Today’s Tiger: Jason Thompson

Jason Thompson

  • Born: July 6, 1954 in Hollywood, Calif.
  • Bats: Left Throws: Left
  • Height: 6′ 4″ Weight: 200 lb.
  • Acquired: Drafted by the Tigers in the fourth round of the 1975 amateur draft.
  • Seasons in Detroit: 5 (1976-80)
  • Uniform Number: 30
  • Stats: .256 avg., 98 HR, 354 RBI, .779 OPS
  • Awards: Three-time All Star (1977, ’78 and ’82)

JasonThompson.jpg
On May 27, 1980, Tigers GM Jim Campbell traded my favorite player, first baseman Jason Thompson, to the California Angels for outfielder Al Cowens.

The Hollywood native joined the Tigers full time in 1976 and played 123 games that year, hitting .218, with 17 home runs and 54 RBI. Two of the homers cleared the rightfield roof at Tiger Stadium. It was in 1977, though, that he made his mark: .270, 31 homers and 105 RBI — and earned an All Star Game selection.

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Hall of Fame Leftovers

BaseballHallofFamelogo.pngSo after all the Hall of Fame ballots were counted, Tigers fans could only take solace in that Jack Morris saw his percentage of votes jump to 53.5 percent. That could bode well for the future but probably not next year.

Anyway, all the debates about whether Morris or Alan Trammell belong in Cooperstown got me wondering who the most-similar players are two these Tigers greats.

Thanks to the invaluable Baseball-Reference.com, we can get a quick look at how a player’s stats compare to others in baseball history.

I decided to look at how Baseball Reference compares Morris, Trammell and the BBWA-voter-shafted Lou Whitaker.

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Today’s Tiger: Tito Fuentes

Tito Fuentes

  • Born: January 4, 1944 in Havana, Cuba.
  • Acquired: Signed as a free agent on Feb. 23, 1977
  • Height: 5′ 11″ Weight: 175 lb.
  • Seasons in Detroit: 1 (1977)
  • Uniform Number: 3, 44
  • Stats: .309 avg., 5 HR, 51 RBI, .745 OPS

When the Tigers sought a player to oversee second base until Lou Whitaker was ready, they could have done a lot worse than Rigoberto “Tito” Fuentes.

Offensively, that is.

TitoFuentesThe switch-hitting 33 year old trailed only Ron LeFlore‘s team-leading .325 average that season but was brutal in the field. He led all American League second baseman with 26 errors, and posted a .970 fielding percentage.

Fans that remember Fuentes’ brief stop in Detroit are more likely to recall his signature bat flip when he approached the plate, tapping the bat handle on the plate, flip it up and catch the handle. This was a move widely imitated during Wiffle Ball games in my neighborhood, and probably others around Detroit, too.

After his one season with the Tigers, his contract was purchased by the Expos, who promptly released him in Spring Training in 1978.

The Tigers were ready to hand second base to Whitaker but picked up infielder Steve Dillard just in case.

Upon Fuentes’ departure, Jim Campbell had some interesting things to say in the Associated Press story:

“I’m not going to knock Tito,” said Tigers General Manager Jim Campbell. “He did a good job for us, especially offensively.

(snip)

“Dillard does some things better than Tito,” Campbell said. “He’s a better fielding second baseman than Tito, he covers more ground. And he runs better than Tito did.”

Good thing Campbell didn’t want to knock him.

Of course, the truth about Fuentes’ brief tenure in Detroit is probably somewhere in this paragraph from the AP story:

There also had been reports that he was haggling with Campbell over a new contract. Fuentes’ salary demands were reported to be in the $200,000 range.

And there you go.

Just ask Rusty Staub or Steve Kemp how receptive Campbell was to salary “demands.”

Fuentes spent the 1978 season, his last in the majors, with the A’s.

Oh, and if you were curious whether Dillard’s range and fielding were better: they weren’t. His fielding percentage of .958 was 12 points worse. But at least he was a better runner.

Same Time, Next Year for Me, Morris and the Hall of Fame

It’s early January which means I have to write a post about how I’ll hold out hope that Jack Morris will be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Gobs of articles have been written in the past couple of weeks, the majority of which put The Cat squarely in the “great but not Hall-of-Fame great” category.

Sadly, many of them, such as this one by Joe Posnanski, make terrific arguments against Morris’ chances. Even sadder, I’m starting to believe them. As a result I’m resigned to the fact he won’t be elected this year, if ever.

But wait! I have some anecdotes of my own:

In the summer of 2008 I attended the SABR Convention in Cleveland and asked former Indians outfielder Rick Manning if he thought Morris belonged in Cooperstown. He hemmed and hawed and eventually said, “That’s a tough call.” I took it as a “no”.

Then, last spring — thanks to a twist of fate — I had coffee with former major leaguer Ken Phelps and I asked him if he thought Morris belonged in the Hall and he responded without hesitation: “Absolutely.” I told him that many writers disagree and he replied, “Well, they didn’t face him.”

Touche.

I think today I realized why I so badly want to see Morris in the Hall of Fame. It’s because Tigers fans that grew up with the players that formed the core of the 1984 team expected so much from them. Didn’t we honestly think the Tigers would win again and again in the 1980s — not just one other division title in 1987?

For crying out loud, there was Morris, Dan Petry, Lance Parrish, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Kirk Gibson — the best collection of Tigers players in a generation! And all we got was a single World Series championship?

Granted, I wouldn’t trade the summer of ’84 for anything, I just expected it to be the beginning of something great, not a one-time trip to the baseball summit. Didn’t you?

That’s why I want to see Morris or Trammell in the Hall. They deserve — and I think they’ve earned — a lasting baseball legacy. One that includes more than the magic they displayed in October 1984.

Looking Back on Tigers Gold Glove Winners

MickeyStanley.jpgWell, no Tigers player won a Gold Glove this season, though some held out hope that Austin Jackson might’ve come away with some hardware. His day will come, I’m sure.

Let’s look back at the Gold Glove winners in franchise history:

1957

Al Kaline OF

1958

Frank Bolling 2B

Al Kaline OF

1959

Al Kaline OF

1961

Al Kaline OF

Frank Lary P

1962

Al Kaline OF

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