Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Comeback Vol. XXIV

Once again I have got the bug to update my blog.  I don't mean that in a metaphorical sense either as unfortunately the Ugandan Goliathus blog beetle laid eggs in my brain and the only way to avoid a long and painful demise is to update this site regularly.  I wish I had some way to explain away my long absence by saying I had teamed up with Lincoln's ghost and traveled through time to catch Jefferson Davis before he could reach Mexico with a fortune in Confederate gold, or better yet joined forces with the reanimated corpse of Andrew Jackson and worked covert ops missions for the President to protect America from villains the public didn't even know existed like Dr. Fartsocks and his evil army of SharkBadgers.  However, try as I might to extend premises that sound like rejected ideas for Timecop 2 or Quantum Leap fan fiction into 3,000 word blog posts and then disappear for eight months, I decided to not waste everybody's time and just write that I will be updating this site as the Tigers head into the playoffs and hopefully play deep into October for the first time since 2006.  Also look at me writing this post like I still have any kind of audience .  I think the most traffic I ever had was averaging a few hundred people a day who stumbled across my site after doing a Google Image Search for Stacy London.  At least my unjustified and delusional sense of self worth remains heartily intact.  Don't fear imaginary loyal fan base who derive nourishment from my every word like nectar from a God, I will lead you out of the wilderness towards a greater understanding of Tiger baseball!

/watches 4 hour "Victorious" marathon/
/eats a dinner of Andy Capp's Hot Fries and Chocolate Fudge Pop Tarts/
/curses at Brad Penny even though Penny isn't pitching/
/cries himself to sleep/

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Season in Review: Prelude

Ahoy hoy, dear readers. It has been months since I've updated this blog but that is because I have been busy establishing myself as a young attorney. I was fortunate enough to hire into the illustrious law firm of Howe & Hummel where I found myself assigned to the high profile case of busting the Amalgamated-Men's-Hat-Penny-Farthing-Syndicate-Liniment-Oil-Tobacco-Concern trust. I couldn't believe my good fortune. The whole reason I went to law school was because I had grown up idolizing Teddy Roosevelt, even going so far as growing a bushy walrus mustache in the third grade, and how he would fearlessly take on the biggest and most powerful monopolies. I saw this case as Providence bestowing the opportunity for me to send my career soaring like a space rocket into the moon's eye. If I was successful it could be the beginning of the fame I so desperately sought. I could picture it now, my name on the front pages of the Times, being invited to the opening night performance of Miss Cairo's seductive and centuries old "Forbidden Egypt Dance", courting the beautiful Ms. Crosby and wooing her with trips to the finest candy stores and expensive parasols, purchasing ruby and sapphire tie pins and launching my own political career as a champion of the people and opponent of vice and corruption. I sequestered myself and read nothing but law books in preparation of the case, my only real contact with the outside world was a little street urchin named Paddy O'Sullivan who would bring me copies of the dailies and a variety of cakes and sweetmeats in exchange for pieces of stale bread. It was through these reports that I kept abreast of the progress of the Detroit squad. My excitement knew no bounds as the local nine entered the All-Star break in first place however the team trailed off terribly in the second half and finished a distant third place.

Jesus Christ, who am I kidding? All this stuff is obviously fake. Anyone who has followed this site over the years, and I seriously doubt there is anybody out there who has kept up with my erratic posting for five years, knows about my unabashed love of anything from the Progressive Era. The truth is I am a struggling young attorney in Flint whose biggest case so far was the prosecution of the infamous Family Dollar bandits. No teenage girl is going to steal headbands from a dollar store and not pay the ultimate price of pleaing down to a deferred sentence and spending a Saturday afternoon at Shoplifters Anonymous. I'm essentially the Elliot Ness of busting petty criminals. I'm also only about one step away from living in a Motel 6 in the North End of Flint, setting up my office in a storage unit and taking cases on a Sandwich and Flaming Hot Cheetos retainer. So instead of just sitting around and waiting for the phone to ring and daydreaming of stealing all the money from the office trust account and disappearing to the Chilean mountains under the alias Zesty Alvarado, where I would raise goats and be the moody and mysterious gringo who would grow silent and angry when people asked questions about my career as a lawyer in the States, I thought I would go back to updating this site regularly or semi-regularly or three times in one week before my ambition and time to update the site simultaneously run out and the site goes dormant again.

The first thing I am going to do is write up a season in review for the Tigers as well as a look at some of the Tigers off-season moves now that I have had months to carefully contemplate and examine them. Expect the usual array of schizophrenic level word salad, paper thin analysis, unabashed love of Austin Jackson and hatred of Ryan Raburn that knows no bounds. The first player due up on the review is Austin Jackson and I'm going to try to have something up on him by tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Ernie Harwell

Just like everybody else who grew up a Tigers fan between 1960 and 2002 and who lived within the broadcasting range of the "Golden Tower of the Fisher Building", which reached the whole state of Michigan and large parts of Ohio and Ontario and on a real clear summer night could probably be fuzzily picked up in far-off cities like Pittsburgh and St. Louis, I spent the majority of my summer nights as a kid in my bedroom listening to Ernie Harwell broadcast Tigers games on the radio. I don't want to get overly nostalgic or dramatic about listening to these games as a youth. It's not like I was wearing baseball player pajamas and a comically adorable oversized baseball cap while flipping a baseball in the air and imagining myself hitting grand slam homeruns for the Tigers and then running out to celebrate afterwards over Chicken McNugget Happy Meals with my new best friends Rob Deer, Frank Tanana and Mickey Tettleton. Nor was I turning the volume up on my handheld transistor radio, holding it close to my ear and using Ernie's sweet, comforting Southern voice to take me away to different idyllic ballparks across the country as my parents fought loudly over my Dad losing the rent money down at the horse track. No, and as much as I believe that I accidently stumbled upon an idea for a screenplay for an ABC Family after-school melodrama with the working title "Caught by the kid from Ypsilanti", the truth is I spent most of my summer nights listening to Tigers games on the radio in my bedroom as background music while playing R.B.I. 3 on Nintendo (anything was better than listening to that shrill, grating R.B.I. 3 background music, I feel like if I went to a personal hell where I was tortured by having too much of the things I loved on Earth the R.B.I. 3 music would be playing full blast as Super Macho Man stood laughing over me while flexing his pectoral muscles…but I digress.) and being slightly peeved that my Dad was too cheap to spring the few extra bucks a month it cost to subscribe to PASS.

That year of playing R.B.I. 3 obsessively was 1991, which also happened to be the year that I went from being a kid who collected a few baseball cards and had a passing interest in the Tigers to fully fledged Tigers fanaticism and Ernie had as much to do with that as anyone outside of my Dad and the God amongst common men known as Mr. Tettleton. In 1990, as a six year old I kind of, sort of followed the Tigers. I picked up enough to know that what Cecil Fielder was doing was pretty special, given the fact that my Dad opted to stay in the car and listen to the radio during the final game of the season instead of accompany the family inside Frank's Nursery and Crafts (also if there is a personal hell for things I hated on earth and can't escape in the afterlife, mine would take place at Frank's Nursery and Crafts or Michaels…shudder) and that Brian Sather was hot shit on the playground for owning Fielder's '86 Topps Blue Jays rookie card. During the winter following the'90 season two important things happened that turned me into a Tiger lifer. First was the purchase and obsession with the aforementioned R.B.I. 3 Nintendo game and second was the purchase by my parents of my Uncle Tim's baseball card collection. All of a sudden I was bombarded with thousands of baseball cards from the late 70's and early 80's including the local stars I had heard so much about. I was finally able to put faces and numbers to the names and I was fascinated.

My dad recognized this opportunity to raise a second generation hardcore Tigers fan and exploited this to its fullest advantage. He took me to my first Tiger game early in the '91 season and I was initially skeptical. The big city frightened me, the sights, the sounds, the smell, the throng of people, more people than I had ever seen at any point in my life all moving towards a towering somewhat dingy stadium. I remember stopping on the middle of the overpass that led to Tiger Stadium from where we parked the car and not wanting to go in the stadium. This was not what I had imagined, it was intimidating, the bland aluminum siding, the towering light structures, the sad and rundown area surrounding the stadium. Where was the green field and blue awning, the seats in the upper level that appeared to hang well over the field so close to the action it looked like the fans could touch the players? I was coaxed inside and things were no better, the ceilings seemed short and were dripping, the concourse was wet with what smelled like piss and everything echoed terribly, a very claustrophobic setting for a seven year old kid. (Re-reading this paragraph it's no wonder now why my Dad was worried about me spending so much time inside reading, even at the age of seven I acted like a hermetic cat-lady who spent the past twenty years shut-indoors because she saw a Mexican teenager riding his bike down the street one afternoon and it frightened her.) However once we walked up to our seats and I was first able to glance at the magnificent green field for the first time I was hooked for life. I saw the new catcher Mickey Tettleton crush a homerun and I cheered so wildly and loud that I lost a baby tooth, it seemed like a sign and Mickey Tettleton became my favorite Tiger of all time. I left the stadium thinking the once scary and daunting structure was now the most incredible place on earth and I couldn't wait to come back.

