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The Tigers lost 114 games in 2019, most in the Majors and the second-most in franchise history. They remain committed to their rebuilding process, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have immediate needs to fill.

MLB.com is keeping track of every move the Tigers make this offseason as they prepare for 2020. Check back here for updates as the offseason continues.

The Tigers had the American League’s lowest OPS and scored 33 fewer runs than any other Major League team, a wide gap even for a team that played just 161 games. While their youth movement is built around pitching, the impact hitters they’ve drafted in recent years are at least a few years away. Detroit desperately needs a veteran run producer to help the entire club. The easiest fits are at first base or a corner outfield spot. Justin Smoak is among the free-agent sluggers that have been discussed.

Matthew Boyd, Jordan Zimmermann, Spencer Turnbull and Daniel Norris form the foundation of Detroit’s rotation until top prospects Matt Manning and Casey Mize arrive late in ‘20 or ‘21. Still, the Tigers want depth after injuries to Zimmermann and free-agent signings Tyson Ross and Matt Moore left them short-handed for much of last season’s first half. They would love to replicate the success they found a couple of years ago with Mike Fiers, whom they signed off a non-tender and traded to Oakland for prospects.

Other than closer Joe Jiménez and versatile setup man Buck Farmer, Detroit’s bullpen roles are wide open, especially from the left side after Blaine Hardy and Daniel Stumpf were cut. Young arms like Bryan Garcia, Gregory Soto and John Schreiber are expected to get their shot, but general manager Al Avila will look for more experienced arms to stabilize the group.

With John Hicks gone, the Tigers’ catching corps consists of top prospect Jake Rogers and second-year man Grayson Greiner. They have a combined 127 Major League games between them. A veteran backstop, at least for depth, would be a great help, especially a left-handed hitter. A reunion with Alex Avila has been speculated.

The Tigers hope Willi Castro is their shortstop for years to come, but they aren’t sure if he’s ready for a full-time role, or if he can stick at the position. That uncertainty could put Detroit back on the shortstop market, where Avila found Jordy Mercer on a one-year contract last offseason. Expect many familiar names from a year ago to be likely candidates.

Oct. 23: Nick Ramirez, Zac Reininger, Eduardo Jimenez, Dustin Peterson outrighted to Triple-A Toledo
All four players spent time with the Tigers this past season, led by Ramirez, who blossomed from a mop-up reliever when called up in May to a versatile lefty arm by season’s end. But with the Tigers needing to protect a bunch of prospects from December’s Rule 5 Draft, they decided to drop the 30-year-old. All four players became Minor League free agents after the World Series, and Detroit could pursue a reunion with Ramirez on a Minor League contract.

Oct. 24: Blaine Hardy, Daniel Stumpf, Victor Alcántara and John Hicks become free agents after being outrighted
The Tigers’ decision to part ways with the arbitration-eligible Hardy had been expected after an injury-plagued season that ended early with a flexor tendon strain in his left forearm. Hicks was also arbitration-eligible after posting a .620 OPS and 109 strikeouts in 333 plate appearances in a catcher/first baseman utility role. Stumpf’s struggles combined with the upcoming three-batter minimum rule change for relievers curtailed his future.

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“He’s a seven-day-a-week ballplayer.” – Red Rolfe

Third base remains baseball’s enigmatic position, the one where fielding prowess stands on equal ground with hitting skill.

It is the rarest of combinations, and the position that has sent the fewest major leaguers to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

But third baseman George Kell parlayed his skills with the lumber and the leather into one of baseball’s most consistent careers of the middle part of the 20th Century.

Kell broke into the big leagues with the Athletics at the end of the 1943 season, then took over as Philadelphia’s every day third baseman the next year at 21 years old. After two get-your-feet wet seasons where he struck out just 38 times out of 1,088 at-bats – and finished 22nd in the American League MVP vote in 1944 – Kell was traded to the Detroit Tigers on May 18, 1946 for Barney McCosky.

It was a trade A’s owner Connie Mack would long regret.

Kell hit at least .304 from 1946-51, going to the first of five straight All-Star Games in 1947. He finished fifth in the MVP voting in 1947 with a .320 average and 93 RBIs, then hit .343 in 1949 – winning the batting title by .0002 over Ted Williams and denying Williams his third Triple Crown.

Kell had his greatest season in 1950, hitting .340 with 114 runs scored and 101 RBIs.

Kell was traded to the Red Sox during the 1952 season, and bounced to the White Sox and the Orioles before finishing his career in 1957 with his 10th-and-final All-Star selection. He was selected to the Mid Summer Classic roster in 10 of his final 11 seasons.

“George Kell is a thoroughbred,” said Hall of Fame shortstop Lou Boudreau.

Kell wrapped up his career with a .306 average – better than every Hall of Fame third baseman except Frank Baker, Wade Boggs, Fred Lindstrom and Pie Traynor. His ringing right-handed line drives left him with a .300-or-better average in nine straight seasons. He struck out just 287 times.

Following his career, Kell broadcast Tigers games from 1959-63 and 1965-96.

Kell was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1983. He passed away on March 24, 2009.

“I have always said that George Kell has taken more from this great game of baseball than he can ever give back,” said Kell at his 1983 Hall of Fame induction. “And now I know, I am deeper in debt than ever before.”

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The Rule 5 draft won’t take place until the end of the MLB Winter Meetings in early December, but the deadline for teams to protect prospects from Rule 5 eligibility is fast approaching. Teams must add players to their 40-man rosters by Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. ET.

There are certain restrictions on which players and prospects are eligible; for example, Casey Mize and Matt Manning will not be added to the 40-man roster this week because neither is eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 draft. To brush up on the rules, check out Patrick’s excellent rundown we published on Tuesday.

Now, let’s get to the fun part.

This week’s question: Who should the Tigers add to their 40-man roster ahead of December’s Rule 5 draft?
Adam: Isaac Paredes, Daz Cameron, and Beau Burrows are all no-brainers. After those guys, however, it gets murky really quick. I worry a little about Anthony Castro, as he could pretty easily be stashed in a bullpen by another team and brought out to get his reps in mop-up duty. Because of that, I think I’d want to protect him as well. Kyle Funkhouser, on the other hand, I’m not quite as sure about, as I think there’s still a desire to keep him as a starter and being stashed away would be a severe detriment to his development.

Brady: Seconded on Paredes, Cameron, and Burrows. Castro could so easily be hidden by an MLB team in the bullpen because of the new 26-man rosters. Whichever team hypothetically picks him up can just use him on a wait-and-see basis from there. I still don’t know whether I would actually prefer to protect him or not, though.

Brandon: I think the extra roster spot might kill off the Rule 5 draft eventually. The talent pool was already shallow, and teams can now stash an extra borderline player on their 26-man roster. That makes it riskier to expose anyone talented, and also dilutes the pool of players exposed. Picking first helps, but it may be getting time to take a pass on the Rule 5 draft.

Paredes, Burrows, and Cameron all have to be protected. I wouldn’t like to see Derek Hill stashed by another team. Funkhouser and Castro aren’t likely to stick anywhere else, however, as the size of pitching staffs remains the same. The latter three players (Hill, Funkhouser, and Castro) wouldn’t be major losses, but there are a lot of players on the 25-man roster who I’d cut in their favor. There’s no real reason to expose anyone like them when you could cut Ronny Rodriguez, Brandon Dixon, etc.

The trend toward late FA signings may also mean it’s best to just hang onto your guys, and just shed them as you add elsewhere. There may be better guys available as teams make those tough free agent decisions in late January and early February.

Zane: I am going to assume the team will protect Paredes, Cameron, and Burrows. Any team would protect their top 10 prospects. I agree with Brandon — I don’t want to see Derek Hill go away just yet. I could see another team viewing him as a Victor Reyes-type project and forcing him onto their roster as a defensive replacement and possibly even getting him some at-bats next season. I don’t think the odds are high of that happening, but I worry about that a little bit more than Castro or Funkhouser. I would also cut guys such as Ronny Rodriguez or Brandon Dixon in favor of protecting those two, as well.

Patrick: I would protect Paredes, Burrows, Cameron, Funkhouser, and Elvin Rodriguez. Derek Hill, Anthony Castro, Jose Azocar, Jake Robson, and Cam Gibson would be unprotected. I base the decisions on what players have upside that we would hate to lose and the chances they would be taken by another team. The Tigers have the openings on the roster for these five players and one more to select another player. If they need another roster spot for real major leaguers from free agency or trades, they can cut Ronny Rodriguez, Harold Castro, and others.

