THE WILL TO WIN – WHAT MONEY CAN’T BUY

By:  Holly Horning

It’s not about the losing streak. It’s not about the starting rotation. And it’s also not about the manager. All of these issues are just symptoms of a much bigger issue. An issue that’s been around for a number of years now but is definitely getting worse.

This is about a team that, for the most part, doesn’t appear to care as much as they should or say that they do. It’s about a team that says it wants to win, but doesn’t want to do what it takes. It’s about a team playing without excitement, passion, energy, inspiration or focus. It’s about a team going through the motions and playing very inconsistent baseball with no sustained effort that lasts more than a couple days.

Read the social media comment sections and you’ll see over and over observations about how the players appear to be elsewhere. They look like zombies. They have no energy and are going through the motions. The lack of focus has resulted in bumbling moves – or lack thereof – with many mental lapses. And the team is getting harder and harder to watch.

Increasingly, you’d be hard-pressed to see signs that they really care. The team has taken the art of goofing off to new levels. Levels that are way beyond what is acceptable for dealing with the expected pressure of winning.

Social at-bats where the players are chatting to the umpire and catcher more often than focusing on what they should be doing at the plate. Increasing interaction with the fan base during an actual inning. Players sitting and laughing in the dugout – even groups of guys with their backs turned away and oblivious to the game as they tell jokes.

And until the infamous April clubhouse meeting, players who were leaving the dugout to wait out the inning elsewhere. And while they are in the dugout now, some of them were resorting to using their bats as rifles and play-shooting others.

Personally, I’ve never seen a team having so much fun while they’re losing. Goofing off while getting schooled by other teams tells me you just don’t care. Other than Kinsler, VMart, Zimmermann and (most of the time) Castellanos, I’d be hard-pressed to name other players who truly take winning seriously.

It would be easy to pin the blame for their game results and record on a team with mediocre talent. But the Tigers aren’t that kind of team. Sure, there are some concerns, but there is a fierce lineup that most in MLB were claiming would be one of the best.

It would be one thing if the skill level was questionable. But it’s another when the talent is there, more often than not, and the overall impression is one of underperformance.

The skills are there, but they aren’t being effectively harnessed. And we need to ask why.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy solution. We can trace it back to the Jim Leyland years where, despite the immense skill set, there were more than a couple years where the Tigers coasted through long losing streaks in September and barely eked out the division title. There were also a couple years where they lost playoff hopes on the last day of the season. Couple that with 2 no-show performances in the World Series.

And it’s steadily gotten worse with Brad Ausmus’ tenure. But it’s not easy to solely blame him because this is a problem that’s followed the Tigers through 2 GMs and now 2 managers. Somewhere, somehow, Tiger ownership and Front Office management have failed at creating and enforcing a culture of winning.

There are no answers readily available but there are lots of questions we need ask. Including….

How did Mr. I’s personnel choices determine the team culture?

How much can we blame Dave Dombrowski for his focus on trades and potentially not on creating a message?

Was the focus on buying pieces, instead of developing and bringing up a cohesive team, at fault?

Why do the Tigers win all of the individual performance awards but have a very poor record when it comes to group accomplishments such as situational hitting, RISP and winning the World Series?

How much do big contracts impact the hunger and drive of the players who receive them?

Do stars on the team feel they are entitled to do what they want?

How much power does the manager actually have in setting and enforcing rules, especially with the stars and veterans?

Does the team have more than one leader who can set and enforce the tone of the team?

Are there cultural factors at play that define the goals between American-born and foreign-born players differently?

Is the Front Office solely focused on the stats on paper while giving little thought or weight to the intangibles or motivation needed?

Is Tiger ownership and management afraid to rock the boat by breaking tradition and hiring strong, motivated leaders? And you knew this was coming – are they too MidWest Nice?

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2015/06/27/midwest-nice/

Regarding this last question, you can say the Front Office was guilty for hiring a manager with no experience to oversee a team known for its stars and expensive contracts. They didn’t understand – or potentially even recognize – the obstacles he would face.

Liking someone in charge doesn’t necessarily guarantee they will also be respected. And supporting someone doesn’t automatically mean that you believe in their skills. It’s much easier to work for someone who is nice and undemanding than it is for someone who is looking to push you to new levels.

