Detroit – Want to see what veteran leadership looks like?
Manager Ron Gardenhire had just left the clubhouse after castigating the entire squad after a particularly horrendous performance in yet another loss in late July, when talk was starting to swirl about the Tigers being on pace to become the worst team in the history of the game.
The room was still quiet, players still looking downward absorbing the tongue-lashing when veteran Gordon Beckham’s voice shattered the silence.
“In front of everybody, I just said, ‘We’re not going to be the worst! No! It’s not going to happen,’” Beckham recalled Thursday morning.
Beckham hasn’t been in the lineup much lately. Since the roster expanded, he hasn’t made a single start and has played in just three games. Neck soreness has contributed to that, as well.
But the lack of playing time hasn’t diminished his presence in the clubhouse.
“It’s been a long year,” said Beckham, who will celebrate his 33rd birthday on Monday. “Obviously a lot of losses and that’s never fun. But I feel like the job they hired me to do, I’ve done. I feel like I’ve kept the morale up for the guys as best I could and when I’ve been in there, I’ve done my job.”
He’s done that and more. On any given day, you will see him in conversation with a different younger player. He’s been part mentor, part coach, part joker, part counselor, part motivational speaker to most of them.
“It hasn’t been easy,” he said. “It’s been really difficult on a team like this that’s so far out of it. If you were on a team that was more in it, it would be easier. You’d never have to fight that mind-battle of, ‘We’re not in it.’
“I’ve really enjoyed being around this group and getting to help them with the maturation process. But it’s been a tough year.”
He’s developed a close bond with Harold Castro, who is one of the few players who seems to have clearly carved out a niche with the Tigers going forward. But Beckham has not let up on him, or Dawel Lugo, Jeimer Candelario, Jake Rogers, Victor Reyes, Travis Demeritte or any of the younger players.
“I’ve had to get on some guys, honestly,” he said. “This is all a tryout for them. That’s what I keep hammering into them. You better show them. You better show them why you should be around or else you’re not going to be here.
“Because if you can’t get on this team, you’re not going to play on another team. I told them that. And I don’t mean it rudely. But we’re one of the worst teams, record-wise. So, you better show them.”
What Beckham is dispensing here is unvarnished truth. Truth that he’s learned from 11 years of enduring the manic ups and downs that come with this game.
“You have to fight for every opportunity you get,” he said. “I feel like I’ve earned a lot of respect from the young guys in here. And for me, if I can do anything, I can prepare them for what’s coming.”
That’s why he’s stayed on Castro, even as he’s continued to produce at a high level for nearly two months.
“I tell Harold all the time, 'Keep showing them,'” Beckham said. “Give them every reason to keep you. I’ve been on him: 'Don’t take it for granted. You are a really good player and I like you. You do a lot of good things. But just because we are out of it, don’t let up. It’s time for you to put your foot on the gas.'
"It’s not a selfish thing. But everybody better show up and put their best foot forward because there is no reason for them to keep any of us.”
He’s giving that advice knowing his own spot on the team next year is anything but a given.
“I haven’t had a conversation with anybody about that, but it’ll be interesting to see what they think,” he said. “I feel like I’ve done the job I was brought here to do. I feel like I add a lot of value here, just because I am toward the end of my career as opposed to a lot of these younger guys.
“I feel I have some wisdom I can still impart on them to help them grow next year, too. There might be a chance I could come back next year.”
That rosters are expanding to 26 next year will certainly help him find work next season, with the Tigers or elsewhere.
“I wish I could’ve done a little bit better,” Beckham said. “But I’ve shown I can do the role and be present on day-to-day basis and contribute. I can at least lay my head on the pillow at night and say that.”
On deck: Orioles
Series: Four-game series at Comerica Park
First pitch: Friday – 7:10 p.m.; Saturday – 6:10 p.m.; Sunday – 1:10 p.m.; Monday – 4:10 p.m.
TV/radio: Friday-Monday – FSD/97.1 FM
Probables: Friday – RHP Aaron Brooks (4-8, 6.21) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (1-10, 6.27); Saturday – RHP Gabriel Ynoa (1-8, 5.79) vs. LHP Daniel Norris (2-12, 4.72); Sunday – RHP Asher Wojciechowski (2-8, 5.51) vs. RHP Edwin Jackson (3-9, 9.76); Monday – LHP John Means (10-10, 3.47) vs LHP Tyler Alexander (0-3, 5.40).
Brooks, Orioles: In May, when he was in the Oakland bullpen, Dawel Lugo hit a three-run homer off him. Since being moved to Baltimore, he’s been starting with minimal success. He gave up seven runs in 2.2 innings against Texas in his last start.
Zimmermann, Tigers: Comerica Park hasn’t been a safe haven for Zimmermann this year. He is 0-6 with a 6.80 ERA in nine home starts. After four strong starts, he had a clunker against the A’s last time out (six runs in five innings).