Thursday, September 26, 2013

3 Key Moments that has led to the Detroit Tigers recent successes

On Wednesday the Detroit Tigers clinched their third consecutive American League Central division championship and fourth playoff birth overall since 2006.  A lot of things have to go right in order to accomplish this, especially after the 2003 season. That season, Detroit finished with not only the worst season in baseball, but they threatened the 1962 New York Mets as the all time worst.  They were worse than the this year's Houston Astros.  Yes, that bad!
I believe that were three moments that led to the turnaround and sustained success.   The first of which was the hiring of general manager Dave Dombrowski by owner Mike Ilitch.   Ilitch bought the Tigers in 1992 and had very mediocre results for about a decade.   For much of the time, Randy Smith called the shots in personnel and did a poor job.  Drafting a closer(Matt Anderson) first overall in the MLB draft is the epitome of his failures.  Smith was let go in 2002 and Dombrowski was hired as his replacement.
If you don't know much about Dombrowski prior to his Detroit hiring, I will fill you in.  He was the GM for Montreal Expos from 1988-1991.  He build up the farm system and by the time of the 1994 player strike, the Expos(who had the best record in baseball) were made up of good amount of players Dombrowki had acquired. 
In November of 1991, the Florida Marlins hired Dombrowski as their first GM.  During his tenure there, he constructed a team that won the 1997 World Series championship.  Soon after winning it all, he was told by ownership to sell off the high priced talent.  The loss of talent led to mediocre Marlin teams and end of Dombrowski's job.  But he stockpiled enough talent in Florida that led to the 2003 World Series Championship.  Players he acquired included pitchers Josh Beckett, Brad Penny, A.J. Burnett and hitters Juan Pierre, Mike Lowell, Luis Castillo, Derrek Lee and a young Miguel Cabrera.
Dombrowksi, by the time he was hired in Detroit, had a nice track record of player evaluation and knew he had to build up the talent base. He did this by trading away some major leaguers for younger players even if meant hurting attendance and the win/loss record.  He still needed the big free agency signing to show all of baseball that the Tigers are in it to win it.  Randy Smith tried to get that big name when trading for Juan Gonzalez.  Needless to say, it didn't work out.
The second key moment was Dombrowski signing Ivan Rodriguez prior to the 2004 season.  Tigers were coming off 119 loss season while Rodriguez led the Marlins to a championship.  Rodriguez showed enough faith in Dombrowski and signed a multiyear deal in Detroit.  The Rodriguez signing led to the willingness of other players to come to Detroit and got the ball rolling in the right direction.
The final moment has nothing really to do with baseball.  It was NHL's lockout season of 2004-05 and subsequent salary cap.  It forced Ilitch (who also owns the Detroit Red Wings) to spend less on hockey and more on baseball. For example, instead of overpaying for a backup goalie(Curtis Joseph), he could use those funds for building the Tigers into winners. 
Of course there are other player personnel moves that were made that led to the current success of the Tigers. But I believe these three key moments allowed the others to happen.
And if I had to pick a fourth moment, it would be the Tigers move from the AL East to the Central in 1998.  It is much easier to compete with Kansas City and Cleveland than New York and Boston.  Because it happened a good number of years prior to the current run and because of the added wildcard and the elimination of steroids, it has less of an impact. So, I left it off.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

In Case You missed It: Baselines (Blurred Lines spoof)

The hottest song of the summer is likely Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines:

So, probably the hottest team in baseball this year tried their hand at it.  Here is the Atlanta Braves with Baselines:

Nice Javy Lopez cameo and very well done overall, I might add. #Fearthechop

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Card of Week: 1976 Topps Lyman Bostock

Tonight at 10 pm EST, MLB network will be airing a half hour special, "The Lyman Bostock Story".

