TWO FOR TUESDAY

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

Amidst all the changes with the Tigers, there is one constant. Miguel Cabrera is still a Tiger.  But, after coming off the worst year of his career, news has come out about more issues with Miggy’s personal life. Our writers have agreed to tackle this topic for analysis.

As is the norm, Holly and Kurt have not shared their responses to today’s topic. It’s the best way for our readers to get the best bang for their buck. So here is our question to address.


Are the reports of a paternity suit against Miguel Cabrera newsworthy to his career or should we file this info under “personal life”? Should the Tigers be concerned?

(To facilitate meaningful and user-friendly dialog, we ask that comments be focused on the impact as it pertains to baseball and not on opinions based on either party’s character as it pertains to their private lives.)


HOLLY

I’m sure the midnight oil is burning over at Comerica’s Media/Communications/PR departments as well as those within the legal offices.

Given the extensive evidence, we also know that many within the Tigers’ executive offices, as well as those within the clubhouse, knew about Miggy’s messy personal life – and hoped it wouldn’t see the light of day – or a courtroom.

It is so very upsetting to once again see an unattractive side of Cabrera coming out in public. The 2009-2011 time period of very unacceptable behavior gave us great cause for concern and the past 6 years of calm lulled us into thinking that Miggy had righted his ship and expelled his demons.

But now we know that is not the case and it’s made even worse because, unlike the previous rocky stretch, he has failed to perform on the field. (Insert your own joke here.) And his salary will climb once again in 2018.

Fans were willing to forgive him 6 years ago because he was hitting .344 and had an OPS of 1.033 but 2017 was his worst year ever and many are now understandably thinking that his messy personal life contributed to it. And these same people probably believe that if Miggy had his life in order, his numbers would have been better and he might have helped mitigate the sell-off of some players.

It’s one thing when you are a top performer – it’s another when you aren’t. This time, Cabrera may not be able to dig himself out of another bad PR hole.

His inability to successfully manage his personal life will create significant problems for the Tigers. First, the PR nightmare in which they are undoubtedly fielding thousands of calls and emails from upset fans. The Tigers will be mopping up the mess for much of 2018 and potentially beyond. Like they don’t have enough to do.

And during a time when the Tigers are pushing 2018 ticket sales.

It’s hard enough to sell season packages when you finish in last place and some of the fan-favorite players have been traded. But it’s another when your remaining face of the team has flushed himself down the dumper.

The Tigers now are effectively without a franchise face – the player who drives the turnstiles and marketing sales. Justin Verlander is gone so who are the Tigers going to use in hawking their product? Michael Fulmer who is still young and unproven while also recovering from surgery or Nick Castellanos? This is bad, folks.

I don’t know which is more upsetting – the reality and disappointment in learning that Miggy has not successfully corrected his personal life and allowed it to impact his career once again – or that the Tigers will now be faced with much lower-than-expected attendance figures for 2018. The latter which will also impact the financial decisions pertaining to the rest of their roster.


KURT

Let me tell you something. If your franchise player is coming off the worst year of his career, issues with his personal life are worthy for discussion.

If your franchise player is being compensated with a $30M a year salary, issues with his personal life, unfortunately become our business.

First of all, it’s nearly impossible to keep things personal when you are a high-profile celebrity. Eventually, whatever you are dealing with is going to come out. Eventually, when the public and the media are puzzled over what could be compromising your play other than an injury, you can find out with enough digging; or things simply become part of the public record.

Nothing stays a secret very long. And yes, the Tigers should be concerned. Cabrera hasn’t exactly been living a clean life. The Tigers weathered the storm of his drinking issues years ago and Miggy effectively put it aside and resumed his career with a fury.

Also, people not only speculated but seemed certain that Miggy’s issues at the plate this past season were all tied to his family struggles amidst the political unrest in his homeland of Venezuela. I even wrote a blog on how poorly I felt that I had criticized him at all, given what he was dealing with in his personal life; fearing for the life of his mother.

Of course, the back wasn’t helping him physically, but mentally and emotionally, who are we to question whether the issues in Venezuela were contributing to his poor play?
It’s great that Jose Altuve could have an MVP season despite the problems back home, but people deal with things differently. Some can put things aside and others can’t.

Which is where the concern should lie with the Tigers. Miggy has been so mentally strong his whole career. But maybe there are exceptions and the cracks open for him when he is dealing with personal issues.

Whether it is a drinking incident, family endangerment back home or an unforeseen paternity suit, these are all personal battles. And they are all worthy issues that could be, or are, impacting his ability to focus on his baseball obligations with the Tigers.

No wonder he’s having back issues, with all the baggage he has been carrying around over the last year.


