Grand Cards: June 2011

Friday, June 24, 2011

What the future holds

About a week ago, I picked up something rather nice for myself off of eBay. I had a little extra cash in my account, Topps Series 2 had just been released and I was just looking for something that I could really sink my teeth into. Yesterday, it came in the mail. Ready?

Don't all ooh and ahh at once!

So here's the thing. I'm not really keen on redemptions, mostly because I fear that they will never be redeemed. However, this is Al Kaline, Kaline has been all over the 2011 Topps sets, he's in good health and seems pretty accessible. So I took a leap.

I did this for two reasons. First, it is numbered to 60 after all and, unlike his other cards in 2011 Topps (Series 1) it portends to be an on-card signature. Also, I think that the 60th Anniversary Reprints set is quite nice--I much prefer it to a straight reprint of a card. What do I mean? Well, here's Al Kaline, this time in Relic Form:

It's not a perfect card, but it's got a lot going for it. Reprint of a rookie card, acknowledgement of a milestone Anniversary for Topps. Um, other stuff? Whatever. I like them.

So here's the rub. If you're a collector you can look at that card and say "Oh, I see where the autograph will go." You can, right? It should be obvious to even an untrained eye. The autograph goes here:

Or here

YES. My Kaline is going to be sweet. Want some more awesome examples? How about:


Damn you Ryne Sandberg! How dare you ruin a perfectly cool card by screwing up the design and scribbling some illegible blob over the only real graphic element on the card. You're an idiot. I'm sure that this is the only...

DAMMIT! Mattingly did it to, on his classic rookie card that shows him both with and without "sideburns," if you catch my drift. This must be a manager thing. Managers are stupid--ask anybody. Is your team's manager an idiot? The answer is yes, and you know it. Ok cool. Manager problem. The old salt players like Gibson and Brooksie know what they're doing. No worries.

Oh son of a...

No one is spared.

Mr. Cub, who shares a rookie card year with our own Mr. Tiger, signed his name over a picture of a card that already has a signature. This is like an artist signing a reprint of his painting over the face of his subject and leaving some random dead space in the corner. THIS IS EXACTLY LIKE THAT.

And herein likes the problem. If Al Kaline signs where he was meant to, this card will be fantastic. If he signs in the worst possible place, it will be forgettable. Forgettable enough that I might even try to flip it back on eBay once it arrives, I would be so disappointed. I'm banking on the fact that Kaline is not an idiot. That he can see what even the most basic observer could figure out--sign in the big blank spot on the top. JUST LIKE TOPPS ADVERTISED.

Of course, the fact that we're even having this conversation is absurd. I can't count the number of times that cards appear to be signed in the wrong place, throwing off the intention and design of the card. This shouldn't be a burden placed on the players. There should be no discretion here.

Would a simple investment in some of these be too much?

Instead I'm forced to sit and cross my fingers for the next XX weeks. Wish me luck.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

RIP Jim Northrup

The Tigers have experienced their share of deaths recently, few of which, since the shocking and unexpected death of Mark Fidrych, have been entirely unexpected. I mean, people get old. When I see that a player from the 50's has passed, I am respectfully saddened and accepting. People die.

But it seems just a little too soon for players from the 1968 Tigers to die. A little too soon, and wrong.

The '68 Tigers are Detroit's legacy. Kaline, Horton, Lolich, McLain, Freehan -- I can go on and on listing the great players (borderline Hall of Famers, many) on that team and their legendary status in Detroit.

Personally, I'm more of an '84 kind of guy, but when you think about it, it is that '68 team that has had a more lasting impact on the franchise. Kaline is in the Hall of Fame. The injustices of Trammell and Whitaker (and, to a lesser degree, Morris) aside, he may be the Tigers last HOFer for another 20 years. Kaline and Horton have statues in the outfield, and their numbers retired. They are special assistants to the front office. That '84 team? Tram was given the boot and is coaching with Gibby in Arizona. Morris is a radio announcer for the Twins. Whitaker is a recluse who no longer participates in the team's spring training for some reason. Lance Parrish had a whole career after Detroit, and was on Trammell's staff when he managed here.

