by Holly Horning

Ken Rosenthal continues to write excellent pieces.  He was the first to nationally blow up Al Avila and how he killed the Tigers’ rebuild.  Last year, he earned the wrath of Commissioner Rob Manfred simply by reporting on Manfred’s moves.

This week, a thoughtful piece on Justin Verlander.  One showing how he’s matured since leaving the Tigers and joining the Astros.  In part, brought on by marriage, having a child and experiencing the grueling journey from injury to recovery.

JV said he’s learned to become a better teammate.  To be engaged, “more accessible… and more one of the guys.”

Rosenthal reports that Verlander is more involved in the clubhouse and mixing more with teammates.  That he’s “a totally different guy.”

“He’s more open to helping young guys, helping the team, having team dinners, constant communication.”

Ken goes on to explain how certain players, especially top players, are self-absorbed.  How they have a single-minded focus on themselves which allows them to become elite players.

Which now, after reading this, brings me back to a thought I had back in the mid 2010’s when the Tigers had MLB’s best collection of stars and were regularly playing October baseball.

Did the Tigers have too many stars?  Too many egos?  Too many self-centered players?

Is this the biggest reason why they could never come close to winning more than a single game in the World Series?

This team, for a number of years, contained 3 first ballot Hall of Famers.  Add in a couple more who will eventually make it to Cooperstown.

They also had 5, count ‘em, 5 pitchers who would win Cy Young Awards.  Some of them more than once.  They also had a rotation that many experts said was baseball’s best one in history.

All ended up getting rings, just not with Detroit.

For years, the Tigers reaped the majority of Awards:  Cy Young, MVP, RoY, Triple Crown (hitting), Triple Crown (pitching), ERA and strikeout awards, batting titles – you name it.

But they were all individual awards.  The Tigers didn’t win any team recognitions.

And that is telling.

Did they simply have too many stars on the team?  Too many who were focused on achieving their own goals?

It seems like it, doesn’t it?

That is, if we apply what JV said about himself.  If we believe that those who are truly great are such because they are so self-focused.

Was that roster over the years simply just too much of a good thing?

You know what they say:  There’s no “I” in “team.”

There were some obvious examples of selfish behavior…

  • Max Scherzer removing himself early from a playoff game for personal reasons and to maximize his value just before heading out to free agency.
  • Friction between egos in the starting rotation – JV, Scherzer and Fister.
  • Johnny Peralta testing positive for PEDs just before the end of the year.
  • The clubhouse fight between Prince Fielder and Avasail Garcia that got Miguel Cabrera seriously injured and requiring surgery in the off-season.
  • Fielder’s non-caring comments about being eliminated from the playoffs (that ended up getting him traded).
  • Multiple players posting comments to social media the day after being eliminated from the playoffs that focused on their European vacations and new dream cars – not on the disappointing end of the season.

Then I look back at the ’68 and ’84 teams.  Rosters that appeared to have players who were more cohesive as a team.  Especially those of the ’84 team.  So many of those players came through the minor leagues together.  And they’re still good friends today.

Other players, such as the ’68 team, who performed in the shadows of certain teammates and yet became the stars of the playoffs because they stepped it up.  Lolich instead of McLain comes to mind.

Or players who accepted great challenges at the risk of failure.  I’m looking at you, Mickey Stanley.

But these Mike Ilitch Tigers?

All of them, save Verlander, came from other places.  For all intents and purposes, they were hired guns.  Their attachment to Detroit was not as deep as it was to themselves.

Was there even any team chemistry?

Those rosters changed regularly.  Players working with other players only for the first time in their careers.  No real connections forged from the challenges of learning how to play the game.

And when you have players like Justin Verlander admitting that they were too focused on their professional goals and not interacting or wanting to understand the rest of the roster members, the only thing these guys will have in common is the uniform.

And maybe that is what Mr. I got wrong.  He was focused on talent, not on the strength that a good team creates. 

Sometimes having too much of a good thing isn’t good. 

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31 thoughts on “TOO MUCH A GOOD THING?

  1. There was definitely something missing, an intangible, but I never thought any of those teams were going to go all the way. They didn’t have the killer instinct, that “down and dirty” mentality or the hunger to win as team that you see with championship teams. They were 25 individuals, but not a team.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Many teams have won in spite of the clubhouse being split or non harmonious. The great Oakland A’s teams of the 70’s is a prime example. They regularly fought with one another, even fistfights in the clubhouse before games. Their one rallying cry was that they all hated Charley Finley.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. The 01/02 Red Wings had 9 future HoFers, 3 added just before that season, but they buried their egos to win the Cup. The Tigers’ problem wasn’t too much talent, it was not having a leader anything close to Yzerman and Leyland not being as strong of a manager as Scotty Bowman.

