Thursday, April 29, 2010

Leyland leaves his fingerprints on new All-Star Game rules

When you watch this year's All-Star Game, July 13 in Anaheim, think of Jim Leyland. 

The Tigers' manager is a member of the special advisory committee that recommended the changes to the All-Star Game that were announced this week, including allowing both sides to employ a designated hitter regardless of where the game is played.

Leyland, who has been part of the mid-summer All-Star extravaganza  five times -- twice as a manager (1998, 2007) and three times as a coach (1991, '94, '08) -- has long been a proponent of letting both teams use a DH. 

But he balked Thursday when a writer referred to the new rule as "The Leyland Rule."

"Lots of us proposed that, it wasn't me only," he insisted. 

"But I love it, it's just common sense," Leyland added.

"I'm honored to be on the committee, I was flattered to be asked," he continued. "It's the first time I've been involved with the commissioner on this level.

"It's very interesting to talk about things that you think are good. I really enjoy it because you get to speak your piece.

  "The commissioner said there would be no sacred cows and he's been great about that," said Leyland. "He lets us talk about anything we want.

"Nobody is trying to be a rocket scientist. We're just trying to share some thoughts and ideas that we think will make the game better for the fans."

Leyland said he has another proposed rule change, not related to the All-Star Game, pending. But he refused to reveal what it might be. 

The committee's next meeting will be a conference call on Monday.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has said he intends to retire in 2012. Leyland's current contract with the Tigers expires after the 2011 season.

So I asked Leyland if he might become the next commissioner.

"I doubt that I'm going to Park Avenue," he quipped, referring to the location of baseball's headquarters in New York City. "I don't think that's going to happen." 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

For Dmitri Young, coming back to Detroit "was a must"

The "new" guy in the Tigers' clubhouse Tuesday needed no introduction as, one by one, the players who were around in 2006 -- and several who weren't -- hurried over to hug Dmitri Young. "Hey, Mickey Mouse, how you doin'?" Young exclaimed as Carlos Guillen approached, wearing a big grin  between his ears.

For Young, who left Detroit under a dark cloud when he was suddenly and unexpectedly handed his unconditional release minutes after the conclusion of a game on Sept. 6, 2006, it is a new beginning.

"You've got to have peace with yourself -- and I do," declared Young, who accepted a job this spring as the vice-president of the Oakland County Cruisers in the independent Frontier League.

It was a way to get his foot back into baseball's door. But for Dmitri Young, it was much more.

"For me, coming back here was a must," said Young, as he leaned back into a locker reserved for Hall of Famer Al Kaline, his hands clasped behind his head.

"I didn't leave here the way anyone wants to leave," admitted Young, who joined the Tigers in 2002 and had the second-longest continuous tenure on the team when he was abruptly let go amidst of flurry of stories and speculation about his off-the-field conduct.

"People make mistakes," he continued. "The thing is how you bounce back from it. I figured this was the perfect place for me to come back and start over. This is the place that gave me a chance to become a star.

"I don't know what my exact title is. I would call if 'jack-of-all-trades.' You could say consultant. Or mentor."

Young said he has "a three-year plan." His ultimate goal is to get back to the big leagues

"I want to learn as much as possible about all aspects of the game -- and make myself a commodity," explained the slugger who retired after 13 seasons in the majors with a .292 lifetime average, including 171 home runs and 683 RBI.

What then? Young was asked.

"Maybe a front office executive," he replied with a smile. "Maybe a broadcaster behind the mike. Maybe a renown hitting coach."

Young, now 36, did not play last season because of injuries. He also lost his mother, who died of pancreatic cancer.

"That was my crutch, that forced me to grow up," he said. "Something like that forces you to look at things a little different that you did in the past."

Monday, April 26, 2010

So far, Tiger starters have been letting the bullpen down

A bullpen, any bullpen, is only as good as that team's starting pitchers. It is the relievers' job to bail out the starters -- but first the starters have to protect the relievers.

