LAKELAND, Fla. — I know it is early. I know spring training is still in diapers. But I am going to make a prediction.
I predict Dave LaPoint will become the best quote on the Tigers by midseason.
Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, a “good quote” is someone who, after getting bombed for 17 runs in three innings, does not sit by his locker and say, “I dunno wha’ happen’ (burp).”
Nor is a good quote someone who, after getting bombed for 17 runs in three innings, says, “Get that microphone out of my face before I chew your arm down to the veins.”
No. A good quote is someone who, after getting bombed for 17 runs in three innings, can grin and say, “Me? No, fellas. That wasn’t me out there. That was my kid brother. He’ll be back in about a half hour. Wait here. I’ll give him a call.”
I can see Dave LaPoint saying that. I cannot see him getting bombed for 17 runs in three innings — which is good news to Tigers fans — but I can see him saying that. I can see him being a good quote. I have seen it already.
LaPoint, as most of you know, was traded to the Tigers from the Giants last fall. He was 7-17 there, but remember, that was San Francisco and Candlestick Park, baseball’s answer to the pay toilet.
It was a last-place team so dismal that, by the latter part of last season, it prompted LaPoint to comment, “If anyone has trouble with insomnia, they should lie down in our dugout sometime. They’ll have no trouble falling asleep.”
That, by the way, is a good quote. Always good for a quote
Besides, it’s honest. Things were bad there. LaPoint said so. Good for him. At 26, he seems as straightforward as he is good-natured, and this is a guy who would set equipment on fire for a laugh.
LaPoint looks the part of a flaky left-hander. He has ruddy cheeks, a shock of blond hair and a toothy smile that TKOs the rest of his face. He is leaner than he has been, but still carries enough soft flesh to remind you why he was once nicknamed “Snacks” by Whitey Herzog. And then, of course, there are the quotes. You can almost hear the burlesque drummer after each punch line. Ba dump-bump. The other day we were talking about the 1985 trade that sent him to the Giants from the Cardinals. The Cardinals got Jack Clark and went on to the World Series.
“Was that tough to take?” I asked.
“Well, without me they’d have never gotten Clark,” he said. “So I feel I had a part. In fact, I’m still waiting for my check.”
“Sure is windy today,” I said. “Feels like San Francisco.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Five minutes out there and I got a negative attitude.”
Of course, the Tigers did not acquire LaPoint for his nightclub act, but for his arm. Which is fine, thanks. Sure, his won-lost record was meek last year, but remember, the Giants provide runs like the post office provides quick, friendly service. LaPoint’s ERA was still decent (3.57) and was even better (3.06) before the last month of the season — when depression, dejection and a general cold front set in around Candlestick Park.
“It’s hard to pitch when 80 percent of your concentration is on staying warm,” LaPoint said.
Ba dump-bump. You’ll hear from him
These are the getting-to-know-you days around the Tigers camp, so we can’t expect any major hysterics by LaPoint just yet. He used to be in an Air Bat band with the Giants — players grab bats and make believe they are playing along with a record; and this was during a game — but you do things differently with a contender.
“I look around from locker to locker here and say, ‘Geez, this is an All-Star team,’ ” said LaPoint, who admits that leaving the Giants for the Tigers was about as tough a leaving a leper colony.
“I’ve never been associated with this much talent. I’ve gone from a team that lost 100 games to one that can win 110. I feel great.”
The Tigers expect him to enhance their starting rotation. I expect he will do the same to newspaper copy. He is playing it sort of quiet now, but, by his own admission, “It’s impossible to completely shut me up.”
He looked around the clubhouse and slipped a Tigers cap over his ears.
“I’ve been at the top and I’ve been at the bottom,” he mused.
“And?” I said.
“I prefer the top,” he said.
Midseason. That’s my prediction. Best quote on the team. And you heard it here first. Ba dump-bump. CUTLINE Dave LaPoint