Jay, with a lot to say: I’m torn between two lines of reasoning. On the one hand, the Tigers are mired in a rebuild, which means they should be protecting their prospects at all costs. These are the guys they have invested in to construct a legitimate team at the major league level. By that logic, they should be cutting dead weight from the 40-man roster and protecting anyone with any legitimate shot at making an impact in the majors.

On the other hand, I’d like to make the best use of the available roster spots to try to make some intelligent value signings and reclamation projects that can either stick around for the long haul if they work out, or be flipped to the deadline for a lottery ticket prospect or two. Of course, I’m not advocating for more re-treads on the roster, but guys who slip through the cracks of the market, minor league free agents that the team likes, Rule 5 selections, guys that have been non-tendered, or the like. The majority of minor leaguers never even make it to the major leagues, let alone make any significant contribution there, so the odds of any of these prospects actually hurting the Tigers, outside of Paredes, is very small.

Rob: The Tigers currently have seven available spots on their 40-man roster and plenty of players already there that could easily be cut after the fact, so I wouldn’t mind seeing the Tigers fill up their 40-man roster for the time being. Protect Paredes, Cameron, Burrows, Funkhouser, Castro, Hill, and a lottery ticket like Carlos Guzman or Elvin Rodriguez. If the Tigers find a Rule 5 guy they like, or decide to sign any free agents in between now and the Rule 5 draft, they can cut someone else — plenty of names have already been mentioned in this thread — to make room.

Jay again: In the end, I think I’d stick with my second plan and protect Isaac Paredes, Daz Cameron, and one of Anthony Castro or Beau Burrows. I think the dark horse to be selected by another team is Wilkel Hernández. There always seems to be a team that snags a young pitcher from the low minors with projectable stuff in a good frame. For example, the Blue Jays took Elvis Luciano out of rookie ball last year. Hernández has a similar profile, but again, the odds of a plan to hide him for a season and then resume his development as a starter in the minors actually working out is very low. I can see logic behind protecting any of Hill, Rodriguez, Hernández, Funkhouser, Robson, Castro, and Burrows. I really don’t see any point in protecting Jose Azocar, Cam Gibson, or Carlos Guzman. If another team wants to take a shot any these guys, they can go right ahead.

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IRON MOUNTAIN — As many as eight teams, including defending champion Fox Cities, will compete at this weekend’s U.P. Hardball Classic at LiUNA-Ranger Field in Iron Mountain.

“The field is immaculate right now,” said tournament official Ed Felten. “It’s the last big tournament of the year.”

In 2018, Iron Mountain native Jacob Husing scored the winning run for Fox Cities in its 3-2 championship win over Langsdorf. Fox Cities has won seven of the past eight titles.

Langsdorf, which won in 2016, also returns. Several other Michigan and Wisconsin teams round out the field, including an Iron Mountain squad.

There will be three days of games starting Saturday, with the Labor Day championship tentatively set for 2 p.m.

Mark “The Bird” Fidrych grooms the mound at the 1983 Upper Peninsula Hardball Championship in Felch.

“They plan on this all summer long,” said tournament patriarch Dewey Solberg. “It’s gotten to be a big event for the participants.”

The wood bat tourney began in Felch in 1972 as a fundraiser for the Rangers baseball team.

It was dominated by Channing in its early years but took a turn in 1981 when retired Detroit Tigers star John Hiller took the mound for Felch. Hiller’s appearance led the hosts to the title and was “a big thrill,” Solberg recalled.

It got crazier two years later when Hiller persuaded Tigers legend Mark “The Bird” Fidrych to join the Felch roster. “People were calling from Detroit,” Solberg said. “They were asking ‘Do you have a Holiday Inn in Felch?’”

Felch and Ionia shared the 1983 title when rain washed out the championship. But both Hiller, now a longtime Dickinson County resident, and the late Fidrych pitched victories.

This marks the second year of the storied tournament’s move to Iron Mountain.

“We’re looking forward to seeing our friends and also making new ones,” said Dek Forstrom, a key volunteer along with Paul Julian.

“Really the (LiUNA) union has been big in a lot of respects in improving the field,” Forstrom added. New dugouts, bleachers, fence line, tables and benches are among the additions.

“The tournament is solely held to help baseball in the area,” said Felten, who helped revive Iron Mountain High School’s program and is active with local youth leagues. “It’s really good baseball,” he said.

Labor Day weekend baseball is also expected to return to Felch this year after a one-year hiatus.

If dual tournaments prove successful, organizers hope a championship game can take place at rotating sites.

“We just want more baseball,” said Forstrom.

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This post is part of a series concerning the 2020 Modern Baseball Era Committee ballot, covering executives and long-retired players whose candidacies will be voted upon at the Winter Meetings in San Diego on December 8. It is adapted from a longer version included in The Cooperstown Casebook, published in 2017 by Thomas Dunne Books. For an introduction to JAWS, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

2020 Modern Baseball Candidate: Lou Whitaker
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Lou Whitaker 75.1 37.9 56.5
Avg. HOF 2B 69.4 44.4 56.9
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2369 244 .276/.363/.426 117
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
Lou Whitaker made baseball look easy. No less a writer than Roger Angell marveled over his “ball-bearing smoothness afield and remarkable hand-speed at bat.” But to some, the ease with which the game came to the Tigers’ longtime second baseman suggested that he lacked effort, hard work, or passion for the game, and it didn’t help that Whitaker wasn’t one for self-promotion. He let his performance do the talking, and for the better part of his 19 seasons in the majors, that performance spoke volumes. A top-of-the-lineup spark plug and an outstanding defender, he paired with Alan Trammell to form the longest-running double-play combination in history. He earned All-Star honors five times and won three Gold Gloves along the way, solid totals that nonetheless undersell his contributions.

Whitaker retired one year before Trammell did, and thus reached the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot a year earlier. Shockingly, a player hailed as a potential Hall of Famer during his career received just 2.9% in 2001, which ruled him out from further consideration by the writers and prevented his inclusion on Veterans Committee or Expansion Era Committee ballots during the remaining 14 years that he could have been on the writers’ ballot. Trammell wasn’t elected by the BBWAA either, but after spending 15 years on the ballot, he and longtime Tigers teammate Jack Morris were tabbed by the Modern Baseball Era Committee in 2018, the first living ex-players elected to the Hall by any small-committee process since 2001. Their eligibility raised Whitaker’s profile, and this year, for the first time, he’s on a committee ballot as well. That doesn’t guarantee his election, but based upon the weight of his accomplishments, the honor is long overdue.

Though he was born in Brooklyn in 1957, Whitaker grew up in Martinsville, Virginia, a rural town of about 20,000 people, in a house full of 16 family members who spanned three generations. His mother, Marion Arlene Williams, had left Brooklyn and Lou’s father behind while pregnant with Lou’s younger sister. “My daddy is a first-class New York pimp,” Whitaker said in 1979, explaining that he never knew Louis Rodman Whitaker Sr. He grew up in such poverty that his family couldn’t afford orthopedic help when his legs grew crooked, “[s]o his uncles twisted and turned them inward every day.”

Whitaker’s legs straightened out, and he developed prowess on the diamond, impressing scouts with his hands and arm strength while at Martinsville High School, where he played third base and even pitched. On the advice of former All-Star infielder Billy Jurges, then a scout, the Tigers drafted him in the fifth round in 1975. After struggling at shortstop and third base in Rookie ball, Whitaker played exclusively at the hot corner in 1976, his age-19 season. Managed by future Tigers skipper Jim Leyland, he earned Florida State League MVP honors on the strength of a .297/.376/.355 performance with 48 stolen bases. In the Instructional League that fall, he met Trammell, the team’s 1976 second-round pick, and began a conversion to second base. The tandem took groundballs together for 30 days in a row, and clicked so well that Tigers general manager Jim Campbell, who promised the pair sports coats at the end of the season, bought them three-piece suits instead.

The pair roomed together at Double-A Montgomery in 1977, where Trammell won Southern League MVP honors. Whitaker took to his new position and hit .280/.374/.356 with 38 steals. “We went out to eat together every day, we talked baseball everyday and we grew together for 19 years,” said Whitaker in 2015.

Promoted to the majors when Montgomery’s season ended, the pair debuted in the nightcap of a September 9 doubleheader against the Red Sox, the first of their 1,918 games together. They joined 1974 first-round pick Lance Parrish, a catcher who had debuted earlier that week; the trio would form the backbone of the Tigers lineup for the next nine years.

