Today’s Tiger: Steve Kemp

Steve Kemp

  • Born: Aug. 7, 1954 in San Angelo, Texas
  • Bats: Left Throws: Left
  • Height: 6′ 0″ Weight: 195 lb.
  • Acquired: Drafted by the Tigers as the first overall pick of the 1976 amateur draft.
  • Seasons in Detroit: 5 (1977-81)
  • Uniform Number: 43, 33
  • Stats: .284 avg., 89 HR, 422 RBI, .826 OPS
  • Awards: All-Star 1979

When the Tigers traded left fielder Steve Kemp to the White Sox for Chet Lemon, it was the quintessential Jim Campbell Winter Meetings trade.

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Kemp made too much money and former GM Campbell didn’t like players who held out (Rusty Staub) or won in arbitration (Kemp, again). Campbell also liked to trade players who, like Kemp and Ron LeFlore in 1979, were entering their walk year.

Steve Kemp was terrific during his five years patrolling left field at Tiger Stadium.

He produced a .284 average, 89 home runs (lowered a bit with his nine homers in the strike-shortened 1981 season), and averaged 84 RBI and 23 doubles. He also displayed a keen eye at the plate averaging 75 walks — including 97 in 1978.

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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.

My Grandpa: 1 – The Bird: 0

When it comes to topics like the death of Mark Fidrych, I tend to be reflective — and that usually means several hours (or even a day) can pass before I post something about it.

sc001e295a.jpgI’ll certainly have more on The Bird this week, but I will share my single memory of Fidrych and his magical 1976 season.

My parents had tickets for one of the most dazzling games of that year: August 17, Detroit native Frank Tanana and the Angels against Fidrych and the Tigers at Tiger Stadium.

Back then, Tanana was a flamethrower and entered the game with a 14-8 record on his way to a 19-win season. The Bird was 13-4 and, as everyone knows, soaring toward the A.L. Rookie of the Year honors.

Anyway, I had two choices: I could attend the game with my family or I could spend the evening hanging out with my grandpa. The choice was easy: I hung out with grandpa.

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Happy Birthday, Rusty Staub

The former Tigers outfielder and DH — a.k.a., Le Grand Orange to ’70s Expos fans in Montreal — turns 65 today.

Before then-TV analyst Al Kaline reminded us at every turn that Tony LaRussa is also an attorney in Florida, Mr. Tiger liked to talk about Staub being an accomplished chef. More on that shortly.

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Daniel Joseph Staub debuted in 1963 at the tender age of 19 with the Houston Colt .45s and spent six years in H-Town — two of those seasons were pre-Astrodome which means he played outdoors. In Houston. In the summer. If you’ve been there, you know.

In 1967, he hit .333 with 10 home runs and 77 RBI and made the All Star team for the first of five consecutive seasons. Two years later the Astros traded him to the expansion Expos where he spent three seasons. In 1972, the Expos sent him to the Mets for Ken Singleton, Mike Jorgensen and Tim Foli. All he did in New York was hit.

On Dec. 12, 1975, Staub was traded along with Bill Laxton to the Tigers for Mickey Lolich and Billy Baldwin. (Laxton appeared in only 26 games for the 1976 Tigers: 0-5, 4.96, 2 saves. He was selected by the Mariners in the expansion draft.)

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