SSSHHHHHHHHHHH!

By:  Holly Horning

I am reminded of the old saying “Be careful what you wish for, it might just come true.”

For 13 years, fans were frustrated by Dave Dombrowski’s refusal to even hint at what he was thinking or doing. Thirteen years of being left in the dark until….BAM!… a move was made and surprised absolutely everyone. How we so wanted him to offer a clue, any clue.

Dave would have made such a great spy because if he was captured and tortured, he wouldn’t have uttered a syllable. He was that self-disciplined.

So, it’s rather ironic that we have gone from a chatty, entertaining owner and a silent GM to an M.I.A. owner and a GM who divulges every little detail. Is this proof that opposites attract?

Please bring back the old days. We promise we’ll behave and won’t complain about the lack of information this time.

But as fans, we immediately noticed this new trend of our GM speaking early and often. And now, it is also a major story within MLB media. Witness the 3 separate programs on MLB just this past weekend alone. Three different programs, three different sets of hosts. All of them surprised and concerned over Informative Al’s non-stop confessionals. One program even spent an entire hour discussing the history and ramifications of our GM’s loose lips.

We know it started with the promise to get “younger and leaner.” Followed by the warning that every single player had the potential to be traded.

Then came the names. There were players, because of their contracts or salaries, who understood that they were the logical choices to leave. But Al broke the cardinal rule of saying it out loud. And often. And to everyone. Worst of all, he sounded desperate.

It’s one thing to understand you need to trade expensive players. And it’s another to tell the media that you have to trade them – and now. Even the media analysts echo what we’ve been saying. When you show your desperation and appear weak, you lose your negotiating power.

There are some who will argue that Avila had to trade JD, Upton and Ian. That he had no choice. But the thing is, expert negotiators understand that having a poker face, acting cool and unrushed, walking away and waiting, as well as how and when to time the action are what get you the best deals. Great trades are not totally dependent upon the actual talent.

Case in point – can anyone actually say that Dave Dombrowski would have garnered the same deals as Al if he was still the GM?

Of course not.

Witness that all 6 analysts this weekend mentioned that they would have loved to have Avila sitting across the table from them while making deals. Several said that in all their years within baseball, they have never seen or heard a GM be this openly transparent.

And this is the real concern. It is one thing for fans to criticize the GM. It is another when those within baseball do it publicly. When have we heard such open and widespread concern within the baseball world about any team’s GM? I certainly can’t remember. Usually such criticism comes out after he has left the organization – not while he’s still there.

With this concern comes a question. Why has no one within the Tigers organization told him to zip it? Why is he allowed to continue divulging strategy and uttering desperate comments? Why are his statements in direct competition with the Marketing Department which is trying to push as many season ticket sales as possible during a very tough time?

Later on, we witnessed the discussions about trading Michael Fulmer and the concern posed about trading a proven commodity who was also under club control and making minimum salary. And when a team indicates that they are willing to listen on a Fulmer trade, it whispers that the Tigers may be in for a much longer than anticipated rebuild. Just what any organization doesn’t want their fans to hear.

Unfortunately, the missteps continued with our garrulous GM continuing to show his entire hand regarding other players. Revealing that Nick Castellanos and now James McCann could also be traded. Castellanos because of the news that he is no longer talking extension with the team. But McCann comes as a surprise given both club control and his near league minimum salary.

Again, we need to ask why. This is simply information that no one outside of the Front Office should have. It creates doubt. It creates concern. It creates panic. And it impacts the fans, players and organization negatively.

And there is the statement about how Jose Iglesias will be gone sooner rather than later. This year. A statement actually made that identifies an attempt/re-evaluation to be made during spring training.

One analyst this weekend laughed and said this was quite the way to build team spirit and make your players feel welcome and excited to return to the team. Two others mentioned that in all their years working for Front Offices, they have never seen anything like this. One even called it “complete transparency” – and didn’t mean it in a good way.

All of the hosts were in agreement that this is no way for a GM to behave if he wants to perform well and achieve the organization’s goals.

They backed up their statements by replaying interviews with Al and evaluating his statements. And in one segment, Avila actually sidestepped an interviewer’s question and changed the subject. Imagine that!

