Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Good
Tim Kurkjian does a great job breaking down the AL Central saying that it's basically anyone's divison to win or lose. He's got a bit of insight into the Tigers other than the usual simple stuff that everyone else says.

The Bad
David Mayo writes the usual simple stuff that everyone else says. However, he is even worse. I would break this down in my usual snarky way, but he didn't put any effort into the article. Why should I?

The Ugly
Jason Beck is usually a decent read. However this article on Rodney is a bit goofy. Here's some of my favorite parts.

"When you come to pitch in the ninth inning, you have to be ready," Rodney said. "I feel ready a couple times. I don't feel 100 percent a couple times. I tried to throw more strikes. Sometimes I don't find the strike zone. Sometimes I get a strikeout. I've started working on that, and I want to be better."

What in the blue hell? He was ready a couple of times. He...well, you read it. I understand there is a bit of a language barrier, but this man was our closer up until a couple days ago? Brandon Lyon is no Mariano Rivera or Joe Nathan...but Captain Crookedhat sounds like he never wanted to be on the mound last year. That's certainly the way he pitched all year.

"Rodney's a big league pitcher. He's going to be on our ballclub," manager Jim Leyland said last week on the Tigers' winter caravan, before the Lyon signing was officially announced. "He's going to be a big asset to our ballclub, in my opinion. Exactly what the role will be defined as, I don't know yet. I think he'll be a very valuable piece of our team, and I'll leave it at that, because I don't know how things are going to play."

"He's a big league pitcher." So are Casey Fossum and Kyle Farnsworth. "He's going to be on our ballclub." So is Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis. Leave it to The Marlboro Man to not say anything bad about a guy...but make it sound like he secretly wants him to get hit by a train.

The first batters to face Rodney in an outing went just 6-for-29 against him, but his nine walks to those hitters resulted in a .395 on-base percentage.

And up until a couple days ago, this was still our closer. Now he's our set up guy. Please...Allah, Buddah, Mohammad, Zeus...ANYONE OUT THERE! Take the magic wand that you used to bless Derek Jeter and Tom Brady and use it on Joel Zumaya. I beg of you...

This offseason was spent preparing for such a fight, even if it's simply with his own issues. Though Rodney reprised his usual winter ball role for a brief stint in the Dominican League, the bulk of his work came outside of games. He threw extra side work to try to keep his tricky shoulder strong and avoid the health issues that cost him two months last season and nearly led to surgery, an absence that he thinks set up his further troubles the rest of the season. Rodney threw off the mound this offseason with a focus on spotting his pitches more precisely.

Are you like me? Are you thinking that Fernando could have been doing something much more useful than this? Something like...Pilates?

"Last year, I didn't pitch too many innings," he said. "Maybe that's why my control [was inconsistent]. This year, I'm working on [hitting] both sides [of the plate], outside, inside, and I've worked on that very hard. Because I think if I have control on the inside and outside, I'll be better."

I disagree. I'm pretty sure that Rodney pitched too many innings last year. Enough to make what little hair I had left to fall out in clumps or be ripped out of my skull. As for, you know, being able to control where he's throwing the ball? Yup, I'm willing to agree that he might not suck so bad that way. Too bad neither he or Chuck Hernandez thought of that sooner. That must be the problem.

He also believes he'll improve if he can regularly throw his slider, a pitch Tigers officials have tried to get him to throw more often for at least two years. With many hitters focused on his fastball-changeup combination, he needed a third pitch, and his slider was an effective pitch in his younger years before Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery in 2004.

Riddle me this, my friends. Why is it that Tiger pitchers will not throw the pitches that Tigers "officials" want them to? Bondo still is scared of throwing a pitch that any 13 year old can throw, the changeup. Rodney won't throw his slider. Is he scared of getting hurt? He's always hurt anyways! Is he willing to throw it this year since it's a contract year? I really hope that Knapp can get these clowns to live up to their potential this year.

Rodney's season hasn't started yet. But his mindset suggests he's ready.

Jason, if that's what you got out of talking to Fernando Rodney, then I think you need a vacation. And so do I...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

(Not) Always A Tiger

I thought I'd take a look at former Tigers in this year's free agent group and where they've ended up (if anywhere). But before that, let me just say that I love the minor league contract signing of Scott Williamson. If he's healthy, I think he could be a steal this year. Anyhoo...

Brad Ausmus, C, Age 39: Signed a 1 year, $1 million deal with the Dodgers. I always liked Ausmus and hope he has a good year backing up Russell Martin in LA. It's just weird seeing him switch teams without them being Houston and Detroit.

Paul Bako, C, Age 36: Unsigned. Bako was in Cinci last year hitting .217 with 6 homers. He's basically lasted in the majors because he's a rare left-handed catcher. And as I've said before, the only foul ball I've ever caught was off of Bako's bat, so he'll always be cool with me. He'll catch on somewhere. (horrible pun intended)

Denny Bautista, P, Age 28: Re-signed with Pittsburgh to a minor league contract. Denny pitched in only 16 games for us last year before being traded to the Pirates for RHP Kyle Pearson. He still has a fastball that can get up to 100 mph, but can't control it. He did okay for us until Zumaya was ready to come back (before getting hurt again). I expect him to pitch in Pittsburgh this year... someone has to.

Doug Brocail, P, Age 41: Re-signed with Houston for one year at $2.75 million. Not bad for a middle relief guy in his forties. Doug had a 1.22 WHIP last year in 68.2 IP and can still get the job done. He was great for us from '97-'99 before having a rough year in '00. Sadly, Brocail's most famous moment was 2004 when some jerk fan in Oakland was heckling him about having a stillborn son. Doug's teammate, Frank Francisco, hurled a chair at the fan and broke the guy's wife's nose. Good luck to you, Doug.