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JV DOING US PROUD

By:  Kurt Snyder

I’m sure you have read many stories over the weekend describing the wonders of Justin Verlander and his incredible dominance of the Yankees on Saturday night.

But from a Tiger fan perspective; there is an angle not yet covered. And it’s all about pride.

What Verlander is doing in Houston since the day he stepped out of a Tiger uniform has been nothing more than, well … expected. Yeah, that’s right.

Expected.

Is it unbelievable? Nope. Is it surprising? Not by any means.

We know first-hand what it’s been like to watch JV. We’ve been watching him baffle hitters forever. Since he walked into Houston, it was just the next chapter, the next opportunity to remind the baseball world that he’s not slowing down anytime soon. He is still one of the most dominating pitchers in the game.

Watching him Saturday in his finest hour of the season was strange amidst all the electricity. Why was it strange? Well, it was because I was no less a fan of him pitching for another team than I was when he was wearing the Old English D. Usually when players leave your team, they take our allegiance with them.

But it is so not the case with JV. There is no other team I want to see win it all than the Houston Astros. They have been good all year. But they were short one very important piece. They needed a starting pitcher. And Houston must shudder at the thought of how close they came to not acquiring him. Justin Verlander has supercharged the Astros.

Go ahead and list them. The difference maker. The X factor. The missing link. They all apply.

Don’t you get the feeling that Justin will not allow the Astros to miss this opportunity? This is his moment. He knows that realistically, even as successful as he has been, still, late in his career, the decline is inevitable.

But it’s not here, yet. And he’s on his best team. Sorry 2006 Tigers. Sorry 2012 Tigers. JV is indeed on his best team and he knows it. Does anyone have a dispute with that?

When it comes down to it, I could not be happier for him and the opportunity he has been given. Yep, that’s right. I am rooting for a man who has everything, to be granted even more.

This is a guy who has worked so incredibly hard. He fought through his down years and injuries when all thought his best was in the rear-view mirror. He promised future dominance. He talked about how close he was to being back. And we doubted him. He was just another aging athlete looking to find it again, unwilling to come to grips with the end of his career; so it seemed.

We have seen it all before. But none of this applies to JV. There is a long line of players and athletes we have been blessed to have witnessed during our generation. And Justin Verlander is on that list.

And now that he is leading the charge in Houston, I have no ill will. I do wish he could have realized that championship goal in Detroit. It’s all we ever wanted.  It’s all he ever wanted. But this is the next best thing for him.

There will be no excuses in Houston. Over the years, the Tigers had roster obstacles to overcome heading into the post-season; areas of the club we hoped would not stand in the way.  All wishful thinking, of course.

Without Verlander, the Astros had a weakness. With him, they don’t. He has helped to form a dominant 1-2 punch which is lethal to have to deal with in a 7-game series.

Justin Verlander, regardless of uniform, sent shivers down my spine on Saturday, with each demoralizing swing and miss by clueless Yankees. It was a feeling of immense pride. Something I have never felt for an ex-Tiger.

That is until JV pitches again.


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THE FINAL ANALYSIS – THE PRIORITIES

By:  Holly Horning

Today, we continue the multi-part analysis of why the Tigers were unable to achieve their ultimate goal for over a decade. As goes for most things in life, it’s never due to one reason, one person or one decision. Very simply, it’s complicated.

If you didn’t read the intro and the first 2 installments of this series, catch them here at:

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/10/03/previews-reviews-interviews/

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/10/07/the-final-analysis-the-individuals/

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/10/10/the-final-analysis-the-groups/

As with everything in business, priorities dictate the direction of an organization and it’s the owner who decides them. But don’t assume that those in charge are going to disclose every priority. Transparency can be a tricky thing.

Now that Mr. I has left us, and Chris is in charge, the priorities have changed. Unfortunately, the younger Ilitch has yet to speak publicly about his direction going forward with the Tigers. From reports, we know that he was in charge briefly back in 2013 and then again from 2016 until today. But let’s focus on those years when his father was making the decisions.


Let’s address the known – and unknown – priorities that dictated the path of this team.

THE RING

It’s well-known that Mr. I wanted that World Series ring. The ultimate goal. The ultimate trophy. And as he got older, he realized that he needed to make up for lost time. Thrifty habits and weak personnel decisions gave way to open wallets and the hiring of a GM Golden Boy.

Rather than develop a long-term thoughtful plan of building a contender, Mr. I fast-tracked a strategy that ignored developing from within and opted for bringing in established talent from elsewhere. And in many cases, it was big talent for big bucks.

And it worked – to a certain extent. Sure, there were some duds, but the Tigers got markedly better due to his willingness to spend. The only problem was that he was collecting pieces – players from a variety of other organizations who all had different perspectives and training and were thrown together suddenly with other athletes. Pieces that didn’t necessarily all fit together.

