Justin Upton, My New Favorite Player

Justin Upton, to those who only follow the celebrity aspect of sports, is not the child of Justin Verlander and Kate Upton.

kate and justinThe photo above is click-bait, I’ll admit it. Anyway, Upton is far more important than that possible future wunderkind. Justin Upton is now my favorite player. Okay, not really, not just yet, but I’m very hopeful he will become just that. When the news hit that the Tigers – my most-favored baseball team – signed Mr. Upton, my initial reaction was a mental shrug. Nope, not even worth an actual physical shrug; that’s how little I cared about the signing.

But upon further reflection, I’m very happy with the news, and excited about Detroit’s postseason prospects. Why the change of heart? Well, let’s take some steps back into history – about 32 years back.

In 1984, the Tigers were coming off a fine year; they went 92-70, and finished second in the AL East. They had a damn good roster, including one of the best double play combos ever in Whitaker and Trammel, an excellent catcher in Lance Parrish, and some quality pitchers, led by Jack Morris. But they were still missing something – enough fire to put them over the top in the talent-laden East. Turns out they’d had that missing piece all along; it just took him time to put it together. His name of course, is Kirk Gibson.


Gibson made his debut at the age of 22, getting into 12 games for the Tigers in 1979. He never played in more than 100 games until 1983. In his first mostly full-time gig, he played in 128 games, with a slash line of 227/320/414. 66 of his games were at DH, and just four in right field – in which he showed limited range and committed one error in seven chances. Gibby hit third in 55 of those 128 games, and rewarded his skipper with an OPS of .632. Manager Sparky Anderson looked at this performance and did the only thing that made sense: he installed Gibson as his full-time right fielder and batted him third in 93 of his 134 starts. Gibby of course caught fire with this vote of confidence, and was as responsible as anyone on the team for their ridiculous 35-5 start. Chet Lemon and Alan Trammel were still better players, but Gibby, one of my favorite players ever, had arrived.

upton homer

Which brings me back to Mr. Upton. He comes to the Tigers at the age of 28, one year older than Gibson was in his breakout year of 1984. Gibson played baseball and football at Michigan State, delaying his arrival in minor league baseball until he was 21. Upton hit the minors straight from high school and wasted no time there, reaching the big leagues at the age of 19. So instead of age, I’ll compare the two players through their first nine years of play.

Here’s Gibson.

Totals 893 3672 3210 528 885 140 35 150 499 166 51 380 713 .276 .352 .481 .934
Average 99 408 357 59 98 16 4 17 55 18 6 4 79 .276 .352 .481 .834

And here’s Upton.

Totals 1184 4934 4329 694 1175 234 35 190 616 115 44 509 1185 .271 .352 .473 .825
Average 132 548 481 77 131 26 4 21 68 13 5 57 132 .271 .352 .473 .825

These guys look pretty similar, right? Upton strikes out a lot more, steals less, but that’s a function of today’s game as much as it is his particular game. Upton’s fielding is a big edge; Gibby just wasn’t very good in the field, with 23 assists and a RF of 1.91 after nine years; Upton has 39 assists and a RF of 2.15. Hey, I said he was better than Gibson, not Guerrero. Gibson’s total WAR in his first nine years was 24.4; Upton’s is 24.7. Upton has more upside entering his tenth year simply because he’s younger. And more importantly, he’s a big upgrade to the Tigers’ outfield, filling the gap that the trade of Yoenis Cespedes left in mid-season last year.

The question for me is simple: will he show anything close to the drive of Gibby? I doubt it; after all, few did. I know this much; I hope to God someone paints the inside of his cap with eyeblack in spring training. I mean, all Gibson did after blowing up and informing his new teammates in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t there to screw around, was win the National League MVP, wreck the Mets in the NLCS, and make his own version of The Natural against the game’s best closer, proving to the Dodgers they could win the Series. Gibby, you’re calling games for the Tigers now; think maybe you could sneak into the dugout in Lakeland in a few weeks?

upton tiger uni

So Mr. Upton. You’re entering your tenth year in the bigs, just like Gibson in 1988. You’re on a new team, just like Gibson was with the Dodgers. You’ve got talent here already, just as Gibson did in Los Angeles. Can you be that missing piece? Here’s to my early pick for the AL MVP, and vastly more important, (hopefully) my new favorite player, Justin Upton. And by all means, if a certain Tigers broadcaster asks to see your cap, hand it over.

