October 31, 2014

Joe Madden and the Opportunity of a Lifetime

It's Baseball, Baby. Just play. 

Sparky Anderson was hired mid–season 1979 by the Tigers and the manager he replaced, Les Moss, was jettisoned. It was a move the Tigers couldn't refuse at the time, similar to the recent move (or subsequent???) the Chicago Cubs have (or will) be making with Joe Maddon. 

I think Joe Maddon has every right to make the decision he made. He had the ability to choose to leave the Rays and accept the managerial gig with the Cubs in Chicago if that's what the parties decided they wanted to do.

I read somewhere that the Cubs, in 1979, decided that they were going to hire Sparky Anderson to be their new manager — in 1980. A Tigers broadcaster heard the rumor from a friend who heard it from a friend who … well, you know. And suddenly, the usually tight fisted, no splash move making general manager, Jim Campbell, hired Sparky Anderson and fired the longtime company man Les Moss. Moss had finally realized an opportunity to manage the big club after years in the organization, including the minor leagues.

One of my favorite pictures. It's a shot of Ernie Harwell standing at Tiger Stadium and chatting with a young fan who couldn't believe he was talking to Mr. Harwell. In the background is the legendary Sparky Anderson. I didn't realize what a gem of a photo I had until I looked closely at it one night. 

Anderson rode into town proclaiming that the Tigers would win a World Series within five years. He guaranteed it. Of course, if the Tigers had never won the 1984 World Series, we probably wouldn't remember that Anderson made that bold proclamation. The Tigers of the early '80s were a good bunch who grew up together. Much of the team was homegrown talent cultivated by company man Bill Lajoie.

This brings me back around to the Cubs and Madden. Even though the management structure is completely different all these years later, I'm sure there are people who remember when the Cubs took their time and didn't make the move to bring in Sparky. Maybe Sparky instead of Jim Frey could have led the Cubbies to the '84 Championship instead of the Tigers. As you may remember, Frey was appreciated in Chicago and won the '84 Manager of the Year.

Joe Maddon is a players' manager who gets great results from his teams. He is unorthodox, maybe even unique. He may be just the manager to bring in and put things together in Chicago. It's an interesting management structure in Chicago, and perhaps, Theo Epstein wishes he would have hired Madden all those years ago in Boston, after all. I like Joe Maddon and thought he would be a good addition to the Tigers if they so desired. But, this time, the Cubs struck first. It's not the terrible thing for baseball that everyone is making it out to be. I'm sure Rick Renteria will continue to get paid for the remaining two years on his contract and he may well end up managing elsewhere in the future. The Cubs have the resources to do what they feel they need to do to put themselves in the best position to win.

Greg Eno wrote this upon Anderson's death in 2010. I liked this quote so much, I turned it into a quote. I never realized what a great manager the Tigers had until he was no longer managing the team. 

Is there anyone who doesn't wonder if Jim Leyland hadn't called Dave Dombrowski in 2005 and said, "Dave, I think I'd be willing to manage again if you had an opening ..." ? Leyland had quite after 1999 with the Colorado Rockies, saying he was burned out and didn't have the fire any longer. He regained it for eight years in the Motor City. The key to that move, though, was the Leyland had been a longtime Tiger before leaving for the Chicago White Sox in the early '80s to manage with Tony LaRussa, then an unknown.

 Jim Leyland was redeemed when he returned to manage the Tigers in 2006. He took the job of a legendary Tiger, Alan Trammell (#3, below) but it sat okay with fans because Leyland was a former Tiger. Leyland worked with both Trammell and Whitaker (#1) when they were farmhands but Trammell grew up under Anderson and considered him a mentor. 

October 23, 2014

Rick Sometimes Rambles

Night Moves

Some days I just need to ramble. I think this is one of those days. Right now, I'm listening to the new Bob Seger album Ride Out. It seems to be a halfway decent album though I didn't think Seger'd still be making new stuff in 2014 when I bought one of his new albums in the mid-90s. I think I bought that at Media Play in Saginaw.

