I’m not sure if you’ve ever noticed, but I sometimes pick on Don Kelly. Shocking, I know. And I’m always amused by the amount of grief I take from Kelly’s loyal fanbase out there. The same holds true for other players I’ve mocked over the years like Brandon Inge, Brennan Boesch, Will Rhymes, and Nate Robertson. These guys have their fans, even if I can’t comprehend why. If only they had a sense of humor.
But that’s yet another funny thing about the game of baseball. Even marginal players get their share of fans. If they didn’t, Clete’s Cougars would never have been a thing. (Sadly, it was.)
And I’m no different. Since seeing my first Tigers game in 1986, I’ve grown attached to many replacement level and/or forgotten players over the years. And some of them, I’d struggle to tell you why. It just happened. But I’m going to try.
The following is my trip around the diamond and a look at players at each position that, for whatever reason, will always be Tigers to me. These are my Don Kellys, I guess.
Catcher: Dwight Lowry (1984-1987)
Tiger Stats: 101 games, .282/.352/.386, 5 HR, 26 RBI, 97 OPS+
Dwight was probably my first favorite backup guy. When I started playing Little League, I was a catcher and always loved whoever was catching for the Tigers. He was stuck behind Lance Parrish and super-rookie Matt Nokes in his time in Detroit. But when he played, he hit well. I’ve heard many stories over the years saying what a great guy Lowry was, too.
Sadly, he died in 1997 of a heart attack at the age of only 39. Thanks for helping to make me a fan, Dwight.
First Base: Jeff Larish (2008-2010)
Tiger Stats: 77 games, .239/.318/.394, 6 HR, 24 RBI, 86 OPS+
Jeff Larish had two things going for him that I always admire in a baseball player: a cool batting stance and awesome hair. Jeff was a statue in the batter’s box. He didn’t move an inch. When I hit, I moved around like Gary Sheffield on a coke binge. Therefore, Larish’s stance was amazing to me. I also started losing my hair at 19, so I’m extremely envious of a guy with Jeff’s locks. Sadly, a cool stance and haircut doesn’t translate to successful baseball and the now 30 year old Larish is appearing to be a career minor league guy.
Since leaving Detroit, Larish has spent time in the Oakland, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, and Pittsburgh organizations. Last season, he attempted to play all nine positions in the same game. He played all but catcher, due to the game being shortened by rain. He did, however, end up earning the save in the game. Good for you, Jeff.
Second Base: Jason Smith (2004-2005)
Tiger Stats: 88 games, .225/.260/.390, 5 HR, 21 RBI, 71 OPS+
Jason was a utility guy that also spent time in the Cubs, Rays, Rockies, Blue Jays, Diamondbacks, Royals, and Astros organizations. Yes, we were so desperate for anyone decent in the early 2000’s in Detroit, that I was somehow impressed with this guy. I also remember Jason being good in one of the EA Sports baseball games I had for Playstation 2 and I always made sure to have him on my bench.
He last appeared in the Majors in 2009 going hitless in 27 at bats with Houston. Way to make me look bad, dude.
Shortstop: Jim Walewander (1987-1988)
Tiger Stats: 141 games, .218/.277/.275, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 56 OPS+
I probably liked him for his name, I guess. It certainly wasn’t due to ten year old Rogo being a Dead Milkmen fan (look it up). But I remember Jim being a decent fielder that backed up Whitaker and Trammell on the rare occasions that they needed a rest. Associating with those two probably helped me like him as much as his goofy name did. Walewander’s 24 runs scored while only having 13 hits during the 1987 season represents the all-time record for the highest “runs to hits” ratio (1.846) in a MLB season for anyone with at least ten hits.
After Detroit, Jim played 9 games with the Yankees in 1990, played some ball in Italy, and resurfaced with the Angels in 1993 for 14 plate appearances. After leaving baseball, Walewander earned an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.
Third Base: Scott Livingstone (1991-1994)
Third Base: Scott Livingstone (1991-1994)
Tiger Stats: 274 games, .286/.324/.366, 8 HR, 97 RBI, 90 OPS+
When Livingstone came up, I thought he had a chance at winning a batting title if he ever got to play every day. Teenage Rogo was a moron, you see. Scotty backed up Travis Fryman at third before moving on to San Diego, St Louis, and Montreal to finish his career.
He currently owns a baseball academy for kids in Texas.
Outfield: Dan Gladden (1992-1993)
Tiger Stats: 204 games, .260/.307/.392, 20 HR, 98 RBI, 92 OPS+
“The Dazzle Man” is probably best remembered for scoring the winning run for the Twins in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. I’ll always remember him for being the homeless looking guy that played left field for us in the early 90’s. That was good enough for me to be a fan of his.
