With today's off-day following the last meeting of the season with Minnesota, I thought it'd be a good time to stand up and start a slow clap for the man who was the Twins' designated hitter, Rondell White.
Before playing his final three games in Detroit - one of seven cities where he played in his 15-year major league career - White announced that he was "99% sure" he was going to retire after this season. Not only is his body - which has always given him problems with assorted injuries - finally giving out on him at 35 years of age, but White is also starting a family and wants to be around to raise his new daughter (just born last week) with his full health.
White's two seasons in Detroit weren't fantastic. He averaged 109 games played, with 16 home runs and 60 RBIs. Respectable numbers, especially given what preceded him, but not outstanding. In my mind, however, White warrants particular recognition from Tigers fans for being one of three notable free agents (along with Pudge Rodriguez and Fernando Vina) who signed with the team in 2004, taking a chance on a franchise that was historically terrible the year before, and helped jump-start the turnaround that we're all enjoying in 2007.
I realize White didn't sign with the Tigers purely out of charity and nobility. He got a two-year, $6 million contract to entice him into playing left field in Detroit. But he probably could've signed elsewhere after posting impressive numbers (and staying healthy) in San Diego and Kansas City the previous season. And this was an important time in the franchise's development. The previous season was all about seeing who could really play among the many minor league prospects the Tigers threw onto the field. After weeding out those who couldn't play, the newly generous Mike Ilitch knew where he should spend his money. Bringing in an established veteran like White was key to the rebuilding process.
But his two-year contract also indicated that White was merely a placeholder until the Tigers could develop a prospect that was ready to take over in the outfield. Once Craig Monroe showed he might possibly be that guy (hey, it was 2005), White became expendable.
The Tigers didn't want to just kick him to the curb, however. White was such a professional ballplayer and good citizen that Mike Ilitch briefly caused some controversy by saying he wanted to bring White back in 2006 - even though there was really no place to play him. But who could blame Ilitch? As an owner, as a general manager, as a manager, and as a fan, you want a guy like Rondell White to play for your team.
I wasn't at Comerica Park for any of the past three games against the Twins, so I don't know if the fans gave White a suitable ovation. I can only hope they did, because he deserved their gratitude. I think it was wonderfully appropriate that he drove in three of Minnesota's four runs in last night's series finale. It was one final hurrah in a city where he played the last healthy baseball of his career, against a team he helped revitalize.
▪▪ Aaron Gleeman has some thoughts on White's final days with the Twins.