Category Archives: Tigers Jerseys 2020

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The offseason has just begun, but the rumors have already started up. Earlier this month, we learned that the Detroit Tigers had “scouted the Phillies extensively over the final weeks of the season,” according to a report from NBC Sports Philadelphia. Somewhat speculatively, the article went on to connect the Tigers to third baseman Maikel Franco, who appears running out of time in the Phillies organization.

Franco, 27, debuted in 2014 and has been the Phillies everyday third baseman since early in the 2015 season. Through 80 games that year, he batted a tidy .280/.343/.497, which tallied to a 127 wRC+. Regarded as an excellent prospect at the time, those numbers appeared to be confirmation the Phillies had a good future major leaguer on their hands. Unfortunately, he has been less than stellar in the four years since. Although he’s inhabited the hot corner full-time for the club during that timeframe, he has only been worth 1.8 fWAR over the past four seasons.

October marked the end of another disappointing season for Franco, who played below replacement level for the second time in three years. His offensive output graded as 30 percent below league average, according to wRC+. While his 17 home runs would have led the Tigers, it’s still not what you would like to see from a player with double-plus raw power playing a power position like third base.

Due $5.2 million for his services in 2019, Franco is projected to receive a $6.7 million salary in 2020 by Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors. Between his poor performance and multi-million dollar price tag, the Phillies are rumored to have designs on unloading their veteran third baseman, and were reported on Friday to have interest in Josh Donaldson. And while the Tigers already have a few players on the roster capable of playing third base, Franco could be a big upgrade, making the two teams a natural trade partner.

A deal between the two clubs could take a variety of forms. While it’s impossible to predict trades with even a modicum of accuracy, we can get at least a fuzzy picture of a variety of types of deals the two clubs could pursue.

Possibility 1: Salary dump for the Phillies
This is a no-nonsense option; the Tigers would receive Franco and a low-level prospect in exchange for some organizational fodder. It’s the scenario that presents the fewest complications for either team. It’s also pretty consistent with Avila’s previous roster construction strategy from the past couple years of acquiring castoffs and veterans to plug holes in the lineup.

While much of the league has promoted a more heavily fly ball and pull power approach, Franco may be a case of too much of a good thing. The Tigers may be able to help himtap into his once lofty potential by emphasizing a line drive approach that uses the whole field. Swing changes aren’t a cure-all, but in this case, there could be a match. Franco’s batted ball profile shows a balanced spread between ground balls, fly balls, and line drives, but he is very pull-centric and has a tendency to get under a lot of pitches, leading to a 24.1 percent infield fly ball (pop-up) rate in 2019 that helped crater his offensive value despite solid strikeout-to-walk numbers. These might be issues that the Tigers are positioned to improve despite the lack of progress offensively within the organization.

At this point, this type of deal seems like most likely of the potential options. However, it doesn’t have much upside for the Tigers. In a vacuum, having more prospects is better than having fewer. However, instead of tying up payroll with a below-average player already in his 30s, Franco provides at least a little upside, More likely, it just cements a different mediocre player at third while we wait for more prospects to reach the majors. More interesting options are still on the table, though.

Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
Possibility 2: Tigers make a prospect grab
Another possibility involves the Tigers essentially taking the opportunity to “buy” a decent prospect by taking on Franco’s contract. The idea in this scenario is that instead of simply sending a player the other way as a placeholder, the Tigers could send Philadelphia a piece with moderate value. In exchange, instead of a lottery ticket from Low-A, the Phillies include a prospect with a decent shot at the majors.

For example, the Phillies may decide to address their somewhat shaky bullpen and ask for someone like Buck Farmer. Farmer was already mentioned as a trade chip in July, and finished the 2019 season strong. He also still has three years of club control remaining. As part of the deal, though, the Tigers may ask the Phillies to part with a better prospect than could be obtained in the first situation, adding value to what they would have received just for taking Franco’s contract.

This is probably the situation most compatible with the Tigers’ current direction. As badly as we would like them to be putting together their core for the next World Series winner, the Tigers are still trying to build their foundation — at a much slower pace than most would like. They have all but said they won’t be spending much this winter, at least until Jordan Zimmermann’s contract expires after the 2020 season. If the Tigers can get an MLB-ready player back by parting with a useful but expendable piece and taking on Franco’s money, they absolutely should.

Possibility 3: Phillies pursue most substantial trade talks
Let’s venture after bigger game for the third possibility. In this scenario, Franco becomes a secondary part of a larger deal to not only address payroll concerns, but also improve the Phillies roster. The Tigers front office has stripped the team down to its bones over the last few seasons, but there’s still a little meat left on the carcass.

The Phillies pushed in all their chips last winter by signing Bryce Harper to a staggeringly large contract, but they still failed to make the postseason. One of the culprits was difficulty assembling a complete outfield. They may see this as a low-key opportunity to improve their outfield situation by making an offer on Niko Goodrum or JaCoby Jones, both of whom have 2 WAR upside and could help them make the leap into real contention simply by removing a replacement level player from the starting lineup.