The bottom line: none of them are here. None of them are part of the franchise. None of them are part of Detroit.*


Back to 1968. This was the team of my parents generation. I grew up hearing stories about the 1968 Tigers. Al Kaline was my dad's hero. My mom liked Rocky Colavito. When I met Don Wert somewhat randomly last year, I texted my dad and he responded with a few messages talking about his All Star season in '68 and how his hit clinched the pennant that year.

Seriously, who else knows who Don Wert is? These are the stories I heard growing up. These are the players that my parents knew the way that I can talk about Craig Monroe and Marcus Thames and Ramon Santiago and Nate Robertson and a whole collection of nobodies on the 2006 Tigers team.

These players are not supposed to die. It just feels too soon.

Jim Northrup was one of those players. I cannot tell you the number of old Tigers stories I heard that referenced Northrup one way or another. Whether it was about all the Grand Slams he hit, or about something minor he did that someone like Kaline or Willie or Gates or Rocky capitalized on or whatever, Northrup was, and remains, a familiar name to me.

This is in no small part because he was 1) good and 2) Won the World Series for the Tigers.

Game 7. Two on, two out in the 7th inning. Tigers have been held scoreless by Bob Gibson up to this point. Northrup rockets a triple well over the head of Curt Flood** to drive in the go-ahead runs. Freehan doubles to drive him in right after. Tigers win their first World Series in 23 years.

Northrup wrapped up that World Series having hit two home runs off Bob Gibson, with 7 hits and 8 RBIs overall. He slugged .536.


I'm ashamed to say that just last week I had stumbled upon a card set that I had never really paid attention to before. It was 2004 Upper Deck Legends "Timeless Teams." The purpose of the set is to highlight rosters of classic teams. For the Tigers this mean 1968, 1972, 1984 and 1987. In addition to the large team set (which I found and bought and am awaiting delivery on), every card in the set also has an autographed version which, although overwhelming, is really quite awesome when you consider that there are guys in this set that have never really received that type of cardboard recognition.

One of the cards (two actually, '68 and '72) that I found was of Jim Northrup.

It's a nice looking card and I thought to myself: "Cool, a card of Jim Northrup! I wonder what he's doing now?"

But I was doing other stuff and didn't really bother to look it up. I thought about bidding on the card, which was like $4 at the time, and vowed to check on it later and would pick it up if it was still cheap. Later came and went, I forgot to bid, the card sold for under $5 and three days later I read that Jim Northrup has died. I feel like an ass.

RIP Jim Northrup. I'll never forget about you again.

*This is, I believe, partly the fault of ownership and management. Trammell and his staff, including Gibson and Parrish, were given such a disrespectful heave-ho after the 2005 season that I don't blame them. Was it a mistake to fire them? No, not really. But just pushing them out the door made transparent the fact that they were only brought on in the first place as figureheads--known players that could help the fans ignore that there was an abysmal product on the field. Once the product started getting better, the team no longer needed to exploit the old players and off they went.

**No, he couldn't have gotten it even if he hadn't slipped.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Who Are These People: Adam Wilk

There are a lot of new faces wearing the Old English D these days. Trades, DL Stints, Call-Ups, Demotions -- all points to a roster in flux as Dave Dombrowski grasps at the world's supply of straws trying to find something that works.

Of course that leads to the question: Who are these people? (Jerry Seinfeld voice optional). Sounds like a multi-part series to me. We'll be doing these in chronological order.

I hope Adam Wilk has a good frequent flyer program.

May 24, 2011 Phil Coke placed on DL, Adam Wilk called up

A freak accident sent Phil Coke to the DL, making Adam Wilk the third call up in four days.

Four Days later after Scott Sizemore got traded for David Purcey, the Tigers needed a roster spot (for some reason?) and Wilk was sent back down to the Minors.

Pat on the back and all that. Wilk didn't really have time to get comfortable in Glass City though. The newly acquired Purcey went on paternity leave on Saturday leaving the Tigers down a reliever, so Wilk got the call again.

