If you need some perspective, look no further than the great Ted Williams.

You heard me.

Teddy Ballgame. The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived. Teddy's words, by the way.

Williams was 41 years old in 1959 and suffering with a pinched nerve in his neck.

The nagging injury limited Williams to 272 at-bats and---get this---a .254 batting average.

.254?? Ted Williams?

.254 and Ted Williams go together like sardines and ice cream.

He was 41 and it looked over with.

But Williams was determined not to let his last season in the big leagues read .254 next to it.

He got healthy with his neck and came back for one more year.

In 310 AB in 1960, Williams hit .316 and slammed 29 HR---one every 10.7 AB.

He knocked one out at Fenway Park in his final career at-bat, into the teeth of a strong wind.

THEN he retired.

Ordonez is back.

He's hitting .322, with 10 HR and 49 RBI. That's .048, seven and 25 better than last year at this time. The ball again explodes from his bat. The swing is back to its upper cut smoothness.

It's more, well, Ordonez-ish.

Seems like he hasn't forgotten how to hit, after all.

And his resurgence is a huge reason why the Tigers' 3-4-5 hitters are among the best in baseball right now.

We should have known better.

Pavarotti doesn't suddenly start singing out of key. Wolfgang Puck doesn't forget ingredients. Stephen King doesn't start writing romances.

Magglio Ordonez is a hitter. It's what he does. He's no more washed up, at age 36, than Austin Jackson.

We should have known better.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Monday Morning Manager

Last Week: 6-1
This Week: at NYM (6/22-24); at Atl (6/25-27)

So what happened?

The National League came to town and all was good again.

The Tigers should pull a Milwaukee Brewers and lobby for a move to the NL. The American League can have the Brewers back, as a matter of fact.

The Tigers' dominance over the Senior Circuit continued last week. A weekend sweep of the Pirates was followed by a weekday sweep of the Nationals, which was followed by a 2-of-3 series win over the Diamondbacks.

The Tigers have won eight of nine, rolling through the National League visitors like a baker's pin over today's bread dough.

But now it's a bunch of games with @ before the opponents' names.

But here's to last week, when the Tigers beat up on teams they should have---following underwhelming performances against the weaker sisters in their own AL Central.

Hero of the Week

When a team has a 6-1 week, it's hard to pick one guy over everyone else, but how about some love for Brandon Inge? Not that he doesn't get his fair share for a player who takes a .230-ish average home every winter.

But Inge has been on a quiet tear as of late. He's hitting in the high .300s over his past 20 games or so. He had a big week last week, too: 7-for-20, including a clutch, laser triple Friday night against Arizona. His glove work, as usual, has been outstanding.

The season average is up to .261 now, which is rarified air for Mr. Inge.

Not the strongest of Heroes in a great week, but it's nice to have the problem of wondering who to choose because the list of candidates is long---right?

Goat of the Week

Last week on "The Knee Jerks," the podcast I co-host with Big Al Beaton, we discussed the merits of sending struggling sophomore starter Rick Porcello down to Toledo to work on things.

The consensus was that if the team feels he'd be better off clearing his head in Ohio, then this is actually a good time to do it.

Four of the five starters are pitching OK---and some are pitching better than OK.

The Tigers pulled the trigger Sunday, optioning the 21-year-old to the Mud Hens.

And it's not certain that he'll be back up in 10 days, like Max Scherzer was after his demotion.

"He could be but we're not saying he will, by any means," GM Dave Dombrowski told the Detroit News. "It'll be a matter of when we're told he can be an effective big league pitcher again."

It's generally faster for pitchers to figure things out than it is for hitters, when the problems are mechanics. Witness Scott Sizemore, who was jettisoned when the big leagues proved to be too big for him. Sure, Sizemore's batting average with the Mud Hens looked good after he'd been there for a few weeks (over .300), but that's against AAA pitching.

No one seems to think that Sizemore's ready for another appearance in The Show quite yet, despite his relative success in Toledo.

Porcello may or may not be able to correct what's ailing him in a couple of starts. Now that he's with the Mud Hens, there should be no hurry to return him to the Tigers. He's younger than Scherzer and has less big league experience.

Plus, the Tigers are winning without his contribution, and there are still 94 games remaining.

So yes, Porcello is MMM's Goat this week, but it's tough love.

Upcoming: Mets, Braves

It's one thing to kick the Pirates, Nationals, and D-Backs around in your own backyard. It's quite another to take on the Mets and the Braves at their place.

