By: Holly Horning
You know how they say that given time, our perception of a President will change based upon history and the comparison with his fellow brethren? The same is true with baseball owners and GMs.
Let’s start with the case of Mike Ilitch. To many today, he was beloved. But back in the ‘90’s and early 2000’s? Er, not so much. In his first 14 years of ownership, the Tigers had below .500 records 13 of those years. Including 3 years of 100+ losses that included a record-breaking one the team is still trying to live down.
But then he started to spend and fans loved him. The Tigers started to contend and all was right with the world. Fans got spoiled from all the splashy signings and a roster filled with stars.
And it stayed that way mostly until 2015 when he released GM Dave Dombrowski as the window for winning was starting to draw to a close. And Mr. I’s reputation stayed largely intact until the rebuild started impacting the team and fans started questioning how much the owner was at fault. It’s tough when your favorite players go on to wear other uniforms, especially when they didn’t achieve the desired goals.
We read now how much Mr. I and Dave bumped heads. How Dombrowski had to navigate the poor signings forced upon him by the owner. We questioned the signings of Prince Fielder, Jordan Zimmermann and others which resulted in multiple players being moved from their normal positions in order to accommodate a new star. Not something most GMs would entertain doing.
We wonder how wise Mr. I’s decision was in filling the team with stars. Did his marketing strategy to put fannies in the seats override and/or clash with the priority of winning it all?
And the biggest question of all…..How much blame for not winning that ring can be placed upon Mike Ilitch?
For some, his reputation has come full circle.
Many may not even have considered this until GM Dave Dombrowski took his new team, the Red Sox, to the World Series in just his third year. When someone can’t meet the goals for 14 years with one team, but can do it quickly with another, you have to think about the factors – and people – involved.
When Dombrowski came to the Tigers in the early 2000’s, he was considered the savior – in comparison to those he was replacing. He quickly broomed much of the Front Office and brought in many of his former employees from the Marlins.
Five years later, the Tigers started to win – and win big. Fans were enamored of Dave for his signings and spectacular trades.
But despite a couple of World Series appearances, and a number of division titles, he could never get it done. The bloom started to come off the rose for many right about the time Brad Ausmus was brought on board.
And it was telling that with his second 3-year extension, Mike Ilitch had zero meetings with Dave during his last contract year. In most cases, if you can’t do the job in 14 years, you’ve been given more time than most others would have been given.
The criticism about Dombrowski started to gain traction. He was criticized for not building a bullpen, for not having enough defensive muscle – and who can forget, hiring a rookie manager with no managerial experience whatsoever to take a team with their World Series window closing.
But Dave’s star is rising once again with his work in Boston. He’s now done everything he was criticized for in Detroit. And he finally won that World Series ring. Twice now with 2 out of his 3 teams.
And you have to question why he was able to win two World Series with the Marlins and Red Sox and not with the Tigers.
So naturally, we now have to ask how much interference Mr. I contributed. How many signings did he force on Dave? Did he only want to spend his money on stars instead of investing in relatively boring relievers who would save games in the playoffs?
We also have to ask which one of the two were responsible for those monster contracts and extensions given to Fielder, Zimmermann, Verlander – and Miggy. Contracts that now serve as albatrosses around the rebuilding neck. Contracts that have created immense inflexibility and resulted in fire sale level trading and non-tendering of most of the recognizable faces left on the team. Creating a situation that is painful to fans and now generating bad feelings towards both the former owner and GM.
And now, there is Al Avila. Reviled at first for the perception that he stole Dave’s job. Now, disliked for all of the disappointing trades and tearing down of the team. He’s got the hardest part of the job. A painful, unglamorous duty of demolishing the product and quality before he can rebuild.
But what if Avila’s strengths are what the Tigers need the most? His strength is in scouting and he’s the first GM in decades to care about the farm system and rebuilding it. He was the first to push for analytics and is expanding the department on a yearly basis.
Maybe he is the guy who will finally take the Tigers into the 21st Century.
There is nothing splashy about his work. There is nothing we can currently point to and get excited. Unlike Dave, maybe Al has more steak to his former boss’s sizzle.
Only time will tell.
In the meantime, Mr. I’s reputation will continue to change as the Tigers go through their growth pains and potentially a new owner takes over.
Dave’s legacy will also change as he continues with Boston and potentially gets them another ring.
This rebuild, if it is indeed a real and timely one, will tell us more about who these 3 men really are. And it may not be what many fans currently believe.
Totally Tigers loves your comments! But please remember that responses are only published if they address today’s topic, are respectful and do not exceed the maximum 3-4 sentence response length. All rules are at: https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/commentsrules/.