Another possibility is that the Phillies retain interest in Matthew Boyd. They scouted Boyd extensively near the trade deadline, but did not pull the trigger on a deal. The Phillies rotation was a disappointment in 2019, and they seem unlikely to want to invest big money in another veteran starter. Boyd would give them a durable lefthander to slot in the middle of their rotation, one under club control for a few more years. Philadelphia would be betting on Boyd’s substantial gains in strikeout rate over the past two seasons, and hoping to trim some of the home runs from his profile.

Of course, the involvement of Boyd, Jones, or Goodrum — or someone else of interest — would require commensurate return from the Phillies beyond Franco. Undoubtedly, they would have to up the ante to make a trade like this work. While this is the least likely of the three trade scenarios presented here, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

In the end, this rumor doesn’t have a lot of traction yet.
The Phillies and Tigers have both done quite a bit of scouting on each other in recent months, so while many of these scenarios require a substantial escalation in talk, there is at least mutual interest involved as the hot stove season gets underway. This could be an opportunity to address holes on the roster and add a little something to the farm system in the process — and just perhaps, this interest could expand into a more substantial deal between the two clubs.

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If only it had been a vision.

Over the years, as I’ve gotten older and tried to reflect on my life and determine what things influenced me and helped make me who am I today, one year from my early youth resonates like no other.

It was 1968. I was almost a teenager living with my parents and an aunt in Grand Rapids, Michigan. My aunt happened to be my godmother. Her name was Gloria Jean, and she was an angel of a human being. She taught me all the great music of the 60s, gossiped about girls, and taught me how to be a better brother, nephew and human being.

She loved the old Paul Anka and Elvis Presley songs, but when the Beatles invaded America and were on the Ed Sullivan Show she shrieked and squealed in front of the television while my dad and grandfather muttered all sorts of epithets and insults about the long-haired hippies. The Beatles signaled a change in the type of music young people in America were listening to, and it was no different in our house. The Vietnam War and the politics of the 60s were everywhere. Things were changing, and so was our house and yours truly.

My aunt graduated from Grand Rapids Catholic Central high school in 1963, which meant she was poised to experience all of the turbulence, hatred, war and bigotry of those turbulent times, but she also knew to savor the wonder of the space race, Michigan summers, the Detroit Tigers winning a World Series, and watching her family grow. Her younger brother — my Uncle Johnny — graduated from high school in 1966. He got into a scrape with the law when he was in school and the judge gave him an option: go to jail or join the military. He joined the Navy.

That’s when the war and civil rights movement crept into my life for the first time. As 1967 turned into 1968, things were happening at breakneck speed in our household. My uncle had gone missing while patrolling the Mekong Delta in South Vietnam, and we feared for his life. Riots had rocked Detroit in 1967. National Guard troops were rolling down Woodward Avenue in tanks. It was a scary time.

I remember going to a baseball game with my parents at Tiger Stadium while up the road a mile or two away all hell was breaking loose with rioting, looting and murder everywhere. I was terrified. But oh, to follow the Tigers of 1968 was one of the great loves of our family’s life, and we decided we needed the Tigers more than Michigan needed us.

About the same time, I had the great fortune to meet Bob and Sonja Schultz. They had moved into our neighborhood just around the corner. Bob was two years older and Sonja was my age. My mom learned about our new neighbors, and immediately commanded me to go over and introduce myself and befriend our new neighbors. I didn’t think twice about it and made the introductions. Bob, Sonja and I are great friends to this day.

They were also the first black family to move into the suburbs of the very conservative, white, Christian-reformed community we lived in. I heard the neighbors complaining and getting angry, and I heard a few people use the N word. That was absolutely forbidden in our house, and my first fist fight involved wailing on Larry S. for calling Bob that. I noticed people did not use that word around me again. One small victory for mankind.

I was also (and still am) a voracious reader and would spend all sorts of time reading anything I could get my hands on after school. The Hardy Boys led to The Yearling which led to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. My tastes in literature instantly changed.

Meanwhile, the Vietnam War raged in our house and on television. We had not heard anything about my uncle’s whereabouts in weeks. Everywhere we went we crept around the house avoiding the giant elephant in the room: what if he is dead?

In early March, that all changed as Johnny came marching home. He was a changed man and nervous as a man can be. He slept in the same room with me when he first got back. Almost every night he would wake up screaming. It was terrifying to a 12-year old kid, but somehow I knew he had been to hell and back and found it in myself to accept it. Johnny and I are now great friends and he has a wonderful family. But it took 35 years for him to make peace with himself and where he had been.

One day in late March, my uncle and grandfather were watching the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. He was my grandfather’s favorite, and we had watched him with awe as he helped us and the nation get through the Kennedy assassination in 1963. As we sat in the family living room that evening, Cronkite came on television and announced to the American nation that it was his experience that we were not going to win the Vietnam War. He said we were an honorable people, that we had done our duty, and now it was time to bring the troops home and to end war with peace with honor.

I looked over at my granddaddy and uncle and I was stunned by what I saw. There, in that living room, I saw both of them cry like babies. They were hugging each other, and my grandfather broke down while telling my uncle how happy he was to have his only son back. That was a change in his thinking, because before his only son had gone to fight in the southeast Asian war, he had been a big hawk. In fact, his brother, my great Uncle Charley, had been a big hero in World War I.

Lyndon Johnson announced shortly thereafter that he was not seeking reelection. “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost the nation,” LBJ supposedly said. The times indeed were a-changing.