I'm tickled at the Tigers' 8-1 homestand, but the next nine games are where you're going to find out a lot more about them. For after this week's trips to New York and Atlanta, the Tigers go to Minnesota next Monday thru Wednesday.

If 8-1 is followed by 2-7 or 3-6, then hold off on the "Tigers are a contender" talk.

The Tigers are 13-19 on the road, and the Mets and Braves are outstanding at home.

Two forces are about to collide here, and at first blush it looks like advantage, NL teams---for a change.

The Mets don't bash their way to victory; their team BA is .257 and only two players are in double digits in home runs. But four of their five starters have ERAs between 2.69 and 3.64, and their overall team ERA is fifth in the NL.

One to watch for is lefty Hisanori Takahashi, the 35-year-old rookie from Japan who moved from the bullpen into the starting rotation on May 21 and has an ERA of just over 3.00 in six starts. He's due to face the Tigers this week, having last started on Friday---when he threw six shutout innings at the Yankees.

As for the Braves, the news last week was that 38-year-old Chipper Jones will NOT retire forthwith, as had been reported. Jones says he'll put off such talk until after the season.

Manager Bobby Cox, however, IS retiring---after the season. So this will be the Tigers' last chance to see Mr. Ejection, barring a matchup in some sort of series that's played in October...what do they call it again?

Player to watch for the Braves: the rejuvenated Troy Glaus, who had all of 29 at-bats last year with the Cardinals.

First baseman Glaus, 33, has 14 HR and 55 RBI and is hitting .280.

The Tigers know all about Glaus, having seen him for all those years with the Blue Jays and Angels.

That's all for this week's MMM. See you next week!


Monday, June 14, 2010

Monday Morning Manager

Last Week: 4-2
This Week: WAS (6/15-17); ARI (6/18-20)

So what happened?

You gotta love those Pittsburgh Pirates---Helping Teams Get Well Since 1993.

The Tigers were weezing and gasping, having lost 12 of 18 after dropping two of three to the White Sox in Chicago.

Enter the Pirates.

The Pirates, who haven't had a winning season since the ORIGINAL George Bush administration, came to town and all was good again in Bengal Land.

The Pirates are a team that you don't wait on to show up; you dispatch limousines and a motorcade to Metro Airport. You drive them to their hotel and make sure they get checked in and have everything they need.

Then you make sure they make it to the ballpark unscathed.

The Pirates came to Detroit on a five-game losing streak. They're always on a five-game losing streak, at least. They're the Washington Generals to the rest of baseball's Harlem Globetrotters. Any team that doesn't take a series from the Pirates ought to wear Dunce caps instead of their regular lids.

The Tigers didn't make it easy---they hardly ever do---but they swept the Bucaroos to suddenly be 6-4 in that wonderful "Last 10" column in the standings.

God Bless the Pittsburgh Pirates!

Hero of the Week

Tigers starters not named Rick Porcello. And Miguel Cabrera (yawn) again.

The Tigers are getting strong starts from everyone except Porcello, who will be skipped in his next start in an attempt to rediscover his sinker.

Justin Verlander is, well, Justin Verlander. Jeremy Bonderman is looking more and more like the Bondo of 2006-07. Max Scherzer's demotion to Toledo has apparently done wonders for him. Armando Galarraga is pounding the strike zone and has an ERA of under 3.00 since being recalled.

That leaves Porcello as the rotation's sore thumb.

As for Cabrera, he's simply on another plane of clutchness. He's making Kirk Gibson look like a choke artist.

Another three-run jack in "nut-cutting time" yesterday, turning a 1-2 deficit into a 4-2 lead in the 8th inning. Another ho-hum, 400+ foot drive to the opposite field, with one flick of his wrists.

Cabrera isn't a baseball player, he's a force of nature. And a freak of it, too.

Goat of the Week

Ryan Raburn is, I'm sure, a nice guy and everything. But he doesn't belong in the big leagues---not even with the Pirates. Maybe the Orioles, but that's about it.

Though I'm not sure who's the bigger goat: Raburn, or manager Jim Leyland, for writing Raburn's name beside the number "3" in the batting order.

Raburn has regressed as a ballplayer.

To paraphrase legendary Tampa Bay Bucs coach John McKay, Raburn can't hit---but he makes up for it by not fielding.

Raburn was at it again last week, either ending innings or functioning as a wet blanket on the Tigers' developing fires. Thank goodness for the guy hitting behind him---Miguel What's-his-face.