There was no turning back now as I embraced my Tigers madness completely, I started calling my games of R.B.I. 3 in a fake Ernie voice (wait I think we have a new contender for nerdiest sports moment) and did an oral report in third grade about Denny McLain, much to the horror of my teacher Mrs. Marshall. As a substitute for being at the games Ernie and the Tigers became regular fixtures on my radio for the rest of that season. In what may be my nerdiest sports moment in my life (the other contender is when I lied at a Pistons game that I had been assaulted in the bathroom and had my Darko Milicic bobblehead stolen from me in an attempt to procure one. I got a bobblehead but only at the cost of my dignity…fair trade though.) I kept score to the Tigers final game of the '91 season against the Baltimore Orioles while listening to Ernie Harwell and the Voice of God sign off for what many felt was the final time due to the Tigers famously shortsighted and unpopular decision to fire the most beloved man in the whole state of Michigan. Even though I had only had a chance to listen to them for a year I felt like I was losing two close friends and made a lifetime vow to hate Rick Rizzs for as long as he was on the radio. Luckily my hate only had to last for one season as in 1993, new owner Mike Ilitch, did the only thing he would do right for the first twelve years of his ownership and brought Ernie back to the broadcast booth (personal hell update…Randy Smith would have to be involved in some way, shape or fashion).

Now for the eulogizing part of the post and the saddest paragraph I've ever had to write on this website. I never had the pleasure to meet Ernie Harwell, but I have read numerous accounts and met people who were fortunate enough to cross paths with the man and the thing that stands out is their universal acclaim that Ernie was one of the most genuinely nice, gracious and cordial people they had ever had the pleasure to meet. The common thread in all of these stories has been how genuinely excited everyone was to meet Ernie, to just be able to spend a moment of time with the person who was THE VOICE of their summer nights as a kid, and how when they left their encounter with Ernie they felt like the opposite had occurred, that their idol was the one who was thrilled to have met them and to have listened to their stories even though he had probably been told similar stories thousands of times before. It is also admirable how he faced his death with such dignity, no bitterness, no songs of faded glory, just acceptance and pride in the kind of life he had led. There are very few people I can honestly say that I would be happy if I could one day believe I had lived a life half as fulfilling as theirs and Ernie Harwell is one of those people. Like so many people I grew up as a second generation Tigers fan who got to listen to the greatest announcer in the history of baseball. It was a special connection to know that the same guy who was broadcasting Tigers games while my dad was listening to the World Series as a college freshman in 1968 was the same guy who was calling games while I was commuting back and forth to college as a freshman at MSU and listening to the radio in my car. It makes me sad to think that if I have a son one day he won't have the pleasure of hearing Ernie call the games or hear his corny but lovable sayings like "called out for excessive window shopping" or "two for the price of one". As the games became more readily available on television I stopped listening to Ernie on the radio, something I regret very much now and I only tuned in to the last few innings of the final game he would call before his retirement in 2002. Even after it was announced last year that he had terminal cancer and there would be a day at Comerica honoring him, I couldn't bring myself to go. He was someone I always hoped and imagined would be around forever. He wasn't dying, that was unpossible. There was no need to go to this one because I would just come back next year after he had beaten the odds and the Tigers were celebrating his spectacular career again. This was all denial, of course, and when the devastating news came down today of his passing, the reality of it all set in almost immediately. The first person I called, as I'm sure many people across the state did, was my dad to share the news with him. He was incredibly sad to hear Ernie had passed and it led us to a long conversation of all the great baseball memories we shared together and that first Tigers game we attended as father and son. It was a good conversation about something we had not talked about in a long time and a connection all made possible by Ernie.

Thank you, Ernie and may you rest in peace.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Sixth Annual Authoritative Detroit Tigers Season Preview Vol. 2

I've lived in Flint, Michigan for a little over a year now and it has been interesting to say the least. I know Flint has a bad rap as it annually tops lists for most dangerous city, most depressing city, most violent city and city most likely to be overtaken by rats and turned into a highly intelligent rat society Secret of Nimh style. I mean there was even a list that came out this past winter of the worst places to live and they didn't even bother listing Flint because they said nobody would ever willingly move there. However, my experiences living in downtown Flint has led me to believe the city has gotten a bad rap over the years. Sure the violent crime rate is through the roof, unemployment levels are around 25%, it has more foreclosures than any place in the country, an arsonist is currently running amok, bankruptcy looming and weekly human sacrifices to appease the bum god Hobonicus but the city is not without its' charms.

For example there is this kickass takeout Chinese restaurant located in the heart of the most dangerous part of the city. There would never be any reason to travel to this part of the city unless you were looking to tweak on meth, get stabbed and have your shoes stolen or buy a giant Tweety Bird rug from the back of some serial killers van. However this Chinese food is so amazingly good that it's worth the risk it takes to go get it, even if a person has to armor up like they are going off to fight Predator just to pick up some Cashew Chicken. The people that work at the takeout place are amazing too. The place is run by an old Chinese lady who hardly speaks any English and a teenage girl that wears a different terrifyingly graphic "Cannibal Corpse" t-shirt and helps translate for the lady as well as prepare the food. Where else on Earth would you find a business like this? Some sixty year old Chinese lady screaming at costumers in Mandarin while some pimply faced teenage girl in an oversize black t-shirt that says "Hammer Smashed Face" on it scoops out chicken fried rice as costumers keep glancing nervously back at their car to make sure someone isn't murdering someone in it.

Why am I writing about this? Because I ate it this evening and it was so transcendently delicious that as I was eating it I could see through time and space. Yes, as I was eating it I suddenly got the sensation of floating through the fourth dimension, passing by grandfather clocks with the hands spinning out of control, math equations sailed past me, neon colors flashed and I think I saw Kirk Gibson making out with a bear, but that might have just been another fantasy dream I had. I was fascinated to see where I might end up when my journey through time ended. Sometime during the French Revolution? Maybe a thousand years from now in a utopian world where everyone had hovercrafts? No, instead I ended up in September of this year looking at Tigers statistics and what I saw surprised me. I woke up on the floor in a puddle of sweet & sour sauce with my cat licking my face, but I rushed to the computer to write down what I saw. But since I wrote this long ass introduction I forgot everything from my vision and now I have to make up all this stuff as I go along. Crap.

Regardless here is volume two of my season preview focusing on the infielders.

Miguel Cabrera: Cabrera famously finished last season on a sour note, when reports came out that he spent the night before the most important game of the season getting shit-faced with a few White Sox players, including former Tiger Freddy Garcia at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham. He then got into a violent argument with his wife, had the police called out to his house, blew a .26 and then topped it off with a night in the drunk tank to sleep it off, before Dombrowski picked him up in the morning and drove him to the ballpark to get ready for THE BIGGEST GAME OF THE SEASON!

That's the part of the story that cracks me up I always picture Dombrowski as a dad from an 80's movie, mostly because of his haircut and wardrobe of blazers over turtlenecks. I just picture him showing up at the jail with a stern look as Cabrera looks on sheepishly before Dombrowski cracks a boys will be boys smile and promises not to tell Mom of all the trouble Miggy cause as he slaps him on the back and they walk out of the police station as the credits roll. Of course in the movies Cabrera would've showed up in time to hit the game winning homerun and as Cabrera celebrated with his teammates he would take a quick break to giving a knowing thumbs up to a smirking Dombrowski in the croud.

Not surprisingly, in real life, Cabrera put up an oh-fer in that game and generally play like a guy who was working off a hangover. Of course people were annoyed by Cabrera's unbelievable immaturity and it was the latest incident in a long line of childish behavior that has followed him throughout his career. Even with his huge statistics last season (.324/.396/.547) it seems as though Cabrera is seen as a mild disappointment mainly because he hasn't improved much statistically from his early numbers with the Marlins. This may be true but I think most people, myself included, forget that he is just now entering his prime years as he doesn't turn 27 until the 18th of this month. Even with all the tales of immaturity off the field and some goofy baserunning mistakes on the field from all accounts he is a tireless worker who has put in a ton of work in trying to make himself a solid defensive first baseman. Also there were reports that he went to alcohol counseling and received mentoring and is working to control whatever problems he has with booze. It seems like Cabrera is someone who wants to learn from his mistakes and continue to make himself a better player or, who knows, maybe he peaked early and he didn't have any projection left in him from when he was tearing it up as a 22 year old, but at least he's working to maintain that still extraordinary level and I wouldn't be surprised if he had a breakout season during his peak age 27 season.