A few days later, the guillotine fell again. I was lying on my parents’ bed reading when my Aunt charged in with tears streaming down her eyes: “They’ve just shot and killed Martin Luther King!”

We all huddled around the television and watched in horror as the sordid tale unfolded. I asked my mom if I could go over and visit Bob and Sonja and tell them how sorry I was. She hesitated, but let me go. When I got to the Schultz’s house, they were watching the news on TV. I saw Bob’s dad give me a real sour look, and it made me uneasy. But after a few minutes, the kids were laughing and talking about baseball and how awful everything was, but we didn’t know the reality. We were too young — but we were growing up real fast. Bob’s mother kissed me on the forehead and thanked me when I left. I remember that gesture to this day. They were kind and good people, and I miss them.

Well, a few months go by and I am about to get out of school for summer vacation and get ready to start junior high. My dad worked a fulltime day and night job to support his family, so my mom would let me stay up and watch the Late Show with Johnny Carson — especially on a non-school night. For some reason, on that particular night my mom went to bed a little early. My dad came home around one in the morning. He was tired and told me to go to bed because he was going to bed.

I disobeyed. I was watching some program when the news flash hit the screen: in Los Angeles, it happened again. There was another shooting. Robert F. Kennedy was dead. Now that one hit hard—I admired him. I walked into my parents’ bedroom and risked the wrath of my dad obliterating me by waking him up. I stuttered that Bobby had just been shot and killed, and once again our whole family sat on the couch watching the awful history of 1968 unfold in front of us. My dad walked to the door to let some air in, and somewhere out of the darkness we could hear a man screaming “What’s wrong with this country?!”

No one knew. Everything was changing. The music had changed from Yummy Yummy Yummy to Mrs. Robinson, Hey Jude, Dock of the Bay, Sunshine of your Love, and Jumping Jack Flash. The subject matter of the movies was also changing. The top movie of the year was about segregation. Rod Steiger won Best Actor for his performance alongside Sidney Poitier in the Oscar-winning film In the Heat of the Night. The thoughts and dreams of a 12-year-old boy were tempered in those months by a reality he could not understand. But he knew the world had changed, that he was changing, and there was no looking back.

Yet in all this chaos, there was the glory of putting a man in outer space and actually going to the moon. And there was profound joy at being a Boy of Summer: my Detroit Tigers beat the St. Louis Cardinals to win the 1968 World Serie in seven games. Names like Denny McLain, Al Kaline, Norm Cash, Willie Horton, Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan rolled off my tongue with more statistics flying than even an MIT grad could understand.

So there, in this time of hate and violence, was a gift from God: the innocence of a boy listening to a baseball game on the radio with his parents sitting around talking about everything under the sun. The golden voice of Ernie Harwell reverberating across the airwaves will stay with me all the days of my life. They were the good ol’ days. They were the best days. They were the best of times.

How ironic then all this joy could be entangled with so much squalor? Only God knows those answers, but I would trade any of that right now for just one more chance to sit in that living room with my mom, my dad and my aunt Gloria.

They are all gone now, and I miss them so. But the one thing I take away from this darkness is that they loved me, they tried to do the best for me, and they gave me a legacy and example of decency to follow all the days of my life.

On days like today, when darkness comes to talk with me again, I relive those times and think of the family that loved me unconditionally. Some days I handle it better than others.

Today, the stone is at the bottom of the hill and I am alone.

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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.

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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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“If we were looking for a model for a statue of a slugger, we would choose Sam Crawford.” Baseball Magazine, 1916

“Wahoo Sam” Crawford began his baseball career playing semi-pro ball around his birthplace of Wahoo, Nebraska. He rose quickly through the minors, debuting at age 19 with the Cincinnati Reds in September, 1899, batting .307 in 31 games. After moderate success in 1900, he emerged the next season, hitting .330 and leading the league with 16 home runs. The consistent Crawford would hit .333 the following year, and .335 in 1903, when he jumped to the Detroit Tigers. 1903 also marked his second consecutive year leading his league in triples, with 25; the triple was a specialty of Crawford’s, who finished his career with 309 three-baggers legged out in the cavernous ballparks of the dead ball era.

With outfield contributions from Crawford and the young Ty Cobb, the Tigers broke out in 1907 to the first of three consecutive pennants. Crawford led the league in runs in 1907, while hitting .323. The next year he led in Home runs, with 7, batting .311. In the third straight pennant year, 1909, he hit .314, leading the league in doubles, with 35. The Tigers, alas, lost all three World Series, the first two to the Cubs and the 1909 series to Honus Wagner and the Pirates. Though Crawford hit three doubles and a homer in the 1909 series, his career World Series batting average was just .243.

Though there would be no more World Series for the Tigers with Crawford, he certainly continued to pace the club and the league. In 1910, he led the league in triples and runs batted in—the first of three times he would lead the league in that vital category. In 1911, he batted .378, the highest mark of his career. He led the league in triples three consecutive years, beginning in 1913, and in runs batted in in 1914 and 1915.

1917 was the final big league season for Crawford, who led the league in triples 6 times, home runs twice, runs batted in three times, total bases twice, and once each in runs and doubles. For his career, he batted .309 over 19 seasons, while also hitting the identical number—309—in triples. He stole 367 bases, drove in 1,525 runs, scored 1,391 times, hit 458 doubles, and rang up 2,961 hits. He remains the career leader in triples, hitting 14 more than Cobb, a teammate with whom he did not always get along. Never the less, Cobb’s advocacy of Crawford is often cited as a contributing factor in his 1957 election to the Hall of Fame.