I'm not sure what Raburn's value to the team is right now.

And I'm not sure where Leyland's head is at, penciling Raburn in the number three hole in Magglio Ordonez's absence.

Upcoming: Nationals, D-Backs

It's Homecoming Week at Comerica Park.

First, Pudge Rodriguez returns to Detroit, as a member of the Washington Nationals.

Pudge came off the DL literally hours before catching Stephen Strasburg in the kid's MLB debut last Tuesday night.

Rodriguez proclaimed Strasburg amazing. And he should know.

Later this week, Dontrelle Willis and Edwin Jackson return, and both will start this weekend.

Dontrelle won't get to bat, though---and that's almost the best part of his game.

Jackson has struggled in Arizona, continuing a trend that began after last year's All-Star break.

The Tigers will miss Strasburg's next start by a day. Tough luck---for the fans. I'm sure the hitters aren't crying about that too much.

Speaking of the Nats, they're flirting with .500---and respectability. Having Strasburg start every five games certainly won't hurt that continuing effort.

More Homecoming stuff with the D-Backs: they're managed by former Tigers catcher A.J. Hinch, and don't forget Gibson, who's the bench coach.

That's all for this week's MMM. See you next Monday!


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Pallone's Baseball Life a Constant 0-2 Count

How many dreams come true in Pittsburgh?

On Friday, April 6, 1979, a 27-year-old man from Waltham, Massachusetts crouched behind Pirates catcher Ed Ott and prepared to call balls and strikes in Three Rivers Stadium in his first game as a big league umpire.

Whether the first pitch from Bert Blyleven was a ball or a strike has long been forgotten.

What is irrefutable from that day is this: Dave Pallone pulled his mask over his face, and he left it there for the next 10 seasons.

Pallone was a big league umpire but he wasn’t, in the eyes of some. He was an opportunist or he was a scab. He was part of the fraternity yet he wasn’t.

You think that’s some confliction? You have no idea.

Pallone, for 10 big league seasons, was two people.

There was the tough, talented umpire Pallone, who toiled in the minor leagues for eight years before getting his chance in the wake of the infamous big league umpires strike of 1979. There was the guy who wouldn’t be shoved out, despite atrocious and reprehensible treatment by his so-called brethren who looked at him and saw scab.

Then there was the “other” Dave Pallone—the one who told bold-faced lies regularly. The one who didn’t want anyone to know what he was really up to. The one who lived in daily fear of being found out.

That Dave Pallone was gay.

Actually, both Pallones were gay. But only one of them let anyone know it. The other lived as a straight man, pretending to have girlfriends and telling illogical falsehoods at even the most innocuous questions.

“Hey, what did you do over the weekend?”

Pallone might have lied—might have given you a whopper of a fish story, to keep himself cloistered in the closet. He might have rattled off a laundry list of things he had done—some involving members of the opposite sex. And all would have been a bunch of horsepucky.

Pallone led that double life for 10 big league seasons (1979-88).

Dave Pallone today

“You lived in daily fear that you’d be found out,” Pallone was telling me over the phone, his easy accent still tinged with New England.

Pallone is 58 today. He’s a diversity trainer and motivational speaker. He preaches a message: always respect yourself, and others.

Ironic, because for years, Dave Pallone tried to run away from who he was. And he didn’t always respect himself.

“I knew I was different,” he says. “But it wasn’t until my first sexual encounter with another man, in Puerto Rico when I was 25, that I knew for sure.”

It was a bittersweet discovery. Pallone had finally solved his mystery, but he didn’t dare tell anyone.

Besides, there was a career dream to pursue.

Pallone told me that he was watching Curt Gowdy announce the MLB “Game of the Week” one Saturday afternoon, circa 1969. Sometime during the broadcast, Gowdy read a promo, soliciting young men to consider becoming umpires.

“It was like he was talking to me,” Pallone said. “From then, I wanted to be an umpire.”

His sexual orientation providing a constant, confusing backdrop, Pallone set out to be a baseball arbiter. He did the bush leagues and rode the buses, just like the players in the low minors. He ate the bad food and slept in the dirty motels. He was just like the guys with the gloves and bats—he was waiting to be discovered.

For his umpiring.

After the Puerto Rico encounter, Pallone would have been mortified to have been discovered as anything else.

The double life was on.

Pallone kept getting promoted for his umpiring. By 1978, he was entrenched in the International League—a Triple-A circuit just one step below the bigs.

