Ghost runners

Maybe it’s the Robert Fick jersey popping up at a road game, or a talking head mentioning the time Shane Halter played all nine positions in one game. Sometimes it’s my brother reminding me of the guy I dated that one summer who looked like Rich Becker, or how the name Chad Kreuter seemed to us as children both vaguely pornographic and slightly B-movie horror madman-esque.

However they’re called up, the specters of the players we grew up with (and had perhaps even entirely forgotten about until they were invoked, like disembodied voices at a séance) still linger near the dirt of the on-deck circle, exist, somehow, side by side with Miguel Cabrera even though maybe they’re now living in Florida or running a limo company or imprisoned in South America.

Bobby Higginson

Bobby Higginson

So when Binge (B + Inge = Binge, and describes, for this fan, his feast-or-famine approach to offense) poked one through the infield, turning his all-time hits ticker from 999 to 1000, it was only fitting that the leading edge of Bobby Higginson’s right forearm could be seen as his transparent self marked a cautious lead at third, his whole mouth stuffed with Big League chew and, of course, that fabulous goatee meticulously trimmed.

And why wouldn’t Higgy be there? He’d played with Inge since the day Brandon made it up from the minors in 2001. They slogged through terrible seasons together, including the back-to-back 106- and 119-loss seasons. Higginson, who exited the game quietly in 2005, playing just 10 games and retiring in the offseason, was the last Tiger to get 1000 hits with the team.

Maybe it was something like unfinished business that kept the five-years-ago Higgy haunting the base paths.

When Higginson hung up his cleats, he did so without ever having a winning season under his belt, let alone having the success of the following season, when the Tigers tore through their opponents like some kind of nuclear disaster and entered the World Series as the best Cinderella story since the Boston Red Sox a few years prior.

I don’t know why, but he seems to be hanging around the edges of major league baseball lately.

Higgy is a Philadelphia native, and when the Phillies’ Roy Halladay tossed a perfect game this season, sharp fans were quick to note that Halladay took a no-hitter into the 9th on September 27, 1998, when the intended third out, Higginson, broke it up with a home run.

Maybe it’s the way Higginson sort of disappeared slowly, like Marty McFly’s hand. Maybe it’s the silence, the lack of a formal announcement preserved in the annals of the internet, the full page ad in Detroit papers, thanking the fans, which we all remember him placing but seems to occupy a disintegrated sheaf of newsprint I cannot find record of now.

Maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that he hasn’t said a word about the Tigers since he retired, and he certainly hasn’t been brought back to the ballpark except by fans like me, who swear they see him swaggering out of the dugout on his way to left field.

It’s the same as the backyard game, playing short teams and calling for ghost runners. Even though you’d just been there, standing on third, and now you were knocking the bat against the soles of your shoes, you could still see your forty-seconds-ago self out of the corner of your eye, getting a lead.

7 Responses to “Ghost runners”
  1. David says:

    love the idea of this article, as I am the self proclaimed greatest Tigers fan of all time, and enjoy very few things more than my annual contest with my little brother throwing out former Tigers names until are brains are fried. Inevitably there are always a few laughs when names like our mothers favorite Nate Snell is brought to the table always followed by a Skeeter Barnes or the duct taped windows of Jim Walewander. Its right about then that we go on a binge of throwing out names like Scott Livingston, Chris Pittaro, Torey Luvello, Mark Salas, Brian Hunter, but whats reaaly funny is how some players seem to always go back to back, like Chris Brown, and Kieth Moreland. Simply some great times, and your article brought me back to them, however, I did think some parts of this story were hard to understand, as if the writer was just trying too hard to make this blog sound way too “proffesionally written”…….the idea was great and I loved reading it, but keep it simple.

    • AVGW says:

      Thanks for the feedback, David. I’m a professional writer by trade, hence your comment is accurate. Glad you enjoyed the piece and hope you keep coming back for more — there are a few back columns up, too, including my column last week about nicknames, and why modern players seem to be missing out on the great monikers like “The Sultan of Swat.” Would love to hear your thoughts on great baseball (and sports in general) nicknames.

      Other great names of Tigers: Frank Tanana (my brother and I called him Frank Banana sometimes) and Chet Lemon (Chet Lemon Meringue Pie). Looking back, we were oddly obsessed with food, apparently.

    • Tim Carmody says:

      I have memories of ALL these players. Jim Walewander, for instance, hit his first major league home run in a game subbing for Lou Whitaker, but an adolescent fan reached over from foul to catch it and the home plate ump ruled it a foul ball. Walewander trotted around all four bases anyways.

      Frank Tanana used to throw a great floater, sometimes called an ephus pitch. He was a fireballer in his twenties, a crafty lefty by the time he got to the Tigers.

      Chet Lemon was a great center fielder, but ended his career in right when his wheels started to go. Nobody had up-the-middle defense/offense strength like the Tigers in the 80s (Parrish, Whitaker, Trammell, Lemon).

      I met Matt Nokes at a baseball card store signing in 1988, and he was surprisingly small. He had the very bad luck of competing with a roided-up Mark McGwire in 1987, and Benny Santiago in the other league who had a better glove/arm.

      One of my favorite Tigers was Nokes’s backup, Mike Heath, who also subbed as a utility infielder.

      But the very best Tigers had mustaches, like 19th-century gunslingers: Dave Bergman, Tom Brookens, Willie Hernandez, Parrish, Dan Petry, Dave Rozema, Jack Morris, Gibby, Larry Herndon, Milt Wilcox, etc.

  2. David says:

    Of corse i have already read your article on nicknames, I had no choice, I found myself intrigued (after reading ghost runners) as to find out exactly what the stroy was behind this woman who has the nerve to be such a big Tigers (or baseball in general) fan. The game has lost a huge number of male followers since my childhood (I am 33) let alone having some woman capture my attention so well with an article she has written about the greatest game ever played. Of course I am kidding, and I really appreciate your love and knowledge of the game. Will be reading your 3rd article soon, but maybe I’ll just save it for tomorrow so I can have something to look forward to.

    P.S. I miss Matt Nokes

    • AVGW says:

      Well now I’m blushing! The story is this: my brother and father made me into a hardcore sports fan, and my father taught us all to play when we were tiny-tinys. I grew up watching the Tigers and have the fuzziest memories of the 84 series (I’m 30). Maybe next week’s column should be about WHY we all love baseball?

      I miss Matt Nokes, too, especially because he never got his due — he should have been Rookie of the Year, but no one gave him the love he deserved because he was a Tiger. Also, he can fly a plane!

  3. David says:

    Oh, and I failed to mention the most commenly used name of all(in my family that is). In 1992 my sister Becky was having her 1st child, a boy, and she was searching for names. My suggestion at the time as a 15 year old Tigers fan was that of my favorite player at the time………..and now we have had a Cuyler Raudman in the family for 18 years…..thanks Milt, you fleet footed center fielder you.

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