Sean Casey, 1B, Age 34: Retired. Despite still being a guy that can hit .300 at will and six years from 40, Sean's calling it quits to go work for the MLB Network. "The Mayor" will always be welcome in Detroit for being the only guy to not suck at the plate in the 2006 World Series.

Tony Clark, 1B, Age 36: Re-signed with the Diamondbacks for one year at $800,000. Tony the (former) Tiger had a bad year in '08 hitting .225 with only 3 HR. Obviously, Arizona still thinks he can help a bit at 1B and pinch hitting. For more on Tony, ask Blake.

Damion Easley, 2B, Age 39: Unsigned. He hit .269 with 6 homers with the Mets last year. He might end up back there as he's helped off the bench quite a bit for New York after stints in Tampa Bay, Florida, and Arizona and being booed out of Detroit in 2002. But at his age, he's probably about done. Easley is the active leader for MLB players for playing in the most games (1,706) without ever playing in the postseason.

Kyle Farnsworth, P, Age 32: Signed a 2 year $9.25 million contract with the Royals. We traded Pudge for him in his latest stint as a Tiger and he pouted through the rest of the season getting pounded like the wife of a Mississippi NASCAR fan. I cannot wait for the first time he pitches in Detroit in a KC uniform. The fans are going to crucify him.

Casey Fossum, P, Age 31: Signed a minor league deal with the Mets. Casey wasn't that great for us in the pen last year, but he had nice things to say about his time in the D to his friend, Brandon Lyon, in the offseason partially leading to Lyon choosing to play for the Tigers this year. So, thanks, Mr. Fossum. He should see time in the Mets pen.

Freddy Garcia, P, Age 32: Signed a minor league deal with the Mets. Apparently the Mets were so impressed with the Tigers staff last year, they've decided to raid our cupboard. Good luck. Garcia and the Tigers used each other at the end of the year: Freddy to audition for MLB teams and the Tigers to limp to their last place finish. The Mets will find out if Freddy's healthy and he may pay off big for them if he's back to his pre-injury form.

Chris Gomez, IF, Age 37: Signed a minor league deal with Baltimore. Chris played in Pittsburgh last year hitting .273 in 183 at bats. It amazes me that the guy who replaced Trammell at short is only 37 and still in the league. But Chris is a solid player still and serves his purpose off the bench.

Luis Gonzalez, LF, Age 41: Unsigned. Gonzo played the leader role on a young Florida team last year playing in 136 games and hitting .261 with 8 home runs. We traded him for Karim Garcia in Randy Smith's dumbest move and he responded by putting up superstar numbers until age caught up with him. Will Gonzo play another year? Time will tell.

Jason Johnson, P, Age 35: Signed a minor league deal with the Yankees. I didn't know JJ was still in the league, but apparently, he is going 1-2 with a 5.22 ERA with the Dodgers in 16 games last year. With the signing of Andy Pettitte, I doubt Jason sees much, if any time in the Bronx this year. Jason was a disappointment in Detroit, but I was always fascinated listening to Rod talk about the insulin pump on his belt that controlled his sugar level due to diabetes.

Jacque Jones, LF, Age 33: Unsigned. Played a bit in Florida last year. Sucked. He's done.

Todd Jones, P, Age 40: Retired. Todd retired as the all-time save leader in Detroit. I've made a lot of jokes at Todd's expense over the years and he deserved every one of them. But dammit, more often than not, Jonesey got the job done. Enjoy retirement, Todd. Just don't get too much fatter...we might need you if the pen falls apart again this year.

Gabe Kapler, OF, Age 33: Signed a one year, $1 million deal with the Rays. Gabe played with the Brewers last year and is a solid backup outfielder. He has his best success in Boston and his best remembered in Detroit for his freakish build and being involved in the Juan Gonzalez trade. He never seems to stay with one team for too long, for some reason.

Wil Ledezma, P, Age 28: Signed a minor league deal with Washington. Wil played in Arizona last year and has never lived up to the promise that he was thought to have in the Tigers minor league system. I expect him to make the Nats roster and be solid out of the pen. I'll always remember Wil for bailing out Jason Grilli when he tried blowing a game in the 2006 playoffs.

Aquilino Lopez, P, Age 33: Unsigned. Lopez was released this offseason by the Tigers and will probably get a look somewhere. His numbers weren't that bad, but he hurt everyone else's ERA's by letting many an inherited runner score last year.

Trever Miller, P, Age 34: Signed with the Cardinals for one year at $500,000. Trever's a solid lefty specialist that will serve that role well in St. Louis. He appeared in 5 games for us in 1996. Oddly as it seems now, 4 of those games were starts...and he got shelled. He was part of the trade to the Astros that brought us Todd Jones for the first time.

Edgar Renteria, SS, Age 33: Signed a 2 year, $18.5 million deal with the Giants, proving that the Frisco GM did not watch one game of Tigers baseball last year. Renteria is Dave Dombrowski's biggest mistake as the Tigers GM as Rentererror was underwhelming as a Tiger, to say the least. More importantly, the Tigers gave up promising pitcher Jair Jurrjens for him and Jurrjens went on to be a contender for Rookie of the Year with the Braves. Renteria may rebound offensively back in the NL where he's more comfortable, but his defense is declining every time he takes the field.

Ivan Rodriguez, C, Age 37: Unsigned. Pudge was horrible after joining the Yankees in the trade for The Farns. But he was having a decent year in Detroit before said trade. Pudge can still be productive for a team in 2009, but his unwillingness to take a reduced role and his money demands will make it hard for him to find a team until reality sinks in for him. Like most of the guys on this list, I wish Ivan nothing but the best for all good he did for our franchise.

Kenny Rogers, P, Age 44: Unsigned and probably retired. Rick Knapp says that Kenny's done, but the official announcement still hasn't been made. Love ya, Gambler...thanks for the memories.

Jason Smith, IF, Age 31: Signed a minor league contract with Houston. Jason's another guy that I thought was much older than this. He's a left handed infielder that's a career backup and played for us in '04 and '05.