Then the big league umpires went on strike.

It began in spring training, 1979, and there was no agreement by the time the regular season dawned.

Pallone was one of the umpires plucked from the minors to fill in.

It was his chance to fulfill his dream of rendering judgment on a big league diamond. He knew there’d be fallout—especially when the strike was settled and Pallone was one of the handful of umps who stayed.

“Scab” is an awful, sneer-inducing word. But in organized labor parlance, it fit Pallone like a glove. By accepting a full-time assignment to stay in the majors, Pallone in essence became a union buster. Of all the lines a man can cross, a picket line is among the most perilous.

When the “real” umpires returned after their labor dispute was settled, Pallone hunkered down. He knew it would likely be Hell for him.

He was wrong.

It was worse.

“There was absolutely no camaraderie,” Pallone said. “If I asked for help, like on a checked swing, they’d turn their back to me. They wouldn’t even walk out onto the field with me.”

This childish, overtly disrespectful treatment continued, Pallone estimates, for at least his first three seasons in the majors. It got better after that, but for his entire 10 years in the big leagues, he was never truly accepted—although Pallone’s three years spent on a crew with Bob Engel and Paul Runge (1983-85) were the least stressful.

And oh yeah, there was that double life thing happening, too.

It was so ironic—Pallone was ostracized, but not for what he feared would be the reason: the revelation that he was gay. If his fellow umpires only knew!

Dave Pallone kept wearing his mask, kept looking over his shoulder. At any moment he’d be found out. How long could a man keep such a secret?

Pallone made an analogy for the straight man. He likened it to being at a perpetual party, drinking underage, and living in constant fear that someone would find out that the ID you had was fake.

Yet Pallone pulled it off, year after year. Not once did he think of quitting—not when the other umpires treated him like excrement. Not when paranoia threatened to engulf him.

“This was my dream,” Pallone explained. “I worked hard to be a big league umpire. I wasn’t going to be driven out.”

Until the day that he was.

It wasn’t true, Pallone said then and says now of a story that was reported in 1988. It wasn’t true that he was part of some prostitution ring involving young men and boys. The facts agreed with him. The law absolved him.

But the damage was done. He had finally been “outed” as a gay man.

Major League Baseball paid him to leave. Never before had one of their men in blue been a confirmed homosexual. After some soul-searching, Pallone took the money and ran.

Ten years and out.

“Sometimes I wish I hadn’t taken the money, and I had fought (baseball) in the courts,” Pallone told me. “But that would have been very costly and taken a very long time.”

He came out with a book, “Behind the Mask: My Double Life in Baseball,” in 1990. Shortly after leaving the game, he started on the speaking circuit.

Today, Pallone estimates that his speaking engagements are “60/40—60 percent college campuses, 40 percent corporate stuff.”

He talks of diversity and the respect thing and will lighten things up with some funny anecdotes about baseball.

Pallone and his partner, Keith, live in Colorado.

He doesn’t have to lie about that anymore.

(Dave’s website is

Friday, June 11, 2010

Tigers' Unbalanced Offense Not Going to Cut It

Forget Copperfield, Henning, and Houdini.

Don't come at me with Penn and Teller or Blackstone or even Mandrake.

The Tigers are trying to outdo all those cats.

They're trying to win the AL Central with one-third of their batting order tied behind their backs.

Who needs nine hitters? The Tigers are trying to prove that you can win a division with only six.

The Tigers' lineup is two-thirds thunder, one-third summer breeze.

Somehow, GM Dave Dombrowski has managed to assemble a team that trots three straight pitchers to the plate, essentially.

The nos. 7-thru-9 hitters are interchangeably bad. Whether it's Gerald Laird or Alex Avila, Ramon Santiago or Brandon Inge, you have anywhere from a 77 to 85 percent chance of seeing an out being made.

You'd make a mint at the casinos if you could walk in with those kind of odds in your favor.

The Tigers have struggled to a 30-29 record by doing their darndest to score all their runs before the number seven hitter steps into the batter's box.

Brennan Boesch, the rookie sensation who's been hitting lasers ever since joining the team in early May, is batting .338, slugging .626, and is getting on base at a .384 clip. Yet the only time he scores is if he hits a home run.

This is because Boesch typically bats sixth, which for the Tigers is like batting eighth in the National League.

Boesch has 23 extra base hits in just 139 at-bats, and yet has scored just 15 times.

