Saturday, May 07, 2005

The Insignificant Tiger: Bobby Higginson

An $8.85 million extra:
Bobby Higginson

If I was Bobby Higginson, I would either: a) prepare for life after baseball, or b) keep my mouth shut.

Higginson, who should kiss the ground of every big league stadium he sees this season, is instead crabby. He barely made the team at all in spring training, and that was largely because of the deference manager Alan Trammell showed to him because of his seniority, instead of young Marcus Thames, who simply bashes the baseball and doesn't appear ready to stop. Higgy's appearance on the Tigers' roster instead of Thames was a bone of contention for a few days, especially for veteran Dmitri Young, who said Thames had gotten "screwed." But it was all moot when free agent signee Magglio Ordonez' insides went funny and he ended up on the DL, freeing a spot for Thames after all. In case you forgot, Thames hit a grand slam in his first game this season, just hours after arriving in Detroit and barely having slept.

As for Higginson, his contribution thus far is as follows: 26 at bats, two hits, .077 average, one RBI. And this is what he had to say to Jim Hawkins of the Oakland Press: "I thought I was supposed to be insurance in case a guy went down. Well, Magglio (Ordonez) went down, and I'm still not playing."

It would be different, and maybe Higginson's side of the story would invoke more empathy, if the last several seasons hadn't been so non-productive. But the truth is, Higginson hasn't come close to earning his fat contract which was signed after his breakout season of 2000, when he was basically a 30 HR, 100 RBI, .300 guy. Starting in 2001, he was mostly a .240, 10 HR, 50 RBI guy. Now he's not even that.

"I'm just an extra guy," Higginson admitted to Hawkins. "I guess that's what they're calling it now."

I don't want to be too hard on Bobby, because he did have some serviceable years for some pretty awful Tigers teams. This is his 11th season in Detroit. He was the face of the franchise, such as it was, for a few years. He was a Tiger you might want to watch play in person, when not another one of them you would care to see.

But unfortunately, long careers don't always end the way you'd like them to, especially in Detroit. Our football team knows that all too well; Barry Sanders, Herman Moore and Robert Porcher, probably the best Lions ever at their respective positions, all had their careers in Detroit end unceremoniously. Lucky and blessed is any athlete who can ride off into the sunset in the manner by which he (or she) chooses.

Sanders, Moore and Porcher (l to r) all had their careers
in Detroit end in a less-than-desirable fashion

Such seems to be the case with Higginson. It's going to end badly -- we just don't know how, or when. It could be next week, could be after the All-Star game, could be in the cold of November or December. It's like watching someone die slowly of a terminal disease.

Nobody wants to sit on the bench, and Higginson is experiencing culture shock like few athletes ever do -- suddenly playing the role of 25th man on a 25-man roster when he is used to being in the lineup pretty much every day.

Tigers life is lonely these days for Higgy

So I will allow Higgy his verbal moments, no matter how little outrage they inspire among Tigers loyalists. But I really do wish he'd zip it. Speaking obviously of Trammell, Higginson told Hawkins, "There are ways to get guys at-bats. You see other teams do it. But that's the manager's decision."

Yes, just as it was his decision to keep an over-the-hill 35 year-old over a promising rookie who did nothing except hit the cover off the ball in Florida.

You try and do a guy a favor....

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