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Detroit Tigers: Ian Kinsler 2B for Now, but Will He Switch Positions Soon?

Ernie Banks. Pete Rose. Rod Carew. Robin Yount. Paul Molitor.

The common thread may seem obvious—they’re all Hall of Famers (with the exception of Rose, of course). But there’s something else that ties them together, and it’s something that may end up being very relevant to your Detroit Tigers.

Each of them, from Banks to Molitor, started as a middle infielder. And each of them would abandon that position and move to other places on the diamond and further their Hall-worthy careers.

What does this have to do with the Tigers? Let’s just say that you might not want to get too comfortable with the idea of a double-play combination of shortstop Jose Iglesias and second baseman Ian Kinsler, the latter acquired last week from the Texas Rangers for Prince Fielder.

Kinsler is 31 years old. Already there are signs that age could be rearing its head with Kinsler, at least in the form of stolen base output.

Age and middle infielders are usually not a good mix, Omar Vizquel notwithstanding.

The Tigers may have—emphasis on “may have”—traded for Kinsler with the idea that he could move elsewhere, such as the outfield, or first base.

Some history, first.

Banks broke into the big leagues with the Chicago Cubs in 1953 as a shortstop. By 1962, his tenth season, the Cubs had moved the 31-year-old Banks to first base, where he pretty much played the rest of his career (including past his 40th birthday). Banks played 1,259 games at 1B, and 1,125 at SS.

Rose was a rookie in 1963, age 22. He debuted as a second baseman for the Cincinnati Reds. By 1967, at age 26, the Reds shifted Rose to the outfield. He would spend the next 10-12 years moving all around the diamond, eventually settling at first base. Rose played 24 years, but only 628 games at 2B, his so-called “natural” position.

Carew broke in with the Minnesota Twins as a 21-year-old second baseman in 1967. In 1976, at age 30, Carew was playing first base, and he never looked back.

Yount was an 18-year-old rookie with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1974, arriving on the scene as a shortstop. But by 1985, before his 30th birthday, the Brewers moved Yount to the outfield.

Molitor was 21 years old when he broke into the bigs with the Brewers as a second baseman in 1978, functioning as Yount’s double-play partner. A mere three years later, the Brewers moved Molitor—first to the outfield, then in 1982 to third base, which would be his position until 1990, when Molitor became mostly a designated hitter for the last nine years of his illustrious career.

It would be a big shock to me if the Tigers see Kinsler as their everyday second baseman much beyond 2016. By that time, Kinsler would be 34 years old.

Ah, but what about the greatest DP combo in history, you might ask—our own Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker?

It’s more than fair to bring them up.

Tram and Lou never budged from their original positions, though the former did spend a handful of games in the outfield, at second base and at third base. Trammell played until age 38. Whitaker never played anything other than second base in a career that spanned from 1977 to 1995 (also age 38).

But let’s face it: Trammell and Whitaker are anything but the norm—in so many different ways.

The good news is that, as we have seen, switching positions for the aforementioned Hall of Famers took nothing away from their offense. And their move from the middle infield came relatively early in their respective careers—all within the first 10 years.

Kinsler is entering his ninth season, and he’s played all but two innings in his defensive career at second base (the other two innings were at third base, in 2012)—over 1,000 games as a second baseman.

He’s ripe for a position change.

It could be that Dave Dombrowski traded for Kinsler with an eye toward having Kinsler wear another type of glove. It could be that second base may be the territory of Hernan Perez before long. Kinsler may find himself at first base, and Miguel Cabrera could be a full-time DH.

Or Kinsler could move to the outfield, a la Yount.

Yes, acquiring Kinsler was a short-term move as the Tigers are in a “win now” mode. But while Kinsler may be an oldish second baseman, the Tigers could flip him into a youngish outfielder or first baseman.

Stay tuned.


Note: All stats referenced in this article are from and

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Jim Leyland: History Will Judge Him Favorably in Detroit, as It Should

The year still looms there, like the cheese that stands alone.


It used to be 1968. That was the year that all Tigers fans would reference, sometimes happily, sometimes wistfully, sometimes pessimistically.

It seemed like we waited eons after the Tigers’ 1968 World Series triumph for that feeling to come again. But it was only 16 years, which in retrospect is nothing, really.

And there was plenty of winning between ’68 and ’84 to keep fans from losing too much faith.

The ’68 club was the core of the 1972 team that won the AL East on the next-to-last day of the season. That group got old and fizzled, leading to the lean years of 1974-75.

Mark Fidrych was more than enough of a distraction in 1976 to keep you from remembering that the Tigers were winning just 74 games.

There was another 74-win season in 1977, but we were still blinded by the idea of Fidrych, who kept trying to come back from a shoulder injury.

In 1978, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker made their full-time debuts, and the Tigers began a stretch of .500+ baseball that would run through 1988.

And in there was 1984.

You don’t have to say much beyond the year.

And here we are, some 29 years later, and 1984 is the cheese that stands alone.

There was 1987, when the Tigers rocketed past the Toronto Blue Jays in a frantic final week of baseball that will never be forgotten in these parts. But that Tigers team was spent and fell to the Minnesota Twins in five games in the ALCS.

There was a close call in 1988, but the Tigers couldn’t quite catch the Boston Red Sox in the AL East.

Then came 1989’s bottoming outa 103-loss season, which saw manager Sparky Anderson take a leave of absence due to exhaustion.

That 1989 season started an ugly stretch of baseball in Detroitone that continued unabated for 16 years.

Mike Ilitch bought the team in 1992 and after a series of miscues in the front office and in the dugout following Sparky’s departure after the 1995 season, Ilitch hired a young executive named Dave Dombrowski to get the team’s act together. It was November, 2001.

Dombrowski, hired in as the team’s president and CEO, fired GM Randy Smith and manager Phil Garner one week into the 2002 seasonafter Dombrowski had been on the job for five months.

The Tigers bottomed out once more, to the tune of 119 losses in 2003. Dombrowski knew that was coming. He also knew that the team would be so wretched on the field, the dugout may as well have some flair.

Hence the hiring of Alan Trammell as manager for 2003.

Trammell was the sacrificial lambthe rookie manager who couldn’t possibly have any success with the joke of a roster that he had been provided. Casey Stengel managed the 1962 Mets, you know. Funny how stupid Casey was when he didn’t have Mantle, Maris, Berra and Ford on his roster.

Trammell had Munson, Halter, Young and Witt.

Tram put in his three years, and was dispatched when Dombrowski‘s roster re-tooling began to take shape.


That year was even more prominent when Trammell managed the Tigers, because he had Kirk Gibson and Lance Parrish on his coaching staff. It was maybe the only time in big league history when the coaches, even at their ages, were better players than the guys on the 25-man roster.

Tram got the ziggy after 2005, with a clubhouse in disarray and the taste of an 8-24 finish to the year lingering in everyone’s mouths.

Jim Leyland sat at the podium, just announced as the Tigers new manager in October 2005, and he had some unfinished business. His last stint in the dugout, with Colorado in 1999, was a huge disappointment.

“…the last couple of yearsand this stuck in my craw a little bit, I did not want my managerial career to end like that,” Leyland said of returning to the role of baseball skipper, as per ESPN.

Leyland had been out of the managing game for six years when Dombrowski reached out to him shortly after firing Trammell.

