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Billy Rogell Jersey

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He was the shortstop on the Tigers’ first world championship team in 1935.

He was involved in one of the most bizarre plays in World Series history.

He was nicknamed “The Fire Chief” because of his competitive (some would say combative) style of play.

After retiring as a player, he was elected to the Detroit City Council in 1941 and served for 38 years.

At age 96, and wheelchair bound, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Frontier League game on July 24, 2001, in the last organized baseball contest ever played at Tiger Stadium.

And he got his start as a milkman in Illinois.

You may ask yourself: “Who is this man you speak of?”

It is none other than Billy Rogell, the Tigers’ shortstop from 1930 to 1938.

Rogell was born in Springfield, Illinois on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1904. Soon, his family moved to Chicago, where young Billy spent his childhood. He loved baseball from an early age, and played it all summer long in the sandlots of the Rosedale section of the city where he lived. He was so good, he became a semi-pro player in his middle-teenage years.

Around that time, he got a job driving a milk wagon in his neighborhood. The job was a good one, not just because it paid decently, but because Rogell figured it would strengthen his muscles, carrying all those bottles around all day. He could get plenty of fresh air and exercise. Not to mention he could drink all the milk he wanted.

One of Rogell’s stops on his route was the home of Oscar Melillo (also known as Ski, but his friends all called him Spinach). Melillo, a few years older than Rogell, had heard of him because by that time Billy had acquired quite a reputation as a semi-pro player. Melillo was also impressed with Rogell’s boundless energy as a milkman. When Melillo heard later that Rogell had signed a contract with the Boston Red Sox, he knew Billy would make good. Turns out he was right. Melillo made good, as well, starring for the St. Louis Browns as a second baseman for many years.

Rogell played a few seasons in Beantown before the Tigers acquired him in September of 1929. He didn’t become a full-time player until 1932. Rogell and Charlie Gehringer were a great double-play combination in the Motor City for many years. They were part of one of the best hitting infields in history in 1934. Rogell, Gehringer, first baseman Hank Greenberg, and third baseman Marv Owen combined for a whopping 463 runs batted in. Not coincidentally, the Tigers also won the pennant that year. And Rogell was at the center of a commotion that will forever go down in World Series annals under “Wacky.”

It was Game Four, at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, bottom of the fourth inning. The Tigers and pitcher Elden Auker were leading the Cardinals and Dazzy Vance, 4-to-3. St. Louis had runners on first and third with nobody out.

According to one account, Cardinals’ manager Frankie Frisch wanted to send in a pinch-runner for the lumbering Spud Davis on first. Frisch scanned the dugout, and was shocked to see Dizzy Dean suddenly leap up from the bench, race out to first, and tell Davis to beat it back to the dugout, that he was going to run for him.

Dean, of course, was a pitcher, and a very good one, having won 30 games in 1934. He could also be a bit flamboyant. Frisch wanted to yell out to Dean what the hell he thought he was doing. But Pepper Martin, the next Cardinal batter, was already digging in against Tiger pitcher Auker.

That’s when things got crazy. Martin hit a perfect double-play grounder to Gehringer at second, who scooped it up and flipped it to Rogell covering the bag. But his relay to first never made it; instead, the ball bopped an onrushing Dean right in the forehead. The ball caromed into the outfield, and the star pitcher went down like he’d been shot.

Dean lay unconscious on the ground, as all of St. Louis held its collective breath. He had to be carried off the field on a stretcher, and rushed to a nearby hospital. The Tigers wound up winning the game, 10-to-4, to even the Series at two games apiece. But most people in the crowd were wondering about the fate of Dean, who was scheduled to pitch the following afternoon.

Dean turned out to be ok, and, in a possibly apocryphal tale, a newspaper headline the next day read: “X-Rays of Dean’s Head Reveal Nothing.” He didn’t miss a beat, giving up only two earned runs in eight innings in the Tigers 3-to-1 win.

Years later, Rogell, who threw the ball that plunked Dean in the head, recalled it this way: “It really bothered me. That poor sight being carried off the field. Of course, it was Dizzy’s fault. He threw up his head in the way intentionally. Even said so. He wanted to break up the double play. And to tell you the truth, I never saw the play because I was coming to the bag at an angle. I caught the ball and threw. Actually, if I’d have known his head was there, I would have thrown the ball harder.”

In case you missed it, Detroit lost the Series, four games to three. And Rogell continued to carry his milkman union card in his wallet for the rest of his playing days. Just in case.

Johnny Pesky Jersey

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Fifty years ago, a Catholic kid from St. Patrick Parish in Northwest Portland took the baseball world by storm.

Mickey Lolich, a child of the Croatian community that peopled Slabtown, pitched and won three games for the Detroit Tigers in the 1968 World Series win over the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals. The left-handed 1954 graduate of Cathedral School and Lincoln High School threw on short rest, winning Game 7 over legendary St. Louis flamethrower Bob Gibson.

Boys across America began mimicking Lolich’s windup, fluid but with stiff arms raised over the head before delivery.

“The Detroit Tigers and Mickey Lolich and his men brought a Hollywood movie finish to the World Series,” Sentinel writer Herb Larson wrote that fall.

Lolich threw 435 pitches in three games over seven days, a feat that now seems mythic, given the use of relief pitchers in the major leagues.

“God gave me a great arm,” Lolich told John Furey, a Sentinel freelancer in 1998. Amazingly, Lolich never had shoulder or elbow trouble.

He was born right-handed but at age 2 broke his collarbone in a tricycle crash. His parents tied his right arm behind his back to force him to rehabilitate the injured left side.

Lolich was one of the disciples of Rocky Benevento, the Italian-American groundskeeper at Vaughn Street Ballpark in Portland. Little Mickey hounded Benevento to let him be a bat boy for the hometown Portland Beavers. The lad watched the ballplayers and learned.

