A WING AND A PRAYER

By:  Kurt Snyder

Mike Ilitch bought the Tigers in 1992.

It was 2006 before his team played a playoff game.  Thirteen years before the Tigers made any noise.

So what happened during those 13 years? How close were the Tigers to winning? Well, let’s look at some numbers.

The Tigers finished 85-77 in Ilitch’s first full year of ownership in 1993. The team then amassed 12 straight losing seasons. And just so I don’t seem so cruel, I will eliminate the results of years ’94 and ’95, both effected by the MLB Players strike. (But for the record, they were losing seasons as well.)

That leaves us with a nice, 10-year analysis. Over the course of those 10 seasons, the Tigers averaged 65 wins and 97 losses.

You want to talk about lack of interest? Who seriously watched that stretch of baseball? It’s no wonder Detroit became Hockeytown!

Mr. Ilitch bought the Red Wings in 1982. Beginning in 1984 (ironically), the Wings began a run of 30 playoff appearances in 33 years, with 4 of those seasons ending in Stanley Cup championships.

Wikipedia describes the initial stretch of Red Wing ownership like this:


After years of drafting top picks and grooming their young players, and with proper management and leadership, the Red Wings became an elite NHL team.


Unfortunately, there is no comparable Wikipedia description of Ilitch’s first chapter of Tiger ownership. Mainly because they didn’t draft well, didn’t groom many or have anything remotely close to proper management or leadership. So obviously, the word ‘elite’ never broached the conversation.

The stars of the franchise during that stretch consisted of Tony Phillips, Bobby Higginson, Damien Easley, Brad Ausmus, Delmon Young and Carlos Guillen, to name a few.

The managers? Well, the last years of Sparky Anderson, Buddy Bell, Larry Parrish, Phil Garner and Alan Trammell. And let’s not forget the brilliance of General Manager Randy Smith, who helped bring Juan Gonzalez to Detroit to help kick off the Comerica Park era.

So it was for good reason that the Red Wings, not the Tigers, garnered all the attention. While the Wings were making playoff runs and winning Stanley Cups all through 2008, the Tigers were in a baseball slumber from which they would not emerge until 2006.

Ilitch’s focus on the Tigers during the first decade seemed more about facilities than it was about building a team. Planning a move from Tiger Stadium was the first order of business. They built a new ballpark which made its debut in 2000.

But the bad baseball continued for another 4 years after the team moved to Comerica, before Ilitch finally decided to awake from the slumber of his baseball ownership.

Why was the management structure  so inept for such a long time? Why did the semblance of winning baseball take so long? Why did it appear that the baseball team was treated differently than the hockey team?

The last decade, as we are all aware, has been much better. Team management improved with the hiring of Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland, but the expensive route to winning never bagged a championship. And now the franchise appears to be headed in 1 of 2 directions.

It’s a fair bet that the Tigers could be sold before the beginning of the 2018 season. But in the short-term, it’s an even better bet that the desperate search for a championship will sadly end this season and the team will be dismantled.

Either way, big changes await us.

Let’s hope those same favorable phrases used to describe the Wings back when Mike Ilitch began to put his stamp on Detroit, are someday repeated.

Drafting top picks.  Grooming young players.  Proper management and leadership.  Elite.

12 thoughts on “A WING AND A PRAYER

  1. Good observations Kurt. Had to turn game off tonite because it felt like a morgue. Was braves,reds and A’s fan in thier glory runs. Along with 80’s tigers. All were sad but as the end came we all looked back with fond memories. Only the 70’s A’s felt like this. Even our announcers seem caught up in the lost empty feeling with nothing left to say.

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  2. Rebuilding starts with youth talent not with superstars who should be ice on the cake. Doesn’ t KC, Astros, Cubs and now throw in the Yankees teach anything?

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  3. Currently, the Tigers franchise winning percentage is at .508. A new owner and a long rebuild mirroring a lot of future 65-97 records on average will take us to just above or below .500 historically. I think this is a certainty the franchise and us fans can’t avoid.

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  4. JV = Yzerman, homegrown star. Miggy = Shanahan, star trade acquisition. Problem is the Tigers haven’t draft & developed the equivalents of Lidstrom, Federov, Konstantinov or even Datsyuk or Zetterberg. It has to start with draft & grooming.

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  5. Very interesting and surprising article…You would’ve thought that Mr I favored the Tigers because of his baseball background. We really need a change of ownership, but it must involve a new owner who really cares, and has baseball expertise.

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  6. Kurt, I appreciate the perspective you brought to your article today. I am 66 and remember all of those years when the Tigers were in the doldrums. I have the feeling like we are now reliving those days. Have been for the last several years. Bummer.

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    • Sprocket, I too am north of 60. It has started to occur to me that I may not live to see the next great Tigers team.

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      • As someone north of 70, who was in the ballpark for games 3, 4, and 5 of the 84 World Series, I too have been desperately hanging onto the hope that these last two years could yield a championship before the sell-off commences and father time catches up to Miggy and JV. It isn’t gonna happen.

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  7. Kurt, did you have to make us relive those sad sack years of the past 25 years? Depressing. The future you painted is also depressing. It is really hard to watch our team today. Even the TV announcers are beginning to get redundant in what they say, despite Gibby trying to infuse something new. The whole franchise needs to be remade. I am finally ready for it to begin.

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  8. Thanks Gibby for bringing northern Michigan into it. First ‘job’ as a carpenter’s sons son (0ther than working for father)was chasing around Christmas tree farmers daughter as we teenages trimmed his Christmas trees on his Christmas trees farm in Lewiston. She also taught me about snapping turtle s in the local creek. Loved it for the Michigan memories.

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