Gary Gillette was nice enough to chat with me last Thursday. Anyone who has done a lot of baseball reading over the past decade has come across Gary’s name. Gary is currently finishing up a book on the history of Major League ballparks, which promises to be very good. He also is the Editor of the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia. While many baseball stats are available on-line, this book contains information that you cannot find anywhere online. Among many other projects, Gary is on the board of the group that is trying to save Tiger Stadium.
Since Gary and I spoke on the phone and I know nothing about “proper” interviewing tactics, I just typed out some notes while we were talking. Hopefully it comes out as coherent in this space and you can learn as much from him as I did. Please note that I will be paraphrasing here. These will not be Gary’s exact words but hopefully Ill convey the sentiment. Enjoy!
Topic: Saving Tiger Stadium
- The chance of saving the stadium is better than 50/50. The seats will be wiped out entirely and replaced with seats that resemble the seating when the field was known as Navin Field in 1912. While Tiger Stadium’s capacity was around 52,000, the renovated version would seats between 2,500-3,000 people.
- Since the Tigers still play in Detroit, Tiger Stadium can not house another professional baseball team (that means you Minor League teams) so the field itself could be used for amateur baseball and other events. There are many options for what could be housed on the inside of the building. There is talk of a baseball museum, offices, condos, and venues for meetings and banquets.
- One of the main goals is to keep the stadium as intimate as possible. Intimacy seems to be appropriate but is also necessary. There is very little parking available in the area and keeping it any bigger would be a logistical problem.
- Right now, the estimate is that they will need to raise around $15 million to make this happen.
- The group needs to figure out how much business and money the stadium could bring in. They need to determine what kinds of events could be held in the stadium and figure out how it works out financially.
Topic: Comerica Park
- People did not love it right off the bat. After that first season, attendance really dropped off.
- It was a big mistake to construct it the way that they did. Tiger Stadium was a hitters park and Tiger fans were used to that. Comerica was also built during a big offensive boom around baseball and it was a pitchers park. The fact that it was the opposite of where they were coming from, it wasn’t well received. It also wasn’t spoken of in the same way that people around baseball talked about Camden Yards and Jacobs Field.
- Comerica was designed by John McHale Jr who was coming from Colorado. Colorado was such an immense hitters park. Since it was a hitters park in a pitchers league (the NL) McHale felt the need to build a park in Detroit that wasn’t a huge advantage for hitters.
- The fact that left field was so deep as a big mistake. Since that aspect of the stadium has changed, it has improved quite a bit.
- A good team makes a Stadium all the more appealing. Now that Comerica Park is filled, or close to filled all of the time, it looks much better.
Topic: The Willis and Cabrera Trade
- It was good deal. It was a smart trade. They gave up a lot and it’s a high-risk strategy. Dontrelle Willis really needs to move back to that pitcher he was two or three years ago. If he pitches like he did last year, the team is in trouble. Miguel Cabrera really needs to lose some weight. It’s a good sign that he’s lost some weight this offseason, but he needs to be better conditioned because he was way too heavy last season.
- Losing young talent isn’t the end of the world. This trade is a lot less risky if they can replenish their farm system. While the team landed Rick Porcello last, when he should have been picked much higher, that will not happen every year and we shouldn’t bank of that.
- The deal is obviously resulting in more ticket sales. More ticket sales equals more money coming in. Having that money coming in enables them to do all kinds of things. For example, say in June Brandon Inge is hitting .290 with 8 home runs in 100 at bats. A team out there would be willing to take him on and give up some young talent to get him. The only hold up would be his big salary. Since the Tigers now have so much money coming in, they’d be a lot more likely to pay part of his salary to get a deal done.
- The key to the deal is signing Cabrera to a long term deal. I have no opinion on when they will get a deal done. It could be this offseason but the Tigers may also wait until after the season to work on the extension. If Cabrera and his agent come to the Tigers asking for $200 million the Tigers need to be able to say no and make it clear that they are willing to wait it out and make the best decision.
Topic: Jeremy Bonderman
- Heading into 2007 I thought Bonderman was on the cusp of becoming a 15-20 game winner every single year. Now I think he could be a 12-15 win a year guy. He’s still got a chance to be very good but the odds are much lower than they were just a year ago. There were several times in 2006 where he was dominant. We just didn’t see that as much in 2007.