Crawford knew what he was doing at the plate: “My idea of batting is a thing that should be done unconsciously…If you get to studying it too much…you will miss it altogether.”

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The Detroit Tigers needed to find someone to replace legend Ty Cobb as the team manager. On this day in 1926, they hired former infielder George Moriarty, adding another chapter to an interesting baseball career.
During the 1910’s and the 1920’s, George Moriarty was one of the better known figures in baseball. The third baseman of the Detroit Tigers, he was the team captain for five years, gaining notoriety and respect for his ability to steal home and refusal to back down from anyone. In one infamous tale about Moriarty, he and Ty Cobb were about to come to blows, but the third baseman handed Cobb a bat, telling him that he needed it to even the odds. Cobb, who was also known for his refusal to back down from anyone, backed down from Moriarty.

After his playing days, Moriarty became an umpire in the American League. speaking a decade on the field in that role. However, after a 1926 season where the Tigers finished sixth with a 79-75, Cobb resigned as manager. In a move that would be truly bizarre these days, Detroit named Moriarty, the AL umpire and former third baseman, as their manager.

The Tigers responded in that first season. Although they finished fourth, their 82-71 record was an improvement on the previous season. As good as Moriarty was as an umpire, he appeared to have another calling as a manager. However, after a 68-86 record the following year, he went back to umpiring.

It was as an umpire that he cemented his legend. During a game in 1932, after some disagreements about his strike zone, Moriarty fought four members of the team at the same time. In what was considered a sign that the umpire was slowing down, he fought them to a draw. Then, in 1935, Moriarty threw out three Cubs players for heckling Hank Greenberg, an action that he was fired $200 for.

Even with those actions, Moriarty was considered to be an excellent arbiter on the field. In that same year, 1935, he was voted by the players as the best umpire in the American League. He may have been tough, but he was fair. In the players’ eyes, that was what mattered most.

A true renaissance man, Moriarty was more than an umpire. He also wrote a national baseball column about his observations on the game and his remembrances about those players who had passed. Later, after his umpiring days, Moriarty became a scout, discovering players such as Harvey Kuenn for Detroit.

George Moriarty held just about every job a person could in baseball. On this day in 1926, he took the unprecedented move of leaving his post as an umpire to manage his former team, the Detroit Tigers.

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About 20 years ago, I got into the Special Olympics world. My brother, Stephen, was an athlete and was at the age where he could start going to the state games, both winter and summer. My dad took over as his coach and they found snowshoeing would be his best sport to begin with.

Steve was good at snowshoeing. Taking after our mom’s side of the family, he was long and tall, very helpful when running with huge shoes on your feet in the snow. It was quickly evident he needed to go to the State Winter Games to see if he could medal in some of these events.

I didn’t g up to Traverse City every year but when I was in college, I volunteered twice. I went to the Opening Ceremonies every time I was there. The stars of the show were these guys in green jackets. They were normal looking guys lead by a Tigers legend. They were the Wertz Warriors.

The Wertz Warriors were an endurance snowmobile group started in 1982 by former Detroit Tigers player Vic Wertz. He wanted to raise money for the Special Olympics through a long ride through Northern Michigan. He got together a group of six friends to join and they took off. From there they started raising more money, adding more riders and support crew and it has grown to a group that can pay FULLY for the Special Olympics State Winter Games by themselves.

Wertz died just three years after starting the ride but those early riders kept it going, adding Tigers legend Mark The Bird” Fidrych to the roster. He was there when I started in with Special Olympics.

I never gave a whole lot of thought to the group other than supreme thanks. Even then, if they weren’t there, my parents would have paid for my brother to go…it wasn’t my money. But I quickly realized, not many athletes had that luxury of a family that could pay the way for an experience like the State Winter Games and a stay at a resort like Grand Traverse for three days. But because of the Wertz Warriors, they could.

I started working for 9&10 News in 2010. When it came time for the State Winter Games to roll around I, of course, pitched going out to cover them on their ride. I covered their ride for five years as a reporter on the outside, looking in, looking for a way to get the story done early in the day so I could be free to go up to the Opening Ceremonies on Wednesday to be with my family.

While covering the group, the chairman, Ken Mattei was always pushing me to join. They are desperate for new members, especially young ones. I always brushed it off, I didn’t own a sled and barely had ay experience riding one. But Ken persisted.

Eventually in 2016, I broke down and decided to join. At the time I lived in Grand Rapids and every other rider was in metro Detroit or up in Northern Michigan. Ken supplied me with a sled and I didn’t raise any funds, just paid my own way. I only rode for the first half of the week because February is sweeps month in our business and I couldn’t take it off. I was a Wertz Warrior though, at that point.

After that, I got clearance to take the whole week to ride and have done so ever since. When the weather cooperated, we rode across Northern Michigan, stopping in small towns, at local establishments raising money, collecting checks and bringing up the awareness of our cause.

Every year we pay $285,000 to Special Olympics Michigan to COMPLETELY cover the cost of the Winter Games but we regularly raise more than $400,000, with the rest going back to the local Special Olympics areas in the form of grants.

