TIGER BRASS CAN’T BE TRUSTED

By:  Kurt Snyder

Fascinating. Absolutely fascinating.

That’s the most positive way to explain the position the Tigers are in as a franchise and the missteps that have led them to this day.

Every baseball franchise, regardless of the method they use to get their team in a position to contend, has a window of opportunity.

But there is a timeframe. Once you have built what you think is a team that can win it, your opportunities are not endless. Of course, teams try to make smart decisions with their roster every season to sustain and expand that window of opportunity. And some have been very successful in lengthening that timeframe, having success and winning championships along the way.

On the other hand, some teams are not smart with their window. But for the purposes of a Tiger baseball discussion, I am not talking about an open window. I am talking about that critical time in a franchise’s history when that window closes. The steps they take to rebound and open that window again are just as critical as when they are contending.

We have reached that time with the Tigers.

The window closed the day Dave Dombrowski was forced to unload David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria. On that day, Mike Ilitch’s active pursuit of a championship ended.  The white flag began its way up the pole for a Mike Ilitch-owned franchise when he could no longer make that big splash at a trade deadline.

When Mike could no longer order trades for more big-time stars because he had nothing in his farm left to trade, the fun was gone. Take away his ability to get more toys and, well, you have taken his ball and gone home.

So, OK. Fine. The fun was done. The run for a championship was over. Mike could no longer co-exist with Dave Dombrowski.  Fine, after 14 years, business relationships can wear thin.  But how you choose to change course will determine your future success.   And the choices were wrong and they snowballed.

When you tear down a building and planning begins to build again, do you make use of the pile of rubble? Do you rummage through the pile and pick up pieces you think are still good enough?  This is effectively what the Tigers have done.

We know what should have been done to start over.  But what happened instead?  Well, let’s review.


Instead of doing an educated search for an accomplished GM, Mike Ilitch chose to promote Al Avila, who daily proves to be ill-equipped for the position.

Instead of putting his stamp on the team by hiring his own manager, Avila kept Brad Ausmus, a manager who proved time and again, to be ill-equipped for the position.

Instead of pulling back the reins and studying what would be at risk, Mike ordered more money to be spent on a downward trending Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton; a signing that would render the ability to keep JD Martinez virtually impossible.

Instead of taking the same opportunity to replace Ausmus every year after, Avila waited 4 years to finally pull the trigger.

Instead of hiring a more competent GM heading into a season where his team would begin a rebuild, Chris Ilitch, after assuming ownership of the Tigers after his father’s death, did nothing.

Instead of realizing the window was shut, Avila and the Tigers decided they would see if they had one last shot to win in 2017. A silly and fruitless decision designed to keep fan interest? Maybe. Who knows.


All these steps led us to the trade deadline of 2017, where the Tigers were stuck with Al Avila to go out and get strong value for players they could not possibly keep, knowing that contending had ended.

It doesn’t all come down to whom the Tigers received in their jettison of high-profile ex-Tigers. It is about a troubling and revealing development.

Al Avila never seems to deal from a position of strength. He makes it easy for teams to take the upper hand in negotiations. He is the opposite of Dave Dombrowski, who owned the negotiations and always seemed to win the deal. We now have a GM other teams can take advantage of and I believe that they are.

So, the fun is gone. Mostly because of what has transpired since Dombrowski walked out the door. Being confident in the people at the top heading into a rebuild can make the process interesting and in some cases fun to watch, i.e. the Cubs. Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon made success possible and watching the momentum build was fascinating even from the perspective of another baseball town.

But in Detroit, we are stuck having to question every move the Tigers make, because there is no trust. Who among you disagrees? Who doesn’t believe that this rebuild has begun wrong and will continue to go wrong?

This is all on Chris Ilitch now to manage. And the initial impressions are that he is hurting more than he is helping.


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THE MANAGERIAL MERRY-GO-ROUND

By:  Holly Horning

It was a crazy end of the year, wasn’t it? And no, I don’t mean Al Avila’s late summer give-away program.

This year was the first time when we clearly saw the visible changes going on with baseball’s managers.

We had a manager who was finally set free after 4 very long years. Problem was, he should never have been hired in the first place.