He's been stranded more than the casts of "Lost" and "Gilligan's Island" combined.

Maybe that's why Boesch sometimes says "Enough is enough" and slugs homers, like he did off White Sox lefty Matt Thornton on Tuesday night in a ridiculous at-bat of 10 pitches---after striking out in his first three trips to the plate.

The Tigers have two catchers hitting a combined .170 with a combined nine RBIs.

Miguel Cabrera can get nine RBIs by just showering.

They have a third baseman hitting .242, a shortstop with seven RBI in 126 AB, and a bench that is typically Ryan Raburn, Don Kelly, Avila or Laird, and Santiago or rookie SS Danny Worth.

So what is the opposite of Murderer's Row?

Yet with this ragtag group of guys swinging cooked spaghetti for bats dragging them down, the Tigers are nonetheless going mano-a-mano with the Minnesota Twins for AL Central supremacy.

The Tigers are showing up to this gunfight with a switchblade. And it's starting to show.

The Twins haven't run away and hid yet, but they're inching further ahead of the Tigers every week.

These divisional deficits can sneak up on you. One moment you're only trailing by a couple games, and the next time you look up you're seven back. Then ten.

The Tigers just finished a 4-5 stretch against the three teams below them in the standings. The way they've been scoring runs lately, it makes teeth pulling look easy. And less painful.

With the Tigers' unbalanced offense, if you're a baserunner and No. 6 hitter Boesch hasn't driven you in, you'll have better luck trying to steal your way home.

And who knows how long rookie leadoff hitter Austin Jackson can keep his average above .300? The kid is starting to show some signs of something I like to call "coming back down to Earth."

Let's face it: the Tigers are only on the north side of .500 because of their bullpen. And Cabrera.

They didn't get there with an abundance of clutch hitting, or with dominant starting pitching. And they certainly didn't get there by catching the ball.

The Tigers are more error-prone than an infected piece of software.

Former Tigers and Twins (and Blue Jays and Indians) pitcher Jack Morris, who now does some radio work for the Twins, thinks the AL Central race will be interesting, but Jack likes the Twins because he feels they're more fundamentally sound and they "catch the ball better."

Pretty astute for a hot-headed pitcher.

Morris is right, of course. The Twins are the better team. Probably a LOT better.

The Tigers will be scavenging for offense at the trade deadline. Again. Let's hope it works out better than last summer. I wouldn't wish Aubrey Huff on my worst enemy.

The Tigers are trying to win the division---or at least make things close---with 2/3 of a batting order.

Those 7-thru-9 guys are pretty talented; watch closely---at no time will the baseball leave the infield.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Monday Morning Manager

Last Week: 3-3
This Week: at CWS (6/8-10); PIT (6/11-13)

So what happened?

Gee, if only something historically significant happened last week that could make this week's MMM kind of write itself...

I got nothing.

Oh---wait: Armando Galarraga threw a perfect game that got nullified by one of the most infamous umpiring calls in baseball history.

That count?

Hero of the Week


Goat of the Week


Upcoming: White Sox, Pirates

Through a scheduling quirk, the Tigers and White Sox have only played once this season, back on May 18 in Detroit. The White Sox won in a one-game series, thanks to a rain delay the day before.

The White Sox can't hit, but they can pitch a little bit. Ironically, though, two of their three starters in the series are listed as TBA.

Except for their starter in Game One on Tuesday---Gavin Floyd, who is 2-6 with a 6.64 ERA.

But who cares about him, because Floyd will be going up against Galarraga, who'll be making his first start since last week's debacle. Think there'll be a few extra media people in attendance tomorrow night?

Rick Porcello makes his first career start at U.S. Cellular Field on Wednesday night, while Max Scherzer makes his first career start against the White Sox, period, on Thursday.

Paul Konerko, 34, is on pace to shatter his career high in home runs (41 in 2004). Konerko has 17 dingers already. He's also slugging at a cool .600 rate, which would also easily eclipse his career high (.551 in 2006).

But other than Konerko, the White Sox struggle to produce offense; they are dead last in the AL in team batting average (.241) and have only hit three triples this season (the Tigers have nine).

What can you say about the lovable Pirates?

They're at a very Pirate-like 23-33, stumbling through yet another MLB season. The Pirates haven't had a winning season since the FIRST President Bush (1992). What's more, they don't ever come close to winning seasons in Pittsburgh.

A typical season is filled with 90+ losses and more odors than an unventilated high school locker room.

The Bucs are on pace for 90 more losses, at least.

