By: Holly Horning
What a week it has been in Tigertown! Selling, hiring, firing, disappearing and fighting among the players, Front Office and owner. Not to mention a crazed squirrel in search of his partner but got confused by a Moose playing third base for the Royals. Afterall, wouldn’t Bullwinkle have been in the bullpen? (But seriously, can the critter pitch?)
Yet the biggest bit of weirdness seen last week involved Dave Dombrowski’s comments to the media. As always, Dave was professional to the end in his expression and demeanor. But he said something that still has my chin on the floor. He said he didn’t see it coming.
Let me first of all preface my thoughts by telling you where I stand on Dave. He’s been one of the best things to happen to the Tigers. He made them relevant again and pulled off tremendous deals throughout the years. Dombrowski was the consummate professional and represented this team with dignity and honor.
But as in life, our feelings about someone can be rather complicated. There’s not a single Tiger, except for Paws, who has a purrrfect record and is without flaws. And Dave is no exception. His last two years with Detroit have not been his best.
One of baseball’s brightest and most astute, he should have heard the sirens going off since October 2013. His job as GM is no different from any other industry’s executives. The bottom line is always about meeting the goals your boss sets in front of you. If you don’t, you’re out.
Undoubtedly, Mr. I told Dave the goal was to win a World Series. And even though Mr. I was rumored to have gotten in the way on several player contracts, it was still Dave’s responsibility to deliver.
He was given one of his industry’s largest payrolls, $1.6 billion over the years, to facilitate delivery. During his tenure, the Tigers’ payroll ranked from #2 to #5. The last 2 World Series winners had payrolls lower than the Tigers. And according to Mr. I’s interpretation, that payroll funded only 1 win out of 8 World Series games.
But what were likely to have been the final factors in his undoing is what I call the Killer B’s: the Bullpen and Brad. We all know about the 4-year-old nightmare known as the bullpen. So infamous that it became a running joke on national sports programs. And what will live as one of life’s greatest mysteries, he inexplicably hired a man who had never coached before to manage the team to a World Series in his first year. Talk about a learning curve!
Dave had to know both issues had not been seriously addressed. And he wasn’t bold enough to pull the trigger and make changes, allowing each to fester for multiple years. There was no sense of urgency on his part despite Mr. I’s demand for it.
Was being “Midwest Nice” (https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2015/06/27/midwest-nice/), partially to blame for Dave losing his job?
But Dombrowski had to know things weren’t going well with Mr. I. His first contract was extended a full year before it expired. The warning signs should have been seen with his second one – which was renewed with only 2 months remaining. Fast forward to this year where there were no talks even scheduled. How could he not have had an inkling something was amiss?
So why did Dave appear to be so unaware of the problems caused by bad bullpens, a lost manager and an increasingly unhappy owner? Why did he not appear concerned about the end of his contract looming on the horizon?
Yes, ego is probably a factor here as is the lack of dialog with the owner. As a communications coach, one of the mantras we teach is to ask for and receive regular input about your work. From Dave’s comments, it appears that he and Mr. I never had a discussion about his performance this year.
Couple that with a tool that is considered an essential element in analysis today, especially by companies who produce entertainment. Social media platforms such as newspaper comment sections, Facebook and Twitter are shown to be relatively accurate in relaying the patterns and perceptions of the general public. And we all know what those threads were saying about what Dave needed to fix. Was Dave aware of these?
Yet another reason for Dave’s disconnect may be linked to what several former GMs have referenced. Maybe Dave was in the job too long. In an interesting radio analysis last week, those who previously held similar ranks talked about the pitfalls of holding the same job for a lengthy period of time. Dave ranks third in tenure with 14 years out of 30 GMs.
From experience, the former GMs said it’s easy to get used to your surroundings and eventually blinded to reality. In part, because much of your job involves your relationships with players and employees.
They cited stories about how hard it was to separate real-time analysis from how they felt personally about a player – and how hard it was to trade or release them from the organization. Maybe this explains why fans have scratched their heads over the years about players who overstayed their welcome on the team.
And this is why they said GMs shouldn’t stay too long. Fresh perspectives need to be generated and personnel needs to be evaluated according to real-time. And that can only be done by someone with fresh eyes, a new vision and fewer attachments. Only time will tell if Al Avila has his own perspective and game plan for this team.