Five other managers did not survive beyond early October. Two of them reasonably terminated because of their team’s results.

But the other 3 took their teams to the playoffs. When was the last time that happened?

Boston’s termination of John Farrell wasn’t a complete surprise. But the Nationals firing Dusty Baker, who had a team that led all of MLB in wins, certainly was. And then there was the curious case of Joe Girardi who took a “rebuilding” Yankees franchise to the brink of the World Series. Even more curious given that the Yankees had no clue where to find their next manager.

What is going on here?

The simple answer is that big money and analytics have significantly changed the role and importance of the manager. And the evidence is mirrored in the rapidly diminishing salaries managers are now receiving.

Five years ago, the salary structure started to change. Managers were making a lot of money and it was common to see salaries of multiple millions. But today, there are only a handful of skippers making near that. Bochy, Maddon and Scioscia. (Girardi, too, if we count last year.) Another couple making $2-$3 mill and the rest earning only 6 figures. The average MLB managerial salary today is somewhere around $700,000.

First of all, managers no longer have the power they once had. It used to be that most ruled the clubhouse with iron fists. What the manager said was the law of the land and players got in line.

But then a funny thing happened. Mega salaries awarded to players took over and the balance of power changed. And the bigger the salary, the bigger the say the player had in what he wanted in order to keep him happy. And owners and managers, afraid to weaken the results of their investment, afraid to have their superstar unhappy, afraid that his unhappiness would spread to the rest of the team, started listening and supporting these players.

Increasingly, we began to see managers fired because their most expensive stars didn’t like their decisions.

But while this was going on, analytics was quietly raising its profile. Teams were starting to understand the importance this new element had on the game. They started expanding their Front Offices by hiring people to fill this need.  And as a result, Front Office payrolls started to grow. No surprise that cutting managerial salaries began in order to help offset the new expenditures.

The Front Offices have quietly been expanding their power, too. No longer sitting silently in the background while the manager sits front and center, more of them are taking away some of the manager’s power – and limelight. They are insisting that their analytics department connect more and more with the manager and his coaches. They see the manager now as the conduit for imparting the info and the message to the players.

Baseball is trending towards using managers less and less for how to play the game and using them more and more as communication tools for the Front Office. Skippers have now become primarily middle-management functionaries with primary roles of communicating statistical information to the players and helping them perform better. No longer do they have much say in the overall team’s direction. That role has now gone to the Front Office.

This is one of the many reasons why Brad Ausmus is no longer with the Tigers. Word finally leaked that he had lost control and influence within the clubhouse. Players were not listening to him.

Dusty Baker lost his job because of his old-school ways re analytics and the influence of Bryce Harper. Joe Girardi was said to not be so user-friendly with some of the younger up-and-coming stars of the Yankees.

And this is why we now have a flurry of new managers who are rookies and youthful with little to no baseball managerial experience. Teams feel it is no longer necessary. They are looking for contemporary managers who can relay the stats provided by the Front Office and connect better with the newer generation of players.

The added bonus is that this manager is easier to control. And less expensive.

Given all this, it’s no surprise that 3 of the 6 new managers are 42 years old. One is 44 and the other 53.

And then we have Ron Gardenhire. The oldest at 59 and the only one with a real track record. His hiring is decidedly different from the others.  And the reasons why? We’ll save that discussion for another day.


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NOTABLE NEWS

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

The departure of Ian Kinsler dominated the news for Tiger fans over the last couple days at the Winter Meetings. But what captured the attention of our writers? Does their attention revolve around this story or are there others?

Let’s see what Holly and Kurt have on their minds this week. Their responses are not shared in advance and it’s only for the readers’ benefit. So, what stood out this week?


HOLLY

Once again we’ve heard the explanation of “had no leverage” to explain the disappointing exchange for Ian Kinsler. Granted Ian had a no-trade clause, but when you broadcast the necessity of needing to trade someone sooner rather than later, the other teams hear your desperation and will take advantage of you.

But this latest move, combined with the trades of JV, JD, Maybin, Upton, Avila and Wilson, is a troubling pattern and demonstrates concern over Al Avila’s inability to negotiate favorable trades. He explained away these trades as a result of a “weak market.”