After graduating from Cathedral, Lolich attended Columbia Prep in the fall of 1954 and pitched the squad to the state championship game, losing but achieving the best finish of any team in the school’s history. Columbia Prep shut down and he transferred to Lincoln. It was just as well for Lolich, who found the academics at Columbia Prep out of his league.

Meanwhile, his pitching led Portland teams to national youth baseball championships. During high school, Lolich was ready to sign with his favorite team, the New York Yankees, when his uncle spoke to another Slabtown legend, Johnny Pesky of the Boston Red Sox. Pesky, born Paveskovich, told the uncle that the Tigers were in sore need of left-handed pitching and that signing with them would help Lolich get into the major leagues sooner. By 1964, he was a fixture in the Tigers rotation, where he would stay for 11 years.

As a child, Lolich had promised to play baseball and earn enough money to buy a brick house for his parents, Steve and Marge Lolich. Steve Lolich, longtime caretaker of Wallace Park in Northwest Portland, told his son to forget about buying houses and just play baseball. In the early ’60s, Lolich bought his parents a new Pontiac. Margie died in 2002 and Steve in 2008.

No pitcher has won three games in a World Series since 1968 and it happened only twice before then.

“I was going out and doing my job,” Lolich told Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune last month. “I was only doing what I was supposed to do.”

After the memorable moment, Lolich continued to be a dominating pitcher. In 1971, he led the major leagues in wins (25), innings pitched (376) and strikeouts (308). He played 16 years, notching 217 wins. After retiring from the diamond, he bought and operated a doughnut business in Michigan for 18 years. He still lives near Detroit, is married and has three daughters.

Lolich this year co-authored a book about the 1968 World Series, “Joy in Tigertown.”

Watch the entire 9th inning of Game 7 of the 1968 world series here.

Dick McAuliffe Jersey

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The 1968 Detroit Tigers finished the regular season with 40 victories in which they were either trailing or tied in the seventh inning or later. Of those wins, 28 featured the Tigers taking the lead in the final inning. Free Press special writer Bill Dow takes a look at those games:

April 11: Gates Brown hits a pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Red Sox, 4-3, in the second game of the season.

April 14: Bill Freehan singles with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth to beat the White Sox, 5-4.

April 17: Willie Horton hits a two-run homer in the bottom of the 10th to beat the Indians, 4-3.

More: Detroit Tigers great Denny McLain has regrets, but damn he could pitch

Dick McAuliffe, an infielder for the 1968 World Series champion Detroit Tigers, died May 13, 2016. He was 76 years old.
Dick McAuliffe, an infielder for the 1968 World Series champion Detroit Tigers, died May 13, 2016. He was 76 years old. (Photo: File photo)

April 20: Dick McAuliffe’s two-run single, followed by Norm Cash’s forceout to score McAuliffe in the top of the 10th beats the White Sox, 4-1.

April 28: Bill Freehan and Jim Northrup hit solo home runs in the top of the ninth to beat the Yankees, 3-2.

April 29: Don Wert’s single scores Norm Cash in the bottom of the ninth to beat Oakland 2-1.

May 1: Willie Horton’s sacrifice fly scores Dick McAuliffe in the bottom of the eighth to beat the Twins, 3-2.

May 7: Tom Matchick’s pinch-hit, two-run double in the top of the ninth beats the Orioles 2-1.

May 17: Jim Northrup’s grand slam in the bottom of the ninth beats the Senators, 7-3.

May 19: Gates Brown’s pinch-hit single scoring Dick Tracewski in the bottom of the eighth beats the Senators, 5-4.

May 20: An error on a Bill Freehan ground ball scores Al Kaline in the top of the 10th inning to beat the Twins, 4-3.

Mickey Stanley
Mickey Stanley (Photo: Detroit Free Press)

June 7: Mickey Stanley’s two-out, two-run triple in the bottom of the ninth beats the Indians, 5-4.

June 11: Tom Matchick scores on Cesar Tovar’s throwing error in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Twins, 3-2.

June 12: Dick McAuliffe’s home run in the top of the ninth beats the Twins, 2-1.

June 14: Don Wert’s home run in the top of the 14th beats the White Sox, 6-5.

July 7: Willie Horton’s solo homer in the bottom of the ninth beats the Athletics, 5-4.

July 19: Tom Matchick’s pinch-hit, three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth beats the Orioles, 5-4.

Aug. 6: Dick Tracewski single scores Bill Freehan in the bottom of the 17th to beat the Indians, 2-1.

Aug. 10: Norm Cash’s home run in the bottom of the 8th beats the Red Sox, 4-3.

Aug. 11: Gates Brown’s pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the 14th beats the Red Sox, 4-3, in the first game of the doubleheader.

Aug. 11: Gates Brown’s single in the bottom of the ninth beats the Red Sox, 6-5, in the second game of the doubleheader.

Bill Freehan’s homer on Aug. 17, 1968, was a game-winner for the Tigers.
Bill Freehan’s homer on Aug. 17, 1968, was a game-winner for the Tigers. (Photo: Detroit Free Press)

Aug. 17: Bill Freehan’s home run in the top of the ninth beats the Red Sox, 10-9.

Aug. 21: Jim Price’s pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the 10th beats the White Sox, 3-2.

Sept. 2: Bill Freehan’s home run in the top of the ninth beats the A’s, 4-3.

Sept. 3: Jim Northrup’s two-run single in the top of the ninth is the game-winning hit that beats the A’s, 6-3.

Sept. 14: Willie Horton’s single in the bottom of the ninth beats the A’s, 5-4, and gives Denny McLain his 30th victory.

Sept. 17: Don Wert’s single scores Al Kaline in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Yankees, 2-1, as the Tigers win the pennant.

Sept. 25: Gates Brown’s three-run homer in the top of the ninth beats the Orioles, 4-3.

Miguel Cabrera Jersey

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila expects to see a slim, motivated Miguel Cabrera arrive at spring training in three months.

“I’ve talked to Miggy. I’ve talked to his agent. He’s committed to make sure that these last four years go as well as possible,” Avila said Tuesday at the MLB General Manager Meetings.