Alex Avila: Avila jumped straight from AA Erie to the majors and in seventy-two plate appearances gave the Tigers nearly as much value with the bat as Laird had over an entire season. Avila is a little rough defensively as he's only been playing the position regularly for the past few seasons, but his switch-hitting bat carries enough promise that if he can just become an average defensive catcher he would provide a tremendous value to the club at a nice cost controlled price. My ideal scenario for Avila this season would be for him to split the job with Laird at the beginning of the season and slowly taking over the lion's share of the playing time as the season progresses with an eye towards Avila being the starting catcher from the outset of the 2011 season, leaving Laird and his good defensive skills and weak bat to test free agency. I know this is likely what the plan is going to be and I'm not breaking any new ground with this prediction but I just have this nagging feeling that Laird is going to be a Tiger long past his utility as Avila scuffles to find regular playing time. Hopefully I'm wrong on this one

Gerald Laird: Something about Laird is off-putting and I'm not sure what it is, maybe it's his goblin like face, or the fact that his legs look to skinny for the rest of his body or the fact that his batting stance looks like he's straddling over one of those weird European toilets that requires a person to poop in what is essentially a tiny whole in the ground. It also could be that his bat was completely absent for most of the season and it seems like he came up to the plate time after time in big situations only to end up striking out swinging at a pitch high in the zone or skying harmless flyballs into the infield. There is no question that Laird is a great defensive catcher and that is where most of his value lies but as I laid out in the Avila paragraph above I hope that Laird slowly gets replaced by Avila and by the end of the season is used exclusively in the short side of a platoon or as a defensive replacement for Avila in the late innings.

Scott Sizemore: Sizemore is an intriguing prospect replacing the popular and uncannily consistent Placido Polanco. I don't know much about Sizemore other than that scouts love him and project him to be a solid .270 hitter with 12-15 homeruns and solid defense. If he comes close to that and gives the Tigers a solid #8 hitter to break up the whirling, infinitely dark swirling vortex of suck that are known as Gerald Laird and Adam Everett than I will be happy. Whenever I see Sizemore's jersey out on the field I think of Detroit native Tome Sizemore playing for the Tigers and think of the team's second baseman as a surly, chain smoking, prostitute banging, Passenger 57 co-starring menace out there. Hopefully Scott Sizemore's personality is much different than his Hollywood namesakes.

Adam Everett: It's a toss-up between Everett and Laird for the title of my most hated Tiger. This is a very prestigious title as the winner would join the likes of Bobby Higginson, Juan Gonzalez, Todd Jones, Roger Cedeno, Jason Grilli, Mike Moore and the granddaddy of them all Chad Kreuter, (as a quick aside when I was a kid I had an irrational hated towards Chad Kreuter because 1) he looked like a douchebag before I even knew what a douchebag was and 2) I saw his as the usurper to Mickey Tettleton's rightful position on the team as starting catcher. It made no difference to the nine-year old me that Tettleton was still in the lineup every day as the DH or that Kreuter was a better defensive catcher because I was playing catcher in Little League for one reason only because it was the position Tettleton played, not because of Chad Effin Kreuter. It would also explain why Rich Rowland and Phil Clark received misspelled death threats written in crayon imploring them it was in their best interest to not make the team out of spring training.)

It seems Everett is living off a defensive rep that has long since been untrue. It's not that he is a Yuniesky Betancourt level disaster in the field, it's just that he seems only average at best and not noticeably better than Ramon Santiago out there. His arm seems a little weak out there as it seems like he really has to load up on his throws to get it across the diamond. Also his bat is completely non-existent almost on a Ray Oyler level of uselessness, especially against right handed pitching. I never thought I would ever see a Tigers shortstop that made me long for the Edgar Renteria era but Everett's helpless flailing at the plate made me misty eyed for the days when the Tigers had a shortstop who could ground out solidly to the shortstop with regularity.

The problem with hating Everett is that he seems like a likable enough guy and he's making near the minimum for a veteran and there were no expectations of greatness when he signed as a free agent. In fact he was supposed to be a one year patch for an organization that had shockingly little depth at the position unless you're one of those people who believed Cale Iorg would be anything other than a below average Double-AA player, and I think the only person who believed in that scenario was Cale Iorg and maybe Iorg's mother.

Brandon Inge: After struggling mightily at the plate the past two seasons as well as bouncing around the field in a utility role and playing some catcher at the end of the 2008 season, Inge had a surprisingly great start to last season hitting 20 home runs in the first half and even getting an invite to participate in the Home Run Derby. Inge went homerless during the derby and then fell off a cliff during the second half of the season. Honestly if Inge had actually fallen off a cliff in real life it would have helped explain away his atrocious second half. Of course in real life Inge was playing with two wrecked knees and it made him a completely useless hitter in the second half (.186/.259/.279).

Not only was he ineffective at the plate was his amazing defense in the field fell precipitously in the second half as he went from being a highlight a night player at third making plays and showing range that no one else in the league could match to just being an average defender who looked like he was wearing concrete shows during some games. Not only did Inge struggle at baseball but he also alienated his fan base of 40 year old moms who thought he was hot and would go to the games with their girlfriends get drunk and yell out things about Inge's ass as their husbands silently stewed at being so publicly emasculated, by getting those gigantic forearm tattoos of his kids names. I feel like that was the real turning point of the season for Inge. However Inge did have offseason surgery on both of his knees and claims to be feeling 100%. If he can just return to being a .250 hitter with 25 homeruns and play some spectacular defense at third he could remain a valuable part of the team while setting himself up nicely for someone other than Detroit to over pay for his decline when he becomes a free agent after the season.

Ramon Santiago: Santiago has made a nice little career for himself as a utility infielder. Pretty amazing if you can remember how overmatched he was during his rookie year on that atrocious 2003 Tigers team that was full of overmatched young players. As I said in the Everett paragraph I kind of hope that Santiago can take over the job as the everyday shortstop or at least the starter against all right-handers given Everett's severe limitiations against righties.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Julian Casablancas Concert Review 4/5/10

Last night I journeyed back to Detroit to catch the Julian Casablancas concert at St. Andrews Hall. Casablancas was/is the lead singer for The Strokes, the group most responsible for the garage rock revival in the early 2000's. There are certain things that I feel a special connection with because I identify them with certain milestone events in my life. One of those events is my freshman year of college at Michigan State which occurred in the fall of 2001. Like most people going away to college felt like the beginning of some transformative experience. I was going to make new friends for life, try new experiences, go to parties, learn about interesting cultures and philosophies, come out of my shell and become a better more interesting person because of it. Of course I squandered that opportunity as my shyness kept me from taking advantage of my new environs. Instead I sat in my dorm, listened to music, watched sports and played entire seasons of Tecmo Super Bowl with my friend since kindergarten and college roommate Mike. So when I think of freshman year of college I don't think of wild dorm parties, making out with random girls and making new friends, instead I think of listening to Radiohead, watching Charlie Rogers and getting into a near fist fight with my roommate because he thought I was excessively celebrating a last second Al Toon touchdown in Tecmo. It was during this time that the Strokes were making their quick rise to fame. There had been a considerable amount of buzz surrounding them and their debut album "Is This It" which came out in October of 2001 and the first two singles from that album were in regular rotation on the college radio station that broadcast out of my dorm. I was instantly hooked and ran out and bought the album as soon as it came out, and songs like "Hard to Explain" and "Last Nite" quickly became part of the soundtrack to my freshman year, joining such timeless classics as "Bootylicious", "Lady Marmalade" and 'N Sync's "Girlfriend". After the success of their first album, the Strokes started putting out new material at approximately the same pace that I update this site. Their follow-up "Room on Fire" came out in 2003 and their third and last album "First Impressions of Earth" came out in 2006. After the stress of creating nearly two hours of music over a six year period, the Strokes went on an indefinite hiatus, much like how when I write a post I take a one month break to unwind from the stress and hard work of typing a few thousand words. Even though The Strokes as a band went on hiatus the members of the group stayed busy with side projects, with the exception of lead singer Casablancas who was mostly silent except for popping up on a few guest appearances singing on some singles. However in October of last year Casablancas released a solo album, "Phrazes for the Young", of Strokes-esque garage rock combined with some 80's style synths, which was surprisingly good and had me anxious to see him live when his tour supporting the album came through Detroit.