Not scoring any kind of solid return is what got Avila voted in 2 polls as the #29th and #30th ranked GM in baseball last week. The real question to ask is whether this is simply an issue of being unqualified, filling the need of being an owner’s compliant “yes” man or being ordered to prioritize dumping salaries over finding the best trades.


KURT

If the Tigers really want to impact their roster, they need to take their biggest tradeable asset and see what teams are willing to offer. Was Michael Fulmer worth more, say, at the All-Star break last season, than now when an injury clouds his value? Absolutely! It is the one thing that will make teams pause and potentially offer less than if we were talking about a young, high-end pitcher with no injury history.

But I don’t think the Tigers can afford to take a wait and see approach until the trade deadline – Michael Fulmer could bring major talent and yes, may bring more at the end of July if he remains healthy and resumes the success he was having early last season.

But that’s an ‘if’ they cannot risk validating. They can still get plenty now and they need to go out and get it.


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FORUM FOR FRIDAY

microphoneHappy Friday! It’s time again to head into the weekend hearing from our readers.   You have the rest of the week to hear from Kurt and Holly, today is the day to let them know what you’re thinking on a selected topic.

Friday is the one day of the week where we open up the comment parameters for you, so you can get those juices flowing.

Comments on THIS DAY ONLY can be expanded to a maximum of 8 sentences.

We can’t wait to get your thoughts on the following topic.


Should the Tigers be aggressive in trying to trade Michael Fulmer?  Why or why not?

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A FITTING TALE

By:  Kurt Snyder

One day I will tell my grandchildren about baseball. I will, of course, start with the story of their great-grandfather and his career in the game. One day I will tell them about some of the all-time greats who played for the Tigers. But it will all come down to the players whom I remember most.

So, children, here is an interesting tale about the Tiger #3;  the Hall of Fame, the number retirement and the departure of the last Tiger to wear it …


Once upon a time there were 2 baseball players. Their names were Alan and Louis. Alan wore #3 and Louis wore #1. They were the longest running double play combination in baseball history (let’s just assume they will know what that means). One player was rarely mentioned without the other. They did everything together. They played together for 19 years.

After they retired, many players came and went, but none rivaled their performance at second and short. Not until Ian and Jose came along.  Ian wore #3 and Jose wore #1. They were an athletic tandem, often considered to be the best combination since Alan and Louis.

Then one day, Baseball finally realized that Alan was no ordinary player during his career and he was voted into the Hall of Fame. His team, the Tigers, within minutes of the announcement, announced the retirement of his #3 which would take place during the following season.

Suddenly, 3 days later, Ian, who was still playing for the Tigers, was traded to another team. Within 3 days, it was announced that the #3 would be retired and the man wearing it was traded away.

The End


Ian Kinsler, who, in his short time here in Detroit, became a fan favorite. He played the kind of baseball that real fans of the game loved. Tough, competitive, hard-nosed, talented, athletic, good hitter, great defender, a leader and a winner.

Could you compare him to Alan Trammell? Were there similarities? In some ways, yes. Kinsler will not be a Hall of Famer but he was a tremendous Tiger.  But Trammell was just a cut above.  And now, a Hall of Famer.

There were so many similarities when you sit back and look at Trammell and Whitaker and Iglesias and Kinsler. In my book, these are the keystone combos I will remember as being among the best in franchise history.   The first being the best and the other, among the best.

We didn’t grow to love Alan Trammell in Detroit. But we grew to love Tram and Lou. And I feel the same way about our latest combination at second and third. We didn’t grow to love Ian Kinsler. But we grew to love Iggy and Ian.

In both cases, they made each other better. The more they played together, the more chemistry there was between them. In both cases, they could count on the other doing his job. They knew where they would be on any given play. It became magical.

But Trammell and Whitaker did it for 19 seasons, and that is where the comparison ends. There has never been a duo like them in the history of baseball.  A historic and fascinating story that should have never been severed at the doors of the Hall of Fame.

I am certain that these are players who will find their rightful places in Tiger history. But the story continues.  There is still work left to be done.

Someday, Major League Baseball will come to their senses and give Sweet Lou and his #1 the recognition they deserve, to honor and complete the history he formed with Alan Trammell.