Four years is the magic number for Cabrera, 36, because it represents the number of seasons left on his monstrous contract, a span in which he’ll make $124 million no matter what happens.

Cabrera’s weight ballooned in 2019, which put pressure on his balky knee.

There is no surgical solution for Cabrera, but Avila is convinced he’s making the appropriate lifestyle changes.

Cabrera has hired a full-time, in-house chef who serves up meals approved by his personal nutritionist.

“Of course there’s a workout routine, strength-and-conditioning, weight loss, the whole bit. It’s full-scale,” Avila said. “If he follows that program, I have no doubt that he’ll come in in really good shape. Obviously he would have to continue that throughout the season to stay strong and healthy.”

Despite his knee problems, Cabrera never missed more than two consecutive games until the final week of the 2019 season. But in a year notable for an explosion of home runs, he hit only 12 in 549 plate appearances. He posted a .744 OPS, just under league average (96 OPS+ and 96 RC+).

“The injuries that he’s suffered are not going away. They’re there to stay,” Avila said. “‘There’s no more surgeries for me.’ That’s what he said. There’s no surgery that’s going to fix what he’s got.”

The first challenge for Cabrera will be the off-season weight loss. Then he’ll have to commit anew to in-season work.

“It’s no different than a pitcher going through a shoulder program,” Avila said. “If a pitcher does it throughout the season religiously, chances are he’s going to stay healthy. If a guy gets lazy and then abandons that program. If he does it off-and-on and he’s not committed to it? Then chances are he’s not going to make it through the season.

“Now, injuries will happen no matter how hard you work, but at the end of the day it’s about doing everything you can stay healthy.”

Tyler Alexander Jersey

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Chicago — Tyler Alexander kept waiting for the punch line.

Doug Mientkiewicz, Toledo Mud Hens manager, called him into the office after Monday night’s game and told him he was going to make his next start Wednesday. Which he knew. But it would be in Chicago, with the Tigers, against the White Sox in the second game of a doubleheader.

Which Alexander thought might be some cruel prank.

“I didn’t believe him,” said Alexander, a lefthander who has been grinding in the Tigers system since 2015. “I stood there for a while, like, ‘You serious?’ It was an awesome moment. It’s a dream.”

The dream was nearly deferred. The Tigers and White Sox were rained out on Tuesday night — meaning Matthew Boyd’s start would be pushed back. Had it been pushed to Wednesday, Alexander’s debut would be pushed back or cancelled.

Instead, Boyd will pitch Thursday, pushing Gregory Soto’s next start to Saturday.

The make-up date for Tuesday’s rainout will be Sept. 27, part of a straight double-header beginning at 4:40 p.m. Detroit time.

Alexander, who was twice drafted by the Tigers, once out of high school, then in the second round in 2015 out of Texas Christian, will be added to the roster as the 26th man for Wednesday’s second game.

“At no point did I think I was going to get called here,” he said. “I had no clue. I knew they were down a guy, I knew they had four starters and then they went down to three — but it never crossed my mind.”

Ryan Carpenter and Kyle Funkhouser, two pitchers who might have been higher on the organizational depth chart, have fallen off recently. Alexander has had his ups and downs as well, but his 12-strikeout game against Rochester on June 22 opened some eyes.

“He attacks the zone,” said catcher Bobby Wilson, who caught him in Toledo. “He’s not scared of anything. He’s not scared of one thing. He’s going to attack hitters.”

Alexander, who throws from a deceptive arm slot, features a low-90s fastball, a slider and a change-up. He gave up five runs in three innings in his last start, but he pitched 13 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in his two starts before that.

“He’s easy to root for, easy to get behind,” Wilson said. “He puts his head down and he gets to the grind of things. You have a lot of respect for people like him who are the underdogs, who don’t complain or make excuses and just keep working and trying to get better.”

Triple-A hitters posted a .350 average against Alexander in the first two months of the season. In June, they hit .234 with 33 strikeouts in 28 innings.

“The first two months were tough,” he said. “I was finding a new arm slot and trying to make adjustments to the new balls (same balls that are being used in the major leagues this season) we’re using. But our pitching coach, Juan Nieves, worked with me a lot.

“We put in a lot of work and things just started to click.”

The first person he called with the news was his father.

“I don’t think my dad believed me either,” he said, laughing.

The Tigers will add Alexander to the 40-man roster before Wednesday’s game. A corresponding move will be necessary.

Mercer is back
It wasn’t like he had to reintroduce himself to his teammates, but it had to feel like opening day all over again for shortstop Jordy Mercer.

He was activated off the injured list and back in the starting lineup for the first time since May 7.

“It means everything,” he said. “I miss the camaraderie. I miss the guys — that’s the biggest thing. Obviously, I miss playing. But you miss the brotherhood, you miss the family. You miss just being back on the field trying to help your team win.”

Mercer, whom the Tigers signed to a one-year, $5 million contract during the offseason, had played just 19 games. He first injured his right quad in April and missed two weeks. He played five games in May and then aggravated it and has been out since May 7.

“It’s something I never had to experience,” he said. “It’s made me a better person. It’s made me a better father. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect and I think it’s going to make me a better player. I know how to deal with this now.

“Sometimes life throws you a curveball. You deal with it and come out the other end a better person.”

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What about Goodrum?
Mercer’s return brings a much-needed veteran presence to the middle of the Tigers defense.

“The stability in the infield is really important,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s a good communicator and a leader out there. With all the shifts and everything we do, he understands it pretty good.

“It’s been a long time without him. We were playing pretty good early when we had him. It’s just nice to have a veteran back in the middle.”

That’s not to discredit the job Niko Goodrum did filling in at shortstop in June. The more he played, the more comfortable he became. But it took a toll on him physically.

“This lets us put Goody in different situations, which was the plan all along,” Gardenhire said. “We need to give guys a break here and there. Goody played a lot of baseball and he got beat up pretty good. … I’d rather be able to give him a day off like everybody else.