Way to go buddy.

With Paternity Leave now over, it was time for Wilk to stay with the club?! That's right. Andy Oliver, who struggled in his start over the weekend is back in the Minors. Wilk stays up and Purcey comes back.

Alrighty then. So who is Adam Wilk? He was an 11th round pick of the Tigers in 2009 and has been a starter in the system and was 4-4 with a 3.54 ERA this year in AAA. He is a product of Long Beach State. After getting the call a few weeks ago he was immediately thrown into the fire with the big boys and did well. Needing a player to eat some innings he chewed up 3.2 in a relief role, allowing 2H, 1R (0 Earned), and notching 4 strikeouts. After demotion #1 he went seven strong, while allowing only 1ER along with 5H and 2BB.

Since his second call up to the show he has excelled at keeping bullpen seats warm. Whether he pitches again prior to his impending re-demotion remains to be seen.

Get that man a baseball card? Why, no need! He was featured as a prospect in 2010 Bowman, making it one of the very few times that a player listed on a Bowman card actually makes it into the majors (not to mention the next year!)

Thursday, June 2, 2011


It's one of those quirky things. You don't really think of it until it happens, and when it does you can't help but ask how did we end up here?

Last night Brandon Inge earned 10/5 rights, for having served 10 years in the major leagues, 5 with the same team. In reality, he is a 10/10 player and is the longest tenured Tiger on the team. Brandon Inge.

The implications of this are not entirely insignificant. With 10/5 status, Inge can't be traded without his consent. Considering he is the only Tiger to actually live in Michigan, is extremely involved in the community (especially with UM Mott Children's Hospital) and is a beloved off the field player, I'd say that the Tigers would have to pry consent from his cold, dead hands.
“I guess loyalty is something big that I believe in and Detroit’s been very loyal to me for many years now, through thick and thin,” Inge said. “It’s one of those things where they’ve treated me with respect and I’ve treated them with respect as well.”

It’s an affiliation Inge would like to continue beyond 2013, the last year he’s under team control.

“Absolutely,” Inge said. “I’ll stay as long as they’ll let me.”

So yeah, Inge isn't getting traded. Of course, that all assumes that a trade was even a realistic possibility, considering that the Tigers have stuck with the career .236/.306/.390 hitter claiming that he will break out of his .211/.279/.286 season and return to what his proven track record shows. Oh, the excitement!

Look. Inge almost hit 30 home runs in 2006 and then again in 2009. We get it. But the reality is that even in those seasons he has been a below average offensive 3rd baseman. In fact, the only year that he was an above average player was way back in 2004 (OPS+ 109). I remember when Inge started with the Tigers back in 2001. He couldn't hit then. He can't hit now, and he has really never been able to hit in between. That the Tigers have committed to Inge for 10 years is absolutely shocking. That they signed him to a two year extension with a 3rd year option prior to this season borders on criminal.

Oh, but the Defense! THE DEFENSE!

Yes, Inge is a phenomenal defensive 3rd baseman. In 2006 and 2007 he was arguably the best in the game. And while he trailed off from those peaks, he has remained a very good defensive ballplayer, often times enough to make up for his anemic output.

Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case this year, where he has struggled in the field as well. His range looks to be down a bit, his errors up a bit. Those things, combined with a mediocre fielding neighbor in Jhonny Peralta and a mystery player at Second Base has come back to bite a Tigers team at times.

Which brings us back to the central theme. How is it that Brandon Inge has made it for 10 years as a Major League starter (and at multiple positions, no less!)? How have the Tigers stuck with him this long?

The answer seems to be pretty simple: his post-2006 contract made him untradable and his was performing well. His Post 2010 contract has made him untradable and he is performing poorly. Now his 10/5 rights just make him untradable.

He'll stay as long as the Tigers let them, and they have already let him stay too long.