Manager Ralph Houk started the rookie double play combo on Opening Day in 1978, but spent the first quarter of the season platooning them with a more experienced, less talented tandem, Steve Dillard and Mark Wagner. By late May, the training wheels were off, and the duo played daily. Whitaker hit .285/.361/.357 for a 101 OPS+ while playing defense that was 10 runs above average en route to 3.8 WAR. He beat out the Brewers’ Paul Molitor for AL Rookie of the Year honors, while Trammell tied for fourth. The Tigers, who had gone 74-88 in 1977, and hadn’t been above .500 since 1973, won 86 games, the first of 11 straight winning seasons.

Whitaker improved to .286/.395/.378 for a 108 OPS+ in 1979, stealing 20 bases (a mark that would stand as a career high) in 30 attempts, and again played strong defense en route to 4.5 WAR. He struggled the following season, hitting .233/.331/.283, as manager Sparky Anderson, who had taken the reins in mid-June 1979, moved him from the number two spot to leadoff to offset the loss of speedster Ron LeFlore in free agency. The experiment was abandoned in early June. Whitaker couldn’t salvage his season after being dropped to the ninth spot, but did rebound (.263/.340/.373) in the strike-shortened 1981 season.

In his first four full seasons, Whitaker had totaled just 12 home runs, but his power emerged in 1982, when hitting coach Gates Brown taught him to pull the ball more often, and he took to the leadoff spot using a more aggressive approach than he had tried before. He led off the Tigers’ half of the first inning with a home run four times, and set career highs with 15 homers and 22 doubles en route to a .286/.341/.434 showing and 5.4 WAR. After the season, he signed a five-year, $3 million extension, giving him the second-highest average annual salary of any second baseman besides Bobby Grich ($800,000 per year).

At age 26, Whitaker put together a career year in 1983, hitting .320/.380/.457 for a 133 OPS+ with 12 homers and 17 steals; his 206 hits ranked third in the league, his 40 doubles seventh, his 6.7 WAR fifth. He made his first All-Star team and won his first of three straight Gold Gloves. Though his overall numbers took a step back in 1984 (4.3 WAR, 112 OPS+), he and the Tigers stormed to a 35-5 start en route to a 104-win season and their first world championship since 1968. While Trammell earned World Series MVP honors against the Padres, Whitaker hit .278/.409/.389 and scored six runs in the five games, three of them in the opening frame as the Tigers struck first.

The champagne had barely dried when, 10 days into spring training in 1985, Anderson temporarily broke up his double play combo by moving Whitaker back to third base to accommodate rookie Chris Pittaro, a switch-hitting 23-year-old who had spent the previous year in Double-A. Whitaker gave his blessing to the change, but reversed his decision a week later; while Pittaro got off to a hot start at third base in April, by June he was in the minors, more or less for good. Spring training aside, Whitaker never played a defensive inning anywhere but second base in his entire major league career.

Though not quite as valuable as Trammell, whose defense at that stage was stronger, Whitaker was remarkably consistent from 1984-87, hitting a combined .275/.350/.432 for a 113 OPS+ while averaging 18 homers, 10 steals, and 4.2 WAR per year, ranging from 3.6 to 4.5 annually. He was elected to start three All-Star Games (1984-86) and made the fourth as a reserve. The 1985 game produced one of the funniest moments of his career. After Whitaker left a bag containing equipment and at least part of his uniform in his car, he had to scramble, borrowing a glove from Cal Ripken Jr., finding an Indians batting helmet, and resorting to a mesh-back adjustable Tigers cap and generic replica jersey from a souvenir stand at the Metrodome. A clubhouse attendant hastily stenciled his number 1 on the back of the ill-fitting jersey, which wound up in the Smithsonian.

In 1987, the Tigers won 98 games and — thanks to an 0-7 skid by the Blue Jays to end the season, the last three losses at the hands of Detroit — another AL East title. Alas, they were steamrolled by the 85-win Twins in the ALCS, losing four games to one. Whitaker went 3-for-17, his solo homer off Bert Blyleven in a Game 2 loss going for naught. His fine 1988 season (.275/.376/.419 for a 127 OPS+, his highest since 1983) ended in early September, when he tore cartilage in his right knee while dancing with his wife at a party. “We were doing a fast dance and I did the splits,” he said. “The first time, nothing happened. The second time I went down, I heard it pop.”⁠ The Tigers, clinging to first place but already skidding in the absence of an injured Trammell, went 13-14 the rest of the way, and finished second behind the Red Sox by one game.

It was an embarrassing end to the season, and over the winter, Whitaker drew criticism for his declining batting averages and the perception of his work ethic. His critics did have a point in that his once-adequate performance against left-handers had dipped from .261/.339/.342 for 1977-83 to .224/.297/.315 from 1984-88. But in a March 1989 article in the Toledo Blade, Anderson defended Whitaker when asked if he would accomplish more if he had the habits and hustle of Trammell. “Nobody will ever know for sure,” said the manager. “Change him and he might not be as good. Everything looks so easy when he does it. He’s got the most talent on the club. The most talent.”⁠

Whitaker chafed at having to wait for a contract extension after the team signed Trammell to a three-year extension that winter; he still had one more year under his current deal. He also took umbrage at the “Sweet Lou” nickname, telling reporters, “Winners don’t smile, man. There’s a time to have fun, there’s a time to be serious. Guys that say I’m distant or aloof, that’s a real compliment. They don’t need to see me laughing.”

Whitaker’s 1989 bounce back traded batting average for power; he set career highs of 28 homers and 85 RBI while hitting .251/.361/.462 with 5.3 WAR. In mid-season, he finally signed a three-year, $6 million extension. His season was a bright spot amid dreadful years by Trammell, Morris and others that led to the Tigers’ worst record (59-103) since 1975. After a solid 1990 performance (107 OPS+, +10 defense, 3.8 WAR), he followed with one of his best seasons on both sides of the ball, hitting .279/.391/.489 with 23 homers for a career-best 141 OPS+ and strong glovework (+11 runs) en route to 6.7 WAR, tying his career high, and fourth-best in the AL — strong work for a 34-year-old.

Though his defense would quickly decline, Whitaker maintained that power even amid dwindling playing time over his final four seasons. Helped by a reduced workload against lefties (accounting for 10-20% of his PA instead of his typical 30-35%), he hit a combined .289/.389/.475 for a 131 OPS+ from 1992-95, averaging 14 homers in 419 plate appearances and reaching milestones that cued talk of Cooperstown. “When discussing possible Hall of Famers, don’t forget Tiger second baseman Lou Whitaker,” wrote Sports Illustrated’s Tim Kurjian in 1992. “He recently became the only second baseman other than Joe Morgan to play 2,000 games, hit 200 homers and collect 2,000 hits.”

“If history is any gauge, Lou Whitaker will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame one day,” wrote the AP’s Harry Atkins in 1993, as Whitaker approached 1,000 RBI. “I don’t think about baseball history,” said Whitaker. “I’ve never been to a library or bought a book on baseball history.”

At the end of the 1992 season, Whitaker and Trammell both reached free agency for the first time, but new owner Mike Illich ensured they remained in Detroit. The Braves and Orioles courted Whitaker, but the Tigers ultimately retained him with a three-year, $10 million deal. By mid-1994, he suggested that he would retire upon completing his contract in 1995.

Though Whitaker was the first Tiger to officially report to spring training upon the settlement of the players’ strike, a shoulder strain prevented him from playing until May 12, his 38th birthday. While he hit a robust .293/.372/.518 in 285 PA, he played sparingly as the season dwindled, starting just eight times apiece at second base and DH after August 12; similarly, Trammell rode the pine frequently, and Anderson looked to the end of the line, either via retirement or firing. In September, Whitaker and Trammell played their 1,915th game together, breaking the AL record held by George Brett and Frank White, trailing only the Cubs’ Ron Santo and Billy Williams (2,015, since broken by Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio with 2,029).

With the team closing the season on the road, and with minds not made up about retirement, Trammell asked Tigers management not to hold any special ceremonies to honor the combo for their September 23 Tiger Stadium farewell. Though heartily received by the sparse crowd of 14,083, the team found themselves on the wrong end of a 13-1 blowout by the Orioles. Starter Mike Mussina, who cruised along, instructed catcher Chris Hoiles to tell the pair to look for nothing but fastballs. “I was trying,” Mussina said, smiling, “to throw them as skillfully as I could down the middle.” Both players made outs, however. After sitting for a week, they made one-inning cameos in Baltimore on the season’s final day. Whitaker mulled signing elsewhere, but retired, while Trammell returned for one final year.

