Friday, May 30, 2003

Tigers by the Tail: The woeful state of the Detroit Tigers is perfectly described in this terrific article by ESPN Page 2's Eric Neel.

...they sit dead last in all of baseball in team batting average (.214, and nobody on the squad is hitting as high as .300), on-base percentage (.285 -- every other team in the majors over .300), and slugging percentage (.324), and next-to-last in home runs (37 -- less than half the 80 put up by the Braves so far).

They got it bad and it ain't good.

For those of you who like your coffee black, your whiskey straight and your stories told in cold, hard facts, let's put it like this: The three pitchers receiving the worst run-support in the bigs right now are Tigers Jeremy Bonderman (2.22 runs/game), Adam Bernero (2.26) and Mike Maroth (2.97). For those of you who think more poetically and metaphorically, let's say it like this: The Tigers score runs the way governors grant clemency and pretty girls hand out their phone numbers -- rarely, and only after great pleading and prayer.

Eric was assigned to watch the Tigers for a week and to his credit, he worked hard to find some sort of positive angle. He ended up with something along the lines of "just ignore how bad they are and appreciate that you are watching baseball." Nice try, Eric.

What's happened to the Tigers is a shame. Certainly the owner, Mike Ilitch, is not sleepwalking through his tenure. The guy also owns the Red Wings who have dominated the NHL for the past few years. The President and CEO, Dave Dombrowski, has built winners elsewhere and has a rep for being as sharp as they come. Last year, Dombrowski made noises about needing room under the salary cap and not having any tradable players. Maybe he's just cleaned house this year so he can start rebuilding with some wiggle room.

That's probably the best scenario, and it wouldn't surprise me if the Tigers are contending again in a three or four years.

Bully, but what about in ten years when they are bad again. A winning team will fill seats and make everyone money, but it seems to me that baseball owners would want to think about what they have to do to make money when the team is in the midst of a few losing seasons, which will be about 50% of the time.

Maybe they don't care; maybe they plan on building a winner and selling at a profit. Or maybe they don't think it through. A few years ago, Ilitch committed to a new stadium, Comerica Park, in downtown Detroit - a 40 minute inconvenient drive from primary audience, which is out in the suburbs. I have expressed my misgivings about Detroit before so I won't rehash them. The fact is, yes, people will make the trek into Detroit for a winner, but not for a loser. Wouldn't it be better to make going to the game an event beyond the result of the game? How about locating the stadium 40 minutes the other way - west - towards Ann Arbor, which has the infrastructure to handle 100,000 Michigan football fans on Saturdays in the fall. It also has little problems with crime, great restaurants for post-game and, in the outskirts, plenty of room to build. You could leave work a little early, pick up the kids at school around four, hit Ann Arbor by 5-ish and have some fun hangin' around town or in the multitude of parks before the game. Instead, you get to pack up the kids, fight traffic and horrendous streets, hop back in the car as soon as the game is over to get the kids to safety, and stop at Chuck E. Cheese in Dearborn on the way home. Are you going to be keen on doing that for a no-name loser? Didn't think so.