But at the press conference announcing his hiring by the Tigers, with his friend Dombrowski smiling beside himthe pair won a world title in 1997 in FloridaLeyland declared his vim and vigor were back.

The Tigers were his home town team, to be truthful. Forget the Ohio and Pennsylvania roots. Leyland was a catcher in the low minors for the Tigers in the 1960s. He managed in the Tigers farm system in the 1970s. He was in Lakeland, FL. every spring, brushing shoulders with Kaline, Freehan, Cash and Northrup as Leyland was busy managing a bunch of guys named Morris, Parrish, Whitaker and Trammell.

The Tigers were his team, in his heart.

Leyland was a Pirate for awhile, as we all know. He won some divisions in Pittsburghthree straight in fact, from 1990-92. The World Series eluded him.

Then it was on to Florida, and an unlikely and unexpected World Series victory in 1997.

The Marlins had a fire sale that began almost right after the parade, and Leyland suffered through a 108-loss season in 1998.

Then it was that year in Colorado, which Leyland is least proud of among all his years managing. He felt he stole a paycheck from the Rockies. He has admitted that he was awful and he was burned out, maybe managing too soon after the Marlins debacle and thus his juices weren’t flowing right.

But he was rested and raring to go when Dombrowski called him and asked him to take over the Tigers.

It may not have been quite the rush to Detroit as Brady Hoke’s was to Ann Arbor when U-M Athletic Director Dave Brandon called Brady and asked him to “come home” to coach the Wolverines, but it didn’t take long for Leyland to say yes to Dombrowski, either.

Leyland said yes so fast, he barely looked at the Tigers roster.


The cheese still stood alone, but Leyland‘s first year in Detroit seemed to have magic pixie dust sprinkled on it. The Tigers were 76-36 at one point, before stumbling to the finish with a 19-31 record over their final 50 games. Still, it was good enough to qualify for one of Bud Selig’s wild card berths.

The 2006 Tigers made it to the World Series, where cold bats and their pitchers’ inability to field their position resulted in a 4-1 series loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.


That magical year of Trammell, Whitaker, Parrish, Morris et al continued to haunt the Tigers.

There was the last week of 2009, which was the 180-degree opposite of that of 1987. The Tigers blew a three-game divisional lead with four games to play, and had to settle for a one-game playoff in Minnesota. It was a marvelous game, but one that makes Tigers fans shudder, and always will.


In 2011, the Tigers cruised to a divisional title and lost to Nelson Cruz, er, the Texas Rangers, in the ALCS.


In 2012, the Tigers had to fend off a pesky Chicago White Sox team just to win the division, but made it to another World Series. Again, the bats and the baserunning went cold, and the San Francisco Giants swept the Tigers.

In 2013, the Tigers kept the Cleveland Indians at arm’s length and made it to another LCStheir third straight. But, as Leyland said more than once at his retirement press conference on Monday, the Tigers “let one get away” against the Red Sox. And, he said, it hurt him deeply.

Jim Leyland had eight years as Tigers manager. In only one of them did the team fail to reach the .500 standard. Three times they won their division. Twice they won the American League pennant.

In the 17 years prior to Leyland‘s arrival, the Tigers had exactly one winning record. Four times in those 17 years, they lost more than 100 games.

It rankles some to say that Jim Leyland made baseball relevant again in Detroit. Because, after all, the goal isn’t to be relevantit’s to win the whole shebang.

It also rankles them because the Tigers’ success since Leyland was hired is largely due to the magic wand of Dombrowski, whose trades and free agent signings have given Leyland the tools any manager needs to be successful. Those tools all have one thing in common: talent.

Any knucklehead could have managed the Tigers with the rosters Leyland was given, and won as much as he did. Right?

We’ll never know for sure, mainly because Leyland isn’t a knucklehead. He’s a grizzled baseball guy who has stood up to the likes of Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla, who has given confidence to the Don Kellys of the world and who has presided over a clubhouse that the players police themselves and which has had hardly any fracturing.

Leyland was like Chuck Daly that way. Leyland expected his players to be grown men and act as such. It has helped that the Tigers have made it a habit of employing players who are pretty darn good guysmen of character and dignity. Carlos Guillen comes to mind.

The team has also had lots of veterans in the clubhouse during Leyland‘s tenure, which doesn’t hurt. It’s why the manager has felt it best to keep out of the players’ sanctuary, for the most part.

Leyland didn’t always push the right buttons, but what manager does? He was slave to pitch counts. He wasn’t particularly aggressive or creative. The move of Jhonny Peralta to left field, when it comes to Leyland, was almost off the charts. It was Mickey Stanley to shortstop-ish.

But the players adored him. And when players like the manager, they tend to play better. That’s a fact.


It still stands alone. Leyland wasn’t able to rip that year from the wall. It’s 29 years and counting. That gap makes the 1968-84 wait seem like nothing.

Leyland, thanks to the emergence of the Internet and talk radio, was nitpicked and criticized more than any Tigers manager prior to him, combined.

But would we have nitpicked and criticized, if the team was dreadful?

Isiah Thomas, the great Pistons point guard, once said that fans don’t boo nobodies.

Translated: only the irrelevant escape feeling the heat.

The very fact that Jim Leyland, in his eight years managing the Tigers, faced so much criticism, is actually a testament to the man.

Leyland started winning as soon as he got to Detroit, and except for 2008, he never really stopped.

We started caring about the Tigers again when he arrived, and we have never really stopped.

Like him or not, that much is irrefutable.

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2013 ALCS: Detroit Tigers’ Prince Fielder Must Step Up

Prince Fielder smiles a lot. He turns first base into his office, complete with an open-door policy. He chats up base runners, he joshes with umpires. His big face is often lit up with joviality.

Fielder clearly loves his job—so much so that he never takes a day off. Not once has Prince played hooky as a Tiger—and not for quite some time before that as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Since becoming a regular in 2006, Fielder has missed just 13 games—and none since sitting out one in 2010.

The consecutive games-played streak is being honored by Tigers manager Jim Leyland, and as with any such streak, it’s criticized as being perhaps a bit on the selfish side. Baseball is a long grind, and unless you’re the second coming of Cal Ripken Jr., conventional wisdom says you need a day off now and again. Heck, they even said it about Cal himself.

So, Fielder gets his props for playing every day, for smiling, for having fun. His moon face is a fixture at first base—for better and for worse, as the vows say.

The question as to whether Fielder should be given a day off here and there is moot now. These are the playoffs; this isn’t the time for days off. Same goes for Miguel Cabrera.

Ahh, Miguel.

Cabrera smiles a lot, too. He plays the corner opposite Fielder in the infield, and Miggy has as much fun as Prince does, maybe more. Both Fielder and Cabrera are like big kids who haven’t quite grown up, and you get the feeling sometimes that they’d play baseball for nothing.

Cabrera is hurting and hurting bad. That has been well documented. The reigning MVP and Triple Crown winner of a year ago is playing with half a body—the top half. Everything from his stomach on down is a mess.

His home run in Game 5 of the ALDS notwithstanding, Cabrera isn’t anywhere near the hitter he can be—robbed of his fearsomeness by the groin, abdominal and hip muscles that are plaguing him.