As Jim Leyland has said over and over again, when you are using your bullpen because you have to -- rather than because you want to -- you are in trouble. 

That is exactly what the Tiger starters have forced their manager to do this month.

It is taking its toll on the over-worked bullpen, which on the whole has pitched surprisingly well in the spite of the loss of Bobby Seay and Zach Miner.

And it is reflected in the standings.

Justin Verlander, the man who absolutely has to lead the way if the Tigers are going anywhere this year, is 1-1 with an unsightly 6.95 ERA after four starts.

Verlander, who has struggled with his location, has thrown 93 or more pitches in each of his starts, reaching a season-high 125 last time out. Nevertheless, he has only lasted longer than five innings once.

Rick Porcello is also 1-1 with a similarly unacceptable ERA of 6.46. He, too, has only gone beyond the fifth inning once in his three starts. After last season, the Tigers except more.

Newcomer Max Scherzer has been the best of the Tigers' starters so far, lasting seven innings once and six innings twice in his four starts. Like Verlander and Porcello, Scherzer is 1-1, but his ERA is an impressive 2.63.

Going into the season, the Tigers were worried about the back end of their rotation -- and with good reason. However, things have not been nearly as bad as many feared.

Dontrelle Willis, whose last-minute inclusion in the starting rotation came as a surprise to some, is 0-1 with a 5.00 ERA. But he has twice pitched six innings and is showing signs of a possible return to form.

Jeremy Bonderman, who makes his fourth start Monday night in Texas, is 1-1 with a 7.20 ERA. He has definitely struggled at times, but he seems to be making progress in adjusting to his new style of pitching.

In the Tigers' first 19 games, they have led only five times, entering the seventh inning. Going into Monday night's game against the Rangers, the Tiger starters had yielded 10 runs in their last seven innings of work -- a recipe for disaster.

Frankly, under those circumstances, it is surprising the Tigers have fared as well as they have during these first three weeks.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

It's not the time of games that pains us, it's the pace of play

Are you one of those people who believes it takes way too long to play a baseball game these days? Me, too. And we have plenty of company. Some umpires, many fans, even the commissioner would like to see things speeded up. The problem is magnified by the fact that games are slowing down at the same time people's attention spans are shrinking.

However, Jim Leyland, a baseball lifer and a member of Bud Selig's on-field advisory committee,  will tell you it is not the time that a game takes that matters, it is how that game is played. Not all three-hour games are necessarily boring and ugly.

I agree.

"When you go to a movie, if it's a good movie, you don't mind if it lasts three hours," Leyland pointed out. "But if it's a bad show, you're walking out in the middle, grumbling.

"You can't put a time on a baseball game," the Tigers' manager insisted.  "I've never figured out why people make such a big deal out of that. It's not really the time of games as much as the pace, keeping it going. 

"I don't think we ever want to get in a situation where we're saying, 'We gotta be out of here in 2 1/2 hours,' " Leyland continued.

"It's a delicate issue. We're here to try to win a ballgame. We're not here to see how quickly we can get out of here. It's a common sense thing. They want managers and pitching coaches to jog when we go to the mound. That's fine and dandy. But sometimes, when you do that, you're messing with the game. Sometimes you want to take your time when you go out to the mound because you want to give the pitcher in the bullpen time to get ready."

Everybody in the ballpark knows what is going on.

Nevertheless, some umpires are now immediately following managers to the mound when a pitching change seems likely, instead of allowing managers to "stall" for a minute or two while they talk to their pitcher. Managers call that "eavesdropping" and they don't like it.

However, the biggest culprit, in Selig's eyes, are those hitters who step out of the batter's box after every pitch. "My gripe is that a guy gets in the batter's box, looks at one pitch, and then has to get out and adjust his equipment -- and he hasn't even swung at anything," Selig groaned.

