WINNING WAYS

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By: Holly Horning

It’s the quote heard around the world:

“If this place, the Tigers’ organization, does a really good job, we’re going to re-establish ourselves as a winning franchise and develop a winning culture.  And if you want to be a part of it, then you’ll come. And if you don’t, we’ll beat you.” – A. J. Hinch

A comment made when the Tigers’ manager was asked about free agents coming to the team.  And it became famous for a number of reasons:

1.  No Tiger manager has ever been this direct or confident in their comments.

2.  It is in stark contrast to the early 2000’s when the organization had to massively overpay in order to get free agents to come play in Detroit.  A move, btw, that worked in the short-term, but has hampered the team financially now for over a decade.

But did you notice something else in Hinch’s statement?  Or rather, something that was missing?

He talks about “re-establishing” the Tigers as a winning franchise.  But he doesn’t say the same thing about a winning culture.

According to his statement, the Tigers haven’t had a “winning culture” .

Until now.

Whaaat, you say?  But the team had a great run starting in 2006 and it lasted for a decade!

Don’t ever confuse a team’s positive win-loss record with a winning culture.

The two are not the same.

Not even close.

A manager who instills discipline in a team doesn’t mean that he created a winning culture.

A manager who commands respect from his players doesn’t mean that he created a winning culture.

Jim Leyland got both of these from his players but he didn’t create a winning culture.

A manager who is liked by his players also doesn’t mean that he created a winning culture.

Ron Gardenhire certainly didn’t achieve this goal. 

And we don’t even need to mention the manager before him.

An owner and GM who sign expensive free agents also have nothing to do with establishing a winning culture.

What the Tigers have now is solely due to the influence of A. J. Hinch.  No one else.

So what is a winning culture?

It is getting everyone to buy into the same goals. 

Getting them to band together and work as a solid team.

Getting them to believe in the same things.

All in the attempt to maximize success.

Yesterday, on national tv, Hinch said “Our players are all bought in……They believe it before they do it.”

And you see it on tv.  You see it in the standings.  You see it in the games.

Players who are in sync with the rest of their team.  Players who take at-bats that advance the team’s goals – and not their own individual stats.  Players who are stepping up as leaders and mentoring the rookies unlike previous years.

Don’t believe me?  Just look at the dugout.

The entire team gathered en masse, at the railing, watching the action intently.  Interacting with each other.  Riveted on the action going on in the field. 

Reports that players can’t wait to get to the ballpark.  Quotes about how much fun they are having and how much they are learning.

Under previous managers, they were either in the clubhouse when not playing, sitting by themselves or in their own cliques. Often, players weren’t even watching the games.

Jim Leyland commanded respect but he also stated that he didn’t go in the clubhouse and kept to his office because he felt the two sides shouldn’t mingle more than necessary.  

Sure, he brought order to a clubhouse that was out of control under Alan Trammell and fueled by the egos of the arriving free agents.  But that was solving a short-term problem, not building a winning culture.

And when you are forced to scream at your players during that infamous 2006 incident because their performance is poor, you don’t have a winning culture.  You haven’t been motivating your players successfully and are forced to scare them into performing up to snuff.

There were lots of problems on these 2006 through 2014 teams with lots of talent.  All because there wasn’t a winning culture. 

There were problems on the starting rotation involving Verlander, Scherzer and Fister.

There were stories about how Victor Martinez was the only one who could keep Miggy in check.

There was the infamous clubhouse fight that involved Prince Fielder and Avisail Garcia that also got Miguel Cabrera injured.

And, of course, Fielder’s infamous quote that showed he wasn’t terribly concerned about the Tigers failure to go further in the playoffs:  “I got kids, man.”

A team that was hugely talented and garnered most of the individual awards, but did relatively little as a team when it really mattered in the post-season.

None of this is representataive of a winning culture.

Under Brad Ausmus, it was common to see players swearing at their manager when he came to relieve them.  Tantrums were common in the dugout and teammates were openly fighting with each other.

With Ron Gardenhire, a jovial face and funny comments were attempts at showing an “all is well” mentality.  In reality, he was a manager who had a hard time remembering his players’ names.

None of this showing any hint of a team’s ability to have a winning culture.

Until now.

Read the players’ body language.  Look at their faces.  Read the almost-daily quotes.

Watch how this formerly rag-tag group is consistently over-performing.

Look at the relationships between all the men during games.  They are animated.  They are talking.  They are sharing.

They are genuinely enjoying the experience.

Look at how previously-struggling players are now showing promise.

Look at how players say they want to stay on this team.  Even a Scott Boras client who signed an extension.  Who saw that coming?