And Mr. I ignored the historical data showing that larger payrolls weren’t more successful at building World Series winners. On average, the team that wins the World Series has the 8th largest payroll, not one of the top 1 or 2.

MARKETING – FILLING THE SEATS

This is the category where the Tigers really shine and the priority placed on this endeavor is the one that the Tigers don’t advertise to fans. And for obvious reasons.

Let’s start off with Comerica Park. A ballpark developed in size to sit at the top alongside several other AL Central fields. A park with seating that eerily parallels the other new parks within their division. A park that since the end of 2006 (ding! ding! ding!) has been adding extra seating – and more expensive seating – to the venue at a small but regular clip.

And then there is the park itself. Despite the size (average when compared to the rest of the parks around the country), the dimensions of the park are among the largest. Even with the infamous bringing in of the outfield walls. To this day, the CF distance ranks as MLB’s largest expense of grass. And it is a park that is built for the speedy and defensive wizards.

Which brings us to that eternal debate about why such a large park is mismatched to the slow, lumbering and defensively-challenged players the Tigers have signed to play in it? And again, marketing rears its head.

Studies have shown that teams with “sexy” players – power pitchers and HR hitters – attract more fans. Teams filled with guys who have speed and solid defensive skills – even the “small ball” guys – don’t sell as many tickets. It’s hard to get excited over a runner going from 1st to 3rd or making a double play when most would rather see them launch one into the seats. This is a marketing plan made for the masses, not for the smaller percentage of fans who are knowledgeable and appreciative of the level of skills.

It appears the Tigers wanted their cake – and to eat it, too.

But the actions to sign stars to expensive contracts set off a chain reaction. When payroll skyrockets, you better have a plan to pay for it all. And ideally, you get the fans to pick up the lion’s share.

And you do that by marketing the heck out of your team. A plan to put as many fannies in the seats as you can. And a plan to attract the non-fan (can you say amusement park?), the casual fan and the ones who can reel off the starting lineup and players’ stats.

And you keep the fans coming by controlling the message. By giving out positive stories to the newspapers. But cutting off access to the media members who don’t fall into place. And by keeping a vigilant eye on the social media threads and spinning negative stories into gold before the sun goes down.

And finally, by understanding that the seats continue to stay filled when you promise the fans big stars. New stars. Even if it means a yearly flashy signing. From the Pudges to the Miggys to the Prices to the Princes and finally the Uptons. A big new shiny toy every year keeps the fans happy and spinning those turnstiles.

And signing a big, expensive star, rather than building a decent bullpen, always wins as a result. The masses don’t get excited over a 7th or 8th inning guy. They’d rather see the slugger.

And the Tigers clearly won the attendance race (minus one new stadium opening) in their division every year for a decade as a result. Too bad they don’t give trophies for that.

On Wednesday, we’ll continue the analysis as we talk strategies, money and the intangibles.


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QUESTIONS, COMMENTS, KUDOS & CONCERNS

By:  Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning

October baseball is living up to its billing as ex-Tigers have been impacting games, both positively and negatively. So, there is plenty to talk about, of course.

Saturday’s segment is a day to touch on as many issues as possible. Let’s see what Kurt and Holly have on their minds this week. They don’t share their Saturday topics and it’s only for the readers’ benefit. So expect a wide array of thoughts.


 KURT

CONCERN

Leave our game alone; quit messing with it! When a baserunner is at risk of being picked off or called out when his foot comes off the bag for half a second, we have a rule to change. Once again, the sanctity of the game is being affected, and it has cost a team a shot at advancing in the playoffs; it took 2 angles placed side by side to determine that the tag and the foot off the bag were taking place simultaneously and that ain’t right.

COMMENT

It looks like MLB teams now have a reason to add another position to their executive staffs. Without rehashing the dreaded 5th inning in Washington on Thursday night (you’re welcome, Max), it appears teams need to have their own rules official so they can quickly site rules on the spot when umpires are falsely making their own judgements and casting the book aside. Washington and Mr. Scherzer got shafted my friends; I hope the Cubs know how fortunate they are that rules were not properly enforced during Game 5.

QUESTION

What topic is more compelling, the Tigers search for a new manager or Dave Dombrowski’s search in Boston? Just for entertainment purposes alone, I hope the Red Sox hire Ausmus, even though I would fear for Brad’s sanity when having to face the blood thirsty fans and media in Beantown. I still find it very hard to understand how Dombrowski would still consider him, given his failed experience in Detroit; this goes far beyond Brad’s numbers and is centered squarely on a man who commands very little respect.