The Death of Media

Media Play was a really interesting store, selling everything from music to books to movies to video games to toys. It was a one stop place that seemed to have so much more than Best Buy, even is so much more referred to books. It's interesting that Best Buy eventually bought Media Plan and it went out of business in the early 2000s. I still think Best Buy will be out of business by 2020.

Digression

I digress. (Do you even write that or is that just something spoken?) Lately, John Mellencamp has released a new album, Plain Spoken, and John Grisham has released a new book, Gray Mountain. I used to get those new releases at the place who had the best price and try to go there the day it came out. You know, Meijer (@Meijer)  was the worst at having things out on their shelves in a timely manner. I used to get new release books at Sam's Club. Now, for Seger, I did buy it at Meijer but it had been out for a couple days; the new Mellencamp platter is totally digital as I bought it on iTunes, and the Grisham book arrived from Amazon.com the morning it came out. Times have changed. It's no wonder that a place like Media Play or Best Buy struggle?

The first vinyl LP for little Ricky, Foreigner's Double Vision. Probably purchased at a record store or maybe from K-Mart. It's hard to say as it was an Easter gift from the Easter Bunny. 

Nostalgia

Are you a victim of nostalgia like I am? I watched an episode of Family Ties earlier. What a great show from the '80s with a great introduction and theme song. I thought Alex P. Keaton was a great character with many good traits. The '80s were a different time and we probably didn't realize how good the times were back then. But we also think back fondly to the '70s and even the '90s. It's interesting that we never really think of the current as the greatest — yet we always look back fondly.

Pinch Runners

But I sure do long for the days when the starter went eight or nine innings and sometimes the closer came in with the bases loaded in the seventh with one out and finished the game for a real save. The sluggers then hit 35 to 40 homers and the stolen base king would swipe 80 to 100 bases without blinking. Heck, there were even Pinch Runners. Everything changes.
Rickey. He says he was the greatest. He might have been right. What does Rickey think? 

1999

As I write this, it's our 15th Anniversary. Lori's working hard at the kitchen table preparing a lesson for tomorrow. I'm watching Jeopardy on TV for no real reason. Tonight's episode is not the best. Much has happened in our lives since 1999. I was 27 then and Lori was 33. Now, we're older than that. The girls were younger, too. Courtney was almost seven and Amber was barely eight. Now, they're in their 20s … Time flies. And sometimes Rick rambles.

Have a great night and Happy Anniversary, Lori!



October 11, 2014

Constructing a Roster

Tigers Gear Up for Different Team in '15 

What will the roster look like next year? These guys are free agents.

  • Victor Martinez
  • Max Scherzer
  • Joba Chamberlain
  • Torii Hunter
  • Phil Coke
Signing Victor Martinez makes a great deal of sense for the Tigers. 

Free to Be 

Do we re–sign any of them?

My first thought is that Martinez, Scherzer, and Hunter could contribute to the team. If it were up to me, I would offer Martinez a fair–market two–year contract and maybe a one–year offer to Hunter to be a part–time player — the bench guy we need alá Hernan Perez. Scherzer turned down a six–year offer, which I felt was too long an offer, so it's doubtful that he would consider anything less or any less amount of money. 

Chamberlain can move on, as can Coke. That's two less former Yankees, but that's not a slam on the New Yorkers — it's just an interesting fact. Chamberlain's second half was abysmal. Coke's career in Detroit has been up and down, mostly down. If Coke is gone and Scherzer also leaves that would mean that no one is left from the December 2009 blockbuster trade with the Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks. 

I suspect that Martinez may sign a short–term contract with the Cleveland Indians to finish up his career where he began; however, the Indians have some players who already play his role in Cleveland. It will be interesting to see how this works out. Scherzer may stay in Detroit but he also may sign a good contract with the St. Louis Cardinals so he can go "back home." For both of those ball players, I think it's 50–50 they may stay. If Hunter decides he wants to play "one more season," he could conceivably stay as a part–timer in the D. 

