The Detroit Tigers have put together some “OOPS” that have benefitted the fans. Please allow me to explain.
Last week, the Detroit Tigers tweeted a video of Miguel Cabrera taking groundballs at shortstop. The next day, the Philadelphia Phillies posted one of Bryce Harper taking infield at third base. They got me thinking, “What’s the craziest Tigers team from this century you can build based purely on putting players out-of-position?”
I went to work with one rule: We can only put a player in a position they actually played during their time in the major leagues. At some point, a big-league manager had to have enough confidence in that player to put them at that spot, no matter how hard it is to believe in hindsight. Below, you’ll see our team, along with the story of how that player ended up playing that position. Come for the ridiculousness; stay for the picture at the end.
Let’s call it, the Tigers’ Out-of-Position Stars’, or the Tigers’ Oops’ team, for short.
Catcher: Don Kelly
Here is where the ‘Emergency Catcher’ position came into play, and as we know, it couldn’t happen to a better guy. ‘Donnie Kelly Baby’ became the first Tigers’ EC’ this century to make an appearance on July 2, 2011, when Victor Martinez was hit by a pitch from former Tiger Brayan Villarreal and caught six innings so Alex Avila could play the following Sunday afternoon.
1B: Johnny Damon
Because when you think ‘power-hitting first baseman,’ you think of Johnny Damon. The 18-year vet played more seasons in the big leagues (18) than he did innings at first base (12.1). Damon played his only campaign in Detroit in 2010, posting a WAR of 3.0.
Backup: Deivi Cruz
2B: Ivan Rodriguez
‘Pudge’ is considered one of the greatest defensive catchers ever to play the game. For our purposes, you might remember when Placido Polanco separated his shoulder diving for a ball at Fenway Park in August of 2006. It was Rodriguez who replaced him for two innings. It was Pudge’s first appearance at second base in his 1,983rd major league game.
Backup: Bryan Holaday
SS: Brandon Inge
A shortstop was the most difficult position to find someone who actually played there by far. Enter Inge, who made the big leagues as a catcher before moving to third base where he played the bulk of his career. Having played collegiately at Virginia Commonwealth University as a shortstop, he’s more familiar with the position than you’d think. Inge never played short in Detroit, and only spent one big-league inning there during his final season with Pittsburgh.
3B: Alex Avila
In 2011, the son of Tigers Assistant GM Al Avila enjoyed a breakout season that saw him voted in as the starting catcher in the MLB All-Star Game. In June of that season, manager Jim Leyland wanted his bat in the lineup. Due to Inge being on the disabled list, Leyland placed Avila at third base on June 17, 2011, and used Victor Martinez at catcher. Avila finished the season hitting .295 with 19 homers and 82 RBI and finished 12th in the voting for American League MVP. He continues to look like Jack Parkman from the Major League movie franchise to this day.
Backup: Dimitri Young
LF: Miguel Cabrera
‘Miggy’ might be the only player you remember having played this position. In his first three seasons, Cabrera was strictly an outfielder by the then-named Florida Marlins. It wasn’t until 2006 when the Marlins made Cabrera their everyday third baseman before trading him to the Tigers two years later. It’s still hard for Tigers fans to fathom Cabrera playing the outfield, but I’d pay to see him try his luck at shortstop.
Backups: Ramon Santiago/Carlos Pena/Hal Morris
CF: Matt Stairs
One of my all-time favorite players, based purely on the fact that he looked like a guy from everyone’s beer league softball team. Stairs carved out an excellent career spanning 19 seasons, and the Oakland A’s had the nerve to play him in centerfield not once, but twice, sending him out to patrol the Oakland outfield in a game in both 1999 and 2000.
Backup: Omar Infante
RF: Chris Shelton
More than any defensive position he played, we remember ‘Red Pop,’ for hitting nine homers in the Tigers first 13 games back in 2006. As a ‘Rule 5’ pick in 2004, Shelton’s bat was his calling card, and early on, the Tigers tried him as a catcher before moving him to first base. During one game in 2004, former Tigers skipper Alan Trammell gave Shelton the ‘Moonlight Graham’ treatment, and for the only inning in his big career, he played right field while even catching a fly ball.
DH: Daniel Norris & Justin Verlander
We’ve got a lefty and righty to platoon!
In his first career at-bat, Norris etched his name on the ‘Oops’ team by belting a home run off Jon Lester at Wrigley Field. The look of pure and utter shock from his teammates makes this one of the more enjoyable moments for Tigers fans in recent memory.
Meanwhile, no pitcher seemed to enjoy the chance to hit than Verlander. His younger brother, Ben, ended up playing as an outfielder in the Tigers minor league system for five years. It wasn’t until his ninth season in Major League Baseball when the older Verlander broke an 0-for-26 stretch with a single off Ian Kennedy at San Diego in April of 2011.
Even better, he singled again in his next at-bat that same night.
Backup: Max Scherzer
For your enjoyment, here’s a list of some of the relievers who’ve made a plate appearance for the Tigers since 2000:
Zach Miner (who I’ve been told is my body double)
Let’s get back to building our team, where we still need to find a pitcher.
Starting Pitcher: Andrew Romine
Shane Halter, Danny Worth, and Brandon Dixon all received consideration, but Romine gets the nod here. He’s the only player whose brother is also a position player that got the chance to pitch. Andrew retired former All-Star third baseman, Miguel Sano, in a game he played all nine positions in October of 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpsrmKw1L2s
Meanwhile, his younger brother Austin Romine pitched an inning during the 2019 regular season, plus a frame during Game 3 of the 2018 ALDS and retired red sox shortstop Xander Bogarts in the process. He signed with the Tigers and should be the primary catcher once the abbreviated season begins in 2020.
Reliever: Ryan Raburn
You might remember that time he pitched a 1-2-3 inning. Of course, it would come against what may have been the best Tigers team of the decade in 2013. He made two appearances without giving up an earned run with Cleveland in 2013 & 2015.
And with that, here’s how the lineup might look for the Tigers’ Oops’ team:
1. 1B Johnny Damon
2. 2B Ivan Rodriguez
3. 3B Alex Avila
4. LF Miguel Cabrera
5. SS Brandon Inge
6. CF Matt Stairs
7. C Don Kelly
8. DH Daniel Norris/Justin Verlander
9. RF Chris Shelton
That’s …not bad. I’ve certainly seen worse and don’t act like you didn’t see the bottom of that lineup.
Now let’s go ahead and check out the defensive alignment for Tigers’ OOPS’ Team and oh dear god…
Who would you nominate for an out-of-place Tiger and why? Find Dan on Twitter at @ThatDanHasty!