Sunday, February 10, 2008

Inge Should Be Careful About What He Wishes For

I’m not going to get to him in time to say this in person, because I won’t be in Lakeland, Fla. for spring training, so I’ll blare it here, in black and white.

Brandon Inge, my friend, let me tell you a tale of two Detroit Tigers: Mickey Stanley and Lance Parrish. Then maybe, just maybe, you might be a tad happier with your current situation in Detroit.

First, I’ll get the reader up to speed, for sake of completion.

Inge, who’s been with the Tigers since being drafted by them in 1998, is now a man without a position. At least, that’s how HE looks at it. I say he’s a man of many positions, and that he should embrace that; it’s liable to keep him in the big leagues for a very long time.

Inge was the Tigers’ starting catcher during the lean years, a.k.a. B.P. – Before Pudge (Rodriguez). He was a barely-.200 hitter for a 43-119 team when the Tigers signed Rodriguez for the 2004 season. Inge hadn’t hit a lick in the majors. One could make the argument that had he not been playing for such a wretched team, Brandon Inge would be scrambling to absorb himself into society with the rest of us working stiffs. He wasn’t much of a player, his decent defense notwithstanding.

Yet Inge had the nerve to squawk when the Tigers signed Rodriguez – who’s only a Hall of Famer – going public with his contention that the team already had a catcher: him. So why did they need to go out and get another one?

“My defense, I believe, can be on par with Pudge’s,” is my paraphrasing of what Inge was feeding us four Februarys ago. He made no mention of the 180-degrees difference in offense between Rodriguez and him. He was exhibiting, I thought, a rather reticent reaction for someone whose career batting average, at the time, was under .200, and who should have been kissing the turf that he was under the employ of a big league team. But there you have it.

I didn’t think much of Brandon Inge at that point, and couldn’t have cared less if he was an ex-Tiger, or an ex-big leaguer.

My opinion has changed, so hence I offer this friendly advice to him.

The advice comes because Inge is again chafing, though this time he has the resume to chafe.

In December, the Tigers acquired All-Star third baseman Miguel Cabrera from Florida. This displaced Inge, who after Rodriguez’s signing became a third sacker himself – and a darned good one. Defensively. He still has occasional issues with the stick, which Cabrera does not have. Cabrera can be counted on for 30+ homers, 100+ RBI, and .300+ BA. And he’s only 24 (he’ll be 25 in April; Inge is 30). It’s frightening how good he – Cabrera – can be

Rodriguez is still around, so the question was obvious: Where will Brandon Inge play, if he plays at all, for the Tigers?

Inge wants to play – can’t blame him there. He still sees himself as a starting third baseman. Again, I can see that. He loves Detroit, but was wondering – again, publicly – if that love would trump his desire to be a full-time player. The Tigers view him as a sort of “super sub” – someone who could play multiple positions (including catcher) and find his way into the lineup that way, because of his great athletic ability. Inge bristled at the notion of being a glorified utility player.

Brandon, meet Mickey Stanley.

Stanley was the Tigers’ starting centerfielder from 1965 till around 1974. After that, when the team groomed Ron LeFlore and other youngsters, Stanley stuck around, playing all over the field. It was warmly remembered that Stanley switched to shortstop in the 1968 World Series to make room for Al Kaline in the Tigers’ lineup. His ability to be the chameleon baseball player was not lost on Tigers brass. One day he was at first base; the next, maybe left field. After that, perhaps third base. He did it all, except catch and pitch. And maybe only because they never asked him.

Stanley filled this role, gallantly and without brooding, until his retirement after the 1978 season. He, like Inge, loved Detroit, its fans, and the way he was treated. He also realized that baseball’s grass isn’t always greener in other cities. His acceptance of the “super sub” designation no doubt added years to his career – and money to his bank account.

Now, Brandon, say hello to Lance Parrish.

Parrish, the stalwart catcher of the 1980s, played out his option after the 1986 season. For whatever reason, he and the Tigers couldn’t come to terms. He, like Inge and Stanley, was a homegrown Tiger – drafted and nurtured by the club. It didn’t hurt that his personal tutor every spring was a guy named Bill Freehan. Parrish had become a fixture in Detroit. He wore the Old English D on his massive chest fiercely. But, just like that, he was gone – fleeing to Philadelphia for more dough.

From the moment I saw Parrish walk onto the field at spring training with the Phillies in 1987 (they had cameras taping his debut), I knew that this was going to end badly. He never looked comfy in the Phillies pinstripes. Then there was the issue of the fans – which was the first thing I thought of when Parrish’s exodus to Philly was announced.

“My goodness, they’re going to eat him alive there,” I thought. Philadelphia may be the City of Brotherly Love, but it’s a brotherly love full of noogies and Melvins and cat poop in your chocolate bar wrapper.

Not surprisingly, Parrish struggled. And the more he struggled, the more the fans rode him. And the more they rode him, the more he struggled. Those Phillies pinstripes were wrapping themselves around him like tentacles, squeezing the baseball life out of him.

Parrish was never the same. He became a journeyman, ending his career on a carousel. He asked the Tigers for a tryout at the end, but they politely told him no.

So, Brandon, I would suck it up, put on a smile, and be ready when needed. I know you’ve agreed to do it, and I know you’ve said you’re not happy about it. That’s understandable. But look no further than Stanley and Parrish for what can be – both good and bad.

Do with this what you will.


Rick said...

Greg, Great post. I feel the same way ... if Brandon makes the right choice, he may never leave the Tigers and might get to bask in the champagne. It was sad when Parrish left — and it did not turn out well for him. You should have seen how miserable he looked managing the Loons last year. I was not surprised when he was fired. He obviously did not think he deserved to be managing at Single A. On the flip side, former Phillie (yeah, right!) long time Cub, Ryne Sandberg took the Single A route seriously and has a possible career in the making. Brandon's a good guy; hopefully, he'll make the choice and be the 2009 catcher. Pudge may just stick around, anyway, but come on Brandon.

Ryan said...

I think Brandon is in a tough situation, but still, he's lucky he's in the Big Leagues. He's a good guy, but he should be thankful for what he has and hopefully he'll get a break and things might go his way. He should play out the season and do the best he can for the Tigers. The Tigers might have the best chance to win the World Series out of the different MLB teams, so Brandon may as well just stick it out with Detroit and try to win a ring.