As the late great Ernie Harwell was so fond of saying -- hope always springs eternal for the Tigers. At least Ernie got to witness a couple World Series triumphs over his long career calling the play-by-play for the club. Not so fortunate was his better known counterpart Harry Caray of Chicago Cubs fame. Poor Harry never got to see his beloved Cubbies even make it to a World Series, let alone win it. But hey, who will ever forget how much he would juice the home crowd while leading them in a rousing rendition of "Take me out to the ballgame" during the 7th inning "stretch"? Sorry Ernie, wherever you are, but with all due respect -- compared to that -- you just sat there like the house by the side of the road.
Nevertheless, the Tigers appear to have as good a shot as most any other team this year at reaching and/or winning the World Series. Certainly they should win the woebegone American League Central Division again to qualify for the playoffs, by default if nothing else. The rest of their division rivals are -- how do you say -- not so good.
So what do the Tigers have anyway?
An owner in Mike Ilitch that isn't afraid to spend money on players, though even he is held in check by the salary cap/luxury tax.
A President/GM in Dave Dombrowski that's found a way to pull off some slick deals in the last few years, obtaining a couple fearsome hitters, plugged the hole at second base, got a crowd-pleasing, if aging outfielder, and finally -- FINALLY -- came to the realization that, fellow crowd-favorite and all-around nice guy or not -- Brandon Inge couldn't hit a lick. Never did and never would. He had to go.
And all without Dombrowski having to sacrifice much talent from the Tigers. Pretty impressive.
Of course, there's manager Jim Leyland. Many are convinced Leyland is some sort of managerial genius. A swami, a guru, that always knows the right strings to pull at the right time to maximize his team's potential. One can excuse the hard core fans for getting caught up in such hype, because most of them will believe anything -- but one would also think the local pundits would know better than to swig the same koolaid. Because actually, Leyland's no such thing. Never has been. Over his long career as a skipper, he's about average. Barely.
Consider that during Leyland's last 4 years (1993-96) as the Pittsburgh Pirates manager, they posted a losing record every year. Then he fell into a rose garden when the Florida Marlins hired him. At the time the Marlins basically featured an All-Star team, and they would indeed go on to win the 1997 World Series. After their owner decided to dispense with the ridiculous player salaries he was saddled with, he had a fire sale of several players. The Marlins promptly went 54-108 the following year with Leyland still at the helm.
The following year, 1999, Leyland landed with the Colorado Rockies. They went 72-90 and Leyland flat out quit -- with two years remaining on his contract.
After being on the sidelines for 7 years, somehow the Tigers came to the conclusion that Leyland was the man to be their field general in 2006.
His stat lines:
Pittsburgh Pirates. 11 years. 851 wins, 863 losses. A percentage of .496.
Florida Marlins. 2 years. 146-178. .451
Colorado Rockies. 1 year. 72-90. .444
Detroit Tigers. 8 years. 616-536. .535
Overall, 22 years. 1685-1667. A percentage of .503
Sure, the Tigers made it to the World Series last year before being unceremoniously kicked to the curb by the San Francisco Giants in a sweep. No doubt many, including some of the "homer" media folks, think the Marlboro Man is now the greatest thing since smart phones, hi-def flat screen TVs, and child support payments that have finally expired.
But 22 years at .503 don't lie. Again, Leyland's managerial skills are about average. Barely.
This ran on longer than I thought it would. Sorry.
A further look at the Tigers next time.....