In an effort to halt that, Selig has given umpires permission to crack down on the constantly preening slow-pokes. During the first few weeks of this season, umpires have sometimes refused to grant hitters timeout once they step into the box. In years past, such requests were almost always automatically granted.

Once such incident occurred this week when umpire Angel Hernandez refused Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford's request for a timeout against fast-working White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle and called the next pitch a strike. When Rays' manager Joe Maddon came out of the dugout to object, Hernandez ignored him, creating a potentially dangerous and comical situation until third base umpire Joe West called time.

The two biggest culprits, of course, are the Yankees and Red Sox. It is no coincidence that the average game in the American League East inexcusably lasted 20 minutes longer last season (3:06) and the average game in the AL West (2:46). 

The Tigers are guilty, too. The average game between the Tigers and Twins, the two best teams in the American League Central last season, took an often-agonizing three hours and 10 minutes to complete.

There is no need, or excuse, for that. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Granderson? Robertson? Polanco? Hindsight is 20/20, but it's still fun to look

I don't know about you, but one of the first things I do almost every day is check the box scores of other big league teams, looking at certain players, in particular. Did Curtis Granderson get another hit last night? How is Nate Robertson doing? What's Placido Polanco hitting now?

I can't help myself.

It's not because I'm hoping the Tigers' offseason deals come back to haunt them.

But I can't help wondering how the Tigers would be faring these days if they had made some different decisions over the winter and spring.

Austin Jackson (.333 average, 0 home runs, five RBI) continues to do a good job of keeping the heat off the front office for trading Granderson.

Nevertheless, wouldn't Granderson's power numbers (two HR, seven RBI, .311 average, .578 slugging percentage through Monday) look good in the Tigers' lineup right now?

Based, I presume, on what they saw in spring training, the Tigers opted to get rid of Nate Robertson and keep Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis. The jury is still out on that decision, which caught a lot of people by surprise. Meanwhile, the numbers don't lie: Robertson is 2-0 with a 2.20 ERA after three starts for the Florida Marlins, while Bonderman and Willis are a combined 1-2 with a 5.88 ERA after five starts for the Tigers.

If that trend continues, you can bet those numbers  will be brought up again and again.

Nobody expected Scott Sizemore to step right in and replace Polanco. And the Tigers' rookie second baseman has certainly been holding his own (.278 average, 0 HR, 4 RBI).

But Polanco's performance in Philadelphia so far (two home runs, 12 RBI, .396 average, .585 slugging) has not gone unnoticed in Detroit.

Hindsight is always 20/20. But, for better or for worse, that is a game Tigers fans are going to be playing all year.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Leyland scoffs at notion Verlander threw too many pitches

Jim Leyland prides himself on the way he protects -- some might say "babies" -- his pitchers.

That was why the Tigers manager was irked by a story in USA Today that suggested, in passing, that Justin Verlander's slow start this season might stem from the fact that the right hander threw a major league high 3,937 pitches last year --more than 400 more than he threw in 2008.

"He threw more pitches last year because he pitched better so he was in games longer," Leyland pointed out.

To prove his point Leyland produced a computer printout that detailed the number of pitches Verlander threw in each of his 35 starts, encompassing 240 innings, last year.

"Justin averaged 112 pitches a game," Leyland said. "That's a sneeze. 

"Seven innings at 15 pitches is 105. If 112 pitches is a lot, then I should go home,

"Justin Verlander is a horse," Leyland continued. "He was mad at me a lot of times because I took him out last year.

"The fact is, there has been no velocity change at all this year over last year.

"Today we have better training, better physical conditioning, and more exercise work than ever," Leyland said. "One hundred and 12 pitches per game isn't that much."

Having said that, the Tigers' undisputed ace is still winless after two starts. His ERA is an ugly 9.00. Instead of eating innings and dominating enemy hitters, Verlander has yet to  record a sixth-inning out.