This is a team that Don Kelly couldn't remain with, which is either good news for Kelly or garish news for Tigers fans.

The Pirates' website banner says "Pride. Passion. Pittsburgh Pirates."

It's like a "Sesame Street" game---which of these things is not like the other?

No Pirate has more than eight homers or 35 RBI. The team ERA (5.24) is as unsightly as Rush Limbaugh in a Speedo.

Yeah---looks like another long summer in the Steel City.

But the Tigers need to make some hay this week. The White Sox and Pirates are both going nowhere, and the Tigers are coming off a disappointing 3-3 week against the weakest AL Central sisters---the Indians and Royals.

One last thought about Galarraga: the least MLB can do is credit him with 9-1/3 innings pitched last Wednesday night, don't you think?

That's all for this week's MMM. See you next Monday!


Sunday, June 06, 2010

Galarraga was Robbed, but Haddix was Better (but Lost)

Armando Galarraga was robbed of a perfect game but won. Harvey Haddix pitched a perfect game but lost.

Baseball is a funny game, Joe Garagiola liked to say, and he even wrote a book with that as its title.

Tigers pitcher Galarraga has been nothing but smiles since umpire Jim Joyce fleeced him in front of some 18,000-plus witnesses at Comerica Park Wednesday night, taking a perfect game from him in the biggest miscarriage of justice since Conan O’Brien got sodomized by Jay Leno and NBC.

Galarraga smiled the instant that Joyce called Cleveland’s Jason Donald safe at first base, wrecking Galarraga’s perfect game after 26 hitters failed to reach that same bag.

There Galarraga was, holding the baseball that should have been on its way to Cooperstown the next morning, smiling as even Donald put his hands on his head in disbelief.

After the game, talking to reporters and the TV people, Galarraga smiled, almost involuntarily. He should have been filing a police report.

Deeper into the evening, Tigers manager Jim Leyland tapped his pitcher on the shoulder and said that Joyce, the perp himself, wanted to speak with Galarraga.

Moments later, Galarraga came back from that little encounter—smiling.

By the end of the night, Galarraga’s plight was all over the Internet. Even people who think a squeeze play is something done between lovers were taking sides in the matter.

The next morning, ABC’s “Good Morning America” was chatting about it. Even the four ladies of “The View” got into the act. The White House spoke out on it.

Until Wednesday night, Armando Galarraga was only known by Tigers fans, and not even by all of them. He was pitching in Toledo mere weeks ago. Then on Wednesday, the baseball gods plucked his name from the hat and look what happened.

When he came to the ballpark the next morning and again met with reporters, Galarraga was—you guessed it—smiling. From ear to ear. You started to wonder whether he knew something we didn’t.

He spoke of forgiveness and how nobody’s perfect and how he was just happy to be in the big leagues and how proud he was of his performance.

He should have been wearing a Hindu loin cloth, not a baseball uniform.

The nation was in an outrage over the events from Wednesday night. Joyce’s family received death threats, as once again this country proved how scummy its lowest forms can behave. Even normally rational folks called for Joyce’s firing. Others wanted Commissioner Bud Selig to overturn Joyce’s call and make the world right again.

Instant replay was called for like Old King Cole demanding his pipe and his fiddlers three.

Everyone was out of sorts except for the guy who was victimized—Galarraga.

General Motors presented Galarraga with a Chevy Corvette before Thursday’s game, and then he REALLY smiled. Finally, a reason!

Then, acting on a gesture suggested by Leyland that ramped up my respect for the manager immensely, Galarraga delivered the lineup card to the umpires. Joyce, assigned to home plate that day, couldn’t keep the tears from flowing.

Galarraga smiled.

After the game, after Selig’s office announced—unsurprisingly—that Joyce’s call would stand and the perfect game would, indeed, only exist in our minds, Galarraga once again met up with reporters.

He was still smiling.

Maybe the thing Armando Galarraga knew that we didn’t—until now—was that by taking the high road, his story would be more lasting and have way more impact on the game than had he joined us in our apoplexy.

Someone did a great job with that kid.

I wrote the day after the imperfection that had Joyce made that call when Jack Morris was pitching, Jack would be behind bars and Joyce’s next of kin would be notified.

Or maybe Galarraga was grasping the situation at its simplest level: he and his team won the baseball game. It was his first complete game in the big leagues. That’s like a guy’s first date being with Jennifer Aniston.