Vance Wilson, C, Age 35: Signed a minor league deal with the Royals. Vance hasn't played in two years due to injury, but was a good backup to Pudge in Detroit and a great guy in the clubhouse. Hopefully, Vance can make a comeback and contribute for KC...just not against us.

I think that's about everyone. Enjoy the snowstorm, fellow Detroit area dwellers.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Thank you, Gambler

Kenny Rogers Pictures, Images and Photos

According to pitching coach, Rick Knapp, Kenny Rogers has decided to retire. 2006 never would have happened without Kenny. He was the f'n man during the playoffs. Thanks, Kenny, and enjoy your well deserved retirement. Just be sure to wipe the crap off your hands in civilian life.

Edit: It's also just come out that Sean Casey's calling it quits, too. Odd that the only two guys that showed up in the '06 Word Series for us announce their retirements at the same time. Sean's taking a job with the MLB Network and I look forward to seeing him there.

Good luck to Kenny, Sean, and Jonesey, too. If he starts out the season rough, try and take Sheff with you.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Nate Robertson: Flexible

Nate Robertson Pictures, Images and Photos

This probably won't be that funny, but I'm in a cranky mood. From the Tigers site.

DETROIT -- Nate Robertson is walking in temperatures around 10 degrees Tuesday as he leaves the comfort of his car for Calihan Hall on the campus of the University of Detroit Mercy. His mind, meanwhile, is all the way down in the warmer climates of Florida. It's the power of positive thinking.

Wish I could do that. My mind's still on Nate's 6.35 ERA from last year. How he got shelled in every outing. About how much cash we still owe him...

And at this point, he's very positive about the way he has prepared for Spring Training.
He has never really been jealous of those players who live and train in Florida.

Nate was the worst pitcher in baseball last year. I'll bet he was at least a little jealous.

The Kansas native has always considered himself a winter guy, and prided himself on being the only Tiger who lives in the area year-round.

As opposed to priding himself on the 26 homers he gave up in 168.2 innings or his -13.6 VORP.

This is the first winter, he admits, that has gotten to him. Weather-wise, it's the toughest winter he can remember since moving to Michigan in 2003.

Six Michigan winters and you're a "winter guy". Quit kissing ass, Nate. Put on a scarf and quit crying.

Baseball-wise, it's also the most important winter Robertson has faced since coming to Detroit. It's not simply about working hard; he's always done that. This year was about working smart.

So...Nate has been working dumb the past few years? I thought that was Zumaya's department. Has Nate been lifting 50 pound crates of live rattlesnakes in the offseasons before this?

Robertson ended 2008 facing questions about his shape as much as his pitching form. The Tigers' diagnosis was that his flexibility was gone, and it wasn't allowing him to pitch the same as years past. He was a strong pitcher, but stocky, and he couldn't afford to be.

"You suck, you fat bastard." Oh, snap. The Tigers should have their own show on the CW Network.

As team doctors also discovered, he also haBoldd a bone spur in his left hip that was throwing off his motion.

Remember, kids, bone spurs make every pitch you throw go straight down the middle of the plate every time.

Immediately after season's end, Robertson was stretching out that big frame in a Pilates class. much for straight.

He didn't want to wait and stew. He jumped into his offseason workout program from there. Three weeks before pitchers and catchers report, it's almost done, and he can feel the difference.

"I feel that flexibility. I really do," Robertson said. "I think it's worked out real good so far. Everything feels more loose."

So, you weren't flexible enough to throw a slider last year? Now, Dontrelle, I can understand. He ate at every McDonalds he saw on his way from Florida to Detroit last year and wasn't flexible enough to do that ridiculous throwing motion of his. But you, Nate? Much like season tickets, I'm not buying it.

On this particular day, he's feeling good, weather aside. He has Pilates three times a week with an instructor. In between, he's here on campus, doing more traditional work under the watch of Nick Wilson, a strength and conditioning coach at the university who used to work with the Toledo Mud Hens.

What? No Jazzercise?

Tigers strength and conditioning coach Javair Gillett,

"The Best A Man Can Get"

who designed Robertson's program and set him up with Wilson, is also here on this day. He has been traveling to check on players all winter, including Carlos Guillen and Miguel Cabrera in Venezuela, but he's in town this week ahead of team physicals and the Tigers' winter caravan.

Instead of wasting money on all these plane tickets, couldn't we have signed a closer that gives up less than 2 hits an inning? Did Maggs and Carlos turn into Manny Ramirez all of the sudden? We can't trust them to take care of themselves?

Together, Robertson and Gillett go through the whole program -- stretching, jumping, agility drills and resistance work in the workout area.

This image is much more entertaining if you imagine music from "The Karate Kid" in the background. "You're the best. Around!"

Robertson gets to put country music on the radio, but Gillett and Wilson get to supply the chatter.

Country music and chatter. This is going to make Nate Robertson a 20 game winner in 2009.

The workouts are specific. Picking up a weight ball while balancing on one leg strengthens his back. Other exercises focus on strengthening his push-off leg for his delivery, or the other leg for getting down and fielding ground balls. Most of the exercises are focused on his lower body and core, where the power for the pitches is generated, with some targeting his shoulder. By workout's end, his calves are barking.

He's doing well on the balance beam and the floor exercise, but the uneven bars are a bitch.

"You figure you're pushing off that back leg [a hundred] times in a game," Wilson said. "That's really the focus."

Or in Nate's case, he's only doing it about fifty times. By then, he's given up six runs and nine hits, walking four and Gary Glover's on his way in to make it worse.

Having Wilson around, Robertson said, has made a big difference. He trained for several years with Dennie Taft, the Tigers' well-respected former strength and conditioning coach who stayed in the area for a few years afterward until last winter. Robertson worked out the same program at a gym near his home, sometimes with fellow big league pitcher Charlie Haeger, other times by himself.

