Thursday, February 28, 2002

Detroit, Dmitri


Bottom line: Tigers just better fit

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        LAKELAND, Fla. — When Dmitri Young took his tour of Detroit's Comerica Park, his tour guide was Detroit icon Al Kaline.

        There's nothing like enlisting a Hall of Famer to help make the new guy feel welcome. Unless, of course, it's $28 million.

        Young got both in his whirlwind courtship by the Tigers — a brush with baseball greatness and a startling stack of simoleons. But perhaps the decisive factor in his decision to commit to a four-year contract (and two additional option years) was the certainty of his place in the plans.

        “I'll be playing first (base) pretty much every day unless something changes in the outfield,” Young said. “And I'll be hitting fourth. I won't have to look over my shoulder and see one of the five star-studded outfielders on my back.”

        Young left the Reds for a wide range of reasons, not all of them related to Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Larkin. He was troubled by last year's riots in Cincinnati, as well as by the problem of clubhouse chemistry. He says the money the Reds claim to have offered him — four years, $26 million — is not consistent with the proposals he was actually presented.

        Yet at its core, Young's move was motivated by on-the-field considerations. Though he was voted the Reds' Most Valuable Player last season, Young never felt like a fixture at Cinergy Field. He started at four different positions in 2001 but never put down roots at any of them. He was sometimes described as “an American League player” — a baseball euphemism for a designated hitter in disguise — and his periodic position switches suggested both versatility and instability.

        He yearned for a place to call his own.

        Four times a .300 hitter, a switch hitter, a doubles machine, Young was bound to find work with his bat. He averaged 141 games in his four years with the Reds. Yet despite his persistent presence in the lineup, Young's hypersensitive antennae stayed tuned to potential threats.

        Jim Bowden's long-running infatuation with Deion Sanders was a recurring source of resentment. The progress of Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns indicated an imminent logjam in the outfield. Sean Casey's popularity made first base an unlikely fit. Third base belonged to Aaron Boone, the manager's son.

        “Nothing against Dunn or any of the guys coming up, but you didn't know which way the (Reds) organization is going,” Young said. “Are we rebuilding? Are we going to contend? It was musical seasons. Over here, already, I see a game plan.”

        Both the Tigers and Reds finished 66-96 last season, so the superiority of Detroit's game plan is difficult to discern. The difference Young perceives is probably more personal.

        With Dunn already in place and Kearns on the fast track to the big leagues, Young's long-term future with the Reds was opaque. In Detroit, it is transparent. He is talking about wresting the Gold Glove from Minnesota first baseman Doug Mienkiewicz and of designated hitting as a “day off.”

        “Most of all, he knows he's got a locked-in place,” said agent Tom Reich. “Cincinnati's long suit is in the outfield and first base.”

        Young's long suit is line drives. Comerica Park, with its copious power alleys, suits his game so well you'd think his fingerprints were on the blueprints. Al Kaline may have mentioned that.

        Contact Tim Sullivan at 768-8456; fax: 768-8550; e-mail: tsullivan@enquirer.com.

       



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