“But it’s hard not to put him in the lineup. We’ll just keep moving him around.”

Goodrum got the start at second base Tuesday.

Tigers at White Sox
First pitch: Game 1, 2:10 p.m.; Game 2: 8:10 p.m.; Guaranteed Rate Field, Chicago

TV/radio: FS1, FSD, 97.1

SCOUTING REPORT

Game 1

LHP Daniel Norris (2-7, 4.62), Tigers: He grinded out five solid innings against the Nationals in his last start, despite dealing with a cramp in his groin. He made back-to-back starts against the White Sox in April, going five innings both times. He shut them out in Comerica Park, but allowed four runs and 10 hits in Chicago.

RHP Dylan Cease, White Sox (MLB debut): This will be the major league debut for one of the top White Sox pitching prospects — No. 3 in their system, No. 18 overall. He features an upper-90s fastball and a firm, sinking curveball. He came to the White Sox in the deal for Jose Quintana in 2017.

Game 2

LHP Tyler Alexander, Tigers (MLB debut): Alexander, who has made a steady, under-the-radar climb through the Tigers system, will be added to the roster as the 26th man and make his big-league debut. He features a low-90s fastball, slider and change-up.

LHP Ross Detwiler (1-0, 3.60), White Sox: The 11-year veteran has been signed out of Independent League baseball the last two years and hasn’t spent a full season in the big leagues since 2015. When he beat the Twins on Saturday, it was his first big-league win since 2016.

Rick Leach Jersey

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Rick Leach turns 62 today.

Rick was a first round draft pick for the Tigers, 13th overall, in 1979. He made it to the majors during the strike shortened 1981 season, hitting a big .193/.320/.289 in 83 at bats, mostly pinch-hitting and playing a bit of first and right field. He played 3 seasons, in Detroit. He never hit much and the Tigers released him.

The Blue Jays signed him before the 1984 season. He played 5 seasons for the Jays, playing DH, first, right, left and occasionally center field. He even pitched an inning in 1984. It didn’t go well, he walked 2, and gave up 2 hits, including a home run. He hit reasonably well. In 1986 he had a .308/.335/.435 line then in 1987 he hit .282/.371/.405, not bad, but not he didn’t have the power you’d want from a corner outfield spot nor the speed. But for a 4th outfielder, he was pretty good.

During the 1986 season, Leach tested positive for some ‘nonperformance enhancing drug’ (so come recreational drug) and was suspended for 60 days and ordered to take drug treatment.

In 5 years with the Jays, Rick hit .283/.34/.391 with 8 home runs, 95 RBI in 763 at bats. After the Jays Leach played a season with the Giants and a season with the Rangers before leaving baseball at 33. He seemed like a very likable guy, a fan favorite in the way that 4 outfielders are often fan favorites, but since the Jays had Bell, Barfield and Moesby in the outfield, there was no way he was going to get a full time role. But a useful lefty batter on the bench.

He was a favorite of mine because, back in the day, I played Statis Pro Baseball and Strat-O-Matic Baseball and Rick had good numbers in 1986 and 1987, giving him a valuable card in those games.

Leach had been a pretty good football player too, playing quarterback in College. The Denver Broncos drafted him in the 5th round of the 1979 draft.

Happy birthday Rick. Hope it is a good one.

Tommy Bridges Jersey

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Once upon a time, there was a major league catcher whose eventual biography was called The Catcher Was a Spy. But Moe Berg took up his life with the old Office of Strategic Services after his baseball career expired.

Other than possible on-field gamesmanship, Berg wasn’t exactly known for applying advanced surveillance techniques to baseball when he played. The well-educated catcher about whom it was said he mastered a dozen languages but couldn’t hit in any of them waited until World War II to practice intelligence.

After that life ended for him, Berg lived as best he could as a nomadic shadow man who preferred the company of those who’d ask him anything except about himself. And his is the only known baseball card on display at the headquarters of the CIA.

There may be some now who think a few more ought to join Berg’s card there. A few Astros, a couple of Red Sox and Yankees, a Phillie or three, a couple of Braves and Tigers, a Giant or three yonder, and maybe a few more elsewhere.

That, of course, would depend on whether baseball’s government is serious about investigating espionage in the ranks, now that former Astros/current Athletics pitcher Mike Fiers has, shall we say, pulled some of the deep cover away from an apparent high-tech sign-stealing operation by the Astros Intelligence Agency.

An ESPN writer, Buster Olney, advises one and all not to hold their breaths. Partially because the Astros say they’re investigating their own cheating, which some might compare to a police department investigating its own corruption:

“It probably took longer for the Astros to generate the statement about the forthcoming investigation than the actual investigation should require — that is to say, two phone calls, to ask two questions.

“Astros owner Jim Crane can call Jeff Luhnow, Houston’s general manager and head of baseball operations, and ask: what happened?

“And if Luhnow doesn’t know, he can call his video operator and ask: what happened? That’s all it should take.”

As Groucho Marx once said, it’s so simple that a child of five could do it — now, somebody send for a child of five. All things considered, that might not be a half bad idea. But this isn’t 5-year-old children playing Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. These are (it is alleged) grown men playing all’s fair in baseball and war.

Fiers told The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Dillich that the 2017 Astros had a camera in center field tied to a large television set stationed adjacent to the steps from the clubhouse to the dugout. Assorted Astros (Fiers didn’t name names) would see the catcher’s signs on the set, decipher them, and relay them to Astro hitters by banging a large plastic or acrylic trash can.

Assorted video has also surfaced from 2017 games in which, with a little audio enhancement, you can hear one or two bangs with an Astro hitter at the plate and an opposing pitcher about to deliver. Usually, it’s been said, the bangs were meant to tip the hitter that a changeup or other offspeed pitch was coming. In one such video, then-White Sox pitcher Danny Farquhar caught on, called his catcher to the mound twice, and switched up the signs post haste, for all the good it might do.