Not to worry. Been there. Done this before

In case you have forgotten, after Verlander's first four starts a year ago, he was 0-2 with an identical 9.00 ERA.

Verlander lost just seven more games the rest of the season, while winning 19 and finished  with a 3.45 ERA.

"I'm not worried about Justin Verlander at all,"  Leyland insisted.

"Not concerned at all," Verlander concurred. "It's just a matter of fine-tuning."

When one writer asked Leyland  if Verlander should add a split-finger fastball to his arsenal, as Jack Morris did many years ago, the manager didn't hesitate.

"Verlander doesn't need a split," he said. "I wouldn't advise that."

Nevertheless, a win or two for Verlander before the Tigers return home on April 27 would put a lot of people's minds at ease.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Laird's first hit made Leyland "break out in a rash"

Gerald Laird was waiting at the mound when Jim Leyland came out to change pitchers in the ninth inning on Sunday.

"I think I'm getting poison ivy," the Tigers' manager said, scratching his wrist. "I'm breaking out in a rash."

"What do you mean?" the puzzled Laird asked.

"You just got a hit," Leyland replied.

When you start a season 0-for-17, you've got to be able to laugh at yourself.

And Laird did.

"I heard the boos in my last couple of at-bats," admitted Laird, who had singled in the bottom half of the eighth to finally end his hitless streak.

"But that's the way it is. Fans are fans. I wasn't getting the job done."

"I really felt for him," Leyland said Monday. "But that's baseball. Lloyd McClendon (the Tigers' hitting coach) said one year he started 0-for-23."

And McClendon hit .625 in 11 postseason games for the Cubs and Pirates. As a kid, he belted five home runs on five swings in the 1971 Little League World Series, earning the nickname "Legendary Lloyd."

To my knowledge, nobody has yet called Gerald "Legendary Laird."

The fact that the Tigers won five of their first six games, helped ease Laird's personal pain a little.

When Laird's long-awaited first hit finally came, the Comerica Park crowd gave him a sarcastic standing ovation. "I think at least some of them were happy for me," he said, putting a positive spin on the situation.

"I had fouled a ball off my foot so it hurt to run and all the way to first base I'm thinking, 'Oh no, what if I get thrown out?' " Laird said.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

It was Perry's first save, but it won't be his last

He is currently the set-up man in the Tigers' bullpen. One of them anyway. He will probably be their closer in the not-too-distant future. And Ryan Perry is only 23 years old, with just one year in the big leagues and less than two in professional baseball under his belt.

Keep an eye on this kid. He's a keeper.

While the media and his teammates and manager rave about the poise and maturity of starter Rick Porcello -- and rightfully so -- Perry, with a similarly unflappable demeanor and without a great deal of fanfare, is quietly going about the business of becoming one of the Tigers' most dependable relief pitchers.

"He is a good-looking young pitcher," Jim Leyland cautioned. "But that's what he is: young."

It is important we don't lose sight of that fact and expect too much, too soon.

Give the kid time. Let him grow. It'll come.

"He's the perfect example of a guy learning to get acclimated to the long haul of the major league season," Leyland continued.

"He's a little more aware of what it takes to be successful up here, where you're expected to pitch two days in a row. In college he knew he was probably only going to pitch once a weekend."

Big and strong at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Perry, who was the Tigers' first round draft pick out of the University of Arizona in 2008, is throwing his fastball with more velocity this year and his improved his slider, a key ingredient for his continued success. "He's not home free with it yet," Leyland said. "But it's better."

On Saturday,  Perry picked up his first big league save. It was a role he relishes inheriting someday -- and an experience he won't soon forget.

"There's an adrenaline surge you get in that last inning, especially when you see those fans standing, cheering for the game to end," he said. 

Saturday's game ended when Cleveland's Luis Valbuena popped out to Brandon Inge in foul territory near the Tigers' dugout. Inge started to flip the ball to a kid in the stands. "No, no, I already got one," the kid protested. Inge was shocked. "That was the most honest kid I've ever seen in my life," Inge later said. "That's an honest kid right there."

