With the baseball winter meetings completed, the Tigers contingent returned to Detroit with two key components added to a still relatively young pitching staff. The additions of Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones was not met with overwhelming fanfare, yet the two veterans immediately added tremendous value to the club. For as talented as Jeremy Bonderman is, he is still only 23 years old. The veteran Rogers will provide a presence at the top of the rotation, allowing Bonderman some room to grow. Bonderman will also no longer have to face the opponent’s ace as much as he has done in his young career.
Jones meanwhile gives the Tigers an option at the back end of the bullpen which was missing following the trades of Kyle Farnsworth and Ugueth Urbina and the injury to Troy Percival. The thing that impresses me about Jones is that he has always loved pitching in Detroit. As an announcer for the Angels, I recall interviewing Todd several times when he was a Tiger. He is well versed in Tigers history and loves the city. I remember thinking that he struck me as someone that was born and raised in the Motor City, not his native Alabama. He is a quality guy who has the guts to pitch the ninth inning and has plenty left in the tank. Just check out his ’05 stats. I first met Todd in the early 90’s when he was an Astros prospect and I was announcing for Houston’s AAA team in Tucson. I was immediately impressed with his willingness to talk to anyone and take responsibility for his performance, good or bad. Welcome home Jonesie.
As for Rogers, his lifetime numbers at Comerica Park are very good. He has compiled a 4-1 mark with a 3.46 ERA in eight appearances (six starts). Since Comerica Park opened, Barry Zito, Mark Buehrle and C.C. Sabathia are the only lefties with a better ERA in Detroit.
Rogers has posted 115 wins in the last 10 seasons, third most for left handers behind Jamie Moyer (146), Andy Pettitte (137) and David Wells (136).
My last post regarding the Tigers managerial change generated more responses than any other post on the blog. There is no question that Tram was a respected Tiger as a player, but for some reason many "fans" soured on number 3 because he was not able to get the team over .500 as a skipper. In the months leading to his dismissal, some of the attacks on Tram became personal. Because of that, I have been asked by many people if Trams legacy has been tarnished or destroyed because he wasn’t able to get it done as a manager.. My answer: not a chance.
My lasting memories of Tram will always include sitting in the bleachers at Tiger Stadium on a cool October afternoon and watching him take Eric Show deep twice in Game Four of the 1984 World Series. Watching him play in six All Star games and winning the MVP award in the ’84 World Series. Watching him win four gold gloves and representing the city for twenty seasons while never wearing another uniform during his playing days. These are my memories of the greatest Tigers shortstop of my time. Three seasons as manager will never erase that.
Do people remember the Willie Mays that hit .211 his final season in the big leagues, or the Hall of Famer who was one of the greatest center fielders of all time? How about the Babe Ruth that hit .181 in his last season with six home runs, or the Bambino who finished with 714 homers and is considered one of the greatest sluggers of all time?
Trams record and legacy speaks for itself and his record as a manager will never change that. Nor should it.
Now that the season has come to an end and we focus on the playoffs as fans, the Tigers front office has already been busy at work sculpting the future of the organization. The first move was to make a change in the manager’s position. Jim Leyland is now in place as the organization’s new skipper. When Alan Trammell was brought in three years ago to manage the club, it seemed like a good fit. The club at that point was very green and a steadying influence like Trammell was what the club needed. In my opinion, Tram was a terrific teacher. Unfortunately for him, the roster three years ago resembled more a Triple A club than a major league team. Things quickly changed. As the Tigers dipped into free agency the last two seasons, the club became much more respectable on the field and at the same time became more veteran oriented. This is why I think the Tigers made the switch at the top. Dave Dombrowski refused, and rightly so, to critique Tram publicly after the change was made. I think it is quite clear though that there is a feeling that Jim Leyland may be better suited to managing a veteran ball club.