Runners on base or coaches on the lines catching, deciphering, and relaying stolen signs merely with their eyes and hands are guilty only of gamesmanship. Aided by technology off the field, it’s grand theft. And before anyone gets the brilliant idea that the Astros invented it, let it be said that they’ve taken it to its technologically logical 2010s extreme, but they weren’t exactly the first to even think about it.

“Every team with a scoreboard in center field has a spy inside at one time or another,” wrote Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby in his memoir — called My War with Baseball. Longtime catcher/coach/manager Birdie Tebbetts once told a Boston newspaper the 1940 Tigers didn’t have a spy in center field but a pitcher in the seats with binoculars–helping those Tigers lead the league in runs and win the pennant by a game.

Actually, it wasn’t binoculars — it was the telescopic sight of pitcher Tommy Bridges’s hunting rifle. He showed infielder Pinky Higgins how it might be used to steal signs from the upper deck in old Briggs (Tiger) Stadium. No less than the Tigers’ Hall of Fame first baseman Hank Greenberg revealed the scheme in his eventual memoir, Hank Greenberg: The Story of My Life.

Two decades later, the Braves were caught playing The Riddle of the Stands, when two presumed fans in the Wrigley Field bleachers turned out to be pitchers Bob Buhl and Joey Jay, posing as bleacher creatures but relaying signs stolen by binoculars to the Braves dugout. They’d relay the stolen signs to Braves hitters by moving their white scorecards, a la Connie Mack once using his to change his outfielders’ positionings from the dugout.

But the 1951 Giants had a spy in the center field clubhouse of the Polo Grounds. When Leo Durocher discovered a former Cub now a Giant (Hank Schenz) owned a Wollensak spy glass — which he used to steal signs from Wrigley Field’s center field scoreboard — Durocher couldn’t resist, deploying coach Herman Franks to the clubhouse, spyglass in hand.

From there, Franks would catch the opposition catcher’s signs through the spyglass darkly and relay them to the Giants bullpen, from whence quick flashes of tiny but visible light would tell Giant hitters who wanted the purloined signals what was coming up to the plate. Yes, children, the Giants stole the pennant! The Giants stole the pennant!

The 1951 Dodgers suspected Durocher was up to something down that stretch — the Giants came back from 13 games out to force the pennant playoff — but when they thought about catching his surveillance cold with their own pair of binoculars an umpire confiscated the field glasses post haste. As Thomas Boswell snarked in due course, “Why, that would be unfair to the high-tech cheaters!”

In due course, and after the Giants moved to San Francisco, an infielder on the 1951 pennant cheaters (er, winners), Bill Rigney, now managing the team, fashioned a simpler system in 1959 to keep the Braves at bay while two games ahead with ten left in the season: the spy would simply close and open certain scoreboard slats to relay pilfered signs.

Rigney also found a player objecting to that bright idea, relief pitcher Al Worthington. A man of deep Christian beliefs, Worthington persuaded Rigney to knock it off unless he wanted Worthington to walk off the team. Rigney knocked it off. The Braves ended up in a pennant playoff with the eventual winning Dodgers.

“I told Bill that I had been talking to church groups, telling people you don’t have to lie or cheat in this world if you trust Jesus Christ,” Worthington told a magazine writer. “How could I go on saying those things if I was winning games because my team was cheating?”

But when Worthington was traded to the White Sox, after their 1959 American League pennant, he was slightly surprised to discover general manager Hank Greenberg’s crew had a binocular sign-stealing system in full swing. And that he couldn’t discourage Greenberg quite the way he discouraged Rigney.

“Baseball is a game where you try to get away with everything you can,” Greenberg told the stolid relief pitcher. “You cut corners when you run the bases. If you trap a ball in the outfield, you swear you caught it. Everybody tries to cheat a little.” Worthington took a hike. Trying to trade him, the White Sox discovered Worthington now had a reputation as a nutbag.

Let’s see. Greenberg couldn’t quite enunciate the distinction between corner cutting on the bases, ball trapping in the outfield, and spying, buzzing, and binocularity. And Worthington needed psychiatric attention? (In due course, Worthington returned to the Show, first with the Reds, and then with the pennant-winning 1965 Twins.)

Sometimes teams have been caught red Octobered. In 2010, a Phillies bullpen coach, Mick Billmeyer, was caught on camera sitting on the bullpen bench with binoculars up to his eyes. Billmeyer claimed he was only monitoring Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz’s positioning, but the Rockies television broadcast caught Billmeyer training his binoculars on Rockies catcher Miguel Olivo.

Charlie Manuel, then the Phillies’ manager, gave a beauty of an explanation afterward. “We were not trying to steal signs,” he told a reporter. “Would we try to steal somebody’s signs? Yeah, if we can. But we don’t do that. We’re not going to let a guy stand up there in the bullpen with binoculars looking in. We’re smarter than that.” Don’t ask.

Billmeyer may only have acted upon the impulse of franchise history. The 1899 Phillies got caught red handed with high tech for the time sign stealing, in which a buzzer under the third base coaching line would give a tiny shock to third base coach Pearce Chiles standing atop it — while it was hidden under wet grass.

Reds catcher Tommy Corcoran suspected the coach’s leg twitches and dug his spikes until he hit the board under which the shocker was tucked. Thus was spiked the Phillies’ prehistoric electrotheft, which began with third-string catcher Morgan Murphy hiding behind a center field ad using binoculars to get the opposing signs and relay them by buzzer to Chiles. As if that was liable to be the end of it.

The same year Billmeyer got bagged, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina caught on to someone in Petco Park’s center field camera well, in a Padres’ sport shirt, brandishing binoculars and clutching a walkie talkie while he was at it. If you think he was chatting between innings with his kids in the grandstands, I have a cane .45 to sell you cheap.

In this decade, maybe the second most suspected of baseball intelligence operations was the Blue Jays, mostly around their once-infamous Man in White — believed to be sitting behind center field in Rogers Centre relaying signs. There were those who believed he was in business up to and including the 2015 American League Championship Series.

