WINNING UNDER PRESSURE

By:  Kurt Snyder

Do teams operate differently depending on when they last won? It’s an interesting question I think. It depends on the city perhaps. It depends on the ownership perhaps. In some cases, winning is just a bonus.

The Chicago Cubs have been floundering for my whole life outside of an odd year they win more than they lose, or an occasional playoff cameo. It hasn’t been until now that they have aggressively pursued a championship. The Cubs and losing have run hand in hand within the fabric of their franchise, almost in an acceptable manner, given their last championship took place not far beyond the 1800’s.

So frankly, Cubs games are events, reasons to gather with friends and family for a good time. Winning or losing is a side note. If I need to be set straight on that, I would welcome the enlightenment.

But in Detroit, the goals have been different. Since the Tigers emerged from a decade long slumber with an inexplicable World Series appearance in 2006, a series they most certainly had the ability to win, the team has been in desperation mode.

Has losing that series had implications on the goals of the franchise? I would guess they would say no, the goals are always the same. But how much easier would things have been for all involved if they had actually won the 2006 World Series?

Sure after another 9 years, we would certainly be hungry for another, but urgency wouldn’t be blasting through the ceiling of expectation. There wouldn’t be such pressure on the team to win a title for their owner. And there wouldn’t be so much pressure on our general manager to operate under a “win now” mandate. Smarter decisions could be made without potential fallout.

They could build and tweak their team logically and without so much risk. They could make decisions that are smarter for their future because they wouldn’t feel the constant need to scramble so desperately for a title they haven’t held in 31 years.

I am envious of the San Francisco Giants. When you win a title, your fans are able to bask in it for a while. If you don’t win it the next season, fans aren’t so vocal about every move, every transaction. They don’t question decisions or motives. There is an element of trust.

As a Giants fan, you can sit back, watch the team evolve and see if they make a run. And if they don’t, you trust they will make the right moves to get themselves back in position very soon, knowing that if given the opportunity, their team can close the door.

Winning buys time to win again. And the Giants, having won 3 titles in the last 5 years, have given their fans everything they could ever want; constantly competing for and frequently winning championships.

Unfortunately, most teams don’t get to experience the kind of run the Giants are on. Certainly you must have luck, but you also must possess strength at all levels of your organization to be able to consistently win; from your ownership to your scouts to your manager in the dugout.

This season, the Giants may not have a team that will compete for a title. They may end up spending the season building for next year. They have that luxury. There is no pressure to win. And that’s an incredible advantage.

They will hover under the radar again, without unfair expectations. The St. Louis Cardinals are another franchise able to operate in the same manner. Winning rewards a franchise far beyond the trophy and the championship flag.

Unfortunately the Tigers enter another season under the guise of ultimatums along with huge expectations. They have to win it. It was the same last season and the year before that, and the year before that. Unfortunately, that’s the attitude here. But, when you don’t win a title in over 30 years, I guess you can understand the frustration, at least in this town.

But frustration brought on from a long draught, I believe, makes a franchise operate differently and with more of a sense of urgency which may not be a good recipe for success.

Sure the Tigers have won division titles, and been to the big stage, but if they aren’t raising the trophy, it’s not enough anymore. We long for the feeling we had in 1984, at least the fortunate ones who actually remember it or were there to see it.

The images are forever emblazoned in my memory. It was the greatest season I have ever witnessed as a baseball fan. I lived at that ballpark in 1984, attending certainly no less than 60 games.

But it’s been a long time now. And there are way too many “remember when” stories with this franchise. And we now await another season where the Tigers once again will try to make it all come together. They don’t have a choice.

6 thoughts on “WINNING UNDER PRESSURE

  1. There is always a pressure to win,that is why you play the game. Cubs are a uniquie situation, having lost for so long. The fans want to win, but are kind of like a beaten dog, they start to cower in the corner when May comes around. The Cubs have tried to win various times along the way. They just are trying a new approach with Theo Epstein now at the helm. San Deigo is also doing that with the moves they have made, and their young GM is an Epstein clone.

    As far as the Tigers are concerned, yes, we are in a win-now mode. To do that you do mortgage a bit of the future for the now. But smarter decisions? By whose definition? There are only two decisions that DD has made that are questionable in my opinion. Fister trade was one, that had little to do with win-now. It was about moving a piece you figured you could not or would not resign for something of value now, that would cost less. Also about extending that window a bit. If Greene (indirectly related to the Fister trade) pitches well, then maybe it will be OK, but most think DD should have got more for Fister. The other one was signing Prince Fielder. Mr I panicked when Victor went down, and DD should have done a better job of talking him out of it. That was a desperation move which is usually where your bad decisions lie. Otherwise, the Tigers have made a lot of good decsions in building a winner and keeping the window open for this long. Being in contention for the past 9 years without a title is a little hard on the emotions at times. But that is way better than being bad, which is way easier emotionally. You just detach and move on.

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    • Robert – agreed, there is always pressure to win, because the first thing an owner wants to do after winning a championship is to go win another. Sometimes it’s the moves you don’t make that end up being the ones that are the smartest. And teams that have built championships have more freedom to be a little more conservative. They can afford to defer in a lot of cases as a result of their recent success. More guys get opportunities because you can afford to take a chance.

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  2. Kurt, if this bullpen isn’t fixed you will be writing the same article next year. Send the guys you know your not keeping down NOW and have rest pitch more often till we move to the Yukon up north.

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