Five things to remember and to forget about Brandon Inge

Catcher is one of many positions that Brandon Inge played for the Tigers in his 12 seasons with the team.

Now that Brandon Inge is an ex-Tiger, it’s time to look back on his 12 seasons in Detroit. There were highs and there were lows and there were weird things too. Here are 10 Inge memories, five to remember and the five more that you’ll probably want to forget.

10. Forget: Inge pouts when Tigers sign Fielder, move Cabrera to third
The Tigers shocked the baseball world when they signed free agent first baseman Prince Fielder in January. As one of the best sluggers in the game, the Tigers introduced Fielder as their starting first baseman, also announcing that Miguel Cabrera would move across the diamond to his previous position at third base. Instead of seeing the great benefit that Fielder brought to the team, Inge sulked. At the press conference where Prince was introduced, manager Jim Leyland said that Inge “was not a happy camper.” GM Dave Dombrowski went further: “I can understand he wouldn’t be thrilled, but I also think at this point, probably the best thing for him to do – he’s not coming off a big year, the market is pretty well set – probably the best thing is to let him come to spring training, let him play well and let’s see what happens.”

Inge was never very happy in 2012, and he even had  a parting shot about playing time the day he was released by the Tigers. “What did I get 20? 20 at-bats? I wish I could have gotten a few weeks, maybe two weeks, to play day after day and see what I could do. I hit the ball hard when I was in there.”

He hit .197 in 2011 with little power, and his numbers against right-handed pitching were even more miserable, and then in 2012 he went 2-for-20, yet Inge still thought he should have been given more playing time. That’s called denial, my friends.

9. Remember: Production down the stretch in 2006
It’s easy to forget that the Tigers were not expected to do much of anything in 2006, but they led practically from wire-to-wire. Inge was a part of the success in that ’06 campaign. he got hot in September, and even though the team petered out and lost the division title on the last Sunday of the season, Inge did his part in September. He also did a fine job in the post-season, and after struggling in the ALDS against the Yankees, he hit .345 in the ALCS and World Series. In Game One of the ALCS against the A’s, Inge put the first run up on the board with a third-inning solo homer off southpaw Barry Zito.

8. Forget: Inge pouts when Tigers sign Pudge and he loses job as starting catcher
Prior to 2004, Inge had never played any position other than catcher in the major leagues. In 2003 he wrestled away the starting catcher’s job from Matt Walbeck, appearing in 104 games. He hit just .203 but he was pretty solid defensively, earning good reviews for his catching prowess and arm. Then, in February of 2004, the Tigers made a splash by signing free agent All-Star Ivan Rodriguez. Unquestionably the best defensive catcher in baseball, Pudge ignored the fact that the Tigers had lost 119 games the previous season and inked a four-year, $40 million deal to play in Detroit. Amazingly, Inge’s reaction to the deal was less than warm.

When Inge was asked about Rodriguez and what his role might be on the Tigers going forward, he displayed his incredible confidence in himself. “[I know Pudge] has that reputation [as a great defensive catcher] but I think I’m the best catcher in the game, that’s how I look at myself.” Manager Alan Trammell used Inge as a super-sub in ’04: primarily at third, catcher, and center field.

7. Remember: The welcome back homer
On July 19, 2011, Inge was batting .177 with one home run. Leyland had taken to pinch-hitting for him in tough situations. After the game that day, a victory over the A’s in which Inge went 0-for-4 to increase his hitless streak to 25 at-bats, Detroit designated him for assignment. As a veteran player, Inge could have asked for to be free to negotiate a deal with any big league team or take an assignment to Triple-A. He chose the later, swallowed his pride, and went down to Toledo where he spent a month working on his swing. On August 20 he was called back up, a little more humbled and talking about how he had refound his love for the game. “I’m having fun playing baseball again,” he said. In his first game back he hit a home run in his first at-bat, off David Huff of the Indians, as the Tigers rollicked to a 10-1 victory. Inge’s supporters were delighted, his detractors were amazed. “Are you kidding me?” was all Detroit broadcaster Rod Allen could say.

6. Forget: The disappointment of 2008, decline of his skills, fat contracts
Brandon had a poor 2007 season, but in 2008 there were great expectations for the Tigers. The team had added Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis in a trade with the Marlins, and signed free agent slugger Gary Sheffield. They were the overwhelming favorite to win their division and many experts picked them to win the pennant. But the season was a terrible disappointment and amid the Tigers dismal 5th place finish was the fact that Inge had lost his offensive skills.