Fielder hits behind Cabrera, as he has since becoming a Tiger before the 2012 season. In baseball parlance, they call it protection—placing someone behind your big slugger so teams aren’t as eager to pitch around the slugger.

It’s a sound strategy, and with someone of Fielder’s capabilities, it is indeed a deterrent to constantly pitch around Cabrera.

But these are the playoffs, and Prince Fielder’s history says that when the calendar turns to the 10th month, he turns to goo.

Entering the 2013 postseason, Fielder’s playoff numbers were feeble for a man of his regular season stature.

Fielder was 19-for-104 for his career in the playoffs through last season—9-for-52 as a Tiger, with one home run and three RBI.

That’s not what Mike Ilitch had in mind when he rescued Fielder from the ignominy of being an unwanted free agent just weeks before spring training in 2012.

It hasn’t gotten any better in this postseason.

Cabrera is swinging with basically just his wrists, and Fielder is, by all accounts, healthy as a horse.

Yet, Fielder isn’t really providing any of that so-called protection as he didn’t last year. He has been, frankly, a total bust in the playoffs for his entire career.

That has to change—and fast.

The Tigers need Prince Fielder now more than ever, and they are in the unenviable position of relying on a guy whose postseason resume wouldn’t make it past a recruiter’s first screening.

Cabrera showed, with that clutch homer in Game 5 of the ALDS against Oakland, that the hands still have it—that the wrists can still yank an inside pitch about 375 feet.

But mostly, Cabrera is a singles hitter—half a player who is on the field on sheer guts and nothing else. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if, when the baseball games for the Tigers are done for the year, we find out that Cabrera needs some sort of surgery.

Baseball history is filled with feats of grandeur from players who seem to turn it up a notch when October arrives. When the games mean the most, the performances grow exponentially.

Reggie Jackson and his three homers in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series. Sandy Koufax, limited to just a fastball, beating the Minnesota Twins on two days’ rest in Game 7 of the 1965 World Series. Jack Morris, going 10 ferocious innings to win Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Who can forget Mickey Lolich, working on short rest and tossing a complete game victory in Game 7 of the 1968 World Series—beating Bob Gibson, no less, who was another who craved the pressure.

And so on.

Fielder has been the antithesis of this.

He’s a slugger who shrinks when the spotlight is on. In the playoffs, the emperor has no clothes.

I have been impressed with Fielder’s knowledge of the strike zone. I don’t believe him to be a flailing windmill. I don’t think he gets enough credit for working a count—in the regular season.

In the playoffs, he turns into a different hitter.

The strike zone becomes generous—at Prince’s behest. He hacks away, almost in a panic. He is twice the easy out he is in games played between April and September.

Prince Fielder has been invisible in the playoffs, yet he’s been impossible to miss. His postseason failure is the elephant in the room.

This isn’t the bleating of someone who believes that a keyboard turns him into an expert. The numbers are raw, and they aren’t pretty. You can look them up yourself, if you’re so inclined.

The Tigers need Prince Fielder more than ever with Miguel Cabrera hurt if they’re to wiggle past the Boston Red Sox and make a return appearance in the World Series.

Fielder has yet to show, in over 100 postseason at-bats, that he can be someone on which to rely in October. A cynic might say that he just doesn’t have it in him.

We’ll see.

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Detroit Tigers Jose Iglesias: Starting His Own Legacy Wearing No. 1

It’s a case of Wally Pipp, redux—in an indirect sort of way.

Jhonny Peralta got a headache and Jose Iglesias took his job.

Kind of.

For the next five to 10 years—or however long the Tigers are able to shanghai Iglesias to the team—when Tigers fans see feats of derring-do at shortstop, they can thank Peralta’s headache.

Jhonny’s headache, of course, wasn’t a literal one, but it was no less impactful. The headache was a 50-game suspension for Peralta’s connection to the Biogenesis lab, which created a hole at shortstop that this kid Iglesias is filling like cement.

Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski, who must have been wielding a gun and wearing a mask, pried Iglesias from the Boston Red Sox in a three-team trade that sent outfield prospect Avisail Garcia to the Chicago White Sox.

It was only one of the slyest moves in team history. It may prove to be the steal of the millennium.

Peralta is a fine baseball player and a capable shortstop. He was swinging a mighty stick before the suspension, harkening everyone back to his All-Star season of 2011.

But Peralta is the 2013 Pipp, whose place in the Yankees lineup at first base was taken by one Louis Gehrig in 1923 as Pipp infamously nursed a headache. Pipp was a pretty good player too, but he was no Gehrig, as it turned out.

Iglesias is already making people think of Peralta as a distant memory, and Jhonny has only been gone for a little more than a month.

Iglesias plays shortstop as if he tumbled out of the womb wearing a mitt. It wouldn’t surprise me if his first words were “seis-cuatro-tres.”

Brooks Robinson was dropped on Earth by God to play third base. Iglesias is a shortstop the way Brooks was a third baseman. In just seven weeks as a Tiger, Iglesias has made plays that you only see on video games—or in dreams.

There isn’t a baseball that Iglesias can’t get to. He has the range of a nuclear bomb and an arm like an ICBM missile.

We have never seen shortstop play in Detroit like we’re seeing it now with Iglesias. With all due respect to Alan Trammell and “Steady” Eddie Brinkman, Iglesias combines competence with flair. He’s an acrobat playing baseball and part gymnast too.

What’s Spanish for vacuum cleaner?

They gave Iglesias jersey No. 1 as he arrived from Boston, and there was an uproar, because that number was done proud by Lou Whitaker, who many Tigers fans think should be in the Hall of Fame.

I was among those who thought giving Iglesias No. 1 was poor form, but I didn‘t lose sleep over it. I’m losing even less, after seeing this youngster play.

Frankly, they should give Iglesias another number, if only because he needs to start his own legacy with his own numeral. Twenty years from now, we’ll be aghast if another Tiger wears Iglesias’ number.

You say he’s a rookie, that he’s only 23 and he’s only been a Tiger since late July, so back off on the accolades?

How many songs did they need to hear Sinatra sing before they knew Blue Eyes was a crooner?

I don’t think we need any more evidence to confirm that Jose Iglesias is a shortstop with a gene that most others simply don’t have.

Iglesias was signed by the Red Sox as a 19-year-old free agent in 2009. He wasn’t drafted, which is an indictment on every scout in the world. Where was he hiding? In plain sight?

He’s generously listed as 5’11” and 175 pounds, but whoever did the listing must have been looking at a fun house mirror image. Iglesias is as 5’11” as Verne Troyer and as 175 pounds as a runway model. But no matter, list him however you want. It won’t change the fact that Iglesias is as shortstop as Ozzie Smith, and that’s the only thing Tigers fans care about.

We first saw Iglesias in Detroit briefly when the Red Sox visited in June. But on a team filled with guys named Pedroia, Ortiz, Saltalamacchia and Ellsbury, Iglesias got lost in the shuffle on the visitors.

Then the trade was made in late July, and we were told that we’d be thrilled to watch Iglesias play shortstop. He was hitting about .330 at the time of the deal, but hitting wasn’t his thing, supposedly. It was the glove that separated Iglesias from the rest of the pack.

Well, Iglesias is still hitting over .300, but if he keeps flashing leather like this, he could hit .003 for all I care.