The opening act was Funeral Party a five piece group of kids, who made me feel extremely old and uncool as no member of the group, at least from my position in the crowd, appeared to be over the age of 17. They made me feel doubly old, when towards the end of their set they did a short cover of "Champagne Supernova" by Oasis. I remember when that song was popular originally, I was a 12 year old in seventh grade at the time and my sister, who is three years older than me was obsessed with Oasis and most of the Britpop scene in general. My sister was in high school when I was in middle school and had this annoying habit of playing her stereo extremely loud in the morning while she was getting ready for school, so my last hour of sleep before having to get up and get ready for school was constantly interrupted by whatever songs my sister was blasting on her stereo, (I'm not a morning person but I'm also very non-confrontational, so as my sister was blasting her Counting Crows or Oasis album at 6:45 in the morning I was silently stewing in rage underneath my covers and since I didn't want to blow up and start screaming at my sister I would instead imagine all the terrible things I would do to Adam Duritz or Liam Gallagher if I ever had the chance to meet either of them, seeing as how Adam Duritz is probably working at a gas station these days my dreams of finally confronting him for ruining so many mornings is probably close to reality. Seriously though is "Round Here" ever inexplicably became a radio hit again I would probably have some Manchurian Candidate reaction and go on a multi-state murder spree without even realizing what I was doing.) Back to Funeral Party though, I was thinking these kids are so young and were probably rocking out to Sesame Street in 1996 that a song like "Champagne Supernova" is probably some rock classic that they were too young to appreciate when it was new and are now revisiting it, and the same could be said for probably half the crowd in attendance last night. At 26 I don't appreciate being made to feel old so there was some underlying resentment towards Funeral Party on my part. Overall I found their brand of rock music generic, just a collection of indistinguishable songs that sounded like it came straight from "So You Want to be an Indie Rock Band" starter kit. Even the bands actions on-stage were uninspired. The lead singer did the spastic dancing, leg kicking, arm waving, foot stamping routine, followed by the squatting on the speaker, collapse writhing on the floor move that tends to be a favorite of front men who want to project themselves as a brooding and troubled soul. To end the set they through down their instruments in mock hissy-fit disdain. The guitarist led the way by dropping his guitar on the ground to a loud crunching sound, the lead singer dropped the mic and gave a half hearted kick to the guitar on his way off, the drummer flipped a cymbal and even the dorky keyboardist, who fulfilled every stereotype of dorky keyboardists with his comically oversized black button up, making him look like somebody more likely to be working in the IT department than playing in a rock band, even getting in on the act and flipping his keyboard. Oh wow, what badasses, I hope I don't run into them after the concert, they might beat me up and emasculate me in front of my girlfriend, so out of fear I threw my wallet on the stage as a peace offering from being beaten by four tough guy rockers. I have a problem with this too. I feel like in order to leave the stage in a matter that is so abrupt and without thanking or acknowledging the audience you have to earn it. These guys aren't rock stars yet, and 99% of the audience wasn't there to see them, so for them to act like they were to fucking cool to be there was off-putting. If I wanted to watch a young, bland indie rock band with no charisma, I would go check out a high school talent show. Jesus Christ that last paragraph, could be summed up as Get Off My Lawn!!! I am getting old.

I had seen the Strokes live twice before and the best way to describe their energy was somewhere between moribund and lifeless. But they had earned this type of aloofness or arrogance by putting out some of the most defining rock music in nearly a decade. It was all part of their persona as a group of New Yorkers who were to cool to care about their success. They knew the crowd was there to see them, to awe at them, to squeal in delight when they played the crowds favorite songs and they didn't care or need that kind of support. So I didn't know what to expect last night when Casablancas took the stage without his fellow Stroke-mates, Strokers…ehh there really is no way to write that sentence without it sounding like some kind of masturbatory gay porno…I give up. I was half expecting him to sing from a hammock, with somebody holding a microphone to his mouth, another person feeding him grapes, while he mumbled the words to each of his songs while also smoking a cigarette between each song and refusing to engage the crowd. The thirty minute delay between sets was disturbing as I pictured some roadie frantically urging Casablancas to wake up from his nap and take the stage. So it was much to my delight when Casablancas came bounding out from the side stage thanked the audience for coming out and launched full force into his opening number "Ludlow St." His high energy was apparent from the beginning and was surprisingly infectious. He jokingly apologized after opening with the slow-paced Ludlow Street that he had just played the most undanceable song on the album and taken the excitement out of the crowd. He followed this banter by launching into a series of his most catchy and danceable solo stuff, pacing around the stage, touching hands with crowd members and noticeably enjoying himself. This was light years ahead of the type of performer he was during the two times I saw him performing with The Strokes, this time he seemed like a natural entertainer, someone who was comfortable in his own skin, confident with being the center of attention and not so concerned with hiding behind long hair and sunglasses on a darkened stage. Casablancas is a chameleon of cool, some people, not unlike myself…wait I mean very unlike myself, have the ability to be effortlessly cool. With Casablancas he was cool when he was the moody, temperamental sort of morose lead singer, who wore leather jackets, black skinny jeans, Chuck Taylors and kept his hair long, stringy and covering his face while refusing to be engaging in anyway. However, he was effortlessly cool last night too even though he was a embodying a different persona. He came out wearing a brownish track suit, bright red skinny jeans, 80's style Converse high tops and even though he still had long unkempt hair it was pushed back from his face, with a couple of feathers braided into it (a look I unconvincingly tried to get my girlfriend on board with but she didn't like it and she thought it would be a little unprofessional for a lawyer to be in court with two bright pink feathers dangling from his hair, she's probably right…probably) allowing him to engage the crowd. He gave an inspired performance of his first two singles from his solo album, the insanely catchy "11th Dimension" and the more spacey and dark "Out of the Blue", letting the songs hang in the crowd and simmer giving the audience a chance to enjoy them, he went a little bigger with them, singing with slightly more emphasis without over-selling them. There was the obligatory Strokes songs, "Hard to Explain" and a more low-key version of "You Only Live Once", for his encore he sang I Wish it was Christmas Today", which seemed a little out of place and inappropriate in the beginning of April on a day that had reached the mid-70's. Overall it was a short set, clocking in at just under an hour, but it was lively enough to leave me anticipating The Strokes fourth album due out this September and first tour in four years supporting it. All in all it was a pretty great show and if there was a gun to my head and I had to put a grade on it I would give Casablancas a solid B+, with my only complaint being the short length of the set and lack of Strokes songs.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Sixth Annual Authoritative Detroit Tigers Season Preview Vol. 1


who goes there......?

Is that a reader...?

Come closer into the light, see I've been blogging for nearly six years, which equates to about 300 years in real life and due to spending an ungodly amount of time over the years staring at the computer screen my eyes aren't what they used to be. It's nice of you to stop by because, you see, I don't get as many visitors as I used to. When you get to be my age in blogging years it gets to be awfully lonely, most of the friends who were the reason why I started this silly little hobby have passed me by, evaporating into the ether of Tigers lore. Why it seems only yesterday that I was singing the praises of a young fireballer named Wil Ledezma or jumping up and down on my futon cheering a homerun robbing catch made by wiry, speedster Nuke Logan. I can't believe years have passed since Jason Grilli would drive me into a alcohol fueled rage by coming into a game, allowing every inherited runner to score with ease, walking the bases loaded and then leaving the mound to a chorus of boos covered in his disgusting flop sweat, while I frantically searched my apartment for anything to help me drink away the trauma of another Cheese-man experience. This would also help explain the chemical dependency I have for store brand cough syrup mixed with Olde English and the delusions where I see Grilli's head on my cats body, but I digress. Now in my advanced blogging age I have noticed it takes me longer to recover from tough losses and distressing transactions. I remember my early days as a strapping young blogger, back when I was a just sickly underweight, ghostly pale and could survive on a diet of Sour Patch Kids, chocolate milk and burritos that I could buy and microwave at a gas station. Back in those days a Todd Jones blown save would just lead to a string of curse words and a few holes punched in the wall. As the heartbreaking losses mounted over the past few seasons my erratic behavior escalated. Soon I was drinking vodka from a Dora the Explorer sand pail and training a pack of wolves that I would unleash to terrorize my neighborhood after I was angered by Brandon Inge flailing at a face high fastball for strike three with runners on base. However after the double whammy of the Tigers painful loss in their one-game playoff against the Twins and the trade of fan favorite Curtis Granderson I finally became unhinged. I wandered out of my Flint apartment in a haze, wearing only a silk bathrobe and leaving behind a whole harem of beautiful women who had been gifted to me out of thanks by the locals for agreeing not to release my wolf pack anymore. For days I ambled along the streets disoriented, covered in feces, talking to myself and threatening strangers. Since this was Flint, I was able to blend in with the rest of the homeless and mentally ill for weeks before I finally collapsed in defeat outside of Halo Burger. The once proud, feared, underweight, ghostly blogger Beefshower was now just a sad, broken down, emaciated and translucently pale shell of a man.

