The release of Brandon Inge on Thursday sent simultaneous waves of joy and sadness through Tiger Nation.
Love ‘em…hate ‘em…they’re the guys on the team.
The Detroit sports scene is filled with polarizing figures. The only thing more inconsistent than the fans’ opinion of them is their performance on the field, court or ice. These guys have more ups and downs than Oprah’s bathroom scale and unfortunately they’re all crucial parts to the teams we love.
Here’s ten Detroit athletes you can’t live with or without, but either way you’re stuck with them for now.
10 – Jason Maxiell – Thanks to his thunderous dunks Jason Maxiell has established a little bit of a fan following. The undersized forward has been a matchup nightmare—for Pistons’ coaches—but he’s shown enough to stay firmly out of the Austin Daye and Charlie Villenueva universally hated category. Whatever he does, Lawrence Brown likes it because he’s averaging a career high in minutes played this season.
9 – Jimmy Howard – Howard is actually an extremely good goalie, however as has always been the case in Detroit since the dawn of man, he gets way too much blame for their failures. Howard was top-10 in the NHL this season in Goals Against Average, Wins and Save Percentage, but you wouldn’t know it by listening to sports radio right now. Angry Wings fans are ready to charge the Joe with pitchforks and torches after the Wings listless first round exit and Howard is among the number one targets of their ire.
8 – Jose Valverde – When Valverde was signed just over two years ago, all of Detroit breathed a collective sigh of relief that the Todd Jones roller coaster was cruising out of town. We couldn’t wait to get those easy 1, 2, 3 ninth innings. Boy, were we fooled. Valverde has taken the cardiac kid moniker from Jones and ran with it as he apparently is highly allergic to easy saves. This season Valverde finally blew a save—only his 4th in 79 chances with Detroit—and he’s been extremely generous to baserunners, but he still posts only a 3.12 ERA and has converted 4 saves. His 1.62 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) defies logic. I guess he’s like Advanced Calculous—just something we’ll never be able to comprehend.
7 – Dominic Raiola – Who in the world can flip off fans in the midst of an historically embarrassing 0-16 season and still have a following—this guy (point with two extended middle fingers toward Dominick Raiola). Raiola has no doubt had a solid career with Detroit, but the guy has enjoyed no team success until this year and it definitely wore on his ability to interact with the public. That being said, the outspoken, durable Raiola has done what nearly every other Millen import hasn’t done–stick around. If the Lions somehow win a Super Bowl in the next couple years, no doubt you’d have to feel good for Raiola–and his birds.
6 – Ryan Raburn – Thank goodness for Ryan Raburn that number one on this list is also a Tiger, because otherwise the seasonal late bloomer would be hearing all of those boos at Comerica Park now. Raburn’s slow starts border on ludicrous at this point and it even makes you wonder why Leyland bothers playing him at all before the All-Star break. Needless to say, if history is on his side the snide remarks will turn to showers of gratitude once Raburn turns into Babe Ruth again this August.
5 – Johan Franzen – Johan Franzen has been a fixture on the Red Wings but he’s coming off one of his worst playoff series as he took some costly penalties and failed to deliver when the Wings needed him most. Franzen’s statistics have been pretty consistent, but he’s starting to be a face of a stagnant franchise. If the Wings are looking to shake things up, Franzen still has significant value, is affordable and might be one of the first guys shipped out of Hockeytown.
4 – Kevin Smith – A year ago, who in the world would have thought that Kevin Smith would still be a topic of conversation in Detroit? Smith is basically the Brandon Inge of the Lions, no matter how hard you try to get rid of him, you can’t. After mastering Call of Duty for PS3, Smith got a surprise call from the Lions mid-2011 once Jahvid Best was lost for the year. In typical polarizing fashion, Smith unexpectedly busted off 201 total yards and 3 TDs in an impressive comeback against the Carolina Panthers last November—then couldn’t stay healthy. Smith was re-signed by the Lions this offseason so we’re sure that we haven’t heard the end of this resilient die hard.
3 – Rodney Stuckey – The most polarizing radio personality in Detroit—Mike Valenti of 97.1—has never been shy in his hatred of Stuckey’s game. Stuckey looks like a first team All-NBA player one night, then a CBL castoff the next night. Despite his wildly inconsistent play, he remains the Pistons biggest hope to return to relevance and seems to have settled into the two-guard with the emergence of rookie point guard Brandon Knight. After scoring 35 points in a tough luck OT loss to the Bulls a couple weeks ago, Stuckey “responded” by scoring 19 points total in the last 5 games. That’s the definition of inconsistent. It’s hard to determine if his individual successes are a matter of matchups or simply an indication of his waning interest in the game.
2 – Jeff Backus – With fans already questioning his ability to play, Backus sealed his fate in a legion of Lions fans’ eyes with one whiff of All-Pro defensive end Julius Peppers. Backus’ “ole” of Peppers allowed the monstrous defensive end to ruin the Detroit Lions 2010 season almost before it began—by means of a Matthew Stafford separated shoulder. Backus has looked foolish at times, but since he has to face Peppers and the Viking’s Jared Allen in 25% of his games, he’s at a distinct disadvantage. Any tackle would struggle in that scenario. Still, the end is neigh for Backus after a Cal Ripken-like streak of starts–the Lions just better hurry up and start grooming his replacement.
1 – Brandon Inge – Brandon Inge is the Kim Kardashian, Lindsey Lohan and Octomom of Detroit all rolled into one. The publicity surrounding him is stunning. When he was released following Thursday’s loss to the Mariners, Twitter practically blew up. There’s little doubt that Inge didn’t belong on the Tigers in 2012, but he still had a legion of haters at odds with his horde of faithful supporters. This was on full display with the recent “taste great/less filling”-type showdown of boos and cheers for him from Tiger faithful during the Texas series. The scorekeepers appear to be in Inge’s corner, as well, as they’ve been generous with plays involving Inge. Despite the entertainment of the circus act, Inge’s time in Detroit came to an end, to the disappointment of Jim Leyland, who could barely fight off tears in his post-game comments after Inge was released. Sad thing is, no matter how good (or bad) the Tigers lay the rest of the way this season, there will be those who will play the “what-if” game with Inge.
Some of these guys might rebound to our good graces, the bottom will fall out on others, but right now they’re all stuck in the middle of our perceptions.