Tuesday, August 11, 2009

In Lieu of the Braves, I'm For the Tigers


The annual rite of autumn for Braves fans – choosing whom you’re going to root for after the Braves get eliminated – has come a little sooner this year. Usually I have to hold my nose and pull for some team I’m not really that into, like the Angels. This year is different. I am fired up about the Detroit Tigers, and not just because they’ve been sticking it to the evil empire. I’m for the Tigers because of:

6. The guy at the right (no relation).

5. My Michigan connections. Related by marriage to the Meyers of Grand Rapids, I have adopted Michigan as my second home state. I know Wayland from Byron Center, I know Granholm from DeVos, but I don’t know any Upper Peninsula jokes. The only trouble with this Detroit-rooting scenario from the family relations standpoint is that that West Michiganders tend to regard Eastern Michigan (and Detroit in particular) as a sorry place, something they’d rather not be connected to. The good news is that when the Tigers are cooking, Detroit-loathing seems to be called off. My baseball-hating wife can even name several members of the 1984 Tigers championship team, including second baseman Sweet Lou Whitaker.

4. Detroit’s urban explorers. The city is a well-known urban wasteland, but where many see desolation, others saw a research opportunity. A small group of adventurers with digital cameras trespass in the ruins of abandoned structures from Detroit’s golden age – car factories, hotels, movie palaces – take photos and post them on the web.

3. A peculiar Braves-Tigers connection. Some trace the beginning of the Braves’ fourteen-year run of division titles to one of the classic, trade-deadline “contender swaps hot prospect for last place team’s established veteran” deals: In 1987 the hapless Braves gave the desperate Tigers Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz, who is now the last member of the Braves 1991 worst-to-first World Series team still with the club. And he’s bound for Cooperstown. Unfortunately for the Tigers, that trade was the beginning of a long slide that was only recently reversed.

2. I’ve been to old Tiger Stadium. In 1999, the last year before the team moved to its new ballpark, some Meyers and I drove east to take in a game. Though it was heartwarming to be in the very place where Ty Cobb, Hank Greenberg, and Denny McClain performed their legendary feats, the truth is that place was lacking in the charm people associate with old ballparks. As I thought once when my brother moved into a shoddy old mill village house in Athens, old doesn’t necessarily equal cool.

1. Tiger great Ty Cobb. Our annual Thanksgiving trips to my grandmother’s house in South Carolina always took us through Royston, Georgia, Cobb’s hometown, where they had put up a little museum in honor of “The Georgia Peach.” He was one of the five original members of the baseball Hall of Fame, owner of a .367 career batting average, the highest ever. But there was more to him than just baseball excellence. As Ernest Hemingway said, "Ty Cobb was the greatest of all ballplayers - and an absolute shit.” I highly recommend “The Fight to Live,” sportswriter Al Stump’s account of his maddening efforts to aid the elderly, diseased, alcoholic, murderously obnoxious Cobb in the writing of his autobiography. In the end Stump calls Cobb “the most violent, successful, thoroughly maladjusted personality ever to pass across American sports."

And he was from right up the road!

So I’m for the Tigers.

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