By: Holly Horning
Al Avila announced this week that the Tigers will be getting leaner and younger (and let’s hope faster) going forward.
Whether the decision was based upon watching the top teams in the playoffs, trying to avoid ugly years of ageing players with untradeable monster contracts, a new ownership voice in charge or the first salvo in preparing this team to be sold – or all of the above – won’t be determined until at least early 2017 when the roster has been solidified and we get our first hint.
There’s simply too much information to cover all the possibilities in one blog so today, let’s address one of the rationales that may help explain why the Tigers are changing course now.
We can only hope that Al Avila was watching every single moment of the playoffs so far because there is a common denominator in the teams who have been playing recently.
Teams who each have a toolbox filled to the brim with all sorts of ways to win:
– Small ball and speed to get runners on base
– Bunt singles to start a rally
– Closers used in the mid-innings during the most high-leverage situations
– Starting pitchers brought in to close out the 9th
– Visible contributions to the win by multiple and different players each day
– Bullpens where pitchers are mixed and matched to the situations
– Managers who play mental chess with their opposing manager with fake set-ups and countermoves.
And the Tigers? They have none of this. And the biggest reason is that they have grown old and stale, stuck in the outdated ways of baseball. Simply, they haven’t evolved as most other teams have.
Like the Yankees of George Steinbrenner’s era, the Tigers were built upon the star principles. Vast dollars were spent in an attempt to buy a title. Players became one-dimensional – mostly big guys who could slug the heck out of a ball but couldn’t field as well and certainly couldn’t run. Lots of guys who made their own headlines and won tons of individual awards but somehow couldn’t carry a team on their backs to the finish line.
They have been a team with 2 tools in their box – starting pitching and home run hitting. Stuff that is exciting to watch and fills the seats on a regular basis. And one of those tools didn’t get them far at all in two World Series when met with excellent opposing pitching. They lived and died by the home run. Still do.
In simple terms, when baseball started to noticeably change approximately 10 years ago, the Tigers, like our favorite announcer used to say, “stood there like the house by the side of the road.” They failed to adapt. They failed to modernize. And it’s been their m.o. going all the way back to the 80’s when they last….well, you know the rest.
And part of the reason has to do with the ages of the decision-makers, combined with the problems created by their intense loyalty to anyone who has worked for the club. The older one gets, the less likely he is willing to welcome, explore or adapt to new ideas and trends.
Mike Ilitch is one of the oldest owners in baseball. His former GM, Dave Dombrowski, is the second oldest GM (even though he holds another title) at 60 in MLB. Most GMs now range in age from their 30’s into the mid-50’s with the majority of them in their 40’s. They also now come with advanced degrees in baseball-related topics.
Their new GM, Al Avila, while “only” 58, still ranks as one of the sport’s oldest GMs and just 2 years younger than Dave. And Special Assistant, Jim Leyland, is about to turn 72. If you read last week’s blog, you’ll see just how much power and influence he still holds within the organization.
Then there’s the coaching staff. The oldest in the sport. Gene Lamont is about to turn 70 and is at minimum 15 – 20+ years older than the 29 other bench coaches. The rest of the guys are in their 50’s and 60’s with Brad Ausmus, at 47, as the spring chicken.
Sense a pattern here?
But now, it is being reported with more frequency that Chris Ilitch is in charge of the Tigers. And he’s approximately 35 years younger than his dad – in his early 50’s. And maybe he’s the catalyst for modernizing this team. Just don’t expect him to inject youth into the coaching staff – at least for this year – because he’s really busy directing the makeover of this roster.
And speaking of Chris, getting this team up-to-speed may not be his only motivation. Stay tuned because on Monday, we’ll continue to delve into the changes we may see with the organization.