Comerica Park
Comerica Park (Pixabay)

While we hope the departed Tigers are in a higher league, we can expect the 2022 Tigers to go higher in the standings.

Al Kaline died nearly two years ago on April 6, 2020. The former Detroit Tigers superstar wore a Detroit uniform from 1953 through 1974 and many of us saw him on the field in each of those years. During that span, Kaline accumulated many awards and a lot of memorabilia.

More than a year after his death at 85, the Kaline family, honoring Al’s wishes, disposed of more than 400 of his personal items bringing in more than $1.64 million via auction. Kaline’s collection included gloves, batting and fielding, and Gold Gloves for being the best defensive outfielder. There were plenty of bats, balls, jerseys, trophies and even his golf clubs. Kaline’s 1984 World Series ring (he was a broadcaster at the time) went for $87,000. That means mine, with the name Cohen on it and not real gold like Kaline’s, would probably fetch $87. 

Irwin Cohen
Irwin Cohen

Kaline played with — or saw from the broadcast booth as a color man with George Kell — all of the former Tigers who died in the past year. I saw them play and got to know most of them shmoozing while on the baseball beat. 

Of course, the one that impacted us the most was Bill Freehan, Kaline’s teammate on the 1968 team that beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1968 World Series. Freehan was 79 when he died last August after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for several years. After his 15-year career as a player (1961-1976), he was a frequent visitor to Tiger Stadium and even stopped in my office a couple of times always wearing a great smile.

Tom Matchick, who died at 79, had a six-year big league career and spent three years with the Tigers. Mostly a reserve infielder, he appeared in 80 games for the ’68 Tigers and batted .203. Pitcher Paul Foytack made it to 90 and made the majors with the Tigers in 1953 and spent the next 10 years in Detroit. He loved to talk about his claim to fame in 1963 with the Los Angeles Angels when he gave up four consecutive home runs. Foytack returned to Detroit after being released and pitched batting practice while holding down a regular job. He was fun to be around and popular with his teammates and writers and always could be counted on for quips and quotes.

Johnny Groth lived to experience his 95th birthday and broke in with the Tigers in 1946. When I saw my first big league game in 1950 from the lower left field grandstand, I sat between left fielder Hoot Evers (my favorite player) and Groth, considered one of the best center fielders in the game at the time. Groth was traded in 1952 but reacquired in the late ’50s and played alongside Kaline for three seasons. One of the nicest people in the game and a very religious Catholic who had 10 daughters and one son, Groth watched his pennies and was able to spend his retirement years living in Palm Beach, Fla.

Tigers first base coach Kimera Bartee went to Omaha last December to spend the holidays with his father. While there, he collapsed and couldn’t be revived. The 49-year-old Bartee was one of the nicest, kindest men to ever wear a Tigers uniform. Bartee was with the Tigers as a player when Tiger Stadium hosted its final game on Sept. 27, 1999, and is the answer to the trivia question, who was the last Tiger player to bat in Tiger Stadium.

Today’s Team

While we hope the departed Tigers are in a higher league, we can expect the 2022 Tigers to go higher in the standings.

The 2021 Tigers won 77 games and lost 85. The 2022 team is capable of turning that record around. Manager A.J. Hinch has a lot more to work with this season, which should translate into some very exciting months ahead for fans and downtown businesses.

New impact players are Javy Baez and rookies Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson. Baez, who ended last season with the Mets and hit 31 home runs, was signed as a free agent by the Tigers. A flashy fielder who can play shortstop and second base, his bat, glove and speed give the team more excitement. 

Rookies Greene and Torkelson may not be with the team all season, but they already proved themselves at all minor league levels to be headed for superstardom. Both are capable for hitting for a high average and hitting 30 or more home runs. We can’t expect those numbers this year but should next season. I expect that one of them will be the American League’s Rookie of the Year.

Greene, a lefthanded batting outfielder, and Torkelson, who played third base before being moved to first base, will replace Miguel Cabrera, who will mainly be a designated hitter.

Last season, the Tigers had three players who totaled 67 home runs. Eric Haase and Jonathan Schoop, had 22 each while Robbie Grossman hit 23. This season it’s a good bet the three new Tigers could hit more than 67 homers. 

The Tigers also shored up pitching and catching. These moves could push the Tigers into the post-season playoffs. While the playoffs aren’t a sure thing this season, Tigers fans could expect that for the next several seasons. Greene and Torkelson just need some major league experience. There are a couple of good free agents available, and if the Tigers feel the team is close to contention, management will dust off the checkbook and lure one or two with the knowledge that in 2023, Detroit will be one of the best teams in the major leagues.

Happy days are here again for Tigers fans, and those who sit in the outfield will be rewarded with many more home run souvenir baseballs via Tigers players.  

Author, national columnist and public speaker Irwin J. Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years and interviewed many legends of the game including Hank Greenberg. After accepting a front office position with the Detroit Tigers where he earned a World Series ring, Cohen went on to write 10 books including the iconic, “Echoes of Detroit’s Jewish Communities: A History.” He may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

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