Tuesday’s Tiger: Rich Monteleone

  • Born: March 22, 1963 in Tampa, Fla.
  • Bats: Right Throws: Right
  • Height: 6′ 2″ Weight: 205 lb.
  • Acquired: Drafted by the Tigers in the 1st round (20th pick) of the 1982 amateur draft.
  • Seasons in Detroit: 0

Usually these installments have featured players that actually appeared in games for the Tigers, but we’re making an exception for Rich Monteleone.

Before the names of Kyle Sleeth, Kenny Baugh, Justin Thompson and even Scott Aldred and Steve Searcy evoked images of a star-studded starting rotation for the Tigers, there was one name the personified unfulfilled promise for Tiger fans: Rich Monteleone.

(Actually, Monteleone and 1981 first-rounder Ricky Barlow led this category in the early ’80s.)

Anyone who’s followed the Tigers at least since the late 1970s likely remembers the name. Detroit’s first-round pick, the twentieth selection, in the 1982 amateur draft, Monteleone, we were told, would slide into the rotation behind Dan Petry and someday become the Tigers’ ace.

So, we, and Monteleone, waited. And waited.

And each Spring Training we’d follow his progress and wonder if this was the year Monteleone would break through. But that year never came. Instead, the Tigers grew tired of waiting and after the 1985 season traded him to the Seattle Mariners for Darnell Coles.

Though Monteleone might have failed to live up to the expectations of a number-one draft choice, he managed to carve out a nice 10-year career in the majors with the Mariners, Angels, Yankees and Giants. He retired after the 1996 season with a record of 24-17 and 3.87 ERA.

He was let go by the Yankees after the 2008 season after spending several years as one of their special pitching instructors.

Happy Birthday, Tito Fuentes

  • Born: January 4, 1944 in Havana, Cuba.
  • Acquired: Signed as a free agent on Feb. 23, 1977
  • Height: 5′ 11″ Weight: 175 lb.
  • Seasons in Detroit: 1 (1977)
  • Uniform Number: 3, 44
  • Stats: .309 avg., 5 HR, 51 RBI, .745 OPS

When the Tigers sought a player to oversee second base until Lou Whitaker was ready, they could have done a lot worse than Rigoberto “Tito” Fuentes.

Offensively, that is. Fuentes_Tito78

The switch-hitting 33 year old trailed only Ron LeFlore‘s team-leading .325 average that season but was brutal in the field. He led all American League second baseman with 26 errors, and posted a .970 fielding percentage. Fans that remember Fuentes’ brief stop in Detroit are more likely to recall his signature bat flip when he approached the plate, tapping the bat handle on the plate, flip it up and catch the handle. This was a move widely imitated during Wiffle Ball games in my neighborhood, and probably others around Detroit, too.

After his one season with the Tigers, his contract was purchased by the Expos, who promptly released him in Spring Training in 1978. The Tigers were ready to hand second base to Whitaker but picked up infielder Steve Dillard just in case. Upon Fuentes’ departure, Jim Campbell had some interesting things to say in the Associated Press story:

“I’m not going to knock Tito,” said Tigers General Manager Jim Campbell. “He did a good job for us, especially offensively. (snip) “Dillard does some things better than Tito,” Campbell said. “He’s a better fielding second baseman than Tito, he covers more ground. And he runs better than Tito did.”

Good thing Campbell didn’t want to knock him.

Of course, the truth about Fuentes’ brief tenure in Detroit is probably somewhere in this paragraph from the AP story:

There also had been reports that he was haggling with Campbell over a new contract. Fuentes’ salary demands were reported to be in the $200,000 range.

And there you go.

Just ask Rusty Staub or Steve Kemp how receptive Campbell was to salary “demands.”

Fuentes spent the 1978 season, his last in the majors, with the A’s.

Oh, and if you were curious whether Dillard’s range and fielding were better: they weren’t. His fielding percentage of .958 was 12 points worse. But at least he was a better runner.

Tuesday’s Tiger: Wayne Krenchicki

  • Born: Sept. 17, 1954 in Trenton, N.J.
  • Bats: Left Throws: Right
  • Height: 6′ 1″ Weight: 180 lb.
  • Acquired: Traded by the Reds to the Tigers for Pat Underwood on June 30, 1983.
  • Seasons in Detroit: 1 (59 games in 1983)
  • Uniform Number: 15
  • Stats: .278 avg., 1 home run, 16 RBI

The summer of 1983 gave Tigers fans a glimpse of what was to come a year later: a young core of star players ready to move to the next level in the American League East. Detroit was in the race until September when the eventual World Series champion Orioles pulled away for good.

