Granderson leaves big shoes to fill
Outfielder was focus of Tigers, on field and in community
INDIANAPOLIS -- Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski spent the bulk of Wednesday's trade announcement talking glowingly about the young talent his team received back in the trade of Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson.
When asked about what Granderson meant to Detroit and what it means to trade him, however, his face became a lot more somber. Even for someone who has had to trade star players many times in his long career, this one wasn't easy.
"When I talked to him on the phone today, I said it was one of the more difficult phone calls I've made in my career," Dombrowski said.
Granderson said much the same.
"This is the most difficult move I've had to make," he said."With all this happening, we knew it was coming. But to have it happen, it was difficult for me to talk to him, and him to talk to me."
Millions of others weren't on the line, but could feel the same way.
"Curtis Granderson is everything that's right about baseball," manager Jim Leyland said.
Wednesday's three-team trade was more than a blockbuster deal of two All-Stars. In Granderson's case, it was a parting of perhaps the most popular athlete in Detroit from the city that became his adopted home and his charitable focus.
In that light, even with the prospects and pitchers coming back in return, Granderson's trade leaves a huge void that will be left for others to try to fill in some way, and will be nearly impossible to duplicate in others.
For both sides, there was no getting around it, even as Granderson kept a positive tone.
"It's been a great relationship," Granderson told reporters during a Yankees conference call Wednesday night. "I'm glad I got a chance to start my career there. I had a chance to learn about Detroit. I learned if you play hard, they'll support you. I made some great relationships there. It's going to be a big adjustment."
For Detroit, the adjustment might be bigger.
"I kind of just shook my head and said, 'Wow," catcher Gerald Laird said of his reaction. "To lose Curtis, a middle-of-the-diamond player and what he means in the organization, it's tough. He's a big face in the city of Detroit and represented 'The D' very well."
|D-backs|| RHP Edwin Jackson (from DET)
RHP Ian Kennedy (from NYY)
|Tigers|| RHP Max Scherzer (from ARI)
OF Austin Jackson (from NYY)
LHP Phil Coke (from NYY)
LHP Daniel Schlereth (from ARI)
|Yankees||OF Curtis Granderson (from DET)|
Not only did Granderson man center field at spacious Comerica Park for 4 1/2 seasons, he became a presence in the city on and off the field. His leadoff role, his young age and his combination of speed and power made him one of the Tigers' most exciting players, especially after he became one of just three Major Leaguers to reach 20 homers, 20 doubles, 20 triples and 20 stolen bases in a season. Granderson's highlight catches at the outfield fences and in the gaps, including a sliding catch in the final regularly scheduled game of the season that essentially kept Detroit alive for the AL Central tiebreaker, became a staple on nightly sports shows.
Starting to fill that role will eventually be the challenge for highly-touted prospect Austin Jackson, whose arrival from the Yankees in the deal makes him the leading candidate to be in center field for the Tigers on Opening Day. Fittingly, he learned parts of his game -- especially defensively -- from watching Granderson on television.
"I've watched him for several years now and I've always been a big fan of his," Jackson said Wednesday evening. "I've always felt like a lot of the things we do are similar."
Replacing Granderson in the community will be far more difficult, and a far longer challenge for any Tigers player who tries to duplicate it. Granderson made an immediate impact once he became a fixture on Detroit's roster. Once he became an established player with a long-term contract, he started the Grand Kids Foundation, aimed at helping students and schools in Michigan's inner cities by purchasing school supplies and books, establishing baseball programs, providing equipment and helping improve facilities. Granderson's fundraising efforts have included a charity basketball game last winter featuring local athletes and celebrities such as Kid Rock.
Granderson has been Detroit's nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award in two of the past three seasons. The MLB Players Association added to his honors this year with the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award.
"You've all seen his ability, and it speaks for itself," Dombrowski said. "He's a very good player, but he's as quality a human being as you'll find. He is an individual that's meant a lot to our franchise, a lot to the city, to the state, as long as he's been a Tiger, so it's a very tough, very difficult conversation."
It was a phone conversation that did not last long -- five or 10 minutes, by Granderson's estimation.
"It was kind of straight to the point," he said. "No need to sugarcoat it."
In the end, that's the approach Dombrowski has to take as a general manager. Much as he valued Granderson, he characterized the move as a necessary adjustment because of payroll issues and the economy. The Tigers couldn't trade some of their heaviest contracts, so they had to go for the players with the most value.
That led to Granderson and Jackson.
"I told [Granderson]," Dombrowski said. "He understood. We are making some adjustments and it's a business decision, and hopefully we are bringing in people that people will fall in love with. When you trade players, and having gone through this for a while, that are known for the unknown, it's never a popular move with your fans. There will be some people that like those moves -- but then you have to make good decisions."
What's next for the Grand Kids Foundation was a question Granderson faced on his conference call.
"It's going to be tough," he said. "The Grand Kids Foundation was established and started in the state of Michigan. We were looking to do some great things there with education. Hopefully, we'll continue to. But the one goal we had with the foundation was that it would continue to grow and [we could] hopefully take it nationwide. This opportunity allows the foundation to spread."
It's that upbeat spirit that helped make Granderson such a positive presence in Detroit, and helped Granderson handle the long-rumored departure from it. Instead of having to read reports and hear from anxious family and friends, he said, the suspense is now over. The contract that eventually became an overriding factor in his trade is the same deal that allowed him to establish his foundation.
And the same trade that separates him from his only Major League home thus far opens a new opportunity for him in New York.
"So far, every change in my career has been good," he said. "Everybody in baseball knows New York. It's a great place to be and a great place to continue my career."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.