Brandon Inge is the most controversial player in Tigers history. This is not up for debate. I too find myself frequently conflicted about how I feel about Inge. I've never liked his bat, and find him more frustrating than not, but since he moved to 3B (and even somewhat when he was a catcher) I loved his defensive prowess, his hustle, his demeanor and just the way he played the game. His off the field contributions and personality have endeared him to countless Tigers fans and it would be wrong to have simply discarded him at any point--the loyalty that he cites is important to me.

At the same time, there are times where he was a whiner, a bad clubhouse presence and a general malcontent, most of which surrounding his 2007 displacement by Miguel Cabrera and his shift into Catcher/Utility land. Also, he is really, really hurting the Tigers right now, and has hurt them at times throughout his career.

This isn't all his fault. In fact, blame should be placed squarely on the Tigers--not for extending contracts or sticking with Inge, but for failing to produce anything that even begins to resemble a replacement option. There have been ZERO 3B prospects in the Tigers system for years. The main legitimate prospect was just drafted last year which, a little late, no? What's more, they've ignored alternative replacement possibilities, like using the acquisition of Jhonny Peralta to end Inge's tenure with the team after last season and keep Peralta around at 3B. Instead the Tigers signed both.

If it wasn't the de facto truth before is now set in stone: Inge will be a Tiger for the rest of his life, and that means this year and next year. God help us all if it means 2013 as well.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Who Are These People: Enrique Gonzalez

There are a lot of new faces wearing the Old English D these days. Trades, DL Stints, Call-Ups, Demotions -- all points to a roster in flux as Dave Dombrowski grasps at the world's supply of straws trying to find something that works.

Of course that leads to the question: Who are these people? (Jerry Seinfeld voice optional). Sounds like a multi-part series to me. We'll be doing these in chronological order.

That was fast.

May 22, 2011. Brayan Villarreal goes down, Enrique Gonzalez comes up.

Admit it. You don't know who either of these people are.

Villarreal, shown here in 2010 Bowman Chrome doing his best Casey Crosby imitation, is a long, lean latino with long hair and one of the nastiest pickoff moves I've ever seen. He also sported a cool 1.696 WHIP, so down he goes.

Enrique Gonzalez was signed as a free agent in 2010 after stints in Arizona, San Diego and Boston. He was acceptable when he joined the big club last year, sporting a 3.81 ERA. He doesn't strike out very many (13K in 26IP) and walks a lot (17 BB), which could certainly have been used to predict his 12.79 ERA and 2.684 WHIP. He is not good.

Get that man a baseball card? I hope not.

Who Are These People: Charlie Furbush

There are a lot of new faces wearing the Old English D these days. Trades, DL Stints, Call-Ups, Demotions -- all points to a roster in flux as Dave Dombrowski grasps at the world's supply of straws trying to find something that works.

Of course that leads to the question: Who are these people? (Jerry Seinfeld voice optional). Sounds like a multi-part series to me. We'll be doing these in chronological order.

The Dominoes started falling for real with this one. This is the first in a rapid fire sequence of roster moves.

May 21, 2011 Brad Thomas to the DL

Who? Brad Thomas is the rather crappy lefthanded bullpen arm that the Tigers signed during winter meetings 2009, right before that other thing they did that year. He's pretty much universally derided in Detroit. He does not have a card as a Tigers. Bonus: he was once a Nippon Ham Fighter.

Hello: Charlie Furbush.

A bush made out of fur. Like Dirks, Furbush wasn't among the organization's Top Prospects in 2010. He's a former 5th rounder (2007) and a big dude (6'5, 215). He also just happens to have been tearing it up in AAA this season. 55K to 14BB in 46IP is pretty good. So was that 2.91 ERA and 0.928 WHIP. Oh, and this is all as a left-handed starter, something the Tigers have had trouble finding/developing for years.

With Thomas out, Furbush has filled the role in the Bullpen where he has been, well, awesome. 9k in 8.2IP will do that. If he can keep it up we might never have to see Brad Thomas again.

Get that man a baseball card? He'll need something to commemorate his MLB Debut, sure, but you can see him on cardboard right now. He made the Prospect rounds in 2008 with showings in Bowman Chrome and some releases from Donruss and Just.
via COMC