Kirk Gibson tells a story about his early days with Sparky Anderson who tested him beyond his comfort zone. At first, he didn’t like him, but learned to respect him. With time, he realized that Sparky made him who he became because of his leadership and ability to successfully motivate.

While this story outlines the importance of the manager, the real responsibility lies with those in charge of hiring the manager. The tone is set at the top and trickles down.

Have the Tigers finally figured this out? Can they move beyond their comfort zone and start making stronger statements and different choices? Are they ready to be bold?

Let’s hope so because as Leo Durocher once said “The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place” later condensed by history to become “Nice guys finish last.”

18 thoughts on “THE WILL TO WIN – WHAT MONEY CAN’T BUY

  1. Excellent article. The lack of focus both on the field (ex. base running) and the antics in the dugout are very disturbing.

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  2. All hail Al Avila.

    It is time for his big move, if he has one in mind. We face two more sweeps. A Washington bounce back after losing to the Cubs, then four versus first place Baltimore and a manager the likes you are crowing about.

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  3. Thank you, Holly. Exquisite dissection! Baseball 1) Preparation–none evident, what happened in Spring Training or after? 2) FOCUS–very, very little evident. 3) Execution–impossible when poorly prepared and no Focus. I would love to see a Vince Lombardi coach these goof offs. “Show me a good loser, and I will show you a LOSER.”

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  4. I am a college teacher of management, teaching organizational culture, values and behavior norms of an organization. Something that disturbed me about Leyland was his dismissal of team chemistry, the equivalent of organizational culture. From his time forward, I’ve seen players winning on talent rather than a passion and fire. They seem like a collection of players rather than a team with a fire to win.

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    • I agree with you 100%. No leadership and the plan on how to play winning baseball by this inept disorganization. I am not mad at all but am telling it like it is.

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  5. People have commented that Miggy is not a leader. He is in fact a leader, in the goof off category. Talking to the catchers and ump, using the bat as a gun etc., he sets an example to the rest of the team. Where is Brad’s example? I think the manager is the problem. The manager is the rudder. The Tiger’s are rudderless.

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    • unbelievably, both rod allen and mario impemba laughed and giggled not ‘at’ miggy but ‘with’ miggy. now there’s a tone being set for ya. i wager that jack morris wouldn’t have giggled.

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  6. Where is the team at with their “Tiger’s Way” philosophy? Was it just a talking point by upper management?

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  7. Excellent article! My observation is that synergy is missing. Individual talent doesn’t necessarily combine to make a talented team. How this is addressed is as important as who will acknowledge the problem and when they implement a solution. These losses always catch up to the team late in the season. We need a quick turnaround time starting now!

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  8. Miggy is not a clubhouse leader and we shouldn’t expect that of him. Kinsler, McCann, Verlander are our leaders. But Holly, where is the line between goofing off and being relaxed? You said that the team was not interacting in the dugout and seemed stiff. Now they are goofing off instead of trying to relax and make it through a long season. I’m not arguing with you, but I would like it if you could flesh out the difference.

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    • Examples of what I call goofing off: 1) Miggy standing at first and calling for a fly ball when it was obviously the 2nd baseman’s ball. 2) Romine doing some stupid side step dance in the dugout. The idiot announcers (who were terrible BTW) laughed and thought both instances were hilarious. Me, not so much.

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    • Hi, Pat – Good question to clarify. A couple things going on. Earlier in the season, a number of players were leaving the dugout during the team’s at bat. So there were fewer left on the bench – and less interaction as a result. After the April clubhouse meeting, they were all back. Could be they were schmoozing in the clubhouse and then just brought it back outside. As to lack of interaction, it pertained more to Upton but also the starting pitchers no longer all sit together which is interesting. Hope that helps – thanks! -Holly

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  9. The degree of influence a manager has in baseball is consistently overrated. Baseball is barely a team sport and is more like 9 golfers playing “together”. There is very little that one player can do that influences the play of others. Yes, sacrificing or “going the other way” are nominally team oriented, but baseball is simply a number of individuals with a single goal.

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  10. Maybe Miggy needs to sit for awhile and get over his unfocused & childish behavior – it’s catching on with others.

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  11. Billy Martin would have been a perfect manager for this team. He would have cracked the whip and insisted on intensity, and he would have been fearless about confronting anybody who didn’t do what he demanded. His teams always collapsed after a year or two, but this team is going to collapse anyway; it is now or never.

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