Tag: Gerald Laird

Gerald Laird Returns to Detroit Tigers, This Time To Be "Mr. Backup"

The only difference, as far as I can see, between the backup catcher in baseball and the backup quarterback in football is that no one clamors for the former to play. Other than that, you can barely slide a credit card between the two positions, in terms of what they mean to their respective teams.

Both are non-starters for a reason.

Yet in the NFL, there is a mystique about the backup quarterback. He’s not the starter, but as soon as the real starter goes a little sideways, everyone from the crank yankers calling in to sports talk radio to your Uncle Gus can’t wait to see the No. 2 QB jogging onto the field.

Not so with the backup catcher.

The backup catcher is someone who can’t hit, who can’t run and whose only seemingly redeemable quality is that he’s “a good clubhouse guy.”

At least the backup quarterback has been known to save the day on occasion, with a heart-stopping drive at the end of a game or a surprising starting performance that makes him look, for 60 glorious minutes, like the second coming of Johnny Unitas.

The backup catcher is a guy who plays only because the starter can’t possibly catch all 162 games.

The Tigers tried to have Alex Avila catch that many games last year, or so it seemed. He was given less time off than an accountant during tax season.

There was a pseudo rotation between Avila and the newly-signed Victor Martinez for a time, but Victor’s knees couldn’t take the punishment and he was relegated solely to designated hitter duties.

That left Avila, with token appearances by utility man Don Kelly and a couple of dudes from the stands, if memory serves.

The Tigers have provided Avila with some relief, however, for 2012 with the signing of—drum roll, please—our old friend Gerald Laird.

He’s baaack!

For what the backup catcher normally provides offensively, Laird fits the bill. He also fit the bill in 2009 and 2010, during his first tour of duty with the Tigers. Trouble was, he was the starter—and still hitting like a backup.

I don’t have the time or the energy to do the research, but if you were to tell me that the mean batting average for backup catchers last year—or any year, for that matter—was around .200, I wouldn’t bat an eye (no pun intended).

That’s what backup catchers do, you know. They hit around .200, play once a week, maybe twice, and the hope is that they just don’t screw anything up.

They’re like substitute teachers, in a way.

Laird had the last laugh, though. Tigers fans weren’t exactly enamored with him after his less-than-spectacular hitting prowess (he hit a composite .218 in his two Detroit seasons), and were happy when he wasn’t asked back for 2011.

That’s OK—for Laird, who hooked up with the St. Louis Cardinals last December, got all of 95 at-bats in 2011, hit a robust .232 and (here’s the punch line) won a World Series with the Cards.

All the great catchers in baseball history had their caddies, which are what the backups are, essentially.

The Yankees’ Yogi Berra had his Charlie Silvera. The Reds’ Johnny Bench had his Bill Plummer. The Tigers’ Bill Freehan had his Jim Price.

Silvera, Plummer and Price were your typical backup backstops. That is, they couldn’t hit their way out of a paper bag. None was a threat to unseat the starter ahead of them.

Tigers fans might have rolled their eyes at the news of Laird’s signing last week, but he makes sense, frankly. Laird already knows the Tigers pitchers, for the most part, he has no grandiose ideas of taking young Avila’s job and he hits the requisite .200-ish.

But in fairness, the backup catcher should at least field a little, and Laird can do that. His 32-year-old arm is still strong enough to keep would-be base stealers somewhat honest.

The Tigers just need Laird to catch no more than 40 games next season, stay out of the way and don’t screw the pitchers up. It’s all any big league team asks of its No. 2 catcher.

Oh, and be a good cheerleader, that so-called “good clubhouse guy.”

When the Tigers went to the World Series in 2006, they had Vance Wilson around as Pudge Rodriguez’s caddie. If backup catchers were an organization, Wilson would have been a card-carrying member.

Actually, Vance might have been the Chairman of the Board, for he spent several seasons backing up Mike Piazza with the Mets before coming to Detroit to give Rodriguez an occasional breather. That’s playing second banana to two Hall of Famers. Not bad.

