LAKELAND, Fla. — I am the hotline that never rings. I am the good boy in the back of the class, the one with his hands folded neatly on his desk.
I am covering the Detroit Tigers.
“Whatcha got? Whatcha got?” the writer from Boston asks in his weekly phone call. “I got Wade Boggs in a sex scandal. I got Margo Adams across America, saying Boggs would hit better when she didn’t wear panties. Tee-hee. Can you believe it? Panties? I’ll trade ya. Whatcha got?”
“Well,” I say, “Lou Whitaker promises to be more cooperative with the media this year.”
“What is this, some kind of joke?” he says.
“Whatcha got? Whatcha got?” asks the reporter from New York, as soon as I pick up the phone. “I got Darryl Strawberry taking a swing at Keith Hernandez. I got Hernandez telling him to grow up. I got Strawberry walking out of camp. Great stuff, huh? Trade ya. Whatcha got?”
“I got Jack Morris saying his pitch placement should be better this year.”
What have I got? Really? We are in the midst of one of the most controversial springs in recent memory. Walkouts. Fights. Penthouse articles. Players are acting like werewolves under a full moon. And here, in Tigerland, seldom is heard a discouraging word.
“Listen to this,” says the writer from St. Louis. “Danny Cox gets sent home with a sore elbow, he arrives at the airport, sees a TV cameraman, grabs him, threatens him, and pushes him over a chair! Another cameraman films the whole thing and shows it on the 11 o’clock news! Can you believe it? We’re having a really good week. Whatcha got?”
“Um . . .” I say.
“Um?” he says.
Click. Are these Tigers or Angels?
What have I got? Peace. Calm. Serenity. I have a roster of veterans who seem thrilled to be in uniform. I have a pitching staff that is pretty much set. I have a manager that says, “They’re picking us for sixth place? Great. No pressure.” Then goes out and hits a few golf balls.
Fights? Who would fight? I cannot remember the last time two Tigers fought in public. Walkout? Who would walk out? When was the last time a Tiger walked out of camp?
“Hey, hey, listen to this,” says the Yankees writer, who calls at 3 a.m.
“Rickey Henderson says the problem with the team last year was too many players were drunk. You got anything that juicy?”
“Oh, uh, lemme see . . .” I say. “Where did I put that notebook? . . .”
Of course I don’t have anything that juicy. I am the flashlight in a room full of neon. I am the parsley on a plate full of spicy food. On a TV talk show, I would be the last guest, the guy with the book.
I cover the Tigers. These days, even our potential controversies do not turn into controversies. Alan Trammell, the star player, is working on the last year of his contract. Will he threaten a walkout? Will he demand renegotiation? No. He will go up to Bill Lajoie, talk for five minutes, shake hands, and come away with a three-year deal.
“You’re making that up, right?” says the writer from Oakland. “That’s a complete lie, right? I got Jose Canseco, America’s Speed Demon, ticketed again for blitzing down an Arizona highway. And you’re telling me a guy gets a new contract by shaking hands in broad daylight?”
“Well, I . . .”
What can I say? These are the Tigers in the age of Sparky, Bill and Jim. Controversy does not last. Darnell Coles was controversial; Darnell Coles was traded. Bill Madlock was controversial; Bill Madlock was not offered a contract for the next season. Dave LaPoint was controversial — at least he had the potential to be controversial.
Dave LaPoint is now a Yankee.
He played here, what, a day? I’ve got . . . an exhibition tie
This is good, I tell myself. This is the way baseball should be. After all, last spring, we had that incident with Guillermo Hernandez and the bucket of ice water. Who needs that? You had to come to the park with a change of underwear.
Still, I am afraid we are being left behind. I am afraid Detroit might become the girl with the bobby socks in a room full of erotic dancers. Next week I expect George Steinbrenner to be lambasted in a Today show memo. Next week I expect Bo Jackson to enter the NBA draft. Next week I expect Roger Clemens to admit that yes, he let Salman Rushie use his apartment for a quick shower and a bite to eat.
And I will be busy watching the Tigers’ exhibition game. Do you know what they did in Thursday’s exhibition game? They tied. 5-5.
“Whatcha got? Whatcha got?” they will ask.
I got nuthin’. I am the writer for the Detroit Tigers. We do not do Penthouse. We do not do panties. At least, not that I know of. As Shakespeare would say, now is the spring of our very content.
Mitch Albom’s sports-talk show, “The Sunday Sports Albom,” airs 9 to 11 p.m. Sundays on WLLZ (98.7-FM). This week’s guests include Michigan basketball coach Bill Freider and Margo Adams, Wade Boggs’ former mistress.