Via excellent health and prolonged productivity, Whitaker ranks high on several leaderboards specific to second basemen. His 2,308 games at the position rank fourth, behind Eddie Collins (2,650), Joe Morgan (2,527), and relative newcomer Roberto Alomar (2,320). Of the top 16, 11 are in the Hall, with Willie Randolph (2,152), Frank White (2,151), Robinson Canó (2,124), and Jeff Kent (2,034) the other outsiders. Among players who spent the majority of their careers at second base, Whitaker’s 2,369 hits ranks 14th, more than any of them outside the Hall besides Canó (2,570) and Kent (2,461). His 239 homers while playing second (the strict split, not counting his homers as DH or pinch-hitting), are ninth, with Kent (351) first.

He’s not quite as high-ranking in rate stats, but still impressive. Using a 7,000 plate appearance minimum, Whitaker’s .363 on-base percentage ranks 15th, and his .426 slugging percentage 19th. His 117 OPS+ is in a virtual tie with Chase Utley for 11th, with Larry Doyle, Grich, the still-active Canó (all 125) and Kent (123) the only outsiders ahead of him.

Still, on the traditional front, Whitaker’s resumé feels a bit light. Beyond the Rookie of the Year award, his three Gold Gloves, and five All-Star selections is a lack of black ink and meager postseason numbers (two playoff teams and a .204/.350/.306 line in 61 PA). His modest 92 on the Hall of Fame Monitor, a metric where a score of 100 represents “a good possibility” for election, foreshadowed his uphill battle.

The advanced metrics approximate Whitaker’s standing in rate stats: 12th among second basemen in batting runs (209), seventh in baserunning and double play avoidance runs (48), 15th in fielding runs (77). It’s the combination of offense and defense that’s his true selling point. He’s the only second baseman besides Jackie Robinson who’s at least 200 runs above average at bat, 50 above average in the field, and 25 above average on the bases, and one of just 11 such players at any position:

Damn Good at Everything
Player Years Rbat Rfield Rbase+DP WAR
Barry Bonds 1986-2007 1129 175 50 162.8
Willie Mays 1951-1973 809 185 69 156.4
Hank Aaron 1954-1976 877 98 33 143.0
Honus Wagner 1897-1917 637 85 34 130.8
Rickey Henderson 1979-2003 555 65 148 111.2
Roberto Clemente 1955-1972 376 205 31 94.5
Al Kaline 1953-1974 471 153 26 92.8
Lou Whitaker 1977-1995 209 77 48 75.1
Larry Walker 1989-2005 420 94 50 72.7
Jackie Robinson 1947-1956 261 81 35 61.4
J.D. Drew 1998-2011 208 69 26 44.9
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
Players at least 200 runs above average in batting, 50 above average in fielding, and 25 above average in baserunning and double play avoidance.
For as well-rounded a player as Whitaker was, it’s fair to suggest that he got a raw deal in terms of recognition. Just one of his top five seasons in terms of WAR (4.7 or more), and two of his top seven (4.5 or more), resulted in All-Star selections. Ten times he ranked either first or second among AL second basemen in WAR, but five of those times, he didn’t make the All-Star team. For example, he missed out on being selected during his 5.4 WAR 1983, while Grich and Frank White (3.7) played for the AL; likewise during his 5.3 WAR 1989, when Julio Franco (5.3) and Steve Sax (4.4) played, and during his 6.8 WAR 1991, when Alomar (4.6) played the whole game and Franco (6.2) rode the pine. While WAR didn’t exist at the time, we can now see how glaring some of those omissions were.

Whitaker’s career WAR is the seventh-highest of any position player outside the Hall, and second among those up for a vote this year:

Top Position Player bWAR, Non-Hall of Famers
Rk Player Years From To WAR
1 Barry Bonds* 1986-2007 1986 2007 162.8
2 Alex Rodriguez+ 1994-2016 1994 2016 117.8
3 Albert Pujols+ 2001-2019 2001 2019 100.3
4 Adrian Beltre+ 1998-2018 1998 2018 95.6
5 Pete Rose 1963-1986 1963 1986 79.7
6 Bill Dahlen 1891-1911 1891 1911 75.4
7 Lou Whitaker** 1977-1995 1977 1995 75.1
8 Larry Walker* 1989-2005 1989 2005 72.7
9 Mike Trout+ 2011-2019 2011 2019 72.5
10 Derek Jeter* 1995-2014 1995 2014 72.4
11 Rafael Palmeiro 1986-2005 1986 2005 71.9
12 Bobby Grich 1970-1986 1970 1986 71.1
13 Scott Rolen* 1996-2012 1996 2012 70.2
14 Miguel Cabrera+ 2003-2019 2003 2019 69.6
15 Robinson Canó+ 2005-2019 2005 2019 69.6
16 Carlos Beltran+ 1998-2017 1998 2017 69.6
17 Manny Ramirez* 1993-2011 1993 2011 69.4
18 Kenny Lofton 1991-2007 1991 2007 68.3
19 Graig Nettles 1967-1988 1967 1988 68.0
20 Dwight Evans** 1972-1991 1972 1991 67.1
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
+ = active or not yet eligible. * = on BBWAA ballot. ** = on Modern Baseball ballot.
Yowzah. Whitaker’s career WAR is seventh among all second basemen, behind six Hall of Famers but a healthy 6.3 WAR above the average honoree. Less robust is his 37.9 peak score, which ranks 20th, below 12 of 20 enshrined second-sackers and a substantial 6.5 wins below the standard. While very consistent, with 11 of his 18 full seasons worth between 3.5 and 4.7 WAR — somewhere between an above-average regular and an All-Star — he had just four seasons more valuable than those, and only three that cracked the AL top 10.

Taken together — the point of my system, after all — Whitaker’s 56.5 JAWS is a mere 0.4 below the standard, a negligible amount in this context, and still good for 13th, behind nine Hall of Famers, Canó, Utley, and Grich. He outranks five of the six second basemen to enter Cooperstown since his retirement: Alomar (55.0, 14th), Biggio (53.7, 15th), Joe Gordon (51.5, 16th), Nellie Fox (42.9, 23rd), and Bill Mazeroski (31.2, 51st), and is less than a point behind the sixth, Ryne Sandberg (57.5, ninth). Whitaker may lack Biggio’s 3,000 hits, Sandberg’s MVP award, the defensive reputations of Gordon, Mazeroski, and Fox (all of whom outrank him in fielding runs) or Alomar (who does not). Nonetheless, he’s a very solid Hall of Fame candidate because he did so many things so well.

Unfortunately, the BBWAA voters didn’t see it that way. Eligible on the 2001 ballot, Whitaker was lost behind other first-timers including 3,000 hit club member Dave Winfield, 10-time All-Star Kirby Puckett (whose career had been cut short by glaucoma), former teammates Parrish and Kirk Gibson, and former AL MVP Don Mattingly. In a record-setting haul of ballots (515) of just middling generosity (6.33 names per ballot), Winfield (84.5%) and Puckett (82.1%) sailed through, while holdovers Gary Carter (64.9%), Jim Rice (57.9%), Bruce Sutter (47.6%), and Goose Gossage (44.3%) made progress towards their own plaques. While Whitaker outpolled his ex-teammates, his 2.9% wasn’t even enough to remain on the ballot.

ESPN’s Jayson Stark, whose seven-man ballot included Winfield, Puckett, Carter, Sutter, Gossage, Morris and Dale Murphy, left Whitaker off, noting, “His career numbers look attractive by second-base standards. But it’s hard to remember any period when Whitaker was looked upon as the greatest second baseman of his era. ‘Just’ a very good player. There’s no shame in that.”⁠ All six of Stark’s ESPN’s colleagues with a vote — Jim Caple, Peter Gammons, Bob Klapisch, Tim Kurkjian, Sean McAdam, and Phil Rogers — bypassed him as well.⁠

The Detroit News’ Lynn Henning, whose coverage of the Tigers extends back to when Whitaker was drafted, said in 2017, “It wasn’t that people didn’t appreciate him, but if ever I’ve seen a case where every voter figured, ‘Someone else will put him on, I’ve got other fish to fry,’ that was it — a perfect storm. I’ve never seen anything so utterly flukish in Hall of Fame voting.” To Henning, the lack of a boost from television exposure or analytics — two things that would have played in his favor in a later era — hurt him as well.

Whitaker’s exclusion cast him into a baseball purgatory, as he could not be considered by the Veterans Committee or its successors until his BBWAA eligibility period expired in 2015. Though considered for inclusion on the 2018 Modern Baseball Era Committee ballot, he missed the final cut, but his absence didn’t go unnoticed, particularly as his former teammates made the ballot on their first try. Said BBWAA secretary-treasurer Jack O’Connell, a member of the 11-person Historical Overview Committee that assembled the ballot:

“There was no decision not to include Lou Whitaker…. His career was discussed along with many others, but he did not get sufficient support to make the ballot. There were quite a few other players from that era who might have been worthy of inclusion, but we were limited to 10. This does not mean Whitaker or anyone else who did not make the ballot will be excluded forever.”