1976 Topps
If you don't know of Lyman Bostock, let me fill you in some.  He was a rookie outfielder with the Minnesota Twins in 1975.  The Twins lineup had already consisted of Rod Carew and Tony Oliva, who each had won multiple batting titles.  The same was predicted of Bostock by many in baseball. 
He spent three seasons in Minnesota, finishing in the top five in batting once, before becoming one of baseball's first big free agents.  After considering offers from several teams including a bigger one from New York Yankees, Bostock decided on a team closer to home-California Angels.
His first month as an Angel was quite poor.  In trying to live up to his lucrative deal, Bostock struggled at the plate.  He finished with a .147 average by the end of April.  Bostock felt so bad about his lack of performance, he went to Angels owner Gene Autry and told him he wanted to give his whole first month salary back to Autry, but was refused.  So, Bostock decided to donate the entire month's salary to charity.
By the time September came around, Bostock produced well enough to raise his batting average into the .290s.  During a series in Chicago later in September, Bostock went to take a trip after a day game to nearby Gary, Indiana to visit some family members.  During the stay, Bostock and friends decided to go visit an old friend.  A lady, who Bostock just met a few hours before, was with his group. She asked if she could get a ride to a nearby destination.  Bostock, always willing to help, agreed.
As they pulled up to a red light, the lady's husband who thought she was cheating on him with Bostock, pulled up next to them and fired a shot in the car.   The one gunshot killed the baseball star.
The news broke nationally the next day. Baseball lost one of it's budding stars, teammates lost a friend, a mother lost his son and a wife, a husband at the age of 27.   Bostock had a terrible misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  What is most disheartening is that the killer plead insanity at the trial.  He spent six months in a mental hospital and then became a free man for the rest of his life.

Monday marks the 35th anniversary of this tragic event.  For the MLB network special, former players and coaches will discuss Bostock and his wife will talk about the day of the murder and her husband for the first time publicly. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Happy Birthday Big Daddy!

Today, Cecil Fielder turns 50 years old.  In celebration, I will give show you my most prized Cecil Fielder baseball card and a personal Fielder memory.
1986 Topps
His Topps rookie card is my favorite Fielder card not because it is his rookie card, but because of a more sentimental reason.
It was my freshman year in college as I was watching "The Simpsons" Halloween special in my dormroom, the phone rings.  It was my mother calling me saying that our house was broken into.  The thieves took just about everything valuable in the house according to my mom.  She also said that none of my baseball cards were stolen.
On my next trip home for a weekend-probably for some home cooking and/or laundry use, I accessed the damage.  I told my mom that some of my baseball cards were indeed stolen.  She asked if anything was of value.   I told her of some boxes and nothing major was gone. Only specific item I mentioned was my Cecil Fielder rookie card.  This, I should add, all occurred the fall after his first season in Detroit-his 51 home run season.

Fast forward almost a year later, I go home once again for the weekend. It was also soon after my mom and stepdad returned from a trip from Florida. One of the first things my mom did when I got home was hand me the Cecil Fielder rookie card.  Somehow, somewhere in Florida she bought it. I never asked for it nor hinted to her to do so.
Out of pure coincidence, that day of getting my Fielder rookie back, it was also Cecil Fielder's birthday.  And during that night's ballgame, Fielder hit a home run also.
Now, when I look at my Fielder Topps rookie card. I think of my mom, the phone call, Fielder's homer and how a fond memory can happen from a bad incident.  

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Recalling a Childhood Trip to Tiger Stadium

The other day as I was browsing Ebay, I came across this piece for sale:

What makes it significant to me? I was at that game. It was one of several trips that my mother took my brother and I to see the Detroit Tigers in person.  For this particular game, it was a Hank Greenberg/Charlie Gehringer poster giveaway day.  More importantly, this was the day that the Tigers officially retired Greenberg's number 5 jersey and Gehringer's #2.  The ceremony was held between games of the doubleheader., back when they had scheduled doubleheaders.  Oh, how the game has changed.

I was still a pretty young kid, so I don't remember too much of the game in terms of particular plays or players.  Thanks to the world wide web, I found the boxscores.
For the first game of the doubleheader, Milt Wilcox outdueled future Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven as the Tigers won 4-1.  The offensive stars of the game was Lou Whitaker who had two hits and knocked in two runs from the leadoff spot and Alan Trammell also got two base hits.  For Cleveland, the only batter to hit safely twice was Toby Harrah, the Tigers current assistant hitting coach.

In the second game, Tigers won yet again behind Jack Morris against Len Barker, 3-1.  Offensively, Chet Lemon and Johnny Grubb had solo homers for Detroit.  Cleveland was led by Julio Franco with two hits and Mike Hargrove aka The Human Rain Delay knocked in the only run for the Tribe as he did in the first game of the doubleheader.
What is also significant about the day's games is that each of the four starters pitched complete games.  Imagine going to see a game and no relief pitchers enter the game.  Ah, the good old days. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Card of the Week: Andrew McCutchen 2005 Bowman Heritage

