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Over the next few days you'll probably read a bunch of midseason reviews in one form or another. Most will dish out letter grades as a way to evaluate teams' performances to date.
Well, this isn't 11th-grade calculus. Once my alma mater chucked me out the door with a diploma (Go Stingers!), I vowed never to worry about grades again, or any other symbols of higher learning for that matter. I'll take a mulligan on marrying a wife with a Ph.D. But you won't be seeing any D-minuses for the Pirates or Royals.
No, instead we're going to celebrate one of the best teams of the last 25 years, the 1984 Detroit Tigers. Why the '84 Tigers? Because Detroit finally has a team to rival that year's Motor City Kitties, after 22 years of waiting. We'll go through all 30 teams, and assign each one a member of the '84 Tigers as a rating.
Just gotta crank up "Somebody's Watching Me" to get in the 1984 mood and we're off.
Boston Red Sox (51-32): Kirk Gibson
David Ortiz has done just about everything for this team short of hitting a homer on one leg against the greatest closer of his generation. (Please Sox fans, don't hit him with a crowbar to see if he can do it, that's just cruel.) As great as Papi's been, this is a different team than the one that won it all two years ago -- and that may be a good thing. Yes, Pedro, Mueller and the irreplaceable Dave McCarty are gone. But Kevin Youkilis has an open invite to any Big Fat Greek Wedding or Bar Mitzvah in the greater New England area, Jonathan Papelbon is looking Eck-esque in his first season as a closer, Jon Lester's showing shades of Bruce Hurst, and the Sox keep on chugging.
New York Yankees (48-35): Jack Morris
A good but not great pitcher who benefited from great run support throughout his career, Morris was never quite the Hall of Fame-caliber pitcher people believed. But he did win a lot of games, with different teams, in different situations. That's the Yankees in a nutshell. No Sheffield, no Matsui, no Womack, no problem. A hitter with more guile than Guiel would help, assuming some team will give up a decent player for a prospect not named Philip Hughes.
Toronto Blue Jays (47-38): Dan Petry
Petry was a 23-year-old gem during the Tigers' 1984 run, leading the starting staff in ERA, winning percentage and strikeout-to-walk ratio. The Jays are the new kids on the block in the AL East, after backing the amphibious Brinks truck into Lake Ontario and fishing out A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan (C.J. Nitkowski's waiting patiently by the phone). While the imports have provided a nice boost, incumbents Vernon Wells, Alex Rios and Reed Johnson (!) have exploded this season, leading the Jays to the best team OPS in the majors. Don't count these guys out.
Baltimore Orioles (39-48): Mike Laga
Laga was a forgettable player who still managed to hang around for nine big league seasons. In 1984 he threw up an amazing line of .545 AVG/.583 OBP/.545 SLG -- in 12 plate appearances. Last year's Orioles team started the season on fire, looking like a threat to upset the balance of power in the AL East. As with Laga, the small sample size police soon caught up to them; by year's end, the O's had reverted back to their usual mediocrity. Most disappointing have been the early returns on the Leo Mazzone Experiment. Daniel Cabrera is still hugely talented but Blassian with his control. Erik Bedard looks like Cabrera Jr. Rodrigo Lopez has suddenly gotten a lot worse. It may take a while for Mazzone Magic to kick in, but O's fans have to be disappointed so far.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays (38-48): Howard Johnson
Johnson hadn't tapped into his powers yet in '84. He was a total wild card as a player: talented, inconsistent, unpredictable and scary to other teams. The Rays raise just as many questions. Will the Durham Bulls set the all-time record for police blotter appearances by a minor league team? If Delmon Young threw a bat at B.J. Upton, what are the odds Upton would catch it? The off-field distractions are a shame, since this team is loaded with young talent both on the field and in the front office. Joe Maddon is the rare manager who's not afraid to be cerebral, quirky and literate. Root for these guys.
Detroit Tigers (57-28): Sparky Anderson
Sparky was a championship-level manager in Cincinnati. He switched leagues, came to Detroit, and made a World Series winner out of the Tigers. Jim Leyland won it all in Florida. After a few years away from the game, he's come to the AL, where he's led the upstart Tigers to the best record in baseball. If Leyland goes on to repeat Sparky's feat, credit should go well beyond Leyland's office. Dave Dombrowski has quietly engineered three all-world GM efforts in Montreal, Florida and now Detroit. Curtis Granderson might be the most underrated player in baseball. Marcus Thames ranks sixth in OPS among AL regulars. Raise your hand if you knew who Marcus Thames was before the start of the season or now. Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman may battle Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano for the next 10 years. The '06 Tigers are what makes baseball great.