The Replacements

How would the Tigers replace the free agents? Chamberlain and Coke are part of the bullpen rebuild. It has to be blown up. Hunter's defense is a liability. He can still hit. Martinez' bat and leadership are key to the team. He's worth possibly overspending on to keep. 

Scherzer is a great starter but it's becoming clear that there is more to World Championship teams than great starting pitching. It might be time to consider that a solid starting staff that might include guys like Brad Penny (no, I'm not saying bring him back …) or Drew Smyly (do we make that trade again?) or someone similar and put together a bullpen that can be used in the seventh, eighth, and ninth. 

I suspect that we could be looking at a blockbuster this offseason. I think there are only a couple of players immune from a possible trade. I really don't think the Tigers will trade for more superstars; instead, I think they may deal a superstar for quality parts. 

As far as free agents, could we look at Andrew Miller? We were close to trading for him in July, so why not talk to him? You could argue that Smyly in the bullpen (Fister trade, my friends?) or even Miller would have been better than the Price(y) trade. 

The Quiet Conundrum

One major obstacle that must be considered is the disconnect between David Price and the Detroit Tigers. Price is a modern day Jim Slaton because he's not coming back to the Tigers. I suspect he may take a serious hometown discount to return to the Tampa Rays. Do the Tigers trade him now and acquire talent or wait a year and offer him a qualifying offer and take the draft picks? I never knew much about Price as a Ray, but just saw a total disconnect when he joined the Tigers. Could we ship him out in a complicated multi–team trade where the Tigers, ahem, could bring in some true parts that will help the team instead of having a mega superstar for the rotation. 

The Tigers rotation will include Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, and Anibal Sanchez in 2015. I'm not convinced the Price will return, nor Scherzer. So, essentially, we would have to fill to slots, and there are no obvious choices to fill them. Verlander will probably relish becoming the true ace again, and fully healthy, will probably be back to his 2011 or 2012 self. I'm not convinced Robbie Ray is ready now, or ever will be. Maybe Kyle Lobstein will develop, but he might be more valuable in a relief role in '15. Could a Price trade return a potential starter and some relief help. If the Tigers decide to trade away Price, I only hope it's a better trade than the failed Doug Fister trade. The Fister trade made no sense when it happened, nor know. 

Robbie Ray

Window Closing

The Tigers' window is not closing. Look at how teams like the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals continue to rebuild on the fly without paying big bucks for big names. The Royals of Kansas City and the Baltimore Orioles also don't necessarily pay the big bucks and they're playing for the American League Championship. I don't think the Tigers' window is closing; they just have to make more economical and efficient moves to fill their (many) gaps. The manager probably was overmatched this season. I'm not even saying the Brad Ausmus is a bad manager — he's a bad manager on this relatively good team. The 2014 Detroit Tigers, after April, never felt like a team destined to win it all, even though they beat the heck out of the Kansas City Royals all season and the Royals will probably play in the World Series. But the window isn't closing. Yet. 

Architecture 

  • Hire recently–fired Ron Gardenhire to manage the team and "make talent a team" 
  • Rebuild the bullpen, even considering eating the contract of Joe Nathan
  • Find some bench players, including maybe keeping Torii Hunter for such a role 
  • Shore up centerfield
  • Find a couple of pitchers to fill some holes after the "big three" or four; Justin Verlander will be ready for a return to form next year 
Justin Verlander is primed for a return to form in 2015

October 06, 2014

What It's All About

Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie … 

My friend, Chris Brown, reminded me yesterday that being a Tigers fan is about so much more than winning and losing. His text message which became a Facebook post really highlighted what it's about.