So I say all that to say, Sunday we kick off our 2019 ride. Mother Nature has gifted us with PLENTY of snow and a *bit* of cold weather for the week. We should be able to ride every mile of our ride this year which is very exciting, as long as we avoid frostbite.

I will be here with you every evening of the ride recapping the day’s events and looking ahead to the next day’s itinerary. I will have photos and vides of the action, including a story Tuesday night when we stop in Cadillac and we will be live on Michigan This Morning on Wednesday, January 30th as we take off from Cadillac on our way to the Opening Ceremonies in Traverse City.

Please keep checking in as the week progresses and support the Wertz Warriors and Special Olympics Michigan in every way you can. The difference we can all make in their lives in priceless.

See you along the trail.

Sunday’s Schedule

10:00 AM – Skidway Lake American Legion

12:00 PM – Sand Lake Sports Bar

1:45 PM – T&C Sports Lounge (Au Gres)

3:30 PM – Hank’s (Alger)

4:30 PM – Home Pub (Alger)

5:45 PM Quality Inn (West Branch)

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With the Washington Nationals nearing a World Series championship, it’s a good time to remember Hughestown’s Stanley Raymond “Bucky” Harris and his 1924 American League Washington team, the only team to win a World Series in the history of D.C. The franchise — interchangeably called the “Senators,” “Nationals” and “Nats” — was a charter member of the American League founded in 1901.

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Bucky Harris, still living at home with his mother on Rock Street in Hughestown when 1924 dawned, slipped into Washington in January for a party. Unexpectedly, Washington owner Clark Griffith was there and saw Bucky had a black eye. Griffith correctly guessed it was from playing basketball. Furious over his second baseman’s defiance of a no-basketball clause in his contract, Griffith ordered Bucky to quit the game once and for all and go immediately to the Nats spring training site in Tampa with team trainer Mike Martin. Griffith hated basketball, he thought it ruined knees; Bucky loved it.

He was a world class player and believed basketball kept him in shape and was one of the reasons he was considered one of the fastest players in the major leagues when it comes to foot speed and reflexes. When he quit basketball in January, Bucky was fourth in scoring in the New York League at 9.5 points per game.

Griffith had released his 1923 manager, Donie Bush, in October and was looking for a new manager for the Senators. Speculation was rampant in the capital. Washington Post scribe Frank H. Young wrote there were 14 major candidates. Bucky Harris wasn’t one of them.

The day before the new manager’s name went public, there was a leak and Bucky, in Tampa with Martin, got a one-word telegram from friend George Marshall — one of Washington’s leading sports fans who would later bring football’s Redskins to D.C. — “Congratulations.”

Congratulations for what? Bucky thought maybe he had been traded to the Yankees. Later that day he got a telegram from Griffith offering him the Senators managerial job.

“My hand shook and I had to sit down,” Bucky wrote later in a newspaper article. “I knew how a man feels when an unknown relative has left him a fortune.”

Griffith was mocked for hiring a 27-year-old player with only three full seasons of playing experience to manage his team. It was all about money, they said. Griffith could save $20,000 a year by promoting his second baseman and not having to hire an outside manager. Or, Bucky would be a figurehead while Griffith ran the team on the field. The scribes called Bucky the “Boy Wonder” and “Griffith’s Folly” and speculated Bucky, as the youngest manager in baseball history, would be resented by the veteran players.

Bucky admitted he worried about how the veterans would react to him as boss, especially the 36-year-old Walter Johnson, the aw-shucks Kansas farmer, who was the greatest pitcher of the era. He would finish his career with 417 wins, a 2.17 ERA and 3,509 strikeouts.

During the season when Bucky tried to take Johnson out of a game, Johnson would say, “Stanley, let me pitch to one more batter. I know I can get him out.”

Bucky caved early in the season, but, eventually put sentiment aside.

“When I walked to the mound I’d say, ‘I’m sorry Walter, but it’s for the good of the club.’”

Griffith tried explain the hire of Bucky to the Post: “I consider Harris a hard and willing worker; a smart player with a thorough knowledge of the game and I believe that his aggressiveness cannot help but bring results.”

Bring results he did. Bucky led the Senators, 75-78 in 1923, to upsets of baseball’s two best teams, the Babe Ruth-led Yankees and the New York Giants with five future Hall of Famers. The New York teams had faced each other in the three previous World Series.

On Sept. 12, in never-forget-where-you-came-from fashion, in the heat of a pennant race with the Yankees, Bucky brought the Senators to the Wyoming Valley to play a game against his brother Merle’s team, the Pittston Craftsmen.

The Senators clinched the pennant on Sept. 29 with a 4-2 win in Boston with 20,000 fans rooting against their hometown Red Sox, simply thrilled to see the rival Yankees dethroned.

Batting in the first inning, Bucky received a tremendous ovation. In the eighth, he doubled and scored the final run on a single by Sam Rice. The game ended with Bucky turning a double play. After one more meaningless game in Boston, the season ended. Bucky led the league in double plays (100), sacrifices (46), batted .268 and scored 88 runs.