Galarraga and the Tigers won the game Wednesday night—and the team needed a win in the worst way, having dropped eight of its last ten games.

Haddix, who I referenced way back at the beginning of this column, wasn’t so blessed.

Harvey Haddix was a lefty of moderate ability who pitched 14 years in the big leagues, from 1952-65. He won 20 games in his first full season, but for the most part he was average.

Except for May 26, 1959.

Haddix’s Pittsburgh Pirates were in Milwaukee to take on the Braves. It was a Tuesday night, the day after Memorial Day was celebrated around the country. It was appropriate, for what happened that evening would forever be etched in baseball history.

Haddix, like Galarraga on Wednesday night, didn’t do anything fancy—except retire batter after batter.

1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3.

As Haddix kept setting the Braves down in order, his own team wasn’t doing much better. Milwaukee’s Lew Burdette was matching Haddix goose egg for goose egg. Burdette wasn’t perfect, but he was tossing a shutout, too.

Haddix was perfect through six innings, then seven, then eight.

But the Pirates still hadn’t scored off Burdette.

In the bottom of the ninth, the game still scoreless, Haddix set the Braves down, 1-2-3. He had thrown a perfect game.

But the game wasn’t over.

I wonder if Haddix paced the dugout, screaming, “What does a guy have to do to get a WIN around here?!”

The game droned on. Burdette was still on the hill, keeping the Pirates scoreless, though in an imperfect way; he was surrendering hits, but no walks and no runs.

Through 12 innings—TWELVE—Haddix was perfect. Thirty-six batters up, thirty-six down.

He wasn’t pitching against chopped liver, either; the Braves’ lineup included Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Joe Adcock, and Del Crandall. If you don’t know all the names, trust me—it was a Little Murderer’s Row.

Burdette, unbelievably, pitched his 13th scoreless inning for the Braves. He had surrendered 12 hits, but no walks and no runs.

Haddix worked on his 37th hitter, Felix Mantilla, who reached base on an error. The perfect game was gone. But not the no-hitter, and not the win.

Mathews sacrificed Mantilla to second. An intentional walk was issued to Aaron.

Then Adcock drove a Haddix pitch into deep left center field for the Braves’ only hit. Mantilla scored. Game over.

Harvey Haddix pitched 12 perfect innings but lost.

There’s a photo of Haddix leaving the mound, being consoled by Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh.

Haddix wasn’t smiling.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Past Imperfect: Galarraga Throws a 28-Batter Perfect Game

Jim Joyce picked the worst possible time to be human.

Don Denkinger, move over---we're seating a second at your table.

Armando Galarraga lost a perfect game but gained the respect of the entire country. Hell, the world.

At the precise moment when most mortal men would have collapsed or thrown a temper tantrum, Galarraga stood holding what should have been a baseball headed for the Hall of Fame this morning and smiled.


Joyce, the first base umpire in last night's Tigers game that now has its eternal place in history, made a call that he probably nails 99,999 times out of a 100 grand.

This was the 100,000th.

It's tragedy of the highest order when the sole individual charged with getting a call of the highest magnitude right, is also the last one to find out that he blew it.

It's cruel irony, too. Shakespeare couldn't have thought this one up.

Joyce took what was, in his words, "the biggest call of my career" (22 years), and again in his words, "kicked the **** out of it."

Joyce called Jason Donald of the Cleveland Indians, the 27th batter of a bourgeoning perfect game, safe at first base on one of those "bang-bang" plays on which video replays, by far, vindicate the umpires.

Except this time.

It was a bang-bang play that went BOOM! in Joyce's face.

We learned some things last night.

One is, the only thing that is more newsworthy than a perfect game is a perfect game denied.

The shame of what Joyce did last night is that it was, for an umpire, a relatively routine play. You see that first baseman-to-the-pitcher play inumerable times on any given day throughout MLB.

If the call in question had been a flare to the outfield, and the decision at hand was whether the fielder caught or trapped the ball, that'd be one thing.

But Joyce, as he said so well, kicked the **** out of a routine call. At the doorstep of history.

The aforementioned Denkinger, in case you forgot or are too young to know, blew a similarly routine call at first base in Game Six of the 1985 World Series. Denkinger called Kansas City's Jorge Orta safe when Orta was clearly out, triggering a ninth inning rally that enabled the Royals to overtake the St. Louis Cardinals and live to play a Game Seven, which the Royals won.

Yes, Denkinger's gaffe came in the World Series, and Joyce's blunder occured in a game played on June 2nd.