Most point to the fact that the Tigers lost 300 games in three years under Trammell. Unfortunately for Tram, the deck was stacked against him from the get go. He was learning on the job with a club that was just not quite big league caliber in the beginning. He never really got a chance to get comfortable in the position, because his team was losing 119 games. Instead of being allowed to grow, he was constantly being asked what it was like to chase the all time loss record in major league history. For all that he has been through the last three years, he handled the final three weeks of his tenure with class.
As is the case in most managerial changes, the coaching staff was dismissed as well. For our part at FSN, I would like to thank Tram, Bob Cluck, Bruce Fields, Mick Kelleher, Juan Samuel, Kirk Gibson and Lance Parrish for all they did for us. It was a classy staff.
I must admit, I am really becoming a big Jason Grilli fan. The son of the former Tiger received a September call up from AAA Toledo and since joining the club has established himself as one of the truly good guys in the game. In a season of disappointment for the Tigers, Jason and his father Steve (Tigers, 1975-77) gave us a great story on September 24th. Jason made his first start as a Tiger that night with his dad in the stands looking on. Jason didn’t disappoint. He gave the Tigers seven innings of one run ball for the win. That night on the telecast we showed just how tough it is to watch your son on the field. Steve showed the emotional ups and downs of watching a child perform, squirming in his seat in tight situations and high fiving the people around him when Jason would record a strikeout or induce a big double play.
"I watched a tape of the game with my dad the next night, Jason said. It was really emotional for both of us. My dad told me how surreal it was to sit in the stands and watch his son pitch in the big leagues in the same city he did, thirty years later." That, I am quite sure, is a tape that father and son will watch often in the future.
Steve pitched for the Tigers briefly in the mid seventies and had a 4-3 lifetime record. "I had some time in the big leagues, he said. I fell just 296 wins short of 300." While dad’s career only lasted 70 games, Jason was on the fast track. A first round pick of the Giants out of Seton Hall in 1997, Jason was picked fourth overall behind Troy Glaus and ahead of names like Vernon Wells, Tim Hudson and Lance Berkman. Unfortunately arm injuries slowed his career early as a professional. Now, eight years after being selected in the first round, Jason finds himself in Detroit. Is he a part of the Tigers 2006 plans? Hard to tell, but his September performance can only help.
These are the days when you can tell a lot about a rookie’s personality. On the flight to Minneapolis for the Tigers final road trip of the year, Grilli and the rest of the rookies were hazed. All were made to wear clothing that would make even Cher blush. There was Jason Grilli on the team flight wearing a very short skirt and revealing halter top. Much more information than we needed.
He was also wearing a huge grin, just happy to be back in the big leagues.
A couple of days ago I was in the clubhouse gathering opinions on why so may bats are broken these days in big league games. I stopped by Carlos Guillen’s locker and asked him his thoughts. "There used to be only a few companies that made bats," Guillen said. "Now, everyone is making bats. Naturally the quality is not as good with so may companies supplying them." Guillen estimates that he will go through 15 or 16 bats a month. It wasn’t always that way. Tigers hitting coach Kirk Gibson doesn’t recall using nearly that may bats a month. "The only bats I broke were the ones I snapped myself after a bad at bat," Gibson said.
Hmmmmm…now there’s a shocker.
Bench Coach Bruce Fields agrees that there is too much product out there. "There are a lot more bat companies today. The supply of good wood has been thinned out," he said. Guillen also added that the game’s best players receive the best quality wood for their bats. "Players like Pudge and ARod don’t break as many bats because companies want them to use their bats so they send them the best wood, " he said. At that point Magglio Ordonez joined the conversation and I asked him how many bats he has gone through this season. He paused as said, "I’ve used the same bat since spring training."
"Really?," I said.
Guillen looked at me like I was an idiot. They both started laughing. I actually bought it.
Apparently there is a difference in the type of wood players are using these days. Up until the 1990’s all bats were made of ash. That began to change when some players started using maple bats, which are heavier. Ash is considered the more flexible and stronger wood. USA Today recently published a great article on the subject. Check it out.
By the way, in Guillen’s first at bat the night of our conversation, he broke his bat. I just hit my cough button and laughed.