Before I close the book, consider this.  Is it just a coincidence that Dixon Machado, Kinsler’s soon to be replacement at second base, currently wears the #49?   Go ahead and add 4 and 9 together and see what you get?

1 3.

Sorry – I laughed too.

LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS

By:  Holly Horning

Pass the duct tape.

Al Avila is at it again. He is singing like a jailbird and all the other GMs are taking notice. Some maybe even gleeful.

Someone needs to tell Al that silence is golden.

With each passing day, he is revealing more information about his plans, who he wants to trade, how badly he wants to trade him and what he wants in return. Someone within the Tigers organization needs to make sure Al doesn’t rent a crop plan or the Goodyear Blimp in which to broadcast his message which is assuredly his next step.

Who would have thought that Dave Dombrowski’s long-term Assistant GM would be his polar opposite? Remember the old days? The days in which we tore our hair out trying to get a hint, any hint, from Dave about his intentions? A guy so close-lipped that you knew if he was a spy and got captured, he’d never crack, even under torture.

Who knew we would long for those days again?

Dombrowski was the consummate poker player. No one ever knew what he was going to do until it happened. He always took everyone by complete surprise.

And now we hear every day from Al about his intentions. He lays out every card on the table for everyone to see. There is no smoke, no illusion, no mental games. He is that child who blurts out his exact feelings. Unfiltered.

Don’t get me wrong. It is admirable to be around straight-shooters who won’t simply tell you what you want to hear and then shock you with their decisions down the road. But Avila has ventured well across the line and is spilling his guts and every thought that enters his mind whenever someone asks.

He is the media’s dream.

We’ve been hearing now for 2 years about what was coming down the road. The rebuild. The “younger and leaner” spiel. The “everyone could be up for trading”. All that was missing were banners and trumpets.

Players like Justin Verlander, Ian Kinsler and Jose Iglesias were hearing for quite a while that their days were probably numbered. Even though they understood the reasons and have been around the baseball block, it’s hard to hear your team repeatedly talk about you leaving. And it must be especially hard when nothing happens and you are left dangling. And when nothing happens for a while, some people, fans and other teams are wondering why no trades have yet taken place. They’re wondering what is wrong.

It’s just like listing a home for sale. When it continues to sit on the market, desire to acquire it as well as the asking price goes down.

I find it hard to believe that ownership, marketing and PR are happy over this. Why give fans clear, candid reasons for not attending games or buying season tickets? Why tell them in advance that Ian Kinsler’s days (and others) may numbered before they have the chance to buy their season tickets?

Wouldn’t they prefer that fans be kept guessing? Wouldn’t they prefer that fans not be given reasons to go AWOL next year?

And the owner and those in the Front Office suffer, too. When you keep stating that you want or need to trade a player, other teams pick up on your desperation. They have the upper hand – and they will use it to get your player with as little cost to them as possible. Avila just made his lieutenants’ jobs harder.

Look at the Justin Verlander trade. The Tigers are paying $16 million of his contract and also had to include a player to be named later or cash. In return, they got 3 players but none of them were Houston’s top prospects. Many in MLB called it one of the best trades ever. For the Astros, that is.

And there were the other trades as well – but let’s not go there again.

So it’s no surprise as to the results just published by several MLB-affiliated organizations. The GM Power Rankings. Evaluations and grades based upon each GM’s actions, trades, signings and decisions of 2017. In one survey, Avila ranked #29. In the other, dead last. Neither one had anything positive to say about his moves.

But even with all of that, Al hasn’t changed his strategy. He’s still chirping away about his intentions. He’s talked about the potential of trading away Ian, Iggy, Castellanos, McCann, Fulmer, Greene and Norris. And in the case of Kinsler, the return he wants is rather low and disappointing.

When you say you’re looking to receive a single “young” or “mid-level” prospect in exchange for Ian Kinsler, what do you expect the other team to do? Immediately meet your request – or bargain? And the fact that Kinsler’s skill set is remarkably absent from his spiels – the sales pitch – is disconcerting.

Which is why I don’t expect to hear good news this week. Will there be teams who will come to pick at Tiger carcasses? You can bet the smart ones will. And they won’t be showing their hand.