Chris Brown and his wife, Kendra, at an ALCS game. 
FOR THE COMPLAINERS:Tigers baseball is about summer in Michigan... It's about time with your friends and family and your love for the game. It's listening to a ball game with your dad in the driveway on a summer night... It's talking to your grandpa about what their chances are at winning the division... It's your mom calling you at 10:30 pm after a walk off home run in the 11th... It's teaching your wife how to fill out your score card so you can make a run to the bathroom... It's watching a late west coast game with your new born baby girl... It's texting a far away friend throughout the game because you can't watch it together... It's about just being at the ballpark, taking everything in, from the green grass to the skyline and everything in-between... It's about the awe of watching larger-than-life players take batting practice, finding your seat and being in the moment with your hotdog (mustard only), a pop, peanuts, a scorecard, and your glove... I love the Detroit Tigers more than most other fans; my wife thinks I'm slightly crazy. Going to a game today gives me the same excitement I got when I went to my first game when I was 7, and when they lost 119 games in 2003... I'm more competitive than many other people, but the Detroit Tigers mean so much more than being thrilled with a win or disappointed after a loss. It's so much more. If you don't understand that you're missing out.

It's Baseball, Mark Fidrych, and '76

Baseball to me is Mark Fidrych taking over Michigan in the Summer of '76. That was my baseball awakening. Of all the things I've saved, I sure do wish I had a couple of those t-shirts my mom made me with the iron on from the Oakland Press. Baseball is going to Grandma and Grandpa's and having the game actually be television but listening to Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey instead of the television guys. Baseball is the Pittsburgh Pirates winning the first World Series I really remember — in 1979 — and loving their hats that were different from everyone else's hats. Baseball is going to the World Series in 1984 (and 2006 and 2012) and cheering on the Tigers. Baseball is Opening Day, every year. Baseball is the pennant race.

A short postseason in 2014

Gibby and Kaline

Baseball is meeting Matt Nokes in the midst of his sudden and great rookie year and getting an autograph that he had to come back off the team bus to sign. It's watching Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell play together throughout your childhood and not realizing how special that really is. It's Kirk Gibson. It's Al Kaline. It's a young boy confusing the two. Baseball is taking people to Detroit for their first time, showing them some of what the city is all about, and taking them to Lafayette Coney after the game and enjoying a Vernors and couple of Coney's.

Lafayette Coney Island, Detroit, Michigan

Comerica Park

Baseball is nostalgia. The Seventh Inning Stretch. The National Anthem. "Lifelong Tiger Fan Blues" is an anthem from 2006. Baseball is awesome. Baseball in Detroit has history — it's Tiger Stadium, still a ballfield thanks to the Navin Field Grounds Crew. Baseball is Comerica Park finally having tradition with some playoff action in 2006. It took several years before the new place was home.

Courtney and Amber

Baseball is taking Courtney and Amber to their first game in 2000 and having them wonder if it was a good idea. Baseball is taking both girls to special games and enjoying the ALCS with Courtney, even though the Tigers eventually lost. Baseball is turning Lori, a lifelong Lions and football fan, into a Tiger fan (even though baseball really should end in September, according to her). Baseball is going to Lakeland and taking in practices and games with Mom and Dad. Baseball is taking Grandpa to a few games later in his life and talkin' baseball all the way to Detroit and back to Clarkston. It's having Dad tell me, "You know, Grandpa said you really know how to get around Detroit. He was impressed."

Courtney and Amber, early 2000s

Tiger Stadium

Baseball is walking into Tiger Stadium for the first time, second time, 10th time, 25th time (you get the picture) and being mesmerized by the green grass, the aroma of Ball Park Franks, and the long walk to find your seats that might be blocked by a large girder. It's the biggest heart breaker of all. It can provide the best memories, too. It's, "Good afternoon everyone this is George Kell along with Al Kaline. We're coming to you from sunny Detraught."

It's Ernie Harwell, who never got the chance to say, "A young fan from Elk Rapids caught that one."

October 04, 2014

Brad Ausmus — Back to the Padres or the Astros

The Brad Ausmus Experiment Failed

"It's outside the box thinking and similar to what the Cardinals did a couple of years ago with U–M grad Mike Matheny. He's been successful with St. Louis so there's a precedent for the Tigers' move. I still expect the team to be more aggressive. They'll probably pay more attention to numbers but not match–ups." — Rick's Writing Again (November 3, 2013) 
 Ausmus. At Spring Training. 