Infield defense wasn’t exactly a strength for the Tigers at the beginning of last year, with Peralta at shortstop, Ryan Raburn at second base, and Miggy Cabrera giving it another try at third base and Prince Fielder at first base. They were the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, pretty much.

Cabrera proved to be better than most thought and Fielder is serviceable, but it’s in the middle of the infield where the Tigers are vastly improved. Iglesias at shortstop and Omar Infante—who rejoined the Tigers midway through last season—at second base, is as good as it gets defensively. And bonus—both are hitting over .300.

Iglesias made a play in Chicago several weeks ago that had to be seen to be believed. Actually, it was seen and still not believed.

Catcher Josh Phegley hit a slow roller to the left of the pitcher’s mound and Iglesias charged. The kid snared the ball with his bare hand, and while diving to his right thanks to his momentum, Iglesias flipped a throw to first base as he landed shoulder first in the grass. Somehow, Iglesias got enough on the flip to nip Phegley.

I am seeing it now in my head, and I’m still not certain whether I am making it up as I type. Someone, please verify that this actually happened.

Jose Iglesias will be the Tigers shortstop for the rest of the decade and maybe beyond. Because of his youth, the team has Iglesias under its control for at least five years before words like arbitration and free agency start to be bandied about.

By that time, it will be unthinkable to let Iglesias go anywhere.

And it would be unthinkable to give anyone else jersey No. 1. If Whitaker wearing it didn‘t retire the number, then Iglesias surely will be finishing the job.

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MLB: Instant Replay Will Save Umpires from Heartache

Oscar Wilde likely never met an umpire.

Certainly he wasn’t speaking of baseball’s arbiters when he said, “The only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about.”

Wilde, the famed Irish writer and poet, got it all wrong when it comes to the men in blue on the baseball diamond.

For an umpire, the worst thing is to be talked about.

Anonymity is paradise. It’s the reverse of the “Cheers” theme: “Don’t you wanna go where nobody knows your name?”

They’re like offensive linemen. Everyday spent as an unknown is a win. The nightmare is to have your name on everyone’s lips when they leave the ballpark.

The trick is to be on your game at all times while maintaining that coveted, nameless status. It doesn’t matter how many times you got it right. It only takes one misstep to undo everything. Years of work can go down the drain in an instant. Then, the world of anonymity comes crashing down, exposing you fully.

Just ask Jim Joyce. Or Don Denkinger. Or Dave Pallone.

Pallone, a big league umpire in the 1980s in the National League, got involved in a row with Cincinnati Reds’ manager Pete Rose in April 1988. There was a play at first base. Pallone ruled that Reds’ first baseman Nick Esasky pulled his foot off the bag while receiving a throw, which beat the base runner.

Rose begged to differ.

TV replays showed that Pallone probably got the call right—not that that matters all the time, depending on where the game is played.

This particular game was played in Cincinnati, so Rose’s vehement argument stirred the pot and whipped the fans into a frenzy. Maybe Rose was incensed because he had money riding on the game.

It got worse, when things got physical.

Pallone jabbed a finger at Rose, who jabbed one of his own back. Pallone tossed Rose from the game. Then, Rose deliberately bumped into Pallone, which is about as “no-no” as you can get. Players and other umpires had to step between the two combatants as the situation looked to be getting out of hand.

The Reds fans were beside themselves. After Rose stormed off the field, Pallone was pelted with objects hurled from the stands. It got so bad that it was decided that Pallone should be removed from the game as well—for his own safety.

The league rearranged Pallone’s crew’s assignments to keep them away from games played in Cincinnati following the Rose incident.

Pallone survived that game, but his name was dragged through the mud.

A couple years ago, after speaking with me about that game, Pallone let me in on an umpire’s rallying cry.

“We may not always be right,” he told me, “but we’re never wrong.

Denkinger was another whose umpiring career was tainted because he lost anonymity.

Denkinger’s Waterloo occurred in the 1985 World Series, when he erroneously called the Royals’ Jorge Orta safe at first base on a play where it was pretty clear—even to the naked eye—that he was out. The call was crucial, enabling the Royals to pull out a come-from-behind victory over the St. Louis Cardinals that greatly aided in the Royals winning that World Series.

Don Denkinger, in St. Louis, had the same Public Enemy No. 1 status that Dave Pallone had in Cincinnati.

Or the same status as Jim Joyce had in Detroit.

Joyce picked an awful time to be human.

Joyce, as you no doubt know, was the first base umpire in Detroit on that fateful June evening in 2010, when Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga came within one out of baseball immortality.

Galarraga had retired the first 26 Cleveland Indians hitters that night. Just one more out without incident, and the kid would have a perfect game—still one of baseball’s greatest individual feats.

An Indians hitter named Jason Donald hit a weak but tricky ground ball to first base. Miguel Cabrera gloved it and made the tenuous but timely throw to Galarraga, hustling from his mound to cover the base. The pitcher’s foot beat Donald’s to the bag by a toe, but Galarraga won the race. His perfect game was complete!

Except that Joyce, whose arms appeared for a fraction of a second to want to make the “out” call, inexplicably ruled Donald safe.

I maintain to this day that something went haywire in Joyce’s motor skills and he called Donald safe when he really intended to call him out. I deduced that after watching the replay several times.

Regardless, Galarraga’s perfect game was ruined. The next batter made an out, which only served to further enrage the Comerica Park crowd.

TV replays clearly showed that Donald was out. FSD analyst Rod Allen’s voice was tinged with despair when he saw the replay for the first time, as we did at home.

“Oh no! Jim Joyce! No…” Allen said, almost with as much sorrow for the umpire as for Galarraga.

Allen knew that once that replay got out, Joyce would be in a world of hurt. Years of big league umpiring—good, reliable umpiring—were about to fly out the window.

As an umpire is expected to do, Joyce fiercely defended his call on the field—to Galarraga, to Cabrera and to manager Jim Leyland, who raced to the first base area to plead the typical losing argument.

After the game, Joyce saw the replay. He was, at that moment, the most tormented man in America.

“I just cost that kid a perfect game,” Joyce would explain to the media, his voice cracking.

Despite Joyce and Galarraga’s touching meeting at home plate the next day, when the two men shook hands, there was no way that anonymity and Jim Joyce would be anywhere near each other, ever again.

Major League Baseball is on the verge of expanding its relatively limited use of instant replay for the 2014 season. Taking its cue from the NFL, MLB will allow managers to use challenges—one prior to the seventh inning and two afterward, until the game ends.

Pallone, in a Facebook comment to me, wrote simply, “Why don’t we just use robots!!”

I understand Pallone’s stance (he absolutely detests FSD’s so-called FoxTrax, which supposedly determines electronically if a pitch was a ball or a strike), especially given that he is a former big league umpire.

But there’s also something to be said for getting the call right, and for returning good umpires back to anonymity.

Had replay been in use in the Pallone, Denkinger and Joyce plays, calls would either have been upheld or reversed, conclusively. In both scenarios, the umpire is off the hook. He can’t be vilified if he got the call right, and if he got it wrong, there can be no complaints because the league would reverse the decision, according to the video.

You think Jim Joyce would rather be known as a fine umpire with a distinguished career, or the guy who ruined a perfect game?

Instant replay would have returned him to the former.

I say use the damn thing already.