And while last year the Indians (eliminated in the division series) warned the Red Sox (who won the pennant and the World Series) to beware Astro infiltration, the previous year a Red Sox trainer was caught deploying an Apple Watch to steal Yankee signs. Which may have been the pot dressing the kettle black: the Red Sox complained the Empire Emeritus used cameras of their YES broadcast network to spy on the Olde Towne Team in-game.

That provided the only known instance in which current commissioner Rob Manfred has punished anyone for espionage, fining the Red Sox and harrumphing that “all thirty clubs have been notified that future violations of this type will be subject to more serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.”

Lest you think baseball’s high-tech black bag jobbers get away with murder entirely, be advised. The 1899 Phillies finished third behind the National League pennant-winning Brooklyn Superbas (the Dodgers to be). The 1940 Tigers lost the World Series in seven to the Reds. The 1951 Giants were flattened by the Yankees in five in that Series. The 1960 Braves finished second and seven back of the pennant and World Series winning Pirates; the 1960 White Sox finished 10 back of the pennant-winning Yankees.

The 2010 Phillies won the National League East but lost the National League Championship Series to the Giants; the 2010 Padres finished second to the Giants in the NL West. The Blue Jays still haven’t been seen anywhere near the World Series since the Clinton Administration. The 2017 Red Sox got pushed to one side by the Astros in the division series.

Don’t even think about going there — yes, the hitter still has to hit the ball. But don’t kid yourself: it’s a lot easier to hit or lay off what you know is coming.

And, if you assume the Astros didn’t quite put the AIA out of business this year, it did them no favors in this year’s World Series. They had the postseason home-field advantage, but the Nats won the Series on the road entirely. And they were prepared — according to relief pitcher Sean Doolittle, every Nats pitcher was given five different sets of signs to switch up to just in case. If the Astros were stealing signs electronically this time around, it qualifies as maybe the single most inept case of spy-ops since the Watergate burglary.

Baseball government’s investigation won’t stop with just the Astros. Their disgraced former assistant general manager, Brandon Taubman, already facing further questions about taunting women reporters with their controversial trade to acquire then-domestic violence suspended Roberto Osuna, may be questioned about Astrogate. So might two former Astros — 2017 bench coach Alex Cora (now the Red Sox manager and with a 2018 World Series ring on his finger) and 2017 designated hitter Carlos Beltran (freshly hired to manage the Mets). And so may a good number of teams, with or without ex-Astros in the ranks.

Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer is known as a drone builder and lover. (He’s also known as a frequent Astro critic.) Before the 2019 All-Star Game in Cleveland — and before the Indians traded him to the Reds — Bauer deployed one of his mechanical flying pets to tour the empty park taking footage, demonstrating potential television broadcast advancement. On another occasion, a Bauer drone followed Indians outfielder Tyler Naquin running out a game-winning inside-the-park home run.

How large a jump would it prove to be from Bauer’s hobbying to a team developing enough drone expertise to hover them over the park on behalf of a new kind of in-game intelligence operation? Would baseball’s next great technological development then be not robot umpires, but teams developing strategic defense initiatives? (Will we spend the seventh-inning stretch singing, “Take me out to the spy games?”)

If Mike Fiers has hit the buzzer properly, and if baseball dicks perform the genuine Astrogate investigation the Astros may not prefer to do, Manfred isn’t long before having the chance to do something more than harrumph that he’s going to … be very, very angry at anyone caught playing “Smile! You’re on Candid Camera!” again.

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The Detroit Tigers thought they dodged a bullet. They were wrong.

JaCoby Jones, the dynamic center fielder who took strides offensively but still battled inconsistency this season, is likely out for the rest of the season, manager Ron Gardenhire said after Saturday night’s loss to the Royals.

Jones, 27, was hit by a pitch in the left wrist on Thursday night. A subsequent X-ray exam came back negative, with the team believing Jones had avoided serious injury.

But a follow up CT scan on Saturday revealed a fracture. The timetable for recovery is six weeks, Gardenhire said, noting it was likely Jones will not return.

“He’s pretty disappointed and really frustrated,” Gardenhire said. “But I’m glad we went ahead and checked it out. It’s kind of an internal fracture inside the bone and we had to get a CT scan to find it. Unfortunately, but it will probably end his season.”

If Jones’ season is indeed over, he finished by hitting .235 with 11 home runs, 26 RBIs and seven stolen bases in 88 games. His season started nearly two weeks late after sustaining a shoulder injury late in spring training.

Tigers center fielder JaCoby Jones is hit by a pitch in the second inning against the Royals on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019, at Comerica Park.
Tigers center fielder JaCoby Jones is hit by a pitch in the second inning against the Royals on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019, at Comerica Park. (Photo: Dave Reginek, Getty Images)

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While Jones certainly made strides at the plate, turning his season around in late April, his latest injury will prevent him from developing his consistency.

Jones hit .271 in June and .291 in July. In doing so, he likely earned himself another year as the Tigers’ starting center fielder. Jones’ defense in center is considered among the best in baseball, though that skill didn’t always translate in the batter’s box.

That changed a couple weeks into this season, when, at the suggestion of hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, he lowered his hands in his batting stance. This allowed Jones to be quicker to the baseball and cut down a bit on his lengthy swing.

Tigers center fielder JaCoby Jones makes a jumping catch for an out during the 12th inning of the Tigers’ 3-2 loss to the Phillies on Tuesday, July 24, 2019, at Comerica Park.
Tigers center fielder JaCoby Jones makes a jumping catch for an out during the 12th inning of the Tigers’ 3-2 loss to the Phillies on Tuesday, July 24, 2019, at Comerica Park. (Photo: Raj Mehta USA TODAY Sports)

The results were immediate and were aided by a newfound confidence at the plate.

Still, Jones’ entire body of work this season, including the two injuries, did not indicate a serious breakout.