Living the life of a big league player is about as good as it gets. Most guys in the big leagues realize how fortunate they are to be playing in a major league uniform. The Tigers have a couple of back ups that truly appreciate coming to the park every day, even if they know they probably won’t be in the lineup. It takes a special mentality to stay ready when you know you won’t start. For the Tigers, Vance Wilson and John McDonald succeed at their roles as well as anyone in the league.
Wilson is no stranger to sitting behind a star. In New York, he backed up Mike Piazza and here in Detroit, it’s Pudge Rodriguez. The secret to performing well as a backup is coming to the park everyday expecting to play. Even if you are not in the starting lineup, you have to expect that at one point you will get in the game. "Especially at the catching position," WIlson told me earlier this year. "Injuries happen and you have to be ready to play at any moment," he said. So do suspensions. Earlier this year, Wilson was pressed into duty when Pudge Rodriquez was out of commission. Wilson started in eight of the Tigers nine games in a stretch in August as Pudge sat out with a suspension. "Al Leiter taught me a lot about preparation and staying ready," Wilson said. Vance is often seen in the dugout chatting with the starting pitcher even on night’s when he is not playing. There is no question that Vance wants to start in the big leagues, but he also realizes that if he doesn’t have success as a backup, he may never get a chance to start.
John McDonald is a baseball player. There is no better way to describe him. When the Tigers acquired him in a trade with Toronto in July, the move was met with little fanfare. Yet, with Carlos Guillen’s inability to remain in the lineup with knee problems, McDonald’s acquisition gave the Tigers some depth. A fan favorite in Cleveland, it’s not hard to see why. Johnny Mac is not afraid to get the uni dirty. With the ability to play all infield positions, his value is often unappreciated. In the second game of a doubleheader in Kansas City on Tuesday, McDonald made an unbelievable catch. On a short pop up to right field, McDonald sprinted to short right, and with his back to the infield, made a diving over the shoulder grab that may have been one of the top three catches of the year for the Tigers. It was also a play that epitomized McDonald’s value to the club.
With just a couple of weeks left in the season, the Tigers will utilize the coming days to evaluate what they have and what they need for 2006.
The club continues to take a long look at what Curtis Granderson has to offer in centerfield. Curtis has gotten the majority of the playing time in CF over Nook Logan the last three weeks. Logan remains an exciting option because of his breathtaking speed, but he has failed to develop into a consistent offensive threat. Speed means little offensively if you’re not on base. Granderson meanwhile has very little to prove in the minor leagues. He runs well, is a solid defender and hits for more power than Logan. If you could combine the two, you’d have a stud. Last time I checked though, morphing players is frowned upon.
First base offers and interesting dilemma. Chris Shelton has weathered the mini slump he was in and continues to show offensive skills beyond his major league experience. Carlos Pena has returned from a minor league stint and has put up some impressive numbers in a short period of time. To me though, the fact that Shelton continues to play first base when he is the lineup with Pena indicates that the Tigers have made their choice for next year. I think we’ll see Chris hold that position for years to come. He has played well defensively and I would venture to say much better that most envisioned. I believe he is a much better athlete that people give him credit for.
Is Brandon Inge next year’s thirdbaseman? Well, his power numbers don’t match up with the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Hank Blaylock or Eric Chavez, but only Blaylock has more at bats at the position this year than Inge. Brandon has been incredibly durable. His error total is high, but also somewhat misleading. Inge has made some incredibly athletic plays this year and keep in mind he had to learn the position at the highest level. Not an easy thing to do.
The staff may get an infusion of young talent next year. Unfortunately we won’t be able to see Joel Zumaya or Justin Verlander pitch with the big club in September. Tigers fans got a taste of Verlander earlier this year, but both have been shut down with Tired arms. The stats are dazzling! Zumaya: 199 strikeouts in 151.1 innings at AA and AAA. Verlander: 136 strikeouts in 118.2 minor league innings. It will be fun to watch them pitch next spring.
The Green Monster remains the most famous landmark in baseball.
The grounds crew prepares the field for action.
View over the right field wall.