Ask a Tigers fan who their favorite "cult" player is and you'll get a variety of answers — depending on their age and preferred type of player, of course. Some love Jim Walewander, so much so that he becomes their namesake on the Internet. Some might suggest a player from the '90s. Anyone who was good during that period was traded before too long. Anyone who remained in Detroit more than a year or two definitely could be seen as an "underdog" sort of player. Me, I've whittled my list down to Marcus Thames or Craig Monroe.
Both players bridged the years between the Tigers of bad (read: 2005 and before) and the Tigers of good (read: 2006 and 2012). Both had interesting back stories, most notably Marcus Thames for the health battles his mother fought through. Both played in the outfield corners. Both could give the ball a real long ride at times, then frustrate you during long periods of futility. Both played six seasons in Detroit. Both battled to hit for average or get on base. Thames had 99 home runs; Monroe 101.
You can put the two side by side in so many ways. Just don't ask me to choose one player or the other. I like them both.
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Chicago White Sox — Warren Newson
Warren Newson had an entire arsenal of ways to win you over without even picking up a bat. He was short (5-foot-7), stocky (190 pounds), friendly (a Chicago Tribune article called him "the most-liked player in the clubhouse"), and tagged with one of Hawk Harrelson's best nicknames ("The Deacon"). With the White Sox, he was best known as a terrific pinch-hitter, which means he was the ultimate Guy You Want Around. In hindsight, he was better than anybody gave him credit for, with a .394 on-base percentage with the Sox despite never receiving more than 173 plate appearances in any of his 4 1/2 seasons on the South Side in the early 1990s. He wasn't immensely talented in any aspect of the game besides that batting eye, but it stands out. I'll offer proof in the form of the answer to one of my favorite trivia questions of all time: Who are the only players with four walks and four RBI in a single game?
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I’m the sort who goes against the grain on players, and after people started to turn on Andy Marte as his prospect sheen wore off, I was one of his most dogged defenders. Part of that had to with the fact that both he and Casey Blake were third basemen, and my distaste for Blake made me pull for Marte even more.
Marte got injured early in the season in which he was supposed to take over the starting third base job, and when Blake took over for him and didn’t relinquish it, my irrational backing of Marte, rather than flagging, somehow became even more strident. I was so sure that if he Just. Was. Given. A. Chance. that Marte would prove all his doubters wrong, and that I’d be vindicated.
It didn’t happen. Marte hasn’t played in the majors since 2010, and didn’t played in the minors at all in 2012 (he had a .606 OPS in 321 minor league plate appearances in 2011). That fact, of course, will only make his great career even more amazing.
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Craig Brown — Al Cowens
One of my favorite Royals of all time was Al Cowens. While I followed the Royals in their inaugural playoff season in 1976, my true baseball awakening came in the summer of '77. That was the best Royals team ever — they won 102 games — and Cowens had one of the best bats in that fearsome lineup. He was overshadowed by Hal McRae and George Brett, but to me, it felt like he was the heart of that team.
Cowens played two more seasons for the Royals before he was traded to the California Angels. It broke my heart. Oh, the guy had a mean streak, too. He was drilled in the face by Ed Farmer in 1979 and missed several weeks with a broken jaw. A year later, he batted against Farmer and hit a routine ground ball. Instead of running to first, Cowens made a beeline for the mound to exact his revenge. What a ballplayer.
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Minnesota Twins — Alex Cole
I was always a big fan of Alex Cole. After four years in the bigs and four different teams, he landed in Minnesota in 1994 and split an outfield with Kirby Puckett, Shane Mack, Rich Becker, and Pedro Munoz. Cole swiped 29 bases while hitting .296 with a .375 on-base percentage. I voted for him in the All-Star game that year.
Cole was insanely fast. He started out hot in '95, then disappeared until late in the season. I now assume he was injured during those soft middle months, but at the time I was 15 and was spending too much time searching for the next 2 Unlimited single to read the newspaper. Nevertheless, I'll always have a soft spot for Alex Cole.
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