MIDWEST NICE

By:   Holly Horning

So nice, we had to publish twice.  Midwest Nice, that is.

A reoccurring theme within the Tiger organization that is a stumbling block in their pursuit of that elusive ring.  The tendency to lag behind other teams in useful advances within the game, gravitating to hiring quiet forces instead of dynamic leadership, and practicing long-term obligations to players, coaches and managers beyond the expiration date.

This is the corporate culture of our favorite team and its impact is seen regularly.  This was first published in June and still rings true – except for the name of the GM.


My day job often finds me teaching protocol, defined as the recognition and understanding of etiquette, behavior and legal standards crucial to developing successful relationships and achieving the desired business and social goals.

While most of my clients need this for diplomatic dealings or international business travel, understanding protocol is also essential within the geographic regions of the US. But within this country’s border, I call it “Cultural IQ.” Having lived in the Midwest, Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Southwest, I can testify that the ways each region’s residents communicate, process information and communicate are vastly different from each other’s.

I remember leaving Michigan for college on the East Coast and having the natives tell me I needed to adopt tougher ways. I was “too nice” they said. I was told I needed to move faster, be more direct and make decisions more quickly. Today, the only way people can ascertain I’m from the Midwest is by the way I pronounce the letter “a.” That, and asking for a “pop.” (Be very careful asking for the latter on the East Coast as it may get you something else.)

On the other hand, I occasionally take my husband, a born-and-bred Manhattanite, back to Michigan. But I have to pack some duct tape just in case because his NY mannerisms travel with him. He found meeting people was an amazing experience because the people in Michigan were so nice – almost “too nice.”

So why am I regaling you with this story? It’s because I think the Midwest Manners (or Cultural IQ) are a factor (out of many) in why the Tigers haven’t won a World Series in decades. The owners and management have been too nice, too safe and too slow in making the necessary changes that could have sped up the process and results.

We all know the stories of East Coast teams like the Yankees who have been downright ruthless in pursuing those pennants and rings. Owners like George Steinbrenner and Edward Bennett Williams of the Orioles. Only here can a manager like Davey Johnson be fired one day before he wins Manager of the Year.

On the other hand, those 10 teams in the AL and NL Central tend to have reputations as “nice teams” with calm and steady management. And many have said that Boston’s failure to win a World Series for decades was because Tom Yawkey was a “gentleman owner.”

We all should be proud of Tiger ownership. Mr. I runs a first-class operation with the highest levels of professionalism. Negative comments by management and players are few and the exception to the rule. Employees stay forever and turnover is low – all positive signs of a well-run organization. Players put Detroit near the top of their lists for teams they want to join.

But moves over the years have overall been conservative and slow in the making. We’ve had a manager here for 8 years who was never able to achieve that victory parade – and with one of baseball’s highest payrolls. And never officially “fired.” What are the chances an East Coast team would have maintained that level of patience?

Joe Girardi is the longest tenured manager in the AL East at 7 years with the Yankees.  But then again, he has won it all for them. Otherwise, managers change frequently with 3 – 4 years as the average length of stay.

But given this cultural indicator, are we surprised that certain facets of the Tigers have not resolved themselves over the years? Players who remain despite a clear expiration date stamped on them. Yearly bullpen blowups. Lack of offense in the playoffs. No ruthless closer who mows down opposing batters. Tough and controversial decisions were not made.

And let’s not forget a collection of managers who maintained auras of calm, cool and collected going all the way back to a Mr. Anderson. Maybe now is the time for Mr. I and Dave to channel their inner-Sparky.

Maybe it’s time for the Tigers to leave their Midwest Nice and make a fast, bold and decisive move like the one accomplished back in 1979. Firing Moss and hiring Sparky worked out pretty well for them, didn’t it?

We’ve just seen two managers let go because they were hovering around the .500 mark. Another one with a similar record – and naturally from the East Coast – is expected to be let go shortly. I don’t think a similar move by the Tigers would raise many eyebrows. At least not on the Right Coast.

Let’s hope at this point, that reality and desired results win out over being “too nice” for Mr. I. With the Tigers at the fourth highest payroll in MLB, his “Cultural IQ” shouldn’t keep him from making a faster, bolder and more decisive move while there is still a season to salvage.

One thought on “MIDWEST NICE

  1. I can’t help but remember Leo Durocher – “Nice guys finish last”. Your comments on Midwest nice and cultural IQ have set me to thinking. I too have lived both on the West Coast and the East Coast as well as Phoenix and Albuquerque. The tigers need more Kirk Gibson and I hate to say it less Al Kaline. I enjoyed this analysis.

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