Sunday, June 7, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Easley's Career In Gear Since Move To Detroit

Detroit News

DETROIT - Detroit Tigers second baseman Damion Easley was at work, scooping up baseballs in the right field corner, his arms bare in the ballplayer undershirt with the sleeves cut off. It was more than four hours before the ballgame.

He did not have to report in so early. This was early batting practice for the hitters struggling through slumps. Easley is not in a slump.

No indeed. He entered last weekend's series with the Chicago White Sox as one of baseball's hottest hitters. Without pomp and circumstance, the great double play combination of Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell have been replaced with style and productive flair by Easley and Devei Cruz.

Easley and Cruz go together just as Trammell and Whitaker once did.

"There is no duplicating that," Easley said. "To say that can happen is pretty much an insult to what they've done. They won a World Series together. We're trying to start all over again what they did. Where they left off. It's an honor to hear about Whitaker and Trammell together. But really there is no other Whitaker and Trammell."

But then who could have imagined that the Tigers, in their total rebuilding mode, would have rebuilt second base/shortstop as quickly as they did?

For sure, Easley did not come to the Tigers as anyone more than a utility infielder with a reputation for frequent injuries, an athlete who sought to build confidence through the medium of hypnosis.

There has been the sudden transformation into a power hitter and second baseman par excellence. To Buddy Bell, the Tigers' manager, Easley has become the premier second baseman in the American League. Better than the Orioles' Roberto Alomar. Better than the Yankees' Chuck Knoblauch. Bell says plainly that Easley should be voted the starting second baseman in the All-Star Game.

"There are some good second basemen, Alomar, Knoblauch, but I wouldn't take either one of them for this guy," Bell said. "I think he feels like he's one of the best players in the league - at least at second base."

Easley does not have the brute strength and size of Mark McGwire or Ken Griffey Jr. By athletes' standards, he is a little guy, 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds.

And he is quite quiet. He responds with modesty to his manager's praise.

"I don't concern myself with being one of the best," Easley said. "I concern myself with being the best I can be. I'm not concerned with the glamor of being one of the best. I believe things come with a lot of hard work and believing in your own ability. Those things come naturally, just by producing."

Funny how good things happen in baseball.

Easley, born in New York, grown to maturity in southern California, played five seasons for the Angels. In only one season was he used as a semi-regular. That season, he batted .216. He managed four home runs and 35 RBI. In 1996, he was on the disabled list for the fourth time. He played 28 games for the Angels, hitting .156. He was shuttled back and forth to the minors.

On July 31, 1996, Tigers general manager Randy Smith made another one of his deadline trades, one of three that night. The major news was the dumping of Cecil Fielder to the Yankees. As an aftermath, Smith maneuvered pitcher Greg Gohr to the Angels for ... Damion Easley.

It became the smartest trade Smith has made in his three seasons with the Tigers.

The trade for Easley ranks with his and assistant GM Steve Lubratich's astuteness in scrutinizing every player in minor-league baseball, discovering a nondescript shortstop and maneuvering to draft him - Devei Cruz.

In Detroit, Easley quickly blossomed with the opportunity to play daily, with long-distance confidence-building hypnotherapy, with beefed-up muscles. But mostly, Easley says, it was the chance to play.

"Buddy put me out there every day and let me do what I could do," Easley said. "He didn't tell me what type of ballplayer I should be or need to be. He just let me go out there and do it."

Now at 28, Easley has become the Tigers' top power hitter, in the first season of a power contract that extends into the next century. And his manager is touting him for the All-Star team.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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