That season also introduced fans — ever-so briefly — to a role player with one of the best names in baseball history: Wayne Krenchicki.Krenchicki_Wayne

He came to the Tigers in a late-June trade with the Reds for once-promising lefty Pat Underwood. With Alan Trammell nursing injuries, the club needed some infield help.

As he always did with newly acquired players, manager Sparky Anderson put Krenchicki right to work, inserting him in the starting lineup against the Orioles and rookie Storm Davis.

On July 1, batting eighth in the lineup, Krenchicki went hitless in three at bats against Davis and the Tigers lost 9-5. He got his first Tigers hit two days later, a third-inning double off Tim Stoddard, in a 10-1 Tigers win.

In all, Krenchicki appeared in 59 games for the Tigers in 1983, seeing time at every infield position but played primarily at third. His time in Detroit was brief; in November that year, the Reds purchased his contract from the Tigers.

He finished his eight-year big-league career with the Reds and Expos, and retired after the 1986 season.

Tuesday’s Tiger: Champ Summers

  • Born: June 15, 1946 in Bremerton, Wash.
  • Died: October 11, 2012 in Ocala, Fla.
  • Acquired: Traded by the Reds to the Tigers for a player to be named later on May 25, 1979. The Tigers sent Sheldon Burnside to the Reds to complete the trade October 25, 1979.
  • Seasons in Detroit: 3 (1979-81)
  • Bats: Left Throws: Right
  • Height: 6′ 2″, Weight: 205 lb.
  • Uniform Number: 24
  • Stats: .293 avg., 40 HR, 132 RBI, .896 OPS

Champ Summers was a fan favorite in Detroit and for good reason. He came to the Tigers as career underachiever — at least at the major-league level — in an under-the-radar trade roughly a week before they hired Sparky Anderson in 1979.

The year before, John Junior Summers was the Minor League Player of the Year for the Reds’ top farm club, Indianapolis of the American Association. He led the AA with a .368 average, 34 homers and 124 RBI.

Summers Champ

It was in the majors, though, where Summers struggled to out together a career — and it wasn’t from a lack of opportunities. After debuting with the A’s in 1974 — a team with a loaded outfield featuring Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi, Rick Monday and Bill North, among others — he spent two seasons with the Cubs (hitting only .217 with four home runs). Next up was parts of three seasons with the Reds … and a .199 average.

In 1979, Summers was hitting .200 with a single home run after 27 early-season games with the Reds. But on May 25, the Reds sent him to the Tigers and, at the age of 30, he began the best three seasons of his career.

That season he batted .313 with 20 home runs (14 solo) in 90 games and posted a .614 slugging percentage along with a 1.028 OPS. Anderson played Summers primarily in rightfield with a few DH assignments sprinkled in.

The Tigers rewarded him with a three-year contract near the end of the ’79 season. He told the UPI:

“I really enjoy it here. I really feel at home,” Summers said. “Sparky likes me and I like him.”

(…)

Summers approached the club recently the possibility of signing a contract for next season.

“I wanted to know so I could make plans for this winter,” he said. “After I signed, it was like a great weight lifted off my shoulders. I never felt wanted before.”

Tigers fans loved Summers and he continued to provide punch to a young lineup. In 1980, his numbers slipped ever-so slightly but they were solid: .297/17/60 with an OPS of .897.

His production dropped further in the strike-shortened season of 1981 when, at age 35, his average fell to .255 and his power numbers plummeted, too. Summers hit only three home runs and eight doubles in 64 games in what would be his final season in Detroit.

In March 1982 the Tigers dealt him to the Giants for first baseman Enos Cabell. Summers would struggle in his two seasons in San Francisco, posting a .231 average and four home runs. In ’83 he hit .136 in 29 games.

He was on the move again in December 1983 when the Giants traded him to division rival San Diego. Summers appeared in just 47 games for Dick Williams’ Padres and hit .185 with no home runs.

Summers career would end in the ballpark where he had his greatest success, albeit on the losing end of the 1984 World Series. His lone career World Series at bat came as a pinch hitter in game four at Tiger Stadium. Pinch hitting for Alan Wiggins with two out in the top of the eighth, Summers struck out swinging against Jack Morris.

The next day NBC showed him as he sat on the top step of the visitors dugout watching the Tigers celebrate their championship. I still wonder if they showed him because he was a former Tiger or because he looked so forlorn. Perhaps both.

At the age of 38, Champ Summers career had come to and end — just as he predicted in the 1979 UPI story announcing his Tigers contract:

“If think I can play five more years,” he said. “If Yaz can play ’til he’s 40, I can play ’til I’m 38. I take good care of myself.”