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TWO FOR TUESDAY

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

Given that the Winter Meetings can take so many turns, and that there are so many topics that can be discussed, our writers have decided to free-wheel it today.

So, what do they have on their minds other than the obvious (HOF)?

As is the norm, Holly and Kurt have not shared a thing. It’s the best way for our readers to get the best bang for their buck. So here we go.


HOLLY

This is going to be a week where wonder, reality and rebuild are going to create a rollercoaster of actions and emotions so I can’t possibly select just one or two topics upon which to focus.

So, I am going to borrow my buddy Kurt’s 20 Thoughts format because it works so well. (And unlike a certain reporter for a Detroit newspaper, I am giving Kurt full credit for inventing this.)

1. I am absolutely thrilled – yet still retain a dash of resentment towards the writers – over the election of Alan Trammell and Jack Morris. I still can’t understand the huge rift in thought between those who played the game and believed the two should have been inducted years ago and those who didn’t and waited all these years to acknowledge their accomplishments.

2. Omitting Lou Whitaker from the ballot may have been due to the committee’s realization that having 3 Tigers on a ballot of 10 may have caused some unwanted negative media and fan blowback. The committee may have simply selected the 2 with the best chance of being elected.

3. In a lot of ways, Tram and Morris are complete opposites of each other. Could some of the explanation for the delay in voting them in be because Tram was too nice, quiet and humble and Morris because he was outspoken and mean to the media?

4. Their election into the Hall of Fame is such a blessing, especially now and at this event. I think the rest of the meetings are going to be very sobering and sad for Tiger fans.

5. As of 11AM on Monday, Jack Morris said that the Twins, Jays and Indians teams all reached out to him personally with congratulations. Other than Trammell, the Tigers organization had yet to contact him beyond the official released statement. And fans wonder why they don’t support their former players or retire numbers. Smh, smh, smh…

6. Out of the original 16 MLB teams, the Tigers rank dead last in retiring players’ numbers. There are 3 Tigers who were elected to the Hall of Fame wearing the Olde English D who still don’t have that honor – Mickey Cochrane, George Kell and Heinie Manush.  Cochrane and Manush both wore “3” but it is only getting retired now with the election of Trammell.  In all, the Tigers have only retired a total of 5 players’ numbers.

7. The Tigers are at the maximum 40-man roster with the Rule 5 Draft happening on Thursday. Expect Ian Kinsler to be dealt before then especially given reports that they have intensified their efforts at trading him.

8. The AL East teams, especially the Red Sox, are the biggest losers after the Stanton trade so expect Trader Dave to pull off at least 1 significant trade or signing this week. Is there any doubt that Dombrowski is going to make a concerted effort to sign his former player, JD Martinez, to fill the hole created by David Ortiz?

9. It was reported that Jim Leyland has been one busy man as a member of the Tigers’ War Room and running non-stop to meetings with other teams. Make no mistake, he still wields a significant amount of power and decision-making within the organization and the Tigers continue to welcome and encourage his input – symptomatic of their refusal to acknowledge or change an outdated and ineffective corporate culture and vision.

10. Baseball analysts have compiled their annual list of GM rankings based upon the season’s moves, trades and decisions with Al Avila ranking #29 out of #30. It’s a good thing I have the Hall of Fame election results to fall back on as we await the actions that will dictate the direction the Tigers’ Fearless Leader takes this team going forward.


KURT

Wow, what a crazy few days it has been!

The Angels broke out of the gates with the historic signing of Shohei Ohtani, with every intention of using his talents on the mound and at the plate.

But in typical Yankee-style, the spotlight left Anaheim quickly and went straight to New York as incredibly, Giancarlo Stanton joined forces with the Yanks. His addition now sets up another edition of Murderer’s Row in The Bronx. The AL East is officially on notice, if they weren’t there already after the Yanks came within 1 victory of the World Series in 2017.

Speaking of the AL East, the Red Sox rarely sit idle after the Yankees do something big. The Yanks are breaking out the guns again, so don’t expect Boston to bring knives to a gunfight. Expect the Sox, especially with Dombrowski in charge, to push hard for another big bat, one Dave knows very well: Mr. J.D. Martinez.

