For the first time in almost 20 years, the Tigers are finally developing a team to match their ballpark. Al Avila, only the third GM to man the helm since Comerica Park opened, has stated that the team is now focused on players who are faster, more athletic and defensively solid.
What took them so long?
Haven’t you ever wondered why the organization, given its infamous “Comerica National Park”, never matched the types of players to its stadium?
It’s one of life’s great mysteries along with why the Tigers hired Brad Ausmus.
Or is it?
Let’s think about this….
Mike Ilitch certainly had a ton of input in helping get this stadium made. He fronted 62% of the money required to build CoPa so he certainly had the overwhelming say in the selection of the architect, the design of the stadium and the desired features.
Mr. I also played baseball in his younger days so he was well-aware of the design elements that provide challenges to playing the game. And he built one of MLB’s biggest outfields. An outfield that eventually was pulled in because of the problems seen – and because some players publicly stated that they would never sign with Detroit because of it.
You would assume that such a large expanse of grass would automatically require the scouting and signing of players who could cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Players who would also be regulars on the short list for a Gold Glove.
Instead, the team signed players who were quite the opposite. No need to pull up old memories and names. Especially when we’ve all been doing so well in the recovery process from our therapy sessions. You know who these players were – and are.
Given all of this info, it just doesn’t make sense.
Or does it?
Could the decision about the types of players Detroit acquired for their outfield be based upon something else?
In a word, yes.
Mr. I always loved his stars. Watching them hit home runs filled the seats. And that’s what drove the selection process of the athletes.
Marketing – and the resulting attendance figures – trumped winning. It was made the priority.
Afterall, having star players went hand-in-hand with high attendance figures. The latter was required in order to pay the high salaries.
And when you have great attendance figures, your earning potential goes way up when those same fans buy food and merchandise and park their cars within your facilities. Not to mention frequenting your other establishments nearby before and after the games. There’s a reason why the main doors at Comerica open up directly facing the Fox Theatre.
And then there are the tv contracts. Revenues that are dictated by viewer numbers.
And Mr. I’s strategy paid off handsomely. For him.
He bought the Tigers for $85 million. Today, the team is ranked near the upper third of all MLB teams and valued somewhere around $1.5 billion.
As we’ve seen, having these star-stuffed teams made for some exciting times. But it was a flawed strategy in so many ways.
It was a team built to slug. Even Jim Leyland always had some bon mots about how home runs would take care of everything.
But Comerica was, and is, one of MLB’s most slugger-proof stadiums. Even with lineups that featured Miggy, VMart, JD, Prince and others, the Tigers often had problems scoring consistently.
And the team played half their games at CoPa.
During their most recent best 5 years, they never led the AL in home runs. Their very best years saw them finish tied only for 7th in dingers. And most of those HRs were hit in other ballparks.
And I don’t need to remind you that this team of incredibly talented players never won a World Series. Even when they had baseball’s best starting rotation that could not overcome the flawed hitting strategy.
That in 2 World Series, they won only 1 game. And they had trouble scoring runs in both events.
Remember the station-to-station hitting that we saw, especially in the latter years? The all-or-nothing hitting philosophy, that when faced with superior pitching, the Tigers couldn’t hit home runs and had great difficulty getting players around the bases.
Slow players. Players who couldn’t steal bases or even take an extra base on a hit. Players who belly-flopped trying to get to third base.
Players who couldn’t manufacture runs.
And players who misplayed balls consistently in the outfield which allowed opponents to score on them. Tiger outfields that generally were in the negative numbers when it came to defensive runs allowed.
Ron Gardenhire was the first one to publicly give up the ghost. He recently mentioned that greater defense and speed are how the Tigers need to play. He also reminisced about his days with Minnesota and how his team loved to come to Comerica. All because his teams were speedy and played small ball well. He had players who could manufacture runs.
Remember how pesky his teams were? How they used to drive us crazy?
And now the Tigers are finally adding players like Cam Gibson, Danny Woodrow, Jacob Robson, Sergio Alcantara and Will Castro.
We now have a rationale for why Mr. I’s teams never matched the requirements of Comerica. And now we see the Tigers finally syncing a strategy that uses their ballpark to their advantage.
Did they just get smart about it? Or is Ron Gardenhire finally the man to influence the Front Office?
Or is it because the Ilitch family no longer subscribes to the philosophy of spending money and upping payroll to bring in stars?
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