So Inge handed the ball to a young girl standing nearby and ran back on the the field to join his teammates, including Perry, in their victory celebration.

"As I high-fived him, he said, 'Hey, got that ball?' " Inge said.

It had never occurred to Inge that it was Perry's first save.

Inge raced back to the edge of the field, found the girl, and traded her one his bats, which he autographed, for the baseball.

For Perry, no doubt, it was but the first of many.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Opening Day in Detroit is a party like no other

The downtown saloons opened early Friday morning. Baseball isn't the only Opening Day tradition in Detroit.

"It's almost like deer season in Pennsylvania," Jim Leyland declared.

"I just wish the weather could be a little better for the fans. But when they get a little anti-freeze in them, they won't know if it's 30 degrees or 80.

"And I'll tell you what," Leyland added. "If I wasn't the manager, I'd be right there with them."

A blanket and pillows were stacked in the corner of Leyland's office. He had spent the night at the ballpark, on the couch, after the team arrived home from Kansas City Thursday night.

Leyland's dirty laundry from the recent eight-day road trip was piled high on a chair in the rear of his office.

"Do you have a washer and dryer at your house?" Leyland asked the lone female reporter in the room before the game.

"I do," she replied, wary of what might be coming next.

"Do you think you could take my underwear and T-shirts home and wash them for me," the manager asked with an playful grin.

"As long as it doesn't involve any ironing," the reporter replied, grinning back.

By 8 a.m., the tailgate parties had commenced. The parking lots had hiked their prices according. Six blocks from the ballpark, the going rate was 20 bucks.

By decree of the Michigan State Senate, it was Ernie Harwell Day in Detroit. Ernie, who continues to battle terminal cancer, was home, no doubt listening to the game on radio or watching TV.

Inside the Tigers' clubhouse, the new players were locating their lockers. "They kept me and Scott together," noted centerfielder Austin Jackson who will dress next to fellow rookie Scott Sizemore.

Dontrelle Willis demanded to know why Magglio Ordonez's 14-year-old son was in the clubhouse instead of in school. The kid just grinned.

Magglio Jr. wasn't the only one who skipped school or work to be at the ballpark Friday afternoon.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

40th anniversary proves time flies when you're having fun

It occurred to me as I was flying home from Florida: Friday will mark the 40th anniversary of the first Opening Day I covered in Detroit. 

Mickey Lolich was on the mound that April 14 afternoon in 1970 as the Tigers trounced the Cleveland Indians, 12-4. Lolich, as usual, went all the way, despite giving up a dozen hits. What are the chances of that happening on Friday?

A throng of 46,891 showed up at Tiger Stadium that afternoon. First baseman Norm Cash, who got three hits and scored three runs, is dead. So is the Tigers' 1970 manager, Mayo Smith, who sometimes called me "Dan (Bleeping) Diamond." But that's a story for another day. Shortstop Cesar Gutierrez went 0-for-4. If I remember correctly, Gutierrez still owes me $270 from a subsequent series of gin games. If you run into him, try to collect my money for me, will you?

Al Kaline, of course, played right field. Jim Northrup was in center. And Willie Horton played left. Bill Freehan was the catcher, Dick McAuliffe led off and played second, and Don Wert played third.

Jim Leyland was in the twilight of a mediocre career as a minor league catcher, doubling as a coach at Double-A Montgomery in an effort to get his foot in the managerial door.

None of the current Tigers had been born, of course. Dave Dombrowski was 13 years old. The newspaper beat writers and columnists have all changed -- more than in name only, I might add. Guys like Joe Falls and Pete Waldmeir were press box giants when I broke in.The radio and TV broadcasters have changed, too. Ray Lane was teamed with Ernie Harwell in 1970 and Larry Osterman complemented George Kell.