Now that sounds a little closer to home, doesn’t it? Let’s head over to Detroit. But before we get to the biggest news of the off-season for the Tigers, let’s hit on where Al Avila and his team will first focus their energy.

It’s almost a certainty that Ian Kinsler will be dealt before the Winter Meetings are over. I believe I am going to get my wish. The Tigers will look to replace Kinsler versus letting the talents of Jose Iglesias head out the door. Expect the Tigers’ newly-crowned Rookie-of-the-Year, Dixon Machado to take the reins at second base next to Iggy.

As much as we would miss Kinsler and everything he has done for the Tigers since the brilliant trade that sent Prince Fielder to Texas, isn’t it fitting that Ian would leave Detroit right on the heels of the announcement of Alan Trammell heading to the Hall of Fame? Kinsler would leave behind #3, never to be worn again by another Tiger.

Now that was a round-about way to head to the announcement Sunday night: Trammell and Morris are headed to the Hall! I guess we will take what we can get until the next handpicked committee comes to their senses on Lou Whitaker.

Certainly, another lesson has been learned here; the heck with the writers! Let players vote in players – let Hall of Famers vote in Hall of Famers.


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FINALLY!

By:  Kurt Snyder

More retired numbers will hit the bricks in centerfield at Comerica Park next season. Finally!

Not long following the announcement that Jack Morris and Alan Trammell had indeed been voted into the Hall by the Modern Era Committee, Chris Ilitch announced the retirement of their numbers, planned for August 2018.

Morris and Trammell will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 29th and in August, the Tigers will retire their numbers. Finally!

These are the facts; relieving ones for Morris and Trammell, but also for fans who experienced their brilliance; the ones who have questioned their exclusion from the Hall all these years.

The biggest question out of all of this (and I hope the Commissioner is asking himself the same thing), is this: Why does Major League Baseball continue to allow the BBWAA to determine who gets into the Hall of Fame?

Why aren’t current Hall of Famers who are familiar with the candidates and played against them in the same era, part of every committee?

Why are they not included until the BBWAA screws up? That’s the way I see it. I don’t think the writers do their homework. So many players who have deserved to enter the Hall, wait years wondering what they had to do to get in, when their play did all the talking for so many fans and so many players who faced them.

Thankfully, the 16-member selection committee who voted in Morris and Trammell on Sunday included George Brett, Rod Carew, Dennis Eckersley, Dave Winfield and Robin Yount; all Hall of Famers who knew Jack and Alan very well.

Jack Morris was widely respected as one of the greatest pitchers of his era, the winningest pitcher of the 1980’s and considered one of the most clutch pitchers of his era, both in the regular season and especially in the playoffs. You have a big game? You want him on the mound.

What appeared to hold Morris back all these years was his career ERA which was in the 4’s. But here’s where there is more to the story than just numbers. Jack referenced Sparky Anderson yesterday, but also referenced the game and how it has changed.

It’s a known fact that many pitchers are less successful as they progress through a game and hitters are tougher to get out each additional time they come to the plate, especially the good ones.

But Sparky had a mission each time Morris pitched. He wanted him to finish games. Teams are now often pulling pitchers after their 3rd trip through the lineup. Morris finished games. He pitched deep into games.  So, he had to find a way to fight his way through 4 or 5 trips.

Now look at all his success. Is this an acceptable excuse for the higher ERA? That’s up to you to decide. Some would still say if he wants to be enshrined, the numbers must still be better. Fair point. But this is the perfect example and reason for diving deeper than just digesting numbers in front of you.

So, who is more apt to look at numbers and who will look deeper?

Who knew Morris and Trammell better?

Who knows better than anyone who should be in the Hall than Hall of Famers themselves, the ones who played in those eras against those very players?

What do you think was discussed more? How tough Morris was to face? How clutch he was in all those heart pounding World Series games? His dominance in the 1980’s? Or was it that ERA?

They are all worthy of discussion. All of it. But don’t let that ERA decide everything. Clearly it weighed heavily all these years he was excluded.