Wilson actually batted .283 in 152 at-bats with the ’06 Tigers, and he was widely recognized as one of the best backup catchers in the game—not that they give out any awards for that.

And Wilson was consistent. Before his career ended with a bad elbow injury after that 2006 season, Wilson in his final three seasons had 157, 152 and 152 at-bats from 2004-06, respectively. He was Mr. Backup—the Sultan of Squat.

Wilson was manager Jim Leyland’s attitude guy, too.

After he hurt his elbow in spring training, Wilson stayed with the team all season in 2007, rehabbing and keeping his spirits up—and those of his teammates with his practical jokes and loosey-goosey demeanor.

I saw him in the clubhouse a couple times in ’07, and on both occasions I asked him how close he was to coming back and playing.

“REAL close. REAL close,” he’d say.

Wilson never did play after 2006.

No matter. The backup catcher is the never-say-die guy on the baseball team. He’s often the least pretentious and with the smallest ego. He’s just happy to be in the big leagues.

As well he should, given his hitting skills.

Welcome back, Gerald Laird! It’s nice to have your .200 batting average, good defense and slow legs back with the Tigers.

Just don’t screw anything up.

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Monday Morning Manager: My Weekly Take on the Detroit Tigers

Last Week: 3-3
This Week: at NYY (8/16-19); CLE (8/20-22)

So What Happened?

The Tigers began their new role as AL Central spoiler in grand style, taking two of three from the White Sox over the weekend, with both wins being of the come-from-behind variety.

There were also fireworks—and MMM doesn’t mean the kind spewed from the U.S. Cellular Field scoreboard after White Sox home runs.

Tigers starter Armando “Nobody’s Perfect” Galarraga got into a tussle with catchers Alex Avila and Gerald Laird in the dugout Sunday after the first inning.

The incident was captured by Chisox TV while Fox Sports Detroit chose to ignore it, which MMM finds troubling.

“Maybe this is the spark we need,” Laird said afterward about the confrontation, which threatened to turn physical and ugly before peacemakers rushed in.

All parties brushed it off as a “misunderstanding”, or some such rot. Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, “I kind of liked it.”

The Tigers have won three of their last four after starting the week ominously with two losses to Tampa at Comerica Park.

Hero of the Week

MMM has two on its radar.

First, the runner up: Ryan Raburn.

As much as it pains MMM to type this, Raburn is…Raburn is….he’s…ho….ho…HOT.


Raburn is on a bit of a tear, slugging home runs and slapping hits and driving in runs.

He’s 8-for-17 with three homers and four RBI in his last four games. His BA is “up to” .238.

But for all that prowess, MMM is going with lefty reliever Phil Coke as its weekly hero.

Coke had to play the part of Jose Valverde in Chicago, recording the final out in both the Tigers’ wins.

Valverde is nursing a sore abdomen.

Coke entered Saturday’s game in the eighth inning, and was the pitcher of record as Avila slammed a stunning two-run homer in the ninth to grab the win.

On Sunday, Coke was set to close the game again, warming up with the Tigers protecting a 9-8 lead in the ninth. As it turned out, the Tigers scored four times, negating a save situation. But Coke pitched the ninth anyway, and after a slow start (a leadoff walk followed by a 3-1 count to the next hitter), he shut the Pale Hose down.

Maybe in some people’s eyes, what Coke did wasn’t as impressive as Raburn’s hot streak. But with your All-Star closer out unexpectedly, it’s nice to be able to turn to Coke, who’s been outstanding this season in his usual role as utility man in the bullpen.

Goat of the Week

First, Jim Leyland nearly landed here.

His decision to pull Johnny Damon for defensive purposes almost came back to haunt him Sunday. Damon delivered a clutch two-out, two-run triple in the eighth inning, nudging the Tigers ahead 8-7. Then he was lifted for Don Kelly.

In the top of the ninth, with the White Sox within 9-8 and the bases loaded, Damon sat helpless on the bench while the light-hitting Kelly batted in his place.

But Kelly stroked a two-run single, giving the Tigers some breathing room.