So what was the topic? He was asked to reveal more information about the infamous Tigers’ Way manual and to highlight some key points about what it was about. How ironic is that?

So while we wait for someone within the Tigers organization to fetch the duct tape, I have a related chore I must complete this week. Ordering a care package for the PR and Media Relations departments at Comerica. They’re really gonna need it.


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THE EAST COAST ADVANTAGE

By:  Holly Horning

Earlier this week, a headline for an article on the Detroit Lions caught my eye. And it did so, not because I’m a Lions fan (I learned that lesson decades ago and never looked back) but because of the sheer stupidity of the article’s premise.

That Lions fans are lucky the team won’t accept mediocrity. Yes, we’re talking about the same team that ranks second in all professional sports with the longest championship drought.

My first thought was that if this article was written in any East Coast city, the writer would have been fired (that is, if his editor hadn’t immediately canned it) – or at least tarred, feathered and run out of town. And his name would become synonymous with sports writing ineptitude.

My second thought centered on how uncomfortably low expectations are in the Detroit area. How it’s so easy to appease the overall fan base. How there are so many enablers to explain away bad corporate culture, non-existent leadership, pride and a lack of competitive fire.

In this case, it is the local media once again offering excuses for a team that hasn’t won anything in almost 60 years. In this most recent example, they did it by pointing the finger at how bad another team has been this year. By stating that firing the coach says they are being bold, aspirational and moving towards being great.

Excuse me for a quick second while I go worship the porcelain god.

Extreme fiction at its best. Smoke and mirrors.

No, being bold means that you fire the manager of the team who won the most games in MLB last year as Washington did. Or release the manager who took his “rebuilding” team to within 1 game of playing in the World Series as we saw with the Yankees.

Being bold and aspirational means that you aren’t happy unless you win the big enchilada. It means that you demand excellence. Always.

And that mindset is the biggest difference I see that separates the place where I grew up and the coast I’ve called home since graduating from high school.

Very simply, the multitude of excuses to explain away the failures of teams offered by Detroit sports owners, some fans and the media would not fly for a second in NY, Boston, Washington or any other major city on the East Coast.

These are places and cultures that do not tolerate excuses or patience. They are places that demand accountability and performance.

And this is why the majority of their teams are regularly in the running year after year. Why some of their teams win significantly more honors and championships than others in the same sport.

We hate the Yankees because of their 27 World Series championships (with the closest competition having only 11 trophies) and constant trickle of players going into Cooperstown. And while money had something to do with it, their success has been driven by relentless owners and a media and fan base not afraid to express their displeasure and pull their support.

Remember when the Yankees announced in 2016 that they would enter a rebuilding phase? It lasted all of a NY minute. GM Brian Cashman said that fans would not have accepted anything longer.

And the media in these East Coast towns don’t protect or make excuses for owners, Front Offices, managers or franchise faces. No one is immune from having their decisions and performances regularly examined. The forces that shape a team’s success are made uncomfortable – and accountable.

Accountability inspires better performance. Pure and simple.

One reason why Kurt and I started this blog was because of the uncomfortable coziness we, and many others saw, in this town. Truth and reality being swept under the rug in the attempt to quiet voices. News not being shared, hard questions not being asked but a constant upbeat spin always present. Fans continuing to show up for events despite high prices, a lower quality of product and the same expected results.

And when that happens, don’t expect things to change. There’s a reason why this town has a football team with a 60 year drought and a baseball team that hasn’t won a World Series in 33 years and counting. It’s not a coincidence.

Ownership continues as it does because these are profitable ventures for them. Making money will always command priority over winning a championship. In fact, going after a trophy can be really expensive. Why spend all that money when you can spend much less and still pull decent attendance? There’s absolutely no reason for them to change their strategy.

That is, unless the fans and media demand it. Fans and media who make organizations accountable. And uncomfortable.

There are those who point out that Detroit-area fans are some of the most loyal and best fans out there. But there is a point when that loyalty becomes misplaced and detrimental, especially when excuses and support are continually being offered to explain away continued failure and missed goals.

As an East Coaster, I can’t help but think how NY or Washington would have reacted to the Tigers’ situation. Over a decade of having some of MLB’s best players including a Triple Crown winner and a starting rotation filled with Cy Young Award winners. And only 1 game win in the World Series to show for it.