It took months to recover my physical and mental health after the loss to the Twins and the trade of Granderson to the hated New York Highlanders. Intense therapy that allowed me to finally see the name Carlos Gomez or Alexei Casilla and not want to vomit in rage or to think about Zach Miner without turning into a homicidal maniac, not unlike Officer Matthew Cordell in the Maniac Cop series of movies. I know I'm not all the way recovered from those terrible events of last fall, but I do feel as though I'm 95 % of the way back and my memory is still as sharp as ever. Why I still remember where I was when I heard that Magglio Ordonez had just edged out Nap Lajoie for the first Tigers batting title since Ty Cobb was the oldest batting title winner in major league history as a sixty-nine year old in 1955. I listened live on the radio as famous Detroiter Louis Whitaker fought and defeated the ghost of Primo Carnera and helped boost U.S. morale in the fight against the spread of fascism. I even served as Luis Pujols' second in his famous duel in the Caucasus where he killed Phil Garner while protecting the honor of Wendell Magee. Yes, so many memories and so many great moments following a team with such a rich and storied history, and to be honest that is what baseball is all about and what drew me to becoming a fan at such a young age. The chance to watch the unknown, to potentially watch history be made, to see something that I've never seen before, or to see a player that I will tell my grandkids about someday, that is if hours sitting in front of a computer screen hasn't left my testicles withered and sterile. That is what has me so excited for the beginning of the season tomorrow afternoon in Kansas City. Kansas City was where that magical 2006 season began, when untested rookies Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya helped propel a team of new faces to the Tigers first World Series appearance in 22 years. Who knows, maybe tomorrow we could see a new set of untested Tigers in Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore along with veteran free agent signings like Johnny Damon help propel the Tigers to a division title and October baseball.

Enough with the intro though, here is part one of my Tigers season preview.

Justin Verlander: Verlander has had an excellent beginning to his still young career. A.L. Rookie of the Year and a World Series appearance in 2006, a no-hitter and increase in his strikeout rate in 2007, followed by a wildly inconsistent 2008, that looked like it could have been a major step backwards for the young ace. But for all the promise Verlander showed during his first three full seasons, he was still frustrating because it seemed like he hadn't filled his considerable promise yet. I was worried that he might be one of those players who coasted by on his tremendous natural skills such as his effortless velocity and the sharp break of his curveball. Not that I would ever begrudge somebody for coasting because given the opportunity to be very good with almost no effort or transcendently great with a lot of hard work and effort, I would choose very good a thousand out of a hundred times. But that's just because I am apathetic and lazy, in fact if I had to pick the one thing that I probably am fantastic at it would be by apathetic laziness of "lazithetic" as I like to call it because I'm too lazy to say both words. Last season though the Tigers finally got to see Verlander put everything together and put in a truly dominant Cy Young caliber season. After a rough start Verlander pitched lights out baseball for nearly the remainder of the season, putting up quality start after quality start and once again overpowering hitter with a fastball that routinely touched the high 90's again after a year where his velocity dipped noticeably. By the time everything was said and done, Verlander had paced the A.L. in strikeouts and posted his best statistical season yet, and if you believe the stats Verlander may have been a little unlucky and could still see room for improvement if his BABIP comes into line. He parlayed this success into a much deserved 5 year deal worth $80 million and if he pitched like he did last season over the life of the contract he has a very good chance of going down in history as the greatest Tigers pitcher ever. Now for the bad, Verlander pitched the most innings of his career last season by a wide margin and also threw more pitched than anybody in baseball, even more than traditional workhorses like C.C. Sabathia, Roy Halladay and Oliver the pitching Tennessee Walking Horse that was found on the Carnival Circuit and pitched 43 straight complete games for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Also, even though Verlander earned the money of his new contract, the Tigers recent history of doling out big money contracts for pitchers is discouraging. Now, granted, Verlander has much more talent and a better track record than Bonderman, Robertson or Willis but having lived through that trio's history of injuries and ineffectiveness I can't help be wary of big money contracts given out to pitchers wearing the Olde English D.

Rick Porcello: With Porcello last season I was expecting the worst. I thought he was being rushed, I thought the Tigers were sliding down a slippery slope that they had fell down once before with Bonderman and I was certain that Porcello would struggle mightily. After a shaky first month to his career, (with the exception to his superb second start against the Mariners) I was concerned the Tigers might be doing irreparable damage to their young prospect who didn't have a start above High-A. It wasn't so much a concern over his ability, which he obviously had plenty of, or even his health as the Tigers were doing everything possible to protect his arm and limit his innings. Instead I was more worried about damage that might be done to him psychologically. Not to read too much into a players psychological makeup because everyone is different, but I think back to when I was 20 and my lack of maturity in handling adversity at such a young age. Back then if I asked a girl out and she said no, I usually started hyperventilating, crawling about the floor gasping for air as tears filled my eyes. I had essentially the same reaction if I did poorly on a test or ran out of Count Chocula, so I couldn't imagine struggling on such a big stage, with so many of your peers relying on you. Obviously there are more differences between 20 year old Porcello and 20 year old Beefshower than 40 miles per hour on a fastball. Porcello settled down in May and easily established himself as the Tigers third best starter. The one bugaboo with Porcello was his alarmingly low K rate, striking out only 4.7 batters per nine innings, which is about as low as a pitcher can be without being knocked out of the league. All the signs were there that Porcello had the capability to be a high strikeout pitcher, the mid 90's fastball and assortment of filthy off-speed pitches but he wasn't putting hitters away and was relying predominantly on his low 90's sinker to induce groundouts. However in the 163rd game against the Twins Porcello finally cut loose and showed the kind of dominating pitcher he could be, striking out eight Twins in 5 2/3 innings and keeping the Tigers in a close game. Of course we all know how that ended, Leyland brought in Zach Miner who promptly shit all over himself. But focusing just on Porcello in that one game playoff, it was amazing to see such a poised, young pitcher giving it his all with the season on the line and putting his team in the best possible position to win. It exceeded all of my wildest expectations and I'm excited to watch Porcello over the next several seasons fulfill his potential as one of the best young players in the game. What do I expect for the upcoming season? Well, for one I think we will see more of the eight strikeout version of Porcello as the Tigers turn him loose a little bit. Sure they will still protect the hell out of his arm, as they should, and they aren't going to rely on him for some kind of Old Hoss Radbourn workload but I think the kid gloves will come off and he'll be allowed to tap a little deeper into his arsenal. I'm of the opinion that there is really nothing a team can do to protect a young arm, for example the Tigers did everything right with Bonderman and he still broke down, it just seems like some pitchers are pre-disposed to injury, whether it be because of reliance on a high stress pitch or some violent mechanics but from everything I've read Porcello doesn't have either of those issues. Whatever happens I just want Porcello to stay healthy and productive as baseball has seen to many promising your pitching careers ruined by injury. Jesus this paragraph turned into a rambling mess, I shouldn't have drank that bottle of Listerine, I think my cat could write more coherently than this by just walking across the keyboard.

Max Scherzer: Scherzer famously has two different colored eyes a medical condition technically known as "What the hell is wrong with your eyes". I have a friend Josh who has this same condition and my friends and I still aren't entirely convinced that Josh is not some sort of werewolf. We've shot him with silver bullets, covered our houses with mountain ash and even stabbed him with a knife covered in wolfsbane and he's always reacted like a human would but there have been signs of an underlying werewolf, namely stemming from events during late night games of Risk that involved rage, lashing out at the game board, growling and possible transformations. I'm sure the Tigers put Scherzer through a battery of tests to see if he suffered from lycanthropy before they traded for him but we won't really know the story until we see if there is a sudden rise in attacks throughout the city. Seriously though, I love the Granderson/Jackson trade from the standpoint that flipping a possible fluke season by EJack into a 25 year old strikeout artist under team control for several more seasons was a stroke of genius on Dombrowski's part. I've always been a big Scherzer fan and think that adding him to a rotation already featuring Verlander and Porcello gives the Tigers a devastating short rotation that would make them a difficult out in the playoffs, if they are fortunate enough to get there.

Jeremy Bonderman: I'm going to use Bonderman's spot to talk a little about the Nate Robertson deal that went down last week. Yeah, I'm not a big fan of this deal. Neither Bonderman, Robertson, nor Willis are great options for a long relief mop-up duty spot on the roster let alone the final two spots in the rotation. I have zero faith in Willis and I think his whole spring has been a mirage. Best case scenario for him would be a five inning pitcher w/ a 5.00 ERA who has the occasional wild outing and worst case scenario is he reverts back to the mechanical disaster who walks every other batter and is a complete mental train wreck to boot. Bonderman is supposedly healthy but his spring has been less than encouraging and he was a guy who relied completely on his slider for any kind of success and that pitch is supposedly a shadow of what it used to be. He might have the same velocity but the bite on the pitch is lacking from all the reports I've read. Robertson has some utility and he did pitch relatively decent down the stretch last season after he came back from injury. He also is the only guy who probably had any trade value so I see how he was easily the choice to go if he didn't win a roster spot. I could see taking a token prospect like Voss if the Tigers got a little salary relief from it but they didn't, they are still on the hook for everything they would have paid if they just released him outright, and if you are going to release someone outright just get rid of D-Train and keep Galarraga (I can never spell his name right) or Bonine as the 5/swingman. Also I don't see the need for another lefty in the pen, which is surely what Voss' role would be if he made it to the big leagues, the Tigers already have decent younger guys for that role in Ni, Coke and Thomas. Maybe Voss' ceiling is Clay Rapada's role, which isn't that exciting.

