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The Detroit Tigers Are… Good?

On May 14, I wrote about how despite some early excitement, the Tigers were struggling to meet the expectations of their rebuild and were on course for a historically bad 2021 season, or at least the first overall pick in the draft. Since then, however, some things have changed, and while they likely won’t be making any kind of a postseason push (our Playoff Odds still have their chances at 0.0%), what they have been doing is playing exciting, fun, winning baseball.

Case in point: their Wednesday afternoon game against the Twins. That 17–14 slugfest exemplified pretty much everything that is going right and wrong for the club over the past few months: an aggressive offense with two legitimate Rookie of the Year contenders, and a pitching staff that can turn even a 10–0 lead into something uncertain.

The improvements in the offense have been the biggest part of Detroit’s success. In April, the team was dead last in wRC+ at a dismal 63; now, the offense ranks 18th overall at 93. That looks even better if we narrow it down to just July, in which Detroit ranked 12th at 107. Oddly, the Tigers have been excellent in high-leverage situations; for the season, they rank eighth in that split with a 108 wRC+, and if we look solely at the month of July, that goes up to an incredible 164. Similarly, with runners in scoring position, the team has a wRC+ of 103 on the season and 135 in July, up from 92 in April.

Where are the Tigers finding this surge? One of the biggest stories here has to be the incredible rookie season of Akil Baddoo, who made waves by hitting a home run in his first major league plate appearance, struggled slightly at the beginning of May, and has since found his rhythm once more, slashing .309/.394/.497 in his last 56 games. If not for an already loaded class, Baddoo would likely be garnering some attention for Rookie of the Year discussions; he’s currently hitting .273/.345/.494 with a 126 wRC+ and a team-leading 1.9 WAR.

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The Road to the Rays/Orioles All-Women Broadcast Crew

This coming Tuesday, July 20, a game between the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles will feature MLB’s first broadcast crew composed entirely of women. The talent running the show includes: Melanie Newman, the Orioles’ radio play-by-play announcer, and the first woman to serve in that role for the club; Sarah Langs, a writer for MLB.com, who will provide the analysis; Alanna Rizzo, formerly a member of the Dodgers’ broadcast team, who will handle on-field reporting during the game; and Heidi Watney and Lauren Gardner, established reporters for MLB Network, hosting pre- and post-game shows.

MLB is not the first league to have a broadcast crew staffed entirely by women. The NBA saw its first all-woman crew take the helm in March of 2021 for a Toronto Raptors-Denver Nuggets game, featuring Meghan McPeak on play-by-play, Kia Nurse providing analysis, Kayla Grey doing sideline reporting, and Kate Beirness and Amy Audibert handling pre- and post-game reporting. The NHL, meanwhile, had its first all-female team back in 2008, when French network RDS had Claudine Douville and Daniele Sauvageau call a game between the New Jersey Devils and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Then there’s the NFL, which might be the furthest ahead in terms of women-led broadcasts, with the duo of Hannah Storm and Andrea Kremer working a full season together on Amazon Prime’s Thursday Night Football broadcasts.

But while other sports may have done these broadcasts sooner, it’s still good to see MLB taking these steps in a more diverse and progressive direction — of women accepted and represented in more roles within baseball. We got further down that road when the Miami Marlins hired Kim Ng to be the franchise’s general manager, making her the first woman to be the GM of a major league team (and the first woman to be the GM of a men’s professional franchise in any of the major North American sports). Read the rest of this entry »


Baseball Needs More Kids Movies

A story recently emerged that captured the hearts of even the stoniest baseball fans. On June 19, a little girl named Abigail attended her first major league game in Cincinnati and was over the moon to get to see her hero, Joey Votto, in action. But as fate would have it, Votto was ejected in the first inning, leaving young Abigail devastated; a photo of her forlorn face, eyes brimming with tears, made the rounds on Twitter. Soon enough, though, she had a signed ball in her hands, and later that same week, she returned to the park and got to meet Votto in person. A photo of her beaming expression might best summarize the whole experience:

The entire story, from Abigail’s excitement to the perfectly-timed misfortune of Votto’s ejection to the entirety of baseball Twitter rallying around this one little girl, felt like the plot of a movie, with our hero, in this case, a fan ready to cheer for her favorite player.

Abigail’s story is not a movie, of course. It will become a fun memory to look back on later in her life and probably helped solidify her as a Reds fan. Not every fan can have the kind of direct experience she did; not every child can meet their hero. But what makes Abigail’s story special is that it’s centered on her and not Votto. He was a just a peripheral part of what made this tale unique, and that is what made it so touching and engaging for others to follow.

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On Baseball’s Batgirls

On June 28, baseball media swarmed to the story of Gwen Goldman, a 70-year-old New York Yankees fan who after 60 years was finally granted a wish she’d made as a 10-year-old. In 1961, Goldman wrote to then Yankees general manager Roy Hamey asking for an opportunity to be a Yankees batgirl.