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Detroit Tigers: Jeremy Bonderman’s Return Improbable but Triumphant

He wasn’t the top gunslinger on his team anymore, but Jeremy Bonderman still commanded attention. The role of ace was now being played by this 24-year-old kid named Justin Verlander, who after one year and some change was making the town go daft with his howitzer of an arm. In less than two months, Verlander would throw a no-hitter.

But on this afternoon, in the clubhouse after his latest start, Bonderman was holding court. He sat, shirtless, in front of his locker, nursing a beer, while we in the press asked the usual questions—all variations of “So what happened out there?” as if we hadn’t just witnessed the game ourselves. It was April 18, 2007.

The Tigers had just lost a 10-inning bummer against the Kansas City Royals. But Bonderman had pitched well. He threw seven innings of three-hit ball. He gave up just one run. His right shoulder was wrapped in the typical turban of ice—the symbol of battle of the starting pitcher—as he drank beer and talked about the game just finished.

It was noted by this bottom-feeding blogger that just five days prior, Bonderman had gone up against Roy Halladay, who at the time was a Cy Young-worthy righty pitching in Toronto. That game had been an early-season match of interest, as it pitted Bonderman, also just 24 years old, against the almost-30 Halladay—two power arms.

Halladay had a gunslinger name himself. It even sounded like a character out of a Hollywood Western. Sheriff Halladay, or some such thing.

Bonderman went head on against Halladay and matched him, pitch for pitch. After nine innings, both right-handers were still the pitchers of record. Each had given up just one run on six measly hits.

Halladay, in typical ace fashion, came out and pitched the 10th inning. It was a clean frame.

Bonderman was lifted for Fernando Rodney, who coughed up the game-winning run in the bottom of the 10th.

Halladay got the win to improve to 2-0. Bonderman got that fickle “no decision,” which can either be terribly unfair or a blessing.

So that was the back story when I interrupted the rehashing of the game just played in April 2007 to ask Bonderman if he relished matchups like the one we saw five days earlier in Toronto.

His eyes lit up—though maybe it was only because he was actually being asked about something different, as opposed to having to explain something that we all had just watched.

“Oh definitely,” Bonderman said, sipping his beer. “Those are the games you get up for as a pitcher. He’s one of the best. So yeah, it was fun. But we lost.”

The “we” was a misnomer. Bonderman didn’t get tagged with the L, which would have been one of those in the “terribly unfair” category. He pitched his rear end off against Halladay, but Bonderman can’t swing the bats, so there you go.

The slight smirk on Bonderman’s face as he spoke about the pitching duel he engaged in against Halladay was telling. It was an answer that the 30-year-old Verlander would give today, complete with the smirk. Aces like to go up against other aces. It’s a pride thing.

Bonderman may not have technically been the Tigers’ ace in 2007, but he was still an upper-echelon pitcher in those days, possessing a nasty slider. Tigers’ announcer Rod Allen took to calling Bonderman “Mr. Snappy,” for how the slider snapped from his hand and bedeviled hitters.

Sadly, “those days” wouldn’t last too much longer.

Just three years later, Bonderman was a struggling black sheep in the rotation, spinning the ball up to the plate to the tune of a 5.53 ERA in 29 starts for a 2010 Tigers team that disappointed in the second half, fading from the playoff race slowly but surely.

He was 27 years old and washed up—or so it seemed.

In 2008, Bonderman suffered a blood clot in his pitching shoulder. In the list of all the things that can go wrong with a pitcher’s delicate throwing mechanism, a blood clot isn’t among the most prevalent. But it was there, shelving him after 12 starts.

Bonderman had been out of commission about one full year—June 1, 2008 to June 8, 2009 between starts—when he took the mound in Chicago. The start didn’t go well. He lasted just four innings, giving up six runs and being smacked around like Rocky Balboa’s fists abusing a side of beef.

The Tigers shut Bonderman down after seven more appearances in 2009. His total innings pitched was 10.1—and in those 10.1 innings he gave up 10 runs for a nasty ERA of 8.71.

Bonderman gave it another try in 2010 and, though there were some flashes of the Bonderman from 2003-07, it was painfully obvious that his days as a regular starter were likely over—emphasis on painfully.

Bonderman, frustrated beyond belief, spoke of retirement during that 2010-11 season. His contract was expiring, and it didn’t take a clairvoyant to see that the Tigers weren’t going to offer him another.

Bonderman didn’t officially retire, but he dropped off the map. Quietly, as expected, the Tigers let his contract run out and moved on in an effort to retool their starting rotation. They signed veteran right-hander Brad Penny to take Bonderman’s place.

After the 2011-12 season, Bonderman made a blip on the radar. Word got out that he was thinking about giving the pitching another try. The Tigers were a playoff team, so they were excluded from the list of those clubs who might be interested.

Bonderman spent 2012 trying to get himself into shape for another run at the big leagues. The pain was gone, so it was a matter of stamina and whether he could still command his pitches.

He called the Tigers last winter to gauge interest. He was politely put on hold, so to speak. The Seattle Mariners, sort of Bonderman’s hometown team (he’s a Washington native), acquiesced to a minor league contract. They called him up to the big leagues in May of this year.

The first few starts were OK—an ERA around 4.00—but then the wheels fell off in the next two starts, and the Mariners released Bonderman in July. This time, the Tigers took a flyer on him. They signed Bonderman in mid-July and sent him to Toledo. Maybe he could provide some bullpen depth, the team reasoned.

Last Sunday, following the Tigers’ win over Chicago—the team’s eighth straight victory—they announced they were bringing Bonderman back to the majors. A hard-luck rookie named Evan Reed would be trading places with Bonderman at Toledo.

Bonderman was back where it all started when he became a Tiger as a throw-in in 2002, in a three-way trade that brought Carlos Pena to Detroit. Bonderman was 19 years old and property of the Oakland A’s (a first-round pick in 2001) before the trade.

Wednesday night, Bonderman was officially back, as he took the mound in a Tigers uniform for the first time in nearly three years. He was merely the best relief pitcher that night, tossing three shutout innings (11th thru 13th) at the Cleveland Indians and needing just 27 pitches to do so.

The Tigers won in 14 innings. Bonderman was rewarded for his efforts—his slider was snapping again—by getting the win in relief.

After the game, the cameras rolled as a reporter asked Bonderman if it had felt like three years had passed since his last game as a Tiger.

The smirk was back.

“For sure,” he said, then chuckled. No doubt that the rehabilitation alone felt like an eternity.

Welcome back, Mr. Snappy.

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Detroit Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski Again Proves Why He’s Among MLB’s Best

They are riverboat gamblers dressed in Armani. They are playing with company money, corporate assets. Their cell phones burn hotter than a California brush fire.

Some are craftier than others. Some are more aggressive than others. Some go for the big payoff—risk takers supreme. Others are content to settle for the smaller, safer bet.

Here’s an example.

It’s around Valentine’s Day (ironically) in 1989. The Pistons’ wheeler and dealer has been burning up the phone lines. He has a mercurial, tempestuous, volatile player on his hands. The player cannot any longer get along with his coach. That comes from the player himself.

The riverboat gambler tries to broker a meeting between player and coach. The player rebuffs the efforts.

“I told Adrian, ‘Coach Daly will talk to you anytime you want.’ But Adrian didn’t want to talk.”