If I were in charge I would have either cut Willis outright anticipating him blowing up eventually and being useless and giving him a chance to change scenery and get his career back together and thrown Bonderman and Robertson in the 4/5 role and kept Bonine/Galarraga in reserve. Or I would've given Robertson the 4 spot Willis the five, moved Bonderman to the bullpen and see if his two pitch repertoire and short outings might make him an effective middle innings reliever and have Bonarraga ready to step in.

Dontrelle Willis: I feel like I pretty much covered my feelings on Willis in the previous section under Bonderman, but like any well prepared and thorough person I always come up with a plan B. If Willis turns out to be an unmitigated disaster for a third straight season I think it would behoove the Tigers to have a clubhouse attendant "discover" a bloody leather apron in Willis' locker, making Willis a prime suspect in the 122 year old unsolved Jack the Ripper murders in London's Whitechapel district. Now obviously Dontrelle couldn't be the murderer unless we get into some kind of weird 4th dimension theory about time and space, but given the physical evidence, the anxiety disorder and the history of pain he has inflicted on Tiger fans who have had to watch him pitch over the past two seasons, I think this is a risk worth taking. The English tabloids would have a field day and the constant inquests and trials would keep D-Train tied up for the majority of the season. As a token of gratitude I will offer to serve as his barrister for a minimum fee, although with my lawyering skills I would probably end up just getting him put into stocks at Trafalgar Square or something, so he probably wouldn't want that. In all honesty though, I am rooting for Dontrelle and I hope that even if he doesn't get his career back going he can at least be happy with his personal life.

Phil Coke: There was some debate between Dombrowski and Leyland at the beginning of spring over what Coke's role on the team was going to be. Dombrowski wanted him to be tried out as a starter while Leyland was adamant that he remain in the bullpen. In the end the Marlboro Man won out and now Coke joins a whole gaggle of lefties in the bullpen, alongside Fu-Te Ni, Brad Thomas and the now injured Bobby Seay. This seems like lefty overkill for the pen, especially considering the rotation doesn't necessarily have the greatest options at the 4-5 spot, so personally I would have liked to see what Coke had to offer as a starter and maybe even give him a little time in Toledo to see if this is where his potential might lie down the road. Even if he turned out to be only a league average four starter, I believe that would be considerably more valuable than his current role as an above average lefty specialist in a pen that already has three of those including two that are appreciably better in Ni and Seay.

Fu-Te Ni: Ni was a nice surprise last season, as like most people I am are not a hardcore fan of the Taiwan Professional League. I had never heard of him prior to last year and had missed his work in during the World Baseball Classic. Ni quickly turned into one of my favorite pitchers to watch last season as I've always had an affinity for junk balling situational lefties. Ni hardly throws anything above the high 80's and he never throws anything straight. He was absolute murder on lefthanders last season and by the end of the year had earned the confidence of Leyland to pitch in big spots. He played a crucial role in the 163rd game last season against the Twins, effectively shutting down the Twins dangerous left handed heavy middle of the order. Having Ni makes it much easier for the Tigers to stomach the loss of Bobby Seay due to injury and he is a credit to the Tigers eye for pitching talent.

Ryan Perry: Count me among the many who are really excited for Ryan Perry's future as a Tiger. Although he struggled mightily with his control at times last year and was sent down to the minors on more than one occasion to corral his wildness and develop some semblance of a second pitch, Perry's overall numbers at the end of the year were impressive for a young player. The Tigers drafted Perry in the first round two seasons ago because they thought he was major league ready and would move quickly through the minors, however I don't think the Tigers expected him to move this quickly. His fastball is still a little straight and the lack of a consistent second pitch is troubling, but when a pitcher cooks with as much gas as Perry does, high 90's with the occasional triple digit offering, they can afford to have a shall shallow repertoire. My best case scenario for Perry would be for him to slide into the set-up role sometime during this season, find some success in high leverage situations and have him groomed and ready to slide into the closer's role when Valverde's deal expires after the 2011 season.

Jose Valverde: Initially I was pissed at the Valverde signing, since it came right on the heels of the Granderson trade. In an effort to make my monkey brain understand the Granderson trade I came up with the conclusion that the only way to justify it was that it must have been first and foremost a business decision, strictly a cost cutting move because the team was in dire financial straits and all those rumors of the team hemorrhaging money due to the economic collapse were not only true, but possibly even worse than imagined. Then the Tigers went out and spent $14 million on a closer who would make more money over the next two seasons than Granderson would and I was infuriated. It seemed like such an unnecessary signing, especially considering the Tigers had options in-house such as the aforementioned Perry, or maybe they could do some wishcasting and hope and pray that Zumaya would be healthy and effective enough to finally take over the mantle of closer he seemed destined to inherit 3 years ago. In all honesty Perry is probably a couple years away from being crowned closer and expecting Zumaya to ever be healthy enough or dependable enough to be closer probably died with his first serious arm injury, so after I calmed down and realized that the Granderson deal wasn't the worst thing to happen to me since my parents gave away my first dog while I was away at school, I sort of like the Valverde signing. Also after having to sit through years of watching Todd Jones and Fernando Rodney desperately struggle to close games with their differing high wire acts, the money saved on health care and Rolaids and Tums alone would more than make up for the value of Valverde's contract.

Joel Zumaya: I'm putting the over/under on how many innings Zumaya throws this season at 40 and taking the under. I'm also putting a line out there that the over/under on how may years it will be before Zumaya throws a pitch so violently that his arm detaches from his body and makes it to home plate at 2 years and I'm once again taking the under. It truly is amazing that with how many traumatic arm injuries Zumaya has had that he can even throw a baseball much less a fastball that still regularly hits triple digits. However with each injury Zumaya has suffered it seems like he loses a little bit of effectiveness, which is completely understandable. Even though he may look like the same pitcher from his magical 2006 season, when he was living the high life of local sports sensation, folk hero, future closer and Comcast High Speed Internet commercial stardom, a quick look at his statistics for the past three seasons show that the Zumaya of 2006 is long gone and he ain't coming back. I think the only thing to hope for is a full healthy season of Zumaya serving in a late inning role, with an ERA around 4.00 and hopefully some flashes of the dominant fireballer we all fell in love with four seasons ago, but I fear even that is probably asking for way to much.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Opening the Vault: Juan Gonzalez

Over a year ago Sports Illustrated posted their entire archives for free online. At the time I wrote about how fantastic this was for sports history nerds like myself, who could spend hours a day at work or in class reading articles about Mark Fidrych or Magic Johnson or Olympic heroes at the height of their glory or fallen stars like Dwight Gooden or Mike Tyson at their lowest. Little did I know how much time I would actually waste on this site. I've read articles ranging from an interesting profile on Michael Jordan after his first retirement to recaps of the 1991 NHL playoff semifinals. I became such a shut-in while reading these articles that in order to quell any suspicion about my disappearance I dressed a gorilla in human clothing and trained it to go out in my place to any social events that came up. Of course this plan backfired as my friends, family and girlfriend all preferred the more stimulating conversations, improved manners and decrease in feces throwing that my trained gorilla provided over my company. Now that same gorilla is my boss and dating my ex. How embarrassing. Anyways my time in the S.I. Vault reached it's nadir the other day when I found myself neglecting my duties at work for a chance to read an article grading the Major League Baseball free agent class of 1977. I had never heard of Wayne Garland before reading that article but I felt compelled to read a five page story dealing with his various struggles after signing the first large contract ever handed out to a free agent pitcher. This constant need to read S.I. articles had spiraled out of control into my worst obsession since I maxed out all my credit cards in college buying Precious Moments figurines from Hallmark.
Just so something positive can come out of my addiction to the S.I. Vault I thought I would post this article about Juan Gonzalez's disastrous season with the Detroit Tigers. I wrote one of these last summer about Matt Millen with the idea of making this a weekly feature on this site and here it is over a year later and I'm only posting my second one, which sounds about right for me. Once again I'm not going to be critical of Tom Verducci's writing, because 1: Verducci is one of the best writer's covering baseball today and 2: my writing is terrible and I'm barely literate so I have no room to speak. Instead I'm just going to focus on the parts of this article that are funny or painful now that we can look back on them with some historical perspective. This was a rather long article so I've only excerpted parts of it and if you want to read the whole thing go here.

