It wasn’t so long ago that you could walk through Comerica Park on a packed Saturday night and, short of taking a survey, figure out who was the most popular Detroit Tiger.
As the longest-tenured player on the team, fans were familiar with Brandon Inge. He seemed like a guy who was accessible enough to have a few beers with if you ran into him at a local watering hole. He had that boyish charm that lent itself well to the ladies. He even put together a statistically impressive season in 2006 that put him in Jim Leyland’s good graces. His name was on the back of a majority of the T-shirts and jerseys.
He was Detroit’s Tiger.
But then earlier this year he fell into a statistical swoon that he couldn’t escape from (.184 average with one home run and 17 RBI), and the fans—even the ones who once backed him—started to grow impatient.
Suddenly, the kid who had seemingly grown up wearing the Old English D was an old man on the backside of his career. The Inge Haters, meanwhile, could not have been happier. It was a tempest of negativity that Inge could not avoid.
So the once-bashful third baseman, who was seemingly content to Hoover baseballs at his position and blend into the background, decided to speak his mind, and that’s when the critics came out in full force. It was a heel turn that would’ve made Vince McMahon proud.
After being benched for two straight games post All-Star break, Inge was re-inserted into the starting lineup for a game against the Chicago White Sox, a game the Tigers won, 4-3, after dropping the first two games in the series. Interviewed in the locker room, the normally reserved Inge had this to say about the team’s performance with him in the lineup:
“I don’t like it,” he said of being benched, but went on to say in The Detroit News, “But we can’t win without me.”
If that wasn’t enough to turn stomachs, it came on the heels of a comment he made about his slump earlier in the week:
“It just doesn’t make any sense to me,” Inge said. “Ever since I’ve come back, I’ve felt great. I’m actually hitting the ball pretty damn good.”
Who was this guy?
Mercifully, Inge was sent to Toledo a few weeks ago to get his timing back, or maybe to protect him from the boos. Either way, he was off our radar as the Tigers relied on a platoon of Don Kelly/Wilson Betemit to get through a time when everyone expects the team to taper off. Except they didn’t.
So, of course, they called Inge back up to start last night. And, of course, he went 2-4 with a home run and a double, because that’s how Inge rolls: He does things that drive you mad, like succeeding when you don’t want him to.
If you polled the fans at Comerica Park on a warm Sunday afternoon, I’d guess most would say they want Inge to just go away, even though they gave him a standing ovation last night.
That's the curious relationship we have with Brandon Inge, and neither party would have it any other way.