Wasn't Haeger a knuckleball pitcher? THAT'S what Nate needs to do. Don't need to be flexible to through a knuckler. Look at Tim Wakefield. He looks like as much of an athlete as I do.

"It didn't work out as well," Robertson said.


As Wilson pointed out, having somebody around who knows his strengths and weaknesses helps.

Yep. His strengths are chewing bubble gum and cheerleading. His weakness is pitching a baseball.

"We push him pretty good," Wilson said. "He's responded well."
On most days, Robertson would play catch on the arena floor. However, he has a bullpen session scheduled, so he has to find a pitching mound. Thus, having worked up a good sweat, Robertson heads back into the cold and drives to Comerica Park to meet bullpen coach Jeff Jones.

Finally...he's pitching. I was worried that he was just trying to backflip onto the field like Ozzie Smith used to do.

He warms up in the Tigers clubhouse, virtually empty except for the clubhouse personnel doing preparations for Spring Training, then gets another cold blast as he walks down the tunnel towards the dugout.

Spring Training's in Lakeland. Why are clubhouse personnel doing preparations for Spring Training in Detroit? Just asking...

Even if Robertson wanted to throw outside, the half-foot of snow on the field wouldn't allow it. So he veers into the batting cages, one of which includes a mound, and fires away. The echo from the pop of Jones' mitt alternates with the crack of Brandon Inge's bat as he takes some swings nearby. He's supposed to throw at 70 percent strength under new pitching coach Rick Knapp's program, so he has to gauge himself.

As opposed to the 30 percent that Chuck Hernandez had him throwing at in games last year.

It's here, as Robertson throws his 50 pitches, where Robertson really feels the impact of the Pilates. He first noticed his hip bothering him in 2005, he admitted, but not as often as it did last year. It would catch in his delivery and not allow him to get around the same way. As Knapp explained, his pitches would drift, and his slider was moving more side-to-side than downward.

Great...Knapp's a know-it-all. Can't we just say that the guy sucked last year?

"If you strengthen everything around that [hip] socket," Robertson said, "it wouldn't catch."
That's how his delivery now feels. And as he packs up to head home to his wife and son, he's feeling pretty good about it. He doesn't want to say he feels in the best shape of his career, because he felt good going into the last few seasons. This year, he feels good about the specific issues he had to address.

Like being the worst pitcher in baseball last year.

"It almost felt [before] like you're too bulky," Robertson said. "You don't feel that free and easy movement, and I feel that [now]."
Being at the park reminds Robertson how soon the season will creep up. He's counting the days until he and his family leave this weather for Lakeland, but that's not the only reason. Considering the way last season ended for him, it can't get here soon enough.
"It's been good this year," Robertson said. "It actually went pretty fast. That's good."

What? This makes no sense to me.

Whatever. Pilates, yoga, threesomes with midgets...I don't care, Nate. Just get your crap together. Pitch like you did a couple years ago and I'll leave you alone. Believe it or not, I'm pulling for you.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Story Time

With the signing of Juan Rincon answering ALL of our problems in the bullpen, and little else going on, I thought I'd share my favorite Tigers story to pass the time until we find out if we sign Todd Jones Jr, Brandon Lyon, to be our new closer.

Once upon a time, October 13th, 2006 to be exact, I was working at a crappy sports bar in Maumee, OH, and the Tigers had just beat Oakland to go up 3-0 in the ALCS. One more win, and we would make the World Series. I had missed the '84 Season by one year, as I didn't start watching baseball until 1985 when I was 8 years old. I grew up a huge Tigers fan and other than the flirtation in '87 (f'n Twins), had never seen my team come close to the World Series in my life. And here we were, one win away from going there.

For years, I had gone to games in empty Tiger Stadium (and later, empty Comerica park) watching a team featuring guys like Warren Morris as the leadoff man or Gary Ward batting cleanup. I got drunk at a game in one of the last years at Tiger Stadium and as Craig Biggio hit a 9th inning home run to take the lead from our boys when it had looked to be over, I climbed the left field wall and let loose a stream of obscenities that would have made Randy Quaid in "Major League 2" blush. I went to a dozen or so games in the disasterous 2003 season, when I could have watched a superior Mud Hens team in my home city of Toledo instead. I almost got into a fight with a guy at Comerica for talking trash about Bobby Higginson when he saw my #4 jersey in early 2005. Much like many of you, I'm sure, I was a very frustrated, yet loyal Tigers fan that thought I deserved better. Kinda like Tina Turner before she left Ike, I guess.

But unlike Tina, our Ike stopped slapping us around in 2006. We sputtered at the end of the regular season, but at this point up 3-0 in the ALCS, I knew we were going to the World Series. I was sitting in my office after the game and it just hit me. I had to be there to watch them clinch the damn thing. I had suffered though my favorite team in my favorite sport sucking for 21 years. I needed to be there. And I knew who I wanted there with me.

With apologies to my friend, Derek (who had to work the next day, no matter what he says now) I called a buddy of mine, Craig, that I hadn't been that close to in recent years, but we had a long history with the Tigers together. I'd gone to more games with him over the years than anyone. I had caught my only foul ball (off the bat of immortal Tiger catcher, Paul Bako) in his season tickets one year. We quit speaking for a couple weeks once over a girl and one day found ourselves seated at the same bar watching a game where Higginson hit a walk off homer in the 9th. We both jumped up yelling, looked at each other, and hugged like long-lost war buddies, never to talk about the girl situation again. We had spent countless hours together watching bad teams lose and yet kept coming back for more. He had to be there with just seemed right to me. So I called him and he agreed that we should go if I could find tickets this late. And thanks to, I did.