One of the finer features of the home clubhouse in Comerica Park, the Detroit Tigers' new stadium, is a huge TV in the center of the team's clubhouse. The unit faces the right side of the room, and it inspired envy among a few of the Tigers with lockers on the left side when they checked out their new digs on the eve of their April 11 home opener. One of those players quickly calmed the others by noting that the left-side residents had an expensive addition of their own who would undoubtedly help them attain oversized-appliance parity: outfielder Juan Gonzalez. "Is Juan on our side?" said one of the left-side guys. "Then we'll have a TV of our own tomorrow."

Little did these players know that they dodged a bullet, because in Juan Gonzalez's media guide biography from the 2000 season it says his favorite T.V. shows were "Suddenly Susan" and "Caroline in the City." Speaking of "Caroline in the City", which is a sentence I never thought I would say or write, I have kind of a funny story about that show as it is directly involved in one of the only fistfights I've ever been in during my life since I retired from the Kumite after defeating Chong Li for the World Title in Martial Arts. Anyways, during my freshman year at State my room mate Mike, who I've talked about frequently on this site, stayed up until all hours watching whatever crap was on the television. This was back before I became the caustic, cynical and lazy person I am today so I was taking all morning and early afternoon classes and actually cared enough about my grades to read all the materials and attend all the lectures and take a copious amount of notes. Exams were coming up and my stress level was reaching an all time high. Mike of course could care less about how he did on exams as long as his GPA was high enough not to get kicked out of school, so he stayed up until ungodly hours watching whatever crappy movie or tv show was playing on TV. Since we lived in a cramped dorm room my loft bed was literally on top of the television so there was no way for me to avoid the sounds of the tv. Things started to get tense the night before when he stayed up until 4 AM watching "Enemy Mine" a terrible 80's sci-fi flick about a human and alien stranded on a deserted planet and the friendship they forge even though the two are at war with each other. I let this slide but the next day I was tired as hell and had an exam the following morning. I went and laid down in my loft and Mike started watching tv, namely an episode of "Caroline in the City" where Dill is trying to learn how to rollerblade. Without warning I sprung out of my loft bed and pulled the cord for the tv out of the wall. Mike got up and shoved me in the back and I picked up a case of Capri Suns (my weapon of choice that year) and started swinging it around my head. After this skirmish went on for about 10 minutes, our neighbors next door started banging on the wall so we stopped. I went to bed, he plugged the tv back in and we never mentioned the incident again because it was easily the most embarrassing fight either one of us had ever been in.

He must not be interested in a big-screen TV because another one has yet to appear in the clubhouse. But the Tigers are perfectly willing to make Gonzalez the highest-paid player in the game by a margin of more than 25% over what the Dodgers are paying righthander Kevin Brown, who is getting $15 million per year. Detroit offered Gonzalez $151.5 million over eight years shortly after the Nov. 2 trade with Texas, according to a source familiar with the proposal.

Let's play a terrifying game of What If? What If Juan Gonzalez didn't have an agent who must have been certifiably insane. What If Juan Gone's agent had acted like any normal rational agent would have and after waking up from passing out after receiving such a mind-blowingly large contract offer immediately said, "YES! YES! YES! He'll sign immediately! Where can I meet you? How soon do you want to do this? I'll draw the contract up right now! No takesie backsies!" Now I'm not sure how this contract would've worked. I'm assuming it would've kicked in like an extension after the 2000 season, which means the Tigers would've been paying Juan Gone at least $18,875,000 last season and that's assuming the offer wasn't backloaded. Now Juan rebounded and did have a couple of nice seasons after he left Detroit but he hasn't played an inning in the majors since he played exactly one inning back in 2005. That would've been the single most disastrous contract in Major League history. If Gonzalez signs that deal it would've crippled the franchise for the entire decade. No Dombrowski, no Pudge, no Maggs, no Leyland, no World Series run in '06, just a bloated payroll being weighed down by the contract of an oft-injured, useless and washed up old slugger. Even acquiring and playing Edgar Renteria wasn't as damaging as this contract would've been. That's the scariest thought I've had since my dream the other night that Matt Millen had been hired to run the Lions again and he hired a coaching staff that was the cast of the Puppetmaster movies.

General manager Randy Smith gambled on Nov. 2 that Gonzalez was the marquee player who would be the foundation of the franchise's revival and help sell tickets that go for as much as $75 at the Copa. Smith traded pitchers Justin Thompson and Francisco Cordero, outfielder Gabe Kapler, infielder Frank Catalanotto, catcher Bill Haselman and minor league pitcher Alan Webb for Gonzalez and two spare parts, catcher Greg Zaun and pitcher Danny Patterson.

What a bunch of crap for both teams. I remember when this trade went down I was excited to have a two-time MVP on the team but was wary with the way the Tigers had completely gutted their system to make it happen. Thompson was the centerpiece at the time but ended up suffering a major arm injury and was never the same pitcher after that. Kapler was a hot prospect at the time but seemed more concerned with modeling than playing baseball. I still remember when he played for the Tigers he would come up to the music "Whatta Man", preen in the batter's box and then strike out on three straight pitches. Catalanotto pieced together a solid career as a platoon utilityman and Patterson gave the Tigers a few solid relief seasons before succumbing to an arm injury himself. Cordero probably had the best career of anybody after this trade as he became a top line closer for the Rangers and has made a few All-Star teams in his career. The Rangers also managed to flip him to the Brewers for half a season of Carlos Lee and Nelson Cruz, the latter of which has blossomed into an All-Star outfield slugger. In the long view this trade turned out pretty good for the Rangers due to the fact that they are still benefiting from the deal in the form of the production they are getting from Nelson Cruz. However if you break it down on the players traded in the original transaction and what they provided their respective clubs it turns out to just be kind of a "meh" trade.

There are those in the Tigers organization, however, who wonder why the deal was made in the first place. Peter Bragan Jr., general manager of their Double A affiliate in Jacksonville recently told the Detroit Free Press, "Did those boys up there have a brain spasm or something? They told us as far back as two years ago that their plan with the new stadium was to build the team around higher-caliber pitchers because they pushed the fences back.... Then they acquire a righthanded slugger in Gonzalez. That seems kind of strange."

This is a perfect indictment of the Randy Smith era. The fact that the general manager of the Double-A affiliate openly questioned the moves the general manager of the major league team in a major publication is unbelievable. This would be like the whitetrash assistant manager of a local Arby's going on the record in Forbes magazine with criticism of the company's decision to give away Roastburgers for free on Wednesday afternoons. The funny thing here is that the Double-A manager is right and was probably eminently more qualified to run the Tigers than Randy Smith was. I remember after it became obvious that Juan Gone was going to leave after the season, the Tigers made a bunch of noise about going out and acquiring Mike Mussina and another pitcher (Kevin Appier maybe?) with the money they had offered to Gonzalez with the idea they would assemble the great pitching and defense required to win at the expansive Copa. Of course both Mussina and Appier laughed in the Tigers faces and took big money to sign with the Yankees and Mets respectively and the Tigers were left holding their cash and making their hundredth trade with the Astros to acquire Chris Holt and drudging up Willie Blair's corpse for another abbreviated go-around. Ugh. I hate Randy Smith. He almost single handily ruined my interest in baseball. It's funny that he was viewed as some sort of general manager prodigy when he was first hired, and then turned into a disaster of such epic proportions that, if not for Matt Millen's reign of terror, he would have been viewed as the worst general manager in Detroit's sports history. This would be like if Mozart had been billed as a musical genius wunderkind and then ended up only playing keyboards in a Flock of Seagulls tribute band.

If you were to cast someone to play Rangers manager Johnny Oates in a movie, you'd choose an actor such as Wilford Brimley, someone with a grandfatherly manner and a twinkle in his eye. Oates says... "He's not a bad guy. He is sensitive and moody. Any little thing could set him off and ruin his day, and you weren't going to get anything out of him that day. But he's not a bad guy."

I know I promised not to be critical of Verducci's writing but it's just lazy to say the actor most likely to portray Oates in a movie is the guy whose most famous for being the Quaker Oats spokesman. My last name is Stout, so this would be like saying the actor most likely to play me in a movie would be Fatty Arbuckle while ignoring the fact that in real life I look like some kind of mutant cross between DJ Qualls and Sandra Bernhard.

"Juan will not play if he's not 100 percent," says Melvin. "He has so much pride, he doesn't want to go out there if it means he can't run full speed to first base. Because that means the fans might boo him. He is a prideful person. He's not a bad guy."

I'm pretty sure that if one person has to preface a statement about your character by saying "He's not a bad guy, but..." It means you are a pretty bad guy. However if multiple people, including nearly every person you've had a working relationship with over the previous decade has to preface what they say about you with, "He's not a bad guy, but..." then you might be the worst human being since Ivan the Terrible or at least Stalin.

