Brandon comes back

Last week, Detroit Tigers third baseman, catcher, centerfielder, oh-hell-put-him-anywhere-and-he’ll-play guy Brandon Inge was called up from the Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate in Toledo to join the starting lineup against left-handed pitchers. A ringing endorsement, I know. Inge was assigned to Toledo earlier this season when his hitting, never stellar, totally bottomed out — .177 in 239 appearances at the plate.

In Inge’s first at-bat after rejoining the Tigers, he hit a home run.

Inge is the kind of player fans either love or hate, often, I think for the same reasons. He’s only ever played for the Tigers, which is either a sign of loyalty or that Inge isn’t good enough to play anywhere else. He was a member of the 2003 team that lost more games than any other in the history of the American League, which gives his presence on a team making a playoff run this year a feeling of redemption, or every time he walks to the dugout after striking out serves as a reminder of that team’s failures. At his best at the plate, he’s a mediocre hitter, with little power and control who strikes out too much. He participated in the 2009 Home Run Derby and didn’t hit a single home run. At his best in the field, he’s a miracle. It’s a crime that he’s never won a Golden Glove.

For me, Inge is the last remaining piece of an old puzzle, a link both to the worst Tigers team I ever watched and to the team I’ve loved more than any other. He played with Bobby Higginson and Dimitri Young. Pudge Rodriguez, who was the first well-paid piece of the Tigers post-2003 rebuilding puzzle, took Inge’s spot as catcher. He played with Justin Verlander, Magglio Ordóñez, Sean Casey, Curtis Granderson, Kenny Rogers, and Joel Zumaya in 2006. Casey and Rogers were gone the next year. Zumaya has been the walking wounded most of the time since then. Granderson was traded to New York in 2009. Inge is still around.

It may not be for that much longer, and when Inge is done with the Tigers, he’ll be done for good. Nobody wanted to trade for Inge when Miguel Cabrera took over his spot at third base in 2008. (Inge didn’t even get his spot back when Cabrera moved to first base, and Carlos Guillén, who was useless at first base, got the chance to be useless at third.) No one picked up Inge on waivers when he was assigned to Toledo. It’s entirely possible that Inge is too expensive: not enough offense, and defense that will get worse and not better with each passing year.

Even I’m not romantic enough to say that he deserves a spot just because he seems to be a really great guy, a true professional who has taken everything the team has thrown at him, played everywhere — and I mean everywhere — they’ve asked him to play. Granderson was a great guy too, and I think trading him was the right move. The Tigers know what they’re doing, and when Inge really doesn’t have anything left to offer, they’ll pay out his contract and let him go. I’ll be sad, even if it’s the right thing to do.

But I’m going to enjoy it while he’s here, as long as it lasts.

Gavin Craig is co-editor of The Idler. You can follow him on Twitter at @craiggav.

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