So, I called off work the next day and we went to the game. For around two hundred bucks each, we had tickets in the second row down the third base line. I couldn't believe that I had found tickets that close at a reasonable price (to me, at least), but we were there. It was freezing outside and, idiot that I am, I was only wearing a hooded sweatshirt to keep me warm. Making it worse, Oakland was up 3-0 entering the bottom of the 5th. I had pretty much decided that if we lost the game, I was going to shoot myself in the face with a shotgun. But Curtis Granderson and Craig Monroe would each hit RBI doubles to make it 3-2 and Maggs would hit a solo home run to tie the game in the 6th, a clutch homer that has become forgotten after what would happen later. Going into the bottom of the 9th, it was still tied at 3 with Huston Street in the game for Oakland. Thames flied out, Granderson lined out, and it looked to be going into extra innings. Instead, history happened.

Craig Monroe singled to center. The crowd started to stir. Polanco then singled to right and the crowd was on it's feet for Ordonez. White towels were flying in the air from the frenzied crowd and I wasn't feeling the cold anymore. My friend Craig and I just looked at each other and I said, "This is it. This is what we've been waiting 20 years for." Street wound up, pitched, and Maggs took a swing.

According to Craig, what followed was my voice above everyone else saying "Holy f--k, it's gone!" followed by the biggest roar in the history of roars. People were jumping up and down going bananas. The bullpen emptied running towards the infield and Joel Zumaya jumped into the stands inches from my face. We pointed at each other and he yelled, "F--k yeah!" I yelled the same to him before he took off. I watched Maggs jump into the mobscene at home and I looked around me. Craig, who will cry at the sight of a newborn puppy (f'n softie), had tears streaming down his face. Strangers were hugging strangers. An old man near me sat in his seat quietly sobbing to himself that he never thought he would live to see this day again. Black, white, hispanic, it didn't matter. Everyone was exchanging high-fives, tears, and relief. I had never seen so many people crying at once...tears of unbelievable joy. We were going to the World Series. The Detroit F'n Tigers were going to the World Series.

We stuck around and watched the trophy presentation and Polonco receiving his ALCS MVP Award. After what seemed like a minute, but was more likely an hour, we finally started to leave Comerica Park. I stopped and went back to take just one more look at the field where some of the players were still out celebrating. For whatever reason, it was at that point that it all finally hit me and I had tears in my eyes, too. We left and in the streets, it was the same as inside. Preppie white kids were high-fiving homeless people. More strangers hugging strangers. Pure joy in the city of Detroit. No cop cars were being tipped over and no fires were being started. It was the best night of my life and I'll never forget it.

Sadly, the story has an unhappy ending, as you know. Those rat bastard Cardinals beat us in the World Series four games to one. But oddly enough, I didn't mind as much as I thought I would. Nothing was going to top being there that chilly night in Detroit to see the impossible happen. It's amazing that a kids' game played by millionaires could affect a calm, rational person as myself so much. But it did and I wish that anyone still reading this rambling story could feel what I felt that night just once in their life. I know I want to feel it again. It was better than any drug I've ever tried and better than any other feeling that I've ever known (sorry, son). And it made 21 years of failure disappear in a heartbeat. To this day, I'll go over to YouTube and watch the Magglio Moment from different angles in the stands and I still get a chill each time.

So, yeah. Juan Rincon. That's what we've needed to get us back there again. I can't wait.

Friday, January 16, 2009

AL Central Report

With less than a month until pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training, I thought I'd take a quick look at our division and what has changed since the '08 Season. Keep in mind, there's still a bunch of free agents out there. But here's where we sit as of now.

Kansas City Royals
Additions: Horacio Ramirez, P...Kyle Farnsworth, P...Mike Jacobs, 1B...Coco Crisp, OF...Doug Waechter, P...Willie Bloomquist, UT.

Subtractions: Leo Nunez, P...Ramon Ramirez, P...Joey Gathright, OF...Mark Grudzielanek, 2B...Kip Wells, P.

Top Need: 2B, SP

The Royals finished strong to overtake the Tigers in the standings at the end of the year. They have decent young pitching, but losing Nunez isn't going to help them. Noted Tiger Killer, Grudzielanek, being gone is a good sign for us, too.

Minnesota Twins
Additions: None other than resigning Nick Punto.

Subtractions: Adam Everett, SS...Dennys Reyes, P...Eddie Guardado, P. Also, relief pitcher Pat Neshek is out for the entire season due to injury.

Top Need: RP

The Twins bullpen is hurting as of now, but as always with this team, they find ways to win. They're the annoying, pesky little brother of the AL Central. If the '03 Tigers were in Minnesota, they'd have somehow won 88 games.

Cleveland Indians
Additions: Mark DeRosa, IF...Kerry Wood, P...Joe Smith, P...Carl Pavano, P...Greg Aquino, P...Kirk Saarloos, P...Tomo Ohka, P...Chuck Hernandez, Bullpen Coach. (couldn't resist)

Subtractions: Tom Mastney, P...Brandan Donnelly, P...Franklyn Gutierrez, OF...Scott Elarton, P...Sal Fasano, C...Juan Rincon, P. Also, Jake Westbrook is out due to injury until at least midseason.

Top Need: OF

The Indians have been busy this offseason and look to be the Central's most interesting team heading into 2009. If Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez can return to their old forms, I expect Cleveland to be the possible favorite this year...unless Kerry Wood's arm falls off. That would rule. Finally, I'm thrilled that they didn't end up getting Casey Blake back. If only Kelly Shoppach would get hit by a bus.

Chicago White Sox
Additions: Wilson Betemit, IF...Bartolo Colon, P.

Subtractions: Javier Vazquez, P...Boone Logan, P...Nick Swisher, 1B...Orlando Cabrera, SS...Joe Crede, 3B...Toby Hall, C...Ken Griffey, OF...Juan Uribe, IF. Also, starting pitcher, Jose Contrares, is out due to injury until at least July.