When the Senators got back to Washington, they boarded a caravan of automobiles at the Peace Monument and were escorted by mounted police, the United States Cavalry Band, The Riding and Hunting Club attired in scarlet coats and more to the Ellipse where President Calvin Coolidge waited on a reception stand. A crowd estimated at 100,000 stretched cross the Ellipse to the Washington Monument.

Bucky was escorted to the reception stand where the President gave him a loving cup and a golden key to the capital in a plush blue case. Overwhelmed by the turn his life had taken in a few short years from the coal mines of NEPA to the side the President of the United States in front of a throng of admirers, Bucky made no speech.

Fans, thousands more than could fit into Griffith Stadium, descended on Washington for the World Series. Special trains with 29 extra sleepers came from Buffalo, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Tampa. Fans paid scalpers $50 for tickets, 10 times the face value — the equivalent of $750 today.

The Giants, in their fourth consecutive Series, were managed by future Hall of Famer John McGraw, considered the greatest baseball mind ever. The Giants were the only team in either league to have a .300 team batting average. They led the MLB in hits and runs and were 8 to 5 favorites.

But none of that mattered to Bucky and the Senators. They won the World Series in seven games, with a run in the bottom of the 12th of the final game. Bucky tied for the team lead in hits with 11, scored five runs and hit two homers into the temporary bleachers erected in left field, after having hit one in 144 regular season games.

Bucky pulled off a “beard pitcher” gambit in the seventh game. Bucky knew McGraw did not play rookie Bill Terry against left-handed pitchers. Terry had been 6 for 12 with a home run and triple through the first six games. To neutralize Terry, Bucky started right-hander Curly Ogden then pulled him after two batters and brought in lefty George Mogridge. It worked. Terry went 0 for 2 before McGraw pinch hit for him.

Bucky is credited with inventing modern relief pitching. He was the first manager to bring in a pitcher in the late innings for the expressed purpose of protecting a lead. In 1924, Firpo Marberry filled that role. Marberry appeared in 50 games, leading the league in games finished and saves.

Washinton erupted in a chaotic celebration, shutting down traffic in the capital. In Hughestown, a band led an impromptu parade of nearly every man, woman and child in the borough. They marched from Hughestown through Pittston to a cacophony of church bells, fire engine sirens and mine and locomotive whistles.

In January of ’25, Griffith signed Bucky to a three-year $100,000 contract, the equivalent of $1.4 million in 2019. The Nats got back to the World Series in 1925 but lost to Pittsburgh.

On Oct. 1, 1926, Bucky married Elizabeth Sutherland, the daughter of a West Virginia Senator. President Coolidge was a guest. Bucky surprised this wife with the keys to a new home on Wyoming Avenue, known as Senator’s Row. Their next door neighbor was former president and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Howard Taft.

So by 1926 there seemingly was two men named Harris: Stanley Raymond, the mild-mannered, manicured gentlemanly manager who sailed to Europe for his honeymoon and moved in Washington high society; and Bucky, the uneducated, tough little baseball player from Hughestown with dirt under his fingernails who took no quarter from any man between the lines.

By 1929, the Stanley Raymond Harris had moved on the manage the Detroit Tigers beginning an odyssey that would take him to seven cities over a 50-year career as a player, manager and general manager.

But the Bucky Harris never faded away. He always stayed true to his roots in Hughestown, coming back to visit friends and relatives and in 1977 to be buried. He lies in the cemetery at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church where he played his first baseball with the Sunday school team.

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There is a photo in the Library of Congress of a gentleman handing a gift to a ballplayer at home plate. The caption reads, “Yankee outfielder gets remembrance from Laurel, MD fans. Washington, D.C., Aug. 18. Jake Powell, New York Yankee outfielder, was presented with a wallet today as a token of esteem from fans of Laurel, MD, where he played as a semipro. Brig. Gen E.E. Hatch, U.S.A. retired, now mayor of Laurel, is shown making the presentation.”

So, who was Jake Powell? And why was Laurel’s mayor presenting him with a gift?

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Who was Jake Powell?
Born Alvin Jacob Powell in 1908 in Silver Spring, he was one of the best baseball players in the area while growing up. He caught the eye of Washington Senators owner Clark Griffith back in the day when team owners would also sometimes scout potential players. As Powell worked his way through the Senators’ minor league system, his true nature became well-known. He was a hustler, thief, liar and, most notably, one of the worst racists in baseball.

While playing for the Dayton, Ohio, Ducks in 1933, Powell and his wife made their home there. Although he talked about becoming a police officer in Dayton during the off-season, he never did.

Powell’s thievery started early. According to Chris Lamb’s book, “Conspiracy of Silence, Sportswriters and the Long Campaign to Desegregate Baseball,” “During a road trip to Zanesville, Ohio, he tried to leave his hotel room with a circular fan, the drapes, and the bedspread, but was caught. ‘He probably would have taken the mattress if he could have got it in his suitcase,’ his Dayton manager remembered.”

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After spring training in 1935, Powell was named to the Senators’ major league roster as an outfielder, but he got off to a bad start by missing the team’s train north to Washington. Being fined $200 didn’t seem to curb his behavior as he continued to make trouble for the team. It also didn’t help, according to Lamb, “when his creditors in Dayton threatened to sue the team to settle the ballplayer’s debts.”

