Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Brandon Inge: Special Little Guy

Good God, I love that picture. Dork.

Before I get into my usual snarky mode, let me wish baseball legend Bob Ueker the best as he is facing heart surgery. I love me some Uek.

Okay, nice guy mode off. Jerkface mode on. Here’s a little fluff piece from last week’s Oakland Press. I only wish I would have seen it earlier and before the little bastard hit two homers yesterday and forced me to cheer for him.

Before Jim Leyland, before Dave Dombrowski, before Pudge Rodriguez, before Magglio Ordonez, before Justin Verlander, before Miguel Cabrera, before Johnny Damon, Brandon Inge was here.

You’re right. He has been here WAY too long. Thank Hades his contract is up this year.

He’s been around since 2001, longer than any other Tiger. Remember Mitch Meluskey? There’s no reason why you should. But he was the catcher Brandon unexpectedly replaced.

In 2000, Meluskey hit .300 with 14 homers, 69 RBI, and an OPS+ of 117 for the Astros. He finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. Yes, I remember him. I was excited to get him. It didn’t work out. I blame Inge.

When I look at Inge now, I can’t help but remember the scared but smiling kid who suddenly found himself not only in the big leagues but in the Opening Day lineup that spring.

I’d have been scared, too. The immortal Billy McMillon was the opening day DH that year and batted 5th. I’m amazed we didn’t lose 150 games in 2001.

And doesn’t that seem like a lifetime ago?

It’s only been nine years. I haven’t done THAT many drugs over the years. Have you?

Inge has heard the boos.

Ha! He heard me! Awesome.

He has seen the empty seats. He has felt the anguish and despair.

Little known fact: Brandon was one of the founding members of My Chemical Romance. Can anyone with Photoshop make me an Emo Brandon pic?

He was here when the Tigers hit rock bottom in 2003. And he experienced the joy and the standing ovations when the Tigers went to the World Series three years later.

Indeed. That was all Brandon. Kenny Rogers? Never heard of him. Placido Polanco? Funny shaped head. Magglio Ordonez? Is that a soccer player?

Now that Curtis Granderson is gone, Inge is, without a doubt, the Tigers’ most popular player.

Only with fat girls with tattoos on their lower backs. And bald guys named Keith. Harf. I’m pretty sure Justin Verlander and Magglio Ordonez still have Brandon beat with most other folks.

And this season has been like a new beginning, a rebirth, for him.

Up until yesterday’s big game, he was hovering at the .250 mark with no homers in 19 games. I’d have to say it’s been pretty much the same old, same old.

You know how, sometimes, when you are really sick, you don’t truly appreciate how rotten you felt until after you get well.

I agree. I had food poisoning once and was on the toilet 30 times in 12 hours. That’s the first time I ever bargained with God over poop. Probably won’t be the last, though…

Inge knows that feeling.

“Having legs under me is a whole different ballgame,” said Inge. “It’s like night and day — throwing and hitting and running.”

This just in: Being able to walk helps you play baseball better. No wonder everyone loves Inge. He’s a bloody genius.

And it shows.

On two sound legs again, Inge led the Tigers in doubles with eight going into the weekend. He was tied for third in RBI. He was batting .268, and he was fielding a flawless 1.000.

It’s April. April in the D. Even Chris Shelton isn’t reading too much into the numbers at this point. Calm down.

What a difference a couple of big scars on your knees can make.

Yes. It takes the focus off of those ridiculous looking tattoos on his arms.

During the second half of last season, hobbled by painful tendinitis in both knees, the acrobatic, athletic Inge was slowed to a crawl.

Poor guy couldn’t do cartwheels and round offs to impress the teammates. That had to suck.

After a first half performance that, thanks to reconfigured swing, included 21 homers, 58 RBI, and a .515 slugging percentage, and put him in the All-Star Game for the first time in his career, Inge batted an anemic .186 with six HRs and 26 RBI during the second half.

Yup. That’s why we went to Game 163 and eventually lost. Tell me we wouldn’t have won at least one more game last year with Jeff Larish, Ramon Santiago, or Placido Polanco at third instead of Brandon. The stubborn little prick cost us the season.

For real. It still upsets me. Another little wrinkle here. If Brandon had gone to the DL and Polly shifted to third, we could have called Scott Sizemore up in July last year and actually have seen if he had what it takes to be a MLB second baseman. He certainly would have done better than .185, 5, 26. And if he did well, we would have known what to expect in 2010, making it easier to let Polly go. If Sizemore failed, perhaps Placido would still be at second for the Tigers this year. Food for thought.

