The New York Yankees are the Charleston RiverDogs’ big league parent club, and it’s been a cozy relationship. But as the World Series begins tonight, there are more Detroit Tigers players with ties to The Joe than those associated with “the best team money can buy.”
Delmon Young, MVP of Detroit’s American League championship series sweep of New York, played here in 2003. The Tigers’ center fielder Austin Jackson and postseason closer Phil Coke were RiverDogs teammates in 2006. And that’s not all.
Delmon Young was only 18 when playing right field for the RiverDogs in 2004. He was the fourth Tampa Bay Rays first-round draft pick sent to Charleston in five seasons, and easily the most productive.
RiverDogs home run totals:
Josh Hamilton in 2000: 13
Rocco Baldelli in 2001: 8
B.J. Upton in 2003: 8
Young in 2004: 25
Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski acquired Jackson and Coke as part of a blockbuster three-team deal on Dec. 8, 2009.
Tiger fans were mad at first.
You be the judge.
Detroit got Jackson and Coke from the Yankees and pitchers Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth from the Diamondbacks.
The Yankees got outfielder Curtis Grandson from the Tigers.
The Diamondbacks got pitcher Ian Kennedy from the Yankees and pitcher Edwin Jackson from the Tigers.
Dombrowski was fresh out of Western Michigan University in 1978 when the Chicago White Sox, owned by the late Bill Veeck, hired him as an administrative assistant. He struck up a fast friendship with White Sox marketing executive Mike Veeck.
“We offered him $7,000 a year but he negotiated up to $8,000,” said Mike Veeck, the RiverDogs’ co-owner and Bill Veeck’s son. “You could see right away Dave was special. He was so methodical. He knew exactly what he wanted to do.”
Dombrowski built the Florida Marlins’ 1997 World Series championship team. He jumped to Detroit, where the rebuilding process included hiring Veeck in 2002 to serve as a senior vice-president of marketing for two-plus years.
“The most fun I’ve had in baseball,” Veeck said, “was working with Dave in Detroit.”
Austin Jackson at 19 spent the entire 2006 season in Charleston (4 homers, .260 batting average). He returned in 2007 but reached triple A before that season was over, and gave RiverDogs hitting coach Greg Colbrunn lots of credit.
“In spring training we talked a lot,” Jackson said. “He’s been there. He’s been through the grind. He knows what he’s talking about. He knows hitting. He knows pitching.”
Mike Veeck also has an indirect tie to Detroit manager Jim Leyland. Tony LaRussa got his first big league managerial job with the White Sox in 1979 when Bill Veeck owned the team. LaRussa hired Leyland as a coach in 1982, after Veeck sold the club.
Dombrowski hired Leyland as manager twice, with the Marlins and the Tigers.
Delmon Young has made headlines the wrong way. He was suspended for 50 games in Double-A for tossing a bat at an umpire and was arrested in New York last April after yelling anti-Jewish remarks at tourists.
A surly side surfaced in Charleston at times.
Young before the 2004 South Atlantic League All-Star Game at the Joe was asked, “Delmon, what’s it like to play in your first professional all-star game and get your career off to such a good start?”
Response: “One question at a time, please.”
Young was a hit with his RiverDogs teammates when he spent part of his $3.7 million signing bonus to outfit the Charleston home clubhouse with a new flat screen TV and three video game systems.
“I wanted to keep the team loose before the games and get people’s minds focused on things besides each other and getting mad at each other,” Young said. “As long as there’s TV and video games and music being played, everyone can be loose.”
Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or on Twitter @sapakoff