Sunday, July 27, 2008

Why the Tigers keep playing Sheffield

        There are 20 million reasons why Gary Sheffield is still in the Tigers’ lineup most nights while either rookie Matt Joyce or Marcus Thames sits.
        It is Baseball Economics 101.
        Yes, through Sunday, Sheffield was batting a meager .218, 78 points below his career average,  with eight home runs and 26 RBI through 65 games.
        Meanwhile, Joyce, the rookie, had a .275, average, 10 HRs and 25 RBI _ in just 40  games.
        Thames had a .262 average, a team-leading 20 HRs and 43 RBI.
        But, more importantly, Sheffield --  tied with Chicago’s Jim Thome as the second highest-paid designated hitter in baseball history behind the Yankees’ Jason Giambi ($21 million) -- is making $14 million this season and has another guaranteed $14 million coming his way next year.
        To pull the plug now, would cost the Tigers about $20 million. That would not be an easy bullet to bite, even for an owner as willing to throw money around as Mike Ilitch has been.
        But to keep playing Sheffield instead of Joyce or Thames could cost the Tigers  whatever chance they still have of making the playoffs.
        The Tigers see Sheffield’s still-vicious swing and his occasional home runs and wicked line drives -- and they keeping hoping.
        With 488 home runs to his credit, Sheffield is just 12 short of 500 -- a statistic that may matter far more to Sheffield than he is willing to admit.                  
        It is a figure that would make Sheffield a lock for the Hall of Fame -- something else he may covet more than he lets on.
        Gary Sheffield, at anywhere near his 39-year-old best, could be a far bigger help down the stretch than any of the alternatives.
        But, after all of his injuries and surgeries and 20 years in the big leagues, there is no guarantee that the Gary Sheffield the Tigers remember still exists.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Bettors jump off Tigers' bandwagon

        Tigers fans aren’t the only ones who are beginning to look at this frustrating season with a jaundiced eyes.
        Las Vegas, too, has changed its opinion of our baseball team.
        Gamblers, who viewed the Tigers as a chic pick during spring training, are now jumping off the bandwagon in droves.
        As you may recall, on Opening Day the Tigers were 5/6 betting favorites to win the title in the American League Central. In other words, you had to bet $6 to win $5. (Plus you got your six bucks back, of course)
        Now, the Chicago White Sox are favored at 4/7 while the Tigers are the third choice in the division at 7/2.
        On Opening Day, the odd against the Tigers winning the A.L. pennant were 7/2. Now the Tigers  are 10/1 underdogs behind the front-running ChiSox.
        When the season began, the odds against the Tigers winning the World Series were 9/1. They  are now 18/1 -- and rising.

        Odds to win A.L. Central
                Opening Day                            
Tigers          5-6                                                    
Indians         7-5                                                    
White Sox       7-1                                                    
Twins           11-1                                                   
White Sox       4-7
Twins           7-4
Tigers          7-2
Indians         50-1

Odds to win A.L. pennant
                Opening Day                            
Tigers           7-2                           
Indians          7-1                           
White Sox       25-1                   
Twins           30-1                   
White Sox       4-1
Tigers          10-1
Twins           10-1
Indians         75-1

Odds to win World Series
               Opening Day                             
Tigers          9-1
Indians         12-1                           
White Sox       40-1                           
Twins           50-1                           
White Sox       12-1
Tigers          18-1
Twins           25-1
Indians         300-1
        * Odds courtesy of Bodog,    

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tigers walk way too many

        There is an old cliché in baseball: Bases on balls will kill you.
        It is as true today as it was the first time I heard those words uttered, 100 or so years ago.
        Jim Leyland admits it: “We’ve walked way too many people.
        “Look at our strikeouts versus our walks _ our ratio is one of the worst,” Leyland said.
        Not true, skipper. In fact, the Tigers’ walks-to-strikeouts ratio is not one of the worst -- it is the very worst in the American League.
        As play resumed after the All-Star break, the Tigers had walked 369 batters and struck out 508.
        Next worst are the Baltimore Orioles, with 387 walks and 531 strikeouts.
        The Toronto Blue Jays own the best such record in the league with 281 walks and 694 strikeouts, followed closely by the Chicago White Sox with  260 walks and 670 strikeouts.
        Which is one big reason why the ChiSox are in first place while the Tigers are stuck in third.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

All-Star Game doesn't matter anymore

        As a youngster, I eagerly looked forward every summer to baseball’s All-Star Game. To me, it was the ultimate. It was baseball at its best.
        Back then, the All-Star Game really meant something --  at least to this young teenager, glued to the couch in the carefully-darkened living room (believe it or not, they played the game in broad daylight in those days), a bowl of freshly-popped popcorn within easy reach, intently watching every pitch, every hit, on our little black-and-white TV.
        I taught myself to keep score watching the All-Star Game during the 1950s. I even made my own score sheets. I placed my first wager on the 1956 Mid-summer Classic. As I recall, I lost a whole dime.
        I was covering the All-Star Game in 1970 when Pete Rose barreled into catcher Ray Fosse in the 12th inning to win the game. I was at Tiger Stadium in ‘71 when Reggie Jackson bounced a home run off the light tower. In case you have forgotten, in addition to Jackson, Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew and Roberto Clemente  -- all future Hall of Famers -- all homered in the game, too.
        Unfortunately, they don’t make All-Star Games like that anymore.
        And the games don’t seem to matter nearly as much.
        In fact, despite baseball’s contrived gimmick of awarding home field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the mid-summer gala, the All-Star Game doesn’t matter at all.
        Of course, every player wants to be an All-Star once in his career. After that, most would rather have the three or four days off.
        Thanks to ESPN, we now see the best plays and the best players from both leagues on TV night after night.
        And with the arrival of the abomination known as inter-league play, watching the stars from one league battle the stars from the other league is no longer a novelty.
        The All-Star Game is now nothing more than a glitzy dog-and-pony show. And a very costly one at that.
        Last year, as the manager of the American League  All-Star team, Jim Leyland received four complimentary tickets to the game.
        This year, as an A.L. coach, he is only entitled to two freebies. So, in order to take his wife and two kids to the last All-Star Game that will ever be played at old Yankee Stadium,  he had to spend $650 to buy a ticket for his teenage son.
        “If I had had to buy him a ticket to the home run contest, that would have been another $525,” Leyland said. “But I’m going to get him sit in the dugout and watch that with me.”
        No doubt, 16-year-old Patrick Leyland will be thrilled.
        Me? I don’t plan to watch either event. They just don’t matter anymore.