Upon being elected, Trammell said, “It’s never going to change that Lou and I are going to be linked forever, as we should. My dream now is, at least in two more years, that Lou gets on the ballot and at some point and time he makes it.”

The first part of Trammell’s dream as come true. At last, Whitaker is on the ballot, no small triumph given that the likes of Grich (who also failed to receive 5% in his only appearance) and Keith Hernandez (who lasted nine years but only twice broke 10%) are absent, and that Modern Baseball ballot-mate Dwight Evans (who lasted three turns) has been waiting since 1999 for another chance. Whitaker belongs in the Hall of Fame, but while his appearance on this ballot doesn’t guarantee his election, he’s finally, rightfully in the conversation again.

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The positive thing about Thursday night’s inexcusable violence near the end of an NFL game between the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers is that so many people were stunned by it. Even teammates and the coach of Cleveland’s Myles Garrett, who removed the Pittsburgh quarterback’s helmet and hit him with it, called his actions “inexcusable” and “totally unacceptable.”

Myles Garrett suspended after brawl. NFL experts weigh in on what it means
That means a strong sense of decorum and civility remains in American competitive sports, which is encouraging. Garrett is now suspended for the rest of the season, and maybe longer. Some are urging the league to make an example of him through severe penalties and possibly even assault charges.

The league needs to react to Thursday night’s melee in a decisive way that signals it intends to take violent behavior seriously, both on and off the field.

Clearly, it also needs to do a better job of evaluating the link between repeated legal blows on the field and violent behavior. The long-term effects of those hits may have been typified last summer by Le’Ron McClain, a retired fullback, who tweeted a desperate plea for help and claimed the league wasn’t doing enough.

In fact, the league settled a class-action suit recently, offering up to $5 million in compensation to players dealing with the effects of head injuries. But that doesn’t adequately address problems on the field that lead to those injuries and, perhaps, violent behavior — a problem that affects the game at all levels.

To be clear, we’re not suggesting a connection between what happened Thursday night with head injuries — just that the violence again has brought a focus to a sport that, by nature, can be brutal.

The league needs to react to Thursday night’s melee in a decisive way that signals it intends to take violent behavior seriously, both on and off the field.
It’s important, as well, to put Thursday’s incident in perspective. There may be no excuse for using a helmet as a weapon, but sports has a long history of similar disturbing incidents.

Fifteen years ago, an NBA game was marred when Indiana’s Ron Artest leapt into the stands in Detroit and, aided by four teammates, attacked fans.

Even that wasn’t unprecedented. Back on May 15, 1912, Ty Cobb of baseball’s Detroit Tigers and several of his teammates took to the stands in New York with baseball bats. Cobb beat a fan who had lost one hand and three fingers on the other years earlier during a printing press accident.

In a 1938 football game between Tulane and Louisiana State, a fight erupted and was joined by fans and players. The Associated Press said some fans tore apart parts of the stadium and used its pieces as clubs. The fighting “went on ’till darkness,” the report said.

Local fans may recall when BYU defensive tackle Pulusila Filiaga jumped an umpire in 1981 and began punching him before other players pulled him away. That resulted in a season-long suspension.

As spectator sports grow ever more important in American society, the ability to confine violence within the boundaries of well-defined rules and a field, court or rink can become a measuring rod of civility in a broader sense.

Reaction to Thursday’s fight would indicate that the dividing line between sport and emotion remains strong. But there is more organized sports can do to keep it that way, both during games and, where players are concerned, for years after.

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There weren’t many bright spots where the 2019 Detroit Tigers were concerned, but Daniel Norris was certainly one of them. After two seasons plagued by injury in which he threw just 170 innings total, the fact that he was able to make 29 starts and rack up 144 1⁄3 innings with league average results was a distinct improvement. Also encouraging was a fairly emphatic finish to stoke embers of hope that the 26-year-old’s best days are still ahead of him.

Norris, along with Matthew Boyd and Michael Fulmer, remains in a peculiar position on the Tigers’ roster. All three were acquired at the 2015 trade deadline, in then general manager Dave Dombrowski’s attempt to retool for a renewed push in 2016 and beyond. That timetable is now long by the wayside, of course.

Norris is projected to make $2.9M in his second year of arbitration in 2020, and reach free agency after the 2021 season, while Boyd and Fulmer won’t be free agents for another year beyond that. The Tigers still aren’t showing much interest in building the major league roster toward winning yet, and that, coupled with their history of aversion to offering extensions, makes it pretty difficult to imagine any of the trio sticking around for a theoretical return to winning baseball.

Odds are that Norris won’t end up serving out his arbitration years in Detroit. On the other hand he’ll have to pitch well enough to draw stronger trade interest.

What went right in 2019?
The short answer is health, and maybe, just maybe, signs of improving fastball velocity.

For the first time since 2015, Daniel Norris got through the season without a stint on the injured list. That alone made the year a success. From the initial groin strain that cost him July and August of the 2017 season, and which was apparently something he’d been pitching with for a while, Norris has struggled to put the injury and its complications behind him. In 2019, despite the occasional lingering soreness, he was finally able to get past that and pitch a full season.

As a result of that cascade of groin issues, Norris has been forced to make due with a fastball that averaged just over 90 mph over the past two seasons. From an average of 93.7 mph back in 2016, Norris has watched a weapon degrade into a liability.

That didn’t change much early in the 2019 season, but eventually Norris emerged with some real gains in velocity. He averaged 90.8 mph on his fourseam fastball this season, which is only marginally better than the 90.2 mph he averaged in 2018. However, from August 1 through the season’s end, Norris velocity spiked up to a 91.6 mph average, and he averaged 92 mph in September, maxing out at 96 mph as his workload was rolled back to three inning starts. Getting stronger as the season goes along is a very positive sign toward 2020.

Through all this, Norris has relied on an outstanding slider that hitters managed a miserable .253 weighted on base average (wOBA) against this season. Against his changeup? Just a .240 wOBA despite throwing the highest ratio of changeups of his career. That’s particularly impressive knowing that for most of the year, hitters only had to be geared up to hit 90 mph fastballs. If Norris can average more like 92-93 mph next season, he should see more whiffs and weak contact against the heater, and that will make the secondary pitches play up even more by contrast.

Another point in his favor was his willingness to attack hitters despite his diminished fastball. Norris has never been known for pinpoint command, but forced to survive by locating the fastball rather than blowing it past hitters at top of the zone, he made a pretty good show of it. Norris walked just 6.2 percent of batters he faced this season. That’s easily the best mark of his career and over a full point better than the league average. He paid for that willingness to work in the zone with hard contact and a decline in strikeout rate, but overall his 1.33 WHIP was the best of his career.

What went wrong in 2019?
Considering the starting point, there weren’t many negatives for Norris this year. His fastball has yet to fully recapture its former zip, but with the trend moving in the right direction as Norris has recovered from the groin injury, that’s not so much of a concern. What remains a concern, is Norris’ propensity to give up home runs and hard contact off his fastball. Those two issues are inextricably linked.

Norris allowed 1.56 home runs per nine innings this season. League average was 1.40 as overall the league saw a continued trend toward balls flying out of the park. An isolated power (ISO) mark of .291 against the fastball tells us that most of the damage came against the hard stuff.

This is the crux of the biscuit for Norris. Pitching with less velocity has forced him to improve his command and lean more heavily on his slider and changeup. He just isn’t getting the whiffs and weak contact on the fastball that he did early in his career. Yet overall he posted a solid whiff rate despite the strikeouts declining to 20.5 percent. If he can carry the improving fastball velocity into 2020, he should be able to be more aggressive with it and also bait hitters more often with fastballs around the edges rather than the “pump strikes and see what happens” approach he used in 2019.

What’s next?
This offseason, Norris will have the first break in recent memory in which he’s not dealing with rehabilitation from a surgical procedure, and should be free and clear to actually build strength and improve flexibility. While there is still a possibility that a relief role is in his future, that outcome looks less likely right now. And if Norris can find that extra gear, while retaining what he’s learned from surviving in the majors with diminished physical gifts, the 2020 season could yet be a second coming out party for the former high end prospect.

Barring a low cost extension, which the Tigers should absolutely be pursuing but presumably are not, he’s going to end up as trade bait at some point. The problem is that there just isn’t much time to build his value, particularly if there is a change in his role along the way. Right now, he should have a spot in the 2020 rotation more or less locked down unless he struggles in the spring.

