Dan's Dugout: Detroit Must Honor Former Heroes • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Detroit Must Honor Former Heroes

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LAKELAND, FL – High above the right field wall at Joker Marchant Stadium are large white panels of numbers retired by the Detroit Tigers, winter residents of the ancient spring training ballpark since 1934.

Detroit is in its 82nd season in Lakeland, Fla. Credit: Dan Schlossberg

Hank Greenberg’s number 5 is there, along with digits worn by Charlie Gehringer (2), Al Kaline (6), Sparky Anderson (11), Hal Newhouser (16), and Willie Horton (23), while Ty Cobb’s surname calls attention to the fact that he predated the practice of numbering uniforms.

Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 is there too but a bunch of others are begging to be added.

Newly-elected Hall of Famers Alan Trammell (3) and Jack Morris (47) will have their uniforms retired in separate ceremonies this August while Miguel Cabrera, the only active Triple Crown winner in the majors, should join them the minute he hangs up his No. 24.

But what about Justin Verlander, who wore No. 35 with distinction before the rebuilding Tigers shipped him to the Houston Astros late last season? And maybe Mickey Lolich, who upstaged 31-game winner Denny McLain in the 1968 World Series?

Justin Verlander deserves to be honored by the Tigers too

Names like George Kell and Hughie Jennings, both Hall of Famers, and Jim Leyland, who managed the team with distinction, might also need a place on the Wall of Fame. Infielders Lou Whitaker and Darrell Evans too.

In a season virtually certain to be difficult for both the fans and recycled manager Ron Gardenhire, the highlights will probably be the twin number retirement ceremonies for former Tiger teammates Morris and Trammell.

The only two men elected by the Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee last December, they will be inducted into the Cooperstown shrine on July 29.

The Tigers could probably use them now.

After losing a 6-5 verdict here against Toronto Wednesday, Detroit had more defeats than victories and seemed pointed in that general direction with the season three weeks away.

Ron Gardenhire may be arguing a lot this year too

Gardenhire does not have a single pitcher who won more than 10 games last year, a pitcher who reached double digits in saves, and only one hitter with at least 20 home runs.

That hitter, Nicholas Castellanos, has been a hot hitter this spring, with an average well above .400 plus prodigious power. Veteran Victor Martinez, who hit a wind-helped homer against the Jays Wednesday, isn’t likely to get better at age 39 and the same could be said for Cabrera, who’s a year younger but the owner of three batting titles.

In recent years, the Tigers have unloaded a boatload of talent – and payroll – with the trades of Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton, J.D. Martinez, Verlander, and others. But rebuilding comes at a cost.

Just ask Al Avila, the general manager who traded his son Alex to the Chicago Cubs.

Nobody expects Detroit (64-98 and 38 games behind last year) to dethrone Cleveland, the perennial champions of the American League Central, though Minnesota might have an outside shot if its pitching jells. Fortunately for the Tigers, the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals are also experiencing growing pains associated with rebuilding.

The Tigers have even rebuilt their ballpark. Now called Publix-Marchant Stadium, the park seats 9,654 fans and projects a real throwback flavor. Vendors hawk their wares in full throttle, fans take selfies while seated in giant wooden chairs, and a large Grapefruit League map shows the location of all 15 teams that train in Florida. The lineups are also posted in the main concourse.

Scoreboard at Publix-Marchant Stadium, home of the Tigers
Credit: Dan Schlossberg

Before the game Wednesday, Jim Leyland was signing autographs for fans clustered around the corner of the Tiger dugout and several hundred fans searched for prime sunbathing spots on the grassy berm behind the outfield fence. Even a stiff breeze associated with the arrival of a cold front didn’t deter players or spectators.

The best thing about spring training, other than the endless parade of tan fans in sunglasses and halter-tops, is that the games don’t count. Baseball only becomes a business once the bell rings on Opening Day.

For teams like the Tigers, who aren’t going anywhere, that’s a very good thing.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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