I couldn’t avoid it. I tried to. Believe me, I did. But
when it came right down to it, there was no way not to mention the
Detroit Tigers’ signing of catcher Ivan Rodriguez in this
space.

Laura Wong

I’ll get to some of the other stuff in a minute …
but first things first.

I don’t know how it happened, or why (though I suspect the
$40-million contract had something to do with it), but the Tigers,
fresh off a 119-loss season, signed the MVP of the National League
Championship Series.

Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.

Apparently the 119 losses finally provided the wake-up call that
Tigers’ owner Mike Ilitch needed to stop addressing all of
his checks to the Red Wings and throw some money into his
dead-to-the-world baseball team.

Or maybe he realized that the Red Wings and the rest of the NHL
could be on strike next year, so he transferred the payroll money
over to TigerTown.

Whatever the reason, all of a sudden, this offseason has turned
into a real-life version of when Ebenezer Scrooge wakes up at the
end of “A Christmas Carol” — instead of pinching
pennies, Ilitch appears to be running around Comerica Park throwing
money at any free agent that will listen.

Rodriguez heard him, and the Tigers secured themselves one of
the greatest catchers in the history of baseball.

And as if Tigers fans aren’t dancing in the streets
already, Rodriguez threw this little nugget into the mix during the
press conference announcing his signing on Monday.

“We’re going to see this organization, this Detroit
Tigers team, in the playoffs very soon.”

Now that’s going out on a limb.

The guess here is, though, that Rodriguez will be joined out on
that limb by every true Tigers fan that has become so frustrated
with this franchise over the past decade or so.

Rodriguez is the first huge name to come play in Detroit since
Juan Gonzalez.

As of Monday, he appeared as happy to be here as any player
since current Tigers’ manager Alan Trammell played for the
club.

So, whether or not the Tigers are playoff contenders this
season, Ilitch and his franchise have finally and mercifully
restored some excitement in a city that — when it’s
been given good teams to rally around —has shown itself to be
one of the best, most knowledgeable baseball cities in the country.
That enthusiasm has been lost during year after year of sub-.500
ball.

Monday’s signing appears to be the biggest step the Tigers
have made in years to begin cleaning up the stink of defeat in
Detroit.

 

OK, while we’re in baseball, let’s get the Drew
Henson ballyhoo out of the way, as well. After playing 501 minor
league and a whopping eight major league games, Henson has opted to
forfeit the last $12 million of his contract with the New York
Yankees, and will pursue an NFL career.

Surprise, surprise.

It’s been speculated since Henson first started bombing in
the Yankees’ minor league system that this was going to
happen.

Now, it finally has, and there’s only one thing I can
think: His football career cannot possibly be as bad as his
baseball career.

I know Henson loved baseball. I also am aware that he is,
statistically, he’s the state’s all-time high school
leader in runs scored, hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs and
walks.

But when he got to Michigan, and tried to pull double-duty in
the minor leagues, it was becoming increasingly clear that he was
blooming into a spectacular football player and disintegrating into
a mediocre third baseman.

He’ll get his chance — he is (well, for now,
let’s make that he was) a mobile, smart quarterback with a
rocket arm. The NFL scouts still drool over him.

With his baseball career officially in the past, let’s
hope that one of the University’s greatest athletes can find
some professional success.

 

What is going on with the Los Angeles Lakers?

On Sunday, during a live TV interview after a win over the
Toronto Raptors, Shaq-Daddy or Diesel or Kazaam! — whatever
you want to call him — launched into a profanity-filled
complaint about the referees. After being reminded he was on live
television, Shaq responded that he didn’t “give a
s***.”

We’ve also got the Kobe Bryant situation hanging over the
Lakers’ heads. And last week, current Laker Karl Malone got
into a spat with his former team, the Utah Jazz. This came after
the Jazz performed a mock phone call over the P.A. system during
the Lakers-Jazz game. The call included a fake Malone saying he
wanted to “come home to Utah,” and then poked fun at
Bryant’s situation.

In response to that, Malone said: “I guarantee you,
I’ll have the last say on this. That little skit they did,
it’ll cost them. I guarantee you.”

Woah. Easy on the revenge train there, Hamlet. It was a fairly
harmless gag.

Regardless of whether the Jazz’s stunt was appropriate, or
whether the refs were solid on Sunday, or whether Kobe did it or
not, there’s no debating this: The Lakers are suddenly
turning into a public relations nightmare.

If only they could be more like the Tigers.

Chris Burke can be reached at
“mailto:chrisbur@umich.edu”>chrisbur@umich.edu.

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