By:  Holly Horning

Yesterday, I focused on the differences in the mental game between the Tigers and the Royals. Today, I want to take you indepth and discuss why the Tigers don’t have, may not want and probably won’t get on the same page when it comes to duplicating the Royals’ successful strategy based upon their physical formula.

And a good chunk of it all has to do with Ilitch Holding’s overall business strategy.

You see, baseball doesn’t live in a bubble. It isn’t immune from the daily business decisions of each owner and his management team. What you see the Tigers doing – trades, signings, etc. – are made in tandem with business strategies developed for the Tigers and the bigger picture concerning the Ilitch companies.

For example, you are never going to see the Tigers trade Miggy even for a dozen top prospects. Getting rid of your franchise player would create a significant financial drop in revenue, attendance and merchandising numbers. It may be a sound team rationale, but it would be bad for business.

Any decision is almost always going to be based around what generates more revenue for the team and corporation. For Miggy to be moved, the Tigers would have to have another franchise star who would replace him in moving the turnstiles.

This is because baseball, like any other sport, is built to embrace the masses. And if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably not part of this group. You’re not a casual baseball fan. You love the sport and take pleasure in observing the nuance of the game and when players complete a technical skill to perfection. You are also in the minority when it comes to what the majority of fans want to see in a game.

Unfortunately, stats show that the majority of baseball fans prefer the “quick hits” and thrills that baseball can provide: dominating hard-throwing pitchers, home runs, thrilling catches and other exciting moments. Speed and power essentially, not so much the finer points.

And this brings us to the differences in strategy between the Royals and Tigers – and why they have intentionally chosen different paths.

As we know, the Royals subsist on excellent base-running, speed, impeccable defense and “small ball.” The Tigers are all about “big and flashy” with their dominant power throwers and big bats.

Offensively, the Tigers had better stats in almost all categories than the Royals did. More home runs, more slugging, higher team batting average, etc. The Royals, of course, were more successful in scoring those runs but did so through “small ball” fashion.

Ironically, a year in which the Tigers hit the cellar was yet another year in which their attendance exceeded that of this year’s World Series champs. Even last year, when the Royals went to the World Series, their attendance sat at #25. Most years, they attract half the fans that the Tigers do. The masses have spoken.

Also look at the team’s intentions regarding the importance they place on attendance. Since Kauffman Stadium was built, the Royals have gradually reduced seating. The Tigers, on the other hand, have systematically increased the number of seats at Comerica over the years.

So if “powerful” baseball attracts more fans as studies indicate, it naturally requires a different type of player. Outside of pitchers, teams who dig the long ball are made up of players who are bigger and stronger overall. And logically, these bigger physiques tend to be slower running and fielding. Just one look at the Royals’ roster of height and weight will confirm that they are a much leaner team, are substantially faster – and hit much less for power than their Tiger counterparts.

The Royals are also a team build upon the farm system. The Tigers, as we know, no longer have much of one as for years it was used as currency to buy the established players in its drive for that ring.

Having players come up together through the minors allows them the advantage of familiarity, bonding, team play philosophy and so much more. The Tigers have one home-grown player of any consequence. JV. The Royals have 10. Even if they wanted to, it would take years for Detroit to assemble a successful team from its farm system.

But let’s also look at the men who make the decisions. The owners. And yet again, we have a huge difference in backgrounds, styles and motives.

David Glass, KC’s owner, is the former Chair of WalMart and still sits on its board. It is said that he brought the dominant financially savvy strategies with him. Other than the Royals, he owns no other businesses.

Mike Ilitch is a billionaire who owns 12 companies. Some of these are connected to other business venues and create yet additional streams of revenue. Let’s also not forget the 5-neighborhood mega development in the works which was planned around his existing businesses.

All of his companies feed off one another and require the masses to help generate revenue. So while the Royals may make decisions based solely upon their needs, the Tigers cannot. They are part of a much bigger picture.

So will the Tigers try to duplicate the Royals’ formula? Highly unlikely but they may attempt to include some of the aspects without sacrificing their true identity. But they are built the way they are for a reason.

Keep all of this in mind during the coming year as you wonder about why a move was or wasn’t made. Chances are it was made for reasons that go beyond the game.


  1. Speaking of ownership, I certainly respected Martha Ford for stepping up and speaking to the public when firing her GM/President. Still waiting to hear from Mike Illitch on that score. Never thought that Lions’ ownership would make Tiger ownership look small, but it happened today.


    • I hope it doesn’t take a complete implosion of the Tigers for them to address the team’s structural problems, like the Lions let happen. Hopefully this year’s last place finish was a wake up call for everybody in the Tigers organization.


  2. The analysis makes a lot of sense and that the Royals have a more balanced roster doesn’t make news anymore. But talking about power hitting, why not pull in those fences and make Miggy and JD happier as they also said it out loudly? If Miggy is, and he sure is, the best hitter on the planet, I guess he would like to go into history also for hitting more HRs.


  3. Complex issue. Revenue sharing, merchandising contracts, etc. ensure a steady revenue stream. Without pointing fingers, MANY pro sports teams are content with mediocrity as long as the cash flows in. Some aren’t. I truly believe that Ilitch desires a WS ring in his golden years, both for himself, the city, and the fans.


  4. Great job Holly. Two totally different systems. Being a baseball “nut” your right, I love Royals ball. There is no reason the Illitch Big Money machine can’t bring home the bacon. Look no further than the Yankees model over the years.Why can’t the Tigers duplicate that with BIG stars, enormous salaries and a stadium full of fans ready to part with lots of greenbacks?


  5. Holly nails it! 50 years ago baseball teams were family owned businesses, stand alone operations where deficits weren’t an option. Today they are one component, but integrated part, of large multi-business empires. In most cases they are a support for the other operations and losing money is OK if they serve to increase profits elsewhere.


  6. Mr. I has always had his finger in the pie, at least since he hired DD. He’s always liked the big HR hitters. In the past few years, with new PED regulations, the game has changed. Not too many 40 – 60 HR guys any more. When Miggy got the extension, the sports writers and other GM’s were aghast at the contract and length. You can understand, now.


  7. One thing to remember about the Royals (and Cubs, Mets, and Astros etc.) is that they are teams built on their farm systems because they were awful for so long. They always get the highest picks and can stockpile them. I am concerned that everyone talks about how great their farm systems are, but neglect to mention that. Very few prospects are sure things.


  8. Another factor is Mike Ilitch’s emotional attachment to baseball. That’s why he has distorted the development of the Tigers with big money deals, while the Red Wings continue along in their steady winning ways developing young players and using sound, responsible logic in hiring a new head coach.


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