Best case scenario is that Norris comes out next year sitting comfortably at 92-93 mph after his first healthy offseason in several years, and is ready to give manager Ron Gardenhire 175 innings of above average work in the rotation. If he does, the Tigers will finally have the quality starter they initially hoped he’d become. The problem will remain how to best leverage his value toward the future. If the injury bug continues to bite, a move to the bullpen will finally be in the offing, and in that scenario it’s a lot harder seeing Norris develop any real trade value before the Tigers’ team control over him expires.

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Another in a series of stories profiling the 2019 inductees into the Greater Flint Area Sports Hall of Fame. Story submitted by the GFASHOF.

Ron Myers has been a lot of places on the professional sports map — baseball, basketball, arena football, golf. He’s been a high-ranking front-office executive in each of those sports, including his current position with the Detroit Tigers.

But Myers never forgets where he came from and how his upbringing in Flint is the reason he’s in those positions now.

Forty years after leaving Michigan for his career, Myers maintains strong ties to his hometown and generously supports athletic programs here, though not with money. As Director of Florida Operations for the Tigers in Lakeland, he sends Tiger memorabilia, autographs, travel packages and celebrity speakers to Flint fund-raisers that have raised thousands of dollars for area sports.

So, despite the fact that he hasn’t lived here since 1980, Myers’ long-distance support has earned him induction into the Greater Flint Area Sports Hall of Fame as the Distinguished Service Award winner. He will be enshrined at the 40th annual GFASHOF induction banquet Dec. 7 at Genesys Conference & Banquet Center.

At the banquet, Myers likely will tell you that it all started in Flint’s famed community education program pioneered by the Mott Foundation.

“I was there in the mecca in the 1960s, when every school had a community school director,” said Myers, a Manley Village kid who attended Selby, Holmes Middle School and Northwestern High and graduated from Powers Catholic in 1974.

“My goal was to be one of them. All the jobs I had were in that program. I learned that if you have a building, you try to utilize it. It’s part of your responsibility. Make sure you’re always using that school building after five o’clock.”

Myers also participated in those programs, learning how to swim at Mott Camp and playing baseball at Selby School. He became a good enough outfielder to play on Powers’ state championship team in 1974 and then at Mott Community College in 1975-76.

His love of baseball and work ethic stem from his father. John Myers worked 30 years as an engineer for Grand Trunk Railroad and still found time to coach Mott baseball in the spring and his kids’ youth teams in the summer.

“I was always around dad as a batboy at Mott,” Myers said. “I understood that baseball is a 12-month job. I learned that if you want to be successful, it’s what you do when nobody’s watching.”

Myers took those qualities with him when he graduated from Central Michigan University in 1980 with a degree in communications. A roommate who was starting a construction business in Lakeland hired Myers to work for him.

“I went to Tiger games every other day,” he said. “One day I knocked on the door and asked if there was anything I could do. They asked me to go sell some ads.”

Myers sold all the ads in two days. He was soon promoted to assistant general manager, then to general manager.

By 1993 he was vice president, and Minor League Baseball hired him to create the first in-house marketing department for the 217 member clubs in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

Over the next 10 years, Myers worked for the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League, the Verizon Classic Senior PGA Tour event, the Mobile Revelers of the NBA Development League and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays — all as president, VP, general manager or director of something. In 2003 he returned to Lakeland for his current position.

“No matter where we’ve been, I wasn’t searching,” Myers noted. “I was always happy in the job I had.

“Wherever we’ve been, I always wanted to do something for the community, the youth, the military. That’s just my nature from growing up in Flint.”

What he’s done for Flint is extraordinary. Consider:

– Six years ago, Myers put together a spring training package to be raffled off annually by the non-profit Greater Flint Area Baseball-Softball Association. It includes front-row tickets, access to the field during batting practice and throwing out the first pitch.

“We sell a lot of tickets for that,” said Roger Foutch, association treasurer and a Flint baseball icon. “It’s a big hit.”

– In 2012, Tigers legend Willie Horton made a special appearance at the Crim Festival of Races for the Crim Fitness Foundation.

“That doesn’t happen without Ron,” said Foutch. “There are probably other things he’s done that we don’t know about.”

– When Flint was awarded a Connie Mack World Series qualifying tournament this year, Foutch turned to Myers for help in upgrading local fields.

“He brought Jim Leyland up to do a Hot Stove Night in January,” said Foutch. “We raised $23,000 in one night. The place was packed. We had donations from everywhere. Jim spoke and answered questions for an hour and a half, and you could hear a pin drop in that room the whole time.”

– Every year, Mott’s baseball and softball teams are treated to free spring training games on their Florida trips. Two years ago the Bears got to play a game at Joker Marchant Stadium, where, incidentally, Myers “proudly serves Flint coney dogs,” said Shawn Brown, a former Mott head coach and current assistant.

“We get into the park early and he gives us behind-the-scenes tours — the weight room, the locker room. We’ve posed for pictures with Al Kaline and Miguel Cabrera. It blows the kids’ minds.”

Myers hasn’t forgotten that kind of thrill. He remembers going to IMA Auditorium as a starry-eyed youngster to receive his baseball patch and sharing the stage with Tiger players.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine growing up and working beside Al Kaline and Willie Horton,” he said.

Myers is already in the hall of fame as part of the 1974 Powers team that was inducted in 2006. He’s also in the Florida State League Hall of Fame (2013) as an executive. Now he goes back into the Flint hall as an individual, joining his uncle, former Mott baseball coach Ernie Myers (Class of 2002).

It’s not lost on Myers that he’s receiving the same award first bestowed on Charles Stewart Mott and Frank Manley Sr., who together launched the community education model in Flint. They were co-recipients of what was then the Special Service Award in the hall’s inaugural class of 1980.

“What C.S. Mott and Frank Manley did for Flint is the reason me and a lot of people are in the hall of fame,” Myers said. “I’m just ecstatic and very proud of being from Flint.”

The induction banquet is Dec. 7 at the Genesys Banquet and Conference Center. Tickets can be purchased by contacting Debbie Goyette at 616-729-8545

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A rare and highly sought after portion of an elaborate advertising display piece used to promote the 1912 Hassan Triple Folder set has arrived on the auction block.

Ty Cobb is featured on the front of the thick cardboard sign, which is the headliner in the newly launched Love Of The Game Auctions sale. The last known time a Hassan Cobb advertising display was offered at auction was in 2006, when it netted $59,000.

The ad piece is one of hundreds of items in the LOTG auction, which runs through Saturday, November 30.

The Triple Folder display was a large, three-panel cardboard display featuring end panels depicting Cobb and Christy Mathewson, respectively, each flanking an illustration of the famed Charles Conlon photo of Ty Cobb sliding into third base. The three elaborately designed pieces were meant to be displayed together, the “Triple Fold” display recalling the unique design of the T202 Triple Folder cards themselves, while simultaneously advertising Hassan Cork-Tip Cigarettes.

Just one complete three-panel display is known to exist, and until the discovery of this example, two Mathewson end pieces and just one additional example of the Cobb end piece were known. Professional restoration has brought the Cobb being offered by LOTG back to much of its original appearance.

Measuring approximately 15″ x 35″, the heavy cardboard piece is more than a quarter-inch thick.

Also featured in the auction is a fresh-to-the-hobby multi-signed baseball with both Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson.

Authenticated by PSA/DNA, the baseball likely dates to Spring Training of 1925, when all but one of the baseball’s 14 signatories are confirmed to have been in the Tampa area on the same March weekend. Within a few weeks, Mathewson had returned to his home in Saranac, NY to nurse the illness to which he would ultimately succumb; it is likely one of the last baseballs he signed.

The auction also includes a host of game-worn items, including a full ensemble (jersey, glove, cap, cleats, and stirrups) worn by Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton. The jersey dates to 1981, and the rest of the ensemble is attributed by Carlton himself to his 300th Win in 1983 against the St. Louis Cardinals. The entire ensemble includes a 20-page LOA from noted uniform expert Dave Grob.

Other game-worn items in the auction include Mike Schmidt’s 1986 St. Patrick’s Day Philadelphia Phillies uniform, a 1958 Rocky Colavito Cleveland Indians home flannel jersey, a 1966 Dave McNally Baltimore Orioles home jersey, a 1980 Earl Weaver Baltimore Orioles home jersey, a 1954 Bobby Thomson Milwaukee Braves cap, a rare 1973-74 Gaylord Perry game-worn Cleveland Indians cap and a 2001 Cal Ripken, Jr. game-worn Baltimore Orioles cap.