But perfect games happen, by average, once every five years in major league history---this season being an anomaly. Galarraga's gem would have been the third perfecto twirled in 23 days, which is mind-boggling.

So Don Denkinger and Jim Joyce now sit at the same table.

Both were well-vested, respected umpires at the time of their brain freeze. They are the Bill Buckners of umpiring.

Joyce, like Denkinger, now has to work the rest of his career with Armando Galarraga grafted onto his hip, and King Kong on his back.

There's not much to be happy about this morning if you're a Tigers fan, or a fan of justice for that matter.

But there's this.

At least Jim Joyce didn't hide. At least he didn't take the attitude too often chosen by his brethren---that smarmy, arrogant "he's safe because I said so!" thing.

Hey, at least he talked to reporters.

And he apologized to Galarraga afterward, who said the umpire had "watery eyes" when he did so.

You think umpires apologize to players everyday?

This is a play, in Detroit, that we'll look at for years and cringe every time. It joins the Larry Bird steal of Isiah Thomas's pass in Detroit sports history---a play that even today, some 23 years later, I hope turns out differently when I see it.

They'll queue up the tape of last night's play and run it, and a tiny piece of us will hope that Jim Joyce, this time, gets the call right. For years.

I still watch Buckner in the 1986 World Series and hope that he fields the ball cleanly.

It's irrational. But that's how it goes with these kinds of things in sports.

Galarraga stood as tall as a Redwood last night.

There was the smile after Joyce made the call. There was the calm, casual manner in which he handled post-game interviews. There was the acknowledgement that we're all human. There was nothing but grace and class, at a time when no one would have faulted him for being too broken up to speak.

"He never said a word to me," Joyce said of Galarraga, and you can bet he said it with awe and respect.

Can you imagine if Joyce had done that to Jack Morris? Or Bob Gibson? Or Don Drysdale?

They'd be preparing a funeral and calling in prosecutors this morning.

Yet this is also the beauty of baseball, in a horrific way.

When Don Larsen pitched his perfect game in the 1956 World Series, a famous lead in the papers the next day read, "The imperfect man pitched a perfect game yesterday."

Galarraga was in the minor leagues less than a month ago. He was less-than-spectacular in his last start, nearly two weeks ago. Yet after seven innings last night, he had thrown 64 pitches, only 14 of which were balls.

Fourteen balls in seven innings? Are you kidding me?

Another thing we learned last night is that a guy can channel Willie Mays and it gets forgotten about in a matter of minutes.

Austin Jackson made the play that we SHOULD be talking about today, and until time ends.

Cleveland's Mark Grudzielanek shot a rocket out to deep left center to lead off the ninth inning. Correction: he hit the ball to Highland Park.

Yet Jackson ran it down. He ran and ran and ran, fully aware of the impact if the baseball touched the grass. The ball was in the air longer than Magic Johnson's TV show was on it.

Jackson wouldn't be denied. He made the catch, his back to the diamond, a la Mays in the 1954 World Series against Vic Wertz---of the Indians, by the way.

Fox Sports Detroit's Mario Impemba got as excited as I've ever heard him, calling Jackson's perfect game-saving (for the moment) catch.

"He....MAAAKES the CATCH!!!" Impemba screamed. You could hardly blame him.

Jackson saved the baby from the burning building, only to hand it off to a fireman, who promptly dropped the infant on his head, killing him instantly.

Jackson made the play of his life. He won't make a better one, and he's just a rookie. I don't know if there's another player alive who could make that play.

Too bad it just got buried in the Jim Joyce avalanche.

The catcalls are out now for instant replay in baseball, beyond its current use for home runs. Jason Stark of, who I respect, is calling for an NFL-like system whereby managers would each get one challenge per game.

Seems reasonable.

What's less reasonable is the call for Commissioner Bud Selig to be heard, specifically that he should utilize some sort of power that I'm not even sure that he has, and reverse Joyce's call.

So what do you do with the at-bat of Trevor Crowe, the next hitter after Donald? Erase it?

Reversing Joyce's call is Adam's apple; it's tempting, but shouldn't be consumed.

MLB would be making a colossal mistake if they did that. It would be Pandora's Box times a million.

Where would it end? How could you justify reversing Call A but not Call B?

Besides, Galarraga and his teammates, to a man, know that he threw a perfect game. It won't go down in history as one, but the kid did it.

I tell you, it's a hell of a story for him to tell someday, isn't it?