That tag—he's not a bad guy—gets thrown at Gonzalez more than breaking balls a foot off the plate. He grew up in a drug-infested barrio in Puerto Rico, the same streets that claimed the life of an older half-brother, Puma, a heroin addict, in 1994. One brother dies of an overdose, another never so much as puts a cigarette to his lips and becomes such a Puerto Rican icon that shopkeepers build shrines to him behind their counters. "When you walk with him in Alto de Cuba," Smith says of Gonzalez's barrio, "it is like walking with a god."

Wow, being motivated by the death of a heroin addicted older brother named Puma. That sounds almost to badass to be true. It seems more like the backstory to a television drama about a motivated and serious young Puerto Rican undercover cop, who shoots first and asks questions later, plays fast and loose and blurs the line between following police procedure and stopping at nothing to get his man, all while butting heads with his straight-laced, by the book partner and hard assed sergeant who is always threatening to pull him off the case. Damn, for a minute there I thought I had an original idea for a television but I just realized that I just described pretty much every police drama going back to the Andy Griffith Show episode where town drunk Otis is coerced by Colombian drug lords into smuggling little balloons filled with cocaine into Mayberry for distribution. After getting drunk and ending up in the town's drunk tank one of the ballons burst inside Otis' stomach sending him into a murderous coke induced rage where he strangled town deputy Harry Fife to death before he could be subdued. Harry's brother Barney took over his deceased brother's position and posed as a bumbling and comically inept town deputy while coldly and methodically killing off the men he saw as responsible for his brother's tragic death. How could I forget such a landmark series.

Gonzalez reached the big leagues at 19 and won a home run title at 22. He spoke almost no English, so in 1992 the Rangers hired Luis Mayoral, a respected Latin American journalist and baseball executive, as a kind of guidance counselor for Gonzalez and his Puerto Rican teammates, catcher Ivan Rodriguez and outfielder Ruben Sierra.

Until this paragraph I never realized that so many former Rangers stars essentially ended their careers as productive players in Detroit, and this list doesn't even include Dean Palmer. I guess what I'm saying is I can't wait for 2020 when a past their prime Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler or Michael Young are slowly fading away while wearing the Olde English D.

...A few weeks later Gonzalez refused to dress for the Hall of Fame exhibition game because the uniform pants the Rangers brought for him were too large. Of the All-Star voting, he says, "The system is wrong. Any player who plays every day, works hard and puts up numbers like I do should be starting the All-Star Game. Players and managers should vote for the starting players." About the exhibition in Cooperstown, Gonzalez says, "I couldn't play because my right wrist was sore. The pants they gave me were size 40. I wear 34. They were clown pants."

I actually love this idea. The way the Tigers played from 1995-2005 was the equivalent of watching a group of drunk Shriner clowns mimic a baseball game. The idea of Juan Encarnacion kicking a ball around in right field while wearing some oversized green and purple polka dot pants while Roger Cedeno comes running over to help before slipping on a banana peel and Bobby Higginson is stuck in left field with his head up some horses ass kicking his legs around in a comical fashion while circus music plays in the background would've been a humorous way to watch some painful Tigers defense. I think it should be a written rule in baseball that the worst team from the previous year has to play the following season dressed like clowns. Attendance at Nationals games would go through the roof. They could even get a donkey to play left field. Hang on, my head is exploding with ideas right now.

Smith wasn't bothered by either incident. The Tigers G.M. had been badgering Melvin about a trade for Gonzalez since last June. Melvin kept telling Smith he didn't have the nerve to trade Gonzalez with the team still in a pennant race. The Rangers eventually lost to the Yankees in the Division Series. At the World Series, Melvin bumped into Gonzalez's agent, Jim Bronner. Knowing that Gonzalez's contract ran out after the 2000 season, Melvin asked, "Would Juan consider a deal similar to what Larry Walker [six years, $75 million] took from the Rockies?" "I don't think we can do that," Bronner said.

So now we find out that Juan Gonzalez turned down two contract proposals in the matter of months that were worth tens of millions of dollars more than he would make over the remainder of his career. I'm assuming his agent never represented anybody of note again and in fact I wouldn't be surprised if his body turned up in some lake in Puerto Rico. I wonder if he was this bad at negotiating in other areas of the law. "Ok so I got you out of your speeding ticket, but in order to get the prosecutor to drop it I had to agree to have you plea to a third offense D.U.I. Now you'll lose your license for life and you may end up serving a year in jail but at least you won't have to pay the $120 fine. Now I think this is a really generous offer but if you want to hold out and see if I can get him to agree to give you a vehicular manslaughter charge just let me know."

When the Tigers made their $151.5 million offer to Gonzalez, they also invited him to Detroit for an introductory news conference. Who knows, Smith thought, maybe he'll even sign the contract when he steps off the plane. Except Gonzalez didn't show.

Wow, as much as I hate Randy Smith for single handily trying to ruin my interest in baseball as a child reading this paragraph actually made me feel a little sorry for him. As a single man who lives with a cat and whose idea of an exciting Friday night is working on a cross stitch and watching old VHS copies of the Frugal Gourmet I know a thing or two about being stood up. I've asked out girls who never called me back, called me Allan when I was out with them, came up with fake illnesses to get out of seeing me again or just plain didn't show up. But that's mostly because I drive around in a windowless conversion van with "Sex Wagon" spray painted on the side and rope, duct tape and bags of lye in the back and my idea of a romantic first date mostly involves them picking up the tab after eating out at a gas station Rally's, so my bad luck with girls is more than deserved. However I think if I were taking someone out for the purpose of giving them a check for 151 million dollars they would at least show up regardless of how creepy my car was or how low on the shit totem pole of gas station fast food garbage I tried to feed them.

In his seven full big league seasons (not including the strike-shortened 1994 and '95 seasons), Gonzalez has averaged 41 home runs and 127 RBIs while batting .298. "I don't care if he's high-maintenance," says Detroit third baseman Dean Palmer, who played with Gonzalez in Texas. "When you produce like he does, it doesn't matter. I'm sick of hearing him take crap. The bottom line is the guy drives in 140 runs year in and year out and works as hard as any player in baseball. That's what counts."

Well, according to, Nostradamus Palmer's bold prediction of 140 rbi for Juan Gone was only short by 73. Juan's final line that year .289/.337/.505 with 29 homeruns and 67 rbi, which was hands down the worst season of his career up to this point. Since Palmer was so off-base on this prediction it makes me feel more secure that his prediction that the world will come to an end in 2012 and that I will die after being eaten alive by a grizzly bear in the ensuing chaos won't come true.

Says Smith, "If you invest the money on a star player, you want a guy who's as dedicated to the game as this guy. He doesn't want much. He wants to play, work out, go home, and do it again tomorrow."

Did Smith even talk to Melvin or Oates or anybody in baseball before he traded for Juan Gone? Because about five paragraphs up both Melvin and Oates talk about how he refuses to play unless everything surrounding him is absolutley perfect, including the size of his pants. By all accounts Juan was famous for being one of the most mercurial prima donna sluggers to play in baseball since Mercuilus McPrimadonna starred for the Boston Bees in 1938. Gonzalez would keep this reputation up for the remainder of his career until it eventually forced him out of the game. He was famous before his season with the Royals for training with a shirt on that said "162", for the number of games he was going to play in. He ended up playing 33. The next season he signed a one year deal with the Indians and had all of one at bat before straining his hamstring and sitting out the rest of the season. That's how Juan's career finished. That doesn't sound like someone who wants to play, work out and go home, it just looks like someone who will work just hard enough for someone to cut him a check, a work ethic that I'm trying my hardest to get named "the Beefshower method."

After dinner Gonzalez and his friends piled into his white Mercedes and headed for his downtown apartment. He drove the car through empty streets wet from a cold rain, past the silhouettes of abandoned and crumbling buildings. In such spots the utter darkness of Detroit is as complete and foreboding as Europe during the war.

It wouldn't be an article about Detroit without an unnecessary shot at how run down Detroit is. I'm surprised Verducci, whose writing I generally like just didn't go the whole nine yards when mentioning Detroit cliches and say something like, "As we drove back through downtown Detroit, past a group of fat fans holding up Tigers pennants and dancing around a burning police car, drug dealing prostitutes, sewer dwelling cannibals and a series of bombed out buildings that appeared to be straight from 1945 Dresden, I know longer wondered what it would be like to live in a Mad-Max style post apocalyptic world, where lawlessness prevailed and the streets were patrolled by a homo-erotic punk rock biker gang in search of gasoline because I was already in a place that was much worse."

The future Gonzalez said he didn't worry about now seems as murky as the air that night. Six months of courtship, and the Tigers still don't know if he will stay.

He won't

In a more hopeful moment, before Gonzalez had experienced the vastness of Comerica Park and the ineptitude of his new team, the Tigers printed pocket-sized informational brochures about the shiny new ballpark, with a smiling Gonzalez on the cover. The tag line below the photograph resonates with unintended irony: YOU'LL LOVE PLAYING HERE.

He didn't