His violence, especially against Jewish players, escalated with his promotion to the major leagues. Shortly after the start of the season, on what should have been a routine run to first base, Powell ran over the Detroit Tigers’ Jewish star and future Hall of Famer, first baseman Hank Greenberg, breaking Greenberg’s wrist and ending his season.

In an unrelated incident a few weeks later, in a game against the Chicago White Sox, Powell intentionally ran over two players on two different plays, second baseman Zeke Bonura and then first baseman Jackie Hayes. The White Sox pitcher, Ted Lyon, hit him with a pitch after the second collision. Powell was well acquainted with pitchers throwing at him in retaliation.

In June 1936, Powell was traded to the New York Yankees for outfielder Ben Chapman. It was an interesting trade, as the Yankees were as anxious to unload Chapman as the Senators were with Powell.

In 1938, Jake Powell charges Boston Red Sox player-manager Joe Cronin after being hit by a pitch, a common occurrence to retaliate for Powell’s cheap shots.
In 1938, Jake Powell charges Boston Red Sox player-manager Joe Cronin after being hit by a pitch, a common occurrence to retaliate for Powell’s cheap shots. (Associated Press file)
As characterized by Lamb, it “was a racist-for-racist trade, straight up.” Up to that point, though, Chapman was much worse than Powell. While still with the Yankees, Chapman provoked a fistfight on the field with a Jewish second baseman. After the benches emptied and order was restored, Chapman was ejected from the game. As he was being escorted from the field, he sucker-punched the opposing pitcher. He commonly made anti-Semitic comments and Nazi salutes to Jewish fans at Yankee Stadium.

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Powell’s behavior continued with the Yankees. He was hated by fans and even his own teammates, as displayed in a game in Washington against his former team, the Senators. Powell pulled his trademark cheap move, this time running over Senators’ first baseman Joe Kuhel.

As Powell and Kuhel starting swinging at each other, several former teammates from the Senators ran in and pummeled Powell before the umpires broke it up. When Powell took his position in the outfield the next inning, Washington fans pelted him with pop and beer bottles. He threw some back at the fans.

The worst — much worse — was yet to come for Powell with the Yankees.

Laurel Day at Griffith Stadium
Before that, though, in August 1936, the radio announcer for the Senators, Arch McDonald, came up with an idea for “Laurel Day” during a series with the Yankees. The voice of the Senators for over 20 years, McDonald is credited with giving Joe DiMaggio the nickname “The Yankee Clipper” and was one of the best baseball announcers to recreate ongoing away games from dry ticker-tape descriptions, a common practice in baseball’s early days. Crowds would gather outside the People’s Drug Store on G Street, NW during Senators’ away games to watch and listen to McDonald recreate the games through the store’s front window, where his studio was located.

Part of the Laurel Day pregame ceremony was for the fans from Laurel to honor Maryland native son Powell, who now played for the visiting Yankees. Contrary to the caption on the photo in the Library of Congress, Powell never played in Laurel, and there was no connection between the ballplayer and the town. It was apparently a random pairing for the sake of the promotion.

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The promotion, co-sponsored by The Washington Post and People’s Drug Store, was a big success in Laurel. According to The Post, a delegation of several hundred fans left Laurel “in a long automobile caravan behind an escort of Maryland State police.” At the D.C. line, the caravan was taken over by “members of the Metropolitan Police motorcycle corps and whisked to Griffith Stadium by direct route.”

The large contingent attending the game left Laurel “a virtually deserted township,” according to the Post. McDonald met the Laurel contingent at the D.C. line and rode the rest of the way with them “to get acquainted with his fans from the Maryland town.”

Led by Mayor Hatch, the delegation from Laurel also included J.F. Curtin, Laurel American Legion Post Commander; J.H. Fetty, Laurel Lions Club; William F. McCormick, American Legion; and Lee Whitmore and Ernest Stanton, Laurel Fire Department.

“Marching into Griffith Stadium behind the stirring rendition of the American Legion junior drum and bugle corps, the Laurel contingent proceeded to home plate for the pregame ceremonies,” according to The Post. In the Library of Congress photo, the Laurel fans and the American Legion drum and bugle corps are watching the presentation.

Mayor Hatch (incorrectly naming Takoma Park) “lauded Powell for his success as a big leaguer, cited the pride with which Maryland fans regarded him, and presented to the Takoma Park lad a handsome leather wallet,” according to The Post. It was an interesting choice, to say the least, to honor the despicable Powell.

Helping toward desegregation
Strangely, Powell is credited with helping baseball move toward desegregation, albeit in a perverse way. In an interview broadcast live on WGN radio at Comiskey Park in Chicago before a game in July 1938, , announcer Bob Elson asked Powell how he stayed in shape during the off-season. Powell, who had falsely claimed for years that he was police officer in Dayton, replied that he kept in shape “by cracking n—–s over the head with my nightstick.”

According to Lamb, “As soon as Powell made his derogatory remark, the station cut off the interview. Unaware he had said anything offensive, Powell went to the team’s dressing room to change into his uniform.”

The firestorm was immediate. Black leaders and newspapers kept up a barrage of coverage, demanding Powell be banned from baseball. Powell initially denied making the remark, despite hundreds of outraged callers to the station as soon as he said it.