The speaker was Jack McCloskey. And he was recalling the circumstances surrounding his gutsiest trade ever. That’s my opinion and I am sticking to it.

McCloskey traded Adrian Dantley to Dallas for Mark Aguirre, straight up. Dantley—as McCloskey recounted to me via phone several years ago—was an unhappy camper in early 1989, despite the Pistons tearing up the league, seeking that elusive championship. And frankly, the Pistons weren’t too pleased with Adrian.

The Pistons made the Finals in 1988, but lost in seven hellacious games to the Lakers. They had come close—oh, so close—to winning their first title in franchise history.

There had been grumblings that Dantley, perhaps the best post-up small forward in league history, was a ball and chain around the Pistons’ offense. The term black hole was even used—as in when the basketball was delivered to Dantley, it was never to be seen by a teammate again.

The Pistons had some athletes who could get up and down the floor, led by the smiling assassin Isiah Thomas. But when Dantley got the ball—usually on the wing—the offense came to a screeching halt. After two-plus seasons of this, certain folks got annoyed. Certain folks in very high places.

So it was that even with the backdrop of a team playing .750 basketball, Dantley was frustrated. He felt the tension, and he (rightly) felt that it was directed toward him.

McCloskey pleaded with Dantley to talk to his coach, Chuck Daly. Dantley refused.

“I had no choice,” McCloskey told me that evening in 2009. “I had to trade Adrian.”

The trade deadline was coming up. And even if McCloskey—so aptly nicknamed “Trader Jack”—felt that he “had no choice” but to trade Dantley, I still say it was his gutsiest trade. Maybe the gutsiest in Detroit sports history.

The trade, for another player who had issues with his coach—Aguirre—could have had a negative affect on team chemistry. For despite Dantley’s foibles, the Pistons were used to them. And they knew the reputation that Aguirre had in Dallas and his Reggie Jackson-Billy Martin relationship with coach Dick Motta, who himself would never win Mr. Congeniality. With Dantley vs. Aguirre, it was kind of like the devil you know versus the one you don’t.

McCloskey made the trade. Dantley, who to this day thinks the deal was engineered by Thomas (Aguirre’s close friend), brooded. Aguirre was taken to dinner by a contingent of Pistons and the law was laid down. The Pistons won their championship four months later. But it could have gone oh so wrong.

Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers’ riverboat gambler of today, emerged after Tuesday night’s game, beaming. He headed for manager Jim Leyland’s office as the media in the clubhouse murmured. It was less than 24 hours before Wednesday’s non-waiver trade deadline.

Moments later, Dombrowski spoke to the press and revealed why he had the look of a man who had just beaten the house.

Sometime during Tuesday’s game, Dombrowski was burning up his phone line, talking trade with the Boston Red Sox fellow AL first place tenants.

The Tigers, concerned about the fate of shortstop Jhonny Peralta’s status (his connections with the Biogenesis lab may result in a 50-game suspension), decided that they had no viable options internally for Jhonny should MLB remove him via suspension.

So Dombrowski, wearing his Armani suit and pink tie, playing at the table with the boss’ assets—namely, minor league prospects—worked out a three-way deal with Boston and the Chicago White Sox.

Boston would get outfielder Avisial Garcia, who the Tigers are very high on, and sometimes big league reliever Brayan Villarreal. The Red Sox would then ship Garcia to the White Sox for starting pitcher Jake Peavy.

And the Tigers were getting shortstop Jose Iglesias from Boston, whose glove has been compared to Ozzie Smith and Omar Vizquel’s, no less.

Dombrowski was beaming because he not only patched up shortstop for this season, should Peralta be suspended, but he covered the position for years to come. Iglesias is 23 years old and isn’t eligible for free agency until 2019, which to me still looks like a year out of an H.G. Wells novel.

Dombrowski is the ultimate poker player. Earlier that day, he solemnly told the press that, after his Monday trade for reliever Jose Veras, the Tigers were likely done trading. That Peralta’s status wasn’t dire enough to create urgency for another deal before 4:00 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.

He said these things even after he had been in talks with the Red Sox that morning.

A good gambler never shows his cards until it’s time.

We have seen the best and worst of general managers in Detroit.

We have seen Russ Thomas, who was a tightwad and a curmudgeon straight out of a Dickens novel, holding onto Lions owner Bill Ford’s money like it was his own.

We have seen Ned Harkness, whose personal grudges and misplaced college attitude destroyed the Red Wings for a decade and a half.

We have seen Matt Millen, and that’s all that needs to be said here.

But we have also seen Jimmy Devellano, whose moves didn’t always work with the Red Wings, but no one could accuse Jimmy D of being passive or uncreative.

We have seen the aforementioned McCloskey, who took a 16-win team and in less than five years, had them competing seriously in the NBA playoffs, eventually winning two championships in a row in 1989-90.

We now see Kenny Holland, who proved that his hockey GM chops weren’t propped up by owner Mike Ilitch’s pocketbook. After the NHL instituted a hard salary cap in 2005, Holland continued to show why he is among the best in the business, even when not able to work with a blank check.

And the Tigers have Dombrowski, who is as good as they come in baseball. His moves don’t always work, either, but they do most of the time and he is another that no one can accuse of being passive. He knows the clock is ticking on his octogenarian owner, who wants a World Series title so badly he can taste it.

Did Dombrowski’s cat-who-swallowed-the-canary smile on Tuesday night say it all?

We’ll find out in about two-and-a-half months, won’t we?

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Detroit Tigers Ramon Santiago the Most Senior Tiger, and the Most Quiet

It wasn’t exactly Ernie Broglio for Lou Brock, but on January 8, 2004, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski pulled off a trade that was as lopsided as it gets. DD must have approached the Seattle Mariners with a gun and a mask.

On that day, Dombrowski traded infielder Ramon Santiago for Carlos Guillen.

You heard me.

Ramon Santiago for Carlos Guillen, straight up.

To add insult to injury, Dombrowski ended up with Santiago, too, a couple years later, when “Santy” signed with the Tigers as a free agent in January 2006.

Guillen, meanwhile, was arguably the heart and soul of a Tigers team that made the World Series in 2006 and contended pretty much every year after—and is still contending some two years after Guillen last played.

And Santiago?

The diminutive infielder can’t hit his way out of a paper bag these days. He’s a switch-hitter, but maybe it’s more bait and switch. Unless there’s an injury, Santiago gets on the field about as often as a starting pitcher. He’s been the 24th or 25th man in Detroit for years.

It wasn’t always that way.

There was a time when the Tigers trotted Santiago out on most days, counting on him as a daily player, which is kind of like running your car everyday on one of those tiny spare tires.

The year was 2003. Santiago appeared in 141 games, splitting time between second base and shortstop. He hit a robust .225.

That year, Santiago fit right in. The Tigers lost 119 games in 2003. They were the 1962 Mets, redux.

It was that winter, following that nightmare season, when Dombrowski somehow convinced the Mariners to take Santiago off his hands for Guillen, even up. Guillen was a six-year veteran whose batting average improved for four straight years—.158 to .257 to .259 to .261 to .276. He was 28 years old, just entering his prime.

The Mariners bit. Guillen came to Detroit and batted .318, .320, .320 and .296 in his first four years as a Tiger. In 2007, Guillen had 102 RBI and was, at the time, one of the best shortstops in baseball.

