Am I too late to be the first one on the Detroit Tigers bandwagon?
Going back to their great finish last year, when they got hot in the last week to avoid setting a single-season loss record, the sad-sack Tigers have won nine of their last 10 games. They opened the season by sweeping three from the Blue Jays on the road, then beat the Twins in their home opener Thursday.
Now I'm not revising my already longshot pick of the White Sox winning the A.L. Central, but I do think the Tigers have a chance to improve by 20-plus games this year, as the Royals and Cubs did a year ago. Of course the Tigers can do that and still finish in last place. In fact, they have to do that to avoid losing 100 games, something they've now done two years in a row.
At the moment the Tigers have made the greatest turnaround in big league history. At this point last year they were 0-4, so their 4-0 record means they've improved by infinity percent. (Note to self: Check the math on that.) Their fourth win of 2003 came on May 4.
Last year the Tigers simply weren't a major league club. This year they've added actual big league players Ivan Rodriguez, the hero of the Marlins championship run, Rondell White, a journeyman outfielder but a good and useful one, and Carlos Guillen, an OK-ish shortstop.
That alone, having major leaguers around, should give them a huge boost, but we bandwagoners are also excited about Jeremy Bonderman, the hotshot young pitcher famously dissed by Billy Beane in "Moneyball" and a 19-game loser as a rookie last year. He's now old enough to buy a legal drink and should probably be in the minor leagues learning his craft. But that's a luxury the Bengals simply can't afford. This might be the year they don't lose 100!
Bonderman gave up a three-run homer to Carlos Delgado in the first inning of his first start Wednesday, then pitched shutout ball into the sixth inning to pick up a win. He left after getting hit by a line drive but he said he was OK.
Here's my appended prediction for the A.L. Central: The Tigers won't lose 100. Yes, sir, big year in Detroit: 63-99.
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Soccer suits sacrosanct? [PERMALINK]
More than one soccer fan objected to my writing Thursday that advertising on uniforms, now being considered by Major League Baseball, "is fine for soccer and auto racing, which don't have a century-plus aesthetic tradition surrounding their outfits," since advertising didn't show up on soccer kits until the early '80s.
"Many of the oldest soccer teams have had largely the same colours and patterns on their uniforms for a century," writes Michael Dineen, throwing in that extra "u" because he's Canadian. "I don't think the situation was as different from baseball as you think."
OK, it's not fine for soccer. Sign me up for any anti-ad movement in the world's most popular sport, where product names began dominating jersey fronts in the early '80s.
Several readers also made the point that auto racing and soccer are both continuous-action sports that don't lend themselves to commercial breaks, so advertising on clothing is a way for sponsors to get their names in front of the public without altering the sport to include stoppages. That's obviously not necessary in baseball.
And you know what's funny? There is a tremendous amount of negative feeling, both in my in box and on baseball discussion boards I've seen, about those rotating, computer-generated ads on the backstop that have become ubiquitous. That phenomenon just really bugs a lot of people. I'm pretty clearly an anti-ad extremist when it comes to uniforms, but for some reason the backstop ads don't bother me at all. I don't even notice them.
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