Another featured item is a 1914 Cracker Jack #103 Joe Jackson. Consigned by a non-collecting family, the card has an interesting back story. It was originally found among a small box of items belonging to a young boy who passed away in the early 1920s. His family kept the belongings and passed them down over generations, until finally agreeing to sell the card, which is graded PSA 2.

The auction also includes a complete 1909 E95 American Caramel set. The cards are have a high grade appearance but carry a grade of AUTHENTIC due to having been cut from an uncut sheet. The 25 cards likely make up the finest E95 set in existence.

The auction also features a complete, high-grade 1969 Topps Super set ranked #8 on the PSA Set Registry. The winning bidder can upgrade their set even further by taking advantage of a separately offered example of the Mickey Mantle card, graded a perfect GEM MINT 10 by PSA. The card is one of just ten examples to have attained that grade, and this is the first example to have hit the auction block since 2008.

TY COBB ITEMS

In addition to the Hassan Triple Folder Advertising Display, the auction features a large assortment of other cards and memorabilia items related to Cobb. Included is a 1907 Detroit Tigers Imperial Cabinet Photo with a rookie Ty Cobb, a large-format example of the familiar team photo. A similar image is also found on lot #250, a 1907 Tigers real-photo team postcard, encapsulated by PSA.

Lot 29 includes a 1907 Tigers Team Photo Premium issued by noted baseball photographer Louis Van Oeyen, a very seldom-seen premium. For collectors looking for rookie-era collectibles that picture Cobb alone, the auction also features a mid-grade example of Cobb’s 1907 Dietsche Postcard “Batting” pose, as well as a 1907 H.M. Taylor Postcard.

Later-period Cobb cards include PSA-Graded T206 Green, Red, and “Bat On Shoulder” varieties, along with both high and midgrade examples of his T205 portrait. Elsewhere in the auction, Cobb is featured on E90-1, E103, T201, and B18 Blanket cards.

TED PATTERSON COLLECTION

The auction also marks the second installment of the sale of the Ted Patterson Collection. The noted Baltimore-area sportscaster assembled a world-class collection of memorabilia and cards, and this auction features a host of tough-to-find advertising display pieces. Noteworthy items include a rare 1950s Yoo-Hoo Cardboard Advertising Display featuring Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra (Lot #20) in its original cardboard frame.

The auction also features a complete set of 1928 Lucky Strike Trolley Car Signs that are being offered either as a full set (Lot #11), or as individual signs (lots 67-71). Collectors of tougher advertising displays will find three different 1927 Spalding Baseball Advertising signs featuring Sparky Adams, Frankie Frisch and Bucky Harris (lots #64-66), five different signs featuring different players endorsing Chesterfield Cigarettes (Lot #100-104), and two difficult cardboard advertising displays featuring Dizzy Dean endorsing Grape Nuts Cereal – including a rare photographic example (Lot #81). More advertising displays from the Patterson Collection are featured throughout the auction.

TOBACCIANA

Collectors of tobacco cards and related ephemera will see a wide variety of tobacco-related memorabilia, including advertising signs, empty and full packs, cartons, tins and shipping boxes. The auction features a spectacular El Principe De Gales Match Striker (Lot #39), a gorgeous Fatima Cigarettes collection that includes a seldom-seen Shelf Display (Lot #47), and a 1915 Joe Tinker Cigar Box with its rare glass humidor (Lot #49).

Tobacco brands featured in the auction include Chesterfield, El Principe De Gales, Fatima, Favorite, Granger, Hassan, Home Run, Honest Long Cut, Hugh Jennings, Lucky Strike, Piedmont, Pirate, Red Cross, Red Jacket, Sweet Caporal, Joe Tinker, Turkey Red, and 4 Bagger.

GOLF COLLECTION

For the first time, Love of the Game is offering an extensive golf card offering, including 43 lots ranging from 1900 to 1971, including a desirable 1932 US Caramel Bobby Jones graded EX 5 by PSA (Lot #672), and a gorgeous 1933 Goudey Sport Kings Jones graded VG-EX 4 by PSA (Lot #680).

FOOTBALL CARDS AND MEMORABILIA

The auction features a complete set of rare 1946 Cleveland Browns Sears cards, all graded by PSA (Lot #622). The set includes the true rookie of Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham.

In addition to a number of other high-grade, PSA-graded Hall of Fame rookie cards, the auction features 40 lots of vintage football memorabilia, from 19th Century college football scorecards and programs to early NFL and AAFC Championship programs.

COMPLETE SETS

In addition to the high-grade 1969 Topps Supers set, collectors there’s a newly graded 1929-30 Exhibit Four-On-One complete set (lot #480), a 1958 Hires Root Beer complete set with tabs (lot #575), and higher-grade 1960s and 1970s Topps baseball sets that include a 1962 Topps Master set, higher-grade 1963 and 1967 Topps sets, and a 1963 Topps set with 189 graded cards. According to LOTG, virtually all the complete 1960s sets were assembled by a meticulous collector who continuously upgraded his cards by purchasing large lots and choosing the best examples.

Keeping in line with Love of the Game auctions’ specialties, the sale features a large selection of 19th and early 20th Century cards and memorabilia, a host of seldom-seen or unique items, a grouping of tough postcards, and a number of seldom-seen vintage baseball photos.

Registration and auction bidding is open on the LOTG website.

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It’s not going to make the pill any easier to swallow, but it wasn’t A.J. Hinch’s fault. He’s not the reason the Astros lost a World Series they seemed destined to win both going in and while they were just eight outs from the Promised Land.

I know Hinch didn’t even think about bringing Gerrit Cole in if he’d decided Zack Greinke had had enough. I second guessed it myself when first writing about Game 7. And I was really wrong. Just as you are, Astroworld, to lay the loss on Hinch’s head. The Nats beat the Astros, plain and simple. Through no fault of Hinch’s.

He wasn’t even close to having lost his marble. Singular. He actually managed just right in that moment. It’s no more his fault that Howie Kendrick made him look like a fool right after he made his move than it was his fault the Astros couldn’t bury a Max Scherzer who had nothing but meatballs, snowballs, grapefruits, and cantaloupes to throw, two days after Scherzer’s neck locked up so tight it knocked him out of Game 5 before the game even began.

Max the Knife wasn’t even a butter knife starting Game 7 and the best the Astros could do against him was an inning-opening solo home run by Yuli Gurriel and an RBI single by Carlos Correa. Remember, as so many love to bleat, the manager doesn’t play the game. Not since the end of the player-manager era.

And I get the psychological factor that would have been involved if Hinch brought Cole in instead of Will Harris. Likely American League Cy Young Award winner in waiting in to drop the hammer and nail down a win and a trophy. The Nats may have spanked Cole and company in Game 1, but Cole manhandled them in Game 5.

Even the Nats thought Cole was likely to come in if Greinke was coming out and, as their hitting coach Kevin Long said after Game 7, they would have welcomed it after the surgery Greinke performed on them until the top of the seventh.

You had to appreciate an anyone-but-Greinke mindset among the Nats. Maybe even think within reason that that kind of thinking — never mind Anthony Rendon homering with one out in the top of the seventh — would leave them even more vulnerable once Cole went to work.

Pay attention, class. Cole pitched magnificently in 2019 and his earned run average was 2.19 with a postseason 1.72. But Harris, believe it or not, was a little bit better: his regular season ERA was 1.50 and his postseason ERA until Game 7 was (read carefully) 0.93.

Cole led the American League with a 2.64 fielding-independent pitching rate and Harris finished the season with a 3.15, but all that means is that Harris depends on the Astros’ stellar defense a little bit more than Cole does. And Harris walks into a few more dicey situations in his line of work. Plus, Cole never pitched even a third of an inning’s relief in his entire professional career, major and minor league alike.

Don’t even think about answering, “Madison Bumgarner.” Yes, Bumgarner closed out the 2014 World Series with shutout relief. And it began by going in clean starting in the bottom of the fifth. Bruce Bochy, who may or may not stay retired as I write, didn’t bring MadBum into a man on first/one-out scenario.

When Hinch said after Game 7 that he planned to use Cole to nail the game down shut if the Astros kept a lead, he was only saying he planned to use Cole where he was suited best, starting a clean inning, his natural habitat. Harris is one of his men whose profession involves walking into fires of all shapes and sizes when need be.

It was need-be time in Game 7. Even Cole acknowledged as much in the breach, when he said postgame, “We just went over the game plan and he laid out the most advantageous times to use me. And we didn’t get to that position.”

Why lift Greinke after only eighty pitches on the night? Greinke historically is almost as tough on a lineup when he gets a third crack at it, but things really are a little bit different in the World Series. Even if Greinke did surrender a single run in four-and-two-thirds Game 3 innings.