Even Miggy.  He’s smiling again this year.  He’s even having a resurrection of sorts. 

And he’s taken a leadership role in the clubhouse and is a positive presence.  And he knows everyone’s names.

Look at the players grabbing tablets in the dugout and checking charts and stats routinely.  Even groups of men all looking at the same tablet and discussing the necessary strategy.  That didn’t happen until this year.

Look at the never-say-die attitude during games.  The come-from-behind moves, the increased extra-inning games and the much lower number of blow-outs.

Look at the fact that the team’s performance has moved from being the last to next-to-last performance-wise and now sits in the middle third of all of MLB.  Or that the team, expected to lose 92- 105 games this year, is on a pace to lose much fewer.

Look at the 3 viable Rookie of the Year candidates.

And the buzz about Manager of the Year.

This folks, is what a winning culture looks like.

What did you miss on the Totally Tigers Twitter feed yesterday?

What A.J. Hinch is doing more of every single day and why it’s a good thing.

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16 thoughts on “WINNING WAYS

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  2. If guys paid millions of dollars to play a kid’s game aren’t having fun, somebody in the organization is to blame for tying them into knots. Under Hinch and his coaches, guys are playing more freely and it shows in wins. Even the losses are close games these days. And this winning attitude extends down to Toledo as well – they’re 17 games over .500 (59 and 42).

    Liked by 3 people

  3. AJ speaks of establishing something that requires a dedication beyond one generation of leadership. The Giants have it. Youth combined with veteran experience; shining up that winning culture amongst a rebuild this season. Their leadership changed, they invested well, traded well, and they drafted young talent too. I love AJ’s spirit, but unless the current Owner, and or GM changes, our inspiring coach faces long odds to build a type of culture and legacy what SF has now.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Great article today! The secret is creating a core around whom build a team, the last decade shows so for teams who won the WS: Giants (10-12-14), Royals (15), Cubs (16) all had players who came up from the minors together. The mix of players who have grown in the Tigers’ system and the ones who came over from trades, have now formed that core and with a smart manager at the helm, the results are just at the beginning.

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  5. To me, by using the “if….” qualifier at the start of the statement, Hinch is both putting the onus on the front office to bring in better talent as well as giving himself an excuse if the winning doesn’t happen. Not often you see an employee have the leverage to put pressure on those above him and get away with it.

    Liked by 5 people

  6. I’m with another poster here today– you have often talked about the age of the front office. To me AJ can say all that he can about how the team has changed. I want to see change in the front office to believe that REAL chance will actually occur–that this team is headed in the same direction as the Giants.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. I’m with Sparty on the portion of AJ’S quote that often got omitted by the media, the “If ,,”. Here we have a manager that is making lemonade out of the lemons he’s been given and doing it quite successfully, telling his bosses to put up or shut up. I also see Holly’s dugout with three young hurlers watching in unison, players not in the game watching to be ready when called, Coolie talking to Miggy on the steps and on and on. These guys like and support each other.

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  8. Excellent analysis on how a winning team is formed from a group of individuals. It’s once again interesting to watch the Tigers perform.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Hinch’s words are certainly encouraging, but as someone said a long time ago “You win with players” and, right now, the Tigers don’t have very many good players. Schoop, Candelario, Mize, and Skubal are probably the only Detroit players who could start for a good team. Heading into 2022, the Tigers need a significant infusion of free agent talent to contend.

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  10. Holly,

    I really appreciate your comments and agree with your assessment but “ever” is a long, long time and there have been direct and successful managers in the past just not recently. Billy Martin was direct, almost too direct and successful for a time before his personality got him in trouble. Sparky could also be direct and obviously successful but sometimes he did talk in circles. I just think that these two managers also had the winning ways qualities at least for awhile.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Great article Holly, and for the doubters the Tigers organization made several front office moves today that have A.J. Hinch’s fingerprints all over it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Nick. And yes, we tweeted about the Front Office changes a couple hours ago. Dave Littlefield is out and Kenny Graham is in. Those promoted are young and came from outside of the Tigers’ organization – not part of the old clique with Detroit and Marlins backgrounds. Would Littlefield have been moved if Hinch hadn’t also been a Director of Player Development? I think this is the first of many changes. – Holly

      Liked by 5 people

  12. Along with a winning culture in the dugout, it now looks like the front office is being organized to support what’s going on with the team. I call that a very positive development.

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  13. And lurking in the shadows lies thee owner. It all becomes real to me when we know the owner can be trusted also. His stated roll model would ‘allow’ the managers to build a profitable winner. Then he would close the checkbook on them all for his profits.

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