HOLLY

COMMENT

The Tigers’ Communications staff has been the hardest-working department in the entire organization with their constant stories about why Miggy wasn’t performing this year. Before his back injuries came to light, they flooded the media with stories about Cabrera’s mother and the strife in Venezuela to generate sympathy and quell the growing public concerns. I am reminded of this concerted effort while I watched Miggy’s best friend, Jose Altuve, who is also from Miggy’s hometown, having his best year ever, hitting 3 HRs in one playoff game and is in the running for AL MVP – and who never once mentioned or was asked about his homeland problems.

COMMENT

Several in the media have mentioned that Dave Dombrowski has only hired 1 solid manager (Jim Leyland) in his entire career. And now he is faced with having waited too long to fire John Farrell and, in the process, losing the highly favored Torey Lovullo who took his new team to the playoffs this year. How interested he may become in Brad Ausmus will tell us a lot about how Dave now views his managerial decision in Detroit – that is, unless Boston’s most highly-paid player, David Price, weighs in with his less-than-favorable opinion.

KUDOS

I dislike them with every fiber of my being, but you gotta admire the way the Yankees did their NY-minute rebuild in less than a year. They ripped that band-aid off and made bold decisions about releasing players, cutting payroll and not being timid about remaking the roster. Let’s hope that Al Avila learns from their moves and finally gets inspired to pull the trigger and make tougher and bigger decisions in a more timely fashion.

FORUM FOR FRIDAY

microphoneHappy Friday! It’s time again to head into the weekend hearing from our readers.   You have the rest of the week to hear from Kurt and Holly, today is the day to let them know what you’re thinking on a selected topic.

Friday is the one day of the week where we open up the comment parameters for you, so you can get those juices flowing.

Comments on THIS DAY ONLY can be expanded to a maximum of 8 sentences.

We can’t wait to get your thoughts on the following topic.


You’re the GM.  There are 2 characteristics important to you for the Tigers’ next manager.  What are they and do you see a candidate out there with those qualities? 


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NOT JUST ANY WILL DO

By:  Kurt Snyder

Are there playoff managers (eliminated or not) the Tigers wouldn’t want?

Is this a dumb question? These are all playoff teams, right? Well, believe it or not, there are even managers in the playoffs I am not so sure would be candidates for the Tigers vacant position if they were to become available.

Despite their successes, Detroit should stay away from a few of them, hypothetically speaking. The Tigers, after all, will have already decided on a manager before the end of the World Series.   But let’s have a little fun and take a look.


JOHN FARRELL

They have already made it known that the just-fired John Farrell is not a candidate.

Why?

Well, he’s got some issues worthy of making the Tigers frightened. Communication problems. Issues with not standing up for his players. Some disrespecting him. Haven’t we had enough of that here? Hand it to Al for coming out right away and putting that notion to bed.

On the other hand, keep in mind that John Farrell is still a World Champion, and we will never discount that most coveted accomplishment.


DUSTY BAKER

So, who’s next? Well, it’s been the story of the week in the National League. Even as I watched the Nationals shock all of Chicago with a big grand slam in the 8th inning yesterday, the first home run off the Cubs’ Wade Davis all season, it didn’t distract me from all the drama over whether-or-not the Nats would pitch a sick Stephen Strasburg in the win-or-go-home, Game 4.

All joking aside, I don’t think Dusty Baker was challenged much this season. I have read so many interesting comments about him in Twitter Land over this whole, ‘will he pitch or won’t he’ circus, it makes you wonder where Dusty’s head was at.

One comment suggested that Baker is a good manager as long as he never has to make a decision. Another comment was more logical. All the histrionics could have been avoided if Dusty would have simply announced that if Strasburg is well enough, he would pitch Game 4. And if not, it would be Tanner Roark. Period. Why did he make this so hard?

Give Washington credit though; Dusty has stabilized things in Washington. They have weathered the early storm in this series with the Cubs and have a tremendous opportunity to get to the NLCS. Sorry, Dusty, just couldn’t help it.


JOE GIRARDI

You want another? Well, ok.  I think Joe Girardi will from now until eternity, when given the choice during the playoffs, always challenge versus not, when given the opportunity to use instant replay.

His excuse about being a former catcher and not wanting to risk jeopardizing the rhythm of his pitcher was downright Ausmus-like. We had 4 years of that critical thinking. So, sorry, Joe, as good as you have been, you scare me. “I screwed up” was a much better answer.


AND EVERYONE ELSE?

As far as the rest of the managers? None of them are perfect. But they are the cream of the crop. All these teams are loaded with talent of course. They are playoff teams! But without that leader, without that manager who keeps pushing them, and motivating them to reach their absolute highest potential, talent isn’t enough.