Shut The Buck Up


By Todd Vandenberg

To be clear, what a fantastic game that was last night. I’m not sure how the rest of the Series can live up to the drama of Game One – and of course it will, and will surpass it, because it was just the first game, after all. A game that started with Matt Harvey grooving a fastball to notorious first-ball hitter Alcides Escobar, who slammed it off the leg of the ultra-fast Yoenis Cespedes for a standup inside-the-park homer. First, the pitch: in case their scouts missed it, Royals manager Ned Yost is very publicly on record, telling everyone who has ears, that Escobar swings at the first pitch. Dude, Harvey, what were you thinking? Escobar is so locked into that first swing, you could have thrown to the dugout and gotten a strike. There were questions as to the wisdom of playing Cespedes in center, especially in the vast acreage of Kauffman Stadium. Despite his play on Escobar’s ball, where he clearly looked at LF Michael Conforto and then knew he had to make the play, Cespedes can’t be faulted on it. The statheads tell us his route efficiency (the path he took to the ball) was 95%. No, it wasn’t perfect, but he made a great effort; Escobar just found the perfect hole in left center. Continue reading “Shut The Buck Up”

2015’s Best / Worst Cities for Baseball Fans @WalletHub

bb_field_photoGet used to seeing more Americans sporting baseball fan gear this summer. If 2014’s any indication — Major League Baseball witnessed its seventh biggest attendance of all time this past September — we may see yet another record-breaking baseball season in 2015. Continue reading “2015’s Best / Worst Cities for Baseball Fans @WalletHub”

Dodgers In Trouble? by Lee Vowell

I am a dyed-in-the-wool Dodgers homer. I want them to win every game, but when they do lose I am insane enough to think 1) I somehow something to do with it (Was it what I wore that day? Is it because I watched the game?), and 2) this will be the first loss in a string of around 874 of them. As I write this the Dodgers have been shut out twice in a row by the evilness to the North, the New York/San Francisco Giants. Part of the issue with the last two games is what has concerned me for the entire season thus far. And so, I share my pessimism with you now. Continue reading “Dodgers In Trouble? by Lee Vowell”

“Some Hall of Fame Candidates” by Todd Vandenberg

On the most recent (and typically brilliant) edition of Baseball Beer and BBQ, I was lucky enough to join the fellas – said gentlemen being Mr. Fabulous, also known as Ted, and The Sexy God, known in some circles as Lee. As they refuse to acknowledge my chosen sobriquet, Manfred the Wonder Dog, I have settled for Mr. Irrelevant. Continue reading ““Some Hall of Fame Candidates” by Todd Vandenberg”

“If I were the MLB Commissioner” by Joel Schafer

I have said many times in the past that Major League Baseball needs change. Well, being that we started a new era in baseball where in large part Bud Selig screwed the league up more than it should have ever been. There was a strike shortened season that did not have a champion crowned. He tried to take out 2 teams, the Twins and Expos. He added inter-league play. He made an exhibition game count: the league that wins gets home field for the World Series. He has expanded the playoffs from 4 teams to too many teams and a bad playoff system. He also let the Steroid era get way too big with way too much FAKE media outcry. Thanks for nothing Bud. You are by far the worst sports commissioner in the history of all of sports. To make baseball better there are several things I would do to make the league better. Continue reading ““If I were the MLB Commissioner” by Joel Schafer”

“THE HUSTLE” by Joel Schafer

I would like to thank Lee and Ted and Todd for giving me the opportunity to write for the Triple B.  It is an honor to give you my unique look into a sport I love. Without any further adieu, I give you a piece I wrote while my youngest “chipper” was in the hospital,  written from my good ol’ blackberry (no I don’t have it anymore).

Continue reading ““THE HUSTLE” by Joel Schafer”

3 x 5 American League West Preview by Lee Vowell and Todd Vandenberg

American League West Questions


Houston Astros

Question: Were the seasons of SPs Dallas Keuchel (2.93 ERA, led the league with 5 complete games and winning a Gold Glove) and Collin McHugh (McHugh: 1.02 WHIP and 2.73 ERA) flukes? Or is this team on the precipice of something great? Continue reading “3 x 5 American League West Preview by Lee Vowell and Todd Vandenberg”

“Between a Rock and a Hard Rock: Food Journalism in 2015” by Todd Vandenberg

Our local paper, the Knoxville News Sentinel, used to publish a popular alternative weekly paper, Metro Pulse. The parent company, E.W. Scripps, apparently decided in late 2014 that Metro Pulse was cannibalizing sales of the News Sentinel’s Friday edition, so they said goodbye to the entire Metro Pulse staff, effectively killing the paper. A quote from the News Sentinel regarding this event: “The staff of Metro Pulse has distinguished itself through the years with its provocative and informative content,” said News Sentinel Publisher and KNS Media President Patrick Birmingham. “Like other businesses, though, the News Sentinel must adapt to the changing business environment. Despite this difficult step, we remain committed to being the authoritative source of information about things to do in and around Knoxville and are excited about the possibilities for our combined product.” (knoxnews.com, October 15, 2014) Continue reading ““Between a Rock and a Hard Rock: Food Journalism in 2015” by Todd Vandenberg”

3 x 5 AL Central Preview by Lee Vowell and Todd Vandenberg

American League Central Questions


Chicago White Sox

Question: The White Sox made a lot of moves this offseason, adding Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, Adam LaRoche, Melky Cabrera, Zach Duke and Dan Jennings, among others. How much better, if at all, do you think they will be? Continue reading “3 x 5 AL Central Preview by Lee Vowell and Todd Vandenberg”