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.