I have picked on a few. I had too! It’s fun! How can I ignore some of the antics that have gone on over the last week? But frankly though? I can’t reasonably suggest that these 1 or 2 examples define what have been very successful seasons for these managers and their ballclubs. That just wouldn’t be fair.

But while we wait on the Tigers’ decision, it’s fun to look at some of these guys and wonder who would be best for Detroit during a rebuild. Not all of them are candidates for rebuilding jobs.

Going forward, I am sure many of you will be like me for the next few weeks. While we wonder what the Tigers will do, aren’t you waiting with bated breath to see what Dave Dombrowski will do in Boston with his vacant managerial position?

Would he dare hire you-know-who?


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THE FINAL ANALYSIS – THE GROUPS

By:  Holly Horning

Last week, we started the process of dissecting the past decade of the Tigers. A way of giving us closure as well as identifying the factors that prevented the team from winning it all despite the immense talent.

The first blog identified the individuals coupled with some examples of their actions. If you didn’t catch it last week, shame on you. Here’s your chance for redemption: https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/10/07/the-final-analysis-the-individuals/

Today, we’ll continue the journey by looking at some of the groups, or departments, that contributed to the missed opportunities.


THE STRUCTURE

The first thing you notice when you look at how the Tigers’ organization is structured, is the traditional hierarchy most teams had a decade ago. The power is concentrated among a handful of people who oversee multiple areas of the organization. The Executive Office is rather skimpy compared with other teams – roughly half the size of the majority of other organizations. Al Avila holds 2 full-time positions (VP Baseball Operations and GM) instead of the typical separation seen with other teams – President (not VP) of Baseball Operations with a different individual as GM. Right away, someone doing 2 jobs is at a disadvantage when compared to another team who has one person per job.

What is truly telling is how Detroit has structured the list of their personnel which is usually based upon which departments they see as being more important. And unlike most other teams, they list their sales, marketing and media departments near the top of the pecking order and the medical, training and conditioning departments closer to the bottom.

THE EMPLOYEES

Three things stand out as you peruse the resumes of those in the Front Office:

1. The majority of the decision-makers have been with the Tigers for a decade+. A good number of them go all the way back to the Marlins when Dave Dombrowski and Al Avila were there.

2. The few who are new(er) have ties to Jim Leyland from his Pittsburgh days.

3. There is a pattern of employees who have returned to Detroit, often after being terminated by other teams.

Overall, there is a pattern of staying within the Old Guard – either long-term employment of the same people or hiring those who have spent years doing the same work for other teams. No outside-the-box hires of young minds with backgrounds in sports-related fields. (Exception: Analytics, which will be covered shortly.)

It is an older, ageing and insular group of individuals. Please don’t misconstrue this as ageism. It is about having only 1 group of individuals without the influence of the newer, younger and outsider employees who would bring a modern, updated and different voice to the mix.

The Analytics Department is too new to be able to bring into this discussion. And they are the only department with a new influx of people outside of the Tigers’ organization. Let’s simply mention that the lack of analytics was a factor in this past decade. The Tigers were the last team in MLB to adopt them, putting them at a distinct disadvantage.

THE SCOUTS

Again, most of them long-term scouts for the Tigers with many of them dating back to the Marlins days. Not known for great signings since Justin Verlander but then potentially Dave Dombrowski wasn’t concerned with signing and developing talent as he used all his prospects as trading chips. (Remember that some of the best Tigers like Miggy and JD were scouted primarily by Avila himself.) And given that the Tigers weren’t using analytics at a tool for evaluating, the scouts were also working at a disadvantage. Given that the organization is now attempting to develop “Caesar”, it stands to reason that new scouts, equipped with the latest analytic tools, should be hired. And just recently, Avila hired 2 from outside the organization.

THE COACHES

One of MLB’s oldest collections with the primary members ranging in age from 50 to 70. Again, it is not about the age, it is about not having a range of ages which represent different views and experiences within the game. All of them Jim Leyland coaches with the exception of Omar Vizquel who was recommended by Jim Leyland’s best friend, Tony LaRussa. Four of the 5 are former managers. Sense a pattern here?

MEDICAL

Year after year, injuries were used as the excuse for why the Tigers couldn’t get it done. And increasingly, players have had injuries linger throughout the year. We saw an increase in not knowing what was wrong as well as players who traveled outside the organization, on their own dime, to see specialists. JV, Miggy, Zimmermann, Norris, VMart and others spent the better part of at least one year where their injuries could not be resolved.

Other teams, like the Nats, fire entire medical staffs when injuries dominate. But the Tigers don’t. They also have an outdated health system with only 4 medical-related personnel on staff. The average number for each MLB team is around 10 with some teams having 15-20 – all of them specialists – on board. It’s telling that the medical and training/conditioning programs are listed near the bottom of the Front Office directory. Most of the other MLB teams list theirs closer to the top.