    Liked by 9 people

  4. I believe Jim Leyland was quoted saying that he didn’t believe in “team chemistry”. Well, maybe it was because his Tigers teams didn’t have any “team chemistry” because they were populated by too many self absorbed ego maniacs. Holly is right, too much of a good thing, sometimes isn’t good.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. After 2006 I was not a fan of Jim Leyland but I am not saying it is all his fault for not taking the Tiger teams to the next level. I just don’t think he had what it took to be a great manager. I think HOF managers like Sparky Anderson, Bobby Cox and Tommy Lasorda had the ability to bring out the best in the players and still keep them focused on the team.

    Liked by 8 people

    • I refer to the management field I once taught and the important role of organizational culture in fostering and directing the energy of an organization. Team chemistry is the equivalent of oeganizational culture and Leyland’s dismissiveness was stunning. With that attitude, it is a wonder his Marlin’s team won the WS in 1997.

      Liked by 4 people

      • Could it be that the Marlins team knew it was one and done, and therefore were united as a team to win it the year Leyland was there? Now or never can be a powerful motivator.

        Liked by 1 person

        • C’mon let’s give Leyland some credit. His players loved him and he knew the game through and through. His team didn’t bang ash cans to get an edge. Maybe Sparky was better, but when the team aged he had to take a leave of absence to settle himself mentally.

          Liked by 2 people

          • The only credit Leyland deserves is for longevity, particularly in the Tiger organization. He had 6 good months in Detroit, nothing more, and he nearly blew that (2006).

            Liked by 4 people

          • Sorry, I am not a big fan of Jim Leyland who serendipitously fell into an ideal situation with the Marlins which resulted in a WS win. If he deserves total credit for that win, then he’s more than liable for losing 8 out of 9 WS games with the Tigers sans any excuses.

            Liked by 3 people

  6. In ’68 I was going to FCJC in Flint, I saw the deciding game on a portable TV in the student lounge. The comeback against the Cards and Gibson was incredible. That team not only had chemistry they saved their city from even more violence.

    Liked by 8 people

  7. When you discuss JV’s learning to appreciate his teammates, I’m reminded of the time Morris stared down Tommy Brookens when he thought a play should’ve been made. Lance Parrish caught the next pitch, stepped forward and threw a 100 mph return. Morris was stunned, maybe embarrassed, and stopped his preening.

    Liked by 11 people

  8. I think the Tigers’ shortcomings from the Mike Illitch sign-a-star days had more to do with the team lacking complementary pieces than being not being pals or unselfish. They were challenged at base running, defense and in the bullpen. They had amazing talent but it centered on power hitting and exceptional starting pitching.

    Liked by 7 people

  9. The bad thing about having access to baseball stars now is that we see them for what they are and that ain’t so good because they are people. I was never in love with those Tigers teams from 2008-2016, I always thought something isn’t right and we’ll pay for this later. We have and continue to do so. What about McCann and Iglesias also JV and V-Mart?

    Liked by 2 people

  10. There was no chemestry! First the Giants, then the Royals and Cubs, and latley the Braves have shown that you must first buid the core of the team playing together for years, then you throw in a few free agents. The Tigers did it the wrong way.

    Liked by 4 people

  11. Those teams were not built for playoff baseball. Weak team defense, no bullpen and a lack of speed revealed themselves under the harsh scrutiny of October. Team chemistry does play a part, but as they say, winning cures everything.

    Liked by 7 people

  12. I remember a bench clearing brawl that Victor Martinez decided to be an onlooker. He stated that some of the guys on the other team were his friends. Not an advocate of violence but when your team is in a scuffle, you need to know your teammates have your back. I think that translates to how they played.

    Liked by 3 people

      • Most baseball “brawls” are just chest bumping and yelling. I didn’t want Victor to slug anyone. I agree he was a great hitter. The whole point was that the Tigers had tons of talent but maybe they needed a little more unity for some passion to win.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. In 2006, the Tigers beat Oakland in the AL Championship series, while the St. Louis Cardinals took a full 7 games to beat the Mets. As a result, Detroit sat around for days waiting for the Cardinal/Mets series to finish. But it seems that the days off hurt them. They threw (literally threw) the series away. They had multiple throwing errors. Something was wrong. Maybe there was a lack of leadership and chemistry.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Isn’t it more likely that the World Series brings with it a little pressure? I’ve coached many years and can assure you that players will make mental and physical errors when they are giving 100% and playing their hearts out for their team.

      Liked by 3 people

  14. Don’t you think also that the manager had something to do with the lack of cohesiveness? Would Sparky have allowed the team to act the way they did? Uh, no.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. It all goes back to the adage that experts constantly poo-poo – there are winners and there are losers. That is why the “victories” stat for SP’s was always important (until they went to having all 5-inning starters). You need the winners more than they need you.

    Liked by 1 person

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