There would have been a mass riot. And it would have happened after the 2008 season followed by organizational changes. It would have been very messy. And pitchforks would probably have been involved.

Maybe, just maybe, these teams should consider hiring some East Coast baseball personnel. Some editors hired away from NY would help, too.

And if fans continue to turn out in droves for what is expected to be a last-place team once again, with ticket prices remaining the same or slightly more expensive, then they shouldn’t be surprised to see these droughts continue.

A little more East Coast attitude instead of Midwest Nice could be a very good thing.


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CLUES, NOT NEWS

By:  Holly Horning

We are now living in a different universe as Tigers fans.

No longer do we await the major news of yet another yearly splashy free agent signing. In fact, we’ve come to understand that won’t be happening anytime soon. We maybe even wait with bated breath of the news that yet another player has been traded in exchange for lowered payroll and prospects.

Yes, in the immortal words of Judy Tenuta, “It could happen.”

But it’s not just the lack of moves. It’s the silence. The silence of not being told where this team is going and what owner expectations are.

It’s been almost a year since the sad passing of Mr. I. A man who always told us what was on his mind. A man who also spoke via his wallet.

But now that Chris Ilitch is in charge, the only thing we’re hearing is crickets.

Or in the words of Otto from A Fish Called Wanda, “Nix! Zip! Diddly! Bupkis!”

We have hints, and have reported them here in earlier blogs, that the team is exploring changes. Hints that the books are being balanced and potentially exploration of a sale. But those will take some time to pan out.

In the meantime, we can only guess what the plans are for the Tigers in the near future. Will it become a team of benign neglect, a team of evolution and change, a team that is returning to mid-market behavior or a team that is getting ready to be sold?

Let’s face it – we’ve experienced recent player trades that hinted of salary dumping. The latest being Ian Kinsler. And then there are the rumors of other players on the trading block.

Which brings us to Michael Fulmer.  One of the biggest concerns if you are a Tigers fan. Why would the organization trade a young, controllable prized player making minimum salary for the risky proposition of acquiring unproven prospects? You know the saying: “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”.

Others say it will be years before the Tigers are competitive again and that Fulmer will be too expensive to keep when that day arrives. But there is another side that believes when you are forced to do something that drastic, it says that your farm system is in dire shape.

It could also hint at an expiration date for current ownership.

If you are looking to sell the team, you dump as much payroll as possible and flood your farm system with as many viable prospects and resources as possible (among other things) in order to make your team look more attractive. New owners want a young, inexpensive team that is starting to trend in the right direction.

Could more trades still come? Absolutely. It’s been a slow Hot, er Lukewarm, Stove season so far with most action expected to happen in January.

But we’ve recently seen 2 signs that give us hope this team is not aiming towards a Marlins-like fire sale. News that, of course, is not being reported locally.

News that the Yankees fought long and hard to acquire Michael Fulmer with a package of multiple players including Clint Frazier, Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada. And were turned down by Al Avila.

And now the news that the Tigers tried to re-sign Nick Castellanos to an extension after the 2017 season. We’ll never know if the intent was to soften the salary arbitration results, to keep him long-term or to entice trade partners down the road but the action to offer future salary could be seen as an encouraging sign.

Never mind that Castellanos turned them down flat. Which means that he’ll also become trade bait sooner rather than later when he becomes a rental in a year. Another story for another day.

But add the two stories together and you’ve got a pattern. A pattern that hints at a rebuild instead of a tear-down.

For now.

And these clues will have to suffice because of the deafening silence that is coming from ownership.

What we still don’t have is any information about the strategy or length of the rebuild. There is no information about how serious the team is regarding the timeline to regain the required competitive level. And they won’t provide any hints about whether the intent is to simply tread water or undergo an earnest rebuild.  We have no idea how long this will take.

Don’t expect any news conferences. Don’t expect any press releases. And don’t expect the major local media to provide any information.

You’ll have to get clues, not news, from other sources.


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THE GIFT-GIVING SEASON

By:  Holly Horning

Last week, we gave out gifts to select Tigers and others within the baseball world. If you didn’t catch the list….