TRAINING/CONDITIONING

(See MEDICAL.) The same regular number and types of injuries indicate a lack of attention to proper conditioning esp. concerning the team’s emphasis on strength training and no programs addressing core and stretching (specific exercises, pilates, yoga, etc.) like most teams do now in MLB. More than a couple of players getting injured in the weight room from lack of supervision. And a pitcher who was allowed to pitch from the mound recently with a broken leg. A head trainer who has been with the Tigers for 25 years – again, since the Marlins. Two assistant trainers with 25 years and 20 years experience with the Tigers. There’s that darn pattern again…

MARKETING/COMMUNICATIONS/PR

Arguably, the best and strongest departments within all of MLB. Listed near the top of the organizational chart, they recruited the best talent from NY to ensure that the Tigers maintained one of the mid-market’s strongest attendance figures. They actively pushed the right messages and countered problems and social media angst promptly and thoroughly through several local newspapers and sports tv. They completely control the message and spin every potential negative story. Which brings us to…

THE LOCAL MEDIA

More than a couple of reporters outside of Detroit have pointed to a cozy relationship between the PR department and certain reporters within several of the local papers. Which helps explain why the best journalist arguably among the major dailies does not write about the Tigers more than a couple of times a year and why another, who won a major journalistic award, was “laid off” one week after winning it.

Also the reason why there is rarely criticism of anyone connected to the team and why recent grades for the worst team in MLB were, on average, high-C’s. Even the manager was given a “B.” This simply wouldn’t fly in any major city (but especially on the East Coast) where the media regularly critiques everything and everyone associated with the team in question. And failure to criticize with a rationale of having access to the team, is simply unacceptable. When feet are not held to the fire, there is no accountability. And without accountability, there is no championship.

But the factors that contributed to the team’s failure to reach that ultimate goal don’t stop here. On Sunday, we’ll tackle the non-people related elements. And most of them have 1 thing in common.


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TWO FOR TUESDAY

By:  Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning

News broke this week that Brad Ausmus is a managerial candidate for both the Phillies and the Mets. Makes you wonder what they are looking for in a manager, doesn’t it? And it also begs a question about the Tigers’ job opening.

As is the norm, Kurt and Holly have not shared their responses to today’s topic. It’s the best way for our readers to get the best bang for their buck. So here is our question to address.


What qualities, as well as qualifications, should the Tigers be considering as they interview potential new managers?


KURT

It will be a long time before the Tigers entertain hiring a managerial candidate without any managerial experience. They must be as gun-shy as you can get after the failed experiment of Brad Ausmus.

But ironically, if there’s ever a time to try out a candidate without that experience at some level, it really is now, isn’t it? This would be the time to try that out; not when you are a veteran team and still a contender to win a World Title. That’s a job for big boy pants.

For now, the Tigers must head into this torturous rebuild considering all candidates; even the ones who have not managed, realizing of course, that it goes much further than that when making a selection.

The beauty of having endured Brad Ausmus and his forgettable legacy is that the Tigers got a real taste of what they don’t want again. He helped to determine that list of qualities you wished he had but didn’t.

He needed to be more instinctive; a feel for the game.

He needed creativity; a willingness to change things up.

He needed fire; a pulse that could invigorate and motivate his team.

He needed to have fun; it’s a long season, and teams need to play loose not tight.

And one of the most important; he never seemed to fight for his players. If you fight for your team, they will fight for you. And you never got a sense over 4 years that his players would run through a wall for him.

All these things earn respect. I can’t imagine anyone, lacking all these qualities, earning a bit of respect from his team. So, that’s the daunting challenge; to find that type of guy.

And if they choose someone who doesn’t have that managerial experience but possesses all the other intangibles, it may not be the most important thing for a team rebuilding. Especially if the new Tiger skipper has inherited the pedigree that comes from one of these great organizations still playing in October.


HOLLY

Hopefully, the Tigers have learned a lesson about how not to do a managerial search, starting with keeping Jim Leyland away from all aspects of the process. It was Dave Dombrowski who put him in charge of the search, selection and recommendation of Brad Ausmus and we know how that turned out.

This was also the team that rushed the process and spent less than 2 weeks in their managerial search. Talk about your due diligence! And they hastened their decision because presumably Brad had interviewed with another team and the Tigers were afraid he’d get away.

This is also the same organization that thought Ausmus was better than fellow candidates Torey Lovullo and Bud Black.

