One man’s baseball dream: Time for the manager switcheroo!

Okay, the Tigers are making me sick.

At times they look like a team that can win not just their division, but the American League, the World Series, the whole shebang, whatever a shebang is.

At other times – and if you’ve been paying any attention at all this year, you know what I’m talking about – they look like a team that’s just lucky to be above .500 by this point in August.

Worst of all, disregarding the two above possibilities, they most often look like a team that pretty much doesn’t give a crap if it wins or loses anything. And that is what’s driving me crazy. Or craziest. It’s what’s making me sick.

They’ve got the best pure power hitter in baseball. They’ve got the best starting pitcher in baseball. They’ve got a monster hitter at first base who looks like Big Daddy Lipscomb of the old Baltimore Colts in a baseball uniform, and if you don’t remember Big Daddy just imagine Prince Fielder in a football uniform. They’ve got a solid catcher and some other good young talent on the verge of greatness, hoping to make real trouble in the American League. Plus, they’ve got a shortstop who can’t spell his own first name.

You’d think a lineup like that would scare its way to the top of the mediocre division they play in. But no, they go slogging along … good one week … lousy the next … and so-so the majority of the time. Nobody breaks bats over their knees when they strike out; nobody kicks water coolers when they screw up (do they still have water coolers in Major League dugouts?; if not, somebody should kick a batboy), they don’t get into wild fistfights with other teams; they don’t even get into wild fistfights with themselves.

The fans are going nuts about this team, why doesn’t it go nuts about itself?

Time for a change. I’ve put off suggesting this since the idea first occurred in June. One of the cool things about baseball is that it’s a sport that supports wild stories and bizarre notions and out-and-out fantasies that have long sustained interest in the game. It’s the sport that gave us Field of Dreams and The Natural and the ‘68 Tigers (a better fantasy than either movie) and The Bird and the bizarre concept of trading one manager for another.

That actually happened, here in good old Detroit, back in August of 1960. It was a move that confused everybody in town. Even people who weren’t baseball fans got confused, and stayed that way. That year’s listless Tigers club traded our manager, the listless Jimmy Dykes, to the listless Cleveland Indians club for their listless manager, Joe Gordon. Nobody in our neighborhood could figure it out. Still can’t.

That trade helped no one, both teams ended the season as also-rans, and it wasn’t long before both aging managers – who had long been part of baseballs incredible managerial merry-go-round of the era, where failure was virtually impossible – were finally out of the sport after decades of sub-.500 “leadership.”

But it happened. It actually occurred. A manager-for-manager August trade. And it’s time for another.

I’m proposing that – before it’s too late, and before this season, and this team, go down the tubes – that the very same Detroit Tigers trade listless manager Jim Leyland (the only colorful things the guy does is smoke and stay awake in the late innings) to the Arizona Diamondbacks for their very un-listless manager, former Tiger hero Kirk Gibson.

The dang Tigers should have seized the opportunity to land Gibby as their on-field leader a few years ago, when somebody in Phoenix had the brains and the imagination to see that in a game of listless types and listless teams our own Kirk Gibson was among the few – think of him as a law-abiding Billy Martin – who can kick ass and take names and, if necessary, order a team of listless millionaires to give a town what it so desperately needs: a colorful and passionate winner. Martin dramatically turned around the Tigers and other AL clubs in the 1970s, leading them to the playoffs before he was usually run out of town by fed-up owners and, in a few instances, the Morals Squad.

But Gibby’s no Billy.

The Diamondbacks, a team with little talent and no pre-season hype, performed brilliantly under Gibson last season. He drove them to success by personal effort. He’s a hard-ass, he’s a guy who beat up some of his own teammates when he played here in Detroit, and threatened to beat up a few more. Can you imagine anybody on the present team even considering showing passion like that? By hook, crook, and near-miracles, he’s got his current Diamondbacks only five games out of the lead in the National League West, keeping them in contention by sheer willpower. The guy is a WINNER.

Yes, it’s a fantasy … another baseball dream. But what the hell, if we did it once with Dykes for Gordon, why can’t we have a Leyland-for-Gibson late-season swap? Come on, Mr. I. Everybody says you’ll do anything to win a World Series. Pull the trigger on this baseball dream NOW … while you’ve got the team that could profit from Gibby’s baseball-as-football mentality. I would bet a thousand big ones that a Gibson-led Tigers club would come out of September at least six games ahead of those listless Chicago White Sox. And then look out in the playoffs.

Yeah, Gibson’s a wild man. But whose style has ever fit this town better than his? He began as the Wild Hoss of Waterford. But he learned the game from Sparky Anderson, and he learned how to control himself before he attempted to control other players as a positive-thinking and aggressive manager. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of player and manager. He’s a hometown boy, a favorite son. He and fellow local hero Alan Trammell are among the few young bright lights coaching together in the old national pastime. What they could do here, with this talent … boy oh boy!

So here’s baseball’s latest fantasy. Make it a movie, if that’s what appeals to you. (Call it Driving Mr. Leyland … to Phoenix). Here’s the plot: “Aging but beloved local owner digs into the pockets of his pizza profits and pulls off astonishing managerial trade. Favorite controversial son returns to hometown with a month to go in a fading season, and suddenly recreates the kind of magic he showed as a World Series legend in both leagues. Hometown celebrates bigtime October. And I finally feel better.”

This is meant as no slam on Mr. Leyland, who’s a classy guy. We’re talking fantasy here, remember? The best of all possible worlds. Who deserves a story like this more than we do? Who deserves deliverance more than Detroit does?

A side story for an exit: When Gibby played for the Tigers, a friend of mine managed the visiting clubhouse at Tiger Stadium. “The other players are scared of him,” he said of Gibson. “He plays baseball like football, and they’re afraid he’s going to hurt guys on the other teams.”

Sounds damn awful … don’t it?

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About Tom DeLisle

Tom DeLisle is a native Detroiter. The east side resident was a city desk reporter for the Detroit Free Press from 1967 to '71, and a member of the Free Press staff that won the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for reporting the Detroit Riot. After serving as an Executive Assistant and speechwriter to Detroit Mayor Roman Gribbs from 1971-74, he worked as a television writer and producer in New York and Los Angeles, including a variety of bad sitcoms and comedy specials. He wrote monologues for guest host Richard Dawson for "The Tonight Show" from 1978 to '81. Returning to Detroit, he worked in television and radio with Dick Purtan and Tom Ryan, winning five Emmy Awards for local documentaries and comedies, including the 1981 primetime "Dick Purtan Comedy Special" and 1990's "Sparky Anderson Special" (with guest Pres. Richard Nixon) for WDIV-TV. He wrote for a variety of Tigers and Red Wings specials for Channel 50 in the 1990s and 2000s, including the "Stanley Celebrations," while appearing as "The Nervous Person" for three years on the '"Ray (Lane) and Mickey (Redmond) On Ice" specials at WKBD. He is currently completing a novel, and generally slowing down, because he's fairly tired.