In his absence, the Tigers will recall infielder Ronny Rodriguez from Triple-A Toledo, Gardenhire said.

The team will likely use a rotation of Victor Reyes, Travis Demeritte, Harold Castro and others in center field going forward, and Jones’ injury could open up September playing time for center fielder prospect Daz Cameron.

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The Detroit Tigers have a long history of great starting pitching that goes back more than a century, but with Jim Bunning and Hal Newhouser being the only Detroit pitchers to earn a spot in the Hall of Fame, it’s easy for the city to forget just how good its starting pitching has been.

Obviously in recent years, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer have won Cy Young awards, while Jeremy Bonderman and Kenny Rogers helped pitched the Tigers to a pennant and Anibal Sanchez claimed an ERA title. Former Cy Young award winner David Price also pitched and won one of the biggest games in recent memory, the final game of the 2014 season, clinching the AL Central title.

Championship teams have had great pitching from Jack Morris and Dan Petry in 1984 to Denny McLain, Mickey Lolich and Earl Wilson in 1968. Going back even further, Newhouser teamed with Dizzy Trout and Virgil Trucks to form a pretty good trio known as “TNT.”

In 1935, the team had Tommy Bridges, Schoolboy Rowe, Elden Auker and General Crowder, who all won at least 16 games.

But perhaps the best staff in Detroit history was during the trio of pennants from 1907-1909, led by George Mullin, who was born in Toledo in 1880 and arrived n the scene in Detroit in 1902.

In 1909, Mullin went 29-8 on the mound with a win percentage of .784 and an ERA of 2.22 and three shutouts. He led the Tigers to their third consecutive pennant and a spot in the World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, where they lost in seven games. His 29 victories remained a franchise record until McLain topped it in ’68.

Mullin teamed with Ed Willett (21 wins, 2.34 ERA), Ed Summers (19 wins, 2.24 ERA) and Ed Killian (11 wins, 1.71 ERA) in ’09. Even Wild Bill Donovan chipped in with eight wins and a 2.31 ERA.

But it was Mullin who carried the load, leading the American League in wins and win percentage. It was his best season despite having several stellar campaigns for Detroit.

Mullin proved to be the ace in the World Series, too, going 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA against the Pirates. He completed all three games he started, including a shutout. Manager Hughie Jennings also used “Wabash George” in relief in one game during the series.

He won 21 games in 1905 and 1906 before leading the Tigers to three straight World Series appearances. He won 20, 17 and 29 games in those years. As the Tigers aimed for a fourth straight, Mullin had his last 20-win season with 21 wins in 1910.

In the first two World Series appearances in Tiger history, Mullin went 1-2. He lost both starts in 1907 against the Cubs despite a 2.12 ERA in the series. In the 1908 rematch, he went 1-0 with a masterpiece complete game with no earned runs allowed. It was Detroit’s only win of the series.

Mullin finished his career with a 228-196 record, 1,482 strikeouts and a 2.82 ERA. He is 15th on Detroit’s all-time list in wins above replacement with a career WAR of 47, which among Tiger pitchers, trails only Newhouser, Bridges, Trout and Lolich.

However, it didn’t start that spectacular for Mullin, who led the American League in walks in four of his first five years in the majors. But after walking more than 100 batters in five of his first six seasons, he only walked 100 in one other season.

As his walks went down, so did his ERA, remaining sub-3.00 for nine of his 12 seasons in Detroit.

Mullin’s last full season with Detroit was in 1912 when he pitched in the first game ever played at Navin Field, the Tigers brand-new ballpark on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull.

He won his final game for the Tigers in 1913, his 209th for the franchise. All these years later, Mullin’s total still ranks second in franchise history, trailing only Hooks Dauss, who replaced George as the team ace.

It has been 103 years since Mullin put on a Tiger uniform. But in more than a century of baseball in Detroit, few pitchers have been able to match Mullin’s ability and accomplishments both in the regular season and World Series.

Those first three Tiger pennants are remembered as the Cobb-Crawford years, but they deserve to also be remembered as the Mullin years.

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The Tigers were Major League Baseball’s worst team in 2019, losing 114 games en route to the second worst finish in franchise history. But even though it was a painful season for the team and its fans, the outcome was understandable — perhaps even necessary — for an organization in the middle of a rebuild.

Those rebuilding efforts have helped the Tigers assemble one of baseball’s better farm systems. After claiming the No. 10 spot in MLB Pipeline’s preseason farm-system rankings, they jumped to No. 6 on the list in our August re-rank after a strong Draft and successful Trade Deadline.

Detroit’s youth movement is built around pitching, and as a result the system is teeming with upper-level arms who are on the verge of contributing in the big leagues. That group includes four former first-round picks in right-handers Casey Mize (2018), Alex Faedo (2017), Matt Manning (2016) and Beau Burrows (2015), trade acquisition Joey Wentz, and southpaw Tarik Skubal, one of the 2019’s top breakout prospects.

State of the System
AL East BAL, BOS, NYY, TB, TOR
NL East ATL, MIA, NYM, PHI, WSH
AL Central CLE, CWS, DET, KC, MIN
NL Central CHC, CIN, MIL, PIT, STL
AL West HOU, LAA, OAK, SEA, TEX
NL West ARI, COL, LAD, SD, SF
Division Team
Some of the club’s better offensive prospects are nearing the Majors as well, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if players such as Isaac Paredes, Daz Cameron and Willi Castro were to receive auditions at some point in 2020. Riley Greene, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2019 Draft, and 2018 second-rounder Parker Meadows are potential impact hitters but are at least a few years away.

Meanwhile, Detroit’s track record in developing first-round picks bodes extremely well for 2020, when the club will make the No. 1 pick in the Draft for the second time in the past three years.

