Culbreath: Sloppy seconds or second comings?Written by Matt 'Shaggy' Culbreath | | email@example.com
We’ve all had that moment. You need some help; there’s a problem you can’t fix with the resources you have. You’ve tried reaching out for help, only to be turned away. You know who could make it work, but you have a history. They didn’t do so hot for you in the past — in fact, they haven’t done a lot of good work for anybody else either. But you’re getting desperate, and they’re the best of what’s left.
The Detroit Tigers had a plan going into the spring: put hard-throwing Bruce Rondon in the closer position. Plan B? There was no Plan B. So when Bruce Rondon got knocked around a bit in March, the front office decided the rookie needed some time with the Mud Hens, and the Tigs would just work the ninth inning into long relief. Except —that didn’t work out either. Tigers manager Jim Leyland, known to be loyal to a fault, turned to a guy who they just fired a few months ago: Jose Valverde.
Papa Grande had a brilliant couple of years in 2010 and 2011, saving 51 consecutive games across the two seasons. His 2012 was a little less than brilliant: While he still managed 35 saves, his 3.78 ERA was pretty brutal, and he blew two games in the postseason, including Game 1 of the ALCS, where the Tigs had a 4-0 lead headed into the ninth inning only for Valverde to give up two 2-run home runs. The Pinstripes won that in 12 innings, Valverde never saw the field again and the Tigers lost the series. Detroit immediately sent Valverde packing.
Valverde made his return to Comerica Park on April 24, in front of a small crowd and with the Tigers nursing a 2-run lead over Kansas City. The crowd cheered (which, in all honesty, was a shock to me), and while Valverde’s location needed work, his speed was up to snuff and he managed the three outs to get the save. It could be luck, or it could be the greatest make-up story of all time.
Meanwhile, in Cleveland, the Cavaliers continue their post-LeBron struggles. Kyrie Irving is clearly the future of that program, but the team decided that head coach Byron Scott was not in the blueprint for success. And while wild speculation flew around that team owner Dan Gilbert wanted Phil Jackson to coach the team (and I want Warren Buffet to look at my 401(k), but that’s not going to happen either), eventually they landed on a familiar face: Mike Brown. He led the Cavs during the LeBron years to three Eastern Conference Semifinals, one Eastern Conference Final and one NBA final appearance, but never a title. The Cavs fired him in 2010 in what I thought was a poor ploy to keep LeBron in town. James went to Miami anyways.
Gilbert said at the press conference that firing Brown was a mistake, and he hopes that having him back in the fold is the missing piece to bring the Cavs back into the playoffs. Mike better hope that’s the case. He’s had two coaching gigs, and each one has been with a giant of the sport: LeBron in Cleveland and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. Both teams were unable to win titles (though, as we’ve clearly seen this year, the problems in the Staples Center were not on the coach).
I’ve never been one too keen on seeing athletes (or coaches) go back to tread old ground, with the lone exception of the one-day contract “so I can retire a Fill-In-The-Blank.” Too often, these decisions are made not with logic, but with nostalgic memories. Owners and fans expect the same sort of results out of these guys that they had when they were with the teams the first time. But the situation is different: the players around them are different, the coaches might be different and, quite simply, they’re older. For every Phil Jackson coming out of retirement, there’s a Michael Jordan coming out of retirement.
The early returns on Jose Valverde look positive — it could be that the Big Potato reheats easy. As for Mike Brown, he looks twice-baked to me.
Matt “Shaggy” Culbreath is sports director at 1370 WSPD.