Ian Kinsler: The Tigers' modern day Gashouse Gang member

Leon Halip

The man traded for Prince Fielder would have fit in perfectly with the great Cardinals teams of the 1930s.

OK, young baseball whippersnapper, sit down and let me tell you a story about a group of dirty scoundrels who played the game hard, lived life even harder, and who won a lot of games along the way -- including a world championship.

They were known as the Gashouse Gang, and they played for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1930s.

The Gashouse Gang slid high, buzzed pitches around your chin, and their uniforms were always dirty. It was never proven, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Gashouse Gang took receipt of their clean duds from the equipment manager before each game, and by the time they walked down the runway to the dugout, each player looked like Pigpen from the "Peanuts" comic strip.

Off the field, the Gang was as colorful as a rainbow. To show you, one of their ringleaders was Dizzy Dean, one of the game's all-time flakes.

The Gashouse Gang -- Pepper Martin at third base; player/manager Frankie Frisch at second base; Leo Durocher at shortstop; Ducky Medwick in the outfield; with the Dean brothers (Dizzy and Daffy) on the mound, terrorized opponents in the 1930s, culminating in their World Series victory over the Tigers in 1934.

In '34, five Gashouse Gang members hit .300, and Dizzy Dean won 30 games. No wonder they were a cocky bunch, not the least of which was Durocher.

"Why, they wouldn't even let us play in that league," Leo "the Lip" derisively said of the American League in 1934 as the Cardinals cruised to the NL pennant.

Still, it took the Cardinals seven games to dispatch of the Tigers in the 1934 World Series.

OK, your history lesson is over.

I've searched all the baseball historical websites and I can't find any evidence of Ian Kinsler having played for the Gashouse Gang. Yet I still don't believe that he didn't.

Kinsler, the Tigers' second baseman of today, certainly could have played for Durocher's Cardinals teams of the 1930s.

Kinsler might show up to the ballpark clean as a whistle, but somehow he hits the field with grass stains on his britches and the infield's dirt blemishing his jersey.

He has the countenance of a bear awoken mid-hibernation, and the attitude of a spoiled rich brat. He wants to beat you more than life itself. If he had the choice between breathing and breaking up a double play, you might end up force-feeding him oxygen.

Kinsler's face is contorted into a permanent sneer from the first pitch to the last, and even after the game there is a dismissive smirk. He isn't happy unless he's added a bruise. If he goes 0-for-4 but the Tigers win, he's as happy as a pig in slop. In fact, that's what he looks like after every match. If he goes 3-for-5 but the Tigers go down, you'd best give him a wide berth.

Kinsler came to the Tigers as if dropped from the sky---acquired from the Texas Rangers for Prince Fielder, even up. So far it's the steal of the year; the most lopsided trade since Seward bought Alaska for a few million bucks.

When the Tigers dealt for Kinsler to put an end, once and for all, to the revolving door at second base, some baseball experts said that, at age 31, the new Tiger's best days might be behind him.

That feeling of dread was due to the fact that Kinsler plays the game so hard, his 31 years are like dog years---you should multiply his age by seven.

It's true that Kinsler, for two years in a row, failed to produce numbers like he did in 2011, when the Rangers made it to the World Series for the second year in a row.

In 2011, Kinsler was a 30/30 man---32 homers and 30 stolen bases. But while the power numbers declined in 2012 and 2013, Kinsler's OPS (on base average plus slugging percentage) for those years were a decent .759 and .757, respectively.

In 2014, his first year as a Tiger, Kinsler is batting .322 (his only .300+ year was in 2008, when he set his career high with .319) and his OPS is .817, thanks mainly to 17 doubles, which extrapolates out to  nearly 60 two-baggers for the season.

Kinsler doesn't steal bags with quite as much frequency as he did a few years ago, and he may never hit anywhere near 30 homers again (he has four this year), but his .352 OBA and his stubborn refusal to strike out (just 16 Ks in 202 AB) makes him a perfect upgrade to the Tigers' leadoff spot---when he's not batting second, which is another great place for him.

But raw numbers alone can't measure Kinsler's value to the Tigers, who did part ways with one of the best sluggers in the American League the past two years in order to acquire him.

It's the Gashouse Gang factor that makes Kinsler's addition so delectable.

In a baseball town that still talks reverently of hard-nosed Tigers like Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris, Kinsler's edge has made him a significant upgrade in the fans' hearts from the---by comparison---laid back Fielder.

Where Fielder was often seen laughing and joking with the opposition while playing first base, the next time you see Kinsler smiling on the field will be the first. He saves that stuff for after his team wins.

Fielder was gooey and sugary; Kinsler is raw and bitter.

Kinsler, when he arrived in Detroit, had maybe the easiest act to follow of anyone replacing a 30 HR, 100 RBI guy. Fielder was given the bum's rush after a second straight post-season implosion, and you won't hear Kinsler saying anything on par with Fielder's laissez-faire comments during and after last fall's ALCS.

Kinsler will be 32 in less than a month, and baseball history says that middle infielders, as a rule, don't age well, especially those who play as ferociously as the Tigers' Gashouse Gang-Banger.

But we'll just see about that. If determination and attitude have anything to say in the matter, Ian Kinsler will go toe-to-toe with Father Time anytime, anywhere.

I wouldn't bet the house on the Old Man, either.

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