A DETROIT DYNASTY DILEMMA

By:  Holly Horning

MLB Radio hosted a discussion the other day about the best dynasty teams to never have won a World Series. Unfortunately, this century’s Tigers won with their 4 division titles, 4 division series, 4 championship series, 2 World Series and a slew of prestigious awards.

What I found most interesting was the inability of the hosts to identify at least one reason why the Tigers have not been able to win that ring for nine years. Maybe no one wanted to point fingers at specific individuals. But as in life, I think the answer is complicated with no single factor as the culprit.

Given this, let’s explore some of the possible reasons why the Tigers, with so many great players, have yet to even experience a single proud World Series moment. We need a comparison World Series winner so let’s match up the 1984 Tigers with the patterns and conditions seen from the 2006 through 2014 teams. Here are some of the more significant factors that may be at play. How much each one contributed will probably never be known.

OFFENSE – When you look at the starting lineup of the ’84 Tigers, the offensive stats of each player are fairly consistent to each other. No one had an exceptional year but no one had a bad year either. The teams from the past nine years exhibited a pattern of exceptional performances but also players who contributed significantly less.

PITCHING – The two groups show signs of similarity in their starting pitching with the dynasty having a few more peaks and valleys in terms of performance levels. But the biggest difference between the two is – you guessed it – the Bullpen. The World Champions had two remarkable relievers with solid W/L records, low ERAs and a tidy sum of saves. The current day generation had the saves, but not the wins and sported significantly higher ERAs.

PERSONNEL – It is difficult to assign a true value to both groups given the number of presidents, general managers, managers and coaches involved. However, it would be wise to include Dave Dombrowski and (for one more year) Jim Leyland as factors. The dynasty rosters have turned over significantly in the past three years and now there is only one player left from 2006. The players as individuals fall outside of being factors.

GAME STRUCTURE – In 1984, there were two divisions in the AL with 7 teams in each. Ironically, the Tigers were considered to be in the harder division. The latter-day team has been part of a 3-division AL with 5 teams in each and a move to the easier AL Central. In 1984, there was only one playoff before the World Series. In recent years, MLB has made it easier for more teams to be in the mix for playoffs by adding an additional playoff series and wild card opportunities to potentially create more upsets.

CONTRACTS – The biggest difference between the two generations was definitely within this category. in 1984, shorter contracts with not much difference between the players’ salaries was the rule. The highest salary was just over $1 million with gaps of approximately $100,000 between the top players. Today’s team is the complete opposite with a wide division between the stars, solid players, role players and rookies. How does this perceived unequal hierarchy impact ego, teamwork and personal relationships? Let’s think about the player making $28 million/year sharing the field with the player earning $500,000.

TEAMWORK – This could be a subset of the Contracts section above. The ’84 Tigers were rumored to be a very close-knit bunch with many of them still in touch or working together years later which would indicate a high level of teamwork and respect. While this bunch won it all, they only took home three individual awards that year between 1 player (2) and the manager.

Compare that team with the current Tiger dynasty. Yet to win a World Series, they have however, cornered the market on individual awards every year – including 2 Cy Youngs, 3 MVPs, 2 Triple Crowns (JV, Miggy), Rookie of the Year, and 10 other slightly less prestigious awards. Strong evidence that many of the players put a greater focus on individual performance rather than the greater good of the team especially when you consider the financial rewards given to players who stand out above the rest of the pack.

And herein lies the irony for Tiger fans. We celebrate a team that won it all yet gnash our teeth over the annual Hall of Fame snubs. And today, we enjoy watching players who are likely to gain entry into Cooperstown but we remain frustrated that all of this talent has been unable to win the World Series for the past nine years.