That same committee got to witness Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker. They saw first-hand how good they were for 19 seasons in Detroit. They knew how clutch they were as hitters at the top of that Tiger lineup. They witnessed the power and speed of both, how smoothly they could turn a double play, how easy they made the game look.

And now, they have finally given Alan Trammell his due. But mysteriously, as we praise the players on this Modern Era committee for recognizing Morris and Trammell, it is a wonder what they were thinking in excluding Lou Whitaker from at least making the final ballot.

Trammell and Whitaker made this Hall of Fame story together and all those players witnessed that story. So as sweet as it is that Jack and Alan have finally gotten that call, the decision on Sweet Lou is not so sweet at all.

If I’m the Tigers, I make that statement in August with Lou Whitaker, retiring that #1 in the same manner they retire #47 and #3.

I would make this statement to the Hall of Fame, and I make it loud and clear:

Thanks! But you’re not done yet.


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CUBS AND CATS

By:  Holly Horning

I listened to an interesting interview on MLB Radio the other day from an author who wrote an extensive history of the Chicago Cubs but not in the traditional sense. It was about the many years of losing, the culture, the finances and the many other aspects of the organization that contributed to their historical record.

And the more I listened to him talk about why the team, one of baseball’s oldest, had won so few World Series titles, the easier it became to simply change the name of that team to the Detroit Tigers.

The two teams have operated very similarly over the decades and have gotten very similar results. And when you hear the factors involved, you know it’s not a coincidence.

The bigger premise of the book is that the organization, and especially the owners, are the ones who determine the fate and success of the team. Much more so than the talent on the team. These owners were assigned the blame for turning the Cubs into “lovable losers.” Not the goat.

For the Cubs, William Wrigley was painted as not the best of owners. And he ran them from 1916 before passing the team down to his son and then eventually to his grandson. When estate taxes became too much, the team was sold in 1991 to the Chicago Tribune.

The Wrigleys were painted as businessmen who really didn’t care if the team won it all. Their top goal for the organization was to be profitable and their focus was simply to be “good enough” in order to keep the fans coming. The Chicago Tribune practiced a similar belief.

Would you be surprised to learn that for decades, the Cubs have been among baseball’s top 3-4 most profitable teams? Or that for many years, they were MLB’s most profitable, even when they had losing records?

And when the money comes pouring in, you are loath to change your formula.

But the Cubs under these 2 owners didn’t just sit on their hands and watch the money roll in. They had a strategy.

First, focusing much attention on their PR and marketing departments which spun stories into gold. Being in charge of controlling the message. Putting out feel-good tales for fans to embrace. All the better to help forget what was missing in Chicago for so long.

And during the years in which they weren’t winning titles or missed on playoffs? They were selling the fans on memories by bringing back favorite players from years past.

Is this starting to sound familiar yet?

But the Chicago fans also deserve a share of the blame. They filled the seats and made the Cubs a cultural and social requirement. They were loyal and attendance was solid. It helps that the Cubs have always had one of MLB’s highest ticket prices. And unbelievably, they haven’t had an average attendance figure under 32,000 for a single game since 1997. And there is a waiting list for season tickets.

As Forbes puts it, the Cubs are a “money machine.”

Even in 2012, ending the year with 101 losses, the Cubs were MLB’s most profitable team. Unbelievable, isn’t it?

And when you are raking in the bucks, you want to continue the good times. Forget about the ring because it would require the organization to step up and invest in better and more expensive players. And that might mess with the formula for profit.

In summary, those owners’ priority was the green paper, not the flag flying over Wrigley Field.

In 2009, the Ricketts family bought the Cubs and used their investment background to keep the profits rolling in while also investing in the team and the surrounding neighborhood. And the siblings also wanted a ring. Less than 2 years after becoming owners, they hired Theo Epstein who was the primary motivator for changing the Cubs’ corporate culture.

Enough cannot be said for the genius of Epstein. He eliminated anyone within the organization who didn’t buy into the new corporate culture. He fired employees who didn’t want to adopt new strategies, people who didn’t want to go the extra mile, people in positions of leadership who weren’t leading and even players who asked why they should fight to play baseball in October when they could be going home instead.