First, of course, Inge pouted when the Tigers acquired Cabrera and announced that he would be their everyday third baseman. Inge requested a trade, but no deal was made that spring. When Curtis Granderson was on the DL to start the regular season, Inge started in center for the Tigers on Opening Day. All seemed well, but once Curtis returned, Inge sat again, until Cabrera was moved to first base. Still, Inge was not a good hitter that season.

At the age of 31, he hit just .205 while posting a slugging percentage below .380 for the second straight season. When Pudge was traded in mid-season, Inge played behind the plate again, but a change of scenery did nothing to help him at the plate. He hit .181 with a .283 SLG and two homers over the last three months of the season. It should have been apparent to the Tigers brass that Inge was not an everyday player anymore. But he hit 21 homers before the All-Star break the following season and that was enough to earn him another multi-year, multi-million dollar contract.

5. Remember: Defense at the hot corner
When the Tigers made Inge a third baseman in ’04 he was very raw down there. His strong throwing arm drew rave reviews, but his footwork was sketchy. He also had a tendency to try to make impossible plays, which is how he got a lot of his errors – by throwing the ball around too much. But that season he led the league in range factor for third baseman and should have won a Gold Glove, but his 22 errors stood out. In 2006 he led the league in assists, setting a Tigers record for assists in a season by a third baseman, in fact only five other third baseman have ever recorded more assists in a season than Inge did in ’06. On June 25 he made a dazzling diving play against the Cardinals that was eventually named the Defensive Play of the Year by ESPN. He had very solid defensive seasons in both 2009 and 2010, by that time he was a much more polished third baseman. He never won a Gold Glove (the voting is twisted for those things – offensive numbers seem to be important too), but he was one of the better third basemen with the leather for a few years and probably deserved to win one. He was especially good at going to his left.

4. Forget: That infamous checked swing strikeout and non-clutch hitting
Some baseball experts may say there’s no such thing as clutch hitting, but that doesn’t erase the often horrifying performance by Inge with runners in scoring position. In large part due to his long swing, but also because of his poor pitch selection, Inge had far too many checked swing strikeouts when there were teammates in scoring position. For his career, in more than 640 plate appearances when there were two outs and runners in scoring position, Brandon hit .192 with a .313 SLG. Ouch.

3. Remember: Voted to All-Star Team in “Fan Favorite” balloting
A few years ago, MLB.com started a ballot initiative that allows fans to select a player to fill the “final roster spot” on the All-Star team for each league. It’s a sort of fan favorite ballot. With 21 homers and 58 RBI at the All-Star break in 2009, Inge was placed on that ballot, after falling far short of getting selected on the regular ballot at third base. He won the fan favorite balloting with a record 11.8 million votes and earned his first (and to date only) All-Star nod. Inge came in to play third and grounded out in his only at-bat, leading off the 9th inning. Inge had the best stretch of offensive productivity in his career in the first half of ’09. He reached base in the team’s first 24 games, the longest streak to start a season since Ron LeFlore in 1976.

2. Forget: The All-Star Game Home Run Derby shutout
Which one of these names doesn’t belong: Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Adrian Gonzalez, Carlos Pena, Nelson Cruz, Joe Mauer, and Brandon Inge? If you guessed BRANDON INGE, you’re correct. Inge was selected to participate in the annual Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game in St. Louis in 2009. However, the stage was just too big. Inge failed to hit a homer and was eliminated in round one. It just didn’t look right at all – Brandon Inge in the home run derby field with those All-Star sluggers.

1. Remember: Inge’s go-ahead double in Game #163
In the 10th inning of this tense game to decide the AL Central title, Inge delivered a double into the left field corner in the Metrodome to score Don Kelly with the go-ahead run. Unfortunately, Fernando Rodeny allowed the tying run to score in the bottom of the inning and the Tigers lost in the 12th to former Detroit infielder Chris Gomez. It completed an historic collapse – the Tigers became the first team to lose a three-game lead with four games to play. In classic, hero-to-goat Inge fashion, Brandon also came up short in a big spot in this game. In the top of the 12th with one out and the bases loaded, Inge hit a weak grounder to second and the Tigers had their runner forced out at home. They failed to score in that inning, setting up the Twins walk-off win.

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