On the airplane coming home from Florida this week, I was leafing through a new tribute book to Kaline, entitled "6," which has been published by the Tigers and is packed with photos, many from Al's personal collection,  when I came across a picture of the Tigers, lined up along the top step of the dugout on "Al Kaline Day" on Aug. 2, 1970.

I did a double-take when I recognized the young guy in street clothes standing alongside the players at the far end of the dugout.

It's on page 165 if you'd care to took it up. I can't believe I was ever that young.

Time flies when you're having fun.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Individually and as a team, Tigers need fast start

        In case you haven't noticed, a lot of people are picking the Minnesota Twins to prevail in the American League Central again this year. Others prefer the Chicago White Sox. Those, like yours truly, who see the Tigers finishing first are in a distinct minority.

Frankly, you could put the Twins, Tigers and White Sox in a hat, and whichever name you pulled out could be the winner. It's that close. You can make a strong case for or against any of the three. The team that stays healthy, the team that has the most players who step up and have big years, will win.

Having said that, the Tigers simply must get off to a good start, individually and collectively.

Their first nine games, and 18 of their first 32, are against foes from the AL Central. In the middle of that, they have a rugged 10-game road trip to Seattle, Los Angeles and Texas -- all bone fide contenders in the AL West.

All eyes will be on Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman when they make their comeback debuts as the fourth and fifth starters in the Tigers' otherwise solid rotation. In is imperative that both get off to good starts -- for the sake of their personal peace of minds as well as for the good of the team.

The Tigers' decision to keep them and dump Nate Robertson, who was also one of this spring's big questionmarks, is on the line.

If Willis or Bonderman, or both, struggle, as they have in the past, people -- including some of their own Tiger teammates -- will say, "Here we go again."

And imagine the outcry if Robertson pitches well for Florida.

People will be also watching closely to see how Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore perform. Replacing two guys like Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco is a lot of ask of anyone, but especially a couple of rookies.

I was impressed by Jackson and Sizemore this spring. Both looked better than I expected. Especially Jackson. Given time, I am certain both will be fine. But you can be sure, whenever Granderson does something in New York, or Polanco in Philly, it will be noted in Detroit.

The Tigers don't have time on their side.

That is where Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen come in. All three have a lot to atone for.

And, along with Johnny Damon, they are going to have to carry this team in the early going -- and make certain the expected pitching efforts of  Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer aren't wasted.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Will Tigers' spring success equal regular season victories?

Who says spring training doesn't matter? Try telling that to Dontrelle Willis, Jeremy Bonderman, Joel Zumaya, Eddie Bonine, Brad Thomas, Alex Avila and Don Kelly, all of whom left Florida with big smiles on their faces.

For better or for worse -- and that certainly remains to be seen -- all seven are wearing Tiger uniforms today because of what they did in Lakeland during the past six weeks.

All seven were on the bubble right down to the wire.

Willis (2-0, 13 strikeouts,12 walks in 19 innings) and Bonderman (1-1, 6.92 ERA), were both battling for their big league lives. And both pitched well enough during their exhibition outings to convince the Tigers to restore them to the starting rotation and eat $9.6 million of the $10 million remaining on Nate Robertson's contract.

Zumaya's triple-digit fastball was enough to convince the Tigers brass they would rather have Joel (2-0 with 9 K in 9 innings) in the bullpen than with any minor leaguer they might promote in his place. 

Bonine, whose confidence in his knuckleball is increasing, earned a place on the team this spring. Bonine (1-0, 3.77 ERA)  can pitch in long relief or start in an emergency. He and Thomas (2.25 ERA) were in the right place at the right time when Bobby Seay and Zach Miner had to go on the disabled list.

The Tigers are grooming Avila to hopefully be their catcher of the future. Although Avila would benefit from playing every day at Toledo, Jim Leyland likes his left-handed bat on the bench so Alex, who batted .350 this spring, will continue his learning process at the big league level.