The response she received from Hamey was rife with the kind of sexism one might expect from a missive penned in 1961. “While we agree with you that girls are certainly as capable as boys, and no doubt would make an attractive addition to the playing field, I am sure you can understand that in a game dominated by men a young lady such as yourself would feel out of place in a dugout.”

While it’s hard to overlook that Hamey thought it appropriate to tell a 10-year-old that adding women to baseball would be “an attractive addition,” it’s clear that he was also dismissing any arguments Gwen might have made in favor of her merit in her original appeal, which unfortunately has not been recovered. Baseball, and especially the Yankees, were clearly important enough to Gwen to risk applying for the job, and thankfully her rejection was not enough to dampen her enthusiasm for the game. Read the rest of this entry »


Closed Border Blues

Some of my fondest memories of baseball have nothing to do with the game being played on the field. Every summer like clockwork, my best friend and I set out on a new baseball adventure. We wait eagerly for the arrival of the next season’s schedule and make our travel plans accordingly. One year it was driving north through Florida to visit the stadiums in Miami, St. Petersburg, and Atlanta. Another year, we melted our way through the heat of July in the Midwest, seeing Kansas City, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Chicago.

The first time I ever took a solo road trip I did it to see baseball, visiting six stadiums and numerous baseball-themed attractions along the way. I survived traffic in Pittsburgh and scientifically determined the best cupcake shops in Washington D.C. (Red Velvet Cupcakery, though if you are a fan of sweeter, richer cupcakes, Baked and Wired is for you).

In Baltimore, a stranger gave me tips on the best place to try crab. In St. Petersburg, a friendly season ticket holder named Sherry overheard me telling the guest services attendant it was my first Rays game. She insisted on bringing me and my friend into the season ticket holders area and showing us around, as if being a Rays ambassador was her job (it should be). In Kansas City, I befriended a local so lovely that she invited me to come back and stay with her the following year to enjoy more games and more BBQ, and we went on a tour of Kauffman stadium. Read the rest of this entry »


Why Tyler Glasnow Can Be a Voice That Baseball Needs

We talk a lot about the “face” of baseball — a player who has the look, the excitement, the highlight reel, the things that make them an ideal candidate to be a poster child for the game. “Here,” we say, to would-be fans. “This is what you’re getting when you start to watch that sport.” It could be Bryce Harper with his GIF-worthy hair tosses, or Aaron Judge with his giant frame and home runs. It could be Mookie Betts or Mike Trout, whose talents defy generational lines and who we will likely be talking about for decades after they retire.

As baseball faces go, there are lots of options, even if it feels like no one can agree on them or decide who would be the best candidate to usher in a new generation of fans. Whose poster would these kids want on their walls? Whose stance would they most likely emulate in Little League games? Which superstar can surpass the limitations of team fandom to become beloved by all? It’s a tough request to fulfill, and that’s likely why there are no firm answers.

In recent months, I’ve begun to wonder if what baseball needs is a face at all. Perhaps what baseball needs instead is a voice.

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The Canadian Roots of Modern Baseball

I am an absolute sucker for baseball history. Hours upon hours have been lost to deep dives into the SABR Bio Project or the spiraling wormhole that is Wikipedia. It’s amazing what little nuggets of strange-but-true ephemera you can unearth as you sink into over a hundred years of baseball. If you’ve watched Ken Burns: Baseball, you’ll know that even 10 episodes is not enough time to cover the breadth of what the sport is and what it has achieved.

Because the game’s history is so rich and expansive, there’s a habit, as with all history, to pick and choose the aspects of the historical record that best fit with the present tone. We may have even been convinced it started with Abner Doubleday, as popular myth has long-contended. But as it turns out not even Doubleday himself ever made any such claim, and in digging into the roots of where baseball really began, I found that the answer might fall much further north than previously believed, with a game in Ontario, Canada, that may just be the first game of baseball ever played in North America.

If you look at the origins of baseball, it is generally believed that the first game took place in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839. An account from Abner Graves was the source for this claim, but there are a lot of issues when you approach it with any real historical method. For one, Abner Doubleday never visited Cooperstown and definitely did not do so in 1839, when he was attending West Point. Add to this that Abner Graves was only five years old in 1839, and that in his later years he was confined to a ward for the criminally insane after murdering his wife, and you might begin to understand why we perhaps should not take his version of history at face value.

As I researched Canadian baseball’s history for another piece, I came across a mention of a story about a game very similar to baseball, played in Beachville, Ontario. In an 1886 letter, Dr. Adam Enoch Ford recounted attending an event that “closely resembled our present national game” a full year before Doubleday was credited with inventing it. The game in question took place on June 4, 1838, and as you’ll see from the excerpts that follow, it may not be exactly baseball as we know it, but it’s definitely more like it than a game that never actually happened in Cooperstown in 1839. Read the rest of this entry »


The Detroit Tigers Should Be Better Than This By Now

The 2021 Detroit Tigers are terrible.

