FAREWELL TO GONZALEZ, A GUY WE NEVER KNEW

IF A guy asks a girl out and she turns him down, you cheer him up. If she turns him down again, you console him. If she turns him down again, you feel sorry for him.

And if he keeps asking, you roll your eyes and say he’s pathetic.

Why wasn’t the same standard applied to the Tigers’ courtship of outfielder Juan Gonzalez? They pursued him, wooed him, placated him and all the while kept saying, “Marry us, marry us…. “

And he kept saying “no.”

Which letter, “n” or “o,” did the Tigers not understand?

Farewell, Juanny, we hardly knew ye. And please, enough already with the excuses for this guy. If he wanted to be a Tiger, he knows enough English to say so.

The truth is, when you offer someone $140 million and he still turns you down, that’s some serious bad breath you have.

For Juan, the bad breath was the stadium (too big), the city (too cold), the prospects (too dim) and the perceived alternative (too attractive).

Of course, now Gonzalez is learning that $140 million in the hand is worth a lot of bushes. These days, the Tigers are not in the long-term, big-contract business (you’ll have to ask the Ilitches about that), and Juan finds himself saying “no” to nothing more than an arbitration offer for a one-year deal.

Which, by the way, he did say. N-O.

Farewell, Juanny. Don’t forget your bats.

Fans want answers

Now. Where Gonzalez ends up is of little concern to Tigers fans. What they want to know is: 1) Why did the Tigers trade for Gonzalez in the first place? 2) Why couldn’t they keep him? 3) What’s the bottom line on the guys they gave up? 4) Who’s to blame?

Here are some answers:

First, the deal was made for a simple reason. The Tigers were opening Comerica Park, and they wanted a marquee player to help sell tickets. Never mind that the park was built for pitchers. A pitcher plays only once every four or five games. A hitter, a home run hitter, that’s what people come to see. And the Ilitches know marketing.

So Gonzalez was a pizza-pizza. And even though plenty of folks in Texas, where he played 11 seasons, shook their heads and mumbled “trouble” and “funny attitude,” the Tigers saw what they wanted to see. They traded six players, got Gonzalez, and splashed it in headlines.

But headlines don’t tell the whole story. Right from the start, there were signs. Juan was embroiled in divorce problems. (I always lose count with his children and ex-wives, so let’s just say the numbers four and five are in there.) Juan also had problems keeping his commitments. “I’ll be there tomorrow” should be stitched on his bags.

Oh. And he seems to have a phobia about back doctors.

For a while, none of this fazed the Tigers. They saw what they wanted to see. Even when Gonzalez turned down their eight-year, $140-million offer, they spun it as, “Aw, he just wants to think about it.”

Right. And Veronica is in love with Jughead.

No money, no Juan

Gonzalez wound up having the worst year of his career. He was often hurt, and no matter how many members of his entourage kept insisting, “Juan likes it here,” the fact is, he never showed it. He seemed to bolt whenever he could. Getting him to Detroit in the off-season is harder than getting Al Gore out of the White House.

But now the tables have turned. Gonzalez fired his agent (sure, the guy only brought him a $140-million offer) and hired Scott (“I Never Asked For a Private Jet”) Boras, the man behind Alex Rodriguez’s $252-million deal with the Texas Rangers.

Boras would have liked that big, fat stogie of a deal, but the Tigers were talking only short-term now. They say it’s because of Juan’s back. That might be true. It’s also because the Tigers’ ownership is not shelling out that kind of money.

No money, no Juanny.

So that answers why they signed him and why they can’t keep him. As to the guys they gave up, well, the jury is still out. Gabe Kapler is missed: He had a terrific season in Texas. Justin Thompson is an injury hoping to be a pitcher. Francisco Cordero is a could-be who is still struggling. Frank Catalanotto wasn’t half-bad this year. Bill Haselman is a backup.

As for who’s to blame, well, the fingers will point to Randy Smith, the Tigers’ general manager. He made the trade. He kept telling everyone how good it would be.

His fault or not, Smith has gotten a fairly easy ride in Detroit, considering the Tigers’ performances (try lasting five seasons in New York with these results). And, although it’s not true, it does seem like he trades the same guys to the same teams every few months. (There’s a rumor that Brad Ausmus is keeping an apartment in Detroit for the next time around.)

But in Smith’s defense, he can only do what the owner lets him do. He inherited little. Now the safe is suddenly empty.

“We are not far from reaching our goals,” Smith said.

Hmm. Do the words “Let’s raise the bar” mean anything?

Farewell, Juanny. Was a time, during spring training, when you said, “I’m ready to help my new team.”

Just think. You get to use that line all over again.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Listen to Mitch’s radio show, “Albom in the Afternoon,” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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