Kelly, who hit .355 in 23 games, gives Leyland the back-up center fielder he coveted. I think Clete Thomas has a bigger upside. But when Thomas was hit on the arm by a pitch, which hampered his throwing, that opened the door for Kelly -- although Leyland insisted Thomas' minor injury had nothing to do with the decision.

Having said all of that, don't attach too much significance to the Tigers' impressive 18-10-2 Grapefruit League record  -- third best in the American League behind Tampa Bay and Cleveland -- this spring.

It was the Tigers' second-best record in Florida since then moved into Marchant Stadium in 1966. The only spring the Tigers won more was in 2007 when they went 21-10-2. Then they finished a disappointing second during the regular season, eight games off the pace.

Spring training games are intended to get players ready for the regular season. Winning and losing is secondary. Most exhibition games are won or lost in the late innings by players who won't even be on the team.

Nevertheless, all managers, including Leyland want to win more often than they lose during the spring.

All things considered, this spring training was definitely a success.

But what happens next is what really matters.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Robertson pitching for Marlins is no April Fool's Day joke

The Tigers were playing the Orioles in Sarasota on Tuesday when Nate Robertson cleaned out his cubicle in the Marchant Stadium clubhouse in Lakeland and headed for Jupiter, Fla., spring training home of his new employers, the Florida Marlins. So the veteran left-hander, a Tiger since 2003, didn't get the chance to say good-bye.

But he left a hard-written note taped to his locker. Printed in large block letters, it read: "Thank you to everyone for being great teammates."

It was a class act by a class guy who --  regardless of what you may think of his pitching (51-68, 4.87 ERA), or the three-year, $21.25 million contract he signed in 2008 -- genuinely enjoyed being a Tiger and was convinced he had pitched well enough this spring to get back into the starting rotation.

Obviously, Tigers' management, meaning Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski,  thought otherwise. Robertson had been scheduled to face the Atlanta Braves on Thursday in the Tigers' Florida finale. Instead he found himself wearing a Marlins' uniform and pitching against the St. Louis Cardinals -- an April Fools Day turn of events that Robertson would have found unthinkable just a few days earlier.

Although Leyland and Robertson didn't always see eye-to-eye on the quality of some of Nate's pitching performances, Robertson was stunned and saddened by Tuesday's trade. "I wanted the Tigers to want me," Robertson told Tom Gage of the Detroit News, the only reporter on hand as he cleaned out of locker. Robertson made his home in Michigan year-around -- the only Tiger to currently do so. 

And I think Leyland, who spoke at length with Robertson on the phone after the trade was made, was sincere when he said he is happy that Nate will now get what he wanted: the chance to be a starting pitcher, albeit with the Marlins  rather than the Tigers.

Robertson will, in fact, be the Marlins' highest-paid player this year _ his $10 million salary easily surpassing Dan Uggla's $7.8 million, although $9.6 million of Nate's money will come courtesy of the Tigers. How Robertson's substantial salary will set with Marlins' fans will depend on how he pitches.

Once again we are reminded that, bottom line, baseball is a business.

Robertson was at the home he had rented this spring when Dombrowski phoned to inform him he was no longer a Tiger.

As Robertson, with mixed emotions, pulled into the empty Marchant Stadium parking lot to pick up his gear, he passed the huge van packed with all of the players' personal effects, including stuff belonging to Nate and his family, headed for Detroit.

Robertson was headed in one direction and his family's clothes and his young son's toys were headed in another. It was a side of baseball that is seldom seen or appreciated by fans.

Now Nate, who owns a home in Canton, Mich., must find a new place for his family to live in the Miami area.

        And instead of starting the third game of the season for the Tigers in Kansas City, as he was hoping to do, Robertson will make his first start of the 2010 season next weekend against the Los Angeles Dodgers in South Florida.

That's baseball.