- Bonderman has a lot of miles for being such a young guy. He pitched a full season at the age of 20 and has been up since then. When he was finally shut down due to injuries in September, I’m quite sure he had been hurt for a while. If you’re a big league pitcher and your arm doesn’t hurt after a start you’re doing something wrong, so some pain is to be expected. Also, if a guy is hurting and he’s doing his best to play through it for the team, are you going to tell him to shut it down?
The more he threw last year the worse his injury got until they finally had to shut him down for the season.
- Bonderman is a better pitcher than he threw last year. In the end I was disappointed in him last year. While he still could be very good, the odds are much smaller now.
Topic: Getting called to the Majors
- The Tigers have a history of calling guys up to the bigs too soon.
- In my opinion they called Bonderman up to the big league club too soon. Also, in his rookie year he could have very easily put up 20 losses just like Maroth did. The club said they shut him down because he reached his limit in innings but I’m sure they didn’t want him to have to go through losing 20 games.
- The club also called Maybin up too soon. It was painful watching him try to hack it up in the bigs last fall. Why would you call a guy like that up when you essentially make him the club’s fourth outfielder? The Tigers could have played Raburn in those games where they had Maybin out there. He only spent a couple of weeks playing above A ball. After a few games in Detroit they should have sent him back down to get some more consistent time in Erie.
Topic: Keys to 2008, What Went Wrong in 2007
- I really don’t think the pitching was the main problem. I might the only Tiger fan who thinks that, though. The pitching staff was so deep so I really don’t see how things could have gone any differently and I don’t know if any changes would have made much of a difference. One of the problems with the staff was that they thought Mike Maroth was good enough to stick in the rotation. Maroth had a good record in a few starts in 2006 but the fact was he was getting a lot of support in 2006. His good record that year made everyone think he was actually good. The Tigers were fortunate to get anything in return for him.
- There is no doubt that injuries really hurt the team last season. However, beyond that, they had some real problems on offense. In my opinion, the offense was more costly last year than the pitching staff. Casey spent almost the entire season starting at first base and gave the team almost nothing offensively. Ditto for Pudge at catcher and Inge at third. When they finally moved Guillen over to first they were probably even worse off than before. With Guillen at first they lost skill on defense at first and lost offense in the lineup by playing Ramon Santiago over at SS.
- The offense was left without out a real plan B at a few too many spots last year. They had no one to play in CF last year when they faced a lefty pitcher. Granderson couldn’t hit lefties last year, so a plan B there would have been terrific. They banked on the fact that Inge could repeat his 2006 performance and they shouldn’t have. When Sheffield struggled in April and was hurt in August they had no replacement. They had no plan B for either situation. They were forced to play Inge all year long and as soon as Sheffield was hurt the offense went down the tank.
- Catcher could be a real problem in 2008. Pudge had some real problems offensively last year and wasn’t as good defensively as most people think he was. The team really likes Vance Wilson but he could also get off to a very slow start and find himself being released by the club.
- I am not at all convinced that Sheffield will be able to play as well as he did last year. Sheffield really worries me. Once again, if he gets hurt, the Tigers really don’t have a replacement for him. While Jacque Jones could play well, he’s coming off an awful year in Wrigley with the Cubs.
- A few injuries are to be expected. The team had far too many injuries to overcome. I think they have enough depth and skill to overcome two disappointments this year. If it gets to be anymore than that then they could be in trouble because Cleveland is very very talented.
- I think if Kenny Rogers is able to make 23 healthy starts this year the rotation should be in good shape and I think the Tigers would take that production from Kenny. Rogers could win 16 games next year or he could go 6-10. Nate Robertson is better than I ever thought he would be when the Tigers picked him up a few years ago. He wasn’t great last year but he could be better this season.
- Given an average amount of luck and an average amount of injuries I think the Tigers have a slight edge over the Indians. However, I think the Tigers are three times more likely than the Indians to play under their potential. The Tigers just have far too many players who could fall off a cliff in 2008.
- I think there is more excitement over this club than there was during or after the 1984 season. A trip to the ball park has a better atmosphere now than it did in 1984. This team is very glamorous and is in a great position to win. The 2008 season should be exciting and come down to a great division race as the season winds down.
Again, many thanks to Gary Gillette for doing this interview. This guy knows more about baseball than anyone I’ve ever talked to and more specifically, he knows everything about the Tigers. Do yourself a favor and treat yourself one or six of his books
Tigers Corner (keep your eyes peeled for the 2008 version)