I liked the hiring of Brad Ausmus. I thought it would be a change from the last several years. I thought there would be more focus on speed and creating situations to score runs; I thought the defense would be markedly better; I thought fundamentals would be a focus.

At Spring Training Ausmus was involved in all aspects of the training camp. He clearly was teaching. It looked like new beginnings. And Brad Ausmus was handed the keys to a shiny car. Well, it had a couple of dings that we thought had been shored up: the bullpen closer situation was supposed to be fixed with the addition of Joe Nathan for $20 million; the defense was supposed to be improved with the change at second base and addition of Rajai Davis in the outfield.

It turns out that Nathan's best years are probably behind him. He blew a save on Opening Day — then, again and again — and Ausmus stuck with him in the closer role. There's a good thing about loyalty because it sets up and builds trust, but he stuck with Nathan way too long. In fact, his handling of the bullpen all season was questionable. Sure, that's easy to say from the outside, but sticking with Joba Chamberlain in the eighth inning when he clearly had lost his effectiveness turned out to be a playoff downer. He clearly has said that he hasn't used Al–Al because he used him in the earlier innings during the season. Has he not realized we are in the situation where we need "all hands on deck" ?

I loved the idea of going with Ausmus when they hired him. It seemed like a change in philosophy that could possibly get more out of the squad. I think — and this blew my mind — that Ausmus was more set in his ways than Jim Leyland ever was. Leyland was a great manager who sometimes drived us crazy with his reverence for certain players (e.g. Inge, Raburn, Valverde, et al.)

Mr. Leyland. 

Ausmus was handed talent and the team — but something along the way didn't click. The Tigers came out of the shoot rolling and were a team to be reckoned with. Then, the won eight games in 30 and things were unravelling. I can't put all of this on Ausmus because the General Manager Dave Dombrowski traded away Doug Fister for a couple of spare parts from the Washington Nationals and Fister had a Fisteresque year for the Nats. Yes, Dombrowski did pull off a swindle of the Texas Rangers by sending Prince Fielder to them for Ian Kinsler. Many of his moves have worked well, including trading FOR Fister in 2011 among many others.

Ron Gardenhire wasn't available a year ago. Kirk Gibson wasn't available a year ago. Alan Trammell wasn't available a year ago. Ron Washington wasn't available a year ago. Jim Leyland made himself unavailable a year ago. I think at this point the Tigers have a better talent pool to pick from than when they decided to hire the inexperienced Brad Ausmus. I thought they would go with Torey Lovullo a year ago. I thought going with a younger manager would make a difference.

I don't think the Tigers are going to win this series with the Orioles. I thought they would. I thought the Tigers would go to the World Series. But with the bullpen in the shape it's in, no lead is safe. It's even mental for the Tigers who if they have to go to the bullpen will be nervous. I think the season's end is near. Maybe they can beat the Orioles on Sunday (I'll be there!) and maybe Monday. But I don't think they're going to win the series.

If they don't win the series, I think the Tigers immediately fire Ausmus and have Ron Gardenhire in town the following morning at 9 a.m. He would be my number one choice to turn things around. But I would also consider interviewing Trammell, Washington, and — if he would consider it — Leyland. I don't think Gibby is the answer in this situation. To me, Gibby is a Billy Martin style of manager who can only last for two or three years before his "act" wares thin. That clearly happened in Arizona with the focus on "grit" and other ... "stuff."

Gardenhire knows the Tigers well from managing against them so often in the past several years. He's a winner, just never the World Series. Trammell had a bad deal his first time around, has coached every year since leaving the Tigers, and is a Tiger to the bone. Washington is a good manager who ran out of gas with the Rangers. I think he would be a good addition in Detroit. If Leyland would consider it, I think he might be the best choice to run the team. This time around, no one would question him. He could take the team to the promised land. But, I don't think he would want to come out of retirement. I think Gardy might be the guy for the job. Ausmus was a good choice then.