Chicago White Sox (56-29): Alan Trammell
The Sox look like they're just coming into the meat of a long run of excellence. That was Trammell in 1984, when he posted his second straight elite season, setting the stage for a long, outstanding career (which included a 1987 campaign in which he was arguably the best player in the league). For years Kenny Williams was a whipping boy for statheads, getting raked over the coals for questionable signings and head-scratching trades. No one's laughing now. Williams' realization that the Sox needed a lefty-hitting masher and his subsequent trade for Jim Thome was prescient, inspired and gutsy, especially after the team's first World Series in a zillion years. They'll be right there down the stretch again this year, and a real threat to repeat.
Minnesota Twins (46-37): Lou Whitaker
Consistent, underappreciated and very good year after year. That was Whitaker. That was also the Twins for three years in a row, ruling the AL Central under the radar, while their low-revenue cousins in Oakland got all the "Moneyball"-fueled attention. Santana and Liriano are the best pitching duo to come along since Schilling and Pedro? Schilling and Unit? Spahn and Sain? Too bad the Twins wasted so much playing time on duds like Juan Castro, Tony Batista and Rondell White, or they might be in the race instead of doomed to be a 90-win team with little shot at contention. Rondell's supporters came out in force earlier this week, arguing that the Twins' DH was an egregious snub from the No-Stars Team. Mea culpa, Minnesotans he's been every bit as bad as you say.
Cleveland Indians (39-45): Larry Herndon
Herndon was a decent, but flawed player who settled for a supporting role amidst brighter lights. The Indians have had to look up at the Tigers and White Sox all season, and have recently seen the Twins zoom way ahead too. All-Star snub Travis Hafner's MVP-caliber hitting has gone to waste, with Jhonny Peralta, Cliff Lee and others having disappointing seasons. Think GM Mark Shapiro has Omar Minaya's number on speed-dial?
Kansas City Royals (30-54): Rusty Kuntz
When you're the Kansas City Royals, sometimes the best thing you can do is laugh. That's why we're bestowing the best name on the 1984 Tigers to the powder-blue wonders. Actually, Kuntz had the best season of his career in '84, proving to be a useful reserve on a loaded team. The Royals have come alive lately too, with new GM Dayton Moore rolling up his sleeves and young players like David DeJesus and Mark Teahen perking up. They're a Mientkiewicz for Pujols, Rolen and Carpenter deal away from getting back into the race.
Oakland A's (45-40): Dave Rozema
An ugly but effective player for an ugly but effective team. Rozema was the Tigers' fifth starter at a time when teams were still transitioning away from a four-man rotation. But he was useful when called upon, finessing opposing hitters to death. The A's have top-flight talent, but we've yet to see it on the field, as injuries and ineffectiveness have made for an ugly season, albeit a first-place showing to date. It's funny: the A's wait all this time to splurge on the free-agent market or add salary in a trade. They finally take the plunge and pick up Esteban Loaiza and Milton Bradley, and both flop completely. Look for the shoestring methods of old next offseason, as Billy Beane's recruiting consists of a Greyhound bus ride to Roberto Petagine's house.
Texas Rangers (43-42): Milt Wilcox
Did Wilcox have a great year, with a 17-8 record on a World Series-winning team? Or was he the rotation's weak link, as the only starter with an ERA worse than the league average, and the only one over 4? The Rangers are also an enigma this season. Mark Teixeira's power is MIA. Hank Blalock is hitting like Hank Hill. Even after adjusting for the Launchpad At Arlington, Kevin Millwood looks more like the flop of '04 than the stud of '05. Meanwhile, Gary Matthews Jr., Mark DeRosa, Aki Otsuka and others are carrying the team. If the marquee players ever figure things out, the Rangers could make a run deep into October. The supporting cast has been as good as any around.
Seattle Mariners (42-44): Johnny Grubb
Shhh Seattlites don't want anyone to know that the M's have climbed back into the AL West race, just like nobody ever talks about Grubb, one of the most underrated role players on the '84 Tigers (.395 OBP) and of his time (lifetime line of .278/.366/.413 during a much weaker offensive era). Felix Hernandez is showing signs of snapping out of his early slump. Jose Lopez and Yuniesky Betancourt are the best double-play combo no one talks about. Even Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre have started to earn their pay -- only $97.2 million to go, guys.
Los Angeles Angels (40-45): Roger Mason
Mason was an intriguing prospect who never quite panned out. He led the Southern League in ERA in 1983, then went 12-1 in the Pacific Coast League in '85 after a trade to the Giants. But Mason's rookie year in Detroit was uninspiring, just like the 2006 Angels. Darin Erstad finally convinced the Angels he was a subpar player, only six years after his last good season. Garret Anderson can't hit anymore. Adam Kennedy's a ho-hum player blocking the best hitter in this year's PCL, Howie Kendrick. The Angels do as good a job as any team in baseball of developing great prospects. It'd be a shame to let all that talent go to waste.