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AROUND THE HORN ROSS NEWHAN

Tigers Can't Get Motor Running

April 14, 2002|ROSS NEWHAN

In the Motor City, there ought to be a lemon law to protect fans from the sputtering Detroit Tigers, who go to work today with an 0-10 record, their worst start since an 0-13 in 1920 and the worst in the majors since the Chicago Cubs were 0-14 in 1997.

The new dugout team of Manager Luis Pujols and bench coach Felipe Alou isn't likely to produce any immediate miracles given the lack of playing talent, but as Dodger Manager Jim Tracy, who coached with Pujols under Alou in Montreal, put it, making note of the Tigers' winless record through Friday:

"It's not the most enviable situation for Luis, but he has the right guy sitting next to him. I can only imagine the number of insightful things he'll learn from Felipe during the course of a game. In my four years with Felipe I never saw him miss a pitch. His knowledge of what's going on 60 feet 6 inches away [the distance between the mound and home plate] is incredible, and his understanding of young players and their development is outstanding. I'm rooting for those guys, and I have every intention to call them in the next day or so."

Tracy better make it fast.

Instability now characterizes a once-proud franchise that employed Ty Cobb for 22 years, Al Kaline for 22, Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell in the middle of the infield for two decades and Sparky Anderson as manager for 17 seasons. The Tigers have not had a winning season since 1993, and Pujols is the fourth manager since Anderson left in 1995. The fact that Alou, 66, considers Pujols--whose managerial experience consists of a year at double A and another in the Dominican Winter League--to be part of his family is probably the only reason he agreed to join what could be a semi-interim situation.

The respected Dave Dombrowski, recently lured from the Florida Marlins to become the Tigers' third president in a year, had hoped to spend the year evaluating the organization before embarking on a dugout and front-office purge. However, the winless start accelerated his timetable as the turnstiles at Comerica Park stopped spinning and Dombrowski sent the message to media and fans that he wasn't going to let an entire season deteriorate.

Manager Phil Garner and General Manager Randy Smith were fired, with Pujols moving up from the coaching staff to become manager and Dombrowski taking on the GM duties--as he would have inevitably done anyway.

Alou, who had interviewed for the Boston Red Sox managing job before Grady Little was hired, rejected a Detroit offer of two additional years as assistant to Dombrowski because of his preference to stay in uniform and possibly manage again--either with the Tigers or another team. It is unlikely he would step over Pujols' body if Dombrowski decides Pujols isn't ready or capable of being a big league manager, but then business is business.

For now, as Tracy said, Alou's developmental skills with young talent, and his ability to generate an aura of dugout stability and patience, should be invaluable for an organization going nowhere in the American League Central's 2002 race and that has no choice but to focus on development.

"I don't pretend to be familiar with the Detroit situation," Tracy said, "but I think they have the right people to get the ball rolling and that it should pick up steam going downhill."

Outclassed

The spring sing coming out of the Angels' camp in Arizona featured a repetitive chorus: The Angels could contend in the AL West and close the 41-game gulf that separated them from the Seattle Mariners last year.

Well, two weeks don't make a season, but the Angels may want to change the lyrics.

It was the Mariners who made an early mark and created new despair and disparity in Anaheim by sweeping a four-game series that ended Thursday night. Seattle has won 19 of its last 23 games with the Angels, including 12 in a row at Edison Field.

How?

"It's really not complicated," a veteran AL scout said. "Position by position, the Mariners are simply the better team and by far, particularly now that Darin Erstad and Tim Salmon appear to have slipped so badly."

The scout said the Angels have an edge only at third base (Troy Glaus over Jeff Cirillo) and in left field (Garret Anderson over Mark McLemore and Ruben Sierra). He said the closers, Troy Percival and Kazuhiro Sasaki, were a tossup and "both among the best in baseball.

"Otherwise Seattle has a huge edge in the bullpen [with Jeff Nelson, Arthur Rhodes and Shigetoshi Hasegawa], and I still don't understand why the Angels let Hasegawa leave.

"I like the Mariner rotation," he added, referring to Nos. 1 and 2 Freddy Garcia and Jamie Moyer having gone 38-12 at the front end last year. "I don't know if [James] Baldwin can replace [Aaron] Sele's 15 wins, but Sele wasn't the same pitcher in the postseason, and [Mariner General Manager] Pat Gillick seldom makes a bad decision. As for the rest of it, I don't think it's close."

Hot Air

The science class theory that hot air rises and cold air sinks is being tested in Bud Selig's $400-million Milwaukee pleasure dome. The April chill has been entering the park through openings near the retractable roof track and filtering down to the parka-clad crowd, overpowering a heating system designed to warm the multimillion-dollar facility only 30 degrees above outside temperatures, which have been in the 30s, chilling the Wisconsin cheese and spectators.

As Randy Johnson of the Arizona Diamondbacks said during his visit last week, "This is a nice park and all, don't get me wrong, but I don't know who is paying the heating bill. If we come here again, I'll be happy to chip in a little."

Small-market Bud would be appreciative.

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