But it would now be a mistake for the Tigers to hire the complete opposite of Brad – an older guy who has been an MLB manager for decades. Former managers remain unemployed for a reason and increasingly, baseball is turning to younger guys with deeper skill sets that embrace experience, the eye test, analytics and acceptance of the new trends and practices.  The Tigers must turn in this direction as well.

They should start with the organizations known for their consistent yearly performance but also those who have successfully reinvented their organizations through a detailed vision and plan of how to get there. Within the past 5 years, we’ve seen many teams turn away from the grizzled ballplayer who worked his way up the Front Office ladder and go for guys with no playing experience but with advanced degrees in sports-related fields. In turn, these guys-turned-GM have hired supporting staff who share these updated beliefs about evolving how a team plays. These kinds of organizations are where the Tigers need to start.

And any new guy must have dugout experience. Managing or coaching in the majors or the minors combined with proven experience at being able to effectively manage personalities and proof of inspiring the best play out of those he oversees.

This candidate must also be able to change the current clubhouse culture which, we’ve read, had become increasingly toxic during Brad’s tenure. Leyland and Ausmus both stayed away from the locker room while Tito Francona and Joe Maddon eliminated the barriers between it and the manager’s office. This is especially important as the Tigers dramatically move away from a veteran-loaded roster to one of the young and relatively inexperienced.

The athletes will be in dire need of advice, direction, motivation and leadership on a regular basis.

But this new manager also has to successfully handle the egos of the established and highly-paid veterans – a job that Ausmus was unwilling or unable to do. And we can think of one player in particular whom he must be able to effectively manage.


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THE SILENT OWNER

By:  Kurt Snyder

“I am very pleased with how decisive and determined Al Avila and his staff have been to move our organization forward.  We’re energized with the infusion of young talent we’ve added.” – Chris Ilitch


Keeping Al Avila was the easiest road for Chris Ilitch, wasn’t it?

But what if upon assuming control of the Tigers,  he would have fired Avila? How would you have felt about that? Surprised? Encouraged? Disappointed?

I’m certain the latter is not a reaction that would have been shared by many. The first 2 though, would have come sequentially. Surprise and encouragement would have spread throughout Tiger Nation? Am I wrong?

Al Avila’s short tenure as General Manager of the Tigers has not been a positive one. Fans wanted to embrace him, and actually did, upon witnessing his first couple of moves. They proved to be validation for what Avila said he wanted to target in his quest to improve the team heading into 2016.

He told us what position he wanted to improve and he went out and did exactly what he said; a management style that has become a negative for Al. His habit of almost full disclosure appears to be a strange desire to gain acceptance from the media and the fan base.

Since the departure of Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers have been plagued with inexperience. And it could have all been avoided if the long-time Ilitch family ownership was not so hell-bent on unnecessary loyalty.

I know this sounds funny coming from someone whose father was fired by Mike Ilitch.  But I understand that business can be ruthless. It can be cutthroat. There can be no emotion when it comes to decision-making at a time of transition.

There can be no emotion when new innovative blood is needed to move from stagnation to progressive upward mobility towards a championship.

There are certain things you expect from new ownership. Things you expect when taking  charge of a club hoping to achieve the level of success they have been unable to reach.

But it has been a 3-point succession of high level ineptness and simply taking the easier and perhaps lazier road.

1. Mike Ilitch let Dave Dombrowski go and promoted Al Avila.

Fine. It had been a 14-year quest. Dave saw the handwriting on the wall and looked for other jobs. Mike didn’t like it and told him to hit the road following the trade deadline of 2015.

The promotion of Al Avila was easy. Too easy. And disappointing. The opportunity for a fresh start was discarded and ignored.

2. Avila retains Ausmus as manager.

Retaining the existing manager is something a new GM rarely does. He took the easy road. Too easy. And equally as disappointing. Every season since, for 4 years, Al kept dragging Brad along with him, despite all the seasons of failure.

Heck, Brad may still be the manager if he hadn’t told Avila he wasn’t interested in returning in 2018.

3.  Chris Ilitch assumes control of the Tigers – first move, do nothing.

So here we are. Some big moves have been made to the roster since the July 31st trade deadline, a few moves with the front office, all by Avila. Everything endorsed by Chris Ilitch.

Is this what you wanted?  Is this how all of this works?


If I were to find a manual of how to rebuild a professional baseball franchise, I would expect a required order of business within the first chapter.   Just the initial required steps:

Identify failed and unsuccessful business practices.

Seek and hire highly recommended GM replacement from outside the organization.

New General Manager hires new field manager (Again highly recommended, possessing all the requirements critical to winning.)

New General Manager assumes task of rebuilding the franchise in the areas of scouting, analytics and identifiable and consistent team culture.

New General Manager builds strategic plan for rebuild.