At the plate, he had no pop in his bat. It’s hard to swing hard when it hurts. In the field, his highlight-reel range was greatly reduced. It was tough to watch — and even tougher to live through.

“Toward the end of last season, it was a joke,” Inge admitted.

Then why didn’t you be a man and admit that you were hurting the team? Huh, Face of the Franchise? Your selfishness cost us the AL Central and possibly more. I would have loved our chances in a short series with the Yanks, Sawx, Angels or whoever with JV, EJax, and Porcello taking the mound last year.

Every time he made a sudden move — “hitting, or running, on bending over to catch a ground ball” — he felt a “stabbing pain.”

Someone should have stabbed him in the face with a butcher knife.

“You try to pump yourself up, you tell yourself to suck it up,” Inge recalled. “We were in a pennant race, and that’s not a situation where you want to give up. That’s not how I work.”

No, you work by hurting the team when your body was clearly telling you to shut it down. I respect that you played through the pain and wanted to help, but sometimes you have to admit when you can’t do something and take a seat for the greater good of the other 24 guys in the clubhouse. Dick.

So Inge continued to grit his teeth and play. And Jim Leyland, sometimes against his better judgment, continued to write Inge’s name on the lineup card night after night.

Fire Leyland!

But no amount of determination or positive thinking could wipe out the pain.

Inge, who underwent surgery on both knees in early November to repair the damaged tissue, still isn’t 100 percent — especially when he is running and the situation calls for an extra burst of speed.

“My first two gears are pretty good, but third and fourth gear are still a little rusty,” he said.

Which is why the Detroit auto industry is so screwed. Nothing in Detroit runs properly.

“It’s not like it hurts anymore, it’s more that the tendons and muscles are getting used to the new knees,” Inge explained, as he adjusted the sleeves that now protect and support his knees.

You would never know it watching him play third base. But if, in an emergency, Leyland ordered Inge to get back behind home plate, Brandon admits he would have to ask for a stool.

But catching always gave him such a good excuse for hitting .210! That was his bread and butter.

Diving for line drives or chasing down foul pop-ups is one thing. But crouching or squatting are still out of the question.

Not that Inge is complaining.

There’s a change.

He turns 33 next month. His contract expires at the end of this season.


He would love to stick around and finish his career in Detroit.


In fact, he plans to make his home here, probably in the Ann Arbor area, year-around — whether he is still playing third base for the Tigers next season or not.

“We love the school system,” he explained. Inge’s sons are 5 and 2.

Inge and his wife, Shani, lived in Ann Arbor when he was in the minor leagues. And he is actively involved with the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan. “I love kids,” he said.

And they love you, Brandon. Kids, you see, are stupid.

My guess is, Inge isn’t going anywhere. At $6.6 million a year, he remains a bargain.

I just threw up in my mouth. $6.6 million is a bargain for a guy with a career OPS+ of 85 in 4376 plate appearances? I think not, my fluff writing friend. Here’s a real list of bargains in baseball right now for 2010.

Rick Porcello: $1.025 million

Kendry Morales: $400,000

Ryan Braun: $1 million

Ehh, you get the point. It’s not worth the effort. I’m tired.

Besides, who could the Tigers possibly get who could play third base like Inge?

Sadly, no one, barring a trade. I’d like to give you a smart ass answer here, but next year’s free agent class for third basemen, other than Brandon, looks like this:

Garrett Atkins
Jorge Cantu
Eric Chavez
Pedro Feliz
Bill Hall
Maicer Izturis
Mike Lowell
Melvin Mora
Nick Punto
Ty Wigginton

Sigh. Seeya again in 2011, Brandon.


OldEnglish said...

Us fluff writers are people too, people with feelings, and those feelings are deeply wounded by your cutting words.

Rogo said...

Jen, you don't have feelings. That would require me to admit that you are human.

Silly rabbit...

Anonymous said...

Nothing to say...

You captured my feelings on CRINGE quite well.

Next stop:
Dedicate a website to him for all of us that see him for what he truely is.


Anonymous said...

Nothing to say...

You captured my feelings on CRINGE quite well.

Next stop:
Dedicate a website to him for all of us that see him for what he truely is.