Second-chance stars

Give Texas manager Ron "Father Flanagan" Washington credit. Under his watch, players with troubled pasts - most notably, Milton Bradley and Josh Hamilton - have become American League hitting stars. And Vicente Padilla, another guy with a checkered past, has become a quality pitcher.

Bradley, who's probably best-known for his run-ins with fans, managers and umpires, leads the AL in hitting. Hamilton, who has recovered from a drug addiction, tops the AL in homers and RBIs and is among the league's hitting leaders.

Hamilton could become the first American Leaguer to win the triple crown since Boston's Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967 with 44 homers, 121 RBIs and a .326 average.

Since 1900, a player has won the AL triple crown just nine times, including Ted Williams in 1942 and 1947. Members of the Philadelphia Athletics' Historical Society are proud to point out that the A's Jimmie Foxx (1933) and Nap Lajoie (1901) were triple-crown winners.

But we seriously doubt if anyone has overcome the obstacles that were in front of Hamilton.

In case you were curious, the other AL triple-crown winners were Frank Robinson (1966), Mickey Mantle (1956), Lou Gehrig (1934), and Ty Cobb (1909).

Train off track

Remember when many in the baseball universe - including the staff at Low & Outside - anointed the Detroit Tigers the AL team to beat, after that blockbuster off-season trade with the Florida Marlins netted Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera?

Well, the Tigers (and the all-knowing baseball universe) aren't looking so smart these days. Willis, who signed a three-year, $29 million deal with Detroit, is 0-1 with a 10.32 ERA in five games (four starts). He was sent to single-A Lakeland yesterday to get straightened out.

"Our objective is to get Dontrelle back to being Dontrelle," Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said. "We don't want to put a time frame on this."

Meanwhile, two of the six young players Florida acquired in the deal - Andrew Miller and Burke Badenhop - have combined for six more wins than Willis.

All-star joke

The fans' all-star voting is a farce. Just check the latest balloting, which has Red Sox leading in five of the nine spots, including designated hitter.

Among the undeserving Boston leaders are designated hitter David Ortiz, catcher Jason Varitek, and second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

Entering last night, Ortiz was hitting .252, seventh among DHs. Varitek was batting .257, .70 points below Twins catcher Joe Mauer (.327). Pedroia was hitting .263 with four homers; Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler was hitting .308 with eight homers.

Et cetera

First baseman David Cooper became the first player picked in the first round of last week's amateur draft to agree to a contract, getting a $1.5 million signing bonus from Toronto. . . . Steve Trachsel was designated for assignment by the Baltimore Orioles. The 37-year-old was 2-5 with an 8.39 ERA in 10 games.