Top Need: SP

On the flipside of Cleveland, the White Sucks look to be the team that has gone downhill the most in the Central this offseason. They've lost a lot of talent and have done little to nothing about replacing them. They're rumored to be the favorites to get Tiger rental Freddy Garcia to fill out their rotation, due to his relationship with The Anti-Christ, Ozzie Guillen. Rumors are still out there about them trading Jermaine Dye, as well. Keep your fingers crossed, Detroit.

Detroit Tigers
Additions: Gerald Laird, C...Adam Everett, SS...Edwin Jackson, P...Kyle Bloom, P...Matt Treanor, C...Alexis Gomez, OF...Fu-Te Ni, P.

Subtractions: Kyle Farnsworth, Moron...Todd Jones, Fat Guy...Edgar Renteria, Worthless...Matt Joyce, Thundercat...Freddy Garcia, Fat Guy With Bad Hair...Kenny Rogers, Old Man...Casey Fossum, Washed Up...Gary Glover, Gas Can...Aquilino Lopez, Automatic Run.

Top Need: Closer.

What more can be said about them? We need the pitchers to pitch like they've shown they can in the past. We need the hitters to just do their job. We need the new defensive lineup to improve on the 113 errors the Tigers made last year. And we need a closer, via free agency or from within.

Vegas Rogo's AL Central Prediction Based On Current Rosters

1. Detroit
2. Cleveland
3. Chicago
4. Minnesota
5. Kansas City

Screw you. I'm being an optimist for once.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Quick HOF Post

Nothing long and drawn out here, just a couple notes.

Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice made it into the Hall, just as expected. Congrats, deserved it. Jim Ed...congrats, but not so much.

I cannot stand the Hall of Fame selection process. The sportswriters that vote are not required to publicly admit who they voted for. For these former great athletes to be at the mercy of invisible sportswriters is a joke. Why?

Because Jesse Orosco got a vote. Jay Bell got two. Mo Vaughn got six votes. Matt Friggin' Williams got seven. This is the HALL OF FAME! The writers that do not take this seriously should not be allowed to vote again. Come on...Jay Bell in the Hall with Ted Williams, Willie Mays, and The Babe?

Next thing: Rickey got elected with 94.8% of the vote. That means 5% of the voters decided against him. How can you justify not voting the all time stolen base and run leader into the Hall? The best leadoff hitter in amazes me. Is this voting process really set in stone?

And Rice...on his 15th and final ballot gets 76.4% of the vote with 75% required for Hall of Fame entry. Wow, must be proud. You were good, and as I've said before, I don't think these guys necessarily belong, but I'd put in Raines, Dawson, Morris, Trammell, and McGwire in before Jim Rice. For the record, Tram got 17.4% of the vote and Jack received 44%. Oh yeah, and there's that other guy...

Once again, Bert Blyleven gets screwed, only getting 62.7% of the vote. I've detailed this all before, but it's complete B.S. to leave Blyleven out. And listening to Jon Heyman today on the MLB Network talking stupid nonsense about Bert one minute and kissing Barry Larkin's (on the ballot next year) butt the next because he is in wonder the Fire Joe Morgan staff hated him so much.

So yeah...already said more than I thought I was going to. It's amazing how annoyed I can get at a stupid summer game in the middle of January...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Was There Ever A Quest For Relief?

question mark Pictures, Images and Photos
Takashi Saito has signed with the Boston Red Sox. You may remember Mr. Saito as the ex-closer of the Dodgers. I also believe he was a multiple time WWE tag team champion with Mr. Fuji. However, his signing, along with pretty much every other major potential closer on the free agent market, has left the Tigers with little options left in their "quest for relief" as Ian at BYB has put it. One by one, K-Rod, Fuentes, Hoffman, Smoltz, Wood, The Professor and Mary Ann...they've all signed elsewhere while the Tigers have barely been in the running for any of their services. While there's rumors of taking a look at Chad Cordero, Jason Isringhausen, and other guys that suck, I'm left wondering if there ever really was a quest for relief to begin with.

Let me explain. Let's assume that the Tigers open the season with a 12 man pitching staff. Here's where we are as of today.

SP-Justin Verlander
SP-Armando Galarraga
SP-Jeremy Bonderman
SP-Dontrelle Willis (LH)
SP-Edwin Jackson
SP-Nate Robertson (LH)
SP-Zach Miner
RP-Joel Zumaya
RP-Fernando Rodney
RP-Bobby Seay (LH)
RP-Freddy Dolsi
RP-Kyle Bloom (LH)

That's who I assume we'd take up north in April, for better or worse, injuries aside. Now, if we sign a closer (or two relievers as I've wanted), whom do you get rid of? Bloom has to stay on the roster or he gets offered back to the Pirates, so I think he's here to stay unless he has a Nate-like 2009. Seay is the other lefty and isn't going anywhere unless Clay Rapada somehow takes his spot. As for the rest, and I'm not sure about this here, I think Dolsi might be the only guy with options to the minors left. Obviously, I'd like to see Dontrelle or (desig)Nate gone, but that's not going to happen. We owe them too much cash. In fact, scary as it sounds, I can see Nate getting a look as the closer in this group. He's probably not going to start and what else are we going to do with three leftys in the pen?

So, was there ever a quest for relief in the first place? Was Double D just making it look like he had in interest in certain guys to keep the fans happy? Was he actually serious when he said the team was prepared to go into the season with Rodney as closer? I'd love to hear other people's opinions on this because the more I think about it, the more I think that it could be true.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Something Special

I'd like to take a break from my usual snarky commenting to do some sort of a Rick Reilly-like puff piece because...well, because the subject deserves it.