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/12/19/kudos-or-coal/

But what about us? Hey, we’re deserving, too! Especially after this last baseball season……

Here’s the chance for 8 Tigers and 2 others to complete their holiday lists. And I’m going to help them by sharing gift-giving ideas.


So what can each of the following people give us fans that will make us happy in 2018?

1. Chris Ilitch – A statement of owner commitment and team direction. Any statement. A solid clue. And not a general statement crafted by the legal department.

2. Al Avila – Silence. We don’t wanna know his every thought, especially when it pertains to trading players.

3. Victor Martinez – An apology. Saying fans are rude and unappreciative when you have been the most disruptive force in your clubhouse is just cray-cray.

4. Miguel Cabrera – The old Miggy. The smiling, engaging one who used to be known as the best hitter in baseball.

5. Jordan Zimmermann – Finding the world’s best chiropractor. (And ignoring any medical advice that comes from the Tigers.)

6. Nick Castellanos – Making MLB TV’s list of best defensive plays of the week.

7. Local Media – Asking the tough questions, writing the honest truth and reporting what they see instead of keeping it secret for 2+ years.

8. Tiger Fans – Prioritizing accountability and answers over loyalty, especially when it comes to the pace and direction of a rebuild.

9. Ron Gardenhire – Introducing sound, fundamental baseball that is a pleasure to watch.

10. Michael Fulmer – Staying in a uniform that sports the Olde English D.


Happy New Year, everyone! We look forward to your continued readership and insightful comments in 2018!


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KUDOS….or COAL?

By:  Holly Horning

‘Tis the Christmas season and Santa has made his Naughty and Nice lists. And, of course, he hasn’t forgotten about the baseball world! After all, ballplayers are just big boys who play games all day, right?

So, in honor of the holiday, who in baseball this year has made each list of Santa’s? I’m so glad you asked…


SIX DESERVING COAL IN THEIR STOCKINGS

1. Al Avila – For the underwhelming trade returns and inability to negotiate from a position of strength.

2. Victor Martinez – Youuu better watch out, youuu better not cry, youuu better not pout…

3. Miguel Cabrera – For the backsliding in his personal life that impacted his performance yet once again on the field.

4. Entire Managing/Coach staff – For being one of the largest collections of uninspiring, mediocre managers of people and players ever assembled.

5. Major local newspapers writers (with 1 exempted) – For prioritizing promoting team P.R. over balanced reporting and never asking the tough questions.

6. Derek Jeter – For the sloppy and unprofessional firing of beloved employees including a long-time employee while recovering in the hospital from cancer surgery. Inexcusable.


SIX DESERVING KUDOS FOR THEIR INTENTIONS

1. Justin Verlander – For his hard work, intensity and the tough decision to leave the only team he’s known. And for donating his entire World Series share to support our veterans.

2. Nick Castellanos – For being one of the few to give a damn and for his efforts to back up his teammates in fights and help manage VMart’s problematic personality.

3. Ian Kinsler – For always caring, for always fighting, for never giving up.

4. Ron Gardenhire – For knowing the mess he would inherit both on the field and off. And taking the job anyway.

5. St. Louis Cardinals – For putting the needs of Stephen Piscotty first by arranging a trade that would send him home so he could be near his ailing mother.

6. Totally Tigers readers – The thousands of you who have supported us and helped us grow our readership with each year. And to the small minority of you who share your thoughts and comments with us. We are blessed!


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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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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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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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PERSONAL EGREGIOUS DECISIONS (P.E.D.s) – Part 3

By:  Holly Horning

Last week we delved into the biggest issue surrounding election into the Baseball Hall of Fame. An issue MLB hoped would disappear, but hasn’t. In fact, Joe Morgan’s letter to the voters shows that there is real concern – growing concern – among those still living and sitting in Cooperstown.

In the first part of this series, we explored the subject of cheating as well as the stated guidelines for what to consider in voting. In Part 2, the far-reaching effects of PEDs were identified. If you didn’t catch these blogs, or need a refresher, catch them here:

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/11/28/personal-egregious-decisions-p-e-d-s/

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/12/02/personal-egregious-decisions-p-e-d-s-part-2/

Today, let’s put to bed the excuses being offered as a rationale for voting in those players widely suspected of using PEDs to advance and extend their careers as well as pad their stats.