For this week's card, I will honor the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Why?  Because for the first time in twenty years, the Pirates clinched a winning season this past week.
It is a long standing franchise and deserve to be recognized and have a winner again.  Since I don't own the Holy Grail of baseball cards- Honus Wagner T206 card. If you don't know, Wagner of the Pirates was one of the best players in early 1900s and his 1909 T206 baseball card is the most sought after in the hobby.  I will show you my rookie card of the best player on the current Pirates ballclub-Andrew McCutchen.
2005 Bowman Heritage

This is the mahogany parallel of the Bowman Heritage set that I was lucky enough to pull out of a pack.  McCutchen was the 11th overall pick of the MLB draft in 2005 and has developed into an all star and a perennial MVP candidate. Beyond baseball he has other talents.
Such as an artist:

And does impersonations also:

I am personally rooting for this guy and hope the Pirates make the playoffs so the nation can get to know "Cutch".

Sunday, September 15, 2013

In Case You Missed It: Vin Scully

A while back, some friends and I were discussing who would we want to narrate our life story. It came down to actors Morgan Freeman and Sam Elliott.  Freeman got most of the votes, including mine.
But, It got me thinking that I would love to have Vin Scully also.  Even in his mid 80s, he still does a great job of doing Dodger games.  He is so eloquent and poetic in his storytelling, he could make the broadcast enjoyable even if the viewer had no interest in the game.  Heck, Scully probably could make paint drying sound interesting.
Anyways, here is the one and only, Vin Scully telling the viewers about the history of Friday the 13th during this past Friday's Dodger game:
Scully on Friday the 13th

I always learn something new from Scully.  He probably would teach me something new about myself if he told my life story.
He should do every World Series from here on out before he retires.  The American public should have all the chances they can to listen him to do a game.  He is a baseball treasure.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remembering 9/11 and the Role of Sports in Our Society

On this day of remembrance, I will break away from my normal emphasis of baseball and focus on more important things.
Today, of course, is the anniversary of tragic events of 9/11.  I have memories of where I was at the time and the coverage of the horrific acts.  I personally don't know of any victims or their loved ones and it would be selfish of me of not honoring and be thinking of these people.  So, I give you my thoughts and prayers to those who lost loved ones and hope you all have love and support from many on this day and every other day.  I also would like to thank the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the time of need of others and the ones who continue to help make the streets safer.

In the days, weeks and months after 9/11, sports played a big role in the healing of America.  It allowed us  to have a diversion and forget about the problems of the world, even if for only a couple hours.  Lets not forget this is the role of sports in our society.   Far too often, sports seem to have far more importance to many people.   Lives are perceived to be determined by wins and losses and some cases, sadly it has.
Lets focus why sports are here.  It is a diversion from not only tragedies but from our daily lives.   We all have pressures at work in meeting deadlines and quotas.  Have overbearing bosses and annoying coworkers. Sports allows us to forget about those things for awhile. Whether it is going to games, getting to get together with friends and family to watch games or play ourselves.  If we didn't have these avenues of enjoyment,  we all would get too stressed and go crazy.

The athletes in many cases, seem to have too much of the "me me" mentality.  They are given the hero status and idolized by millions.  They are placed in this unique situation of being in the public eye and are role models, whether they like it or not.  I believe it is their duty to give back to society in any way they can.  It can be done by donated time, money and their voice.  Schools, churches and hospitals can be helped.  Awareness towards diseases, illnesses and addictions can be brought foward.  Or can just be an inspiration to the youth for a brighter future.
Speaking of youth, sports can be used as an avenue for a better future.  Kids growing up in a rough neighborhood could use sports to get away from gangs and violence.  It may allow some to get a college education where otherwise it would not possible.  Youngsters also learn about teamwork, discipline and a healthier lifestyle through athletics.

I know this is quite idealistic and far too many people take advantage of others for personal gain.  But, on this day, lets put sports in perspective.  Remember who the true heroes are and honor them.   Use sports as intended, to better our lives and others.  If we all do this, even if for just one day, the world be a bit better place.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Some People in Baseball Need To Grow Up

Two different scenarios occurred in games on Monday night that has always got me under my skin.  First of which was in the Tigers/White Sox game.  During Miguel Cabrera's first plate appearance, there was a disputed call by Cabrera to home plate umpire Brian Gorman.  Gorman was right on the call, Cabrera showed his disapproval without much incident and got tossed.

