by | Dec 13, 2009 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

What did we really know about Curtis Granderson? He had a nice smile. He had a foundation. He made a few highlight plays in centerfield and had a good first half and a not-so-good second half last year.

He’ll be 29 years old. Been an All-Star once. Only once in his career has he finished with 30 home runs or a .300 average. He hit .095 in his lone World Series. Last year he was occasionally benched against left-handers.

And yet, when he was traded this past week, it was as if the Red Sox had shipped Babe Ruth to the Yankees. “How could they?” we asked. This says a lot about our relationship with today’s Tigers.

Granderson was as close to a star in this town as the franchise had, mostly because Justin Verlander is too low-key (and plays once every five games) and guys with flashier numbers, like Miguel Cabrera or the 2007 Magglio Ordoñez, seem eminently distant. They struggle with English. They bolt town the minute the season is over. They seem … rented.

They are a long way from Gibby, Tram or Lance, guys you felt you knew. They are miles from a Steve Yzerman, who lives here, raises his kids here. They are not close to a Joe Dumars, who went from rookie to champion to front office without leaving town. Manager isn’t giving up hope

Granderson was one of the few Tigers with whom people felt a connection. His image was cheered on the scoreboard because he was the recognizable face, the guy who’d written a children’s book. He drew media after a game because, frankly, he was quotable when many Tigers were not.

But he was no Derek Jeter, a guy justifiably adored in his city for achievement and personality. He was no Albert Pujols in St. Louis. He was more like the closest thing we had to those guys, which says something about the Tigers.

“It’s sad, but most likely you’re not gonna see players in the same uniform for 10, 12, 15 years anymore,” manager Jim Leyland told me last week. Leyland understood fans’ frustration. He said Granderson was everything good about baseball. But he fell short of saying “we’re losing a great talent” or “the heart of our team.” In fact, he said the Tigers were “not just getting rid of guys to get rid of them. … I think it’s a very good trade for us. … I’m excited.”

That may sound funny coming from a manager who just lost the first two batters in his lineup. (Placido Polanco signed with the Phillies.) Or maybe he saw the limits of what fans just see as loss. Contracts that continue to haunt

Of course, we’re burying the lede about the Granderson deal, which is money. The Tigers dumped the salaries of Granderson and Edwin Jackson, and got four players aged 22, 23, 25 and 27, which means they’re cheaper and a long way from free agency. This helps soothe the business sting of now-foolish-looking contracts given to Ordoñez, Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson and, most of all, Dontrelle Willis, who has become an unlocked Brinks truck on a bumpy highway.

Add Cabrera, Carlos Guillen and Brandon Inge to that list and you’ve got $92 million in salary owed for next year. For seven players. Given our economy, that should be the payroll for the whole team.

So Polanco is allowed to slip away, a money decision. Granderson and Jackson are replaced by youth and prospects. Baseball is not a level playing field; there is no salary cap. This should not be a surprise.

What’s surprising is how thin the “beloved superstar” tag has become for the Tigers over the past decade. Pudge Rodriguez? How connected was he to Detroit, really? Todd Jones? Bobby Higginson? Hardly superstars. We liked their longevity.

Granderson became someone to embrace, at least a little bit, the way we once embraced Gibby or Tram. But he wasn’t that caliber player here, nor did he win the things they won. Good talent. Good guy. But I wonder if we don’t lament the idea of him leaving as much as his departure itself.

Mitch Albom will sign copies of “Have a Little Faith” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Borders in Grosse Pointe, 7:30 p.m. Friday at Barnes & Noble in Franklin Park in Toledo, 11 a.m. Saturday at Sam’s Club in Southgate and 2 p.m. Saturday at Borders Express in Great Lakes Crossing in Auburn Hills.


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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