Working in a bar the past few years, I end up talking a lot of baseball with people...mainly about the Tigers. With baseball, much like anything, it's damn near impossible to get people to agree on anything. For instance, my favorite current Tiger is Magglio Ordonez. His homerun off of Huston Street is the best moment I've experienced in my life as a baseball fan and I'll never forget him for it. But still, people bitch about his hair, his tendency to get hurt, the fact that he was a White Suck...whatever. People always find something to complain about. Inge can't hit worth a damn. Bondo can't learn a changeup. Sheffield is a prick. Polonco looks like Mr. Potato Head. Rodney wears his hat crooked. But there's one guy that no one complains least not that I've seen.

curtis granderson Pictures, Images and Photos

Curtis Granderson is something special. Greg Eno over at Johnny Grubb has a nice piece on Curtis up right now about how this is Grandy's year to make the all-star team. I hope he's right and I would like to echo his statement on how Detroit fans should really appreciate what we have patrolling center field nowadays.

After long-time centerfielder and fan favorite Chet Lemon's career was done, the Tigers spent years trying to find someone to roam the largest center field in the majors. Potential long-term and short-term solutions throughout the years included guys like Gary Pettis, Scott Lusader, Chad Curtis, Brian Hunter, Andres Torres, Milt Cuyler, Alex Sanchez, Roger Cedeno, and Nook Logan. None came close to panning out. In 2005, however, the Tigers thought they had definately solved the problem by drafting a kid named Cameron Maybin that would be the speedy all-star they had been searching for for 15 years to finally fill the void in center. What they didn't realize at the time, is that they already had the answer they had been looking for.

Granderson had been taken in the third round of the 2002 draft. He had graduated from the University of Illinois-Chicago with majors in Business Administration and Advertising. He tore through the minor leagues and finished Spring Training 2006 by surprisingly (to many) beating out Nook Logan for the starting job in center. He'd go on to play in 159 games hitting .260 with 19 homers and 68 RBIs with an OPS+ of 98. Not great, but not bad for a guy that wasn't supposed to be the starter to begin with. More importantly, he played incredible defense, especially in the deep center field of Comerica Park. Helping the Tigers make the playoffs for the first time since 1987, Grandy would go 5/17 with 2 homers in the Divisional Series and 5/15 with another homer in the LCS. He'd struggle and go 2/21 in the World Series, but what Tiger not named Sean Casey didn't struggle against the Cardinals in that series?

He entered '07 as a lock to be the starting centerfielder and responded with his breakout year. He hit .302, 23, 74 for the season with an OPS+ of 136 and a VORP of 67.3. He hit at least 20 doubles, triples, home runs, and stole 20 bases becoming only the third man in history to do so, joining Willie Mays (1957) and Frank Schulte (1911). Jimmy Rollins would spoil the party by joining the club a few days later, but it's still an incredible feat. The Tigers left Granderson off the All-Star ballot in favor of listing Gary Sheffield, but Granderson had over 376,000 write-in votes from fans, leading all players. He finished with 23 triples, 3 short of the record for a season. Oddly, only 10 came at Comerica, the top park in the majors for triples to be hit. He stole 26/27 bases leading the league in stolen base percentage. Finally, he continued his great defense leading major league outfielders in putouts with 428. The Tigers rewarded him with a five year deal worth $30.25 million with an option in 2013. Also, his stellar play led Detroit to feeling better about letting Maybin go in the trade that brought Miguel Cabrera (and some guy named Dontrelle) to Detroit in the off season's most talked about deal.

2008 was a nightmare for all of the Tigers, as we all know. Granderson began the season on the DL with a broken finger from getting hit by a pitch in the spring. As all the Tigers struggled, Curtis' numbers went down a bit, too, but horribly. He still finished with an OPS+ of 124 and a VORP of 48.9. He had a career high in walks with 71 and his lowest strikeout total dropping from 174 in '06, 141 in '07, to just 111 in '08.

Off the field, Granderson has been even better than on it, if you're looking for character in a guy. He hasn't been photographed with Madonna or involved in any steroid scandals. He's active in charities and wants to be an ambassador for the game. He's taken trips to Asia to help spread the teachings of the game and has become an inspiration for many people that have never even seen him play. He's worked during the playoffs for TBS as an analyst doing a better job than most of the guys that have been doing it for years. I'm not sure if there's anything the guy couldn't do if he put his mind to it. First base coach, Andy Van Slyke, commented that if he had a daughter, he'd want her to marry Curtis Granderson. That's about as high of a compliment as a guy can make, I guess.

The Tigers have abandoned their popular "Who's Your Tiger" marketing campaign this year. But whether you considered Pudge your Tiger, Cabrera your Tiger, or like me, Maggs, Curtis Granderson is truly everyone's Tiger for all he has given both on and off of the field. The Indians can have Grady Sizemore. I'm grateful to have Curtis Granderson and hope that you all are, too. He really is something special and I'm hoping that this year, as he enters his prime turning 28 on March 16th, Curtis Granderson becomes the national superstar that he deserves to be.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Remember These Tigers?

If you've somehow found your way to my rambling, nonsense-filled blog, then you've no doubt by now been to a good blog like Blake's where he's doing a great job putting together a list of the 100 Best Tigers of all time. His list got me thinking about some other Tigers of Christmas Past that were notable players...just maybe not with us. They're mostly guys we got at the end of their careers, or in some cases, let them get away before they became stars. Here's a few you may or may not remember wearing the Old English D.

Vince Coleman, 1997
Coleman was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1985 with St. Louis. In the late 80's, he and Rickey Henderson were the two best leadoff guys in baseball and were unbelievable at stealing bases. Vince stole over 100 bases three years in a row and is still the last guy to break 100. He finished his career with 752 total steals, good for 6th all time. He finished his career in Detroit in '97 playing in 6 total games with us, batting .071, and bases. Sadly, Vince will probably most be remembered for his time with the Mets when he threw a bunch of firecrackers at some fans waiting for autographs...three months after accidently breaking Dwight Gooden's arm fooling around with a golf club. Class act, that Vince Coleman.