Here’s the primer on Theo – a must-read even if you read it when first published:

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/05/20/building-a-winner-part-1/

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/05/23/building-a-winner-part-2/


Epstein also dramatically changed the roster. He felt the same group of players, year after year, took on the same mentality. Motivation and leadership disintegrated with each year. And if he didn’t see each player wanting to win every single game, they also were told “buh-bye.”

One only need to look at the Tigers over the past 4-5 years to see what Theo knew. Jim Leyland’s rant in 2006 that temporarily ramped up the team but resulted in each of the following years seeing less and less enthusiasm and focus. In the end, players were not making the plays nor running out balls in play. And finally, combat in the dugout and the clubhouse between teammates with widespread visible disinterest in the field.

And in 2014, Epstein hired the manager who personified the new corporate culture. Joe Maddon.

In 2016, just 2 years later, the Cubs won the World Series. And the roster had something to do with it – but not all of it.

And that’s where many make a false assumption. A top-caliber roster only has some impact on winning it all. Look no further than the Tigers with their immense talent and only 1 World Series game win to show for it. A team filled with 4 Cy Young Award (or future) winners, MVPs and a Triple Crown winner that couldn’t even get out of the playoffs.

The Cubs have found a successful formula for winning which should help prevent the championship drought going forward. And the Tigers are still searching.

A recently deceased owner who, like Wrigley, passed the team down to his son. And a Front Office that has remained relatively intact with the same people who followed Dave Dombrowski from Montreal to Florida to Detroit. An organization that hasn’t been broken apart for the last 30 years. An organization that still employs a number of former managers and special assistants who offer advice and direction.

A team with superb marketing and PR departments who control the message and distract fans with memories of ’68 and ’84. Count on a big 50th anniversary of the former this season to deflect from what is widely expected to be a very gloomy year.

Do we have any reason to believe that this formula will change, barring a sale of the team?

Given the current structure, any changes of significance are going to be up the fans to deliver. Fans who will think twice before parting with their money. Fans who will help change the organization’s profit formula that has worked so well for the team year after year.

At least many fans now will understand one of the reasons why the Tigers, one of baseball’s original and oldest (123 years old) teams has only won 4 World Series in the 114 years since it started.

Just don’t blame it all on the rosters.


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NOTABLE NEWS

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

Two storylines in baseball have dominated the news over the past week. It’s hard to get past the ongoing sagas of Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani. But what has capture the attention of our writers? Do their interests revolve around these stories or are there others?

Let’s see what Holly and Kurt have on their minds this week. Saturday topics are not shared and it’s only for the readers’ benefit. So, what stood out this week?


HOLLY

No one from the Detroit media asked Al Avila why he was looking for two, not just one, starting pitcher given that the Tigers just added Mike Fiers to a rotation of Fulmer, Zimmermann, Norris and Boyd that technically should have completed the starting rotation.

But given that Avila has recently confirmed that no Tigers – including Fulmer, Kinsler, Iglesias, Castellanos and McCann – are immune from being traded, could Fulmer, Norris or Boyd leave the team in exchange for the right prospects? That’s one reason to help explain why our GM is looking to add a spare to the heir on the mound.

It also begs us to question what may ultimately be the real goal of the Tigers. Is this a regular or accelerated rebuild? Is this a team looking to cut as much payroll as possible – potentially by pairing Jordan Zimmermann and his contract with Michael Fulmer? Or is this a team getting prepped for sale by drastically cutting payroll, balancing the books and loading the farm system so the team looks young, inexpensive and promising to potential buyers?


KURT

What correlation did you immediately draw when you heard that Shohei Ohtani had chosen to sign with the Angels?

Well, for me, the connection here was obvious – Brad Ausmus. Even though he just recently accepted a position with the Angels as a Special Assistant to the General Manager, he was still closely exposed to one of the most historic signings in the game; an international talent projected to be a star both on the mound and at the plate.

I can’t help but think that Brad, as this season unfolds, will subconsciously put himself in the manager’s chair, observing and considering how he would use Ohtani, if he were leading the team. It will be a unique strategic opportunity for any skipper, and certainly something to keep a close eye on for someone like Brad looking to manage again someday.

On the other hand, he may have enjoyed being front and center watching all of this go down and it may further interest him in the player procurement part of the game.


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