TOP 5 PROSPECTS

1) Casey Mize, RHP (No. 7 on Top 100)
2) Matt Manning, RHP (No. 27)
3) Riley Greene, OF (No. 46)
4) Tarik Skubal, LHP (No. 74)
5) Isaac Paredes, INF
Complete Top 30 list »

HITTING & PITCHING PROSPECTS OF THE YEAR

Isaac Paredes, INF: As one of the younger players in the Eastern League, the 20-year-old Paredes more than held his own, batting .282/.368/.416 with 13 homers, 23 doubles, 66 RBIs and nearly as many walks (57) as strikeouts (61) for Double-A Erie. He swung the bat particularly well down the stretch, too, producing a .321/.400/.466 line with seven homers, seven doubles and 33 RBIs over his final 50 games.

Tarik Skubal, LHP: Skubal, 23, emerged as one of the 2018 Draft’s biggest steals in his first full season while climbing to Double-A Erie, where he racked up 82 strikeouts in 42 1/3 innings behind double-digit strikeout performances in six of his nine starts. The ninth-rounder from Seattle University finished the year with a 2.42 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in 122 2/3 innings (24 starts) between two levels and ranked third in the Minors with 179 strikeouts. More »

Skubal on success in Minors
Jul 17th, 2019 · 1:02
Skubal on success in Minors
STOCK UP/DOWN

green up arrow Anthony Castro, RHP (No. 20): Though he was overshadowed by many of the other impressive arms in Erie’s rotation, Castro took a major step forward in 2019 in his first full Double-A campaign. An uptick in velocity had the 24-year-old running his fastball up to 98 mph, and, overall, he showed better feel for putting hitters away. He held hitters to a .207 clip and racked up 116 strikeouts over 102 1/3 innings, albeit while also issuing a career-high 65 walks.

red down arrow Franklin Perez, RHP (No. 6): The Tigers’ prized return from Houston in the August 2017 Justin Verlander trade, Perez has totaled just 27 innings in Detroit’s system while battling myriad injuries. Specifically, the balky right shoulder that prematurely ended Perez’s 2018 campaign also cost him most of ’19, limiting him to just two starts in the Florida State League. The good news is that Perez is only entering his age-22 season, and therefore has time on his side to make a healthy return and get back on track with his development.

NOTABLE ADDITIONS

Draft: Riley Greene, OF, 1st round (No. 3 on Top 30); Nick Quintana, 3B, 2nd round (No. 16); Andre Lipcius, 3B, 3rd round (No. 24); Ryan Kreidler, 3B, 4th round; Bryant Packard, OF, 5th round (No. 26); Cooper Johnson, C, 6th round; Zack Hess, RHP, 7th round Complete Draft list »
International: Roberto Campos, OF (No. 25); Manuel Sequera, SS; Abelado Lopez, OF
Trade: Joey Wentz, LHP (No. 10; from Braves); Travis Demeritte, OF/IF (from Braves); Paul Richan, RHP (No. 19; from Cubs); Troy Stokes Jr., OF (No. 29; from Brewers); Alex Lange, RHP (No. 30; from Cubs)

After four straight pitcher-heavy Drafts, the Tigers shifted their focus to hitters in 2019 and selected one with their first six picks. Greene has the ceiling of a franchise-caliber player but will need time to develop as a high school pick, and the Tigers injected a wave of quality depth into their system by selecting college players with the next five picks. Campos, another teenager with power potential, received a $2.85 million bonus as the team’s top international addition, while Seguera and Lopez both signed for at least $700,000. Lastly, the decision to trade both Nicholas Castellanos and Shane Greene at the Deadline netted Detroit four Top 30 prospects along with Demeritte, who appeared in 48 big league games down the stretch.

Top 100 re-rank: Riley Greene
Jul 25th, 2019 · 0:28
Top 100 re-rank: Riley Greene
2020 IMPACT PROSPECT

Casey Mize, RHP: Mize was as dominant as any hurler in the Minors during the first part of the season and fired a no-hitter in his Double-A Erie debut, but issues with his right shoulder landed the 2018 No. 1 overall pick on the injured list in June, and he was inconsistent upon returning before being shut down for the season in mid-August. As long as he’s healthy, Mize, with three plus pitches and exceptional feel for his craft, figures to spend most of 2020 in the Tigers’ rotation and will be among the more popular preseason picks for AL Rookie of the Year.

Mize ranks No. 2 on Top 100
Aug 4th, 2019 · 2:54
Mize ranks No. 2 on Top 100
BEST TOOLS
Hit: Isaac Paredes
Power: Riley Greene
Run: Derek Hill
Arm: Sergio Alcantara
Field: Alcantara
Best athlete: Parker Meadows

Fastball: Casey Mize
Curveball: Matt Manning
Slider: Mize
Changeup: Mize (splitter)
Control: Mize

HOW THE TOP 30 WAS BUILT

Draft: 15
International: 5
Trade: 10

Detroit’s system is loaded with homegrown talent, with Draft picks and international signees comprising two-thirds of the Tigers Top 30 Prospects list. Draft picks alone account for half of the list, and 13 players within that group are products of the Tigers’ 2016-19 Drafts. The rise and success of players such as Paredes and Castro reflect the Tigers’ international efforts, and the club has high hopes for both Campos and 20-year-old shortstop Wenceel Perez. The Verlander trade began to pay dividends for the club in 2019 with the arrival of catcher Jake Rogers, and Cameron appears poised to join him in the Majors at some point next season. In general, the Tigers have targeted both upper-level pitching depth and up-the-middle players in trades during their rebuild.

TOP 30 BY POSITION

C: 1
2B: 1
3B: 3
SS: 4
OF: 8
RHP: 11
LHP: 2

While upper-level pitching depth is an obvious strength in Detroit’s system, it’s worth noting that 18 players on the club’s Top 30 list, and more specifically nine in the Top 11, will enter the 2020 season with previous experience at or above the Double-A level. That should give the Tigers’ everyday lineup a much different look as next season unfolds, as it’s only a matter of time until the team begins to reap the rewards of its developmental efforts by replacing the veterans on the current team with up-and-coming talents.