The uproar put Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis in a quandary. This was the same commissioner who abetted baseball’s segregation and who once said with a straight face, “If a Negro player was ever to show the kind of talents necessary to play in the Major Leagues, there is no rule to stop it.” Now, he had to act concerned and respond to the public’s outrage appropriately. His response was to suspend Powell for 10 days for making racist comments. Meanwhile, it took baseball almost another decade before Jackie Robinson broke the color line.

A replica Jake Powell trading card from his days as a New York Yankee.
A replica Jake Powell trading card from his days as a New York Yankee. (Courtesy photo)
The Yankees also had business reasons to be concerned. Owner Jacob Ruppert owned a brewery and faced a boycott of his beer in black neighborhoods. Even though Yankees General Manager Ed Barrow didn’t understand the fuss — he told sportswriters that “his two colored servants thought it was an unfortunate mistake” — the team ordered Powell to make amends by going to bars in Harlem, offering his apologies to customers and buying the house a round. It didn’t work, as the pressure continued all season. Baltimore Afro-American columnist Leon Hardwick wrote of Powell, “It’s the unguarded moments that show a man for what he is.”

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The uproar over his interview pulled the curtain away from baseball’s hypocritical attitude toward integration and exposed it for all to see. It is felt by many historians to have united some of the factions clamoring for baseball to desegregate and helped sway public opinion.

The sad end
Powell played sparingly for the Yankees for the next two seasons, then spent two years in the minor leagues. In a fitting end to his career, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies midway through the 1945 season. The manager of the Phillies was none other than Ben Chapman. Chapman never changed his ways, either. As manager of the Phillies, he was famous for his race-baiting of rookie Jackie Robinson in 1947 and encouraging his pitchers to throw at the first black player in the major leagues. After 48 games with the Phillies, Powell’s major league career was over.

In 1948, Powell lived in a hotel with his mistress in the Washington area. He passed a series of bad checks until the DC Metropolitan Police arrested him at Union Station. He interrupted his interview with detectives and asked if he could speak to his waiting mistress.

When the mistress told Powell she decided against marrying the already-married Powell and going home to Florida, he said he would kill himself. Then, as described by Lamb, “the ballplayer suddenly said, ‘Hell, I’m going to end it all,’ and pulled a .25 caliber revolver out of the pocket of his sport coat and shot himself twice — once in the chest and once in the right temple. He was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.”

He was 39 years old.

Richard Friend and Baltimore Sun librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

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Martinsville High School graduate Lou Whitaker is one of three names added to the Major League Baseball Modern Era Committee’s Hall of Fame ballot, it was announced on Monday.

Whitaker, a 1975 Martinsville graduate, spent all 19 of his MLB seasons playing second base for the Detroit Tigers, one half of a famed double-play combo alongside shortstop Alan Trammell, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2017.

The Modern Era Committee considers candidates who played Major League Baseball from 1970 through 1987 who have fallen off the regular ballot because they didn’t receive 5% of the vote or weren’t elected for 10 years. As with the regular vote, a Modern Era candidate needs at least 75% of the vote to be elected.

Whitaker received just 2.9% of the vote from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America on his first and only Hall of Fame ballot appearance in 2001.

The Modern Era Committee will meet to vote on Dec. 8, ahead of MLB’s winter meetings in San Diego.

On the ballot with Whitaker are fellow newcomers Dwight Evans and Thurman Munson, and six holdovers from last year: Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker and Ted Simmons.

Those selected will be inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 26 along with the new candidates elected by BBWA. Those inductees will be announced on Jan. 21.

“I’ve been saying this for a long time, this is the first thing he [Whitaker] has to do, get on the ballot,” Trammell said in an interview with the Detroit News. “This is great news. This is how he can make it. He had to get on the ballot, and I am just going to keep my fingers crossed… I am so happy for him.”

Whitaker, known around baseball as “Sweet Lou”, was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and grew up in Martinsville. He was both a pitcher and middle infielder in high school and was drafted by the Tigers in the fifth round of the draft following his senior year at MHS, forgoing a commitment to play at Ferrum College, which was at the time a junior college.

Whitaker was named American League Rookie of the Year in 1978. He played in 2,390 games, hitting .276, with 2,369 career hits and 244 homers.

He had a career fielding percentage of .984, tying for 57th best all-time among second basemen. He had just 189 errors in his career.

The Tigers won the 1984 World Series when Whitaker hit .278 with five hits and six runs scored.

He made five consecutive All-Star games from 1983-1987 and won three Gold Gloves and four Silver Sluggers.

The Tigers released a statement in support of Whitaker’s candidacy:

“Alongside fans from across the globe, all of us with the Detroit Tigers are thrilled to learn that Lou Whitaker has been named to the Modern Era Committee ballot… ‘Sweet Lou’ was a integral part of our 1984 World Series Championship team and is a key piece of the storied tradition of baseball in the Motor City. When the voting results are announced next month, we’re confident that all of us will be celebrating this Tigers legend’s election to Cooperstown.”

According to the Detroit News, when Whitaker retired in 1995, he, Joe Morgan, and Roger Hornsby, two Hall of Fame members, were the only second basemen in the history of baseball to score more than 1,000 runs, record more than 1,000 RBIs, and get more than 2,000 hits and 200 home runs.

Cara Cooper is the sports editor of the Martinsville Bulletin. You can reach her at (276)638-8801 ext. 241.