As you can see, Cabrera was not demonstrative in his argument nor physical toward Gorman in any way.   I see umpires too often seem to look for throwing a player out of the game.  Either they are continuing the argument when not needed or looking back at the player, manager, dugout, etc. and waiting for something to happen so he can toss someone.  The game is not about them.  Umpires need to swallow their pride, have some thick skin and let the players vent their frustration and let them continue to play.  Pennant races are at stake here and the umpire should not have any factor in the outcome of the game other than calling the plays. 
I also feel bad for the fans who came out to the game to watch their favorite team and players especially a superstar like Miguel Cabrera.  The umpire took away that experience for thousands of people when not needed.

The other event occurred during the Yankees/Orioles game.  Yankees manager Joe Girardi and Orioles skipper Buck Showalter got in a heated argument on the field where Girardi accused the Orioles of stealing signs.  I have never had a problem of players/coaches stealing signs.  It is a part of the game.  I see it as no different than a pitcher tipping his pitches or have a premature move to home or to a base for an easy stolen base against.  If your signs are easily deciphered or in the open to see, I am sorry, the other team has the right to exploit the other's flaw. It is time for the team to change the signs or hide them better so it won't occur again.   On the other hand, if someone is using a set binoculars or a camera to steal signs, that is cheating my book.  On the field of play, everything is fair in the heat of the battle. It is the team's job to outperform and outmaneuver the other in order to get the win.

The game of baseball is a child's game played by adults. It does not give people the right to act like children.  It is time for adults to act like adults.  It will make it more enjoyable for everyone.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Card(s) of the Week: 1978 Burger King Tigers Alan Trammell & Lou Whitaker

This week I am featuring two cards of the week.  Frankly, you can not have one without the other.  The Detroit Tigers soon realized this after this day back in 1977.  On this date, during a second game of a doubleheader in Boston, Trammell and Whitaker debuted together at shortstop and second base.
Together they would set a MLB record of playing 19 seasons together as a double play combination.  Individually, each would have careers that would put them up for consideration for the Hall of Fame. Trammell, has a couple more years left on the ballot, while Whitaker is now only eligible on the veteran's committee. I believe both will eventually will be inducted at some point in the future

Burger King ran promotions for baseball cards at local restaurants during the 1978 season. Several regions gave away a 3-card pack free with any sandwich purchase.  One of the teams was the Detroit Tigers.  It used the 1978 Topps cards and pictures(when available) for the sets.
Another note is that the 1978 Topps is Trammell, Whitaker and Jack Morris' rookie cards. Each featured on multiple player cards within the set.  The Burger King set allows the collector to have solo rookie year cards of these players.  Hopefully, in the future, one can say this 23 card set will feature three Hall of Famers rookie year cards.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Jim Abbott's No Hitter

Wednesday was the 20th anniversary of Jim Abbott's no hitter. What makes this no hitter extra special is that Abbott was born without a right hand.  Pretty amazing accomplishment.  He became rather adept of having his glove on his right arm and quickly putting on his throwing hand just after pitching the ball for fielding.
1989 Score

He was originally a California Angel, but pitched his no hitter as a New York Yankee in 1993.  A couple personal thoughts from me.  I remember the day he pitched the gem. My dad, brother and I were out golfing for the day. As we made it the clubhouse before making the turn to the back nine for a beverage, we saw the tail end of the game. 
Also, to this day, Abbott is still the only player out of University Michigan I actually rooted for in professional sports. Hard not to cheer for this guy.  And yes, I am a Spartan, through and through.

Monday, September 2, 2013

My Earliest Prince Fielder Memory

With Miguel Cabrera out of the lineup the last few days, Prince Fielder has become the main cog in the batting order.  It gives me a chance to tell you all of my first Prince Fielder memory. Was it an All Star game appearance while with the Brewers? His MLB Debut? From the Minors? or day he got drafted? It is none of the above.
Here is my first memory of Prince Fielder:

Card of Week: 1988 Topps Big Andre Dawson

A popular trend in trading cards now is using designs of sets from decades ago.  One of the earliest sets to do this was the 1988 Topps Big.  Topps released a "big" set in three series of 88 cards each in 1988.  It took the design of the popular 1956 Topps set including the slightly larger size. Here is a pic of a 1956 Topps:
As you can see it has action photo to go along with the portrait of the player. The backs contain a comic strip theme to tell some of career highlights of player. The past year's stats and career stats shown at bottom.
The 1988 Topps Big set doesnt have the exact same design as the 56 set, but uses it as theme and the backs are the same between the two.
1988 Topps Big

I picked the Andre Dawson because he coming off his MVP season of 1987. And the action photo reminds me of this recent commercial that always makes me chuckle: