Detroit Free Press from Detroit, Michigan on August 16, 1987 · Page 46
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Detroit Free Press from Detroit, Michigan · Page 46

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Sunday, August 16, 1987
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DETROIT FREE PRESS n n Jfl SUNDAY, AUG. 16, 1987 II Iviuw JOHN LOWE: The Free Press baseball writer calls all area codes. TIGER TOWN: Michael Betzold looks at Detroit and its baseball fans. BY THE NUMBERS: Team-by-team statistics, league leaders, AL and NL club stats. SCHEDULES: This week's games - on the field and in front of the TV. This section pulls out. T" l3vSLf ymm I jo frflflfrff Still fighting the bad raps By TOMMY GEORGE Free Prest Sport Writer ' Chet'. Lemon has never played more than 14$ games a season with the Tigers, appearing in only 1 26 last season. You've been considered the type of player who stubs his toe and wants to sit out "It's hard to believe. Tve played hurt all my career. I guess people think if you aren't bleeding and don't have stitches, you should play. I've grown to expect those kinds of things." Did that have anything to do with Sparky Anderson benching you in late May? "I just wasn't producing. I think Sparky did that to shake me up. But then I was giving my best, like now. Those that know me know how hard I work between those white lines." Since joining the Tigers in 1982, Lemon has stolen only eight bases. He hasn't attempted to steal this season. And once he reaches base, Lemon is known for making poor decisions. For example, July 31 at New York, he was thrown out trying to go from first to third on a two-out single to right field, nullifying a run by Larry Herndon. The Tigers lost, 6-5. Many say anytime you get on base it's an adventure. "I've had three or four bad incidents this year and it's brought more and more attention to that I've talked to Trbtie (coach Dick Tracewski) about it But sometimes coaches are just as much at fault for their decisions and you never read much about it unless it's a World Series game. It seems like whatever I do in this area (base running) people always talk about it When I have a day where I ran well, like went to third from first on a hit and challenged the opponent and made it, nobody ever talks about that But I can handle that, though." Some believe you're a hot dog because you catch the ball with one hand. "A hot dog? I don't think you need the extra hand, and all my life I've caught with one hand. When you do something so long it becomes natural. In the '30s and '40s those kind of gloves probably meant you needed the extra hand. But most outfielders today use one hand." Many black youths in Detroit dont Identify with the Tigers. What about service in the black community? Isnt there more you should do? "I personally would like to do more with kids. I'd like to talk with kids about the game and about life. But I think so many things have happened to me in Detroit that it has made it hard for me and my family. Last year I had not experienced anything like that The press. The fans. Fd hear this and that from teammates. What I read and what was said. A combination of some of the things we've already talked about . . . Sometimes it's hard to feel real sure and comfortable being around people here. They come up to you and say this and that, how they read I was this or that They've been rude to me and my family because they think I've been rude to Detroit And I couldn't understand that because I always tried to be a person people could . perceive as fun and always tried to be kind to fans. But that's one reason we moved (in February) to Florida, but mainly we moved for the weather and year-round conditioning at this stage in my career so I can stay on top. I still love playing baseball here and wouldn't want to play anywhere else. I'd like to do more things in the community, and I will if someone comes to me with a plan. There are so many demands from your family, your friends. There is always the demand to perform on the field. I owe most of my spare time to my family. . . . I'm really close to my kids as far as things that are for real and important We breed unity." How did you become a Jehovah's Witness? "Ah ... The Truth. I noticed in 75 with the White Sox that Jerry (Hairston) was unique. He had a good family situation. He was always polite. And I guess it didn't hurt piquing my curiosity that he was hitting about .367 at the time in the American Association. I asked him about his life, and he told me about The Truth. I was a little apprehensive about it Jerry and I later played winter ball down in Mexico and it was then we had the opportunity to study. I kept playing devil's advocate. A tot of things I thought I had some understanding on I found out I didn't I studied for three years and was baptized in November 1978."-;" What is The Truth? "The Truth is God's word, the Bible. There's laws that govern the land and we need those laws for order. But when it comes to God's law, his overrules. We study. We t - ' l 4 . ' ' ' -v. e ' " ,3 V- " . - I- j x ? i 1 . ' ' ' X i- ' ' ' V'' i - ' t V ' i ..II... ' : : : MARY SCHROEDERDetrolt Free Press Chet Lemon: "I've played hurt all my career. I guess people think if you aren't bleeding and don't have stitches, you should play." put application to things we learn. So see, I could say I'm a doctor, but if I don't have the skills to perform as a doctor I'm not really a doctor, am I? I think that's the difference between us and many religions. We are taught to pray for the authority of the land, to pray for officials that we might always have peace. The Bible clearly states about matters on killing people. We would not fight in wars or kill. We do not participate in politics. We do not believe in celebrating Christmas. Really, we do not celebrate men." But when you were a kid you celebrated Christmas, didnt you? Isnt that unfair to your kids, denying them that opportunity? "If you do any research on Christmas you find that the first Christmas was never celebrated. About 200 years after Christ died was when the celebration began. And then Christmas was a pagan holiday and a worship. Maybe originally it set out to be a celebration of Christ, but now it is all commercial. Christmas is the time of year where suicides are highest It breeds hostility, loneliness. The poor see more what they don't have compared with others. If Christmas is supposed to be about Christ, why is it about all of that? And Christmas should not be any one single day, but Christ should be celebrated every day. They're supposed to bring attention to Christ and they build up Santa Claus. The hypocrisy in the whole thing is unbelievable." Of all the things you're criticized for, the thing people most dont understand is why dont you stand for the national anthem. "I believe in God's kingdom. I acknowledge God's kingdom over earth. I give my allegiance to him and not to the flag. I am grateful to be in the United States, grateful to be able to live in the VS. and have the opportunity to have my beliefs and go door to door to share them. But the national anthem is a ritual. You have to think about what's being said rockets' red glare, bombs bursting in air? We A30UT CKET Chet Lemon, 32, was bom in Jackson, Mss but moved to Los Angeles with his family when he was six months old. He has three brothers, ages 27, 28 and 30. "As a kid I was always the big brother, always the one trrigtosetafexanle,''lrrK)nsays.ewereso close in age that we always played bal together." The Oakland A's drafted him In 1072 and traded him to the White Sox In 1975. He made the majors U Dm with the Sox In 76 and was traded to the Tigers for Steve Kemp after the "81 season. Lemon and his wife, Valerie, nave a daughter, Geneva, 15, and two sons, Chester Jr., 10, and David, 5. do not believe in nor do we salute war. And for all practical purposes, I'm not the only player to not to salute the flags. Others all over America don't do it for different reasons, and a lot of them dont understand why and don't understand why we don't, either." What about blacks in baseball? How much will the game continue to progress since Al Campanis' remarks about blacks lacking the necessities to hold leadership roles In the game? "For a minute things are done and then . . . it's kind of like the Watts riots, 'cause I know, I was there and a part of it After the riots there were programs and cosmetic changes, but over the long haul things went back to the same way. You hope ... but you really never know." Lemon has signed a contract that pays him $650,000 this season, then $800,000 a year through 1991. What about the Tigers' organization? Has it been fair to See CHET LEMON, Page 9D Trying to balance baseball and life By TOMMY GEORGE Free Press Sports Writer On Opening Day, Lou Whitaker signed a two-year contract extension for about $2 million. He makes $400,000 this season after earning about $650,000 a year from 1 984-86. In light of Lance Parrish's recent comments of remorse about leaving the Tigers, that management was fair to him, the organization must feel vindicated. Is the organization fair? "I'm tired of hearing, and them acting, like they are the nicest thing around. They're not They try to be fair, but honestly they're not totally fair. They have been very good at making some very tough decisions. They've tried to put out a good baseball team, and I think we have that a quality team. I try not to think too much about the fair and unfair part, even though there are some double standards here. I've learned to go on, close my eyes to it, and do my job. I know how to play. I know the game. I know I'm the best fve played 10 quality years, though this year has been my toughest." Before this season, Whitaker usually didn't take batting practice, which annoyed some teammates. His batting average has fallen every season since he hit .320 in 1983, though many consider him the team's most talented player. You once said that Gates Brown is the only coach you every listened to about hitting. Lately youVe been working extra With Bill Madlock. Why? "The problems with hitting this year began with what to do with my hands and things like that I wasn't in a situation where I wasnt hitting the ball, but I didn't have the success hitting it as usual. Mad-lock has four batting titles under his belt and he knows a lot about hitting. When you're in a race for a batting title you're where you have to relax. I listen to him because of his credentials. He knows about the hands, the feet ... He says I go up there wanting to hit too fast that I automatically expect pitchers to throw strikes. I've worked on that, relaxing, not just swinging at a pitch but letting it be a strike." That's what people say about you. The skills, the talent, everything comes so easily. "The skills come easy. The base hits never do. I do work at my skills. But I work more at being aggressive, at being a winner. There are different ways to approach the way to win. Like in '84 we beat everybody. In '85 1 think we got a little too high and mighty for ourselves and we lost When you take for granted you're going to win you forget how to catch the ball, how to hit the ball ... you forget how to win. It has taken us two years to overcome those About Lou Lou Whitaker. 30, grewupin Martkis-vffle, Va (pop. 20,000). Fans chant, "Lou, Loul" when he bats. But cluing his chldhood he was often cruelly cated Tippy-Toes. He had a childhood affliction that led hte family to believe he would never walk. As a chid his legs "were growing outward, worse than bowtegged," he says. Doctors said he needed crutches and possibly braces, but his family couJdnt afford them. So, Whitaker's uncles would twist and turn his legs In exercise every day, and somehow they began to straighten out. He grew up In a household of 20 aunts, uncles and cousins. He was the Tigers' frfth-round draft pick in 1975 and made the majors for good in 7a Whitaker and his wife, Crystal, have three daughters, Asia, 6, Sarah, 2, and Angola. 11 months. You're also criticized as a guy who could be phenomenal if he worked harder and came to the ballpark earlier. What about this? "I love baseball. But if I was at the ballpark 16 hours a day Fd have no balance. I think I do and always will do what is enough to be a solid baseball player. I think there is a time for baseball, a time for spiritual things and a time to spend recreation with my kids. I have three girls and they're living now, growing now. They need to be taught now. Even now, if I was hitting the ball as good as I should, I wouldn't be out there early. Right now I'm at the park at 3, we play and I get home about 12, get to bed at 2. 1 need to spend time with my family in the morning. I need to spend time reading and studying. I need time for me." Whitaker was selected to the All-Star Game but was excused from playing because he had a sore back. That prompted criticism, especially when Yankees' second baseman Willie Randolph played with an injured knee. Randolph underwent surgery immediately after the mid-July All-Star break and wasn't activated until Friday. What about all the flak you took for wanting out of the All-Star Game? "I rested my back for my own good. What was best for me, to continue to play or be healthy for the Tigers? What I'm going to be I'm going to be when my career is over with the Tigers whether I hit .360 or .260. They have always taken me for granted, anyway. All the years I've had. ... Hey , the All-Star Game is nice, but it's just a tradition and I'm not much on traditions. See, it's just like everybody talking about my stats this year falling off. " I'm a second baseman. Second basemen hit .240, .250, .260. So when you go in and ask ' ' Detroit about a contract they say second basemen make this, outfielders make this, ; pitchers make this. ... So why is there all this talk about my stats? If I take the second baseman money, you take the second baseman stats and be happy with ; them. You can't sav Lou is one of the better players in baseball and then give him what second basemen get You cant say you want Lou for the pennant stretch and then ' get maa bdoui an Au-siar oame mai: might have made my back worse when three days' rest definitely helped. That ' simple. My thinking now is the way I thought 10 years ago. Nothing has" changed that way. Fm just speaking now. I was hurt last year before the All-Star Game and went It's more of an honor to ; serve Jehovah." ! Whitaker has stolen as many as 20 bases only once in his major league career, though he stole 48 in his second ' minor league season. He has stolen nine this season. Usu i you steal more oases.' "I can steal some bases but Fd get , thrown out half the time. I dont have the speed of a base stealer. But I have speed to . run the bases welL" ..Ft . . f 1 i of Involvement with the local black community and black youth? ' 1 ; "I can do my job on the field or do it off. You have some simpleminded people who want you to do both. I say , which one? I did , some PR for the Tigers when I first came here and didnt get a dime, and a lot of guys An iifa1! urfh L-irfo rnlir fnr fVifi mnnatr bee LUU wni i AktK, Kage yu .B3 Worrying s over; with pope behind lis, we can't lose It's over. Might as well ask the boss for a few weeks off in October. Might as well stop watching the scoreboard at the park for updates. Might as well stop dialing Sports Phone (and the Freep sports department) 50 times a night, wondering about the Jays' score. Or the Yankees' score. Or anyone's score. Might as well just quit worrying altogether, because the Tigers are the AL East champs. The last 40-odd games are merely a formality, a tune-up to prepare for whatever 2 -A--- , sorry excuse for a ball club manages to stink just a little less than the rest of the AL West. Iffy knows what you're thinking, but would a man in his physical condition try to jump on a bandwagon, or anything else, for that matter? No, this is fact. This is just the way it is. And just where does the Dopester get his heady confidence, his pluck, his joie de vivrel (Just where does the Dopester get his French, for that matter?) Why, the pope, of course. The pope is a Tigers fan. Didn't you know? Iffy thought everyone knew. The pope is coming to Detroit. Is he going to Toronto? No. Is he going to New York? No. He is coming to Motown. He is coming to Hamtown. Do you think he's coming to ride the People Mover? Do you think he's coming for Hamtramck's pierogis? The man was born in Poland; he was weaned on pierogis. Iffy had his suspicions before, but while shopping on Jos. Campau the other day, he found the proof he needed. ( Take a look to your right.) So relax; it's in the bag. The pope is coming to see the Tigers. And he's got friends in high places. -ri v p- "Unless New York gets some pitching, I don't see how they can win it." - Sparky Anderson's quote of the week, commenting Tuesday after the Tigers tied the Yankees for second place. A

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