EXCUSE #1- For decades, players have always taken something in order to play.

Whether painkillers or stimulants, these were classified as “substances” and not  as “drugs.” The difference being that they temporarily helped the player, unlike PEDs which are classified as “drugs” and actually changed the body long-term. (See Part 2. of this blog to see just how much.)

EXCUSE #2 – Players have always cheated in baseball.

Just because it’s happened in the past, doesn’t give cheating legitimacy today. And with the group up for election this year, there is more than speculation that they have cheated. There is proof in the form of drug tests, testimony, doctors’ records, visual changes – all long-term and deliberately-planned cheating.

Furthermore, voting in cheaters is a message to all that cheating is acceptable. And it will result in more players cheating. Never acceptable and never the message or lesson you want to send.

EXCUSE #3 – There were players in history who had questionable reputations and morals and still got elected.

It is true that some players held beliefs that are not acceptable today. The only problem is that these players’ cultural beliefs were part of the country’s (or regional) norm – even legal – back in the day. You can’t take today’s evolved beliefs and apply them to people who lived 50 or more years ago.

EXCUSE #4 – He was a great player before he started taking PEDs.

As explained in Part 2, one of PEDs greatest benefits was that it provided consistency, increased playing time and longevity, as well as significantly reduced recovery time. Any stats added after PEDs were introduced were a product of cheating and illegal actions, and less of the player’s own talents. Remember when Barry Bonds hit that HR to break Hank Aaron’s record? Bud Selig and the rest of baseball royalty did not attend the game which speaks directly to the belief his stats were tainted.

The majority of the top players suspected actually took PED use to another level by going down the designer-steroid path. Hiring “doctors” who constructed specific drug plans and usage methods specific to the desired goals and a strategy to avoid detection.

This excuse also smacks of a double standard where it is hinted that those with some of the best talent should be given preferential treatment. Would we even be having this discussion if we had to decide how to handle a player of lesser skills? Are there 2 different sets of standards?

EXCUSE #5 – The law was iffy back in the ‘90s.

Actually, it was not. MLB was very clear in publishing a list back in 1991 that made PEDs illegal and then updated that list on a regular basis. A time period when most of these questionable players were taking them and breaking the law. The real issue is actually about the lack of testing which didn’t begin until 2003.

Which brings us to….

EXCUSE #6 – We can’t be certain that a player cheated unless he tested positive.

In almost all sports, athletes have been stripped of their medals and banned for much less. Alex Rodriquez never “officially” tested positive. His doctor’s partner turned in all of ARod’s medical reports to the local newspaper.

Roger Clemens was legally found “not guilty” for perjury (not drugs) because of the government’s failure to put together a solid case. But the majority of the jury still felt he was guilty of using PEDs.

Players returned from the off-season unrecognizable. Significant body structure changes including the growth of their head. Ageing players on the downside of their careers suddenly started playing again at top levels. All you need to do is look at their stats from year to year and see how each season brought diminishing returns at the plate. Then look at the years in which the PED rumors started and see the obvious and too-good-to-be-true increase in power, extra-base hits and slash lines.  Getting better and stronger does not happen as you get older.

Then there was the 2002 BALCO case in which the Feds uncovered evidence of MLB players who took PEDs dating back to when PEDs were made illegal combined with evidence that players like Bonds and Giambi were clients.

In 2006, Senator George Mitchell produced the infamous Mitchell Report which named 80 players with evidence that they were involved in taking PEDs. One who helped the Boston Red Sox crush the Tigers’ hopes back in the 2013 playoffs.

Everyone named in the report refused to talk to Mitchell. If you were innocent, and accused of doing something illegal, wouldn’t you be shouting your innocence from the rooftops?

And hearings on The Hill inspired only a handful of players who willingly testified. And two of them got indicted for lying.

How much more proof is really needed in order to have reasonable doubt?

Let’s remember that the Baseball Hall of Fame is a museum. It chronicles history. Should these players be ignored? No. But does this mean that they should be honored? Absolutely not.

There is a third option.