And Santiago?

The term “utility player” can be deadly accurate or it can minimize the impact a player has on his team. It’s like “character actor” in Hollywood.

Santiago plays second, third and shortstop. He won’t hurt you at any of those positions, defensively. He won’t help you much with the bat, either. Since being reacquired by the Tigers in 2006, Santiago hasn’t had more than 320 at-bats in any given season. But he’s been like an old, comfortable shoe.

Santiago is also the most senior Tiger, gaining that status after Brandon Inge was cashiered last year.

Ramon Santiago made his big league debut on May 17, 2002 for a Tigers team that was so dysfunctional, it’s a wonder they never ended up on The Jerry Springer Show.

The manager was an overwhelmed Luis Pujols, who took over after Phil Garner and GM Randy Smith were fired by Dombrowski in the season’s first week.

Pujols was as respected as a substitute teacher. The Tigers were an out of control bunch, losing games and fighting amongst themselves. It was, without question, the low point of Dombrowski’s 12-year reign as team president.

So it turned out that the Tigers had no one better to man the middle of the infield in 2003 than Santiago, who was 24 and probably in over his head as an everyday player. But he gave it a shot, played his hardest, hit his .225 and kept his mouth shut, even when there was certainly a lot to talk about.

In Seattle, Santiago barely got off the bench. He played a grand total of 27 games in 2004-05. He went 8-for-47.

The Tigers, remembering Santiago for his professionalism in a dark era, came calling when they needed a backup infielder in 2006. Santiago signed as a free agent and has been a Tiger ever since, making this his 10th season as a Tiger out of his 12 in the big leagues.

Manager Jim Leyland has gone on record time and again, praising Santiago for his work ethic, his character and his quiet dignity.

Even in these days of widespread rancor on the Internet and on sports talk radio, where sentiment means jack squat, Santiago has mostly been able to escape the fans’ wrath. Having lightning rods around such as Inge, Jose Valverde, Phil Coke and Ryan Raburn in the past few years have helped Santiago stay under the radar.

This year has been trying, however, for Ramon Santiago.

His batting average has been low even by Santiago standards. He literally has been hitting his weight—which is around 160, being generous.

Injuries have thrust “Santy” back into the spotlight.

First, it was second baseman Omar Infante, who went down before the All-Star break with a deep shin contusion after being upended on a controversial slide by Toronto’s Colby Rasmus.

Santiago stepped in, sharing time with minor league call-up Hernan Perez at second base. As usual, Santy didn’t hit much, but his glove was appreciated.

Then third baseman Miguel Cabrera was lost for most of this past week with a sore hip flexor. Santiago started at third base on Friday night instead of usual replacement Don Kelly, presumably so Leyland could have an extra right-handed bat against Phillies lefty Cole Hamels.

Santiago responded with a double in the fifth inning that was part of a two-run rally that enabled the Tigers to beat back the Phillies, 2-1. The interim third baseman made some defensive gems of plays as well.

Leyland, paid the big bucks to be oh-so-wise, gave a very unscientific explanation for his decision to use Santiago at third base on Friday night.

“I thought, ‘Why not give Santy a shot? Kelly has played quite a few games in a row,’” the manager told the scribes and the microphone thrusters after the game, per the Detroit Free Press.

Sometimes, managing is nothing more than playing a hunch.

Santiago, who’s normally about as quotable as a clam with lockjaw, spoke briefly Friday night about his 2013 struggles.

“It’s been tough on me mentally,” Santiago said, per, after his rare moment in the glare of TV lights,  “but I’m always a positive guy.”

“It’s good to be talking about Santiago after a game,” Leyland said after the tight win over Philly.

Talking about Santiago has never been a priority in Detroit, despite his being a Tiger for all but two years since 2002.

He’s not even really known for being the guy who was once traded for Carlos Guillen. Tigers fans should at least give him that.

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Pittsburgh Pirates: Will 20 Years of Slapstick End This Year?

If I had myself a private audience with the Pope of the Tigers, Jim Leyland, I’d pretty much just have one question for him.

The question wouldn’t be about his team’s bullpen, or why his catcher can’t hit or what the deal is with that 3-9 record in extra innings. I wouldn’t ask about Nick Castellanos’ potential, or what we should expect from Bruce Rondon or why his catcher can’t hit.

The subject wouldn’t be his smoking or whether Miguel Cabrera is the best he’s ever seen or why his catcher can’t hit.

I’d have one question, and it would go like this.

“What was it like when the Pittsburgh Pirates were winners?”

Leyland ought to know. He remains the last Pirates manager to guide the Bucs to a winning record. It happened in 1992, before Bill Clinton was elected president—the first time.

The Pirates were three-time defending National League East division champs after the 1992 season. The World Series eluded them all three years, but they were a pretty decent group of ballplayers, led by none other than Barry “Before and After” Bonds.

Leyland was a young 47 in the 1992 baseball season. His voice wasn’t as gravelly. Sports talk radio wasn’t nipping at his heels. From 1990-92, Leyland’s baseball year would go like this: Win the division, lose in the playoffs. That was pretty much it.

In 1993, the Bucs finished below .500, at 75-87. Pittsburgh baseball fans probably figured ’93 was a bump on the log, a blip on the screen, a good old fashioned fluke.

It turned out to be a 20-year bump/blip/fluke.

The Pirates became the Keystone Kops of baseball. They were the National League’s Washington Generals. Baseball’s version of the Los Angeles Clippers.

Leyland was fired after the 1996 season, on the heels of four straight losing seasons. His successor was none other than Gene Lamont, Leyland’s coach on the Tigers for the past eight years. Lamont lasted four years as Pirates manager, and he gave way to Lloyd McClendon, who also has been on the Tigers’ coaching staff since 2006.

Cue the spooky music.

So will the Pirates only be losers for as long as Leyland, Lamont and McClendon are together with the Tigers? Is there some sort of curse? Because we all know that sports fans love a good curse.

If the Pirates are cursed, it’s been the curse of poor drafting, questionable trades and free-agent busts.

The past 20 years of losing records have been deserved. You don’t play 162 games and call your end result an aberration. And you especially don’t lose for two decades and blame it on outside forces.

The Pirates have been losers since 1992 because they haven’t had very many good players. And they haven’t had very many good players because they haven’t done a good job of beating the bushes—in this country and elsewhere—in finding them.

The few so-called stars that the Pirates have had since 1992 have all eventually bolted Pittsburgh for greener pastures—which has been just about any team you care to name—or have been traded in lopsided deals.

So it’s been 20 years of win totals in the 60s or 70s—which is appropriate, because prior to Leyland’s arrival as Pirates skipper in 1986, the last time the Pirates enjoyed real success was in the 1960s and 1970s.

Pittsburgh has seen its share of bad baseball. The Pirates teams of the 1950s were mostly dreadful. Joe Garagiola, who played on some of those horrid Pirates teams in the ’50s, used to while away many minutes of dead air in his broadcasting career recalling those years, when Pittsburgh was home to the absolute worst that baseball could offer.

Then came the resurgence in the 1960s, starting with the 1960 World Series win over the mighty New York Yankees. The Pirates fielded pretty good teams throughout the decade, then continued winning in the 1970s, adding two more world championships to their total (1971 and 1979, both against Baltimore).

