It was in a fit of boosterism, some two years ago, when I took leave of my senses and banged out some tripe on this very blog about the bourgeoning third baseman of the Tigers, Brandon Inge.
I all but called him Mr. Tiger–declaring that he would never play for another big league team, and since he wouldn’t, and since his career would extend a dozen or so years in Detroit, why not go ahead and erect a statue of him in left centerfield at Comerica Park, to join the other Tigers greats in bronze?
Well, guess what? I stand by that boisterous tripe.
Inge, the catcher-turned-third baseman-turned-catcher-turned back into third sacker, is having a career year. He’s about to obliterate his previous high in home runs (27 back in 2006), and has pumped his batting average above his norm, which means it no longer competes with his weight, but the weight of an NFL linebacker (.275 thru Wednesday).
The increased power and batting average, we’re to presume, is a direct result of a new batting stance–something Inge worked on feverishly in the off-season, both with and without hitting coach Lloyd McClendon.
The new stance–Inge stands straighter and points the barrel of the bat toward the pitcher slightly–hasn’t done anything for his propensity to strike out. He’s still fanning once every four at-bats, roughly. But he doesn’t seem to be striking out in as many key situations.
In fact, Inge is becoming another kind of Mister–as in Mr. Clutch (with apologies to NBA star Jerry West).
Inge is, to me, the one Tiger I’d like to see at the plate in a late-inning, close game situation–with or without men on base. With his increased power (18 homers already), Inge places himself into scoring position simply by stepping into the batter’s box.
OK, but what’s this jazz about erecting a statue?
First, a caveat.
No other statues of Tigers should go up until the organization gets with it and immortalizes Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker — turning a double play, naturally. That’s first and foremost.
After those two, I say do one of Inge.
You won’t be able to prove me wrong until the next decade, so if you care to, print this out and seal it in a waterproof envelope or something.
Brandon Inge will retire a Tiger, after wearing the Old English D, and the Old English D only, for as long as he shall play.
And it’s not just about his play on the field.
Inge is gradually weaving himself into the fabric of the metro Detroit community. He’s one of the good guys in town who gives back. We’re going to see his kids grow up before our very eyes. He’ll have chances for free agency but will opt to stay in Detroit, even for less money.
Inge, at age 32, already has put in about nine years with the Tigers.
I know–time flies.
I figure he’s got about five, six more solid seasons left in his body, which he treats ruggedly.
Inge doesn’t just play third base; third base is his beat. He chases pop flies like they’re kids who just threw rocks into the jeweler’s window. He pounces on bunts and dribblers like an eagle on a rodent. He throws batters out at first base with disdain.
He won’t be anywhere near a Hall of Famer, but he’ll be a terrific Tiger, when all is said and done.
Terrific enough to make sure folks down the line — even those who haven’t been born yet — never forget what he did for the team back in the early 21st century.
There was a time when it didn’t look good for Inge to stick around. And that time was just a year ago spring training, when Brandon found himself being nudged out of the lineup once again.
He had been squeezed out once before, when as a catcher, the Tigers cast him back to the bench upon the signing of Pudge Rodriguez. Inge whined back then that he was just as good defensively as Mr. Rodriguez, and that the Tigers didn’t need to spend all that dough after all.
I thought him to be a petulant, immature smart aleck. I couldn’t have cared less if he played another game in Detroit.
That was then.
So the Tigers traded for Miguel Cabrera, who was a third baseman at the time. Inge was getting squeezed again. He would be a backup at both third base and catcher, a position that he grew to loathe.
Some more pouting, but this time it was done differently. Basically, Inge just wanted to play third base so badly it hurt. It got so bad that manager Jim Leyland, with Inge beside him, called a press conference in Florida to address the matter.
You know the rest of the story. Inge ended up at third base in a roundabout way–following some injuries and lineup shuffling, which saw him try his hand in the outfield on occasion. But then Pudge got traded at the end of July, and so Inge went back behind the plate. His offense suffered. He was an unhappy man.
That’s in the past.
Inge is growing roots at third base, fast. He should be the Tigers’ guy there for years to come. He’s starting to remind me of Brooks Robinson, with his ability to make the circus play look routine.
You heard me.
So hit “control-P” on your keyboard if you’d like, put this somewhere safe, and wave it in my face when the Tigers trade Inge, or when he leaves as a free agent.
I double dog dare ya.