Thursday, September 07, 2006

Cutting Of Young Unfair, But That's Sports

The running back with the problematic knee entered the visitors lockerroom, looking for a stall with his number and named taped above it. He looked and looked. It was nearing the end of the 1971 exhibition season.

"Where's my locker?," he said, surveying the visitors room in Philadelphia's Veteran Stadium. "Where's my locker?"

Defensive tackle Alex Karras watched Nick Eddy, once a promising back from Notre Dame, be called over by the equipment manager.

"Didn't they tell you?," the manager said to Eddy as Karras overheard. "The team cut you this morning."

And as Eddy slumped on a stool, his heart broken, Karras burst into head coach Joe Schmidt's office. There, he blasted the coach for not properly informing Eddy, who'd given his heart and soul to the Lions and got nothing but injury-plagued seasons in return. Karras, his voice quaking, shouted at Schmidt after watching Nick Eddy go through his humiliation. And, a week or so later, Karras himself got the axe, ending his brilliant career.

The above incident, culled from Karras' book, Even Big Guys Cry, was probably not repeated yesterday in the Tigers' clubhouse when manager Jim Leyland informed Dmitri Young that he was no longer a member of the team. Clearly it wasn't, as Leyland himself delivered the news, not equipment manager Jim Schmakel.

But Young still had to suffer the indignity of going around the room, hugging now ex-teammates and shaking their hands, classily telling them to "go win this thing." Some of them didn't even know he'd been cut.

There's more to this than meets the eye, rest assured. What it is, we may never know. Or, we'll know much later, when the interest level has been reduced to a footnote. But Young was not cut purely for "performance" issues, as the team is trying to feed us. The timing is too odd, the lack of any writing on the wall too peculiar to ignore.

Jim Northrup told me recently that in August 1974, when he and Norm Cash were lopped off the roster on the same day -- Cash cut and Northrup dealt to Montreal -- Tigers brass notified him when he got to the ballpark. Cash, Northrup said, heard the news on the radio driving in to Tiger Stadium.

"We tried to call you but you were on the golf course," Northrup said, repeating GM Jim Campbell's words to him in the bowels of the stadium.

"That's a load of (expletive)," Northrup told me. "I was home all day, and I told them that."

Kelly Tripucka found out he was traded to Utah in 1986 because a kid in the lockerroom of the country club where he was golfing shouted the news, not knowing that Tripucka was there. It happens that way sometimes.

So Dmitri Young, always a good soldier, as far as I knew, has been cashiered in the first week of September. He's another of the few who were around for that horrific 43-119 season of 2003. Already folks are musing that the move to cut him was a good one. They cite that word that is strangely unique to sports -- chemistry.

"The team started losing as soon as he returned," MCS Magazine's Director of Marketing Chris Okroy said this morning. Then he used that word -- chemistry. "Everyone was afraid the team chemistry would suffer...," Chris said, his voice trailing off, which was supposed to be my cue to nod knowingly.

I'm sorry, but I don't think the Tigers' 9-19 quagmire can be laid at the doorstep of Dmitri Young. His BA since his return from rehabilitation is .292. Find me any Tigers who have a similar average in those 28 games.

I think the move stinks, and that better hands have been dealt. UNLESS something happened that forced the team's hand.

Otherwise, unfair.

Unfair.

1 comment:

Ozz said...

Something bad and ugly had to have happened. "Performance" is a weak excuse. Sure, he had been slumping lately, but he certainly wasn't the only one.

The story will find its way out. Hopefully it doesn't become a distraction or a soap opera.