The well ran dry until Leyland took over and built the Pirates into a mini-dynasty from 1990-92. Actually, it was more of a National League East dynasty, but it was still pretty impressive.

The Pirates, in recent years, have teased their fans into thinking that the string of losing records may be ending.

In 2011, the Pirates were 54-49 on July 28. They trailed the first place Milwaukee Brewers by just 1.5 games in the NL Central (where the Bucs moved in the mid-1990s when baseball re-jiggered itself). August was nigh and the Pirates were in the thick of things!

You heard it all back then as giddy writers and fans had visions of the playoffs dancing in their heads. The ugly duckling was turning into a swan and all that rot.

A 10-game losing streak ensued, and just like that, the Pirates were the Pirates again. They were 54-59 and had sunk to fourth place, 10 games out. They finished 72-90, which was how they usually finished. The only difference was the 103-game tease that accompanied it.

In 2012, the Pirates did it to their faithful again.

July 28 once again was the team’s undoing.

In a spooky coincidence that only the Pittsburgh Pirates could pull off, the Bucs for the second consecutive year saw their high water mark come on July 28. For on that date in 2012, the Pirates were 58-42 and just two games behind the first place Cincinnati Reds. This was even better than 2011’s 54-49 on July 28.

Again, Pirates fans had cause to believe that the streak of losing seasons, which at this point stood at 19 years, was about to end. The 2012 Pirates had some players, most notably star center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who was being mentioned in league MVP talk.

So naturally, the Pirates stumbled and bumbled their way to a 21-41 finish (9-22 after August 29), to end up at 79-83.

The streak of losing seasons reached an even 20.

Have you looked at the standings lately? Pirates fans sure have, and you can forgive them for being as doubting as Thomas.

As I write this, the Pirates are 56-38. Someone named Jason Grilli (remember him?) was just on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine, for his closing exploits and for his role in leading a terrific bullpen that calls itself The Shark Tank.

July 28 is eight days away.

Something tells me that Pirates fans will be watching the remainder of this season with one eye closed. Also appropriate, given their logo is a pirate with an eye patch.

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MLB’s Refusal to End Bench-Clearing Brawls Perplexing

Dave Rozema was a fun-loving, gangly pitcher of baseballs who never met a clubhouse prank he didn’t like. He was perpetually 13 years old. He went through his career stifling a giggle.

Rozema, who pitched for the Tigers from 1977-84, could be impetuous, and not always at the most convenient moments.

In fact, it was an act of indiscretion that hastened the end of a once-promising career.

In May 1982, Rozema was 25, six years into a career that saw him become one of the Tigers’ most reliable starters and long relievers, even though he threw a fastball that was so misnamed, it would bounce off a window.

In ’82, Rozema was off to a fine start. He was 3-0 with an ERA of 1.63 when the Minnesota Twins visited Tiger Stadium on May 14, 1982.

The game turned into a bean ball war. It started when Detroit’s Chet Lemon was hit in the wrist by a pitch from Pete Redfern and charged the mound in the fourth inning. The benches emptied, naturally. More on that practice in a little bit.

Lemon was ejected, and Redfern left the game due to injury. Someone stepped on him with their spikes during the melee.

Rozema came on to pitch in the ninth inning. He twirled three scoreless frames.

In the bottom of the 11th, Minnesota’s Ron Davis brushed back Detroit’s Enos Cabell, who didn’t take kindly to it. Cabell made menacing gestures and started toward the mound. Naturally, the benches emptied.

But this row was much worse than that in the fourth inning. It got nasty real quick, tempers having run hot for seven innings.

The field was littered with 50 players, about a dozen coaches and four measly umpires. It was another overrun of the men in blue who were charged with keeping law and order.

The melee was completely out of hand within moments.

Then Rozema committed the act of indiscretion that would end his season and indirectly affect the rest of his career.

For whatever reason, Rozema targeted the Twins’ John Castino, who was engaged with a Tiger near the Twins dugout.

Making like Jackie Chan, Rozema took several loping steps and then launched into a karate kick against Castino that placed Rozema’s body parallel to the ground.

The ill-advised move tore Rozema’s knee to shreds.

He was done for the season.

On the way to the hospital, Rozema was unaware initially that his partner in crime, good buddy Kirk Gibson, had won the game for the Tigers with a walk-off homer off Davis. In a twist of irony, Rozema became the winning pitcher, his leg immobilized in an ambulance.

Rozema was done for 1982 thanks to the karate kick. His career was over by the end of April, 1986. He was not yet 30 years old. The major knee surgery required after his foolish Jackie Chan maneuver didn’t help his pitching at all.

Football and hockey, much more violent sports, don’t put up with the nonsense of players joining in the fray that goes on between two combatants. Neither does basketball.

In other sports, if you leave the bench, you’re suspended. No questions asked. Fines are levied, too.

Hockey, for all its dangerous speed and its strange justice of giving a guy two minutes for something that he’d get three years for, had he done it off the ice, has managed to basically legislate the bench-clearing brawl out of its sport.

The “third man in” rule ejects any player who intercedes in a scrap between two fighters. The NFL doesn’t take kindly to players leaving the benches, either.

Basketball, with its players’ close proximity to the patrons, especially frowns on multiple players going at it.

Yet baseball, the sport with the least physical contact between players, has condoned the bench-clearing fracas for over 100 years.

If a batter so much as looks at a pitcher oddly and takes a step or two toward the mound, players from both sides leap to the top step of the dugout. Another stride by the batter, and the dugouts empty.

And, to add to this absurdity, the bullpens empty—guys jogging in from 400 feet away. So that makes 50 players and all the coaches on the field of play—because two guys have a disagreement.

These aren’t necessarily benign meetings.

Witness Rozema and his karate kick. Bill Lee of the Red Sox hurt his arm in a fracas in 1976 when a bunch of Yankees and Red Sox players ended up piled on top of him. The Tigers’ Dick McAuliffe went after Chicago’s Tommy John in 1968 and John messed up his arm in the ensuing rumble.

Often, the players injured in these melees are not the ones involved in the original tiff.

Why does baseball allow its benches to empty so routinely, with such impunity?

You got a beef, Mr. Batter? Take it up with the pitcher—but make sure to drop the bat first. All you other guys? Watch.

The Dodgers and the Diamondbacks were involved in a rumble a week or so ago, and it included a takedown by Dodgers manager Don Mattingly of D-backs coach and former Tiger Alan Trammell.

A manager tackling a coach? Aren’t those guys supposed to be playing the roles of peacemakers? What’s next, the second and third base umpires going at it?

At least there were some suspensions in the Dodgers/D-Backs brawl. But that’s nothing in the big picture.

Alas, nothing will change. Change doesn’t come very easily in baseball, which is without question the most tradition-ingrained sport of them all, even if said tradition is self-destructive in nature.

Baseball’s slogan ought to be, “Because it’s always been that way.” That’s been the ready-made excuse since the 19th century for not correcting the ills of the game. Just ask Jackie Robinson.

Baseball can get rid of these silly bench-clearing exhibitions, which only serve ill will and offer up dangerous potential for injury.

It would be very easy to do so.

Yet it won’t ever happen. Why? Because it has always been this way.

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