Gladden’s last MLB season was 1993 with Detroit, but he’d go on to win a championship playing in Japan after that. Once his career was finished, Danny would scout for the Twins and Rockies. He would also coach a bit for the Giants before becoming a color commentator for the Twins’ radio network broadcasts.
Outfield: Timo Perez (2007)
Tiger Stats: 29 games, .389/.427/.533, 0 HR, 13 RBI, 150 OPS+
FREE TIMO! I’ve long been a Timo supporter and longed for the Tigers to give him a call up from Toledo over the years. I mean the guy was a hitting machine for the Hens…just call him up! He bounced around the minors, Mexico, and independent ball in addition to being suspended for PED’s in 2011. I still love ya though, Timo.
At the age of 37, Perez still managed to hit .292 for the Long Island Ducks in 2012. I think he’ll continue to play forever somewhere.
Outfield: Josh Anderson (2009)
Tiger Stats: 74 games, .242/.282/.315, 0 HR, 16 RBI, 57 OPS+
“Rogo likes Josh Anderson LOL.” Eat me, Cosey. Yes, I was wrong. I was so happy when the Tigers got Josh from Atlanta for Rudy Darrow. He was coming off a year of hitting nearly .300 in limited time with the Braves. And man, the kid was fast. He had led the minors with 74 stolen bases in 2004. But yeah, it turned out he couldn’t hit MLB pitching after all. I WAS WRONG. Only time that’s ever happened…
Kansas City, Cincinnati, and Atlanta (again) would all give Anderson a shot with similar disappointing results. He hasn’t played since 2010 and looks to be finished.
Designated Hitter: Matt Stairs (2006)
Tiger Stats: 14 games, .244/.295/.463, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 93 OPS+
If you don’t like Matt Stairs, you’re an asshole. There…I said it. Fat guys swinging for the fences are always fun. And Matt had some big hits down the stretch for the Tigers in that crazy 2006 season after arriving at the end.
He played for more teams than any position player in MLB history. In January 2012, Stairs accepted a job as a studio analyst for NESN’s Red Sox games.
Backup Infield: Skeeter Barnes (1991-1994)
Tiger Stats: 278 games, .281/.319/.420, 11 HR, 73 RBI, 102 OPS+
Barnes was a success story due to spending so many years in the minors before Detroit brought him up at the age of 34 in 1991. The dude could hit and filled in everywhere for the Tigers on the diamond. Plus, his name was Skeeter, for crissakes. He is the Crash Davis of the Detroit Tigers. Well, before Mike Hessman overtook that honor.
Barnes is currently a baserunning coach in the Rays organization.
Backup Outfield: Milt Cuyler (1990-1995)
Tiger Stats: 433 games, .239/.304/.324, 7 HR, 104 $BI, 72 OPS+
Cuyler finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 1991 mainly due to his 41 stolen bases for Detroit that year. He was the first speed demon I remember seeing play for the Tigers and since my personal speed was slower than Jeremy Bonderman doing calculus, I was amazed by it. Sadly for Cuyler, he just couldn’t hit MLB pitching that well and was out of the league after a stint with the Rangers in 1998.
Cuyler’s currently the hitting coach for the Twins’ rookie ball team. Why do so many terrible MLB hitters end up as hitting coaches?
Starting Pitcher: Andy Van Hekken (2002)
Tiger Stats: 5 games, 30 IP, 1-3, 3.00 ERA, 1.47 WHIP
Van Hekken made his MLB debut in September of 2002 by throwing a complete game shutout against the Indians. Holy crap, we’ve got a star, I thought. He’d never win a MLB game again. I’ll never forget that debut, though. I still keep hoping that he makes it back up to the show, even for a spot start. I know I wouldn't want to miss it.
Since Detroit, Van Hekken’s pitched in Cincinnati, Atlanta, Kansas City, and Houston’s minor league organizations. He last pitched in the US in 2011, going 9-6 with a 3.40 ERA for Oklahoma City in the PCL. He spent last year at the age of 33 pitching in Korea for the Nexen Heroes. You’ve got to give the guy credit for never giving up on his dream.
Relief Pitcher: Matt Anderson (1998-2003)
Tiger Stats: 245 games, 246.2 IP, 15-7, 26 SV, 4.89 ERA, 1.52 WHIP
Yeah, him. Sorry, I loved the guy and his golden arm. Injuries did in the once 100 mph fastball and did in Matt’s career. But he was a badass while he lasted. To me, at least. The guy’s sadly remembered as a joke, now.
After Detroit, he saw time in Colorado, San Francisco, the White Sox, and Philadelphia’s organizations, as well as some independent ball. His latest comeback ended with the Phillies releasing him in April of 2011.
Honorable mentions: Ryan Raburn, Mike Hessman, Mike Heath, Gregg Jefferies, Mike Myers, Fu-Te Ni, CJ Nitkowski, and Nook Logan.