Detroit Tigers Jose Iglesias: Starting His Own Legacy Wearing No. 1

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Detroit Tigers Jose Iglesias: Starting His Own Legacy Wearing No. 1
Ed Zurga/Getty Images

It’s a case of Wally Pipp, redux—in an indirect sort of way.

Jhonny Peralta got a headache and Jose Iglesias took his job.

Kind of.

For the next five to 10 years—or however long the Tigers are able to shanghai Iglesias to the team—when Tigers fans see feats of derring-do at shortstop, they can thank Peralta’s headache.

Jhonny's headache, of course, wasn't a literal one, but it was no less impactful. The headache was a 50-game suspension for Peralta’s connection to the Biogenesis lab, which created a hole at shortstop that this kid Iglesias is filling like cement.

Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski, who must have been wielding a gun and wearing a mask, pried Iglesias from the Boston Red Sox in a three-team trade that sent outfield prospect Avisail Garcia to the Chicago White Sox.

It was only one of the slyest moves in team history. It may prove to be the steal of the millennium.

Peralta is a fine baseball player and a capable shortstop. He was swinging a mighty stick before the suspension, harkening everyone back to his All-Star season of 2011.

But Peralta is the 2013 Pipp, whose place in the Yankees lineup at first base was taken by one Louis Gehrig in 1923 as Pipp infamously nursed a headache. Pipp was a pretty good player too, but he was no Gehrig, as it turned out.

Iglesias is already making people think of Peralta as a distant memory, and Jhonny has only been gone for a little more than a month.

Iglesias plays shortstop as if he tumbled out of the womb wearing a mitt. It wouldn't surprise me if his first words were "seis-cuatro-tres."

Brooks Robinson was dropped on Earth by God to play third base. Iglesias is a shortstop the way Brooks was a third baseman. In just seven weeks as a Tiger, Iglesias has made plays that you only see on video games—or in dreams.

There isn't a baseball that Iglesias can't get to. He has the range of a nuclear bomb and an arm like an ICBM missile.

We have never seen shortstop play in Detroit like we're seeing it now with Iglesias. With all due respect to Alan Trammell and "Steady" Eddie Brinkman, Iglesias combines competence with flair. He’s an acrobat playing baseball and part gymnast too.

What's Spanish for vacuum cleaner?

They gave Iglesias jersey No. 1 as he arrived from Boston, and there was an uproar, because that number was done proud by Lou Whitaker, who many Tigers fans think should be in the Hall of Fame.

I was among those who thought giving Iglesias No. 1 was poor form, but I didn't lose sleep over it. I’m losing even less, after seeing this youngster play.

Frankly, they should give Iglesias another number, if only because he needs to start his own legacy with his own numeral. Twenty years from now, we’ll be aghast if another Tiger wears Iglesias’ number.

You say he’s a rookie, that he’s only 23 and he’s only been a Tiger since late July, so back off on the accolades?

How many songs did they need to hear Sinatra sing before they knew Blue Eyes was a crooner?

I don’t think we need any more evidence to confirm that Jose Iglesias is a shortstop with a gene that most others simply don’t have.

Iglesias was signed by the Red Sox as a 19-year-old free agent in 2009. He wasn't drafted, which is an indictment on every scout in the world. Where was he hiding? In plain sight?

He’s generously listed as 5’11” and 175 pounds, but whoever did the listing must have been looking at a fun house mirror image. Iglesias is as 5’11” as Verne Troyer and as 175 pounds as a runway model. But no matter, list him however you want. It won't change the fact that Iglesias is as shortstop as Ozzie Smith, and that's the only thing Tigers fans care about.

We first saw Iglesias in Detroit briefly when the Red Sox visited in June. But on a team filled with guys named Pedroia, Ortiz, Saltalamacchia and Ellsbury, Iglesias got lost in the shuffle on the visitors.

Then the trade was made in late July, and we were told that we’d be thrilled to watch Iglesias play shortstop. He was hitting about .330 at the time of the deal, but hitting wasn't his thing, supposedly. It was the glove that separated Iglesias from the rest of the pack.

Well, Iglesias is still hitting over .300, but if he keeps flashing leather like this, he could hit .003 for all I care.

Infield defense wasn't exactly a strength for the Tigers at the beginning of last year, with Peralta at shortstop, Ryan Raburn at second base, and Miggy Cabrera giving it another try at third base and Prince Fielder at first base. They were the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, pretty much.

Cabrera proved to be better than most thought and Fielder is serviceable, but it's in the middle of the infield where the Tigers are vastly improved. Iglesias at shortstop and Omar Infante—who rejoined the Tigers midway through last season—at second base, is as good as it gets defensively. And bonus—both are hitting over .300.

Iglesias made a play in Chicago several weeks ago that had to be seen to be believed. Actually, it was seen and still not believed.

Catcher Josh Phegley hit a slow roller to the left of the pitcher’s mound and Iglesias charged. The kid snared the ball with his bare hand, and while diving to his right thanks to his momentum, Iglesias flipped a throw to first base as he landed shoulder first in the grass. Somehow, Iglesias got enough on the flip to nip Phegley.

I am seeing it now in my head, and I’m still not certain whether I am making it up as I type. Someone, please verify that this actually happened.

Jose Iglesias will be the Tigers shortstop for the rest of the decade and maybe beyond. Because of his youth, the team has Iglesias under its control for at least five years before words like arbitration and free agency start to be bandied about.

By that time, it will be unthinkable to let Iglesias go anywhere.

And it would be unthinkable to give anyone else jersey No. 1. If Whitaker wearing it didn't retire the number, then Iglesias surely will be finishing the job.

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