He may have performed microsurgery on the Nats through six, but he’s not the long distance operator he used to be anymore, either, at 36. And he hadn’t exactly had an unblemished postseason before the Series. He’d been battered by the Rays in the division series; he’d been slapped enough by the Yankees in the ALCS.

As Hinch himself observed after Game 7 ended, “We asked him to do more today than he had done, and pitched deeper into the game more than he had done in the entire month of October. I wanted to take him out a bat or two early rather than a bat or two late.”

And Greinke himself believed the Nats were a lot more tough than their evening full of pre-seventh inning soft contacts at the plate indicated. “They got a good lineup, especially the top of the order,” he told reporters after the game. “It’s tough to get through no matter one time, two times, three times. All of them are tough. Really good hitters up there.”

He got the proof of that when Rendon hammered his 1-0 service halfway up the Crawford Boxes and Juan Soto focused for a walk on 3-1. When it’s winner-take-all you don’t want even a Greinke in a position to fail or for the Nats to be just a little bit better after all.

Hinch wasn’t going to walk his effective but lately erratic closer Roberto Osuna into this moment despite Osuna’s 2.63 ERA, 0.88 walks/hits per inning pitched rate, and league-leading 38 saves on the regular season. Osuna’s postseason ERA was up over 3.50 and his WHIP was reaching 2.00.

So Hinch, one of the most thoughtful and sensitively intelligent managers in the game today, really did reach for his absolute best option in the moment. He was right, I was wrong, and the only thing wrong with Hinch’s move wore a Nationals uniform.

The best teams in baseball get beaten now and then. The best pitchers in the game get beaten. The smartest managers in the game get beaten even when they make the right move. The only more inviolable baseball law than Berra’s Law is the law that says somebody has to lose. And now and then someone’s going to beat the best you have in the moment.

This was not Joe McCarthy starting Denny Galehouse over Mel Parnell with the 1948 pennant on the line.

This was not Casey Stengel failing to align his World Series rotation so Hall of Famer Whitey Ford (whose two shutouts are evidence for the prosecution) could start more than two 1960 World Series games.

This was not Gene Mauch panicking after a rookie stole home on his best pickoff pitcher and thinking he could use Hall of Famer Jim Bunning and Chris Short on two days’ rest in the last days of 1964.

This was not Don Zimmer doghousing Bill Lee, his best left-hander against the Yankees, and choosing Bobby (Ice Water in His Veins) Sprowl over Luis Tiant to stop what became the Boston Massacre in 1978.

This was not John McNamara with a weak bullpen and a heart overruling his head to send ankle-compromised Bill Buckner out to play one more inning at first base in the bottom of the 10th, Game 6, 1986.

This was not Dusty Baker sending an already season long-overworked Mark Prior back out for the top of the eighth with the Cubs six outs from going to the 2003 World Series.

This was not Grady Little measuring Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez’s heart but forgetting to check his petrol tank in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series.

This was not Mike Matheny refusing to even think about his best reliever, Trevor Rosenthal, simply because it wasn’t yet a “proper” save situation with two on, a rusty Michael Wacha on the mound, and Travis Ishikawa checking in at the plate in the bottom of the ninth in Game 5 of the 2014 National League Championship Series.

This was not Buck Showalter getting his Matheny on with the best relief pitcher in baseball (Zach Britton) not even throwing in the pen, never mind ready to go, with two on and Edwin Encarnacion checking in — in a two-all tie in the bottom of the 11th — against a mere Ubaldo Jimenez at the 2016 American League wild card game plate. Because that, too, just wasn’t, you know, a “proper” save situation.

Hinch did exactly he should have done in the moment if he was going to lift Greinke. He reached for the right tool for the job. So did Mauch, in the 1986 ALCS, with the Angels on the threshold of the 1986 World Series, if he was going to lift Mike Witt but not trust Gary Lucas after the latter plunked Rich Gedman, turning it over to Donnie Moore.

It wasn’t Mauch’s or Moore’s fault that he threw Dave Henderson the perfect nasty knee-high, outer-edge forkball, the exact match to the one Henderson had just foul tipped away, and Henderson had to reach hard and wide again to send it over the left field fence.

It wasn’t Hinch’s fault that Harris threw Kendrick the best he had to throw, too, a cutter off the middle and at the low outside corner, and watched it bonk off the right field foul pole. Just ask Harris himself, as a reporter did after Game 7: “It’s every reliever’s worst nightmare. [Kendrick] made a championship play for a championship team.”

Better yet, ask Correa, the only Astro somehow to have a base hit with a runner on second or better Wednesday night. “The pitch he made to Howie — I just don’t understand how he hit that out,” he said. “It doesn’t add up. The way he throws his cutter, it’s one of the nastiest cutters in the game. Down and away, on the black, and he hits it off the foul pole.”

Now and then even the best teams in the game get beaten. Now and then even the best pitchers in the game get beaten. Sometimes more than now and then. Nobody was better in their absolute primes this century than Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander. Yet Kershaw has a postseason resume described most politely as dubious and Verlander’s lifetime World Series ERA is 5.68.

And even the smartest skippers in the game lose. Hall of Famer John McGraw got outsmarted by a kid player-manager named Bucky Harris in Game 7 of the 1924 World Series, though even Harris needed four shutout relief innings from aging Hall of Famer Walter Johnson and a bad hop over Giants third baseman Freddie Lindstrom to secure what was previously Washington’s only known major league World Series conquest.

McCarthy and Stengel were at or near the end of Hall of Fame managing careers (Stengel was really more of a caretaker as the 1962-65 Mets sent out the clowns while their front office built an organization) when they made their most fatal mis-judgments.

And yet another Hall of Famer, Tony La Russa, suffered a fatal brain freeze. His failure to even think about his Hall of Fame relief ace Dennis Eckersley earlier than the ninth-inning save situations cost him twice and would have kept the Reds from a 1990 Series sweep, if not from winning the Series itself.

The Astros had seven men bat with men in scoring position in Game 7 and only Correa nailed a base hit. The Nats went 2-for-9 in the same position. And, for a change, left three fewer men on than the Astros did.

The Astros couldn’t hit a gimp with a hangar door. The Nats punctured an Astro who dealt trump for six innings and made two fateful mistakes in the seventh that the Nats took complete advantage of. Then their best relief option in the moment got thumped with his absolute best pitch.

Because baseball isn’t immune to the law of unintended consequences, either. It never was. It never will be. The Astros were the better team until the World Series. The Nats ended up the better team in the World Series. And that isn’t exactly unheard of, either.

Few teams in baseball have been better than the 1906 Cubs, the 1914 Philadelphia Athletics, the 1954 Indians, the 1960 Yankees, the 1969 Orioles, the 1987 Cardinals, the 1988 and 1990 A’s, the 2003 Yankees, and the 2006 Tigers. They all lost World Series in those years. And two of them (’60 Yankees; ’87 Cardinals) went the distance before losing.

Yet the Nats scored the greatest upset in the history of the Series, and not just because they’re the first to reach the Promised Land entirely on the road. The Astros were Series favorites by the largest margin ever going in. And only the 1914 Braves were down lower during their regular season than the Nats were in late May this year.

But that year’s A’s, the first of two Connie Mack dynasties, weren’t favored as heavily to win as this year’s Astros.

The Dodgers were overwhelming National League favorites to get to this World Series — until Kendrick’s monstrous 10th-inning grand slam. Then the Cardinals were favored enough to make it — until they ran into a Washington vacuum cleaner that beat, swept, and cleaned them four straight.

The Astros didn’t have it that easy getting to this Series. The ornery upstart Rays made them win a pair of elimination games first. Then it took Yankee skipper Aaron Boone’s dice roll in the bottom of the ALCS Game 6 ninth — refusing to walk Jose Altuve with George Springer aboard and comparative spaghetti-bat Jake Marisnick on deck — to enable Altuve’s mammoth two-run homer off a faltering Aroldis Chapman with the pennant attached.

Hinch made the right move in the circumstance and the moment and the Nats made the righter play. The championship play, as Correa put it. The play for the Promised Land. Soto’s eighth-inning RBI single and Eaton’s ninth-inning two-run single were just insurance policies.

Astro fans fuming that Hinch “blew” the World Series for them refuse to accept that, when push comes to shove, as it did twice for the Nats, the other guys can and do beat the best thrown their way.

When Hinch says that not bringing in Cole was a mistake he’d have to live with, he shouldered a blame that wasn’t his to shoulder. Even if his happen to be the strongest in Astroworld.