Monday, December 14, 2009

Mondays With Curtis

Mitch Albom is very good at writing about "life". Life in quotation marks is inspiring and fits neatly into books which sell lots of copies and get turned into TV movies. "Life" teaches you important lessons about compassion and morality and kindness and faith and - most prominently in Albom's books - death. Unfortunately, baseball has little to do with "life" and everything to do with reality, so Mitch isn't very good at writing about it.

In his column in the Detroit Free Press yesterday, Albom tries to talk those Tiger fans who are distraught about the loss of Curtis Granderson down from the ledge. It's an admirable goal since Detroit lost the de facto face of their franchise and a guy who is by all accounts a very likable person. Except Mitch chooses to pretend that Granderson was never good in order to do so.

What did we know about Curtis Granderson? He had a great smile. He had a foundation. He made a few highlight plays in centerfield and had a good first half and a not-so-good second half in 2009.

That's what someone who is a casual fan of say, the Marlins knows about Curtis Granderson. We (as the supposed audience of this column - Detroit Tigers' fans) actually know a lot more about him than that. We know that in 2007 he hit 23 triples, 23 home runs and stole 26 bases while being caught only once which is pretty fucking amazing. We know that he's hit 94 home runs over the past 4 years which is great for a center fielder. We know that he is a pretty awesome player who doesn't cost that much money, neither of which are things that Dontrelle Wills, Jeremy Bonderman or Nate Robertson can say.

He'll also be 29 years old. Been an All-Star once.

Well he is 28 years old, so like anyone else who is under the age of 29, if he doesn't die tragically he'll be 29 years old eventually. And guess what year he made that All-Star team? This year of course, which was by far the worst of his previous three.

Only once has he hit 30 home runs or batted .300.

Another way of saying that would be "He has both hit 30 home runs and batted .300 before, although in separate seasons" which doesn't sound like the degradation that Albom tries to make it out to be.

He hit .095 in his lone World Series.

My favorite part of this sentence is the fact that Albom uses the word "lone" as if the fact that he made it to a World Series in his four full seasons as a pro was a knock against him. All the while, Albom is seemingly oblivious to the fact that 21 at bats over six games probably isn't a sufficient sample size to draw an actual conclusion from, especially when Granderson hit .313/.378/.719 in the ALDS and ALCS that same year.

Last year, he was benched occasionally against left-handers.

Could you be a little more vague here, Mitch? You know that they track statistics based on what hand a pitcher throws with, right? You could cite something called a "platoon split" if you wanted to make the case that he couldn't hit lefties.

Granderson was as close to a star in this town as the franchise had, mostly because Justin Verlander is too low key (and plays once every five games), and guys with flashier numbers -- like Miguel Cabrera or the 2007 Magglio Ordoñez -- seem eminently distant. They bolt town the minute the season is over. They seem... rented.

That is impossible to fathom. You mean to tell me that two players from the beautiful tropical nation of Venezuela return to that country to spend time with their families instead of staying in Detroit in the fucking dead of winter?

But baseball-wise, he was no Derek Jeter, a guy justifiably adored in New York for achievement and personality. He was no Albert Pujols in St. Louis. He was more like the closest thing we had to those guys, which says something about the Tigers.

Yes, it says that they have not been lucky enough to develop and retain an incredibly gifted franchise cornerstone player who has pretty much already punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame. Look around the league right now, who else fits this mold? Um, no one? Choke on that one Curtis Granderson... You may be an above average baseball player and an overall class act, but like everyone else in the MLB, you are not Derek Jeter or Albert Puljos!

"It's sad, but most likely you're not gonna see players in the same uniform for 10, 12, 15 years anymore," manager Jim Leyland told me last week. Leyland understood fans' frustration. He said Granderson was everything good about baseball. But he fell short of saying "we're losing a great talent" or "the heart of our team."

I know it would probably be futile to try to explain this to someone who cited a player's batting average in six games as a crucial stat, but the Amount of Praise Lavished Upon a Player By Their Manager After They Have Been Traded (APLUPBTMATHBT for short) is not a very good measure of their value.

What's surprising is how thin the "beloved superstar" tag has become for the Tigers over the past decade. Pudge Rodriguez? How connected was he to Detroit, really? Todd Jones? Bobby Higginson? Hardly superstars. We liked their longevity.

Considering the team lost 83, 96, 106, and 119 games in each of the first four years of the decade, it's really not that surprising at all. And just for fun, Bobby Higginson only hit 30 home runs and batted over .300 once and he played left field during the steroid era.

Granderson became someone to embrace, at least a bit, the way we once embraced Gibby or Tram, even if he wasn't that caliber player here, nor did he win the things they won. Good talent. Great guy. But I wonder if we don't lament the idea of him leaving as much as the departure itself.

But don't worry guys, Curtis Granderson the sixth person you'll meet in heaven.

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