What did Chris Ilitch do?  He did nothing.   Well, ok, very little.  He let it all ride at the most critical time. He left everything and everyone, alone.  Al Avila sowed the seeds of the current Tiger rebuild, mainly because he was allowed.

Should he have been allowed to touch anything affecting the future?  No, because if I’m the owner?  He gone!

So how do you feel? Surprised? Encouraged? Disappointed?

No need to answer.


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THE FINAL ANALYSIS – THE INDIVIDUALS

By:   Holly Horning

Last week, we started the closure process – a formal way of coming to terms with the Tigers’ failed mission to get that ring despite over a decade of monstrous talent and payrolls just as large.

It’s important for fans to get on the same page regarding the factors that stopped the Tigers in their quest. And like most things in life, the answer is not simple. Nor is the issue due to one factor. If it was, teams would have figured out long ago what they needed to do to win a World Series.

There are at least 10 different variables that impacted the Tigers during this time. And each variable has multiple factors contained within each. The initial list was identified in the earlier blog https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/10/03/previews-reviews-interviews/.

So why do we want to “rehash” the issues? Don’t we want to move forward? Why do we want to stir up old memories?

The answer is simple. For the team to move forward, and for us as fans to identify and weigh the issues of importance, we need to look back before we can move forward. We need to understand what happened. And hopefully, the Tigers do as well so they don’t repeat the same mistakes. History is an excellent teacher if we allow it.

Today, let’s identify the individuals who impacted the team and made the decisions. Some more influential than others.


MIKE ILITCH

A complicated tale of a man who started as a thrifty owner and evolved into one of baseball’s most generous. But his strategy of trying to buy a world championship with a monetary fast-track approach is historically a failed one. Too much evidence that he often bumped heads with Dave Dombrowski over the signing of certain players. And his goal of winning was often contradicted by his desire to bring in more star power for marketing purposes despite substantial evidence they were not a good fit. And his focus on acquiring big, expensive stars resulted in clubhouse chaos, unchained egos and a group of players who received many individual awards, but much less that was team-based.

DAVE DOMBROWSKI

No one was better at trading, but scratch below the surface and see that Dave did little else to improve the organization. Other than Leland’s retirement, he made almost no personnel changes and depleted the farm system so completely that the Tigers had to resort to acquiring rentals in his last year as GM. He was anti-analytics and refused to acknowledge the importance of the bullpen year after year. Dombrowski solely focused on the statistical part of a player and ignored the importance of the right mix of character, leadership and mental fortitude – resulting in an unhappy, often combative and rudderless clubhouse. Under his direction, the Tigers became one of baseball’s most antiquated organizations with no attempt to adopt the techniques the rest of MLB was already using.

AL AVILA

Not a good showing so far but let’s be fair and ask how much of what he wanted to do earlier was prohibited by the decline of Mr. I and Chris Ilitch taking over? Will we finally start to see proof of the promises made to rebuild the farm system and put more of an emphasis on the right way to play? Or will Al continue to avoid making the big decisions as long as possible? It doesn’t look good when a new GM fails to make any personnel changes including that of a manager everyone connected to the game fully expected to have seen fired back in 2015. His inability to pull the trigger until things turn so bad is not reassuring.

JIM LEYLAND

Dave Dombrowski’s former manager brought back from retirement and representing an old, outdated standard of play tossed aside by most teams years ago. A man who was quoted as saying that HRs solved everything and put all the eggs in the pitching and bashing baskets while ignoring fundamentals, defense and running. Despite having such immense talent, including multiple Cy Young Award, MVP and Triple Crown winners, he managed only 1 World Series game win. Absolutely criminal. But it’s his tentacle-like reach into all areas of the Tigers that is most worrisome. His personal selection and recommendation of Brad Ausmus as his successor, the gentleman’s agreement to keep Gene Lamont employed, the staying power of his own coaches (past and present) and his continuing influence since 2015 to get best buddy Ron Gardenhire-“d.” A team cannot move in a “new direction” when the old guard is still allowed to have any input.

BRAD AUSMUS

No need to rehash what everyone already knows. A man with zero MLB managing experience hired to take a team to the World Series in his first year and with a window starting to close. A rookie manager who accepted a job because he didn’t know what he didn’t know and showed very little improvement or even a real desire to learn from his mistakes over 4 years. But despite his inability to manage, we need to put the majority of the blame on those who thought he was a better candidate than his competition, Torey Lovullo and Bud Black. But equal scorn should also be directed at those who signed off on his hiring as well as those who refused to replace him.


So there we have it. Five individuals who impacted as well as impeded the team over the past decade+. But there are more. On Wednesday, we’ll identify the departments within the organization that failed to support the team more often than they helped. And you may be surprised at which one had the most impact.


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