Are the days numbered for Don Kelly, the Tigers' Swiss army knife?

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Don Kelly plays a lot of positions. He just doesn't play them all that well. With Andy Dirks soon to return, it may be time to say goodbye to the Tigers' Master of None.

The trouble with being a Jack of All Trades is that it means you're a Master of None.

But baseball has always been a game where its managers love to have at least one Swiss army knife on the roster.

Don Kelly has done it all on the diamond for the Tigers. His managers are running out of positions for him. If he plays a game at shortstop, Kelly's next assignment will be on Heather Nabozny's grounds crew.

The Tigers' Master of None has played every position in Detroit except shortstop, and he did that for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2007. On the mound, Kelly twirled a third of an inning in 2011 — he faced one batter and retired him — and three nights later he went behind the plate and caught six innings.

Kelly does it all but he doesn't do any of it particularly well so he's become a pin cushion for the fans. It seems that half the fan base wants him excised from the roster and the other half can't imagine parting with him.

It's that Swiss army knife thing that makes some folks think twice about the Tigers getting rid of Kelly.

Thanks to having 15 teams in each league, interleague play literally occurs on any given night during the MLB season. This has American League managers waking up in the wee hours in a cold sweat when road games against NL teams are on the schedule the next day, with nightmares of double switches and extra-inning games and running out of bench players filling their brains.

That's why a player like Don Kelly is considered highly valuable by the only man who counts — Brad Ausmus, with Jim Leyland before him.

Kelly is a nice guy with an "aw, shucks" demeanor about him. When he stands in the batter's box with his legs spread and his socks pulled up to his knees, his six-foot-four frame looks like a pair of scissors.

Kelly is gangly with shoulders that look like someone shoved cantaloupes under his jersey. He gets about 200 plate appearances a year, hits his .230 or so and every time his name appears in the lineup, the haters howl.

Leyland, who managed Kelly from 2009-13, was forever being criticized for having a man crush on the Pennsylvanian. The fans didn't understand what Kelly brought to the table, which is ironic because he brings everything except shortstop.

But Kelly is the Master of None so his versatility has been mocked by his detractors.

On Wednesday afternoon at Comerica Park against the Dodgers, Ausmus gave Miguel Cabrera the day off. Victor Martinez is still nursing a sore side so the Tigers' vaunted 3-4 hitters were both out of the lineup.

J.D. Martinez batted cleanup on Wednesday and Don Kelly — yes, Don Kelly — batted fifth.

The lineup was posted, reported, and then it was "cue the howling."

Don Kelly batting fifth?

Kelly played first base and the human pair of scissors had two hits, including an RBI. He was even interviewed on the field post-game by FSD's Lindsey Hayes.

The performance won't stop the hating but the pro-Kelly people sure enjoyed it.

Kelly, 34, is officially working his second stint with the Tigers.

He was drafted by the team in 2001, in the eighth round of the free agent draft, which is the equivalent of being the next-to-last kid chosen on the sandlot when choosing pick-up teams.

Kelly languished for five years in the Tigers farm system before signing with his hometown Pittsburgh Pirates in December, 2006. He only got into 25 games with the Bucs in 2007 but he still managed to play four positions: shortstop, second base, left field and right field.

Have gloves, will travel.

Kelly became a free agent again and signed with Arizona in November, 2007 but never played a game for the D-Backs. Detroit brought Kelly back to the organization in January, 2009 and he played his first game as a Tiger---ironically, in Pittsburgh---on June 12 of that year.

Leyland had a field day with Kelly — literally — in 2009, playing the Master of None at first base, second base, third base, left field and right field, all crammed into just 31 games played overall.

And with that, the Don Kelly Era was born in the Motor City.

It's been an era filled with blowhards calling into sports talk radio, apoplectic trolls hitting the comments section hard at MLive.com and this website, and gatherers around the office water cooler shaking their heads at why Kelly remains a Tiger.

Very soon, the Don Kelly Era may face its stiffest challenge.

The Tigers, who already have a crowded outfield — of which Kelly is a part, of course — are expected to get Andy Dirks back from his extended stay on the disabled list due to back surgery, possibly as soon as immediately following the All-Star break.

When Dirks returns — and his left-handed bat is something sorely needed in the Tigers lineup — someone has to be lopped off the 25-man roster.

Will that man be Don Kelly?

A perusal around the diamond suggests that Kelly might be the odd man out.

Kelly can spell Nick Castellanos at third base, but so can Andrew Romine and (gasp!) Cabrera.

Kelly has played a considerable amount of first base, but so has Victor Martinez, although V-Mart has that annoying side to deal with.

The outfield is bursting at the seams, with Rajai Davis, J.D. Martinez, Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter and Dirks all capable.

Kelly has caught, but the Tigers hardly need a third catcher.

Don't even think about the bullpen — Kelly's 0.00 career ERA notwithstanding.

When Dirks returns, the Don Kelly haters might get their wish.

If Kelly and his gloves are cut, it will be like DFA'ing eight people.

Actually, it wouldn't be the first time the Tigers have tried ridding themselves of Kelly.

He was granted free agency on Halloween, 2012. But the Tigers signed him three months later. The Swiss army knife was back, although he never really left.

Earlier this season, Ausmus talked about Kelly and the skipper mentioned that games played in NL ballparks lend themselves well to all the leather that Kelly brings to the table.

But with Dirks' return on the horizon, a decision must be made.

Can a Master of None stay on a crowded roster?

Last week, the FSD cameras (and microphones) caught Kelly after a questionable check swing in which the Swiss army knife was ruled to have swung. He was unhappy and let the home plate umpire know it.

"You gotta check that!" Kelly was heard to implore, suggesting that the umpire get help from the third base arbiter. For the mild-mannered Kelly, it was a Billy Martin Moment.

No ejection or response from the umpire was forthcoming.

After all, running Don Kelly would be like tossing eight guys out of the game.

All Hail the Master of None — for now.

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