I tap my clipboard. I glance at my watch. I am standing in the Tigers’ clubhouse, waiting for Kirk Gibson. I figure he’s next. And then Lance Parrish, or maybe Tom Brookens. I have already checked off the following names from my former Tigers list: Dan Petry. Check. Darnell Coles. Check. Walt Terrell. Check.
“I was kind of surprised myself,” Terrell said as he again pulled on a Tigers uniform before the game Sunday. “I figured since they traded me three years ago, there wouldn’t be a lot of interest in me a second time.”
Yes. That is what you usually figure, isn’t it? You trade a guy, you don’t bring him back. I mean, otherwise, why trade him? You could save all those moving expenses.
But something funny is going on here. Former Tigers are suddenly Tigers again. The once-traded are suddenly the reacquired. They are flying into town and slipping on the old white uniforms and going out there and playing baseball. Petry. Check. Coles. Check. Terrell. Check. They are coming home, one at a time, like the swallows returning to Capistrano.
“Who’s next?” I asked Terrell. “Maybe Doyle Alexander? Maybe Johnny Grubb?”
“You never know,” he said, shrugging.
You never know. Who would have ever thought this? Walt Terrell back at Tiger Stadium? He was traded from here to San Diego. From San Diego to the New York Yankees. From New York to Pittsburgh. He was like the long-lost uncle who joined the Foreign Legion and traveled the world.
Then, Terrell was released by Pittsburgh and picked up off waivers Friday by Detroit. The long-lost uncle was coming home. For months, he has been trying to sell his house in Grosse Pointe, convinced there would be no use for it. Now, he will move back in for the rest of the season. He still has the keys.
“There’s no furniture,” he said. “But that’s OK. I’ll just get a sleeping bag, a couch, a TV set — that’ll be fine.”
Walt Terrell. Check. Tiger Stadium? Call it Reunion Arena
Petry’s story was much the same. Was traded out west, played for the Angels. They let him go; Detroit said, “Come back.” Coles, too, has been all over the map. Was traded here from Seattle, then to Pittsburgh. Then Pittsburgh sent him back to Seattle.
“Are you surprised?” a reporter asked him when the return to Seattle was announced.
“The only thing that would surprise me,” Coles said, laughing, “would be a return to Detroit.”
Maybe this is just one of those quirky things that happen in baseball. Maybe Detroit is hard to get out of your system. Maybe the Tigers are planning this big reunion party, and the other guys haven’t sent in their RSVP’s yet. Jim Walewander? He must be coming, right? Gibson, Parrish, Brookens, Walewander. . . .
“Isn’t it a little strange?” I asked Terrell. “When a team trades you, it means you are not part of their future plans. Then, a few years later, they say you’re important enough to re-sign. Isn’t that strange?”
“Yeah,” he said. “But I got over any resentment long ago. The way I look at it now, as long as it’s the major leagues, it’s OK. I’m happy to be back here. I was horsebleep in Pittsburgh.”
He grabbed his cap. He grabbed his glove. The trainer asked him to jump on the scale, so he could have a weight for his chart.
And a few hours later, there was Terrell, jogging out of the bullpen in the fourth inning, hearing the applause of Detroit people who last applauded him in 1988.
And here I am, with my clipboard. Madlock. Bill Madlock. He ought to be arriving any time now. . . . Burning bridges only burns you
Maybe this would be less unusual if a new regime had moved in. New manager. New general manager. But Sparky Anderson and Bill Lajoie were in charge when all these trades were made, and Anderson and Lajoie are in charge now. Same guys? Going, then coming? Is it like selling stock? Sell high, buy low, sell high? Is that it?
“I think the boys just got lonesome out there with the other teams,” Anderson said, laughing. “They just wanted to come home.”
“Is it ever awkward for you to take a guy back you once let go?”
“No,” he said, “because I never told them anything that wasn’t true when we let them go. I’m smarter than that. You never know when something you’ll say will come back to haunt you.”
And you never know when someone you traded will come back to help you. Petry (8-6) has been one of this year’s finest comeback stories. Coles was acquired for Tracy Jones, who was doing poorly. And Terrell was picked up for a $100,000 waiver fee. At that price, if he wins three games, he’ll be a bargain.
And so I stand here, waiting, with a list full of possibilities. Jim Morrison could be next. Darrell Evans could come out of retirement. Guillermo Hernandez isn’t doing anything. Dave Collins is out there somewhere — St. Louis, I think.
“It’s a funny game,” Petry told me. It sure is. I look at the pitching chart for tonight’s game in New York. I see that Dave LaPoint, former Tiger, will throw for the Yankees. Hmmm.
He does well, we may take him home with us.