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 about...at least not that I've seen.
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.