The Detroit News’ Lynn Henning on the Tigers’ fallen star — and what a bullet the Mets dodged by not dealing for this guy a year ago.
The venerable Yankees and the once-venerable Tigers had a couple things in common last week beyond unhappy won-loss records. Each club is dealing with the demotion of a past hero.
Bernie Williams is now on the Yankees bench, a sad defrocking for a formerly terrific center fielder who was right there with Derek Jeter when it came to players who, for years, have been portraits of pinstriped glory.
The Tigers are left to contend with a raw and demeaning end for Bobby Higginson, whose hitting skills have so eroded it hurts to watch him step to the plate.
Higginson (above) comes to the ballpark essentially to get booed. He has a difficult time getting around on fastballs and can barely drive a pitch with power, a steady fade that even a year ago was alarming.
He is an unhappy and frustrated ballplayer who doesn’t say much in the clubhouse and who leaves immediately after a game. What a somber retreat from the fun, full-flavored baseball life he lived even during those miserable years when he was about the only thing the Tigers had going for them.
The Yankees have bigger things to worry about than Williams, which would begin with winning on the level expected from a traditional playoff team with a $200 million payroll.
The Tigers also have obligations that stretch beyond the Higginson issue (.500 baseball would be nice) But keep in mind as this increasingly ugly situation plays out that Higginson isn’t the culprit here. The Tigers are. They chose to offer him a four-year contract extension in 2001. And they chose to bring him north a month ago when it was obvious Higginson’s ability to help this team had long ago dissolved.
A standard line is that the Tigers had to keep Higginson because they were obliged to pay him $8.85 million in 2005. It’s flawed logic that a week into May leaves both the player and his team in a bind.
The Tigers were pretty much assured of paying his 2005 salary whether Higginson was on the team or not. Other clubs that might have been interested in a possible trade — not many names surfaced — weren’t going to bite on a deal if they had to pick up any of Higginson’s freight. A better question is how many teams would be willing to assume even $100,000, which is that part of Higginson’s contract a team takes on if he is released and signed by another club.
He could always retire, of course. But his penalty for not playing baseball this season would be nearly $9 million, which doesn’t strike those in the personal finance profession as being particularly good business.