Tuesday’s Tiger: Richie Hebner

  • Born: Nov. 26, 1947 in Boston
  • Acquired: Traded by the Mets to the Tigers for Phil Mankowski and Jerry Morales on Oct. 31, 1979.
  • Seasons in Detroit: Parts of three seasons (1980-82)
  • Uniform Number: 2
  • Stats: .267 avg., 25 HR, 128 RBI, .769 OPS

Richie Hebner didn’t swing at the baseball as much as he chopped at it. That hacker’s cut was, the Tigers thought, an ideal fit for Tiger Stadium’s right field porch. It also served him well in the offseason when he dug graves in the Boston area.

According to the Associated Press story on the trade that brought Hebner to Detroit in October 1979, the Detroit acquired him for his punch:

“We’re really pleased to get somebody like Richie,” a Tigers spokesman said. “He’ll give us some power hitting we need.”

Power? Richie Hebner?

He came from the Mets where in 1979, his only season in New York, he hit just 10 homers. Keep in mind, no matter what Hebner did offensively in 1980, he’d be an upgrade over the featherweight hitting of Aurelio Rodriguez who hit only five homers in ’79. But by June of the 1980 season, Hebner was playing mostly at first base, replacing a true power hitter, Jason Thompson who was inexplicably traded to the Angels in May.

In fairness, Hebner arrived in Detroit as his career was closer to its end than its beginning. At 32, his best power were behind him but from 1971 through ’78, he averaged 17 homers for the Pirates and Phillies.

But on to his time in Detroit. Hebner’s first season was his finest, hitting .290 with 12 home runs, 82 RBI and an .826 OPS. The strike-shortened 1981 season wasn’t a good one for him, though. He hit just .226 with five homers. Hebner played in 68 games for the 1982 Tigers hitting .274 with eight home runs and — get this — 18 RBI.Hebner_Richie

On August 16 that season, the Pirates purchased his contract bringing him back to the city where he played his first nine seasons. He remained in Pittsburgh for the 1983 season and signed as a free agent with the Cubs where he spent the final two years of his career. The Cubs released him in April 1986. But back to his time with the Mets for just a moment. The AP story on his trade to Detroit has a delicious quote from then-Mets vice president and general manager Joe McDonald:

“Richie was unhappy living in New York — not that he was down on the Mets organization, me or (manager) Joe Torre, but he never did get used to the town. He didn’t like the city and the traffic disturbed him.”

He said Hebner only made three trips into Manhattan during his entire tenure with the club.

Now that is a strange thing to tell the media. Traded because of Long Island traffic?

According to the always reliable (ahem) Wikipedia entry on Hebner, he spent the 1989–1991 seasons as Red Sox hitting coach and the 2001 season in the same role with the Phillies. He also spent several seasons coaching and managing in the minors, most recently as hitting coach for the Norfolk Tides in 2010.

One final note on Hebner: he was the final Tigers player to wear number two before the club retired it in honor of Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer.

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.