MMM could almost hear the Tigers fan base screaming at the TV when Kelly came to the plate. Why you’d take a guy with over 2,500 hits out of the game in a slugfest is beyond MMM.

But the goat is Brennan Boesch, who was 0-for-Chicago and who is simply hurting the team right now. MMM feels for the kid, but if Boesch was named Raburn or Kelly or Inge he’d be getting blown up by the fan base for his God awfulness.

Boesch is 13-for-107 after the All-Star break, which just might be one of the worst stretches of 100+ at-bats ever seen from a Tigers player since Ray Oyler circa 1968.

Yet he plays everyday because Leyland has no one else.


Upcoming: Yankees and Indians

MMM thinks the four days the Tigers will spend in the Big Apple this week will either be pleasantly surprising or a freaking nightmare—no in between.

The Yankees look strong in their bid to repeat as World Champs. They are holding off a good Tampa Rays team. They are as talented and as deep as ever. And they play very well at home.

This has four-game sweep written all over it; MMM gets that.

But baseball is a funny game, and it will be interesting to see if Sunday’s dugout skirmish has any effect on the Tigers’ countenance, and whether that translates to success on the diamond.

As for the Indians, what can you say?

The Tribe are who started the Tigers’ freefall, sweeping four games from the Bengals in Cleveland coming out of the break. But they’re still a bad team, made up of AAAA players. Kind of like the Tigers!

The Tigers usually beat the Indians at Detroit; it’s one of the few scenarios where the Tigers are successful within their own division.

BTW, the Tigers optioned 1B-OF-DH Jeff Frazier to Toledo and recalled lefty reliever Daniel Schlereth.

That’s all for MMM this week. See you next Monday!

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Detroit-Oakland: Detroit’s Max Scherzer Dazzles As Tigers Cruise By A’s

It looks like Max Scherzer’s brief stint with the Detroit Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate the Toledo Mud Hens was just what he needed.

Scherzer dominated while in Toledo, and he looked to be in top form against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday.

The young right-handed pitcher blazed his way through the A’s lineup with 14 of 17 outs coming by way of strikeout.

And he was aided by his friends during his second big-league triumph.

Detroit’s offense perked up a bit, and the MoTowners downed the A’s 10-2 for the first win of the Memorial Day weekend series.

More importantly, there seems to be a little life in catcher Gerald Laird’s bat—even if for a game.

Laird did something Sunday that he has had trouble accomplishing lately—putting the ball in play.

He finished with two hits, one of which scored a run. On the other side of the coin, his excitement to be on base cost Jim Leyland’s club a base runner, as he was picked off by a sly move to first by A’s pitcher Dallas Braden .

In his second game back from the 15-day disabled list, second basemen Carlos Guillen made his return felt.

Guillen collected just one hit, which drove in a run, but his arm and glove are proving to be invaluable at the middle bag—a slot that he hasn’t played on regular basis in over a decade.

His presence in the infield has brought much needed relief to a position that has been weak for the Tigers.

Brandon Inge must be reading newspapers and Tigers blogs.

He looked like he was on a mission to dismiss his abysmal month-long hitting drought. May hasn’t been kind to Inge—he has just 13 hits in the month, 11 less than he did in April. Racking up three in the last week will likely boost his confidence in regard to swinging the stick.

The Tigers’ third baseman went 3-for-3, which included a home run in the fourth inning. The touch-em-all hit put the Tigers in cruise control on their way to their 26th win of the season.

And speaking of bats, Miguel Cabrera’s is hotter than the weather. Cabrera is on a maniacal pace in 2010, plating runs like it’s going out of style. He had four RBIs on Sunday and holds the top spot in the majors with 48, which is five better than Texas’ Vlad Guerrero.

The American League Central race appears to be a two-horse derby. The Minnesota Twins are nursing a three-game advantage, with Tigers slowly but surely gaining ground.


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Monday Morning Manager: My Weekly Take on the Detroit Tigers

Last Week: 5-2
This Week: CWS (5/17-18); at Oak (5/19-20); at LAD (5/21-23)

So what happened?

