For however much it counts (it doesn't), so far the Detroit Tigers are cruising right along down in the grapefruit league this year. Their pitching looks solid, the hitters are banging the ball around and out of the parks, and everything looks to be all-systems-go for a great 2013 campaign. Many have projected the Tigers as a serious threat to return to the World Series this year. Yet a lot of strange things can happen in baseball -- and oftentimes do.
Though all Tiger fans remember that their team made it to the World Series last year only to get swept by the SF Giants, they likely forget the Tigers barely squeaked into the post-season at all with a 88-74 regular season record. Percentage-wise, that was .543 -- not so impressive. In fact, the Tigers only had the 7th best record in the American League. In other words, a few other teams with better records in better divisions got left out of the playoffs. The Tigers were indeed fortunate to be playing in the woeful AL Central Division, else their run to the World Series never would have happened.
Whether or not the current system is fair continues to be the subject of much debate. Ever since 1969, when both the American and National leagues split into divisions, then expansion teams came along and "wild cards" were later added to the playoffs, baseball purists have continued to object. "Baseball was just fine from 1903 through 1968, when the best of each league went to the World Series and there were no playoffs", they claim.
Certainly they have a point. Baseball WAS just fine back in those days. Actually, a very good argument could be made that most of the players we consider truly legendary came BEFORE baseball changed its format. Consider names like Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb, Spahn, Musial, Mays, Mantle, DiMaggio, Clemente, Aaron, and Williams, to name just a few. Quick, taking the performance enhancing drugs era into account, name 3 players that have reached the same legendary status since 1969 as those just mentioned. See what I mean?
Of course, the purists overlook the obvious. It's about the money the playoffs did and continues to generate -- and money seems to have had a way of prevailing in most things over the last few decades in the sports world. Throw in the ridiculous player contracts that have come about and, in its simplest form, that's why the average family of four might have to skip a house/rent payment to attend a game.
But back to the 2012 Tigers. One wouldn't normally think a mediocre .543 record should have qualified a team for a chance at any post-season glory, but it happened. And it could happen to them, or another team this year. Whether or not that's "right" is for each individual to decide for themselves -- opinions likely depend on which way the chips fall at the end of the regular season for any particular fans and their team -- but it is what it is, and it's highly doubtful it will go away any time soon.
Speaking of now and then, 28 years ago, the Tigers had won the World Series, and haven't since. That's about one year for every team in the major leagues these days. Not such a good track record.
A look back at those 1984 Tigers -- with some improbable stats -- tomorrow.