Like the Black Sox scandal, baseball needs to recognize that this quandary exists. Why can’t they add a section to Cooperstown that explains this troubled time period in baseball? Why can’t they write about the evidence that was presented? Why can’t they leave it to the fans and visitors to determine what they think and how they feel?

It’s all perfectly rational. But it’s not acceptable to allow BBWAA voters to induct some because it’s the easier thing to do and to ignore history.


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PERSONAL EGREGIOUS DECISIONS (P.E.D.s) – Part 2

By:  Holly Horning

On Wednesday, we started the discussion on PEDs, players and the Hall of Fame. Not a new subject, but one that recently fanned the baseball flames with Joe Morgan’s letter to the voting members of the BBWAA.


If you didn’t catch Part One, read it here:

https://totallytigers.wordpress.com/2017/11/28/personal-egregious-decisions-p-e-d-s/


As with any complicated subject, the rationale for how to treat those questionable players eligible for voting into the Hall is not a simple nor quick one. From those supporting their induction, we often hear:

“Cheating in baseball goes back to the beginning of the sport.”

“They had great stats before they started using PEDs.”

“Players took amphetamines decades ago – what’s the difference?”

“There are players currently in the Hall who used substances to enhance their performance.”

But we’ve entered new territory here. The years and medical advancement have made it such. And we can no longer compare what happened decades ago with what is happening now. Even if those in charge of the sport turned a blind eye to what was going on for the past 25 years.

We’ve known that for decades, especially since the end of WWII, amphetamines and other stimulants were introduced to sports. Their purpose was to help fight fatigue and promote focus. They were widely available in clubhouses and with the knowledge of the entire team. They also weren’t illegal back then.

They were known as performance enhancing substances. Temporary results lasting for only that day’s game and only used on occasion, not on a daily basis.

But the controversy today is on PEDs – Performance Enhancing Drugs. Products that are used on a daily basis. Products that physically change the body long-term. And they were officially banned by MLB in 1991.

And this is why MLB – and the BBWAA voters – have to address the problems voting in athletes who used them beyond the exploratory stage. Players who incorporated them into their performance for years and reaped the benefits.

We’re not talking about players who occasionally stole signs, took the occasional stimulant to fight fatigue or applied foreign substances to baseballs. We’re talking about guys who profoundly changed their bodies, reaction time, speed and mental ability and did it over a significant period of time.

We all know that many PEDs allow players to become bigger. But there are also an astounding number of other advantages PEDs offer. Interviews with doctors who specialize in this subject, especially their impact upon athletes, identify what PEDs change about the player who takes them.


PEDs:

– Promote tissue growth and muscle generation

– Increase strength

– Help hitters develop power and hit for a higher average

– Promote faster recovery and healing time

– Allow players to get stronger without training

– Allow players to train harder

– Offer feelings of invincibility and offers a psychological edge comparable to the physical one

– Increase aggression allowing players to attack more at the plate and in the field

– Quicken bat speed which allows the hitter more time to read the pitch and react to it better

– Allow quicker reaction time and improve hand/eye coordination

– Increased muscle, reaction time and acceleration factors create increased force which allows balls to be hit and thrown further and faster

– Decrease tissue breakdown and offer faster recovery times which are especially important to pitchers

– Generate stronger fast-twitch muscle fibers which create greater explosiveness in running


And last but not least, PEDs offer consistency. They get players moving faster in April and keep them from running out of gas in August, September – and the all-important October. Remember who absolutely crushed the Tigers with his performance in the 2011 playoffs? The Rangers’ Nelson Cruz who later served a suspension for PED use tied to this time period.

For those players who already had an impressive track record, PEDs were especially attractive to them because they allowed careers to be extended and more impressive stats to be built. A clear advantage of padding records for not just history, but also for the Hall. PEDs offered the gift of being able to consistently produce all season long.

Taking PEDs require regular use, not just occasionally. Players have to buy into the program. It’s an all-or-nothing deal. And even when an athlete comes off of them, many of the advantages PEDs offer remain far longer than many realize.

On Wednesday, we’ll delve into the many excuses offered by some analysts, the media and the fans. Rationales that don’t stand up well upon scrutiny. But today, let’s focus our discussion on the use of PEDs.


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