A slap in the face of the East Coast bias when it comes to its death grip on big league baseball. 

The Tigers entertained baseball’s two Goliaths last week—the Yankees and the Red Sox—and they sent both teams out of town with a spanking.

First was a nifty 3-1 series win over the Yankees, which featured not one but TWO shutouts of the Yanks’ mighty bats.

Then the Tigers came back and took the last two games from the Red Sox after dropping Friday night’s opener.

Take that, ESPN! And Ken Burns!

The Tigers showed that teams sometimes can play a good brand of baseball outside of the Bronx and Beantown, contrary to urban myth.

The good week leaves the Tigers 14-5 at Comerica Park, which is suddenly a House of Horrors for visiting clubs.

Hero of the Week

First, an apology.

A few weeks ago, on “The Knee Jerks” podcast I co-host with Big Al Beaton, I mocked manager Jim Leyland and took him to task for simply inserting rookie OF Brennan Boesch in the No. 5 hole left vacated by injured Carlos Guillen.

Why is he (Leyland) putting a rookie behind MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera, I fussed.

I fuss no more.

Boesch is MMM’s Hero because whenever he hits the baseball, the cover threatens to tear away from the core.

Boesch is driving in runs in Cabrera-like fashion, and his left-handed stick is giving the Tigers as good a 1-thru-5 batting order as any team in baseball.

Boesch is hitting .380 with 19 RBI in 71 ABs. He went 4-for-6 in Saturday night’s win over Boston. He already has two triples.

So wonderful has Boesch been that when Carlos Guillen returns from his injury, Guillen will play 2B, just so Leyland can keep Boesch, 25, in the lineup.

Sorry for all the fuss.


Goat of the Week


Tie: Max Scherzer and his battery mates. 

Last week, MMM was getting annoyed with Scherzer because his starts were beginning to resemble crash landings. Friday, Scherzer stunk up the joint again and was optioned to Toledo to get his act together.

The men catching Scherzer and the rest of the staff are wearing MMM’s patience thin, too.

Gerald Laird and Alex Avila, combined, make one Adam Everett.

I don’t expect Johnny Bench, but these guys are making me long for Vance Wilson.

I won’t disclose Laird’s and Avila’s batting averages before notifying their next of kin.

More Tigers rallies this season have ended or stalled with the bats of Laird and Avila than with anyone else on the roster by far. They may as well be lugging fire hoses up to the plate the way they’re dousing potential big innings.

The Tigers need more offensively from their catchers than what Lairavila are giving them. And I have just won the Understatement of the Year Award.

Upcoming: White Sox, A’s, Dodgers

Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies! It’s Brother Leyland’s Traveling Salvation Show!

The Tigers once again will criss-cross the country more than a presidential candidate on the last leg of a campaign.

It starts in Motown with a couple quickies against the stumbling, limp noodle bats of the Chicago White Sox. Then it’s on to Oakland for two with the A’s, then since the American League is running out of Left Coast teams for the Tigers to visit, the Dodgers welcome our Bengals this weekend.

As usual, all will occur sans a day off. Heaven forbid.

The White Sox offense is Paul Konerko and…waiting for Paul Konerko to come up again.

Konerko has 13 home runs, but the rest of the White Sox’s offense is horrendous. Their team BA is .230. They have just 152 runs (4.1 per game) and 279 hits (7.7 per game).

The A’s have lost five in a row, are 18-20, and they’re no offensive juggernaut, either. No one on the A’s has hit more than four homers. The team BA is .248.

The Dodgers are another story.

They’re red hot—winners of seven straight. And they boast OF Andre Ethier, who’s leading the majors in hitting (.392), and who has 11 HR, 38 RBI, and who has scored 25 runs.

Ethier is 18 for his last 40 with 12 RBI.

He’s a little warm.

Fun fact: He’s on the DL, but the Dodgers have 41-year-old catcher Brad Ausmus on their roster, the former Astro/Tiger/Astro/Tiger.


That’s all for this week’s MMM. See you next Monday!

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