September 29, 2014

Holding On

Every year it starts in Lakeland, Florida.

The Tigers show up, ready to prepare for "that championship season."

Brad Ausmus took over the manager's office for the new season after eight years of  Mr. Leyland. It turns out Mr. Leyland was one cool customer. In 2006, when the team turned things around and ended up in the World Series, people wore "Leyland for Governor" shirts. It was a fun time. Joel Zumaya threw the ball 103 miles per hour. Nate Robertson had his 15 minutes with "Gum Time." Fun baseball in the D was something we hadn't really had in about 15 or so years back in '06.

Leyland chewed the team out after a lousy Sunday afternoon performance in Cleveland and the team just seemed like it wanted to head to Oakland. He famously said, "This has gone on here before and it's not gonna go on no more" or something to that effect. It had a great result. The Tigers started winning. And winning. And winning. And we all had a "reason to roar."

The Tigers are back in the playoffs. Four years in a row they have been crowned the Central Division Champions. The first time was great. Now, it's almost like they need to be the World Champions. Heck, there are even playoff tickets available for next week-end. When they won in '06, you couldn't even buy a standing room only ticket!

The fans like to have a winning team, especially those of us who remember the '90s and first half of the oughts. But, with the talent assembled, it's time for these guys to win a World Series. That will get the Tigers fans fired up. But winning every season is a lot better than losing and having nothing to play for in August and September ...

September 14, 2014

The Cutting Room Floor

Sometimes when putting together a blog, things get missed or forgotten. 


One of my favorite photos that I ever took — just at the right place at the right time. The Tigers had just won the American League in 2006 and the Fox Theater was lighting up its marquee. 


Lakeland, Florida, has so much to offer. Even though Mr. Leyland is no longer the manager, he now hangs out around the park and is more accessible than ever. 


One of my favorite photos with Courtney at the Tigers playoff game last fall. 


Lori and I love to go to Leelanau Coffee in Glen Arbor. It's just a short 45 minute drive and the coffee is pretty decent. It's one of our favorite things to do on a lazy Saturday morning. 


This is a shot taken by a customer of my Uncle John and Grandpa at Morgan's Service. It's one of my favorite pics of those guys. 

Places

Keeping on with my lists … places

Today, I'll list my favorite places to visit.

I grew up, basically, in Elk Rapids, Michigan. Every summer we spend a lot of time there during Harbor Days. When we had our camper/trailer, I could get in a great nap. Not sure why, but every year I would take at least one good nap!



I've loved going to Detroit since I was a young boy. I don't have any idea why Detroit has always been so important to me. I used to get so excited driving into the city — and it was many years before I actually explored Detroit. I used to be one who drove in, took in a game or concert, and drove home. Now, I love to stay downtown and explore.



I'm not sure the first year we went to Las Vegas, but it was in the early 2000s. What a cool place to visit. The first time you fly in at night and see "the Strip," is something you'll never forget. Las Vegas is amazing and a wonderful place to people watch. There is so much to do and see that you can never run out of things to do.


I've been to Washington, D.C., a few times, but now that my sister Amy and nephew Morgan live there that gives us more reason to go visit. We haven't been out there enough and need to somehow get back out there soon.


Silver Lake located in Hart, Michigan, is one of the coolest places to visit. We enjoy vacationing there and hanging out on a regular basis. There is so much to do there. We have rented jeeps and climbed the dunes, ridden with people in there trucks, and just had a great time there.


Lakeland, Florida, is someplace I always wanted to visit in February. I finally did several years ago and absolutely love going there. It's so cool because you never know what's going to happen, or where. You might run into Justin Verlander and Kenny Rogers when you're out eating.


I lived many years in Clarkston, Michigan, and went back for years to visit my Uncle John & Aunt Connie (and the cousins) and my Grandma & Grandpa. But, now, Clarkston is an iconic little town featuring two of the best places to eat in the state of Michigan. I've been going there for years — and now, even Kid Rock lives there!