Steve Avery, 2003
When you think of the Braves pitching dynasty in the 90's, you probably think of Maddux, Smoltz, and Glavine. But Steve Avery was up there with them until injuries got the best of him. From '91-'93, he went 47-25 for the Braves and was a huge part of their success. But he started 135 games before even turning 24 years old and is one of the examples provided nowadays when teams talk about pitch counts and inning limits on young pitchers. Steve tried a comeback with the Tigers in 2003 pitching 19 games in relief before retiring afterwards. He went 2-0 with a 5.63 ERA, finishing his career at 96-83 with a 4.19 ERA. Tough luck, Steve...I was rooting for you...and I think about you a lot watching Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis.

Ray Knight, 1988
You can't be a baseball fan without at least having seen highlights of Ray Knight scoring the winning run for the '86 Mets after Mookie Wilson's grounder made history going through Bill Buckner's legs in Game 6 of the World Series. What most people don't remember is that the next game, Game 7, it was Knight that hit the go-ahead homer that led to the Mets winning the championship. For his career, Ray hit .271 with 84 homers and 595 RBIs. He played in '88 for us hitting .217 with 3 dingers and 33 RBIs. Ray'd go on to manage the Reds in 1996 and have a broadcasting career afterwards. And yes...he's still married to Nancy Lopez.

Eric Davis, 1993-94
Davis and Darryl Strawberry were supposed to be the next Williams and DiMaggio...but things didn't quite turn out that way, did they? Eric was a lanky monster at the plate when he came up as the Reds center fielder hitting .293 with 37 homers and 100 RBIs in his best season in 1987. Injuries would batter him the rest of his career, though. He'd play 23 games in '93 and 37 in '94 for us hitting a total of 9 of his 282 lifetime home runs as a Tiger. Davis retired after that '94 season before coming back with the Reds in '96. The next year, he got colon cancer but battled it playing up until 2001, believe it or not.

Gregg Jefferies, 1999-2000
In 1988, I was big into collecting baseball cards. What 11 year old wasn't at the time? And in '88 and '89, Gregg Jefferies was the baseball card you wanted to get...until a guy named Ken Griffey Jr took over. What made Jefferies so great? Well, he was the '86 and '87 Minor League Player of the Year. He was coming up to a talented Mets team that had won it all in '86. He was supposed to be a hitting machine. Not so much, as it turned out. Jefferies for his career hit .289 with 126 homers and 663 RBIs. He wasn't a bad player at all...but there was no way he could live up to the huge expectations. His rookie year with the Mets, he hit only .258. He got a rep as a whiner and ended up being sent off to Kansas City in 1992. From there, he went to the Cardinals where he had two great years hitting .342 and .325. Next was Philly where he got hurt and was never the same. In parts of two years with us, he combined to hit .231 before calling it quits in 2000.

Hideo Nomo, 2000
He's the guy that started the growing Asian presence in the majors winning the NL Rookie of the year in 1995 for the Dodgers. Nomo would go on to pitch a no-hitter in '96 and a second in 2001 for Boston becoming only the 4th pitcher in history to do it in both leagues joining Cy Young, Jim Bunning, and Nolan Ryan...not bad company. However, his year with us was in between those gems in 2000 where he went a disappointing 8-12 with a 4.74 ERA as our "ace". He was released after that. Nomo would keep hanging on in the majors before retiring in July of last year with Kansas City with a career record of 123-109.

Billy Ripken, 1998
Ripken's known for mainly two things. First, of course, he is Cal Ripken's much less talented little brother. Second, was his 1989 Fleer baseball card. Do you remember that one? He was posing with his bat over his shoulder and written on the knob of the bat was a word that rhymed with "duckface". It caused a major panic when Fleer discovered it after the cards were already out. They tried several ways to cover it up including cards with white out, marker scribbling out the word, air brushing, and finally a black box. The white out one is still worth over a hundred bucks today. Billy played from 1987-1998 mainly as a utility infielder hitting .247 with 20 homers and 229 RBIs. He played in 27 games for us in '98 hitting .270, 0, 5.

Fred Lynn, 1988-89
Freddie was the first man in baseball history to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same year doing it in 1975 with Boston hitting .331, 21, 105. Ichiro's the only other man to do so. Lynn was a wildman all over the field running into walls to make catches and making hard slides to take out infielders and as a result, got hurt quite a bit. He never quite lived up to his early promise, but did have a long career hitting .283, 306, 1111. He played in 27 games in '88 for us and 117 in '89 hitting .241, 11, 46 before retiring. He's since been inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame.

Phil Nevin, 1995-1997
Nevin was the number one pick of the '92 MLB Draft taken 5 picks ahead of a guy named Derek Jeter. He struggled early on and ended up with us in '95 and never really getting a chance to play much for parts of three years. He'd hit 19 homers and 66 RBIs as a Tiger before spending a year with the Angels and signing with San Diego. It was with the Padres that he finally got a chance to play hitting 31 homers in 2000 and 41 in 2001, despite playing Eric Munson-like defense at third. Injuries would get to him after that as he finished his career in 2006 with the Rangers. Was he a late bloomer or a steroid guy? It's sad that so many guys in this time period will probably have that question asked of them. Like my final player on this list...

Luis Gonzalez, 1998
Gonzo played one year for us after coming over from Houston hitting .267, 23, 71. Randy Smith would then do what he did best and trade him to Arizona for the immortal Karim Garcia. Gonzalez responded by turning into a hitting machine in '99 leading the NL in hits with 206. In 2001, he would hit .325, 57, 142 and I would constantly bang my head into the wall watching Baseball Tonight and cursing our former GM repeatedly. In 2002, a piece of his chewed up, spit out, chewing gum turned up on eBay selling for $10,000 to a crazy collector. Gonzo played for the Marlins last year and is currently one of many free agents still out there.

Notice, there is no Juan Gonzalez on my list. We do not speak of him here. Happy New Year, everyone.