Craig Calcaterra

Blogger at NBC Sport.com's HardballTalk. Recovering litigator. Rake. Scoundrel. Notorious Man-About-Town.

In praise of Don Kelly

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Almost every team has a Don Kelly. The guy who always hangs around. The guy who, at times, seems like a good luck charm. Or at least his manager thinks so. A guy who, based on his performance, probably has no objective business being on a big league roster, but dad gummit, he’s on that big league roster. Mostly because he’s a utility guy with good makeup, which is not nothing of course. But still: a lot of better performers don’t see as much time in the bigs as the Don Kelly types do. A lot of them don’t get nearly 1,200 plate appearances with a line of .232/.296/.335, no matter how many defensive positions they can play.

Keith Lockhart used to be that guy for the Braves. Kelly was that guy for Jim Leyland and the Tigers. Among a certain group of Tigers fans I know, he was always well-liked, though no one was deluded about his baseball prowess. Over time, he became referred to as “hero of the game, Don Kelly,” somewhat mockingly, but lovingly so. And hey, sometimes he really was the hero of the game. He was the ironic favorite of some but a legitimate favorite of a lot of people. Baseball seasons are long. Don Kelly types can make those long seasons a little fun here and there. And of course, managers like to have guys they can count on to show up, be professional and be guys they don’t have to worry about. Guys who can add some of those intangible things which baseball folks, I suspect, overrate, but non-baseball folks underrate and which, of course, non-baseball folks can’t really speak to with any authority.

I thought Don Kelly’s days as a Don Kelly type were over. The Tigers let him go after 2014 and he joined the Marlins. He only played two games for them last year, and only 12 in the minors. I’d be lying if I said I keep such close track of Don Kelly types to know what happened to him in 2015, but I assume he was hurt most of the year. This year he’s played 48 games at Triple-A, waiting for his chance. Today he got it, as the Marlins placed Justin Bour on the DL and called up Kelly. Kelly will start at first base against the Mets this afternoon.

Kelly is 36 and he’s hitting .223/.288/.273 at Triple-A. But he’s starting at first base for a major league baseball team tonight. Not because he’s a big offensive threat. But because he’s Don Kelly. He’s a pro who knows his way around a clubhouse and because his manager doesn’t have to worry about a Don Kelly type. That may not make a person who cares about how the Marlins fare tonight feel fantastic, but to an uninterested observer, there’s something comforting in that. There’s something nice about Don Kelly types hanging around. At least as long as they’re on someone else’s team.

But hey, there’s always a chance he’ll be the hero of the game. Baseball works like that sometimes.

UPDATE: The Tigers finally beat the Indians

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UPDATE: The streak is over! The Tigers beat the Twins today, 12-2. They are now 1-11 against the Tribe. The journey to dig out of a seven and a half game hole begins with a single win.

10:21 AM: Over time, baseball evens out. In the long run – like, the really, really long run — most teams lose around as often as they win. But single seasons aren’t long runs, and the run the Indians are on versus the Tigers is making the difference in the AL Central.

Cleveland clobbered Detroit last night, 12-1. But it was just the latest in a series of humiliations for the Tigers at the hands of the Indians. That loss made it 11 straight to Cleveland, in 11 games played this year. The Indians have outscored the Tigers 77-24 in the season series as well. They lead Detroit by 7.5 games so it would take something close to dominance in the other direction to swap these two clubs in the AL Central standings, but it sure would be a lot closer if the Tigers actually made a season series of it.

The two clubs play at noon today. For his part, Justin Verlander is not despairing, even if he is acknowledging the futility he and his mates have had against Terry Francona’s crew:

Count the “try”s. We’ll see this afternoon if the twelfth time is the charm.

Jose Reyes gets a warm ovation from Mets fans for some reason

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Jose Reyes served his time. At least the time Major League Baseball gave him. The legal system, of course, couldn’t do much with him. So as far as all of the legalities and the workplace sanctions go, Reyes is in the clear.

I don’t begrudge Reyes playing baseball again. Domestic violence suspensions are not one-and-done lifetime deals and he’s eligible to play, so he should be able to play if someone will have him. Beyond the formalities of it, he has a family to support and keeping a domestic abuser away from his profession could perversely serve to harm the family he abused a second time. I can’t say that, were I running a major league baseball team, that I’d be eager to sign Jose Reyes, no matter how cheaply he came, but the fact that someone did is neither scandalous nor objectively wrong, even if it’s a most uncomfortable situation for many Mets fans to have their own self-interest tied up in Jose Reyes’ professional interests for the next three months or so.

But not all Mets fans are uncomfortable. Last night, when Reyes made his return to the Mets, he was greeted warmly by a great many people in Citi Field:

I understand that a lot of sports fans don’t look beyond what happens on the field. I likewise understand that a lot of Mets fans have fond memories of Reyes and the decade he spent in orange and blue. But it’s nearly impossible to believe that those fans giving Reyes an ovation last night are unaware of what happened last October 31 in that hotel room in Maui. Unaware that, according to Reyes’ wife in her statement to police, Reyes dragged her off the bed in their hotel room, choked her and slammed her up against a sliding glass door. That she was bruised in multiple places and had marks on her throat. That the hotel staff called 911 when they saw her and that the medics who responded thought it best to take her to the hospital.

The fans in attendance at Citi Field last night knew this, but many of them still cheered this man. They cheered this man despite the fact that far smaller transgressions — or even imaginary, made-up transgressions like, say, making a comment about testing free agency after the season — cause even hometown players to be booed, especially in New York.

Fans buy their tickets and they can do what they want. If they’d like to cheer for Jose Reyes, they can cheer for Jose Reyes. But I’d sure like to know what goes through the mind of someone who does. I’d like to hear the justification they make to themselves in which memories of some baseball exploits from five to thirteen years ago outweigh an ugly and violent act from eight months ago when it comes time to decide how to greet a guy.

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