I don’t say this out of cruelty or to beat a dead horse, but to continue on with this piece, it’s important to understand that the team is very, very bad. It took them five weeks to notch their 10th win of the year. Future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera is hitting a mere .160/.259/.253. The incredible hot starts of Akil Baddoo and Wilson Ramos have cooled, and with the sole exception of Matthew Boyd, the team’s pitching staff seems to be struggling mightily against all comers.

For fans, it’s feels like a familiar story told year after year, only it seems to be getting worse over time. And it’s becoming a story that’s getting a lot harder to listen to without a mounting sense of frustration, because in terms of a rebuild, the Tigers appear to have been abandoned by their contractor with only a rough hewn foundation to show for it.

To truly get a sense of where the Tigers find themselves now, we must first understand just how bad this team is in a historical context. To do so, we have to compare the first months of 2021 to the Tigers’ two worst seasons historically: 2003 and 2019. In 2003, the Tigers came close to making history as the worst team in the modern era. They lost 119 games versus just 43 wins, coming within one loss of tying the 1962 Mets for most single season losses. For the franchise, it marked a turning point and a trend towards improvement. By 2006 they made it to the World Series, had a Rookie of the Year winner in pitcher Justin Verlander, and won 95 games. Read the rest of this entry »


Erasing the Mendoza Line

When Mario Mendoza played his last season in the majors in 1982, he appeared in just 12 games and batted a paltry .118/.118/.118; his wRC+ was -41. If all you know about the former shortstop is that his name has become synonymous with failure at the plate, those numbers likely aren’t all that surprising.

During Mendoza’s time with the Mariners in 1979 and ’80, he struggled to keep his average above .200, inspiring teammates Bruce Bochte and Tom Paciorek to tease him, dubbing the elusive mark “The Mendoza Line.” The joke might have ended there, but Royals slugger George Brett caught wind of the phrase when he got off to a sluggish start to the 1980 season, to the amusement of Bochte and Paciorek. According to Mendoza, his Seattle teammates told Brett, “Hey, man, you’re going to sink down below the Mendoza Line if you’re not careful.” Brett later mentioned it to ESPN’s Chris Berman from ESPN; it spread from there.

There’s a bit of a poetic twist to Brett being the one who helped popularize the expression. He started the season telling Berman, “The first thing I look for in the Sunday papers is who is below the Mendoza Line.” And while his early-season returns were below his lofty standards (he hit .245 in April, albeit with a 137 wRC+ and just a .245 BABIP), by mid-September he was hitting .394 ahead of a series against the Mariners, with a real chance to finish the season with an average above .400. Brett only went 2-for-11 that series, though, with three hits robbed by Mendoza himself; he ended the season at .390.

In terms of the actual statistic itself, the Mendoza Line is generally understood to be the .200 batting average the shortstop chased in 1979 (he ended the year hitting just .198). What it truly represents, however, is the point at which a player’s offense makes them a liability to their team, regardless of their defensive abilities.  Read the rest of this entry »


A Brief History of Nelson Cruz Humiliating the Detroit Tigers

On April 6, Minnesota Twins slugger Nelson Cruz added a new feather to his cap of many accomplishments: he became the king of the Tiger killers, those elite hitters who seem uniquely capable of besting Detroit Tigers pitching at every turn. After hitting all three of his 2021 home runs against the Tigers this past week, Cruz look the top spot among active players on the leaderboard of all-time home runs against the Motown team. With 26 regular season homers, he usurped the title previously held by Alex Gordon, and can rightfully claim his place as the biggest thorn in the Tigers’ paw.

For Tigers fans, the only surprising thing about this fact is that it hadn’t happened years earlier.

If you’re a fan of a team that has shared a division rivalry with the slugger, ask yourself: do you remember the first time your favorite team was personally victimized by Nelson Cruz? My first memory of having my hopes crushed by a Cruz home run is from Game 2 of the 2011 ALCS. The Tigers were vying for a rematch of their 2006 World Series rivalry against the St. Louis Cardinals, but one thing stood in their way: the Texas Rangers.

In Game 2, with the Tigers leading 3-2 and heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, a 31-year-old Cruz came to the plate against Max Scherzer. He absolutely crushed a home run to tie the game for the Rangers. It was a tie that would last for almost two and a half more hours. As the game headed into the 11th inning, Cruz came to the plate again with the bases loaded, this time against Ryan Perry. With the game on the line and the crowd restless, howling over every foul ball, Cruz obliterated an offering from Perry for a game-winning grand slam. Read the rest of this entry »